The ups and downs of marathon training

The past 2+ weeks, I’ve spent a ridiculous/embarrassing amount of time watching the Olympics (BMX = an Olympic sport. Who knew?) and can’t help but marvel at how easy the athletes make it look — Jenny Simpson closing in the final 100m to win bronze in the 1500m, Emma Coburn medaling in the badass steeplechase, Des Linden making 26.2 miles in the heat and humidity look like a Sunday morning jog, and don’t even get me started on Allyson Felix… Their various social media pages are filled with all the rewards and the good stuff that comes with being a world class athlete: the sweaty smiling selfies, the successful tune-up races, the confidence-boosting training runs, and the free goodies from sponsors. But what you don’t see, are the workouts that aren’t all rainbows and glitter, the diabetic-coma inducing (translation: delicious) dessert you can’t eat, the late-night party you can’t go to (and by “late-night”, I mean anything after 8pm), and the mind-numbing exhaustion that comes with pushing your body to the limit day after day.

IMG_0346
She makes it look so easy. Okay, maybe not in this picture, but when you’re at mile 25.5 of the Boston Marathon and running about 5:30 min/mile, it’s gonna hurt just a bit.
          I am by no means an Olympic athlete, but I do a fair amount of training and I’m guilty of only highlighting the good stuff and leaving out the terrible, horrible, no good very, bad days. Last week I ran 80 miles, worked out at the gym twice, had PT, spent the weekend at my sister’s house celebrating my nephew’s 2nd birthday(!!!), and spent a whole bunch of hours at the office. I texted Sam, “I’m so tired I want to vomit” at least once a day and made myself nauseous from drinking too much caffeine on more than one occasion. I’m 7 weeks away from my next marathon, so as much as I want to watch TV and eat junk food until Thanksgiving, I can’t.
IMG_0345
7:10am: first alarm goes off. Oh hell no.
7:20am: ugh. Fine. I go through my closet, pick out a skirt and a more-than-likely clean shirt. Pair them with my most feminine/professional looking Birkenstocks, because my poor high mileage feet aren’t tolerating much else.
8:23am: out the door, on a subway 18 minutes later. Score.
11:06am: is it lunchtime yet?
11:41am: no, seriously, is it?
5:18pm: let the rationalization begin, “if I skip the workout tonight, I’ll still have 70 miles on the week and that’s not too bad..”
6:37pm: while on the treadmill, “how slow can I go but still get in my 6 miles before a 7:15 workout?” Because I may get lazy, but I’m always obsessive about my miles…
7:23pm: Seriously. Can we not, with the burpees?
8:02pm: Yay, workouts are done. I’m going to spend the rest of the evening pretending I’m not doing it all over again tomorrow.
       There are some days I refuse to look at my Google calendar because anything more than a quick glance makes me want to crawl back into bed, in a bedroom that *sometimes* smells like a men’s locker room (high mileage = lots of sweaty laundry). I look at my feet, at the one toenail I’ve lost so many times that it resembles wood, at the ridiculous tan lines from my Garmin and Road ID, at the chafing marks from my sportsbra that are so gruesome I look like I got clawed.
          But then there are other days where I look at the medals on my wall, at my collection of bibs, and at my pile of running sneakers. These are days when I feel like I could run forever, where I desperately need my evening run, where I don’t know what I’d do without my long runs. The days where I recall race memories I wouldn’t trade for anything: having my dad jump on the course of the Westchester Marathon and run with me for 30 seconds before he got too tired, laughing as my mom got so excited she dropped the camera when I came in 2nd at the Yonkers Marathon, running my 10th Boston Marathon the “Boston Strong” year and trying so hard not to cry as I made my final right and then left turns… Oh and then there was that time I ate three black and white cookies and a slice of cake because, well, I came in first at the Long Island Marathon, and I was allowed. Because as much as training can sometimes suck, there’s nothing better than sitting on the couch, sore as f*ck and deliriously exhausted, yet wonderfully content.
IMG_0354
Current mood.

Introduction to 100 milers: pacing the VT100

awe·some ˈôsəm/ adjective

extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.

