Saturday, November 10, 2018

QC Takes On The Big Apple: NYC Marathon Race Recap


Walking through the Sutphin Boulevard Metro station, it was apparent we were not in suburban Atlanta anymore. People moved rapidly. They were dressed in suits and jeans and everything in between. All ages. All races. Speaking a bevy of languages unless they had tuned out the noise with earbuds.

Adam and I waited as crowds dispersed from arriving trains. I wheeled the suitcase and carried the backpack, hauling it up stairs, and through each train transfer. When I found myself feeling burdened by the physical weight of our luggage and the mental weight of worrying Adam would fall or be too exhausted the rest of the weekend, I pushed the thoughts out of my head. I should be so fortunate to have the physical strength to handle the luggage and the endearing partner who treks all over the country to see me for 20 seconds doing the thing I love. I am LUCKY.


After a brief respite at Roger's hotel to drop off our luggage, the 3 of us hopped in a Lyft to travel to the expo. Approximately 3 blocks into the ride, our driver was pulled over by the police. Plainclothes officers appeared on both the right and left side of the vehicle. They instructed us, as passengers, that we were not being detained and that we had the right to leave the vehicle as long as we paid our fare for our travel thus far.

We opted to stay.

The driver got off with a warning after flashing a card that indicated his brother was in the police force. Apparently it is illegal to have an earbud in your ear as a taxi/Lyft/Uber driver in the state of New York.

Nearly 45 minutes and 1.7 miles later, we arrived at the expo. Roger and I picked up our bibs, bought some swag at the New Balance store, and the boys each bought a pillow from the official bedding sponsor. Roger and I picked up pace bands, found our names on the giant poster, and wrote our goals on a sticker wall.

As we were exiting the expo and attempting to take photos with the giant Shalane Flanigan poster, Roger spotted Jeannie Rice, the record holder for 70+ females. She ran Chicago a few weeks ago in 3:27!

Friday Night

After transferring our luggage to our Airbnb on 71st Street, the 3 of us sat down to a very nice Italian meal in the same neighborhood. It was a dreary November night and shared a warm meal in a tiny brick-walled room that oozed with history.

Saturday Morning

Leaving Adam to sleep for a bit longer, I headed out to Central Park for a short shakeout run. Our Airbnb was just 2 blocks from the park and I soon found myself running in one of the most iconic places in the world. The leaves were absolutely stunning and I was almost a bit disappointed that I only had 20 minutes worth of run. I ran into Ms. Ritz and wondered what kind of dumb luck I must have to find one of the few New Yorkers I know from the internet.

I grabbed coffee, roused Adam out of bed, and we headed downtown to meet with Roger and visit the World Trade Center Memorial.

To say it is moving is an understatement. The museum is located underground, between the two towers and was carefully thought out with each turn. I found myself choked up about things I hadn't thought of in many years and watched as Adam, who was in Manhattan on 9/11, recalled a day that will forever be scarred in his mind.

Saturday Afternoon & Evening

A group of Loopsters decided to meet at Parm, exactly 1 block from our Airbnb. We had lunch and introductions and talked nervously about the impending race in the morning. Our plan to meet up in the Athlete's Village was solidified. After lunch, we walked 1 more block to Magnolia Bakery and loaded up on sweets.

Everyone parted ways at this point. Adam and I took a brief nap and then watched football until it got dark. We ventured out to Broadway and 71st for counter pizza and brought it back to eat at our apartment.

I read a bit of Open by Andre Agassi (I know very little about tennis, picked this up after hearing it recommended on a podcast, and am really enjoying it!) and then went to sleep. I'm usually a good sleeper and marathon night is not much different. The nap meant it took me a bit longer to fall asleep and the strange rumbles from NYC woke me up a few times, but I felt reasonably rested when I woke up. The extra hour of sleep helped too as I don't normally get up at 4:50 a.m.

Race Day - Prerace

I planned to meet Roger at 42nd & Vanderbilt at 5:30 a.m. to take the bus to Staten Island together. I woke up, dressed, warmed up my coffee (that I bought at Starbucks the night before), and grabbed my prepacked race bag. I kissed Adam goodbye and headed to the train station. The 1 train was fast and I got on right away. I had a lovely chat with a woman in her 60s running her 44th marathon from Ottawa. Then I waited for the 7 train for at least 15 minutes in the Times Square station, knowing that it was getting closer and closer to the time Roger would no longer be waiting for me.

