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Goals for Knickerbocker 60k

18 Nov

Tomorrow is my first ultra.  I am competing in the Knickerbocker 60k in Central Park.  The course includes a short out and back (totaling 1.5 miles) and then 9x 4-mile loops of the park’s inner loop (thankfully, it does NOT include the arduous upper or lower portions of the park).
Here is a link of the course.

I had a long debate with myself about whether or not this course was the best for my first ultra.  There are definitely some disadvantages. First, Central park is notoriously hilly.  And although the upper section is eliminated, there are still sections that can kill your legs after repeated visits. Second, 9x loops will be a HUGE mental obstacle, especially since we will be passing the start/finish line each time. I’m fully anticipating to experience the temptation of wanting to stop each time I pass it, especially in the later miles. Third, it’s only 2 weeks after the NYC Marathon, so I was worried I would not be fully rested for the long distance.

But, I’m trying to remain positive and remember the advantages of this race:
Refuel and hydration will be easy since we will be passing the water/snack station every 2 miles.
My supporters (husband, son, and one of my sisters) can see me run by more than any other race before.
My husband (and possibly a girlfriend) plan to jump in for a loop or two to push and pace me during the later miles.
The course allows me to concentrate on getting through 4 miles at a time.  From what I have experienced in my training and learned from other ultra runners, you need to break the race into manageable segments.  So I can’t start out thinking that I have 9, 8, or 7 loops to go…it will be crush me.
There will be a professional photographer taking our race pictures –> that means LOTS of opportunity for running pictures since we will be passing him nine times! =)
The weather forecast looks PERFECT for tomorrow – 40 degrees at race start and close to 50 by race end. Light winds and sunny.


I wasn’t going to write an entry regarding my time goal for tomorrow’s race.  I’m extremely nervous about my first attempt at this mileage and didn’t want to make my goals public in case I failed.
Anything could happen in a race this long. You always hear elites saying that anything could happen in a marathon – and this is 11 miles longer!
My stomach might not cooperate, my legs may decide they are not up to the distance, or I may just have an off day of running(which happens at least once a week!).
I usually keep my goals secret (I sometimes don’t even tell my husband or family) because I don’t like failing.
But then I wonder – if I don’t run this race in the time I want, am I a failure?
I think back to where I was last year at this time.  7+ months pregnant, carrying much more weight on my body then I am now, waddling on my daily runs, and nervous that I would not get back into the running shape I had been in prior to getting pregnant.
I read a post from Mile Posts, a blogger I love, on a similiar subject and realized that no matter what the time clock says when I cross the finish line, I will have succeeded – purely for trying and pushing myself to the limit. And at the end of the day, I will have a new PR to put on my blog tomorrow!!

Running the SI Half-Marathon @ 27 weeks pregnant

So, my first goal is to finish.  To say I am an ultrarunner.
My second goal is to complete the race in under 5 hrs 25 min (around an 8:45 min/mi pace).  My last long training run was a 30 miler which I completed at a relaxed and comfortable 8:34 pace.
Out and back portion: 8:30 (roughly 12 min, 45 sec)
Lap 1-6: 8:20 (3 hours 20 min)
Lap 7-9: 9:00 (1 hour 50 min)
Total time: 5:22:45

I’m not being more ambitious with the pace because I’m most concerned about how my legs will react to the hills.  Most of my training takes place on the Staten Island boardwalk – a gorgeous out and back route along the eastern portion of my hometown.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t give me much practice with running up hills since it’s flat as a pancake.

Gorgeous view on my morning runs!
No hills!

On long runs, I often repeat NEVER STOP, NEVER STOP (running) when I start to feel tired and want to quit.  Never Stop means SO many things to me and has become my mantra in recent months. I plan to NEVER STOP TRYING tomorrow!!

NYC Marathon – Experience of a Lifetime (Part 3) The Race within a Race

12 Nov

Before I go into a detailed race report for the NYC Marathon last Sunday, there are are a couple of things to say:

1. I am a very competitive person when it comes to running.  But NOT with other people.  I never show up to a race and look around and say, “I want to beat her and her and him” or “I want to finish in the top 10.”  I look at myself in the mirror before a race and say “I am going to beat YOU”. I am competitive with myself.  I think it’s fair to say that any serious runner has to be – you train for a race, sometimes for weeks or months, with one primary goal in your head…you want to PR (*for those not familiar with the jargon: a PR is a personal record).  You want to beat yourself.  You want to beat the effects of age, pregnancy, childbirth, sickness, stress, or whatever challenge you have faced or are overcoming.  You are stepping up to the start line telling yourself, “I am going to run faster than I ever have before.”  

