Race Report: Oddessey Half Marathon

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

As my first of 16 weeks into marathon training came to an end, I decided to take my first long run to a race course. My program called for a 13-miler, with the final 5 miles at Marathon Goal Pace. Negative-split runs aren’t easy, especially long runs. With other runs out there, and fluid stations every 1-2 miles, I decided a race would be a slightly easier way to focus on this first long run, practice hydrating with cups, and pacing myself amongst a crowd. So I hopped into the Oddessey Half Marathon, in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

The Oddessey Half is a race capped at about 3000 runners. It’s well organized, clearly marked, and there’s a pretty great Beer Garden at the finish line – courtesy of Sly Fox Brewing Company. The course has some pancake-flat miles, and some super extreme hills. It offers a little bit of everything. It also offered soup-like humidity. The predicted thunderstorms for Saturday night that would have swept the humidity away never showed, so when I stepped outside at 5am, it was a sticky,80+ degrees, with humidity over 75%. An additional challenge.

It was a good thing the race started at 7am, as every minute counted – temperature and sun intensified with every mile. While some miles had ample tree coverage and shade, other miles were in full-blown sunshine.

With the extreme humidity, I made an executive decision to adjust my plan and run the 5 marathon-paced miles at the beginning of the run. This turned out to be a smart move. I maintained Marathon Goal Pace for about 8 miles because I was feeling really good, and then allowed my body to slow down a bit. The humidity began to grind at my gears, and so I willingly let pace go. After all, this was supposed to be a long run and not my race.

Running with other runners is always an education. I’ve learned so much about myself as an athlete, being patient on the course, and how to run and race smart. I used the athletes around me to push the pace in the humidity for those first 5 miles, and then I willingly allowed runners to drop me and make their own choices while I did my own thing. Instead I focused on my form and efficiency, and spent moments observing other runners out there. I did more passing between miles 4-10 then I expected, including about a half dozen ladies who had gone out fast. As I gained on them, I could tell they were hurting. You can learn so much by a runner’s stride, form, and breathing. You can tell if that person will try to hang onto you or willingly let you go. I passed my final female around mile 9, putting me in 4th position. I never saw another lady out there for the remainder of the race.

Humidity is extremely humbling. Few runners handle it well, and for me it’s usually a matter of time before my body crumbles. Around mile 10, I remember my head feeling hot. I also remember my pace drastically dropping by about 15-25 seconds per mile. My quads began to feel like cement bricks, and my feet began to lose their quick and powerful contact with the ground. Instead I could feel every stride becoming heavy and slow. Dehydration was becoming an issue, and I was ready to be done. That final 5K was a grind, and some of it in full sunshine. The final mile of the Oddessey is a pretty epic climb – you run down it around mile 3, so you know what you have in your future. That hill had no shade. When I finally made the turn off of MLK Drive and to the hill, I was glad to be so close to the finish, but also dreading the abuse my tanked quads would take. I tried to relax, but even as my pace slowed, it was a struggle. My right calf felt as though it was going to cramp a few times, which is rare for me. So I did something I rarely do – I walked part of the hill. Yes, I stopped running and power-walked up part of the hill. I didn’t care if 10 females were about to pass me. I kept telling myself to be smart. This was a training run. I had a track workout on my calendar for 48 hours in the future. I needed to make good choices. So I did a walk/run negotiation, which probably was not expected for 4th Place Female, but there you have it.

The final quarter mile is flat, and I just let my body lead. A runner near me asked to kick with him, and though tempted, I refused and told him to drop the hammer. Again, not my race. Just a run. A run I was VERY happy to be finished with. I crossed the finish line tired, dehydrated, and happy at my pacing and decisions.

I waited at the Beer Garden, drinking a few pints and chatting with runners as we cheered in other finishers. Multiple runners collapsed on the final stretch, needing medical attention. Two were taken away in ambulances. On the course a runner dropped out and needed medical attention near me around mile 5. Watching runners in serious destress made me even happier with my decision to run smart, hydrate often, and respect the weather. Some days we learn lessons the hard way. I’m glad this was I day I didn’t need to.

Balancing – a look at how your coach makes it all happen, and how you can too!

img_6834-editEvery once and a while I get a request for a blog topic. Today I am indulging myself to fulfill a recent request. One of my regulars at Mile High Run Club, (very strong athlete and badass lady!), requested I write about what it’s like to coach and pace my own roster, teach full time at the studio, and still get in my own training and goals. While at first I thought this might be an unrelatable but perhaps interesting topic, the more I thought about it the more relatable it seemed. So many of my athletes juggle very long hours at work, private lives that sometimes involve families, the stress and fast-pace pressure of living in NYC, while tackling their own goals. So while my life/career is probably very different from yours, perhaps some tricks and priorities in my life will help you figure out out to better balance your journey with running.

