2017 NYC Half Marathon weekend and race recap

As I have mentioned before The Sub-30 Club is like a family and races where there will be a good amount Subbers feel like a family reunion or party. This weekend was no different.

The expo and pre-race dinner

It all started on Saturday around noon when I headed to the race expo in the city. I met up with my girl, Jennie, and crossed paths with fellow Subber and NYRR coach, Daphne. We listened to Daphne give the course strategy talk a few times while other Subbers streamed in and out. Chelsea, Susan and her husband, Vinnie, and Nicole all stopped by to say hi and sign our black Sub-30 Club flag. It was about 2:30pm when my tummy reminded me that I hadn’t eaten yet and food became a mission. Jennie, Chelsea, and I headed out for a yummy brunch before parting ways for a few hours to run some errands. I hit Old Navy for a tossable sweatshirt, Jack Rabbits for some Honey Stingers, and Rite Aid to kill some time before heading over early to our dinner meet-up spot The Happiest Hour. Subber Sonyah was already there so I joined her at the bar. I typically don’t drink the day before a race, but since this was going to be a training run I decided to have just one. Jennie arrived and we joined Bill and Sandra at a big table. It wasn’t long before Nicole, Vinnie, and Chelsea joined us. We had a fun dinner and parted ways around 6. Somehow I had ended up spending the entire day in the city, didn’t get in my little 2 mile run, and when I got home I still had quite a bit to do to get ready for the next morning. I finally managed to get to bed around 11pm with an alarm set for 5:30am. It wasn’t an ideal amount of sleep, but again, this was only going to be a training run. NBD.

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Me and Jennie hanging out at the race expo
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Coach Daphne talking runners through the course at the race expo
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Pre-race dinner at the appropriately named “The Happiest Hour”

After an hour of being woken up every 10 minutes by the cats, around midnight I started to have some severe GI cramping and realized it was going to be a long night. After an hour and a half of pain, bathroom trips, and running out of toilet paper, my tummy finally decided to settle down for the night. It was around 2am by the time I was finally able to fall fully asleep.

Pre-race meet-up

The alarm at 5:30am came too soon after just 3.5 hours of sleep. My tummy seemed to be doing okay, but the thought of food was scary. I opted for a banana and protein bar that I have used before long runs. Out the door by 6:15am and at the Apple Store for our pre-race Subber meet-up and photo at 7am. It was cold out (in the 20s) and bag check was going to close an hour before our wave started so we were all dressed pretty interestingly. Kathy won best dressed in her robe for sure, though! A quick photo and hugs and then Erin and I headed off to drop our bags.

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Pre-race photo with the flag

Bag drop was a little bit of a walk, but quick as was getting through security. The porta-potty line was super long, but went by pretty quick. I did end up in one of the grossest ones I have ever been in and for the first time ever forgot to lock it and got walked in on! Our pit stop done, we made the long walk to our corral. On the way, Erin mentioned that she was going to try to run a PR. Even though the pace was faster than my typical long run pace, I knew it was a pace I could run comfortably so I offered to pace her. We devised a quick strategy: take it easy in the park and assess the timing when we hit Times Square then shift if we needed to. Erin felt pretty casual about it and was okay not hitting the time, but in my mind we were getting her that PR!

The race

After some shuffling of layers in the corrals, Erin losing a glove for the second time, and my bladder whining, it was finally time to start. I was a little sad to say good-bye to my super stylish layers, but I was optimistic the faster pace would warm me up quickly. The race starts right before Cat Hill so the warm-up was pretty quick! I was surprised how easy Cat Hill felt and a little sad to run past the bathrooms at The Boathouse. I definitely needed to go, but there was no way I was abandoning Erin so early so I just tried not think about it.

Miles 2-4 went by pretty quickly. We ran up East Drive north through Central Park past the Obelisk, Fred Lebow checking his watch, Engineer’s Gate, The Guggenheim, North Meadow, Lasker Rink, and finally out of the park for a series of out-and-backs that ran north, south, west, and east before finally heading south back into the park. Just before mile 4 we got our first water stop and we stopped to fuel. Then it was the long slog down the west side of the park, up and down the hills until we finally passed Tavern on the Green where the NYC Marathon course ends. As we hit the 10k mark and started to head out of Central Park and down 7th Avenue to Times Square we were feeling great and couldn’t believe we were practically half done!

Up until the point where we left Central Park, the course was super familiar. I’ve run Central Park so many times now for both races and training runs and while it IS my favorite place in the city, running it doesn’t feel super special. Like most other runners, the really exciting part of this course for me was running through Times Square. As soon as we exited the park and started seeing the lights of Times Square, it was amazing. There is something about being in the middle of 7th Avenue taking in that view that makes it feel even bigger. And the crowds were great. Nowhere near the crowds of the NYC Marathon, but plenty enough to make you feel like a rock star. There were also bands playing every few blocks so it had that same party atmosphere you get while running parts of the marathon course. It was a blast and we were feeling really good. We scoped out the photographers and did our best to get some good potential holiday card photos. 😉

As we turned and headed west onto 42nd Street, we talked a little bit about strategy again. Erin’s goal was still in reach, but we had a little time to make up. So the plan was to get past 8 and try to pick up the pace on the West Side Highway where we were hoping for a tail wind. We would reassess at mile 10 and if her goal wasn’t possible then I would find a porta-potty. My bladder was feeling quite full at this point, but I knew I could hold it since I did for 17 miles during my marathon. I wasn’t about to abandon her during this critical time in her race. Once we had a plan, we spent the run down 42nd Street having fun taking in the sights and waving and hollering “Good morning” to the cars stuck in traffic going the opposite way–which were close enough that we could high-five drivers. At the last aid station before mile 8 and our turn onto West Side Highway, Erin noticed there was no one waiting for the porta-potties, but I refused to leave her. She was getting that PR if I had anything to do with it!

As we hit the West Side Highway, a DJ played some familiar pop tune that I can’t recall, but we both knew the words and we sang aloud as we celebrated the fact that there was indeed going to be a tailwind for the next couple miles! Time to work the plan and knock off some of the time we had accumulated in the park at the beginning of the race.

During the course strategy they warned us that many runners find this part of the race boring. I’ve run along the Hudson River many times on long training runs and am familiar with the sights and didn’t think it would be so bad, but it did feel a little like a slog despite the flat course and tail wind. At this point, Erin was starting to feel some aches and I wasn’t going to tell her this, but I was starting to have some tightness in my right hammie. I also had to pee so bad that I really didn’t want to drink any more water, but I knew I had to. We would stop at every aid station to drink our water and let her stretch for a few seconds. I kept doing math in my head and had been letting her know where we were at every mile, but around mile 9 she let me know that she didn’t think she could keep the pace we needed. So I told her I wasn’t going to tell her anything about time anymore. The plan became she was going to push as much as she could and I would keep us moving and keep doing the math in my head. We would reassess at mile 10. At some point along the West Side Highway I started speeding up as we went into to the aid stations to bank a few seconds of time because I knew we would stop for a few seconds to drink and stretch. As I continued to monitor our pace, her breathing, and do the math in my head I knew the PR might be out of reach… but a second best finish was still a possibility.

When we hit mile 10, I gave her the news. We would need to make up 3 minutes over the course of the next 3.1 miles to make it a PR or we could try for the second best. She was giving all she had so the new plan was to shoot for second best, but I also really needed to pee. We ran what felt like forever (a little over a mile) before the next aid station. I told her I wouldn’t stop for water and would run ahead to the porta potty and try to find her after. So off I went at a slightly faster pace directly into a porta potty even worse than the one before the race. How you hover and get your BM all over the seat, I have no idea, but I was not waiting for another toilet. So I hovered cautiously and got out of there as quickly as possible which seemed impossible after 11 miles of holding it and hydrating every mile! Finally back on the course, I realized that I had to be at least a minute if not two behind Erin. How in the hell was I going to find her and catch up to her?!

Determined to catch up to Erin, I picked up the pace. I pushed for quite awhile questioning if I could even catch up to her when all the sudden I saw her little hat bopping in the distance. I tried to just keep the pace telling myself that as long as she was in my sights I would catch her eventually, but I lost my line of sight a few times for a few seconds and decided I was just going to push the pace until I caught her. My Garmin says that I was averaging ~8:50 for a half mile as I looked for her then chased her down. Definitely not long/training run pace! LOL. As I pulled up next to her casually, I was like “Hey girl, hey!” I couldn’t believe I made it back to her and I was excited to help her for the last miles.

The last mile

It felt like forever to get that second half of mile 12 done, but once we did I knew we were really close to sub-2:20 which would be her second fastest and a great little break of a time boundary. Most of the last mile is through a tunnel underpass around the southern tip of Manhattan. So we had a nice little decline going in and once we were down there, I picked up the pace and started weaving between runners. Erin stayed with me and I could hear her breathing shift. I knew she was working hard and I knew her body was in pain from the miles. I asked her if it was hurting right now and she could only nod. I told her that was good, she was giving it her all, and she was crushing this last mile and just needed to hold on a little longer. We were literally almost there.

Almost there, but not before what went down into the tunnel had to come back up out of it. Once we could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel and the incline out of it, I told her there was no hill. We were actually taking a ski lift up! There is no hill. There is no hill. There is no hill. You’re doing great! There is no hill. She kept pushing. She was crushing it. I was so excited I could scream. I just kept telling her how great she was and telling her follow me as I weaved us through runners. I would turn my head and holler behind me at her. Other runners would look over and I’d just smile. Yep, she has her own pacer and she is absolutely OWNING this finish!

We hit the 400m mark and I hollered it out to her. She hollered back, “Just one loop of the track!” That’s right! So let’s go! We turned a corner and could see the 200m mark… just one more turn to be able to see the finish. As we turned the last corner I swung wide out into the middle of the course and looked back to see her face. She was pushing it hard and the finish was in sight. I picked up the pace more and just kept hollering, “GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO!” As we got close to the finish I reminded her to not hit her watch and SMILE through the finish for photo… HERE WE GO!

We sprinted right through the finish and after crossing the two timing mats hit the brakes abruptly to not hit the crowd of finishers. A volunteer was right in front us and told us we were awesome and as Erin caught her breath she hollered back to him, “YOU are awesome!” I told her our unofficial time–2:20:40–and took a mental photo of her face in the moment then gave her a big hug. She did it. Second best half marathon time. Official time: 2:20:23.

Post-race celebration

We walked through the finish area and I pulled up the tracker to check on our Subbers still out on the course. It looked like we had a little over an hour until they would finish so we decided to hit the post-race meetup spot to meet her husband who was already finished and to change into dry clothes. It was mid 30s and I was soaked! As we turned out of the finish area, our post-race meetup spot was not even a half block away. It was packed with runners, but I had made a reservation for 20 of us. We took turns hitting the bathroom and I ended up making multiple trips to change clothes.

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We did it!

