Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Runner's World The Runner's Brain Book review

As I have said a few times, being a blogger sometimes has perks that go along with it.  Some times its reviewing products before they come, some times it's getting invited to events, and some times, like in this case, I get to review an advance copy of a new book.

Recently I got to read the new Runner's World book, The Runner's Brain.  I was interested in reading this book in part because of the title.  There are many things that I have worked on over the years to improve my fitness, racing and so on, but never have I really thought about how the brain impacts all of these. I've always thought about positive reinforcement and those types of things, but never have I delved into the inner workings of the brain and running.

So without going chapter by chapter and what the book explains, I'll give a high level of it, plus I want everyone to pick it up and take it for a spin.  For the record, I don't get anything if you do.  I don't get a dollar, a free Runner's World magazine, or anything.  I am just a fellow runner who wants to help out other athletes.

The main thing that I really enjoyed about the book is that for everything that was explained, they backed it up with scientific studies explaining their data.  Being a nerd that I am, I enjoyed knowing that there was scientific proof to what was being explained.  This helps things to be believable.

Parts of the book explain how running affects the brain and how running improves memory, "age proof" the brain, and makes us happy after we run.  I'm sure we all knew this but having it explained really brings things out to the open.

Some of the most interesting and readable parts of the book are the explanations about superstitions (we all have them, right?), how to manage both pre-race jitters as well as post race blues, and a real in depth explanation about the "runner's high" and how to achieve it.  I'm glad I read that part since I have never experienced the runner's high so now I know how to achieve it, though I don't think I will even knowing what to look for.  

Other intriguing and helpful parts of The Runner's Brain is what to think about during your runs, both internal thoughts, as well as external ones.  These can help you get through your runs and how to deviate your mind in the times of pain.  This can also be helpful in long races where you "hit the wall" and need to find a way to break through it.  The book does a great job explaining the psychosis of hitting the wall, which is something we have all experienced.  

Without going in to more detail about the book, I found it a very quick and easy read to get through.  This book is about running so it's not like it's an intense read and since we all want to get better, what you learn in this book can definitely help.  There is also a reference to one of my favorite shows ever, "How I Met Your Mother" so that is definitely a plus in my book.  The first chapter was about the Boston Marathon 2013, which I have a connection to for running it in, but I think in some ways, I'm not a fan of everything being tied to that horrific event.  I understand it's a book about running, and no one can ever forget what happened that day, but I feel to try and tie this book into that day might have been a wrong call and turned me off a little.

The Runner's Brain is a very good book with a lot of scientific proof of why things work the way they do.  I think this book is perfect for the novice runner or intermediate runner. A veteran runner usually knows most of the things in the book because they have experienced it themselves, so I am not sure they would get a lot out of it, even though I took a few nuggets from the read.  The holidays are coming so it would be a great stocking stuffer for the runner in your life.  

Below is the link to check out the book:
Link to "The Runner's Brain"

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The good through Sports

We often hear about all the bad things about professional sports.  The billionaires vs. millionaires, the domestic violence, the performance enhancing drugs, how sports is a business, how teams don't care about the fans, and on and on and on.  But we as fans tune in every day, week, month, year for some reason.  There has to be a reason. Sometimes there is a connection to growing up, sometimes it's  family thing, or maybe it's just the sheer enjoyment of entertainment.  Either way we, as fans, love sports.  There is plenty of good that comes through professional sports but very rarely do we hear about it.

Most of my posts are about racing, raising Riley, training or something along those lines.  This one will be very different since I want to share how one of the most amazing experiences I have had was because of how generous a professional sports team was.

I have a friend (let's call him Mickey to keep his name private) who has had some issues this year.  It is not my place to publicly explain what they were, but Mickey has been through a very rough year and has basically gone through hell and back.  Mickey is a Buffalo Bills fan and I am a NY Jets fan for our respective NFL teams.  Every year we go to the Jets/Bills game and root on our teams.  We have a nice competitive streak and give each other hell but it is all in good fun.  We enjoy watching the game together and it is our annual event. As a result of Mickey's problems this year, we weren't sure that we would be able to take part in our tradition.  Let it be known that Mickey is probably the nicest person you will ever meet.  As in the type of guy who just gets under your skin because no one should be this nice and yet somehow he is.  He is the guy who puts everyone first and is more concerned with you than him.  Pretty much he is my total opposite.  So when Mickey went through his issues this year, I wanted to do something special for him.