Let me start by saying I am not a professional athlete. I have never been one. So my drive in my own training has never been fueled by a sponsor, collegiate team, pro team, etc. The only pressure or goals I have are those I’ve put on myself. My guess is that’s how most runners operate – self-motivated and training and racing because they love this sport!

To say getting in my training is challenging would be an understatement. Like many folks, my line of work has me on my feet all the time! I am standing, walking or running for anywhere from 4-10 hours per day. This makes “recovery” a tough thing. While there are lots of benefits to not sitting on one’s bum all day, I have to be mindful about wearing supportive shoes as much as possible, and sitting whenever given the opportunity – the train, between classes, whenever I can. If you are a teacher, nurse, doctor, or in the restaurant or film/tv industry, you probably live on your feet too!

Then there’s my hours – fitness industry folks work some of the hardest hours out there. We coach before most people go to work (hello, 4am wakeup!), and after folks are finished with work (I’ve been known many times to get home for dinner around 10pm), and it’s truly a 7-day a week business. It’s a job that can not only take over, but completely control your life. You only get time off when you protect a day and fight to protect it, and even then I am usually responding to emails, texts and calls from my private clients. So sleep, meals and training are a challenge.

The awesome thing about coaching full time is that I am constantly inspired and motivated by the people I am working with almost every hour of every day! My fellow coaches, team mates, clients – I have a ton of inspiration around me! So I rarely have the opportunity to lose focus when I am training. That’s a huge asset.

I was asked how I get my miles, goals and races accomplished – especially when clocking miles paces my own athletes. This is a tough one. Really tough. Despite my best abilities, I’m a human and not a machine – so I need to be careful and can only clock so many miles per day. There have been years where I opted to train and race for ultras, partly because it was of interest, but mostly because it jelled best with all the pacing I had on my plate. Back-to-back 20-mile days are only beneficial for ultra marathoners. However, this year I have really gotten back to some speedier and more ambitious goals for myself, and so I have decided to be more protective of my running time. It means not being everything to everyone. Learning to say no. And thinking of my own health. It’s a balance.

I have learned to always prepare and pack food for the day. I usually have fruit or veggies in my bag, along with some trail mix. I always have a water bottle with me. This minimizes the chance of dehydration or going hours without fuel. I will sometimes try to go to bed really early if I am wiped out – even if it means skipping social events. I write my training down in my calendar with everything else that day and hold it to the same level of importance as work, appointments and errands. I am rarely in shoes that aren’t my Mizunos. My feet are my career. I need them healthy and happy. I also replace my shoes pretty darn frequently. It’s worth it. If a goal race is worth it, I will sometimes sacrifice work opportunities or sleep to get in my time at the gym or park. I never want to be resentful of my work, or feel like I didn’t put in the training necessary for doing my best on race day. Hopefully as you juggle your plate, you can find tricks that work for you.

 

Tips on what can make/break a runner

This week’s blog is about the best and the worst. As an athlete and a coach I have experienced and witnessed countless smart and poor choices in both training and racing. We often learn from expert advice or from our own experience, and so in hopes this blog helps you avoid bad choices and make many good ones, here are some of my favorite good/bad decisions a runner can make.

The Good:

  • Track your training. If you use a GPS device, this is quite easy. Track the miles, effort, and pace. This information is incredibly valuable. Many runners I know have data from the last 5-10 years!
  • If you are seriously training for a goal race, you need to keep a watchful eye on the forecast. Adjust training days or expectations for weather. There’s absolutely no excuse for missing a long run because it rained on Saturday. Plan to move your long run to Sunday or get creative.
  • Train with purpose. This sometimes means running or training LESS. If you don’t know the reason for your training that day, you should question why you are doing it.
  • Treat yourself like an athlete. This means eating, sleeping, and drinking like one. Set yourself up for success.
  • Be cautious. If something feels injured, DO NOT continue to run through it. Overtraining and injuries can usually be avoided. You are not brave, tough, or dedicated if you train through injuries. You are stupid.
  • Show up early to races. My athletes who achieve their race day goals usually get there early, and give themselves ample time to warmup, relax, hydrate, and prepare in every way necessary. Showing up frazzled and last-minute is usually the recipe for disaster. Respect your goals.
  • Learn how to fuel your body. Our bodies are pretty smart, and usually give us clue, cues and advice as to what works and what doesn’t. Like your training, make note of your fueling needs, schedule, etc.
  • Communicate with your coach! Though your coach can’t be a mindreader or do the work for you, they are there to support you. It’s impossible to be supportive when the coach doesn’t know how to help you. If you don’t have a coach, rely on your team or running buddies for support. The running community can be extremely knowledgable and supportive!

