Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013 Year in Review & 2014 Goals

It's that time again. Time to reflect on the past year of running, races, and new friends, as well as where I'd like to go in the future. As some of you may recall, I set these goals for myself at the end of last year. The goals themselves are in black while the actual outcome is in blue. 

2013 Goals
  • Run 1750 miles: Due to a hamstring injury, this didn't happen, but I will still manage to hit just over 1200 for the year. 
  • Run my first marathon - hopefully in under four hours - and my second marathon: I had to ditch D.C. due to my hamstring injury, but I ran NYCM. I ended up at 4:02:09 which was only 5 seconds per mile off my goal.
  • Run a sub-50 10K and a sub-7 minute mile: I didn't get a chance to really race a 10K this year, but I did get a 6:59 at the Fifth Avenue Mile in September
  • Lower my bib time even further: I didn't really do any short distance NYRR races other than Coogan's, which was when I was barely running. So my bib time is still 7:52
  • Win an AG Award: This actually happened in the Van Cortlandt Urban Environmental 10K challenge. Although it was not a time I was proud of, having a small field was to my benefit as I got 3rd in the 20-29 AG
Here is a summary of my races from 2013, courtesy of Athlinks, from most recent to least 

Although I did not have many fast races, I was proud of each of my efforts for different reasons, and learned valuable lessons along the way. I also learned that I had my limitations, and while it's good to skirt the line, there are consequences for crossing it entirely. 

In my mind, my greatest achievement this year is FINALLY finishing my first marathon. Despite being just over two minutes off my goal, I was very happy to be able to finally get the opportunity after three years of running. My mile time comes a very close second. 

2014 Goals

Now that a new year is about to begin, it is time to set new goals. But after lots of thinking, I am still not sure exactly what I wish to accomplish now that the marathon has finally been achieved. For the time being, here are a few that come to mind:

  • Mileage Goal: 2014 Kilometers / 1251.44 miles
  • HM Goal: Sub-1:45
  • 10K Goal: Sub-50
  • Mile Goal: 6:55
  • Enjoy running - there's no point in doing all of this otherwise
I also intend on doing the marathon again, but I would rather not sign up for one until I am sure that I can achieve a sub-4 hour time. 

While I would be thrilled if I could achieve these goals, I find that I do much better when I don't put pressure on myself. Although I want to be the best runner I can be, I don't want to do it at the price of injury or no longer enjoying the activity. Next year will be about finding a balance, discover what parts of running I enjoy the most, and sticking to them. 

I would like to thank my family and friends for being so supportive of me this year, especially during marathon season. I have been fortunate enough to make many new friends this year, and look forward to expanding my social circle with even more crazy people runners in the future. 

This proud middle-of-the-pack runner would like to thank everyone for following her blog over the past year, and she looks forward to recalling her running adventures in the future. Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate, and have a Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Running Festival of Lights: Oy Vey, What a Windy 10K!

Short Version:

Race Time: 57:11
Overall Place: 85/243
Gender Place: 46/174
Division Place: 27/100

Long Version

I hadn't seriously raced a road 10K since the NYRR Mini 10K almost a year and a half ago, where I had achieved my still current PR of 50:45 in Central Park. One of my goals this year was to achieve a sub-50 minute 10K, and I figured that capitalizing off of my marathon fitness would be the best bet. 

So when I heard that NYCRuns was holding a new Chanukkah themed set of races on one of the flattest courses I have ever seen a few weeks after the marathon, I thought that this would be my chance. This was the first Chanukkah themed race that I had ever heard of, and it was a very refreshing option among the several Jingle Bell jogs held in the area every year. 

The course is an out and back by the water-front in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and although I have never run it myself, almost everyone I knew who had done it had gotten their best time there. It seemed like all of the stars were aligned to make my sub-50 dreams a reality. 

The course map. I felt very nostalgic running by the
Verrazano as I remembered my marathon experience.
However, I didn't fully understand how long it would take to recover from racing my first marathon. Although I had started running again, it took weeks until I felt like I was running normally. I doubted that I was in race shape at this point, but I decided to play it by ear and see how I felt that day.

The final decision was ultimately taken out of my hands by Mother Nature. According to my Garmin, it was 25 degrees out, but felt like 13. The winds were extremely brutal, especially right by the water. Although I spent an hour and fifteen minutes travelling to get to the race, I didn't truly start questioning my sanity until I took of my winter coat. Although my long sleeved Patagonia running shirt was the warmest I had, it wasn't enough, so I took out the extra fleece sweater I had and put it in. Even then, waiting for the race to start was still a miserable experience. 

The tech shirt actually fit well considering -
it was slightly loose for a small but not significantly.
I ran into my friend, Rebecca, at the start, but shortly before the start, she encouraged me to move up towards the front a little bit. As the race started promptly on time, I unzipped my sweater as I crossed the start line so that my bib could be registered, then started running and promptly zipped it back up. 

