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I have been meaning to write about running during pregnancy for a very long time, yet here I am – finally posting this at nearly 38 weeks pregnant!

Clearly a lot has happened since I ran the Big Sur Marathon last year. That was always the plan – run one last big race, and then attempt another far more challenging endurance event…PREGNANCY! We were fortunate enough to conceive right away, so I cruised from post-marathon recovery right into training for motherhood. We found out the good news shortly after an incredible trip to Hawaii, where we ran almost daily on the beach and had an epic trail running adventure down and around the Haleakala crater. I didn’t realize that I was 3 weeks pregnant at the time (if that even counts) and thoroughly enjoyed our 12 miles of running at altitude, hurling ourselves down the crater and across some of the most stunning and dramatic landscapes I have ever seen. It was my last blissfully ignorant running hurrah – before any of the now familiar pregnant running thoughts and concerns entered my mind. E captured the day quite well in his blog and I highly recommend hiking or running there if you find yourself in Maui – check it out!

Once I processed the initial shock and joy of discovering I was pregnant, one of my first thoughts was, “Wait – what about my running?!?!” I was averaging 30-40 miles per week pre-pregnancy, not training for anything in particular but trying to maintain my fitness after Big Sur for myself, and in case I wanted to squeeze in one last marathon or ultra over the summer. I couldn’t imagine not running. It is such an integral of my life – my “me time,” my release, a way I bond with my husband, and a large part of how I stay fit and healthy. I wanted to keep running as long as I could!

As a running coach, I knew the basics surrounding exercise during pregnancy, including:

  • Don’t start any new physical activities – unless it is something relatively gentle (i.e. if you weren’t active before, starting a walking routine is fine)
  • Limit or avoid sports that have a higher risk of injury/falling
  • Listen to your body and err on the side of caution if something doesn’t feel right – it’s just not worth the risk
  • Ensure adequate hydration/nutrition before, during and after exercise to maximize energy levels and recovery
  • Avoid exercising in heat or other potentially dangerous weather conditions (e.g. ice)
  • Most importantly, follow the advice that your doctor provides you that is specific to YOUR unique pregnancy!

Exercise, generally speaking, is without a doubt beneficial to mom and baby, assuming a healthy pregnancy. There is a great deal of research to support this, leading doctors to encourage most women to perform some type of physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day. But I was already very active – 30 min of walking doesn’t exactly cut it for me – and I couldn’t help but feel nervous, especially during the first trimester, so I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. I knew that many women ran during pregnancy – some even finished marathons in their second and third trimesters – but there seemed to be conflicting information and opinions out there regarding distance and/or high intensity exercise. Could I continue with my previous mileage? What about long runs? What was safe for me and my baby? There wasn’t a whole lot of concrete information available on the topic.

I found myself doing a lot of googling and and blog reading about other women’s experiences. This of course did not substitute my need for individualized medical advice, and it’s important to note that every pregnancy is different, but it was reassuring and motivating to know that other runners were able to have healthy, successful pregnancies and stay in great shape without sacrificing their love of the sport. Did their running change and was it challenging at times to keep running? Of course! Was it worth it? Hell yeah! Did their successs mean that I would be able to run throughout my entire pregnancy? Definitely not. But I hoped I could and I am grateful my little one allowed me to run as long as I did, up until 36.5 weeks!

It also helped that I have a great OB who has been supportive of my running from day 1. With the thumbs up from her, I kept doing what I was doing, with some key adjustments that I have outlined below. My running obviously shifted as pregnancy progressed, but I pretty much followed these guidelines throughout, based on my experience as a coach and long-time runner, my own research on pregnant running, and my doctor’s advice specific to my exercise and medical history:

  • I approached training for childbirth as I would any important race. Preparing for birth (especially if you are planning for a natural one, as I am), is in many ways similar to training for a race. You have an overarching plan that includes all the physical and mental prep work to cross the finish line successfully, but have to take things day by day and adjust that plan as needed to get to that start line healthy.
  • I tried to stay flexible. If I felt particularly tired, queasy, or something didn’t feel right, I shortened my run, slowed down, took walk breaks, cross-trained, or took a rest day. As a side note, I didn’t wear a heart rate monitor  – keeping heart rate below a certain level for healthy pregnancies is old school advice – but simply paid attention to how I was feeling and adjusted my efforts accordingly.
  • Speed was no longer a priority – especially since pregnancy WILL slow you down eventually (for me, this happened later in my 2nd trimester). I cared more about CONSISTENT running. I still did some high intensity exercise to relieve stress and break up the monotony of easier efforts, but only when I felt strong and up until my third trimester, after which I kept things very low key.
  • I paid closer attention to the weather. I’m the type of runner who usually doesn’t get discouraged by a blizzard, downpour, or a hot summer day. That had to change! On extra hot days or if conditions were slippery, I adjusted the time of day that I went running, hit the treadmill, or did some indoor cross-training.
  • I was extremely careful about my running nutrition & hydration. I carried water if running for more than 4 miles, especially in warmer weather, and carried electrolytes/calories if running longer than 8 miles. I also made sure to have pre and post run snacks (always on my radar though, as a dietitian!).
  • I dedicated more time to strength training and lower impact cross-training, especially once my belly got bigger. Running became less comfortable for me around 34 weeks, at which point I started to run/walk and incorporate more spin classes and what I like to call, “Netflix & Elliptical.”
  • I bought a Road ID to wear in case something happened to me while I was running, especially for when I was alone. I also carried a credit card and if straying far from home, my phone (which I usually never carry), in case of emergencies.
  • I invested in a few key items of maternity exercise wear to stay comfortable as I got bigger. I was lucky in that I could keep wearing a lot of my normal gear until mid/late second trimester, as I already had some flowy and stretchy long tops, large running jackets, and some looser/stretchy shorts and pants. I did find a few things useful to buy, including a couple maternity tanks, a maternity long sleeve zip top, and a pair of maternity tights – all on sale from Old Navy and Gap. I splurged on my For Two Fitness “Running for Two” tank and long sleeve top, as they were too cute to resist!
  • I always ran within my comfort zone – and appreciate that this is different for everyone. For example, a half marathon during my second trimester seemed reasonable to me (I did the Staten Island Half at a slower but strong pace), as did running 12-15 miles with my husband on long slow run days during my 1st and 2nd trimesters, but I did not feel that longer distances were worth the risk. During my late second and early third trimesters, I was quite happy running 8-10M and 6-7M, respectively, as my “long” runs. Additionally, I felt solid running on technical trails up until my third trimester, as long as I ran with E and slowed down or walked particularly tricky sections. Our trail running adventures in Asheville, NC (check out E’s post here) at the start of my second trimester were particularly awesome!
  • I tried not to compare myself to other pregnant runners – what my body looked like, how much I was running, or anything else. Every pregnancy is different and the only important thing was to respect my own!
  • I always kept the “big picture” in mind – heathy mom and baby! Sure, I still had fitness goals – run/exercise consistently and as long as possible – but the ultimate goal always was to keep my baby safe. I’ll be honest, it was a bummer to miss a workout or cut things short because I wasn’t feeling well or my doctor wanted me to be extra cautious at times, but in pregnancy, it’s just not worth the risk.

I never sought to run a specific number of miles while pregnant, but when I realized that 1,000 was within my reach, it become the perfect goal to keep me motivated, especially whenever my running started to feel aimless. The last 50 miles were especially challenging, as I began to feel my increased weight and changes in my gait – a good chunk of those miles were walking – but I’m proud of myself for getting it done. As my doctor told me, my dedication to exercise helped maintain great blood flow to my baby and will likely lead to an easier labor! It also means that my return to running post-partum will not be *quite* so painful (although I know that it will still be pretty tough…).

My path to full-term pregnancy has not exactly been easy – without going into details, we have had many bumps in the road, and the process has been scary/overwhelming at times – but I am extremely grateful to have felt good for the most part and to have been able to stay so active. For the past week, I have only been walking because that is what feels best, but I walk every day for at least 30 minutes and at a good pace. I’m thinking of it as “tapering” for “race day” – I don’t get that same post-run high, but I still feel great afterwards. The finish line is within sight now and I cannot wait to meet my baby girl!

A quick note on training for natural birth – my husband and I enrolled in a birthing class that teaches the Bradley Method. It has been a huge time commitment (8 x 3hr sessions) but SO worthwhile. We knew very little about the birthing process pre-pregnancy and we feel so empowered and prepared now (as much as you can be, that is). E and I have always worked well as a team, often training side by side, exploring trails together, and pacing each other in marathons and ultras, so I knew that I wanted him to coach me through birth. The parallels between running a long race and birthing a baby naturally are actually quite astounding. I have been practicing various physical and mental exercises (e.g. kegels, squats, pelvic tilts, active labor positions, relaxation and visualization, breathing etc.) to help cope with labor pain, and also practicing E’s coaching techniques to make sure that they resonate with me. Kind of like strength training, structured running targeted at your race distance, mantras, and learning the art of pacing, right? Childbirth is not the same as running an ultra obviously, but having run for 12 hours and navigated the physical and mental highs and lows of that experience certainly gives me confidence that I can get through the many hours of labor and delivery!

