Report from the Trenches: Philadelphia Marathon

Saying I was nervous about the Philadelphia Marathon would be an understatement. I am sure Chris, friends and family were beyond tired of hearing about it by the time we got to race weekend. Yes, I always have nerves before a goal-race, but I had made Philly 2013 into this epic come-back chance for myself. After being plagued by four bad marathon experiences in a row (Boston 2012, fighting a stomach bug and the heat was a combination I couldn’t push through, causing me to DNF. NYC 2012 was canceled. Harrisburg Marathon 2012 was a nightmare where I injured at mile 12, and SHOULD have DNF’ed, but was too stubborn. Boston 2013, for the obvious reasons.) – THIS was my chance to get that PR I so badly wanted, and I craved a GOOD marathon morning.

I knew that the original goal I had set of a 3:00 marathon at Philly just wasn’t in the cards. My training and mental state just weren’t ready. So I reassessed and set new, smarter goals.

The new goal time: sub-3:10, seemed possible. I had been on track for it a year before in Harrisburg before my foot and ankle ruined that race. I knew stepping up to the Philly Marathon starting line that I had to keep my head, and let my body do it’s job.

Race morning was a cool 51 degrees at the start, but also a suffocating 93% humidity. I do not race well in humidity, but knew my only choice was to give it my all. As the sun slowly rose over my home town, I found myself in a packed corral with other nervous runners. I wondered how many of them would be an intimate part of my 3+ hour journey. I gathered myself for a few quiet moments in my head while announcements were made, and before I knew it, we were off!

I had two plans for this race: Run smart, and negative split. I had NEVER run a negative split in a marathon before. That was my weakness. I decided I was going to see if I could change that, so I started out conservatively. As runners flew past me, I settled into a 7:14 minute mile groove, and told myself to settle. I also decided it was smart to hydrate early and often, especially with the humidity.

I remember being annoyed in the early miles because my damn sunglasses were fogging up. It was distracting, until I told myself to not let it be distracting. I had a long day ahead of me, and I was going to need my energy later. I relaxed, enjoyed the music that streamed through my ipod, and smiled at corny signs the spectators held. I had a few very emotional moments in the first few miles, but told myself to get it together. Crying and running, especially in humidity, don’t work so well.

As I merrily trotted down Chestnut Street, I cheered on a few wheelchair athletes as I passed them. I kept my eye out for Chris as I approached the 10K mark at 18th street, as he planned to cheer me on from the corner. Not only did I see Chris, but our good buddy Alex was with him! A big surprise! I squealed, smiled, and was so thrilled. That energy carried me the next few miles.

Coming up Chestnut Street and spotting my cheering section!

Coming up Chestnut Street and spotting my cheering section!

Right around the turn onto 35th street, my trusty Garmin decided it was done for the day. This could have really thrown me. I almost never run without it, and I ALWAYS race with it. I quickly had to accept that the rest of the race would be without my watch.

I should note here that I did indeed run the Queens Half Marathon a few years ago without my Garmin (not by choice!), and ended up with a big PR – even in the hot and humid July weather. Perhaps that experience kept me from panicking.

As I approached the two biggest climbs of the marathon, I relaxed my pace a bit. I reminded myself that I wanted to go out conservatively, and that this technical part of the course was where I needed to pull back. I still had a long way to go, and I was finding it hard to breathe in the heavy air. I felt as though a weight were sitting on my chest and I couldn’t get a full breath. Relaxing the pace helped. A brief stop to fix a shoe lace that had started to loosen chewed up a few minutes, but I kept my head.

The few miles before the Half Marathon mark were mentally hard. I began doubting my ability to run a smart race without my Garmin. The clock on the watch still worked, so with some simple math I had rough estimates of what pace I was on. Still, I mentally struggled here. I looked for Chris at the next spot he was supposed to be, but I had missed him. Slightly defeated, I trotted on.

Then something happened that made me shift to a second gear. I don’t know if it were seeing some friends along the course, or if I just told myself I had come too damn far to not give this race my all. I shifted into a slightly fast turnover, telling myself to relax and that this was easy. Miles quietly went by, as the field had thinned out significantly after the Half Marathoners split ways to finish.

It was along this out-and-back second half that my ipod decided that it was done too. I couldn’t believe my luck with electronics. This was unreal. Too much sweat had made it unhappy clipped to my sports bra, and I was left to run with no Garmin and no music. Not the race day plan I had in mind, but I’ve raced without music many times before. Ironically, I settled into an even faster pace with ease, sans music.

