A city so nice, I ran it twice.
When I found out I got into the 2018 New York City Marathon through the lottery, it was almost like finding out I was unexpectedly pregnant. I threw my name in the hat while still riding my post-2017-race high, never expecting in a million years I'd get in. I'd entered the lottery several times before and was always denied. Surely they'd let a first timer in before letting me in again. Surely I'd be wrong.
Fast forward several months, and for the sake of full disclosure, my heart wasn't 100% into going through the marathon training/racing process again so soon. Even if it was New York. Heck, especially since it was New York. I'm not the girl who runs several marathons a year, and since I started working for the company whose races were always my go-to, I barely trained or raced at all for months after New York last year. My fitness was a far cry from where it had been when I started training for 2017, and New York is a beast of a course. I wasn't sure I remembered how to beast. My new mantra was now "Fake it til ya make it." And enlist help.
Enter Mother Teresa. She lives hundreds of miles away, but this dear friend, badass mother runner, and honest-to-god saint of a human being mentioned she was interested in dabbling in coaching, so I asked her to help me get this shit show of a body ready for New York 2018. She knows me well, and she knows the demands of my family and my job. She has accompanied me on training runs and even raced with me to my second fastest half marathon in what I have to believe are the worst weather conditions in Shamrock history.
Basically, she knows what makes me tick and she has a knack for drawing the best out of those around her. And if she was putting time and energy into my training, I couldn't let her down by being a wimp.
Last year's training cycle was fine. Not the amazing experience I was hoping it would be, but that's not what last year's New York was for. Last year's New York was for raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and giving cancer the middle finger. This year was all mine, and I wouldn't let myself forget how lucky I was to have another crack at that race. And since a great race is not guaranteed no matter how stellar your training cycle is, it was my mission to be so proud of the work I put into training that the outcome of the race was as insignificant as possible.
I became a robot, and Teresa was my programmer. She gave me one week of training at a time, I wrote it down on my calendar (sometimes getting a good chuckle out of the workouts), and did the work. I reported back, especially when the numbers on my Garmin didn't tell the whole story of the workout, and left all the analyzing to her. I checked each box, good or bad, and moved on. I worked just as hard to stay out of my own head as I did to hit the paces on my training plan. My sanity depended on it.
I had great runs and shitty runs. School started and with it came a brand new schedule to adjust to. Race season was in full swing at work. August weather stuck around through half of October. There were plenty of mornings when I just didn't want to get up and run. I was sick of running in the dark. I was sick of running every mile by myself. I would lie there in bed and try to figure out any other time I could possibly get a workout in that day and the conclusion was always never. So out of bed I slogged, and once I got going I was fine. Especially those times I'd turn on my music and the first song to play was Dave Matthews' "So Damn Lucky." Or the moon and stars would give way to a ridiculous sunrise that everyone else was missing. The universe always had a way of reminding me I'm so damn lucky to be able to run. Period.
I struggled with goal setting this training cycle. Typically, I'll set A, B, and C goals for a race. My A goal is my holy shit, shoot for the moon and stick the landing goal. My B goal is usually a PR, even if it's by 1 second. My C goal is typically to run a smart race. Since my fitness at the start was nowhere near where I usually am going into training, I really had no idea what shoot for the moon goal was realistic. Kinda hard to create a training plan with a goal race pace of ?:??, but Teresa made it work. My early workouts were effort based instead of time based, and I think that really helped keep me from playing the comparison game with myself. A successful workout meant I worked to my potential and fought when things got hard. And eventually it dawned on me that this is exactly how I would define a successful race as well. Effort based, not time based. My ABC goals got turned upside down. Running a smart race - and being brave from the start - was now my A goal. A PR was still my B goal, and my C goal was now my holy shit goal.
But I also had so many little victories within the 16 weeks of training that it felt like I had already accomplished an A goal. The highest weekly mileage I had ever seen before this training cycle was 43. And that was just one week, with every other week being in the 20s and 30s. This time, I had 6 weeks of 40+ miles and 3 weeks of 50 or higher. Each of those weeks felt like a win. I had an incredible summer with my kids because it was of the utmost importance that my time with them didn't suffer because of my training. Win. I put in more double digit runs before getting my kids off to school than I can count on one hand. Win. I didn't compare myself to the runner I have been in the past or to other runners I follow on social media. Double win.
