A longer than necessary NYC Marathon recap

Last week, I had the privilege of running the streets of New York City with over 50,000 other runners. It wasn’t a perfect race, because that doesn’t exist, but it was certainly a different experience than any other marathon, one where I had to make some decisions I have not previously faced and one where I was able to test my resilience in a new way.

In the weeks approaching New York, I struggled with a lot of doubts. Training through D.C. summer makes it nearly impossible to know what actual shape you’re in, and training through the first few months of a new school year is down right exhausting. I originally had a goal of breaking three hours, but going into the race, I put that goal on hold and vowed to focus on running smart, strong, and having fun.

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New York is unique in that you get on busses to shuttle to the start before the sun comes up, yet you don’t start racing until around 10:00 am or later, depending on your wave. The Boston Marathon is similar, but in my experience, because the shuttle to the start is shorter, I’ve been able to sleep in longer than I did in New York. I knew since I was getting up before 5:00 am but not racing until 9:50, I’d need to focus on getting an adequate amount of calories in before the race. So before catching my Lyft to the midtown library around 5:30, I ate a little bit of oatmeal.

Once I got to the library I jumped in the massive line for the busses. Shockingly, I was able to spot the top knot of my friend (and NPDC co-leader) Maria just ahead. I shouted her name and was lucky to catch up to her and ride the bus together. Having someone to chat with during the two hours it took us to get to the start area in Staten Island was a relief. Not only did it help pass the time a little, but it took my mind off the race and any nerves I had. During the bus ride I ate some more  (a Kind Bar and a Honey Stinger Waffle) and drank Nuun.

We got to athlete’s village (or whatever they called it in NY) just after 8:00 am and went through security. We then went our separate ways to wait for our wave to be called to the corrals. I immediately got in a bathroom line (which was long but nothing like the lines I’ve waited in at Boston or Chicago) and ate a second Honey Stinger while finishing up my Nuun. This was the last I’d planned to eat or drink before the race. By the time I made it in and out, they were beginning to call my wave, so I hopped into my corral and kept my eyes out for another friend I had plans of meeting.

As we began being ushered to the Verrazano Bridge, I ran into Claire. We excitedly shuffled onto the bridge while we caught up and swapped race plans. It was a crowded and overwhelming start, so it was nice to have a friendly face around. Before we knew it, the howitzer fired, we wished each other good luck, and we were off!

The first mile was more crowded than any race I’ve ever run, but I didn’t mind because it kept me from running too fast. I also spent my energy focused on not tripping over the people around me and I honestly didn’t notice we were running up hill at all. My first mile was around 7:30, slower than planned, but that was perfect.

The next 4-5 miles flew by and I felt like I was running downhill for a lot of it. My frozen feet had finally warmed up by mile 3 or so and I was just cruising along. My mile splits were a bit fast, but the effort felt even easier than I wanted it to, so I wasn’t worried. Around mile 6 I caught up to the 3:05 pace group and settled in with them.

Fueling during the marathon has been my weakness since I started running them and I wanted to really focus on getting it right this race. I feel like I nailed my hydration in my last couple marathons, so nailing my fuel was the next step in improving my race and really finishing strong. I decided to take my first Huma gel around mile 7 while I was feeling great and surrounded by a pace group to do the work for me. Between mile 7 and 9 I took most of the gel and kept cruising along. The miles were going by so fast I couldn’t believe that I was already coming up on the half. I knew I was running faster than planned, but I felt like I was jogging, so I figured I was safe.

Around mile 11, my stomach started bothering me and that’s when things took a bit of a turn. I debated for a while, but just before the half I took a quick pit-stop at the porta potty. I’ve never stopped for the bathroom in a race before and I was hesitant, especially when I was running so well, but I made the choice and hoped it wouldn’t ruin everything. To my surprise, my legs felt fine when I started running again and I only lost about 30 seconds on the mile. Unfortunately, I still felt sick and took another stop at the end of mile 14, just before heading over the bridge. I lost a bit more time there, but was still on pace to run under 3:05 if the rest of the race panned out, so I kept pressing.

I got going again and fell right back into the rhythm of low-7’s and my stomach was feeling much better. The dreaded Queensboro Bridge felt like nothing to me and I didn’t slow down at all. I flew off the bridge, taking advantage of the downhill while others hesitantly scooted down. I clocked some of my fastest splits from mile 18 to 20, averaging around 6:50. During those three miles my stomach was feeling fine again and I knew that if I didn’t at least try taking another gel I’d risk bonking, so I took the chance of feeling sick again and took about half a gel during those miles. My stomach quickly turned sour again and at 22 I took another pit stop (which was conveniently timed with an untied shoe) and lost about another minute. Stopping at 22 really had me worried about being able to move my legs and run fast again, but after a few steps they felt fine and I was able to run a decent mile 23.

