An Update from Marathoning

Here’s a little update from training.

So I went out on a longish run this morning. I’d planned to get up around 7 or 8 to get out of the door early, but my love for sleep, my tendency to think I’m the Seabiscuit[1] of amateur long distance running, and the rainy weather all conspired to keep me in bed.[2]

After one or two snoozes (okay, five) I started the morning’s checklist; scarf a breakfast of supersweet honeyfied yogurt, pocket a packet of Gu running supplement,[3] clip on the iPod and get out the door for a warm-up run.

First problem: it was drizzling. My rediscovered iPod has been a great friend on the solo runs, but it was not to be today—so much the better as I was tired of the usual soundtrack and was having trouble picking new tunes (for the record I need to build my playlists before I head out for the day, otherwise it’s too big a distraction. Picture John Cusack from High Fidelity strategizing over a mixtape and you get the idea).

Whatever—stop by the apartment to drop off the extra gear and head out for the real run. Down to Queens Plaza and up and over the Queensboro bridge.[4] On the island, over to central park where I’m going to go over the bridle path so as to avoid the concrete/asphalt and so save my knees.

No such luck. There was an event on with typically, uh, unfriendly NYC event staff, <BEGIN RANT> the kind of people who feel like they’re doing you a favor when they let you out of their poorly designed complexes made of portable fencing while suggesting that you aren’t going to finish the marathon, perhaps because you are too stupid to follow their terrible signage. <END RANT>

Again, whatever. If you can’t be flexible you shouldn’t be running in NYC. I figured I’d just pop over to Riverside Park, up past the old place of employ and by a cousin’s house,[5] through Harlem (where consumption of the Gu packet began), then down the east side to the subway.[6] Along the way I was figuring my distance. I’d missed a few of the long group runs with Team for Kids and was thinking that today would let me get some serious mileage in. The number I came up with—about 20 miles—was pretty impressive, especially as my legs were only just starting to hurt. “Damn,” I thought. “I could do six more miles without hurting TOO much. Awesome sign.”

I felt like such hot stuff that I didn’t much mind the 20 minute wait for the subway to get home. I settle into the train and don’t really bother looking for a seat—it’s pretty crowded and I don’t want to impose my sweatiness on any little old ladies. Besides, a guy who just did 20 miles and feels this good doesn’t need a seat.

Then I get to looking at the clock. 12:34. Hmmmm. That means I just did 20 miles in about 3 hours. Damn. My original goal for the marathon was to finish under 5 hours, but if I just did what I think I did, I am making some serious progress. Hmmm. So what are my splits? That’s 180 minutes over 20 miles, so I averaged 9 minutes a mile. Wait a sec. I know what I feel like when I run a mile in 9 minutes,[7] and I don’t feel like that at all. Either a week in which I’ve replaced training sessions with late night port drinking sessions has given me unexpected physical benefits or I need to check my calculations a bit…

“It was three miles up and three miles back, not six up and six back like I thought… which means… 14-odd miles…[8] which means my splits were 12+ minutes per mile… Not quite fast enough to meet my 5 hour goal… Gosh darnit.”[9]


[1] A champion racehorse whose interest in training was reputed to be, uh, tepid.

[2] In the interest of full disclosure I also replaced the battery in my iHome alarm clock remote. I can now wake up to music of my own choosing and, more dangerously, hit the snooze button while remaining ensconced in bed.

[3] Gu is the brand name of a popular nutritional supplement used by long distance runners. It’s pretty much straight sugars with some amino acids and caffeine thrown in for good measure. Today was the first time I’d tried it and I’ve got some tasting notes:

  • Imagine a Milky Way bar that’s been left in the sun, particularly the oozy texture of the caramel filling. Imagine something just as sweet, and with just the same texture, but at a lower temperature (today about sixty degrees).
  • It had a flavor called something like “Island Surprise.” I was thinking tropical island, but the flavor was more like something out of mid nineteenth century British Isles, the sort of thing that they’d feed David Copperfield to keep him going in the factory.
  • Net result: not something you’d want to chug unless you very, very, very much wanted to get into a fraternity. It took me about 10 minutes to force a packet down.
  • People told me that you train with them to get used to them, and now I see why.
  • Two of the other flavors are “Espresso Love” and, at the other end of the spectrum of emotions, if not flavors, “Chocolate Outrage.” There is at least one subtext going on here.
  • Their protein recovery drink (being consumed as I type) tastes pretty good, a bit like watery chocolate milk. And reading the ingredient label I find that it does indeed contain lots of milk derived products. So you can save yourself the hassle of drinking chocolate milk by purchasing chocolate milk powder, rehydrating it, and then drinking that. Oh the wonders of technology.

[4] I meant to write about the Queensboro before but haven’t gotten around to it until now. Aside from the fact that it somehow manages to be uphill for more than half of the overall distance, for most of its 1.35 miles the pedestrian walkway consists of concrete filled steel grating that is hell on your feet (though I managed to pretend that it was a just a bad foot massage for about 200 yards). Thankfully on the day of the race we use the roadway and the flat surface should be easier on the feet.

[5] For awhile I entertained the fantasy of encountering this cousin on his midmorning stroll and blowing him away with the fact that I’d run all the way from Jackson Heights to the Upper West Side. It’s one of the little redeeming qualities about running in such a dense, neighborhoody place as NYC.

[6] No power in heaven or earth could have gotten me to go over the Queensboro on foot again.

[7] A nine minute mile feels decidedly not good for this particular 30 year old, especially when he remembers primary school classmates running 6 minute miles when they were 12.

[8] According to Google maps the actual distance was about 14.65 miles.

[9] This last quote is being reported, uh, loosely—you know, for the kids’ sake.

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