Sunday, January 12, 2014

(Re)-setting the Bar-Speedy

Team Bar-Speedy

Today I ran the New York City Hot Chocolate 10 mile Run in Central Park. For most, it was their first race of 2014. For me, it was my first race since 2011. Fittingly, my last race was also a 10-miler. Unfortunately the list of similarities ends there, as everything besides the total distance travelled stand in stark contrast to each other (and even that is arguable!). In 2011 I ran a disappointing 1:00:59, missing my goal time by several minutes. Today I ran 1:09:25. And guess what, this was also very disappointing! I am sure everyone cannot figure out for the life of them why this is the case so I will continue on with a riveting race recap!

Let’s backtrack. What happened between 2011 and 2014? Well a lot happened. And I’m not just talking major injury that ended up with me taking 1 year off, followed by 8 months of sporadic bursts of motivation to get back in the running scene, followed by 4 months of flat-out laziness in which I did no exercise at all for no reason really (…except waitressing, that counts right?). I also finished my PhD (fun!), got divorced (really fun!), moved back home with my parents in Vancouver and worked as a waitress (really really fun!), then moved to New York to pursue a postdoc in cancer research (I think this wins the fun award :). Suffice to say, the last couple years was a period of transition in many ways and I actually enjoyed putting running on the backburner. It doesn’t mean, however, that I ever lost my love of running and my desire to do well at it. I knew it would happen at some point.

It will happen at some point. Right?

I’ve been running consistently for the past 6 months, albeit the LSD approach with no speed added in until about 4 weeks ago (and lab peeps, NO that does not mean running while on LSD!). Things have been progressing, and most of all I’m really enjoying getting back into the running groove. Sore muscles, early bedtimes, a low tolerance and an even bigger sweet-tooth have never been so enjoyable. Of course, having joined a new lab with new non-runners to convert, what was my first order of business? You guessed it: start a Bar-Sagi lab run club: The Bar-Speedies! It would be an undoubted success! I have to admit my confidence was particularly strengthened by a certain Ethiopian graduate student whose lab bench is beside mine. People might think I am being racist but I am most certainly am not. OK maybe I am. I think the only question I asked him in my interview was if he ran. Or maybe it was him who first emphasized to me that ‘NO, BEFORE YOU ASK, I have NEVER RUN, do NOT WANT TO RUN and NEVER WILL RUN.’ Of course I am not one to be dissuaded easily and one of my 5-year postdoc objectives includes getting Eyoel to the podium of the NYC marathon. Not only would it be incredible to track the progression of a sedentary Ethiopian deciding to pick up running in their mid-twenties, it could be my first New York Times Bestseller: How to make an Olympian in 5 years. As usual, tangents always get me...

Fast forward several months, and I’ve got three lab members committed to run a race in January. Unfortunately that doesn’t include Eyoel, but nothing worthwhile comes easy right? At least I persuaded him to partake in the post-race festivities! Unfortunately after congratulating us on our lung-buster he went to Brooklyn to smoke Hookah in a lung-busting session of his own. One step at a time, one step at a time…

Going into this race I had a very simple game plan: finish! And maybe try and push the pace a little. This was a major testing grounds operation here. Fortunately the New York City Runs races are pretty low key and not nearly as serious (or organized) as the New York Road Runners races. I headed to the front of the crowd in my usual way and stopped when I overhead a woman ahead of me say ‘I am running 6-minute miles. If I blow up then I blow up, but I am running 6-minuters.’ OK! I said to myself. ‘Don’t run with her!’ Then I looked to my right and saw a woman decked out in fluorescent green from top to bottom and thought she must also be pretty fast. Either that, or be really into the fluorescent green. I wasn’t sure. My deeply perceptive thoughts were interrupted by the voice of what appeared to be the race director who was approaching us: “So you all must be the FAST people!’ We all looked to the person next to us. ‘Are you waiting for the middle-of-the-pack runners to approach the mat or are you guys actually going to go for this?!’ We all shuffled forward as he continued with his ramble ‘So we have lead bikes today, hurray! The woman’s lead cyclist is not wearing a helmet, so don’t run too fast, OK? You wouldn’t want him to get into an accident, now would you.’ He then stepped onto a small stool with his loudspeaker in order to address the crowd, promptly slamming it into a race post, which toppled over and onto one of the front-runners. ‘Woops, sorry about that!’ He chuckled. ‘When was the last time you saw Mary Wittenberg do that?’ Luckily the runner brushed it off (and I mean literally brushed the post off of himself) and (at least pretended to) laughed with the crowd. The director then proceeded to conduct his own personal offbeat countdown, and after hearing a random noise that sounded nothing like a gun, we were off!

