New York Strong: It’s Marathon Week!

IT'S RACE WEEK!!!!!!! Photo Credit: QuickMeme.com
IT’S RACE WEEK!!!!!!! Photo Credit: QuickMeme.com

It’s here. Race week. In the words of Janice…

By this time next week, I’ll have run the New York City Marathon. I’ll have a second World Marathon Majors medal hanging on my wall. I can’t believe it is THIS WEEKEND.

Race Day Weather

No matter what kind of weather we may face on race day, I know that I need to put my mind to it and obviously have on-hand the provisions I need to *ahem* weather any circumstance. Since my last post, the nervousness has been amplified due to my incessant refreshing of my Weather Channel app. I guarantee marathoners check the weather forecast more than brides. I checked every day, several times a day. The weather went from a high of 62 to a low of 52 and a chance of rain anywhere from 60% two weeks out to 0% one week out. After about the third time rain was predicted at 60% chance, I decided not to wait on buying the things I may need for not only running in the rain but waiting in the rain. I looked up tips on how to run a marathon in the rain and decided to buy these emergency rain ponchos because they are clip-on and will be great for carrying if it should start raining in the middle of the race. I searched Amazon for a running shell, and put this jacket on my Wish List. I would much rather run a marathon in the rain than in wind so it was mitigated panic. Until I checked on Monday: high of 53 and a 10% chance of rain, winds at 16 mph. Winds…..omg no……

On Tuesday afternoon, at the time of this posting, the high is 57 and the low is 39. 10% chance of rain. Winds around 12mph. I’m just gonna go with that. It’s time to focus on other things.

My range of emotions when checking marathon weather. Photo Credit: Walt Disney, Inc.
My range of emotions when checking marathon weather. Photo Credit: Walt Disney, Inc.

Calming My Mind

Disclaimer: I have never thought this much about a marathon before I ran it. I realized that I need to not think about or make plans for the NYC Marathon right before bed; otherwise, I will stay up all night and not get the critical and copious amounts of sleep I need right now.

One night, I dreamt that the marathon was cancelled. Because I remember when Sandy hit in 2012, and there was a lot of controversy about whether it was the right decision (it was) and would the runners get to run next year (they did) or get a refund (doubtful). The next night, I went to bed early and slept over 9 hours. I woke up, read this article, and cried a little more than I’d like to admit before getting up for work. This race hasn’t even begun and it’s already going down as one of the most emotional marathons I will probably ever run. After my final long run of marathon-training, for which I went music-less, I kept pace by saying the lyrics to Kenny Chesney’s song “Pirate Flag,” which I had listened to earlier that day for stand-up paddle-boarding. I decided those words might help me stay on pace when it gets hard to run. But then later that evening, as I was trying to go to sleep, those words kept drumming through my head: “Well I come from an itty bitty homegrown small town, Smoky Mountains, nice place to hang around…” I realized that I needed to find some way– any way– to shut off my mind before bed.

 What I Am Wearing

I’m going to let you in on a secret. For major races, I don’t abide by the “don’t wear anything new on race day” rule, unless it is socks or shoes. I don’t like to wear something that I might have worn in a bad race because then I find that I carry that mental image with me. Every single race I race is a snapshot of where I am as a runner: what kind of injuries I battled, how I trained, what life was like in the middle of it all. I don’t want any doubt in my head– I like a clean slate. Also, if I look good then I will feel good, and then I will run well. Besides, I test my gear before the race just to make sure there are no issues with chafing or with the shirt riding up, and to make sure it will keep me warm or cool enough.

Given the fluctuating weather scenarios, the only thing I have nailed down is that I’ll be wearing my favorite Oiselle Roga shorts. My cut-off for wearing capri tights is 40. The top will be a little trickier; however, after overheating in a long sleeve Oiselle shirt on a 56-degree day, I’m fairly certain I will go the route of a tank top and arm warmers. I plan on bringing both with me to New York just in case.

Here are my first two options for race day outfits:

Also, I don’t usually like to run in hats, but if the chance for rain looks likely, a hat will be essential for keeping rain off my face and sweat out of my eyes. I would just need to decide if I want to run the whole race with my favorite Brooks Marine Corps Marathon 2011 hat or buy a throw-away visor. I’ll also likely wear gloves for the first few miles, but my hands warm up pretty easily. And usually my ears are pretty sensitive to cold air, so I will need a light head wrap. Sunglasses will depend on whether there is rain or sun, but I will likely go without since sun tends to turn my face into a heat shield.

