The Tesla Hertz (104.8 mile) run

A few weeks ago, I apparently ran 104.8 miles in 23 hours and 41 minutes. I say “apparently”, because I still can’t believe I did it. I mean, I know I started running in the dark, ran through the daylight, and then finished in the dark, but something in my brain refuses to accept that I put one foot in front of the other for nearly 24 goddamn hours. If you told me I had could do anything I wanted for 24 hours, as long as I stayed awake, I’d tell you I couldn’t do it. In college and even in the million years I spent in graduate school, I never pulled a true all-nighter – I always had to take a nap. So, just the thought of staying AWAKE, let alone being upright and mobile, for 24 hours is mind boggling.

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Starting in the dark
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Running in the daylight
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Finishing in the dark

 

Anyway, I digress. This race was a redemption of sorts. Last year, I made it 73 miles before calling it quits, my fear of the dark getting the best of me. This year, I knew I couldn’t drop or else I’d look like a fool. Also, I work in an MRI research lab and I really wanted to tell my boss I finished the Tesla Hertz run. So, I came back with a new and improved crew including Sam, experienced 100 miler Chris, and super crewer Surjeet.

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Waaay back in 2016 when I paced Chris at the VT100.

 

Holy crap, am I glad they were there because I needed every bit of help I could get. While my body was mostly cooperating (save for rolling my ankle a few times), my mind was on another planet. I just couldn’t focus. Normally, I can zone out no problem during a long run – I’ll run right past people I know, miss turns, run EXTRA, and not even realize it because I’m spaced out. But not today. A big part of the problem was that I was running mostly solo starting around mile 5. Even though there were a few other races going on throughout the day (100k, 50M, 50k, 10M), the course seemed pretty empty. Nothing but me, the woods, the creepy hunting tent just off the trail, and another 100 frikking miles to go. Mentally, it was brutal. Things got really bad around miles 30-40, and I seriously considered dropping because, WHAT THE HELL, KELLY? What is wrong with you that you think that THIS is a fun way to spend your 3-day weekend?

All I wanted to do was go home and lay on the couch, go to Target, or do whatever it was normal people were doing on a Saturday. But, no. I just HAD to be doing this ridiculous thing, because, why? What kept me going was that I didn’t have a good answer to stop. “I’m just not feeling it” isn’t a good excuse to give up. Also, I knew that Chris and Jeet were in a car on their way from Boston, and I didn’t want them to have to turn around an hour into their trip because, how annoying would that be? So, I kept going. I focused on doing as many miles as possible before it got dark, because, as another runner noted, “this course fucking sucks in the dark.” Excellent. At least I had something to look forward to.

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Looking moderately crazy at mile 70ish.

I kept going, and it got dark. FAST. I finished my 6th loop with my headlamp on, trying to take deep breaths to calm down (see above re: scared of the dark). Chris and Jeet had arrived, and were, like, really cheery (or maybe I was just really grumpy?). Chris was there to do the last 3 loops (~31 miles) with me, which meant I had more one solo loop. Except, it was dark. And I’m afraid of the dark. Thankfully, Chris had all sorts of flashlights and lent me the most powerful flashlight I’d ever seen in my life. As I left the start/finish line, someone yelled, “Woah! I wanna run behind her!” Hmm, maybe I’ll be okay and won’t lose the trail and get eaten by lions and bears?

 

 

The last three loops with Chris went by without incident. Oh, wait. No. I learned some things: running that many miles causes loss of bladder control and running while holding a flashlight gives me serious motion sickness. Also, I’m really fun to be with after running for 20+ hours. I gave Surjeet dagger eyes around mile 85 when she told me I shouldn’t sit down anymore because I wouldn’t want to get up. I almost assassinated Sam when he made a “joke” (note: it’s still not funny). I remember warning Surjeet, “I’m, like, really close to a meltdown”. Like I said, I’m really fun. (Thankfully for everyone, I mostly kept my shit together.) After making sure I had enough liquids and salt and sugar, Sam and Surjeet pushed me out of the last few aid stations. Chris kept me running/power walking, and made sure I met my goal of finishing in under 24 hours.

