Spring Marathon Training Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed

NOTE: This post is part 3 in a series about my spring marathon training. Click here to see Post 1, and here for Post 2.

Lydiard Hill Springing

These guys look really cool “springing” up that hill, right?

This post will introduce Phase 2 of my Arthur-Lydiard-inspired spring marathon training plan, hill work and leg speed, and describe the first of three critical workouts to be performed during this phase: hill “springing.”

In my previous post, I discussed the first phase of my training plan: aerobic base training. That post condensed tons of information into approximately 2,200 words of dense and somewhat difficult reading. If I could rewrite that post, I would split the information into three separate posts. So, before proceeding, I am going to summarize Phase 1, and why it’s necessary before embarking on the other phases of the training plan.

A Quick Review of Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training

Aerobic base training is the most important part of any training plan because aerobic fitness (the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently to convert fat and glycogen into energy) is the number one factor in determining how well a runner will race on any given day. A runner develops aerobic fitness by training at an “aerobic pace,” loosely defined as running at a pace that leaves the runner “pleasantly tired,” or, in more mathematical terms, at a pace at or below approximately 75% of the runner’s maximum heart rate. During this phase, the runner should also perform strides (hard 100 meter efforts at the end of runs followed by extended recovery jogs), tempo runs below lactate threshold, and some easy fartleks. The runner should do at least three long runs per week (two runs about 1.5 hours, one run of 2+ hours) at an aerobic pace. A plan that incorporates only these types of runs—and leaves the anaerobic training for later—will allow a runner to develop a large aerobic base, which will facilitate anaerobic training later in the training cycle.

Importantly, the aerobic base training phase should last as long as possible. Why? Anaerobic development is limited: that is, a runner can only develop his anaerobic capacity so much. On the other hand, a runner’s capacity for aerobic development is virtually unlimited, and the more developed the aerobic system, the larger the capacity for anaerobic development. So, the longer the aerobic base training phase can last, the better.

Great! So, you’ve completed Phase 1 and built an aerobic base. What next?

Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed—Preparing the Body for Anaerobic Development

Lydiard suggests a four-week training period focused on developing leg strength and speed. We’ll call this Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed. The purpose of Phase 2 is twofold: 1) to develop muscle fibers in the legs and to improve leg speed; and 2) to prepare the body for the hard anaerobic workouts that will follow in Phases 3 and 4. Here’s how it shakes out.

This phase contains three critical workouts: 1) the 1-hour hill “springing” workout; 2) the leg speed workout; and 3) the 2+ hour long run performed at an aerobic pace. I’ll start by discussing the hill “springing” workout.

The Hill “Springing” Workout

You should perform the hill “springing” workout on a hill that is between 200-300 meters long and approximately 3-4% grade, with a flat area at the top and approximately 200-400 meters of flat area at the bottom. For you New Yorkers, Cat Hill in Central Park is perfect for this workout.

Here’s the workout in eight easy steps, and the reasoning behind each step:

  • Warm up for about 15 minutes with some easy running (I jog about a mile and a half from my apartment to Cat Hill)
    • Why? You warm up to prevent injury. The warmup loosens the muscles and prepares them for a hard effort.
  • Begin the workout by “springing” up the hill. If you don’t know what “springing” is (I didn’t before developing this training plan), check out the first minute and then 1:30 to the end of this video:

When “springing,” keep the hips forward. Because looking down tends to thrust the hips backward, keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Your upper body should remain relaxed. The slower your forward momentum, the more resistance you create for your legs.

Why “springing?” Because it helps to develop speed. “Springing” builds and stretches the leg’s muscles and tendons similar to how they stretch during racing, which adds flexibility and speed. It also develops strong and flexible ankles, allowing a runner to increase his stride length and leading to greater speed. In addition, by training oneself to run with the hips comfortably forward, a runner can bring his knees higher while running, allowing the feet to follow through higher and, therefore, creating a faster leg action.

It’s possible that you won’t be able to “spring” all the way up the hill. That’s fine. If you can’t get to the top, just jog the rest of the way.

