Tag Archive for Boston Marathon

Shaping Up for 2017

The lottery gods are good to me. I am humbled to announce I get to go back to my favorite race, and there have been many. The original 100 miler, the Western States Endurance Run in sunny California. It was my fourth year in the lottery since my 2013 race when I somehow got pulled to run with one single ticket. This year, I had 8 tickets (your ticket number doubles ever year not selected). To get to run it twice so close together is magical. I am extremely grateul and take none of this for granted. My Hardrock dream however continues to make me wait. Looks like it is going to be a speedy and heat training kind of training cycle (I also have my 6th Boston to look forward too). The rest of my year is TBD. The Grand Slam looms and I will decide on that or something else equally epic very soon.  #ws #seeyouinsquaw 

Western States starting line circa 2013. Squaw Valley, CA

Western States starting line circa 2013. Squaw Valley, CA

Humanity Prevails; The 118th Boston Marathon

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Unique Boston wristbands cut from the flags of the 2013 race and heart tattoos given to every single one of the 36,000+ runners was a nice touch by the BAA.

Running Boston is special. But getting to run the 118th Boston, a year removed from the tragedy that shocked the world and brought everyone that much closer was on a completely different level. Everybody wanted to be part of this and I was one of the lucky ones that would.

Pre-Race

Boylston Street - a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a great atmosphere.

Boylston Street – a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a great atmosphere.

I spent much of the weekend build up hanging outside in the glorious sunshine along the finish line of Boylston Street and the restaurants and shops of Newbury Street. I was with my teammates Benny and Matt, lots of New York running friends and my sister, who had flown all the way over from Holland! The atmosphere was amazing. Everyone knew this year was special and had a particular viewpoint on it. Whether it was “Boston Strong”, “Taking back the Finish Line” or just peace. For me, the race was to celebrate humanity, to celebrate good people in this world.

Matt, myself and Benny from Team Novo Nordisk before our JDRF event.

Matt, myself and Benny from Team Novo Nordisk before our JDRF event.

Talking of good people, on Saturday night, our team were invited to speak at the JDRF runners (and families) dinner party in celebration of their training and fundraising efforts towards a cure for type 1 diabetes. We told our stories of diagnosis, of our passion for running and about what our team stands for. It was a really awesome event. Although we were invited to be the inspiration, we left knowing we had met some truly inspirational people as well. Runners who ran for their partner, child and even neighbor’s child, the range of people and why they had a passion to raise money for diabetes was very broad. Amazing!

Race Day

Boston!

Boston!

As per usual I beat my alarm and was up at 5:20am. My blood glucose was in the high 100’s but I was fine with this. As myself and Benny had been discussing the previous night at our Italian dinner, “carb up and don’t go low.” All my racing gear was carefully placed by the bed to throw on without disturbing Tiffany too much. Benny and myself met up with Matt easily enough at security check point number 5 as specifically instructed by the folks at BAA. They had allowed us to take medical bags to the start village in Hopkinton which was a huge plus. When the no bag rules was announced, I was disheartened thinking the bad guys had won. But BAA understood and respected our need to test our blood glucose levels frequently and as close to the start of the race as possible.

On the long bus ride out of the city to Hopkinton,  I usually throw on the headphones and put my head down to drown out the chatter of excited runners but this year was different. We laughed and joked together all the way there. It was great, I felt relaxed and was enjoying every minute of it. Plus it was a Monday!

I ate precisely two hours before the start in the athlete village after getting a perfect glucose reading. Because we had been so punctual getting out to there, we were able to grab some grass space in the sunshine and just chill out for an hour or so. Grass space in the sun was top-notch real estate so things were going really well! At 9am, it was time to begin the long walk to the start so we dropped off our medical bags with some staff members. My final reading was slightly higher than target but not a huge concern for me. I handed my full bottle of Gatorade to the volunteer that was helping me out with the bag. He was grateful for it and I was grateful to be able to drop off a medical bag. It was that kind of friendly atmosphere everywhere you turned. These kind of interactions were I guess, why I sub-consciously wanted to come back. To have good memories of Boston once more.

Pre-Race: Steve Lee, Rui, Keila, myslef and Benny all about to start in Wave 1.

Pre-Race: Steve Lee, Rui, Keila, myself and Benny all about to start in Wave 1.

I wished Matt and Benny the best of luck and jumped in the back of corral 2 which was approximately 2,000th place. My plan was to not run the first six downhill miles hard, just to run relaxed and behind goal pace. In the middle section, miles 6-16 hit goal pace or slightly faster, miles 16-21 maintain the same effort through Newton hills but drop the pace down and then push hard for home from there.

Start of the historic 118th Boston.

Start of the historic 118th Boston.

The gun fired and about a minute later, I had officially crossed the start line mats, tapped start on my watch and begun running. I was feeling ridiculously nervous those first few miles, almost feeling like I could have passed out which was so strange for me. I had put a lot of pressure on myself to race well and maybe I just needed to cut out the noise and just run. At the 5K marker, I clocked 20 minutes exact which was slightly slower than I had planned for but at least I was holding back. That was the plan after all (my two previous races here, I had run too fast in the first half and paid heavily for such naiveness later on at the hills and beyond).

Once the main descending was over after mile 6, I got into goal pace of 6:18, sometimes faster and this brought me through halfway at 1:23; 30 seconds behind target. I had caught and passed a few Nike NYC runners; Matt, Joe and Kwabs over the first 13.1 but what reassured me the most about starting slow and then speeding up was being passed by Chris Solarz around mile 6. Knowing the time he was shooting for and the fact that he had started behind me, assured me my tactics were correct (little did I know that he got start in corral 5 at the start and had spent much of his early miles weaving around to get up to speed).

But while my time goal was fractionally off and not alarming me, the way my body felt was. I was more tired than I wanted to be and now I had to do the distance all over again, at a slightly faster pace with the Newton hills bang in the middle of it all to boot. Pros seem to negative split this course, now it was my turn.

Other than the minor aches, the sun’s rays were becoming a greater issue now. Sitting in Hopkinton killing time, the sun had felt nice at 8am but now it was approaching noon, and my appreciation for it was diminishing. Without a cloud in the sky and no shade on this course, the heat was now playing a role just like the Newton hills always guarantee to do. Although I had managed a handful of hot runs in Mexico recently, the bulk of my training was run in three or four layers in and out of snowstorms from one of my worst New York winters I’ve experienced. The high was 66 yet it felt much warmer than that (I found out later, feel factor put it at 77). These were the hills I did not see coming.

Mile 15.5 controlling the long downhill before Newton hills would begin.

Mile 15.5 controlling the long downhill before Newton hills would begin. Photo credit: Kino

I churned on with my just faster than marathon pace, seeing some of the now familiar faces of the JDRF family on the streets, which gave me a nice lift. I knocked out a cheeky sub-6 downhill mile 16 just before the first Newton hill where I saw Kino and Ken Tom in their usual spot taking photos and cheering on everyone (because they know everyone!). The mile split was a bit too much but I knew I was chasing the clock after halfway and felt an urge to close the time gap while I was still going down.

I turned right and saw the famous site of the first of four climbs. I approached it with determination that it would not slow me down. I would monitor my pace, reduced my stride and take some places from runners that had over exerted themselves on the first 16. The crowd was ferocious here. Think about it. This was mile 16 in the middle of a sleepy town called Newton and it was packed on both sides of the road. Noise I have never heard during a Boston marathon before.

