Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week in Review

32 miles
3 days off
14 miles at Battle Road
1 AFD (new record!)

Autumn at Battle Road
I probably shouldn't have run 14 miles today, but there was great company (Jordan, Terry, Jenn and a BAA crew) and a great venue (the always pleasing Battle Road) and, well, the loop is 14 miles. I could've turned around by myself at the five-mile mark before the Great Meadow section, but what's the fun in that? However, by the final 30 minutes my legs were screaming righteous indignation and my hamstrings felt tighter than at any point during last Sunday's marathon. I need a day off and a massage, both of which are in the plan for tomorrow. And hey, if these are my biggest gripes one week removed from Philly, I can't really complain.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fifth Annual Gabe's Run 5k XC Challenge

5k w/u
Target: Win, break course record (sub-18:40)
Actual: 18:25, 1st place and new CR
2 mile c/d
Total: 8 miles

I know what you're thinking: "Umm...didn't you just run a marathon four days ago?!" Well technically yes, but in my defense this race has been on the calendar for quite some time, and for good reason. 

Pre-race photo opp with my coworker Scott, his fiancee Jen and his brother
I didn't know much--nothing, really--about Gabe's Run until a few months ago, when my boss Eric mentioned it. The race takes place just a few miles from his house in Hamilton, which is the next town over from where we work in Beverly, which is just north of our home in Salem. Gabe's Run takes place in memory of a Hamilton High graduate who was bound to run at Dartmouth when he was tragically killed in a car accident the summer after his senior year. Now in its fifth year, Gabe's Run has swelled to almost 800 participants and benefits a student-athlete scholarship fund in Gabe's honor. As far as race beneficiaries go, I can't think of a better one to support. So for the past month or so, Eric and I have been recruiting other Karhu and Craft employees to participate--largely by promising brunch at Eric's house afterward--and even Eric's 7-year-old daughter Ella was eager to tackle her second ever 5k endeavor. I held off on signing up until after the marathon just in case any part of my body imploded in a serious way, but after three days off and a tentative tester jog on Thursday I was confident I could at least shuffle around the course in one piece.

Admittedly, Jordan had initially been against the idea of me racing. But as we began slowly tracing the course on our warmup jog, something seemed to change. Having not really participated in cross-country since high school--Club Nats two years ago at McAlpine's glorified dirt road hardly counts--I really had no grasp of effective racing strategy. Jordan offered several pointers and helpfully suggested that I better "beat all the high school girls if I wanted a ride home." In fact, his last words to me before sending me off to the starting line--the men's and women's races were run separately--were, "The course record is 18:40." So much for no pressure.

Of course, 18:40 isn't exactly fast--but then, neither is the terrain. Deemed a "true" cross-country course by Jordan, most of the route traverses uneven, grassy fields and rocky dirt paths. The real gauntlet comes at 4k, when runners are forced to claw their way to the top of Scilly's Hill. I'm always wary of topographical features that necessitate their own nomenclature, and this one was no exception. A steep, rocky, rooty ascent that goes on much too far--for reference, it's steeper than the McAlpine hill and about three times as long--Scilly's Hill was designed to break people. Possibly me. Still, Jordan and I had talked strategy and I felt good about keeping my composure and, in theory, the lead past that point.

That is, until I stepped up to the starting line and spotted a familiar looking figure in a Dartmouth uniform.

"F@#k me, that's Abbey D'Agostino," I thought to myself (and hopefully didn't say out loud, but I can't be entirely certain.)

If you don't know who Abbey D'Agostino is, a quick search of the 'ol interwebs should tell you that she is the reigning NCAA 5k national champion, came within hundredths of a second of taking a free trip to London last summer, and as recently as last weekend placed second at the NCAA D1 cross-country championships. In other words, it didn't matter whether I ran a marathon yesterday or last year; there was no conceivable scenario in which my legs would be fresh enough (never mind fit enough) to challenge her. It was looking as though the exercise of running the race was a mere formality.

I stepped up to the far edge of the starting line, hoping I would have a straight shot across the field when the course narrowed. The announcer was rambling on about this and that, seemingly building up to an elaborate countdown to the start. "And now we have the women lined up, a great field, let's get them in place and--"


The gun fired literally in the middle of his sentence, and chaos reigned. Half the field surged forward, while the rest of us stood, perplexed, assuming it was a misfire and that we would be called back. After about five seconds it became apparent that the latter would not be the case, so I gamely took off after the stampeding crowd. Within the first two minutes it was obvious that Abbey was just jogging--or possibly pacing a friend/Dartmouth teammate--as I was nearing the front and she was nowhere to be seen. The course narrowed as we passed a baseball diamond, then widened again as we burst into the open field, and at that point I had already assumed the lead.

