Every marathon hopeful is confronted with the 20 mile training run. You have to determine: if you are going to do it; when you are going to do it; and how many times you are going to do it. Well, when I saw the above notice for an organized 20-miler in NYC, I decided that I would do my one 20 mile run with JackRabbit, a prominent running and triathlon store in NYC. The run was advertised to commence at JackRabbit in Union Square and we would stop at the other store locations on the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, Brooklyn and then back to Union Square. Some of the members of my marathon group decided to do it too. So we embarked on this adventure together.
Of course if you are running 20 miles you can only hope that everything outside of your control lines up perfectly because running that kind of distance is a hard enough challenge by itself. So naturally after waking before daylight, Accuweather tells me that it is going to start raining in 23 minutes. Sweet!!!
I took the train into Manhattan with two members of the team, Janet and Jazz. And of course we are approached by someone who looks like she could be Ann Margaret, who tells us we are raising the sound barrier and that a person named Susan Davis is laying down with white supremacists. We back away from the woman but she near chases us down in Penn Station. Janet promptly takes responsibility for being a magnet for the unstable but we let her continue to hang with us anyway. We meet up with our other two teammates and proceed to Union Square. We got there early and when the store opened we got ourselves together and received a pep talk from this gentleman.
He went over the course (I was not paying much attention to that part) and then he imparted some wisdom. He told us that something interesting was going to happen between miles 17 and 20. I perked up for this part of the speech. What was going to happen? Was it the infamous wall? Would we have a meltdown? He must have seen the look of alarm on our faces because then he said, “It’s good, it’s good.” Great, at least I have something to look forward to on this long trek. We then huddled with our pace groups. I was with the 11 minute mile plus group. So what if we were the slowest group.
So before we leave our fearless pace group leader announces that he is not wearing a watch so will not know exactly what pace we are running.
But then he said we will be taking our time because our goal is to finish regardless of time. Okay, I was good with that. Then of course the man takes off like a rocket for the first mile. Yikes!!! I was a little concerned because I had no idea of the route because this Einstein had not been listening. Anyway, someone sent our pacer a memo and he slowed down during mile 2. Now up until that point it was raining but it was more drizzly than anything. However, at some point while we were on the West Side Highway the skies completely opened up into monsoon mode. It was a little uncomfortable but we were on a bike/running path with very little pedestrian traffic.
After 4 miles we arrived at the Upper West Side store. They were playing “The Final Countdown.” I was stoked. It was nice to get out of the rain for a minute and they had water, gu and a concoction they were calling “gu brew.” I tasted the brew, it wasn’t bad but I didn’t have too much just in case it upset my stomach. I chowed down on a couple of Sport Beans. I love those things.
Pace leader then announced that we were leaving and gave us a choice of two different routes that both involved Central Park. I told him he should just go with the one with the least hills. So of course, some teacher’s pet group member said, “Hills will make us stronger.” Now pace leader looks at me and announces that because of my statement we will go the hilliest route. Insert big eye roll. So off we go to the roller coaster they call Central Park. And yes it was crazy hilly in the pouring rain. After exiting the park we soon arrived at JackRabbit Upper East Side. Now this is when I realize that we were going to have to run 9 straight miles through Manhattan into Brooklyn for our third stop.
And this is where things start to get dodgy. Now we are running down Lexington Avenue from 85th Street all the way downtown … and again I say, in the pouring rain. Picture this. The sidewalks are narrow and packed with people and wait for it … it is pouring rain. So now we are trying to get by pedestrians and we are puddle jumping off and onto the curb at every intersection … and not clearing all of those puddles I might add. By the time we got to the Manhattan Bridge we had lost four members of our pace group for various reasons. Running across the Manhattan Bridge was no joke and the loud and boisterous train that crosses it didn’t make it any more pleasant. Anyway, kudos to Pace Leader, because he was upbeat the entire time and made sure no one got left behind. Finally we were in Brooklyn and we were on a mission to get to the Brooklyn store.
