Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Road to Chicago


I had a mantra going into this marathon: I will be great. 
I will (I will do this. I will improve. I will become better. I will finish.) 
Be great (by challenging myself, by working towards a new goal.)

I will be great.
I will.
Be great.

There were so many things surrounding this full that I used as motivation. Three years ago when I ran my last marathon, I was a completely different person. I wasn't serious. I didn't take my health seriously. I didn't run with purpose. Back then my training was marginal at best. I talked a good game, but when it came down to it, I coasted my way through. 

Maybe it's because I am older now. Maybe having a child changed my perspective. Or maybe it's because the thought of challenging myself both physically and mentally is the only way I can feel like I am making the most of this body with the limited time I have on this earth. Whatever the case, something fundamentally shifted in my mind last year.

When I clicked submit on the Chicago marathon lottery registration last February, I just knew. I knew this year will be different. This marathon will be different.

It's worth noting that the shift was caused by a low point in my running/personal life. Fresh out of the "new motherhood" phase, I was overweight and out of shape. I ran a half close to a year after giving birth, and finished with an abysmal result. I was embarrassed.

The fact that I crashed and burned wasn't the issue, but that I used my new status as an excuse to disregard my own health. Humbled and humiliated, I joined online running groups for motivation, and found people whose enthusiasm for running and working out to be infectious.

You can say that I started training for Chicago even before I knew I was chosen to run, even before I decided to enter the lottery. I sought redemption for that abysmal half by immediately signing up for another, one that would toughen my resolve. I started strength training in earnest, and cleaned up my eating habits (for the most part). I started running and working out in the winter, something I have never done before.

Three months after the abysmal half, in the dead of January, I found my redemption by running a new PR, a cycle that repeated itself over and over this year. The distances varied, but the results were the same. One by one the old records fell. Part of me was amazed that I would find so much improvement in such a short period of time. And part of me cursed my younger self for not trying harder.

I set aside what I thought I knew, and relearned the basics of base building, started incorporating speed work and reprogrammed my schedule. If you're reading this, then you pretty much knew how my training went, so I'll spare you the details...


Traveling out of town for a marathon is a daunting event: fly in. Run to expo. Check into hotel. Find food. And try to get enough hydration and rest before race day. Add in a group and you have a few logistical issues to balance.

The Friday night before flying in, I only managed 5 hours of sleep. Saturday I was up at 5:30am for an 8:30 flight. In my mind, the only things on my agenda was to head to the expo, meet up with the LOCM crew, find some food, lay out my gear, and call it a day. And while that was essentially what happened, everything took way longer than I had planned. Having made arrangements for accommodation with a group, I should have taken into account that incorporating the schedules of 8 other people would result in a less than ideal situation for individual prep time. Not wanting to be selfish, I just went with the flow. However, this caused me to be on my feet for way longer than I had anticipated. I also didn't get a proper meal in until very late into the evening, when my legs were screaming at me from the flight and from running around. Up until about 8pm, the only food I ate was an airport croissant, a cup of coffee, a bagel and a banana. I did manage however, to keep hydrated by carrying my water bottle everywhere.

I was up for over 16 hours, on my feet for way too long. I also had plans to get bread and PB nearby, but tossed that decision aside to chance the free breakfast at the hotel. (And when they ran out of coffee, and only had bagels and muffins left, thanked the heavens silently that I at least had the sense to stop into a 7/11 to grab bananas, almonds, coconut water and pretzels "just in case.") 

Needless to say, the entire time leading before the race was taxing both physically and mentally, but once I was able to ritualistically lay out my gear, I was able to relax. I fell asleep around 11:15pm, and actually slept fairly well until the alarm went off five and a half hours later. 

Armed with two bananas, a bagel, a quarter cup of coffee and a bag of pretzels, I headed out of the hotel and approached a runner who was trying to hail a taxi, and asked if she would mind sharing a ride to the start, to which she happily accepted. The cab driver was only able to drive us about three blocks over before informing us that the roads were already being closed off, and that we'd have to walk the rest of the way. It's worth noting that within those three blocks, we almost got into a car accident because some idiot was driving the wrong way, and if it weren't for the quick foot of our cabbie breaking, I probably wouldn't have made it to the starting line. (It's funny now, but the only thought I had in my mind at the time was, "Oh hell no, I need to run this race!")

