October 15, 2012

Race Report: Rockaway Marathon

Carb loading on Friday night did not go so well. It started out with an incredible Italian restaurant I had never before tried, Trattoria Zero Otto Nove. As an appetizer, BF and I enjoyed delectable pizza – we both agreed it was among the best we’d had (and it wasn’t even thin crust, which I am usually partial to!). For my entree, I chose a mafalde (ribbon pasta) with sausage. Ever the foodie, I could tell that the pasta was dried and not fresh (unlike the similar dish at my top pasta restaurant of all time, Nonna in Dallas), but the sauce and sausage was so incredible that it more than made up for it. I think I have a new favorite pre-race meal in New York!

But with our food? Two glasses of wine each. And then over to a bar to meet a few friends for beers. And then to another bar for still more beer. After all that alcohol, my body was rebelling like crazy (and I was texting my running friends with things like “I have had WAY too many drinks to be running a marathon in 10 hours”), and I decided to get some fries to try to ward off the effects of the alcohol. Unfortunately, that turned out to be the biggest mistake of all – the “garlic fries” turned out to basically be regular fries with olive oil poured over them (after cooking) so that clumps of garlic and parsley would stick. They were so disgustingly soggy with oil that I had to eat them with a fork, which I stupidly did instead of just pushing them away and not eating them at all. As a result, I got an awful night’s sleep where I kept waking up with a terrible stomachache, and couldn’t sleep in any position except on my back without my stomach being in pain. I woke up at 5am to get ready and drive to the race and still felt so gross. How on earth was I going to run this??

Into the rental car went my suitcase (packed for a full week of work as well as two more marathons after this one), my laptop bag (see: working all week), and a bag of clothes to change into after this race. Since I needed to go straight from the race to JFK airport in order to get to San Francisco, I planned to shower and clean up in the Delta lounge rather than subject my seatmates to stinky-post-marathon-Laura. My first heart attack came when I plugged in the race address to my GPS and found that it was 75 minutes away instead of the 40 minutes Google Maps had told me when I was planning. Was I going to miss the start of the race? Well, no – not when I’m driving at 6am on a Saturday morning and no one is on the road. I made up plenty of time, and while I didn’t get to the start quite as early as I would have liked, 15 minutes turned out to be more than enough time given what a tiny race it was.

The packet pickup / holding area was a dive bar, Connell’s, which I really liked – more races should start and end at a bar! However, while strapping on my fuel belt there I had heart attack #2: my Garmin was not in my fuel belt, where I normally keep it, but still charging back at my apartment! I was so upset by this realization – not because I couldn’t do without my Garmin for one race (I’ve done that many times before), but because I wouldn’t be home for three more marathons. I have a Cardiotrainer app on my phone that serves as a backup, but I find that the distance is never quite as accurate, and it drains my battery pretty quickly, to the point where I’ve occasionally had my phone die mid-race (depending on how rural the area is and whether it’s easy to get a signal). I ended up spending pretty much the first hour of the race trying to figure out if I would have enough time to race home after the marathon and get it before my flight, or ask someone to bring it to me (not easy when Far Rockaway, where the race was being held, is… far). I eventually settled on doing without it for Nike Women’s Marathon tomorrow, and having it mailed to me in time for Niagara Marathon next weekend. Crisis averted!

But I’m jumping way ahead of myself. First: the start. I stayed in Connolly’s until 3 minutes before the race, then headed out into the windy 45 degree day to shiver with the other runners at the actual start on the boardwalk. Thanks to my mom’s advice, I had thought ahead about the cold wind, and had brought gloves, a headband, and a very light jacket, so I was cold but not too cold. Other runners were very envious of my gloves and headband especially! But it was only a few minutes before the race director came out to explain the course and send us off on our way.