The morning was absolutely gorgeous, brilliant, the sky a deep cerulean and without a cloud. For late November in New England it was best case scenario, and without a drop of rain in the previous week the ground felt firm and responsive. So too, did my legs, and I passed the first mile in 5:43 feeling relaxed and totally comfortable. If the marathon had induced any lingering fatigue I wasn't feeling it yet.

The second mile was the quickest, and the most fun, as I passed near the start line again and was greeted by a phalanx of spectators. There were several hundred people spurring me on, a feeling which I hadn't realized I missed from cross-country days long past. Passing two miles in 11:19, I'd probably opened up a 200-meter lead--enough to ease any worry about being passed on the crawl up Scilly's Hill, but that didn't mean I wasn't dreading it. Sure enough, my ascent was anything but graceful, and I'm not exaggerating in the least when I say I could've walked faster--practically was anyway--at several points. By the time I reached the top my quads were pulsing with a fire that even 26.2 miles hadn't managed to spark, and for the first time since the race began I was counting down the minutes until I could simply stop. A furtive glance at my watch confirmed I would break the course record, but it was astonishing how much time the hill had eaten away. I crossed the line in 18:25, eclipsing the previous course best by 20 seconds, while Abbey and her teammate finished 2-3 in 19:43. I might just frame the race results, as it is certainly the only time my name will ever be listed ahead of hers.

Starting line of the men's race
The guys were up next, and I'm sure Jordan will appreciate me glossing over the finer details. Suffice it to say he went in expecting to get his doors blown off by scores of high schoolers and returning collegians, and he was not proven wrong. I'll let him share the gory details when he updates his blog approximately seven months from now.

Jordan kicking hard for 25th place

It was during the time I was spectating that a diminutive brunette woman approached me. "Didn't you win the women's race?" she asked. I barely had a chance to respond in the affirmative before she was enveloping me in a hug. "I'm Gabe's mom," she continued. "Thank you so much for coming."

I was speechless. How could I respond? I mumbled something wholly inadequate, and then she was gone. But that brief exchange was enough to affirm why I was there, and why I will return next year, and how this often insignificant sport of ours can actually mean so much more than just numbers on the clock. I won't pretend I came to the race solely for altruistic reasons, but I'm honored to have been a small part of the legacy that Gabe has left behind.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

(Philly Marathon) Week in Review

80 miles
2 doubles
3 days in Philly
2-minute PR

The not-yet-released Karhu Flow Light carried me through 26.2--yet another perk of being sample size!
There's not really anything of significance to add that wasn't already covered in today's race recap, but suffice it to say this was a good week. Believe it or not, people are already asking which marathon I'll be racing next, which is a concept I haven't even begun to wrap my brain around. First order of business is definitely some much-needed down time, likely from now until the new year, at which point I'll assess my goals and objectives for the spring. Maybe that means a marathon and maybe it doesn't, but I've got plenty of time to figure it out.

Post-race sushi and a glass of wine (or four) with Madeleine

Philly Marathon Race Report

Goal #1: Run a PR (sub-2:41:06)
Goal #2: Run sub-2:40
Goal #3: Run sub-2:39
Goal #4: Place top 5
Actual: 2:39:02 (chip), 2:39:08 (gun); 4th place female (2nd American)

Going into this race, I knew that on a perfect day in ideal conditions I was primed to run between 2:37:30 and 2:38:30. This would be at least three minutes faster than I'd ever run before, but I had unwavering confidence that it was possible. Every workout I've done in the past four weeks has been better than any workout I did before the Trials--and some of those weren't too shabby. 

It wasn't a perfect day.

It rarely is.

But throughout the mental and physical roller coaster that is the marathon, I persevered. I remained positive. I showed my sisu (and a whole lot more, if you happened to be hanging around near mile 15). But first:

The trip into Philly was uneventful. Jordan and I broke up the 7-hour drive into two days, stopping Thursday night in Greenwich before finishing up on Friday afternoon. The elite athlete coordinator hooked me up with a great room at the incredibly nice Loews hotel, located about a mile from the start and finish line in the heart of downtown Philly. Friday night we met Pezz for dinner and caught up on all the Charlotte gossip. Considering she just debuted in 2:32 as the third American at Chicago and was ready to run sub-1:13 in the half, I figured any time spent with Pezz was bound to rub off on me and translate into a fast race on Sunday. 

Dinner with Pezz on Friday night. "We can have one drink, right?"

