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.

The Benefit of a Race

img_7093If you are looking for a goal, a new challenge, a reason to hit the gym or lace up your shoes, or to try something new – sign up for a race. I promise you that you won’t regret it. Races come in all shapes and sizes, themes, times of day, days of the week – the possibilities are endless.

Okay, so perhaps you are not convinced. Maybe you don’t consider yourself a runner. Perhaps you are worries you’ll be the last person across the finish line. It’s possible you assume all runners look like Olympians and are concerned looking like a human being will make you the laughing-stock of the race.

I get it. Remember, I didn’t race for years because I had those same fears. Instead I’d run on my own as I pleased, but I sometimes struggled with motivation, and I rarely pushed myself for pace or a goal other than to go outside and clock some miles. I didn’t see myself as a runner, but rather a person who happened to run. My first race changed my perspective in a hugely positive way, and it can for you too!

Here’s the truth and some tips:

Runners come in all shapes and size.

Walkers are more and more welcome at races these days, so you will probably not be last.

No one will laugh and point – in fact, you’ll be shocked at how many strangers will cheer for you!

No matter how fast, crossing the finish line will feel awesome.

Sign up with some friends and go to brunch after the race to celebrate your achievement – food always tastes better after a run!

You’ll feel a new sense of accomplishment.

Start with a 5K and go from there. There’s no need to take on something epic too soon.

Bring a camera and take some photos. You’ll start to see yourself as a stronger, more capable person. The photos don’t lie!

Make your own race-day goal. It could be to set a new personal record, have fun the whole time, high-five every child cheering, thank every volunteer, help a friend achieve their goal, wear a costume, enjoy a new running playlist – the possibilities are endless!

No matter what your reasons or plan, a race can be just the thing to reignite your healthy habits, start new ones, or simply have some good, clean fun.

Bonus: local 5Ks are usually very inexpensive, intimate, and often benefit a local organization, charity or cause.


Back on My Feet 24-Hour Race Video

Ultra Taper Time!

Back on My Feet 2012. After 13.5 hours, 67 miles and out of the medical tent, with Chris.

Back on My Feet 2012. After 13.5 hours, 67 miles and out of the medical tent, with Chris.

It’s a funny thing to be on the edge of your goal-race. I have been open in the past about how hard tapering can be, and how personally I don’t handle the anxiety well. I suppose this makes me a sympathetic and understanding coach – which is a good thing. As an athlete though, I do not love it. I am under two weeks away from my 100-mile goal in the Back on my Feet 24-hour race. Unlike a 10K or marathon, where my nerves are more about pacing, embracing the pain of working hard, fueling smart, using as little energy as possible, and visualizing the course and how I’ll feel, there’s more to a 24-hour race. Yes, I am also focusing on nutrition, pacing, etc., but the truth is, I have yet to ever run close to 100 miles within 24 hours. Attempting to do so when temperatures may reach 90-100 degrees – that makes me very nervous. Terrified, even.

I guess what’s different about this race is that failing to achieve my goal would be the result of something going terribly wrong. Usually when I fail to achieve a time goal in a Half Marathon or Marathon, it’s not because I end up in a medical tent with IVs in my arm. Usually those failures are due to my head simply not being in the game, going out too fast, less than idea temperatures for racing, a bad morning – while these things suck and can certainly be defeating, I have always walked away from those races knowing it wasn’t my day. That I could take another crack at it. That I was stronger than that. In the back of my mind I question if I am physically and mentally capable of ever covering 100 miles within 24 hours.

I give myself the same pre-race advice I give my athletes: I have a plan for race day, and I plan to stick with it unless I need to be even more conservative. I am trusting my training. I have run my highest-mileage weeks ever within the last 6 weeks, and I should trust how well I handled that. I am not injured, which for many of us is a huge asset pre-race. I’d be the first to admit that I’ve run a dozen or so races on legs or feet that weren’t near 100%. I have secondary goals, though I REALLY want that 100+ mile goal. But, since I cannot control the weather, it could be a day where everyone struggles for a triple-digit race, and so I may need to adjust my goals. My race is between myself, the clock, and doing better than I did at this race in 2012. I am not going to allow myself to compare myself or compete with anyone on the course until I make it to 100 miles. If I get to 100 miles and still feel okay enough to press on, I may plan to chase after the ladies in front of me, but first I need to get to 100 miles for myself. I am also reminding myself that as large and epic as this race goal may be to me, it is not the end of the world. No matter what happens on July 19-20th, I will have future races if I want them. I am focusing on how grateful I am to have an awesome support system of family and friends on my team. I am thankful to be able to draw on their strength, energy and motivation when I want to give up.

