At Rest

Some experts say that following a marathon, you should rest one full day for every mile you ran, meaning 26 days of recovery.

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Others say you should rest one full day for every kilometer you ran, meaning 42 days of recovery.

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I say you should rest one full day for every dog photo you snapped at Thanksgiving the week after the marathon, meaning — let’s be honest here — I’ll be in recovery mode until Malia Obama’s in the White House.

Might as well get comfortable.

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In truth, I’d expected to be significantly more active in the nearly three weeks since I crossed that Philadelphia finish line. I thought I’d run a few easy miles that first week to shake out my legs. I imagined I’d do a 5- to 6-miler over the Thanksgiving weekend to burn off my pie gut.  I pictured myself back at yoga, back in the pool, back on the elliptical and back doing all the other glorious cross training I gave up in July to focus on my lone goal these last five months: the marathon.

Heck, I was so optimistic in my recovery, I even packed multiple pairs of running clothes for my post-Thanksgiving vacation in St. Martin.

Oh, how wrong I was. After not even looking at my athletic shoes for our entire four-day stretch in the tropics, I can assure you that said luggage space would have been much better spent on literally any other travel necessity — particularly corkscrews.

and diamond rings.

…and diamond rings.

Why haven’t I been out there getting back in the game? Plenty of reasons, really. It’s been cold. I’ve been enjoying sleeping in to 7 a.m. I’m still mentally fried after that major race. And let’s not forget that fact that since Philadelphia, my knees soooometimes feel like they aren’t in the right socket. No big deal, right, doctors?

But not running also brings its downsides. I’m more irritable, I’m not sleeping as well and I’ve been watching my weight creep up on that cruel bathroom scale. Most importantly, the identity I have come to build for myself — Anne the runner — doesn’t make all that much sense when I’m sitting around wondering if I should give the Seamless delivery guy a key so I don’t have to get off the couch every time he buzzes.

So without further ado, I hereby determine 18 days of recovery is enough for this once and future runner. I’m going to get back out there tomorrow and put a few more miles between me and the New Year. They aren’t going to be pretty, or fast, or maybe even forward, but they’re going to be miles.

And that, my friends, is the only real road to recovery.

How are you getting back into the swing of things after your fall marathon?

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City of Brotherly Run

American gold medalist Frank Shorter once said that you’re not ready to run another marathon until you’ve forgotten the last one.

If the Internet had existed in the 70s, he also would have said that you’re not ready to write your marathon recap blog post until you’re once again able to walk down stairs, so it’s Wednesday after the big day, and here I am.

I apologize if my radio silence these past four days has led any of you to believe I collapsed somewhere along the Schuylkill River and was taken hostage by the Manayunkans. Despite my severe bout of chest congestion, fever and debilitating self-doubt in the days leading up to this past weekend’s event, I did, I fact, finish the Philadelphia Marathon in one piece.

Well, that’s not completely true. Running Sunday’s event, I did lose something: 5 minutes off my New York City marathon race time. Bam.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went down to Philadelphia on Saturday with two NYC friends who were running the half and my lovely boyfriend, who impressively matched me bagel for bagel in the carb-loading phase of my training. We checked into our hotel and went to the expo, then gathered with friends at their gorgeous Philadelphia apartment to roast veggies, boil pasta and curse the day we chose to register for long-distance running events.

I was the only runner at our dinner party doing the full marathon, so while everyone else probably could have stayed up a little later, I made my exit at 8 p.m. and headed to the hotel room with my running roommate in tow to prep for the race and its cruel 5:30 a.m. suggested arrival time. There, I realized I’d lost my bib safety pins and maaaaay have crumbled into a minor panic attack that involved sprinting back to the (already closed) expo before raiding every sewing kit in the Sheraton, but, let’s be honest, that level of mental breakdown is pretty run-of-the-mill during the final 10 hours before a marathon. We all go a little crazy before lacing up to run the seriously insane distance of 26.2 miles.

I was in bed by 9 p.m., having left my boyfriend under the care and supervision of my much more sociable Philly friends, but I tossed and turned until nearly 3 a.m. before finally catching about 90 minutes of pre-race shuteye. Fortunately, I’ve read that two days before a race is really the time to bank sleep, so I didn’t let my insomnia stress me out. Ok, that’s a lie: I was stressed. But after the safety pin incident heard ‘round the world, running a marathon on only a nap’s worth of slumber didn’t really seem like the end of the world.

You know what did feel like the end of the world? My alarm going off at 4:45 a.m. Woof.

We got dressed, packed our clear checkable race bags and met in the lobby to walk over to the staging area. It was early. It was cold. It was dark.

It was the perfect time for a photo shoot.

It was the perfect time for a photo shoot.

