Brings Me Back-NYC Marathon

Hello from New York City!  You may have noticed my absence the past few weeks, or perhaps not.  I know that I have been pretty quiet around here lately.  The reason for silence is because I have been busy working 7 days a week for the past few weeks at the ice rink in Central Park.  I used to work there years ago.  It was how I worked my way through college when I first arrived in New York and where I met my husband, on my first day of work.

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Six years ago, we left New York and moved to Chicago and later to Michigan.  We continue to work here in the spring and fall and last winter I got a text from a co-worker asking if I could work her maternity leave this winter.  Knowing the struggles of becoming a mom and then the next struggle of being a working mom, I gladly obliged to a return to Wollman Rink for a few weeks.

The work isn’t easy.  The hours are rough.  I’m up well before the sun rises each morning and I run home to meet the girls after a few hours on the ice.  I return to the ice later in the day to work some more, before running the 4 miles back to get our children fed and to bed.  We’ve suffered colds, sinus infections, and ear infections.  But we are finally on the mend and despite being exhausted, we are having a  great time in the city.  So please excuse my absence over the next few weeks, I have great plans for a big return after the holidays.

Until then, I want to offer a huge congratulations and thank you to all of the runners of the New York City Marathon.  Anyone who dares to run and anybody who dares to train and finish a marathon is a super hero.  It is an incredible process that requires months, and weeks, and hours of diligence.  There are days of exhaustion and times of injury.  But there is nothing more incredible than crossing that finish line.

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That time Mary was a few weeks old and we went to cheer on the last of the runners on their way through Brooklyn!

I ran for many years leading up to the first time I really had a chance to admire the New York City Marathon.  It is always hectic trying to get in and out of the rink in Central Park, as it is very close to the finish line.  Most years I worked all morning and afternoon and missed much of the race.  When I finally got my own apartment situated in East Harlem, right by the 19 mile mark, I had a sunny afternoon to myself and I went to watch the runners.

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Spectating a marathon will change even the hardest of souls.  You will witness humans at their absolute greatest.  People are drenched in sweat and struggling.  Some are beaming and smiling.  Others are grimacing and crying.  Along the sidelines you will find people of all backgrounds, coming together to cheer on family and friends, and strangers.  It is amazing!

Watching those runners who spent months training for this big event, that year, touched me.  I felt chills listening to a band up the street, and the cowbells ringing.  There were dozens of languages being spoken around me and people were calling out names of strangers whose names were taped across their bibs.

The marathon was a uniting force!

I went home feeling like a changed person.  I commented on what an incredible experience it appeared to be, but that I would never do something so crazy.  Yet, that moment stuck with me, and was the reason I have run several marathons and helped hundreds of others cross their own finish lines.

There is something very special about the New York City Marathon.  A city that can be so busy rushing to and from work and other occasions, finds the time to slow down to cheer for tens of thousands of strangers for one magical day.

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This year was extra magical because I got to take my girls to cheer on the runners near that same place that forever changed me.  Mary made a sign and was quite the hit waving and cheering on the runners.  At one moment she asked me why people were “stopping.”  I tried my best to explain to her how hard those last few miles are for so many of us.  I choked back tears as I held her and watched people passing by and said, “You run when you can and walk if you have to.  We all just keep going.”

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Congrats to everyone who ran New York and Indianapolis this weekend!

Grandma’s Marathon Recap

What a weekend!  After a long car ride north, we arrived in Duluth, Minnesota for Rock’s much anticipated marathon.  Some of you may remember that he ran Chicago this past fall.  Chicago started out really well for him and half way through, as I was coaching, he called to tell me that something happened to his hip flexor.  It was so painful he considered a DNF and dropping out, but instead decided to walk to the end because he had worked too hard all summer not to cross that finish line.  It was a gut wrenching way to end a training cycle and he has been wanting revenge ever since.

This past winter we were playing around with races online and ended up deciding on Grandma’s Marathon.  A few of our friends had done it in the past and had a great time and one of my favorite bloggers Mother Racer did it last year (as an elite!).  There were a few things that were alluring about this race.  First, the time of year is perfect for us.  We have a sports program we run in NYC that keeps us busy all spring and into mid-June.  This race fell right after we would return home.  We both love late spring races too for the perfect temps and the fact that you can avoid most of the terrible winter running during training.

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On top of all of this the race is a perfect size with a field of about 7,800 runners; not so big that you have to weave your way through runners for the first few miles, but not terribly small.  Our first marathon we ever did had a field of less than 800 runners.  By the end of the race I was near the front and didn’t see another woman for the last three miles, let alone very many runners in general.  This can be excrutiating mentally.

