Five Hints for Run Commuting

Run commuting can appear daunting, but with a little preparation (and the right gear) it really isn’t that hard. I do it at least a couple of times a week and find it to be a very efficient way to get my runs in. I’ve written about this before from a more personal perspective, but here’s five lessons I’ve learned from my years of (literally) running home from work. 

Get a good running backpack. I use a Gregory Miwok 33. I love it and have recommended it to many friends who also love it. Its big enough to fit clothes, and (even a small laptop) but not so bulky that it sits too far off your back. Some people, especially those who won’t be carrying clothes back and forth may wish to go with a a smaller bag. In shopping for the bag, you want to make sure it rests easily on your hips and sits close to you back, otherwise its going to swing around too much.

Here’s my Gregory ready for an attempt on the Presidential Traverse:

Plan to run home. If your office has a shower, mazel tov, you’re set. You can run to or from work (or both!). But if you’re like me and are lucky enough to live in a city with a good public transportation system, but unlucky enough to not have a shower at work, the only viable option is to run home. Plan your schedule accordingly. The first couple of times are likely to be an experiment in finding the best route, so give yourself plenty of time.

The view from my run commute. Definitely beats the view from the 2 train.

The view from my run commute. Definitely beats the view from the 2 train.

Leave your shoes at work. I have a selection of dress shoes stashed under my desk at work and commute everyday (whether I’m running home or not). I bring my clothes back and forth with me, but I have a friend who brings in four shirt on Monday, leaves them all at the office, and then brings them all home on Friday. This works too, I guess, if you have the storage at your office.

Prepare for the weather and distance. Depending on how far you’re running, you may need to think about the run as a short easy run, or prepare for it like a long run. My average commuting distance is about seven miles, which makes it ideal for a standard weekday run. I do notice that I overheat quicker with the added weight (and loss of heat evaporation) associated with the backpack. Plan you clothing accordingly.

Be seen and be safe! I’m lucky enough to live in the city that never sleeps, so even if I’m running home in complete darkness, it isn’t complete darkness. Still, my bag has reflective patches and when running after dark, I try to wear bright colors. You should too.

EDIT: After posting a link to this on facebook, a very old friend commented on the difficulties of run commuting in an area without strong public transportation. Here’s how she does it:

I only do it once in a while because of the hassle of the car issue. In the summer my schedule is easier and the building is super quiet so I can get away with running to work in the cool and just being way dressed down and ponytailed all day. It is way easier to find a ride home at 4 than a ride in at 7:15, especially if you plan a happy hour in there. The other thing I’ve done is run home one day and run back the next morning. That isn’t bad if I prep well enough a couple days ahead of time. I have to bring running clothes AND extra work clothes to work day 1. Wear running clothes home, run back in and change into work clothes I left the day before.

Thanks for the advice, Amy!

That’s about it. If you run commute I’d love to hear how you go about it. If you live within a reasonable distance from your office, it really isn’t that hard!

Race Autopsy: Vermont City Marathon

The day started as it always does, with coffee and a crying baby.  As E got the little dude dressed, I packed the provisions in the car, chugged a bunch of water, and ate a bagel. Forty minutes later, and forty five minutes before the start, we were pulling into Burlington. I had expected to park in the same lot I’d parked in when I ran this race five years ago, but it was full. As was the five story parking garage near church street, and the side streets all around.

Thirty minutes to start time and I have nowhere to park the car.

We’re off to a great start.

Twenty five minutes to start time, E tells me to park it in a drug store parking lot. “It says parking for customers only”, I say, “and even then, only for an hour”.

“I’ll handle it” she says.

And, though I leave her with a screaming baby, and a car she cannot drive, she does — because she is amazing.

On to the start, where I find Joe. We hit the porta potties. We wait. We fret. And then the gun goes off and we run.

The first miles fly by; we cruise along trying to keep the pace somewhere between 8:50 and 9. We want to go faster, but we play it as conservative as we can. More than anything today, I want to break four hours. I’ve been at this running game awhile and I feel like it is finally time to join the big boys. I put together one of the best training blocks of my life, basically injuring free, and (for me at least) consistent. Of course I worry it wasn’t enough.

Turns out, I was right.

The miles fly by. We chat with an older woman who’s run 75 marathons and swum across Lake Champlain. We see some of the fast dudes who’ve filled out the Boston Qualifer Questionnaire. We chat about what we always chat about: running, getting old, and why the hell we continue to live in NYC when any rational person would have left years ago.

