Gearing Up for Race Day

 

It’s been four years since I last ran the Staten Island Half Marathon and I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s easy to recall something that has made an impact on you, easier still if it had a PR attached to it and even easier if it happened with an injury. That race will forever go down as my most heartening run with the most beautiful, yet tough memories of what it means to run with heart. While I won’t venture beyond that, since it’s all in the past and has already been rehashed, what I will say is that I hope the lessons I took away serves me well this time around.

In the past few years I’m focused a lot on “the Marathon” and paid little attention to running or training for a half-marathon. For sure it’s a different race, and in fact all races deserve their own respect and therefore their own strategy and plan, which I’ve tried to follow to this point. The problem is that running two important, yet different, races two weeks apart poses a bit of a challenge when training. Since I’m doing just that, I’m left with the quandary of which to prioritize. This is more or less easily determined as I’m running the Half with specific goals in mind that supersedes those of the Marathon. That is not to say that it’s less important but only that my goals for the Marathon are less demanding. Still, I always try to run a good race so performing well is very important and has made my past twelve weeks of training interesting with varied runs and cross training targeting development and performance for both races. Only this past weekend had me doing a simulation run that saw me come up just short of my goal time. I’m trusting the real race will provide the missing positive factors that will influence the result I’m looking for. As it is, I’ve run two marathons back-to-back before, they were of the same distance and my strategy then was to simply treat the first as a long run and the second as a race. As I recall, it didn’t quite turn out that way and in hindsight I see now that I should have raced the first and just enjoyed the second. Suffice to say, I walked away lesson learnt.

On Sunday, which happens to be the same day of the Chicago Marathon – just throwing that in there – I will attempt to run in the shadow and wisdom of past races and hope to have an amazing time on my favorite half-marathon course in NYC. Although I’m told the course is slightly different from what I am used to – a bit more hilly – I can only hope it spurs me on to great things. Wish me luck as I carb-up this week and prepare to run my “race of the year.” The excitement just doesn’t get old around here! LOL.

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Tips to a PR in the TCS New York City Marathon

Chief Petty Officer Noah Bray from Coast Guard Sector New York crosses the finish line at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon, Nov. 2, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons.)

Chief Petty Officer Noah Bray from Coast Guard Sector New York crosses the finish line at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon, Nov. 2, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons.)

It’s nine days to Marathon Sunday here in New York City. For a lot of runners that means nine days of excitement, anticipation and tapering. For many others it may mean nine days of trepidation, anxiety and stress. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the emotional spectrum, your feelings couldn’t be more valid as it relates to this marathon. Trumped as perhaps the best and one of the more challenging marathons out there, the hype is real and you will need all of your wits and will to master this course and wring a PR out of it.

The competitive runner understands that each race is different and that despite a well-executed training plan one has to be ready and willing to look at all avenues and consider all possibilities if the aim is finishing within a goal time.  As it is, the TCS New York City Marathon boasts a field size of 50,000 runners, the largest in the world, who are geared up to run the race of a lifetime hoping for the experience of a lifetime. It will be their special time on the running world stage where everyone gets a moment to shine – a shot at glory – if you will.

As a two-time New York City (NYC) and all-round ten-time marathoner I have found this to be a tough and challenging course if you’re running for a goal time. If you’re simply wanting to finish, then you can easily do that, the crowds will get you there. However, if you’re looking for a personal best, a PR or sub 3:30, whether you’re a newbie or a repeat marathoner, you may want to bear these pointers in mind:

  • November’s weather can be very unpredictable. In the days leading up to the race pay careful attention to weather advisories and prepare your body by eating well – carbing up, hydrating well and resting well. This is standard pre-race procedure and will serve you well on race day in being alert, focused and feeling energised.
  • Use a foam roller or the stick the night before race day to get out any kinks or muscle tightness. Roll out leg and thigh muscles especially, it leaves you limber and loose and ready to run.
  • Dress appropriately. Use layers that can be efficiently discarded on the course since it’s very likely that the start will be cold. I like to run at least the first three miles with a heat sheet so my body temperature slowly builds to comfortable race temps, then I discard it.
  • First time marathoners or first time NYC marathoners should be wary of the start. If you’re in the early corrals, the start can be really packed and chances are you’ll be running toe-to-toe with other runners for a few miles, be prepared to adjust or slow your pace to accommodate this.
  • Engaging in dodging and weaving in the early segments of the race utilizes a lot of energy and can cost you later on. It is better to follow the crowd while awaiting the opportunity to increase your pace.
  • It is also very easy to get caught up in the crowds and excitement in the beginning, be wary of going out too fast too soon; pace yourself and stick to it until you’re at least half-way there.
  • Ideally, you want to go for a negative split and up the ante at the halfway point, just be careful to increase gradually.
  • To stay properly hydrated and energized, I would suggest a grab and go strategy at each fuel station indulging in a brief sip before discarding.
  • Alternate between water and Gatorade if available.
  • Add energy gels every four miles after mile 8 (miles 12, 16, 20, 24).
  • Try not to stop at the fuel stations and stick to the outside of the pack in order to get to the middle or end of the tables to grab your fuel so you don’t get caught up in the rush at the onset of the stations.
  • Drink just enough fuel. This a good strategy that will save you time, energy and discomfort as you want to minimize or eliminate any bathroom breaks or any stops at all as this will impede your goal time.
  • Appreciate the crowds and volunteers who are there to make your race experience an amazing one. Buy into the cheers and raves and encourage them with a smile, a wave, a clap and/or a thank you; it adds to your momentum especially in the latter part of the race when you’ll be needing all the encouragement you can get.
  • At this point it will be helpful if you have a number, name, country, or cause on display that the crowds can tie you to. They will use it to call you out and cheer you on and you’ll appreciate that.
  • Look out for the Queensborough bridge ( you cross five bridges in the NYC Marathon), it’ll be around mile 16, at this point you’ll be on the threshold of tiredness and pushing real hard. If you can keep the momentum going up this seeming mountain then you’ll be rewarded on the other side with the rising crescendo of voices, all cheering for you. What a thrill! You’re treated to the screams and cheers of what feels and may very well be a million spectators, from all over the world, as you enter 2nd Ave in Manhattan. This is the reason you run, there’s no greater feeling for a runner than right there and then. Remember that and own it.
  • Running down Fifth Ave from the Upper East Side in Manhattan may feel like the toughest part of the race for some, it appears to go on forever ( for about four miles) lean into it, use the energy of the crowds to push you and provide momentum heading into Central Park at 72nd Street.
  • Now is the time for what I call the fishing strategy: keep your eyes on the runner just ahead of you and slowly aim to pass him or her ( as if to reel them in). This will do two things: give you an immediate goal , which feeds your competitive spirit, and take your attention off yourself and whatever discomfort you may be experiencing.
  • Use the downhill in the park, lean into it and glide. On the other hand, power through the inclines feeding off the crowds and knowing that you’re almost there – less than a mile and a half away at this point.

Finally, getting out of the park and onto 59th Street/ Central Park South, it’ll be your quarter mile final stretch before heading into the park once again at Columbus Circle. You’ll hear the roar of the crowds, see the flags lining the roadway to the finish line area as you get into your final turn, the voice of the announcer and spectators will be urging you on; enjoy it, smile for the camera, finish strong. You did it.

The Chicago Marathon, my running sweet spot

source: bankofamericachicagomarathon.com

@ the start line          bankofamericachicagomarathon.com

Last Sunday 40,400 runners crossed the finish line in Grant Park at The Chicago Marathon. We weaved a determined and exhilarating path through the streets of Chicago, from the downtown area through the suburbs and neighborhoods, out to the medical district and back. Runners came out in their numbers, each wanting their moment of glory, some with personal goals, others as part of a collective effort to raise money for a favorite charity. Whatever the reason, we embraced the warmth, cheers and encouragement of over 1.7 million spectators and thousands of volunteers to cement this, at least in my mind, as the most superbly organized marathon event I have run thus far.