The energy near in Manayunk, at the turn-around mark and a long 10K to the finish, always gets me going. Mentally, its a blur of energy and I can barely remember specific signs or costumes at this point, but there were the frat boys handing out beer, like they do every year. I recall thinking that beer at the finish line would be good, but there was no way I was grabbing a cup mid-marathon!

I dug deep and kept pushing forward. I took whatever energy I could from the spectators around me. I focused on a mile at a time, slowly chipping away at that long out-and-back. I somehow missed a few friends and team mates out there running, but I did get words on encouragement and a high five from Cip – my lovely friend and team mate with whom I’d run Boston. She told me I looked good, which was clearly a lie. I was around the 24 mile mark, and I was hurting. My strides felt labored, my mind felt fuzzy, and it was all I could do to keep my eye on the prize. Cip’s lie was enough to help me finish what I started.

Based on the clock on my watch, I knew if I just kept one food in front of the other, no matter how hard it felt, that PR was mine. What the time would be, I didn’t want to guess. Those last few miles were hard. At the 25 mile mark, a photographer yelled that I only had a mile to go. I told it would be the longest mile of my day. Plus .2, of course.

Thankfully, I knew Chris would be standing at the 1/2 mile-to-go mark, near Lloyd Hall. What surprised me was the crowd of support that was with him! My parents, his parents, and some friends from NYC were all there, yelling for me. Being the work-horse that I am, I surged up that final incline, using anything I could to finish strong. I noticed that I was running with my arms like a mad-woman at this point, but I don’t think I was capable of correcting my form.

The slight down-hill finish, through a chute of screaming people, it was amazing. I wanted to kick, but I had nothing left. There was no kick. And to my shock, the clock time was reading a time I never thought was in the cards today: I finished in 3:05:27. I could not believe it. I still cannot believe it.

This marathon reminded me a bit of my most recent Broad Street Run. Back in May, I didn’t PR, but I somehow pulled off a time that physically I NEVER would have thought was in the cards. It’s not that I always doubt my training, but back in May I had barely done any speed training (thanks, heel injury!), but I still pulled off a 6:33 mile pace for 10 miles. At that race, I remember mentally being so fired up over Boston, that something mentally snapped and I refused to do anything less than my best. At this Philly Marathon, that same grit and refusal to accept defeat had kicked in again. Man, I wish I could summon that mental state all the time!

As I slowly walked away from the finish line, my mind never went to Boston bombing flashbacks. Perhaps my shocking finish time was so much for me to handle that it pushed out the possibility of any other thoughts. I couldn’t believe it. I had achieved a finish time I didn’t think I’d had in me, on a day when few things went right. I suppose the lesson here is that through your training for a marathon, your body adjusts to a natural rhythm and internal clock that we can’t always see on our Garmin’s face. Sometimes we are stronger than we think we are, but we rely on tools to dictate our potential. And support, support from folks on the course can greatly change the game. My new Philadelphia Marathon PR is proof of that.635204711723558107

Taper Tantrum

Philly Marathon 2011, and my current marathon PR of 3:15:46. Time to step it up and crush it.

Philly Marathon 2011, and my current marathon PR of 3:15:46. Time to step it up and crush it.

With less than a week to go before my goal race, I am deep into tapering. For those of you who don’t know what tapering is, it’s the few weeks leading up to a marathon where mileage and intensity is cut down in order to give the athlete time to rest, recover, heal, focus, and be ready to hit the pavement hard on race day. While tapering can sound delightful while in the middle of marathon training, actually doing it is rough. As an athlete, I despise it.

Realizing that perhaps many of you have dealt with tapering, I decided I would share my own experience this time round – in case it helps you. The truth is that tapering never gets easier.

If you are like me, you handle stress one of two ways: eating and exercising. Well, since my mileage has gone down, and I am no longer allowed to strength train until after the marathon, all of that pre-race stress goes into eating. My dreams have also been flooded with race-day visions. My mind is going wild.

