April 25, 2012


Madrid will forever and always be so much more to me than another city in Europe.

I loved Madrid.

Running Madrid was an unbelievable experience. The course, the crowd support, the experience - it's something I will always remember. While the course wasn't always easy (what marathon is?), I had an amazing time and ran a strong race, never once stopping to believe in myself no matter how tough things got.

Let's recap.

Saturday was a pretty low key of wandering around Madrid and getting off my feet nice and early in order to get some rest before Sunday's race. With a 9am race time and a room in the race's host hotel (Kenyans and Ethiopians included), I didn't have to wake up too early. I went to bed around 10pm...about 15 minutes before Real Madrid defeated Barcelona in El Clásico, one of the biggest football rivalries in the world, for the first time in 5 years. If you know anything about European football, you will know that the city then erupted into celebrations that lasted well into the middle of the night making sleep nearly impossible.

Sunday morning, I woke up feeling tired but not exhausted. I headed down to breakfast where I was the youngest person in the room by maybe 15 years and the only woman with a Marathon bib. After breakfast, my Mom and I met up with Ally and her sister Rachel and hopped on the shuttle to travel the 2km to the starting line.

We got to the start early enough that there wasn't a big crowd and I was able to use the toilet and warm up a bit before jumping into my corral. The corrals filled up almost immediately and were more crowded than any race corral I've ever been in. I could count the women around me on one hand and as we crossed the start, we headed out to take the streets of Madrid.

My goal was to take the course in 3 phases: the first 10, the next 10 and the final 10k. I wanted to hit Mile 10 in an hour and a half and mile 20 in just under 3 so that I would bank enough time to be able run the last 10k in under 4 hours even if I started to slow down.

Miles 1-5: The first 5k was brutal. It was hot and humid and oh my goodness, it smelled! It was so crowded and I was rubbing arms with really sweaty men and the entire atmosphere just reeked of body odor. It was the first 5k! How were these men sweating so badly already??? I've never experienced anything like that before and it was completely overwhelming. By the time we hit the 5k, my left foot had gone completely numb. I wanted to just keep running through it but it was completely throwing off my stride so I stopped and walked.

Plaza de la Castilla - KM 5
At this point, the 4:00 pace group was way out of sight and I started to get really upset. It only took a few seconds for the feeling to come back in my foot and when I started running again and realized that I was right on pace but I was still upset that they were so far ahead of me. By Mile 5, my foot had gone completely numb again and I just wanted to quit. I couldn't run like this for 20+ more miles and it was already hot and humid and I was letting everything get to me. I stopped to walk again to let the feeling come back in my foot and took the walking break to clear my head. I was right on pace for where I wanted to be and my legs felt great. If the 4:00 pace group wanted to be running 40 seconds faster than what was necessary for a 4:00 marathon, then they could go ahead. I was going to run my own race. And run my own race I did.

Splits - 9:05, 9:06, 9:05, 8:51, 9:00

Miles 6-10: It was time to quit my bitching and run this race the way I went to Madrid to run this race. From this point to Mile 10, I was so focused on just racing that everything was pretty much a blur. I know that these miles were down a pretty narrow street and the spectators were overtaking the race course a little bit but I was focused and I was running and I was on pace and I felt great. There were so few women on the course that every time I ran past women spectators, they went crazy cheering for me yelling "Va campeona! Va Va Va!" Champion? Why yes, I do feel like a champion, thank you!

Calle Gran Via - KM 17

We were in the center of the city around these miles and starting to run through some of the Must-Sees of Madrid and it was amazing. I was still feeling strong and taking it all in but maintaining my focus. We started hitting some pretty steep downhills around Mile 7 which I knew would continue until about Mile 20. I was prepared for the downhills but some of them were really steep and I had to slow down to keep from falling. I hit Mile 10 right on target, just under 1:30. I felt awesome. I started to think: "Hey, I can do this!" But I quickly told my self I still had two other legs of this race to get through and to stay focused and stay strong and to not get ahead of myself.

Splits - 8:57, 8:47, 9:06, 8:50, 9:03

Miles 10-15: I saw my mom and Rachel (Ally's sister) around the Half at which point I was slowing down a little bit but I knew it was more an issue of fueling than anything. I took a gel at Mile 15 and refilled my water bottle. It was getting hot at this point and I had already gone through an entire bottle of water...which has only ever happened during 1 other marathon - DC. I couldn't get enough water down and I was having a really time taking down gels. I was still doing pretty well but not hitting the sub-9 miles I wanted. I was ok with that because I was still making great time and moving quickly.