If you’re interested in hearing more about my experience of running while pregnant, in addition to my coaching and nutrition advice for pregnant athletes, check out this podcast that I did with Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running! We had such a great conversation on pregnancy exercise and I would love your feedback.

I’ll close out with a photo diary of my running and other exercise adventures while pregnant – check out the captions to see how far along I was. It’s amazing how much my body has changed, even if I haven’t gained as much weight as I thought I would (and believe me, I have been trying hard to gain more, especially in recent weeks). Then again, I have always been a small person and can’t imagine my belly being much bigger! It will be a long road to get my body and my fitness back post-birth, but I know I’ll get there eventually.

First trimester:

Second trimester:

Third trimester:

I’ve had two weeks to process my second ultra marathon, and I’m still amazed that I pulled it off. I wasn’t just attempting to run 65km in the Canadian wilderness; I was flying to Montreal after work, driving 5+ hours to La Malbaie, getting on a bus the next morning at 5am with a small group of mostly French speaking locals to run 40 miles on an unfamiliar trail with a potentially fractured wrist, then driving back to Montreal and flying to NYC the following day. It was a full-on endurance weekend in unknown territory on all fronts. Then again, it’s not the first time I’ve done crazy things in the name of running, and I wasn’t alone on my trail running adventure!

E and I found the North Face sponsored Ultra Trail du Harricana (UTHC) race somewhat by chance, when searching for a “fun” ultra that fit into our restrictive fall schedule. E ran the JFK50 last year and originally wanted do a longer ultra closer to home on his own, but we had so much fun running the North Face ECSDC 50k in April – my first ultra – that I convinced him we should take on our next challenge together. UTHC was appealing in that it offered a point to point course on trails at a distance that seemed like a reasonable next step up from a 50k (in retrospect, JFK50 would have been easier). I’m very much a solo racer on road, but out on the trails I love company, especially for a race that advises you to carry a bell to ward off bears, only has four aid stations and isn’t heavily populated. Also, it was my birthday – what better way to celebrate entering my mid 30s than eating delicious food in Montreal, driving to middle-of-nowhere Quebec, and running together for 11 hours? That sounds like a romantic, fun weekend – sign me up!

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After a long day of driving, we arrived at Le Mont Grand-Fonds (the race finish area) in Charlevoix around 5pm the day before the race for packet pickup. It was a gorgeous day – not a cloud in the sky and quite warm. I had feared icy rain (common weather this time of the year, apparently) and was very grateful the skies remained clear for us! As we wandered up to the finish line to take a few photos, I had trouble believing that I was racing the following day. I had barely run for two weeks, so my legs felt heavier than usual during a taper. Although I had received the all-clear from my sports Dr to run, he was concerned about the weight of my splint (potential strain to my neck) and the risk of me falling again and worsening my injury. My MRI was scheduled for two days after the race, so we didn’t even know if my wrist was broken or sprained, and my legs remained bruised from my fall. As if I needed more reasons to be nervous! I promised myself that I would try my best and pursue three goals, in order of importance: be safe (i.e. stay upright), have fun, and finish (if able).

UTHC offered several distances – 125k, 65k, 28k, 10k and 5k. Most of the people we met were doing the ultras. We explored the finish line area, which mainly consisted of a merchandise stand, an info tent, and a couple food/sports product stands. I was shocked that the race did not include a t-shirt given the North Face sponsorship and the price to enter – it was the first race that I have done that didn’t give one with entry! I caved and forked over $30 for a t-shirt…cool wolf logo, though didn’t have our event distance on it sadly and wasn’t great quality fabric.

We attended the small opening ceremony, thinking the race organizers would explain important details about the course, but it mostly included speeches in French about the history of the race. We had a TON of organizing to do back at the hotel, but we were glad we stayed to experience the energy and excitement of the other runners. They had a translator on site, which was a nice touch for a race seeking to attract more international participants (there were only a few other “yanks” this year). Too bad no one was around to interpret the key race details that were announced right before the gun went off the next morning, such as what color flags to follow and which to avoid! Thankfully I speak a little French and we caught the important bits.

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Back at the hotel, we frantically crammed our hydration vests with everything we would need for the race. We stayed at the Hotel-Motel Castel del la Mer – highly recommend for a comfy, affordable room! The first floor with handicapped shower was a plus (amazing for post-race). Poor E had to do the bulk of the packing given I had limited use of my right hand, and just when we thought we were done the outer strap broke on my vest, so we had to get creative to keep my jacket in place. We managed to cram in 22 gels (I used SIS Go-gels orange flavor, PowerGel Vanilla, and VFuel citrus), 2L of water, salt pills (S-tabs), light jacket, extra calf sleeve (which I used under my splint to prevent chaffing), whistle, and a variety of smaller items. My original plan was to use 400 cal of Tailwind instead of some gels, but I wasn’t able to grab the bottles with my wrist in the splint. Packing took forever, but we had just enough time to put our feet up, watch some horrible French dubbed TV, and get to bed early for our 3:30am wakeup!

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Runners in the 65k event had to catch a 5am shuttle at the finish area, which is about 20-30min drive from the hotel. This worked well, as that way we could drive home after finishing, and we were also able to leave a drop bag at the start that would be driven to the end so we wouldn’t have to forfeit our warm clothing. Everything was very well organized – we got on the school bus and were shuttled in the darkness to Hautes-Gorges National Park. It took about an hour to get there, at which point the sun was rising and the sky was neon pink. The bus stopped in a parking lot and no one really knew what was going on – we started to trickle off the bus and runners wandered in all directions. Only a few people spoke English. Eventually some race officials turned up and pointed us towards the start area, where there was a welcome center (warmth! bathrooms!) and then further on, the actual start line. Well, for us at least – for the 125k runners, it was just another aid station!

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We started at 7am with beautiful mountains in the distance. I had expected some great views from the tops of those mountains, but our course didn’t seem to have any – we were more in the thick of things – still beautiful though! We started out conservatively, my usual pacing strategy, plus it always takes me at least a few miles to wake up in these early, long trail races. Sun was streaming through the trees and the air was cool and fresh. Runners quickly spread out once we hit the trails, and we ended up towards the back of the pack. Fast field!

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Although we had read the course description and studied the elevation profile (above), the course was not quite what we had expected. Actually, we didn’t know what to expect! We knew there would be challenging terrain and some tough climbs, but we had hoped the trails would be a little more runnable than they were…to us at least! Many runners were flying over sections that we had to power hike. We encountered pretty much every terrain you can possibly imagine – paved road, packed dirt, sand, rocks, roots, mud, SERIOUS mud (thigh deep, the kind that suctions you down), streams, all forms of sketchy moss covered planks and bridges with huge holes, gravel, fallen trees, trees trying to trap you and poke your eyes out, bushes smacking you in the face, dusty fire roads…you name it, it was there.

Amazingly, except for the quicksand mud and the water we ran through, we had managed to train for all of it throughout the summer, during our trips to Hawaii, Vermont, and throughout NY. The terrain was particularly challenging given I had to be extra careful not to fall, and could not use my right hand to grab onto trees etc while circumnavigating various obstacles. We did a lot more walking than usual to avoid taking risks on tricky technical sections. It was amazing to see runners pass us and quickly disappear – especially the 125k runners! Truly inspiring. 

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One of my favorite things about running trail races is making new trail buddies. We thought everyone had passed us as we made our way towards the first aid station when we met a lovely woman from Nova Scotia tagging along behind us. I was beyond grateful for her company, between her helping me through the insane mud to laughing together at E when the mud ate his leg to chatting about music among many other things. Trail buddies are the best and certainly help the miles go by! We separated at the first aid station (pictured below) and were happy to see her cheering for us at the finish line later that day. She was one of many DNFs that day – 10 in the 65k and 34 in the 125k! Really tough course!

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E wrote a detailed, awesome description of the course on Trailz.io, his trail running site. Check it out! He captures the spirit of our race and covers all the gory details, so I won’t rehash it all here.

However, I do want to talk about race cut-offs. I am usually a mid-pack runner and have never had to worry about them before. UTHC had cut-offs at the last three aid stations that they called “very generous.” I think that’s a stretch, but I understand that they were for safety purposes (mostly, to match hours of sunlight). It never occurred to me that cut-offs would be an issue for our race, but after having done a LOT more power hiking than we had planned to do, we found out that we were already running at cut-off pace at the first aid station (mile 13). We started to panic – had we done all that training and come all this way only to be pulled from the course? We had to pick up the pace or else!

