The NYC Marathon

I did it! I’ve officially finished a marathon–and arguably the biggest, most popular marathon in the world, the NYC Marathon. It was a crazy experience from beginning to end. I finished in 5:09:14. I was really aiming for under 5 hours but I’m happy just to have finished, considering this is my first marathon. I also thought this would likely be a “bucket list” type of thing that I would never do again–but now I’m really thinking my first will not be my last. So I’m SURE I’ll eventually get in under 5 hours!

The Ferry
The SI Ferry was insane. My assigned time was 8 am, but people really show up whenever they feel like like it because the ferry is free and open to the public. So a lot of people with earlier times came later and created a HUGE backup. I was lucky enough to sneak in onto the 8 am with a bit of luck and knowhow since I’ve taken the ferry in the past.

The SI Ferry Terminal
My start time was 11 am and I got to SI Ferry Terminal around 8:30. Knowing I had plenty of time, I followed numerous other runners in waiting in the warm terminal rather than the start village. I grabbed a bottle of water and sat down, mentally preparing for the day. Then, I decided I’d get into the ladies room like (here was my biggest mistake) thinking I’d prefer that over a port a potty later on. However, the line took FOREVER and right when I got near the front people started warning us the last shuttle over to the start would leave at 9:40. I decided to give up my much coveted spot in line so I could grab a shuttle. I got outside and quickly realized it wouldn’t be so easy to just grab a shuttle. There were THOUSANDS of people backed up in a line waiting for shuttles. It ended up taking at least 15 minutes to catch one. So pro tip to anyone running the NYC Marathon in the future–get on a shuttle ASAP after you get off the ferry. It’ll take a WHILE. The shuttle was at least 25 minutes to the start area.

The Start
I got off the shuttle, quickly found a port a potty (toilet paper was long gone–always bring toilet paper), and went over to my start village area. By the time all was said and done, it was around 10:30! I got into my corral after the 10:40 wave went and threw my layers in donation bins (luckily it was already about 60 degrees out and I didn’t need anything more than my shorts and t-shirt). I really had no down time to hang out in the start village. I feel like I JUST made it to the start on time and I left my apartment that morning at 6:50 am. Crazy!

The Start

The Start

The Verrazano
It’s so crowded when you first start, you really can’t run the pace you want to. Some people were walking to save energy since running was almost as slow as walking. My first mile was probably like 14 min–which honestly was probably a good thing. The Verrazano is a pretty big hill. I was too busy taking the race in to really get any good photos, but here’s what I did get

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Brooklyn
Brooklyn was nice and flat–thank goodness. I really made some decent time in Brooklyn, and I saw a couple friends/coworkers along the way that I didn’t expect to see, which was nice. My fiancé, friends, and family were posted up around mile 12 and I was very happy to see them when I did. Brooklyn was the only spot where I played my music actually. It gets a little quiet in a couple sections, and I was still a little nervous, so it helped calm my nerves. I turn my music off right before mile 12 so I could fine Sean and crew more easily and I never turned it back on!

Queens
Queens was short-lived, but I’ll never forget that bridge! The Queensboro bridge is evil–EVIL. A very very mean parting gift from the people of Queens. It’s right around mile 15 and that hill is VERY unwelcome. It’s not the steepest hill ever, but it lasts what feels like forever. You can’t see the end, and you just keep thinking this HAS to be it. It’s probably at least 3/4 of a mile. Any the bridge doesn’t have any spectators helping you along. Beautiful views, but definitely the worst part for me. I think it really took a lot out of me.

First Ave
What everyone says is true–the crowds here are crazy! So loud, so amazing. Definitely not a place to turn on music. I took it all in–it was a little overwhelming, but it gave me the energy I needed to keep going. It’s also a very long, slight uphill so it’s smart to take it a little slower. Throughout the course, I opted to use my own water bottle–I brought a handheld with me–but I was running out. I knew I was going to Sean and my family and friends at mile 18 again, so when I did I handed Sean my bottle and asked him to refill it for me. I knew I’d see him again at mile 23. This is why it’s SO important to know your friends’ plans on where they will be meeting you throughout the race. From miles 18-23 I just used the aid stations knowing I’d see Sean again at 23.

The Bronx
Let me tell you–don’t take the Willis Ave Bridge lightly. It’s a smaller hill, but after dealing with Queenboro and First Ave, it’s still an unwelcome hill, especially since you’re getting up there in mileage by that time. The Bronx was short-lived but FULL of energy. A really cool vibe up there. Unfortunately, I was starting to tire QUICKLY up there. This is also where I witnessed my WORST experience of the race. I saw a girl with a knee brace just collapse onto the ground and scream out in pain. To get so far and have that happen–I couldn’t even imagine. I couldn’t stop short to help her (other people behind me were able to) and someone else told cops to get medical aid for her, so there was nothing I could really do except send some good vibes and hope that she was able to at least get some medical help and finish the race by walking the last 6-ish miles. I really hope she did!

