Saturday, April 23, 2016

Boston Marathon 4/18/16

After my difficult experience at the Queen City Marathon, where I needed to manage my back pain with a lot of walking, I was able to run a 10k race (Cherry Blossom 10k on 4/10) in 7:22 pace with a negative split and a 6:14 pace for the final .2 miles. When my back hurts, I need to walk. When my back doesn't hurt I can run without any indication of there being a problem. I just don't know how I will feel until I start running. I have noticed that long drives and hotel beds seem to set me up for pain the next day.  I suspected that Boston (a 5 hour drive from home) would not be a pain free run for me.

Since 2013, Boston triggers PTSD symptoms for me.  As a result, every April, as the event nears, I stop sleeping at night and I lose the ability to shake a pervasive sense of anxiety. I have learned to expect this. Now that I accept and expect this as my new normal for April, the anxiety does not impact my life too much. I avoid reminiscing about the events since that triggers more intense anxiety for me, without doing any good. I don't read posts others share. I don't offer myself as a support system for others who need to process their feeling about 2013. I am not the best person for that job. I need to look forward and build new positive associations.

This year Kim planned to attend the race with me and spectate.  Having her along changed the tone of this experience for me in a tremendously positive way.  It was exciting to bring her to an event that many marathoners dream of running some day. Her energy was positive and healing. Boston is an amazing event and I knew her experience spectating would be special.

The expo closed at 6:00 pm Sunday. It was already passed 4:25 pm when we were looking for parking a few miles from the expo. We wanted to run around the city before getting my bib.  I was starting to get stressed so we gave up on our plan to run through Boston and drove directly to the expo. As we turned off of Massachusetts on to the very busy Bolyston, a car pulled out from spot just one block from the Expo.

Kim asked "How's your parallel parking skills?" (I know how, but I can't remember the last time I needed to). "Today, they better be perfect!" The traffic was very heavy and it would be horrible if I screwed it up.  LOL.

The car pulled out as the light turned green.  Traffic starting moving forward but in one quick forward and then backwards swoop I was in my new spot perfectly with minimal disruption to the flow of traffic. I could not have don't it better if I had more time to focus. A passerby on the street actually cheered me on and excitedly called out "You nailed that!" LOL!! After getting my bib, we enjoyed running a few miles around Boston.

Race Day
The way I felt in the morning was no surprise. As soon as I woke, I had back pain. I was stiff and walking hurt.  I had over 4 hours until my gun time, so I hoped it would loosen.  There was nothing I could do except hope for the best.

Kim and I ran the course backwards from the 3.6 mile mark. It was nice to have her company on the quiet empty streets.  Kim turned back as I finished the last 1.6 miles to the start.

I don't go to the Village.  I don't want to sit trapped in a field for hours surround by 20,000 anxious runners all waiting to use a potty. Instead I prefer to hang around the starting area. There are no crowds.  It is very peaceful while being exciting at the same time.

I stood at the start with a very nice woman from United Arab Emirates.  She was an older woman, and said she used to be a half marathon runner. She was in Boston visiting her daughter.  She decide to stop by the start to watch the races.  She did not have any friends or family running.  She looked cold and told me security would not allow her to bring anything to the start with her.  She had a small ziplock bag in her hand with her wallet and a print out of the start schedule. She was impressed with the athletes lined up for the mobility impaired wave.  She vowed to run a marathon herself, saying she had no excuse not to if they all could do it.  Before I left for my start, I gave her my warm up jacket, my throw away gloves, my banana, and my clear plastic gear bag.  She promised that she would keep all those items (except for the banana) and wear them to HER first marathon.

I had been standing for almost 2 hours and my back was not happy.  I was hopeful that once I started moving I would feel better. Had I known that my pain would not subside with movement, I would have seeded myself in the back of my wave instead of going to my assigned corral. This would have made my start more pleasant and less hurried.

Once we got moving, my pain got worse.  I did not have a choice but to run fast.  I had a fast seed time and the wave I started with were fast runners.  I was running about 7:30 pace or faster off the line because moving slower would be dangerous. I made an effort to get all the way to the dirt shoulder in case I needed to stop.  I was able to slow to a 7:59 minute pace for mile one.  As the runner spread out, I was able to slow down further to 8:30 pace and I got slower from there.

The first 25 minutes of the race was excruciating. When my back spasms a few things happen. First I can't inhale.  Breathing hurts.  Next, I seem to loose power to my legs. I feel like the gas line has been cut.  I can't lift my legs no matter how hard I try. Third the pain and pressure in my back grown so much I get dizzy and nauseated. Sometimes I feel like I might throw up. Stopping causes an sharp RISE in pain level until it subsides.

Just before 4 miles, I pulled over to the sidewalk and stopped to stretch.  I am dizzy. I call Kim.  I wanted her to know that I was not having a good day and I would be walking a lot if I wanted to finish.  "Oh you are finishing!" she said.  "That's my plan" was my response, but I already new that if I saw her at 22 and I was still in this much pain, I would be DNFing.

I started moving again and walked much of Mile 5, taking over 12 minutes for that mile.  I was very very sad to not be able to run without pain but I was grateful I could walk. As my back loosened up, I started to use a Run/Walk plan. I connected with a man named Don who was struggling like me.  He pulled a glute two weeks ago and was not able to run the way he wanted.  We hooked up with man named Brett, who reported that the only reason he was running was because this was his 14th Boston and he wanted to finish.

From mile 5 on, our entire wave pulled away from us.  We were in a pocket of temporal space that was created by the gap between waves.  Brett predicted when we could expect the first runners form the second wave to run us down.  In the meantime, our Boston temporarily felt like a local road race with only a handful of people sharing the open road.

By mile 12, I was starting to feel the beginning of things turning around. I was able to run downhills again as long as I had some uphills to balance me out. The energy at Wesley helped me. The second wave had caught me and the leaders looked strong!

Don and I ran/walked together through the half marathon when he decided he wanted to walk more. I picked up my pace and started to run longer between walk breaks. The hills help my back to loosen.  I was starting to feel stronger. I was able to run longer. I made a promise to make sure I ran every single step of Heartbreak Hill.

Kim was planning to be at Boston College. She would be on the right side. She had a cow bell. I knew she would not expect me so "soon" after considering my desperate call to her hours earlier. I ran through and crested Heartbreak like I promised myself I would and I did not stop running! Just before mile 22 I found her!  She didn't see me until I was right on top of her.  By that point I was feeling phenomenal!  Heartbreak helped me!

From the bottom of Heartbreak through the end of my race, my back no longer hurt.  I could run. I could run strong. I could run fast and I would run as hard as I could all the way home!

My half marathon split was 2:07. This meant I was on pace for a 4:15-4:20, but that was before the hills saved my race! With each mile, I watched my average pace drop.  I was running faster than I could at the start. I could breath. My legs had power. Nothing hurt! I moving easily between 7:30-7:40 per mile for most of the last 5 miles. I felt amazing!

I ended up with about a 9 minute negative split with a finish I am really proud of.

My final time was 4:05, which is not a bad performance considering how horrible this race started for me.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Queen City Marathon, Cumberland, MD, 4/2/16

On Thursday night, I decided I wanted to, no NEEDED to, run a marathon this weekend (Apr 2-3).  Everyone was racing fantastic events like Umstead 100M or Ultrafest and my weekend plans had suddenly opened up.  Since last weekend, when my back was perfect for Two Rivers Marathon, I wanted to race as much as possible while I felt good.

The closest race I could find that looked interesting to me was the Queen City Marathon in Cumberland MD.  I'm in NJ. MD does not seem that far. Ok, so it looked like maybe 4-5 hours of driving without traffic.  The race hotel was located at the starting line and still had rooms.  Packet pick up was in the hotel at 6:45 am and the race would start at 8am.  Registration was still open.  In about 20 minutes I had a room and was registered to run.

I had to go to work on Friday, but hoped to be out early enough to get to the race location before 11pm.  It turns out that there was not a lot of work for me to do, so I was able to leave earlier than I expected. I was on the road by 5:00 pm.

I used to just jump in the car and drive to races up to 10 hours away regularly. There was a period in my life when I was extremely phobic of driving. It corresponded with the time I lived in NYC.  Once I moved back to NJ and needed to drive to survive, this fear was something that took some work to overcome.  It wasn't until I got my first Subaru and learned to drive a stick that I finally like I was a competent driver.  Now, many years later, when I jump in my car and drive hours and hours from home to do something I love, I feel fortunate and liberated. I feel proud of overcoming an irrational fear that held me back from experiencing my world.

