Sunday, April 19, 2015

Boston Marathon Training: A Season in Review

Well, we're down to the wire, but at the 11th hour, before foot meets pavement, here are some quick recaps of my Boston Marathon training season. It's the journey that matters, right?

Biggest triumph: Philadelphia Love Run. Went into the race without any real expectations, and wound up smashing my last half marathon PR. I haven’t felt so elated about a run in a long time. Well, probably since Chicago, so I guess it hasn’t been that long....

Biggest obstacle: Getting sick not one, not two, but three times during training. With a close second being all the ice we had this winter. (I really hate treadmills.) And a closer third being the fact that I started a brand new job, with a longer commute and longer hours, right at the beginning of the season.

Best workout: I’m not sure that I had a “best workout” this time around. Instead, I had an awful lot of runs where I felt terrible or underperformed, but a number of good races. There honestly weren’t many workouts that felt effortless, never mind fun. I suppose if I can treat the Night at the Races as a workout, then those 800 and 5k runs at the indoor Armory comprised my best workout. In spite of nerves, I had a lot of fun that night, in no small part due to my awesome teammates and also the fact that I’d never run on an indoor track before. The experience was only sullied by the disastrous timing snafu whereby they forced me to run an extra 200m lap at the end of the 5k and totally misrecorded my time. But hey, I still had fun running it.

Worst workout: The long run at the end of my vacation snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. We came back to Salt Lake City, and instead of sightseeing, I went for my long run. It was 7 miles out and 7 miles back, with paces on the way back, and I don’t know if it was the altitude change or dehydration or what, but two miles into the run back my stomach was churning so badly that I threw up and jog/walked the rest of the way back to the hotel. It’s the first long run I actually did not finish.

Biggest Inspiration: I have this teammate who has such incredible drive. She wants to get faster so terribly badly, and I know—in spite of how down she gets on herself sometimes—that she really believes she can get faster. Heck, she is getting faster, and she knows it. It’s just never enough. “What else can I do?” she constantly asks our coach. “Why am I not getting better? Fix me!” And while it isn’t on the official record yet, how much faster and stronger she’s gotten, I know it’s only a matter of time. At which point, that won’t be enough, either. And then she’ll be on to the next one.

Favorite moments: This superlative has to be plural, because it’s impossible to choose just one.

1. In Marython's car, driving from the finish of one of the Boston Buildup races to the train station with three of my teammates. I’m always a little out of touch with pop culture, but in this case I was really late to the party: T-Pain was DJ’ing from the passenger seat, and she turned on “Bad Girlz” by MIA. Now, is that a great song? Depends who you ask. But sitting in that car with three other sweaty, energetic girls, with the music up, bopping along . . . it was just a great feeling. (And of course now I love the song.) So that definitely qualifies as a favorite moment.
2. Walking through the finishing corral at the end of the Philadelphia Love Run. All of a sudden, my boyfriend’s mother and sister ran up to me with these enormous grins on their faces. His whole family was in Philadelphia for the weekend, and they had asked the night before what my goal time for the race was. I had just beaten it by a considerable margin, and they clearly knew. “You’re so awesome!” they gushed. “You beat your time! We saw!” In that moment I felt so much love, the kind you can only feel from family. The kind where other people’s happiness for you is just overwhelming. I am still overwhelmed thinking about it. Definitely a favorite moment.
3. Last but not least, at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler last weekend: I had started out the race with my teammates and then kind of run off alone because I felt pretty good and it was a nice day and it seemed like the right thing to do. Around mile 7 I heard a familiar voice and suddenly my coach Sasquatch and his wife ran up next to me. We carried along at a clip that was ever-increasing, until I was quite literally panting and straining to keep up underneath a canopy of pink and white blossoms. Sasquatch’s wife wasn’t actually registered to run the race, so she dropped out about a mile before the finish, and he and I finished essentially side by side. Spontaneously—and to my utter surprise—he reached over and gave me a hug. It felt like the kind of hug that said, “I’m proud of you.” And that’s all I really want, I guess: for people I love and respect to be proud of me. So of course it felt awesome. A great way to end my last race before Boston. And thus my third favorite moment.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Little LOVE in Philly

It's a funny thing when success takes you by surprise. You work and work and work toward this one goal, and then, sometimes, if you're lucky and the stars align, some other totally unexpected wonderful thing happens.