  • Once at the top of the hill, jog easily for 3 minutes.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, “springing” is an intense exercise, so a short rest between each repetition keeps the body from getting overloaded. Second, too much at once could potentially convert the workout into a hard anaerobic effort, which we distinctly do not want to do. And, as a bonus third reason, easy jogging within the repetitions aids in aerobic development, which, as we’ve discussed, is always a good idea.
  • After jogging at the top of the hill for three minutes, run down the hill with a fast, relaxed striding motion.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, strides allow us to develop speed and strength. Second, downhill running allows us to practice running with a naturally elongated stride. As mentioned above, a longer stride leads to greater speed.
  • Repeat the hill reps described in steps 2-4 (springing up the hill, jogging at the top, and striding down) for about 15 minutes. For me, this equals about 3 circuits.
    • Why? Think of it like weightlifting with a cardio element: you’re pushing your body to get stronger while simultaneously strengthening your muscles and increasing your leg speed. In other words, you are accomplishing three critical tasks with one workout. Pretty neat!
  • After  about 15 minutes, perform a few wind sprints (running hard followed by jogging) at the base of hill. You choose how many, and for how long (for example, I have been doing 2 x 100m with short recovery jogs)
    • Why? The other point of this exercise is to prepare the body for the anaerobic workouts in phases 3 and 4. By performing wind sprints every 15 minutes, and by only performing a limited number of them, we train our bodies to respond to faster movements, but keep the volume low enough so as not to create a hard anaerobic workout.
  • After completing the wind sprints, repeat the whole circuit described in steps 2-6 (hill reps plus wind sprints) until you have been working out for approximately an hour.
    • NOTE: If you cannot complete an hour-long workout, do however much of the hour that you can.
  • Cool down for 15 minutes.

Ideally, you would perform this workout three days a week, every other day, during Phase 2. On the days in between you would perform a leg speed workout. On the seventh day you would run a 2+ hour run at an aerobic pace.

In my next post, I will discuss the other two workouts critical to Phase 2: the leg speed workout, and the 2+ hour long run at an aerobic pace.

Happy running, everyone!

 

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Spring Marathon Training: A Plan Based on the Lydiard System, Maffetone Method, and Reflections on My Fall Racing Season

As my first effort to post more general training advice, I am going to discuss the training plan I designed for my spring marathon training, which is based on: 1) Arthur Lydiard’s training system; 2) Dr. Phil Maffetone’s “180 Formula;” and 3) input based on the strengths and weaknesses of my fall racing season. This plan targets the Inaugural Queens Marathon. This is the first post in a series of posts about this training plan.

As an initial matter, in order to discuss the plan I need to provide some background about the Lydiard System, Maffetone’s training philosophy, and how I’ve adopted them to my own training. Further, because Lydiard’s overall training plan contains five phases, this post will address why I adopted this plan, and subsequent posts will address each phase of the plan.

Arthur Lydiard Background

Lydiard (July 6, 1917-December 11, 2004, born Auckland, New Zealand), trained Olympic medalists Murray Halberg (Gold, 5000 meters, 1960 Olympics), Peter Snell (Gold, 800 meters, 1960 Olympics, Gold, 800 and 1500 meters, 1964 Olympics), and Barry Magee (Gold, Marathon, 1960 Olympics). He revolutionized endurance training with his phased training plan. This “periodization” has become the basis of most modern training programs. To learn more about his life and his system, check out this link.

Lydiard’s Training System is broken into five phases, identified as follows:

  • Aerobic Base Training, which lasts as long as possible
  • Hill Training and Leg Speed, which last four-six weeks
  • Anaerobic Development, which last four weeks
  • Sharpening, which lasts four weeks
  • Freshening Up (a/k/a Tapering), which lasts approximately two weeks

The goal of the plan (and why I find it so intriguing) is to allow a runner to hit peak fitness and performance at his goal race.

Dr. Phil Maffetone Background

Maffetone, a doctor of chiropractic, was one of the first coaches to employ heart rate monitors in training endurance athletes. He trained, among others, Mark Allen, the six-time Ironman World Championship winner. He champions a training system in which endurance athletes perform most of their training at or below their “maximum aerobic heart rate,” a number determined by Maffetone’s “180 Formula,” by which a runner subtracts his age from 180 and then adjusts for other factors such as injury, illness, and experience. Such running is generally well below one’s fastest speeds. For example, at my maximum heart rate as determined by the 180 Formula (144 beats per minute), I can run at a top speed of 7:00/Mile, but can currently run a 5k at a 5:43/Mile pace.

Ultimately, Maffetone would have an athlete train at or below this maximum aerobic pace until his development plateaus, at which point he would incorporate anaerobic training for a period of no longer than 5 weeks. He would also have any athlete beginning to use his system to train at or below his maximum aerobic heart for at least three months (and preferably up to six months) before incorporating any strength training or anaerobic workouts. He also advocates other adaptations for athletes, including eating a diet high in healthy fats balanced with complex carbohydrates.

Reflections on My Fall Racing Season

As I’ve discussed, I ran well this fall, and PR’d at the half marathon and marathon distances. While I found that my aerobic fitness was solid throughout the season, I felt that my muscle endurance (how long the muscles can tolerate the pounding impact of road racing) was lacking. So, I wanted to incorporate more miles and longer long runs early in the training season to improve my muscle endurance.