As I drove to Cumberland MD, I left the congested urban chaos and found myself amongst cows and silos with gorgeous mountain-scape backdrops. The sun was setting, very slowly, as I drove west.  The rain came down hard, washing the giant bug splatter from my windshield.  I sang badly on the top of my lungs to the new Of Monster and Men CD Sid left in my car.

Hotel at start of the course.
I tried to save time by picking up a sandwich for the ride.  Not the best pre-race dinner plans, but it would have to do. I checked in to the hotel by 10:30 pm, ahead of my projected arrival time. I was able to sleep until 6:30, getting my bib at 6:45 and walking out the door of the hotel at 7:45 to get in line for the 8:00 start. This was just way too easy!

However, before I took one single step, I knew today was not my day. The long drive, the hotel bed, the crappy dinner in the car the night before, all had me feeling stiff and sore and uncomfortable. Thank goodness this wasn't a goal race.

I met Bruce at the starting line when I was still trying to be hopeful that I could have a good day. After all, sometimes aches and pains go away once we start to move.  We talked a bit and then it was time to run.

Map from Queen City Website
The race was on the C&O Canal Tow path and Allegheny passage.  The towpath-trail course was mostly tree-lined and dirt-covered.  We ran about 3 miles out to a turn around, then back towards the start. Once past the start, we headed out 10 miles up hill to the last turn around.  The uphill was not steep, but it was the entire 10 miles long.  This mean 10 miles of down hill on the way home. We finished by running through a local shopping area that made me wish I had planned more time to look around after the event.

I was truly hoping to run 8:15s  I ran 8:30s at Two Rivers last weekend and I felt great for the most part. I was hoping to have a similar experience. My BQ is 3:45. I ran a 3:43 last weekend, but really I will not feel confident that I have my BQ secured until I run a 3:40 or better.  I wanted to try to do that here.

However, several strides off the line and I already knew my back was tight.  By the end of the first mile I could feel my back getting aggravated.  Bruce caught me and we started talking.  Our pace settled and I found a speed that hurt but did not get worse.  It was about 9:00-9:30 pace.

I contemplated whether or not I needed to stop at the 6 mile mat. It would break my heart to make a 10 HOUR round trip for a 6 mile run! However, when my back is spasming it is not as if I have much of a choice. This is not about being strong or tough or wanting it bad enough. I am strong.  I am tough. I do want it bad enough.  But when my spine is on fire, the only option I have is to stop moving.

However, the pace was sustainable. Bruce allowed me to talk for most of the run, which was the best thing I could do if I wanted to forget I was hurting.  In the back of my mind I convinced myself that really I really just had 10 miles more to run because once we turn around it should feel "easier" to run downhill.

As we hit the incline to the turn around Bruce reminded me that this race also has a Metric Marathon and if I was hurting I could turn back sooner.  That was an option and it helped to know I could really just turn back whenever I needed to.

The trail was lovely. It was just dirt and trees with mountain views in the background when the landscape opened.  It was quiet. There are not many spectators on the towpath.  However, the volunteers at the aid stations were phenomenal.  The aid stations were stocked with snacks, like cookies and fruit. I felt like I was running an ultra!  There was no gatorade but Nuun was provided.  I am not able to drink Nuun, so ended up just drinking water. I had two gels in my pocket, so the water would be ok.

Photo found online - but I am not sure who took it.
As Bruce listened and I talked, we approached a tunnel.  A young lady reeled us in, but at the same time appeared to be suffering.  She was a bit overdressed for the warm day and she knew it.  I tried to distract her by pointing out how amazing the tunnel is! I have run a lot of races and rarely get to run through tunnels.  She replies "I HATE TUNNELS!"  I wanted to laugh because it was not the response I expected.

Brush Tunnel, Photo by Deborah Lazerson, posted on Queen City Marathon website
I asked her what her name was. She said Kendra. I asked her what her last name was in case we needed to help her. I was getting a little worried for her.  I asked if she had been drinking any fluids because I noticed the bottle she carried was full. She said yes and that she had just filled it at the last aid station.  We all slowed a little and she started to look and sound better.  Once out of the tunnel, and seeing that Kendra looked ok, Bruce and I pulled away and she carried on.

From Mile 7 through this point in the race, Bruce and I walked about 30 seconds at each mile mark. I am sure that this walk break really helped me to keep moving. As we ran toward the 16 mile turn around my back was feeling better.

As soon as we hit the turn around Bruce was ready to go.  He said goodbye and took off like a gazelle! He was smooth and fluid and I realize he generous he was to keep me company for 2:40 minutes of his race knowing he could easily run so much faster without me.

I tried to pick up my pace too, but after about 4 miles of constant downhill running, the part I was actually looking forward too, I just could not do it. I had to walk. I had to walk a lot. The uphill helped me, but downhill rattled me so much I wanted to quit.

I made it to Mile 20. My legs were toast, my back was on fire, and then it occurred to me that I had not taken in any calories at all since I started. Only water and a two sips of Nuun when I thought it was Gatorade.  I had forgotten about my gels.  I was bonking and it was bad!

I took a gel and walked. I mostly walked for 2 miles. As I walked, mobile race volunteers road bikes up and down the trail offering aid they carried in their packs. When asked if I needed anything, I asked for the bike.

I was caught by Kendra from the tunnel (who looked a millions times better) and another woman named Carol, who had really great energy. I picked up with them and we pulled each other along.    
At Mile 24, my gel kicked in and the terrain leveled out. I had been running for 2 miles  and decided I wanted to try to pick up my pace a little.  I felt good. I wanted to hurry up before my back hurt again. I said goodbye and pulled off.  I felt better than an hour ago and was so glad when I saw that finish line.

Right as I finished a volunteer was proud to offer me a mylar blanket, sharing that last year they had not had them and this year they corrected that problem. I was directed to a tent with food that included hummus wraps, chicken salad wraps, hearty chicken soup, chocolate milk, and more.

I sat with Carol and we talked. She shared that only Friday she decided she needed to run this race!  She had never driven this far (4 hours for her) or stayed overnight on her own for a race before.  But at the last minute she decided she needed to run this and she did it. :)  It is amazing to be in a position to be able to just do this.  To just decide you want to run a marathon and the just go do it.  We are fortunate.

I grabbed a few things to eat and walked to the hotel where my car was parked. I jumped in and drove home. I had kept my room until 1pm, planning to shower before my drive, but I was too late for that. I could have stopped at the local YMCA that allowed runners to shower after the race, but I really didn't feel the need. I just wanted to get home before dark, which I managed to do.

The Queens City Marathon RD had race result posted in a day with a link to photos provided by a Volunteer on the course. Awards that were not picked up were going to be mailed out.  I had gotten my medal at the finish line so I was good.

The next day I received an email from Bruce, wishing me well, thanking me for the company, and apologizing for taking off. Bruce broke 4 hours!!  He ran an amazing last 10 miles. I replied to say that I was happy to see him pick up the pace and thanked him tremendously for helping me through.

One day later I get an email from the RD asking me if I had requested my age group award. Carol had  asked her to reach out to me. Carol was third in our age group and wanted to make sure I knew I was second.

Small races are the way to go. This race may be one my smallest events and possibly my slowest marathon, but I feel very proud of this run. I wanted to stop from mile 1. I found a way to manage the pain and not just mindlessly ignore it. I found away to run at a pace that was sustainable. I did not do any more damage to myself. I walked when I needed to.  I ran when I could.  I finished what I started without making my situation any worse.  I connected with people.  I made friends that I know I will be happy to see again at the next marathon. I ran a race where the RD and the volunteers took great pride in taking care of their runners. I ran a course that was peaceful and scenic and challenging it is own way.

I have run a lot of marathons. My experience running this one was truly one of my best.  I look forward to next year!

Time: 4:39
Place: 34/63
AG: 3rd

Monday, April 4, 2016

Two Rivers Marathon (Saturday) Laxawaxen, PA, 3/26/16

The Two Rivers Marathon held on Saturday March 26, 2016 was the Pennsylvania State
Championship Marathon. I am not really sure what that means since I am not from PA, but I was excited to race it regardless.

