Race Report: Frankfurt Marathon

First and foremost, I apologize for neglecting my blog for much of 2017. That’s about to change! Second, it has been an incredible year. I am so humbled and proud of the hard work my roster have brought to the table. It’s an honor to do what I do every day.

In June 2017, I was forced to take 4 weeks off from running. With it being my first injury of any kind since 2012, I consider myself lucky. I was allowed to run on an Alter-G at a fraction of my weight while working on recovery and rehab for a heel spur and plantar fasciitis. With my goal marathon on October 29th, the clock was ticking. Once cleared to run outside, I had about 15 weeks until race day. That’s definitely not ideal for building fitness for a marathon PR, but I decided I’d do what I could with the time I had. Despite a few bumps along the way, training went smoothly and I felt my fitness return pretty quickly.

Fast forward 15 weeks, and I was hopping a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I’d picked Frankfurt Marathon for a few reasons. It’s incredibly flat/fast, weather is usually ideal, and it’s well organized. It was also an excuse to go explore a new city! Ironically, the weather wasn’t looking awesome as I was en route to the airport – winds with heavy gusts. I knew I’d have to rethink my strategy for the conditions, but decided not to panic but to accept the weather and make smart choices. I still really wanted that 2:59, but had also accepted that the weather would be a variable I cannot ignore.

Race morning I was relatively calm. I ate a banana and a donut, had some coffee, and headed to the starting line. The temperature was cool. But the wind was picking up here and there. My coral was mostly men. Not surprising, as marathons in Europe are a heavily male dominated sport. I could see the 2:59 pacers, and my plan was to try and tuck in behind them and draft behind them in the wind if and when it would be an issue. The pace group took off a little fast compared to my watch, and I opted to listen to my watch and be perhaps a little conservative than risk going out too hard. I settled into my effort, and the first 10 miles felt incredibly smooth.

The big mistake I made: my watch was in miles, the course was in kilometers. I grabbed a pace bracelet and stupidly got it in miles and not kilometers (hello, jet lag brain!), so I didn’t have a way to verify on the course if my watch was correct or not. It turns out I was a little behind pace, setting me up for a nice little negative split for the second half if the predicted winds would be at my back. A lot can happen in the marathon, and I told myself to relax and be patient. Head wind gusts became a factor around miles 15-17 off and on. Nothing terrible, but also not ideal. Otherwise, everything felt good. My foot felt 100%. My body felt solid. My hydration was solid. I was feeling smooth out there and optimistic. The tail winds predicted never really happened. Instead, air was still for a little while. Then as we neared the city again, head and cross winds began to pick up. With no pace group near me (the 2:59 pacers had slowly disappeared in front of me), I tried to tuck in behind every man possible and draft. I could feel my effort increasing as my paces began to slip.

With a 5K to go, Chris was there yelling at me to push for the 5K. I clearly remember thinking “F*ck!!! A whole 5K?!?” as I did the math and knew breaking 3 hours was definitely not in the cards and now a PR was in jeopardy. In the final 5K, for the first time all morning, I was being knocked sideways by strong gusts of wind. I was exhausted, over it, and trying to simply focus on the finish line. Despite my effort, I could not will myself to lock those 6:50s in my body at that point.

The finish line of Frankfurt Marathon is really spectacular. It finishes inside an arena with thousands of fans screaming. When my watch went off at 26 miles, I knew my watch was off, and that it was going to come down to seconds for a PR. I stopped looking at my watch, and told myself to use every ounce of energy towards the push to the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 3:03:21. A 9 second PR from last year’s Berlin Marathon, and good enough for 3rd American Woman. Am I happy with the finish time? No. Absolutely not. I’ve never been so disappointed by a PR in my life. But I know I ran a smart race. I know I trained wisely. I made thousands of smart choices day after day. Looking back, there are things I can definitely do to improve as a marathoner. Weather is the wild card. But I can do more negative split long runs, or longer long runs in the future. I’m eager to learn and make adjustments to improve. In the 18 marathons I’ve finished, I’ve learned something new about myself as a human and a runner. It’s important to accept that we are all unique, and to honestly learn from strengths and weaknesses.

I would absolutely recommend Frankfurt Marathon to anyone looking for a flat and fast marathon. It was a pretty amazing day. And the days following the marathon were really fun. Food and drink is everywhere. If you enjoy baked goods and beer, Germany is for you. Frankfurt is an incredibly friendly city to travelers from all over the globe.