Back into Manhattan
Once I left the Bronx and got back into Manhattan, I was in uncharted territory. My training plan only had be go up to 20 miles, so once I was beyond that I didn’t know how I’d react. At around mile 22.5 I felt like I couldn’t run anymore. I saw the 5 hour pace group fly past me and I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch them. That’s when I decided it wasn’t worth continuing to run. I was hurting and I just NEEDED a break. I figured I’d walk for like 1/4 of a mile and then start up again to meet Sean and company at mile 23. Wrong I was. Once I stopped, I felt EVERYTHING. My body felt like it was breaking down. I had some lower back pain leading up to the race that I felt shooting down my whole leg once I stopped. For a brief moment I felt like I didn’t even have any legs. My feet were so sore, my muscles were revolting. Once I was walking, so many spectators I passed were so sweet “Come on Nicole you’ve got this”, “Looking strong Nicole, just a few more miles”. I texted Sean and told him I was in pain and walking. Everyone got worried. I found them at mile 23.5, stopped, talked to them, stretched, grabbed my water. I wasn’t sure of my game plan, but having everyone pulling for me was so helpful. It really gave me the motivation I needed to finish. I knew the sooner I finished, the sooner I’d be able to go meet up with them and EAT. Haha. I was in the middle of the TERRIBLE mile 23 hill, so I continued on, walking up that. Once I got to the top, I started running again and didn’t look back. It was the hardest 2.5 miles of my life, but I finished strong, running through the finish. At the end, I wanted to cry, and I almost did. It was a really emotional experience. I was so thankful to have so many of my friends and family there pushing me through the finish.

Finisher!

Finisher!

At the finish, everyone was walking around like a bunch of zombies. I totally understood why. My legs were revolting against me. I couldn’t believe the incredible pain I felt. All I wanted was a seat and some Advil, but I had to get through the finish area, get my poncho, and find my family in the masses. Once I found them we pushed through the crowds to take a subway downtown and avoid the uptown craziness. There, we grabbed some AMAZING pizza at Kesté–highly recommended (although the staff will push you out at the end to seat more people–which was pretty rude).

The Day After
I’ve never felt the kind of sore I felt yesterday. I am SO GLAD I took two days off of work. I couldn’t even imagine having to go up and down all the subway stairs on my commute to work. My quads were (and still are) in so much pain, getting up and sitting down are practically impossible. Going up and down stairs is SO hard. Even just walking–I’m limping around like an old woman. Feeling a bit better today after 2 baths with epsom salts and a bunch of BenGay and Tiger Balm.

Would I do anything differently? I’d probably train up to 22 miles next time, and I’d do more hill training. I’d probably add in more “hard” sprint workouts since I really didn’t do any of that. I was focused on just getting comfortable with the high mileage this time around.

So would I do it again? Hell yea–but not next year. I’m getting married next year, and I’m in 2 weddings (the maid of honor in one). I don’t think I have the time to dedicate to all the training I’d need to do next year, and I want to maintain some level of sanity leading up to my own wedding.

But I’ll keep this blog up of course, and likely do a bunch of half marathons which require a lot less training. I’m looking to keep a solid 10 mile base over the winter.

Thanks NYC!

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20 Miles and Tapering

Last Saturday was my peak training run, and the first time I’ve ever run 20 miles. Since moving to The Heights, I’ve been able to take advantage of some good elevation changes while running. I planned it out so I’d hit a really big hill around the 16 mile mark. I was a little nervous about it, knowing that most of my training has been pretty flat, but I knew that it would be a HUGE confidence booster if I could do it. One of my biggest fears going into Marathon day is how I’m going to handle the hills on the bridges. I’m happy to say, even 16 miles in, I was able to conquer that hill without issue. All in all, it was a pretty good run. I finished in just under 4 hours and I felt pretty good after….just really sore ankles and knees. Assuming I’ll run a bit faster during the Marathon, I’m really hoping to get in under the 5 hours mark. It’s not a lofty goal, but it’s my first marathon so I’ll really just be happy if I’m able to finish without hurting myself!

This weekend I was supposed to run 12 as part of my taper. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Sean and I recently got engaged (yay!!) and we spent the weekend looking at venues and worrying about furnishing our new home. I just couldn’t bring myself to get up early to run before venue shopping. I haven’t been getting the best sleep lately (likely due to all the stress of having to do a million things) and I needed to take it easy. I’ve also been feeling pretty sick and the last thing I want is to make it worse 2 weeks out from Nov 1. This morning, I just wasn’t feeling it. I was starting to burn out pretty hard a few weeks out from my 20 miler, and I really just felt like I needed a break. That, and I hurt my neck on Friday morning during a 5 mile run. Instead of the 12 miles, I ran 2 with Sean on a pretty tough course that goes up a VERY steep hill. I felt like my breathing recovered really well after the hill, so I was happy with the effort I put in even though I couldn’t do 12 today. Tomorrow would usually be my rest day, but I’ll probably get in a couple miles before work to make up for this weekend. I’m not too stressed about it. I have my base and I’m ready to go. If I can add on some extra miles this week, and maybe do 10 instead of 8 this coming weekend, I think I’ll be set!