One of my friends that I also coach had texted while I was out on the course that she had unexpectedly PRed by 2:34 so I was also texting with her and also sending texts to our Subbers still out on the course (including another of my athletes) encouraging them as I tried to get ready to head back out to cheer their finishes. But before I could head back out, other Subbers started to show up and after greeting them I checked the tracker and realized there was no way I could make it back down to the finish in time. (The finish areas for these big NYRR races are quite long.) So I shot a few more texts of encouragement and hollered out their finishes to the Subbers around me as they finished. As each of them streamed into the bar, they got group cheers and hugs and within a few minutes had a celebratory drink in their hands.

Somehow 3 hours passed in that place and it felt like 3 minutes. Subbers slowly trickled out and the final three–Sonyah, Chelsea, and myself–had one last round before heading back to the subway. Sonyah and I rode together to Union Square and I was so sad to give her a hug good-bye and head back to Brooklyn where my friends from inside my phone go back to living in my phone.

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Subber signatures on the black team flag

2015 New York City Marathon, Part 4: The data

Race splits

I ran with friends for most of the race, one of which was an official pacer for a 4:30 finish so my splits were pretty consistent. I did speed up during the second half of mile 16 (decline of the Queensboro Bridge) to bank some time for a bathroom break. Bathroom break time is included in the mile 17 split. I believe I lost about a minute, but my watch wasn’t tracking well at this point so I am not sure. During mile 18, I had to speed up a little bit to catch back up to our pacer friend.

Mile 23 and the first part of mile 24 was the toughest and after analyzing the elevation profile, the Fifth Avenue incline didn’t start until the last quarter mile of mile 23. We did run mile 23 about 13 seconds faster than average pace, but I believe this period was my wall regardless. I felt much better for second half of mile 24. I’m not sure if it was seeing my loved ones early in mile 24, the salt pill I took during mile 23, or the honey stinger that I took during mile 22 (about 20 minutes earlier). Being in the park and close to the finish likely had some impact, as well.

Mile 25 and going into Mile 26 was when my knee was bothering me and I was hobbling a bit. About halfway through mile 26 when we turned onto 59th Street, my knee pain went away and I felt strong. Very excited about that last .2 miles!

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Split times pulled from chip timing at http://liveresults.nyrr.org/e/NY2015.
race day Gear, from head to toe

It was warm and overcast on race day with an average temperature of 66º and 62-70% humidity while we were running. I felt warm by the second mile and was sopping wet by the end of the race. I used Aquaphor for anti-friction/chafe for the first time and came away with virtually no chafing. Had some slight pinkness under the bottom band of my sports bra.

Sparkly Soul headband
Adidas performance tank
Races2Remember custom bib
Old Navy sports bra
Asics TCS NYC Marathon arm warmers
Nike Swoosh wristband
Garmin Fenix 3
Ultimate Direction Jurek Essentials belt with additional phone pocket
Nike Pro 3″ shorts
Zensah compression calf sleeves
Injinji socks
Brooks Launch 2
Aquaphor Healing Ointment for anti-friction/chafe

Gear
Gear, neck to ankle 🙂
Pre-race Food and race day fueling

Day before the marathon
Breakfast: Gluten free pancakes with maple syrup, scrambled eggs, orange juice
Lunch: Folded eggs with ham, spinach, and mushroom. Home fries. Small salad.
Snack: Gluten free, vegan pumpkin cookie
Dinner: Gluten free pasta with spicy marinara sauce

Marathon day
Breakfast: Gluten free pancakes with maple syrup
Pre-race snack 1: Larabar
Pre-race snack 2: Banana
Pre-start fuel: 2 Organic Vanilla Honey Stingers
Race fuel: 1 Organic Vanilla Honey Stinger at 40 minutes then 1 every 30 minutes until 3:40 for a total of 7 Stingers
1 banana piece during mile 21
2 salt pills, one somewhere during the first half (can’t remember) and the other during mile 23
Post-race: Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter packet and a decaf coffee
French fries with chipotle aioli
Burger with gluten free bun, lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayo

Fred Lebow
Fred Lebow is moved from the entrance at East 90th Street to the finish line every year.
Day after the marathon
Day after the marathon. Returning to the scene of the crime. As a marathoner!
Engraved medal
Engraved medal. It’s official!

2015 New York City Marathon, Part 3: The race report

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
Engines pumping and thumping in time.
The green light flashes, the flags go up…

We are dancing at the starting line to Cake’s “Going the Distance” which is being played over the loud speakers while we wait for our wave to start. “DANCE IT OUT, PEOPLE!” Elaine and I holler and the people surrounding us start bopping around. It’s 11am and we have been told that there is a “situation” on the bridge that they need a few minutes to clear. Nothing to be concerned about, the announcer assures us. A few minutes later at 11:03am, we get our “On your mark”, the cannon blasts, and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” starts playing as we cross the start line on the bridge. We are now running the 2015 NYC Marathon.

The first mile is a 145′ climb up the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. I was running the Blue route over the bridge which runs the normally west-bound lanes on the upper deck of the bridge. The Orange route runs the east-bound lanes and as we are running up the bridge Elaine noticed our teammate Ken across the lane barriers. We hollered back and forth with him and I ran over to high five him across the barrier. As we separated he wished me luck. I took the chance sighting as a good omen for the race. We bounded up the bridge and before I knew it, we were at the mile 1 marker. It was warmer than expected this morning and before we even hit the half mile mark I had shed my sheddable shell and by the mile 1 marker I was already sweating and ready to strip off my arm warmers. I was also getting a little frustrated by some of the runners around me who were practically pushing me out of the way to get close to Elaine who was an official pacer for a 4:30 finish. I tried not to stress too much about running directly next to my friends, but was also bummed that people were being so selfish.

Verazanno
On the Verazanno Narrows Bridge.

Brooklyn

Heading down the other side of the bridge during mile 2 I continued to try to stick with my friends in the sea of runners who just wanted to be with Elaine. Most of mile 2 was as quiet as mile 1. There are no cheerers on the bridge so it was just the sound of footsteps and breath. I was surprised at how winded some runners already sounded. Then right before we hit the mile 2 marker as we were on the off ramp for the bridge, we saw our first cheerers. Someone was holding a “Welcome to Brooklyn” sign and I shouted “BROOKLYN!” We all shouted “MILE 2!” and woo-ed as we passed the mile marker.

Mile 3 is a bit of a blur. There were some turns and intermittent places without cheerers. I remember at one point Orange route turned and we went straight. It felt like a weird maze game. About halfway through the mile we turned onto 4th Avenue which would be our route north through all of southern and central Brooklyn. We were reunited with the Orange runners and Green was added to the mix. The view up 4th Avenue was BONKERS. Just a sea of runners. So many runners. There were also more cheerers and I remember passing by a band playing classic rock. I was a little overwhelmed by it all.

Mile 4 is also a little foggy. I do remember finally hitting the first water stop just after the mile 3 marker. I was so happy to have a water stop even though it was crowded and crazy and a little nerve-wracking trying to reunite with my group. I didn’t recognize much the entire mile so like I said, most of the mile is pretty foggy. I think at some point during this mile is when we crossed under an aerial photographer. I thought to myself that there is no way you will even see me in the photo with everyone waving their arms in front of me. It hardly seemed important at that point either. I just wanted to run my race. Around the mile 4 marker we crossed over Shore Road which is one of my favorite places to run in New York City.

Miles 5 through 8 we worked our way north through Sunset Park and Park Slope. I was excited to get to Sunset Park which was my first neighborhood when I moved to New York. It is also the first place I ever watched and cheered the marathon. It was so awesome running through familiar territory. We passed by the spot where I watched the marathon for the first time and I smiled to myself. We also passed the street my old rock climbing gym is on. It was still crowded and Kim and I were struggling to stick with Elaine and Heather because of the pacer fans. At one point a woman behind me started to fall and grabbed on to me to break it. Luckily a runner behind her grabbed her and she didn’t fully fall and take me down with her.

I was in my head a lot during these miles. I was a little tired and had started with some tightness in a few spots. With it being my first marathon I wasn’t sure how hard I should be going and it still seemed like a long way to go. Hearing runners around me breathing was reassuring, though. I was still running very easy.

Mile 6
Making our way up Fourth Avenue in mile 6.

As we approached Atlantic Terminal around mile 8, I could see a large stage with screens. Elaine mentioned that the winner had already finished which I am guessing she gathered from the screens, but my brain wasn’t able to process anything I was seeing. It was at this point that I realized how in my head I was and that I needed to be present or this whole race was going to go by and I wouldn’t have really experienced it. As we turned on to Lafayette Avenue and the road narrowed considerably, I started to absorb the race and really enjoy the experience.

Mile 9 was definitely one of my favorite parts of the race. The road was narrow and the cheerers were awesome. I got to high five someone in an inflatable T-Rex costume, I saw a high school band, and it seemed like those annoying pacer fans were gone and I was surrounded by friends. This part of the race was so good that I can still feel what it was like and have very clear images of it in my mind. That whole mile was great. And we were getting closer to my family!

By Mile 10 the bladder was becoming an issue, but there were only 4 portalets that I was seeing at each aid station and there was always a line. Heather asked me if I wanted to stop. Her and Kim needed to go, too. I told them that I was waiting until mile 16, under the bridge. I had seen photos of a long line of potties under the bridge and read that they are typically open because people are so exciting coming onto First Avenue, that they skip them. Convinced by my plan, we skipped the portalets, turned onto Bedford Avenue and headed into South Williamsburg.

We were getting closer and closer to my family and I was starting to get really excited. Would I see them? Would they see me? Would I see my friend, Penny? Would she be with them? As we run through the Hasidic area of South Williamsburg, the cheers become more sparse and I started to question my bathroom plan. I told myself that if it was bad enough when I got to my family, I would hop in the coffee shop by them.

As we worked our way to the mile 11 marker, the Williamsburg Bridge came into a view and we were running on familiar ground again. As we ran under the Billyburg, I hollered, “WELCOME TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD!” and Heather cheered. Her boyfriend was waiting for her on the left side of North 8th and my family was on the right side of North 11th so I unfortunately missed Matt. I got over to the right side of the road around North 7th and started looking in case they decided not to walk the few blocks from the subway. As I got closer and closer to North 11th, I started getting really excited. Then all of the sudden, I saw my friend Michele. She was holding a sign, but I didn’t get a chance to read it. I ran up and hugged her and then proceeded to hug everyone. My sister was behind everyone so I crawled through the crowd to her then darted off to catch Elaine and Heather. I ran between two runners who stepped closer together as I passed and I got trapped between them. I wiggled loose and felt badly, but there wasn’t much I could do, but keep going. Within a few seconds I was reunited with my friends.

My cheerers at mile 11
Michele and Jeremy and their awesome signs!
Lisa and Dad
Lisa and Dad looking for me at their first cheer spot of the day.
Mile 11
Found my family and friends at mile 11 and couldn’t help but hug all of them!
Mile 11 family hugs
Hugging my family at mile 11
Leaving cheer spot 1
Sprinting off to join me group. Sorry random runners that I collided with!

