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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!

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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!

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Running an ultra has been on my bucket list for awhile. During my first North Face Endurance Challenge Series (TNFECS) event in SF four years ago, I only ran the half marathon but heard all about the awe-inspiring 50M and 50K races that happened the day prior. Back then, my thoughts were more along the lines of, “WOW…those people are CRAZY,” and that’s saying a lot coming from me! That started to shift when I spectated E’s first ultra at TNFECS Bear Mountain 50K last May. I decided I actually wanted run an ultra after pacing E for 24 miles at the JFK 50 miler in November. Maybe all the runners I met out on the trail motivated me, or perhaps I was simply jumping to a new level of crazy?! Either way, I had so much fun taking part in E’s ultra experience that I decided we needed to finish one together.

About two months ago, E mentioned that he was going to run TNFECS 50K and suggested it as an option. It takes place in Algonkian Regional Park, Great Falls Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail in Virginia, not far from where E’s parents live in Maryland. Although not exactly flat, the course is one of the least technical of the TNF series, and I definitely was looking for a newbie friendly race not too far from NYC. Unfortunately, the timing was terrible with various work and grad school commitments, so I said no, and we started to consider Fall races instead.

Cut to the week before the race, and I felt this unexplicable urge to enter. The Boston Marathon has been my big Spring race these past two years, and while I intentionally did not fill my race calendar this year, I couldn’t help but crave a new challenge as the marathon hype began to build. I was feeling exhausted and burnt out, and yet conquering a new, scary distance and experiencing that raw feeling of victory after crossing the finish line was exactly what I needed to keep pushing through the other challenges in my life.

Also, I’ll be honest – THAT was how badly I wanted to put off working on my Master’s research paper! Seriously. I am a very productive procrastinator.

So, I entered the 50K just three days in advance and caught a train to Maryland after work the night before the race. So much for my usual meticulous pre-race planning and prep!

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Panic set in briefly after I entered, but I reminded myself that I ran regularly over the winter to maintain fitness after the Marine Corps Marathon, including two 18-19 milers in Manhattan and several tough trail runs in Nisene Marks last month (two 1.5-2hrs, one 2.75hrs to Sand Point overlook – pictured above). I was under-trained but not horribly so, and I am not a newbie to trail running – just to the distance. It made me feel better that E hadn’t run much more than I had, so at least we were in the same boat. Also, pace isn’t as important in trail running unless you’re really competing, trying to break your own course PR, or need to beat a cut-off time. These didn’t apply to me, so for the first time ever, my goal truly was “just to finish.” It was a refreshing feeling after so many years of chasing PRs. I was especially excited to finish the race with E, hand in hand – we often train together and run the same races, but have never finished any together. We kept the race fairly quiet just in case it was a total disaster.

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It was still dark when we arrived at Algonkian Regional Park at 6am. The 50 milers had just set off and all the 50K runners were hanging out trying to stay warm. As in SF, the start area was well organized with plenty of toilets, food tents, coffee, fire pits, pre-race packet pickup, bag check, etc. It was meant to be a very hot and muggy day, and I knew we would be looking back fondly on these chilly pre-race moments later on! The sun started to rise, right up through the start line just in time for our 7am start. I was very tired from many weeks of inadequate sleep, but overall was in good spirits. I think they call that being in denial. I guess the trick to fighting off pre-race nerves is simply to enter last minute and don’t give yourself any time to think about it!

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I didn’t get a chance to study the out and back course. E told me that the first 13M were relatively flat and runable, followed by a more challenging middle 6M loop, and then 13M back to the finish. Didn’t sound so bad, right? We made a plan to run nice and easy, walk all the inclines and technical sections, take our time at the aid stations, and stop for photo breaks to make sure we enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Our goals were to remain injury free, have fun and cross the finish line together. See that smile? Yes, still in denial.

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The first few miles were a total mud bath! The race started with a big loop of a field turned swamp after the rain, so within five minutes our shoes were soaked and legs covered in mud. I hate mud but quickly got over it. This led to a very slippery section of single track – essentially a slow Congo line of runners trying not to fall over – and then into a forested area (pictured below), where the trail widened and finally started to dry out. Smooth runable sections alternated with stretches of roots and rocks. We kept the pace slow and enjoyed the views of lush trail covered in wild flowers with the Potomac River on our left. The sun was shining, and signs of Spring were everywhere.

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We finally got into a groove when we hit several unexpected steep climbs and descents. Clearly, I did not take a close look at the elevation chart in advance, otherwise those hills wouldn’t have been such a surprise…oops.

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We hiked the ups as planned but unfortunately had to hike the downs as well, as it was too crowded to hurl ourselves downhill as we normally do. I started to feel it in my knees after a few of those. More importantly, I found myself unusually fatigued not even a third of the way into the race, which was very daunting. We let a lot of runners pass us and the crowds finally began to thin out. I wasn’t feeling fabulous, but it was very peaceful on the trails. It was still relatively early, which meant that the hordes of tourists hadn’t arrived yet, and the marathoners who started an hour later than the 50K runners hadn’t reached us yet.

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I pushed myself out of my funk and got a much needed surge of energy when we got to Great Falls, snapped some photos at an awesome lookout, hit another great aid station and entered the middle miles.

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I had imagined this section to be nonstop climbs and descents, but it felt easier than what we had already encountered. Don’t get me wrong, there were many hills, but it was a complicated loop (more like two mini out and backs tacked onto a loop), which kept things interesting as I didn’t really know what was coming next. See, it helps not to study the course map sometimes!

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I also was distracted (in a good way) as this was a social part of the race for me. We caught up to the other 50K runners as well as the 50 milers, who were doing 3 loops of this section (!!!), and the wider trails and two way traffic were more conducive to striking up conversations. Chatting on the trails almost always gives me energy, quickens my pace and melts the pain away (at least temporarily). After feeling so crappy during the earlier miles, I was reminded that part of what makes trail running so fun is all the amazing people you meet. Sure, it’s a solo endeavor at times – but it’s also a supportive, friendly community experience as well. Also, hearing about some guy’s upcoming 24 hour race (i.e. run as many miles as you can in 24 hours) and running alongside the hardcore 50 milers made the 50K seem like an easy day out. It’s all relative, right?!

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I promise – I wasn’t smiling in ALL the race photos.

