Confession: I haven’t exactly been counting down to the Chicago Marathon. For a while, friends and coworkers would ask when it was, and I’d pause for several seconds to remember that specific date, October 11. It’s only been in recent weeks that I’ve started to get anxious when I hear friends say X weeks till NYCM, Wineglass, etc, that I’ve thought Holy crap, Chicago is only X weeks before or after that!
That’s not to say I don’t think I’ll be prepared. It’s just that despite following a lengthy 19-week training plan, it seems like race day is rapidly approaching and will be here before I know it.
A rough outline of my training typically looks like this:
Wednesday: Easy miles
Thursday: Easy-to-moderate medium-long run
Saturday: Long run, almost always 2 solo miles to meet the PPTC group at Grand Army Plaza for some miles through BK and over the Brooklyn Bridge before splitting off to run along the Hudson to the Upper West Side
Sunday: Recovery miles
Week 10 marked my second 45-mile week, with my longest medium moderate run (9M at 8:40) and longest long run so far (18M). I’ve been a solid 5x/week runner for all of my training cycles to date, but Coach Hadley has given me the option to step it up to 5–6x/ week for this one (meaning I can do an easy 3-4 instead of resting on either Monday or Friday). However, I’ve yet to make the jump. For starters, my base wasn’t as high as I’d have liked in the weeks leading up to training. I cracked 30 miles per week a few times, but I definitely let myself get a little too comfortable coasting (read: too many runs defaulted to the 4.3-mile total of the Prospect Park loop and round trip to and from home) and keeping my mileage at a reasonable level to pace my cousin Brittany for her first 13.1 at the Brooklyn Half Marathon. As a result, I started marathon training conservatively, erring on the low range of the prescribed mileage for the first several weeks. As the weeks progressed and the mileage increased, I found myself needing both of those rest days more, not less. I really value recharging Monday before a Tuesday speed session as well as Friday before tackling my long run. Never say never, but at this point in training, I think it’s safe to say I’m going to be a 5-day stickler. I could say there’s always next time for 6, but…
I would love to qualify for Boston at Chicago. There, I said it. And then I want to run Boston, and then retire from marathons forever, only racing half marathons and below.
So there you have it, my goal for Chicago is to run a BQ. And not just a squeaker BQ (sub-3:35), a solid one, fast enough to be safe from a potential minute or two cutoff. I know it’ll be a challenge and I would love for the stars to align for a nice, cool race day (at 35 degrees, Chicago 2012 was just glorious!). I hope to have another combination of solid training and perfect racing conditions like I did at last year’s Richmond Half. Many people preach the benefits of race-paced long runs, but I’m a firm believer in the power of the easy run (a minute-plus above goal pace). After consistently doing my long runs at ~9:20 pace, 8–8:10 pace for a 1:46 finish felt absolutely effortless on race day in Richmond. My number-one goal is to feel that way while executing a smart, strong race in Chicago in just over two months (eek!). The fact that the majority of my long runs have been a slightly faster pace than last summer’s (9:05-9:15 most weeks) has made me more confident that a BQ might not be a ludicrously lofty goal. Setting another Wednesday-night 5K PR at the Al Goldstein speed series (bringing my personal best down to 23:17/7:30 pace) didn’t hurt, either.
Currently, I just have one check-in race on the calendar, a half marathon along the boardwalk in the Rockaways on 8/29. I’m not sure I can count on a PR in a summer race, but I hope the flat course and small field will put me at an advantage to run a consistent one. I’m considering the Newport Half in Jersey City on 9/20 as a GMP run at the end of 22 miles, but I’d like to run my first 20M long run and see how the Rockaway half goes before committing to it. If anything, it’ll be a good dress rehearsal for Chicago, given that it’s a fast and flat course with a lot of turns. And after last year’s heat wave at this race, I feel like I’m due for a little redemption! Additionally, I’m also registered for the 5th Avenue Mile on 9/13, but that’s purely a personal challenge to see just how much closer I can get to 6 minutes after last year’s 6:25 in my quest to eventually run a mile faster than my high school 1500m PR.
Anyone else chasing a low 3:3X and in Corral D in Chicago?
I haven’t made it a secret that I’ve made a solid effort to shy away from doing many New York Road Runners (NYRR) races now that I don’t intend to do the 9+1 New York City Marathon qualifying program another time. In recent years, those races have become too crowded, too expensive, and frankly much less enjoyable. The spring off-season that came between the NYC Half and Chicago Marathon training seemed like the perfect opportunity to test out a few no-pressure alternatives that would take me back to my roots: a trail 10K hosted by the Van Cortlandt Track Club (first cross-country race since high school XC—man, this was tough!), and a couple of track meets. Yes, in my mind I thought a couple of months full of easy, speedwork-free miles were the prime season for going back to track racing. Go with it.
I was initially skeptical of registering for North Brooklyn Runners’s McCarren Park Track Classic because it was scheduled on a Friday night. Not only do I rarely run at night, I figured I’d be exhausted at the end of the workweek. But after signing up for the Dashing Whippets Track Meet slated to be a month after NBR’s, I figured I could set the bar low for the mile at McCarren and then try to beat it a few weeks later.
I’d predicted a track mile finish time of 6:45, based on the fact that I used to race the 1500 in ~6:15 in high school and I knew I couldn’t expect to match my road mile PR of 6:25. However, race night arrived, and boy was it windy. It was also quite chilly—I felt like such a wuss racing on the track in long sleeves, but they were absolutely necessary! Given the wind resistance in each lap and my utter lack of speed training, I just set my Garmin to lap at every 400m and made an effort to be consistent. My splits were all in the 1:42-1:44 range, and I finished in 6:57. Boom.
I declined any invitations to join a relay team at McCarren, mostly out of fear of not being coordinated enough to sprint without screwing up a baton hand off, having never done a track relay in my life. Plus, by the time the relays rolled around, I was freezing and not about to de-layer again after the mile was over. But after watching from the sidelines, I figured the 4×400 could be a fun experiment for this distance runner and set about recruiting some fellow PPTC ladies to race it at the Whippets meet.
