With the rush of spring marathons coming up, I look back over the last year and my races, miles, and goals. For a few years, I had been approaching a barrier that seemed impenetrable: a sub-3 hour marathon.
by Wataru Iwata
The challenge started when I crossed finish line at Boston Marathon in April 2017.
I had a feeling of accomplishment there, but at the same time, I thought I could achieve more.
So, I started the challenge to Philadelphia Marathon, thinking the course is a bit more flat and friendly than Boston, and the weather won’t be 70 degrees for sure.
The first thing I did was switch to Strava instead of Nike+ for my training tracking. Nike+ was always giving me inaccurate mileage. I was always getting 1 mile recorded for every .9 - .95 mi I ran, so I was only training 90-95% of what I needed. Soon, I got connected to bunch of NBR teammates and they started tracking my training and I got lots of encouraging words, kudos & etc. The "Strava effect" gave me quick results.
On May 20th, we had a one of the most important races for NBR - the Brooklyn Half. I was still in “semi-recovery” mode, as it was only 30 days after Boston Marathon, so I had no expectations. I went to the race without carrying my phone and not wearing any extra layers, so that I didn’t have to check my bag. (I had previous insight that Brooklyn Half bag check was notoriously hard to retrieve). Before the start, I spent some tiem with NBR LC guys feeling like one of “elites”.
When the race started, I was relaxed, since I didn’t have any real expectations. I was careful not to go too fast inside Prospect Park, and at the exit of Park I saw the NBR cheer squad. As I went down on Ocean Parkway, I had a “cut” on side of my abdominal. Something I haven’t had in quite sometime. I raised and lowered my arm few times and the “cut” went away. That was when I realized my pace was 10 to 15 seconds faster than usual and I quickly did the math in my head. 10 seconds x 13 miles is 2minutes and change. "…wait, if I keep going for 4-5 more miles or so with this pace … I could PR!! " I finished the race in 1:26:54 - about 90 seconds faster than my previous PR set in 2003.
June 17th - Another Club point race, Queens 10K. Boom, I hit another PR by 20 seconds. 40:30. August 26th - Percy Sutton 5K - another PR by 3 seconds. September 24th - Bronx 10 miles - another PR by 1 minute. All of sudden, I had PR’d in almost every distance in 2017 except the full marathon!
In my mind, I had to PR in the marathon. Also, having a 1:26:54 half-marathon record, my previous marathon PR of 3:19 (Queens Marathon 2015, this was my BQ) is not quite up to standard. I started working harder and harder. In August, I ran 250 miles, September 270 miles and October 320 miles, something I have never done before. Going into Philly Marathon, my number one concern was to stay healthy. I told myself if I stayed healthy and injury free, the result will naturally follow. The night before the marathon, Q was kind enough to organize a team dinner. In the last minute, I learned Becca (who is my closest performance rival) was going to run only 40 days after her Chicago 3:02 performance!! I‘ve been secretly comparing her performance against mine for sometime …
|9/25/16||Bronx 10 Miler||1:08:32||1:07:39|
|12/10/16||Ted Corbitt 15k||1:01:57||1:02:34|
|8/26/17||Percy Sutton 5k||19:26||19:53|
|9/24/17||Bronx 10 Miler||1:06:09||1:06:34|
Having seen her Chicago result of 3:02, I was like "Wow!! If she can do 3:02, I can do that too!"
On race day, we all woke up with rain and strong winds. NBR Philly resident, David Lam was so kind to offer lodging in Philly as well as ride to start area. Thank you David!! I arrived early (60 minutes) to the start area, but since it was raining hard I stayed inside the tent and couldn’t do all my regular routine (warm up, bathroom, etc).
About 20 minutes before the start, the rain finally cleared and I stayed on the bathroom line close to my corral. The line was moving slow and by the time I got out of porta-potty, my corral was already closed. So I stayed in next corral and told myself to relax and stay calm. One corral won’t make too much difference. I later found out that they do a staggered start (about 2 minutes lag for each corral).
"Ok", I thought. "Just subtract 2 minutes from each clock I see on the course." My game plan was to keep 7 min/mi pace for first 13 miles and see how I feel. If I felt good, I had a shot for a sub-3 hour race. Another goal was sub 3:10. I know that good results are often produced by either even pacing or negative splits, so I was careful not to go too fast in the beginning. My first 7 miles splits were: 7:29 (lack of warm up), 7:11, 7:10, 7:14, 7:20, 7:14, 7:04. Keeping a 7 min/mi pace was really tough on that day for some reason. I felt somewhat stale. The next 7 miles got even tougher: 7:24, 7:17, 7:41, 7:15, 7:06, 7:17, 7:16. Coming out of Central Philly to run along the river, we didn’t have anything to shield ourselves from the strong gusts of wind.
Next 7 miles: 7:30, 7:58, 7:32 ,7:35 ,7:38 ,7:42 ,7:23. When I started seeing push rims and Elite runners coming back from the u-turn at Manayunk, I just told myself to stay relaxed and do not fight that wind!
Final few miles: 7:28, 7:25, 7:54, 7:45, 7:48. I realized there weren't any clocks on the course here (or did I miss them?) I was just a few miles away from the finish line ,and told myself "It’s just 8 or 9 more laps of McCarren Park track." (We ran hundreds and hundreds laps during training). That was when I saw the NBR cheer squad for the 3rd or 4th time through the course. They moved around in very windy day to cheer in 3 or 4 different spots along the course! Thank you all!!!
When I crossed the finish line, the main finish line clock was showing 3:19 and change, and my Garmin showed 3:16 and change. I knew I PR’d but not within the 3 hours and single digits I was aiming for … I just didn’t have the pace to go 7 min/mi that day.
I am still digesting the result, setting my next target, and thinking of a training plan for the next race, but my initial refection is that my training had too much focus on mileage (quantity) and not so much on tempo runs (quality). Marathon running is about the art of pacing. It differs from person to person, how to train, how to approach the race … etc., and you can only learn from your own experiences.
