Thursday, December 31, 2015

The 2015 Short List

Hey 2015, thanks for:

Keeping my family and friends (reasonably) healthy.

My first smartphone!


Another injury-free year.

My very own New York Public Library card.

The courage to leave a bad situation.

A fantastic fiancĂ© who, for whatever reason, still thinks I’m great even after five years of dating me and continues to offer me his boundless love and support for all of my crazy endeavors.

Not raising my rent!

All the wonderful women (and the few men, too) who make up Gotham City Runners.

2016 . . . here we go!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Philadelphia Half Marathon Training: Fall 2015 Season Review

I hate shakeouts. Those short “easy” runs the day before a race. They get your legs moving . . . and your brain moving even faster. The fact is—at least for me—they almost never feel good.

“Are you kidding me?” my brain asks as I huff and puff my way through mile one. “This feels impossible. Do you know hard tomorrow’s going to feel?” “You’re fine,” I argue back. “You’ve felt this way before. It isn’t a sign of how the race will go.” We struggle through a few more minutes of agony. The watch beeps, and I can’t not look. “Ha,” my brain scoffs as my ego cowers in a corner. “And you think you’re going to average a pace exactly how much faster than that tomorrow?”

I’m pretty sure I’ve had this mental dialogue, in some form or another,  before every major race I’ve run. So clearly it’s not rooted in reality. I’ve proved my brain wrong more than once, and I fully intend to do it again. Tomorrow. But that doesn’t make today any easier.

Therefore, it’s time for a training recap! Because no matter what happens tomorrow, I’ve made some strides (no pun intended), and I’m very grateful for a lot that has happened between Timberman (August) and now.

Biggest change: Coaches. Well, not changing, exactly. Semi-changing? A change-in-process? About two months ago, GCR’s head coach Josh brought on an assistant coach, Allie, to begin leading morning workouts for GCR. And since I’ve only been attending morning workouts, that more or less makes Allie my coach . . . sort of. It’s all still in progress, the shifting of responsibility and trust, but it’s definitely the biggest change that has occurred between August and today.

Best workout: This one was fairly recent: a tempo on the track. 6x1mi, alternating 6:15/6:40, no rest. I nailed it, and shifting gears didn’t feel nearly as traumatic as I expected. Of course, I was with teammates, so that undoubtedly helped to keep my brain in check.

Worst workout: Another fairly recent one (or maybe I just have a short memory): 16mi including 2x2mi @6:00 and 15x60sec on/off @sub-6:00. Missed it by a mile—literally, because I got lost and ran 17 miles before essentially hitchhiking home.* The 2x2mi was especially demoralizing because I was trying so hard and just never made it even close to the prescribed pace. But hey, something to aspire to in the future, right?

Biggest triumph: The Dash to the Finish 5k—which I almost didn’t do. After the initial suggestion from my coach and some convincing by a few teammates, I agreed to fork over the $50. It was worth it. I broke 19 min.

Biggest inspiration: Yet again, my teammates. J___ and her irrepressible optimism. S___ and her ability to dig in and do more than her brain insists she can. And A___ and her stubborn refusal to give up.

*The story of that debacle, in case you missed reading it, is here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: The Interestings

The Interestings The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's about unrequited love. But not exactly. It's about art. Well yes . . . but no. It's about that elusive idea of talent. Yes, although not entirely.

Okay, so The Interestings is about all of those things, and a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Adolescence. Jealousy. Growing up. The pursuit of "happiness." Family. Parenthood. But in the end, it is about characters. The book jacket mentions six characters, but only four really hold the story together, and in fact, I'd argue that one of those four was somewhat superfluous to the crux of the story, which is the entwined and slowly transforming nature of these friends' relationships with one another as they grow from teenagers to adults.

If I'd read this story ten years ago, I'd have put it down within the first fifty pages and announced, "Snoozefest!" However, as a young woman turning thirty in a few brief months (in which case, do I still get to call myself "young"?), and as someone who has wrestled with--and continues to wrestle with--the ideas of "success" and "happiness,"I absolutely adored this book. I related to the two central characters, Ethan and Jules, on levels so deep that Wolitzer might as well have been writing about me. In particular, Jules' feelings throughout the novel--of relief at being accepted and transformed by this group of incredible, unlikely friends; of conflicted jealousy when people she loves become wildly successful; of dissatisfaction and powerlessness and frustration at her life circumstances; of excitement at the prospect of a new adventure--really hit home. I am that character, the one who has a perfectly fine life and yet cannot seem to just be contented with it, and there never seems to be that moment of "realization" or "enlightenment" for either of us, after which we can go on being happy and seeing life through rose-colored glasses. We are much too aware of the choices life presents, and our accountability as we make those choices, and the effects they will (and do) have.

If I were to criticize this book in any way, I'd say that it is just too literal. It mirrors real life too closely, so that we, the reader, never get any sense of escapism. We don't get to be transported to some magical work where things work out for the hero and heroin and the soulmates get to be together in the end and everyone is happy. But I guess that's also what I loved so much about this book: Wolitzer "gets" real life. She understands what it feels like to be human and replicates that experience on the page with an insight and bluntness that I really, really admire.

I'll finish this review off with a quote from the novel, just so you can get a sense of what I mean when I use words like "insight" and "bluntness".

". . . trying to find closure, that impossible thing that no one had ever really experienced in life, because there always seemed to be a little aperture, a slit of light."

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Generosity: The Virtue that Never Ceases to Amaze

Sometimes, I am absolutely flabbergasted by the generosity of other people. Truly.