Even better, this course is rather flat or at least gently rolling.  It also follows Lake Superior for a majority of the course so you can bet on some cool breezes off of the water.

Let me tell you, this race did not disappoint in any way.  Duluth is a city of about 82,000 people and every single person knows there is a marathon in town and welcomes runners with open arms.  How many times have you gone to a race somewhere and when you mention it to a local they cock their head in surprise and say, “Oh there’s a race going on?”  Not here!

When we checked into our (very, very expensive) hotel we were greeted by front desk staff all wearing Grandma’s Marathon shirts.  The major downside to a big race going on in a smaller town is that hotels are at a premium.  Rock registered the day the race opened and we immediately booked a hotel at the Residence Inn because we are Marriott rewards members.  The rooms were almost all booked then and we cringed at the hotel rates but sucked it up just in case.  (Side note, there is a local college that offers dorm rooms at a much cheaper price point but you have to wait til March to get in on those).

The hotel staff gave Rock a gift bag with fruit, water, and energy bars inside.  They also were very knowledgeable about the race itself and pointed us in the right direction to get Rock on a shuttle bus to the start the next morning.

My biggest gold star goes to the hotel for having an early breakfast at 5:00am for runners.  Typically they offer waffles, pancakes, eggs and sausage.  But they had yogurt, granola, cereal, fruit, bagels, and energy bars set up.  How many times do you wish the darn hotel breakfast was early enough to at least get a coffee before you go?  Later in the day I noted that they still had fruit and energy bars out for guests well after the race had finished.  Major thumbs up for this!

The weather didn’t cooperate and poured during the wait for the start and for the first half of Rock’s race.  But he said that he had a really nice bus ride out with the other athletes.  I opted to stay back and get my run in that morning too but I could have hopped on a local train that goes out to the start and then follows the lead pack back into town.

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Baby and I got in a nice, dry 8 miles, while Rock was waiting in the rain.

Despite the rain, Rock had a ton of really positive things to say about this race.  There wasn’t a ton of fan support along most of the course but he said there was plenty enough to keep you going.  He loved the course and in general thought the weather (minus the rain) was fantastic.  His biggest take away from this race was that it was what he called a “runner’s race.”  Just about everyone he saw on the course was a “runner” in some fashion.  He didn’t see a lot of walkers on the course and although you saw athletes of all paces, everyone clearly looked like they had trained and were putting their full effort into this event.  This makes Grandma’s a great spot to go for a PR or try to BQ, and there were a lot of BQ’s going on there Saturday.  I also noted that several people were also there trying to make the Olympic Marathon Trials as well.

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I found Rock still running strong at mile 25.5!

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This train takes spectators out to the start and follows the lead pack back in for 26.2 miles. As you can see I was too lazy to step out into the rain to take a decent picture. But this is pretty cool!

In the end, his hip flexor started to give him a bit of frustration near the finish.  But he was able to hold out and run a very solid race.  He didn’t quite hit his goal of a new PR but he still ran a solid marathon.  I was super proud of him and got tears as I saw him at mile 25.  Admittedly they were mostly tears of pride but there was a tad of marathon envy in there.  It is nearly impossible as a runner to go watch any kind of race and not get worked up just a little bit!

Congrats Rock on a great finish.  Congrats to everyone who raced this past weekend.

Taper, Taper Time!

This week a large portion of my athletes started their taper for the upcoming half marathon.  I have touched on tapering before but since I have been sending out lots of information on this topic, it reminded me that there is never anything wrong with some reminders on the do’s and don’ts of tapering.

Do Rest-  Now is the time to relish in all of the hard work you have put in during your training.  You have pushed your body pretty hard and the taper phase is the treat your body needs.  This rest time helps your body repair and load up for your upcoming race.

But Don’t Turn Into A Slug-  Rest is one thing.  But this is not the time to completely turn everything off.  While your body needs time to recover and get ready for the race, it does not need a total break.  In fact, kicking your feet up and sitting on the couch for the next two weeks will be detrimental to your performance.  As with anything in life, it is all about balance.

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Do Hydrate and Eat Well-  Hopefully you have been hydrating well throughout your training.  So this part shouldn’t be very difficult.  But sometimes when we aren’t running as much we forget that our bodies need a lot of water.  By hydrating throughout your taper your body will be all set for race day.  Dehydration is one of the biggest factors that leads to cramping, stomach issues, and the dreaded wall.

