Thursday, December 24, 2009

Running as Art

The other day I got thinking about how running is like art. I recently read the Pose Method of Running and it really appealed to me because it structured running technique like mastering an art (dance especially.) I’m still experimenting with “Pose Method” running, but the technical side is another topic for another day. Instead, I am thinking about how running and the creative process share a lot in common. I’ve mentioned it before, but I love to focus on form. Like dance, Pilates and yoga often have you trying to construct an ideal pose with your body. So, in the same way running can be a performance in perfect form. My theory is that if biomechanically I can run as smoothly and efficiently as possible while emulating those who are really talented, it will make it easier to run faster and longer. Ideally, rather than killing myself to run faster I would like to make running faster feel more comfortable and as seemingly effortless as possible.

Of course in a sport like running this is only part of the beast. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of real quality running exercises like speed intervals and hill repeats—those are essential in improving cardio endurance. They also produce very tangible results when it comes to feeling more comfortable while running. The idea of running as a performance is more about the mental attack strategy.

I like to have the image of a champion in mind. Imagination is a very useful tool in running. It helps when you can delude yourself a little into thinking that you are performing spectacularly no matter what those horrible race photos show.

My mother is not a runner. Recently she was telling me about her attempts at running and it was easy to spot why she hated it without seeing her run. First of all she referenced how “all the pounding,” took its toll. Maybe this is something you get used to, but for the most part it sounds like evidence of a heavy untrained stride. Just having the image in mind of a light gentle stride could be a good way to start mentally training.

Also, the other interesting thing she said was that as she was running she imagined sports announcers commenting on her performances and saying things like “Oh man, she is really struggling! She is not doing well at this at all!”

This is very similar to the “
inner critic” that is sometimes talked about when trying to craft a work of art. Often the thing that holds you back from creating something that is really great is that voice in your head that tells you it’s no good. The truth is that most ideas are pretty weak when you first have them, there’s a process of things that happen before something becomes really good. Therefore you have to be forgiving of those early incarnations of an idea and just roll with them until you unearth their true potential. In essence you have to create this image or fiction first of what it is you are trying to do that is really great. Then you have to work your ass off to live up to it.

So basically, when you are just starting your run you have to imagine those sports announcers saying positive things. For example, “She’s really putting her heart out there under these difficult conditions.” Or “for some one who hasn’t run in several years she is performing at the top of her division.”

You may call it self delusion but a little of that is necessary to grease the wheels.

Then the next step is to have some clear goals that you are trying to achieve. Qualifying for the Olympics or writing the Grammy award winning song of the year may be a bit lofty. However, you can say today I want to run and not feel too much tension in my shoulders or get through the whole thing without walking. Those things are attainable. As you improve your goals will be higher, but it is important to know where you are and what you can do.

The last thing is to take that small goal and knock it out of the park. You can become a master of running for long periods of time without stopping or releasing tension in your upper body. You push yourself to make those periods even longer.

Virtuosity is the ideal of art. To become so good at something that people marvel in the beauty of it. The wonderfully open-ended thing about it is that sometimes you can be brilliant at something that is simple: like having a pure singing tone or writing a lyric that really resonates. It doesn’t have to be a grand unattainable thing.

That can also be the goal of a good run. That it is a performance to be marveled at. In a professional sense this would mean a world record time. For a normal person it could mean getting in 5 miles when you were so tired you thought you’d only be able to pull off 3. Or maintaining perfect form and not having pain after the run. You can define the goal and then when you nail it you get the euphoria of accomplishment.

That is the essence of a beautiful piece of art and a beautiful run.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Joe Kleinerman 10K Race Report

I had a great race this past Sunday! It was the second event that I participated in as part of Team in Training (TNT). They call it the "Fast Track 10K." If you don't already know about TNT, it is definitely an organization worth supporting in some way. They help people train for endurance events (usually triathlons, marathons and half marathons) while raising money for cancer research and patient services. It is specifically for blood cancers like Leukemia and Hodgkins Lymphoma but because of the nature of blood cancer the research is helpful for learning about all forms of cancer. I first got involved with TNT in 2008 when my aunt was fighting breast cancer and my grandmother (also a breast cancer surviver) was just diagnosed with Chronic Leukemia. Thank God, they are both doing well now.

The people are so nice and I really enjoyed the camaraderie of a common cause. In 2008 I ran the San Francisco Nike Women's Marathon. Here is a video of a song I wrote for my fundraising. It was a great experience so I was really happy when one of the coaches, Jasmine Graham of Pace For Success, contacted me about mentoring for the Fast Track Program this year. This was my first time being a mentor and I was really thrilled to watch my mentees cross the finish line. It was a new kind of satisfaction. Now, I want to do it all again and be a mentor for New York 2010! I am psyched!

So, onto the race itself. I had some definite time goals. After doing a few half marathons this spring, summer and fall I had increased my fitness level and felt it was time to take my 10K time up a notch. So far I had been unable to get my New York Road Runner's bib pace below the 9 minute mile despite sub 9 minute performances in local 5 mile races. I ran the the Nike Human Race with the idea that it would be my "before" time and Joe Kleinerman was my "after" time demonstrating the effectiveness of having the training schedule and a support system of TNT. I was really hoping for a 8:50 min/mile at Nike, but alas, my "before time" ended up being: 57:25 with 9:14 min/mile pace.