I arrived at my picture-perfect-Autumn-in-New-York race day happy, healthy, and oh so ready to run. My mantra was "Go For Great," and "great" meant a finish time in the low 3:40s. My coach and every bit of data from my training told me this was within reach, and I just had to throw caution to the wind and replace it with courage and confidence. Check and check.
By the time I reached the summit of the Verrazzano Bridge at Mile 1, I learned I couldn't trust the pace on my watch. It didn't register a mile until almost Mile 2, so I had to run on feel. Thankfully, most of my long training runs were done by feel and not pace, so my confidence never waivered. I knew I was off to a slow start because of the crowd, but I felt it was just what I needed early on to settle in to a faster pace after a few miles.
Only I never truly felt settled. Between being shoulder to shoulder with my fellow runners from start to finish and the normal congestion of water stops every mile, I felt like as soon as I started to find a groove, I had to pump the brakes again. The involuntary push and pull of my pace was taking its toll on me, especially since the hills and bridges on the course naturally cause you to slow and surge anyway. I was still feeling good at the halfway point (on the Pulaski Bridge crossing over from Queens into Manhattan - gorgeous skyline views!), but the elapsed time on my watch was 1:55...meaning I would absolutely have to negative split the tougher second half of that course if I wanted to see 3:4anything. Not impossible, so I repeated my "Go For Great" mantra and just kept plugging away.
The Queensboro Bridge was up next on the agenda, and I knew from last year that it felt like an endless climb to the top. I was ready for it. I was even looking forward to it, mostly because I couldn't wait to have it behind me. And I knew my friends Dayna and Michelle were waiting for me on the other side. I thought once I got over that bridge, I'd have several miles to cruise before hitting that last climb up 5th Avenue to Central Park.
Looking for Dayna and Michelle took my mind off the miles until I saw them, and then it was my goal to get to them again in the park.
There was a downhill after I saw them, and I let gravity do the work. A stitch in my left side caused some concern around Mile 18, but it worked itself out and I was focused on getting to the Bronx. Miles 19-21 felt progressively harder and harder, and I sensed 3:40s were long gone. Having run the course last year may have been a slight disadvantage at this point because I knew mile 22 was a son of a bitch of a hill, and that was a major blow to my confidence. I was already feeling like I had slowed to a crawl, and I wasn't going to be making up for lost time on that long climb.
My pity party was interrupted by a spectator shortly after that. It went down a little something like this:
Spectator: "Way to go, 3:55 group!"
[I turn to my left and see the 3:55 pace group chugging away beside me.]
Me (out loud): "Aw FUCK no!!!"
[Fight mode activated]
In that moment, I was fine with not running a 3:4x. I was even fine with not PRing. But I was NOT fine with not running faster than I did last year. I worked too damn hard from July to November and then again over the course of those 23 miles to run slower than last year. I had too many people tracking my dot through the five boroughs to not put up an all out fight for that finish and keep that 3:55 pace group behind me. So fight I did, and I smiled when I saw my friends again and continued to fight while simultaneously wanting to slow down and soak it all in.
The sunlight, the colors of the fall foliage, even the nauseating smell of the food trucks. Those were my final moments of this epic race and if I ran faster, it would be over sooner. But I didn't work that hard to have my own private parade, so I gutted out the longest 800 meters of my life, uphill to the finish line.
Ahhhhh. And ouch.
I didn't even look at my watch. Pain is all that registered. My legs hurt so bad. I almost grabbed a stranger to lean on. But I kept moving, collecting my medal, posing for the finisher photo, and getting wrapped up in my heat sheet. It was another endless
Shamrock 2014 - 3:54:32
New York City 2017: 3:55:56
Course Record by 2:09.
Marathon PR. By 45 seconds.
The more I think about this experience, the prouder I feel. Nothing about this training cycle or race was easy, but people don't run marathons because they're easy. We run them because they teach us so much about who we are at our best, our worst, and everywhere in between. They force us to listen to our bodies and focus on what matters. They have taught me that defining success solely by the time on the clock is a waste of 16 weeks of training. In my opinion, the only guaranteed way to feel truly successful running a marathon is to have goals that will serve you better than a finish time. Otherwise you miss all the good stuff.