Thursday, April 21, 2016

Boston Marathon 2016: From Funkytown to Boylston

You only get one chance at your first Boston. 2015 was overwhelmingly perfect in every way possible that I truly couldn't have asked for a better experience in 2016. I cannot deny my excitement to be toeing the line in Hopkinton (again? wow!), but I also had different goals and dreams this year.

Adam and I flew in on Saturday--I was superstitiously happy to be in position 26B for boarding.
We did an Airbnb this year about a 10 minute walk from the Prudential Center which ended up being the perfect place for everything we did. Plus, it was inexpensive & clean!
I wasn't thinking we'd have enough time to go to the expo on Saturday, but as soon as we dropped our stuff, we decided to try to squeeze it in.

Packet pick up was a breeze and then we squeezed our way through the expo talking to a few choice vendors. Hoka, Garmin, and of course, the Sam Adams free beer tent.
 I swear my name is on here somewhere...

Fortunately, we were able to catch up with Roger and Shanda immediately afterwards and head to Cambridge Brewing Company for a Loopster dinner. It was great to see everyone and carb up!

The next morning, Adam and I wandered over to meet up with Dan, Mark, and Rebecca for coffee and breakfast. We parted ways near the expo and I was able to take a few pictures near the finish line.

We had lunch with Roger and Shanda and then parted ways for a nap and a little downtime. I laid out my flat girl and figured out how to attach the St. Christopher's medal that Megan let me borrow from her dad. He is about to start treatment for lung cancer and I wanted to carry a little token from him. Partially as a reminder to be appreciative of each healthy step as I am able to take and partially as a reminder to enjoy every moment I've got in the this called life.

For dinner, Roger made reservations at a great place in Little Italy and we carbed up early in attempts to get some sleep. I got everything ready for my breakfast the next morning and made a final check of my gear.

I actually slept really well and managed to get about 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  At 5:30 a.m., I woke up, ate a bagel with Nutella, a banana, and drank a cup of Death Wish coffee. I put on my gear, grabbed my T card, and kissed Adam goodbye.

I walked down to the T station in just a sweatshirt, carrying my heatsheet in a plastic baggie. It was already warm enough that I was comfortable in shorts. Uh oh... Once I got off the train at Boston Common, I started chatting with a few runners around me about various things and made my way to the buses that were loading.

I talked next to a guy from South Carolina who was running his second marathon after qualifying for his first with a 3:11 despite running 3 extra miles on a course he got lost on (!!). Boston was a bucket list thing for him and he was the kind of guy that ran really fast without using a GPS watch. We talked the entire bus ride and then parted ways once we got into the craziness of the athlete's village.

I made a beeline for the porta-potty in the second tent area and was super excited that I didn't have to even wait in line! I grabbed another bagel afterwards and sat on the grass in the shade doing some serious people watching. I was in a funk and really wishing that I had made better arrangements to try to meet up with all the people I knew running.

I decided to go to the porta-potty again before my wave was called and ended up standing in the hot sun for 30 minutes. It was a bit concerning that I was feeling hot already and we hadn't started running.

When wave 2 was called, I just finished my pit stop and joined the throngs of others as we made our way to the starting line. Two girls were pumping sunscreen from giant containers on the side of the road and I took a generous pump to coat my neck and shoulders. Totally forgot about the sunscreen...and my sunglasses....

So as I'm standing in my corral, I'm feeling a bit off. My mind is in a funk. I'm hot. I know I am going to be sunburnt in weird places when I finish. I don't have my sunglasses and we are running east at 10:25 a.m. I see other people with music and all of sudden feel the need to have this crutch.  The tape I used to put my name across my singlet is falling off.

Get your shit together Liebowitz! You are running the Boston-frickin'-Marathon!!!

So I try to focus on how cool it is that it is Marathon Monday and I should stop being such a whiny little bitch. I check out my pace bracelet again and fiddle with my Garmin. There is a song, a few more announcements, and then omigod, omigod, omigod, the starting pistol.

There is a little awkward jogging before the start line, but I am diving right into a sub-8 pace within the first 1/10th mile. I notice the downhill a lot more than last year and I am ready to just get to my goal pace.

Which is?!?!

