I’d Like to Start Over: NYC Marathon Recap

It’s no coincidence that in the aftermath of a four week music tour then running the New York City Marathon soon after, I’ve gone through my house and filled bag, after bag, after bag, of things I don’t need. For one thing, I found on tour that I was perfectly happy living with only what I had in my suitcase. I missed nothing from home, save my cats. When I crossed the finish line of the NYC Marathon in Central Park, I felt as if I had shed whatever emotional weight I had carried with me up to that moment. After a year of worrying, fretting, stressing… I made it. I did okay. No, I did just fine.

NYC Marathon

About an hour and a half before the race began, Shasta and I took one last photo together before parting ways to our respective start corrals. We had the brilliant idea of purchasing throwaway onesies to keep warm in.

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Unicorn Liz and Pizza Shasta

Speaking of brilliant ideas, I decided to eat a banana just then, you know, to top off the energy reserves. 20 minutes later, my stomach started cramping horribly. I spent the remaining time leading up to the start trying not to panic and doing an extensive amount of side stretching, drinking water, and jamming my fingers into my belly trying to massage away whatever knot was twisting tighter and tighter within. All because of a banana??

Alas, the New York City Marathon could not wait for my stomach to settle and it was time to run! Without a very specific time goal (though I did hope for 3:15-ish), I started at a very easy pace, as if I were going out for a long run with 50,000 of my very closest running buddies. My starting corral was on the lower part of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and if you spoke to me before the race would know I was very concerned about being peed on by runners from the upper deck of the bridge. It’s a thing! I’ve heard stories! I made a point to stick toward the divider in the center of the bridge, just in case.

My stomach continued to bother me, but I told myself it was a long race and it would work itself out. Seven miles later, it did! I finally allowed myself to take my first Honey Stinger gel (which I would have normally done at mile five). With no more ailments plus the little burst of sugary energy, I picked up the pace just a little bit.

Purists will hate this, but after crossing the 10K timing mat, which pinged my time and pace to those tracking me on the NYC Marathon app, I received a message on my Apple watch from my friend Krysta back in Portland saying, “Shasta’s just ahead!”

Considering the amount of runners and our separate starting locations (Shasta began at the top of the bridge), I knew our chances of finding each other on the course were zilch to none. Knowing she was close, I picked up the pace a little bit more, and started scanning the crowd for the bright pink and yellow singlet matching my own. And there she was! We ran together for a bit and checked in with each other, but otherwise kept our focus on the task ahead.

We were running through Brooklyn, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the course. There were plenty of spectators and the vibe was lively (might have to do with all the bars conveniently lining the course). I realized I was on the same street I had run along just a month earlier when I was in town to play a show at Brooklyn Steel. I may have googly-eyed a bagel shop or two. I hit the halfway point at 1:39:52, on track for a sub-3:20 finish. I felt good. I thought, “Of course I can do that again!”

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At some point, Shasta had pulled off to use the restroom, but I knew we’d see each other again. It was maybe around mile 14 or 15 that she caught back up to me, said “something-something just striding out!” and continued to clip by looking strong and effortless. By the way, she would go on to finish in 3:14 (which meant running a six minute negative split) in her very first road marathon! I so wanted to go with her, but couldn’t even if I had wanted to. I was beginning to feel weary at the pace I was at.

Crossing the Queensboro Bridge was both the worst and the best part of the race. I really enjoyed the quiet respite from the throngs of spectators lining the streets of Brooklyn and Queens, the only sounds being the pitter patter of runners’ footsteps. It was perfect timing to be able to mentally reset before entering the streets of Manhattan. But it was during the long gradual ascent up the bridge that my lack of conditioning for the race really started to show itself (I had a short build up to the race due to an injury this summer). For how good I felt just a couple miles before, the rails came off pretty quickly. My knees began to ache with every step. My feet were actually starting to hurt from striking the ground, to a point where I wondered, Am I going to fracture a metatarsal? Am I going to finish this race?