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The miles were flying by and before I knew it, we were back at the Great Falls aid station, where E’s parents awaited us. By this point, it was very hot and muggy out. I was grateful to have worn my shorts, tank top and visor – all comfy and lightweight. My feet were starting to hurt and blisters were forming (my road shoes weren’t the best choice, but I didn’t have time to test any others), and other parts of my body were starting to ache, but I felt good overall – happy and confident.

I attribute this to solid pacing and staying on top of my nutrition. I was having combination of SIS Go Gels (I brought 8 and was taking one every 45-50min), water (I carried my Amphipod large handheld – no time to buy and try a vest), and a variety of aid station food offerings. I hadn’t trained with eating real food and I have a sensitive stomach, so I had to be careful. E swears by peeled boiled potatoes with salt (good source of electrolytes – potassium + sodium chloride), so I had a few small nibbles early in the race to test the waters, and ate more once I tolerated it. Highly recommend. I also had some chicken broth (delicious), some banana and a few potato chips/pretzels. I can’t stomach food at my marathon race pace (~8-8:20), but eating a little bit at each aid station kept me feeling strong at my ultra shuffle pace (~10-11 running, ~13 with walking). My taste buds also appreciated switching between salty and sweet!

E was really feeling the heat, so we started to run/walk the flats. Parts of the trail had shade and a cool breeze, but others did not and our bodies were in slight shock after such a long, brutal winter. I still felt strong but then of course stubbed my toe really hard on a rock during a steep descent, which briefly threw me off my game. I will likely lose my first toenail soon – E tells me that this is an ultra rite of passage.

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After we passed the marathon distance (pictured above), I officially entered unchartered territory. I felt a sense of relief knowing that I would make it to the end. E felt better when he took frequent walk breaks, and when I walked everything hurt 100 times more, so I ran ahead to keep my momentum going and then waited for him periodically to catch up. Without realizing, I started to run my usual 9/9:30 long run pace, which felt very comfortable. I felt the urge to hammer out the last miles, but E wasn’t up for it. Plus, this race wasn’t about speed. So we took our time and only picked up the pace in the last mile to ensure we finished in under 7 hours.

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We crossed the finish line together in 6:54:16, holding hands with gigantic smiles on our faces! Technically, I finished one second ahead of E, but I swear that was not intentional (he doesn’t believe me). It was an amazing feeling to finish and I immediately knew I had to do another one. Despite our slow pace, I still placed middle of the pack – 225 of 401 overall, and 69 of 145 women. Not bad for a first ultra and last minute race! If I had run all the flats and didn’t stop so much along the way, I think I could have finished in 6-6:30. Not that time matters… 🙂 Check out my Garmin details here.

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Post-race was awesome. I felt surprisingly okay, and was beaming from my ultra runner’s high! E’s parents met us at the finish and we scrubbed/soaked our muddy legs in the muddy ice water (SO COLD – hurt more than the race itself) and enjoyed some beer and food. I got a massive ice cream cone (post-race MUST) on the way home – calories well earned!

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I highly recommend the TNFECS and I’m glad I picked DC as my first ultra. It’s rated 3 of 5 stars for difficulty and elevation change, and 4 of 5 for scenery, so it’s challenging yet newbie friendly and rewarding. It’s not a cheap race, but you get your money’s worth. The start was seamless, the trail was well marked every step of the way, the aid stations were frequent and amazing, and everyone was friendly and chilled out. The race swag was good too – a pair of Smart wool socks and a technical shirt tailored to our distance.

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Our one complaint is that we wish more runners practiced better trail etiquette. For example, we noticed a lot of gel wrappers thrown on the trails (not cool) and so many runners were listening to music, which is dangerous on narrow trails with two-way traffic. Perhaps this is something North Face can better address in pre-race materials and events. Personally, I think music should not have been allowed – many races ban music for safety reasons. It also makes the events more interactive.

Recovery has been going well thus far. I haven’t been very sore, but my legs have felt a little fatigued/heavy, so I’ve been taking it fairly easy on the training front with just two runs last week. My next race is the Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 16th. I don’t have any great expectations for the half given how little speed work I’ve done recently, and how stressed out I’ve been in these final weeks of school (graduation May 18th woohoo!!!), but I hope I have enough speed in my legs to have a strong race. For now, I’m trying to mix it up with some cross training – I’m excited to try my first Soul Cycle class today! It’s a charity ride that my friend invited me to at the East 83rd street studio, which should be fun.

Aside from the NYC Triathlon relay in July, my race calendar remains empty for now. I need to decide on my Fall race plans soon…perhaps another ultra? I’m leaning towards YES!

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” — E.H.

Background

Running is probably one of the more isolating things that you can do with your time. Most days, you’ll be on your own. You’ll quietly slip out into the morning air at the crack of dawn with no one around to tell you it was a bad idea. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few familiar voices in your head to keep you company. The bad news is that these voices have names like “doubt,” “fear” and “fatigue.”

Trail running is a slightly different animal. While it’s true that the voices are still there to keep you company, the culture tries to cultivate community. The community tries to rally around the idea of “connection to our collective experience,” including how we connect not just to the mountains, rivers, and wilderness, but also the people that make every experience rich, moving and unique.

10525899_10152810266175821_7688336940618464541_nWhen researching ultra-marathons for the 2014 season, I wanted to find a race that would scream community. The JFK race is steeped in history and community – it was originally conceived by JFK himself as a rallying cry for the USA; a call to a higher standard. Not only did the military return the call, but the public did as well with many such races springing up around the country. Today, there still is a large military presence in the race (Marines won the team event) – and while civilians seem to expect that our elite military units are cut from a different cloth (and IMO that may, in fact, be true), these races remind us that EVERYONE has the ability to exceed his or her own expectations…if we only dare to try.

As part of my mental preparation for the race, last week I had the privilege of hearing Admiral McRaven speak at the office. While I can’t say that I agree with all of his politics, I do think that his pointers for dealing with adversity should be part of the Ultra-Marathon Training Guide.

