“If I were to end up in the hospital on my death bed tomorrow, I would regret never seeing the Grand Canyon.”
I said that seven years ago during a discussion about life and direction. That moment snowballed and a year later my life was completely different. I was on my way to NYC–single and unemployed for the first time in 4 years. I’ve thought about that moment and those words a million times since then. It was a moment of clarity as much as it was a declaration of truth.
To be honest, I probably put too much emotional weight on this trip and this race. I made it into this monumental life moment. I even had this plan to get words from my Granddaddies’ favorite saying tattooed on me in his handwriting after I finished the race. Those words that have guided me most of my life, “time, patience, and perseverance conquers all things” will guide me again now. If only I had more time to be able to nurse my poor sick baby back to health before I had to leave. I can change many things, but not time–and patience has always been my hardest lesson. But I know it will all be okay because for some reason the perseverance comes naturally. Perhaps it’s all the practice I have had.
All of this is to say that I will not be running Grand Canyon 50k nor will I be taking the trip out there. It’s a large, tough pill to swallow letting go of not only the race after my second training cycle attempting to get to that distance, but knowing that I also won’t finally get to make that trip. I believe it is the right decision, though. I wish it didn’t feel so difficult or dramatic. But the fact is that this trip and this race have become so important to me that it feels like something that needs to be mourned. I will be patient and persevere, and know that in time I will eventually conquer my 50k. I will have my Grand Canyon moment.
I’m not even sure where to start. It’s been since November since I’ve written any kind of update about my own training. I was just starting with a new physical therapist then and starting to unravel the issues with my pelvis, sacrum, sural nerve, and starting back to running really slowly after a month completely off running.
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The new physical therapist has been such a blessing and by February-March I was starting to get back to really training and focusing on Grand Canyon 50k. My training took a little longer to pick up than anticipated when I signed up, but I felt confident with how well things were going by March that I wouldn’t be undertrained. In Mid-March I ran NYC Half as a training run and felt strong pacing a teammate to a new PR. By the end of March it had warmed enough that I was able to head out to my local trail. I had some little twinges here and there–in my hip, my hammie, and my back–but PT was keeping everything in check for the most part.
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Eight weeks to Grand Canyon
The first weekend of April I went down to Georgia to crew a friend running Georgia Death Race. I did 2 runs in the Georgia mountains that weekend. I ended up rolling both ankles and my left ankle in particular pretty badly on the second run. I was able to run the rest of the run, but knew it was going to take some care and rehab. I made a plan with the PT to cut weekday trainings short and just focus on getting in my long training on the weekends which seemed to go okay. I had developed some foot pain in my left foot on some of the longer runs, but we assumed it was too tight shoes and made adjustments.
Five weeks to Grand Canyon
I headed out for my 20 miler at the end of April on a rainy morning and by mid-way through the five hour run the trail become very, very muddy. By the end of the run not only was my left foot aching, but my right ankle had gotten pretty aggravated from the mud running. I limped home and skipped my long run the next day.
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Three weeks to Grand Canyon
In an effort to save my foot, ankle, and my training cycle I took 2 weeks off of training before my peak weekend of training which was going to be 22 miles on Saturday followed by Broad Street Run 10 miler the next day. My left foot was still a little tender by that weekend so I decided I would run for time instead. I got in 4 hours of training and had some slight shin and foot pain, but all-in-all I felt okay going into the 10 miler the next day. During the 10 miler my foot hurt a little and at one point I walked for a half mile, but I was able to finish it in under 2 hours and was feeling pretty good about being able to finish Grand Canyon 50k. I’d use taper to rehab my ankles and foot and hopefully line up at the start feeling healthy and ready to go.
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On the way home from Philly, my right foot had a really sharp pain that came out of nowhere and it hurt a lot to walk. (The left was the one had been bothering me to this point.) I limped home and a couple days later my chiro popped my foot (cuboid) and while it didn’t completely calm it down right then, within a day the pain was gone. I again skipped my weekday runs and got in my 14 miler that weekend. Then I had to skip the following day’s 90 minute run because I woke up with a cold.