Puerta del Sol - KM 18  

Plaza de Oriente - KM 19  
Casa de Campo - KM 25
The gel hit me pretty quickly and I was back on pace. I wasn't going to let one slow mile bother me. I was still well on pace to go sub-4. We came into the Parque del Oeste at this point and were in there for what seemed like forever. The park was beautiful but it was so hot. There were some small inclines and some steep declines in the park but I was taking them pretty easily.

Splits - 8:53, 9:00, 9:22, 9:03, 9:08

Miles 16-20: At Mile 16, I tripped over some really uneven cobblestone and came so close to face planting, I thought it was over. Some guy had stopped and pulled me up and dusted me off and I stepped off the course to collect myself before taking off again but I started slowing down...a lot. It was so unbelievably hot. At Mile 18, I refilled my water bottle again and dropped in a Nuun tablet. I started feeling it kick in at Mile 20 which I hit in 3:02...two minutes off pace but still well on pace for running sub-4. 

Splits - 9:46, 10:49, 11:37, 9:29, 10:06

Miles 20-26: The last 10k is a blur. I had picked up the pace again at Mile 19 and slowed back down at Mile 20 but I had given myself the pep talk that I was still on pace for sub-4. At Mile 20, it was like I crossed the Finish Line. It's so hard for me to put in to words what happened at Mile 20 and through the rest of the race.

I had been so focused through the entire race. I wasn't thinking about anything. Nothing hurt. I felt strong and my mental clarity was more on point than it had ever been during any race or training run I've ever done. I was so in tune with my body, running consistent paces, picking up where I could, slowing down when I needed to, taking gels like clock work and hydrating efficiently.

I didn't hit the wall at Mile 20. I didn't blow up. Both of those things happened to me during Marine Corps and I knew what that felt like. At Mile 20, quite plainly and simply, I wanted to go to sleep. Three weeks of writing late into the night and waking up early in the morning to go to work all caught up with me. In my last post, I said that training for a marathon and writing my thesis were a bad combination and at Mile 20. I knew it.

I had finished my thesis at 2:00 in the morning one week before. I woke up at 7 the next morning to send it off and spend the the day at work. I left work and went for a run, came home and packed, worked the whole next day and headed to Jersey. I left Wednesday and didn't sleep on the plane at all. I was jet lagged until Friday and never got a full night's sleep the whole time I was in Madrid.

I'm not trying to make excuses. That's just the reality of what happened. All of that hit me at Mile 20 and I stopped to walk, take in some water, take a gel and start running again. I wasn't in pain and I felt great, but I was running slower than I had ever run before. And I was ok with that. I took the last 10k to enjoy running the fact that I was running a marathon in Madrid, to enjoy the spectators being so unbelievably supportive of the few women on the course. I tried to stop and walk a few times, and every time I did, some runner  would come back for me. I had never seen that kind of camaraderie in any race, ever. At Mile 24, I started walking and an older man came up behind me, put his arm around me and started running with me and cheering me on.  From that point on, I stopped walking and ran the rest of the race. Slowly. I had nothing left. I was tired. My legs started cramping up around Mile 25 and I was moving even more slowly. At this point, I looked at my Garmin for the first time in those last 6 miles and set a new goal for myself: Beat my time in DC. I knew I was cutting it close but I knew I could do it.

I had trained hard for Madrid. I knew that going sub-4 would be tough and 2 weeks ago, had completely written it off. During taper, I gave myself the confidence I needed to be able to enjoy that last 10k. I told myself that I would run sub-4 in Madrid. I didn't give myself any alternatives. I really, truly believed that I could run my best marathon in Madrid. If I hadn't let myself think that, I would have walked off the course the second I saw my second 12:xx mile on my Garmin. But I kept going. I pulled myself together and started really pushing at Mile 25. I worked hard for Madrid and I wasn't about to let Madrid be my worst race.

