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The Big Sur marathon offers a chance to experience dramatic landscapes along Highway 1 while tackling a challenging course. For this reason, it’s considered a great destination race for runners across the globe. This marathon has been on my bucket list for years, as it combines two things I love: running, which started in high school not far from the finish line in Monterey, and Northern California, where I grew up. Big Sur in particular has always been a magical place for me, in part due to yearly camping trips with my family when I was young, which is why I wanted it to be the first marathon I ran in my home state!

E and I had already signed up for the marathon when an old friend of mine from high school asked if we would join his relay team, We Be Crazies. He’s been trying to get me to run for the last 7 years, but the timing was never quite right. Doing the relay and the marathon seemed a bit nuts, but apparently we could run Leg 1 (4.9 miles) and then continue onwards to complete the marathon. I was on the “A” open female team that won 1st place last year, which meant that I was expected to run as fast as possible for the first 5 miles. Not exactly ideal marathon pacing strategy, but I was never planning for this race to be a fast one, and I was excited for a potential podium finish!

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We flew in from NYC late Thursday night before the Sunday race, allowing us to stay on East Coast time. Very important when you have a 3am wakeup call race morning! We had a relaxing day at my parent’s house in Santa Cruz on Friday, including some nice walks on the beach to calm our taper crazies, and drove down to the expo on Saturday. The expo was small (you don’t need much time there) but had some great speakers. I particularly enjoyed meeting Bart Yasso – he shared an entertaining and powerful story about how he became the Chief Running Officer of RW, and all the adventures and health challenges that he has experienced since. His book is great too!

Bart’s main message was the following: you may not always have your health, but no one can take away your positive attitude or your passion for the sport. This proved very helpful on race day while being blown to pieces by crazy headwinds and feeling unusually fatigued early in the race. I could either think about how crappy I felt, or focus on the gorgeous views and how fortunate I was to be running in such a special part of the world. Attitude is everything!

The race was very well organized, with shuttles in several convenient locations. We stayed at the Hampton Inn (5 min walk from the shuttle at Embassy Suites), which was brand new and very comfy. It also was only a short drive from the expo (note – it says Monterey but really it is one block away from Seaside). The staff was great about letting us use their microwave to reheat our pre-race meals (salmon, zucchini and rice for lunch and pasta with mushrooms for dinner), and cooking oatmeal at 3am. As for gear, I had never run in my relay singlet and it was very big, so I layered it over my usual racing tank and the awkward baton fit nicely into my arm sleeve so I didn’t have to grip it.

The bus took about 75 minutes to get to the start line in Big Sur – a slow ride of peering out into the darkness. We got to the athlete village around 5:30am, which was extremely small and crowded (there isn’t much space to put everyone off of the highway). We were essentially dumped into a convoluted, massive line for the porta potties. Thankfully, the hilarious signs on each one kept us laughing. For example, “Tesla charging station,” “Las Vegas bus leaves here,” “Only for under 40 years old,” “Toasty 75 degrees inside,” and my favorite – “Condo for rent.” Not much of an exaggeration for California! The mile markers also had funny pictures and sayings – the race organizers definitely have a great sense of humor, and I appreciated the laughs while mentally toughing it out on the course.

Despite the crowds, we soon reunited with our fellow We Be Crazies Leg 1 runners. Because the highway remains open until 6am, the start line is only put up right before the race begins. They also load the corals differently – slowest runners first to get them further down the highway and fastest first. My friend encouraged me to start at the very front, which seemed crazy since my “fast” pace is slow compared to the front runners. But hey – it was my only opportunity to start at the very front of a major race, so I figured why not go for it! It was such a rush, running down that hill. I knew I would be passed immediately (and I was) at my 7:07 pace, however it was still awesome.

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The weather was cool and cloudy but fairly protected by the redwoods during my relay leg. It was so peaceful and mostly downhill – though certainly not “all downhill” as everyone kept saying (never believe that statement with regards to this race). There were several climbs though relative to the rest of the course, I suppose they were quite small. I felt strong and happy with my pacing, even though it would bite me later in the race.

After the handoff at mile 4.9, I felt sick. But sick = nice job on the relay! I shifted gears and slowed down to catch my breath and settle into a more sustainable pace. It wasn’t really a choice anyway as this was the point at which the roads opened up and the wind reared its ugly head! Large groups of runners kept passing me by, making me wish I could run fast enough to keep up so that I could get some protection from the wind. This sign definitely rubbed it in – all lies! Those hills felt endless…because they were.

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By mile 10 I was exhausted and the wind and slanted roads were taking a toll. I focused on how lucky I was to be there and on one of many long hills, the following mantra popped into m head: “Never ever ever give up.” I repeated it to myself over and over again and particularly while climbing hills to the rhythm of my feet.

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The taiko drums before hurricane point really locked in my mantra. You feel the sounds reverberate in your soul. These drums are a call to battle – in this case, the battle within against the never-ending hill! The fluid, powerful movements of the drummers were inspiring.

At the top of hurricane point it was so windy I literally could not move forward. It stopped me in my tracks and nearly blew me over! Good thing I ran during some crazy snowstorms back in NYC – who would’ve guessed it would be great Big Sur training? Usually you can make up time running downhill but the wind was so strong, it wasn’t worth the energy to push against it.

Bixby bridge was magical. We didn’t have blue skies like the last time I visited Big Sur, but the views were just as beautiful. You could hear the piano way before you even saw the bridge – the music floating faintly in the wind with sounds of crashing waves down below. This race clearly was not going to be a fast one, so I made sure to stop and really soak it in.

Just after the bridge, E cruised by me! I was beyond happy to see his face. He was looking strong and I could barely keep up with him at first. We settled into a slow but steady pace for 10 miles or so, occasionally saying a few words but mostly focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

Around mile 22 or 23, I finally got my groove back while E started to fall behind. I needed to keep moving so we parted ways. I hit the strawberry aid station – yes, an aid station with super sweet, fresh local strawberries – where I ran into an old friend from college. Turns out she lives in the neighborhood, and since they’re blocked in for the day they have a party!

The slant of the roads was tough on the body – I tried to find a sweet spot on the road but getting comfortable was nearly impossible. It was the first time in a marathon I wanted to walk but somehow I kept myself running. Knowing my parents were waiting for me at the finish helped me finish strong – it was the first time they were watching me race a marathon since Boston 2013. I saw my parents screaming in the spectator stands and was proud to finish in 4:08. It was my slowest marathon time ever but I still fought hard for it and took time to soak in the scenery – and that’s what matters.

E finished shortly after me in 4:16 – it was a strong run for him, given it was only a few minutes off of his flat course PR. The medals were awesome – ceramic with leather cords. Definitely a unique one to add to our collection!

Our relay team’s success certainly sweetened my slow personal finish! We Be Crazies won four awards – 1st overall, 1st open male, and 2nd and 3rd open female. My team won 2nd – we missed 1st by 15min – but we still rocked it with a time of 3:19!

After the awards ceremony, we celebrated together with an Indian buffet before heading back to Santa Cruz. As much as I love the solo nature of running and racing, I also enjoy being part of a competitive team. It’s not just about you achieving your personal goals – people are counting on you, which make you want to push that much harder. Doing both the relay and the marathon was a real challenge, but it was pretty cool to race hard for my team and then be able to battle it out for myself. I highly recommend this race – you can choose one of the shorter distances if you wish to experience the course without committing to the full 26.2!

