Sunday, September 27, 2015

Newport Liberty Half Marathon, Jersey City, NJ. 9/20/15

"Do it for the Cannoli" ~ Anthony DiFiore
Oh boy. What a day.  I didn't have high expectations as my back has been in intermittent severe pain, which has been getting worse over the last 4 months.  It started slow, a spasm once every two weeks. Then one day per week, then twice per week. Usually I could stop stretch it out and keep running. It worked it way up to spasming almost daily and several times per run.  Every once in a while I would run pain free.

In August I made the first appointment I could find with doctor who seemed qualified to help me. That appointment was mid-Septemeber and I knew nothing would be figured out or resolved by the time I ran this race.

Kim and I wanted to run 20 miles. We also wanted to be present for this Team Championship. In the event that my back felt ok, I might be able to help the team score some points.  Kim had some unfinished business here so she wanted to return as well.

Photo by Becky Wiechman
We arrived at 6:30 to run 5 miles prior to getting ourselves organized and allowing some time to socialize. During this warm-up, my back was already in severe spasm. I had run 10 miles the day prior and it was one of the worst days for back pain I had so far.  Today would beat that. At 2.5 miles into our warm-up, there was so much pressure in my back I felt paralyzed by pain. I was able to lean forward to loosen up whatever was happening inside me.  After a few minutes of leaning forward and waiting, I could feel my back pain start to subside some. I was then able to run again. 2.5 more miles and the severe pain returned, but we were almost ready to start racing, so I just tried my best to loosen it up again.

Kim and I get into the corral. I move up front, finding Rich and Nikki, who were both racing very closely in pace and had similar race goals. I remind them to not go out like banshees and to save it for the end.  This race is windy and the sections along the water are usually bad.  Between 6 and 8.5 we usually fight the wind. By 8.5 it is usually much better as we move away from the water.  I remind them to not worry if their pace fall during that section. I also explain that despite my back pain, I am only starting up front so I can yell at them to slow down during Mile 1.

Gun goes off.  My back is a little loose. Usually after I stop running, the spasms settle so just standing around for a few minutes helped.  I also found that running faster sometimes hurts less than running slower, so I decide to just go out relatively fast to see what happened.  I hit M1 at a 7:05 pace. And for a moment I think, "Oh this feels good. Maybe this race will go better than I thought!" (LOL!)

Photo by Elaine Acosta
The for the next 2 miles everything started to deteriorate. By Mile 3, my back pain was back and my breathing was difficult, so I used my inhaler and it seemed to help.  It did not make the pain go away, but it did make it so I did not have to stop running.  I am not sure the connection but I did run the entire 13 mile race.

Between Mile 2 and Mile 10 my pace slowed from low 7:00's to 8:40 per mile.  I was simply trying to find a place where I could feel the least amount of hurt.  As I clenched my side, pressing my thumb into my back, trying to find a way to provide support or relieve, runners blew past me sharing their sympathy.

I was given lots of great advice, like how I should not go out so hard next time, or if I keep on training the side-stitches would eventually go away as I got fitter. I was also running, at one point, behind a woman taking selfies repeatedly which made me laugh.

I was overcome with emotion at that point.  Not because I could not run like I was running last year, but out of sincere fear that I may not ever be able to run fast again. If in just a few months time, I have deteriorated this far.  The initial diagnosis was that I have Scoliosis and that is all.  There is not explanation for why NOW did the scoliosis start to hurt me.  I was told to do some sit-ups and stretch. It that was my cure, I had little faith this would resolve my pain.  Since it is not clear what is going on, it just may be a matter of time before the obvious solution is suggested: "If it only hurts when you run, then don't run!"

I started to feel grateful that I could run an 8:40 pace. An 8:40 pace is not too shabby, especially when considering that some people can't run at all and soon I may be one of them if this back pain doesn't resolve.

