The Sub-30 Club: More than a club, a family

When I started running, it was a pretty solo endeavor. I did all of my training runs alone because I lived in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was pretty far out and I didn’t know any other runners. When I moved to North Brooklyn, I joined a local running group, but unfortunately was too slow for most of their group runs. In August of 2014, I read an article in Runner’s World about an online running group that was focused on sub-30 minute 5k and immediately joined. I had no idea how much that one decision would impact my life.

Two and half years later, I have not only been to several club meet-ups but have organized a few and have developed close relationships with several Subbers (Sub-30 Club members). Many of the athletes that I coach are from the group. I have run Runner’s World Fest, Broad Street Run, Hood to Coast, and VIA Relay with Subbers. In May when I run the Grand Canyon 50k, at least 5 other members who I also consider dear friends will be with me.

Life at the Back of the Pack

The group has grown a lot since I  first joined and at our annual meet-up at Runner’s World Festival we are well known for our”Back of the Pack Party” and for our faster runners “running in” those who are on the course alone. “No Subber Left Behind” is a constant theme with the group as is “B.E.A.S.T.” which stands for “Be Awesome and Strong TOGETHER.” Because of this, it was no surprise to me when our executive director let us know that our group was being featured on The Runner’s World Show podcast. I highly recommend checking out the “Episode 36: Life at the Back of the Pack” podcast.

Coincidentally, I was also featured today in the group in their weekly “Spotlight On” series. Here is copy of my interview for the series!

Spotlight on Brandi Cole

1. Give us the basics: Age? Married? Kids? Job? Pets?
I’m 40, in a serious relationship with adventure, and have 2 furbabies (Tiny Destroyer of Worlds and Lulu Don’t Give a Damn). I consider my job to be an adventurer, knowledge seeker, and student of life, and am also a certified distance running coach, but I make my living as a Lead Designer at McKinsey & Company focused on User Experience.

spotlight-6
Tiny (Destroyer of Worlds) and Lulu (Don’t Give a Damn)

2. How did you get involved in Sub 30?
I joined in August 2014 when I was still chasing time goals. I have fluctuated from very active to almost leaving at points. Something magical happened at BSR 2016, though, and now I am stuck with a bunch of incredible friends–some I talk to multiple times a day.

3. How long have you been running?
I have been running consistently as an adult since September 2011. I ran as a very young kid and attempted to start again in 2010, but street harassment (in Florida) and a heart scare caused me to push pause for awhile.

4. How has running changed you?
It has helped me to recognize and in some cases amplify some of my better characteristics: tenacity, strength, and (surprisingly) discipline. I live for that moment when a run has been really tough and I get a surge of strength and push through stronger than before. I believe finding strength in adversity is really powerful.

5. Do you have a specialty/specific interest? What’s “your thing”? (roads, trails, triathlons, obstacle course racing, etc.)
I like to run long in the wilderness. In a perfect world, I would get to run trail most of the time, but living in NYC makes that a bit of a challenge. I’d never completely give up road, though, because running is my favorite way to explore a city!

6. What distance do you prefer, and would you like share your PR?
I like long distance. I don’t have a preference. The longer I can play outside, the better. I’m not really motivated by time PRs anymore. Why would I want to cut my time on the trail short?!

spotlight-2
New York City Marathon

7. Do you follow a training plan created by someone else or do you make your own or do you not follow a plan at all?
It depends. Now that I am a coach I find that I am less motivated to write plans for myself for some reason. I do tend to experiment on myself to confirm benefits of training before asking the same of my athletes.

8. Guilty pleasure after a long run/workout?
I have no guilt over pleasures. Post-run I will splurge on a beer even though I have a gluten allergy. (yes, it’s a legit allergy) This summer I started indulging in Coke with ice after a run.

9. Coolest place you ever ran? (bonus points if you can add a picture)
Paris! Running along the Seine with all of the landmarks was magical. Stateside I think DC is my favorite place to run aside from my home trail along the Palisades. Can’t wait to run in Berlin, India, and the Grand Canyon in 2017!

spotlight-3
Running in Paris
spotlight-1
Running along the Palisades with my trail team pals and my best running friend and fellow Subber, Jeremy

10. Who/ What inspires you?
People who push out of their comfort zone, tackle big challenges, or make a leap of faith or significant investment to follow their passion. And I mean that in a broad way–it could mean pushing yourself physically for a new PR, embarking on a journey to regain health, doing something adventure related like skydiving, moving to a new city, or telling someone that you love them. I feel strongly that life should be LIVED so anyone who is pushing themselves to do that regardless of actual or perceived limitations has my utmost respect.