Last but not least, I must mention what one of reasons I chose to run Philly is. One day in early summer of 2013, I noticed there was one message on my iPhone (I am a kind of person that hates leaving unread mail, or unplayed messages. I like to keep iPhone screen as clean as possible). I played it and it goes … “Hi this is Doctor _______.(couldn’t understand his name) from Thomas Jefferson Hospital, please call me at 215-XXX-XXXX." Initially, I thought it was some sort of sales call. Then, phone rang again and caller ID was showing 215 area code. I ignored the call. Another message was left. I thought to erase it, but I played it. It was same Doctor and this time, he said, “Do you have a sibling called _____? Please call back ASAP. This is an emergency." My heart started beating fast. I returned the call and found out my brother fell unconscious and had been taken to a local hospital where he lives in Bucks County. The hospital quickly decided they couldn’t handle the case, so he was transferred to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.
MRI's showed a large brain tumor in his forehead. Long story short, I rushed to Philly on the same day, and my brother was operated on by the super neuro-surgeon who operated on late Bo Biden, son of former Vice President Biden. The operation went superb. My brother’s tumor was benign and he is now fully recovered and in good health, thank God!
I therefore dedicate this PR to my brother and all people who supported us in this 4 years. Thank you so much!!
Wataru Iwata, Proud and thankful member of NBR. November 2017.
by Quinn Batson
Mike wore sunglasses at 5:30 in the morning cuz that’s the way he rolls when he runs. We headed for the 8th Street R station 300 yards away and found kin on the platform. The first we spoke to came from Italy. Fun fact: about 4,000 Italians run the NYC marathon each year, making them possibly the largest non-U.S. national group. To prove the point, our new Italian friend spoke Italian to the woman seated across from us once we got on the train, and she answered, in Italian, ‘how did you know?’
From the time we got out of the subway at the ferry, for the next six hours, it was hard to shake the image of cattle in a stockyard. Fortunately these cattle-people were friendly, and quite happy to be heading to slaughter. Still, even for a New Yorker, it’s an intense amount of humanity from start to finish.
The bus tour of Staten Island was interesting even without many people on the streets, and then we hit the start villages. Low-level stress hovers over the bathroom lines, and the bathroom lines are everywhere. Warming up usually seems like a good idea before a race, unless that race is the NYC marathon; for most, the first time you know you’re in the right place is when you’re standing on the bridge with your particular group of corraled cattle, an HOUR before the starting gun.
BOOM! That start cannon was less than 50 yards away and sent smoke everywhere. Most of us knew it was sending off the elite women, but it still jolted the calm out of us. Banter, jokes and random friend sightings filled the next half hour, and then the BOOM was for us.
I’ve known Mike for almost 40 years, and we raced each other in college. He’s still a little faster, but the plan was to run the first 10 miles together and feel it out from there. This race was as much about reconnecting as it was about running 26 miles fast.
My favorite part of the race is the Verrazano Bridge--all of it. The majesty of the view and the feeling of utter specialness for this one moment are heady stuff. That, and the peacefulness that never really returns once you hit the streets of New York.
I remember Bay Ridge, and I remember the bands from the bridge to downtown Brooklyn, some of them really good musicians. Once the runner streams merge at Flatbush, any sense of solitude is gone, and a new image of schooling fish replaces the cattle.
The next 2 miles are NBR territory, and the callouts for “NBR” or “Quinn” are heartening every time, even if I only see the caller every third or fourth time. At 10 miles, Mike keeps going the same speed, and I pull back a bit. It was fun to run together, but my brain has already turned the corner from “race” to “running”, and it will keep turning corners from here on in.
I can’t keep from smiling widely as I run through the mile 12 water station, even though I only actually “see” maybe 3 people manning the tables. The memory of doing the tables myself and a surprisingly warmfuzzy feeling for NBR just surge through me.
The next thing that surges through me is the desire to pee. I’ve never stopped to pee in a race, ever, so this is new--another corner. A mile later, I see bathrooms right before the bridge to Queens. Something about the way they face Away from the racecourse and have blue tape I have to duck under make this stop seem even more of a race violation. My breathing is way faster than it seems like it should be to pee, but the relief is sweet.
I head out relieved but even more relaxed about running fast, and this relaxation seems to feed on itself. I begin to slow steadily, unconcerned until Bruno passes me and I try to keep up and can’t. Now I’m thinking about food--any food, and I’ve turned another corner. Racing and hunger have never gone together, and hunger has taken over my brain. I patter up the 59th Street bridge and watch people I know are going “slow” pass me. As I get off the bridge, all I can think of is getting to a deli, but First Avenue has other ideas.
After what may actually be a mile of unbroken fences on both sides of the street, I finally stop in front of a woman standing in front of a deli, hand her 2 dollars, and say “could you buy me either a Coke or a chocolate milk?” She says sure, and half an orange and a banana appear magically while she is gone. I love you, New Yorkers. I thank woman one as she hands me an opened liter of Coke and begin drinking and walking up First Avenue, feeling absurd yet happy.
And yes, I drink that whole thing, in no particular hurry. I begin running at the next water table, where I may even take some Gatorade, too. And I’m running again. Until I’m not.
My brain has short-circuited and told my hamstrings to contract, continuously, as if I’ve been hit by a bolt of lightning and have no control over my body. And it PISSES ME OFF. I hope no small children were within earshot. I am not done yet, though. If walking is what I can do for now, walking is what I will do for now.
I turn yet another corner when I realize I am COLD and just want to get a shirt or something at the next medical tent. It seems to take several minutes for the nice woman at the medical tent to cut a piece of foil blanket for me, but I am quite happy to have it. I find I can hold it easily at my neck with one hand and run with the other, and I’m running again, even getting warmer, beginning to think maybe…BAM, the lightning strikes again. I swear even more, and I look like an angry tin soldier whose knees don’t bend, walking around in crazy circles.
