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…]

Report from the Trenches: Atlantic City Half Marathon

Around mile 9 of the Half Marathon.

Around mile 9 of the Half Marathon.

There are many things on race day we as runners can control. There are also a few things we simply have zero control over. Weather is one of those things. At the Atlantic City Half Marathon on October 13th, I had to accept the given weather forecast, adjust expectations, and dig deep.

I have been pretty darn lucky in my running career to rarely experience bad weather on race day. The AC Half was going to throw me a curveball: 30 MPH winds, with strong gusts. All I could do was settle into a good pace, and adjust accordingly. I was originally planning on using this race as an opportunity to test out my marathon training and to get my head in the game. While I was able to keep my head in the game, I had to abandon the notion of running a pace I had set my mind on.

The AC course has lots of twists and turns, and so I had hoped I could take advantage of some tailwinds. No dice. Somehow, I never got a lucky break. If there wasn’t a head wind, or cross wind, there were swirling gusts. A few times I was knocked sideways. I even had one of my legs knocked into the other. My race bib flapped in the wind, my visor almost flew off, and there were times where I had to lean forward and drive forward with the top of my head.

I had to abandon looking at the clock or my Garmin, and just focus on getting the job done, regardless of my finish time. I crossed the finish line in 1:35:11, one of my slowest Half Marathon times ever, but it didn’t matter. I had forged through a hard race, kept my focus, and never once experienced PTSD – which has plagued most of my races since Boston.

My medal and my Age Group Award

My medal and my Age Group Award

Thankfully, all of the other runners were in the same boat and their times were also slow. I finished 8th overall female – out of 740, and 3rd in my age group. Despite my compromised race time, I am happy with my performance. True, it’s not a race I can use to accurately calculate the marathon in November, but it was a good test of mental grit.

I suppose the lesson of this race is this: sometimes you cannot focus on the time on the clock. Sometimes the race is about you and the other runners, and how you all handle the circumstances at hand. Sometimes all you can do is adjust and forge on.

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.

Chafing Challenges

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As marathon season is upon us, it’s the perfect time to discuss strategies to make those long runs and race day challenge as comfortable as possible. So, let’s talk about those unpleasant, sometimes unavoidable, casualties of running and racing long.

Let’s get nasty:

Blisters can plague you on marathon day, or on those long runs. There is often an easy fix for these painful buggers: running socks. Toss those cotton socks away. If you are still suffering from blisters after making the switch, keep an eye on your shoes. Are they old? Are they the right size?

Chafing. It can happen to anyone, and often occurs due to clothes rubbing against skin, or skin against skin. You wardrobe choice, body type, running form, sweat rate – there are many different factors. Personally, I chronically battle chafing on my sternum, from my sports bra band. I’ve also had it on my arms, from arm sleeves. Bodyglide can help ward off those painful patches of chafing, but in my experience it isn’t always full-proof. Step into the shower, and you’ll often find yourself shrieking!

Bloody nipples plague some male runners. Ladies, luckily this doesn’t happen to most of us! Bloody nipples are caused by the rubbing of your running shirt (more or less like chafing), leaving the nips extremely painful, and often bleeding. Bodyglide can help. Some guys will actually place band aids over their nips pre-race. As I understand it, the pain and recovery time is similar to chafing.

Have you encountered any other kinds of nasty running-related problems? Have you found a solution? Please share with the class!

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.

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.

Know Thy Course

997725_10101358484902303_210800078_oI recently paced my sister in a Half Marathon (her first race ever!), and you experience a race very differently when pacing than you do when racing.

One thing that I noticed: many runners on the course didn’t know the race course! They listened carefully to my advice I was spewing out to my sister, to keep her prepared for what was next. Many, when faced when an unexpected hill, would completely crumble.

Yes, ignorance can sometimes be bliss, but as a runner, ignorance is just plain dumb and poor planning. If you have a goal race, regardless of distance, STUDY that race course!!!!! There are NO EXCUSES for not knowing the course (race websites will have it posted, and you can always look up info), and it is for your benefit. The only time you won’t know the elevation may be on a new race course, though a map and mile markers will still be available to study.

As my sister and I turned the corner around the 12.5 mile mark, and were faced with a long, hard hill (longer than Heartbreak Hill, for example), runners around us stopped, walked, sighed, doubled-over, and gave in to the race course. If they had done their research, they may have still struggled physically, but mentally they would have been prepared.

