Not a Boston race report


Before the sore legs and sufferfest memories fade, I need to get this down on paper: the Boston Marathon is the hardest marathon I’ve ever run. Heartbreak is an Everest-sized mountain. No matter how slow you start down those plummeting first hills, you will feel it in your quads diving from Newton down into Boston. The weather is uncontrollable and usually will not give you what you want. Those college kids screaming at you to run as you struggle to put one foot in front of the other have no idea what you’re going through. I’ve run it five times now and have had just one good race.

Before the runner’s high and memories of glory fade, I need to get this down on paper: the Boston Marathon is the best marathon I’ve ever run. No matter how jaded you are in racing, it’s impossible not to feel the excitement and energy in the air. The crowds are second to none. Kids want nothing more than to give you a high five or an orange slice. And whether you ran a 3 hour race or a 6 hour one, you will feel the love from every single person in the salty city of Boston as you hobble back to your hotel.

The tough thing about racing is you don’t know how it will turn out until you try. The best laid plans and training blocks can be shattered very quickly by elements completely out of your control. But we still try anyway. It takes a certain amount of bravery to step up to the starting line, uncertain of what will happen over the next 26 miles. I chose to sign up for this race because I knew it would be a challenge. I often forget that I have the luxury of choosing how I suffer. So when that suffering is different than the expectation, the suffering you prepared for, the real test begins. Things will inevitably go south if you race often enough. And just like running fast, surviving a bad race is an art that gets refined over time. I’ve felt shitty during races often enough that I knew early on this would not be my glorious comeback race, proving that my NYC sub-3 wasn’t just a fluke.

pre-race prep. thx lululemon!

My monkey brain was full of chatter and demoralizing thoughts early on. Do I keep pushing the pace even though my heart rate is near max? Do I stick with my pack even though I know this feels too hard? Do I let go of the ego and accept that I’ll run a slower time? Do I completely give up and walk it in? Do I stop at the next medical tent and pretend that my bum leg hurts too much to continue?

When Boston stopped being a physical challenge of holding a pace, it became a mental exercise in gratitude. I forced myself to flip my thinking, get out of the pity party I was wallowing in, and stay present. Could I be grateful and appreciative while my brain bombarded me with thoughts of quitting and giving up marathons forever? It was hard. Maybe one of the harder things I’ve done. I thought of the people in Boston who gave up their weekend to support me: Pon, my family, my teammates. I had to finish for them. I thought of all the work I had put in, all the time in the pool and the strength training and the physical therapy and massages. I couldn’t let that go to waste. I thought of my grandfather, who passed away last month. Whose last words to me were “run for me, Angie.” I had to make good on that promise. I thought of all the people who try their entire lives to qualify for this one race and never make it, sometimes missing their BQ by seconds. Some of those people would give anything to trade spots with me in that moment. And I thought of how disappointed I would be if I gave up. I did not want to waste this opportunity.

The race didn’t go as I had dreamed, but as always seems to be the case, I learn more from the crap races than I do from the ones that go well. The bad races toughen you up. I finished a marathon in 75+ degree heat, fighting back vomit half the time, with a stress reaction in my tibia, without running for two weeks leading up to the race. If I can do THAT, imagine what I can do next time when just one of those factors isn’t in play? It’s all about that mental game.

I may or may not come back to Boston next year, but I will be back eventually in search of my magic unicorn, that perfect race with good weather where everything comes together. Boston can be a dirty place filled with rude people who don’t make eye contact, but on this one day out of the year everyone comes together to celebrate an epic journey we take together. And that’s something you just don’t find anywhere else.

post-race was way more fun than actual race

Making Sub-3 Happen

 

282023_192143249_xlarge

Boston 2015

Running a marathon is an intensely personal journey. 99% of us are not running to win. So why do it? Why put yourself through months of hard work for a few hours of your time on a Sunday morning? Well, for me, the motivation is bettering myself. It’s that deep internal drive to do something, not because I’ll earn money or lose weight or get some other reward. But because my brain has picked a number and assigned a level of importance to it. That number, for the past two years, has been “2:59:59.”

I had gotten a little cocky in my goal-setting. I was PRing at almost every race and felt like I could go after an aggressive goal. So when I put it out there that I was going to run a sub-3 at Boston 2015, I was pretty confident I could do it even though that meant knocking 7 minutes off my current best time. I put in the miles and the hard work, but come race day the weather did not cooperate, as is usually the case in Boston. I ran a 3:04 and was a complete basket case. I PRed and I ran a hard race in pouring rain with a headwind the entire way. What was I so upset about then? In my mind I had failed. I didn’t hit my A goal and I had let everyone down. Because in my arrogance, I thought people actually cared what time I ran. Continue reading

A new perspective

img_0173

Table Rock 30K

There are thousands of reasons why I run. It’s my alone time. It’s my social time. It’s my chance to connect with nature. It exhausts me. It energizes me. It gives me confidence and it makes me doubt myself. It makes me feel alive. Heart beating in my throat, legs screaming, sweat stinging my eyes, gasping for breath to fill my lungs. There is no truer expression of celebrating my body than by pushing it to its limits.

