Friday, November 25, 2016

A Long-Overdue Update: Runner, Interrupted

My sincere apologies for the radio silence! Here is the Cliff Notes version of what has been going on with me since the 2016 Boston Marathon:

  • I ran a lackluster half-marathon, as part of my training for the 2016 Chicago Marathon (although I won my age group due to the smaller field);
  • I PR'd and age-group-placed in the 10-K distance, but not by as much as I would have liked;
  • I trained like a fiend for marathon day;
  • On marathon day, I set out at the pace I had trained for (sub-3:35 PR pace). After the halfway mark, things quickly went downhill and I finished in a very painful 3:51. 

I took two days completely off after the Chicago Marathon, and then took my legs on a little shakeout. Right from the first run back, and during all runs thereafter, my legs felt super-heavy, and I did not have the desire to go more than a few miles. I chalked it up to post-marathon malaise and plugged away, but in the meantime, I made an appointment for some blood tests.

I got the blood tests done three weeks post-marathon. They came back with elevated CPK levels, which is a muscle repair enzyme. Not super-high levels, like you would see in ultrarunners or Ironmen, but high enough three weeks out from a marathon that they were likely coming down from even higher levels.

So yeah, I'm overtrained. The cause is likely too little recovery between the Boston Marathon and the beginning of the Chicago training cycle, and probably too little recovery in the training cycles before that. I don't know exactly when it started, but to be honest, I was feeling sluggish and fatigued in workouts late in this training cycle. I always chalked it up to the normal fatigue of hard training. It probably played a role in my lackluster (for me) marathon result.

On my coach's recommendation, I immediately took a week and a half completely off of running. This is completely unprecedented for me, but it was not as hard as I expected, as slogging through recovery runs day after day is not my idea of fun. Furthermore, I know that something has to change in order for me to have a prayer of getting back to my former running self. Another truth bomb: If I can't have a realistic chance of running competitively (against myself and my previous PRs), a lot of the joy would be taken out of running for me. I thrive on training for goal races, and although I'm sure I would still be able to find enjoyment out of non-competitive running, I would probably slowly gravitate toward a new way of keeping fit. 

Notice I said "a week and a half" completely off running. That is because on one day last week (a week from this past Tuesday, to be exact), I saw perfect running weather out my window. I also could see the perfect-running-weather days slipping away from me (and sure enough, they are gone as I'm writing this). I convinced myself that traveling one mile to the end of my street and back again wouldn't ruin my recovery, and I laced up my shoes and headed out into the fresh air. I felt like someone who had escaped from prison! It was slow, but it was very refreshing. 

About an hour later, I started feeling cold and shaking. This was the beginning of the worst stomach flu I have had in recent memory. I haven't really been sick with so much as a bad cold since I started running regularly three years ago. The writing was unfortunately on the wall; my overtraining has also caused a weakened immune system. Back to the couch for me.  

This week, I have attempted 3 miles on the treadmill, twice. It has gone relatively well. It still feels much harder than it should, even at a slow (for me) pace. Needless to say, I did not Turkey Trot this year. And there will be no spring marathon. I'm still holding out hope I'll be able to train for a late-season half-marathon.

Yes, I've really done a number on myself this time. But it's going to get better. I have to believe it. I'll keep you updated with any new developments!  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Another Mother Runner Podcast Got a Lot Cheesier!

Hi, everyone! I have some exciting news: I am one of the featured guests on the Another Mother Runner podcast this week, talking about my running history, as well as 10K training and strategies! Click here for a link to the show notes!

I would like to apologize for the unfortunate shorts and the backbendy running form in my photo (third from left); it is from a 10K two years ago and I was excitedly waving to my parents - those are my only excuses. 
Another Mother Runner was founded by two running mothers (duh), Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell. I discovered it via a Google search when I was starting to become serious about running and racing. It was the first podcast I ever listened to, one of the first running blogs I ever read, and the first training plan I ever followed (Train Like a Mother -- Own It from their second book for both my first half marathon and my first marathon). I have all three of their books (two of them signed by one or both of the authors!), and their local mother runner party in 2013 introduced me to some of my best running friends. Their Facebook page is always hopping with great topics and support, and they also sell really awesome shirts and other running items.

I'm not getting paid a cent for that above paragraph; in fact, it was only when I writing it that I realized how much my running "career" (especially the beginning) is intertwined with AMR. I also hope that it helps you understand how honored I was that Sarah choose me to represent the "speedster" side of things in the podcast. The recent U.S. Olympic trials made it very clear to me that I am not a true speedster in any way, but I was proud to play one on the podcast. I also hope it helps you understand how incredibly nervous I was to appear on the podcast! When I was recording, I felt myself getting "diarrhea of the mouth" quite often, otherwise known as "a complete inability to stop talking, even when stopping would be better for everyone involved." I hope that at least one or two interesting nuggets popped out of my mouth!

