Friday, January 13, 2017

And so it begins...

I've meant to update a couple of times since I wrote that race report but haven't gotten around to it - life is full right now, but in excellent ways! It's probably OK because I think maybe 3 people read this? That might be generous haha. Anyway, enjoy some random musings. And as it seems to do every year for me, Boston training has once again begun. This will be my 6th time running Boston (4th consecutive) and at this point it's hard for me to even imagine spending a winter doing anything other than hauling my body through the streets for 45-70 miles per week in preparation for the big day in mid-April. That's actually one of the things I adore about training for Boston: the sameness. I do variations on the same lead-up race schedule every year, I know them, I love them. I know my routes and the basic patterns in which I run them. I know that training begins in conjunction with the new year and will carry me through the entire winter. It's lovely, really, to have something that gives a purpose to the dark, cold months of the year.

This year's training cycle has begun in pretty similar fashion to the rest of them, with the return to track workouts and the addition of a run longer than 10 miles on the weekend signaling that we are Back In Training. I've actually been pleasantly surprised at how well my body (and mind) have handled the uptick in mileage so far - I went from 25-30 mpw on a good week and pretty much jumped right up to the 40s. I thought this would be more difficult since I pretty much took the summer and fall season off from hard training, so it's been really nice to feel like my body is handling the workload well (could this actually be a benefit of taking a rest season from marathons and focusing more on improving my strength? Maybe!).  There are a couple of things that I say I'm going to do with my training EVERY YEAR, and pretty much every year I fail...I think 2017 is off to a good start on both of these fronts so I'm going to share them here for accountability.

One of my goals has always been to be a more well rounded runner and to actually do things other than run that will benefit my running - strength training in particular. I've jumped on and off the strength wagon about 100 times but I think I MAY have found a couple of things that's going to help it stick this time. One is my newfound love for yoga - I've been going pretty consistently 1x/week since July or August, and I have to say I've noticed a pretty significant difference in my core strength, hip stability, and being more even side to side (to say nothing of the fact that I can actually hold a high plank and do push ups for the first time in my entire LIFE). I also really enjoy yoga! I'm trying to get better at the breath/mind body aspects of the practice, which I definitely think can carry over into running too. There are a lot of positions where you sort of just have to breathe through your discomfort and trust your body to support you, which sounds a whole lot like what you have to do in a tough race. So getting that in at least once a week has been helpful. The other thing is that I decided this year to do the No Days Off thing from Tracksmith (a MA based company that sells amazing, though absurdly expensive running gear). Originally I thought that you were supposed to run every day and I was like thanks but no thanks, but then they posted something on instagram that reframed it as "doing SOMETHING to improve yourself as a runner every day". That resonated with me, and so, that's my goal. I have never and will never be a 7 day/week runner - I can do 6, but for my physical wellness, sanity, and time I NEED at least one day a week where I don't run. So far, this calendar has been highly motivating to get me to do something else on that day - usually a half an hour or so of strength work. Checking off the day on the calendar is so stupidly satisfying and I'm now invested enough that I don't want to break the streak. Which is great!

The other thing, which is definitely still a work in progress, is to RUN EASY ON EASY DAYS! Maybe if I write it in caps I'll actually do it? I think I am getting slightly better at this, as I've done a few runs with paces in the 8:20s-30s and felt fine about it, but I definitely fall victim to the creep back to "default" pace (around 8:05-7:45, depending on the day/fitness level) on a regular basis. Logically my brain knows all the facts about running easy, and I sure know I'm running hard enough on my hard days to justify going truly easy on the easy days, but my body sometimes revolts and decides it's more fun to blast a random tempo on a Wednesday night. I'm trying to get away from that, and I think by differentiating between "true easy/recovery" runs (1-2x/week) and "moderate" runs (more run by feel/I can do what I want) I can convince myself that running the easy run easy is as much of an assignment as the rest of it. IDK. We shall see!

My final goal, which I mentioned when talking about the mile, is to work on my mental game and to learn how to run, for lack of a better phrase, a little more balls to the wall. My apartment building has a tiny workout room that no one ever seems to use, and after a couple of treadmill runs staring at a blank beige wall I decided something needed to change. I found a random running photo I had cut out of a magazine at some point and taped it up on the wall - it's still there, so apparently others are enjoying it as well! As it turns out it's a photo of Pre with the quote "I don't run a race to see who's the fastest, I run a race to see who has the most guts" (or something to that effect) on it. I was thinking about it while doing intervals on the treadmill the other night, and that's such a fitting quote for my vision for the year. I'm trying to have the guts - to train hard, to race outside my comfort zone - to hopefully get the glory (aka...I want some actual PRs this year!) Hopefully I'm off to a good start!

Monday, January 02, 2017

BU Mini Meet mile: well, that was ridiculous

Well, 2016 had one last surprise for me before the clock struck midnight. It's about the least expected result I had racing this year and for many reasons, I think it's one of the best.

On Monday, Joy texted me saying that she had decided to race the mile at the BU Mini Meet on New Year's Eve, and would I like to join her? My immediate mental reaction was 'oh absolutely NOT!' I haven't set foot on an indoor track since March and have done maybe 3 speed workouts since then - the thought of embarrassing myself under the gaze of everyone at the BU oval sounded like a terrible plan. I gave her a very unlikely maybe, and had pretty much written off the idea until Friday, when somehow, between glasses of wine while Andrew and I were out for dinner and a play, I found myself committing to showing up the next day. Of course, that commitment didn't prevent me from having an unnecessary post-play cocktail, or from staying up until 2 am talking with the boy. But the indoor track has this siren song for me that I can never seem to deny; when the track calls I always seem to answer.

That being said, when my alarm went off at 7:45 on Saturday I wanted to throw it out the window and go back to sleep for several hours. Mildly hungover and sleep deprived, I found my way into my singlet, took the train with Andrew to MGH, and then jogged ("jogged" aka I wound up running 7:49 pace for just over 3 miles, I'm dumb) over to BU. For all of my hemming and hawing all morning, there was actually sort of a weird excitement building as I signed myself up for the mile. I seeded myself at 6:15 which admittedly probably was a little bit of a sandbag, but hell, I didn't know! No speedwork! Low mileage for months! The last time I raced a mile was in 2013 and I think I ran a 6:05! So really, I had no clue.

Shortly after getting to the track at 10 I met up with Joy, Aly, and Ali....and then we waited. And waited. And waited. In my head, I was going to be racing by 11 and home by 1 with a luxurious afternoon in front of me before the new year's festivities. That...was not the case. There were 7 heats of the 3K and 215 PEOPLE entered in the mile! At some point we warmed up for the second time, and even then it was still over an hour before we ended up racing...being in heat 16/17 of the mile = standing around for an hour and 15 minutes even once the mile had started! I could tell I was nervous because everything was just far too entertaining. We were giggling and messing around and generally just having the kind of delightfully silly time I've come to associate with indoor track, and it was easy to forget the fact that I actually had to race at some point. We watched Aly run a strong race in heat 8 and time kept ticking slowly onward. My mood swung from giddy and laughing at the absurdity of the situation, to nervous, to anxious anticipation, and back again. I wasn't so much nervous about putting together a good performance - I mean my expectations were about as low as they could get - but it was more the anticipation of the fact that I KNEW that whether I ran decently or not, this was probably going to hurt...and it had been awhile since I'd adventured into the pain cave in a race.

Heat 15 began, and I found myself swinging back towards nerves. But then the call came for our heat, and something odd happened. I found myself, standing on the line, trying to remember if we could cut in right away or not, and I found that I was smiling. Grinning, actually. I was stunned to find just how overjoyed I was to be standing here on this line, getting ready to put myself through 8 laps of screaming pain. I think indoor track always brings me back to why I became a runner in the first place; the competition, the pain, the fight against yourself that for whatever reason seems so much more obvious when it's contained within a building. I did the thing I've done since high school: 3 jumps, shake right leg, left, leg, right leg again. And then, on your marks, and the gun.

The way in which I ran this race wasn't even something I was aware of while I was doing it, but I think it's the most ridiculous part of it all: I ran a 15 second negative split from the half, IN A MILE. I can only attempt to explain that based on my thoughts during the race. We flew off the line, and we weren't even around the bend before blazing in my mind like a siren was the thought TOO FAST TOO FAST TOO FAST. It was hard to watch Ali and Joy fly out ahead of me but I knew I was doing the right thing. I sat, and I waited. Through the 200 right around 45, perfect, I thought. As I had anticipated, my body was confused at the fact that I was currently running at a pace I hadn't experienced in months if not years, and so the first 2 laps felt hard. But I reminded myself that I was in control, that I could make this pace feel relaxed, and so, I relaxed. I began to find my way into a groove, passing Joy, Ali, and a few others and crossing 400 just under 1:30. Great, I think. So what now? I relax in a little bit and quickly find myself in another pack - too slow for my taste, and I pass them.