It’s official; my body only has to tell me twice for me to believe it. I walk until I see the next race marshall at mile 18. I have to yell a bit to get her attention but feel I have done my racely duty by reporting my dropout. She fires up her phone to tell whoever needs to know, thanks me and assures me “It’s just 'notcher day.”
by Toni Mayo
My calendar just sort of falls into a black hole after November 5th. I still haven't entirely come down from the whole week. The fact that I don't need to check the weather every five minutes is still a bit weird. I'm also not terrified beyond measure anytime someone sneezes near me - just mildly grossed out, and there is definite flinching.
You'd think with my level of nerdiness that this was my first marathon, but it was number 5 for me, and my second time getting to run NY. I plan on doing many more marathons, and I really hope I don't lose that full on excitement, and just you know, 'run a casual marathon'. I think running is the only place I really let my geek out, and I'm totally fine with that.
I don't know what it is, but to me, marathoning is just absolute bliss. Let me re-frame that: it is hard, it is painful, but I can think of no other opportunity that I've had to work hard enough at something that is challenging, and make it doable, and fun. Does that make sense? Basically, I feel like I ran my face off, often in a billion degree weather, sometimes uphill, sometimes very early in the morning, and that meant I got to have the party of my dreams on November 5th. I also haven't done too many things that are quantifiable. For instance, I used to be an actor, so you spend weeks rehearsing, then you put on this production, and afterwords, you kind of know you did well, or that you blew it … but there was no real measure for success. I love that I am part of something now where I can see myself getting better, faster and more intelligent in racing.
My goal this year was to run a 3:45. (My previous PR was 3:57 in Marseilles 2017.) So I set out doing what anyone with terrible game plans would do, and picked a training plan that peaked at 70+ miles per week (way more mileage than I'd previously run). On about day 10 of this plan, I was on a miserable midweek 12 mile run, and I bumped into Karina Christiansen and basically started crying about how tired I was already and that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Shortly thereafter, I asked her to coach me - this was a very smart decision! Working with Karina had me scale back my mileage quite a lot, and to do specific workouts for speed, hills (ugh, terrible), and probably most helpful were long progression runs. Had I stuck to my own 'plan' I'd be running a million miles a week at the same pace and wondering why I wasn't getting faster.
The day before the race I felt ready. I had actually done a taper. I had actually rested. I had actually hydrated. One problem- I'd also actually eaten carbohydrates- perhaps you've heard of them? Yeah, I thought race week would be a good time to introduce them to my system. So needless to say, the day before, I was having some, trouble that no coffee, jumping jacks, or voodoo would fix. Oh, you know what did fix it? Running 10 miles. But more on that later.
Mentally I was in a good place. I really felt that I had done everything possible to execute the race I wanted. I was also surrounded by the best people. I had so many NBR friends that I'd trained with and friends from out of town who flew in to run. The mass amount of support and texts I got from NBR people was just mid blowing. I guess I'd talked about the marathon a lot? Perhaps has posted a *few* training updates on Instagram? There really did seem to be a shared bond with everyone participating during the week leading up to the race, and not being alone with that anxiety and taper madness meant the world. I have no idea how I trained for previous marathons without a team.
And then it was Sunday. Despite the Marathon's agonizingly late start and difficult to get to starting line … everything was great. I saw so many friends on the ferry and in the start village, and aside from the fact that my body was refusing to function properly (carbs), I was pumped.
I started out running with my friend Heather (an NBR who sometimes runs with South Brooklyn Runners!?) and we'd made a loose plan to keep things flexible and if we stuck together, great and if we didn't, great. Given the density of crowds, we really only stuck together till 4th Avenue. She went on to run a beautiful race!
Oh man running through Brooklyn is just tops. Tops! I'm a born and raised New Yorker, so I had friends in so many different neighborhoods. My face literally hurt from smiling. I was on crack. And then getting to mile 12? Crack on Steroids. As I'd hoped, I bumped into tons of NBR people along the course, and it was like 'oh yeah, this is our home town run'.
Oh right. Mile 10. I had to make a game-time decision to either run with an upset stomach, or sacrifice a minute + with a bathroom stop. I stopped, hence that happy look on my face in every photo.
I spent a few miles trying to make up some lost time, and then worrying a little that this would cost me, but mostly I stayed pretty even. The best part of the whole experience for me is that I really felt in the moment. I was aware of my watch but I wasn't future tripping. I really saw the crowds of people, which was overwhelming, and saw so many inspiring runners on the course. I just felt really lucky the whole time.
Oh but then it was mile 23, and I felt a little less lucky, but I sort of blocked that out and then it was the turn on 59th street and was running. I've never had so much steam at the end of a marathon. I looked up and saw my parents right before getting to the finish, and they were screaming their faces off and my heart basically exploded.
I feel so lucky that I get to run with NBR and that I share a ridiculous passion with people as ridiculous as I am to enjoy this madness. I am massively thrilled for so many unbelievable NBR's marathons! So many inspiring people. Shoutout to Karina (who ran a mind-blowingly awesome race), and to everyone I ran Narwals with every week, you all make 20 mile runs look really good. Also we ran to the Bronx. And we ran to Coney Island (who else does that???) And of course the Wednesday Night Road Runners crew, you guys make the Pulaski bridge feel flat.
Post marathon, I'm still pretty blissed out. I'm also on a juice cleanse because as stated earlier, I don't know how to make smart decisions. This falls into the 'what not to do after a marathon' category. I am happy because I feel like I've run a race without disclaimers, like "oh, I ran it in X time, but it would have been X if not for X"...you know? I just feel happy with what I did that day, an 8 minute PR will do that!
My only advice to people planning to run any marathon is to be pumped about your own race. I primarily run with people that are faster than me, and my PR times are lousy race times for them. But I can't let that mess with my head. I just have to keep trying to catch up to them. Everyone should run the NYC Marathon, because NY is ostentatious enough to start a marathon on an impossible to get to island, and it would finish on an uphill, because largely living here we have to fight for every square inch, and the marathon is no different. It is wonderful.
by Josh Hatcher
How many marathons have you run? Why did you decide to run NYC'17?
