I Ran A Flipping Marathon

No, not the New York Marathon. That one was cancelled. Remember? But I didn’t want my training to go to waste. So I signed up for the 9 1/2th Potomac River Run Marathon, a tiny race that no one has ever heard of.

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The marathon was set for November 18, so Soren and I drove down to DC on the 17th and met up with friends for a big pasta dinner. The next morning I woke up at 5:30 am and choked down an enormous bowl of oatmeal. Carb loading is the one benefit of marathoning, but I can assure you no one wants oatmeal at 5:30 am. As I was getting ready, I somehow managed to fling one sock into the toilet. Drying the sock made us late, and Soren and I arrived at the start in Carderock, Maryland, mere minutes before the race was set to start.

I barely had time to toss my fleece at Soren and join the small pack at the start line. I was wearing roughly what I had planned to wear for the New York marathon, including a shirt with my name displayed in big black letters across my chest. That may fly in New York where cheering crowds line the streets, but Maryland marathoners opt for more discrete attire. I was the only Potomac River Runner in the pack wearing my name. I felt like a complete idiot. Somewhere in the distance, the Star Spangled Banner began to play. The race director yelled for silence. Then we were off.

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I picked this race, in part, because it follows the C&O Canal, a waterway that I wrote about in 2010.

Running alongside the Potomac River, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal wends its way from Washington, D.C., to the Appalachian Mountains in Western Maryland. In the late 1800s, this 184-mile manmade waterway served as a conduit for freight boats carrying heavy loads of coal, lumber, and grain. Today it’s the centerpiece of a 19,000-acre national park.

I’d written the story without having ever set eyes on the place, and I pictured a bucolic scene — a pretty little stream alongside a packed dirt road lined with mossy trees. Mostly I was right. The path is pretty. As the sun broke through the morning fog, the reds and golds of the fall foliage positively glowed.

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What I didn’t realize when I signed up for the marathon was that the course is a tortuous out-and-back and out-and-back, meaning I ran that same stretch of dirt road four times.

The first out-and-back I admired the scenery and cheered for the runners who had already reached the turnaround. The second out-and-back I kept my head down, cursing the pebbly path for being uneven, the trees for all looking the same, and virtual coach Hal Higdon for failing to prepare me for the torture that is long-distance running. Mostly I cursed myself for having the idiot idea to run a marathon. Even Soren got an earful when he failed to produce the Chocolate Dipped Coconut Luna Bar I’d been fantasizing about. I grudgingly took Nutz Over Chocolate, but I hated every bite. See how unhappy my face is? I’m saying, “This is NOT the right one!”

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On the  upside, the trail was blessedly flat. And the weather couldn’t have been better — a balmy 50 degrees.

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Still, by the time I hit the final four miles, I was wrecked. The route was devoid of mile markers or landmarks so I had no idea how many miles were left. My slow running became interspersed with long stretches of fast walking. Somewhere around mile 24, I began to sob uncontrollably. It was dark days, my friends. Dark indeed.

Finally I saw a friendly face, a Team in Training coach who had been cheering for me earlier in the race. “You’re about 15 seconds from being able to see the finish line,” he said. Such beautiful words. I sped up, crossed the finish line, grabbed my medal, and burst into tears. Notice a trend?

The best part of the race was this guy. He calls himself “The Manimal,” and he’s run 40-some marathons THIS YEAR! DSC_0041

We were neck and neck for most of the race, but he pulled away at the end and finished a full 15 minutes ahead of me. And then he waited around so he could give me my medal. How sweet is that?

Eventually I hobbled to the car and we headed back to Soren’s dad’s apartment so I could shower and recuperate. A couple of hours later I was feeling well enough to stuff my face with Bolivian food. (There are so many Bolivians in Arlington, some people call it Little Cochabamba). We went to Tutto Bene, a Bolivian restaurant that masquerades as an Italian restaurant. Salteñas!!

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After dinner, Soren and I drove back to Brooklyn. Then he pried me from the car and helped me hobble up the stairs. It took me a week to recover, but I’m already thinking about a second marathon. I still want to race New York City. The marathon organizers haven’t yet decided how to handle the cancellation. At this point, I think it’s safe to assume the race won’t be rescheduled, but no one knows if this year’s participants will get guaranteed entry to next year’s race. I hope so. ‘Cause next year I’ll be in it to win it. And by ‘win it’ I mean not cry.