Lap 1, with that relaxed focus going on. Tom in the background yelling something, haha

Just after the 3 lap mark hanging out with some high schoolers and purple shirt lady

To be completely honest, the next few laps are a blur in my memory. I don't remember looking at the clock and I don't remember feeling anything. I remember coming up on a woman in purple, trying to decide if I should pass her, and then deciding, yes. The same thing happens with a high school aged boy. I feel like I'm in a bubble, everything silent but vague snippets of sound: Tom yelling something at me as I go by, Maggie cheering on her athlete, but mostly I feel enclosed in myself. The track is wide open in front of me and there are 2 laps to go. Far ahead there are 3 older guys running in line. I glance at the clock with 400 left: 4:29. Just under 6 minute pace. A thought bubbles up in my mind, not even a thought really but a realization: I've been holding back, maybe more than I should, and I don't feel that bad. My legs have plenty left, plenty to blast the last 400 meters, and I vaguely recall thinking as I take the turn into lap 7: it's going to hurt, but you're not going to die. And I accelerate.

Let's fly.

I have never been a confident runner. I know that one of my greatest weaknesses as a runner is that I am afraid to "find my edge", as they say in yoga, to really hold nothing back. I spend far too much time in my head thinking 'will I have enough left later' or 'is it going to be too hard'. But in that moment, flying around that turn, there was no fear. I had this absolutely wonderful sense of knowing - knowing that I would not slow down, knowing that I was flying, knowing that I was doing something that I did not think I would ever do again. I just felt like I kept accelerating, on and on. I came around and heard the bell, the clock reading something like 5:12, and I thought: everything. now. I felt powerful and fast and strong and amazing, so much so that the pain was barely even registering. When I turned for home and saw the clock and I knew that I was going under 6 I damn near burst into tears. I crossed the line grinning.


This is what disbelief and joy look like

I watched Joy and Ali finish and then kind of went and lay in the infield for awhile, trying to process my life. I wasn't even aware of what a crazy negative split I had run until one of the coaches told me - "what the heck was that, like 3:05/2:50?" he said. I burst out laughing. "What?!" Because that just doesn't make any sense. Me, run a giant negative split on the track? Me, run one of the fastest miles of my life on a random day with no speedwork? 

It takes awhile for us to be able to stop coughing; oh the beauties of running on the indoor track for the first time all season. Eventually we head out for a short cooldown before coming back to watch our teammates in a 4 x 1600 relay. I am in an absolutely outstanding mood and am just so happy that I made the choice to run this meet today. As we're leaving, Tom looks at me and says "I can't believe you ran that race". The feeling was most definitely mutual. 

And so, 2016, a year riddled with doubts and injuries and sub-par races, ended with a wonderful gift. A reminder of all that I love about running, the reasons why I do this crazy sport, and a reminder that there is always more inside me than I think there is. The last time I broke 6 in the mile was in my junior year of college - I was 20! And to be honest, after a couple of forays back into the mile on the track a few years ago I was pretty convinced that I never would again, that those days of speed were just behind me, and I had to accept that. But maybe that's not true. Maybe if I can just go into every race with no fear and no expectations and just race the shit out of it with whatever the day gives me, I can PR in the short distances again. Hell, maybe I can PR in the freaking mile. I would love for 2017 to be the year where I find that mental strength, where I truly learn to walk on the red line, because I think that's all that stands between me and a breakthrough. To not be afraid of the pain and to know that I'm strong enough to take it.  So, while 2016 may not have been a breakthrough year in many ways, at least in one way, it was. :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 year in review

2016 was a decidedly underwhelming year of running for me. I headed into training for Boston 2016 off my best year of running yet, with PRs in nearly every distance in 2015 and no sign that things were headed anywhere but forward. I put together what I felt was a really great training cycle this winter, but sadly it didn't pay off - all of my race results, including my goal race of Boston, ranged from acceptable to largely disappointing, and to top it all off I ran my way into a case of hip tendinitis 2 weeks out from Boston (that's not even discussing the nagging high hamstring/hip rotator issue that I dealt with through the training cycle, and will be addressed in a second). I ran what I'd say was my best race of the year at the Harpoon 5 Miler, popping out with a surprise PR and helping my team take home the title for the second year in a row. My hip was feeling better, and things seemed be looking up. However, it was not to be. The previously mentioned mystery hamstring injury (like Voldemort, it's the injury-that-must-not-be-named...or even identified by my physical therapist self) reared up in a HUGE way during my ill advised attempt to race a 10 miler off virtually no training in mid-June. And thus, I learned what it was like to be injured for the first time in a long time. The summer was essentially a wash. By the time fall rolled around I was finally in stable enough condition to at least attempt to run a reasonable amount, and I was able to jump in a couple of low key races including a trail 5K (extremely tough, but extremely fun) and a Turkey Trot back home in Wisconsin. The corner finally seems to have been turned, and I feel like maybe, just maybe, I have some momentum going into 2017...and a much healthier respect for my body and the TLC it sometimes needs.

I did this last year and it was kind of fun, so some numbers for this year:
Miles run: 1404 (this is probably missing a few since I got really lazy about logging what I felt were stupid 2-3 mile runs while coming back over the summer)
Races run: 15 (I find it SO bizarre that despite being injured for half the year, I only ran one less race than I did in 2015! But the distances and the stats below tell the story: 1 marathon, 3 halfs, 1 10 mile, 1 15K, 2 5 miles, 5 5Ks (one of which was run with my dog), and 2 track races - a 3K and a DMR)
New races run: 8
AG/overall awards: I'm almost embarressed to say 7, and 4 of them came in the absurd 5Ks I ran while hungover/injured/on trails this fall
PRs run: technically 2, but I BARELY can count the PR I ran in my second ever 15K, which I was running as a tempo. Not a great year.
Hardest race experience: The freaking Boston Marathon....AGAIN (why do I keep doing this to myself? We may never know). Runners up include the New Orleans Half when I just felt like ass for no particular reason the entire time, and both of the 5Ks which I ran with large hangovers and without any form of training.
Best race experience: Harpoon 5 Mile was definitely the best all around race - a strong, surprising performance and the most FUN day ever

Some other notable things happened in 2016, which I feel like I need to add to this post mostly so I can look back on it later...
-I hiked 4 4000 footers in NH and completely fell head over heels in love with hiking - got a backpacking pack for Christmas and cannot WAIT to try it out!
-The dance company that I'm a part of presented our FIRST full length concert, which included a piece that I choreographed which is definitely my favorite thing I've ever choreographed, and probably the first piece I've ever made that turned out as well on stage as I envisioned it in my head
-I read 50 books again! Without even trying to! My goal this year was 30 books in different categories, with at least 5 additional books. Clearly I was inspired because I've been plowing through books, particularly during the second half of the year. I wish I had more time to read...sooo many books still on the "to read" list!
-I saw the original Broadway cast of Hamilton in what will certainly go down as one of the most crazy, surreal weekends of my life
-My personal life was more dramatic than it has been in quite some time, but I learned a lot about myself and what I really want for myself...and the best part of it is that in the end, everything found it's way back together anyway (hey, would the road be any fun without some twists and turns? It's the same thing with running I suppose...)

I think those are the major highlights! Overall it's been a really great year - more bumps in the road than I would have liked running-wise, but you can't get to the summit without climbing the mountain...or something like that. Week 1 of Boston 2017 training is just beginning and after such a long layoff from true training, I'm torn between being nervous about what the next 16 weeks holds, raring to get back to fighting fitness, and already missing the days when actually doing my planned run was optional. But no matter what, it's here, and I'm hopeful to get some vengeance on a few courses in particular in 2017. As always, I can't wait to see what happens next!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

It was a cruel, cruel summer

I was really hoping I wouldn't go MIA from this blog for ages again. I hoped that this summer would be full of delightful casual races, easy runs in the muggy mornings before the sun was at full blast, and building the blocks that would take me to a solid marathon in November or December. Oh, the silliness of making plans.

