Bethpage is better, but some bikers are bozos

The new, improved Bethpage trails

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 6.4 miles

It’s a beautiful day on Long Island, sunny and a little cooler than yesterday. Today is Cinco de Mayo but we’re not doing anything related to that. Tequila lost its appeal many years ago, but by dinner time I may be persuaded to go out for Mexican food. Today is also the day of the Long Island Marathon, Half and 10K. I feel slightly guilty for not participating this year, but I’m glad that I didn’t need to run 13.1 miles this morning.

It’s been at least six weeks since I ran at Bethpage and I’ve missed it. The last time I was there, me and KWL did an early morning run and covered six miles. I haven’t done too many runs greater than five miles this year, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to renew my Empire Passport and run the bike trail. 

After getting my sticker, I drove to the lot and saw that much work had been done to the trails since I last saw them. The entrance to the north trail was now open, and a small structure had been put up next to the trail head off the parking lot. There was fresh paint marking the newly paved sections, and a new sidewalk was added along the main driveway.

When I reached the northern trail entrance I noticed more improvements. I saw some new access points to the dirt trails and some decorative fencing around rest areas. They’d also stenciled distances in tenth of a mile increments in bold white numbers. Even though I wear a Garmin, I still found that to be extremely helpful during my run.

I felt good at the start and had no trouble with the rolling trail as I moved north. I wanted to go six miles to get a little more base conditioning and my energy level seemed to support that. A year ago I was at Bethpage every weekend doing progressively longer runs as I trained for the half marathon. I thought about the LI Marathon and Half that was going on as I ran. I did feel strong, but I don’t think I could have managed a half today.

I crossed Haypath without a problem and then Old Bethpage Rd. Neither had much traffic. I wondered if I’d reach my projected turnaround point of 3.1 miles before I hit Old Country Road. I preferred not to cross that busy street if I could avoid it. I was about a quarter mile short of my halfway mark, so I needed to keep going. There was a traffic light and crosswalk, so I had no safety issues except for the bozo on a bike who cut me off when I reached the other side.

There were many walkers and cyclists on the path today, along with a smaller number of other runners. I had another bike incident, when a cyclist riding in the same direction that I was running, passed me with an inch to spare. She was busy talking to her two friends and wasn’t being careful. I yelled “hey!” but she didn’t react (or apologize). Most cyclists are courteous and careful, but it was amateur hour this morning.

I covered the second half of my run faster than the first. I had no trouble getting past the two short but steep hills located a mile from the trail entrance. For some reason I began feeling stronger on that last mile, so I picked up the pace. That helped get my overall time into my “acceptable range.” When I got back to the lot, I saw what looked like a clown car convention. It was actually a Mini Cooper show taking place at the park. Unfortunately it attracted some losers who decided to tear around the parking lot in their cars (not Mini Coopers BTW) before exiting at a high rate of speed.

I was very happy with my run today, especially for the fact that I haven’t done a six miler in a while. Now that I have my new Passport, I look forward to visiting Bethpage and the other state parks without needing to pay an entrance fee.

Sad way to make the LI Marathon a big event

Tragedy of the commons

Today’s run (street): 3.5 miles

A few years ago, when I was frequently engaged with the MIT Media Lab, I was fortunate to spend time with Dan Airely who taught economics at the Sloan School of Management. Dan writes books about behavior, honesty and irrationality that are well worth reading. He used to talk about an economic concept known as the “Tragedy of the commons”, that describes how the self-interest of a few people can negatively affect the larger society.

This concept is usually tied to selfish actions leading to broader consequences, like over-fishing a lake or poaching endangered animals. In today’s world, I see it every time I pass through Penn Station where I see police and National Guardsmen patrolling with large automatic weapons. That has been a common sight since September 12, 2001, but it’s still hard to get used to. I’m not complaining – I fully appreciate the need – but it’s sad that everyone’s behaviors have to change to protect against a harmful few.

This morning, I was watching the local news while Ed Mangano held a press conference. Mangano stated that, “In light of the tragic events that occurred at the Boston Marathon earlier this month, we have put forth enhanced security measures for the safety of the Long Island Marathon participants, spectators, and all members of our community.” This involves the use of radiation detectors, K-9 bomb sniffing units and extra police.