2. I had waivered months ago about whether or not I should even submit an application to participate in the FL5BC.  Those who know me, understand that I am a solitary runner. I wholeheartedly love running alone – especially during races. Running, for me, has always been my release and to have some alone time that I wasn’t afforded when I was in the army (communal living), at West Point (roommates and communal living), and now that I have a son (I need some time to think like an adult without the babytalk!).  When I race, I  don’t maintain an even pace – it’s all based on how I feel, the terrain, and weather conditions, When my body tells me to slow down, I slow down.  When it tells me it’s feeling good, I speed up.  I’m constantly making adjustments when I race.  And I knew that by participating, I would have to run with 4 people whom I never ran with before. The rules of the FL5BC were this: run together for the first 13.1 miles and then race to the finish.  5 runners with 5 different paces, goals, abilities, and race strategies.  It’s very hard for two people to run a marathon the same way – even if they end up with the same finish time.  Some like to push through the hills, others like to maintain the same intensity (and therefore decrease the speed).  Some like to walk through water points, others cannot slow down because their legs start to cramp.  Some shoot for negative splits, others end up running the first half fast and gradually slowing down.  So I knew that running together would be tough for all of us – and knew that my hopes of running sub 3:20 would be impossible since I would have no control over the pace of the first half.  But, my husband convinced me to submit the application because of the once in a lifetime experience the FL5BC would be – and push my plans of sub 3:20 to a spring marathon.

3. I’m not embarrassed to say that I wanted to win the FL5BC.  But it had nothing to do with bragging rights or plans to post pictures of me breaking the tape.  I wanted to win for a few reasons:
– my son – I kept thinking about how I would love for my son to grow up seeing that his mom not only ran a marathon but won the race she competed in when he was 10 months old.  
– my family (especially my parents) – I may be an adult with a family of my own, but that doesn’t change that I still am my parent’s “little girl”. I wanted to make them proud of me – and I know I didn’t need a victory for that…but seeing how excited my family was in the weeks leading up to the race was more motivation than I could ever explain. 
– to help gain publicity and $1,000 for a charity that I feel SO strongly about – Team Red, White & Blue. It’s a non-profit organization focused on helping wounded veterans reintegrate into society when they return from deployments.  My husband and I are both veterans and feel so lucky and blessed to have returned from our 5 total deployments without any debilitating injuries.  But we know plenty of veterans who were not so fortunate – and are grateful that there are still thousands of soldiers protecting not just our freedom – but, more importantly, our son’s freedom. 
– to give Staten Island good publicity for a change.  I think anyone who is from SI would agree that it is quite frustrating to see some of the reality shows’ portrayal of Staten Islanders.  I wanted to represent SI in the best light possible – and show that there are normal, everyday people from here. 

4. I am going to be completely honest and candid in this recap – I’m not trying to be mean or hurt anyone’s feelings regarding the pace of the first half or in the details of the second half. 

So with all that said, here’s the race recap! 

I had checked previous years splits for the participants of the FL5BC – the last 2 years, the first half was run around 1:53.  I made the assumption that we would be running the first half in about the same pace (8:45).  This turned out to be a bad assumption.  

Mile 1: 9:34.  We stared out very slow. I kept telling myself that it wasn’t a big deal. It’s good to start slow.  We’ll pick up the pace – especially since first mile is uphill
Mile 2: 8:40.  Awesome! We are getting into a grove. Gloves come off. Legs feel great. Comfortable pace. 