A few weeks ago, I had the awesome honor of pacing ultra-marathon runner and internet winning flow chart designing dude Chris as he ran his second 100 miler, the Vermont 100. Chris had emailed me early in the summer and asked if I would pace him. I checked my calendar and immediately said yes. It wasn’t until the next day when I took a look at the course, notably, the elevation profile. The entire course is 14,000-15,000 ft of elevation gain and loss, which meant I needed to train on hills starting yesterday. I found whatever hills I could in Manhattan and ran as many repeats as my legs could handle. Thanks to my training, I’m now intimately familiar with the graffiti along the Williamsburg Bridge, and can tell you all about the intricacies of the Harlem Hills.

IMG_0153
Ready to pace, with a little help from my friends.

The race day (or more accurately, race night) plan was to run the last 30 miles together, with nearly all of those coming after sunset. I made half a dozen PBJ sandwiches, threw some gatorade and Vitamin Water into the car, grabbed a whole pack full of Honey Stinger bars and chews, made sure I had my foot-saving Topo socks (seriously, those things are genius), put on my We Can bracelet (a little extra motivation and inspiration never hurts)and Sparkly Soul headband, and made sure to wear my NYCRUNS Brooklyn Marathon hat and I was on my way to Vermont. I arrived at the mile 50/70 aid station on Saturday afternoon not knowing what to expect. I’ve run almost 30 marathons and three 50 milers, but the scene here was unlike anything I’d ever experienced: socks and shirts changed, water bottles topped off, blisters popped, salt and sugar consumed at impressive rates, and grilled cheese sandwiches disappearing faster than they could be made. Shortly after I arrived, Chris came through mile 50, looking like he only ran a 5km. His wife Surjeet (aka crew chief), Becky (fellow crewer and navigator extraordinaire), and I met up with him again around mile 60, and he still seemed in very good spirits. Then, we drove back to the mile 70 aid station, where it was my turn to start running. I filled up my water bladder, put on my pack and headlamp, said a few prayers to the running gods, and off we went.

IMG_0005
Mile 70. “So we’re doing this? This is happening?” Photo courtesy of chief crewer and wife. She has a way with capturing the moment.
           The next segment of the course was tough – according to another runner it was a 10% grade straight UP for 2 miles. It took us 3 hours to go 12 miles. The marathoner in me was appalled. Darkness came quickly, and the intensity of the run reached new levels of “holy crap is this actually happening?” with each passing hour. It was unlike any run I’ve had – in 30 miles we probably saw less than 10 cars, and nearly all of them were associated with the race. We crossed grassy fields, where the only things visible in the heavy darkness were the bobbing lights from other headlamps. On trails, flickering lights from nearby runners were enough to make me question my sanity, and (re)evaluate my mental fatigue – was that a person or the reflective eyes of an animal? (This was usually followed up with, “Seriously, though, where the hell are we?”) In the fog, runners up ahead cast a silhouette that could have been used to advertise a horror movie (a bunch of exhausted, disoriented people running through the woods at night. No cell service. No idea where they are. Oh god…) It was truly surreal. When passing each other, runners gave a grunt or a nod. Some tried to tell jokes, some couldn’t muster the energy to look up. At mile 89, we met up with Surjeet and Becky, when shortly after saying our goodbyes and watching Chris expertly pack grilled cheese squares into his pockets, we felt the first drops of rain. At 1am, with 10 miles to go, the skies opened up. Lightning lit up the landscape and for a split second, I could finally see my surroundings. Rolling fields, farmhouses in the distance, trails winding through the forest. This must be pretty. during the day.
mile 77
Spirit of 76 Aid Station. Photo courtesy of chief crewer and wife, Surjeet.
           We saw his crew again at mile 95 (or was it 94? Or 96?) and it was time to get this thing done. After all, it was 2:30am and Chris had been running for over 22 hours. I was SO impressed at how well he kept it all together – I’ve heard stories of people losing their shit (literally and figuratively) and going crazy and forgetting the last time they peed or who the president was, but he did none of that (or if he did, he did a hell of a job hiding it)! After leaving the mile 95ish aid station, the terrain started to get pretty bad thanks to the rain – we almost lost our shoes in the mud and at some points it felt like we were ice skating because it was so slippery. After passing a small plain white sign that unceremoniously announced that there was 1 mile to go, Chris took off, finishing under his goal in 23 hours, 26 minutes and 35 seconds just before 3:30am. To say I was amazed would have been an understatement. 100 miles. On foot. Less than 24 hours. Unreal.
(null)
Mile 94.9. Chris is clearly jazzed about having his picture taken. Photo courtesy of chief crewer/wife.