Photo by Elaine Acosta
Somewhere between mile 7-8, Anthony runs up to me and says he is feeling good.  I was happy for him.  He has worked so very hard this training cycle, despite a setback that left him feeling like he needed to scale back his goal. I convinced him to give me some time and I could help him get back.  He made it through his struggle and got his training fully back on track. I really enjoy training Anthony because his heart for this sport is huge and he really thrives with some guidance.  He always equals or surpasses my goals for him.  He runs a minute with me, but I tell him to "Go on ahead. I am slowing you down." He makes a joke to help me feel better and tells me "Do it for the Cannoli!" or something like that.  :)

In Mile 9, Liz caught up with me and asked if I was ok. I said "No."  It was clear I was not. We start taking and as we chat I start to feel slightly better.  She mentions that Anthony has asked her to try to break 1:45. Our average pace was 8:08 and we were approaching 10 miles.  For some reason, as my back starts to loosen, I start to focus on trying to help her reach that goal. I am pretty sure Liz really didn't want or need my help (and the next time I see her I will apologize for offering unsolicited advice to her in the middle of her race).  I suggest that we just try to slowly pass people one at a time and not focus on how we feel.  We talk and when I tell her we have already passed the 10 mile mark and are almost to 10.5 she seems happy to have passed almost a mile quickly.  But she tells me to go ahead.  I wasn't ready. We had dropped our pace from an 8:40 to an 8:08 by the time we reached Mile 11 and I wasn't sure if I could go faster.

But then I suddenly begin to feel like myself again.  The back pain resolves and I can open my stride. I am pain free, completely.  It took 16 miles of "warm up" to get my back to be on my side.  I can't believe how good I feel, I don't know how long it will last, so I kick.  I feel like I am flying.  M12 - 7:15

I havent run a 7:15 mile in a long time, but it doesn't even faze me.  I keep pushing and see Anthony up ahead.  I yell out "Where's my Cannoli?!" Anthony glances back and starts dropping the pace.  I try to catch him, but he is fast! M13 - 7:05

The last .25 (long course) miles is intense. Anthony is about 20 seconds ahead of me, and he won't let up.  I try to dig and I can't get any ground on him.  He is digging too.  We are really moving.  Anthony holds me off, but it was awesome.  Last .25 6:19 pace.

Time: 1:45:15 (8:02 pace)
AG: 9th 
I was happy to find out later that I actually did score for the team, so all that pain wasn't for nothing.

After all was said and done, Anthony officially challenged me to race him in November. Winner gets a cannoli.  I better get this back thing figured out soon!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Guest Blogger: Nikki Drader, Sub-1:29 at the Newport Liberty Half Marathon, Jersey City, NJ. 9/20/15

For the last several months, I have been fortunate to have some fantastic runners training with me.  Even though my own training and racing has been hampered by some medical issues right now, it means a lot to me to still be able to experience the joy of racing through my ambitious athletes.  

Nikki Drader is one of the most talented runners I have been able to work with since I began coaching. I have no doubt that in the months and years to come, Nikki will continue to chip away at her PRs, rising to the podium in any race she chooses to select as a goal.  I am honored to be able to share this Race Report written by Nikki about her recent half marathon PR. The best part about this report is that this half marathon wasn't even her goal race for this season!  


Photo by Becky Wiechman

Race Report: Newport Liberty Half Marathon 
by Nikki Drader

I lined up at the start of the Newport Liberty Half Marathon with my training partner, Rich Timlen, and our Clifton Roadrunner teammates Rich Rubino, Nick Joannidis, and Frank Cunha. All of us were hoping to run around 1:30:00 so we planned to race as a pack. Shannon found us just before the start to talk race strategy. We received our instructions: hold back in the beginning of the race and hope to negative split. Expect headwind in the park and don’t be nervous if the pace began to fade as a result of it. I felt really calm, which is unusual for me when the race conditions are good.

I am never nervous for a race when the weather is horrible. Everyone’s expectations for your race are lower when the weather is bad. But when the conditions are good and expectations are high (this was my marathon predictor race after all) I am usually a head case. Not today. Today my legs felt great and my head was clear. Today I was keeping things light and fun.

Knowing that the first four turns of the race were lefts, we lined up on the left-hand side of the street a few rows back from the Start line. The gun sounded and off we went. I shot out onto the course like I always do and, like always, Rich reigned me back in with a pace check. We were running way too fast. We eased off the pace a bit, the guys took the lead, we were breathing easy, and the pack settled in. First mile, 6:35. 

It was somewhere between miles 1 and 2 that Rich assured me we were going under 1:30:00. He was certain, and you could see it in his running style. A confident Rich takes the lead, which I love because the guy is a human metronome. I settled in behind him and Rubino. Mile 2, 6:43. Still ahead of our goal.

We cruised through the first aid station. I wanted to practice my cup grabbing skills for the marathon so at every station I went for both water (offered first) and Gatorade, took a sip or two of each and tossed the rest. It was shortly after the first aide station that we ran up on Sergio Cano, another teammate of ours. We exchanged some encouraging words, we took a right up Grand, and the pack powered on. Mile 3, 6:52. 

