Archives For Off To The Races

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I’m a marathoner! It’s an exciting thing to say to someone who then in turn calls you full on crazy–Unless, of course, they are also a runner. The NYC marathon was my second marathon, both overall and this year. I know I’ve been a nonexistent blogger since January, but I’ve had a lot of things happen in life. And so, nearly 11 months after my last post, I bring you: my NYC marathon journey.

My journey to the NYC marathon was a challenging one. First, I gained my entry to the marathon not by being one of the lucky lottery winners or qualifiers, but by committing to run for charity (a charity I am a local coach for, no less) months before the lottery even closed. Hurdle number 1: raise $3,000.

Let’s just discuss the art of fundraising for a minute, considering I did sign myself up to raise money for Girls on the Run. Talk about a challenge! I’m an accountant–asking people for money is something I do only when I issue a negotiated invoice, never voluntarily. I had to figure out how to raise money, lots of money! I put a lot of effort (and credit card points) into an office building bake sale and two charity cocktail evenings and that STILL wasn’t enough. But I have some pretty amazing friends and family and after Girls on the Run posted a story about my “why”, the donations flooded in and I hit my goal. I was officially going to run the marathon because of their love & support! While difficult, I can also say it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my lifetime–because as a coach, I know how the funds are allocated and how they truly impact the lives of the girls in the program. I’ve seen their faces as they cross the finish line of their own 5K each season and it has truly been life changing!

Second, there are stories after stories about how getting to the start line is harder than running an actual marathon. Two marathons in and I’ve fallen victim to running injuries both times. This injury far surpassed the first though and there was no recovering before race day, despite taking it easy for nearly six weeks leading up to the race.

Fast forward through weeks upon weeks of training and fundraising to race week.

I packed my bags; I decided I was running this race, if it meant I ended up walking half of it. (Keep this in the back of your mind as you read on.) I was prepared for rain, cold, or shine. I packed my hydration, my fuel, recovery, and even my own coffee! I took heed to the “do NOTHING different on race day” warnings.

Race day morning I woke up 5 minutes before the alarm. I met the Atlanta team on the subway at 6:40AM. At 7AM we are in line for the ferry. However, the crowds were large and we didn’t even get onto the ferry until 8AM. Then it was straight into the bathroom lines before waiting in line for the shuttle to take us to the start line. At 9:50AM the shuttle dropped us off and we’re left to hustle to our corrals before they close at 10:15AM. I will say, it’s a darn good thing I didn’t blow the girls off that morning because I thought they were crazy wanting to catch the subway FOUR hours before our wave started! Little did I know it would take as much time as it did…I get it now!

I’m finally in my corral by 10:15AM and I meet Barbara. She’s a nice lady, running her fifth marathon, and her talking to me keeps my nerves at bay. I have my “marathon plan” and I’m not going to go out too fast, no matter how many people are passing me!

Ready to Race

Green Wave Start Line

The gun goes off at 10:40AM and we surge forward. The race is officially on for me! The entire first mile and a half is uphill across the Verrazano Bridge–much like the Wednesday night runs I do with West Stride…I got this! I kept a nice, steady 11:30-12:00 ish pace. I was feeling good! Miles 1-4 FLEW by. Before I even blinked I was at mile 5 and thinking to myself “I can totally do this”!

Mile 6-13…I started thinking how much I really don’t like Brooklyn. It’s so boring. I’ve been on the same road for over an hour and a half at this point; I sure could use a change of scenery! The crowd turnout is great though, and the bands/support is helping me keep going.

Mile 14 – Bridge #2, an uphill battle into Queens, though not nearly as bad at Bridge #1. Everyone hits a wall, but not everyone hits it at mile 20. For me, that wall was during Mile 15. Mile 16 was also the start of the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. Let’s talk about this beast for a minute. This is where I knew I had to walk if I had any hope of saving my knee. And so I joined the ranks of the walkers. However, this allowed me to stop for a photo op, which actually helped pull me out of my funk and helped me hurdle the wall.

