Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A moment of silence for the Boston Marathon

There's not much to say on this, the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon tragedy.

Please join with runners and Bostonians around the world in a moment of silence at 2:49 PM EDT.

It's raining in New York City today and I have a day packed with business. I'm going to honor the victims and the race in Central Park this evening with a slow, methodical 10K. Raining or not.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hamstring Stretch

I've been running for almost eight years, not a long time compared to a lot of people out there, but long enough to gain what I think is a decent amount of knowledge about the sport (hobby? pastime? obsession?) and my body.

I know that if I run and don't take the time to stretch afterwards, I'm going to get injured. So I built a little routine after I get home from a run that I like to follow. I take off the Garmin, roll out the yoga matt and stretch for anywhere from five to 10 minutes - just the essential stretches, I don't get too fancy. Then I sit at my desk and analyze my pace, heart rate and splits on Strava before jumping in the shower to get on with my life.

That's the normal routine. But since I'm not perfect, I don't always stick to it. For the past month, I've slacked on some of the stretches and have been paying for it in the form of hamstring issues. So I thought it appropriate to share two of the hamstring stretches I've since started doing that have helped me get back to feeling better.

Full disclosure, Ed Mathews, the therapist in the videos, is a client of mine. I'm working with him to build his Facebook community and get him in front of athletes in New York to give free stretching seminars.

But I don't want you to think I'm just his shill, I truly believe in what Ed does and was a client of his for more than six years before I started working with him. I credit Ed with getting me to the finish line of 11 marathons (and counting).

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Strategy for the New Jersey Marathon

This morning I decided not to go for a PR in the New Jersey Marathon.

I did not come to this decision lightly but it dawned on me that I have exactly four weeks to finish my training and have only this morning completed an 18-mile run – my longest training run to date for this race. Complicating matters is the fact that I’m riding the Battenkill Gran Fondo next week and will be unable to do a long run.

Training for Battenkill is an entirely different post that I’ll get to, but suffice it to say, I’ve only ridden my bike twice since January and am completely unprepared for the 65 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing.

Back to New Jersey.

As I mentioned, this morning was my longest run to date when, if I was going to try and PR the race, it should have been my second or third 20 - 22 miler.

I’m surprisingly okay with the decision. I was thinking about what I wanted to do at around mile 12 when I came upon Tom, a fellow runner/cyclist whom I had met a few years ago cycling with the NYCC. Tom was doing a long run in training for the Brooklyn Half Marathon and we fell into step together for about two miles while he finished up.

We started chatting about, what else? Running and racing. It was during our chat that I made the decision and said it out loud. Not that I need an excuse or a rationale, but I find a lot of satisfaction (and mentioned this to Tom) in my recent running accomplishments. In Philly last November, I took more than 6.5 minutes off my marathon PR and earlier this month, PR’d a13.1 at the NYC Half by more than three minutes. Both of those personal records were from 2011. 

It’s not that I don’t want to run a faster marathon; my time in Philly gave me the confidence to go for a Boston Qualifier -- something I never thought I’d be able to do. But I know I’m not doing it this year; I’m not in shape for it. If my training was better, more consistent and I didn’t have to miss a long run for a bicycle race, I would be singing a different tune.

I’m heading into the Jersey Marathon to have fun, maybe make a video and tick another notch in my marathon belt.

Anyone else running it?

Here's the run from this morning:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Runner Spotlight: Lauren E.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working the Expo at the NYC Half Marathon. I love handing out bibs to runners, answering questions about the race, the course and NYC. It's really a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the running community and it's a nice way to give back.

While there, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting up Lauren E. for a few minutes. I was flattered that she recognized me from writing the blog, but more importantly I was intrigued by her commitment to running. As a fairly new runner, she's already completed an impressive amount of 13.1 races with more on tap. And I was psyched when she agreed to be spotlighted in this space.

So without further preamble, I'll let her to you her running story:

Name: Lauren E.

