January 26, 2015 – 3×1 mile, 7:55/mi
I woke up to a flurry this morning. By the time I went out to run this afternoon, the black asphalt was white. And it had not even been more than 3 hours.
I did not run very fast, nor very hard, considering that the risk of landing in a pothole, slipping, or getting hit by a car had pretty much doubled. I expected this. Especially after being off the road for two days after experiencing a sprained ankle last Friday during an easy run. Night running had never been my favorite time, especially since my vision is already impaired as it is…the lack of light makes seeing the streets even harder for me with or without contacts. What was worse was the fact that I had never sprained my right ankle before. It was a shock, considering that typically my left ankle is the one that is weak and tender.
The next morning the stiffness had spread. I felt pain all along the tendons of my shins. Enough to convince me that, especially since I don’t have a race for another 3 months, to just take it easy. I reached out to Coach Pat that I would rest and see how my leg would be tomorrow.
As of this morning, I had missed two days in a row of running. But today the stiffness is gone, with no ache. It was pretty much the perfect day for me to go out and do my scheduled run–aside from the fact that it was, of course, snowing. The solution for me to overcome the risk of faceplanting pavement was one that I had been anticipating since buying these suckers last winter:
Yes, YakTrax, which sounds rather obscene–like something somebody does after one too many shots of tequila, to the point that he’s no longer gotta yak, he’s gotta yaktrax all over himself. When I had first seen these, I was rather skeptical. They looked utterly ridiculous and clunky, and at the time I was sure that nobody in their right mind would wear these. It was when the Polar Vortex struck, after almost two weeks of atrophying indoors, that the thought that maybe, just maybe, running for twenty minutes on the treadmill would not be a bad idea, that I realized that it was time to man up and make the purchase.
I had only worn them once before, and at the time it was for naught more than a little dusting. Today, however, I was baller. I ran through small snow, snow piles, frozen sheets, ice…nothing was a challenge. I was an unstoppable machine, and a few observers along my route cheered me on as I pushed my way through stinging wind bursts of the ice dust. Others, however, chose to stare at me in what looked like confusion–was this crazy bastard really running in the snow, or am I just going nuts?
Granted, I did not run my best. On average I would say I was doing 8:00-8:30. On a good day, this would be way less. But I chose to take it easy and not aggravate any pain. A slight sharpness struck my left arch around the final stretch of my last set, and so I eased on the brakes as soon as the mile ended. The pain went away just as quickly, and although it was a disappointing run, at least I actually did run it.
Dehydration also struck me throughout the run–I had opted not to bring my handheld with me, figuring that there was water all over the place. It was rather ingenious. During my 7 minute rests I would gather a palmful of snow, pack it together, and take a mouthful and chomp into it. Why hasn’t anybody marketed that towards runners? Instead of choking yourself with water, you can munch a palmful instead. It’d be a genius idea.
I imagine that as I walked/jogged during these recoveries, throwing back a few chunks of snow onto my face and into my mouth, that I easily looked like Tony Montana when he threw his face into his cocaine mountains.
I hope everybody’s keeping warm and dry. It’s only going to get rougher tomorrow, so I wish everyone the best. Be safe. Hopefully the weather will clear in time for Wednesday.
One of the great things that I’ve started to learn as I make my baby steps into coaching is that it is really cool to see such an enthusiastic group of runners. It has been some of the coldest days/nights that I have ever run. On a typical January you would find me hitting the gym or just staying indoors bear-style, hibernating. But with Coach Pat reading my logs and actually taking lead of a few running classes the need to stay accountable is more vital than ever. I recall basketball tryouts (an embarrassing chapter among many in my high school days…I really don’t think I want to go to my reunion) back in sophomore year. The coach, he who shall not be named, was one serious (to be blunt) fatass. I feel that it would be appropriate to call him that because in my mind’s eye I see the Stay Puft Marshmallow man telling us to do suicides across the court and then do passing drills. First, I suck
ed at basketball, so that’s a joke. Second, I’m not going to take orders and do sprints across a basketball court from a man who would feed me to the Pit of Karkoon if I were to fail.
So if anyone were to tell me, “I’m not going out there in the rain/cold/hurricane! It’s shitty out, I’m staying in,” I could actually say that I know that’s not true, because not only am I running out there, but I have had almost an entire class out in the twenty degree and teens weather, freezing our asses off in the name of (let’s face it) looking good.
Since starting my training, I have been sure to include comments in my log to Coach Patrick about how I felt during the runs. Even reading it now, I must say fighting the cold has been some of the toughest battles of each run. I can recall last Tuesday’s miserable battle against the track. It was a hopeless feeling, thinking at the time that I had to run a 4:15 mile pace (It was actually 4:15 half mile pace, which is actually way easier) and feeling cold and miserable as I looked at my watch and saw that I was nowhere even CLOSE to hitting that mark (again, it is actually physically impossible for me…I’m not being pessimistic here). I remember that defeatist mentality…the sort that shrouds your mind when you’re trying to focus on keeping your pace. It is a malicious little thing, burrowing deeper into you with each lap or set and then taking hold when you stop and realize that, man, it really is cold and you’re not even halfway through the workout yet! You really suck!