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3am after running 90 miles. Everything is so fun.

Umm, guys. We did it. I got my first belt buckle. In a race where 31 people started and only 9 finished, I came in 3rd overall and was the only female finisher. No poop accidents, no vomiting, no toenails lost, no injuries, no (major) chafing, and only 1 blister. (Full disclosure: the blister was the size of a quarter and it popped sometime after mile 40 making my toe look like a golden raisin.) I couldn’t have done it without words (ok, speeches) of encouragement and sandwiches from Sam, status and sanity checks from Surjeet, and invaluable pacing from Chris. Of course, huge thank yous to Vinny and Nichole and the volunteers for putting on such a beautiful race.

Somewhere around mile 95 I told Chris there was “no fucking way” I was doing this again. He wisely told me to “wait a week”. Spoiler: he was right.

Ghost train, 2019?

 

 

 

The Double Boston

The other day, I ran two marathons (and, yes, I do realize how ridiculous that sounds). The Double Boston, the Boston Double, Boston Squared, whatever you want to call it, I ran the Boston Marathon course. Twice. It was windy and rainy, and hypothermia was a serious concern. It was by far the worst weather — and most fun — I’ve ever had during a race.
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The (in)famous Boston Marathon course, starting in Hopkinton and finishing in Boston with the two BEST turns in all of racing: right on Hereford, left on Boylston (and straight on till morning).
Less than a week before Marathon Monday, I was reading an article about runners who run from the finish line on Boylston to the start line in Hopkinton, only to turn around and run back with the rest of the field. My first thought was, “I want to do that.” I texted Sam who said, “Sure, we can do that in a few years.” HA. Oh Sam, you are too funny. “No. I mean Monday.” And, as good husbands do, he indulged me in my crazy. Over the next few days, we talked weather, nutrition, hydration, clothes, timing, and pacing. And then at dinner with (ultra-runner) friends, we discussed it all over again.
At 5am on Marathon Monday, we took the obligatory photo of the finish line on Boylston and did something weird — we turned FROM Boylston TO Hereford.

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Cold and sleepy.

The sun wouldn’t rise for at least another hour, and as a, ahem, rather high strung individual, I wasn’t concerned about being physically able to run 52.4 miles, but was so afraid that we’d lose the course (keep in mind that I’ve run this race 10 times), end up somewhere in suburban Massachusetts, and be forced to call an Uber so that I could get to the start line, where I’d arrive late and miss the wave 1 start. Of course, none of that happened. Instead, we had a great run with a few other Double Boston-ers, one of whom was the inspiration behind my attempt.

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Running for x miles (10<x<20) and still smiling. Thanks Greg for the photo!
At around our 14th mile, we met up with ultra-crewer extraordinaire Surjeet, who offered words of encouragement and gave me a MUCH appreciated heat blanket (Jeet, if you’re reading this, I was SO jealous of your jacket. It looked warm. And dry).

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Running is so funny. Photo credit: Surjeet

Sam peeled off after 20 miles to catch the commuter rail back to Boston (haha, imagine spending your Monday morning commute sitting next to a soaking wet dude in spandex!), and I continued on with new friend, ultra-marathon badass, and Double Boston veteran, Greg. We waved hello to visibly confused security staff, laughed at the endless “you’re going the wrong way!” heckling, and were cheered on by water station volunteers. It felt like we had the entire course to ourselves, because, we LITERALLY had the course to ourselves.