Take R___, my fiance. He recently took part in this work event called a "Hack Day" where all the developers stay overnight and code feverishly (for fun, mind you) to create new company-related programs or features that they think would be cool. R___'s feature earned him an award where they gave him a mini bonus . . . which he then turned around and donated to a charity, since his company agreed to match the amount.

Is that not the textbook definition of generous?

But okay, maybe I'm a bit biased toward R___. After all, he is going to be my husband.

So let's take two of my teammates: S___ and J___. I first met S___ when I was working in Brooklyn and my coach told me, "Hey, there's this fast girl who lives and runs in Brooklyn near you. She has great form. You should see if you can hook up with her sometime--it'd be good for you. " He was right on all accounts (coaches are usually, annoyingly, right--kind of like moms): she was fast, she did have great form, and running with her was very, very good for me. But the best and most unexpected part came when, because I was about to leave my job and had to give up my local gym access (and therefore shower), she offered the use of her apartment.

Now let's face it: inviting an acquaintance into your apartment is kind of a risky thing. Our homes are small extensions of ourselves; inviting someone in gives them a rather intimate glimpse into your finances, habits, and priorities. Plus, on a more practical level, having another person around disrupts your life routine. (Although, I'd like to think, sometimes for the better.)

However, S___ seemed to have no problem with my imposing on her living space, and eventually this imposition turned into once-a-week routine where I'd show up at her door to drop off my stuff; we'd run to the track and do our workout; and then we'd run back to shower and eat breakfast together before she left for work and I headed off to the local library. In this way, we were able to spend time together and forge a real relationship--something we might have never done had she not generously offered me the use of her apartment.

So in a nutshell, S___ was amazingly generous to me. But then, not more than a few months later, our coach brought on a new assistant coach and moved our workouts from Brooklyn and to the East River track . . . twice a week at 6:30am. Now I had a whole new set of obstacles: I had to ride the PATH in from NJ, run 2 miles to the track, do the workout, run 2 miles back to the PATH, and ride the PATH back to NJ in order to shower and eat . . . and ride the PATH again if I wanted to come back into the NYC for any reason.* This was, to put it succinctly, a hassle. At our first workout, I made mention of what a hassle this was, and my teammate J___ piped up, "Well you can always come and use my apartment."

Now let me back up for a second. At this point in time, J___ was officially the newest member of our running team. I had met her literally two times before this: once at a casual long run where my coach (yet again) had told me to, "Come and meet this fast girl. She's really bubbly. She's thinking about joining," and once when I invited her to do a tempo run up the West Side Highway. That's it. Two meetings. And then, at our third, she offered up free, unconditional use of her apartment. Is that not one of the most generous things you've ever heard?

But okay, okay. These are my current teammates; maybe I'm biased toward them, too. So let me offer up my final, crowning vignette.

Last weekend, I went to the Poconos for a writing retreat. While the main goal up there was to write (obviously), I also had a 16-mile run to do on Saturday. Therefore, I spent Friday night mapping out my course, trying to create the easiest, most direct route possible. And what is the easiest, most direct route possible? An out-and-back, which is exactly what it sounds like: running in one direction and then turning around and running back. This being the Poconos, it wasn't going to be possible to run in a straight line for 8 miles, so the route had a few turns, but it was pretty darned simple: take a left, then a right, then another right, and keep going straight until my watch read 8 miles. Then, turn around and run back.

Sounds simple, right? It sounds so simple that I decided not to take my phone with me when I left at 7am that morning. I knew the risks--I could get a cramp or run into a bear, and I'd be all by myself, virtually in the middle of nowhere--but the annoyance of having to carry my phone in my hand and get it all sweaty and salt-encrusted ultimately outweighed those unlikely risks. And before you ask, yes, the possibility of getting lost did cross my mind. But was I really going to get lost? I mean, the route had three turns in it. I wasn't going to get lost.

Until I did.

Seventeen miles later, surrounded by silent leafless trees, with no sign of civilization in sight--never mind the specific house I should have reached a mile back--I started to get worried. It all looked eerily familiar while also being completely unfamiliar, and I couldn't just keep running in this random direction without knowing where I was going. So I stopped on the side of the empty road and waited. Several minutes later, a car drove by. They either didn't see my extended hand, or they ignored it. I waved more enthusiastically at the next car, and it slowed down. The driver inside rolled down his window halfway. He looked suspicious.

"Hi!" I tried to look friendly. "Do you know what road this is?"


River was not the name of any road I remembered from my map.

"Do you know where Upper Ridge Drive is?" He looked at me blankly. "Or . . . the ski lodge?" I knew the ski lodge was somewhat close to the house we had rented.

"Uh, well the ski lodge is down this road." He pointed in the direction I'd been running.

"Oh great! Like, maybe a mile do you think?"

He paused. "Probably a few." Then he drove away.

Now, I have talked to drivers before about distances, and when they say "a few miles" they typically mean at least five. So I aimlessly walked another quarter of a mile and then stopped, listening to the intermittent sounds of rifle shots echoing through the trees. This wasn't going to work. I couldn't walk five miles after that run, especially wearing a sweaty tank top and shorts when the weather outside was in the low fifties. As humiliating as it might be, I was going to have to flag down another car and ask to use their phone.

Two cars later, an SUV pulled up. A big maple leaf was drawn on the door, above the words "Park Services." My heart leapt as I trotted across the road. Inside sat a young woman, probably my age or a few years younger. She leaned out of the window.

"Are you lost?"

