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