I locked in 6:30 pace up the hill, recalling that was an ideal pace to run each of the hills at for a 2:45 marathon. Before I knew it, I was up the first one and had passed many runners in the process. I mention this because I’m used to being the one getting passed and spat out the back around now from previous painful Boston’s.

We got a long flat break now through the Powerade gel hand out section. Not that I wanted one but it did make me alert to reach for my third and final Honey Stinger gel. I had been switching between Gatorade and water at every aid station and consumed two gels as well at 7 and 14 miles. From what I could tell, glucose control was 100% in check.

The second climb was really a sneaky double with a mini break, almost time to recover but not quite which is like the westside hills of Central Park from 102nd Street heading south. But this was mile 17 of a race, of Boston. I took on the climb with the same plan, same biomechanics and then the same result. I was now 19 miles in, just Heartbreak to go. Without wearing a wristband full of data splits to look at, I gauged I was in a good shape to PR but it would be close. The aches in my legs were revealing themselves to me as the sweat from my forehead and torso increased evermore. My body was fighting off the pain as best it could.

pre-heartbreak hill

Not Heartbreak Hill. Photo credit: Mike Toma

And then sooner than I anticipated, I stood at the bottom of Heartbreak hill. Arms pumping, legs driving, the pistons were all at full steam for this last push. It was a lot of work and I wasn’t trying to hide it from anyone. I saw Mike, Benny and Rhonda from the Westside Y to my right and then another hundred meters later, it was all over.  I went down the other side rapidly. Wow, that was so much easier than ever before I thought to myself.

I joined a small posse of runners going downhill as we pushed on knowing now was the time to run as near to 6-minute pace as possible, this was after all the fastest mile of the course other than mile 1. The road veered left and the crowd increased. I locked my eyes on the Heartbreak Hill Running store sign and then it all came back to me. Heartbreak hill was about to begin.

Even running this course for my fourth time, I got confused what hill was what and how many there were. So for the record, what I used to believe to be three hills in Boston became four but now I will not forget, there are actually five! So, without any other option, I went at it again although this time I knew this was most definitely Heartbreak. The last and of course biggest hill left. 600 meters over a gradual grade sounds very straight forward. But it’s the timing of the hill, the miles and miles of subtle downhill strides which now play a big role in why this hill is so tough.

I watched a guy in neon yellow go passed me and almost let him go before realizing that he was my ticket. He was going the pace I should have been going so I clawed him back in and worked off him all the way up no matter how much it hurt me to do so. Once up on top, it hit me how tired I was. I just had 5 miles left. It all sounds so simple typing it or maybe even reading it but my body was in serious breakdown mode. Did heartbreak break me? Did it add me to the list of many?

Passing the crew before mile 22.

Passing the crew before mile 22.

I passed Tiffany, my Sis, Beck and others who were all going nuts for me. It was incredibly awesome to have that much love shout at you in over the course of a few seconds and I wish I could have given them a more positive smile or thumbs up but I was in trouble. Tiffany sensed it both there in that moment and because she had been tracking my pace through every 5K split on the app. We both talked in detail about the game plan and knew the last 5 miles would call for a perfect home stretch push. She encouraged me as best she could to pick it up.

My brain took in the words of good coaching but the quads were now screaming for it all to just end. Downhill I clocked a decent 6:20 but I would have to go faster. I knew that mile should have been a flat-6. The next mile flipped up on my watch and I recall seeing it as a 7 minute pace or something that close. This was where my brain took the first exit. I calculated what was required and it was literally impossible to do that now without help, without a T-rex chasing me, without something. I can’t fully explain why, but I knew it was over and I couldn’t fight back after seeing that split and feeling as bad as I felt. I had completely forgotten the lesson of Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler when a bad mile there, did me in as well.

Every next mile seemed so far away. The famous Citgo sign just never seemed to get bigger and it took all my heart to not stop and take a walk break down the long straight never-ending road. I have to thank the crowds 100% for that. Runners left and right were doing just that, either because they were cramping up or just smoked but I somehow managed to refuse this option. I think I was honestly too scared of getting screamed out (in a very nice kind of way) to keep on going!

I turned my mind to the possibility of running my fastest Boston time now that the 2:45 PR had long but faded away but as I made the famous last left turn onto Bolyston and saw just how far the finish line was  from my location, I knew only an insane sprint and quite possibly a wheelchair to greet me would have given me even a slim chance of turning that into a mini-success ending. I decided against this option which is not a normal choice for me. I decided instead to stop for a second at the sight of the first bomb last year outside Marathon Sports and wave to the crowd to thank them for coming back too and standing there being Boston Strong. I walked across the line in just over 2:49 and sunk to my knees. It was over. What an emotional race.

Post-Race

I tried to walk but was physically destroyed from the course and mentally heartbroken that I did not run the race I had trained for. I felt like I had let a lot of people down. I staggered away but eventually gave in to the volunteer help down the finish chute and asked to go to the medical tent to test my blood. My levels were actually perfect for post-race which showed I had once again managed my carbohydrate intake either via Gatorade or by Honey Stinger gels perfectly. What I had not done, was drink enough water on top as I had lost a fair bit of weight in the surprising heat and that’s probably why I felt faint. But like many others, this was just another part of what makes marathon running a challenge.

The physician who looked after me was called Meghan. Once I was ready to leave medical, she placed my medal in my hand with the ribbon neatly folded up around it and we hugged. It was so powerful because she was exactly the sort of person that was taking care of far more serous medical issues a year ago right here. I will never forget that moment.

Me and my Sis post-race at South Street Seaport.

Me and my Sis post-race at South Street Seaport.

Initially, I was very down due to my sub-par performance. I knew I was in 2:45 shape so I hung my head low walking towards Boston Common to collect my bags, still with medal in hand. Hours later, my sister Helen told me to be proud because she was as well as all my friends. She put the medal around my neck for the first time and it sunk in that my time or sadness was not really that relevant to the occasion.

I came back a year later to run this course once more to stand up to evil in this world, to showcase the spirit of the marathon and the strength of this great city, famously now phrased as “Boston Strong”. The 118th Boston Marathon was always meant to be something so much bigger than me or my time or any individual runner.  I even include Meb in that statement as much as his victory was amazing! I guess I will have to keep chasing that darn unicorn because ultimately I love the Boston Marathon. One day, I will get this course right and there is no doubt in my mind, I will fully appreciate it.

The prizes for the effort. Boston Runs as One official shirt and the 118th Boston finisher's medal.

The prizes for the effort. Boston Runs as One official shirt and the 118th Boston finisher’s medal.

The Mental Game at Martha’s Vineyard

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No weenies allowed on the island!

My adventures on the summer vacation island of Martha’s Vineyard have always occurred in winter. That doesn’t make much sense to most people until you throw in the details of what has become an annual trip for me. A fairly unique 20 mile road race occurs here every President’s Day Weekend and it serves as a great test race for those training for the Boston Marathon.

My first trip here begun a day after finding out about my uncle’s loss to cancer in 2012 and it was the most therapeutic weekend escape I could have wished for with my friends. We returned again last year and I raced to 4th place.

Target #3

Target #3 for the weekend.

This year, my third consecutive, I would have somewhat of a dart on my back or should I say bib. I received my race packet in the mail and saw my number 3 bib. I don’t recall ever having a lower bib ever. My brain started churning ideas about what this meant being seeded. Third place was obviously not returning from last year and so I couldn’t help but start to set my hopes on a very potential podium place, maybe even a win if I got lucky?