I’m having a good time. By the halfway mark, I feel strong and the miles seem easy.\ I want to keep it conservative. Joe is feeling like picking it up. I let him go. He’ll go on to his own struggles, but will finish far ahead of me. At the bottom of the mile 15 hill, I see E and the Little Dude. He gives me a high five. Everything is going well.

But that hill is long, and by the end of it, I’m starting to feel the miles. I carry on, trying to keep the pace. By mile 18, my calf, and then my groin, begin to cramp. At first it’s just a little tweak. It’s almost eighty degrees so no surprise that I’m feeling it.  I drink at the aid stations, trying to keep any serious cramping at bay. The four hour pace group passes me. My dreams for the day start to fade. But by mile 22, I am cramping so badly, I can’t walk. I actually stumble just outside the mile 22 water station. EMTs help me to a chair, ice my legs and give me Gatorade.

“We can get a car to come get you”.

“I’m almost there, I’ll finish”.

And so I do. The 4:15 pace group passes me. Then the 4:30. I hobble along. I run until I cramp up, then I walk, then I run again. I am not a pretty sight. I try to run the final mile, but my left leg seizes up again and I almost go down. This time, it happens right by the beer tent. People see me hobbling and they cheer me on, shouting my name.

I’m embarrassed.

I was hoping to do much better than this.  But whether it was a lack of training, or a nutrition issue, this isn’t my day. I cross the line in 4:39:27. Not my worst performance in the marathon, but certainly not my best.

The marathon is fickle. You put so much time and energy into training for it and then, it can all go so wrong. I find is humbling, frustrating, and, frankly, addictive.

New York has got to be different. I’ll need to up the training game, both in terms of mileage and speed work, but perhaps most importantly, consistency.  And though I’ve resisted it for years, I’m going to have to learn about nutrition. Expect more posts about all of that in the future.

Now its two days later and I’m planning my revenge.  Today, I’ll rest my legs, drink water, work my sore muscles with the stick.

Tomorrow, I’m going to go for a run.

Any race that ends with sharing a medal with this guy isn't all bad.

Any race that ends with sharing a medal with this guy isn’t all bad.

This Years Main Events

Last night, it became official – I’m running the New York Marathon in November. And with that, my racing schedule for the year is pretty much set. More for my own amusement than anything else, here’s what my endurance year is looking like — goals are in order of importance (yes, sometimes finishing is more important than having fun):

Date Event Goal
May 16 Brooklyn Half-Marathon A: Enjoy myself

B: See what the legs have for Vermont two weeks later

C: PR

D: sub 1:45

May 24 Vermont City Marathon A: PR

B: Sub 4

July 19 New York City Triathlon A: Relearn how to do triathlons

B: PR

C: Sub 3:00

Late August Presidential Traverse A: Finish

B: Have fun

November 1 New York City Marathon A: PR

B: Sub 3:45

 

I’ll surely add some 5ks and 10ks here and there, and I’m thinking about doing an open water race in June, but these are the goal events. I’ve never had this many goal races in a single year. It’s a little intimidating, but also very exciting.

So far, I’m happy with how the training for Vermont is going. I’m running better than I have in a long time and I’m excited to see what this aging body can do. If I can stay healthy, this is going to be a hell of a year.

2014: My Physical Year

While 2014 was a great year for my reading, it was less than stellar year for exercise. Being the father of an infant does occasionally allow me to read late into the night, but its has made finding the time to exercise more difficult. In 2013 I spent a fair amount of time rock climbing and doing body weight work (push ups, pull ups, etc.). I all but gave up on these pursuits in 2014. I did not go climbing once and I did a negligible amount of body weight work.

I’ll have more on my goals for body weight work and introducing other athletic pursuits in my 2015 goals post.

So with no climbing, and little body weight work, all that was left was running. With a total of 1,073 miles for the year 2014 wasn’t my worst year (that would be 2009 – when I ran a mere 690) but it was also far off from my best year (2011 1670.5) and even farther from my goal of 2,000 miles.

There’s always next year, right?

Here’s some further slicing and dicing of the numbers done mainly for my own amusement:

  • I ran 1,073 miles in 230 separate sessions for a total of 165:24:35 hours spent running around in circles like a goddamn idiot.
  • That’s an average of 4.67 miles per day at an average pace of about 9:15 per mile.
  • My longest run was a paltry 13.5 miles in 2:07:36 on September 7 across the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Union Street bridges.
  • My shortest run was one mile. I did it repeatedly; running only a single mile a total of 29 times.
  • 97 of my runs and 547.5 of my miles were in Prospect Park, which is significantly more than anywhere else.
  • I ran one half marathon ( Brooklyn Half 1:49:08), a number of 5ks, and I set a PR at the five mile distance at the NYRR Club championships — finishing in a time of 39:24 for a 7:53 pace.

