Archive for November 2014

Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge Series

Before I touch on the New York City Marathon, I should give a little lovin’ to the Marathon-That-Was(n’t?) After NYC, I had two people congratulate me on my first marathon. The only thing is that it wasn’t my first marathon. That would be the 2014 Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge 26.2.

Bear Mountain North Face Medal

Last year in 2013, my brother ran his first ultramarathon- the Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge Series 50 Miler. I tagged along and ran the 10K, officially putting me back on the running map since my cross country days. It was a great weekend and essentially inspired me to look beyond 6 miles (I could write quite a bit on that actually, so much that I will save it for another post).

So last December, having qualified for the 2014 New York City Marathon, I put together a plan. I would run the Bear Mountain Marathon in May. This would serve two purposes:

1. It would motivate me to continue to keep my miles up in the winter months, so my fitness would not drop off and I would not have to start fall marathon training from scratch.

2. The Bear Mountain Race promised to be a monster, in terms of distance, elevation changes, and trail technicality. If I could bang out 26.2 miles there, not only would I not have “first marathon anxiety,” but the New York City course might seem “easy” in comparison thereby increasing New York City Marathon enjoy-ability.

May 2014- Race Day

The 50 Mile race began at 5:00 am, so my family and I met at the start area to see my brother off. Head lamps are required for the first hour or so, but dawn always starts to peek above the hills by about 5:30 or so.

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We hurried down to the first aid station to catch him. It was only four miles or so for the runners, but since we were trying to maneuver around with several people plus a dog, we ended up missing him.

The rest of my family headed to the parking lot to nap in the car. I curled up in the front seat and managed to get 45 minutes, maybe an hour. Before I knew it, it was 7 o’clock and time to rise and shine (and by “shine”  I mean embark upon an absolute hellscape of a course).

The race started uneventfully enough and we were off.

bear mountain north face marathon

It had rained pretty heavily in the days leading up to the race and as a result the course was drastically different than in 2013. Steep, rocky trails were slick with water and tiny streams still making their way down. The flat stretches, which would usually offer a reprieve from the difficulties of the graded portions were filled with about six inches of thick slopping mud OR several inches of water standing on top that six inches of thick slopping mud.

The first couple miles, several runners and myself instinctively tried to preserve our dry shoes and dashed for a tiny island of dry dirt or bounced from stone to stone across endless mazes of muck.

Other (I’m assuming) wiser and more seasoned endurance runners plugged along straight through every wet, slick, and sloppy obstacle in their course. Later it would occur to me this was quite wise indeed.

I saw my family and the mister at the Anthony Wayne Aid Station #1, located at the 3.9 mile mark.

Anthony Wayne Aid Station

Sometime after leaving this aid station in the thick of the woods at the low point of between steep hills, we passed a runner from the 50 Mile race surrounded by medics. The verdict at that time was he had broken his leg, and according to the medic on a walkie talkie it was “going to take a few hours” to carry him out.” Sure Bear Mountain is less than two hours from New York City, but these trails were legit. Any one of us at any time could have rolled and ankle over one of the loss rocks that littered the trail. Or taken an over eager stride on the down hill. It was the first injury I saw that day, but it wasn’t the last.

From there I continued to the Silvermine Aid Station (8.6 mile mark), where things began to get a little more interesting. At this point, my heel had begun to chafe. (Since I had accidentally run my training shoes raw, I was forced to replace them a week before. I know the “no new things on race day” adage, but I figured it was worth the risk because 1. they were the exact same shoe and model, so hopefully that would offset most of the problems of my foot having to adapt, 2. the old ones were worn down so much they likely caused or contributed to my earlier injury).

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I knew if I could get it wrapped with a little extra something so that the shoe didn’t rub on raw skin, it was earlier enough to not have any real problems going forward. There was a short wait at the medic tent as one woman my age was in the process of dealing with a twisted ankle and the heartbreak of DNF-ing. The medic sent two strips of tape my way, it wasn’t ideal, but I was eager to get moving again so I made do.

I was lucky enough to get to see my family here, which was great, since I wouldn’t see them until I looped back to Anthony Wayne near the 20 mile mark.

I spent the next five or so miles dreaming the of salty snacks I would find at the Arden Valley Aid Station (13.6). You can imagine my disappointment when I got there and they were basically cleared out. Sigh. Next!

