I can’t believe I am sitting here, the day after my first marathon. ALIVE.
And not only alive, I feel AMAZING! Aside from the expected tight calves and tender feet, I have no joint pain and somehow I am not walking like the living dead.
And emotionally…I am completely elated, overwhelmed, inspired, in awe, still digesting all of what just happened.
I am proud to say that despite ridiculous weather conditions, chilly wind gusts up to 50 MPH, I reached ALL of my goals, in this specific order:
#1 Don’t die.
#2 Don’t sh*t yourself.
#3 Run without pain!
#4 Beat previous half-marathon time. (2:07:20 >>> 2:06:51…I’ll take it!)
#5 Finish in 4:30 hours or under (official time 4:29:57!!!)
#6 Sometimes laugh and sometimes cry because this is happening!
This journey began exactly one year ago on this day. November 3, 2013. I went out to the sidelines to support and cheer on so many friends who were running and in the process fell in love with the entire experience. The whole city, vibrating with positivity and excitement as one to cheer on the incredible physical efforts of 50,000+ people from all over the world, who were all representing myriad causes and goals. I felt my heart leap up into my chest for all of these strangers that I suddenly felt so much pride and respect for, wanting to jump over the barriers and hit the ground running with the best of them. I went home reeling in the post-marathon high that comes from watching everyone else run 26.2 miles (haha) and signed up for my first half-marathon that night. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to do it, but I was going to do it. And despite a heinous winter, I ran my first half enthusiastically in March.
Mile 7 of the NYC Half Marathon March 16, 2014.
Was it exciting? Yes. It was especially thrilling to run through Times Square and proudly represent Team Fox. But full disclosure? I didn’t prep very well for those 13.1 miles. Last winter’s icy vengeance over the city made it incredibly challenging to train AND I was battling a knee injury while continuing to teach 30+ hours of fitness a week. As a result, I suffered knee pain throughout the race and because I didn’t hydrate properly (doh!) I was flattened by severe dehydration which lasted 6 hours post-race. Which was brutal.
Still. Despite the trauma, crossing the finish line for such an incredible cause was utter joy. [Read more about my Half-Marathon experience and WHY I run HERE.] So naturally, mere hours after finishing the NYC Half-Marathon, I opened my computer between convulsions of dehydration and icing my knees and signed up for the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon because that obviously was the most lucid thing to do while still dry heaving from the previous race.
I knew I could do it. But I absolutely needed a better plan. I couldn’t show up November 2nd and just “wing” 26.2 miles.
So I started a training plan in July provided lovingly through Hot Bird Running and Team Fox. And was I perfectly consistent with my training these last 4 months? Hell no. There would be weeks I would be really on top of my running, and weeks that I would fall behind. Life gets in the way sometimes. Or… lack of planning ALLOWS life to get in the way. One of the best things I did organizationally was prioritize my runs based on my work schedule a month in advance. When I would receive my work schedule, I would find the gaps and write in how many miles or how many minutes of cross-training I needed to fit in that day.
I have to admit, it didn’t start to feel “real” until we hit the one month mark.
That’s when I turned up the heat in my training. Excuses lessened. I replaced “It’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s going to rain, I just ate, I don’t have time for a full x-amount of miles” with
“SOME MILES IS BETTER THAN NO MILES”.
This helped tremendously. When I took the pressure off myself to “RUN INTERVALS @ 5 MILES + 1 MILE COOL DOWN OR ELSE YOU ARE A TOTAL LOSER AND ARE WORTHY OF NOTHING”, I found that my running naturally became more enjoyable and consistent. And I would gauge what tactic I would use based on the day. If I found a hill along a course then that day automatically became a “Hill Repeats” day. If I had a lot of energy during my runs, that day would be about intervals. My running was more spontaneous this way, and for me, having a loose plan worked best because I could cultivate my running week based on what I discovered about my environment and my body along my routes. I was responding in the moment instead of dreading “Hill Repeats” all day. And isn’t that what running a 26.2 mile race is all about anyway? There is no possible way to prepare for everything you could ever experience during a marathon (like dodging empty Poland Springs cups coming at you from every direction every other mile at each water station…unless your friends run ahead of you on practice runs and simulate this experience by throwing cups at you), so being in tune with and responding to what your body is telling you throughout the course of 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours is essential.
During my runs, I would pay attention to when I was hitting certain walls and tried to decode why (Not enough sleep, not enough water, too fast right out the gate, aggressive hills, heat, sore from workout, etc) and after my runs I would log very specific details.
Route: Where did I run from and to?
Temperature/Weather: How hot? How cold? Wind? Sun? Locusts?
Pre-run nutrition: What did I eat pre-run and did it give me fuel? Or did I end my run hungry? Or did it make my tummy angry? I discovered eating a banana with almond butter in a gluten free wrap or a gluten free English Muffin with turkey sausage pre-run was the best choice for me.
Attire: Was my attire too hot for conditions? Not enough layers? Too cumbersome? Just right? Any chafing? Even paying attention to what pockets were in what shirt or shorts was very helpful in planning longer runs. And this way I was prepared with an array of things I knew I could, and better yet could NOT run 26.2 miles in comfortably in a variety of temperatures/conditions.
Hydration: Did I run with water today? If so when did I hydrate, and how often? After 2 miles? 3 miles? How did that effect my run?
How I Felt Overall: When did I feel strongest? When did I hit a wall? Was I really dragging today? Was it really enjoyable and effortless? Did I experience any joint pain? Aches? Cramps? Did my stomach get upset? That last one is huge for me because I battled runner’s IBS for a long time UNTIL I started taking notes and realized it had to do with eating gluten/dairy/sugar pre-run, and most importantly STAYING HYDRATED while I ran.
