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.

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.

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.
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.)

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.

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.

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?).



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…

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.

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.

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!


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.

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.

It’s always pretty from up here

Island hopping

I stumbled off the plane, eyes bleary and head foggy from the 11 hour trip. It was 2pm on July 4. I made it: I was in Hawaii. After a particularly rough beginning to the summer (to put it mildly), I used up all my frequent flier miles and (impulsively? uncharacteristically? decisively?) booked an 8 day trip to Hawaii. Thanks to United Airlines, it cost a whopping $11.20 to fly direct from Newark to Honolulu. I called it my “eat pray love / wild” trip, but it turned out to be more of an “eat run love live laugh talk sleep cry smile swim” kind of week. I was going to visit my uncle who I hadn’t seen in probably 20 years (oh god, that I can even say that makes me feel so old). Sure, I was a little nervous — I mean, I hadn’t seen this man in 2 decades and I was going to spend 8 days with him in his house? Was I crazy? Maybe. I had a week in Kaneohe to find out…

A view of Kaneohe Bay from the plane

          The trip was everything I expected and nothing at all like I thought it would be: every morning I went for a run in hot, humid, hilly Hawaii, and I had take a second and convince myself that this was real.

Bringing a little bit of the Brooklyn Marathon to Hawaii

Thanks to the wonders of cortisone and a little bit of Noni, my ankle was feeling better and for the first time in two months, I was running regularly. Don’t get me wrong — those first few runs weren’t pretty — it took about 4 days for me not to feel like a drunken baby giraffe learning how to walk, but I think I finally got the hang of it. I was eating clean (very little dairy and sweets, and no meat, alcohol, or caffeine), snacking on papayas, mangoes, avocados, cherries, watermelon, and of course, my Honey Stinger bars. I was swimming (more like bobbing around) in the ocean and relaxing on the beach. I was talking to my uncle, getting to know a man I hadn’t had contact with for so long. IMG_2670We talked about everything from washing machines to reincarnation, along with a healthy dose of family, music, surfing, and science. Turns out, my uncle is a pretty cool dude. I mean, you can kind of guess that when you hear he’s lived in Hawaii for 30+ years and you see the surfboards hanging over his kitchen table. But, when you hear stories of how he sang backing vocals for Carly Simon at Carnegie Hall, or the shows he saw at The Bitter End and the Fillmore East, or the cross- country trips in his VW van, you gotta figure this guy is pretty awesome.

I grew up on the North Shore (of Long Island) and while I love Manhasset, it looks nothing like this.
          My Uncle Tom helped me get my head back on straight and, in our time together, taught me a little bit (ok, more like a lot of bit) about myself. He taught me about love, forgiveness, and the importance of family. About being kind to yourself and others. About having patience and having faith that everything will work out. And through all this, I was lucky enough to get back to doing what makes me happy: running. I like to think I’ll keep his lessons with me back in New York but if I need a little help remembering, I know the mango I have ripening on my counter will remind me of our trip to the North Shore, and the cherries in my fridge will remind me of the fireworks on the beach in Kailua. And if this doesn’t work, we’ll always have our selfies!
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“The saddest sight my eyes can see
Is that big ball of orange sinkin’ slyly down the trees”
Indigo Girls, Get out the Map

This is my fight song…

          Alanis Morissette told us “I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone.” Alanis, you be crazy. Okay, maybe we already knew she was a little crazy when she wrote a scathing breakup song about Uncle Joey, but nevertheless, I am not a fan of this heart trampling she speaks of. In fact, I would argue that it kinda sorta completely and totally sucks. Combine this feeling of heartbreak with moving out and having to find an apartment in NYC on a serious budget, and it’s nothing short of Kelly and the terrible horrible no good very bad… month.
          But now, I’m in a new place, in a new borough, writing this entry on my laptop feeling very Carrie Bradshaw… minus the cigarette and closet full of designer shoes (unless you count ASICS and New Balance as couture). Oh, there’s also the fact that this apartment is most definitely not rent controlled and that my desk happens to overlook an “Amp and Guitar Wellness Center” and not some tree-lined street off of Madison Ave. There’s no confusing the fact that Toto, we are definitely not in the upper east side. We are in Brooklyn.
          Since that whole heart trampling thing, I haven’t had any interest to run. I used to see people running and feel a twinge of jealousy: I want to run, too! Now, I look at them and think, “that’s nice. I remember when I used to do that.” Anyone that knows me, knows that this apathy is cause for concern (to put it mildly). I’ve gone running twice in the last two and a half weeks, both times with my coach. The second time we went to a beautiful facility up in Harlem where I saw stars and almost tasted synthetic track during a particularly tough 1200m repeat. Here’s a thought: lack of sleep + severe caloric deficit = bad news bears when it comes to speed work. But it’s all good — I recovered with a calorie-rich smoothie and a good cry. (Apologies to my fellow A train passengers. It was a rough morning.)
          In any case, I think I’m starting to get the running bug back, and I know that when I am feeling better, with calories replenished and my sleep bank back in the black (or more realistically, a little less in the red), I’ll be out there, doing as many loops of Prospect Park as my weary legs can handle. I have a marathon and a 50 mile ultramarathon left on my calendar for 2015, and now more than ever, I need running. I need to zone out for an hour (or four) each day, I need to be so tired I can’t go another step, and then run another mile. I need to remember the simple pleasures — the joy of a 6 mile recovery run, the welcome pain of 8 miles of hills, and the mind-clearing relaxation of an 18 mile long run. I need my legs to be sore, my brain to quiet down, and my heart to be whole. I need to fall in love again. I need to run.
July 4, on the Village Green, circa 1992.
July 4 on the Village Green, circa 1992.
“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

