Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Punching the Unicorn: NYC Marathon Recap

If I'm being perfectly honest with myself (and the two people who might still actually follow this blog), my last post was pretty much crap. Yes, I kept telling myself that I was just approaching this marathon with nothing but gratitude and just go at it to have fun. But really, I had a goal in mind. I wanted to come in within a few minutes of my time last year, 3:50:27. Failing that, I wanted to come in under 4 hours.

If I'm going to continue being honest with myself, I knew going into this race that those things weren't going to happen. The only really good long training run I'd had prior to the marathon was the one that started my taper, two weeks earlier. But, still, ever the optimist, I hoped that the gods of speed, weather, health and legs (you know - Gams, the God of Legs) would be on my side and at my back pushing me forward, keeping me going, and propelling me towards the finish. It seems, instead, I was being watched over by the gods of high expectations and Meh... the God of MEH!

The day started beautifully enough, with only one middle of the night panic wake-up. I got up, ate my oatmeal with banana and honey, got dressed, kissed Jeremy goodbye and grabbed all my stuff as I went downstairs to meet Joe. We drove down the the Upper West Side, parked, and grabbed a cab down to catch the 6:15 ferry. As the ferry made it's way across to Staten Island, the sun was just beginning to rise. It was going to be a beautiful day.

At Ford Wadsworth in Staten Island, I met up with Josh, Matt, Steph, and a bunch of the Team Sasquatch and Team JDRF crew. It was nice to sit amongst friends, sharing last minute anxieties, strategies, gossip and nonsense as we sipped Gatorade, ate Honey Stinger waffles and just took in the amazing energy around us.

When it was time for Wave 2 of the race to start, Steph and I decided we would start together. I warned her, "I might get really quiet and serious. Don't take it personally." "No worries," she assured me. Steph and I sat in the corral, waiting (and peeing a few more times, bringing my pre-race pee total to 8), and chatting. Then, it was time for us to start. As we inched closer to the starting line, good Ol' Blue Eyes started blaring New York, New York over the speakers and my quiet, focused intensity manifested itself in a singing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs-dancing-with-a-chorus-line-kick sort of way. Steph cracked up as I danced and sang along, and I found myself thinking, "Yup, this is all about having fun!"

And then we were off! Over the starting line, on top of the Verrazzano bridge, feeling on top of the world. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as those first few steps over the starting line. Knowing that right now, this moment, getting here and taking these steps are the result of hundreds of hours of hard physical work, dedication, focus and training. The sweat and sacrifice have added up to this.

Before I'd even gotten over the bridge, I took off my arm sleeves and tied them at my waist. While the temperature was perfect, the sun was surprisingly oppressive. Steph called out to me, "I'm boiling. BOILING!" and I nodded, in already sweaty agreement. For the next several miles, Steph and I kept catching up to each other, running together for a bit, losing sight, and then catching up again. I was feeling alright, but early on I knew this was not going to be my day. In spite of the awe-inspiring crowds and incredible energy in Brooklyn, I remember thinking, as I ran up Lafayette Ave., "I don't remember Brooklyn taking this long last year!"

Steph and I found each other again and made our way over the Pulaski Bridge, marking the halfway point and bringing us into our 3rd of the five boroughs. Looking at my watch, I saw that I was pretty far behind my pace from last year. "Okay," I thought, "Let it go and let it just be an extra long training run!" But still, the specter of "What if...?" was floating around in my brain. What if I hadn't had the accident with the cyclist? What if those last few training runs had gone better? What if I'm not going to get any better than this? I started to beat myself up as I ran through Queens. Eyes down, just trying to focus on getting one foot in front of the other, I made my way through Queens. As I moved along, I heard Tavia calling out to me and managed to smile and wave as I went past. Seeing her kept a smile on my face for the next while, as I approached the Queensboro Bridge. As soon as I turned onto the bridge, and began to prepare myself for a tough part of the course, I saw my friend Allen, race bib on, camera in hand, standing on the side of the bridge snapping pictures of runners. "Sharon!" he cried out, and started running along side me. "How're you doing? What's your goal today?" "To finish!" I told him with a grunt. He snapped a picture of me as I ran, and told me that his goal was just to finish as well. Being that Allen is a super-speedy speed demon also recovering from an injury, it made me feel better that he was approaching the marathon with a more realistic approach than I had thus far been able to muster.

Once I got over the bridge, the legendary 1st avenue crowds lived up to their reputation. Screaming, waving signs, balloons, calling out the names of friends and strangers with equal measures of support and admiration. I knew that once I got to 90th and 1st, right around mile 18, I'd be seeing Jeremy, Bojana and Elyssa and that they had something very special for me.

You see, awhile back, some friends and I were engaged in a discussion about what makes some of the NYRR races so ridiculously expensive and what you should rightfully get for the price you pay to run 5 miles in a park you run in for free every other day of the week. "Easy," I replied, "At the end of the race, you get to punch a unicorn." Joe, in particular, ran with the idea of punching a unicorn as being the absolute rarest, most ridiculous thing you can do. At the starting line of the Manhattan half-marathon, back in January, as Joe and I stood in the crowd trying to stay warm in the 12 degree temperature before the start, I asked Joe, "Why are we here again?" "Because," Joe replied, "At the end of this race, we're get to punch a unicorn!" "Yeah! Right in it's smug, glittering mouth!"

