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It’s taken me a bit to reflect on this race and summarize the experience, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find the right words. Simply put, Boston marathon weekend was the experience of a lifetime. You just had to be there, and I’m so thankful that I was.

After my ongoing saga of injuries, I knew the race wasn’t going to be a PR attempt or even close to it. In fact, I kind of preferred it that way. It allowed me to soak in the entire weekend as I wanted, without the inevitable pit of nerves in my stomach and serious anxiety that hits before most major races. I felt happy, free, go-with-the-flow.

The Boston Marathon has held a special place in my heart since I first ran it in 2012, despite the ‘speed can kill’ heatwave. That was the first marathon I ran without a specific time goal– the first time I just allowed myself to relax and enjoy the experience. It was amazing. After this year, that space in my heart has grown even larger.

2012 -> 2014 Clearly, one of us got slower...

2012 -> 2014 Clearly, one of us got slower…

I didn’t truly have a specific time goal going in, but knew that if I was able to handle 20 miles at 8:00 pace the week before, I could probably run that pace for a full 26.2. 3:30– an arbitrary goal– sounded reasonable. I didn’t have a specific plan except to start conservatively and monitor my foot to be sure the tendinitis didn’t creep back in.

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I made the rookie mistake of wearing this new pair of sneakers for the race. I know, I know ….what was I thinking?!? But I really, really loved the limited edition New Balance Boston 890v4, and knew the 890v3 had worked for me in the past. Unfortunately, they took about 2 weeks to ship, meaning I only received them the Wednesday before the race, without much time to break in. Well, turns out I hate the 890v4s and they tore up my feet with massive blisters the size of a silver dollar on my arches, and I’ve now lost a toenail (which has never happened to me before…surprisingly.) Needless to say, I’ve returned them and my feet are just now starting to forgive me.

So, onto the race!

The entire morning was so well-executed considering the heightened security and new baggage/gear-check rules. The volunteers were incredibly friendly, and loading onto the buses went seamlessly. We hung out in the starting village for a while, pretty much living on the loooong portapotty lines. Before we knew it, it was time to head to the start. I knew it was going to be a warm day, as I stripped all my throwaway layers on the walk to the corrals. Unfortunately we underestimated how long it’d take to get to the start, and pee one last time, and I found myself jogging into my corral as they counted down 10 seconds to start. Whoops!

Honestly, I thought the start of the race may have been more somber or emotional. Instead, everyone was full of energy and enthusiasm! We were running the Boston Marathon. We were doing this!

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It’s tough for me to give a mile-by-mile recap of the race since I wasn’t really executing any specific race strategy, so I’ll let the splits above tell the story.

My pace was a bit faster than I’d like at the start, due to the rolling downhills and energy of the crowds. The beginning miles are one of my favorite parts of the course. Everyone is still packed up and you can see the crowds of people ahead of you as the hills roll up and down. The crowds are high-fiving and screaming, making you feel like a rockstar. You’re still feeling good enough to appreciate their energy. I couldn’t help myself from laughing at this point as I took it all in.

When I felt settled around miles 7 or 8, I consciously tried to reign my pace back from consistent 7:30s (or faster), into more comfortable 7:40s. I wanted to relax, feel good, and keep a steady pace. Once I hit the halfway mark in 1:40:33, I realized I felt good. So good. While my quads were starting to go a bit, my foot felt good and I was very comfortable aerobically. I knew I was well ahead of my “goal”, and started to get a bit competitive with myself…as I always do. My half time indicated I was on pace for a 3:21. Time was irrelevant for me, but I sure love outdoing my arbitrary goals. With that, I decided to pay a bit more attention to my effort and pace, dropping it a bit if I could. And so, I worked to get things down a bit.

YAY FOR RUNNING

YAY FOR RUNNING!

It was all sunshine and rainbows until I hit the wave of hills. Maybe I was delusional due to the heat in 2012, but I did NOT remember the hills being as bad as they felt this go around. They just kept coming and coming. Each time I crested the top of one, I swore it was the end of Heartbreak Hill. Sure fooled me. I tried to keep my effort steady up the hills, but my quads were really fading at this point and I just couldn’t make up the time going down the hills as I usually can. With an 8:14 mile split on Heartbreak Hill, I thought the worst was over. I just had to cruise on home and soak in the crowds!

…But I was wrong. Those damn aforementioned shoes were starting to kill my feet. The bottom of my soles felt like they were on FIRE. The final three miles, they felt like they had gone numb. Like blocks. Pain with every step. I actually wanted to cry they hurt so badly, but I’m also a wimp. I felt fine aerobically still, but just couldn’t will my legs to go any faster because my shoes were not cooperating.