Kim and I drove to the start race day morning. She was just barely over having a very bad cold or flu or something that was really terrible for a week. She wasn't sure if she was going to race, but this was one of the races we actually prepared for. After all that work it seemed like a shame to not run if she felt she would be ok to try.We were driving up race day morning. The night before she decided to give it a shot. She could stop at the half finish if she felt terrible.

photo by Stephanie Ruzicka
We left just after 6 am for the 2 hour drive. We hoped to arrive around 8:00 am to catch the 8:15 bus from the finish to the start. But on the way to the race, we were delayed by a horrific accident. It was bad. At first, when it seemed like we would be stuck in traffic at 6:20 am, I was anxious that we would miss the race. But as we passed the incident and I could see what was causing the hold up, making it to the race stopped seeming so important. I said, "Well if we don't make it we can just go out for breakfast somewhere." I looked for news reports about the accident the next day, still wondering what happened, and found nothing at all. 

We arrived at 8:10 for an 8:15 bus, that really didn't leave until after 8:20. We got to the starting area at 8:38, managed to get our bibs and find the bathroom. I change my clothes from capris and long sleeves into shorts, calf sleeves, and a t-shirt and I was still over dressed. We sucked down some gu, rushed to the start, labeled our gear (white garbage) bags as people lined up, and threw our bags into the back of someone's car just as they were getting ready to send off runners.   

We quickly found Antonio in the starting area.  Just as I was in mid-sentence suddenly everyone is running.  I didn't even hear a signal to go.  I am lucky my shoes were tied.  However my calf sleeves were not in place and this felt really uncomfortable.   

About a half mile into this race, I just could not take the awkward calf sleeve situation and pulled over to pull them up. I start running again and realized my shoe lace was actually NOT tied either. I need to stop again at .98 miles to fix that. Oh boy, this is not going well. 

I jump back and mile 2 is a blazing fast descent. It feel so great to run!  I am running a 6:59 pace and it feels so easy.  We flatten out and I settle right down to 8 minute pace. I find a comfortable flow and enjoy the course. The descent did tear up the bottom of my left foot but that did not seem to be a problem until the last few miles. But by then everything hurts. 

My back is pain free. I feel like I can run forever. After 5 miles, I realize my average pace is the same pace as my 20k last weekend. I know this is just a result of the fast descent. I hoped to target an 8:15 for this to get a solid BQ. So far so good! 

Mile 5-6 is fast and I thought about Kim and Antonio. I hoped they were working together to pull each other. 

Mile 7.7 starts a short but very steep uphill, but the real climb comes between 8 and 9.  The climb is really only about .3 miles long but it is tough. 

At this point a boisterous pack of runners catch me. A younger woman is running with two guys. They have a third guy on a bike taking care of all their needs. There was a little mini-bus that was traveling the course that seemed to have her family in it as well. They start to pass me on the uphill, but on the decline I end up back with them. We are running the same pace for about 2.5 miles.  Everyone in this group is very nice. She was trying to BQ. The guys were there to help her. This was her first marathon. We were running 8:00 pace. They were so thrilled for her. 

It seemed like a lot going was on in that pack. I did not envy her. I can only imagine the amount of pressure she had on her to run well with everyone around her making such a big deal about her race. There is also the matter of whether or not all of this outside support was even legal, but there were course marshals and volunteers on the course making sure runners were not turning back too soon. Not one seemed to care about the outside aid and the pacing.  

Antonio running in behind Kim hopefully yelling things like
"You are almost there, You are a winner!" (as he promised to do)
 as she finished her race. ;) 
At about the half way point, this group was pulling away from me and I was happy to let them go. The course would become 7 miles of incline out to a turn around. I wished her luck. I knew their pace was too fast for me on the way out.  I hoped to be able to catch them on the way back.

I spent the next 7 miles watching them slowly pull away before they started to come back to me.  I knew she would not BQ because I wasn't sure I was going to BQ any more either. The day was warming up and the miles were catching up with me.  At mile 16, I dropped my gel, right as I approached and aid station. I had to go back for it. As I tried to bend down to pick it up I grumbled something and noticed the aid station guys laughing at me.  LOL!

Just like every year I run this race, I forgot at what mile to expect the turn out. A guy coming back to me called out "Turn around is at 18.65!"  That really helped me out!  Thank you!  I passed that information on to others on my way back.

On my way to 18, saw one woman crushing the race, and then in second was the young girl and her crew.  I was in 3rd.  We had a downhill for the next 7 miles and felt great because I took the incline easy.

Just after mile 19, I passed them.  When I pass in a race, I want to do it with some semblance of authority. I want to put some distance between me and whoever I am passing. It turns out that she was not having a great experience so this wasn't hard to do. I felt badly for her. 

Even thought this was the Pennsylvania State Championship Marathon, it was a small event without a lot of competition.  Regardless of pace or place, I was simply thrilled to have no back pain!  Any day I can run pain-free is a gift. 

I tried to open my stride after mile 22 and I could feel spasming in my groin. Seriously!  But since getting my mileage back into 20+ mile runs, I have had some groin straining happening now and then.  I stopped at Caumsett because my groin pain started to flair up at 18 miles, but here at 22 I was almost done. I wasn't stopping now. I shortened my stride, slowed my pace and just did my best to finish it off without aggravating my groin any further.  I am sure my groin is tired due to me now being heavier than I have ever been in a very very long time.  Since my back pain started I have not been able to train like I used to and gained about 7-8 pounds. This is a lot of weight for me. I am not thrilled about it, but now that I can run again, I expect to get leaner by the fall.  

Other than the groin spasming, I felt great! Sure, my feet were tired and blistered and I could not wait to get out of my shoes. Due to the slow pace, those last 4 miles felt like 100 miles.  But my mood was great! :) 

Kim always has a great finish!
As I rounded the last turn, I saw Antonio waiting to cheer me into the finish.  He asked how I felt.  I know this is loaded topic for Antonio.  This poor guy was training with me when my back first started to fall apart.  He witnessed my demise first hand.  In fact it was on a 10 mile run with him when he actually said "Do I need to call someone to get you" that I decided to make my first doctor's appointment. I would train with him in the morning and suffered from back spasms. But then I would train with his wife in the evening and have no pain at all.  He was convinced he was bad luck to me. (see Antonio, it was never you).

After I crossed the line and gather my faculties, I asked Antonio how he did and he set a huge half marathon PR!  This was so great the hear. I knew he was ready!  

A few minutes later Kim came in, finishing strong as she usually does. I am glad she ran this. For a sick chick, she did great! 

Time: 3:43:40 (8:32)
Gender Place 2nd Female 
AG: 1st Place 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Miles For Music 20k, Piscataway, NJ, March 20, 2016

Sunday was the first team race of the season, the Miles for Music (M4M) 20k!

It was cold. (33 degrees, but windchill into the teens)
Despite the long flight home from London on Thursday, once I slept one night in my own bed my back pain from last week completely resolved. It was amazing. I was able to run Friday and Saturday without pain, as if nothing had hurt at all. I could walk around without pain. I was hopeful, but still not convinced that I could race actually race a 20k to the end.

Sunday, race day morning, I met Kim and we jogged a short warm up back and forth to packet pick up from our car. This was only about a mile total. Still no pain. I told Kim that I feel like a crazy person… one day I am sure my back is broken forever, the next day I am jogging a warm up for a 20k race?

Up until about 30 seconds before the start I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I could run with Kim at her race pace, try to stay with her until pain started, if it started… or maybe even pick up the pace if the pain did not come?

As I stood at the start, I still felt amazing. I see Becky and she is in such a great mood! Her jokes and her energy were contagious. It is very close to gun time, runners are seeding themselves in the starting corral. Kim finds a place and I make a decision.  Since my pain is all or nothing, whenever I can run, I am going to go for it! I want to take advantage of every chance I get to move without pain. When the pain comes, I will just walk it off, stretch if that helps, or stop if I must. I line up with Jessica and get ready to see how far I could go before pain shuts me down.

Gun Goes Off

I can't remember the last time I ran this fast. I have been taking things so easy since December to not trigger pain. I have ben cautiously building my volume. With great joy I had managed to run two marathon distances in the month leading up to this race without back pain. (This is why it was so heart breaking to have to walk during a 5k last week).

The wind is at our backs. I feel light and effortless. I know that can't sustain this pace, but it feel so liberating! I feel alive! I feel amazing! I feel the way I have not felt in a very long time! But after a few moments of joy, I settle down to a more reasonable pace. My watch beeps. I glance down. M1 - 7:15. 

