Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Life is like a box of chocolates. And it's my job to polish off that box.

I love the movie "Forrest Gump." If I'm flipping channels and it's half over, I'll still settle in and watch the rest of it. I've been thinking a lot lately about a certain scene and if you'll allow me to get all profound and stuff ... I'd like to make a personal revelation.

Remember when he's running across the country? Eventually he's got a big old beard and there are hundreds of people following along (I love when he steps in the mud puddle and the "Have a Nice Day" t-shirt is born) and then, all of a sudden, he just stops. I don't remember the exact line but basically, he just stops in the middle of the highway, realizing that he's run all the miles he can or wants to and now ... he's ready to go home. He turns and slowly walks back the other way, scores of baffled followers parting like the Red Sea.

I don't have followers.

(Although seriously? How cool would that be if I am blasting through Central Park one day and some little kid points and yells: "Look! It's her!" and then all of a sudden, people start coming out of the bushes and roadways to jog after me adoringly. It could happen.)

But I have this thought, especially on Long Run days. It crosses my mind as I lace up my sneakers but it really permeates as I am getting closer to actually starting the run. I call it The Question:

Is this the day ... I just stop running?

You see, I am not what you would call a lifelong runner. I've spent years playing soccer. It was my childhood sport and I played well into my 20's in adult leagues. While I love every second I spend on the soccer field, I have never been a finesse player. I am neither fast nor, for that matter, coordinated. But I have a hell of a boot on me and although I lacked a certain amount of aggression, my sheer size would usually ensure that an opponent would rather back down than face me.

So it was a bit of a surprise to me when I started running a few years ago and kind of liked it. Then about a year ago, I started running longer distances ... and loved it. When I was on the soccer field, my dad used to tell me I ran like I had a piano on my back (nice, right?). I'm still not that fast and my body is pretty much the opposite of lithe. But I really enjoy distances and sometimes I imagine that scene in Forrest Gump when he is running past lighthouses in Maine or along the beach in Malibu. And then I have the thought, like I could literally stop mid-mile (to the curses of the runners behind me doing the loop in CP), throw up my hands as if to say, "Okay. I've done all I can," turn around and head back to my apartment.

But something nice happened tonight as our TNT team did a really intense hill workout on an 85 degree, 100% humidity evening (Seriously? No one sweats as much as I do. It's not human. Or right.) I was running with two of my buddies, Elkin and Barbara. Elkin is doing the New York Marathon, Barbara is doing the Hamptons Marathon. With me doing Nike, we're all doing different events at different times and someone posed the question of how long we would have each other to train with. Elkin and I found each other early on and pace each other well; Barbara joined us recently and has a great athleticism that pushes all three of us. I really look forward to seeing the two of them at the workouts and we all agreed that our runs are much more successful when we're all together.

So given all of that ... why would I stop mid-mile and give it all up? I've discovered this amazing group of people who I love to see every Tuesday and Saturday. Many of them probably have the same doubts and inner struggles as I do yet they come out and work really hard toward not only a personal achievement, but something as beneficent as raising money for cancer research. How could I not love these people instantly?

So tonight, I've decided that Forrest Gump moment has no place in my running career, for however long it lasts. In fact, if things go well in October, I could do another one of these. Who knows? You might even see me trekking through the Grand Canyon, groupies in tow behind me.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My name is Cindy. And I have a drinking problem.

(everyone: "Hi Cindy ...")

It's not the drinking problem you think (nor expect, given the author). No, this is straight out of the Fuel Belt Chronicles. You see, just because you don the equipment doesn't mean you necessarily know how to use it.

Useful piece of advice #392 from my TNT training came just before my first race. Head Coach Ramon was giving us tips on how to stop at a water station during a race. Don't judge: it's harder than it sounds, especially for those of us who have a tough time walking and chewing gum. His instructions: slowly work your way over to the table, knowing that some people even stop to grab their water, which may cause a back-up. Grab two cups, one for each hand. Pinch the mouth of one cup with two fingers, creating a neat spout that will allow the water to smoothly trickle into your upturned mouth. Do the same with the second cup or just dump it over the back of your neck to cool off.

Sounds easy enough.