Wide awake at 6am on Saturday to catch a stunning Philadelphia sunrise.

On a perfect, crisp Saturday morning we jogged together, and I was pleased to note that my legs felt the freshest I could recall in recent memory. For the rest of the day I tried to balance spending money at Anthropologie with not expending too much energy, and after an ill-fated attempt to meet up with some Charlotte friends for dinner (90-minute wait?! Have fun with that.), I wound up at the aptly-named Marathon with Katie DiCamillo and her dad. ("We're pretty busy right now, so there's going to be a wait...of at least 10 minutes." "Um, yeah, we can handle it.") Katie, who ran a ridiculous 32:31 to place second at the Stanford Invite 10k this year (a mere two full minutes faster than my 10k PR, NBD), had planned to debut at NYC a few weeks ago. So did a lot of people. Instead, she re-routed to Philly and was aiming for a sub-2:35 clocking. I had no doubt she was capable.

I went to bed, and then I woke up, and then I got ready, and then it was 6:55. On the starting line, surrounded by friends from all different aspects of my life--Allison, Sarah, Dalena, Danielle--it almost felt like we were about to head out for a nice Sunday long run. Jordan was there, too; having long since requested an elite entry, then gotten injured, then gotten un-injured, he gamely offered to play queenmaker for the first half of the race for me and Allison. Although I would like to think I'm the kind of person who would insist on doing this thing myself, I didn't hesitate to accept his offer. (I guess I don't really know what kind of person I am.) But I've run behind him dozens of times in workouts over the years and he's never steered me wrong. Why should today be any different?

The first few miles were lightning fast. Left to my own devices I'm certain I would've gone out too aggressively; as it was, despite Jordan's plan of taking us out in 6:10 we were 6:02 through the mile. It felt like walking. The next few mile markers were off, or so I was told by Allison and Jordan. I don't wear a Garmin, and didn't today, and rather than concern myself with any miscalculations I simply focused on doing what I've done so many times before: tuck in and relax.  

We were clicking off the miles effortlessly, 5:55 to 6:00 without a second thought. After four or five miles I felt rather than saw Allison slipping quietly off the back; she'd said in advance that a half split of 1:20 was desired. We were out too fast too soon for her, and I hoped the same was not true for me. 

It felt ridiculously easy until seven or eight. I didn't know the course, willfully hadn't studied the map, and was surprised to discover that the ensuing three miles were almost entirely uphill. Until that point I'd practically been breathing out of my nose; now I found myself struggling to stay physically and emotionally composed. Not mentally composed, but emotionally. If you don't think there's a difference, then you've never truly raced a marathon.

It wasn't exactly hard, but it was no longer easy, and that worried me.

You've got a long way to go.

I pushed the negative thoughts aside; there was no other choice. I knew Jordan planned to take me through halfway, but suddenly I was desperate for more of his help. As the course wound its way back toward downtown Philly, signaling the precise demarcation between Part 1 and Part 2, I spoke for the first time in over an hour.

"Can you go farther?"

"Yes," he said.

I was instantly relieved, but apparently I should've been more specific. Five minutes later, his job executed perfectly up until that point, he was done. He had carried me this far, and now the second half--which was "half" only in the most literal of ways--was up to me.

"Nothing fancy."

A strange mantra, perhaps. But as Jordan left me--solo, in no man's land--around mile 14, those were his words that stuck with me. "Believe in yourself," he said. "I believe in you. Know that it's going to hurt."

And then: "Nothing fancy." Meaning: you don't have to trick it up right now. You don't need to do anything other than what you're doing, what you've been doing for the past 80 minutes, to transform this goal that you've been fixating on for the past six months into reality.

But I was beginning to struggle, in more ways than one. Not only was I completely by myself, entering what would already be the loneliest section of the course, but I was also in desperate need--truthfully, had been for 30 minutes--of a bathroom break. As silly as it sounds or as tempting as it is to make light of the situation, in reality that could've been a game-changer in the worst of ways. Anyone who has faced this sort of dilemma during a race or workout knows how distracting it can be at best, debilitating at worst.

So--and I don't necessarily want to celebrate this but can't in the spirit of transparency leave it out--I pulled a Paula Radcliffe. If you don't know what that means, it's probably for the best. Maybe this course of action cost me my coveted 2:38 (it most certainly cost me my gloves), but as Jordan said later, better a Paula Radcliffe than an Uta Pippig.

The next four miles were the worst. I was rudderless, completely alone and with no reliable grasp of how fast (or slow) I was running. In fact, shortly after 16 I was overtaken for the first time by another woman. She was running shoulder to shoulder with a young guy, and I instinctively latched onto him. She was Fifth Place.

