Tag Archives: marathon

Comrades Update: Phase II Planning

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Of all the differing opinions about how to best prepare for Comrades, there is one piece of advice that everyone seems to believe: Comrades training begins on January 1st.  Popular opinion also says that training should include at least 1000KMs (620 miles) between January and May.

Comrades offers a training plan written by their official coach Lindsey Parry.  There are options for every goal finish, as different medals are awarded for different finish times.  From what I deduce, this plan will get you to the start line without an overuse injury and will prepare you to finish.  It relies on the strategy of double-blocking long runs on the weekends pretty much every weekend January-May.  Nearly every run is to be done at a slow pace.

There is another popular free training plan written by Norrie Williamson and sponsored by Old Mutual.  This program has more speedwork included, both in the form of tempo runs, intervals, and hill work.  There is more variation in pace for different runs, although the majority of the training is not surprisingly long,
slow distance.

I was surprised that neither training plan takes runners past 50KM in the build up to Comrades.  In my mind, that seems not far enough, as it leaves (nearly) a full marathon between the longest long run and Comrades itself.  I think the logic is that it is better to be underprepared than overtrained (and injured).

Neither training program specifies strength training, although most coaches and Comrades runners profess that strength work is non-negotiable for the Down Run.

So with these two training plans and the seven decades of collective running experience– and a little bit of hubris– between us, my dad and I spent some time over his visit at Christmas to devise our game plan.  We looked at both the Old Mutual plan  and the “official” plan.  We looked at our calendars to determine what races we’d like to use as supported training runs.  We noted when we’d both be in the same city so that we could plan a long training run together.

We decided on three races to enter so we can practice our race day pacing and fueling: Waco Miracle Match Marathon 50K at the end of January, Ft. Worth’s Cowtown 50K at the end of Feburary, and the North Texas Trail Runners Grasslands 26.2 in mid-March.  We won’t be racing at any of these events; rather, they are long runs that will offer some of the excitement of race day and break up the monotony of solo long runs.

We will also be hosting a DIY 40-miler at the end of April.  Using a super hilly 4.5 mile loop that starts and finishes at my house, I’m planning on running 8 full laps plus a final 4-mile loop to knock out a 40 miler as my penultimate long run before Comrades.  I plan on enlisting the support of my running friends to join me for a loop (or more) as I get nine hours on my legs.  Stay tuned for more info about how you can come join me!

All in all, my training plan will bring me to about 880 miles if I run the four-days-a-week as planned. That gives me wiggle room to hit my 1000KM in case I get sick or injured or just need a mental break one week.

In addition to the running, I’ll ride my FitDesk bike one day a week.  I have one day of yoga-for-runners and two days of strength training built into my plan.  I have one day of full rest each week.  All in all, it seems like a lot of work but in a very manageable way.

I’m going to chew the elephant one bite at a time.

If you’re interested in seeing the excel spreadsheet that details my training plan, leave a note in the comments.  I’d be happy to email it to you.

 

 

 

 

Dallas Marathon Recap

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(aka The Very Long, Sad Story of the Sour Stomach)

For anyone who has ever trained for a marathon, you know what the week before is like: fretting around, trimming toenails, praying that the one sneeze you just sneezed isn’t the start of the flu, hydrating regularly, peeing even more regularly, and checking the weather forecast even more regularly than that.

I headed up to Dallas on Saturday with the plan of hanging out with my family for the day.  In the afternoon, my dad and I drove the race course so I would have some appreciation for what was coming.  We were joined by the USA Comrades Ambassador Pat Kongslip who was in town to chase down a Comrades “B” seeding on the Dallas course.  As we drove, we traded running stories and advice.  Pat and I were fortunate to have my dad’s insight on the course, both as someone who has been running the Dallas streets since 1964 as well as someone who laid out a large portion of the course back in 1983 when he was race director of the Dallas White Rock Marathon.  Having insider information and visual reconnaissance of the course may not seem that important, but it gives a strong sense of confidence going into a marathon.

Overnight I was awakened at 2:10am by pounding rain and driving winds.  My optimism for the day was, quite literally, dampened significantly.  At least I was able to get back to sleep for a few more hours.

I got out of bed at 6, dressed, and took my pre-packed “stuff-I-want-to-have-with-me-in-case-I-decide-I-need-it” bag down to the car.  My dad and I left the house just after 6.40am.

