Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chicago Marathon: A Success Story

Put in the work. Do the job. Reap the rewards.

If only running a marathon were that easy.

But sometimes it is.  For me, this time, in Chicago, it was.

When I say “easy,” I am talking about running between 40 and 60 miles per week for months at a time. So no, not exactly “easy.” Frankly, the work required was daunting—but I took it one day at a time, and I did it. When I was told to do core work after an hour-and-a-half workout, I did it. Drills, lunges, speed work, tempo runs, doubles, long runs—I did all of it. And when I was told to rest, I did that, too. Because why hire a coach if you don’t follow his instructions? He was the expert, and I was relying on his expertise to make me faster. Therefore, I had to do what he said. The worst possible thing would be to cross the finish line at Chicago looking over my shoulder at runs I had fluffed or core work I had skipped, wondering if they would have made a difference. Regret always leaves a sour taste, and I wanted Chicago to taste victory-sweet.

However, you can be the hardest worker on the planet and not even make it to the start line. I got lucky. Bad injuries happen to good athletes. No matter how health- and safety-conscious you are, nothing can guarantee that one day, some joint or muscle in your body won’t suddenly rebel, or maybe you’ll trip, or you might accidentally drink out of the same water glass as a kid who had bronchitis. You just never know.

So I got lucky—really lucky. I didn’t get injured. I didn’t get sick. Therefore, the only thing in my way was my own brain, and I was determined to smack that sucker around if it tried to give me problems.

Which brings me to the night before the marathon. I was staying with Coach J___’s family and another teammate in an Airbnb—basically a rich family’s very lavish apartment, which they had rented out to us—and so I had heard him giving other athletes pre-race talks all day. He had cooked us dinner, and now that it was closing in on my bedtime, I was starting to worry that he might not intend to give me a “talk” at all. What if he didn’t? After all this very specific, very instructive training, was I supposed to just run this on my own? Could I manage that? At long last I finally asked him outright. After a bit of jesting derision, he asked me what I thought I was going to run, what my body thought I was going to run.

I don’t like listening to my body, because my body complains a lot. However, based on how I had been running lately, I was pretty confident I would PR this race. The question was, by how much. To date, I had only managed to drop a few minutes at a time at any given race, so I assumed that this race would be no different. In fact, I thought it was quite ambitious of me to say I expected to run around 3:10-3:13. My last marathon, just the previous fall in NYC, had been 3:18 high. In my opinion, eight minutes was a lot of time to drop in less than a year.

In any event, that’s I told him: I thought I’d run somewhere between 3:10-3:13. And here was the defining moment of my whole Chicago marathon experience. J___ looked straight at me and shook his head. “Wrong direction.” I looked at him strangely, so he clarified, “What A___ did today? 3:05? You can do that—if you want to.”

A___ was one of my teammates, whom J___ trained remotely since she lived in Connecticut. That very day, she had run the Hartford marathon in an amazing time of 3 hours and 5 minutes. I couldn’t believe J___ was telling me I could do that. Me? Really

Really, though, any shocked questions were just superficial thoughts. Inside my real brain, inside my heart of hearts, 3:05 had just become my new goal. If he thought I could do it, and I trusted him to know what I could or couldn’t do, then that was exactly what I’d go out there and try to do.

I immediately logged onto my computer and looked up A___’s Hartford Marathon results. From what I could tell, she averaged a pace of 7:06/mile. 7:06. That’s what I had to do. Oh boy.

Fast forward to the start line. This was a race of firsts, and one of those firsts left my hands empty, nervously clenching and unclenching. I had no iPod. This was the first marathon I would run without music. The lack of music didn’t make me nervous, because I had been training without music for most of my long runs, but it felt strange not to be holding anything. Plus, on top of that, I kept looking at my stupid Garmin watch, trying to make sure it didn’t go to sleep after it had finally picked up satellite signal. But then the national anthem started playing and I stopped paying attention—just like I have in so many other races. And by the time I looked down again, it was because I needed to start my watch because my foot was about to cross the first timing mat . . . and the thing had conked out.

Are you kidding me??? I thought. After all that, I’m going to have to run this whole race trying to calculate my pace times off of the course clocks? This time, however, the Garmin gods were on my side. I pushed the button to pick up satellite signal again, and in about fifteen seconds the watch clicked in. This was going to be my day.

The first few miles flew by. There were so many spectators that I had to start an internal chant to keep from being swept up in the fervor and excitement of the race. Relax. Relax. Relax. I felt good, but I needed to keep feeling good, and that meant controlling my pace, even though my body felt primed to go.

In our previous evening’s talk, J___  had indicated that I should take the first 5 miles easy and then settle into a rhythm for the next 8. At mile 13, I was to “throw down” a hard mile, and then ease up again and focus on picking up the pace in the first minute of every mile for the next 7 miles. At that point, there would only be five miles left. “And then,” he told me, shrugging, “it’s just how much you want it.”