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Two weeks to Grand Canyon
That was this past Monday and the plan this week was to run a few times at low mileage in some new shoes and incorporating a dancer’s pad to offload the 5th metatarsal joint on my left foot. But when I woke up Tuesday, one of my cats was very sick and my cold had worsened significantly. By Wednesday, my cat was at the emergency hospital. Long story short, I did not train all week and was under a lot of stress. I still planned to do Brooklyn Half Marathon and my 90 minute run on Sunday, though. And hoped that my kitty would recover in time for me to head out to the Grand Canyon.
One week to Grand Canyon
Yesterday I lined up at the start of the Brooklyn Half Marathon. I had taped my left foot in hopes of it holding together and didn’t really think about my right foot because it hadn’t bothered me since my chiro popped it. I noticed my right ankle felt a little sore and wished I had taped that ankle, too, but it was too late at that point. I crossed the start and glanced at the clock. 22:22. I took it as a good sign. I’ll spare the details, but by the 10k mark I was walking with considerable pain in my right foot and by mile 8 I had dropped from the race. Later that evening my kitty got to come home. She needs medication twice a day and I have to monitor her eating, drinking, a bathroom breaks. She is still showing some symptoms and if her condition worsens, she will need to go back to the hospital.
So here I am, six days out from Grand Canyon 50k with two injured feet and a sick cat. I can arrange for care for my cat, but will be at least 18-20 hours away from home if anything happens. I’m not sure if I will even be able to walk around the Grand Canyon much less run 33 miles with the current state of my right foot. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon and this was going to be a bucket list trip for me made even better by the fact I have friends coming out, one of them I am coaching and this will be her first ultra, and I planned to stay a few extra days for adventuring out there and back in Vegas. To say I am conflicted about what to do would be an understatement. Staying home to take care of my baby and myself seems to be the most logical answer, but I’ve invested so much in this race and this trip. Not to mention not wanting to let my friends down. I have no idea what I am going to do.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Recently I have had a few athletes mention to me that they are interested in losing a little weight while training. As a coach, my perspective is that athletes need to be cautious when trying to lose weight and train and my main concern is that you as an athlete are supporting your body for all the work you are putting in. Your focus should be health, not the scale in most cases.
Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a doctor and none of this should be interpreted as prescribing a certain diet or supplements. You should always consult with your physician before beginning any supplementation or dietary regimen!
Okay, so now that we have gotten that out of the way…
The importance of calories
First and foremost, you need to be sure to be getting enough quality nutritional calories. You want to make sure that you are losing fat and not muscle which is what is going to happen if you cut your calories too much. One of the best ways to ensure you are getting the right amount of calories is to track your food. In my experience, this has been the most effective way for me to lean down. Using a platform like MyFitnessPal will also allow you to track you macros (protein, carbohydrates “carbs”, fat) and your micros (vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients). The amount of calories you need is personal to you and you can find many online calculators including in MyFitnessPal to help you determine what your baseline is and figure caloric expenditure for your different activities.
Once you get the calorie thing figured out, you are going to want to focus on your macros. There are many schools of thought on macros. I’ve done the standard USDA recommendations, high protein/fat and low carb, high carb. In the end, I think somewhere between 55-65% carbs, 25-35% fat, and 15-25% protein is where you will likely want to be. Focus on more protein when you are doing more strength, stamina, and speed so you can repair and build muscle. Focus on a little more carbs when you are in your endurance phase. And of course, don’t forget the fiber to keep things moving! For all of your nutrition it is best to be getting these things in the least processed form–meaning REAL food. And for your carbs particularly, you should be focusing on complex carbs–quinoa, beans, lentils, oatmeal, brown rice–not simple and refined carbs. And for the record, alcoholic beverages do not constitute a quality carbohydrate. Don’t validate your post-run beer as your carb replenishment. You still need quality carbs.