Age: 28

City or state: Jersey City, NJ


When did you start running? 
May 2013

Why did you start running?
Last spring, I was having a hard time motivating myself to consistently go to the gym, so I started looking for a goal. When I saw that Jersey City has the Newport Liberty Half Marathon each September, I signed up and found my motivation.

What is your favorite race?
After the R&R New Orleans Half
I had a feeling the NYC Half Marathon would be my favorite before I even registered for it, and it was (close second is the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon). This was probably as close as I’ll get to a ‘perfect’ race: cool weather, running in my favorite city and with a hometown friend, no IT band pain, and a positive inner monologue. Toward the end of the race, I was downright giddy in the Battery Park Tunnel when I checked my watch and realized that I would set a new PR. My husband, parents, and sister (who was in town from Denver) were all there cheering me on at the finish line. I beat my old time by 11 minutes.

What are you most proud of having accomplished?
I’ve run six half marathons in six months. After crossing each finish line and experiencing that unique mix of exuberance and satisfying exhaustion, I immediately wonder when I can do it again.

What was the biggest hurdle to running and how did you get over it?
Just before my first half marathon, I got a cold that developed into a nasty sinus infection. I coughed so hard that I pulled a muscle just outside of my ribcage. Every time I took a deep breath, sneezed, turned sideways, or coughed, pain shot through my upper torso. Then I started having knee pain (and later learned it was IT band syndrome). I had excuses to duck out of the race, but I reminded myself of all of the reasons I could still run and have a good experience.

What's the most rewarding part of your running life?
Feeling stronger.

What are your favorite motivational quotes?
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right.” –Henry Ford

“When you finish this run, you get to put on your compression socks!” -Me

What’s your favorite piece of gear?
My sister gave me a long sleeve base layer that has tiny silver dots inside to keep me warm during winter runs. I laugh each time I put it on because the inside of the shirt looks like fish scales.

What is your long-term goal?
 Run a race in another country
Elation is apparent at the finish of the 2014 NYC Half. Look at that huge smile!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Product Review: Garmin Forerunner 620

Let me start this review by letting you know that I've been using a GPS unit since I started running seven years ago. I've tried almost all of the commercially available models and brands and don't see a reason to go out for a run, ride or swim with recording it and obsessing over the metrics.

Recently, there have been some major advances in the single activity GPS enabled monitors and I was psyched when Garmin agreed to let me test its top of the line running unit while I finished training for and ran the NYC Half.

Welcome to the world of the Garmin Forerunner 620.

I was impressed with how light and small it was. I'm used to something a little bulkier and when I strapped the watch on I barely noticed I was wearing it. Aside from how light it was, I was super impressed with how fast it found the satellite link! I live in New York City. Manhattan to be exact. And the buildings around me as I make my way to Central Park are anything but small. On a good day my GPS takes about five minutes to lock on a sat feed. When I strapped on the 620 and ran out the door, it found in less than one minute.

Color me impressed.

But that's the least of it. The unit also has smartphone Bluetooth syncing for wireless uploads. Once you're in range of your wi-fi, the 620 will upload all new data. And, if you have a smartphone and use the Garmin Connect app, other people can see where you are - like live. You know what this means right? No more paying for apps from the major races you run. 

The 620 does everything you'd expect it to do - it has a heart rate monitor, gives you pace data, lap data, total time, intervals. You can add workouts and run against a virtual partner, basically everything you seen Garmin offer on past models. But here are just a few of the things it does that I wasn't prepared for.

When I finished my first run, the unit beeped after a few minutes and surprised me by telling me how long I would need to rest to be fully recovered from my last workout. And if that wasn't enough, when I uploaded the data to Garmin Connect, I noticed a new metric on the screen. Turns out Garmin added a metric for figuring out your VO2 Max and if I may brag, mine seems pretty decent for an old man.