Unlike NYC-marathon staging, where you arrive on the ferry about four hours before your starting wave, I only found myself with about 30 extra minutes milling around the art museum on Sunday. It was just enough time to check my baggage, discard my sweatshirt and start to wonder whether I was really in good enough shape to complete this thing in one piece. I didn’t get to wonder for long – within minutes, the welcomes were over, the anthem was sung and, before I knew it, we were off.

The first several miles of the course weaved around downtown Philly, and while the crowds were thin given the 7 a.m. starting gun, the weather was dry, the roads were flat and the temptation to go out flying was hard to resist. Fortunately, the memories of NYC – going out too fast and crashing around mile 16 – were still fresh on my mind, so I reined in my enthusiasm and kept above an 8:30 pace. “Just maintain,” I told myself as I passed city hall. “The real race begins at mile 20.”

About 45 minutes in, I was rewarded with a sighting of my parents, who had driven in from Maryland to cheer me to victory. A half mile later, I saw several more familiar faces – one of whom I may have given a big sweaty kiss as I sprinted past. Ok, you caught me. It was Carrie.

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And then the race got a whole lot harder. We crossed into University City and the flat terrain I’d come to love was replaced with rolling hills. Then we neared the zoo and the rolling hills I’d come to endure were replaced with a misplaced Himalaya. Then we rounded mile 13 and the course decided to do the cruelest thing yet: it split. “Half marathoners to the right to the finish line!” the signs overhanging the race course read. “Full marathoners to the left … to your death.” Or at least that’s how it felt to me. Thirteen miles at an 8:40 pace felt downright wonderful. Thirteen more of the same ahead? What was I thinking?

Sure enough, the second half of the course was infinitesimally harder. I know what you’re thinking – of course the second half of a marathon race course is harder – you’re tired. Sure, that’s part of it, but it was so much more: The scenery was unchanging. The course was out and back. The crowds had disappeared. And worst of all, I wasn’t expecting to see any of my people again until at least mile 26.1. With each step during the second half of the course, I grew more and more despondent. Also, more and more slow.

And then something glorious happened: my sister popped up for a surprise hello at mile 24. How she got to the side of such a desolate road between a river and a cemetery, I have no idea, but hearing her call my name gave me the last bit of motivation I needed to push through. As the finish line came back into focus, I spotted my people a final time, gave one last high-five, and barreled my way to the soft pretzels I knew were waiting for me at mile 26.3.

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When it came down to it, I finished the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:53:48, or at an average pace of 8:56 minute miles. Or if you want more numbers, I was the 3,409th overall marathon finisher, or the 972nd woman, or the 249th 25-to-29-year-old female runner in my division.

In terms of cheerleaders, though, I took home the gold.

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Out of My Hands

I’m what you might call the kind of person who likes to be in control. I like to make game plans. I like to set schedules. I like to analyze progress, meet milestones and prepare for every possible outcome so I’m never flying blind.

That’s why tapering for a marathon is so gosh darn difficult for me. After 20 weeks of dedicated training, the outcome of Sunday’s race is no longer in my control.

That’s right: whether or not I’m fast enough to break four hours again on the race course isn’t predicated on my mileage count this week, or how fast I do my strides tomorrow or even necessarily the weather come race day. The success of my 26.2-mile effort on Sunday is instead built on feats already come and gone: the seven road races I ran this summer, the brutal two-a-days I completed throughout the fall, the October 20-miler that took me around all of Manhattan, and the hundreds of other hours I’ve spent on my feet since starting this program in July.

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I’m not blurry because I snagged this from a pay-to-download photo site, I swear-ish.

There’s something terrifying about the outcome of this race being already largely set in stone based on my actions over the last several months.

But there’s also something kind of freeing about it. In the words Lady Macbeth, for whom things always worked out well: what’s done is done.

Of course, while about 90 percent of my race day result has already been decided, there are still a few small areas where I have some control. I’m not sure any of these have the power to make up for the two 8-milers I skipped last week while I nursed a head cold, but I’ll take whatever edge I can get in these final few days. The areas this weekend where I can maybe still get a leg-up:

  • I can control my diet. I can’t undo the 16-ounce prime rib I ate on my birthday Tuesday or the wine I accepted over Monday night cake, but I can make sure the bulk of the calories I’m taking in today and tomorrow are starchy, sugary, glorious carbohydrates. Don’t mourn for me, protein eaters. From smoothies to pizza bagels to enough pasta to feed a small nation, I’m doing just fine.
  • I can control my sleep schedule. Maybe I can’t force when I’ll actually doze off, but it’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night and I’m already in my pajamas. The final days before a marathon, the best thing you can do is stay off your feet, and with my flannel sheets upstairs already calling my name, I don’t think this one will be a problem either.
  • I can control my anxiety. I’m sure I’ll have butterflies when I toe the starting line Sunday regardless, but there are small things I can do today to clear my mind for race day. I can set out all my racing clothes (and inclement-weather backups) for an inventory check. I can charge my Garmin. I can print my Amtrak tickets, study the course map and make plans with friends so I’m not juggling come race day. Most importantly, I can plan which cheesesteak to order after I round that corner and the art museum comes into view. Pat’s? Geno’s? Both?