We were in a parking lot near the start by 7am, and then we spent 20 minutes complaining about the rain, changing outfits, wishing the weather would improve, and generally burning nervous energy.   Around 7.20am the rain diminished, and we decided it was time to don our garbage bags and head to the start corral.

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It was about 52F at the start, but the rain made it feel like 48F. The forecast was for rain until about 10am, then winds picking up to around 20mph.  It was a tricky forecast to dress for.  I didn’t want to be cold, but I didn’t want to wear more than I needed to and have it get wet (and heavy).  I had on shorts, a short-sleeve shirt, running hat, gloves, and armbands that were really sleeves cut off an old t-shirt with the cuff on my bicep and hairbands on my forearms to hold them to my arms.  I slid my pace band for my all-important sub 4:00 Comrades “D” batch seeding  under the hairband on my right arm. I felt confident I could run 4:00 comfortably, but I’m terrible at math on the run, so the pace band was there to keep me focused.

Our pre-race timing was perfect, finishing the port-a-potty adventure just as the start corral was collapsing toward the start line.  That meant there was very little standing around time, which was good since it was still raining a bit.  Just as the countdown to the start began, I took off my garbage bag.

Off we went!  I started slowly, as planned, hitting my first mile in 9.30.  I am a slow starter on morning runs, and I knew that going out too fast would make for a long day.  I hit my first 5K in 28.26, which was bang on race pace (9.09/mile). Excellent!

The rain had tapered off, and we were running through Turtle Creek and Highland Park– very residential neighborhoods which afforded protection from any wind.  I was already getting warm.  I rolled my “sleeves” down to my wrists.  By mile 5, my gloves were off and tucked in to my waistband.

I was running strong, feeling great, and clocking off miles ahead of pace.  I hit the 10K in 56:16 (9.03/mile), giving me some cushion for my sub-4:00 finish.  I was worried about the possibility of a headwind for the last 4-5 miles, so putting a little time in the bank now seemed sensible.

The race ran down Greenville Ave, a street lined with bars and restaurants.  Despite road construction and potholes filled with water, this was a great section of the course. There were supporters lining the streets.  I thanked every police officer at every intersection, knowing that keeping things positive always helps me run better.  The aid stations were well stocked and staffed, and I was doing a great job getting the water and gatorade down every chance I had.

By 15K, I’d dropped my overall pace to 8.59/mile clocking in at 1.23.48.  I knew then that I was well ahead of pace.  I had the idea that maybe I should have walked a bit more early on, but I was feeling so great!

Somewhere between Mile 11 and Mile 12, I started burping gatorade.  It was really unpleasant.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight I know this was the beginning of the end….

I got pumped when I saw Mile 12, knowing that my husband and kids, and my mom, and my brother and nephew and niece would be on the course in a few minutes.  They were in a great location where I spotted them from a block away.  I was still cheery enough to wave my arms and enjoyed watching them wave and clap as I approached.  This is the first marathon since I ran Boston in 2002 when I’ve had family on the course for support– it’s always much appreciated!

Just after I saw my family I ran/walked over “the Dolly Partons”– two hills of moderate challenge that are an iconic part of the race course.  I got a good chuckle out of the guys wearing wigs and fancy dresses with balloons inside who were handing out water (and other beverages) as Dolly Parton tunes blared.

Feeling buoyed by my family and the fun on the Dolly Partons, I ran well through the half-marathon mark.  I was at 1.58.14 (9.01 pace), so well under where I needed to be for a sub-4:00 finish.  And I was halfway done!

But any marathoner knows that the halfway mark is really at 20 miles.

And never has this been more true than for me last Sunday!

But I’m getting ahead of myself….

As I ran around the road adjacent to White Rock Lake, I was able to see runners ahead of me who were running on the path and were already on their way back to downtown.  Around 13.5 miles I saw Comrades Pat and gave him a shout– he was running really strong.  It’s always a lift to see someone you know on the course.

Running out to the turnaround point, I kept my focus on staying hydrated and keeping the Gu going down.  My stomach was starting to turn a little nauseated, so I really had to give myself a pep talk at each aid station.

By the turnaround (about 15.5  miles), my stomach was really sour.   Every time I tried to push the pace– my legs felt strong and my breathing was totally in control– I felt sick.  Not one to push through, vomit, and get on with it, I chose to back off.

