Saturday, October 19, 2013

Placed in a Race … A Cupcake Run, on My Birthday! ...

This morning I ran the first ever NYC Cupcake Run in Astoria Park in Queens, NY. I ran it in 21:13, placing second overall!

(It was advertised as a 5K, meaning 3.1 miles, though I measured it more like 2.88 miles. No biggy! Just FYI.)

Here are my stats from Garmin:

I was excited for this race. Put together by the same person who puts together the NYC Pizza Run, this was hard to turn down because a) it happened on my birthday, making it a great birthday-cake substitute, and b) it was in Astoria, which is where I live.

Jason, the organizer, knew I did a nice amount of tweeting about the event, and from those tweets he realized it was going to be my birthday. So with incredible kindness and forethought, when I checked in Jason handed me something special: A birthday hat! I wore it the entire race.

Speaking of the race, it started a few minutes after 11am on Shore Boulevard and ran at first on the shoreline sidewalk along Astoria Park. I started with the front group of runners and eventually was leading the pack for much of that first leg, coming into the first cupcake station in first place. I did not presume this to mean I was going to win — in fact, I took this to mean that I need to pace myself else I’ll burn out and definitely get passed later. Into the first cupcake station, I plowed into a very rich cupcake, demolishing it. I had wanted to pick up water here but I actually didn’t see any! Fortunately the cupcakes were moist with very creamy frosting, making them easy to cram. A second or so after I realized it had made it into my mouth, I took off, maintaining my first-place position.

It was after halfway down Hoyt before the left turn that the other runner I was up against (John) overtook me. I had been slowed as I tried to consume the cupcake in my mouth and as I struggled to get it down without choking. I realized that maybe I should have spent more time swallowing the cupcake than just getting it into my mouth because maybe my time could have been better spent running. Oh well. John got quite a distance ahead of me and I was pretty certain I wouldn’t catch him, so I focused largely on maintaining my second-place position.

Into the second cupcake station I saw John and told him not to let me beat him! I grabbed a water and I remember virtually nothing about this cupcake, only that I lost the cap to my water bottle in trying to figure out how to wet the cupcake in my mouth. John left before I did but I watched him get about the same distance as before away from me before I shot out of the station as I think as other runners were arriving. Without the cap on my water, I plugged my index finger into the bottle and ran like that, trying to gain something on John.

I was going at a pretty decent clip. I’d had some caffeine earlier and I haven’t really been running, so I was a bit surprised that I was running at a decent clip and not really losing my breath. I hit the third cupcake station and engulfed a chocolate cupcake along with some kind of chocolate piece atop it. I don’t remember its making it into my mouth. However, there are going to be some great photos on the Facebook page for the event, for sure, as I understand I might have been one of the more rabid consumers of the race’s signature food item. I guess I was more competitive in this race than I realized!

John was long gone and while the water did help the cupcake go down, it was going to be hard to catch him. It seemed to me I didn’t have anyone behind me but I didn’t check. I basically settled in to finishing second with my birthday cap on, knowing that a second-place finish would actually win me a prize. Just as I was turning onto the last leg, my friend Jono, whom I’d told about the race just that morning and who lives around the corner, started cheering my name! It was cool to see him show up to cheer me on. I shouted that I was in second … and fortunately I held onto that position as I crossed the finish in 21:13, making for nearly 7:40s without pausing the stopwatch at the cupcake stations. Such a cool happening on my birthday!

Afterward I met several of the other runners and their friends and just hung out (hanged out?) in the park. People seemed happy and seemed to have a great time. There was no vomiting from what I could tell, and fewer people seemed to look “sick” compared to the NYC Pizza Run. I’d definitely recommend doing this run in 2014 … it’s for charity!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

An Experiment in Strength Training … ...

This morning I ran the 2013 5th Avenue Mile along Central Park in Manhattan. I ran it in 5:49 (AG 66.18% – not bad!). While far from a PR (which was 5:19 in 2009), this race determined a lot of good things for me as I consider running it again next year.

First of all, I haven’t really been running. The interest in running the race this year came when I was actually shooting a commercial for a large NYC race that I’m not supposed to name. For the commercial, I would jog by the frame of the shot with a bunch of other actors. I noticed that several of the actors would then start sprinting. I got “sprinting envy” and asked if I could join them. Soon enough I was sprinting along with them and keeping up with them! This surprised me because I hadn’t run in about a month and a half — but I had been working with a personal trainer at my gym, building muscle. So, I was encouraged to see if these short bursts of maybe 200 meters coupled with strength training might equate to just as fast of a 5th Ave. Mile as in the past, or — gosh! — maybe even a PR?! I wanted to see.

