Race Recap: Berlin Marathon

 

Early in the race. Feeling relaxed.

Early in the race. Feeling relaxed.

Berlin Marathon had been on my radar since I was notified I’d been selected via lottery back in December 2015. With a reputation for being the fastest marathon in the world, I knew if I went to Berlin, I’d go to race – not to simply run. This would mean training to race my first marathon since 2013. So over 10 months ago the goal was set: race Berlin 2016, aim to break 3 hours, or set a new PR.

The road to Berlin wasn’t easy. Some days or weeks would click into place. Others were a struggle, and filled with doubt. I questioned my decision to coach myself on more than one occasion. There’s a reason why many coaches hire someone else to coach them – it’s hard to be the student and the teacher. I questioned my potential. Was my 3:05:27 back in Philly 2013 as good as it gets? But doubts never lead to anything good. And I knew my training was smart. So I’d try to shake those doubts and focus on the good and great workouts. Just like bad weeks of training come and go, so do good ones. Neither one defines us. I am thankful to be surrounded by some incredibly supportive people. Friends, coworkers, team mates, family – people who understand or at least respect the grind. My roster of private athletes have cheered me on. And so when the going would get tough, I’d remember to lead by example and continue to grind away. By the time I got to Germany, I knew all I could do was trust my hard work and preparation, and have confidence in that.

I had never been to Berlin before. It’s a really beautiful city. I was oddly calm about marathon morning (I’m usually a basket case), and was actually capable of enjoying the city for a solid 36 hours before race day. The day before the race was spent walking at least 4 miles around the city, and a 3-mile shakeout run that evening. I ate pasta with a German beer, laid out my running gear, and that was it. Was I nervous? Sure. But I was also calm. I accepted that it was going to be 3 hours of work, and that I was ready.

The weather race morning was perfect. Cool and sunny, with no breeze. The marathon gods were good to us. As I stood in my corral, and the announcers counted down to the started, I began to cry. I was overcome with the power of the moment. The amazing park. The
40,000+ other athletes. The opportunity before me. I quickly collected myself, and within a few minutes I was across the starting line.

The course is fast. And there’s a blue tangent line on the course. I decided I’d stick to that line as though it were glue. This was the first marathon I’d ever run with no mile markers (only kilometers), and I was one of few athletes around me who’s watch would go off at the miles. I told myself to stay relaxed and efficient. I hydrated early and often. Around the 20K I saw Vinnie, and that was like a kick of energy. In an unfamiliar city, a familiar face was priceless. Around 17 miles into the race, I felt amazing. Pacing was good. I felt that a sub-3 was going to require a kickass final 10K, but a PR was mine to lose.

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Eye is on that clock.

Then around 19-21 miles in, a few things happened. One, I began to cramp. Not runner cramps, but lady cramps. The kick in the uterus feeling, on my right side. In the beginning it was relatively dull, but as the miles went on that changed. I was incredibly mad at myself, as I had planned to take ibuprofen that morning (I’d had cramps off and on for a few days), but that morning had felt good and I opted to go it without precautionary meds. And then the nausea and gag reflex to GU began to happen. It was a burp that turned into a “Oh no, I just kinda threw up in my mouth” moment, and this was before I needed to take my final GU around 20 miles. I forced that final GU down, but it wanted to come back up. The final 5 miles were a painful negotiation. I debated stopping for a break and to try and regroup. I debated walking off if Vinnie were at the next turn. My body was struggling and my brain wasn’t giving me the ability to simply pick up the pace.

I told myself to do what I could. If I lost my PR, it wasn’t the end of the world. Just do your best. Just finish this. And so I continued. Paces slipped. I walked through a hydration station in the 23rd mile, hoping that brief pause in running would help the cramps. It made it worse. And so back to running I went. My eye on the clock, I took it one mile at a time. I saw Vinnie around 24 miles, and I mumbled something about this really hurting as I pointed to my side. He ran beside me for half a block, yelling encouraging things, to which I told him to shut up and stop lying. And so I continued.

The final 600M of the Berlin Marathon is spectacular. I think. I don’t really remember. The final stretch was lined with people. I focused on the clock. You can see the finish line a long ways before you get there. Glancing at my watch, I knew a PR was in the cards, but by how much – I wasn’t sure. Just finish this. Just get there. Just get this done. That’s all I could think about. Crossing the finish line I felt relieved, tired, emotional, and still in pain. The nausea was thankfully replaced with hunger by the time I got back to the hotel. And I took ibuprofen immediately to kick said cramps to the curb.

The rest of the day was filled with walking around, beer and food. I am in shock (and a little mad) at how good my legs felt after that marathon. There was so much more left in them to give. But they couldn’t have their day. My disappointment didn’t last long. How can it? I did the best I could that morning. And yes, I walked away with a PR. That PR, that much closer to 2:59:59 – it makes me that much more hungry for it and that much more confident it’s in me.