After walking to the entrance gates, and sharing running stories, my fellow car accident escapee and I bid each other a good race. She headed to her corral, and I walked over to mine where I happily met up with our fearless LOCM leader, and later on, H, my fellow NYer. I stuffed down the bagel, bananas, and half a bag of pretzels, made a last porta potty run, and prayed that the less than ideal previous 24 hours will not play a big part in the next 5. But I knew it would. The question was how it was going to play out. 

But first, let me take a selfie...

MILES 1-18

The first half was a blur. I honestly don't remember much of the early miles other than the fact that I felt really good. I was conscious of going out too fast, so I tried to pull back whenever I realized I was quick stepping it. I had trouble reading the garmin, (which I knew would be the case from reading course feedback), so I tried to go by feel. It didn't seem hot, but I stuck to my hydration strategy, and refilled at mile 5 and 10 like I always did. However, the first sign of trouble came between miles 8 and 9. I felt the familiar twinge of a cramp threat on my left calf. I wrestled with the decision, and ultimately decided pop a Tylenol in just to see if I can hold off any cramping. (That twinge gave me flashbacks of mile 10 at MCM when all the running around the day before caused a leg cramp.)

I do remember I got super excited when I got to the halfway point, and thinking to myself that I'm actually running straight through. The first time I actually took a walk break was around the 17.5 mark, and I purposely did that because I knew I was going to get myself in trouble if I didn't reel it in and refocus. Realizing I hit 2:25 for the first half, I knew I had a little time in the bank so to speak. There would be no negative splitting on this day... 

MILES 19-26

From 19 on, the wheels pretty much started to fall off. I held on as much as I could, but I could feel my legs getting heavier. At certain points, I started adding more walking in just to try and head off the quads, which were beginning to seize up in a way that I've never experienced before, and wondered if the rolling hills training versus fast and flat course running caused this new phenomenon. After reaching mile 22 and popping a third Tylenol, I was about to let go of my sub 5 hour B goal, but for some reason thought about people on suicide missions, and how they just don't give up without a fight, and how their spirit just drives them to their final goal. (Chalk this one up for the glycogen store depletion.) As macabre as that sounded, it gave me a new mantra to focus on...


Through the entire race, I semi-followed people who had pace numbers on their backs. From mile 22 on, I bounced back and forth between a lady with chevron capris (4:55) and two neon green TFK runners (5:00). Each time I slowed down to a walk, I thought to myself, "not without a fight," and started running again. I got angry. And then I got focused. I came too far to just let go, and that thought sustained me for the last 4 miles. 

Around mile 24, I got lightheaded. Not without a fight. 

Around mile 25, I got angry again. Not without a fight. 

By the time the "1 More Mile" sign appeared, I had used up everything in the tank, and was running on fumes. The last 800 meters seemed almost as long as the first 13 miles. I crossed the finish line with everything I had, and was immediately overwhelmed by all the feelings that had built up over the last several hours. 

A lady in the crowd calls out, "5:05:30! Great job!" And I accepted that as my time, along with my medal and beer. Funny thing was, somewhere along the way, I realized that it didn't even matter what time I finished at, because I was already proud of what I had accomplished. It wasn't until I sat down and checked my messages that I saw a screenshot of my official time, and got crazy excited that I had attained my B goal that I cried some more. The beer tasted extra good after that!

I literally got chills when I saw that.

Oh, and for those that wondered, I did have my celebratory donut in the end! (Seems to work, so why change it now?!)

Caramel Pumpkin Pecan donut courtesy of Glazed and Infused

The splits. (I can't believe I did a couple of sub 10s.)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fred Lebow Half Marathon Recap

Grete's Gallop used to be my favorite half outside of the NYC Half. But the race I ran in October was one not really worth recapping. Let's just say the excuses of yesteryear reared its ugly head, and I was happy to have even finished in under 3 hours.