Punching the Unicorn has sort of become my motto for the ultimate unattainable feat. And so, as I trudged along 1st Avenue, counting each street sign along the way, I was looking for Jeremy and the girls. And looking. And looking.
And then, there they were. I charged ahead, leapt into the air and punched the unicorn! RIGHT IN IT'S SMUG GLITTERING MOUTH!" Josh was there with them, and started running with me. While seeing them was an incredible boost, I was not feeling very strong at this point. Josh asked me how I was doing and I told him, "I'm not having a very good day." He stayed with me, helping me out at aid stations, telling me to run ahead as he grabbed me a cup of water. At some point between 1st Avenue and the Bronx, I told Josh, "Stay with me, okay? I'm having a real rough time." And he did. Through the Bronx and back into Manhattan I was fatigued and hurting and cranky and just having a bad time. As we ran up the 5th Avenue hill and made our way into Central Park, Josh yelled out "That was awesome! I'm so proud of you!"

"What was?" I muttered. "People were falling apart going up that hill, but you didn't quit! You were passing them left and right." I'm pretty sure I managed a smile. But really, I wanted to be one of those people limping off to the side and walking. I just wanted to phone it in the rest of the way. Except, of course, I didn't really wanted that. I wanted to punch that unicorn! Throughout the park, people were supportive, yelling out my name, cheering me on. I could barely hear them over the sound of Jeremy's voice in my head, telling me, "You're tougher than you think, baby." One voice broke through, suddenly, the lovely Erica Sara, calling my name. I looked up, out of the noise, beyond the pain and with a grimace on my face, managed a half-smile at Erica. The rest of the race is a blur. Jeremy's voice became distant in my head as my own inner voice just started screaming, "DON'T YOU DARE FRIGGIN' WALK! THERE IS NO WALKING!! NOOOOO WALKING!" About 100 yards before the finish, Josh grabbed my hand, snapping me out of my internal scream-alogue and told me, "You did it." He ran just a few feet ahead of me and I raised my hands in the air as I crossed the finish line.

Later that evening, as friends old and new gathered together in an Upper East Side bar to share war stories and whiskey, I think we each had a moment where we looked around and realized how grateful we were for each and every step, however triumphant, however painful, that we've run together. Each step gives us a better perspective with which to appreciate what it is we each put into these endeavors. And even if we're out there running without anyone else in sight, we're a team. And before that, we're a family.

My official time was 4:02:28. Yes, I'm disappointed. Yes, I'm aware that given the pretty serious injuries I've been dealing with I should just shut the hell up about that and be grateful that I ran the marathon. Kai put it very simply, when he said "You were fuc*ing brutally injured a few months ago, so shut up." I'm taking that advice. I'm allowing myself to realize that just because the best I had that day wasn't the best I could have done, the accomplishment is no less valid. If anything, I'm stronger today than I was when I crossed the starting line. And most of all, from this, I've learned that when life hands you lemons, punch a unicorn. IN IT'S SMUG, GLITTERY MOUTH.

(Race photos by Allen G. and Elyssa G.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

I'm Okay

Where I left off, just about 5 months ago was disappointed, but proud of my accomplishment at the NJ Marathon, and looking forward to hard work and BQing at my second NYC Marathon, which is now just over a week away. I concluded my last post full of cautious optimism, but fairly certain that if I did the work, I would run this marathon with a sub 3:40 time.

And then, I didn't have much to say. After all, if you have nothing nice to say don't say anything, right? For quite a while, I didn't have anything nice to say. Running was HARD. I was having a really tough time recovering after 3 marathons. I constantly had little aches and pains and nagging injuries. The most frustrating part was that it was seldom the same injury two runs in a row. One day, my ankle would hurt. The next, my quadriceps. I felt like I was complaining constantly to my running group and whining to Josh all the time. I found that I was not looking forward to running and wondering if my performance in NJ meant that I had reached my peak and wasn't going to get any better from that point on. For two months, I did nothing but bitch, moan and complain. And then, at the beginning of August, I had a breakthrough. One night, everything felt good. I set out with Josh, and a few other members of Team Sasquatch to do mile repeats in Central Park. For the first time ever, I broke a 7 minute mile. I ran a 6:48. I couldn't do it a second time, but I felt fantastic. My mind and body were in synch again. I was back on track and ready to begin training hard for my Boston Qualifying race in NYC.

And then, I hit a bit of a snag. Or, rather, a snag hit me. On two wheels. Really hard.

While running with a friend on a part of the West Side Highway green way, often shared by runners and cyclists, I got struck from behind by a cyclist. I really can't even tell you what happened, it was so fast. All I know is I looked over my shoulder to see if I was clear to move to the left, and I did not see anyone. I moved and a second later, I felt a tremendous impact on the left side of my body and I was on the ground with a bicycle and a large man tumbling over me. He fell to the ground, too and I heard him land with a thud. I picked my head up and asked him if he was okay. He gave me a dirty look. I asked him again if he was okay and he just kind of looked at me and said, "I think you got it worse than I did." Only then did I look, first at my hands which seemed okay... then at my elbow, which was scraped raw and bloody, at my calf which had tire marks cut into it, and then at my knee, which was a mess. Immediately, my knee was bruised and swollen, with a deep wound that was bleeding pretty heavily.

My friend, Claire, and a few bystanders helped me to my feet, and I stood there for a moment not knowing quite what to do. Claire asked if I thought I needed to go to the hospital, but I thought I was alright. I told the cyclist and the bystanders that I was going to clean myself off in the bathroom by the ferry station, just a few yards away. A security officer saw my wounds and took me into his office where he got me antiseptic wipes, band aids and ice.