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One marathon down, one to go.
Phew, 9:05am, and we made it to the start line! Success! I was soaked from some gross combination of rain and sweat, and had nothing to do but stand around in the rain, giving me ample time to freak out about hypothermia and my SECOND marathon of the day. I spent a few minutes hanging out in an undiscovered-to-the-runners porta potty, where I listened to the rain pelting the plastic roof and tried to figure out how long I could stay in there before some anxious-to-poop runner knocked on the door. I eventually left my porta potty paradise and stood around shivering. I bought two hot chocolates for the sole purpose of warming my hands. I started marching in place, trying to stay warm and conserve energy at the same time (note: as a scientist, I recognize that this may be physically impossible). FINALLY, it was time to get in the corrals. The gun went off, and my second marathon of the day was officially underway.
It took about 50 feet for me to come to the harsh realization that running an uphill marathon and then shivering for 55 minutes do terrible things to your body. My abs ached, my toes were numb, and my hands looked like they belonged to a dead person. Umm, this might get ugly. At about 5km, I thought of walking into a medical tent and ending the day, but I figured the fastest way back to Boston was probably on foot rather than in a sweeper van. So, I kept on. I eventually warmed up and started enjoying the run back to Boylston. I soaked in the crowd (no pun intended) and couldn’t stop smiling. These people were fucking nuts. In a good way. There were thousands of spectators standing in the pouring rain, freezing their tushies off, cheering like mad. They were wearing everything from ski pants to garbage bags. They were hanging over metal gates, leaning out windows, sitting under beach umbrellas, and huddling under blankets. The biker bar in Ashland was still rocking and Wellesley was still loud AF. Little kids still stuck their hands out for high fives and families still handed out oranges and bananas. Many of the signs disintegrated but one that lasted read, “We’re strangers, but I’m so proud of you.” Aaand, commence tears.
I got passed by Meb. I saw Surjeet at mile 12 (I guess it was really mile 38? Best not to think about it). I thanked as many people as I could, I braced for the hills when we got to the Newton Firehouse, and fantasized about what I’d eat post race (cheeseburgers and strawberry milkshake. Note: I don’t eat red meat and I don’t like strawberry shakes).

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What I actually ate post-running. Friendly’s. Heck. Yes.

And then, at mile 19, the tears came on strong: I heard that Des Linden won. DES! YOU GUYS. Des. Won. Boston. I saw Sam at mile 25.5, and knew it was almost over. I did it. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. Two Boston marathons in under 8 hours.

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Heading UP to the start line. Photo courtesy of Greg.
I did the post marathon shuffle back to the hotel, where the staff stood in the lobby and cheered for every. single. runner. coming through the doors. Oh, Boston. You get me every time.
Thank you Boston. Thank you Sam. Thank you Surjeet and Chris. Thank you Greg. Thank you to all the volunteers, staff, and spectators. Thank you to everyone who stood outside in the freezing rain and wind, just to keep us going. Together forward.

For lent, I gave up running

Every year, I used to joke that I was going to give up smoking for lent. As someone who has never smoked a cigarette, this is a pretty good indication as to the extent of my religiousness (plus there was that time I told my dad that church made me feel sick and that other time I told a woman she had something on her forehead on Ash Wednesday). Anyway, this year, I gave up running. And before you start thinking crazy things, it wasn’t a decision I made by choice because, duh, why would I voluntarily stop running? That would just be silly.

Last season was not-so-fun — I was coming off of a rough experience with adrenal fatigue and then had a consistently tight psoas in my right hip that turned into tendinitis (fun fact: your psoas is the oh-so-delicious “tenderloin” muscle that runs from your back to the front of your hip). My left knee was sore, which I, being the “smart” runner and scientist that I am, ignored and assumed would magically go away. I ran the Hartford Marathon in October 2016 and then beat the crap out of my body in the JFK 50 miler 6 weeks later.

I took the usual 2 weeks off and while on vacation in Florida, insisted Sam and I go for a run. I took 3 steps and it felt like someone was stabbing my kneecaps. Like a dope, I ran/hobbled 4 miles, and was near tears the entire time (I should mention that the tears were also because I have a serious fear of getting eating by a gator). As soon as Sam and I got back to the hotel, I googled “runner knee pain” and diagnosed myself with tendinitis, arthritis, and cancer. Because, WebMD.