We all hung out for about an hour in the food/medical tent and watched as people came in – some walking casually, others hobbling, some barely standing upright, but all dripping wet, freezing, looking utterly exhausted. One guy walked in, soaking wet, wearing only spandex shorts and a running belt, laid face down in the middle of the tent, and promptly fell asleep. His ankles were still flexed. Someone put a blanket over him and he didn’t even move. Someone else checked to make sure he was breathing. (He was.)

IMG_0150
Finish line!
          When the storm finally eased up, we headed out, them to their tent, I to my car. I couldn’t quiet my head down enough to nap in the car, I was still buzzing from the run. At 5:30am, I started driving, I couldn’t wait to get home to shower and SLEEP. I’m so glad I went and am so thankful/grateful/honored Chris asked me to pace. It was a fantastic (learning) experience, and probably the most important lesson is that I’m not ready for a 100 mile race. Someday, but just not yet.

DNF in NOLA

New Orleans Marathon. February 28, 2016. My chance to try and podium in a major event. No pressure, right? Just go down there, have fun, and run (and to quote my aunt, “save the Hurricanes until after”)! In the weeks/days leading up to the race, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was going to run 7 minute miles for 26.2 miles. How is that possible? Sure, I’ve done it a bunch of times before, but to do it again? That’s crazy talk. I looked at my training logs to remind myself of the work I did, I examined my beat up feet and worn down shoes. I thought of the miles in Brooklyn, Princeton, Philadelphia, Miami, and Grand Cayman (wow, not bad for a training cycle). I recalled my favorite memories during past races – seeing my family at the finish line in Long Island, all those (10!) times I made the right on Hereford then left on Boylston in Boston, the final left turn in Prospect Park at mile 26 of the Brooklyn Marathon, and running on an air strip during mile 48 of the Nashville 50 mile Ultramarathon. But nothing helped, I just couldn’t get rid of the anxiety and self-doubt. I was hoping that when the gun went off, my head and body would sort themselves out and muscle memory would take over…

AH1A3801
All ready to go the night before… or at least my stuff was.

While looking around in Corral 1, I noticed the half dozen or so female elite runners, doing all sorts of jumpy warm-up exercise thingies, in their crisp singlets advertising their sponsors. And then there was me. No pre-race routine (unless you count repeating, “oh shit” over and over again), no fancy sponsors, just my favorite (stinky) sparkly soul headband, probably-time-to-be-replaced orange CPTC New Balance singlet, and a few Honey Stingers gels stuffed into the waistband of my shorts (little did I know, I would not be needing those today). The gun fired, and off we went, some much faster than others, but all of us doing our best to avoid the potholes and vie for shade as we paraded down St. Charles. The craziness settled after about a half hour when we reached that point in the race – usually around mile 4 of a full marathon – where the initial euphoria wears off, and everyone realizes exactly what they’ve gotten themselves into and suddenly everything is very quiet. I heard Sam’s unmistakable footfall behind me (he was running the half, and on his way to a near PR), and tried to quiet the nay-saying voices in my head by convincing myself that it was just a training run. We were on the Westside highway, running into that ever-present headwind, nailing another 6 x 2 mile workout. Alas, I could trick myself for only so long. By the time we got to mile 7, I realized I was working way too hard to keep up a 7:05 pace.

12803097_10102880748463785_4709592682650411657_n
My thoughts exactly.

Something was wrong. Enter: panic mode, quickly followed by: stifled-cry-while-trying-not-to-choke mode. I signaled for Sam to pull up next to me so I could tell him things were not going well. He replied with some words of encouragement, clearly not getting what I was telling him. I tried sending him a message via ESP (and a few of my best dirty looks) to let him know, “DUDE. WE HAVE A NO BUENO SITUATION HERE.” No such luck. I resorted to actual speaking and told him I was thinking of calling it a day at 13.1. That got his attention. He stayed next to me, and did his best to keep me going, but I just wasn’t having it. At mile 12.5 the half marathoners turned off for the finish line and let me tell you, I have never been so jealous of half marathoners in my life. Normally, I love it when they split off and we have the course all to ourselves. Not today. I almost went with them – and could have collected a finisher’s medal and avoided the dreaded “DNF” (Did Not Finish) – but waited until the very last cone dividing our paths before following my fellow full marathoners, determined to try again. I desperately wanted to get my shit together.