When I got home later than evening, my whole body was hurting. Still, though, I went to bed thinking, "Eh, a week or two and I'll be back on my feet and good to go." The next day, I woke up to a knee that was twice it's normal size and I could barely bend my leg at all. I went into full freak-out mode and sent Jeremy and Josh a bunch of panic-stricken texts throughout the day. Barely able to get off the couch, poor Jeremy bore the brunt of my insanity, as I was fairly helpless and terrified about the extent of the damage done to my knee. Once I could walk, a few days later, I went to the doctor who assured me that I had good range of motion, so there likely wasn't any significant damage. However, she cautioned, had the impact from the bicycle been 1/2'' to the right, I'd probably be dealing with a shattered kneecap, or other catastrophic injury.

A second doctor confirmed that I had done some damage to my meniscus, and probably had a few minor tears, which as long as they didn't cause me pain while I ran would be fine for now. While I may need to "clean it up" at some point in the future, for the time being it's okay.

I felt pretty good after that, thinking I'd make a full recovery in no time. A week later, things got worse when I woke up in the middle of the night with terrible chest pains. A trip to the ER revealed no cardiac or pulmonary issues. The doctor did a chest xray and said that in spite of the fact that there were no visible breaks, it's likely that I fractured a rib in the accident. I wasn't satisfied with that answer. Why would it just manifest itself a week later?

The knee continued to improve, but a second round of terrible chest pains sent me to the ER again, and then finally to a sports medicine specialist who diagnosed me with costochondritis - an inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage. When I explained to the doctor that I was training for the marathon, I started to cry. Torn meniscus. Inflamed ribcage. Every breath was uncomfortable. He gave me a large dose of anti-inflammatory meds and told me that my symptoms would resolve themselves in a few weeks, and walked out. But not before smiling and telling me, "Good luck in the marathon."

And so, here I am. Six more sleeps until I run my next marathon. I will not be BQing. I will not be trying to run my best time. I will be grateful that I am running. Even with my injuries, I tried to continually remind myself that this could have been so much worse. At the end of the day, I lost a month of training. I may deal with some issues later on. But on Sunday morning, I'll still be taking my 26.2 mile running tour of New York City. Last year, as my first marathon, I had so much to prove to myself; that I could do this, that I could do this in spite of loss and doubt. This year, I have nothing to prove. I know I can do it. There will be more marathons and training cycles and mile repeats and personal bests. My feet will keep moving forward.

This year I'm just going to have fun.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The One That Got Away

When I started this journey towards running my first marathon, qualifying for Boston seemed like an utter impossibility. But last weekend, as I stood at the starting line for the New Jersey Marathon, just six months after running my first marathon, I thought that that was the day. I was going to qualify for Boston.

I wore an extra layer, with some throwaway workout pants and a long-sleeved shirt. We were right on the lovely ocean promenade, though, and as the sun rose the warmth was welcoming and calming. I sat quietly, not talking to anyone around me, just sitting and thinking. A few nights earlier, I had a marathon dream. Usually, my marathon dreams are rooted in anxiety, where I’ll stop to use a porta-potty along the course, and when I emerge everyone is gone. Or, for one reason or another, my ride to the start of the race never shows up and I have to run there. But this dream was different. In this dream, everything went absolutely right. The weather was lovely. My legs felt strong. Every step felt effortless. And when I crossed the finish line, my watch read 3:39:19. BQ! I went over the details of that dream again and again as I sat watching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.

I put on my headphones to drown out the obligatory Bruce Springsteen songs being played over the loudspeakers (though, admittedly the first song ready to go on my NJ Marathon playlist was Born to Run). I went over everything. I had hydrated thoroughly the days before. I had carbed like crazy. I had properly fueled that morning. I had worked so hard in the weeks prior. I still had the specter of Austin in my head, but I was confident going into this race that I was going to beat my old PR.
As more and more people started to drift into the starting area, I stood up and stripped off the extra layers. It was beyond warm enough at this point. I wandered ahead a bit and stood around, listening to announcements and finding myself suddenly so nervous that I feared I might vomit BEFORE the race started. It felt like the butterflies in my stomach were hopped up on Four Loko. My throat was dry and my palms were sweaty. All the familiar pre-vomituitous feelings. Just when I thought I might legitimately have to hurl into the ocean before we even started, I saw a familiar face approach. Running friend and soon-to-be RTB teammate Neal saw me in the crowd, put up his hand for a high-five and said confidently, “You’ve got this.” We exchanged some nervous small talk and rolled our eyes at each other as Springsteen song after Springsteen song came over the speakers.

After the national anthem and a few final announcements (and the blaring of Born to Run over the speakers), the starting gun went off. Neal looked back and said, “Have the best race you possibly can!” “You too!” I smiled back as we both took off. The start of the race wasn’t nearly as crowded as I had anticipated. I was expecting about a 9:00 first mile, but instead I cruised along. I hit the first mile much faster than I really should have. The crowd support was still pretty nice in those first few miles, and I told myself that I wasn’t going to pay attention to my watch until I hit 5K, which I was supposed to hit at 26:10. Shortly before that marker, the Beatles song Slow Down came on my iPod. I probably should have listened. I was about a minute ahead of schedule. I tried to will myself to slow down and take it easy, but I realized --- I felt GREAT. I felt strong. The usual tightness in my shins that I get at the start of my runs never showed up. I thought maybe I could just run what felt comfortable, keep this pace going and if I could do that, I would absolutely beat my goal time.