And then I reminded myself that I really didn’t care about my time. I did, but I didn’t. It’d be around 20 minutes off my PR, so there was no point in pushing things. In retrospect, I’m kinda mad at myself because the last few miles of the course were the ones I wanted to enjoy the most. Instead, I found myself cursing my shoes and wishing away the last 2 miles. 1000 meters to go felt like an eternity. And that damn incline after the underpass…

This is the face of someone who wants this race to end.

This is my ‘my feet are on fire’ face

And then we turned right on Hereford, Left on Boylston, and all was right in the world. I could see the finish.

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I took some time to remind myself about all the effort I put in to make it to this point over the past year. I reminded myself that today was a celebration of strength, unity, resilience, and more. I won’t ever be able to identify with the experience of the Boston bombing victims and their families, and I wasn’t even there in 2013. I cannot begin to empathize with those who were. There aren’t words or actions that will ever fix or change what happened last year. Finishing the race is just a small act. And there I was, medal draped around my neck at last.

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But first, lemme take a selfie.

But first, lemme take a selfie.

Thankfully, I found my friend Meredith right at the finish and we hobbled back to Boston Common together. First, I untied those damn shoes to relieve some pressure on my feet. The walk seemed looooong but finally I reunited with friends. All in all, the race was hot– particularly after training through the polar vortex. The hills all seemed harder than we last recalled. We were all just happy to be done.

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And so, we celebrated!

CPTC post-race

CPTC post-race

2012 -> 2014

2012 -> 2014

Here is the mile-by-mile playback, too. I always race marathons with autolap turned off, so I manually split by watch at every mile marker. It drives me NUTS to hear the beep before I hit the mile mark, and I only missed one marker around 4/5.

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Overall, I’m really, really happy with how it went. 3:23:41 is 20 minutes and 4 seconds off of my PR, and my second slowest marathon ever (but not far behind my slowest of 3:24 at Big Sur.) I was just happy to be out there.

In the month of March, I only ran 7 times– averaging 12 and 25 miles the weeks that I ran.  April wasn’t much better, with only 11 runs before the race and a long run of 20 miles only 9 days before the race. Reverse taper? I also did no speedwork or tempos of any type. But my foot felt amazing and I’m pretty sure the tendinitis is finally at bay. Considering that lack of training coming off the injury, I’m really happy knowing that 3:23 is a pretty ‘baseline’ marathon time. That leaves me motivated and encouraged to get in consistent training this summer to take a crack at sub-3:00 again this fall in Chicago.

Beyond times, the weekend was just perfect. I can’t even describe the crowds and energy of the race. There was never a dull moment. The signs were amazing, and I’m pretty sure I high-fived at least a hundred kids on the sidelines. The screaming girls at Wellesley were even better than I remembered and I high-fived nearly each and every one of them with a smile plastered on my face. The crowds at BC after Heartbreak Hill still made you feel like a rockstar. I remember seeing a sign saying “MEB WON! YES, REALLY!” and getting an extra boost. I still stand firm that the crowds at Boston are like no other, even better than NYC. Families cheering in their front yards is authentic, homey, all-American.

The only time I teared up a bit was after the finish, as we exited the chute to walk towards Boston Common. A man was shaking the hands of everyone that exited, saying firmly, ‘Thank YOU for running today.’ It was so genuine and emotional. Boston needed this race to go on, and being a part of it was something I will always remember.

Hoarding beers

I’m back with some good news– I’m running! Without pain!

As I mentioned back in November, my stress fracture was lingering around slightly longer than expected and I ended up taking off a little over three months total. Three months without any exercise means starting my Boston 2014 training cycle from scratch. While not ideal, I’m very excited to finally get back on the roads and kick off 2014 on a good note.

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This was in the fall when I couldn’t run, but you get the point.

 

2013 was likely my lowest mileage year-to-date, and I never stayed healthy or uninjured for longer than 3-ish months at a time. By the time I got in a groove, I got injured again and had to take time off. It’s difficult to continually start from scratch every few months, especially since the first month or so of getting back in shape is the most challenging. However, I am optimistic that 2014 will be a year of consistent, healthy training! Even if that consistency doesn’t pay off in the form of PRs this year, I’m confident that it will eventually.

We’re only 90 days away from Boston 2014, and I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that I can make it to the starting line healthy! I think it’s too early to determine an accurate goal time, 3:05-3:10 sounds safe. While I’m still chasing sub-3:00 or even just a PR in 2014, I want to be realistic and gentle with myself considering the circumstances. We’ll see how the coming weeks go…!

I recently started using Running Ahead to map out a training plan and log my data, after my friend Veronica recommended it. It takes a bit to set up, but is super easy to use once you set up your calendar! Here is my dashboard (below) that summarizes my training data/upcoming planned workouts, my (tentative) training plan to help map out my daily mileage and weekly build up, and my calendar that shows my actual runs-to-date coupled with planned runs.