Yes. The answer was yes.

I asked to use her phone, but since she didn't have a data plan, there was no way for me to know where I was in order to call someone to come pick me up. After consulting a few useless maps she had in her glove compartment, she told me what she'd do. She needed to return this vehicle a bit farther up the road, and she couldn't take me with her because there were rules against having people in park-owned vehicles. However, then she'd have her personal vehicle, and she had a GPS in it, so if I could just hang tight for ten minutes, she would come back, pick me up, and drive me wherever I needed to go. Gratefully, I waved goodbye and then found a rock to sit on and wait.

And wait. And wait.

A lot went through my mind during what turned out to be a twenty-five minute wait. I thought about how stupid and lazy and stubborn I was for not taking my phone with me. (I thought a lot about that.)  I thought about how amazing it was that this random woman was willing to take the time out of her day to come back for me. I thought about the possibility that she'd forget me. I thought about what the other writers back at the house must be thinking, now that I'd been gone for 3 hours. I thought about how cold I was.

Then, I saw a small silver car slow down and pull over to the shoulder. The headlights flashed. My savior had arrived!

Even as I write this several days later, I'm filled with amazement and gratitude that a complete stranger, going about her day, would be willing to stop and help a lost runner get back to where she belonged. And what she offered wasn't just ordinary, casual "help"; this woman went completely out of her way to get her own vehicle, drive back to where I was waiting, and then drive yet another ten minutes out of her way to take me where I needed to go. I almost can't believe it. Would I do that? Would I be that open-hearted? I honestly don't know. I'd like to think I would, but if I'm completely honest, I'm not 100% sure I'd even stop my car. I hope I would. I hope, someday, I will.

*Note: for those of you familiar with these transportation systems who are wondering why I didn't just take the PATH to 14th street and then take L train to 1st Ave instead of running from 9th and 6th, that would have cost me an extra $11/week. And I'm not only a frugal person, but now I'm a frugal person trying to be a freelancer.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Survey Results

First off, a huge thank you to everyone who took the survey, responded on Facebook, emailed me, etc. Self-branding is quite the soul-searching process, I've discovered, so all of your input and suggestions have been extremely valuable.


Now, I've had several people ask me about the results, so I'm going to put them up here for you to peruse. However, I have to admit to one giant mistake I made when posting this survey: I did not explicitly indicate whether "1" meant best or whether it meant worst. Therefore, I am certain that at least a few people used "8" to mean best rather than "1" (which is what I had intended: for 1-8 to be ranked best-worst), which of course then skews the results.

That said, here's what I've got.

what's in a name...?
In spite of the ellipses, all of the original name options are shown in full on this graph
 except for the 3rd option from the top, which should be "Allison Editing Services."

People gave some really good reasons for choosing their favorite name, although some of the explanations were so good, I started feeling almost as lost as when I first posted the survey! Here are a few of my favorites:
Write, Edit, Allison -- It puts things in order of importance. I also like the one-syllable, 2-syl, 3 syl rhythm.

Allison, Wordsmith -- I think "editing" is too vague

Gold Edits -- I like how this one both combines your name, what service you're offering, and has a bit of flair/double meaning (Gold as in gold standard or first rate editing!). It's not as fun as some of the others but not totally sober either.

Allison L Goldstein -- It's you and at the end of the day people are hiring you. My guess is that you'll get more business by word of mouth than by someone picking up your card from a Starbucks (or name your favorite shop) counter. You're selling you and it's vague enough that should you ever evolve into author, screenwriter, director, or general contractor, the domain allows you to do so.

Ally Edits -- Ally: "to join (yourself) with another person, group, etc., in order to get or give support". It plays off your name while also sending a message that you are easy to work with and will form an alliance with the writer. You are part of their team.
I also got some fantastic--sometimes hilarious--suggestions for other business names. (Although unfortunately a number of the matching domain names were already snatched up.) In no particular order, here are some of the suggestions:
  • AG Editorial Services
  • Goldstone Content LLC
  • Editrix
  • Edit-chic
  • Halycon Editing
  • ReadingWritingAllison
  • Cleanedits
  • Goldstein Scribing
  • Word crisp
  • ED-IT
  • All Gold Media Services
  • Meditopolis
  • Word'em up
And now, for what you really want to know....

At the moment, I'm leaning toward using my full name, most likely with the "L," with a tagline of some sort below, kind of like this. (Anyone have any suggestions?) You could call this the lazy [wo]man's way out, because by going this route I can stay a sole proprietor and I don't need to register a fictitious "doing business as" name anywhere. However, my primary reason is that I agree with whoever made the comment about "people hiring me." I've spent many hours hunting down and exploring competitors' website, and I've found that those editors who market themselves under their own name strike me as somehow more trustworthy than those who offer services under a more anonymous business name. Ultimately, I always went to their "About Me" page anyway!

My main hesitation with this approach concerns my impending marriage: if I ultimately decide that I want to change my name, that will throw a huge wrench into things; I'll have spent all this time building my professional identity around my current name, and then what? But, as they say:

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

slightly terrified elephant

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Help me choose a business name!

As many of you may or may not know, I am currently in the process of going into business for myself. I've been doing freelance editing, copywriting, and transcription work on the side for several years, and recently I decided to "up my game" and start soliciting editing work full-time.

As such, I need to do lots of fun professional things like building a website, buying a domain, and registering my business. (Oh and paying taxes. I've never felt so Republican in my life!) But first . . . I need a business name!

This is where you come in.