The first couple miles were rough because the crowd was a lot thicker that I thought it would be and I started too far back in it. I know you are supposed to start conservative but I felt like I was running so slow I was practically going backwards! I managed to do a lot of weaving and zig-zagging in that first couple miles so it didn't hurt me too much. As usual I was completely stupid about time. I didn't bother wearing a watch after the last couple races where I managed to botch up hitting the button every time (I always forget about it at either the start or finish.) This time I was so worried about the crowd I forgot to look at the start time so I never knew how much to deduct. Annoying.

The weather was pretty cold but beautiful! Central Park was lit up in all its glory by the sun's rays. The day before had been so rainy everyone at the race was grateful for the sun. Despite making my nose run like a faucet (which was really attractive) the cold didn't effect me much and that was a good thing. I sped up pretty significantly through the middle miles of the race and managed to hold on through the end. Harlem hill was early so I was still weaving through the slow crowd at that point and it didn't impact me too greatly. However, Cat hill was toward the end, so when I got over that I really felt like I was done. Still, I knew I only had 1 to 2 miles to go at that point and I really wanted that PR. I stayed strong through the end with the purple TNT crowd cheering me on at the finish line (another definite perk of running with TNT.) I also love it when there's a song I like blasting at the finish, it always makes me ridiculously teary. This time it was "Run" by Ben Kweller, a definite favorite that I like to cover sometimes.

So, the time. I knew I had PR'ed but I didn't know by how much. The time on the clock was 56 something. So it was possible I PR'ed with a low 9 minute mile which would have been a bittersweet victory. Again, I was so annoyed that I neglected to look at the start clock. I am going to write it on my hands next time! Look at the start clock dammit! It wasn't until I got home and looked it up on the nyrr results page that I got my time:

Finish Time - 53:12 Pace/Mile - 8:34

HURRAY!! I was walking on clouds the rest of the day.

Friday, December 4, 2009

One Month to a New Decade

I can't believe it's already December. Actually, it is now December 4th, exactly a month from my dreaded birthday, sigh. Hopefully, I will have an announcement regarding some sort of birthday run/performance very soon (because how else would I want to spend my birthday but by running and playing music?)

Anyway, so far December has started off pretty well. On the first I was fortunate to participate in the first ever NYC "runners' tweet-up" (that I know of anyway.) I know a few twitter haters who don't see the point of it, but I have found so many like-minded, awesome people through twitter it's pretty unbelievable. To those who don't like or don't get it, the secret is that it's all about who you follow. Yes, it would be great to get thousands of followers but to have a good experience first you have to find smart people to follow so you have good quality news feed. You can also follow some good lists, that's a new way to do it.

The tweet-up was so much fun! There was such a talented group of runners at first I was intimidated by the talk of Boston qualifications, ultra-marathons, and people actually winning races (I didn't know that was possible among mortals.) However, that was easy to get past because everyone was just so gosh-darn nice and cool.

We met at Bethesda fountain. There was a brief handshake and stating of names and twitter aliases. This included pigtailsflying and nycbklyngirl who organized it, BrklnRunner, runanskyrun, SpeedySasquatch, NYCe, sclevine, MikeJOConnor, and agaliza.

As the group started off my immediate instinct was to stay with the back of the pack. I wanted to chat with BrklnRunner a bit because I enjoy her blog and she's been such a nice supporter of this blog so I was really excited to meet her in person. Then as the group started taking off I thought, what the heck, why not try to challenge myself a bit and see if I can keep up with some faster runners for awhile? I don't get this opportunity often. If/when I get tired I'll talk to the people behind me then.

To my surprise I was able to keep up the entire time. Although, what truly floored me was how easy it was! These guys were all running their fun run pace and we were chatting almost the whole time. As a result there was a real sense of ease about it. At one point, when I was in the middle, I had the feeling like I was in a moving car because I wasn't putting in the effort to run at all. I think it helped that I started off running and chatting with agaliza who was interested in playing guitar. First of all because he had the most smooth efficient running gait ever so he set a good example and second because when I was encouraging him about the guitar it got me so excited and energized I wasn't worrying about running fatigue.

As the group continued to spread out I found myself alongside pigtailsflying and NYCe and I just wanted to pinch myself. Earlier that day when I was thinking about whether to do the tweet-up for sure I was looking at their blogs, marveling how smoking fast they are and now here I was running with them.

When we reached the end of 5 miles it came out that we had run it faster than I had run my recent 5 mile race PR. Admittedly the last mile or two did not feel as easy as the first couple, but I held on and I made it to the end with the middle pack. At this point some people went back to the back pack people but I felt pretty tired so I was happy to stop running. I had been standing there for hardly a minute when runanskyrun asked me to join him on the bottom loop. The next thing I knew I was running again! He told me about how he had once run from his home in New Jersey to Yankee stadium which I thought was pretty cool. According to his Go Wagon the total distance for the run was 10.15K with time of 54:15 which is a 8:36 min/mile pace. He finished the 5 mile part a bit ahead of me so my result technically was a few seconds higher. Still, I was amazed that I had run that while talking most of the time. I was a bit disappointed with my 10K result at the Nike Human Race in comparison but I'm really looking forward to see how the Joe Kleinerman 10K goes this Sunday!