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I continued to feel strong and as the hours ticked by, the idea of not being allowed to finish when I knew I could made me angry. There was no f-ing way we were not going to finish! (So much for being goal #3).

I wish I had been able to enjoy the beautiful scenery a bit more and chill out at the aid stations, but racing against those cut-offs actually made our race AMAZING. It lit a fire inside of us and made us truly run as a team. And that sense of teamwork – of accomplishing something great with the man I love – that is exactly why I wanted to run another ultra with E!!

The following moments stand out to me.

*Passing runners after the first aid station – slowly reeling them in after they left us in the dust hours earlier! One of my strengths is pacing over long distances, and I love that feeling of passing runners in the later stages of a race as I hone in on my goals. I don’t say this from a competitive standpoint – UTHC’s tagline is “Je suis loup” or “I am wolf,” pointing to running as a team or wolf pack, and supporting one another throughout the race. That’s what trail running is all about! Passing people wasn’t about placement, but rather about making progress, coming back to life, and seizing control of our race. Each runner I passed gave me energy.

*Flying down a dusty fire road towards what we thought was the first official cut off and thinking we had over an hour to spare (nope – that would be the next one)! It was crazy hot by this point. We had run out of water. I somehow never had any severe emotional or physical lows in this race, but I certainly felt fear and doubt at this point.

*Coming across bear (or some big animal we didn’t want to encounter) poop on the trail. E singing Taylor Swift loudly – really E?! Okay, I sang too.

*Fighting to make the real first cut-off (3:30pm at 46.5km). The distance between the second and third aid stations seemed relatively short (~7km) and yet we needed every minute we had to cover it. The trails were technical and we had to hike many sections. Finally hitting a steady downhill that we could run was a relief. The trail remained technical, yet I had a mantra that got me in the zone – “focus, small steps.” I said this aloud to myself over and over again for several km to stay focused and avoid a fall. Every step was intentionally placed. E and I seemed to enter an altered state – each focused intensely on our own bodies and yet moving together, cursing under our breath, “we’re going to f-ing make that cut-off,” practically sprinting towards the aid station down a fire road. By the time we got there, I felt superhuman. I have never experienced such intense euphoria like that before. After a brief refuel, I took off up a hill and E had to calm me down so I would better pace myself for the next tough section!

*REALLY fighting to make the last cut-off (4:53pm at 54km). We had another 7km to go and it was HARD. I didn’t crash but that high ended. We had a long climb ahead of us and E was hitting some pretty bad lows. Lots of power hiking and words of encouragement got him through. We finally hit another glorious downhill and morphed back into our crazed, focused states. We had actually trained for this exact moment – we raced miles from the top of Bear Mountain all the way to Manitou station, sprinting down the final hill to make a train. Little did I know how important that training run would be! We flew into that last aid station with more than ten minutes to spare. It was a glorious feeling. Only 8km to go and no more cut-offs to worry about. This photo says it all – YES!

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Those last 8km were BRUTAL. “Oh, this will be easy,” we thought. “No more cut-offs.” Ha! Turns out sprinting downhill after having run for nearly 10 hours does not feel so good. And the easy downhill mostly road course that I had imagined in my mind turned out to be more mud, more climbing, painful steep downhill, some grass, and uphill to the finish. Of course. By this point, my achilles and ankle were bothering me – surprisingly not my wrist, neck, hamstring, quads or the bruised parts of my leg. Finishing was painful, but spirits were high, and we were eager to bring it home.

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We finished in 10 hours 51 minutes and 48 seconds. We came in 178th and 179th – 15 runners finished the 65k after us, the last runner finishing in nearly 15 hours! After all that, we learned that the cut-offs were not actually being enforced…SERIOUSLY?! In truth, I’m grateful for those cut-offs – I can’t imagine taking any longer to cover that distance, and no way in hell was I running in the dark without a head lamp!

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It was a very proud moment, crossing that finish line hand in hand.

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The race finish area was great and the party had been going on for hours, given the first person finished our distance around lunchtime and we arrived at 6pm. There were hot showers, a tent with free food (veggie chili, soup, etc), and another tent with local music and beer. We could hardly move but eventually managed to get semi-cleaned up and partake in the festivities. By the time we got in our car and drove back to town, we were wrecked. We had meant to go out to dinner for a nice post race meal, but instead stopped at a grocery store to get some food (not knowing the restaurant was literally next door to our hotel). We were half asleep randomly grabbing things, and ended up with ice cream, beer, prosciutto, cheese, and apples. I swear, I really am a Dietitian!

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The next morning I was very stiff, but by the end of the day was moving fairly well. It’s incredible how the body adapts, and how much stronger I’ve become over the last five years since I started to run longer distances.

A few more details on nutrition and gear: I only ended up taking about 15 gels. It was hard to stay on top of my two gels per hour goal, but I was also eating at aid stations and my energy levels were good. Stomach felt solid. My Garmin died after 9.5 hours, but you can see what it captured here. Watch fail! My Brooks Cascadia trail shoes worked well – I had some ankle and achilles pain at the end, but I think that was more the distance not the shoes. They held up well through water and mud. Lululemon shorts were solid. My Ultimate Direction vest was a disappointment – mostly because it is new and it broke – so that will be returned.

Overall, my second ultra was a huge success – all three goals achieved – and the race organizers did a great job. Big thumbs up to UTHC! I’m recovering well and slowly easing back into training, with the NYC Marathon less than a month away. I’m nursing my sprained wrist – it will be a couple more months until it heals. I am right hand dominant so it is a challenging injury, but I know things could have been much worse. I am grateful.

Next up for me is the National Endurance Sports Summit at Princeton University this weekend. I’m one of four speakers on the Nutrition Panel on Saturday morning, followed by an amazing lineup throughout the day. Here’s a great article on Competitor.com covering the event – visit Elevateendurance.org to register. It’s only $75 and if you use code cs10, you’ll get a 10% discount! Will be a fun weekend.

Lastly, thank you to everyone who has donated to our fundraising efforts for the Gilda’s Club. If you haven’t already done so, please consider supporting us. Any contribution is greatly appreciated as we honor our friend Noirin while supporting a wonderful charity!

Oh, and yes, we’re already starting to plot our next ultra. These things are addictive!

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Tired? Sore? Trouble sleeping? Struggling to complete your workouts? Not meeting your race goals?

These are just a handful among many possible signs of overtraining, which can derail your progress towards achieving your athletic goals. Check out this article on the Under Armour blog with tips from me at the end to see if you could be overtraining, and if so, ways to escape the vicious cycle!

Training hasn’t gone perfectly for the Ultra Trail du Harricana 65km, but I made it through my peak week (kind of) and now it’s just 10 days of rest and recovery until I attempt my second ultra marathon. I definitely need some recovery after a few bumps in training recently. First, I got hit by a cab that ran a red light during my run home from Central Park a week and a half ago (thankfully just some bruising along my right side, but pretty scary), and then on Sunday, I tripped and fell TWICE during my long trail run, tearing up and bruising both legs and especially my left side. At least I’m symmetrically injured now! I should be okay after a few more days of rest – and I can actually not run at all for the next week or so and it would be fine – but it sure doesn’t help with the taper crazies!

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Aside from these frustrating setbacks, training has been going very well. Two weeks ago, I brought my weekly mileage up to 50 miles with a strong 20 miler in Central Park with the Gilda’s Club NYC marathon team followed by an awesome 11.5 mile trail run in Breakneck Ridge the following day (more on that in a minute). We had a small group of faster runners at our third coached run, which challenged me to ditch my slower ultra pace and get back to sub-9 min miles in the park! E and I capped off our run with a bagel stop in midtown at our favorite bagel shop, Ess-a-Bagel. We’ve been bagel deprived since they closed their Stuy town location, so when I realized I could strap a bunch to my ultra vest, we knew what we had to do!

After this run, E and I decided to officially sign up to run the NYC Marathon as part of the Gilda’s Club team. I’ve been coaching the Gilda’s marathon team since 2012, and it’s become a significant part of my running and coaching life. For anyone not familiar with Gilda’s, it’s a wonderful organization that provides free support to everyone living with cancer and their loved ones. E and I love to take on running challenges together, and this year we decided to join the team in memory of our friend Noirin, who passed away in June and whose tenacious, positive spirit continues to inspire us every day. We are running both our ultra marathon on September 19th as well as the NYC marathon on November 1st as part of this fundraiser, and appreciate your donation, no matter how small, to benefit a wonderful cause. I love the photo below as it captures such a happy moment after the NYC half marathon. We ran into Noirin at the finish line, all of us with big smiles after achieving PRs on a cold but beautiful day! Check out our Crowdrise page for more info, and thank you to everyone who has already contributed!

