Music of Running

Runner’s Amnesia: A Lesson from the Philadelphia Marathon

Two years ago, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon with my wife, as she attempted to qualify for Boston.  It was very memorable.  I even did a long, very detailed Race Recap (see archives).  I remember a ton from that race, even the most intricate details. It was a very special and fun experience.

This year, I ran the same race; however, this time, I had a PR in mind.   The good news:  I got my PR; however, the bad news:  I don’t remember much from this race.

Yes, I remember some fragmented sensory details:

Sounds: A bad song – What Does the Fox Say?  A good song: Welcome to the Jungle. The occasional “Go Jared, Go Gerald” cheers from awesome spectators (great crowd support this year).

Sights: A race sign: “Tired? Honey Badger Don’t Care.” Also, I got to see my wife and some friends on the out-and-back portion of Kelly Drive; however, I don’t remember what I said to them.

Smells: The amazing aroma of food in Manayunk, and the beer emanating from the Drexel students on 34th Street.

That’s about it.  Other than the above, I remember the “pre-race” stuff and the “post-race” stuff.  The “during-race” stuff: Not so much.

I have tried hard over the last three days to think of specific moments or memories in the race, and I can only come up with two:

1)  Mile 1: Accidentally bumping into a runner, who replied rudely “JESUS CHRIST!” – Thank you rude runner.  You are partially responsible for getting me fired up from that point onward.

 2) Mile 9ish (near zoo):

Me: (Burp) “Oh that felt so good.”

Fellow Runner: (Burp) “That was awesome.”

So, aside from a negative interaction and burping, nothing else.  No other memories (Oh wait, two Gu fell out of my pocket on Delaware Avenue, so I had to turn around and pick them up – I just remembered that). Perhaps I’m in a temporary state of Runner’s Amnesia and maybe additional memories will come back to me (just like the Gu story).

For sixteen weeks, I was laser focused on a PR. Mission Accomplished. Yes, there is some satisfaction to it, but at what expense?  First of all, I don’t remember much from the race.  Second, I’m sure I was a grump, especially in the final weeks leading up to the race.  Third, I might not be physically burned out from training, but I’m mentally burned out from Spring-Fall-Spring-Fall marathons over the last two years.

Major Lesson Learned: A PR does not equate to more fun or wonderful memories

In five weeks, I start another marathon training cycle, and I plan on enjoying every moment of this down time.  Also, I’ve decided there will not be a PR attempt in this race.  In fact, I might run it with my wife. It’s time to have fun again (although, this might not be fun for her)!!

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(Photos help us remember)

A Tale of Two Race Days: Runner’s World Hat Trick*

When you are in the race medical tent, they give you a card, and this card lists levels of severity. One of the categories is “deceased.”  Even though I was bummed out by my first DNF, this card put things in perspective:  I was still alive to read it.

As far as the heart palpitations and shortness of breath at Mile 8 of the Half Marathon portion of the Runner’s World Hat Trick?  That put a scare into me for sure.  It takes a lot to get me to stop during a race, and being frightened for my life was a good enough reason for me.

Maybe my comments to Bart Yasso the night before the DNF were ominous, but at the pasta dinner, I told Bart that I felt like I was pushing my luck with the Hat Trick.  Also, in speaking with Meghan Loftus, Senior Editor at Runner’s World, we were discussing our goals for the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon.  I mentioned that if “I can survive the next eight days, weather-permitting, I should be in good shape for a PR attempt.”

Pushing my luck” and “Survive

Who knew those comments would take on such heavy weight?

Aside from this scare, there were reasons to be relieved and happy.  Just the day before my DNF, I had an adult PR in the 5k (17:43), and came within 3 seconds of an adult PR in the 10k (38:29).  Second, it was a wonderful weekend spent with my wife in Bethlehem, PA, a great place to be in October (or any month for that matter).  Third, Runner’s World puts on a great show. We had a blast.

But…

…it was hard not to worry about my health and the uncertainty of my next run.  As runners, we want to get out there and…well…run.  Also, I knew dropping out of the race was the right decision; however, I was down about the race.  I felt like I didn’t close out the Hat Trick (hence, the asterisk).

Then, just the day after my DNF, my wife showed me an article about a runner from Northeast Pennsylvania who died of a heart attack after a 5k on Saturday. Her name was Jen Stec, and she was only 38. Well, that woke me up.  I felt silly and selfish for dwelling on my own race.  In hindsight, I was lucky. Jen Stec was not so lucky.  When she laced up her sneakers for that local 5k, she had no idea it would be the last time she would be lacing up her sneakers.  There is no other word for this but tragic.