So on my first race, I used the first water station at mile 2 as a reconnaissance mission. As I passed, I eyeballed how many people were there and where they were positioned (more piled up in the middle than at the front or back ends of the table), if anyone was stopped (yes! even chatting with the volunteers! did you suddenly forget what you were doing there?) and ... as my slight OCD kicked in, what people were doing with their used cups (would I really be able to callously toss garbage onto a public path? I mean, when I run out of doggie poop bags when walking George, I'll scout for anything in my pockets to use (one time, a fully-charged Metrocard) just to avoid the "poop and run.")

I felt ready. The water station at Mile 3 was up ahead. I was all the way on the right side of the path and the table was on the left, so I downshifted and did a slight trot to the end of the table. Oh yeah, I was already money. Looking like a total pro. Grabbed two cups and kept going, clutching one in each hand.

I ran that way for what seemed like 5 minutes, trying to psyche myself up to the whole "pinch, pour, toss" thing. As I inched closer to where most runners had already thrown their cups onto the side of the path and were resuming the race, I knew I had to just, well, suck it up.

I pinched. Success! A nice little spout. I opened my mouth, tipped the cup down ... and proceeded to miss my face completely, dumping most of it down my chest, over my right shoulder and getting about three droplets into my throat. I remember blinking wildly and sticking my tongue out like a complete spaz as it dumped over my back.

I looked at the lonely cup now in my left hand, glorious and seemingly unreachable water sloshing around in it. Taunting me. Challenging me. Tempting me. "Cindy ... you're parched. Cindy ... you're dehydrated."

Screw it. I dumped it on the back of my neck, crushed the cup with my fist, threw it on the ground and moved on.

Second race I ran? Just avoided the water stations all together. So as I packed up for my 12-mile run yesterday, I knew I had to start getting used to the Fuel Belt. (See: What wine would you pair with Gu?) I filled two bottles with water and two with Gatorade. Thought I was a smarty pants by freezing two of them (Note to self: yes, they were the perfect temperature when I used them toward the end of my run but at the beginning of it? Two heavy blocks of ice propped above my ass.) But I strapped it on and felt ready to go. Check out how good we all look with our Fuel Belts:

Our run went really well, especially given the heat and a little slower pace. Elkin came prepared with two types of Gu, which he loved and said he might even start making meals out of (quote: "It's like a circus in my mouth!"). Joanne had her belt on as well and said it was much better than having to stop at a water fountain. I even munched a few Sport Beans that I stashed into my belt with my single Kleenex (See: You may think it's funny but it's snot). Perhaps now we all started looking like marathoners. At one point, I ripped off the top of one of my plastic bottles and dumped what was left in it over the back of my neck, to which Elkin responded: "Damn! You look like such a pro now!"

Of course, what no one saw was I did this after not being able to get the remaining water into my mouth.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You may think it's funny but it's snot.

It was only a matter of time before I moved into the next phase of my training, which I would like to call the "Embarrassing Body Things Will Now Happen and You Need to Know Where to Spit Them" phase.

I'm not unearthing anything new here. One of our TNT coaches recently sent out a group email entitled "Too embarrassed to ask?" (um, yes please!) which covered such indelicate topics as toenails that turn black and fall off (advance apologies to the pedi ladies at Blooming Nails on Lex), leaky bladders (let's hope it's raining on the day this happens to me), and that age-old question of how to deal with the, ahem, trots. (Ugh, as if! Banana a day, man. I'm sealing up before I run.)

Being that my blog is read by hundreds of thousands as they eat breakfast (or just my mom ... hi Tina!), I will spare you the professional advice given for "Where 2 Go #2?" and say I am combating a cold this week and have my own bodily fluid question:

To snot rocket or not to snot rocket?

I started feeling cold-y after my race on Saturday and I steadily progressed into Balloon Head as I travelled this week for work. I plowed through, however, and even a stuffy head didn't stop me from banging out six miles around Nashville and doing some hill work on the hotel treadmill the next day.

But as we all know with colds, eventually that mucus has to build up and go somewhere. And this morning it was all in my nose. Like nineteen pounds of it. So I dutifully stuck a Kleenex in my shorts and headed for CP to run the loop. Note: one Kleenex.

