Category Archives: Running On Emotion

Think about this stuff on your next run

Count-Down and Warm-Up

In the moments leading up to the starting gun, what should you do?  It’s the most nerve-wracking minutes of a runner’s life.  To make matters worse, I’m already thinking about those moments now, even though the Fifth Avenue Mile race is still 2 days away.

In fact, the only way I can get through the week leading up to a big race is when I know exactly what I’m supposed to do each and every day and in the pre-race warm-ups.

Without a specific plan to hold my attention and assuage my anxiety, my mind is left to wander off the farm into the woods, where the hungry foxes of fear and doubt devour my energy with needless worry and their mysterious call.

So this is what I’ve been doing this week, in anticipation of the 5th Avenue Mile on Sunday.

Last Sunday, in a gorgeous early evening in Brooklyn’s McCarron Park, I ran 8 200’s, as a mariachi band played to a picnic and bingo party on turn 3 of the track.

Monday, I ran for about 50 minutes, with some walking and water stops in between. This took place on the very, very scenic Lehigh University campus in Bethlehem, PA.  Lots of beautiful sights there.

Tuesday was a guilt-free 20-minute dash in Historic Bethlehem.  In my book, if it’s 20 minutes, it counts.

Wednesday was intervals at the track with my coach, Budd Coates.  He put me through 6 x 100m strides, 2 x 200m at fast but not all-out, 1 x 400 all-out (which for me was only 87 seconds, so don’t get your hopes up for me besting my time from last year) and then 3 x 100 strides to wrap up the day, capped off with about a half-mile jog with the editor who helped bring out the best parts of my Runners World story, Tish Hamilton.  (Who, btw, is a great Twitter follow @RWtish).

Thursday – Went to see Sklar Brothers at Helium in Philly. (Who, btw, are my absolute favorite, #1 Twitter follow, @Sklarbrothers)

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Download Sklarboro Country podcast now. I owe these guys my sanity.

Friday,  3 miles and 6 x 100 m strides back in Brooklyn.

Saturday will be an easy 2 miles in Central Park.

On Sunday, here’s what Budd advises for warm up for a mile race:

Get up for an early (6-8am) very easy 15 minutes run.  This will get me up and out of bed and will keep me from tossing and turning thinking about my nerves.

At Race time:

10 minutes easy run

4 strides at pretty good but not all out pace

RYBO- Run Your Butt Off!

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He who runs first, laughs laat.

See you there. I’ll be the guy in the Mulligan shirt, looking for a mulligan on his mulligan and hopefully, having a good laugh.

What the NYRR Doesn’t Know– and Does

The NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile is this weekend and by coincidence, I was cleaning up my office this morning and came across last year’s bib.  Now I don’t have as many of these hanging around as my friend Bart Yasso.  So this one stood out.

When I took a closer look I found two incredible little details that thrilled my inner archaelogist.  Can you spot what I mean?

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How did they know?

The obvious thing that popped was my projected time, which I presume was based on my age, 7:55.  So yeah, I did a little better than that.

But how can you make this up?  Since I wasn’t running with any affiliation, my team was listed as “Unattached,” an ironic team name for a guy on the brink of a  marriage break-up. So yeah, they got that one right.

But much has changed since last year and we will find out just how much on Sunday at around 10:35 am.  See you there.

A Runner By Any Other Name Still Has Stinky Shoes

What actually qualifies a person to call themselves a runner? Truth is,  sometimes I even hesitate to call myself one.

But do not call me a jogger. Runners are not to be confused with joggers.  A runner would slap your face if you asked him if he was going out for a jog.  In fact, now that I think about it, are there any joggers left? Should that label be considered a latin term now? Anyone who would call themselves that and still be able to look in themselves in the mirror would no doubt see cotton gym shorts, chafed thighs and a pit-stained PROPERTY OF t-shirt.

I did meet a woman who runs competitive miles in track meets and insists on being called a sprinter. I myself cannot sprint a mile. Simple rule: if you don’t begin the race in starting blocks, it is not a sprint.

For the record, this guy, Matt Centrowitz, the winner of the 2012 Fifth Avenue Mile, did not come out of blocks.  He is a runner.  So is Sydney Maree, the winner of the first Fifth Avenue Mile and still the course record holder, who I understand turned 57 earlier this week.