Ironically as I was traveling from the boonies of Brooklyn to Central Park I was reading Chapter 36 of Pose Method of Running: "Overcoming the Fear of Running." In it is this little gem of a paragraph:

At its core, fear is a reflection of personal uncertainty. What we do not know, or know very little about, creates an emotional void in our performance. When we try to run while dealing with uncertainty, that void quickly fills with fear...fear if running too hard, fear of not running hard enough, fear of injury, fear of success and fear of failure.

Runners habitually underperform because they fear performing better.

The chapter deals with some of the mental challenges associated with running. This is not to say running is all mental, but it definitely plays a role. The thing is I feel this sense of doubt clouding many aspects of my life. I know what I love. I have no problem doing training exercises, and spending quality time running just like I have no problem practicing singing, playing guitar and writing songs. In my heart these are the things I want to do. So, if the criteria for success is just doing what you love than I am successful. Still, I get so grouchy trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone. To get to a higher level I want other people to be able to appreciate what I am doing too. That, I struggle with that a lot. Perhaps it's my mid-western, middle class, Catholic background but it's really tough for me to be pushy. I know I need to be more assertive about setting up gigs and getting people to listen to my music but I really hate asking. I worry that people won't get it or won't like it and that I'm just not that good. I feel like the next songs I'm working on will be better so I'll wait until they are done (this goes for every song I write I always think the next one is going to be better. ) I have never found a stable career path or line of work that I can tolerate for long. It's always been about running (very recreationally) and music. I hate risking having this vision fall apart at my feet because it is what keeps me going. In short, it is fear as a reflection of complete uncertainty.

In music as with running I take it to a level I am comfortable with and luckily that level continues to rise little by little. It is a bit of a conservative approach and it works for me to some extent. Still, I would like to blast through some of my self-imposed obstacles and become the artist and runner that in my heart I know I could be. I definitely feel that stupid biological tick. I don't have forever.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A New Hub for New York Runners

Here's a new site worth paying attention to: My friend Steve is starting up this site for runners in the New York area. It includes spaces for running groups, a local race calendar, running blogs and a running partner finder. I think it's a really cool idea. The New York running community is huge and goes way beyond just the NY Road Runners Club. There is definitely a need for a site to pull it all together.

It went live in the last few months so it's still in its infancy. If you are a runner in the New York area I really encourage you to check it out. You can connect through your Facebook profile which makes it easy to set up. Or you can look at the content without logging in. If you post ideas to a forum, they will be noted and you could have a real impact on getting the site going.

They've already posted a nice article on Lady Southpaw. If you have any running article ideas I'm sure Steve would love to know about it. Also, bloggers your contributions could have significant pull!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Listen to Shock Pilot and the JogTunes Indie Podcast

This morning I am going to go cheer on the runners of the New York Marathon. Hopefully the weather will clear up a bit and it will be a great race for everyone involved. I am looking forward to running it myself next year. Before I go I have a couple things I need to post about:

The past month I've working with some artists through twitter and ReverbNation. It was spearheaded by Jonathan Jones of Linwood Studios. My main contribution was the vocals. Steve Morton was also a key contributer of some eclectic sounds. The intention was to create something entirely collaborative online with feedback from listeners every step of the way, which was immensely valuable. We went through several drafts and I am very excited about the result. What began as an instrumental sketch about flight became a story about a Lara Croft-like flight attendant (undercover spy?) foiling a terrorist plot mid-air.

The project is called Shock Pilot and the first song is called "Smokin' Tasers." Find more information about it here:

Please feel free to stream, download, or share the song from here:


There is talk about offering a contest for people interested in making a youtube video for it. Contact me for more details.

The other big news I am very excited to announce that my song "Why I Run" was included in this month's JogTunes Indie Podcast! Dr. Bob Marcus guides runners through a 60 minute work out featuring a vast array of unsigned and unknown artists, explaining the different tempos for each song along the way. This podcast was indispensable to me when I started researching the idea running music. I used it to feel out the different tempos. I remember being most comfortable in the 150s and 160s. As soon as the pace climbed into 170 or 180 bpm I wasn't able to keep up. Now here I am nearly two years later touting the benefits of 180 bpm, which proves that cadence is definitely something you can control when you know how. The thing I eventually learned was that the speed of your leg turnover doesn't determine your running speed. If you make your stride smaller you don't have to run faster at the higher tempos. The podcast is a good exercise for trying different stride lengths and cadences as well as discovering unknown artists.

Here is the link to the show podcast:

A big thanks to Dr. Bob! He is so nice. I am really happy to have a song in the podcast and to be on the website. It's the fulfillment of something I was dreaming about a year ago. If you have not checked it out already, definitely subscribe to this podcast. The website is also a useful resource for finding good running music.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Race Report Part 2: The Regularly Scheduled Nike Human Race Report

Had I waited in the line in part one for 5-10 minutes the Nike Human Race Report would have gone something more like this:

Today I took part in the Nike Human Race NYC! This is probably the quickest I have churned a race report but the event is centered around the idea that people are running this race all over the world today. There is something pretty cool about that.

My goal for this race was to set a new P.R. for the 10K. I ran my last 10K with a total time of 59:06 and a pace per mile of 9:31. I figured after running a 5 mile race at an 8:51 min pace and a half marathon at a 9:25 min pace, I was due for a better 10K time. I seem to think more in pace per mile than total time. So for this race I was thinking I wanted to run as close as possible to a 9 minute per mile average pace.