It was my final attempt trying to save what was turning out to be a disastrous race. Between miles 12.5 and 15, I could see that I was the 12th female and just a few minutes behind the lead woman, and – in what can only be described as a cruel joke from the marathon gods – my pace slowed from 7:05 to 7:15 to 7:20, and eventually, 8:00. I got passed by two women. I wished them well as I peeled off the course just beyond a medical tent. I saw Sam and started to sob uncontrollably. I was done. My marathon ended at 15.33 miles. I had just DNFed my first race. A medic came running over, asking if I was sick. In between tears and wiping gobs of snot off my face, I answered, “no.” He asked if I was hurt. Again, “no.” He wanted to get me a wheelchair. He wanted to call over another medic. Dude, seriously, I am not hurt. The poor guy looked so confused, if this girl wasn’t sick or injured, why did she just drop out of the race? “I just don’t have it today,” I said. Thankfully, Sam waved him off. And before doing anything else, I took off my number. I wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible, I was embarrassed by my yellow marathon bib.

In the hours (ok, fine, days) that followed, I was so sad. So disappointed. All those hours training in the cold, on vacation, early in the morning, late at night, and for what? So I could run 60% of a marathon? Much like you do after a relationship ends, I asked myself, what happened? Were there any signs? Could I have seen this coming? I guess the short answer is “probably” and the long answer is a conversation to be had after a glass or two of wine (preferably with a box of tissues handy). I tried not to focus on the race and spent the next three days in Lafayette, Louisiana where I nursed my bruised ego in the form of boudin, po’boys, and bread pudding.

IMG_2701
Lake Martin, Louisiana. Not a bad place to recover.

I took a few days off from running, and then – thanks to some advice from my coach – got back outside. We agreed that the best way to get rid of the demons of the New Orleans Marathon was to run: I’m signed up to run a half marathon this weekend. If all goes well, I’ll have a finisher’s medal and hopefully a little bit of that self-confidence I keep hearing about. If not, well, at least I’ll get a free bagel.

IMG_2726

That time I ran 80 miles on a cruise

For the 4th straight year, Sam and I made our week-long pilgrimage to Miami for The Rockboat and a (very) welcome reprieve from the gross NYC winter. Since the cruise is typically held in February, I’m usually in the early part of training for a spring marathon, and so the week down south has been a low mileage (i.e., relaxing) one. Then came this year. The Rockboat was a month earlier than usual, and I decided to mix things up and run a marathon in late February, which meant that I had some serious miles to do while we were away. I was more than a little anxious about the trip – I had to run ALL of the miles, plus my right foot was sore (damn Plantar Fasciitis), and I’m a textbook introvert so the amount of auditory, visual, and social stimulation on the boat are enough to make me run for the hills… or at least a dark quiet room.

11058003_595963583893841_7470003075137929872_o
Sister Hazel’s sail away show. I think this picture was post-cruise-wide-free-tequila shots.

So, The Rockboat: it’s a floating music festival where beer is sold by the bucket and soft serve ice cream is considered a food group. Where spontaneous parties in the elevators are the norm and cruisers learn to appreciate the words “washy washy”. Where the music starts in the afternoon and goes until nearly sunrise. Where I learned from Edwin McCain (while sitting next to him at the Blackjack table. Naturally) and the dealers that he was big in the Philippines and is known down there as Manila Ice. Where I’ve had the chance to see big bands like Sister Hazel, Brandi Carlile, Barenaked LadiesReel Big Fish, and NEEDTOBREATHE. Where I’ve seen old favorites like Will HogeRed Wanting BlueTony Lucca, and the Alternate Routes. And where I’ve met new favorites like Brendan Jamesthe Roosevelts, and most recently, Andy Suzuki and the Method (pause. Can I please get an amen for best band name ever?).

 

 

10494937_595964073893792_605943928022691275_o
Rock and Roll in the daytime. It’s a little weird, but if you’re going to have 10 hours of music each day, you gotta start early.

Since we left town just a few days after NYC got rocked with over 2 feet of snow, I had been doing a lot of miles on the treadmill and, despite my best efforts at rolling and stretching, my frikkin Plantar Fasciitis was acting up again. After a really rough (read: disgustingly sweaty and rocking – like, literally rocking) 6 miles on the treadmill on the ship, I half limped into the spa, desperate for a foot massage to loosen up the grittiness that had become the bottom of my foot. When I told the lady what I wanted, she said, “oh, no, you don’t want that! You want acupuncture!” Well, I had just won $150 playing blackjack the night before (Hit on 16. Double down. Split — but not 10s) and I figured the worst that could happen was that it didn’t work. I mean, I was getting acupuncture on a cruise ship…

IMG_2629
Our first night on the boat and I already look exhausted. I had a long 5 days ahead of me.

