Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Old Habits in a New Area.

As was discussed in my previous post, I have moved back to New Jersey from Columbus, OH after my times at Ohio State and subsequent employment in the great Buckeye State came to an end. On Sunday, July 31, 2011 I began my career as a medical student; receiving my first white coat. After years and years of hard work and late nights, my official education as a future physician has begun!

With this exciting transition has come a new challenge to maintaining my training. It's not finding the time to still run, but in fact finding actual areas in which to run! When I moved up to my new neighborhood, one of the thoughts that came to mind was that this is a relatively sustainable area, but it is no where near being considered eye candy.

So after the hustle and bustle of moving in, white coat ceremony, and figuring out what exactly my schedule for this first week entails, I laced up my running shoes for my first run yesterday morning. Not quite sure where to head, I went for a run along the roads which I have driven since I've been here. The first mile was alright. Plenty of low-income housing around to remind me that I am by no means living in a white collar, affluent society. A few more miles pass and I find myself in an area that I'm assuming has been described by some of the locals as an area which I should avoid if at all possible. After another mile of this, I decided it was going to be an out-n-back run. I waited for my GPS to beep 4 miles and then turn around.

So, yes, I got an easy 8 miles in, but I did not exactly find the run relaxing and enjoyable (as I usually do). I have my work cut out for me to find a good area to get in some longer runs around here!

The search continues...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Variables and Constants

Well it looks like I am, once again, LONG overdue for a post on my actual blog versus my semi-daily Twitter posts. So much has happened in the past six months that I don't think I'd actually dare try to cover all of them in one post. But here's an outline:

Job change.
Half marathon debut.
Med school acceptance.
Preview of life to come.

As many know, I graduated from The Ohio State University in December of last year. I enjoyed my Christmas break with friends and family in PA, NJ and OH and then returned to Columbus to find a job. After nearly two weeks of tireless searching I was offered a position climbing cell phone towers. Yes, those big, tall, cold towers that allow everyone to text, chat and surf the web no matter where they are, would be my work place for the next two months. I enjoyed the work and enjoyed the travel. It was a very physical job. Climbing towers day in and day out with nearly 60 pounds of gear on your back was an excellent full-body workout.

However, the industry soon required that I find additional employment and I shortly thereafter took a position at a running store in Columbus. I had experience working in the business sector or running in the past and so I felt relatively comfortable taking this position. After a couple weeks of training, I felt relatively up to speed on the latest and greatest in the running world and shortly thereafter began helping out with the training groups that were offered through the store. I started pacing a group of runners training for low 3:00 marathons and 1:30-!:40 half marathons. I quickly realized how rewarding of an experience this would become. Becoming well acquainted with and integrated into the relatively tight-nit running community of Columbus, OH is something that I can only say I wish would have happened earlier in my interim in that wonderful city. I went on to see one of my running 'pupils' go on PR by a full 20 minutes in the Pittsburgh Marathon and saw another do exceptionally well, despite her limited training schedule, in the Columbus Distance Classic. I look forward to remaining actively involved in the running community wherever I am geographically located as my professional pursuits continue.

Shortly after I was hired on at the running store in Columbus, I was approached by my boss to see if I wanted to run for the store in the half marathon that was just over a month away. Excited at the thought of getting back to racing after my injury in the fall, I obliged. I already had a good mileage base but upped the miles a big more and integrated in more speed work. Race day came and I toed a starting line for the first time in over a year. This race was a first in two regards. First, it was my first half marathon. (I know people usually start with half marathons and then proceed to full marathons. I did the opposite.) And second, I pushed myself to a new limit.

On May 7, 2011, the gun went off and I along with the 12 or so other runners in the lead pack flew through the first mile at 4:55. While I felt good, I knew that was a silly pace for me to think that I'd be holding it for the remaining 12.1 miles. I soon fell into my own groove and ran my own race for the next 8 miles. My strategy was simple. I wanted to run my first 8 miles at a steady 5:40 pace and then run negative consecutive splits for the next 5.1 thereafter. As mile 8 came and went, I was right on pace for around a 1:16. However, I wanted 1:15. Anyone who knows me well knows that slacking in this type of situation for me simply is not an option. The bike escort that was with me for the race hinted to me around mile 10 that if I was going to hit my goal time, that I had my work cut out for me. Already breathing moderately heavy, I glanced over to him with that semi-masochistic look in my eye and said, "let's do this!" And it should be known that this phrase has a bit of history with me. Somewhere along the line, I started using this as my motto during hard workouts. What it truly expresses is my mentality on race day. I go into every race with the idea that what better way to die than to have my heart explode during a race? Is this sick? Maybe? Do I leave the course feeling confident that I gave it 110%? Absolutely.

The last 5K seemed to fly by with relative ease. I came up on mile 13 and I knew I had to put up or shut up in this last sprint to the finish. The time was already around 14:40. I put everything on the line and as I turned the corner with the finish line in site, I did something I have never actually done in a race. I puked! I was determined to be under 1:16 or not even bother finishing the race. So up came breakfast and onward my legs carried me. I finished in 1:15:50 and took 11th place out of some 8,000 runners. I'll consider it a success for my first half marathon with only one month of legitimate training :) Faster times are sure to ensue. My eyes are set on 1:13 for the fall.

And while the excitement of a successful first half marathon was exhilarating, what was soon to follow would eclipse that accomplishment.

I arrived to work on the morning of May 16, 2011 and after about an hour of working with a customer, I went into the back where my coat was hung up and lunch waiting. I grabbed my cell phone out of my coat pocket to check messages and saw that there was a missed call and voicemail from a number who's area code looked familiar. It was the area code for a medical school at which I had interviewed in the fall. Despite the fact that being on a cell phone at work is frowned upon, I had worked too hard for too long to wait and find out what the phone call and voicemail were about. I returned the call and it was the director of admissions. We exchanged brief greetings and she explained to me that I had been selected for their incoming class and wanted to know if I was interested in accepting. YES!!!!! Of course I was!!!! I had waited so long for an acceptance into medical school and that day had finally come. I was going to be a doctor!