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The start

Training

So now that we have the race selected, how on earth do you prepare to run 50 miles? This seems to be the most common question I’ve received so far and there are many approaches. After much research, I customized my own training plan as follows:

Step 1: Prepare for a marathon (time it to peak 4 weeks before the race – Marine Corp Marathon fits nicely and it has a similar race profile)

Step 2: Add significantly more volume (+miles, peaking at 178 in September – “time on feet” also works)

Step 3: Add significantly more strength + stabilization + core exercises (gym time + pack running – body weight over metal)

Step 4: Add back-to-back runs (Sat and Sun runs, both at least 1-2 hours to simulate time on feet, peaking at 20+12 miles on Sat+Sun, respectively)

Step 5: Pay special attention to recovery (rest + nutrition)

This approach seemed to work fairly well for me. I exceeded my volume goals by hitting 1400 miles by November and got to the start injury-free. I also included an excessive taper program just to be sure I got to the start rested; for me, that involves very little running the week before the race. While it’s not without a little Taper Madness, I’ve found I always run better when I’m rested and itching to get to the start.

Problem Solving

Race execution at any distance is all about knowing the course and solving problems. Any distance. The JFK50 is split up into a few key sections: the Appalachian Trail (AT) 0-15.5, the canals (15.5-42), and the roads (42-50.2). Embedded in each section are a number of mini-milestones, official cut-off points that let you know if you’re on track to make it to the roads in time. The cut-offs are non-negotiable and you get pulled off the race if you don’t make them. They are AGGRESSIVE because running on a canal in the dark is dangerous – period. There was a lot of discussion on the JFK50 forums by some people that DNF’d this race because they felt the cut-offs were too aggressive. Personally, I feel that these adventures are not supposed to be easy – that’s part of the joy, so get over it.

Now, onto the problems.

The Problems

P1The AT. The AT is super fun but it’s also the most congested part of the course. It’s also the section with the most uphill so you risk burning too hard, too soon – which will destroy you for the rest of the day. It’s very easy to get stuck in a conga line, which has the benefit of forcing you to slow down in the early miles, but the downside is: IT SLOWS YOU DOWN.

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JFK (Top) + MCM (Bottom)

Getting off the AT has an additional complication: the train. Yes, there is a train that eventually comes and if it does, you have to wait for it to pass. Precious time wasted. This is no joke and it means you need to be at mile 16 (0.5 mile down the road from the AT exit) by 4 hours.

P2The Canals. Basically, after running for 2-3 hours (3:30 for me) you then have to run an uphill trail marathon fast enough to hit the 42 mile cut-off.

P3The Roads. Asphalt feels like a relief when compared to roots, rocks, etc. However, darkness is now a problem and so is the cold. While you may have started cold, and later on warmed up in the sunlight – now with the sun setting, the cost of keeping warm is also taking its toll on the body. Maybe if you’re fast this isn’t an issue but hey – I’m slow – and so are a lot of people.

P4Nutrition. Your body only has a certain amount of glycogen it can store. Beyond that, you’ll need to find a replacement. The nice thing is that there are many stations along the way to fuel up. The downside is that there are no guarantees what will be there – if you hang your strategy on food that isn’t there when you arrive that’s it – game over. It’s VERY VERY hard to recover from calorie deficit once you get too far behind.

FullSizeRenderP5Hydration: Just like fuel, you lose tons of water and electrolytes in this type of endurance event. You need to drink enough to stay hydrated, but you can’t drink so much that you become hyponatremic. It’s a delicate balance.

P6Pacing. How the heck do you pace this thing? Maybe some people can run the entire length of the course but I cannot. My A goal was to finish under 10 hours (not met), which would require an average pace of 12:00 min per mile. Sounds slow, but when you factor in elevation changes, crowding and pit-stops, time adds up fast. Especially when most people are slowing down significantly in the last third of the race.

The Solutions

While these solutions won’t work for everyone, they certainly worked for me – this time, for THIS race. I’m curious to see which solutions work in future races.10259791_10152816325705821_3810747082238434306_n

S1: The trails. I’ve done a number of trail races so I’m fairly comfortable on this type of terrain. I love to bomb on the downhills and feel like I can cover the rocks in short order. The AT is certainly not the most technical trail out there, however, the uphills are no joke – they burn you out. So like many long races, the key is to take what the trail gives you – run the flats and downs, walk the uphills and pass when you can to get in front of the conga line. In the end, I still wasted probably 30 minutes behind people in un-passable situations. There’s simply nothing that can be done about this except to move faster next time. Just like normal, eyes down and active scanning ahead to avoid branches, rocks and various obstacles. The key is getting out of here without an injury – one gentlemen fell off some steep switchbacks at the end and had blood running down his nose, cheeks and eyes (oh yes, he still finished – he was a 68 year old Vietnam Marine veteran finishing the race for the 26th time).

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S2: The canals. There’s no secret to this section, you just have to get going. I was very fortunate to have my wife pace me for over 23 miles along the canals (pictured above). She kept me moving and helped me come up with a run/walk system once I hit a few very very low points. Think the key is to mentally find a rhythm and hang on. I’m not sure if I did better or worse with a pacer but having this support sure felt amazing during this section – and with her being such a seasoned runner in her own right, I had complete confidence in her suggestions. That’s really what you need, someone to do the heavy mental lifting when your mind starts to go.

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The final stretch

S3: The roads. At mile 38, I changed into my fleece, which saved me as the sun went down. Not only did it set me up to try and focus on mile 42 – the final cutoff required to finish – but again, it proves that you really can’t do as well without a team to support you. The wife and parents were just legendary in this regard – sprinting around and staying out in the cold as a spectator is no joke. Not enough can be said here to demonstrate my gratitude.

S4: Nutrition. There’s strategy and then there’s flexibility. These races require both. My plan was to take in 200 calories per hour in gels (if it sounds disgusting, you’re right – it is). In order to stay on track, I set my Ironman watch on a 30 min repeating alarm (1st time I tried this). Not only did this make sure I kept the calories constant, it also gave me a kick in the butt when I was stalled. The plan was to use this for base fueling (mix of Vanilla PowerGels, VFuel MCT-based gels) and then supplement with SaltStick tabs (2 per hour) plus aid station food (to taste).

Generally, I’ve done well with potato chips, coca-cola and potatoes/salt at aid stations. I did wind up trying a few new things (bad move) and found that although I was able to tolerate them, I did best with potatoes/salt (thinking of making my own for next time). The key here was (a) keeping on a tight schedule and (b) practicing with everything to make sure your gut doesn’t freak out. I’ve been blessed with an iron stomach and think the only problem was that maybe I still didn’t eat enough on the canal section.