Again, click here for a link to the show notes. You can download the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. If you listen to the show, I would love it if you would comment on this post and let me know how you liked it!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Boston Marathon 2016 Race Recap Part III: Race Day!

Did you miss Part I, or Part II? Catch up before you read on!

Getting to Boston Common

I was asleep by 10:00 p.m. on race eve, but I jolted awake around 12:30 a.m., convinced I had overslept. From there, I slept in fits and starts until my alarm went off at 4:00 a.m.. I hit snooze a couple of times, and then decided to eat my two English muffins (brought all the way from Chicago) and hope that the digestion process would move along before I had to catch the shuttle bus to Boston Common. Miraculously, it did.

I can't say I was really in the mood to race, however. The weather forecast seemed to be rounding into shape. Many weather apps were showing just mid-60s at the start line in Hopkinton, with it cooling down from there as we headed into Boston. Even so, my competitive, PR-chasing side had left the hotel. My coach texted me about the great (well, okay, better) weather forecast, and I told her about my current emotional state. She immediately told me I was conserving energy.

I had forgotten this nugget of wisdom: My coach had told me a few weeks before that I might experience some tiredness on race morning, and to just go with it. Somehow, a marathoner's body often seems to know that the person is about to do something epic, and goes into "hibernation mode" to conserve energy. I told her that she may be right, and that I would find out for sure in Hopkinton.

I shuffled out of the bathroom, quickly got dressed, and made sure my fanny pack and my gallon-size Ziploc bag were both ready to go. Due to security measures put in place since the 2013 bombings, the marathon only allowed runners to bring (1) a fanny pack no larger than 5x15x5 inches and (2) a one gallon clear plastic bag to store extra food or sports drink on the bus ride to Hopkinton. I wish I had gotten a picture of my truly rad kid's fanny pack (purchased at my local Goodwill) that said "Kelly" in glittery letters. Of course, no one could see it under my throwaway sweatpants and hooded sweatshirts (yes, I brought two, as I hate being cold at start lines, and it wasn't supposed to warm up immediately).

Picture this, but way, way cooler.

My wave 3 was supposed to board the buses in Boston Common between 7:45 and 8:09, but the big question marks in my race-day schedule were: How long would I have to wait for the shuttle to take me from my hotel to the Common, and how long the ride to the Common would take. I was reluctant to leave the comfort of my hotel room (and private bathroom), but in order to be safe, I arrived in the hotel lobby at around 6:40. A shuttle bus (more like a van, which seemed to hold around 10 people) was just leaving, and the line for the next one was about 10 people long.

I hopped in the line, and was quickly very glad that I did, since the line started growing very quickly behind me. Except for a few people traveling together, everyone was pretty quiet. I took note that there were cabs waiting if the shuttle took forever, and fell into a semi-sleepy state (remember, I was still hibernating). After about 15 minutes, the next shuttle arrived, and I hopped on with no problems.

Boston Common and the Bus to Hopkinton

The shuttle ride was uneventful, except for the tour of the city it afforded out the window! Once I got off the shuttle bus, it was a quick walk to the Boston Common. It was at this moment that it all started to get real: Little old me -- yes, me! -- was about to board one of the famous buses to Hopkinton! After a quick body check to make sure I didn't have to visit one of the plentiful port-a-potties in the Common (amazingly, I did not), I hopped in the line for the buses.  It was there that I had my one-and-only conversation with anyone on race morning (I'm an introvert by nature, and an introvert x infinity on race days). Some friendly girls were chatting in back of me, and one mentioned that she qualified at Chicago 2014. Sensing a potential kindred spirit, I said that is where I had qualified, as well. It turned out that she was only 25 (Holy speedy qualifying standard, Batman!), and running had helped her keep her sanity as she went through grad school.

I know I sounded like an old lady with my reply, but I couldn't help myself: "I really wish I would have taken up running when I was in school. I would have been much more sane!" We chatted for a little while longer about the mental health benefits of running, and how much the running scene has exploded since the days of my youth. The line was moving super-quickly though, and soon we were getting our bibs and Ziploc bags checked and funneled onto the buses.

A note about race security: I forgot to take off my fanny pack from around my waist, and they did not bother to check what the noticeable bulge was. Throughout the day, I noticed a definite police presence, but a more relaxed attitude toward security than there probably was in 2014 (the year after the bombings).

My new friends and I got separated when we were funneled into different lines. I didn't take any pics in the Boston Common, so I swiped this pic from this site.
When I boarded the bus, I initially sat over the wheel, but the guy behind me reminded me that the lack of leg room could make for a long ride. I moved rows just in time. During the bus ride, I read the USA Today newspaper that I had brought along from the hotel lobby. Miraculously, I also dozed off for a while. The conversations of the people around me (who seemed to know each other) flitted in and out of my ears. One of them concerned whether they had ever run a race "just for fun," meaning not caring about their finishing time. They all agreed that they had no idea why such a thing would ever be fun; competing against yourself and striving to improve is what makes running fun. I smiled to myself, as I have had this discussion with my husband on many occasions. These were definitely "my people."

