My morning run

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.

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.

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

Time flies when you are having fun

It’s only been a little over a month since my last update, but it feels like a lifetime. I’ve raced 3 more trail races and run a couple more training runs on trails. I signed up for 16.5 mile trail race and am about to sign up for two more trail half marathons. You may have noticed there has been a healthy amount of trails happening with more in the future. It’s probably safe to say that I am love with eating mountains for breakfast.

Trail runs 3 & 4

Back on March 22nd, my trail partner and I headed up to Bear Mountain to scout part of the North Face Endurance Challenge Series half marathon course. He was convinced that we should do the half marathon and I was apprehensive. It had snowed that week so we knew that there would likely be snow on the ground, but what we didn’t anticipate was for it to be iced over. We also didn’t anticipate some of the route that I mapped to be non-blazed roads which with the snow cover were difficult to track. We put in 6.85 tough miles, postholing for some to get back on route, and over breakfast at a nearby diner decided we should only do the North Face 10K. A week later I hit the trails of Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia. It was gravel road with rolling hills so much easier than the week before so picked up the pace and extended the distance. It was a great time.

Top of the Pines at Bear Mountain
Highest point on our Bear Mountain training run. The trail actually had us scramble up over these boulders.
Snowy tracks at Bear Mountain
It was iced over snow in most spots at Bear Mountain, but there were occasions where we had slight reprieve on melted spots.
Stream crossing at Bear Mountain
Caught my trail partner mid-jump during one of stream crossing at Bear Mountain.

Trail race 2: Van Cortlandt Track Club Urban Enviro Challenge 10K

Two weeks later on April 12th I raced my second trail race. It was in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. I didn’t really intend to try to race it hard, but once the horn was sounded I couldn’t help myself. I had run part of this course last year for a cross country race, but this course took us into another part of the park which had more technical trails (read: roots and rocks) and some single track (read: limited ability to pass). It was a nice hilly course that did a double loop with a nice flat, gravel road finish. There were lots of road team singlets and obviously fast runners who were being taken down by the hills–trying to run up them then having to walk at the top to catch breath and cautiously tiptoeing on technical descents–and I felt a bit of pride at my strategic approach to the race. I power-hiked up most hills and was able to keep pace with the runners ahead of me while not getting winded. On the second loop I was able to plan better to pass people before single track and technical descents and made up time by being more aggressive on those downhills. I hopped over logs others were climbing over on all fours and basically just felt like kind of a bad ass. And it all paid off when I ran through the finish in 1:10:35. I felt so great after that I came home and ran a 3 mile tempo run. Two days later my lower back hurt so bad that I needed to take some vitamin I for a few days. Bubble officially popped.

North Brooklyn Runners at Van Cortlandt Park.
Was surprised at how many of my road team showed up for this race. Didn’t see any over trail running group. Probably because of the short distance!

Trail race 3: Leatherman’s Loop 10K

Two weeks later on April 26th my trail partner and I headed out for Pound Ridge for the historic Leatherman’s Loop 10K. This race has been around for 29 years, refuses to take on sponsors, just recently moved to timing chips, and features mud flats with shin deep mud, multiple stream crossings, and a couple of sand hills. Needless to say, we were stoked. What we didn’t anticipate was the sheer volume of runners and the inevitable congestion on the trails. The first quarter mile is run across a grassy field then all 1000 runners bottleneck onto narrow, technical double track. Add to that some mud and streams and runners who for some reason are afraid to get their shoes wet or dirty and you have a recipe for frustration if you aren’t reminding myself about your zen place. After the first couple of miles it did thin out enough that you weren’t forced to walk because of people ahead of you making that choice. The mud flats were fun, but a little concerning–the mud had so much suction that I could feel it pulling off my shoes! Again though, I felt like a bad ass because I seemed to be one of the few okay with getting dirty. I wasn’t feeling 100% for this race because I had done a training run the day before, had a couple of mimosas with brunch after my training run, and didn’t sleep well the night before and only got about five and half hours of sleep. So I felt like I was really pushing myself through most of it, but not keeping my expected pace. I was able to pick it up a bit towards the end in The Pines and was flying through at 9-10:00 min mile which felt awesome. By the end I had made friends with an old dude wearing red pepper shorts and we ran through the finish together. Official time: 1:24:49. And I was officially pooped. Not much soreness after this race, though, which let me know my cross-training and form adjustments were paying off.