This is also a great time to eat healthy foods that will help you perform well.  Lots of fruits and veggies along with protein are great.  And while you do need some carbohydrates you do not need to carbo load.  No, you do not need giant plates of pasta every night for dinner.  In fact, you likely do not even need that the night before your race.  Carbs a few days before a long endurance run are helpful.  But for a 5k, 10k, or possibly even a half marathon you do not need to stockpile carbohydrates.

Don’t Eat Like You Did During Training-  Oh this part about the taper just plain stinks.  Your hunger is still going wild.  Your body still wants you to feed it like you did when you were burning thousands of calories a day doing long, hard training runs.  Reign it in my friend.  Be aware of what your body needs.  It can be easy to pack on a few pounds during the taper and that can make you slow and sluggish!

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Do Rest Like a Champion-  Sleep is one of your best tools of training.  A good night’s sleep (or several good night’s sleep) can really improve your training.  Especially as you get closer to race day make sure you are logging 7-9 hours, or whatever your body prefers.  Know that you will likely have a hard time sleeping the night before the big day.  But a few nights of good sleep leading up to it will get you through.

Do Stick to Your Plan-  Don’t panic and start trying to make up for lost time.  Sure you missed that 15 miler a few weeks ago.  But throwing it in now is not going to help your run.  In fact, it will likely leave your body more exhausted.  At this point your best bet is to stick with the remainder of your training plan and trust that it will get you through.

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What is your best tapering advice?

Great Places To Run In and Around NYC

As we wrap up our last week here in NYC until next spring I have had the chance to do a few short post marathon runs.  The beautiful fall colors and paths brought back some really great memories of running NYC for the past 12 years and especially training for a marathon.  One of the best things about NYC, as well as it’s biggest drawback, is that despite NYC being one of the largest cities in the world it is geographically pretty small.  That means that after 12 years I have run almost every nook and cranny.  Some days I would weave around city streets and others I would travel parks and bridges.  Below are a few of my favorites that I recommend if you get a chance to run here.

Central Park:

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Central Park is synonymous with NYC.  While it is not one of my most favorite places to run, it really is a must if you come to visit.  The loop around the park is just over 6 miles of some pretty big as well as gently rolling hills.  The actual run is a nice challenge, but you also get to see a panoramic view of the city skyline.  You will see the Sheep’s Meadow, Wollman Rink, Carousel, The Boathouse, Great Lawn, Resevoir, Metropolitan Museum of Art and hundreds of other sights.  Take a stop at 90th street to admire the statue in honor of Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon.

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I have also worked in Central Park for the past 12 years and didn’t know until yesterday that there is a memorial set up for famed distance runner Ryan Shay.  I grew up just a few towns away from Ryan and we ran track during the same years.  Despite the fact that I took a break for awhile, I still followed his running through out high school and college.  Shay passed away from a massive heart attack in 2007 during the Olympic Marathon Trials in Central Park.  There was a rock carved by fellow runners near a tree in the park.  I believe I found the spot but the etchings have faded away.  When I went to visit yesterday I found myself overcome with tears as I read his plaque on a park bench.

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The West Side:

It seems that the only picture I have from running on the West Side is with Flat Stanley.  We had an impromptu 20 mile run together that afternoon.

It seems that the only picture I have from running on the West Side is with Flat Stanley. We had an impromptu 20 mile run together that afternoon.

If you are looking for a nice flat and picturesque run, head for the West Side of the city.  We once took a cab up to the George Washington Bridge and followed the stairs down to the Hudson River.  There you will find the Little Red Lighthouse.  You can follow the path for 13 miles all the way down to Battery Park where you will be able to see Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the new World Trade Center.  Along the way you will pass dozens of cool piers as well as the famed Chelsea Piers and The Intrepid.

The East Side:

That is Roosevelt Island across the river.

That is Roosevelt Island across the river.

Although not as continuous as the West Side path, the East River Promenade has a nice flat section spanning from 60th Street all the way up to 125th Street.  You can follow the East River path all the way down to Battery Park but you will have to weave a little bit as the path does not follow one straight line.  While the East River isn’t quite as picturesque there are still lots of great places to see along the way.

Take the Tramway Car at 59th Street over to Roosevelt Island.  This quiet spot will give you a couple of miles to run looking over at Manhattan from a different view.  Plus the ride in the Tramway Car (same price as a subway ride) gives you a bird’s eye view of the river and city.  And you can relive that pretty scary scene from Spiderman!

