Saturday, August 22, 2009

Percy Sutton 5K

Howdy! Today I ran the Percy Sutton 5K in Harlem, my first 5K in quite a while I think. It was a nice course, fairly hilly, but through nice streets, mainly St. Nicholas Ave., Edgecomb, Convent Ave. , and St. Nicholas Terrace, and nice to get out of Central Park, no offense. Plus these races outside of CP are generally smaller in turnout which gives me a better chance at placing. So today I ran 18:03, not a PR at all, but good for 19th place overall, and 2nd in 40-44 age group. It rained a little at the beginning, but it was SOOO STICKY!!! Really nasty humid day today. Didn't see any of my regular running buddies there, but I did say hello tosome of my West Side teammates, including Lilan Kroner, who finished a few seconds behind me and was second woman, and 14 year old Luis Porto and 13 year old Alberto Rivera, who both finished just ahead of me in under 18 minutes - wow!!! Congrats, team!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Running good for the knees?

Found in the New York Times:

August 11, 2009
Phys Ed: Can Running Actually Help Your Knees?
By Gretchen Reynolds

An article in Skeletal Radiology, a well-respected journal, created something of a sensation in Europe last year. It reported that researchers from Danube Hospital in Austria examined the knees of marathon runners using M.R.I. imaging, before and after the 1997 Vienna marathon. Ten years later, they scanned the same runners’ knees again. The results were striking. “No major new internal damage in the knee joints of marathon runners was found after a 10-year interval,” the researchers reported. Only one of the participants had a knee that was truly a mess, and he’d quit running before the 1997 marathon (but had been included in that study anyway). His 1997 knee M.R.I. revealed cartilage lesions, swelling and other abnormalities. In the years that followed, the knee became worse, showing augmented tissue damage and more serious lesions. His exam prompted the researchers to wonder whether he would have been better off persisting as a runner, because, as they speculate, “continuous exercise is protective, rather than destructive,” to knees.

You can’t be a runner past the age of 40, as I am, without hearing that running will ruin your knees, by which doomsayers usually mean that we’ll develop “degeneration of the cartilage in the kneecap, which ­reduces its shock-absorbing capacity,” says Ross Tucker, a physiologist in South Africa and co-author of the new book “The Runner’s Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer and Faster.” In other words, we’ll be afflicted with arthritis.
It’s not an unreasonable supposition; other sports have been linked with early-onset arthritis in knees. In a British study, almost half of the middle-aged, formerly elite soccer players were found to have crippling, bone-on-bone arthritis in at least one knee. Former weight lifters also have a high incidence of the condition, as do retired N.F.L. players.
But despite entrenched mythology to the contrary, runners don’t seem prone to degenerating knees. An important 2008 study, this one from Stanford University, followed middle-aged, longtime distance runners (not necessarily marathoners) for nearly 20 years, beginning in 1984, when most were in their 50s or 60s. At that time, 6.7 percent of the runners had creaky, mildly arthritic knees, while none of an age-matched control group did. After 20 years, however, the runners’ knees were healthier; only 20 percent showed arthritic changes, versus 32 percent of the control group’s knees. Barely 2 percent of the runners’ knees were severely arthritic, while almost 10 percent of the control group’s were. “We were quite surprised,” says Eliza Chakravarty, an assistant professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Our hypothesis going in had been that runners, because of the repetitive pounding, would develop more frequent and more severe arthritis.”

Instead, recent evidence suggests that running may actually shield somewhat against arthritis, in part because the knee develops a kind of motion groove. A group of engineers and doctors at Stanford published a study in the February issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery that showed that by moving and loading your knee joint, as you do when walking or running, you “condition” your cartilage to the load. It grows accustomed to those particular movements. You can run for miles, decades, a lifetime, without harming it. But if this exquisite balance is disturbed, usually by an injury, the loading mechanisms shift, the moving parts of the knee are no longer in their accustomed alignment and a “degenerative pathway” seems to open. The cartilage, like an unbalanced tire, wears away. Pain, tissue disintegration and, eventually, arthritis can follow.