My attitude held strong after Tuesday in spite of myself. I think at one point on Wednesday night, after a painful 1:20:52 of running 10 laps up a hill in my town, I was convinced that I would never feel warm again.
But something happened Wednesday night as I burrowed myself into bed and went looking around for something to read. I opened up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It recounts the musings of famed writer Haruki Murakami, himself a(n ultra)marathon runner, as he trained for the New York Marathon in 2009. Writing on the occasions when he wasn’t writing, leading a discussion, or training, he expresses thoughts spanning across so many subjects–his past, his writings, his feelings while running. It gave me a deep sense of empathy–here, then, is a man who is just as batshit crazy as I am. Here, then, is a man who is fighting against his body to keep strong. Sure, he’s by now 60 something years old, but as an individual who spent most of his childhood thinking he was not meant to run and be athletic I was so happy when I discovered that I had defeated my asthma as an adult, and could relate then to a man for whom athletic ability, while readily at his disposal, has never been something so easy to come by.
Murakami’s prose came so naturally, in a way that another athlete, Chrissie Wellington, had not. Perhaps it was because Murakami is, first and foremost now, a writer. When I read Chrissie’s A Life Without Limits, it felt..well it felt like I knew she had a ghost writer transcribing her notes. Murakami’s writings felt more honest, more thoughtful and relatable.
Perhaps it was also because I decided, after reading the first chapter of Murakami’s memoir, to stop reading for the day. I would get back to it, I decided, after my next run. It was a good decision. At this point I am about done, maybe three more chapters left. It made me feel better, reading about someone else who, at the time of his writing his entry, had just finished his workout just as I had, and was expressing thoughts of pure honesty, wanting to stop, feeling muscles that were tight and fatigued, doubting and yet using those negative thoughts into fuel for his race…that is what I wanted to feel.
I think that’s why I’m enjoying coaching. They’re not fuel for me to feel great. Yeah, you’re miserable! Now you know how I felt during training last night! We’re all keeping each other going. Running, while it is a solo endeavor, with you being your own opponent, it is still a grueling sport of spirit. Basketball players, football players, soccer players, even golfers–they all have to put their balls into something (insert sex joke here). Runners, in the end, it really is about the people you are around. Your partner running next to you, that challenge behind you, that loser up ahead that you’re going to overtake with each gaining step. The cheering crowd on either side of the route. That is all there to keep your spirits up. I think it’s really what makes a training run that much better than just running alone.
So today I called Coach Pat with questions, and he told me with a chuckle that the 5×800 at 4:15 was meant to be paced at half a mile, meaning that my times were definitely not slower, but certainly a mite bit too fast. I felt like an idiot, which has taught me thus to never be afraid of asking your coach questions. He/She’s there for a reason, and you’re paying them to help you get better…how can they do that if you aren’t willing to give them feedback?
So, today I will be doing 10 sets of hill repeats. It was supposed to be at Cat Hill in Central Park, a route that even till today I have not run (or I probably have, but just nodded and followed along with everybody else–like a lemming eagerly anticipating what’ll happen if I hop over the edge of that cliff). I find myself at odds with the great park, mainly because it took me 4 years of working in the city to realize what the hell the transverses were only last year, and that I’ve been calling them everything BUT transverses.
The following was a typical conversation between me and a few students (or colleagues, the people are interchangeable here):
“Where are we running today?” Inquired the enthusiastic runner.
“Oh,” I hesitated. “That uh–road, path, thing–that cuts across the park.”
“Sure, why not.”
As I continue to assistant Coach runs nowadays, though, my confidence in knowing Central Park is steadily growing, although I still probably wouldn’t run through some of the lesser known routes without company. It’s still certainly better than my knowledge of anything related to Brooklyn (my second most frequented borough next to Manhattan, but even far less familiar). Don’t even get me started on anything south of Houston.
This past week was my first of the New Year starting my training with Coach Pat. In the past, I had options, with little sense of discipline. However, with interest in making up for my passive mindset last year, I chose to man up in my tightest tights and brave the cold. I have run in the midst of thunderstorms, showers, snowstorms, hurricanes, and fires (not). How bad could sub-freezing temperatures be?