Manhattan Skyline via Queensboro Bridge

I picked my feet up again on the descent as the mass of people rounded the corner onto First Ave. This is where everyone warned there would be a wall of noise. Perhaps the crowds were a bit burned out at this point, because I never even had to turn off my headphones. I was a little disappointed, if I’m being frank. (And there were A LOT of people in the crowds at this point)

Mile 17-19 was a pretty easy run along First Ave with the crowds surging me along. I was still on point with my 11 ish minute mile at this point and was feeling pretty good until about Mile 18. I felt the knee pain creep in, despite my repeated efforts encouraging my body to keep cooperating. I was fighting tears from Mile 18-19 but I was trying to stay mentally tough!

Mile 20, Bridge #4 into the Bronx – yet another hill. I actually heard a lady behind me say “I’m so over bridges at this point” and I don’t think I could’ve agreed more. However, I powered up this one and kept trucking along. The Bronx was actually one of my favorite parts of the race, despite it being a quick mile and a half. The bands were playing great music, the crowds were yelling/cheering/making noise – I guess they realized that is when most people do hit their wall! Thank you Bronx crowd!

Mile 21-23 is where things started falling apart for me. I pushed through Harlem, but as I neared Central Park, my right hip started cramping; it had been compensating for the left knee for nearly 5 miles at this point and started screaming no more. I was at 108th and 5th and I had a complete mental breakdown. I couldn’t control the tears at this point and by the time I found hubby at 103rd I was nearly inconsolable. The pain was over bearing and it’s all I could focus on. I was ready to quit. I kept sobbing on his shoulder “Tell me I can do this; tell me I can finish this!” The nice French lady standing beside him offered me a coke, and the ladies behind Joe kept encouraging me saying “You got this! It’s only 2.5 more miles. You’ll be ready to sign up for the next one before you know it!” I knew, no matter what, I had to cross that finish line; Quitting wasn’t an option at this point.

My brain was out of the game, as was my body, but at Mile 24.5, I breathed in new life as I was sobbing through Central Park. In this exact moment, I found the will to power through in my heart. I was extremely disappointed in myself for having run nearly an entire marathon only to end up walking the last 2.7 miles, but this sign was EVERYTHING. To the spectator holding them — you are my freaking hero!

Mile 24.5 Mantra

Despite my head & my legs, I crossed that finish line, with a time of 5:07:29 and it was 100% heart that carried me through.

Nearly a week later, I still can’t get over the disappointment, even though I know this is a HUGE accomplishment. I’ve heard every justification and positive word that could possibly be said…maybe in a week I’ll have a happier outlook. For now, I have my medal sitting on my desk and am just fortunate to have that.

NYC Marathon Finisher's Medal

There is no runner’s high; there is no great feeling about this one. To me, it is simply done. Are these feelings normal?

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2014 was supposed to be my marathon year. I was registered for the Dublin Marathon in October and training was in full swing as I ran the Dublin Race Series from June to September. Life ultimately had different plans for me, and I found myself back in the USA before I ever saw the end of September.

I attempted to keep running, in hopes I could find a marathon around the late October/early November timeframe that could replace the Dublin marathon I would be missing. Two VERY hilly runs around Atlanta later, I realized running a marathon in 2014 was simply impossible. You see, in Dublin, I was at sea level, with very few inclines or hills any where to be found in the city or along the routes I frequented. Atlanta, in stark contrast, is 320m above sea level (1,050 ft) and that my friends, is the highest elevation of any major city east of the Mississippi River. To say I struggled to adjust is a huge understatement.

It has taken me three solid months and struggles like you would not believe to get to a point where I feel like a runner again. I’ve had to pull my pace back, and I feel like a turtle again. I’ve also spent a lot time in the gym cross-training, you know, the keys to running don’t just involve a strong lower half…

Two weeks ago, I ran a 10 mile race. It was hilly, but not as bad as I expected, and that is the exact moment I had the realization that I had adjusted to the elevation and hills that are Atlanta. I was on sheer runner’s high as I crossed that finish line.