I just got my bib # and start time from NYRR this week. I’ll be starting at 11 am (and hopefully done by 4 pm haha). In just 2 short weeks I’ll be running in the NYC Marathon!

Aches and Pains and Running 43 Miles in a Week

The Marathon is less than 2 months away and I’m about 3 weeks out from my last serious long run (20 miles). Yesterday, I ran 18 miles and the weekend before I ran 17. I ran 43 miles this week. The difference between 17 and 18 seemed significant, but it could have just been the difference in weather and the fact that I really needed new sneakers (my current ones have about 350 miles on them right now).

When I finished the 17 miler, I felt pretty good. When I finished the 18 miler, my calves, ankles, and knees were really sore and my legs felt like jelly. It wasn’t a bad run, but it was pretty slow. I’m ok with that though. The long runs should be slow. I don’t want to hurt myself. It’s a really strange feeling getting to 9 miles and turning around as the halfway point. I didn’t feel weak or tired during the run, but felt a little woozy immediately after until I ate. I feel pretty good today, though–and I’m really happy it’s a rest day. Funny enough, the sorest part of me is my arms…probably from carrying my water bottle for 18 miles.

My office is closed today for Rosh Hashanah, so I was able to finally get myself over to Hoboken Fleet Feet (I love Fleet Feet) and buy a new pair of sneakers. I’m a Brooks person, and I stick to the Ghosts right now (I might explore different lighter models eventually but I want to stay consistent for the Marathon). I bought a new pair back in the middle of June…I’m a size 8 in regular shoes but usually do an 8 1/2 in running sneakers. Back in June, the guy in the running store thought I could benefit from a size 9 but they felt a little big and clown-like to me at the time. Fast forward to Sept and I’ve had a bunch of bruised toenails from my long runs over the summer. They don’t feel great and I’d like to prevent getting more. I was more willing to give size 9 a shot today, so I brought my orthotic to try with the shoes. They felt pretty good, so I’m going to run in them tomorrow (5 miles) and see how it goes. From everything I’ve heard, you really need a bunch of room to let your toes spread out in the toe box. If you’re getting a bunch of bruised toes when you’re running, there’s likely a problem. These will be my Marathon sneakers, so it’s pretty exciting!

Since you’re training for a marathon, are you losing a ton of weight?

When you run an average of 35-45+ miles a week, people probably expect that you’ll lose a TON of weight. If weight loss is your primary goal, training for a marathon probably isn’t the best method. That amount of exercise will destroy calories, absolutely. However, calories are energy and energy is what you need to complete a 10-20+ mile long run–so you need to eat, and you need to eat a LOT.

I’ve never exercised this much or this consistently in my life–even before my NYC Half PR a few years ago my longest run leading up to the event was 10 miles. Not only am I running 40-ish miles a week (I’m up to 17 miles for my long run), I’m spending at least one day a week cross training. With the amount of calories I’m zapping, my body is BEGGING me to replace them. After a long run, I’ll immediately replace calories with coconut water or a smoothie before I eat my first meal of the day. On a good day, I’m hungry every couple of hours–but I typically find myself hungry again an hour after I eat. I find myself eating constantly, and needing to consume larger meals, and snack frequently in between meals. I find myself seeking out the most filling foods (which also happen to be pretty calorically dense)–beans, hummus, carbs. My appetite is a result of my body needing to replace the calories I burn working out so I can keep going. Increased activity leads to increased calorie intake leads to a relatively stable weight.

In the beginning, I shed quite a few pounds pretty easily, but now I’m evening out. I’d say overall in the last 2 months I’ve lost maybe 10 pounds. That’s not so say I don’t LOOK a lot more fit. I’m gaining muscles I’ve never seen before and I’m losing fat. But I’m not losing a TON of weight. And I didn’t expect to. I would never deprive my body of the calories and nutrients it needs to perform its best leading up to the marathon. Lately I’ve been worried about whether or not I’ve consumer enough the night before a longer run to ensure my energy level is high enough to get me through the run.

