Friday, July 25, 2014

Conserve your willpower

In 2009 in a controversial cover story TIME magazine declared that exercise won't help weight loss. They proposed that a person has a limited pool of willpower and if you spend this on exercise you won't have any left to control yourself at the table.

Does it apply for everyone? Probably not. Some people can indeed run 20 miles and refuel with a smoothie. Those of us who are weak on the other hand, are already dreaming of philly cheesesteaks at mile 4.

What is not debatable though is that we can all use more willpower. The following paper recently published in PNAS suggests a way to achieve this:

The trick seems to be reframing the outcomes of your choices. They use a money based scheme in the paper, but I will translate it to runner terms.

So, let's say your alarm went off at 6 on a Sunday morning. Instead of thinking "I can turn it off and go on sleeping or I can do my long run and hit my 3:30 marathon target", you should be thinking "I can turn it off, go on sleeping and suffer for the last 15 miles of my upcoming marathon, finishing far off my target or I can stop sleeping, do my long run and hit my 3:30 marathon target".

In other words, you state the negatives for both choices, which is supposed to help you pick the right one without using your precious willpower. (That would be the one where you do the long run, in case there is doubt)

I am going to give it a try. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mud, ice, rain and fog - NYRR opens the season

Nope, it is not your weather forecast, it is my report of NYRR's Central Park season opener - Joe Kleinerman 10K.

I don't know if you noticed, but we had a bit of a cold spell over here in North America. No biggie, just a few degrees below freezing and then some. Even generally mild-weathered NYC had its share of ice, snow and general frostiness. And all of a sudden it shot up. Today's high is expected to be well above freezing. "Polar vortex" might be gone, but it left us some lovely parting gifts and today's race was all about those gifts.

About 6000 runners started the race, which in my opinion is quite the turnout for the first race of the season. Mud was contained in the bag check area, so we didn't have to worry about it too much once we got running. Ice, on the other hand, was covering the Harlem Hill. I tried to run on the median, thinking all those people ahead would melt it a bit. No luck. It was still pretty slippery. In order to avoid a Wile E. Coyote-like situation, I slowed down to a 12 min/mile pace like everyone around and possibly sacrificed a minute or so. On the upside, I believe this is the first time I climbed the Harlem Hill without risk of a heart attack.

Once we got through the North side of the Park, down to the West, we found ourselves in thick fog. And you know what that means! Humidity! So, even though the temperature was an almost perfect 50, 93% humidity killed our joy. Some rain would have been nice, but it decided to wait until the finish, so that we get soaked while getting back home instead of on the course.

I was shooting for a sub 1:00 finish, about 4 minutes slower than my 10K PB in the Park. I thought this would be achievable at my current state of fitness. Alas, I finished at 01:01:01 (yeah!). Aside from its binary beauty, my time obviously is nothing to be too excited about. But patience! This is only the first step in getting some speed into my legs. So as the season rolls along I should be able to report faster mile splits.

One final note. If you haven't already, take a look at this running motivation community organized by the hosts of the podcast Marathon Talk: Jantastic.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

That feeling in your stomach…

Emotions make us human. They guide most of our daily activities one way or another. Yet the scientific study of emotions is always a bit fuzzy, because they are hard to quantify and experiment on. Even though the following PNAS paper from researchers in Finland suffers from lack of objective quantification,  it is still a decent effort in answering a basic question about emotions. I will summarize and discuss the paper after the link, but the paper is also freely available in case you would like to read.

Nummenmaa L, Glerean E, Hari R, & Hietanen JK (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 24379370

The question this study aims to answer is “Do emotions map to specific parts of the body?”. Nummenmaa and colleagues first asked human subjects to indicate which parts of your body responded to certain emotions (e.g. sadness, happiness) by coloring on a diagram. Averages over multiple subjects showed statistically significant locations for different emotions. For example, in response to “Anger”, answers showed activation around the head and the arms. You can see where other emotions are “felt” by downloading the paper. It is Figure 2.