All in all, not a great year. Not my worst, but certainly not my best. As I figure out this whole fatherhood thing, I expect much bigger things for 2015.

Friday Inspiration — The Mile

Tomorrow, I’ll be racing the mile for the first time. I’ve no idea what to expect and for a race that take me less than seven minutes (I hope!), I’m pretty nervous.

Its funny how contemporary recreational running has changed. Everyone runs a 5k, millions run marathons, but few race the mile.

I’m trepidatious, but excited to be part of the excitement at the 5th avenue mile. Getting to watch some of the world’s best, while also running myself, is a rare opportunity. Should be fun… and painful.

When you talk of the mile, there’s one name that always spring to mind – Roger Bannister. Here he is:

Kilian Jornet At Hardrock

This weekend, Kilian Jornet destroyed the course record at the legendary HardRock 100.  He ran the famously  “wild and tough” 100 mile race in a previously unheard of 22:41:33.  In doing so, he cemented his reputation, at least in my mind, as the best mountain runner ever.*

Kilian in the midst of crushing the Hardrock course record.

If you don’t follow the sport of ultrarunning, it is hard to express how impressive it is to run this course that fast. The previous record of 23:23:20 set by Kyle Skaggs in 2008 was considered one of the most impressive, and least likely to be bettered, course records in the sport. Yet Jornet didn’t just beat the record, he bettered it by forty minutes without really trying. He ran the first half of the course easy, waited for another runner at one point so he could have someone to talk to, and routinely spent more than ten minutes in aid stations chatting with volunteers.  When he finished, he showed the race director pictures he’d taken on the course:

Its  just an incredible performance.  And Jornet is such a fascinating character.  A professional runner and skier, he makes his living doing what he loves.  He is head and shoulder above his competition in mountain running and ski mountaineering yet he seems genuinely humble and kind. Everyone in the sport has only kind things to say about him.  Still, at the front of the ultra field, it must be strange to compete against a man who is clearly so much better than his rivals. And it must be equally strange to be so much better than everyone else at these pursuits so few people care about.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times profiled Jornet claiming he was the best the most dominate endurance athelete of his generation. There is no doubt that is true. With his completion of Hardrock, he has hinted that he might leave ultra running and concentrate on speed assents of the world’s summits.  He’s documenting that incredible undertaking in a film series called Summits Of My Life.

Cause, you know, why not?

Its truly exciting to live in a time with such an incredible athlete. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Want more?

Here’s a couple of interviews with Jornet after the race:

 

* he is also, arguably the best ski mountaineer ever, and one of the best speed climbers ever having set a new FKT on Denali just weeks before Hardrock. That adds to the records he already holds on Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. This is just insane, you get that, right?

Training Totals Week Ending 7.13.2014

Run Miles for the week: 21.25 in 3:12:32
Run Miles for the year: 550.2
Projected total miles for the year: 1029.9
Run Streak: 0
Number of runs that were one stupid mile: 1
Number of days until I beat my old run streak: 114
Prospect Park loops for the week: 2
Prospect Park loops for the year: 47
Average weight: 175
Total Exercise Time: ~3:00:00
Hebrew: 00:30:00
Books Finished 0
Total Books Read for the year 16

Notes:  Well, a tough week all around.  Of my goals from last week, the only one I made was getting in a work out.  Hell, I didn’t even keep up the running streak (more on that in another post). 

 Just like many of us, my life often takes priority over my training.  Sometimes going out on the town with E, or having brunch with old friends, is just more important that running around in circles.  This weekend was one of those times, and it lead to me skipping runs on Saturday and Sunday and not spending nearly enough time working on my Hebrew. 

 In the end, it might have been for the best.  My left foot has been bothering me and I’ve been generally exhausted. A little cut back week was probably in order.

 Still, I know that to get to the next level in my running, more than anything else, I need to be consistent.  So its back on the horse this week. I’m ready for more.

 Goals For Next Week:

40 miles goddamn it!

1 work out

2 hours of Hebrew

6 Hours of exercise

The Long Run – The Park and the Bridge

I run for many reasons. To stay fit, to stay thin, to sleep at night, to have time to think, to work at the nearly impossible goal of becoming fast, and to explore.  Exploration can come in different forms. It can be exploring new trails and road, or seeing old roads in a new way.  This weekend’s long run included a bit of both new roads and time spent in familiar places.

