Meet #4

The Ivy meets continue to arrive, always with a heuristic flavor that unceasingly forces my mind to analyze the realities of my situation. Outside the Armory, bitter winds have dropped the temperature to a balmy 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which leaves us trapped inside for the time being. Not that being trapped is necessarily a bad thing. It certainly trumps getting constantly blasted in the face by cold gusts of wind that permeate our clothing and seep into our bones. Yes, the indoors allows a sense of comfort that I enjoy, even though I can’t stand running in the Armory.

With this meet coming right after the conclusion of winter break, the mood of the team was one of measured indifference. We scratched our two relay teams because we wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. All of our “races” were supposed to be glorified track workouts, but our innate competitiveness somehow drove us to all run decent times, in spite of our orders. The upshot was that we arrived at Hackley around 8:00 PM, a full hour earlier than the first meet. Julia, Erin, Bailey, JSW, and Ross all PRed in the 1600. Anthony and Winston went 1-2 in the Triple Jump. Good results, pats on the back, etc.

The New Year brought little change to my horrendous sleep schedule. Despite my New Year’s Resolution, I still went to bed at 1:00 AM after the meet, which I immediately regretted when my alarm sounded the next morning. As I brushed my teeth, I briefly flash-backed to sophomore year, when I would rise at 6:30 in the morning to go running on the Pump with Pietro and David Lee, my fellow boarders. Those days, and those friends, are far away now. I brush my teeth with a sense of dread for the upcoming school day, yet I recalled that after I ran in the mornings, I always felt refreshed and ready to seize the day.

Seizing the day doesn’t seem possible right now. I can’t even get through the IronStrength workout without collapsing. I should do more core. Core always seems like something one can endlessly improve, unlike racing. More core, bored, sore. That’s the end result of that particular tilt.

Hispanic Games this weekend. Surprisingly, this is my first time going to Hispanic Games, even though Hackley has been going to this meet for my entire winter track career. I’m excited. Really.

Winter Break Training Memories

It was flurrying while I walked up the hill to optional winter track practice. I live down the road from Hackley, but I still have to surmount the behemoth that constitutes Benedict Avenue, which remains an incredibly irritating task in a car, let alone walking in the snow. When I summited and arrived at the gym, I found Jed, Frank, Alex, and Coach M waiting in the lobby of the gym. The girls, exercising brilliant judgment, had all declined to attend. Of course, I knew that Ross would soon arrive five minutes Latos, so I milled around the lobby and asked Coach M what the workout was.

“Pyramid pickup workout, one to five minutes. Ten minutes warmup and cool down,” Coach M replied curtly.

For those who live ignorant of the dreaded Moriarty Pickup Pyramid TM, the workout can be boiled down to two words: miserable and protracted. To cover the latter first, the workout at minimum takes about 70 minutes to complete. Think about how boring 70 minutes classes are, then imagine running an interval workout for the entire class period instead of comfortably resting your head on your desk. It’s a long time to be out running, and that’s the minimum expected time of a Moriarty Pickup Pyramid set. The workout is miserable; interval one minute, jog one minute, sprint for two minutes, recover for two minutes, etc. Once you hit five minutes, you go back down the pyramid. The tyrant of the clock pervades the workout, as you savor every possibly second of recovery time before dashing off, each recovery period feels shorter than the last, even though that technically doesn’t occur until you head back down the pyramid. It’s a brutal experience if you sustain maximum effort throughout the workout, and it’s repeatedly complicated by changes in elevation and running surface.

The plan was to complete this workout in 30 degree “Real Feel” temperatures while the snow began to intensify. Ross immediately volunteered to cross-train after facing the reality of having to run the entire workout on unforgiving pavement and further destroying his shins and knees. I don’t blame Ross; spending 70-75 minutes outside was the last thing I wanted to do.

Rockies was snowed over, the Pump was an ice sheet, and the Hackley trails were out of commission. I suggested we run to the Marymount Convent road and run endless interval loops there because of the poor conditions. The ten-minute warmup evaporated, slipping from our grasps like a poorly exchanged baton. The first minute was fine. The next two minutes were okay, even though we ran uphill, but after the third step of the pyramid, the group began to disintegrate. Jed dropped off first. No surprise. Alex dropped off soon afterwards, leaving Frank and I to run in the snowy wonderland that appeared before us. Unfortunately, after the fourth step of the pyramid, Frank stopped to find a bathroom, leaving me completely alone on Marymount. Jed and Alex went in a different direction entirely, which meant I had to run the rest of the dreaded Pyramid alone. Great.