But therein lies the problem: my body has limits. I’ve toed that fine line a few times over the past couple years but have avoided serious injury since February of 2013. I do all the right stuff. I strength train. I take rest days. I do yoga and eat lots of anti-inflammatory foods and sleep 8 hours a night. I try to listen to my body, even if it is telling me the exact opposite of what I want to hear. Recently my body has been talking loudly and I’ve had to make some tough decisions based on what it’s been telling me. It’s been a few months since my last blog, so let me bring you up to speed. Buckle up. Continue reading

Surviving Injury

 

hike

This guy will hike with you ANY TIME.

Okay, so your doctor has put the final nail in your running coffin and has said those dreaded words, “stop running.” Great. Now what? Well, you have a couple options. You can sulk on the couch while binging on ice cream and Netflix, cursing the running gods for allowing this to happen, or you can make the best of your downtime and become a regular at the gym. Your body, and your friends, will appreciate the latter much more. I’ll lay out your best options below.

Cardio

Can you walk? Then go walk. Hike. Find some steep hills and power your butt up it. Get on the treadmill and crank the incline to 15%. This is especially useful if you have a trail race on the calendar.

Can’t walk? Then bike. Go outside if you aren’t too afraid of crazy-ass drivers and clip-in shoes (like me). Get on the spin bike if you are. Explore the cult of SoulCycle. We are just chasing that endorphin fix, after all. Continue reading

The 8 Phases of Injury

Running into Denial (not just a river in Egypt). Photo by Mark Kuroda

I’m injured and I can’t run. There. I said it. Cue emo music.
In a sport with an injury rate reported to be between 30 and 70 percent (kind of a massive range there, scientists), I bet you personally know at least one runner down for the count right now. I haven’t had a major injury since February of 2013. That’s three years of never being forced to take more than a few days off. I started to think I was invincible. Big mistake. 
A few weeks ago I strained my hip while doing weighted lunges with a trainer. That hip thing turned into a foot thing. And now it hurts to walk. Wahhh. Instead of crying alone under the covers (which I may or may not have done) I’ve channeled my energy into describing the various phases we runners go through when faced with a disastrous event like an injury. I know you’ve been there, and we will all be there again at some point. So take heart in knowing you aren’t alone. 

Denial. It barely hurts. I’ll just slap some KT Tape on there and it’ll be fine. I mean, I’m hardly limping at all! It’ll be fine if I foam roll a little bit. 

Anger. I’ve taken TWO whole days off and it’s not feeling better! WTF. Come on, body. You asshole. Get it together!

Blame Game. If only I had told him I couldn’t handle that weight. Why did I do that extra workout? I’m/coach/trainer is such an idiot. I could have avoided this whole thing if it weren’t for that one thing!

FOMO. I hate everyone and I will cry if I look at Strava. How dare they run without me! Why are you asking me about my race? Nobody understands the suffering I’m experiencing right now!

Acceptance. Okay, well, it’s been a week and this thing still hurts. I guess it’s real. But let me test it out one more time just to make sure… Yeah still hurts. Now even worse. FINE I’LL STOP RUNNING.

Pity Party. I’m never going to run again. I have to miss all these races I signed up for. But seriously what if I can’t run again? Will I have to take up cycling?! Kill me now. 

Motivation. I am going to get so fit by pool running and ellipticaling, my body won’t even know what’s happening. I’m going to work on my deadlifts and pullups. All the GAINZ.

Return to Running. OMG OMG I ran for 10 minutes my life has never been so good!!!! I will never take this for granted again!!!

Boston 2016 race report

 

462198_226497303_XLargeIf there’s one thing I’ve learned from ultrarunning, it’s that the tough times don’t last. You may feel like you need to curl up on the side of the trail and die a slow and painful death, but usually when you crest the hill or take in some calories, your brain realizes everything is cool and you continue on like nothing ever happened. I’ve never had to deal with that feeling during a road marathon until now.

It was warm, but not excessively so like 2012. There was a slight breeze, but not the hurricane headwinds like 2015. I had a sound plan for my pacing and nutrition. My training went well and all signs pointed to a sub-3:00 marathon. I had gotten a note of encouragement the day before from a friend that read “This is your day” and I really, truly believed it was: my comeback Boston; the year my race time matched up with my training and potential. I was prepared to race, and just needed all the little things to fall into place.