After Big Sur, we got to relax in Santa Cruz with my family. As much as I love NYC, I hadn’t been home  in a year and I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be back. Our bodies ached for several days but we quickly recovered with daily beach walks, lots of delicious food, and massage. One week later, my legs felt refreshed and I had one of my all-time best beach runs, from La Selva to Seacliff (10 miles)! Perfect conditions – low tide and sunny with a cool breeze – combined with an awesome playlist led to some unexpectedly fast miles.

A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a run in the redwoods. I did a couple short runs with E on the trails in Nisene Marks as well as a hike and meditation session with a close friend down by the Buddha bridge, my favorite spot in the forest. It was the perfect way to end a beautiful, active week!

Happy New Year! My race calendar is mostly empty for 2016, but after a packed Fall running schedule, that’s fine with me. Next up is the Big Sur Marathon in April – 16 weeks from today! Being from Santa Cruz, I’ve visited Big Sur regularly since I was little. It’s one of the most gorgeous places on earth, and this marathon has been on my bucket list for a long time. I can’t wait to soak up those coastal views while doing one of my favorite activities. I mean, doesn’t this photo almost look fake? Northern California never ceases to amaze me with its beauty.

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After the JFK50, I was really hurting, between a terrible cold/flu and my busted foot. My whole body felt broken yet I somehow managed to avoid serious injury and within a couple weeks, felt like my old self again. I wanted to give my foot plenty of time to heal so I took a month off running and other high-impact exercise, and it was exactly what I needed! I did a two-week free trial with ClassPass, which was perfect. I had the best time trying new activities around the city – spinning, strength training, pilates, barre, deep water running, you name it! Some of my favorites – Peloton, Flywheel and Swerve for spin, Uplift and Throwback Fitness for strength, RJ Valentin’s deep water running, and FlexPilates. There are so many other great studios on there (e.g. MHRC, boot camps etc).

It was fun to try so many new things, and the variety did wonders for body and mind. I lost some of my running fitness by mid December, but I felt stronger, mentally refreshed, and hungry to start running again. Now that I’m running regularly, it doesn’t make sense to pay $125 for the full membership, but the 5 classes for $75 per month option isn’t bad, considering what these studios charge otherwise per class!

I’m quickly regaining my running fitness, and am now extra committed to incorporating non-running activities into my exercise routine. My running goals for 2016 are simple. Forget time – all I want is to be consistent, feel strong, and remain injury free. The end of the year was filled with too many accidents and injuries. I don’t wish to repeat that!

Most of all, I want to keep my running and other physical activities fun. I recently accepted two new jobs in addition to working full time at the hospital – I start this week as a private practice dietitian at Nutrition Energy Tues/Thurs evenings (we accept insurance, so get in touch if you’d like to book a session!), and will continue coaching Team Lipstick once a week. I’m super excited for these opportunities, but it means even less time to myself. Exercise will have to be my “me time,” so I have to make it count!

I started 2016 on the right foot (pun intended!) in the fun running department! E and I did NYRR’s Midnight Run on New Year’s Eve – 4 miles of fireworks, crazy costumes, glowing shoe laces, and all around awesomeness. I haven’t had such a great NYE in years! We aren’t huge fans of NYE, but felt like we finally found our scene. No cover charges, no dressing up, no fuss – just lots of people drinking, dancing, running and enjoying themselves. Yes, please! We were lucky enough to score two entries on behalf of the Time Warner-HBO Fit Nation team, pictured above. I look like a marshmallow as I was literally wearing five layers to stay warm. I know this year was “warm” compared to usual, but I’m a wimp when it comes to cold!

The race doesn’t start until midnight, but from 10pm there was a huge dance party and other fun things going on near the start. It felt like a huge outdoor party! I was surprised by how many non-runners hanging out and celebrating, and after the race started, cheering us along! I suppose it’s a nice free alternative to Times Square.

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The race itself was great. I was amazed by how awake and good I felt – I’m usually half asleep by midnight, and am not used to running after having a drink! We started the race with fireworks, which made it hard to run as I wanted to watch and couldn’t do both without falling on my face! This race obviously wasn’t one for time, so we stopped a few times to take it all in. We also enjoyed the DJ’d sparkling cider aid station – nice touch!

After we finished, we made our way to a bar on the UWS, where HBO had kindly sponsored our post-run party. We were the only runners in the place, so we got a few strange looks, but I think they were just jealous. It was awesome to drink and dance until the wee hours in our sweaty, crazy outfits and comfy shoes – who needs heels! We finished the night with a 4am pitstop at our local deli for ice cream – we had earned a treat after hours of running and dancing. All in all, a great evening and wonderful start to the new year.

I wasn’t able to run long this past weekend due to my work schedule, so I kicked off this training cycle with a long run this morning. It was freezing but sunny and clear on the river today. I reached 12.5 miles and felt strong. For that, I am grateful!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, active and fun 2016.

If you have resolved to run a race, improve your diet, lose some weight, or achieve any other health/fitness resolution, get in touch! I’d love to help, with your nutrition and/or training goals. Check out www.eatforendurance.com for more information. 

Last year, I paced E in the JFK50 – his first 50 miler. We ran together from Weverton (mile 15.5) to Taylor’s Landing (mile 38.4) along the C & O canal towpath. It was inspiring to run part of this historic ultra marathon and watch E finish strong, especially after witnessing some very low points on the canal.

At the finish, my in-laws asked me if I ever wanted to run an ultra. My response was, “NO WAY!” I love to run long, but running 50 miles was incomprehensible to me at the time. And of course here I am, one year and three ultra finishes later…

The JFK50 was a very last minute addition to our Fall race calendar. E and I had just run the UTHC 65k when we met several legendary endurance athletes (NESS at Princeton) who inspired us to search for another ultra challenge. Sure enough, registration was still open for the JFK50. E wanted to give the course another try and I felt (falsely) confident after having run for nearly 11 hours in Quebec. Also, the NYC marathon would be a great training race. E mentioned that we were already kind of trained for it, so why not? (WHY NOT RUN A 50 MILE RACE?!) “Sure,” I said, “why not?” And maybe now you can see how I started running ultras!

We got to the Homewood Suites in Hagerstown late-afternoon to pick up our bib numbers and prep our gear. Strangely, I wasn’t nervous – perhaps because I had already convinced myself that I probably wouldn’t get very far. This is NOT the usual attitude I have in a race, but I had to manage my expectations.

I felt great during the NYC marathon but got some bad right foot pain out of nowhere while walking in flip flops two days later. It turned out to be a cuboid strain and although the pain resolved just before the race, I was cautioned not to run through the pain if it returned, as I could risk a stress fracture. Obviously it’s inevitable to feel some pain with races of this distance, so I would have to differentiate between “bad” pain and more general foot pain. I remained optimistic and grateful to be starting, and told myself that I would run as far as I safely could with E, whether it was 4 miles, 24 miles, or longer. Sounds like a simple plan, right? Run smart, and and if/when the “bad” pain comes, don’t risk injury for the sake of finishing. Got it.