The first half of the race wasn't too bad. Although it was freezing and windy, the wind was at my back for most of the time, so it gave me a boost. According to my Garmin, my first three miles were 9:13, 8:46, and 8:38. At some point, I saw the winners pass by, heading in the opposite direction. I wasn't paying attention to my watch since it was underneath my jacket, but I probably would have kept speeding up if we didn't have to turn around and run in the other direction.

I am not really napping or standing still -
even if that is what it looks like... 
The moment I turned around to head back, I realized that the second half was going to be much harder. Despite my efforts, I felt like I was hardly moving, and I didn't even want to think about what my pace must have been by this point. I didn't bother stopping for water, but I felt badly for the volunteers who had to pour each cup individually as a runner came by - otherwise, they would have blown away. I kept myself entertained by focusing on landmarks and boats in the distance and having the determination to reach each one. 

The only indication of what mile I was on was the faint ping of my watch as I passed what would have been each mile marker. Any attempts by NYCRuns to put mile markers on the course would have been futile as they would have blown away in seconds. After hearing the faint "ping" for the fifth time, I put in all of my efforts to have a strong final 1.2 miles.

Over the last couple of miles, the water blew over the path, and I was splashed a few times, but eventually, I saw the finish, unzipped my jacket once more, and smiled at the photographers as I approached the finish. Immediately, one of the volunteers hopping up and down in a valiant attempt to stay warm handed me a pretty medal. It took me a while to be able to stop my Garmin


After the race, I went to check with NYCRuns to see whether they needed any help with the half marathon. Since they didn't, I warmed up by drinking some hot chocolate and having something to eat. I also got to hang out with Leiba, who was dreading the idea of taking off her jacket while waiting for the half-marathon to start. NYCRuns has had much better hot chocolate in the past, but it was so cold out that I drank it anyway. After a while, I finally braved the windy weather once again and headed back towards the subway station. 

Although I really don't see the point of receiving
a medal for doing a 10K, I'm hardly going to refuse
one when it's given!
NYCRuns did an amazing job putting the race together, and it took a team of insane dedicated volunteers to ensure that things ran as smoothly as possible. Obviously conditions weren't ideal, and a couple of the porta-potties almost blew away, but all things considered, I had a great time, even if I spent most of the race regretting not signing up for the 5K instead.  My splits and course elevation are below. I hope that I get the chance to return to this course on a nicer day and conquer my sub-50 goal once and for all! 

Yep, it's pretty obvious which half was run
facing the winds...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My First Marathon Take II: NYCM 2013

Short Version

Twenty years after my mother ran her first marathon, the baton has been passed down to one of her children. This is her story. [Cue Law & Order Music]

Goal Time: 3:59:59 @ 9:10 mm
Actual Time: 4:02:09 @ 9:15 mm
AG Rating: 55.92%
Official Placement: TBD 
Bonus: I made the NY Times!!!!!

Long Version

After the major setbacks I had over the past year, including a cancellation and an injury, a part of me thought that I would never be able to write this race report. Yet, just under three years after I started running, I sit on my couch, icing my legs, and struggling to figure out how to express the plethora of emotions I feel into words. While I had an amazing time at the expo, this report is already going to take you longer to read than it did for me to run the race. So for now, I will cut to the chase and start with the race day experience. 

Thanks to daylight savings time, I slept for seven hours before waking up at five am. After spending approximately an hour getting ready, I was all ready to head to Staten Island in style. 

This report would have been far
more fun to write if I got bib # 24-601
After buying a bagel, I was amazed at the number of runners waiting on the subway. As the 4 train continued down towards Bowling Green, more and more runners boarded, all of us united with one purpose. I was assigned to the 7am ferry, but got to the terminal early enough that I was able to board the 6:45am without any issues. However, security was beefed up significantly, as shown in the picture that a fellow runner generously shared with me. 

After arriving on Staten Island, I found the buses fairly easily. As I headed over, I heard my name, and I turned around to see my friend Rebecca, who was volunteering. After a quick hello, I boarded a bus, and rode the three miles to the heart of race central at Fort Wadsworth, which thankfully had re-opened around the same time as the U.S. Government. 

After braving the first line of porta-potties, I went to the Grete Weitz village - for orange bib numbers - got some coffee, water, and another half a bagel, and walked around a bit before settling down. Since I wasn't a pacer, or running for a charity, I sat outside, leaning against a fence, dressed in my throw-away clothes, reflecting on the challenge ahead of me. Well, either that, or I was just trying to stay warm. One of the two. 

Not terrible for a 5am wake-up call
There was a giant screen, along with announcements in several languages, in the middle of the village. As wave 1 was called to the corrals, I used the bathroom a couple of more times, and spoke with Steve, the race director of NYCRuns. It was nice seeing a familiar face. 

Before I knew it, it was time for wave 2 to head to the corrals. At the advise of a veteran runner, I kept my sweater and discarded my pants, which turned out to be a wise decision. I was initially confused as to where my corral was, but I found it, and all of us had to wait around for a while. I was able to hear and see wave 1 start thanks to a large screen TV close by. But waiting there was still pretty tedious overall. 