From the moment I crossed the finish line of GG, I knew I had to redeem myself. I signed up for Fred Lebow this past Sunday, knowing it would be harsh. I needed the mental and physical punishment of training in cold weather. I've done this race before and came in third to last, knowing how brutal it can be in January. I needed it to get disciplined again and to focus on how well I know I can do. Let's face it; I've been a slacker all my life, and once in a while I have to throw in these types of challenges to wake myself up. Grete Waitz and Fred Lebow. Two legends that gave us this gift of running in the city. I have to pay homage and not take such things for granted.

Using HH's Intermediate 1 plan to train was something I've never done before. I always used Novice because of my pace. This time, I forced myself to step up to the plate and train in earnest, paying attention to things I never did back in the day. Things like tempo runs and hill repeats. And strength training.

Within the span of 12 weeks, I was able to drop the rest of the baby weight and gain a whole new confidence. It's been a while since I actually felt sexy. That wasn't my focus, but it certainly was a positive side effect of doing so much.

 And my pace got a lot faster, my recovery times a lot shorter.

Somehow, something finally clicked.

Race day was the coldest day I've ever run in. Period. It never got above 18º. Even with 2 pairs of compression pants, 2 wicking layers, 3 base and active layers, Chris' down vest, gloves, wool headband, it wasn't enough. Secretly vowed to myself to get appropriate winter gear. I got to the runner's village at 7am to pick up my bib. For the next hour I ran from the porta potties back to the village to baggage to corral. Once in the corrals I was doing lots of shuffling to keep warm, wondering how on earth can the guy next to me wear one pair of shorts in this weather.

The race started, and the first few miles were fast out of the gate because it was so freakin cold out. My mile 5 the winds picked up. For some reason, that back stretch of the loop in Central Park is one of the hardest for me. It could be the rolling hills right after Harlem Hill, which I actually prepared for doing the loops at Prospect. Decided to take a gel then and realized I didn't like the chocolate Gu like I used to. Either that or it was too cold for my liking, but it did the trick. I picked up my pace on miles 6 and 7 completing the first loop of the course. In all honesty, those two miles felt the best. I caught myself thinking that I finally settled in, at the halfway point.

The next several miles I felt the familiar twinge of the right hamstring and wondered if I had done enough during training to push through it. It didn't hurt, but it was making its presence known. I think I held back a bit, but quite honestly, the bitter winds just have a way of amplifying all these minor issues. By the time I reached mile 11, I thought I was going to break. No sooner than I asked myself what else do I have in the tank? The wind whips directly head on. Back stretch after Harlem Hill again was where the mental battle happened. My thoughts started to get the better of me. I thought that sub 2:30 goal was slipping away slowly, and I was trying not to unravel.

For the next several miles I reeled my thoughts in and zoned out. Treat it like a training run. You've done this plenty of times. So what that it's a little (a lot) colder than what you're used to? You're almost done. I remember seeing the clock somewhere around mile 11 and thought it would be really close. I started playing games, doing everything I can to push ahead. Don't let that lady pass you! Imagine a giant hook and hook onto that guy running by. He'll pull you along! I used just about every mental trick in the book to stop myself from walking. I gave permission to drop the sub 2:30 goal and focused on just beating my PB.

Then when I was just about to accept the goal readjustment, at the last turn, a giant clock appears, reading 2:31xx. Then suddenly it dawned on me that I was RIGHT there! I started about 5 minutes after the gun! That goal is still within reach! As soon as I thought that, a random volunteer shouted, "Look straight up ahead and give it everything you've got!" My legs responded to both the revelation and random shouter, and I charged up the hill with this surge of inner strength. Somewhere in between the deeps breaths I heard them announce my name but I was so focused on crossing the line that I broke down when I did.

I thought I'd only cry at marathon finishes, but there was something special about this race, and all the effort I put into it.

Of course, walking out of the park after a half marathon in sub zero temperatures was another reason to cry. But I digress...

Official time: 2:27:10

6:44 off my fastest, which was back in 2011 when I was training for the full. I'll take it!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New PB! Poland Spring 5M Marathon Kickoff

When I got to Central Park this morning, I thought to myself, "This is great PB weather." Guess what? I got that PB!

48 degrees
50% humidity
5mph wind

I have to say the credit goes to my friend Judy. Judy is a part of the group that ran NYCM 2011. (During someone's birthday dinner outing in 2010, a bunch of us got drunk and started talking marathons. Next thing we knew, we all agreed, went through the training, and ran it.)

