If you love me then let me go: The Death of a Passion

The first reality of being an avid sports fan is you don’t so much pick your teams, they pick you. There’s a moment where your passion is materialized and you get the bug. You are made for life. I can tell you my moments for each of my other sports teams. My two most steadfast, the Islanders and Dolphins, both involved beloved veterans near the end of their run (Mssrs Vanbiesbrouck and Marino respectively) relying on guile more than ‘stuff.’ Guile was the Bravos game, wasn’t it? Some top shelf phenomenal pitching (but seldom gas, just actual PITCHING craftsmanship) from Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and the fourth ‘ace’ (Avery then Neagle, then Millwood).

The Braves were built on pitching to the park and the fielders who occupied it. And man, did they have some great ones. Blauser, Lemke, Chipper at the hot corner, and the kid from Curacao patrolling center. This was what I was ‘born’ into. A team that would get em over and get em in at the plate with the occasional MAMMO jack into the cheapseats of the Launching Pad. And in the field? That craftsmanship again. Manufacturing outs, pitching to defense and letting the guys with the leather do their jobs. There was the steady backstop, number 8, then number 16 who was the final line protecting the dish. The corner OFers had cannons over the years. Gant. Jordan. Francoeur had a goddamn WMD for an arm (still does). They were ENTERTAINING.

I thought for a long time Andruw Jones was the best defensive player I’d ever see. He was so gifted. 25 played a shallow center, DARING you to hit it over his head. And if you did? he’d get on his horse and go get it. It’s hard to feel bad for Braves fans of my generation. We got our precious team validating World Championship. We got to watch 5 (I do believe Andruw eventually gets in, 10 gold Gloves does that) Hall of Famers. We got to make the whole country Braves Country via the Superstation. But see, that’s the thing.
We were born into this.

This isn’t a case of being unable to tolerate losing (as I wouldn’t still be here or root for my aforementioned NHL/NFL circuses). This is a case of expectation and breached trust. I suppose in many ways this was inevitable when Ted Turner sold the team. The games stopped being on TBS for the masses. Bobby retired and gave the keys to Fredi, his trusted lieutenant (the problem being Gonzalez was a far better Grunt than a General). And the first generation that succeeded ‘the streak’ petered out (exacerbated by rash bad Wren decisions like the Texieria trade and the mismanagement of young assets Jurrjens and Minor and Medlen and Hansen, RIP Tommy) , McCann was their flag bearer, and we were told it was time to cut bait on this beloved franchise cornerstone. He was going to cash out to the AL and we had capable players like the mythical white bear Evan Gattis to take his place behind the dish… so we let Mac go. And it hurt. And we let Hudson go, because the kids were ready to take his place. And it hurt.

Then we turned around, and this bloated team that wasn’t young but was still a 90 win squad decided to shed payroll, to be used to lock up its core. This was great. This was what needed to be done to ensure the next generation of Braves Baseball played the Braves Way.

It was announced that in 2017 the Braves would be moving to Cobb, abandoning the Ted, which was across the parking lot from Fulton County, their home since Milwaukee. They were moving further away from mass transit and out of a stadium that hadn’t even turned 20 at the time of the announcement. It was unprecedented. However, to show their commitment to perennial contention, and the “Braves Way” several homegrown talents were positioned as the faces of the franchise to steer the ship into new times. Teheran, Simmons, Freeman, Kimbrel, Heyward, Wood and Gattis were that core.

Were. As in no longer are.

The onlypure power bat who couldn’t flash leather, Gattis went to Houston to clear the way for Bettancourt (who outright sucks) a mere 18 months after Mac was jettisoned to clear the way for Gattis. Heyward, arguably a top 5 outfielder in baseball, was shipped to HATED St. Louis, for a solid if unspectacular number 2 pitcher in Shelby Miller. Kimbrel (THE BEST CLOSER TODAY, PERIOD.) was sent to San Diego to allow us out of Upton number 2’s contract months after we sent Upton number 1’s contract there, one of the most entertaining players in franchise history and the only guy currently in the MLB with a shot at Rivera’s all times saves record, ditched in a straight salary dump. That too, was heartbreaking. Wood went as a throw in to shed salary and acquire A THIRTY YEAR OLD PROSPECT for a rebuilding team, which still makes no sense.
Teheran is having control issues and looks destined to go the way of Kerry Lightenberg. Freeman, brave bucko that he is, is suffering from a variety of maladies from carrying the entire damn franchise with nothing resembling protection anywhere around him. He will still get 50 RBI against the Mets Phils and Nats alone out of pure hatred.