I didn’t enjoy the stretch of the course along the path by White Rock Lake as much as I should have.  I know this path really well, having trained on it regularly for my entire running career.  The only fun part was seeing my dad as he was on his way out to the turnaround.  We shouted encouragement at each other and shared that we both felt sick.  I’m sure the people around us appreciated that.

I was able to get into a little better, more smooth groove on the very slight downhill between TP Hill and the Katy Trail.  It helped knowing a) that it *is* a downhill, and b) that my family would be at the start of the Katy Trail.  I repeated the mantra “My body is healthy. My mind is strong” for about two straight miles.

By the time I saw my family again I knew I was going to fade.  I just couldn’t keep the pace I needed without feeling sick.  I was happy to see them and hear them cheering for me.  A few high-fives with my kids did my spirit good.

The next two miles or so were pretty desperate.  I started to feel the wheels come off.  The Katy Trail is concrete, and I could feel the pounding in my legs.  It didn’t much matter, though, because I couldn’t make my legs go fast enough for it to really hurt.

I hit 20 miles in 3:04:31, a super slowdown to 9.14/mile pace.  While I was able to do the quick math to figure out if I could just run 9s all the way in I could still meet my goal, the logical part of my brain said: “If you could just run 9s, you’d already be doing that!”

Fortunately, right after that negative moment in my brain, I registered that there were people cheering me by name.  It took me until I was about two feet in front of them to realize it was my cousin and his wife.  I offered for her and I to switch places, but she politely declined.  Again, a little fun and friendly banter lifted me spirits for a few minutes.

I was surprised to see them again at Mile 21– those punks knew a shortcut!  I offered again to trade places with my cousin’s wife, but again she said no.  My cousin offered the wise truth that I was already a mile closer to the finish than I was when I last saw them.  Fair enough.

I took my last Gu around 21.5 miles, wincing and gagging as I squished it into my mouth.  I was still taking Gatorade for fear of adding cramping to my already bad situation.  My stomach was a mess.

(At the time I was blaming it on the Gu.  In hindsight (and realizing I had this same problem at the NYC Marathon last year), I think it is drinking the full-strength Gatorade that my stomach doesn’t like.  I use G2 (Gatorade’s less sugary sister) when I train, and I’ve never had stomach issues in training….even when running at much faster paces.)

There was, indeed, a headwind at this point of the race, but I wasn’t running fast enough for it to be an issue.  I walked a lot on the uphill stretches through La Vista, moving along only because I knew right where Mile 22 was, as I saw it on the opposite side of Swiss Avenue when running outbound.  That was an important point for me: in marathon training, a 4-mile run is a short run…and easy day.  Getting to 22 miles means I have only an easy run left.

I can’t say it was easy, but I can say I was resigned to the fact that I couldn’t hold on to the pace I needed to break 4:00.  It was so frustrating!  I knew my fitness was there to run the time I needed, but I just couldn’t hold it together.

I made it in to the finish in 4.06.40 (9.25/mile), my slowest marathon ever by more than seven minutes.  It was disheartening.  Yes, it’s a Comrades qualifier.  But I’ll now be starting TWO batches lower than where I’d hoped due to a special seeding bracket for folks who have 10 Comrades finishes in between sub-4:00 and 4:00-4:19:59.

Mostly, it’s disappointing because my muscles feel so great post-race!  I’m a little sore, but not really.  At this point, I just hate my guts!  I know that if my stomach had cooperated, I’d have had a better result.  Alas, this is the cruel reality of marathoning…..months of effort go into one day, and there are lots of things that can go wrong.

(In better news, Pat snagged his “B” seeding, finishing in 3.17 and change.  And my dad finished in 4.54, safely under the 5:00 time limit needed for a Comrades qualifier.)

I’m taking a few days off now to recover, stretch, and receive massage.  I’m still confident I can have a strong Comrades finish in May.  But there are a lot of miles to run between now and then.

 

 

 

 

 

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Marathon Prep Checklist

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Comrades Update: Taper Crazies

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I’m twelve days out from my Comrades qualifier, the Dallas Marathon. The taper always makes me crazy.  That means I’m trying to find ways to spend all of my running time since I’m not running much. I’m also trying not to drive my family crazy with my thoughts, about 80% of which are marathon-related right now.

Luckily for me, I have a middle schooler who has a jazz band dinner concert fundraiser next week, and it just so happens I got volunteered volunteered myself to make the decorations.

