So….Now What?

Well, hello there.  It’s been a while.

I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I spent mine eating and shopping and drinking in Chicago with my family.  It was glorious.

You know what else was nice? Not running. Not once. My body needed the time to heal, and honestly, so did my mind.  As it turns out, the marathon really did a number on me, in more ways than one.  But feasting with your family is a great way to recuperate from such an event. I must say, the Philly marathon was very well timed with Thankgiving coming directly in the recovery period.

Oh hayyy, marathon photo. Do I look in pain? Yeah I was. (Also: this photo is totally not stolen. Not at all.)

There was a time when I was tempted to run on the lakefront, especially becuase I enjoyed my run there so much last time, but I wanted to a break from running to the point where I missed it.

I got back to New York on Sunday and decided to test out my legs a little.  I ended up going to the gym and cheating by running on the treadmill.  I covered only about 4 miles, and though I could still feel the marathon, it felt pretty good.

And this morning, I actually ventured back into Central Park.  I left my Garmin at home and just ran based on how I felt, so I think I covered about 4.5 or 5 miles.  I was certainly not in top shape, but it felt really good to be out there.

So now that I am (pretty much) fully recovered, what’s next?

I have no idea.

In many ways, I am excited that I don’t have a race on the agenda.  It will give me the chance to switch up my workouts a little more and get back to spinning and strength training and all that good stuff that I completely neglected the past few months.

But also, I really don’t like not having a plan.  It is much easier to get up and train every day when there is a goal in mind.

So, I am on the lookout for my next race.  It will not be a marathon.  One thing I know I want to work on is speed, because the marathon slowed me down.  A lot.

I do know, however, that there will be another marathon in my future.  I don’t know when it will be, and I know it won’t be soon, but I will finish 26.2 again at some point.

The official evidence that I did, in fact, finish a marathon.

And hopefully during that race, I do not start puking at mile 14.

2011 Philadelphia Marathon Race Recap

Well, it didn’t go as planned.  Not even close.  But I did it.  I finished a marathon.

This is a very long recap, so get ready.

I headed to Philadelphia on Saturday morning with 5 of my awesome friends who were coming down from New York to support me. We met up with our friend Kate, who lives in Philadelphia, and headed to get some cheesesteaks and see the sights.

A little while later my parents got to Philly and we headed to the race expo.  And let me tell you, this expo was out of control.  It was HUGE and packed full of people.  I got my race bib and other materials but honestly couldn’t even look around long because it was so crazy.

YAY Marathon

We all went to an early dinner full of Italian deliciousness.  I headed back to the hotel with my parents and was in bed before 9:30pm.  I had an OK night of sleep, waking up a few times, but when my alarm went off at 5am I felt pretty rested.

I had brought my breakfast of a bagel and peanut butter from New York. I didn’t feel like eating when I woke up because I felt a little off, but I knew this was an non-negotiable, so I managed to eat half a bagel with PB.  I tried my best to just ignore whatever weirdness I was feeling in the hopes that would make me better, because that usually works, and I headed for the race start with my dad.

The energy walking to the start line was so incredible.  The city was packed full of thousands of runners and supporters at 6am, who were all headed to the same place.

It was also amazingly warm for so late in November.  I wore capris and a short sleeve shirt and was warm the whole race. I ended up keeping some cheap gloves on before the start and ditched them about half a mile in. I had also brought a sweatshirt to throw away, but as I lined up in the corral I didn’t even need it so I handed it to my dad (so yes, that beautiful sweatshirt is still in my possession).

I was also debating bringing my Nathan’s water bottle, but at the last minute I decided to just hand that off to my dad as well, figuring I would be covered just fine with the water stops.  Looking back, this may be the decision I regret more than any others.

Nonetheless, we finally started the race and I was feeling great. Whatever funk I was in had subsided, and the energy of the race was awesome.

I saw my parents in the first mile and then my friends at about a mile and a half.  I actually had to shout to them or they would have missed me (this may or may not have been related to $12 handle of vodka they drank they night before).