Thank you to everyone who donated and sent encouraging emails. Thanks to my DC friends to came out on Saturday to help me carbo load, and a huge thanks to the awesome people who showed up on Sunday to see me race (especially Henry and Charlotte, who made a really a cool sign). You rock.

Of course, the biggest thank you of all goes to this guy. He may not accompany me on my early morning runs (or afternoon runs, or evening runs), but he is an amazing one-man support team nonetheless.

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Sandy Ruins Everything

Today I woke up and ate breakfast. I reset my clocks. I had a cup of coffee. Want to know what I didn’t do? I did not rise at the crack of dawn. I did not take a ferry to Staten Island. I did not run 26.2 miles.

As most of you probably know, this has been a rough week. On Monday, New York and New Jersey got pummeled by a massive storm. Parts of the city flooded and many homes lost power. The subway system was totally out of commission for days. Initially Mayor Bloomberg said the marathon would still take place. But many runners, residents, and city officials thought that holding the race while some parts of New York lay trashed and dark would be disrespectful. As the backlash mounted, I worried that the route would be lined with protesters. Or, worse yet, no one at all.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, Bloomberg and the New York Road Runners made a last-minute decision to cancel the marathon. Here’s what my face looked like . . .

Soren’s parents were already here. My parents, who were set to fly in on Saturday, decided not to come. The news was especially heartbreaking because I’ve been looking forward to this day for months. I did all of the grunt work, but got none of the glory.

After the shock wore off, I sank into a deep depression and decided to drown my sorrows. Luckily we had plenty of wine. Wine and Korean food. But at midnight, I got indignant. No one gets to tell me whether I can or can’t run! Certainly not Mommy Bloomberg. Then, an idea! I had heard that the Prospect Park Alliance was holding a 5K race on Saturday to raise money for the cleanup of the park. I’ll run that goddamn race, I thought drunkenly.

I woke up at 7am, put on my racing clothes, and biked to the park. Soren followed close behind. We froze our butts off waiting for the race to start. But finally it was time to run.

I have no idea how long it took me because the race wasn’t timed. My feet felt like logs of frozen beef for the first half. Then they began to thaw. A couple of kids passed me, but I didn’t care. Soren, who was waiting at the finish line, told me a man in tiny American flag shorts won. But I felt like a winner too. This is what winning looks like.

Then we biked home and Soren made me bacon waffles. I may not be running a marathon, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up on carb loading.

I also didn’t want to give up on my marathon t-shirt. So yesterday afternoon Soren, his parents, and I made a sad, sad pilgrimage to Manhattan to pick up my race bib and t-shirt. The subway still isn’t back to normal, so our trip consisted of a 20-minute walk, a train, a walk, another train, another train, and then a walk. It was an epic journey — all to wander the somber halls of a half torn down fitness expo and pick up a t-shirt for a race I won’t be able to run. And I can’t really even wear the shirt. Because I’m  not a marathoner. Not yet anyway.

Today I should be marathoning. But maybe I’ll have a martini and a cigarette instead. There’s always next year.

[Don’t despair. I still plan to run a marathon. The race organizers haven’t yet told us exactly what’s happening. I presume the race is cancelled rather than postponed, and I imagine my entry will be deferred until next year. So watch for me in 2013. I’m in it to win it, baby!]

The Final Countdown

It’s all happening! In just a few days I’ll be running the New York City marathon. Even that blustery witch Sandy couldn’t derail the race.

First, a huge thank you to everyone who donated. Because of your generosity, Camfed will be able to help more even more girls get an education in Africa. (To those of you who donated on cookie day, I’ll be in touch soon to find out if you have any food allergies or special requests).  You guys rock!

Now comes the hard part — running 26.2 miles. Some of you may want to come watch the race just to be sure I’m fulfilling my end of the bargain. Please do! I would love to see you.

Where will you be? There’s a map of the course here. I’m in the last wave, which means I start at 10:55 am. I plan to run between 11- and 12- minute miles. If you’re waiting on 4th Avenue, I’ll be on the left hand side. To have an even better shot at spotting me, you can track me by my bib number. You can receive text message updates for a small fee or you can track me on the marathon web site for free. Go here for more info. My bib number is 61179. You’ll need that number to track me.

What will you be wearing? A gray t-shirt with my name on it, colorful leopard print arm warmers, a white hat, and black pants. Because that’s how I roll.

Can I track your progress even if I don’t attend the race? Sure! Go to the marathon web site. There should be a spot where you can enter my bib number 61179. You’ll need that number to track me.