At least we have Simba. Andrelton Simmons, the only Atlanta defender I’ve ever seen in my life who outclasses Andruw Jones. The best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith. Platinum Gloves, Gold Gloves, Defensive Player of the Year, he’s won all these accolades and more. Sports is entertainment, and at least we have the best damn glove in the business to WOW you once or twice a game and he’s young (26), entering his prime, and under a nice team friendly contract for 4 more years. At least we have that guy!

Had. As in no longer have.

No more. Last night, the defensive stalwart was sent to the Halos for a pair of young arms and a middling spot holding replacement at short. Another cap dump. These are the Atlanta Braves. THE DEFINITIVE SPORTS TEAM of an entire region. The Slide. Tommy Gun. The Professor. Chief Justice. Crime Dog. Big Cat. The Jones Boys. The Streak. Consistent excellence… reduced into a Marlins-esque firesale after signing a bunch of contracts to justify a new taxpayer funded stadium.
At least the Marlins had the decency to WAIT until the season opened to shed that payroll they used to dupe the public. The Braves began unloading once the shovel hit the dirt. Figuratively and literally, they are still digging.

I’m not going to let this team that I LOVE ruin my love of baseball. I’m cashing out. Heading up 95 to Baltimore, Jack. At least I can catch a game on a day trip. It hurts to turn my back on literally the ONLY team that’s ever given me a championship in my time as a fan. It really does. But if it was reprehensible when the Marlins did it? It’s worse when we did it after chastising them for it. It’s gross. Keep your bargain basement payroll and your shiny new taxpayer boondoggle stadium that nobody can get to.

Good luck to those of you still fighting the good fight (and to Freddie Freeman, who may be traded to a team that wants to win for a pitcher coming off Tommy John any second now). Thanks for the memories, Bravos. Let’s go O’s.

A Delicious Hell

I don’t think that people who haven’t undertaken distance running understand what a marathon entails. They don’t mean to be dismissive, but they just don’t get it. There is so much involved. You have to train for six months, even if your body is accustom to absurd distance, to be ready for one day of racing. Recovery will be needed, to what degree is never certain. You just don’t know until you are out there what 26.2 miles has in store for you.  The human body isn’t meant to rack up that kind of mileage in a day, that is why less than 1% of the United States has completed a Marathon. It isn’t easy, or everyone would do it. And yes, Runners want to talk about it afterwards and then begin feverishly planning to dismantle themselves on another course. Why? Musicians make music and talk music. Artisans make Art and talk shop to one another. Fisherman live and breathe fishing. Runners live in the glory of their most recent race and then move on to their next one. Unlike the aforementioned trades, most of us aren’t paid to run. We do it socially, we do it for fun. Why? Because it is our passion.

Inclines, declines, potholes, sidewalks, everything becomes a potential hazard. That’s what makes the race so alluring. So much can go wrong. So much planning and you need to run a perfect race. 33,000 steps, and each one is a potential landmine that can derail you.  I know the one that changed my race yesterday.