School would begin July 31 and so I put in my notice to work that July 1 would be my last day. July came before I knew it and I found myself saying good bye to many running buddies, training partners and running routes for which I had run hundreds of times over the past five years.

In the coming years of my medical education and truing, there will be times when exams and studying will limit my weekly mileage. But nonetheless, it will surely be present in my life. It's part of a healthy balance.

And so in this time of change, I can say I have gained a number of things from the past six months. One, great experiences during my interim between undergrad and medical school. Two, relationships formed primarily through running that I know I will have for years to come. And three, the continued understanding that no matter where life and my newly-forming career take me, running will continue to be a part of my life; a part of me. I will always be a runner.

Let's Do This!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Running; It's Never Boring

A few days ago; we received a break in the Ohio weather. It was above freezing and raining. That is, it was about 35 degrees and sleeting. I sat inside and waited for a relative break in the frozen pellets so I could pound out a few miles. In celebration of it being a bit 'warmer' than usual, I decided to ditch the running tights and go with shorts.

The rain finally dissipated enough to run without getting totally soaked and so I headed out on a route I have run, literally, hundreds of times. My expectations for the run were all-in-all, normal. North on High to Henderson, make a left at the light, turn south onto the bike trail and head home. Nothing exciting. For the most part, my run would conclude with my expectations met in their entirety. However, there were a few out of the ordinary events that made this 8-mile workout blog worthy.

Event #1:
Now anyone who has been a runner for any considerable amount of time has become acquainted with the ritual of greeting any fellow, random runner that they may encounter while out on their route. Acceptable gestures consist of the following 3 techniques:

1) The nod. More often than not, the simple combination of a transient moment of eye contact with a barely noticeable head nod suffices to convey, "Hello. Yes, we're both runners. I see you. You see me. Now let's both get on with our workouts."

2) The wrist flick. This is probably my personal favorite. When out in public and you see someone you know, you generally wave to them. That is, you raise your hand, forearm, elbow, and proceed to physically acknowledge that you know they are there. This is far too much work for runners. The wrist flick consists of (with a split second of eye contact) the flicking wrist's arm swinging forward and the hand's index finger pointing to the sky at the hand's foremost position in the swing. It's a technique perfected over time and a one that clearly speaks of your vast running experience (insert semi-sarcastic tone). If you lift the entire arm and give a full, legit wave the only other gesture that screams 'noob' louder would be to the wear the t-shirt from your first 5K which you ran just last weekend.

3) The "how ya doin'". Second only to the wrist flick, this is a personal favorite of mine. (Possibly because it allows me to say the line with a nice tint of Jersey accent.) There's not much explanation needed for this technique. The only thing which must be noted is that whatever you do, do NOT sound out of breath when you offer this most superficial of all greetings to your fellow runner.

And so now that I have pointed out the three acceptable gestures in the running world, you can understand the significance of what I was about to experience. As I was headed north, a man in a full-out 1970's sweat suit with big, clunky snow gloves comes running toward me on the same side of the road. As the distance between us quickly disappears, I hear it, "high five!" I looked up to realize what this rogue runner said with only enough time to get my hand barely high enough for my fingertips to barely graze the outside of his palm. Not only did I just high-five some strange man running in a retro sweat suit, but it was potentially the most awkward high-five I've ever experienced. I spent the next 3 blocks trying to figure out what just happened. "Did I know that guy?" "Who high-fives total strangers?" "What WAS he wearing?" "Maybe I should have looked at his elbow to make better contact." Regardless, it was a moment in running history where all my norms and runner mores were greatly threatened. But fear not, I'm alive and well.

Event #2:
As the initial shock of my high-five experience wore off, I began to regain focus and was nearing mile 5 of the run. I turned south on to the bike trail and turned a corner after nearly a third of a mile to be reacquainted with one of my worst foes on any running route I've traveled; geese. Like sumo wrestlers and sky-diving, runners and Canadian geese don't mix.

Now I have had run-ins (pun fully intended) with geese before. Many years before when I was still in high school, I went out for a run early in the morning on some nature trails near my home. I came around a corner on the wooden pathway to find a mother goose and her goslings minding their own business. Sure that I was there to devour her entire family, the mother goose proceeded to chase and hiss at me. I was altogether obliged to evade the situation and run like I had never run before. Add to that the loudest scream you've ever heard a 15 year old boy yell and you can probably paint a pretty accurate mental picture of the scenario.
Fast forward 9 years and here I am, once again, face to face with one very grouchy goose. The sound of that hiss was all too familiar to me, but what was not familiar to myself was how I would react in the coming seconds. I didn't scream. I didn't jump. I didn't even change my pace. I barely even changed course.

I hissed right back!

I think the goose was as stunned as I was. After running another 100 yards, I realized that I just matched a goose's greeting. This clearly had not been an average run.

I was more than happy to make it back to my house where a hot shower was waiting. As I walked in the front door, I realized that running is, as I have correlated in past posts, much like life. While a lot of the day-in-day-out routine is planned and predictable, there will be "unexpecteds." There will be men in vintage track suits running at you wanting awkward high fives and there will be irate momma gooses ready to hiss the hell out of you. And the point isn't that you avoid these unknowns, but that you'll learn something about yourself in said circumstances. You might just hiss back.

PS Don't wear shorts when it's that cold. When the blood starts to flow back to your thighs, they'll itch like an itch you've never felt before.