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Thursday, November 10, 2011

NYC Marathon race report

  After a sleep-disturbed night in which I only sort of utilized the extra hour from setting the clocks back (still the best weekend of the year, hands-down), race morning had arrived.  I woke up that morning feeling...not sick!  My throat was still a little sore, but my head felt clear and my body refreshed.  All systems said go; my mind was made up that I was going to get through this thing for better or worse.  I threw on some clothes, grabbed my race day bag, and headed out.  After making a quick Dunkin stop (thanks to the nice woman who recognized my bag and wished me luck!), my first challenge of the morning presented itself: catching a cab.  I'm such a suburbanite.  I made a quick call up to Dave ("Which ones are available?  What do the lights mean?) when one pulled up to me.  I told the driver where I was headed with authority, like I knew what I was doing, and we were off.  I made my way over to the Sheraton to meet up with several fellow Rochesterians, including Dan Giblin, who had gotten me hooked up with the NYPD running club.  This ended up being the way to go- we got special transport to and from the start (that prevented me from having to stand around in a corral for 3 hours), our own post-race food back at the hotel, and a sweet NYPD jersey that drew TONS of cheers.  Our group walked over the NYPD buses, and soon enough, we were off to Staten Island.  Some good conversations helped to pass the ride and calm my nerves.

  Once on Staten Island, we had a short time in the NYPD area to use the bathrooms, get our stuff together, and strip down to our race gear.  I began my pre-race regimen of Peptos and Endurolytes to hopefully limit the bathroom needs.  Then, we were off to our corrals.  Local Tim Dwyer and I were in the same green wave corral, so I followed him through the crowds to our holding pen (at least, that's what it felt like); we made it there with a few minutes to spare.  I managed to stake out a small place to sit amongst the crowd of runners and tried to stay warm.  The morning was cool, but at 50 degrees or so, it could have been far worse.  Some nameless, yet always appreciated runner saw me rubbing my arms, and in broken English offered me his throwaway sweatshirt, which I gratefully accepted.  Around 9:00, they led us to our start line.  Never having done NY before, I hadn't known we'd be ushered to a place with (gasp!) no port-a-potties that far in advance of the race.  A few trees sat on the far side of a guardrail; these became the unofficial bathroom of our wave.  Interestingly, despite the fact that the "local competitive" corral was supposed to be in front of my corral, no one took any steps to keep us from intermingling, so I was able to get much closer to the start line than I had expected.  I chatted with a few of the runners around me (most of us were on the same "sub-3" page, so I confirmed that I wasn't going to be the jerk who had lined up too far forward).  One girl and I compared gels stuffed in our sports bras, and laughed over the fact that our husbands would likely appreciate the fact that they made our boobs look bigger.  Anything to calm the nerves, which were fully rampant at that point; I actually had originally been drawn into conversation when one guy laughingly told me I looked "intense".

   Despite the fact that I felt like we had gotten to our starting line far in advance of our 9:40 start, time passed in a blur, and next thing I knew, we were off.  Given the nature of the pre-race stuff, I hadn't been able to do even a brief warm-up jog, so I was starting cold.  Our wave actually went under the top deck of the Verrazanos bridge, so my GPS wasn't reading well at all at the start.  I also underestimated the difference that the uphill first mile/downhill second mile would make, and as a result, hit them in 6:57 and 5:54.  Whoops.  I tried to calm it down and settle in, but I still found myself holding 6:25-6:30 pace those early miles.  This was dangerously faster than the 6:40's I had trained consistently at and planned on, but I felt entirely too relaxed at the time.  Plus, as soon as we hit Brooklyn, the experience began to be amazing- spectators everywhere, indescribable crowd support, tree-lined city streets, everyone cheering "go NYPD!".  I knew I was being somewhat of an idiot with my pace, but I ran those first 10 or so miles with a perma-smile affixed on my face, thanking spectators and volunteers, and generally having the time of my life.  I couldn't help it; besides, I'd negative-splitted my 2:54, so part of me wanted to see if I could handle taking it out a bit faster.  My contingency plan of bailing at mile 16 was nothing but a distant memory, and I knew I'd be running well past 64th St.