Training Dashboard on Running Ahead

Training Dashboard on Running Ahead

 

I like that you can also view others training logs to compare runs, workouts, plans, etc. and it tracks miles on each pair of shoes to know when to retire them. I’m definitely guilty of over-wearing sneakers way beyond their mileage! You might also notice I added a little widget to the sidebar here on the blog that automatically uploads my latest runs.

I’m a few weeks into actual training and hit 35 miles last week! The injury-prone, nervous voice in my head thinks I’m still running too much, too soon. I’m only running 5 days a week right now, which has helped, but will go up to 6 soon. I’m also spending a bit more time stretching, foam rolling, and doing strength work. Knock on wood (or, knock on healed bone?) it keeps me healthier.

This past weekend, a group of friends and I trekked out to Long Island for the Sayville Running Company 10 Mile Run to the Brewery. This is the second year we’ve done it and it’s a blast. It’s pretty flat and ends at Blue Point Brewery for unlimited beer! I didn’t fully run the race last year as I was in the midst of my weird knee/IT issue and pathetically ran/walked a few miles out and back. I had very low expectations this year as I hadn’t even run 10 miles consecutively or done any tempo work to date.

10 Mile Run to Brewery 1/18/14

10 Mile Run to Brewery 1/18/14

I ran mostly with my friend Kristen and we had planned to run the first half easy and pick it up from there. Once the gun went off, we found our ‘easy’ pace a lot quicker than anticipated! However, I just rolled with it and got into a groove and started picking it up around mile 5. I was definitely working hard to hold 7:00 and under pace, but felt really strong and steady. I could feel my competitive drive coming back as I focused on picking each girl ahead of me off one by one.

When the pace felt really difficult or I wanted to just slow down, I kept steering myself back to positive thoughts. While it sounds cheesy, I reminded myself that I was so grateful to be out there running at all. I wasn’t able to do this race last year and just spent the entire last quarter of 2013 on the sidelines. I was now on the roads able to hold 7:00 pace off minimal running and workouts. While small, what an accomplishment! The thought of running a marathon at that pace in a few months is a bit daunting, but this is a pretty exciting starting point.

Hoarding beers

Hoarding beers

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Winners get growlers & pint glasses

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With a little more time on my hands these days, I hope to be able to post here a little more frequently. I have a feeling I’ll sound like a broken record over the next few months, but I’m excited and motivated to start fresh and get back in shape. Let’s see what April 21st brings!

Also known as the race where I got a little more than just a medal at the finishing line.

But before we get there, here’s a spoiler: I ran a comfortable BQ with a 3:19:43, my first race in nearly 1.5 years. Hooray!

Last week, I wrote about my recent confidence-boosting workouts and plans for the race. While training had been going awesome, and I’ve experienced no back pain since the bike accident, I started feeling a slight twinge in my left shin on Friday morning following a tough workout on Thursday night. I wasn’t sure what to make of it: a normal soreness from training, or something more? Following my 14-miler on Saturday, I decided it was still just there and took off from running on Sunday and Monday. I decided to get my legs moving with a morning workout on Tuesday, and felt pretty crappy. But worse, my shin pain was pretty bad when I finished.

I’ve had two consecutive stress fractures before in high school, first in my right tibia and then in my left. I’m now pretty aware of what they feel like, and had no doubt in my mind that the pain was the start of a stress fracture. Enter race-week panic mode!

I weighed the pros and cons of both options:

  • Scrap the Lehigh Valley Marathon: Safer, more sane route for my health but total fail on the marathon front. If I took the next 5 weeks to cross-train, maybe the mild stress fracture would subside and I could still race Chicago? Unlikely and only time would tell. Even more depressing, I wouldn’t have a qualifying time to be able to run Boston ’14. Then, I’d be scrapping Lehigh, probably Chicago, and definitely Boston.
  • Run the Lehigh Valley Marathon: Run on a possible stress fracture and turn it into a definite stress fracture over the course of 26.2 miles. Drop out if my leg is about to snap in half. Get the BQ time and be able to race Boston ’14! See how things go, but most likely not be able to run Chicago.

Obviously, I went with the later and probably need to get my head checked out. I know everyone might not have made the same decision, but I was okay with potentially scrapping Chicago ’13. While I have been gaining confidence in my fitness, there is a slim chance I’d get minutes within my PR at Chicago, let alone under it. Running Boston ’14 will not only be awesome for all the #BostonStrong reasons we all love, but personally it’ll allow me more time to get back into PR shape and go for that sub-3:00 that still alludes me.