I have been knee-deep in donated vintage sheet music, trying to papercraft as many of the decorations as possible in an effort to keep costs to a minimum.  Once I decided on a “star” theme, I scoured Pinterest for inspiration.  None of these ideas is original.  I’m not a true creator, but I sure can execute other peoples’ ideas!

For dinner table decor, I have two different centerpieces: one with greenery and one with an LED tealight.  I hope it will be a nice balance of color and light.

One of the benefits of having a preschooler at the same time as a middle schooler is that I still have friends who have babies.  I’ve dressed up baby food jars with sheet music and die-punched gold stars plus a little twine.  My local Christmas tree lot donated the cuttings.

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I learned how to make paper bags, and used the sheet music to make luminarias.  I’ll be dropping a LED tealight into the bottom of the bag, and it looks so pretty coming out of the star-punched holes.

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For the serving and drinks tables, I have about 200 meters of paper chains.  And I still have more to make.  This is a great project for The Stowaway (age 4) to help with.

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We’ll hang these super cool 3D stars from the ceiling.  Add some white fairy lights around the room, and I think it’s going to be a stunning look.

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While I love running, I’m glad that the timing of my Comrades-qualifier taper has freed up some time right now.  Making these decorations has been a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see how fantastic it all looks at the dinner concert next week.  I’m grateful I can support The Bear and his amazing band of talented musicians– did I mention they were voted the top middle school jazz band in the country by the National Music Educators Association?– by spending my taper time getting my crafty on.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Marathons and New Motherhood

I recently visited London, where my husband and I lived from 2002-2004 and where our first child was born.  My visit stirred old memories and emotions, as this was the first time my husband and I had been in London without kids since August 9, 2003…the day before our son was born.  

There I sat in the runners’ staging area at the start of the 2004 London Marathon, attempting to express breastmilk as discreetly as possible.

I’d gained entry into the London Marathon via the “Good For Age” qualification standards that allow runners to bypass the notoriously unfavorable lottery.  I had a qualifying time I earned at the 2002 Boston Marathon.  Between my qualifying run and London race day, I’d gotten pregnant and birthed my first child.

Running was the one constant in my life as I transitioned into motherhood while living in a foreign country.  I had a fantastic group of friends, but it was the daily ritual of running that kept me connected to my familiar, pre-mother self.  Every day, I’d settle my son into the BabyJogger and set out for Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.  We became a fixture in the park, our big blue running chariot quite an anomaly.

Of course, many of the park regulars had witnessed my very un-British behavior, as I had run nearly daily all throughout my pregnancy.

“Oh, dear love, what are you doing?” one well-meaning older woman inquired as I finished up a two-mile jog on my due date.  She would not have been more surprised if I birthed the baby right then and there.  After she admonished me (I’m still not sure for what exactly), I set off for home, running high on the happy endorphins.

When my son was two months old, I was surfing the internet during a middle-of-the-night nursing session and learned about the Good For Age bypass into London.

“That’s it!” I thought.

It was just the goal I needed to set for myself.  More specifically, I needed to set the goal of finishing the marathon in the same 3:45 time limit that allowed me the Good For Age entry.  I didn’t want to be a fraud!

Over the next six months, I ran hundreds of miles, most of them with my son sleeping in the big blue chariot in front of me.  When I would stop to walk or take a water break, he would wake up and cry.  As soon as I ran again, he’d nod off to sleep.  He was an incredibly effective training partner.

Race day brought a mix of emotions, as it always does.  Would my husband survive without me for the day?  Would my baby drink milk from a bottle?  Would these annoying rainshowers last all day?  Would the course be empty of crowds because of them?

I didn’t question my ability to complete the race;  I knew my goal was challenging but achievable.

Once the gun went off, the worries fell away.  I wanted to soak in the experience of the race, the multi-national crowds out in force despite the weather, cheering us on as we ran by.  I managed to find myself running slightly ahead of three men in sarapes—The Three Amigos—who both endearingly and annoyingly played mariachi music at each mile and half-mile marker.

In the final mile of the London Marathon, runners stream toward Buckingham Palace before making a U-shaped turn onto The Mall and finishing about a quarter-mile later.  As I entered the stretch just before the turn, a man in a horse costume—complete with giant plastic horse head—galloped past me.

“Oh, no.”  I thought.

“If I can birth a human, be his entire source of sustenance, and still train for a marathon, I will not be beaten down the homestretch by a horse.”