The first 13 miles were honestly a cakewalk. All I had to do was count to five (“Five easy miles”) and then count to eight (“Lock in for the next eight”). I felt euphoric because the whole time, I could tell that my body had more to give. For that hard 14th mile, the one J___ had told me to “throw down fast,” I cruised past runners, dreamily wondering if I could keep this pace up for the rest of the race. But I knew that was a pipe dream—I was only halfway done, and New York had taught me that those last six miles can feel like sixty—so I eased back up at the 14 mile marker and ate some of my jellybeans (which, while delicious and a much more palatable consistency than gel, require inconvenient amounts of chewing before ingestion).

Counting down the next 7 miles—and their corresponding 1-minute pickups, as assigned by J___—was a bit harder, because changing speeds mid-race is just . . . well it’s hard. It takes discipline. Fortunately, this was something I had done in workouts leading up to the race, so I was used to telling my legs to shut up and move.

And then there were five. Five measly miles. “At this point, it’s how much you want it,” J___ had told me the night before. And not only did I want it, I knew I had it. I had time in the bank, because I had averaged between 6:55-7:05/mile up until this point in the race, and somehow I still didn’t feel like death. I pushed the pace as hard as I dared, and at mile 25, when I saw J___ and his megaphone on the roadside, shouting at me to “just hang on,” I stopped wondering if I should keep holding back. Now was not the time to think. Now was the time to run.

The last 800m were excruciating. But the last 800m of any race are excruciating. The finish line is so close and yet so far. Your legs ache and your lungs strain and you know you’re almost there but the pain isn’t over yet, so you can’t let up. Shut up legs. Shut up legs. Shut up legs.

And then I was there. Across the finish line. I had envisioned this moment back at mile three, at mile eight, at nearly every mile in the first half of the race when I realized that I was running at sub-7:10 pace and I wasn’t even tired. Would I cry? Would I laugh? How would it feel? In those 3 hours, 3 minutes, and 42 seconds of running, I think I cycled through every single one of those emotions. I had played them all out, and so they were no longer available to me. I just felt done. And I was.

I had done it.

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
26.2 mi
1,300 / 40,567
156 / 18,390
55 / 3,987

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Training for the Chicago Marathon: A Season in Review

They say it’s the journey that counts, so I decided to write this post before the Chicago Marathon, not after. Yes this race matters to me—it matters to me a lot—but it’s important to look back on all the work I put in and remember that I enjoyed (most of) it.

In no particular order, here’s a list of superlatives that offer a snapshot review of my training season:

Best Workout
In September, J___ gave me 5 x 1 mile 6:40, 6:30, 6:20, 6:10, 6:10. I nailed it within a second of every pace until the 6:10s . . . which I ran more like 6:05s. I have never hit a workout—alone—so spot on.

Worst Workout
I don’t remember the exact details, but there was a workout in the spring where I had to run 4 miles straight at some particular pace, and I got so frustrated after putting in what felt like sprint-level effort and missing the first two miles by nearly 15 seconds (each!) that I stopped and rested for two minutes before the third mile and then again before the fourth.  It felt like failure—well, it was failure—and failure is the worst.

Most Complicated Workout
On a track, in meters: 200-200-200-400-200-600-200-800-200-800-200-600-200-400-200-200. Oh and there were 200m recovery jogs between each of these. Dizzy yet?

Biggest Inspiration
Watching M___ run Boston literally like a machine: she ran textbook negative splits to finish well below 3:10. Incredible.

Biggest Sacrifice
Leaving my Thursday night writing group in order to attend running sessions at the track. Of course I made better friends with the Thursday night runners, which was awesome, but I miss my writing friends. Scheduling sucks.

Most Surprising Discovery
I’ll probably regret putting this in writing, but I actually like track workouts. (I think???) So long as my teammates are around of course!

Most Annoying Discovery
I need sleep—a lot of sleep. The higher my mileage climbed, the earlier I wanted to go (and often did go) to bed. Also, I don’t get super hungry during peak weeks; no, I get super hungry during taper weeks. How does that make sense?!

Proudest Accomplishment
I think this one’s a tie. On one hand, this was my first season of doubles, and I am proud to say that I didn’t skip a single one! (For those of you who might not know what a “double” is, your guess was probably right: it’s running twice in one day.) But I’m a pretty by-the-book person—if a coach tells me to do something, I intend to go do it as to-the-letter as I can—so I guess that’s not truly my proudest accomplishment. Therefore, I guess I’d have to say I am most proud of running 65 miles in one week . . . three times! Never in my life did I think I’d do that. Who knows what might come next!