And so cruise along I did. Maybe that dream was coming true after all, I wondered. Maybe this would be the race where everything goes right! At the end of the first hour of running, I ate a package of Honey Stinger chews which are totally my new favorite running snack. I started picturing Jeremy, Josh, Elyssa and Eissa waiting at the finish line, and what I would yell when I went past them. I found myself daydreaming of running Boston. “Stop it,” I told myself, “Just focus on the race you’re running right now.”
1st half splits: 8:18, 8:08, 8:15, 8:10, 8:09, 8:09, 8:12, 8:05, 8:05, 7:56, 8:00, 8:02, 8:05.
Shortly before hitting the 13.1 mark, I pulled out my iPod and got it ready for the official halfway point. Because this was, after all, the NJ Marathon, I had a song reay for this moment. Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. As I crossed the halfway point, I was belting out, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, we’re halfway theee-eeere, OHHHHHH!!!!” The good news is, I wasn’t the only one. At this point, I was also about 3-4 minutes ahead of schedule. I tried, again, to will myself to back off, slow down, save some of it for the end. But I felt so good. I just kept moving along. This felt comfortable.
When I finished the second hour, I ate another bag of chews, the last one I had with me, because I hadn’t figured out a way to carry anymore on my person. I also realized that at this point, Elyssa and Eissa would be done with the half-marathon. I hoped they had the race they wanted, too.

Miles 14-18: 7:59, 8:04, 8:14, 8:04, 8:13 (getting a little inconsistent?)
At mile 18, I decided to shake out my arms a little bit. I tried to make a fist with both hands, but realized I couldn’t. My fingers were too swollen. I’d also stopped sweating. Knowing this meant I was dehydrated, I grabbed a Gatorade and two cups of water at the next aid station. I also ate a Gu, just to get some more calories and energy going. I still felt really good, though, so I kept going…

Miles 19-23: 8:23, 8:31, 8:42, 8:41, 8:58.
Obviously, I was slowing down a lot. I was taking longer at the aid stations, grabbing two cups of water whenever I could, but I still wasn’t sweating and my fingers were starting to resemble sausages. The goal time was still definitely within my grasp, though. As we got closer to those last few miles, we were running parallel to the ocean. I looked over my right shoulder, at the beautiful view and smiled at how lovely it all looked and thinking about how I’d be running right next to it as I crossed the finish line. And then I turned my head forward again. Everyone in front of me seemed to be running with a twin. Holy shit, I was seeing double. My field of vision started to narrow and my body started to tingle. If I didn’t stop right at that second, I was going to pass out. I moved over to the side of the road and started walking. I told myself I would only walk for a minute. When I felt like I could again, I tried to run, but once again thought I might pass out after a few steps… so I walked. I think, in all, it may have only been about a minute and a half. And the whole time, I was thinking to myself that if only I could pick it up right now, if only my legs would listen to my heart, I could just go and get that BQ time! But they wouldn’t listen. I had hit The Wall and it was hitting back hard.

All of a sudden, I felt a hand on my back. A girl, about my age, had run up behind me and started literally pushing me forward. I looked at her, puzzled, and she smiled at me and said, “Honey, we can’t stop now. We’re too close.” “Okay,” I whimpered back. And I started running again, with everything I had. It wasn’t much. But it was all I had left.
Mile 24 took me 9:19. Mile 25 was 8:55.

As I returned to the ocean promenade, I started looking for my crew. I saw them, with about half a mile to go until the finish line. Jeremy spotted me and started jumping up and down. The 3:40 pace group had apparently just gone by about a minute earlier. They all thought that I just might make it. I saw them and smiled and started shaking my head, trying to let them know that it wasn’t going to happen today. I wanted to yell, but I felt like I could barely breathe.
With the finish line less than 400 meters ahead of me, I looked at my watch. 3:39:54…55…56…57…58…59…. There it goes. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch. 3:41:26. So close. My legs started to wobble. I walked up to the large, sturdy-looking military man that was standing just a few feet beyond the finish and leaned my whole body on him. “Are you alright? What do you need?” he asked. “I just need some water,” I whimpered back. A volunteer immediately ran over and handed me two water bottles. I guzzled them both down. “Do you need a medic?” The military guy asked me. “No. I’ll be alright. Thank you.”

After collecting ourselves, finding Neal and comparing some stories, we headed back to our hotel for showers and to get food. We had a nice time, relaxing and stretching and getting ready for the drive back home.
After Elyssa dropped me & Jeremy off at home, the post-race euphoria wore off and disappointment set in. For 23 miles, that goal was absolutely in my hands. I kept second guessing myself, rethinking decisions along the way, getting angry for starting out too fast, cursing at myself for walking. Stupidly, I actually started to cry.

At the end of it all, though, I shouldn’t be anything but proud of what I accomplished that day. Really, I'm very proud of what I accomplished. In just about six months, I took 9 minutes off of my marathon time. I finished in a time that I thought was impossible a year ago. I ran at a consistent (and pretty fast) pace for a good portion of the race. The next marathon I’ll run is back where it started, New York City on November 6th. By then, the Boston Athletic Association will have officially changed the qualifying times for the Boston Marathon, which means I will have to run better than a 3:35 to qualify. After the NJ Marathon, I no longer think that time sounds so impossible.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hard Core

In the ongoing quest to be the best runner I can be, I've been working very hard on many aspects of fitness. Recently, I've been doing more cross-training (as opposed to the NO cross-training I used to do) and more intense core workouts.