When we last left off, I was mostly recovered from a bout of right hip tendinitis that sent my Boston taper into a tailspin, followed by a disappointing race performance (although thankfully one not impacted one bit my my hip). A few weeks later, I ran a shockingly fast 5 mile time that made me feel like all of my training hadn't been for naught! My hip was feeling much better, and while I continued to have a few nagging issues I felt like I was well on the road to a solid summer of training. I planned races. I PLANNED SO MANY RACES (the running gods laugh at planning races). The first such race was the Lazy Lobster 10 Mile, a race which I love dearly but which I also knew I was not remotely prepared to run. Deep down, I knew I should drop to the 5 mile, even though I knew that that wouldn't yield any spectacular performances either. I somehow convinced myself that it made more sense to run the 10 miler because I could run slower and it would still be acceptable. So. I ran the 10 miler. It was decidedly not great, but approximately what I expected given the complete lack of training I had done since Boston - I ran 2.5 minutes slower than the year prior, felt terrible for the majority of the race, and was most likely only saved by the fact that I had chosen to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on my phone to get me through. Over the last couple of miles of the race, my left hamstring/hip rotator, an issue that had been flaring up multiple times throughout the Boston training cycle (like....pretty much every time I raced...) reared its head, to the point where I wasn't even able to cool down. Still, I had been here before - a few days off and all would be well, right? Well, I took essentially the rest of the week off, and then flew to Wisconsin for a reunion with my college track club teammates. The weekend was wonderful and I obviously couldn't pass up the opportunity to run the Arb loop with the boys (none of my girlfriends from college track run much any more, which makes me a little sad...oh well) on a muggy Sunday morning after drinking until 1 am the night before - reliving the college dream! It was a blast, and I was full of joy to be out there, but about halfway through the loop I knew I was royally screwed. We were thankfully keeping a very easy pace but even at 8:30s, my left leg felt like I was being stabbed every time I took a step. I'm not sure how I made it through the remainder of the run; somehow I did. And then I didn't run again for over a month.

So the majority of the rest of the summer was spent attempting to undo whatever had been done to my leg (something which I still, despite the fact that I AM A DAMN PHYSICAL THERAPIST, cannot seem to identify the exact cause of). I biked a lot. I did a lot of strength work. I TOOK UP YOGA - something which I'm still doing at least once a week and I have to admit I have grown to love dearly. Both the blessing and the curse of this injury was the fact that LITERALLY the only thing that caused me pain was running; I could dance, do yoga, ride my bike, walk, spin in circles, jog in place, do plyometrics, do strength training, whatever with NO pain but within 5 minutes of trying to run...nope.

Finally, after maybe 5 weeks of NO running, I started taking some baby steps in the right direction. I started being able to run 2-3 miles with minimal pain, which I took as a positive sign. After running a whopping 4 miles one 92 degree fall day, I was somehow convinced that a good life plan would be to run a 5K the following weekend. Imagine, if you will: my out of shape ass shows up at this beerfest 5K. I am hungover, have gotten 4 hours of sleep, and have decided to wear a cotton t-shirt that I cut into a tank top under the guise of "trying not to look like a real runner". The humidity is 90% and I warm up for maybe 4 minutes. I have no idea what my leg is going to do and I tell everyone who will listen that I'm probably going to run this 5K in 26 minutes. Here is what I do: I run my first mile in 6:30 (what.) It feels AMAZING. Like, I hope I never take the feeling of running fast and not being in pain for granted, ever again. I continue on, passing my friend who I SPECIFICALLY TOLD TO YELL AT ME if I passed her, because it meant I was doing something dumb. I was. But I couldn't help it. I couldn't get over how good it felt to be running and NOT BE IN PAIN Finally, by mile 3 I start to fade a little bit, but only because I'm out of shape and I feel like vomitting, not because my leg hurts. I finished in 22:xx, a pedestrian time for me but all things considered, I absolutely couldn't complain.

Since then, it's been a little bit of 2 steps forward, 1 step back. I had quite a few setbacks ranging from moving to pain to the worst cold I've ever had. I did another 5K the day after one of my good friends/teammate's weddings, which was again a hilarious sight to behold - a repeat performance - hungover, 4 hours of sleep, another 22:xx, that's the story of the summer. Since the beginning of September, I have FINALLY started to feel a little bit like the forward progress is outweighing the backward - I've been able to start doing baby workouts again, I have more good days than bad days running, and I've started being able to do some "long" (10ish) mile runs again. I'm still pretty limited in my mileage because I'm being really careful about days off after hard workouts, and I'm also still feeling generally very cautious because I can definitely tell that my problems aren't totally resolved. I'm mostly scared of what's going to happen when I race again - not only because of this lingering issue but also because I've fallen far from the shape I've been in the past couple of years, which of course is frustrating. Still, I think I've built some really great habits this summer (yoga! actually doing strength once in awhile! not hiding pain with ibuprofen!) that I think are going to help me in the long run. I just have to be patient, patient, patient. I am signed up for Boston once again so that's the next big goal: get healthy, get fit, and get ready to crush it once again in my most favorite race ever.

Other things that happened this summer:
-I impulsively bought tickets to see the OBC of Hamilton in May and it was quite possibly the best life choice I've ever made (also most expensive, but whatevs)
-I hiked 4 4000 footers in NH - Mount Jackson, Mount Liberty, Mount Flume, and Mount Moosilauke - and am developing a strong obsession with hiking
-I biked 30 miles from Cambridge to Concord along the Minuteman Trail and Battle Road to the Concord Battlefield on the 4th of July - felt like it was appropriate!
-A bunch of weird dramatic stuff happened in my personal life that created some strange situations over the summer - thankfully, things have resolved at least to some degree

It was a weird summer. But fall is my favorite season in running and in life - I still think of it as the "new" year even though it's technically not, and I can't wait to see what's in store.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Harpoon 5 Miler Race Report, or, good things happen when I have no expectations

Hah! Well. I was expecting to write a race report today that said something along the lines of "well, I'm definitely out of shape and I ran pretty slow, but at least my hip didn't hurt!" I was not, NOT NOT expecting to write a race report that was like "oh hey I ran a PR". But yes, that is what happened today! (Yes it's a short course, but I ran 30 seconds faster than I did on the same course last year, and my overall pace for 4.9 miles was 5 seconds/mile faster than my current 5 mile PR. I think it's pretty safe to say that if the course had gone on an extra 0.1, I would have still run a PR). And I don't even know how to explain it.

To summarize my running for the last couple of weeks: my hip finally, FINALLY decided it felt like acting like a normal joint about a week and a half ago, which was really lovely timing. Prior to that I had pretty much been running 2-3x/week for maybe 4 miles if I was lucky. This week I was finally able to run 5 miles on Monday/Wednesday and then 7 MILES (yes!) on Friday without hip problems. At the very least, that seemed to be cooperating. However, the fact that my weekly average mileage since Boston was hovering somewhere around 12 miles, my faith in my fitness was...not great. In addition my Achilles has decided that it would rather run MORE miles, not less, and so has actually been pretty irritated ever since I had to take time off for my hip - because that makes sense, right? Put it all together and I was pretty much hoping I could hang onto marathon pace, cobble together something that wasn't a complete embarrassment, and not cost my team a win.

A 10 am start + a race that's T-accessible = a luxuriously late race morning wake up of 7:20 am. I got ready pretty quickly and walked/jogged the dog, which was when I realized that my Achilles was SUPER cranky. Great. I decided to nix wearing racing flats (not like I was going to PR anyway, har har) and also slapped some kineso tape on. This is the 3rd time I've worn it for my Achilles and as a PT I think any effect is probably a placebo, but placebo or not whenever I've worn it it hasn't bothered me, so whatever. I grabbed a bagel (terrible, when will I learn) and an iced coffee at Dunkin and took the train downtown. I love the few large races that happen in the city because there's nothing more fun than watching your train fill up with runners on a Sunday morning and knowing they're all headed the same place as you! I met up with the team without any issues, and after a quick 10 minute warmup, we dropped our bags and headed to the start.

As defending champions, we were of course eyeing up the competition and the only contenders on the women's side looked to be the Heartbreakers club. I spent most of my time in the corral trying to talk myself into the fact that I wasn't going to totally bomb the race. "I'm going to go out in like 7:15!" I said. "If I go out like I'm in shape, I'm going to die!" Dana and I both decided that we were going to go out "nice and slow". Soon enough there was no more time for talking or thinking about what was going to happen - the gun sounded and we were away! I immediately let Joy and Dana go ahead of me, and I felt it in my legs as soon as I started running. Ohhhhh, boy, I groaned. But then my legs adjusted to the sudden shock of WTF we haven't run this pace in like 2 months and settled down, and it felt OK. I told myself to relax and find an acceptable level of effort, and upon doing that I found myself quickly closing in on Dana. We ran side by side for most of the first mile at what I assumed was not a particularly fast pace. Good, at least we could run together! At around the half mile, Dana looked at her watch and turned to me - "uh, just so you know, we're running 6:30 pace right now". Excuse me?? OK, whatever, I guess we'll file that under the "things I'll regret later column". I attempted to dial it back but still managed to get through the 1 mile in 6:28 on my watch But I just felt so weirdly strong! Most of the time in short races when I go out too hard I KNOW I've made a bad choice because I'm feeling it too early. But this? I felt great! This was delightful! There was a little voice in the back of my head that was just like yeah, it's going to be great...until it's, you know, NOT! I decided to just continue to try to relax and cruise along and just went with it.

