Categories
Races Running Training

Ill-Timing

I woke up this morning prepared to tell you how – despite all my training hiccups and anxieties and fears – I was finally excited for the marathon.

I was going to tell you how I ran eight well-rested miles Monday and felt like I was flying.

I was going to tell you how I entered the park this morning along the marathon route and saw the Conservatory had hung a giant “Welcome to Central Park!” banner, making my heart skip and my eyes tear up with emotion.

I was going to tell you how I received the most amazing brunch invitation in my inbox, which – despite not being able to attend but for a brief run by – makes me feel all warm and special and pancake-filled inside.

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I was going to tell you all these things in what I expected to be an upbeat and optimistic and golden-doodle-filled post.

And then 10 a.m. hit, and I was suddenly harboring the most excruciating headache of my young adult life. A headache that hasn’t yet gone away. A headache accompanied with chills. A headache that brought me to my knees, or more accurately, to my company’s in-house nurse’s office, where they gave me a double-dose of Excedrin but no lollypop. And here I was thinking Obamacare meant more free lollypops. No wonder Ted Cruz was angry.

As the work day progressed and I felt worse and worse, this blog post started to evolve in my mind.

Instead of telling you how excited I was, I was going to tell you how I am afraid I’m getting sick, since I only get headaches from hangovers and colds, and this goal-oriented body hasn’t touched a drink all week.

And then instead of telling you how excited I was, I was going to tell you that a handful of coworkers went home sick this week, and that someone sneezed on me on the 4/5 train, and that my sick-looking boyfriend last night told me he “wasn’t sick,” he was just exhausted “from staying up coughing all night.” End quote.

And then instead of telling you how excited I was, I was going to tell you how my four months of training feel like a big waste and I should probably throw in the towel and give up now and not even pick up my bib number after work at the marathon expo.

"Harrumph."
“Harrumph.”

I somehow managed to relegate that last thought to the back burner for about 30 seconds, or just long enough to hail a cab to the Javits Center, where I was funneled into a security line and then instructed to show ID and then pushed to the number check in before I even had time to think.

There, a lady gave me my bib number, four safety pins and the four words I’d apparently been needing to hear all day: “You’ve got this, Anne.”

And just in case I wasn’t going to take some stranger’s word for it, I came home to my mailbox 30 minutes later to find the most appropriately timed motivational card of my life from a very special friend whose favorite smell happens to be skunk and whose name both begins and ends with the letter Z.

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So there we have it. I’m still feeling sick, and might be sicker tomorrow, and could feel even worse come race day. But you know what? I can also be excited. These two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

What will be will be, but for tonight at least — I’m excited.

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How are you managing these last few days? With less neuroticism than me? No? Oh good. That makes me feel so much better.

 

Categories
Running Training

A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven

I imagine autumn used to be considered a season of hard work and preparation, but with the onset of the industrial revolution and the invention of pumpkin-spiced coffee, it seems all that has changed.

Once a time for reaping the harvest, canning vegetables and chopping firewood in anticipation of the impending snowfall, fall has evolved into a much more sedentary season, full of rigorous, heart-racing activities like tailgating at football games and watching leaves die.

I think we can all agree New England is hideous in the fall.
I think we can all agree New England is hideous in the fall.

Don’t get me wrong – I love fall and the romanticism and lethargy it has simultaneously come to evoke in recent generations.

  • I love taste-testing two dozen pumpkin beers with a handful of friends and using such insightful descriptors as “has a slight pumpkin flavor” and “tasted wet.”
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It’s funny how an afternoon of drinking sounds significantly less alcoholic when you call it taste-testing. Experience the power of words.
  • I love visiting a pumpkin patch and apple orchard with my handsome boyfriend and buying only a family-pack of donuts to share.
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Fact: Ben closes one eye faster when he’s excited.
  • I love knifing produce.
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“Make me a pie, woman. Literally.”

And that’s not all. I love lazy Saturday afternoons when the Notre Dame game is on. I love curling up in front of the fireplace on a crisp autumn evening. I love that I no longer sweat off my make-up at 7 a.m. waiting for the 4/5 train. See you in June, attractive upper lip sweat. (Eat your heart out, boys.)

But while for many city residents, fall has come to mean slowing down and resting up and taking some crucial me-time time after the whirlwind of summer, there’s at least one group of people who don’t get to sit back and relax all autumn long.