Of course, this brings on a dilemma. We culturally assign locations to feelings. “Love” for example, we know, is felt in the heart area. So, the subjects might have given the answers they have due to their cultural conditioning. The researchers controlled for this by including subjects from different cultures (Swedish, Taiwanese) and have seen that feeling locations still correlated with each other.

The researchers also induced feelings non-verbally through images and observer similar localizations. I think this control still has some drawbacks. Even though the emotion wasn’t spelled out, the subjects could consciously identify what they are supposed to be feeling and biased their answers. Still, repeats are always welcome.

A few more experiments were included in the paper, but they are of similar nature (a subject indicates “where” the feeling is) and therefore have the same strengths and weaknesses. The authors mention towards the end of the discussion that this kind of study would benefit from newer imaging techniques.

To be honest, I was expecting to get more out of this paper after reading the abstract. I don’t know, maybe something like “Second right toe responds to grief”. It would have opened the door to new neurological studies and explained how acupuncture works. Alas, we are not there yet. Hopefully next time.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Who needs a subway...

Believe it or not, last time I had a commute longer than a mile, the year was 1996 and I was a junior high student. I went to a boarding school in high school, lived on campus in college, lived near campus in grad school both in Texas and Minnesota and finally lived across the street from work during my postdoc years at The Rockefeller University.

I recently changed jobs and also moved to a different neighborhood in NYC, which means I now have a commute. This might be disappointing news to normal people; I, on the other hand, am excited, because now I get to walk/run to work! 

Of course I did some theoretical work first. According to Google Maps, my commute is 4.4 miles. Due to the geography of the city it also includes a bridge. I chose Queensboro, because that is the closest and the most walkable one. It is also part of the Marathon route.

Tonight I did my first try. I covered the distance in about 70 minutes. Including traffic lights and such. With the subway it takes 40-45 minutes. So, my net loss is about 30 minutes. Considering I wouldn’t do anything useful in that time period at home, I am not even losing those minutes.

Walking to or from work is easy, since it doesn’t require tech clothing and sweating is limited. My goal is to introduce some runs as I ease into the new season. I am currently looking for a cheap gym where I can take a shower and change before heading to work. The leading candidate so far is the NYC Recreation Centers

As I said, I am looking forward to coming months and commuting to work on foot more often. I will share tips as I figure out more.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What a race, what a city! - NYC Marathon report

Race day attire
"Wow! Just wow! Details later, cause I need to feed and party right now. But what a city!"

After crossing the finish line of the NYC Marathon on November 3rd and getting home from Central Park; I only had time for a quick Facebook update before the arrival of the guests for our post-Marathon party. The words above were all I could come up with. Because... Well... Wow!

A race for the whole World
In NY, we like to claim to be the center of the world. Of course if you are the center, you might wanna invite the world to come over and play every now and then. And we do. About 50 million people visit our fair city every year. The UN meets a few blocks away from Times Square, where the world celebrates the new year. And of course there is the NYC Marathon.

Everyone says the Marathon is an international event, but to get the whole picture you have to attend the opening ceremony on Marathon Friday, two nights before the race. This is something NYRR started in 2011 to celebrate the international participation, so it is still "defining itself"; but to see runners from around the world walk through the finish line, carrying their flags, waving at their cheering fans is simply inspiring. There were about 28000 US runners among the more than 50000 total starters (yeah, 50000!), which leaves us with 22000 internationals. I don't think there is another marathon that comes this close to a half and half split.

International delegations waiting to join the parade
Post-apocalyptic pre-race
After a restive Saturday filled with careful carb-loading and hydrating (and apartment hunting for some reason), I did what every runner does on marathon eve: I prepared my gear, setup 3 separate alarms (two for 5AM, one for 5:30), drank some more water, told Courtney to setup a fourth alarm (because, you know, I may be setting mine wrong. Better safe than sorry!) and went to bed early for the traditional toss-and-turn. I don't know what time I fell asleep, but I was up with the first peep of the first alarm.

After my tried and true pre-run routine (a giant mug of latte with lots of sugar consumed while watching my favorite running themed Youtube videos), I was on my way at 6AM and on board the number 4 train 15 minutes later. As we got closer to the south tip of the island, the number 4 train became "The Runner Express". Quiet looks were exchanged, good luck was wished.