About a mile in, sniffling wildly was simply not helping. My lungs were already clogged and I was at a much slower pace than I'm used to, so it was either me or the mucus that had to go. But with one lousy tissue, things were gonna get messy.

I took assessment of where I was. Remote location (East 100's, almost at Harlem Hill): check. Scant population behind me (other than a few cyclists and a family of raccoons crossing my path, no one): check. Easy access to shrubbery so as not to leave anything on Central Park's pristine pavement: check.

So here is where I leave you to your own imagery, since I would prefer to keep my ladylike facade on certain things.

Yes, I shot a snot rocket.

I cannot say I am proud, but it had to be done.

My very first race, I was pacing behind a dude who was sniffling like it was the only thing keeping his nose propped on his face. I knew it was coming. I could hear it. I could either try to blast past him quickly so I wasn't downwind from him or I could hang back. But it was a race, there were lots of people around me and ... I thought about it too long and there it came, right in front of me. In fact, had I not been anticipating its arrival and performed a ninja-like hop to my left as I saw him bring his finger up to his right nostril, it would have landed smack on my shin.

Probably wasn't the time to do it, but I gave an intentional, audible sigh-combo-"ughhhhh!" and as I zipped past him I like to think he saw me rolling my eyes from the east to the west sides of the park. I showed him!

Which leads me back to today and why I was a bit shocked at myself for being okay with what I did. Look, it's not that I have any issues with my usual dude-like behavior. Heck, most people think I ended up in New York after going AWOL during Fleet Week. But public spitting really icks me out. I mean, they execute people for that in some countries and I think they're getting off easy. Yeah, yeah, I live in New York City and routinely see people do much worse on the street (try living on Second Avenue on St. Patrick's Day). But I honestly do not want to be one of them ... and if I was one of them, I'd at least have the decency to do it away from my fellow runners.

For the rest of my jaunt around the loop, I used my tissue. Too many people at that point, too many opportunities to nail some unsuspecting runner right on his Asics. By the time I hit my lobby, my lone Kleenex was a damp, Swiss-cheesy tattering.

And the snot? Had not subsided in my nose one bit.

So look, fellow Snot Monsters: now that I've been there, I can understand why you do what you do. From here on in, if you're running anywhere around me and feel the need to shoot a rocket, as long as you do it politely I'm gonna give you a pass.

If you think you have the trots, however, all bets are off.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mr. Blackwell had rules about race t-shirts.

A wise sage once said "you shall wear no race t-shirt before it's time."

Wait. Maybe I am thinking Orson Welles and the Gallo commercials.

Okay, okay, it was my running buddy Jenn, and she was ticking off one of her pet peeves as we headed over to the corrals for this morning's race in Central Park. Deets on that in a moment. This is more pressing.

One of the perks of entering races is the swag. Granted, it's no Tiffany necklace bestowed upon you by a member of the San Francisco Fire Department, dressed in a tux (Oh yes, maybe now some of you know my biggest motivation for doing the Nike Women's marathon). But still, it's been fun for the rookie that I am to see what the sponsors have to offer. And there's always a t-shirt.

There's a bit of pride in putting that t-shirt on after a race, telling the world that you ran (walked, crawled, whatever) some 4-mile or 10K race. You feel a bit like a pro. Today's race was a benefit for Central Park and the t-shirt was a pretty good one. Many of us remarked that unlike the heavy cotton t-shirts normally given out, this was a lightweight, breathable material that might actually make it out of the t-shirt drawer and have an appearance during a run.

In fact, many of the thousands of people who entered today's race decided there was no time like the present to try that baby out ... and decided to don it to run the 4-miler.

Jenn makes a good point. This might simply be too early.

God forbid anything happens during this 4 miles. But what if you are wearing that shirt, suddenly have a shin splint that cripples you and takes you off the course 10 yards from the finish, preventing you from crossing? Do you lose bragging rights to wear the shirt afterward? What if you're wearing it around the city, someone stops you and says, "Hey, that was a great race! What was your time?" Do you then have to sheepishly admit that you didn't quite finish the race and hope the Running T-Shirt Police aren't notified? (Which would suck if they suddenly showed up and demanded the shirt back on the spot and you had nothing with which to replace it.)

Okay, maybe I have thought way too much into this. But I'll admit after Jenn pointed this out, I was obsessively looking for premature t-shirters.