The New York City Marathon runs a close second to Chicago because of its phenomenal crowds and volunteers and because..well, it’s New York. I don’t for one second take for granted how challenging it must be to pull of an event of this magnitude in any city. We, runners, are just super thrilled that organizers of these racing events have the experience and know-how to make it happen and thus afford us these epic moments. Because this was my second time around in Chicago, I was prepared for am amazing race. I had such a good time last year even with a slight injury; this year I had no such encumbrance and felt that as long as I was well rested I would do well. While circumstances did not permit such ideal conditions – I missed my flight on Friday and got in Saturday afternoon, which is an entire blog by itself – for various reasons, many having to do with optimal training (no over-training this time), better rest, hydration and diet in the weeks leading up to race day – all somehow conspired to make sure I ran amazingly well.

bankofamericachicagomarathon.com

bankofamericachicagomarathon.com

Chicago is a beautiful city with a diverse populace and a common passion, or so it seems – a love for running and the marathon. Because I always credit the success of a race in large part to its spectators and volunteers, I truly appreciated the huge turnout on both counts. I maintain there is nothing in the world quite like running down the home stretch of a race to the tune of a roaring crowd urging you on while suddenly hearing your name announced over the loud-speaker as you approach the finish line. That is one of the remarkable moments, and there are others, that we, runners, run for. That and the medal of course.

Like ever race though, this one was different and special. Foremost was my reason for running, I felt so motivated to run for the kids at St Jude’s to the extent that I kept up an average 7:45 min/mile pace for most of the race. My intent was to try for a negative split but I ended up running faster in the first half, then fluctuating a bit, then dropping down to a 8min/mile until mile 24 where I was able to up the anté and run my fastest time through the finish line. I finished at 3:27:11 – my fastest Marathon and a personal best. I was/am thrilled. However, like most type A personalities, I’m quick to see that I could have done better. Because I  was scared of running out of energy, for the first half and a bit beyond, I consciously reigned in my enthusiasm, which was probably wise, as it ensured I finished strong, but it’s also possible I could have put out just a little more, since at the finish I felt reasonably strong.

me @ around mile 15.5 in Chicago's medical district

me @ around mile 15.5 in Chicago’s medical district

Oh well.. hindsight remains what it is while I remain committed to improving that time. My next big race is the Boston Marathon in April while I volunteer at New York City Marathon next month. In the meanwhile before Boston, chances are looking really good for another race.

2016 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon Medal

2016 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon Medal

10 Reasons to Run a Marathon this Fall


Source: smileswithmoms.com

Source: smileswithmoms.com

You never know what life is gonna throw at you. One day you could be trading stocks on Wall Street, the next serving a humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. While that may be an extreme there exists many others; from health to sickness and every and anything in between, a person’s goals and life could change in an instant. And so we plan, our God-given right we believe, in the hopes of a million dreams coming through while ironically we have no control whatsoever over any of it.

So what does that mean for you the runner? For my part it says that while planning is necessary to maintain an illusion of order and control in our lives, it is far more important to live in the moment – making use of the days and seasons as they come and fulfilling our dreams as far as we can now. Dreams of running, loving, living, adventure, missions, service..whatever they may be, more often than not, we only get one shot at.

With that in mind, I propose a running dream come true this Fall. How about a marathon? The ultimate running experience for every person who considers him/herself a runner awaits you.  There will never be a better time, a more perfect season or better reasons to challenge yourself. Here’s why:

  1. Fall weather rocks a marathon with near perfect running conditions and is the most scenic and awe-inspiring to runners who are closet nature lovers. Think trails, mountains, foliage etc.
  2. It’s great for destination marathoners. That would be me! I love to pick a beautiful city right off the map just because it promises a beauty of a course.
  3. This is the best time to run (for first time marathoners), complete and even record a PR as it follows Summer where you would have had ample opportunity for executing a great training plan.
  4. Generally, travel rates are lower since it’s post summer so deals are on to make it a few days vacation with a marathon added for good measure.
  5. It presents the perfect opportunity to cross off that bucket list event or new year resolution. I’m guessing a marathon was high up on there.
  6. If you’re anything like me, you love a challenge. Well maybe I’m a bit much, but hey.. how about a Fall challenge to take it to the next level. For steadfast half-marathon folks or those who enjoy still shorter runs, how about pushing those limits while increasing your mileage and building endurance and ability. I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.
  7. Lots of charity runs happening this Fall as we head to October and Cancer Awareness month. Your marathon miles can do a lot of good to so many.
  8. Training for a marathon could just be what you need to put you in tip-top shape for the upcoming holiday season and all the irresistible food and treats that will surely tempt you then. The hard work you would have put into training to get you looking so svelte will help temper your palette as you will want to stay fit and healthy.
  9. A marathon is an inspiration to so many people, those who can’t run, those who do, and others who want so much to. Why not earn bragging rights as a marathoner while inspiring others to do the same.
  10. Lastly, if you didn’t know it, Fall is unofficially marathon season with two really big marathons taking center stage, the New York City Marathon and the Chicago Marathon. You could have a place in either one of these and run the opportunity of a lifetime. Now which runner out there can say no to that?