There were many things to see on the Staten Island Ferry. The Statue of Liberty, The Ellis Island, downtown Manhattan in all its glory... And of course the multi-colored throw-away clothes! Boy, were we a badly dressed bunch! It was almost an anti-fashion week. In a controversial decision, NYRR decided to partially eliminate bag checking. There was an uproar and they brought back the option, but a lot of runners chose the "Early Exit" option, which meant you couldn't send a bag from the start line to the finish, which meant the clothes that kept you warm on your way to the start would be left there. Hence the grown men in Donald Duck sweatshirts and grown women in large flowery sweatpants. If you frequent one of the NY area Goodwill stores, they will appear on the racks soon.

To steal from Boromir, "One does not simply walk onto the start line of the NYC Marathon". After getting to Staten Island, you are transported by bus to a staging area and you wait an additional hour or two there. I was assigned to the Orange Village, aka Grete Waitz Village. To the uninitiated, the staging area would look like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people lying on the ground, walking around, waiting in lines for port-a-potties, congregating around coffee tables, huddled in a giant tent like emperor penguins... Guys in throw-away jumpsuits and constant PA announcements in 8 different languages perfectly completed the scene. The shock wore off after a while though and I started to enjoy myself. I got some coffee and a bagel. On a regular morning, Dunkin' Donuts' overly sweet bagel would be considered an abomination, but before a marathon it wasn't bad at all. I started to say goodbye to my throwaway clothes one by one and finally faced the cold.

When the time for my wave came I walked to my assigned corral. There was a long line in front of it, so like a good New Yorker I found the end of the line and started to wait. 5 minutes, 10. Chatting with fellow runners. Hey, there goes the second wave! 10 more minutes. 15 more. Hey wait, aren't we supposed to start soon? I don't know how we went wrong, because there were people who seemed to have done the race before (at least they were giving advice like they did), but somehow we missed our corral time while waiting on that line and the marshals wouldn't let us in.

And so kids, this is the story of how I found myself at the very front of the fourth wave! Yes, my start got delayed for 25 minutes and I missed the pace group I was planning to go with; but I got to enjoy the view from the Verrazano-Narrows a bit better. When the Marathon gives you lemons...

Start slow, if you can
My coach, if I had one, would probably recommend going easy the first few miles of the race. This is easier said than done. First of all, I had been waiting in the cold for the last two hours. Not to mention years of anticipation. The last minute change in start order also pumped in some adrenaline. Long story short I was ready to go. We were all ready to go! And then, as if all this is not enough, they fire a freakin' cannon behind you. BOOM went the cannon and off we were singing "New York, New York".

The first mile of the NYC Marathon is also the steepest. You are climbing up the Verrazano-Narrows bridge for an entire mile. On the upside, you have a breathtaking view of the harbor and downtown Manhattan. Mind you this is coming from someone who has been living in NY for 3 years and has seen the city from every imaginable angle. For the first time that day I was kicking myself for not having a camera with me (thanks to Instagram this post has some color).

Second mile poses the complete opposite problem, as you go down that hill you just climbed. Going into Brooklyn I was running at a decent 9:30 pace trying to convince myself to slow down. As we got off the bridge, a band of drummers greeted us. Then a few spectators. I high-fived a couple of kids while turning a corner, first of many that day. And from this point on, the crowds kept growing and growing and growing.

They should have sent a poet
In the movie Contact, one of my favorites, scientist Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is sent to an alien planet through a wormhole. It is so beautiful, so enchanting that she can't find the words to describe it. She says, "They should have sent a poet". Those words sum up my feelings regarding the NYC Marathon spectators.

Running, especially distance running, is hardly a mainstream sport. If you are not a runner yourself, chances are you won't know the names of the top athletes even if they are accomplishing superhuman feats. You won't read an analysis of yesterday's race in the paper and you won't stumble upon a live broadcast of a marathon while flipping through channels. Marathon runners are considered crazy but harmless enthusiasts and left alone to do their thing. Often even by their families.