The first couple miles of the course were through downtown Philly, and they were beautiful. There were tons of crowds and we got to see some awesome scenery, even though there were a few sharp turns.

We hit a pretty big hill around mile 9, but I was still feeling great.  I had managed to keep on my steady pace of 10 minute miles and wasn’t feeling fatigued.  I took my first Gu at mile 5.5 and took another around 9.5.

The runners all looped back together before splitting – the half marathoners headed to their finish line and the full marathoners headed to complete the big out-and-back to Manayunk.  I saw my parents once again at mile 13, where I was still on pace.

I know it looks like I am walking, but I was actually still running at this point.

And then, I hit mile 14 and things took a turn for the worse.  Much, much worse.

We were headed out along the Schuylkill river and I had taken a rather large gulp of Gatorade at a water stop around 13.5.  I don’t know what happened exactly, but it just didn’t sit right.  The water stops were a little sporadic and I hadn’t been planning very carefully, so when we hit this stop I took too much.

I sprinted for the side of the road and vomited.  Not much came out, except the liquids I had been having, but it really messed with my head.  A few runners asked if I was ok, and I honestly didn’t know.  Suddenly my mind started thinking I had to quit.  If I was already puking, how was I supposed to get through 12 more miles?

But I knew that quitting wasn’t an option. It just wasn’t.  If I had to crawl there, I was going to get to the finish line.  The next 12 miles were the hardest miles, mentally and physically, of my life.

I had to alternate between running, running very slowly, and walking, depending on how my stomach felt.  I would give myself a pep talk every mile to just get through the next one, or to just get to the next water stop.  Every time I ran too fast my stomach freaked out and I would have to stop.

I have never, ever, dealt with a situation like this on a run.  My stomach is usually pretty tough, so I was shocked that it flipped so suddenly.  I don’t know if it had something to do with the way I had been feeling earlier or not, but whatever the reason, it was ugly.  It was the worst thing I have ever been through, because I felt like I was held back by my own body.  This was my first marathon, and I had messed up my own hydration to the point that I was questioning my ability to run.

I decided to just abandon any attempts to take more Gus, and since Gatorade was making my stomach upset I gave up on it also.  I ended up puking a little more in a port-o-john around mile 19.  But I did manage to get some more water down after this and felt a little better, even though I still had a long way to go.  I texted my mom and my friends about my situation to warn them not expect me any time soon.

Not long after this we reached the turn around point, which gave me a good boost.  I still had to talk myself through every mile, and I had to go very slowly to keep my body under control, but I knew I was making progress.

Finally, finally, after more excruciating miles, I saw the marker for 25.  A finish line has never felt so close and so far away at the same time.  But I just told myself to keep going.  I didn’t care if I had to puke again or if I felt like I was going to collapse; I had to get there.

I saw my friends again, and this time they all had signs and were screaming for me.  I wanted to stop and talk to them, but I knew stopping wasn’t a good idea. I also knew I would start crying and I wanted to be able to breathe for the final mile.

I kept going and finally saw the finish line ahead.  My eyes immediately welled up with tears, but I held it together and pushed with everything to finish this race.  I almost couldn’t believe it when I finally crossed the finish line – I had done it.  I finished the marathon.

Don't be fooled by the smile.

A volunteer gave me a thermal heat blanket and a bottle of water, and then I received my finisher medal.  I looked down at it and thought that I had never worked harder for anything in my life.

I saw my mom almost right after the finish (she had also cheered me on from about mile 25.5 and then followed me to the finish) and couldn’t hold back tears any more.  She told me she was so proud of me and couldn’t believe I finished, as I tearily told her everything that had happened and how difficult it was.

I tried to drink some water as we found my dad, and I naturally cried more as he hugged me.

Again, I did not really feel like smiling at this point.

I tried to pull myself together, but I saw my friends a few minutes later, and couldn’t hold back even more tears.