My pre-race prep was anything but normal. I had a stressful and off-schedule week leading up to the race due to work, staying way late and even working at the office overnight (I don’t know how night shift workers do this.) Pretty sure my diet of nothing but pizza, sour gummy candies and way too much coffee didn’t help, but I wasn’t too concerned because I love my job and at least the craziness took my mind off of the race and shin pain.

After a relaxing haircut and a nice long sleep on Friday night, I drove out Saturday afternoon with my friends Noelle and Veronica who were kind enough to accompany me on this crazy journey. We headed straight to the expo to get my bib (#999!), checked into our hotel, and had enough Italian food to feed a family of at least six.

I woke up race morning around 5 a.m., which was definitely not early enough to digest my pre-race oatmeal, banana and coffee for a 7 a.m. start, but I had no desire to set my alarm for the 4 a.m. hour. They drove me to the start, but traffic at the exit meant I was hopping out of the car at 6:45 a.m. and running on the highway offramp to make it to the start. Ooops!

Half asleep on the highway

I ran into Meg (hi, Meg! You had an awesome race!) and my teammate Audrey at the start, and easily hopped into the crowds a few minutes before race time. One perk of a small race= no strict corrals that make you feel like you’re going to war.

The gun went off and I tried my best to settle into an easy pace. My goal was to run around 8:00 pace, then settle into 7:50s for the bulk of the race, and then drop it to 7:40s or under the last few miles. Considering most of my training and long runs hover between 7:55-8:15 pace, I figured this was doable and would feel comfortable for 26.2 miles.

But of course, race day comes around and the adrenaline flows! My times early on were faster than I wanted, and I tried to reign it in but decided to go where the day took me. I even had to stop and tie my shoes, twice. My leg was feeling mediocre and after a few miles of pavement through neighborhoods and parks, I welcomed a soft trail.

I’d guesstimate about 75% of the race was on a light packed dirt trail along the canal, which was absolutely beautiful and scenic. If I lived closer, I’d love to do long runs there! I settled in, made a new friend named Greg who was also aiming around/under 3:25, and waited until mile 11 where my friends were waiting to hop in with me. The trails were great, but got very narrow at times where we had to run single file and that drove me a bit nutty.

Noelle ran with us for a few miles before hopping out around the half-way mark to get the car and drive to the finish, while Veronica did the rest of the race with me as the end of her long run (which was mighty speedy, it turns out!) I was capable of running the entire thing solo, but having a friend to keep me company was SO helpful! I felt incredibly strong and the miles just kept ticking off.

Look at how much fun we’re having?! I hate myself on camera.Running is flattering on nobody.

Things got a bit tougher mentally around mile 21, especially once my shin decided it had nearly had enough. Each step felt like a slightly painful jab, but I decided it wasn’t debilitating. Plus, I’m pretty stubborn and I wanted to finish the race since I had come so far.

With two miles to go, I realized if I kept around a 7:30 pace, I could break 3:20. I never entered this race gunning for time except a BQ with a cushion, but my competitive side kicked in and I decided to focus a little more on the last mile to get it.

Because I hate when my watch auto-laps/beeps ahead of mile markers in races, I typically manually lap split at the mile markers during races. I was too scatterbrained to remember to do this before the race, and then I missed some markers throughout, so the splits below don’t make sense in spots.

It’s also the first time I have ever negative split a marathon? I’m guesstimating around 7:42 pace for the first half, 7:31 for the second. I felt really, really good, and am really happy that I was able to hit a 3:19 relatively comfortably on just over 3 months of semi-consistent training. While my body might be a bit broken right now, I’m pretty impressed that I was able to bounce back after a rough winter and spring and get that BQ time with tons of wiggle room. You go, body. Sorry I fractured you.

Veronica, me, Noelle

After the race, I was so happy to finish but needed ice immediately. I met up with friends, grabbed a beer, and immediately hobbled over to the grass to sit and ice. Once we walked back to the car to head back to the hotel and hit the road, I noticed that I could barely put any weight on my right leg. The pain was so excruciating I couldn’t help but keep laughing because it was so ridiculous and stupid that I just ran a marathon on it.

Coincidentally, I had a regular doctor’s appointment scheduled for Monday morning at 9 a.m. so I was able to get my leg checked out and get an air cast boot to help alleviate the pressure when walking. I have a referral for a bone scan that I intend to get this week pending some doctor/insurance stuff, but I am 95% sure it’s a stress fracture so I’m looking forward to seeing the recommended healing time and how long I’ll have to be off of it.

In my experience, it’s about 6-8 weeks, which is just in time for base building…

So, there’s the good and the bad. I have a few things in mind that might have contributed to the injury but for my sanity, I don’t want to get hung up on them too much: I switched to a new model of lighter shoes for all my training runs about a month ago, and even though I was pretty cautious about building my mileage slowly, I increased the intensity of my workouts and long runs kinda quickly, etc. The reality is that sometimes these things happen, and I’m just adding it to the list of weirdo injuries that have plagued 2013 thus far.

