Archive for November, 2014

November 24, 2014

My Year of Doing Scary Things


This fall I decided that this would be my year of doing things that scared me.  I finally ran a marathon, and then I ran another one.  I’ve done some things in my personal life that were scary, too, and I’m working on some more.  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, in fact, when Long Run Buddy casually forwarded me the link to the NYC Triathlon lottery a few weeks ago.  For years, I have been espousing my complete non-interest in triathlons.  “I don’t do sports that involve changing clothes during the event” was my favorite line, but really it was all about the swim.  I can swim, but I have never been anything resembling a strong swimmer.  My upper body strength borders on non-existent, so I tend to flail my legs mightily in an effort to compensate.  It’s an effective workout strategy, as it generally leaves me exhausted and jelly-legged in a matter of minutes.

Clearly, considering an Olympic-length tri was going to be a tall order, but for some reason I didn’t write it off this time.  I mulled it over for a week.  I thought about the fact that I would definitely need something other than my beloved Raleigh commuter bike for it.  I thought a lot about the swim, and what it would take to get myself in shape for it.  I checked the deferral policy, determined that I could punt for a year if I wanted to, filled in the registration information, and clicked Submit.  A week later, I got the acceptance email.  Ironically, LRB did not, so I’m on my own for this one.  In the weeks since the lottery, I’ve signed up for a swim class and got a great deal on a road bike on Craigslist.  (She is fast and light and I’ve named her Tzippi.)  I also bought an indoor trainer, which I’m loving right now.  Even if I crash and burn on the tri attempt, having a good indoor workout option this winter will be great.  I’m already envisioning squeezing in evening cross-training sessions into my spring marathon training, too…

On Saturday LRB and I went out for my first brick workout–10 miles of biking in Prospect followed by an easy 3-mile run in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  It was my first loops of Prospect since the marathon last weekend, and for the first few miles I was flying down hills and having a great time remembering how good the race had felt.  As we approached The Big Hill, I thought about how much I had struggled running it when I first moved to Brooklyn, and how far I had come in that time.  Then I tried to bike up it.  Within a minute my legs were leaden and runners were actually passing me.  It seems The Hill is not done with me.  Also, cycling is hard.  It’s a good thing I’m not about to let that scare me.


November 18, 2014

Brooklyn Marathon Race Report

Brooklyn Marathon

Brooklyn Marathon

Months ago, when I signed up for the Baltimore Marathon, I also searched for a backup option.  This was my I-wake-up-on-race-day-with-a-stomach-flu plan B, and knowing it was there took away some of the added stress of preparing for a big race.  The Brooklyn Marathon was perfect for this, as it was less than a month after my A race, and was practically in my backyard.  The entire distance is run in Prospect Park, and while it sounded monotonous, it also meant that I knew every inch of the course.  I also know that I could easily recruit pacers for moral support.  It wouldn’t be glamorous, but it wasn’t bad for a fall back plan.

I had never envisioned running both races, but after the less than stellar day I had in Baltimore, I found myself thinking about Brooklyn again.  I really wanted another shot at the distance, partly to see if I could improve my time, but mostly to conquer my fear.  I spent so much of the race in Baltimore in such a dark place that I didn’t really want to let the memory fester until a spring race.  Brooklyn seemed like the perfect opportunity to take another shot at 26.2, but I was worried about the possibility of overtraining or injury.  After gauging my recovery for two weeks, I decided to grab a spot knowing that I could defer the registration until next year if I didn’t feel up to it in any way.

I wasn’t quite sure how to manage the build-up taper with only three weekends between races, so I winged it.  I essentially reversed my taper for two weeks, which gave one week of actual workouts, and ran a 15-miler in Prospect last Saturday at half marathon pace.  Monday I started my taper again.  On Saturday the Caveboy and I volunteered at NYRR’s 60k, so I was up at 4 AM and on my feet for about 10 hours, though I did remember to wear my compression socks at least.  I really had no idea what to expect on Sunday.  I had only run 85 miles in the almost-month since Baltimore, and 40 of that had come during my one workout week.  My 15-miler had felt great, but I wasn’t sure if I’d lost any endurance.  I was much more nervous than I would have liked.

Sunday morning I awoke to perfect conditions–overcast skies and 40 degrees with no wind.  I got dressed, then second-guessed all of the gear I had laid out the night before.  I got dressed again.  We headed over to Prospect a little before 8 and I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of a race with only 400 people.  At 8:30 we lined up at the start and were off.  The route started with 3 laps of the lower (flatter) half of the course, followed by 6 full laps.  Caveboy had agreed to run the first two lower loops with me and promised to keep me from going out too fast.  Given my uncertainty about the whole endeavor, I had decided that the A goal was to go sub 4-hours, and B was just to beat my time at Baltimore.  More than that, though, I just wanted to have a decent experience.

As nervous as I was at the starting line, the minute I started running, it all just fell away.  Maybe it’s just that running in Prospect Park is my happy place.  I started counting my breaths and steps and locked in a nice relaxed 9-minute pace.  The three flat laps flew by and soon we were climbing The Hill that would start each of the remaining full loops.  The hill–Mount Prospect–is about .4 miles at about 3% grade.  It’s not terrible, but it’s definitely long enough to make you hurt after a few laps.  The loops, while potentially monotonous, actually broke the race into nice digestible chunks, though.  I figured that the first two would be no sweat.  The third would mean I was half done with them, and by the end of the fourth there would only be two left, which seemed manageable.  Long Run Buddy had mercifully agreed to pace me for the final laps, and also promised to make sure I was drinking and taking in nutrition, which had been a problem at Baltimore.