Two 1 hour sessions, 35 needle sticks and a few naps later, I was symptom-free. Magic. It must have been magic. The western medicine-trained scientist in me was (and still is) completely baffled. Within hours, the swelling and soreness were gone. I don’t know how it worked, I don’t know why it worked, but it did. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit perturbed – normally I would have booked a few sessions with my Physical Therapist extraordinaire, taken a bucket of Advil, iced my foot religiously, and – let’s be honest – been more than a little cranky about it all.

IMG_2630
Post acupuncture = happier Kelly

After the Miracle in the Spa, we docked at Costa Maya, Mexico, where Sam and I figured running outside the resort area probably wasn’t a great idea (the armed guards around the gates kind of gave it away), so we ended up doing a crap ton of laps around the track on the boat. How much is a “crap ton”? Well, if 5.5 laps is 1 mile, how many laps is 10 miles? 55. 55 freaking laps we did on that track.

10644277_595964160560450_7442379724448143091_o
Red Wanting Blue in the big auditorium (in other words, a seated venue. thank goodness).

The next day we did 14 miles up the West Bay of Grand Cayman, where the humidity was oppressive and a local dive shop owner put us to shame when she told us it was “cold” at 82 degrees. After nearly 2 hours of running and a few “oops” moments (surprise! The cars drive on the left side! Also, wild roosters. Lots of wild roosters), we made it back to port in one piece. Kelly and Sam: 1, Grand Cayman: 0. Huzzah!

IMG_2622

The next couple of days brought more miles on the rolling treadmill, more laps around that damn track, and more sweaty clothes hung out to dry, making our sleeping quarters look – and smell – like a locker room (apologies to the room steward). After docking, we left the pouring rain of Florida only to land in the pouring rain of NYC.

600123_10100925767970365_314579411_n
A decent amount of dirty stinky laundry. 

All in all, it was a pretty good trip: I squeezed in 80 miles for the week, got converted to acupuncture, found my new favorite band, and spent a few days with some pretty cool people listening to some pretty rad music. If only I could have found time to sleep, the trip would have been perfect.

IMG_2628
It’s always pretty from up here

A heavy topic (no pun intended)

This summer, I lost weight. I lost a lot of weight. Simply put, I was too sad to eat. After a few weeks of consuming nothing but a serving of greek yogurt and a pastry from Starbucks each day, I had to buy new clothes so I didn’t look like a little kid playing dress up in my mom’s clothes. After almost a month of this sudden, severe drop in caloric intake, I found myself standing in the dressing room at the Gap, in disbelief at the fact that I was trying on (and fitting into) shorts that were a 00. Having been teased for years because of my “bubble butt” and my “Kelly belly”, the size of my new clothes was very strange — I used to look at stuff that small and scoff — I did not think my bones could mange to arrange themselves such that they could fit into something so tiny.