The other test was that I had my iPod for the first time ever in a race situation! I figured this would be one race where they wouldn't mind if I was tracking it with my Nike+. Therefore, I shall breakdown this race in the form of my playlist:

Track 1: "You'll Find a Way," by Santigold

I used this in an iMix last summer and I swear I remember it clocking in at least the high 170's beats per minute (bpm) wise. I put it first because it usually gets me jazzed up and I figured the slightly lower bpm (from my usual 180) would be O.K. as a sort of warm up track. This may be true in a training run, but at the start of the race I was bursting with adrenaline. The slower tempo was really aggravating. In fact, I just re-measured it and it is actually closer to 165. So it turns out I tapped out the remix before and then downloaded the original version, genius. I can't believe I didn't notice that before today.

Track 2: "Why I Run," by Lady Southpaw

Of course as long as I was testing running music in race situations I was going to try out my own songs. The 180 bpm came as a relief after the Santigold incident. I started getting my footing and feeling more comfortable. It felt so good I hit the back button to repeat it but my iPod actually rebelled! A couple seconds into the song and it skipped to the end of the song. The weird thing was when I tried it again it did the exact same thing. I still have no idea how that happened but I gave up and let it go the second time.

Track 3: "Run On Sentences Volume 1.1," by Jonathan Jones

I have gotten to know Jonathan Jones through twitter in the last couple months. He writes scenic, inventive instrumental rock and is a great social networker and campaigner for independent music. He's been trying his hand at running music with a series of songs called "Run On Sentences." Volume 1.1 is my favorite but they're all good. Check them out at Also we've been collaborating on a project called Shock Pilot. Check that out here.

Track 4: "Flying On Glass," by AudioFuel

Again, thanks to the world of social networking I found myself writing back and forth with Sean from AudioFuel. He sent me this track he was working on. It is a remix of a Philip Glass piece at 175 bpm. Despite the slightly low bpm, it has become my absolute favorite track written for running. Of course I am going to be glowing about all of these songs there's a reason I put them on the playlist but I mean it, this one is amazing. Some of the credit goes to Mr. Glass's composition. It is just so smooth in the way it transitions from one variation to another. There is a lot of really blatant repetition in it, which is really soothing, something Glass is known for but most musicians tend to shy away from (myself included) for fear of boring the audience. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where you can get this particular track but definitely have a look at AudioFuel. They are a running music project in London. Apparently some of their composers worked on the Matrix soundtrack. This song really helped me get up Prospect Park's tough "North Hill."

Track 5: "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," by The Ramones

This song came on once I got over the big hill and was a great reward. Running to it is like eating candy. It's quick, light and fun. I especially liked the line "New York City really has it all," during this race because we were representing the NYC version of the race.

Tracks 6 & 7: New song + "How To Turn Around a Bad Day," by Hella Sound

O.K., this is the last twitter reference. Although, I have to say it makes something as seemingly obscure as "running music" seem like a growing community. John Frenette from Hella Sound sent me their new track to give a test run. I thought this would be a good time for it before I decided I would be detailing these choices in this blog. So, I'm not sure how much I should say about the new song because it hasn't been released yet. I will say this, it is the light fun side of Hella Sound. I could imagine running to this song on a beach somewhere and chilling out with a pina colada afterwards. Then at some point it turns a bit CSI Miami-ish, like there was a murder on the island that needs to solved by some Tom Selleck type character. Ha, how's that for a review John? When it finished I listened to "How Turn Around a Bad Day," for a bit until I got closer to the end of the race. Hella Sound songs are always a go to for training runs. They're long and consistent and crafted with some solid song-writing skills.

Track 8: "Half-Cocked Concepts," by P.O.S.

To use Nike+ jargon, this is my "Powersong." It's a song that always gets me jacked up and makes me want to start running fast no matter how tired I am. Whenever anyone asks me what I listen to when running I usually have to mention P.O.S. I'm not sure how well known he is, but I totally enraptured by his music. He's a punk influenced rapper from Minnesota. His beats and samples are just sickly cool and his lyrics are so entertaining. This song perfectly sums up the anger around the time Bush was elected for his second term. I love listening to it now with the perspective of how things have changed in the oval office. It's empowering and humorous at the same time. Here are just a couple lines:

"Busy bees making our honey but ski ball tickets still don't count as real money. It's something so ridiculous, funny so f*ckin sick of this consistent lack of vision from children claiming they're listening." "Holler if you hit the bottom running..."

"Lean back and relax and tell 'em: Get up, get up, get up and get something, put the mother f*cking Fresca down!"

Track 9: "Engineering Masterpiece," by Lady Southpaw

I had to end with this song because it is all about coming up to the finish line and summoning that last ounce of strength. I have to say I was pretty exhausted at this point and it was pretty cool to listen to something I wrote.

So my final time was 57:25 with a pace per mile of 9:14 per mile. I succeeded in getting a new personal record. However, I still think I could run a faster average pace if I did it again.

My conclusion on the racing with iPods is that it can be enjoyable. I did not feel out of touch with what was going on around me. Similar to most races I had moments of speeding up and slowing down. However, I don't feel like it improved my performance at all. It was similar to running with a companion sometimes it boosts you other times it holds you back but the difference is not as significant as you would think. Overall, I still think running solo without music is best in race situations because I like having it as a special time to test your metal as an individual and perform to the best of your ability in that moment. I might feel differently about a marathon length race, but anything shorter is better unencumbered.