11. When not running, what is your favorite thing to do?
A lot of my travel and vacation centers around running and I am also coach so there is still plenty of running stuff in my life outside of actually running. I love good food and a good bourbon especially in the company of my favorite people. (Even if they don’t really like bourbon. 😉 ) I also love music, singing, and dancing so live music, singing karaoke, or a spontaneous living room dance party tend to top my list of fun things to do.

12. Tell us something about you that we don’t already know.
I had never traveled out of the country until 2010 when I went to Mexico for a friend’s wedding. I was 34. On that trip I did an adventure day where I was blessed by a Mayan shaman, rappelled into and swam in a cenote, and climbed a few pyramids. That was the day that I decided to move to NYC. A little over 4 months later I was here. None of my loved ones believed it was happening at the time! Since then I have seen and done some pretty awesome things. It is never too late to change your life and follow your dreams!

spotlight-4
Adventuring in Mexico. From clockwise from top left: Blessed by a Mayan shaman, rappelling into a cenote, sitting on top of a pyramid, pyramid climbing

When running isn’t therapy

Sunday morning I awoke to the same horrible news as you probably did. While I was sleeping, a man entered a gay club in my hometown of Orlando and opened fire killing 49 people. I was devastated. And concerned for my friends. I decided that I would go ahead and get in my 14 mile trail run. As I headed to the trail via subway, I had time to think. The more I thought, the more upset I became. The longer it took for friends to check in, the more concerned I became. By the time I hit the trail, I was a mess of emotions and choking back tears. I spent the next 3 hours stopping every 5-10 minutes to check my phone. I was checking to see if my friends had checked in okay, but at the same time was fielding replies to some of my posts calling for friends to please stop blaming guns at this sensitive moment and shift their attention to supporting the LGBT community which, for good reason, was reeling. My emotions went to some very dark and painful places on that trail.

I have not run since that morning. I just haven’t had the motivation. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve been trying to process this insanity and have been grieving for my communities–both Orlando and the LGBT community. It is a “cut back” week in terms of mileage so I’m not really doing any damage aside from losing some conditioning. But when I think about running now, especially when I think about returning to that trail this weekend, I cringe a little. It’s like the trauma of that morning is now directly associated with running. I’ve had this happen before to a much lesser degree when I’ve had an exceptionally horrible run, but never to the point to where I start to question if I want to run again. Yes, in the past day, I have questioned whether I want to run again. Despite knowing that the best possible thing I could probably do for myself right now is get out there and work through this and make running my safe space again, my therapy.

And this is why I love running. I questioned whether I should follow my Saturday post with this because they both likely read fairly negative, but I think it’s important to document these emotions. This is all a part of the journey of being a runner for me. A part of my distance traveled. I don’t run to win races or even PR. I run because of how it changes me. How it makes me stronger not just physically, but mentally. I run because it allows me to know myself better, to help me acknowledge aspects of myself that I may not have otherwise realized, and to push through perceived limits. I run because it makes me a better me.

The long road to (injury) recovery

I was going to post a quick little update about my injury rehab appointment today then realized I haven’t checked in about it since February! So a tiny bit of updating seems necessary.

Catching up

In January, that dreadful sneeze knocked back my progress and I had to stop running for a few weeks. By February, I was able to start back with run/walk intervals. I worked up to 3-5 miles, 3 times a week by the end of the month. As I started to get back to running, my physical therapist decided that I was well enough to continue without her so we stopped our sessions. I was doing PT stretches daily and strength 3 times a week.

By mid to late March, I was starting to try a little speed and was disappointed that it seemed to aggravate my back and neck. I really needed to start getting my mileage up to train for Broad Street Run and the Brooklyn Half so I decided to stick to all easy running and just focusing on upping my mileage. I was still seeing the acupuncturist once a week and I think that was the only thing holding things together. I continued to have back and neck pain regularly which he relieved enough weekly to keep me functioning and running about 20 miles a week by the end of the month.