Sometimes I am morbid.  My wife will tell you that.  In my last post, I joked that the Reaper is undefeated, and our time here is temporary.  Also, I have been guilty of telling my wife that if I ever died during a run, that would be fine with me.  The truth is: this is a load of crap.  My race-scare only confirmed that I am petrified of death.  The jokes are a way to deal with this fear.

Since the race, I have followed up with my doctor, and I even ran again.  When I laced up my sneakers for that run, I was nervous.  I thought about Jen Stec.   She was no different than you or me.  She loved to run.  We love to run.

I am still here, and, if you are reading this, you are still here too.  Let’s not take that for granted.

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The Good Day

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The Scary Day

The End of the PR

I accept the fact that my PR days will be behind me soon, but it’s nice to know I can still grab one…”

Recently, I wrote that after getting a PR at the Half Marathon distance.  The truth is, I don’t know how many more years I have left in which a PR is a possibility.  Two years?  Five years?  Ten?

Part of me wants the possibility of a PR to always be there.  This possibility means a lot.  It means I’ve still got it, or I’m still competitive with myself.  To run a race distance faster than you ever have is a great feeling, but what happens when we plateau or slow down as we age?  It is inevitable.

On plateauing

I once overheard two runners discussing PRs on a shuttle bus before the Bolder Boulder 10k. One turned to the other and said:

If you’re able to run the same time every year, you’re actually getting faster.”

Initially, this didn’t make sense to me.  To me, his words meant stagnation; however, he was right.  Age is a factor, so when we reach the point of not getting faster, if we’re not getting slower either, this should be considered a victory for the aging, right?   If age wasn’t a factor, there would only be one qualifying time for men, and one qualifying time for women for the Boston Marathon.

Yes, we’re all aging.  The next race you run will be the youngest you’re going to be in your remaining races.   It smacks you in the face, doesn’t it?

On slowing down

So, what happens when we get slower?  What becomes our motivation in a race then?  Is it to keep moving?  To stay fit? To maintain a social life? These are admirable motivators.  For me, it would be to relieve stress, but personally, I might be more relaxed during a race if I knew I wasn’t PRing that day.  Who am I kidding? I’ll never be fully relaxed during a race. OK, so maybe it would be to relieve a different kind of stress.

Should we stop trying to PR if there is no possibility of a PR?    One of my friends on dailymile, in response to my initial quote, had an encouraging quote of his own:

Hey I’m 57 and still trying for PRs. Never stop trying.”  Thank you, Glenn.

Look, we are lulled into a false sense that running and many other things in life are permanent.  I wish they were, but, let’s face it, the Reaper is undefeated.

So, let’s run now, and let’s take Glenn’s advice: Never stop trying.

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Yes, it flies

Race Recap: OCNJ Half Marathon 2013

I packed the wine, but I forgot the opener.  In a dry town, such as Ocean City, NJ, this induced temporary panic.  Where the heck were we going to find a wine opener on a dry island? Before you judge my fondness of wine, I will tell you that I can live without it; however, one of my pre-race rituals is a glass (or two) of wine the night before (I’m 99% sure I started the hashtag #Wineloading).

The good news: tragedy averted… Our room at The Flanders Hotel (two blocks from the starting line) had a wine opener.

Phew.

My wife and I had a private happy hour before heading out to dinner at Cousin’s (a perfectly nice place in Ocean City for pre-race pasta).

Race Day

Waking up two blocks from the start of a race feels good.  Less to worry about:  How long will it take to get there? What will parking be like? Etc.  On the other hand, the 9am race start does not feel as good.  I like an 8am start (at the latest). That extra hour feels like an eternity to me; however, we made the most of it by eating casually in our room, and headed toward the start just before 8:30am.

A pre-race positive of this race:  NO Porta-Johns to worry about because the Ocean City boardwalk has plenty of public restrooms!  Knowing this can really calm a runner down.

The start time weather was 57 degrees and sunny.  I was a little worried it might be windy, but so far so good.  I knew the lack of wind wouldn’t last but it could have been much worse.

My wife and I gave each other our normal pre-race kiss and told each other to be careful (another ritual).  Based on previous results of this race, I knew if I was feeling good, I could possibly finish in the Top 10; however, I refused to line up on the front line of a race (I’m superstitious about being  presumptuous).  So, I lined up in row two, just behind the guys wearing split shorts and singlets.

