Categories
Running Training

Accidental Recovery

After four months of painstakingly disciplined marathon training, I had big plans to throw caution to the wind this week and disregard everything I’d ever read about post-marathon recovery.

Look! I’m stretching! In the middle of Wilson Blvd!

A tad hubristic, sure, but after 16 weeks of scheduled workouts and calculated nutrition and near-religious adherence to a calendar, I wanted nothing more when I crossed that finish line than to go off-book for awhile. Wise or not, I wanted to do recovery my way.

But the world had other plans.

Case in point: every trainer out there, including my cyber-coach Hal, told me to do nothing but rest in the first three days following the marathon. No running, no cross training, no nothin’.

Yeah, right. I laughed to myself. After four months without stepping foot in my gym, I’m going to start getting my money’s worth again this week. See you at kickboxing. And pilates. And in the spectator stands during the under-40 men’s basketball league practice. I mean, what?

Nothing was going to stop me from resuming my normal workout routine after Sunday’s race.  And then, oh yeah, this happened.

“Sandy, Sandy’s his name if you please. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone of the fleas.”

Stranding me in Maryland and forcing me to stay off my legs and inside the house for three days straight? Well played, Sandy. Well played.

Likewise, most marathon recovery guides tell you to continue refueling your glycogen stores in the days following the race with a high-carb diet, but after a couple weeks of taper-induced weight gain, I had other plans.

Celery! Rice cakes! Vodka sodas!

Foiled again.

Safari hat? 10,000 pieces of candy? Don’t mind if I do.

Putting me on the Halloween candy distribution committee was a clever way to force feed processed sugars back into this recovering body. You win this round, world.

How’s your recovery going? And any more tips to pass my way that I can arrogantly attempt to ignore and then end up accidentally following to a T?

 

Categories
Races Running

Oh hey, I Ran a Marathon.

I’ve been planning out my post-marathon blog post for probably longer than I actually trained for the marathon itself.

I figured I’d start by reminding everyone that I ran a marathon, and then tell everyone I didn’t break 4:00 but would get there next time and then post the following video clip to sum up my overall feelings about the whole thing:

Solid game plan, right? Alright, here goes.

Guess what, everyone! Yesterday I ran a marathon. (Ok. We’re off to a good, if predictable, start.)

Check out that back.

And … this is where I have to go off script. You know why? Because I did break four hours! And I’m not pretty tired! And I don’t think I’ll go home now, although that’s really just because Hurricane Sandy has grounded me in Baltimore. Sorry, New York City. Please hold down the fort.

The race yesterday – the 37th Marine Corps Marathon – was everything I’d hoped for and more for my inaugural marathon. The air was crisp, the crowds were rowdy and the marines were extremely good-looking. I felt strong straight up until Crystal City, ran into my favorite NYC blogger, saw nearly every spectator I was looking for and crossed the finish line – perhaps with tears streaming down my face, although I’ll never tell – at a surprise 3:51:51. All in all, the perfect conditions for my first-ever 26.2-mile run.

Maybe Bigfoot really is blurry.

I’m not going to lie – miles 20 through 26 in particular were some challenging s.o.b.s – but I eased down my speed (Whoops. No negative splitting here.), chowed down on some extra calories, double-fisted every water station I passed and started reciting cliché but inspiring mantras over and over in my head:

  • Trust your training.
  • They didn’t say it would be easy. They said it would be worth it.
  • Mom said we could get fast food for lunch if you finish.

Speaking of Mom, she hopped in and joined me during a particularly difficult stretch after the 14th St. bridge, keeping me nicely distracted from the blister forming on my right foot and giving me that extra boost I needed to plow through to the end. Thanks also to my Dad, my cousins Liz and Nate and the slew of friends who made it out to cheer me on. And a special thanks to my marine brother who lent me his Halloween costume/favorite running vest as I tried to warm up after crossing the finish line. Your fashion sense is always avant garde.

No goldendoodles were harmed in the making of this vest.

Also, THANK YOU to the unnamed spectator who handed me a fistful of Vaseline in Crystal City. In most situations, a handful of petroleum jelly from a stranger is cause for alarm, but in this case, it meant immediate relief for my chaffing underarm. So thank you, sir. You are an unlikely hero.