The Bad:

  • Skipping the taper or recovery. Elite athletes know to respect these important steps to training, so why are any of us the exception to this step? Respecting the taper doesn’t mean pausing all training, either. I’ve had plenty a runner “not run” during the taper, which is almost as bad as blowing through the taper at high speed. Training cycles exist for a reason. If you don’t understand them, do some research or ask a coach.
  • I have never heard a runner say “I shouldn’t have listened to my coach,” but I hear “I should have listened to my coach” all the time. If you hired a coach, there’s probably good reason for it. Trust that person you are paying good money to guide you!
  • Eating something new the night before or morning of a race or long run. This rarely ends well.
  • Trying new socks, shoes, or a new outfit for a marathon. Your long runs are dress rehearsals for everything – including wardrobe. Trying something new risks blisters, chafing, bloody nipples, and general discomfort – none of which are supportive of a successful race.
  • Winging it on race day. While plans don’t always pan out, having no plan at all is like dancing with the devil. Study the race course, and have a plan on pacing, fueling, and how you are mentally breaking up the race distance.
  • Giving up before you begin. It’s impossible to have a good run or race if you doom it before you start. Yes, speed workouts, long runs and races usually hurt. But dooming yourself sets you up for failure.
  • Just as one good race or workout doesn’t define you as an athlete or human being, neither does one bad one. The athletes who learn to really care about their goals but also keep a healthy perspective are usually the ones who succeed and enjoy running for life.

Race Report: Pocono Marathon

PH-515009996On May 15th I ran my first solo marathon since Boston 2015. My goal was simple: lock in a BQ. While I felt pretty confident I’d complete a 3:15-3:30 marathon, a whole lot can happen in the course of 26.2 miles. Plus, this marathon was a short two weeks since my “A” race for 2016, the Broad Street Run.

I’d never run the Pocono Marathon before, but I signed up for it for a few reasons: the time of year sounded pretty optimal for my qualifier – still cool mornings and with plenty of time for me to recover before tackling training for Berlin Marathon. The course is over 1000 feet net downhill, which also sounded pretty darn appealing. Add the location, less than two hours from NYC, and it was the best fit. It sounded so good that my training partner and fellow Mile High Run Club Coach, Vinnie Miliano decided to join in the fun.

Here are a few things I loved about race weekend:

  • Having the school open and runners hang out there pre-race was awesome. It was unseasonably cold (felt like 30 degrees at the start!), and so having a warm building with tons of public rest rooms was amazing. A huge perk. Can you imagine the difference this would have made in the rain? Game changer.
  • The volunteers were awesome, and there was hydration/restrooms every 2 miles. This is a VERY rural race, and so the little support (no real spectators) made a huge difference. You always knew water and a smiling face was a few miles away.
  • Post-race support. For a race that caps the marathon at 1600 runners, there were bagged sandwiches, muffins, orange slices, chocolate milk, bananas and water.
  • The course. Though the back 10K is TOUGH (like REALLY fucking tough!!!!), I enjoyed the quiet, beautiful course until the back 10K. The 1000 feet downhill gave you some “free” miles, and the ups were often a nice change. I don’t know if I’d call the marathon course “fast,” but the half marathon course has PR written all over it.

Here are a few things I didn’t love about the weekend:

  • On a point-to-point course, there is always transportation (shuttles) to the starting line from the finish line. Apparently this race was the exception to the rule. This meant runners hustled to book cabs from hotels to the starting line. There aren’t a ton of cab companies up in the Poconos, but I got lucky and booked one that we split with a few other runners. I booked a hotel walking distance from the finish line specifically for the reason of ending at the finish. There’s absolutely no way I was going to take a shuttle to the starting line and then drive my car BACK to my hotel after running a very hilly marathon. That was the current arrangement for this race, apparently. No good.
  • Plastic cups on the race course. NOOOOO. The first cup I grabbed slipped out of my hand and spilled cold water all over me. I mentioned it was 30 degrees, right? The second cup didn’t slip, but it’s pretty impossible to fold a plastic cup and drink. Waxed paper cups are the only cups that belong on a race course – easy to grab, easy to fold, and easy to toss – in my humble opinion. This race made hydration a struggle.
  • The course. Again, I LOVED the first 20 miles. And I don’t hate hills. But the inclines were pretty insane for the final 10K, and the road was open to traffic, which made it that much more of a struggle to focus when you weren’t sure where the next car would come from. I’d highly recommend one lane be totally closed and coned off for the runners.