As we walked towards the bridge, I finally took my sweater off, and started to think about the race ahead. At that moment, I made a decision which would be extremely brave or foolish. I would not be looking at my Garmin during this race. Instead, I wanted to do this by feel, enjoy my tour of the five boroughs, and not worry about my time, and I knew that covering my Garmin with an arm warmer after starting would ensure that for as long as possible. 

After a beautifully sung national anthem - which strangely ended on the second instead of on the tonic - I was startled by the boom of the canon, followed by Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York". After approximately a minute, I finally started my watch and began my journey. As I started, I couldn't believe that it was happening, yet here I was, running with thousands upon thousands of my fellow runners. 

Where's Waldo Dahlia?
Since I was in the orange start, I was able to start on the top of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. Last year, I was supposed to start on the bottom part, but this time, I lucked out. I spent most of the first couple of miles taking in the view of the bridge, which was splendid. The images of people peeing on the side towards the foot of the bridge? Not so much. Then again, I was kind of jealous - I already had to use the bathroom but I didn't want to stop unless I absolutely had to. 

Entering Bay Ridge, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my name. How did these people know my name? I laughed at myself as I remembered that I was wearing a giant name-tag precisely for this purpose. When every other marathoner I knew stated the importance of putting my name on my shirt, I never doubted them, but experiencing it first hand really opened my eyes to how valuable that extra boost really was. 

The first 10K of the race went by very quickly, mostly because I was enjoying my tour of Brooklyn. I wasn't expecting any familiar faces in the crowd, so I soaked everything all in and focused on my strategy of stopping every two miles for water. After the 10K point, I took my first 3 shot bloks and continued on my merry way. 

Although I knew a few groups of people who were cheering me on in Brooklyn, I didn't manage to spot them. I would like to thank Leiba, Robin, the Prospect Park Track Club, Brooke & Dan. I did hear someone shout for me at mile 8 when the courses merged, and I looked back, but I didn't see anyone I knew. I found out later that I heard Brooke, Dan and the surrounding people shout for me. During this time, fellow runner David Halloran of NYCRuns said hi to me, but I was startled because he had a Mohawk and sunglasses, which wasn't his usual style. 

I don't remember exactly when this happened, but I felt a light drizzle. I was worried that it would become full out rain, but it didn't, and it actually felt kind of nice. The rest of the first half passed relatively quickly. I was a little annoyed when I arrived at the aid station just before the Pulaski bridge and saw that it wasn't that well organized - there were no cups of water ready to give out. Thankfully, one was poured quickly enough.  Although I remembered the bridge feeling really steep in training, I barely noticed it during the race. 

I had considered jumping into the porta-potties after crossing since there was no line, but I then finally checked my watch for the first time and noticed that my time at the half-way point was 1:58:xx (1:58:14 officially). While I knew that I would probably slow down in the second half, I didn't want a porta-potty stop to be the reason I missed getting a sub four hour marathon. 

Less than a mile later, I ran past my aunt Anne. At this point, I had been carrying my arm warmers for at least five miles, and was relieved to finally be able to pass them off to someone. She looked confused for a second as I said "hi! take these!" and threw what looked like socks at her, but she recovered quickly, smiled, and picked them up. To her credit, my mother did a fantastic job making the signs as they were extremely easy to spot on the course. 
Anne posing with sign she used
The rest of Queens passed by relatively quickly, and as we ran into Long Island City, I started to mentally prepare myself for the Queensboro bridge, knowing that it would be a very long stretch without spectators. I was also used to running on the pedestrian walk, which had nice views, but this time, I ran where the cars usually went, and to me, it felt more like a dark tunnel than a bridge. Fellow runners started chanting to pass the time, and I appreciated their efforts to keep us all entertained. At that point, I noticed a runner dribbling two basketballs the entire time. I can't even imagine how anyone would have the coordination to do that for 26.2 miles. This was the second person I had seen with some sort of gimmick or costume - I ran by a person dressed as a banana earlier on the course. 

I heard the crowds on first avenue long before I could actually see them. While I knew this was coming, the wall of sound was still overwhelming. As I got off the bridge, I reminded myself that I was now at the last ten miles of the course. It was now time to remember how I felt when I did this run with the Prospect Park Track club, and to recall how easy it was. I just had to act as if I hadn't just run 16 miles first. Yeah, good luck with that one Dahlia. 

Sibling Love: Belle, Erin, myself & Matt
I knew approximately where different members of my family would be standing along the west side of first avenue, so the next two miles mainly consisted of me finding my family. I first ran into my aunt Beep, uncle Dan, and cousins Josh and Jeremy somewhere in the late 60's / early 70's. After waving to them, I then saw my brother Matt & sister-in-law Erin in the mid-80's. It was crowded in both those places so I wasn't able to give them high fives but I waved at them happily. 

The next sighting was my sister Belle, and close friend Lily in the early 90's. Last year, Belle was in Spain, and was unable to come back for the marathon - she had considered coming back to surprise me but the cancellation made that point moot. The fact that she was able to be there was one of the few aspects which made the cancellation worth it. It was less crowded up there, so I was able to give them high fives. They told me my parents weren't too far away, and off I went. Here is some video of me passing by, provided by Lily. 