If you've ever bothered to read the acknowledgements pages at the back of a book, you'll notice that authors tend to thank editors by name (rather than thanking, say, Generic Editing Services, LLC, or even their publisher). Consequently, it's important to me to keep that person-to-person quality alive in whatever I decide to call my business. That being said, doesn't say much about what sort of services I am offering, and if you saw Allison L Goldstein on a business card somewhere, would you pick it up? (I might . . . if there was a cool writing-related image on it. But I digress.)

All of that being said, if you have two minutes to spare, please take a look through the business names I've brainstormed so far and let me know which you like/hate. And, of course, if you have any other suggestions, definitely send them my way!

Create your own user feedback survey

Friday, August 21, 2015

Timberman 2015: Run to the Finish (Part III)

(Missed reading about the swim and bike legs? Never fear, you can read it all here: Part I Swim and Part II Bike.)

Helmet off. Bike shoes off. Sneakers on. Grab that race belt and your headband, skip the hat, it’s too hot. Grab your Gu. All three are there? Okay, go! Go! Go!—wait!

I turned around looked longingly back at the row where my bike was racked . . . with my running watch still attached to the handlebars.

Feeling good, giving smiles.
Just go.

No! You need it!

You don’t need it, you know how to run. You’re wasting time dilly-dallying around in here. Just go!

No but your splits! How will you know if you’re controlling your pace?

You can use the race clocks.

But what if there aren’t any on the course? Going back will only take a second.

And really, what was another thirty seconds in the scheme of things? I hurried back to my bike and retrieved the watch.

Now I was ready to go. I started running again . . . only to realize that I didn’t know where I was going. I had been heading toward the Bike Out area, but that was the same as the Bike In area, so surely they wouldn’t have runners and cyclists all trying to go in and out of the same spot. . . .

“Excuse me, do you know where the Run Out is?”

The girl racking her bike looked up and glared at me.

“Sorry.” I tried to smile. “But do you know where it is?”

She gave me an exasperated look and pointed. I gave her a big, relieved smile.


Finally, the run had begun.

On my way out of the transition area and into the first mile, I saw R___—my wonderful fiancĂ© who rode in a cramped SUV for six hours and slept on a pull-out couch with me just to stand on that hot, muggy sideline for six hours in order to cheer me on.

“Go Allison!” he shouted. “This is where you shine! Go get it!”

That’s right, I thought, smiling and blowing him a kiss. This is where I shine. Time to get to work.

Now, maybe it was his cheering, or how fast I spun my legs on the bike, or the caffeine in the SHOT Bloks, or maybe I just started my watch late, but straightaway, my first mile clocked in at 6:15.

First lap "finish" . . . not a happy camper.
Whoa, whoa, I told my legs. Slooooow down. I know you feel good right now, in fact you feel like you’re floating, but you have twelve more miles to go. Come mile 10, it’s not going to feel this nice anymore. Relax.

My legs didn’t listen. Mile two was sub-six.

SLOW DOWN, I told my legs. RELAX. This is not sustainable. You wouldn’t even do this in a real half marathon, never mind after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56. You are going to crash if you keep this up, and it is going to hurt.

With a mantra of “relax relax relax relax” I managed to get into the 7s for the next several miles. Mentally, this put me a bit more at ease, although I was still wary of what was ahead. The course consisted of two identical out-and-back laps, with the first lap running straight by the finish line. The sun was beating down, and people were running through the finish line to booming cheers . . . and I had to turn around and start the trek back out. There were still seven miles to go. And of course, this was when my legs started to protest.

I saw R___ again on my way back out onto the course, and I knew I’d see him one last time on the way to the finish. I really wanted to look strong for that.

Keep running.

At this point, things were starting to disintegrate. I could feel my body temperature rising, and apart from dousing myself with lukewarm water at each aid station, I could not figure out what else to do to get cool.

Meanwhile, I was starting to feel that internal imploding sensation that comes from your cells sucking out every last bit of energy they can. I’d eaten my first Gu at mile five, so I held out until mile nine for the second one, sucking it bit by bit until I could reach the next water station to wash it down. I realized too late that I’d forgotten to alternate water and Gatorade—my mouth was already so sweet from all the Gu—so I started grabbing Gatorade when I saw it, but now my stomach was sloshing, and I could still feel my body giving up on me.

You just have to keep running, I told my legs. That was Goal #2 for this race. DO NOT WALK, even if you feel yourself slowing down. It’s all mentalyou know this. This is no harder than the last six miles of a marathon, and you’ve done those plenty of times. Suck it up. You can do this.

And then I heard it: "Ice!" They were handing out ice in little McDonalds cups at one of the aid stations. I tucked one giant cube into my cheek and, after tossing my last Gu onto the side of the course, took as many cubes into my palms as I could hold.

The turn toward the finish. I can see it!
Cool down, I ordered my body. Relax. Smile at the kid with the hose so she sprays you. Give a thumbs up to the little boy with the squirt gun. That’s right. Keep running.

Despite the way my body felt, despite that I could feel my stride getting progressively shorter and flatter and that I was pretty sure my left pinky toenail was peeling off, my pace wasn’t suffering as much as I’d expected. When mile twelve clocked in at 7:30, I decided to go for it. I had no intention of crossing the finish line “with gas in the tank,” and while I was pretty sure I was running on fumes, those fumes ought to be good for something.

Time to go, I told my legs. Let’s finish strong. I took about three quick, long strides when I suddenly felt my left hamstring tighten.  No, I thought. No! Come on legs. You never cramp. What are you doing? Then my calf muscle joined in, and now the entire back of my left leg felt like it was shrinking into itself.