Also, thank you to this post-race spectacle for making me laugh. Although please be warned I’ve called PETA on your backpack’s behalf.

Anyways, if you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I entered 2012 with two New Year’s resolutions: to run my first marathon and to regularly floss. And by regularly floss, I clearly meant floss at least once a month. So, yeah, you could say we’re 2 for 2 here.

But enough about me. How was your race?

Categories
Races Running

A Salute to My Troops

With the starting gun of the Marine Corps Marathon just a few short hours away, I could use this space today to talk about this morning’s two-mile shake-out run (refreshingly brisk), my post-run stretching routine (deplorably inadequate) or my candy corn-filled carb-loading breakfast (scientifically nutritious.)

But for once (ok, for twice), I’d like to take a moment to hail the accomplishments of – brace yourselves – someone other than myself on this blog: in this case, my family and friends serving in the military.

I signed on to run the Marine Corps Marathon, as opposed to some other 26.2-mile event, mostly because it was conveniently located within an hour’s drive of my parents’ house and I could skip the lottery by guaranteeing entry through a St. Patrick’s Day 10K. But something else invariably also attracted me to this specific event – that running it would allow me an avenue to recognize the network of Marines, Naval officers and members of the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard that make up much of my immediate and extended family and many of my closest friends.

When you spend four months training for a marathon, it’s easy to fall into a bit of a narcissistic mindset. MY nutrition strategies, MY race plan, MY (and 30,000 other runners’) special day. After dinner last night (consisting of MY favorite meal of salmon and Brussels sprouts and couscous), I jokingly said I couldn’t help with dishes because I had to rest my legs ahead of the big day. And then I really didn’t help. Ha! Hilarious!

Oh right, and selfish. But you know who wasn’t/isn’t selfish? My two grandfathers, both my parents, my little brother and dozens more cousins, uncles and friends who served or continue to serve our country in the pursuit of safer, increasingly tolerant and – here’s hoping – more peaceful times ahead.

If I were to call them all out by name, this page would become longer than the ‘Annotated List of my Favorite Gramercy Park Dogs’ post I assume I’ll write some day in the very near future. So here is a short selection of some of the uniformed men and women who I’ll be channeling as I make my way tomorrow from the startling line near Arlington National Cemetery to the finish line at the Marine Corps War Memorial to the nearest cheeseburger:

My cousin, Sam, who returned from Afghanistan safe and sound this month to be greeted by his very patient and pregnant wife.

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My brother, Tom, who was commissioned into the Marines by my Navy captain mother. No big deal.

20121027-145538.jpg

My great uncle Austin, who earned two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star with the US Army. He passed away on Oct. 6 and asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be given to the Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue League. Clearly, this great man was a blood relative of mine if ever there was one.

Who are you running for?

Categories
Races Running

Against the Wind

I’ve spent all week preparing for my upcoming marathon in every way I know how.

I’ve been carb-loading. (“Why yes, deli man, I will top my bagel with a slice of French toast.”)

I’ve been staying off my legs. (“Sorry, pregnant lady, I kind of need this subway seat myself.”)

I’ve been memorizing the course route, foam-rolling my IT bands and teaching my 86-going-on-30-year-old grandmother how to sign up for text alerts.

Oh right. And I’ve been puff-painting. Like it’s my job.

Yes, I’m 12.

But despite all my well-intended preparation as Sunday’s event quickly approaches, nothing could have prepared me for this:

(Photo: NOAA National Hurricane Center)

That’s right, folks. As if running 26.2 miles weren’t challenging enough, the storm gods of Washington, D.C., are considering throwing in some heavy rains, coastal flooding and peak sustained winds of between 50 and 70 mph just for kicks.

Or, in the always uplifting words of Storm4 chief meteorologist Doug Kammerer:

“It could be kind of tough for race day.”

But an eternal optimist, I will not be discouraged. Sure, it’s possible flooding of up to 8 inches will make sections of the race course impassable and expected crowds on the sidelines thin to none. But,  it’s also possible these hurricane-force gusts will always be at my – and every other Irish descendant’s – back, upping my race pace and helping all 30,000 of us quality for Boston to boot.