But like any race, it all comes down to who shows up and who stays away. I quit the daydreaming on Friday upon hearing the previous year’s winner was returning. I refocused my attention on my ability and what I could do. OK, maybe still being able to grab 2nd place didn’t quite escape my consciousness. Last year, my average pace was 6:13 although I fell apart in the last few miles to give up 2nd and 3rd. I refused to make the same mistake again this year but I wanted to match and ultimately better that pace.

I went into Saturday’s race with a different plan; hold back. I broke the 20 miles down into three parts just like I would do for a marathon. The plan was 8 easy, 8 focused and 4 with the heart (as coach Jack Daniel’s would put it). If I averaged 6:15’s early on, I would be able to accelerate my pace later and pick off runners in the latter miles. It was a new type of racing strategy for me, one that required a lot of mental toughness.

Checking the forecast the morning of the race, I was thankful to see clear skies and a delayed snowstorm in the hourly details. I changed clothes from tights to shorts on the 45 minute ferry across from Cape Cod trying to make the best choice with the high-30’s weather. At the start area, I changed my socks from ankle to compression ones for warmth over anything else. I have given up believing they can give you an edge during performance. What I did believe was, I was being very indecisive and twitchy! My glucose was set perfectly in place at 184 and I was ready to see how my winter training had been going.

I peeled off my Novo hoodie and sweats and gave them to Tiffany and joined the second row of runners trying to blend into the ‘not so keen but still keen’ starters area. I bumped into Kieran Conlon, a fellow ex-pat and familiar face from last year. We had a good duel last year but today was a year on, a fresh race for both of us.

Start of the race leaving the ferry port at Vineyard Haven. Photo credit: Tiffany Carson

Start of the race leaving the ferry port at Vineyard Haven. Photo credit: Tiffany Carson

The gun went off and almost 400 of us headed east towards the north-eastern tip of the island; Oaks Bluff. I immediately checked my watch after the first straight and saw 6:01  so backed off. I reminded myself of the plan; hold back. 20 miles would sort out the true speedsters from the wannabes.

We climbed over the metal bridge and I did a head count in front. I lay in 10th ignoring the speedy couple who a few of us had figured out were a relay duo (10 miles each – although the male was running all 20). Kieran and another guy came by my side and we small talked. We agreed to ignore the pace up ahead as a volunteer called out “6:19” for  us at mile 1.

We ran along the shore line into a slight head wind. I tucked in the best I could behind two taller runners. The sky was blue and it was turning out to be a better day than I had I envisioned. Climbing up and around East Chop lighthouse at Oaks Bluff and then descending the other side by coastal lined beach homes was as always beautiful. I imagined summer time here. One day I will experience this island in peak season without a race! We crunched shells along the harbor boardwalk with the pace steady at 6:20’s. I grabbed my first gel that I had tucked in my glove to keep warm just before I approached the aid station. Knowing the course inside out, made these decisions easier to make. My glucose felt fine but I was wary of not waiting too long to get the first one in the system.

Holding steady through Oaks Bluff. Photo credit: Tiffany Carson.

Holding steady through Oaks Bluff. Kieran Conlon (front right). Photo credit: Tiffany Carson.

I saw Tiffany just beyond 4 miles as we made a triangular-shaped route around Ocean Park. I had dropped some places, I recall 15th or 16th but wasn’t concerned by my placing yet. My pace was where I wanted it to be.

The only out and back section followed which gave me a good look at runners ahead. The leader had a big gap. He was the winner from 2013 and already looked untouchable as  he did last year. The next runners were red, blue and red. I wanted to remember their colors as I was confident I would see them all again when it mattered.

Heading south again came my favorite stretch of the course. Seaview Avenue is a long stretch of road down to the turn at mile 9. After running past the golf course, the strip of road is in the middle of the ocean to our left and Sengekontacket Pond (try saying that on Saturday night) to the right. The snow was much more sparse up here than back in New York which I did not expect. The roads were in good condition with patches of sand on them and although there was a bike path to use, we all decided to run on the road as it was safer which seemed ironic.

I popped my second gel at mile 6 and grabbed water from a volunteer, most of which landed on the ground so I grabbed a second one, the last one in the row of stretched out arms and in doing so, heard a groan behind me.

I turned and apologized seeing I had two runners on my heels. I offered my cup up immediately but he declined. So far, two gels and some water.  I was treating my gels like they would be enough quick carbohydrates to keep my glucose in check but this was 20 miles at supposedly faster than marathon pace. I have nailed my carbohydrate strategy down at the marathon distance, always grabbing Gatorade at every other aid station. If I kept up my current gel only routine, I would be out of gels by mile 12 and relying on Tiffany to give me spares every few miles which we didn’t really plan for. I made it an immediate decision to grab Gatorade at the next aid station and get more carbs on board.

I approached mile 10 as I gained but never did pass the relay couple. Tiffany yelled “start picking them off” as she held out more gels for me to grab. Now carrying four again, I was pretty confident I would not be going on the lower side of my glucose range for the second half of the race.

A digital clock stood by the halfway mat and read ’01:02:45.’ After feeling good for 10 miles holding back and running some good 6:10-20 splits, the time I saw crushed me a little. My ‘hold back’ plan would call for a negative split so I wasn’t quite sure why I was feeling so dejected. Maybe, I knew that 10 miles faster than what I had just done was not quite in me today. I was beginning to have a hard time mentally believing I could pull off a 2:03 or 2:04 time going off how I felt.

I sped through the lively aid station manned by one of the many boys and girls clubs of Martha’s Vineyard and just for a few strides felt my energy lift. I sat in 13th and knew it was time to start seeing some runners come back to me. A long stretch of rollers lay ahead along the bike path on the left and then the right side of the road. As I approached mile 12, I finally reeled one of them in clocking a 6:09 mile. Up to 12th and I didn’t hang around to let him tag along with another fast mile of 6:10 I picked off one more. The plan was in motion.

I wound around a bend to a smaller aid station at 13 and got cheered on to my first “Go Team Novo Nordisk” of the year. I heard the woman tell her friends that I was diabetic. I thought in my head, spread the word! I got a kick out of knowing she knew about the team.

Down a rare steep descent, I used gravity to give me some speed. But now, the pain in my legs was building, soreness, tightness all happening at once quickly. I promised myself to start drinking more water every day, get more sleep, heck, eat more vegetables, anything to not feel this pain! My pace was slipping back. My last split was 6:15, not 6:09-10’s anymore. I nervously peeked on the mile beep and saw 6:37. Not good. I looked straight ahead and saw a tiny dot in the distance, my next target. But he faded out of sight soon enough. My focus miles were quickly getting very blurry.

The beginning of the end at Mile 14. Photo credit: Tiffany Carson.

Fire Danger: LOW. A different low was happening at Mile 14. Photo credit: Tiffany Carson

Just as my legs were failing me, now so was my head. I kept at it but my feet felt like they were running across sand. At a cross-section to turn right, Tiffany stood and could see my pain. “3 minute gap” she said talking about 2nd place. I had 10K left to close that  gap, feeling like this? Forget it.

And it continued to get worse as I lost the two places I had earlier taken. I had churned out two more slow miles through 17 and now sat in unlucky 13th spot. But I wasn’t unlucky. This had happened to me because of a lack of focus. My training has been solid (minus all of our snowstorms) and my glucose levels were fine. I had simply lost focus. I felt defeated. This was not like me.