The course was pretty straightforward: run east on the boardwalk for 2.1 miles, then turn around and go back to the start. Pass the start (now going west) for 1.6 miles, then turn around and run east all the way to the end of the boardwalk (5.5 miles). Turn west and run back to the beginning of the boardwalk (5.5 miles). Turn east and run back to the end of the boardwalk (5.5 miles). Turn west and run back to the start, which was the same as the finish (3.9 miles). It sounded confusing the way the race director was trying to explain it, but once I started going, it was pretty self explanatory. Besides, I certainly wasn’t going to be one of the frontrunners, so I could just follow everyone else!

When the race started, I had an amazing song come on my phone (Cardiotrainer automatically plays music unless you turn off that feature) at the same time that the sun peeked up from the pink horizon, and a big plane flew over the course (about a mile in front of us) to make a landing at JFK. The moment took my breath away, and I knew then that the race was going to be a phenomenal experience. My stomach still felt awful and I knew I wouldn’t get a fast time, but I was going to experience running a marathon in one of the most beautiful places yet – along the Atlantic Ocean as the sun rose to greet the day. Just stunning!

But while the scenery was beautiful, I was a little concerned about doing so many laps of the same exact thing. Our first leg was 2 miles out and 2 miles back, and at that point, it just seemed like so much ahead. I alternated between worrying about not having my Garmin and worrying about getting bored. Should I download one of the new Greatist podcasts that I’d been meaning to check out? I stuck with my music for the time being, but figured I could resort to that soon.

Just after mile 4, we passed the start and continued on. To my surprise, I found that the end of the boardwalk was only 1.6 miles past the start – it wasn’t situated in the middle. Somehow that made the course feel a lot easier mentally, at least to me. In no time at all I was back at the start, and now I only had two of the eastern legs and one more western leg left. Piece of cake!

I couldn’t get over how beautiful the sun looked as it glistened off the ocean, and it just put me in such a good mood. Furthermore, I love out-and-back courses because they allow you to see and say hello to your fellow racers. This course had plenty of opportunity to do that! Even when I wasn’t seeing others running the marathon, there were a lot of area residents who were out for what I presume was their regular Saturday morning walk/jog, and I got to greet each of them with a cheery “good morning” as well. I have to admit, though, saying hello like that is only partially selfless – connecting with other people also always helps me to feel good and get through the miles faster. Fake it till you make it!

One thing that was neat about this being such a small race was that the biker who stayed with the lead runner also seemed to be the race organizer. So whenever they passed me going the other direction, the race director would wheel around and bike with me for a few seconds, telling me I looked great, asking if I needed anything, and pointing out how much further it was to the turnaround. Awesome personalized service! I really love small races and those little touches.

On this eastern leg, he told me that the end of the boardwalk would be at 9th Street, so I busied myself counting down the streets (from 95th Street at the start) until the end. From what I could tell, the streets also followed the New York convention of 20 blocks per mile, so the street numbers served as good milestones for me of where I was on the course. I think this was the first race I’ve done that didn’t have any mile markers at all, so using the street blocks (where available) helped prevent me from continuing to berate myself for forgetting my Garmin.

Before I knew it, I was at the turnaround, which also meant a water stop. The water stops for this race were quite unique – none of them had cups, but instead, full bottles of water or Gatorade that you could take and carry with you! I actually hate carrying drinks while I run (I’ve never understood people who run with Camelbaks or those liquid fuel belts), but I found a good compromise by simply putting my half-finished bottle along the side of the boardwalk for the next time I came through. I could see a lot of people preferring the full bottle (with top!) approach to the more traditional solution of cup, requiring you to squeeze the top and be careful if you wanted to carry it with you.

After turning around, the course seemed so totally short and manageable. While I still had about 16 miles to go, that was just down to the end of the boardwalk, back to this turnaround, and then onward to the finish. Totally doable! I was in such a great mood and was happily tweeting out thoughts along this ilk, as well as pausing for pictures to capture the splendor of the day.