Another bonus to running four hours through a category 2 cloudburst? No one sees you sweat. (And my stock in anti-chaffing Body Glide is sure to go through the roof.)

Hey, other runners – I apologize for the terrible pun that follows – let’s take this race by storm! What’s your contingency plan?

Categories
Races Running

The End of an Era

Everyone warned me this day was coming. The day I’d wake up, lace up my racing shoes, power my way through a course and – despite all my efforts – walk away without a PR.

After managing 19 consecutive personal bests – or a new individual record for every year Miley Cyrus has been alive – I’d almost come to believe I’d get faster forever. But yesterday morning’s Sleepy Hollow Halloween 10K changed all that, single-handedly obliterating both my nativity and my PR running streak and leaving me feeling emotions that can only be summed up with the following descriptor:

Proud.

That’s right, folks. I crossed yesterday’s finish line some 3 minutes behind my previous 10K PR, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. Why, you ask?

Because I didn’t want to PR anyways.

I realize that sounds very middle schoolesque, but it’s true. As I toed the starting line in Sleepy Hollow on Saturday morning, I turned to my friend Ethan and told him my one goal for the race was to not do any damage that would leave my legs smarting come next weekend’s marathon. (My other goal was to figure out how the heck they pulled off this headless horseman illusion. The 5-year-olds in the crowd seemed to figure it out, but I’m still working through it.)

Courtesy of Rivertown Runners and/or Ichabod Crane.

The course was a challenging but breathtaking one that took some 900 runners past the legendary Old Dutch Church, along the leaf-lined Hudson River Valley and over Mt. Kilimanjaro, or so I assume given the ridiculous elevation climb at around mile 3. I aimed to keep my pace at about 8:30 – or some 30 seconds a mile faster than my marathon goal pace – and set out with the simple objective of enjoying a morning outside of the city on a gorgeous fall day.

And you know what? I had the time of my life. So much of my recent training has been focused on race times and splits and hydration and fuel strategy that I’d almost forgotten what it is that I really love about the sport of road racing. I love calling ‘Thank you!’ to every spectator along the race course. I love making eye contact with a volunteer at the end of the water station to tell them I’m coming for their cup. I love making silly faces at all the photographers and full-out sprinting my way up the final 25-meter stretch to the roar of the crowd.

It’s not whether I’m one of the first 50 to cross the finish line that’s important; it’s whether I’ve taken the time to high-five 50 kids along the race course that matters, and believe you me – the children of Sleepy Hollow’s hands have been high-fived like you wouldn’t believe.

You know what else I learned I like this weekend? Running races in costume.

We didn’t hang around for the awards ceremony, but Ethan and I probably both won best costume.

A tried and true dog person, I’m not sure what encouraged me to dress like a cat at Saturday’s event. Probably the fact that I could wear all black running Spandex I already owned and  Target was selling cat ears for $1.

Or maybe it’s hereditary, judging by this recent (and wonderful) photo-booth family portrait taken at a friend’s upstate wedding. Like father, like daughter, I guess.

How do you measure the success of a race? In PRs? In high-fives? In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife? (Name that reference!)

 

Categories
Races Running Training

Practice Makes Perfect

I’ve received a lot of well-meaning advice as my inaugural marathon approaches (“Walk through the water stations!” “Don’t weave during the first half!” “Have a friend join you at mile 22!”) as well as some less-than-constructive suggestions (“Don’t run an f-ing marathon!”) but the tip that’s been most often recited to me by marathoners and skeptics alike is this one:

Don’t try anything new on race day.

The horror stories I’ve heard from runners who haven’t heeded this sage advice are gruesome. How gruesome, you ask? I haven’t seen SAW, but I have seen the super-terrifying 1982 thriller ET, and it’s scarier than that. Well, on par. Nothing’s scarier than ET.

From new-shoe blisters to new-fuel side cramps, the results of breaking from your tried-and-true routine on race day can be disastrous. Most coaches go so far as to even suggest calling the marathon committee before race weekend to find out what flavor Gatorade they’ll be distributing along the course. (MCM runners: lemon lime.)