Carry On

I’ve decided not to carry water bottle, which is a huge departure from any race I have ever run. On my last several runs, carrying a bottle of water annoyed the hell out of me. I am expecting that this marathon will be very well-stocked with water and Gatorade, so my plan is to hydrate very well before the race and rely on course aid stations. I may change my mind, and if I do, I’ll be carrying my small Nathan water bottle because it is tiny and has a snug fit.

As for race fuel, I admit that I am having trouble deciding what to use. Every single marathon I have run, I used Gu gels every 5 miles, but I don’t like how most of them taste and they don’t satiate me. On a 15-mile training run, I decided to test a theory. I get really hungry when I run, but Gu does not send that signal to my brain that my stomach is full so I get super hangry. When I get hangry, my attitude suffers. When my attitude suffers, I get discouraged that I can’t snap out of it, but I can’t snap out of it when I haven’t had anything to eat so then my form suffers. And when my form suffers, my run suffers and I get injured. So I tested eating one Nature’s Valley granola bar for every 5 miles— and it worked! I wasn’t hangry and my run did not suffer. The only problem is carrying them. They are not compact like gel packets, so I can’t stuff them in random pockets. For the marathon, I will need to carry two whole packages of granola bars. That is a challenge I don’t yet know how to solve since I don’t run with an armband and my Spi Belt will be holding my iPhone. I may need to run with two SpiBelts. I will figure this out somehow.

Eating to Prepare

During the second week of tapering, I focused on eating as many real, natural, nourishing foods as I could. Specifically, I focused on eating protein for recovery, nuts for healthy fats, fruits and veggies to keep my immune system strong (aided by a massive dose of Airborne gummies every day), and dairy for calcium. I also ate lots of Reeses pumpkins… because Halloween.

Photo Credit: RunningInTheRealWorld.com
Photo Credit: RunningInTheRealWorld.com

During the third week of taper, I started to carb up…on Monday. This week’s Blue Apron delivery was especially timely because it came with nourishing foods that were also carb-heavy: Smoked Mozzarella and Cabbage Pizza with a Romaine and Apple Salad, Sicilian-Style Rigatoni with Cauliflower and Pine Nuts, and Acorn Squash with Couscous Salad and Dressed Pea Shoots. Time to get bloated….

Race Strategy

So, I didn’t train for a certain goal for this race. Actually, due to some life that happened this summer, I almost decided not to train for this race at all. I am so glad that I went through with it.

My training has had its triumphant ups and terrifying downs. I have gone to so much physical therapy, and I feel strong. I have been doing squats every single day, planks every other day, and hip strengtheners every other day. I’ve had a few very successful long runs and some incredible shorter, fast runs. All of this has made me wonder where I am in terms of what I am properly trained to do and what I will be able to accomplish in New York. I’m going to start with my personal record: 4:28:06, earned in the 2015 Baltimore Marathon.

First goal: 4:28:05. They say no one PR’s in New York, but I feel like this goal is not out of the realm.

Second goal: 4:29, because I want my name printed in the New York Times.

Third goal: 4:45. My last World Marathon Major finish was 4:59. I’d like to be able to improve from that.

I know that New York City is a very challenging course, that there is a huge potential to let my emotions overwhelm me and sink my race, and that everything comes down to how I feel on race day. But, when it gets tough, I am going to remember what happened earlier this year and how it almost made me quit, and I will remember that I chose to train for this race so I could be here on this day. Because at least no one can take this away from me. No one.

Plot Twist…

Which is why I’m actually going to set my pace at a 4:20 marathon. Using what I learned when pacing the Coastal Delaware Half-Marathon last April, and keeping my mind away from “the dark side” like I have been practicing on my runs, I know that I can do this. I am not going to let that time scare me. I am sick of “learning to be okay” with not achieving my goals.

Photo Credit: HD Frank Sinatra at YouTube.com
Photo Credit: HD Frank Sinatra at YouTube.com

Building My Own Pace Band

When you pace a race, you have no choice but to finish within seconds under the time you are meant to finish. You cannot go over. A 2:30:01 would have been unacceptable. To help me keep accurate splits, I used my Garmin, a stopwatch, and a pace band with prescribed times that I should finish each mile. It helped me do the job I was meant to do. Having that pacer mentality of “you have to finish in this time” will also help.