This brings me to my next point: we women have an alliance of sorts when it comes to outward appearances and embarrasing sitches. It's one of those unspoken courtesies that I like to think we all extend each other. Making a subtle gesture to your teeth when a stranger has a huge piece of spinach lodged right in front; quietly stepping on the trail of toilet paper some random girl has stuck to the bottom of her stiletto as she prances out of the bathroom. There are few exceptions (ie., Some super you-know-what dresses down a well-meaning waiter, turns around in a huff and you notice her shirt is on inside out. Frankly, you just owe it to Karma to let Her have the upper hand with that one). But I have found that in the running world, all bets are off.

Case in point:

That's me, the big purple girl sprinting toward the finish line. Driving hard, digging in, finishing strong ... with one of the biggest tags I have ever seen on a shirt sticking out the back. It wasn't until Mike and I were having brunch after the race that a very nice woman sitting at the table next to us (this is what I am talking about - the alliance thing-y), flips it back into my neck and goes, "Sorry, sweetie. It's been sticking up for a while and it was driving me nuts. " And even though she may have done it simply to quell her own OCD, I totally appreciated it, turned to Mike with a look that said, "Dude? You couldn't have fixed this 45 minutes ago?," realized I was about to ask this of a man and instead said, "How long was this up?"

To which he replied: "I noticed it after the race but you were with Jenn and I didn't want to fix it in front of her and embarrass you." I cannot fault a sweet sentiment such as that ... but sometimes only a woman can understand what another woman truly needs.

As for the race, TNT did really well. Jenn and I both kept great pace ... here we are at the finish:

Our team had a great turnout (over 150 people!) in a very competitive race. It's a scored race that many runners use for entry into the NYC marathon, so people were hauling for that (very hot) 4 miles. I had my best time, coming in at a little over 33 minutes for an 8:20 pace.

And I bet I could have done 8:15 if that damned tag wasn't sticking out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oh sprints, how I loathe thee. Let me count the ways.

Here's a surefire way to have your personal trainer make you do something you hate: tell her beforehand that you hate doing it.

This was the conversation I was having with Lynne, my trainer and friend who sufficiently kicks my butt every Monday at 6am. I'm not sure who brought it up first, but when she said very matter-of-factly a few weeks ago, "Cindy, sprints will absolutely improve your running," I remember a brow-furrowing shake of the head, followed by a "yeah, right!" and a "no way!" followed by a gagging sound while I fake-put my finger down my throat.

Why I did this, I am not sure. Because I was still in the brow-furrowing part of this display when I realized Lynne would use the revelation (and I am usually such a poker face, dammit!) for evil, not good.

Alas, halfway into my session last Monday, when I thought perhaps she had forgotten my mini-tantrum a week earlier, she cheerily skipped over to the treadmills, throwing over her shoulder, "OK! It's time! Let's do this!"

Who skips at 6:30 in the morning?

Let me just say, I am game for anything Lynne throws at me. I love a challenge and have been known to show my mean competitive streak from time to time. So when she looked at me sympathetically and said "now, you can hold on to the handles at any time if it gets to be too much," I knew there would be no holding on. Even if I rolled off the back of that puppy, slammed my head into the wall behind me and took down three other Equinox members in the process, it would not be due to me holding on. Because there would be no holding on. That would be embarrassing.

Not more embarrassing, however, than grunting and shrieking at the top of your lungs while you try to keep up at 9MPH. Didn't expect that.

I became "that person" at the gym for the last 15 seconds of my 2-minute interval. Lungs couldn't quite keep the pace, so I grasped for air and screamed like a chick in the process. People stared. People who had their IPods on. I was that loud.

But I made it through three sets that first day and when Lynne looked at me excitedly this past Monday and said, "OK! You know what time it is!" I didn't vomit right in front of both of us in a show of anxious anticipation. It was - surprisingly - easier than the week before. And no shrieking, which the dude hauling ass next to me totally owes me props for. He would have silently cursed me as my outburst threw him way off off his pace.