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You can’t tell me these things aren’t terrifying
Fast forward a few weeks+visits to my orthopedist+MRIs, and an ugly crying session (or six) and I’m staring at MR images on my computer at work, thinking that it’s a good thing I work across the street from Hospital for Special Surgery because I need both my knees replaced, and despite the hardware, I’ll never run again. Definitely thinking clearly and rationally. A few hours later, I got the radiology report and pretty much lost my shit. In addition to a torn labrum in my right hip, there were a few other fun surprises: two swollen kneecaps, a few cysts, and not one but TWO meniscus tears. Wait. WHAT? Torn meniscus? How is it that I played basketball for over 10 years without a single knee injury and now I have complex and lateral meniscus tears? After talking to my (incredibly calm, patient, understanding) orthopedist, he advised that we were only going to deal with the injuries that were symptomatic. In other words, ignore the cysts and meniscus tears. Phew. I like the way this man thinks.
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Arrow indicates bone swelling on the underside of my kneecap. Also, sadface.

It stopped running for 11 weeks and 2 days. For most, this time off would be a welcome respite. And in the beginning, it was actually kind of nice — I put in more time at work, I baked and cooked (translation: I ate), read more books, caught up on sleep, went shopping, and put my Netflix subscription to good use. To deal with the sadness of having to cancel my Boston Marathon hotel reservation and to skip a few local races, I tried to look at the time off as a good thing and rationalized that everyone needs a break once in awhile. I’ve been running for over 12 years without any serious injuries. My body (and mind) needed a rest… right? I put my running shoes and Sparkly Soul headbands away, I had a feeling that I’d be taking it easy for awhile.

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Turns out, vacations are a lot more relaxing when you’re not running 10 miles a day. Who knew?
After a few weeks of “active rest”, my positivity started to wane and I grew antsy. My clothes started to get tight (ugh). Things seemed less like fun and more like chores. I was in a bad mood for no particular reason (sorry Sam!), and the littlest things made me anxious. In other words, I needed to burn energy. I needed my quiet time back. I needed to run.

On Patriot’s Day, I watched the Boston Marathon on TV, teared up pretty much every time they showed Meb, got sad when Des Linden fell off the lead pack, and cheered Jordan Hasay in her marathon debut. I worked at an NYCRUNS race in Prospect Park and got chills when the gun went off, wishing that I was racing that day. After spending many hours with my physical therapist Dan and hanging out with the meatheads in the gym, I finally feel like I’m on my way to being an athlete again.

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My rehab workout calendar. Once I fill it with stickers, I buy myself a reward!

I have callouses on my hands, my hamstrings are sore, and my pile of dirty gym clothes is growing (and stinking) more every day. It’s awesome.

My doctor is “cautiously optimistic” and “pleased” with my progress. He’s given me the green light to run 10 miles a week. I used to run more than that in a day, but right now, I’m happy to run 10 (pain-free) feet. Because, if I can progress from 10 miles to 15 and eventually back up to 70-80, I’ll be able to run that 100 mile race in October.
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A lot of people doubted me
They laughed in my face
Said there ain’t no way
I would finish that race
But I kept my head down
And laced up my shoes
I ran a marathon
When no one thought I could
I didn’t always want to
But I said that I would
And I learned a lot about what I can do
It doesn’t matter if they don’t believe
It doesn’t matter if they do not understand
Cause every dream that Im trying to achieve
I can, I can, I can

The JFK 50 miler. It’s complicated.

