Lessons Learned from the Marathons I Ran and Did Not Run in 2012

So I know I’m a little late to the obligatory reflecting-on-the-events-of-2012 blog post party, but if you are lucky enough to know me personally I doubt this comes as a surprise. Being fashionably late is a policy of mine. All tardiness aside, 2012 has been a pretty amazeballs year for me, as least as far as running goes. Highlights include (finally) qualifying for Boston,  joining the Oiselle Team Ambassador flock, an epic ultra-relay experience, the New York City Marathon that wasn’t, watching my average pace creep down from numbers that start mostly with 8’s to numbers that start mostly with 7’s, and countless hilarious stories and one-liners courtesy of my favorite running BFFs. All of it has been great really, but without further ado I would like to utilize this post to reflect on the lessons that running has taught me in 2012. I can pretty much boil it all down to 3 key take home points, but as you might have already guessed, they are a little long winded so hang on to your hat. Here we go…

Lesson #1: Tapering Works!

As a creature of perpetual motion, I’ve  never been a fan of tapering, resting, days off, etc. My natural inclination is to keep myself as busy as possible all the time. I suspect this inclination is driven by a deep-seeded innate fear that if I stop for even a moment I may never start back again, thus resigning myself to a life of depression, boredom, and/or fatness. I tend to equate slowing down with missing out on living life to the fullest. I realize that probably makes me a little crazy. It also makes resting up for race day the most daunting part of training for me, and therefore I tend to shortchange myself when taper-time rolls around. However, after 2 mostly taper-less failed Boston qualifying attempts in 2011, I gave in and added “Try Tapering” to my list of 2012 New Year’s Resolutions.

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See… I resolved to try tapering!

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I’ve condensed my 11-minute -marathon -PR- yielding tapering plan into 5 key components for your convenience…

1. Take as Much Time Off Work Prior to your Race as Possible! I recommend taking an entire week off if you can swing it. This part is especially critical if your job involves teaching 8 to 10 group exercise classes per week, or is otherwise physically demanding. Although I began gradually scaling back my running mileage as early as 3 weeks prior to the race, having most of the week off leading up to the marathon made it infinitely easier for me to truly rest both my body and mind in preparation for the big day. So start saving up those vacation days now friends. Your gonna need them come marathon season!

2. Sleep A LOT and Use Jet Lag to Your Advantage: Speaking of resting both mind and body, the 2nd component of my 5 step tapering program is sleep. If you are tapering for a marathon or long-distance race of another sort, please do not hesitate to take lots of naps, go to bed early, and sleep late. This will work out particularly well for you if (a) you embrace component 1 of the tapering program, and (b) you live on the east coast but your goal race is on the west coast. This way you will be inclined to go to bed early anyway and when morning rolls around you will most likely wake up pretty early without even noticing, thanks to that handy 3 hour time difference. *Note: Although I found the time zone change to be advantageous when traveling west across the Continental US, it proved to be very much the opposite for trans-Atlantic European Marathoning. International races are fabulous, but make sure that you allow yourself adequate time to adapt to the time change, and for the love of all that is good, sleep on the plane trip there!

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Remember, naps are your friend!

3. Stuff Your Face with Delicious Food: You are going to need plenty of quality fuel to keep you going all the way to the finish line, so during your final taper week do not under estimate the importance of eating. A lot. Race week food choices that seemed to work well for me included  crepes, gelato, fancy gourmet BLT’s, and a sundry fare from various Italian and Farm-to-Table restaurants in the Bay Area. Use your own good judgement and intimate knowledge of your unique digestive system and dietary preferences to make food choices that are appropriate for you a week out from your race. Here are a few examples of my preferred tapering meals…

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Delicious Crepes a la Mode

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Best damn fancy BLT I’ve ever eaten!