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Losing

In running, we all say we're running against ourselves--against the clock. And quite honestly, I think most of us do this, and we do it well. We get our biggest thrills from dropping time from our last PR because, in our hearts of hearts, we know that most of us--not all, but most--aren't going to actually win any races, and if we do, it's just because the "faster folks" didn't show up. Very very few of us ever dream of becoming Olympic or professional runners, and even fewer of us actually become them.

So as a whole, I applaud runners for setting their sights on individualized goals, achieving them, and finding true pride and pleasure in those achievements. After all, the only people who really care if we run thirteen-point-one miles ten seconds faster than the last time we ran thirteen-point-one miles it is . . . well . . . us.


Running is a race. And yes, you can race yourself, race the clock, and try to get faster, but you're only really trying to get faster to beat other people. That's what races are: events where everyone is trying to run faster than everyone else. Therefore, no matter how much time you may have dropped, no matter how big your PR, it still sucks to lose to someone you think you could or should have beaten. No amount of "hooray, I ran faster today" can assuage that.

Or at least that's how I feel.

This past weekend, I ran the Michelob Ultra Boston 13.1. Beforehand, my personal goal was to break 1:28. This was a goal I had set--but failed to achieve--back in the spring. Now, it was five months of grueling training later, and I was ready to go out there and do it. My coach's goal for me was to "execute," by which he meant to do everything right: to run the paces that I meant to run at the miles I meant to run them, to eat right, to hydrate right, and to keep my head on straight, all as practice for the Chicago Marathon, which is my true Goal Race, next month.

I knew, of course, that if I did all of these things correctly, I should break 1:28. And so I did. I PRed.

But if I don't sound happy about that, it's because I'm not. Well, I'm happy I PRed. Who wouldn't be? But I'm downright pissed that I came in 4th woman overall.

Let me explain.

While biding my time at the start line, a young woman standing beside me struck up a conversation. Where are you from? Are you here with anyone? Have you run a half marathon before? The usual runner's version of "Hello, my name is." She said she'd run three half marathons and was aiming to break 1:30. What was my goal time? Nervous about telling someone who was clearly in my "corral" (this race was too small for real corrals, so we all just seeded ourselves) precisely what time I wanted to run, I just said "Me too."

As it turns out, we both were lying.

When the gun went off, we simultaneously crossed the starting line and ran stride-for-stride for about . . . ten paces. Then, she took off. Ah, I thought. One of those. I figured I'd see her at the halfway point, struggling along, looking for all the world like she wanted to quit. And I did see her at the halfway point, but only because it was a partial out-and-back; she was at least a quarter mile ahead of me, having already turned around and running in the opposite direction. She looked strong and fast and professional with her fancy compression socks and matching headband. Damn it, I thought.

But I was going to run my race, and I knew if I tried to catch up to her, I'd risk being fried by the end.  So I continued to repeat what I had already chosen as my race mantra at mile 0.5: execute. Execute, execute, execute.

And execute I did. My first mile was 6:48, right where I meant for it to be. Miles 2 and 3 were a bit on the fast side, but I knew these were the miles I needed to use to lock into a pace for the majority of the race, so I was feeling skittish. Miles 4 through 6 were straight into a headwind along the coast--never good for one's mental state. Then the turnaround came, and I had been counting the women who were running toward me. I was 5th. Fifth, I thought to myself. That's not bad at all. That's actually pretty great. Sounds even better than Top Ten. The positive thoughts were flowing because miles 7 and 8 were back down the coast, the wind was gone, and in the stream of people flowing toward the turnaround, the occasional woman would smile at me and yell, "Way to go," or, "Looking strong."I did my best to smile back.

Around mile 7.5, I realized that we were passing the turnoff where we had arrived at the coast. Great! I thought. Presumably this meant that we'd be running with the wind all the way down the coast, and then probably turn off somewhere to get back to the racetrack. But then I saw the first place man coming toward me. His face looked like agony--agony I soon felt myself when I turned around yet again and started back into the wind. (I really ought to study race maps more closely.)

As if it weren't mentally grueling enough to try and keep a 6:40 pace while battling headwind, I was getting passed. Fortunately only by men, but it was disheartening to keep hearing footsteps approaching behind me and knowing that I'd soon be seeing the back of another runner. One tall very pale guy tried to strike up a conversation as he came up beside me, but I just couldn't do it, especially after he told me that he, too, had set out to break 1:30. (What was it with these people!?) He soon realized that I was not in any shape to converse and sprinted away.

At mile ten, it was time to, in the words of my coach, "Get down to business." I was pleasantly surprised to discover I did, in fact, have another gear. It wasn't a ton faster, but I could tell that I was picking up the pace, and that got my adrenaline going. Only three miles left, I started pep-talking myself. A 5k. That's all. Mile 11 was a handwritten sign, and mile 12 didn't have any sign at all.

