Continued from NYRR 60K Part 1:
I had lined up a wonderful group of friends to run with me for the nine loops, but I would be doing the out-and-back and first two loops solo. The out-and-back was our first segment, meant to tack an extra mile onto the race, and I seemed to take it a lot faster than most of the other runners. Was I going out too fast? My plan had been to do the first two miles at a 9:00 pace, then settle into a 9:30 pace until the half marathon point, a 10:00 pace from there to the full marathon point, and then try to hang on with a 10:30 or 11:00 pace for the final 11 miles. I have never really been one to negative split a race, and I figured this gameplan would give me the best chance of knowing I had done my best (whereas if you plan to negative split, there’s a much higher chance that you finish the race wiht extra energy that you should have used earlier). But would this strategy work for an ultra? I didn’t know. While there were plenty of supporters when we came back to the start, there wasn’t really much they could say to give me confidence at that point.
Despite having figured out that plan ahead of time, I spent most of the race completely ignoring my pace and just running based on how I felt. After all, isn’t that the more relaxing and fun way to do it anyway? With this being my longest distance yet, my main goal was just to finish the race without being pulled off the course. Even better would be if I could finish smiling, but I had no idea whether that would really be possible!
The first loop was honestly the hardest in the race. I recently read a neat book, Running with the Mind of Meditation, that perfectly explained something I’ve thought for a long time: the first few miles are the hardest, because it’s changing your body’s default state from sedentary to active. That has always applied to me in marathons as well – I find the first 5 miles to be way more difficult than the last 5 or any in the middle. Today, it didn’t take too long to adjust from not running to running (perhaps the walk from Panera to NYRR to the start had already warmed me up a bit?), but it was tough mentally to do the first loop and know that I was going to have to run it eight more times. I spent most of the loop worrying – was this hill going to be tough after doing it that many times? That volunteer was cheering for me now, but would she still be cheering on my fifth lap? Those trees were certainly pretty, but would I be sick of them by lap four?
As I turned off the 102nd Street transverse (despite my fears based on yesterday’s rumors, it was now open!) and passed the original turnaround for our one mile out-and-back, though, a sense of relief washed over me. That first loop hadn’t been too bad at all! I felt like a fool for even tempting the running gods by thinking this, but: only eight laps to go! It was definitely way too early in the race to really be sure, but someone I already knew: I could, and would, complete this race.
On the second loop, I was much more relaxed. In fact, I was so relaxed and happy that I even got my first runner’s high! It was such a glorious day for running, and the sky and the park and everything was so beautiful… I couldn’t help but tweet my joy to the world.
This was the last lap I would have to do solo, since I had friends lined up to join me at various points for the rest of the way. In my newly calm state, I was also able to more clearly assess the course and realize that it was nowhere near as bad as I had feared. The ups and downs were small and gradual, and there was so much to see in the park – especially since the cast of characters out for their usual Saturday runs kept changing. I needn’t have worried at all about lining up people to run with – there was so much people-watching to do on the course that I could keep myself perfectly entertained with that!
That said, I was still very glad for the company. In the last half mile of lap 2, I saw a girl dressed in Nuun apparel running the opposite direction… surprise! It was Susan, who was planning to run 12 miles and had graciously agreed to slow down to my pace and run with me. Susan originally wasn’t sure what time she’d be able to come run, and had said she’d text me beforehand, so I was very pleasantly surprised that she had managed to find me without doing so. I hadn’t seen Susan in a while, so it was especially nice to have a chance to catch up and chat as we ran. My third lap absolutely flew by, and before I knew it, I was back at the start yet again to start lap #4. This was easy!
For lap 4, my best friend’s girlfriend, Meredith, would be joining me at the 72nd Street transverse. Susan and I kept our eyes peeled as we approached the west side of the park, and sure enough, there was Meredith ready to go! We talked about Thanksgiving plans (I could not wait for my feast the next day!) and birthdays (Meredith was throwing a surprise party for her boyfriend that night and I really hoped I’d still be awake/functioning for it), and yet again, the four mile lap seemed like nothing. On the east side of the park, though, Meredith’s knee started acting up, so she left the race midway through lap #5. I was so glad she came to run with me, though, and had gotten me through the first half of the race still in excellent spirits. But how much more could this wonderful feeling last?
