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.

535044_237057350_xlarge

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:

535044_237095576_xlarge

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

How to pick a race

There are thousands of races offered every year. Trails, roads, flat, high elevation, themed, large, small, competitive, relaxed – and all over the globe. So many options out there is a wonderful thing, but it also can be overwhelming. I have some tips to help you pick your races.

  • Look at your calendar and be realistic with when would be a good time to race. For example, many runners interested in a marathon need 3-6 months of time to train, depending on their current fitness/weekly mileage, how ambitious their goals are, etc. Also consider the weather at that time of the year.
  • Find a course you want to run. If you have your eye on a flat, fast race, be sure to do some research on prospective races. The last thing you want is to assume that a race will be flat, only to find mid-race that you underestimated what that race director’s idea of “flat and fast course” may be.
  • Race experiences can vary greatly by the size of said race. An intimate marathon with 2,000-7,000 runners is going to be completely different from one with 40,000 runners.
  • Small races are great confidence boosters. You may wind up on the podium for an age award – which is always fun.
  • Consider the start time and location of the race. Logistics on race morning can make or break your race experience.
  • If you are considering a few big goal races, do some research. Runners are often passionate about blogging their experiences. Do a little reading and you may come across some helpful tips about a specific race.
  • When considering a destination race, do a lot of research on that race, the town, where to eat – everything. I also highly recommend you plan a trip so that the race is at the beginning of your vacation. That way you can really enjoy your time after your race, and not have to think about your nutrition or sleep for race morning.
  • In general, don’t plan multiple races within a week or two of each other. The longer the race or the harder you exert yourself in a long race, the more recovery you will need. Just as you would plan your hard workouts and taper, you also need to plan your recovery.
  • When putting together your calendar, you may benefit from planning to run races for different reasons. Perhaps plan to truly race a few, use some as training runs, and plan to run some for fun – perhaps with friends, in a costume, whatever – with the goal simply to have fun.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. A new distance, getting off the road and onto the track or trails, being part of a relay – mix it up and keep it fresh.
  • Remember that you cannot run every race on your dream list within one year. It’s incredibly risky and usually not possible for a marathoner to run Berlin, Chicago, and NYC -three marathons within 10 weeks, in three cities in different time zones – it’s not in the cards. Sure, you might be able to go complete all three, but not at your best pace and you certainly would be risking injury. Pick and choose. Stay injury-free and you will have years of running all over the globe in your future.

It’s great to be ambitious – just be careful with your ambition and don’t take on too much. Be honest with yourself about your goals, calendar, likes, dislikes, and start piecing together your new year!

Marathon Preparation – what to do now

img_7073Marathon season is in full swing. Whether you are preparing for your first marathon, your one-hundredth marathon, or a goal personal best, there are a few things you should start to practice and plan NOW so that race day goes smoothly!

  • Finalize accommodations. Race weekend can become stressful. You will naturally be a bit anxious or excited. Having your plans for the weekend – including where you are going to eat, stay and how you will get to/from the race ironed out now will equal minimal chance for added stress on race weekend.
  • Practice in what you’ll wear. Everything from your shoes to your hat – wear your “race outfit” for a few long runs. This will minimize the risk of blisters, chafing, overheating, or simply annoying or uncomfortable race-day issues. If you plan to buy new shoes for your marathon, buy them and break them in on a few long runs in the weeks leading up to the big day.
  • Practice how you will fuel on race day. Everything from what you’ll eat the night before and morning of to how often you will refuel with water or GU on the course. Leaving nutrition to chance is a good way to guarantee you’ll take a tour of the porta-potties mid-race.
  • Start looking at your race course and elevation. Make note of landmarks, turns, water stations, and other useful points on the course. You don’t want to feel “lost” on race day. Know the course, and you’ll be prepared for success.
  • Set a few race-day goals. It’s impossible to predict what will happen with 26.2 miles of running, and setting one ambitious best-case scenario goal may set you up for a whole lot of heart ache. A few goals means you may have fall-back goals you can still achieve if the star’s don’t align.
  • Look at your training paces and come to terms with your strengths and weaknesses. Runners who know themselves often have a better chance of handling the tough moments and getting back on track. Revisiting your training should also give you some confidence. The proof is in the numbers, and so try not to doubt your training while you taper.
  • If you are going to have friends/family cheering on the race course, discuss ahead of time exactly where they will be. It takes a lot of energy to search a crowded block while trying to stick to your paces. Knowing they will be on the northwest corner of Chestnut Street, wearing blue and holding a sign is a million times easier than looking for someone “at the intersection of Chestnut Street.”
  • Make clear and definitive plans for what to do and how to get home, to the hotel, or to find family post-race. Be realistic and give yourself extra time. Marathoners move notoriously slow post-race.