Being an Athlete in the Village

We exited the bus and walked a short distance down a sandy path, and then I saw the entrance to Athlete's Village, marked clear as day! When do you ever get to pass through a start/finish arch in order to reach the start line of a race?? I regret that I didn't snap a pic, but I found another photo here.

My Athlete's Village plan was as follows: Wait in the port-a-potty line; go to the back of the line for another port-a-potty trip; drink my Generation UCan drink 45 minutes before heading to the start line (before I got to the front of the second port-a-potty line); head to the start line. This left no time for waiting in another long line for a photo at the Hopkinton sign, which I now regret, because that would have been cool.

I didn't get a picture, but this person did.
It was already warm, and the sun was beating down. My first port-a-potty line did not stretch all the way to the tents that were in the middle of the village, so there was no shade. I took off one throwaway sweatshirt and one pair of throwaway sweatpants. Discarded clothes were strewn everywhere, and there were also tons of donation bins for people who wanted to be neat about it. After a while, I took off my second layer as well, and was not the least bit cold. This did not bode well, but I tried to put it out of my mind.

I made it to the front of the port-a-potty line, did my business, and went to the back of the line again. By this time, the back of the line was in the shade of the large tents, and I started to feel a bit chilly when the occasional breeze kicked up. Gosh darn it! Then I remembered that I had packed some black garbage bags in my fanny pack. I read online that I should bring them to sit on in case the ground was wet. I ripped a hole the bottom of a bag for my head, and made my own windbreaker.

I wasn't super-jazzed about posing in a port-a-potty line in a garbage bag, but what can you do...

It was time for my UCan, so I got my bottle out of my gallon Ziploc bag. I used to start most of my long runs in a fasted state, but I started using Generation UCan before my medium-long and long runs this training cycle. I have really felt the difference in my energy! The second port-a-potty trip was as productive as the first, and I found I still had some time left before heading to the start at 10:05am. I took another garbage bag out of my fanny pack, found an empty spot under the tents, and took a load off for a few moments. When Wave 2 was called to the start line, I was sick of sitting, and I moseyed over to where the announcer was keeping everyone very informed about when to head to the start. I had fun people-watching, and before long it was my turn to make the 0.7-mile walk.

Hopkinton is such a pleasant little town, for reals. Image found here.
Along the way, there were many more donation bins for throwaway clothes (although pretty much everyone had ditched theirs by this point -- I finally relinquished my arm sleeves), as well as a sunscreen station set up by a spectator. The station had huge bottles of sunscreen with pump dispensers. I remembered reading a blog that recommended making sure your right side was well-protected, so I quickly slapped some sunscreen on my arms and shoulders. I spent the rest of the walk trying to rub it in so I didn't look weird.

Right before the entrance to the corrals, I spied a ton of port-a-potties with very short lines. I couldn't resist one last trip.

Would I lie to you? That there in the distance is a crazy amount of port-a-potties. Image found here.

That definitely killed the last bit of time before the start, and by the time I found the satellites on my Garmin, there were only a few moments left to contemplate the sun that was already feeling quite warm on my shoulders. But wait! First, a selfie...

Let's do this! (That visor blew off my head around Mile 2...)

My fellow runners and I started slowly walking forward, and then everyone around me started breaking into a jog. False was back to more walking. Finally, it was showtime!

Miles 1-4, the Start Line & Ashland: 8:19, 8:06, 8:07, 8:01

I wasn't prepared for how blown my mind would be as I took my first steps off the start line, and saw the sea of humanity streaming downhill in front of me, enthusiastic crowds lining either side. All the months (years!) of waiting since I qualified in 2014, not to mention the entire winter of training I endured, had all come down to these next few hours. It was now or never!

This isn't from this year's Boston, but is a good approximation of what I saw.
As most of you have probably know, Mile 1 is not only a cluster of humanity, but also features the elevation drop of a 13-story building. I knew that I had to hold back my pace, but I nevertheless found myself passing clusters of people almost immediately. This was out of necessity, to avoid clipping their heels. Apparently, many people in my corral decided to take it a bit easier than their qualifying time would indicate.

Let's check in with my race goals for a second: During my final pow-wow with my coach at the marathon expo the day before the race, she asked me what I felt I could run in my heart of hearts, given the weather forecast. I told her that I still wanted to shoot for a 3:35, because given my training, anything less than a PR (sub-3:38) would feel inadequate, and I wanted to have a cushion since I knew I probably wouldn't run perfect tangents. The pace for a 3:35 marathon was 8:12/mile, so I had that number in the back of my head, as well as a pace band showing those splits.

Seeing an 8:19 for the first mile didn't bother me, since I knew it would probably be better that I held back during the first mile.  However, I didn't want to linger at that pace, so my passing continued. The steep downhill levels out during Mile 2, but I was quickly realizing that almost nothing in this race was going to be completely flat. Rolling hills were the name of the game during this stretch, as we went through the town of Ashland. Even though I was feeling all right, I knew it was time to start implementing my hydration strategy, which was to drink early and often, at least a sip at every aid station.