I passed Tiffany again and gave her a look to say ‘not my day’. So when she pulled alongside me in the car moments later, the words she chose “catch the guy ahead” were all I needed to hear to spark the light to redeem myself for a race that was going in the wrong direction. The basic notion to catch the next guy ahead of me was lost on me before I heard the words out loud from Tiffany. My head had been only thinking of negative thoughts; why did my legs hurt? Why was I running slower than last year? Why was I 13th? None of these questions I asked myself were doing me any good but the words ‘catch the guy ahead’ were simple and perhaps tangible.

The ‘guy’ ahead was oblivious to my mission. He had just passed me a mile ago with pure ease. He knew I was toast as he went by. I had failed to run well between 15-17 because I was not focused on those individual miles. I had just over two miles to go, to work as hard as possible and make the guy ahead truly earn beating me.

Immediately the rolling hills of the last stretch begun. I had miraculously changed gears  as if my brain just flipped a switch in my legs to turn the power back on. I could tell he had no idea I was making a move. On the uphill, I glanced and saw the mile 18 marker and was relieved it wasn’t mile 19. It gave me more time to catch him. Yes, my brain was happy I got to run more miles! As we descended the other side of the hill, a family cheered at the end of their driveway for him and then moments later, me. And now he knew I was coming.

The next climb came quickly. This one, longer but with less grade than before. I ran it like the finish line was on the top. The gap between us was reducing but it was gradual. Down the other side, I saw three more runners come into view. The guy who passed me at 14 was closing in on a pair both wearing red working together. And just like that it was game on to see if I had enough left to catch more than just one runner. Back from the dead almost.

I had all four of them in my view but only a mile and a quarter to try to make a convincing move. I broke it down in my head as  5x 400 meter laps at all out pace. Just to catch the closest guy would have been satisfying but he was now pushing on again as he had witnessed the same scenario as me and got hungry to take some places too!

This scenario played out in Ohio last November and I regretted not fighting harder to stay close to the guy ahead closing a gap on the next runner with a mile left. I refused to let that happen again here. The worst that could happen was to try but fall short. One of the four guys was clear, almost gone for good, but the two in red were clearly slowing the most and I was definitely pushing hardest.

The guy I had been tearing after for 2 miles finally passed the two in red. One of them sensed me and glanced back to confirm. He didn’t have anytime to react. I was going all out with a lot of determination and sped past the two of them as well. But I wanted the guy I had been chasing for 2 miles. I somehow kicked even more and closed on the heels of him. I went past him just before crossing the road to the finish straight.

The guy furthest ahead took note and kicked away from me but my concern was now only keeping the last guy out of reach down the straight. I was all of a sudden in the top 10 and didn’t want to give that up. I ran  as hard as I could; eyes closed, arms pumping and grunting away. It wasn’t pretty but it was all heart and that’s what I had asked myself to do in the last 4 miles. I was finally delivering on my promise.

Home Stretch: Running into the finish for 10th.  Photo credit: Tiffany Carson.

Home Stretch: Running into the finish for 10th. Photo credit: Tiffany Carson.

I ran like 10th place meant 1st, crossed the line in 2:06 and bent over to grab my knees with nothing left to give. Seconds later, the other three finished and none were too ecstatic with my late charge home.  I later learned, my last mile split was 5:41.

Pure exhaustion at the end! Photo Credit: Granite State Race Services.

Pure exhaustion at the end! Photo Credit: Granite State Race Services.

My overall time was a minute and a half slower than 2013. To know I was faster the year before was tough to swallow. Walking away from the finish line, me and Tiffany talked about immediate changes that have to happen to keep improving. No more just running.  Core work, better diet, sleep etc. That might sound serious and maybe a little to so for some but it’s the truth. To start with, I want to PR in Boston in April. That’s a tough challenge for me. I’ve never yet raced well there but I am ready to change that.

But longer term, I need to be at my fittest, leanest and strongest going into Tahoe 200 come September. Maybe the fact that I didn’t hit my time goal or place higher than I thought I would is exactly what I needed to happen. A wake up call of sorts.

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First medals of 2014: finisher medal and 3rd place age group.

Seeing 10th place and snatching a 3rd place age group award on the print out stuck to the gym wall helped my ego a little, but it didn’t take away my feeling of disappointment. I need to focus much better in the middle of a race. That’s been an issue of mine at Boston and other races for a long time. In a way, if I had run my best time here, it may have masked this problem. I think it might just have been a better first race than I originally thought. I know what to work on and I’m excited to improve.

Mountains, Lakes and a lot of Lotteries

Lotteries are a fairly simple concept. You buy a ticket, hope to see your numbers and win or in most cases, actually lose. But some lotteries are easier than others. My life experiences tell me I’m much better at running related lotteries than Mega Millions ($7 and counting). You could argue that winning a lottery to get to run a race further than most people choose to drive their cars should not be classified as winning per se, but in my world of adventure and fascination with pushing the body well beyond the comfort zone, I beg to differ.

I try to go about every day of my life, remembering it is no rehearsal. You have to grab every opportunity by the horns and if that means doing some crazy stuff along the way then even better. Here is my story of how I chose my 2014 A race as well as the rest of my race calendar.

WS100 Robinsons Flat with RJ TNN

Western States 2013 – running alongside Team Novo Nordisk team-mate Ryan Jones

When last December rolled around, it meant I had two important tasks to take care of. Buy Christmas presents and enter lotteries for popular ultra races. After my 100% lottery success rate at Western States (1 from 1), I got greedy and bought my ticket again with dreams of the Grand Slam in mind (Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch in the span of 3 months). I also insanely threw my name in the toughest 100 in the world; Hardrock (any excuse to go back to Telluride) but both entries were denied on the same day.

Breathtaking Hardrock 100, literally. Photo credit: Tetsuro Buford Ogata

Breathtaking Hardrock 100, literally. Photo credit: Tetsuro Buford Ogata

I found out later, I actually made the wait list for Hardrock, listed with 50 by my name. I wasn’t entirely sure if that meant what I thought it did. I ended up asking someone who knows a thing or two about ultras, Anton Krupicka, of all people at his NYC film event; In The High Country, a couple of days later. His smirk told me enough before his response even came out.  As I expected, all 35 in my “never” category (first timers) would have to drop out and 15 of the 49 wait listed ahead of me, just to get a bib! Now I understand why they call this category never. It was time to move on.

The race up 86 stories begins...Looks like fun right?!! Right? Photo credit: WSJ

Empire State Building Run Up:The race up 86 stories begins. Photo credit: WSJ

Climb the Empire State Building? Sure, why not. This wasn’t my alternative for missing out on two huge ultras but it would be such a cool thing to do (read insane) it appealed to me! I entered the lottery ticket, didn’t dare tell Brian at the Run Smart Project (who is helping me with my Boston training) and waited….Result; “Thank you but….” Third strike! Next.

OK focus. Back to the big races with mountains and lakes, no more indoor quirky  challenges to distract me. This was now it. I had most definitely saved the biggest lotteries for last; the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), arguably the hardest mountain 100 mile race in the world traversing Italy, Switzerland and France around the famed European peak and out of nowhere almost, a brand new race that drew me in as soon as I heard the name “Tahoe 200.” The race was instantly appealing for the unfathomable distance, location and the fact that it was an inaugural race.

2012_ultra_trail_mont_blanc

After three outs, of course, the lottery gods woke up and I received entry into both races. With the races scheduled just 5 days apart, over 5,000 air miles not to mention a 10 hour time difference, the sane part of my brain said I had to choose just one. Would it be around a mountain or around a lake?