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country”

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The “down” portion of the trail

Much like my current relationship with my country (“it’s complicated”), my relationship with the JFK 50 miler was just as muddled. I had targeted this race as a sort of “bucket list” event – a famous 50 miler with a large field and notoriously unpredictable weather, coupled with my first time on the storied Appalachian Trail. Living in NYC, I don’t do much trail running (the Central Park Bridle Path isn’t a trail?) so any mention of a trail being “technical” makes me very nervous. The first 15 miles of the race were on the AT, followed by 26ish on a flat canal path, and then the rest on roads, so I reasoned (rationalized?) that I could handle the canal path and roads, and as for the AT, it was highly trafficked, so how bad could it be? Ha. Note: when a course is described as “treacherous”, there’s probably a reason. I spent the first 3 hours of the race in a single file line 900 runners long, staring at my feet as we hopped and skipped over rocks while we went 1000 feet up… and then 1000 feet down. I was certain I was going to smash my face and lose my teeth. Thankfully, I managed to avoid any falls or dental mishaps (some of my fellow racers weren’t as lucky), and we finally got off the rockiest, most ankle-turning, quad-busting trail I’ve ever raced.

I was so excited to see dirt at the mile 16 aid station that I downed too many cups of soda (my sugary caffeinated ultramarathon drink of choice). The caffeine kicked in and I flew through the next 8 miles, until suddenly, my belly rebelled. The soda’s carbonation/acidity did a number on my mostly empty stomach and voila, I looked like I was 5 months pregnant. I hobbled into the aid station at mile 27, half doubled over (quartered over?), unsure of what to do: my stomach was a disaster and my 3 hour, 15 mile start to the race was seriously messing with my confidence. I hung out (i.e., leaned against a tree) for a little while as Sam and the aid station volunteers desperately tried to get me to eat. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Pretzels? Potatoes? Oranges? NO FOOD PLZ, CAN’T YOU SEE I’M WITH CHILD? I considered dropping out, but after, “watering” a tree with partially digested soda, I kept down some chicken broth and yogged to the next aid station.

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Yogging. Barely. 

With my stomach slowly deflating back to its original “Kelly Belly” size, I kept going, holding steady around 9:00-9:30min/mi. The allure of the flat tow path wore off after about 15 miles, but it was hard to get too discouraged because the course was so pretty – we were running along the Potomac with West Virginia just across the river. Added bonus: shot gun blasts from your local Saturday morning hunters that made this Yankee wish I wore orange.

 

Heading out of the mile 37 aid station, the once temperate and sunny Saturday morning (or was it afternoon? Or was it Sunday? HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN MOVING?) turned dark and windy. We knew it was going to rain, but it wasn’t supposed to start yet. Mother Nature had other plans. I used the impending storm as motivation to keep going – running in the rain is fun and silly for the first 5 minutes and then it gets old REALLY FAST… especially if you’ve already been running for 40 miles. As I left the cushiony tow path for the unforgiving concrete roads, it felt like I was either in the Wizard of Oz or about to experience the apocalypse: wind, rain, hail, old corn stalks taking flight in the fields, barn doors slamming shut, and debris blowing every which way.

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Like I said, spastic.

Sam and a couple he befriended earlier in the race (because it’s Sam and that’s what he does) surprised me at mile 47 with a much-needed windbreaker. The temp was dropping and I was soaked with sweat and rain, a not-good combination. I spastically put it on and was back on my way. Mile 48 in 8:08, past a group of three men who were none too happy to get beat by a girl (but that’s for another blog post), mile 49 in 8:15, I had to beat those men. More rain. More hail. This thing is almost over. I want ice cream.

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I crossed the finish line at mile 50.2 (yes, 50.2), soaked, sore, and utterly spent. While my time certainly wasn’t a PR, I was in 265th place at mile 2.5 and finished 135th overall, 21st female. I felt okay about the race, especially given my technical trail inexperience and nutrition idiocy. I managed to drive us back to our hotel (we won’t talk about my stick shift skills) where I insisted on celebrating at Outback Steakhouse, primarily because it was across the hotel parking lot and it had a Bloomin’ Onion, of which I was going to eat every last fried bit all by myself. Of course I ordered grilled chicken and broccoli, and was subsequently teased by the other 50 milers who were sitting at the bar with us, but whatever. It was MY celebratory meal. And it was delicious. Also, my appetizer was a loaf of bread.