When the gun went off, we headed west on 9th Street.  I followed the lead pack (a group of eight men and two women).  I kept my distance behind them because I didn’t want to go out too fast.  The first turn is on to Asbury Avenue, part of the central shopping area for Ocean City.  It’s a beautiful street, with lots of mom and pop shops (even though it looks like Starbuck’s is infiltrating the town soon).

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With the front pack (of eight now) in my sights, my pace felt comfortable; however, my first mile was 6:10, which was a little faster than I wanted.  I decided not to panic because I felt so good.  Mile 2, another 6:10, but I still felt fine.  Most of Mile 3 involves crossing the Ocean Drive bridge as part of an out and back portion of the race.   As I started to catch two runners that had fallen off the lead pack just before the toll booth at the base of the bridge, I made some lame attempt at an EZ Pass joke.  Thud, ok, these two didn’t like my humor, so I moved ahead of them.

I figured the bridge would be a slower mile because of the long ascent up, and it was slower but not by much (6:16).  It was here that I thought one of two things was going to happen:  1) This race was going to be a disaster, or 2) This would be a special day.

On the other side of the bridge, the view of the Egg Harbor Inlet heading toward Longport was beautiful.  The sky was crisp and blue (I would have liked a few more clouds because I was starting to heat up).  After the turnaround, we headed back to face the bridge again, and most of Mile 4 into Mile 5 is the bridge.  My cumulative time at Mile 5 was Sub30, which I haven’t done since college.  Since I was still feeling good, I figured the course might be slightly mismarked.  I didn’t overanalyze it.

At this point, the lead pack had broken up, and there were five or six runners in front of me, two of which probably wouldn’t be caught.  Just before getting on to the boardwalk, I passed another runner, and found myself in 5th place.  The surface of the boardwalk felt much better than I thought it would.  It was more bouncy and forgiving than pavement, but you still had to be careful of uneven spots. I slipped into 4th place.

As I passed people lined up for breakfast at Browns Restaurant, the aroma was amazing.  I was temporarily jealous of them!  Miles 6-8 were steady (6:03, 6:05, & 6:05).  During this stretch, I ran side-by-side with the 3rd place runner.  I asked him if he thought we could catch the two guys in front of us, and he emphatically said no.   As we exited the boardwalk near Mile 9, he started to labor so I tried to focus on the 2nd place runner.  As I continued south toward 36th Street, Mr. 2nd Place’s shirt was getting bigger.  He was getting closer!  We turned around near Mile 10.

“Ok, only 5k to go, no problem,” I thought to myself as I started to head north again toward the boardwalk.

This is when the wind kicked up.  The last 3.1 was directly into a constant headwind.  Ouch.  This was the toughest part of the race.  My thoughts turned from Mr. 2nd Place to survival. The steadiness of the wind almost broke my spirit, but, just before returning to the boardwalk for the homestretch, I saw my wife, and she gave me a boost.  Less than two miles to go!

This time, the boardwalk was more crowded with non-racers.  It was a bit of a challenge avoiding some cyclists and casual walkers; however, many of the people cheering started telling me the same thing: “You can catch him!”

“Catch who?” I thought.

There he was: Mr. 2nd Place!

Before I knew it, I was nearly side-by-side him with ½ mile to go.  He must have heard my foot steps because he turned around.  When he noticed me, he went into another gear because he sprung forward and put some distance between us.

With less than two blocks to go, I made my final surge, but I was running out of real estate.  The crowd noise got louder.  We both sped up but our pace was the same now.  He ended up taking 2nd place by 4 seconds.

As I crossed the line in 1:20:42, I realized I had beaten my PR by 2mins 28secs.  I was satisfied but suspicious.  I knew I ran a PR pace but not dramatically faster than previous races.

Later, my wife and I determined that the race was most likely about .08 short of 13.1.  So, even with my personal adjustment, I probably would have run 1:21:26 if the course was a true Half.  Still, it would have been a PR by 1min 44secs.

All in all, it was a fun race and a great experience.  The post-race food included Manco & Manco pizza, salt water taffy, donuts, pretzels and plenty of fruit.  A nice spread!  Also, you had your choice of a medal or a visor.  I chose the medal and my wife chose the visor.  A thoughtful option!

Thankfully, regarding the two scenarios I envisioned at Mile 3: The race was special as opposed to a disaster.

I accept the fact that my PR days will be behind me soon, but it’s nice to know I can still grab one at age 43.

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(My kind of race expo)

Your Autumn Running Playlist

Fall arrives Sunday!! Oh Autumn, we love you.  Let’s face it, this is the best time of year to run. To aid in this wonderful time, I’ve compiled a playlist of autumn running songs.  Can you help me add a few?

