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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
It’s 15 degrees and I’m in Riverside Park at 9:25am on a windy and gray Saturday morning, focusing on keeping my hot chocolate upright as I’m doubled over. Sam asks, “but you feel good, right?” The truth is that, no I feel like shit, but what I actually say is, “I have never felt good after one of these things.” It’s my first 5k race since 2012, and that’s partially because the thought of racing 3.1 miles makes my legs and lungs hurt. This time was no different. I’m not sure if I’m doing something right, or very wrong, but I usually feel like the race ends just in time — any longer or I’d dry heave my way across the finish line.
I should have known that the day wasn’t off to a great start when my alarm went off at 5:45am. I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and then thought, “wait a second…” why was I planning on leaving the apartment at 6:40am for a race that didn’t start until 9am? Because I screwed up. I set my alarm and made my travel plans as if the race started at 8am. Mistake numero uno.
After taking the subway part of the way uptown, I jogged 2 miles to the start and saw exactly what we’d be dealing with: the course was hilly and covered in so much ice that it narrowed the path to single track (the race director actually said we might have to throw a few elbows on the out-and-back course). I just kept telling myself, “20 minutes. It will all be over in 20 minutes.”
The first half of the race, I thought I was in 4th, with the 2nd and 3rd place females no more than 15 seconds ahead of me. Just before the turn-around, I passed them both, thinking I was now in 2nd, with the 1st place woman far in front. I was feeling pretty yuck as we ascended a few hills, but knew it would all be over soon because I had mercifully passed the 2 mile marker. Just a few more minutes and the pain would be over. With 0.3 miles to go, we made a sharp left turn down a steep hill and you could just barely make out the finish line. Oh thank god, that means the torture is almost over. I was jolted from my happy place when I got passed by a girl (grr). I tried to keep up, willing my quads to go faster, but they were in no mood to cooperate. Okay, fine, if it was any consolation, I would still podium (mistake numero dos). I couldn’t keep up with her, and she finished 4 seconds ahead of me. I finished in just over 21 minutes, a disappointing time (aaand numero tres). Sam immediately came over and told me I came in fourth. FOURTH?! Ugg. You know what’s worse than coming in 4th? Coming in 4th thinking you were in 3rd the whole time. I grumbled for a few minutes (sorry Sam!), drank my hot chocolate (thank you NYCRUNS!), changed my shirt, and ran 11 miles home. I was pissed. I was cold. I was tired. I needed to declare a mulligan on the day. I got home, showered, took a short nap, and ate breakfast all over again.
I’m still a little grumpy about the morning, but am trying to use it as a learning experience. I need to get my speed up. I need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Also, I need to do another 5k. Preferably faster. And preferably in warmer weather. Until then, I’ve got some training to do.
As I’ve made pretty clear, I’m not a big fan of winter these days. So, to escape the cold and — let’s face it — to become a much happier human, Sam and I spent a week in warmer weather. My conclusion? In January, Miami >> New York City. Truth.
For the past 3 years, we’ve been going on The Rockboat, a cruise that’s part music festival, part spring break for adults (picture a bunch of middle aged people carrying beer buckets around like security blankets, eating soft serve ice cream at 2am, all while losing their voices from singing along to Barenaked Ladies and Sister Hazel a little too enthusiastically).
Anyway, since we were on a boat for a few days, I had to do some treadmill running. It’s not my favorite (note: I despite it), but if I’m doing it while overlooking the ocean, I suppose I can tolerate it for a few miles. 😉 What made the workout… interesting… was that the gym on the ship was high up (deck 12 of 14), the water was rocky, and the treadmills were oriented perpendicular to the current. So, with each rise and fall of the ship, it felt like I was doing awkward sideways mini hill repeats. And then there were the planks. Try doing planks on a rocking boat. It’s like doing them on a moving stability ball. There was no way I was going to try jumping lunges — I can’t even do those on solid ground without looking like a drunken elephant, let alone on a rocking ship. Outside of all the gym work, I stuck with my training plan thanks to a really decent buffet: I had a steady diet of fresh greens, steamed vegetables, beans, fresh fruit, and late night veggie snacks (okay fine, I might have sneaked in a cookie. Or 3). After a 4 day cruise, I am proud to say that I still managed to fit into my shorts. Phew.
We got back to land and Sam and I took our running shoes and dirty clothes to South Beach for the rest of the week, because, duh. winter. The last time I was in South Beach was in 2010 to run the Miami Marathon.
My dad came along to support me, which was super cool, until the point in the trip where people were clearly confused as to whether we were husband and wife instead of father and daughter. Umm, ew. I was 27 and my dad was, like, 60. Miami: 1, Kelly: 0. To make it worse, the marathon was a rough race for me. My goal was to place in my age group, but (SPOILER!), it turns out training in the winter in New York and then going to race a marathon in warm humid Florida is not so smart (we won’t even discuss the 3:30am race-day wake up call). Nevertheless, I left it all out on the course. Literally. I “deposited” breakfast — and probably a little bit of dinner — in three different spots. Despite the mess, I came in under 3:40 (my then-qualifying time for Boston) and promptly decided I didn’t like Miami.
Anyway, I digress. It’s 2015 and the circumstances were slightly different. Poor Sam thought we were there to relax, but HA, I had other plans: each day brought 75 degrees, sunny skies… and 9+ miles. Sunset runs on the boardwalk, morning runs along the Venetian Causeway, and a mid-afternoon recovery run through the Everglades that turned into a fartlek because I got scared every time we passed an alligator.
Miami the second time around was a much better trip. There was no confusion about my relationship with my male traveling partner, but there was lots of good running, clean eating, and most importantly, warm weather! SoBe, maybe you’re not so bad after all.