Monday Night Brewing

The race had several tents set up, one of which was the Georgia Marathon. Ten minutes later I was signed up to run the Publix Georgia Marathon on March 22, 2015.

I’m super pumped and scared for this journey all at the same time. I’ve never run more than 13.1 miles before. I have no idea how I’m going to do this — OK, that’s a lie because I’m going to do this on sheer will power and desire; because it’s what I want to accomplish as a runner this year!

Chase your dreams, then keep running

It’s going to hurt; it’s going to be a challenge, both mentally & physically; it’s going to consume all my free time (hello, I’m training for this during tax season!); it’s going to make me stronger. AND THAT IS GOING TO BE MY REWARD WHEN I CROSS THAT FINISH LINE IN MARCH!

Here's to 2015

This training will be both friend and foe, but, as Barney says in How I Met Your Mother, challenge accepted! Bring it on 2015!

Until next time, XOXO – K

A Mile is A Mile

I was out for a 15 mile run on Tuesday and somewhere around the 10 mile mark, it dawned on me just how far my running has come since I moved to Dublin. And so today, I want to focus my efforts on those things that have made me a better runner, in hopes that my sharing them with you will also help you to become a better runner for yourself.

1. Off days are OK, but you do have to power through them

You talk yourself up for your run all day; You get changed and lace up; And thirty seconds to a minute and a half into your run you think to yourself, “Oh. My. Gosh. Why am I doing this again?” It’s in stark contrast to those days that just seem effortless and easy, right? Trust me, this happens to everyone. And it’s utterly important that you keep going on those days because you have to teach your body that it can, and it will keep going.

2. Rain, heat, cold, or shine

Weather is a fickle creature, and I know all too well how easy it is to use the weather as an excuse to not go for a run. Strike that mentality. You HAVE to do it, and you know why? Because there is never a race-day weather guarantee.

Autumn Weather3. Set goals, and stick to them 

For me, it’s easier to keep myself motivated and running when I have an end-game in mind, and a financial commitment. And so, I run for races. If you can set goals for yourself and stick to them, you’ll see the improvements — they don’t always have to require a financial commitment of course.

4. Don’t forget your core! 

When I ran my first two half marathons, I relied solely on my lower half to get me through. It wasn’t until late last Autumn when I began a series of upper body & core workouts that I noticed HUGE strides in my running pace and endurance. You use your arms while running as much as your legs. You also rely on your core muscles to carry you along, so do yourself a solid and focus on the whole you, not just the legs.

Spiders

Yep, that’s me attempting spider push-ups. (I have wrist issues, so to combat that, I use yoga blocks for intense floor work)

 

5. You have to, and I mean absolutely HAVE to, cross-train your lower half.

As important as core strength is, your legs are what carry you through a race. All too often, runners think they can’t run because of their various problems. “Oh, my knees are bad” or “I get shin splints every time I run”. Did you know that most knee problems are due to weak hip flexors and IT bands? Did you also know that shin splints are generally a product of poor footwear or  running form? I have battled through these exact same issues — and I’ve come out ahead because I opted to begin cross-training. (Luckily, the at-home workouts I do for core, also focus on lower half strength.) IT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD and I simply cannot stress that enough.

6. Music matters

Running Playlist

Have a play list, and a power song. And make sure your power song is in your playlist a few times (depending on your race length). And train with this play list — so you can tweak and edit before race day. At some point in your race you won’t even be hearing words, just beats, so be picky with your songs and make sure your feet can run to those beats! You’ll be pleasantly surprised when your power song changes over time…I certainly have!

My current favorites?
Eminem – Lose Yourself
Kenny Loggins – Footloose
The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony

7. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

I all too often take hydration for granted. I’ve pushed myself a few times and can easily drink a pot of coffee then run 5-6 miles an hour later and be fine — but that’s not always been the case. And I certainly can’t push myself to run 12-15 miles without proper fluids. And even when I think I’ve had enough fluids, I land in bed with a migraine anyway. You need water. You need electrolytes. PERIOD.