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The next day, E and I took the train back to Breakneck Ridge, but this time started on the Wilkinson Memorial Trail (right across from the train station) and did a 11.5M loop back to Cold Spring, where we enjoyed another well-deserved ice cream at Moo Moo’s creamery! The Wilkinson trail was far less crowded and more runnable – highly recommend it if you want a longer and more peaceful trail run. I felt really strong on this run – minimal soreness from the previous day’s 20 miler, and far more confident on the more technical parts of the trail. Gear and nutrition all worked out great too. Here are a few action shots.

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The following week was a much needed drop down week (that’s when I got hit by that cab). I continued to focus on PT, which has been going very well. My hamstring still gets a little angry towards the end of a long run, but it’s feeling much better and using the kinesio tape continues to help.

This past week – what was supposed to be our peak week – we only got up to ~47 miles due to my falls, but it’s fine. I’ve already put in the hard work, and another 10-12M trail run (our original plan for Labor Day) wouldn’t have added much, especially since our 23 miler in Palisades Park was quite grueling. I had never been there before and was surprised by how nice it was to run there! Sure, the trail was really close to the cars in many sections, but there were many lovely lookouts onto the water, and for training purposes, it was perfect. The Long Trail was mostly deserted (at least at 8am on a Sunday morning), fairly close to the city (we took the A train to 175th street, ran across the GW bridge and went north from there), mostly shaded by trees (important on such a hot day), and offered technical trails with a decent amount of elevation gain (~1800 ft).

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I packed my vest as if it were race day and practiced my race nutrition strategy. I’m aiming to take in about 200 calories an hour from gels, so with our estimated time, that works out to 18 gels – 6 each of SIS go gel (orange), Vfuel (cool citrus), and Powergel (vanilla) + 400 calories worth of Tailwind endurance fuel (naked flavor – 1 scoop in each small bottle filled with ice water, and another 2 scoops of powder for later). It’s a lot of variety, but I can’t stomach the idea of one thing for 10+ hours! I carried 2L of water in my vest, which was not enough in the heat (ran out at mile 19), but during the race we’ll have 5 aid stations, so that won’t be a problem. I brought salt pills but only took one – likely will not take very many during the race. I plan to eat a little off the aid station tables – likely salty foods to take a break from all the sweet stuff. I also carried a light jacket, a space blanket, a whistle, and some first aid/other misc things. The vest was really bulk and bouncy at first with so much extra weight, but gradually got better as I consumed water and gels.

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Our run lasted 4 hours and 35 minutes. My marathons are always under 4 hours, so this run was the second longest amount of time I have spent running after the 50k. It was such a beautiful day and I was feeling great until I tripped on a root and face planted at mile 12. I really busted up my knees and the side of my leg hit a rock, swelling up immediately. It was my first time falling on a run (surprisingly, since I’m a total klutz) and it really caught me off guard. I’m glad I was able to pick myself up and keep moving forward, with E’s help. He was amazing with me when I fell – he remained calm while I had my (brief) tantrum, helped clean me up, made me laugh, and on we went. I managed to get back into a groove, but I guess fatigue and soreness from the first fall, combined with running out of water made me vulnerable to falling again. At mile 21, I was trying to maneuver around a huge rock and collapsed on my left side, banging my butt quite hard and slamming my left leg and knee again too. I was beyond frustrated and in pain – but again, I managed to get up and eventually start running again. I just wanted to finish the run as fast as possible and was surprised by how fast I was moving in those last miles. It reminded me that I can be tough when I need to be, which I will surely need on race day!

I learned a lot from our last long run. My Brooks Cascadia trail shoes were super comfy, as were my Injinji socks, so they made the cut for race day. While it was gross to eat 2 gels an hour, I needed the calories and my body handled it without a problem. The vest chaffed my back pretty badly in two spots, but now I know where to put some tape to protect my skin. Running with someone for more than 3.5 hours is challenging; it’s impossible to sync your highs and lows with a running partner, however E and I have been learning how to deal with each other during our low points and really make a great team. I can’t wait to take on this challenge together next weekend!

So the plan is to keep icing and resting my legs this week, with a little cross training thrown in when I am ready. Hopefully I can get back to running by the end of the week, but my main goal is to focus on feeling rested and recovered for race day! I’ll leave you with a couple weekday sunrise running shots from the East River and some pics of my latest kitchen creations. Check out my Instagram (@eatforendurance) for more!

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Sadly, the frigid weather continues in NYC, with yet more polar vortex temps and another snow storm today. I’m thankful it’s not as bad as Boston, but still – I’m OVER IT! Especially since all I hear about from my family in California is how unseasonably warm and gorgeous it is right now. I mean come on, people swimming in the Pacific in Santa Cruz in February?!

I entered a 4M NYRR race in Prospect Park this morning but couldn’t motivate myself to get out of bed early this morning. It was the first time I’ve not shown up to a race – but to be fair, going all the way to Brooklyn for a 4 miler in this weather just didn’t seem worthwhile. To make up for it, I allowed myself to sleep in (much needed) and then E and went on an enlarged “loop” of Central Park, from Stuy Town to the East 60th street park entrance, around the park (plus an extra reverse Harlem Hill loop), back downtown and ending at TJ’s for our weekly shop. It was COLD – as in my hand warmers and two pairs of gloves felt useless and I thought I was getting frostbite COLD – but fitness wise, I felt strong and it was reassuring to know that I’ve been able to somewhat maintain my endurance since my longer runs this past Fall. My speed is another story…I did my first treadmill run of the year last week with some 1min x 8 intervals at 9mph, and it was surprisingly difficult!

By the time we got home, we were freezing, starving and in need of a filling, hot, delicious meal. We often make eggs post-run, and I had some pizza dough in the fridge, so I decided to do a twist on Florentine pizza (egg, spinach, cheese), which I’ve had in restaurants and LOVE. I make pizza all the time with a wide variety of veggie, meat and/or cheese toppings, but this one was so awesome that I decided to finally do a pizza recipe post! Here are a few other pizza variations I’ve made in the past (chicken sausage/veg/feta, cherry tomato/veg/mozzarella, zucchini/veg/feta).

IMG_5796  Pizza night Fresh out of the oven

This one isn’t so much a recipe as a choose your own adventure type of meal. I always use a rainbow of veggies and some cheese, but the rest varies depending on my mood. The (+) stands for whatever you want to include to make the pizza a bit more exciting (and ideally, to boost the protein content) – for example, chicken sausage, eggs, a different cheese, pesto or tomato sauce as a base, etc. I also like to think of the (+) as standing for extra nutritious – obviously you make this whatever you want it to be, but it has the potential to provide a ton of vitamins, minerals and fiber from all the veggies and whole wheat dough, lean protein and a little fat. I love Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough, as it is fast and easy to use, cheap, nutritious, and freezes nicely, but you can certainly make your own or use another brand.

If you use TJ’s, one ball of dough is enough for 2 thin crust pizzas (1 pizza = 8 slices –> feeds two people), which I recommend if you’re trying to keep the calories under control with all the toppings (and if you’re like me and want to save room for a little wine and dessert). If you’re feeling especially hungry, try pairing with a side salad and make sure you include a protein topping to make it a filling and balanced meal. Here are some before and after shots of today’s pie {cage-free large eggs, goats cheese, zucchini, kale, spinach, light shredded mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion, TJ’s quinoa pesto as a base}.

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Ingredients

Whole wheat pizza dough (½ of TJ’s dough ball)
A little flour to work with the dough
Cheese of choice (I like TJ’s shredded fancy light mexican blend, goats cheese, and/or feta)
Sauteed veggies of choice (My favorites: shallots, red onion, spinach, kale, sundried tomato, cherry tomato, zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, eggplant)
Olive oil (to cook veggies)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Possible (+)  items: Chicken or regular sausage, eggs, pesto (TJ’s quinoa pesto is amazing as a base), tomato sauce, other meat/soy/other toppings of choice

Directions

  1. Let pizza dough sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
  3. Chop/sautee your toppings of choice (veggies, sausage, etc) – make sure the veggies aren’t too watery to get a nice, crisp pizza (tip – don’t crowd the sauté pan to prevent from steaming and thus getting soggy)
  4. Flour work surface and hands, then stretch the dough outwards into a small circle, place in greased pizza pan and stretch further to fit the pan (I use a metal pan as pictured above – I haven’t found pizza stones to be any better). If the dough shrinks back slightly keep stretching it until it stays (starting to put the toppings on helps too).
  5. If you’re using pesto or tomato sauce as a base, put that on first. Then put a layer of cheese if using (I sprinkle on a thin layer of shredded cheese). Evenly spread veggie toppings (and meat if using) next. Then finish off with another sprinkle of shredded cheese and/or little pieces of other cheese (e.g. feta, goats cheese, ricotta etc). If you’re using eggs, crack 1-3 eggs on top of the pizza (spaced apart evenly if more than 1).
  6. Place in oven for ~12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on the pizza to make sure the edges don’t get burned (they should be crispy and nicely browned) and to check the progress of the eggs. In my oven, 15min was perfect for the eggs – whites cooked but yolk still slightly runny. Sometimes the middle cooks more slowly than the edges (perhaps a downside of the pizza pan vs pizza stone)
  7. Take out of the oven, cut into 8 slices, and enjoy!

