Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NYC Marathon: Race Report

I have been putting off writing this report. In fact, I haven't even been able to bring myself to read any of my friends' race reports from that day. The four hours, seventeen minutes, and thirty eight seconds I spent running the NYC Marathon were, in a word, miserable. I don't remember ever enjoying it. Maybe I did for a brief moment while climbing that hill for the first mile - but even then I was so preoccupied with focusing on my plan, my watch, my gloves and arm warmers, etc. that by the time I "settled in" to mile two, and the pain started, I had missed my narrow window of enjoyment.

Well, that's depressing. This isn't a happy report - it wasn't a happy race.

I thought about waiting a bit to write this - for a little bit more distance. I want so badly to be writing a report where I am psyched about a huge PR like I did after Grandma's Marathon in June. But I just can't. It does not feel like I got a big PR. It doesn't feel like I got a PR (I did).  But less than being bummed about my time - I just cannot help by wince at my memory of the experience.

I will say that everything else about the weekend was amazing. I had a wonderful time with my parents, an awesome, fancy hotel room, tickets to two fun Broadway shows, great meals, and a great time seeing some of my old running friends and meeting some new ones. The race aside, it was a brilliant, perfect, getaway.

Here is me excited at the expo, picking up my race pack:

Here are me, my mom, and step-dad at Carmine's:

Here is a picture of me and George Harrison at our Autism Speaks Team dinner at Hard Rock Cafe:

Here is a picture of me and one of my bestest pals in the world, Susie Hellman, right before the race:

OK...the race. Heregoes:

For reference as to what the plan was, you can click here.  And I apologize in advance if this is TMI for some of you. Race reports can't always be pretty.

The trouble started as I came down the bridge at mile 2. This is supposed to be a nice easy downhill but I got what was the most painful, stabbing side-stitch on my right side, just under my ribs. I literally don't think I have had this type of side ache since high school sports when I was a sprinter/soccer player. I haven't felt anything like this in years and don't ever remember feeling it distance running. It was incredibly sharp and I panicked. I had no idea what to do. I refused to stop for fear of falling off pace too early. I just ran through it knowing that these things usually pass...and it did after several, agonizing minutes. It had taken my breath away, though. So much so that I had to stop and use my inhaler. Though I have pretty severe asthma, I NEVER, or at least rarely, use my inhaler mid-race or mid-run. I take it sufficiently beforehand and that is usually enough. But I needed it.

At the beginning of mile 4 the side-stitch came back, strong as ever. Like a big, sharp knife. Again, I ran through it but it was not easy. I was able to stay on pace because I was so fresh - but I was scared that my day was over before it began, and I was in terrible pain. I was totally zoned out in my own scared, panicking place. I hadn't even noticed that we were on the streets of Brooklyn, which were lined by screaming people, bands, etc. I was just freaking out inside.

My nutrition plan has me eating four Gu Chomps every four miles. (This worked flawlessly at Grandma's) I realized near mile five that I had forgotten to eat so I got out a pack...but I couldn't eat it. My stomach wasn't queasy and I didn't feel sick. I just couldn't create saliva or get myself to swallow. I managed to get two down but it wasn't easy. I stuffed the others back in my pocket.

Long story short, I was pretty much able to stay on pace through the half (I was slightly over, but that was more because the mile markers were usually after the chaotic water stations, so while I was "on" pace...I crossed the miler markers slightly late)...but after the half, I knew it wasn't going to happen. The side-stitches never came back, but I now had a new problem: horrible cramping pains deep in my lower stomach/uterus (sort of like menstrual pains (they weren't), sort of like gas pains)...they were sharp and increased in sharpness/bloat until they were unbearable...then they would subside for a few minutes before returning. This happened for the rest of the race. It was awful. This problem was something I am slightly more familiar with (I have IBS) - but I have no idea why it was so extreme. And it obviously enhanced my eating problem. I don't think I ate more than 5-6 Gu Chomps for the entire race. I kept just throwing them on the ground.

The last 13 miles, and really the whole race, was the hardest physical thing I had ever done. I have never had to dig that deep, and stay that mentally strong for that long. THE MARATHON IS SO LONG!

The weird thing, though? I knew, and was 100% certain, that I would be fine when the race ended. That stopping would stop my weird, internal problems. And I was right.

For the last 13 miles I would stop and walk every time the sharp abdomen pain got really bad. That would usually clear it up. After mile 16, my legs were feeling it from the hills - and I think the fact that they got no fuel increased my inability to be able to keep up my intended pace. That said, my splits are such that, when including my walking breaks, and (unsuccessful) potty break at mile 21, I was likely going somewhat close to my intended pace when I was actually running. My internal organs were just forcing me to stop too often.