My final finish time clocked in right above 5 hours.  This was nowhere near my goal.  I can’t help but be disappointed.  I take full responsibility for messing up my hydration and for not preparing better for this, and I also know that I had a better race in me.  It’s so frustrating that this happened, after all these months of training.  As I have said before, though, sometimes you take a big gamble on one day and sometimes things don’t go as planned.

But I am also very, very proud of myself for finishing.  I wanted to stop at mile 14, but I had to get through 12.2 more miles.  It took everything in me to do it.  I have never experienced something more mentally challenging than those final miles.  Regardless of my time goals and the disappointment I felt with the number on the clock, I still managed to finish a marathon.  Not many people can say that.

They were nice enough to pose with me even though I was gross and sweaty.

I hobbled back to my hotel to clean up before going to brunch with my family and friends.  My mom helped me pack up my stuff as I tried my best to shower and pull myself together.  I kept feeling like I was either going to pass out or vomit, but I finally drank some chocolate milk which helped a lot. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I tried my best to eat a little.

We said goodbye to my family and to Kate and caught the bus back to New York, during which everyone fell asleep.  I spent the majority of my time of the bus (when not sleeping) going over every decision I made and trying to figure out what I could have done better.

That is a whole different issue, and instead of dwelling on that I am just going to remember that I was able to finish a marathon after puking twice and without any hydration aside from a little bit of water.  If I learned anything this weekend, it was how much determination I have. Last week I wanted the marathon to arrive just so I could finally find out what I am capable of, and I sure learned a lot about that.

Today I am tired and sore, emotionally and mentally and physically.  The stairs to my walk-up apartment have never been more of a problem than they are today, and I have still been getting emotional when people ask me how it went.

But I have a finisher medal from a marathon, and nothing will change that.

Do I look exhausted? Delirious? Crazy-eyed? That's because I was all 3.

I can also say this with absolute certainty: I never would have gotten through yesterday without the support of my family and friends.  I am so grateful for all the encouraging texts and calls that I got before and after the race.  And I am incredibly lucky to have a group of friends that will take a whole weekend to travel to a different city and cheer me on at a race that lasts for hours, even though I was only in sight for about 30 seconds.  And I am very very blessed to have parents that will get me a hotel room, and take me and my friends out for dinner, and most importantly support me unconditionally no matter what distance I run.

And I am amazed that all these people hugged me yesterday at the finish line, when I was covered in sweat, blood, tears, and probably puke.

Marathon Goals

I have been very clear from the beginning of this whole thing that my only goal it to cross the finish line in one piece.  And that is true.  I have done everything for this race on my own, I haven’t been training for all that long, and this will be my first time even running over 20 miles, so my only focus should absolutely be finishing the race.


However.  There is now way I can go into the race without even thinking about my time goals.  Just to be clear, though, they will not be anywhere near fast.

The truth is that it’s hard for me to admit my goals out loud becuase it means that I might not achieve them.  But, alas, here I am.

As far as my pacing goes, though I have done many of my 5-6 mile runs at a sub 9:00 mile pace, all of my long runs were usually over a 10:00 mile pace.  I didn’t worry about going fast for these long runs and just went as slow as I needed to get it done.  Someday I will work on running faster for long distances, but that day will not be Sunday.

Like most people do, I decided to check McMillan’s race calculator.  I ran the NYC Half Marathon in March in 2:04, and according to McMillan, I can therfore run a full marathon in 4:21. Buuuuut I have also heard that McMillan can be a little overly ambitious, so I don’t really know how much I trust that.

This is my tentative plan: run the first 10 miles slowly, run the next 10 miles less slowly, and run the last 6.2 with whatever I got left.  My hope is that I am pushing hard when I cross the finish line, because it will mean that I gave it everything I had. But one of my worst fears is going out so fast that I am struggling to even walk to the finish line. I would love to get as close to 4:00 hours as possible, and maybe even break it at one point in the future, but I also know that I will go out too conservatively to get very close to it.