I was really looking forward to the mile 12 water stop. It is supported by my running team, North Brooklyn Runners, and I hear every year how it is such an awesome water stop. As we ran through, I hollered “NBR!” and recognized exactly no one. Not surprising since I actually know only a handful of members and have only been to a couple of group runs because the team is so speedy. (And the runs I can join tend to fall on days/times that I can join, unfortunately.) Through the water stop then we crossed mile marker 12 and turned onto Manhattan Avenue to run through Greenpoint. There was a band playing a song that Tom recognized and he started singing along. “SING IT TOM!” I hollered. It wasn’t long after that I saw our turn onto Greenpoint Avenue. It felt great running through my neighborhood and knowing exactly where there turns and hills were. Just a short jaunt on Greenpoint Ave and we were turning onto McGuinness to climb our second bridge, the Pulaski. As we passed under the mile 13 marker the halfway point was visible and on the bridge. I told my friends that this bridge was for my Grandmommies and told them a little about her. They hollered, “FOR GRANDMA!” as we headed towards the half marathon marker. We hollered as we made it passed the halfway point and continuing pushing up the bridge. Elaine was fully of energy and positivity and shouting encouragement. We made it up the bridge then down the other side easily. But then we noticed… Where is Kim? We looked around and shouted her name, but she was nowhere to be found.

Queens

Coming off the Pulaski bridge, just before a turn there were more portalets. Heather asked if we should just stop and I told her I was holding tight. I was positive my plan would work out for us. I posed a strategy. We would run up the Queensboro with Elaine, then pick up the pace on the way down the other side to get ahead of her to give us buffer for the bathroom break. Then we would pace ourselves to hit the 17 mile marker at the same time she was scheduled to cross so we could reunite. Heather thought it was a good plan so we pressed on. As we turned the corner and passed another band we hollered and waved at them. It was around this time that it sunk in that I was actually running a marathon. I exclaimed “WE ARE RUNNING A MARATHON!” to Heather and she laughed and hollered it back. Holy crap.

The route through Queens is pretty much all turns. There are like 6 of them in the mile and half stretch. As we made the turn onto 44th Drive and headed toward my rock climbing gym and the Queensboro, I saw an LGBT Marching Band. I ran over and waved and hollered and they all hollered back. Heather had run over to join me so we partnered up and were a little ahead of Elaine and the others. We passed by 4 Non-Blondes playing and Heather shouted back to Elaine and I smiled to myself thinking of one of my high school besties, Sharla. We passed my climbing gym then heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I asked Heather if we had time traveled back to high school. We were both pleased with the music and started chatting about Porno for Pyros. As we passed the band playing Nirvana, we realized that the singer was a woman and got really excited. We both waved and screamed and she waved back as she sung, “Hello, hello, hello…” A minute later we were making another turn and a minute after that another turn onto the Queensboro.

“This bridge is for my great grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw Wayne” is all shared about my dedication for the Queensboro. I thought to myself how proud my Mamaw would be of me. Then I noticed how much the crowd had changed. It was like we had run into a zombie herd on Walking Dead. People were slow and cranky and bunched up and Elaine couldn’t let her pace slow because of being a pacer. So we were weaving around people any way we could while trying to stick together. Elaine again was shouting encouragement. The zombies seemed unaffected.

The incline on the bridge seemed to go on forever. It didn’t seem too tough at our pace, but the people dodging was crazy. As we were dodging, we passed an Achilles (blind) athlete and her guides. Elaine recognized one of them–it was Sally! Sally picked up her pace to run with us for a bit. I was so excited to see her that I ran up next to her and grabbed her and yelled, “I’M RUNNING MY FIRST MARATHON! RIGHT NOW!” She couldn’t get too far from her Achilles athlete so she fell back. I was so sad she couldn’t run with us.

We finally hit the top of the bridge and Heather and I engaged our plan. We started to pick up the pace. We weren’t on a descent yet, but once we hit it we started to fly. It was a little tough with all the people so I told Heather to not worry about staying together that we could regroup at the portalets. I managed to keep up with her until turning off the bridge when it seemed like every single runner had their phone out and over their heads taking photos. UGH. Move, people! We are running a race! I made a wide turn off the bridge and through the mile 16 marker to avoid the phone zombies and was surprised at the crowd cheering at the bottom of the bridge. They had to be 10 deep! We spotted the portalets and true to plan, there was no line and we both ran directly up to one and hopped in. I had to have been in there for a full minute. It seemed to take forever. I popped out as Heather was calling my name and we were off as quickly as we had arrived.

1st Avenue, Manhattan

First Avenue was everything it was promised to be. It was a wall of sound and the amount of cheerers was just insanity. I felt like a celebrity. It was intense the amount of attention. I had a pace band so I knew what time Elaine was going to cross the next mile marker, but my watch started going crazy and was no longer registering pace. When it did, it told me I was running a 3:35 mile. Um, no way. Heather mentions that our pottie plan worked perfectly and thanks me for my “stratergery.” For the next mile I have “stratergery” stuck in my head. As we were trying to pace ourselves correctly, Heather says, “Is that Ken Tom’s face?” I look over and it is indeed our friend Ken’s face blown up into poster size and I recognize his wife, Christine, holding it. I holler at her and it takes her a second, but she finally sees us and waves. I think to myself how crazy it is seeing random people that you know in a race this big. I take my second Ken sighting as another good omen.

We cross the mile 17 marker right on time. But where is Elaine? We run a bit further and Heather spots a pacer sign low on the horizon. We speed up a bit to figure out if it is Elaine. How did she get ahead of us? After a minute, we realize it is her. And my family is waiting for me in less than a mile. I start to sprint off, but Heather stops me. “We’ll catch her” she says to me and I am reminded that a surge like that can be costly later in the race. That Heather is a smartie! Heather does finally catch Elaine in the middle of the course, but I have positioned myself to the left to see my family. I see them, but they are hollering to Heather and Elaine. “HEY!!!!!!!!!” I shout. AH! My family is going to miss me! I start clapping and hollering and finally get their attention as I blow by. No time to slow down, I keep running and catch up to Heather and Elaine.

Mile 18
A blur as I blow by the fam during mile 18.

We cross mile 18 marker and Heather is ready to go. We had discussed the possibility of peeling off from Elaine and finishing the race at a faster pace, but I am not ready. I decide I want to be conservative and wait until 20 or maybe even 23 to push it. I don’t want to risk burning out too quickly and I want to look strong when I pass my family during mile 24. It’s tough though because I feel great and feel like I’m not going to hit the wall. I stick to my guns though and encourage Heather to leave us. She does and now it is just me and Elaine. We tick off mile 19 easily and start heading towards the third bridge and our path into the Bronx, the Willis Avenue Bridge. A runner joins us, drawn by Elaine’s pacer sign. It’s his first marathon, too, and he is sure he is going to struggle at mile 20. Elaine and I shower him with positivity. I tell him he has to run with us because it is my first marathon too and we can support each other. But somewhere as we are heading up the incline on the bridge and are shouting support, we lose him. Perhaps it was an exchange because as we are heading up the bridge, Heather reappears! She has decided not to take off just yet. I’m so happy to see her, but worried about her race. I don’t want her to regret not pushing. We pass a pastor on the bridge who is shouting encouragement and Heather runs over to high five him. I love this race!

The Boogie Down Bronx

We turn off the bridge into the Bronx and we are in semi-familiar territory. I ran this course just a week ago. As we approach the 20 mile mark, I realize that we are over 2 miles passed my longest run and I am entering the 20s! I get a little misty-eyed as we pass the mile marker. I turn to Elaine and tell her that I definitely think I am going to cry going through the finish. She tells me I probably will and snaps one of her behind the back photos of me, misty-eyed and smiling.

I knew I should have two people in the Bronx–my dear friend Enid and a teammate Rigo. I wasn’t sure exactly where they would be though. As we wind through our mile in the Bronx which amazingly has more turns than Queens, I have my eyes peeled. Somehow I miss the VCTC cheer spot, but I am soon distracted by BANANAS! We have made it to the aid stations with food! I grab 2 small pieces of banana and head off happy as a clam. As we run over the slippery banana peels I laugh to myself at the comedy of it. So not safe, but so amusing. I get my first banana piece peeled and it immediately falls to the ground. CRAP! I peel my second and realize I am going to have use my grubby hands directly on the banana. Oh well. Nom nom nom. Down the hatch it goes. Finally we make our last turn in the Bronx and our last bridge is in sight. I’m bummed that I missed my friends in the Bronx, but ready for the last leg of this race.

“BRANDI!!!!” I hear as I run under the overpass and up to the bridge. I look over and it is my friend Enid! I run over and see she has multiple bananas and some coconut water for me. “DO YOU WANT THESE?!” I shake my head no and head off. I’m so glad that I didn’t miss her! A minute later we are on the bridge and I am thinking about my friends Bobby and Noel. As we come down the other side, Elaine and I realize that Heather has disappeared. She finally decided to head off to run her own race and we are so happy. It’s just Elaine and I again for the final push.

5th Avenue, Manhattan

I feel good as we cross the 21 mile marker and head into mile 22. I am confident that everything is going to be okay for the rest of the race. I tell Elaine about my horrible 10K at Runner’s World Fest and that even if it does start to get tough, it couldn’t be as horrible as that race. Besides, it is less than a 10K left now. It is just a short 5 miles. I can totally do that. I am still feeling good and am confident. As we head towards Marcus Garvey Memorial Park, my legs start to get a little heavy. As we pass 125th Street, the DJ is playing Rihanna and I gain a little strength. I am still in good spirits. We head around the park and I am holding on to Elaine pretty well. We head through the mile 22 marker and I smile at the number. As we head out the other side of the park, I realize that my legs have gotten heavier and it is starting to be a struggle.

Mile 22
Feeling good during mile 22

Mile 23. Elaine keeps saying things to me and all I can say is okay. She is encouraging me, but I can’t recall what she was saying. It was all very logical, though, and I had no reason to disagree. I think maybe she was worried that I was going to give up. I tell her that there is no way I am losing her now. I will push through whatever it takes to stick with her. I’m not giving up my NY Times spot (sub 4:30) in the last 3-4 miles. The crowd has become zombie-like again and Elaine is weaving and I am struggling a little to keep up with her. We are on a slight, but steady incline and I feel like we are running faster. I ask Elaine if we are running faster. My legs feel really heavy. I tell Elaine that I feel okay except for my legs and that I am not sure what to do to fix it. She tells me to take a salt tab and I obey. We make it to the mile 23 marker and I have less than a quarter mile to my family. Time to suck it up, Princess!

As we continue up the hill to my family I tell Elaine that I am not going to run over to them. I just don’t have the energy to sprint over and back. She tells me that is fine and they will understand. I’m looking and looking, but don’t see them. Finally, I see them and am so relieved. I can’t even muster a wave. Wait, what are they pointing at? What? OMG. MY FRIEND FRANK FLEW IN FROM CHICAGO TO SURPRISE ME!!! I squeal and instinctively sprint towards him. I grab his hands and scream in his face as I run by. WHAT?! OMG! I run back to Elaine and excitedly tell her what just happened. She asks if that is who I went to visit in Chicago recently and I confirm. I am on cloud nine as we turn into the park and I am now ready to finish this race so strong!!!