At the end of the day, I ran my second-fastest marathon to date! I finished 5th overall woman, 1st in my AG, in the official time of 3:11:07. I clenched my Boston Qualifier by over 20 minutes. I’m pretty pleased with how my body held up, considering those final hills two weeks after my goal race. I am very hopeful for my goals in Berlin, and going into those goals with some confidence. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice and focus on some rest and recovery.

Would I run Pocono Marathon again? Probably not. But I’d definitely consider the half marathon for a PR course!

Building Base for a Better Race

Models: Pipko and Jasmina, Assisted by Jesse Rosenthal and Andrea HeapIt’s the time of year when runners signing up and tackling Autumn half marathons and marathons are thinking about their training and goals. It’s an exciting time. The impossible could become possible. Minds and bodies are fresh. You are likely pumped and ready to dive into training!

There are a few important things to consider before you get to “official” training – the 16-20 weeks pre-race.

  • For 3-6 weeks, carefully and methodically build base mileage. The miles should be taken at a comfortable, conversational pace. There are no “long runs” yet, and you are not clocking speedy track workouts or hill repeats. That will come with time. Base mileage is necessary for priming and preparing the body for the demands and stress of those intense workouts. Skipping base mileage will raise injury risk.
  • If you are planning to lose any weight between now and your Autumn race, tackle those pesky pounds now – not while in the trenches of training. While it could be tempting to try to drop weight when mileage is high and peaked, that’s also when your body will need and use every calorie you consume. Skimping on calories and nutrition during hard training can raise injury risk, lower your immune system, and leave your training feeling slow and sluggish.
  • If you are looking to add strength training, cross training, or any other forms of physical activities to aid your race goals, get that started during base mileage. That way you aren’t tossing the new stress of weight training and track workouts to your body at the same time.
  • Get a physical. It’s optimal to check your health and lab work at this time. This way if you feel ill during training, you know what you started with and have a comparison.
  • Take a vacation. You’ll go into training rested. it’s a challenge to train well while on a vacation. Try to also eliminate any huge stresses you foresee occurring during training.

Remember that while big goals are awesome and hugely motivating, it’s risky to put all your eggs in one basket. Be sure to have an A, B, and C goal for that big day. That way if things unravel, you can keep your focus on the course. It’s never too early to think about those goals, how attainable they may be, and how you’ll get there!

Spring Fever

img_6789-edit-682x1024It’s been a hot second since my last blog post. I feel like I blinked, and we went from the end of 2015 to Spring 2016. My apologies, fellow runners and devote readers! I promise my posts will be back on track. There have been some big changes here – both personal and professional. If you are a New Yorker, you know that moving is perhaps the worst thing ever. Well, I’m happy to say I have found an amazing apartment, but am now in the downsizing and packing process. I am reminded when stress strikes to take a deep breath and go for a run. I always feel better. So if you are dealing with life stress, remember that 30-60 minutes to go clock some miles will always do your body, brain and happiness some good.

Anyway, enough personal stuff. Let’s get to the fun and the RUNNING!!!! As of May 1st, 2016, Coach Corky is a full-time employee at Mile High Run Club. This means you can find me on the schedule at least 15 classes per week. You can find me at both the NOMAD and NOHO locations, teaching all three classes – Dash 28, High 45, and The Distance.

Hopping into a full time position doesn’t mean Coach Corky Runs, LLC is slowing down at all. In fact, it’s that time of year where my athletes heading to Brooklyn Half Marathon are tapering, and runners with Autumn goals (RnR BK Half, NYC Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Philly Marathon) – I’m looking at you – are reaching out for training plans and one-on-one coaching. It is insanely busy in the best way possible! I am truly humbled by the humans I coach.

Aside from the coaching, this little lady has been getting her legs back to the starting line of some races! It’s been a process to regain speed after some serious time spent on Ultra Marathons, but I’ve successfully found my groove and podium again. In fact, in my first three races of 2016, I finished in the top 3. That streak obviously couldn’t last, and didn’t when I toed the line with 30,000+ runners for the Broad Street Run. While I missed my goal for my A race for Spring, I am trying to not beat myself up and take the advice I’d give my runners after a bad race – but that advice is easier to give than receive.

As you ease into your Summer training and Autumn goals, please be mindful of the importance of building base mileage. This is a very important step in training, and one we often gloss over as we are eager to jump into the intense work. Skipping this step can raise risk of injury. Base mileage for 3-6 weeks will lend itself well to your training and race day fitness.