This was, quite honestly, the first twinge of competitive drive I’d felt since becoming a mother.

I managed to outkick the horse and finish in 3:44:45.

Goal achieved!

The eight hours from the time I caught the train to get out to Greenwich for the start until I returned home to our South Kensington flat was the longest time my baby and I had been apart in his entire eight months and eight days of life.  That tiny baby is twelve—TWELVE—now, and I still run marathons because nothing else makes me feel so fully myself.

A Year in Preview

It’s good to have a goal.  The goal in front of me right now is one I first learned about way back in the eighties (yes, the 1980s) when my father spoke about the races he hoped to run “someday”.  Ranging from an indoor mile at an invitational track meet to the 100 mile Western States Endurance Run through the Sierra Nevadas, my dad was able to compete in most of his “must-run” events.  Except for one:  The Comrades Marathon.

First of all, the name is misleading….the marathon, by standards and definition, is 26.2 miles (roughly 42 kilometers).  The Comrades Marathon, however, is technically an ultramarathon, as its distance is longer than a marathon.  The distance of Comrades varies from year to year, but it is always around 90K.  Let me do the math for you: it’s basically two marathons back-to-back, with another 5K tacked on just for fun.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it 56 miles.

Still with me?

As if 56 miles isn’t hard enough, check out the race course elevation profile:

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The above profile is for the Comrades run in even-numbered years and is known as the “Down Run.”  Yesterday’s 2015 Comrades was run in the opposite direction– an “Up Run.”   My dad thinks that the “Down Run” will be easier, though all accounts on the internet indicated that it is the biggest beat up your body will (hopefully) ever undergo.

Billed as “The Ultimate Human Race”, Comrades isn’t for weenies.  If you’re crazy enough to undertake such a challenging course, you do so knowing that you have to complete it in a very strict 12-hour time limit.  Fail to do so, and you don’t even get billed as a DNF (“Did Not Finish”), your name simply doesn’t appear as an official competitor.  Ouch!

So, why now?  Why Comrades 2016?

The Comrades Marathon is in South Africa.  When my dad was in the prime of his running career– a prime that lasted far longer than anyone has any right to!– it wasn’t advisable for an American to travel to South Africa.  Under the National Party and its rule of apartheid, an American who went to SA for leisure (if you can call running Comrades “leisure”) would be seen as endorsing the policy.  Despite my father’s desire to take part in this legendary race– one that is ironically founded and still run nine decades later as a testimony to comradeship– he did not want to align himself with the tolerance of an unjust society.

“Someday” has arrived.  Now nearing 70 and having faced several years of physical challenges that have affected his ability to run long distances, my dad wants to train hard so he can line up at the start in Pietermaritzberg, tackle the five big downhills (and lots of other fairly significant uphills), and find himself in Durban less than 12-hours later.  And I would like to do it with him.

There are two things (other than my dark brown eyes) I got from my dad: a love for running, and a love for travel. To line up at Comrades with him on May 29, 2016 would be a terrific blessing.

As they say at Comrades: “Bamba Iqhaza!”  Be a part of it!

I’ll be writing more about our journey to Comrades over the next year.  

Throwback Thursday: 2014 New York City Marathon

Last Fall, I wrote about my preparation for the NYC Marathon and even shared my struggle packing for the trip.  I left for New York feeling confident in my training and hopeful that the weather wouldn’t be as bad as what the forecasts were predicting.

Alas, things don’t always go to plan.

As soon as I arrived on Friday, I met up with my college friend Dyan, who was my hostess for the weekend.  She took me straightaway to Javits Expo Center to collect my race number.  So far, so good:

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We walked around Manhattan on Friday afternoon and evening, just enough to shake out my legs and adjust to the cool 50 degree temps.

By Saturday afternoon, it was clear that the weather was going to deteriorate for race day.  I wasn’t feeling like running in 40 degrees with 30mph winds would be comfy in shorts.  I wasn’t so worried about feeling cold as I was about having muscle issues, given that I’m not exactly trained to run in cold weather. So Dyan and I went to a sports store and I bought a pair of tights.  One of the first rules of thumb of marathoning is never do or wear ANYTHING new on race day.  At this point, though, I didn’t have much choice.

We went from there to Mass at Dyan’s local parish church.  It was good to go and take some deep breaths and send up prayers of gratitude– for good health, for the support of my husband who encouraged me to take the time and spend the money to train and race, and for the communities of strangers I’ve enjoyed by being a runner and being a Catholic.  In short, life is good.