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Only a runner would make this challenge:
“Centro, spot me 5 blocks in a match race?”

So who’s a runner? Do you have to have run in a race? Is there a two-run minimum?

I think it may be more a matter of the expectations you have when you do go out.   In other words, If you think you may be a jogger, you are.

So we have at least three categories now– jogger, runner,  sprinter.  Then there’s Clydesdales and Penguins, both of which I could technically be, but, which seem to unnecessarily tarnish the reputations of two proud species as well as make it sound like someone should be cleaning up after me with a broom.  Rarely is it a good thing to be named for an animal.  Personally, I think this what eventually did in Tiger.

I’m leaving out tough mudders and spartans because they are obviously unstable and tri-athletes because I have generally found them to be insufferable. Well perhaps except this one, who I think is kind of cute.

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Only a runner would taunt this beautiful child like this:
“Swimming and biking are for kids.”

I’m not saying you have to run as your only exercise, but three in one day seems excessive.  Like piling too much on your plate at the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.  Really? Must you place your Speedo so close to your Camelback?  It’s just not good hygiene.  The number 3 can also signal bad luck, like lighting three cigarettes on one match was bad luck in the World War I bunkers.  Then again if you are smoking cigarettes on the Western Front in a foxhole and being bombed by Germans, you are already in some serious bad luck.

I’ll stick with one sport at a time for now.  So I guess that makes me a runner.

What makes you a runner?

Going Fast Can Be Slow

Last year’s Fifth Avenue Mile race went so well, my story became The Mulligan Mile, a major feature  in the September issue of Runner’s World.  Now, after a few setbacks and a major slowdown, I’ve been trying to ramp up my training so I can save a little bit of face in this year’s running on Sept. 22 in New York.   But going fast is just not something you can rush.

Even though I’m now doing many of the same methods I used last year in training, I just don’t have the same foundation of strength and stamina that came through 4 solid months of training and cross-training.  And while i still have memories of going fast, my body seems to have forgotten what that’s like.   Much of the speed I gained last year (I cut 1:18 seconds off my mile time) came toward the end of my training. Yet, that rapid gain was a bit of an illusion, since it was the result of a lot of little things that I had done religiously during the previous weeks and months that was behind the “sudden” surge in my times.   Strength training, full court basketball games, close attention to diet, runner’s yoga, spin classes, even the meticulous journal keeping that I did last year in hot pursuit of my goal– all of it played a role in my success and just hasn’t come together in the same way this year.

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What I’ve been feeling like lately.

Yet this runner, like so many others I know, won’t let the lack of a PR stand in the way of a good run.  Unlike pro athletes who are urged to retire before they start to be less of the player they were at their prime (think of the aging Willie Mays playing for the Mets or today, the suddenly human Mariano Rivera blowing saves for the Yankees and coughing up another pennant to the Red Sox) the runner doesn’t have to retire to preserve his legacy.  The runner just runs, nods at the clock and keeps going.  We don’t ask millions of dollars of our employers or expect stadiums full of fans to pay their way to see us compete.  We just ask for a level shoulder of the road, a few feets width of path on the community trail and the occasional temporary road closure for a race.

Lately I’ve felt terrible as I was running– and incredibly good that I have run.  Even when it’s slow and kind of sucks to give in to the fatigue, it still makes every day better.

Sunday, I’ll be running the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon as part of a relay team. I’ll be on the second leg, which connects Allentown and Bethlehem.  Maybe I’ll see you out there. I’ll be the guy laughing all day– other than perhaps some of the much too long time that I’ll spend pushing myself along the canal tow-path.

You know they put that trail in there for jackasses, right?

All Signed Up

The scale refuses to cooperate.  The track training has been too little, too late.  The road miles have been inadequate.  The toe surgery scar is still prominent.  The physical therapy on the neck continues. But let’s face the truth about moving past 40, 50 and beyond: it’s hard to expect everything to fall into place perfectly for very long.