I did slow down but continued to feel great throughout mile 2. My brain had decided that a medley of phrases from the Hamilton soundtrack would be the ideal musical background for this race, so I was running along with a combination of "HOW DO YOU WRITE LIKE YOU'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME?" and "who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" in my head. Vaguely inspirational, I guess? By the time we hit the lollipop around the park I was definitely starting to get tired, and seriously questioning my decisions earlier in the race. Ah, Zaferos, you knew you weren't in shape! Why would you put yourself through this? But I tried my best to ignore that and just live in the moment and handle a meltdown when and if it came. Mile 3 was actually my slowest mile of the day at 6:54 - when I saw that my first thought was "huh, I think I had slowed down way more at this point last year. Am I running FASTER than last year? I think I feel better than last year? How is that even possible??" I was certainly tired and I definitely did have a moment of wishing that this was a 5K after passing mile 3, but it was a tolerable tired that I could keep at bay. Back over the bridge, I wasn't getting passed nearly as much as last year but just kind of holding my own. I kept coming up on a girl in a pink shirt who was kind of awkwardly sprinting and then slowing down all race, but unfortunately her strategy was effective enough to keep me from passing her. We hit the long, obnoxious straightaway and my watched beeped for 4 miles at 6:53. Still sub 7? I still haven't slowed down? Well shit! By this point, I was starting to have an inkling that unless something dramatic happened in the last mile, I was actually going to run faster that last year, and run a PR, which still just seemed totally shocking and unreasonable. Turn left - OK, one more turn and then the finish. Turn right - ah, damn it, there's ANOTHER turn and then the finish. Turn left - OK, this is the real one! You can actually see in my Strava data that I started to kick before what I thought was the last turn, then slow down because, whoops! And then kick again hahaha. And then I finished and the clock said 33:11 and I was just like...WHAT?!

I quickly found the top 3 ladies on our team, all of whom had run extremely fast. Dana and Joy both finished shortly after me, and EVERYONE ran awesome! Of our team, almost everyone tied or bettered their PR from the same course - it was ridiculous. Now we just had to wait and see if we had also taken the team title. There had been a whole crew of Heartbreaker girls who finished just ahead of me, and I was worried that they might eke out the win. But thanks to the strength of our top 3, as well as how close the rest of us were to the bulk of their team, we ended up winning by a considerable margin! It's not all that often that I actually get to be the part of the winning team and it was damn exciting to repeat as champions (and also to get another stein to add to the trophy case, as well as a 6-pack of beer...yay!)

 Victory is so sweet
Our team name was the Pool Noodles, and we all wore fun and exciting multicolored shorts. I would say we look pretty stylish and fabulous.

Of course, the day was made even better by the fact that we just got to hang out together and enjoy some beer all morning! This race is seriously one of my favorite days of the year; it's an incredible fundraiser for ALS research, I always have a blast, and there's the added bonus of running really well too! I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty excited about how I raced today. I rarely feel like I live up to what I want to run in shorter races, and I think I overthink pacing them way too much. As I've learned time and time again over the past few years, my best performances tend to happen when I have no expectations, don't have a specific time goal, and am actually able to just go by feel and just run. I felt better today than I have racing in quite awhile, and it's exciting to have that feeling while also running fast. I think I'll be doing some more shorter races this summer, because they're just damn fun! I'm also happy to say that while my hip was being a little whiney this morning, I didn't feel a thing during the race or after. My Achilles is a bit sore now, but again, it wasn't anything noticeable while running. What a great day. I feel like I really needed a confidence boost with running, and I finally got a glimpse that somewhere, somehow, the training I've been doing since January actually DID add up to something.

Harpoon 5 Mile (4.9 miles)
33:11 (official pace 6:39, Garmin 6:46)
209/4260 OA, 36/2445 F, 22/1091 F21-29

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Going all in

After Boston, I experienced the usual post-marathon letdown, only this time it was magnified by the fact that not only was one of the best training cycles I've ever run coming to an end, not only that it ended with a decidedly underwhelming race, but also the fact that I COULDN'T run, because I was injured. Yup, as it turns out, loading up on painkillers and running a marathon is NOT, in fact, the miracle cure for tendinitis! I've got to cancel the article I had drafted for the PT journals now! I didn't run at all for a week after the race - that was how long it took me to get to the point where I wasn't walking with a limp anymore. On day 8, I tried a test run, and it was TERRIBLE. I couldn't even approximate a normal running stride and was having pretty significant pain, even at 9+ minute miles. So, I shut it down for a few more days, continued on with my strength work, and lo and behold - things started to feel a little bit better. This weekend I was able to run 3 miles, twice, and today I ran 4.6 miles. I'm running SO slowly, because I've found that I'm still having pain if I run faster than about an 8:20 mile. The quality of the pain is much less scary that it was - more of an irritating soreness vs. a sharp STOP NOW kind of pain. Still, my goal is to be completely painfree, so I've been forcing myself to just jog along without pain in the hopes that things will continue to heal. It seems to be on the right track, and I know that after 5 weeks of drawing this out I can't just expect it to flip back to normal overnight. But I'm such a baby, and I've gone SO long injury-free, that I just want to be back running free and easy and not thinking about it RIGHT NOW.

I've had a lot of time to mull over my training cycle, my race, this injury, and where I want to go from here. Obviously, all my big talk about "oh, I don't even know if I'll do a fall marathon" is totally out the window now - I want 26.2 redemption and I want it BAD. I've spent this whole winter building my mileage with the numbers 3:14:59 emblazoned in my mind (Actually, deep down in the depths of my soul, the number that for some reason I kept seeing when I closed my eyes was a 3:12. No particular reason. I just felt like on a perfect day, that was what I was capable of) and to fall 20 minutes short of that has left me so hungry. All the incredible fast long runs and workouts don't mean squat when you wind up injured, and then the weather sucks, and you're forced to settle. This fall, I want to refuse to settle. I want to do everything in my power to put myself in a position to run the race of my life this fall. The core work, the injury prevention work, the yoga, the drills, the mileage, the cross training, the nutrition - I want to do it all. I've spent most of my running career floating along quite luckily just on running - sure, I've done a little strengthening here and there, a circuit once in awhile - but for the most part, I've been able to get better by the simple strategies of running more and running harder. Weather nonwithstanding, this training cycle taught me that just doing that isn't enough - especially if you're looking to take things to the next level. One day, I want to run a sub-3:10 marathon. That's lofty, I know, especially when you're taking such a twisting, winding path to get there as I seem to be. My expectation with running has been constant upward progression - to drop time with each and every race. If that doesn't happen, in college, my solution was to change events. But in the marathon, for whatever reason, I have absolutely no desire to shift my focus to something else. I want the marathon, even if my progression has been more of a zigzag than an upward curve. I see people on instagram and on blogs going from 3:20 to 3:11 to 3:08 and I think to myself: why not me?

So what am I trying to say with all of this rambling? Well, obviously the first order of business is to get healthy. I've put together a short hip/core routine that I'm committing to doing at least 6 days/week, in addition to at least 2 days of additional core/strength work. I'm currently running every other day and keeping things pretty short and VERY slow - I'm not allowing myself to run through pain or form alterations. Once I'm no longer worried about reinjuring myself, I'm going to do the thing I always manage to avoid and add in some plyometrics and drills - even if it's just once a week. I'm going to keep trying to run generally higher mileage but I'm not going to kill myself over the difference between 55 and 60 miles - to date, I've had pretty mixed results with my attempts to run higher mileage (in 3 tries: overtraining, a PR, an injury) so I'm not entirely convinced it's the magical answer for me personally. But the bottom line is this: right here, right now I am committing myself to doing everything in my power to find myself standing on the starting line in Indianapolis on November 5 (yes I picked my fall marathon, and yes it's extremely random) and KNOWING - not believing, not thinking, not questioning - KNOWING beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am ready and able to run a PR. Anything I can do in the next 5 months that will get me to that place will be nothing short of worth it.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Hold on tight: Boston Marathon 2016 Race Report

Oh Boston. You fickle bitch of a race. I had such high hopes for this one. After running a PR at Boston last year, I now know that I'm capable of running a strong race on the course, and so I embarked on this training cycle with the intention of doing just that. But mother nature took zero pity on the plight of the masses running Boston this year, and she definitely had no sympathy for those of us who completely wilt in the sun and the heat. And so, after a training cycle where I ran my highest mileage ever, one that I was convinced would propel me to the 3:15 I had dreamed of, I ran a 3:35:21.  On paper that looks like a complete disaster and honestly? Yeah. It was. Am I disappointed? Yeah, I am pretty damn disappointed. However, given how bad I felt at mile 8, how little faith I had that I would be able to finish the race, I really can't complain too much. My legs pretty much didn't show up yesterday, and to pile heat on top of that is pretty much just a recipe for utter disaster. Which is about what happened. But honestly? That's the marathon biz. You win some, you lose some (and sometimes, when you lose some, you lose BADLY), and all you can do is learn from the experience and take it on to the next one. Out of my entire club, we had multiple people drop out and virtually no one ran even close to what they were planning on. Hell, one of the elites dropped out at mile 4! So all things considered, I was in good company having a rough time on a day that was 100% Not My Day. Given the fact that I wasn't even 100% convinced that I would be able to race thanks to this ridiculous hip issue, I really have no other option besides being grateful to finish the race.