These core workouts are dual-purposed. The first purpose is to improve my running. A strong core is vital. The second is purely selfish. I WANT SIX PACK ABS.

My coach Josh, aka Speedy Sasquatch recently asked Khrystyne (aka GlamFIT), a California-based personal trainer to share some core workouts that he could try out and pass along to members of the team. Khrystyne developed a plank-based core workout that is incredibly tough, exhausting and absolutely worth every second you spend doing it.

A few weeks ago, I began rocking the Plank Party, in my quest for a stronger core and six-pack abs!

As I started doing the first in the series of exercises, parachute planks with hip extensions, I felt good. This seemed easy. "Maybe I'm in better shape than I thought!" I foolishly dreamed.
I got through this exercise and moved onto the second, oblique crunches with hip lifts. And here, the ease with which I coasted through the first move went quickly away. The crunches were fine, but when it was time to extend my legs and lift myself into side plank position, I released an awful vocal grunt that made more than one person in the gym look over with concern.

I grunted my way through this set, and paused for a moment to catch my breath. I was sweating. Hadn't I been doing core exercises for month? Wasn't I in better shape than this?

I moved on to the next set of exercises, full planks with knee drivers. Throughout these I was beginning to feel the old Shake of Truth in my arms and my abs, that little quiver that lets you know your muscles are paying attention and will be screaming at you the next day. Usually, when I grunt and sweat this much I'm having a LOT MORE FUN.

I toughed my way through the next two exercises, rock and roll abs, and push-up crawlers. The crawlers nearly did leave me crawling and gasping for air and one old man at the gym asked me if I was alright when I was done with the first set. I somehow managed to gasp and grunt and sweat my way through the last three exercises a second time and take my shaking abs home.

Over the past few weeks, I've been doing this workout a few times a week, to supplement my old core workout and add more strength. Already, I'm noticing more strength in my abs and some definition where there wasn't any before. While it's gotten easier, I'm enjoying that this workout is still a challenge and it just motivates me to push myself further. I know that sticking with this is really going to be helpful, as I strive towards both my goals: improving my running and SIX-PACK ABS!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mission: Ass-kickery (Coogan's Recap)

Today I ran NYRR's Coogan's Salsa, Blues & Shamrocks 5K race. It's only my 3rd 5k race ever, my first one being my first race ever and my second being Coogan's last year. I was really pleased with my time from last year (26:48) and knew I could do better than that this year. So, when the alarm went off this morning, I was a woman on a mission, and that mission was Complete and Total Ass-Kickery.
The weather report for this Sunday had been less than stellar all week, predicting rain and temperatures in the 40s. Rain, I don't mind. Cold weather I don't mind. Together? Not so much a fan. But I was very pleased to see dry ground when I woke up and peeked out my window. I took my time getting ready, as this is one of the closest NYRR races to my home and had my usual race day breakfast (steel-cut oats, a bit of honey and a sliced up banana, all mashed in there). I gave Jeremy a good-bye kiss and walked out to take the bus down to the starting line. The temperature was pleasant -- more so than I had expected -- and while threatening, there was no rain yet. Naturally, as I got closer to the start, the skies started to open up. Never into a full-on downpour, but just nasty enough to be annoying. Bleh.

I was delighted to walk around the starting area, seeing other runners and bloggers who've become friends, like Joe and Ari, and the lovely, always smiling Robin. Robin and I walked to our respective starting corrals together and wished each other luck.

The rainy race started and, predictably, the first mile was crowded. I don't think I've ever bumped into so many people at a race. I took a quick look at my watch and realized I was cruising. Furthermore, I felt good. I charged ahead, weaving in and out of people and trying hard not to slip on the wet roadway. Up near the Cloisters, I spotted Elyssa just ahead of me. I caught up to her, and we ran together for a bit. At one point, I heard her say to me, "Go, girl!" I looked back and smiled. WOMAN. ON. A. MISSION. I kept hauling ass, making my way through the crowd, up and down the hills. At the last big hill, I booked it. I didn't look at my watch. I just looked at the ground ahead of me. As I reached the top, I thought my lungs were going to explode, but my legs felt fine so I told my lungs to deal with it. When I saw the finish line up ahead I gunned it, waving to Josh on the sidelines as I ran past. I stopped my watch as I crossed the finish. Final official time, 22:42. Better than a 4 minute PR over last year. Average pace, 7:19. I'm super proud of this race. It's really nice to feel, with every part of your being, that the hard work you've done is paying off. Numbers like these are the proof for me.

After Austin, I was honestly having some doubts about my goals for the NJ marathon, and I still do to be perfectly honest. But I'm getting faster and stronger all the time. I've still got so much work to do. But I probably wouldn't ever do anything if I knew I could do it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


This past Saturday, February 26th was a bit of a special day on my calendar. It marked the fourth anniversary of my first logged run. I’d gone on runs before that, casually, and even a less than stellar debut at a 5k race, but that was the day I decided that this was going to be a serious endeavor and I ought to treat it seriously. It was my fourth Runniversary.

In four years, I can hardly believe the changes that have occurred in my life. I ran my first half marathon several months after that first run, got married a few months after that, started graduate school, bought a home, lost my mother very suddenly, changed careers, and ran two marathons. The last three things have all happened within the last 10 months. It’s been quite a roller coaster. Sometimes, I think I barely recognize myself four years ago. I didn’t just make a decision to change my lifestyle, though. I made a decision to change my life. And I’m so grateful, every day, that I did.