Okay, I thought. Okay, okay. I won’t do that. I eased back on the throttle and let my feet go back to the tip-toe trot that they had been doing. Unfortunately, now my left leg felt like a bowstring ready to snap, so even that trot wasn't going to work. I tried to extend the leg and land on my heel to stretch it out, but that only made things worse, so I shortened my stride even more and began the familiar chant: don’t walk, don’t walk, don’twalkdon’twalkdon’twalk.

Finally, I saw R___’s red shirt in the distance.

“You look great!” he shouted as I wobbled past. “You’re such an inspiration!”

“She’s fast,” I heard the woman next to him say.

And those words, the kind words of a stranger, they did it. I knew I’d make it to the finish line. And I wouldn’t walk.
So happy with my new bling.

Down the hill, over the grass. No one in front of me, and I wasn’t going to let anyone behind me catch up. I swung my arms like my coach always told me to do when my legs were giving up. I leaned forward, hobble-stepping, and zeroed in on the finish line.

Smile for the camera.

And then it was over. My body slowed down, arms falling heavy, and the whole world tilted as I tried to get my legs back under me.

The medal they hung around my neck was weighty, substantial, the way it ought to be.

I didn’t know it yet, but I’d smashed my third and final goal. Not only had I finished in under 6:30, I’d finished well under 6 hours. Five hours, forty-three minutes, and twenty-five seconds, to be exact. And I was elated.

First races are the best.

Time Pace AG Place (F25-29) Gender Place (F) Overall Place
Swim 34:34 1:47/100m 20 / 79 106 / 624 431 / 1901
Bike 3:27:48 16.17mi/h 48 / 79 354 / 624 1352 / 1901
Run 1:33:56 7:10/mi 20 / 79 109 / 624 605 / 1901
Overall 5:43:25 N/A 20 / 79 109 / 624 605 / 1901

Timberman 2015: Bike Course (Part II)

(Missed Part I about the swim? Never fear, you can read it here!)

The farthest I have ever biked in my entire life is 60 miles, which I did three years ago. The trip took, quite literally, all day. I woke up early, ate breakfast, biked, stopped to meet up with people, biked, stopped for coffee and water refills, biked, stopped for lunch. . . . You get the idea: lots of stopping, and lots of food.

This Timberman bike ride, which was to take place immediately after swimming 1.2 miles, would be the second-farthest I’ve ever ridden and, if everything went according to plan, would happen without any stops at all. This latter fact presented the main conundrum I faced while planning for this race: how, when, and what was I going to eat?

I'm no stranger to endurance sports, just to endurance sports that last a quarter of a day. Marathon nutrition—at least for me, once I figured itout—has been fairly straightforward: a Gu at mile 6, a Gu at mile 13, and Gu at mile 20, with two of the three containing caffeine. However, a marathon has only taken me, at most, three-and-a-half hours. The bike ride of this race alone was going to take me longer than that . . . and then I was going to have to run for thirteen miles.

After collecting and considering a multitude of advice and practicing with a few different foodstuffs, I decided to go with SHOT Bloks. I don’t eat them when I run because I have trouble running, chewing, and breathing at the same time, but my breathing is much less labored on the bike, so chewing while continuing to breathe wouldn’t be as difficult.  And when it comes down to it, I much prefer anything chewable to gels. Gels are just . . . slimy. Plus, with all these little gummy blocks, I could parcel them out and divide up the bike ride into timed "snack breaks." I planned to eat one block every fifteen minutes, with an extra two blocks—at least one of which contained caffeine—on the hour.

In hindsight, I'm not sure if eating exclusively SHOT Bloks was a good nutritional decision, but breaking up the bike into fifteen minute “snack times” was enormously helpful to me mentally.

Oh, look at that, I’d think, glancing at my watch (which I had looped around the handlebar of my bike for easy viewing). Only five minutes left until my next snack. Which flavor should I choose this time?

The first five miles of the race flew by, and then ten, and then . . . and then we hit the steepest hill I have ever attempted to climb on a bike, otherwise known as the Marsh Hill Monster. This is a hill so long and so steep that as I started up it, huffing, puffing, and forcing my legs to grind in their little pedal circles, I actually saw people off to the side who had dismounted and were walking with their bikes. No way am I doing that, I thought, gritting my teeth and trying not to topple over onto another cyclist as my speed dipped down below 6mph.

Nearly one mile and 300 feet of elevation later, we crested the hill. If we have to do that again, I thought, trying to regain my breath and jiggle my water bottle out of its holster, I actually might not make it to the top.

Fortunately, that hill was the only one of its kind. The terrain flattened, and I zoned out (still eating my SHOT Bloks, of course) until mile 30, when I rode past an aid station and saw my GCR teammate K___! We rode the next five miles together, chatting about the race and just trying to keep our minds off of how much our crotches hurt. Seeing her and casually chatting, even for those short few miles, really lifted my spirits. It made me more glad than ever that I had chosen to do this race with teammates.

For the rest of the ride, I focused on keeping my cadence at 80rpm, so that my legs would “spin” and I wouldn’t wear them out. I traded positions with a woman in a black tri kit for a while, but eventually I let her ride ahead and focused on drinking the rest of my water before we got back to the transition area. After all, I still had a run to do.

Click here for Part III: Run to the Finish >>>

Timberman 2015: Starting with the Swim (Part I)

There’s something miraculous about first races. I think it must have something to do with exploring the physical limits of your own body. What will it do? How will it react? Will it team up with you to get the job done, or will you be fighting tooth and nail the whole way?