So, the best way to ensure that your knees aren’t hurt by running is not to hurt them in the first place. “The biggest predictor of injury is previous injury,” Tucker says, and one of the best deterrents against a first (or subsequent) knee injury is targeted strength training. “The hip stabilizers, quads, hamstrings and core must all be strong enough. As soon as there is weakness, some other muscle or joint must take over, and that’s when injuries happen.”
If you’ve injured your knee in the past, particularly if you’ve ever torn an A.C.L. (an injury that, in the Stanford gait study, was closely associated with misalignment and cartilage degeneration), talk to your physician before running. But for most runners, the scientific observations of Chakravarty will ring true. “What struck me,” she says, “is that the runners we studied were still running, well into their 70s and 80s.” They weren’t running far, she says. They weren’t running frequently. They averaged perhaps 90 minutes a week. “But they were still running.”
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Team Championships

Howdy! Today was the annual NYRR Team Championships, a 5-miler through Central Park. I was running as a proud member of West Side Runners (WSX), and it was one of my teammates, Bado Worku Merdessa who won the race! The men's team still finished 2nd, and is still in 2nd place for the year, but closing in. I finished in an even 30:00, about 45 seconds slower than I ran in late June, but not bad. The best part was the picnic afterwards and chatting with my West Side buddies, as well as many of my ultrarunning friends who were there: Frank Colella, Emmy Stocker, Frank Deleo, Sal Caretta, Admas Belilgne (also WSX), Lucimar Araujo, Ruth Liebowitz, Al Prawda. But I really should work on my Spanish before the post-marathon party.

Oh, and Frank, can I put your pics up on my blog? ;)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

First post on my new blog. Hello, everyone. Start off with a bang with my Badwater report. Pardon me if it sounds like you dropped in in the middle of a conversation.
PRE: I arrived in Las Vegas Thursday afternoon, picked up my rental van and met up with a high school classmate, a recent Facebook friend, for dinner. After a nice dinner of catching up and eating tapas, I met my brother Ted and his wife Becky who'd arrived earlier in the day and would be staying at the Flamingo for a couple days before heading to Death Valley. After chatting and strolling with them a while, I was off for another bite to eat before picking up crewmate Mike Costello at the airport at 12:30 am and driving to his mother's house in Henderson to crash. Friday morning Mike and I went for a 3-4 mile run in the Henderson heat, then drove to Walmart for food and supplies. Friday afternoon we picked up New York ultra running buddy Tim Henderson at the airport and the three of us high-tailed it to Stovepipe Wells. Saturday morning the three of us ran up to Mosaic Canyon and explored a bit, about 5 miles round-trip. I felt like the heat wasn't bothering me too much, but the sun was intense. Later as I was in the pool, Ted and Becky arrived with crewmate Ralph Lewis, who they'd picked up at the Vegas airport. Hurrah, the gang's all here! That part of the logistical maze went off with no problem! In the evening we all drove to Panamint Springs for dinner and to see part of the course. We opted not to drive up as far as Father Crowley. Sunday was check-in and pre-race meeting, and it was good to meet some of my running friends there. Back at Stovepipe, we met up with Marshall Ulrich and his wife Heather who gave my crew and me advice on electrolytes, blister care, and various other issues with the race. It was very nice of them to have spent the time with us. Then all the supplies were organized and set up and ready to get into the vans in the morning.

RACE: Start - Furnace Creek
The 10:00 start was pretty warm. My little joke to Ted about getting down in a sprinter's starting position (we were both sprinters in high school) went out the window the instant I stepped onto the asphalt and could tell how hot it was. I started at a compfortable pace in my whites from top to bottom. I was keeping pace with Adrian Belitu and was secretly entertained by the bananas hanging off the back of his van! I was also leapfrogging with Charlie Engle before he would leave me behind. It was hot, but this stretch was fairly comfortable and smooth. I arrived at Furnace Creek in 2:42.