Take a run over a bridge.  Now here is where I admit that we once ran all the way along the East River to go run across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It looked different from what I expected and when we got to the other side we realized I had taken us across the Williamsburg Bridge.  Kind of a big difference.  But once we finally found the Brooklyn Bridge we took a detour and waited in line to wolf down a full Grimaldi’s pizza between the two of us.  By the way, I think the Williamsburg Bridge offers a much prettier view but definitely not the same pizza.

Randall’s Island:

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This is one of my favorite places to go.  Cross over the footbridge at East 101st Street and you almost enter a different city.  While you can still see the sights of the city, it is much quieter over there.  There are miles of running paths as well as horse stables, dozens of athletic fields, Icahn Stadium and tennis and golf centers.  It also doesn’t hurt that the FDNY has it’s training center over there and you often see many new recruits out doing training runs.  Excellent motivation for you single (or not so single) ladies or gents.

Upper Saddle River Path:

Get up early on a Saturday or Sunday and take a short drive from the city out to New Jersey.  In less that 30 minutes you will find yourself at the Upper Saddle River Path in Bergen County.  Follow this out for about 6-7 miles along the Saddle River.  Weaving in and out of woods and under bridges, you will feel like you are dozens of  miles away from New York City.  Watch wildlife and fly fisherman as well as happy families biking along the path.  Stop at any of the 100 awesome diners along the way home for a delicious post run brunch.

I would love to hear what your favorite running spots are in the NYC area!

Achy and Inspired

This late in the morning blog post comes to you from one sore but truly inspired blogger.  I have so many things to be grateful for today and I don’t even know where to start.  While I will likely blog a bit more about the actual marathon at some point and lessons learned along the way, today I need to share just a few highlights and offer up some serious thanks where it is deserved.

Marathon weekend started on Friday morning with a trip to the expo.  I went with my husband and my childhood friend Jerry that I convinced to come join our team and run the marathon.  I was expecting all craziness to be going on there but somehow Carey Pinkowski and his team have this process down to a science.  Within minutes of my arrival I was checked in and had a bib and was sent to pick up my shirt near the back of the expo.  I assumed I would be seeing long lines when I got there but instead went right up and got my shirt.  This process was perhaps the most painless of any race check in I have ever done and clearly this was my biggest ever.

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After we checked in we went to find the MDA Team Momentum booth.  I was so excited to see all of our awesome volunteers and see what we had in store for our athletes when they arrived.  To my surprise, the RRCA booth was right next to ours and Mitch Garner the Vice President of the RRCA was hanging out to greet people.  Mitch is also the head of the Ann Arbor track club and was our host for our RRCA coaching certification.  He is a really awesome guy and it was so fun to reconnect with him and share a little about our training with Team Momentum.

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I also finally had the chance on Friday and Saturday to meet all of the athletes who are members of Team Momentum but had been training virtually.  It was a really fun to finally see these people because we have been e-mailing each other, talking over the phone and chatting on Facebook for a long time.  They had trusted me for months as their coach and I already felt like I knew them so well.  To finally put a face to their names was beyond awesome.  The cool part was that each and every one of them was as fantastic in person as they were virtually.

Saturday night we had our team dinner.  It was incredible to finally be in the same room with all 140 athletes and their families along with several MDA families.  Carey Pinkowski even came by to give a little inspirational pep talk.  That was pretty cool because as you can imagine, the director of the second largest marathon in the world probably has about zero free time on his hands the night before the big event.

I finally got the chance to meet SuzLyfe!  I have to tell you, this girl is beyond awesome and after chatting for weeks about meeting up, this was a pretty cool place to finally do so.  As our team approached the race we were hoping to find someone to help our athletes near the end of the course.  We needed someone who was a runner and could be encouraging during those last few miles and jump in if needed to help assist.  When I heard the job description I knew she would be perfect.  We hadn’t met in person yet but if you read her blog you can see why.

Sorry Susie.  I stole your picture off your site because we look pretty awesome!

Sorry Susie. I stole your picture off your site because we look pretty awesome!

I barely slept a wink Saturday night.  I was riding high from our team dinner and with the excitement and anticipation of race day.  I was excited and nervous for all of the athletes.  They had worked so incredibly hard to get to this race.  Some had dealt with injuries and other struggles and I wanted this to be a great experience for everyone.

Team Momentum didn’t disappoint on their end.  They secured an incredible pre and post race location just blocks from the race start at Lake Shore Fitness.  We had full access to the gym, a great warm up area and bathrooms.  Who doesn’t love prerace plumbing?!