During your taper, it s a good time to go back over previous races, how paces fluctuated, how training went up until that last big race, how you handled race day, etc. It’s also a good time to reaffirm your goals. I always advise my athletes to have three goals for a marathon: the goal that is the reach (everything may need to go perfectly to achieve it), the goal that seems tangible as long as they keep their focus and don’t do anything stupid, and the goal that is the totally achievable unless something goes terribly wrong. After all, it is easy to lose your head out there if things fall apart or don’t go according to plan. Having different goals gives you the opportunity to salvage the day and refocus quickly.

Here are my three goals:

The safety net goal: BQ. Unless I get injured out there, my training indicates that a sub-3:35 will be easy to achieve.

The possible with hard work goal: PR, ideally with a sub-3:10 (7:13 minute miles)

The reach: As close to 3:05 as possible. (7:03-7:05 minute miles)

My original hope for Philly was the 3:05 area and faster, but my training and mental game simply don’t show any sign that I’m there. That’s okay, and I’ve abandoned that goal. It can be saved for another time.

That’s not to say I am cutting my expectations short. My top two goals are ambitious, and I need to play it smart.

The positives: I am healthy. No plantar issues (that’s rare for me!), and no posterior tibial tendon issues, like I had last year. Last year I also battled the norovirus for a week, three weeks before Harrisburg Marathon. Plus, I know the Philly race course like the back of my hand. Knowledge is power. And it looks like I may have some crowd support from friends and family. These are all good things.

The one thing I may do this year is run with music. I generally prefer not to, but since Boston, I have had a hard time keeping my head in the game on long runs without it. Negative thoughts kick in, and I need to avoid that from happening on those quiet miles on Kelly Drive. It doesn’t look like I’ll have any pacers hop in, so I am going to be alone with my own thoughts – which I know is my weakness right now.

I am excited for Philly. I am ready to race again, healthy, and ready to leave it all out on the course. I am not going to Philly to have fun. I am going back to my home town to leave my blood, sweat and tears on the course, and to do my best.

Until then, I’ll keep eating my nerves. Mmm. Carbs.

Feel Good, Get Inspired, Cheer!

Start of the Harrisburg Marathon. Yes, those are my arms!

Start of the Harrisburg Marathon. Yes, those are my arms!

I remember the first time I watched a marathon in person. It was two weeks before my first marathon, and an extremely moving, exciting, inspirational, and somewhat scary experience. Standing near the “1/2 mile to go” mark, one witnesses humanity at its most raw, human state.

I had goosebumps as the wheelchair athletes and elites flew by, somehow making it look so easy to work so hard. I yelled words of encouragement as runners dug deep, some bowing their heads, as they pushed toward the finish. Some athletes stumbled, fell, or held onto the fence or NYPD officers as their legs cramped and buckled underneath them. Other athletes ran in costume, carrying their country’s flag, or wore pictures of family members on their backs, running in their memory.

There was also an indescribable energy coming from the crowd. It’s perhaps the one sporting event where everyone is cheering for everyone else to succeed. No one is cheering for a team to win or lose, we all want to see everyone do their best. [Read more…]

Hola, Honduras!

Leading the class through some ways to use the foam roller. It hurt so good!

Leading the class through some ways to use the foam roller. It hurt so good!

Recently this coach did something new: she packed her bags, flew to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and taught a 2-day running seminar. It was a wonderful weekend, and I met some passionate runners.

While I have been to Central America before (years ago I went to Costa Rica), I was nervous about a trip to San Pedro Sula. If you don’t know much about this city or Honduras, do a quick “google search” and you’ll understand why. I should also mention that I don’t currently speak any Spanish, making me that much more vulnerable in a dangerous city. However, after a lot of research, chatting with my host, Jorge Marcos, emailing friends who live in Honduras, and chatting with a fellow non-Spanish-speaking New Yorker who has taught seminars in San Pedro Sula multiple times, I decided I wanted to go. Thankfully, my host (and arranger of the program) took great care of me, and I notified the US of my travel plans – just to be safe.

While I never spent any time in the “dangerous” parts of town, security is huge. People hire security guards to watch their houses and tote rifles. Small children beg in the street, pressing their faces again the glass window while stopped at a traffic light. Wild dogs roam the street. Some of the athletes I taught run with a guard in a car, following them for safety. The safety and freedom I experience everyday in NYC is a completely different world from those in San Pedro Sula.

