What Makes a Race Great?

I’ve run a lot of races.

By "good results", I mean finishing. Well, that's what it means for me, anyway.

My recent collection of medals. Some are JB’s. I need some more…

Certainly not as many as some. I have friends who have run A LOT more races than me who are much more qualified to answer this question.

Like Laura who is actually in the world record holder for being the youngest female to run a marathon in all 50 states. Actually, she’s done almost 100 marathons by now. And several ultras. She’s a badass.

And Brian who seems to be running a race every other weekend.

But I’ve run a few and here’s what I learned makes a race great:

1. Organization

It all starts with the expo and bib pick-up. If this aspect is disorganized or poorly staffed, it does not bode well for race day. The last thing you want to do on race day morning is run around because bag drop is a mile away from the corrals. Even worse, when the course isn’t clearly marked or properly marshaled.

I love that there are Marines on the course at the Marine Corps Marathon. No one runs a race like a bunch of Marine Corps officers.

MarineMarathon 021

The OCS Marine Lieutenants man the water stations. They don’t cheer, they shout, “Oorah, ma’am!” as you run by. It’s awesome.

2. Safety

Most race courses are run on closed roads. I mean, duh. Right? When you’re out running a race, you sort of expect that the race organizers have made your safety a top priority. Yeaaaah, not all races directors.

The Hamptons Marathon and Half Marathon are not run on closed roads. And it sucked. I wrote to the race directors to let them know it was a dangerous situation for runners and they basically blew me off. Not running that race again.

Great race day outfit. Lousy course safety. Boo, race directors.

Great race day outfit. Lousy course safety. Boo, race directors.

3. Race-friendly course

It’s not that anyone loves a straight-up out and back. That’s boring. But I think most of us also don’t want a loop-di-loop course. You can’t find a groove when you’re constantly making turns and I’d say the majority of us are out there to run our fastest race possible.

My favorite courses: New Jersey Half Marathon (NOT the full) and Marine Corps Marathon.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.30.18 AM.pngScreen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.32.53 AM.png

4. Race support

At the Chicago Marathon a few years ago, it was beastly. It was so hot that they cancelled the race. That’s HOT. But they also ran out of cups for water. I mean…WHAT?!?!?! I have also heard about races running out of post-race snacks. I gotta tell ya, after a marathon I. NEED. FOOD. Like now.

I have been known to eat an entire pizza by myself post-long run. It's true.

I have been known to eat an entire pizza by myself post-long run. It’s true.

A race that runs out of promised fuel and fluids along the course is unacceptable. Medical tents and bathrooms need to be exactly where they say they’re supposed to be. And there can never be too many POJs.

5. Reasonable pricing

There are half marathons out there charging $128 for race entry. To put that in perspective my first marathon, the ING NYC Marathon, cost $125 in 2002. Now it’s $228. I gotta tell you, if you’re charging me that much for a race, I expect a hot shower and a massage at the finish line.

I heard they ran out of medals at the Miami Half this year. Bummer.

Don't be fooled, it's all about the money.

Don’t be fooled, it’s all about the money.
(Image courtesy of Esquire.com)

Some races are great and have fantastic expos, course support, swag bags, and fuel before, during and after the race. But if you’re handing me an ugly cotton t-shirt and a cup of water with a bagel after your race, it better not cost me more than $2/mile. Seriously.

Esquire ran a great piece about the money making business of road races.

And that’s what I want. It’s not too much to ask, is it? I don’t need a personal cheerleader who follows me along the race with a boom box or anything (that would be sweeeeet!) but…

I do need to feel safe.

I do need it to be affordable.

I do need the course to be reasonable.

I do need it to be organized.

And I definitely need the promised support on the route.

What do you need? What’s the best race you’ve run? I need to make a list of people’s favorites so I know what to register for next year! Tell me all about it.

Now go out and run

Hurricane Sandy: DON’T PANIC!!!!

Oh man, I’m already hearing about people deferring and registering for a Spring marathon. While I totally get this kind of panic, I want to warn against it.

The weather isn’t really a sure thing until the night before.

Weather people often overstate for dramatic effect. See: Hurricane Irene.

Damage from Hurricane Irene in NYC. Staggering.

The decision to defer or to just not run is a very personal one.

On the one hand, you’ve trained for this for months and  to have Mother Nature screw you at the last minute just plain sucks. One of my friends said she’d run another one that is also nearby but is two weeks later. That’s one way to go.

Uh-oh, spaghetti-o’s!

On the other hand, if the race coordinators are going to hold it despite a little rain (read: not during a hurricane, but a rain storm), I’d run as long as I felt safe. I mean, we train in the worst conditions over very long, hot summer days. Why should a little rain stop you?