At the same time nothing beats a good running buddy or a great song when you are training. They can make the world go round on endlessly long runs.

Race Report Part 1: Nike Human RAGE

Oh Nike, you left a bad taste in my mouth after what would have been a pleasantly sweet race. I am dividing my race report into two sections today. The general race report will soon follow, but first I would like to have a Nike Human Race rant.

Yes, I followed the legions of runners in participating in the Nike Human Race NYC today, 10.24.2009. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about the event last year, something about it's aesthetic seemed a bit off to me. I mean I like the idea of world unity in running and all that, but coming from Nike it seems a bit contrived. However, becoming active on twitter this year changed my mind because seeing updates from runners all over the world gearing up for it was cool. So, I jumped on the bandwagon. Also I am signed up to do a 10K event with Team in Training in December so it seemed especially appropriate; both because it will be a good before and after to show the effect of the training I will be doing and also because some of the proceeds for the Nike Human Race are going toward Team in Training and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Unfortunately, the perfect storm of variables left me with an unpleasant ending. Not all of them were Nike's fault, like the weather or the fact that the F train was not running (the train that goes through part of the park where the start line was.) Still, there were organizational problems where they were to blame.

My first fatal flaw was that I didn't want to go into Manhattan to pick up my chip and t-shirt a day or two before the race. I live and work in Brooklyn so I figured it would be better for me to do it the morning of the race since it was taking place in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. My second mistake was that I brought a backpack. Since the F train was not running and I knew I would be standing around waiting for buses; I figured I would like to have the extra layer of cloths and a book. Had I picked up my shirt already I would have dropped my stuff off at the gym but because I still had to pick that stuff up, I figured I would take advantage of baggage check... these were to be my famous last words.

My first thought when I entered the park was, gee, it really is a sea of red t-shirts like all the promotional art. Why is everyone complying with this so universally? Well I soon found out. The chip line was a breeze, it was separated by last name. I was surprised how many people were in line to register the day of the race and glad I didn't have to wait in that line. Then I saw the t-shirt line extending off into the horizon. I thought to myself, eh, I don't need a t-shirt, I prefer the one I'm wearing anyway. So I ask the chip lady if I could forgo getting the shirt. She raised an eyebrow at me, "Do you want to check your bag? Then you have to get a t-shirt." It turns out the race numbers are on the shirts! Nice Nike, way to indirectly enforce conformity. Of course I was not running 10K with a backpack on and there was no way I could make the gym before the race start. I entered the line questioning if I could even make the start time after waiting for the t-shirt.

Turns out it was not so bad, I even made it through the porta-potty line before the start (a victory in itself after the Staten Island Half.) What I did not realize was that I was given a doomed "0" T-shirt. The number on your T-shirt determined which bus you put your bag in. Bus zero, was the last bus on the end. Everyone registering and picking up a t-shirt that day must have gotten a zero t-shirt. Then, the added kicker was that everyone arriving late (the bag check was scheduled to close at 7:45) apparently was told they had to put their bag on bus 0 regardless of their number.

So, when the race was over and people went to pick up their bags the line for bus 0 eclipsed the length of all 10 buses. As far as I could tell if you had a bag on any other bus you didn't even have to wait in line. It was thoroughly maddening!

The other problem was that the line was not moving. No one was directing the line whatsoever. The poor guys on the bus were doing their job the same as all the other drivers; they let on one or two people at time to retrieve their bags and they matched their shirt numbers to make sure it was the right person. Unfortunately, when there was such a large percentage of the bags on one bus this was a completely inefficient system.

Now, at this point, I was calm. I figured I'm just killing time before Matt and Kim perform anyway. I can wait in line and mentally formulate my race report etc. The people directly around me were starting to get very angry. One of them said she could see people just cutting the line altogether. One by one, they left the line and took their chances with cutting in. This is one of those times where some one like me is left feeling like a real sucker. I hate it when people push their way to the front at the expense of everyone else, but then at the same time who is left at the back of the line suffering? That's right, the nice people.

Anyway, after waiting in this virtually unmoving line over half an hour I begin to suspect I hear Matt and Kim songs playing in the distance. At this point I am in denial. "Nah," I think, "I would have heard the announcer or the roaring crowd," or "Maybe they are just playing the CD to get people psyched up to hear Matt and Kim." I was seriously considering going to check it out and coming back later, but I looked back and saw the line was stretching twice as far behind me. The fear of having to start it over (in the case the set had not started) seemed like too big a gamble.

It was not long after this that thoughts of Matt and Kim dissolved from my mind as disgruntled runners started scaling the sides of the bus, pulling out random bags and passing them into the crowd below where they disappeared. The mob of waiting runners gathered up in paralyzed anticipation. There was some relief that maybe this wait would be over but at the same time it was impossible to see any of the bags. Where were they going? Who was monitoring this? Everyone was packed so tightly. There was no way to move through and get a good look at what was happening. Most people were dumbstruck but occasionally you would hear a "this is insane," or "is this some kind of strange social experiment?"

Luckily there was nothing too valuable in my bag. Although I did want to be able to wear pants home. It was easily an hour from the time I got in that line until I wrestled my bag out of that tangled mess. No one was checking numbers at that point, by the way. Without opening my bag I slung it over my back and marched toward the concert stage. I could hear the song "Daylight" and I had hope that I could make at least part of this show. I was so excited after my ordeal to see Kim standing up on her stool stomping and Matt shouting out a hearty "Brooklyn!" No sooner had I come to a stop then they wrapped up their final chorus and immediately disappeared off stage. Seriously, I saw them for a total of about 30 seconds and they were done!! It was such a cruel tease! (Not that it was their fault of course.)

