Race Report | 2014 NYC Half

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.40 PMIf I learned anything from the NYC Half this year, it’s BRING THROWAWAY PANTS.

Also, I think I’m in love with half-marathons… Yep, I definitely love ‘em.

Like last year, I went into this race with the goal of running by feel. If I felt good, I’d go with the flow and race it. If not, no biggie. It’s only a training run for Boston to Big Sur.

Well, it’s hard not to get jazzed up when you’re surrounded by over 20,000 other runners in Central Park on a chilly March morning, especially when you get a surpise boost of encouragement from twitter friends! (Thank you Jocelyn, Corey, and Mary!) And God knows I’m not able to relax during the first few miles of a race. Gotta go guns blazing, right?

After freezing my buns off for half an hour before the race (re: throwaway pants are essential), off we went, heading north up the east side of the park. The gradual inclines warmed me up pretty quick (thank goodness), so I settled into a comfortable but quick pace. At the top of the park, we ran a hairpin turn before heading into the Harlem hills. Personally, I love hairpin turns. Marine Corps had one, too. I get SO pumped up being able to “watch” the race for a bit and keep an eye out for familiar faces. I spotted elite runner Desi Davila Linden and Corey again, which was so happy on so many levels. The energy among the runners and spectators was electric.

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.19 PMAfter the biggest hill at the top of the park, the next two to three miles brought more rolling hills before we exited onto 7th Avenue. I’ll admit, I started to regret pushing it so hard in the park. The hills wore me out. But like last year, the epic, towering view down 7th Avenue was just incredible. It’s literally so breathtaking and awe-inspiring that you can’t really wrap your brain around the fact that you’re running down the center of one of the most famous streets in the world. And you don’t even have to dodge tourists.

It goes without saying my pace quickened quite a bit at this point of the race.

Halfway down 7th, a band started playing YMCA. If you read my blog, you’ll know that the same song played during the Boston Marathon last year. It’s one of my favorite happy memories from that otherwise awful day, so hearing it again at this race left me brimming with emotions, some good and some bad. April 21 is going to be full of moments like this one, I know it.

A brief turn toward the Hudson River brought us to the Westside Highway. At this point, there’s just over five miles to go, and they’re all flat as a pancake. Still high off my jaunt through Times Square, I found a rhythm running around 6:45ish pace. I still, surprisingly, felt comfortable and in control. This is why I love half-marathons.

I felt like I was actually racing rather than surviving. And since 13.1 miles seems short now compared to a marathon, I wasn’t afraid to push the gas pedal a little more. I kept ticking off the miles, soaking in views of the Statue of Liberty, then running in the shadow of the now-complete Freedom Tower before deciding to gun it the last two miles.

At this point, I knew a sub-1:30 was just out of reach, but I was primed to run a PR. A final push through the finish clocked me in at 1:31:05, an almost 2 minute, 30 second PR. Talk about the runner’s high. The whole race was one long hit of the runner’s high.

To top it all off, I ran into an old teammate of mine from Lehigh AND Jenny from Hood to Coast, who had also just crushed her race with a sparkly new PR. So much happiness!

Sunday reaffirmed how awesome this race is and left me feeling much more confident going into Boston and Big Sur next month. Michele summed up my feelings perfectly:

Yes. Exactly. All of those miserable, slushy miles were worth it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting so get on your way.” - Dr. Suess

The Man That Started It All

374903_330425866972385_1053253969_n“When was the last time you sweat?”

The words, spoken with a thick Kenyan accent to me, an uncoordinated middle school soccer player, were my first introduction to running. On that summer afternoon, I had no idea that I would spend the next six years sweating in the desert heat through intervals, wearing a dirt groove into the outer perimeter of the park, or fine-tuning my mile splits during distance runs up and down the mountain’s trails.

Franks Munene, a tall, lanky man who wore sunglasses even when the sun had long gone down, looked every bit like a running machine. My dad and I always joked that he had legs like a grasshopper’s. (Although oddly enough, despite what the photo above suggests, I never actually saw him run – or wear running clothes for that matter! That shot was taken well before my time. Even still, I knew the guy was fast.)

But Franks knew running. The runners he trained were some of the best in the city. He had a method to his madness from which he never deviated, and you were expected to trust the process if you wanted to succeed.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning, Franks would pull up to the park in his white minivan, emerge toting a laminated but worn poster full of illustrated stretches, and start my teammates and I on our warmup. And no matter if it was 105 degrees or pouring rain, he’d declare with a grin, “This is perfect weather for running!”