Mile 24
Struggling up the hill in mile 24. Relieved to see my loved ones.
nycm-2015_m23-4
A dear friend flew in from Chicago and surprised me during mile 24. It was just the boost I needed!

Central Park, Manhattan

As soon as we turn into the park, I start having a hard time staying with Elaine because I want to run faster. I keep turning back to see where she is and slowing down. At some point, Elaine tells me to just go. So I take off and as I start to run down Cat Hill, I spot the cat. Finally. I have never seen the cat! I take it as a good omen. About a second later, I start to feel it. It’s my right knee. ITBS. It hurts and I feel like my knee might go out. I start to change my gait to try to compensate and insulate it a bit. I’m nervous and I don’t want to have to walk the end of this race. I back off the pace a bit and Elaine catches up to me. I tell her about my knee. She tells me I have to push through. I tell her I am scared that it might go out. She tells me to just stick with her. And again we are weaving through people. We hit the mile 25 marker and aerial photographer and again I am uninterested in posing for a photo. I just want my knee to feel better. It’s now mile 26. We hit another downhill and my knee gets really angry. We are weaving through people and a man yells at me for passing him. Really?! While all of this has been going on, I have also been looking for my teammates Daphne and Helen who I know will be in the park. As we head out of the park, I realize I have missed them.

We turn onto 59th Street and I start looking for Hayley’s parents, but don’t see them. For some reason, my knee is now feeling much better. A friend of Elaine’s has joined us and she wants to push the pace. Elaine encourages us to help each other as we take off. We get to 7th Avenue and my stride widens and I am feeling strong. Elaine’s friend is no longer strong, though, and she slows. I try to get her to go with me, but she refuses and insists I leave her. So I’m on the final stretch and running my little heart out solo. There are so many cheerers and I recognize my name several times. Holy crap, I’m almost there! I think to myself. YOU’VE GOT THIS!!!

The Finish

I turn into the park and am easily passing people on the far left side of the course. All of the cheerers are silent for some reason, though, and runners are obviously struggling. So I holler “COME ON! COME ON!” to the cheerers as I raise my arms a few times to signal to them to bring on the volume! The cheerers oblige. I pass the mile 26 marker and I smile. A sign says “400 meters to the finish” and I kick it into a higher gear. “200 meters to the finish” and I can see the grand stands and the hill we are climbing. Don’t push too hard, you want to kick in the end,  I think to myself. As I turn the corner and see the finish line, I realize a kick isn’t going to be possible with the crowds unless I bring it in the far left side so that is just what I do. I run through the far left side and think to myself that I probably won’t have a finish photo. I don’t care though. I just finished my marathon strong and I feel great.

Post-race shuffle

I walk to the side of the finish to wait for Elaine. A man walks over and folds over the barricade. I rub his back and tell him, “You did it. You just finished the NYC Marathon. Congratulations!” He turns to me and has tears in his eyes. I can’t tell if he is emotional or sick. I ask if he needs to squat down. He tells me he is okay, just emotional. I rub his arm and congratulate him on his race again then walk off a bit to give him some space. Within a minute, Elaine has crossed the finish line and is heading towards me. WE DID IT! There are several post-race selfies taken and one taken by an EMT for us. We do the slow march through the park to get our medals, mylar blankets, and refreshments. People are once again being ridiculous and are pushing and one guy even fully steps on my foot. We walk for what seems like forever. I wait to turn on my phone. I want to be present. As we head into the poncho area (or what we thought was poncho area) I check my phone and realize that Hayley and Heather crossed just a couple of minutes before us. We turn out onto Central Park West and I mention to Elaine how beautiful and majestic all the buildings look–more so than usual–and I snap shot. Oh, race brain. We finally get to the ponchos and I start singing, “Ponnnnchhhooooo!!!” and realize that I have no filter. I also have no idea how to put this thing on. A kind volunteer wraps it around me and fastens it then congratulates me on my race and tells me I am awesome. No you, kind stranger, are the awesome one!

Post-race with Elaine
Waddling in our mylar blanket to get our ponchos.
March of the penguins
THESE BUILDINGS ARE SO BEAUTIFUL, ELAINE.

We finished the race at 67th Street in the park, walked up to 77th then turned out of the park, and now we have a long walk back down to 59th Street via Central Park West. And it is packed with little blue poncho penguins waddling in a daze. With my filter gone and my spirits high, I am a jokester through the whole journey. Elaine probably thought I was a crazy person. I was just sooooo happy.

At some point I realize that my family is probably already at our meetup spot and wondering where I am so I text them. I still have a mile to walk to get to them. I tell them to enjoy the shops. We continue to walk and by a mile into our 1.5 mile post-race jaunt, I start to feel a little sick and I need to use a bathroom. Luckily a line of portalets appear and I say goodbye to Elaine and make a pit stop. Then it’s maneuvering through the crowd, the exit, more crowd, some bike cabs, and into the Time Warner Center I go. I head to the escalators and sneak up to Frank and say, “You sneaky pants!” Everyone is excited to see me and me them. Frank has gotten me a decaf coffee which tastes like heaven. I pull my nutella packet from my bag and suck it down. Let’s head to the party!

Post-race celebration

We head to the subway and hop on an escalator. I look around and I am surrounded by many of my favorite people. I am so happy. A marathon photographer spots us and snaps a shot. We get to the turnstiles and head through then it is time for the big test–STAIRS. Surprisingly, I am able to take them well and we wait for the train. A little sick on the train then off the train I am ready to just be somewhere I can sit. We get to Stout and it is PACKED, but luckily they decide to seat us. Hayley shows up while we are waiting. We get sat upstairs. The universe has a sick sense of humor sometimes. I ask my family to order us some fries and a shot of whiskey and head off to the bathroom to change with Hayley. For the rest of the evening, runner friends and their families trickle in and out of the bar. It feels like a birthday party. You know how at a birthday party you want to spend time with everyone, but it means you don’t get a lot of time with anyone? I’m just so happy looking around the room and seeing everyone. We get some photos, I get to check out everyone’s signs finally, and I have 2 dozen long stem roses given to me. Before I know it, it is time to head home. I’m exhausted, but I don’t want to leave. I don’t want this day to end.

Stout with Hayley
Post-race celebration shot with Hayley
Stout with Elaine
AH! ELAINE! This girl. Such an awesome first race experience and I couldn’t have done it without her!
The girls at Stout
Love these girls!
New York Times
And I got my name in the New York Times.

My amazing cheer squad

My cheer squad was absolutely amazing and such troopers. They did their own mini marathon that day and I am just so grateful. The made it to 3 cheer stops along the course and saw me at every single one. They only had about an hour between each and at least 20-30 minute commute via subway to each then met me after the race and commuted with me the post-race celebration. They are amazing and my race wouldn’t have been the same without them.

My post-race letter to my cheer squad (in-person and digital trackers):

Words can not accurately express my appreciation for everything y’all did this weekend. And that includes those of you who weren’t able to come out in person. I’m not sure if you understand how rare it is for a runner to have a cheer group this large, that is able to make it to multiple spots on a course, and see their runner at all spots, especially in city like NYC. I am truly blessed. And y’all are troopers!

Knowing that you were tracking me and that I would see some of you at certain spots along the course kept me pushing when the going went tough. It kept me mentally strong and positive knowing I would see you. I wanted to make you proud. During the darkest miles (22-24) it was knowing that you were waiting for me that pushed me through. And the surprise of seeing Frank just sent me over the top. It was an added boost that lightened my darkening spirits during the toughest part of my race. 

I know I didn’t get a lot of quality time with everyone at the post-race celebration and that it was a bit crazy, loud, and disorganized. Thank you for sticking around. Just being able to look around and see you there, meant the world to me. I loved all of the signs, they were so sweet. And the flowers are beautiful and continue to bring a smile to my face as the excitement of the weekend starts to fade and I drift back to reality.

This weekend is one that I will never forget and it wouldn’t have been the same without you. You made this weekend more special than I could have ever imagined. Thank you a million times and more! ❤

My cheerleaders
My awesome cheer squad! So blessed that my dad, stepmom and sister flew in from Florida, a high school friend and his wife from Chicago, and a dear old friend who has lived in the city forever not only cheered me, but helped to guide everyone.

You can read about the adventure to the start line in Part 2, Race Morning.

2015 New York City Marathon, Part 2: Race morning

4:00 am. That’s what the clock says. And I have to pee. “Don’t start thinking about the race. Just go to the bathroom and get back to sleep. Two more hours for sleep. Oh no, now I’m doing math. Just go back to sleep.”

5:30 am. I’m still not asleep. “Maybe I should just get up? I’ll just lay here for a few more minutes and see if I can’t get back to sleep for another half hour. But if I get up now, I could get to the ferry sooner. What time was everyone taking the ferry? Let me check my phone. NO. Go back to sleep!”

6:00 am. “Okay, time to get up. Check your phone. Everyone is meeting at 7:15? No way that is happening with a 45 minute commute. We’ll shoot for 7:30. Let’s go make some food.”

Once I was up and moving, I warmed up some day old GF pancakes and had some breakfast. It wasn’t a breakfast choice that I had trained with, but I thought it was mild enough to be okay. Besides, the bagel with nutella had seemed to have upset my stomach on my last long run. The pancakes yesterday morning did not. Got breakfast down then started to get dressed. It seemed to take forever to get everything on, my hair braided, shoes on, and pre-race bag packed. I did manage to TCB before heading out. I made it out of the house by 6:48 — 3 minutes off schedule.

The subway

Got to the subway and there were other marathon runners. Chatted with a girl who didn’t get hardly any sleep the night before. The train came pretty quickly and I was off to Union Square for my transfer. I attached my bibs on my way there. There were a couple of people that were still in costume and obviously heading home from partying. A guy dressed up as what I can only imagine was supposed to be a hipster rabbit almost stepped on me. I moved to the end of the train and for a moment thought how different my life is now than it was 10 years ago. At Union Square we waited forever for the train and I realized that I was going to miss everyone at the ferry. The train took so long that I started to get nervous. By the time I was on the train, my tummy was flip flopping a bit. I tried to calm myself, but knew that wouldn’t happen until we got the ferry terminal.

The ferry

7:40 am. Finally at the ferry terminal and I am the first up the stairs and rush through the turnstiles. I burst out of the subway ready to dash to the ferry and notice some people behind barricades on either side of the subway entrance. I think to myself how odd it is that people would come to watch runners get on the ferry. About a second later, NYPD stops me and asks me to move to the side where I notice just how many people are waiting. And that they are runners. I ask someone what is going on and they tell me that they aren’t letting anyone into the ferry terminal until the next ferry leaves. I hear a woman say, “I’m not running this marathon. I’m just trying to get home.” NYPD has us move down the barricades then eventually behind them. I tuck in to the side of the crowd, hoping to skip a long wait. I’ve now made friends with a runner next to me and chatting with him calms my nerves. Before I know it we are moving. Everyone is pushing, though, and at one point a man full on elbows his way passed me. I get stopped a few people short of making it into the terminal and packed in like a sardine. A runner asks me how long it will take to get to the start from here and I tell him my friends inside who arrived at 7:15 are still waiting for a ferry. His start time is 10:15. I reassure him that he will make it on time based on my knowledge of how long the ferry and bus ride are.  After a minute or two, NYPD lets more of us go. As I am heading into the terminal I hear someone shout my name and look over to see my friend, Hayley. She is over to the side and there are a bunch of runners ahead of her waiting to be let in.