Everything about Ashland was so quaint, the crowds were as American as apple pie and so enthusiastic, the cluster of runners had thinned out, my pace was humming along nicely, and pretty much everything was right with the world!

Miles 4-8, Framingham & Natick: 8:13, 8:07, 8:01, 8:14

Somewhere between miles 4 and 5, I took my second Gu Roctane gel (I had taken the first at the start line). This fact, as well as the fact that this was the first mile of the race that gains elevation, took my pace down a bit. Fortunately, everything righted itself during the next two miles.  I was hitting up the aid stations, both official and unofficial, like it was my job (which it kind of was for these next few hours!). I alternated drinking water and Gatorade at every aid station, plus I started grabbing another cup of water to pour over my head and neck, plus I availed myself of the numerous cups and bottles of water offered by spectators.

I was so impressed at the crowd support I encountered in these little towns. At the Chicago Marathon, the crowds are plentiful along most of the course, but I've always had the impression that most of the spectators were waiting for one particular person to run by. Sometimes it is made obvious by the huge signs featuring a loved one's giant head, but even if people didn't have signs, they weren't cheering enthusiastically (or at all) for all the other runners on the course. Some sections of Lincoln Park and the Loop looked like they should be full of raucous cheering, but were actually kind of quiet.

Contrast this with Boston: To me, it seemed very few were cheering for an actual friend or relative. It is just something that one does in Natick on Marathon Monday: Cheer for complete strangers with your family, and (more often than not) bring something to hand out to the crowd: Bottles of water, ice pops, and (OMG, the HOLY GRAIL) baggies of ice. Someone was handing them out as we entered Natick, and the (expletive deleted) girl just ahead of me grabbed the last one.  I hoped that wouldn't be the last bag I would see!

Miles 8-12, Natick & Wellesley: 8:07, 8:10, 8:21, 8:05.

The first two miles of this stretch were pretty flat, and there weren't as many spectators. During Mile 10, however, we entered downtown Natick with a ton of crowds, more water bottles, and (thank you, sweet baby Jesus) more baggies of ice! This time, I snatched one right in front of a lady behind me (sorrynotsorry), and immediately stuffed it down my sports bra. It was heavenly, and I could feel my core temperature cooling down; I give it a lot of credit for my race performance! It was definitely eating time off the clock with all the water and Gatorade at each aid station, but I knew that it was time well spent in these temps!

Not a half-bad photo of my Eye-of-the-Tiger stare. I cropped out as much of a random lady's armpit as I could...
There was a hill at the end of Mile 10, which I'm using (along with taking another Gu) as an excuse for the 8:21 split. I'm also using the resulting long downhill as an excuse for the 8:05 split for mile 11-12. Other than the downhill, this mile was pretty quiet, with a wooded area on the right side. My mind wandered to the way I felt at halfway during my last marathon in Chicago; mile 12 was one of the last miles where I felt strong. Despite the heat, I could tell that this race was going much differently, and that thought kept a smile on my face as we begin to hear the "scream tunnel" of the Wellesley girls.

Miles 12-15, Wellesley: 7:59, 8:02, 8:18.

Aw yeah, the scream tunnel lived up to the hype! I had read online that you were able to hear the girls long before you could see them, and this was definitely true, even through my headphones!  I kept trying to catch the eyes of runners around me, so we could share a smile of anticipation, but everyone was businesslike and staring straight ahead. Perhaps they were too consumed with thoughts of the kisses they would be getting? Either way, I was alone in my amusement.

I wasn't interested in getting any kisses, so I started moving my way over to the left-hand side of the road (I had been hanging out on the right-hand side up until that point). The online folks had informed me that most of the girls were on the right-hand side, and I didn't want to block anyone from getting their rightful kiss. As you can see from my splits, my pace definitely picked up with the excitement of reading all the signs. There were a few guys around me who went in for kisses, but not as many as I was expecting.

What's with the dude standing there, though -- is he keeping tabs on his girlfriend? Image found here.
I was able to find a photo online of the girls who made me laugh out loud instead of just smile. I guess I wasn't running fast enough, because they didn't drop the signs!

The blogger said they weren't actually naked behind the signs, in case you were wondering.
The mile through downtown Wellesley that follows the scream tunnel is known as a flat and fast mile, and it definitely was for me. I decided to go with whatever pace my feet would give me after the halfway point, so happy was I to finally reach it. I knew the hills were starting soon enough!

Mile 14-15 was the calm before the storm, and mostly flat. I found myself becoming overwhelmed with the thought of the nine miles of undulating course to come, and I intentionally decided to pump the brakes during this mile in order to conserve some energy. I must also confess that I was reaching my mid-marathon boredom with both the course and my hydrating/fueling/cooling rituals. The promised headwind was beginning to pick up, and was taking away some of the warmth. On the other hand, it was adding the element of, you know, running against a headwind.  I took my third gel a tad early, just for something to jolt me out of my reverie.

