Running on empty – week 1

Less than 100 days left till the NYC marathon!

Heat and rain best describes the weather during this past week in NYC. But rain or shine, freezing or heat wave; the training must go on. Its been a bit more than a week since my Ramadan fasting has begun. The most challenging part would be the lack of sleep due to waking up before sunrise (3:45am) everyday. About 16 hours later (around 7:30am), I go out for a run “on empty”. By this point in the marathon training, I should be running 6-7 miles 3x per week excluding the long run on the weekends. I thought about it; could I run 6-7 miles after 16 hours of no food or water 3x per week. It may be possible without passing out in the street; there’s only one way to find out.

I performed some experiments last week and used myself as the guinea pig. The goal for the week was to run a 5K and not feel like dying from the lack of fuel/energy. The long-term goal is to run a 10K such that, I can resume the expected mileage while fasting. The results are in for week 1:

Tuesday: 2.30 miles @ 9:26 min/mile pace. Eh, could be worse. I was determined to run the 5K on Wednesday after finishing this.

Wednesday: 2.86 miles @ 9:04 min/mile pace. Now we are talking, any pace less than 9:15 is pleasing to me.  Technically, I didn’t run a 5K yet. Thursday must be the day. I’ll just extend the current route by taking a detour.

Thursday: 3.23 miles @ 9.27 min/mile pace, in a rainstorm. Stupid with their 40% chance of rain estimate. I took my chances. I took a detour but ended up somewhere unfamiliar. The wind started to blow, the clouds got darker, the first drops hit my face, and 1.5 miles left to go. With half a mile left, I almost escaped it, but nature won. The skies poured a lakes worth of rain on me. But who cares! I ran a 5K, mission complete! And 10 miles for the week too!

Saturday: 13 miles @ approximately 9 min/mile pace. 2 laps around central park. I don’t fast on Saturdays which makes a long run possible. But man, it was such a nasty morning in central park, 86% humidity. I can’t wait for that cool weather again.

Marathon Training and Ramadan fasting

Well here is something you don’t encounter every day, is there anyone going through something similar? Islamic marathon training, is there such a thing? Currently, my marathon schedule has me running around 4 times per week; 15-20 miles during the week, and 13+ miles for the long run on the weekend. So, Monday/Tuesday/Thursday would be 6-7 miles each, and a long run on Saturday/Sunday morning. Within the past few weeks, the training has been going smoothly and I’m feeling a little stronger/faster everyday (on average). Its been a hot summer so far. Running in the heat and humidity requires more hydration. Imagine running during these hot days without water or food. Well, I can share my experience.

I converted to Islam back in 2000, when the Ramadan (the lunar month of fasting) was in early winter. I’ll explain. The Islamic year is about 2 weeks shorter than our 365-day year. Every Islamic month is a lunar cycle; about 29 days. So every year, Ramadan shifts back by 2 weeks. Currently, July 20-August 19 is the Ramadan month. As a muslim, I must fast everyday during this month. What does this require? There is no eating or drinking anything for as long as the sun is up. Currently, the NYC summer has 16 hours of sunlight. As of now, the fasting is from 4:15am – 8:20pm (give or take 5-15 minutes due to the dynamics of the sun and earth throughout month). Typically, you wake up before 4am to feast and store food as well as guzzle a few cups of water to get through the next 16 hours. Many go back to sleep or take a nap during the day, but I just stay up, go to work, like any ordinary day. When sunset finally comes, you can break your fast (you have no idea how good that first glass of water feels). Now recall that the summer has 16 hour days, well that leaves 8 hours to eat and sleep. A 6 hour straight sleep is perhaps the most you can get. Having said all this, how am I supposed to run?! If the training is paused for the entire month, will this complicate things? How to proceed?

The Ramadan sunset 5k:
Running at 4:30am right after stuffing my face without being able to hydrate afterwards is not going to work out. Running at 8:30pm right after stuffing my face after a long 18 hour day is not going to work out either. That leaves one option; run right before sunset. Is it possible? Hell yes, for at least for 20 minutes. How did it feel? Although I felt thirstier than usual (obviously), I did feel lighter (no food to digest) and therefore a bit faster. But sadly, you burnout much quicker, every mile feels like 3. Could I run a 5K, 10K? I plan to figure that out this month. Ideally, I’d like to run 3 10Ks per week. But there is no avoiding the long runs on the weekends. For everyday you don’t fast, you have to make up that day. So it looks like I’ll have to make up for 5 Saturdays (its dangerous to attempt a 13+ mile run without food or water during this hot summer). So yesterday, I went out for a Ramadan sunset jog, like a little more than 2 miles. Success! Next week I’ll experiment with attempting a whole 5K.

July 21st
8 miles @ 8.48 min/mile pace in Central park with the wolf pack. It’s easy to conclude that I run faster with a group or even a race, but certainly not alone. I can’t bear the shame of being left behind by the wolf pack. It would be ideal to maintain that pace throughout the NYC marathon. The difference between 9 min/mile and 10 min/mile is a 4 hour marathon and 4.5 hour marathon; 30 minutes.

Training is tough, fasting is tough, work is tough, life is tough, but I’m going to stick to my 2012 motto: There are no excuses, let’s go!

Heat waves, bridges, and TFK elite

Ok, the number of posts are not weekly as they should be, I’ll work on that from now on.