Running in August and September in 80+ degree weather was the toughest for me. Using Nuun tablets in my water 30 minutes prior to a run were essential in helping me keep my electrolytes, glycogen and salt levels normal while I sweat my life away.
I bought this small handheld water bottle with pouch attached at the Running Company in Columbus Circle to help hydrate me through longer (5+ mile) runs so I didn't have to worry about finding water along the way.
Purchasing a Garmin to track my pace and distance was one of the BEST things I did for myself during training. I highly recommend it because it kept me honest on my runs and was so helpful in recognizing where I was fatiguing, where I needed to push harder and when I needed to pull back. Also the GPS tracking is so much more accurate and reliable than any iPhone app. In fact, the first day I decided to tackle to Queensboro bridge for a 5 mile run, my Map My Run app crashed half way through without me knowing and by the time I realized I nearly cried. I knew then and there that I needed something more reliable and I marched out and bought a Garmin the very next day.
Also I LOVED my shoes. Just enough support but not too bulky. I’ve trained for and finished both a half and a full in the Brooks Ravenna 5. For the marathon, I went with a special Lady Foot Locker edition that I had to search high and low for because they are ORANGE which is the TEAM FOX COLOR. I knew it would help me run faster across the finish line. 🙂 If you live in NYC I cannot recommend visiting Jack Rabbit Sports enough for shoes. They are so knowledgeable, will throw you on a treadmill with a specialist right by your side, evaluate your gait, stride, heel strike, etc and get you the best pair of shoes for your feet.
On non-running days I cross-trained with kettlebell and bodyweight plyometric circuits (think kettlebell swings, burpees, push-ups, planks, squats, lateral lunges) and once a week did some heavy lifting (deadlifts, barbell backsquats, loaded reverse lunges, etc). And taking days OFF (something that was very challenging for me to accept) was equally integral to eliminating injury throughout training.
Now, here is a confession that I am not proud of, and wasn’t brave enough to admit until I crossed the finish line:
I NEVER RAN A LONG RUN.
I said it.
Traditionally you should run at LEAST an 18-miler and if you can, a 20-miler.
The longest distance I ran until yesterday in training was *GULP* one, single solitary 13 miler.
At first, I was incredibly ashamed of this and was so embarrassed that I actually flat-out lied to most of my friends faces (I’m SO SORRY I’m a liar, please don’t judge meeeee) when they asked excitedly what mile I had gotten up to in training. “18-ishhhhhh*…”
But I’ve been sitting here, reflecting on my marathon experience, how wonderful I feel, how well I can walk today, how I ran with NO PAIN yesterday (aside of course from the normal tight calves and cramping Achilles around mile 20 and sore feet), and all in under 4.5 hours AGAINST ridiculous weather conditions. I maintained a 4 hour marathon pace until about mile 15 and slowed a little bit because of fatigue but never really averaged higher than a 10 minute mile.
As a fitness professional, this pleases me, this pleases me a great deal because it proves the theory that I secretly was hoping to prove that
you do NOT need to OVER-RUN in order to train for a marathon.
It shows the incredible value in cross-training and building strength in your legs, glutes and abs, and taking care of your joints in the process, saving the real mileage for the day of.
This is not to say there isn’t value in a long run. I think it’s wonderful preparation mentally, and also helps you to learn what your body needs to sustain itself on long runs as far as nutrition, hydration, endurance and strength. For my own sanity I totally wished I had in fact gotten one long run in, just so I had the assurance that I could. Because I didn’t complete a long run, I was undoubtedly nervous before I started yesterday simply because I had NO IDEA how my body would respond past mile 13. It was a gamble, to say the least. But I knew if I paced myself well, kept myself hydrated, and ran in a relatively straight line I would survive. And I did! More than that, I genuinely ENJOYED every mile of my experience. Yes. Shit got REAL at mile 20. But I never felt the will to live leaving my body. In fact it was the exact opposite. The longer I ran, the more inspired I became. The key to my survival, I believe, is that when I wasn’t out pounding pavement during runs I was in the gym training consistently with weights at high intensity intervals, as close to anaerobic as possible. I cannot stress enough how much this improved my endurance, in both the cardiovascular and muscular sense.
So. I know what you’re thinking. If you’re anything like me last year, you’re thinking:
Oh my gosh, 26.2 miles. I could never…No. That’s lunacy. I could never run a marathon. Ever.
I mean, right?
Aside from any major illness inhibiting you from running, any movement dysfunction that needs to be corrected first, or any current injuries, the answer in my opinion is
If you WANT to. You first and foremost MUST have the drive and the will, because it is what gets you through when your body wants to stop. Secondly, you must prepare. Get a coach, a personal trainer and a great physical therapist on your side to help you through your training. Use friends who’ve finished marathons as resources. Get the proper shoes, gear, attire that will make training runs successful. Set an attainable goal, like my #1 goal of not dying, for instance. Then don’t stop. It’s consistency and practice. Quite literally one foot in front of the other. Times a bajillion. Find a mantra. FIND YOUR WHY. Recite that mantra. Learn your body. Explore your limits. And break through those barriers. And most importantly…smile…
…All the way to the finish line.
Elizabeth is a personal trainer at Mark Fisher Fitness in Midtown NYC, where she teaches Ninjas (clients) how to swing kettlebells and become their strongest selves under disco balls while listening to Broadway show tune remixes with enthusiasm, positivity and love. She is thankful for her Ninja army who helped her power through the last few miles of the race with their incredible spirit at mile marker 23.
What was this day like EMOTIONALLY?
Tune in for Part 2 where I talk about the sights, sounds and inspiration on the actual course!