After the second gel my stomach just didn’t recover and during mile 23, although I maintained a decent pace, I was fighting getting sick. Just past the mile 23 marker, my body took over and I found myself keeled over on the sidewalk, throwing up for about 3 minutes. The crowd and volunteers were amazing, cheering me on and checking to make sure I was alright. A woman handed me a mini-water bottle which I walked with and sipped on for about 30 seconds before getting back into a run headed toward the finish. It crossed my mind to walk jog to the end or to walk to 25 and jog the last mile, but I knew I still had a shot of running a solid time, so I wasn’t ready to give up.

Central Park was amazing and I wish I could have enjoyed it more than I did. I was really freaked out about the hills heading into New York, especially the hills at the end, but those fears were unwarranted. The hills in New York seriously are not as bad as people make them out to be. Honestly, I felt like I was running downhill through most of Central Park. I tried to run hard and kick to the finish but I could only do so much without puking again. I was also in a lot of pain from a nagging little niggle that flared up during the race and caused some compensation during the later miles.

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That last .2

Despite the nauseous feeling I ran with through the park, before I knew it I could see the finish line. Fighting up the hill to the finish, I heard my name and turned to see a friend of mine finishing right beside me. It was pretty amazing that out of over 50,000+ people. we happened to finish side by side! We crossed the finish line and after I spent a little more time emptying the contents of my stomach, he and I waddled through the shoot together and rehashed our races. Just like at the start, it was nice to have a friendly face around.

 

I made it back to where we were staying and spent some time drinking water and resting before hopping into a long and glorious shower. I waited quite a while before finally eating and fortunately, my stomach was ready for food again. The rest of the day was filled with mimosas, pizza, beer, nachos, and friends. It was fantastic. We also went out to the finish around 7:00 pm to cheer on the final finishers, which was incredibly inspiring and made me tear up over and over again ( I later connect the dots that one of the woman I watched finish is a fellow SWAPPER).

I felt better the rest of the day and the following days than I ever have after a marathon and I think that’s in part because I wasn’t truly able to test my fitness. I’m ok with that though. I had so much fun and enjoyed running a beautiful course on the best marathon weather day I’ve ever experienced. I think New York forced me to persevere in a different way than races in the past have which definitely taught me a lot about what I’m actually capable of. A couple of years ago I would have definitely given up on myself, if not at mile 13-14, definitely at mile 24. I have no doubt I would have walked it in and regretted it later. But I didn’t do that because in the past few years, and especially since working with my coach, I’ve learned so much about the marathon and about myself. I know I am capable of so much more than I think I am every time I’m out there.

I didn’t leave NYC with a shiny new PR, but I did run my second best time, a time I would have killed for only a year ago, and that’s pretty damn cool. Sure, there’s a level of frustration when I think about what I could have run if I didn’t have stomach problems, but I’m comforted knowing I gave it all I had, I controlled what I could, and my fastest days are still ahead. I am proud of myself, but I am hungry for more.


2018 New York City Marathon

Marathon 9

3:10.34

Empire State of Mind

This time five years ago, I would have been recovering, and beginning to run again, after completing my first marathon, the Corning Wineglass Marathon in October. Those days feel so long ago, but also like just yesterday. Looking back, I am baffled by how far I’ve come.

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During the fall of 2013, I was living in NYC and “training” for my first marathon. A few months prior, I had run my last college track race and with that, I shut the door on my competitive running career. At the time, there was no place in my mind for serious post-collegiate running, and even if there had been, my relationship with running was so broken that I would not have entertained the idea. I had registered for the Wineglass Marathon only to run a race with my mom  and to check “Run a Marathon” off the bucket list.

In the summer leading up to the race, I worked at a summer camp where I was a bunk counselor and running counselor. I spent my days running loop after loop around camp with high school girls who were aiming to stay in shape for their upcoming field hockey or soccer seasons. Since most of those runs were slower than I was used to, in addition, I’d run early in the morning or during my off periods in order to get my “actual” marathon training in (even though I had NO idea how to train for a marathon). I didn’t count much of the running I was doing with the campers toward my mileage, and as a result I was likely, without realizing, putting in the highest mileage of my life. Since my relationship with running, food, and my body was so poor at the time, I wasn’t eating enough, resting enough, or listening to my body either. By August, I had a stress fracture in one of my metatarsals.