By the time I got to Grand Central, it was nearly 5:45 a.m. and Roger was long gone. I followed the huge crowd of runners around the library, covering nearly a mile in line before I got on an actual bus. I sat next to a guy from England and we chatted the first hour to pass the time. I ate my pseudo overnight oats (the ones I brought dumped all over the suitcase so I bought muesli at the corner store instead).

The bus stopped on the Verrazano Bridge and we waited. And waited. And waited. The last 2 miles of the bus ride took about an hour. It was well after 8:00 a.m. by the time we pulled up to the Athlete's Village and everyone rushed off the bus to get through security and finally(!!) pee.

I found the blue village and looked around for our pre-determined meetup spot without any success. I wandered around the whole village once, grabbing a bagel, and then decided to just save my legs. Not 10 minutes after sitting, the first wave was called.

I was really thirsty by this point. I had just had the cup of coffee and couldn't find a place giving out water. It looked like there might be some near or in the corral, so I headed that way. Unfortunately there was not any to be found. I took one more chance to pee and then sat in the corral in my jammies until it was about 20 minutes to gun time.

Already too warm in my arm warmers, I wrapped them around my waist. So now I had 6 gels in my sports bra, arm warmers around my waist, and I was thirsty. Oh, and I forgot anti-chafing stuff!

Race Start

Our wave started walking towards the bridge, climbing over the street we had just been parked on during the bus ride. The day is picture perfect. A few wispy clouds hang in the sky, but it is blue and crisp and there is hardly any wind. I feel a sense of patriotism as I walk up to the iconic start.

The pro men's group is announced and it occurs to me that I've never been this close to the elites before! They are only about 2 minutes ahead of me and while I don't see them from where I'm standing, there is something very special about racing right behind the world's best. After a short speech from the race director, the cannon is fired, and we are off!

The first mile is up, up, up. As we climb to the top of the bridge, we are offered an incredible view of the Manhattan skyline and the water below. Runners leap on top of the median to take photos of themselves and of each other all along the bridge. 8:29

After the up, up, up of the first mile, the second mile is an exhilarating down, down, down. With fresh legs and a warmed up heart, we hit the descent hard and fast and it is fun! 7:09

As the course enters Brooklyn, crowds begin to swell along the street and I fall into a more normal pace. I am working at a 70% effort. The foot is on the gas, but I'm conscious of how much further we have to go. I finally get a chance to get Gatorade and water and chug both down, ready to get to the next hydration stop for me. 7:30

Mentally, I'm in a weird place. My body seems to be working okay, but I'm not soaking in the energy of the crowds as I thought I would. I have my music blasting in my ears and maybe that is to blame for not feeling as jazzed by their presence. I'm latching onto other runners to stay with their pace, but everyone is still kind of sorting things out and the self-seeding is evident early. 7:30

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice someone getting close to me. Like, really close. And then I realize it is Stephen! We chat for a quarter mile, keeping our words clipped at short sentences, and ask each other how it's going, despite knowing it is far too early to make predictions. 7:35

I let Stephen slip away, focusing on my own race and look down at my watch only when it chirps off the mile splits. Considering I want to be at a 7:49 pace to hit a 3:25, I realize I am running pretty stupid. I start looking for the intersection that Adam said he used to live at in Brooklyn. 4th & 9th. When I get there, I imagine it is so much is the same and so much has changed from when he lived there. 7:36

I try to relax a bit. Drop my shoulders. Shorten my stride. Pull the reigns a little tighter. 7:22

Well, that didn't work. Soon thereafter, I find myself on the heels of the 3:25 group and happily fall into the giant bunch surrounding the guy with the foam Statue of Liberty hat. 7:32

I let the pacer do the work and find myself relaxing a bit, putting the mental work in his hands. I am finally feeling a bit better hydration-wise and am remembering to take my gels as planned. 8:03

Into the double digits, I was more relaxed as I tucked into the pace group. I started to take in the crowds a bit more as I released the mental work of pacing. Bands played music, spectators spilled into the streets, and our pacer riled up groups along the way. 7:44

I noticed views of the skyline as we wound around Bedford. The skyscrapers jutted out into the clear blue sky and the East River seemed to glitter. 7:48, 7:52