Today I started out at about 185 lbs. This is heavy for me, about 8 lbs. heavier than I race at my heaviest! Rather than fat, though, presumably some of the weight is muscle and my physique seems to tell that tale. I was feeling good at the start of the race. It was a gorgeous day — sunny, about 62 degrees with an imperceptible 90% humidity, and there was a crosswind along the streets that cut across 5th Ave. that may even have been a headwind. All in all, it felt cool out. I was excited, felt good, and not very anxious, and I had a general strategy to go out hard, have fun, and push myself, while, again, having fun. I knew to be anywhere near PRing I had to hit the 1/2-mile marker around 2:40. And I figured out before my race that it takes about 15-20 seconds from passing the last street to make it to the finish line (even though it looks to be “right there” from 61st Street). This was good to know in calculating my finish time as I approached — and to know just how much I’d have to give in case I really needed to give.

Before my 9:55am heat, I lightly jogged up from 60th Street the mile to the starting line. For one or two blocks I did a test by sprinting a little bit, and things seemed fine in the legs. I had, though, run the 2013 NYC Pizza Run the day before, and maybe my legs were a wee bit tired from that 2-mile race — certainly going to bed last night they were surprisingly a little sore. This morning I  had three eggs and a Pro-Scuplt beverage with 200 mg of caffeine in it plus l-arginine, whose effects I weren’t sure of in racing. I had that around 7:30am. At 9:40am, just before entering the corral, I had a 2x caffeine Tangerine PowerGel, which I understand equates to 50mg of caffeine plus sugar.

When I got into the corral, I was maybe four guys deep in the center of the road. When the gun went off, I crossed the start line maybe one second later. I decided to push myself on the downhill this year, which was counterindicated by most people who advise this race — but not counterindicated by last year’s self-prescription, which said basically “have fun.” Immediately as I began this race, I realized I wasn’t sure what the best breathing strategy was. I quickly decided to go at it with pretty reserved breathing, doing about three strides then one exhale. This seemed more controlled, to guard against getting all crazy in the breathing and just melting down.

The strategy didn’t help much. I noticed before 74th Street (where the hill begins) I was getting passed by a nice number of gents. This proved to be much of the race for me, though I was giving it my best and keeping pressure on myself. At the 1/2-mile mark I logged about a 2:46 I think, which meant that I probably would not be able to PR this year. It also meant that in my current shape, it was going to be tough! I felt slow (or maybe just looked slow with so many guys passing me) but kept at it, reminding myself through the strain to “have fun.” It helped my psyche. Around this time my friend Sharon Eckstrom, who was watching from about this mark, saw me and snapped a few photos. She said my face looked pained, but she said that others did, too, so I didn’t feel so bad about that!

When I zeroed in on the finish, I tried to sprint after passing 61st Street. It didn’t feel like the fastest sprint in the world for me, though I’m pretty sure I passed a number of guys in doing so.

Am I happy with finishing with this time? Largely yes, and a little bit no. Fortunately the “no” isn’t a very big deal. The “no” comes from wanting to PR, and also from wanting to be a lot closer to my past finish times rather than be my slowest 5th Ave. Mile to date. But the “yes” comes from a number of considerations. I’m happy to learn that strength training without running training is not going to be my ticket to faster times. That is, strength training needs to have running in the mix to mean something. Furthermore, cardiovascular training for more extended periods of time — probably while running — may make the biggest difference. I felt labored in my breathing this year, so more cardiovascular shape may have led to a better time. (My cardio now comes from swimming and biking, which probably isn’t that big of a deal. The only running I’ve been doing is warm-up runs on a treadmill, and, while fast, are only for 4-6 minutes.)

Also, happiness comes from actually pulling off this sub-6:00 time without really any running training for the event! Usually I’m in the midst of marathon training when I’m running this race, so I’m benefitted by that training. This time, not one bit.

Afterwards I watched some of the heats with Sharon. Sharon was then going to do some running in Central Park, and I asked if I could join her. We ended up doing about 6 miles together, and I finished having run 7.15 miles. This, after having run a mile up to the start line and a mile sprint back to the finish line! So, for not really having run, it was surprising to comfortably log 9.15 miles today, and 11+ miles in two days considering yesterday’s race.

Here’s what my Garmin charted when Sharon and I ran together. She and I split off very near the conclusion of mile 6.

Cheers for now!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pizza?? Nom Nom Nom! ...

1Today I ran the 2013 NYC Pizza Run in Tompkins Square Park, in Manhattan’s East Village.  My official race time was 17:33, which equated to 6th place overall and 5th place among males.

Here are my unofficial Garmin stats:

The weather for this race was pretty good: about 69 degrees at the 11am-ish start with 75% humidity. I didn’t really even think of the weather so that was a good thing.