I guess if after all that you’re not thinking in terms of 26.2 then there’s really no hope for you. Tick-tock, tick-tock, the clock’s a’ticking – to marathon or not to marathon.

A Recap of Running The Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon

 

The Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon 2015

The Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon 2015

Last Sunday dawned awash with color across the New Jersey sky, the beautiful face of sunshine setting the tone for a stellar day weather-wise and otherwise. We stood at the start wrapped in our heat sheets, an anticipated chill in the air. The buzz was high. Many were expecting to do good here; rumor had it the course was a fast one. Having observed no worrisome inclines on my review the evening before, I was excited to see how it would pan out. Part of my excitement stemmed from the “unknown factor.” I enjoy discovering a course while running. My adventurous spirit revels in the uncertainty and mystery of what will come next and I was not disappointed. I had heard a bit about the twists and turns following mile 13 but I wasn’t concerned, as long as there was some variety to be had, I had nothing to fear from monotony.

As it turned out, our 3:30 pace group leader was a veteran marathoner with 50+ marathons under his “shoes,” most recently Boston two Monday’s ago. His humor was trying at best as he attempted to entertain us early in the race; though on a marathon course, you learn to appreciate anyone who tries. He did however, marshal us into maintaining a steady 7.5 pace for first half of the race, which had a few of us antsy considering the burn out issue. Still, there were others who were interested in upping the ante, feeling strong then I guess. I’m headstrong yes, but not stupid, and I am fully aware of the idiom – marry in haste, repent at leisure – no way was I even interested in trying to outdo myself at such an early stage. Good sense prevailed and we stayed together and strong. You can tell New Yorker’s anywhere you go and that was true of those running in the group; chatty, competitive, brash even but open and warm. Some willingly carried the pacer’s sign, which he promised to ditch early on, right to the end. For much of the way, miles 1 through 16, we poked fun, had the odd conversation, commented on pace and fed off the crowd, which was a surprise in itself – there were quite a bit of cheer going on. We were thankful for that and showed our appreciation with waves and mouthfuls of thank you. The volunteers, as instrumental to the race as ever were a beautiful bunch; filled with encouragement and fuel, they were with us every couple of miles along the way.

The fight and challenge to finish strong came around mile 18. So far it had been a scenic, flat and full-out sunshine course. The wind was co-operating fully with just the right amount of ruffles to make the sun a pleasure but suddenly it wasn’t so easy anymore. The sun was now head on and hot, the stretches began to seem to long, no one was talking anymore, the pacer appeared to be going too fast, I could hear grunts coming from my far left, where was the guy with the time pick? And the other one who was beside me for much of the way? We appeared to be losing people, a couple were ahead but surely some were behind. Shouldn’t the pacer check to see what was happening to the group. It was then I realized that it was all he could do to remain focused and stay the course. He had set the pace and carried it for three-quarter of the way, it was our job to take it home. I felt we had lost some time, a few seconds of the last two miles maybe, but with four more miles to go and the shore beckoning, it was doable, it was happening. I recall his last words before my heart took over – a hug at the finish.

It’s what is known as heart running. When you feel like there’s nothing left to give. You’ve done all you can, all the training; cross training, speed work, running, has culminated into this moment right here..this is it. With two more left to go, it’s breakaway time. My heart is thumping, my legs are unreal..I don’t even feel them, all I can see is the stretch in front of me, all I can hear is the voice in my head – you’re almost there, over and over – I’ve left them behind, the crowds are thickening, the waves are crashing, my feet are pounding, I can see the finish. This is so happening. With 800 meters to go I stagger and look behind me and there’s my girlfriend who ran the entire way with me, I thrust out my hand to her – “come on, come on,” I say. She reaches out, I grab her hand and we sprint to the finish; huge smiles on our faces for the camera as we cross the finish line. I pull away, retching with my head between my knees and she’s gleefully saying, “we did it! We did it! Sub 3:30! Are you ok?” All in that order. A few minutes and I was fine, the pain would follow in a bit but just then I was super excited to have PR’d and qualified for Boston 2016 by just over ten minutes. We did indeed indulge in those hugs and a few tears following the reciept of our medals. They say pain is temporary, pride is forever. I’m so proud of me.

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