Like running to the top of Mount Washington during a marathon.

At this point I am in the thick of the toughest part of the course. I know if I can make it to Mile 18 in a timely fashion, the toughest parts will be behind me and I will finish. But Mile 18 is still a ways off and I’m dealing with a whole new problem: nutrition.

During the race sometime after mile 13, I started getting terrible debilitating quad cramps. I was fueling with shot blocks and water. Looking back I now know that 1. gels work better for me than shot blacks and 2. if I was going to use shot blocks for this race I should have had about double what I did. Also, I hadn’t quite figured out my salty-sweater sodium replacement. So…. not enough fuel and salt = plenty of cramps.

The tape on my ankle was wet and useless at this point (a kind runner offered me some moleskin from his pack, but I passed since we were very close to the aid station). I forget it it was near mile 13 or 18 station, but a wonderful volunteer named Terry sat me down and wrapped my mud-splattered, trail-battered ankle in a fresh ace bandage which held up perfectly for the remainder of the race.

I spent the next several miles looking forward to finally reaching the 18 mile threshold and (hopefully) finding some salt at the next aid station. I chatted with the runner next to me, Greg, whose son was running his first 50 Miler that day. I massaged my quads and committed to walking most all of the up hills and to ignoring any mud and/or water in front of me. Wet feet were obviously unavoidable and zig-zagging was obviously a waste of time and energy.

At the Owl Swamp Aid Station (17.9), we were hurting. Runners, including myself, took their time recouping and fueling and stretching out as much as possible. And then, we began the slog back towards Anthony Wayne.

Overall I was feeling pretty good, but I was absolutely exhausted. I kept thinking of how excited I was to make my way back to the Anthony Wayne station where I knew I would find my family and the mister.

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Finally, we emerged from the woods, and there it was. I remember coming down this hill and literally choking back tears because I was so happy to see my family and the mister. I can not describe how much it meant to not only see these people after hours of puttering around the woods, but to have them there supporting me. I’m very grateful to have such an incredible group of people in my life.

I  touched base with everyone quickly, and then started off.

For about 400 yards. And then I turned around.

I had almost forgotten to fill my empty water bottle. Opps.

The last few miles were pretty brutal. I was running on fumes (ha ha). Greg and I matched paces for the last stretch and we waxed on about the blessings of flat, dry, ground.

We passed under the tell-tale tunnel and rounded the final corner- at last! The Finish was in sight!

Bear mountain marathon finish

I finished in 7:20:04. A little slow in “road marathon” time, but in Bear Mountain time? I was thrilled! My brother, who joked that he was going to finish his 50 Miles before I finished the Marathon (a possibility,) finished about 20 minutes after me. He ran 50 miles in 11:32:25– over two hours faster than the same race in 2013.

bear 2

North Face endurance challenge swag

In the hours, days, and, honestly, months following this race, I hesitated to commit to running this course as a marathon next year. It was tough. I knew it would be tough based on my brother’s reaction when he ran it the first time and I spent months visualizing myself battling the rugged uphills and preparing the expect the fatigue I knew would come.

But today, as I’m writing this, and have another marathon under my belt (an easy-breezy-by-comparison road race), I’m tempted to go beyond the marathon distance.

Tempted and planning.

 

 

Are You a Cat or a Dog Person?

Why choose when you don’t have to?

Presenting: Puppycat!

Or more specifically, Bee and Puppycat, a cartoon series created by Natasha Allegri and made possible through an incredibly successful kickstarter campaign. If this doesn’t qualify as some mighty fine culture, I’m not really sure what does. 

Take ten and check it out!

I still haven’t figured out what exactly puppycat is, but I am certain that I would like more.

I think it’s safe to say puppycat speaks for all of us, because let’s face it- leather jackets are pretty bad-ass.


Part 2: Taper Sadness

For my first Marathon, this past spring, I experienced the Taper Madness for the first time. I had a slight foot injury and was trying to balance a light 3 week taper with not exacerbating my ankle problem. I felt like I was going crazy between tapering, trying to heal, and pre-marathon anxiety. And thus, “Taper Madness “ was born.

Marathon Training

This time around, I had entered into a period that could only be described as “Taper Sadness.”