You’ve battled the heat (you sweaty beast, you!), why not the rain?

Get a hat. Wear fitted gear. Make sure your shoes have good tread. Smile.

This is what I would wear. Fitted tank, fitted shorts (both made of Luxtreme), rain resistant lightweight jacket (if it’s lower than 55 deg), and a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes.

The choice is, obviously, yours. But remember, you can’t predict Marathon Sunday weather, which is why we don’t abandon a long run just because the weather isn’t optimal during training.

If you’re not obsessed with getting a PR or hitting a specific goal (anyone left?), give it a shot. Have some fun. Be the badass who ran a marathon in the rain and lived to tell the tale.

My last two marathons, I was just happy to finish feeling good. No PR. No BQ. But I was really proud of my performance and felt seriously awesome for powering through.

I earned that medal. I’m proud of that medal. And I didn’t PR, not even close. Totally worth it.

Just a thought.

Now go out and run!

I’m Out

I had my very first, “Where’s the blog?!” inquiry and decided to wait til everything was settled before I share the reason for my absence: I’ve been busy freaking out.

When I decided to have surgery back in May, I was all, “Let’s do it! Then I can train for the Marine Corps Marathon and be colon-free and kicking butt! Yeah!”

First run colon-free (aka disease-free)!!!

Yeah…

…no.

When I wrote about DNF-ing, I had just completed an awesome 18 mile run. I was feeling GREAT! I had had an absolutely awesome training season and was ready to kick butt. I had no idea I’d basically be talking to myself in two weeks.

Two ER visits in five days and one seriously depressing conversation with my surgeon and ostomy nurse this week have sadly ended my journey to this year’s Marine Corps Marathon. I didn’t realize how much this meant to me until it was taken away.

This is my happy face. I am not making my happy face right now.

All the training. All the hard work to get back on the road and in the gym and into my spinning classes. All the horrifically humid, disgustingly hot summer long runs and short runs for the one goal of running 26.2 in one month: gone. It was SO HARD. REALLY. HARD.

Stupid scar tissue. You see, I had, ummm, major surgery and sometimes there are little complications that cause BIG problems. Like scar tissue. It’s normal and expected but, in my case, is kinking my small intestine and not really allowing food to pass easily. Hello, ER.

ER visit numero uno.

The second ER visit was so painful and awful that I couldn’t even pretend to be ok enough to take a picture. I think the rest of the patients thought I was giving birth. I yelled at the entire team of doctors, learned that Morphine is useless but Dilaudid is my friend, and taught the attending how to treat me.

What this all adds up to is surgery much earlier than expected.

Terrific. Can’t wait to rock the hospital gown look again.

I was planning on doing my J-pouch take-down in December between school semesters. Totally ideal for this busy gal. Well, the best laid plans pave the road to hell and I am on my way into the operating room much earlier to clear out the scar tissue AND do the take-down.

Two birds. One stone. Thanks, doc.

I’m bummed. No, pissed. I’m pissed.

Don’t let the thumbs-up-fake-smile fool you. I am pissed.

The timing sucks. I have to miss school. I have to miss the marathon. I have to miss one of my oldest friend’s wedding. I’m basically going to miss the best time of year for running and being in New York because I will be stuck at home recovering and then trying to catch up with school.

This sucks.

Yes, I know it’s temporary. Yes, I know it’s sooner rather than later “and isn’t that better?” Yes, I know that it means I won’t have to do surgery at Christmas. Yes, I know I’m lucky to have great doctors and lots of support. Yes, I know there’ll be other weddings and marathons and other beautiful Fall days.

*sniff* I love Fall in New York.

Seriously. I know all of that.

And it still sucks.

And I’m still scared.

But ready or not, here we go. Less than two weeks to get everything squared away. Wish me luck and hopefully, by the time I get rolled into that OR, I will have a much better attitude, for your sake and mine.

Now go out and run (I sure am while I still can!).

Endurance Without the Mileage

The Marine Corps Marathon is a little more than 7 weeks away.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!!!!!!!!!!!

Ready to rock my Team Fisher House gear & get my medal!

But I’ve only been back running for 3 months now. That whole surgery thing in May set me back a ways in my marathon training. Soooooooo, what’s a gal to do when she’s committed to running a marathon, for a charity no less, in 7 very short weeks? Suck it up and train smart.

Starting back, I started slow and short. My friend took me for my first jog around the block when I felt ready. I broke exactly zero records on that and just about every run to follow for the past 2 months or so. Only in the last few weeks have I started feeling like myself.

Slow. Heavy. But more like Abby Who Runs instead of Abby Who Just Had Surgery. Progress!