But for one day in November, we get to star in the biggest show in town. Miles and miles of NY streets are lined with people. 2, 3, 4 deep in places. Some people are there for friends or family; some just to be a part of it. They look in your eyes, they cheer you on. Little kids stretch their little hands for a high-five, grown-ups hold signs that make you laugh for a split second. Old ladies sit out in the cold watching the runners go by. You raise your arms and a whole street erupts in cheer! Even though you are in 35124th place!

Which was the best borough? Can't tell ya'. Staten Island housed us for hours, but we didn't get to thank the locals. The view ahead on Brooklyn's long avenues was amazing. A sea of color moving through the city. In Williamsburg, where streets are narrower, you could almost high five both sides at once. Are you worried about that hill? Walk if you want, but are you ready to disappoint your fans? Queens' three miles started quiet but progressively got crazier as we approached the Queensboro, where my friend Ashley was waiting. I had to high-five her over 4 other people. Manhattan, my home court, and as always the loudest section, was where I saw Courtney and some other friends. Quick high-fives again and promise of beer later. We only spent a mile in The Bronx, but that was enough to reenergize everyone back into Harlem and then Manhattan's famed Fifth Avenue. Cheers from thousands of people mixed with the gorgeous afternoon sunlight washing the Museum Mile carried us all the way back to the Park. And once you get to the Park, as a New York runner, you are home again. I gave the ol' cat a knowing smile and got ready for the victory mile through Plaza Hotel, Central Park South and Columbus Circle. The iconic finish line at The Tavern on The Green was right around the corner as it always is.

As a scientist I rarely get this kind of encouragement. OK, that was a lie, I never get this kind encouragement! After a good presentation I might get a bit of an applause, but that's about it. I must be a natural though, cause I picked it up pretty quickly. I learned to feed off the crowd. I started to feel bad about taking walk breaks. I stuck to the 9:30 pace as long as I could, knowing it would hurt after a few miles. But hey, how often do you get to run the NYC Marathon? And even though my legs started to get tired around mile 10 and started to cramp around mile 15, I was determined to run as much as I could. Going through upper Manhattan and Harlem was really really tough, with both legs cramping, but I knew that I would get a jolt of energy once I got back to the Park. So, I kept at it. Run 100 steps, walk a bit. Run to the water station, walk the hill. Run down Cat Hill. Going through the finish line, I was happy to know that on that day, on this course, with my legs, I had done my best, leaving nothing on the course. And isn't that the point of running a marathon anyway?

Monks draped in orange
Like New York's traffic, New York Marathon's exit is famously congested. It is not easy to move 50000 tired people in a semi-orderly fashion and get them to their bags and families. You get your medal, get your photo taken if you wish, get a mylar sheet and a recovery bag with food inside. After this you join the crowd and start walking towards the exit. Those of us who opted for the "Early Exit" were led towards 77th Street about half a mile from the finish. From here they took us out of the Park and onto Central Park West Avenue, where we were adorned in our famous ponchos! This was the second time I regretted not having a camera, because the view ahead of me, hundreds of runners in bright orange ponchos walking slowly towards the NY city skyline and setting sun was just haunting. Somewhat appropriately we looked like reclusive monks of the running cult. About 45 minutes after the finish, I was reunited with Courtney, ready to walk back home.

The poncho kept me warm, yes, but the greatest unintended feature of this new fashionable apparel was that it marked you as a "runner". So, on the way back, I got maybe ten more "Good job!"s from strangers, blocks away from the finish line. The city after pushing me towards the finish line the whole day, was giving me one last pat on the back.

Wrapped in my poncho
Recovery and future plans
As I said I didn't leave anything on the course on Marathon day and my legs are feeling it now. There are no injuries, but my leg muscles are sore like they have never been before. Every time I get up after sitting for a while, I wince and then smile remembering that great day. I keep repeating that famous marathon sign: "Pain is temporary, pride is forever".