I then saw another "Go Dahlia" sign up ahead, held by my very enthusiastic, supportive parents. I gave my mother a high five while my dad attempted to take pictures. I don't have any in this area, but I do have a picture of my mother and sister posing with the signs by my apartment building on their way over to first avenue. My dad's photos are obviously much superior to MarathonFoto. 

Shortly after I saw my parents, I hit the mile 18 marker and after hearing my name, looked up to see one of my running friends, Stephanie, cheering for me. I smiled, waved back, and continued towards the Bronx, feeling confident. Just before the Willis Avenue bridge, I grabbed some water, then went on my merry way. 

Since I wasn't expecting any personal supporters in the Bronx, I spent the next couple of miles taking the scenery all in. I had read an article about the spectators there who took pride in cheering extra loudly, knowing that people were hitting the wall around this time, and they did not disappoint  Although we only spent a brief period of time, I enjoyed it, but was still relieved when I crossed the Madison Avenue bridge back into Manhattan because I knew that this would be the last borough change before the finish. 

I was still feeling good around mile 20, so at the time, I hadn't realized that I had fallen off sub-4 pace. While I was tired, I still felt like I had a lot of energy, and that finishing wouldn't be a problem. I was offered a half of banana, but after taking a bite, I knew that I wouldn't be able to eat it. Perhaps I should have taken another shot blok around this time, but I was more thirsty than hungry at this point. 

After crossing back into Manhattan, I started running down the right side of Fifth avenue as I was expecting to see some friends within the next mile. As I hit the mile 22 marker, I was definitely feeling more tired, but my legs were still working fine. I saw my Brandeis friends, Paul and Jen, waiting for me with a sign that Jen made. They had borrowed the hats of two other friends, Zahava and Abe, who were there in spirit even though they couldn't be cheering in person. 

Brandeis Represent! 
Around that time, I heard a familiar voice shouting my name, and I glanced over my shoulder to see my running friend Kathy shouting and waving. I didn't see her daughter Lucy at the time, but I know that she was avidly cheering me on as well. She was the one who made me my 2012 medal of "Faster than 3:59:59" last year. 

After hitting mile 23 or so, I realized that I was probably hitting the wall. My legs were getting stiffer, and I started to feel exhausted. The last time I felt this exhausted was when I was bonking towards the end of my first half marathon - only this time, it felt much worse. It didn't help that Museum Mile was a steady incline. 

At this point, I threw out the notion that there would be no walking and decided to walk for less than 30 seconds, but after about ten seconds I felt my legs lock, and was worried that if I didn't start moving soon, I wouldn't be able to do so at all. At this point, I was resigned to not getting a sub-4 hour time, and just wanted to get this last 5k over with. 

 Oh, I'm in pain! I think this is what pain feels like! 
Although the spectators crying out my name helped, all I really wanted to do was to get to Central Park and see my family. I had the notion that once I got to Engineer's Gate and entered the park, I would get this sudden burst of energy and speed up towards the finish. That didn't happen, but I still looked forward to seeing my family. 

I had expected to see Matt & Erin again first, but they switched spots with my parents. I high-fived them and did my best to smile, but they could tell that I wasn't as happy as I was before mile eighteen. As I saw my mother, I wondered why on earth she had signed up for a second marathon, much less a third and fourth. Had she completely lost her mind??????

At the mile 24 marker, I had gotten a Twinkie from my friend Beth due to a random Facebook Halloween post that had turned into an inside joke. I had intended on eating it, but after a while I realized that I crushed it beyond recognition while carrying it and cast it aside. I had just received this token when I ran into Belle & Lily once again. Belle grabbed my hand and attempted to run with me for a few feet, and Lily got a few awesome pictures of this happening. 

Unfortunately, this was not a relay hand-off.
Belle wasn't allowed to run the last two miles for me
I then saw Beep, Dan, Jeremy & Josh close to the 25 mile marker, and by that point, although I was trying to smile, I was just beyond miserable, but I forced myself to keep going. At that point, I understood the full meaning of "run the last 10K with your heart" because my legs wouldn't have made it without some mental fortitude. As you can see by the pictures, I was clearly struggling. 

Are we THERE yet????
Beep & Dan
I immediately deflated after that, knowing that my body was pretty much done. Every single tiny incline felt like a mountain, and I had to swallow my pride and walk a couple of more times. However, I knew that I was going to finish not too far off my original time goal, and that, plus the encouragement of the crowd, kept me going. 

At the mile 26 marker, I glanced at my watch and realized that the time was 3:59:xx (officially 3:59:51). Can't we use this time and call it a day? Oh wait, I still have about 300 meters to run. FINE. If I must. I walked up the last incline, then jogged it into the finish. I was under no pretense that I had anything left resembling a finishing kick. But, as I threw up my hands and crossed the finish line, I smiled widely, knowing that I had finally accomplished something three years in the making. My Garmin said 4:02:16 but my official time was 4:02:09 @ a 9:15 mm pace. Despite not getting sub-4, I was very proud of my accomplishment. 