Whether they’ve been good, bad, or ugly, I choose to celebrate every mile I’ve run. They’ve gotten me to where I stand now, feet firmly planted with nowhere to go but forward.

(photo by Elyssa)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Austin Marathon Recap: Puke & Rally (or Douchebag in a Cowboy Hat)

I had said in my last blog post that if I could say at the end of the day that I had fun, then the trip to Texas to run a marathon would be a success. At about mile 20 of the marathon, I decided the trip was a failure. I was miserable, felt awful and was not having any fun.


When I arrived in Austin on Friday (an hour late… thanks, Continental!) I was met at the airport by Texas locals Bojana and Marci, and Josh who had flown in the day before. We went straight to the runner’s meet-up where we feasted on Torchy’s Tacos and Holy Cacao cake balls. Yes. Cake balls. Yes. They’re amazing. They’re balls of cake. What is not to love? Balls. Of Cake.

While gorging on tacos and cake balls (BALLS OF CAKE!), I got to meet some of the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know over twitter over the last several months. It was so nice to connect faces to avatars and 140 character conversations. Everyone was lovely and delightful. I had no doubts they would be.

Saturday morning I got up and went for a relaxed & groovy 20 minute run around the Capitol. It was misty, overcast, warm and incredibly humid. After spending my winter training through snow, slush, blizzards and arctic blasts, this humidity was quite a shock to the system. Then we went off in search of breakfast and headed to pick up our bibs and goodies at the marathon expo.

The rest of Saturday was pretty much spent relaxing and fueling up for the race on Sunday, after a little misadventure trying to find a pasta restaurant that would seat us all anywhere in the Austin area.

Sunday morning, the alarms went off in our room; mine, playing the Superman Theme (obviously) and Bojana’s air-raid siren. Up and at ‘em! It’s go time. We took our time getting dressed and fueled and ready and headed out the door at about 6:20. The hotel was super close to the start, so once we started making our way to our starting positions, we hugged Marci and wished her luck as she got ready to run the half-marathon. Then Bojana and I, with Josh made our way up to our starting area, right by the 3:50 pace group.

My usual bubbly self was stifled by nerves. Despite knowing that this was not my A race for the year, I couldn’t help but have butterflies in my belly. I felt ready, but anxious. I just wanted to get moving. After a few more minutes, some high fives and hugs (and a good luck tushy grab from Bojana), it was time to start moving. The three of us started out together, taking it easy for the crowded first two miles. Then we started to pick it up a bit. I felt good. I felt really good. Around mile 5, I hear Bojana call out, “ROAD KILL!” just in time for me to jump over the enormous dead possum in the middle of the road. Woohoo! Go Texas! For the next several miles, the three of us were cruising. I barely even noticed that it was about 35 degrees warmer than I’ve become used to running in. Somewhere around mile 9, I looked over my shoulder for Bojana and Josh, but didn’t see them anywhere. I put on my headphones and kept charging ahead. At the halfway point, I checked my watch. Just about 1:52. My magic number, to PR, was 1:53. I was feeling super confident about the second half of the race. I told myself, “This is where you push through, Sharon. Time to show what you can do.” At the next aid stop, I grabbed a cup of Gatorade. And then I did show what I could do. All over the side of the road.

Right around mile 14, I felt a wave of discomfort that started at the top of my head and traveled down my spine, lodging itself somewhere behind my navel. I knew immediately what was coming next, so I made my way over to the side of the road and heaved my Gatorade-y guts onto the pavement.

Gatorade. Is it in you? Nope. Not anymore.

I collected myself and kept on running. The fantastic feeling I’d had those early middle miles was zapped. I talked myself through by saying I could still come in under 3:50 if I just kept pushing and kept it together for the rest of the second half. But I couldn’t shake the queasy feeling. I stuck to water for the next few aid stops, and tried to choke down a Gu, just to get something substantive in my belly. When I started to feel okay again, after mile 18, I needed to stop for more Gatorade. I’d slowed down a lot and needed fuel. I sipped some Gatorade and water at the next aid station. Maybe it was just in my head, but I started to feel queasy again. Around mile 19, I made my way to the side of the road again and yarfed a Gatorade and Gu colored rainbow. I started moving again immediately. And I started to cry.

I looked over my shoulder to see if I could see Josh anywhere behind me. I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to quit then. But I didn’t see him. And since there was no one to tell me I could quit, I kept moving. I wiped away the tears and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.

Sometime after that, I saw some guy up ahead of me. Wearing a bright yellow shirt, a cowboy hat and Texas state flag short shorts. HELL NO was I letting this guy beat me. With everything I could muster, I made my move and passed him, just as we were coming to a pretty large hill, which I dubbed Are You Fucking Kidding Me Hill. I put the sick feelings and doubt out of my head and just focused on getting up this hill efficiently and quickly. When I reached the top, I was surprised to discover that I was smiling. I wasn’t feeling great. I felt tired and beat up. At mile 24, I told myself that it would be okay if I walked for a little bit. So, I moved to the side of the road and walked for about three steps before my legs said “WOMAN, GO!” and I knew walking was not an option. If I stopped or slowed down any more than I’d already slowed down, my legs were going to lock up altogether. Again, I wanted to quit. But I thought back to this same point in the NYC marathon, where I was looking for Sam. I imagined her at the same spot, cheering me on and I kept moving.