I was resolved to learn from my previous mistakes and keep my speed in check early and on the hills. For the first few laps I aimed for easy 9’s, and deliberately slowed to 9:20-9:30 up the big hill. My legs felt good and I wasn’t really feeling the climbs at all, but I wanted to make sure that my quads weren’t shot by the time I got to laps 5 and 6. I found LRB at the start of the fourth loop and we had a quick discussion of how I was feeling and the strategy going forward. I was walking through the water station before the hill on each lap and had been taking a gu every 4 miles since mile 8. By the start of the fifth lap my legs still felt good, but I was reaching the point of not wanting to eat or drink. In Baltimore I was worried I was one of the unfortunate people who just can’t take in nutrition past mile 20 and I pretty much stopped trying. This time, I kept sipping on my water bottle and was able to put down a gu at 21. It seemed to sit okay and I felt some of the loopiness ebb as the sugar hit my system. I got up the hill on lap 5 with no drama and knew there was only one more climb to go. I still felt strong over the rest of the lap, but was beginning to feel the fatigue creeping up.

At the aid station I had a minor crisis involving my last gel, cold fingers, and a stuck zipper, which luckily pulled free before I totally lost my composure.  Once I was refueled, LRB yelled “Make this hill your bitch!” and we started the climb.  I had been expecting the last assault on the hill to be excruciating, but my legs felt miraculously good.  At the top I did some quick low-blood-sugar math and told LRB that I thought I needed 9 flats for the last three miles to get it in under 4 hours.  He picked up the pace a bit as we started a downhill stretch and I turned on my ipod for the first time and did my best to shut off my brain.  Over the next mile I started to dissociate a bit.  I could tell I had a good turnover going, but I couldn’t really feel my legs, due to either cold or fatigue.  There was a little uphill at the marker for 25 and suddenly–Whoosh–I had the biggest runner’s high of my life.  We rounded the bottom of the park and in no time we were at the turn off to the finish line on the lower loop.  I hadn’t looked at my watch since the 24th mile marker and had no idea how close I was to 4 hours.  There was another slight climb up to the 26 mile mark, but I wasn’t feeling anything at that point.  One last curve and I saw the finish line up ahead.  LRB dropped off and I kicked as hard as I could.  The gun time read 3:57:44 as I crossed.  My official time clocked in a 3:57:18; I actually managed to negative split it by almost two minutes.

I couldn’t be happier with the experience.  I actually enjoyed running this race, not just finishing it.  I know I could have run it faster, and as I crossed the finish line I realized that I probably still had a few miles left in me.  Even so, I wouldn’t change a thing.  There’s always next time.


November 4, 2014

Back of the Pack

The Caveboy and I volunteered at the start corrals on Sunday for the New York Marathon.  I have always been impressed with the organization, attention to detail, and general panache of NYRR’s events.  Having glimpsed the world’s largest marathon from behind the scenes, I am blown away.  I also feel like I got to see another side of New York, from the camaraderie of the runners and volunteers to cheering crowds along the route.  It really was a great experience and as much as I would have liked to have been running (30 mph winds aside), I’m glad I got to see it from the other side first.

Our day started at 3:45 and we were on a bus from Brooklyn to Staten Island by 5 AM.  Once there, we checked in, got our jackets, credentials, and coffee, and met our corral teams and leaders.  The corral system for the marathon works slightly differently than for other races, with a color, gate, and wave number assignment to sort runners into their appropriate pace and start groups.  At first I found this somewhat odd, as runners used to the normal system were confused about why their bib number was higher or lower than their slower/faster friend/family member.  Once things got going, though, I realized that dealing with a single color, letter, and number was MUCH simpler for the international crowd present.

Our job was primarily to ensure our runners were in the right corral, keep them entertained while we held them there for half an hour, and then release the waves to the starting line at the appropriate time.  In the brief periods between waves we tried to clean up the piles of clothing cast off and get it into the Goodwill bins and make sure that there was no trash or clothing on the roadway that might trip up the next group.  The high winds made the latter nearly impossible, but we did manage to keep things running fairly smoothly throughout.  I was again reminded of what nice people runners generally are.  I typically try to avoid small talk with strangers at all costs, but I had a great time chatting about race experiences, shoes, Garmins, and of course the bone-chilling wind.  When I saw someone who looked particularly nervous or grim I did my best to get a smile out of them.

We released the final wave around 11 and we then walked up to the start to cheer the last group off.  Aside from being fun, it was also part of Operation Run Back to Brooklyn.  Due to the bridge closure for the race, the only transportation available back to the city was to the finish line.  The marathon course came within a mile of our apartment, though, so we had worn running clothes in the event that we were able to get home in a more efficient manner.  Credentials out, we followed that last runners onto the bridge, picking up more cast-off clothing along the way, and once we were well past the starting officials, we started jogging.  We were able to blend in with the pack after a few hundred yards and ran the first 7 miles of the course back to Prospect Heights.  The spectators were amazing and I actually felt guilty when people would high five me as I ran by.  The thing that really got me was that we were in the very back of the pack, and people were still lining the course to cheer everyone on like they were the lead group.  Also, New Yorkers know how to do this well.  Right around mile 6 three Brooklynites were handing out tissues to many red-nosed, wind-burned faces.  Everyone was hugely encouraging, and no one inappropriately yelled “You’re almost there!” which is a first in any  race I’ve run longer than a 5K.  I can only imagine what things were like at the finish line.

Running with the back of the pack was really enlightening.  I noticed in the corrals was that the slower the waves got, the more fun they were.  Obviously I understand that the more competitive runners are going to be more focused and serious at the start.  Still, everyone is there to run their best race, and I appreciated the generally increased spirit of fun that Waves 3 and 4 seemed to bring to it.  I honestly can’t fathom what it feels like to start a 26.2 mile race knowing that it will be 7 or 8 hours until you finish.  That so many people do it with such enthusiasm and laughter really is inspirational.