And that’s the marathoners. And political candidates in election years. And the apple orchard migrant workers, come to think of it.

Ok, so there are at least three groups of people who don’t get to sit back and relax all autumn long. But seeing as I only fall into one of those categories, we’re going to focus on that one.

Although a handful of the world’s most famous marathons land outside of the traditional fall racing season, like Tokyo in February and Boston and London in April, nearly every elite world event takes place during the September-November time period. From Chicago and Berlin to the Nike Women’s Marathon in SanFran and the Marine Corps in DC, nearly every major race is crammed into the autumn months, and New York City is no exception.

Source: http://nutritionsuccess.org/, which is silly, since I could walk three blocks and take this identical picture myself.
Source: http://nutritionsuccess.org/, which is silly, since I could walk three blocks and take this identical picture myself.

The fall racing schedule makes sense — the weather should be cool and dry, athletes have been able to train during the long summer days, it lets me justify the three servings of stuffing I’m already planning to eat at Thanksgiving — but it also means that for millions of runners, fall simply can’t be a season of indolence. Even once the tapering begins, a marathoner’s October days are still filled with workouts and stretching and nutrition and goals. Until we cross the finish line, fall remains a period of discipline and preparation, structure and hard work. In that sense, I guess marathoners are actually still a lot like our forefathers, working hard throughout the fall to reach a goal. In fact, I guess you could call our fall behavior vintage. Marathoners = the original hipsters.

Luckily, I only have seven more days of this necessary single-mindedness, and as of 2:00 p.m. next Sunday, I’ll finally be free to begin my season of idleness, better late than never. And I’m fully prepared to make up for lost time. I’ll be putting away my running shoes for at least a week after crossing that Central Park finish line. I’ll be taking off Monday following the race to lay prone in front of the TV. I’ll be buttering up my very nice boyfriend in an attempt to crash at his ground-level apartment instead of my fifth floor walk up for possibly forever.

But just in case that’s not enough indolence, I’ll also be flying to New Orleans in mid-November for a birthday weekend in the Big Easy. And if that’s not the place for leisure, I don’t know what is.

Seasonal lethargy is just around the corner. To quote the terrifying little girl from The Ring: SEVEN DAYS.

How are you making the most of your fall?

Categories
Recipes Running Training

Off the Record

My definition of a successful race has changed dramatically in the past 27 years.

When I was forced to run the timed mile in elementary school, I deemed the event successful if I could finish before gym ended without scuffing up my Keds.

When I ran the occasional charity 5K in high school, I declared an event successful if I completed all 3.1 miles without walking and took home a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt.

After losing 30 pounds and discovering my latent passion for the sport, I called a race successful if I high-fived spectators, thanked a volunteer and stockpiled a dozen free bagels after crossing the finish line.

That feel-good criteria of a successful performance remained unchanged through my first 10 miler, my first half marathon and my first 10K. And then something changed.

I ran my second 10K.

And suddenly, I didn’t just want to finish with a pocket o’ bagels and an ear-to-ear grin. The second time I ran a 10K, I wanted to finish faster than I had the last time I’d tackled that distance. And I did, thus transforming my definition of a successful race to that infamous runner-wide goal: record a new PR.

I throw the phrase “PR” around a lot on this blog like the LOA (lover of acronyms) that I am, but for all you non-runners who have yet to google it, PR stands for “personal record,” or the best time you as an individual have ever run a specific distance. (On this blog, PR may also reference an epic 2008 spring break trip to Puerto Rico; the only remaining NBC show of quality Parks and Rec; or the initials of my very first goldfish, Pipper Riley, may your memory live in infamy. Brits call it a PB, or personal best, but considering this blog’s frequent references to peanut butter, pirate booty and the Princess Bride, best I stick to the U.S. version.)

PRs are a good measure of success for an amateur runner because while you might never be the first to cross a finish line, you can usually count on your PR improving with each subsequent race as you put in more time, more effort and more miles. Following that second 10K, I redefined my definition of success to include a new PR, and for a glorious 18 months, every single race for me could be deemed a victory as a result.