1. Go Where the Leaves Go by Matt Pond

2. Mr. November by The National

3. In the Wind by Lord Huron

4. Autumn Sweater by Yo La Tengo

5. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground by The White Stripes

6. Autumn Almanac by The Kinks

7. November Days by The Origin

8. Indian Summer Sky by U2

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9. September by Earth, Wind & Fire

10. Summer’s End by Foo Fighters

11. October by deadmau5

12. Forever Autumn by The Moody Blues

The Worst Running Playlist

The Crime: Returning a borrowed Garmin with no charge left.

The Vic: This happened recently to someone I follow on Twitter (@RunnersWit).

The Punishment: The Vic decided that one potential punishment could be to replace the offender’s existing running playlist with the following song on repeat:

Baby by Justin Bieber ft. Ludacris

I admit, I’m out of the pop music loop, but I know enough to understand that Justin Bieber elicits a strong reaction (either very positive or very negative).  So, this seemed like a fun punishment to me.

A couple of us chimed in with additional songs to add to the punishment playlist:

Friday by Rebecca Black

Why? Autotune Autotune Autotune…that’s why.  That will teach the offender!!

We Built This City by Starship  

Why? This was the beginning of the end for a legendary band that might have embraced 1980s technology a bit too much.  “Marconi plays the mambo???”

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I went on to add some of my own songs:

Rockstar by Nickelback

Why?  You know why.

My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion

Why?  Because this song will make the offender wish he or she was ON the Titanic.

Hangin’ Tough by New Kids On The Block

Why?  Because there’s nothing tough about this song.

What songs would you add to punish someone for crimes against running?

Top 26 Running Songs by U2

The Joshua Tree vs. Achtung Baby debate inspired me to put together a U2 Running Playlist.  Each of these albums contributes three songs to the playlist.  I didn’t number them because I did not want to imply a rank…

I Will Follow

Beautiful Day

Bullet the Blue Sky

The Unforgettable Fire

Ultraviolet (Light My Way)

Electric Co (Live)

Refugee

City of Blinding Lights

Where the Streets Have No Name

Gloria

Vertigo

A Day Without Me

Walk On

Pride (In the Name of Love)

The Fly

Discotheque

New Year’s Day

Desire

Wire

One Tree Hill

Even Better than the Real Thing

Get On Your Boots

Elevation

A Sort of Homecoming

Sunday Bloody Sunday (Live)

Two Hearts Beat as One

This list will be debated, and that is great.  Lists were meant to be debated. My response is always this:  Sometimes a great song is not a great running song, and sometimes a lesser song is a better running song.

For example, “Bad” is a great song, but it JUST missed my Top 26.  On the other hand, Discotheque is not U2’s proudest moment, but it’s very run-worthy.

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Notes: During the Joshua Tree vs. Achtung Baby debate, someone mentioned “Running to Stand Still” as a great recovery running song. I agree with this, and that is the magic of music: A song about drug addiction can be healing and great for recovery. 

The Introverted Runner Takes On the Group Run

I did it. It took me four years to get up the nerve to do it again, but I went. Anyone who knows me will understand that this was big step for me: Meeting up with complete strangers at a running store for a group run.  I’m generally a solitary runner, as well as a solitary person; however, I’ve made a conscious effort to run more with others, perhaps to get out of my comfort zone.

Why did it take me four years to try a group run again?  I have no idea. Perhaps because I ran into a fire hydrant during my last group run?  I should note that I don’t always run alone. Once in a while, I’ll run with my wife Jill or my friend Paul; however, that is not the same.  That is more of a one-on-one interaction with someone I already know.

A group run is different, especially when you’re the new guy.  I can only describe it as moving to a new neighborhood, and being the new kid at school.  Everyone in the class is sizing you up, and they’re not sure what to make of you.  It takes a little while to fit into the mix of personalities.  It takes a while not to feel like the odd person out.

As for the experience?  The run was great.  There were a handful of us, so it wasn’t too overwhelming.  We had two different pace groups, and I ended up running with a couple of really welcoming guys. They put up with my uncertainty about the route, and soon enough we were in a group groove.  We talked about how we got into running: the general consensus was that we didn’t fit into any other sport (throwaway misfits of little league?). We also discussed our next races, hills, Philly sports, etc.

Not so bad:  “I can get used to this I thought.”  Then it hit me: “Gerard, you’re running: this IS your comfort zone.”  It felt similar to the group runs with my high school or college cross country teammates.  It was a good feeling.