  I wish I could remember more of the course itself, but the crowds are really what stuck out.  Sometime around mile 11, my quads began to feel funky.  Calm it down, I told myself, and just tick the miles out.  Fifteen miles, you've done that plenty of times.  The soreness/pain gradually became a bit more severe as the next few miles passed, but I was holding onto my pace fairly well still.  The half marathon mark was on one of the bridges; I passed the clock in around 1:24:40.  Genius, given my half pr is within 90 seconds of that.  Well, nothing I could do about it at that point except press on; plus, if Vegas taught me nothing else, it was that I could gut my way through a half marathon despite feeling rough the entire time.  The slight uphill/downhill of the bridge we passed over near that point began to take more of a toll on my legs.  I spent the next couple of miles trying to calm myself down in preparation for the larger hill that the Queensboro bridge represented.  When I first started that climb, the uphill was actually somewhat of a relief on my quads, which were beginning to hurt more and more with every step.  Then, it just kept going...and going...and going.  Finally, I crested the top of the bridge and began to come down.  I tried to use the downhill to make up a little of the lost time and recover a bit, but unfortunately, it also angered my quads a bit more.

  The quiet of the bridge was soon quickly altered by the deafening cheers as we turned off of it; the atmosphere there was electric enough to rejuvenate me a bit.  I didn't see Dave or Jess, but they were able to catch a glimpse of me.  I wasn't smiling anymore, but I had made it past the pre-planned 64th St. The miles then began to grow, it seemed.  I took in a gel to try to keep myself going.  I remember reaching mile 17 and thinking, "nine more miles- (insert expletive of choice here)".  Brief periods of doubt over my ability to finish still standing occurred.  Miles 18 and 19 offered a bit more hope- I was getting closer, and was still holding under 7:00 pace; the crowds were still pushing me forward.  That changed at mile 20, where I slipped over 7:00 for the remainder of the race.  At that point, all I could focus on was how much I could slow down and still break 3:00.  Fortunately, even though I was hurting pretty good and slowing down, I never was over to whatever I needed to be at for the sub-3.  The pain in my quads was reminiscent of only one experience in my life- the Casino Niagara Marathon.  Somehow, that kept me going; I wasn't tanking as badly as I had there, and I knew that taking even the briefest walking break would make running again near impossible.  Plenty of runners (including a few women) were passing me, but some were also slowing down more than I was, walking, stretching, trying to survive.  Misery loves company, I suppose, as it was some small comfort to me that some were worse off than I was; and least I was still running.

  The last 4 miles represented some of the worst athletic-related pain I've experienced.  My quads were absolutely, completely gone by that point, my right calf would occasionally pretend that it was about to cramp, my entire being became focused on finding some way to get myself through Central Park and to that finish line.  I tried taking water, I tried taking Gatorade, I pulled out another gel (that remained in my hand, barely touched).  I was hot and wanted to pull down my arm warmers, but somehow my mind had decided against making any non-running related movements.  The small uphill into mile 24 stands out in my mind as one of the worst points of the course, but with quads that felt like they wanted to break in half with every footstrike, the downhills in the park gave me no relief.  The spectators were still cheering enthusiastically for my NYPD jersey, at least; although upon viewing the Brightroom pictures of me, I now know that those who told me I "looked good" were totally full of it :).  Mile 24 passed, and I quickly calculated that I needed to maintain something around 9:00 pace, which meant that I just needed to continue on with some semblance of running.  At that point, my mind was set on it, but I had my doubts that my body wasn't going to just completely shut down and fail.  Mile 25 passed, and I had 12 minutes to get to the finish line to be under 3:00.  I solely concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other over that last mile; a couple of women passed me during it, but I was past the point where I could have done anything to respond.  I passed the 26 mile marker in just over 2:55.  The last .2 of the NYC marathon kindly counts down every 100m, which was absolute torture.  I desperately wanted to be under 2:57; for some reason, 2:56 just sounds far faster to me than 2:57.  Finally, mercifully, after probably the worst .2 miles I've ever run, I was crossing the heralded NYC marathon finish line.

  My official time would end up as 2:56:36, good for 44th place among the women, both of which met my pre-race hopes of a sub-3, top 50 finish.  Thanks to Brightroom, I can see that I crossed the line, took a couple steps, and then immediately bent forward in abject pain as others streamed across.  My time was just over a couple minutes over my best, but Tallahassee was a far, far easier marathon experience than what had just gone down.  Part of it was my own doing over those enthusiastic first miles, but my limiting factor had again been my quads.  Given I'd known that they hadn't been perfect heading into the race and given my level of pain at the end of it, combined with the concrete downhills of the course, I can say with fair certainty they  would not have held out for the full marathon regardless of my starting pace.  If I had gone through the half a minute or two slower, I might have saved a minute or two overall, but this is pure conjecture.  Who knows.  Given I'm obsessive and perfectionist by nature, I've spent some time chastising myself over my less than genius first half of the race.  Still, I've been mostly able to let it go (and heck, I had a great time doing it early on- in a way, it was worth it to just be a little crazy, go for it, and soak up the experience), and overall I'm very happy with how things went.  Despite my very positive splitting, I managed to only lose 2 places among the women in the second half of the race (from what I can tell, five passed me, and I passed three); seeing that made me feel a bit better, given I felt like I was "selling wholesale" (thanks for the saying, Hennessey) towards the end.  Plus, looking back, those last few miles have toughened me up a bit, and have proven to me that I can will my body to do things despite its best protests- knowledge that will certainly aid me through Ironman time!  In a way, I feel like this 2:56 should mean more to me than my 2:54 did; it's far easier to run well on a day when everything comes easily than it is on a day when every step becomes a struggle.  I had far more low points during NYC than I did during Tallahassee.  At the very least, I now know that the 2:54 wasn't some sort of weird fluke or a mismeasured course or the fastest marathon I could ever dream of running...