This is exactly the situation you want to avoid when training over winter break. After four years of winter break training, I’ve realized that training around the holiday festivities, family vacations, goddamn Doc Rob papers, and general laziness of winter break is a difficult task. However, I think I have the perfect formula to surviving winter break in decent shape and maximum enjoyment. There are five basic rules to winter break training.

1. If you are at all injured/fatigued/mentally shattered/ridiculously sore, feel free to take a few days off.

Winter break is actually a very convenient time to take time off. Theoretically, one should still be able to get into decent shape by the time of Ivy Championships in late February without running regularly during winter break (just ask Ross). Then there’s a short break before spring begins, leaving plenty of time (hopefully) for more rest and recovery. Winter break is in an ideal spot on the calendar if you need to rehab some body part.

2. If you are downhill skiing, you should still try to run every day.

3. Run with friends if possible.

4. Try to keep up with core.

5. You don’t have to follow the coach’s workout plan religiously.

It’s pretty simple.

Frank eventually got back from the bathroom and we finished the workout. Ross rejoined us for core, noting that we were all drenched and freezing while he was completely dry. The perks of being a cross-trainer…

Meet #3 (Involuntary Memory)

“Yet a single sound, a single scent, already heard or breathed long ago, may once again, both in the present and the past, be real without being present.

– Marcel Proust

The memory struck me as I stood in line waiting for the start of the 1000m at Bishop Loughlin. Without intending to remember, I was suddenly reminded of the first time I’d stood in one of these lines, four years before, at the Molloy Stanner Games.

Thomas Slipsasger and I were standing around, waiting for the race to start. Thomas Slipsager hated running, yet he ran distance in winter track. He had shown up for cross-country, occasionally, and developed a running feud with Karpinski over how many practices he could miss without getting kicked off the team. Except, unlike Ian Wong, Slips actually refused to show up for practice on a semi-regular basis. However, I never understood why Slips, as everyone called him, would voluntarily join a sport he hated, without anyone else in his grade or friend circle. Why didn’t he just do weight room and show up two days a week? Why did he waste so much of his time when he just didn’t care?

Why he stayed is a complete paradox. That first winter track season, I scarcely understood why I was even in the sport and I actually liked running. We did not have a distance coach; Walters left sometime in early December and the position was vacant for three months. We made up our own training schedules and practice was never longer than 45 minutes. I suppose Slips thought that showing up to practice three out of five times a week and freezing was somehow better than two 45-minute weight room or faking outside sport log. Slipsager was the least motivated distance runner I’ve ever met, but he was clearly faster than me until the end of the year. He ended up running a PR of 5:50 in the 1600m, which is not bad considering he never did any of the workouts Pietro and Joe invented. His sister was also on winter track for a different school, which contributed to his participation, but still, why did Slipsager stick through three years of winter track? It was a paradox.

Jed spent two weeks on that miserable team and disappeared. Lydia and Tonnie never even bothered with winter track. Joe Shalabi flat-out refused in his senior year. Kieran started but didn’t finish out his senior year. These people were all, at some point in their lives, super-committed to running and racing. They didn’t make it through winter. But Thomas Freakin’ Slipsager soldiered on! He kept showing up! He kept wasting away his Saturdays and Tuesdays. I’m serious, Slips raced in every Saturday meet that he made standards in sophomore year. It never made any sense to me.

It couldn’t last forever. When Moriarty arrived in sophomore year, Slips faced the prospect of having a real winter track season and soured on the idea. In senior year, Slips quit winter track with no regrets. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to assassinate Tom’s character. He was easygoing and made countless hilarious jokes. He ran with me when he showed during winter, even though he could’ve just left me alone because we had no supervision. Genuinely decent guy, in my humble opinion, but he really hated running. Ask Karps or Coach M about it, it’s all true.