It wasn’t until we’d completed our warmup, stretching routine, high-knees and butt-kicks (“Windows closed! Pick your pockets!”), and strides, that he’d reveal our workout for the day. That “method” I mentioned earlier? It was all in his head, and frankly, there was no way to predict what workout was on tap that day. No pattern to follow. It was a crapshoot that kept us on our toes and gave us no time to really mentally prepare for the pain game he was about to dish out. It kept things interesting, that’s for sure!

unnamedThen we’d churn through repeats around the park, the drop of his arm starting each set. Three laps equalled a mile. Or we’d set off on one of our many routes around the neighborhood. Usually it was some combination of a loop on the roads (there was Short Loop, Long Loop, Dakota, and Small Hills) mixed with a climb up the rocky trails on the mountain to The Mine or Blue Tank. I logged every single run in a little blue spiral notebook, my first training journal.

Sure enough, despite his high expectations (and seemingly impossible split times) that would sometimes leave me feeling frustrated, I was hooked. His passion and dedication for the sport rubbed off on me whether I liked it or not. The days when I’d log a new PR on a route were the absolute best. Sneaking in a workout in the dark before school made me feel like a badass. Climbs to the top of the mountain that rewarded us with views of the city were unforgettable. The competitor within me thrived with each challenge or goal he’d put on the table for me. His high expectations for me inspired me to reach higher. I loved it.

The hard work and commitment paid off. I became one of those top runners in the city. Those efforts landed me a spot on a DI collegiate team.

So why am I telling you about Franks? Because he’s the man who started it all. Sparked a lifelong passion. Made me the runner I am today. That park? It’s where my love of running was born. I took my “first steps” there. Those routes? They still feel like home, so comfortable and familiar, even though I hardly run on them anymore.

It’s been almost six years since I stopped training with Franks. And here I am, still running (obviously) and still loving it (thankfully). If that doesn’t demonstrate the impact he had on my life, I don’t know what does. I couldn’t put into words how thankful I am that he was my coach. That he never gave up on me. That he pushed me and guided me toward my goals. The memories I have at that park, on those runs with my teammates, are priceless.

photo 2I ran into one of my teammates recently in NYC. I hadn’t seen her in years, and I nearly burst into tears with happiness. She informed me that Franks hadn’t changed a bit. The memories came flooding back. Man do I miss it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine 

Dreaming of Dry Roads

unnamedYes, I realize that last time I blogged, I wrote about how the snow ain’t so bad. But two weeks later…

I’ve had enough of this winter!

Let me explain why I’ve changed my tune:

For yesterday’s long run, we did 13.75 miles on our hilliest, most challenging loop. Whether it’s balmy and humid or bone-chillingly cold, this quad-busting route hurts like hell. BUT, even when the inclines leave you wheezing, it rewards you with these breathtaking views of the open, rolling farmlands dotted with old farmhouses. The roads are empty. It’s amazing.

Other than my first 10-miler on a treadmill, I can’t remember the last long run I did during this training cycle that didn’t involve navigating through snow and ice. So I asked the guys if we could do the crazy hill loop because I wanted to get in a real, quality distance run for once. (No) thanks to yet another snowstorm on Saturday, we spent what felt like 13 miles of the 13.75-mile run on either a slick sheet of ice or beach sand-like snow. Not amazing.

Sure, the farmlands blanketed in white were stunning as always. But it was hard to appreciate the views when I was focused on just staying upright. Deep down, I know that the tricky terrain is a bonus workout that’s actually making me stronger. But moving at a snail’s pace up and down hills is doing absolutely nothing for my confidence. I really want to believe that these tough runs will translate into a solid spring marathon just like the slow and steamy summer runs make for a fast fall marathon. My frozen fingers and toes are crossed.

I know I could be doing these runs on the treadmill. But honestly, I just don’t have it in me to sacrifice my daily dose of fresh air when I’ve been cooped up inside even more than normal these days. At this point, though, it feels like a lose-lose situation. Extra kudos to everyone who has made the commitment to get those workouts in regardless. Teach me your ways!

The yucky part of it all is that, since I’m not running Boston as a goal race, I’m feeling even less inclined to get all of my runs in. Rather than doing four or five treadmill miles during a snow storm, I’m opting out of the workout entirely. I just can’t get into a rhythm with my training.

