Running around New York (literally)

Starting out in the morning. This GoPro is definitely a fashion statement.

Today is my Marathon Birthday – I’m turning 26.2 years old (the .2 is 20% of a year). To celebrate this holiday that I have made up, I decided to run around the island of Manhattan – about 32 miles. I also used a GoPro to make a video about it – check it out above!

I’d run many of the paths around New York before, but there were some parts I thought would be tricky from a navigational perspective. I conveniently found this grassroots ultramarathon organized last year – the Madhattan – where 50 people ran the the same self-supported ultra I was attempting. I used their map as a template to help me prepare for the tricker-to-navigate areas, especially the north east part of the island, where the trail on the east side of the island ends.

I’d read a trip report from someone who cycled it, as well. He put it reassuringly: “It’s an island. You won’t get lost.”

 

This is where I started. I took this with my Android phone!

With these encouraging words in mind, I started running from the West Village area about 5:15 in the morning. I’d decided early on to run counter-clockwise, because the Staten Island Ferry area – where people go to visit the Statue of Liberty – becomes impassible to pedestrians by about 8am on the weekends due to mass quantities of tourists. I also started early because this was my first time using a GoPro camera, and I wanted to capture pictures of the sunrise.

Heading north along the East River was gorgeous – the sun was just rising, and the first 7.5 miles were along a well-marked trail that I was familiar with. I had to jump off for a bit and onto 1st Ave due to construction, but was back on the trail within a mile or so. I also noticed a bit of a headwind, which I hoped would pick up on the way back down and give me a boost going the other direction. I saw almost no other runners or cyclists out.

Sunrise at the southern tip of Manhattan. Taken with GoPro and edited in Lightroom. This camera is legit.

After about 120th Street, the trail along the water ended and I moved onto the streets. It was still pretty early at that point, so there weren’t a lot of people or cars – I could basically jaywalk against red lights. I picked up the trail again and took it most of the way up to the northernmost tip of the island, where I ran an extra two blocks and almost crossed Broadway Bridge, leaving the island. Fortunately, someone gave me directions to Inwood Hill Park – northwest part of the island – which I immediately also failed to follow correctly. I somehow ended up on the wrong side of the fence protecting Columbia’s football stadium, and, instead of running around again, just climbed over to escape. Clearly, the well-meaning cyclist from above had never met someone with as bad a sense of direction as I have.

Inwood Park was beautiful. So lush and green – there was even a little part where I got to run on dirt trails for a bit!  This part of the run also threw into sharp relief the fact that New York City smells really bad in a lot of places. Inwood Park smelled fresh and foresty – such a nice change.

Trails at Inwood Park, next to Columbia University. I’d love to run more of these trails before the summer is over – so beautiful.

Shocking zero people, I got lost in the trails and asked a guy for directions to the Hudson River Greenway – the path that goes along the west side of the island. He pointed me in the right direction. I did this part a little differently than the Madhattan runners did – I ran about the same distance, but a slightly different route, due to my great navigational abilities.

The route I was attempting

The route I was attempting. Click to enlarge.

Immediately after leaving the park, just after mile 20, the battery on my GoPro died. Fortunately, I had been forewarned of the device’s short battery life, and had brought two backups. This also provided a good opportunity to eat my sandwich. Since I still wasn’t clear on where the Hudson River Greenway was, I looked around for someone I thought might give me some additional guidance. A woman on a bike was nearby, and, deciding she was a likely candidate for solid information about bike trails, I asked her. She gave very good directions. Once on the path, it was a straight shot back down to West Village.

The last ten miles weren’t overly challenging, although my feet were in a bit of pain from the sidewalk pounding. I was fortunately aided by a tailwind – the previously identified breeze had picked up quite a bit, and my speed picked up (a very small bit!) as well.

By this point, it was midmorning, and a lot of walkers, runners, and cyclists were enjoying the good weather. However, the trail was wide and I was familiar with it, so it wasn’t difficult to avoid other pedestrians.

Other pedestrians out in the wild.

About four and a half miles out, I passed the yacht club – I use that as a waypoint on a lot of my runs. There’s a family of Canadian Geese with two little baby goslings – they were swimming around in their normal spot.

The last two miles were probably the most difficult. This was territory I was familiar with, so, while I wouldn’t get lost, it wasn’t visually exciting. My ankles were also very sore by this point.