I was ticking off 5K segments at approximately a NICE 33 minute clip. Right where I wanted to be through 20K. I approached the Queensboro bridge and decided to veer towards the toilets before getting on the bridge. A gentleman graciously held the door for me and not wanting to keep him waiting, I pushed towards the portajohn. The sidewalk before the bridge is at a bit of an angle so my stride was thrown off, then I badly stubbed my left foot on the lip of the portajohn and basically landed with a hard thud. Though the injury to my hoof wasn’t as severe as I thought (just a bad bruise), I had no way of knowing that at the time, and the body moves to protect an injury. I began even subconsciously shifting my weight to compensate, and though I was strong to mile 16, my right foot eventually became blister ridden from carrying the full brunt of my weight. I was now in dire need of a break and a clean toilet to handle a more pressing situation. I was in agony, but I knew if I got to mile 20, there was a clean toilet that few knew about. Working for Parks does have it’s perks. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. I limped in, but I wasn’t able to handle the business I needed to for a infuriating long time. You see, I didn’t plan on being on the course tis long, so I noshed down a banana just before the race to block myself up.  This of course, became a bigger issue as I labored through this injury out there. I regretted that decision. Eventually, I got going again, and when I finally hit Central Park I was on fire. My finishing kick was a sight to behold, and getting handed a medal by a good friend at the Finish made everything wroth it.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. There are adjustments to make in the plan and the execution. I didn’t get the PR I wanted, and really ended up not being close after the injury, but I found something more important. Reserves of willpower and resolve I wasn’t sure existed. I’m proud of that race.

The 13 miles in Brooklyn is magical. Queens brought a surprising energy, and the Bronx was very fired up even late in the day. That jaunt down 5th avenue to close her out must be experienced. Congrats to everyone who undertook that challenge yesterday, no matter your result, and anyone thinking about taking that challenge? To be able to answer it is a gift. Do so, and it’ll change your opinion of yourself for the rest of your life.

The Gift

Tomorrow is Christmas.

6 months of grinding for this.

I could not ask to be healthier. I’m a little over my race weight, but that’s how it goes with taper time.

Otherwise, I’m at my peak.

I’ve got a battle plan.

Miles 1-12 will be setting the table. Calculated, deliberate, and well paced.

I will own miles 13-20. I intend to dominate that stretch.

Miles 20-26 are always the test, aren’t they?

As for that last .2? I’ll take my finishing kick against ANYONE else in the field, even the elites. When I see that finish line, I fly. I’m coming for it.

Why do this? It’s simple really. Not everyone can. It’s a testament to my training and my support network. Thank you all of you for both pushing me and propping me up.

To run 26 miles is punishment to some. to be ABLE to do it, to me? That’s the gift.

As the great Prefontaine said, to give anything less than your best is to squander the gift.

Tomorrow, I get the gift of the ultimate challenge from the ultimate course, and unto it i bestow the ultimate gift: an honest effort.

See you out there.

sometimes it is kill or be killed.

i thought long and hard about penning this post. y’see, it involves a lot of admissions i had to make peace with and analyze before i could begin to impart said realizations on y’all.

I sit here typing this hammering away on the bike in PlanetFitness after another lunch time swim and… by job, I think I finally get it.

It isn’t supposed to be easy. Getting in shape is a payment for services already rendered. It’s atonement for sins long since forgotten. Old accounts that should have been settled long ago coming due with crippling interest.

This isn’t just about me. It’s about you, too. It’s about getting sick and deciding to get better.

i wasn’t a fan of diets. i was a switch rn wnemy or the meathead breeding ground that was a gym. I was, y’see, better than that. i was naturally rail thin. As a sophmore in highschool, I weighed 73lbs. I was a wrestler, so there was a wirey strength that my brain thought could cash the checks my mouth wrote. I was in short, a complete asshole.

Not the charming sorta asshole you see before you today, but a fucking douchelord. Diet was for the heavyweights, i didnt need to work to make weight. i was fast, i didnt need to work on my speed.

Eventually, we all get caught. i was caught by comfort and complacency. in college, for the first time in my life from age 7!, i wasnt on a team. The competitive fire that was my drug of choice went out beneath years of neglect. my metabolism slowed and my appetite didn’t. Just a few months before my 30th birthday, i threw out my back as i shifted my weight in a seat. I suffered one of the most painful and humiliating injuries of my life sitting in a fucking chair.

Vinny version one was given by god / dog / Flying Spaghetti Monster/ parental dna contributions.

That 70 pound firecrackimg waif gave way to a 245lb sloth born of nothin ng bit neglect, and perhaps deep seeded physiological guilt over being a closeted gay teen in a catholic all boys high school and then coming home to a very conservative home.