July 7:

95+ degree day in the city, and the TFK meeting spot was in Cadman Plaza Brooklyn at 7:30am sharp. Coming from Queens, this was an hour train ride, guess who woke up at 5:30am. Waking up before 8am on Mon-Fri is challenging enough, I must really be a running freak now. So I get there 5 minutes late, almost missed the warmup stretches, then decide to run with the intermediate group. The groups are assigned by pace, so it would be a nice 9:30-10:00 min/mile pace for 9 miles with the intermediate group; the advanced guys were running a 8:30-7:45 (not for me). The route: Epicness, cross Brooklyn bridge, make a left through Chinatown, cross Manhattan bridge, then back to Cadman Plaza, 2x. The first 4.5 mile loop was great, no leg pain, no fatigue, great views, and the sun was not blazing yet. I ran right beside the coach leader throughout the second loop and started to chit chat with some joggers, which helped take the mind off things for a while. The sun started to blaze, but no problem, got to the end, and TFK had a barrel of gatorade for everyone! Someone calls out, who wants to do 3 more! My hand goes up and my mind still did not agree, but whatever. Off we go to yet another scenic route; Brooklyn Bridge park. All the runners are feeling it by now; the heat. Everyone is chatting until we reach this mega hill which knocked out 75% of the pack. I made it to the top but had to rest for 10 seconds, whew. Then back to Cadman for some stretches and planking (doing reps of these for a minute each is killer after a run).

July 10:
After a 2-day break, it was time to get back out there and “build the machine”. Just another Forest Park 10k. I’m feeling strong and aim for less than a 9:00 min/mile pace. After running strong and pushing it for the last 2 miles, 9:34, crap. Well, it could’ve been worse.

July 12:
After the previous night’s kung-fu workout, my muscles were quite tired but there are no excuses, must run. I take the Corona/Flushing 10k route (not as hilly) and start feeling the leg pain immediately at mile 1, so this was my “recovery” run for the week.

July 14:

72nd street Riverside park (West-side) at 7:30 AM. The route: to George Washington bridge and back. I got there 10 minutes late, so I missed the group assigments. It turns out that I just signed up for 13 miles with the elite group, all the other groups already left and ran ahead. I’m in trouble now, there is no choice but to run with these guys (half of which have done a marathon already, and the coach leader is an ultra-marathoner). The pace was to be 9:00 min/mile and getting faster every few miles. Whoa, I never train this way, I always get slower as the miles go on, lol. Off we go into morning sun with the wonderful Hudson river to our left. We pass the beginner group, then the intermediate group, I can’t believe I’m keeping up thus far. We touch the GW bridge and stop at the water fountain for a quick break. Back to the start point now. Crap, are we going faster, why is it so hard to run, why am I getting tired? The coach asks, what’s our pace? Someone says 8:20. Then its 8 flat by mile 10. I’m too winded to chit-chat with anyone, damn, I’m falling behind, falling, falling, noooooooo. The pack is 10 seconds in front of me now, 20 seconds, 30… Just when I thought I had it in me, that I was elite, too good to be true at this point. There was a mini-loop toward the end so the elite pack ran past me and waved to motivate me. I felt like a loser, but that only awakens the rage, and the new challenge is on. Next week, I’m running with the elite group again for sure! I can do this. Its time to step my game up.


Lost on the path

Busy, lazy, occupied, forgetful, the heat, who knows? Thoughts… they accompany me throughout those long run sessions. Thoughts of marathon day, memories of past races, memories of past anything, possible futures, the what-ifs, the imagine-thats, and other things. Other thoughts just speak louder lately: not good enough, not fast enough, not strong enough, not enough. This is supposed to happen isn’t it; a down for every up, a yang for a yin. I knew this wouldn’t be easy and you can’t win them all. Perhaps this is the low point.

Today was the slowest 10k mid-week run ever, and I had to watch slow joggers run past me (torture), as if my legs belonged to a cripple; not my own. I have to see a specialist quick, the pain prevents me to go any faster than turtle speed currently. Although the heat was mid 90s for a week now, that doesn’t stop me. But for the first time, there is something seriously blocking the “JC_path_to_marathon”. What if I have to give up running for a month to recover, or 2 months? How will I get back on track after such a long break and after investing so much time and effort? Just as always, if I can run at all, then I’ll try. 

Also today, my grandma passed away, my father’s mother. I’ve seen her about 3 times during my youth; she lived to be 96. I don’t know what to feel, it is still sad even if you barely know the person. I imagined what my father might be thinking, or what his childhood was like with her, who was she, my grandma. I know she was loved by many, and lived a long life with her husband (100 years old now, born before world war 1). They were married for 75 years; many people don’t even live that long. I wonder where her spirit goes, where we all go, and where we came from prior to day zero. What does it feel like to separate from your body for good? I was also thinking about how my father, brother and I are the last to carry the family name. How long will they live, how long will I?

So, do we all meet again in the after life? Will we be able to find people we once knew here on Earth as humans? Who knows, God knows, and we do not. So many questions remain unanswered until we die and finally find out. I’m one of those people who believe in destiny. That all of our future actions are determined, we just need to live it out. Whether there is a good reason or no reason for things to happen, they happen. You just have to apply my #1 motto: accept don’t expect. Its been working for me thus far (not being able to finish a marathon will be so hard to accept if it comes to it). I’m also one of those people who believe in dreams, that they are more than just random thoughts that your brain attempts to make sense of. As if they can be something more, like a glimpse into the future, or someone elses past. But they never make sense since they can be quite symbolic, and also hard to recall in general. For some strange reason, I don’t recall any running dreams.

This was such a rambler post, but its all part of the path to the marathon. There will be good days, and bad days, mostly bad days, and some really suck days. But no matter what, you just can’t stop. With no holidays or vacations planned for the rest of the summer, its time to focus and work harder.