But first, the mile, take two! Like I said, I’d initially hoped to hit 6:45 at McCarren and get this one closer to my road time, but yet again, I hadn’t done speed training, and it was a delightful 80 degrees for this 11:00 A.M. event. Again, I set my watch to beep for every 400 and hoped to just run smart and ideally match my McCarren time. When the gun went off, everyone shot ahead, and I had a momentarily panicked flashback to often finishing dead last at high school track meets (you know, when a 6ish mile pace was good enough for dead last. I competed with some major fasties back then). From the very back of the pack, I shot glances at my watch and saw paces jumping from 6:15-6:20. It seemed counterintuitive, but I knew I had to pull back even more. For the first 800 meters, I made no effort to speed up, but the gap between myself and my teammates Gabby and Colleen was closing, and just after two laps, I made my move and picked it up for the second half. Little did I know, Colleen was hot on my heels in that last 400, and I just barely edged her out with our respective 6:46.2 and 6:46.5 finish times. Had I known she was there, I just may have tried to kick it in even more. I’ve decided it’s an eventual goal of mine to be able to run a mile faster than I used to run 1500 meters in high school (i.e., a sub-6:15 mile). I’m not quite there yet, but never say never—we’ll see what I can throw down at the 5th Avenue Mile in September.
Onward to the main event of the morning (er, the afternoon, by then): the 4×400! I’d thought, based on our speed levels, that our runner order should be Gabby, Karla, myself, and Colleen, but Colleen was nervous about being the anchor, and since this was all my idea, I stepped up. (I guess it was where I belonged after my .3-second mile victory, anyway!) With a half hour to go, we decided maybe some baton hand-off practice with an empty water bottle would do us some good (sadly, we have no photographic evidence of this). Then we almost missed the relay itself! Yeah, that happened. It turned out we were the only all-female team participating and would therefore run with the men and mixed teams, but this information was not relayed (ha) to us by the organizers. Luckily Gabby and Colleen checked in and got us all back to the track just in time.
Our finish time was 5:52, with an average 400 pace of 1:28. I can’t be sure what exactly mine was, since I prematurely started my watch before receiving the baton, but it clocked my 400 at 1:25/5:40 pace. Quite possibly the fastest I’ve ever run before! As an added bonus, since we were the only women’s team, that made us the winning women’s team, so the Brooklyn Running Company sent us home with some sweet Nike earbands and hats.
As we departed the track and headed to a hard-earned brunch, I mentally noted how springy my legs felt, like I hadn’t raced at all. HA. When I got up from my post-race nap several hours later, my entire lower body was sore and creaky from those 1.25 miles. It was bad enough for me to pull out my TriggerPoint foam roller for the first time in maybe a year (yeah, yeah, I’m the worst about this, I know).
All in all, a trip back to the track wasn’t the worst way to close out the off-season and gear up for Chicago Marathon training. Thanks to that 6:46 mile and my recent 5K PR, I’m feeling more than ready to jump back into tempo runs and interval workouts to see what I’m made of.
Yeah, yeah, I know I only seem to post here when it’s to report on a race that went well, but let’s be honest, those are the most fun to read, right? So let’s fast forward right from that December 10K to the first installment of the 2015 Al Goldstein Speed Series on May 20.
I wasn’t sure what kind of fitness I’d bring to this weeknight 5K; I didn’t think I was in PR shape and agreed to try to pace Gabby to break her own PR, even though I wasn’t entirely sure I even had that in me after no interval work in months. Then the day of the race arrived and I felt off/nauseated for most of it. I wavered between skipping the race entirely, fun running it, or still gutting it out. I ultimately told Gabby I was still going to try to run “fast” (whatever that meant) and see how long I could hold it without having to potentially pull over and throw up. I had nothing to lose, right? (Except my dignity, I guess).
This year’s course has almost completely reverted to the original one, meaning the main uphill comes in the first half mile. I liked that: over and done with before the race has even begun. The horn went off and away we went. I snuck a few peeks at my watch before the hill and saw the pace bounce between 7:10 and 7:30. Yikes. We somehow trucked up the hill at a faster pace than when I ran the Al Gordon 4-miler in February (granted, it was 18 degrees that morning and there was no feeling in my feet). Mile 1 clicked off in 7:36. Decent, I thought, and then, I feel disgusting right now. I told Gabby I thought I might puke at any second, so she should keep going if I couldn’t stay with her. My watch got messed up at this point and reflected an 8:30 pace, and I willed myself to keep up the same effort level to get this thing over with no matter what pace I saw. No crawling to the end; the faster we run, the faster we’re done.
Just before mile 2, another teammate, Kristen, caught up to me. We choked out some encouragement and lamented about going out too fast, hoping we wouldn’t lose it at the bottom of the downhill we were currently cruising through. Mile 2: 7:37. How did I hold on to even splits? I wondered. I could still see Gabby ahead, but I knew there was no closing the gap as long as this was still about survival. Still sure that the slowdown would come on the flats, I didn’t think anything of the 7:00 pace flashing on my watch at the bottom of the hill. Kristen and I traded our leads every few seconds, and when we got to mile 2.5 I looked down and saw the 7:33 average on my watch—my PR pace. I knew if I could just hang on, I could do it: break down the three-year-old PR I’d set on this very course, even if only by a second. Math beyond calculating an 8:00 pace was not happening at that moment, so I gave myself rough overestimates: at 800 meters to go, four more minutes; at 400, two more, and at 200, come on, you can do anything for just one minute, leave it all out here! Mile 3 was over in 7:23.I saw 23:20 when the finish clock came into view and knew it would be close. I crossed the finish and told Gabby to move over and make room where she was sprawled across the pavement next to the chute (she’d finished a few seconds before). I looked at my watch and was happy with all four numbers:
My official result was 23:26, so only a personal best by two seconds, but a PR is a PR. I’m happy with this for a couple of reasons. For starters, I did not go into this feeling 100% (try maybe 25%). I knew going into this that I’d have something faster in me than whatever I ran, whether the pace was 7:30 or 9:30. Therefore, I now know I surely have a faster PR in me (sub-23, anyone?). Second, I haven’t done a lick of speedwork since the NYC Half more than two months ago. I’ve kept up with a decent weekly mileage of ~28–30 mpw, but those have been almost exclusively easy-pace miles. It was undoubtedly a much-needed off-season after half-marathon training for nearly a year, but in recent weeks I’d been seriously doubting what kind of fitness (or lack thereof) I’d be bringing when it came time to kick off Chicago Marathon training in June. I didn’t think I’d be at the same level of being in the best shape of my life when I ran my previous PR in 2012, so I’m elated to think I might even have an edge on that for this go around. More on that when it’s officially underway!