8. Run with a friends.

You don’t realize how important running with a group of people is until you look down at your watch and you’ve run 5 miles without batting an eye because you were preoccupied with chatting. The best thing I ever did was find a group of people who pushed my limits, tested my endurance, and all around helped me become a faster runner simply by talking to me while we ran. Some days I didn’t think I’d make it through the runs, but those were the days my group mattered most (and goes hand in hand with #1 above)

Running Friends

9. Don’t fall victim to “carb loading”.

Don’t get me wrong, carbs are über important for runners, but you do not want to eat a heaping plate of pasta for lunch the day before a race and follow it with a large pizza for dinner. The carbs will process into sugar overnight and will leave you feeling sluggish on race day.

Consume your carbs evenly throughout the week of a race, and be sure you are eating the good carbs — sweet potatoes, whole grains, and legumes. I find quinoa is the absolute best before a race, as it is both a whole grain & protein packed. Stay away from processed and bleached carbs if possible.

10. Listen to your body.

I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. Your body knows best, so pay attention to what it is saying! If your ankle hurts, take a day off from running and try some yoga. If you are hungry, EAT. The longer and further you run, the more your metabolism kicks in and needs fuel to continue and repair muscles. You only get one body, so take care of it.

Race

These are all the things I’ve learned about myself as a runner over the last 18 months. You can do anything you put your mind to, and here’s my proof: In September of 2013 I was a 12-13 minute mile distance runner (10K +) and a 10 minute mile short distance runner (+/- 5K). Today, I am a 9 1/2 minute mile distance runner and a 7 1/2 minute mile short distance runner. And now you know my secrets.

Until next time,

XOXO – K

July 8, 2013 marked the official start of my Dublin half marathon training; at which point in time I could barely run a mile without stopping. After a 12 week training program, a lot of motivation from my running group, and loads of support from my friends, I was able to run a mile, easily. I certainly wasn’t fast, at an average 12 minute mile for the half and the best average I had on any training run (a short one!) was probably around 10:45.

Having been a gymnast and a sprinter, I never thought distance running was something I could physically do – at least not continuously for 13.1 miles. Now, I still haven’t continuously run 13.1 miles, but I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I CAN be a distance runner, because a mile is a mile, no matter how fast or slow.

And now, here we are a little over a year later, and I’ve surprised myself yet again! Now, not only am I a distance runner, I’m a distance runner who’s knocked crazy time off her runs – proving to myself that anything is possible with a little dedication and a lot of practice.

7 MilesYou know what? I can run a mile. I can run 7 miles in just over an hour. (My watch was being dumb and had issues finding satellites, so add approx 3.5 minutes and another .38 miles because I actually did just over 7 total that day)

This run was on a rather warm & sunny summer day in Dublin. I started from my office in Ballsbridge and ran down Merrion road to Booterstown Park. It was a simply gorgeous day and the Irish Sea happened to be in my favour!

Booterstown looking towards Dun LagohaireThere is nothing more motivating than running along the sea, with a little breeze at your back and the sun shining down on your face. It’s exceptional, and so very motivating.

At one point along the journey I realised how happy I was; how much energy I had; how amazing I felt. And that was around the five-mile mark! Who knew a year ago, when I started my journey that I wouldn’t hate myself after 5 miles; that I could still have energy and motivation to keep going, even on one of the hottest days of the year in the mid-day sun, sans water bottle!

This was about the same time I was headed back towards my office on the Sandymount Strand, when the random fog started rolling in. It was almost like it was raining it was so thick. And the wind was blowing something fierce and you could feel the sea and the salt in your hair and it was even more motivating! (The photo really doesn’t do it justice, but just ahead of me in the picture you can’t see ANYTHING. It really just looks like a cloudy day here….) 