We ran down Flatbush Avenue and saw members of a faster pace group. They were on their way back to Manhattan. They cheered us on and were high fiving us. This was good and bad. Good because they looked excited and fresh so the store had to be close. It was bad because I wished that I too was on my way back to Manhattan. But even though we had to be close to the store it just wouldn’t show itself. We were supposed to get there at mile 15 but that marker came and went. By the time we finally got there my watch was reading 15.4 miles. Now I’ll be honest. I was feeling pretty wrecked by the time we got to the store. But we had come this far. We lost four more at the store. When we went back out to hit the streets, Jazz gave us a good pep talk and another group member suggested that we slow it down and run the last five miles together. So we left seven strong.
As we passed Juniors restaurant, I recalled the season of Making the Band when P. Diddy made the band walk to Juniors from Manhattan to fetch him cheesecake. I felt bad for them at the time. Now I was thinking, puhlease, at least he didn’t make them run in a monsoon.
My little escape from reality didn’t last very long because soon we were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in all of its steep inclined glory. That climb was really tough. But we made it.
At this point I had to dig deep to get to the end. But we had passed mile 17 and so I was waiting for the mile 17 to 20 magic to occur as promised by our cheerleader. Once we got into Chinatown, it was apparent to me that this run was going to be longer than 20 miles. Scroll back up to Arnold’s image. This couldn’t be possible because I didn’t think I could go one extra step but my watch was registering 19 miles and I knew we weren’t that close to the Union Square store. So now I was getting annoyed because I didn’t want to run any more and there was no magic. But we plugged along and when I turned onto 14th Street, magic occurred. I got energy out of nowhere and started moving because I knew the store was close. When I saw a familiar cafe, I yelled to Janet, “We’re almost there!” And before you know it we were. My watch had us at 20.85 miles. The people in the store cheered us in. We did it!!!
We changed our clothes. I am so glad that I thought to bring a change of clothing but realized that I should have brought a change of shoes and socks too. I purchased a pair of socks from the store and they were thick enough to assist a little with my soaking wet running shoes. JackRabbit provided a nice bagel and coffee spread. I was starving and scarfed down my bagel and then we hopped on the subway. And of course as we exited the subway car at Penn Station another mentally unstable person approached Janet and gave her an earful. But we let her continue to hang with us anyway.
I have to say thank you and kudos to JackRabbit for providing this complimentary training run. And a special shout out goes to Chris, our pace leader. He did a great job.
Zooma Annapolis promised to be a great race. Zooma puts on a series of women’s races across the country and its slogan is Run, Laugh, Celebrate. You could run a 10K or a Half Marathon. It sounded like the perfect race for Black Girls Run to participate in, after all we are a women’s running group and Zooma was pulling out all the stops with a pre-race day mocktail party, access to all-weekend yoga and post race massages. They even had a PR program set up so that runners who achieved their personal best or ran their first half marathon would receive a special medal. And, I got to meet the BGR visionaries Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey. What’s not to love, right?
Wrong. I have renamed this race “Zooma Annapol-hades: The Hilly Hot Mess.” Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad if you exclude the actual race from the equation … yeah you know, the real purpose of the event. There was a nice little expo going during packet pick-up, where I got my Achilles taped with Kinesio tape. We enjoyed a well thought out pre-race day dinner that appeared as a special on the host hotel’s menu before taking a stroll through beautiful downtown Annapolis.