kellybelly
My “Kelly Belly” nickname didn’t just come out of the blue…
          After a month or so of my new “eating” habits, family and friends noticed my weight loss and did their best to fill me with calories — sushi, wine, baked goods, bagels, they knew my weak spots. They did an amazing job of reminding me to eat, to take care of myself, and most importantly, to remember that I was loved.
AH1A3286
They know my weak spots!
          By August, I was the skinniest I had ever been, 5’8″ (5’9″ with shoes on? maybe?) and hovering near 115 pounds. All the muscle I had worked so hard to build was being consumed for energy. I was depressed and broken-hearted, injured, poor, living in a new freaking borough (no offense Brooklyn. We’re cool now), about to start a new job (my first “grown-up” job!), and I was practically starving myself each day, yet all I could think of was that I was almost proud of the fact that I could fit into my 00 shorts. Because in a life where everything suddenly felt like it was out of my control, at least there was one thing I could control: what I ate.
          By the end of the summer, my world started to right itself and with my re-established “normal” life, came my normal appetite. This was all well and good, except after months of a serious caloric deficit, my metabolism had slowed to a crawl — when you consume a muffin and a glass (or two) of wine a day, your body thinks you’re starving and does everything it can to keep you going, including slowing down your metabolism.
ice cream
Always a sucker for dessert
After about two months of eating normally and exercising a little bit (there was an ultra marathon and an off-season in there somewhere), I felt like someone puffed me up with air. I looked in the mirror and was not pleased with what I saw. It felt like my regular eating habits and slowed metabolism were conspiring against me — everything I ingested was stored as fat because as far as my body was concerned, it never knew when I’d starve it again (really, can you blame it?). A little extra weight on most people might be tolerable, but when you put it on a competitive runner who has struggled with body image issues, it’s downright catastrophic. I’m not sure when or how or why I connected my self-esteem with my weight, but there is a definite inverse relationship: the more I weigh, the worse I feel.
          The fall brought larger pants and baggier sweaters, along with tearful talks with my boyfriend, and phone conversations with my sister. There were diatribes about unrealistic expectations society puts on women, restrictive eating habits when we were younger, and the fact that I swore my knees got fat (yes. really). Thankfully Sam is patient and supportive and knows how to filter out my hysterics to find the sadness underneath. And then there’s my sister — who happens to study this stuff for a living (true story) — who instructed me to work on focusing on how I feel, not on how I look. Who reminded me that I went through a pretty rough time this summer, and that the fall has been full of changes. That I’m being hard on myself, that no matter what, I’m marathoner, even if I feel like I have a butt that is large and in charge (my words, not hers). She told me that lifestyle transitions, shorter days, colder weather, and the calorie-laden holiday celebrations were all not helping. She reminded me to be kind to myself, that my body will work itself out, and I’ll start to feel better again.
          Of course, she was right (note: older sisters always know best). After more miles, more painful planks and wobbly jumping lunges, more restful nights, more deep breaths, and more time spent with family, I am feeling better. My anxiety about my appearance has calmed down, and (coincidentally?) my pants are fitting a little better. If I’ve learned anything this season, it’s that when I toe the start line at my next marathon, the first thing on my mind shouldn’t be what size my New Balance shorts are, but how fast they’ll help me run the next 26.2 miles.
Time to run another 26.2 miles.
Time to run another 26.2 miles.

Everything hurts, but I feel amazing.

My last 50 mile race was 2 years ago and it was on trails in early July in (mountainous) Ithaca, NY. It took me 10 hours and 40 minutes to complete, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing and took it very cautiously. This time, it was about 30 degrees cooler and the race — the Nashville Ultra — was on much less technical terrain. With the more favorable conditions, I wanted to see if I could maintain a 10 minute mile and finish between 8 and 9 hours.

 