That said, here’s my silver lining:

Since I apparently can’t get enough of this marathon business, I’m hoping that my involuntarily scaled back training routine right now will benefit me later on this year when I’m gearing up for my goal race in October. Even though it feels like I’m cutting myself short, maybe the extra rest will keep me from burning out when I’m actually training for a PR.

I’ve still managed to do my strength routine once a week. I’d like to be going twice per week, but I’m okay with not skipping it entirely for now.

I’m trusting that, come spring and some dry, heavenly roads, I’ll feel fit and more like myself again. I had one fantastic five-miler a couple weeks ago on a warm-ish day. Here’s to hoping that more of those will happen when this Arctic tundra decides to thaw out.

The forecast says Sunday will be sunny with a high of 47 degrees. Hopefully I’ll have a decent run that’ll re-inspire me and get me mentally back on track!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “When it’s pouring rain and you’re bowling along through the wet, there’s satisfaction in knowing that you’re out there and the others aren’t.” - Peter Snell

Hey, The Snow Ain’t So Bad!

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 1.10.13 PMEarly Sunday morning, the temps were in the teens and, after Saturday’s snowfall, the roads still looked like God had poured a giant slushy over them. The parking lot where we usually meet was empty–mind you, this lot is never empty on Sunday mornings. On this dreadmill-worthy day, clearly we were the crazy ones. While I waited for the guys to show up, I sat in my car, toasty and not exactly in the mood to emerge into the slippery Arctic tundra for my 10-miler.

At 7 a.m., the guys arrived and started doing doughnuts through the snow in their compact SUVs. Naturally. Prerun shenanigans like this are honestly one of the few reasons I actually wake up and get my run done at all. They never fail to make me laugh, pull me out of my it’s-far-to-early-for-this-madness funk, and get me excited to run. I love them for it. Find running friends like these guys, and you’ll never skip a run again.

We lurched onto the roads and right up this steep hill beside the lot, spinning our tires… I mean… trainers the whole way up. Yep, that warmed us up! But man was this going to be a rough run. We ran through quiet, sparkling-white neighborhoods with only our voices and the crunching snow beneath our feet to break the silence. Then we reached wide open farmland with the sunrise breaking on the horizon. Stunning moments like these are what made me fall in love with Pennsylvania and remind we why I run.

A few days later, the guys decided to hit the trails at lunch. Initially I resisted the idea, preferring the finally dry roads over the potentially slippery, snow-covered trails. But I gave in to the peer pressure, so off we went… and it was amazing.

The woods had transformed into the definition of a winter wonderland. Armed with trail shoes and Yaktrax, we powered through the powder, breathing deeply and breaking a sweat despite the freezing temps. Like kids on a snow day, we devolved into goofiness (not like we don’t on a regular run), laughing the whole way up and down the mountain. The run was worth every exhausting step.

I stumbled upon a quote this week – summed up these runs perfectly:

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.” - Aaron Douglas Trimble

Now don’t get me wrong, I love winter. But this edition has made me seriously wish spring would hurry up and arrive already. I’m so over sliding through my training runs.

But these two runs were the best I’ve had in a while. When the rest of the world stayed cozy and warm inside, we were out embracing the snowy beauty that was SO much better than the view I would’ve had on a treadmill. I’ve got the guys to thank for that. Hey, the snow ain’t so bad after all!

QUOTE OF THE POST: (see above!)

Gearing Up for Boston to Big Sur

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 5.12.19 PMIf you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past few months since Marine Corps, I’ve been recharging the batteries with some active downtime. I ran on my own terms, which meant running whatever distance felt right on a given day, or… not running at all. After months of rising early (and reluctantly) for long runs, staying cozy in bed on Sundays felt ahhh-mazing. I started a new core- and butt-busting gym routine with my coworkers. Dialing back on my running gave me more free time to work on my weak spots. That’s what off-seasons are for, right? I’m already feeling stronger. And finally, I went on hiatus from blogging because, honestly, I needed to take a break from analyzing every workout.

Heading into week four of training for my second Boston Marathon (and six days later, the Big Sur International Marathon), here I am feeling restored (running-wise) and ready to dust off the proverbial cobwebs of this blog. But this time around, even though I’m only ankle-deep in my training, it feels different.

One reason I’ve put off writing this post is because I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this training cycle and what I want to learn from it. One thing I do know is that unlike last year, this race won’t be about setting a PR. It’ll be about joining 36,000 other runners to reclaim the Boston Marathon. I want to run for those who can’t. I want to run to celebrate all of the good that has emerged from the bad. And I want to really feel the emotional highs and lows during the race. What I don’t want is to cloud all of that with my own goals and expectations. Like last year, though, in the epic setting that is Highway 1 along the coast of California, I’ll run Big Sur to embrace how incredible our sport is and to remember why we run in the first place. I think Big Sur will always be a sort of redemption run for me.