Fast forward to fall and few weeks into my time in NYC, I was given the clear to run again. If I remember correctly, I was about 3 weeks out from Wineglass and my long run PR was still just 12.5 miles. In those three weeks, I ran as much as I could around Central Park. I tried forcing fitness I didn’t have and running mileage I wasn’t ready for. It was dumb, painful, and it definitely didn’t make me happy. I absolutely loved running around New York, but I never fully enjoyed it because not a single run was done for the right reasons. Every run was a means to an end. A way to get thinner and be better. Whatever that means.

Finally, race weekend arrived and I took the bus back upstate to meet my mom in Binghamton and then drive to Corning. Don’t ask my mom about that day. She would tell you I was an absolutely miserable person to be around. I was grumpy about running the race, I knew I was unprepared, and the idea of waking up at 5AM to run more than double my longest run ever was daunting at best. But I did it and to my surprise, I finished a little but under four hours. I really can’t remember feeling anything other than tired when I finished, but it was pretty awesome having run the same marathon as my mom. That’s not something most people get to say.

It didn’t happen right away, but not long after crossing the finish line in Corning, I knew I wasn’t ready to put the marathon to rest. I didn’t have any big dreams of being competitive again and I didn’t even want to qualify for Boston yet, but I knew I wanted to race again and that I wanted to go faster. In two weeks I’ll be back in New York for marathon number 9.

I find it fitting that five years later this marathon takes me back to where it all started and in the past few weeks of training I’ve done a lot of reflecting. I didn’t expect running my 9th marathon to feel like some huge milestone, but it kind of does. Five years and 8 marathons ago I was unhappy, and I was struggling with disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with running and myself. I hated the sport I’d once loved and I never thought I’d enjoy it again. I had no clue what my plan was past students teaching and really, I just felt lost.

Since then, so much has changed. It began when I moved the the D.C. area for my first teaching job. My environment changed, my friends changed, and relationship with running started to shift. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 and qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time, which started to bring back a little bit of my competitive fire. It didn’t happen quickly, but over time things began to change and by the time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon again in 2016, my fourth marathon, I think I could actually say I enjoyed running again.

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In the early summer of 2017 I began working with a coach for the first time since college. I was hesitant due to my relationship with running the last time I had a coach, but I can say with confidence it was one of the best decisions I ever made. In the fall of 2017, I ran a 9 minute PR at the Chicago marathon, officially reviving my desire to be competitive, and then in the spring of 2018, despite horrific conditions, I shaved off another 6 minutes to run under 3:10 for the first time in Boston.

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Although Chicago and Boston were my seventh and eighth marathons, I feel like they were the very  beginning. For a long time I thought I had potential to break 3:20, on a perfect day, but now I know it’s so much more. After Boston, I set my sights on breaking 3 hours.

Training for New York has been far from perfect (as most training blocks are). For one, summer in D.C. is brutal with heat and humidity, so I rarely felt successful during a workout or long run. Then came the stress of switching back to teaching kindergarten at a new school and adjusting to the incredibly busy schedule of the school year. And finally, in the past month, the kindergarten germs knocked me down and I was forced to adjust some training because I just didn’t have the health or energy to get everything in.

October has been littered with doubt and fear. I’ve been holding on tight to the goal of breaking three hours, but my training hasn’t necessarily given me the confidence to believe that’s realistic. I’ve had a difficult time keeping things in perspective and not being too hard on myself, but this week I’ve finally started to get past that mental block and take on a more optimistic attitude.

I don’t think I’m ready to break 3 hours in New York, and that’s OK. I’m confident that I’m ready to run a great race. New York is a tough course and it isn’t known for impressively fast times. My training has been hard and I’ve dealt with a lot of life stress. Is it possible that I could have a perfect race and make it happen? Sure. But that’s not my goal at this point.

I’m turning this race into a celebration more than any other, because not only do I get to celebrate finishing another marathon, but I get to celebrate five years of tremendous growth in my life. Once again, I love running and I have fun with it. Finally, I eat food and I enjoy it. For the first time, I am comfortable in my own skin and I no longer spend time hating my body. Running fast times is great, but there is so much more to running and life. In the grand scheme, the time I run on November 4th does not matter at all. My life won’t change whether I run a 3:10, a 3:05, or 3 hours. It won’t even change if I run 4 hours. But I do believe my life will be a little better if I savor every step I run around the beautiful city of New York and appreciate what an amazing opportunity it is to be where I am today.

