Closing out 2017

I know it’s already February, and some people might think that the ship has sailed on end-of-year bloops. But hopefully none of those people are here, and if they are, they’re free to move along. Maybe my blog posts just like to be fashionably late?

So. 2017. In retrospect, this year was really focused on race experiences more than goal times. I started out the year in questionable fashion, battling a nasty bout of piriformis syndrome in January and February after not quitting a long run when I should have because finishing that run would mean breaking 60 miles/week for the first time. In retrospect, that was real dumb, as running those last 11 miles on a bum piriformis (lol, pun intended) took me out of commission for 6-7 weeks, during which there were a LOT fewer than 60 miles/week. You’d think I’d know better than to let the numbers be the boss of me by this point. By early March, my butt was feeling much better but my training had taken enough of a hit that I dropped from the Whale Challenge (8K + marathon) at Shamrock to the Dolphin Challenge (8K + half-marathon). But that turned out kind of awesome because 1) the weather was f-ing AWFUL, even by Shamrock standards, and 2) I was able to PR in both the 8K and half-marathon! Yay!

My first marathon of 2017 came in April, when I went down to Raleigh to hang out with three of the most BA runners you’ll ever meet and we ran the Rock n Roll Raleigh marathon the day after spending lots of hours on our feet volunteering at a 100-mile ultra. I didn’t get a finish time PR, but I’m pretty sure I set a personal best for 1) elevation gained in a race (Raleigh is hilly yo!), 2) fun had working at an aid station. Despite the hills, I was able to finish in a very comfortable 3:56:xx, setting me up for a streak of sub-4:00 marathons last year.

In May I went home to Massachusetts for my birthday and a race weekend! My mom and I went to Martha’s Vineyard for the inaugural Martha’s Vineyard Marathon weekend, which was a lot of fun except for the race, which honestly kinda sucked. But nevertheless, Mom finished her very first half-marathon!! And I squeaked out a 1-min PR to finish in 3:51:xx, which was also good enough for 1st in my AG (serving to remind me to run tiny races more often, because that is kind of ridiculous). July contained my first 5K in 2.5 years, which turned out to be a PR even though it was an evening race and evening-time in DC in July is basically the worst running conditions ever. In August I returned to the wilds of Vermont to join my second Vermont 100 on 100 relay team, which was once again super fun and awesome except that it screwed up my back pretty badly.

I had big marathon plans for the fall, so coming out of August with a bad back was definitely not what I had in mind. Plus, just typing “bad back” makes me feel way too old. I’m only 31; I should not be worrying about throwing my back out. My mildly-herniated disc disagreed, apparently. And obviously I trained through that longer than I should have, because I had goals dammit! So I was finally forced to take some time off in early-mid September, right when I was supposed to be hitting my peak mileage for the Wineglass Marathon. On the plus side, I got to try muscle relaxants for the first time. I went into Wineglass weekend with some trepidation, but in keeping with the theme of the year I was really more focused on the whole weekend rather than just the race. Both of my parents were with me, because Mom was running half-marathon #2 and we’d planned a side-trip after the race to Ithaca, NY, to visit my college stomping grounds for the first time since I graduated in 2008. Plus there were going to be a whole bunch of Loopsters at Wineglass, so it was going to be fun no matter what! It ended up being an amazing weekend all around: I finished in a strong-feeling 3:45:21, a PR by nearly 6 minutes and had a ton of fun with my family and the other Loopsters.

A few weeks later I traveled north again, this time to the Big Apple for the most amazing race experience EVER: the NYC Marathon! My mom met me in the city and we had an awesome mother-daughter weekend staying in Hells Kitchen, going to a Broadway show, and soaking up the whole marathon weekend experience. The race itself was beyond incredible, and wrote an entire bloop on that if you need any convincing to throw your name into the lottery for a future race. Talk about an amazing race experience. My nearly easy-feeling 3:52:xx finish was just the icing on the NY-style cheesecake.

Finally, December brought my all-around favorite race weekend of each of the past 5 years: Rehoboth!! We had another houseful of Loopsters traveling to Delaware (plus one who lives there) for the race and accompanying shenanigans. I had a much better marathon than last year’s 12-mile puke-fest, thankfully! I felt really strong through the first half, and set a nice little 90ish-second PR at the halfway point (1:50:xx), and then crashed and burned pretty thoroughly, which was not exactly surprising as this was my 3rd marathon in 9 weeks. But I finished out my streak of sub-4:00 marathons with a 3:50:xx finish time and a smile on my face!