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I was so nervous at the start of the race.  To keep things legal I had a bib and started in one of the first corrals.  Although I wasn’t actually racing, the excitement of everything that was going just really got to me.  At the start of the race I took off and kept a nice even pace until I reached mile 14 where I waited at Charity Mie in our cheering tent.  I got the chance to cheer some of our first runners along.  Then I started meeting up with athletes and running a half to a full mile at a time with them.  I would run one section and then wait for another athlete to come along.  It was so fun!

When I finally hit mile 20 I ran into Susie who was waiting to meet up with any of our athletes who needed some assistance.  At this point I started finding athletes along the course and running those half to full mile sections and then walking on the sidewalk back to mile 20.  I would see Susie doing the same thing with our athletes which was way cool because she didn’t even know these people.  It was just an incredible understanding among athletes who were out there to help each other.

Finally I met up with one of the athletes and a friend of mine, Michelle, who was running her first marathon.  I took off with her to finish the race.  At this point my quads were singing some serious hard rock songs and my GPS had died a long time ago reading in at 24 miles.  We ran together and cheered on other team members that we met along the course.

It was truly inspirational to run the entire course with the team and watch the crowds and all of the support along the way.  It made me even more proud of all of their accomplishments and to be a part of this group.

After the race I walked back to Lake Shore Fitness where MDA had set up an amazing post race party for the athletes.  As I approached the gym there were dozens of volunteers ringing cowbells and cheering for us.  Then I entered the gym and our private space to be welcomed by all of the staff and our team cheering on each person as they entered.  I tear up just thinking about how awesome it was to be a part of something bigger and to see runners unite.

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A special congrats goes out today to every athlete who finished the Chicago Marathon yesterday.  A huge congrats and thank you to every Team Momentum member who stuck it out for the past few months and trusted me and didn’t strangle me for putting them through the rigors of training.  You guys inspire me and I am so incredibly proud of you.  And a special thanks to Susie and Jon for running the course with our group and helping out along the way.  People saying running isn’t a team sport.  But it takes a team to truly make it a success.

 

The Runner’s LSD- High on Mileage

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Sounds like we are getting into some pretty exciting stuff here?  Au contraire, LSD stands for long slow distance running.  Although for most runners I know this is their drug of choice (besides ibuprofen and ice baths).

A long distance run is considered to be anything above 90 minutes.  For someone who runs 7 minute miles, this is going to cover a lot more mileage than someone who runs 10 minute miles, but it is a long distance run either way.

Besides earning bragging rights or justification for eating that double cheeseburger and fries, these types of runs are really helpful in training.  The LSD is done at conversation pace, where you are able to hold a conversation without gasping but not at the same level you would if you were out for a walk.

These long slow runs help your body learn to improve its glycogen storage and handle decreases in energy as you lose glycogen.  In simple terms, you are basically helping your body to change its chemistry to be able to use its resources more efficiently along with being able to run well on less stored energy.  You are turning yourself into a fuel efficient vehicle!

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LSD’s also help you run more efficiently with your oxygen uptake getting your lungs to do their thing much easier.  This will also prepare you on a mental level to be able to handle a few hours on the road come the big day.

Most athletes who choose to partake in a half or full marathon will find LSD’s in their running program.  These are often scheduled once a week during a training period.

One of the most important rules to remember when doing long distance running is: slow it down!  I will be the first to admit that when I was training for a marathon I looked at these runs as a challenge.  I would get my 20 miles in, put my time in a pace calculator and then pat myself on the back for running a fast pace.  Bad Sarah!

The LSD is not a dress rehearsal for a race.  It is not there to help you prove to yourself that you can beat a PR or hit a certain goal time.  These runs are simply to help you prepare for being on the road for long periods of time, training your body to handle the rigors, and mentally prep for what is ahead.  Remember, when you are doing a training program you have speed workouts, tempo runs, hills, intervals, and strides in your training plan for a reason.  The LSD is not a speed work out, so relax and enjoy the change of pace.

I know a runner who trained really hard for a marathon and made it to the 18 mile point of her long runs and suddenly got injured, sidelining her from the race.  She had been so proud to be running ahead of goal pace on the long runs.  Looking back and having discussed the true purpose of LSD training, she realized that going out too fast may have actually aided in her injury.

Don’t let the LSD get the better of you.  Fuel up in the morning with something you know will work to keep you going, take it nice and slow and settle into your pace.  Put on some music or a podcast, take your time and enjoy the training process.

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One more important rule of thumb; you should never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10%.  The LSD is something to work up to.  Don’t be a hero if you have only ever run a 10k and decide to go try your hand at 20 miles.  Take your time and enjoy your high mileage!