My brain was spinning. This led to numerous discussions with Tiffany, family and friends to get a sense of how to decide on this tough but ultimately very good ultra runner problem to have. As much as it frustrated me that I was about to let one of these two races go, I realized that many other runners from these lotteries and others did not have the same choice.

Saying that, it didn’t make my decision any easier. Over a week had passed and  I had still not made my decision. UTMB or Tahoe 200? Alps or California? 100 or 200? Sometimes, it just seemed ‘easier’ to just do both. Could I physically do both? Probably. Would I hate every second of Tahoe though? Probably.

Just before I was about to put pen to paper and play the pros and cons game, Tiffany said “Choose whatever makes you happiest.” She was onto something. I went back to the moment in time I knew I was selected in both races. For Tahoe, I followed Twitter on a Sunday afternoon as names were tweeted in threes and fours every few  minutes. 85 ‘lucky’ runners were  drawn from a pool of almost 200 applicants. Giving up hope, my name was drawn dead last! But I was in and I was overjoyed to be in.

When Tahoe 200 became official live on Twitter!

This is what a lucky ticket looks like: Tahoe 200 lottery live via Twitter!

Three days later, I woke up to go to work and saw I was tagged in a Facebook post at 4am. I knew what it meant. I had just been selected for UTMB. Due to getting into Tahoe, my initial reaction was anything but joy. I had already started planning Tahoe. Tahoe is so unique. The inaugural 200 mile race. The appeal of it at present is just stronger than UTMB right now. Perhaps because UTMB is not inaugural, perhaps because I want a different challenge than 100 miles, perhaps because I might be able to compete at Tahoe.   I think it’s all of the above. I’m lucky that I will get to share this journey with another two of my NYC ultra friends; Lucy Ledezma and Otto Lam and have my crew from Tiffany, Team Novo Nordisk and my family to help me achieve my biggest race yet. The adventure awaits.

LT200 with text

The first ever 200 mile single loop mountain race in the United States, the Tahoe 200 circumnavigates the sparkling, clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail. The route occasionally detours off the TRT to explore aspen meadows, rock gardens of giants, small impossibly blue lakes, thick canopied forests, and long ridge lines with stunning views.  The course is nothing less than magical.” – Candice Burt, RD, Tahoe200

Now the decision has been made, UTMB is far from forgotten. I will apply again and get to do it one day. For this year, every race builds towards early September and the Tahoe 200. The first goal race begins at a very special Boston Marathon. I’m tired of having a PR from 2011. Enough said. Then the Cayuga Trails 50 upstate New York which doubles as the USATF 50 Mile Championship and then Vermont 100, my third 100 ever and hopefully another great race. There are still lots of other races to add including what happens after Tahoe (I’m serious by the way). I’m going to knuckle down and find some more trail marathons, 50’s and maybe another 100K or two. 200 miles isn’t going to run itself.

February 15th: Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler
March 15th: Rock N Roll USA Half Marathon, Washington DC
April 21st: Boston Marathon
June 1: Cayuga Trails 50 (USATF 50 Mile Championship)
July 19th-20th: Vermont 100
September 4th-8th: Lake Tahoe 200

 

4.15.13 2:50pm

This post has absolutely nothing to do with running or diabetes. I was looking forward to writing a piece on the 2013 Boston Marathon. I probably never will.

boston-marathon-black-ribbon-4.15.13

April 15th 2013 will be a day I and many many others never forget. I ran the  marathon and an hour or so later, felt like I ran another one. Like so many others, I am lucky and grateful to be home in one piece. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and injured and their families who were enjoying the day cheering on loved ones along Boylston Street.

The bombings on the famous homestretch, killed 3, injured almost 200 hundred and pissed off everyone else. The bombings were completely senseless. They were not done because they hate runners or their families and friends, this could have happened anywhere at anytime. They were done to destroy us both physically and mentally, they were done to crush our souls and our spirit. Wrong crowd.

These people will be caught and will be fully punished. History tells us this. These people are always caught and always punished for their inhumane acts of violence. Here’s the story through my eyes.

2pm; I was waiting on the corner of Boylston and Arlington, a popular meet up spot at the SW corner of Boston Common, waiting for my good friend Gary to meet me. 5 minutes became 20, 20 became 30. I grew impatient waiting. My body ached, I was upset with my run, I was down.  In that time frame, I had decided that even though my race did not go well, I was too overjoyed by the experience of the Boston Marathon. This event is magical, the most historical marathon which you have to qualifier to run in. I wanted to buy the famous official Boston Marathon jacket. 

I started walking towards the finish line, trying to get to Marathon Sports. I got one or two blocks before crowds and fencing made it hard to figure out how I was going to get there. Then Gary called. He was almost at the meeting spot. I paused. I was almost there but now he was ready to meet me. I u-turned and went back to my spot on the corner of the Common. 

I sat down among fellow exhausted runners and waited patiently again. Everything was peaceful until a thud. It sounded like ground breaking demolition, the kind you hear all over New York. Then, a second one.

A woman said “that doesn’t sound good”. “Nope” I replied. Silence. I was convinced it was construction. But that made no sense, this was Patriots Day, no one does that kind of work on Patriot’s Day.

Within minutes, street police were moving the traffic in front of me with more urgency and people on the streets were walking faster, most into the Common away from the finishers baggage area. The atmosphere had shifted. I heard sirens. Then saw fire engines, ambulances, police and undercover cars whiz past trying to get to a location somewhere near the finish area. A fire? A collapsed building? Worse than that? 

Then, someone said it, the word “bomb”. I jumped up, my body sank like never before in my life. My girlfriend. She was pacing a friend to a sub-4 marathon at that time. I just wasn’t sure exactly where she was. With my 1% battery life left, I called her. She picked up super cheery as normal for her. I screamed something along the lines of “get here now” in complete panic. 

Somehow, within minutes, she was with me. Then Gary was too. I explained the noises I had heard and the rumors as more emergency vehicles roared past us. Neither believed. Neither wanted to believe. I didn’t want to believe. Now, I started to feel stupid for saying it. 

My phone now dead left Tiffany and Gary in charge of scrolling the news. Nothing at first, refresh, nothing. Gary called his brother and sunk to his knees. Then all three of us knew, it was true.

We hugged and walked away. We avoided the T trains like the plague. The London bombings (although not there, have left their mark in my brain). We walked away from the finish. 

We passed a restaurant. I froze. For the first time, I saw an image on the TV of the first explosion right beside the finish line. Then, it became real. 

Hours upon hours of calling family and letting friends know we were safe followed. Thankfully, all of our friends were OK but we knew many others were not as lucky.

Some people visibly shaken, others oblivious to the events. The city was on lock-down, the marathon was on no one’s minds. The thought of when the next one and where would go off was frightening. As we now know, that never happened. We met our other relieved and drained friends and figured out how to get home. We all knew this day would be with us forever for all the wrong reasons.

In the following few days, I have struggled emotionally with this heartbreaking tragedy. I have a very small sense of what survivor guilt feels like. That 8-year old boy, Martin should not be gone. He was there to cheer on his Dad and I’m pretty sure one day, he would have run Boston himself. People are waking up with a leg or two. No one should be gone, no one should be injured.

My perspective on running has changed slightly. Running is simply play, it is no more. It is still a way to express ourselves. An art form to some, a science to others. People run for others, for themselves, for charities, for health, for depression, for happiness. This will not change because of this, only add to it. The people behind this attack on our running community did not think about this. Our weapons are our hearts, something clearly lacking from them.