Most marathons, I make mid-race guess-timations about what pace I need to be running. I sort of run the first 20 miles faster than the last 10K. I also struggle with how to manage energy on fresh legs. Taper-fresh legs are duplicitous: they trick me into thinking I have underestimated myself, so then I think I am in for a much faster finish time than anticipated. It always comes back to bite me.

This time, I have a plan: I built my own pace band.

Here’s the article I used to put together my pacing strategy. I like it because it gives a mile-by-mile playbook of where you should be in terms of your goal pace, the course elevation, and the borough you are running through (which is important because some neighborhoods have more crowds than others). I used that article, the course elevation chart, and a pace calculator to come up with my splits. Even if I finish in between 4:20 and 4:28, at least the times will let me know where I am in relation to my top two finish goals.

During my last training run, a 6-miler on Sunday, I practiced my race strategy. I ran 2 miles at 10:57, practicing conserving energy and instilling good running form. It was insane how easy it felt. In the next mile, I pushed the pace to 10:24, the pace I would need to hold for the 12 miles through Brooklyn. For miles 4 and 5, I ran at 9:54. Marathon pace. My last 10K pace. I practiced holding that pace going up a huge hill, which I am hoping did not fry my legs, but I felt strong charging the elevation. When I finished, I felt more ready than I had ever felt all season. Challenged but not overworked. During my second taper week, I only ran 10 miles total, but it was almost as if I had not taken any time off at all. That was a relief because it had been a very busy week and I had around 22 miles planned, but no time to run. I was worried.

Getting My Mind Right

Getting my mind into mental shape has been no easy task over the years. I am starting to see the value of failure. Without failure, I would never feel the frustration I have right now about running so much and not seeing my marathon PR move. Perhaps it’s also an issue of working harder and not smarter, but regardless, there has come to be nothing more that I have come to hate more than running super fast training runs at paces that are well below my current marathon pace goal and then averaging about 30-90 seconds slower in the real marathon. It defies explanation. A scroll through some of my training logs over the years and I would see runs like 6 miles, 9:23 pace. 10 miles, 9:30 pace, 8 miles, 9:02 pace, 6.2 miles, 8:45 pace. Years of mid-mileage runs at strong paces. Even a 20-miler in 2012 run at a 9:56 pace. It’s inexplicable why I could never achieve those paces in a marathon.

I realized it was my mind that kept holding me back.

After all that, I feel like I have been standing in line watching people get called on and I am aching for my turn. No— I am demanding that it is my turn to be called on. This is my time, and it is my turn.

During my practice run last night, I kept telling myself things like, “You have run this pace 10 billion times. You get frustrated when you can only run this pace because you can — and you have– run faster paces. You absolutely can run this pace in the marathon.” I even talked to myself in the mirror: now that was scary, but also effective.

“You’re right. I can do this, and I will do this.”

Maybe it’s fate that the Rio Summer Olympics were held this year and I am wearing the same shoes to run New York as the track and field Olympians, but I have always been inspired by that perfect cocktail of years of hard work coming down to one moment and seeing it play out.  One of my favorite Olympic moments is when 1996 Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug’s vault. I have watched her Gold Medal Moment video hundreds of times because it’s still so incredibly exciting to hear her speak about such a momentous event. It is a story that will never get old for me.

During my run last night, I kept hearing her talk about her Olympic gold moment (2:23). I could hear her words in my head as I ran: “You’re right. I can do this, and I will do this.” Amazingly, that run did not feel hard at all, and I knew I was right on track with my goal. Maybe this isn’t Olympic Gold I’m going after, but this feels like my Gold Medal Moment. Too much pressure to put on myself? No. I have the confidence of years of work and training and finally getting my mind in the right place to go after what I want.

If I Can Make It There….I’m Gonna Make It Anywhere….It’s Up To You, New York, New York

It’s going to be a tough race. That’s all I have heard, how tough the New York City Marathon is. But I’m tougher. I am New York Strong.

Photo Credit: TCS NYC Marathon
Photo Credit: TCS NYC Marathon
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