Well, as you can guess those things did not fall into place and were in fact scattered all over the road like my dog got ahold of them when I wasn’t looking. I felt off from the beginning, through the first few crowded miles, never able to settle into the zone. I hit the half in 1:29, right on pace for my sub-3:00 goal. But I knew my effort level was too high. The miles weren’t clicking like they should have been, but I kept pressing. By mile 10 I had stopped sweating, my face was crusted with salt, and I was getting occasional chills (uh oh). The heat was getting to me, and I was just. So. Thirsty. I began taking in a lot more water and gatorade than I would on a normal day. And naturally, my stomach got crampy and sloshy. Perfect. The small hills started to feel tougher, and it took longer and longer for my legs to recover on the downhills.

Then a tough time hit. I mean REALLY tough. So tough that I found myself actually hoping I would pass out so I could have an excuse to stop moving. And that tough time lasted from mile 16 to mile 26.2. It was just like the worst anxiety dream I routinely have about my races: I am trying so desperately hard to run but it’s like my legs are in quicksand and all I can do is watch people fly by. I walked a lot those last 10 miles, sometimes on the verge of sitting down on the side of the road to cry. But I kept forcing myself to look at the crowds. Those drunk college kids (god bless ‘em) would look me right in the eyes and scream “COME ON! YOU GOT THIS! RUN!” and I couldn’t let them down so I would force a few sloppy strides before the pain in my quads took over and slowed me to a crawl again. And speaking of my quads, I have run two 50 mile races, both with over 9,000 feet of descent, and my quads felt infinitely better after those runs than they did in the latter miles of Boston. What the hell?

Those last few miles were some of the hardest I’ve ever run. At some point I realized my time goals were completely out of reach, so to salvage my race I tried my best to enjoy the experience. I ran along the edge of the road, high fiving kids, cheering back, trying to smile. I took a freeze pop (best thing ever) and an orange slice (not so great, it turns out) from some young kids. At mile 25 I saw my sister in the crowd, made a bee-line over to her, and gave her a big hug. “I feel so awful!” “Noooo, you look great!” “You’re lying, but okay!”

Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. My teammate, Pam, flew by me on Hereford and I tried to give chase. My quads just laughed at me. Pam waited for me at the finish line (thank you!) and gave me a big hug. My legs almost gave out at that moment so we walked together through the finish chute. Water, space blanket, gatorade. That’s when I got tingly all over and started seeing black spots. Oh shit, here we go. I saw a wheelchair and asked if I could sit down before I passed out. The amazing medical crew wheeled me over to the tent where I had to lay down with elevated legs for about 20 minutes. My pulse was erratic, blood pressure way too low. The med crew was threatening to give me an IV if I couldn’t suck down gatorade. After focusing on my breathing for a while I slowly returned to normal. I sat up, got dizzy again, and had to wait a few more minutes. I eventually made my way back to the hotel to find my mom and Pon waiting for me. And there you have it.

462198_226161669_XLarge

I’m now 1 for 4 at Boston. But I’m not beating myself up about the result this year. I did everything I possibly could to prepare and I felt ready. The mistake I made, along with many others, was underestimating the weather. It was hotter than predicted. Nobody had a good race. Nobody. But I never thought about going out conservatively despite sweating before the race even started. I was there for one thing only and I knew it would involve some time in the pain cave. Marathoning is tough business. You train for months and beat up your body and make sacrifices (I gave up sugar for a whole month!!) on the off chance that the stars will align one day out of the year to give you a perfect race. To have your race blow up is a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the risk we take. If I wanted things to be easy I’d run 5Ks (just kidding 5K-ers, that shit HURTS).   

I finally understand why people return to Boston year after year. It is a different race every single time. Sure, the course is the same, but I’ve been there four times and had four wildly different experiences, ranging from the best marathon I’ve ever run to the worst. The constant throughout it all is the energy and excitement and the best crowds of any marathon ever. You will feel like a superstar walking around that city. But Boston is a tricky bitch, and even when your training and preparation is perfect, she will throw a wrench in your plans and laugh as you get heat stroke or hypothermia. Typical New England. To control freaks like me, it is insanely frustrating. But I’ve experienced the pure elation of a perfect race there, and I will keep going back until I find it again. See you in 2017, Boston.

I want to end this by sending out the hugest thank you to every person who called, texted, emailed, and wished me luck. To all the people out there on Patriots Day cheering. To my team for sharing the miles. To my coach for giving me confidence. To my dad for handing me that bottle. To my mom for being at the finish. To my sister and brother for their insulting signs. And the biggest, most heartfelt thanks to Pon for listening to me complain and giving up sugar with me and understanding what it takes. I love you all.

2015 in 5 lessons

 

635851227662079924

2015 STATS:
2,850 miles run
420h 20m spent running
264,573 feet climbed
409 runs
PRs in the 10k, half marathon, marathon, and 50k

2015 was a year of learning experiences for me. I didn’t have as many of those magic “easy” races, the ones where everything just clicks, as I did last year. And while everyone loves those good times, it’s the tough ones that are more valuable: they teach me things and keep me motivated to fight on. So instead of doing a “highlights reel” (of which there were many!) I’m going to give you the top five lessons I learned this year. Continue reading