And then the inevitable happened: I stopped getting faster. It’s easy to see incremental improvement as you bump up your weekly mileage from 0 to 20 to 40, but once you don’t have the time to put in any more hours on the asphalt, after awhile, those personal course records stop budging. Sure, you can do more honed training − speed work and intervals and strength training and steroids (what up, ARod?) − but even then, your race times are destined to plateau as your training routine flatlines.

A year ago this month, I ran the first non-PR of my career and told myself it wasn’t a big deal. I’m training for my first marathon! I said at the time. I didn’t want to push myself too hard anyways. Besides, I’m dressed as a cat. It may have been a Halloween 10K, but I’ll never tell.

I meant it at the time, but after 12 subsequent months of fewer and fewer PRs, I started to wonder whether my definition of success was no longer an accurate one. Sure, I wasn’t beating my course records, but I was doing all sorts of other fun and important things: inspiring friends to run their first races, enjoying the fall sunshine in Riverside Park, keeping the tutu industry employed.

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Were those races unsuccessful simply because I hadn’t PRed? Consequently, could I really qualify a miserable race successful just because I happened to record a new personal best?

That second question went from hypothetical to reality on Sunday when I raced the Grete’s Gallop half marathon in Central Park in what was undeniably the most excruciating hour and 49 minutes of my life − and I’ve seen Gigli. From the moment I crossed the starting line, everything felt wrong: heavy legs, GI distress, a quarter-sized blood blister from my new shoes and a terrifying half mile when my lungs strangely stopped taking in air. My eternally patient running partner Adam coached me through it − despite my repeated declarations that if he asked me to run faster one more time, he and his lovely wife would be swimming with the fishies − and I miraculously hobbled across the finish line at a surprising seven-second PR with just enough energy left to force this pained half smile.

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Yes, it was a new personal half marathon record, but was it really a success? When I someday think back on 2013 as a year of running, will I remember that morning I logged a new speed achievement and hated every minute of it − or the day I tie dyed my bathtub trying to scrub off the morning’s running festivities?

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I might eat my words come Nov. 3 if that elusive marathon PR stays out of reach, but I think it’s time to redefine race success one more. Reaching new goals is a good motivator, sure, but I’ve come to realize life is about more than just PRs − unless you’re talking about poodle relatives. In which case, we all know that’s the only thing that matters.

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How do you define a successful race?

Categories
Races Running Training

The Final Countdown

A lot can change in a month.

One month is enough time for the moon to orbit the entire Earth, or so my advanced degree in astrophysics has led me to believe.

One month is enough time for — count ’em — eleven magazines to pile up next to my bed in the vain hope I’ll read more than the Approval Matrix this time around.

One month is enough time to refill your prescriptions, mail your rent check, visit your parole officer and check in with all your werewolf friends.

Heck, just one month ago, the sun was setting at 7:30 p.m., the Orioles still had a shot at the playoffs and this heartbreaker was begging me to relocate her to New York City post-beach trip.

Really! You won't even notice me! I'll be waiting in your suitcase!
Really! You won’t even notice me! I’ll be waiting in your suitcase!

This picture was taken one month ago exactly. One month from today will be a completely different story.

One month from today, I’ll have completed the ING New York City Marathon.

When I first signed up for the race on April 24th, November 3rd was an elusive goal in the far-off future. With the marathon two seasons away, I knew I had all the time in the world to prepare for a record-breaking PR. I’ll get caught up on sleep closer to the race, I told myself all summer long. I’ll do speedwork come autumn. I promise to start strength training and do yoga and eat quinoa and save orphans but not yet. There’s still plenty of time.

And now I’m 30 days away, and — my god — I feel woefully unprepared.

I haven’t said these numbers outloud yet because I didn’t want to jinx myself, but what do I have to lose? I’d originally hoped to cross the finish line at 3:45 this year, shaving a challenging but achievable six minutes off my previous PR. As the summer progressed but my fitness did not, I revised that goal to matching — not exceeding — my 3:51 personal best. But as I struggled to hold even a 9:00 pace during last night’s 8-mile tempo run, I wondered whether I need to temper my November 3rd expectations further still. Maybe I should be targeting a more realistic 4:00 time. Maybe I should be aiming only to finish. Maybe I should forgo the race altogether and attend the mid-marathon brunch that’s being held in my honor instead. Mimosa race, anyone? Bloody Mary-thon?

That, my friends, was a RiledUpRunner original. RiledUp … Punner original? And I’m done.