Clearly I forgot that I am a very stubborn person who has never DNF’d and hates quitting. And that the mind and body play tricks on you and hinder your judgment when you have been running for hours and hours. But more on that later…

Gear-wise, I decided not to carry my bladder, which ended up being the BEST decision. This race is incredibly well supported, with 14 fully-stocked aid stations every 2-6 miles! Two 9oz bottles proved more than adequate. It felt great not to have all the weight on my back, and also gave me tons of room in my UD vest to store gels, food, extra layers, and other items. I wore my breathable 2XU compression tights, my favorite Patagonia tank, a very thin North Face long sleeve shirt, my Brooks ultra light shell, Injini socks, Lulu hat, merino wool gloves, and my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes.

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THE START (Miles 0-2.5)

We missed the pre-race talk due to trouble parking (it gets REALLY crowded) but had plenty of time to hit the restrooms and warm up in the Boonsboro Educational Complex. Around 6:45am, we headed back out into the cold and towards the start line in downtown Boonsboro. I had the strongest sense of deja-vu – but this time, I had my own hydration vest and would not be going back to the hotel for a nap! We timed it perfectly, approaching the start just as the gun went off. We were running before I even had a chance to realize the race had started! The 50 mile race. MY FIRST 50 MILE RACE. Nope, still not registering, still fully in denial.

I felt surprisingly awesome. It was a gorgeous Fall day. The air was crisp but our bodies quickly warmed up as we climbed the first of many hills. Everyone around us was walking, but we kept running at an easy effort level given there were much steeper hills to come that would demand walking. I soaked up the atmosphere, that feeling of embarking on a great adventure with hundreds of other race participants (quite a lot for an ultra). The AT and canal would soon spread us all out and turn chunks of our race into quieter, more solo endeavors.

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THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL (Miles 2.5-15.5, paved road miles 3.5-5.5)

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the AT and was slightly nervous about how my foot would handle it. E and I did a fair amount of training on the AT in NY and VT over the summer, on trails that were very technical. E told me it wasn’t quite as challenging, though last year fallen leaves weren’t covering the trails, which included many long, tricky sections of jagged rocks. The leaves camouflaged the rocks while also making them slippery. Bad news for my foot if I wasn’t careful!

We were barely on the trail when we were spit back out onto pavement. THIS was the hill E mentioned earlier – long and steep. We power walked along, joking and chatting with each other and our fellow runners. That’s one of my favorite parts about trail running – you always get to interact with interesting people. We overheard pieces of a story that a man (in the army or navy?) was telling his friend – something about traveling to various places around the world in search of a resupply but never getting one, and being without any real food except for rice and a few canned goods for 70-something days. Well, then running 50 miles should be a walk in the park, right?! I reminded him of this when we ran into each other later in the race and he wasn’t feeling too great!

We soon rejoined the AT, and the leaves and rocks demanded all of my attention. I still felt good, but feared that with any next step the foot pain would return. Sure enough, my foot rolled on a rock around mile 5 and I felt the first pang of pain. Shit. I had more than 10 miles to go on this terrain! It felt fine as long as I landed flat, but every time it rolled – pain. Not terrible, but not good. With concentration, I was able to minimize the number of times I rolled my foot, but the terrain made it impossible to avoid. E was far ahead of me at this point, as I had slowed down to focus on my footing. Thankfully trail runners are friendly, and I met a lovely woman from South Dakota who helped the miles go by.

I feared the 1,000ft descent to Weverton that E had warned me about, but it wasn’t that bad. A few sharp turns, but otherwise quite runnable as long as you don’t get stuck behind a conga line of walkers (you can’t easily pass on this section). I was so happy when I reunited with E at Weverton – I managed to survive the AT relatively unscathed! Plus, a long flat section awaited us – much better for my foot – and we had plenty of wiggle room with the time cut offs. I made this handy wrist band to make sure we didn’t get pulled – highly recommend!

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THE CANAL (miles 15.5 – 41.8)

Hitting the canal together was a joyous moment. My foot felt okay, the sun was shining, the canal was peaceful, and I was running on a familiar trail with my favorite person. I knew I couldn’t get my hopes up, but I was still in the game and I would continue running as long as my foot didn’t hurt with each step. Or so I told myself. We were running around 11-11:30min miles, nice and relaxed and feeling strong.

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Cut to 10 miles later….get me off this canal! It was beautiful but felt endless. Also, all the foot problems really started at this point. My  right foot started to hurt with each step at around 26M. We were practically wading through the leaves on certain parts of the trail and I had to stop several times to get the leaves and rocks out of my shoes. I love Injinji socks but mine were too low cut. In an effort to keep stuff out, I tied my left shoe laces tighter and miles later, the top of my left foot started to hurt too. I knew I couldn’t run another 20 miles feeling like this and contemplated dropping at the next aid station at mile 30.

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But then our friends unexpectedly showed up at mile 30! Look at those smiles! We stopped for a few minutes and my spirits were uplifted. The aid station was Star Wars themed – this race truly has the BEST aid stations. Not only are they frequent, but the volunteers are also incredible. I forgot about my feet and after saying goodbye to our friends, we went along our way.

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Until we were alone again on the canal and…oh yeah, my feet still hurt. I decided to keep running until the next aid station at mile 34 (Christmas cookies!), and reassess there.

Okay, cookies eaten, said hi to Santa, I think my feet are feeling better? (NOT REALLY NO. LIAR!). My pace started to drag. I decided to continue until mile 38 and then pull the plug – had to get to the red velvet cake 38 special!

This is the point at which I realized I could not be trusted. “I’ll just run until the next aid station” became my equivalent of “I’ll just eat one more cookie.” Continuing to run didn’t seem to be doing much damage at the time – until the pain felt magnified by the time I reached mile 38. I knew I could keep running and finish this race if I really wanted to – but at what cost? It wasn’t worth it.

I was grateful to have made it so far, and now it was time to face reality. I stuffed a piece of cake into my face and told E to finish for both of us. We moved past the aid station and I watched him run ahead until he eventually disappeared. My vision of us finishing hand in hand, experiencing victory and celebrating our teamwork as we did in Quebec was shattered. I was surprised by how upset I was, overcome with feelings of defeat and being left behind, even though I knew that this moment would likely come. I couldn’t help but become invested in this race. I was only 12 miles away from my first 50 mile finish!

Running was off the table, but walking wasn’t quite as painful. I wasn’t sure if I should turn around and drop out (what the “should” voice told me to do) or give myself a few more miles to at least finish that damn canal section (what the stubborn voice told me to do). I kept walking. The noise of the aid station faded away. I felt aimless even though I was still moving forward. Several people passed me including walkers and I was deep into my lowest low when an older man named John walked up beside me. He was a 5am starter and was moving at a brisk pace, but one that I could maintain. I learned that this was his 13th JFK50 and that since getting his hip replaced, he race walks marathons and ultras, including this past MCM. Amazing! I couldn’t believe that I could actually walk the remaining 12 miles and make all the cut offs. I couldn’t have done this alone in the cold and dark – but with company? Perhaps I could finish after all. I felt my spirits lift and even though I knew that this was probably not good for my feet, I felt renewed inspiration to keep going.

As we were chatting on the canal, a young woman named Aly approached us. “Did I hear that you guys are walking? Can I join you?” She was in the same boat as me – unable to run due to pain but wanting to “step it out.” She had quite an impressive string of races under her belt since running her first ultra (a 100 miler!) in April, including two more 100’s and several other distances. Her most recent race was a 50 miler just two weeks before the JFK50 – no wonder her hip was hurting!