I started off at a ‘hard-tempo’ effort and before I knew it a few girls passed me and I was in at least 4th or 5th place. I tried to keep pace with the woman in front of me but after 2 hilly miles I told myself to forget it and just focus on running a steady pace. It didn’t help that Central Park Road wasn’t closed off and there were non-racing runners infiltrating every corner of the street, sending race cones flying all over the place. I weaved around people ahead of me and - being the gentle Canadian I am – excused myself and apologized when I cut people off. That is, until the New Yorker that has clearly been brewing inside of me over the last three months suddenly exploded. It was my second loop of the park and I was doing my usual run-around-the-rec-runner when I heard a voice behind me thunder: “Woman, YOU ARE RUNNING IN THE BIKE LANE! GET OUT!’ I rolled my eyes and moved to the pedestrian lane for about 5 seconds until I was forced outwards once again. ‘YOU ARE DOING IT AGAIN. WOMAN! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT’S CALLED? IT’S CALLED CHEATING!’ I fumed. Before I knew it my right hand lifted up, my fist facing behind me, and my middle finger shot straight up. Silence ensued. I nearly let out a sigh of relief until I realized what I had just done. I had fingered someone in a road race! Heck, I had fingered a hundred New Yorkers who were also running innocently behind me. Who was I becoming and what was this city doing to me?!

I spent the next several miles feeling ashamed and glad that I wasn’t leading the race behind a biker with no helmet on or we might both be in trouble. Or perhaps the lead cyclist would have also yelled at me for creeping into his territory. In this city, you never know. I was just relieved I was running in relative anonymity. But really, who calls someone a cheater for navigating crowds on the OUTSIDE of the course, thereby making the race longer?

Fortunately this episode offered a welcome distraction from the mounting fatigue in my legs and shortness in my breath. Before I knew it I had 3 miles to go and I could see a woman about 50 meters ahead of me. My only goal for the remainder of the race was to try and catch her. Luckily she was slowing down more than I was and I passed her at mile 9. I tried to mask my labored gasps for air by holding my breath for 5 seconds and sprinting by her. I am clearly not at the stage of being able to feign freshness (or sprint), however, as I got two steps ahead of her before I let out a massive groan and slowed down. This made fighting her off for the last mile more work than I would have liked. Fortunately I was ultimately successful, making for a surprising 3rd place overall finish.

While I was pretty demoralized by my time, I was pumped to get an overall award. ‘Money! I need money!’ I exclaimed. I should have known the prize would be more like this (still pretty awesome):

Now this is a female trophy.
It is popular amongst the ladies.

My labmate Jesse ran his longest road race yet in an impressive 1:19 and is well on his way to a fabulous half-ironman debut in the summer. Despina and Ahu ran the 5-miler and did incredibly, dipping under 1hr (58min) in their first race ever! I was very proud of team Bar-Speedy today. And even though my bar of speediness needs to be reset a little lower for the moment, I am positive that after more months of consistent training, some speedwork and more races, the bar will slowly be raised.

Ahu and Despina killing it.

(And if Bar-Speedy is not met, there is always a Bar of some sort ready and waiting.)

Team Bar-Speedy at the Bar.
(Note the jealousy in Eyoel's eyes)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Things are looking, uptone?

‘You are an uptone.’
‘What does that mean.’
‘You are happy, and very chill.’
‘…I would say…that’s pretty accurate.’

Bus trips to NYC are always an adventure. And by adventure I mean unpredictable series of sometimes annoying, often entertaining but always ridiculous events that are only truly appreciated in retrospect. In the moment I spend most of my energy trying to figure out what is actually happening. When I finally do, the next phase is looking for some kind of confirmation that what I am witnessing is in fact truly strange. Unfortunately I hardly ever attain the confirmation stage. Sometimes I wonder if I am the crazy one. How does no one else see what I see?!

I moved to New York 3 months ago and have absorbed enough bus ride shenanigans in silence that I’ve decided I finally have to get it out somewhere. Anywhere. Even if it means reviving my almost year-old-dead blog. (No I did not say dog, I swear I am not the crazy one)
I have done the overnight bus to New York several times. The first time was for my job interview, where I was so caught up in the excitement of potentially moving to NYC and the cheap means of travel that I truly did appreciate it as an adventure. How sweet…and naïve. I remember chuckling fondly at the crazy bag woman who entered the bus with what looked like the entire contents of her household, including a giant ragged duvet, an assortment of pillows, a stack of books and plastic bags filled with food and god knows what else. Not only did she try to store all of these things under, around and above her seat but she then proceeded to lie across two seats of an otherwise full bus, tucked under her duvet so as to shut out anyone who might object to her taking up so much space. And she did not stop at that. Why would she, when her legs weren’t able to stretch out fully?! It makes perfect sense that she would extend her feet across the aisle and onto the seat across. WHERE SOMEONE WAS SITTING. Not only did she insist on blocking the aisle, but let out deep sighs of frustration any time someone prodded her perfect perch so that they could get to their seats. Obviously they should be practicing their hurdling skills and stepping over her, what nerve some people have!