Take, for example, the relay team I’m running with in Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon next weekend.  Our “super masters” team of old farts (I’m actually on the younger side of the group) won a third place trophy a couple years ago for our efforts.  High fives and back slaps all the way around.  Since then, in the span of two years, two of the guys have had cancer operations, one suffered a debilitating achilles injury, one is having so many issues with meds that he’s stopped running altogether.  And me,  possibly in the best condition of the group, coming off bone spur surgery and a car crash since my last race.

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After an election night car crash in November. And I’m the healthy one.

At this point, we don’t need a training schedule, we just need to know when the orderlies are going to empty our bedpans.  Now I know why hospitals sponsor so many races.      But winning is not the point.  Showing up is. So we are fighting on, laughing all the way.  We added some younger, fresh blood to keep us going and will just take a mulligan on all that adversity.  Full speed ahead.

That realization, that whatever health and good fortune we have can be a fleeting gift, makes me understand even more why my performance in last year’s Fifth Avenue race remains so special to me– it was one of those rare perfect storms of training, motivation and peaking at just the right time.

But I’m too old to make a perfect storm the enemy of a good run.  So I have chronicled and documented all my excuses and gone ahead and done it.  This morning, I signed up for this year’s running of the great race.  If you’d like to join me on September 22 in Manhattan, click here to sign up for New York Road Runners’  Fifth Avenue Mile presented by Nissan.

I hope my mulligan singlet still fits.

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There’s still time to sign up for this year’s Fifth Avenue Mile.

The worst part (so far) of my fallback into blortness is showing up for interval training runs and having someone congratulate me on the Runners World article and my performance in last year’s race.  I smile and humbly accept the attention, then watch them blow by in the sprints and imagine what they must be thinking.  “THAT dude ran a 5:34?,” I can hear them sneer in my head.

Maybe in the same way that last year’s performance inspired a few folks to think again about what was possible, this year’s will offer another lesson. “If that guy could do it, anyone could.”  And it’s true.

That’s me, always teaching.

The Second Half

Do you seem to run faster on the second half of a short out-and-back training run? I always do and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m dogging it on the way out or I’m hauling butt on the way back.

Or is it simply the way life is– we take our good ole time when we are young and fresh and time seems to last forever, until at some point, we get a sign that we are no longer as young or as fresh and we turnaround and head in.  And even though every step is harder,  things seem to speed up as we near the end of our run.

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For those of us at or near midlife, we are on the back portion of the out and back and life is moving along rapidly, calling us home.  The kid who was just in training wheels is now learning to drive a car.  The kid who just learned to read is now writing books of her own.  The delusion that certain things would last forever is acutely and painfully disproved.

I’m in no hurry to get there, but I’m not afraid of it either. What I’m afraid of is letting today go without appreciating it.  The final part of the run can be painful, weary, isolated.  Yet it’s every bit as refreshing, rewarding and important as the early, carefree moments of the run that seem like so long ago.  I’d rather finish with a strong kick than trot home dejected and spent.

From my bathroom window this morning I could see dead leaves hanging on the sycamore tree, just waiting to fall– and in fact I did see one tumble to earth– daring me to believe that summer was over.    If it is, it is. I can’t order the leaf back into the tree.

But, no matter the season, or whether i think I’m on the way out or the way back,  I can enjoy what today gives me.

The Beloved, Dreaded Vacation Run

Did you, or will you, run on vacation this summer?  For me, taking a run during a vacation trip is simultaneously annoying, disruptive and restorative. Something I have to force myself to do– and never regret.

Here’s what I was thinking last summer when I was on vacation with my youngest daughter at the idyllic family camp Rockywold-Deephaven in New Hampshire.

Why the F am I putting myself through this when I could be sitting on the calming shores of Squam Lake and doing absatively nothing? Why am I enduring torture — however briefly– when I could be laying on the cozy bed in my cabin, eating chocolate chip cookies, or reading that book I’ve been carrying around for months without finishing?

Why am I running at all?  This goal [of running a competitive mile for the first time in 32 years] notwithstanding– is it all that important to me that I can’t give myself a treat, blow off a week and just enjoy some down time?

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Heading out on the last vacation trip of the summer this weekend? Will you run?

Stop.