How’s that for a solid end to the 2014 racing season?
After the Richmond Half Marathon I thought I’d relax and take it easy for the rest of 2014 before gearing up to race the NYC Half in March. I was already registered for the Houston Half in January, but I considered using it as an NYC training run before keeping up with the tradition of joining my dad to cheer on Emilia at mile 26 of the full marathon. But when I shocked myself with a 1:46:45 in Richmond I decided i wanted to capitalize on that fitness and continue to build on it. And so I registered for a 10K on NYC’s Roosevelt Island. The price was right and the course was flat, so I figured that elusive sub-50 would have to be a piece of cake there, especially since my Richmond 10K split was 50:52, only 5 seconds slower than my October 2011 10K PR of 50:47. (Note: According to my 2012 Houston Half stats, I ran my fastest 10K midrace in 48:53/a 7:52 pace. However, I once had a long history of improperly racing 10Ks, essentially going out like it was a 5K and promptly falling apart in the second half, hence my incapability to break 50 in “real life.” Spoiler alert: no more!)
I originally signed up for this race as a solo adventure. No one else I knew was running it, but that was alright; I was simply on a mission to check off that 49:59. But a few weeks out, several of my PPTC teammates caught wind of it and signed up for the 5K or 10K themselves. Gabby was determined to break 25 in the 5K and recruited our super-speedy teammate Luca to pace her…and it didn’t take much convincing to get him to turn right around and pace me in the 10K on the logic that if Gabby wanted sub-25 and I wanted a sub-50, both races would be at the same easy-for-him pace. Game on. Race day arrived, and I almost ran a perfect negative split: 7:58, 7:54, 7:48, 7:40, 7:43, 7:40, 2:14 (7:18 pace for .3 miles per the Garmin). I don’t doubt that I could have executed the same results on my own, but (mostly) ignoring my pace and simply chasing Luca around the island proved to be a great distraction, making it easy to just get it done. Sub-25 and sub-50 ended up being sub-24 and sub-49 when Gabby and I finished 5K and 10K in 23:58 and 48:58 (officially a 7:54 pace), respectively. Success!
On to the next: Houston is just three weeks away! As I alluded above, I’m no longer set on having this race be just a training run. After coming so close to my PR in Richmond, I’m determined to actually go for it back at my hometown race, exactly where I set my current one three years ago, and maybe even chase it again in March back here in New York. It’s been nothing but hard training since I hired Coach Hadley back in June, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid burnout thus far. I’m sure it has to do with my determination to get back to my prime and then build on that. I really want 2015 to be the year of the major comeback marathon, but I believe nailing a strong half PR first is a crucial step in that direction. I can’t wait to make it happen.
Last you all heard, I was coming off a strong summer racing season that included my first PR in any distance in a very long time, and I while I wasn’t quite back to what was once my peak racing shape, I was getting closer and closer to it and gearing up for what I hoped would be my strongest half marathon in years. Here’s how the fall racing season played out:
5th Avenue Mile (9/13): The A goal for this one was sub-6:30, and the B goal was to beat my sister. I wound up accomplishing both! I wrote splits on my hand for 1:37 400s, which would put me at 6:28, and I came in at 6:25. Emilia had been racing better than I had last winter and spring, so I fully expected us to be neck and neck for this one. I never looked back, but I assumed she was right on my heels the whole time and was surprised to turn around at the finish and wait another 20 seconds for her to show up. I may have gloated about this a bit too long that day.
Newport Liberty Half Marathon (9/21): This was the big goal race, yet after almost an entire summer of mild temperatures and coolish long runs, this race started at a lovely 75 degrees and nearly 100% humidity. I ended up dropping out at mile 9.5 when I began to feel disoriented and seemingly dehydrated (but I was more likely actually low on electrolytes after chugging a lot more water than usual the day before). I wouldn’t rule out running this race again since it was a great course that looked to be pretty fast (in good conditions!), but in retrospect, I’m not sure what I was thinking putting all my eggs in this particular basket. I race best in 30s–40s, which are highly unlikely to be in a September forecast. I’d already planned to keep working toward peak half shape after Newport, so I solidified plans to join Katie in Virginia at the Richmond Marathon weekend for the half. Onward and upward.
Bronx 10-Miler (9/28): I registered for this to get guaranteed entry into next year’s NYC Half and originally planned to take it super easy a week after Newport. But since Newport didn’t go according to plan, I decided to race it for some redemption with the pacing help of one of my PPTC teammates, Luke. I’d hoped to run 8:10s–8:15s, but this ended up being another humid one. However, we managed to to keep the pace consistently under 8:30 (8:26 for the first 5 miles, 8:29 for the second 5) to finish in 1:24:30, a 3-minute PR for me. During the last couple of miles I focused on passing targets Luke picked out, and I managed a 5:44 lap pace for the final sprint—a first for me, as I’d definitely never seen my kick dip below 6 before!
Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff 5-Miler (10/26): Coach Hadley and I were confident that I could go sub-40 on this one since I’d only gotten stronger after my Team Championships PR of 40:25 in August. And then. I felt under the weather all week and when I woke up on race morning with a nasty sore throat and earache it became simply about getting it done for my final 9+1 credit (I’ve been adamant about not paying NYRR for any extra races this year, so I wasn’t about to be a no-show). Despite feeling deathly, I managed to churn out super-consistent splits to finish in…wait for it…40:25, hitting my exact PR on the nose. I was diagnosed with a sinus infection the following morning. Good times. (Hashtag sarcasm)
And now, the success story we’ve all been waiting for:
Richmond Half Marathon (11/15): I was ready to get my Newport redemption, but I wasn’t quite sure what that might look like. The plan for Newport had been to target 8:20–8:30 pace for a 1:49–1:51 finish. A far cry from a PR of <1:44:32, but I was hungry for my first sub-1:50 since the spring of 2012. I raced decently after Newport (see above), but I was feeling insecure about the fact that my speed workouts weren’t quite as quick as they had been in the summer. Things were supposed to get easier as the cool temperatures rolled in, weren’t they? At least my long run paces all continued to be right where I thought they should be.
I thought I’d toe the line at Richmond with the same 1:49–1:51 range in mind, but Coach Hadley had other ideas when he gave me a pacing strategy for 8:10s–8:15s, or a 1:46–1:47 finish. What the what? That was faster than I’d averaged for 10 miles in the Bronx! But he hadn’t been wrong about my abilities in any of my previous races, so I persuaded myself to trust the plan. Race morning arrived, and the conditions were perfect: 30 degrees, sunny, and zero wind. Once I started to put one foot in front of the other, I focused exclusively on the mile I was in and told myself to just get this mile done in ~8:10. This made me far less anxious than the thought of running ~8:10 13 times in a row, something I hadn’t been able to achieve in ages. It also made the race go by so fast—each time I reached 10K, 8 miles, 10 miles, I couldn’t believe I was already there and still feeling fantastic. Before I knew it, I was sprinting down the rapid decline toward the finish line.
Richmond splits: 8:19, 8:13, 8:09, 7:58, 8:02, 8:08, 8:07, 8:14 (hill on a narrow winding road with a water station!), 8:00, 8:01, 8:02, 8:08, 7:55, 1:21 (6:34 pace). Finish time: 1:46:45/8:09 average pace, my second-fastest half marathon to date, and my fastest in nearly three years.
This was arguably the strongest half marathon I’ve ever raced. Even when I ran my PR at the 2012 Houston Half, I was not in tune with my body or capability and let my legs coast through 7:40s–7:50s until I died at mile 10 and crawled the rest of the way to just come under the wire and meet my sub-8 pace goal. In Richmond I felt strong and steady the entire way, and my 10K split of 50:52 was an 8:10 pace, meaning I ran a tiny negative split in the second half! When I crossed the finish a fellow runner even told me she had paced off me the entire way. That was a first for sure. Another first for the half distance: My first mile was my slowest, and my last mile was my fastest!
As for the race itself, I would absolutely recommend it. I loved that it was a big race, so I was never running alone. Yet for a big race, it was never crowded. I’d registered with my PR goal of 1:43:59, which put me right at the front in corral A. If this had been the NYC Half, that time would have put me at least a half dozen corrals back. In Richmond I didn’t find myself weaving at all, nor did I get stampeded by the fasties when we initially got going. I managed to “only” run .1 extra, so my Garmin pace (8:04) was only 5 seconds off from my official pace. I’ll take it.
I thought I’d be so ready for an off season after Richmond, but running such a strategic race and getting so close to my personal best has only motivated me to keep at it. More on what that means for the winter soon!
Oh, hey, an update. If you missed me, don’t worry, no one needed to read nonstop complaining about being in a seemingly endless rut with a healthy amount of regression thrown in.
Last spring contained a couple of disappointingly lackluster half marathons, but it wasn’t entirely without its highlights: I placed tenth overall in an NYCRUNS 5K in March. Sure, the field was women-only, and it was held on the same day as the Red Hook Crit, so the fierce competition was largely absent, but it was still such a rush to only pass and never get passed.
I traveled to the Boston Marathon as a spectator once again. I was never afraid to go back despite narrowly missing the 2013 bombing at mile 26 last year, but I happily opted to spectate at mile 18 among the Newton Hills with PPTC over the chaos of Boylston Street this year. We hadn’t checked who was leading in a while, so everyone was floored when we arrived and walked up to the race mere minutes before Meb surged past us with no followers in sight. Cue hypothetical speculation (anything could happen in eight more miles, after all!) about how amazing it would be if he won and constant phone refreshing until we saw the headlines confirming it. It was a fantastic day for American distance running.
And then came time to register for a fall marathon. I’d had my heart set on running Chicago 2014 essentially ever since I crossed the finish line in 2012. Until I didn’t. I love the city of Chicago and having only ever run that marathon and New York City’s, it’s truly tough to choose a favorite. But NYCM beat me up last year, and since I’d yet to see any sign of the return of my 2012 fitness, I knew a fall marathon was not the right decision for me. I didn’t want to throw myself into training for a mediocre (for me) result; I wanted my next marathon to pull off a huge gain like my 22-minute personal record at Chicago 2012. But seeing as how my 2012 PR streak in every distance was followed up by zero PRs and a solid slowdown in 2013 and most of 2014, I knew that was a tall order. Real changes needed to happen first.
I began working with Coach Mark Hadley in June with the short-term goals of regaining my speed and achieving that elusive half-marathon PR I’ve been chasing for years now. I made the conscious decision to not even think about registering for another full marathon until I can check that box off. And I’m pretty sure it’s resulted in the best racing season of my life. Three weeks into training with Coach Hadley, I ran my first smartly executed 10K in Queens, negative splitting every single mile and shocking myself by coming in close to a PR time. In August I raced the NYRR Team Championship 5-miler and finally, finally, achieved a new personal record, my first in any distance in nearly two years. (Sidenote: This was the most fun I’ve ever had in a NYRR race. There was so much team spirit and it was so nice and uncrowded since men and women ran separately and the field was only local teams.) I also ran four 5Ks this summer, each one faster than the last. My most recent 5K was a very small race in Jersey City, and I ended up placing as fifth female, second in the 25–29 age group (medal!), and coming within 9 seconds of a PR with a finishing time of 23:36 (7:36 pace). I am loving this feeling of being “back.”