Before I get into the coaching, I will say this: What I saw and experienced was no different from what I had experienced in Costa Rica. In fact, the neighborhood where I stayed was definitely safer (the neighbor has an armed guard) and prettier (at the base of beautiful mountains) than the home I stayed in in San Jose, Costa Rica. Not to say that bad things don’t happen here in this neighborhood, but everyone I met at the stores, coffee shops and restaurants were friendly, smiling people. I never felt unsafe. Of course that doesn’t change the reality that San Pedro Sula is indeed, a dangerous city.

I should also mention that in my brief time there, it was beautiful. Lush mountains everywhere, often with clouds covering the peaks. I hear the beaches are beautiful, and hopefully some day will make it there. Honduras is so beautiful, and I very much hope this country improves economically.

1273009_10151640537086761_830008827_oThe seminar was held over a weekend at Cross Fit, SPS. All of the athletes were bilingual, so there wasn’t a language barrier with them. They were all smart, passionate runners, eager to learn more and to share their experiences with me and the rest of the group. I have to say, I was a bit nervous that my lack of Spanish would be an issue while teaching. While I certainly was helpless in terms of ordering food on my own, I was totally capable of talking about my favorite sport.

I must also confess that I typically work with individuals on their training, not teaching seminars in foreign countries. Was I going to be able to speak about running for 8 hours? Would I be clearly communicating? Would I confuse newbies? Would they lose focus? Honestly, I didn’t know exactly how it would go, though I was confident in my knowledge of the sport and knew I was walking into the seminar with information and a passion they would hopefully appreciate.

If I could teach seminars every week to groups of runners, I totally would. I enjoyed it so much. I loved hearing about their race goals, their previous experiences, and taking them out for a short run. I loved making them laugh as I shared some of my own experiences – especially the mistakes. The entire seminar was great.

So much thanks to the athletes in San Pedro Sula, Jorge, and the folks at CrossFit SPS for what was a truly great weekend.

Marathon Mind-Games

elizabeth_corkum-5810web-320x444If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know that the journey is a mind game. While it’s a given that your body will scream for you to stop – no matter how great your months of training went – your head is what will make you or break you on race day.

Personally, I’ve had marathons in my past that rank as “best day ever,” and I’ve also had a few that count towards “worst day ever.” While for me the “worst day ever” has unfortunately always involved an injury or illness, it’s also always a mental struggle. Do I push through and just finish? Do I DNF? What’s smart? At the end of the day, the decision when injured is never easy.

On the “best day ever,’ marathon, the journey is still something of a mind game. Honestly, it’s the hardest mental test I can think – perhaps second to Ultra Marathons. Ultra Marathons are a completely different mind-game.

Here’s an example of a “good” race day:

Mile 3 – I feel awesome. I can go on forever!

Mile 6 – Man, I have 20 MORE MILES?

Mile 10 – My legs feel tired, but I CAN DO THIS!!!

Mile 13 – I’m only half way there?!?

Mile 15 – Come on, trust your training. This is LIVING!!! Remember, you love this!

Mile 17 – This sucks. Why did I think a marathon was a good idea? This is AWFUL. What other bad life choices have I made?!?

Mile 20 – Jesus Christ, how can I keep this pace for another 10k?

Mile 22 – Focus and get this shit done. You are stronger than this.

Mile 24 – Oh hey, this isn’t so bad! Man, I cannot wait to enjoy a nice cold beer as soon as this is done!

Mile 25 – Dear God, everything hurts and everything is tired. I just want to lay down and sleep.

Mile 26 – Total euphoria. THIS IS IT!!!! Focus is back in my eyes, as are sometimes tears. Push through and finish strong! This is the best moment ever!!!!!

Folks, in my experience, that’s often how a good day goes.

A bad marathon looks too scary to document. If you’ve been there, you know.

The good news is that if you train properly, the mental strength you’ve wielded and mastered on your long runs prepare you for your race morning mental challenge.

It’s funny, you always expect to feel physically spent after a marathon. You anticipate walking like a broken person, having limited range of motion, dealing with chafing and blisters, and having to rehydrate like a camel. The biggest shock to me, every time, is how mentally drained I am after the marathon. Your brain feels like mush, even when euphoric after succeeding at said goal. It reminds me of how I felt after taking the SATs or GREs. My brain feels completely drained.

So, if you are nervous about your looming marathon, you should be. It means you care. It also means you respect the marathon, and that you realize that a whole lot can happen within 26.2 miles. Take heart, your training is preparing you. And yes, on race day you will struggle to keep focused and to keep your brain in a positive place. But keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I promise you it won’t take long until your head shifts into a different space.