Inside the ferry terminal, I rush passed the meandering runners directly to the restroom. There is a line, but it isn’t too bad and I am in and out within about 5 minutes. As luck would have it, a ferry is boarding right next to the bathroom and I scoot into the crowd and a few minutes later I am on a boat full of runners about to head to Staten Island.

On the boat, I wander trying to find a spot to settle. Everywhere that I pause, someone tells me they are saving a spot for someone. What is this middle school? I decide to pop out on the west facing deck to get a view of the city as we are leaving. That spot is soon overwhelmed by people pushing and sticking their arms and cameras in front of my face to take pictures of the view. I pop off a quick shot and head downstairs which is filled with runners. I decide to position myself as close to the exit as possible despite the chilly breeze coming in from the open doors.

New York Harbor
View from the Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island Ferry
Bottom of deck of the Staten Island Ferry. Packed with runners.

I start to notice more and more runners coming downstairs so I get up to see how close we are to the Staten Island terminal. Just a little bit to go so I head for the doors. We dock, the doors open, and I am off the boat in less than a minute and heading to the buses. Runners are jogging through the crowd to the buses and there are volunteers yelling to walk. It’s a freaking zoo. I get outside expecting to see a few buses and to board immediately. Instead, I am greeted by a mass of people wrapped around the street. There is a long line of buses that takes off about a minute later. I text my friends that met at the ferry terminal at 7:15 that were inside waiting for a ferry while I was waiting outside. They are still waiting for a bus. Excellent. It’s 8:34 am.

Marathon buses
Line of buses outside the Staten Island Ferry Terminal
Bus line
Massive line for the buses.

The bus

The line for the buses moves faster than expected despite the many runners who aren’t listening to directions and slowing things down. I can hear runners chatting with their friends about being nervous about making it to the start on time. A girl in a Wonder Woman outfit is convinced she and her friend aren’t going to make it on a bus despite a bus being right in front of us and about to open it’s doors. I reassure her that we will all get on a bus and to the start. A few seconds later, the bus doors open and she pushes passed me. I get on the bus and head back to the first available seat by the back doors. There is a woman in the window seat who seems to know a few rows of runners. I pull my Larabar out of my bag and eat it. The bus starts moving.

As far as I understood, the bus ride from the terminal to Fort Wadsworth is 20-30 minutes. We were on the bus for much longer. It seemed to take forever. I started talking to the woman next to me. This is her third marathon. She did NYC as her first two. She assures me that I am going to have a blast. We start talking about training and one point she informs me that regardless of my training, at some point I will feel like I am going to die. Great. I can’t stop looking at her eyelashes. They are really nice and she obviously used good mascara. Then I wonder why she would put on mascara. I immediately start to doubt our similarities and reassure myself that I am not going to feel like I am dying. Can’t let a losing mentality creep in.

The start village

We finally get to Fort Wadsworth and soon as the back doors open, I am off the bus. There are NYPD everywhere yelling that we have to take off our watches and belts and put them into our bags. I remove my watch while walking towards the metal detectors and am through them within a minute. An officer passes my bag back and another runner grabs it and starts to dart off. An officer stops her and corrects her mistake. I think to myself that all these people are crazy and need to calm down. It’s 9:27 am. I’ve been commuting for almost 3 hours now.

I walk down a long walkway to the entrance of Fort Wadsworth. It’s a crazy mess of runners. There are announcements in multiple languages. There are volunteers yelling things to the runners. There are people jogging through the crowd, people rushing about, almost bumping into me or stepping on my feet. I just need to find the orange corrals. Elaine, Heather, and Kim are in the orange corrals. The signs help to get me to the orange village and the map I downloaded to my phone the night before gets me to the corrals. Heather has sent me several messages with details about where they are, but I can’t seem to find them. It’s a bit like a scavenger hunt. “Hmmmm… there’s the ‘dispose clothes here’ sign… where is the guy holding the Team for Kids sign? Oh, there he is… wait, where are they again? Corral F. In the corral? That doesn’t make sense. Okay, let’s text Heather. She’s not answering. What do I do? There is the pacer tent! Let’s go see if Elaine is there!” I get to the pacer tent and see Elaine. I holler for her a few times and she doesn’t hear me. She finally sees me and waves me in. Apprehensively, I head into the pacer area and notice that Heather is there with her, too. I FOUND THEM! It’s 10:00 am. We have 15 minutes before we have to head to the corrals. And I feel like I need to TCB.

Fort Wadsworth
The entrance to Fort Wadsworth.
Pacer tent
Hanging out in the pacer tent before the race.

The pacer tent is warm and I need to get organized. So I spend the next few minutes shedding layers, putting on my belt, organizing my stuff, and eating my banana. I pull out my two pre-race Honey Stingers and ask if there is any water. No water. Dang it. I use the portalets 3 times in 15 minutes trying to TCB before we head to the corrals. No dice. It’s 10:15 and we need to head to the corrals.

The corrals

We head out and within a couple of seconds it is apparent that known of us know where we are going. Where are the blue corrals? I thought I passed them on the way in, but the signs seem to say otherwise. As we wander, I notice a water stand. WATER! Grab 2 waters and after a few minutes of wandering, I try to direct us back to where I think the blue corrals are again. At some point, someone gives us directions. They are where I thought they were! We start heading that way. So many people keep stopping Elaine on the way there. She seems to know everyone running. I down my Stingers and drink some water while we walk. We get to the area just outside corral A and Elaine escorts us to the front of the crowd. We wait a few minutes and during that time I realize I have to pee again. So does Heather and Kim. There are portalets in the corral. They let us in the corral and Elaine starts scurrying to the front. We scurry right passed the portalets. We get to the front of the corral and it fills up behind us. We question whether we could make it back to the portalets and back through the crowd. One of the volunteers tells us it will be 15-20 minutes until we walk to the bridge, but doesn’t think we could push back through to the front. We decide to hold it. About 10 minutes later after joking with volunteers, taking photos, and joking about our bladders, some military walk over and link arms with the volunteers. We are about to get walked to the bridge.

Corral A
Corral A waiting to get walked to start line on the bridge.

The walk to the bridge is a slow march behind the military people and volunteers. We make jokes along the way. We stop every so often when we have to turn a corner and they have to maneuver our front line escort. We wander through a route created by lining buses end to end. Finally we snake our way around a final corner and we can see the entrance to the bridge and the start line. There will be no one starting in front us today. We are the elites of Wave 4.

The start

We stop in front of a stage with more military, lots of flags, and a really excited guy talking into a microphone about the greatest city and race in the world. The national anthem is sung by a guy who is wearing a shirt that says something like “The internet eats brains.” He is also running the race this morning and will hop into our corral after he finishes singing. The announcer comes back and gives us our “On your mark” then the cannons fire and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” starts playing. We cross the start line with no one in front of us. It’s 11:03 am.

Starting line stage.
Stage by the starting line.
Start line
The Blue start line for the 2015 NYC Marathon. Starting like elites.

The story continues in Part 3, The Race Report.

The day before

This time tomorrow I will be at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island trying to stay warm and calm before I take on my biggest race to date, the New York City Marathon. If you had told me 2 years ago that this was going to happen, I would have thought you were crazy. Go back even further in my history and well, it would just seem like a complete impossibility. As the fog clears from my taper crazies though, I am left feeling ready and surprisingly calm. I’ve been preparing for this for over a year now. I’ve put in the work and now it is just a matter of getting it done.

Of course, anything could happen tomorrow morning. Any number of nags that have popped up this week could turn into a full blown injury, I could hit the wall and not be able to push through it, I could trip, fall, throw up, poop myself… all of these are possibilities. But for the first time that I can remember ever, I am able to tune all of that out. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, be it a great run or a miserable one, it will be one of the biggest challenges and accomplishments in my life. It’s one that I will get to share with dear friends and family who are cheering in person or digitally and some that I will be running with. It’s one that will change me even more than it already has through it’s preparation. It’s one that I will be proud of for the rest of my life.

I could go into all the reasons why this race means so much to me, but I don’t want for my personal reasons to be made generic by not being able to give them justice in this blog. What I will share is that I will be running each of the five bridges for a different person that left us too soon. My high school best friend, Jean, will be my motivation on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Love you, Pooh Bear. I’ll run the Pulaski Bridge for my Grandmommies who passed two years ago on Christmas. She was a pint-sized firecracker and the Pulaski seems perfect to honor her. I’ll be running the Queensboro for my great grandparents who were taken from us when I was little. During my toughest times, my Mamaw has been a beacon of light even after she passed. And their loss had such a profound effect on my life that it only seems deserving that I honor them with this bridge that is such a critical point of this course. (And the only one without cheerers.) The Willis Avenue Bridge will be run for my Uncle Buck who left us on my birthday eight years ago. I can hear him making jokes about the bridge name in my head. Miss you, Uncle Buck! The last bridge–Madison Ave Bridge–will be run for my friend, Bobby, who died while night spearfishing in Hawaii a little over a year ago. This last bridge will also be run for other friends who left us too soon.

So what are the lessons learned from the marathon so far? I’ve learned that I am much stronger and more determined than I thought. That my body can endure things that I thought I was too old or weak for and that my mind can will my body through when it is suffering. That my mind and body have an amazing ability to find strength in adversity. I learned that my support network is broader and stronger than I ever realized. And that support can come from unlikely places — people you have just met, your laundromat attendant, colleagues you have never worked with, random runners on the subway, and so many puppies that just want to run with me so badly when I pass by. I’ve learned that running can literally be a pain the ass. (Come on, Piriformis, calm down already.) That it is possible to run so much that you can’t sleep and aren’t hungry. That it is possible to strap a pack to your back with a change of clothes (or swimsuit) and run anywhere to hang out–or brunch. ALL THE BRUNCH. And for the first time I since I started running, I am finding running with friends more enjoyable than running solo.

I was really lucky to have a friend set up a Facebook group for friends who were training for Fall marathons. Through the group, I met new friends and deepened my friendships with others. We trained almost every weekend together and then, of course, brunched after. These women are so special to me and I am almost more excited about them running this thing than me! They are my running family and I am so excited to take on this challenge with them and celebrate our accomplishment together after the race. And who knows what we will all take on next. Let’s hit those trails, ladies!

It hardly seems real that this is happening. All my preparation is done excluding a short 20 minute run today to shakeout my legs. My pre-race layers, race outfit, fuel, post-race outfit/bag are already planned and set out. So I have all day for it to set in that this is real and it is happening. In about 30 hours, if it goes to plan, I will be a marathoner. NYC, I here I come.


If you want to track me tomorrow, you my Facebook and Twitter will be auto-updating as I run the course. You can also download the iOS/Android app or use NYRR’s web-based tracking.