At mile 25.5, I saw up ahead what I’d been dreading since looking at the course elevation chart weeks ago. The big San Jacinto hill. “Alright, hill. It’s you and me,” I said aloud. Head down, leaning forward, arms at 90 degrees, quick strides, GO. I charged up that bastard and asked it, “Is that all you got?!” The finish line wasn’t far now. I turned past 11th street and heard people yelling my name. Marci and Shannon were on the side of the road, hollering and waving. I raised my arms and waved, smiling and hauling ass. I ran the last 400 meters with my arms in the air, waving wildly and unable to wipe the smile off my face.

Final time, 3:54:29. I’m not thrilled. Obviously. However, given less than ideal circumstances, I’m pretty friggin satisfied with that time. The hills were beasts, and my stomach clearly had other ideas for how it wanted to be spending it’s Sunday. But I got through it. As soon as I crossed that finish line, all that misery, all that doubt, all that wanting to quit was erased. I felt great. I was a two-time marathoner! And, rather ridiculously, as I collected my finisher’s medal and a bottle of water from the volunteers at the finish, I thought to myself, “Hey, only 10 weeks until your next one!”

I rounded out my time in Texas drinking and eating amazing barbeque (OH. MY. GOD.) with new friends and old ones. Lots of recapping and lots of laughing. I’m so, so grateful to have found all of the people that are fixtures in my life. And while, if given the chance, I might rethink my Gatorade consumption, really I can happily say I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

On to the next one.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Marathon #2 -- Wait, WHAT?

So, after spending what really amounts to YEARS preparing myself, physically and mentally, to run the New York City Marathon, I find myself a few days away from running my second marathon…. Just over three months after my first, this one in Austin, Texas. I feel, in equal measures, totally prepared and utterly panicked. I think it’s the fact that I feel prepared that that is causing me to panic.

For all the time I spent worrying about, focusing on and obsessing over my prep for NYC, physically I KNOW I’ve done the work this time. I may or may not beat my time from NYC. I’m pretty sure I’ll come in close to it. Ultimately, I’m okay with whatever happens. This is really more about maintaining the fitness I built up in the fall, preparing to launch into a full-on BQ assault in the spring, and most importantly of all having a goddam good time.

I’ll be traveling to a place I’ve never been, meeting people I’ve never met and having an amazing experience. I really couldn’t be more excited for this.

There is a level of anxiety, being that I will be 1,800 miles from home, have only done this once before and don’t really know the topography of the land I’ll be running in at all (but my quads have been warned to prepare for some hills). The field of runners for this event is about a tenth the size of New York, so I’m sure the crowds along the streets won’t be as raucous. I’m a little anxious about that, as well, because I really think the crowds helped me a lot in NYC. I do know I’ll have friends along the course, old friends who used to live in New York but moved back to Texas. I’m so excited to be seeing them.

No matter what, I’m sure I’ m going to have fun and really that’s what this is about. At the end of the day, if I can say I had fun then I totally won the race.

Oh yeah, and...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Does Running = Optimism?

I smile a lot. I laugh a lot. As it says in my profile, I tend to laugh loudly and inappropriately. An actor I once toured with commented, at the end of our tour, “Sharon, do you know what was the first thing I noticed about you? You laugh at EVERYTHING.”

“Well,” I replied, “It’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?”

I don’t know if I consider myself to be an optimist. I don’t think the glass is half full, or half empty. I just think it’s twice as big as it needs to be. But I do think that there is a certain amount of optimism that is unavoidable when you are a runner. Why else would we get out of bed at 5:30 on a freezing Saturday morning to run a half marathon (like so many of my friends & I did two weekends ago)?

This thinking about optimism, and running as optimism, started because of a very wise bag of tea I steeped a few days ago (pictured above). Some wheels in my brain started turning, pondering this idea. As runners, as individuals, as people are we running after satisfaction? In some ways, we have to.

Getting up and facing each day isn’t always easy, but doing so with purpose means it is not a choice, but a goal.

Running isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it’s awful. Sometimes, it’s painful. But seeing every mile as a bridge to the next achievement makes it all worth it.

The satisfaction that comes from within can come from knowing that this time, on this occasion, you caught up with what it was you were running after.

I love challenges. Knowing that I’m waking up tomorrow morning and setting out for a 21 mile run excites me because I hope that when I am finished with that last mile, I’ll be able to say that I pushed myself hard and got where I wanted to be. When I’m tired, when I want to stop, I won’t. I’ll see it through to the last step. Has my training for marathons trained me to be an optimist? Or am I just stubborn?

I know one thing’s for sure…

If life seems jolly rotten

There's something you've forgotten

And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps

Just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Song du Jour

My heart beats in syncopated rhythms. Music makes me move. It moves me. Right now, this is the song that makes me move the most.

What songs get you going?

Friday, January 28, 2011


Turn and face the strange

I’ve been thinking a lot about changes lately. How we change as we grow, grow as we change, all of that. How the decisions we make, even though we think they might be small, can prove to have profound effects in so many aspects of our lives – right down to the core of who we are.

There have been many interesting discussions with friends and loved ones over whether people ever really change. I’m still not sure. I don’t know if I’ve changed. But I know I’ve made changes.

The decision to lace up some running shoes and head out the door for the first time was life changing. It altered the way I dealt with stress and hard times, the tone and shape of my body, my self-image and my perceptions. Before I became a runner, separating my impulses from my emotions was tricky. Controlling either of those things was problematic on my best days.
My default was set to erratic.

I feel now, almost four years after I first logged a run, more balanced, more relaxed and just more together. I’m more equipped to handle things that come my way. Certainly, a lot of that is gained just through experiences and getting older. But having an outlet… having a means to cope with things that not long ago would have been too much to cope with, is absolutely crucial to that.