Ride the Highs

img_6399-editBest. Workout. Ever.

You know the feeling. You lifted more than ever before. Sweat out a terrible day. Ran a hard track workout strong. Conquered that 20-mile training run like a badass. Whatever the accomplishment, you know the feeling. I LOVE that feeling. It’s the feeling of progress. Of success. Of pay-off.

While that feeling doesn’t happen every day, or even every week, it’s one that we relish in when it happens. It’s what drives us to push through those tough or mediocre workouts. There’s always the chance that this could be the day for that great triumph.

When marathon training, these workouts are what keep us sane. Months of training not only wears on our bodies, but also on our minds and spirits. Injury and burnout are potentially knocking on the door. When a workout goes wrong, we question or abilities. When a workout goes right – we dream of progress, and what we are truly capable of.

The best thing, and what we all hope for: come race day, we have that awesome “workout.” That its the day we feel optimistic and focused in the eyes of fatigue and hitting the wall. That we push through, knowing it can get better. Our training, the combination of good days and bad days are what mentally prepare us for race day. We’ve learned when to push, and also learned when to settle and relax.

The marathon, just like most goals, are about the journey. We wouldn’t truly appreciate the highs without the lows.

So the next time you have a terrible workout, remember that you are just setting yourself up to really enjoy the thrill of a fantastic workout in the future.

Bursting at the Seams

IMG_2412Recently, rumors have flooded news feeds that the Boston Marathon is considering expanding the field by 9000 runners for the April 2014 race. Some people view this news as great, while others don’t want to see the race expand. I have considered in past weeks to blog about the constantly growing fields in marathons. On the heels of this recent Boston Marathon news, it seems like a good time to discuss this topic.

Anyone who knows much about marathoning knows that the Boston Marathon is the only annual marathon that requires time qualifying performances in a previous marathon. It’s also the most famous marathon in the world. Achieving a BQ (Boston Qualifier) is always an honor, sometimes a dream come true, and not possible for many middle-of-the-pack runners. The quest and hard work to achieve a spot in this famous race is something special. Besides qualifying, the only other way into the Boston Marathon is to run and raise money for a charity.

As someone who has run Boston, I can tell you that the experience on race day, having earned a spot that I worked extremely hard for, filled me with extreme pride and emotion. After all, earning something always feels rewarding. If anyone understands that concept, it’s the marathoner. Charity runners work hard – they train AND raise money – no easy task. For the record, IF there are 9000 additional spots, it has not been revealed if those spots will be open to more qualifiers, charity runners, or a combination for the two.

In recent years, many of the big five marathons have been giving more and more spots to charities. In order to accommodate these growing charity spots, race organizers have either reduced the amount of spots for non-charity runners, or added additional spots – causing race numbers to grow at a rapid pace. Charity spots often require a financial commitment of $2500-$5000 per marathon, with a percent going to the charity of choice and a percent (larger than most runners are aware!) going to the race organization. Yes, charities are incredibly profitable for race organizations. Don’t get me wrong, race organizations need to make a profit, and charities can be a great cause – but in future years will there be any spots left for non-charity, non-elite marathoners? The London Marathon is virtually impossible to get a spot in unless you run for a charity. It won’t be long before other organizations follow suit. I wonder if in the future runners will be able to acquire marathon spots without an elite status or a charity?

For many runners, signing up with a charity is a way fulfill a dream of running a marathon they may otherwise never be able to run. For example, the New York City Marathon, despite its massive race field (over 40,000 runners!) is next to impossible to get into through the lottery. Running for a charity may mean the ability to run the NYCM, or the Boston Marathon while never running close to a BQ.

My question: how much bigger can these big city marathons possibly get? Many are already bursting at the seams, barely able to accommodate the number of runners, and stressing the resources of the host cities. When is it enough? In the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon, security will be a huge concern at all of the big city marathons in future years.

It’s a wonderful thing that more people than ever are lacing up and training for marathons. What isn’t wonderful is the sense of entitlement that plagues the running community. After all, we runners take over cities for an entire weekend without much of a thought regarding how we affect the town or city we take over for the race. Perhaps it’s okay for there to be some marathons that aren’t for the “average Joe.” Frankly, I’m an “average Joe,” and shouldn’t be able to qualify for every race. Personally, if I could be qualified to run 90 out of 100 of annual marathons, and that meant we could all have a better experience, and reduce the stress on host cities, the medical and security resources – I’d be totally okay with that. And if I wanted to qualify for those remaining 10 – I’d train my butt off and set that as a goal.