Prerace, things were pretty uneventful. I was even more jittery and on edge than usual, probably because I had been forced to taper SUPER aggressively in an attempt to salvage my hip - I will never do such an aggressive taper again, by the way. I think I actually did manage to lose fitness the last 2 weeks when I basically couldn't run, and that's a major bummer. So between standard taper jitters and legitimate concern about my body's cooperation, I wasn't in much of a good mood. My dad and his wife came into town on Thursday, which provided a welcome distraction. We had a great time at the Sox game on Friday night which the Sox one, and where I got to witness Big Papi stealing a base! Hilarious.

I always go to the expo on Saturday, and it is always one of my favorite parts of the marathon experience. On Saturday, the race still isn't the NEXT day, so the excitement hasn't yet crossed over into the treacherous territory of "holy shit, I actually have to RUN A MARATHON". The atmosphere around the finish line and the expo is absolutely electric and I feel like I can't stop grinning from the moment I get off the train. This year, the experience was made even better by the fact that ALL of my running besties/teammates were racing, so we got to go through it all together! Two of my friends were running their first Boston, and it was pretty cool to get to be a part of that. We cheered for the 5K and then headed off for brunch before heading to the expo.
Fasties in the 5K

I see you way down there finish line....

As always, the expo was fairly intense but exciting, and as always I just pretended that money was no object and bought a bunch of stuff. Saucony made a great shirt that was a play on the green line, which runs along part of the course and is also notoriously slow. We also went to Tracksmith after the expo, because they had made shirts that actually said "GBTC" on them in homage to Bill Rodgers. Seeing as we all actually run for that club, it felt like we had to get them!
Obligatory bib photo...not sure how I would have gotten through training or the race without these girls

I was planning on heading to the DailyMile meet up, but by the time 2 pm rolled around I was starting to feel pretty grumpy and tired (getting up at 6:30 to be downtown by 8 was fun, but exhausting) so I ended up nixing it (sorry DM friends! I still heart you!)

Sunday I'm not even sure what I did with my life. I did a 2 mile shakeout which felt OK, though I still wasn't convinced about my hip holding up for 26 miles and it also felt really effing hot. I went to lunch and was kind of a giant crab ass (sorry dad). I think I aimlessly surfed my phone a lot while trying to decided whether to wear a sports bra or my singlet? By the end of the night I had decided that I was going to wear the sports bra, but then dumbly changed my mind the morning of the race because I felt too naked and wore my singlet. Note to self: if the weather forecast makes it so you even have to think about wearing a sports bra, WEAR A SPORTS BRA. Or maybe just don't even bother racing, because it's going to be awful...

Finally, it was time to eat some pasta, watch Mockingjay Part II, stretch, and go to bed. I don't think I've ever been so nervous the night before a marathon - it was literally the first time in my running life going into a race and genuinely being unsure if I would be able to finish. I would find out soon enough.

OK, I'm so proud of this sports bra - I cut the logo off a crappy size large t-shirt I bought at our track meet and then sewed it (ME! I SEWED SOMETHING!) onto the sports bra. It's pretty badass, I did actually end up wearing it under my singlet, and I definitely will get some use out of it this summer!


I was up before my alarm, and immediately rolling around in bed trying to assess the status of my hip. I eventually realized that I had only given myself half an hour to get up and out the door...not a lot of time, and so tried to get my butt in gear and get ready to do. The sports bra/singlet decision finally came to a head, and I just felt SO NAKED in just the sports bra that I ended up wearing it under my singlet. The weather forecast was still saying high of 61 or something, and I just thought it was unnecessary. (Hint: the weather forecast was a steaming pile of dog turds). Of course, taking awkward mirror selfies on marathon morning has now become my tradition, and so that's what I did.

Please note the greatest sweater in all the land. I miss it already.

I headed down to meet the crew at bag check. Last year I felt like I rode the train just with a bunch of random commuters, but this year it was pretty much ALL runners. Which was awesome. My mood, however, was not that awesome. My hip was already bothering me on the walk to the train, and I'm going to be completely honest: I was having a freakout. I immediately popped 2 ibuprofen, which I knew would help, but I was just angry that I was having to rely on painkillers to get myself to baseline. That was really a shadow hanging over the whole morning of whether or not my leg would cooperate. My mood improved significantly, though, upon arriving at bag check. There's nothing like popping out from underground to just a sea of marathoners, hilarious throwaway clothes, and the nervous energy of 30,000 people who are about to go run a marathon. I met up with the crew and this picture pretty much says it all:
Nerves. Excitement. ZEBRA PANTS.

As we were walking to the train, a woman was like "OMG! Are you sure you want to throw those clothes away? That is amazing." This made me SO happy - I always like to think that people get a kick out of my ridiculous throwaways, because I sure do. We dropped our bags and got on the buses without incident, and it was once again time for the neverending bus ride out to Hopkinton. I swear, it gets longer every year! We were literally on the bus for an hour...finally arrived at the athletes village (after passing a house with the most adorable little kids dancing around and waving "Good Luck Runners" signs in their yard) and it was time to #portapottyandchill . Heh. Unlike last year, we managed to hit the porta potty jackpot and only waited for about 5 minutes - first time that's EVER happened to me! Then we found a grassy spot to eat our various breakfasts (my bagel this year was much less disgusting than last year) and relax. I always like to write some mantra on my hand for the race, and we all ended up picking a mantra word to write on our arm. I wrote "hold on tight" on my hand - which I like because of it's double meaning. I wrote it as a reminder of the song lyric "hold on tight to what you've been handed", but it was also a good reminder that when the going gets tough, you've got to hold on tight and get through it. One by one, my friends picked their words - grit, pride, run bold. It took me a few minutes to think of what I wanted to say to myself, but then I came up with the perfect word. In big bold letters, I wrote GRATEFUL. Whatever the day would bring, I wanted to be grateful for it. To be here, with these people, having this experience, and being in a situation where I could even dream of being in shape to run a fast marathon. 

As we sat, the sun continued to creep up, and it continued to get unnervingly warm. By the time we were called to the corrals at 9:40 I was already ready to ditch my sweater...NOT a good sign. "Invisible Touch" was playing as we walked towards the exit and I decided to scream that I loved that song. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed by life hahaha. We walked towards the exit to the village and I realized that since 2/4 of us were in the 8th corral, our group was going to have to split up sooner than I had thought. So then I decided that I was going to make everyone cry by having a little team huddle before we all headed off to our own destiny. Getting to have that moment with my friends and teammates was probably one of my favorite parts of the race, and doing a GBTC chant before setting off towards the line got us all pumped. I ditched the rest of my throwaway clothes - farewell zebra pants, I hardly knew ye! - and Dana and I headed out towards the line. 

As we walked, I tried to hide my nerves by talking, but secretly I was scared shitless. It was HOT, and my hip was bothering me just walking - how the hell was I going to run 26 miles? Like actually, how? It's not like it was horrible pain, but having already taken ibuprofen and not having it done the trick? I was not happy. And so, I did something that I'm sure was ill advised (but I'm still alive today so I guess I got through it alright...) and that is that I took another 2 ibuprofen. I've never taken that large of a dose of anti-inflammatories (not even after thyroid surgery...whoops) but if literally nothing else went right in this race, I could NOT have it end because of my hip. I figured it had already been 4 hours since I took it earlier, so it might have actually been wearing off already...right? Right. Dana and I hit up the porta potties on the way to the start (the ones in the back never have long lines!) - I actually felt like I cut it a little close this year, by the time we got back onto the path to the corrals, it was about 10 minutes to the start. Dana was 2 corrals back from me so we shared a hug and a good luck, and then I was on my own, off to corral 3. I really can't emphasize this enough: I already felt like I was BAKING standing in the corrals. I had pinned my number to my shorts so that I could pull my singlet off if needed, but figured I would save that as an ace in the hole later on in the race. However my main concern was: when I start running, is my hip going to work?

2 minutes to the start, 1 minute to the start, it all happened, SO FAST.  A guy next to me shook hands with all of us and wished us all good luck, and it was beginning, slowly and first and then building, the shuffle forward to the start, and suddenly you're over the line and on your way, with 26.2 miles ahead of you, and who knows what the hell will happen next.