No matter how your race weekend goes, try to have some fun and relax. There is always something positive to take away and learn from every race. If things don’t go your way, at least you know you were prepared. That should narrow the possibilities for making the same mistake twice – and hopefully you’ll have a kick ass race and will cross the finish line with a smile from ear to ear, feeling awesome.

Report from the Trenches: Broad Street Run 10-Miler

imagesOn my 5-year anniversary of my first race ever, I headed back to where it all started – the Philadelphia Broad Street Run. This 10-mile race was my first, and I have gone back every year. It’s silly to think that I have only been part of race culture for five short years. Those years have been packed with so many growing pains, knowledge, growth, and a love affair with road racing that won’t quit.

I remember how for years I ran, but never entered a race. I would run 20-30 mile weeks, simply to clear my head, sweat out stress, and feel good. I liked it. I don’t know how fast I’d run, and I have a rough idea on distance, but I was by no means the runner I am today. Like my journey, I am sure many of you have grown as athletes and human beings by leaps and bounds over the last five years. It’s really quite amazing to process that.

While my plan for this year’s Broad Street Run was to train my butt off and work to finally crack the 65 minute mark (my last two Broad Street Runs were 65:XX), this winter’s weather, being sick over and over, and my coaching load shut down that goal. I was slightly disappointed, as I love the opportunity to compete against myself. But pacing runners in races and long runs, and a terrible winter simply meant I had a winter filled with easy distance miles, not track repeats or tempo runs. 

I decided the next best thing was to run the race with someone special. Luckily, I had a ton of special people running the race this year. Miracle of miracles, via lottery, my brother, friend and boyfriend all got spots. Since Alex and Chris (friend and boyfriend) were of similar pace and planned to run together, I decided I would run with my brother. At his first Broad Street Run in 2013, he ran about a 1:22 on barely any training. 

I should mention here and now that while I love my brother, James, dearly; he is one of those people who always excels. He was the kid who wouldn’t study or would do his homework on the bus, and get straight A’s. Plus he was always cast as the lead in school plays, and a talented basketball player – and it all came easily to him. As his older sister who had to work for her good grades and extra curricular activities, I sometimes found this annoying. Now I find it amazing. 

In true James fashion, he once again barely trained for the Broad Street Run. It’s not that he didn’t care or didn’t want to, but it wasn’t a priority. I told him we’d get him a PR of at least a sub-1:20. I knew that even if he were just in the shape he was last year, I could push him enough for that goal. And again, in true James fashion, he blew his current PR out of the water and ran a sub-1:12, on barely any training. 

Race morning was cool, and it looked like rain. Still, we all agreed that cool and rainy was probably better than the 85 degree morning I had on that same course five years earlier. James and I said goodbye to Chris and Alex, and they walked to the green corral. James and I walked towards the starting line, and into the purple corral. It’s amazing to me that the race is now 40,000 runners. One of the things I love about Broad Street is that it truly is a Philadelphian’s race. Most of the runners live in Philly or the suburbs, and it’s often an event friends do together, tailgating for the Phillie’s game is a popular post-race choice. There are some runners who travel into town, but I’d say this race is as Philadelphia as you can get. I like it. 

In the corral, James and I chatted as we tried to stay warm. I told him to not push the first mile, and to wait for the crowds to thin. Wasting time weaving around runners would add distance and expend energy, taking away from the benefit of a flat and fast course. Again, in true James fashion, this guy aced the notion of a negative split. Our first and slowest mile clocked a 7:34, and James told me he would be happy if we averaged 7:30s. Our miles slowly picked up pace as we went. As we passed the Temple University campus and the marching band, a spring in our step took us quickly towards City Hall. You can see City Hall from miles away. I told James that we’d pass City Hall after the 5-mile mark, so we should settle and not burn out until we hit the halfway mark. Our pace still continued to speed up, but because James didn’t look or sound like he was working very hard, I didn’t pull him back very much. 