I ran 1,870 miles in 2017, a new personal best by 315 miles. There were some ups and downs in there, but overall it was an awesome running year, and I’m so glad that I got to hang out with Loopsters for five of my races this year and have some incredible new race experiences! I have some big goals for 2018 (really, just one BIG goal), but that’s for another blog post. Maybe I’ll even get that written before another month has passed? Anyway, happy 2018!

The City So Nice They Named it Twice

Oh goodness, where to start? The New York City Marathon was so much more awesome than I ever imagined, and I’m sure I won’t do justice to the experience here. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try!

I left DC on Thursday via Amtrak (my favorite way to travel anywhere on the I-95 corridor), with coffee in my hands and manic excitement in my eyes…

1 -Union station coffee

I arrived at NY Penn Station around noon, and walked the handful of blocks north to the Port Authority bus terminal, where my mom was due in at 12:30 from MA. We walked another handful of blocks together up to Hell’s Kitchen, where our (definitely illegal but super convenient) AirBnB was located. Checking in was fast and easy, and within a little while we were on the move again, this time south towards the Javits Center where the expo was held (with a quick stop for lunch first; a girl’s gotta eat).

2 - expo welcome sign

Entering the expo was SO EXCITING and a lot less hectic than I’d imagined. We got through security quickly and were free to wander the many, many aisles of NYC-branded running-related goodies. But first, I just had to pose in front of this huge blow-up of one of my favorite race pictures ever:

3 - Expo big picture

In the small section of the expo not dedicated to blatant consumerism (no judgement; I succumbed) there was a HUGE tabletop map of the marathon course. This this was practically life-size!

4 - expo big course map

On Thursday evening, Mom and I went to the New York Road Runners (NYRR) Marathon Pavilion located next to the finish line in Central Park, because I’d reserved us tickets for a screening of the Boston Marathon documentary that was released in April. The Pavilion had the ginormous wall of names of *almost* all the race entrants (sorry Jay-Zee).

5 - big wall of names

Thanks to Mom for spotting me!

6 - wall of names Caitlin

Seeing the movie again was so great, and definitely stoked some fires in my goal-oriented little mind. I think Mom enjoyed seeing it too, as well as getting a preview of what a ridiculous blubbering mess I’m going to be should I ever be lucky enough to qualify for and run Boston. As a special treat, Bill Rodgers was in the house and did a Q&A after the film!

7 - Bill Rodgers

He was a bit spacier than I’d expected, and didn’t so much answer questions as reminisce about races of yore… But who can blame him? He’s Bill-freaking-Rodgers and can talk about whatever he wants.

On Friday morning, I woke up early-early to go get a fresh bagel at 6:30am. Because, New York City. Then at a more civilized hour, I made my way to the NYRR Run Center to join a marathon-focused running tour of some of the historical sites of Central Park! There were about 20 people in the tour group, and the leader kept the pace to a nice and leisurely 10:15-10:30/mile. While we were hanging out in the Run Center waiting for the tour to depart, guess who walks in. Emma Coburn!! You know, the World Champion and American record-holder steeplechaser. #steeplepeople

I didn’t talk to her or anything, but let me tell you, she is just as gorgeous in person as she looks on tv.

Anyway, the tour got underway and we made it to the Park! One of the places we stopped for a story was on Cat Hill, so named for this cool bronze statue of a mountain lion-type kitty perched on the side of the road ready to pounce on unsuspecting runners and cyclists.

8 -cat hill

Another place we paused for some stories was at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, which was just beautiful:

10 - reservoir skyline

Thankfully it was a nice warm day, because we stopped for stories and pictures about every quarter mile, which would have been torturous had it been cold!

One of the last places we stopped was at the marathon finish line, where this guy was hanging out for the weekend:

11 - Fred Lebow statue

This is Fred Lebow, founder of the NYC Marathon, standing watch over the finish line ready to click off your time on his watch. Normally he lives over at the 90th Street entrance to Central Park, but the NYRR move him over to the finish line for race weekend. I imagine he appreciates the gesture.

On Friday afternoon, Mom and I did some wandering around Manhattan. We visited Washington Square Park, walked around Soho, window shopped along 5th Avenue, did some top-notch carb loading…

12 - cupcake box

We paid a visit to the finish line in Central Park so Mom could see it (she would be avoiding that insanity on race day):

Then on Friday night we had dinner with my cousin and his wife, who live in NYC, and then saw Kinky Boots on Broadway! What an incredibly fun, uplifting show that is!! If you have the chance, I highly recommend seeing it!