“Don’t buy new race clothes.” “Don’t try new gel flavors.” “Don’t even switch peanut butter brands on your pre-race toast,” they say. I like Michael J. Fox’s voice acting as much as the next guy, but when it comes to running 26.2 miles, it’s best not to leave anything up to Chance.

(In case you didn’t get it, that was a clever word-play reference to the 1993 Disney film Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. But you got that, right? Of course you did.)

Unwilling to throw away four months of training because of one simple race-morning mistake, I decided to use this past weekend’s half marathon in Central Park as an opportunity to test all my race-day variables ahead of the big day. And I’m oh-so-glad I did.

Sunday’s race, Grete’s Great Gallop, kicked off at the glorious hour of 10:30 a.m. and took 5,947 runners around two+ loops of the park for 13.1 miles of hilly competition. I ran with my co-worker’s speedy husband on partially tapered and surprisingly fresh legs and — surprise — knocked back a new PR of 1:51 flat.

But it’s not the PR that’s important. The real accomplishment here was getting to test out all my marathon-day constants, from breakfast (toast/peanut butter/banana) to shoes (new but expected to be broken in by race day) to GU flavor (chocolate outrage) to hydration strategy (lots). Not everything performed quite how I’d hoped, but I now have two weeks to work out the kinks in hopes that Oct. 28 will run smoother than I’d ever imagined.

The only parts of Sunday’s events that need no further tweaking? Posing with non-sweaty spectators and stuffing my post-race face with a BLT and sweet potato fries. That — my friends — went off without a hitch and will be replicated in all its glory at the end of the month.

 

Any other race-day tips to pass my way? Extra points if they involve BLTs.

Categories
Running

Taper Crazies

As the second week of October comes to a close, the sounds of autumn are acutely apparent, especially when your friends are as hipster-smug as mine.

“I love it when the leaves change colors.”

“This pumpkin-spiced latte is delicious.”

“Let’s go apple picking in upstate New York, carve organic gourds from the Union Square farmers market, sample six varieties of Oktoberfest beer and then snuggle in front of a fire. All while wearing flannel.”

And if you’re a runner like me, there’s one more surefire sound that fall is upon us:

“I’ve started tapering for the marathon and it’s driving me crazy.”

Tapering, or dramatically reducing your weekly mileage ahead of a big race, only takes a few days for shorter events, but when approaching 26.2 miles, the process takes the better part of a month. The slowdown is gradual, with most experts recommending a 20- to 25-percent slide in mileage each week, primarily through a shortening of the weekly long run. On my schedule, for example, my long run drops from 20 miles last weekend to 12 this weekend to 8 the Saturday before the race. My mid-week runs also pull back, shaving a few extra miles off my weekly totals.

The reduced mileage is intended to allow athletes to rest and reload their muscles ahead of the big day. And according to everything I’ve read about the process, it apparently drives most runners ape-shit crazy.

“Both veterans and newcomers often find it difficult to scale back their mileage, kick up their feet and coast into race day,” says this Runner’s World article. This affliction, dubbed “taper crazies,” is said to make runners anxious and agitated and lead-footed, and – as if we weren’t annoying enough – really darn annoying.

Well not this runner. Sleeping in later every single morning? Spending less time on these achy legs? Still getting to carb load like it’s my job? Who doesn’t like these things? No offense, but I categorize people-who-hate-tapering alongside people-who-order-their-steaks-well-done and people-who-drown-puppies.

Heck, I like tapering so much, I might just run the NYC marathon next year for the tapering alone.

(Of course, I may be eating my words in two week’s time. But as long as I’m still also eating 2,500 calories of carbohydrates a day, that’s A-OK in my book.)

How is your tapering going? And are you upset I haven’t included a gratuitous golden-doodle photo in today’s post? Well, fine. If you insist. God, you guys are pushy.

I’m tapering, too.

 

Categories
Running Training

You’re as Cold as Ice

Most everything that begins with the word ‘ice’ is A-OK in my book. Ice cream? Yes, please. An ice cold beer? Hook me up. 90s hip hop classic ‘Ice Ice Baby?’ Two times the fun.