Miles 15-21, Newton Lower Falls and the Newton Hills: 8:01, 8:19, 8:46, 8:44, 7:43, 8:21.

Mile 15-16 started out with a small climb, and then it was flat again. Then suddenly, it was on like Donkey Kong, and by the time the mile ended, I had descended more than 100 feet into Newton Lower Falls. WHEEE!! I was happy to see my pace bounce back, and happy to be feeling so good at mile 16 of a marathon! 10 miles was nothing but a Wednesday training run. Let's finish this!

Of course, the race was really just starting during this stretch. Mile 16-17 started with the "Entering Newton" sign, and an almost half-mile climb over an overpass. I was a bit surprised at how tenacious the hill was -- as it turns out, this is not one of the infamous Newton hills, but my legs and breathing told me otherwise! Once I crested that hill, I was definitely glad it was over, but I was also happy to have had a taste of what was to come. Now I knew that I could withstand it.

Mile 17-18 started with the famous "turn by the Newton firehouse." The firehouse set up an awesome inflatable run-though spray tunnel for the runners. No way was I going to turn that down, and it felt heavenly!

Leading a pack of extremely smart runners out of the spray tunnel.
Then it was down to business: the first real Newton Hill. It was steeper than the overpass hill, but not as long. It reminded me of one of the hills during my hilly March half marathon. Now I knew why that race is billed as a good tuneup for Boston!

I liked the mental exercise that the hills were giving my brain. I felt like the Newton hills were tough but fair, like a much-feared but fondly remembered schoolteacher. They tested you on the way up, but then compensated for the pain by giving you a generous downhill and plenty of recovery time before the next one. I remembered to pump my arms at the base of each hill, again in the middle of the hill, and a third time at the top of the hill. I did not look at my watch at all during this stretch, as I was afraid of what my reaction to the splits would be. I told myself to accept the fact that I would lose time during this stretch, and just try to keep an even effort until the top of Heartbreak Hill.

Why did they put the big MarathonFoto glamour shot overpass thingie in Newton? Kind of sadistic, no?...
 It was a good thing that I didn't look at my watch, because my splits were just a bit confusing. Mile 18-19 was basically a recovery mile for the next hill, but yet my split was similar to the previous hilly mile, for reasons I cannot explain. Did I take a Gu? If so, why did I take it, and why does gelling slow me down so much? The next mile (Mile 19-20) featured the second Newton Hill, and the most feet of elevation gain of the race according to my Garmin (107 feet). And my split was...wait for it... 7:43, my fastest mile of the race thus far.

If I had seen that 7:43 split, I know I wouldn't have slowed down, however. Hitting your fastest mile at Mile 19 of a marathon, in the middle of the Newton Freaking Hills? Just go with it, baby, and thank the Lord for it, I would have thought! But should I have been holding back just a tad? (Spoiler alert!) Perhaps...

Now, finally, I gazed upon the base of Heartbreak at the beginning of mile 20. The crowds were amazing; several deep on both sides of the street and cheering loudly. I was as ready as I was going to be.

There is no picture of me climbing Heartbreak Hill, so I had to search Google Images for a photo that captures how I remember the hill. This one isn't from this year's marathon, but it comes closest.
My coach and most reviews on the Internet told me that I wouldn't even notice Heartbreak, and it is only the fact that it comes at Mile 20 that makes it a thing at all. Everyone was wrong -- it is a steep, half-mile long, real hill. I mean, I guess if you were expecting a mountain you might be disappointed, but it is definitely an incline (my Garmin measured a gain of 88 feet for the mile, with no corresponding decline). As with the overpass hill, it definitely overstayed its welcome. I told myself to look down or at the crowds, instead of looking at at how far there was to go to the top.

I snuck a look at my split at the beginning of Mile 21, just to see what the damage of Heartbreak had been. 8:21. I'll take it. Now let's cruise it on in, I thought -- my coach said to pick it up at this stretch and finish strong!

Miles 21-26, Brookline & Boston: 8:01, 8:13, 8:31, 8:24, 8:39.

Helllloooo, Boston College guys! They were very loud and very drunk, and their cheers provided a great soundtrack to my celebration during the nearly half-mile downhill in Mile 21-22. The downhill continued in Mile 22-23; many people feel this mile in their quads, and the almost-constant declining becomes no longer fun. Put a lampshade on my head, because I was still partying on. I saw my mile 23 split and it was 8:13?? Are you kidding me? I couldn't believe I was feeling so strong at Mile 22 of a marathon, and I was very proud of my performance thus far.
But it became immediately clear that the celebration needed to be postponed a bit. As we continued along Beacon Street, my legs were feeling noticeably heavier; a familiar feeling from previous marathons. I was glad that I had avoided feeling this sensation until there were just three miles left to go (a personal record by a long shot), but I knew that the time had come to dig deep.