I was particularly grateful to have met Aly, as she waited for me at the next aid station while I put on another layer (a long sleeve merino wool top that saved me) and John continued walking to keep his pace. Eric had left me a sweet message with the wonderful aid station volunteers, who passed along his love and cheered me on as we hit the road. THANK YOU volunteers! I was very sad not to be running with him, but I knew that I would soon be joining him at the finish, one way or another.

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THE FINISH (Miles 41.8-50.2)

It was wonderful to finally be free of the canal. It felt like an accomplishment in its own right, even though we still had 8 miles left to go. There were mile markers counting down to the finish, which was awesome and helped us pace ourselves to beat the cut offs. Aly is a 3:33 marathoner like me, and it was slight torture knowing that such a short distance to run would take hours to walk, but so it goes. At least I was in good company and the scenery was beautiful! The sun set as we walked along the gently rolling country roads, and I felt very peaceful as I took in the gorgeous skies and fields filled with cows.

We calculated that we could keep a 14-15min/mile pace and finish well before 7pm (12 hours), when the finish line closes. I don’t think I would have attempted this had I been on my own. It soon got very dark – we were wearing reflective vests and the volunteers were amazing at helping to keep us safe, although we were still walking on a road with traffic which was a bit scary in total darkness. It also got very cold and I couldn’t get warm despite our brisk pace. My foot pain was getting worse too, although it’s amazing how adrenaline and focus on a single goal can dull pain and make it difficult to objectively assess how your body truly feels. Each mile was difficult but felt manageable with the finish line on my brain and my walking buddy by my side. The awesome aid stations with hot soup and cookies also helped – there were THREE during the last 8 miles! Talk about well supported.

This was my first time truly at the back of the pack, and it was a humbling, emotional and inspiring experience. I loved interacting with other walkers and runners, everyone encouraging one another as we all tried to beat the clock. My favorite part of this section involved a man dressed as Mr. Incredible, who we had seen earlier on the canal blasting music from speakers on his bike. He apparently has done this for years. We were walking in the dark silence with many more miles to go when out of nowhere I heard music and saw the road light up. I looked back and there he was, our live DJ riding next to us, playing great rock tunes and illuminating the road with a spot light. I can’t even tell you how uplifting this was – THANK YOU Mr. Incredible! You made my day.

Aly and I caught up to John and another walker with a few miles to go. I was moving more slowly by this point so Aly walked ahead, while John assured me that I had plenty of time to spare and could slow my pace down if I wished. He kept me company for the last few miles, coaching me along and telling me exactly what was left until the finish. I am fortunate to have found so many amazing people out on the course – this race really was a team effort.

I heard the finish before I saw it. I was shivering and hobbling along, but that sound was energizing. We turned right and I saw an area of light ahead. I remember waiting in the dark and cold for E to emerge from the darkness to finish his race last year. Now it was my turn. I thanked John for his support and started to “run” (ahem, shuffle) as soon as I hit the lit section of the road to cross the finish line. I felt so happy to have made it – shocked, really! My watch died hours before I finished, but you can check out my Garmin details here.

E had finished about 30 minutes before me (check out his awesome race report) and thank goodness had just made it back down to the finish line a few minutes before I arrived after grabbing our bags. Whatever had been masking the pain and kept me moving forward over the last few hours was ripped away at the finish. I went from all smiles and walking with a purpose to sobbing and shivering uncontrollably, unable to take a single step. The pain was brutal. I could barely move and was slightly frightened at what I had just done to myself. Respect the distance, E always told me. Seriously. People run double this distance?!

E wasn’t feeling too hot either, but managed to get me to the main building at the Springfield Middle School, where they had food, drinks, medical etc. I piled on the layers and had a hot drink but still could not stop shivering or crying. Total mess. We went to the medical area where I was treated by some wonderful doctors. There wasn’t much to be done other than ice and elevate my feet, hydrate, and see my sports doctor when I got back to NYC, but they took good care of me. One doctor even walked me to the front of the building and personally spoke with someone in charge of the shuttles to make sure I was taken right to my car, given I couldn’t walk. Everyone was so helpful and kind. I cannot speak more highly of this race in terms of the organization and support. No wonder so many people come back year after year to participate!

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I felt miserable the following week – foot pain and body aches magnified by a terrible virus that kept me in bed for several days.  I felt conflicted about my whole race experience. Had I been stubborn and foolish in pushing myself to finish, potentially injuring myself and making myself sick? Or was I being resilient and should I feel proud of myself for finishing? It was confusing, nothing like my previous ultra finishes.

I am finally healthy again and walking like a normal person without any pain. My x-rays were negative (no MRI yet), though I’m continuing to take time off of running to make sure whatever is going on heals properly. It’s been nice to a break after such a busy running season. I signed up for a two-week Class Pass trial and am loving all the variety from so many different cross-training activities!

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So, was it worth it? That’s the question I’ve been grappling with these last two weeks. I think it was. It was a really tough race – one that taught me important lessons about myself and my body – and how can I not be proud of myself for running 50 miles? The JFK50 was an amazing race – I agree that it’s a great first 50 miler – and I’m glad I came back this year to finish the entire course. That said, I think I’m fine not running an ultra for awhile. I’m respecting the distance – and my body.

I ran the NYC marathon for the first time in 2010, back when I was still living in London. It was my second marathon, and I had trained extremely hard with the help of my coach to BQ (sub-3:40 at the time). I remember waiting to start on a perfectly sunny, crisp day. The atmosphere was electric, and I was overcome by emotion as I crossed the start line and took in the amazing views from the Verrazano Bridge.

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Brooklyn was a huge party – I got caught up in the excitement (all smiles pictured above left) and reached mile 13 feeling unusually fatigued. It was way too early to be tired as I entered Queens, and yet every mile was a battle to stay on pace. Cheers from my friends, family and thousands of strangers carried me along 1st ave. I felt my goal slipping away as I made my way through the Bronx and up 5th avenue (where did that hill come from?!), but then something happened when I entered Central Park. I felt a renewed sense of determination and clawed my way back to my goal over the last two miles, unleashing this fury I didn’t know existed. I simply refused to accept defeat – I had worked too hard for that – and found another gear that catapulted me forward to finish in 3:39:36. I was in complete shock as I hobbled my way through the chute. I eventually found my Dad and whispered “I did it” as he gave me a huge hug, which unlocked a flood of tears and a huge smile. My all time favorite post race photo above captures that moment!

That first NYC marathon was a pivotal experience. It inspired me to create this blog, become a running coach, and push myself harder to reach new running goals. It gave me the courage to leave London and go back to grad school to become a dietitian. It solidified my relatively new relationship with E, who also ran that day (his first marathon). It motivated me to coach the Gilda’s club team for the past four years, as I love to share this incredible NYC event with other runners while supporting a great charity. This marathon holds a very special place in my heart, and I had always wanted to run it again – not racing it all out, but at a pace that would allow me to be more present and enjoy every step. This year I finally got to do just that.

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Sunday’s marathon represented many things. Most importantly, E and I raised over $6,000 for team Gilda’s in memory of our friend Noirin, who passed away in June. She started the NYC marathon last year but wasn’t able to finish due to a painful side effect of her cancer treatment. Her DNF must have been very disappointing after training hard and finishing the previous year, but she remained cheerful as always and eager to hear about everyone else’s race. This year, we celebrated her life and finished the marathon for her. As we crossed the start line, I pictured her smile, her laugh, her strength, her determination. It was an ongoing source of inspiration during our race. E and I are so grateful for the generosity of so many friends, family members and co-workers who helped us achieve our fundraising goals – we cannot thank you enough!

