Getting Back to Running After the NYC Marathon!

Wow! Have eight full days really passed since the NYC Marathon? Unreal.

2015 TCS NYC Marathon

Post-Marathon celebrations: Chris, Sarah, and Me, 2015 NYC Marathon finishers; Katie, Ashley, and Kimi, 2016 marathoners in training! (repost from Facebook)

Here’s what I’ve been up to running-wise since the Marathon:

I took six days off from running because I woke up the day after the Marathon with left ankle pain. I had never experienced this pain before, and did not feel it at all in the hours immediately following the Marathon. My left ankle hurt every time I walked, and felt particularly angry with me any time I tried to run. So, I iced it, elevated it, and took Advil for two days. After that I just took it easy until Saturday, when I tried to run with Melissa. After a quarter-mile, the pain was too much, so I stopped.

November Project #betterthanbedtime

Our NP_NYC group ascending onto the Highline, about to confuse/elate/anger tourists (repost from Instagram)

And then on Sunday, the pain had almost completely vanished. Odd, but a welcome change! This allowed me to participate in #betterthanbedtime, a November Project nationwide event during which all 26 NP tribes gathered in their respective cities at 3:33 p.m. and ran unpredictable routes through the streets, stopping occasionally to do exercises. The run culminated in a social gathering at a bar (in NP_NYC’s case, the basement of a bar near Grand Central Terminal). We ran about 4 miles, including a stretch on the Highline, did squats, burpees, a handheld shuffle resembling a hora, and nearly killed ourselves in traffic. Couldn’t have asked for a better Sunday, or a better return to running.

Yesterday I hit the gym for core workout, and then joined up with John Honerkamp’s Lululemon run club. The run club meets every Monday at 7:15 p.m. at the Lululemon at 65th Street and Broadway across from Lincoln Center and does various running workouts in Central Park. This week’s workout included a mile warm-up jog to Cat Hill, 18-20 minutes of Cat Hill repeats (run to the top of the Hill, run back down, run halfway up to the cat statue, run back down, repeat), and a cool-down jog back to Lululemon. A lot of NP_NYC folks came to the run in addition to many new faces. I completed four full repeats in 19ish minutes, which equates to just over 3 miles. Also got to talk to some NP_NYC folks who I don’t usually get to hang with, which was really nice.

Lululemon run club

Gotta love the wall plaques of Coach John behind us 🙂 (repost from Facebook)

What’s up for the rest of the week? I’m going to do a MAF test either today or tomorrow to gauge my aerobic fitness. I’m guessing that I’ve taken some steps back because of all the racing, so it’ll be good to see what I need to do as I prepare for my next group of races. I’ll also hit NP_NYC for both sessions tomorrow (Happy Veterans Day!), and probably do a Central Park loop on Thursday. I’m still up in the air about the NYRR 60k because of my ankle, so I will see how I feel as the week progresses. While I really want to run my first ultramarathon this weekend, I do not want to cause any permanent injuries to my body. Oy uncertainty!

Hope everyone else is recovering well from the NYC Marathon!

Happy running, everyone!

NYC Marathon Race Recap Part 2: The Significance of the Marathon for Me

TCS NYC Marathon

Me, Terri, and Billy from NP_NYC celebrating with our medals the day after the marathon! My hair looks particularly gingery in this pic.

The NYC Marathon happened. Social media exploded with excited posts, likes, and comments from runners, their friends and family, and spectators’ pictures of runners and funny race signs. Everyone who completed the Marathon has a story. For some, finishing allowed them to cross an item off their bucket list. For others, this represented yet another NYC Marathon, special in its own way but certainly not a new experience. And for others, it represented a celebration of their personal growth. My story falls into that final group.

Before I get to that story, though, let’s break my race down by the numbers. My previous marathon PR was 3:55:17 on a flat course, run 11 years ago. My only other marathon time was 4:10ish, also run 11 years ago. On Sunday, my 2:57:56 bested my previous marathon PR by almost an hour and qualified me for the 2017 Boston Marathon. So, this race solidified not only my return to endurance running, but a complete transformation.