Name: Donna Cole
Bib: 51257

Flat Brandi
Flat Brandi: NYC (first!) Marathon edition

Track me

Runner’s World Festival Continued

Saturday evening after my race report I headed to bed ready to rest and optimistic that I would wake up on Sunday morning refreshed and ready to cheer my friends during the half marathon. I fell asleep for a couple of hours and then around midnight I woke up. I was sick. Food poisoning. It was horrible and it lasted all night. For the first few hours I was out of bed every 10-15 minutes. By 5am, I was able to sleep for 30-45 minutes at a time. At 9am, I walked to the lobby and asked if I could extend my reservation. I spent the next few hours until checking out at 1pm, sick, exhausted, sore, and very nervous about the drive back to NYC. My friend came to get me a little after 1 and I felt queasy the entire way back home. I was so happy to get home. I hadn’t eaten a meal since Saturday and it was after 5 when I got home. I was so happy to eat something and have it feel satisfying and not make me more sick. I was able to eat quite a bit and got 10+ hours of sleep last night. I’m still a little sore today, but I feel millions of times better!

Last night I was reflecting on the weekend. I didn’t get to do hardly anything that I wanted to do and the 10K was so traumatic that if you had asked me yesterday, I would tell you that I didn’t want to run the marathon. But there was light and success during the weekend. During the trail race, I started towards the front and held my position well until halfway through when I decided to back off out of fear of injury. I managed to finish 8th in my division, but still wondering how deep the field was there. The next morning for the 5K, I impressed myself with how easy the paces came. I was tired, felt sick, had run the day before on a challenging course plus some added mileage, I was on my 4th week of high mileage, 3rd weekend of tough runs (18 miler then the half marathon PR before this weekend), and somehow I managed to run that 5K easy at paces that I am not even sure I could run 4 months ago. The 10K was horrible and probably dumb, but I did finish and my pace without the bathroom break and pause before the finish (10:31 pace without breaks) was respectable given the circumstances. And even though I was sick for the next 36ish hours, I still managed to smile and joke with my friends on the way home which makes me proud that I didn’t let it get the best of me.

RWF 5K results
Proud of my easy paces during the 5K
Post Five and Dime
After the Five and Dime on Saturday morning. Forced smile, freezing, and sick.

I also got to meet or see again several of people from one of my online running clubs, The Sub 30 Club. I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with them as I had hoped, but it was so wonderful to finally get to hug a few people that have gone from people that I look forward to posting in the club, to Facebook friends that we share glimpses of our lives. I never used to be someone who would “friend” someone without meeting them in person, but think I made the proper exceptions in these cases. 😉 And as I said, it was great even to just get to hug them and hear their voice.

The Sub 30 Club
The Sub 30 Club before the trail race. Was great to meet some of the “friends in my phone.”

I also got to meet Deena Kastor! Saturday morning before heading to the start, she was hanging out on the stage with Bart. I just couldn’t let the opportunity pass to say hello to her and congratulate her on her U.S. Masters Record that she just set last weekend at the Chicago Marathon. She was so nice and Bart was nice enough to take a photo of us together. Maybe some of her speed and strength rubbed off on me for that 5K!

Deena Kastor
Deena Kastor!

I skipped my run yesterday for obvious reasons and may take my run tomorrow easy instead of doing the planned threshold workout. My body is definitely healing and I feel so much better this morning than I did yesterday in regards to soreness. I’m really looking forward to these two weeks of taper. I can’t wait to see how I feel with a well rested body!

Race report: Runner’s World Festival

Figured I could at least get a blog post written while I’m laid up in bed. It’s been a crazy 24 hours. 3 races and a total of over 17 miles including non-race mileage.

Friday was the 3.8 mile trail race in South Mountain Park. We decided to run to the start which we didn’t realize would be uphill the entire way. My watch clocked 525 gain over the 1.75 miles. PA is known for being hilly and rocky and this course was exactly that. I haven’t been on trail in about 4 months so it was both a ton of fun and tough. I started towards the front and held my position pretty well for the first half. The loose rocks posed a bit of a challenge and by half way I had tweaked my ankle a few times. Nothing serious, but enough to make me concerned about really rolling it. So I decided to back off and not risk and injury before the marathon. The finish was great, all downhill to a nice grassy shoot where there were some awesome cheerers. Started passing a girl in the chute during my kick so she fired up and we had a little race to the finish. People screamed and the announcer was all “WHOA!!!” as we ripped around the corner to the finish. I was 8th in my division, but still not sure how deep the field was there. After the race, we waited around to get our backpack with our jackets back from someone who locked it in their car. We were freezing for like an hour. They took so long to come back that we missed all our opportunities for rides down the hill and ended up having to run back to the room. It was getting dark and part of the way back didn’t have sidewalks or walkable shoulder and it was a busy road. That was pretty scary. But we made it and when we finally made it back we enjoyed some bourbon and showers before heading out for and awesome dinner and drinks. I hadn’t eaten a meal since 10am that morning (there was pizza at the trail race, but I can’t eat it) so food was definitely appreciated. After dinner, we were pooped and I had two races the next morning so we decided to skip the club happy hour. I got to bed at a reasonable time, but tossed and turned all night.

Saturday morning I got up and knew it was going to be a tough day. I was exhausted and felt sick. I jogged a mile down to the race start and picked up my race packet, got a photo with Deena Kastor (EEEEEE!!!), dropped my bag, then lined up. It was pretty cold and I wasn’t sure how I would get both races done. I decided to just take it one race at a time. I could always decide to not do the second. Once I got going, I felt pretty okay. Definitely wasn’t racing, but was running at a nice pace. I was happy with the run and felt pretty okay directly after, though a little hungry.

After the 5k, I cheered finishers and ran a club member in to the finish. One of the club members forced me to borrow a hoodie for my own good which was much appreciated. Cheered some more then started feeling really sick. Went to the bathroom then hung out in the expo center for a few minutes. I was feeling really horrible and I guess it was apparent because an expo worker asked me if I was okay and if I needed to sit down. I assured her that I would be fine and headed out to start the 10k. I was freezing, felt sick and dizzy, and had no idea how I was going to get this 6.2 miles done. I wondered if maybe I should just call it, but I am too stubborn. (And probably a little dumb.)

The 10k started and as soon as I started running, I started feeling a little better. I was still out of it a bit, but I felt like if I went slow enough I could get it done. This course was hillier than the 5k which added significantly to the challenge. I ended up having to stop to use the bathroom at some point and wondered if I should quit. I just kept telling myself that if I can get through this 6.2, I’ll be good for the end of the marathon. So I pushed on and by mile 5 I was chanting to myself under my breath. “You are okay.” “You CAN do this.” “One more mile.” There is a hill at mile 5.5 which was also at the end of the 5k so I knew it was there. I just kept pushing. One foot in front of the other. Constant forward motion.

Coming down the other side, I was feeling dizzy and like when I stopped I may fall over. I just kept telling myself to get to the finish. There are friends there and medical. Just keep going. Just before the mile 6 marker I drifted and grabbed onto a fence. I squatted down and put my head down. I was there for about a minute. Runners going by kept saying “you got this!” and “almost there!” and I so badly wanted someone to just ask if I was okay. (I would have told them yes, but the ask would have been comforting.) I snapped out of it and got to my feet. There was about .3 miles to go. Once the finish was in site, I wanted to push but I was scared I literally might fall over. I did manage a tiny kick just before the finish when I heard some yell my name then got across the finish and immediately pulled over to the side and squatted. Took a minute to collect myself then headed to get my medal. Then to get my bag. I sat down in the middle of the parking lot and layered on everything in my bag. I was so cold and tired and sick and dizzy and I wasn’t sure I could walk. I wanted someone that I knew to walk by, but no one did. I stayed there for a bit, but I was cold. I decided to skip picking up my race shirt, used the bathroom, and headed straight back to the room. That mile long walk uphill seemed to take longer than race.

I’ve spent the entire day in bed, resting and eating. My head feels better, but my body is pretty banged up. I don’t think I will be getting in my 4 miles tomorrow. I did get in some gentle yoga which seemed to help a bit. I missed all my afternoon events though and will miss dinner with my club.

I feel like a big dummy for not fueling better yesterday and drinking a few drinks last night. (I never drink before races or long runs!) That combined with a sleepless night set me up for a challenging morning. I also should have probably forced myself to eat more this morning (I had a banana and Justin’s nutella packet) and should have grabbed my bag with snacks between races. I probably should have slowed the pace in the 5k given I wasn’t feeling great. And of course, running the 10k was probably a really, really, horribly dumb idea. But what’s done is done and my body should recover in time for the marathon. I’m hoping I can get good sleep tonight, but I typically have a hard time sleeping after races and when I am traveling. My body needs good rest, though. It needs to heal.

Read about what happened after this post in my Monday morning follow-up.

Race report: ASICS & AskMen Summer Series 5K

Why do I sign up for 5Ks? They always seem like such an awesome idea until I am actually racing one. The ASICS & AskMen Summer Series 5K was no exception to that. As a matter of fact, when I finished I was happy with the idea of never running a 5K ever again.

It all started about a month ago when I was reviewing my marathon training plan and noticed that training paces progressed every six weeks to account for natural progress during training. Me being the person that I am and needing all things to be logical and justified decided that I should run a race that fit into my training around the time of the increase. I found the ASICS & AskMen Summer Series 5K and totally did not give any thought to the fact that it was an hour away by train, on August 1st which would likely be hot, and was going to be on an exposed stretch next to the windy harbor. Nope, I just needed that justification for pace increases so I signed up.

The week before the race

I was traveling the week before the race so my training schedule got a little wonky. I ended up training 4 consecutive days in the week of the race and was only able to get in one rest day the day before. I had also delayed a full body circuit until late in the week. Who doesn’t like a challenge, right? So the day before the race I did my best to rest and recover. My hamstrings were sore and tight and later in the evening my heel started to bother me. I was also nervous about the heat and wasn’t sure what time goal to shoot for given I knew I had progressed since my last race, but I wasn’t sure how much. I decided on 3 goals:

A: 28:00 (9:00 mpm)
B: 28:31 (9:10 mpm)
C: 29:02 (9:20 mpm)

My “A” goal was based on a reasonable assumption of progress since my last race, “B” was a little less improvement, and “C” was based on my last race time. All were adjusted for an expected temperature of 76º using Jack Daniels’ VDOT Running Calculator.

The morning of the race

The morning of the race was pretty uneventful. I woke up just before my alarm at 5:15 am, ate, showered, dressed, did a little bit of stretching, then went to pick up the car. Drove down to the course, picked up my packet, checked my bag, and sat around for a bit waiting to warm-up. My warm-up was 2 miles at easy pace and I felt okay. I added a couple of 10 second strides in at the end just to remind myself what running fast feels like. Made a last minute pit stop and then hit the chute. I lined up in the crowd about 10′ back from the start line. The race director ended up popping in right next to me after making his announcements which was kind of neat.