Then it was mile 13. Go time.

There had been a woman wearing a green singlet in front of me for a good chunk of the race, but she was long gone, as was the winner, who must have been almost a mile ahead of me at the turnaround. I noticed I was coming up on the short woman in powder blue who had held second place, and miraculously, in front of her, I saw those socks. It was the girl from the start!

I picked up the pace yet again, but with a warning from my coach in the back of my head: Don't kick unless you can maintain it.

I passed the woman in powder blue, who--based on her gaspy breathing--clearly did not have a "final mile gear." Now it was just me and this other girl, and her turnover didn't look as fast as mine. I could catch her!

Don't kick unless you can maintain it.

I now had about half a mile left, and I was gaining, but I wasn't sure if I'd catch her in time. Come on, Allison, I coached myself. You've got this.

We were approaching the back of racetrack where the whole event had started. There couldn't be much distance left. A series of cones were arranged in a curve, which led up to the middle of the parking lot where the big bright blue Michelob Ultra finish line stood, beckoning. When we got to the cones, I kicked. This was it.

I rounded the bend on her heels, knowing that swinging out wide would cost me, and then I closed in beside her. The finish line was right there. I was in front, I had to be, by a stride or two. But then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur and heard her footfalls speed up. Suddenly she was right there beside me, and we crossed the finish line, and I genuinely didn't know which one of us had made it there first. But for some reason, in my gut, I knew she had won. This girl had beaten me.

And it's true. She had. Based on whatever judging happens at these sorts of casual racing events, her time--identical to mine--was ranked 3rd. I was fourth. I lost.

If I'm honest, even after a few days of congratulatory texts, phone calls, and Facebook posts for my Pr performance, I'm still smarting from the loss. It was right there. Third place. If only I had kicked later or pushed harder or leaned, I could have had it. A Podium Place. And sure, this wasn't an "important" race--it wouldn't qualify me for any Olympic Trials or win me any money--but I was right there neck-and-neck with a girl I could have beaten, and I lost.

I really hate losing.

Suffice to say, the Chicago Marathon--my true goal race--is next month, and if it comes down to a final straightaway, and it's me and another girl who may or may not have lied about her goal time in a perfectly amiable conversation at the start line . . . I won't be losing again.

Michelob ULTRA Boston 13.1
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
25 / 1,474
4 / 869
1 / 243

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thoughts on Boston

Today was the day to sign up for the 2015 Boston Marathon. Well, more accurately, today was my day. Sign-ups for the race began on Monday, but that was for people who had beaten the qualifying time by 20 minutes or more. Today, registration opened to anyone who had beaten the qualifying time by 10 minutes or more. That's me.

I actually qualified for the Boston Marathon several years ago, back in 2009, when I ran my first-ever marathon in Pittsburgh. However, at that time, I didn't know much about running: the big names, the big races, the right way to prepare. I found a training guide online and followed it. . . . Well, I followed the long run schedule. Everything else was kind of a crapshoot. Which makes it that much more surprising that I managed to remain uninjured and run a time that qualified me for Boston.

However, when I say I didn't know anything about running, I really didn't know anything--including how registration for the Boston Marathon works. Somehow, I naively assumed that so long as I signed up before the registration period ended, I'd be guaranteed a spot. I'm not too sure where I got that idea from, but as you might expect, it didn't pan out.

Five years later, in November of last year, I ran the New York City Marathon. Once again, I finished in a time that would qualify me to sign up for Boston, and this time, I wasn't going to miss my opportunity. People train for years to run a Boston qualifying (or BQ) time, and here I was, lucky enough to qualify twice.

So I did it. Today I signed up for Boston 2015. Apparently, signing up doesn't mean that I'll definitely be running the race--everyone has to wait a week or two to find out whether we've made it into the final pool of registrants--but my immediate reaction was to post to Facebook. At long last, I was going to run this race!

Then I stopped myself. People train for years to run a BQ time. Was posting a celebratory, "Registered for Boston 2015!" bragging? Would it make someone else feel bad? Why did I want to post it at all? Okay, it would probably earn me a few pats on the back a few "thumbs ups." But I didn't run the race yet. Heck, I technically wasn't even on the roster. And frankly, signing up for Boston isn't something I should be celebrating. Qualifying for this marathon was never an overt goal of mine; it has simply been one happy side effect of achieving other goals: running my first marathon in Pittsburgh without stopping (mantra: don't stop) and then running my second marathon in NYC . . . faster (mantra: no excuses). Yes, I'm very excited to have the "Boston Experience" just like I was excited to have the "NYC Experience." But for me, it's not much more than that: just an experience to be had. Whatever time I run in Chicago next month means a heck of a lot more to me than registering for any race, no matter iconic.