Here are the official stats:

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Finish time: 3:03:30 (average pace: 6:58s)

100th female (11th American)

Splits:

Mile 1: 6:50, Mile 2: 6:51, Mile 3: 6:56, Mile 4 :6:58, Mile 5 : 6:51, Mile 6 :6:57, Mile 7: 6:49, Mile 8: 6:52, Mile 9: 6:53, Mile 10: 6:48, Mile 11: 6:51, Mile 12: 6:52, Mile 13: 6:49, Mile 14: 6:53, Mile 15: 6:54, Mile 16: 6:54, Mile 17: 6:57, Mile 18: 6:59, Mile 19: 6:55, Mile 20: 6:57, Mile 21: 7:07, Mile 22: 7:02, Mile 23: 7:13, Mile 24: 7:30, Mile 25: 7:12, Mile 26: 7:17, .34 miles: 2:13.

A few tips for future Berlin Marathoners:

  • Stay at Hotel Adlon Kempinski. It’s worth the money. Not only is the hotel gorgeous, quiet and comfortable, but it’s literally at the Brandenburg Gate – a very short walk to the start/finish lines and on the marathon course.
  • Make morning preparations the night before. It turned out the hotel had some food/coffee for marathoners in the lobby, but no coffee shops open before 8am (some 10am) on Sundays. I bought a bagel and coffee from Dunkin Donuts the night before.
  • The expo was a mess. So go to it patient, and ready to get in/get out. I couldn’t have really shopped for anything if I had wanted to.
  • Be sure to plan to use your own fuel. The drink and fuel choices (which included Red Bull) on the course were new to me. I stuck to water the the 4 GUs I brought.
  • When planning your trip, account for jet lag. It’s not every day I run a marathon at 3am. Do everything you can to get on schedule before race morning.
  • Go for your shakeout runs in the Tiergarten. That park is the most stunning thing ever. 535044_236930700_xlarge

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.

Learn Lessons from Bad Races

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With being “unattached” for this race, it was the perfect opportunity to wear Danielle Sepulveres’ “Don’t Be A Bridesmaid” sports bra.

Today’s blog is all about mistakes, and learning from them. I happen to believe and preach to my athletes that there is no such thing as a bad run or race, as long as we learn from it. Yes, we all will experience runs and races we’d define as terrible. Chin up, they happen. But if you learn something – be it pacing, mental focus, what to wear, eat, whatever – those lessons prepare you for better runs and races in the future. Sadly, those lessons are rarely fun and usually are often the clearest on bad runs and races. Funny how the good races don’t teach us half the lessons as the bad ones.

This weekend, Corky had a bad race. Yes, I could get pissed, embarrassed, and admit to myself how bummed I am. Cause I am bummed. I knew on a good day, that fast mile down Fifth Avenue was mine to screw up – I am stronger and mentally more focused now than I have been in a long time – but  we are also sometimes our own demise. Perhaps being a coach has forced me to really grow up and take every experience in stride, maybe I’m simply older and wiser and have learned to not sweat the small stuff. Either way, I am choosing to take this disappointing race as an example of what you should not do, and what you should do.

On Friday evening, I felt a little tickle in my throat. You know that feeling, the “Oh no, here comes a cold” feeling. I was en route to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway (hello, Taye Diggs!), and so I powered through the night. I crashed out as soon as I got home, hopeful that catching up on sleep would help. Unfortunately, Saturday I awoke feeling worse. Even 11 hours of sleep couldn’t knock this bug out. I didn’t feel terrible, just a little ill. I coached, worked on training plans, and did my best to power through the day. By 7 pm, I felt pretty terrible. At that time I made a bad decision. I ordered Chinese food (hot and sour soup sounded like a good idea), made some tea, and took NyQuil – thinking I’d be fine with a race over 13 hours away. Wrong.

Lesson learned: DO NOT take NyQuil the night before a race – ever. Yes, I slept like a baby. I also felt almost drunk when my alarm went off at 7:30am. I ate a banana and drank some water, hoping that would help. No luck. When we left our apartment for the race at 8:15am, I told myself to relax – I had almost another whole hour to feel normal before my heat in the Fifth Ave Mile. No better. I jogged the mile up to the starting line, pausing to chat with a few familiar faces. You know how sometimes you are feeling a bit tipsy at a party and you do your best to cover it up? Yeah, that’s how I felt. My head was in a fog and my body felt completely disconnected from my head.