Training Plan: Putting Together all the Attributes

Ultimately, because I spent the months between May and September training almost exclusively at my maximum aerobic heart rate (which incorporated swimming and cycling as well), I felt confident that not only could I increase my training volume, but also increase its intensity. As such, the idea of the Lydiard System, which requires a much higher training volume, appealed to me. So, I decided to develop my spring marathon training plan using Lydiard’s system as a skeleton. Here’s how I planned it out, in six easy steps:

  • I found my goal marathon, the Inaugural Queens Marathon, which is set for April 30, 2016.
  • I counted back two weeks to April 17, 2016, and designated this period “Freshening Up”
  • I then counted back four weeks to March 21, 2016 and designed the period between March 21 and April 16 as “Sharpening”
  • I then counted back four weeks to February 22, 2016 and designated the period between February 22 and March 20 as “Anaerobic Development”
  • I then counted back four weeks to January 25, 2016 and designed the period between January 25 and February 21 as “Hills and Leg Speed”
  • I then designated all time before January 25 as “Aerobic Base Training,” during which phase I would do most of my runs at or below my maximum aerobic heart rate as determined by Maffetone’s “180 Formula.”

To see the plan laid out, check out my Training Plan.

In my next post, I’ll discuss Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training, including why it’s important and how it fits into the overall plan.

Returning to Blogging!

Hard to believe I last posted on December 8! I don’t have a good reason for the delay between posts. Essentially, after the NYRR NYC 60k, I began to reflect on what I want to accomplish with this blog. When I started it in August, I knew that I wanted to write about my running, but had not developed the idea much beyond that. I started by posting about particular training runs I was doing, workouts I attended, and then branched out into race previews and recaps. After a few months, though, I hit a writing wall: What to do next?

Jim NP Cold Running

Getting in some stair running with November Project NYC in December!

That wall, unsurprisingly, coincided with the end of the fall racing season, a season during which I pushed myself and ran my first 10-miler (1:00:20), set PRs in the half marathon (1:20:51) and marathon (2:57:56), and ran my first ultra, the 60k, in under 5 hours (4:55:55), all within less than two months. I knew that my body needed a break; I did not realize my brain did, too. Hence, only a handful of posts since the 60k and now.

All this to say, I’m back! Expect updates concerning my training, but with a more global twist. Expect some posts about nutrition and other fun things I’m up to, such as the Road Runners Club of America coaching certification course that I’m taking in May. And get excited for race previews and recaps for the races I’m planning to run this winter and spring. I might also write more about some of the running books I’ve read lately (more on those below). My goal is to make this blog a spot for people to pick up tips and tricks to achieve their own running goals.

Jim NYRR Virtual Trainer Run

Crushing 10+ miles with NYRR’s virtual training crew!

Thankfully, the time away from hard running and the blog has reenergized me. Regarding training, I began the base building phase of spring marathon training in earnest at the beginning of December, and will likely run the Inaugural Queens Marathon on April 30, 2016. I spent approximately two months running long runs at an aerobic pace, throwing in some strides at the end of the runs, as well as tempo runs (for example, a 5k at 6:00/mile) and progression runs below lactate threshold. I pushed my weekly mileage up from 30 miles to 50-55, and am hoping to increase to 60-65. I’ve also been riding my bike indoors on my bike rollers at least once a week, and hitting the pool (though not as frequently as I would like). In the middle of all that, I ran an unofficial 5k in 17:45 (5:43/mile), and PR’d on the tricky November Project NYC 3.4 mile PR course with a time of 20:36 (6:03/mile). As of yesterday, I ended the aerobic base training phase of my marathon training and began the hill/leg speed phase as per Arthur Lydiard’s basic training scheme. Not bad for two months.

As for the blog and writing about running, I’ve read a bunch of running-related books these past two months. My friend Katherine loaned me “A Race Like No Other” by Liz Robbins (about the 2007 NYC Marathon) and The Oatmeal’s “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.” I also read “2 Hours” by Ed Caesar, a book chronicling professional marathoners’ journey to break the elusive 120-minute marathon barrier (current world record is 2:02:57 run by Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon). I also read “Running Ransom Road” by Caleb Daniloff, a powerful story about a recovering alcoholic who sought closure on his past by running marathons and other road races in locations where he was active in his alcoholism.

Jim Liysa Laura Ann Raul

Getting in a solid 11.5 miles with Liysa, Laura Ann, and Raul during the blizzard this past weekend!