Garmin produced this slick video that explains it better than I can

The other set of data that Garmin added to this watch are the Running Dynamics offerings. This is a group of metrics that includes Vertical Oscillation (simply, how much you bounce), Ground Contact Time (self explanatory) and Cadance. Now the cadence feature isn't new like the others, but with the launch of the 620, Garmin started counting cadence for both feet and now uses the new HRM Run monitor as opposed to the foot pod

Again, they do a much better job than I explaining this:

The last thing I want to talk about is a function that is part of the V02 Max Estimator and Recovery Advisor, the Race Prediction feature. I wasn't sure how hard I was going to push myself in the 2014 NYC Half, the weeks leading up to the race weren't great for me in terms of running. I've been busy with work, it's been cold and I'm not alone in being sick of this winter weather. All this to say I wasn't planning to PR.

Sometimes as a runner, all you need is a little push to get the confidence you need to get the job done.

When I saw this:

I decided to go for it. And while I didn't hit the mark that Garmin set for my race, I did take 3:02 off my best time. I reviewed the race here.

I'm looking forward to seeing how I do with the New Jersey Marathon now that the weather is warming up and I can be more consistent with my training.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Race Review: 2014 NYRR NYC Half (Marathon)

Where do I begin? The Expo? The weather? The new course? The fact that this is one of my two absolute favorite 13.1 races of the year? Or the fact that I took more than three minutes (3:02 to be exact) off my 13.1 PR? No matter where I start my review the end is the same, the 2014 NYC Half was one of my best days running. Ever.

Runners posing with race swag at the Expo
The Expo
I was at the Expo when the doors opened. If you want guaranteed entry to the TCS NYC Marathon for
the following year (in this case 2015), one needs to participate in (and I'm pretty sure, cross the finish line of) nine NYRR qualifying races as well as volunteer at one race. For the past three years, I've volunteered to hand out bibs at the NYC Half Expo. It's a great way to get psyched up for the race, meet runners from around the country and act as an ambassador for our great city (and running organization).

This year I chose the first shift  on the first day of the Expo (Thursday 9AM - 3PM). Handing out the bibs was pretty uneventful until someone came over and asked if I wrote a running blog. My first time being recognized (thanks for making my day Lauren)!!

I got to know the people around me doing the same job and we had a great time talking race strategy, past race PRs and just general Running Nerd type stuff (you know, things you can only talk to other runners about). Overall it was fun. So after my shift I picked up my number and shirt and walked the Expo floor for a bit, but I was so tired from not sleeping the night before and being on my feet all day, I just needed to go home and crash.

The Start

After having been out to dinner with my regular running group the night before (and a guest star from my childhood), I got down to Central Park South and checked a bag. In the truck went my down jacket, a dry shirt and an extra hat. The day before the race was 50 degrees in NYC. But Sunday, it was closer to 20 at the start with a high of 32 predicted. Talk about bad timing.

But I was prepared. I had what i like to call my "throw-away clothes." This race consisted of the poncho the NYRR handed out after the 2013 NYC Marathon, over the Heat Sheet I saved from the 2013 NYC Half and a hat I saved from the 2010 (?) Midnight Run - I joked to someone that I was a walking advertisement for the NYRR.

At any rate, I was ready for the race. I laid out my strategy for all the world to see but I was still a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to stick to it.

But I did - more on that below.

Right before the start gun, I was super psyched to hear NYRR president/CEO Mary Wittenberg tell us all that there was a tailwind on the west side. I planned to use that to my advantage.

The Race
As is usually the case for me, I got out of the park as soon as I could. Since the course was new this year with runners heading out the north end of the park for a quick out and back, I think it was actually less hilly. At any rate, my 10K split (just after you get out of the park) was the fastest I've ever clocked for a 13.1 race. I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to sustain it, but I kept my cool and concentrated on not thinking bad thoughts.

Heading south on 7th Avenue
Running down 7th Avenue was awesome as usual. There were lots of people cheering and it's downhill. I got a little freaked when crossing a few streets and felt the cross wind blowing east. I knew in a few blocks we would turn into that wind and face it head on. But for the moment I was enjoying the downhill, cheering crowds and bands on the course.

The Freedom Tower mocking runners

When we turned onto 42nd Street and headed out to the West Side Highway, it's always a surreal experience to see traffic on the south side of the street. Most drivers smile and wave or honk in what I assume is solidarity. But every once in a while you see someone seething behind the wheel and, I'm sure, cursing the runners.