The course is four loops around the park, starting at the midpoint of the south side. The race is advertised as 2.25 miles, though my Garmin tells me it is closer to 2 miles, logging 1.96 miles. At the end of your first, second, and third loops (where the race began), you eat a slice of pizza and can’t move on until it is fully in your mouth. When you run your final loop, you curve slightly into the park past the people still eating and across the finish line.

You are allowed one bottle of water provided by the race. (Not sure if you could bring your own beverage — seems it could be cheating if you’re competitive!) Turns out this water supply was pretty crucial for getting down the pizza, provided this year by Certé. The pizza, running I think about eight decent slices per pie, had cooled by the time we ate it. The crust was the surprise element to the race: It was handtossed and thin, but about an inch or two wide. This equated to a large dry “rind” of pizza to consume against the wetter, cheese-and-tomato sauce portion of the pizza. What did this mean in terms of the race? Well, when you are cramming a slice into your mouth, you are going to have a pretty tough time getting the slice down your throat without choking on toasted dough! Also, since it was dry, it wasn’t as easy to push it into the mouth, meaning you really had to chew to get the slice in the mouth. The crust was probably the biggest obstacle of the whole race, and I heard several finishers talking about it in the end.

I was having visions that I might actually have a chance of winning this race, so I decided to think about strategy a bit in case it would mean the difference in a first-place or other-place finish. Some of the things I told myself included:

  • Take my time in the first lap because speed will matter more toward the end
  • The race will probably be won more in the pizza station than in the running
  • Get water at the end of the 1st lap to help with swallowing issues I sometimes have when I eat (gotta have something to drink when I have pancakes else I panic when the food stops in my esophagus!)
  • Move toward the front of the pizza station so that I can take off immediately when I leave
  • Store up some sprinting for the last loop
  • At 2.25 miles, each lap is a little over a half mile, so at a decent pace each lap might take me three to three-and-a-half minutes to run
  • Grab smaller slices if available, especially in the last pizza station

These tips definitely came in handy, but I never could have planned for the pizza factor. After my first lap, I forewent the bottle of water (more like, I forgot it) and went straight to the slice. It was definitely something that would take a bit of time to consume, but the crust was the hard part. Being dry, it wasn’t as easy to eat. I reached the first station around 5th place I think, ahead of the woman who would eventually beat me. I was a little discouraged when I saw the very fast eventual 1st-place winner get out of the pizza station so quickly, while I was suffering to get through my dry crust.  The woman also shot out quickly, and it looked as if I wouldn’t able to catch them given the amount of time this was taking me. Rather than waste time swallowing, I decided to take off once my slice was completely in my mouth.

This meant my second lap was scary. How scary? Well, imagine running with a full mouth of food. Doesn’t sound scary? Well, then imagine that bits of that food ball in your mouth are dry bits of bread, so that when you inhale, sometimes the dry bits shoot into your windpipe and make you choke. And I do mean “choke”! I was repeatedly so close to vomiting not out of nausea but out of food-down-the-windpipe that 3/4 the way through the second lap I pulled alongside Ave. A to projectile vomit … or so I thought! The cough I let out seemed to free the last jarring bits of remnant pizza in my mouth and I was able to make it to the pizza station for a second time.

And that’s about right: Just as I was swallowing the last bits of pizza from the prior pizza station, I was arriving at the pizza station AGAIN! Funny how that times out. This second time I definitely got my bottle of water and used it to get the dry crust down my throat faster. I heard (though can’t confirm) that the winner was actually drinking water before eating to whet/wet the throat a bit. Not sure, but overall water is definitely a valuable assistant. That third loop’s food ball crammed in my mouth wasn’t affecting my breathing as much and I wasn’t choking as much either. I wasn’t running too fast for this loop — perhaps a mix of knowing I’m not going to win or just consuming this pizza without choking — but I still was making decent time relative to the other runners.

The third time I hit the pizza station (or was it the second?), I confessed to the reporter who I believe was Madeleine Cummings that I had been choking and water was my strategy for next year. Eventually I got out of the station, and knowing this was my last lap, I ran in hopes of passing people and guarding against being passed. There were no real rivals on my tail from what I could tell, but as I made the final turn onto 7th St., I saw a runner ahead of me who had been near my pace at the beginning. This is the part of the race when I turn on my sprinting and I certainly did, having to dodge not only him (I’m guessing he finished 7th overall) but also the few spectators who’d lined the sidewalk to watch. The crew wrote down my number as I crossed the finish line and they logged 17:33.

It was a fun, different, somewhat disgusting, but definitely challenging way to race! I’m thrilled I got to do it after wanting to do it for about two years now and not being able to. At the end, people are flecked with pizza sauce in various places on their bodies, with some smaller people clutching stomachs from eating so much. Myself, I wasn’t nauseated by it; I just had a sore throat from the coughing and choking. Not a big deal or any reason not to do this — though definitely drink water with your pizza!!!

On Twitter: @BenHauck