Since the debacle on Staten Island, I was on a strict fast and furious regiment of…. rest. Rest. Ice. Hobbling. And…. more rest. No running for me whatsoever. Is that even technically a taper? My one goal at this point was to banish the knee pain into oblivion with the hope that I could test it out on a run during the Poland Spring Marathon Kick Off 5K, one week before The Marathon.

For nearly two weeks my knee would ache after merely being on my feet, which was frequently unavoidable since I waitress.

Ice, Ice baby….

I did a light mile jog to pick up my bib on Oct 25th, for the Kick Off. It was not terrible, but it still hurt. I made the decision to forgo the race so I could squeeze in more healing time. A zero mileage taper would be far from ideal, but no marathon would be a nightmare.

And so I officially DNS-ed my first race.

I picked up a knee brace at Jack Rabbit. I’m not a medical expert by any stretch of my imagination, but the braces always seemed to me a bit of wishful thinking hocus pocus. Obviously, I was desperate.

Lo and behold, I should have bought that thing weeks ago. It mushed everything in just right and all week it was like having a little miracle hug my knee in all the right places. One of my co-workers saw it and said “Isn’t that thing great? I’m wearing one on each knee right now. And I run with them.”

Where was this information all my life? I thought. I am but an infant in the vast ocean of running related knowledge.

New york city tcs marathon expo

On Thursday, I sprang out of bed and limped over to the TCS New York City Marathon Expo. It was bittersweet. I had dreamed of attending as a marathon entrant for more than a year, but now I felt like an impostor since I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to be healthy enough to run. It was incredible though and I tried to imagine that everything would be fine when I did the Dash to the Finish- that my knee would be great and I could finally put my head in The Marathon 110%.

Dash to the Finish

Saturday morning, as my family was in the middle of a 5 hour drive to the city for marathon spectating, I prepared for the Dash to the Finish. The race would be cold and wet. Quite wet.

We kicked off in front of the United Nations and almost immediately my knee began to ache. By the time I had finished at my “nice and easy” pace of 10 mins/mile, I was devastated. The last thing mile as we passed the mile 26 banner all set up for the marathon, I thought: There’s no way I’m going to see that sign tomorrow because I’m not going to be able to do the marathon.

As I funneled out with the finishers, I skipped the water and snacks; I couldn’t run fast enough to even get thirsty, and the more I thought about my diminishing marathon prospects the more I felt sick to my stomach.

I called the Mister and began to cry as I told him I wasn’t sure I should try to run tomorrow. I thought I would know with certainty what my knee would be capable of, and I didn’t. I thought I would know 100% whether to run or not run, but I didn’t.  I prepared for over a year and a half, and my family was already en route, for a Marathon that probably wasn’t going to happen for me. I was devastated.

Moreover, my Runner Brother has been dying for years to run NYC and I desperately wanted to gift my bib to him (so he could enjoy the race, and my family wouldn’t have driven for nothing), but NYRR strictly prohibits any sort of bib transfer. Period. So realistically, not much of an option.

The Mister and my family basically advised: 1.) Listen to your body, if you can’t run, that’s ok, you’ll do the race one day. It’s not worth permanently injuring something. 2.) If you think you can at least try, at least try.

I agreed with #1, though it wasn’t very palatable.  #2 made a lot of sense in theory, but I hesitated because I felt like everyone was underestimating the key element of my own stubbornness. If I started, I would want to push it as far as I could, as long as I could, no matter how bad my knee got (a la the Staten  Island ½ Marathon). And since that was a day of poor decision making culminating in one of the most excruciating days of my life, I wasn’t sure I wanted to turn what was supposed to be my marathon dream into my marathon nightmare.

I told my brother “Best case scenario, my knee manages to hold together for 26.2 miles but hurts the whole way and I still spend every minute of that run on an emotional roller coaster waiting for it to all fall apart.”

Ultimately, I told everyone that I would try. I would see what happens, but to know ahead of time if I drop out, it’s because the knee is bad bad bad. Either I run it and finish, or I drop out in Brooklyn and we all go to lunch.

I told everyone my mantra would be, I WILL drag my body through every borough of this city.

And just like that, it was on.

tcs new york city marathon expo

Part 1: The Beginning of the End

At last, the New York City Marathon has come and gone. The last month has been crazy with training (and not training- more on that) so I will begin at the beginning of the end.

Staten Island.  October 12, 2014.

The plan was to complete my last long run in combination with running the Staten Island Half Marathon.