Miles 3-13.1: Average 9:18 pace – total time=2:01:45
We ran the first half almost 10 minutes slower than I expected us to run it (I had checked splits from the last 2 years of participants in the challenge and they were all around 1:53).  
It was extremely hard for me to run at a much slower pace than I had been training.  I guess I didn’t realize the negative impact the slow pace would have on me.  My calves started cramping around mile 7 and I found that I couldn’t get into a comfortable rhythm in the later miles.  
I’m NOT complaining about the pace – I signed up and agreed to run the first half with 4 others runners in order to participate in this challenge and knew that the pace would be out of my hands. But, as this is a race report, I have to be honest about how the pace affected me.
On long runs, I let my mind wander. During the race, each time I would start to zone out, I automatically sped up.  It was extremely frustrating to not be able to just run.  I could only think of the pace and slowing down.  To force myself to slow down, I completely changed my stride (shortened it) and by doing so, put more pressure on the balls of my feet.  By mile 7, my calves were on fire and cramping.  
I tried to open up my stride (speed up) and loosen my legs (and then would have to slow down to wait for the others). Unfortunately, it didn’t really work and only seemed to have created the perception that I was pulling ahead and not following the guidelines set forth by the FL5BC.  In truth, I had been told prior to the race that it was NOT necessary to run in a straight line (I actually asked about this during the interview process – after 10 years in the army, I know how difficult it is to run in a straight line for even a couple of miles).  I was told that as long as we were within range of each other, we were fine.  
If you look at the splits of the 5 runners, you’ll see that we’re not more than 2 seconds apart the whole first half!!  Pretty amazing for 5 people that never ran a mile together before!! 

And, we even crossed the halfway point together, in one line, before saying a few words and breaking off to run the second half on our own. 

Mile 14: 8:00. Drew (rep from Brooklyn) and I took off together.  We stayed side-by-side over the Pulaski Bridge and into Queens. My legs felt good and I was happy with the pace.
Mile 15: 7:57. Drew and I were still next to one another. I didn’t want to pick up the pace too much. Drew had run a great half-marathon only a few weeks before with negative splits, so I didn’t want to push too much early on.  But, I also knew Drew had much better speed than I (he is faster than I am on shorter races) so I was worried that if I was too cautious, he would stay with me and then pull away with a few miles left.  It was at this point that I told myself to run my race.  To pretend like he’s not there, run comfortably, and enjoy the crowds. 

Mile 16: 8:10. Queensboro Bridge.  The 1/2 mile up was tough – no one else was running on the bridge so there was no one to try to stick with. We got to the top of the bridge and started the downhill portion together. Drew started to pull ahead. I considered staying with him, but felt that I needed to fully catch my breath from the uphill portion.  After a few moments, he pulled over to the side of the bridge.  As I passed him,  I saw him stretching his calf.  He must have been experiencing the same thing I had a few miles earlier.  He was back to running and right behind me within a few seconds and we continued on.  Another 20-30 seconds passed and when I glanced over my shoulder, he was no longer there.  I looked behind me and saw him stretching again.  I debated going back to check on him but before I could make up my mind, I saw him start running again.  I decided to take advantage of this small window (maybe 50m?) I had gained and push the pace for a few miles to see what happened. 

Mile 17: 7:51
Mile 18: 7:49
Mile 19: 7:52
The crowd along 1st Avenue was SO intense.  I completely zoned out and tried to keep my pace sub 8. Sometime around mile 18, I saw a runner I knew from Staten Island.  He jumped out on the street and was going crazy – told me that I had a block and half lead on the next runner.  Up until that point, I wasn’t sure how much of a lead (if any) I had built.  Knowing that I had a slight lead was exciting to hear.  I felt great and knew I could keep this pace up for another couple of miles. 

Mile 20: 8:07.My calves start cramping terribly going over the Willis Ave Bridge.  I found that if I tried to lengthen my stride to speed up, it only got worse.  So I had to change my stride to alleviate pressure on my calves.  Doing so made it tough to go much faster than an 8:00 min/mile. 

Mile 21: 8:06. I started to feel dehydrated and my calves were on FIRE.  Then, something amazing happened. There werehuge jumbotrons up ahead.  As I got closer, I saw scrolling photos and messages from my family and friends!  I knew several family members had decided to participate in this sponsored feature of the marathon, but had NO idea that so many of my friends did as well!! For those not familiar with the Support Your Marathoner feature, I would highly recommend doing it for next year’s marathon! Seeing SO many smiling faces (especially my son’s) telling me they believe in me and to finish strong (army strong!!) was all the motivation I needed to keep pushing through the pain I was feeling!!

Mile 22: 8:01 Another jumbotron with MORE messages, photos, and videos from different friends and family appeared just before mile 22.  I really think I ran with a smile on my face for most of the rest of the race.  
Somewhere just before 5th Avenue, my bike escort pointed out the cameraman and police escort up ahead and told me they were waiting for me.  He also gave me the update that he could no longer see the 2nd place runner – that I had built a couple of minutes lead.  I knew that all I had to do was maintain my pace to the finish. 
Loving every moment!
Waving to the crowd!