And surprise, I digress. I did not come hear to talk about past bus trips, but to document the one I am currently on. It isn’t even midnight and I have much material to cover as I sit in the front seat (I have learned some things, which include staying as far away from the back as possible) waiting for everyone to get through customs in Buffalo. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on the season, the passengers…but primarily the mood of the border police. Luckily tonight they must have had something else to entertain them they avoided picking out random people to search that are actually completely nonrandom. Like the time I smelled a skunk outside and they decided someone on the bus was carrying massive amounts of marijuana. They approached every young man sporting long hair, wearing baggy clothes or carrying a backpack and pulled them aside to be searched. We sat on the bus waiting for 90 minutes.

I’m sorry I just got distracted by an argument between a woman who took an 85-year-old grandmother’s seat and her daughter. Normal.

Anyway, this trip was particularly painful as it began with a 5 hour flight to Toronto at 8am, a 4 hour layover downtown and THEN the overnight trip to New York. Why, would I plan it this way, you might ask? Don’t ask. Please, just don’t ask. It was actually completely avoidable and totally unnecessary, and the only reason it happened was because my planning skills are apparently nonexistent. OK, moving on! In Vancouver, my mother asked how I would keep warm given that some people might need a duvet and pillows to survive the trip even in the springtime. As luck would have it, I had just received a wonderful floor-length zebra fleece robe, complete with slippers and a hood for Christmas: the perfect outfit to sport for the bus ride! I would be so comfortable! I immediately packed it in my carry-on. ‘Wait!’ I exclaimed as I halted mid-pack. ‘I also have a fleece deadmau5 pink onesie, and the hood has mouse ears!’ How on earth was I decide between the two?! So in they both went.

‘So, what are you going to do for your 4 hours in Toronto before the bus ride?’ My mom asked innocently.

‘Duh! Go to a bar with Mauricio and get drunk so I can pass out on the bus!’

My mom sighed. ‘That sounds nice.’

‘Yeah but it will be hard to carry 2 suitcases, a backpack, a lamp shade that won’t fit anywhere from the bar to the bus station, in a fleece zebra robe and booties completely sloshed. I hope the bus isn’t too full of crazy people.’

My mom stared at me, raising her eyebrows, and let out another deep sigh before leaving the room. Poor mom.

Nevertheless, my plan went perfectly executed. I took the bus from the airport straight to the Delta Chelsea, where I pretended to be staying so I could store my bags for several hours while I attended to mission #1 of the bus trip: drinks. Mauricio and I headed to Pogue’s where we drank several glasses of wine, had some beers and ate some good food. It was fun. I almost convinced him to come on the bus with nothing but the clothes on his back; unfortunately when I told him he should wear my pink Deadmau5 onesie the idea wasn’t so popular anymore. I can’t imagine why.

With mission #1 accomplished, we headed back to the Delta Chelsea to pick up my bags and go to the bus station. With a massive lineup of people there I knew my 8pm bus would not be leaving at 8pm. As I waited patiently in line, it wasn’t long before the people around me decided they had better things to do. Ya don’t say?! I must have given off the impression that my life’s happiness was fulfilled by waiting in line, as people started to ask me if I would watch their bags while they left to do other things. That being said, I really had nowhere to go so I obliged. Before I knew it I was standing alone with 5 suitcases around me. I was becoming the bag lady. I started to debate putting on my onesie and pulling out my flask when one man whose bags I was watching returned with a bottle of water for me. I wasn’t sure whether I should thank him or curse him. Did I look that drunk? Or was it a mere gesture of thanks? I looked at him in search of an answer, but his face was hard to read. ‘I figured water was something you would need for the bus trip, so I bought one for you!’ Oh, how wrong he was! He proceeded to ask what I was doing in NYC and he divulged that he was a psychotherapist that lived in Brooklyn. A few minutes later we boarded the bus and he invited me to sit with him at the front. This should be interesting.

This blog is getting quite long and really I don’t know where it’s going, except to say that in the end I was psychoanalysed by a psychonanalyst who wasn’t psycho-stable himself. I honestly think I am not THAT strange, but in the state I was in, in the outfit I was in, professing that I worked in a medical centre, I am surprised I was diagnosed as an ‘uptone’ and not something else. I guess it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Next up will be a running update I swear! Only because now I actually have one!