I think I will start at around a 10 minute mile pace and try to sustain it for as long as possible.  If I can pick it up and go faster, that will be great.  But I might not be able to.  If I do keep the pace, this would put my finish time at right around 4:20 (or 4:21, same as what McMillan thinks).  So anything under 4:30 would make me very happy.

There is a big part of me that wants to be more aggressive and run faster, but this is my first marathon, after all.  It could end up taking me over 5 hours for all I know.  I can’t expect too much.

I was thinking about all of these goals on my run this morning.  It was my final run (unless I go on a short 2 mile run on Saturday, but I don’t know if that will happen), and it was a very easy 3 miles.  As I ran past Engineer’s Gate, I realized how many times I have run in that exact location and how great this whole experience has been.

No matter what happens during the marathon, I am glad to have been able to train these past months and push myself to totally new places.

Here’s the thing about Sunday: I don’t know what the hell is going to happen out there.  My body could refuse to keep moving after 20 miles.  I could have a crappy day. I could have a great day. Which is why, again, my only real goal is to finish.

Because then I will get to say that I ran 26.2 miles.  Twenty six point freaking two miles.

Am I Really Ready For This?

I have recently been getting asked whether or not I feel ready for Sunday. And the answer is: yes and no.  I know for a fact that I will finish the marathon, even if I have to walk/crawl the last 2 miles 5 miles 10 miles.  But I still don’t know if I exactly feel ready for it.   In terms of physical training, I think I have prepared as well as I could have.

As I have mentioned before, I basically did all of the planning and training for this marathon on my own.  I did a lot of online research (aka googling) before deciding how I would train. All of the beginner programs have the same basic principles, so I ended up combining a few and creating one for myself.  It’s not very scientific or even specific, but it worked for me (or at least, so far so good…)

Basically, I ran about 5 days a week.  Tuesdays and Thursdays would  involve some sort of speed/tempo/hill element that I made up, Wednesday would be shorter and easy, Saturdays were long runs and Sunday was for recovery runs.  I also usually went to the gym for weights/cross training on Mondays, but those were often very half-hearted workouts, and I almost always rested on Fridays.  Sometimes I would end up taking an extra rest day on Sunday and running on Monday instead, but I didn’t stray from my normal pattern too many times.  My peak running week got up to 47.25 miles, which is low for many runners but on the higher end of the typical recommendation for a first time marathoner.  I only did a 20 miler once, something I have questioned quite a bit (and would most likely would change in the future), which was 3 weeks before the marathon and right before I started tapering.

Here is my very sophisticated and tech-savvy method of recording workouts:

This is only the last 2 months of training, but I had been building up mileage for a long time before this.  I honestly only started using these calendars to keep a record of the amount I ran.  It was easiest for me to just print out some calendars and map out when I wanted my longest runs and then form everything else around that.  Everything on there was really a general guide and I often didn’t follow my own plan very closely.

Now with all that said, I could have used a lot more time to work on my speed and to build up to the marathon a little more sensibly.  I think the truth is that there is no way I would ever go into my first marathon feeling like I am 100% prepared.  But as I said, I think this was the best I could have done in terms of training my body for a first marathon on my own.

The real question is whether or not I am ready for all the rest of it.  I have no idea how my body will react after 20 miles.  I may hit the wall.  I may get complete jello legs.  I know I will get crazy pains in new places.  I could get a little voice in my head that says I can’t do this.  And unfortunately, that’s the stuff you can’t train for.  You can work on being mentally strong and pushing through obstacles to some extent, but I really don’t think its possible to train for everything you are going to go through during 26.2 miles.

I am still in the process of forming my goals and will talk about them later, but I can tell you that they will be pretty conservative.

So once again, am I really ready for this marathon?  As ready as I will ever be, I think. Now it’s just time to trust myself and go for it.

The Home Stretch

In exactly one week from today, I will be finished running a marathon.  That’s insane.

This whole marathon thing is a really big deal, and I have actually been forcing myself to acknowledge that.  I have this bad habit of downplaying these types of accomplishments. But only when they are happening to me.  I tend to brush off compliments, and I have only recently gotten good at talking about it out loud.