A friend asked if marathoners plan their next race quickly to combat post-marathon depression, which made me think about my future plans. I was planning to run the NYC 60K again, but I think I am going to skip it this year. So far in my running career I have mostly been coasting, finishing races with my stubbornness rather than fitness. Next year I am planning to concentrate on shorter races to get fitter and faster. Develop a good base and miss distance running a bit. I am thinking about doing NYRR's 9+1 plan once again to qualify for 2015. (Did you really think I was going to stop doing this after one time?)

Oh, and, one final thing!
Dear NYRR team, volunteers, police officers, medics, city employees, my fellow runners, friends and spectators; dear New York City: Thank you very very much! You don't know this, but the last year of my life has been pretty hellish. I have been stressed, depressed, discouraged, unhappy and every time I was stressed, depressed, discouraged or unhappy I looked forward to November. NYC Marathon became my light at the end of the tunnel, gave me strength to go through the day. You made that day special for me, gave me memories that will last a whole lifetime and made me love this great city even more. So, from the bottom of my heart Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

And see you soon!

My bib and medal

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Get psyched for the NYC Marathon - Part 3

The Expo!

No further explanation is required for the runners, but for the uninitiated. It is customary nowadays to have a big product fair on the days leading up to a big city marathon. You have to go get your number at this affair and all the shoe/apparel/runner food/physical therapy brands are conveniently located right around the number pickup area. They also bring in running celebrities (i.e. people only familiar to runners, unknown by anyone else) to sign the stuff you just purchased and experts to give you last minute training advice (e.g. Sunday morning speed session, good or bad for your marathon performance?).

A runner at a running expo is like a child at Disneyland. Adult supervision is highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Get psyched for the NYC Marathon - Part 2

The second step in our journey to get ready for the race is a book. Written by Liz Robbins, "A Race Like No Other". The book tracks a number of professional and amateur runners mile by mile during the 2007 race. You can read a free sample below and then purchase the book for your Kindle. Or you can check and see if your library has it in stock.

Get psyched for the NYC Marathon - Part 1

Are you getting ready to run the NYC Marathon? Then it is time to get in the mood.

First step is to watch the documentary, "Run For Your Life", which is available on Netflix. The 2008 documentary, by Judd Ehrlich, documents NYRR president and long time NYC Marathon race director Fred Lebow's life. Lebow was at the helm when NYRR became the organization it is now. So, the film is also an indirect history of the NYC Marathon.

A detail about Fred Lebow. He has a statue on 89th Street entrance of the Central Park (Engineer's Gate), where the race enters the Park. However, every year, the statue is transported down to the finish line during the marathon week, so that Fred can watch over the runners as they finish.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

5 reasons to see the NYC marathon live

The NYC Marathon is next Sunday and here's why you should come out and see it live:

- To be entertained: NYRR knows how to throw a party. There will be 130 bands along the course, like this one and this one and this other one. Walk around a bit and you will find something to your liking. If music isn't your thing, runners in costume aren't bad either.

- To see the elites: Running is one of the few sports where you can see the top athletes up close without paying an arm and a leg. As always, NYRR recruited top talent for the 2013 race. The field includes 2012 Men's Olympic Marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich, 2012 Women's Olympic Marathon runner-up Priscah Jeptoo, 2011 and 2013 Women's Marathon World champion Edna Kiplagat, past NYC champions and top finishers (Geoffrey Mutai, Meb Keflezghi, Firehiwot Dado, Buzunesh Deba, Jelena Prokopcuka, Kim Smith) and many many other fast athletes. In addition to the prize money, there is a $500K World Marathon Majors title at stake, so you know they will be at the top of their game. Appreciate away!

- To be inspired: Right behind the elites (a little or somewhat further behind depending on your mile marker of choice), you will see 48000 or so amateurs. They won't be as fast or fit, but they will have amazing stories. Look at their faces. Again, depending on where you are you might see excitement (miles 1-5), joy (5-15), exhaustion (15-25) and joy again (25 to finish)! The last one is by far the best. So, go to Central Park. Watch the runners as they barrel down the Cat Hill, pass by the Plaza Hotel or make the last turn into the Park on Columbus Circle. Warning: This exercise, even watching this video, might result in desire to run the race. Don't fight it.