I don't look at my watch for the remainder of the race. I don't need to. I don't care what the watch says. All I care about is running as fast as I can without pain for as long as I can do it. (I have the splits on my Garmin and reviewed them after the race.)

The wind made half the lap feel very hard and the half the lap feel easier. Although we had more miles with the wind at our back, I don't ever feel like running in any wind is even exchange.  In general, we are slowed by the wind, which means we are running longer into it. Then we turn and are pushed by the wind, running less time with the wind assist. We always loose more than we gain on a looped course in a strong win. But in this case, because the course was 2.5 laps, we did have almost 2 miles of assist that we did not need to give back.  That helped a lot.

M2 7:31, M3 7:46, M4 7:40

I see so many familiar faces out on the course. I am reminded why I need to race. It is not about the running, as much as it is about the people and the energy!  I enjoy M4M because it is 2.5 loops. I can see almost everyone out there!

In particular, I was very very happy to see Paulette running.  Her son has been very ill and she was not sure if she could make it. But she trained so well leading up to this that she was hoping to go.  I could not believe she made it and she looked great out there! It made me happy to see Paulette and Becky running together!

The second lap felt a little harder. The wind was catching up with me. I just kept moving at whatever pace felt very good. I was happy.  I was moving.  Nothing hurt.  It was nice.

I see Anthony on the side and he yells out cheerfully… "You are running too fast!  :)"  I know what he meant. He did not mean that he thought I needed to slow down because I was running faster than my fitness. He meant, "You made me put you on the B-Team and now you are running faster than I thought you would run!" I wanted to yell back "I am sorry, but not really!"

M5 7:35, M6 7:41, M7 7:51, M8 7:51

I see Anthony again and he asks "Do you have any clothes you want to throw at me!"

I know Anthony likes this race because it is cold at the start and when he spectates the women's team (he is the Captain) will throw him their hats and gloves at him.  Anthony likes to tell people that ladies throw their clothes at him at M4M… LOL!

I answer "Yes I do!"and hand Anthony my mittens and tell him "These are my Magic Mittens. You cannot not lose them!!!" I think I scared myself with my seriousness about my mittens!  And then I ran terrified the rest of the race that I would never see those mittens again. I think I hurried up so I could get them back safely.  I do trust Anthony (really more than I trust mostly anyone), but those mittens are the only mittens that keep my Raynaud's under control and they are not produced any more.

My legs were running out of strength. I forget to take the gel that I brought for the 7 mile mark.  I take it at 9.5 instead. Better late than never.  It didn't make running feel better, but my fatigue did not get worse.  Even as I tired and I knew I could finish!

M9 7:51, M10 7:55, M11 7:54, M12 7:57

I tried to give a little kick at the end. I just wanted to finish.
Last .47 3:30 (7:28 pace)

A few minutes later, Kim finished very strong. She surpassed her goal with a killer kick as usual!

Time: 1:36:21 (7:46) Gun Time, no start mat
OA: 131/327
Gender: 24th
AG: 5th

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My First Parkrun, London,UK, 3/12/16

Last week, Sidney and I went to London. It was our 6 year wedding anniversary and he wanted to see his girlfriend. I am pretty accommodating, but I had one requirement. If I went to see Natalie Merchant with him, he had to run a race with me.  (Yes, Natalie Merchant is "his girlfriend." It is no secret he is infatuated with her.)

At first, I had Sidney convinced to travel to the Lydd (a remote coastal town) to run a 20 miler. I also had him convinced, briefly, that he really wanted to run a marathon in March so this would be perfect!  But once Sid returned to full time military orders his ability to train was reduced from 8-10 milers with me to 3 milers with the dogs. We both realized that a marathon for Sid was not happening. There was no reason to spend 2 days of our vacation trekking out to the middle of nowhere for a 20 miler he would not be prepared for or interested in running.

I found a 10 miler about 45 minutes away. Sid was willing to do this.  This would likely be he longest run I would get but we did not plan on renting a car so I wasn't sure if this would work for us.

However, as luck would have it I recently began coaching a wonderful man (Alan) from the UK.  In his assessment he mentioned that he enjoyes weekly "Parkruns".  I asked what that was. He sent me a few very informative links and I learned just how wonderful these Parkruns are.

Each Saturday all over the UK, and other parts of the world, there are Free 5k races.  I googled the events map and found that there was a parkrun schedule 2 miles from our hotel.  Sid agreed to run with me to the race, race the 5k, and then run home!  I was so excited to run my first overseas race, even if it was just a 5k!

The way a Parkrun works is amazing. Once you register for free and you are set up with a barcode.  You print this out (and if you are smart, you laminate it).  You bring this barcode to the race.  After a brief meeting, everyone is sent off.  Volunteers line the course directing runners. When you finish you are give a token with a barcode on it as well.  As soon as you catch your breath, you walk over to a volunteer who scans your Parkrun barcode and then your token.  About an hour or so later you have online race results.

The event was so efficiently organized. We ran over to the race, arriving just 5 minutes before the start, found the pre-race meeting, ran the event, handed in our token, sat for a few minutes and by 45 minutes later the event was over and the park was cleared out.  It was if nothing had happened.  It was like a flash mob of 5k runners just converged and took over the park for less than an hour and then suddenly were gone.  I just loved this!

So how did my first 5k overseas go, you ask? Well, not so good.

I have not had back pain since January.  I was so happy.  I had run two marathons pain free and countless training runs without needing to stop.  I had not pushed my pace in training, but I had almost forgotten what the pain felt like. I was not sitting as much for work and making sure to stretch and find time for some crunches (not as much as I should, but it was working nonetheless).

Saturday morning, after the first night of sleep in the hotel bed, I woke up unable to stand. I could not walk without pain. I could not stand long enough to make a cup of coffee from the Krups machine.  I still wanted to try to run.

I hoped that the muscles would relax during the jog over.  We took our time making our way to the park. I needed so many breaks on the way that we almost missed the race completely.  If we did not find it so easily we would have been too late.  We arrived at 8:55 for a 9:00 race!

As we stood at the start, I turned to Sid and said "These next 3 miles are going to feel like 100!"

He asked what I planned to do. I said "Run hard. Maybe if I move fast it won't be as bad as the slow run here? This will be the only chance I have all week to run sub-8 pace or better? I have to try!"

The signal to start was given and I tried to run. My pace was about 7:30.  I still felt some lingering breathing difficulty from the pneumonia and I had left my inhaler at the hotel.  Everything was just going wrong.

I didn't even make it one mile before I had to stop from pain so bad that it buckled me.  Down to my knee at .9 miles in I waited in pain for Sid to catch up. When he caught me, we walked a bit and I briefly couldn't hold back my emotions. This was the first time my back pain brought me to tears and not from the pain.

I have been managing the sadness of not being able to run well for almost a year now. But now my heart was broken.  I was pain free for almost 3 months. I was starting to believe that maybe all this distress was behind me (despite doctors telling me that I won't get better).  Butt now, in London, at a simple little 5k that I had looked so forward to, the pain was back and so much worse than ever! It just hurt my heart.  I never had pain when standing.  I never had pain when walking.  I wanted to just run 3 miles, but here I was hardly able to stand.

Sid just said "I am so sorry".  He knows how much this breaks my spirit.

After a few minutes of walking the muscles loosened some.  We jogged a very slow mile while I gathered myself and thought about realistic options.  The last mile was finished off with a run/walk. We logged a time of 32:55. I was 17th from last in a field of over 150.

The run/walk home was horrible, but we had to get there.

For the rest of my vacation, each morning I woke up in severe pain. Running was almost impossible first thing in the morning, but we did run each day when my back could handle at least one non-stop mile. Walking was easier but still painful. I needed to stop and sit often.  This was the worst my back has ever been.  I was considered ending my running streak and taking up a new sport. I could not imagine running pain-free anymore and now even walking caused pain.

Despite the back pain, London was amazing.  Because we did not have a car, I managed to still cover over 80 miles on foot during week seeing sights and being a tourist.  We took the Tube out to London Tower and ran/walked/sat on benched stopping at every tourist location on the way (Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Big Ben, the Eye, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Hyde Park, etc…)  We saw a great play.  We shopped.  We walked along the Thames at night. We ate great foot. We drank great wine. We SLEPT!  Oh how I have missed sweet sweet sleep!