Okay, so now you know about macros. What about micros? Should you be supplementing? Well, that depends. I recommend tracking your typical diet for a few days then starting to make some changes to get your macros in the right zones. Then take a look at your micros. What are you deficient in on a rolling (few day) basis? Can you make some more slight adjustments to get you to where you need to be? If the answer is no–and it may be based on what food you are able to eat or have access to–then you may want to consider a supplement. If you do choose to supplement, you should be choosing quality supplements and discussing them with your doctor.
For micros, I want you to be paying particular attention to your minerals–calcium, magnesium, and iron–especially the ladies. Women tend to be deficient in these and they are super important for runners. Guys, you need to be aware, too. For iron, I eat a medium rare steak or burger once a week. You can also get iron from other sources if you aren’t into that type of thing. It is really important that you are getting your iron from food and not a supplement so pay particular attention to this one and adjust your diet. For your calcium, if you are like me and can’t do dairy it can be a challenge. I do supplement with a quality, nutritionist prescribed supplement. Calcium is super important because as we add more stress to your bones they are going to be doing something called remodeling. Your body needs calcium to do that. If you are not getting enough calcium, you are putting yourself at risk for a stress reaction or fracture!
Calcium has a best frenemy–magnesium. I say frenemy because you need calcium and magnesium in balance with each other, BUT you shouldn’t take them at the same time because they impact the absorption of each other. It’s super important that you are paying attention to this balance because while calcium is in there helping to build some bones it is also likes to party a little bit and can cause inflammation unless you send in magnesium to calm it down and to tell it is drunk and to go home. One of my favorite ways to send in some magnesium is through epsom salt baths. It is absorbed through the skin AND you get a nice little relaxing treat. Be aware that magnesium also likes to party a little–in your bowels. Too much of magnesium could have you catching up on some reading, if you know what I mean.
Are you still with me? We just have a little more to go… vitamins! A through K to be exact. You should be getting most of these with a balanced diet. One that you may need to supplement with seasonally is D. D is calcium’s best friend and is needed for your bones. It also helps keep your immune system strong which is important because your immune system becomes depressed as you accumulate training load. (Remember that cold you got during or right after marathon training?) You get vitamin D from sun exposure–10 minutes of direct high sun on your full body a few times per week is what you need. Unfortunately for those of us in places that get cold during the winter, we may end up seasonally deficient. D is actually what is responsible Seasonal Affective Disorder or Winter blues.
B6 and B12 are also important vitamins for runners as they help with metabolism, energy, and play a role in hemoglobin / red blood cell production. RBCs/hemoglobin are the little guys responsible for oxygen delivery from the lungs to your body’s tissues so they are super important! B6 is available in a variety of foods, but B12 is found mostly in meat and eggs. It also found in seaweed and some fermented foods. If you are a vegetarian or don’t eat much meat you should be looking to fortified foods (cereals) for your B12 intake.
Lastly, I will say that anything you can eat to help reduce inflammation is going to be great for your runner’s body. I do a quality Omega 3-6-9 supplement and try to eat plenty of ginger. Turmeric can also be good for inflammation and it is recommended to take it with black pepper to help with absorption.
It would be remiss to not point out that the pounds on your scale do not tell the whole story. Lean mass (muscle, organs, blood, bones, skin), body fat, and hydration play a role in what your scale reads and are all important considerations. I’ll use myself as an example.
When I ran my marathon in 2015, I weighed 128 pounds and was about 24-25% body fat according to my body fat scale. This is about 97 pounds of lean body mass. Last summer while I was training, my weight was 135 pounds and again I was about 24-25% body fat. My lean mass was 102 pounds. This means I put on about 5 pounds of lean mass which we can assume was mostly muscle. My weight now is about 145 pounds and I am about 28-29% body fat. That puts my lean mass at 104 pounds. As an aside, on any given day my weight fluctuates between 143-145 based on when I weigh which accounts for fluctuations in hydration and glycogen stores. I always go with the higher number because that reflects good hydration and glycogen storage. So at 145 pounds, if I wanted to get back down to 24%-25% body fat and keep my 104 pounds lean mass, my target weight would be 138 pounds–10 pounds more than my marathon weight of 128 pounds. If I were just to take into account the scale and lose down to 128 pounds again, I would be giving up 7 pounds of hard earned muscle (lean mass)! And for those of you who are curious, I haven’t bought a whole new wardrobe since the marathon. I’ve sized up in some of my slim fit pants, but now if I get comments on my appearance they are about how fit and strong I look. #strongnotskinny
Consult with your doctor before you any supplementation or dietary regimen
Focus on health not the weight
Make sure to account for the calorie expenditure of your activities
Make sure you are getting the right balance of macronutrients including fiber
Be sure to be getting quality nutrition including complex carbs
Make sure you are getting enough iron from real foods
You need to be getting enough calcium AND magnesium
Consider supplementing with vitamin D during the winter according to your sun exposure
Keep an eye on your B6 and B12. B12 is especially a consideration for vegetarians who need to eat fortified or fermented foods to get this vitamin.