And finally, I’m almost done with “First You Run, Then You Walk” by Tom Hart, my friend Patrick’s father. “First You Run” is a collection of essays written by Hart, a former high school English teacher, who picked up running at age 31 after he quit smoking. He ran into his 60s, at which time he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had one of his lungs removed, rendering him unable to run continuously for more than a few minutes. His essays discuss a range of topics: running a sub-5 mile, running 37 miles on his 37th birthday, chasing age-group awards as a 60-year-old veteran, and eventually breaking 12 minutes for one mile while running with one lung. What makes the book so amazing, though, is Hart’s meditative writing style and honesty. Every other page I find myself thinking, “Yep, that’s exactly how I think about running.” He gets it.

And in other news, I had a nice Christmas with my family and my girlfriend’s family, was able to travel to Vermont for a few days over the holidays, and have been working and preparing for the spring racing season. Life is good.

Happy running, everyone!

12/8/15: Morning Run: 5:50 a.m., 7 Miles: Myles and Londoners

Good morning! I’m in week 2 of aerobic base-building for winter and spring races. I logged just over 33 miles during week 1, most done at a moderate, aerobic pace. My aerobic fitness, as determined by the MAF test I performed yesterday, seems strong, but I’m hoping to improve it a bit before I really pick up the pace this spring.

Of course, despite knowing the importance of keeping the pace easy during a base-building period, I sometimes get carried away. I’ve read warnings from some coaches that any anaerobic running during a base phase can jeopardize a runner’s aerobic fitness. I’ve also read plenty of guides that encourage fast running at all stages of training. Ultimately, however, the occasional hard run, performed whenever in my training, has not had a negative effect on my overall fitness and speed. So, while I will perform most of my runs at an aerobic pace for the next two months, I’m fine with occasionally picking up the pace, and can justify it by working on leg speed and negative splits.

This morning, I happened to find myself in some faster-paced circumstances. I hit the Central Park loop about 20 minutes behind schedule. While I was warming up, Myles, leader of the NP_NYC running team, flew past me. I actually recognized his footfalls before seeing him: He runs with an ideal high cadence and lands softly. I called out his name, and we ran about one and a half miles together, talking about our uber-competitive natures and the upcoming Ted Corbitt 15k. If you don’t know who Ted Corbitt is, you need to read this article. In addition to representing the United States at the 1952 Olympics in the marathon, he essentially introduced the ultramarathon to America. He ran well into his 80s, and at his peak he ran approximately 200 miles a week. He was also the first president of New York Road Runners. Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, called Corbitt “the father of American Distance running.”

Anyway, after Myles peeled off at Engineer’s Gate, I kept on rolling at the same pace, slightly faster than my normal moderate run. Everything felt good as I cruised up Harlem Hill, easing up so as not to spike my heart rate. About halfway up the hill, a guy with grayish hair, blue shirt and black running pants blew past me. I checked my heart rate: 138. Way too slow! I picked up the pace, shortened my stride on the downhill, and kept a steady state over the next two mini hills. The other guy kept a solid pace, but I slowly crept closer to him. As we descended the second mini hill, I came even with him.

“This is quite an effort for six in the morning, ain’t it?” He joked in his British accent.

I agreed, and we ran together for a bit. He was in town for business, and had gotten up to run because, for him, it was basically 11:30 a.m. and he couldn’t sleep anymore. He was getting in a training run for a Boxing Day race, which, in my opinion, isn’t a real holiday (note: I know I know, it totally is . . . no offense, Rest of the World). We picked up the pace down the final mini hill, and cruised along past the Lake near 75th Street.

“How much farther is it to Columbus Circle?” He asked me.

“About three-quarters of a mile,” I replied.

“OK. I’m gonna give it a bit of a sprint the rest of the way, then,” he said, and he picked up his pace enough that I noticed my breathing change. I understood his implicit challenge, and kept stride with him.

I said I’d run with him until we got to my exit at 72nd Street, but quickly decided to push it all the way to Columbus Circle. He smiled and said, “Good!” We pounded the pavement and continuously ran faster. I breathed harder and turned my legs over faster than him (he had a slow cadence). We passed the finish line area of the NYC Marathon, and I pointed it out. He grunted in agreement. We were in the zone.

Just a quarter mile left to the Columbus Circle exit. I pushed the pace. He followed. I pushed a little harder. He pulled slightly in front of me. I got on my toes and dug in, pushing hard but not quite all out. He maintained. I dug in harder. He relented, and I finished up about four seconds before he did.

I never got his name, but we shook hands, and I wished him a good trip and good luck on Boxing Day. He smiled. We each took a moment to catch our breath, and then I jogged home.

Most runs aren’t that exciting, or that random, but I’m glad when they happen. And that impromptu race at the end? I truly believe it’s not about who finishes first, but rather about the spirit of competition, and accepting challenges as they come. I might be shaking my head if he beat me, but I know I would have had just as much fun.

Anyone else have stories of making random friends/competitors during a routine training run?

Happy running, everyone!

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!