Setting New Goals for a New Year, Successfully!

corky-2816As one calendar year is about to come to a close and we look to the New Year, fitness and health frequently take center stage. This is often a time of reflection on the previous year – races, health, nutrition, happiness, and a time of anticipation and dreams for the future – getting health or weight on track, attempting your first race, working to set new personal race records, trying a new sport, dropping a dress size, sweating on a daily basis, gaining muscle, eating a balanced diet – the dreams and possibilities are endless!

While sorting through your goals, I recommend you do a few things in order to better your odds of succeeding:

  • Be honest about your level of dedication/commitment to change – and what kind of change. It may be a million times easier to achieve a 30 minute walk per day for you, than to consume over 10 servings of fruits/veggies per day – for example.
  • Be patient, and take your goals one day at a time. You are a human being, so expecting a perfect track record is dooming yourself off the bat. While focusing on each day, do have a clear goal for a few weeks, months or years from now. Each day of success will take you a step closer towards that goal or milestone.
  • Ask for help. Very few humans can hold themselves 100% accountable for real change. Rely on a friend, hire a coach/trainer, or use social media or a journal to help your accountability. Meetup groups can also be helpful.
  • Change takes time. Don’t expect to see or feel a huge difference within a day or week. However, you’ll be surprised the difference you’ll notice in a month or two!
  • Trying something new may not be right for you. Or perhaps what you try won’t be the right fit. Perhaps kickboxing is a better fit than ballroom dancing, for example. We are all different, so don’t feel bad if what you initially try isn’t the right thing! Move on and be fearless in what you try.
  • When creating a race goal, be sure to give yourself enough time to be successful! Also be sure any additional races you add to your schedule are supportive of that big goal and not destructive. A big PR in a marathon you flop on your schedule for 12 weeks from now is not wise. Understand your goals the time and work they’ll require.
  • Laugh, have fun and get creative with your goals. Not every day will be easy or fun, but I’m a firm believer that we stick to something we like, and that brings positive change to our lives. Life is too short to be unhappy or dissatisfied. See the humor and fun in everything you can!
  • Toss out the negative. Recognize triggers, and kick them to a curb. Perhaps it’s your daily mid-morning baked good from the office kitchen, or that friend who guilts you into ditching your run for happy hour each week. Everything is a choice, but you can make those choices easier by breaking bad habits, relationships and influences.

If or when you fall off your goals (remember – you are human!), simply pick yourself back up and try again. Just be sure to not do the same thing and expect a different result. You don’t need a New Year to spring into your goals. Tomorrow is just as good as January 1st.

Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon

With my cousin, Kristen, after the race.

With my cousin, Kristen, after the race.

The only bad runs and races are the ones we don’t learn from. That’s what I told myself around mile 9 of my goal race for the Autumn 2015 season. The race had not gone according to plan one bit, but I did the best I could to put one foot in front of the other as winds howled up and down the Las Vegas Strip. I don’t doubt there are many lessons from Sunday night’s race – both for myself and for you when your race doesn’t go well.

I went into race week nervous (that’s normal for me), but also fairly confident in my ability to achieve my goal: run between 1:25-1:26 at the Las Vegas Half Marathon. I was going into race week totally healthy – no aches, pains or injuries. And while everyone around me seemed to be fighting off colds or stomach bugs, my actions to obsessively avoid getting sick paid off. Weather looked to be excellent for race day – until it didn’t. As I got closer to race day, I began to pay closer attention to the weather, and reality was slowly sinking in: conditions for the race were going to be windy. And not just “oh hey, there’s a breeze” windy, but 20-40MPH winds, windy. The positive about the Vegas course is that it’s extremely flat, and is an out-and-back, so ideally head wind would at some point be tail wind. The negative thing about the course is very wide, open and empty between those huge casinos, leaving you very exposed.

I told myself to take the advice I’d give my runners: find the 1:25 pacer, tuck in behind the group and let them break the wind. If I could even the odds with the weather, I still had a shot at beating the clock. To keep my confidence up, I looked back over training – tempo runs in humid conditions where I’d knocked out 6:20-6:35 minute miles over rolling hills, telling myself I had to trust the work I’d put into this race. As I walked to the starting line from MGM Grand, I refused to let the heavy gusts of wind shake my confidence. I found some space to warmup my legs and settle my mind.