Thats not to say that the deterioration and of my physique had anything to do with my upbrnging. Nope. I merely pointed that out to illustrate something: a myriad of my friends said fat vinny was more jolly than skinny vinny. That is called a front… facade… illusion. People that are hurting do that. Even friends or family who trust you with everything may be withholding that hurt from you for any number of reasons. Never judge a book by it’s cover.

Conversely, you can’t equate physical fitness with happiness. You need ot make peace with who you are before you can figure out who the optimized version of you is. It may have nothing to do with weight loss. That was my cross to bear.

And bear it I did with a fake smile until my back gave out and my soctor told me “you are 5’6. Your back gave out because you are too fat for your frame.”

Sometimes, you need to be told bluntly. Reality check, mic drop.

That was the moment of clarity. And from that moment on, i set about putting all the ducks in a row. my mental health needed to get fixed first. People that were always wondering why i never had a girl friend needed that get educated. Some left, most grew understanding. Either way i was in encumbered and better for it. i decided to go back to school and stimulate my brain and apply for a slew of promotions to challenge myself professionally. Now that my mind was engaged, i set about rebuilding my body.

I sit here typing this, working that bike. Every ounce of muscle I have, i have earned. i earned every ounce of fat too. There came a time to balance that ledger. It is still not balanced, and wont be for another roughly 20lbs. But changes were made that day since that fateful injury and subsequent doctoral advice. Changes that included becoming a gym goer, knowing and learning about everything i eat, and running. lots of freaking running.

It is cliché but that doesn’t mean it’s less true: every journey needs tow things: One is a map.

That other essential ingredient in any journey worth taking is a first step. Nobody can undertake that for you, folks. You need to stare down every demon in the darkest recesses of your mind that screams “You can’t” and sternly insist “I can.” And once you have a modicum of progress? That hesitant but hopeful “I can” begets a stern “I will” from the pit of your stomach. Eventually, doubt will reassert itself, with a mocking “Then, Why haven’t you yet?” and a now sage travaler can reply with those sweet words of one of my childhoods favorite bands, the immortal queefcore icons, MatchboxTwenty, “let’s see how far we’ve come.”

That is a backbreaker… for your doubt. run far, run fast, run free.

Now that I’ve told you about my journey, next time i’ll give you my roadmap.

Brooklyn Marathon: Recap and Reflections

If running were a college class, this was my capstone. 26.2 miles. Looking at that number it seems ridiculous. Thinking back to it, it seems less ridiculous. I had logged 23 miles in  a day since I can’t count, but that was spaced over 2 runs that day, but eh. I was never a logical thinker.

I had 3 goals.

1) FINISH. I wanted this one, and a DNF wasn’t an option. At all. And I needed and knew I would beat the 6 hour cut off.

2) Dont shit myself. I’d seen this happen FAR TOO OFTEN working the Finish of the NYC marathon. I determined this was unacceptable.

3) If I checked off Goal 1 and 2? Gun for under 5 hours.

My attack plan was simple. Get good and loose, and build slowly. Gradually build to my best miles, and throw them down between miles 13 and 21, then grind to the finish.

A calm, controlled start would be key. And seconds in, it was clear that wouldn’t happen.

I felt TOO good while warming up. I was geeked up, but I was trying to stay within myself. I was bouncing around, hoping in vain to keep it reigned in at the start.

That plan was dead on arrival. The National Anthem was MAGNIFICENT, and it segued directly in to NO SLEEP TIL BROOKLYN and the crowd and the runners were singing along in the starting paddock and that as they say was that.

I threw down 9 pretty solid miles before I realized what I was doing, and then faced with the reality that I had just blew my strategy, I figured I’d press the ‘advantage’ and go as hard as I could and hope the reserves of determination to see this thing to the end would carry me through.

The revised plan was relying on hope. Hope isnt a strategy, as my left calf reminded me in mile 12.