Sand hill at Leatherman's Loop
Climbing a sand hill at Leatherman’s Loop. Notice the guy in front of me on all fours. It was steep and slippery.
Mud flats at Leatherman's Loop
Mud flats at Leatherman’s Loop. I felt lucky to not lose a shoe.
Stream crossing at Leatherman's Loop
Final stream crossing at Leatherman’s Loop. Was still muddy after this!

You can see more photos from Leatherman’s Loop on The Distance Traveled on Facebook.

Trail junkie

As I mentioned at the start, at some point over the past month I also added myself to a wait list for 16.5 mile trail race that is taking place on the 4th of July and am eyeing two more trail half marathons–one two weeks after I run the Brooklyn half and one a month after the 16.5 mile race. After the Brooklyn Half I am planning to do all my weekend long runs on trails. At some point I will have to go back to road running for my NYC Marathon training, but in the meantime I am going to eek out every little bit of dirt pounding that I can. I have a shirt in my closet that says “Loyal to the road” that I bought at the 2013 NYC Marathon expo. It’s funny how things change.

I’m a legit mutant. Where are my superpowers?

This post could also be titled, “How planning to run a marathon may have saved my life.” And by saving my life, I mean literally not figuratively. I debated whether to even share this publicly, but this IS a part of my journey–a part of the distance that I will need to travel.

Last week I got results from my pre-marathon blood screening back. Included in that was a test for a gene mutation which my mother carries and her doctors think directly contributed to her inexplicable stroke at 52. I tested positive for two copies. It’s confirmed — I’m a mutant. This type of mutation doesn’t give me super powers, though. I won’t be sporting a uni-tard and flying around the city fighting crime any time soon. There is no power with my mutation, but there IS great responsibility.

What I have is a MTHFR mutation. Without boring you with the science, what this basically means is that my body isn’t able properly perform an essential process called methylation which my body uses to clear all kinds of nasties including metals, histamines, and other toxins like chemicals. Wait, back up… Histamines? You mean those things that cause allergic reactions?! Yes, those things. Those little meanies that I have been fighting for the past several years. Additionally, this going unchecked can lead to all kinds of horribly scary conditions–heart attack, stroke (blood clots), Alzheimer’s, dementia, breast cancer, hypothyroidism and the list goes on–many of which my family members have been diagnosed with or passed from. Eek. It can also cause many of my symptoms some of which I have had most of my life, others that have made me really miserable for the past few years. Things like chronically low b12, chronic fatigue, reactions to gluten and dairy, reactions to chemicals like in cleaners and soaps, slow recovery and increased injury from intense exercise, brain fog, insomnia, IBS, high stress, premature greying, and the list continues but I won’t bore you.

So what does this mean? Well, in terms of lifestyle changes, not much for me. An organic, paleo diet is recommended.  I will have to watch out for foods with added folic acid (like big brand orange juice) as my body can’t process it. I will have to continue to be conscious of chemicals in my environment as my body has trouble clearing toxins from my system. (Quitting hair coloring and not wearing make-up most of the time was a smart decision!) Since my body has trouble ridding itself of heavy metals, I may need to do detoxes to help it out. I will likely need to practically eliminate any alcohol consumption. Sleep, sun, and moderate exercise are all encouraged. (Oh darn!) As are saunas and massages which help remove toxins and stimulate that methylation process. (Double darn!) All of this is stuff excluding the saunas and massages I am pretty much already doing so it’s not really that big of a lifestyle change. Additionally, based on my variation, I will likely be put on an active form of folate and B12 since my body can’t create those. Once my body receives those active forms my methylation should improve and my body will start to clear some of my built up nasties. Getting the dosage correct can be tricky so that may take a little time and there is chance I will feel pretty crappy during that time period as my body starts to try to clear years of built up toxins.