I suppose what I am trying to address in this blog is the growth of the marathon, the stress on the host cities, and where is the future of marathon going? Obviously every race is as different as the course the runners travel from start to finish. Each city and race organization is different. My hope is that marathons stop becoming over-crowded (for safety reasons and for the sheer enjoyment of the runners!), and that the financial incentives for race organizations doesn’t trump the race experience and safety issues.

I hope that unless they come up with some genius plan, the BAA won’t change the number of participants for 2014. The race from Hopkinton to Boston is on a road that realistically isn’t big enough to handle an additional 9000 runners – unless they add a fourth wave, perhaps? Part of the charm of the race is the journey through the Boston suburbs, as locals cheer, hand out water and offer high-fives. This past year, there were still spots open for qualifiers after the registration dates past – meaning that EVERY runner who had planned a qualifying time by the registration date got their spot – and registration stayed open for an additional week! Therefore, is it necessary or smart to change the iconic Boston Marathon in order to accommodate an additional 9000 runners?

I understand how financially enticing an additional 9000 runners could be – especially if those go to charity spots. And I also understand how runners all across the world, speedsters and average-Joe’s alike felt this past year’s tragedy pull at their heartstrings. I get it. But I also hold the Boston Marathon in my heart as a very special race, a race that is somewhat exclusive, and a privilege that is earned. After all, it’s the Boston Marathon.

Coping Post-Boston

A race I will never forget.

A race I will never forget.

One of the many reasons I love running is that I often clear my head, sort out problems, and work through emotions all while out there clocking my miles. While quality workouts take focus, those easy days of junk miles are my time to check in with myself.

Since the Boston Marathon, I have struggled with my relationship with running. Some days I refuse to run. Other days I break down and cry while running and cut the workout short. Sometimes I feel great and smile from ear to ear out in the park. It’s a mixed bag. I suppose these varying emotions are considered normal, but I don’t like them.

Just like I don’t like the sounds of sirens, or fireworks being shot off right outside my window at all hours of the day or night, or loud noises, or people running towards me, or large crowds of people – I have to deal with them. In New York City, life is always loud and crowded.

Besides all of the flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia, and other symptoms of PTSD, what upsets me the most is my lack of enthusiasm for the activity I love most. I hate that running is sometimes something I emotionally cannot handle. The day of the Boston Marathon, while many of us lost our sense of selves, safety, and faith in humanity and all that is good, I also lost that lovely, innocent relationship I had with running. I want that back so badly.

In the weeks since Boston, I have pulled away from lots of people – especially in the running community. The person I was before Marathon Monday only missed team practice if there was an unavoidable work conflict. Now, I find any excuse to not attend. Track work used to be a challenge I rose to face. Now, I get defeated the minute I set foot on the lovely, soft rubber. I dodge the topic of Boston when asked by friends, family and strangers alike.

The Runner’s World Magazine issue dedicated to the Boston Marathon attacks – I cannot even open it. I don’t know if I ever will. The people who dedicate a race goal to the Boston bombings, or the organizations who used Boston as a platform for their own benefit – I want to punch them in the face. The horror and pain experienced by those who were there, right at the bombings, that doesn’t vanish the way the news stories on tv do.

So today on my run I evaluated all of this, and reminded myself that sometimes all we need is time. And help. I wish I had the answers to bounce right back to the person I was that morning in Hopkinton, before my life changed.

How do I get my unrequited love for running back? How do I turn myself back into the fighter I was before Boston? How does one set sights on a goal marathon PR, and attack training and race day without fear or hesitation? I guess I am going to find out.

Nothing can be worse than my reaction at the Brooklyn Half Marathon, and so I can only go up from here. (Note I never wrote a blog about my Brooklyn Half experience. I figured a blog that was chalking up a race full of panic attacks, vomiting on the course, and despising every step wasn’t worthy of a blog entry).

As a coach, I suppose I can use my struggles to help others – which is the only silver lining from all of this. We runners are strong, stubborn individuals. Whether you run for fitness, fun, or speed, we all love it on some level. If we didn’t we wouldn’t put in the work. The love for the sport is the thread we all have in common. I want that love back.