Furnace Creek - Stovepipe Wells
Mike joined me as a pacer here. He and Tim would switch off pacing duties every five miles. This would keep them both fresh, made it easier to crew them, and it also was nice for me because it broke things up a little more. Three years ago I'd paced Jody-Lynn Reicher on this 25-mile stretch, and it seemed endless. So the alternation in pacers was very nice. Along this stretch I was leapfrogging a bit with Pam Reed and Perry Edinger, and Jamie Donaldson passed me here for good. Food and drink were going well for me, but I was concerned about how I would get enough real food in. That was even more of a concern at about the 30-mile point when I threw up for the first time. It was mostly fluids, but I knew I had to replenish. But as is usually the case, I felt much better after throwing up, and continued on. I arrived at Stovepipe at 7:04 on the race clock, 5:04 pm.

Stovepipe Wells - Panamint Springs
The climb up the first hill was a killer. The hill I think I could manage, but there were huge wind gusts coming down off the mountain as well. And I don't think I'm crazy or was just overworked, those were strong winds! I also felt my heart rate rise, and I didn't want to hurt myself this early. Ted ran with me a bit here, as did Ralph. When I noticed that Ralph was walking and keeping up with my running, it was time to walk a bit. At least I tried to hold a decent walking pace, which in past races has been a weakness of mine. And there were certainly runnable sections. At 6:30 pm I went to the van and changed out of my whites and into shorts and my green running tshirt, and the reflective vest. I also had a minor blister area looked at and taken care of before it got out of hand. Those 3000 and 4000 foot elevation signs just weren't coming quick enough, but by the time I reached the very top at Towne's Pass I was feeling great again and running strong. At times coming up the hill my legs felt like rubber and I was worried I'd have trouble on the downhill, but I flew and my quads were giving me no trouble at all! Still, we arrived at Panamint Springs later than I'd hoped in 14:07, just past midnight.

Panamint Springs - Darwin Turnoff
Tim got me started up the hill from Panamint Springs, and I was fascinated by the road. I'd been there before, but the hairpin turns, the close edges, and the incredible views that were vaguely hinted at in the moonlight were quite impressive. The slope on the road in many places, however, was wreaking havoc on my ankles and knees. One foot would land 2-3 inches higher or lower than the other. Still, I did my mix of running and walking and felt like I was making good progress. I even passed a couple of runners from the 10:00 start. But I'd forgotten my study of the course map and description and thought that Darwin was just a few miles after Father Crowley, when it was actually about 10 miles. I kept cursing that check-in station that wouldn't come and was getting increasingly tired (sleepy) and irritated. But by this time I was also a bit amused by the vests that I bought for the crew, which had the flashing lights on front and back in a sort of V shape, which made them look like intergalactic travelers. At least it made my crew easy to spot from a distance! I was worried about another blister here, so I stopped to have that taken care of, which gave me an excuse to sit and rest a couple of minutes. The downside was that I started getting chilled and had to put on my long-sleeve shirt. But not more than 5 minutes after running again the long sleeved shirt came off, and back to green tshirt. We finally got to the Darwin Turnoff in 18:47, or 4:47 am.

Darwin Turnoff - Lone Pine
No need to tell anyone who's been there how endless this stretch seems. But it was a long easy downhill to start, and the sun was coming up, so I felt refreshed and with a bit more energy. I don't know how fast I was actually running, and Mike and Tim were telling me I was starting to walk more and more. But I felt like I was running well. My legs still felt strong, but I was occasionally having issues with my stomach, and at about 95 miles I did throw up again, this time nasty stuff, a mixture of chocolate gel, protein bar, turkey wrap and an orange slice that just went down. But again, I felt great afterwards, I just had to replenish. Eventually we spotted Pam Reed not far ahead of us and were pulling her in. We were leaprogging a while again and I thought I was ahead of her for good before she passed me and left me behind at about Keeler. All the traffic on the road here was a bit unnerving, and I was ecstatic to finally make the right turn to Lone Pine! We got the time station in 25:29.