By April, I had worked my way up to 90 minutes of running on trail. I felt like I was still battling my back and neck and barely holding it together so I scheduled a weekly massage in addition to my weekly acupuncture. Things seemed to be getting better with the first session, but then it was just a steady decline. By the time I got to Broad Street Run on May 1st, I was still running about 20 miles a week, but felt like I was on the verge of relapse. I was at my wit’s end.

While at Broad Street Run, I had three teammates talk to me about seeing a chiropractor. I was hesitant, but desperate. I scheduled an appointment the day I got back to NYC. I found one in Midtown that had treated an elite marathoner and has massage therapists, acupuncturists, and trainers on staff. I saw her 2 days later.

A new approach

The first appointment didn’t have me so convinced this was the right route, but she made enough sense that I was curious. She gave me a number of interesting exercises to do including a gait retraining exercise because evidently my left side isn’t “firing” as I run. I did the exercises religiously and was excited to get a little relief for some of my issues. I was able to work my way up to 30 miles a week, but my neck continued to bother me. I started to wonder if maybe the massages were doing more harm than good since my neck seemed to be bother me most in the days after the massage. I decided to cancel my next massage. On my next visit to my chiro, they recommended the same without me mentioning that I had cancelled!

My neck started to feel better but the Sunday before the Brooklyn Half I headed out for my last long run and ended up cutting it short because of what I thought was achilles pain. I was really apprehensive about seeing the doc the next day, concerned that the gait retraining may be causing other issues. But after just 10 minutes in the office, they had figured out the issue, gotten me relief, and adjusted my plan. By the time I got the Brooklyn Half five days later, my calf pain was gone and my back and neck felt fine the entire time. My longest run since my marathon and my injury. And I felt great!

Today’s news

So that brings me to today and my initial motivation for my post. Today I saw the clinic trainer for the first time. I saw the doc first and she analyzed my gait again. Improvement! I am now loading the lazy side at 15-20%. Amazing. My back and neck have been feeling great, too.

Next I saw the trainer. We went over all my chiro stretches/exercises, PT stretches/exercises, and my marathon strength training. He was able to point to a few exercises that could have been aggravating my back. He also suggested some replacement exercises. He corrected my form on a few things to engage more muscles. (I wasn’t really doing anything wrong, but there were improvements that could be made.) He also complimented my plank form and mentioned that I was lean with good muscles. He took some video of me performing exercises and played them back so I could see my form. I’ve never seen myself workout! It was kind of cool to see my muscles being all strong!

He encouraged me to add back some of my strength work since I had dropped all of it when I started with this new doctor. I am so excited to be well enough to strength train again! I finally feel like I am closing in on full recovery and may actually be able to really train for this 50k. I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic so that I am not too bummed if things start heading in the other direction again. Just being able to run 30 miles a week and do strength training is amazing though considering I wasn’t even able to run three and a half months ago. So grateful to have so much support not just from my doctors, acupuncturist, and now trainer, but all of the wonderful friends who have offered advice, an ear, and a shoulder. I feel so blessed and hope to look back on this time proudly after I cross the finish line of my first ultramarathon in October as a masters runner!

 

It was just a sneeze

It was Sunday morning and I was getting ready for my longest run since injuring my back and neck–a little 5 miler after which I would meet up with my run crew for brunch. I was bent over the sink, brushing my teeth, when it snuck up on me. I sneezed and immediately knew something was wrong. I was paralyzed in the position for a moment and afraid I wouldn’t be able to stand back up.

But let’s back up. If you’ll recall, about two weeks after my marathon I suffered a back and neck sprain. It was a perfect storm of a few things that lead to it including but not limited to an already tight back from marathon training, being sick in bed for several days, running a trail race in cold conditions, then hanging out for hours in the bitter cold. I saw a physical therapist a couple of days after the race and have been seeing her ever since.

Through November I worked mostly at home so I could stand while I worked. I stretched twice a day and did some short, easy running twice a week. In December, I was able to add some strengthening exercises including some light weights and up my running to longer (4-4.5 miles) easy running three times a week. I was still in pain pretty much all the time, but it was significantly less and there were days when the pain was barely noticeable. Last week my physical therapist told me I could start adding stairs and hills to my training and try going a little longer. She was optimistic that I would be able to run (not race) a 10 mile race that I am signed up for in mid-January.