I still remember my first marathon like it was yesterday: the anticipation, the nerves. I remember the ankle I sprained the month before the race—how mad I was, how stupid it felt. And I remember the smile that I couldn’t keep off of my face from mile 1 to 26. I was so happy to be alive. I think that must be what true pride feels like.

In many ways, this past Sunday's Half Ironman—Timberman, as it was called—was very much like my first marathon. I had no idea if I was prepared, I had a very stupid setback very close to the race, and the experience itself felt surreal. I smiled for a lot of it. Not all, but a lot.

Let's rewind to taper week. At that point, I had averaged approximately 1 bike ride, 1-2 swims, and a handful of runs per week. This preparation felt like a joke compared to the time and energy I had put into marathon training the past few seasons, and I was really beginning to wonder how I would even finish 70.3 miles (1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, 13.1mi run), let alone “race” them.

Thusly, I set out my A, B, and C goals. In order of descending importance:

A – Finish the race
B – Don’t walk during the half marathon
C – Finish sub 6:30

Kate and Tara apply our specially purchased race tattoos
Goal A became virtually irrelevant as soon as I started the swim. This may sound cocky, but the moment the gun went off and I dove beneath water, with bubbles and feet and arms exploding around me, I knew I would finish. Of course, the moment I started to swim was also the moment that all the potential catastrophes I had been envisioning for the past two weeks—thunderstorms, bike crashes, exploding tires, heart attacks, vomiting, heatstroke—vanished from my mind. I was in motion, and the only place to stop was on the other side of that finish line.

Stroke, stroke . . . breath. Stroke, stroke . . . look for the buoy! That was my swim rhythm, and I stuck to it.

Now, in all honesty, I did not have the greatest swim. For starters, I procrastinated far too long in buying a wetsuit, which ultimately left me “high and dry” on race day. My only real consolation was that although swimming without the added buoyancy of a wetsuit probably added a few minutes to my race time, I also saved myself $100-150 on a piece of gear I won't wear again for at least another year.

The next hurdle was my start time. The field of athletes was broken up into waves by age and gender: similarly aged men started with one another, and the same for women. My age group (25-29-year-old women) was scheduled to start second-to-last. This meant that after waking up at 3am in order to drive to the race grounds for a guaranteed parking spot, we then had to wait another five hours to actually get in the lake and start swimming. (The race itself started at 7:00am; my group didn’t get into the water until 8:07am.)

Oh, and then there were the hundreds of other swimmers ahead of us . . . if you could call all of them “swimmers.”

Learn how to f-ing swim, I shouted inside my head as I tried to get around a man doing what I can only imagine was his best impersonation of a sinking windmill.

I'm in there somewhere fighting for space....
If you kick me, I will drown you, I thought as I veered around a woman doing some combination of breast/side stroke.

I would have felt sorry for the man doing elementary backstroke, except as you may have noticed, I get a little bit mean when I swim, so instead I tried to tamp down my annoyance and gave him an extra-wide berth. After all, he obviously wasn’t going to avoid swimming into me.

All of this nonsense, combined with my failure to swim good tangents (i.e. close to the buoys), resulted in a swim time that was decidedly less impressive than it should have been. However, my own personal race plan was to “cruise” the swim, and if I did nothing else, I stuck to the race plan: not too much effort, but not too little, either. When I reached the shore, I felt just the slightest bit fatigued but mostly eager to get on with the next part of the race. It was time to get on the bike.

Click here for Part II: Bike Course  >>>

Monday, July 13, 2015

Looking before the Leap

I'm at a precipice, peering over the edge. It's steep, a straight drop down the side of the cliff, and I'm keenly aware of my the parachute strapped to my back, separated from my skin by a thin layer of sweat-soaked cotton. I'm not sure what this parachute looks like. I imagine it is faded in color, maybe a red bleached nearly pink by the sun, and threadbare from rubbing inside the pack for so many miles. I finger the rip cord dangling at my side and pray it works, because I've never tried this before, never launched myself into free fall and the mercy of the wind.

A breeze brushes my cheek. Swallowing, I close my eyes. I can picture the trail behind me, the soft earth path, the green billowing trees. My heart is beating a racket in my chest, a warning, a plea. I clench my fists and feel the nails bite into the creases of my palms. I came here for a reason. I will not turn back. My heart is beating in my chest. I step forward. One foot. Two. I open my eyes. And my heart is beating.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Running Sub-3: The Boston Marathon Race Recap

My Boston Marathon story actually starts six years ago, the first time I qualified. But that would take forever to tell, so I’ll fast forward—zip!—to Saturday, April 20th. Then, so as not to make this recap longer than that it already is, I’ll summarize those two days leading up to the big race with some quick bullet points.

Saturday, April 18th
Boarded Megabus to Boston at 10:30am. Ate, read, slept, and drooled intermittently on my boyfriend’s shoulder until we arrived in South Station at 3:45pm—nearly an hour later than scheduled. The reason for the delay? A bus ahead of us had burst into flames on the side of the road. We passed its blackened smoldering carcass in wide-eyed disbelief.

Hurried through the Hynes Convention Center to grab my race bib and snap a photo or two. We however manage to pause at a sunglasses kiosk long enough for Ryan to buy me a snazzy new pair!
Checked the weather on my phone. Wind and rain predicted for Monday. Shit.