When to take a day off

Runners and fitness enthusiasts, in general, are overachievers and type-A personalities. After all, these road and trail warriors sign up for races months in advance and stick religiously to a training schedule. Freezing cold? They’ll bundle up. Raining cats and dogs? They’ll embrace the soggy shoes and enjoy skipping through puddles. Gym crowded after work? They’ll come back and 10pm to get  that quality arm day in.

This dedication is what makes these overachiever type-A’s successful at achieving their goals – whatever they may be.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

The downside to this driven, dedicated personality is that often that person doesn’t know when all signs point toward a rest day. Often the scheduled workout on the calendar trumps an achy knee, a head cold, or a sleepless night.

When should we suck it up and power through and when should we take some quality time off? The answer isn’t always simple. There are lots of factors, like how close are you to race day, a fitness competition, etc.

Things you can probably power through: sore muscles (not INJURED, but sore), lack of sleep, less than ideal weather. Being sore is part of the process while getting in shape, so you cannot take time off every time something hurts. Having a “easy” workout the day after a hard one is best. Lack of sleep makes motivation hard, but as soon as you get moving, your body and mind will wake up. Just budget some time to catch up on sleep. The weather on race day is completely unpredictable, so you need to get your body and mind used to the demands different climates offer. Unless there is thunder and lightning, lace up.

Things you should NOT power through: a nagging injury (unless you have seen a Doctor and been given the okay), serious illness (stomach flu, high fever, strep throat, etc.). Unless you have seen a doctor (a SPORTS DOCTOR), you do not know what is wrong with you. Yes, the internet has a ton of information out there, but how can you assume your self-diagnosis is accurate? Once you see a doctor, you will be told whether or not you can continue training or need to take time off. LISTEN to your doctor. If you are ill, you may want to push through. Most often, this is a TERRIBLE idea. Why would you power through a workout with a high fever or stomach flu? What benefit will come from this training? Another way to think of it, what damage could this workout do? You’ll recover best while resting, and powering through a workout today, while ill, may mean having to take off more days in the future.

The tricky area: when you feel a cold coming on, or are on the road to recovery from being sick, or have a strange pain that is new and not too bad, etc. If you choose to train on one of these days, don’t do a hard workout – even if your training plan says otherwise. Switch out that hard tempo run with an easy “recovery” pace run, or don’t move up the weights at the gym if you were planning on doing so. Go into the workout with the acceptance that you may need to bail out of the workout early, and that’s okay.

At the end of the day, you need to remember to be smart. Your training calendar is created assuming everyday you are in optimal health, and working under optimal conditions. Life isn’t always optimal.

Remember, by the time you toe the line for a race, or hit that goal beach vacation, missing a few workouts here or there are not going to hurt your potential on race day. Showing up to the race under the weather, injured, or simply burnt out certainly will.

Boston Marathon 2013: Part 3

730052-1094-0025sIMG_2410Crossing the Boston Marathon finish line next to Cipriana was a wonderful, emotional experience. What happened next has changed me forever. Within five minutes of crossing the finish line at 4:05:56, the first bomb went off at 4:09:43. it sounded like a cannon. I felt it in my chest. We watched in horror as smoke engulfed the spectators on our right. My first thought was that something accidently went off – fireworks, a gas tank, some kind of accident. With barely a few seconds for Cip and I to react, the second bomb went off. At that point we knew that the explosions were no accident, and our lives could be in danger.

We hadn’t even made it to receive our medals, mylar sheets, or water bottles when the explosions occurred. We were maybe 50 yards away from the first explosion. Silence and confusion fell, and fear consumed us all. If two bombs had gone off within seconds of each other on Boylston Street, how many more bombs were there? We didn’t know, but we knew we had to get off of Boylston Street, and fast. As we tried to run around tired runners, some of whom seemed too wiped out from the marathon to even realize what had happened behind them, we ran as fast as we could away from the finish line.

A woman near us began to break down. Clearly she had spent every ounce of energy on the marathon, and she started wailing that her husband was standing where the first bomb went off. She kept screaming that she had just seen him there. She half crumbled to the ground, her legs buckling under her, and she was going to try  to get to where she thought her husband was. I told her to stay calm, to come with us, away from the explosions, that she didn’t know anything for sure about her husband, and that we needed to be concerned about our own safety, and not be in the way of first-responders. I don’t know what happened to this woman, since she was hardly responsive.