You can see me crossing the finish here. Look at around 13:30 - I am on the left sign of the screen.

Getting out of the park took forever, and I could barely walk. MarathonFoto snapped a picture of me after the finish, but I looked terrible so I am not posting it here. Somehow they only managed to identify 3 pictures of me despite the fact that I ran 26.2 miles. I am not impressed....

.... and neither is she
Although I had an early exit bracelet, they wouldn't let anyone out of the park until 77th Street. Since my parents lived close by, that worked for me, but at the time, I didn't realize that the orange poncho pick-up would take place four blocks in the other direction. Even if I had known, the idea of walking an extra step, much less eight total extra blocks would have been horrifying to me, so I never received a poncho. Still, this should have been communicated better. 

After what felt like forever, I finally made it home, where my family awaited me. After lots of hugs, I did some stretching and icing before taking a nice warm shower. 

Shortly after changing into the clothing that I bought over that weekend, it was time to celebrate with all of "Team Dahlia". Not many people can say that they got two marathon parties for the price of one. 

I have officially joined the ranks of family marathon runners, which include Erin (fourth from left), my mother Susan (standing right behind me), my cousin Josh (standing to the right of my mother) and my uncle Barry (who was cheering for me from Atlanta). However, my mother is the only one so far who has been crazy enough to do it more than once. 

Before I go on to analyze my race performance, I would like to thank everyone on team Dahlia for all of your love and support, including those who were unable to cheer for me in person. Each and every one of you played an integral role in my success and I will be forever grateful. I plan on expanding on this section more in a couple of days when I reflect upon my three year anniversary. 

Now it's time to obsess over the numbers. Here are some fun statistics for you all, courtesy of NYRR and Microsoft Excel. In addition, feel free to check out my highly inaccurate Garmin splits here. Please note that NYRR only provided 5K splits until mile 8, which is why I don't have completely accurate splits for miles 1-8 (feel free to check out the Garmin link for estimates). 

As you can see, I stayed on or close to sub-4 pace overall until I hit mile 20, so this gives me hope that with more time and training, I will be able to keep this pace for the entire distance. I had almost two minutes in the bank, but it wasn't enough to balance the degree I slowed down later in the race. 

Don't get me wrong - I am very pleased with how this race turned out - but it wouldn't be a true race report without reflecting what could have gone better. In all races, marathons especially, there were factors that were in my control, and factors that were not. In no particular order, here was the list of things I thought about: 

1. Weather: It was notably windy that day, and almost the entire field was slowed down. Not much I could have done about that one
2. Pacing: I probably did the first half at least a couple of minutes too fast, or 10-15 seconds per mile too quickly. The question remains though - had I started closer to 9:05 mm, would I have faded as far as I did towards the end, or would I have had better splits? Honestly, it might have been the case, but then I would have spent the race going nuts over what might have been an inaccurate signal. But I should probably pay more attention to the watch in future races and actually make the effort to use manual splits instead of going solely by feel. 
3. Nutrition: I more or less stuck to the strategy of taking 3 shot bloks every 6 miles up until mile 18. I didn't take anything after that, but I have a feeling that a pick-me-up at mile 22 might have helped matters. I also had a harder time chewing as I got further in, so I might need to change to a gel or a GU and just get used to that consistency.  I was probably also affected by the extraordinary amount of travel & waiting time before the start. 
4. Attire: I think I got that one spot on, but I should figure out a better way to carry my phone / nutrition in the future. As my waist pack got lighter, my keys jingled louder and louder to the point where I gave up and carried them in my hand since I didn't want to fumble in my shorts pockets while running. 
5. Training: I will be the first to admit that my training wasn't as thorough as last year. I wanted to get to the start line without getting injured again, and as a result, did less mileage and not as much speedwork as I could have. I averaged approximately 37 mpw with a peak week of 48.5 miles and 22.22 miles as my longest run. While that's not slacking off by any means, I know that more intense training may have changed things.  

I knew that my friends would be spot on when they told me that a marathon is more than twice as hard as a half-marathon, but knowing it in theory is far different from experiencing it first hand. Although I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment, I don't think that I will ever enjoy the marathon distance enough to to it more than once every couple of years. But I will discuss future plans in a separate entry. Either way,  I will always cherish making the NYTimes

I'm famous!!!!!
While I enjoyed running the NYCM course, I am not sure that I would do it again any time soon, mostly because of the logistics at the start and the finish. My travel and waiting around time was almost exactly equal to the time it took me to run the course, and getting out of the park took way too long for my taste. Although I know it's hard to coordinate getting that many runners to Staten Island, I do think that steps should be taken to make the wait at Staten Island a more comfortable one. That being said, I would like to thank all of the NYRR staff and volunteers - without them, NYCM wouldn't have gone as smoothly as it did, and I will always be grateful. 

To end this report, I would like to give my dedicated readers a present. Thanks for reading!!!!!! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Taper Madness & Other Training Thoughts

I am almost in the middle of my three week taper period, and I am not exactly sure how I am feeling. I am regularly switching between excited and terrified, and have a hard time concentrating. I had meant to write this as my taper was beginning, but I've had a hard time putting the words to paper, so to speak.