I was aiming for sub 3:20. I had a pace band with 3:18 that Adam printed out for me at the expo. I knew something in the 7:3X range would get me there.

First mile is at a 7:27. Alright, alright, alright.

It feels like the right combination of comfortable and working.

The next few miles click off as we cruise downhill 7:28, 7:28, 7:18. I'm noticing the terrain a lot more than last year and trying to cautiously take advantage of the early downhills. I also notice there is a lot less talking among my fellow runners and at small sections without spectators, the slapping of shoes on the pavement is the only noise. I take my first GU at mile 4.

Mile 5 has a slight uphill and I cruise through at 7:35. On through Framington, I clock 7:25, 7:21, 7:28. I am taking water and/or Gatorade at each stop. I hug the right side of the road which is kind of dumb because that side is always first and more crowded. But I am so dang thirsty by the time I get to the stop that I don't want to wait another 1/10th mile. I splash water over my head and try to bring my body temperature down. It brings instant relief, but the feeling is usually gone within a few minutes.

Into Ashland, I start to lose a bit of pace, but I try not to worry too much because it is still early. 7:30, 7:34, 7:37, 7:30. The crowds are so, so good and yet I am not feeling enthusiastic about it. What in the heck is the matter with me?

I ran next to a girl dressed as Wonder Woman for at least the first half of the race. We would leapfrog back and forth and I knew she would be near me because the crowds were going wild for her. At first, it was kind of fun because the cheering would amplify. But then I think I was suffering from jealousy as she would be whooping with the crowds in her cool costume while I was stuck in mopeyheadland with my dumb singlet with the letters falling off.

As I headed into the Wellesley mile, I tried to shake the funk. I still was on pace to hit the 3:18 and well within a PR. So when I cruised into the scream tunnel, I tried to soak in the energy as best I could. I saw a guy beeline for the cutest girl in stretch and laughed as she made a face as soon as he was off running again. Suddenly, it was a little fun again. 7:36

I told myself to just hold onto what I could muster and prepare myself mentally for the hills ahead. 7:34, 7:43.

As I headed into the sweet downhill of mile 16, I felt mentally prepared to tackle the hills. 7:31.

Hills are my jam. I love shortening my stride and tackling them head on. People had already been walking by this point, but the hills seemed to amplify the effect. I just put my head down and ran. 7:49, 7:47, 7:31.
Okay, who finds their mojo at mile 18?!?! Seriously, it was the best mile I felt all race. I ran through a little misting tunnel thing and suddenly I felt fabulous. I knew it wouldn't last another 8 miles so I just tried to live in the moment.

As I headed into the last section of the Newton Hills, I was relieved that I was in the single digits now to finish. 7:46, 8:03. Heartbreak was definitely breaking a lot of hearts.

But the rest of the course is packed and downhill and I knew that even though I had felt pretty funky all race, I was excited to get to my favorite part. The Boston College kids are some of the best and loudest spectators on the course and I high-fived a bunch of them as I cruised through mile 22. 7:38

The crowds thicken as the race enters Brookline and though I'm not on pace, I am feeling good enough to pass a lot of runners. This is bittersweet. The final miles of a marathon hold so many emotions and it can feel incredibly defeating when you are on the bonk side of things. Trust me, I've been there (my first marathon and Jackson Hole Bonkfest 2014 immediately come to mind). 7:41, 7:46.

Garmin is off by a bit at this point and I try not to get excited when I hear the beeps because I know I still have more to go. I have given up on trying to do runner math at this point. I'm just running as fast as my little legs will take me. I see the Citgo sign at mile 24 and know that I am getting closer. 7:42.

When I get near the Citgo sign, I look for Liz and her balloons and miraculously spot her. I shout her name and run by her as she fumbles with her phone. She knows like, a billion runners, so I'm not even sure if she knew who I was as I went by.
I know I want to save a little gas for Boyston so I try to conserve my pace. Last year, I thought I was going to be done right after the turn and grossly misjudged how far that finish chute really is. 8:03

Finally, I spotted the tunnel and then, the turn! Right on Hereford!
Then left on Boylston!
I looked for Adam in the crowd, but there were way too many people so I just "sprinted" down the finish chute. The crowds on Boylston are insane. There really is nothing better in running that I've experienced so far than running down Boylston. Last 0.4 miles at a 7:15 pace.
After I crossed the finish mat, I patted a guy on the back who had been cheering wildly the last half mile. He exclaimed he just had a huge PR and was so thrilled. We hugged a giant, sweaty, runner-stranger hug, and I immediately was awash with my own emotion. This is why.
3:20:59. 47 seconds from my PR on a day that Garmin says was 68* and my 5th marathon in as many months. And a nice course PR from my 2015 time of 3:26:27. I'll take it.