If you have a goal race on the horizon, remember that nerves can be a good thing. It means you care. Just don’t let your nerves break you down. When the gun goes off and you put one foot in front of the other, your mind and body will relax. It always happens. It’s often just a matter of getting through the taper and to the starting line.

I am terrified of race day. I want to cry, and scream and have a dance party all at the same time. I’ve questioned my sanity. I respect the challenge and realize it should be feared. But I am also excited and almost giddy. Is there anything that makes you feel more aline than extreme joy and pain? In a race, we are lucky enough to feel perhaps more alive than ever.

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.

How to transition from injured to racing again

Harrisburg Marathon 2012. En route to a PR until I injured a few miles later. After this race I was forced to stop running for 8 weeks.

Harrisburg Marathon 2012. En route to a PR until I injured a few miles later. After this race I was forced to stop running for 8 weeks.

I was recently requested to write a blog about coming back to training for a goal race after some time off due to injury. I am happy to oblige Miss. Gallagher (girl, you are going to come back stronger than ever!), and think this topic is one that’s all too familiar for runners but also something we often struggle with.

Taking time off from running is rarely a choice runners want to make, but often forced to make at some point in their running careers. A troublesome IT band, tendonitis, stress fractures, torn ligaments – these are the unhappy and always frustrating part of this sport we love. Sadly, there is no magic pill or shoe or weird food we can eat to fix the problem. At the end of the day, the doctor may tell you what none of us want to hear: “REST.” The worst is when we are told “Rest for ________ months.” That’s like a knife to the gut. Being forced to rest many a runner insane. Personally, I become a monster to deal with. I am unhappy, restless, convince myself everyday that I am going to lose all fitness, and will never be as fast or strong as I once was, that my life is over, so on and so forth. The pity party can last for a few days or a few months, depending on the person and how many races or beautiful running days pass them by.

Then, like a child on Christmas morning, you will finally be given the green light – you are clear to run again! YESSSSSS!!!!!!! This is perhaps the best mood you’ll be in since your injury, and rightly so! You can finally take the first steps towards being a runner again. Best. Day. Ever. That is until you are told you need to build your mileage slowly and safely. No jumping into a fast 10K run around Central Park. Nope. Instead you may be told you can start with 10-15 mile WEEKS. Physically, 10-15 mile weeks may shockingly feel tough. Mentally, you’ll be happy to be out running, but feel ridiculous running so little if you were perviously a mileage junky. The struggle most of us have is being patient and smart after we are given the green light. Mentally, we see ourselves at our peak performance and don’t understand or easily accept that no, you are not there right now – though with time and smart training you can be again.

Last year, I was in this very boat and it sucked. I went from 60-80 mile weeks down to 10-15 mile weeks after an 8-week hiatus. Coming back was awful. Mentally, I was frustrated on almost every post-hiatus run. I would go on team runs, and struggle and turn blue at a pace that months earlier was my conversational pace, while everyone else flew by with ease. They were incredibly encouraging, but in my own head I was really hard on myself. Still, those 10-mile weeks turned into 50-mile weeks over time. I reminded myself over and over that I was not going to be injured that year, and that was the ultimate goal. After all, running poorly was far better than not being allowed to run at all. So yes, if you are coming back from an injury, I can totally relate. I can sympathize, and I can be the voice of reason for how and while coming back slowly is the only shot you’ll have of a healthy season.

The important thing is to not compare yourself and your current fitness to the people around you. Hopefully they are not also coming back from injury, so why compare yourself to a healthy runner? In fact, why compare yourself at all? Instead, look back over your past training history, because the evidence for what went wrong and lead you to being injured may be there. Mistakes are welcomed lessons to runners as long as we learn from them. Figure out what perhaps you did wrong. The hard part is being objective. What may be right for your training buddy could be wrong for you. Did you take rest days? Were they really rest days, or were you “not running” but still training in some way? Did you get much sleep? Did you never stretch? Did you wear awful shoes when not running? Did you take on too much mileage or intensity too soon? Did you race every weekend? Do you have physical limitations you pushed too hard? I promise you that your training past has some clues for what went wrong.