I’m finding that the less time I spend ruminating about philosophical questions like those, the better off I am.  Instead, let’s tackle the practical.  I am here on this vacation alone with my youngest and have exactly 2.5 hours each day that she is taken care of in her little kids camps.  So that’s all the time I have to do grown-up things like, well anything that doesn’t involve playing with, swimming with, canoeing with, eating with, chasing ping pong balls with, or resolutely resisting the exhortations of a first grader.  Writing is rushed and cramped when she’s pestering me to use the computer or posing the existential question “What can I do now?” or the heartwrenching classic: “I want to play WITH YOU”.  If any parent out there can ignore that statement for very long, I’m not sure we are paddling in the same canoe.

No, the point of this vacation isn’t to run.  It’s to enjoy her company and explore nature and bask in the glory that is old fashioned summer time.  Enjoy some good meals without having to clean up, feel the cool of the magnificently alive lake, which makes chlorinated pool water seem like a man-made facsimile– the tofurkey of water. To rest, to relax, to find clarity and simple pleasure.  To escape.  To rebuild the body that’s subject to life’s pushes and pulls, to restore the mind that is bogged down with worry and fear and deadlines and schedules and emails.  To see, to feel, to hear, to touch, to taste what has either not yet been or has long been forgotten.

On the days I run, the rest of the day is so much better– relaxed, brighter, present, focused. On days I don’t run, it’s dreary, heavy, lazy, sticky, blah. Like cookie batter.  I’m more easily agitated by the requests of a kid who just wants to play with her Dad.  She is asking me, on bended knee, to be with her forever.  And in order to say yes to her without reservation, I must say yes to my run.  And the truth is, it will, in it’s own way, be the best part of the day.

Time check. I’ve got 30 mins left to pick her up from the kids camp.  Time enough to say “YES” to my running shoes and bye to my blog!

Where did you run on vacation this year?

Area 51

How did you mark your last “big” birthday?  I marked my birthday this year the same way I did last year– by going alone to a deserted jogging trail to see how fast I could run a mile with only my breath, my pride and my fear of slowing down before my time.  Last year, this Birthday Run was in the middle of training for my first competitive mile race in more than 30 years.    There was a lot at stake for me last year, in that I was turning the big 5-0 and taking a mulligan on trying to do what I was never able to do as track athlete: break five minutes in the mile.

Here’s what I looked like:

Louis Cinquino
What will you do to mark your next “Big” birthday?

I would say I looked hopeful and ready.  I knew I wasn’t in good enough shape yet, but I had a deliberate plan that I trusted.

This year, the day marked my first timed mile since October of last year.  I feel a little embarrassed to admit that now, given the response to my article in the September 2013 issue of Runners World. So let me explain.

The official story is that an election-night car accident, a lazy winter of recovery and a spring that sprung into toe surgery (bone spurs on my left big toe knuckle– I’ll show you my scar if you show me yours) gave me ample excuses to stop my intense training for a while, which turned into longer than I planned.  But perhaps here’s the real reason:

I never signed up for another race after running the Runners World Half in October.

Then in the best shape in years, I kidded myself that I could just maintain that edge without a race to look forward to and train for.  Big mistake. For me (and maybe you?) not having a race scheduled meant not having a reason to fend off the late night snack binge but finding plenty of excuses to not show up for track intervals or long Sunday runs.  I’d share them, but I don’t want to give you any ideas.

So I toed the starting line of my mile on my 51st birthday looking like this.

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Have you signed up for your next race?

I was both anxious and relieved. Anxious because I knew my weight had gone up and my conditioning had gone down as I got back up on my feet after the winter hibernation, the ongoing physical therapy on my neck, topped with about 6 week of crutches, surgical boot limping, labored walking and geriatric-paced running.

Yet I was relieved and alive in a way I can write about, but can’t truly explain.  The thought that came to mind was that of a low-budget super hero, incognito behind my shades.  I slowly slipped on the cape (i.e. removed my shirt- gasp!).  It was like I crossed through a threshold, leaving behind the dimension of lethargy and injury and weakness into the realm of the race, the secret world of the strong. In training again.

I could sense I would now transformed into a radioactive warrior with immense powers to push  myself to new limits into an unmappable, alien territory where I was no longer Ordinary Guy who jogs.  I was now Runner Man, protector of health, defender of speed, the huffing and puffing  weirdo. The Middle Age Boy Wonder.  I ran my heel across the cinders for a proper starting line. And off… Flame on!