I’ll break three eventually, when the time is right, but I don’t need to rush. I am focused on the present moment and I am meeting my body and mind where it is.


Corning Wineglass Marathon, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon, 2014

Boston Marathon, 2016

Marine Corps Marathon, 2016

Boston Marathon, 2017

Pocono Marathon, 2017

Chicago Marathon, 2017

Boston Marathon, 2018

Boston Recap: Make a party of the process

As I’m sure you already know, the 2018 Boston Marathon was one for the books. Cold temperatures, persistent rains, and an unrelenting headwind led thousands of runners (elites included) to medical tents seeking aid for hypothermia. There were remarkable upsets in the elite fields and the winning times were a far cry from the best efforts of the professionals on the course. Simply put, Monday was not a day for fast racing or setting PR’s.

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Boston 2017 wasn’t a day to run personal records either, but for the opposite reason. It was brutally hot. Last year, I thought I was in 3:15 shape and despite the heat I went out at a pace to run just that. Before I was even hitting double digit miles, I knew I was in trouble. I was walking by the halfway point and just getting to the finish line took everything I had. If nothing else, I was determined not to repeat that fate this year.

As Boston 2018 approached, I knew I was in the best marathon shape of my life and that I was ready to better the 3:14 I ran in Chicago this fall. However, after last year’s race I was scared of the Boston course. Early in my Boston buildup I came to terms that if we were dealt another hot day, I would just run easy and have as much fun as possible. Luckily, as the 10-day forecast began to reveal itself, we learned it wasn’t going to be a hot one. I began looking ahead to race day nervous, but excited about the chance to run fast in better conditions.

But then, the conditions didn’t look so good anymore.

By the time I got to Hopkinton on Monday, I’d readjusted my expectations for the expected cold, rain, and wind, determined not to make the same mistake as last year. I turned off the GPS and decided that it would be a day to have fun. I knew I wouldn’t PR so I didn’t even allow myself to entertain the thought. I decided to start conservatively and have fun soaking up the experience that is Boston. Even on a nasty day, the crowds would be out. I wanted to erase last year’s experience from my mind and move forward with happier memories of Boston. I was also hoping to stay warm enough to avoid hypothermia and stay out of the medical tent.

When the race started, I immediately felt great and knew that I was going to have a blast splashing around in the rain. I floated through the first few miles with ease, before finally looking at my watch at 5k mark. I found myself running much faster than I planned on for the weather, so I took a deep breath and tried to settle in. I didn’t look at my watch again until the 10k, which revealed I hadn’t slowed down at all and had actually sped up slightly. Again, deep breath, settle in.

As I began to encroach on the half-marathon mark I felt like I was still out for a training run; exactly what I wanted. I was feeling comfortable and confident, sure I’d settled into a leisurely pace. Then I looked at my watch. I’d split a 1:34.15. On pace for a 6 minute PR. My confidence wavered and I started questioning when it was all going to blow up in my face. Newton probably, I thought. But after a few panicked minutes I steeled myself. Deep breath, settle in.

At this point, I was feeling more comfortable than I ever have at 13-14 miles into a marathon and I kept feeling that way through miles 15, 16, and 17. During those miles I stayed as calm as possible and finally, I made a deal with myself: hold this effort through the Newton Hills and then reassess. I was still worried the hills were going to break me.

As the first hill began, I focused on November Project. I knew they’d be at the top of the hill and the cheering crowd would help my legs to recover quickly. I bounded my way up with surprising ease and got the boost I hoped for at the top. Then, between miles 19 and 20, a woman caught up to me to say that she loved my attitude and that she was running faster than she should be just to stay with me for the encouragement. This was one by far one of the proudest running moments I’ve ever had. I’ve been carried for miles by the encouragement of others, it felt great to do the same for someone else.

Riding the high of helping another runner on such a tough day, I made it up and over heartbreak with relative ease. My legs barley registered the same uphills that slowed me to a crawl last year. Before I knew it, I was hearing that Desi won and I was passing the 22 mile mark. Four miles to go.  At that point, I glanced at my watch again and started doing the math. That’s when I realized if I didn’t slow down in the next four miles, I’d be running a big PR and likely breaking 3:10.

For the next four miles I smiled my face off. The more I smiled, the more support I received from spectators. The more support I received from spectators, the more I smiled. On a day that you weren’t supposed to PR, on a day I didn’t set out to PR, I was about to PR. I just had to keep putting one front in foot of the other.