I'm just going to take a moment here to put my splits from the race, which pretty much summarizes the experience. This is the short story:
Part 1 - 7:31, 7:29, 7:36, 7:33 (MY HIP DOESN'T HURT! ANGELS ARE SINGING! WHO EVEN CARES ABOUT THE WEATHER I CAN ACTUALLY RUN FOR THE FIRST TIME IN WEEKS!!! Subtitle: oh my god literally could you be any dumber)
Part 2 - 7:56, 7:48, 7:54, 8:08 (slowing down, first by choice and then not by choice anymore. Why do my legs feel SO terrible? Why does it feel like I've already run 20 miles? What the hell? Where's the next water stop)
Part 3 - 7:54, 8:10, 8:18, 8:03, 8:05, 8:04 (well...this is not at all what I was hoping for, but it's really freaking hot and my legs feel like lead so..I guess I'll take it?)
Part 4 - 8:21, 8:12, 8:51, 9:06, 8:25, 8:53, 9:11 (HOLY EFFING LEG CRAMPS can I drop out? I don't know if I can finish this? Oh my God. This is so bad. SO BAD. I'm going to run like a 3:50. All of my training was meaningless. This sucks.)
Part 5 -8:26, 8:39, 8:12, 8:49, 7:57 (AWW YEAH FINISHING KICK WHAT WHAT)

The long story: 

I started running, and my hip didn't hurt, and as mentioned above I decided to breathe a sigh of relief in the form of running first 4 miles at goal pace, aka EXACTLY WHAT I SAID I ABSOLUTELY WOULD NOT DO. This is the one thing I did in this race that really and truly was my fault. I think I had talked myself into thinking that the weather wasn't really going to be THAT bad, and if my hip would just cooperate that I could totally defy the odds and my own expectations and PR. I honestly didn't feel like I was trying one little bit to click off those 7:30s, which gave me the false sense of security that comes back to bite millions on this course. So the first 4 miles were awesome. I smiled, I high fived like a million kids, I yelled On Wisconsin to the house with the Badger flag only to find that the guy next to me was not only from Wisconsin, but from the town next to my hometown. I'm glad I had the opportunity to enjoy myself for those 4 miles, because the 22 miles that followed would be the absolute opposite of enjoyable.

I started to notice I was feeling a little thirsty around mile 3, which is never good. I considered taking off my singlet but figured I would save it "for later, when I get really hot". (Later, when I got really hot, the sheer idea of trying to move my arms in a pattern that would allow me to take off my singlet sounded like the equivalent of long jumping my way to Mars. So I did not take my singlet off). I also stepped on a Gu packet and nearly rolled my ankle very early on, which made me irrationally angry - probably another sign that things were going to go south. The alarm bells were going off in the back of my head that I was probably doing something stupid, so I tried REALLY hard to stop being stupid and just relax and slow it down a little bit. As the splits above show, a little bit quickly turned into "a lot". Worst of all, slowing down didn't seem to do a thing for the fatigue that was already creeping into my legs....AT MILE 5. I couldn't even figure out how this could possibly be happening. I ran 22 miles at 7:37 pace 3 weeks ago? I'm fit? Don't tell me I can't even run 5 MILES at my goal pace? 

It's fairly obvious that the heat played a huge role in my body's meltdown (literally) - clearly, after pretty much having run in nothing over 50 degrees for months and then suddenly SURPRISE, IT'S 70, there was no way I was going to be successful, but I also just felt like my legs didn't show up for the day. If I'd run the first half in goal pace and then blown up big, well that would have been a different story. But this was a totally different animal - aside from the first 4 miles, I NEVER had it. It was weird and stressful and it kind of made me want to cry. It also made me extremely concerned about how I was going to make it through the rest of this race. That was sort of the panic stage, which took me through Ashland. Once I slowed down a bit and just accepted that this was going to be a "thanks for playing, try again" sort of day, I was actually able to hold it together in the high 7's for a bit. That's still completely miserable, but at least I was still moving forward. The sun was absolutely relentless - the aid stations at Boston are so close together, and yet I still wanted to fall on each one like someone who's been out in the desert for a week. Being the type of thirsty where drinking a cup of water tastes like the nectar of the gods is definitely not a good place to be in the early miles of a marathon - especially given the fact that I had actually hydrated MORE than usual (2 full 16 oz water bottles plus a 16 oz nuun) before the race. And I just couldn't get over how horrible 7:55's felt! It was like Groundhog Day - I felt like I had to relive mile 24 of a marathon over and over and over again for the entire race. 

I amused myself through Framingham by attempting to high five/smile at drunk people (once again Framingham smelled like running through a beer keg, and everyone was hammered. I kind of love it). I figured I could try to use the long, slight downhill through Framingham center to try to pull things together a little bit and see if I could make a push into Natick. But with every step, I simply felt worse and worse and worse. I couldn't put my finger on what specifically the problem was - I think mainly it was dehydration, because nothing gives me cement legs like dehydration does - but how could I seriously be dehydrated only an hour into the race? My brain just couldn't process it. I took a Gu at 10K which helped a little bit but not nearly as much as it should have. But I was feeling a little better, so maybe things were going to be OK, right?

And then mile 8 happened, and I saw that I had just fought for an 8:07 mile, and I seriously wanted to sit down on the side of the road, cry, and drop out of the race. I don't think the thought of not finishing has ever seriously crossed my mind in a marathon before. Like, as a concept of "oh, it would be so nice to drop out and not run anymore right now", yes. But never like this, where I literally thought to myself, I don't know if I can actually do this. I do not know how my body is going to continue to run for 18 more miles. It wasn't just that I was running slowly, it was that I was feeling so horrible doing it. I'm not kidding when I say that my legs felt better after every 20 mile long run of this cycle than they did at mile 8 of the actual race. It sounds cheesy, but one of the ONLY things that kept me forward was knowing that my teammates were out there too. Thinking to myself that I couldn't be the only one not to finish kept me moving forward long after any will to do so had completely stopped existing. I kept looking over to the other side of the course, assuming that they would all pass me at some point. Little did I know that with few exceptions, they were all having just as bad of a time as me.

I realized that I had to do something, so I started thinking about taking one of my "salt tabs" (aka, a nuun tablet that I cut up into little pieces). I'm not kidding, it probably took me about 5 minutes between thought and action, because the idea of having to put my arm back to my pocket, get out the baggie of nuun, take one, and put it back was too much energy expenditure for me to even bear. I do believe wholeheartedly that if I hadn't thought to bring those tabs (I ended up eating them all) that things would have been much worse. I'm a very salty sweater and literally had a crust of salt on me already by this point, so there's no way of knowing what might have happened to me without some extra salt in my life. We headed through the little section that leads to Natick, and the 15K mark which is pretty much the most accurate gauge of how my race is going. If I have to fake looking happy at the 15K photo op? It's all over. I was actually thrilled at the fact that there WAS no 15K photo op this year! However, around this time I did get past by two Cambridge Running Club girls, one of whom said hi to me and was like "I ran with you at New Bedford!". I didn't even have the energy to respond; I think I kind of gave her like a "yeah! Nice job.." And then she and her friend passed me, and I kind of wanted to punch her. I beat her at New Bedford! And now, she was running away from me. Sigh. Around this time, I also got really excited to see some people handing out bags of ice...only to have both people right in front of me take a bag, and miss out on getting one. Sigh. I wasn't in a place where I could stop and wait for it. Whatever I did, I HAD to keep moving forward - if I stopped, it was going to be all over. 

I made it to Natick, another town down. I was totally bummed to already be counting down the towns and the miles to the finish, and I was trying really hard to appreciate the crowds. I LOVE this race - it was such a bummer to feel so terrible that I really wasn't able to enjoy it much. The only perk to date was that my hip wasn't complaining at all (thank you, ibuprofen), it was just everything else that was shutting down. I was taking water or Gatorade (sometimes both!) at every water stop, and it just didn't seem to be doing anything. The sun was completely relentless, my legs felt like I'd already run a marathon, and I was just in a battle for survival. I decided to try really hard to stop thinking about how many miles there were to go and just get through each landmark, one at a time. Then get to the next one. Just get there, somehow.

I had been looking over to my right almost constantly because I kept expecting Dana/Taylor/Joy/Ali/Brianna to come streaming by me at any moment. I was genuinely shocked to not have seen them yet. However, at mile 11 finally one of the people in red jerseys actually turned out to be someone I knew - Dana came rolling by looking AWESOME. I tried to yell to her but I think my voice came out sounding like Rose in Titanic ("come back! come back!") and it was so loud anyway, she definitely couldn't hear me from across the course. Given how my race was going there was no chance she was ever coming back to me, but I was excited that at least one of us was having a good day out there.