Caught a ride with Marython and her husband out to suburbia where my coach’s parents were holding a festive dinner for the GCR ladies at their house. Petted their two enormous dogs, ate copious amounts of chicken/pasta/bread/orzo salad and accepted their generous offer to stay the night.

Sunday, April 19th
    Casual morning shakeout run with Coach Sasquatch, his wife, Randizzle, and Chloebullets. They all dressed in shorts and tank tops while I wore leggings, long sleeves, and gloves. Endured Sasquatch’s teasing and sweated my way through the run. Made a mental note not to make the same mistake on Monday.

    Missed the train back to Boston by literally seconds. (We watched it pull out of the station.) Caught a bus instead. Crisis averted.

    Spent the afternoon and evening with Ryan and my friend A___, eating an arbitrary assortment of foods. Pre-race edibles included chips and salsa, pineapple juice, bruschetta, cheese-less pizza, breadsticks, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and not one, not two, but three bowls of Honey Bunches of Oats. And of course water.  A lot of water.

    Checked the weather my phone again. Now showing 100% chance of rain and wind still predicted to come from the east. Shit.

    Finished off the evening by winning two rounds of Euchre and worrying that my coach had forgotten about me (he had a lot of runners racing in Boston and was staying with several of them). My worrying was needless, of course. He texted and basically told me that I was ready to go. 3:00 was the goal, and he sounded sure I could do it—or at least as sure as someone can “sound” over text message. Time to lock in and do it.

    Morning of Monday, April 20th
    5:40am wakeup—miraculously not the earliest I’ve had to get up for one of these races!

    Polished off the box of Honey Bunches of Oats and packed a banana and 2 granola bars for what I knew would be a long morning of waiting to run.

    Donned the same race outfit I wore at the 2014 Chicago Marathon (blue Nike sports bra, Patagonia GCR singlet, Brooks split shorts, Puma ankle socks, and Brooks Pureflow sneakers), plus arm sleeves and thin gloves. Then I added my “homeless person” clothes on top, which included sweatpants from Marshalls, an long sleeve T-shirt from my lifeguarding days, a men’s windbreaker I picked up from a lost-and-found several years back, and my 2013 NYC poncho, which I have to say was absolutely the most awesome pre-race garment ever. I am almost tempted to run the NYC Marathon again just to score another poncho. Almost.

    Walked out the door without consulting my phone, confident I’d be able to get to the Porter T station without any trouble. Wandered around for five minutes before finally locating a woman carrying grocery bags and asked for directions.

    Arrived at the Davis T station ready to flash my bib and get a free ride . . . but I couldn’t find an attendant to let me in! Luckily, Ryan had given me our Charlie ticket the night before “just in case.” Crisis averted.

    My teammates and I hadn’t made solid plans to meet and ride to the race start together, so after milling about looking for—and not seeing—familiar faces, I finally just got on one of the many yellow school buses that would transport us to the start. In an effort to amuse myself, I struck up a conversation with the man sitting beside me; he was from Melbourne and this was his first Boston marathon. I replied in kind, saying that I was originally from Pittsburgh but now lived outside New York City, and this was also my first Boston marathon.

    Suddenly, the man seated across the aisle rom us piped up. “Did you say you’re from Pittsburgh?” As it turns out, this guy was not only from Pittsburgh (Penn Hills, specifically, which his a community adjacent to the one where I grew up), but he also worked for the construction company that had renovated the Wolvarena (my high school football stadium), sent his 28-year-old son to St. Maurice (the Catholic school where I attended grades 4, 5, and 6), and personally founded the Collins-Wardle Double Gobble, which is what they call the combo race of 5k + 5 miles at the Pittsburgh YMCA Turkey Trot—a combo which I ran for the first time just last Thanksgiving!

    Then, as if the universe hadn’t already impressed me enough, after a cold, rainy , increasingly muddy walk from the buses to the giant Athlete Village tents, I wiggled in and found a small 2x2 square patch of dry ground to huddle on . . . only to discover that the man sitting beside me had moved to Pittsburgh from London a year-and-a-half ago! Talk about a small world.

    I was a little bit disappointed not to get to hang out with my teammates before the race, but meeting these men made it totally worthwhile, especially this last one: he was in the first wave of runners, meaning that he was scheduled to start running at 10am (whereas my start time wasn’t until wave 2, at 10:25). At about 9:20, when the Wave 1 runners were getting ready to leave the Athlete Village tents go to the starting corrals, I noticed him putting on latex surgical gloves over his cotton gloves. I remarked what a good idea that was, because I had been silently worrying about how my hands would fare in the cold wet weather. Well, what do you know he had an extra pair with him and gave them to me! I wore them literally the entire race, and while they didn’t make for the classiest marathon photos, and my hands were not cold..

    Now, for the race:

    The first 1-2 miles made me nervous because 1) there was literally no way to go any faster inside such a packed mass of runners, 2) because I could not run any faster and because the first several miles are on a downhill, I worried that I might be modifying my natural gait to keep from stepping on the people in front of me, and 3) if I did try to go any faster and tripped, there was so little space between runners that I’d be trampled!

    Also, within those first two miles, one of my Gu packets managed to work itself out of the loop in my shorts and fall into the frothing sea of sneakers. Fortunately, a fellow runner had recently been telling me about their tendency to accidentally drop Gu packets, and on a whim I had decided to pack an extra. Yet another crisis averted!