S5: Hydration. Speaking of flexibility, I brought with me one vest bottle and one bladder. It turns out that at 17F degrees the outside tube of your hydration bladder will freeze rendering it useless. I’ve heard of this happening before but it never happened to me. Thank goodness I brought the UD flask with me – it saved me from a real problem. That said, I’m sure I didn’t take in enough water as a result. Pee color looked good though so probably OK. At the worst, I was running with an extra few pounds of water weight (that I shed later – again, thanks to support crew) and at best I was hydrated enough from the frequent aid stations – on a different course, I just don’t know what would have happened here. Likely, a DNF.

S6: Pacing. Here’s where understanding the course matters. In every race, it’s important to have a few ranked goals. Over this sort of distance, the obvious goal is to make the cut-offs and finish the race. This is essential. To go beyond that, you have to be realistic. Veterans advise that you can typically run 2.5 times your marathon time for a 50 miler.

So, if I’m pacing a marathon at 4:00 – that puts me in 10:00 territory – which is exactly what I ran, minus some challenging terrain. In order to do this, I would need to hit the canal somewhere between 2:45-3:15 hours, execute a 4:30-5:30 marathon, leaving me with 8 miles to close out in 1.5 hours (not impossible). This is effectively what happened except for a few differences:

  • Uphills on the AT. There were a lot of them and there’s no way to run everything. It’s just not feasible.
  • Conga Lines. There were plenty of choke points on the AT, especially on the switchbacks. This easily cost me 20-30 minutes.
  • Uphills on the roads. Rolling country roads is a bit of an exaggeration. They were pretty darn steep; like walk with your hands on your knees steep.

Aside from these challenges, you can run most of the flats/downhills and hike the uphills. I probably walked more than I expected, but less than I feared. In general, I was more concerned with finishing once I knew 10 hour goal wasn’t realistic given the above reasons – so I definitely took a conservative pacing approach later in the race.

photoClaire also paced me for almost half of the race on the canal (she had only planned to run 12 miles). This was awesome for a number of reasons. In addition to being able to share the adventure, she was also helpful to keep me pushing forward. Running with a pacer made the event feel so “real” to me; it magnified the undertaking significantly. I’m forever in her debt for getting me through it.

Assessing The Damage

It was a miracle that my family was there to support me. While I managed to find some legs in the last 5 miles and finish strong, there was no question that without someone to pick me up and take me back to the hotel, things could have gotten hairy. One nice feature of the JFK race is that if you don’t have people around, there are showers you can use at the high school after the race – so while I went back to the hotel to shiver, sweat, and freak out uncontrollably – if you do not have such a luxury, you can always do that in your car after a nice hot shower.

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Any race with elevation changes like this one always smashes your quads – no exception here. One big difference was that I was a bit chafed on the inside of my legs and finally got a number of large blisters due to swelling in my feet (and use of road shoes for the duration over trail/hybrids). This wasn’t a surprise, as more than one blister popped during mile 32 or so (ask Claire what the expression on my face was – I’m not entirely sure). Still, it’s always a nice surprise when you take off your shoes to assess the damage and it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.

It’s Tuesday morning and the feet are mostly healed. Some back toenails, but I have it on good authority that all toenails go to heaven.

Recommendations

If you’re looking for a first 50 mile race on the east coast, you really couldn’t pick a better one. The community, support and available course information make it a fulfilling adventure. I would say that there are other races that I’d rather do now that I’ve tackled the distance, but given the opportunity I would do it again. Mainly, I’d like to take on a course with significantly more trails/elevation – this was the most fun I had the entire day and I can’t wait to try out these legs on some sweet, groomed, west coast sunshine in 2015.

Other Highlights & Notes

It really was an adventure and probably it’s still too soon to process everything. Here were some additional thoughts from the day:

  • A police officer was directing runners at the 49 mile mark; his car was blasting “Ode To Joy.”
  • I did NOT get my red velvet cake at aid station 38. Stopping was a bad idea; at least the wife got to enjoy it. She earned it!
  • Mile 44 won the best aid station award: boiled potatoes with salt. This was my favorite fuel of the day; hands down.
  • Surprise visit from Claire/my parents during my 2nd wind at mile 46 – she was shocked at how fast I was moving (me too).
  • iPods are NOT allowed in this race for safety purposes. This is great because it forces you to meet/work with others through the low points. A new friend Joe and I attacked the short telephone poles together at mile 47 – when I saw him at the end he found me and gave me a huge hug – band of brothers…
  • Mentally, you really go to some dark places. My mental state was strong and was really able to accept the voices and push them aside.
  • The Appalachian mountains are beautiful. I can’t believe I never explored these growing up, given it was only an hour from my house.
  • Still have not completely conquered the chafing monster. More trial/error research is required. DZNUTS worked well both pre/post race.
  • Sprint finish uphill – well, maybe “sprint” is being used too loosely, but it felt faster than 10:00, which after 49 miles is quite something.
  • GPS clocked 51 miles. Well known to be inaccurate although I haven’t quite calculated where it went wrong exactly.
  • Stubbed my toe on the canal and I got a cramp in my chest; very strange place to get a cramp.
  • Right biceps extremely sore. This is likely due to the water bottle on my right side. Think it makes sense to either have 2 bottles or switch side next time.
  • 100 mile races are beyond my ability to comprehend at this point. Claire was sure to remind me after crossing the finish line (in an attempt to discourage any thoughts of running a 100 miler next) that all that pain I was feeling – that was just HALFWAY. One thing I know for sure is that there is probably an exponential effect to the amount of training required (I’d wager > 3x what I did to prepare for this race).
  • The wife kept calling me “el jefe” on the canals – this will no doubt be a short lived moniker…
  • Garmin details (JFK): http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/638753213
  • Reference Documents: Unspoken Rules of Being a Badass: http://runitfast.com/2014/09/16/the-unspoken-rules-of-being-a-badass/

I ran my 7th marathon this past Sunday at the 39th Marine Corps Marathon. With an official time of 3:52:44, it certainly wasn’t my fastest – but it also wasn’t my slowest! That award still goes to Boston 2014.

We were up bright and early as usual for an early pre-race breakfast of oatmeal with banana before catching the metro to Pentagon station. I put a couple temporary tattoos on – on one arm, a heart that said “never never never give up” and a colorful cupcake on the other. Fitting for me, I thought!