Around the 7-8 mile mark, James said his legs were beginning to tighten up. Did this slow his pace? Nope. At this point we were running 6:55-7:05 miles. I was simply in awe at how someone who has run maybe a dozen times since January could run 10 miles at this pace without feeling terrible, gasping for air, or getting injured. Who is this kid?!? Our last mile was our fastest, a 6:41. Ironically, I was winded at the end. My allergies made the last few miles hard on my breathing, and so when James took off at the end I was left to watch the tree tattoo on his back a few steps ahead of me. James had crushed his previous PR by over 10 minutes. On barely any training. Ridiculous. 

At the finish, we grabbed refreshments and our medals, and waited for Chris and Alex at the family meeting area. James pointed out the many different gaits and running forms we saw on the course. I laughed, as I totally knew what he was talking about. The more you run, the more you notice things like running form. 

I told James that I wondered what kind of time he could clock if he actually trained. I think he could whoop my butt and run 60-65 minutes – maybe faster. I am in awe. Again, knowing how hard I’ve had to work for certain race times, watching him pull off a time many runners out there that day didn’t have a prayer in achieving, probably while training – its amazing. As his big sister, I am super proud. As a coach, I would very much love the opportunity to coach him one year and see what would happen. However, in true James form, he’s probably too busy with other things (he does work a lot!) and will probably still go back and set a new PR in 2015. 

As for me, I absolutely love pacing someone to a PR. Hopefully next year will be the year I go after that sub-65 minute finish. I know if I work hard, and weather cooperates on race day, its there. I know it is. I just need to make it happen.

Report from the Trenches: NJ Marathon

Carb-loading with a sundae and a side of fries for lunch!

Carb-loading with a sundae and a side of fries for lunch!

Over the weekend of April 26-27th, I packed my bags and hopped the train to Long Branch, NJ. I was en route to this cute beach town to pace one of my athletes during his marathon debut. The NJ Marathon and Half Marathon runs through residential neighborhoods with many twists and turns, with the marathon heading on an out-and-back to Asbury Park, ending with a mile or so run along the beach and what would have been the boardwalk if Hurricane Sandy hadn’t destroyed it, finishing with the ocean on your right and screaming crowds and hotels and condos on your left.

If you are looking for a springtime race, this might be one to add to your calendar. The weather turned out to be practically perfect. Cool and sunny, low humidity thanks to rain showers the night before, and minimal gusty winds as beach marathons go. The Half Marathon started 75 minutes before the Marathon, giving way to a race course that never felt crowded after the first mile. The race is small by city marathon standards, and so logistics were easy. Instead of navigating race morning around 20,000+ runners, only 2113 runners completed the marathon.

Wearing a trash bag pre-race to keep warm. Yes, its ghetto. But it works.

Wearing a trash bag pre-race to keep warm. Yes, its ghetto. But it works.

The race course was very flat, with only a few very tiny elevation changes in the first 10K. Bag check, parking, and porta potty lines were never very crowded. The race expo was also never very crowded, and easy and free parking made the process a breeze. The race organization also sent emails (I think I received 10 emails?!?) with race-day information as things changed, and in an effort to guarantee a great race weekend for everyone.

There are a few restaurants in Long Branch serving the needs of carb-loading marathoners, but the Italian restaurant we chose filled up quickly after 6pm. Luckily we sat down right before the restaurant got slammed, so consider this when strategizing meals. I find its often best to eat an early dinner the night before a race, as this gives you the opportunity to rest, sleep and digest without feeling rushed or full when trying to sleep.

The volunteers were great, but if you are looking for a race with lots of energetic spectators, this isn’t a big city race and doesn’t have those big city crowds. There were many quiet miles, though the folks who were out and cheering were much appreciated by the runners. Both the Marathon and the Half offered pacers, a tool many runners take advantage of, especially when they have a specific time goal. If a small, flat, no-nonsense and fanfare race is what you crave, I highly recommend NJ Marathon.

Starting line. A thin crowd 40 minutes before the start.

Starting line. A thin crowd 40 minutes before the start.

Cherry Blossom Trip

View from the Lincoln Memorial.

View from the Lincoln Memorial.

This past weekend I hopped a train down to DC to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. I had made the decision weeks beforehand that I would not be racing, but rather running for fun. Between a cold Winter and months of being sick off and on, my training simply wasn’t in a place to run hard.

Unfortunately, on Thursday I was full-on sick again. My doctor put me back on antibiotics for bronchitis and a sinus infection. Obviously the timing wasn’t awesome, but I was surprised to feel pretty darn decent on Friday and Saturday. I focused on rest, and was optimistic that I could run on Sunday.

