New York City Marathon recap

It’s been a while, but I was chugging along with the marathon training.  And I say chugging because it was an up and down process, especially the long runs.  I did my last long run (before the taper)  and it was exhausting–more exhausting on the mind than on the body.

I had to stop several times just to regroup and talk myself into finishing.  I don’t run with headphones as I have yet to find ones that are both comfortable and stay put.

If I daydream too much I end up tripping and falling on something so I need to pay attention to where I put my feet.  My mental entertainment was birdwatching (which often means stopping and looking) and avoiding scat while trying to figure out whose poop (lots of urban wildlife in Calgary).

In early September Calgary had an early and heavy snowfall.  When I woke up and saw the blanket of snow, I cussed the sky and used my free voucher for a session at the local gym.  I had been avoiding joining the gym for a while because the prices here are definitely not Planet Fitness or Blink.  But with the snow and desire to maintain my training schedule, I had no choice.  There is also Orange Theory, but I am not into the whole group-fitness-personal-trainer thing.  Having a coach and group workouts towards goals of running faster and farther seem different, maybe it is because it is what I am used to.  But to me, these new era group fitness things seem too bling and whistle and bell for my comfort.

With all of the training behind me–hours of mentally and physically taxing long runs as well as trials with nutrition strategies–I was ready to toe the proverbial line on the Verrazano Bridge, probably one of the most iconic marathon starts.

Prior efforts

I attempted the marathon twice before.  In 2006, I had to walk most of the race–from about mile 10 onwards, due to GI issues.  I got what felt like a gas bubble in the throat that never seemed to go away.  It made breathing hard and therefore running difficult.  However I vowed to finish no matter what.  I also vowed to run a “redemption marathon” where I would run the whole thing.

Ten years forward and I entered the 2016 race.  I entered via the lottery and remember the odd feeling of seeing the charge pending on my credit card–knowing that I got in but was awaiting the confirmation.  I got in, elation quickly turned to what-did-I-get-myself-into.  Like getting that grant, yay! I got the money.  Now I have to do the work…

I trained that summer but did not necessarily focus on nutrition.  I used some energy chews.  I ran to Coney Island–ending at the beach was always refreshing; ran to Riis Beach and did a couple of long runs loosely following the marathon route through Williamsburg and Queens. Things seemed to work fine until my final long (20 mile) training run where the throat bubble appeared. Frantic, I booked appointments with a GI and got an endoscopy done which was negative for anything significant. I had not idea what it was and why it happened (again).  I became afraid of the energy gels and blocks and opted for more “natural solutions,” like dates and activated charcoal.

That year I started the race without incident and felt fine, but was very hesitant about drinking or eating anything (which is a big no-no in marathon running, especially on a warmer day).  I almost passed out on the Queensborough Bridge and found myself in an ambulance for about an hour.  Determined to get my medal, I walked 10 miles to the finish.

Like the race 10 years before, I was with the walkers.  When you are with the walkers, it feels like a lonelier race as the crowds are thinner, the water stations are collapsed (there are less tables and volunteers handing out water), the bananas are done, and, with daylight savings time, the darkness comes early.  Walking those two races make me appreciate the persistence of those who walk most of their races–the ability to keep it moving without the support of the crowds that the NYC Marathon is famous for.

I wanted to experience the thrill of the crowds, I wanted to experience the famous wall of sound when coming of the Queensborough Bridge. So I resolved to run the race again.

In 2017 I ran nine NYRR races and volunteered for one (the 9 plus one) for guaranteed entry to the 2018 Marathon.  I registered.  I anticipated the training all year and Googled the heck out of my symptoms in order to try nutrition strategies.  July rolled around and it was time to start the 18 week training.

Through all of my Internet doctor work, I settled on my self-diagnosis of GERD affecting my run–that marathon running was triggering acid reflux.  I have acid reflux off and on but that it also affected my running was like revelation.  The symptoms–lump in throat feeling, burning sensation–fit.  I also started to pay attention to how what I ate affected how I felt and connected wheat products to producing gas–constant belching. I know, not pretty but heck, it’s physiology. I decided to focus on using “gluten free” energy gels and limiting wheat in my diet.  I also paid more attention to FODMAP in foods (see link, too much to explain) and see which of the FODMAPS contributed to the gassy, indigesty, bloaty sensations.  I stated to limit my diet, stopped eating bread and other wheat products, opted for gluten free foods (never thought I would ride on that bandwagon) and limited wine during the last two weeks up to the marathon…the latter being the most challenging.

Fueling strategy 

My fuels of choice became GU–salted caramel and HUMA–mango (even though mango is a high FODMAP food, the mango FODMAP does not seem to produce symptoms) and the strawberry-lemonade HUMA plus.  I also tried a pre-run drink of CarboPro or Trailwind, with the latter ending up being the go-to.  I did this strategy a couple of times with very little symptoms.  So, I opted to do that on marathon day.

Marathon week

I did my last couple of training runs during the taper week and days leading up to my flight back home to NY (NY will always be home).  I have always loved marathon week.  It is one of those events for me that signal a season.  When I was younger I spent hours volunteering for the marathon until I eventually got one of the coveted finish line spots.  The finish line spots meant more visibility, more critical tasks and, importantly, better swag.  While I never got a pair of sneakers, I did get a cool Gore-Tex jacket one year.  I didn’t run the marathon back then because I enjoyed working the finish line so much.