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This race is called “the people’s marathon” and now I think I understand why. Yes it’s a race and yes there are winners and runners caring about times as with any road race, but it had a very different feel compared to every other marathon I have run.

First, there was no elite field. I saw all the front runners fly past me during the first out and back section and I spotted one well-known runner (Michael Wardian), but most of the big names weren’t there, likely because they are running NYC this weekend. But also because the focus clearly was on us normal folk!

Second, it’s put on by the marines. They are out there lining the course, manning the water and aid stations, running with you, encouraging you up that brutal hill to the finish line, congratulating you, placing medals around your neck, and giving you neatly boxed post race goodies and bags to put everything in (finally – a bag – that’s always the thing that you need at the finish that no race gives you, so you are left trying to carry an armful of food items and bottles as you stagger down the never ending finisher chute). Oh yeah – and parachuting into the start! What a spectacle – clear skies, with dozens of people in the air. A very inspiring way to start the race!

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Lastly, there were no corrals. I am so used to big races that require you get into specific corrals by a certain time. It was a completely different type of start. We were on a large road near the Pentagon (where we would run again much later right before the finish), with signs on the side of the road posting expected finish times that were meant to guide you in placing yourself in a general area where you felt you should be. Left up to the people! It meant E and I got to hang out together until right before the 7:55 start. I put myself in the 3:20-3:39 area given I was originally aiming for 3:39, although clearly people weren’t following these signs very closely. I started out pretty slow and still had to pass a very large number of people.

The course was much tougher than I expected, hence my slower than planned time. This was mostly due to the sun (though there were some lovely long shaded stretches in the beginning) as well as the wind, which was quite fierce at times, especially on the never-ending bridges. Also, I wasn’t mentally prepared for all the hills. Sure it was no Boston or NYC, but it was NOT a flat course. I knew there were some hills in the first few miles but I thought they’d help me keep the pace nice and easy – they were actually quite steep and exhausting. They made me realize that I really needed to be aiming for a 3:45 pace and speed up later on as able (turns out, I was not able). There were some nice downhills in return and some very long flat stretches in the middle miles, but that was of course when the sun and wind came in.

E and I stumbled across this amazing video the night before the race. Don’t embarrass yourself” in front of the marines and “pain reminds you you’re alive” definitely crossed my mind many times!

I tried my best to pace conservatively and keep myself feeling well enough that I could appreciate and “enjoy” the run. Despite these efforts, I still felt pretty crummy – my shoes ended up not working out (so long, Saucony!), and I could hardly stomach my last three Powergels, even though I had practiced with them.

As you would expect from the marines, everything was extremely well organized. Sure, I had a few criticisms, such as the very long walk to the runner’s festival from the metro station in the dark (well over a mile plus another walk to the start), although maybe that was purposeful. It did kind of feel like a march. And I was shocked by how infrequent water stations were – every 2-3M (3M apart miles 10.5-16.5)?! Especially on such a warm day. But overall, the marines did a great job, and I can understand why it’s such a popular race. The course is beautiful, including major DC sites and many lovely parks, the spectators are very supportive, and there’s plenty of inspiration all along the way between the signs you see and the runners around you with pictures of lost loved ones.

Perhaps on a cooler day the infrequent water stops wouldn’t have mattered quite so much but given the warm temps this was challenging for me. I normally carry my small amphipod to save time in crowded early water stations and chuck it when the water runs out. However, in this race, it was so warm and the water stations so spread out that I made a game time decision to stop at all water stations, sip the bottle only between them and then refill my bottle whenever it was empty so I could continue this. I refilled it four times, which slowed me down but I realized I needed to keep sipping to stay hydrated. I also became good at unscrewing the top and dumping two cups of water into my bottle (the stations were quite long) while continuing to run.

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Thankfully, I had my own personal cheer team (E’s parents) spectating at miles 11, 15 and 17, and E’s cousin at mile 19, to help keep me going and take some great action shots. E’s cousin gave me water and ran with me briefly as I told him I was having a really tough race. That’s when he told me E was “just five minutes behind” me, which lit a fire under my feet. I couldn’t let him beat me! That didn’t last long as just up ahead was the infamous 14th st bridge (aka “beat the bridge”). I was convinced E was still on pace and almost stopped a few times to wait for him, thinking we may as well run together, but I realized that meant more time until I reached the finish, so I scrapped that idea. Besides, I half expected him to tap me on the shoulder and pass me!

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Good news for me, that didn’t end up happening (haha!). Turns out we were both right on pace (E for sub 4, me for 3:45) up until 30k – that damn never-ending bridge – that’s where we both lost it! You can see it on my splits above. I finally spotted E a few miles later, in one of the last out and back sections of the course. It was a nice lift for us both!

After that, I realized I had no choice but to put my head down and grind it out. I started to repeat to myself, “Relax. Breathe. Focus.” It helped compartmentalize all the pain and discomfort, so that I could bring my attention to simply moving forward. One mile at a time. Once I regained my focus and motivation, running began to feel a little easier and my pace began to pick up back to sub-9. I reminded myself that I didn’t have anything to prove to myself, but I was happy to finally be regaining some of the fight that I normally have inside of me, propelling me to the finish.

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The infamous hill at the very end was brutal – a big sign on the ground said “marine up” as I faced the last climb, and so I did. I conquered that hill, I sprinted to the finish, and I relished my accomplishment as a marine flashed a big smile at me and hung an incredible, huge medal around my neck. Not my strongest race – but still something to be proud of nonetheless. Who knows how much longer my body will let me run for so many hours – I’m grateful for every opportunity I get.

Surprisingly, I still placed quite well: 2,617 of 19,661 total finishers, 623 of 8,578 female finishers, and 145th in my division. I guess I wasn’t the only one who had a tough race! Check out my Garmin results here.

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The walk to the family meet up area to meet E’s parents was LONG and painful. By the time I made it though, I was starting to feel better and could feel the runner’s high really set in. E turned up shortly thereafter and we hung out in the sunshine while exchanging race experiences. Neither of us had the race we wanted, but we were still all smiles. It was nice to do a race “together” again – to share all those emotions and physical highs and lows that accompany the marathon.

The line to get into the metro was very long, but it moved quickly. We both regained our appetite faster than usual and ended up at a Chipotle for steak burritos and Baskin Robbins for ice cream on our way home, rather than hold our for a nicer, big marathon dinner. I’m slightly ashamed that I wasted my post race meal on fast food, but I have to say, it tasted pretty good!