I have to say I remained pretty cool through all the lines, but as I stood there in the mud realizing I had just missed the entire Matt and Kim show there is really no other word to describe what I was feeling but RAGE. I had heard there were some organizational problems last year and it looks like they still have a lot to learn.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Thoughts on Foot Landing While Running a Half Marathon

While I was running the Staten Island Half Marathon yesterday I found myself continually thinking back to a blog I read the night before posted by NCRunnerDude. It was about barefoot running which seems to be all the rage at the moment. You can't get on the running blogosphere or twittersphere without hearing about who just tried out a new pair of Vibram Five Fingers. I am definitely not ready to jump on the barefoot running bandwagon just yet but as usual I am obsessed with thinking about running biomechanics. The subject of footfall in particular is something that I've been thinking about a lot.

I have been told I am a heel striker. When I was given this diagnosis it was before I knew that was a "bad thing" because I had become a heel striker on purpose. A few years ago I went to a podiatrist who took x-rays of my feet and told me I was putting too much pressure on my forefoot which could eventually cause a bunion as well as my obnoxiously thick calluses. He wanted to fit me with some expensive orthotics which would put more padding on my heels. I said thanks but no thanks. Before I had even heard anyone talk about barefoot running I was already thinking I wanted to be able to run with less padding and not more. So I asked him if I should just try striking more on my heels when I ran. He actually laughed at me and told me you can't consciously change your natural running stride. A year later I am told I am a heel striker by shoe salesman and that I should read ChiRunning to fix my form.

Basically, the problem with heel striking is that it is unnatural to the way we were built to run. It can cause problems because it sets your alignment off. You tend impact the ground ahead of your center of gravity. Also it is essentially putting the breaks on with every step slowing you down and causing that annoying up and down bounce. So I get it, heel striking is only possible because of the padding in our running shoes. The consequences tend to be more long term and chronic. On the other hand too much toe running is painful in a much more immediate way. It causes me way more calluses, blisters and pain in my big toe joint, as well as achilles/calf soreness. Some one recently told me that you "get used to it." I'm sorry but I can tell the difference between exercise soreness and pain and I'm not going to get used to the pain. If that's not the path to injury I don't know what is. Chances are I'm doing something wrong when I'm trying to get "off my heels." So it's something I continue to work with and tweak.

The best tip on this subject that I got from ChiRunning was to practice by running on the sand and analyzing the footprints. It is possible to make a flat footprint while running. This past summer I practiced it barefoot on the beach and tried to memorize the feeling for when wearing shoes on the road. I don't want to take my heels completely out of the equation, I just don't want to impact with them.

I found this description of barefoot running biomechanics by Josh Sutcliffe on NCRunnerDude's blog to be really helpful. Understanding natural running biomechanics can be useful even if you are trying to apply it in shoes. There are a ton of great images and tips in here so I'm sharing it:

Staten Island Half Marathon Race Report

Yesterday we had the perfect weather for a half marathon. It was sunny, clear and a little crisp but not too cold. Since the NYC Half I had not done a ton of extra training; I did a few speed and hill intervals and ran a 10 and 12 miler in addition to my regular running to maintain my fitness. My general goal was the same as usual: to run in a way that felt strong from beginning to end. As far as time I wanted to break an average 10 minute mile after my last average of a 10:01 mile.

I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend Chris drive me to the start line. In Brooklyn we live so close to the Verrazano bridge into Staten Island that it seemed ridiculous to get up early enough to take the train into Manhattan for the SI Ferry. Also, the tolls on the bridge are high enough that it would double the cost of a car service and if I took the bus I would have had to change 3 times. How can something so close be so far? Anyway Chris was a trooper about getting up and drive in. He even wore his Lady Southpaw t-shirt which earned him an extra gold star.


My first stop once I found start was the the port-a-potty line. I naively thought that being 20-30 minutes early would give me enough time to get through the line and to the start. The lines were long but there were so many of them and these people were all racers trying to get to the same race, so no problem right? Well, I was still about a dozen people away when the start gun fired. From that point to john I was hopping from foot to foot in pure agony for what felt like an eternity. After peeing a liter bottle worth of pure spring water I applied my hand sanitizer and took off for the start. In all of my little adjustments (taking my GU, putting on my Fuel Belt) I completely blocked out the start line clock. This was a very annoying omission for the next couple of hours because I wasn't wearing a watch and had no idea how long I was standing in that line.

I crossed the start line after the pack in the corrals had cleared. At first I thought this would be a bad thing because I would be stuck behind all the slowest people. Actually it was great because by then pack had already spread out so it was easy to weave through people and I felt like I was more with the port-a-potty crowd so there were a lot of varying speeds to work off of as I made my way to a comfortable race pace.

The route was basically an out and back from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal to a bit past the Verrazano Bridge and back. It was along the northern edge of the island so we didn't get a many of the vicious hills in the middle. One of the nice things about being an out and back was that you could assess the terrain on the way out to strategize for the way back. Also, I have to admit, most of what I'd seen of Staten Island was the view from the highway passing through so it was nice to see some actual residential and commercial areas. There was also a lot of running through industrial areas too which would not have been so nice except that it's on the opposite side of the Upper New York Bay where I usually do my running in Brooklyn. It was cool to get a new perspective on it.