The mile 11 or 12 water stop was the first time, but certainly not the last, that I basically ran right into someone who came to a dead stop after getting their water. WHYYY. I did not have the energy to make quick dodging movements and so I definitely ended up basically pushing several guys (they were all guys) because I couldn't avoid them. Very annoying. Last year, maybe because it was cold, I never had any trouble getting in and out of the water stops but this year it was just a mess. We headed into Wellesley, and for a couple of minutes I felt just the slightest reprieve from my misery. Not that I was able to speed up at all, but I felt slightly less like I was dying for maybe 10 minutes. The Wellesley girls were out in force this year and I tried to just take myself out of the pain of my body and just mentally soak in some energy from them. I think my favorite sign was a couple of girls who were wearing little shorts and tube tops, holding large signs that said "If you run fast enough, we'll drop the signs!" - a creative twist on the typical "kiss me, I'm ______". Wellesely, in general, was an OK place for me. I took a cup of blue gatorade from a spectator which was AMAZING - there is something about getting some flavor besides the taste of lemon lime gatorade that just was stunningly glorious at that moment. I kind of zoned out for awhile, at some point I took another Gu and another nuun chunk. I remember some older guy running next to me and obviously sensing my struggle telling me to "relax your hands! Stop making fists! That's just wasted energy!" I remember seeing people walking and being vaguely glad that at least I hadn't gotten to that point...yet. I knew it was coming though. And quite honestly, I already knew that my time was going to be terrible, and I was hurting so much that I was finding it hard to even care.

Wellesley continued. I guess the fact that my pace stayed relatively consistent in the low 8's means that it was pretty uneventful. I think what was most frustrating was that I FELT like this pace should feel easy. Like, it would have been one thing if I had just slowed down and enjoyed the course and stopped and hugged people or whatever - it would have been intentional, and I'm sure I wouldn't have been so wrecked at the end. But this? No. It was literally taking every ounce of energy I possessed to just continue to run. I obviously was extremely dehydrated, but my brain was also so fried by the heat that I was blaming it all on me - that made for a rather unpleasant mental state.

Right before the big downhill, someone was blasting that "Who run the world? Girls!" song, which got in my head and that was cool. I didn't power down the hill by any means, in fact I pretty much did the opposite and try to put in as little effort as possible and just let the hill pull me down. That felt nice, and I actually passed some people on the downhill who looked worse than me, which was a little bit encouraging. Hold on tight though, because this is where things REALLY fell apart.

We headed up the hill through Newton Lower Falls, and as we started up I was like, "hey! Maybe running up these hills at this slower pace, I'll feel alright!" I'm not sure if this is a memory I'm making up because I want to imagine that I didn't feel like utter trash for the WHOLE race, but whatever, we'll pretend I felt OK for a second. That was immediately followed by possibly the most not OK thing that has ever happened to me at mile 16 of a marathon, which was the most searing quadriceps cramps I have ever experienced in my entire life. I tried to keep running and my legs physically would not. I'm actually surprised I didn't just straight up fall down, it was that bad, and that painful. I've felt flickers of this at like, mile 24 of a marathon, but NEVER this early, and never this bad. I had to walk. It was the only way to keep moving. I pulled off to the side to walk, literally said something like "this is not OK", and then proceeded to repeat the word fuck several times as I tore another nuun chunk out of my pocket and ate it. This HAD to be electrolyte imbalance - there was no question about it. I probably walked for less than a minute, but it felt like eternity. I knew that with this happening now, that the chances of this being a one time event were low indeed. By this point, even the thought of requalifying (not that it mattered, since I already have a qualifier from the fall) was completely gone. I was like, am I even going to finish under 4 hours? It was bad.

Funny enough, after taking a walk break I actually felt better than I usually do running up the rest of the hill over the highway. Through the Newton Wellesley area I felt marginally less horrendous - as in, I wasn't actively cramping and I was slowly moving forward. However, I knew the hills were coming and I knew that surviving them was going to be one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in a race.

We made the turn at the firehouse, where possibly one of the best things all race happened: they had a spray tunnel set up, and you had better believe I cut all the way to the other side of the course to run through that damn thing. I thought perhaps the cooling spray mist would propel me up ass panther hill...but alas. For the 4th time in 5 tries, ass panther hill bit me and it bit me HARD. Once again, I found myself reduced to a walk. Everything just seemed utterly pointless. What was the point of running up this hill, when I was running such a pathetic race? Might as well walk for a second, and feel just a little bit better. As soon as I started to feel a little normalized, I started running again. I pretty much resigned myself at that point that I'd be doing some walking on the other 2 big Newton hills, but vowed that in between them I HAD to keep running.

The crowds in this area were insane, and I was getting so many great Greater Boston cheers, that it was so frustrating to feel like I was representing my club so poorly. I think the spectators definitely had the idea that the runners were having a rough day and I felt like the genuine encouragement was really out in full force. There was also some kind of really awesome drum group that I don't think was there in the past - like 30 people banging drums in unison like a heartbeat will give you chills, even if you don't already have them from heatstroke...hah. Once again, I tried to just zone out and run through the section between ass panther and heartache hill. I was running, but man I was running slowly. The mile where I walked on the hill was a 9:06, and the next mile (with no walking) was an 8:25 - I couldn't even tell you the last time I ran an 8:25 mile. But I was trying SO hard. I wanted to much to be able to try! And my body just would not cooperate in the slightest.

Just trying to put my head down and get through it in Newton. Notice how my feet are barely even leaving the ground...

We hit the mile 19 mark, and I knew that Brenda would be cheering somewhere in this area. I missed her last year so made a point to look for her...and there she was going crazy! I think I made a sad face but I was so happy to see her there. Shortly after, I saw Coach Rod (who I didn't realize was going to be there)...I think I made an even SADDER face at him, which I'm sure he understood since he knows exactly how hard I've trained, and he knew that this was not the race I was shooting for. He yelled something like "You're fine! You're OK! Just finish it out!" and I almost burst into tears. I don't think I've ever needed someone to tell me I was OK more than I did at that moment. It reminded me that I wasn't the only one having a tough day, and that the most important thing at the moment was to get to the finish line. 

I continued on through the gauntlet of Newton. One extremely random thing I noticed this year was that there were several clusters of spectators throughout the course wearing Wisconsin gear, and seeing one of them was literally the ONLY thing that could get me out of myself for a second to smile, wave, and yell "On Wisconsin". There was a guy somewhere in here decked out in Packers gear and I just wanted to go over and have a beer with him, haha. I also ate a freeze pop which absolutely tasted like the nectar of the gods, but any marathon where people feel the need to hand out freeze pops and I feel the desire to eat them (3/5 Bostons for me now) is way too effing hot to be running a marathon.  Heartache came and went, I walked for about 30 seconds but then pulled it back together. I think writing this now, almost a week later, a lot of the true nature of just how bad I was feeling has faded in the background. My brain has purposely forgotten it. But let me be clear: I have NEVER felt as bad as I did on Monday for as long as I did Monday in any race I've ever done. Once in awhile I would just realize that I had somehow covered 2 more miles and I would just be shocked that such a thing was even possible. I kept thinking of that quote "The marathon will humble you". I was being humbled. So, SO humbled.

At long last, I made it to Heartbreak, and actually managed to stumble up it for a little while before my legs just straight up gave up. I had started picking a place to restart every time I had to walk, because otherwise I figured I might just never start up again. So once again, it was only maybe a minute of walking, but it felt like an eternity. As I'm walking people are still cheering "Go Greater Boston", and that was just the worst. I forced myself to throw my body into at least some semblance of a run, which I was able to maintain for the rest of the way up the hill. 9:11....ouch. But FINALLY, the hills were done, we were 5 miles from home, and finally the distance that was left was sounding like a distance that I could maybe successfully cover. I wouldn't be able to cover it fast, but I finally believed that I wasn't going to have to drop out of the race. I took a deep breath, shoved my last Gu into my face, and set to work on the 5 miles that stood between me and being able to STOP. 

The downhill through BC was definitely one of my favorite part of the race, as once again I could sort of just stop trying to run and just let my body roll down the hill. The BC kids were at the height of their drunkenness and having a group of college kids start chanting "SI SE PUEDE!" over and over was pretty awesome. By this point, I had broken the rest of the race up into landmarks. Get to the reservoir. Then get to Cleveland Circle. Then get to Washington Square and your dad. Then get to Coolidge Corner. Then get to Kenmore. Then get to the finish. These are all places I've run through hundreds of times and that familiarity made things just a little bit easier to swallow. I actually started passing some people around this point which made me want to laugh at how absurd it was - how was I passing anyone? Just after the graveyard, the leg cramps reappeared with an absolute vengeance. Once again I attempted to run through it but it was so painful that I literally could not. Even at a walk, I was limping, and this time walking didn't even seem to be helping. I shoved down another nuun chunk, prayed that this would be the answer, and attempted to start running again. It was awful. I was limping so badly I was almost hopping, leaning side to side and practically whimpering from the pain. Since walking hadn't made a difference, I decided to try to run through it. After a couple of minutes that felt like hours, either the salt kicked in or my muscle fibers decided to just fatigue out and give up, because the pain, while still present, became much less excruciating. 