4. Fill Your Week Leading Up to the Race with Fun and Relaxing Activities: Stay relaxed and focused as the big day approaches by participating in only fun, light-hearted, low-key endeavors. I especially recommend copious amounts of playing with babies (but not necessarily babysitting) and/or puppies, or otherwise surrounding yourself with cuteness. Shopping is also a good idea, particularly if you have access to multiple Sports Basements, Trader Joes’ and Whole Foods stores.

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Keep race week light-hearted and fun by hugging as many puppies as possible!

5. Hydrate Like There’s No Tomorrow! My spring marathon hydration strategy was based on the 2:1 ratio. 2 bottles of water for every 1 Peet’s latte consumed, that is. In the days leading up to my race I was averaging 2 to 3 Peet’s lattes per day. This means that my daily water consumption total came in at around 4 to 6 32 oz Nalgene bottles per day, in addition to an inordinate amount of peeing. I also fortified my water with those fun little flavored fizzy electrolyte tabs whenever possible. (Seriously, I think I went through an entire tube of that stuff in the final 36 hours before my race!) Peach Tea flavored Gu Brew was my pre-marathon electrolyte-loading product of choice, but I think Nunn and Hammer Fizz are equally tasty and affective in keeping your electrolyte levels balanced and working in your favor on race day.

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Drink two of these…

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…for every one of these.

As it turns out, these 5 things, plus a little help from my friends (which I will be speaking more about shortly) were all I needed to ditch my 2011 marathon fun, and land the BQ I was looking for. I am confident that you can benefit from them as well!

Lesson #2: Qualifying for Boston… It Takes a Village

My 2011 running goals were pretty cut and dry: (1) Qualify for Boston (2) Procure a spot in the 2012 Boston Marathon. As you already know from reading the tapering segment of this post, I did not achieve any of my 2011 running goals. I could blame my 2011 marathon shortcomings on a myriad of things that run the gambit from international jet lag to unexpected weather conditions to boyfriend drama to pre-race stomach flu. And I have no doubt that all of these things contributed to my various race day demises on some level. However, I think the biggest Boston Qualifying obstacles for me in 2011 were self-doubt and an unhealthy obsession with my Garmin.

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My 2011 marathon nemesis.

Fortunately for me, my awesome running posse rallied around me an formulated a brilliant plan to distract me from my Garmin and my destructive inner monologue. This plan was successful in landing me a fairly effortless BQ in early 2012. So, if you have patiently accompanied me on nearly every one of my long runs even though you are capable of run significantly faster than me… If you have run every step of my goal marathon with me wearing my Garmin all the while because I just couldn’t bear the thought of not having a Garmin Connect record of my race… If you ran the 4 most trying  of the race with me (miles 18 to 22) while holding my arm warmers and my water bottle AND updating all my various social media streams… If you graciously and supportively listened to me bitch incessantly about a particularly frustrating  work/ life week on any given run… If you came back for me and said nice and encouraging things to me after dropping me on a long run because I was painfully  slow and hungover and probably also making noises that embarrassed you… If you talked me out of moments of self-doubt with wildly comical swearing or tales of hilarity about jazz hands… or if you literally caught me when I fell and pressed the stop button on my watch before I hit the ground… From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!!! It has taken hard work, consistent training, and venturing outside of my comfort zone to reach my running goals in 2012, but more important and significant than that it has taken accountability, laughter, motivation, and encouragement that only the most fabulous of running friends can provide. Cheers to the wonderful people who inspire me to drag myself out of bed  to run on more days than not, and to many more laughs, bloopers, memories, and PRs to  come in 2013!

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Allie Bigelow pacing me to Napa Valley Marathon success!

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These are the people I cannot wait to wake up and go running with. Thanks for a fast and fabulous 2012, ladies!

Lesson #3: It’s Not the End of the World if the Marathon That You Raised a Bunch of Money and Trained Your Ass Off for Gets Cancelled

That’s right friends, I was supposed to run the 2012 New York City Marathon. I raised over $5000 for charity and trained my happy little butt off for it! I watched my weekly mileage soar to new heights while my average pace dropped significantly. With all the good will and big miles I’d been logging, I DESERVED a fatty new marathon PR and I couldn’t wait to go out and get one on behalf of all the special people in my life who are connected to my charity of choice as well as all the donors out there who contributed  money not just to fund cancer programming, but also so I could run the race.