If you’ve ever participated in the LI Marathon Festival of Races, you might react as I did to this. It’s a really nice event, but I think the biggest concern the organizers should have is whether they’d rented enough Port-O-Potties. I wouldn’t expect this race would be targeted by miscreants, but what do I know? The RXR LI Marathon has always aspired to be a “big race” event. Sadly, it’s taken the atrocity in Boston to make that happen.

My 2012 racing calendar is already filling up!

All vacations end, and when they do, the hope is to be fully relaxed before returning to the office. For this vacation, I’d say mission accomplished. I even remained healthy throughout the week. For some reason, over the years, this winter holiday break has coincided with illness. It’s mostly been bouts of the flu, but two years ago I was hospitalized  with pneumonia. So far, so good!

I usually rest on Mondays to recover from the prior week’s training. I considered doing a run today since I’m still out of the office. I ultimately decided to forgo this workout in favor of today’s busy agenda.My only running related activity was snagging two pairs of compression shorts at Marshall’s for about $10 each. It was a very good deal.

I’ve signed up for the RXR Long Island Half Marathon that takes place in May. My friend TC, who planned to run it with me last year but got injured, has also signed up. In the meantime, I’m planing to run the Long Beach Snowball 4 mile race in February and the Marcie Mazzola 5K in mid-April. I may also try to fit in a 10K race as a tuneup before the Half. I need to restart my long base training soon, so I’m hoping for some snow-free weekends this month.

2011 LI Half Marathon race report

Minutes before the start

Today’s run (LI Half Marathon): 13.1 miles (10:50/mile)

Today’s race was a new experience for me in two ways. It was my first half marathon and the longest distance I’ve ever run. My performance was nowhere as good as I’d hoped it would be, with an overall pace of 10:50, but I don’t really care about that. I expected to do better because I thought I’d done all the right things to prepare. I didn’t run for the seven days prior to the event, followed my hydration and fueling plan to the letter, started slowly to reserve energy and worked to maintain good running form. But the results speak for themselves.

My greatest concern for today’s race was whether my knee had recovered from my last long base run. I’d definitely hurt something on that 8.25 mile run and, even this morning, it was still a little sore.  My knee became a problem about a third of the way in. I’ll get to that later.

I arrived early (6:30 AM) but Lot 6 in Eisenhower Park was already halfway filled up. I wore some layers over my race shirt to stay comfortable prior to the race which I stowed in a backpack at the starting point. UPS nicely provided bag transport to the finish line. I brought electrolyte drink in my hand bottle and added some extra salt. I didn’t want to use that before the start but I couldn’t find any water and I felt dry. Rather than keep searching for water, I got into the very long line for the Port-a-potty’s. This is often an issue at races. It seems like everyone queues up behind a group of them but a few never seem to be used. It wouldn’t be a popular job but race organizers could do better by managing the bathroom lines and resources. As a result, there were dozens of runners who took it upon themselves to use the fields that paralleled the starting area for relief (below).

Open sourced bathrooms

The race started on time. I brought my iPhone with me and used MotionX GPS because it has a feature that sends emails every 5 mins with a map and your current position. My wife and kids couldn’t join me today but they were able to follow my progress this way. I also had my Garmin and I hit “start” as I stepped on the mat at the starting line. The Garmin’s distance calibration was really off but the stopwatch feature was accurate. I followed the crowd, taking the first three miles in just over 30 minutes (actual). The crowd kept things tight but it was close to where I wanted to be at that point. I felt good.

I hadn’t realized that the course wound back around Nassau Coliseum so I was puzzled to find us going opposite to the direction I’d expected. Before long we spilled out to Merrick Ave. which borders Eisenhower Park to the west. All was going well until I reached Old Country Road and turned right. My knee, which had felt perfect from the start, began to protest. The pains were sharp and I worried that, with nine miles left to go, I could be doing real damage to my knee. I considered dropping out but I slowed down and the pain was reduced to the point where I felt I could continue. I continued to moderate my pace to ensure that I wasn’t doing damage.

We ran through downtown Westbury and it was fun to to see it by foot since I’m usually driving it. They’ve done a nice job revitalizing the storefronts. I had taken a GU Roctane 30 mins before the start and planned to take another gel at 5 miles so I consumed a GU Expresso Love just before we reached Jericho Turnpike. Along the way I’d been taking sips of the electrolyte mix and grabbing water at every station. I think this combination of fuel and liquids helped me most of the way.