We made the turn toward Cleveland Circle, and for some reason I was really feeling like the crowd was not cheering hard enough. I WANT NOISE DAMN IT! Some guy next to me started doing the arm wave thing and the cheers increased, and I was so happy! I also saw a cluster of Wisconsin people wearing hats with Badger ears, and I think I tried to say On Wisconsin but I'm not even sure I formed actual words. We turned onto Beacon, and OK. I can do this. I can. Just one step in front of the other, all the way down Beacon, just get there however you have to.

Now the crowds really became fantastic - I never cease to be amazed and absolutely love the intensity with which people show up to cheer for Boston. Some people wearing WMDP gear on the right side of the road yelled my name; I have no clue who they were or how they knew my name, but thanks guys! Finally, I made it to my dad, with his cute little sign that said "Go Audrey! 3 miles to beer!" and I tried to smile, waved, and I think said something along the lines of "I HATE RUNNING!" OK. Now get to Kenmore.  The cramps continued to hit me on and off through this section, and all I wanted to do was get to the end. The crowds continued to escalate. I saw men with red bib numbers walking near me. Pretty much everyone looked like they'd been through their own nightmares. Somehow, through it all, I was still moving forward. Then - again, the damn cramps that had been plaguing me for the last 10 miles. I threw the last of my nuun in my mouth, walked for about 10 seconds, and then swore: no more. Whatever happened, whether I fell down or not, I was running the rest of the way in.

The last couple of miles, on top of the cramps, the fatigue, the pain, the heat, and every other damn thing that had been happening to me for the last 3 hours, I also started to get nauseous. It was just such a nice little cherry on top of what had already been just a ridiculous day. I really wanted to walk to try to calm down my stomach but it was just too damn late for that. Up and over the highway bridge, and into the roar. Kenmore. The closest to being a professional athlete so many of us will ever be, with the crowds of the massive screaming, waving, cheering...and it's ALL for you. For the second time all race, I found myself passing people. People were walking, and I wanted to SO badly, but I just wouldn't do it. Not here, not in this moment, not when this thing is finally going to be over. Into the tunnel and it's time: right on Hereford. As we turned right I found myself running behind a woman who apparently had lost bowel control at some point. I saw it, and more unfortunately for my already jacked up stomach, I smelled it. Maybe this was motivation to speed up, because I did, just a little bit. My last mile was a majestic 7:57, and I actually giggled when I realized I had finally cracked an 8 minute mile for the first time since mile 8. Left on Boylston. Running down Boylston in the Boston Marathon will never not be amazing. Never. Not even if you've had the absolute worst damn day of your life, not even if you've been cramping and wanting to throw up and overheating and dying a thousand horrible deaths in the Newton Hills all day, no matter what, when you make that turn onto Boylston, everything changes. Nothing matters anymore except the roar of the crowd, the pounding of your legs, and that blue and gold arch that will guide you home. The song burst into my head again: DON'T TAKE YOUR LIFE FOR GRANTED...YOU'VE GOT TO HOLD ON TIGHT TO WHAT YOU'VE BEEN HANDED. The day handed me a pretty crappy hand, but I tried so damn hard to hold on tight to it. 
Eyes fixed on the finish

I put every last ounce of everything I had into that finishing straight. I was legitimately shocked when, upon approaching the finish, I saw the clock just ticking over to 3:35. 3:35? Why, that was SO much better than the 3:50 I was expecting to see! That's bad, but not utterly embarassing! I have never been so relieved to see and cross a finish line. There's a quote from somewhere "I am too tired even to be happy". That's how I felt. I was so exhausted, so completely spent, and so, so relieved that it was finally over.

I headed through the chute and ended up chatting with a guy who finished next to me with a 9000s bib. He was disappointed, as was I, and we exchanged horror stories. Then I, most pessimistic, frustrated, and most likely to beat myself up, did something totally out of character - I said something to the effect of "well, any day we finish 26.2 miles is a good day!" And it is. It WAS. GRATEFUL - that word I hadn't thought of for a second as I suffered - here it was. I was grateful. The last 3 hours and 35 minutes had totally sucked, but it beat spending that time doing anything else. I continued through the chute, thanking volunteers, and chatting with another girl who apparently had spent most of the race looking at the back of my singlet - hah! She too had had an extremely rough day - something that would become a running theme the more people I talked to. I wandered along through the gauntlet of people handing me things I had no desire to eat or drink (a protein shake? A protein bar? Only if you want me to throw up all over you) with the goal of getting to bag check so I could find out how my friends had done! It was a slow process. Every muscle that had been cramping now just really freaking hurt, both armpits had ended up chafing something awful and I felt like I was being branded every time I moved my arm. Plus, I had a sinking suspicion that when I took off my shoes I was going to find an extremely unpleasant situation going on on my feet. Once I got to my bag, I literally spent 5 minutes puzzling out how to undo the knot holding the bag together, spent another 10 minutes trying to decide whether or not to change clothes, and finally decided that the best choice would just be to start trying to find my way to the bar where GBTC was meeting. On my way, I ran into Brianna! She had also had an equally terrible day and we were able to commiserate before going our separate ways.
Basically smiling because I am JUST SO HAPPY TO BE DONE

Probably the weirdest thing was once I got back to Boston and stopped running, I was COLD! Because apparently, despite the 73 degree start temp in Hopkinton and temps in the 70s most of the way, there was a damn sea breeze in Boston that cooled things down later in the helpful. Apparently throughout the whole race there was actually a 10 mph headwind as well, which I didn't even notice except in the fact that I never felt like I really got sweaty, just dry and covered with salt. Basically, it was one shit weather day for running a marathon.

I made the long and treacherous walk to Clery's where I was finally able to join my teammates, obtain a beer, and relive the day. The first person I saw was Joy, and the first thing I said was "THAT WAS THE WORST". Tom actually gave me a hug (hah!), and that's how you know it must have been a bad day for everyone. Food still sounded appalling but beer sounded OK, so I hung out for a couple of hours, had a couple beers, and celebrated being finished with everyone else. I found out that a bunch of our top people had ended up dropping. I immediately felt SO much better knowing that I was not the only one who had a disaster of a race - commiserating with people who get it and who were right there with you makes things so much better!

We finally headed back to the T, where hilariously Aly and I almost missed a train and had to kind of run down the stairs. They were making an announcement in the station: "Marathoners, please be careful on the stairs! We do have an elevator!" Hahahaha, I love you, Boston. We ended up having to stand on the train (c'mon, man!), and it was a long, slow journey, but eventually I made it back home. The rest of the day was taken up with celebrating, both with the team and with my dad. It's amazing what a 12% Kentucky Bourbon Stout on draft will do for post marathon soreness! ;)

All in all, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed about the end result of this training cycle. It would have been bad enough having to basically hide an injury to get through the race, but add heat on top of it and it was just game over. I keep thinking of the 22 miler I ran 3 weeks out and how utterly strong and amazing I felt, and I KNOW I was fit. Maybe if I think of that run as the race, and the actual race as a celebration...that will help a little haha. Knowing that basically everyone was somewhere between 5-25 minutes off their goal time definitely helps to ease the pain a little bit, but to have such a great training cycle and to then run a time that not only isn't my best time, but isn't even in the top 5/10? That's a hard pill to swallow. As time has gone on, my excitement about just finishing has been taken down a notch by a little bit of sadness, and some wishing that things could have gone differently. It also isn't helping that shockingly, running 26.2 miles under the fog of ibuprofen did not, in fact, magically heal my hip, so I'm having to take some time off to deal with that as well when what I really want is to just jump right in and get some redemption. But still - the fact remains: I am so grateful to be a runner. I'm so grateful to have THE Boston Marathon be my home course. I'm so grateful to already have a qualifer for next year. I'm so grateful to have an amazing group of teammates and friends. And I'm so grateful that, despite all of my body's protests and feeling sick and awful and beaten down, I was still able to pull myself through 26.2 miles in a time that many people would be thrilled with. At the end of the day, a day you finish the Boston Marathon is a great freaking day. I'm already looking forward to that day in 2017...preferably without Mother Nature deciding to have a hot flash on race day. More on my redemption plan (oh yeah, I think I have to run a fall marathon now...) later. 

Boston Marathon 2016
9327/26639 OA
2411/12168 F
1827/5948 F18-39