I live in Jersey City, I can see the Hudson and downtown NYC from the two windows in my apartment. I’ve lived here since 2015. I’ve seen a few blizzards and bitter windchill days. I used to run up and down the waterfront, around the parks and over bridges. I have more friends here than where I grew up, this is home.
Now we’re on pause. Everything came to a grinding halt almost 5 weeks ago. Running hasn’t been paused, but my desire to do so has been.
The fallout has hit everyone differently and my motivation to do much took a huge hit. I mourned our old way of life, seeing friends, getting to interact with others, summer, and travel. I spend a lot of time reading the news but also others’ reaction to it, looking for any sort of certainty about what’s next.
For a while I woke up everyday dreading what would be taken away from us next. In New Jersey all parks were closed and now guarded by police for anyone daring to get a little exercise, sunshine and trying to forget how bleak of situation we’re in. We’ve gotten to a point where there’s not much more freedom that can restricted. It’s hard to go from going anywhere, anytime for any reason to being asked to not leave your apartment unless you’re getting food.
Two months ago I was visiting my parents in Texas and the primaries and life events dominated our conversations. I remember joking that my mom had coronavirus because she had been sick with a cold just prior to my visit (it might have been and hopefully was because she’s completely fine now), my dad put a post-it note on an old dirty toothbrush of mine that said possible coronavirus, I joked that I’d find it impossible to quarantine myself if I had it and I’d at least need to go for a jog.
On the plane ride back to NYC, I made through security in less than 5 minutes, the airport was quiet and the plane had seats open. I didn’t think too much of it and I certainly never would have imagined that I’d been quarantining myself 9 days later.
Today is day 37 of this new reality. I haven’t seen anyone I don’t live with (aka Joe) in 37 days aside from the animal control officer who dropped off a foster kitty a week in and picked him up a week ago for his forever home.
I haven’t acquired a new skill. I haven’t been able to wrap my head around focusing on much more than getting what I need to get done at work. That, too, has been hard. My brain is feeling about as restless as I am.
It’s hard to conceptualize this disease even now. I know at least 200 people in the city and Joe knows even more but we don’t know anyone who has had it, definitively. Maybe we’ve both been asymptomatic carriers. I’m the furthest you can get from being a germaphobe and I used to ride mass transit every day, eat lunch out every day and use public restrooms while on the run; I can’t say I used to wash my hands nearly enough and I’m constantly touching my face.
The point of all this is to memorialize this period in time. Hopefully shed light on how people felt, and how we could do better in the future. In the span of 9 days we went from coronavirus jokes, still thinking it was a cold and flying across the country to locking things down.
37 days in: governors are thinking of ways to reopen their respective states. In the US epicenter, I’ve noticed my friends are a little less scared of the disease but I think we’ve also just started to accept it as reality for now. We’ve debated whether we need to wear face masks while running and when, we try to stay connected with video chats and talk to each other throughout the day on messenger. The idea of a large group gathering, feels really irresponsible, though seeing one or two friends is fine. I see a need for a balance between total and complete lockdown and partying like we’re on spring break. That feels like a reasonable balance between the need to social interaction but also slowing the spread.
1:31:13. 2:23 PR. New York City Marathon Qualifier.
In my usual fashion, I signed up for this race 1 day in advance. That tends to be when I do best. I’ve been doing the training since mid-January, and had logged 700 year to date miles leading up to NJ, so it wasn’t that crazy of a spur of the moment decision.
Despite the lack of taper (53 miles the week before ), I was feeling good enough, the weather was perfect, my friends were there and even though it runs a smidge long, it’s a GREAT course. And, unlike bigger races, you get to self-seed which meant I could line up with the pacer I needed versus dodging people.
Before races I’m usually anti-social. Joe and I usually get our own hotel and do our own pre-race dinner. For New Jersey we stayed in a beach house with 15 people, went to the expo with a packed car, did our shake out run with half a dozen people and loaded up a couple of cars to go eat dinner. Way outside my pre-race norm.
