Saturday, September 25, 2010

Perseverance, Heart, Adrenaline, and . . . Inertia (i.e. Rock'n'Roll Philly Half Marathon)

If there was ever a race I did not want to run, this was it. Originally, back in June, I signed up for the Philadelphia Rock'n'Roll Half Marathon thinking that it would serve as a good barometer for how well my training was going for the NYC Marathon. The full marathon was scheduled for early November, so the half marathon, which would take place in mid-September, would occur right around week 10 (out of 16) in my training. By that point, 13.1 miles should be a breeze.

Alas, this is not how things worked out. About halfway through my marathon training, I suffered an injury to my left thigh. This brought my training to a screeching halt. Not only could I not run for three weeks, but every step I took for that first week-and-a-half put me in excruciating pain. Unfortunately, living in New York City (or, in actuality, Jersey City--but a cosmopolitan location either way) is not conducive to bed rest. Literally every form of transportation requires walking, whether this means to the grocery store, to the subway, to work, or just down the three flights of stairs out of my apartment building. Thus, with the help of some anti-inflammatory drug prescribed to me by the othopedic surgeon I visited, I gritted my teeth and carried on.

Not one to give up without a fight, I attempted to run during week two of my recovery with minimal success. I couldn't even manage half a mile without pain forcing me to stop. Once I reached week three of not running, I eeked out two paltry three-and-a-half mile runs without crippling myself. It was progress, but it certainly wasn't enough.

The half marathon was to occur that Sunday (September 18th), and even by Thursday, I still hadn't decided what to do. Even if I could handle the pain, I was in no condition to run 13 miles. Swimming for an hour three days-a-week is no substitute for consistent multiple-mile runs. Yet, with the full marathon looming ever larger in the distance, I needed to know what my body could handle. If I could complete the half marathon, then maybe there was still a chance I could re-start my training in time to be adequately prepared for 26.2 miles in November.

So I went for it. I rode the bus ticket to Philadelphia, stayed overnight with my cousin and his wife, and, at 8 a.m. on Sunday, November 18th, set out on my 13.1 mile test.

And I made it. My goal was to run for the entire race and try to finish in under 2 hours, and I did. I can offer no plausible explanation for how I accomplished this other than through perseverance, heart, adrenaline, and inertia. Perseverance because I made it through the pain and exhaustion; heart because I am a competitor at the core; adrenaline because nothing can offer that boost of motivation and determination like being surrounded by thousands of runners; and inertia because sometimes it's easiest to just keep going.

It was painful, it was exhausting, and it offered me only the very faintest sliver of hope that I might be able to start training again for the marathon. Still, if I can summon the same degree of determination, with a little bit of luck and a considerable dose of healing, I still might be able to compete in the NYC Marathon.

Regardless of my finishing time, the Rock'n'Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon was one of my most challenging and, therefore, impressive athletic accomplishments. I proved to myself that perfect training isn't everything, that heart and determination can get me through a lot, too. So regardless of if I race in November or not, it's my heart and determination that will carry me through whatever challenge I tackle next.

Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceOverall PlaceGender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-29)
13.1 miles1:43:577.55/mile 1974/15411452/8641 68/966

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Private Life

Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley

I just could not get into this book--even though I read it halfway through! It never created any suspense or the slightest mystery, and the only reason I read as far as I did was because of the author's good name in literature. I liked A Thousand Acres and I liked Moo but Private Life moves too slowly.

That being said, I would expect Jane Austen fans to like this novel. It is set closer to that time period, and just had the same sort of impatient feeling as when I was reading Emma: "Hurry up and get on with the plot!"

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: The Slap

The SlapThe Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent both for content and for narrative design. The pivotal event comes early in the book, but its significance is never lost as its consequences unravel differently for each character who bears witness. The differences between the perspectives, beliefs, and lifestyles of each character are enhanced by Tsiolkas' decision to narrate each chapter from a different character's perspective. By the end of a chapter, that narrating character's motives and reactions become apparent, as he or she seems sympathetic in the eyes of the reader, even if the reader may not agree with that character's choices or worldview.

A wonderful telling of the intricacies and nuances of relationships and loyalties between friends and relatives alike.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Best

Growing up, I always wanted to be “the best.” Whatever I did, whether it was sports or music or school, I had to be better than everyone else around me.

This is not to say I was completely unrealistic. I knew I’d probably never become a WNBA star, but I at least wanted to have the best foul shot on my team (even if we did lose every game of every season we ever played). I never aspired to become a concert pianist, but I still had to stay ahead of my sister, who was getting better year after year. And maybe I wasn’t going to be dubbed the next Albert Einstein, but as long as I got better grades than everyone else in my classes, those qualified me as “best” in my book.

The older I got and the more my world expanded, however, the more people I met who were better at the things I did. This revelation was made particularly salient when I went to college. There, I discovered that “hard working” will never truly mean “smart,” and no matter how much I studied, there were some subjects that I would never master. Also, I had to train for two summers just to walk onto the swim team. This forced me to face a situation where I would likely be the worst at something; I would have to work extra-hard just to meet the most basic requirements of the team.

Then I moved to New York City and discovered, once-and-for-all, that there is not and will never be anyone who is “the best” at anything, because you will always meet someone who can one-up you. You think running ten miles is an admirable accomplishment until you meet people who run half-marathons. Then you run 13.1 miles, and then people are talking about having run 26.2. You think once you run a marathon, you will have achieved some sort of unique life accomplishment . . . until you meet former Olympic triathletes and Ironman competitors and English Channel swimmers. That’s when you realize that there is always going to be someone (or more likely several someones) who have done more, gone farther, finished faster.

This realization leaves only the barometer of yourself. Race yourself. Beat the clock. Unfortunately, I am discovering that even living up to that bar may prove impossible. What athletics I do now pale in comparison to the time, energy, and effort I put into college swimming. So how do you feel good about yourself when you fall short of your own abilities? Are you supposed to be satisfied with a lower bar? Change your priorities? “Grow up?”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: SuperFreakonomics

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life InsuranceSuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

by Steven D. Levitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just as good as its predecessor, SuperFreakonomics is an easy, engaging, fascinating read. It makes economics interesting and provides the "why" to questions most people probably never think to ask.

One diversion (and improvement) this book takes from the Freakonomics is the association of two unalike things: a street prostitute and a department store santa or Al Gore and Mt Pinatubo, just to take two examples from the table of contents. Using these similes to arouse reader interest is a subtle literary tactic that gives variation to the standard Q&A format this book could easily take.

With the success of this follow-up, I can imagine these books becoming a series. If they do, I will certainly read it!

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