It was just after the turn onto 1st Avenue (I think) that I heard my parents-in-law cheering for me and I was able to give a smile and a wave. Like my stomachache earlier, the pain in my feet began to subside. If I’ve learned anything from marathoning it’s that pain can come and go in phases. If something goes wrong, but you feel okay to keep going for even just one more mile, it’s worth it to ride it out and see what happens.

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Giving a wave to Arménio and Elizabeth!

From 59th Street to 125th Street was a giant blur. I wanted to really take in the enormous crowds of spectators that I’d heard so much about, but all I could think of was putting one foot in front of the other. It began to rain, or mist, really. Goosebumps formed up and down my body. I was slowing down. It was getting very cold. It was going to be a grind to the finish.

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My eyes say it all! Photo by Jody Bailey

I approached the bridge leading into the Bronx just before mile 20, and who better to see than my friend and host for the weekend, Cynthia, absolutely cheering her lungs out? She shouted, “GO LIZ! GET UP THAT BRIDGE, LIZ!” And you can believe I hustled up that bridge and into the Bronx.

At that point I was running on fumes, but being on display running through the streets with tons of families and kids watching made it a non-option to back off. New York is a tough city and I wanted to be strong for everyone out there. In my fatigued runner-brain state I just pushed forward and repeated to myself, “New York Strong. New York Strong.”

I crossed back into Manhattan, then up and up 5th Avenue. The pain had returned and was shooting through my knees and hips. One of my goals going into this race was to get to Central Park feeling ready to tackle the final hills, and I had failed miserably. I felt like garbage and had yet to enter its gates! One last thing that kept me hanging on was knowing that a giant group of Volée teammates would be cheering on runners just before mile 23. I told myself to keep it together for them. Pretend to keep it together. As soon as I saw them I picked up my stride, waved, smiled, gave the thumbs up, almost enough to convince myself that I was doing alright! I might have looked and felt like a zombie, but they made me feel like a rock star for a few moments.

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Giving the thumbs up to Chief Bird Sally Bergesen!

As I entered Central Park shortly after, my legs began to lock up and my run reduced to what felt like a shuffle. I reveled in the downhill portions which allowed gravity to carry me for a little bit. Overall I was really not well. Something about the excitement of almost being finished was perhaps causing my brainwaves to give my body mixed signals. The mere thought of the finish line being just around the corner almost made me toss my cookies. I actually pulled off onto the median and stopped for a second just in case. I barely remember running down the homestretch to the finish, but I must have because there’s photographic evidence. What I do remember was finally crossing the line and feeling overtaken with both humility and gratitude. And insane shooting pain all up and down my legs! I think in every marathon report I’ve written I mention bursting into tears at the end, and yeah that definitely happened again. As I shuffle-cried my way toward the exit, another finisher commented, “It’s such an emotional experience, huh?” Emotional, yes, but honestly I was crying because my legs hurt so badly!

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Finish line in sight!

I finished in 3:26:08, about 27 minutes slower than my personal best. It was not the race I wanted, but as Kara Goucher said in Q&A I attended just a day earlier, “You don’t just get what you want.” I know I have a much better marathon in me, but it’s not going to come quickly or easily, and that’s okay. I’m up for the challenge. What I can be is completely grateful and proud of myself for making it to the start line healthy and pulling through to the finish when it was not my day.

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Celebrating at Café Lalo! Photo by Arménio Anjos

I joined my parents, parents-in-law, and Shasta’s friends at Café Lalo (the one from You’ve Got Mail!) just two blocks from the finish. We all shared our race day stories over pizza and soup, gave big hugs and said our goodbyes, and walked almost two miles down Broadway back to our host home. I thought walking that far would be terrible, but it was one of my favorite parts of the day. We got to take in the city as daylight grew dim, then took in the surrealism of thousands of runners still making their way toward the finish after dark.

