Thursday, November 25, 2010

Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K

I ran the Virginia Run Turkey Trot 5K this morning. It was my 5th consecutive year at this race. Here is a recap of previous races:

2006: My second 5K ever in 23:32
2007: Hot, humid weather, still recovering from a marathon in 24:19
2008: Nice cool day, set a distance PR in 23:22
2009: Just got engaged, 2 nights with no sleep in 23:40

So, there hadn't been much improvement over the four years of doing this race and I was getting frustrated with the 5K distance. But then in April of this year, I set a massive PR in 22:21, so it made up for everything.

Going into this morning's race, I was pretty laid back. I'm just coming off or the NYC marathon, so I am not 100% recovered. I haven't done any speedwork since the marathon, and my last "fast" run was the Army 10-miler, over a month ago. I didn't think I'd be able to PR, or even come close, so I decided to play it conservatively.

The weather was about 40 degrees and overcast. I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, tights and a running skirt. I probably could have done without the tights, but I never feel like they slow me down. My plan was to go out at a pace of 7:20 and then try to see if I could push harder. I was thinking I would be happy with a 7:20 average. Greg and I did a 1.4 mile warmup and then found ourselves in the starting area. It was shorter than we had planned, but there were so many people mulling around that there was no clear path to run through.

Mile 1: 7:19
There was a great deal of weaving this mile, which I expected. But there was no way to avoid it. Even though I started fairly close to the start line, this is a family race with a lot of children who like to be at the front, 2300 runners total. Because of the weaving, I expected that this would be the slowest mile. In terms of elevation, it was gently rolling hills. Greg passed me about 1/3 of the way into the mile.

Mile 2: 7:19
There are two significant hills in this mile, so even though I ran it at the same pace as the first mile, I put in greater effort here. I eased up on the uphills and flew on the downhills. I told myself that even if I averaged a 7:19, it would be a huge course PR and a time I'd be happy with.

Mile 3: 7:07
I decided to give it all I had in the final mile. I was back to the gently rolling hills and I told myself that I could tolerate the pain for just one more mile. It still didn't hurt as much as it had in previous 5Ks, so I didn't think I was running at full effort, but I still pushed really hard. I think that in previous 5Ks, I had gone out faster than I should have so I was bonking at this point. However, I felt really strong during this last mile, due to a conservative start.

Last 0.1: 6:25 pace
I told myself that I run intervals on the track that are much longer than this 0.1, so I was going to push hard. I did push, and I ran faster than my interval pace (typically 6:35). The guy who I was trying to beat (a friend of mine who beats me every year at this race) finished about 4 seconds ahead of me. I just couldn't catch him!

My official time was 22:33 (7:16 pace). This is faster than I expected, and according to McMillian, predicts a 3:40 marathon. My recent half marathon and 10-miler time predict well under 3:40, so this was a relatively "slower" race. But considering that I don't think I'm fully recovered from NYC, I'm very pleased. I also think I could have pushed harder, but maybe only by about 5-10 seconds.

I placed 6 out of 372 in my age group (30-39), beating 98.4% of them
I placed 31 out of 1686 overall women, beating 98.2% of them

My next race is the St. Jude Memphis marathon on December 4. It's hard to believe I am doing another marathon so soon! My company is a gold sponsor of the race, and we have a booth at the expo. So I go down there and man the expo and organize our employee team of runners. (I work for a software company that has nothing to do with running, but they donate a great deal of money to St. Jude, so I suggested the marathon sponsorship). But I think I am jumping ahead to the next blog post!

Now it's time to celebrate Thanksgiving with my new husband and other family members!

Monday, November 8, 2010

NYC Marathon: Love in the Big Apple

My husband Greg and I ran the NYC marathon yesterday.

A year ago, Greg and I watched the NYC marathon streaming live on the computer. I told him how next year I wanted us to run that race together. At that point, however, Greg hadn't even run a half marathon so the idea of a full marathon seemed daunting to him. A few months later, we discussed the idea more seriously and although he wanted to run NYC, he was opposed to the fact that NYRR (the race organizers) charged $10 just to enter the lottery, so they were making about half a million dollars from people who didn't run the race. So I entered us both into the lottery with my credit card, without his knowledge. The next time the topic of a full marathon came up, I let him know that I entered us both in.

Lottery results were announced-- Greg got into the marathon and I did not. I wanted to run the race with him, so my only option was to pick a charity and raise money. I chose the Central Park Conservancy because it related to the marathon and because my dad's side of the family is from Manhattan. I often visited the park as a child. It wasn't easy, but I eventually raised the $3000 needed to meet my commitment.