Sorry man, westbound traffic on this fine day consists of almost 21,000 people motoring on thousands of pounds of pasta not fossil fuel.

The headwind wasn't as bad as I thought and by the time I got to the West Side Highway, I was feeling pretty good - better than I thought based on how fast (for me) I was running. The course takes us north for a block and then a quick U Turn to head south.

This is where the Freedom Tower started mocking me.

It's hard to believe that the distance from 42nd Street to the bottom of the Island is only four miles. On the plus side it's flat, but on the negative, if you're a local (like me), unfortunately there's not much to see. Don't get me wrong, you pass by some pretty famous landmarks, The Intrepid Museum, Chelsea Piers and parts of the West Village but I kept looking at the Freedom Tower thinking that I was going to pass it sooner rather than later and at points it felt like it was getting further away.

Well, it wasn't and eventually I did pass it.

The sun peeks through building as runner pass the Freedom Tower
Entering the tunnel at the bottom of the Island is one of the toughest parts of the race. I never remember how long it is and since it curves to the left the entire time, you can't see the end until you're really close to it.

From there, it's a slight uphill with just about 800 meters left until you cross the finish line. When I finally passed the 400 meter mark I remember thinking I wouldn't be able to hold my pace to the end. It amazes me how fast I can go from feeling great to wanting to stop dead in my tracks and quit.

Progress, not perfection I guess.

When I finally did cross the finish line I was cooked. My quads were sore, I was soaked with sweat (despite the cold) but I was as elated as I was when I crossed the finish line at my marathon PR. I proudly wore the medal home where it hangs in a prominent place with my others.

Runners in Heat Sheets head south to meet family and friends
Now to face New Jersey and the Brooklyn Half . . .

As a side note, I was a little surprised looking at my Garmin to see that I kept my pace between 7:20/mm and 7:40/mm. I was lucky enough to have Garmin send me a 620 to review. I was really happy with how the watch tracked my mileage and pace. None of the GPS watches I've worn are perfect and I really like the Garmin layout, design and features. I'll be writing a full review before the end of this week.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Photo Essay: 2014 NYRR NYC Half Marathon

I ran the NYRR's 2014 NYC Half this morning (and PR'd the distance!!).

My full review is coming, but in the meantime, I documented the Expo and carried my GoPro during the run, I took photos when I could.

I didn't get all the photos I wanted during the race since I was running hard - I think I walked (or ran) away with some good captures.

What do you think?

Super helpful volunteers at the Expo not only handing out numbers but answering all sortsa random questions
Getting handed my bib is always an exciting moment
The NYRR always provides plenty of photos opps for your life-documenting and social media needs
After the gun this morning and right before the start line
Exiting Central Park (just about the 10K mark)
Running down 7th Avenue, right before entering Times Square.
The woman in yellow passed and then paced me for the rest of the race. I didn't get a chance to thank her.
Running through an empty Times Square is a pretty surreal experience (and only one of two times its closed to
traffic each year, know what the other time is?)
At the seven mile mark we made a left onto 42nd Street,
faced a head wind and made our way to the West Side Highway
Just after the finish line on Water Street. No one's ever said, "I wish that race was longer." 
Not only were medals handed out after the race, volunteers were freely giving out hugs!
Heat sheets were not just a "nice-to-have," but with a freezing wind chill at the finish, they were a necessity and helped
bring smiles to our faces!
I love confusing locals on the subway when we take over all the cars after a race. Today was no different.
My race review will be up in a few days, check back soon!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Runner Spotlight: Michael F. Runs for Veterans

The New York City Half is this weekend and I wanted to spotlight an athlete running this race for the first time. Turns out the story is more interesting than just a course neophyte. I think you'll agree. 

Michael during his first 13.1
Here's the Q and A:

Name: Michael Ferraro

Age: 36

City/state: Hoboken, NJ

Occupation:  Asset Management

When and why did you start running?
I got in to running in races in 2009 when a few Navy friends and I met in Philadelphia to run a 10K. None of us had run competitively or for any significant distance since we were in the Service.  We thought a race was a great excuse to get together while providing bragging rights antics.