The rain picked up and the pain set in, but before I knew it, I was turning right onto Hereford and left onto Boylston. There’s something about those two iconic turns, they get better every time. I looked at my watch as I approached the finish line and I think I started laughing. Crossing the finish line in a 3:08.27, I was overwhelmed with happiness. I wasn’t confident I could break 3:10 on a perfect day, I couldn’t believe I was doing so in the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in. I also never thought I’d actually negative split Boston, even if only by 3 seconds.

Chicago this fall was hot and before the race I scaled back my goal from 3:15 to 3:20. My GPS didn’t work so I went out conservatively and ran by feel. Unexpectedly I finished in 3:14, an 8 minute personal best. On Monday, I did the same thing. I threw my expectations out the window, turned off my GPS and trusted my body to know what to do. Of the 9 marathons I’ve run, these happened to be the fastest, but more importantly they were the most fun. I spent 6 or 7 marathons taking myself way too seriously and putting far too much weight on a really expensive long run. Chicago and now Boston have taught me that the only way to achieve a great result is to let go and make a party of the process. I happen to run great times, but I wouldn’t have done so if I wasn’t having so much damn fun.

Boston Bound

We’re 8 days out from the 2018 Boston Marathon and the buzz is real! As I head into this final taper week, I’m reflecting on the two years since my first Boston Marathon and the training I’ve put in leading up to this year’s race. This will be my third Marathon Monday and we all know, third time’s a charm.

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I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2016. It was a fairly hot day but I managed to eke out an 11-second PR. At last year’s race, things didn’t go so smoothly. Having run a PR the year before, I didn’t consider how difficult the course actually is or how much the weather can impact marathon performance. It was a hot day (like really hot) but I didn’t adjust my expectations for the weather and I paid for it hard. By the half, I was done for and the rest of the race was a crawl to the finish. I ran my slowest marathon to date and didn’t earn my ticket back to Boston that day. (Fortunately I found a small race to enter in May, where I was able to run a qualifying time.)

After last year’s race I began working with a coach for the first time since college. I had run some respectable marathon times, but I knew I had not touched my potential and that working with a coach was what I needed. Since then, my training has changed completely and I’ve been a far smarter runner than I ever was before.

I would argue that the build up to this year’s Boston Marathon has been my most successful training cycle ever. With the exception of a small injury that interrupted a couple weeks of training, I’ve run longer long runs, faster workouts, and (slightly) higher mileage. In April, I ran a 3 minute half marathon PR with gas left in the tank. Before the half marathon I ran a workout that consisted of 4×5 minutes at half-marathon effort with 2 minutes easy jog recovery. This Thursday, I ran the same workout but my average mile pace was 15-20 seconds faster than the previous workout, and it felt much easier.

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As I cooled down from that workout on Thursday, I thought about how far I’ve come since June when I began working with my coach and how much progress I’ve made in just this one training build-up. My senior year of college, I ran a 5k on the track in 20 minutes and 9 seconds, a pace of 6:29 per mile. During Thursday’s workout I ran 4 miles, in the middle of an 8 mile total workout, at roughly 10 seconds per mile faster than that. The actual pace is arbitrary, but the difference in the pace I ran in college versus the pace I ran this week isn’t. When it hit me that I could run 4 miles faster than I could race a 5k in college I had to hold back some happy tears. Although I had already seen improvement in my times during April’s half marathon, for me this workout was confirmation of just how far I have come.

When it hit me that I could run 4 miles faster than I could race a 5k in college I had to hold back some happy tears.

When I left college, I truly believed I would never run fast again.  I was convinced that everyone peaks in college and if you don’t, you’ve missed your chance. I also didn’t think I could ever wholeheartedly love running again. For years, I’ve been trying to run fast again in order to prove to myself you don’t have to peak in college. But I’ve also been stuck believing that fast race times were the only way I would enjoy running again.

This time around, I’ve found the joy in the process and the journey has been more fun than hard work.

For the first time in 7 or 8 years, I’m heading into a big race and I don’t feel the need to prove anything to myself or to anyone else. This time around, I’ve found the joy in the process and the journey has been more fun than hard work. I have goals in mind and I truly think I’m ready to run a great time, but regardless of the outcome I already feel as though I’ve accomplished so much. I’m healthy and I’m having so much fun running. I’ve proven my speed and fitness to myself in my workouts and I’ve come to really, truly appreciate what my body can do for me. Running a fast time in Boston would simply be the cherry on top. To step on that starting line in Hopkinton happy and healthy is a privilege that I will not take for granted.


Will you be running the Boston Marathon? What are your race or training goals?