Post-run?  Beers and pizza.  This is when I got nervous again. You see, at this point, I’m not running anymore.  I’m out of that comfort zone.  Now, I’m in a store with five strangers who already know each other. However, it turns out these guys are nice, and not very different from me.  I guess we’re all a bit quirky and odd. The running community is full of incredibly nice misfits.

So, I’m glad I went, and I’ll be at the next group run.  I’m sure I’ll be nervous again, but I’m ok with that.

Do you participate in group runs?

Movie / Musical Pump-Up Mix

Recently, my wife and I saw Wicked on Broadway, and one of the songs from the play stuck with me.  It was called “Defying Gravity.”  It is one of those inspiring songs that hit me hard on many levels.  It got me thinking: “I wonder what kind of running song this would be?”  My next thought was of songs from movies / plays that might be worth grouping into a fun running playlist.

I even asked people on The Music of Running Facebook page what some of their favorite inspirational movie / musical songs were.  I have combined their favorites with some of mine.  Here is the list:

1. Chariots of Fire by Vangelis  (Movie: Chariots of Fire)

2. Edge of a Dream by Joe Cocker (Movie: Teachers)

3. Defying Gravity by Idina Menzel & Kristin Chenoweth (Musical: Wicked)

4. Lose Yourself by Eminem (Movie: 8 Mile)

5. Rocky Theme (Gonna Fly Now) by Bill Conti (Movie: Rocky)

6. Only the Young by Journey (Movie: Vision Quest)

7. Ass Kickin Fat Kid by Titannica (Movie: Run Ronnie Run)

8. I Melt With You by Modern English (Movie: Valley Girl)

9. Running 2 by Tykwer /Klimek/Heil (Movie: Run Lola Run!)

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10. Get off My Back by Bryan Adams (Movie: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron)

11. Hearts on Fire by John Cafferty (Movie: Rocky IV)

12. Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen (Movie: Shaun Of The Dead)

13. Eyes Wide Open by Taylor Swift (Movie: The Hunger Games)

14. Thunderstruck by AC/DC (Movie: The Longest Yard)

15. State of Love and Trust by Pearl Jam (Movie: Singles)

16. Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider (Movie: Vision Quest)

17. Good Times by INXS featuring Jimmy Barnes (Movie: The Lost Boys)

18. Going the Distance by Bill Conti (Rocky)

19. Let’s Go Crazy by Prince & the Revolution (Movie: Purple Rain)

20. Desire (Come and Get It) by Gene Loves Jezebel (Movie: She’s Having a Baby)

21. I’ll Make a Man Out of You by Donnie Osmond (Movie: Mulan)

22. Crash by The Primitives (Movie: Dumb and Dumber)

23. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me by U2 (Movie: Batman Forever)

24. (You Made Me) The Thief of Your Heart by Sinead O’Connor (Movie: In the Name of the Father)

25. In the Air Tonight by Nonpoint (Movie:  Miami Vice)

I’m sure I’ve missed some (Confession: these are mostly from movies because I am not a Broadway expert by any means), so feel free to send me your suggestions.

Enjoy the running, and enjoy the music!

The Dude in the Red Split Shorts

For a solid ten years, we have traveled to Wilmington, Delaware for many races.  The distances have ranged from 10K to a Marathon, and he has been at EVERY race.  We don’t know his name. We simply refer to him as “the dude in the red split shorts.”

I guess there’s nothing unique about him, except for the fact that he’s in his 80s. He runs shirtless, and, yes, in red split shorts.  Normally, these are two items I would classify as violations:

1) Running shirtless and

2) Wearing split shorts

However, I think this guy has earned the right to wear whatever he wants to wear (or not wear).  In fact, I hope to be “that guy” someday.  He’s not fast, but he’s moving. He might look slightly out of place, but he’s out there!

The ultimate running goal, at least for me, is to run over a lifetime, and my goodness is this guy the definition of it or what? Really though, I know nothing about him. In fact, I kick myself for never making a real effort to shake his hand or say hello to him.  Yes, I’m generally not an outgoing person, but maybe I am guilty of taking him for granted. I think we sometimes do this with the elderly.

For example, if not for Runner’s World’s amazing July article on Bill Iffrig, he might simply be known only as the “old guy that fell and got up” during the bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line.  However, his story is amazing. Mr. Iffrig built his family house soup to nuts with his bare hands at night while working full time at a mill during the day.  He didn’t START running until he was in his 40s, but he turned out to be pretty fast. Bill still runs with a training group: the Port Gardner Bay Runners. Anyway, you get the point.

So, the next time I line up next to the dude in the red split shorts, I plan on learning something about him too.  I’ll start with his name, but I bet he has a good story to tell as well.