We were enjoying Annapolis and all was good in the world until the actual race. Since the race started at 7:00 a.m., we left the hotel close to 6:00 a.m. but not before I had to re-tape my achilles. The expo taping didn’t make it through the night. The walk to the start line at the Naval Stadium was around 3/4 of a mile and was a pretty good warm up. At the stadium, there weren’t any corrals and there didn’t seem to be all that many women at the start line. I heard that most of the runners seemed to be lined up at the porta-potties but I couldn’t see the potties from where I was standing. Then the strangest thing happened. It was 7:00 a.m. and nothing seemed to be happening and so I figured the race was starting late. Anyway, a few moments later I heard the announcer excitedly say, “You’re almost at the start line.” What? The race had started? No anthem? No gun? No “On your marks, get set, go?” Nothing! No national anthem. For a race starting in the Naval town and on U.S. Navy property? That might have been an omen.
I was completely caught off guard, I tried to set my Garmin but it wouldn’t pick up a satellite. I crossed the start and began to run. It was hard to get into a rhythm because half of the runners were walking and so I had to try to run round a slew of people. It was hot but I started to feel good after the first mile. There was a water station before mile two but I didn’t it see until it was too late. So I figured I’d catch the next one. It was no big deal since I had just been drinking water at the start line. By mile three we had run a few hills and the heat started to feel oppressive. By the time we got to mile 3.5 I was parched and started to yell, “Where’s the water?” At mile 4 I saw this monster ahead of me.
Now this picture doesn’t even do the incline on that bridge justice. So now I’m panicking because I don’t see myself running this bridge without water. But a few moments later I spotted a water station up ahead. Relief wasn’t even the word. I get to the table and I pick up a cup … it’s empty. I grab another … empty. Yikes. I realize that the volunteer is pouring the water and there are only three or four cups of water in front of him and the demand was high. I ran behind the table so I was right next to the volunteer and grabbed some water. Desperate times called for desperate measures. I continued to run and passed the 10K turnaround on the bridge.
After clearing the bridge there was a monstrosity of a hill that made the bridge beast look like a walk in the park. After making it to the top of that hill, in not such fine form, I came upon an other water station. This time, there were no cups on the table. I actually don’t even really remember seeing a table. But I do recall that the volunteer was pouring cups of water and handing them out one by one while we waited on a line. What? This time I waited patiently for my water. I believe that was after mile 5.
A mile and half later, I hit a real hydration station that was equipped with Cytomax (Yuck, I guess Gatorade can’t sponsor all the races) and water. At this point, I was at the top of another nasty hill, it was blazing hot and I was mad that I didn’t turn around at the 10K mark. I informed the volunteer that I would be double fisting my Cytomax to which he graciously responded by telling me to take whatever I needed. I then grabbed a cup of water and took off at slow trot. I usually get a feeling of empowerment when I pitch my cup to the ground but now we were in a residential area and I reluctantly tossed my empty cup to the side and it wound up on someone’s lawn (that was a downer). Soon after, I hit the half marathon turn around mark. This should have been a joyous moment but all I could think was that I had to do this whole thing over … and it was HOT. After about maybe a half mile, there was another hydration station. Craziness. I had water though because I wasn’t sure when I’d see another one of these sporadic water stations.
By mile 8 I was in a bad way and I felt a hand on my back. It was one of my BGR sisters, Lisa. She literally pushed me up a hill. Bless her heart. I tried to enjoy the downhill but found I was struggling through that too. My knee was starting to hurt and I decided to take a walk break. WHAT??? I don’t walk my races, the main reason being because I just don’t do the run-walk thing well. Once I stop running, it’s hard for me to start up again. But at this point my time had already gone to pot and I didn’t want to get injured or pass out from heat exhaustion. So I began my run-walk journey, which was more like walk with sparse jogging intervals. I didn’t feel so bad though because most of the people around me were walking too. Lisa tried to get me going a couple of times but I wasn’t really hearing it.