But what does this mean for my running? I can’t find much online, but everything I have found points to moderate exercise being okay but “intense exercise like marathon running” not being okay. I’m certainly not going to make any decisions based on Dr. Google, though! I will be discussing this with my doctors starting next week when I visit a hematologist to discuss proper supplementation. I’m hoping the fact that I don’t plan to BQ or even really push my pace in the race (I’m just aiming to finish) will mean it will be okay. Regardless of what happens, though, my health comes first.

So that’s it, in a nutshell. I’m relieved to have discovered what could be the cause of many of my health problems and that relief may be around the corner. I’m a little scared about the bigger things this mutation can cause. But mostly, I’m grateful. I’m grateful that because of this thing I love (running), I may be able to change my fate. I may be able to avoid some of the things that have plagued my family. I may be able to get relief from symptoms that I have been dealing with for most of my life. So let’s be very clear here: This isn’t a pity party, this is a moment of gratitude.

I will update this blog in regards to how this mutation affects my running and other adventures. As I said before, this is now a part of the distance I will need to travel. Challenge accepted.

Looking back

Today while out on a 5+ mile trail (more like ice) run, I got to thinking about how far I have come since my first (very short) attempt at running back in 2009. As mentioned in previous posts, there have been many stops and starts, but I have never really sat down and looked through the history in detail. It was a lot to sift through, but there were some highlights that I found interesting.

Running-History

I’m still pretty slow, but I have been able to add distances that I never imagined being able to run. This year I plan to take on the Brooklyn Half Marathon and New York City Marathon. It’s crazy to think that a year and half ago I was giving Couch to 5K a final shot. Really excited about my progress and hoping 2015 sees even more!

3 races, 17.3 miles, 28 days

This week I was finally able to get back out there after a total of 10 days off of any type of exercise because of knee injury/overtraining. My much anticipated return was wonderful, but challenging.

The week in review

On Tuesday morning I headed out for an easy 3 mile run. I run with a heart rate monitor and was going to keep it in my zone 2 or below 70% max. It was a challenge not only to keep the heart rate that low, but to keep it consistent. My knee did okay, but did hurt a bit. All that being said, mentally it was wonderful. I definitely benefit from the mental aspect of running, that is for sure!

On Wednesday I noticed that in addition to slight knee pain, I had some foot pain on my opposite foot. It didn’t seem swollen and certainly didn’t hurt enough that I couldn’t walk on it, but I was bit concerned about what it might mean for next run. Thursday rolled around and the knee pain subsided, but the foot pain remained. I skipped my run on account of weather and my foot.

On Friday I really needed to get out the door for 4 miles. I decided to also make this an easy run as I am still working on my return to a normal training schedule. I felt my knee during most of the run, but my foot was fine. After my run though, as I was walking to join a friend for lunch, my foot started to hurt again in two different places. After dinner I headed home and RICEd both my knee and foot.

Striking the right balance

This morning I had hoped to join a group run and coffee, but ended up just making it to coffee. My foot felt a bit better, but my knee wasn’t having it. Over the course of the day, my knee has gotten gradually more upset with me so I have spent the day RICEing it. I am supposed to head out for an easy 5 miles tomorrow, but am now questioning it. Hopefully staying off of it tonight and getting a good night’s rest will allow me to run tomorrow. If I have to skip tomorrow’s run, I am concerned about my ability to properly train up before my last marathon qualifying race–a 15k in 4 weeks. I also have 2 other qualifiers before that final race, but they are only 4 milers. It is a delicate balancing act right now between getting enough miles in for the 15k while not pushing too hard so I can complete the 2 races before then. I can’t afford to be injured right now, but I also don’t want to go into the longer race without enough training.

Every challenge is an opportunity

To add to all of this, on Monday I woke up with odd swelling in my face. A walk-in clinic sent me home with a diagnosis of an allergic reaction something, but by Tuesday it was worse and I went to see my GP. As it turns out, I have an infection and was prescribed a pretty serious dose of antibiotics. It’s an unexpected complication on top of these other concerns.

A few weeks ago I joked with some teammates that I thrive when faced with a challenge (my RoadID even has engraved on it “In every difficulty lies opportunity.”) and I think the universe decided to test my theory. My goal for the next few weeks is to stay healthy by training smart and to knock out these last three races for guaranteed entry. Less than a month away from guaranteed entry to the 2015 New York City Marathon!