In the first corral, I easily found the 1:25 pacer. As we stood for final instructions and the National Anthem, I locked eyes with the 1:25 on his back, and told myself to never lose focus from that number. Match that pacer stride for stride, and crush that PR. My focus felt strong, and I was ready. The first mile was a beautiful 6:29. Perfect. I positioned myself well, and told myself to relax, stay strong and tall, and settle into my cadence. At around 1.5 miles in, I glanced at my watch because I felt like I was working a little too hard. My watch read 6:12 pace for that mile. To my confusion, the pacer wasn’t settling in and relaxing, but was continuing to push. Refusing to panic, (though I definitely felt a moment or so of it sweep over me), I knew I had two choices: stick with the pacer and allow the crowds to protect me from the wind, or settle back into my honest pace of 6:30s. I decided to run my own race, and the pace group slowly pulled further and further out of reach. I never saw the pacer again. So I had to abandon my plan, and my only real shot of a PR. I continued to push and fight for that PR, but the work I was doing to maintain those paces began to really concern me.

There were blocks where you felt like you were doing all you could to not move backwards, some blocks where a cross wind would push you around, and then tail winds that would suddenly propel you forward. The few dead blocks were heaven, and the rare chance to really breathe and get back to good and efficient form again. When I ran over the 10K mat, I knew I was on pace for a PR. I also knew that unless the winds stopped or were going to be at my back, at some point I was going to tank. I could feel it. I couldn’t get oxygen into my body efficiently with the winds and at some point, I was going to pay the price. Still, I told myself to hang on and keep pushing. Perhaps the winds returning wouldn’t be too bad. Wrong. I rarely curse while racing, but as we made a few quick turns up at the top of the course near Fremont Street and around mile 9-10, I remember vocalizing my exhaustion as the wind knocked me around. It was about that time where I felt my effort sustaining, but the number on the watch going up. I was working so hard, but my cooked legs weren’t full of pep and strong form, and my arms didn’t feel like the strong and powerful support I’d worked so hard to develop and carry me when I fatigue, but rather like limp noodles.

Around 10 miles into the race I crossed the mat in 1 hour and 8 minutes. A quick reality check between the head winds I had the entire final 5K, and how tired I was from battling for 10 miles – I knew then that a PR wasn’t happening. There was no way I could run a 5K in 19 minutes or less in those conditions. I’ll admit I wanted to cry and shout because I was so tired and so pissed off about the weather. I had put so much into this race. But I also told myself to take a quick step back and keep my perspective. If you stay healthy, you get another shot at your goals. One race isn’t the end of the world. Today was not going to be my day. It was also around this time that it began to rain. Cold, windy, and now rain. It was almost comical. It rains in Las Vegas about 21 days PER YEAR. And here I was, 5K from the finish wondering how today had gone the way it had.

Now it’s not like I was the only runner out there suffering. Everyone I passed or passed me was working so incredibly hard. There were no smiles, laughter, or jokes. It was all hard work. I thought about what possible goals the runners around me had set for this race, and how close they were to achieving them. So without really thinking, I switched over to coach mode. If I wasn’t going to PR, my finish time didn’t matter to me. I did my best to be positive and supportive. I figured there was so little positively out there, I’d do my best to add a little.

Upon crossing the finish line, I spotted a runner who had been with the 1:25 pacer with me at the beginning of the race and who had at the time of his surge in pace stepped with him. She finished within a minute or so of me. I walked over to her to say something positive to her for racing in tough conditions. It turns out the 1:25 pacer dropped a 5:55 mile for the second mile of the race – a pace faster than this runner’s 5K race pace. She was pissed. And rightly so. As a pacer it’s your job to run that designated pace. Of course a pacer is human and can make mistakes, but going from a 6:29 to a 5:55 is pretty ridiculous. The quick miles early on had cost her the race. Ironically we both pretty much had the same race time – we just got there differently.

As I walked through the long exit chute, my disappointment began to really creep in. As I wrapped myself in a Mylar blanket, two women came over to me. They had just finished the 10K, and wanted to tell me I looked strong as I finished, and was an inspiration in physique and speed. They were so positive and still smiling – even after running a 10K in the wind for almost 2 hours, that I had no choice but to smile and engage in conversation. Every time I wanted to turn inward and accept my disappointment, something or someone pulled me out. By the time I saw Chris and Kristen waiting for me, my mood was alarmingly happy – they had both expected me to show up looking defeated and in tears, and instead I was smiling.

My expression here sums up my feeling on the race.

My expression here sums up my feeling on the race.

So if and when your target race goes poorly, remember two things: it’s okay to be upset and disappointed. If there was a mistake you made, learn from it. If the lesson is to simply roll with the punches with the things you cannot change – that’s a tough but valuable lesson to learn. The second is to hold your head high and walk away from the finish line as happy and proud as you can. Stay healthy, and there will be future races. And for every bad race, there will surely be some great ones.