On the day we were supposed to see Natalie Merchant, Sid was up all night with either a stomach bug or food poisoning! (ok, maybe all the food was not so great). He could not leave the hotel for over 12 hours. But just before it was time to go to the concert, he started to improve.  He wanted to try to go, so we went.  Natalie Merchant did not disappoint. :)

The best news for me is that after just one night home, back in my own bed, my back pain disappeared. I have been able to stand, walk, and run again pain free since my return!  This is hopeful.  I am not yet ready to quit.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Caumsett 50K National Championship, Caumsett Park, NY, 3/6/16

What a day!  I shouldn't have gone to race but I am so glad I went. Most of the excitement of the day was not because of anything I accomplished, but rather it was about witnessing amazing people doing amazing things and surprising themselves!

After my wonderful experience at the Central Park Marathon on 2/21, I ended up with pneumonia by 2/23. I have no idea how I could get so sick so fast, but I can't recall the last time I was so ill.  I had 102.5 fevers on and off for three days.  My chest was so congested I could hardly function. I did not leave my house for 5 full days.  I couldn't eat.  I woke up each night soaked in sweat, too cold to get out of bed to find dry clothes. I started sleeping with a change of clothes bedside so I didn't have to go far.  My fever broke by Thursday.

While sitting home sick, I managed to design and develop a new national running club. I am quite proud of that accomplishment. I wrote to sponsors and got support in return. I got my club members discounts of races and gear in return for sharing sharing information about sponsor with my club.  Kim helped me get it all set up by letting me bounce ideas off her non-stop for days. Her endurance for my obsessiveness is impressive! People have already joined and our group has blossomed.  We have a photo contest and a race series taking place for prizes and a very supportive Facebook group of kind people united by the love of running.  More information for my new club be found here -

I did drag myself to the doctor during my illness for a chest X-ray and 10 days of antibiotics (Yes the bad kind that carries a risk of tendon rupture. I just could not bring myself to protest the prescription. If anyone looked at me or heard me speak, suggesting I might be planning to run during my illness was too ridiculous for even me to say out loud.  I still managed to run 1 mile each day, but we won't talk about how this was the only time in my 5 years of streak running that I felt foolish for running. But now that I feel better, I am glad I did run those 10 minutes each day.)

I went to Caumsett because I had seven runners in one of the two events (the 50k or the 25k). I knew many were ready to race well and I had to be there to witness their hard work.

I started my race with Kim and Mark with a plan to set them off on pace to break 5 hours. This was Kim's first 50k and Mark's second. Jessica and Rich were racing their first 50ks. Rebecca was there running the 50k Nationals for the second year in a row.  Nikki and Bryan were running the 25k for training, although Nikki realized she had a shot to win and make a little bit stronger effort.  In addition to this ultra, I had Steven and Julian racing a 40 miler event in PA.  Today was an exciting day for my runners.  I get more excited for them than I do myself.

I also got to see RayK again. I realized I may not have seen him in years!  How is it possible for so much time to pass. But we talk so often it doesn't feel like we are that far apart.

As soon as we started running, we did not even get 1 mile and I knew this was not going to go well for me. Kim could just tell.  Ray took off and had a great run! Every step I took was a struggle. It was simply too soon for me to be running hard. My body was very tired. My muscles had not moved much in about 14 days by this time. This was more than a healthy taper.  It seemed closer to atrophy.

I decided to stay with Kim and Mark through Lap 5 (15.5 miles) and then I would let them go.  We were moving at about a 9:30 pace and I could hold that pace well, but I just felt miserable.  I found that if I moved a little faster, I felt better but I could not hold the pace for that long.

At one point I spent some time catching up with Trishul, who is always supportive and understanding.  We shared a little about goals and plans and I caught him up on my back problems and pneumonia.  I decided I wanted to catch back up to Kim and Mark but they had pulled ahead by quite a margin. I dropped my pace to 8:20 and felt better moving that fast. Then I felt a shocking muscle spasm to my groin.  I slowed the pace but I could feel that something was going wrong.  I continued to feel spasming, in both sides now as I tried to run.  I slowed more and could not find a pace that was comfortable. Soon I was running 10:30 pace and still feeling like I was doing damage.  The waves of spasms when I lifted my legs eventually made it clear that 21 miles was enough running for the day.

I started walking and ended up with a guy named Joe. We walked and talked about everything. Pilots and Paws, us both having pneumonia last week, running races, etc.   It was very nice to have company. I decided to walk one more lap.  Walking was not sending shock waves of spasms, but running was not possible any more. I suspect that the antibiotics, plus the complete shut down of activity for two weeks,   made my body too weak to handle the demands of running a 50k event.

As Joe and I walked my final lap, I got to see almost everyone I was training for the 50k pass by. It was wonderful to see so many on pace for great performances.  Mark set a marathon PR en route to a 32 minute 50k PR, even with the last few miles catching up with him.

Kim broke 5 hours at her first 50k!  This makes me so happy b/c she came back from a very bad stress fracture. We started over completely and now she can jump into marathons as training runs and run 31 miles nonstop at 9:27 pace!

Jessica ran a 4:25 and placed 8th OA Female and Rebecca ran a 4:07 for 6th place OA Female also taking 32 minutes off her 50k PR.  Nikki took second in the 25k and Bryan ran a perfect negative split LR ending with sub-marathon race pace.  Rich had a tough day, but had ambitious goals. We knew it was risky.  Sometimes you just have to take the risk and leave your heart out there. He had figured out things that contributed to difficulties of his run and that is what training and racing is about.

At the 40 miler, Steven PR'd but that was a gimmie b/c he never ran 40 miles before. However he did win his AG so that is something to be very pleased with.  Julian managed to master his fueling and take over an HOUR off his 40 mile race PR.

I may have not run well, but I had realistic expectation going into this race.  My back felt perfect this entire run and that to me is a Win.  I know I am ready to train again.  I just did not want a groin strain to knock me out longer.  I make a very safe choice and I am happy with that decision. My lungs are still congested but my body feels fine.  I ran today and felt stronger.  I have a lot of goals ahead of me and some weight I need to loose so I can feel better about my fitness. I need to be able to train to accomplish these plans.

Monday, February 29, 2016

2016 Incentive for Clifton Road Runners who race Team Championship Events

Race season is starting soon. Miles For Music 20k on March 20 officially kicks off the 2016 NJ Team Racing Season!

Do you live in NJ? Do you want to race with a team?  Become a member of USATF and declare your affiliation with Clifton and I can offer you some coaching incentives! 

I would like to encourage runners of all abilities to participate in the Team Championship Races, while offering a small incentive to any of my Clifton Teammates who would like to work with me as their coach.

Since my rates are kept very low, I do not have the ability to offer discounted services. However, I do sincerely hope that some of my Clifton Teammates will find this small incentive helpful as they pursue their running-related goals.

2016 Team Racing Incentive for Clifton Road Runners:
$10 Credit towards any Coaching or Training Service with Creating Momentum Coaching for any runner who is a USATF Member and completes a 2016 Team Championship Race for their Division as a Clifton Road Runner.

- This Incentive must be redeemed within 6 months of completing a Team Championship Race. 
- There are many team races in 2016 for each Division. Incentives can be earned for every team race 
  you run for your division (Open or Masters) during the year.
- Incentives earned at the end of 2016, can be used into 2017, as long as it is still within 6 months from 
  the date of the Championship race. 
- You must race for Clifton Road Runners and you must be a member of USATF. 
- You do not need to be a scoring member to earn the Incentive. You just need to participate
- To redeem your Incentive, you must notify Creating Momentum of which race you completed and
  request your Incentive. Participation as a Clifton Runner must be verified. 

Just like with any new client, all runners must complete an Assessment before they can be accepted as a client.  Online Coaching Roster and In-Person Training slots are limited by availability.  

For More Information: 
Please see this page to join Clifton Road Runners
- Please see this page to join USATF-NJ to be eligible to race for the team!
- Please see this page to see the Team Championship Race Calendar
- Please see this page for more information on Coaching or Training Services

Monday, February 22, 2016

NYCruns Central Park Marathon, Central Park, NYC 2/21/16

This is my first Race Report in a long time. There is a lengthy prologue to explain what has happened (so I have my thoughts written out somewhere). The race reports starts in its own section, so please feel free to skim down! :)
The Prologue

After much patience and many changes focused on repair and recovery, I finally felt ready to give another marathon a try. Over the last few months I have been able to run further without pain. Incidence of back spasms have disappeared from my daily routine. Although I saw 5 doctors, all focused exclusively on what I do for exercise and how to change that ("stop when it hurts").