If you want to run a marathon, prepare yourself to eat a lot during training. Don’t expect to lose a ton of weight. If you do, you’re going to deny yourself what you need to perform your best. Eat when you’re hungry and make sure you’re getting enough calories. You’ll still lose a little weight and you are going to look and feel fit. Just think about all you can eat without feeling guilty, and ENJOY it. You’re going out on 3-4+ hour long runs and working out almost every day. You’re experiencing aches and pains you never thought were physically possible. You are sacrificing hours upon hours of your free time. You’re going to sleep early on Friday nights (and waking up early on weekends). You’re missing out on countless happy hours and drinks with friends. You DESERVE to eat and enjoy things you’d normally feel a little guilty about. Pasta and bread, yes please and thank you!

What do you eat before/during your long runs?

This is probably the most consistently asked question I’ve been getting since I started training. I actually spent a really long time thinking about the perfect pre-run snack before I started off on my long training runs. Everyone is different, and different things work for different people. My blood sugar dips rather quickly compared to most people, so I’m pretty conscious of it when I run.

Back before I started training for my first marathon, trained mostly in the 3-10 mile range. A lot of times, I found myself low on energy, sometimes feeling on the verge of passing out. I typically just powered through. I knew this would obviously be an issue going into training. I did a lot of research before I started my 18 week plan–reading, podcast listening, etc. My biggest takeaway–in the past I was constantly training in my anaerobic zone and not giving myself the chance to build an aerobic base. When you train in your aerobic zone, your body relies on stored fat for its energy. When you train in your anaerobic zone, your body relies on sugar and carbs for all its energy. It made total sense to me–once I burned off all the sugar from my small pre-run snack, I was toast. I completely ran out of energy. When you train aerobically, you have an unlimited source of energy re: fat.

How do you know if you’re training aerobically? It’s all based on your heart rate. Everyone is different. The best thing to do is find out by getting a blood test. I don’t have time or patience for that, so I used Phil Maffetone’s formula to figure out my maximum aerobic heart rate for training.

It’s been a really hot and humid summer, so it’s been very, very challenging staying below this number, but I try my best. Not, when I go out on my training runs I eat a peach or a few dates beforehand. On my first 15 mile run last weekend, I brought dates in a snack bag and I ended up needing them about halfway through. That was the first time I needed any kind of sugar during any of my long training runs. I got up to 14 miles the week prior without needing any type of snack! I was shocked!

I still have a long way to go to figure out my perfect formula but typically before a long run:

  1. pasta the night before
  2. lots of water the day before
  3. in the morning, wake up and eat a peach or other sugary fruit or some dates
  4. bring dates in case I feel low on sugar during the run

Before a race:

  1. pasta the night before
  2. lots of water the day before
  3. in the morning, wake up and eat a peach or other sugary fruit or some dates
  4. on the way to the race, eat a Larabar (very few ingredients, usually just dates and some kind of nut and dried fruit)
  5. bring dates in case I feel low on sugar during the run

AFTER the run or race I make sure I get protein into me immediately, and usually try to have some kind of juice or coconut water to replenish my sugar and nutrients.

This seems to work really well for me, but everyone is different. In general, the key is to experiment with different routines and see what works best for you!

NYC Marathon–the 9 week countdown

The end of this week will mark my official halfway point of my NYC Marathon training. I’m starting to write about it a little late in the game, but, you know, all this training means I’ve been PRETTY busy…but now that I’m getting into the real swing of things, I can start to make the time now! I’ve been loosely following the Hal Higdon Novice 2 program. This will be my first (and maybe last) marathon, but I’ve run several half marathons in the past, and I’ve been running in some form for the past 3 or so years, so I thought Novice 2 was the right fit for me. By “loosely” following I mean that the program suggests workouts 5 days a week with 2 rest days–and I’ve been working out 6 days a week with 1 rest day. I also switch around some days to suit my needs, and for any of the 3 mile days I’ve bene doing 4 instead. I think, when training to run 26.2, the minimum mileage for a single run should probably be 4.

This past weekend was my longest run ever. Since I’ve only ever run half marathons, anything beyond 13.1 is new territory for me. I ran 15 really tough miles along the Hudson River on Saturday, stopping once to fill my water bottle in a fountain. Yes–I do bring water with me if I’m going over 8-ish miles. I needed it. Summer running has been brutal this year. It’s been ridiculously hot and humid this Summer, of course. This is the first year I can remember that I’m actually excited for the Fall. Those last 2 miles this weekend were probably the most brutal 2 miles I’ve ever run in my life. Getting to past 15 and running another 11 is going to be a challenge. I’ve also found that working out 6 times a week is taking a toll on me. I’m pretty exhausted, and it definitely takes a lot of getting used to . Especially when you don’t want to compromise on going out, having a few drinks, and sometimes staying out a little (too) late.

While I’m no running expert, I have found that, throughout my training, many of my friends have been asking me advice about getting into running, training for events, nutrition, etc. Soooooo I figured I’d start writing it all down. Over the next 9+ weeks, that’s exactly what I’ll start to do here.