It’s been a few days since the Half Marathon, and I am floored by how sore I was after that race. Not just my legs, but my arms and abs, too. The number at the finish line may be a far cry from my goal, but there is no doubt about how hard I worked out there. It’s a little humbling how beat up I was for a few days!

Pacing in the NYC Marathon

On a very humid training run with Shira in July as she prepared for NYC Marathon.

On a very humid training run with Shira in July as she prepared for NYC Marathon.

One of the greatest joys of my job is watching my athletes succeed. I get to watch them from the first day of training all the way through to their goals, witnessing the transformation that the months of hard work, dedication, and drive always deliver. On Sunday, November 2nd, between private clients, the City Harvest Charity Team, and runners who have been sweating it out at Mile High Run Club, I had over 100 runners stepping up to the starting line of the NYC Marathon. Many times, my work is done come race morning. I am left to frantically track my runners via numerous laptops and phones, or on the course cheering as my runners pass by. This year my work was a little different – I had the responsibility of pacing one of my private clients for her 26.2 mile journey.

As one might imagine, pacing a runner to their goals is a huge responsibility. It is also an honor. And it’s a completely different game to pace a pace group – simply locking in and holding a pace. When with one runner, you are with them through good and bad, needing to make modifications, judgement calls, and offer a ton of emotional support. Sometimes you need to talk them through the wall, force them to a medical tent, give them a shoulder to literally lean on, take walking breaks, try to make them laugh and think of happy thoughts, share their tears of pain and frustration. It’s always a journey of highs and lows, and you hope the highs outweigh the lows.

On Sunday, I had the job of pacing a first-time marathoner. She is only be 20 years old. I don’t know about you, but I know very few 20-year olds who run marathons. She also earned her way into the marathon via NYRR’s 9+1. She also happens to have a cognitive disability. She is incredible, and trained incredibly hard to get to Sunday’s starting line.

When I arrived at her door, I was greeted with the biggest hug and lots of excitement. Imagine a child on Christmas morning or at Disney World, and that’s perhaps close to the enthusiasm Shira had for race morning. I wish every runner was as excited to run 26.2 miles as this young lady!

Unfortunately, the day faced us with some really tough challenges: a delay on the Staten Island Ferry, a HUGE delay with the shuttle from the ferry to Athlete’s Village – so much so that we barely had time to get to our corral before it closed. Because of the delays, we both missed our opportunities to grab bagels, or even find the special tent we had been granted access to. Our very long and delayed trip to the starting line was overwhelming, and that caused the wheels to come off during the race. However, some fantastic support out there from Shira’s parents, relatives, teachers and friends were exactly what we needed to continue moving forward. At times we ran. At times we walked. We stopped for bananas twice, because Shira was starving. We stopped at a medical tent so that a medic could massage Shira’s tight quad. We stopped when we saw her family, so that she could facetime with her sister who was in Israel on Sunday. Through highs and lows, the miles ticked by.

What struck me the most was the support of the other runners out there. They were so supportive of her, often cheering her on, echoing my encouraging words, and giving her high-fives. While the crowded course for the first few miles was very overwhelming (I do not recommend someone with special needs to be in the last wave – it was too much for her), the runners around us were sometimes what got her through to the next mile.

Despite the difficulties, the minute we crossed the finish line after 5 hours and 38 minutes of being on our feet, Shira was elated. She was so proud of herself – and rightly so! Her strength is an inspiration to me and everyone who knows her.

Here are a few of my observations from the 2015 NYC Marathon:

  • In wave 4 (cannot speak for the other waves), many runners stop with their phones and selfie sticks for photos along the course – especially within the first mile as we go up and over the bridge. This was not only extremely frustrating, but also dangerous. In my humble opinion, cell phones have negatively impacted the race experience. Make memories and let the race photographers handle the photos.
  • Runners with special needs should not take the ferry – our morning included: a subway, a shuttle (subway had construction), a ferry, a shuttle, a walk. That’s a LOT of logistics/stress to handle. That wasn’t fair for Shira.
  • The race starts with cannons. If you were at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013 and happened to forget that NYC marathon begins with cannons, you might jump out of your skin. You can guess how hard it was for me to keep my cool when that happened. I almost threw up.
  • There were hardly any porta-potty lines in our corral. That was pretty amazing.
  • Bagels/refreshments were nowhere near our village/corral. This was pretty awful.
  • The volunteers along the course were supportive and energetic.
  • At the finish line, we had a wrist band and permission to exit where the elite runners and Achilles athletes exit at west 72nd street. The NYRR staff would not allow us to exit, which was unfortunate considering all the extra work we had put into making Shira’s day as comfortable as possible – which had included months of correspondence with the folks at NYRR.
  • New Yorker’s are the nicest, most considerate people on marathon day. Suddenly everyone is supportive, smiling, and ready to help a runner any way possible. I wish that humanity would carry through the rest of the year.