IMG_20130417_091416_251I will admit, as Cip and I ran away from the terror, for a moment I thought of turning around. Not that I could have helped much, but with being certified in CPR and first aid, I thought maybe I could do something. However, I quickly reminded myself that if people had lost limbs, I didn’t have the medical ability to do anything for them, and I didn’t think it was safe for me to head back.

Luckily, the bus with Cip’s baggage was directly down Boylston Street, so we went there and grabbed her bag. Unlike my bag, hers had a phone in it with battery power. We then retraced our steps by a block to try to exit the blocked of streets. We grabbed my bag, and had turned the corner off of Boylston Street. Around this time, I heard the first sirens. Still not feeling safe, but a bit safer than we had on Boylston Street, we slowed to a walk and tried to come up with the best course of action. Just then, we heard people yelling, and volunteers and staff cameramen came running at us, telling us to run. My thought: what do they know that we don’t know? I kept expecting an explosion to happen any second. Perhaps out of a building, a trash can, or under my feet. I kept telling myself that I might not still be safe. I might be blown to bits.

IMG_2412With Cip’s phone we were able to make a few phone calls. We decided to walk toward her hotel, right near Boston Common, and away from the finish line area. More sirens and helicopters. More people crying and screaming. We got to Cip’s hotel room, where I was able to charge my phone and we could turn on the news.

A few hours later, Chris and I walked back from Cip’s hotel (he walked to find me) back to The Eliot. We walked as far away from Boylston Street as possible, considering our hotel was a short two blacks away from the location of the second explosion. I was in a state of shock, still unable to totally process what had happened. Survival mode had kept me from becoming emotional. Between being emotionally and physically drained, and the request from the Boston PD and FBI for everyone to stay where they are, we stayed in the hotel for the rest of the night.

Monday night I barely slept. my mind was haunted with images, emotions, fears – things I could not shake from my conscious or unconscious. I kept waiting for our hotel room to explode. For something else to happen.

904376_902782584544_2034901455_oTuesday morning was a strange time. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful spring day in Boston. We packed our bags and checked out of the hotel, headed back to Back Bay Station and our Amtrak ride home. Exiting the hotel, there were police and swat teams on every corner, including outside our hotel. Our block was part of a crime scene, and we had to detour around Boylston Street.

Being outside made everything worse. It was all too real. The roped off blocks, the medical tents and finish area abandoned, standing just as it had Monday afternoon. News teams swarmed like vultures, all looking for marathoners to interview. They were set up with their vans, cameras, and lighting equipment by the dozens on every block.

As we walked, I lost it. I could not stop crying. I could not handle being there, and fought off panic attacks a few times. We walked past a young woman, and she handed me a white rose and thanked me for running the Boston Marathon. If I had any control over how I was conducting myself before, this gesture made me lose it entirely. I carried that white rose back with me to NYC, and it is currently in a vase in my kitchen.

I was asked for two interviews by news teams, both of which I declined. I didn’t want to keep reliving what I had experienced. I was already incredibly tired and frustrated from all of the questions everyone was already asking me. I know it was coming from a place of caring or curiosity, but every time I was asked what happened or how I was feeling, I had to revisit that pain. I wanted to yell at everyone to shut up and leave me alone.

155738_10101268085877673_955661079_nI am sure, like the city of Boston, that I will at some point get past what I experienced on Monday. I have overcome PTSD before, though this is my first time personally experiencing a terrorist attack. Everyone has questions, which is natural. Just please, before jumping to any conclusions, consider your resources. The day of the explosions, all kinds of false claims were being made, and many people were buying into them. Right now, the most important thing on everyone’s mind should be the recovery, healing, and grieving regarding the people injured, traumatized or killed.

I keep telling myself that I am incredibly lucky. I am also incredibly thankful that none of my friends, team mates or loved ones were injured. Many people were not so lucky. This is a time for healing and coming together, not for self-promotion or jumping on conspiracy band wagons.

While I won’t be running Boston in 2014 (I’m not running a qualifying race), I will probably be there to cheer on my friends. Come 2015, I hope to be there as a runner, looking to run a hard race. Until then, I am going to go out and run. I am going to run to celebrate life. I am going to run to clear my head. I am going to run because I can, some others are no longer lucky enough to have that gift.