So I decided I'll save my Facebook posts for October . . . after I run Chicago. And if anyone thinks that's bragging . . . well I sure hope I'll have something worth bragging about.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

10 Reasons You Should Come Run in Jersey City

  1. We're basically the 6th borough . . . and should probably be the 5th. (Have you been to Staten Island?)
  2. Do you really want to run around Central Park? Again??
  3. You can see this.
  4. And this.
  5. No obnoxious West Side Highway cyclists.
  6. The Palisades are lovely, but sometimes you need a break from all those hills.
  7. Plus, our park has more water fountains.
  8. It's a great opportunity to try the PATH train (and check out your horoscope on the ride!).
  9. You get to see the Lady Liberty up close and personal--no ferry ride necessary!
  10. There's a ginormous beer garden. Right. Here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

And the Verdict Is. . . .

Clearly it's time to teach R___ how to properly wield a scraper.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Peanut Butter Debate

I am a big believer in "waste not, want not." I'd I don't think I quite follow that line of reasoning all the way into the realms of hoarding, but I will admit that there is a bag of old t-shirts and other miscellaneous items of clothing that I no longer wear sitting out in my hallway because I can't bring myself to throw these away. However, I also haven't gotten around to donating them anywhere, so . . . there they sit.

On the other hand, if I am in need of a spare paper clip, twisty tie, push pin, Post-It note, or other arbitrary article of office supplies, I have an entire box that I have dragged with me since freshman year of college "just in case" I might be doing some crafty project for which I need office supplies. So while I wasn't a boy scout (or a girl scout--I never "graduated" from brownies), my penchant for saving things does come in handy once in a while.

Which all brings me to a recent debate between me and my boyfriend R___  over, of all things, a jar of peanut butter.

Our financial/food arrangement is that I buy the groceries, and he pays for meals when we go out to eat. Therefore, when he runs out of something, he tells me to buy it, and I do. Recently he's been on a peanut butter kick, so when he told me he had run out of peanut butter and should I buy more, I took him at his word and bought another container. When I brought it home and went to put it in its rightful place, I picked up the "empty" container and found that it weighed an awful lot for being empty. Unscrewing the lid, I discovered that this jar was far from empty. There was plenty of peanut butter left in there, if only someone would bother to scrape it out with a spatula.

I informed R___ of this excelent spatula strategy, since he had clearly not considered it, but to my great surprise, instead of applauding my ingenuity, he responded, "What? You opened the lid? That molecule of peanut butter must have floated away!" I thought surely he was joking, and that in the next instant he would be in the kitchen, scraping away at the inside of that jar, but he maintained that there was no more than a single molecule of peanut butter left, and that I was foolish to even consider trying to get it out of the jar.

Well, at long last, I took it upon myself to scrape out that jar, and now I bring the debate to you, my good, unbiased readers. Consider the images below:

Jar, pre-scraping, containing "One Single Molecule" of peanut butter

"Molecule" of peanut butter scraped from jar

Jar, post-scraping and ready for the trash

I am now asking you, my readers, to judge. Please cast your vote below:

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Monday, July 21, 2014

When Writing is a Hate-Hate Relationship

I'm sitting here at the local coffee shop, staring at my computer screen, moving my fingers over the laptop keys and hating every word that blooms beneath my fingers.

No one talks like that. Can't you even write dialogue anymore?

Stop writing dialogue! This isn't a play, this is a novel--or it's supposed to be.

You completely forgot all about X character. What is he doing? Why is he even there?

This character has no voice. No personality. You should just scrap everything. It's been almost a year and you're only on Chapter 2. This is going nowhere.

These are the thoughts of an adult: a self-aware, hypercritical, detail-obsessed adult. An adult with, arguably, too many years of reading and editing and negative feedback under her belt. An adult who feels as though after all the writing classes and literature analyses she's been through, she should be a million times better at what she's doing than this, godd&*%it.

But I'm not. I'm not better at all.

I desperately miss the days when I'd write a sentence and immediately love it so much that I'd write another. And another. Every idea I had was Awesome. Every piece I wrote was Great. I wanted to show people my writing all the time, every time. I was spinning straw into gold. I couldn't fail, so why would I ever want to stop?

My most cherished time as a writer, I think, was when I tried my hand at comedy writing. This was in junior high school, at a time when I felt like an old soul in a land of kindergartners. My friends were dating each other left and right, breaking up and hooking up and cheating and professing love as quickly as they breathed. It was ridiculous. None of it was love. None of it even really mattered at all. And so I parodied it. I took all of their antics and boiled them down into Soap Opera Digest accounts that I scribbled hastily into a spiral-bound notebook.