I remember feeling a little nervous here because we had been steadily dropping pace, but there was a very small climb up Grand and once the terrain leveled out we settled back into a quicker tempo. I remember Nick’s reassuring words, “Nice and smooth” as we picked back up. Mile 4, 6:46.

As we turned toward the park after mile 4, I took the lead in our pack for the first time in the race. It was my turn to do the work for a while. Nick joined me. I think it was at the next aide station that I knocked three cups out of the hands of volunteers before I got hold of one. (I apologized to Rich for basically screwing him out of any water) Mile 5, 6:47.

Things get a little fuzzy in the park, primarily because all I can remember is the endless headwind and because I knew we would run a few miles here so I tried to tune out and focus on nothing but my rhythm and my breathing. Mile 6, 6:47. 

It was somewhere around here that Rich came up on my shoulder and said “remember your progression”. “Want to start now??”, I said, half joking. I remember feeling good despite the headwind, but cautious to push too hard this early and against so much resistance as we ran over the water. Mile 7, 6:44. 

I took my second Gu right before we came into the aide station at around mile 7.5. I also knew I was about to hit the turnaround and head right back into the wind so I held steady and waited for the gel to work its magic. Mile 8: 6:51. 

It was time to pick up the pace. There were five miles left and I was feeling very strong and well fueled. I also knew some tough terrain was coming from mile 9.5 to 10.5 (more on that later). I saw Rubino ahead of me and I focused on reeling him in. I thought about Shannon and how she did this all the time in races. Mile 9, 6:38. 

I saw two women ahead of me. “Take your time and reel them in”, I thought. Just like Shannon. By now I was running north up the most poorly paved path of all time. Mile 10, 6:36. 

The footing was awful, but I work in the area and run in the park all the time so I knew what to expect. Arland, who I had met with the pack as we entered the park, was ahead of me. We ran side by side for a while. I complained about the terrible pavement. (Really I mean how could it be THAT bad??) As I came out of the park and onto Jersey Avenue a spectator yelled to me… “Ninth female!” What??? I couldn’t believe it. I felt myself surge. Arland came with me. Mile 11, 6:33. 

2.1 miles to go and I was intent on keeping myself in the top ten so I pressed… hard! My favorite spectator on the course was waiting for me at around mile 11.5. Jim Olivola was not racing that day because he was recovering from an injury. If you know Jim, he is one of the most enthusiastic racing fans I know and it always makes me really happy to make him proud. When I saw him, the wheels came off. He assured me I was well under 1:30:00 pace and seeing him made me feel, well, rejuvenated! I saw him again as I rounded the corner onto the waterfront. I had about a mile and a half to go and there wasn’t another woman in sight. Mile 12, 6:22. 

I was starting to hurt a little, and with no other woman in my front or rearview I decided to back off a little bit. All I had to do now was hang on. I was almost home. At this point I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to come in under 1:29:00. My watch was telling me I had an extra quarter mile on the 13.1 mile course so I wasn’t sure if I would make it. It didn’t matter; I was back in Newport and about to finish this race in the top ten. Mile 13, 6:32. 

According to my ancient Garmin 305, I ran a 6:30 pace through the finish. I didn’t look at the clock until I hit the line… I’d bested my goal time by over a minute and my previous PR by over 5 minutes!

My last half was essentially a reverse progression run. Most of the longer races I ran went this way… it wasn’t until I started training with Shannon that I learned proper pacing. Thanks to her, this race goes down as the most fun race I’ve run to date. This was the first time I’ve raced in a pack and the first time I negative split any race over a 10K. 

Chip time: 1:28:40
9th female overall 
2nd woman in my age group

It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but now I know… trust the plan! :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

USATF XC 5k, Natirar Park, 8/30… and the first appointment with a Sports Medicine Specialist.

Short Report: USATF-NJ 5k

After running the Self-Transcendence Marathon with surprisingly little back pain, 5 days later I attended the USATF-NJ 5k XC Championship.  Kim, Steve, and I met early to use the race as hill workout. We ran 8 miles before the race, on the rolling hilly course and then lined up in the heat/humid to race the last 3.1 of our day's mileage.  

Throughout the warm up, I felt my back getting bothersome. I took any opportunity I could to stretch in the only way the brings me relief by leaning forward until whatever hurts just decides to stop hurting.   I was still a little hopeful that the race might be painless, as I just managed to run a marathon so I should be able to run 3 miles.