And of course I get the bone scan results next week, all of the above is pure speculation based off my prior experience and how I feel. Until then, I’ll be taking a hiatus from the bridle and sporting these kicks, just in time for New York Fashion Week.

Less than 2 weeks to go, and the taper is on! Except my legs feel like lead and I’m exhausted. Not surprisingly, given a busy work trip, 10k race, and late nights this weekend. I’m going to try to make sleep a priority this week, lay low this weekend and hopefully I’ll be a bit more refreshed leading into race week.

About Saturday’s 10k race. All things considered, 40:38 is pretty good. It’s only 2 seconds off my (very weak) PR. I didn’t exactly have the best race prep, but since I was down in Charleston for a work trip (Chobani was a sponsor of the race), I had to make sure work was a priority. Racing was simply a nice perk.

Here’s a link to the full stats for the race, using the Polar RCX5 I’m wear-testing for Boston.com. If you know anything about heart rate training, I’d love your insight! Is an avg. of 181, max of 190, right for a 10K race?

Can you tell where the bridge was? Ha.

I hate to play the ‘excuses’ or ‘what if’s game, but bear with me. Under the right conditions I really believe I could have broken 40 minutes. Here we go:

  • My pre-race prep sucked. I spent Thursday & Friday entirely on my feet, shuttling & lifting cases of yogurt, and eating samples from booths at the expo for lunch and dinner (Muscle Milk, Blue Moon, fruit snacks, ice cream, and Atkins bars…)  Gross. Except all the Chobani, of course :)
  • Since I was offsite during the day, I had to catch up on work when I got back to my hotel each night after 9 at night. Combined with early wake ups, I slept about 5-6 hours each night– which is not enough for someone who needs 8-9 on average!
  • I had to get blood drawn on Friday (long story), so since I didn’t have a car, I ended up running to and from my blood test, while trying not to pass out, cry, or die on the 3 miles home. I felt really drained the rest of the day and into Saturday, unsurprisingly.
  • The race was delayed by an hour (!!!!) due to issues clearing the bridge, so it was even hotter. We stood around on our feet, not knowing when the gun would really go off, as the sun rose. Pretty sure it was over 80 degrees and this little Northerner was dying.
  • There was a massive, never-ending bridge for about 1.25+ miles, up which I hit blazing splits of 6:45 (started at the end of this mile) and 7:18. Combined with a whipping headwind, WTF. I shouldn’t run those splits in a 10K…
  • My legs weren’t exactly rested, nor trained to run a 10K. It doesn’t make sense that my 10K pace should be the same as my half-marathon pace, but it is. I’ll definitely drop time once I kick the high mileage & focus on ‘speed’.

Ok! Excuses, excuses. I know it’s like saying “well I definitely could have PRed if I was half-Kenyan/on a bike/magically had a tailwind/stopped a mile early!”, but I’m simply trying to put it in context of things I could and could not control. End complaint session.

On my 2nd Boston.com post this week, I wrote a bit about the race and loosening up a bit. After I finished and reflected on last year’s NYC Marathon, I made it a goal to become more flexible in training & racing. I was so ingrained in my routine, getting super stressed out when I had to stray from it. Everything about Saturday’s pre-race prep typically would have made me crazy anxious and defeated. “But I didn’t get 8 hours sleep the night before the night before the race! I didn’t eat my favorite oatmeal for breakfast! We’ve been waiting on the start line for an hour and I have to pee!” But this time, I just rolled with the punches and did the best I could, given the day. It was what it was. And obviously, the situation will be much different for Boston.

This training cycle, I’ve worked hard to let go, stress a lot less, and still live life. Through this, I’ve maintained a better running/life balance, and while everything hasn’t been perfect, I’ve been so much happier with myself, my running, job, friendships, life, everything. My post on working hard & playing hard just about sums it up. I firmly believe that keeping it fun and balanced will ensure a long love affair with running…and hopefully snag a few PRs along the way.

The remainder of my Saturday is a good example. Despite being exhausted from the race (and working the finish line event for about 2 hours post-race…in my sweaty glory), I still had time to grab some burgers and margaritas along the water with some coworkers before boarding my flight back to NYC. I passed out for a quick hour on the flight, got home around 7:30 p.m., pulled myself together (and threw back a 5 Hour Energy), went out to dinner with Terence as I missed his surprise birthday party while down in SC, and then went to Gian’s birthday where I drank (too much) and danced until 3:30 in the morning.

Again, it’s no surprise why I’m tired. While breaking 3:00 is THE goal and will make me feel incredibly happy and accomplished, spending time with friends and going out is a priority, too. Again, it’s about balance. I’ll just reel it in these next two weeks and hope I can “have my cake and eat it too.” Wishful thinking? We’ll see.