For the second half, I kept an eye on my watch and my B and C goals. I was pretty sure my B goal was out, but I thought that if I took sufficient walk breaks, such that they would clear out the tummy pain temporarily and allow me to run at a decent clip, I might still set a PR. And I did. By about 6 minutes.

But it doesn't feel like it. At all. It is hard for me to take something positive from 4+ hours spent in such misery - in my favorite city in the world, in a race I was so looking forward to for so many months. Maybe I built it up too much. Maybe the experience was too loaded with emotion and memories. Whatever the case, I am not yet able to look back at it and see it as a success in terms of my result. That said, I am proud of myself for finishing - for pushing through when things went sour so early. Old Sara Jane, pre-Wendy Sara Jane, may not have had (likely would not have had) the mental toughness to do that. She's changed me. And of that fact I am proud. And grateful. And, I am hungry to get back at it.

I want it more, now. Despite the horrible memory of this experience, I can't wait to hit my next cycle. I still love the marathon. I still want to be a marathoner. I'd just like to get to the place where this particular race is a distance memory and I can't still feel it and don't still wince at the memory.

For those who are interested, here are the splits from my watch:

My official time is 4:17:38.

I ran my first ever marathon in 2007 in 4:57:58. I ran the NYC Marathon in 2008 in 4:49:18.

My previous PR was from Grandma's this past June: 4:23:07.

I think my 100-meter-dash PR was 12.57...but I digress... ;)

My goal is to run my next marathon in sub-4 hours. I am not deterred. Just more determined. And more confident than ever that my mental toughness will not be an issue.


Here is a picture of me and some of my running pals enjoying post-race spirits:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Follies Full Circle

Well, here we are. NYC Marathon eve. I really can't believe it. When Wendy and I started discussing having her take part in the great "experiment" of coaching me (a sprinter) to something better than a 4:47 marathon time, this day seemed SO FAR AWAY! We knew from the beginning - back in April, that this was the goal race. I was already entered in this race and Grandma's Marathon. Grandma's was too soon for a full training we decided that would be a step along the way. NYC was the big goal. And it's TOMORROW!

Now, I love New York City. I "grew up" here. It's where I feel I first lived as an "adult". I moved here in January of 2002 (when I was 23) and was here until I got relocated for work to Maryland in 2007. I miss it terribly. It's awesome to be back.

Today, we (my mom, step-dad, and I) had a free afternoon, so we hit the half-price ticket booth to get tickets to a show. I absolutely love Bernadette Peters, and Sondheim is to me what Jesus is to Christians, so I put in my vote to see Follies. We got amazing, center orchestra tickets and the show. was. amazing. Loved it.

During the second act, as the four main characters were performing their "follies," I started to think about what the word "folly" means and I had a massive "DUH" light bulb moment. I had'd that word before. On May 15th, in fact. When I wrote my first blog post.

I am a Broadway girl at heart. Always have been. I am what those in the the biz call a "twirlie." I never pass up an opportunity to karaoke show tunes; especially if "I Know Him So Well" or "Out Tonight" are in the book. So when I was trying to decide what to call this blog, I wanted something clever...and I wanted it to play on my whole personal experiment/doubt/curiosity/etc. as to whether or not I really am a pure sprinter or if we might be able to turn me into a more respectable (in terms of what I wanted to achieve, anyway) distance runner. I also wanted the title to make some sort of play on a show tune or show. It's my thing. And whether it was clear to those reading it or not, I wanted it to be in there. I wasn't exactly sure how I would do that in a way that would reference my doubts as to whether what I was trying to do was silly, given my past life, and nature, as a pure sprinter. And it really did seem kinda like a silly quest. Maybe not silly - but I definitely wasn't sure if I would have success...and often felt a little stupid (as my first post suggests) calling myself a marathoner.

I thought through the musical theater canon and almost instantly thought about Follies.

As a girl who saw herself as pure fast-twitch, continuing to pursue the beast that is the marathon did, at times, seem like a foolish undertaking. A folly.

If I do say so myself, my intended play on words aligned with my goals, and passions, perfectly. But I didn't even think about it until part way through the second act. Then BAM! I am at Follies! Woah. Full circle.

Thanks for all of your support, everyone. I am gonna give it my all tomorrow.