The race

The air horn sounded and we were off. I crossed the start 5 seconds after the horn. I was mixed in with some fast runners and was running a 7-7:15 mpm pace for almost the first quarter mile. After blowing off that steam, I settled into a ~8:45 mpm pace. I knew I was running faster than anticipated, but I was trying to run by effort and figured if I crashed and burned later, at least I tried. There was a pretty significant headwind going on and I was a little nervous about effort going out, but told myself the awesome tailwind on the way back (it was an out-and-back course) would help me through the second half. I told myself when I hit mile 2, I would slow down slightly and recover a bit from the first mile before the last mile.

My race strategy was go out hard, float for the second mile, then push it home for the last mile. I found it difficult to slow down for some reason. I feel like sometimes I forget how to not push. I have noticed this on training runs, as well. At any rate, I was keeping an ~8:45 pace until mile 1.55 where we turned around. I slowed for the turnaround and the water stop directly after. By 1.7 miles I was back up to the ~8:45 pace.

Halfway point
Turning around at the halfway point.

Steve Prefontaine once said “The only good race pace is a suicide pace and today looks like a good day to die.” (I’m no Pre, but you really can’t argue the man’s logic given he never lost a collegiate 5K or 6K race.) By mile 3, I was definitely feeling like I was making a valiant attempt at suicide pace and a mile never seemed so long. Early in the mile I looked at my watch to see my race time and realized that even if I trotted the last mile at ~10:00, I would meet my “A” goal. But I didn’t slow and didn’t stop pushing even though it was feeling very much like a suicide pace. There was heavy breathing, some involuntary grunting, and a few people that passed me looking way to comfortable. One guy passed me quite easily and when I offered him a “good job” and commented on how effortless he looked, he told me he took it easy during the headwind before galloping off like a gazelle. I’m pretty sure that man was not running a suicide pace. Anywho, mile 3 was long and hard and to add insult to injury the sun decided to come out full force for the last quarter mile. It’s cool, I like a challenge.

Just before mile 3, I noticed a woman running off my shoulder. She definitely looked like she was running a suicide pace. I told myself that we would push each other through. Then she slowed down. I encouraged her to keep up, but around that time I noticed that two running team peeps were at the finish cheering for me. I picked up the pace and pulled away from the other runner to sprint through the finish. My last .11 was run at 7:16 pace. As I passed my cheering teammates, I threw my hands in the air and yelled to them “it’s gonna be a PR!!” I saw the clock and realized that I had totally shattered my PR goal. Final time: 27:16–43 seconds faster than my “A” goal.

Finish line
Crossing the finish line.

Race stats

Official finish: 27:16
Pace: 8:48/mile
Overall: 77 of 198
Age group (F 30-39): 8 of 37

Weather: Overcast, 75º, 66% humidity, 10mph wind

-Mile 1: 8:41
-Mile 2: 8:55
-Mile 3: 8:52
-Last .11: 7:16

Garmin distance: 3.11
Last comparable race (6/4, 3.2): 29:37, 9:03 pace

Race Report: GLIRC Greenbelt 25K

It’s Tuesday night and I am headed to a bar in EV. It’s not typical that I would be headed to a bar on a week night. I’m headed there to meet up with a bunch of trail and ultra runners from my new running group, Trail WhippAss. After 2 ciders and a little conversation about race schedules, I have committed myself to my longest race to date–the GLIRC (Greater Long Island Running Club) Greenbelt 25K.

Pre-race

Mike (Stinkfoot & Chafe) picked me up around 7:15 am. It was a cool and grey morning, but the forecast was for sunny skies and a high of 77. It only took about 30 minutes to get out to the start in Plainview, NY on Long Island. Nestled in a small industrial area, the GLIRC headquarters provided a humble start to the race. We grabbed our bibs, got geared up, and headed to the start where everyone was very friendly and chatting about the course. The 50Kers had headed out an hour earlier so it was just 25Kers hanging out and waiting for the start. Pre-race announcements were made and me, Mike, and two of my friends, Natalie and Ash, lined up at the back of the very small pack of runners. The plan was to take it easy and treat it as a training run not a race. Most of us will be racing the Brooklyn Half Marathon just a week after this race.

The race

The beginning of the race leads out of the parking lot and onto a few roads before you hit trail. We were pretty much back of the pack with just a few people behind us. Natalie set a good conservative pace and I was feeling good. We hit the first aid at 2.16 miles right after our first road crossing. I wanted to stay on top of nutrition and hydration so I paused at the station to take some pocketfuel, drink some water, and refill my water bottles. The rest of the group headed off without me and I told them I would catch up. Back on the trail it took a little longer to catch up to the group than I had planned since I was taking it so easy. We stuck together at the next aid at 3.46 and headed up to the meadow at 3.76. In the meadow we ended up breaking up into two groups with me and Mike taking the lead. Mike and I stayed together for a short while. I’m not quite sure where we got separated, but he wasn’t very far behind me.

When I got to the Route 108 crossing (5.66 mi) there was a runner that was injured and I asked if he needed help. He asked if I could call headquarters to have someone pick him up. I had left my phone in the car, but Mike was headed towards us at that point so I asked if he could call. No reception. So we told the runner we would let them know at the next aid station and headed back out on the trail.

Course shot 1
I really wish I would have gotten good shots of the REAL steps that were to come. I was too focused on making my way through them, though.
Course shot 2
Some more of the more tame part of course.
Course shot 3
This and the meadow were may favorite parts of the course. This was heading out to the halfway point.
Course shot 4
Another shot of my favorite part of the course.

I knew that going into miles 6, 8, and 10 there were substantial climbs. What I didn’t realize was just how substantial. The substantial climbs meant there were some significant descents as well. At some points there were steps built which were a foot or two difference between steps. Following my typical trail race protocol, I power hiked the ascents and charged the descents–well, the ones that I could anyway. By the time I got to the halfway point at 7.86 miles, I was feeling good, but really over the hills. I was in great spirits and had been saying “good morning” to all of the hikers that I passed and cheering the runners that had passed me on their way back to the finish. I paused for a bit and ate and drank and chatted with the volunteers. After a minute or two, Mike appeared and made his way down to the aid station, too. I took my time eating and refilling my bottles and chatting. I had found out that the only restroom on the course was just a little walk next door to the library so I decided I should go. (It ended up being a quarter mile round trip.) By the time I got back, Mike was gone, but Natalie and Ash were there. They were also in good spirits, but also over the hills. The three of us took off together hoping to stick together for the mean hills. At the first good descent I charged down and before I knew it they were no longer behind me. At some point soon after I noticed that my knees were bothering me a bit, but I didn’t think much of it and kept pace. I was hoping to catch up to Mike.

Race shot
Feeling strong before the halfway point.
Race shot 2
Feeling good before the halfway point.

Just before mile 9, I caught a glimpse of Mike ahead of me on the trail. I gave a loud “YIP YIP” and he hollered back. I figured it would just be a few minutes before I caught up. But it wasn’t another minute or so before my knees really started to act up. It was the outside of both and it was a sharp pain so I knew it was my IT bands. My hips were pretty tight before the start and I had thought maybe they would loosen up once I warmed up. I stopped for a minute after the next road crossing just after the 10 mile mark to stretch my IT bands. There was an unmanned aid just a few hundred feet from there so I headed over to fill my bottles and take a salt pill. That’s when I saw Natalie and Ash. I gave them my other two salt pills and we took off for mile 10 together.

Course shot 5
Favorite part of the course, but on the way back. It was right around here that my knees started to really hurt.
Course shot 6
Roots anyone? Not sure how people were running through this part of the course!

Natalie set the pace and I tried to hang on. I was able to keep up with her for most of it, but my knees were really hurting. The downhills were especially excruciating and I could no longer run them. I just needed to get to the meadow at mile 11.66. The meadow is flat and from there it is less than 4 miles to the finish. “Where is the meadow?!” I kept asking with each turn even though the distance on my watch told me we still had a little while to go. Finally, FINALLY we reached the meadow. Natalie and I paused for a celebratory photo and to make sure Ash was still behind us. Ash and I took a couple more photos as Natalie ran ahead. With the end so close, she was ready to go.

Meadow selfie
OMG WE MADE IT TO THE MEADOW!!!

The next 2 or so miles to the last aid station were difficult. I was able to keep up with Natalie, but just barely. She got a little ahead of me, but I caught up at the aid station. I had to pee at this point so no bottle refill needed as I hadn’t been drinking much over the last mile or so. I did indulge in a few candies which were the sweetest tasting little slices of heaven. Since it was nearly 12:30 there was much more traffic on the turnpike that we had to cross. We waited several minutes to cross, but at this point we were getting near 4 hours on the course so I couldn’t have cared less. We finally crossed. Just 2 miles to go.

Through two fallen trees
No said anything about obstacles.

The last two miles were hell. No really. Every step I took while running hurt and I could barely walk down hills. As I hobbled down hills, Natalie pressed on. I could still see her, but there was no way I was catching her. I decided I would just walk until I got out of the woods or at least until I came across the next course marshals which happened around mile 15. I put on a smile and did a slow trot passed them, thanking them for coming out and volunteering. When I turned out onto the streets for the final half a mile I could see Natalie ahead of me. And then she was gone. The last half of a mile was downhill, then uphill, then downhill before entering the parking lot to finish. At this point all I could do was walk. As I headed back to the parking lot for the finish, a runner who was leaving rolled down their window and offered encouragement. And as I got within earshot of the course marshal directing us into the finish in the parking lot, he encouraged me to finish strong. He said, “if you start running now, no one will know you were walking!” I told him there was no way that was happening. I didn’t think my legs could even run at that point.

The finish

As I turned into the parking lot, the first thing I saw was my friends, Chris and Erik. They had surprised me and showed up at the finish. There was no way I could walk it in. I started to shuffle my feet. That’s when I started to hear everyone at the finish line cheering for me and saw that Mike, Natalie, and another trail buddy were there hollering with cameras at the ready. I felt a little silly that I couldn’t actually really run and made jokes as I hobbled in. I tried to push myself into a run, but my legs just wouldn’t do it. (And I felt a bit like I would fall over if I tried.) A man at the finish held up my medal and I felt my face light up. I shuffled directly to it with both hands reaching for it. Mike got a photo and I don’t think I have ever seen that level of joy on my face in a photo. It was pure bliss. It took me 4 hours, 15 minutes, and some change, but I got it done. Longest race ever (15.78 miles total) and most elevation change ever (2231 gain, 2267 loss).

Finish
Shuffling into the finish. My legs refused to work how I wanted them to, but I was still smiling.
Receiving my medal
So.freaking.happy.
Post-race selfie with friends
Non-runner buddies surprise me at the finish. Can’t even put into words what this meant to me!

Post-race

The next few minutes are pretty blurry. I know I hugged a lot of people and there were photos taken. I also heard there was beer and rushed off to grab one. It was a Yuengling, but it might as well have been the best craft beer that I have ever had. It tasted magical. By this time it had started to lightly drizzle. I stood in the rain and drank my beer with my friends. I didn’t want to keep my non-runner friends waiting in the rain so I headed out with them while Mike hung back to cheer in our friend that had run the 50K. I proudly wore my race medal to lunch where I enjoyed soooo much barbecue and a couple of beers.