I have a completely dried out disc that will never be repaired and I have mild scoliosis that causes me to strain my back. When I experience spasms, they paralyzed me. I was told that my age (40) has finally caught up with me and my pain can only be managed.  I was told not to expect to reverse anything as discs don't grow back. I was told that continuing to run in pain would only cause quicker deterioration. I eventually would have pain when not running and trouble walking. I was told to stop running completely by one spine specialist. 

Back on November 12th, as I walked back to my car, very very upset, I called Kim and she asked what that specialist said.

Me: (heartbroken and sarcastic) "He told me I should go home and kill myself!"

Kim: "What?!  He didn't say that!!?"

Me: "Not exactly. He said I need to stop running, maybe forever! He said I will end up not walking if I keep running.  He said every step is trauma to my spine and I am breaking myself!  If I agree to stop running, go to PT for 8 weeks or more, then he MIGHT allow me to run for a few minutes! But he can't be sure until he sees me again. He basically told me to just stop being who I am. Running is my life! He told me I may never be able to run again and I need to stop running now!"

Kim: "What are you going to do?"

Me: "Well, he said he doesn't really know why I am in pain when I run. He doesn't realize I have practically stopped running for a long time time now.  He said I could try running when I am pain-free when not running. I am already pain-free when not running!  I told him this. I don't know what he is waiting for?  I barely train. I'm not stopping. Not right now. I will think about my options at the marathon when I run with you and Gary. I am not messing around with PT because I don't have any time in my schedule for that. I need time to think."

Then I ran Bucks and dropped out at mile 20, running the majority of that race in pain, both physical and emotional. A big part of myself was dying and I needed time to say good-bye.  

My heart and soul have been a bit broken since then. I have had many angry rants (to Dave, to Mark) to many friends who have expressed their absolute certainty that I will recover. I have raged back saying, "No I won't! You can tell me you KNOW I will get better! This will never get better! The doctors have told me so. Five doctors! The problems I have don't heal. They only get worse in time. It is degenerative and it is happening because I am getting older. How can I not get older? PT is not a time machine! I can't rebuild a disc!  Sure, I can try to get stronger, I can do that myself, but I already do a lot. I'm not a couch potato. I am not weak. I can't fix something that is not fixable. I have to accept my fate. I have to just be proud of everything I have been able to do during my life as a runner after my cancer and be grateful I have had 10 good years racing well. But if people think I will beat this and get better, they are all wrong. It breaks my heart to know that I will let everyone down. Then I will fade away from the sport and become completely irrelevant. And I don't know how to stop any of this from happening to me." (Can you say histrionic and a bit hysterical. And I have apologized for being dramatic and obnoxious).

Starting in December, rather than focus my attention on training (which made up such a small and diminishing part of my day), I made an effort to accurately assess what I was doing during the rest of my 24 hours. I purchased a fitness tracker.  I discovered that due to my intense work schedule and my ability to endure long sessions at my desk, I was breaking myself with prolonged sitting. On days I did not run much, I was lucky to get 5000-6000 steps, sometimes as low as 4000 steps with a minimum  mile run included.

I have been working 7 days per week for over a year now, either as a therapist or running my coaching business. Even when on vacation I am working. In July, I added graduate school (a lot more sitting). I stopped updating this blog because I just needed to stop sitting at a computer and I ran out of time.  I was running a lot of 1 mile days. I was breaking my back by NOT running. I needed to start over.

The changes that have helped me the most have been target at least 10,000 steps per day (yes, this an arbitrary number but it helps me) and still get my work done. I break up prolonged sitting. I stretch in small ways throughout the day now as part of life, not as a separate session of exercise.  I changed my work schedule at the hospital so I could disperse my coaching and school work over more days.  Sometimes I need to get on my treadmill and walk while replying to emails from my clients to get my 10,000 steps. Treadmill desks do not work for me. I still have days at 6000 steps, but not as many. My weekly average is looking much better. I stopped trying to do an unsustainable amount of work. I needed to get some time back to spend on living life, enjoying the people I care about, and having adventures.

I lost so much joy over the past year. But I cope well, so not many know how sad I truly have been. I lost my soul. But yesterday I felt amazing! I am getting my life back. I feel like myself again! I am cautiously optimistic. All this back trouble may become a memory that I read about here years later. I hope. But I am not ready to be "absolutely certain" just yet. 

The CP Marathon

Kim, Alanna, and I wanted to run this as a long training run. This took a lot of pressure off both of us. I was very nervous about running a marathon again. My last marathon hurt my back and I had to drop. I ran a half with Sid and Veronica in January at an easy pace and my back was spasming a bit.

I am eternally grateful to have Kim as my pacer, even though it seems like it should be the other way around. I could easily write "Oh, I could run faster but I paced Kim today so that is why my marathon time is about an hour slower than my best effort"… but this would be a lie.

I may have been able to run a little faster, but I truly needed the support of a friend nearby while I tried to do something that could go badly. I know that I am helping Kim, too, as she grows as a marathoner.  I know that I can pull our pace whenever we need to as long as I can move. But I need her help just as much as she needs mine. Thank you, Kim. I know you are helping me heal.

I met Kim at Rahway and we took the train in. I had Alanna's bib so we needed to find her before the start. We met at gear check at 8:15 (for an 8:30 start). We needed to use the porto-potty and then get to the start 1/2 mile away… and somehow the universe just made this happen without a glitch. I got to meet Rebecca Schwartz (who I have been coaching for a long time time) for the first time in person, but she too needed to get herself to the start. I wish I had more time to talk with her. But I know I will see her again soon.

The race is 5 laps with the start and finish in different locations. Kim and I had a plan to average 9:45 pace.  Initially, I wanted us to run even splits, but the weather was a gift and a faster pace felt easy.

I was in a singlet and capris. I would have worn shorts but I was worried about chafing since I have not run a Long Run in shorts in a long time. We both had on our Creating Momentum caps and Creating Momentum shirts. Alanna and Rebecca did as well! I felt so proud to see the shirts being worn at a marathon! :)

We were too fast at M1 8:59 and M2 9:06, but we settled down into a 9:15-9:30 pace.
M3 9:20
M4 9:14
M5 9:33

I was having breathing problems? I had already used my inhaler so I am not sure why I was having trouble. By the second lap, my breathing was no longer an issue. We ran comfortably and I felt great! Kim looked so fluid that I was wondering if we would have a much better finish time than we expected. By mile 8, I could tell that it was taking a little bit more effort to maintain the pace. Not too much effort, not a hard effort... just a little more effort than miles in 1-8.

A couple, not in the race, asked how far we were running. The guy told us he and his training partner had just run 19 miles! They looked so fresh and I commented "That is fantastic! You don't have anything with you. No water bottles!  No Nothing!!" He laughed at me. Then he admitted that they had just started running. He said they were from Clifton NJ so I tried to recruit them to join my running club (Clifton Road Runners). We ran together for a mile, talking about races and things runners talk about. Then they slowed down a little and we moved on, grateful for their company.

Besides the gel I took at the start, I took my first gel at mile 9.
M6 9:15
M7 9:21 
M8 9:24 
M9 9:13 
M10 9:26

As we started the next loop, I still felt phenomenal! No pain. I felt free. I felt strong. I felt like I could run forever.  Kim told me I looked good.

I told her it was probably because I ate an entire pound cake practically by myself over the previous two days so I was pretty carb loaded. ;)

But Kim looked a little stressed or concerned. I wasn't sure what was going on. I told her how I really just like to focus on getting to mile 14. Once I get to mile 14, I feel like the last 12 miles are manageable. She didn't look convinced. She wasn't really complaining about anything. She was just quiet and not being a jokester like usual. The pace was still good.

At some point during this loop she said she was getting too hot. The hat was holding in her sweat and she was getting crusty with salt. (I may need to find thinner hats?)  We both took salt the lap prior so it was not odd to be a little crusty. At mile 12, I convinced her to take off her hat and give it to me.  Once the heat shield was off her head, she looked better but we decided to settle down and regroup a bit. The miles were starting to catch up. It was too early for us to be working too hard.
M11 9:28
M12 9:53
M13 9:40
M14 9:45
M15 9:56

On the fourth lap, things became hard. It seemed like it got windier and we were getting cold. We were both getting cranky. Kim got annoyed that a dog was walking too slowly across the course and then I got annoyed that a toddler was permitted to ride his scooter against the flow of runners on the inside of the tangent!