After Super-Storm Sandy pummeled the northeast but Mayor Bloomberg and NYRR announced that the race would still go on, my teammates and I wasted countless hours of our lives on hold with Jet Blue sorting out flight cancellations and itineraries. (By the way, Jet Blue’s customer service is AMAZING and you should make sure to fly with them every chance you get.) I was super stressed out and exhausted when I arrived in NYC early on the Friday morning prior to what would have been race-day Sunday. Despite my fatigue I substituted a few extra lattes for a nap (after all, lattes were a key part of my hydration strategy for my last marathon) and we pressed on to the expo for packet pick up. Although I never really witnessed any significant storm damage, the tension in the city and at the expo was palpable. Nevertheless, I collected my bib and t-shirt and chatted it up with Kara Goucher (you know, usual race expo stuff) as I struggled to maintain a positive frame of mind for the upcoming race.

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Never mind that we look like crap and haven’t slept in days. We’re hanging out with Kara Goucher!

Although no one I encountered on my NYC trip was anything other than polite and sympathetic towards me and marathoners in general, it was quite unsettling to read the mounting number of angry, negative comments that were monopolizing my various social media news feeds. The more I read, the more my stress level escalated and the more conflicted I felt about the race and my participation in it. It was genuinely shocking to me that the general public would label marathoners as self-centered, insensitive, frivolous, and so on… I mean what the hell?!? I raised a shit-ton of money for a noble cause to get here for goodness sake! And it most certainly was not my intention in coming to New York for the marathon to participate in some sort of conspiracy theory to deny hurricane victims resources and supplies that they desperately needed. Not even close! In fact, I felt quite compelled to help in whatever small ways I could. In addition to feeling drained by the conflict surrounding the race, I was also not feeling especially pumped at the thought of running a marathon with the threat of being heckled and having garbage thrown at me. But I had made a commitment to a lot of people who had donated a lot of money on my behalf to run the New York City Marathon, and since the race was on, I figured I had better do it…

And then just like that the race was cancelled, instantly shattering my ideallistic visions of a hard-earned grandiose NYC Marathon experience. And there was not one thing I could do about it. But do you know what? Nothing dramatic happened. I did not even so much as have a meltdown. I did however, have a lot of wine and margaritas and a pretty fun New York City weekend to boot! Just look at all this cool stuff I did…

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Like this awesome Oiselle Team Central Park photo shoot…

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… And contributing to Sandy relief efforts…

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And a magically moving non-marathon Sunday run in Central Park… (So cool that I’m not even pissed that multiple people have posted this pic of me ugly-crying on the internet!)

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…And pretend-winning the non-marathon…

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…And impersonating statues at The Met.

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…And being on The Today Show… You get the idea.

In the end, I think the right decision  prevailed and canceling the race was the appropriate thing to do, both out of respect for those devastated by the hurricane and in the best interest of  the runners’ safety. Furthermore, I am extremely grateful for the humbling perspective that I gained from this experience. It was a wonderful and needed reminder that raising money for charity and running marathons are awesome, but at the end of the day, they are only small parts of what really matters in life.  In retrospect, I think it is pretty safe to say that if the worst thing that happens to you all year is something you were really looking forward to getting cancelled for reasons that you had no control over then you can probably still call it a pretty frickin’ good year. I also cannot express enough gratitude to the fantastically positive and level headed group of people who I was lucky enough to share this adventure with. They made  it especially easy to make the best of that wild ride of a weekend!

And those are the most significant lessons that I have learned from running 2012 in a nutshell. Here’s hoping that your year of running has been every bit as fun, educational, and adventure-filled as mine has, and that 2013 holds many exciting new opportunities for all of us!

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