          I lost a toenail the night before, and, like the crazy runner that I am, considered it a stroke of luck. When the race started the next morning, I was nervous, but was mentally okay with the fact that if my injuries started to bother me, the absolute worst case scenario was that I’d DNF. (And if that happened, I was really hoping I’d make it at least halfway.) The course was mostly on paved bike path, with a few miles on trails. It was 2 out-and-backs, the first was a 17.5 mile loop, then we came back to the start/finish area where we then went on a 32.5 mile loop in the opposite direction.
12244762_10156251364935052_1497851969937127845_o
Here we go!
          For the first 10 miles or so, I was actually a little bored — I was running at a pace that’s 3 minutes slower than what I’m used to so I eventually got impatient and started passing a bunch of people, but since I’m a nervous Nellie, I was worried that I was going too fast and everyone would pass me again later in the race. I made quick stops at the mile 5.5 and 12.5 aid stations for a little Powerade and saw Sam at the start/finish at mile 17.5. He told me I needed to eat something and handed me a sandwich. Right. Calories. I forgot. I had been running for over 3 hours and the only thing I ate were some Honey Stinger energy chews. My bad. So, I (begrudgingly) ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the course of the next 3 miles, probably ingesting as much tin foil as bread.
12248036_10156251365695052_1323675115891770407_o
Have sandwich, will travel (another 32.5 miles, to be exact)…
          Around mile 21, my energy dipped and I started to doubt myself — I knew I still had 29 more miles to go and at this rate, I realized it was going to be a long day. Thankfully, Sam surprised me at the mile 23.5 aid station where I got a hug, blew my nose and got snot all over my sunglasses (so classy), and had my first sip of flat soda. I don’t drink soda, but that Coke was delicious. Mmm sugar! I got an energy boost when he told me I was in 2nd place. Wait, what?! My goal was just to finish in one piece and now I might podium? The competitor in me woke up and I blew out of the aid station at 8:15min/mile. I kept trying to slow down, but I’d subconsciously keep speeding up. At that point, I had made it halfway, still feeling good, so I decided I would run at whatever pace I felt comfortable, after all, I “only” had 25 miles to go (ahh, the things that sound normal in the middle of an ultra). I kept up a faster-than-expected pace, making my way through downtown Nashville, having a quick “oh shit I’m lost moment” where I stopped for a few minutes, but calmed down and realized I was on course. Crisis averted.
          Pit stop at the mile 30 aid station — more Powerade, more Honey Stinger chews. I tried eating another sandwich, but just didn’t have the stomach for it, so it went the way of the garbage. As I was passing mile 32 on my way out to the turn around point, I saw the first place female on her way back in, at her mile 35. I calculated that she had about 25 minutes on me, so something drastic would have to happen for me to move into first. I just kept going at a pace that was comfortable, so happy that I was running so fast so late into the race. I hit the turn around point, a volunteer asked for a selfie, and then I headed back towards the start\finish. Met up with my personal pacer Sam at mile 37, took a swig of Coke, refused more food, and kept going.
          I breezed through the mile 40 aid station, feeling remarkably good. More tasty soda, more Powerade, and we were off. At mile 41, I passed a guy who said to me, “how can you be running so fast after 40 miles?!” I said I wasn’t really sure, and that was the honest truth. But after that, I started to think, “OH GOD. I JUST RAN 40 MILES.” At about mile 44 I said something to Sam about being amazed I was keeping up a sub 9min/mile pace, and then of course 10 minutes later came the inevitable mental crash. I knew I was almost done, but at the same time it felt like I still had so far to go. “I have to do this for another hour? UGH.” And since it was an out-and-back, I knew what portions of the course I still needed to cover, including a hill that in my mind had turned into a large mountain, when in reality, it was probably only slightly steeper than Cat Hill in Central Park. Sam was telling me all these great, inspiring things, but all I could do was grunt in response. I kept my head down, and just kept moving.
12244651_10156251366195052_8626224785936404043_o
You guys, I’m gonna do it.
          With less than a half mile to go, Sam took off so he could make it to the finish before me to get pictures. I ran the last half mile by myself and cried. Goddamn. I did it. 50 miles. Under 8 hours (7 hours 51 minutes, to be exact).
IMG_2133
I took the tangents. 🙂
          I wiped my eyes as I crossed the finish line, and felt remarkably okay. Last time I was so dizzy I had to lay down, this time I hung around the finish area and ate what tasted like the best donut I’ve ever had in my life. (Also, I learned that cold Domino’s Pizza is DELICIOUS after running 50 miles.) I changed my clothes, walked around, face timed with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, and spent the next three days in utter disbelief. It was a great day. I was relaxed, I felt good. I had a ton of fun. And then I ate all of the BBQ in Nashville.
12244459_10156251366150052_7019786881759468638_o
I do not recommend trying a curtsy after running 50 miles. It hurts.
          It would be dishonest of me to make it seem like I crossed that finish line by myself. I had a team of amazing people that helped me get through the summer and fall: thanks to the fine folks at Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled. Super thanks to my family for checking in on me and keeping me laughing and full of food (and wine). Thanks to my coach John Hirsch for his help training both my mind and my body, and for always telling it to me straight. Thanks to my physical therapist Dan at DASH PT for the early morning Mets chatter and for working miracles on my IT band and tendinitis. Thank you to Sam for dealing with my pre-race jitters (AKA when I turn into a bitch), and for being there at mile 49.5. Thank you to my big sister Meghan, for her unyielding support and encouragement. Maylo, the life force is stronger with you around. 🙂
IMG_2134

I’m so bad at being injured.