I wasn’t running fast but I never stopped throughout the entire race. My heart rate was where it should have been and that’s another reason why I’m puzzled by my slow pace. I think I did fairly well for the first 10 miles but the last three were very difficult. The segment that we ran on Jericho went well enough and I was glad to turn onto Brush Hollow Rd. because I had fooled myself into thinking the hard part was over by then. We made our way up the on-ramp to Wantagh Parkway which was a tough hill at that point. We followed that highway for about a mile and a quarter and hit another hill before breaking off Old Country Road where the full marathoner’s split off to follow their route.

We quickly turned on Carmen Avenue which represented the 10 mile point but less than a mile later I saw the 24 mile marker for the full marathoners and (in my race fog) deduced we were suddenly at mile 12. In fact it was mile 11. At this point I was fading and all the gels, electrolyte fluid and water stops were not helping me the way they had previously. We entered Eisenhower Park 1/4 mile before the real mile 12 and my calves started cramping painfully. I thought for a moment about stopping and decided “not now, not ever.” There’s nothing wrong with walking in sections but I didn’t want to do that because I feared it would drop my heart rate and make it all the harder to resume.

My friend Brian had warned me that the 2+ mile run through Eisenhower Park would seem long and he was right. OMG it took forever to get to the finish line and the last mile felt like running in peanut butter. I kept telling myself “just go, just keep going” and eventually I reached the winding safety cone path that led to the finish line. My heart sank when I saw my finish time. I was hoping to beat 2:06 but I was nowhere near that time.

Oh, this? It’s nothing really.

But I finished! I was fairly disoriented as I walked along the post-chute pathway, following those who had finished right before me. I must have looked bad because a race volunteer came over and said “are you alright?” I said yes but I wish she had given me some water. Our line wound past volunteers handing out finisher medals (my first ever BTW)  and into a tent where they handed out string backpack race bags containing fruit and a bagel. I explored the Finish Line Festival but was anxious to return home to see my family. I called my wife and she and the kids were hooting it up, congratulating me. They had just seen me cross the line minutes before on the latest MotionX update. Seconds later the iPhone died due to the GPS drain. Perfect timing.

I got home and was greeted with excitement by my wife and kids. The kids made me great cards commemorating the achievement. I noticed that on my pre-race “To Do” and checklist that my wife had added “Run 13.1 miles” and it was checked off. It was an amazing morning and a new and exciting experience. Will I run another half marathon? Possibly, some day. I have to forget how hard this one was before I do that. Will I ever run a full 26.2? I just can’t imagine it!

Tomorrow I earn the shirt

Do the clothes make the man?

My friend Brian, who has run his share of races, sent me a note regarding tomorrow’s half marathon. He said: “Remember to Take in the Moment. 1/4 or 1/2 way through the run you’ll be saying to yourself….”I’m really doing this.”

I thought that was a really good perspective. I’ve run many races at this point but a half marathon represents important new ground. I’ll admit that I liked collecting my race number last night at the Expo and receiving the dark orange technical race shirt that the marathoners and half marathoners get. But picking up the racing shirt is one thing, earning it on the race course is another. It was a nice surprise to also receive an LI Marathon racing hat and some excellent running socks.

Tomorrow morning I’ll line up to run my longest distance to date. That means that once the gun sounds I’ll spend the next two-plus hours racing along a 13.1 mile course. By now I’ve thought through my pacing strategy, my race day hydration, nutrition plan and fueling. My knee feels much better than it did a week ago but it’s still a little tender. I finally feel ready to take this on. At least as ready as I can be. After six weeks of training, with a focus on building my base, I’ll face my biggest racing challenge yet. You only get one first experience at every distance. I will definitely follow Brian’s advice tomorrow and take in the moment as often as I can.

The Half decision

Today’s run (street) 2.65 miles

I was fully prepared to run today and had no trouble getting out the door this morning. I’m back to my weekday routine, energized and motivated. I knew it was cold outside (19 degrees) and wore three layers but the chilly air was still somewhat of a surprise. As I ran up the road that borders my neighborhood to the east it occurred to be that we’re about two weeks away from the Vernal Equinox. It sure didn’t feel like spring at that moment.

I was originally planning to run midday with JQ but his schedule didn’t work so that’s why I decided to go out this morning. I ran well, my stride felt efficient and my form was good. My pace seemed faster than my usual morning tempo but my Garmin said otherwise — mid 9:00. That pace seems to work for me over longer distances and I thought today about the half marathon. I’ve decided that despite its un-scenic course I’m going to run the RXR LI Half Marathon on May 1st. In terms of logistics and the opportunity to run with people I know it makes the best sense. So no mountain climbs, river views, ocean side paths or greenery (although the course does wend past Eisenhower Park) but it’s still 13.1 miles with a finish line.