I thoroughly enjoyed that race and wanted to run more – farther and more frequently. That September I ran a half marathon in Manchester, VT and decided that the half distance was perfect for me - fun, challenging, and long enough to bring attention to the Veteran's causes I began supporting.  I ran that first race in 2011 for the Wounded Warrior Project and was overwhelmed by the cheers I received from people who recognized the WWP on my shirt.  In 2012 I ran four more half marathons - VT again, Long Branch NJ, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.

Why did you get involved in a cause?
My company has a Veteran’s Network with 60 members (of which I am a co-chair).  This group includes Veterans and also people wanting to support or learn more about things involving our military. The leadership of the AB Veteran’s Network decided when the group was established that philanthropy would be a major part of the mission. At a minimum we would do three events a year and the NYC Half Marathon is our spring event. After reviewing the Veteran’s organizations affiliated with NYRR we were most inspired by Hope For The Warriors. After reading about their history, the unbelievable work they do, we decided this was the group we would run for.  

Tell me a little more about your cause?
This year, we linked up with Hope For The Warriors.  My teammate on the Alliance Bernstein (AB) Veteran’s Network Running Team, Katie Byrnes connected with them through the New York Road Runners (NYRR). Steve Bartomioli from the NYC office of Hope For The Warriors visited us at AB.  We were immediately drawn in by Steve’s passion for giving to Veterans. We learned the multiple ways Hope For The Warriors supports Veterans’ transitions back to civilian life; often while overcoming a significant injury or trauma suffered while serving.

Tell me about your fundraising efforts.
To date, the AB Veteran's Network has raised over $10,000 and we are confident that will be closer to $15k by race day.  What has been incredibly inspiring is the support we received from our colleagues at AB. Firm wide we have received donations from our co-workers, incredibly kind well wishes and compliments, and anticipate a solid cheering section on race day. The enthusiasm of Laura Knappmiller and Katie Byrnes my co-chairs leading AB’s participation in this race have been a tremendous motivation to me and the team as a whole.  Here are two people, neither with any direct connection to the military who have donated their time and fund raising efforts to Hope For The Warriors. They love running, enjoy the camaraderie of the team, and applied those two things to supporting an amazing cause.

What's the most rewarding part of being involved?
Hope For The Warriors can summarize their mission as Restoring Self, Family & Hope.  And that’s exactly what they do for Veterans and their families. Please take a look at their website.  The testimonials for the “Above and Beyond” program are moving. 

Can you tell me a little about your military service?
I was in the Navy for five years serving as an Officer on Destroyers. My primary job was VBSS. This stands for Visit Board Search and Seizure. Essentially, I led a team onto merchant and fishing vessels to make sure they weren’t smuggling anything (weapons & such) that they weren’t supposed to. My team was amazing, I got to see some interesting parts of the world, and was quite proud of what we accomplished by the time my last deployment ended.

Is this your first time running the NYCHalf?
It is - why?  Should I be nervous?

What are you most looking forward to about the race?
My 3-year-old daughter at the finish line! Naturally, each medal I have been awarded for completing previous races she's claimed as her own, but she has never been given one "on scene" where she can cheer and see all the excitement. I am blessed to have an amazing friend muscle through the crowds with a toddler to make this happen for us. 

I am also very excited for the post race celebration with my team. Hope For The Warriors is arranging a visit from a member of one of their programs - I'm sure that will be amazing
From left Laura Knappmiller, Michael Ferraro
and Katie Byrnes

Any goals for the race? 
If I can beat Laura, I'll be pumped. I will need to take the subway to beat Katie.

As a runner, what are you most proud of having accomplished?
Three years ago I would have laughed if you told me I would become a person who loved to run.  13.1 miles - sounded like a tiring drive let alone run. 

I am proud that I have accomplished the objectives I set for myself, and in no small part, that has contributed to me being a happy and healthy fella.