"What is wrong with people!!! Can they NOT see this is a race!"

"Um, sounds like somebody could use a snickers!"

Since we were clearly crushing it out there ;) we decided to ease off the gas for the 4th lap so that we could have a fighting chance at a strong 5th and final lap.  It was time for some music.  Kim's phone gave her a little trouble so she stopped briefly to get it working. The music seemed to help a little (when the radio was not playing slow-dance music from the 80s!)

"Nice play-list"

"It's not my play-list!!! It's the stupid radio!"

"Whatever! I know you purposely put "Lady in Red"on the marathon play-list"

"!%@ You! … I did not!"


I took another gel on this lap. I start making jokes that she is Shalane and I am Amy and I will talk her though this as we climbed Cat Hill. The last half a mile of the loop was all downhill. We just need to get to the top of the last hill and we will get gravity to assist us to the finish!
M16 11:16 (putting on music)
M17 10:14
M18 9:58
M19 10:19
M20 9:59
M21 10:42

The Mile 21 marker was near the finish. We would have 5.2 miles left for our last lap. We had faded to regroup. I suggested that whatever the clock says, we should add 52 minutes to that time as a goal and then try to beat that time in. The clock said 3:25:xx. If we held 10 minute pace we would come in around 4:18. So that was our goal.

Kim was feeling dizzy and she wanted to grab fluid at the first aid station and make sure she got it in.  We slowed to drink and then started our dig. We worked all the descents on this rolling loop. (We did well, dropping the pace of our last lap by 40 seconds per mile).

At one point in mile 23 (9:18 mile), Kim tells me she is seeing double. I am getting worried, but she is smart and takes care of herself.  If she wanted to slow down she would.

In mile 24, Kim says, "You can go on and run faster if I want to."

"LOL!! Yeah, we run 24 miles together and NOW I take off and finish, what, maybe a minute ahead of you! Yeah, Ok… I'll go do that right now. ;)  Uh no, I'm staying with you, unless, of course, I see Desi coming, then I'm outta here. I'm gettin' to Rio with or without you!" ;)

If Kim could speak, I am sure it would have been "!%@ You!

We work to get to the top of the last climb. Kim is breathing like crap. There is nothing I can do to help her. When you kick hard, breathing often sounds like crap.  I look at my watch and we have 0.5 miles left (if the markers line up with my Garmin. I did hit M25 exactly when we passed the sign for M25).

We hit 25.7 miles at 4:09 "We have 6 minutes to run a half mile and that will get us sub-4:15! We got this!"

I am looking for M26…Then my Garmin beeps at 26 and there is no M26 marker.

"COME ON!!!  Really?! Where is 26!"

We pass the M26 Marker at 26.1 on my watch.

"Seriously! This means we won't break 4:15 unless we really dig."

Kim digs. Really digs. Last .33 miles was an 8:21 pace to the finish.  But we just miss breaking 4:15 by 12 seconds! Grrr.

M22 9:49
M23 9:18
M24 9:33
M25 10:03 (uphill mile)
M26 9:30
Last "0.33" 8:21

We needed a little visit to the med-tent to make sure Kim's dizziness was nothing serious (it was not) and once sitting she felt better. She tells me that during the majority of the race she had a very upset stomach. That was the look of concern I saw early on. I wonder if the shockingly super-sweet gatorade at the first aid station caused her trouble. It was like syrup, but it was corrected by the next lap. In a few minutes, her heart rate dropped to normal and we left to cheer Alanna in to her finish!

What a great day!

I ran for 4:15 practically non-stop without pain. Kim ran only 14 minutes slower than her PR (set on a much faster course) for a training run while battling stomach issues. Alanna came in a few minutes later looking strong and really the fittest I have ever seen her look since I met her! :)

Things are turning around!

Time 4:15:12
Average pace: 9:44  (exactly what we hoped for)
AG 10th

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Guest Blogger: Nikki's new 3:07 PR at The Rehoboth Beach Marathon! 12/5/15

I have featured a race report by Nikki before, but I could not resist asking her to please share her experience at Rehoboth. If there was ever an example of how to run a race with control and confidence, here it is.  People have great races that often surprise them.  But that is not what happened here.  Nikki showed up with a plan and then stuck to it. That is one of the hardest things for a marathoner to do. It takes complete discipline and control. It takes letting other pull away and not drag you past your redline…  It takes knowing yourself and what you want to do despite everything happening around you.  But once a marathoner understands that it is possible for him or her to negative split the marathon, limitations are annihilated and massive personal records can be set.

Congratulations Nikki!  Almost 20 minutes off your marathon PR in just 7 months!  You work so very hard and it shows!  I am happy to see how wonderful you are doing! Thank you for sharing your experience here and letting me be a part of your journey!

I’m cruising down Rehoboth Avenue in the low 6s… slow down. Half marathoners and marathoners alike start to pass me from all sides. I love running a race where the marathon and half marathon start together because the half marathoners go out SO fast. It’s fun to be part of but it is tempting to press the paces early when you run with half marathoners… 640s, still too fast so I continue to pump the brakes as we weave through town. Somewhere around 7:05 pace I decided I had probably slowed down enough over the last few tenths of a mile to find “marathon pace” so I settled in… First mile, 7:08.

Over the next two miles as we kept to the streets of Rehoboth I focused on my breath. This had been a really good indicator of things to come at the Liberty Half Marathon. I was cautiously optimistic… breathing was easy and I was feeling much better than I had at Wineglass at this point but it was so early. So much could go wrong. And what is with all this headwind? (Miles 2 and 3, 7:14 and 7:19)

We entered the first trail portion of the race around mile 3. I thought I was going to hate this, but with the trail came a break from the wind so for the moment I felt relieved. The spectators were few and far between and for me trail running is a pace killer, but it was on the trail that the marathon broke from the half marathon and it was so peaceful and scenic. I was surprised to see a 7:13 on my watch at mile 4. Maybe trail running wasn’t so bad.

My ride on the trail running bandwagon ended a mere mile later with my slowest mile of the race. Mile 5 in 7:28. I tried not to panic, but I could feel my turnover slowing a bit. Was I already falling apart? I pressed a little bit to try and get back to my goal pace of between 7:15 and 7:20. Mile 6 and 7 were perfect but they felt harder than they should and I was starting to hate this trail running thing again. (7:17 and 7:20). We hit a fairly steep decline during mile 8 so I decided to seize the opportunity to pick up a little time and try and kick start my legs again. It totally worked! I came through mile 8 at 6:56 feeling rejuvenated and confident. Mile 8 was where I knew things were going to go awry at Wineglass so I did another body check. I felt incredible. Like holy cow incredible… but again, it was still so early and there was so much race left. I settled back into my prescribed pace. Mile 9 and 10 in 7:17 and 7:20. Chronotrack had set up a 10 mile split. I didn’t have the exact number in my head at the time but per the website I came through this marker at 1:12:49. (7:17 average pace).

Back on the road I moved from third female to fourth female when the eventual second place female finisher came up on my right shoulder. I told her if she kept this up she would be well under 3:10 pace. I asked if that had been her goal… she said she didn’t really have a goal except to finish as this was her first marathon… WOW. Just wow. I let her go, knowing I’d never see her again. She had pulled me through mile 11 at 7:09 pace… too fast for this point in the race so I let her go and I settled back into a 7:16 pace for mile 12. This was an exciting part of the race because we had hit the turnaround of
the first out and back. There were also some spectators along this part of the course which was awesome given the trail miles were almost entirely without human contact.

A few tenths of a mile before I went back onto the trail a very nice cyclist pulled alongside me to see how I was doing. He wanted to know if I was leading the women’s race. No way, man I wasn’t even close. He offered up some words of encouragement, asked if I needed anything and off he went. Mile 13 (7:10) finished back on the trail and I was gearing up for another body check at the half. I came through the half in 1:34:44 dropping 3 seconds per mile from my average pace in just 3.1 miles. Excitement was starting to build, but I knew mile 14 was going to be a little tough and that is where Wineglass had crushed my spirits so I did my best to bury the excitement and stay focused. Mile 14, 7:09.

Something happened after mile 14. When I crested the small incline within that mile and didn’t want to simply die, I felt incredible. I realized that MAYBE, if I could hold on, I was going to break 3:10. Mile 15, 7:01. I told myself to slow down but I couldn’t… it was as though muscle memory was kicking in from all those progressions and my body said, “screw you I got this.” But mentally I was still very unsure of myself. Anything could happen it was way too early to be confident or certain of ANYTHING.

