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.

The Bloomsday Trials

I have never started a race without a healthy dose of optimism. This was true as ever at the Lilac Bloomsday Run yesterday. I had my first experience racing the challenging 12 kilometer course last year. I finished with a time of 47:32 and thought immediately after crossing the final timing mat, “I can do better,” (as any runner does) and vowed to return the next year.

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The Bloomsday course is a tricky one. From the starting point in downtown Spokane, you run west out of the city, plunge into a valley 1.5 miles in, run up a long gradual hill until you’re back at the elevation you started at the halfway mark. Then you drop down into another valley, cross a bridge over Spokane River, then up and up the infamous Doomsday Hill which brings you to starting elevation again, this time over just three quarters of a mile. From there it is 2.5 mostly flat miles to the finish.

Last year, knowing that the dreaded Doomsday Hill was coming, I start the race fairly conservatively and saved a little something for the climb. It paid off as I felt good on the hill and even passed a few people along the way.  The final 2.5 miles, however, felt like dreck. It was as if I were running slow motion through sand. My legs were so tired from the hills and I just could not kick it in at the end.

Going into the race this year, my plan was to start the race more aggressively and drop a few more seconds on the downhills while I actually had fresh legs and momentum. I remembered wishing I had stuck with some faster women at the start the year before, as 7.5 miles really wasn’t too far relative to the longer distances I usually race. I felt I had approached it more similarly to a half marathon than a “10K + some.”

I stuck to my plan and my first three miles were each about 5 seconds faster than the year before. My 4th mile was a tad slower, but overall my goal of sub-47:00 was well within reach. I didn’t exactly bound up Doomsday Hill as I had done the year before, clocking in at 3:10 vs. the previous year’s 2:54 (they place timing mats at the bottom and top), but even so, I passed through the five mile mark ten seconds under goal pace. However, while I anticipated feeling terrible in the next couple of miles, I wasn’t prepared for just how terrible. Well after the hill I was still gasping for breath. I tried to stay light on my feet and get my legs to turnover, but they simply wouldn’t.

If there was ever a point where I lost the race, it was the sixth mile. I was aiming for an overall pace of 6:17 per mile, which I had managed so far while feeling pretty good. Then I ran that particular mile in 6:52, despite it being mostly flat as a pancake. Ouch. My reasoning was, just get past Doomsday Hill and you’re home free! I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sixth mile was by far the hardest part of the race. If I had been competing against my past self, 2016 me would have passed 2017 me at that point with a 6:31 mile. Slower than I would have liked, but still it would have made my goal salvageable! All that work to bank some time (which I now can’t believe I thought was a good idea) was out the window and I was worse for the wear.

One of my goals for this race was to be mentally tough and to push through the really nasty parts and make myself run fast anyway. I’m generally so quick to just accept discomfort as a sign that I’m running beyond my abilities, so I back off- but that’s exactly what my brain wants me to think. Pretty nifty survival mechanism, but not great for racing! I’m still wondering if only I were better at overriding that pain signal, could I have run better than a 6:52?

I felt so unbelievably dejected by how hard I was working for the numbers steadily creeping upward on my watch. How cruel running can be! I told myself all kinds of things through that last mile, anything to pick it up just a little bit. Pain is temporary. Less than ten minutes to go- what a short amount of time! What did you even drive all the way out to Spokane for, if not to try? See that church? Just get to the church and around the corner then you’re home free!

My next mile, which I didn’t even see at the time, was 6:26. Not enough to balance out the last mile, but an improvement. From there I had just half a mile to go. I sped by the church, rounded the final corner, then began the very welcomed descent to the finish line. From a distance I could see the clock at 47:01, 47:02, 47:03. I was so tired and felt compelled to close my eyes as I do when I’m fatigued, but I really made myself focus on that clock because I would have been so upset if I missed beating my previous best of 47:32. The clock was literally flipping from 47:30 to 47:31 as I crossed the timing mat! The agony! The suspense! In the end, my chip time read a comfortable 47:26. A six second improvement from last year!

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The Lilac Bloomsday Run, as it was last year, was a great challenge and humbling experience. On paper, I looked at my 47:00 goal and thought, of course that’s within reach! I badly want to qualify for the 2020 US Olympic Trials Marathon within the next few years which will take a marathon effort at around the same pace of 6:17/mile. Surely I should be able to run at least 12K at that pace. And then I couldn’t! That’s a tough pill to swallow.

On the positive side, I ran a personal best. It was only by six seconds, but still. I did something with my body that it’s never done before. World record for one Liz Anjos running a 12K! And more significantly, it’s the first race I’ve improved on since last year. My Shamrock 15K time last year was 59:55; this year it was 61:07. My Corvallis Half Marathon time last year was 1:24:54, this year it was 1:27:12. Bloomsday last year 47:32, this year 47:26. It took some time following an injury earlier in the year, but I’m finally starting to feel up to snuff.

I’m a long way from where I want to be, but I hope with consistency and small improvements over time, that next breakthrough will come. My next goal race is Grandma’s Marathon on June 17th and I’m just entering the meatiest part of training. You can follow my progress on Strava. ‘Til next time!