Post-Race

Since my recent music tour and NYC Marathon, I’ve taken the downtime to organize my life a little bit. I sold or gave away a ton of clothing, rearranged the kitchen, finished several projects I’ve been putting off for ages and ditched the ones I knew I’d never finish, said “no” to opportunities I was dilly dallying on, and this might seem trivial but I even caught up on all the books and podcasts I’ve been meaning to get to. After so much irregularity and being in a frazzled and/or injured state for much of this year, it feels really good to get back to normalcy, good health, and to be in a place where I’m ready to start fresh. I wrote a song earlier this year called “Start Over” which pretty sums up my feelings now. I’m ready to start over; I’m ready to try again.

Seeing the Light

It’s been a year. Eight months in, and I’m in a wildly different place than where I thought I’d be. I just looked back on my first post of the year, when I written about my goal or theme for 2017, which was to dig deep and let racing hurt a little. To go beyond my comfort zone. I accomplished that exactly one time, at the Bloomsday 12K in May. My fitness wasn’t where it had been the year before, but I boarded the pain train and managed a new personal best by several seconds. It was the week after that race that things went south. Rather than taking some time to recover and have a “down” week, I plugged away and trained harder, and pretty much immediately strained my hamstring. I should have known better. Hindsight is everything! I got greedy. When things started to go my way, I wanted even more. For the next ten or so weeks after that, I couldn’t run at all without my leg hurting. I had to cancel my trip to Duluth, Minnesota, where I had planned to run Grandma’s Marathon in June. I spent a lot of time worrying about my future goals and how I’d ever accomplish them. I was adamant about maintaining my fitness by cross training, until even pool running aggravated my leg. Right around that time, I listened to an interview with Olympian Kate Grace where she spoke on her experience with injury- that there are only so many hours of pool running you can do before you drive yourself crazy. At some point you just have to let yourself heal. It was like Kate was speaking right to me! I had to let go.

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At the beginning of July, my leg was still in pretty bad shape and I resolved to truly take some time off. The timing worked out well, because I had a fun trip planned to Nashville immediately followed by a trip to Japan for a live show with my band. Wouldn’t you know it- I finally started to feel better!

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Meeting the friendly deer of Nara, Japan

During my time in Japan, I did a little ten minute test run on a treadmill. No pain. A couple days later, I ran for about 15 minutes outside. Still good! Since returning home, I’ve continued to gradually reintroduce running into my routine, and–knock on wood–so far, so good.

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Big smile after a pain-free treadmill run in Tokyo!

Last night, I continued my annual tradition of running the Bowerman 5K- this was my 7th time! I wasn’t in it to compete this year, but to show up and support my teammates, and finish within my comfort zone and in ZERO pain. I’m happy to report, goal accomplished! I ran faster than I have in months, got to run with my friend and teammate Krysta, and celebrated with my run fam after the race. Overall, things seem to be on the up and up.

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Repping at Bowerman 5K with Rose City Track Club!

With the recent time off I definitely feel as if I’ve gained a new perspective on running and what it means to me. Rather than mourning what I’ve lost, I’m learning to be thankful for every healthy step. I also can’t help but appreciate runners from the outside looking in. Just in the past week I’ve witnessed my friends crushing workouts and breaking new barriers that to them might once have seemed impossible. There are days when they’re tired, achey, and doubtful, but then the next day they’ll be back out there with even more fire and tenacity. Such is the way of the runner; that’s how I hope to be.

Still Hurting

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

That pretty much sums up the first half of 2017 for me. After around three years of really solid training, I’ve been sidelined twice this year with a hamstring injury. The first time around it was fairly minor and I felt better after a couple weeks off. I even managed to get in shape enough to run a personal best at the Bloomsday 12K in May. The second injury has been much worse as I haven’t run in six weeks as of yesterday! I sought medical attention and have been rehabbing, strengthening, cross training, and resting, but unfortunately this seems to be one of the most stubborn injuries I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve been hesitant to write about it, as I really don’t enjoy writing “gloom and doom” posts, but I’m just going to keep this real.