However, considering my personal growth, this race demonstrated how far I’ve come since the fall of 2012, when I was in my final year of law school. I had done well academically but not received the job offer I wanted. My relationship of almost five years had ended. After starting law school weighing 162 pounds with a 10k PR of 45:03 (7:15/Mile), I found myself weighing 198 pounds and unable run for more than a mile.

I had completely isolated myself from family and friends. I came to school for class only, spending the rest of my time in my apartment watching Netflix and drinking whiskey alone, or hanging at the Upper West Side’s diviest bars. I did the bare minimum of schoolwork, which somehow resulted in straight A’s (including an A+ . . . seriously, I cannot explain this), and people left me alone. I either refused to talk to my family, or erupted in anger during conversations. I blamed everyone else for my misery. I ruined family holidays and convinced new “friends” that I was the unluckiest man alive. This fueled my cycle of resentment, fear, anger, and drinking.

By February of 2013, I hit a complete mental, physical, and emotional bottom. My family, despite years of me pushing them away, helped me straighten out. I could no longer blame them or any other external circumstances for how I felt: The negativity came from within me, and the only way to change that feeling was to accept responsibility for my actions, clean up my past, and work hard to live a healthier life based on personal accountability. Slowly but surely, through the help of family and friends I came to accept the world around me and, more importantly, I came to accept myself: shortcomings AND positive qualities.

Simultaneously, as I got healthier I began to revisit old personal interests, including running. I signed up for the Scotland Run 10k and the Brooklyn Half Marathon, and planned to run both races in early 2014. The last race I had run was a 10k in June of 2010. However, as my personal issues continued to plague me, I skipped both races because I failed to train for them.

I did, however, sign up for the 2014 Staten Island Half, completed the training for that race, and ran it in 1:44:42. I wore a six-year-old pair of sneakers, gym shorts that I owned since high school, and a long-sleeved running shirt about two sizes too big during the race.

After the Staten Island Half, I knew I could run faster, so I began training hard. I analyzed training plans online, read articles about running and nutrition, and ran the Fred Lebow Half in January in 1:36. I joined New York Sports Club and began training once a month with a trainer who specializes in collegiate endurance athletes. I did interval training, speed work, and hill sessions. I ran a 5k in under 20 minutes. My race bibs now placed me in the first corral of NYRR races. I decided the 2015 Brooklyn Half would be the race at which I would show the world just how fast I’d gotten. I trained for a sub-1:25 time.

All of that intense training, combined with some ill-advised attempts after reading Born to Run to change my running stride from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, caused me to develop a stress fracture in my right sacral ala, an injury generally found in elderly women with osteoporosis (seriously! Google it). I despaired, somewhat comically, and thought I might never run again.

Nevertheless, I did something that I might not have done in the past: I asked for help. When the doctor recommended that I use crutches for five weeks, I did it even though he said that I could heal without them (albeit over a longer period). I followed his advice and swam, worked on strengthening my core, and lifted weights only while in the upright sitting position. Once off crutches, I waited three weeks to hit the treadmill, worked with a physical therapist, and learned about what exercises to perform to reduce the risk of future running injuries. I also learned that I should run how I run, and not worry about the latest trends in running form. My coworker introduced me to The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr. Phil Maffetone, which provided a method to increase speed without high intensity intervals and speed work. I also learned how to properly incorporate speed work into a training plan, and realized that I had been doing way too much, way too early on in my fledgling adult running career.

Most importantly, I finally understood that running for anyone besides yourself is a dangerous game. I reconnected with the joy I feel every time I get to hit the Central Park loop at 5:30 a.m. If I got faster, awesome. If not, who really cares? The point was that I could run and have fun with it and let that be its own reward. This freed up a ton of mental space.