The Boston marathon will rise again, I have no doubt. Boston 2014 will be more emotional than ever. We can choose to hide from the people hiding or stand strong, be Boston strong and make a statement back.  See most of you in Boston 2014. In the mean time, #runforboston #prayforboston.

pray-for-boston-photo-3-630x429

Boston Prep; Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler

2013racelogo_MV

What weeks ago seemed impossible, was now on the table. A return to the Summer retreat island of Martha’s Vineyard for a great Boston tune-up race of 20 miles.

My Jack Daniel’s training plan called for 15 miles at marathon pace (6:15) with some easy miles thrown in either side. I adapted this plan for the race and decided I would start out easy and then knuckle down to marathon pace. Well, that was the pre-plan at least.

The weather was not ideal but hey, this was Massachusetts in February; mid-20’s with a north wind and a forecast of rain and snow. I was careful how much insulin to take with my breakfast. My aim was to be anywhere around 180 pre-race.

MVferry

Mainland to the start line via a 45-minute ferry ride

I spent much of the ferry ride monitoring my blood glucose rather than the view outside. We arrived on the island to a pleasant view of light sky with only a few clouds, no rain or snow in sight. Was the forecast wrong? The optimist in me said yes! I chose shorts, long sleeves, no hat or gloves. After all, I was going to go pretty hard at this. If I was cold, I could always go faster!

RD getting us ready to go

The race director getting us ready to go at the laid back time of 11am. #islandliving

I did a final pre-race blood test; 198. This was a great reading for me. I was happy to be starting at this point. I stuffed my shorts pockets with 4 energy gels, the plan of taking one at 5, 10 and 15 miles (a spare as back-up as I knew Gatorade was scarce on the course from last year when I had to snag one of Rui’s gels to keep me going). 400 or so of us ‘toed the line’ outside the ferry terminal in the north town of Vineyard Haven. Lots dressed in Boston marathon attire making the statement that this run was part of the bigger picture for 8 weeks time.

mv20mapI was itching to go. I had missed this although it had only been a couple of months since my last race in California. I knew the smart race plan was to run my own race but I quickly found a small group of runners to run with at the front. There were two leaders way ahead, and then us. We crossed a bridge into the township of Oak Bluffs and got read the 1 mile split by a volunteer. It felt like I was back in school getting yelled my splits round the track by my coach. “6:34”. OK, that wasn’t easy pace. Pre-plan ruined! We maintained this for the next two miles. I could taste the opportunity for a high placing and I didn’t want to slip back and run solo. I knew by mile 5 I was going to press anyway so I stayed in the group working as one.

I shielded myself from the wind with two runners ahead of me. We headed south along the Nantucket Sound with the wind now behind us. The pace definitely picked up. I fell off the back and considered letting them go. The only problem, I was now running in no mans land with no defense from the wind. I made a bold but ultimately correct decision to surge and jump back on the group. It didn’t feel good but as soon as I closed the divide, the pace felt OK again. The mile split was however 6:04. We now had some guys pushing the pace. Time for a gel, earlier than planned.

We sped south for a long section of miles with the wind behind us. The pace calmed slightly to my M pace of 6:15 so at least I was finally back on track with my pre-race plan! We had some heavy breathing going on. The good news, not mine. This was now quickly becoming a very obvious race for third place. The front two were half a mile ahead. Our pack of seven pushed trying to eliminate the weak ones. It reminded me of reading Tyler Hamilton’s book ‘The Secret Race’ describe training rides with Lance Armstrong. Lance would push, Tyler would respond as if to say “still here”. I was one of the runners saying “still here” over and over again.

The chasing pack of 7 heading south

The chasing pack of 7 heading south (hidden behind #288)

At mile 9 we had stretched the pack thin. I was now in a group of four working even harder and now catching the lone runner ahead in 2nd. My mind raced way ahead, thinking not only a top 3 spot was possible but second place was also up for grabs.

We ran the bike lane route but occasionally had to jump on the road to avoid sections of snow that weren’t cleared in time for the race (the after effects of the Nemo storm). At ten miles I clocked 1:02 and change. Fast, really fast but I couldn’t back off now. I turned the corner to head west and for the first time, found myself with a gap on the other three.

I decided to go and I went hard to make them work extra hard to catch me. I was clear in third place with the 2nd place guy ahead still fading. It didn’t last. It was an aggressive move with almost half the race to go. I had two guys back on my heels in no time and quickly slowed so I wasn’t the lead man. Then, from almost nowhere came the change in conditions. Rain and snow fell and fell fast. I hoped I was the only person who enjoyed bad conditions.

It appeared not. The other guys seemed unconcerned with the conditions. We worked in unison to finally reign in number two whose biomechanics were getting worse and worse.

We caught him at 13. To my shock though, he wouldn’t let us go. He stuck their breathing hard and working harder to not let us go. I was a mixture of impressed and frustrated by him! Damn. Seriously, let us go! Now I was playing the role of Lance and this guy was Tyler hanging onto my wheel. He was tough.

We ran rolling hills as a four. 2nd place through 5th. Still clipping off 6:05’s and giving it everything. I had no idea how I was going to maintain this for seven final miles but I was also confident everyone else felt the same way; red lining it home. We were effectively fighting for two podium spots from four. My plan was simple. If one person makes the move, I go too. I could not afford to give a lead to anyone now. This happened a couple of times and I stomped out the move immediately.

We turned a corner at 14. No sign of first place, he had the race to lose now, not for us to win. (We actually heard from a volunteer he was 4:05 ahead). The heavy breather was no longer in my ear. I never looked round to see where he was. I just knew he had finally given up the “still here” game.

Then a guy in red made his move. It was big. I tried to go but he went with conviction. A well planned 10K to go move and just like that he had 100 yards on me. During my desperate fight to keep him close I had unintentionally become the solo third place runner. Great, except I was dying. My pace was good but my body was really questioning why I was putting it through this pain again now.

I closed my eyes several times from here on in. 1) it feels good when you’re dying. 2) no one could see my pain now. The gap ahead of me was now double. The aid station ahead was going nuts for us. I had three miles to hang onto third. A goal I knew I would be satisfied with. I had accepted that 2nd place was too strong for me. This was hell but if I could hang on, it would be heaven in 18 minutes. A car passed honking. And then…honk again.

I denied it. A second car rolled past. Honk (for me) and then honk (not for me). Who was right behind me? Was it the guy who was in second for so long with failing biomechanics or the guy I had run with side by side for ten miles? It didn’t matter and I didn’t turn to show my card of fear to find out. All I could do was work. I thought of my uncle (a year to the day he passed a way from cancer), my Dad, undergoing cancer treatment at present, my Team Novo Nordisk teammates. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I always do this when I’m in the severe pain part of the race. The pain of failure, far worse than some temporary pain.

One last sharp turn left to begin the last two miles. My Brooks ID friend Michael Robertson’s wife had mentioned the hills at mile 18 before the race in conversation. I actually had no recollection of then from the previous year.

But here they were. The first, a gradual climb over half a mile. Still in third. I tapped my Garmin at the mile marker expecting to see something horribly slow; 5:56. It felt sluggish but I was doing everything right to keep third place.

Then came the second climb with a few descents in there too. One mile to go. But now I heard footsteps. And just like that he rolled passed with ease. I acknowledged his effort with a “good job” and he replied “we’ll see” but it honestly sounded modest at best to me. It was in fact a runner I had not seen since about mile 6 and he took off.