When my friend Ellie joined us for lap #5, I knew the answer: probably forever. Ellie used to work at Athleta, where I led group run sessions, and she was one of my favorite parts of doing those long runs. She is honestly one of the most upbeat, goofy, and fun people I know, and we spent the next three laps singing goofy songs, talking in funny accents, and joking with each other about anything and everything. When I first partnered with Athleta earlier in the year, it was people like Ellie who made me realize I had made exactly the right choice for a corporate sponsor – her energy and enthusiasm was infectious, which is something I really admire and hope that I can provide for other people when I coach/pace. Despite having to take a few porta potty breaks during Ellie’s laps (hmm, maybe Indian food the day before the race wasn’t such a great idea), she kept a huge smile on my face and got me all the way through the full marathon part of the race with a big smile on my face. Only 11 miles still to go!
I have come to adore tweeting during a race, since it lets me get energy and encouragement from people nowhere near the course. Surprisingly, I’ve found that it also doesn’t slow my running down at all to tap out a message. (Though running does slow my tweeting down – it often takes me multiple tries to write a typo-free tweet.) Unfortunately, my phone battery isn’t quite built for music + GPS + tweeting for six hours straight, and it was during lap #5 that it completely died. Luckily for me, just before it died my mom arrived in New York City via Megabus – so I was able to get in a call to alert her to my whereabouts and pace (when you take into account that the race started 5 minutes late and I had taken about 5 cumulative minutes of bathroom/snack/water breaks, I was just about on target). Over the next two laps, my mom managed to navigate from Penn Station up to my apartment and then over to the race in Central Park. Since my mom is so directionally-challenged that I’ve had to be her human GPS ever since the age of 4, that was no easy feat! I finally caught up with her around mile 25, and in addition to a hug, happily swapped out my now-dead phone battery for a fresh one. I was back in the Twitter business!
And just in time, too, since I had another friend meeting me in just one more mile. Courtney had read my blog as inspiration for her first half marathon last spring), and when she saw my post requesting people to run with, she generously offered to come help. I was so excited to get her email and get the chance to meet her! Thanks to her bright pink socks, I had no trouble recognizing her, and I was actually really glad that I was running this lap with someone new – it made me feel like I had to make a good impression, and so I forced myself to keep a steady pace and a smile on my face. This lap with Courtney covered miles 27-31, and I was definitely starting to get tired!
The end of my lap with Courtney also marked the lap with my two favorite people in the world though: my mom, who ran 1/4 mile with Courtney and I to close out mile 30, and BF, who joined Courtney and I just after my mom left. I couldn’t believe that it was already time for BF to join – that meant just two laps to go! After seven laps before, two laps left seemed like nothing, and I gave an extra big smile to each of the volunteers we passed. As much as I loved them for volunteering and being so energetic in their cheers on every lap, I was very excited to only see them once more!
Also, can I just note how funny I found it that the volunteers were signed up in two shifts – while the runners had to just keep going the whole time? Where’s my mid-race replacement? 🙂
As we came up the gradual hill from 102nd back to the start at 90th, I started getting so excited. Just half a lap with BF and then a measly two miles on my own, and I’d be done! Despite having already run 33 miles (now approaching the further-than-I-had-ever-gone-before point!), I didn’t feel any worse than I do in the last 4 miles of a marathon. In fact, I think I actually felt better than I usually do at the end of a race!
I vowed to use that extra energy and make my final lap my best yet. As I ran past the finish line for the last time before I’d actually get to stop at it, I heard the Mario Kart “final lap” music in my head.