Now, I bring up the sprints for good reason. As much as I dread them, I have just witnessed what they can do. At last night's TNT group practice, we were tested on a one mile run. One mile, as fast as we can without totally dropping. Recover for a half-mile, then do it again. Three times. Then average our pace. It's a test because for the next seven weeks we're doing hill work for strengthening, and then we'll do the one mile thing again to see the improvement in our time.

I ran with my running buddy, Elkin, and Barbara, another TNTer. The three of us confidently put ourselves into the 8 minute mile group. I talked myself down, saying if I could come in between 8:30 and 9:00 each time, I'd be happy. Much to my surprise, the three of us really pushed each other and the times were impressive: 7:15, 7:35 and 7:22. I was tired after those miles and probably couldn't have gone much more at that pace ... but we all finished strong and actually improved on the last one. Analyzing each quarter mile, I can honestly say that the sprints helped me consistently maintain speed and pay attention to my breathing.

So my trainer was 100 percent right.

But for the record, Lynne, I totally do NOT hate walking lunges.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What wine would you pair with Gu?

Another lesson I am learning on Saturday long runs: I am woefully underprepared in the hydration and nutrition department.

Case in point: I dutifully showed up at Bethesda Fountain in CP at 6:45am (!!) for the 7:00 run. I had been up since 5:15 so I could eat my oatmeal (with nuts and bananas on top, arranged in a smiley face), whip up a cup of espresso, drink plenty of water (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!), dress, strap on my Sauconys and enjoy the early morning walk from my apartment.

Feeling good. Feeling ready for 10 miles on an already-steamy NYC day.

Feeling a bit of panic.

Suddenly everyone showing up for the run had their Fuel Belts strapped on, bottles in a myriad of colors for each flavor of Gatorade they've filled it with. Discussions of Gu versus Cliff Shot Bloks were all around me: "I really prefer the Sport Beans. I've got a couple of packs all ready to go for today." I became painfully aware that the bottle of Poland Springs water I had pulled out of the fridge on my way out the door to enjoy AFTER my run ("Ha! Can't be too careful - it'll be hot out there!") was completely inadequate.

Not to mention ... I looked like a total rookie.

Nothing like a scare in the image department to help recharge the New York City economy. After finishing my 10 miles (in just under 90 minutes, thank you very much), I hit just about every running shop I could find on the Upper East Side.

I am now the proud owner of a Fuel Belt, two new pairs of running shoes (Sauconys and oh-so-cushy Nikes which the salesman swore would be perfect for my high arches), super-duper sweat-preventing socks, Body Glide (So I chafe. Everyone does.) ... and finally, 5 flavors of Gu and 4 different types of Sports Beans.

I plan on having a tasting night so I can find out exactly which one doesn't trigger my gag reflex. Question is, what in the world do you wash that stuff down with?

I'm thinking a nice Napa Chardonnay.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Welcome to the party, Fun Bobby!

And if you've ever watched "Friends," you know of whom I speak. More on that later.

I can't imagine a more self-indulgent exercise than writing a blog so I will just say I am doing it for the most beneficent of reasons.

Money. Lots of it.

I am running my first marathon ... might I add one of my first races EVER ... in San Francisco in October 2009. I joined up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training. They get to hear me bitch, moan and complain every time I chug Harlem Hill in Central Park and in return, I try to raise as much money as humanly possible for their cause. And it's a damned good one.

In fact ... do not read any further until you visit my official fundraising page HERE.

Have you donated yet? Great! You get to continue reading:

I'm starting this blog nearly two months into my training. Too bad for you ... you've missed out on the details of how I learned that coffee isn't always your friend before a long run ... or how I discovered the best way to combat chafing on my inner thighs.

But I digress.

My biggest accomplishment to date has been learning to be human (read:sober) on Friday nights. You see, Saturdays are "long run" days. That means as I get closer to marathon day, I will be running double-digits. And I run with my TNT group at 7am.

(Here is where those who know me will chuckle, guffaw, LOL.)

I have been known to imbibe (pickle?) from time to time. And there really is nothing better than enjoying a nice bottle(s) of Pinot after a long work week. But alas, I have noticed since turning 28 last year that I simply cannot drink my face off and get up 5 hours later.

So I have given up Friday nights altogether. Thus ... I am now Fun Bobby.

And ... what the what??!! I'm totally enjoying it. Who the eff knew I had it in me?