Of course, I couldn't keep gems like that to myself, so I shared the first "episode" with one friend, who liked it so much that she stole the notebook and passed it around her next class. By the end of the day, not only had every person who had been "featured" in the episode read it, but they were begging me to write another one! And when I did write another, they were hankering for more! Insatiable! It was quite literally the best feeling in the world: I had an audience, and they wanted to read my writing before I had even written it.

Back then, I thought my writing was hilarious. Brilliant, even. I was cocky and confident that I had a bright future of notoriety as a prize-winning author ahead of me. And now here I am, nearly 30 years old with no great prize in sight and having been unable to produce one single written work I'm truly proud of since I graduated college. In this desert of creativity, I've grown to hate writing--not because it won't win me the fame and fortune I once imagined, but because I hate both the act of writing and every bit of self-criticism that comes along with it as well as what I produce. None of it seems finished, and when I try and pretend that maybe I'm just being too hard on myself, the feedback from contest or two reminds me just how far I have to go. And if it's not finished, I don't want to share it. And if I don't share it, then the part of writing I love most--the entertained audience--is missing. And so I'm left with my own frustrated, dissatisfied self.

If only we could be our childhood selves again.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A First Track Meet (Sort of)

First I must confess: this past Tuesday night wasn’t actually my first track meet. Back in the spring of 8th grade, I did run outdoor track. However, to say “run” outdoor track would be a misnomer.

Being a junior high school team, we were encouraged to sample whatever events we liked and then were required to choose at least two to compete in. I tried every single event I could think of that didn’t involve running. Given that this was track and field, the number of eligible events quickly shrank. Add to that caveat the fact that that I have a literally 2” vertical jump, fear of falling, and no ability to throw whatsoever, and I was quickly forced to cross the high jump, hurdles, shot-put, and discuss off of my list, as well. I couldn’t seem to master the long jump but, as it turned out, I was halfway decent at its much more awkward-looking cousin, the triple jump. So I latched onto that.

Unfortunately, we were forced to compete in a minimum of two events, and since I didn’t have a secondary preference, the coach chose to put me in the event no one else wanted to run: the 400. For someone who hated running, this was probably one of the most torturous athletic activities I have ever endured—perhaps because I was in no way trained for it. Every practice, the cross country-turned-track folks trotted off for their seemingly endless multiple-mile runs, while the 100m and 200m sprinters dominated the track. Everyone else dispersed to practice their preferred event. Thus, I spent all my time jumping into and out of a sand pit. This did not leave me at all prepared for my detestable running event. If I recall correctly, I think I came in last every time I ran the 400. It certainly felt that way.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday night. Icahn Stadium. For those unfamiliar with NYC running venues, this is a stadium located on Randall’s Island where some very important people have run: in 2008 Usain Bolt set the (then) work record in the 100m, and in 2012 Kenyan runner David Rudisha set the 800m world record. With its massive blue track and looming scoreboard, it did not seem like a place where a silly novice runner like myself belonged. And looking at the other chiseled, serious-looking women with their team-emblazoned sports bras and frightening looking spiked shoes didn’t make me feel much more at home, either. I had all sorts of random fears running amuck in my brain. Would we have to use those awkward-looking starting blocks? Or did only sprinters use those? Would I sound stupid to ask?

The first event of the evening was the women’s mile. I was pretty sure the mile wasn’t run in individual lanes, a prospect which brought on a whole new set of concerns. What if someone tripped me? Or worse, what if I tripped someone else? Right at the start? In front of everyone?

On my 90-minute trip over to Randall’s Island, I had worried about coming in last. On a track, everyone could see exactly who came in first and who finished last. It would be humiliating. But by the time I was toeing the line for the first event, I had finally come to terms with the fact that someone had to be last, and if it was going to be me, so be it.

There’s nothing quite like a starting line and a gun. Road races are great—I certainly run my fair share—but I have never started right at the very front. Consequently, when the gun goes off, there is still a lag time where I’m trotting toward the starting line, not quite racing yet, and so the gun is somewhat meaningless. Those starts are more of a herd mentality; the herd surges forward and you’re carried with it. The gun at a track meet, however, has a whole different meaning. You’re standing crouched at the starting line with one woman to your left and one to your right. The starter shouts, “On your mark!” and all of your muscles tense. You’re one coiled machine. And then the gun cracks and it’s all systems go!

For all of my description right there, I have terrible reflexes and an even worse ability to get up to speed from a dead stop. Looking at the pictures of the mile race start, I’m very clearly behind every other runner. It’s a miracle I didn’t finish last.

In fact, to my utter surprise, I didn’t finish last in a single race. Yes, I came very close, but when it comes down to it, I beat someone in every single race. I have to attribute this to my level of fitness, of course, and my coach (thanks J___), but also to my innate ability to “kick.” On that last home stretch, I just wanted it more than some of the others. And while I’ll be the first to say it’s all about beating the clock—since I’m certainly never going to win any of these races against elite runners—there’s just something about catching that girl. The one right in front of you, who you know is trying to win, trying to edge you out. It’s motivating in a way I can’t quite describe.