This was my fourth marathon, and my second NYC Marathon. The marathon is my favorite distance, and racing it is always a remarkable, spiritual journey. In my admittedly limited experience, there's nothing more spiritual than NYC. Marathon day in New York is a rare time when everyone seems to light up. There are over 50,000 participants in the race. Obviously the hardcore athletes among them are gung-ho about competition, and there's ample space to get competitive. But thousands of people who aren't super serious, or have maybe never even run a race before, are welcomed into this ritual. Folks who don't run, folks who don't pay the slightest bit of attention to this sport still get amped to watch and cheer. Whole neighborhoods of every borough enthusiastically welcome runners in. New York can often feel lonely and isolating, and it also has serious issues with segregation, so for a single event to so strongly bind the communities of the city together is extremely meaningful for me.
Tell us about your marathon training.
As with my last two marathons, I followed the 55-70 mile/week Pete Pfitzinger plan. "Advanced Marathoning," by Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas is, in my eyes, the bible for competitive marathon training. It includes some great, multifaceted training schedules, but also has whole sections devoted to seemingly every dimension of race prep, from pacing, to cross training, to nutrition, to figuring out how best to hold the paper cup so that you don't spill the Gatorade all over your face. My PR prior to this race was a high 2:46 from Chicago last year, and I made the arbitrary goal this year of going sub 2:40. NYC is a much tougher course than Chicago, and 6 minutes is significant, so this goal seemed very ambitious and possibly delusional. But, barring health issues, one is generally in solid shape to meet their goal if they follow the training schedules closely.
Due to such health issues, my overall training didn't go so well. The summer heat wasn't particularly bad, but I missed at least four weeks of training due to an ankle injury. It made me anxious watching my teammates cruise through a seemingly flawless training cycle, and to see them get stronger and stronger, while I was just trying to get healthy enough to go on a single long run without feeling like my foot had been put into a meat grinder. Once I got better, I accepted that there wasn't ample time left, and that I wouldn't be going sub-2:40. I had a very good last few weeks of training, but I still had little idea of what to expect. I decided that if I got any sort of PR, I'd be satisfied. It was sort of a bummer, but I figured it was better to be realistic than set myself up for disappointment or go out too fast and have to bail out.
Night before marathon - what was going on in your head? did you sleep?
I've got a pretty specific pre-race ritual, which basically involves domestically pampering myself over the course of several hours. I find it helps me sleep and keeps the nerves at bay. I get home super early so I don't have to rush through it. I put on a record and take a bubble bath. I will have run 3 or 4 miles easy that morning, and I do some foam rolling and light stretches to make sure my muscles are loose. I charge my Garmin, and put out my race clothes and bag with everything I need in it, so I don't need to think about it the next day. I make a cup of herbal tea. I cook up half a pound of plain pasta with a little oil and various spices. If it's still relatively early, I allow myself a single beer, but otherwise I drink water. I skim through the pre-race chapters in "Advanced Marathoning," particularly the sections about pre-race nerves, which calm me down. Then I curl up in bed around 9:30, set my alarm for 4:30, and read until I'm dozing off. It's an extremely romantic solitude.
Tell us about your 5 borough experience - how’d you start out? too fast, too slow, just right?
As I mentioned earlier, I had deemed my initial goal unattainable, but I still kind of wanted to hit it. So I was left without a really good idea of how fast I should go out. Generally I try to run my first mile slightly slower than goal pace, but what was my goal pace? Even though it still seemed unrealistic, I figured I would just shoot for a 2:42 marathon, which translates to about 6:12 pace. I got through the first mile in about 6:13 - OK, cool. The second mile of the marathon is straight downhill off of the Verrazano Bridge though, and it's an ongoing joke how everyone's second mile is absurdly and excessively fast. My second mile was around 5:45 pace, so I chalked it up to the downhill, and committed to calming down, and easing into a more conservative and relaxed pace. Thing is, the next few miles, which felt relaxed, were all slightly sub 6-minute pace. The crowd support up 4th Avenue definitely helped, and I expected the excitement to grow as I climbed into North Brooklyn and began seeing more of my friends. I started getting concerned I was getting too excited and setting myself up for implosion. But I kept feeling good. At some point, it dawned on me that if I kept this up, I could go sub-2:40, which was my initial goal. I decided to say screw it. I didn't have anything on the line with this race except my personal goal. I wasn't making any money or supporting my family here. Worst came to worst, I would fall apart, I would have to drop out, and life would go on.
First thought crossing? Did you hit your goal? Any regrets?
I started hitting the proverbial wall with around 4 miles to go, which is to be expected, especially given how brutal the last four miles of the NYC Marathon are. However, the final stages are relatively easy to mentally break up. For example, running parallel to Central Park from 110th to 90th Street is probably the most torturous point in the race, but it's only about a mile, so going into it, I kept telling myself "just get into the park, and then it'll get easier." Then, running across the base of the park on 59th Street, I told myself "just get to Columbus Circle and then there's less than a mile to go." The final 0.2 miles feels insurmountable in the context of the race, but you can see the bleachers ahead, at the start of the last straightaway, which makes it feel closer. Breaking up the course into pieces and duping yourself into thinking you're "basically done" after each section is a good way to stay sane in those last few miles. As I was running down the final straightaway, I saw the clock above the finish line tick from 2:39 to 2:40. I came in at 2:40:12, 12 seconds off of my initial goal, which I had deemed impossible, given my training. I was privately a tiny bit disappointed I didn't go under 2:40, but as a whole I was completely taken aback that I had come so close. Having resigned myself to maybe getting a small PR if I was lucky, getting that close to a seemingly unrealistic goal felt amazing.
Did you bleed? cramp?
One bloody nipple. I didn't even notice it until someone pointed it out at bag check. Adrenaline is great anesthesia for such things.