The Thrill of the Chase

The sun began to cast its first glimmers of pink and orange across the Willamette River. I rummaged through my sock drawer until I found what I was looking for: my white knee-high compression socks, reminiscent of those made famous by local Olympian Shalane Flanagan. I told myself I wasn’t going to race in the Portland Shamrock Run that day. I would run the 9.3 mile course, maybe at a slightly-faster-than-usual pace. I had missed out on some winter training after pulling my hamstring in January. I had already registered though, so I might as well earn my commemorative bottle opener for finishing, right?

I donned my running gear, took a look in the mirror and frowned. I was in layers since I’d surely get too cold if I wasn’t racing racing. However, the long sleeve shirt under my singlet looked frumpy and out of place. I tried again with just the singlet. Much sleeker. I reached for my lightweight training shoes but then a pair of low-profile racing flats that I had acquired on a recent trip in Japan, the adidas Takumi Ren, caught my eye. I mean, it would be a shame to have bought these cool racers and not even take them out for a spin, I thought. I grabbed them instead.

I stepped out my front door and jogged along the river until I reached the staging area of the race. I took my place among the thousands of runners lining up toward the start. From my standpoint, the floating arch over the start line seemed awfully far away. Maybe I should get a little closer to the front… after all, people can get so jumbled up in the first mile. I inched my way up and found two friends I knew through the running circuit. We asked each other about our race plans; they were both going for a time of under 60 minutes, a pace of 6:26 minutes per mile. I told them I’d be happy with anything under 7:00 pace. We nervously shuffled around, shivering under the occasional peek of sunlight through the clouds, until we received a 30 second warning that the race would begin.

We took off and I tucked in behind my two friends, who both (lucky for me) started on the conservative side. We sailed through the first mile in 6:56 and I didn’t feel too bad! From there, they began to pick up the pace but I just went into cruise control, hitting the second mile on a gradual uphill at 7:03. Up and up Barbur Boulevard I went, finding my stride with a few runners in the familiar red singlets of the Team Red Lizard running club. I didn’t worry too much about pace, but every time I looked down at my watch I was pleasantly surprised. 6:48, 7:17.

After a scorcher of a hill cutting up to Terwilliger Boulevard and cresting to the glorious drone of live bagpipers, I did a quick assessment. My breathing was calm and my legs felt fresh. I dashed down the rolling hills, catching glimpses of the sparkling Willamette and snow-capped peak of Mt. St. Helens between the Douglas firs lining the road, when I heard a spectator calling out, “12th woman… 13th woman… 14th woman…” 14th place, not bad! The woman up ahead of me wasn’t too far out of reach. I thought, what if I just catch up and run with her a little? I threw in a little surge and closed the distance between us, but I couldn’t help myself and continued to blow on by. Even after 10+ years since running in high school, it’s been ingrained in me to “pass with authority.” After making that little move, it was as if a switch flipped and I went into full-on competitor mode. 6:15, 5:38.

I then focused on not only reaching the next woman ahead of me, but another woman way ahead of me, who happened to be one of the two runners I started with! In the seventh mile the course led the runners up one last gradual hill, which felt torturous so late in the race. I passed the first woman and we told each other, “Good job!” We came up on a hairpin turn, and it was then I could see just how much my friend had on me, maybe around 30 seconds. I kept trying to close the gap between us, but every time she had a little more to give. 6:19, 6:13.

One mile to go. The last four had started to take their toll on my body. I could feel my stomach churning and legs revolting. When I looked back on race photos, I could tell which were taken in the later miles because my eyes were closed in almost all of them- a dead giveaway that I’m pretty much toast!

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I’m not here. This isn’t real. It’s all a dream!

I reached the last straightaway toward the finish on Naito Parkway, the finish line looming in the distance. I opened up my stride and tried to keep myself together. The woman I had passed earlier moved up alongside me. She said something along the lines of “C’mon, let’s go!” and I wheezed something like, “You got this!” She passed by me and I just tried to hang on. Soon after I heard cheering and cowbells ringing and realized it was coming from a group of my Volée teammates alongside the race course. Knowing there were people rooting for me, I pushed back and strode past the woman again. I could hear her footsteps behind me for a few seconds, but soon they faded. I pumped my arms harder, gasped for air, and powered to the finish line. Last mile, 6:09. Finish time, 1:01:07. 12th woman overall, 1st in my age group! I turned around to cheer on the next woman but was swiftly overcome by the urge to puke. It was a close call. We congratulated and thanked each other for pushing one another. As we walked down the finisher shoot we were greeted by several other women that had finished just ahead of us. While we may have been competitors on the course, I felt such a camaraderie among everyone that had just given their all.

The Portland Shamrock Run was four days ago and I’m still over the moon about it. The string of seemingly random injuries, time off, and low mileage this winter had me feeling a bit hopeless about what the future held. I was convinced I had lost my speed and wondered how long it would take to get back. It turned out that residual fitness is quite real, as my coach has told me over and over again. This race to me was confirmation that I’m not crazy to keep shooting for big goals. It also reminded me of how much I love to compete. The thrill is far from gone… I’m back, baby!

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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