At around mile 10, a police officer told us that we should turn left.The road looked blocked because there were cars on it but another runner confirmed that we should make the left. Now this whole part of the course was really weird. There were cars, two hydration stations within mile 11 and a make shift turnaround involving one solitary cone on the right side of the road (not even the entire road). The course doubled back to where the police officer was standing and then went back to the stadium. I was really punchy in mile 12. I was thoroughly enjoying my iPod and began to serenade a police officer, “You are in my system, Oh oh oh, you arrrre in my sys-tehehem.” Yeah! Lisa had to come and get me. When we hit mile 13, there was a steep little hill leading us into the stadium parking lot. How obnoxious! As I approached the finish line a couple of runners sprinted past me. Well I was having none of it. I ran as fast as I could manage and rebel yelled through the finish line. Real class. People took notice though. Jennean was crossing the finish line, albeit with a time of 2:42:15.
Post-race. That’s right I’m still not finished. I was handed a bottle of water and my finisher’s necklace. My phone refused to take a decent picture of the necklace.
Even though I knew we were getting a necklace instead of a medal, I was a little disappointed. The back says, “Zooma 2013.” This brings me to medalgate. Zooma had a PR program where first time half marathoners and those who ran their personal best half marathon received a real medal (it was a very nice one). There was a long line of people waiting for medals and scuttle was that they began to tell runners that they would not receive a PR medal because the course was .25 mile short and so they didn’t have real PRs. What!?! First of all, it is a wonder that anyone even came close to a PR under those race conditions. They would have had a real problem on their hands if I had run myself into the ground to get a PR, only to be told that I couldn’t get one because they had me run a short course. The distance came up short on my Garmin but I attributed that to the fact that I started it late.
We also picked up our swag after the race. That was awkward. We received yoga mats and a metal water bottle (I think because I still haven’t opened the box). While this is some good swag, we had just run 13 miles and had to lug this unbagged stuff around post race. “AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT.” It was extremely difficult to handle the swag, the necklace and post race fueling. To the fuel. They had snack boxes but I had to pass on the mayonnaised meat that was in there and the neon white pita bread thingies. I just ate the apple and downed a Muscle Milk. At least the apple was tasty. I didn’t see any massages or yoga. I just saw long lines and confusion. So we decided to head back to the host hotel. YIKES!!! Now we had to lug this stuff almost a mile on achy legs. We did approach an ambulance driver for a ride but he said we didn’t want to go where he would be taking us. It was a long walk back to the hotel and I did my best impression of an ice bath with very little ice before leaving Zooma behind. I will not be looking in the rearview for this race.
To be fair to Zooma, they issued an apology and explanation for the short course. Like to see it? Here it goes. http://zoomarun.com/2013/06/zooma-annapolis-post-race-recap/
I received an email from them this evening offering a $20 discount for any Zooma Half Marathon in 2013 or 2014, $12 off any off their 10ks or $10 off a 5K.
I think I’ll cut my losses. On to the next one, The Oakley Mini 10K on Saturday.
I was a little nervous going into this race. Let’s face it, I’m nervous at every race. When I got up it was raining and so I wasn’t super excited about that. My rain gear consists of a brimmed cap, period. I had a banana and some water for breakfast. That’s as much as I can stomach before a race. You are not supposed to deviate from whatever you’ve been doing on your training runs when going into a race. However, I do most of my training runs on empty, which really can’t be a good thing. So, I sometimes I do the banana thing because I know I’m supposed to fuel the tank before a run. I’m still working on my running fuel.
Speaking of fuel, I tried out Bikram Yoga the day before the race. I knew that was a risky proposition but I’ve been wanting to do it for so long and I was up early enough to make it, so I went. It was cool, well not really cool because they heat the room to 105 degrees. But it was an interesting experience. Who knew stretching could be so strenuous? I was dripping sweat early in the session. Due to the yoga water loss, I tried my best to rehydrate during the course of the day and decided that I would stop at all the hydration stations during the race. Otherwise, would probably only stop at one or two for a 6 mile run.