Will I be disappointed if it turns out my last five months of training don’t yield the result I want in Philadelphia? Maybe. But thinking back on these last 20 weeks reminds me of just how much I’ve accomplished this training cycle, from winning a 10K to pushing my limits to running with friends. Even if I bomb the main event, I can honestly say this marathon cycle has been a success. In the words of someone more eloquent than Lady Macbeth and me:

The journey is the reward; the marathon is the victory lap.

Bring it, city of brotherly love. I’m ready for you.

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Ill Will

I’ve run my 20-miler. I’ve finished my final track workout. I’ve bought my train ticket, booked my hotel room and selected my outfit for the Philadelphia marathon. Only one more thing to check off my list before the big morning just 10 days away: catch a debilitating head cold.

Check.

That’s right, folks. With less than two weeks to go, I woke up Monday morning to clogged sinuses, plugged ears, a pounding headache and a throat so red it would have made Stalin blush. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised: If history tells me anything, it’s that my immune system always gives up, without fail, the second I start tapering. It happened in 2012. It happened in 2013. And here we are in 2014, and I’m singlehandedly keeping the Sudafed family in business.

And the dog photography business.

I’m also keeping this model in business.

It’s downright miserable sitting at home feeling sick, but in terms of timing, I have to admit it couldn’t be better. No one is great at tapering – or paring back mileage to rest up for race day – and far too many runners push too hard in the final leg of training with mistaken hopes that they’ll be able to make up for lost time by logging a few extra workouts. Very little actual fitness is gained in the final few weeks of a marathon training program, and pushing too hard during the final countdown can leave you sluggish or worse, injured, when it comes time to lace up.

Luckily, there’s zero percent chance of that happening to me. You know why? Because all the things you’re supposed to do to taper are exactly the things you to do to treat a cold. For example to treat a cold you:

  • Take it easy. Done and done. I’ve run just three of the 28 miles I was supposed to log this week, which in and of itself is impressive considering I didn’t leave the apartment for a 48-hour block.
  • Fuel your healing body with nutrient-rich foods. From orange juice to chicken noodle soup, the foodstuff entering my system has been nothing but gold.
  • Avoid alcohol. Easy, unless you count the Robitussin I’ve been downing by the plastic dosing cup-full.

So there you have it. Although I’m achy and cold and all around miserable, I’m trying to appreciate the fact that this cold came at the best possible time in the scheme of things. If this thing persists into next week, I’ll start to get worried but assuming I keep taking care of myself in the days ahead, I should still be in working order come race day. And boy, will my legs be rested.

How is your taper going?

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The Other Side

On Sunday morning, thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets from Staten Island to Central Park for the TCS New York City Marathon.

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I was one of them. And it wasn’t easy.

Temperatures were in the low 40s. Winds gusted to near 45 mph. The day’s events started early, I hadn’t had enough carbs and my heels were positively aching after four hours on my feet.

Huh? But I thought you weren’t running the NYC marathon this year.

I wasn’t. I was spectating.

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Photo Credit: The only woman in the world who still carries a standalone camera, god bless her.

That’s right — on Sunday morning, I bundled up and made my way to First Avenue to watch what I am embarrassed to admit was my first NYC marathon ever. To be fair, in 2013 I ran it myself, in 2012 it was canceled, in 2011 I was at a wedding and in 2010 my chubby 25-year-old self was probably eating an egg sandwich off her own belly in bed oblivious to the fact a 26.2-mile race was going on around her. Still, spectating this thing was a long freaking time coming.

But they say good things are worth waiting for and, my god, cheering at the NYC marathon was the greatest thing.

What made it so great? Absolutely everything. Shaking my pom poms at mile 18. Cheering on blind Achilles athletes and their dedicated guides. Spotting speedy friends as they shot up First Ave. Reading runners’ first names off their shirts and watching them come alive. Confirming that Meb Keflezighi can positively fly.

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“Look Mom, no feet!”

In fact, I finished the day so pumped that it made me want to run right out and race a marathon. Fortunately, I’m already signed up for Philadelphia in 19 days’ time. And that may scratch my itch for the time being.

But, to be honest, watching the NYC marathon really just made me want to run another NYC marathon, and I’m afraid for this New Yorker, no other race is going to truly satisfy that urge.

Luckily, no other race has to.

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Get ready, Verrazano Bridge: I’m coming for you again.