Judy is usually a lot faster than me,  but today, she was within my sights. She passed me around mile 2, and I just kept my eyes on her the whole time. I took short, quick walks during the uphills, used the downhills to tuck in and speed up, and kept my pace until the end.

By mile 4 I caught up and we ran the last mile in together, but we were both spent. I pushed the entire last mile. There were grandstands set up for next week's marathon and it added to my fuel. I gave it everything during the last 800m and sprinted as fast as I could to the finish, (almost to the point of throwing up), and was rewarded by a new record!

Time: 58:08

I beat my personal best (this exact race back in 2007 when I was actually training for my first marathon) by 1:10. Almost unheard of for me!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grete's Gallop 13.1M Race Report

I'll be the first to admit I didn't do enough training for this race, and I paid dearly. Prior to race day, the longest I've done was a 10K. With each scheduled long run, something changed, and I got derailed. And my performance totally showed for it.

The weather didn't help wither. It was 66 degrees with 90% humidity. I just couldn't settle into it at all with so much moisture in the air. It was too cold and clammy, and just enveloped me. I kept a pretty good pace for the first 5 miles, then took a Gu at mile 6. I probably should have taken another around mile 10, and I paid for that mistake. Throughout the race, I couldn't resist the Gatorade, and figured I can just substitute. It did not work out at all as I haven't had Gatorade in close to two years.

When I reached mile 11 I started getting foot cramps. Then my left quad seized up so bad that I had to stop and limp for a bit. The rest of the race was torture. Each time I tried to go faster, I'd cramp up. The faster runners cheered me on and encouraged me toward the end, and I was able to finish. But man, that one hurt.

It was ugly, and it was humbling, and I need to accept the fact that my body is just not the same as it was, that I had a baby and am carrying excess baggage, that my feet are larger, and my hips are wider. It was my third worse time (2:59:30). But the silver lining? It was my tenth half marathon, so I'll take it!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Autism 4M Race Report

My sister, Anna, decided to get down to business, and get in all her qualifiers for next year's marathon. I told her, if she is serious, I will run qualifiers and train with her when she is ready to start training. This was one of the qualifiers. (If you're local in NYC, you can run NYCM by doing what's called the 9 + 1, which is run nine marathon qualifying races, and do one volunteer shift.

I was going to try and throw down the gauntlet. Being that I am trying to get myself back into (near) top form after giving birth, a 4 miler seemed like a good place to start. My family had other plans.

Two nights before the race, Anna announces to me that she signed my mom up for the race. She said that mom was hemming and hawing about doing it, and finally decided to just go for it. My mom has never ran a race in her life. She doesn't own any running gear. But she committed herself, and Anna was excited. I was a bit nervous. It wasn't that I didn't think she'd do it... Okay, well, maybe that was it. I was just worried that she'd push herself too hard and pass out or something, which is something that would be like her. One time she put herself in the emergency room because she forgot to eat. (Who forgets to eat??) Apparently she didn't eat for a full day, and then went swimming the next day. We scolded her for that.

I gave up any thought of running a race for myself, and just stayed with her and Anna, but my worries were unfounded. She finished the race with gusto, and even came in with a very respectable time of 1:01:29 (15:23 pace), and placed 22nd in her age group. (She even went swimming the day after!) When I asked her to give me feedback, how she felt, what she thought. (I also wanted to ask how come she's never had any interest in running during the 8 years that I've been doing it, but is interested now... but I'm sure it probably has to do with Anna's enthusiasm and the fact that she is now retired so she has time.) She said it was hard and complained that her shoes, (which were a full size too big on her) were just too clunky and heavy. I immediately went out and got her a light pair of Asics.

At the corrals.

Ran ahead at the end to capture a photo of her crossing the finish line. 

How did I do? Well, it was literally a walk in the park for me, so I won't even count this as a race. I'm just happy that I get to share this with my sister and mom, and that they have a better understanding of why I like racing. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Percy Hutton Harlem 5K

You know what sucks? It sucks to be a woman during that time of the month and having to run! Instead of worrying about running, my mind is focused elsewhere. Instead of thinking about breathing, I'm thinking of mishaps. Ugh.