What race do you want to do next? (or not)
This time qualified me for the Berlin Marathon, so I decided to bite the bullet and register the next day. Pending any issues with my application, that will be my next marathon.
Any shoutouts? Who helped you along the way?
This phenomenal club we have is honestly the main reason why I still live in New York. The inclusivity of NBR allows for runners of all abilities to come together, train, and develop friendships. For this particular race, I feel especially inclined to shout out my teammates, Jack Mulvaney, Ben Leese, Alex Walsh, and Jeff Poindexter, with whom I trained a lot this summer and fall. Those four have instilled a sense of discipline in my training and really inspired me to work hard. They're also generally great guys and have become wonderful, supportive friends.
What advice would you give someone about to run the NYC marathon?
Just have fun. As competitive/team-based runners, it's easy to get caught up in the intensity of training and our goals and the pain and everything else. But remember that we do this for fun. I can't speak for everyone, but the less pressure I put on myself, the better I generally perform. The marathon is a unique race in that you're capable of feeling very good for a very long time. Don't take that for granted - soak it up and enjoy every minute of it. No better place to do so than on the loud, exciting streets of New York. Your fellow New Yorkers will have your back the whole damn way.
by Jen Herr
On September 24th, I accomplished the impossible (and perhaps foolish) by completing the Berlin Marathon with a yet-to-be diagnosed knee injury. My story in achieving this starts in February of 2015, when training for another destination marathon and being stricken by a sacral stress fracture. After 8 weeks of rest and recovery, I was physically able to start the 2015 Salzburg Austria Marathon and ran 8 miles of it before dropping out. I was thankful for my health, the race experience in a beautiful setting, and the vacation that followed – yet was still bummed I didn’t finish what I had originally set out to accomplish. Upon my return stateside, I began a slow and healthy return to a rigorous running regime which lead to 2 full years of racing PR's at nearly every distance … except for the marathon.
In 2016, I trained hard and attempted twice to beat my marathon best time. At the Spring Copenhagen Marathon, it was 85 degrees on race day, and in our hometown race, the NYC Marathon, knee pain plagued me around mile 20, preventing me from running the final 10k. Feeling deflated by the hard and time consuming training I’d put in for a year, which only led to sub-par results, I vowed not to run anymore marathons. I stuck to racing half-marathons (and shorter distances) for seven months, continuing on my PR streak. Then, the hilarious occurred …
An email informed me I was selected in the lottery for the 2017 Berlin Marathon. Had I even signed up for the race? Was I drunk or half asleep when I did so? Though I had pledged not to take on another marathon, and had no recollection of signing up for the challenge, the opportunity to run the famed, fast course in the wonderful city of Berlin that I had previously visited & loved was not one which could easily be dismissed. My adventurous spirit kicked in, I asked my boyfriend “any interest in going to Berlin?” and next thing I knew, I was registered to run the marathon with a flight and hotel booked. YIKES.
Training for the big day in Berlin started in May as soon as the Brooklyn Half-Marathon was over. (Or as soon as I recovered from the flu which plagued me on Brooklyn Half day.) As I had been consistently improving my pace and weekly mileage for the previous 6 months, I decided to go hard in my training with the Advanced Hal Higdon Marathon plan as my course of action. This included 6 days a week of running, speed & hill work, and a total three 20 mile long runs. As always, I enjoyed the discipline of getting my training done alongside my NBR Teammates early on Tuesday mornings with the “Just Central” crew, at Thursday Night Track, the Saturday morning Bridge Run and the Sunday Funday long runs. Disaster struck in June, however, when I stupidly chose to do a solo 16 mile long run to Coney Island on a very hot day, while wearing RACING FLATS. By the following Tuesday, I was diagnosed with peroneal tendonitis, had my foot in a boot and took a 2 week hiatus from training. When I returned to running in July, I managed to finish the first of my 20 mile long runs alongside some wonderful NBR-iors at Sunday Funday, but was overcompensating on my right leg for the left foot which had tendonitis. During the week, I felt pain in my knee as I walked up and down stairs, or depending on how I stood or adjusted my weight when walking. I managed one more 12 mile run to Ikea alongside my Berlin Marathon-mate H.J Kim, then could no longer push past the pain – I had trouble even slowly jogging a mile. In late August, with a few weeks left to Berlin, I stopped running entirely.
Instead of running, I joined a new gym, and began a rigorous schedule of stretching, yoga and weight training (particularly on my quads and glutes.) I did sets of running drills, telling myself not to touch the treadmill, hit the pavement or even jog the track until I could get through a full set of drills without pain. Thanks to the recommendation by fellow NBR-ior, Heather Elgin, I also got a particularly violent sports massage that involved Chinese methods of torturously scraping the flesh of my right quad and calf in the weekend prior to race day. With all the cross training and treatment, days off from running turned into weeks - the Berlin Marathon was days away and I had not run in nearly a month. I confided in my NBR teammates and family that I had no intention of finishing the marathon, but would merely start, do an easy few miles and then enjoy my time in Berlin, similar to my experience in Salzburg, Austria.
In the last couple days before heading out to Germany, my boyfriend Maurice, who’s usually unphased and unconcerned by my running escapades, asked me if I would still get a race medal if I did not finish the Marathon – of course I wouldn’t. The medal itself didn’t mean much to me, but his question was symbolic. Would I feel satisfied by my experience of the marathon if I did not finish? It occurred to me that I hadn’t had knee pain while walking for several weeks. And since I hadn’t actually done any running in a while, who was to say I COULDN’T run a good portion of the race? The smallest kernel of hope was planted within me, that I could potentially finish the race, and we flew out to Germany.
Once in Berlin, Maurice and I celebrated the start of our vacation with a fancy seven course dinner and a fantastic night out dancing in East Berlin. This involved LOTS of drinking and expended a lot of energy less than 36 hours before the marathon start gun, but still having limited expectations of the race, I threw caution to the wind.