The rest of my story? Well, it’s mostly contained in my past blog posts. I found November Project NYC through my sister. I ran the Percy Sutton 5k in a PR time of 18:24, my first race at a sub-6 minute pace. I stayed focused and ran the Bronx 10-Mile in 1:00:20 (6:02/Mile) and the Staten Island Half in 1:20:52 (6:10/Mile), which time-qualified me for the 2016 NYC Marathon. Throughout all of this I continued to hit the gym at least once a week to strengthen my legs, and multiple times per week to strengthen my core and to stretch. I listened to other people’s advice about the NYC Marathon, ate well, and stayed focused on the race despite all the hype during the week before. I woke up on race day weighing 162 pounds (36 pounds less than at my heaviest!) and ran that marathon in under three hours.

As I ran up West Drive in Central Park for the final .2 miles of the Marathon, I thought about all these things: the useless resentments that have given way for acceptance, the isolation that has evaporated into connection, and the paralyzing fear that has melted away into love. And I cried. Not only on the course, but later at my apartment. But the best part? My tears streamed down my face and across a smile.

Happy running, everyone!

Race Recap: New York City Marathon, November 1, 2015, 2:57:56, 6:48/Mile

A prologue: My first NYC Marathon recap exceeded 4,000 words (the equivalent of a 13-page double-spaced college paper), so I decided to do multiple NYC Marathon posts. This post is a straight race recap. Tomorrow’s post will contain more course commentary and reflections on my race.

New York City Marathon New York Times

My medal and name in the New York Times!

And now . . .

The recap before the recap: I ran the New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 1, 2015 in a time of 2:57:56 (6:48/Mile pace), good enough for 629th place out of over 50,000 runners. Words cannot describe how amazing this race is, and how excited I was before, during, and after my time on the streets of New York.

And yet, I will now use words to describe my day.

The recap: After my Saturday 2-mile shakeout run, I traveled to Port Jefferson, Long Island to attend my girlfriend’s (Melissa’s) cousin’s annual Halloween party. Melissa and I dressed up as Bert and Ernie, and we enjoyed a few hours of hanging out with her amazing cousins. I left around 5 p.m. to get back to the City, while the party – a Victorian-themed murder mystery incorporating Pictionary, charades, a scavenger hunt, and various twists, turns, and multiple eviscerations – raged on until well past midnight. I really hated to miss the festivities, but I knew that I needed a good night’s sleep before the Big Race.

Bert and Ernie Halloween

We make a great Bert and Ernie. Here I am, closely following pre-marathon wisdom and taking it easy (Photo credit: Ana Santos: http://www.acsantosphotography.com/)

So, instead of charading and scavenging my ass off until the wee hours, I took the LIRR back to the City with hundreds of drunk Long Island Jersey Shore wannabes, many of whom were inexplicably dressed as lumberjacks (not kidding). I hope they all made it home in one, semi-respectable piece (not likely). Anyway, once home I watched “Sleepy Hollow,” checked my race gear one final time, and set my phone and clock alarms for 5 a.m., hitting the pillow at 10:30 p.m., which, because of Daylight Saving’s Time, equated to 9:30 p.m.

Halloween

Now this is how you do Halloween! Look at this group! (Photo credit: Ana Santos: http://www.acsantosphotography.com/)

Despite planning for a solid 7.5 hours of sleep, I woke up exactly at 4 a.m. and never quite fell back to sleep. I tossed and turned until 5, at which point I got up, toasted three pieces of sourdough bread, spread peanut butter on one, wrapped them up in aluminum foil, and put them along with three bananas in my race bag. I ate a bowl of non-fat Greek yogurt with agave, got dressed, loaded up my race bag, and headed out at 5:30 a.m.

TCS NYC Marathon

Barely awake but excited for the NYC Marathon!

Through a connection, I hitched a ride on a charity bus to Staten Island (The Thomas G. Labrecque Foundation – a truly excellent charity). The bus ride took almost an hour and a half, during which I slept. Once we arrived at the start, I was able to spend my pre-corral time in the charity village lying down on a painting tarp and eating my toast and bananas.

