Adios to Slow

In a week that had me question my fitness, motivation and my desire to compete, for the first time in a long time I can walk away from a race feeling content.

Over the course of the past couple of weeks, I have been feeling more and more stale and sluggish on my runs. Running was becoming more of a chore than something that I was enjoying.

It is cyclical. I go through this every couple of months.

This past weekend was one that I had keyed in on for racing.  There were plenty of different options on the table, ranging anywhere from 5k to half marathon.  It was just a matter of picking one, and putting forth a solid race effort.   Down to the final hours of Saturday night, I was still up in the air on where to race.

I ended up deciding to lace them up and give it a go at the Stomp the Monster 5k – a USATF-NJ event that was only a couple of minutes down the road from me.  Convenient and short.  Just what I was looking for.

I made my way over to the Marlboro Municipal Complex at around 8AM.  Way too early for the 10:30 start, but since I haven’t raced
since November, the nervous jitters were getting to me.

Seeing as the race was an official USATF-NJ competition, I knew that there would be more top level guys there than a regular local 5K.  This was something that I was excited about. I’ve always said, I’d rather finish 10th and run fast, than run slower and win.

Before the warm-up, I met up with good friend and facial hair connoisseur Jeff Perrella – aka, Quiet Storm (you can follow him here and here). We took off for our warm up around Marlboro as the drizzle from the impending storm started.

After the 25-minutes leg loosening warm-up, I did some quick stretches, changed into proper racing attire and headed over to the starting line.  I was now, for the first time in a while, excited to race.  I suppose since it had been such a long time since I had raced a 5k on the roads, I had zero expectations going into the race.  Even though my coach flat out told me that if I wasn’t going into the race looking to run 15:15, don’t bother showing up.  That didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to get out there, see what I had, and compete.

The gun went off and the race was underway. I anticipated the race going out hard, but as we went into the first half mile, no one was dedicated to taking the pace.  Therefore I figured, “what the hell”, I’ll do it – if I blew up from making it an honest effort, so what.

Rainy post race double from the shop.

We hit the mile in about 4:52 or so and we had a pack of about 5 guys or so, with Perrella sitting quietly in the back.  Knowing about his famed and devastating kick, I was not looking for it to come down to a last second kick to the finish.

As we made our way through the neighborhoods of Marlboro, I was debating in my head – could I really be feeling this good?  I expected the pace of the 5k, be it fast, or slow, to feel like absolute hell. It seemed to be the complete opposite.  I was feeling strong and comfortable.

We hit two miles in about 9:43, and Jeff decided that he wanted in on the action and he surged to the front to try and shake up the pack a bit. It was successful.  As Jeff made his move, it was gut check time.  Do I completely bag it, or do I stick it out, take a shot at hanging on and see what happens?

Justifying 5-minutes of pain was an easy call.

The pack was now down to three – myself, Jeff and another fellow runner that Perrella was constantly exchanging elbows with.  We headed into the final 1200 meters swapping leads and surges.  Jeff and I had cracked our friend, and I now found myself in the lead with about 2-minutes left in the race.  If I was going to lead this late, I was not going to give it up.

On my toes and turning my legs over faster than I had in years, I made the final turn for home.  The famed kick from Jeff I had been fearing was not to be on this day, and I crossed the line in a time of 15:12, with Perrella a close 2nd in 15:15.

Jeff and I striding for home during the last 100-meters.

While the overall time was not a world-beater, walking away from the race, I am content with how I was able to compete. When it came down to gut-check time, I was able to hang, respond, and surge.  As this race was just the beginning of a long spring and summer of racing, it certainly got me started off on the right foot. My confidence and enthusiasm for racing, which had recently been waning is now back to full force.  I am excited to see what the next couple of weeks of training and racing have in store for me.

– Craig

Love and Loss

I remember the morning like any other day.  I woke up at 6AM and went for a 14-mile run along the beautiful beaches of New Jersey.  I got home, stripped down to running shorts and prepared for the shower that would wash the salt from my face and the dirt off my tired legs.

In my adult life I can not recall crying as uncontrollably as I did on the morning of 8/31/11.

After cooling off a bit from the morning’s run, my cell phone rang.  It was my mother.  It was 8 o’clock in the morning – a random time for a call. I had a fear I knew what she was going to tell me.

“Craig”, she said.

I quietly responded “Yes?”.