The 2015 Long Island Marathon

Ahh, the 5:15am alarm. I’m either traveling or racing a marathon, because those are the only 2 reasons I’d be up this early. Okay, time to get dressed, eat my bagel, use the bathroom (TMI, but for reals: it’s a MUST before a race. Trust me), then head out to Eisenhower Park for the Long Island Marathon. I won the race in 2013, then in 2014 did a much hillier, but very scenic, race in Southern Vermont where I came in second by 2 seconds. Yes. Two freaking seconds.
Anyway, I digress. I’m back at the 2015 LI race, but I almost didn’t make it to the start line: a few days before the race, I was talking to my aunt and she was asking me things like, when does the race start? What’s your bib number? In other words, all things I really should know. So, I look on the website. OK, race starts at 8am. Great. What’s my bib number? I search for my name in the list of registered entrants and it says, “You are registered for 0 events.” Aaaaand commence freak out. After a string of 4 letter expletives, I take a deep breath, and search my email. Apparently, I never registered for the race. FAIL KELLY. Thankfully I was able to register in person two days before the race, but holy cow, talk about high anxiety.
The weather for Sunday was supposed to be warm — a high of 76 — which, if you ask me, is about 25 degrees too warm for a marathon. Plus, with almost half the course being on the Wantagh Parkway, I knew I’d have to be careful with hydration and not wilting in the sun. I spent the first few miles trying to settle into a comfortable pace, as I didn’t want to go faster than 7:05-7:10 (memories, painful horrible memories, of going out too fast in the 2014 NYC marathon have scarred me for life).
Mile 3. Still pretty pumped.
Mile 3. Still pretty pumped.
At mile 10, we leave the side streets and turn onto the Wantagh Parkway where we’ll be until just past mile 22. I actually kind of love this part of the course because it’s wide, mostly flat, and quiet. This is where the race really started for me — I picked up the pace and was running 6:50s pretty consistently and felt great (probably also due to the fact that I just had my first Honey Stinger energy gel). I saw Sam and got a surprise visit from my aunt, uncle, and cousin around mile 13, where I found out I was in 4th place and the 2nd and 3rd place girls were about 60-90 seconds ahead of me. I asked how far ahead the first place woman was. Sam said, “just run. Just keep going.” HA. Translation: She’s FAR.
Around mile 14, I picked off the 3rd place girl, and then at the turnaround point at mile 16.5, I saw the first place woman make her hairpin turn and head back. By my watch, she still had a good 4 minutes on me. Bollocks. At mile 17, I caught up to the 2nd place woman and the strangest thing happened: as I passed her, she stopped running. Like, literally stopped in her tracks and started walking. I asked if she was okay and she said, “oh yea I’m fine.” Uhh, ok…
Now I’m in 2nd place, about 4 minutes back, and I was on a mission: I had to catch up to the leader. Open Honey Stinger gel #2 and keep on truckin. For the next few miles, I notice something: all the female spectators would say some form of “you go girl!” and other encouraging words, whereas the male spectators were yelling things like, “she’s only 2 minutes ahead of you and she looks TERRIBLE!” or, “you’re only 90 seconds back, and she looks AWFUL. Go get her!” Hmm, I might actually have a chance at this.
I pass Sam and my family at mile 20, they tell me the leader is 90 seconds ahead and is apparently not shy about the fact that she’s not doing so well. I open my Honey Stinger Energy Chews, I know I’ll need them. I keep my pace a steady 6:50 or so, and… MIRACLE! I see the lead bikers! At mile 22 I catch up to them and the woman and I exchange a few words, I say great job keep it up, she tells me how awful she feels. I’m feeling pretty shitty too, but I think I’m hiding it better than she is. I pass her, and have just over 5km to go. Less than 24 minutes. If I can just keep it together for 24 more minutes, I’m good.
Almost there!
The lead bikers escort me off the Wantagh Parkway, and we cover 2 of the longest miles ever, down some road whose name I don’t know in a town I don’t recall because I’m running part of the time with my eyes closed, willing the race to be over. I’m really feeling it now and am up to about a 7:10-7:15 per mile. I open my eyes wide enough and like a mirage, I think I see orange cones. YES. That means we’re going back into Eisenhower Park, the marathon is almost over, and I can eat ice cream and drink soda. Mile 25 comes and goes, I have no idea how close the girl is behind me, I start having paranoid thoughts that somehow she got a second wind. Mile 26, thank freaking god I’m almost finished, I make the last right turn, I see the finish line ahead, I wave frantically to my family. I manage not to trip over the tape. I did it!
Phew. I could really go for some ice cream.
But before I do, I have many people to thank: thank you to Coach John Hirsch for getting my legs and my brain ready, to New York Health and Racquet Club and their amazing staff for getting me strong, to Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled, and to my family and friends. Thank you for putting up with all this running nonsense. You all are amazing.
“don’t trip over the tape. don’t trip over the tape.”
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!
The best cheerleaders!  Huge thanks to Steve, little man Connor, Aunt Susan, Jake, Danny, and Meghan for coming out and cheering me on.
The best cheerleaders! Huge thanks to Steve, little man Connor, Aunt Susan, Jake, Danny, and Meghan for coming out and cheering me on.
Thank you Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled. Love my caffeinated energy gels and energy chews
Thank you Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled. Love my caffeinated energy gels and energy chews
He says his muscles are bigger than mine. He's right.
We couldn’t find our car in the parking lot. So we started comparing whose muscles were bigger. Jake won.
My family knows me well. After a marathon, I require dessert. Lots of dessert.
My family knows me well. After a marathon, I require dessert. Lots of dessert.