Splits - 12:35, 12:47, 12:41, 12:06, 13:18, 10:33

The Finish - The finish was about as cruel as the finish of Marine Corps. While there was no mountain to climb at Mile 26, there were somewhere between 5 and 8 inflatable arches...all of which I thought were the finish and kept sprinting toward. When I finally saw the Finish Line (still with about 3 arches to run under), I saw a bunch of little kids lining up in front of the barricades. There was a man in front of me who ran over to one of them, a little boy about 5 years old, grabbed his hand and ran across the Finish Line hand in hand with his son. I started tearing up and when I finally crossed, I was so emotional. I had done it. I had run Madrid. I finished my 4th marathon. I ran an unbelievable first 20 miles, well on pace for a sub-4 race. I never lost that sub-4. I never fell apart but when the realization came that my body couldn't run a sub-4 marathon after 3 weeks of eating and sleeping poorly, I didn't give up. I pushed through and I finished strong.

Official Time: 4:24:02 (just shy of 4 minutes faster than DC)

My mom was waiting for me at the finish and we quickly found Rachel and headed to to the Finish to wait for Ally. I was hurting. Worst than I ever had post-marathon. Those downhills really got the best of me and my legs were shot. When I saw Ally running towards us though, I didn't even think about jumping in with her until I took my first step running and realized just how much everything hurt. I wasn't about to voice any of that to Ally though and we finished together and gave each other a huge hug at the finish line. We had done it. We signed up for this marathon 6 months ago and trained hard through surgeries and theses, broken toes and upper respiratory infections, off days and on days and we did it. We both finished. It wasn't either of our best races, but it wasn't either of our worst races. We both worked so hard in Madrid and were both so unbelievably proud of ourselves and each other to have finished.

I didn't run a sub-4 marathon in Madrid. But I ran a marathon in Madrid. How many people will ever say they've done that? I finished with a smile on my face and a friend at my side. To say that I'm not disappointed would be a lie. Of course I am. I've been training for this for almost a year and it sucks. But I'm not about to beat myself up the way I did after Marine Corps because I know that when I do go sub-4, it will be that much sweeter.

April 16, 2012

Next Up: Madrid

So this happened.

And pop champagne I did. I don't ever drink during taper but I had just finished a 120 page thesis, thus completing my my Master's degree. Cross #8 off of what was my 25 Before 25 list.

2 bottles of champagne shared among 4 friends isn't going to kill me on Sunday. 

Next up: Madrid Marathon. If you missed my post on Friday, you missed what tops the list as my favorite blog post ever. 

I'm pumped for Madrid. I'm ready. I've got one day of work and a night of cleaning my apartment and packing ahead of me and before I know it, Wednesday night, I'll be off to Spain to tackle Marathon #4 - my first (of what I'm sure will be many) international marathon. 

When I decided to run Philly (my first marathon), my mom gave me her usual mom advice by questioning whether I really wanted to try and run a marathon while being in school full-time and working. It was tough to balance at all but running and training kept me sane. I spent close to 40 hours a week studying during my first semester of grad school and running was the only break I ever gave myself. 

The thought of running a spring break never occurred to me. I trained hard and got my first sub-2 half in New York but once that was over, I wouldn't have been able to bank the mileage for a spring marathon no matter how desperately I wanted to.

Training for Marine Corps came a little bit easier since I was only taking 3 classes and when it came time to start training for Madrid, my mom once again questioned if I was sure I'd be able to write my thesis while training for a marathon...wouldn't it be too much?

It was. Writing my thesis was one of the hardest things I've ever done. The only thing I can liken the effort to is training for a marathon. I spent 6 months writing my thesis...the product of 2 years of graduate research. The last few weeks have been so unbelievably difficult. I've been in the nonstop writing phase for almost 3 weeks now and last week, I just cracked. There's only so long you can desensitize yourself to the horrific things that are going on around the world when you're writing about them around the clock.

But I did it. I finished. I submitted my final draft to my adviser, who has been amazing throughout this entire process. Pending any edits and revisions I get from her next week, I will officially have finished my graduate degree. 

Graduation is exactly 1 month from today. I have no idea what's in store for me beyond that but right now, it doesn't matter because while deciding to write my thesis and train for a marathon at the same time wasn't the best idea I've ever had, the fact is that I still did it and while my thesis may be over, I still have Madrid.

And I'm ready for it.

April 13, 2012

Finding My Strong

In 9 days, I will be toeing the line of my first international marathon. It will be my 4th time tackling the distance and my 3rd time racing it.