Even though I’ve shed 50 pounds, I still need to drop another 20ish to be at the race weight I want. I was really wishing I had time to lose that 20 pounds as morning crept towards afternoon and I was still laboring. each lap was a 5k. and I was just mentally checking off the distance. Every 2 or 3 miles, I’d pull up and stretch out my calf. I stuck to my fuel and hydration targets, and when I got to mile 19 or 20, I KNEW I was finishing. Mile 23 was the last climb up Battle Pass, and when I broke it, I knew I was home. However, the 6th time up that hill took the last vestiges of what I had.

The remaining 3.5 miles were pure unadulterated hell. I’m accustomed to finishing strong. That wasn’t the case here. I was physically beaten. I kept turning over the engine and nothing would happen. I’d be able to almost… ALMOST get back up to my racing speed… and then the calf would lock back up again after maybe a half mile. The last 3.5 miles took 48:08. I was dead. Utterly dead. Compare that with my best race day miles which were sub 9:30, and you can see how bad the drop off was.

That said, I took off like I had a rocket up my ass when I saw that finish line.

Maybe it was the promised donuts and hot chocolate? :)

Anyhow, there were several takeaways:

I trained like this like I’ve never trained before. I followed a plan. I tapered. I did everything by the book for the most part.

There’s more training refinements to make though, more speedwork, more hill repeats.

Sticking to a damn race strategy would be nice too. Maybe a flatter course?

The training was way more intensive and longer than I anticipated, as was the recovery. I was completely dead for 3 days, I finally felt like myself his evening.

that said, the biggest takeaway was: i can handle 26.2 miles in under 5 hours. Big CHECK to all 3 goals :)

The outpouring of support and helpful advice was amazing, as were the heartfelt congratulations from friends, treasured running peers, and family. I was moved to tears more than once.

Now to get faster, stronger, and BETTER, and do it again.

the 2015 race calendar!

So, I’ll have a post up on my thoughts on my first marathon tonight, but this is easier so here!

My 2014 closes with a 5m turkey trot on Turkey day and a 5k on NYE because I LOVE HOLIDAY RACES.

Here’s what I have for 2015!

1/24 Brrr-ooklyn Half
2/22 Central Park Half
3/15 NYC Half
4/15ish CPF Run For Parks
5/3 LI Half
5/15ish Brooklyn Half
6/22ish Qns 10k
6/28ish FRNY Pride Run
6/29ish Take Your Base 5k
8/15ish Keith Ferguson 5k
9/28ish Bronx 10miler

That’s a LOT of Halfs… and I finish the 5 borough series, so :D  October will be another half for fun.

November will be the Marathon, but will it be Chicago… New York… or ELSEWHERE?


Running Tips, Goals!, Race Recaps / 3 Ain’t Enough, I need 5.

You are a runner. If you put one foot in front of the other for time distance or just general well being, you are a runner. Let no one dissuade you from that fact.

There comes a point where, with anything you do, if you take any semblance of pride in it, through sheer repetition, you progress.

You are a runner the moment you decide to run. This week, I became a Runner. To me, there’s a distinction. I owe almost all of my progress to my friends who have pushed and prodded and raised expectations. I owe a lot to myself for demanding more of myself. I felt it when I was killing it, but I knew things had changed when people in the corral were asking my fat ass for advice!

I began this journey as some of you know when I leaned forward awkwardly in a chair and the 235 lbs of mass on my 5’6 frame tore a muscle in my back. When I began, I could not run a half mile without stopping. This past weekend, 19 months later I checked in at 197 lbs and ran the entirety of 13.1 miles (with the exception of the water stations because frankly, I cannot run and drink without choking like a buffoon). I am proud of my weight-loss and my speed increases. I can take pride in my nearly 40 lbs down. I take pride in a sub 8:00 mile. I have had to redefine my goals. Constantly. That’s the only way you improve.

Part of progressing is changing your routine. Part of it is increasing your familiarity with both technique and technology.

As my training has gotten more serious, my cache of gear I call upon has increased. I’m going to bullet point  a few tips I’ve amassed here, feel free to critique. It’s an evolving thought process and it’s all about learning through trial and error for me.