Anti-inflammatory foods can be a good consideration for a runner’s diet
I really did not want to run this morning. It started last night. I needed to get to bed a little earlier than usual because of morning calls being shifted to an hour earlier. I woke up this morning and my friend who was going to run with me bailed. I knew I had 60 minutes on my schedule and I really wanted it to be just 30 minutes. Or better yet, zero. Most of my run clothes are dirty and I didn’t feel motivated to hand wash last night so I ended up wearing my least favorite shorts, sports bra, and a pair of holey socks. I dallied around the house taking much longer to get ready than needed and almost cut it so close that I couldn’t get in the full 60 minutes. As I stepped out into the brisk morning, I realized that I forgotten my sunglasses. I put on my 80s playlist and walked towards my start.
My heart rate was high as I started. My performance condition indicator popped up and said “-7 Poor.” I almost used both as an excuse to turn around and go home or cut the run short. But I stuck with it at a painfully slow pace and slowly took in the morning. It was gorgeous this morning. Blue skies and 52 degrees. I made it all the way to the ball field which I have only done once or twice since my injury. I smiled to myself as I ran over chalked traffic lines with arrows that some kids had drawn on the sidewalk next to the playground. “New York kids” I thought to myself, “already know and trying to enforce sidewalk courtesy.” I was running in the Hasidic area of Williamsburg and there were lots of kids and men out. I passed a little girl sitting on a stoop and she stared at me I ran by. I love running by little girls. I am always secretly hoping that they see a woman running alone and free and it impacts them some positive way.
Got to my turnaround point then headed back. My legs felt a little lighter and my heart rate seemed a little easier to maintain. Peter Murphy serenaded me, “Can you feel the light? The air is wild, open…” I run passed some construction workers and not one make a comment. I own this morning. My turtle pace starts to feel empowering. I stop by a waterfront park for some water and there a bunch of dogs running free and playing.
As I start to head through a retail area, I can see the area is now bustling with people heading to work or to grab coffee or whatever it is that people do at 8am on Tuesday morning in the fancy part of the neighborhood. I see a woman in a Maserati pulling out from her luxury waterfront building. I realize how easy 45 minutes has passed. I’m so in my head that I don’t even notice that the man jogging towards me is Larry David. He passes me and I turnaround in disbelief. “Did that just happen?! Is Larry David a runner?” I think to myself. If it wasn’t him, he has a doppelganger. My heart rate goes crazy and then recovers. As I turn to head back towards my apartment, I think to myself about how gorgeous of a morning that it is and how New York City is so much more beautiful when things are green.
Last mile. I feel great. As I make my way through my last mile, across busy morning intersections I have a hard time slowing down. I’m so glad that I pushed myself out the door. I stop in the coffee shop to be greeted by my favorite barista. She confirms that I’ll take my regular–a decaf americano with 3 shots. She adds the 4th shot for me. ❤ I get back home just in time to get setup for my morning call. I dial in and greet my colleagues in India with a boisterous, “Good evening! It’s Brandi!” My energy catches even me off-guard.
As I take my first call of the day, my skin is buzzing. My head feels clear. I have a little bit of a run buzz going on. And I think about how I could have skipped my run this morning. I could have cut it short. But I got my butt out the door and I can’t say for certain, but I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t feel as amazing as I do now had I not.