At the starting line, I had enough sense to get up towards the front. I tried to tell myself to focus, put on those race blinders, and run really hard for one mile. One mile – that’s all I needed to will my body to do! It sounded so simple. When the gun went off, I knew I was in trouble. Those first few steps felt like I was running through cement. My legs almost hurt, they felt so heavy – and not in the track workout legs-on-fire hurt – this is was odd and foreign. My mouth felt like cotton from the first breath, even though I had just sipped water prior to the start. Looking back, I hardly remember that mile. I do remember feeling absolutely no control over my body, no mental will to push, and total separation between body and foggy brain. My drive to run hard – couldn’t find it. Though I know I worked out there, I don’t recall my lungs working hard or my legs burning from speed. When I crossed the finish line in my slowest mile ever (5:47), I didn’t even feel disappointment. I didn’t feel tired. I didn’t feel.

If you are sick for a race, that’s a tough place to be in. My advice is to be VERY cautious when thinking about medicating. Our bodies can be extremely sensitive. When sick, you also need to change your race day goals, which is really hard. Did I know a PR was out of the cards this morning – yes, I felt it. But did I secretly hold onto hope I could magically pull through? Yes, I sure did. This isn’t because I am delusional or an optimist with blinders – but it’s because I know in order to achieve your goals, you need to believe you can. Plus with strength training this past 6 months my lower body, I knew I was stepping up to the line with some additional power. But I should have changed my goals the minute I woke up this morning. And I should never have taken NyQuil.

So if you are sick the weekend of a race, there are a few things you can do:

  • Get sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Modify race goals
  • Be honest with your expectations and potential on race day
  • Remind yourself that just getting out there when sick can be a victory

And there are some things you should not do:

  • Expect a PR or refuse to modify goals
  • Take medication without being sure how it will affect you and your performance
  • Consume alcohol or anything that could dehydrate you
  • Beat yourself up if your goals are not attainable

And remember, if you stay healthy you will have many more races in the future. A bad race here or there does not define you as a person or an athlete, so learn from your mistakes and move on. As for me, I’ll never take medication the night before a race ever again.

Run a Race!

10358729_796133213815647_6984393093090976025_nI am a big fan or runners hopping into races during their training for a big goal. While the races need to be carefully timed and chosen, they are a fun way to mix up training, assess current fitness, and practice race morning routines. For many of my athletes, we’ll sue a short race in place of a speed workout. If you are itching to sign up for some races, and are wondering how to choose and how to structure your season, I am sharing a few tips with you below:

  • Choose a distance that benefits your goal race. For example, a speedy 5K can be a great workout for a runner heading to a 10K-Half Marathon race. A 5K may not be a huge asset to a marathoner unless some additional mileage is added to the day. Then again, if you are a marathoner who struggles with committing to speed workouts on your own, a 5K may be your excuse to get in speed. A half marathon, when scheduled appropriately, can be the perfect quality long run for someone in the throes of marathon training. I would race a Half Marathon no closer to a marathon than 3-4 weeks out.
  • Pick a course you like, or that offers benefit to your big goals. For example, a fast and flat 10K may be the perfect fitness assessment and speed workout for someone targeting a flat Half Marathon. A hilly Half Marathon would be perfect for preparing for a hilly marathon, like NYC Marathon.
  • Be sure to adjust your schedule that week for your race, especially if you are swapping a short and speedy race for a long run. For example, I hopped into a 5K this past Sunday as a speed workout. I usually do a speed run twice per week – Monday and Thursday, so this week I am not running speed work again until Thursday, and won’t be running long since this is a taper week for Boston. But Boston isn’t my goal race, so I am only giving myself a mini taper and focusing on the speed workouts, in preparation for my goal race a few weeks away.
  • Set goals that make sense. It’s a little unrealistic to set the goal of crushing every race – especially the ones you are using as a workout or assessment. Set a goal that makes sense and supports your big goal. For example, you may set the goal or even pacing, and learning to not be pulled by folks around you. This weekend, I set the goal of a negative-split 5K. This forced me to settle into the very hilly first mile and then shave away time in mile 2 and 3. Maybe practice fueling on your feet, using new gear, running without music – the goal doesn’t have to be time related.
  • Have fun. If this isn’t your goal race, there is no reason to take it too seriously. Yes, training races can be painful, hard, and sometimes terrible. But learn something from it, have a laugh and move on. Save that intensity and focus for the big goals. If running and racing isn’t fun, most of us shouldn’t be doing it.
  • If you live in a city like NYC, most races attract thousands of runners. Even little 4-milers in Central Park can draw 7000 runners. It’s really nice change to go hop into a small race sponsored by a small organization. You will have far less runners (easily the low hundreds, and sometimes less than 100 runners!), and you may have the opportunity to be a hot-shot and place in your age group or overall. Those little boosts of confidence can go a long way.

With Spring weather here, there will be races hosted all over the place every weekend between now and October. Enjoy them! And if you are traveling, do a little research and hop into the local race. It’s a great way to enjoy a new place, and get in some quality miles.