Recovery has been going well this week. I’ve been indulging in my favorite treats as usual (more ice cream, basically) and my calf is finally starting to feel a bit better. Using the podium legs (essentially mechanical compression pants) definitely helped – Physical Equilibrium, the company I coach for, was nice enough to let me borrow them for an evening! Three days off and the soreness is mostly gone. I enjoyed a lovely 4 easy miles along the river this morning and will join E on his longer run on Saturday (though probably won’t do more than 8-10M). I am very much looking forward to spectating the NYC marathon this weekend too!

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I somehow don’t have any races in my calendar – for 2014 or 2015! I don’t think I will be running a big Spring race, but I’ll at least try to run some half marathons and smaller races. E has the JFK50 coming up later in November (hence why he has to resume long runs this wknd). I’m psyched to see him run his first 50 miler and have no doubt that he will inspire me to sign up for a new challenge myself.

I love the Oakley Mini 10k – definitely one of my favorite NYRR races! This was my third time running it with one of my friends and I was excited to be back and experience once again everything the mini has to offer. However, I couldn’t help but feel a bit apprehensive last night when I picked up the following bib number on a very rainy Friday the 13th:

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I mean, really NYRR? You couldn’t have skipped that number?! 🙂

Thankfully, despite my ominous number, I had a great race today. Was it fast? No. I came in at 47:08, which makes this year my slowest yet (compared to 46:47 last year, and 45:58 the year before…wait a minute, I don’t like this trend!). But it was my first all out racing effort in a loooong time – without ANY hamstring pain I should add – and it was super fun!

As I wrote in my first mini race recap in 2012, the mini is inspiring and unique in so many ways. NYRR always gets an amazing elite field, which this year included Desi Linden back again plus Deena Kastor, Molly Huddle (who won and broke the 30-year standing national all-women’s 10k record by 1 second), Lauren Fleshman and many others. It’s the only race that I get to be right up front – able to actually see all those incredible women start the race – which is very cool. The pre-race speeches are awesome (especially since I get to be right next to the stage for once) – today, Mary Wittenberg got the crowd revved up as usual, Katherine Switzer (along with the other female founder of the race) got up on stage to share the history of the race since it started in 1972, which I always like to hear because I certainly cannot imagine a time without women running! Desi gave a quick speech as did one of the Boston survivors, who said some very moving words about the space between where you are and where you want to be. It was a great start to the morning!

It’s also a very useful training tool for me, as I’m usually in between training cycles (i.e. post Spring marathon, usually climbing out of my gluttonous lazy phase), and thus is a great barometer of where I stand as I begin to prepare for late summer (NYC triathlon) and fall racing (Bronx 10 and Marine Corps Marathon). Two years ago – the last time I was able to really race – it told me I was in good shape for the start of my Chicago training and sure enough, I went on to BQ.

Lastly, the mini is a fun opportunity to catch up with my friend and this year – unexpectedly – race with her! I’m usually faster but this year she’s been getting one PR after another and I apparently am getting slower, so the gap is closing! She took off at the start and normally I would let her go and catch her later, since I tend to start out slower and gradually speed up (at least this works great in longer distances), but today I decided that I couldn’t let her out of my sight. My legs were feeling pretty heavy and I knew I needed a little competition to spur me on! So it was interesting for once to take off and try to hold on. Not my usual strategy but for a shorter race I guess it’s not a bad one.

I finally caught her around mile 1 and told her, “You’re really giving me a run for my money!” From that point onwards, we ended up running within a few steps of each other. I could hardly keep up with her at times and I was pushing HARD. I hadn’t raced like that in a very long time – it was uncomfortable, and at times horrible, but also wonderful to get in touch with that feeling of hard work and that good (i.e. non injured) pain that goes along with it.

I looked at my watch during the first couple of miles but then didn’t bother. I was just trying to hang on and continue to carefully toe that line of racing but not blowing up. Around mile 5, I could tell she was struggling (I was too) and so I gave her some words of encouragement about how well she was doing. She said she didn’t think she was doing that great – so I told her, “Well, you have one mile to change that! Don’t let me beat you!” That seemed to get her going – and sure enough she got a PR. That last mile was brutal. She got ahead and I managed to pour every ounce of energy I had left into one final sprint so that we crossed the line at the same time. We both nearly fell over when we finished. I had no idea what time we got but thought surely that at that effort we must have finished in 45 something. Nope – 47:08! I couldn’t believe it. But I was happy. What a great combination of camaraderie and competition.

So this year, the mini revealed that I have a LOT of work to do before my next race on Aug 3. We’re defending champs of the women’s NYC triathlon relay and I can’t let my team down! It was warm and humid out, and I hadn’t rested much during the week (silly me, deciding to start strength training again a couple days before), so I’m sure that’s part of it. But mostly I just need to get back to the gym, hit the track more regularly, and get rid of those extra pounds I’m carrying. Time to get to work! I’ve started to keep a food journal just to get back into more mindful eating. It’s VERY time consuming (even with myfitnesspal), and I’m proud of myself for sticking with it for 6 days in a row. It’s really increased my awareness of my eating patterns and how I can make some positive changes to optimally fuel my body and help get myself back into racing shape.

As in previous years, I couldn’t leave the post-race festival without getting my medal signed. This time, I got Desi’s signature (as before) as well as Deena’s and Lauren’s, and got to chat with all of them about how they ran, upcoming races etc. Definitely a wonderful experience!

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I made a killer whole wheat pizza packed with veggies as well as some chicken sausage and cheese for my post race meal. YUM. E had just gotten back from a 50 mile bike ride so we both happily stuffed our faces. Here’s the pizza before I popped it in the oven. I love Trader Joe’s dough!

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And now back to the books. I stupidly left some substantial projects for my Sports Nutrition class to the last minute (these summer courses really fly by) and thus tomorrow I’ll be in the library all day rather than enjoying the beautiful weather. I dream that someday I will be done with this program!! The good news is that I finished my clinical rotations last week and only have about 8 more weeks to go before I finish my Dietetic Internship and can take my RD exam. I won’t be truly finished until May 2015, but still…light at the end of the tunnel!