On race morning, I woke up after a night of coughing off and on feeling not so awesome. That deep chest cough I had been battling for the last five weeks had magically decided to return. I am still on antibiotics, so I was surprised to suddenly not feel good. I shook it off, and changed into my race gear and ate a bagel.

With Honest Abe

With Honest Abe

I then made a decision I had never made before – I decided not to run. Battling sickness over and over again has put me in the position where I need to make smart choices. I should also mention that at the start of the race, temperature was locked in at a cold 34 degrees. I hadn’t brought Winter running gear, as the weekend forecast when I had packed was calling for mid-40s to 50s for race morning. Running in my non-Winter race gear, while sucking in icy air sounded like a stupid move for someone sick.

While part of me was bummed to miss out on a race I’d not only gotten in through the lottery on the first try, I had qualified for a seeded spot, I was also excited to run through the Nation’s Capital. However, a lesson I have learned, that perhaps is a lesson all runners must learn – its silly and often stupid to risk health for one race. Cherry Blossom will be there in future years. Risking my health for the next few weeks simply wasn’t worth it.

Race wall of porta potties!

Race wall of porta potties!

This is a lesson all of us runners must learn at some point. There will be those races where lacing up and heading to the starting line just isn’t smart. Perhaps its a nagging injury, being under trained, or being sick. It’s in our nature as runners to tough it out, push through discomfort and take that gamble. However, if you run for fun – are you going to have fun while running ill, injured, or under prepared? The answer is “no.” If you are running to better your race time, the odds you’ll achieve that while ill, injured or under prepared are slim – so why tough it out when in the big picture its one race.

If you end up in a position like I did this past weekend, remind yourself that not racing won’t disappoint or let down your friends, family or team mates. You aren’t a wimp or a weakling, you are smart. It’s hard to remember that, especially as toughing it out is often part of running culture.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

As I leave DC and write this blog on the train, I am disappointed that the weekend turned out the way it did. I love this sport, and I love being a part of it. But a few weeks from now I’ll be focused on other goals, and prepping to pace a runner on his 26.2 mile journey at the New Jersey Marathon. I am hoping my decision today will help kick this sickness roller coaster for good. And if it doesn’t, at least I know I am doing the best I can and making choices that are proactive towards getting healthy.

Remember, if you are smart and lucky, you will have years of being healthy and running many miles in your future.

Disney Goofy Challenge

Exiting Cinderella’s Castle.

Exiting Cinderella’s Castle.

This past weekend I ran the Disney Goofy Challenge – a half marathon on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday for the grand total of 39.3 miles. I tackled the same feat two years ago, in 2012. This time the Goofy Challenge seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my milestone 30th birthday. What better way to turn 30 than by running in my Mickey ears, stopping for photos with Disney characters along the course? Time was never a factor. Fun was all that mattered.

Due to a few circumstances, I ended up going the Goofy alone. While it was disappointing and sad to not have Chris by my side, he was out there cheering. With the races starting at 5:30am, I greatly appreciated his enthusiasm for waking up at 3am to cheer me on! Folks, that’s love.The morning of the Half Marathon started with 100% humidity and 70 degrees at 5:30am. By the time I hit the 5K mark, I was drenched in sweat and felt like I was running through soup. I was thankful that my journey that day was “only” 13.1 miles. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I knew hydration was key for getting my body ready for the marathon the next morning.After I got cleaned up at our resort, we went to Animal Kingdom for the day. Keeping my legs moving has bode well for me in the past with back-to-back races, and so we took advantage of the park. An early dinner at Tusker House, and we were back at the resort and in bed around 6pm. Nothing like being awake since 3am and a humid 13.1 mile journey to wipe you out.

The morning of the Marathon, I woke up with a chest cough and a scratchy throat. I was surprised by my change in health, as I had gone to bed feeling totally healthy. For a brief moment I debated going back to bed, but quickly put that thought to rest. As long as I could go out there and have fun, I was going to finish the marathon. Thankfully, the weather was a bit better – 80% humidity and in the low 60s.