 

During these two miles, I really appreciated the loud city noise and the fact that it’s pretty par for the course for New Yorkers to talk to themselves; I made up some pretty terrible songs, which I sang to myself, during these last few minutes of running. My improvisational musical abilities spanned topics as diverse as the number of miles I had left, the neon yellow shoes of the guy who just passed me, the number of miles I had left, the kid on the bicycle who just passed me, and the number of miles I had left. I told myself that people were looking at my head-mounted camera, not my crazy talking-to-self tendencies.

I finished right back where I started, with a view of One World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty.  After turning off my GoPro, I made a beeline to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.

Putting together the video was a lot of fun, too. Somehow adding music to pictures is weirdly inspirational.

Overall, this was a really fun run. For people interested in doing it, I’d advise you to spend some time with the maps of the area – that helped me avoid a lot of possible extra miles. As for me, I like getting back to leisurely long runs, where I don’t have to worry about time and can just enjoy the scenery and the feeling of taking on a new, and sort of crazy, challenge.

Check out the GoPro imprint on my forehead!

Delaware Marathon: There’s Only One

Here are a few things I learned over the weekend:

  • Delaware was the first state in the union.
  • The largest city, Wilmington, has about 70,000 people. That’s about the size of Mountain View, CA.
  • There’s a guy who’s run ~1,300 marathons in his lifetime. He’s 69, and ran 255 marathons in 2013. He’s still going strong .. .because I just saw him running at Delaware.

When I registered for the race, it asked for the number of states the registrant has run marathons in. (For me, it’s something boring, like five.) Some minor sleuthing uncovered that this Delaware Marathon is, in fact, the *only* marathon in Delaware. If you’re gunning for all 50 states, this race is a requirement.

Registration also asked for a nickname. Will didn’t realize it was going to be printed on his bib.

The two-lap race started at 7am. There were waves for the half marathon and relay teams; they started after us. They had to wear bibs on their backs that said “Half” or “Relay” respectively, which was actually really nice; when they blasted past us at what seemed like unreasonably fast speeds, we could tell they were in a different wave, and not overly enthusiastic marathon runners making the rest of us look slow.

The first couple of miles were nice; we ran on a boardwalk along the river. Around mile five, the course started getting hilly. Mile six/seven was all uphill – challenging, but not terrible, because it was all in shade and under trees. We passed a zoo at one point, but I didn’t see animals out.

Towards the end of the first lap, I saw Larry the 1,300 marathons guy. I’d seen him at another race earlier this year, but hadn’t been able to track him down – I found him by searching through the Delaware race results. Apparently he started running marathons at 52 years old, and now, at 69, is running marathons almost every day of the year. If you want to read about one of the craziest/most impressive endurance runners out there, check out this ESPN article. If you want to see the list of races he’s run, here’s his Marathon Maniacs profile, which lists them all.

Anyway, he remembered me from the other race, and I waved as I ran by.

I finished the first lap around 1:50. I was feeling pretty good about running a sub 4:00 race without needing to push it too hard. Around mile 16, though, my legs started feeling heavy – I popped a Gu and pushed on.

I was still tracking for a sub 4:00 around mile 20. I knew the big hill was going to make or break this goal, and I promised myself I wasn’t going to get frustrated – this was a pretty challenging course. As I trotted up the hill, I was still feeling sore, but passing a lot of other runners; they were struggling too. I passed the zoo again – and this time saw two ostriches!

My hill push wasn’t fast enough. General tiredness, combined with the heat and humidity, made the last 10k very challenging. Around mile 22/23, my pinky and ring fingers started tingling all the way up to my elbow, and I figured it wasn’t a good idea, given the heat, to go for an all out 5k sprint to the finish.

I finished around 4:13, which was in the top 1/4th of women – not bad, although clearly the last 10k was much slower than the rest of the race.

I’m feeling a big of “marathon fatigue” – my last 9 races have been road marathons. I’ve got my eye on a trail ultra or two in the next several months; I’m looking forward to being back out in nature. My last ultra was at the end of 2012, so hopefully I still know what to do! ;)

Post-race, outside of our hotel. Our hotel was at mile 25.9 of the course… I was definitely tempted to defect to a warm shower.

Monsoon Marathon in Hilo, Hawaii

Part of the first half of the marathon in Hilo, HI.

This morning I ran my 34th marathon – the Big Island International Marathon, in Hilo, Hawaii.

Hilo, on the east coast of the Big Island, is one of the wettest places in the world. Some weather stations in Hilo report an average of 200 inches per year of rain. For comparison, Philadelphia, where I currently live, receives about 40 inches per year. Our marathon day in Hilo was predicted to be no different – serious downpour.