And if there is one thing I can say I have learned from this experience, even before I run the race, it is that what I decided to try to do with these fast-twitch muscles of mine was, after all, no folly at all. It's actually been completely life-changing, and self-affirming, in ways that I can't even begin to get into in this little post. I owe about 65% of it to Wendy. I do. But I will take credit for having the courage to give it a go, and the cunning to convince Wendy to come along for the ride.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Race Day Tracking Options

Many of you have asked about tracking. I figured I'd do a blog post about it so that those of you who are interested have something to refer to...there are many tracking options!

Here is the general NYC Marathon website:

First of all, if you want to watch the elite race (it's going to be an AMAZING one) you can do so for free here:

The NYC Marathon website has all of its tracking information on this page:

My Bib # is: 31582

I am in the Second Wave which starts at 10:10. It will likely take me as many as 10 minutes (if not more) to cross the actual start line, though. My own personal "chip" time will start when I cross the start.

These are the options:

Tracking via the Web - Online
That is, you sit in from of your computer and when I hit certain timing mats, you see where I am on the course...There is no pre-registration required. You just log onto the NYC Marathon website on race day, find the link for "tracking" I imagine they will have it here:, type in my name and/or bib number (#31582) and you should be all set. There is no fee for this.

Tracking via SMS (Text Messages)
In the past, this hasn't worked well. When I hit certain timing mats, my chip is supposed to activate the system to send a text message to those who have pre-registered here: Unfortunately what seems to happen is that the servers (Verizon, ATT, Sprint, whatever) get bogged down and the texts messages are delayed, kinda defeating the point. The marathon says they are improving this, but they can't really change how the cell phone company's servers operate and what they can handle. This costs $2.99. You can sign up for this now.

Tracking via App with iPhone or Android Phone
This is new this year and the information is here: This is potentially an awesome way to track - if it works. Again, this works like the previous methods wherein you get get updates when I hit certain timing mats on the course. But there's more. I will be running with my iPhone tucked away in a back pocket. If you have the App (which also costs $2.99, though there is a free, limited version for iPhone users only) my phone will work as a GPS and you will be able to track my every move on the course. Basically, my phone will send a signal and if you sign up to track me (you can track up to 10 runners at the same time) you will be able to see where I am on the course at any given moment. Kinda creepy. Kinda crazy. Kinda cool. Hope it works!

So there are your tracking options! If you are curious as to whether I am on pace to hit my goal, you can refer to my race plan here:

I actually have 3 goals, just in case things don't go exactly as planned:

A Goal: sub-4 hours
B Goal: 4:10
C Goal: PR (sub 4:23)


I also wanted to share with you the greatest pre-race pump up gift EVER. I always tease my friends, sisters Kelly, Kara, and Kendall (Wheeler, Grgas-Wheeler, Goucher, Schoolmeester, whatever...) because of the lengths they go to in order to support each other. One thing they always did back in the day...and still do for Kara (the only one still competing) is make professional (screen printed or embroidered) shirts in support of each other. So, for example, when Kendall was running at the state cross country meet one year, the ENTIRE family (mom Patty and Kara and Kelly) all had on these blue hooded sweatshirts with GIANT red lettering that said: Go Kendall!

It's adorable. Anyway, I've teased them about it and told them it would be the BEST THING EVER if I, too, could be like a Grgas-Wheeler sister and have a shirt made in support of me. Anyway, Kendall got a little crafty and made me a shirt of my own. And no, it doesn't bother me that the shirt was originally intended for a certain Olympian. That's the brilliance of it, really. Thanks Kendall!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

SJ's Race Plan--from Coach Wendy

"4:23?  4:23?!?!  Really?!"
"Yes, really."

That conversation happened between me and my husband, Tim, last June.  We had been tracking Sara Jane as she was running Grandma's.  After she crossed the 18 mile mark, I became so anxious that I had to go for a run myself.  I thought I would be home in time to "see" her finish, but I had missed it.

As the dialogue above indicates, I was shocked at how well she did.  Not because I didn't think she could do it, but because I had designed such a super-conservative race plan that I couldn't believe how much she picked up the pace at the end.  She was not super well-trained for Grandma's, and she ran a 24 minute PR.  Wow.

My first text to her was "You can run sub-4 in NY."  She was not convinced at first, but she is now.  And that's all that matters.  Her training this time around did not go exactly as I had planned it, but I actually think that as worked in her benefit.  From my own most recent marathon experience, in which I blew up royally, I've learned that listening and responding to your body's warnings when it's clearly telling you to back off is a really, really good idea.

SJ is ready for sub-4.  Of course, it's a marathon...which means a lot of things can happen.  Weather, fluid issues, stomach issues, etc.  If it's a good day, she's got the fitness and the toughness to do it.