I knew it was a long shot, but I reached out to the NY Jets organization explaining what the situation was and how I wanted to do something for Mickey.  I explained our tradition and wanted to see if they would help me with something.  Well, I got a response, and what the NY Jets did was something that I couldn't expect and by far and away extremely nice.

Sammy Watkins in action
After trading a few emails back and forth with someone in the NY Jets organization, I was emailed Game Day field passes and tickets for the Jets/Bills game.  More on the seats later, but Mickey and I were allowed to go on the field during pregame warm-ups for the Thursday night nationally televised Jets/Bills game.  We got to meet with the owner of the Jets- Woody Johnson, the GM of the Bills, in addition to the Jets 1992 draft class of Chad Pennington, Laverneus Coles, Shaun Ellis, and a few more.  Plus the country music star Jessie James.  We saw up close and personal the players which was extremely cool.  Take a look at these pictures we got.  No zoom needed.  In fact, Mickey got to see his favorite player Sammy Watkins and almost got him to sign his jersey.

These guys are biiiiiig

I have a whole new respect for how large these guys are.  Seeing Mario Williams up close and how big NFL players are is incredible.

Gotta love a personal escort to the field by Snoopy
After warmups, we were escorted to our seats.  Instead of just giving any seat possible, the Jets gave us the Coaches Club seats which were incredible.  We walk into this suite that is essentially a club with the most incredible food at a stadium.  Seriously, who eats Lobster rolls, shrimp tacos, 5 different kinds of wings, a sushi bar, ice sculpture with a raw bar, and on and on.  That is not stadium food.  That's a nice night out with the wife.  Yet, here were Mickey and I eating away while the Jets walked right in front of us from their locker room onto the field.

The players walking out on to the field right in front of us

These seats were great.  We were so close to the field.  Honestly the Jets went above and beyond.

Even though the Bills won the game (I am convinced the Jets lost because they wanted to do something really special for Mickey), this was an event that I am so thankful for.  All I wanted to do was give my friend something that would help him get through this difficult time, but the NY Jets organization wanted no part in that.  They understood what my friend was going through and decided it was important for them to help out also and make this night extra special.  This occasion wasn't about me. It was about my friend Mickey forgetting about all the crap he has gone through, and having one night that he can enjoy.

So for all we hear about all the negatives in sports, I want everyone to realize there is still good in sports, and the good significantly outweighs the bad.  I honestly can't thank the NY Jets organization enough.  They are a class organization who clearly cares not only about their fans, but also everyone in the community.  They didn't have to do this. And they especially didn't have to be as generous as they were.  I am not sure who appreciated it more, Mickey for the entire night, or myself seeing him get to experience this knowing what he has been through.

This was one of the most special nights I could imagine and I am thankful my friend "Mickey" was able to experience it.

Being on the field was the ultimate highlight and glad
"Mickey" was able to experience it

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NYC Marathon race recap

This past Sunday was the NYC Marathon.  After last year’s race, I had no desire to run this race again.  Since the wife and I lived on the course for the past few years, we decided last year would be my last marathon for a while, and it was a great way to go out.  But when you’re drinking one night in February and an email comes in saying it’s the last week to register for the lottery, all decisions and inhibitions go out the window.  And realistically, I haven’t gotten into the lottery ever, so I didn’t think there was a good chance for me to get accepted.  So of course I registered.  And what happens is of course I get an email saying congratulations, you’ve been accepted in the 2015 NYC Marathon.  Great, just freaking great.

So let’s fast forward a few months since the spring and summer is my triathlon season and cut to end of summer and fall where I was training for NYC.  After moving out of NYC earlier this year, I still haven’t been able to find my “long” training runs so I have not been able to put in a good solid block of training in a while.  Setting up for excuses already?  Nope.  Just trying to lay a foundation here.  Other than that obstacle, my training was pretty good.  My weekly runs were crisp, fast, smooth and nothing to complain about.  My long run days weren’t the best runs, but at least they were on the pace I wanted to achieve.  However, as training went on, I was only able to get in 1 training run of each 18 miles, 19 miles, and 22 miles.  I usually do at least 3 runs of 20 plus miles heading into a marathon.  This year, it just didn’t work out like that.