   I'll wrap this up with a brief synopsis of the aftermath.  After crossing the line, getting my medal, and getting my picture taken with it by the race photographers, we walked...and walked...and walked.  I knew I was supposed to exit early somewhere to catch the NYPD vans, but I couldn't figure out where.  I did ask some volunteers at one point, but they told me to keep going straight.  I emerged absolutely freezing onto 77th St, hugging my weird metallic blanket thing against myself, with a walk that was more of a straight-legged waddle than anything else.  I then had to make my way to the vans on 69th St.  Eight blocks turned out to be brutal post-marathon.  I made my way to the van, where a kind NYPD officer helped me in and apologized for having to wait for a few more marathoners to come before we could go back to the hotel.   No problem whatsoever by me, I informed him.  I was finally sitting, and the van was blissfully warm.  We could have sat there for hours, for all I cared.  Back up at the hotel, I was congratulated by Dan and Dave (mid-90's Reebox ad reference, anyone?).  A hot shower was absolutely glorious (except for the areas of my ankles that no longer had skin on them).  I tried to enjoy some food (Dave vouched that it was tasty), but apparently six pre-race Peptos (they should sponsor me, I'm a firm believer in their product) doesn't allow your post-race stomach to do things it wants to do (I'll stop before this becomes TMI).  I forced Dave to catch us a cab back to Jess's apartment, as subway stairs were an absolute no at that point.  The most challenging part of the weekend then became trying to navigate the four flights of stairs up to (and down from) the apartment- Dave took video to commemorate my skilled movements.

  Later that night, we did manage to get out to Times Square and Rockefeller Center, where I walked around like something was wrong with me and tried to soak it in.  I saw a few others with similar walks, who had smartly (unlike me) worn either their finishers medals or some sort of marathon jacket to explain their waddles.  That night and the following day, the quad pain continued.  Four days later, I'm finally able to go upstairs without a rail and downstairs foot over foot, but forgetting I'm still semi-crippled and squatting down like I always do at work today nearly sent me through the roof.  Oh well.  I'll recover soon enough, I'll heal, and I'll begin on the next journey (and hopefully there should be something to announce about that soon!)  Thanks again to everyone who wished me lucked, supported me/tracked me during, and congratulated me after the marathon.  The experience was truly unlike any other and was entirely worth every second, no matter how excruciating, and the support means the world to me, the accomplishments of others in any venture inspires me, and all of this helps to keep me going in these journeys!  (And thanks again to Jess, for her awesome hosting/bed giving up/NYC navigating this weekend...we will forever be indebted.)      

For anyone who cares, here's the link to my Garmin file from the race.  Don't mind the fact that it also included the neverending walk through the finish chute and back to the NYPD vans because I forgot to stop it.  Obviously the bridge splits are screwed up, too (4:37 second mile?  heck yeah! 40 second mile pr! or...not)  It also looks a little better than the splits I gathered on my watch, have to love that the Garmin always reads a little over!

Not sure what point of the race this was, other than "after it began to suck".  Sadly, I think this is one of the more attractive pictures taken.
Around mile 16...looked a little better then

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NYC marathon-the build!

   Marathon weekend has come and gone, so where to start?  Well, I think the logical place for me (and my inability to ever stay within page limits), is with a little reflection on my training approach heading into the race.  When I originally signed up for this race, I think I only had my first marathon under my belt, had gotten shut out of Boston, and wanted to run a big city marathon.  I knew NYC wasn't the fastest marathon course ever, but after watching the likes of Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan on TV coverage over the past couple of years, I was intrigued more by the experience than the actual thought of running a good marathon.  Then, in early February, the Tallahassee marathon happened, which just turned out to be one of those races where absolutely everything goes perfectly- 45 degrees at the race start with no wind to speak of, a flat, fast course, a well-executed taper, good pacing, and just overall feeling strong.  Heading into that race, I had a marathon pr of 3:10, which made 3:00 seem like a reach.  I had trained a little unconventionally (marathon-wise)- two runs a week (one long run, one treadmill workout), only one run over 20 miles, and lots of supplemental long bike trainer sessions.  I erred on the conservative side in training, as too long of a run too close to the race had done me in during my first marathon.  But, as a result, I came out of that race with a negative-splitted 2:54, a time that I never would have dreamed I would be capable of, and something I feared I never would approach again.  With a marathon pr I was more than satisfied with, I turned my focus to the triathlon world for the summer.