I've never run New York, but I've done a lot of reading about it.  Unlike Grandma's, it's not a flat course.  It's a lot more complex, and a whole lot more crowded.  Using maps, a book about the race, and a video of the 2009 NYC marathon, I devised a race plan that I think will work on race day.  It takes into account a lot of things:

-Hills--NY has some hills, and the majority of them are at the very end.  Not such a good place for them, but that's where they are.  She is strong, so I think she will fare well on them.

-Crowds--I'm starting her off slowly, just like in Grandma's, but a reason for this unique to NY is how stinking crowded it will be at the start.  I do not want her bobbing and weaving for a position--that would waste energy.  Not to mention get her all flustered.

-It's a marathon--and what I mean by this is that, even if you're well-trained, it can be an off day.  I've instructed her to keep evaluating how she's feeling.  If she's working too hard well before she should be (anywhere before 17-18), she needs to reign it in.  She won't get a sub-4, but she'll get a nice PR and avoid an epic blow-up and potentially a whole lot of walking.

So, the plan.  Here it is, broken down per mile:

Mile 1:  9:40--slow due to the crowds, the fact that it's all uphill, and she needs to get warmed up and not let adrenaline force her up that hill too fast.  I don't know if she'll actually run it this slowly (she happens to think its TOO slow, but that's what I'm prescribing).

Mile 2:  9:00--The downhill side of mile 1.  I told her this split may be even faster than this, depending on the grade of the hill.  I want her to just be coasting at this point.

Mile 3:  9:15--Easing into goal pace (which is around 9:09)

Mile 4:  9:10--The race turns flat here.  Miles 4-10 I want her right around goal pace.  I am guessing this will be a very comfortable pace for her.  My concern here is her going too fast because she's going to feel good.  It is vital that she holds back, especially given all her leg speed...could get her into trouble!
Mile 5:  9:10
Mile 6:  9:10
Mile 7:  9:10
Mile 8:  9:10
Mile 9:  9:10

Mile 10:  9:05--Okay, slightly under goal pace from here til mile 15.  Just four seconds, but we have to make up for a slow start and a slow finish.  I don't imagine she'll even perceive the change from 9:10 to 9:05, though.  I have read that the best way to negative split is to do so in very small increments so that you don't even realize you're doing it.
Mile 11:  9:05
Mile 12:  9:05
Mile 13:  9:05 

Mile 14:  9:00--Another slight increase in pace, and this is right when things start to get a little tough.  She will be working a little bit here, but still able to hold pace without too much effort.
Mile 15:  9:00

Mile 16:  9:30 (uphill)--There is an uphill here, and the last thing I want her to try to do is to charge up it and stay on goal pace.  That will toast her quads, and she's still got 10 more challenging miles ahead.

Mile 17:  9:00--Hoping she gets back on pace here with a little help from a downhill at mile 17.
Mile 18:  9:00
Mile 19:  9:00

Mile 20:  9:00--And the real work begins.  Holding onto this pace at this point in the game is going to be tough.  It's going to really, really hurt.  The hope is that her fitness + a slow start keeps her strong enough to hold on here.  At this point, when she evaluates, she should find herself saying "I'm never running another marathon again."
Mile 21:  9:00
Mile 22:  9:00
Mile 23:  9:00

Mile 24:  9:30 (uphill)--Ouch.  Just reading about this mile makes me hurt.  A big uphill at mile 24.  Good luck, SJ! ;)  She can do it...but I don't think the 9:30 will feel easy at this point.

Mile 25:  9:15 (mix of down and uphill)--These are some ups and downs, and I'm planning on her fading a little bit given how tough the course is, so I've added in a little wiggle room.

Mile 26:  9:20 or as fast as she can go!--Again, a little built-in wiggle room because I'm guessing her quads are going to be on fire by this point.  If she feels great, then she'll fly in faster, but this has a planned safety net in place.

0.2:  Sprint!

This should get her in just about half a minute under 4 hours.  Of course, it's impossible to run the splits exactly as I've asked her to (though she did an amazingly good job at Grandma's), but if she stays pretty close to this, she's got it.  And even if she bleeds some time at the end, a major PR is almost guaranteed.

I'm so excited.  Seriously--I'm more excited about her race than my last race.  It feels weird to say that I coach her, because she gives so much back to me in the form of friendship.  I don't feel like any kind of authority over Sara (and those of you who know her will understand that it would be hard for anyone to feel that way over her), but like we're doing this together.  And, for whatever reason(s), it serves both of us extremely well.  Be sure to track her on Sunday!!