Dinner was at an Italian restaurant on the UWS; it’s Dyan’s local place, and I’ve been there before with her and remembered I liked it.  I ate an enormous bowl of bolognese, enjoying it very much.  I opted to skip dessert, not wanting to feel too full to sleep well.

We went back to Dyan’s and watched the Irish struggle against Navy.  I used the game time to organize all of my clothes, both for the race and for keeping warm ahead of the start.  I felt well-organized and calm, and thankfully, ND won in the end, so I could go to sleep happy.

I slept great until 4.30am, when the wind blew down some scaffolding on the building next door.  I was only able to doze on and off after that, both because I knew I had to get up relatively soon and because I was starting to get freaked out about the wind.  I got up at 6, ate a banana & PB, got all dressed, and headed out to make my long journey to the start.  As soon as I stepped outside, I knew that the forecast for high winds was no joke.  There is a slight hill up the one block to the subway station, and I could barely make it up the hill the wind was so strong.

On the subway, I chatted with a group of 30 year olds all running their first marathon.  At the ferry terminal, I chatted with a woman from Long Island who had put her name in the lottery 9 times before it was finally drawn for this year.  On the ferry, I kept to myself, just trying to take in the view and the moment.  It’s pretty crazy to be on a ferry with 5000 people, all of them runners.  All with a common goal and thousands upon thousands of hours of training invested in it.  The bus ride from the ferry terminal to the athletes’ village at Ft.Wadsworth (at the base of the Verranzano Narrows bridge) took FOREVER.  I put my head in my hand and tried to doze.  It was nearly 50 minutes later when I got off the bus and lined up at the security check.  Dogs sniffed bags before getting on to the ferry, but getting off the bus each and every runner was wanded by NYPD.

I had only about 75 minutes until my start time, so I knew I had only 30 minutes before I needed to be lined up for my corral.  I used the porta potty– hats off to NYRR for really and truly having plenty out there– and then went and stood in the line for my corral.  As my wave was called, the line started to move forward. When I was about 15 people back, the volunteer closed the corral.  Apparently, he was checking only for the corral assignment and NOT the wave assignment.  People from wave 3 & 4 were able to jump the queue, filling the corral and closing it off to at least 50 of us wave 2 runners who now had to wait another 25 minutes to start.  The worst part was that I’d already shed all of my extra clothes save my fleece jacket, and it was miserable outside.  It was 37 degrees, and the wind was whipping around close to 30mph.  I’d also already eaten my pre-race GU, so throwing off my timing by 30 minutes was incredibly annoying.

Fortunately, I’d chatted up a woman named Grace from Charlottsville who it turns out is 40, has kids who are 11 and 8 and a husband who is an independent IT consultant, and she’s a pilates instructor.  So we had plenty to chat about as we waited.

When we FINALLY got into our corral and then led up to the foot of the bridge and the start line, all the nervousness was gone and it was pure excitement.  Because I was in Corral A, I was literally standing on the starting line when the cannons were fired.  I got a little choked up as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” played over the loudspeakers and we took off up the rise of the bridge.

I cannot describe the strength of the wind.  It was a crosswind as we ran the bridge, and I was literally being blown sideways.  Grace and I were laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.  We were reminding each other to look up, look out to the harbor, across to Manhattan, and take it all in.  There were whitecaps on the harbor, which I hadn’t noticed (or hadn’t been there) when I was on the ferry just two hours before. People’s hats were flying off left and right.  Some people stopped to take selfies on the bridge.  My main memory of the bridge is hearing the thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack of everyone’s race bibs fluttering in the wind.

The first mile mark I saw was Mile 3, and when I checked my watch I knew I’d gone out faster than I wanted to.  This is so typical in a big race, particularly after the aggravating false start and wait with the corral issue.  I immediately walked for 30 seconds so I could pull back the pace a bit, telling Grace to go on.  I was able to catch her again at the first water stop.  We kept running, kept talking, and and had settled into a better pace.   I took my first GU at Mile 5, and all was going great.