- To inspire: NYC Marathon is an audience participation game. As the official tagline says: "26.2 miles make it a race, you make it a marathon". Those 48000 runners... They have been working towards, planning for and dreaming of this day for a while and they need your help. New Yorkers of all 5-boroughs, who come out to watch the festivities and cheer all day long make the race the special event it is. Go ahead, take a spot on the sidewalk. Give a high-five to a struggling runner. Throw a "You're lookin' good!". If you have time, feel free to prepare one o' them funny marathon signs. It will put a smile on a runners face and might make you an Internet celebrity.

And finally,
- To be a part of it: New York is the definition of a big city. There are very few events that bring us together as a community and vast majority of them are negative. The Marathon is that rare positive event that transforms the whole city into a quirky small town where strangers smile at each other and cheer for other strangers. In shorts. Whatever you felt the day before, you can't help but love the city on Marathon morning. You can't help but feel you are a part of it. That was the goal of the 5-borough marathon when it started in the 70s and I bet Fred Lebow would be proud if he could see it today. Come on, join the tradition!

My fellow runners, good luck! The following video is for you. See you at the start line!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ted Corbitt 24 hour run - Report

I participated in 16 hours of a 24-hour run (Ted Corbitt 24-hour run in Queens,NY) last weekend. I was aiming to go for 80 miles, but had to stop due to an IT band injury, worsening blisters under my foot and loss of the mental battle. Even though I didn't hit my target, it was a great experience.

Juniper Valley Park. I passed by this playground 48 times.
Since this was my first 24-hour, I was careful about preparing. I charged all my electronics, stocked up on food, prepared my shirts, shorts, nip-guards and what have ya'. With my bag ready, I had a good night sleep and got up early. After a quick breakfast, I got on the way. Aaand as soon as I got on the subway, I realized that I forgot my Garmin home! Way to be prepared, right? This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, but we'll get to that.

After an adventurous journey (sometimes they shutdown subways and Google doesn't always know and it tells you to take a route and then you are kinda stuck. Thankfully, there was a shuttle bus to bridge the subway gap and fortunately I had left early), I got to the race start. The start area had a very strong community feel. Most of the participants were long time members of the NY distance running community. Hence, there were a lot of: "Do you remember that race we did in '87, where Ted wouldn't let us stop running" type of stories. I just kept quiet and listened, wishing someone was there to take notes and write a book.

Before the start there was a little ceremony to remember Ted Corbitt and Sri Chimnoy, two distance running greats of the NY area. The Sri Chimnoy Marathon team was there to send us on our way with a song (that Chimnoy wrote for Corbitt) and provide a water stop midway through the 1.2 mile loop.

I started slowly. I don't know how slow, because as I said, I didn't have my Garmin, but I definitely didn't feel the need. I was keeping a conversational pace, without taking risks. I found the mostly flat loop to be a great help in this. In comparison, it is very hard to keep a good pace during Knickerbocker 60K due to constant up and downhills.

What's going on here?
A sign like this could have explained what we were up to
I was calculating my pace based on my lap times and including the breaks I was around 11-12 min/mile pace for the first few hours. As the hours passed, the weather got warmer and the park started to get crowded. Come to think of it, it might have been useful to have one of those "What's Going On Here?" signs (they put these around NYC to inform people about ongoing construction work). I tried to explain some people what we were doing. Some wished me good luck, but some people just wouldn't accept it ("What do you mean a 24-hour run!"). So, when a group of teenage girls giggled and asked ("Are you guys running a marathon?"), I responded, "Something like that".

Around 4PM, 6 hours into the race, Courtney came to visit me. She did a couple of laps with me, which was very helpful. After she left, I was on my own again. I was still running but definitely getting tired. I decided to run/walk until 6PM (8 hours). I calculated that I could finish 35 miles by then. Assuming a very slow 20min/mile for the remaining 16 hours, I would still get 48 more miles to get to 83 miles total. At this point, my IT band and the blister under my foot were already starting to cause trouble.

As planned, after eating the race provided pasta at 8 hours I switched to a total walk strategy, hoping to cover some miles while resting and restarting running at a later point. I was doing decent walking pace (15-16 min/mile) and churning the miles down.