Wednesday Night, 1/7 – 10 minute warm ups and then 3 sets of 10 minute runs, picking up 15 seconds with each set
Turns out, on a good run it can be awesome. On that Wednesday night I ran out into the semi-darkness, sucking up the 8 degree weather and forcing myself through some of the most brutal winds I had ever faced. It was an incredible feeling, both meditative and exciting, painful and soothing–perhaps something that only after almost a decade of choosing to run outside can induce. I recall glancing through my frozen contacts other runners as they gasped their way through the soul-eating winds along the West Side Highway, their gloved hands grasping the air as if pulling themselves determinedly up a tempestuous mountain with no end in sight.
Patrick told me after my run to take a measured approach to these first two weeks–they are an assessment after all. I had mentioned on a good run that the cold can be awesome. I would be remiss if I fail to bring up facts about today’s workout: running 5 sets of 800m at 4:15/mi. First, it was a cloudless Tuesday afternoon. I was supposed to run yesterday, but elected to do my ab workout instead due to a downpour of rain and snow that I dared not test–not a solid excuse judging from my previous statements about committing to running, but I confess I also would like to feel like I am actually enjoying my training. You can’t win all the time, but I felt that switching days would be a nice compromise.
Tuesday Afternoon, 1/13 – 10 minute warmup, 5x800m at 4:15, 10 minute cooldown
Today’s workout was a test of whatever willpower I had. From the get-go I lacked the confidence to go anywhere near 4:15. On a good day I’d be lucky if I could even run 6:30. On a day like today, after being sore and icky and now dealing with the cold, I made some of the worst paces I had ever seen–nowhere even NEAR my intended time:
Lap 1: 7:04
Lap 2: 7:27
Lap 3: 7:30
Lap 4: 7:40
Lap 5: 7:43
No matter how hard I pushed, no matter what I did to adjust my strides, my cadence, my lung capacity, each lap was worse than the other. By the end everything hurt, everything stung. My lungs were on fire, my abs sorer than ever. By the end of my run, I was swearing up a storm, cursing the weather, cursing my legs and weak body, cursing my sore abs. Did Coach Pat put too much faith in my abilities? Did I have not enough faith in mine? I just don’t know. I felt hopeless.
I am currently reading a book by Haruki Murakami. I was familiar with the name, but had never been interested in reading his work until I entered the Konikuniya bookstore in Midtown and saw a memoir, What I Think About When I am Running. At the time, I figured it would be good to get an artist’s perspective on the sport–the last book that I had read was Chrissie Wellington’s A Life without Limits and I had been left somewhat disappointed more because, well, she’s a champion Ironman Athlete…how can I relate to someone of such remarkable calibre? Here, though, was a man, an artist, a man who pursued the sport not to compete but to find fulfillment and an output beyond his work life.
Within the first two chapters of reading, I was immersed. Murakami talks about running, sure, but he talks about life: his musings, his past, his struggles, Mick Jagger. It is as random and yet as specific as my focus when I am running– the objectives for each training run is clear and yet, while I’m thinking about that, what will I be having for dinner? Do I have a shot at asking her out? Why didn’t I ask this girl out back in high school? I really liked that Backstreet’s Back song when I was younger–follow that beat at this pace, one more lap to go!
Happy New Year, Everybody!
This month is a time where gyms get packed to the gills with new memberships, full classes, and extra stinky man/woman sweat. Don’t believe me? Go to a Planet Fitness the first week of January.
This past year I took a rather easy approach to my running goals. I have been running races, no doubt. But there have been no goals, no focus, and, what’s worst of all: No (for the most part) running between races.
This lackadaisical approach, to half marathons, in particular, is most definitely ill-advised. Train, train, train, that is the only way to get better. So imagine my surprise when I saw my finishing time for the Philadelphia Half Marathon on November 23, 2014:
BRANDON WEI, M, ROSLYN, NY AGE: 26 CHIP TIME: 1:51:48
At this point I can relay that number in my sleep. It was a personal record. WITHOUT TRAINING. The last time I had posted a time below my standard 1:56+ time was in 2012, running a 1:52:** for the Disneyland Half–and in that half, I was in the midst of Marathon Training (for a more in-depth explanation about that whole fiasco, feel free to ask me).
So, for the remainder of 2014, I chillaxed and enjoyed a month and a half of eating
and drinking, not really doing much in terms of exercise, once spending an entire day snacking and watching all three Hobbit films (I kid you not). I came to the conclusion that for 2015, I needed a turnaround.
I just signed up with Coach Patrick Hammond of Educated Running for the second time. I have seen him mentor a great number of friends, including Carrie, to some amazing times. I had even attempted to have him coach me previously, though the failure is largely due to my lack of commitment and focus. This year, however, it’s for real.
My goal: make or break 1:45 for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. And also, keep this blog updated regularly.
I also resolve to keep this site as a way of holding myself accountable. The reason for this is that I am now also going to be involved, to a certain extent, as a mentor for other runners, and so I hope to set an example.
Here’s to a kickass 2015.