On Saturday morning, possibly while still drunk, I met my NBR teammates Gregg, Alissa, Bev and H.J. for the marathon sponsored Breakfast run to the Olympic Stadium. This ended up being the highlight of my marathon weekend. Running at a very slow 10:00-11:00 minute pace alongside H.J. and Alissa, I ran for the first time in a month - 4 miles (uphill) through the beautiful Berlin cityscape. The magnitude of running into the stadium, and encountering all its surrounding history (Jesse Owens’ track records inscribed in the stadium walls just a few hundred feet away from the relic of Hitler’s spectator box from the 1930s,) along with the delicious German pastries served at the end, might have been enough to satisfy my need for running greatness on the trip. But … later on at our team carb-loading dinner, Maurice again asked about that marathon medal. And NBR teammate Alissa told me “you can definitely finish!” We went back to our hotel room for an early night, and I dozed off still unsure of what I would accomplish in the morning.
Race morning was fantastic! I woke up and quietly got dressed and bibbed-up, social media'd that I’d be heading out to start the race with limited expectations, enjoyed a small healthy German breakfast of muesli and fruit in our hotel and then trekked through the beautiful Tiergarten to my start corral. I didn’t even mind the rain showers which came and went. The start of the Berlin marathon is a lot like attending a Football game. There were organized cheers, chants, music and claps that blasted out on humongous screens set up in the corrals to keep the crowd pumped and motivated in spite of having to wait around for the start. It was hard not to feel inspired.
When my Wave 3 start came around, I slowly jogged the first miles out of the Tiergarten at 10:00-11:00 minute pace. I didn’t feel knee pain, but also didn’t feel capable of going any faster. I knew I needed to maintain a 14:00 minute pace or better the stay in the race, as the finish cut-off time was 6 hours, so felt confident and a bit shocked when I was able to maintain the 10:00-11:00 minute pace for the first 5k … then the first 10k … then the first 15k … then a half-marathon! Knee pain was starting to set in before the half-marathon mark, but every time I hit one of the 5k mat markers, I envisioned my Mom at home in New Jersey at 5:00 AM, tracking me on her computer. It occurred to me that I was giving her a small thrill every time I hit one of those mats. This idea of making my Mom happy and proud convinced me that it was worth trying to finish the second half of the race by any means necessary, even if it meant walking the remaining 13.1 miles in the rain.
I did a bit of run-walking up to mile 14 until my knee pain was persistent, then slowed down fully to a walk. For a few miles, I didn’t pay attention to the pace of my walking, or the crowds yelling at me to run. I chatted with fellow Americans at the back of the pack from Atlanta and Harlem, as well as a runner from the Caribbean and an ex-pat originally from Boston (we talked sports rivalries.) We all commiserated that we were not quite up to the task of running the whole race, but would get to the finish somehow! Most of those other racers did manage to pick their pace back up into a run, leaving me in the dust, but I continued on …
Around mile 18, it occurred to me that my walked miles were too slow, and in order to finish the race in under 6 hours, I needed to pick up the pace and complete each remaining kilometer in 14 minutes or less. Anyone who thinks quickly walking half a marathon is any easier than running … please understand, you are actually taking more steps when you walk. I still hit a wall around mile 20 when it started to feel like I had no flesh left on the soles of my feet and was power walking on bloody stumps. And yet, I persisted. The Berlin marathon has markers at every kilometer, and I was managing to tick them off at almost EXACTLY 14 minutes a piece. Scared that I was cutting it too close, I focused intently on 1 kilometer at a time and achingly picked up the walk pace to around 13:45. As I finally made it to the last 5k and into the Potsdamer Platz neighborhood, I started getting emotional, realizing that finishing was in reach, yet was still pretty far away by both time and distance as a walker. I promised myself that no matter how terrible it felt, I would RUN the final distance of the race, through the iconic Brandenburg Gate and into the finish line back in the Tiergarten. The course marshalls started breaking down the course, opening the roads back up to cars, and I pushed on.
Eventually, I rounded the corner in the fancy shopping district of Berlin, and could see the Brandenburg gate. On numb and bleeding feet and a still sore right knee, I managed to pick up and start RUNNING back at 10:00 minute pace with a huge smile on my face. The crowds leading into the finish of the race were now severely diminished, but I fist pumped, smiled and waved at everyone still there to see me race the best that I could into the finish. (My race photos came out pretty fantastic thanks to that final push!) I finally crossed the finish line around 4:00 PM, in five hours and fifty-five minutes – just five minutes shy of the 6 hour cut off. There was minimal support staff at the finish, a single person was left to drape me with my race medal and there were no ponchos left to give me warmth, and yet I had never felt happier, higher or prouder of finishing a marathon!
Upon finally meeting up with my fellow NBR marathon racers (who all had stellar performances!) at a Beer Garden for some well-earned celebrations with pints, currywursts and stuffed-baked potatoes, I remarked that my marathon experience felt a little ridiculous, but also that I would not have been able to sit with my teammates to enjoy the post-race festivities if I didn’t also have that medal around my neck (Maurice had been right.)
My completion of the Berlin marathon will serve as continued motivation to me in all aspects of my life, in a way that no other running or race experience has before. When I set goals, the process to achieving them does not always work out as planned. But I’ve now proven to myself in spades, that when I am determined to accomplish something, I will find a way to get it done one way or another.
I am extremely thankful to have shared the trip to Berlin with Maurice and my incredible NBR Teammates. The marathon there and all it’s surrounding events and cultural opportunities are not to be missed – I highly recommend that if you ever have the opportunity to participate in this race (hopefully healthier and better trained than I was,) YOU SHOULD DO IT! ☺
by Meg Boushie
"On your marks. Get set..." Then the sound of a gun.
These are cues far too familiar for most runners. However, no matter how many times one competes in any race distance, it seems they are also some of the most anxiety provoking words one anticipates on race day.