After I got home, I started tending to my “wounds.” I iced and elevated my legs. I did some gentle yoga focusing on IT band stretches. Later that night, I laid on my back with legs up against the wall and massaged my IT band from hip to knee. I went to bed hoping for the best. I was a bit surprised when my I woke up after just 7.5 hours of sleep. Surely my body needed more? I gently rolled out of bed, sure that my legs were going to be stiff and painful. To my surprise, my knees felt pretty good and my only significant soreness was in my hips and glutes. Heading downstairs for brunch was slow going, but not necessarily painful. The human body is truly amazing.

Final thoughts

This is the second race in row that my body has “betrayed” me. Last week at Bear, I suffered from abdomen cramps and this time it was my IT bands. I now truly believe that “bad” races are the most rewarding experiences. I’ve learned so much about myself through the past two experiences and I wouldn’t take them back for the world. At the end of the day, it’s the heart not the clock that counts. I can try to convince myself that my finishing time is an indication of performance improvement, but it really just serves the ego. I think it is totally natural to want to be better than you were before. Or even to be as “good” as your peers. But I want to hold on to the fact that I am not doing these races for performance. I am doing them for the experience. For fun. To spend a day out on the trails doing awesome things with awesome people. There is no way to quantify an awesome experience.

Race fuel & hydration notes

Gear
Nathan double 9oz bottle belt

Pre-race dinner & breakfast
Mashed potatoes & chili (for both meals!)

Fuel
170 pocketfuel .5 hours
100 vanilla stinger 1.25 hours
170 pocketfuel + 53 1/2 banana = 223 2 hours
100 vanilla stinger 2.5 hours
100 vanilla stinger 3.25 hours
 2 small gummy candies, a few chips at last two aids
1 salt tab at unmanned around mile 10
Total: 700-800 calories for 4.25 hours, 165-185 calories per hour
Water
Start: 18 oz
First aid: 18 oz refill
Second aid: 9 oz refill
Turnaround aid: 27 oz refill (Could have been 18 oz)
Unmanned aid: 18 oz refill (Could have been less/more)
End: 5 oz left?
Total: 85 oz of water total, 5.5 oz per mile
Notes
Felt great the entire time. I think the salt tab was timely. Definitely drank more than I do typically and think it helped. Don’t think I could have skipped the bathroom at the turnaround through without having to use the woods on the way back. Didn’t drink nearly as much on the way back as I did on the way out. Didn’t get through 18oz after the unmanned aid around mile 10.

Race Report: North Face Endurance Challenge 10K at Bear Mountain

Back in the Fall of 2011 when I was just getting back into running via a Couch to 5K program, before I had even run my first race, I stumbled across The North Face Endurance Challenge site. I was immediately intrigued. I had no idea at that time just how challenging the courses are, but I knew I wanted to do it someday. All of the running delays in those first few years lead to this race being put off several times. I had no intentions of registering for the North Face Endurance Challenge this year, either. While I felt confident I could tackle the 5K, I had gotten it into my head that I now wanted to race it at a longer distance and would put it off yet another year. Enter Stinkfoot & Chafe.

Trail Twins

I met my trail partner, Mike (sorry buddy, I know you were hoping for a boss trail name, but I am at a loss at the moment), through an online running group. We crossed paths a few times at Fall road races and kept in touch through the Winter sharing race links and checking in on each other’s injuries. During this time, I had been thinking a lot more about trail running–watching lots of documentaries and even daydreaming of moving from the city to somewhere with more access to trails. So when he texted me on November 25th with an invite to a trail race, I really wanted to jump at the offer but was injured with more guarantee races to finish so I had to decline. Flash forward to early February when I was returning from injury and Mike was generous with the race links and persistent on getting me out on the trails. After a reluctant acceptance to an offer to run an easy 3-4 mile in Pound Ridge, I was hooked on trails. By the time Mike had gotten his mind set on the North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon, we were both signed up for several other races in the weeks leading up to it and after it. Needless to say, I was apprehensive about signing up for this race. After 6ish snowy and icy miles during a recon run on the course, it was apparent that the half was a little overambitious. I still wasn’t 100% on adding another race to my calendar, but since he agreed to do the 10K and another friend expressed interest, I registered. So it was officially happening. I was going to race TNEFCS on Bear Mountain.

Trail twins
Same shirt, same hat, jeans, we even have a pair of the same running shoes. It’s like we were trail twins separated at birth.

The North Face Endurance Challenge 10K at Bear Mountain

The course for the 10K is pretty straight-forward. You run 600 feet and change up the mountain and then 600 feet and change back down the mountain. It isn’t a straight climb the entire time nor is it a straight descent, but for the majority of the first half you are climbing and the majority of the backside is downhill. The course is pretty technical in places with plenty of roots and rocks while other parts of the course are very runnable trail. This was going to be the most elevation I had done to date so I was a little nervous, but given I had a few (3) trail 10Ks under my belt along with some solid training runs I felt like it was going to be manageable. Maybe a little challenging and painful, but definitely manageable.

Course information
This is no joke.

Race weekend

We decided that it would be ideal to try to stay up by Bear Mountain the night before. We could grill out, enjoy the finish festival, and hopefully cross paths with some of our pals running the ultras on Saturday. We got lucky and scored two rooms at two of the places right on site. When we arrived, I scored an upgrade on my room so me and my friend, Alicia, got to stay in eye shot of the festival. We setup the grill and popped a couple of beers and took in the atmosphere. We even got to meet up with some of our running group buddies. It was an awesome time. But there was a race the next morning so in addition to being aware of nutrition and hydration, I was also aware of getting enough rest. We retired to our room early, around 8, and were shutting off the lights by 9pm.

IMG_5643
The start/finish festival with our inn in the background.
Run club meet-up!
Run club meet-up!

Before the race

The next morning I woke up with plenty of time to get to the start right outside our inn. Got some coffee, spent some time lounging in the lobby and watching runners trickle in to the festival, and leisurely got ready for the race. At this point, I was regretting a little bit that we had decided against the half marathon. My return to running has gone better than anticipated and the challenge of a longer race was alluring. But we had others joining us, another girl friend and her roommate, and we had missed the window to change distances. So I mentally prepared myself for the shorter, more intense distance and headed out for a nice warm-up loop around the lake. By the time I got back, went to the restroom, escorted everyone back up to the room for some bug spray, and made it back down to the start we only had to wait about a minute to start moving. I looked around at the runners in our wave and made a last minute decision to hop into the wave before. We started at the back of the pack, but I figured since it was a faster wave we would end up with a nice cushion between that wave and the wave behind us.

Warm-up run view
Not a bad view for a warm-up run.

The race

The start was pretty gentle. Run across a field, through a parking lot, and then hit the gently rolling trail. At about a half mile in though, we hit a pretty steep downhill that was also pretty rocky and wet and it was a complete bottleneck. So right off the bat, I started leap frogging passed runners who were cautiously hiking down the rocks. We then hit a good incline which I power hiked part of then a nice flat then another incline and well, you get the picture. The first half of the race was pretty slow going. I tried to power hike up most of the steep inclines to save myself for the flats and more runnable inclines. My friend, Alicia, ran with me most of the time and just before the aid station at 2.6 miles we caught up with our other friend who had come out for the race. I downed a Honey Stinger at the aid station along with some water and was excited to put the first half of the course behind me and fly down the mountain.

Leader of the pack
Evidently I was leading a pack at some point.

It was right around the half that I start I getting an abdomen cramp. I’m not sure if it was my pre-race food choice which I had changed up for the norm, the salt tab I took before the race which isn’t my norm, if I wasn’t drinking enough water, or if just the banging of running up and down hills was the cause, but it forced me to walk for about two minutes before it faded. After that little hiccup, I started attacking the downhills, flying passed runners, and even had a little tail of runners following me down the mountain. The descents were pretty rocky and the rocks were loose so foot placement was key. At one point I realized that I was running so fast with so many people following me that I didn’t think I could stop and if I fell it wouldn’t be pretty. Alicia was more cautious on the downhills, but would catch up on the flats. (She is a much, much faster runner than me!) At 5.65 miles, I felt a very sharp stabbing pain in my abdomen. It hurt so bad that I doubled over in pain and yelled. I had to step off the course and was stopped for a full minute. I knew Alicia was behind me and there was no way I could run so I just camped out for a minute. She came by and I tried to run, but couldn’t. So for the next three excruciating minutes, we walked. It hurt so badly that I was concerned that it was some kind of internal organ issue. I pushed on the pain and mentally prepared myself for the possibility that I was going to have to walk the rest of the course. I was swearing and angry and a little scared. And also very lucky that my friend stuck with me to support me!

Running downhill
Charging down the hills! I was feeling strong and ready to tackle this race.
Running through the mud
Mud makes me happy!

Around 5.85 miles and four minutes after the initial stop, I was able to resume running at an ~8mpm clip fighting the pain. Around mile 6, with just .2 miles to go I had to walk yet again for less than a .1 of a mile. At this point we were back to the parking lot and just had a short run on asphalt to the grassy finishing chute. I told Alicia to leave me, but she refused. Even when we got to the grass and the finish was within our sites and she asked if I wanted to race to the finish and I told her I couldn’t she stuck with me. When we got within sprinting distance, I said, “LET’S GO!” and took off for a finishing kick. 1:15:42 official finishing time.

IMG_5647
Post-race. Ready for a shower and food!
Me and Alicia
Love this girl and so glad she spent the weekend with me! Thanks for not leaving me at the end of the race, Alicia!

Post-race

After the race, we grabbed our medals and headed over to grab our shirts which were being screen printed with our race distance. The inn had a buffet brunch and we had time for all of us to shower in our room so we made a reservation for brunch and dined like kings and queens. It was so awesome to shower and change into clean clothes post-race and so much fun to have so many friends racing with us and join in a celebratory brunch. There were five of us in total. Three were trail race newbies which made it even more special! As we packed the car and started to head back to the city, I couldn’t help but be a little sad to leave the mountains. I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of my long runs through to my July 4th race (excluding the Brooklyn Half) on trails. I definitely feel like I have found my home.

Mountain views
Can I wake up to this every morning, please?!

Letting go

Just after the race, I was happy that I completed the race, but also super bummed that cramps had taken me out twice with the second being during a particularly speedy clip of downhill. I had been saving myself on the first half of the race to race the second half full out and to be taken out and finish with gas in the tank was truly disappointing. I estimate that I lost about 4 minutes in total to my mystery ailment. It’s even more of a bummer given my 1:10:32 finish at VCTC UEC 10K a little over two weeks before. That race had a lot less elevation so to come close to that time would have been pretty awesome and a great indicator of improvement. These thoughts plagued me in the hours following the race despite my elation of having done the race and with friends. I guess old habits die hard. I had told myself that all I care about with trail running is getting out there and finishing, but I can’t help pushing myself to do my best and measuring myself via finish times. I’m not sure whether it was just because this race has been so important to me for so long, but I intend to be more mindful of shutting these types of negative thoughts down in the future. I truly believe that no one cares about your times but you and that it is such a horribly egotistical thing to focus on. I want running to be a joyful experience, not some goal-oriented activity! To that end, I won’t be sharing splits for this race.