The course take a couple of sharp turns in the 13th mile and the crowds lining the streets box in the runners. There was something magical about trusting your fellow competitor to keep up the pace while running within inches of each other. 7:59

The Pulaski Bridge is open and exposed. The sun beats down as we near midday and I feel a sticking sensation on my left foot. A large stick with “Andrea” written on it is stuck to the bottom of my shoe. There is no way to grab is mid-stride so I veer to the left and rip it off. 7:53

Climbing towards the Queensboro Bridge and onto the bridge is unsettling. The pacer has backed way off the pace to allow for the climb and I’m raring to just get it over with. But I know there is still more than 10 miles to go and I’m not willing to risk going ahead yet. 8:26, 8:34

The pack reaches the highest point of the bridge and then we are flying! Bounding down the backside of the bridge rattles my quads and I’m loving every second of the sweet downhill. 6:38

As we hit the streets of Manhattan for the first time, the roar of the crowd is deafening. We fly down the street and while I’m working, I’m also feeling reasonably okay considering I’m reaching the point where it can start to get tough. 7:05

I stay with the pace group for another mile and a half, but the fast miles have me jazzed and I break ahead on the Willis Avenue Bridge. It feels bold and decisive, but I’m suddenly feeling free to push the pedal a bit harder. 7:27, 7:35

The next two miles takes us around two blocks where we can see competitors ahead. I’m beginning to pass more and more people. All the gels have caught up with my stomach and while I feel nauseous, I repeat to myself to “stay strong between the ears”. 7:51

Somehow I remember to take a gel at mile 22 even though I’m in the mode of just-get-to-finish. It may have zero effect on my final miles, but all I think about is looking strong if I can spot Adam near the finish. 7:25

Fifth Avenue is PACKED with people and I am grabbing high fives from little kids and pumping my fists at spectators who catch my big grin. I know it is cheesy to be racing at mile 23 with a big grin on my face, but I can’t hide the fact that I’m excited to be in line for meeting my goal. 7:19

There is a steady incline at mile before entering the park and while I feel my stride shortening and my heart pumping faster, I know to save the real work for that final mile. 7:55

Entering Central Park is everything and nothing as I imagined it. The crowds are thick under the yellow-leaved trees and loved ones busily scan the runners, looking for their person. The downhill feels good after the last slog on Fifth and even though I know it is early, I start looking for Adam to my left. 7:35

When I finally see the mile 25 sign, I am on the verge of being frantic. I want so badly to see Adam that I can’t conjure up the course map in my head and panic a bit when I don’t see him after taking the first right.

It isn’t until I see the turn at Columbus Circle that I remember he said he would try to be closer to the grandstands and I crane my neck, hoping he sees me. The sea of people seem so vast. But then suddenly I hear him calling my name and I’m practically leaping as I make my way over to him. I give him (and the people around him) a high-five and I’m so, so happy! 7:42

Coming into the finish line stretch, I am just simply happy. The grandstands are roaring, the flags of the nations are lining the streets, the competitors are giving it their final push to the finish, and it is a stunningly beautiful fall day in New York. Last 0.6 in 7:30

I knew there was no way I was going to be in PR shape, but I did know that I was prepared to potentially have a BQ. I put a lot of thought and effort into my workouts and strength-training going into the race to get me to the start (and finish!) line uninjured. To finish with 3:24:19 was a perfect day at the races.

Post Race

As I was smiling like the biggest goober, overwhelmed with the sense of completion after collecting my medal and heatsheet, someone appeared close to me again. Stephen! How on earth we ran into each twice in an event of 50,000+ people is beyond me. It was perfect to walk through the finish chute together, decompressing the race.

I honestly don’t remember what we even discussed in our post-race euphoria (delirium?), but I felt this sense of completion as we collected our too-heavy-for-post-race food bags and made our way to the ponchos. Maybe it was because I had great company or maybe because I had a great race, but I thought the poncho/exit walk was not as long as I had heard. I was almost a little sad when it was time to leave and make my way back to the apartment - which was delightfully 2.5 blocks from the poncho exit!  

I immediately jumped into the shower at the Airbnb and heard voices while in the tiny bathroom. I thought they were coming from one of the nearby apartments, but then realized that Adam must have made it back with someone in tow. Brad’s wife Nancy had found the apartment!