I cannot recall the actual call outs prior to the 2017 Brooklyn Mile. Nor can I recall if we actually had a gun, or a horn, or even a kazoo. All I recall is my heart pounding in my throat, my breathing suddenly residing in my brain, and my legs feeling like Jello. Everything in my body seemed out of place as the rat race started for the iconic distance even non-runners can conceptualize.
Let's back it up for a second. My relationship with running has had roller coaster ups and downs over the past decade. In high school, I ran track to keep in shape for soccer. Track workouts gave me stomach aches just thinking about them. Confidence in my abilities was non-existent. How could my coach see so much potential and believe in me when I could not even believe in myself? Every single race, I knew where I would fall: second to last place. The Mile, in my mind, was something that would never be conquered for speed or time goals. It was something I just "had to finish". I had no idea this mentality was what set me back at the time, and that this caused me to be my own worst enemy.
Flash forward. The first time I stepped onto McCarren Park for Thursday Night Track in June 2017, the heart palpitations started, just as they did eleven years before. Even though I had been running (and actually enjoying it) for about six years (after a three-year hiatus post high school, of course), standing at that starting line was like staring my biggest fear in the face.
This time though, something was different. Having fellow NBR-iors by my side, I no longer felt alone in my running relationship. I had support, advice, cheers, and smiles that pushed me, but also taught me what I was lacking in the past: to trust myself and my abilities.
Soon, speed workouts became a part of my weekly routine. I found myself looking forward to these workouts, and to giving everything I had for each and every sprint. Because this time around, it was not the track that was crushing me, but me that was crushing the track.
At bib pick up before the race, a race sponsor encouraged all participants to take a Polaroid, write their name on it, along with their goal time. Then, after the race, racers would cross out the goal time and write the actual. Internally competitive (and probably more externally than I care to admit), I knew that writing that goal time was something serious. It meant I had to commit to it.
A fellow NBR-ior and friend had convinced me to sign up for this race in February. He also was picking his bib up, and writing his goal time. He was not only a seasoned runner, but a seasoned Mile runner; literally the complete opposite of me. Still, supportive human he is, he asked what goal I would be setting for myself.
Not batting an eyelash, I told him exactly where I thought I should be on race day. "6:04," I told him. "But in my heart, all hopes and dreams point to maybe, just MAYBE getting closer to 6 minutes flat."
He looked at me like I had two heads. "No", he told me. Clearly a hard "No", too. "5:59", he said.
The alarms and firecrackers and bells and whistles started going off in my brain again. It was my turn to return the raised eyebrows. In my mind, I was still 16-year-old Meg who would never be able to fathom getting that kind of time.
Then, something just clicked.Twenty seven-year old Meg had that light bulb DING DING DING moment. I had worked for this, I had the capability, and HECK YES I was going to break 6. I grabbed the black Sharpie on the table without a second thought and wrote the famous last words (number): 5:59.
"On your marks". There I was, steadying my breathing, quickly visualizing in my head what it would feel like in just a few minutes when I would cross the finish line and break this goal. Here, on race day, things were no longer out of reach. Here was the opportunity 16 year old Meg had always dreamed of, and reality set in, where 27 year old Meg was going to take it. Full speed, no regrets, and hey, if I crashed in the process, it was only a few minutes of crashing and burning. What was the worst that could happen?
The gun (or whatever noise machine it was) went off, and the rat race began. Before I knew it, I was already at the quarter mile mark: 1:23. Wait, I'm sorry; what? Then, the half mile mark: 2:44. Come again?
Now, from this point on, I am pretty sure I blacked out, but I do remember one thing: the screaming cheers from the NBR cheer section (because they are awesome and amazing), and keeping two specific runners within a few strides of me. Then, suddenly, it was over and I stopped my watch. It was over. As quickly as the rat race began, there we were at the moment of truth. I glanced at my watch. 5:50. Fighting back tears of joy (and pain), I had done something I truly never thought possible, and I could not have done without the overwhelming support that NBR is.
When the final times were released, I knew my time would be slightly off, so I was ready for anything within about three seconds of the time I had clocked. I also would have been happy with any time I received at that point. I waited for my smartphone screen to load the results, and almost fell off my chair when I scrolled all the way to the right for chip time: 5:48.
Even though Meg at 16 is a very different human than Meg at 27, one thing has stayed the same: running will always be something that challenges me. NBR entered my life at a very specific time for a very specific reason, and I will be eternally grateful for that and all it has given me. With that, I may now be a Mile-loving convert, and may even fall in love with running all over again.
by Sophie Tholstrup
While you guys were registering blistering times and smashing PRs in Central Park this weekend, NBR's lesser known Just East chapter was moving at a significantly slower pace in temperatures hot enough to melt metal at the Mogadishu Marathon.
The first marathon to be held in the country since the outbreak of civil war in 1991, this was the creation of a couple of young British military guys stationed here, who run for London's Midnight Runners back home. They wanted to celebrate Somali running talent and try to break the narrative of drought, IED attacks and conflict with a more hopeful story. The marathon is also helping to raise much-needed funds for the drought response - more on that below!
The race is named after Samia Yusuf Omar – a Somali Olympic runner who competed in Beijing and dreamed of doing the same in London in 2012. Tragically that was a dream she never got to fulfill. She drowned in 2011 making the hazardous crossing to Europe as a refugee.
More than 200 runners from over 30 countries competed over a 5 mile, 15 mile and 26 mile course inside the protected international area surrounding Mogadishu airport. Diplomats, peacekeepers and even Olympians braved the extreme conditions, scrambling over sand dunes, navigating barbed wire fences and fortified compounds, one particularly important military colleague even running with his own armed close protection team.
32 Somali runners - including members of the Olympic team - competed, and proved that even when the rest of us are complaining that our faces are melting, SERIOUS speed is possible. Particular props to the Somali women, who smoked the competition in the 5 mile race wearing long yellow polyester trousers and modified headscarves.