On Saturday, we did some more wandering around the city, because it is just too wonderful not to enjoy!

rockefeller center

NYC architecture blows me away, whether it’s huge skyscrapers or gorgeous little details that are too easy to miss.

pretty lamp

On Saturday evening, Mom and I met up with the other Loopsters running the marathon (plus a local one – hi christine.eliz!) for a delicious pasta dinner. After dinner, we managed a group photo in the craziness of Times Square.

times square loopsters

I needed to be at my bus to the start line by 5:45am the next morning, so we called it a night very early on Saturday. But not before getting Flat Caitlin ready!

14a - flat caitlin

(wow, three pages in and the race hasn’t even started yet! #sorrynotsorry #doallthethings #yolo)

My alarm went of so very early on Sunday, but I bounded out of bed with all the energy I seriously wish I had on speedwork mornings.

I left the apartment to walk over to the library where the bus would take me to the start line on Staten Island. It was about a 20-minute walk from the apartment, which I normally wouldn’t recommend at 5:15am, but it was one of those special race experiences because I was accompanied by so many other throwaway clothes-clad runners!

As I walked towards the long line of buses, I looked up and saw the Chrysler Building in all its Art Deco glory:

15 - Chrysler building

Quickly enough, I was settled in on the bus and ready for the hour-ish long drive to Staten Island.

16 - bus selfie

I noshed on my bagel and peanut butter, drank some Gatorade, and dozed a bit during the ride.

Eventually the sun came up, and shortly thereafter we arrived at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, and I tried to figure out where I was supposed to be in this massive runner village.

17 - start village sign

It was pretty exciting to see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge off in the distance, and know that I’d be running over it so soon!

18 - bridge from start village

I passed the Dunkin Donuts truck and got my awesome orange and pink fleece hat! It was chilly enough that the warm hat was a nice bonus while sitting around. I found my way to the Orange Village, and settled into a comfy patch of grass near the corral entrances to hang out for the 3ish hours before my wave was called. I ate a bit more of my bagel, as well as a fun-sized Snickers left over from my parents’ Halloween stash (which Mom very nicely brought with her to NYC), and passed some time by reading the race program. There are always so many compelling human stories in a marathon.

I laid down on my foil blanket, wrapped snuggly in my throw-away sweats and blanket, and actually managed to fall asleep for about 45 minutes. I awoke abruptly, and lost at least 5 years off my life, when I heard the sound of an explosion seemingly right next to my head! Having just watched the Boston documentary, which prominently featured the 2013 bombing, and given the truck attack that had just occurred in NYC earlier in the week, I was apparently VERY on-edge, and awoke in an absolute panic thinking that something unconscionable had happened.

No worries! It was just the first start canon, signaling the beginning of the professional wheelchair division at 8:30. I did not get back to sleep after that… And I jumped every time the cannon subsequently, which it did numerous times before my own start (Achilles handcycle and disabled athletes start, Footlocker Five-Borough Challenge start, professional women’s start, and Wave 1 start).

Finally it was time to start my own migration towards my corral (which luckily had portapotties in it since we have to be inside 45 minutes before our start time!). I made it through the three bib checks and into the corral, where I hung out some more and chatted with a woman from Ireland and a man from England. And took a selfie, because why not?

21 - start line selfie

FINALLY it got to be almost 10:15, time for Wave 2 to start! The ropes were dropped, and the corrals started moving slowly towards the starting line on the bridge. We got to the staging area just before the bridge, and could hear the announcer introducing the wave. They played “God Bless America” over the loudspeakers, and then Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” which some German guys behind me tried to sing along to, with hilarious results. Being in the middle of this crush of enthusiastic humanity was absolutely electric.

20 - start line with bridge

And then the cannon sounded again and we were off! It only took me a couple of minutes to cross the start line, and then I was running on top of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge! I think I spent the first two miles just whispering “this is really happening; I’m running the New York City Marathon” to myself. I barely noticed the incline of the first mile on the bridge because I was too busy enjoying the moment and soaking up the view from the bridge, foggy as it was. I tried not to look at my watch too often because pace wasn’t important to me today. I had no time goals for the race, and with so many people around me at all times it wasn’t going to be easy to maintain an even pace anyway.

We got off the bridge at Mile 2ish, made a couple of turns, and started up 4th Avenue, which would take through Brooklyn all the way to Mile 8. And this is where the real fun started, and didn’t let up for the next 24 miles. The crowd was absolutely deafening. I thought I was prepared for raucous crowd support, but I had no idea. I’m SO GLAD that I put my name on my shirt for this race, because I felt like a freaking superstar the entire time. There wasn’t a single mile where I didn’t hear multiple people yelling “Go Caitlin! I see you Caitlin!! You got this Caitlin!” at me, and it was AWESOME.