Run, run, run as fast as you can! Can’t catch me, I’m the cupcake woman! Admittedly, I don’t really have cupcakes all that often, which is sad but true.

My first concern was Rosebud. After that, it’s hydration. Then it’s my legs. And finally, my endurance.

My mental game is there. I struggled mentally with my first marathon back in 2003 but kinda got the hang of it after that. My game is primarily about endurance. And since I haven’t had much time to build endurance, I’m doing it in a rather unconventional way.

I’m running, yes, but I’m spinning. Like, twice a week and on days that I’m running and the day after a long run. And I’m lifting twice a week in addition to the 4-5 days a week of running.

Lord help me, it’s been a beastly hot summer! Check the “glow” (= massive sweat).

I’m doing this for several reasons:

  1. One of my favorite Flywheel instructors is finally back from the Hamptons. Finally.
  2. I need to train for the time, but not necessarily the mileage, to increase my endurance without getting injured.
  3. I want to get stronger but I really can’t afford to add more run workouts.
  4. I feel safe to push hard on the bike and in a gym.

A typical week looks like this:

Sometimes I decide not to run and I take a nap. It happens.

The spinning and the track workouts have definitely made a HUGE difference in my ability to add mileage in short period of time.

The other thing I do is mandatory take-down weeks once a month. I add mileage to my long run every week and then, after the third week of adding, I drop down. For example, the past 4 weeks have gone like this:

  • 8/19: Battle of Brooklyn 10-miler
  • 8/27: 14 miles
  • 8/3: 16 miles
  • This weekend: 13 miles
  • Next weekend: 18 miles

This allows my body to take a break from all the adding on and have an easier, shorter long run every few weeks. We’re all about finishing here! No records being broken.

Well, maybe the shortest time from colectomy/ileostomy to marathon? Nah. Probably not.Anyway, if you’re in a hurry to go from nada to marathon (and have done a marathon before), this is a good way to add the mileage without breaking your legs. Works for me!

Now go out and run!

Fitness News Fridays

Happy Friday! I have had a very productive Friday that began in the wee hours of the morning when it was only 36 degrees outside. You read that right. It’s FREEZING here in New York. I hear it’s been snowing upstate and my dear family in Colorado just got blasted with their first snow of the season. Apparently, Vail looks like this:

Courtesy of Vail.com

Wow. Ski season is totally on. Red and her BF must be thrilled!

Anywho, there’s lots going on in the health and fitness world this week, too! As predicted, most of the news is about running and marathons as we count down the days (9) to the New York City Marathon. It’s funny, it’s not the biggest or only marathon in the world but when people in New York ask me, “Are you running The Marathon this year?” they are referring to the New York City Marathon and have rarely heard of another outside of possibly Boston. They are often confused when I say, “No, Philly. The Philly Marathon” and don’t know how to respond.

On that note, GOOD LUCK MARINE CORPS MARATHONERS!!! If you find yourself near Washington, D.C. or Arlington, V.A. this weekend, take a walk along the course and cheer on the 35,000 people running The People’s Marathon this year. I love, love, love this marathon and hope to do it next year.

OOOORAHH!

And now, the news.

  • If you are a female runner, you have Dr. Julia Chase-Brand to thank for paving the way and debunking the myth that your uterus will fall out if you run for more than half a mile.
  • If I had kids, I would make these for Halloween. I may still make them. JB and I are big kids.
  • California has banned teens from using tanning beds. Personally, I dig it cuz it causes cancer.
  • ACL and meniscus injuries in young athletes are on the rise. This drives me crazy because their mostly overuse injuries. A year-round single sport child seems to me to be on the fast track to lifelong debilitating injuries.
  • Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall calls magazines out about unhealthy images portrayed and how it affects young women’s perception of health and beauty. Good on her.
  • Sam Fox is running 2396 miles to raise money for his mother who has Parkinson’s. What have you done for your Mom lately?
  • Yoga helps to relieve back pain. Do you really need MORE reasons to take up yoga? Do it.
  • Adidas made a shoe in honor of the late, great Grete Waitz. 100% of the proceeds goes to Waitz’s cancer foundation.
  • People rarely challenge me to an Anatomy/Physiology discussion about running being “bad” for you (guess who wins that one?) but not everyone has the information to back up their plans to run a marathon and sometimes they encounter the nay-sayers. My advice, tell them “I’m doing it because I want to.” So there.
  • It’s never too late to save your life and start exercising.

One last thing, by popular demand, Aleah and I will be hosting ONE MORE BRICK workout tomorrow starting at 12:30pm at the Upper East Side Flywheel. If you didn’t make the list, come on by and jump on the wait list. See you there!

Have a great weekend. Now go out and run!