“Nan passed away”.

My grandmother had lost her battle with cancer.

I don’t quite recall our conversation past that point.  All I remember is her asking me if I was okay, and me replying with a shaky voice, “Yeah.  I will call you back”.  Breathing harder than I have in any race or workout, I buried my face into my towel and let out an enormous bellow.

Composing myself after a long, hard cry, I grabbed my cellphone and called my girlfriend, knowing full well that she was already at work.  While biting my quivering lip, I left a relatively incoherent voice mail.

“Malia, it is Craig…I am guessing by the tone in my voice, you can guess what happened…call me back…”.

I couldn’t even bring myself to say what had happened.

Months earlier my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.  The disease that has touched so many other individuals was now effecting my own family.  The proud Italian woman from Philly – the one that would sing beautiful songs while cooking meals that could feed an army, and tell me stories about going to Villanova socials at the age of 16 – was now fighting her own battle. The woman that used to call to heckle me when the Phillies would blow out the Mets, or to simply say that she loved me “up to the sky”, was slowly withering away.

We knew what was inevitable.

That didn’t make it any easier.

Back when I was in grade school, she gave me a silver chain necklace with a cross emblem affixed to the end – a gift that at the time I would wear on occasion, not knowing that years later I would carry it around my neck everyday as a lasting memory.  It brings me back to times when she would babysit for my sister and I, making me pepperoni and cheese sandwiches (without the crust, obviously) for dinner. It reminds me of nights she would spend with us in Holmdel watching her soap operas and the times her and my mother would sit in the freezing cold stands at a random track meet.

It reminds me of being a kid. It reminds me of her.

When I am out pounding the roads or trails and all I can hear is the clanging of my necklace and pendant, and my lungs pumping out hot breath, I sometimes get lost in my own thoughts, look “up to the sky”, and know that she is there.

You will be forever missed, Nan.

Don’t Call It a Comeback

Looking a tad pale post workout.

So what is it?

What is it that keeps me coming back day after day to pound the pavement, smashing the dirt underneath my tattered and worn running shoes?

Over the course of the last year and a half, I’ve experienced some of the lowest lows of my running “career” – I use quotes, as I don’t have the ability to put food on the table by putting one foot in front of the other. I even feel foolish when using the word “career” as it pertains to running. Yeah, I might be able to pull in a couple extra bucks here and there from a random road race or two, but by no means is that paying the mortgage. I’ve never done it professionally, nor will I ever.

I am okay with this.

While I’ve never considered myself to be the most talented runner out there, I’ve always tried my darnedest to do the most work I possibly can. Be it from high school, when I finished my freshman year campaign with a PR of 5:14 in the 1,600 meters, to proudly running for the Wildcats of Villanova and the Hawks of Monmouth University as a graduate student, I have always been one of those runners that was able to pound mileage – stack 100 mile weeks back to back like it was my job.

Until now.

Feeling the wrath of the ice bath.

I’ve never really had to deal with a devastating running injury until this past year when I received two – both conveniently packaged in the form of plantar fasciitis, accompanied by some fluid/swelling in my knee. While I have gotten these two injuries to the point where they are manageable, they have derailed my hopes of running this year’s Boston Marathon – a race that I had been looking forward to since the fall. If I am not going to go into a marathon 100% ready to roll, then what is the benefit of racing?

Maybe these two gems are a sign. A sign to switch it up a bit. Take a leap of faith, and rededicate myself to running to simply enjoy it…and to run fast.

Tools of the trade.

So I again come back to my original question. What is it? What causes this compulsion to lace them up every day and get out the door for a run? The answer is somewhat complex.

I enjoy the test of pushing my body to its own limits. I enjoy sharing in the common bond – the bond that all runners have with one another. Pain. It is the constant pain of an 18-miler, or the sting of quarter mile repeats that give my day substance. Fast or slow, it is this pain that we can all relate to…and we all seemingly enjoy.

At points in time I have previously documented my training in a blog or video format (videos were way too time consuming!). I truly enjoyed capturing and sharing my experiences and my intentions are to do the same again throughout the spring and summer. I hope that whoever follows along can enjoy and relate.

– Craig

9/11: Nine Years Later and Still Rolling

Running log entry from 9/11/01 – There wasn’t much else to write

I am sure that everyone has their own stories and memories about 9/11.

This is mine.

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