Yield: 1 pizza, 8 slices

Serving size: 4 slices

As anyone who participated will surely agree, the 2014 Boston Marathon was one of the most inspirational, celebratory and unique races I have ever run. But before I dive into my recap, I have to say, I didn’t fully appreciate just how challenging this race is or how strong and speedy I ran last year until I was back for a second try this past Monday. Nevermind the net downhill or even the years of work it took to qualify – that course is tough!

I may be a bit biased though, as this year’s race was an unintentionally slow one for me, with a finish time of 3:56:25 and average pace of 9:01 min/mile. That’s over 20 minutes slower than my time last year and 15 minutes slower than my previously slowest marathon, which is a huge gap given that I’m a fairly predictable runner (+/- a few minutes). But more on that shortly…

Readytorace Prerace

Race morning was like an episode of deja-vu. Once again, my college friend and I were making our way to Hopkinton in the early morning before the roads closed. We picked up the same runner on the way and drove backwards along several miles of the course to another friend’s house, watching the volunteers set up aid stations and feeling our stomachs begin to churn with nervous excitement. We got to Hopkinton just before 7am and relaxed for a few hours. It was all a bit strange – there we were, the same runners in the same outfits, at the same place, taking the same group photo against the same wall; I couldn’t believe an entire year had passed by already!

This year our friend was able to drive us right up to the entrance of the athletes village, which was jam packed by the time we arrived around 9:15am. The atmosphere was electric! It was also somewhat overwhelming; as last year, I was grateful to be there with a friend. Nearly every inch of grass was claimed by runners and running gear. The Wave 1 folks were moving towards the start (~0.7M away) and everyone else was either basking in the sunshine or waiting in the insanely long toilet lines. We waited for 45min, after which it was time for us Wave 2 runners to exit the village. At this point it was still quite chilly – the sun was warm but there was a cool breeze and my friend and I were nowhere near ready to part with our throwaway clothes. Funny, because just 2omin later, I would’ve given anything to feel that cool!

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BAA did an incredible job organizing the start this year – far more streamlined and orderly compared to last year. As we made our way to our corrals, I felt the same “I can’t believe I’m about to run a marathon” feeling, but with an added sense of pride and solidarity. I had made a mental note last year to leave a bit early for the bathroom line near the corrals and was very happy to discover that there were at least three times as many bathrooms this year – absolutely no wait! And unlike last year (and pretty much every marathon I’ve run), we weren’t waiting around in the corrals. BAA timed it perfectly so that we entered our corral and immediately began walking towards the start as the gun went off.

Crossing the start line was exhilarating; it was impossible not to feel emotional. The amount of crowd support was unreal. Last year, there was an initial big cheer and then small pockets of spectators throughout the first half, but for the most part it was relatively quiet and dare I say boring. This year, the course was lined with spectators the entire way to Wellesley. It was beyond impressive!

This wave 1 runner’s awesome Google glass video of the race gives you a good sense of the athletes village and start line experience (the whole video is worth a watch).

Although I never stopped appreciating just how unique a day it was, unfortunately it did not turn out to be the race I had hoped it would be in terms of my own personal performance. Time was never my focus this year, but I invested a lot of it into my training despite the horrendous winter and constraints of the Dietetic Internship, and I had a strong, injury-free training cycle, so I couldn’t help but have certain expectations about my finish. In other words, if I was going to run what normally is a VERY relaxed pace for me, I would at least feel good while doing it!

But hey, not every race can go as planned. My experience was a perfect example of how training runs only make up one piece of the overall puzzle, along with nutrition, sleep/recovery, stress, weather etc. Some factors are within your control, and others are not. In my case, race day happened to fall right in the middle of the hardest part of my internship. I wasn’t feeling amazing on race morning, but I got a few nights of solid sleep, hydrated/carbo-loaded as per my usual routine, and wasn’t experiencing any GI distress, so I thought I’d be fine.

Several weeks of inadequate sleep and stress, and more importantly, a stomach virus caught 4 days earlier, left me feeling more mentally and physically worn out than I realized until I was out on the course. It was also hot outside (high 60s at the start), which felt like the tropics compared to the polar vortex that persisted throughout most of my training. So while I started out at my usual MP feeling okay, within a few miles I felt surprisingly fatigued and unwell (stomach cramps, nausea). No matter what I did (the usual mental tricks, adjusting pace, hydration, gels), I couldn’t shake it off. My fellow 3:33 qualifiers, and then all the corrals behind me, were passing me right and left for miles. This never bothers me as I always pass a good chunk of them later on, but this time I knew that wouldn’t be the case. It was frustrating, but ultimately all I could do was accept how I was feeling, slow down, and take things mile by mile.

Thankfully, the crowds were AMAZING and I was able to redirect my attention (which usually is intensely focused on my own race) to everyone around me to get me to the finish line. As soon as I would feel myself sinking into my own pain and discomfort, I would come across a new source of inspiration that made those feelings seem insignificant, whether it was listening to the deafening cheers, hearing hundreds of people scream my name as if they were my hugest fans, reading the hilarious “kiss me” signs and running through the “scream tunnel” at Wellseley, hearing that Meb won (GO MEB!), passing by Team Hoyt as they completed their 32nd Boston Marathon, running alongside amputees as they conquered the course, counting down the number of miles until I would see my husband, or taking a much-needed glass of water from one of many generous spectators in between aid stations. I was really touched by the amount of support we received from the Boston community. I can’t say I physically enjoyed every moment of the race, but I felt so lucky to be a part of such a historic and symbolic event and did my best to soak up the atmosphere.

Mile20 Out on the course

RunningtoE4 Mile25 Tothefinish2

Above are a few shots of me out on the course – at mile 20 at the base of heartbreak hill (where family friends, who we stayed with in Newton last year, cheered me on), a random by the official photo company, and at mile 25 (where I gave E a huge kiss). He watched me at the same spot last year, and seeing him (after counting down for so many miles) really gave me the lift I needed to get me through that final stretch!

Running towards the finish line was pretty epic. It was funny because I was nearly there and it occurred to me, oh yeah I should probably sprint! I was so mentally and physically not in racing mode that I nearly forgot!

Check out my Garmin details to see the progression of my race. I also included a comparison of my official splits from last year and this year, just to show the drastic difference between the two. As E said to me later on re: the slowing down of my pace, “that looks like one of my races” haha!

Boston Marathon 2013  photo.PNG

After I finished, I felt very ill and stumbled about for awhile before eventually getting my medal, water, food etc. The sun was so strong I felt like I was under a heat lamp, so this year’s amazing space blanket cape thing with hood provided some nice protection. I’m glad it took E awhile to get to the reunion area because by that point I was finally starting to feel more human again; still overheated and very nauseous but in better spirits with a little water and salt in my system. Here are some photos he took when he found me!

Tough race! P1100456 P1100465 P1100463 P1100460 Finish line1

We slowly made our way to the park, where many runners and spectators were lounging on the grass. So many happy, tired, celebratory people around us! We found a nice shady spot to relax for awhile, given I was still feeling a bit unwell. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be done with the race and to have E by my side. Lying down felt so good – it was nearly impossible to get back up!

Park1 Park2

We made our way to the T back towards Arlington, where there was an awesome local ice cream shop. Two giant scoops of ice cream (and a huge burger, fries and hard cider later on with friends) – that’s how this future RD likes to recover post-marathon!

ice cream2 Post-race dinner

I confess that my frustration returned the day after my race (E had to listen to me vent for a couple hours during the ride back to NYC), but now that I’ve had a few days to process everything, I’m able to appreciate that I ran a really smart and strong race that was appropriate to how I felt on that particular day. I am proud of myself for being flexible, adjusting my goals and prioritizing my health.

Despite how horrible I felt, I didn’t once stop running until I reached the finish line, which was my new goal for the race once I stopped paying attention to speed. For the first time, I wasn’t a slave to my watch or pace band, which was very refreshing. I could have pushed myself a lot harder, but instead I listened to my body and let myself run at whatever pace felt okay so that I wouldn’t end up in the medical tent (as so many others did that day). I didn’t enjoy running a marathon in shorts (mostly I wasn’t used to it), but I avoided chaffing by taking every stick of vaseline offered to me along the course (since my pre-race application didn’t last long in the heat). I took the extra time to hydrate at every water station, and in between stations too when I was able. My stomach hurt but I didn’t have real GI issues, thank goodness.