When I was about five miles from the end I felt great. I thought to my recent five mile race in Brooklyn and thought I could run that right now. I had a surge of speed for the next couple miles. I was prepared for the fact that there would be a big long hill about 3 miles from the end and then it was more or less downhill to the finish. I stayed conservative up the hill and prepared to speed to the finish. When I got to the top I found I wasn't ready to speed up. Then as I ran downhill a horrible thing started happening. At first it just felt like a little spasm in my calf. Then I realized I was dangerously close to having a full on cramp. I get these cramps sometimes after I've been working out really hard. I pretty sure it's a sign my electrolyte levels are off but I'm never sure if It's dehydration or low sodium, or both. I was drinking all along the route. I had my Fuel Belt and I was stopping at water stops. I had my GU, but I had it really late (I almost forgot about it) I had a packet of salt on the long hill, but again, maybe it was too late? Maybe it was the transition from uphill to downhill? Whatever it was, it was really annoying because I was running a really good race up until that point. I was pacing a sub 10 minute mile, I had no joint pain and my energy was still up. I just tried to stay calm and kept running. I knew if I stopped I would feel the cramps and whenever I sped up I felt the cramps. I was so glad I had my fuel belt because drinking made me feel like I was at least doing something to help. The cramps spread into my feet as well as my calves but the finish was so close. When I saw the time on the clock was 2:11 something I almost cried with joy because that was my net time for my last half. Whatever the time I still managed a Personal Record! Of course at that point I had no idea how much because I didn't see my start time.

Turns out the port-a-potty line only set me back about 8 minutes, which surprised me because in took me over ten minutes to get to the start in Brooklyn and Manhattan without the delay. Still, I seem to be improving and I'm doing it gradually, consistently and without injury so there you go. This will probably be my last half marathon for 2009. Ideally, I'd like to run a sub 2 hour half next. Until then I'll try to improve my speed with 5Ks, 5 milers, and 10Ks.

Here's the final half marathon stats for 2009:

Brooklyn Half Marathon - 2:17:28 - pace: 10:29/mile

NYC Half Marathon - 2:11:26 - pace: 10:01/mile

Staten Island Half Marathon - 2:03:31 - pace: 9:25/mile

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Superb Stuff #2: Kashi

This is the second installment of the Superb Stuff series. Read the introduction here.

Right now I am sitting over my laptop, the way I do every morning, with a delicious bowl of cereal. Full disclosure: my name is Erin and I am a cereal-aholic. My dad works for Kellogg's and I grew up in the "Cereal City" Battle Creek, Michigan (I just found a link with a comedian making fun of it, pretty funny). Anyway, it is in the complete spirit of uncensored bias that I present Kashi as one of my favorite companies.

As a kid I was pretty much raised on Kellogg's cereals like Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and my personal favorite Froot Loops. I still enjoy Special K and other Kellogg's cereals (although not the Froot Loops so much) but as I have gotten older and more health conscious, my tastes have changed. It seemed appropriate that as I was learning more about nutrition and getting into yoga that my dad introduced me to a small Californian health food company called Kashi.

Kashi cereals are high in protein, fiber and their signature blend of whole grains. Their signature phrase is, "7 whole grains on a mission." Here is a section of their mission, or "Mantra" as they call it, that stands out to me:

Health isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. Every little step we take creates a healthier path forward. We believe that when we eat well, we feel well, and do well for ourselves, our families, our coworkers, our communities, and the world. This philosophy builds on our deep roots in natural foods since 1984 and remains our daily guiding light.

They go on to highlight all the ways that they are active in community building and environmental sustainability.

Sure, a lot of companies take on this image because it is fashionable to be health conscious and environmentally friendly these days. Still, more companies don't even bother. As consumers if we are serious about good health and corporate environmental practices we should support companies who make it a serious priority. It is built into the DNA of Kashi and I hope they stay that way. Plus Kashi Go Lean is really yummy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chris Hoban Memorial 5-Mile Run: Race Report

Yesterday was the first time I ran a race through the Prospect Park Track Club. It was called the Chris Hoban Memorial 5-Mile Run and took place in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Most of the events I've done this year have been through the New York Road Runner's Club (NYRR) which at about 40,000 members has to be one of the largest running clubs in existence. There were notable differences in the experience of doing a smaller race.

First of all, I didn't have to get up at 4 am to make it up to Central Park using weekend subway trains (notorious for their service changes and unreliability.) The race itself didn't start until 10:30. The start line was about 3 miles from my house so I left at a leisurely 9 am and walked/jogged as a warm up. I also gave myself ample time to get my race number and use the restroom before the 10 am opening ceremony. At a half an hour the ceremony was a bit long and tough to stand still through. Chris Hoban was a New York police officer who was killed in an undercover drug buy 21 years ago. I had a young uncle who was killed that same year and I remember what a painful shock that was to my family; it still stings a little to think about. So, I had a lot of respect for what they were doing and the fact that they used the event to do good for their community. At the end of the ceremony an NYPD helicopter did a low dive over the crowd which frankly, completely freaked me out.