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The marathon also happened to be E’s birthday – and what better way to celebrate than by participating in NYC’s biggest block party?! I made special birthday running hats just for the occasion…so silly and fun! (The visor fanny pack will be saved for another time…)

Lastly, the NYC marathon was the first time that E and I actually raced together. We ran two ultras together but these were at a more leisurely pace on trails – very different from racing a road marathon. Sunday actually was a training race for the JFK 50 miler on November 21, which we entered somewhat last minute after being inspired by so many legendary athletes at NESS. E ran it last year (check out his race report) and I had so much fun pacing him, I wanted to give it a go myself! Staying healthy and having fun were our top goals, but since we usually don’t race marathons together, it was a great opportunity for me to pace E to finish in 4 hours. He always tends to go out too fast in road marathons and it was my mission to hold him back, as I know he is capable of sub-4!

One AMAZING thing that we experienced for the first time was waking up in our own beds and going to a marathon start – and hopping on the subway and being back home soon after the finish. I can’t believe it was our first marathon in our home city! I kept forgetting that we were actually running, because there was no hotel or hours of travel involved. AMAZING.

That said, I forgot how logistically challenging this race is! It took us 2.5 hours to get to the start village – cab to ferry to bus to corrals. Getting on the ferry was crazy (took over 30 min to get on due to crowding) and the bus was stuck in tons of traffic. The Wave 1 folks were getting very nervous! We finally made it and wandered around for a bit before making our way to the green corrals. We had more than enough time, there were a billion toilets, and everything was extremely well organized. It was very mild out – turns out E didn’t need that crazy bear suit after all for warmth, but we did get some good laughs!

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We started in wave 2 on the bottom of the bridge, which was a really different experience. Fun but not as dramatic without those great views. It was SO crowded – not at all like in wave 1 five years ago! It was difficult to keep track of E while we each tried to find openings to pass people. I kept telling him not to surge and pass too much to conserve energy but it was difficult given we were constantly slowed down and trapped behind walls of people. By mile 2, we were slightly ahead of pace and I tried to slow him down, which he did but not enough. Those early miles definitely zapped a lot of energy! We finally hit a steady pace around mile 5 or 6, although crowding remained an issue – navigating water stations was particularly challenging – but I guess this is the largest marathon in the world!

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Despite these frustrations, we had an amazing time. The spectator support was even better than I remembered – likely due to warmer weather and the later time. I felt very present and in tune with my surroundings, which was a nice change from my usual tunnel vision hanging on for dear life race experience. Seeing friends was uplifting as were all the great signs (“Never trust a fart,” “Pet for power” with an actual dog in the sign, and so many more), bands, costumes etc. Brooklyn was the same huge party that I remembered and the miles flew by.

E and I chatted and ran comfortably for the first half, singing and taking it all in. As we entered Queens, we knew it was time to work it. What is it about mile 13 in this particular race that always gets to me?! I guess the fun of Brooklyn is over and you know the struggle that lies ahead. The warm weather was starting to get to E but he was doing a great job maintaining pace. The 59th street bridge was challenging as usual – I felt like I was encountering an old enemy as we approached it – and sure enough this is where we started to lose goal pace, but we planned on changing gears and getting back on track later on. E was still hanging on in the Bronx, and I was tired but feeling good at mile 20 – uplifted by the Gilda’s cheer station!

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E started to slow down and the wheels came off as we made our way back into Manhattan. He felt very sick and had to walk it out a number of times between miles 21 and 25. It’s funny how the second you need to take care of someone else, your own pain goes away. All I cared about was making sure he was okay and keeping him moving – running ahead to get him water and Gatorade, and using every motivational phrase and tactic I could think of to get him running again. It was a disappointment to see him struggling – we both really thought he had a 4 hour race or at least a PR in the bag – but hey, we were still running the NYC marathon and we were doing it together, and the rest didn’t matter.

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I thought entering the park would have the same motivating effect on him as it did on me many years ago, but he couldn’t shake off his nausea. I took advantage of these miles to work the crowd – drum up more cheers, tell everyone it was his birthday, and admire the gorgeous Fall colors in the park. Reminded me of all those times when I was struggling late in a marathon, and there always was a runner with WAY too much energy waving his arms around trying to get more cheers from the crowd. Finally, I got to be that person! When we hit mile 25, I pretty much ordered him to stop walking with only 2km to go and things finally turned around. “It never always gets worse,” as Dave Horton always says – so true. He finished so strong and I’m really proud of him, clocking in at 4:13, only about 1 min off his flat marathon PR.

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All in all, it was a great day. Despite some painful miles, E had a wonderful birthday run. I did my best to help him reach his goal and am sorry we didn’t get there, but we learned from what went wrong and will try again next time. Running NYC again really made me appreciate just how challenging the course is –  it’s not exactly “hilly” but there are so many long inclines that can exhaust you over time that you need to be very strategic in how you run it. I don’t have a desire to go back and race it again, but I do hope to run it for fun again someday! You can’t find the same energy and crowd support anywhere else in the world.

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We celebrated with dinner at Babbo – the same restaurant we went to in 2010 (left). Delicious as always!!

So next up is the JFK 50. I felt great during the marathon and recovery was going well until a couple days ago, when my foot randomly started hurting a lot…I’m hoping that this passes quickly with rest! Either way, I can be happy with two great Fall races in the books.

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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!

Happy August everyone!

This is old news by now, but a few weeks ago Team Dietitian Divas made the podium again with a second place division finish at the NYC Triathlon Relay! The conditions were brutal – one of the hottest and most humid days we have had so far this summer. I was worried about my speed given the weather as well as my ongoing hamstring issues, but I managed to pull off a very strong effort. I ran 45:16 – just 20 seconds slower than my PR which helped us win first place in 2013! It has been awhile since I truly ran all out and I was surprised given that I’ve basically done zero speedwork since April. It was really tough and I was proud of myself for hanging in there and really pushing towards the end, when all I wanted to do was quit. Amazing mental training for the ultra!

Here are a few shots from the awards ceremony – including the random free stuff I scored at the finish line and our awards from 2013-2015!

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I had promised myself that I would only push as hard as my hamstring would let me and I did just that. I felt no specific hamstring pain throughout the race, even during my final sprint. I really should’ve known better though – it was so hot and the adrenaline was flowing, making it easy to cross that line without feeling anything until it was too late. A few hours later, my hamstring wasn’t feeling great. The frustrating part was that I had been running strong up until this point and was poised to ramp up my mileage with E for our 65k race in September.

After almost a week off running, the inflammation went down and I saw a sports doc who said that the strain is mild and I can continue to train with regular PT as long as I continue to run pain free. I have committed to doing twice weekly PT sessions and am hopeful that I will make it to that start line feeling strong!

I’ve had 3 sessions thus far and it’s going well. The doc said that he wanted me to try getting taped up so I tried that last weekend. It felt strange but I think it did help, as it got me through a 45 mile week. My PT explained that the tape works by shortening and compressing the muscle. Not exactly sexy wandering around for three days with my entire hamstring covered in black kinesio tape (not to mention the awesome tan line I got from it), but hey if it works I’m game!