It's been nearly a month since I've written a "Training Tuesday" post. Between the stress of my thesis, my back injury, a stomach virus and some other things, my training hasn't been where I've wanted it to be and I haven't wanted to talk about it.

But looking back, sure, I've missed some runs but I've actually had a really great training cycle. I nailed all of my long runs and have really been picking up the pace on my shorter runs.

For the last few weeks though, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not go sub-4 in Madrid.

Until yesterday.

When The Pilot took me to get some new running shoes on my  birthday, I had no idea what shoes I wanted. I tried on all of the big brands: Brooks, Asics, Nikes, etc. I didn't know much about Sauconys but had recently started reading more and more blog posts from runners that had started running in Saucony shoes.

I came home with my Sauconys and recently started adding a second pair to my rotation and for the first time, I've actually felt like my shoes make a difference in my running.

It's not shoes that I'm here to talk about though. Saucony launched an ad campaign around this time last year called "Find Your Strong." I had never seen it or, if I did, had never paid attention to it but lately, I've been spending a lot of time on the Saucony website. They've set up a series of challenges that allow you to 'Share Your Strong' for a chance to win Saucony prizes. Naturally, I've been entering each of these, but the amount of time I've spent on the website has led me to watch an absurd amount of "Find Your Strong" commercials on YouTube and to really start thinking about what strong means.

"Maybe strong is just what you have left when you've used up all your weak."

Right now, I'm reading a book called "The Power of One" an unbelievable story about a young English boy in South Africa who grows up dreaming of becoming the welterweight boxing champion of the world. I'm about 100 pages from finishing it but I'm going to go ahead and put it out there to say that this is the best book I've ever read. I know I haven't finished it and that the end could totally change that but I love this book. I've never experienced a book and come to know characters the way that I do with this book. It's an absolutely incredible story.

Yesterday, while reading it, I came across this quote: 

"The power of one is above all things the power to believe in yourself, often well beyond any latent ability you may have previously demonstrated. The mind is the athlete; the body is simply the means it uses to run faster or longer, jump higher, shoot straighter, kick better, swim harder, hit further, or box better"...It means "thinking well beyond the powers of normal concentration and then daring your courage to follow your thoughts."

This quote absolutely consumed me on my 5 mile run yesterday. I have never been so focused on anything on a run ever before. I could not stop thinking about this quote. "The mind is the athlete." "Believe in yourself beyond any ability you may have previously demonstrated." The constant thinking and analyzing that quote led me to start thinking about my race plan in Madrid - and for the first time, I wasn't thinking about if I would go sub-4 in Madrid, I was thinking about how I am going to go sub-4 in Madrid. I started thinking about my execution strategy and thinking about the course based on the video posted on the course website.

I came home from that run and looked into my bathroom mirror, where I posted the cut out from Runners' World that Morgan gave me last week reading 3:59:59 and for the first time since I've put that on my mirror,  I truly believed that I will see that number when I cross the Finish Line in Madrid next week.

My strong is the power to believe. It is the ability to think beyond the powers of normal concentration and dare my courage to follow my thoughts. 

That is the power of one.
That is my strong.

April 9, 2012

Love/Don't Love

Hello! Happy Monday and Happy Belated Easter! It's time for another list of the current things in life that I'm loving and well, not loving so much.

Let's start with the most important things, shall we?

1. The Mets are 3-0! Baseball season started on Thursday and the Mets are 3 and freaking 0! They sweeped the Braves this weekend and are ranked first in the division! This is probably the one and only time this season I'll be able to be so proud of the Mets, so just give this one to me ok. 3-0!!! Love.

2. Thesis. Need I say more? Don't Love.
3. Friday morning started off with breakfast with two of my favorite redheads. Not only did we laugh hysterically over just about everything (including my propensity to write thesis thoughts on my arm while running...and try and pass them off as my splits), but we had a blast and it was nice to have a "Boston" reunion. Love.

4. Despite Friday being absolutely perfect in just about every way, Saturday and Sunday were fraught with thesis and running meltdowns. To say I'm overwhelmed by these two things right now would be a huge understatement. Don't Love.
5. Friday, after mani/pedis and some thesis-ing, my Madrid partner-in-crime, Ally, treated me to see Newsies on Broadway. Not only was the show absolutely incredible, but we stayed after, met the entire cast (sweetest boys ever) and then closed down Junior's after devouring some delicious cheesecake until 2am. Love.