Turns out that was not the case.  I did not run a terrible race. I found a pace that allowed me to run without needing to stop.

I average 7:33 per mile. It wasn't my best experience. The pain is intermittent while running.  I do have some pain free moments still.  But I knew I would need to see a doctor.

The very next Monday I called to make an appointment with a sports medicine and spine specialist.  I wasn't able to get an appointment for 10 days from when I called.  Until then, I continued to run because that is what I do for myself and with clients (while monitoring pain and trying to identify triggers, to no avail).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence Marathon, Rockland Lake State Park, NY, August 25, 2015.

It is about time I ran another marathon. I like this race.  But it is not an easy event. It is late August. It is 9 laps.  Some parts of the course are very open in the hot sun.  It starts at 7 am so the first hour is ok, but after that it just gets hotter and hotter.

The race is small, maybe only 300-400 runners. The event is directed by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team.  This is the same group responsible for the World's Longest Race (3100 miles around 1 half mile block in Queens) and the 6/10 days races.  Despite its small size, runners from all over the world attend it.

Here is some information about Sri Chinmoy:
"Chinmoy Kumar Ghose, better known as Sri Chinmoy (27 August 1931 – 11 October 2007), was an Indian spiritual master who taught meditation in the West after moving to New York City in 1964. Chinmoy established his first meditation center in Queens, New York, and eventually had thousands of students in 60 countries. A prolific author, artist, poet, and musician, he also held public events such as concerts and meditations on the theme of inner peace. Chinmoy also advocated athleticism to achieve spiritual enlightenment, including distance running, swimming, and weightlifting. He organized marathons and other races, and was an active runner and, following a knee injury, weightlifter."(
This year was special for few reasons. This would be Kim's second marathon ever and this time she was running it only as a long run (with the option to stop at 20-22 miles) as part of a bigger training cycle.  It is really a wonderful thing to be so fit that you run marathons just for fun! :)  Alanna was back again this year. She was the person who reminded me about the event.  But most impressively, to me at least, was that Elizabeth was coming along. First, I can't believe she got up at 3 am for this! She only recently became motivated to run long distance. The amount of dedication she has demonstrated, despite some major obstacles is impressive.  None of us had grandiose goals. No one expected an August marathon to yield fast times, but we all just wanted to see what we could do and have fun.

I started towards the front. I wasn't sure if I could even finish this, seeing my back has been giving me a lot of problems lately.  But I was able to race a 5k well, just a few days prior, so I thought I had a chance.  If not, I would like to get as far as I could, at a decent pace, and count this as a good marathon training Long Run.  

photo by Elizabeth Jimenez
As we reach the first bridge, I hear someone say "You're first female!" But of course I think he is either mistaken or talking to someone else.  As I cross the bridge a tall thin man jumps on his bike and starts riding along the edge of the runners.

The park is open to the public so people can do anything they want out there.  I believe it is our job as runners to be courteous and share the path. I expected him to ride in the wave of runners until the path opened up for him and then he would be gone and out of the foot traffic.  But he didn't take off.  He stayed just a few yards ahead of me. It took me few minutes to realize that he was for me!  In all of my races, I have never been behind the guy on the bike!

I was a little shocked because I was not running very fast, as far as lead runner pace goes, maybe a 7:30 pace at this point.  I felt great but I did not think I would hold 7:30s for the entire race. I was sure some other female could.  I picked up my pace slightly, and he looked back. I asked him "Are you for me?"  He smiled.  I said "I think I might cry."

He said, "You never won one?" I have won ultras, and podiumed at marathons, but off the top of my head I cant recall winning a marathon.  In ultras, you don't get a bike escort and usually, it seems, in marathons, the race leader only (usually a guy) has a bike escort.  This made me like this race even more.

I said "No, I have never won one. And I won't today. But I will enjoy this while it lasts!" I led for just over 4 miles before she pulled past me, allowing me to finally relax my pace a bit and settle into my long run.

And then a bee flew under the strap of my sports bra, (a bizarrely timed incident that would unlikely ever happen again) and stung me.   I started spewing profanities and then realized others were near me, so I started apologizing. This event has a very spiritual feel to it, so cursing like a drunken sailor seem to be in bad form.

But I was a bit panicked about this. My father is very allergic to bees, needing resuscitation twice from stings. I passed Eliot and he said "Hey, you are in second place!"  I replied like a crazy person,  "ELIOT!!!!  I GOT STUNG BY A BEEEEEEE!!!!"and then I ran on as I heard him ask "Are you ok?" I called back "If you see me passed out, that's why!"