Do not let them get away.

He is the new Jordan.

The girl yo-yoed 10 to 20 meters in front of us, but I stayed glued to the unnamed guy's back. At one point, somewhere around mile 20, I found my voice.

"I hope I'm not bothering you," I said, as polite and civilized as if I were tapping him on the shoulder in the middle of a crowded room. "But you're helping me more than you realize."

"Hell no," he responded, then nodded to the girl just ahead. "And don't let her get away." 

In another scenario I would've been somewhat amused and not a little bit suspicious of his seemingly abrupt shift in allegiances, but right now I was clinging to him for dear life. At 21 he accelerated and I matched him stride for stride, edging past this Fifth Place woman. Another target loomed just ahead, a woman who had been at least 100 meters ahead of me at the most recent turnaround. I passed her without hesitation, then turned to Fifth Place and gestured for her to do the same. I was now in fourth with no other women in sight.

But I was passing men, and lots of them. I didn't feel spectacular but wasn't dying either. There was no wall, only the grim resignation that the remaining minutes would not be remotely pleasant. Yet now, more than at any other point in the race, my self-talk was wholly, unequivocally positive. It was as though my brain, deprived of oxygen and taxed beyond the point of sustainable reasoning, only had room for a handful of fragmented thoughts.       

"This is my day," I told myself. I remember that moment, that realization with striking clarity.

Today is for all the people who told me I could. Today is for all the people who told me I couldn't.

Mile 25. Photo courtesy of P. Ciccarello

Since July, I've been envisioning the clock at mile 25. In all my scenarios it read between 2:30 and 2:31. Today, it flashed 2:31:40. Slower than I wanted, and with one significant uphill remaining before the final downhill push. (Not that I knew any of this in advance. Maybe I should actually do a modicum of research before tackling my next marathon course.) I didn't have much left, but I pushed as hard as I could. Five minutes. Four minutes. Three.

Just like all the previous times, I crossed the finish line with little fanfare. It's difficult to comprehend, really, how much thought and effort and work points toward one moment, one end, only for it to pass almost before you realize it's upon you.

Katie finished 15 seconds ahead of me, and Fifth Place finished in fifth place a few minutes behind me, and together we comprised the top Americans today, on this unusually weighted Philadelphia Marathon day given that NYC was canceled a mere two weeks ago. Pezz was the first familiar face I saw, and she came sprinting towards me, and it meant so much to know how sincerely she felt overjoyed at an accomplishment that paled in comparison to hers. Then Jordan was there, and I found my phone, and saw the posts and texts and calls that were already overflowing with genuine happiness for me.

It humbles me every time.

When I wrote my blog about the Trials, it felt like the the natural end. The end of a chapter, the end of a pursuit, the end of a very distinct period of my life. Today, here, this feels like a beginning. I still don't consider myself an elite runner, honestly. Maybe I never will, and maybe I never will be. But right now, in this moment, all I can think about is the future. I can't wait to run faster. It's not a "what if" or a "maybe," but when. I've done the work before, and I'll do it again, and everything from here on out is a step toward the marathon trials of 2016.

It wasn't the perfect day.

But today was perfect.

Receiving my fourth place award with the Philly mayor and race director.

Philly Marathon Results

2:39:02; 4th place female (2nd American)

Will blog soooooooooon!

Maintaining the perfect sorority squat even on post-marathon legs

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Almost Famous Thanks To The Trailer's Jon Gugala

My favorite journalist Jon Gugala recently profiled me for his kick-ass running site, The Trailer. Check it out here.

This photo (and the ones in my article) courtesy of my awesome co-worker and friend Nora Lohrenz
(Also, because a firestorm has ensued surrounding my alleged dislike of pumpkins, please allow me to clarify: I love any and all pumpkin-flavored tasty treats. What I do not like is having one thrust in my face. Or unexpectedly waking up next to one in my hotel room. But that's another story.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

(Taper) Week in Review

70 miles
1 day off (!!)
2 doubles
3 days in FTL

I'll save all my philosophical musings on Philly until a few days closer to the race. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Rare Day Off

Yup, that happened. I wasn't necessarily planning for it--in fact, was easily roused by my 6am alarm--but one look outside at the wind-whipped trees and lashing rain was enough to send me burrowing back under the covers. I made a half-hearted pledge to run at lunch, but with the weather still uninviting at best I made the call to bag it. The last thing I need right now is to slip on a slick patch of sidewalk or get broadsided by a hydroplaning Masshole. Besides, I'm tapering. Lay off me.