Although training never goes 100% as planned, there were some things in my training that I was proud of.

1. My first sub-7 minute mile - yes, it was by a hair, but 6:59 is still 6:xx!
2. My longest run to date - 22.22 miles - and feeling like I would have been able to run 4 more miles that day - I know it wasn't at race pace, and there were breaks in there, but still!
3. Running two out of four 20 milers completely on my own - one of which was on a defective stomach - I felt that these experiences built my mental toughness.
4. Somehow managing to balance work, religious holidays, two orchestras, chamber music, family and friends with my running without falling TOO behind schedule.

Are there things that I could have done better? Naturally. I was disappointing that I didn't do a goal half, but a combination of life and holiday schedules just got in the way. Last year, I felt better after doing the Staten Island half, but this year, I kind of feel lost without that indicator race. The last half-marathon I raced was in May, with minimal training coming off of injury, and I consider it a miracle that I got a 1:51:23, so hopefully I have gotten stronger since then. I also wanted to run at least 50 miles during one of my peak mileage weeks instead of the 45 in my program, but I only managed 48.5. While 38mpw is a fairly respectable average over 13 weeks of training, a part of me is worried that I didn't get enough time on my feet.

However, even though I am freaking out, there are a few things I know for sure:
1. It may or may not be a time that I am proud of, but by two weeks from now, I will have done everything in my power to ensure that I finally finish a marathon.
2. I will probably at least make one silly mistake on marathon day, or forget to bring something, no matter HOW many times I double check things.
3. I will do everything in my power to make this a positive experience, no matter what the outcome is.
4. My race pictures will inevitably be awkward and most of them will have me staring at my Garmin.
5. I have an amazing support network of family and friends who will be proud of me no matter what my time is.

All of the significant training is in the bag. There is no cramming for a marathon. That being said, be sure to look for some ramblings about the expo, my marathon outfit, meeting up with running friends, marathon goals, and other miscellaneous thoughts before the big day. Less than 12 days to go!

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's All About Perspective

It's been a while since I've written an entry, and I am at least three race reports behind. There isn't one clear-cut reason why I haven't written, but it's mostly because I've lacked the inspiration to sit down and put something cohesive together.

A large part of my insecurities has stemmed from a poor start to my running year. While things have been looking up over the last few months, I don't feel like I'm doing as much as I should be for the marathon. While a part of me realizes that having a conservative approach makes sense, it isn't easy to convince myself of this on an emotional level. I realize that it was partly due to the people I have encountered over the years since I have started my journey. 

I have met runners of all shapes, sizes, and running philosophies, and no two of them have the exact same spectrum of speed, miles per week, preferred running brands and training methodologies.

On one end of the spectrum, there are those people who are amazed at my mileage. In fact, there are people my family and coworkers who think that forty miles per week in marathon training is a TON of mileage and that I'm insane. There are those who consider me a fast runner even though I barely hit the 60% in my age group even when I'm at my fastest. In fact, it's all too easy to get an ego boost from all of this before I remember that... 

On the flip side, I know people who have complained about "only" running 200+ miles in a month. A lot of these people do their recovery runs at paces that are impossible for me I can only dream about, and who qualify for the Boston Marathon on a regular basis. I know people - and their friends - who have run 100 miles in less than 40 hours and act as if it's the most natural thing in the world. Did I mention that at least one of these people is only 12 years old? It's all too easy to think that they assume that efforts are a joke and that I have no business even talking about running around these people, even though these people have been nothing but supportive of me. 

Let's face it: we're all a little judgmental when it comes to other people's training. In the interest of full disclosure I know I am. But then I found the following quote: 

“One person's craziness is another person's reality.” ― Tim Burton

It is all too easy to sit back and think that other people's methods are completely insane. But the important thing to remember is that we're all human, and that what works for some doesn't bode well for others. In addition, there are those who have to run under far more difficult circumstances, and if I were in their shoes, I don't think that I would have the same tenacity as them to keep going, or even start for that matter. Besides, I have learned about both over and under training the hard way, and perhaps people have to learn through experience, aka the hard way. 

I started this entry with the idea of making a point in a humorous manner and in a way that doesn't actually insult anyone. I'm not quite sure that I hit the mark, especially since I am finishing this entry pre-coffee before 7am, but I hope it gave you something to think about as I return to the world of blogging after a three plus month hiatus. Feel free to share any perspectives you may have in the comments section. 

Thanks for reading! 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Return of Ocean Parkway: My Redemption HM

Actual PR: 1:48:16 (Staten Island HM 2012)

Overall Place: 7088 / 21318
Gender Place: 1884 / 10563  
    adjusted for AG %: 2339 / 10563
Age Group Place: 614 / 3170 
AG %: 59.12% 


I went into this race expecting very little. When I registered for this race on February 15th, I hadn't run a single mile in the previous month, and wasn't 100% sure when I would run again. After I completed the Coogan's 5K in early March, I started an HM training schedule that had much lower mileage than I was used to. Once I hit the 10 mile mark again, I felt a little more confident, but was still worried about embarrassing myself. At the time, I would have been very happy with a sub-2 finish.