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Within the first few days of this injury, I was really stressed out at the prospect of rehabbing and getting in shape in time for Grandma’s Marathon on June 17th. When it became clear my leg wasn’t going to better anytime soon, the decision was pretty much made for me. The marathon was off. Rather than being upset about it, I felt relieved. I could take the time I needed to get better and not have to scramble to prepare for what would likely be a mediocre race on little training. Here’s what I wrote that day:

I am deliriously happy. It may be heightened emotion, poised to crash down the next time my muscle gives a little twinge, a stinging reminder that things aren’t all as they should be. But for now, I am relieved. I clip away on my fire engine red bike. The sun is warm on my skin. My usual cup of coffee tastes better than usual. I feel present and alive and hopeful.

It really was a wonderful feeling. However, as the weeks went by and my leg continued to sting and twinge, I began to crumple.

From here to there. That is what I miss. To move over the earth, to crest the hill, to discover what’s around the bend. I lunge, crawl, kick, and stretch but I’m grounded. Every so often I give in. I dash up a dune. I get a little dog to chase me. I run hot potato barefoot over the black pavement. If you asked me any other time I’d say I run to train and get the best out of myself. What I’ve realized is that running is the way I experience the world around me.

I wrote that one month ago. I keep telling myself that it will be just another couple weeks, but a couple weeks later it is still the same. A couple weeks from now will have been two months, and I’m still not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

There are a few things that have been keeping me going through all of this. My friends, who have all gone through the same thing in one way or another and know exactly what it’s like. Cross training, which will never be the same as running no matter how you frame it, but it makes me feel like I’m doing something. In fact, I signed up for my first bike race a few weeks ago and got to experience the thrill of the chase in another form. I was almost embarrassed at how delighted I felt after crossing the finish line.

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Winded and exhilarated!

Tomorrow I will start my first day as the new assistant coach at Mountainside High School. I got my start running in high school and I can’t wait to hopefully inspire and motivate young men and women that may be being introduced to the sport for the first time. Lastly, I’ve been putting my heart and soul into a new running project that will be announced this week. I’m grateful for what running has given to me, and in turn want to give back to this community which has done so much for me. Stay tuned!

 

Stone Soup for the Soul

It’s Friday and I have so many goodies to share, the most meaningful of which to me was this blog post on career choices called The Flyway – What Am I Doing? by Dr. Sarah Lesko. She wrote about how she was drawn to a medical profession. She embraced the challenge of becoming a doctor and loved the complexity of care and emotional intelligence required for family medicine. However, even after 17 years off running competitively due to injury, she felt her heart pulled toward running and little by little she became more involved with the growing women’s apparel company Oiselle. Here’s how she put it, shortened into excerpts:

“One of my favorite profs in med school had a great definition for parenchyma. Parenchyma: the essential, distinctive, functional part of an organ, the bulk of a substance. She would tell us, ‘Parenchyma is the there, there.’ I was looking for my existential parenchyma. 

And then I started running again, after 17 years off. And I felt more alive. Like being plugged in to a power socket…I started helping out with various little Oiselle projects. Shenanigans. Because I loved it, because I couldn’t stay away…I started working out again. On the track even. I could still scamper! I got super into running, got injured, rehabbed correctly and got back out there. 

I was still practicing medicine, teaching residents, doing some research writing, consulting, but my heart was pulled to running. To Oiselle. My there, there.”

I felt as if Dr. Lesko could have written this for me- just replace medical profession with a musical one. I love writing and performing music, and that’s something I’ll do forever. It’s what I grew up with, it’s what I studied most of my life, it’s an innate part of me. But when I look at the way I spend my everyday and the things I do for the sake in itself, it’s almost entirely running related. From training, to writing, to keeping up with running news, to creating schedules and communicating with the runners I coach, to a crazy ambitious new project I have in the works. I can’t fight it or deny it. It’s been like this for over ten years now. Like Dr. Lesko, I imagine that my “running house” and my “music house” will magically grow together. The two paths have crossed countless time and I imagine they’ll continue to. But instead of stressing myself out over the things I think I ought to be doing, I’m embracing the things that give me joy and purpose, however unconventional.