Our Training
After my last failed BQ attempt, I decided to take a break from that goal and focus on training for NYC with Greg. However, I still ended up averaging 50-55 miles per week, with a peak of 58. Greg averaged about 45. We did most of our runs together, early in the morning before work. He followed the training plan to the letter, and the only time when we both slacked off was around our wedding and honeymoon in mid August.We didn't know what his goal should be. He'd never run a marathon before so we had no baseline. But as the training cycle progressed, Greg got faster and faster. He knocked out a 1:42 half marathon and a 1:14:00 Ten-Miler. Based on the various running calculators, these times indicated that he could run a 3:30-3:35 if he was well trained. Given that his training has been strong and that he'd run quite a few 18+ milers (including a 21-miler), we thought that 3:40 would be very realistic for him. I might have even encouraged him to shoot for faster if the course were flat. I ran a 3:51 back in 2008 after having averaged about 35 miles per week and only one 20-miler. Greg was definitely in better shape than I was back then!

As the race day got closer, I started to think that maybe I wouldn't be able to keep up with Greg. A 8:25 pace would be easy for him, and maybe I would break down, preventing him from running his best race. He thought the opposite. We both agreed that we didn't want to hold each other back, so we said that if one of us was struggling, the other one could go ahead and we'd meet up at the end. However, neither of us thought this would happen because we both thought that we were capable of a 3:40 based on training and recent race times.

The Expo
My uncle lives in Manhattan so we were fortunate enough to be able to stay with him. We flew into NYC on Saturday morning, made our way to his apartment and then to the Expo. As expected, there were no XS shirts left, nor were there and Smalls. This aggravated me to no end. I paid $185 for this race and they couldn't even guarantee me a shirt that fit! NYRR knows well in advance how many runners there will be and what sizes, so why can't they order the shirts accordingly and only give people the size they requested when registering? How hard can it be!? The NYRR representative told me that I should have gotten there on Thursday or Friday. I think that's ridiculous and I shouldn't have to miss a day of work to get my shirt size.

So I decided I would purchase a shirt that said "NYC Marathon," like I did when this happened to me at Shamrock. But no luck. All of the Smalls and XS's were sold out. Thankfully my Uncle found an XS shirt buried in a rack of mediums. And my friend George told me that the Nike booth had shirts that said NYC marathon, even though they were the official clothing sponsor. And then George proceeded to buy me the Nike shirt as a birthday present while I was off looking for Greg and my Uncle. Thanks George!!!!

Greg and I went to the "Niketown" store afterwards and got pace bands for our wrists that reflected the course's elevation profile. We figured we'd use this to pace ourselves for the uphills and downhills. The problem with the pace bands was that the font was so tiny and we had a hard time reading it while running. We agreed that I would set the pace and Greg would follow, since he has a tendency to get carried away and go too quickly. Ironically, when looking at our splits, he crossed the timing mats 1 second ahead of me each time for the first half of the race.

That evening, I put my D-Tag on my shoe, and was so excited to see that the D-Tag clip said "zebra" on it. So randomly wonderful!


The race started at 9:40 on Sunday, and yet Greg and I were assigned to a 5:45am ferry to take us to Staten Island. We took a car service from my uncle's apartment to the ferry, got on the ferry, and then got on a bus that drove us to the starting area. I can't believe what a process it was just to get to the start! When we got to the start village, we had about three hours to kill. This late start disrupted my typical race morning ritual. I had to eat more food than I otherwise would, and was hoping my stomach wouldn't rebel.

The good thing about the starting villages and the corrals are that they had plenty of porta potties (very short lines), water, coffee, and other amenities like Vasaline and handwarmers. Dunkin Donuts was even giving away hats. It was about 38 degrees so we were all very cold. I had several layers of clothing but my feet kept going numb.

The corrals opened at 8:20 and closed at 8:55 so you didn't have much time to get there. Greg and I were among the first in the corral. I was assigned to a different corral but I was allowed to join him in his corral because his bib number was higher. Unfortunately, that meant running underneath the bridge for the first two miles instead of above it. (There are three different starting areas: two above the bridge and one below).

Eventually they moved us toward the starting area where we waited about 30 minutes to start. There was a huge screen that was showing the elite men being interviewed, which helped to pass the time. This is where I shed most of my extra layers, except the arm warmers.