Going to the Expo always brings back memories of the energy the marathon brought to NY during that week.  Even with NY always being an energetic city, the marathon brings its own energy with the international runners and mobilizing tons of volunteers across the boroughs.  I also remember days of yore when you got tons of free stuff–even technical socks. I would leave the expo with bags of goodies. Not so much now, but it is still fun to check out all of the both new and tried-and-true running accoutrements. I picked up my T-Shirt and debated on whether or not to buy marathon swag to wear back in Calgary.

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Marathon eve

The day before the marathon is a time to rest and prepare for the race.  In the week up to the marathon, much of my meals consisted of steam jasmine rice with a little butter or coconut oil, chicken or Alberta beef with just salt and pepper and plenty of fluids (no alcoholic).  Bland, bland, bland. Hard to be back home and not able to eat a slice of pizza.

I ate my last meal around 7 pm to give enough time for digestion.  There would also be several hours between waking and running the next day so I planned my breakfast–overnight oatmeal that consisted of water and a little maple syrup.  I don’t like cold cereal so I nuked it in the morning. I also brought a banana and a bottle full of Trailwind with me to the start village.

I laid out my running outfit–PPTC shirt, compression tights, compression calf sleeves, my Smartwool socks in which I did much of my training runs, gloves, sneakers, headband, running belt and the throwaway clothing to keep warm before the race. These clothes are donated to Goodwill. I went to bed but had an anxious sleep.  However the night before I got the better sleep, which is optimal.

Race day 

*Deep breath* here it is. Eighteen weeks of training and obsessing over my GI would culminate on this day.  I took an antiacid in the morning and ate my oatmeal.  I met my friend and headed to the ferry for the schlep to the start at Staten Island.

It was a beautiful morning, the sun was casting a red hue over the lower harbor and Statue of Liberty.  The ferry was full of anxious and chatty runners already for our five borough running tour.  We disembarked and the ferry, took some busses and entered the start village–security and cute bomb-sniffing “hold your bag low so he can smell it” dogs all around.

View of the Statue of Liberty and the Ferry full of runners

Entering the village I stopped at the loo–I have been hydrating so needed several visits before the start. I found the PPTC tree and proceeded to prepare for my race.  I donned my fuel belt and placed 8 gels–four HUMA and four GUs–extra antiacid, my iPhone and tissues inside.

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Start Village

It was time for my wave.  Well I missed my wave (wave 2) because I did not hear the announcement, but like other wave 2ers in my situation, we just ran with wave 3.  We moved up to the bridge, I was quite close to the start because I was in Coral A.  On the way I picked up a discarded Sharpie and scribbled “you got this” and “STRENGTH” on my left forearm.

Starting line and clothing discarded on the bridge

The cannon when off and we were off.  I felt good.  As I closed in on the three mile mark, I opened a GU and took a small sip and then grabbed a little water.  My strategy–sip a little and sip often.  I took a little gel and a little water at almost every water station.  I found the HUMA has a more easier consistency than the GU. I also noticed my energy ebb and flow along with the fueling, I seemed to feel a surge kick in at about 10 minutes after each feed.  My stomach seemed to hold up.  While I felt gassy at times that required some slowing, I managed to burp it out.

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Looking and feeling good at mile 14.5

I approached and passed the 8 mile mark where I started to slow down during the 2006 race.  This is also the spot from where I watch the race when I am not running it. I fed on the energy of the crowds and kept moving.  As I approached the QB bridge, I took a little extra HUMA and a couple of deep breaths.  It was a slow climb up.  By now, my knees were feeling painful so it was hard on the downhill part, but I passed and kept it moving and heard the 1st AVE crowds towards the end of the bridge.

I experienced the wall of cheers.  It was AWESOME.  I was in pain but it kept me moving.  I looked at my Sharpie motivators on my arm and kept it moving. By now I realized that I would be doing this, I would be RUNNING this marathon.  I kept running but had to do walk/runs towards the end of the race because my left leg was in pain. I kept with my fueling strategy up to the last 3 miles.  I entered Central Park.  The finish line was close.  However, this was the grindier part of the race with the rolling hills.  I walked/jogged up and jogged down.  When I entered the part again at Columbus Circle, I was elated.  I saw the finish line.  I ran to the lights. I finished! I got my medal.  I kissed my medal.  I took some pictures (which I almost never do).  My marathon done!!!!

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Well done race and well earned medal!

Now I am planning my next race…

Marathon tips (especially with those sensitive GI people):

  1. Practice fueling strategies especially if you have a sensitive GI.  Whatever works, stick to it on race day, don’t be drawn to the blinky lights of new stuff you may come across at the Expo.
  2. Opt for the gluten free options.  The more basic the fuel the more likely it will be gentle on the stomach.
  3. Hydrate during the days leading up to the marathon. Drink water and hydration drinks. Try to avoid the sugary drinks as they may do the opposite. Monitor your urine to make sure it is a pale (even with vitamin supplements, it will be brighter in color but still pale).
  4. Stick to your fueling strategy on race day.  As appealing as the orange and banana slices (along with the occasional beer offered), don’t do it.  When you cross the finish line, you will be able to eat anything to your heart’s content.
  5. The mantra “nothing new on marathon day” rings true.  Everything I wore was familiar and comfortable, even down to my underwear :).
  6. Always remember that no matter what, “you got this.” Trust your training.
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