Ironically, it was shortly after I put my phone away that disaster struck – my toe caught something on the boardwalk and down I tumbled! I landed on my left leg and left hand, now regretting that I had taken off my gloves a few minutes before. Indeed, the heel of my left hand had lost a few layers of skin, and it felt like the same was true of my left knee (though my capri tights had provided a little bit of protection). I lay there for a minute, not in danger of tears, but also not wanting to move my painful limbs for a moment. In doing so, though, I attracted the attention of a few runners behind me – oops! I assured them that I’d be completely okay, and I thought I would be… until I stood up and found that my knee really hurt to run. It was so stiff and sore! I walked for a bit to loosen it up, and soon was running again. No boardwalk is going to take me down!

A few years ago, I had a terrible experience at the New Jersey Marathon where I took a tumble in the first mile and went down into some rough pavement. When I stopped at the medical tent, they made me sign a big long release, but then would only provide gauze – but no peroxide or other antiseptic to clean it out. I continued my run and finished with blood streaking down my leg and gravel still embedded in my knee; despite cleaning it out after I could go to a drugstore myself, I still have a small scar on my knee from that experience. Apparently I am klutzy enough to turn running into a dangerous sport, but I did not want another battle scar!

Luckily, I was coming up on a spot where I had stashed a water bottle. I found it, grabbed it, and began to douse my injuries with it. It stung like crazy as some salt (from my sweat) ran into the wound, but I knew it was important to clean it out as best as I could until I got some actual antiseptic solution. And here comes the beauty of a small race: I soon saw the race director biking back with the lead runner, and I asked him if there was first aid at the start. He left the lead runner for a minute to check in and make sure I was okay, then told me he’d radio to the aid station at the start so they could have peroxide and bandaids ready for me. How amazing is that?? I was so grateful and impressed by how he handled it.

Arriving at the start, sure enough, I was able to get some antiseptic wipes and bandaids. My knee started bleeding like crazy when I wiped the antiseptic over it, but the bandaid helped to stanch the flow. I was just glad to get it cleaned out so quickly! While stopped at the aid station, I also ditched my gloves, headband, and jacket. The day had warmed up nicely, and I thought my tank and capris would be sufficient. And if I was wrong, it was only 3 miles until I’d be back at the same spot to grab them again!

This final westbound leg went by quickly for me, in part because so many regular citizens had come out for their exercise and there were now lots of people for me to greet. At the turnaround (only 15K to go!) I stopped for a quick pic, again unsuccessfully trying to capture the beauty of the day. I could run forever on a course like this!

With only 9 miles to go, I tried to pick up the pace just a little bit. My legs felt strong and not at all tired, which surprised me given how flat the course was. I usually do better on hilly courses, because the ups and downs give my legs a chance to use slightly different muscles rather than constantly pounding the same exact muscle fibers with every step. My stomachache from those nasty fries had gone away, as had the exhaustion I felt in the early miles. I kept marveling at what a great race this had been – not because of any kind of fast time (I was looking at somewhere around a 4:20/4:25 finish), but because it was just such a peaceful and enjoyable run along such beautiful scenery.

On my final pass eastbound, I looked carefully at the planes flying overhead – perhaps one of them would be my inbound aircraft? I was starting to get really excited about heading to San Francisco for my double weekend! Despite my fall in the first half, this race had been so wonderful that I couldn’t wait to run another marathon. I also knew that the Nike Women’s Marathon would be a completely different experience – thousands of runners, hundreds of spectators, and generally quite a bit more hoopla than this quiet experience. While I think I have a slight preference for the smaller races, I do enjoy big races too, if done well; that’s one of the reasons I always give both a big (New York City Marathon) and small race (Run With the Horses) when asked about my favorite marathon. Rockaway just might be in contention now for favorite small marathon! And how convenient that it didn’t require any travel beyond the 45 minute drive to Brooklyn.