Miles 1-2: Staten Island and Verazzano-Narrows Bridge
This was actually my least favorite part of the race. We were running under the bridge so our Garmin didn't get an accurate signal. It's always difficult to determine how fast you are going when you first start a marathon so we just tried to keep pace with the runners around us. Wind was whipping
at us sideways, making it feel like it was in the upper 20's and there was no sun to warm us. I really think running on top of the bridge would have been much more pleasant. The worst part about it was that both of my feet were numb. Completely numb. My ankles started to feel very strained because they were trying to do the stabilizing work that my feet couldn't do. I was worried that I would injure my ankle and have to drop out early. Thankfully I got my feet back after two miles when we got off the bridge. I didn't realize it was a two-mile bridge!

Miles 3-7: Brooklyn
Once off the bridge, I hit the lap button on my Garmin to re-align it with the mile markers and get an accurate pace and ditched my arm warmers. These miles went by quickly. It was a lot to take in-- people were cheering everywhere and the course was packed. It was tough trying to run with Greg because people would elbow their way in between us, and whenever we wanted to pass someone, there were two of us who had to make our way through. Greg later told me that he couldn't hear a word I was saying because the crowd was cheering so loudly.

Miles 8-13: Brooklyn
At around mile 9, I ditched the water bottle I had been carrying. I brought my own bottle because it was easier to drink from than the cups. In the areas where it was sunny, I actually started to feel hot and sluggish, despite it being 45 degrees. At mile 10, I started to assess how I was feeling. It didn't feel as easy as it did when I ran my best marathon back in March of 2008. This worried me a little. It didn't feel hard, but I could also tell I was exerting some effort. I kept checking in with Greg and he was feeling about the same. There were a few times when I had to slow us down or make us go slower than what the pace band said because I wanted to do the uphills conservatively.

Miles 14-16: Queens and the Queensboro Bridge
The halfway point was on the bridge over to Queens. I once again assessed how I was feeling and I felt better than I had felt in New Jersey (when I bonked at mile 18). I took this as a good sign. I had been warned that the Queensboro bridge is one of the toughest parts of the course. When we got onto it, our Garmins lost signal again, so we just decided to take it very easy up the hill. At first, I was thankful to be in the shade. I couldn't believe that I was actually started to feel overheated in only 45 degrees. That sun was strong, though. That bridge seemed to go on forever. I remembered that there was a long bridge at mile 16 of the Richmond marathon and that felt easy to me. The fact that this felt so much harder set off warning bells in my head. I kept saying to Greg "we love this" over and over again. The more I said it, the easier it was to deal with mentally. It was such a long bridge-- almost an
entire mile of complete uphill. Once we hit the downhill, I though things would get a lot easier, but instead my quads just felt murdered. I wanted to go quickly down the hill to make up for the lost time, and we did. However, my quads paid the price for it.

Miles 17-19: Manhattan (First Avenue)
Several people had warned us not to go too quickly up first avenue due to the excitement of being in Manhattan. By this point, I had stopped looking at the Garmin and just focused on running strong. I think we were running in the 8:35-8:40 range at this point, which was slower than our 8:25 first half. We looked for my uncle on 64th street, where he said he would be, but we didn't spot him. Every so often, I noticed that Greg was dropping behind and I'd have to slow down. At around mile 19 he told me he was really struggling and that I should push forward. I was feeling good, and we had talked about this happening and where we'd meet afterwards so I (being on auto-pilot at this point) decided to keep running strong because I felt relatively good for mile 19.

Miles 19-21: The Bronx
Now that I was on my own, I started to think about the finish time that I was on track for. I thought I could set a PR, but I knew that a 3:40 BQ was out of the question. And then I just started to feel guilty for leaving Greg. I reminded myself that this marathon was supposed to be about him and me supporting him. And here I was, being selfish and running ahead. It started eating away at me so badly and all I could think about was him crossing that finish line alone, without me there by his side. After about a mile and a half, all I could think about was how much I wanted to be with Greg and how badly I felt for leaving him to fend for himself.

So I stopped and turned around, and watched all the runners go by. And I immediately felt guilty for stopping. I felt like a wimp. Half of me was berating myself for stopping and wasting time and the other half of me was berating myself for having separating from Greg to begin with. About a minute passed and there was no Greg. I didn't think he could have fallen that far behind me after just 15 minutes or so. I started to worry that maybe I missed him and would have to keep running again to catch him. But soon I heard my name being called-- he actually saw me before I saw him. I was so grateful that he called out for me, because I might have missed him otherwise. There were just so many runners!!!

Once I was back with him, I was so relieved and extremely thankful that I came to my senses.

Miles 22-24: Manhattan
This was the hardest part of the race. Greg wanted to run/walk, so I did that with him. But once I started walking, I started to realize how much my legs hurt. And then it really hurt to try and run. We walked a great deal during these two miles. I started to get chest cramps, which I had never experienced during a race before.

