Monday, November 21, 2011

Nothing


It's been just over three weeks since ING NYC Marathon and I am back to training, gearing up for the Olympic Trials in Houston in just 49 days. The first week after NYC my hamstrings were tight but I ran almost 60 miles. I didn't push the pace, I just had fun and I came out of the week feeling very rested and ready to go.

Last week marked the beginning of my training. I hit 97 miles with some great quality sessions, ran lots of doubles, saw my massage therapist, stretched every day, did core work, saw my trainer twice, rolled on the foam roller, ate a healthful training diet. Simply put, I am living and running like it is my job. I am focusing on the details and making sure I am doing absolutely everything to arrive at the start line of the Trials ready for a huge breakthrough.

This week I have continued to hammer out the runs, hit my marks in specific workouts and pay attention to all those small details. I feel like I have good momentum heading towards the harder weeks of training.

I realized today that I have one big huge problem with the "living and running like it is my job" lifestyle: nothing. Specifically, doing nothing. I have a really hard time with the passive part of training and adaptation, it is hard for me to kick back for hours and let the training sink in. I have to fight the feeling that I should be doing something more, else, otherwise.

I have structured my work to ensure that I have ample time to complete my workouts and training as well as make it possible to have days where I have no client commitments or demands other than running, planning meals for my clients, researching recipes and keeping up on the food trends.  By design, I have put in blocks of "nothing" time on my schedule so that during that time I can do whatever I want. I can read a book, watch a movie, take a nap, tick things off my to do list, whatever my heart desires. And yet, I find myself struggling occupy that space without my mind objecting.

Now, more than ever the ability to relax and do nothing is vital to my training. I have to continue to work on kicking back and relaxing after pushing my body hard in training. I have to bask in the ability to have leisure time in my day and not be torn between a 1,000 things. I just think it is so easy to get wrapped up in the go, go, go of daily life that when things slow down, I don't know what to do with myself.

Nothing is my friend. Nothing is the space where I will become something. Just like I will continue to dig deep in training, I will continually try to embrace the little details and accept the nothing into my life, remembering as I curl up on the couch with my feet up, sipping a mug of tea; "this is part of my training".

What are your strategies for slowing down and enjoying your leisure time?

Monday, November 7, 2011

ING NYC Marathon race report

 My pre-race inspiration.

Two weeks ago, I was out jamming on a 35 mile combo trail-road-trail run ready to overlook and train through the ING NYC marathon. Somewhere along the line, I had decided that running JFK 50 mile 13 days after NYC marathon was the more important goal. I was going to train through NYC and take myself down a path, I see now, I did not want to go down. Thankfully I had an epiphany and was able to realign my goals and path before making a huge mistake. I took JFK off my schedule and set about tapering for NYC since there was not a whole lot of marathon specific training I could do at that point. 

The NYC marathon is an incredible event and I was lucky enough to be in the elite women's field and the amazing folks at NYRR even paid my whole way. I am no one in the marathoning world, so the fact that they did that made me feel incredibly honored. In order to show my appreciation for that honor, I realized it was best to not just train through the race. I wanted to, at the very least, show up rested and enthusiastic. That is all I could ask of myself. I had no expectations because I didn't have any specific training for the race to give me an idea of what I was capable of. Sure all summer long I was hammering out sub 2:55 marathons in training runs routinely, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, except that I could live up to my goal of "not making a fool of myself". People would ask me before the race what my goal time was and I could only shrug. Up to the second the gun went off, I had no plan of how I was going to pace myself. I had resolved to just see how I felt.

I arrived in NYC on Thursday afternoon, got settled at the Hilton where the NYRR had put me up with all the other athletes and got settled in. I went for a perfect sunset run in Central Park, the sun had dipped down behind all the buildings and I was treated to a perfect dusk run. I then met Brett and Larissa for a really delicious meal late in the evening, complete with 3 orders of Brussels Sprouts. Friday and Saturday were all about killing time and not walking around too much. On Friday, I probably walked too much. I did a run in the morning, then walked about 5 miles over the course of the day, hitting up the expo to visit friends and going down to Chelsea Market for a good cup of coffee and lunch. I was able to meet up with a friend from grad school and reunite after not seeing each other since I was last in NYC! 