    Around miles 3-4, things finally opened up a bit. My instructions were to start out “slow” and ratchet up the pace with each 5k. The first 5k was supposed to clock in around 7:30/mile, and then I would drop 10-15 seconds per mile with each subsequent 5k with some slower 7min miles around the hills. However, by mile 4—the start of the 2nd 5k—I realized that I had had not stuck to my 7:30  pace for those first 3 miles. Concern and doubt bubbled up in my mind. “What if you went out too fast?” my brain worried. “What if you can’t keep cutting down the pace?”  At that point, though, I knew it was too late to do anything about it, so I just tried to focus on the 5k I was presently running. While most runners would probably have done the logical thing and paid closer attention to the pace on their watch, I instead chanted the pace in my head and hoped my legs would follow. 7:15, 7:15, 7:15. Then, 7, 7, 7. And so on, and so forth.

    Around mile 5 was where it really started raining in earnest. I tried to dodge puddles but eventually gave up. I also tried to find a suitable man to serve as my human windshield (also known as "drafting"), because there were some serious gusts blowing at us, but I eventually gave up on that, as well, since every time I found a man large enough, I eventually got so close that my options were to slow down or start stepping on his heelsand I wasn't slowing down.

    It’s funny to look back and see my half marathon split, because at the time, I literally had no idea. I was entirely focused on each mile and trying to keep track of which 5k I was running. (It’s shockingly hard to count to 3 over and over again while moving your legs. Thankfully I wasn’t chewing any gum, because things could have gotten really complicated then!) Of course, I wasn’t so focused as to miss the “Wall of Sound” at Wellesley, although you’d have had to be deaf and blind to miss that. (Best sighting there? A girl with bare shoulders holding a sign that covered her entire torso. The sign read, “If you run fast enough, I’ll drop the sign!”) After Wellesley, though, the cheering sections and high-fives all began to smear together in the way that Charlie Brown hears his teacher but can’t quite make out what she’s saying. I was thrilled to see so many people out there cheering so ardently in spite of the terrible weather. However, at a certain point, I just stopped seeing and hearing specifics.

    Apart from paces, the other idea I was turning over and over in my head was that  all I had to do was get through Mile 21. After that, by all accounts, the course would literally be all downhill. What I did not take into account (but should have, considering my still-vivid memories of the Pittsburgh Marathon), was how utterly painful downhill running can be when your legs are already fried. At Mile 21, we’d summited Heartbreak Hill and I was ready for the course to feel easier again. After all, my body likes to run downhill! I’ve never been good going up hills, but often I can make up the time I’ve lost on the corresponding downhill. Here, though, at Mile 21, I started to wonder if something was wrong with my quads. They hurt So Much. Was I really going to do this for five more miles?

    At this point, I had essentially thrown my pace plan out the window. On paper, I’d worked it out that if I started at a pace of 7:30/mi and dropped 10-15 seconds off my pace each 5k, I’d wind up running the last 5k at 6:10/mile. Of course, all things look great on paper. And in my head, I figured if I could finish the Philadelphia Love Run—which was 13.1 miles—at a sub-6min/mile pace, this might be doable. But as things panned out, I was running nowhere near 6:10/mile by the last 10k. However, I knew that because my first miles were faster than what I’d predicted, if I could average anything at or below 6:30/mi, I’d be in pretty good shape to hit or break the three-hour mark. Unfortunately, determining whether I was hitting that 6:30 pace proved tricky, because somewhere around Mile 20, my watch had lost satellite signal . . . and never regained it. As a substitute, the next time I saw a mile marker, I fumbled with my cold, stiff fingers to press the “lap” button on my watch, and continued to do that for the last 6 miles of the race. Thanks a lot, Garmin.

    About three miles from the finish, I made a deal with myself. At the starting line, I had set my watch to show “lap” time. This meant that at each mile—or, as was now the case, each time I pressed the “lap” button—the face of the watch would clock back to 00:00 and start counting up again. Therefore, at this point in the race, I had no idea what my total running time was. (I have tried to use the clock times, but they started at zero with Wave 1, and my wave, Wave 2, had started 25 minutes later, and as I mentioned before, me and mental math while running . . . not so good.) The deal I made was, I could only change my watch over to the “total time” display once I hit Mile 25. Whether this was smart or stupid, I have no idea. I just knew that if I checked earlier and it looked like I was going to miss the 3-hour mark, I might freak out, and if it looked like it would be close, I might freak out . . . and I basically wanted to avoid freaking out out. It was already a hard enough run, with rain and wind and screaming thighs; I didn’t need stressful thoughts to make things harder. And at Mile 25, it would essentially be too late—I’d just have to live with whatever race I had already run.

    The last 1.2 miles of the race were . . . memorable. I looked at my watch and saw that I was going to make it. I was running 6:30/mile, and even if I slowed by a full minute-per-mile in that last mile, I’d still break three hours. Emerging from beneath Massachusetts Ave, I looked toward the crowds and there was the teal umbrella, with Ryan holding it! I smiled. I waved. I blew him a kiss. And then I turned back to tackle the only turns on the course: a right, and then a left, and then there was the finish. But wait, there was a woman! In front of me! I could hear T-Pain’s voice, “Killllll!” in my head as I dug into my legs and found the will to turn them over faster. I was going to catch her. And I did.

    Crossing the finish line and realizing I’d done it—I’d broken 3 hours—felt truly shocking. In spite of the rain, in spite of the headwind, in spite of my  squishing sneakers and squeaking surgical gloves. In spite of the fact that all I’d wanted out of this race all season was to run faster than I had in Chicago. It was glorious. It was surreal. It was the first time I cried after finishing a race. So much for decent race photos. But it was worth it.