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Thanks JFK, you were as challenging and memorable and complicated as advertised.

 

“If you are losing faith in human nature…

… go out and watch a marathon.”

Last Sunday, I divided my time between 1st ave and 95th St and 5th ave and 95th street, miles 18 and 23 respectively, of the New York City Marathon. (I also *happened* to end up at a Wafels and Dinges truck, but that’s another story.)

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After getting off the subway at 63rd Street, I walked up First Ave and and saw Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center – a place where my brother was treated for cancer, and where I spent 8 years doing breast cancer research. As I walked past their Fred’s Team banners and balloons, the tears started flowing. I passed crowds of people from Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Italy. I watched as little kids cheered on parents. significant others cheered on partners, perfect strangers high-fived anyone who looked like they could use a boost. I watched in awe as Mary Keitany flew past us on her way to victory, then stood speechless as eventual 3rd place  American Olympian Molly Huddle and gold medal triathlete Gwen Jorgensen pushed though the wall. Then the professional men came, and my breath caught in my chest – their grace and power made it look so easy, but if you look close enough, you’ll see the tiniest grimace or errant arm swing, revealing the pain they’re trying so hard to hide. I waited (and cried. Again.) as Sam came up 1st Ave, and then when he met me on 5th Ave. New York was a party, and the positive energy was contagious. I was filled with pride, inspiration, and optimism.

          Then came Tuesday. Sam and I got up early to vote, casting our ballots before 7am. I’ve never been one for politics, but this one, well, this one was different. Like so many other women, I’ve been the subject of inappropriate and unwelcome attention — whether it’s on a run, or simply walking down the street. I’ve been followed, yelled at, intimidated, verbally harassed. I’ve had to restrict my running routes and running schedule. I’ve crossed the street when something didn’t feel right and changed subway cars when the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Sadly, I’ve gotten used to checking behind me on a dark street, or making sure no one slips in after me when I enter my building. Every once in awhile, I get angry and vent about how it’s not fair, about how men don’t understand that we have to think about this stuff, how much simpler things would be if I didn’t have to think about what time I’m getting on the subway, if I’m wearing the “wrong” outfit, or if I should run in a different neighborhood, or at a different time of day.
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Slightly sleepy, slightly excited about voting
          Anyway, to me, the foundation of this election wasn’t (totally) about politics. It was about basic human decency. It was about a candidate who thought the behavior I experienced as a woman was perfectly acceptable; after all, he doesn’t limit this hate and anger to one gender, ethnic group, or religion. For this (and many other reasons I’m not going to enumerate here), I’m not okay associating with someone like that, let alone have them represent our country. And so, on Tuesday morning when I filled in the circle next to Hillary’s name, I thought of all the times I was told to stop being emotional, that I was “good for a girl”, that people were surprised I could “keep up with the boys”. The times I was winked at by my boss, or mistakenly thought of as a secretary instead of a doctor.
          As we all know, things didn’t turn out as predicted. While Secretary Clinton did win the popular vote, she lost in the Electoral College, which means that we’ll have to wait 4 years for another strong woman to come though. 4 more years for another Molly Huddle at mile 25, another Sue Bird in the 4th quarter, or Serena Williams in the 3rd set. As Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, once said, “if you’re losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
          Brb, I’m gonna go watch some marathons.
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After the 2013 NYC Marathon. 

The Hartford Marathon. I ran, I cried, I ate donuts.