I felt exceedingly average on my runs in Central Park on Friday and Saturday but wasn't particularly concerned. I had no nerves. I was calm. The New York Road Runners run a fantastic event and I really felt that I was looked after exceedingly well even though I am not a big name runner. All of the elite athlete coordinators and race folks were awesome. Seriously good people who work their butts off to make the huge undertaking of this race go. It is an impressive feat. Immense gratitude to the folks of NYRR.

Race

I appreciated the extra hour of sleep from Daylight Savings time as I have a hard time adjusting to east coast time for some reason. I got in a solid 7 hours of sleep, woke up around 5am, ate my typical gluten free oats, peanut butter and banana and got dressed. I had decided to wear a bold outfit: Paisley boy shorts and matching paisley sleeves. My whole outfit in fact came from the fantastic gals at Running Skirts. I had planned on wearing a skirt for the race, but at the last minute decided to rock the super short shorts. There was a part of me that shied away from the shorts because I felt very body conscious around a bunch of 5 foot tall tiny little elite runners. But I decided that was a bad reason to not wear the shorts. Fact of the matter is, I know I am fit and lean. And just because I tower over my competition doesn't make me a giant ogre. I donned my kit and headed down to the elite breakfast. I grabbed some coffee and chatted with some of the other runners. We then boarded special buses and had a police escort all the way to the start line.

I thought arriving at the start line would get me nervous. I thought it would get me hyped, but I just felt present. I just felt like it would be over before I could even blink and I didn't want to cloud the moment with anxiety. Before I knew it we were being ushered out and up to the bridge for our start. I did some very light jogging and strides. 

The weather was perfect. Clear, cool. No hat or gloves felt necessary to me. With all eyes and cameras (and believe me there were A LOT of cameras) on us, we were sent off across the bridge. The field strung out within what seemed like feet and I just settled into my own pace. I just ran.


I knew there were several women in the field aiming for "somewhere under the B standard" and I figured that sounded nice and I had about 7-8 women with me for the first mile, uphill. By mile 3, I was running pretty much only with Camille Herron with only a few women in our sights up ahead. I knew that I would likely be running a lot of the race alone, which is tough. But I was mentally prepared just to hang out with myself. After a few miles, Camille sped up and I just kept on clicking off the even splits. I wasn't really looking at my watch but I was averaging just about 6 min pace. And I felt way comfortable. After I passed through the 10 mile mark with this average pace, I contemplated whether or not I should slow down. It felt easy but I knew the second half was much more difficult. I decided not to slow down. I decided to not be scared and to just go for it. I decided that I needed to not be afraid to take risks, to go to the well and hurt, bonk or blow up.

Thankfully somewhere around mile 9 or 10, I was able to hook up with another runner named Jane from Australia. She was welcome company and after a few miles, we were working well together, cranking along. The crowds were amazing and it was cool to have my name on my bib. I even heard one "go fast foodie" which made my day completely (Thanks Megan!).


 Thanks to Brightroom for the photos.

The miles all blur together until about half way, which I hit in 1:19:35. And then came the hills. Every bridge we crossed was another hill to climb and after the halfway point there are several. I kept my effort steady and Jane and I worked our way up and over each bridge. Nearing mile 16, I started to fall back off of her a little bit, but think my body just needed a second to let the GU absorb. We came off the bridge and onto the famous first avenue. The energy was frenetic. The fans were going crazy and I could understand why this spot is such a trap, encouraging you to expend energy you will need (really need) later. Jane and I stayed calm and headed uptown for our quick trip into the Bronx.  


I made a decision somewhere after mile 18. I decided when I was going to go. I had been thinking about it and when I ran LA, I left myself unleash with 3 miles to go. Subsequently, I was able to drop my pace to 5:44 pace (thanks downhill!). This time, I wanted to go earlier. I wanted to gamble, I wanted to not play by the ultrarunning playbook: stay as comfortable for as long as possible, don't hurt. I knew that what I wanted out of this race was to learn how to run a better marathon. So I decided that leaving the Bronx, I would go (about mile 21). I have really only run on the edge of "I don't know if I can hold this" once in recent memory and that was at the OR show's uphill challenge. I wasn't going to try to bust out the last 5.2 miles anaerobic, but I was going to run on the edge. And on a course like this, that is a daunting challenge. Some of the most formidable hills are at the end. The hills just keep coming and don't relent.