I know I'm riding the pain train here, but an outside observer might call it "steely determination."
Miles 23-26 seemed to go on forever. The crowds were super-thick and obviously enjoying themselves, but I had finally developed the tunnel vision of the runners around me, and my only thoughts were of the finish line. I could definitely feel the headwind by this time, and I was no longer warm. I had now given up my aid-station drinking ritual and was barely drinking water; I had drunk so much up to this point that I could feel sloshing in my stomach. I didn't stress about it, though, as I was confident that I would be able to make it to the finish.

I was stressing about my pace, however, especially when I saw my Mile 23-24 split of 8:31. This is not what I thought I would be doing when I "picked it up," and I was worried that my splits would only get worse from here. The famed "Citgo Sign" taunted me for most of Mile 24-25, and never seemed to get any closer. And then when it finally arrived, it was on top of a hill. I had read Shalane Flanagan's course tour where she talks about "Citgo Hill," but I wasn't anticipating it being quite as soul-sucking. At least I was able to stop the bleeding during that mile, with an 8:24.
Smelling the barn...

 ...But still managing to mug for the photographer!
I snuck a look at my 3:35 pace band. A PR was going to be close. I had no ability or desire to do any more math at that point, so I put the pace band away. I had learned all the information I needed to know, which was that I needed to put everything out there and run with all I had left. My next split was 8:39, but thank goodness I didn't look at it. Instead I just kept running.

Mile 26-26.2, Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston: 7:18.

The right on Hereford is uphill, more narrow than the previous miles, and filled with crowds.

Making a right turn is clearly very serious business.
And then I don't think I was quite prepared for the sight of Boylston Street. Believe the hype. Imagine walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards, as a starlet nominated for Best Actress in the Best Picture of the year. Everyone is seeming to call your name, and in the distance you can see the auditorium where you will be accepting your award (medal) in just a short while. Good golly, I had something left in the tank, after all.

I wish this were more in focus, because I think it is one of the best running photos of me, and captures such an important moment.
 Before you cross the finish line, they separated the field into second-wave finishers (on the left) and third-wave finishers (on the right), and there were two different clocks running. I appreciated that, as it gave finishers a better idea of their time than at the Chicago Marathon, when the clock at the finish had started with the elites. I veered to the right, and I knew that my finish line photo would be as part of a large pack. Ironman finishers sometimes dawdle until they can get a moment in the sun by themselves for that iconic photo. To some people, a Boston finish line photo may be equivalent to an Ironman, but to me, what was important was the time on the clock, and I was pretty sure it tasted like pure sweet PR-flavored frosting.

Entering PR City.

Finish Time: 3:36:45 (A marathon-distance PR by 1 minute, 24 seconds; an improvement of 5 minutes, 43 seconds over Chicago Marathon 2015; a BQ for 2017 by 8 minutes, 14 seconds)
Age Group Place (40-44): 370/1939 (Top 19%)
Gender Place: 2638/12168 (Top 22%)
Overall Place: 9770/26639 (Top 37%)

Smiling in the land of happy runners.
The Post-Race Saga

After quickly hopping on the B.A.A. tracking app to confirm my PR, I sent quick "WOO HOO" texts to my coach and my husband, and began the long walk through the finisher's chute. We got a water bottle, bag of food, medal, and heat sheet. I made it through the medal station before the leg cramps set in. I knew from experience that the only cure was to keep moving, but I wanted to sit down with every fiber of my being. The pain was real, but I tried to keep my emotions under control so I didn't end up in the medical tent.

I knew I needed to catch the T near Boston Common, so I kept walking east. I had to ask a friendly police officer for directions at a fork in the road, and then it took me a bit to find the station entrance. I lost count of the times that non-runners told me "congratulations" or "great job" as I passed by. After I entered the T station, my marathon-fogged brain took forever to find the correct track for my train, and I took a wonderful self-guided tour of the station (including flights of stairs. Ugh.). Once on the train, I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner and his family, which passed the time until I had to transfer to a different train line. Once I finally reached the stop closest to my hotel, the forecasted "back door cold front" had hit with a vengeance, and my sweat had thoroughly dried. I was cold. A few cloudy and lonely blocks later, I was at my hotel. I made a beeline for my room and couldn't wait to strip off my clothes and jump in a hot shower. But first, a selfie:

What Does It All Mean?

As you probably already know by now, 2016 has been dubbed the year of the "Sneaky Boston Heat." The vast majority of the runners I know personally and follow online were at least a few minutes off their goal times, and some were off the mark substantially. Only 33.6 of 2016 Boston finishers qualified for Boston 2017 (48% did it in 2015's rain and headwind). Various theories have been floated as explanation: Some believe that it was simply a matter of northerners having no time to train in anything close to the race day temperatures (in Boston, it was literally the warmest day of 2016). Others blamed the meteorologists, who adjusted the forecasts as race day approached to more favorable temperatures. These forecasts proved wrong, but people may have believed them anyway instead of paying attention to how they felt in Hopkinton, and thus failed to adjust their goal times.