The loop was small, I knew that stopping would not get me to the med tent faster. If I had trouble there were people everywhere to help me.  I could stop at an aid station. Someone would tell me to sit down and stop running.  I watched the area for swelling.  There was a little.

After a few miles, I seemed fine. A few laps later, I saw Eliot again and he asked if I was doing better.  He is a very nice man.  I told him he was looking good out there and that I was ok now.

Fortunately the bee distracted for much of the first 10 miles.  The weather was warming up, I had settled into a 8:15 pace and felt very comfortable there.  My average pace was still sub-8 as I has a great first 4 miles.  I passed the half way mark at 1:43 and felt like I could hold on for another 13.

I was very surprised to not have yet been passed by another female.  But the race was young and the sun was getting hotter.  Heat crushes my soul.  As I finished that lap, I realized I had "Only 4 more laps to go!"  This seemed not too bad.  

I was drinking at every aid station and pouring water over me.  I had pinned some salt to my shorts, but did not anticipate running while soaking wet.  All the packet had fallen off at some point.  No sodium for me today.  I could have used a little, but it wasn't the end of the world.

As I came around again, I realized ok "Three More Laps to go"  Only in marathon running can "Three Lap to Go!"can seem longer and more difficult to do accomplish than "Four Laps to Go!"  But it does.  At four laps to go, a good race seemed possible, but at three laps to go I was not so sure.

The asphalt path was heating up. The sun was strong. The shade was humid.  My fingers were swelling. My arms were swelling. I wish I had some salt.  I loosened my watch a notch because it was starting to feel too tight.

As I ran, glanced at the ground under my feet and said to myself "I will only need to see you two more times and then we are done here!"  I was working three to go, but thinking about 2 more laps only helped.  Even thought tired, I still had a sense that I could pick up the pace in the last 6 miles.

At 7 mile to go, I could not believe how ok I still felt.  I was not running anywhere near my best pace, but as a training run, I felt awesome.  It was hot, I was tired, I was swollen, but I was running still about 8:15 without a fade.  I was confident I could hammer home something descent.

But then at 6 miles to go, everything suddenly changed. Without warning, I started getting dizzy.  Whoa, where did that come from.  I wondered about the bee sting.  Nah, that happened hours ago.  As soon as I saw the 21 mile mark, I broke stride and walked. Ugh! So close.  I was so close to a good run, but now I am falling apart

As I reached an aid station, I grabbed a slice of watermelon and just walked.  This is just training.  It doesnt matter that much.  I looked around me and most of us were zombies.  I wasn't alone.  It was August. It was hot.

A man in an orange T-shirt connected with me with saying anything.  This happens.  Side by side we commiserated.  He walked near by.  When he decided to run again, he motioned to me to come along.  I did.

For the next 5 miles we alternated run with some walking and pulled each other along. Sometimes I would start the run park… other times he did.  I wasn't sure what I was going to do at "One lap to go".  I wasn't sure I could go on.

photo by Elizabeth Jimenez
How can "ONE... LAP... TO... GO…" feel like an impossible task when just ran 8 laps?  I stopped looking at my watch.  I was sure I was walking backwards in time.  But once I started that final lap,  I knew I would finish.

As I made that final lap, saying good-bye to the hot asphalt beneath my feet and thanked it all for holding me up for the duration, it occurred to me that I had not yet been passed by another female. Could it be possible that I am still in second?  I was not certain and if it was not true, I would not be surprised, but I should have noticed if I was passed.

photo by Elizabeth Jimenez
As the man in orange and I reached a half mile to go, he told me to "Finish it off!" I encouraged him to come. I was so very happy to see that grass shoot to the finish line!  I had no kick.  I did not care.  I was just so proud that I did not drop out!

Elizabeth was at the finish line, taking photos.  I immediate told her that I wanted to see the med tent people for some benedryl.  I have this weird idea that the adrenaline from running might have kept the bee sting from affecting me but now that I stopped I would have a reaction.

I was over heating and feeling woozy again.  At the med tent I meet a lovely women who advised me the my whole world would change for the better if I got in the big green garbage can of cold water, and I believed her.  And she was right!

The event was wonderful for all of us. Elizabeth ran the longest run of 15km.  Kim managed to finish a marathon as a training run with an actual kick.  Alanna was close behind with a strong finish in the heat.  We stayed for some Vegetarian food and left after the awards ceremony.

Time 3:43
Gender place 2nd
Back Pain - NONE.