And now, sleep. sleep. sleep. And a little bit of running thrown in there, too.

On Sunday, I trekked down to Brooklyn (/got a ride there so I wouldn’t have to take the subway, thanks Alex & Steve!) to run the Cherry Tree 10 Mile race. I didn’t really have a plan going into it beyond getting in at least 18 miles for the day and having the race be my workout for the week. I’m definitely not in racing shape and after traveling during the week, I was a bit beat.

The later 10am race start in Prospect Park was nice, so I woke up at 8, ate a decent breakfast & drank coffee (a must!) before heading down to the school to pick up our bibs and do a quick warmup.

We covered around 2.75 miles before heading to the start– my legs were really tired and just felt heavy. We started off the race a bit further into the crowds, with plans to start out conservatively and go from there.

Cherry Tree 10 Miler, Prospect Park Brooklyn, 2/19

Alex & I ran together the entire race until she pulled away from me the last time up the hill– it was so nice to have company! Our splits were relatively steady around 6:45, with a few quick ones on the flat/downhill miles and slower on the uphills. Honestly, I don’t mind Prospect Park at all, and don’t think the hill is that bad compared to Central Park. Sure, it’s long and I kinda wanted to die the 3rd time up it, but the rest of the park’s terrain is pretty forgiving.

My final chip time was 1:06:13, for an average pace of 6:38ish. I’m pretty happy with this effort considering how heavy my legs felt and that I wasn’t well-rested. But, sure does make doing 16.2 more miles just 10-12 seconds per mile slower sound really, really daunting.

A big CPTC crew ran back over the Manhattan Bridge, making the cooldown go by much faster than if we logged another few loops in the park. I covered 18.25 miles total for the day and rehydrated with the team a few hours later:

CPTC @ Loreley's

All the sudden I found myself extremely drunk before 8 p.m. on a Sunday. So much for taking it easy this weekend :)

I had planned this week to be a cut back week in terms of mileage, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to take it or not. I want my schedule to be flexible depending on how I’m actually feeling vs. what I planned, and what if my legs were feeling good? Well, my legs were still sore into Wednesday due to the race and wearing flats, so a cut back week it is.

I’d like to get in around 40 miles still including a long run of 18, with no workout this week. Someone asked why I don’t step back my long runs, too. For me, I’d rather gradually build up my long runs linearly (14, 16, 16, 18, 18, 20, 20, 20) instead of breaking them up with a scaled down long run. With only so many weeks ’till Boston, I want to try to get in as many long runs as possible, and stepping it down to a week would take away from that, you know? Instead for my cut back week, the long run is essential but I take a few more rest days and nix the workout to give my legs a break. Maybe that’s wrong, I’m open to suggestions :)

I also wanted to use this week to catch up on sleep and recharge my body to get me through the next 4 hard weeks until the taper. Unfortunately for my body, but fortunately for me, work has been keeping me super busy between meetings, projects, presentations, etc. so I haven’t slept and relaxed with ‘me’ time as much as I’d like. But I am so lucky to be doing something I love, and I definitely focus better when I’ve got more on my plate. No complaints.

After this cut back week, I hope to hit totals of 60, 60, 65 and 65 before backing off for the taper. Maybe more, maybe less. 4 weeks of hard work ’till Boston…April 16th, are you here yet?

I really didn’t want to write this post, and I know I’m a few days late to the recap game. I put it off partially because it wasn’t the sub-3:00 marathon I had hoped for, but mostly because writing this would mean it was over. I can’t go back and change the way I felt on Sunday. I’ve taken a few days to digest the race, which included a healthy mix of basking in pride and sulking in disappointment.

I’ll be honest, yes, I am disappointed. A time like mine should not reflect disappointment, but it does for me. I trained for, wished for, and pushed really hard to complete my second marathon in under 3:00. I know my time is still great, and it’s a 55 second PR from last year’s NYC. Who can’t be happy with a PR?! And NYC is a tough course! At the end of the race, the feeling of sheer depletion meant I gave it everything physically and that’s what mattered. I am proud of myself for finishing, setting myself up for success with a really great first half, and staying mentally strong and fighting despite the way I felt.

Finished!!

2011 NYC Marathon: 3:03:37 official finishing time. 83rd female, 1425th place overall, 7th in age group (20-24). My 2nd marathon. Now let’s get to the fun stuff :)

Sub-Elite Start

I woke up at 5 a.m., feeling pretty well-rested and excited! I made some coffee and a hugeeee oatmeal with bananas to heat and take on the bus with me. Around 5:45, I left my apartment and headed to 54th street and 6th avenue to board the sub-elite bus. Around 6:30 a.m. we headed east down the FDR, our caravan of buses escorted by police. Seeing the highway completely shut down to traffic for our buses was the first of many unreal experiences. We arrived in Staten Island pretty quickly and were escorted away from the starting villages into a private heated tent, next to the elite athletes.