Although the location of the expo wasn't really that convenient to me, getting there wasn't as difficult as I expected it to be. Thankfully, NYRR put up signs from the train stations to the expo, which was held in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), a neighborhood situated right in between the Brooklyn & Manhattan bridges on the Brooklyn side. I got my number and tech shirt pretty quickly, and hung around a little to say hi to a friend. The pre-party did look fun, but I didn't hang out long since I had work the next day. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to get back to the nearest train station, but I managed to figure it out with some help and my IPhone. 

The funny thing is that because of the increasing race size across the years, my race bib number kept getting bigger, not smaller as I got faster. 

Race Day

A day and a half later, I woke up bright and early at 4am so that I had plenty of time to get dressed, eat breakfast and pack my clear plastic bag in time to get a 5am train to Prospect Park. Last year, the 4 train wasn't running to Brooklyn, but this year, it did, so I didn't have to transfer. By 6am, I had arrived, and got through baggage check pretty quickly. 

The corrals were jam packed, even though only half of the field was actually starting at 7am - wave 2 would start 35 minutes later. I wasn't happy about the lack of corral enforcement, but I lined up accurately, hoping that it wouldn't make too much of a difference. I had agreed to start the race with my friend Barbara, but I couldn't find her. I ended up chatting with some former co-workers before the race began, and before I knew it, we all were heading towards the start line. 

After a very beautiful, operatic rendition of the National Anthem, the gun went off. However, I waited 5-6 minutes before actually crossing the start, but once I began running, I didn't experience any crowding problems. I started off by trying to do what I thought felt like HM pace. I was a little surprised to see that my pace was below an 8mm - but I just assumed that my Garmin was being a little wonky. The first 5K was on the streets of Brooklyn, and it was very enjoyable. I got to see both the leaders and the very back of the first wave. The first 5K was done in 25:49 @ 8:18 pace. I didn't see any timing devices, but there must have been something there as all of my 5K splits showed up on the tracking website.

Shortly after that, I entered Prospect Park just as the leaders were exiting. I knew that there would be a major hill, but since I rarely run there, I didn't know exactly where it would be, so I spent most of my time in the park anticipating the hill. Not long after I entered the park, I looked ahead of me and spotted someone familiar. When I caught up to her, I realized that it was Barbara, and we chatted for a moment before she told me to go catch up to Kathy. I kept my eye out for a red singlet and a streak of pink hair, and a couple of miles later, there she was! I caught up to her as we were going up the biggest hill in the park (I think) and we ended up sticking together for the next few miles. I was flattered when she told me that she was using me as a pacer. I had taken two shot bloks and was feeling pretty good at this point. 

At the 10K mark, I was going at a 8:21mm pace, and it occurred to me that even if I didn't PR, perhaps a sub-1:50 finish was a possibility if I didn't slow down. It was a risk, but at that point, I decided to go for it, with the understanding that I would back off if my body signalled that I couldn't do it. 

After leaving the park, we went straight onto Ocean Parkway, which was just as boring as I remembered it. Many people cut into the middle of the course in order to get across the highway, and despite my best efforts, I managed to run face first into someone who was on their way to temple. Sigh. 

At this point, I was stopping for water every mile, but felt pretty good up to the 15K mark. I had slowed down, but was still close to the 8:23mm pace required to make a sub-1:50 time. I did my best to keep the pace, and ate one more shot blok, but shortly after the mile 10 marker, I knew that I was not in sub-1:50 shape. After walking through the water station at mile 11, I slowed down, but remained determined not to go above a 9mm despite the pain in my left rib. The last mile seemed to stretch on forever, but eventually I got up onto the boardwalk and was thrilled when I saw the finish line up ahead. My 5K splits from the race are below:

Kathy crossed shortly afterwards, and we saw Barbara again in luggage. After waiting on a long line, we got our bags and went to party on the beach with her running club, the awesome Prospect Park Track Club. If I lived in Brooklyn, I would definitely be a member. Wallis was also there, and I got to meet a couple of Facebook running friends for the first time. 

Post-Race Analysis

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with my result. Looking back, I realized that this race was similar to my first Brooklyn Half - the wheels started falling off around the 15K point and I missed sub-1:50 by the same amount that I missed sub-2 in 2011. Despite this, I was thrilled to only be about 3 minutes off my PR despite barely running the last few months. 

Despite poor communication regarding the race logistics, I thought that NYRR did an amazing job on race day, and I enjoyed the overall experience. However, I think that this will be my last Brooklyn half for a while. These large races are getting too big for my taste, and I just don't feel like the target audience for these events, or for NYRR anymore for that matter. I would go into detail about this, but this race is already War and Peace length long enough. 

In the end, this race gave me a much needed confidence booster. I had lost faith in my running abilities, and didn't think that I would be able to do sub-2, much less get within 3 minutes of my PR. Now, I feel that I have a shot an an amazing fall season, and look forward to seeing what I am capable at the Yonkers HM and at NYCM. 