The truth is, it shouldn’t matter what time I cross the finish line in one month’s time. But I’ve been training for this specific event so long that the extended build-up has allowed me to put entirely too much importance on this single race’s outcome. I officially started marathon training July 1, but I preceded that with eight weeks of base-building triathlon training, an April half and ten thousand climbs to my fifth-floor apartment. I feel like I’ve been in training mode since the day I left India.

Fact: This elephant also asked to come home in my suitcase.
Fact: This elephant also asked to come home in my suitcase.

That means for all intents and purposes I’ve been training for this goddamn race for six+ entire months. That’s six+ months of missed happy hours, six+ months of Saturday morning alarm clocks, six+ months of steady complaining (sorry, Ben.) As a result, I’ll feel like those six+ months of sacrifice will have been wasted if I don’t perform to the best of my abilities come race day, especially because I’m not wholly sure if I have it in me to do it all again.

Yes, I love running, but do I love running enough to dedicate a third straight summer to marathon training? At this very second, I’d say no.

But who knows how I’ll feel come November 3rd? A lot can change in a month.

And just in case it turns out I do, in fact, want to compete in a third marathon, I’ve just taken my girl Meredith’s suggestion and entered the highly unlikely lottery for the Berlin 2014 marathon. Because while it’s true a lot can change in a month, something tells me even more can change in a year. Twelve times more, to be precise, which I, as an astrophysicist, always am.

What are your fall race goals and how optimistic are you you’ll meet them?

Categories
Running Training

The Great Outdoors

It took years to admit it to myself, but I’m what you might classify as an “indoors kid.”

I know what you’re thinking. (Unless you’re Congress, in which case, what are you thinking!? Also, stop reading my blog, Mr. Speaker, and fix this mess.)

Indoorsy? But you spent three young-adult summers working at an overnight camp on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay!

Yes, but we spent every minute outside counting down the seconds until our next break in the air-conditioned staff lounge.

Sweat is the new orange.
Sweat is the new orange.

Indoorsy? But you did your undergrad in the wilderness of Maine!

Yes, but 80% of my college career was spent consuming dining hall lobster, rather than hiking the Appalachian Trail.

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Oh right. And beer.

Indoorsy? But your entire extended family just went on a week-long camping trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore at the upper tip of the Michigan mitten!

Yes, but my favorite cousin and I stayed behind in New York City and attended an afternoon 1920s jazz fest instead.

photo 1 (18)
Why yes, Ray Bans WERE in during the Depression Era.

Which, come to think of it, was held outside. So maybe I’m not 100% indoorsy. Let me rephrase:

outdoorsy-getting-flirting-ecard-someecards

For years, I pretended I wasn’t an indoors kid, going so far as to join my college’s outing club, an unused $300 membership that would have made better Carlo Rossi seed money during my co-ed days. Everyone wants to be that girl next door who can hang with the boys for a weekend in the wilderness, but one centipede in my campsite toilet and I’m out of there. What’s that? There is no campsite toilet? This conversation is over.

With great reluctance, I finally began classifying myself as an indoors kid a few years ago, and for good reason: given the choice between a day on the slopes and an afternoon curled up in front of the fire with a good dog and a good book, I’ll choose the latter every time. Sure, I like riding waves and basking in the sun and eating s’mores as much as the next kid, but there’s a reason I moved to Manhattan — there’s no room in my walkup to store a tent.

But while I’ve been categorizing myself as the non-outdoors type for the better part of a decade, perhaps my self-designation was too rash. Sure, I love paved sidewalks more than wintry mix, but I’m also one of the only people I know who spends 10 hours every week in Central Park. While many of my friends spend their Saturday mornings in the comfort of their beds, I’m looping the reservoir and admiring the foliage and dodging rabid raccoons in the city’s many outdoor spaces. And last month, during a particularly beautiful 18-miler, I ran for three hours along a tree-lined trail from Maryland to Pennsylvania, crossing paths with only a handful of humans and twice as many deer. (Don’t look for them in this photo. They aren’t there, Mr. Boehner.)

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Running has given me a lot of things — confidence, fitness, justification for my weekly Milano consumption — but it’s also given me this: the ability to correctly categorize myself as an outdoors kid for the first time ever. And that’s something worth celebrating — indoors.

What gets you outside? Running? Biking? A government furlough?