Why didn’t I do this every time? Before some races, it’s nice to have my own headspace but it’s also really nice to have friends there.
Saturday morning we slept in hung out a bit before doing our shakeout then headed to the expo. It was a smaller expo which was good since I usually walk around them and I was needing to save my feet and legs any extra expenditures. They had an area with free printed photos of you with your bib and race magnets. A+ on this one, New Jersey. The expo was on the beach and it was tempting to go walk around but we had a lot to get done before dinner and I needed to save my feet.
I dropped Joe off to finish his run then headed to the grocery store. This time around I tried a different diet strategy, lots of nuts, olives, beets and hummus leading up to the race. I read a Runner’s World article about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet on performance. I love these foods so it was a nice excuse to eat them!
Pre-race, I never, never, never share my goals. Usually Joe might know (not always – last marathon he didn’t even know I was training for one), but otherwise I keep them to myself. I even shut down my Strava or at least hide my workouts in the few weeks before a race. I have a lot of doubts about what I’ll be able to do and I’m one of the least confident people out there. But no one, literally no one, cares if I fail at my goal and no one is going to laugh at me for trying – we’ve all failed before.
Before dinner I went outside to enjoy the nice ocean air and had a really good conversation with one of my friends who asked what my goals were, I decided I didn’t care and I would just be honest, “I want to qualify for New York”. I said it several times. Something about saying it out loud was a relief. I knew I could it, I had practiced that pace, over and over and over. I memorized it and learned to feel comfortable with it.
Finding a spot for dinner was tough. Most places didn’t take reservations and we had a group of 10. Thankfully after a few phone calls we found a great place and I had my usually pre-race pasta.
After dinner I hung out downstairs for a bit. Massaging my achy calves and getting in a few last minute carbs, aka more beets.
Around 10 I laid out my flat runner and went to bed. Knowing I wouldn’t sleep much, I spent some time scrolling through Instagram looking at puppies, something mindless and happy to help me sleep.
I got around 4 hours of sleep before the race and woke up at 5 AM, ready to go. Joe, who should win a Nobel Peace Prize for this, also woke up at 5 AM and went downstairs to make me coffee.
Most of the house was awake at this time and downstairs eating breakfast, stretching and having coffee. I went with my usual clif bar and coffee breakfast and packed a bagel to munch on for the ride there.
We got to the race a little late and I ended up having to cut a guy off in the port-a-potty line (sorry – but I can’t pee in a bush as easily!) then dashed to my corral with a couple of minutes to spare. I lined up with the 3:05 marathon pacer to ensure I wouldn’t go out too fast as the next one down was the 1:30 half and 3:00 marathon. I saw a couple of my friends, we took a pre-race selfie then I pushed them ahead of me and I plugged in.
Since NJ is a mostly flat course (a few little bunny hills in the beginning, if you could even call it that) and I’m a very consistent metronome I decided even splits with surges where I felt good was the way to go. I started a bit ahead of the 3:05 group and got caught up a little bit with the faster people but quickly realized this and was able to back off. I felt great up until mile 5 when I had a strong urge to back off the pace, this was due to my stomach (AGAIN). At mile 6 I was not feeling hot and started scanning for a port-a-potty. I spotted one at the just right time and darted off to it. Absolute perfect timing. I was in and out in 38 seconds. A second best for me.
By this point the 3:05 group had passed me but was in sight and I knew I would see Joe soon which was enough excitement to push me a little faster. I spent this mile and the next slowly reeling them in. Shortly after my stop I saw Joe, then my friends about a quarter of a mile later.
I was starting to gain on the pace group but felt like I was struggling. I’m new to racing so that struggle feeling is uncomfortable and I end up backing off quickly unless I’m sufficiently distracted. Something I’m learning to do less of.