.... will be posted on Facebook eventually. I look forward to seeing whether I look good in any of them. Spoiler alert: I'll probably look as awkward as always :-)

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 Urban Environmental Challenge: XC 10K

I had no intentions of signing up for anything else between Coogan's 5K and the Brooklyn HM, especially not for a difficult trail run, but when running buddy Leiba told me that she was doing the 10K up at Van Cortlandt, I reluctantly signed up. Even as we were choosing our orange, color coordinated outfits, I was a bit nervous, but figured that it would be nice to have a change of scenery. We even managed to match the race shirt, albeit by accident. 

Getting to the race was pretty easy. I didn't have to wait too long for either the bus or the 1 train, and I got there in plenty of time to pick up my bib, check my bag, and stretch. It was a bit chilly waiting for the start, and I could have sworn that I felt a couple of rain drops, but thankfully it didn't actually rain (even though my Garmin thinks it did).

Leiba & I walked to the start, which was across a field from where the finish/baggage check was. We had planned on running together, but with the understanding that if she wanted to race it, she could take off. My only goals were not aggravating my hamstring and not further injuring myself, although with my road PR of just under 51 minutes, I was hoping that finishing under an hour would be possible. 

There was no electronic timing for this race, and the start was indicated by a line drawn in the dirt. We lined up towards the middle, and after a couple of speeches about how great the park was, we were off. Leiba took off soon after we started, and within the first mile, I had completely lost sight of her. 

At the sight of the first hill, I immediately realized how woefully unprepared I was for this race, even more so than when I had ran Van Cortlandt Park almost two years ago. My mileage was lower, plus I was out of practice running on the Central Park hills, let alone on these trails. After the first mile, I knew that finishing under an hour wasn't likely to happen, and things just got slower from there (as per my awful splits on the left).

 The uphills weren't the only reason I was going slower than I wanted to. As hard as they were, I was terrified of running fast on the downhills since I was really afraid of injuring myself further, so I probably took those a little slower than I could have. I also ended up walking one of the tougher hills later on because my legs were pretty close to going on strike at that point. 

This was my first time using the Garmin in a long time, and although the trail itself was fun, it was hard and I felt discouraged. I spent most of the next couple of miles wondering why I signed up for this. It didn't help that I fell down twice and got a big bruise on my leg from banging it into a rock as I fell. By the time I hit the 5K marker just under 33 minutes in, I regretted signing up, and was horrified about the idea of running yet another 5K. I also realized after passing the one water table I saw when I wasn't thirsty that it was probably the only water station, and that I would be doing the entire distance without drinking once. Great.

However, slowly but surely in the second half, I started to enjoy myself a little more, and appreciate the beauty of the trails. The course marshals were good at lifting everyone's spirts, and saying how great everyone looked, even if they were lying through their teeth. One of the course marshals was a friend of mine, and she got a picture of me from the later part of the race, looking as awkward happy as always despite being a little miserable. 

There was a girl in purple who I chatted with for some of the time, and towards the end, I made it my secret goal to beat her to the finish line. She was ahead of me in the last couple of miles because I had to tie my shoe, but I caught up with her towards the end. After we stopped talking, we were on the final part of the race, which was a flat track, and I took the opportunity to speed up and have something resembling a finishing kick. I thought I had a shot at finishing in under 1:05 in the end, but alas that wasn't meant to be. 

I was more annoyed with myself than anything else, but I was happy for Leiba as she finished in 57 minutes and change. The race was scored old school style in that our tabs were taken off our bibs as we crossed the finish line. Leiba was told that she was 7th place female, so she had a good chance of getting an AG award. So we went over to the results table to check whether AG awards were being given out. After looking at the yellow tags indicating the female entrants, a strange, unheard of thought occured to me.....could I have possibly won an AG award??????

After some initial confusion where Leiba was placed in the wrong age bracket, and after realizing that the AG awards started after the first place female and male, the impossible happened - I was officially 3rd place in the 20-29 year old age category on what was possibly my worst 10K performance to date. Leiba ended up with 2nd place in our AG, and to my surprise, there was no female our age who finished in the 8 minute gap between us.  It was a bittersweet moment because although I wasn't proud of my performance, it had been a goal of mine to win an AG award and that moment had finally come. Being honored in an awards ceremony was a nice experience. 

Leiba and I showing off our orange pride.
I even re-laced my sneakers for this. 
We both won mini carrot cakes, but I ended up giving mine away to my coworkers because I can't stand raisins. Getting home should have been as easy as getting there, but to our horror, we got to the train station just to be told that the 1 train wasn't running at all. Since I didn't know anything about the bus lines in the Bronx, the two of us walked a mile and a half to get to the Woodlawn train station, which was the first stop on the 4 train line, using my IPhone map to make sure that we were going in the right direction. That was an interesting adventure. 

So although things didn't go as well as I hoped they would, I ended up being grateful to Leiba for convincing me to go up there. I hope that when I'm back in peak shape, I'll be able to eventually finish a trail 10K up there in under an hour. Perhaps next year? Only time will tell.