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2017 NYC Marathon Race Report #4: Quinn Batson

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.”

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2017 NYC Marathon Race Report #2 - Josh Hatcher

by Josh Hatcher

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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.

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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.

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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.

Team Spot Check-In: Taeya Konishi Schoge

1. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be involved with NBR. What was your first run? How long have you been involved? 

I started to run at the end of 2009 because a friend wanted to race a 5k which I've never ran that far at once and seemed way too far.  Started one mile at a time and in 2010 I learned about NYRR and signed up for a couple of races.  At the races I kept noticing the cool singlets that NBR folks were wearing.  I eventually googled NBR, as I was looking to join a team to hopefully learn something about running, but took awhile to join since I thought NBR was too fast for me.  I also noticed Anna McCusker at races and she inspired me and thought to myself "I want to be as fast as she is one day".  It was around the 2010 NYC Marathon that Asics put together a group run at Sports Authority which I signed up for.  I went to that alone, but I left that event making a friend, Marynella, who was so nice and convinced me to join the team.  My first NBR run was Tuesday Night Tempo with Katie Winther and Brian Cicero.  I can't remember the exact workout but we were running around the track and thought I was going to die.  I've been with NBR since Oct. 2010.

2. How is marathon training going? Are there any specific workouts that are really moving things along for you? Tell the world a good NBR long run story.

Training is going ok, some weeks are great and others aren't. I wish I had more dedicated time for training, but since my son was born, priority shifted and constantly I have to coordinate with my husband's busy schedule to find time to run.  Sometimes my job also takes over my time away from training so I have to be flexible/realistic with my goals.  I would love to run more, but I have to be creative with my runs such as instead of dedicating a day for tempo run and another for a long run, most of the time I end up combining them and keeps me in check.  I don't have a really good long run story, but a few years ago I ran the Tokyo marathon and a guy in full on Godzilla costume beat me. We crossed the finish somewhere in the 3:05 range so I was amazed not only with him, but I was also puzzled when I picked up my bag that some guys were already changed in their regular clothes and having a smoke...these smokers also beat me. 

3. Which NBR runs are you attending regularly to train? Are there any NBR members who inspire you to train hard (er)?

I lived closer to Just South and then moved closer to McCarren that I used to go to the morning runs on a regular basis, but now living further away sometimes I join the Thursday morning or evening track or SFR.  I am inspired by many of the NBR members who are out there at races giving their very best and how dedicated they are to their training and find time to volunteer.

4. What does it mean to be chose by your peers for a coveted NBR  marathon team spot? 

I am so honored to represent NBR at this year's marathon, we are such an awesome team!!   

5. What do you plan on eating post-marathon? What about the nite before?

I am probably going to eat onigiri (Japanese rice balls).  The night before I am going to have rice with grilled salmon. 

6. What inspires and motivates you to run this year's NYC marathon?

The NYC Marathon is one of the more exciting courses that I have run. There is an enormous energy from the crowds that line the many diverse neighborhoods the course winds through.  And of course I LOVE passing through the best water station of the entire course, Mile 12; it rejuvenates me :) 

7. In your head, what celebrity do you think you most resemble when you're running?

Sorry can't think of one, probably some cartoon character?

Race Report: Berlin Marathon 2017

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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! ☺

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REFLECTIONS ON RUNNING MY SIXTH MARATHON: A CHICAGO RACE REPORT

by Sean Laude

My recounting of this year's Chicago marathon begins four years ago, after I crossed the finish line at the 2012 edition of the race. The three hours and twenty-six minutes it took to run my first marathon did a number on my legs. I could not stand up under my own power, so a very helpful volunteer had to cart me the half-mile or so back to bag check. I was in a world of pain, but I felt ecstatic. I was filled with the idea that anything is possible. Less than two months later, I moved to Brooklyn.

Many of you know that I grew up in Chicagoland and repeatedly espouse the virtues of the CTA, the serene beauty of running along Lake Michigan, and why deep-dish is the ultimate form of pizza. As one of the weirdo kids who “played” cross-country and track, the mythos of marathon distance was embodied in that local event that ran every second Sunday in October. I hung posters of Khalid Khannouchi and Paula Radcliffe from their record-breaking runs on my bedroom wall, no less than 26.2 miles from where they broke the tape in Grant Park. As far as I knew, it was THE marathon - no other race compared in my youthful imagination.