Once we were up the last hill I caught to them. I stayed with the pack for a bit not wanting to waste energy passing them just yet.
I took my first bit of “fuel” here. I opted to use honey stinger chews so I could just have one little piece at a time and not a whole gel full of sugar. These also taste fantastic so I “rewarded” myself every so often with one for keeping up the pace. I ended up eating about 5 total of these the whole race, not quite a serving and I was a bit hungry toward the end of the race.
Around mile 8 I broke off from the group. I was still feeling pretty decent here and knowing I only had about 35 minutes to go and that I’d be seeing Joe again very soon made this part go by quickly. Since I had broken off from the group I started looking for people to catch up to and run with for a bit. I still ended up running mostly alone but this helped mentally.
Just before mile 10 I missed Joe, but thanks to affinity for neon race attire, he spotted me easily and was able to snap some great shots. I saw my friends again which made me happy. Once I hit 10, I looked at my watch and allowed myself to start somewhat doing race math. But concentrating on my form and pace plus doing math was too much so I decided to just run instead.
The turn around was near, we went from a downtown area to a residential one and I saw the signs for the half split off and relay. There was a massive group cheering near the relay swap and this was quite a boost! As we turned off from the marathoners the group really thinned out. This was around mile 11. It was just me and a couple other around me. I focused on catching people and running hard. Mile 12 was a lot of headwind but thankfully it was short lived and at the end of the race were I was more focused. These mile were undoubtedly the strongest part of the race for me.
Once I hit mile 12, I knew I was in the home stretch – I had told myself earlier I could slow down at mile 11 (where I started to feel tired and hungry) and still hit my goal but adrenaline took over. I chased down everyone I could and didn’t even think about looking at my watch. I don’t remember what music was playing or even what I was thinking. When we hit the last stretch of the race, it was time to fly – I let myself push it as hard as I could. I did this a little early but seeing Joe again gave me that last little boost to fly to the finish and in the process complete the Strava last mile challenge.
The second I crossed the finish line and scooped up some pretzels (I was super hungry), I texted Joe and my mom then found a cozy little spot on the grass. About a minute later I received a text from Nike about their new racing shoes – it’s like they knew – perfect timing but I was unable to scoop up a pair (also $275 for racing shoes is insane). Once I met up with Joe I took my shoes off and we walked back to the car where I changed then then went back out to the finish area to cheer for our friends doing the marathon.
I’m still over the moon excited to see my hard work pay off. I spend an average of 8-11 hours in the gym or running each week and its not easy to always find or carve out the time. At the beginning of the year, I said my goal was to work hard for the love of the grind. That still holds true.
If you’re still with me, here’s a more technical break down of the race starting with splits:
What went right:
Mental attitude – I felt calm, prepared and no pressure going into this race. I was excited and just overall felt good. Being with a great group prior to the race was key.
Preparation – I had done a lot of races recently leading up to this one. Running hard in that type of environment prepared me well. Specifically the Cherry Blossom race where I ran the exact same pace for 10 miles and felt like I could have kept going. It was a perfect “training” run
Pre-race fueling – I never felt full or bloated and I felt really well hydrated. I drank nuun all day long a couple of days before. The morning of I had a clif bar when I woke up and ate about half a plain bagel in the care ride there
Pre-race recovery and stretching – we all spent a TON of time hanging out downstairs, during which I spent of a lot of time massaging and stretching problem areas. This made me feel so much fresher.
Factors outside of my control – the weather cooperated, the race was cool enough to not overheat but I did lose a lot of fluids
What could have been better:
GI pain – I’m altering my diet a bit more now and trying Imodium for races in hopes that it will keep certain things at bay. 38 seconds is a LOT of time in a race.
Race fueling – I didn’t have the packet of gummies ready to go and fumbled with it a good amount. This cost me about 10-15 seconds and a bit of frustration. I also likely needed a gel because I was actually hungry during the race.