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XX

The number 20 has a lot of positive connotations in my book.

It’s the perfect sized bill to stash in your pocket for a long-run emergency. It’s the age after which it’s no longer appropriate to wake up spooning a jar of peanut butter. It’s the number of questions it takes to guess which item your friend is picturing that’s larger than a breadbox.

It’s the birthday at which we threw the best darn party a November baby and her friends could ask for.

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From the maximum field of the Kentucky Derby to the international calling code for Egypt (thank you, Internet), “20” as a figure is good for a whole lot of things.

What it’s not good for, I’ve decided, is weeks’ worth of marathon training.

Let me put it a different way. Begin training for a 26.2 mile race FIVE MONTHS before you’ll actually toe the starting line, and you’ll maybe start to go a little bit crazy. Jack Torrance crazy. You know: All run and no play makes Anne chase you around a snowy hedge maze with an axe. The usual.

When I first committed myself to this 20-week running schedule, it didn’t seem so unbearable. By stretching the length of training from the more tradition 16 or 18 week plans to a full 20, I would be able to squeeze in more races, more pull-back weeks, more two-a-days and more overall training. It sounded like the perfect plan.

And it was, at least at first. But once the sun started to rise later and I found myself running 6 days a week in the pitch black cold, I started to itch for the finish line. Fast forward to this week, when dozens of well-meaning friends have reached out to wish me luck in the NYC marathon on Sunday – which I’m not running – and it’s like salt in the wound.  My race, which I started training for in early freaking July, is still nearly four weeks away.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m all of a sudden feeling sick and tired of this dammed training cycle. This, my friends, is my peak week – or the week in which I run my longest long training run all season long. Tomorrow, I’m waking up early to log my last serious bout of athleticism until I arrive in Philly. And it’s only appropriate that the number of miles on my schedule is none other than our man of the hour: 20.

And while I’m positively dreading tomorrow’s long run, at least I can take comfort in the fact that when it’s over, I get to put these last 17 weeks behind me and spend my final 3 weeks doing something I do extraordinarily well: tapering.

The end is in sight, folks. Let the carbo loading begin.

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The Heat Is On

If you looked up to DJ Tanner as much as I did circa 1992, you know that doing something just because everyone else is doing it can never end well. Case in point: you shouldn’t cut school just because everyone else is doing it. You shouldn’t stairmaster until you faint just because everyone else is doing it. You shouldn’t execute a Chinese fire drill in Kimmy Gibbler’s sweet ride on a San Francisco incline just because everyone else is doing it.

The lessons of my childhood continue to offer sound advice today. I shouldn’t skip a workout just because everyone else is skipping it. I shouldn’t drink tequila just because everyone else is drinking it. I shouldn’t get a haircut just because everyone else is getting it.

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Yes I should.

So why, oh why, when I see other runners bundling head to toe to counter this week’s inaugural fall weather do I get the urge to jump on the bandwagon and do exactly the same thing, even though I know I’m a much more hot-blooded runner than 98 percent of the population? Because DJ Tanner taught me nothing, apparently. And because I’m a glutton for sweaty, blistering, uncomfortable punishment.

If you ran Central Park this morning as the temperatures grazed 40 degrees for the first time, you probably saw hundreds of exercisers in layers and sweats and gloves and caps and Tauntauns trying to stave off the early chill. And I can understand why. After a positively balmy October to date (if only there were some science to explain this strange rise in temperatures…), waking to an honest-to-god autumn climate probably shocked some runners into hauling out their winter gear.

Heck, even Runner’s World’s interactive “what to wear” guide suggested I don tights, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, a light jacket and a winter cap for today’s 5-mile easy run in 40-degree air. They even drew a picture.

Why yes, I DO have a ponytail, you smart machine, you.

Why yes, I DO have a ponytail, you brilliant machine, you.

I didn’t go that far, but I did trade in my usual shorts for long pants and layer a compression Under Armour jacket over my tank.

And my god, I was miserable. Sure, the first five minutes were toasty warm and a nice counter to the 5:50 a.m. chill. But by the time I got to the park, I had practically sweated through my winter gear, making my two loops of the reservoir hot, stuffy and uncomfortable indeed. After 2.5 marathon training cycles and thousands of miles on my feet, I know that I prefer to run in too little clothing than too much. So why did I choose to bulk up just because everyone else was doing it?

Luckily, today’s unpleasantness only lasted 45 minutes, but it’s a good lesson as the marathon fast approaches. On Nov. 23, I need to remember not to overdress just because everyone else is doing. I need to remember not to start out sprinting just because everyone else is doing it. I need to remember not to skip the water stations just because everyone else is doing it.

In short, I need to run my marathon, not anybody else’s. If I can do that, I know I’ll make Uncle Jesse proud.

What are you targeting as your fall marathon nears?

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