As November 1st approached, it was race day.  Though the night before was Halloween and I had fatherly duties to attend to like teaching Riley how to trick or treat properly in the burbs.  My little fighter pilot did well and his candy take was impressive for a short amount of time 
My little fighter pilot walking his Plane, Thunder

I’ll save the normal pre-race stuff since it’s the same for everyone across the board.  Take the bus to Staten Island, wait 3-4 hours, strip down, pee on the side of the road, gun go off, Sinatra’s “New York, New York” plays, blah blah blah.  Every race report about NYC will have the same stuff.  Nothing special there.

Going into the race, I really wanted to break 3 hours for the day.  That equaled a pace of 6:51/mile.  All of my training was faster than this so I figured I was in decent shape.  Having doing the race last year, I knew what to expect and knew how to navigate the difficult parts of the course.

For the most part, the race was really really uneventful.  I didn’t realize it last week, but running through Brooklyn was soooooooo boring.  It is basically one long 8 mile stretch on the same road.  Nothing to keep you engaged with change of scenery, scrowds, hills, etc.  Just flat and straight.  It was right around mile 8 where I said to myself, things are looking really good but how bored am I?
At the half way mark, I was under goal pace and felt great which was very promising.  As we entered Queen, the temperature for the day kicked up to 60 degrees and became pretty hot.  Not ideal race conditions.  Having cramped up last year and a few times this season, I took in liquids every stop (every mile) and had my Base Performance Salt to keep me in check.  At the start of the Queensborough Bridge, it felt like I had too much in my stomach. Last year I attacked the QB and felt great doing it.  This year, the bridge just felt like it never ended.  I can’t believe how long this thing was.  Did the bridge grow?

Coming off on 1st Ave is usually a great time.  Last year was quiet, this year was loud.  I went over to the crowds since I felt I needed a boost of energy but I just couldn’t capitalize on it.  My energy levels were shot.  At mile 18 I just didn’t want to do it any more.  The wife’s brother and his girlfriend were the only spectators who were going to be on course for me that day.  The wife had to work and no one else was around.  They were right at the mile 19 mark and I fought my hardest to make it to them.  I did and about 2 blocks after seeing them, my body just said, thanks for the year, and “let’s go enjoy the offseason”

I just didn’t have anything left in the tank or in my legs.  I slowed my pace a little to catch my breath and mentally get back in the game, but it didn’t matter.  At mile 20 I was still under goal pace, but not having enough long training runs in me, I just couldn’t push any more.  I didn’t hit the wall for the race, I hit the wall for the year.

So for the final 5 miles I started playing the math game.  Since I knew I wasn’t going to hit the 3 hour mark, I said, ok let’s just get a BQ.  This allowed me to walk a little and have about a 5 minute allowance of walking for the final 5 miles.  That’s doable.  Yet, as the distance crept up, so did my walking.  I have never walked this much in all of my races combined.  I was running for 3 minutes, walking for 1 pretty much every mile for the final 4-5 miles. 

I wish I could write something on how I enjoyed the race, overcame adversity, or anything like that.  But I didn’t.  I was in such a fog that I just wanted it to be over.  It was the offseason or bust for me.
So I crossed the finish line in a time of 3:19, which was worse than my time last year, but I’m ok with that.  I didn’t hit my goal, I didn’t do anything I wanted to, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.  I didn’t put the miles in and that’s my fault.  Normally, I would be upset, but I’m ok today.  I’ve learned a lot this year about my body, my mental approach to training, and what I enjoy in a race.  It just so happened that my enjoyment ended at mile 19 of a race that had 7 more miles to go.

Either way, the NYC Marathon is in the books and I say this gracefully and with respect, I won’t be back.  At least not for a few years.  My marathon days are over for the time being

The part of the race I felt good.  Looked good in my Fusion gear and Skora Tempo's