For me, marathons are a very emotional experience – I cry when I watch them on TV, I cry when I’m on the sidewalk cheering, hell I cry when I’m running the freaking things. The Hartford Marathon was no different. The gun hadn’t gone off yet and already I had teared up three times. The first was when we were walking to the start line in the pre-dawn mist (sniff, it’s a beautiful morning for a race and I’m so happy I just went to the bathroom), again when I saw the Team Hoyt members rolling through the Start Village (sniff, so incredibly inspiring), and a third time when the race announcer reminded us that we did all the hard stuff and today was about having fun (sniff, alright alright alright. I’ve got 26.2 miles of racing ahead of me). The starting gun brought me back to reality. Okay, I guess I’m about to have “fun” for the next 3+ hours….

 

 

A few thousand of my fellow runners and I took off into the streets of Hartford. After 1 mile, the speedy half marathoners turned off, giving us full marathoners some peace and quiet so we could lament that fact that we didn’t sign up for the much less agonizing 13.1 mile option (…or maybe that was just me?). After a few miles of fantasizing about my post race meal — including but not limited to: a chocolate milk shake, a donut, sweet potato fries, and pizza — I caught up to the 3:05 pace group. I’ve never run with a pace group before — I run marathons by myself, completely in my own head, oftentimes oblivious to my surroundings. Since these middle miles were on narrow bike paths, I didn’t really have a choice except to run with the group. I spent a few miles getting frustrated with  the giant blob of 20 other runners who were closely following the group leader and his yellow shorts with the red chili peppers. I tried to avoid the group by purposely falling back, only to realize that lagging behind would work to my detriment. Duh. Then, I surged ahead, only to hear the thunderous footsteps of two dozen well-paced runners catch up a mere 1/2 mile later. And then I realized I was “that girl” that couldn’t keep a steady pace. Pace group, you win. We’ve got a whole bunch more miles to go, so let’s have fun together.

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Me and a buncha dudes in the 3:05 pace group.

Once I accepted that I wouldn’t be running this one alone, I took full advantage of drafting and this camaraderie thing I hear so much about. Miles 12-23 went by SO fast. Thanks to an amazing group leader, our pace never deviated more than 3 seconds per mile. I kept telling myself that if I stayed with the man with the chili peppers on his shorts, I’d finish in precisely 3:05.

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Then, mile 23 came around. As our pacer Morgan had done every mile, he announced the mile marker, our split, and our overall average pace. “We just passed our 23rd mile. We did it in 7 minutes and 3 seconds, for an overall average pace of 7:02. Great work everyone.” Something about that 23rd mile announcement made my head and body simultaneously freak the heck out. “Hold up. You mean to tell me I just ran 23 miles IN A ROW and my last mile was in 7:03? NUH UH.” I didn’t quite recover from that freak out, as I watched Morgan and his dwindling crew of 4 runners leave me in their dust at the next water stop. I told myself I only had less than 5km to go. 3 miles. I got this.

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And so I thought about Sam for the next mile, about how I would make him buy me all of the ice cream and donuts on the way home (note: I did. And he did.). Then the next mile I thought about my sister and brother-in-law and how I hoped they were getting the athlete alerts and didn’t think I was crying on the side of the road (ahem, not that I’ve ever done that before). Then the last mile I thought of my 2 year old nephew, and how he loved to toast “cheers”, watch mickey mouse, and pretend he was a firefighter/gas station attendant. Before I knew it, I made the final turn and waved to Sam as I crossed the finish line. (Okay, okay. Maybe a tear or two happened somewhere in there, too.)

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I finished my 28th marathon in 3:06:26, good for 20th female overall and 3rd in my age group, in a highly competitive Hartford Marathon field. Not my best, but certainly not my worst. But no matter, there’s plenty of time to make changes to the training regimen. The day was about celebrating: I put on my purple compression socks, collected my age-group award and we went straight to Dunkin Donuts.

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I’m thinking donuts, pizza, ice cream, cupcakes. In that order.