Jeff was waiting for me at mile 16. (7:02) I was surprised to see him so soon and so I just said the first thing that came into my head. “I’m going for it. I’m going under 3:10.” Yikes… was I really going under 3:10? Could I seriously manage to not fall apart at the end of a marathon??

I was back on the road and cruising along. Mile 17, 7:03. Maybe I should back off if I was to attempt a progression beginning at mile 18. Mile 18, 7:09. It was here that the cyclist I had seen up north met me for another body check. (Who is this man? Is he some sort of marathon guardian angel?) He rode along with me for a little while, offered some final words of encouragement and sent me on my way. Mile 19, 6:58.

It was right around here that we met up with the half marathoners again. They were the greatest! As I turned for the second out and back of the course, the runners on their way to the finish offered up TONS of encouragement and support. It was awesome. Mile 20, 7:00.

That incredible high was met with a crushing blow of more trail. This trail portion of the race was brutal because of the loose rocks and because I knew any chance I had of hitting the progression I had originally planned was lost. But I had less than 10K to go so I pushed on: mile 21 (7:06), mile 22 (6:59), and mile 23 (7:06).

I was starting to do a lot of math on those late trail miles. If I fall apart now I will finish at this time, and if I keep it together but slow a little from fatigue I can still hit that time… I had started picking off other runners a few miles back but this runner I came up on somewhere between 23 and 24 was one of the only ones I chatted with beyond a few pleasantries. I told him if we could keep it together we were going to come in under 3:10. “Well under,” he said. “You are going under 3:08.” STOPPIT, there is just no way. I mean maybe somewhere in the 3:08 – 3:09 range but 3:07? I don’t know I was feeling pretty tired. But with less than 3 miles to go, I could survive tired… maybe. Mile 24, 6:58. Mile 25, 6:54.

We were now back on the road and headed for home. All I had to do was hold on. It was not until this point in the race that I was absolutely certain I’d come in under 3:10. I kept thinking I could fall apart at any moment and lose 3:10 altogether. I didn’t even check my split at mile 26 (6:53). All I could do now was run as hard as I possibly could. I kicked down to a 6:43 pace through the finish. The time clock was off to the left and obstructed so I had no idea what I’d be coming in at. I caught the clock right before I crossed the line… 3:07:51 (7:11 average pace).

I hunched over, put my head in my hands, cried my eyes out for a second, and then pulled it together. I was done, and it was amazing.

I have two regrets in this race. The first is that I didn’t listen to the woman that yelled to me about how close the girl in third was. If this race had been 400 meters longer I’d have had a shot at third. I thought she was talking about a half marathoner that she mistook for a marathoner. Another pitfall of running with half marathoners I guess.

The other is that I didn’t stay for the post-race festivities. This was a fantastic race. It was well organized and super easy logistically. The spectators though few and far between in some spots were always fantastic and there was even more water stops than advertised. PLUS, the race photos were free this year! The town is adorable and I really wish we could have stayed to celebrate with the rest of the field. Next year :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Jump Rope To Improve Running Form

Here is a copy of an article I submitted to the Clifton Road Runners Monthly Newsletter!

If you reside in New Jersey and would like to become a member of Clifton Road Runners, please visit this website for more information about how you can join my team: 
Jump Rope To Improve Running Form
Shannon McGinn, Certified Running Coach, USATF, RRCA, NFHS
September 2015

One key component to efficient running form is good posture. Those who run with their posture out of alignment will waist energy trying to maintain an inefficient position.

To run our best, we want to run tall with a slight lean from the ankles. We want our feet to land under our center of mass, not out in front of us. If viewing from the side, we should be able to draw an imaginary line from our head, down our spine, through our hips to where our foot lands under our hips.

Momentum, from pushing off the ground with our back foot, carries our body forward over our planted foot. The back foot comes forward, traveling directly under our level hips and lands beneath our center of mass. Optimal cadence is approximately 180 steps per minute. Over-striding heel-strikers often have a hard time achieving this 180 step tempo, most due to the center of mass being behind the foot as it lands too far forward.

Jumping Rope:
One of the best reasons to jump rope as a runner is it reinforces efficient running form. Jump rope with poor form and you will not be able to sustain the rhythm and pace needed to jump continuously. Jump with proper form and you will find your flow. It just so happens that proper form for jumping rope mirrors ideal posture for running efficiently. To successful jump rope, the feet must land under the center of mass, directly under the hips, while the spine is held straight and tall. Slouching results in failed jumps. To practice ideal running form, consider adding jumping rope as a warm up, cool down, or cross-training activity.

How to get started:
Initially I assumed that since children can jump rope, getting started would be easy. I quickly learned that I had many questions: What type of rope? How long should it be? Where should I jump? How should I jump? To help me get the answers I needed I consulted Michael Schwartz, an experienced Crossfitter. He helped me figure out everything I needed to get started!

What Type of Rope: There are many types of ropes available, included beaded and weighted ropes. Schwartz explained that as an athlete I should consider a speed rope, which is a lightweight cable coated with plastic. These ropes are built to turn fast enough to sustain the paces needed for an adequate workout. He recommended I look at ropes from http://www.rxsmartgear.comGear. Another highly recommended site for quality jump ropes is

Correct Rope Size: Some ropes may be adjustable while others require you to purchase the appropriate length of cable. To find the proper length of rope for you, the simplest method is to add three feet to your height. However, jumpers under 5 foot 6 inches and more efficient jumpers may find that three feet is a bit too long for them.

A second method is to use a measuring tape (or the actual jump rope cable, if you need to cut it down). Line up the starting end of the tape or cable with the base of your pectoralis major muscle. Step on the tape or cable with one foot. Bring the remaining length of tape or cable back up to meet the starting end, at the base of your pectoralis major muscle. If you are measuring from your armpit you are measuring too high. The distance of this entire round-trip measurement should be very close to your height plus three feet. Cut the cable or make note of the length. Choose to cut the rope too long over too short if you are not sure. You may find that some further adjustments may be needed to find your optimal length rope, but this should get you started.

Where to Jump: Schwartz recommended that I not jump directly on the concrete pavers in my yard, as this will quickly degrade my rope. Instead, he suggested that I get a 4ft x 4ft piece of plywood and place it over the grass to create a supportive, shock-absorbing surface for my workout. Other suggestions include jumping on a matt or cardboard to protect the rope from breakage. When selecting where to jump, make sure that the mat, cardboard, or plywood surface is large enough to not catch the rope.

My Very Simple Jump Rope Routine: 
When I first got started, I tried few different methods of jumping. Eventually, I decided that I needed to keep it simple. This routine makes a good warm up, emphasizes good running form, and can be lengthened to become an additional workout.

(1) Double Hop (2 jumps per turn of rope) x 30 jumps, recover 5-20 seconds
(2) Single Hop (1 jump per turn) x 30 jumps, recover 5-20 seconds
(3) Left Leg, single hop x 30 jumps, recover 5-20 seconds
(4) Right Leg, single hop x 30 jumps, recover 5-20 seconds
(5) Running Step (Alternating Left Foot - Right Foot in a running motion) x 60 jumps (if counting each foot plant as 1 jump), recover at least 20 seconds before starting set over.

Repeat at least 3 times. Takes between 5-10 minutes to complete

I recommend easing into jumping rope by doing this routine only 3 days per week. Expect muscle groups that have not been used regularly to feel stressed, tired, and sore. Once you are acclimated this routine can be done daily. Advanced jumpers can reduce the recovery between jumps all the way down to 0 seconds and/or repeat this series more than 3 times. Eventually, you will become proficient enough to add more challenging jump steps to the set, such as Double-unders, where the rope must pass under the feet twice per jump.

Efficient running form and jumping rope both require good posture. A great way to train the body to hold efficient running form is by adding jump-rope to your training plan. I hope this article helps you get on your way to becoming a more efficient runner.


Shannon McGinn is an USTAF, RRCA, and NFHS Certified Distance Running Coach and the owner of Creating Momentum, LLC.  She is pursuing a Master of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Sports Psychology. She is a life-long runner, becoming more involved in racing after surviving cancer.  She considers herself a marathon and ultramarathon specialist, earning several USATF National Championship top 10 or better placements in the 50k and 50M distances. She has not missed a day of running since December 2011.  Please send questions  about this article to