I probably shouldn't mention this, since there were only about 6 women running and I covered several miles at more of a death-shuffle than a recognizable running pace, but since this is likely the only time in my life I will ever get to say this.... first female half marathon finisher in the house!
This race was the textbook definition of type two fun. It was unbelievably hot. The friendly water table volunteers had, I later discovered, been briefed to ask borderline-looking runners questions to check whether they were delirious. Military medical crews kept a beady eye out from the back of ambulances for runners whose brains had started cooking. Several runners were told to stop, but I think each and every one of them disobeyed orders and trudged to the finish. At one point I spotted a man with a hose spraying filthy graywater onto the ground and dived underneath it for a moment's relief. But it was WONDERFUL! I ran with Ugandan peacekeepers, Italian diplomats and Ecuadorian aid workers, high-fived Olympic hopefuls and race walkers in full makeup. An Indian soldier critiqued my running form, and I fangirled deliriously at young Somali women in head-to-toe yellow polyester running faster over 5 miles than I could manage over 100m.
I got asked to deploy to Somalia to go and help out with the drought response while - and I say this with shame - skiing in the Alps. I jumped on a plane with a suitcase full of ski gear, had a four-day crash course in avoiding/ surviving kidnap, how to stop blood loss if someone's leg gets blown off and what to do if you find yourself being horrible to your colleagues (drink more water), and then turned up for work in the UN's Drought Operations Centre. The operations centre is full of aid workers on laptops, scrabbling for data on who needs what where, what's being delivered and where the gaps are, trying to ensure aid get to those who need it most as quickly as possible. I sit next to the water guy, behind the protection lady and am constantly bothering the food people. It's a strange deployment, in that we sit in an air conditioned shipping container in a walled compound protected by peacekeepers, and we feel a long way from the people we're here to help. Running a race with elite Somalia athletes doesn't change that, of course, but coming together around a love of running was a really powerful experience in lots of ways.
Somalia - already reeling from years of conflict - is in the grips of a devastating drought, with a real risk that the country will slip into famine in 2017. More than half the population - 6.2 million people - are in need of assistance, as failing rains have driven food shortages across the country. The drought has caused massive livestock death, and forced a quarter of a million people to leave their homes and walk for days into urban centres in search of food and water. Nearly one million children are at risk of deadly malnutrition, and cholera has swept across the country, infecting 12,000 people since the start of the year. In 2011, famine killed 260,000 people across the country, and aid organisations and the newly-installed government are working frantically to avoid a repeat of history.
I know there are a million calls on your goodwill and hard-earned cash, but this is a real case where every dollar makes a difference. It costs around $90 to feed a family of seven for a month, and around $100 to provide lifesaving treatment to a seriously malnourished infant. All money raised will go directly to the organisations making the most impact here on the ground. If you're looking for a direct and efficient way to help avert famine, please do give what you can: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sophie-tholstrup
Here's hoping that there are many more marathons in Mogadishu's future and that, as the situation here improves, these will move out of protected compounds and onto the streets, with anyone and everyone free to participate.
I'll be back in the Greatest Borough soon, and can't wait to see you all.
by Kevin Grevemberg
This weekend myself (Kevin Grevemberg) and fellow NBR'ior Fernando Feria flew out to the City of Angels to run the LA Marathon. Neither one of us had a particularly stellar train-up leading up to this - in fact we both would freely admit that we were woefully underprepared for the endeavor. Fernando and I discussed at length during our "too little too late" Narwhal 20 milers what strategy we would follow in order not to die out there. We settled on going out slow then shooting for a 4:30 finish time – seemed doable.
We met up in LA and stayed with NBR alum's Todd and Chantel aka the Chantodd™. They were incredibly gracious hosts. Since I had abandoned any notions of a PR or a BQ long before, I didn't experience the jitters I had while picking up our bibs at the marathon expo. In fact, the warm weather and sunshine had me excited! We basically did what you shouldn't the night before – aka drank too much alcohol and too little water which was only offset by the amazing pasta dinner that Todd prepared for us.
We left a bit late and arrived at the shuttle bus pick-up 10 minutes too late and were told the last bus was gone. Fernando then asked the transport captain "Well what do we do now?" Before he could answer, a handful of other stragglers showed up as well as another bus. The transport captain told the driver in broken Spanish to take us to such and such point and that we would have to walk the rest of the way to Dodger stadium. The driver nodded and we took off. Whether he hadn't understood the instructions or didn't care, he proceeded to take us all the way which, was great as we would definitely gotten lost and missed the bag check.
Fern's late sign-up for the race put us in the very very back in an open corral. This was good, as it kept our speed in check for the first two miles until we picked up Todd, who had agreed to pace us Bandit-style the whole way. Todd was basically a combination sherpa/tour-guide giving us little tid-bits about what to do and where to eat in each of the neighborhoods we padded through. Mile after mile peeled away and I was struck by how enjoyable this was turning out to be. We weren't in a hurry and not worried too much about splits. I started to get a bit of an IT warning shot across the bow around mile 17, but after a good stretch during a bathroom break I shook it off. Looking at our split times post race we had basically started to negative split after the first 25k and kept that up for the duration. We ran into an awesome Cheer squad led by Chantel and their running team Republic somewhere in West Hollywood. The photo speaks for itself - we were actually still having fun deep into running a marathon!
As we passed mile 20-21, we conquered our last big uphill climb - the rest was cake. When we hit mile 23 we did something I have never been able to do in a marathon - we started to drop the hammer getting faster and faster. The last mile we clocked a 7:20 pace - a far cry from the 10's we had been doing in the beginning. Todd, who had been taking short vids right behind us the whole way, hilariously stuck with us almost to the bitter end until course volunteers standing next to signs that basically read "bandits GTFO!" finally drove him off 100 meters from the finish.
We did it. We didn't die. I finished my 3rd marathon and more importantly Fern finished his marathon marathon - his 26th. Not only that – we "crushed" our goal time crossing the line at 4:17:38.
Can they all be this fun? NYC marathon see you in November...