The Final Countdown

It's getting so close! At the end of my last post I said I would be back with some little tidbits including the things I am doing to pump myself up for the race. Though perhaps at the expense of completely neglecting my responsibilities as a second-year law student, I have been focusing on the following:

  • My participation in this race as a part of TeamUp! With Autism Speaks
  • How excited I am that my parents will be in NYC for race weekend
  • Selecting some theme/pump up songs and creating a playlist for race weekend (though I won't carry music during that actual race - too much to enjoy going on on the actual course).
  • Dedicating each of my miles.

Autism Speaks
As many of you know, I am running this race for more than just myself. For the second time I am running as a part of TeamUp! With Autism Speaks. I didn't need to run with this team to get entry into the race - I got in via lottery - I just so enjoyed running with the team in 2008 (when I also ran with the team despite winning the lottery) that I asked if I could join them again. In 2008, when I first ran the race, my nephew Jack (who turns 7 today!) had recently been diagnosed with Autism. My family had so many questions/concerns and I was introduced to the world of Autism Spectrum Disorders in a way I never imagined. Soon after I ran that race, my nephew Henry (now 4, almost 5 years old) was also diagnosed. As such, Autism has been a part of my family's life for several years now. I am exceptionally close to my sister and nephews - I lived with their family for 8 months prior to law school. I adore them so completely - and wouldn't want them to be anyone other than just the way they are - but I, like everyone else who sees a child struggling with some of the challenges of Autism - know how much more research needs to be done. Running on the team, and fund raising for the cause, feels like something I can do to help. It is especially exciting this year because I have been spending this semester as a legal intern with the Government Relations department at the Autism Speaks officer here in D.C. Running with this team is so meaningful - the people I met doing so last time were incredible and I so enjoyed hearing their stories and sharing their 26.2 mile journey as part of the same team. I am thrilled to be back to do it again.

Barb and Neil
This past summer I came across a great deal on hotel rooms in NYC for marathon weekend. It was too good to pass up, so I booked myself a room. Then I called my mom and she jumped at the chance to spend a long fall weekend in NYC. So she and Neil, my step-dad, are coming to town! This is exciting for many reasons - but mostly because it just makes the weekend feel like more of a full-on vacation. I get family time AND a marathon in my favorite city on earth! My parents have always supported me when I've run Grandma's Marathon in our hometown of Duluth, MN. Last time I ran the NYC Marathon, it was a bit lonely and I missed having that support network. This time, the support network came to me! I am glad I will have someone to collapse on after the race! The best part is - they will be able to join me at the marathon eve, pre-race dinner sponsored by Autism Speaks for all the team members. As Jack and Henry's grandparents, I know they will enjoy being a part of the get-together as much as I will.

Theme Songs!
This is very important. As a former music major - and musicology PhD-pursuer, music is a huge part of everything I do. I create a soundtrack to everything I do in life. Particularly sporting events! I have tried with no luck to embed some video into this blog...but I will share links to what I have chosen and (1) the theme song for Wendy and I, together, as a team, as we get ready to put all of our hard work to the test and (2) the particular song that is pumping me up right now for reasons unknown...I've never had any shame about what charges me up musically.

Theme Song for me and Wendy: How Far We've Come by Matchbox 20.
I loves me the Rob Thomas and, well, the chorus of this song is just about perfect as anyone who has been following this blog since here would have to agree. (Great video)

Personal pump up song:  Numb/Encore by JayZ and Linkin Park
Jay Z --> always effective. (Video not the best)

Now, there's a whole playlist filled with songs...but I'll leave it at that.

Mile Dedications
Wendy gave me this idea. When she ran her first marathon she said, off the cuff: Want me to dedicate a mile to you? (She was dedicating one to each of her kids and who knows who else). I liked the idea. Particularly with the particular race plan we have which requires me to really be on the ball - and checking my pace - every single mile. (Race plan info coming soon!) I figure while I am trying to hit that target each mile, it would be nice to think of something other than the fact that I want to reach that particular goal at that particular time. There are so many people who inspire me to be better, to be more, particularly when it comes to me as an athlete. I have decide to select 27 of them (someone's got get me through that 0.2!) and write their name on the back of my pace band to coincide with each mile. I am hesitating as to whether or not to post, and annotate, this list. I definitely wouldn't want anyone to feel left out if I didn't put their name on there...but at the same time, it'd be fun to let those close to me know that I have appreciate their support through my training. We'll see. I am still working on assigning numbers to names in a way that has at least some minimal level of significance.

My NYMarathon App tells me there are 3 days, 19 hours, 17 minutes, and 22 seconds until the race. I'd better get off this computer and start packin'! I head to the big apple on Friday morning.