I got dressed, sat down for a bit, and then felt a bit nauseous. The water and chocolately Gatorade protein drink I had just consumed came right back up. Luckily, not only did I make it to the bathroom, but I felt 1,000 times better afterwards.

Soon Gwen and Brad were there and we lazed around for a short while, waiting for Roger to arrive. The group then went in search of food and wound up at a classic NY diner. Scott joined us soon thereafter and then we squeezed in Liz and one of her local friends. Everyone was in good spirits, chatting and enjoying the post-race glow.

A smaller group went to a nearby whiskey bar for another round and soon our group dwindled to 3 with Roger and I sipping beers and finishing the last of the hummingbird cake. Life is good when the weekend ends surrounded by friends with tired legs, a happy heart, and a tummy full of beer and cake. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Hinson Lake 24 Race Report: Get Your Banana Ready!

In 2016, the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic was the race that earned me my first buckle. I completed 109 miles that weekend and knew that I would return after recovering from experiencing some of the highest highs and lowest lows.

In 2017, I trained hard. Really, really hard. I ran half marathons on weekdays and spent 6-7 hours running each weekend. I had big goals going into the race and ended up with nearly 116 miles, a new 100 mile PR, and a course record.

At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, I signed up for my 3rd Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic. I had just come off a new 6 hour PR and had some successful marathons despite doing zero road marathon training. I felt strong and good and happy.

Fast forward through 9 months that consisted of 2 stress fractures and all the recovery processes that came with them. I had a reasonably successful half-marathon (+warm up and cool down =16 total miles) the weekend prior at Augusta and with the notion of getting in a long run before NYC, I had a plan. I would run 20ish on Saturday morning at HL24, 5ish on Saturday evening and 6ish on Sunday morning. This would give me a nice 50K and not tax my body too much.
Photo cred: Tim Garriss

It was incredibly humid the day before the race and it did not appear to be getting any better according to weather predictions. I crawled into my tent that night, almost sweating on top of my sleeping bag. Luckily, my superpower is sleeping anywhere, anytime and I found I had dozed off easily when someone latecomers woke me up dragging their cooler through the sand just outside my tent at 11 p.m.

I didn't even set my watch alarm because I knew the hubbub of the morning would wake me up. People started stirring around 5-something and I eventually made the trek to the lodge to pee. There was still plenty of time and I lounged around, eating my overnight oats and eventually getting all my gear laid out like I wouldn't have any time to stop. It was hard to disassociate myself from the fact that I would have plenty of time to comb through my snacks.

I pinned on my bib and headed over to the start. I watched Ray receive his 1,000 mile jacket and put my hand over my heart for the national anthem. And then we were off!

The first few laps, I ran in stride with Matt, keeping the pace around 11 minute miles and conversation light. We parted ways around the 4th loop and I continued on while he conserved himself for a long day and night. I was enjoying the easy effort after the half marathon pace from the prior weekend. Thought it wasn't ideal to be going as slow for NYC, it really was better for my psyche to have the time on my feet and the easier effort.
Photo Cred: Peter Asciutto

The air was like soup and while I was having huge feelings of FOMO not going for big miles, I was also a little relieved that I wasn't going for big miles.

Round and round I went on the 1.5 mile loop. I grabbed peanut butter pretzels, mixed sweet tea with water, and didn't worry about the pace on my watch. With the 1.5 mile loop, I either had to run 19.5 miles or 21 so clearly I opted for 21. When I got through that lap, I had been toying with the idea of doing a marathon and then stopping for a bit. So I keep running through 22.5 and in the middle of that lap, I came somewhat to my senses and told myself to stop no matter what at that lap.

It was really, really hard to make myself go sit down.

Which sounds insane if you aren't a runner. Most people would probably be relieved to go sit at nearly 23 miles. But I was frustrated for a bit that I wasn't healthy enough to continue running without screwing up my progress.

So I sat.

About 30 minutes went by before Rachelle came to sit and asked if I had any of the pizza yet. My A goal was to eat the pizza hot!

Well, shit. 

The start/finish line was about a quarter mile in the wrong direction from our camp so anytime I wanted to eat or drink, I opted to just take a 1.5 mile lap instead of backtracking. So I got up and walked a lap so I could grab some hot pizza.

And then I sat again.