Timing – We should have left earlier, I just assumed there would be more port-a-potties since I heard that there were a ton last year. I was a bit nervous in the line and had to be a jerk so I could pee pre-race. Next time I’ll bring a heat sheet so I can squat in a corner.
Pace – I could have pushed harder in the beginning. I didn’t know this at the time but seeing how the end of the race played out – I had a little more to give.
Taper – No fault of my own here, I didn’t taper at all for this because I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to race, but I think it would have been beneficial.
For the past 3 winters that I’ve lived in New York, I’ve said February is the perfect time to go home and visit my parents. The weather is perfect in Texas right now and brutally cold in New York. This year I decided to go home for a nice relaxing and warm weekend. I lined up my trip with my hometown race as a fun way to get in a long run and do another big city race.
Training-wise, the last few weeks had been going really well but there wasn’t much training leading up to this race. Between recovering from Philly and then getting the flu I had about 6 weeks of speed work under my belt and one run over 12 miles. I had a peak week of 50 miles followed by 49 the week before race week. It was a very condensed “training cycle”.
Race week I was looking at this more of a rust buster than an all out, give it everything race. I got a late start to training so Brooklyn Half was my goal (still is!) race. I opted for a mini taper. I lowered my mileage race week and only did a Tuesday workout, leaving Thursday to just be a fun run. I also took an extra rest day. Tuesday I did 3×2 miles at my goal half pace-ish, these averaged around 7:10 and honestly it felt HARD. If I was going to hit 1:35 at Brooklyn, I had my work cut out for me. I followed this up with a legs-focused weights session at the gym (I aim to make my hard days really hard, easy-easy).
I was excited to head home for a nice, relaxing weekend and the race was sort of an after thought but something I was really excited for anyways – I really love races, I’m able to push myself so much better in this kind of setting than anywhere else and that’s feels good regardless of the result.
When I got on the plane Friday I was worried, my legs were STILL a bit sore from Tuesday. This was not a good sign. I spent the entire flight reading, forgot about my legs, and just relaxed. After an hour and a half delay and having not eaten much – I was more than ready for Tex Mex. My mom picked me up and we hopped around to a few restaurants, finally “settling” on a taco place for dinner – I had an entire bowl of queso and felt quite satisfied. We hung out for a bit, then got Joe from the airport around midnight.
Saturday we did a quick 4 mile shakeout run and I felt okay. I still didn’t have the usual calm and confidence that accompanies a good race for me. I felt flat, still. We headed to the expo to pick up our bibs and for me to register. If I can, I always register last minute for a race – you never know what may come up before the race; injury, illness and even just feeling crappy. I accidentally registered for the full marathon and for a split second I considered it but realized I’ve done ZERO distance training and that’d be a horrendous idea. I joked about it to Joe later who was not at all shocked when I came up and said, “so I registered for the full”.
We shopped around at the expo, got dinner with my parents then went back home to relax and prep for the race.
Joe and I talked about our race plans some but didn’t really study the course map or do too much planning. I was in the corral behind him and we weren’t planning to run similar paces at all so we decided to run separately. I figured I didn’t have much to lose here so I’d go out a bit faster than 7:15, then reign it in on the hills and just see how long I could hold on. I planned a pretty big positive split knowing that there were a couple downhills in the beginning and a boat load of massive uphills at the end (why?!).
Race morning I still felt eh but also pretty uptight and a little nervous. I had my usual clif bar and coffee (which did NOT help with the things it’s supposed to help with). I put on my lucky leggings and socks along with the rest of my gear, rolled out a bit, did my makeup, drank more coffee and then spent way too long in the bathroom trying to make things happen.
We all loaded up in the car, I had some water and munched on Pumpkin Spice cereal. Once we were near the start my mom dropped the three of us off and I dashed towards a porta potty with high hopes which were quickly dashed. This should be interesting, I thought. Time to just hope and pray because I don’t have the best track record here.