Mile 23: 7:58 The crowd along 5th Avenue was AMAZING. Despite the 23rd mile being one of the tougher miles in the marathon, I ran one of my better mile splits!  And I was completely enjoying myself and the wonderful opportunity NYRR and Foot Locker had given me.  I am usually all business during races – I typically don’t wave, slap high fives, or smile – but this was different. I was not racing against the clock. I was racing against 4 other people and had set myself up to win.  I didn’t want to wait until the finish line to enjoy this all!  

Running up Central Park hill

Mile 24: 8:24
Mile 25: 8:11
Mile 26: 8:12
The last 3 miles are a blur. My calves were still hurting and I was worried that I would have to walk if they cramped up any more.  I grabbed 2x cups of water and gatorade at each of the last few water stations to ensure I was hydrated enough. 

Me and my bike escort!

The miles flew by.  All I kept thinking about was my family at the finish line and how I couldn’t wait to see and hold my son again! (I’m never really away from him for long periods of time – this was one of the longest stretches to date!)

Before I knew it, my bike escort said goodbye, and I was on my own back in Central Park –  pushing to the finish.  

I had no concept of how long I had been running or what my finish time would be.  For the first time in my life, the number at the clock meant nothing to me. What mattered this time was what was waiting for me at the finish line – my son and husband. 

Excited to see my son and husband!!

Just a few numbers:
1st Half: 2:01:45 – 9:18 pace
2nd Half: 1:45:05 – 8:01 pace
5k splits:
5k: 28:41: 9:14 min/mi
10k: 29:16: 9:25 min/mi
15k: 28:23: 9:08 min/mi
20k: 29:08: 9:23 min/mi
25k: 25:35: 8:14 min/mi
30k: 24:17: 7:49 min/mi
35k: 25:14: 8:07 min/mi
40k: 25:10: 8:06 min/mi
Finish Time: 3:46:49 (8:40 min/mi)

Pacing lessons

24 Oct

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I’ve always had a problem with not pacing myself correctly on long runs or races.  I start too fast and then pay for it heavily at the end.  I had always believed that I could start fast and gain some “extra time” so that when I slow down towards the end, I’ll finish at the pace I want.  I am thankful to say that I have finally realized my theory is completely wrong.  After the SI Half a couple of weeks ago, it clicked that I REALLY need to slow down and pace myself (discussed in Rookie Mistake).  

Here is how I paced myself and what I learned from my 30 miler:

By the numbers:
– It took me 4:17:30 to complete (not including 5x that I had to stop – once to fix my socks which had slipped beneath the back of my heel (I need to find socks that do not do this!), twice to pull out power gels that were in my camelbak, once to call Paul to tell him I needed more water, and once to drink the water/powerade that Paul had for me – the total time of “stopped time” was about 7 min)
– Overall pace was 8:34
– I ran negative splits – the first 15 mi were covered in 129:13 (8:36 pace); second 15 mi were covered in 128:04 (8:32 pace)
– My fastest miles were 8:19 (mile 19), 8:21 (mile 14), 8:23 (mile 23), and 8:24 (mile 30!)
– My slowest miles were 8:47 (mile 26), 8:46 (miles 4 and 28), and 8:45 (mile 1)
– The chart below shows my pace per mile – as well as my pace per 5 mile segment.  My slowest 5-mile segment was the first – miles 1-5 – which shows me that when I start slow, I end faster!!


– Starting slow – and maintaining an easy, comfortable, steady pace (with no mile being run faster or slower than 15 sec from my average time) – is the key to success on a long run
– There is the belief that the infamous “hitting the wall” is inevitable in a marathon or long run.  So what often happens is what I used to do – you try to build up as much extra time as you can early on so when you hit the wall, you can still run the pace you were hoping.  If you run much faster than your target pace too early, you WILL hit the wall.  The fast pace too early is actually what causes the collapse at the end of the run.  But, if you maintain an even pace, you will never encounter the wall and may actually be able to pick up the pace at the end.  And trust me – that makes the entire run so much more enjoyable and fun to run!
– Although there were numerous points during the run when I felt great and wanted to pick up the pace, I forced myself to slow down 
– From my experience during races, it is extremely demotivating to have to significantly slow down at the end – not only do I feel like crap but I’m also getting passed by tons of other runners.  It has nothing to do with competing with them and trying to beat them.  It’s just hard to swallow to have each step hurt so much while all the other runners look and seem so happy.  The end of a race should be happy – you are almost done and all of your training and hard work is about to pay off. But you’ll never experience that happiness at the end if you don’t appropriately pace yourself