Today I’m exactly one month out from my goal race, the Newport Liberty Half Marathon (a mostly waterfront course, also in Jersey City). I’m not quite sure I’ll be in PR shape just yet, but I’m confident that at the very least it will be a stepping stone toward the Richmond Half, which I’ve got my eye on for November.
On the non-racing front, I made a conscious effort to get more involved with PPTC, as I was concerned that working with a coach would cause me to distance myself from the team if I started flying solo for speed workouts and long runs. But I’ve consistently managed to recruit some fellow early risers to accompany me to Red Hook on Track Tuesdays or the West Side Highway for run commute tempos. The team also got a sizable group together for a to occupy an entire bed and breakfast in the Finger Lakes region for weekend of trail running, wine tasting, and stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking in July, which was soon followed by a day trip to Tarrytown for more trails in Rockefeller State Park.
Racing will be minimal as the half approaches, with the exception of the Fifth Avenue Mile in three weeks. I love this race for the rare opportunity to run like hell without worrying about conserving any energy for later. My best mile time is from the 2006 race, when I ran 6:42 despite still being a solid 10-minute miler. Needless to say, I’m ready to crush that time. I’m also psyched to join forces with Emilia for this attempt. We’ve done many of the same races, but usually with different goals in mind, so those weren’t done “together.” This will be our first all-out, head-to-head race against each other since we were in high school. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone, so bring it, E!
Until next time. I swear that won’t be eight months from now.
Yep, that nearly three-month radio silence was in fact intentional. After the New York City Marathon, I had grand plans to loaf around for a bit (er, I mean, recover) before getting back to regular running for a decent effort at the Houston Half Marathon. In recent years I’ve learned not to chase after aggressive goals at this race when it’s positioned so soon after a fall marathon. I always make a week out of this trip, so I’ve continued to register for the half simply as something to do during my time in Houston before cheering on my sister in the second half of the full.
When NYCM didn’t exactly go according to plan, I toyed with the idea of upgrading to the full at Houston. It it was over two months away, and it wouldn’t be your standard random, potentially meaningless redemption race: it was in my hometown, I’d be running through neighborhoods I’d grown up in, there would be crowd support, and there would be family and friends on the sidelines. All just like New York.
The deadline to upgrade was pretty generous, so I decide to attempt training and wait until the last minute to switch races to be sure I felt ready. I had low expectations, since most of my pre-NYCM long runs were pretty lackluster, yet I surprised myself this winter. I was running better—muchbetter—than I had been while I trained for New York. I finally felt like I could be my best running self again, that is, my running self before I got injured during Chicago Marathon training way back in 2012. With several solid runs and zero injuries, I felt confident that Houston could be where I’d check off that elusive sub-4 so long as I raced smart and weather conditions were manageable.
Race day arrived, and I had a solid pace plan in mind: 2M x 9:30, 8M x 9:15, 10M x 8:50, 10K x 9:00 or faster. But by mile 3 the sun was out in full force, and I was already drenched in sweat and covered in salt (despite taking great care to up my salt and electrolyte intake all week long). Not a good start. Yet I managed to stick to my plan to a tee until we hit double-digit miles and my splits started to creep back into 9:30s and higher. I could tell the unusually warm weather (the real feel was already in the 70s by the middle of the race—not quite the twenties, teens, and single digits I’d prepared in back in New York) was going to force me to adjust my expectations, and I quickly made my decision to drop out when I reached my dad at mile 13.5.
More than one person has sympathetically said the decision must have been tough to make, but the reality is that it was actually extremely easy. I don’t run marathons for bragging rights. Being able to say I’ve run x number of marathons means nothing to me; quality matters more than quantity. Plain and simple, if conditions out of my control were going to prevent me from achieving a goal I believed I was prepared for, putting my body through the wear and tear and subsequent recovery from a marathon just to say I finished another one was not going to be worth it to me. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a quitter. I was much more content to cut the loss and call the 13.5 miles at a 9:29 average pace a respectable long run effort for March’s New York City Half Marathon. Not to mention that I had way more fun with my dad at mile 26, cheering on all the runners by the names on their bibs, than I probably would have had on my own out there. My choice was further reaffirmed as we screamed encouragement at runners shuffling their way toward a slow-for-them 3-hour finish. My only regret? Not making the game-time decision before the gun went off and actually racing to mile 13.5 like it was a half instead of reining in the pace for a full I wouldn’t finish. I just might go with this strategy if I ever attempt to train for this race in a Northeast winter again…
Sure, I’m disappointed that I won’t get to cash in on some solid marathon training, and sure, I could do something about that by finding a local marathon, but I really have no interest in running some race I’ve never heard of and have no emotional attachment to. Like I’ve said before, the marathon is not my favorite distance to race, and I didn’t become a runner to ultimately become a marathoner. On the other hand, the NYC Half is a great race I’ve enjoyed in the past, and I’m excited to refocus on it. One of my pre-Houston long runs was 13.1 miles in 1:58. I don’t think I’ve ever run that distance in training in under 2 hours, so this makes me optimistic about getting close to my PR on March 16. Bonus: Emilia will be back in New York to run it as well!
When I took a hiatus from marathoning through 2011 and most of 2012, I got to be in the best running shape of my life and PR-ing in everything from the 5K to the half marathon, including taking 25 minutes off the latter, was seemingly effortless. With continued hard work and no future marathons on the horizon anytime soon, I’m hoping 2014 will bring some similar results.
Welp, timewise, it’s not much of a secret that Sunday’s race was not the one I trained for. But time goals aside, New York City made sure it would be a day I won’t soon forget. Say what you will about rude New Yorkers, but let it be known that they absolutely become the best cheerleaders out there on the holiday that is Marathon Sunday. Lady Gaga’s “Applause” was one of my power songs in training; every time I listened to it I’d get pumped about the crowds I’d see on the first Sunday of November, so the title of this post is a nod to them. Let’s start from the beginning.
