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