  1. Upgrade your armor – One of my favorite superheroes is Iron Man. Tony Stark is always tinkering with his gear, outfitting it for different mission requirements. You should do the same. I have 4! Pairs of running shoes I work in to a rotation. I have calf sleeves, arm sleeves, camelbaks, fuel belts, arm pouches and so on. Depending on your distance, or your objective, you may need to tweak your load out, just like you would in call of duty. Know what you need pre-, during, and post-.
  2. hydrate – nothing cute here. Hydration isn’t a race day thing. It’s an all the time thing. Week of, Month of… you need to be hydrated or you are toast.
  3. Sleep is your Lazarus pit – Know your body. You will need rest. Get your sufficient compliment of rest. Runners need more rest than most.
  4. Schedule – this pains me the most. I am a dog chasing a car. But strategy to your training, and a plan, is key if you want to improve.
  5. Bear Down – Cross-training is great. It’s wonderful to stay fit. However, when it gets to race season, have a goal and hunker down. You don’t want to get hurt dicking around at the gym a few weeks before you run your target event.
  6. Cross train! – yes, it completely contradicts 5. But when you aren’t bearing down on an imminent race? Give your knees and ankles a break. Swim. Bike. Climb. Lift things up and put them down!
  7. Goals – That’s what’ll drive you. Find a target. Set a parameter for it, and move towards it. If completed, set the next goal. If you fall short., evaluate what needs tweaking and double down.
  8. Be Flexible – some days, running conditions will suck. Some days, your body will suck. Don’t be afraid to tweak as needed.
  9. Eat Right – Nutrition is part of the deal. It’s all bullshit if you don’t clean up your diet to some extent.
  10. Learn from your success and your missteps – I don’t like the term failure. You aren’t competing in the Olympics or heads up vs the elites. You are competing with yourself. In my case? I’m outrunning who I became and chasing who I was. That’s all. Some days you make more progress than others, but learn from everything.

That’s all I have for tips. When I began this, I wanted to run a 5k. I would never want to run a Half Marathon. I ran that 5k, then a 5miler, then a 10k, then a 10miler, then my first half. Then another. Then my first weekend set of back to back races. Then I ran my third half this past week and have my fourth looming in a few days. 2 Halfs in 6 days.

This week was about leveling up and seeing what I’m capable of. I wanted to run a PR in a Half. I PRed by nearly 40 minutes, at 2:16:08. This week, we’ll go harder, knowing I don’t to need anything in reserve for a race the following week. I want sub 2:10. I’m building towards a Sub 2:00, eventually. I went out Tuesday night and notched another goal: A sub 30 minute 5k. Not official, watch timed, mind you, but I’ve transitioned from hope to belief.

In November I tame my first marathon. I will run more. I will run my hometown race, one of the most prestigious in the world, the NYC Marathon, when I have a shot at a sub 4:00. Until then, I warm to the task.

My goals as they stand now:

  • A sub 30 5k in a race.
  • A sub 2 hour half.
  • Completing my first marathon then putting myself in position for a solid NYC Marathon eventually.

To that end, my race calendar for the last quarter of the year has been hectic. 5 events in 3 months to celebrate 31!

Where I’ve been and where I’m going:

October 5th: City Challenge fun obstacle course. Been working a lot on endurance and flexibility via DDP Yoga and some of the November Project Family’s tips and it’s coming home to roost. Next year I hope to nail all the elements and be ready for a tough mudder. Clocked in around 47 minutes. The rope climbs required me dealing with heights, the wall climbs required me to use my ass to smack into the wall and coerce myself over with toosh momentum. The kettlebell swing was no thing thanks to Ms. Denver there and there was similar ease for the sandbag and water jug carries. The bear crawl was stupid. Im a badger, not a bear.

October 12th: PRd a half, STATEN ISLAND! 2:16:08. I was 2 seconds off an even split.  Basically murdered this race and got over being a drama queen about my results being initially lost by NYRR (then recovered!).

October 18th: THE BALTIMORE HALF. Yayyyyy.

November 16th: the Brooklyn Marathon. Oh God.

November 27th: prospect Park Turkey Trot.

Bonus, Desert for a great year of running: December 31st: New Year’s Eve 5k.

Three wasn’t enough, I needed 5. Catch ya next time.