Sub-elite tent

While we were separated from the elites, we still shared portapotties and a little warmup area. Luckily, I had my CPTC teammates to keep me company! I didn’t even need half the layers I packed since we weren’t out in the cold, but I sure was thankful I had brought them anyway. I drank Gatorade and ate another banana and Gu Chomps while we waited. Around 8:45, we checked our bags in a private truck and were escorted to the top of the Verrazano bridge.

The next 45 minutes until the start were the most incredible moments of my life. We were able to start right on the line, and were free to do striders and roam the starting area. I strode out about 100 meters over the bridge and took it all in… just me and the closed bridge, nobody else in sight.I turned around and the crowds were so far away. It was surreal to be standing by myself with the bridge wide open. It was at that point I realized I was going to go for it. I’ve worked so hard the past four months to be standing in this exact spot…and suddenly I was here, standing on top of the Verrazano, taking in these gorgeous views from a truly special spot. I started to get choked up, I was so thankful.

New York, New York!

Miles 1, 2, 3: 6:45, 6:19, 6:32

The gun went off, and suddenly we were running! I tried to stay steady up the Verrazano, and found myself trailing back a bit from my CPTC teammates. I had anticipated hitting the first mile in over 7:00, so 6:45 was a bit of a shock but I felt fine. I tried not to pay attention to the second mile marker since that’s down the Verrazano’s steep decline. I thought mile 3 was a tad more steady as we wound the streets and found our way to Brooklyn, but I see it was quick!

Miles 4, 5, 6, 7, 8: 6:42, 6:42, 6:46, 6:41, 6:53

Around the 5K mark, I found myself back with my CPTC teammates Erin, Erin, and Maria. We strode across the road in a line of 4, trying to reign each other back and get closer to 6:50s. But it just wasn’t happening. I know you know that feeling. So, everytime I felt like speeding up, I tried to picture myself absorbing that energy I wanted to use and saving it for later. During this portion, I felt like I was working a bit more than I wanted to, but I definitely felt smooth. Erin pulled away around mile 6. At 7.5, I swung out to the left side of the road as my Dad was supposed to be standing near 7.8. I scanned and scanned the crowds but missed him! I was a bit thrown off, but quickly hopped back with my teammates as we approached mile 8 and joined in with the green & blue corrals! I took my first gel at mile 8 and felt good.

Miles 9, 10, 11, 12, 13: 6:45, 6:38, 6:49, 6:47, 6:48. Half-marathon mark 1:28:06.

A bit after mile 10 (why did I run a 6:38??) I realized I felt like I was working a bit harder than I should be. The crowds, the energy, the noise, and my thoughts propelled me to continue pushing. It’s a marathon, it was going to hurt no matter what. I pushed any doubt and panic aside. We passed the halfway mark in 1:28:06 and I felt a boost. I knew we had to hit the halfway point in 1:28 low or under to run under 3:00. Being a bit OCD, I checked the past year’s results and saw that anyone who ran sub-3:00 ran between 1:24 and 1:28 for the half. Nothing slower. Yes, this was fast, and YES this was aggressive, but I wanted to know I did everything I could to set myself up for success. I was on track, and just had to run under a 1:32 second half– heck, that sounded reasonable!

Miles 14, 15, 16, 17, 18: 6:56, 7:09, 7:09, 6:48, 6:53

I continued through Queens and started to feel like legs going a bit. My breathing was a bit heavier than I wanted, but I was chugging along where I wanted to be. I fell way behind my teammates going up the Queensboro bridge, but tried to keep steady. Hills are not my strength, and I didn’t mind the quietness of the bridge. I used it to collect my thoughts and my strength while taking my second gel and working to draft a bit as it was pretty windy. As we wound down the bridge, and I heard the wall of noise of 1st ave. Manhattan! I made it! I knew I had friends in the 70s and 80s, and scanned the crowds while trying to stay focused. I felt my quads really going and started to get nervous. Last year, I felt pretty good on this stretch of 1st Ave and my current state concerned me a bit. I used the crowd’s energy to propel myself forward, still happy with my splits around goal pace. My mom was on 97th street, and I was so happy to see her…though I had very little to say but wave.