I grew restless and decided to go on a slushie run to Sonic. Jen had mentioned it the day before and I thought it would be A) a forced way for me to not be racing B) a nice treat for Jen and C) a nice treat for other people. I managed to get there during happy hour and sat in line for 20 minutes in the drive-thru. Yes, it was super weird to leave a race in the middle of the race, drive to a fast food place, and come back.

I doled out the slushies and had a few extras that I hawked like scalped tickets on the corner of the trail. It took less than a minute to find takers for the extras. One guy thanked me at least 3 times throughout the rest of the race!

Jay came and got his gear from me and then I walked another lap at one point with Jen and then did a few running laps with Matt. I turned on my GPS for a bit on the running laps, but then just decided to keep it off for the rest of the race.

Everything else I did after those last 4.5 miles of running were strictly walking. I walked when they had hamburgers and chicken tenders at dinner and marveled how I never even realized they had those before. Maybe they didn't? All I know is that I definitely wouldn't have been eating them 8-9 hours into the race if I was chasing big miles!

I walked when Jen needed company. I walked a bit with Win and Paul. I walked after sitting in my camp chair for extended sessions.I ran into old Hinson friends (hey Tim!) and made new ones. And I actually felt really, really good!
Photo cred: Tim Garriss

After the sun set, I did a few more walking laps and then decided to try to get some rest so that I could be alert for Matt and Jen if they wanted company in the evil 2am- 5am time. With all the walking laps after I ran 22.5 + 4.5 or so earlier in the day, I was at 43 miles by about 10:30pm. I got into my tent and passed out almost immediately, but had the wherewithal to set my alarm for 2am.

When my watch alarm went off at 2am, I reset it for 2:15am and laid in my tent for a few more minutes. At 2:15am, I stumbled out of my tent and got ready in case if anyone wanted company. I refreshed the tracker and saw Matt had not crossed the mat in awhile and I immediately went to his tent and starting shaking it. Discovering he was not inside, I stood and waited. He arrived shortly thereafter looking pretty rough. Everything was hurting and despite my cajoling him with calories, hydration, Biofreeze, and the promise he could do it just by putting one foot in front of the other, he was not interested in making another step at the moment.

I actually felt annoyingly refreshed from my 3 hour nap and decided to walk a lap. And then a couple more. And then I sat for awhile and walked a few more laps. Laurie was at the aid station at this point and I was actually kind of hungry so it was fun to just go 'round and 'round, walking and getting snacks with each loop.

One of the many silly things that this race does is have a bunch of garden gnomes all over the course. Runners move them to different spots the entire 24 hours. There was once with a snorkel that ended up in multiple puddles. They stick them on the trail, on the sewer drain tops, next to trees, etc. I had never moved one in my prior two races, so it seemed like a good year to walk with one for a bit and I left it on a bench on the footbridge over the lake.

I hit 50 miles total and took another short break before the sky started to lighten up. More and more people returned to the race as the clock wound down and I went back to walking. I brought my phone with me to take some pictures of the sunrise and the signs on the course. My legs were starting to get a bit tired, but as it neared 8am, I kept a decent walking pace.

I crossed the timing mat around 7:30 or so and grabbed my banana for the banana lap. Volunteers write your number on a banana and a horn blares right at 8am. You drop your banana on the side of the trail and they measure out your last lap to add to your total mileage. I ended up crossing the timing mat one more time and kept going for about a minute past our campsite.

58.82 miles total!

Jen had been pushing for a top 10 female placement in the final couple of hours and I loved watching her get all competitive. Spoiler alert: she did it! We were all pretty exhausted from our individual efforts and decided to sit around enjoying breakfast beers before breaking down our camps.

I definitely was FAR more awake than in years past going home and while I had 58 miles on my body, I was actually not very sore all things considering. My feet and ankles were a little puffy and I had a funky rash/skin irritation from the sand and grit in my shoes. However, I had no blisters and my chafing was pretty minimal. Woot!

I was worried I might have overdid it on the walking in retrospect and made sure to stick to my post-race plans of complete rest for a couple of days. By Wednesday, all the tightness had subsided and I breathed a sigh of relief that everything felt really, really good! After a week of very short runs, I will be ready to return to go into the last 4 weeks of marathon training on Monday. I have no idea what my fitness will look like on November 4th, but I'm excited to toe the line healthy!