A friend of mine happened to be visiting Brooklyn over race weekend and she took this picture of me somewhere along the course. I didn’t see her and certainly didn’t know she was taking a picture, but I had this goofy smile on my face the entire way because it was so much fun!

22 - running in brooklyn

I stayed along the left side of the route so that I could more easily high-five everyone within reach. Tangents be damned. My watch registered a 26.8-mile marathon but it was totally worth it.  

I kept waiting for the fatigue to set in, or to get annoyed by the constant press of runners around me, or to get to the mental state of just wanting the race to be done with. It never happened. I felt so strong and fresh the whole time, and every new cheer from the crowd and high-five from a group of kids or police or firefighters gave me a new burst of energy.

23 - mid race running

Literally the only stretch of the race where I felt just a little bit tired and cranky was on the Queensboro Bridge from Miles 14.5-16. We were on one half of the lower level of the bridge, so it was narrower than the course had been previously, and created a pretty bad bottleneck that slowed everyone down, and being on the lower level was kind of dark and gloomy. I also had a near-collision with the people next to me when someone who had stepped off the course to the left decided to step back onto the course directly in front of me *at a walk.* #rude But no one fell over and everyone seemed pretty chill given the crowded conditions we were all trying to navigate.

I knew that my mom would be near mile 18 at 93rd Street, so that was a good motivator to get through the bridge section and the first couple of miles up First Avenue in Manhattan. I ran over to see her and give her a hug, and hand off the Dunkin Donuts hat that I’d been hanging onto for 18 miles! The crowds in Manhattan were awesome as well, although I think Queens and the Bronx are tied for loudest, rowdiest spectators. The stretch through the Bronx was short but memorable thanks to the enthusiastic support of the crowds. At Mile 21, we reached the Madison Avenue Bridge leading back into Manhattan, and proceeded south on Fifth Avenue.

24 - mid race on bridge

I saw my cousin and his wife at 110th Street, and they’d even made a sign for me, which was such a fun surprise to see at Mile 22.5. I knew that we entered Central Park at 90th Street, so I was counting down the blocks until we go there. There was some uphill along Fifth Avenue, and it gave me a nice mental boost to pass people this late in the race AND going uphill #sorrynotsorry #yougotchicked

We entered Central Park at 90th Street, just before Mile 24, and proceeded down the hill we’d run up during my NYRR tour of the park. We exited the park a bit past Mile 25, and ran along Central Park South nearly the whole width of the park. The crowds here were still awesome and loud, despite the fact that it had now been raining for about 3.5 hours and wasn’t the loveliest day to stand outside. I kept passing people here, and made a special effort to pass a dude in a full-length Superman cape. I was determined not to have some big red cape ruin MY finish line photo!

We jumped back into the park off Columbus Circle and passed the Mile 26 marker shortly thereafter. I started getting really emotional as I simultaneously pushed towards the finish line and tried to soak up every last second of these final moments of the race. This was my 15th marathon, and the first time that I’ve ever been sad to cross the finish line. Of course I was also super happy with my experience, and completely thrilled to have finished well under the 4-hour mark!

25 - Finish line BP

Official time: 3:52:16

I got my medal, and immediately stopped to capture the moment.

26 - medal selfie

A few minutes later I got to the foil blanket distribution, which was much appreciated because the chilly rain felt a lot less good while hobbling along than it did while running.

27 - foil blanket walk

I had opted for the post-race poncho option rather than bag check. I’d heard such wonderful things about these ponchos that I was pretty excited to get mine! The walk to where the volunteers were handing them out was considerably longer than I’d expected, and it was uphill. #notcool But about 20 minutes after crossing the finish line, a lovely volunteer finally wrapped me in the warm, waterproof, insulated poncho and life was grand. 

28 - blue poncho walk

I walked for a few more minutes to wear Mom and I had planned to meet. I saw her waiting for me, and the first thing she said when I reached her was, “SHALANE WON!!!!” My approximate reaction?

shalane

(thanks to Corc-o-rama for the image)

It was such a perfect cherry on top of an already perfect marathon sundae to learn that Shalane finally got her so-well-deserved moment of glory! And knowing that I crossed that very same finish line 90ish minutes later was so cool!

On Monday Mom and I had a lovely breakfast at a cute little diner near our AirBnB, and then headed back towards Port Authority and Penn Station to catch our respective transportation home. But first I needed to get my hands on the Marathon Monday edition of the New York Times!

29 - New York Times

I really can’t say enough good things about my New York City Marathon experience. It was impeccably well organized for such a huge event (over 51,000 finishers!), and the people of New York completely floored me with their energy and support through every mile of the race. I’m so thankful that I got to have this experience this year. Marathon #15 is definitely one that I’ll never forget!