 

Now that you’ve read about E’s recent racing triumphs (which continue to blow me away – a half marathon PR two weeks after his first 50k?!), I suppose it’s time I share what I’ve been up to since Boston. I too ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon this past weekend. No PR for me – that wasn’t the goal – but I had an amazing time, which certainly was part of the goal! It was a great experience pacing E two years ago, but I really enjoyed running for myself this year.

The Brooklyn Half has really changed since 2012. The expo two years ago wasn’t memorable at all, while this year’s expo – or shall I say pre-party, as NYRR aptly called it – certainly was unique! It was a trek getting there, but with beautiful views it felt like an “urban hike” and was worth the effort. Definitely the hippest expo I’ve ever been to, with local food trucks/stands, a bar, DJ/live music, graffiti artists customizing racing shirts (also sporting a cooler design this year), a barber shop (?), coffee bar (with excellent baristas and coffee, of course), and prominently displayed Brooklyn Half hashtags (obviously), all overlooking Manhattan. A great celebration of Brooklyn before taking to the streets!

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The race is a LOT bigger now than it was in 2012, with over 25,000 finishers compared to around 14,000. And I thought it was crowded back then! The course essentially is a Brooklyn version of the NYC Half, with 7M of rolling hills in Prospect park followed by a flat and fast stretch on Ocean Ave towards the beach (sure beats finishing in downtown Manhattan). It was VERY crowded in the park, and I found it frustrating at times to navigate around everyone particularly at water stations (next time I’ll carry my own small bottle so I can save time), but once we left the park the roads opened up and it was easier to get into a groove. The boardwalk finish was beautiful but I echo E – not fun to sprint on. I was gunning it towards the finish once I saw the 400m sign but then hit a wall of runners on the tiny ramp onto the last stretch, and it was tough to regain my speed on the sandy, slippery surface of the boardwalk. I guess that’s the price to pay for the scenery!

I had a fantastic race, which was a pleasant surprise. I’ve been recovering fairly well post-Boston but lately my legs have felt unusually fatigued. I spend a lot of time on my feet each day and things have continued to be so busy on the school & internship front that I haven’t been able to prioritze my training nor my recovery/sleep for that matter (working on that). I’m in the middle of my 3-week Staff Relief rotation, which is the culmination of my clinical rotations that started in late January. I essentially cover for other RDs and thus am treated more like an entry level dietitian than a dietetic intern, which means that my preceptors push me to see an increasing number of patients in the same amount of time over the course of three weeks. The goal is to reach 10 – I am currently at 7 up from 4 – which may not sound like a lot but believe me, 7 feels hard right now. This push along with less hand holding is exactly what I need and I welcome the challenge, but it has been mentally and physically taxing. I’ve been getting home from the hospital feeling utterly exhausted, body aching. Going for an evening run at that point is the last thing I want to (or have time to) do, but I’ve managed to get out there and squeeze in some miles a few times a week, which usually makes me feel better (emotionally, at least).

I felt pretty miserable when I woke up at 3:45am to make and eat breakfast on race morning, but that changed to excitement once we got to the start. I was aiming to enjoy the race and get a good workout in; if I felt up for it, I planned to run around marathon effort in the park and then gradually speed up towards the finish. Turned out I felt quite strong! I still refrained from going full-out, sticking with a cautious just below marathon pace effort in the park, but when I still felt good at mile 7, I started to pick up the pace and was able to stay around my usual half marathon range. Only in the last mile did my hamstrings start to ache slightly, but otherwise I was extremely comfortable. The weather was awesome which helped – warm but not too hot (there was shade on a large part of the course too) with a lovely but not overpowering breeze. Made the insanely early morning start worthwhile, as the temps began to rise shortly after our finish!

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I ended up finishing in 1:42:03 (Garmin details here), which funny enough is only less than a minute slower than my NYC Half time with far less effort exerted and certainly less prep work done. The atmosphere at Coney Island was amazing. I found E shortly after I finished – since he finished only FOUR MINUTES after me (he’s catching up!!!!!) – and we headed to the post-race party at the stadium for a nap in the sunshine on our space blankets. It was glorious (SO much better than the way too crowded boardwalk two years ago) – with live music, food, great people watching, perfect blue skies…too early for beer but I had a nice buzz going from my runner’s high. Wasn’t too early for ice-cream though, which we got on the way to the subway!

We just barely squeezed ourself onto the Q train back to Manhattan. I felt bad for the non-runners on that train, pressed up against all of us who had just raced. The mixture of smells was extremely unpleasant and I was contributing to it, so I can only imagine how they felt! The fatigue began to set in by the end of that hour-long standing journey. A nice hot shower and crashing on the couch when we got home felt like heaven!

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I managed to make these quinoa pecan muffins (via NY Times recipes for health, pictured on the left) in the afternoon, which I hadn’t made for years. Super tasty, not too sweet and very wholesome! They make a great pre/post run snack, packed with protein, whole grains and healthy fats. We put a touch of jam or honey on ours to make it a bit sweeter, but on its own it would go great with a savory meal. I had some leftover quinoa and quinoa flour so I tried out another version today – this time adding ripe mashed banana, substituting almond milk for skim milk (which I add 1 tsp lemon juice to make “buttermilk”), and coconut oil for canola oil. Definitely preferred version number 2 (pictured on the right) – extremely moist and a touch sweeter from the banana! I ran out of pecans otherwise would have added them. The black specks btw are from the tricolor quinoa I used (ran out of normal). These freeze very well so I popped a bunch into the freezer for quick snacks in the coming weeks!

So another great Brooklyn half in the books – and the verdict is, it’s even better than it was in 2012.  I highly recommend this race and look forward to running it again next year!

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Readytorace Prerace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile20 Out on the course

RunningtoE4 Mile25 Tothefinish2

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

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

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

Boston Marathon 2013  photo.PNG

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

Tough race! P1100456 P1100465 P1100463 P1100460 Finish line1

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

Park1 Park2

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

ice cream2 Post-race dinner

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

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

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

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

Finish line 5

Marathon weekend and Spring weather (hopefully lasting this time) have finally arrived and I think all runners regardless of what event they’re working towards deserve a HUGE pat on the pack for getting through this particularly tough training cycle. For me, as I’ve blogged about previously, it’s been challenging not only because of the crazy weather, but also the Dietetic Internship, which really ramped up in intensity this past month. My taper has unfortunately been accompanied by several weeks of sleep deprivation ending with a bad stomach bug this past week, nevertheless I’m grateful I was able to complete all my long runs without any major injuries and am now here in Boston ready to tackle this historic course for a second time. My stomach is still a bit queasy here and there, but that could just be the carbo-loading!