With that said, I think Sunday’s long run may have offered an answer:

At 7 a.m., I found myself shivering in the darkness. I was so NOT in the mood to do my 14-miler in 18-degree temps. I wondered, Why, why do I do this to myself again? I’ll admit, my attitude stunk and it stayed that way for most of the run. Even the guys’ goofiness couldn’t shake me out of my frozen, unhappy state. But with a couple miles to go, the sun finally broke out from behind the clouds, drenching the creek and snow-covered trees in warmth. It was stunning. That moment alone lifted my spirits and made the run worth it.

So what do I want out of this training cycle? Rather than focusing too much on mile spits or how many workouts I squeeze in per week, I want to soak in my surroundings, feel the fresh air move in and out of my lungs, and do my best not to resent my ability to push my body and feel it in motion. I want to appreciate those beautiful moments like the one I experienced Sunday morning. During my downtime when I wasn’t running as much as usual, I discovered that I felt most like myself while I was running. Not running made me want to run. (Surprise, surprise, right?) I want to tap into that feeling as often as possible from now on!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “To run outside surrounded by a beautiful natural setting where the air is crisp and cool, the sun is shining, and all I can do is admire my surroundings and listen to my body in motion.” - Jonathan Steckel, an RW Challenger

P.S. Dr. Jordan Metzl created the wicked-tough workout I mentioned above. Called IronStrength, a video series of the routine can be found over at Runner’s World dot com. Here’s a taste:

- 6 sets jump squats (x15), rotatory planks (5 each arm)
- 3 sets rows from plank (x10), pushups (x10), situps with weights (x10)
- 3 sets lunge plyos (x10), alternating sides of hamstring plyos (x5 front, side and rear) in between.
- 3 sets mountain climbers (x10), legs down (x10)
- 4 sets deadlift high pull (x5), biceps curls on single leg (x5), overhead press on other leg (x5)
- planks (60 secs; side, down, side)

Rest and Re-Inspiration

After two full weeks of absolutely no running (save for a certain brush with Ryan Hall’s f-ing fast marathon pace), I’ve spent this week slowly coaxing my legs back into running. Winter decided to arrive during my hiatus, and despite a few “niggles,” it feels wonderful to breathe in that cool, fresh air, break a sweat, and laugh with the guys again.

I decided to commit to 14 days of rest because Marine Corps left me feeling a bit banged up. I’ve been marathon training for the better part of the year, so the lingering aches gave me a good excuse NOT to run to let my body heal. Besides, MCM fell smack dab in the middle of the madness that is “working” at the RW Half, MCM, and NYCM on back-to-back-to-back weekends. All of it was incredibly exhilarating and inspiring–heck, I LOVE everything about races–but it’s also exhausting. My brain and body needed some downtime. Badly.

So while I’m here dusting the cobwebs off this blog, I have to say that even though I wasn’t out on the roads, running still managed to find ways remind me why our sport is so tremendously incredible. For instance…

I’m officially “in real life” friends with Iron(wo)man and mother-runner Michele Gonzalez (right), who raised over $10,000 for Superstorm Sandy relief efforts last year; Pam Rickard, an ultrarunner whose comeback story is best summed up by this Facebook post; and Summer Sanders (left), an Olympic swimmer, one of my childhood idols (thanks to a certain TV show), and now an incredible, speedy! runner. Words can’t really express how impressed, amazed, inspired [insert more similar words] by these women. They are the embodiment of why runners are awesome.Summer-Michele

I got a dose of the November Project, the highlight being a high-five with co-founder Brogan Graham, who’s gracing the December cover of RW. The bear-hugging, no-excuses, potty-mouthed “tribe” that began in Boston has injected a whole new level of badass-ness that’s shaking up what it means to be a running group. Get a better sense of who they are here and why they’re the shining light in an otherwise rough year for the running community here.