I highly recommend reading Marathon Man, a write up by Kathryn Miles on a man named Gary Allen that put on a marathon free to participants in his hometown Millinocket, a small mill town Maine. His rationality for free entry was that simply bringing visitors to the town would boost its economy. And the plan worked! The coolest part was how local businesses embraced the marathon and rallied behind it by contributing what they could toward making it an even better event. The local snowmobile club hosted both a pre-race spaghetti dinner and a pancake breakfast. The high school booster club ran a family funfair during the marathon. Residents began offering rooms for runners to sleep when local motels got booked out. It’s kind of like the stone soup of marathons.


I recently got to see a pre-screening of TRI, a new fictional indie film about two friends training for their first triathlon. While the inspirational vibe of the trailer had me rolling my eyes a little bit, I gave the movie a chance and I’m glad I did. It truly captured the process and emotions anyone goes through when training for a race, no matter if you’re in the front of the pack or DFL (dead f-cking last, as I learned). I’ve never trained for a triathlon but I found myself relating to the struggles and doubts of the main characters all the same. It’s not the most groundbreaking story line ever, but the particular subject of the triathlon, lovable characters, and stunning visuals more than make up for it. If you’re already feeling the winter blues and need some motivation and inspiration, watch this movie. It was just released this week and streaming on Amazon for $6.


I enjoyed listening to Lindsey Hein interview Amanda Brooks, creator of the FASTZach app, on her podcast I’ll Have Another. I had the pleasure of meeting Amanda at Kara Goucher’s Podium Retreat. The podcast is a great listen as Lindsey and Amanda talk about all things marriage, motherhood, and running. It was very cool to learn more about Amanda’s experience growing up as a diver on a national team. We’ve been in touch even more recently I’ve been beta testing FASTZach before its launch in January 2017. FASTZach is an answer to my prayers as someone who runs and travels often. The app will develop a running route for you based on how far you go, how much traffic you want to avoid, and which sites you want to see. So for instance, say you’re staying in Montmartre while visiting Paris and want to see the Eiffel Tower on a 6 mile run. FASTZach will create a 6 mile loop for you from Montmartre that takes you right by the Eiffel Tower. How cool is that?

That’s all I’ve got for this week! -L

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The Finish Line

I had planned to write a beautiful, detailed recap on my empowering experience running The North Face Endurance Challenge CA Half Marathon. Alas, I got hit hard by some kind of virus after the race and ended up doing a whole lot of nothing over the past week. The effects of missing just five days of running and working are really starting to show. I find myself scrambling to catch up on everything that piled up while I was out of commission and home solo with two kitties while Andre was traveling the world. If I ever knocked on myself for being slacker, well, after trying to play this impossible catch up game I’m learning that’s absolutely not the case. Way to go, me!

Back to the half marathon. In a nutshell, I had been dreading the race after hearing about the relentless and very steep hills all through the course from my friends who had run the 50K over the very same trails the day before. In the end, it turned out to be the most fun I’d had racing in a long time. I’ve always said I’m terrible at hills, but it turned out I was stronger than I thought. I was able to catch a bunch of people in a long ascent in the later miles of the race. Since any kind of time goals were pretty much out the window, it came down to pure racing which I really liked. In the end I placed 6th overall and won my age group!  While my big goals remain on the roads, this experience inspired me to put a few trail races on the calendar in 2017.

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I have one final goal for the year which I set in January, to average 50 miles per week in 2016, about 2600 miles total. I set that goal specifically because my main focus for this year was to be consistent. And it worked! I was right on track up until last week. Stupid virus! There are 17 days left in the year and I’ve got 123 miles to go, so just under 8 miles per day til January 1st. It’s a bit of a stretch for me (I’m more of an easy-6 kinda gal), but I think I can do it! You can follow my progress on my Strava page.

That’s all for now, short and sweet!

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