Miles 19, 20, 21, 22, 23: 7:07, 7:26, 7:21, 7:26, 7:32

After mile 18, the crowds thinned and I took a 3rd gel in hopes they’d revive my legs. My quads. Oh, my quads. I rarely have issues or soreness in my quads during long runs or workouts, but they felt paralyzed as we hit the Willis Avenue Bridge. My breathing was okay, aerobically I felt I could continue to push, but my legs were not having it. I lost major time on these miles. I looked at my pace bracelet and saw the 2 minute cushion I had to break 3:00 start to shrink. It was frustrating knowing I was mentally and aerobically feeling ready to push but physically unable to increase the turnover in my legs. I was stuck in the same gear. Around mile 23, I actually didn’t know if my legs would hold up to carry me to the finish line. But I fought.

Over the Willis Avenue Bridge... (19.5)

Miles 24, 25, 26, .2: 8:00, 7:28, 7:20, 1:38

The 5th Avenue hill was the worst, as expected. I counted down the blocks one by one, feeling like I traveled 10 blocks but only having made it one. 90th street felt like it would never come. I saw my parents and barely mustered a wave. As a whole, I really tried to enjoy and savor the course but this stretch was one I just about closed my eyes and wished away. Once we entered the park, I was hit by “The Wall of Orange”– my CPTC teammates cheering their heads off. I got a boost and knew I would finish. Unlike last year where I think I blacked out for part of Central Park to the finish line, I was extremely aware during this time. Again, I wanted to just go but my legs wouldn’t let me. I remained positive and focused, knowing I’d have to continue to push if I was going to PR at all.

Seriously, are we there yet?!

Cresting up the small hill to the finish line the last .2 miles, I tried to kick and push, and was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion. All the blood rushed from my head and body, I wanted to pass out or throw up. It was then I knew I was physically spent, a sign of a good race. I somehow raised my arms upon crossing.

Finish!

Victory!

Upon finishing, a volunteer quickly spotted my bib and escorted me to a special finisher’s area. On my way, I spotted my CPTC teammates I had run with and all finished around the same time. And, Alex who had started in local competitive found us too!

Alex, Me, Erin, Maria

The volunteer escorted us from the sub-elite to a special tent right after the finish line. I was so thankful I didn’t have to walk all the way to the end of the baggage trucks like I did last year. I barely made it to the tent, fighting the urge to pass out or at least sit down. The volunteer let us sit while she found my bag. For that, she was my hero! I sat and breathed and stared around for a while before changing into dry clothes and calling my parents.

That was it. I didn’t break 3:00, and the world wasn’t over (shocker!) I didn’t feel upset at that moment because of how physically spent I was. I wanted under 3:00 and my mind said yes, but my legs said NO. I felt proud of myself for finishing, and fighting, and still setting a new PR. So often, the mental piece of the puzzle is what goes awry and makes for a bad race. I can say despite some frustrating moments, my mind was really in the game. My legs just went a lot earlier than I anticipated which made for a really rough second half.

The Aftermath

After the race, I met up with my Mom and Dad and went to brunch at Fred’s on the UWS. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait and I had a pretty good grilled chicken sandwich. I hobbled back to my apartment and immediately got into bed and started crying to my mom. I’ve had a pretty rough few weeks, and part of me felt like I needed a sub-3:00 race to boost my self confidence and affirm I’ll be okay. After working so hard and sacrificing so much, I fell short. I failed. Running kicked me when I was down.

After drying my tears and saying bye to my mom, I brushed myself off and hopped in the shower. I knew sulking in my apartment wouldn’t help, so even though I was physically drained, I headed down to Opal for the CPTC afterparty celebrations. A few beers, a bottle of champagne, and shots later, I left with a happy heart and head. Sure, my time wasn’t the best, but I PR’ed. And the experience was worth every painful second.

Free bottle of champagne? Okay!

So now what? I’m trying hard to let this race just be and not analyze my splits, training, diet, lifestyle, etc. I feel like I did the right stuff, and it just wasn’t my day. Maybe NYC isn’t my course, and I’d fare better on a flatter one where I can keep a steady pace and not get crushed by awful hills and bridges. Part of me really doesn’t get why this year felt so much harder than last year, when I know I am a stronger runner right now. Maybe my pacing strategy was off, but I stand firm on the way I went out because it put me in the right position.

I’ve got Boston 2012 next, and I’m holding off on making any goals for that race quite yet. I’m a bit hesitant to say I want to break 3:00 there. However, I know I’m competitive with myself and probably won’t want to go into that race without the goal of setting a new PR. Let’s be honest.

For now, I will take the next week or two entirely off running and exercise of any type. For me, I need a solid rest period to break up training and racing cycles. Taking it easy until after Thanksgiving will ensure I am fresh and eager to train for Boston, and not get burnt out or injured. I’ll be sleeping in, enjoying my free time, and living a little more until then!

Finally, THANK YOU again for all the kind congratulatory messages. Even though it wasn’t my day, I felt extremely loved and supported before, during and especially after the race. As I said before the race, I’ll be back here working hard and writing about it until I get that sub-3:00!