12338516_1219452558069950_1921034295_n
Another half mile added to my distance was an awesome Christmas present. Getting stronger and really hoping my PT let’s me run 3x next week. Ready to get back to training!

On New Year’s Eve I ran the Midnight Run in Central Park. It was a packed scene and we decided not to drop our bags. My pack wasn’t very heavy (it only contained a jacket), but it wasn’t a running pack so I ended up holding on to the straps the entire time. By the end of the hilly race, my back and shoulders were pretty sore. Disappointingly, I decided to skip my New Year’s Day hike the next day to allow my body to recover. By the next day, Saturday, I was feeling better and able to do my strengthening exercises and on Sunday morning I was ready to run my 5 miler. Until that sneeze.

12357720_1528082807502112_822460772_n
Happy New Year from Central Park! Rang in the new year with these babes.

Less than 24 hours after that dreaded sneeze, I was in my physical therapist’s office getting a massage, ultrasound, and muscle stimulation. My doctor told me that my back is spasming, likely because I injured a disc during the sneeze. For the next few days I am to stand instead of sit as much as possible, do my stretches multiple times a day, and ice my back. And no running. I’ll see her again on Friday to assess how I am doing.

I’ve had friends express concern about me not having an MRI or X-ray. I trust my therapist and from what I have learned from my own research and she confirmed this morning, the protocol that we would follow even if I got an MRI or X-ray and they saw something would be much the same. My pain, while significant, isn’t something that I want to take pain killers for and my therapist is fine with that. The only thing that might be different if I went to specialist is the option for surgery, but typically a therapy approach is followed first and surgery is only used a last resort. At this point, I don’t think surgery is a route to consider. My therapist and I are both optimistic that this can be healed naturally and as long as I show improvement that will likely be the case. This sneeze situation is coincidental to my current injury and my therapist believes that in a few days the spasming will subside and we can get back to my previous recovery protocol.

The fact is that for this type of injury it will take about 2 years before I am fully healed. That doesn’t mean I will be in pain or active recovery for that long, but it will be that long before the risk of relapse isn’t significantly higher. During that time (and for the rest of my life if I want a healthy spine) I will have to keep a good maintenance routine of stretching and strengthening. This would be the case even without injury as I start to run longer and more technical trail. The fact of the matter is that I am older and have some degeneration, have had poor posture most of my life, and I haven’t been taking care of my back. My massage therapist repeatedly told me through marathon training that I needed to see someone because my spine motility wasn’t very good and my back muscles were always very tight. And in regards to stretching and strengthening I did very little to help myself. Even if I hadn’t strained my back and neck, the sneeze while bent over could have had the same impact because of the condition of my spine and back strength.

So what does this mean for my running? Well, no running for now. I am going to give up my spot in the mid-January race and focus on recovery for as long as it takes. At some point, I will be able to run again. It may take weeks or months to get back to it with any kind of real schedule and I don’t even know how long it will take to get back to technical trail or long distance. Those things don’t really matter right now, though. I know that when I am able to get back out there, I will just be happy to be running. I have always seen running as gift that I am so grateful for. Less than 3 years ago, I didn’t think I could do it anymore. This time I know that I can. It is just going to take some time.

A pain in the neck

After the New York City Marathon, I took a week off of running as dictated by my training plan. I was a little sore for the first couple of days, but by end of week I was ready to get back to running. Unfortunately, I picked up a bug and ended up sick and in bed for the entire weekend plus a couple of days the following week. By mid-week the second week after the marathon, I was back in the office and ready to get back to running despite some glute and hip pain that seemed to surface out of nowhere early in the week.

11372341_1632603237006943_1244359631_n
Headed to Tiffany’s to get this beautiful marathon memento after my first day back in the office.

Wednesday evening that second week, I noticed the right side of my neck was sore. I assumed that it was probably just a little stiff from spending several days in bed, lying on my side, watching movies on my laptop. On Thursday morning I felt fine and headed out for a short easy 30 minute run. I was super excited for a 7 mile trail race that I was heading to with friends on Saturday. My neck pain returned that evening and my hip and glute still seemed to be a little tight and aggravated, too. I stretched and rolled and tried to get things relaxed for the trail race.