Things began with two figure eight loops in Prospect Park.  The figure eight loop takes you down West Drive to Center Drive, across Center to East Drive, where you take a right, cruise past the lake, and up the West Drive hill, then a right back down Center Drive over the East Drive where you take a left and head up Zoo hill.  From my house and around the figure 8 is just over six miles, two of them is makes it just about ten.

The Grand Army Entrance on a perfect early spring day.

The Grand Army Entrance on a perfect early spring day.

I’ve run thousands and thousands of miles in this park — 2,858 actually, according to my running ahead log.  I’ve run through all conditions. I’ve run alone and with friends.  This weekend, it was a prefect early spring day and I did the first loop with my Saturday run buddy, Joe.  We talked about life, love, work and kids.  We talked about running, rock climbing and how fat and old we have become.  It was a great way to spend an hour.

After Joe left, I did another figure 8 alone listening to a mad decent podcast.  The roads were packed with Brooklynites running, walking and cycling.  Kids were pushing scooters; hipsters were riding long boards.  It was all “tres Brooklyn” as, allegedly, the French say.

Two loops equals ten miles.  Three more to go.  I headed down Union street through the heart of strollerfied Park Slope all the way  to the Union Street Bridge and the majestic Gowanus Canal.

IMG_1019

The Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s New York’s finest superfund site has been described by the Environmental Protection Agency thus:

The Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn, New York, is bounded by several communities including Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Canal was once a major transportation route for the then separate cities of Brooklyn and New York City. Manufactured gas plants, mills, tanneries, and chemical plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal.

IMG_1023

You can’t really read it, but there’s a sign in this photo that warns you, among other dangers, not to smoke near the water.

 As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies. Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. The contamination poses a threat  to the nearby residents who use the canal for fishing and recreation.

IMG_1022

This gorgeous piece of waterway is crossed by five bridges. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to run them all.  In fact, inspired by Phil McCarthy’s excellent “Bridge of the Week series” I plan to spend a lot more time exploring the cities bridges. Some of theses bridges, like Union Street are old friends. Others will be new.  I’m looking forward to seeing them all.

After Union Street it was down Nevins to Dean. Its amazing how industrial Nevins still is in this area.  Seven years from now, the fabrication and demolition shops will be apartment buildings people by finance and advertising professionals, just you watch.  I’ll run the street again then, and it will be like exploring a new world.

 

Too late for 2014 goals?

Its almost April and I am finally posting about my goals for 2014.  That should tell you a bit about how my year has been going.  As you might expect, an infant son and a new job have kept me busy.

Anyway, goals.

Last year, I set a number of lofty goals for myself.  I did not meet a single one.  Sure I ran, and I studied Hebrew, and I did some push ups and climbed some plastic rocks, but I did not do any of these as much, or as seriously, as I had hoped.

The reason for this is obvious – I prioritized other things. Work, sleep, my wife, and then, in December, my son all too precedence over silly personal projects.  I don’t regret those prioritizations.  However I do think if I’d set my goals more realistically, they could have been met.

But realistic goals are boring — they lack the romance of the big prize.  I need something hard, something a little bit stupid, yet not as hard, or as stupid, as last year.   I’ve decided to strike a balance and set one hard to achieve, but not impossible, fitness goal:

run 2,000 miles by the end of the year.

I am sure it will not surprise you that I am already behind on this one.  According to the handy calculator at runningahead.com, I’m currently on pace to run 707 miles for the year.  That’s’ a long way from 2k, but it also figures in the weeks right after L’s birth when I did not run a step.  If I pick up the mileage just a bit now, and can stay healthy, 2,000 is doable, and should put me in a good position for the incredibly stupid ideas I have in the works for 2015.

You can follow along here in my weekly updates.  Though lord knows why you would, it is going to be extremely boring.

Running Streak

By and large, runners achieve their best results with a smart balance of easy runs, difficult work outs, and rest.  That has never worked for me.  What always screws me over is the rest.  I take one day off  — it turns into two.  Two turns into three, three turns into a week and suddenly… I’m building from scratch again.  This pattern has been even more pronounced since Levi was born three months ago. It has got to stop.

So, what to do? I’ve decided, at least for the time being, to reinstitute a running streak.  I know it isn’t the healthiest of ideas, but it has worked for me in the past and it has become clear that if I’m going to get in any kind of consistent mileage, I am going to have to force that consistency.

Today was day eight.  Yesterday, only one week into this thing, was the first totally stupid day.  I got off the train a stop early and ran (literally) an errand (and a mile) while dressed in street clothes and wearing dress shoes.   It was dumb, and people looked at me funny, but I’m glad I did it.

I think I’ll run again tomorrow.