Its easy to be mentally restless when coming back to training, especially if you have a goal race looming in the future. I get it, you want to play catchup. Don’t. Instead, come up with a sensible plan. Lay it out in front of you, so you can visualize your time and how to wisely use it. This will reduce any anxiety over a race goal and give you time to focus on base mileage and building back to where you need to be before pushing pace and distance.

Last year, I was given the green light for my first 10-15 mile week on January 8th. I had the Boston Marathon on my calendar for April 15th. Three months to train for a marathon isn’t a lot of time if you are starting with great base mileage. I was starting at zero. Literally. I made it to the Boston Marathon, but I was forced to make adjustments. My race goal had to be to finish, and to run it easy. I was not allowed to run hard. My doctor also didn’t let me run anything fast until mid-March. I ran one 20-miler in my training, while I usually run 3-5 long runs of 20+ miles leading up to a marathon. It was a hard pill to swallow, especially because my original plan was to race Boston and go for a big PR. However, I felt incredibly lucky on April 15th to feel strong and to cover 26.2 miles a few short months after being side-lined. It may happen to you, that your goals get crushed. It’s hard, but remind yourself that once you get healthy and back to racing, there are always future marathons or races. Maybe this won’t be “your year,” but there is always next year – as long as you take care of yourself. As for me, my big PR happened six months after Boston, at the Philly Marathon. Again, you can always adjust and when the timing is right it will happen for you. Be kind to yourself.

When coming back to racing, use support from runners around you. The odds are that many of them have experience with injuries. Lean on them for support. Just be careful to not let them tempt you with running too far or fast too soon. Join them for mileage, but hop in or out of the run as you need to. This will make you part of your running community without doing too much. Communicate with your running pals about your limited mileage or speed. They will be supportive. Again, they have probably been there before.

Lastly, remind yourself that these struggles will make you are stronger and smarter runner in the big picture. Force yourself to learn from your mistakes and your running career can last decades. And if you think the speedy lady in the park who can clock 80+ mile weeks year after year won’t get injured at some point, guess again. Odds are she will. Its part of our sport. At some point we are all that runner starting at zero. The trick is the lessen the odds of being that runner time and time again.

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: 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.

Boston Marathon 2013: Part 3

730052-1094-0025sIMG_2410Crossing the Boston Marathon finish line next to Cipriana was a wonderful, emotional experience. What happened next has changed me forever. Within five minutes of crossing the finish line at 4:05:56, the first bomb went off at 4:09:43. it sounded like a cannon. I felt it in my chest. We watched in horror as smoke engulfed the spectators on our right. My first thought was that something accidently went off – fireworks, a gas tank, some kind of accident. With barely a few seconds for Cip and I to react, the second bomb went off. At that point we knew that the explosions were no accident, and our lives could be in danger.

We hadn’t even made it to receive our medals, mylar sheets, or water bottles when the explosions occurred. We were maybe 50 yards away from the first explosion. Silence and confusion fell, and fear consumed us all. If two bombs had gone off within seconds of each other on Boylston Street, how many more bombs were there? We didn’t know, but we knew we had to get off of Boylston Street, and fast. As we tried to run around tired runners, some of whom seemed too wiped out from the marathon to even realize what had happened behind them, we ran as fast as we could away from the finish line.

A woman near us began to break down. Clearly she had spent every ounce of energy on the marathon, and she started wailing that her husband was standing where the first bomb went off. She kept screaming that she had just seen him there. She half crumbled to the ground, her legs buckling under her, and she was going to try  to get to where she thought her husband was. I told her to stay calm, to come with us, away from the explosions, that she didn’t know anything for sure about her husband, and that we needed to be concerned about our own safety, and not be in the way of first-responders. I don’t know what happened to this woman, since she was hardly responsive.