The trail race on Saturday was fun. I was there with many of trail running group and the course was lovely. I was a little surprised at how tired I felt, but my neck wasn’t hurting and my glute didn’t seem any more tight than it had been before some of my marathon training runs. I knew the distance may be a little too much to take on so soon especially since I hadn’t been running so I decided not to push too much. I was happy with my race and afterward I stuck around with my trail friends who were volunteering. That evening my back and neck started to really hurt and I got a little concerned, but I decided to give it a day or two to see whether it was just normal post-race soreness since I hadn’t been on trail in months.

12244666_1510389159288139_876392636513003444_o
Having fun at the Black Rock Races

By Monday morning, my back and neck weren’t doing any better and I decided that I should go get checked out to rule out anything spinal or nerve related. I was lucky that a friend and team mate have a family member that is a physical therapist and they fit me in that afternoon. She didn’t think there was any spinal or nerve injury, but felt that I would need some therapy to recover. She thinks I likely aggravated my neck while sick in bed then really exacerbated it during the trail race and hanging out in the cold after. She gave me some exercises to do with my foam roller and we set up an appointment for later in the week.

That was almost three weeks ago. I saw her a few times before heading to Florida to visit my family for Thanksgiving. She had told me I was okay to run short and easy so while I was there I ran a few times. I got in 12 miles that week via four short 3 mile runs. I took my foam roller to Florida and kept up with my exercises. I felt pretty good despite having a little bit of a relapse the evening of Thanksgiving. I had helped chop and cook that morning and aggravated my neck and back so badly that I laid on the floor that evening for relief. By the time I got back to see my PT last week, I was feeling a bit better, but knew that I had regressed a bit. Sure enough, when I saw my PT she asked me to cut back on the running — only twice a week for no more than 30 minutes of easy running. And no 15K race with my friends on the 12th. She also told me that it would be at least 3-6 more weeks before I was recovered. I was devastated.

12301189_1529557887368760_957776574_n
Was excited to get a few runs in while in Florida.

I haven’t run since my last PT session on Monday. The week was packed with after-work events and to be honest I was so bummed by the news that I had regressed that I couldn’t bring myself to get out the door. My motivation for doing my PT-prescribed exercises dwindled, as well, but I kept up with them.

Recovery takes time and rest. I think the worst part is feeling like anything I do could potentially set me back. I have to be careful about not only what cross-training I do, but little things like crossing my legs, how long I sit or stand, my posture, carrying heavy things, and I have to be mindful to not tense my shoulders, neck, or back which is difficult when they are aggravated. I have been working from home because sitting at my desk at work all day aggravates my back and neck so much. (I have a standing desk on order that should arrive next week.) There is never a moment when I am not in some kind of pain. Sometimes it just an uncomfortableness and others I just want to lay down on a heating pad. When it’s that latter, I get really bummed that I may have set myself back in some way. For me, being injured is much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I can work through pain. I’m a pretty tough cookie when it comes to that. Being constantly concerned that I am regressing is really challenging.

I am proud of myself for keeping up with the PT exercises especially while on vacation and during the past week when I had an after-work event almost every evening. Here is what she has me doing:

1 minute single leg balance with running arm motion (both legs)
30x standing hip abductions (both legs)
30x  standing hip hikes (both legs)
30x single leg bridges with 15 second hold on last one (both legs)
30x marching crunches (both legs)
30x reverse crunches (increasing these until I have sore abs next day, up to 45 wo soreness)
10x cat/cow stretch
3x child’s pose (center, left, right)
3x 30 second door frame stretches
10 second neck stretches (both sides)
2x shoulder/chest stretches
10x upper back rolling

It takes me about 30 minutes each night. I do the stretches in the morning, too, along with the single leg balance. My PT identified a slight muscle imbalance on the side that my glute/hip pain is happening so I do extra exercises on that side. I can say that the feeling of accomplishment getting these done every day is great. And I am excited that I will be returning to running stronger and more balanced. By the time I get back to training, it may be over 2 months from the marathon which I try not to think about. Just want to focus on getting better and stronger. I am also hoping to use this down-time to study for and take my coaching certification test. And I still need to find my A races for 2016. My 40th birthday is knocking on the door, too. There should be plenty to keep me distracted.

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!