In the last few miles, I focused on pushing the pace a bit – but also watching the boardwalk carefully for any protruding boards or nails. While the wooden boards were a lot softer on my joints, I actually found myself loving the paved sections of the boardwalk, where I didn’t have to worry about tripping! As I ticked down the final minutes, I felt fantastic – certainly way better than when I had woken up and started the race. It took me back to my just-out-of-college days when I would go running on weekend mornings to burn off the crappy food/drinks consumed the night before, and would always arrive home feeling exhilarated and happy. If you’re bored? Go for a run. If you’re upset? Go for a run. If you just want to improve your mood and have a great day, there is nothing better than running along some sort of water to destress you and make you feel totally Zen.

I sprinted the final few yards to the finish, feeling strong and confident, and checked my watch – 4:23. I was pretty pleased with that time! It was me just running what felt comfortable at the time, and I felt that while I had pushed it enough to be happy with my performance, I hadn’t overdone it and killed my legs for the race the next day. I was proud!

The only negative was that I hadn’t really eaten as much as I usually might during a race – I had skipped breakfast entirely and only consumed one gel along the way. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care a bit now that the race was over, but since I had to prepare for another race the next day, it definitely mattered. Collecting my jacket and belongings, I headed for the post-race party to remedy that.

What I found in the dive bar was a party that had one of the nicest spreads of any race – we got free drinks at the bar (yippee! Though I actually just opted for water), our choice of as many sandwiches as we wanted from platters in the back, and some incredible homemade chocolate chip cookies. A volunteer then gave me my post-race goodie bag, which not only had a nice long sleeved shirt and a warm sweatshirt, but also a massive box (think a dozen servings) of apple strudel! After bumping into my friend Eissa, who is an incredible runner and won the entire women’s race, I learned that award winners received similar-sized boxes of cheesecake, brownies, and other treats! Since I was going to be traveling, I gave her my strudel… but kept my chocolate chip cookies for myself. I mean, what better way to replenish calories than with chocolate chip cookies? It was clearly necessary for me to indulge!

Eissa and I caught up for a bit as we munched, but soon enough, I had to head for JFK Airport. It was only about 20 minutes from the finish line (hence the planes flying overhead on the course), but I still needed time to change and shower at the Delta lounge, or I’d have some pretty unhappy seatmates for the 6.5 hour flight to San Francisco!

…to be continued in my Nike Women’s Marathon race report.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:23:38
Pace: 10:03/mile
Overall place: 40/67
Gender place: 9/17
Age group place: 3/5


3 thoughts on “Race Report: Rockaway Marathon”

  1. What a lovely description of your “small” race of the weekend. Wish I was there for the strudel! 🙂 Eissa definitely deserved it though for her win! Congrats to you both and all 65 other participants. Well done!

  2. You said in a tweet in the sidebar that you ran into a client at the ATL airport and that is why you always wear business casual. However, you then talk about all the drinking you did in this blog post (and others). Which one do you think a client would think is worse: someone he or she hired wearing casual clothes in an airport or someone he or she hired constantly getting drunk on weekends and discussing it on a blog?

    I am not making this comment to be mean, so please don’t take offense. But from one professional woman to another, I really think you should tone down the drinking discussions on your blog. Think of all the current and future clients, coworkers, and employers that could be reading your blog. Is that the image you want to present? At the end of the day, you can be the hardest worker, but if you do something to embarrass your clients or employer, they could fire you. Alternatively, five years from now you may be looking for a job and people may not want to hire you because they read this post. Remember, anything you put on the web stays there forever. These are the kinds of things people tell college students not to do on Facebook.

    Again, I am not trying to offend you or be mean. Rather, I just am trying to give you some helpful advice from one woman to another.

  3. No offense taken, and I appreciate the advice. I do try to make sure that when I post about drinking, it’s not anything I would be ashamed to admit. Heck, my company/clients organize happy hours all the time! But this is a good reminder to be careful what I write, so thank you.

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