As Ross and I walked out to the track, I started remembering more of that first Armory invitational race. I remembered winning the last and slowest heat of the day. During cross-country, I constantly embraced the reality of my senior season. The overwhelming finality of it all motivated me throughout the year. For the first time in winter track, realized that this was the final time I had to go to the Bishop Loughlin Games and run the 1000m. Instead of motivation, however, I felt relief. The feeling of success, by nature, incorporates pride and thankfulness for all the dedication and hard work that has gone into an endeavor. This emotion of relief I felt as I walked onto the track was completely different. It incorporated years of apathy, neglect, disappointment, and annoyance. Anyone who says winter track means nothing to them (Frank) is lying. It does signify something, just not anything remotely positive.

During the race, Ross had the craziest kick I’d ever seen, winning his heat after closing down on the leader and holding him off at the finish line. Earlier that day, Erin PRed in the 1000m and broke four minutes. Julia finished seventh in the invitational two-mile, easily the best female Hackley individual on the day. Anthony Roderick won the long jump, which was easily the best Hackley result of the day! I always love when field event and sprinters go to public school meets and win the whole damn event. It’s always a shock to us distance runners, even though we tacitly understand that Hackley has one of the best sprinting and field event teams in the state every year. All the other schools are aware of our reputation, but I show up to practice with the sprinters and it doesn’t even cross my mind. New Year’s Resolution: appreciate the sprinters and throwers, they’re getting us all the points.

I took three days off after Bishop Loughlin. I felt like crap during the race, after the race, two days after the race, and three days after the race. I felt myself getting sucked into a Slipsager mentality.

“Maybe this season really is just designed to get us in shape for spring,” I said to myself. “Working hard now doesn’t matter. It’s never mattered. It never will matter. Maybe running doesn’t matter. Let’s just stay inside and not do this stupid interval workout.”

Needless to say, those were a dark few days for my running career.

It rained Wednesday. I woke up at 10:00 AM, enjoying winter break’s lack of alarms, and I sat in bed wondering if I was going to run at all today.

“What good could it possibly do for me?”

The night before, after doing nothing all day and consuming three truffles and an ice cream sandwich for an afternoon snack, all while Erin ran 35 minutes on the dreadmill and did core, I had vowed to run the next day. In the morning, this prospect looked rather daunting. It’s funny, I couldn’t even remember the last time getting myself out the door to run being a serious challenge.

“Good, now you know how normal people feel,” my mother remarked. After that, I dragged myself out the door. I planned to run for about 50 minutes before heading inside to avoid an impending rainstorm. My body spent the entire 50 minutes screaming, “SYSTEM FAILURE, 501 INTERNAL SERVER ERROR, ABORT!” while my pace steadily slowed by about ten seconds per mile.

The sixth mile of the run felt like the end. By mile six my legs hurt, my stomach was cramping, and I wasn’t breathing very well. Then the heavens opened up and the rainstorm that I was avoiding poured onto the Pine Island area, instantly drenching my non-waterproof jacket and pants with cold water. I’m not being melodramatic here; it really sucked and I wanted to stop running indefinitely.

But I couldn’t stop. Instead of heading back home, I turned and started on an extra loop. I don’t really know why I did it, and I don’t really know why my calcified legs started moving. I don’t know why my cramp disappeared either. No, the skies didn’t lighten up, in fact, the weather got even worse, but I don’t understand how I recovered so much energy, especially considering I was six miles into a run and completely waterlogged. I ended up running an extra twenty minutes (about three miles), at a pace 20-30 seconds faster than the last four miles. I felt pretty great at the end!

Faith in running = officially restored.

Meet #2 (Handoffs)

Take me out tonight
Where there’s music and there’s people
Who are young and alive

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths

The 168th Street Subway Station is about two minutes from the Armory, but I’d never actually seen it until last Monday. I’m approaching my fourth full season of winter track, yet I’d never really explored the neighborhood around the Armory. The enclosed block of the Armory had been my de facto containment facility for countless hours, yet I’d never ventured beyond its immediate surroundings. It’s kinda depressing, but also somewhat understandable. When you jog around the streets of New York City with short shorts and a skimpy jersey in below freezing temperatures, you get a good deal of awkward glances.

The second meet of the season occurred on Monday, and I couldn’t really judge the mood of the team. Coach M was not present, so she couldn’t really judge either. Ross, Julia, Stewie, Connor and Bailey all ran well. We actually got back to Hackley before 8:30, which was a nice bonus.