The 'close to my age' sister I never had.

6. I'm in love. My heart was stolen Friday night and it wasn't by a handsome pilot (sorry babe). He may be engaged (yes, I stalked) and on a fast track to stardom but these are small details because Jeremy Jordan swept me away. He's from Texas and is a Cowboys fan. How do I know these things? I asked him. His one and only flaw is that he's a Yankee fan (but hey, no body's perfect). Seriously though? This boy is has incredible talent. Love.

Notice my cheese grin?
7. Did I mention thesis? I'm praying to have a full first draft by Wednesday. But my thesis is literally just consuming my life and really overwhelming me. Don't Love.
8. I'm going to Spain in just over a week. Love.
9. Madrid training over the last few weeks has been very sporadic. While my back is fully healed (thanks to a doctor who doesn't condemn runners and some very strong pain  meds), I ran a total of 17 miles of a planned 45 last week. I'm hoping for the best, but strong winds have condemned every single one of my goal pace runs to a slow and terrible fate this training season. Don't Love.

My training over the last 3 weeks...ouch.

10. If you are a runner and don't know about the Nuun Hood to Coast Relay Teams for Bloggers, you probably live under a rock. While I had glamorous plans of applying to be one of Nuun's glamorous lady bloggers, I decided against applying. My life come May is entirely too unpredictable and up in the air for me to commit to a Relay Team on the West Coast in August. So, for those of you who have applied, good luck! Don't Love.
11. The Pilot and I are going to our first baseball game of the season on Wednesday. Let's hope I have my thesis done by then so I can really celebrate. Love.

Looks like I had a lot for you today!
Hope you're all having a great start to the week!

April 1, 2012

This is not a recap for the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile


I was supposed to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler today. I didn't.

After missing last year's race due my connecting flight departing 21 minutes early, I was determined to run the race again this year. When I was closed out of the lottery and Gia offered me her bib, I was ecstatic. A 10 mile run 3 weeks before Madrid would be the perfect tune up run to really test out my goal pace. Plus, it was another excuse to go to DC...and you all know how much I love going to DC.

Friday, I left work at 3:00, laced up my running shoes and headed out for 22 miles. I ran the West Side Highway up to Central Park, did a loop and a half of the park and made my way home.  I spent the majority of the run formulating my race plan for Cherry Blossom, making a packing list in my head and thinking about my thesis. Until the last 3 miles, I felt great. The last 3 miles were tough because I was running into the wind and battling my way through NYC traffic for most of it, but other than that I felt pretty good.

I got home, stretched, foam rolled and hopped in the shower and out of nowhere I felt like someone had just smacked me in the back with a bowling ball. I was in so much pain. I've had my fair share of back injuries and the excruciating pain I was in was very reminiscent of them. I popped 3 Advils and hopped into bed, starting to be concerned about making the trek to DC the next morning.

My alarm went off at 8am on Saturday and I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't even roll over, I was in so much pain. Everything hurt. I spent 2 hours laying in bed before I forced myself up to take some more meds. At this point, I knew that Cherry Blossom was a far cry. There was no way I was going to run 10 miles if I couldn't even pull myself out of bed. I crawled back into bed and just laid there. There was nothing I could do. Around 2 pm, The Pilot came over, helped me out of bed and into decent clothes and we cabbed it to an urgent care center midtown.

A few X-Rays later, the doctor said that everything looked normal but that if I wasn't feeling better in 2-3 days that I would need to schedule an MRI. He gave me a narcotic, an anti-inflammatory and a muscle relaxer and told me to take them religiously and see how I'm feeling in 3 days.

So that's where I'm at. I'm trying to rest like the doctor said, but it's really hard to stay in any position for too long without the pain getting worse.

I'm trying to be optimistic. The doctor said I should be feeling better in 2-3 days. When I asked him about running, he just said I needed to rest and be smart but to ease back into it when I felt I could. So I'm hoping for a run by Wednesday-Thursday.

This week should have been my highest mileage week ever. It was peak week after all. Now, I'm officially tapering for Madrid and hoping that this injury will just some rest and that in a few days, I'll be back to normal. I know that I might be stupidly optimistic about this, but I can't afford to think of any alternative right now.

And one day, I will run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I may not have run it last year and I may not have run it this year but damn it, I will run that race. 
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