Then, the sun went away. And with the sun all the people in the park. The runners were spread out (there was about 50 of us to begin with anyway). So, things became really really quiet. At this point I could have really used my MP3 player, but it just wouldn't start. So, I kept chugging along, but I was slowly losing the mental battle. I became obsessed with the number of laps I had left. I kept calculating and calculating and calculating in my head. "I need 30 more laps, if I do one lap in 20 minutes, I finish at 7AM; if I finish a mile in 20 minutes, I finish at 8AM; but if I spent this much time in the break zone...." and then "I have 29 laps left...." etc. You get the point. I started to get seriously demoralized as the hours passed. My leg was starting to hurt pretty badly. I tried running, but I couldn't. I was imagining a stress fracture building up and forcing me to postpone my spot in the NYC Marathon.

I got coffee, rested a few minutes, did another lap. Rested some more, caught up with someone, did some more laps with them. I brought the number down to 20 laps or so for my target. My MP3 player started to work, but I wasn't enjoying my podcasts. I wasn't even listening to them. My brain was obsessed with numbers. Finally, with 17 more laps to go and more than 8 hours left, I decided to take a long break. Even nap a bit. Another big prep mistake right there, I didn't have long pants, a sleeping bag or a chair to sit on. As soon as I stopped my body temperature started to fall. I was shivering and I couldn't convince myself to walk another step. Besides, there were rats size of Dachsunds running around the park and I didn't want to get eaten by one during sleep. (on the upside, the little buggers provided quite a nice adrenaline jolt while we were on the course)

Lexington Avenue-53rd Street Station Escalator
Escalator of Doom!
Finally, around 2AM, I decided to head back home. My knee barely bending, my blisters hurting full force. I was thinking about calling a cab, but the race director and one of the volunteers kindly drove me to the Subway stop. I was expecting an R train, an E showed up, I got on. Barely staying awake! Of course the escalator on the subway wasn't working. So, I dragged my injured knee, my rather large body and my giant bag of supplies (funny it didn't feel so heavy 16 hours ago) up the stairs. As you can see in the picture to the left it is the world's longest escalator! (don't quote me on that)

I got home around 3AM. Bruised and battered. I was a bit disappointed not to have hit my target, but I was happy to be home.

After a good sleep (Courtney considered checking if I was still alive, since I was still in bed at 9:30. Inconceivable!) I started to take account of my situation. I had just ran/walked almost 60 miles and stayed on the course for 16 hours, nearly doubling the longest distance and time I have done in a race. Bending my right knee was painful, but for some reason I wasn't worried about that. I had IT band injury before and it goes away with rest. I noticed some additional blisters that I didn't feel the night before, but those are also easily treatable. Aaand of course I was hungry! My stomach behaved really well the day before allowing me to fuel sufficiently, but I was hungry nonetheless. I estimate that I burned about 6000-7000 calories on the course and probably took in 3000-4000.

The walk to the diner for breakfast painful initially, but as I warmed up my legs loosened. I kept limping around the house the next couple of days, but by Tuesday I was already back to a decent walking speed. I even jogged to catch some traffic lights. As I write this report on Thursday, my knee is almost 100%, the blisters are gone and my energy levels have mostly recovered (no more naps!). Amazingly there is no DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). I don't know why this is, but I assume it is because I didn't run fast.

And that brings us to the most important lesson I got out of this experience. The reasons that limit performance in a long race like this are very different than those in a shorter race, even a marathon. It is not glycogen depletion or muscle tiredness; it is mental depletion and little problems that get out of hand (like a blister). So, having a crew or running buddies, especially in the dark hours of the night would have helped tremendously. I also need to learn to get myself out of the "depressive" cycle and concentrate on the task at hand. As for blisters, I don't know what to do about those. Better shoes or socks? Any suggestions?

I'll admit going into a 24-hour run without much prep wasn't the best idea I had (don't ask, work just got crazy), but I think it still turned out OK. At least, next time I line up for one of these, I won't be the rookie!