As for my own performance: I told my coach that I would not be happy with anything less than a PR, and a PR I got. My former PR was set on the much flatter Chicago course, in perfect running weather, which makes me even more proud of my accomplishment. I believe that in perfect weather, I could have run about 3-4 minutes faster in Boston, given my training, but that is not a guarantee. My mental game (or lack thereof) could have prevented that from happening, or any number of other obstacles could have been thrown my way on a different race day. I believe I ran a smart and consistent race, and although I faded at the end, my fade started much later than any of my previous marathons, and was also the least dramatic fade since my first marathon.

So what does it all mean? It means that I learned a lot from the challenges thrown at me in Boston (start-line logistics, hillier course, less-than-ideal weather), and I did not let them break me. In other words: I'M BACK from my lost year of plateauing, and I can't wait to get back to the flat-and-fast terrain of Chicago in October to see what I can do!

A Final Piece of Advice...

As I found out on Tuesday to put sunscreen on your face at your peril. On a side note, it looks like my headband was on crooked... ;)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Boston Marathon 2016 Race Recap Part Two: Pre-Race!

Did you miss Part One? Click here for all the details of how I got to the Big Dance!

During my taper for the Boston Marathon, I was probably the biggest caricature of a tapering runner that I have ever been. And as soon as I exhibited one of the taper-crazy symptoms, I immediately started beating myself up for caring too much about a race that I was just going to fail at because the weather was going to be so hot and why do I even run marathons when there is so much I can't control and this is definitely going to be the last marathon I ever run where I care about my time!

As the weather forecast climbed ever higher, my anxiety reached Code-Red levels. My coach, a former professional runner, told me that I would probably not need to adjust my goals if temps stayed in the 60s, but we may want to re-evaluate with temps in the 70s. On Friday, cue the panic:

I was due to take off from Hopkinton at 10:50, and arrive hopefully around 2:30.

As I loaded my suitcase into the airport limo on Saturday morning, I basically felt like I was jumping off a cliff.  I had little to no idea about my race plan, and felt incredibly guilty about leaving my family in order to jet to the East Coast to have no fun. It didn't seem the least bit worth it. I'm telling you, the taper crazies were playing with my head BIG-TIME!

Fortunately, when you are flying first class, things often seem a lot better. Thank you, airline credit card miles! 

It was so fun to see the Boston skyline!

It also helped to see this blog post from a local Boston weather station while I was sitting at the gate. It said that the forecast was calming down in a major way. Spoiler alert: At least with regard to the start line temps, this weather guy or gal was completely clueless, but it helped me to enjoy my travels a bit more! 

I was in Wave 3, so you can see why I almost cried with happiness when I read this! Too bad it was completely delusional!

Saturday in Boston

Most of my Saturday was taken up with travel. By the time I picked up my bags, took a cab to my hotel, and checked in, it was already after 4:00. I could have made a quick trip to the Expo or done some sightseeing, but my heart was missing my family and not completely jazzed about running a marathon in less than 48 hours. 

Looking toward Boston from my hotel. Not the best view, but the hotel was nice otherwise!

There was no grocery store nearby, so I spent a small fortune at the hotel gift shop on a ton of bottles of water, so I could continue hydrating like a boss. I ordered some room service, texted with my awesome friend Wendy, and tinkered with my race playlist. I was asleep by 9:30, and slept pretty soundly. 

Wendy texted me a bunch of these photos in an attempt to cheer me up. And it worked; I decided to try to have fun for her, if for no other reason!

Sunday in Boston, AKA EXPO DAY!

I woke up at about 7:00 a.m., feeling very rested. The sleep had improved my mood enough that I was finally excited about going to the Expo. But first, a little weather stalking. I was glad that they were now predicting the temperatures to top out at 70 rather than "in the 70s." Perhaps all was not lost!

Don't get me wrong, this is still kinda warm..
My biggest quandary of the day was whether to wear my Boston jacket (which I had pre-purchased online). I knew from social media that Boston is the exception to the typical "don't wear the race swag before race day" rule, but that rule has been so ingrained in me that I still wondered if I should risk it. A quick trip downstairs to the hotel lobby reassured me that wearing this year's jacket was A-OK -- the place was crawling with them! 

By a little after 9:00, I was in a cab on the way to the Expo. I'm pretty sure the cabbie spotted an out-of-towner and took me the scenic route in order to rack up the fare, but there was no way to be sure so I didn't say anything. As soon as I stepped out of the cab, the atmosphere was electric.  This was definitely runner's mecca!

Even outside the building, the vibe was all-running, all-the-time!
Once I entered, I resisted the urge to shop, and went upstairs so I could get my packet in my hot little hands.

I was in such a hurry to get my bib, the picture is out of focus!
The pickup went super-smoothly, as I expected for a World Marathon Major, and I got my bib and shirt (a sweet long-sleeve in the traditional Boston colors) in record time. One thing I noticed is that more than a few people seemed to be outwardly freaking out when they got their bib packet. Like jumping-up-and-down and squealing. I kept my cool and got the heck back downstairs to the shopping area.