And race it I would! Mile 34 gave me a nice downhill (hooray for the race being clockwise so I got to go down Cat Hill instead of up it) where I picked up the pace to 9:00/mile, and when we got to the rollers on the west side of the park, I refused to let myself walk. Instead, I beamed at each volunteer I passed, and used their energy to help myself make it to the end. (In reference to my Princess Peach comment, BF suggested I “throw red shells” at those ahead of me, but since I didn’t have any shells anyway, I opted to just stay positive and offer a “great job! Keep it up!” to all the other racers I saw.) With BF at my side and my music switched to my “Marathon Power Songs” playlist, it was time for me to really see what I was made of.
But spreading my wings and flying, of course, meant that I had to leave the nest – and so I said goodbye to BF at mile 35. He would cut across the reservoir loop in order to be cheering for me at the finish line, and I also felt that the journey I had started alone should be finished the same way. When running, it’s great to draw inspiration from others, but you also have to find the inner strength within yourself to do the impossible. As I steadily climbed the uphills, I found the strength to zoom past other runners on the downhills – and I found myself passing many of my fellow racers. Aside from the race bib on my front and the tears of joy streaming down my face, you would not have guessed from looking at me that I was about to finish a 60K – I had a huge smile on my face and my stride was as strong as ever. I couldn’t believe that I was crying, but I was so proud of myself for how well I had done. Sure, the race wasn’t over, but at that point it might as well have been – there was no stopping me now.
I gave a huge thank you to the awesome guys who had volunteered for double shifts at the 102nd Street transverse – they had been amazingly encouraging throughout the race, and I was glad that they recognized that I was crying not in pain, but with happiness. With one mile to go, I checked the lap time on my Garmin, and discovered that I had actually managed to run mile 36 in a sub-9 minute pace. My fastest mile yet, and it came after 35 miles of pretty solid running! My euphoria grew even more with that realization.
There was just one final incline before reaching the finish line, and I told myself that I would not wimp out on this. Too many times, I have given up when it came to the end of the race (hello, tough final hill in Marine Corps Marathon), but today I was going to push and push and finish with zero regrets.
In fact, not only was I going to complete this final hill without giving up and walking, but I was going to finish even faster than my epic mile 36. With one of my favorite motivational songs pounding in my ears, I powered up that incline like it was a downhill, continuing to pass more racers on the way. At last, I reached the flat straightaway at the top – and some guy had the nerve to be going fast enough to pass me too. Oh, no, you don’t! With an extra burst of speed, I cruised past him and didn’t look back. Finish line straight ahead!
I always love to sprint the last 100 yards or so to the finish line, but sometime I just don’t have the energy or drive. Today?? I was so motivated for that finish, and I gave it everything I had. I kicked it up to an all-out sprint and reveled in the power I could feel behind my legs. Since you always run more miles than the measured distance, my Garmin at this point showed that I had run more than 38 miles (a whole extra mile!), but I still felt fantastic. I could go for another lap! (But I prefer to stop here, thank you.) With the world’s biggest smile and tears pouring down my face, I crossed that finish line as strong as ever.
After crossing the finish line, I just could not believe my accomplishment. I HAD DONE IT! Years ago, I wondered if I could run one mile without stopping – and I did. I remembered challenging myself at the Lake George Distance Run, a hilly ten mile race – and I did that too. I took on the “ultimate challenge” of a marathon, and then fifty of them, and I finished those too. And now, I had run 38 miles – farther than I thought any human being could run, let alone me. I didn’t collapse, I didn’t cry (well, except out of joy), and in fact, I finished without any pain at all. I had just accomplished so much more than I ever dreamed was possible, and I had the best day of my life doing it.
And after collecting my finisher’s plaque (that’s right, I get a whole PLAQUE and not just a medal!) – I celebrated by actually walking two miles back to my own neighborhood (pshh, you thought I would take a cab?) and hitting up Harry’s Burritos for shrimp tacos and a frozen mango margarita. Because while maybe I’ve surpassed my wildest running dreams, some things never change!
Distance: 37.2 miles
Overall place: 140/297
Gender place: 28/90
Age group place: 8/16