One guy in the charity village kept saying, “This is not a PR course.” I focused on the basic plan on which I had settled: Run the first half around a 6:40/mile pace, hit the 21k/13.1 mile mark around 1:27:00, go steady over the Queensborough Bridge, and then let it fly through New York, the Bronx, and push hard through the final 10k, hopefully coming through the second half in 1:23:00 or close to it for a final time of 2:50:00. I took a lot of deep breaths, joked with the other runners, checked my bag, and then headed off to my corral about 10 minutes before it closed at 9 a.m.

Around 9:15 a.m. our corral collapsed and we moved toward the start line, watching the professional women’s race begIn. I pushed my way as far up as I could, ate my first gel at 9:35 a.m., and talked with David, an Englishman from York running his first NYC Marathon.

FINALLY, after all these months of training, obsessing, writing, training, writing, and obsessing more, the race directors introduced the elite runners, the National Anthem was sung, and BOOM! A howitzer reported the race start.

And we were off! I crossed the start 50 seconds after the gun, and ran very slowly for about four minutes, people on both shoulders and right in front and behind me. I could barely make a half stride for almost a third of a mile, at which point the course opened up to the entire Brooklyn-bound side of the Verrazano Bridge. I pushed to the outside lane and ran steadily up the .8 mile incline, hitting the 1-mile mark in 8 minutes exactly, much slower than I wanted to run. I made up for it by running mile 2 in approximately 5:50, putting me onto 4th Avenue in Brooklyn right on pace.

TCS NYC Marathon

Cruising through Brooklyn! (Photo Credit: Ashley Sokol)

The crowds at the beginning of 4th Avenue cheered and bands played as we ran through miles 3 and 4. The Green Wave (the group who started on the lower level of the bridge) joined us on 4th Avenue at some point, and we continued to run next to the Orange Wave (the group which started on the Staten Island-bound side of the Verrazano). Some runners ran by the spectators and threw lots of high-fives; others stayed to the inside of the street. I stayed in the middle and tried to maintain my early race pace between 6:30/mile and 6:40 mile, running some miles much faster than 6:30/mile and others slightly slower. My face wore the largest smile I’ve smiled in a long time, and I soaked in all the cheers.

Miles 5-6 felt great, and all early race jitters or psychosomatic aches disappeared. I enjoyed the various musicians, and threw a lot of thumbs up at them and smiled at all the cowbells and cheers from the crowd. This is more than a race: It’s a citywide block party!

The Mile 7 water station manned by NP_NYC was EPIC. Everyone went nuts when they saw my tagged shirt, and I got a huge high-five from Brogan Graham, one of the co-founders of November Project who had traveled to NYC for the weekend to hang out with the NP_NYC crew and cheer on all the NP marathoners. Totally pumped me up!

I took my second gel, drank some water, and eased back into my pace. I saw Kat, another NP_NYC member, a few blocks farther down the road, ran out of my way to high-five her, and then returned to the center of the road. I felt smooth, confident, and ready for the next 19 miles.

At mile 8, I nearly missed my sister, Kimi, and Ashley, and only saw them as I ran past. This picture demonstrates my near miss:

TCS NYC Marathon

Even though I almost missed my sister and friends, I’m super excited!

Miles 9-13 wound through Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, the neighborhoods in which I spent a lot of time when I lived in Bushwick. The crowds owned this section of the course, and I loved seeing some old haunts. I kept a consistent pace here, and hooked up with a fellow runner attempting to hit 2:50 like me. I also saw two law school friends, whose cheers got me super pumped and sent chills through my head and neck.

TCS NYC Marathon

More Brooklyn running! (Photo Credit: Ashley Sokol)

I took my third gel as we exited Brooklyn on the Pulaski Bridge. We passed through the midway point of the race on the Bridge in exactly 1:27:00, right on plan! My race buddy and I wound through Queens, maintaining a 6:30/6:40/mile pace as we approached the Queensborough Bridge. Despite all the rock bands out, we heard our first metal band playing Alice in Chains “Would.” This was a nice change from all the “hippie bands,” as described by an FDNY runner around mile 8.

