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.
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.
All packed and ready to go.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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?”
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.”
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.
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.