Boston Marathon 2013: Part 2

Athlete's Village with Ben in Hopkinton - where it all begins.

Athlete’s Village with Ben in Hopkinton – where it all begins.

 

Athlete's Village, early and before it became crowded.

Athlete’s Village, early and before it became crowded.

Marathon morning arrived as it usually does, before the sun and most people are up. I was extremely stressed and on edge that morning, as my phone apparently didn’t charge during the night, leaving me with less than 5% power. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if I wasn’t relying on my phone to meet up with Cipriana at Athlete’s Village. With 27,000 runners, trying to find someone at the start of the race is difficult to say the least – even when both people have phones.

Luckily, I found Cip at her corral. At a last chance attempt to find her, I waited at the only entrance to Wave 2, Corral 7, where I knew she would be. Relief swept over me when I saw her. I had began to think of back-up plans, but I didn’t like any of the potential senerios. Were we both going to end up running solo? My stress and wasted energy vanished, and we laughed, hugged, and smiled as we synched our watches and walked towards to start.

The sun was shining, there was barely a breeze, and the energy from the other runners and spectators was electric. I told myself to remember this experience. To soak it in. To enjoy it. So much success and heart-break over the last few years had led up to this moment, and I wanted to smile the entire 26.2 miles.

Feeling good and over Heartbreak Hill.

Feeling good and over Heartbreak Hill.

Letting Cip set the pace, we both felt pretty good until mile 15-16. We danced to Gangnam Style, sang along to other songs, and took in the race in the special way you can when you are not actually running for a time. One of the highlights up to this point was the Wellesley girls. The amount of college girls, with clever amusing hand-made signs, giving out kisses and screaming, was something you cannot imagine accurately. Once you experience it, you understand some of the reason why Boston is a unique marathon.

Right before we hit the Newton Hills, Cip suddenly announced that she was thinking about dropping out. I told her that unless she was injured, or have chest pain, she was not dropping out. I told her she did not come to Boston to run 16 miles. I told her it didn’t matter how long it took us, we were doing this together. While I’m pretty sure Cip hated me at this point, I knew she would regret, sometime in the future, her decision to drop out. Cip powered through, and we made it up over the famed Heartbreak Hill, as the Boston College students created a wall of noise for about a full mile.Once we hit the 21 mile mark, the end of the marathon seemed near. Cramping in the quads tested Cip’s ability to push through, but she is an incredibly strong woman and athlete, and she dug deep. We saw a couple of her friends along the course, and she was overwhelmed. My cousins were cheering in Brookline, which energized me and made me feel so supported and loved.

800 meters to go!

800 meters to go!

As we began a walk/run negotiation, I pushed Cip to keep running. Walking wasn’t helping her cramping quad much, and the sooner we got to the finish, the sooner she could rest, stretch, and seek any medical attention.

I began calling out landmarks that we could look for and check off as mini goals: Fenway, the famous CITGO sign, Chris waiting for us at the underpass (right in front of The Eliot hotel, and 800 meters from the finish), the turn onto Hereford Street, Mount Hereford, the turn onto Boylston Street.

Running down Boylston Street, overwhelmed by emotion as we see the famous finish line in front of us.

Running down Boylston Street, overwhelmed by emotion as we see the famous finish line in front of us.

I recall Cip saying somewhere within the last mile that this may be her last marathon, that all she wanted was to stop running. Once we made that turn onto Boylston Street, all of the fatigue, doubt, and pain seemed to melt away. We both burst into tears as soon as we turned onto Boylston Street, the famous finish line in sight, and thousands of happy, yelling spectators carried us those last 600 meters. I remember laughing as I cried. I remember telling myself to enjoy this moment. We had both earned this moment, by working to qualify for this race. I remember patting Cip on the back and telling her that she deserved this, and that I was proud of her. I remember, the minute we crossed the finish line, crying and hugging and being overwhelmed by emotions.

The time on the clock didn’t matter. The journey, taken together, over 26.2 miles seemed something like a dream. I had been haunted for the past year by my Boston 2012 experience, and here I was finally finishing and closing that chapter. I remember thinking “No doubt, I want to race this course to the best of my ability in 2015.” Within those 4 hours and 21 minutes, I had fallen in love with the Boston Marathon all over again.For a few brief minutes, I was able to experience pure joy over my finish of the Boston 2013 Marathon.