Chris Chon called during the meet, asking about the California trip. California, that illusive Paradise that hangs at the end of this long, cold, and suffocating road; it exists only in my mind as I endlessly loop around the 200m track. 16 laps, every second punctuated with feelings of pain, ineptitude, and obsession with the ticking clock. The Armory two-mile is a special beast, and this race followed the stereotype with alarming persistence.

The last event of the day is the four by 400 meter relay, one of the least appealing activities, in my opinion, of the track season. It’s pretty well-established that our current 4×400 team of me, Alex, Ross, and Frank can’t sprint 400 meters with any sort of true competency after we’ve all staggered through two races and a full school day. Standing on the line, waiting to anchor in the relay, all I thought about was going home and taking a warm shower, erasing the tinges of sweat that were fruitlessly expended today.

But first I have to get through the handoff. Ross, Frank, and I were the main contributors to last year’s 4×400 team, and we’ve had an alarming number of miscues when it comes to handoffs. Despite a good deal handoff training from Karpinski and Coach Crainer, we seem to be predisposed towards rough handoffs. This trend was exemplified by our performance in the Ivy League Championship race from Spring 2014, when Ross attempted to hand off to Frank at the changeover from the first to the second legs. Frank thought he had been disqualified because of the bungled handoff and a ill-timed whistle blast from an official. So he stopped, right in the middle of the race. That was not a good idea.

At the last indoor meet, Frank attempted to hand off to Alex, but Alex got knocked out of the way by a Fieldston kid and he nearly tripped over Frank on the exchange. When Alex handed off to me, I froze and stood still instead of properly leading Alex through the line. Coach Waterbury came up to me afterwards and advised that I actually lead Alex through the handoff next time. I’m sure he hadn’t realized that this was my something like my 16th Hackley 4×4 in the last four years (I counted right before the race) and that, yes, I perfectly understood the logic and the expediency of getting a good start. Unfortunately, I had failed to perform this task, and Coach Waterbury understandably thought I’d never been in a relay before.

I don’t really know Coach Waterbury that well, but he was a coach with the football team last year, and he seems like a nice guy. The throwers occasionally look like they’re doing legitimate work now, which is a good sign. It’s nice that he noticed my amateurish mistake on the 4×4 and took the time to correct me, especially considering our coach was not even in the building. Anyway, that was last week, but this week, the handoffs went without a hitch. Unfortunately, we were all dead tired (boys and girls alike) and the times reflected our relative exhaustion.

The Distance Gang is having a Secret Santa this week, and I’m grateful that we have enough team unity to pull off a successful Secret Santa without any major problems (hopefully). The bad part about Secret Santa is that one person often forgets to come through with a gift, partly because of laziness and partly because that person selects an “friend” that they’re not really friends with. This means that there’s inevitably one person who received delayed gratification from the Secret Santa, which is not fun. I have faith in the Christmas spirit, and the goodwill of the Winter Warriors to fully provide each other with gifts. In spite of all the negativity this week, that unshakeable faith in the goodness of my fellow runners is heartening.

Guys, don’t screw this up for me. Get your Secret Santa gifts!

Creatures of Habit

What becomes routine is the codification of repetition, a recurrence of events and idiosyncrasies that cohere into significant patterns. After all, we are creatures of habit, as they say…

After most practices, the winter track team has a habit of clambering into the middle school to begin our traditional core workout. The workout has been repeated enough times to now be considered routine. Planks, cross-country core, “Coriarty” and push-ups, over and over again, almost every day for the last few weeks. We certainly did less core during cross-country. I fear that the non-winter runners on cross-country will return in spring to find that we are far more tolerant of absurdly long leg-lift sequences than ever before.

During cross-country, core was often relegated to the category of “secondary factors” that include things like eating healthy foods, stretching, and drinking water. I always wondered why we spent far more time in practice working on proper running form rather than actually, you know, trying to improve body strength, but I digress. We kept up a good regimen, but core output decreased at the end of the season, and the soreness I’m experiencing now is probably indicative of slacking at the end of cross-country. That being said, finding the right balance of routines and exercises is the top prerogative of the coach, and judging on our results during the season, I’d say the balance was adequate.

My first season of cross-country, I distinctly remember doing twenty second planks on a regular basis at the beginning of the season. I don’t think we broke 30 seconds per side that year. That did not bother me then, but now that we regularly spend twice as much time per workout, those past days seem quaint.