In the days leading up to this race several coworkers, friends, and fellow marathoners asked me if I was nervous about it. My honest answer was no, that I was a bit doubtful about whether I’d reach my time goal this time around, but regardless of whether it was going to happen I was more excited than anything. After all, it had been so long since I’d last run the race in 2009 and it’d been so long since there’d even been a New York City Marathon at all thanks to last year’s cancellation. I was also eager to experience running a marathon with my sister. Yesterday marked both mine and Emilia’s fourth marathons, but it was the first time we’d ever run the same one.
I was so happy to learn that my local bagel shop would be open at 5 a.m. on Sunday. We were able to get fresh bagels right before hopping in a cab to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, where we found Theodora and Fiona before boarding our ferry. Once it got moving, we had our first taste of post-Boston security when we noticed the Coast Guard escorting the ferry, complete with a huge machine gun.
Our second taste came after we exited the buses that brought us from the ferry terminal to Ford Wadsworth. Here, every runner was scanned, patted down, or sent through a metal detector. It seemed intense, but it moved pretty efficiently, and knowing everyone was being checked definitely made me feel more secure, especially after having been at Boston. A few minutes later, my former roommate, Amy, spotted me, and we briefly chatted as we continued on to the area for orange bibs.
After the mile-long walk to our start village, things started to feel a bit rushed and chaotic. Emilia and I originally thought that a 7:15 ferry for a 10:05 start would give us a comfortable window to take our time and get ready for the race, but as soon as we reached the orange village we heard announcements about baggage and corrals closing within minutes. What? They actually announced that corrals were closed while we were still in line to get in, but we were lucky enough to still make our way through. Like Chicago last year, I found myself shedding my throwaway layers just as the usual pre-race rituals began. To mix things up after a performance of the national anthem for Wave 1, our Wave 2 heard “America, the Beautiful,” and then, as per tradition, the cannons were fired and Frank Sinatra began serenading us with “New York, New York.” That was the first and only time I got butterflies and realized Oh my God, this is actually happening.
Emilia and I started very conservatively on the Verrazano Bridge and took in the sights, which included many helicopters (more security) and a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. This bridge is the highest elevation point of the entire course, and we started on the top level, so this part of the race made me truly feel on top of the world. We tried to keep the pace steady on the downhill descent into Brooklyn, where the never-ending crowds of spectators began. Everyone talks about the Wall of Sound on 1st Avenue, but 4th Avenue is really so much better. These are the miles where you still feel fresh and amazing, the kids are high-fiving you, and you just can’t stop smiling. Around Sunset Park a teammate of Emilia’s from her Houston running club caught up to us and then snapped some action shots while we were in Park Slope.
It was here that I spotted my roommate, Julie, who also saw me all the way across 4th Ave despite being my surrounded by other runners. A few blocks later, we were at my dad’s hotel, where he was waiting with his sign.
As much as I love 4th Avenue, it is kind of a drawback that the bib colors are still segregated during this stretch. As we made our way to North Slope I spotted both Rebecca and Cipriana on the right side, but they missed us all the way on the left side of such a wide street. Oh, well. Soon we were at BAM and the turn onto Lafayette, where the crowds really started to pick up. At mile 8 we spotted Kristi on the left and immediately started migrating to the right where we unexpectedly found Megan before seeing my friends and coworkers, Jamie and Kayley, at mile 9. I was so happy to have seen so many familiar faces in Brooklyn, but it was right around the uphill climb on Lafayette that I began to tune into how my body was feeling and realized that my knees were getting incredibly tight. Anxiety started to set in. I was no stranger to lower-body soreness at the end of my really long runs this training cycle, but I was totally unprepared to experience this kind of shutdown so early in the game. At this point I kept my negative thoughts to myself and continued trucking along with Emilia. We were still slightly behind on our goal pace, and as we made our way along Bedford to Greenpoint and the Pulaski Bridge the tightness crept into my quads, hips, and lower back, and I finally admitted that I was in pain. We hit the halfway point in 2:04, and Emilia said she was hurting too and knew a PR was out the window, but we weren’t injured, so we were going to finish together no matter how slowly that was going to be. That was the last time I let myself look at my watch until we reached the finish line.
The Queens part of the course is not my usual running route to the Queensboro Bridge, so I followed Emilia’s lead on these streets while she announced where we might see some personal spectators. At the base of the Queensboro we scoured the crowds for Emilia’s Astoria roommate, Mandi, and I thought I heard her call my name, but I couldn’t locate her. I later learned it was another coworker, Jhanteigh! Then it was time to head up the silent, steep, and seemingly endless bridge. Since I knew what was waiting on 1st Ave, the lack of spectators on the QB didn’t bother me. I just focused on reaching the top of the incline and the point where it would start to decline into Manhattan. Marathoners behind us began to yell things like “Runners, make some noise!” I couldn’t muster up any additional energy to reply, but I was grateful for the other runners around me who whistled and whooped in response. Finally, finally, we began to make our way down and around the underpass, where we were greeted by the roaring fans on 1st Avenue.
I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew for at least another mile or two, but not long after we came off the bridge, Emilia spotted another former roommate of hers, Amanda. I didn’t remember exactly where my other friends would be, but I knew everyone would be on the left, so we stuck to that side. The crowds were huge here, and I got a boost any time someone recognized my red singlet and yelled “PPTC!” or “Go, Prospect Park!” (Manhattan can’t get all the credit here, though. There were so many great PPTC supporters in all the boroughs!). Before this point, not that many people had noticed that Emilia and I were twins (maybe it was the lack of matching outfits?), but on 1st Ave we started hearing people cheering for us together or asking one another if we were twins. Whenever we overheard that, we turned and gave them a thumbs-up. As we hit mile 18, I was so excited to see Steph and Abby screaming their faces off, followed by another group of friends at the 30K mark. Then we were at the mile 19 water station being greeted by yet another past roommate of mine, Jenny!