Are we, as we grow up, capable of changing who we once were? If we work hard and actively fight against some of our worst instincts can we set ourselves to a new default? Have new instincts?

In many respects, I feel that the core of my being is unchanged, but through the choices I’ve made many of those aspects of myself are unrecognizable to me today.

I’ve worked hard to make good choices and positive changes in my life. Seeing the results of those choices has been a source of a lot of pride for me. The physical changes manifest themselves in my running and my general health. Looking back at the numbers recently, I realized after running that Manhattan Half Marathon this past weekend, I ran it 41 minutes faster than I had the first time I did it three years ago. I hope to improve my time even more.

In other areas, well, I just feel like I’m a better person than I was a few years ago. It’s impossible to say how much of that is due to what factors, but I’m certain that so much of the good things that have come into my life would not be there if I couldn’t look in the mirror and call myself a runner.

♫ Time may change me
But I can't trace time. ♫

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Something Suddenly Came Up

Excuses Not to Run:

1) It's snaining out (this was my excuse tonight, and now I'm regretting it)
2) I'm waiting for a Fresh Direct delivery (right, Matt?)
3) I'm washing my hair.
4) Time to go for a ru-SQUIRREL!
5) I can't feel my legs.
6) I've got gravy leg (hat tip, Joe)
7) I just can't shake this hangover.
8) Glee is on.
9) I have nipple chafe.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Flaws, Imperfections and Weaknesses

I don’t like it when my apple cart is upset. I don’t like when things don’t go according to my plans. I really struggle with my reactions sometimes. Lately, this has been manifesting itself a lot in my running. Last week, I had a great hill workout. I felt quick and light, like I was conquering those hills. It seemed almost effortless. And then every other run I had that week felt heavy and laborious. I felt, as I broadcast over twitter, like a doughy, leaden mollusk. I even cut a run short because things were just hurting. Rather than just take this at face value and accept that I needed to take it a bit easier, I went into a funk. This wasn’t my plan. This wasn’t how I wanted things to go. I became sullen, moody and angry with myself. My standards for myself are high and I was failing to live up to them.

I’m the kind of person that wears my heart on my face. I don’t hide my emotions well. I don’t really try to. But when I fear that I am appearing vulnerable or angry, I’ll withdraw. It’s not that I’m ashamed. It’s just that I don’t think anyone needs to see that side of me. I’d just rather they see me smiling.

Recognizing weakness though, I think, is actually a strength. Bit of a pardox, no? But really, if I were satisfied with who I was every day why strive to keep improving?

All I can do –all any of us can do, really—is give the best I can each day. And realize that that is a strength, not a failure. If my best tomorrow doesn’t live up to my best today, well so be it.

For all the flaws, imperfections and weaknesses, I think it’s important to recognize, from time to time, that I have a lot of strengths as well. For one, I DO keep trying to give my best. As a wife, friend, teacher, student, runner, blah blah blah. I do hold myself to very high standards. I am honest, sometimes to a fault, and I value that highly. I can find ways to laugh at everything… EVERYTHING. I am determined. I am devoted to the people in my life and would walk through fire for them.

A shitty run is a shitty run. I shouldn’t let it get the best of me. Bad days happen. Things are beyond my control. If, in the face of them, I am able to say that what I gave was the best I could give then alright. Bring on tomorrow.

Monday, January 3, 2011

So That Happened!

Oh hai New Yearzzzz!!!

Yeah. 2010. So, that happened!

Those minutes, they just keep ticking by, don’t they? I am amazed sometimes at just how quickly time seems to move. Every day that passes is a smaller and smaller fraction of my life than the day before. Plus, it seems that the older I get the more ambitious and determined I become. There is so much to see, so many roads to run, so many books to read, so many experiences to have.

My to-do list seems to get longer every day. That being said, I’ve set some pretty ambitious goals for myself for the year.

1) Starting with the Austin Marathon in February. I don’t expect or particularly wish to best my time from the NYC Marathon, but I’d like to be able to run this one at a more consistent pace. I’d like for my wheels to not utterly fall off in the last 10k of the race. Which leads me to

2) Fitter and faster. A vague goal, sure. But I need to build strength and speed. I need to be as disciplined about my strength, stretching and cross-training as I am about my running. This all needs to happen if I want to

3) BQ at the NJ Marathon in May. This is ambitious. It means taking 10 minutes off my marathon time in six months. It may not happen. Especially if the BAA changes their qualifying standards, as they have all but promised to do. It may not happen, but I’m going to try my hardest to make it happen. In three years, I took 45 minutes off of my half-marathon time. 10 minutes in six months? We’ll see. I am nothing if not determined.

4) Run across the state of Massachusetts with a delightful bunch of lunatics. A 191 mile relay race. I can’t wait for that. Seriously. It’s going to be a blast.

5) Run the NYC Marathon again. Better than before. Stronger than before. With a smile on my face the whole time.

6) Run a sub-1:45 half.

Despite my general sort of grumble-grumbliness regarding New Years and resolutions and whatnot, I kicked off 2011 by running 20.11 miles. It was a beautiful day. It was exactly what I needed.

I did not close the chapter on 2010. I did not wake up on Saturday determined to change things about myself or determined to keep promises, which I will not uphold. Rather, I woke up just like any other day hoping to keep improving in the things I’ve been working on. To keep doing the best I can.

Oh, and also I kind of want to run an ultramarathon.
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