The delusion of being a cross between The Flash and the Human Torch lasted about 30 yards when the reality hit– I was further behind than I thought.  My mind remembered what it was like to be in shape. My lungs and legs? Not so much. The pain and suffering lasted a little over 7 minutes, hardly worthy of mentioning other than as a footnote and another starting point for my next comeback.

And so. Here I go. I’m signing up for The Fifth Avenue Mile again.

Join me?  No experience necessary. BYOC*

*Bring Your Own Cape

Mulligan, Take Your Mark. Part I of many to follow…

If you had another shot at something, what would it be? 

Below is a piece of the first private blog post I did in preparation for The Mulligan Mile, prompted by my trip back to my high school track to run with the current team.  My first time on that track in more than 30 years.  What was I thinking???

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If you had another shot at something, what would it be? What would it mean to your life today to pursue it?

Today, as the high school track team practiced,  I asked the coach’s assistant, and self-proclaimed “Math Girl” to take my picture with my iPhone.  And instead of a clueless but carefree teenager with the pleasures and pains of college and jobs and wife and kids ahead of him, she digitally captured a grey-haired, paunchy, weathered, ordinary off-the-shelf old guy.  If we had met in the mall, she’d probably thought it more likely that I was an off-season Santa Claus than what I really felt like inside: a soul-searching runner toeing the line for a fresh start to a midlife that had suddenly gotten very complicated.

While the reasons behind my trip back in time may have been cloudy and complicated, I kept most of that to myself.  My task here was simple.  I was here to run like hell and see what happened.  Cotton-free, orthotic-propelled and grateful for the chance to test myself against the same cinder track that had been the foundation for every racing step I’ve taken over the past 32 years.  I was here to claim what was taken from me back then. I was here for a mulligan on a race that never happened.

Taking a mulligan on a race that never happened may sound like a quixotic quest.  It’s all that and more– and I’m glad you are here to share your thoughts on what it means to live your own mulligans.

You may have read about The Mulligan Mile in Runners World.  It’s my personal account of trying to recapture a little bit of the juice of my early years by training to see how fast I could go in the 2012 edition of the The Fifth Avenue Mile.   It was both the hardest I’ve trained since high school and the most fun and rewarding.  What I went through helped me focus on making every moment count– and I believe that made all the difference in the race and in my life.

If you had another shot at something, what would it be?  What would it mean to your life today to pursue it?

Alone.

Training for any kind of race is a lonely endeavor.  Even when you surround yourself with other runners or have the encouraging support of a friend or the loyalty of a coach, at some point we all realize the sad truth: no one really gives a flying fig about our training except us.  And every step we take is ours alone.  It’s both scary and the entire point of running.

Here’s some thoughts I had last year during my training for The Fifth Avenue Mile, the first competitive mile I would run in over 30 years:

Being on my own is a scary thing to face every morning when I wake up.  I start each morning with the same  thoughts that hit me as I wake:

1. Where am I?

2. Am I alone?

3. What’s about to go wrong next?

Because of running,  being alone is not something new for me, but it is something that is still taking getting used to. It’s of course, a perfect place for a runner to be. Alone is a place I’ve sought, possibly even what brought me to running in the first place.  The lonely romantic struggle of the long distance runner.  Alone against all odds, persevering against the body’s will, to endure nature’s elements and fight off gravity with every raised leg.    There was a freedom in running away from the raised eyebrows of the townspeople when I was a teenager– why would a kid want to run by himself on the side of the road leading out of town, then just turn around and run back?

Now, it’s the liberty to run toward something unknown– a new, perhaps even better, life.

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Do you like to run alone?

Back then, I conformed to get good grades and positive attention on the outside, but inside I was happiest when I could be apart, be different.  To be alone on the shoulder of that road from time-to-time. No running partners. No coach. No plan. No intervals. No watch. No GPS. No electrolytes or recovery bars.  No wicking fabrics.  For some years, not even running shoes, just sneaks. This was pre-iPod, pre-waffle shoe, pre-Pre.

Alone. The good kind of alone.

Do you like to run alone?  Has that changed as you’ve gotten older?