As a result of all this, I was able to finish in under 4 hours, without any major problems! I went for my first recovery run yesterday and was amazed by how fresh my legs felt. Obviously I wasn’t racing on Monday, and I also got an incredible massage on Tuesday, but still – my legs didn’t feel like I just ran a marathon! Good thing too, because I’m running the Brooklyn Half in less than 3 weeks, and then I have two 10ks over the summer (including NYC Triathlon relay) and the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall. But first – a much needed break from structured training!

And that sums up my Boston 2014 experience! I don’t think I’ll be back there to race for awhile, which makes me even more grateful that I was able to be a part of this year’s marathon. Thank you again to all my friends and family who supported me throughout the long journey to qualification and during the 2013 and 2014 races! I have so many memories across the emotional spectrum from both of my Boston experiences that I will always cherish.

Happy Thursday! I hope you are all enjoying the gorgeous Spring weather this week. Unfortunately, I have been stuck inside the library all day every day but it looks glorious out there. Only 19 more days until the semester is over and I can finally relax and finish planning my wedding (although I suppose those two things don’t usually go together…sigh).

I decided to turn my previous blog post on my Boston Marathon experience (which I edited quite heavily, for those of you who read the original) into a condensed essay to send to Runner’s World, and it was published online in the “Other Voices” blog this morning! I’ve never written anything for RW before, so I found it quite exciting to see my piece on the homepage, even if you have to scroll down a bit to find it.

You can read my essay here. I’ve also included the text below.

Runner's World essay

I’ve been focusing on qualifying for the Boston Marathon for over two years. On April 15th, I found myself in Hopkinton at last. I had spent months training for the rolling hills of the course and was confident that my body was prepared for the challenge ahead. Little did I know that the real challenge would be the emotional rollercoaster I would experience that day, and in the days that followed. Nothing could have prepared me for that.

I am deeply grateful to have finished safely, and that my loved ones were not harmed. Yet I was one block away, hundreds of people were injured and I can’t help but replay Monday’s events in my mind.

Sounds of the explosions were misunderstood and dismissed at the time, and then of sirens, which did not register from too many years of living in NYC. The overwhelming flood of concerned calls and messages alerting me of what had just happened. Disbelief – who would possibly bomb a marathon finish line?

Confusion as I walked 4 miles parallel to the deserted race course – where I had just run with such hopefulness and determination – trying to get back to where I was staying. Heartache as I spoke with stranded runners who weren’t able to finish their race, even though that meant they were safe! My medal hung heavily around my neck with shame, tucked beneath my bright yellow marathon shirt. I couldn’t part with it, nor could I be proud of it.

I felt numb as I watched the news later that evening. I couldn’t – and still can’t – wrap my head around what happened. The physical symptoms of racing have long faded, but the pain, anger, sadness, guilt, pride and other emotions that I have been feeling over the last two weeks are deeply woven into my Boston debut.

While driving to the expo, it occurred to me that somewhere along the winding path towards achieving my BQ, I had lost sight of the actual goal – to run in Boston! Of course I was eager to experience the famed crowds, conquer the Newton hills and earn that amazing unicorn medal at the finish…but if I am honest with myself, it was the challenge of qualifying in itself that had been pushing me to the start line. I wanted to prove that I could run fast enough to gain entry into one of the most honored and historic marathons, to belong to this special club of “serious” runners who wore their official Boston Marathon jackets on long training runs like badges of honor.

After several failed attempts, I finally joined that club at the finish line of the Chicago Marathon. My mantra throughout this race had been, “I want it more than I fear it,” the “it” being a BQ and whatever physical pain I had to overcome to reach my goal. I remember seeing my parents at mile 25 and yelling to them, “I’m going to BQ!” The emotional impact of that statement, as I heard myself say it aloud and knew in my heart, my legs and my tears that it was true, was indescribable. Finishing that race was a spectacular moment – sheer joy and surprisingly, not much pain. Within 30 minutes, I registered for one of the last spots to run the 2013 Boston Marathon.

It was on Boylston Street while visiting the finish line that it finally hit me: I was about to run THE Boston Marathon! I felt proud of my accomplishment but also humbled and inspired by the myriad official race jackets that surrounded me. I had only qualified by two minutes, but I had worked hard for my acceptance and it was time for my 26.2-mile victory lap!

What struck me most about the Boston start was that despite being a major race, it somehow had a small community feel to it. The atmosphere reminded me of any number of UK towns where I used to run local races while living in London, where my dream to run Boston emerged. As I waited in my coral, I felt a unique connection to the runners around me; we all knew what it had taken to get to Hopkinton.

Everyone told me to “enjoy every step” and I tried, but it was a tough course and a good chunk of the middle miles were unpleasant. The euphoria I experienced while passing through the “wall of sound” in Wellesley and again at BU snapped me out of my funk. My pace jumped as I felt a surge of energy from the deafening cheers. I embraced the physical pain while repeating my new mantra, “with heart and courage move I.” I had borrowed this phrase from a Native American friend while she was discussing similarities between modern marathon runners and the Ridge Runners of California coastal tribes. I no longer “wanted” anything as I did in Chicago – I simply let my heart and legs guide me towards the finish, one step at a time.

The final miles seemed endless, but I felt strong as I sprinted to complete my first Boston Marathon. I didn’t get that same feeling as I did in Chicago, nor did I achieve another BQ, but I was proud to have run my second fastest marathon that day.

It took me 25 minutes to reach the reunion area, where I found my family and snapped a few exhausted but happy photos. That’s when we heard the explosions, and everything unraveled into the tragic and disturbing situation we all know too well.

I no longer see the Boston Marathon as just a symbol of athletic achievement. It represents the physical and emotional hills that accompany all of life’s ambitious pursuits- the pain of failure, the joy of success and the multitude of emotions in between. We embrace these worthy challenges and even in our weakest moments, we somehow summon enough strength and courage to reach our goals. It may take several tries, and at times we may lose faith, but with the support of loved ones and others sharing our path, we keep moving forward.

As much as I can’t help but care about my time (I am a runner after all), it’s everything else that keeps drawing me back to the marathon distance, and particularly to the Boston Marathon. I will be at the start line on April 21, 2014 – that is, of course, if I can get in!

Claire is a graduate student in Clinical Nutrition at New York University, a Road Runners Club of America Certified coach and author of personal running and nutrition blog, The Fight and Flight Response

I also wanted to share some screenshots of my official race photos. Some of them turned out really well and it brings me some comfort to see so many smiles.

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 10.53.58 AM   Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 10.56.46 AM   Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 11.01.10 AM   Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 11.01.25 AM   Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 10.53.32 AM   Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 10.54.32 AM

Last but not least, I am excited to report that I will be coaching the Gilda’s Club NYC marathon team again this year! If you’re interested in joining, shoot me an email (thefightandflightresponse@gmail.com) – we have 27 spots available, it’s for a great cause and I promise we’ll have tons of fun.

Have a great weekend everyone!!

I am experiencing the lingering effects of a bad hangover. I’m not just referring to last night (which happened to be my bachelorette party), but rather to an exhausting week filled with tragedy and mixed emotions. The physical symptoms of racing the Boston Marathon on Monday have mostly faded, my legs already raring to go for my next event; it’s everything else that I’m still trying to process…

I am deeply grateful that I finished safely, 29 minutes before the bombings, and my loved ones were not harmed. Yet I was one block away, hundreds of people were harmed and I can’t help but replay Monday’s events in my mind…

Sounds of the explosions, misunderstood and dismissed at the time, and then of sirens, which did not register from too many years of living in NYC. The overwhelming flood of concerned calls and messages asking about my safety and alerting me to what had just happened. Disbelief – who would possibly bomb a marathon finish line?!

Police everywhere, roads blocked, train shut down. Confused spectators and runners. Walking (hobbling) for 4 miles parallel to a deserted race course – in the opposite direction to what I had run not long before with such hopefulness and determination – trying to get back to where we were staying. Stranded runners who weren’t able to finish their race, completely shell-shocked. My heart ached for those runners who were stopped so close to the finish line, even though that meant they were safe! One woman, who had been running for charity, showed me a photo of a young boy on the back of her t-shirt. She had been running for him. My medal hung heavily around my neck with shame, tucked beneath my bright yellow marathon shirt. I couldn’t part with it, nor could I be proud of it.

Empty race course

I felt numb as I watched the news later that evening. I couldn’t – and still can’t – wrap my head around what happened, nor do I expect to. But as I reflect back on my experience and continue to process what happened, running the Boston Marathon has taken on a very different meaning to me.