I’m understandably nervous, but so is everyone else. Soren had an anxiety dream in which he forgot to make signs to cheer me on. He was frantically trying to find an art supplies store the morning of the race. My mom is nervous about flying into LaGuardia. And I’m worried about the controversy.

Many New Yorkers think the city should be focused on recovery and not hosting a race that traverses all five boroughs, parts of which are still without power. Will we get booed? Will people protest? I was nervous about my ability to finish with a supportive crowd. Running 26.2 miles while being heckled and harassed seems like it will be impossible.

While I understand the backlash, the marathon is happening. And I’ve worked too hard to drop out. As you may remember, training hasn’t exactly been easy. In fact, some weeks have been downright miserable.

So I will race. But first I’ll make a donation to the Red Cross to help my neighbors in New Jersey, Staten Island, Rockaway, and Coney Island. See you at the finish line.

New Ground

As many of you know, I’m running this marathon to raise money for Camfed, an amazing organization that helps girls in Africa pay for their education. So far I’ve raised a $2,271.00. My goal is to raise $3,300. That means I have less than two months to bring in about $1,000. Please consider making a small donation.

The last time we checked in, I had a bad attitude. Marathon training had become a real drag. One of my friends read my post and then sent me a note. She wrote, “I can’t help wondering…why are you training for this marathon? You sound kind of miserable.”

Her question was a good one. Why am I running this marathon?

1. I like complaining, and complaining feels especially delicious when you have a good excuse.

2. I like suffering. Things that come easy don’t feel like much of an accomplishment.

But those are trivial reasons. I can do better.

3. Running is good for my health — both physical and mental. It gets me out of the house (and out of my pajamas). Running doesn’t always feel great, but I love the afterglow.

4. To raise money for Camfed!! Donations welcome!

5. Hal Higdon, my trainer, has some hokey line about “running to see the world.” I like to make fun of Hal, but he’s kind of right. I have seen some really cool things running that I never would have spotted otherwise. For example . . .

Astoria, Oregon – 3 miles

This bridge goes to Cape Disappointment. Seriously.

Mountain View, California – 12 miles

This was the terrible 12-miler I wrote about before. On the upside, the Steven’s Creek Trail took me past NASA’s Ames Research Center, a golf course, and these huge salt evaporation ponds. I even saw a pod of pelicans.

Cedaredge, Colorado – 3 miles

A mule deer and the open road.

New York, New York – 15 miles

I was desperately in need of new scenery, so I decided to forgo my regular running route. Instead, I ran across the Brooklyn Bridge, back to the East River, down around Battery Park, and up the path that runs along the Hudson River. I ran and I ran and I ran for — quite literally — hours.

That’s the Brooklyn Bridge in the upper lefthand picture, and the USS Intrepid down below. The tall building on the right is the new World Trade Center (you can also see it in the Brooklyn bridge picture). It’s still under construction, but it already dominates the skyline.

I ran until I reached 153rd Street. And then I bought a hot dog, collapsed on the grass, and devoured it.

Victory has never tasted so delicious. Let’s hope the 16 miles I’m running next weekend will taste even better.

Bad Attitude

That’s me halfway through a 12-mile run in Mountain View, California. Say what you want about my running ability — at least I have a good attitude.

Oh, that’s right. I actually have a terrible attitude. You know why? Because I’m always running. My birthday is Thursday. Guess what I’ll be doing — running three miles.  We’re going out to celebrate my birthday on Saturday. But before we do that, I have to run 13 miles. IT. NEVER. ENDS.

But the thing that I absolutely dread, the thing that gives me nightmares is an upcoming run. According to my schedule, my 18-miler will fall on the same weekend as my trip to North Dakota. And I won’t be in the civilized parts of North Dakota — oh no — I’ll be in the boonies running along the highway with nothing to look at except the empty, windswept wasteland I once called home. Running and running and running . . . for 18 miles. It’s the type of activity that incites insanity. I want to weep just thinking about  how painful it’s going to be.

One of the most difficult parts about training for a marathon is sticking to the program when you’re traveling. I fell off the wagon big time when we were visiting friends in the Pacific Northwest. And I have several more trips planned this fall.

To make matters worse, my ankle is still acting strange. It healed, then it hurt, then my hip hurt, then my whole leg felt warped, and now my ankle insists on staying stubbornly swollen, albeit only slightly. Talk about a bad attitude. You better buck up, Ankle, because we’re doing this marathon whether you like it or not. (It’s best not to let him know he has the power to throw the whole race. There’s nothing worse than an ankle on a power trip.)