RW1213_COV_spread

And finally, I spent a weekend witnessing, for the first time, the magic of the New York City Marathon. It’s truly eye-opening to see runners from around the world literally take over the city, to see them streaming into Central Park from dawn until dusk, and to watch the elites cover 26.2 miles with precision, strength, and in Meb’s case, courage, from the gun to the tape. I bumped into Shalane and Julie, who again reminded me that the pros are just (blazing fast) regular runners. The list goes on… I left the city with my mind made up: I need to run New York next year.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 6.05.18 PMBasically, I can’t help but smile at all that went down over the past month or so. And trust me, this post touches on a fraction of it all. I couldn’t be more thankful. Thanks everyone.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running is not, as it so often seems, only about what you did in your last race or about how many miles you ran last week. It is, in a much more important way, about community, about appreciating all the miles run by other runners, too.” - Richard O’Brien

Race Report | 2013 Marine Corps Marathon

photo 1I learned a valuable lesson during my fifth marathon:

Take every single negative thought and turn it on its head.

Constantly refocusing on the positive from start to finish led me to a 2 minute 51 second PR and what was probably my first negative split in any race ever. The defining moment came at Mile 14, but let me rewind a bit.

Back in April when I was halfway between Hopkinton and that famous right turn on Hereford Street, I was hurting. I’d realized early on that it just wasn’t my day, and the thought of running another 13 miles was daunting. Rather than easing my pace so I could soak up and enjoy the incredible atmosphere, I wallowed in the fact that I wouldn’t be setting a PR that day. I spent the rest of the race feeling frustrated and sad that I wasn’t having an amazing race at the fabled Boston Marathon.

On Sunday in Washington, D.C. when I reached the half-marathon mark, however, I thought: I only have 13 miles left. I can run 13 miles in my sleep. That’s nothing! New legs baby girl!

I remember consciously noticing at that moment how drastically different my perspective was between the two races. The realization that I felt good and wanted to run the next 13 miles literally set a fire under my butt.

I’d averaged around 8-minute pace for the first half, coming through 13.1 at 1:45:08…and then I ran Mile 14 in 7:36, holding my pace in the 7:30s (and one 7:25!) for eight miles. I dropped to low 7:40s for the next two miles before I ran out of steam for the last three. Even then I hovered just above 8-minute pace.

When I decided to shift gears, I honestly wasn’t sure how long I’d last. But my legs kept churning along, much longer than I would’ve ever expected. Trying to negative split was uncharted territory for this runner that likes to start guns blazing only to crash and burn at the end. After struggling to keep an even pace with the hills and crowds throughout the first few miles, I’d finally found my rhythm.

Early on in the race, I made the decision to mentally break up the race into 10-mile segments that I divided into shorter distance goals. Why 10 miles? Because my cut-back long run during training was 10 miles. The distance felt easy even though I ran it fast. I remember thinking how crazy it was to say that I had to run only 10 miles. Here was my train of thought:

After the first “short and easy” 10, I focused on 13.1. When I got there (happy halfway!), I wanted to get to 16 so that I’d “only have 10 left” (10 is nothing, right?). When I reached 16, I focused on 20 so that I’d finally be in the twenty-somethings AND the single-digits. From there, I broke it down into one- or two-mile chunks to the point where, at Mile 25, I thought, Only eight minutes left. You can do anything for eight minutes. Keep pushing.

For whatever reason, this thought process worked for me. Chipping away at the distance mentally rather than thinking about it as a whole kept my mind busy and sane. I took comfort in the fact that my breathing stayed relaxed, my stomach wasn’t acting up, and my legs were still (somehow) maintaining a decent clip. Fun fact: I felt good at Mile 18, the point in my first marathon where the wheels started to fall off. In this race, I managed a little over four more miles before I hit that point. I genuinely couldn’t believe it.

So you better believe that I soaked up inch of the 26.2-mile journey. The sights from atop bridges and beside monuments were awe-inspiring and serene in the early morning light; out at Hains Point, the quiet, lonely moments punctuated only by footsteps were sobering; the endless tunnels of spectators and Marines were pitch-perfect and made me laugh when I needed to smile; the drum lines and bands got me pumped up like they have since high school; seeing my coworkers at the hair-pin turns was unexpected and way too much fun; it was all incredible.

I finished in 3:26:32. I couldn’t be happier.

photo 2

QUOTE OF THE POST: “That was so far!” – words repeated in a tone of both disbelief and astonishment by my first-time-marathon-crusher/coworker during the car ride home 

To read about my training leading up to the race, click here. To everyone who supported me along the way, THANK YOU!

P.S. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon through the Runner’s World Challenge, an online training program that comes with race weekend perks (think private porta-potties and the epic view (above) at the post-race party) at a few big races around the country. As an RW editor, I love going to these events because it gives me the opportunity to meet more inspiring runners! I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity. Check out photos from our event here.

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