The newest addition to the list: post-run ice baths.

Ice baths get mixed reviews from the distance running community, with advocates hailing their healing power and doubters claiming they do more damage than good.

I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty good at googling, so I’ve learned a thing or two about cryotherapy, or cold treatment. According to its supporters and this Runner’s World article, taking an ice bath after a heavy workout constricts one’s blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, thereby reducing inflammation and tissue damage, resulting in a faster recovery time. According to its opponents, the science of ice baths is wonky at best and sitting in a bath of ice cubes can cause hypothermia. It didn’t work out well for Jack Dawson, they argue, and it probably won’t work out for you.

I’d been hesitant to buy into the ice bath hype, mostly because 1. sitting in a frigid tub is not my idea of a fun time and 2. I don’t think I really need a No. 2. But after running 19 miles in late September and finding myself unable to traverse stairs for the better part of the following week, I knew I had to at least try something new on the recovery front after this weekend’s 20 miler.

(Yes, I ran 20 miles on Friday instead of going to work. You know, because that’s a totally normal way to spend a vacation day. Have I mentioned lately that I’m a masochist?)

My friend James was in town, so we did a 10-mile loop of Central Park before he left me to shuffle through the second half alone. Fact: Running 10 miles with a friend flies by. Fiction: Running a second 10 miles after your friend leaves is just as fun. If not more.

It wasn’t pretty, but I managed to make it through all 20 miles and back home
to my corner store, where I picked up a bag of ice. I then crawled my way up five flights, filled the tub 10 inches high with cold water, put on a wool sweater, dumped the ice and hunkered down for 10 to 15 minutes of torture.

Turns out, it wasn’t that bad. I brought some reading material, drank a cup of coffee and watched as the ice cubes melted around my aching legs.

More importantly, I awoke from my afternoon nap virtually pain-free and, by Saturday, felt like I was moving on fresh legs again. One ice bath does not a convert make, but since 100% of my ice bath experiences have thus far been positive ones, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be taking the plunge again after my upcoming marathon.

I may have to take one today, too, to induce recovery after having been beaten up by my niece, Keira. Roundhouse kick to the face? Well played, pup.

Are you in the pro ice bath camp? Why or why not?

Categories
Running Training

Partner in Crime

I may be a single woman, but with the population of my adopted city approaching 8.3 million, I am rarely – if ever – alone. Pop into Fairway for a gallon of milk and I’m confronted with thousands of my gourmand neighbors. Lay in bed at night and I’m serenaded by the homeless guy on my stoop downstairs. Haven’t had your cuddling fill in a while? Just ride the 4/5/6 at rush hour. I guarantee you’ll be both big spoon and little spoon before reaching 59th St.

Hey, entire population of the Upper East Side. Thanks for totally blocking the path to my apartment.

With most days in New York essentially a scene-for-scene reenactment of the Lion King’s wildebeest stampede, I’ve come to treasure every elusive minute of solitude I’m able to carve out of my days. And more often than not, those brief escapes take place with a Garmin on my wrist and pavement under my feet. Waking up at 6 a.m. for a 5-mile tempo run may have its downsides (see: leaving happy hour early, etc.) but for those blissful 45 minutes of peace and quiet, it’s undeniably worth it. Running solo – like Han Solo – is No. 1 in my book.

Or so I thought until this past Sunday, when I logged my first non-race miles of this marathon training cycle with a friend.

Note to self: next time take portrait before running 12 miles. Although, let’s be honest here, the sweaty look is definitely in this season. Just ask Tim Gunn.

Turns out, forgoing my usual solitude for a social workout has its perks:

  1. I couldn’t hit the snooze button without standing her up.
  2. I had a captive audience to listen to a 6-mile-long recap of my entire social life.
  3. I accidentally shaved about 45 seconds off my average long-run pace. Competitive much?

You also get infinitely more whistles from fellow runners when your workout partner is an adorable blond girl, turns out. Well played, Kate.

Do you run with friends? Do you find it makes you more disciplined and/or likely to get catcalled?