I wasn't trying to PR a half marathon this marathon cycle. I felt tired coming out of the Chicago Marathon and, realistically, I was doing considerably less speed work to prepare for the Boston Marathon than I'd done for Chicago. Honestly, I'd only signed up for the Philadelphia Love Run as a sort of "fitness test," and also because my teammate T-Pain wanted some company. (That's a nickname for an actual teammate, not me pretending I run with a hip-hop artist. Although in New York, I suppose it's possible.) At practice the week before, I'd asked my coach Squatch, "Am I racing this?" His response: "Why not?"

Even up until the night before the race, however, I wasn't totally sure how much I had to give to this race. "You have two choices," Squatch told me on the phone. "You can either see what you've got here, or do it at Cherry Blossom." The Cherry Blossom race was two weeks later and three miles shorter--a 10-mile race rather than 13.1. However, the prospect of waiting in suspense for two weeks to see what my body was going to do didn't sound good for someone as obsessive as I am. So I said, "I think I want to race tomorrow." And that's what I did.

You know when you have those blissed-out races where you feel 100% amazing from start to finish? (Okay, I think I've only had maybe one or two of those in my life, but still. They do happen.) Well this race was not like that.

Standing at the starting line, I was shivering wishing I had brought better gloves, and T-Pain was crunching around in her throwaway mylar suit. When the gun went off I opened the first 5k at an average pace of 6:44/mile, somehow still ending up behind the 7min/mi pacer by the end of that third mile. (I'm now convinced that he was running entirely too fast. But at the time, I was seriously concerned.)

I knew that to hit my coach's "conservative" expectation (1:27:00), I had to average 6:38/mile, so I set about doing my pickups: running the first 90 seconds of each mile hard and then settling back into an easier pace until I reached the next mile marker. There was wind hitting me squarely in the face, and my legs did not feel effortless in the slightest, especially when we came to the main hill of the race. T-Pain had told me about this hill, and while not a mountain, it was certainly still an obstacle. My pace increased--because I stink at running hills--but I tried to talk myself down by reassuring my brain that my legs would go faster on the downhill, just like they always did. And lo and behold, they did.

There was one more pesky, shallower hill to conquer, and then, after a nice gradual downhill, we were suddenly coming into the last 5k stretch. My legs finally felt pretty decent, and I recognized a man in a blue shirt who had been jockeying with me earlier in the race. He seemed to be running a pretty even pace, so I decided, "Okay, if I can keep up with him for a while, let's see how that goes." So I settled in beside him.

Mile 11 clicked in at 6:15/mile. "Wow," I thought, "this is really working!" Almost simultaneously, the guy looked my way. "Nice pace," he told me. "Thanks," I replied. "But don't fall back. I'm counting on you!" He shook his head. "I think that was my fastest mile ever." We could already see the marker for Mile 12. "Well," I told him, "get ready for one even faster!" We clocked mile 12 at 6:13/mile. And my legs--they still had more to give! "Here we go," I announced and took off.

I crossed the finish line essentially by myself. There was one guy in a florescent green jacket who I'd been gaining on in that last mile, but he dropped me handily in the final 800 meters. And there were no other women in sight. But as I rounded the bend and saw the finish line, I knew I had it: a PR. And a great one at that.

My half marathon before this one was my fastest to date: 1:27:21. And I was really proud of that race. I'd worked hard to break the 1:28 barrier. By comparison, though, this race was almost staggering. Dropping almost two minutes? Running the last mile of the race in 5:57? I couldn't have asked for more.

And then I got a medal in the mail. 3rd place Female 25-29.

Thank you Philadelphia. I love you too.

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
73 / 40,567
9 / 6,305
3 / 907