Has it really been over 2 months since my last post? Well, let’s just get updated then. My physical therapist cut me loose in February and I have been maintaining my injury with daily stretching, strength work, and weekly acupuncture. I’ve managed to build my mileage up to about 20 miles a week. I still have some back and neck pain from time to time and have set up weekly massage and acupuncture sessions for the next month in an effort to finally break this stuff up for good.
About 3 weeks ago my neck acted up pretty severely and I was really nervous that I was regressing. I had been adding a little bit of speed work to my training so I decided to shift my training to lots of easy and some aerobic running with nothing at or above threshold. I’ve also been reading up on Lydiard training and trying to apply some of those principles to my tiny (to him) amount of weekly mileage. I’ve been wearing my heart rate monitor again to keep me reigned in. I have to say that I have really been enjoying my workouts and am also starting to see some improvement which is promising.The past few weekends I have been running long on trail, too, which just makes my heart so happy. I’m now cautiously optimistic about being able to complete at least a marathon in the Fall.
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At least a marathon?
Yep, you read that right. I turn 40 in October and in addition to considering Jungfrau which I had earmarked as my fantasy 40th birthday race way back in 2011, I started considering running an ultramarathon. What the heck is an ultramarathon you ask? According to Google, “An ultramarathon, also called ultra distance, is any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi).” I started looking at the shortest common distance race beyond a marathon which is a 50k (31.07 miles) and narrowed it down to a couple of options within driving distance.
Why an ultramarathon?
I wanted to consider something that seems completely out of reach. I’ve run a marathon and I know I can do it. The thought of tackling 31 miles which will likely take 6.5-7 hours to complete feels like a significant challenge. The training will be a significant commitment and challenge. Another thing is that I’m not in love with road marathoning. I love distance running, but running long on road doesn’t have the same appeal to me as trail. Sure, I could do a trail marathon next, but again, I know I can do that distance and I’m not particularly keen on upping the ante by throwing in a bunch of elevation or technical trail while my injury is still lingering. Having an excuse to be on the trails for hours every weekend is also a big motivator. And to be completely honest, I’m curious about the mental aspects of running an ultra. I know I am tenacious and have the ability draw strength from adversity, but where is the line?
My criteria for selecting my first ultra
Out-and-back, point-to-point, or single loop course
Driving distance from NYC
Reasonable elevation (esp no steep declines)
Well supported course (no heavy pack needed)
Well-groomed trails (reduced trip hazard)
(The considerations in parens were to reduce the risk of aggravating my injury.)
About 2 weeks ago I settled on a race in Pennsylvania that’s about 2 hours away. It’s a point-to-point along the Delaware Water Gap with cumulative gain around 2,500 feet with corresponding loss. “A great mix ranging from rail-trail feeling cinder path to singletrack, the non-technical and rolling McDade Trail is a perfect venue for a relatively fast and scenic fall trail 50k.” reads the description on UltraSignup.com. A video of the course from last year’s inaugural race sealed the deal for me.
I shared with a few running friends to confirm I wasn’t overlooking anything. I also shared with one of my dear friends in Brooklyn who I am going to ask to be support that weekend including driving me back home after the race. Most of my running friends will be at the peak of their marathon training before heading into taper for their big races and the thought of sharing this with someone who was friends with me long before I started this running journey makes it all the more special. I had intended to wait another few weeks to register because I wanted to lock down a training plan and get to better place with my back and neck, but on Friday (yesterday) I pulled the trigger. I very rarely favor my heart over my head, but betting on my tenacity (getting me to the finish of this thing) seems like a pretty safe bet.
So on Saturday, October 8th at 7am I will board a bus to the start of my first ultra. At 8am, I will start my run which I hope I will complete in less than 7 hours. I’m interested to see how this journey over the next six month changes me.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!!!
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!!!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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! ❤
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, I did it. I finished. I am a marathoner. I finished in… wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We should probably start at the beginning. Actually, it would probably be helpful to know what happened in the last weeks of training. Set time machine to Friday, October 2nd, 2015.