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I’ve been moving forward with ultra training with some great runs on trails and road. It hasn’t all been peachy – rehabbing an injury can be frustrating especially when all you want to do is get out and run – but we all have our good and bad days. I’m trying my best to listen to my body instead of being a slave to the training schedule.

E and I recently spent a long weekend in Sugarbush, Vermont for a family event and saw it as an opportunity to hit the trails. Although our “trail runs” involved more hiking than running given the insane elevation gain over short distances and very technical trails, it was great training.

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First, we power hiked from our hotel in Sugarbush straight up to Lincoln Peak (3975 ft over ~ 2M) and ran back down the rocky slopes. THAT was quite the quad & trail running technique workout!! The views at the top were spectacular and we were thankful to just barely miss a massive downpour. I tried out my new Ultimate Direction hydration vest that I plan to use for the ultra. It took a little getting used to but overall was very comfy.

The next day, we ventured over to the Long Trail at App Gap. In case you are not familiar with this trail, the Long Trail is the “oldest long-distance trail in the United States” and “follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses Vermont’s highest peaks.” The Long Trail also coincides with the Appalachian Trail for 100 miles, and it is part of that section that we visited.

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Originally we had planned a long “run” along the ridges back to Lincoln Peak, but we only made it slightly past Starks Nest for a 7M out and back due to time constraints. As you can see, this was another technical trail (lots of rocks, ladders, etc) so we mostly hiked, but there were a few sections that were more runnable and allowed for some technique practice (which I need, given we mostly run in NYC). It was a challenging, fun outing despite not making it very far. Tons of through hikers too!

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We only logged about 12 miles total that weekend and yet we both felt like we had just run a marathon so I wasn’t feeling too troubled about missing that long run! Plenty of time on feet. We watched an awesome ultra running documentary called Finding Traction on Nikki Kimball’s attempt to become the fastest person to complete the entire length of the 273 mile trail. Incredibly inspiring and fun to see some of the trails we had just experienced!

That’s all for now! E and I both had a huge mileage week last week, with more training, trail running, nutrition, coaching, gear reviews and other updates to come. Stay tuned!

Our award  Second place finish

After winning 1st place in the female relay division last year, team Dietitian Divas got automatic entry into this year’s race and set out to defend our title. We all joked that our highly competitive spirit didn’t quite match up to our training (or relative lack thereof), but we gave it our all and managed to get a team PR of 2:29:19, 2 min and 40 sec faster than last year. Go team!

photo 3  photo 2 photo 1

It was a very early morning. I forgot how painful it is to have to get to transition on west 72nd on the Hudson by 4:30 am and sit around (in the rain, this time) for 4 hours waiting for my teammates to do their parts before I have to spring into 10k mode.

Thankfully, the time went by fairly quickly, and the event was extremely well organized. Like last year, it was cool to be a part of such a different type of event and watch all the athletes, especially the pros. I can’t imagine doing the entire thing and have no desire to, so I’m glad I get the chance to participate as part of the relay. I loved the tri tats we got to put on this year – hand tats and MASSIVE arm tats. I felt badass – I wish we got these for marathons!

Here’s our team before the start, looking surprisingly awake at 5am:

photo 4

Most of the time we shaved off was thanks to our swimmer, who was 3 minutes faster compared to last year, as well as our cyclist, who was nearly a minute faster! I’m so proud of them – they really pushed hard.

photo 1  photo 5

I was pumped to try to win again, but as I crossed 72nd street before mile 1, my legs were really feeling it. Not a good sign! I told myself that I would start pushing more later in the park to avoid blowing up, thrusting myself down the hills and really going for it after the halfway point. Picking off triathletes one by one gave me strength (I know, it’s not fair given I jumped in for the run, but it’s still exhilarating to pass so many people in such a short race). And when a one-armed guy flew past me at mile 5, that inspired me to push even harder. The finish was worse than I remembered – like a never ending maze that zig zagged all around the 72nd street transverse. I was so happy to hear the cheers of my teammates and friends near the finish to keep me going!

Unfortunately, I did not beat my time from last year – I was 1 min 24 sec slower, which is pretty spot on what I predicted to my team. I knew it wasn’t realistic to get a PR given that I’m in the middle of marathon training (and didn’t really taper) and am also slightly heavier than last year. I also had to stop to adjust my chip, which was too loose around my ankle at the start of the run, and we were about 10 sec slower during our transitions, so I guess it all adds up. I tried my best, and that’s what matters! Check out my Garmin details here.

When I found out that we missed 1st place by just 35 seconds, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat responsible for our second place finish despite our overall faster time given I was the only one that slowed down this year. But that’s okay – it was a faster field and we were extremely close to winning, so 2nd place certainly is something to celebrate! Perhaps more importantly, we beat the team that used to win every year until we beat them last year (they placed 2nd last year and 3rd this year), which made us happy (competitive much?!). I’m proud of our team for getting a PR and we were excited to once again get up on that podium. I know for me at least, it’s likely the only time I’ll ever be up on a major race stage receiving an award! It’s also a great feeling to be part of a team for once, in a sport that for me mostly involves racing solo.

photo 4 photo 5 photo 1 photo 3 photo 3

We had the same commentator, you said the same thing as last year when we accepted our award: “Dietitian Divas – that’s so New York.” Um…okay!

We had tons of time to kill in between our finish and the awards ceremony, so we hit up the finish area booths before grabbing brunch. I’ve never gotten so much swag in my life! Check out all the Clif products I got. I swear, I didn’t rob a running store! They kept dumping things into my bag! I’m not a huge fan of recovery drinks, powders, protein bars etc (I prefer REAL food after a run), but I am experimenting with new gels and other products for the Marine Corps Marathon, and given how expensive they are, I was very grateful for these goodies to try.

photo 4

Now that the triathlon is over, it’s back to marathon training (I’m about to enter my 5th week of training) and studying for the RD exam, which I started to do yesterday. I also have one more week left of my Community rotation – my last rotation of my Dietetic Internship at Montefiore. I can’t believe I’m nearly done – it’s been a tough year and I know I have many more challenges ahead, but finishing this internship and taking the RD exam (hopefully in early September) will be such a relief. I don’t think the internship will really feel over until I have my credentials and finally start working!

I’m looking forward to heading to CA later this month for a little break before the exam to see my family, relax, study a little, and mostly just escape NYC for the first time in over 7 months. I have my first 20 miler coming up, which I am grateful to be able to run along my favorite trails in Nisene Marks. I can’t wait to breathe in that fresh redwood air and run on my beautiful local beach. Visions of home will get me through this final stretch!

I ran my second Mini 10k (and first race since Boston) this past Saturday. Just as last year’s race served as a diagnostic as I prepared to begin Chicago training, this year’s mini was meant to reveal where I stand with this distance as I get ready to run in the NYC Triathlon relay next month. My “Dietitian Diva” team members are counting on me to help get us to the podium!

Last year, my fairly untrained but all-out racing effort resulted in a 45:58, so my original hope was at the very least to beat this time, with a real goal of crushing my very old PR of 45:04. My hamstring, however, had other plans for me, having flared up a bit after Boston. I’ve since been able to run casually without pain, but speed work still aggravates it so I opted not to race the mini. It’s unfortunate because the weather was great (coolest mini in history apparently) and with three strong recent races under my belt, I have no doubt I could have PR’d. Another time I suppose! Instead, I ran within what I’m calling my “hamstring comfort zone,” taking it fairly easy the first 2 miles and very very gradually speeding up as much as my hamstring would allow. I probably got up to 85% racing effort by the last mile – so it was more of a tough workout than a race I suppose. The good news is that I still managed to run 46:47 (7:32 average pace), less than a minute slower than my full-on racing effort last year, so that’s a good sign that although slightly injured at the moment, I’ve become much stronger in the last year. It also means that worst case, I know I can run a sub-47 without a problem next month; not ideal, but not the end of the world either.