Then we lined up behind the starting line. This was so much different than NYRR. There were no corrals. It did not take me ten minutes just to get to the start line. My race number was so small at a mere 3 digits. The run itself was beautiful route. It took us down the Shore Road Promenade which is a great running and bike path with a view of the New York Bay complete with Lower Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, and Verrazano Bridge. Then it looped up 3rd Ave (parallel to 4th Ave, the first leg of the New York marathon) and back to the start at Xaverian High School.

My goal for races 10K and under is usually to try to burst the average pace of 9 minutes per mile. I have yet to do it in a scored New York Road Runners race. This annoys me to no end because the quicker your pace per mile the closer your corral is to the start line (and the less time spent standing around after the gun goes off.) I did run a 5 mile in New Jersey last year where I was a few seconds under the 45 min total time so I know it is possible.

The first leg of the race was pretty crowded so there was a lot of jockeying for position. I tried to stay pretty conservative but not easy. I focused on short quick strides like I had been practicing. I did not have my music because I wanted to be completely present in what people were doing around me but I did try to channel some of my songs mentally to keep the rhythm in my arms and legs.

At the halfway point I was right on pace but the idea of maintaining the pace for another 2 and a half miles seemed like a tall order. The mile markers weren't that clear with volunteers shouting split times as you ran by. As a result I got a bit disoriented about how far I was and how much was left in the fourth mile. At one point I remember thinking I would have had to run a 5 and a half minute mile in the last mile to make it under 45 minutes so I had to let go of my goal. Still, I managed to maintain my intensity and was psyched to look around and see that I was mostly running with guys. I could see a few ladies ahead of me but I was definitely ahead of the big crowd and up with the above average runners. There was a big hill right before the finish line which sucked but the downhill into the finish made for a nice final kick. To my surprise the clock read 44:17.48! So I made my goal with a 8:52 per mile pace afterall.

I just downloaded the pdf with the race results and I've been pouring over it. Unlike NYRR race results it doesn't calculate my age and gender place so I actually went through and counted all the 20-29 year old females who placed ahead of me. The first 5 in each age/gender group got trophies. I was very pleased to find that my score placed me as #12 among the women in their 20s. My overall place was 227 out of 612 finishers. That definitely beats my usual NYRR placement which is something in the thousands.

It was definitely a nice change to do a more local race and I will definitely try to do more. Maybe next time I'll memorize some mile mark landmarks in advance so I don't have to worry about the high school aged volunteers shouting confusing numbers at me in my runner's fog. Although the focus of this race report has been on the numbers I still think of it as a by-product of my training. I am most proud of the fact that I could run in a way that I felt strong. I was challenging myself with the pace all the way through but I never lost form or felt that I was risking injury in order to achieve my result. My goal is to continue to improve gradually with an emphasis on good practice.

Random side note: as I was walking past the ambulance parked at the finish line, the runner sitting on the stretcher getting his knee iced and taped was none other that the guy I blogged about drafting off me in my blog last week. I swear I'm not making that up. The path we were running was part of the race route but it was still weird to him in there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meditation in Motion: Zone Mind, Zone Body

On my run yesterday I got to thinking about results versus process. Posting the picture from the Brooklyn Half the other day had me thinking back to my rant about how much I hated worrying about my times. Yet, at the same time I really like obsessing about form. It comes down my suspicion that if your main goal is winning or at least setting your personal best time you will cut any corner you have to and miss out on the pleasure of getting there. This means pushing through tension, pain, and feeling generally miserable. It also means losing a sense of flow, gracefulness and efficient breathing that comes with proper running technique.

Now, I am not saying running is supposed to be easy and that you should always run at a pace that is comfortable. I just think that the most important skill to acquire is the ability to be aware; to constantly check in with what your body is doing and where everything is in the moment. It is important to keep challenging yourself and pushing your limits is going to be uncomfortable at first. So, in those moments of discomfort rather than thinking, "I've just got to push through this toward the finish," you are thinking: "How can I adjust my breathing? Are my feet hitting the road too hard? Is my head still up? Can I relax my shoulders more?" As you work on these tiny adjustments you learn a lot more about what you can do. Then, when you find yourself on top of the challenges you get a real sense of freedom. Speed becomes the by-product.

Actually, when I was thinking about this yesterday it seemed like a semi original thought. Now that I have written it down I realize that it's essentially the main point of a book I read earlier this summer called, "Zone Mind, Zone Body: How to break through to new levels of fitness and performance - by doing less!" by Roy Palmer. Palmer is a runner, martial artist and teacher of the Alexander Technique. As some one interested in running and the zone, it definitely piqued my interest. It was a pretty easy read and I found it enjoyable. He gives a few Alexander-type exercises to help you recognize some of your bad movement habits. For example, putting tension in your neck in order to stand up, think about it, the neck muscles are not going to do much for you in this situation. The main thing that the book drives at is that if you can really focus, be in the moment and not put in unnecessary effort you can reach your optimum ability level and be in the zone. He breaks it down to make it easier for people to reach the zone more often.

This is why I love running and how it crosses over into a way to live and understand life. The same goes for music. So much of it is about listening. When things get muddy and difficult it means you must listen more deeply and start working on the things you can fix. It means practicing, tweaking the techniques and waiting until it come out right. There is a lot of patience involved. This all applies to running, music and life. Experiencing the improvements in running and music make the struggles of life feel more bearable. That is why I choose to love the process and the journey of trying to do things the right way rather than focusing only on the quantifiable results. I will work as long as it takes to get something right because the pursuit is the reward.