Can I say how much I loved this #RunBold marketing campaign? What a great celebration of the boldness it took to get to Boston, and an important reminder for race day!
My largest takeaway from the Expo was this: Everyone was so incredibly fit. At most race expos, you see a wide variety of runners' bodies. Here, it seemed like every female had cheekbones and thigh gaps for days, and disappeared from view when they turned to the side. Likewise with the guys - there were no Crossfit bros here; everything was lean muscle. In my "real life" I usually feel like I'm pretty tiny, but I felt pretty darn average in this crowd!

I'm going to apologize in advance for the lack of pics. My phone had trouble getting a signal, and by the time I struggled to send a few texts, my battery was on its way to dying. The Expo was the largest I have attended, with two adjoining convention halls full of exhibitors. I actually got turned around and had trouble finding my way out!

I decided to roam around one of the convention halls to get the lay of the land before I started to spend my life savings in the Adidas "official race merchandise" area. I was stoked to see Michael Wardian in the Hoka booth, just shooting the breeze with whoever wanted to do so! What a personable guy. I didn't know what I would say to him, however, so I just took cell phone photos from afar like a stalker. After I left, I realized I could have bonded with him over treadmill running!

An amazing world-record-holding runner, just standing there waiting to talk to people. No biggie.
I tried to buy some unofficial Boston merchandise at the Brooks and New Balance booths, but nothing really appealed to me. Over to the Adidas booth it was, then. I bought a "traditional Boston colors" t-shirt for me, and a hat for my coach. When I texted my coach a picture of the hat colors available, she called me, and I settled into a corner by the Boston accessories to talk last-minute race strategy in light of the weather forecast. She also threw in a pep talk for free!

When that was over, my phone battery was dangerously low. I put it on low-power mode and soldiered on to check out the booths in the other convention hall.

What an honor to see Dick Hoyt in person!
When I had heard earlier in the week that my favorite runners Shalane Flanagan and Desi Linden (not to mention Amy Cragg and Ryan Hall) were going to be at the Expo, I couldn't believe my good fortune. I packed my Running Times and Competitor magazines with Desi on the cover, in preparation for getting her autograph, and I carried them to the Expo with me.

I follow the marathoners at the front of the pack very closely, so this was my dream come true!
Imagine my disappointment when the line for Shalane was already incredibly long, over an hour before she was to show. I forgot that this was the Boston Marathon, where presumably a larger percentage of the runners follow the front of the pack. Suddenly, waiting in a line for hours the day before a goal marathon race (with no guarantees of being able to sit down) was looking less appetizing. Shalane finally made her appearance when I was thinking about leaving the Expo. I decided to try to sneak a photo of her while I ever-so-casually strolled by. Security was super-tight, so the photo quality isn't the greatest.

Talk about a tiny runner -- she is literally pocket-size in person (the Internet says she is 5'5", but she looked much shorter)!
I did not get a glimpse of Desi, which I do regret. However, after the race, she did answer my Twitter question on one of my favorite podcasts, House of Run, so it is kind of like I talked to her? I asked if she had any favorite mantras when races got mentally tough, and she replied, "Calm, calm, calm, relax, relax relax," because you need to be relaxed to run fast.  I could have used that advice on race day, but it will keep until I toe the line again!
Before I left the expo, I had two more orders of business: I circled back to the Brooks booth so I could get my photo taken with my bib (the glare from the flash conveniently blurred my bib number to prevent bandits):

I'm glad this booth was there, since it saved me from having to ask a random stranger to take my photo!
I also wanted to check out the huge wall where they had a mural containing every runner's name. We also got a poster of the mural to take home for free -- it's super-cool and I hope to have it framed:

It's official!
Once I found my way to the exit, my phone was about to die. Although I could see the finish line down the street, I decided to forgo the pilgrimage, in favor of viewing it for the first time on race day. My legs also didn't feel like trekking along the Freedom Trail sightseeing, either. It was time to hop in a cab to the hotel. That is, after one very important photo:

Right on Hereford, Left on of the most famous intersections in running!
 Sunday, Post-Expo

The Expo had definitely gotten me pumped for the race! Once I was back in my hotel room, it was amazing how fast the time went. My first order of business was to pin my bib on my tank and lay out my "flat runner"...after a selfie, of course...  

As ready to rock as I'll ever be!
Then I moseyed down to the lobby to look for some friendly runners, because I wanted to grill them on the best way to get to and from the race from our hotel. I choose some veteran-looking guys with Boston jackets from previous years, and they were super-helpful, which went a long way toward calming my nerves and finalizing my pre-race timeline!

I retired to my bedchamber, ordered some more room service, called home, and then signed off social media for the evening. I got a little sucked into a replay of the NCAA Women's Bowling Championships on ESPN2 (awesome comeback, Stephen F. Austin University!), and I was asleep by 10pm.

To be continued...