At the 10K, I checked my pace and decided another walk break would be prudent, so I again told Grace to run on.  It was the last I saw her, but I was grateful for the company both pre-race and through the early miles.  By this point, the crowds were sizable enough to be near-constantly encouraging.  I was high-fiving kids, running strong, and really enjoying myself.  I was even able to disregard the wind a bit, except for when I would stride and my up-leg would be blowing into my base leg, whacking it hard.  I could feel that I wasn’t running relaxed, but at this point I was moving along well.

I knew that Dyan and my friend Lara–who took the train up from DC for the day just to cheer me on!– were planning to be around 7.5 miles on the left side of the road.  It was so encouraging to start scanning the crowds, just knowing that out of the thousands of people on the street right then, I had real friends there just for me.  I saw Lara’s face first, and then I heard them both scream.  I remember throwing my arms in the air and smiling like a goof, so excited to see them.  I knew I was about halfway through the headwind portion of the course, and I was still feeling pretty good.

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At Mile 10, I took a walk break so I could eat my next GU.  Suddenly, my stomach flipped.  I felt nauseous.  I’ve never had this happen before, so it was really disheartening.  I started running again, noticing a slight downhill in front of me; I hoped that getting back into my pace would make me forget about my stomach.Unfortunately, instead of feeling better, I felt worse and worse.  I tried to remind myself to just look up and enjoy the day.  I was noticing the signs held by folks in the crowd, thanking every police officer at every intersection, high fiving more kids, and generally trying to get myself out of my head.  A few minutes later there was a gospel choir rocking it out on the steps of a church.  I got a lift in my stride.

My half-marathon time was right around 1:55, which was nowhere near the pace I needed for a sub 3:45 Boston Qualifying run (my Gold Standard goal), but I knew that wouldn’t happen once the windy day materialized.  I was still hoping for a sub-3:50, though, and I was bang on pace.

Unfortunately, my stomach was awful.  I was drinking water, but I didn’t dare try to take any gatorade, for fear that would tip me right over the edge.  I got to Mile 15– the Queensboro Bridge– really wishing I was feeling better. More than 10 miles is a long way to run when you feel crappy.

I actually loved running over the bridge.  Many runners hate it for two reasons: 1) There are no spectators on the bridge, and 2) The rise leading up to the top of the bridge is one of the bigger hills on the course.  I liked the quiet break from the crowds, as it allowed me to turn inward and do a full body scan of how I felt.  My hamstrings were really tight, which at the time I thought was from not taking in any electrolytes.  (In hindsight, I think it was from running hunched over into the wind for 15 miles, not being able to take a real stride.)  The crowd coming down off the bridge was awesome.

Between Mile 16 and 17, I was running on the right side of the road.  From the left side of the road, I heard a loud cheer of “KAREN”– again making me throw my arms in the air and give me a lift.  I assumed it was Dyan and Lara, who I knew were going to stop in at a watch party not far from that point.  As it turns out, it was my husband’s uncle & cousin, who were in town from the Cape to cheer on their daughter/sister.

As I kept running north in Manhattan– away from the finish line–, I remember wishing I’d paid more attention to which street the course turned left on in the Bronx.  I felt like the numbers kept counting up and up and up and up and there was No.End.In.Sight.  I knew that seeing the thousands of runners in front of me going up a long hill meant I was going to do the same.  But my hamstrings were tight, my stomach was queasy, and I had lost my good humor.  I’d also read so much about how the Bronx was disappointing crowd-wise, so I was starting to go into a negative mental spiral.  Little things– like my shoes sticking to the Gatorade-soaked street in the aid stations– was driving me crazy.

I got to Mile 20 right at 3 hours.  That made the math easy.  All I needed to do was run just under 10 minute miles, and I could still finish in under 4 hours.  At that point, I stopped to walk for a minute, and I promised myself to keep trying to enjoy the day.

Finally, we got to turn left.  And then turn some more.  And then make another turn.  I kept waiting for the horrible headwind to turn into a tailwind to blow me towards Central Park, but that never happened.  At one point in Harlem, It continued to be a fierce crosswind, back to knocking my upfoot into my base leg.  And not a block later, there was a gust so strong that it literally stopped me in my tracks.  I yelped.   It really was that bad.

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The absolute best part of my day was when I was preparing to tackle the nearly mile-long hill up 5th Ave between Mile 22 and Mile 23, and I heard the unmistakable shouts of Dyan and Lara.  I saw their smiling faces, heard their cheers, and it was so uplifting.  It’s hard to explain how boring it can be to be a marathon spectator, other than the obvious: you only get to see your runner for a few seconds, yet you’ve been out all.day.long. in the cold and the wind.  But to the runner, it is everything.