My pace deteriorated. I was mentally broken at this moment. All I could think of was Steve Prefontaine’s quote “The worst place you can finish!” referring to his infamous 4th place finish at the 1972 Olympics 5000m final.

I didn’t know if others were gaining. It certainly felt like it at that moment in time. I could actually see third and second ahead of me in the final mile but had nothing in the tank to do anything about it. I imagined this scenario that third would catch second and deflate his bubble too. I used this ridiculous theory to push myself on. If I could stay in range, who was to say I couldn’t steal back third at the bitter end?

But nothing changed. Stalemate. I crossed the road and headed diagonally down the home stretch, for the first time daring to glance back to see who was behind. No one. And for the first time in two hours, my whole body relaxed.

I ran into the finish strong. 2:04 and change. 30 seconds behind third. I slumped over, hands on knees and stayed there for a while. I mumbled some disappointment to Tiffany. She got it. Didn’t have to say anything. She knew I was not thrilled to miss third.

First metal of 2013

First metal of 2013

At this point, I then realized how soaked my shirt was and my hands were frozen from the conditions. I staggered into the school gym to get warm and congratulate the other runners. It was after all, a great race. I’m proud to be able to compete with the front guys in races these days, rather than just chase the clock. However, I know my place in Boston. Way back there, chasing the clock!

When my hands got some blood back in them, I did a test; 171. Higher than I would have liked but better to be a bit higher than lower in the situation. I ended up popping gels at 4, 8, 12 and 16 due to the higher pace but in hindsight, I was good with gels after mile 12.

The preliminary results showed my pace at 6:14. Putting the 4th place blues soon behind me, I was happy to see this and realize what I had achieved. Weeks ago, I was hobbling around London with ITB pain and now I’m back,  on the cusp of something great in the Boston Marathon on April 15th.

Finisher medal and AG medal

Finisher medal and AG medal

2013 Race Calendar; The Plan of Attack!

I have spent a few more weeks than I had planned in my off-season; my right ITB told me to roll more, rest more. It’s given me time to reflect on an amazing 2012, appreciate being 100% healthy and like most runners in December-January; plan for an even more amazing 2013.

The A race (of all A races!)

My “A” race stands out like a sore thumb, in a very very good way; Western States 100. As a first time entrant to the lottery system to the oldest and most prestigious 100 miler in the world, the chances of actually getting a place were between slim and none. I somehow got in. What is it with me and raffles in 2012? I don’t know but I need to be buying Mega Millions too. I’ll be rubbing shoulders with the best in the sport; Tim Olson, Ryan Sandes, Ellie Greenwood to name only a few. I will be fortunate enough to share this awesome experience with my Team Novo Nordisk teammate; Ryan Jones (a fellow LT100 finisher in 2012).

Did someone say running in Colorado?! I’ll go!

My second major race falls into a new distance. The 100K race is something yet to be tackled on my resume. I’ve seemed to found a fairly successful race distance between 50K and 50M; the “W” from The North Face in DC and my 16th place at JFK (both 2012) are my highlights to date. I was unable to enter the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) event last year due to the date being a week apart from the Chicago Marathon. This year, no such marathon dilemma, it is fully on my radar. It will be my “A2” race if you will. The event, in it’s third year now, attracts the best athletes going after the biggest prize money in ultra running (not that I think I will get anywhere near the pot of gold!) It has moved from Virginia to Colorado for 2013. I don’t think I can resist the challenge of some thin mountain air on a great point to point course beginning in Breckenridge and finishing in Vail.

Looking to PR big time @ the oldest one of them all; Boston Marathon

But, back to the start. I”ll kick things off with some winter training with a great and smart training partner; Gary Berard, and give Boston a good effort. It’s time to shave off some time from my PR of 2:45. Then, it will be full on trail season with a return to Bear Mountain for 50 miles and DC for the same distance (key fitness tests for Western States). I’m dabbling with Pocono Marathon in mid-May purely from a downhill elevation perspective (specificity training). Remaining races will no doubt happen on a whim to add the year. I haven’t figured out a half-marathon yet towards Boston for starters and I’m keen to tackle a Half-Ironman maybe towards the end of the year. I am really excited and ready to race alongside my team mates at Team Novo Nordisk and make this year the best one yet.

Here’s the calendar to date (bold=registered);

February 16th: Martha’s Vineyard 20-Miler, MA (tbd)

April 15th: Boston Marathon, MA

May 4th: TheNorthFace Endurance Challenge 50M, Bear Mountain, NY

May 19th: Pocono Marathon, PA (tbd)

June 1st: TheNorthFace Endurance Challenge 50M, Washington DC 

June 29th: Western States 100, Squaw Valley-Auburn, CA

July 20th: 20in24 Relay, Philadelphia, PA

September 28th: UROC 100K, Vail CO (tbd)

Pacing at Yonkers Marathon

Last Tuesday, I had heard rumors amongst the group of going to Yonkers Marathon to do our 22 mile easy run (training for the Chicago Marathon on October 7th). I dismissed this as a crazy idea. Why  would we want to train on one of the toughest marathon courses and tack on an extra 4.2 miles? I slept on it and by Wednesday I had signed up, completely sold on the idea!

Yonkers Marathon is old

I now had three full days to prepare for my 8th marathon. I quickly learned how much history the race had. For starters, it is the second oldest marathon in the world (after Boston). It used to be held at noon in May, one month after Boston and America’s best distance runners like Ted Corbitt had to run both of these marathons to qualify for the Olympics. The original course; a big loop incorporating seven towns has long gone. It is now one smaller loop, which is run twice to get to the magical distance of 26.2. It has also since moved to mid-September and at a more reasonable time of 8am. The course remains tough, just not Ted Corbitt tough.

Hasting-on-Hudson hills; mile 4.5-6 and 17.5-19

The modern two-loop course; still hilly

Yonkers is one of the last qualifying races to gain entry into the following year’s Boston Marathon. I entered Boston last week and immediately shared the news with my good friend,  Gary Berard. We trained together for Boston in 2011; four months of solid work that resulted in a PR for both us. I hit 2:56, Gary an amazing 2:45.

He was keen to sign up. The only problem was his last competitive marathon was that race. It fell outside of the qualifying window. He has not been training for a while now due to his coaching business, GB Running. Somehow, I sold him on running Yonkers in three days time, saying I would run alongside him. I did however forget to mention it was a hilly course. He would need a 3:10 to get into Boston. We calculated the pace at 7:11’s/per mile. My easy 22 miler had quickly become a little longer and faster! It didn’t matter, he wanted a BQ and I wanted him to train with so it was on.

On Saturday Gary still hadn’t actually signed up and l kept receiving texts that his neck was hurting him. This wasn’t going to plan. So I texted him back “See you at Grand Central at 6am.”

Sunday 6am. Gary was there. He had time to recalculate the pace. It was actually 7:14 per mile. “Every second counts!” he said. A group of about eight of us boarded the train and ate breakfast during the thirty minute commute. My glucose was 200 so I was right on my pre-race goal.

We arrived at Yonkers just before 7am. I adjusted my insulin pump’s basal rate to -60% for the next four hours (standard practice before any of my runs), we got changed and then checked in our bags. One final check of my glucose. I was 147 so I grabbed a bag of Powerbar Energy Blasts (45grams of carbs) and ate them straight away to try and get back up to 200. I was carrying six Honey Stinger gels for the race, all containing 29grams of pure sugar. Five tucked in my shorts and one in my compression sock for no over reason other than I had run out of space! A complete overkill but I did not want to rely on the Gatorade stations to actually have Gatorade, as stupid as that sounds. This may be the second oldest marathon but it definitely wasn’t the second biggest, no offense to NYCRUNS, the new group in charge of the Yonkers marathon.