  Fast forward seven months, and NYC had really only crossed my mind as something I'd casually mention I was running here and there.  I really didn't focus on it or think about it much over the summer; I was too engrossed with 70.3 Worlds.  Then, before I knew it, worlds were over, and the marathon was less than two months away.  I hadn't run over 15 miles since Tallahassee.  I doubted I could approach what I'd run there.  After Worlds, I felt like I was risking letdown in my next big event.  So, I did what any obsessive endurance athlete does: I crammed.  I'd been conservative heading into Tallahassee, so I decided to push the envelope a bit coming into NY.  Part of it was just that I felt like I had to validate my previous marathon to myself- after that race, I had kept checking back to the race website, expecting to see some message that the course had been mismeasured and was short or something.  So, I started running 4-5 times/week, up to 60 miles, with some swimming and biking- a mileage amount that's still very low for traditional marathon training standards, but was still higher than I'd been able to run consistently since, well, my first stress fracture six years ago.  My sub-18 quest sort of developed, as well, so pretty much every run was long, intense, or both.  I also had picked up more hours at work in order to cover for a coworker on maternity leave, so I spent most of October sore, tired, and borderline cranky.  But, somehow, I was still feeling pretty decent during runs, and somewhere in there, a switch turned on, and the fire was lit- I didn't want to run NY as a spectator, I wanted to run it as a competitor (well, competitive for me, at least).  I never really knew how to answer the "time goal" question- I felt I was fit enough for another sub-3, and hopefully better than that, but I had no idea how the hills and crowds of NY would play in.

    Then, a week and a half weeks before the race, less than two weeks after I'd reveled in how great my quads had felt during a 21 miler and several days after a 16 miler had been a struggle, I had my first ominous sign.  With one mile repeat on the track left to go, my quads gave me a twinge of the feeling I fear.  They were nearing their limits with the increased run distance, frequency, intensity, and general abuse I'd been putting on them.  I semi-expected it; I knew I'd been walking a fine line with what I'd been asking of my body.  As I've learned on several occasions, my quads are my weak link, my wall, whatever I want to call them.  At mile 10 of my first marathon, they'd started to go on me.  The best way as I can describe what it felt like was when I would load the bar for the last set of squats during college lifting and severely struggle through the final rep.  It was that kind of muscular failure pain, the sharp, something's punching me, I hope my legs don't give out feeling with every step of that race.  So, despite starting to feel a twinge of that, I finished the last mile of my workout, jogged home, and hoped that no damage was done.  Still, though, I kept feeling little twinges, even at rest, in the quads for the next week, with some discomfort towards the end of my subsequent runs.  I tried not to obsess, but being me, I'm sure I did a bit.

  But, despite the questionable quads, I began to feel more rested day by day, until Friday, when I woke up with a sore throat, headache, and general gross feeling.  Wonderful.  I spent the day fairly upset at work, debating if I just wanted to scratch the NY plan and run the Harrisburg Marathon the next weekend instead, given that Dave was already registered.  Still, I sucked down Coldeeze, enjoyed some sinus rinse (hate that thing!  At least my swim that morning had prepared me for the feeling of water up the nose), and kept my fingers crossed that I could fight it off adequately in time.  With that, we enjoyed some tasty dinner with my family Friday night, and after a short flight and a long airtrain/subway ride, we were in NY.  Dave and I stayed with former college teammate Jess Schultz, who so generously donated her apartment/bed/city knowledge to us all weekend- saving us hundreds of dollars and making the entire experience much more enjoyable; plus, it was great to catch up!  Saturday involved feeling very slightly better, although my throat remained raw and head somewhat uncomfortable.  After a stale-feeling shakeout jog, Dave and I made a contingency plan- aka, where he and Jess would be on the race course in case I needed to bail- 64th St and 5th, just after the Queensboro bridge.  Ironically, we spent so much time developing that plan, that we didn't realize until just before bedtime on Saturday where I'd meet Dave in the event that I did finish the race- oops!  I actually had begun to feel better throughout the day, too, and by bedtime, my "let's do this!" attitude was returning (not to mention, if I didn't finish, I'd have no reason to excuse the massive amounts of food I'd consumed that day).  With my race day goods ready to go, I was off to bed for a sleep-disturbed night, another sign my mind was back in the game.  And so that brings us to race day- which I'll tackle on another post!