Joe and I finished our warm up and made our way to our respective corrals. I told him to just go for it. I quickly found the 3:10 marathon pacer and jumped in beside him. I felt eh the entire time I waited. None of the usual excitement or happy anxiety. I was mentally fatigued already.
At the start I flew past the 3:10 pacer as planned, downhills are an area I’m strong on and I needed to take advantage of this one. Mile one: 6:50. Faster than planned, but I felt fine. I reigned it in for the next mile. I still felt like I was struggling mentally but I faked a big smile and started genuinely enjoying myself until the first hill at mile 4. 7:19. Not bad, I thought. Let’s buckle up, run fast and hold on. I was on track for at least a 10k PR, I knew I needed that because then I could relax. As we approached the end of mile 5, we headed into the Stockyards. Admittedly a cool part of the race, but running on cobblestones for a mile was not something I was looking forward to. I first focused on flying to 6.2, I poured some more gas out of the tank. 6.2; 43:50 – I used the excitement from this to help me keep up the pace.
As we left the Stockyards, I welcomed the paved road again but was greeted with another big hill. I kept going, didn’t look at my watch and focused on making it up to the flat section. I could see the 8 mile marker ahead and at this point I was fading a lot mentally. I looked down once we hit that mile marker and saw that 1:32 was in reach if I could run 7 min miles the entire way home. It wasn’t realistic but I needed something to perk me up.
I could see *THE* hill in the distance. The mile 9 marker was a quarter of the way up that hill. At this point I was running mostly alone, save for a couple of guys here and there. I could see and feel the entirety of the hill. I found a good song and vowed to only look at my watch at the 9 mile mark, then not again until the hill was over. The climb was brutal, my glutes were exhausted already and by the end I wasn’t sure how much they had left.
At this point, I should have taken a gel but I didn’t trust my stomach. There weren’t quite enough port-a-potties for me to feel comfortable doing this.
We made the turn into downtown where there were a few spectators and it started to feel like the home stretch. I looked down at my watch and thought I could slow to 8 min miles and have a PR if I want to quit, and I really wanted to. I was mentally spent. I kept going strong knowing the spot my mom had picked out to look for us was coming up. I climbed up the last big hill and saw her there, I ran harder wanting to at least look like I was still doing okay. I had faded harder mentally and was counting down.
I let the energy from that carry me a little more. I had 2 miles left. My stomach grumbled at me. I had made the right choice not to take a gel. I pushed comfortably hard. Mile 12, it was time to kick it in. This mile was uphill but it didn’t matter, I was almost there.
My favorite part of any race is the finisher shoot. It’s the part where, no matter how tired or how exhausted I am, I find a second wind, a very fast second wind. With half a mile to go I started finding that wind. 1:33 is possible, you’ve got this – give it every last bit of energy. I thought of how I ran 6:50 pace for the last half mile of Philly – I sped up, glanced at my watch – sub-7, keep going, progressively speed up. I turned the last corner, saw the finish line and bolted.
1:33:34 isn’t a time I expected to see any time this year. I’d been training towards 1:35 in May. This was the first race, I’d really poured everything into. And it wasn’t an easy race. With almost 400 ft of elevation gain, most of which is in the back half, it’s the most challenging course I’ve raced.
With that said, it’s time to set goals for the year but at the same time I don’t want to hold myself to any number; I’ve found letting go of the numbers and just running works best for me. I went into 2019 not ready to set any goals but ready to work hard.
That said, this year I want to get into NYCM 2020 by time. I’ve run hundreds of miles through this city. It’s my new hometown race – I may not have grown up here, but I did grow up a lot here. The streets feel like home to me. I love the chaos of running through Chinatown, the solace of the Manhattan bridge, the energy during training season or a nice day on the West Side Highway, and the electricity of Central Park during Marathon week. What better way to embrace all the parts of this city than running 26.2 miles through it.