Despite the frustration of not being able to let loose, I had such a great time at the mini. It felt good to get back out there after Boston and experience some positive race energy. What I love most about this mini is the history behind it – for over 40 years, this race has been celebrating women’s running! You can’t help but feel like you’re part of something when you run it. Also, unlike many other women’s races, the mini draws an awesome elite field as well as many other talented, competitive runners, while welcoming new runners and runners of all levels. Lastly, it’s one of the only larger races that places me right at the front! It’s quite inspiring being able to run right behind the elites (well, at least for a few seconds before they take off).

I started up front with my running buddy like last year, although this time she was able to keep me within sight for the entire race which helped her crush her PR, so that made me  happy! She finished right behind me so we were able to grab our medals, flowers etc together. I have to commend NYRR – perhaps not checking a bag helped (hence the lack of race photos), but it was such an easy race from an organizational point of view. Everything ran smoothly throughout the morning and it was never too crowded anywhere.

          Mini 10k   Run happy!

The highlight for me – like last year – was getting my medal signed, although this year it was much cooler. No lines, no official signing tables, just Desi Davila hanging out by the finish area after running her first race since pulling out of the Olympics last year. She ran well so she seemed to be in good spirits. My friend and I were about to wander away from the finish area to grab coffee when we saw her chatting with someone. I found a pen and we were able to go right up to her and get her autograph. We also got to chat for awhile – it was so chilled out and I was really excited to share with her that since I saw her at the mini last year, I had qualified for Boston and ran Boston. I told her I hoped to run again next year but unfortunately for us “real people” (which made her laugh) who just barely qualify, it will be tough so we’ll see. She’s awesome – and so so tiny! Every time I see her it amazes me.

So next up in racing is the NYC Triathlon relay on July 14th, and then I have ZERO races in the calendar, which is very strange for me. I didn’t get into the NYC marathon lottery, which I decided was a sign that I should take a real break from racing this fall. I am excited to coach Gilda’s again this year, so I will still be running, but I think my body could use a break from structured training, particularly if I am able to get into Boston and will be training hard next year.

In other news, I am very relieved to have completed my Spring semester at NYU – only one more class to go this summer and I will finally be done with my DPD’s! I also recently attended my ten year college reunion…pretty crazy that it’s been so long. It was fun to show Yale to E and see many old friends.

Otherwise, things have been insanely busy with all the last minute wedding planning, given how much I neglected to do during the semester, but everything is finally coming together. Last dress fitting this week (praying I can somehow stay the same size for two weeks, since my dress is very fitted), and a handful of things left to do but most of the big stuff is done. Only 19 days left to go!! Wow. E and I are beyond excited. I have no doubt it will be an incredible day! We fly to California next week…

And I will leave you with a delicious summer snack that I’ve stolen from some NYU friends. I have banana with peanut or almond butter all the time, but never in this actual form. It’s amazing. Simply slice a banana and freeze on a flat surface, then make little sandwiches with your nut butter of choice. SOOO GOOD. Enjoy!

Frozen banana & peanut butter sandwiches

I just completed my last run of 2011 – it’s officially time to celebrate the New Year!

Here are my pre- and post-run shots:

  

I met up with the same women I ran with last week in Nisene Marks, which was really fun. While they stopped at 6M, I continued for an additional 3.6 so I could reach 1,166 miles on the dot for 2011! Well, that’s according to the RW running log at least, which I started in October 2009 and use mainly to keep track of my shoe mileage (it has a great feature that allows you to track various shoes you use). I just discovered that according to Garmin Connect (which is my main running log), I ran 1,200 miles. I’m not sure what happened there, but obviously I’m going with the higher number!

Here are my stats from the RW running log:

And here’s a nice, colorful graph from the RW log:

Here’s Garmin’s report for 2011:

My number for 2011 isn’t quite as high as 2010, where I reached 1,290 miles (according to RW), but I’m still very pleased, especially since I only ran one marathon this year. Let’s do a quick recap of the races I ran in 2011 (relevant blog links included):

Mornington Chasers 10k (March), Fleet Half Marathon (March), 17k Kentmere Challenge (June), New Forest 10 (July), Reykjavik 10k (August), Pacific Grove 10k (September), Portland Marathon (October), Windham Turkey Trot (November) and The North Face SF Endurance Challenge Half Marathon (December).

2011 was relatively light in racing compared to 2010, due to injury and one fewer marathon scheduled. I have a feeling 2012 will hold even fewer races in store for me, between school and everything else, but you never know! I found out yesterday that I was accepted into the NYC half marathon in March 2012, so that is now officially in my racing calendar. E got in too, which is very exciting – another excuse for him to come visit me from London (not like he needs one…), if he hasn’t already moved to NYC by then. I also found out that registration for the Chicago marathon begins on February 1st. E and I both plan to sign up. Come on, BQ!

Lastly, I completely revised my Goals page, if you haven’t already checked it out. I wanted to reflect on what I did and did not accomplish in 2011, and what I hope to achieve in 2012, not only in terms of running but other areas of my life. All in all, it’s been a momentous year – I quit my job and moved back from London, became an Aunt, turned 30, qualified as an RRCA coach, got into grad school for Nutrition and much more. 2012 is going to be challenging and intense, but I have a feeling that even bigger and more positive things are coming my way!

I’m off to the airport now to pick up E – best NYE gift I could possibly ask for! I can’t wait to see him – it’s been a month since we said our goodbyes in Boston and I’m really looking forward to spending the week together. We are having a low-key celebration tonight with friends, but are planning a couple adventures later in the week including trips to Yosemite and to Napa. I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2012!

Happy New Year!!

Everyone differs in terms of racing gear preferences, and many runners – like Kara Goucher and her titanium necklace – have a lucky item that they wouldn’t dare race without.

As I start to pack my favorite tried and tested gear for this weekend’s Portland marathon, I thought I’d let you know what I’ll be wearing on race day and any changes I have made since running the NYC marathon last November. For the most part, I am sticking with what has worked best for me in the past (golden rule – never race in anything new), but with some updated models and a few accessory changes.

Feet: Saucony ProGrid Omni 10 shoes and WrightSock CoolMesh II Quarter socks

Ever since I’ve had my gait analysis a few years ago, I’ve stuck with Saucony ProGrid Omni‘s for road racing (I currently use Brooks Adrenaline ASR 6 for trail – updated model here). I’ve debated switching to a lower profile shoe, and plan to do this at some stage, but for now this shoe has worked very well for me. In Portland, I will be using the newest Omni model (10). I purchased these recently because I’ve already logged 220M in my pink Omni 9’s (which is fine – I use shoes up to about 500 miles or until they just don’t feel right anymore – but I prefer to run marathons in shoes closer to 100M if possible) and, more importantly, the 10’s come in purple! I have only run about 60M in them as of today, but they feel good so it should be fine.

I will be using the type of socks as I did in NYC, the WrightSock CoolMesh II Quarter socks from REI, although I did buy a fresh pair for Portland! I find them very comfy – they are supposed to help prevent blisters and so far, so good.