Next up: the Bronx. Here’s where things got really tough. I took my first non-water-stop break on the Willis Avenue Bridge when the incline started to make all my tight muscles start screaming. After a minute or two of stretching, Emilia and I got moving again. The crowds were still wonderful here, and they pushed us through the mile to the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan. As we exited this bridge, Emilia heard “Go, Bentons!” and pointed out Coach Cane to me around mile 21. Then she said something about “only five miles left” and I grumbled something back about “more like 5 whole miles left.” But we knew Gabby and some more of Emilia’s Oiselle teammates would be at the mile 22 water station, so we focused on reaching that next. This checkpoint felt like it took so long to reach. I expected them to be right at mile 22 next to Marcus Gavey Park, but it was really more like 22.5. When we finally found them, Gabby gave me a hug and told me I looked great. I wondered if she knew she was lying. My stomach had started rejecting fuel at mile 16, and by 22 I couldn’t even handle a sip of Gatorade, so “great” is not how I imagined I was looking.
As Emilia and I headed down Harlem I noticed that we were getting closer to 110th Street. Instead of associating this with the dreaded 5th Avenue incline, I felt happy that we were almost on the last leg of this street. One more mile on 5th and then we’d be in Central Park. Then we could almost feel like we were almost done. 5th Ave along Central Park felt kind of lonely to me; there were still massive crowds cheering, but we didn’t see anyone we knew, and we missed our dad both here and on 1st Avenue earlier since the iPhone tracking app hadn’t worked for him. Thankfully, that lonely feeling didn’t last long. As soon as we entered the park at Engineers’ Gate I heard someone yell both of our names and turned to see Josie! That really raised my spirits since no one had told me to look out for them in CP. A few minutes later, I saw my college roommate Rachel, another great surprise in the park miles. I saw the mile 25 banner above us and tried to pick it up a little. Central Park South was coming, and when we hit it I finally started to believe the spectators yelling that we were almost there. The crowds were so enormous here, and I knew I probably wouldn’t see Jamie and Kayley again, but looking for them still distracted me from thinking Columbus Circle looked far away. Suddenly, we were there and turning back into the park. 400 meters to go. Check. Mile 26 banner. Check. 300 meters. Check. 200. Check. I don’t know if I’d call our pace at this point a kick, but I could definitely feel our speed picking up. We saw a sign that said 100 yards to go with the finish line not far beyond it. Emilia grabbed my hand and we started weaving through everyone around us to cross the finish line together. DONE.
As I mentioned, I didn’t look at my watch again after the halfway point, so I really didn’t know what to expect when I stopped it at the finish and looked down to see 4:49 and change. We could only laugh as Emilia pointed out that instead of new matching personal bests we now had matching personal worsts. On any other day I probably would have felt so crushed to be almost an hour slower than my goal, but all I could think about was how grateful I felt for having Emilia to run with me the whole time, for seeing so many friends along the way, and for all the strangers of New York who came out to scream encouragement at people they didn’t even know. The 2013 New York City Marathon was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I know it would have been so much harder to go it alone. I sort of hated this year’s slogan of “26.2 miles make it a race. YOU make it the marathon.” I thought it encouraged the misconception that “marathon” is a synonym for “race,” not a distance measured by 26.2 miles. (Come on, people. If you understand that 12 inches equal 1 foot, the fact that 26.2 miles equal 1 marathon should be a no brainer. There is no such thing as a “5K marathon.”) But as soon as I crossed that finish line I thought about how the “YOU” did not refer to the runners, it referred to all the New Yorkers out there, the ones who really make it Marathon Sunday. From the bottom of my heart, I am so thankful for each and every one of them.
It’s so close! The New York City Marathon is now just a few days away. As my daily mileage has steadily dwindled down to the low single digits, I’ve started to reflect on what changes/lessons helped me get to this start line prepared (I hope!) and injury-free:
Mixing it up. Like this year, I ran 5 days per week while training for the 2012 Chicago Marathon, and 4/5 days were spent within Prospect Park. Don’t get me wrong, I love my park and I’ll take it over it’s tourist-ridden bigger sibling, Central Park, any day, but I’d be lying if I said those miles didn’t get a little monotonous, especially when they were in the form of multiple park loops. This time around, running to work and participating in coached speed work resulted in only 2-3 Prospect Park runs each week, which I now looked forward to.
Run commuting = an easy way to get more miles! As much as I wanted to incorporate a mid-week long(ish) run last summer, I just could not drag myself out of bed before the 6AM hour to get it done before work, and evening runs were out of the question (that’s feeding time, y’all). This summer I was able to jump on a Groupon for a cheap gym membership near my office, so I started making the 8 to 9.5-mile journey to Rockefeller Center once a week. To be honest, when I initially examined my training plan I was absolutely dreading the peak weeks when I’d have to run to work the long(er) way. I surprised myself by loving the opportunity to fly up the West Side Highway for some faster miles, and it took me back to my college days of running there in the early mornings before classes. Oh, nostalgia. I was actually sad when taper called for scaling back to the “short” route up the city streets.
Speed work is more fun in numbers. In the past it’s been really hard to hold myself accountable in terms of completing solo speed work since I don’t live very close to a track or any particularly flat terrain. Lucky for me, Jackrabbit held a summer track class in Red Hook, and the Prospect Park Track Club came to the rescue when it ended in the fall. I made the decision to officially join PPTC in order to participate in their speed program, so you can catch me sporting their signature red singlet on race day!
When the Garmin starts to become your nemesis, spend some time apart. When I first got this running toy in 2011, it was a huge confidence boost to study my splits after PR-ing in every distance from the 5K to the marathon. Once I started to have to work to break those PRs, the constant obsessing over that pace monitor strapped to my wrist started becoming more and more negative, especially in races. So I went back to my old-school $10 digital watch from Target for my run commutes and ran one of my best long training runs essentially on feel. Speaking of running on feel…
It is possible to run fast without a Garmin (shocking, I know). I’ve yet to PR without one since acquiring it (maybe that’ll change on Sunday!), but my favorite part of coached speed workouts ha been leaving it at home and depending on someone else to call my fast (for me), even (!) interval splits.