My Mister drove me to Staten Island where we parked near the start line around 7:00 am. That left me with about and 1 hour and 15 minutes to squeeze in a comfy 7 miles before getting to my corral. I set off along the course route and ran 3 ½ up towards the Verrazano, before turning around and returning. I was encouraged by the dozens and dozens of runners also adding in miles along the same route- we were all marathon bound and this was our final training stretch!

staten island running

Now the thing is, I had run Grete’s Great Gallop ½ Marathon the previous Sunday and experienced an odd twinge of pain in my left knee. I’ve never had any sort of knee pain, running or otherwise, and it shook out quickly during the Gallop even as it ebbed and faded during the Gallop so I didn’t give it much thought. Until now. During these 7 miles it was back. And it wasn’t exactly shaking out. It was a general pain that tightened as I rolled through strides on my left leg.

I returned to the start area around 8:15 right on schedule and regrouped with my mister as we headed towards the corrals.

Staten Island 1/2 Corral

The Mister tells me, “Make sure you step on home plate when you finish.” I told him “I’m feeling good, but I’m not sure about this knee. If I’m not on schedule during the ½ it’s because I’m having major issues. Major issues.”

 

The race began, and a FDNY fire boat kicked off the celebration in rare form.

fdny fire boat

Also in rare form, my knee which was already in twice as much pain as I had experienced that morning.  This is mile 1. 12 more to go, right?

It got worse, and worse. By mile 3, I was seriously considering stopping, calling the Mister, and getting the heck out of there. I have no clue what is wrong with my knee, hypothetically I have a Marathon in less than 1 month, and this is the now or never time for my last long run, the ever important 20 mile threshold. And the Mister woke up early on his day off and drove me out to Staten Island to see a Half Marathon.  If I wanted to do an everyday, plain Jane, sub-par distance training run I could have just gone to Central Park and at least he could have slept in. At least this is what is going through my mind since I can be tough on myself to the point of plain old foolishness.

So I continued. And hobbled. And walked. And welled up with tears as my marathon future flashed before my eyes and disappeared into a blur of ace bandages and ice compresses.

Near Mile 7, someone  came up behind me as I was walking and choking back tears yet again. He put his hand on my back, “You’re ok. What we’re going to do is run two of those lamp posts. “ He was still running and began to pull me too,  “I have two fake knees!” he added and I thought, “jeez, the universe is really laying it on heavy. If he is smiling with two fake knees and can give this another go.” So we began to run. I learned his name was Tommy, he was from Staten Island, and his current goal was to run a marathon on every continent.

Later that afternoon, I would actually discover via the Staten Island Advance that this was local legend Tommy Hart. And I couldn’t have been more gracious to experience such selfless encouragement from someone who clearly represents the best in our running community.

We passed a flock of the famous Staten Island turkeys. Too cool. We wondered together where in god’s name the turnaround was. Altogether we ran about 2 miles together until we parted.

At this point my knee is howling. Real bad. I have no clue what is wrong with it, or if I should even try to keep running on it. It hurts just to walk and half of the time when I try to start running again it is excruciating and impossible to put weight on it.

And all of these thoughts keep going through my head:

Even if I can’t run any more, shouldn’t I walk to the finish? But I’m still 4 miles out, won’t that take too long? They will close the course. So you want to quit because you’re embarrassed? Do you want to quit because of knee safety or pride?

And I couldn’t answer that last question so I kept going. I was so far off of my normal time bracket and falling deeper and deeper into the field of participants. And at first, it pains me to say, my pride was wounded. I was walking a lot, I was nowhere near a time I was prepared to deal with, and I imagined every single spectator judging me. It takes guts to be slow, I thought. And I thought some more, I’m an ass for even trying to define what I think is slow. A real asshole that completely undermines everything that is beautiful and meditative and, I hate to use the word, uplifting about running. I have always known running isn’t all about a number, but then again I’d always been fairly satisfied with my performance and, similarly, my time. This was uncharted territory for me and I learned what lies beyond is an experience far more evocative than running for a number.

On the topic of numbers though, this it what 13 miles of pain looks like with Grete’s Gallop as control data.

compare #2

And with wounded pride, a busted knee, and an entirely new view on running, I found mile 13.

finishing the Staten Island Half

I was, however, very disappointed to find that I could not, in fact, “step on home plate,” upon crossing the finish.