What was the biggest hurdle to running and how did you get over it? 
Making time to train! But I learned that by having the discipline to stick to a training regimen, the unimportant things tend to fall-out of your day to day

What are your favorite motivational quotes?
"I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way." Captain John Paul Jones.

Wait, that doesn’t really apply here does it?

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run” –Babe Ruth, closer?

What’s your favorite piece of gear?
My new AB Veteran's Network Running Team jersey - Laura owned that project and nailed it!

What is your long-term goal?

Beating my friend Sasho in the 2015 Paris Marathon

If you want to donate to Michael's team at Alliance Bernstein, here's the link.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My 2014 NYC Half Marathon Strategy

As of today, there are 12 days left to prepare for the NYC Half. I love this race, it's one of my two favorite 13.1s of the year (the other being the BK Half).

This year will be my 5th NYC Half (here's the review from the 2013 race) and I'm planning on trying for a PR. I've been doing the speed work, tried to stay somewhat consistent in my training and the best sign yet? I PR'd a 5K this week.

I think I'm ready.

The Course
The NYRR changed the course a bit for the 2014 race. I'm assuming it's because the field will be the biggest yet, but I didn't confirm that.

We'll be starting on the east side of Central Park, running out onto 110th Street to Central Park West (this is new), circle back into the park and then hit Harlem Hill. From there we follow the west side of the loop and exit at the south end onto 7th Avenue.

From that point, it's pretty much downhill or flat until you circle the bottom of the Island and get into the Battery Park Underpass (which is a slight uphill). A few more turns and you're across the finish line.

My Plan
East side and north of Central Park (Distance 5K): I'm going to start out at tempo pace. I know everyone tells me to run a few seconds or even a minute slower than goal pace at the start of the race. But I've run this race (and course) enough to know that getting out of the park as soon as possible is the key to PR'ing here. the course can get congested and the fact that there are extra turns (one of them a full U turn) at the top of the park tells me that this year will be no different and possibly worse.

West side of Central Park (Distance 3 Miles): This is the hilliest part of the race. I'm planning to back off by 10-20 seconds on two of the five hills. I'll sub-tempo Harlem, push a little bit on the second, pull back again for the third (which The Congregation has dubbed Denise Hill since we pick my wife up there when she runs with us) then push back to tempo for the rest of the hills and park.

Seventh Avenue and Times Square (Distance 1 Mile): This part of the race is all downhill. Not only downhill, but this is where the majority of the crowds will be. I'm going to use both the downhill and crowds to push to endurance pace (about 20 seconds faster than tempo). It's pretty easy to push yourself too hard at this point and kill your race but I feel like since I'm going to hold back on the west side of Central Park, I'll be fine.

West on 42nd Street (Distance 1 Mile): Every year I've run this race there's been a headwind along 42nd Street. I'll back off again, take in the crowds and the buildings and enjoy a sub-tempo pace again. This is also just past the halfway point and where I will take on some nutrition.

West Side Highway (Distance 4 Miles): This stretch is flat as a pancake. Maybe even flatter. I'm going to push tempo again and enjoy the ride. Hopefully I'll know some people who are out cheering and I'll distract myself by looking for them. Crowds are sparse but there are pockets of people along this stretch - a lot of the teams (Front Runners, Team In Training) station people along this part of the course to give their runners that extra push.

Bottom of the Island to to the Finish Line (Distance 1.2 Miles): This is the part of the race I plan to push my hardest. I'm going to try and push past my 5K pace and get my heartrate to its max. The tricky part here is there are a lot of turns. In years past there has been construction (due to Hurricane Sandy) that narrowed the course and created some congestion. I don't mean to say I've had to walk, but I've definitely had to slow down because of runners around me. If I have the time, I may go scout the course before the race to see what this part looks like.

Garmin was kind enough to send me the Forerunner 620 to review. I've been using it since last weekend and getting the hang of it. I'm going to offer my full review as part of my race report.

Now I just need to make the perfect endurance mix for my iPod . . .

Heading into Times Square at the 2013 race