Kathrine Switzer once was quoted saying “If you ever lose sight in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” I agree. You see people at their most raw. You see blood, sweat and tears, and the will to push forward. You see human beings at their best and their worst – sometimes all at the same moment. If you ever feel dull and have the desire to feel “alive,” train and run a marathon.

After I left Shira’s apartment and headed towards an after party with my charity team, I was slowly able to start the process of checking results for all my other runners. My phone was flooded with emails, texts, missed calls, instagram photos, twitter updates – all from my athletes. It was amazing. The marathon is bigger than any one person, and perhaps that’s part of what makes it so epic.

Mile 18 of the 2015 NYC Marathon, pacing Shira.

Mile 18 of the 2015 NYC Marathon, pacing Shira.

Practice Makes Perfect

I am asked all the time if it is a challenge to coach others and still train for my own goals. Yes, it is. It’s very hard, and every decision I make affects my own training. Some weeks I am 100% selfless, and cancel my own training to run beside my athletes. Other times I try my best to find a balance, but even then it’s pretty tough. Would I change my job in order to protect my own aspirations? Nope. Not a chance. Being a coach is truly the best. And let’s face it, it’s not like I am sacrificing the potential to make it to the Olympic Trials.

However, I have recently had to luxury and good fortune to hop into a few races. Again, it’s rare that my weekend mileage isn’t determined by coaching or pacing. It has been a really nice treat to be back at the starting line. The two races I recently ran were used as practice as I work towards my own goal race, the RnR Vegas Half Marathon on November 15th. Going through the motion of race morning is fantastic practice.

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Post-race with some of my City Harvest Charity Team runners.

The first race of Autumn was the NYCRuns Squirrel Stampede 10K on September 26th. I am terrible at 10K races, and usually avoid them like the plague. But I had organized for some of my charity runners to run the race as practice for NYC Marathon, and figured I should run the race too. Turns out I won the race, breaking the tape for the first time in my life. Ever. I’ve won races before, but they never put the tape back out for 1st Female. That was really fun! I also won $100.00 – not enough to go pro! Ha! And I ran 6:36 minute miles, which was pretty much my goal for that day – lock in my hopeful goal race for RnR Half. The cherry on top of that day was cheering in and high-fiving friends, private clients and my charity runners as they finished. I was more excited for them than what I’d achieved. Turns out I ran a 10K PR that day, which is easy to do when you rarely run 10Ks! I’ve still run a 10K faster – in the middle of a 10 Miler. Funny how that works.

The second race was the Brooklyn Greenway Half Marathon on October 18th, My goals for this race were a little different and I had two goals: 1) run 6:50-7:00 minute miles – no faster! and 2) don’t abandon goal #1, especially if and when the lead females take off. I am happy to say I ran an average of 6:49s (so close to 6:50s!), and even when I was dropped from 2nd female to 4th female, I held back and never once pulled ahead or tried to break those runners. While the competitor in me was a little bummed to finish 4th female and 1st in my AG, I was also thrilled that I stuck to my plan. My weakness has often been going out too fast, and the last few years I have really tried to break that habit and when I’ve succeeded, it’s usually a great race.

Both races were pretty small, and I was alone on the course and barely able to see the runner ahead of me at times. Mentally, I find that tough. I also find it tough to run without music while folks fly by with their ear buds in, breathing heavily. But I tell myself in those situations that the mental focus it requires to stay calm and grind away at the course will be helpful, and hopefully in a large race I won’t need to mentally work quite so hard. However, in a large race there are other challenges. Racing is fun, and I want to find a way to get back to using races for some quality runs and fitness tests more frequently in the next year.

Winning the Squirrel Stampede 10K

Winning the Squirrel Stampede 10K

On deck, I am clocking 26.2 miles at the NYC Marathon with one of my clients. Then two weeks later, it’s RnR Vegas Half. That’s the big goal race. I know in order to achieve my goal time, I will need to be aggressive but smart. There will be some risk, and it may backfire. However, I am willing to gamble. I am willing to go out hard (not sprinting) and see what I can do. Worst case is I don’t achieve my goal time but learn something from my mistakes. Best case – I walk away with a cool new PR and a satisfying sense of achievement. No matter what, I will show up to do my best, leave it all out on the course, and try to walk away from the finish line with a smile on my face. This sport can really hurt and humble you, but I refuse to lose sight of my love for it.