65 degrees
54% humidity
6 mph wind

I clocked in at 35:29, which was right in the middle in terms of time. Meh. There was a giant hill right at the beginning, but the rest of the race was downhill and fast! I was happy that I ran a negative split on this race. And I've never clocked anything sub-11 minutes for a mile, which I've done here. Pretty cool, huh?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Oakley Mini 10K Race Report

Second race post baby, and it wasn't as bad as I had imagined even though I did very little training for it. (Seriously, these days time seems to be at a premium.) I haven't yet lost the additional weight yet, and I did feel it drag a bit, particularly on my left hip and calves. But given the beautiful day, I'm glad I made it official.

Temp: 65º
Humidity: 79%
Wind: 5mph
Net time: 1:19:23

Good enough. I didn't anything to prove given that it's been five months since I've given birth to Mackenzie. The last time I ran a 10K was back in 2007. So I slowed about 6 minutes, which isn't too bad considering the extra 20lbs and close to no running beforehand. So the recap...

Went to bed at around 11pm. Woke up about three times before really waking up at 5:40am. For some reason this past week, Mac has been waking up several times a night, babbling loudly for a while before fussing. Needless to say, after her first awakening at 3:38am, I slept lightly due to the anxiety of waking up late.

Got to Central Park around 7:30 and waited for Anna. She arrived late with about 5 minutes to start. Good thing the portajohns were right near the start. I ran quickly to empty my bladder before running to the corrals. (I could hear some lady sing the national anthem from inside. That's how close they were. Anyway...)

The race started off very nicely. Something about running in an all women race is very inspiring. Given that this used to be the Leggs Mini 10K, I felt a special attachment to it, especially after meeting Katharine Switzer and reading her book. Hugged my sis and wished her a good race, and we proceeded to run our own pace.

The first 1.5 miles were flat and straight, right through CPW, past all of the museums. The air was a bit muggy to my liking, and I used the straightaway to settle into my breathing. At 90th St, the route makes a turn into Central Park, and proceeds north to Harlem Hill. The first water station was at the Mile 1 marker which I missed. I don't normally get water so early, but my mouth was dry. I had to settle for the next station. As I made my way down the hill, I bumped into someone I knew, and we chatted for a minute. Unfortunately, that minute cost me the second water station right before Mile 3, and it took me a while to get my mind back.

For me, the worse thing about running is the mental challenge, and dealing with the fact that things didn't go the way I wanted it to. I kinda got irked, and I focused a bit too much on that rather than just letting things unfold. At the 5K mark, I realized that I was going faster than I have in a while, and tried to settle into my rhythm again. Finally I was able to get a cup of water at the next station, but my stomach was feeling queasy at that point. Between Mile 4-5 I was doing a walk-run routine, while telling myself it's okay and to let it go, that the race is what it is. Mile 5 to finish was more of the same. I hydrated well but my calves were starting to seize every time I tried to push it a bit more. By that time there were a lot of people around egging the back-of-the-packers to finish strong. Finally the 800m to go sign appeared, then the 400m, then 200m. At one point I had a flash back of the NYCM finish. Same place. Same slight uphill.

I crossed the finish line and was nicely surprised to see my mom and brother cheering from the side. Collected my medal and flower, and hung out with them while waiting for Anna to cross. (We didn't see her pass because we were too busy laughing at my mom who photobombed the Team NYRR pic.) Chris came out with Mackenzie to meet me, so all of us headed into Chinatown for a nice dim sum brunch as a post-race celebration meal.

On the way back, I asked Chris to look up my last 10K result, and I was surprised to find that the last time I ran this distance was back in 2008, the Scotland 10K. I did a 1:14:48 then, so I slowed a bit. But the 10K before that was the Mini 10K where I ran a 1:21:52. Ah well. This race is in the bag. Now to buy new shoes. I bought a pair of New Balance on sale for $45, and wore it at the Run as One 4M back in April, but apparently my foot grew half a size from being preggers. Guess I'll pass these to Anna since she seems to enjoy running now. So proud of her. She PBed since it was her first 10K ever!