IMG_20130417_091416_251I will admit, as Cip and I ran away from the terror, for a moment I thought of turning around. Not that I could have helped much, but with being certified in CPR and first aid, I thought maybe I could do something. However, I quickly reminded myself that if people had lost limbs, I didn’t have the medical ability to do anything for them, and I didn’t think it was safe for me to head back.

Luckily, the bus with Cip’s baggage was directly down Boylston Street, so we went there and grabbed her bag. Unlike my bag, hers had a phone in it with battery power. We then retraced our steps by a block to try to exit the blocked of streets. We grabbed my bag, and had turned the corner off of Boylston Street. Around this time, I heard the first sirens. Still not feeling safe, but a bit safer than we had on Boylston Street, we slowed to a walk and tried to come up with the best course of action. Just then, we heard people yelling, and volunteers and staff cameramen came running at us, telling us to run. My thought: what do they know that we don’t know? I kept expecting an explosion to happen any second. Perhaps out of a building, a trash can, or under my feet. I kept telling myself that I might not still be safe. I might be blown to bits.

IMG_2412With Cip’s phone we were able to make a few phone calls. We decided to walk toward her hotel, right near Boston Common, and away from the finish line area. More sirens and helicopters. More people crying and screaming. We got to Cip’s hotel room, where I was able to charge my phone and we could turn on the news.

A few hours later, Chris and I walked back from Cip’s hotel (he walked to find me) back to The Eliot. We walked as far away from Boylston Street as possible, considering our hotel was a short two blacks away from the location of the second explosion. I was in a state of shock, still unable to totally process what had happened. Survival mode had kept me from becoming emotional. Between being emotionally and physically drained, and the request from the Boston PD and FBI for everyone to stay where they are, we stayed in the hotel for the rest of the night.

Monday night I barely slept. my mind was haunted with images, emotions, fears – things I could not shake from my conscious or unconscious. I kept waiting for our hotel room to explode. For something else to happen.

904376_902782584544_2034901455_oTuesday morning was a strange time. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful spring day in Boston. We packed our bags and checked out of the hotel, headed back to Back Bay Station and our Amtrak ride home. Exiting the hotel, there were police and swat teams on every corner, including outside our hotel. Our block was part of a crime scene, and we had to detour around Boylston Street.

Being outside made everything worse. It was all too real. The roped off blocks, the medical tents and finish area abandoned, standing just as it had Monday afternoon. News teams swarmed like vultures, all looking for marathoners to interview. They were set up with their vans, cameras, and lighting equipment by the dozens on every block.

As we walked, I lost it. I could not stop crying. I could not handle being there, and fought off panic attacks a few times. We walked past a young woman, and she handed me a white rose and thanked me for running the Boston Marathon. If I had any control over how I was conducting myself before, this gesture made me lose it entirely. I carried that white rose back with me to NYC, and it is currently in a vase in my kitchen.

I was asked for two interviews by news teams, both of which I declined. I didn’t want to keep reliving what I had experienced. I was already incredibly tired and frustrated from all of the questions everyone was already asking me. I know it was coming from a place of caring or curiosity, but every time I was asked what happened or how I was feeling, I had to revisit that pain. I wanted to yell at everyone to shut up and leave me alone.

155738_10101268085877673_955661079_nI am sure, like the city of Boston, that I will at some point get past what I experienced on Monday. I have overcome PTSD before, though this is my first time personally experiencing a terrorist attack. Everyone has questions, which is natural. Just please, before jumping to any conclusions, consider your resources. The day of the explosions, all kinds of false claims were being made, and many people were buying into them. Right now, the most important thing on everyone’s mind should be the recovery, healing, and grieving regarding the people injured, traumatized or killed.

I keep telling myself that I am incredibly lucky. I am also incredibly thankful that none of my friends, team mates or loved ones were injured. Many people were not so lucky. This is a time for healing and coming together, not for self-promotion or jumping on conspiracy band wagons.

While I won’t be running Boston in 2014 (I’m not running a qualifying race), I will probably be there to cheer on my friends. Come 2015, I hope to be there as a runner, looking to run a hard race. Until then, I am going to go out and run. I am going to run to celebrate life. I am going to run to clear my head. I am going to run because I can, some others are no longer lucky enough to have that gift.