I don’t really know why I do this.  It probably comes from some deep fear of failure, because talking about something out loud means I might mess it up.  But honestly, I also don’t want to think about it too much.  In some ways, ignorance is bliss.  If I am guilty of anything, it can be getting into my own head, so thinking about how the hell I am going to run 26.2 miles may not be the smartest idea.

The point is,  I am really working on acknowledging the huge feat that will occur next week without freaking myself out so much that I won’t be able to do it.  I sound totally sane, right?

So anywayyyyy, as far as physical preparation goes, I am in the home stretch of tapering.  I ran 8 miles yesterday, and this week will only consist of a few short runs before the Big One on Sunday. I ran in Central Park and it was beautiful, but that’s nothing new.  And I completely forgot to take picture.  Again, nothing new.  (In fact, I have been having a hard time uploading pictures in general to wordpress, so this post is really really lacking on that front.  My bad.)

My legs have been tired and stiff recently, but from everything I have heard, that is a good thing.  I will let you know next Monday if that’s true or not.

My main focus this week will be sleeping and stretching and hydrating.  And of course, making important decisions like my race day outfit and how many courses I will be ordering for my post-marathon brunch (currently I am thinking somewhere between 3 and 11).  Yesterday I picked up this little gem for my pre-race throwaway sweatshirt:

I am going to have a hard time letting go of this one.

Why Do I Run?

Yesterday a colleague of mine asked me why I run.  Not why I am training for a marathon, but why I run.  This is a question that most runners ask themselves at some point.  I, like everyone, have lots of reasons for running.

Growing up I ran because I played sports that involved running.  Then in college, I ran (a lot less) to exercise, and many times I resented it or didn’t do it at all.  After college I started running more again, and it has since become a lot more than exercise.

It wasn’t even until post-college that I even considered myself a runner.  I am sure if you asked some of my friends or family they would say I have always been running, which is true, but I didn’t really think of myself as a runner.

Now, however, I do use the word runner to describe myself. There have been times when my mind gets clouded with thoughts of being “too slow” or “not yet a marathoner” to be a real runner, but we all know that’s a load of crap.  Running isn’t defined by those things.  I run in whatever weather I have to face, no matter how early I have to get up, at whatever distance I have planned, because there is no other option.  Obviously a lot of this has to do with the fact that I am training for a marathon, and I don’t know how I will feel when it’s over, but I know I won’t stop running.

And like I said before, I run for lots of reasons. I run because I like the challenge.  I like to accomplish goals.  I like the way I feel when I get home after a run.  I run to stay fit, but now I find that I also stay fit to run. I run to clear my head.  To think about everything.  To think about nothing.

Mainly, though, I run because it’s a very quantifiable way make myself better.  I don’t have a  lot of things figured out at this point in my life. I don’t really know what I want my career to be, I don’t know who I will end up with, I don’t even know where I want to live.  But I know this: If I go out for a run, I can be in complete control of making myself better. I can push myself to run a new distance or to reach a new speed.  While I sometimes feel out of control of other things going on in my life, I know for certain that I can be in charge of running.  I will get better, because I know I will push myself to.

Of course, it’s not always that easy.  There are tons of set backs.  Like this morning, I set out to run 5 miles, which is not very long for me at this point.  Even though I got it done just fine, it was surprisingly hard.  My legs felt like lead, which is most likely due to the taper (I hope), but it was not exactly encouraging.  The park was warm but foggy, making it beautiful and eerie.

Another picture of Central Park? How new and different!!

Setbacks included, I like to have something in my life that I can consistently improve. Although, we will see how things go on November 20th, because I may have a whole new perspective on this running thing.

Wednesday Fail

You know when you are on a conference call, and you write yourself a note as a reminder to make a different call to check the number of something? The number of what, exactly, being the important part of said note? You know when that happens?

Dammit hand, you have failed me again.