In 2013, I ran it again, proudly sporting the emblem of our favorite bridge. I made the trip the last two years to cheer on my friends and wave high the NBR flag. A sense of hometown pride overcame me at the end of a 20-mile run before last year's race, and I declared that If I failed to run a BQ in the upcoming NYC marathon, I would sign up to run Chicago again. Unfortunately, (or very fortunately) the twin forces of unseasonably warm weather and an ungraceful shuffle up Fifth Avenue made that declaration binding. The clock started ticking the moment my post-race haze cleared - while donning the $250 poncho and trundling down the subway stairs at 72nd street.

I have worked with a coach for the past two seasons to help me improve my triathlon game. This year I let him sketch out my marathon season as well (I had only a scant nine weeks to turn around all my cycling and swimming fitness and focus it exclusively on the run). For the greater part of the last two years, I instructed him to leave holes in my schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays for me to fill in with tempo and track, respectively. Part of working with a coach is putting your trust in his schedule and letting him fill those days with unorthodox workouts. Up through the end of successful tri season, I had also run massive PRs in the 5k, 10k, and half. Gaining that elusive marathon PR after my disastrous NYC attempt last year would be a fitting conclusion to this season. I was willing to give it a shot and really commit to structured long-distance training for once.

Race morning I felt as ready as I have ever been, that is to say: full of excitement, doubt, and carbs. Our Chicago crew had done a fantastic job tucking into Midwestern-sized piles of food the days before the race - four of my meals yielded another meal-sized bag of leftovers. Josh Hatcher and I travelled to the race together, meeting up with Evan, Daeha, and Lavar on the train. The trip to Grant Park was pleasant compared to the rigamarole of getting to Fort Wadsworth, and we had a moment to enjoy the sunrise before hitting the streets in the crisp autumn morning. Josh, Evan, and I met up with Joe and Crow in the corrals and we positioned ourselves in the crowd, near one of two large three-hour pace groups. They announced the elites and it seemed like the starting horn went off without much fanfare.

Words cannot describe what it feels like to push yourself at a pace for longer than you ever have before, the metaphor of wheels about to fall off a race car notwithstanding. Chicago is obscenely flat, the scenery interesting and the crowds incredible and loud. All of that fed a newfound focus that drowned out a mounting fatigue that ebbed and flowed in the terra incognita between miles 13 through 19. On a lonely stretch of road before Pilsen, I caught up to Evan Cooper and gave him the best-but-probably-incoherent encouragement I could muster (we're now 1-1 at the distance after he passed me in Harlem last year).

I very literally threw down the gantlet at mile 20, tossing my gloves at some unsuspecting spectators. They say the “race” doesn't begin until 10k remains, but I'm inclined to call it an "exercise in sheer will to get your legs to move". I was so intensely focused that I missed Emily, Tom, and Sara cheering around mile 23, but heard, dream-like, Chris and Magda screaming my name along Michigan Avenue. The pace group I glommed onto most of the race slipped away and the other one blew by shortly thereafter, but I was intent on finishing the race on my own.

The course has a gentle incline in the last 400 meters before turning into the finishing chute, but this joke of a hill turned cruel by a stiff headwind off the lake. A Dashing Whippet dropped the hammer in this final stretch and I somehow summoned the kicking power to match his stride. All the emotions of finishing hit me long before I even crossed the line, bursting out as a simultaneous cry of joy and roar of pain past the timing mat:

THREE HOURS, TWO MINUTES, ELEVEN SECONDS

Nearly a four-minute PR. An eleven-minute improvement over my last Chicago effort. A Boston Qualifier. I stopped, landed stiff-legged, and felt my right glute collapse. I could not keep moving under my own power, so a very, very nice volunteer helped walk me through the finish line area to collect all my post-race survival needs (special thanks to Joe Chan for fetching me extra Gatorade). I was stiff and getting cold, but I felt ecstatic. I grabbed a beer and the celebration really began.

Marathons are unreasonably difficult; I will not be disappointed if my time doesn't make the cut-off for Boston. I’m still searching for bigger reasons to dedicate myself to the distance other than a jacket with a questionable color palette or to rise to the expectation that you should be good at this distance because you can run a fraction of the distance very fast. I get the magic of running to Boylston Street. I can imagine the sense of accomplishment finishing a marathon or ultra every other weekend. My own reasons will find me at some point. Until then, I will be there, cheering for you at the side of the road, you mighty, galloping mares and stallions racing towards the finish line.

I'm touched by the number of people who tracked me and offered encouragement and congratulations from afar - your support meant the world to me. I would not have had such a great experience without my Chicago crew - I sincerely hope you enjoyed all my long, pizza-themed emails.

Finally, to NBR: you are my running family - keep being incredible. Thank you all and I'll see you on the run soon!