At the directive of my coach, I ran all four events offered at this track meet: the mile, the 400m, the 800m, and one leg (the 800m, it was ultimately decided) of the Distance Medley Relay. I was surprised to find that I liked the mile a lot. Compared to road races, of course, a mile is incredibly short, and I’m not a sprinter. But compared with a 400m race, the mile is an eternity. If you hold back a little at the start of the mile, you can still catch people by the end. You have four laps to determine where you are and how you feel, and to gauge how much faster you can run for that last lap. If you even stop and think for a second about how you feel during the 400m, you’re not going to catch anybody.

That being said, I surprised myself by actually enjoying the 400m race, too. We only had 8 competitors for that race, so we started in self-seeded lanes. With no idea of what I would run (the fastest rep I had ever run in practice was a 1:26), I seeded myself as the slowest time and was assigned to the 8th lane. This meant that I was basically starting all alone, ahead of all the girls in other lanes. This is extremely unnerving, because when the race started, I felt like I was sprinting into empty space, all alone, with the other women bearing down behind me. It made me feel almost hunted. However, that aloneness didn’t last long; within seconds the winner went flying by. And in what seemed like just a few more seconds, the race was over. Practically a blip on the radar; nothing like the grueling agony I had remembered from 8th grade. I guess a lot has changed since then.

The 800m was by far my least favorite event. I had no idea how fast to start out, or how long two laps of the track would feel. Well, now I can say: after racing a mile followed by a 400m, that second lap of the 800m, especially the back stretch which faced directly into a headwind, felt like an eternity. Luckily for me, one of my teammates, A___, was running this race, and I knew she was at least in the same ballpark as me, speed-wise (unlike S___ and L___ who were way out in front, where they belonged), so I paced off of her. It was a good decision.

Last but not least was the DMR, or Distance Medley Relay. Again, for those not in-the-know (which until Tuesday included me), the DMR is comprised of a 1200m leg, followed by 400m, an 800m, and then 1600m. I had little preference for what distance I ran, so I was given the 800m leg of the race. This gave me the opportunity to both receive the baton—which is nothing more than a hollow aluminum tube—and to pass it off. Just the act of waiting for my 2nd teammate to come around the bend reminded me of how much I had loved relays in swimming. Cheering for teammates—and having them cheer for you—is just so much fun!

All in all, I’d say the meet was definitely a success. My only worry is that I had so much fun because it was a brand new experience and I held no expectations of myself other than to go out and “do my best.” I didn’t have a mile time in my head that I wanted to beat, or a 400m time, or an 800m time. Now I do. But I guess there’s no way to know until I try it again, so I hope I get the chance!

Event Time Place
Mile 5:46.18 6/12
400m 1:13.77 5/8
800m 2:44.08 13/15

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Oakley Mini 10k: A PR Amid a Sea of Ponytails

I honestly don't have much to say about the Oakley Mini 10k other than, well, I PRed . . . which would sound impressive except I've only ever raced that distance three other times. None of those races were particularly recent (I refuse to count the ice-skating that I did at the Boston Buildup), so if I hadn't PRed it would have been rather embarrassing.

Needless to say, I've never run an all-female race before, so that was a bit different. Standing in a corral with 5,000 other women on a humid morning smells better than being mixed in with the men, and it's a bit different not to have to seek out the next ponytail ahead of me on the course that I need to catch . . . because they're all ponytails!

The most significant thing about this race, I guess, happened when I looked at the results. Since running with Gotham City, I've met more and more runners of varying levels, from beginner right up to elite. Therefore, I recognize more and more names in the results tables. Imagine my astonishment, I recognized the name of my coach's wife . . . just two slots ahead of me!

Frankly, that fact still seems nearly impossible. This is a woman who raced competitively in college and, when first I met her for a group run, sprinted off so fast that I wasn't sure we had been meant to run together at all. Oh let me add: she was pregnant when she did that. So yeah. I never thought I'd ever be coming remotely close to her times. And maybe she had a bad day, and maybe I had a good day, but regardless of how or why it happened, I have to say that makes me even more excited than my PR. Because who better to judge my progress against than the runners I idolize!

Oakley New York Mini 10k
(Don't ask me why it's called "mini" . . . but rest assured, it was a full 10k.)
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
46 / 5,870
Same as

22 / 1,209

Friday, June 6, 2014

J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge: Why So Serious?

Never have I ever been accused of cheating--at anything, as far as I can recall, but certainly not at a running race. Until this week, that is!