I made it up the hill– even managed to stay under my 10 min/mile pace I needed– with my hamstrings on fire.  My stomach was slightly better, but every time I tried to push the pace even a bit, it was not good.  I was thrilled to FINALLY turn into Central Park after Mile 23.  I looked up and sought out the rock outcropping where I spent a glorious afternoon with some girlfriends– one of whom was taken by breast cancer far too soon– a few years ago.  It made me catch my breath and remind me how much goodness there is in my life.

I hit Mile 24, and immediately got pissed because I knew if I’d been allowed to start in my assigned wave I’d be done by now.  You’d think I could have held on to the goodness of girlfriends and good health a bit longer, but sadly that just wasn’t where my mind was.  I’m unfailingly human.

So I pressed on, trying to soak in the crowds in the park.  I felt stronger on the rolling hills than I had on the long, flat stretches through the Bronx and Harlem.  As I turned right onto Central Park South, I was shocked at just how far away Columbus Circle seemed.  I started to read the shirts of the people around me, appreciating the charity runners, the international runners, the old folks, the young folks, the huge number of women running, and all the beautiful shades of flesh on the street with me.  It really was an international street party.

Turning back into the park and toward the finish, it all seemed to be ending so quickly.  I knew I had less than 1/2 mile to run, and I knew I would finish under 4 hours.  I reminded myself to look up and smile.  I didn’t feel great, it was my worst time ever, but I was still so lucky to be there and be a part of it.  The next thing I knew, I’d crossed the line and had a medal around my neck.  My official time was 3:59:09.  Don’t ever let it be said that once I have a goal in mind I’ll use any more energy than necessary getting there!!  I was incredibly disappointed, even though my high level goal had always been to break 4 hours.  I just knew I was way better trained than what my time reflects.

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Thank God I had been warned that getting out of Central Park was the hardest part of the marathon. I’d received my medal and finisher bag (with apple, protein shake, water, pretzels, etc), but the finish area was so packed with runners that I couldn’t even really walk.  It was a long, slow shuffle a mile northward before I could exit the park. Then I was shunted back southward for nearly a half-mile before I was finally freed of the great marathon logistics. It was another half-mile walk to the subway to get back to Dyan’s.I must say, the people on the streets walking to/from the subway were awesome.  As soon as they saw me in my bright blue poncho, people shouted congratulations or held up their hand for a high five.  Even a little girl who looked to be Rosa’s age who was riding in a stroller looked right at me and said, “Good job, Runner!”  Melt.

I got back to Dyan’s and immediately peeled off my clothes and jumped in the shower.  Dyan and Lara arrived just as I was getting out. It was great to see them and finally get to give Lara a hug!  We chatted for 45 minutes or so, but yet another crappy part of being shut out of my corral was that it ate up 30 minutes of my Lara time.  Boo!  Hiss!  I did get to ride the subway with her down to Penn Station to catch her train so we could chat a bit more.  It’s incredibly humbling to have your friendship, Lara.

The rest of the day went quickly, with a trip to a diner for chicken souvlaki pita and fries for dinner. I stretched throughout the evening as we watched the media coverage of the race that Dyan recorded.  I was uplifted by hearing the elite runners complain about the winds, using phrases and key issues I’d described to Lara and Dyan.  That was incredibly validating.

I also loved reading through my texts and FB messages.  To hear from so many friends was really touching.  Around 10pm, I got a friend notification on FB— it was from Grace!  She didn’t know my last name, so she must have searched the marathon results for “Karen from Austin” to find me.  I love this, as it’s such a good example of what I love about running and runners.  The friendship and camraderie is uplifting.

I had so much adrenaline I couldn’t sleep.  I finally went to be around 11pm.  I startled awake around 4am with the feeling that I was still being wind whipped. I was up for nearly 2 hours before falling asleep again.  You’d think I’d sleep better after running a marathon, but that wind was so freaking intense, my poor nervous system just couldn’t shut off.  Honestly, it took a good 36 hours after finishing before I really felt like myself again.

Despite the less-than-optimal results, I’m so thrilled to have been a part of the NYC Marathon.  I maintain that distance running is a democratic and inclusive sport, and being part of that community gives me so much joy.  Here’s to one day running Berlin and Chicago, rounding out my participation in the Five World Marathon Majors.
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