8am(ish) Start of the 87th Yonkers Marathon and new Half-Marathon

The gun fired and we begun the task at hand. About hundred or so of the 1,000 runners were ahead within a mile of a gradual climb. It was irrelevant however, who was ahead.   Our pace for mile one was 7:12. We were already settled into a good pace. In fact, the majority of runners ahead were half-marathoners (700) and we actually felt sorry for any  marathoners trying to race this thing for real as you literally had no idea which place you were in unless you were winning (the leader got an escort police bike).

The first mile was a gradual climb

By mile three, me and Gary got a thud in our backs. Pesky half-marathon kid trying to squeeze through the middle of us. In fact, it wasn’t, it was Rui. He was adamant on running his own pace of 7:25 so we didn’t expect to see him. He liked our pace so made the group into a three. The more the merrier.

We cruised north on rolling terrain into Hastings-on-Hudson. This was where the big hill started. We turned right and as expected begun to climb. I knew from the elevation chart that the climb was about a mile and a half long. Our pace here was off but it really didn’t matter. What goes up must come down meaning we would get the time back. It was also early days in the race.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a 10K checkpoint followed by a long straightaway with lots of young volunteers manning the upcoming water station. They were going wild and really enjoying helping out. If you took their cup of water or Gatorade they would be ecstatic! Maybe the excitement got to us too. I checked the Garmin and saw 6:40 lap pace. I pulled the reins in on that real quick. Gary said thank you (for noticing) but I should have said sorry for not noticing.

The pace remained steady after that small burst as we ran south back towards Yonkers. I felt good with my glucose. I had taken a handful of small cups of Gatorade up to this point and decided at mile ten to take a Honey Stinger gel. By mile 11 and 12, we had lots of high school and military half-marathoners blazing past us. We had to remain focused and not get sucked into a different pace. One asked us if we were doing the half marathon. I’m pretty sure he was disappointed we weren’t as he thought he had just jumped three places!

On pace: 7:10 average with Gary and Rui at the halfway point.

We ran downhill into the town centre and did a u-turn to go on loop number two. We clocked 13.1 on the timing mat at 01:34:40, goal pace was 01:35:00. We were in good shape. We also now knew exactly what to expect for the rest of the course. We were basically Yonkers runners from now on!

The one aspect of the course we couldn’t control however was the heat. It was nearing 10am and it was getting hot. A high of 73 was the forecast but this felt hotter already. I made a conscious effort to say “do not underestimate the heat and drink at every aid station from now on”. I was now grabbing two or three drinks at each aid station. I would give at least one of these to Gary. We didn’t want dehydration to be the reason he didn’t BQ.

The road ahead was now clear. All of the half-marathoners were out of sight and it felt like a training run. We had done this countless times together. Just a small group running side by side at X pace over X miles. In our current situation, we had 12 miles to go at 7:14 pace. I felt fine and I know Rui did too. As we should, we have both been training hard for Chicago but Gary was the concern. This was important to him. His training had been limited to training his clients at their pace for months. He looked OK but I didn’t dare ask him. I mean, what would I have done if he said no!

We saw a police bike in the distance and soon realized it was escorting the leader. I was confused though as I saw Mike Arnstein at the start line and he is a 2:28 marathoner. How on earth were we gaining on the leader at mile 16? Well, if we were all women, we were! It was the lead woman and she was well clear of her competitors. We passed her up the Hastings-on-Hudson climb and wished her well.

Rui went for a pit stop before the steep descent at mile 19 so we went to a two. I popped my second gel here knowing the downhill motion would help me digest it easily. As we had done on the last loop, we let our bodies fly down this hill at a much faster pace than necessary with the theory that braking to stay ‘on pace’ actually wasted more energy. We were also taking the most direct route through S-bends, and tight turns using all the marathon tricks in the book to not do more work than was necessary.

We were heading south again passed an industrial area with no trees, leaving little asphalt unshaded. Their was nothing we could do but stay on pace and blank that out. We were finding we had a headwind so I took the lead and let Gary run a few yards back. Tour de France moves on two feet! We passed a handful of marathoners who were now in trouble but for the most part, it was just us and the road clocking off miles.

By mile 22 I had expected to see Rui come back to us. I had to assume he had shut it done and would ease in for the last 4.2 miles conserving his effort for Chicago as was always the plan. I never let my head think I was going to stop at 22 and wish Gary the best. I had convinced him this was a good idea and our pace was good but too close for any mistakes to happen.

Gary had earlier in the race said with three miles to go, he wanted to blaze home. I said sure, why not? But we realized two things at mile 23; 1) He didn’t need too. Our pace was steady and on for a 3:08. 2) Gary’s lack of training, should I say zero training for this was now taking its toll on him.

For the first time, he asked “Where’s the turn?” referring to a right turn at the most southern part of the course. I heard this as “I’m tired now”. I checked lap pace on the watch; 7:10….7:14….7:20. For the first time I changed my tone and demanded he stayed on my shoulder. He dug deep, really deep to not have a space between us. That mile ended up being 7:20 but I knew we could afford to give back a few seconds so I didn’t sweat it (too much).

The turn came as did some partial shade. Before we knew it, their was a cop car at the end of the road which meant the next turn back north. This turn would be the most positive one yet,  a long straight downhill where we again let the weight of our bodies do the work for us. I called out 1.5 to go. Then 1 to go. Gary said “Is that 1 mile or 1.2?” He had called me out!! I confessed I wasn’t really worried about the 0.2 part. Funny how he was though! We switched to shouting out actual mileage to go using my GPS as the guide.

I called out half a mile. Some small crowds started to emerge in the town, it was a rare but welcome site. You may be surprised to hear that no one really watches the second oldest marathon in the world! They don’t even close down the traffic for it!

After three obsessed hours staring at my lap pace on the watch, I had completely neglected the actual clock time! I did some quick math and told Gary he had to run a half mile in 5 minutes. It was in the bag. Then we got to a large coned section. My watch already said 26.2 miles was up so to see the 26 mile marker ahead was slightly alarming.

I literally sprinted ahead of Gary and left a big gap between us. What was I doing? How was this helping Gary get his BQ!! I let him come back to me but tried to maintain the pace around the last few turns. “You’ve got 100 seconds left”….”You’ve got 80 seconds left” and then “This is the last turn”.

BQ for Gary. I’m about to punch the air behind

And thank God it was. We turned left on the boardwalk and straight away, there was the finish line. I relaxed, let Gary bomb past and he finished in 3:09:00. I tucked in right behind. He did it. We did it. Great teamwork.

Rui came in right behind us at 3:10. He had been trying to catch up since we left him on the top hill. He was instrumental to Gary achieving his BQ to, running alongside for 17 miles or so.

We all enjoyed the moment. A great achievement on that course with zero training. A good day’s work, I was proud of Gary. We walked to a shaded area of the course to cheer home the rest of our teammates. After a few minutes had passed, Gary asked me “How are your levels?” I was so caught up in the race, I had forgotten to do a post-run blood test asap. Gary was already repaying me for my effort by thinking like a diabetic! I went to bag check, pulled out my blood tester and pricked my finger to draw the small sample of blood. Five second countdown on the meter and 179. More good news! All of this before midday on a Sunday. Now time for a well-earned lunch with my great running friends.

Yonkers glory! Rui, Gary and myself

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