You know what might make me feel better? Money. So how about you donate some cash to Camfed. Please? I am nearly two-thirds of the way to my goal of raising $3300! Think of it as a birthday present.

XOXO,
Sunny McOptimist

Pain in the Ankle

I’m injured! Already! Waaahhhhhhh!

About a week ago, my ankle started hurting. No biggie. I popped a couple of Advil. I iced it. But the pain didn’t go away. So I went to the pharmacy and spent $60 on shoe inserts, an ankle brace, and old-lady compression stockings. I came home and put them all on. But the pain still didn’t go away. On Sunday I ran 10 miles. By the end, I was limping. This seemed to be a bad sign. In my recent issue of Runner’s World, marathon superstar Kara Goucher had this to say: “We all have these little niggles here and there . . . Something that carries on for two, three, even four days, that’s okay. But for something that goes beyond that time frame, or that is causing you to run differently? That’s not a niggle, that’s an injury.” Oh sh*%, I thought. Injury. Not cool.

Yesterday I broke down and decided to make an appointment with a doctor. I wanted to see someone with a background in sports medicine, but finding a good specialist in New York is about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack, a haystack full of really awful needles. New York has millions of doctors and most of them suck. But, in this case, it turned out to be easier than I expected. Dr. Weiss just so happened to have an office right near me. And, oh!, he could get me in the very same day.

When I rolled up to the doctor’s office, I recognized it immediately as a place I had recently ridiculed for having this man in its window.

And, no, that’s not a poster. It’s a television showing a VIDEO of this guy talking about, apparently, spines. The television faces the street and it seems that the video plays all day and night. I took this photo at 9pm. No lie.

But aside from a very annoying hour-long wait, the experience was positive. The doctor (not the guy in the video) was normal and seemed competent. He asked me some questions, pushed on my ankle, and then he did an ultrasound. The verdict? Meh, maybe some sort of tendonitis. The prescription? Lay off the running. Well, I could have told me that.

Here are some other things I learned at the doctor’s office:

1. A marathon is too far to run. Running that far is “not good for you.”

2. I have bony ankles that are difficult to ultrasound.

3. If something hurts when you run and you want it to stop hurting, stop running.

So I guess there’s only one thing to do . . . run less. I’m going to take a few days off, and maybe invest in some new shoes. I don’t mind really. Running is exhausting. Even the cat gets tired.

In other news, fundraising is going nicely. I’m more than halfway to my goal of raising $3,300. To those of you who have contributed, a big, fat thank you! If you haven’t donated and want to, click here. Only $1,464 left to go!

Training Begins

Actually training has already begun. After much hemming and hawing, I decided to follow Hal Higdon’s 18-week marathon plan. Because Hal isn’t trying to be hip. That gray-haired old man is just focused on getting you across the finish line. I bought Hal’s training app, so now occasionally as I run, I’ll hear Hal’s reedy voice say something like, “I run to see what’s out there in the world!” Usually this happens during some hardcore rap song. Tricks be gettin’ whooped, and then there’s nerdy Hal assuring me, “Don’t worry. Your endurance will improve.” Thanks, Hal. I needed that.

The indomitable Hal Higdon.

You know what sucks about training for a marathon? The running. I feel like I’m running all the time. And that wouldn’t be so terrible except it’s summer in New York. Which means it’s 90 plus degrees and humid pretty much every single day. The idea of running makes me want to vomit. Hot running is a completely different beast from cool running. Your shoes feel like they’re filled with cement. The sweat pools in your sports bra. Your fingers puff like marshmallows. Your brain swells. Seriously. My last long hot run turned me into a bobblehead. By the end, it was all I could do to hold my gargantuan noggin upright.

My strategy to beat the heat is to run early. But it’s a toss up whether it sucks more to get up at 6am on a Saturday or to run when it’s 90 degrees. And sometimes you get up early to find that it’s already stifling — the worst of both worlds. Lucky for me I have Hal to cheer me on. “Only 500 more yards to go. You’re doing great!” Thanks, Hal.

If only Hal could help me fundraise. You may remember that to gain entry into the New York City marathon, I’ve agreed to raise $3,300 for Camfed, an organization that helps girls in Africa pay for their education.

Please consider making a donation to help me, but mostly to help people like Katumi. Hearing her story makes me think I should stop whining and start running. Heat be damned! You hear that Hal? I’m done complaining . . . for now, at least.