Legs: 2XU Elite Compression Tights

I have run practically every race and long run (save for very hot days) in 2XU’s elite compression tights. They’re pricey, and I’m not sure I buy into how much they aid in performance (apparently they do help with recovery, but not so much with speed), but they’re extremely comfortable, they “contain the jiggle” as a running coach of mine once aptly said and they help me get into the racing spirit. At this stage, simply because I have run both marathons and most races in them, I almost feel like I need to wear them to race. It’s silly, and I need to get over it for racing in hot weather, but so far they have served me well. My first pair, which I bought when I started to train for Paris in January 2010, was getting a bit worn out so I treated myself to a shiny new pair a few months ago. I received a discount both times, fortunately, through the Purple Patch running camp I attended last year.

As for underwear, I recently discovered that many women don’t wear any when running in tights, and I can understand why after experiencing some serious butt chafing (TMI, sorry!) last year after NYC from wearing a thong. Nothing like hobbling into a hot shower after running a tough race and finding yourself screaming once the water hits your skin and reveals phantom chaffing – surprise!! I never got around to training commando, so I’ll be sticking with the same type of underwear I used last year (plain old Target seamless thong) but this time with some strategically placed Vaseline…

Torso: Patagonia Sport Top and Bra

Last year, I used a Nike purple dry fit tank top that I picked up at the SF Nike Town combined with a hot pink racerback Champion sports bra that I happened to find at Costco. Both were cute and comfy, although the top was quite long and tended to scrunch up at my waist. I found myself fidgeting with it several times during my run which was distracting. This year, I picked up a purple Patagonia top at the Santa Cruz outlet, along with a matching purple racerback bra, both in XS so they are very fitted but comfy. The top has a built in bra and has tested very well on my last three long runs. During my run yesterday, however, I decided to try wearing the bra under the top to see what that felt like – the top is supportive, but I thought greater support couldn’t hurt. I’m still deciding whether or not it would be too restrictive for so many miles (I felt some tightness in my shoulders at first), but it felt pretty good during the run and fits in with the idea of the compression tights and hat, which all make me feel extremely contained!! I will, of course, be transferring my purple, orange and silver CLAIRE patch to my new top.

Gels and gel belt: SIS black currant and orange, with SIS belt

I have been using SIS Go gels since I started training for my first half marathon in 2009. They’ve worked well for me and thus I haven’t bothered trying anything new – although unfortunately they do not sell them in the US (it’s a UK company) so I will have to either keep bringing them home when I visit London, order them from Canada or switch gels. The taste isn’t too bad and the consistency isn’t too thick, so you don’t need to take them with water. For my past two marathons, I have also used the SIS marathon gel belt. I tried switching to a different belt that I had picked up at the NYC expo for my 18-miler, after the SIS belt started to feel too loose during the Pacific Grove 10k. In the end, I decided it wouldn’t work well with the race number (since I was wearing the pouch in the front) and I was able to fix the SIS belt with safety pins and knots. Also, in the last two races, I have been able to get rid of my belt around mile 21 or so, since that is where my parents usually see me for the last time and I am able to carry my last gel in my hand if I haven’t already taken it. In Portland, I’m not sure where my relatives will be spectating so I may have to just get rid of the belt. It’s SO liberating to remove it – really gives me a lift when I’m desperate for one – and it has seen better days anyway.

Eyewear: Sunwise Breakout sunglasses (and contact lenses)

In my last two races, I used the older model of the Sunwise Breakouts. This year, they came out with a silver pair and I snatched them up – now I’m all purple, black and silver! Sunwise is a great brand from my experience – cheap, great quality, durable and extremely comfy/lightweight. I think they look pretty cool too. Like my compression tights, these sunglasses help me focus and get in the zone. I feel like a “real” runner with these on. In Portland, even if it’s raining or cloudy, they will be on my head – on top of my hat if not over my eyes – so I can pull them down when I really need to dig deep. The new model is ever so slightly less comfortable – I feel them a bit more on my nose whereas with the older pair, I would forget that they were there and they wouldn’t budge an inch, but it’s hardly noticeable.

Other accessories: 2XU hat, Asics arm sleeves (if it’s cold), handheld water bottle (to throw away when empty)

I always wear my hair up in a bun – a swishing pony tail slows me down and distracts me. I like to feel like one moving force – hence the compression tights and other attempts to contain everything (but without sacrificing comfort, of course). I always used to wear a headband in races, and still do for all indoor workouts. Goody’s StayPut line of headbands and hair bands work very well for me. One day this past summer, however, E and I were getting ready to do a long run in the sunshine, and he let me borrow one of his hats. I fell in love with it and refused to give it back – thankfully he didn’t argue. Since then, I have worn it on most long runs. It’s super comfy, protective from the rain or sun and like with my sunglasses, it helps me shut everything and everyone else out. It also means I don’t have to deal with my hair at all which is quite nice! So I will be wearing this hat in Portland.

If it’s really cold out, I may use my Asics arm bands again, which I picked up at the NYC marathon expo and used on race day (mine are plain black, no ING NYC logo). It was so cold I was forced to break the never try anything new rule – although they did chafe a bit (they are cotton/synthetic, so not ideal racing material), they looked pretty awesome and were relatively comfy. I have a feeling I won’t need to use them in Portland – and I’m also tempted not to because I don’t want to have to throw them away, should I get too warm – but at least I now know to slather the insides of my upper arms with vaseline!

Speaking of which – I use aloe vera Vaseline, which I buy at Boots. Technically this product is classified as lip care but I’ve found it great for use anywhere and it’s very portable. I sometimes use Body Glide but haven’t noticed any real difference between the two.

Lastly, I will be running with the same oval handheld water bottle I used in NYC to avoid stopping at water stations for the first 15 miles or so. It’s an old cheap bottle, so once the water is finished, I’ll toss it (and hopefully someone will recycle it for me). It was a good system last year, as I hate interrupting my rhythm by stopping to drink, and it just so happened that a friend of mine who was spectating was able to take the bottle from me so I could keep it for one more race. After that, I’ll use the stations.

Pacing: Garmin Forerunner 410 and races2remember pace bands

I recently upgraded my Garmin 405CX to the 410, and I love it. Looks prettier (black instead of blue, and of course brand new), and has been working far better than my older one (which is why I exchanged it at REI – man I love that place). I nearly went with the newly released Garmin 610 but then decided it was unnecessarily complicated for me.

I’m also using races2remember again for my pace bands – Molly & Al are super friendly and accommodating, and I really enjoyed using their product in NYC. Their 3:39 band really guided me through a tough race! This time, I have ordered one specific to the Portland course (they make adjustments according to the elevation profile), with 20 seconds and 10 seconds added to my first and second miles, respectively, and the 30 seconds made up in my last three miles, but otherwise pacing evenly. They make you three different bands for $7.50, so I chose 3:34:45, 3:38:59 and 3:41:45. I will most likely be wearing the first two, and probably sticking to sub-3:39 but we’ll see how I feel…

And now, let’s put it all together! Here are two recent shots – one of my racing outfit described above before doing my 18-miler, and the other of my last racing experience in the Pacific Grove 10k, showing my CLAIRE patch, gel belt and arm sleeves.

  

What’s your favorite racing gear? Do you have any lucky items that you can’t race without?

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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