Official jacket Last NYC run Entering Hopkinton

It felt a little weird to be back in Boston at first, perhaps because we were on the same exact schedule as last year, which brought back a flood of mixed emotions and chaotic memories. E and I drove up from NYC and arrived around 2:30pm yesterday, spent a couple hours at the expo (sadly we missed all the big names this year), paid a visit to the finish line, took a bunch of photos, and then got settled in where we are staying. I opted to wear last year’s official jacket, even though I caved last week and bought a few items from the 2014 line (pictured above) – that jacket is just SO bright.

As I wandered around, it occurred to me how much things have changed since I last ran Boston, both for me – now married and nearly finished with my internship (last year I had just found out I had not matched, which was very upsetting) – and for the race too. That underlying somber element was of course still present, however, with the sun shining and thousands of people in Red Sox and Boston Marathon gear hitting the streets, I felt mostly positivity and solidarity around me. This was clear from the goodies in my race bag and the banners hanging at the expo to the excited smiles of pretty much every person I encountered. When I visited the finish line, I felt even more grateful than I did last year to have the opportunity to support and celebrate this race. It’s bound to be a good one!

Boston Expo Number pickup Expo goodies

I’ve included above some photos from the expo and below, a few at the finish line (including one of the bombing sites – huge lines to get into the running store). I really love the finisher shirt this year (especially the “Boston as One” with the unicorn logo on the back), my new orange headband (my one purchase of the day), and the little race bag packet including a 26.2 sticker, temporary heart tattoo (which I’ll wear on my arm tomorrow) and a bracelet with a lovely message. It was a really nice touch. Good job BAA!

Finish line 3 Boming site Finish line 2

Finish line 4 Finish line 1

I honestly have no idea how tomorrow will go. I am not fighting off injury as I was last year, but I also am less fit and not as well rested. I’m guessing I may be around 3:40-3:45ish, depending on how hard I feel like pushing myself (my slowest marathon time is 3:41:52, to give some context). Either way, I am trying something different tomorrow that I’ve been meaning to do for awhile. I will not be using a pace band, and I will also be covering up my Garmin (I still want to track the run but want to prevent myself from checking my splits) so I can attempt to run “by feel.” I know I’m not going to beat my hard effort from last year (3:36), but I’ve always been curious to see how I would run if I really listened to my body. It will be unsettling and will take a lot of discipline and trust in myself, but I’m excited to try it out. Even if I end up running a more relaxed race and don’t push myself very hard, I’m very interested to see what my splits will look like. I’m generally a pretty steady runner but maybe it’ll help even more – or not.

Race day is predicted to get up to 68 degrees, which is a tad warm for my taste. I’ve run every marathon in my compression tights thus far but last year I regretted that decision within a few miles of the start, so it’s time to finally try out 26.2 miles in shorts. I love my Lululemon shorts and have run many long runs in them over the summer, but my body has changed since then and I haven’t worn them for more than 9M recently…so I’ll have to slap on a ton of body glide on my thighs and hope for the best!

Here are a few more photos from the weekend, including my friend’s adorable puppy, all my gear ready to go and me this afternoon after my last pre-race run!

Carbo loading with Tessa gear check shakeout run

It’s already late afternoon and I have a pile of work to do for my program, but hopefully I can relax a bit tonight too because mentally, I’m feeling pretty worn out. I also have a really early morning tomorrow despite my 10:25am start (wave 2). Like last year, my friend is driving us out to Hopkinton (where we hang out at another friend’s house until closer to race time), and the roads close a bit earlier this year due to heightened security. We’ll probably also have to do a bit more walking to get to the athletes village, but that’s ok. My parents aren’t here this year (they are taking a break after last year) but I’m excited to see E at mile 25 near the Citgo sign, where he cheered for me last year too. I also will have a few other supporters along the course, and have no doubt the crowds will be even louder than usual. I certainly will be needing the encouragement!

Lastly, E and I found out that we got into the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I can’t say I’m psyched for NYC summer training, but I do love fall marathon running and am looking forward to running a new marathon with E, especially one near his hometown. It also means I have another racing opportunity coming up should I want one, which takes even more pressure off my performance tomorrow.

Good luck to everyone running tomorrow! I’m excited to get out there and experience what I can only imagine will be an incredibly unique race.

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

Big bowl of healthy and mostly plant-based goodness after some mid-day strength training! Chopped kale (massaged with miso lemon vinaigrette), spinach, leftover roasted spiced cauliflower, sliced almonds, hemp seeds, black beans, feta & golden raisins. Don’t forget to register for tonight’s NYC Marathon event at @finishlinept tonight (link in bio), where I will be answering all of your nutrition questions! Having a plank off with the babe! 😂 #gameface #Repost @wellseek (@get_repost)
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Quality fuel means quality runs. 🙌🏃
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From micros to macros, it's important for endurance runners to cover all of your essential fueling needs. Let’s break down what’s needed and where to get it from with @eatforendurance #linkinbio #ExpertsWhoSeek Fueling an active morning (heading to the @crunchfitnesss #crunchgoespink event shortly) with this tasty, balanced breakfast! Ricotta and homemade blueberry compote (thanks leftover baby food!) and almond butter and banana on @shewolfbakery bread from the farmer's market. 👌🏻 This may not be much to look at, but was seriously tasty!! Sautéed two portobello mushrooms in olive oil and white miso paste (added an awesome flavor) and added a fried egg and a dollop of whole milk ricotta. Happy Friday! Who's running the @nycmarathon? @finishlinept is hosting a great event (register at link in bio), and I'll be on a panel of experts to answer all of your burning nutrition questions!

Join Finish Line Physical Therapy and Tailwind Endurance on Monday, October 23, as we welcome a panel of experts to discuss the ins, outs and secrets to success at the New York City Marathon. If you’re racing, you won’t want to miss this!

We’re assuming you’ve already gotten great advice from a coach about marathon training (“nothing new on race day,” right?). Now you need all of the inside-scoop, nitty-gritty details to have your best race at the New York City Marathon – and we’re here to give it to you! Join us for what promises to be a great night of discussion and insider knowledge on race weekend, event logistics and the race course.​

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