The marathon mindset

Better in the long run

When I started running back in 2011, I didn’t really have a goal other than being able to run a few miles at a time, a few times a week. My best friend was doing races like half marathons at that point, but as a new runner they were never a consideration. During the two years of the vicious cycle of slow progress and injury setback, a 5K seemed the only reasonable distance I would ever achieve so I never really considered anything more ambitious. But as my training started to build momentum over this past summer (2014) and I was training for my first 10 mile race, the idea of a longer distance started to percolate in my mind. I found I was really enjoying my long training runs on the weekend and since long runs are meant to be slow, they suited my pace. I was also really enjoying planning my long runs and would plan routes into Manhattan and back to keep them interesting. There was also all this marathon training talk going on at the time. Many of my friends were training for the NYC Marathon, my local running group–North Brooklyn Runners–was abuzz with marathon training chatter as was my online running team–The Sub-30 Club–as runners were preparing for Chicago, NYC, and Philly marathons. I found myself disappointed that I wasn’t able to join in on the even longer runs and the training chatter.

Summer Streets 2014
Running up Fifth Avenue during Summer Streets on my first 7 mile training run.
Bridge Run
On a 9 mile training run for my 10 miler. I planned to cross one bridge into Manhattan, run back to Brooklyn over another, then run back to my neighborhood. Two friends who were training for marathons joined me.
Bridge run - back to Brooklyn
Heading back to Brooklyn on our 9 mile training run. My friends were doing 10 and 12 miles that day for their marathon training.

Pulling the trigger, with a silencer

In addition to the consideration of longer distances and longing to join my friends in their training, I was contemplating the possibility of moving from NYC at some point in the next couple of years. Living in NYC I am able to participate in a guaranteed entry program for the marathon that requires you to complete 9 qualifying races and one volunteer shift. If I ever wanted to run NYC, this would be the “easiest” way to get guaranteed entry and therefore not have to leave my entry to chance through the lottery. It was late in the year though, almost September, and I had travel plans for two weekends in October. Were there enough qualifying races left? I had completed 3 races already–that first 5 miler, and two others that I had integrated into my 10 miler training plan–but with my travel two weekends in October, it would be close. I signed up for 4 races with the final race being on December 31st and also selected a volunteer shift handing out race bibs at the marathon expo. There were just three other qualifiers that I could have actually ran including a half marathon which I wanted to run, but didn’t think I would be ready for in time. For some reason I didn’t even think about throwing an extra race on as insurance.

Until it’s gone

I kept my 9+1 goal mostly to myself. I figured if I wasn’t ready by the time registration came around or by marathon time, I could defer to the following year. Not telling anyone would allow me to defer without peer pressure. Then one afternoon in September, for some reason, I decided to just confirm that all of my races were qualifiers. I am not quite sure why as I had studied each of the races before I registered for them.

That’s when I saw it. My last race was NOT a qualifier. I frantically looked at the race calendar to search for another race. There was just 1 left that I wasn’t registered for and could actually run because of my travel schedule. It was that dang half marathon. But was it available? The site said “Near Capacity.” I breathed a small sigh of relief and started my registration. For some reason the race wasn’t available for registration, though, even though it didn’t say “Sold Out.” I emailed the running club. Via email I was informed the race had sold out. I pleaded my case–the last race had been a qualifier, but then changed! Not so, they said. The site said the half marathon wasn’t sold out! It sold out while I was emailing. I was heartbroken. Then a glimmer… the person on the other end of the email told me that they tried to register me, but my credit card info on file was incorrect–could I correct it? COULD I?! I updated my information like my life depended on it. Then silence. I cried. I paced. I prayed. I chatted with a friend who despite all of her attempts to calm me with logic, failed. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I may vomit. Then I saw it. “NYRR Order Summary” was the subject line. I could finally breathe.

That afternoon I came to realize just how much this marathon thing meant to me. This wasn’t some casual thing that I was going to defer. The thought of having to wait another year to complete my guaranteed entry and pushing off the marathon to 2016 was scary. If I was that upset about the possibility of it slipping away for a year, it was big. And it was something that shouldn’t be a secret.

Facebook post
Declaring my intentions on Facebook.