While driving to the expo, it occurred to me that somewhere along the winding path towards achieving my BQ, I had lost sight of the actual goal – to run in Boston! Of course I was eager to experience the famed crowds, conquer the Newton hills and earn that amazing unicorn medal at the finish…but if I am honest with myself, it was the challenge of qualifying in itself that had been pushing me to the start line. I wanted to prove that I could run fast enough to gain entry into one of the most honored and historic marathons, to belong to this special club of “serious” runners who wore their official Boston Marathon jackets on long training runs like badges of honor.

After several failed attempts, I finally joined that club at the finish line of the Chicago Marathon last October. My mantra throughout that race had been, “I want it more than I fear it,” the “it” being a BQ, and whatever physical pain I had to overcome to reach my goal. I remember seeing my parents at mile 25 and yelling to them, “I’m going to BQ!” The emotional impact of that statement, as I heard myself say it aloud and knew in my heart, my legs and my tears that it was true, was indescribable. Finishing that race was a spectacular moment – sheer joy and surprisingly, not much pain. Within 30 minutes of attaining my BQ, I registered for one of the last spots to run the 2013 Boston Marathon.

It was on Boylston Street, while visiting the finish line that it finally hit me – I was about to run THE Boston Marathon! I felt proud of my accomplishment but also humbled and inspired by the myriad official race jackets that surrounded me. I had only qualified by two minutes, but I worked hard for my acceptance and it was time for my 26.2 mile victory lap!

Race jackets Number pickup

Finish line Finish line

On race morning, a friend from college who has run Boston many times before and who runs a similar pace to me offered to pick me up and drive me to Hopkinton before the roads closed. We relaxed and kept warm at her friend’s house in Hopkinton until an hour before our Wave 2 start, allowing us just enough time to drop our bags and wait in the long bathroom lines. Speaking of which, tip to runners – don’t wait in the crazy  lines in the village as we did – there are tons of toilets near the corrals, so drop your bags and head over there!

What struck me most about the Boston start was that despite being a major race, it somehow had a small community feel to it. The atmosphere reminded me of any number of UK towns where I used to run local races while living in London, where my dream to run Boston emerged. As I waited in my coral, I felt a unique connection to the runners around me; we all knew what it had taken to get to Hopkinton!

Wanting to BQ but knowing I didn’t have to meant that the pressure was off, so when my hamstring started to hurt early on at mile 6 and I felt fatigue setting in much earlier than anticipated, I decided to stop looking at my watch. I was two minutes off my pace band but I didn’t care – I knew I would be better off running according to feel. Running as strong as my body would allow and finishing in a respectable time were my new goals!

Everyone told me to “enjoy every step” and I certainly tried, but it was a tough course and a good chunk of the middle miles were  unpleasant. The euphoria I experienced while passing through the “wall of sound” in Wellesley and again at BU snapped me out of my funk. My pace jumped as I felt a surge of energy from the deafening cheers. I embraced the physical pain while repeating my new mantra, “with heart and courage move I.” I had borrowed this phrase from a Native American friend while she was discussing similarities between modern marathon runners and the Ridge Runners of California coastal tribes. I no longer “wanted” anything as I did in Chicago – I simply let my heart and legs guide me towards the finish, one step at a time.

Team Claire – which was much larger this year – awaited me at the base of Heartbreak hill, infusing me with the strength I needed to reach the top. I love the two photos that my Dad took, especially the first one with the random guy on the phone and my expression (hill? what hill?!).

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Shortly thereafter, I spotted my friend from college. We pushed each other through some of those long, final miles, which was refreshing given that I usually run alone, 100% focused on my own race. I must have pushed a little too early since my pace began to slow with over 2M left and one more unexpected hill, but I knew E was waiting for me at the Citgo sign (mile 25), which kept me going.

mile 25 mile 25

The final mile seemed endless, but I felt strong as I sprinted to complete my first Boston Marathon. I didn’t get that same feeling as I did in Chicago, nor did I achieve another BQ, but I was proud to have run my second fastest marathon that day, paced extremely well to boot (check out my Garmin details). Considering the talent of my fellow runners, I am very pleased with my placements.

Boston Marathon 2013 splits & placement

I found my friend at the finish and we shared our race experiences while hobbling along to receive our medals, get food and collect our drop bags. It took us at least 25 minutes to finally reach the reunion area, where we each found our loved ones and snapped a few exhausted but happy photos. Such big smiles!

P1090197 P1090198P1100745  photo-2

That’s when we heard the explosions, and slowly everything unraveled into the tragic and disturbing situation we all know too well. As much as I try to make sense of it all, I just can’t. What happened was senseless. All I can do is appreciate my own experience and keep running strong in honor of everyone who was killed and injured.

P1090200 IMG_4124 IMG_4125

It’s worth noting that Boston came right on the heels of my not matching to a Dietetic Internship, a huge and unexpected disappointment. Just days before the race, I commented on how much I appreciated the timing of Boston just one week after Match Day, as it would remind me that there are other things in my life that I failed to achieve on my first try, but with perseverance and belief in myself, I made it happen. I wanted to run strong in this race to prove that I refused to give up on myself. And I did just that.

I no longer see the Boston Marathon as just a symbol of athletic achievement. It represents the physical and emotional hills that accompany all of life’s ambitious pursuits; the pain of failure, the joy of success and the multitude of emotions in between! We embrace these worthy challenges and even in our weakest moments, we somehow summon enough strength and courage to reach our goals. It may take several tries and at times we may lose faith, but with the support of loved ones and others sharing our path, we keep moving forward.

As much as I can’t help but care about my time (I am a runner after all), it’s everything else that keeps drawing me back to the marathon distance, and particularly to the Boston Marathon. I will be at the start line on April 21, 2014 – that is, of course, if I can get in!

Six months and nearly a full marathon training cycle have passed since I last wrote in this blog to confirm my acceptance into the 2013 Boston Marathon. So much has happened during this time that I don’t even know where to begin – but I do know that it wouldn’t feel right to cross the start line of the Boston Marathon this Monday without saying a few words here first! The creation of FFR was, after all, inspired by my first BQ in the 2010 NYC Marathon, and through this blog I’ve documented the many ups and downs that ultimately led me to my second (and more importantly, accepted) BQ in the 2012 Chicago Marathon.

Runner's Passport  Last 20 miler in my Boston gear!  Pace bands

It’s Boston Marathon weekend at last and I finally have some time to take a step back and appreciate how hard I’ve worked to get here. Before I comment on my training and how I feel going into this epic weekend, let’s give this race some context with some highlights from October – April!

 Before the start  Crossing the finish line  Beer at the finish  Post-finish with E

October of course was all about crushing the Chicago Marathon and getting one of the last remaining Boston Marathon spots, with registration closing the following weekend. My semester became really challenging, hence the extended blog hiatus, which meant that I didn’t have the opportunity to finish writing about my wonderful experience coaching the Gilda’s Club. The NYC Marathon in November was of course cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy (which is another story, given E and I practically live on the East River) but many of my runners completed other races and made me very proud. I really hope that I get the chance to coach Gilda’s again this year!

Post-engagement in Nisene  At the beach before sharing the news!  Redwood forest

Thankfully November wasn’t just about natural disasters…E proposed to me on Thanksgiving morning in Nisene Marks, in the middle of a long run (obviously) on the most gorgeous day. Forget about Chicago or Boston – that will always be the best run of my life! We’re getting married this June in a beautiful outdoor venue amongst the redwoods – basically a wedding-appropriate version of Nisene. Check out that staircase – what an entrance! Planning this event from across the country while in grad school, through marathon training and everything else has been a huge challenge, but everything will come together….eventually…I hope!

My accomplishments of December – February  included successfully finishing a hellish semester, celebrating the New Year with E, making progress on wedding planning in CA, kicking off Boston Marathon training and completing my Dietetic Internship applications (which took FOREVER). By this point I felt like I was just in one endless marathon without any recovery time, which is I suppose a fairly accurate description since I started this program in January 2012.

Leading a pack of men!  PR woohoo!  NYC Half finish line

In March, despite not being able to prioritize my Boston training and fighting off an old injury, I somehow managed to PR in the NYC Half, beating my previous best time from 4.5 years ago (the Royal Parks Half Marathon, in London) with a time of 1:37:21. Granted, it was a PR of only 13 seconds or so, but I hadn’t even come close to this time since I set it. The fastest I had run up until this race was 1:39:47, 2.5 years ago, so this was a very long awaited victory! The best part was that I felt so strong throughout the race and at the finish. My supposed peak training week that followed the race, which I spent in CA doing another week of intensive wedding planning, was pretty much thwarted by a bad stomach flu followed immediately by a cold, but at least I had my shiny new PR to build confidence for Boston!