 

New borough, new runs

I’ve been running for 12 years, and during that time, I’ve only lived in two cities. Since runners (and myself in particular) are creatures of habit, I had my regular running routes in Medford Massachusetts and Manhattan from which I pretty much refused to deviate. As a poor graduate student runner without a gym membership, I was *that girl* running on the streets in the harsh Boston winters, skating my way along the ice and uneven sidewalks of Mass Ave, fighting the wind along the Charles, and desperately trying to find footing in the snow through Davis Square. I remember coming back to my dorm room after a rather chilly run (translation: frikkin freezing), and my legs got horribly itchy when the blood in my legs realized that it was safe to return to the surface. Ah, those were the days… the days without proper cold running gear.

 

After two years in Boston, I moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where Central Park became my default spot. There were plenty of rolling hills and enough people around in the early morning and after sunset so that my inner spidey sense  didn’t go haywire. I circled my way around the park, coming up with all sorts of combinations of 4- 5- and 6- mile loops.

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Central Park Reservoir at sunrise. Not too shabby.

Then a few years later, I moved downtown to join the cool kids in the East Village. Fun fact: you know all those bridges that cross the East River? You can run them! After photobombing enough unsuspecting tourists, I stopped running the Brooklyn Bridge and instead opted for the much quieter Manhattan Bridge, and the always great-for-people-watching Williamsburg Bridge. I had my 8 mile loop around the southern tip of Manhattan, my 14- 16- and 20 mile loops that took me to Brooklyn and around (and around and around) my favorite park evar, Prospect Park. I had a 4 mile route used almost exclusively for tapering and a track less than a mile from my apartment (that I didn’t use nearly as much as I should). You had a distance and a terrain preference, I could give you a route.

 

Then, we moved. We moved a mere 9 miles away, but it may as well have been 90: now when I walk the sidewalks at night, I don’t hear drunk people screaming, or incessant police/ambulance sirens. I see stars and hear crickets. Holy crap. Nature! No more human poop next to our garbage cans (yep. Human), no drunk people weaving their way down the block.

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Little boxes all the same, There’s a green one and a pink one, And a blue one and a yellow one…

All this sounds like we moved to the country. Hardly. We’re in Queens. Both my parents are from Queens and when I hear “Queens”, I think of endless blocks of houses that differ only in their paint colors. I think of my Grandma Anne’s house in Howard Beach that would shake whenever a plane took off at nearby JFK (a la the opening scene in Mary Poppins), or my Grandma Annie’s house in Bellerose, with her giant backyard and bakery-and-candy-store proximity. But beyond that, Queens was a mystery – the simple fact that you can have an 80th Road, 80th Avenue, and 80th Street will likely confuse the hell out of me for a very long time. But, I successfully navigated from the subway to our new apartment on my first try, so I consider that a win.

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Guys, Queens is really pretty.

We moved a few weeks ago, and the timing pretty much perfectly lined up with some of my heaviest miles in this training cycle. In a good way, I’ve been forced to explore my new surroundings. I may be a creature of habit, but one can only do the 1.5 mile stretch in Forest Park so many times.

With Sam as my guide (and lead biker), I was pleasantly surprised at what we’ve seen: I’ve made the rolling hills of Forest Park and tree-lined paths of Cunningham Park and the Vanderbilt Parkway part of my regular route. I’ve run through Forest Hills Gardens, past a VELODROME (yep, a freaking velodrome) and the famous Lemon Ice King of Corona, around the oldest reservoir in NYC, noted the location of nearby ice cream and bakeries (ahem Eddie’s Sweet Shop), waved “hi” to Citi Field, and followed the street markings for the first ever NYCRUNS Queens Marathon.

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Central Park, you’re not the only one with a Bridle Path.

I’ve circled the nearby public track, and managed to end up on highway on-ramps twice on the same run (you’re tricky, Astoria Blvd!). The best part is that it was done over dirt trails, paved bike paths, and sidewalks upended from the roots of towering century-old trees. And all that was in our first month here. We have yet to run Rockaway Beach or the path along the Cross Island. If all my runs in Queens are this awesome, I have a lot to look forward to.

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