We dipped into the Bronx and I could tell that I was soon going to be running alone. Jane slowed a bit, even off our more reasonable pace (a few 6:2x miles) and I accelerated away from her. I am glad we got to share some miles together because it made a huge difference for both of us. Even with the crazy crowds of NY, it is lonely running by yourself.

Photo courtesy Running Skirts

From there, I just did work. I pushed myself. I accelerated as best I could up the hills and pushed myself. I knew the men were coming since I was being passed by police car after police car, but I didn't care. I was flying.

I knew I was having a good day. I could feel it. I was swept along on the deafening cheers of the crowds. It is hard to describe the crowds that lined the course. It was amazing. And then it was just me being pushed along by the crowd.

 Photo courtesy Running Skirts

Coming up 5th avenue, heading up a steady uphill, I finally got the rabbit that would give me yet another gear. Usually in the late stages of a race, I get to look forward to doing some serious "chick-ing" of guys. Well, not possible in this race. Instead, I spotted another female competitor ahead of me and set my sights on reeling her in. I slowly gained on her and finally caught her just after we entered the park and blew by her, saying a few encouraging words in the process. 

The final 2.2 miles, I hammered as hard as I could. They were no 5:44s like LA, but the last two miles have some good roll to them. I just kept on jamming. I was trying to make myself hurt, I was trying to break myself. Trying to see just how much I could squeeze out.

An experience I will treasure: 
Central park lined with fans & just me on the road.
Photo courtesy Running Skirts

I dipped out of the park and then came back in along Colombus Circle. When I saw the 400 meters to go sign, I thought of my track workouts and regularly ripping out low 70s repeat after repeat. I pushed to get as close as I could to a track workout. I was corralled to the side for my finish along the fence and crossed the finish line in 2:42:44. It is likely that no one there much noticed my finish. After all, Meb crossed the finish line seconds before me as the first American man. But not being noticed didn't matter to me. I had run a great race. 

My finish (and Meb's too)

At first, I was not sure how I felt about my race. I didn't feel cathartic like LA. I wasn't disappointed in my time by any means since it was a PR by over a minute!!! Instead, I just felt intensely satisfied. And even more so, I felt excited for the possibilities. I can into NY marathon with no expectations for a reason. I knew I had the strength to run a marathon, but wasn't sure of my speed. This race showed me that I have a lot, a lot, a lot of potential to do something really great not just in Houston but beyond. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of my potential in the marathon. While some of the other competitors close in time to me had collapsed at the finish or were seriously hobbled, I simply felt like I usually do: I have 10 seconds of tired, take one deep breathe and then I'm good! I even jogged back the mile plus to the hotel from the elite tents at the finish line for good measure.


The race was over in a blink of an eye. It almost seems surreal to me at the moment I am writing this, thinking- did I really just do that? I absorbed every moment I could of the course, the people, the race and am so glad that I decided to not overlook the race or the experience. It made it all the more special to PR on a course that is such a big stage and so tough. This race gave me something that is invaluable moving forward towards running at the Olympic Trials: a glimpse into my own potential. I haven't even started scratching the surface yet. I know it, I could feel it as I ran through the streets of NYC. It makes me so excited to have such a great race rather unexpectedly and to think about the possibilities in front of me. 

After facing down a brilliant field on the world stage and finishing 21st overall out of nearly 17,000 women and 5th American, I feel like I can dream bigger, set the bar higher and not shy away from any challenge I set before myself. Thanks NYC.

Splits (from my coach Howard):
6:05 avg for first 3.  First split was listed at 18:14 for 3 miles
6:00
6:00
5:56
6:02
6:02
6:09
5:56
6:15
6:06
6:10
6:18
6:27
6:29
6:12
6:13
6:16
6:27
6:24
6:24
-
12:58 (miles 23-24)
6:14
6:10
81 last 400 (5:24 pace)


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