For the love of running

Once upon a time

I ran a little cross country in the milers club in elementary school. I never really got into it seriously and I wasn’t particularly good at it. When my family moved to a different city in 5th grade, I didn’t pursue running or softball which I had played for many years. Instead my focus turned to dance and eventually digital arts. After high school, I didn’t do much stay active. By 2009, I was overweight and trying to slim down. I tried to run a few times in September of 2009, but quit because of chest pain. (Even though a cardiologist had told me I was fine to run with my slight arrhythmia.) I was finally able to drop the extra weight in 2010 with diet and moderate cardio.

Cross-Country in First Grade
That’s me with in the red shorts with the goofy stride. Form was obviously not my forte.
Weight Loss
Christmas 2009 and March 2013

In April of 2011 I moved to New York City. For the first few months of living in the city, I suffered from knee pain because of all the walking that had been added to my life. I was trim, but I wasn’t fit. As Summer started to turn to Fall that year, I started to toy with the idea of running again. My best friend was running and doing some pretty cool races and my knees seemed to have adapted to the walking. So on September 8th of 2011, I headed out for a run.

A vicious cycle

My first run was horrible. I wasn’t even fit enough to run a full block. I did almost 4 miles that day, though, in run/walk intervals. My best friend expressed her concern with my bold inaugural run and lack of proper shoes. So I bought a pair of Brooks Ghosts and started Couch to 5K. I also set a first goal race for December of that year. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t ready for that race. It would take almost 16 months and three more races before I could run a full 5K. It was 16 months of a vicious cycle — slow progress and injury setback. It constantly felt like one step forward and two steps back. I could only run 2x a week, had to run super slow, had to wear a knee brace, and even that didn’t guarantee my knees wouldn’t act up. After the first 5K I was able to run the entire distance in March of 2013, I gave up running. My knees just didn’t seem to want to do it and I would be able to end on a high note. I was heartbroken, but resigned myself to the fact that being able to walk at 60 was more important than a hobby.

Jingle Bell Jog 2011
My first race in December 2011. I had to walk most of it, but ran through the finish. Obviously form was still not my forte.
Spring Fling 5K
After the first 5K I was able to run entirely. March 2013. I felt invincible. Until I tried to return to training and my knees disagreed.

A new love and old unite

Around the same time as that last 5K and me quitting running, I took up a new hobby–indoor rock climbing. For the next few months I was at the rock climbing gym several times a week. I was horrible at it, but I loved it. It was mental and physical and social and everything I wanted in a sport. But by mid-Summer, I was missing running. I decided to give it one last very conservative try. I restarted Couch to 5K on July 26th of 2013. I also signed up for a race at the end of September.

I was amazed at the difference this time around. Something had happened. My knees weren’t as angry. Eventually I was able to start running 3x a week albeit at very low mileage (<5mi/week). By September I felt good enough to sign up for a few more races. I wasn’t running fast, but I was running. And I started to put two-and-two together. My climbing had made me strong enough to run.

2013 Tunnel to Towers 5k
Feeling strong after the Tunnel to Towers race in September 2013. The race started in Brooklyn and ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to Lower Manhattan and ended at the World Trade Center.
2013 Get to the Point! 5K
At a neighborhood race a few weeks after the Tunnel to Towers race. It wasn’t long after this that I was able to run without my knee brace.

Finally, a runner

I continued to run through the end of the year, eventually ditching the knee brace. I picked up a Garmin watch and heart rate monitor in December (2013) and planned to do base training through the Winter. By Spring, I was running 3x week up to 2-3 miles at a time. My weekly mileage was still pretty low at 5-6 miles per week, but I wasn’t really training for anything either. So I signed up for a race–The Front Runner’s 5 mile Pride Run on June 28, 2014. The distance seemed out of reach, but I figured I could always run/walk to complete it.

I found a 10 week training plan and passionately focused on my new goal. I supplemented my running with rock climbing a few times a week and 20 minutes of yoga after every run. I had also incorporated some PT exercises for my knees. Again, I wasn’t running fast, but I was running. I was adding miles and staying healthy. I couldn’t believe it. I completed the race and for the first time, I felt like a REAL runner. After I got home from the race, I immediately signed up for a 10 mile race at the end of September.

2014 Bridge Run
Training for the 5 mile race with some bridge running.
2014 Front Runners 5M Pride Run
Before and after the 5 mile race. I ran well enough for the first 4 miles that I was able to really kick at the end.