I haven’t been shy about the fact that the summer/fall has been a tough training cycle for me. It was one of those training periods where I felt like I could never get any momentum. Sure I had a few 80+ mile weeks, but in a 3 month span, I also got stitches in my toe, subsequently developed tendinitis, got rid of it, and cursed as it came back. I moved (twice!), started a new job, broke-up, and then made-up. I had some obnoxious IT band problems, a fibula that decided to rotate out of position, a seriously disgusting stomach virus, and was wrecked by a migraine or two. In between all these mini hurdles, I spent most of my days running. Running away from things, running towards things, running to feel better, running until it hurt. I ran the hills of Prospect Park, the flats of the west side bike path. I ran the Williamsburg bridge at sunrise, Central Park at sunset. I ran in beautiful Hawaii, humid Delaware, hilly Pennsylvania, and back home in the chaotic East Village. Most of all, though, I ran to get ready for what was supposed to be an exciting fall calendar. I was going to try to run sub 3:00 in the Hartford Marathon in mid-October and then PR at a 50 miler in Nashville in early November.

Walking boot. That thing can go to hell.
Walking boot. That thing can go to hell.
i certainly wasn't using my garmin for anything running-related, so I let my nephew use it.
I certainly wasn’t using my garmin for anything running-related, so I let my nephew gnaw on it for a little while.

Towards the end of a really kick ass (translation: ridiculously tough) hill workout early on a Saturday morning where Sam and I were serenaded by “kids” from a rooftop who were still up drinking from the night before, I developed serious knee pain. Shit. I hobbled home and then, like the intelligent runner that I am, tried going out later in the day for my second run. Why? Duh, “runner logic” said that since I had a marathon to train for, my knee pain would just magically go away. Right? Ha. About a mile into the run, I practically had a temper tantrum, the pain was so bad. Based on the location of the pain, I had a pretty good idea of what it was: the dreaded IT band syndrome. Ugh. If my diagnosis was correct (and we all know what a great idea it is to self-diagnose, ahem Webmd), Hartford probably wouldn’t happen, and my goal of running my second ultra might not happen, either. Why did I work so hard, only to end up injured? Or, as I asked a number of times this summer, “WTF?”

Displeased at the non-running that's happening
Displeased at the non-running that’s happening

Anyway, I digress. Back to the part where I was dry heaving on the east side path, having a nice little public breakdown. Let’s just say it wasn’t my finest moment. Still crying (thank goodness for dark sunglasses), I limped home, and immediately emailed my physical therapist. She worked magic on my foot 5 years ago when I had the brilliant idea to just “run through” Plantar Fasciitis (PS — don’t do that). I practically begged her for an appointment ASAP, and wanted to virtually hug her when she set me up with Dan, another therapist in the practice who had an appointment first thing Monday morning, He told me it would be a relatively easy fix (note: he didn’t say “quick”, he said “easy”. I learned there IS a difference), rolled up his sleeves, and got to work prying my IT band off of my quad/hamstring. Yes, apparently it’s a thing: your IT band can adhere to your muscles. And yes, the therapy is as much “fun” as it sounds. I never knew massage could be so painful. You know that scene in the movie the 40-Year Old Virgin where Steve Carell gets his chest waxed? That was me. Minus the bleeding.

A few weeks and many bruises later, Hartford came and went. After spending way too many hours watching Netflix, eating dumplings, drinking wine, and generally being a crabby human being, Dan gave me the green light to start running again. I did my first run on the treadmill, because I figured that if my knee still hurt and I felt the need to smash things, at least I would be in a relatively controlled environment. The run was… tentative. “Is that my IT band?” “Do I feel something?” “Am I ok?” “What happens if I go faster?” He told me to stick with just 2 miles. Of course I did 2.25 miles… and then asked him the next day if it would be a good idea to pace a friend doing a 100 mile race the next week. I believe his exact words were “stupid and crazy.”

Lounging after my last ultra.
I like ultras because it is perfectly acceptable to lay on the ground afterwards. And yes, my feet are completely covered in mud.

That was a few weeks ago. I’m still seeing Dan twice a week for some hurt-so-good PT (apparently your fibula can rotate out of alignment. Yep. Also a thing.) and am heading to Nashville tomorrow for an ultramarathon. I spent 4 hours on Sunday at miles 18 and 23 of the NYC Marathon cheering — and crying  — as thousands of inspiring people passed me en route to Tavern on the Green. After the role reversal of being cheerleader instead of runner, I’m more motivated than ever to conquer this training cycle and take a little 50 mile tour around Nashville. It’s going to be freaking awesome. And exhausting. And amazing.

And I’m totally going to cry.

Women's lead pack at mile 18 of the 2015 NYC Marathon
Women’s lead pack at mile 18 of the 2015 NYC Marathon. Definitely crying when they passed me.
Post-NYC Marathon.
Marathons give me all of the feelings.