I’d be lying if I said there was no self-doubt about whether I’ll be successful in terms of my sub-4 goal, but for some reason I’m feeling less anxious about it than I was last year. As much as I would love to break four hours on Sunday, I’m also at peace with the fact that I have my entire life to do that. For now, I’m keeping myself occupied by reading up on others’ recaps and watching videos from past Marathon Sundays to remind myself of what’s so great about this race. To all my fellow NYCM runners, who has you feeling most excited and inspired regarding this race? My favorite NYCM success story is Meb Keflezighi’s 2009 win. That was the last time I ran this marathon, and while I felt my own personal sense of accomplishment after finishing it (my first 26.2!) I also vividly remember what a big deal it was that an American had won this race for the first time in decades, nonetheless one who had overcome such adversity to make an incredible comeback (after fracturing his pelvis during the 2008 Olympic Trials right there in Central Park, it was widely speculated that Meb’s running career was over). Check out this video of his home stretch. I think it’s great that he’s grinning (no pain face!) as he gives the crowd a thumbs-up and motions to the “USA” on his singlet to get them to chant it. I also love that they played “Always on the Run” as he finished! Better believe that’s going on my playlist (though I’m still holding out hope that I don’t need music at all on Sunday).
This “Road to the Finish” clip is also a great one to watch to get psyched for race day; it does a fantastic job of detailing the highlights of each borough. Pay close attention around the 8-minute mark to catch my sister, Emilia, running up 1st Avenue in 2010! I can’t wait to run those streets together this year.
I’m so excited for that finish line, but I’m prepared to savor every mile leading up to it: across the Verrazano, up 4th Ave (favorite leg back in ’09!), around to Lafayette, over to Bedford, through Greenpoint, up the Pulaski, into LIC, over the Queensboro, through the Wall of Sound on 1st Ave, up to the Bronx, back down 5th Ave, and into every NYC runner’s backyard, sweet home Central Park. Let’s do this.
A final note: I’m bib 26756 in the orange second wave. If you’ll be in the orange start village, let’s hang out! If you’ll be out spectating, tell me where!
It’s here! I made through marathon training injury-free! (Knock on wood.) I reached 22 miles this time around! I’ve covered 22 miles in training before, but I never reached this particular milestone after getting injured in the middle of Chicago Marathon training last summer. As a result, I’m elated to have made it up to this point of preparation for NYCM. In addition to running the marathon with me, my sister is hoping to get in the NYC Half Marathon lottery for next March’s race, so naturally I want to run it, too. Rather than chancing the lottery myself, I opted to do four borough races for guaranteed entry, which is how I found myself facing 22 miles that included the Staten Island Half Marathon last Sunday.
I wanted to avoid breaking up this run with a gap between the half and my additional miles, so it was clear that the best tactic would be to get to Staten Island bright and early to cover 9 easy miles before practicing marathon goal pace during the race. Like a good little runner with a 4 AM wake-up call, I was in bed by 9 PM the night before—and yet I managed to find myself wide awake during the 2 AM hour. Awesome. I tossed and turned for a while, but I didn’t start to doze off until about 3:30, when it was nearly time to get up anyway. I know they say it’s the night before the night before that counts for pre-race sleep, but I’m sure “they” didn’t anticipate the night before’s shut-eye to be this minimal. I felt like a total zombie when I stepped off the 5:30 Staten Island ferry and set out for my solo miles, but I still managed my planned 10:00 pace for them and hoped I’d be able to summon some more energy for the half.
A few weeks ago, Gabby had asked around for a sub-2:00 pacer and I wanted to help her out, but since I’d be running 9 miles prior to the race, sub-2 was going to be a reach goal of my own. I did want to practice MGP (approximately 9:00 miles) on tired legs, so I agreed to start with Gabby and see if I could hang on to that pace the whole time. I studied her splits in her Brooklyn Half recap and gathered that she was good at negative splitting, so I figured we could try 2 miles x 9:30, 2 x 9:20, 2 x 9:10, and then 9:00 or faster for the final 7.1. We started off according to plan, with our first mile clocking in near 9:30; however, it was crowded and a lot of initial weaving got us way off the tangents early on. I was worried about pushing the pace too soon, but my watch was ticking off 9:10 miles at least 20 seconds before we hit the actual mile markers, so I knew if we didn’t work to make up the difference the whole time, Gabby would have to seriously book it to come in under 2 hours in the end.
We trucked along at around 9:00 pace for the first 8 miles, but not long after the turnaround my hips and knees started to feel sore and achy, which has been typical on my really long runs this training cycle. I’m not sure if this is due to higher weekly mileage, 10 years of running catching up to me, just getting old (at the ripe old age of 26), or perhaps all of the above, but I’ve never felt this stiff and creaky as a result of hard training before. Anyway, at this point I was still holding a decent pace for being at mile 17 of my 22, but I could tell Gabby was ready to pick it up, so I told her to go on without me, that it was just my long run while it was her goal race (spoiler alert: she crushed it!). I was still managing to hold a steady pace and figured maybe I’d still have a shot at my own sub-2 finish.
I rounded a corner and a hill that hadn’t looked that bad to me on the first half of the out-and-back seemed to have transformed into a mountain before my very eyes. I’ll be honest: I gave up on this hill. I refused to let myself walk it, but my “run” (if you can call it that) was hardly faster. I kept my head down, didn’t look at my watch, and just did what I could to make it to the top. Mile 10 split: 10:42. Fail. As soon as I clocked this mile, I started beating myself up: What the hell was that? This is a race! A marathon goal pace workout! What if that had been in the middle of the marathon? On the Queensboro Bridge? THERE WILL BE NO CRAWLING ON THE QUEENSBORO BRIDGE. PICK. IT. BACK. UP. Somehow I got my head back in the game and slipped right back into my previous pace for the remaining 3 miles.
When I saw my splits, I was happy that I was consistent for most of the race (even if most the miles were a tad slower than I would have liked—blame it on having been awake for nearly 8 hours by the time I was done with 22 miles?), but I was still mad at myself for not even trying on that hill. I could have pushed to make that split almost two minutes faster, and if it had been, I probably could have still come in under two hours! Alas, there will be plenty of sub-2 half marathons in my future (without needing to run all the miles before the race), so I’ll cut this loss and be happy about the bigger picture: Gabby got her sub-2, I made it to 22 miles, we’re now less than three weeks away from the New York City Marathon!