Lone Pine - Finish
I don't seem to remember from 2006 this road going up so steeply so soon, but it sure did. For a few miles, I would try to run the runnable sections. But I couldn't trust my eyes, as I couldn't tell if those parts were actually flat or just less uphill. But again, when my pacer could walk an dkeep up with my running, I figured it was better to power walk, or what felt like power walking. Ralph had taken one of the vans to the finish line and was texting Becky with finisher updates. I could see Pam up on the mountain, only a few minutes ahead of me, but I wasn't able to get any closer to her. I was trying to get up as fast as I could, and didn't think I was worrying about the competition, at least until I saw Perry Edinger's van pull up beside me, and I knew I should get moving. At this point I was only interested in taking fluids to finish up the race. Ted walked the last couple of miles with me, which was very nice, and I wish I could've enjoyed it more, but I was too exhausted, sleepy, worried about walking off the side of the cliff, worried about Perry catching me, and wondering how many gosh dang campground tunroffs there were before the finish! I kept telling Ted the finish was right around that corner, but it never was. Then Connie Gardner came down the road with Jorge Pacheco's crew and said the finish was right past thos pine trees, and for some reason I believed her - and she was right! The rest of my crew joined Ted and me for tha jog the last few meters to the finish, and I was done! 22:29:12, 8th place overall, 6th man. Jamie and David Donaldson were right there at the finish to congratulate me, as was Pam, who finished nine minutes ahead of me. She said I was her inspiration because when she saw my van with the green sign she was motivated to push a little harder. Glad I could help! Perry came in just seven minutes after me. Not long after that was Nick Hollon, at 19 the youngest Badwater finisher ever and with a time of just over 33 hours (having started in the 6:00 wave). I was surprised to see Akos Konya on his crew, and we had a nice little chat. I would have loved to stay, but I wanted to get down to the medical team in Lone Pine to have them check out the swelling in my hands. Fortunately, it ended up being nothing serious and it went away shortly.

After checking into the motel, cleaning up and sleeping for a few hours, my team and I went out for a nice steak dinner. I wasn't quite up to eating a full steak yet, but it was a great time spent with the gang. Wednesday morning after cleaning up the vans a bit, Tim and Mike, having just run about 58 miles each over the past two days, decided to go back up to Mt. Whitney and do some hiking/running. They took the trail as far as they could without a permit, up to Lake Whitney (is that the right name?) and back. Ted and Becky relaxed by the pool and looked in some of the gift shops. Ralph and I went to the Film Museum, Ralph being a big film buff. All the memorabilia from the old westerns filmed there in the Alabama Hills was very impressive. I'm not as much into westerns myself, but they also had the actual foam fake worm thing from the Kevin Bacon movie "Tremors" which was also filmed in the area, so I was tickled. The awards in te evening were very nice, but I was getting restless sitting still. But it was another good chance to chat with the other runners, crew and race staff. But even better was Jake's Saloon afterwards, where "one or two beers" turned into five, inspired in no small part by the party spirit of Lisa Tamati's team from New Zealand. A little chalk on the face never hurt anyone! And more chatting and laughing with other race folk, as well as locals. The one thing that really suprised me at this event was not the quality of the runners in the race (which is expected), but the quality of the runners who were crewing the race! Connie Gardner, Akos Konya, Danny Ripka, Bonnie Busch, Matt Chaffin, Jenn Shelton (on Shannon Farar-Griefer's highly enthusiastic Moeben team), and I'm told Valmir Nunes was helping Cas Camara up the mountain, all among those here for other runners. Of course, I'm very proud of my crew who really worked their tails off. But I'm told I didn't get too cranky. They did give me good feedback, I've learned some things I can use for future races. Thanks to them, and thanks to all who were out there and made it an unforgettable experience! I'm ready to go right back and do it again!
Not to Forget:
For this race I was raising money for Project Hospitality, an organization on Staten Island that provides food, shelter and services to the homeless and hungry, and assistance to those with HIV. It's an organization that my aunt and uncle and cousins were very involved with from the beginning. A big thanks to all those who donated, especially to my employer, Boosey & Hawkes, who matched all employee pledges, and tossed in some extra to boot!