Considering I routinely fail to blog about runs that actually do happen, you might be wondering why I'm taking the time to mention one that never even got off the ground (or, rather, off the bed). Normally I wouldn't. But when perusing the archives to identify the last time I took a day off--the last week of June, in case you were wondering--I thought it was neato to see my frame of mind then and my outlook on the upcoming summer of training. At the time, I'd just dropped out of the US Half Champs and then fallen deathly ill at the Fleet Feet Conference in DC. Yet I was optimistic that I'd be able to embark on a summer of quality training and lay the foundation for a solid fall marathon. Little did I know then that the "80-90 miles" I hoped to amass for "8-10 weeks" would turn into almost 15 straight weeks of 100+ completely healthy miles. Without a doubt, I'm a stronger runner now than I was when I wrote that post or, for that matter, at any other point in my life. It's an exciting feeling, one that I can't wait to capitalize on a mere 10 days from now.

But today, I rest. And get a massage. And go to bed ridiculously early. I'm tapering. Lay off me. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Outpacing the Nor'easter

2.5 mile w/u
Target: 2x5k @MP (~18:45) w/full rest; 5x30 secs. hard
Actual: 18:30, 4 min. jog, 18:20; 5x30 secs. hard
0.5 mile c/d
Total: ~10 miles

I should've done this yesterday. Less than 24 hours ago it was ideal workout weather; cold, but not frigid, with virtually no wind. Instead, still recovering from a hard 20 on Sunday, I opted to wait until this morning and was punished by a biting, blustery 20+ mph direct headwind for the first half of each interval. Fortunately I was able to tuck in behind Jordan and fortunately he's tipping the scales a few pounds overweight right now, but even despite his ample girth the gusts forced us to slow to what seemed like a crawl. (Mercifully we'll never know, since Jordan forgot to charge his Garmin, so other than the overall time we only had estimates for splits.)

There's not much else to add as this session was pretty unremarkable, but it is noteworthy to compare to an almost identical workout I did 10 days out from the Trials in January. Today was faster with commensurate effort, as it should be. If I don't run a PR at Philly it won't be for lack of fitness.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Week in Review

95 miles
2 doubles
2 days in TX
4 days in NYC

Two weeks until Philly!

Making the Most of the Marathon Sunday that Wasn't

For the past month, Jordan and I have been planning to travel to NYC for marathon weekend. Though we didn't have any official race or expo duties, there were several media meetings to attend on behalf of Karhu. Plus, Thursday happened to be my birthday and we knew there would be plenty of friends in town for marathon festivities, so not unlike last year we were looking forward to making a long weekend of it.

Then, Hurricane Sandy hit. Actually, even before landfall she was screwing things up. I ended up marooned in Texas until Tuesday afternoon, only to arrive home and find that the storm's devastation had left the marathon and everything surrounding it in question. But it seemed as though the show would go on, and so we traveled down as scheduled on Thursday. Instead of spending my birthday at a Cracker Barrel off the Mass Pike like last year, this time around--for the first anniversary of the 29th anniversary of my birth--we had drinks at the Marriott Marquis and took in an evening showing of "Once" on Broadway. (It was so good that Jordan didn't even fall asleep!) The next morning we met our favorite news producer for a run around Central Park--literally "around," as the park itself was still closed in Sandy's wake--and heard his insider's view of how Sandy and her aftermath were impacting the impending marathon. We attended our one remaining media meeting, grabbed lunch with Tarpy, then headed back to our hotel to relax a bit before meeting up with friends at the Runner's World party for a fun night out.

Then, they canceled the marathon.

Enough news articles, editorials, blogs, interviews, podcasts and tweets have already reported, dissected and over-analyzed this decision; to do so here would be both redundant and inadequate. On a completely superficial level, however, one positive result was the opportunity to spend more time with friends. Jay, who had spent months preparing marathon coverage, suddenly found his weekend wide open. Same with Jon, who'd planned to spend his time interviewing elites and listening to emo music while writing for several running publications. (He also profiled each day of his NYC trip on The Trailer. See if you can spot my incognito cameo in one post. Hint: it's Friday.) Heidi and Sarah and several other NYAC girls who'd been training for Sunday were now free to join me for an easy 10 on Saturday and a hard 20 on Sunday, the same day as would've been their marathon debut. And despite the absence of an official sanctioned race on marathon morning, or maybe because of it, the sheer volume and energy level in the Park were like nothing I've ever seen before in NYC, nor anywhere else for that matter. It was electric, and overwhelming, and something truly extraordinary to be a part of.

So the marathon didn't happen, and all our plans changed, and the trip turned out drastically different than it was supposed to be. And I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.