Fog on the Sandymount Strand
 When I sat out on this run, my goal was actually only five miles. I ended up taking a wrong turn and making a rough 1.5 mile loop and ended the day just over 7 miles. And with the views that day, this is about as close to Seventh Heaven as you can possibly get! Keep on running friends. Runners’ High is a real and honest thing and I hope each and every one of you know what I’m talking about at some point in your life (be it after 1 mile or 15!).

Until next time: XOXO – K

**Sidebar: I’m not sure I deserve such amazing followers I just sat down in front of the computer to write for the first time in what I’m now realising has been almost 45 days. YIKES. And you are STILL reading my blog? Please, high-five yourselves right now. And do it again, just one more time. You are amazing. (No excuses, because the why’s are a topic for another day!)**

Is there any better feeling than the excitement you feel on a race day? That’s part of what the runners call “runner’s high” – so I think. It’s particularly exciting when you are running a night race, for the sheer fact that you have ALL DAY to build anticipation!

On Saturday, I woke up and met my running buddy, Lorna, for brunch in the cozy little neighbourhood of Ranelagh. What better way to fuel your body for a run than with a spinach and tomato omelette? YUM. After brunch, Lorna and I set our meeting time for the race, and parted ways so I could head to Dundrum to pick up my race packet.

Electric Run Photo Wall

When I popped open the race bag and found all my goodies, I knew the Electric Run was going to be simply fabulous!

Electric Run Goody Bag

The glow in the dark timing chip, the glow stick glasses, and a glow in the dark running t-shirt. OH YES! Even the race bib was brightly coloured. I was pumped already and it was only 2PM.

About 5:30 PM I decided I needed some pre-race fuel. On this particular day, I opted for a Juice Plus Complete shake, which is a blend of proteins, complex carbohydrates, and fiber to keep me fueled for hours.

JP Complete - Chocolate Covered Strawberry

I call this shake, chocolate covered strawberry as I blended the chocolate shake powder with strawberries and unsweetened almond milk. It’s almost like a chocolate/strawberry milkshake from Sonic, but with almost no fat, a wealth of protein, and minimal sugar. Who needs a $4 or $5 smoothie (or more if you add protein powders and the extras!) when you can have Complete nutrition for less than $2? My exact thoughts! 

After sipping on my shake, it was FINALLY time to reunite with Lorna and head off to the race!

Now, this wasn’t my first night race as I’d done the Fireball 5K a few times in Knoxville at Fourth of July, but this was my first Electric Night Run. And the race went a little something like this:

Electric Run Race Course - Arches

Walking towards the start of the race, you get to see part of the course in action. It was still daylight at this point, but once the sun set the neon lights light up the skies!

Electric Run Friends

My running crew! Myself, Lorna, Melanie (Editor-in-Chief at IMAGE), and Jeanne (IMAGE Daily). A huge thanks to Trevor (TNT24.ie) for snapping the photos for us! He was great craic to hang with at the start line! And tall enough to get the best photos! 🙂

Electric Run Start Queue

Excitement just keeps building! The electrified start line, complete with live DJ–who played an outstanding mix of tunes to keep us pumped and warm on the chilly, windy night!

Electric Run Race Course - Trees

FINALLY we made it past the starting line (they were releasing waves in 3 minute intervals and while the race started at 7:30, we didn’t cross the start line until nearly 8:20!) I only stopped for one photo of the course, but I really liked the trees! Another neat section of the course had umbrellas hanging upside down from the rafters while “It’s Raining Men” played on the stereo!

After PartyAnd post race, this is where the fun happened. With a live band on set, the electrified racers were in full-on rave mode — jumping around, dancing, singing, and enjoying the post-race activities.

All in all, despite it being incredibly cold and windy, it was a fantastic run and I’d do it again in a tick-tock! Had such a fabulous time! Definitely looking forward to the Great Ireland Run in two weeks time and another night run next month as well!

XOXO – K