Hitting the wayback button
It’s my last month of training and I am about to do my longest run to date the next morning: 17 miles. That day also happens to be my birthday. And I have a baby shower the following day. It’s going to be a busy weekend. The weather decides that I need an added challenge that day so it’s raining with blustery wind and mid-50s. The wind at times is strong enough that it is pushing us around. I planned a challenging course with 3 bridges and a finish that traces the last two miles of the course through Central Park. One of the women I am running with tells me the route is tougher than her longer runs. The run ends up being slower than I had hoped, but I feel great at the end and the last two miles are my fastest. I’m tired for the rest of the weekend as I celebrate my birthday that evening with friends and my friend’s new addition to the family the next day.
The next weekend I took on the Rock n Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon as a training run and nabbed a PR running easy for the first 30 minutes then running the rest at marathon pace. I decide my marathon outfit which worked okay for the previous week’s long run is not going to be okay for the marathon. Only a few runs left to get that figured out.
The following weekend (10/16-10/18) I head to Runner’s World Festival in Bethlehem, PA. I shared my experience there in a couple of blog posts, but to recap I raced the trail race on Friday and had a great time. Was bummed the shorts I was testing out for the marathon weren’t successful. The next morning I woke up feeling a little sick and raced the 5K and 10K. The 10K was absolutely miserable. I spent the rest of the day in my hotel room sick as a dog. That night I got food poisoning and was sick all that night and next morning. The drive back to NYC was a bit of a challenge.
The weekend before the marathon, it was more travel. I headed to Baltimore on Thursday afternoon and had dinner with good friends. The next day I attended a wedding of one of my oldest friends. On Saturday morning, it was back to NYC. I got in 7 miles that evening and then ran the last 10 miles of the course the next morning. The weather once again decided that I needed an added challenge so it rained on us. I also almost got hit by car–full screeching tires and all. Yikes. I was super happy that I had finally settled on a race day outfit, though. That afternoon I got a 90 minute sports massage and felt great.
The last week
The massage left me more sore than expected on Monday and Tuesday. And in the following days leading up to the marathon I had little nags here and there. Most concerning was that my right piriformis started acting again and I had thought it was okay. I had some pretty severe race anxiety on Sunday and Monday after using the NYRR race predictor in their NYCM app. I got in my last threshold workout on Tuesday and that workout felt good and was a confidence builder. That evening, a friend and I went to the New York City Marathon: The Great Race exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. It was a wonderful exhibit and great to spend time with my friend, Heather, who I planned to run the race with. After the exhibit we grabbed some Mexican food and I broke my stay dry for the week rule with a margarita. My other rule “Margs always win” won.
On Thursday, I went for an easy 3 miler and felt a little tired. I think the cleaning the day before and wandering around the exhibit didn’t give my legs enough rest. Later that afternoon, I had lunch and a cocktail with my parents and then they joined me at the expo where I picked up my bib, shirt, a few NYCM souvenirs, and a sheddable shell since the forecast was now predicting a chance of rain. The expo seemed a little anti-climatic for some reason, but I was happy to pick up some cute stuff and be with my family. We had dinner at a cute Italian restaurant that night where I had chicken and a glass of wine then I got a good night’s rest.
On Friday, I woke up with some calf pain that had me worried so I opted out of fun in the city. I spent the day watching running movies, stretching and rolling my calf, and got my race day stuff together. I got a good night’s rest and felt ready for a relaxing Saturday to rest before the race. Saturday morning I got in 20 minutes of easy running, big GF pancake breakfast, and took some time to record my pre-race thoughts. My sister flew on Saturday afternoon and we got brunch then hung out at the apartment. My parents drove over from Jersey and we were going to go dinner, but I had crammed so much food in me earlier that day, I wasn’t hungry. They left around 6pm and I was left by myself. I tried not to be anxious, but there were was little else to focus on. I finally got in my GF pasta dinner around 7pm then some light stretching and Sienfeld before hitting the hay around 10pm. I needed to be up at 6am the next morning to get ready for the race.