And then we ascended the Queensborough Bridge. I kept my effort steady but dropped my pace a bit, focusing on a runner moving smoothly and wearing a Union Jack tank top, Union Jack shorts, Union Jack shoes, and sporting a low-cut Mohawk dyed the colors of the Union Jack. I turned around and realized that I had lost my race buddy, and later learned that he finished around 3:25. I focused on my hooligan friend until the Bridge’s apex, after which I picked up the pace and got amped as the First Avenue cheering wafted up to the off ramp.

Woot! 1st Avenue was awesome! The crowds were heavy and people cheered like madmen. I saw lots of NP shirts, screamed lots of “f*ck yeahs!” at people, and grabbed some high-fives. Realizing that all my gels had caffeine, I made sure to grab water at every aid station. I saw my buddy Patrick at mile 17, Melissa and law school friend Lauren at mile 18, and some more NP folks in East Harlem. I took my fourth gel at mile 18, and kept on moving forward.

TCS NYC Marathon

So excited to see Melissa at Mile 18 that I made this silly kiss face!

The crowds thinned at the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, and as we crossed over the Bridge I saw numerous runners doubled over and walking– classic bonking signs. I pulled out my final gel and held it like a talisman through the Bronx. Before long we climbed the Manhattan Bridge and headed back into Manhattan on Fifth Avenue.

When I re-entered Manhattan, I did some quick calculations and realized that 2:50 was out of the question, but 2:55 was doable. I also began to feel the mental fatigue of the race, and I thought about slowing down. I fought those thoughts by visualizing my crossing the finish line with a huge smile. I checked my legs: They felt great! So, I took my final gel, grabbed two cups of water at the mile 21 aid station, put my head down, and plowed ahead. I found a few more pockets of NP folks cheering, drank more water at the mile 22 aid station, and just kept thinking, “You got this. You’re feeling strong. You are NOT going to hit any walls!”

And then we hit the dreaded Fifth Avenue Mile 23 hill. Everyone warned me about this hill. I saw it on the elevation map. I read about it in numerous race recaps. I knew it was coming. Nevertheless, it rose out of nowhere and rose much steeper than I imagined. More runners walked this section of the course. I kept a steady effort, got amped up when I saw Melissa and Lauren again, and counted off the blocks as I ascended: “98th Street, 8 blocks to Engineer’s Gate.” And so forth.

TCS NYC Marathon

Crushing Fifth Avenue as well as I could! At Mile 23.

And then BOOM! I cruised through Engineer’s Gate into Central Park! 2.5 miles left on roads I know better than any others in the City. I came through Mile 24 around 2:43, so I knew that 2:55 was going to be tough, but sub-3 was happening. This felt amazing! My legs were strong, my mind felt sharp, and I pushed hard, getting some NP love along the way. The downhill on Cat Hill felt amazing, and I pushed through the rolling hills near Summer Stage and then cruised downhill to mile 25 and then out of the Park and onto Central Park South. Through this section I passed a ton of runners, and was passed by only one, who I later passed on Central Park South. I simply focused on reeling in whoever was in front of me and, after passing them, reeled in the next guy. I could feel the finish line.

Running up Central Park South I spotted Brogan again, who practically jumped over the barricade to give me another high-five. I let out a primal scream and doubled my efforts. I passed that runner who sped past me earlier. I let the cheers wash over me. I saw Columbus Circle grow larger with every step. I kept moving forward.

And then I turned and entered the Park. An announcer said, “Welcome to Central Park!” and I wooped! So close! So many people lined the barricades. I thought about everything that had happened to me over the past three years, how lucky I was to be running today, and how grateful I was for the people who helped me through the toughest time in my life, at times literally picking me up off the ground. I passed more runners and worked my arms. On the final uphill, I spotted the finish line clock: 2:58:40. 10 seconds to finish sub-2:58 (I started 50 seconds after the gun). I sprinted through the finish line in what I thought was 2:58:50 exactly. Success! Completion! The culmination of so much more than training runs and nutrition plans. Tears welled into my eyes.

TCS NYC Marathon

Smiling post-marathon!

In my next post, I’ll discuss my thoughts about the course, other thoughts about the race, and why finishing this race was such a huge accomplishment for me.

Happy running, everyone!