I had a few takeaways from this race. I still feel like I'm learning even though this was marathon 21. I also feel like I am making dumb mistakes, but that is the human part of all of this.

DO's Take a magic token, GU every 4 miles, water and/or Gatorade at every stop, pace band (even though I didn't hit my pace, I liked the idea of immediate runner math), enjoy the good moments

DON'Ts Forget sunscreen, forget sunglasses, wear shoes with 300+ miles, forget to test tape, forget to create a game plan to meet up with fellow runners in the athlete's village, forget why we do this

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Making impossible things become possible.

What a difference a year makes. Last year when I was prepping for Boston, I was taking every workout so seriously and everything was so planned. This year, well, I'm just a bit more focused on the long-term. There is no doubt that I want to do well in Boston. It's Boston. I still have incredible respect for the marathon distance and couple it with the world's most famous race....

But I'm not so nailed down to specific workouts. Structured speed work is completely absent. I just run everything without looking at my Garmin and see what happens at the end. My long run build up has been 3 marathons and a 50K since January with a few 14-21 milers thrown in for good measure. Recovery runs and base-building miles are really just time that I get to spend with Flying Tomato and Netflix/YouTube (more on that later).

Sure I want to PR. Sure I want to have another race of my life in Boston. Sure I want everything to be perfect.

But geez, I cannot expect the rainbows and unicorns and puppies to last forever. I am a real person. I do have days that I poop under a bridge on a horrible training run. I do have days that I stop my Garmin 400 times to fake tie my shoelace when I really just need a rest break. I do have days that I am like, what in the f--- am I doing out here. I do have days that I fall flat on my face despite nothing being in my path.

^----All this has happened in the past 2 weeks.

I do have days that the sun is shining in the bluest sky I've ever seen and I'm romping through the woods like when I was a kid. I do have days that I run 10 miles with a friend and remind myself how lucky I am to be healthy enough to just go run 10 miles with a friend. I do have days that begin as an easy treadmill run and end with me bursting at the seams with inspiration.

^-----All this has also happened in the past 2 weeks.

I don't really know what the point of this post is yet. Maybe a metaphor for running? I do like having goals. It gives my running purpose. It makes me happy to go faster or longer. But I also am not afraid to enjoy the moment. Maybe I'm strange that I catch myself smiling mid-run because everything is clicking. Because much like the pain of something really, really hard, the joy of something really, really great never seems to last.

I've always been obsessed with stories of endurance. Humans that have the capacity to survive tough situations fascinate me. What is it that allows them to triumph in the end? What is it that gives the mental and physical strength? Many runners can attest to the notion that mental strength is far more prized the longer the distance. The fact that "normalish" people can put their bodies through incredible physical obstacles is fascinating.

So while I'm cooking up ideas on how to make the most of a 12-hour race in July and 24-hour race in September, I am reading/watching feats that seem superhuman to me.

Netflix: The Barkley Marathons, Desert Runners, 4 Minute Mile

YouTube: Western Time (Billy Yang), Tarawera Ultra Marathon (Dreamteam Television), Paula Radcliffe (Sports Life Stories), The North Face: Curiousity

Reading: Running on Empty (Marshall Ulrich)**, Running for My Life (Lopez Lomong), Again to Carthage (John L. Parker), Run Gently Out There (John Morelock)

**I actually hated this book save for the feat of running across the United States. Make your own judgements, but I think Ulrich is a selfish a-hole.

These movies and stories leave me feeling like I have so much more to conquer. Which is fun to dream about. Because dreams can eventually lead to reality. I'm slowly realizing how to make seemingly impossible things become possible. The scariest part is being okay with failure. Once that is on the table, it suddenly becomes okay to try.