Intervals Monday, distance run on Tuesday, threshold workout on the Pump on Wednesday, run Thursday. Routine, routine, routine. Every time I run on the Hackley track I wonder how many miles I’ve logged in this repetitive circle, this endless loop of pain and lactic acid that enclose my hundreds of intervals. I fix my eyes upon the solitary tree at the 200m mark, the tree that has unflinchingly observed my progress over the last four years. It’s barren now, the result of cyclical rhythms and seasons that engross all natural life. Do trees treat the seasons like endless 400m repeats? Is every season another 100m on the track? The trees must be kicking through their last reserves of energy as winter begins. Then I make a left turn and the solitary tree recedes into the background.

Tuesday, flagging souls beware; rain erupts from the sky. We’d been blessed with unusually decent weather for the start of winter track. The rain soaks through my paltry jacket and my feet grow numb as I splash through oversized puddles. When the run ends, Ross remarks on the physical pointlessness we have just endured. For him, the run provided few tangible benefits. Ennui. Oh well, there’s nothing we can do about now, as the water seeps onto the gym floor while we complete the final set of burpees that Coach M has assigned us.

Wednesday, threshold on the Pump. We’re back to the Wednesday threshold routine, a pattern that was established before I arrived at Hackley, and will doubtlessly continue into the distant future. If I ever run for another team or running group and they tell me they only do tempo runs on Saturdays, it’ll take me some time to get used to the new weekday. Wednesdays=threshold, it’s simple, elegant, and only natural. It’s funny how people’s conception of aesthetic pleasure is reliant on past experience.

Winter Track Meet #1 (Return)

It’s the little things that get to me. I’m bothered by the orange heaters from the 1970s that blast hot air in the upper levels of the Armory. I’m bothered by the two water fountains that serve every athlete looking for a drink on the track-level floor, water fountains that lack any functionality for water bottles and tired teenagers. I’m bothered by the crappy dance music that blares from the speakers, creating a droning wave of irritation that tests the bounds of my patience.

But honestly, these minor thoughts fade into the background of the experience. Weekday Ivy Prep League Development Meets are characterized by space and open zones of seating and floor space that allow for a good level of comfort. Waiting constitutes the majority of time spent at any track meet, indoor or outdoor, making comfortable places to wait and converse with friends a necessity. Unfortunately, when its raining, or when the Armory is packed to the brim with people, the waiting becomes more of a Waiting For Godot-situation. The 1600m at Bishop Loughlin, like Godot, will never arrive, but the sensation of waiting becomes far more difficult when one waits in discomfort.

However, sitting around with your friends and chatting while time aimlessly passes is not a difficult situation. Low-stakes racing does not wear on anyone’s nerves, and the mood is cheerful and lighthearted. Sure, winter track is not ideal, and I’d honestly rather be outside racing in the cold than indoors, but the Ivy Development Meets are manageable. Getting home at 9:30 PM and staring at piles of work on my desk is miserable, but realistically I’d be procrastinating until 8:00 PM anyway so losing 90 minutes isn’t so bad.

I didn’t race too well, but the results of the meet will recede into my memory like bad pop music. I have distinct memories of washing out the bad pop music on the bus ride home during sophomore year by blasting music on my headphones; the first time I listened to OK Computer by Radiohead was on the way back from an freshman year Ivy Development meet. And those times, somehow, seemed much worse than now, with a paucity of hope and a longing for freedom. OK Computer is a depressing, postmodern soundscape for the unfulfilled promises of the late 1990s. Winter track has evolved into something different, such that the album that I would listen to in response to yesterday’s meet would be Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend, a decidedly more cheerful work of music, ignoring the sadder bits of “Hannah Hunt” and “Hudson”, of course.

When presidents come up for reelection, they always ask: “are you better off now than you were four years ago?”. My answer, as seen in the uptick in cheerfulness of my musical choices, is yes, I am better off. Winter track, as a whole, is in a better place, now that we have simple things like a coach, a proper team, and a workout plan. My pet peeves of the Armory may never change, but when everything around the Armory has improved dramatically, the annoyances are lessened in value.

If you’re looking for more negatives, just wait until Bishop Loughlin in two weeks.