The race was in my favorite place to run, [cue sarcasm] Central Park. So I knew there were going to be rough times ahead. I am so unfamiliar with Central Park that I never quite know where I’m going so I followed a guy who looked familiar with his surroundings. I checked my bag and started off to my corral and was greeted by this sight:
Yes, an obscenely long line of porta potties. I could immediately hear angels singing and all was well in the running world. If you’re around runners long enough, you’ll realize that runners can get obsessed with porta potties … they are our friends. My personal feelings toward porta potties could be described as a love/hate relationship and so I was thankful that I didn’t need to make a visitation.
Race corrals sort the runners so the fastest runners are in the front and the slowest are in the back. My corral was so far back that they didn’t even put out a number for it. So, I went to the last corral and waited for the gun, which occurred right after the national anthem was sung. I think the singer of the anthem may have been having a bad day. That’s all I have to say about that. Then the race began.
When we finally crossed the start line, the woman in front of me saw family and/or friends cheering for her and decided to stop and cut across to greet them. There is always one. This happened during the Scotland Run but I have to say that this race was not congested like that one. Maybe they made the running lane wider. After getting by the greeter, I was off to a good start. I was feeling great and oops, I missed the first hydration station. It was less than a mile out and by the time I saw it I was too far to the right to cross over and safely get water. No worries, I was having a wonderful time and figured this is probably how Mo Farah feels when he’s running but decided to run closer to my left so as not to miss the other stations. Cat Hill was conquered and I caught the next hydration station and before knew it mile two was completed.
At this rate, I was looking at a PR. I was a little hot and sweaty and considered tossing my hat. No chance. I paid good money for that. But I felt like my form was good and was picturing myself bounding along like a gazelle and then … stop the presses. Before me was the ugliest hill ever. As I started to tackle it, I thanked God that I stopped at he last station. Then I realized that what I thought was the top of the hill was not, it just seemed to keep going and going. Then, I saw a woman about 50 meters in front of me throw up her hands in victory. At this point I’m dying and I’m thinking, “Does this idiot not realize that we still have almost four miles to go?” Then it dawn on me that she was celebrating the fact that she had finally reached the top of the hill. I was encouraged and kept going and sure enough I too was on top of the world. Yay, turns out I had just run Harlem Hill. I tried to enjoy the downhill but I was so wiped from the climb that even that seemed hard. I started to get my legs back and BAM, another hill. At this point, I realize I am sweating like crazy and I am not liking this race.
By the time I got to the third hydration station, I walked through it and made sure I got good drink. I had a hard time getting my running rhythm back, which is why I don’t like to stop a the hydration stations and if I do I try to keep running even if it is at a much slower pace. And of course there were more hills. I passed quite a few people who were walking. I was almost at mile four when I got to the fourth hydration station and I walked through but got most of the water on my face anyway because I just didn’t have the energy to focus on swallowing it. Mercifully the next mile wasn’t so bad but by this time I was so tired and was mad at myself for the whole Bikram yoga thing. I didn’t even see the five mile marker but I did stop at the fifth hydration station. I was probably delirious. I remember seeing the 800 meter marker and equating it to twice around the track. Quantifying that way just made it seem more attainable. When I finally crossed the finish line I started to feel light headed. I grabbed more water and wished it was Gatorade. A guy told me to take a bagel and said it tasted like French toast. I nibbled on the bagel. The guy lied. I managed to retrieve my bag from the baggage check and broke out my trusty chocolate milk. Bye, bye bagel. The milk was still cold and just a few sips hit the spot. For me, there is nothing like chocolate milk for post race recovery. I was still thirsty for Gatorade and remembered that I had a six pack in my trunk. I whipped out the GPS to figure out how to get out of the park and that’s when I realized that even after all of that pounding my achilles felt fine. Maybe Bikram wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I just won’t be doing it the day before a race. Turns out humidity was at 97%, so maybe all that sweating wasn’t from the Bikram class.
Next stop: THE BROOKLYN HALF MARATHON on May 18th … yes next week. And yes, I’m nuts.