A few tips: I highly recommend spending the money on direct flights while traveling for an international marathon. Between time zones, jet lag, change in altitude, etc – the extra money is worth it. I also recommend booking a hotel that’s in a central location and walking distance to the start/finish line. The hotel location, comfort of the room, and so on are all variables to consider for race weekend. Do what you can to run your best. Stick to bottled water if somewhere new, and prepare race morning food the day before.

I am now taking a little off season. Legs and feet feel decent and were a little sore and tired for a couple days post-race. Even when feeling good, injury risk is high after racing a marathon. I’m allowing my body to fully recover, mentally process what I can work on, and think about my 2018 goals. I am excited for my athletes racing NYC Marathon and Philly Marathon. The marathon journey is always filled with highs and lows. Perhaps what makes the distance so incredible to me is that there are never any guarantees. It’s a race distance that can empower and crush. It just depends on the day.

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.

Pushing Past Ourselves

635204713309974156Most runners have the same post-goal race process. While we recover, we analyze and go over moments that seem like a blur from the recent race. It’s our time to mentally process what we achieved, failed to achieve, and how to move forward.

In the days following the Philly Marathon, I was in something of a fog. Perhaps that was due to my immune system finally collapsing, and therefore battling a cold. My lead-like legs certainly were due to the beating I put them through over 26.2 miles, and my left IT Band made sure I was aware that it wasn’t happy. As my body slowly recovered from race day, and then took on a cold, my head had some time to wrap around just what happened during those 3 hours and 5 minutes I spent on the race course.

One of my team mates, when she saw my crazy negative split, asked me if that was a half marathon PR, achieved during the second half of my marathon. Her question got me thinking. No, it was not a PR for the Half Marathon, but it certainly was a fast second half. Her question got me thinking about myself as a runner, a human, and other PRs.

After some analyzing past race stats, I was reminded that some of my PRs were contained in larger race distances. For example, my 10K PR was the first 10K of the 10 MILE Broad Street Run in 2012. Yes folks, apparently I can run a 10K FASTER when I still have 4 miles to go than I can when towing the line for a 10K.

My question: why?!?

Sure, the elevation and weather are factors, but why is it that my PR for a 10K hasn’t happened at a 10K race? Clearly it’s mostly not solely physical. So, what’s going on in my head? And if something goes on in my head, does the same thing go on in YOUR head? This made me think about my clients and their goals. Why is it we sometimes struggle and other times we blow ourselves out of the water?

Perhaps mentally, it’s easy to put up a mental block against certain numbers and distances. Perhaps for me, when I wasn’t thinking about the possibility or option of a 10K PR in 2012(my mind was focused on the 10 MILE PR), my body and mind didn’t even register that a 10K PR would have to happen in order for the 10 mile PR to occur. Maybe we get in our way more than we are aware.

Another example of mental madness: As previously mentioned in past blogs, I struggled with speed this Spring. Getting my speed back after injury and rest was tough. Before the 2013 Broad Street Run in May, I struggled HARD to hit 7:00 miles during tempo runs. I remember feeling completely unprepared as I stepped up to the starting line. You know what I ran for 10 miles? 6:33s. No, it wasn’t my best 10 mile race, but I was so shocked and confused as to how I pulled that out of myself when I had struggled to clock 7:00 miles for a few miles at a time. Once again, how and where did that come from?

Unfortunately, I don’t know. I wish I had the answer.

I clearly remember my first marathon, where I went into it determined to set a BQ. Failure was not an option in my mind, and I didn’t have anything to compare my first marathon to. I didn’t doubt it, or even really think about how hard a BQ was for most people. I just went out and did it. Sure, it turned out I had above average running abilities, but I am also going to argue that sometimes ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is power, but sometimes being a know-it-all or a veteran means we can psych ourselves out, or “decide” before the gun goes off what we are capable of, instead of just going for it.

As I ponder over my most recent marathon, I am left wondering how I can knock down any preconceived limitations I have put on myself. And as a coach, how can I help other runners see past their perceptions of who they are as runners. Is there a way to combine the bliss of ignorance and the power of knowledge to create a mentally stronger athlete? Of course we all of our own limitations. I, for one, will most likely never win a marathon. However, who am I to say what “time” I am capable of? The future is unwritten. And that goes for you, too.

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