He told me that I shouldn't have felt guilty for running ahead, and that we talked about it beforehand. But he also said he didn't think he would hurt as much as he did, so he was glad I came back for him. I was so glad I stopped and waited for him. During those miles, I was just so happy to be there for him and to have him by my side-- and that was all that really mattered. I'd already had plenty of marathons to run my own race, and I would have plenty more in the future. This marathon was something that we were supposed to do together, as a team.

Miles 25-Finish (Central Park)
As we entered Central Park, there was a huge sign that said "The Central Park Conservancy Welcomes you to Central Park." And I had an enormous amount of pride for raising all that money for them. Central Park is such a wonderful place and I was happy that I was able to contribute to the well-being of the park. Greg and I decided we would just "get it done" and run to the finish line. I actually felt much better while I was running than when I was walking. The hard part was that wewere running uncomfortably slowly. I wanted to speed up, but every time I did, I noticed the Greg was falling behind. I think that going at this pace really did a number on my legs because they are extremely sore today. (My fastest, best marathons have left me the least sore, and my slowest, poorest-run races have left me the most sore. Probably from being out on the course longer).

As we approached the finish line, we held hands and smiled for the camera. It was a wonderful moment for both of us! Our finish time was 4:08:32. This was my 11th marathon finish and my 6th fastest (or 5th slowest, depending on how you look at it). Even though I might have been able to PR, a few minutes off of my marathon time wouldn't be worth the guilt I would have felt for leaving Greg. And it wouldn't have been as satisfying as helping the man I love get through a tough spot.

Greg and I really hated how NYRR set up the finish line chute The race brochure said that it takes runners an average of 45-60 minutes to exit the park. They basically keep moving you down the road (very slowly) for over a mile until you are free to sit down and have your own space. The baggage check trucks are all lined up, starting with truck 60, and we had to walk all the way down to truck 17, and there was a line when we got there. It started to get cold again and I was shivering and my fingers were going numb. I was very thankful to get our bag with my warm clothes inside it. The food was very unappetizing. There was a Power Bar recovery bar, which Greg and I both ate too quickly and then felt nauseous, a pack of hard pretzels and an apple. I wanted something warm and comforting!!!

Once we exited the park, we really didn't want to walk all the way back to the east side where my uncle lives, and there were no cabs or buses that were going that way. We found someone riding a bike that had a two-passenger seat attached with a blanket so we took that back to the east side and down to 64th. Finally, nearly two hours after having finished, we were back at my uncle's apartment.

Final Thoughts
I'm glad that I had the NYC Marathon experience, but I am not anxious to do it again. It's a very tough course, and the 4 hours it takes to get to the race and then wait for the race to start was annoying. I didn't like how the finish line chute was so long, and at times, the crowd support was too overwhelming. Although it's nice to have people cheering for you, when there are 2 million people cheering for you throughout the entire race, it starts to lose its impact. I think I just wanted some peace and quiet towards the end. I prefer smaller races when you have some time to yourself and there aren't tons of runners everywhere and the crowd support isn't overwhelming. What I love about Richmond and Shamrock is that crowd support comes in bursts and you're very thankful for it at those times. All the spectators with their cheering was sort of exhausting to me. But that's just my personal take on it.

Greg is happy just to have finished, but we both agree that we would have done better if we had gone out more conservatively. We underestimated how challenging the course would be. I feel some guilt about advising him to shoot for a 3:40, but he agrees that he, too, thought it was a realistic goal
given his training and other race performances. At least now he has a baseline for his next marathon-- Sharmock in March.

I think it's going to be a long recovery for me because my legs are pretty beat up, and my ankle feels inflamed from being overworked when my feet were numb. I don't really care what time I could have got, had I kept going. I have nothing to prove to myself and I got much more satisfaction from finishing with Greg.

Regarding the fundraising, there were 56 people running for the Central Park Conservancy. We raised a collective $166,609 for the charity. I just got an email (addressed to all 56 of us) that contained this: "Elizabeth Goldman Clor involved the greatest number of unique donors in her effort – 46 family members, friends, colleagues, and other loved ones made a contribution in support of her pledge." Wow! So even though there were other people who raised more money than I did, they had fewer donors, who donated larger amounts. I rallied the support of everyone I knew to reach my $3000 goal. Heck-- I don't even live in New York city and I got the most donations! :-) I will be receiving a signed copy of “Seeing Central Park – The Official Guide to the World’s Most Famous Urban Park,” by Sara Cedar Miller for the person who got the most donations. Thank you to all my readers who helped me reach my fundraising goal!

Overall, a wonderful, unforgettable experience!