Now, if cheating at a running race sounds silly or downright impossible to you, make sure to read the wonderful story of Rosie Ruiz . . . after you finish reading my blog post, of course. (Okay, okay, you can click now. But come back!) However, for most of us runners--myself included--cheating would defeat the entire purpose of running races, which is to beat ourselves. Cheating at a race just makes you look good in front of other people, and let me tell you: competitive runners are not out to look good in front of a crowd. If we were, we'd go into something like modeling or golf, not a sport where we finish with salt crusted under our eyes, snot dripping out of our noses, and, sometimes, pee dripping down our legs.

So. Back to the story of cheating . . . or at least the accusation.

On the evening of Wednesday, June 4th, I ran the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge. This event is comprised of thousands upon thousands of company-sponsored workers running, jogging, or walking a 3.3 mile route around Central Park. Since the organizing body is a financial company and not, say, an organization that knows how to put on gigantic races (think NYRR or BAA), things tend to turn into a free-for all, in spite of J.P. Morgan's best intentions. Honestly, though, I have to say that this year was much better organized than in years past. I made it to my proper corral this time, and I didn't run headlong into strings of walkers fifty meters into the course. For those small miracles, I am grateful, and I think J.P. Morgan is on the right track in whatever they're doing to elevate the level of this race. What I do not appreciate, however, is what happened after I finished.

Due to the time I projected running when I registered for the race, I received one of the very elite-looking red bibs, which put me in the first, front-most corral. This all seemed very exciting to my teammates, being "right up front," but the reality of it was just me standing amid a sea of smelly sweaty men all jostling to get an inch closer to the start line. After about thirty minutes of shifting from foot-to-foot within five square inches of personal space, the gun finally sounded. Off we went.

In spite of the incline right at the start, I somehow managed to run the first mile in six minutes flat. This both freaked me out and spurred me on. I was running fast! Of course, as anyone who has ever tried it knows, running fast hurts. And hurt it did. If technology ever enables us to record our thoughts straight out of our heads, the world will discover that the last mile of any race unleashes the bleakest, darkest thoughts imaginable. But I persevered and, in the last 500 meters, managed to overtake the one woman I had been tailing for nearly the entire race.

Long story short, I ran my best time ever: 20:09 (which breaks down to an average 6:07/mile). As if that weren't thrilling enough, it looked as though I'd place second overall, too. Second, out of nearly 7,000 women! However, as the night carried on and my friends continued to check the results pages on their phones (my phone is too dumb or I'd have been doing the same) my name wasn't showing up. In fact, even searching for my bib number yielded nothing. It was as if I hadn't even run the race!

Fortunately for me, I have very supportive friends--so supportive, in fact, that they virtually forced me to call the race info line at 10pm to try and get my race results sorted out. No one was there, so I left a message, and the next day I emailed the address listed on the site, too. Finally, at long last, the race coordinator called me.

"I'm sorry, but no one saw you finish," he told me, "so I had to disqualify you."

I'm sorry . . . what?

"Look I understand that your chip registered. But there were five certified US track and field referees at the finish line, and none of them saw you."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. After a bit more back-and-forth, he asked me a strange question.

"Where did you finish?"

I wanted to say something snarky, along the lines of, "Right in front of the girl who you probably have listed as second overall," but I held my tongue. As it turned out, he wanted to know which side of the finish line I had crossed. The volunteers on the race course had shouted to "stay right," so that's what I had done.

"Ah. That explains it. I think I know what happened. See, all the women were supposed to finish on the left. You finished on the right. So no one saw you."

At this point, I was expecting an apology. Instead, I got this:

"Have you run any other races?"

Have I run . . any . . . other . . . races? Is this guy serious?

I listed the HOHA as my most recent, and then asked if he was looking for NYRR races or just anything. As soon as I said "NYRR," that seemed to be the magic word.

"Ah, no that's all fine. If you run NYRR races, that should all check out. Let me just go watch some of the video footage and check a few things, and we'll get your results back up there."

And then I guess he felt he had to explain himself, because he added,

"Some people try to cheat, you know. But you told me you finished on the right before I even said anything. Before you even knew where you should have finished. So you understand. . . ."

I wish I had been mentally present enough to ask the question that, afterward, loomed large in my mind: who in the world would bother to cheat at this race? First of all, it's not even an official 5k distance; it's exactly 0.1 miles too far to qualify as a 5k. Secondly, there are no prizes! It's not as if by winning second place, I was getting some sort of massive check or vacation or Lamborghini, or even anything for my company. So what was the big deal? I just wanted the results to reflect the race I ran! That's it!

What's especially funny is that after another 24 hours passed, my name dropped down on the rankings to third. So the same thing must have happened to another woman. Ridiculous.

I never did receive an apology for all that nonsense. But I ran the fastest race of my life and received probably the most adoration I'll ever get from my coworkers. So I'll take that and cherish it. Screw the rankings.

J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
3.3 mi