And that brings us to April…which thus far seems to resemble the start of the Boston Marathon course, with a lot of downhills throughout the first half. Actually, the last week has felt more like someone came up from behind and shoved me off a cliff. You’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about so I’ll share – Match Day was on April 7th and I did not match. DI matching is an insanely competitive process, but to say that this came as a shock to me is a massive understatement. I haven’t talked much about it since I found out because, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing. It’s the first time I’ve failed at something significant in my life – I’m trying to put a positive spin on it by telling myself it’s a healthy thing to experience (ha!). It’s true, but after how hard I’ve worked since starting this program, and with everything building up to Match Day, receiving this news was a huge blow. Thankfully, I can continue to work on my Master’s (I have about two more semesters left anyway) and reapply to DI’s next year, so not the end of the world!

It took me a few days to accept what happened, mainly because I couldn’t make any sense of it. And I still can’t. But hey – if I’ve learned anything from Boston, it’s that you may not always succeed the first time around and if you want something, you just have to pick yourself up and try again. I qualified nearly three years ago, but my time was rejected and it took two more tries to get my acceptance! So, the timing of this race is perfect. I need a reminder that not everything comes easily, and I also need something positive and exciting this week to help me move forward, literally and figuratively.

That said, the sleep deprivation and anxiety I’ve been experiencing have not been so great for my marathon prep and despite my half PR, I’m not quite sure what to expect on Monday. I’m exhausted. And it’s been awhile since I’ve run a tough marathon course. My sights are still set on attempting to run a 3:35 again – would be pretty cool to BQ in Boston – but the great news is that I don’t have to! My Chicago time qualifies me for next year’s Boston, so if on Monday I want to focus on enjoying the race more than racing it, or if I race it and just don’t have a BQ in me that day, no biggie!

I want to run a strong race but it’s a relief not feeling the pressure I felt before running Chicago. In Chicago, I was there to get the job done. In Boston, I’ll be at the start simply grateful to be a part of such a historic and incredible race – and hoping not to get my ass handed to me at the finish. I’m really looking forward to driving to Boston with E and my parents (who flew in from CA to watch me race), focusing on this long-awaited weekend and leaving everything else behind me. No homework, no DI stress, no to do lists – just Boston, my loved ones, my fellow runners and the amazing crowds.

I can’t wait! Good luck to everyone else running on Monday! If you want to track me, I’m 14865. 🙂

Portland Marathon week 12 was a relatively big training week (37.3M), as was week 11 (30.8M). Now that I’m well into week 13, my legs are REALLY feeling it…

Typically, I would never increase my mileage for weeks on end, as I’ve been doing since I started to run again post-injury about six and a half weeks ago. Also, I usually avoid bumping up my mileage from week to week by as much as I have been doing in the last few weeks (7.5 – 10M increases). Instead, I try to build gradually for three to four weeks, and then cut back on my long run to allow my body to recover, and avoid 10M jumps.

So why have I not been following my own advice? Well, with so little time to train for Portland, I didn’t feel that I had time for cut-back weeks. I know that’s dangerous reasoning – the goal is to reach the start line feeling strong and fresh, but in order to feel strong and fresh, I have to both train and rest sufficiently! I’ve been toeing the line between over-training and hitting a healthy maximum (relative to where I’m at with my injury – compared to what I was doing in my last training cycle, my mileage has been low). I’ve been trying to be careful, but I admit that on many days I have purposely overstepped that line because I wanted to complete a run, which isn’t smart. After struggling through several speed sessions recently (for example, my VO2 interval session last Wednesday, my threshold intervals yesterday, and my MP 6-miler this morning), I know my legs just aren’t getting enough recovery time from my usual one or two rest days to give me the high quality sessions I’m demanding of them. Too much overloading, not enough backing off.

This morning, in particular, was tough – I remember killing a MP run on the beach last year, perfectly pacing 5M starting at 8:15 down to just under 8:00. Today, however, for my 3M @ 8:30, 3M @ 8-8:15, I was fighting to hit 8:30 for the first half, and then just barely managed to up the pace on the way back. I was ready to keel over by the end of this run – it was challenging last year too (running MP on sand, even packed, is hard!), but I shouldn’t have been that fatigued. I thought – maybe – since I’ve lost a few pounds in the last couple of weeks, that I should be a bit faster, so running MP wouldn’t be as difficult, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Hopefully once I give myself some proper time off, during the taper and after the race, I will see the benefits (if I can keep off the pounds, that is!).

At least I’m looking more athletic! I’ve tried multiple times to slim down this year, without much success, so I’m really pleased with my (unintentional) progress in that area. It’s often when I finally stop focusing on it that it actually happens! I’ve been eating as I normally do, but not snacking as much since I’ve been so busy running around doing a billion things rather than sitting bored at my desk, and of course I have been training more, so it makes sense. It’s such a pleasant surprise though, since I gained weight (partly muscle of course) when I trained for my last two marathons, and I almost always gain weight when I go home, since I drive more/walk less.

Anyway, I plan to keep my 18 miler in the schedule for this weekend – just going to try to get through it as best as I can, without worrying too much about pace (at least it’s not on crazy trails this time). However, this morning confirmed that unless I miraculously start to feel better, I need to cancel my 20 miler the following weekend. I wanted to try to squeeze one last long run in two weeks from the race, to boost my confidence levels, but I think it will end up doing more harm than good. Better to just do a “short” long run of 10 miles and let my legs rest up for the big day.

It’s not an ideal place to stop, but it’s not like I haven’t done a marathon before! Which brings me to my race day mantra – which when I’m not simply counting to 12 in groups of 3 (matches my MP cadence perfectly), is, “I WILL do this. I CAN do this because I HAVE done this.” I say each part in counts of threes up to 12 (“this because” flows together in one set of three beats). It’s very simple, but is in line with how I feel at this stage – I may not be as fast as I’d like to be, but I know I WILL finish because I’ve completed the distance twice before. Running one more long run isn’t going to change anything dramatically!

So 18 miles will be my stopping point. I happened to plan this run for this Saturday, the morning of my 30th birthday. I know, smart move right? Then again, it makes sense in my schedule, and it certainly will justify all the amazing food (and cake!) that I will be eating throughout the day. I’ll be in so much pain (judging from 15 miler at least) that I’ll even get a head start on feeling what it’s like to be OLD! 🙂 But best of all, I’ll have a running buddy who will most likely be in more pain than me – not only because he is five years older, but also because he’ll be super jet lagged! Haha!

Yep, E is flying into SFO tonight from London for a ten-day visit, and I can’t be more excited. Although I’m keeping my actual birthday fairly low key (an intimate bbq with family and a couple close friends who live locally), I’ll be having a party up in San Francisco the following weekend. Yet another reason to skip that 20 miler – so I can devote more energy to celebrating!

Lastly, I can’t help but mention Boston 2012 – I know my chance of getting a spot with my NYC 2010 qualifying time is extremely slim, but that doesn’t mean I have to give up hope entirely just yet right?!

According to the BAA website calculator, if there are any places left, registration will open to me on September 19th at 7am California time. I know the race will most likely fill up before then, but you know what concerns me more? Even if (when!) I do qualify again with the new time of 3:35, they are maintaining the new registration process which gives priority to faster runners. That doesn’t exactly give me confidence that I’ll ever get to run from qualifying, given that it probably fills up with people who run at least 5 minutes faster than the BQ. I do feel confident that I can get a 3:30 at some stage, but the point is this: so many people run that race year after year, I wish they would give priority to those first time Boston marathoners who have worked their butt off to qualify and are dying to run! Hopefully I’ll get a spot someday…

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

Asparagus stir fried to crunchy perfection with shallots and garlic - sooooo tasty! A great delicious and healthy summer side dish. Rough 18-hour travel day made better by our fav brunch @thesmithrestaurant, after a quick shower and nap! Avo toast with poached eggs, Brussels sprouts, and fresh grapefruit juice. 👌🏻 Peaceful moment early this morning as we get ready to fly back to the hustle and bustle of NYC! We don't exactly have that rested vacation feeling after our time in California & Hawaii with the baby, but it's been amazing to escape the city and be together as a new family in such beautiful places. See ya next time, Maui! 🌺 One of my favorite ways to explore when I travel is with my running shoes, and the best thing is when you discover new running routes in a place you've been going to for decades! Found a beautiful trail and paved running path through Kihei right from our condo - not quite the crazy volcano adventure we had last year, but a wonderful way to wrap up our Maui trip. #Repost @wellseek with @repostapp
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Training hard for a race or event? Don't sell yourself short on your protein intake during recovery! @eatforendurance shares her of nutritious, protein-packed picks to refuel on your off days 👍#linkinbio #ExpertsWhoSeek Happy Summer Solstice! We love to grill when in Hawaii, especially all the delicious local fish. Here we have grilled Opakapaka (aka Hawaiian pink snapper) marinated in tamari sauce and fresh ginger with greens and fresh papaya. 👌🏻

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