Training has begun!

Indecision is a runner’s prerogative

Hook Half race course
Today’s workout (elliptical): 25 minutes
In the business world I need to be decisive. There is constant change in media technology and my colleagues and I work to adapt as quickly as the business requires. As a runner I don’t need to be decisive. I can spend months considering a new running shoe before I buy it. When I’m out on the trails I usually decide my route as I go along. There’s no penalty for choosing the wrong path since I’m likely to get lost no matter which trail I pick. My current case of runner’s indecision centers on choosing my first half marathon. Which one to run? My poll is favoring the Brooklyn Half and that was my personal choice but registration has closed so I’m locked out.
There’s the George Wodicka Hook Half Marathon in Congers, NY (Rockland County) that routes along the Hudson and is supposed to be a beautiful course. The race has two negatives though: it’s a long drive to get to the race and part of the course goes up and down Hook mountain, highest spot in Rockland County. People I know who have run this race talk about the run up Hook the way I talk about Widow Hill on the Great Cow Harbor course. I shouldn’t admit it but 13.1 miles plus a mountain climb scares me a little. The simplest choice is the RXR LI Half Marathon. It’s close by, and I have some friends who are also planning to run it. Plus, the race date is May 2nd which would give me a few extra weeks to train.
I’m going to give it some more thought and then decide. Or maybe I’ll just keep thinking about it.

Will geek appeal get me to the race?

Today’s workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

I forgot to set my alarm this morning and slept about 15 minutes later than I usually do. Feeling tired and knowing this late start would cut into my workout, I briefly considered skipping exercise altogether. Thankfully guilt prevailed and I ended up spending about 25 minutes on the elliptical. It was sufficient to raise my heart rate and make me sweat. Other than that I can’t remember a thing about it.

Tracking tag that’s built into the bib

My racing plans have been on my mind lately. I’m still on the fence about whether I will do the RXR LI Marathon 10K the first weekend in May. I enjoy racing and I do believe it helps push me to higher levels of conditioning than I would reach were I solely a recreational runner. The thing is, I just raced a couple of weeks ago and I really just want to take a few weekends to get out and have fun on the roads and trails. It’s different when preparing for a race where every run is about preparing to meet performance goals. On the other hand I’ve only competed in one 10K, a trail race, and I’m curious to see how I’d do in a road race at that distance. I did the LI Marathon 5K last year so the 10K would represent progress, or at least a new experience. I should be able to run 6.2 miles competitively right now without a lot of race-specific training. I have until Sunday to decide. That’s when registration closes. They have a new system where your race number is also your tracking tag. The geek in me is really intrigued by that. It may be enough to get me to the starting line.

Which race to race?

Today’s workout: Rest day

My city run last Friday was a great lead-in for a satisfying weekend of running. It’s rare that I string three days of excellent running in a row like that so I appreciated it all the more. All that running has made me think about my summer racing schedule and the races and distances that I should target. We’re more than halfway through April and I’ve still not decided how, or even if, I’ll compete in May. I’ve considered the RXR LI Marathon’s 10K, stepping up from the 5K that I ran last year. The 5K course was flat but uninspiring, more like running in an industrial park than on a race course. Except for that, there aren’t many local races to choose from in distances greater than 5K. I love running 5K’s but I’d like a little more variety and distance right now.

June has the opposite challenge. There are two races I’d like to do – the New Hyde Park 8K and the XTERRA trail series second Stillwell race. As I reported back in March, the first Stillwell XTERRA was pared down to about 3.5 miles due to icy conditions on the trails. Even at that length it was a great struggle to manage that course. The June race won’t have the ice factor so the run will be an 8K over difficult terrain. Even with my daily running, hill training, cross training and passion for the trails I’m concerned that I could run competitively that day. I would train even harder than I did for the first one and I think I’m in better shape than I was in early March when I was still dealing with residual issues from pneumonia. The New Hyde Park 8K is a less interesting course than Stillwell but I’ve felt like I had a score to settle because the original race result posted me at 9:00 per mile and I really wanted to break 9 minutes. I checked the results again and they now have me listed under 9:00 so that argument is moot. I’m going to take a look at the RXR 10K course map to see if that route is more interesting than the 5K. I still have a little time to decide on June’s challenge.