I told myself to settle into an easy pace, which was alarmingly slow. Breathing was an issue, as my chest felt heavy and seemed to rattle, and the humidity didn’t help. I felt so bad that I decided if Chris made to the mile 4 marker to cheer as planned, I’d DNF there. When I got to mile 4, I was hoping to see Chris. I was ready to be done and climb back in bed. However, Chris wasn’t there, so I decided I’d truck on for another 22 miles – a long way to go when your body and brain are asking you to stop. I decided to just take it a mile at a time and to look forward to photos with characters. Thankfully, around mile 8, a runner named Andrew pulled up beside me and struck up conversation. For the next 14 miles, this Masters runner and I kept each other company. We stopped at every character, helped each other refuel, and exchanged life stories. Around mile 22 Andrew dropped back to run with his wife, and I pulled ahead and finished my journey solo through Hollywood Studios and the finish at EPCOT.

Outside the Castle on Marathon Day.

Outside the Castle on Marathon Day.

Obviously at the end of my 39.3 mile weekend I was tired. Hours after the marathon I felt far more ill, and was even worse the next day. I am just thankful I didn’t completely get sick until the demands of the race weekend were over. A marathon, even on the best day and at an easy pace is a difficult journey. Throw in humid weather and illness, and it takes all you’ve got to put one foot in front of the other.

There are some things I really like about the Disney Marathon weekend: The focus is on fun. Combining a vacation and a physical challenge is something I enjoy. The support from the volunteers and amount of fuel and medical stations is fantastic. After putting so much energy into racing and a big PR in Philly, it was really nice to toe the line for a race with absolutely no care in the world regarding the time on the clock.

There are also some things I didn’t like: There didn’t seem to be as many characters out on the course as in previous years. There were many repeat characters from Saturday there on Sunday, which was disappointing. The lines were LONG for some of the characters. I timed over 3 minutes to wait for a photo with Pirates of the Caribbean – which two years ago never happened. My major complaint, and something that may keep me from considering Disney races in the future was the corral assignments. Disney asks for registrants to give proof of previous race times, but apparently pacing has NOTHING to do with your corral assignment. I was place in corral F, while thousands of walkers and joggers were placed in front of me. In the dark (the race starts before sunrise!) and with some narrow parts of the course, weaving around runners was not only frustrating, but dangerous. RunDisney has a policy where you cannot change your corral. For a race that’s all about fun, I did NOT have fun during the first 10 miles of the Half Marathon because I was constantly fighting the crowds. Two years ago I was in corral B, and only felt crowded for the first two miles. In 2012 I stopped at every character and STILL ran a BQ. If had been feeling healthy and going for a BQ, there is no chance it would have happened this past weekend.

Safari Minnie and Donald in Animal Kingdom.

Safari Minnie and Donald in Animal Kingdom.

So there you have it, my Goofy Challenge as I jump into my 30th year. If you do decide to run a Disney race, I highly recommend staying at a Disney Resort. It makes the getting to/from the race and the parks incredibly smooth and stress-free. I also recommend keeping your legs moving and avoiding the temptation to crawl into bed or into a hot tub post-race. I also recommend running with a camera in your hand, as Disney staff members will happily take your photos with characters. Oh, and have some fun and wear some Mickey ears! Ladies, a few bobby pins will keep those ears locked down for a marathon with no problems. If you are looking for some fun, and not worried about pace, Disney can be great – assuming you aren’t weaving around runners. I do NOT recommend it as a PR course, as the whole corral system could screw you over.

If you are wondering what this Coach has her eye on next, I’ll tell you: bettering my time at the 10-mile distance. I have the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in April, and hopefully the Broad Street Run 10-Miler in May – assuming I get in via the lottery system. Long runs will take a back seat, and track work and temp runs will be front and center. And lots of recovery miles will happen as I run with my clients and pace them on their runs – long and short alike.

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.

Destination Race

748275-1006-0043s-600x400Looking for a little race inspiration? Sometimes changing our running or race location helps with motivation for your next goal. Try a destination race. Besides the excitement of a race, you’ll be pumped for vacation!!!!

There are races all over the globe, ranging in every distance from 5K to 150-mile Ultras. Personally, as someone who loves the race experience and loves to travel, destination races are one of my favorite things. Combining travel and running? Yes, please!

Paris, China, Jamaica, Disney – the options are endless.

I would recommend planning your race for the beginning of your vacation for a couple of reasons: You’ll arrive fresh and focused, you won’t be tired from sight-seeing or bloated from beach-side cocktails or endless buffets. Plus, after your race, you’ll feel accomplished and deserving of your vacation!

Feeling inspired? Hop onto a race search database and start exploring!