In the event of extreme weather conditions, my phone will send me a weather notification. The day before the race, this is what I got:

Screenshot_2014-03-15-13-51-36

From further down the page:

Winds this strong can result in damaged roofs. Broken and falling tree branches, downed trees, downed power poles and power lines resulting in interruptions to power. Flying debris if outdoor items are not properly tied down.

So, not only would we be running through pouring rain, but we’d be battling a very strong wind. And, in case it didn’t seem like this marathon would be challenging enough, there would be hill climbing – probably about 1,000 feet in total. All of it at the beginning, in the dark. Continue reading

Podium Finish!

I just got an email from McAllen Marathon team – apparently I came in 3rd! The listed 3rd place finisher didn’t actually finish the race, even though her chip triggered at the finish line. Kinda cool! Here’s the email. Text below.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 5.06.49 PM

Congratulations Lisa!

After reviewing the final results from Sunday’s McAllen Marathon, we discovered an error. It seems the overall third place female finisher in the marathon did not complete the marathon. Her chip was somehow read by the sensors. She notified us of the error and we have removed her from the results.

You are now the overall third place finisher and winner of $250.00. Please complete the attached form so we can mail you a check.

Thank you for running the McAllen Marathon.

Thank You,
City of McAllen

Leslie A. Howland
Marketing & Events Coordinator
Parks and Recreation Department
(956) 681-3333

Running into the wind in McAllen, Texas

This weekend was an air drop mission. Will and I (see photo!) flew out of Philadelphia on Saturday morning, ran a marathon in McAllen, Texas on Sunday morning, and flew home Sunday evening. We got home around midnight.

The purpose of the mission was to run a really fast marathon. I was looking for a sub 3:35, which would be a PR and a Boston qualifying time. The course seemed perfect – super flat and fast, and not a lot of other runners – only about 200 running the full marathon. The weather was poised to be perfect as well – low 50s with clouds overhead.

I ran a 3:39 marathon at Philly just four weeks ago. With the additional speed training, better nutrition, and better tapering this time around, a sub-3:35 seemed like a very achievable goal.

Whenever I’m feeling good during a race, I always have to remind myself that there are still a lot of miles to go, and anything can happen. Even with all of these seemingly excellent conditions, this was a race that threw us a bit of a curve ball when we least expected it. Continue reading

Leave Nothing on the Table

I rarely plan races very far in advance. Usually, I’ll see a race happening in about a week, sign up, awkwardly taper for five days, then run it. This has the benefit of allowing for no anxiety buildup; because I wasn’t *really* training anyway, there’s no pressure to meet a certain goal. It’s just a fun run.

In organizational psychology, there’s a theory called normative influence. It’s a fancy way of saying that individuals get sucked into doing or thinking the same things as a larger group. Which is a fancy way of saying “peer pressure.”

I’ve been signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon for about five months, which is a lot of lead time. My fellow business school students have been training hard for this race. I found myself doing what they did: following a training plan, scheduling long runs, adding in speed work. This isn’t a bad thing – just a little unusual for me.

Probably due to training enthusiasm, I ran into several problems during this prolonged training period, most of which were related to injuries and nutritional deficiencies. On race day, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was very nervous. I was hoping to run a 3:35, but didn’t really know what that meant, especially given the speed bumps along the way.

Top of the Rocky Steps pre-race.

With most races I run, I have time to think during the race. Marathons are long, and relaxing into the distance is part of what makes them enjoyable. When I run for speed, there’s no relaxation. The race is stressful and confusing and I never feel like I’m running quite fast enough. Philadelphia was more like the latter.

We woke up in the dark and jogged a mile along the river to the start line. The day was perfect; cloudy and chilly, and the course was great.

We started out at the Philadelphia Art Museum (famous for the Rocky steps!) and headed across town, through the city. Once we reached the Delaware river, we turned around and shot back the way we’d come, along a different street. This was my favorite part of the race; I felt unstoppable, flying through the closed streets of the city I live in, right past my apartment. I understood at that moment that this was the feeling I’d been training for – this light, unstoppable immortality.

Miles 8 and 9 were tricky; lots of hills. I definitely need to do more hill work; I lost some time here. My 13.1-mile split was 1:49 or so. Aiming for a 3:35, I knew I’d somehow have to run faster on the second half than I did on the first half. For the next couple of miles, I picked up the pace – it felt very achievable.

Donchak running!

Around mile 20, I was in for a surprise: my left quad cramped. In over five years and 30+ marathons, I’ve never had a cramp during a race. I really felt like my leg could have fallen out from under me – which was a really fascinating and somewhat concerning experience. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I drank electrolytes, took some caffeine, stretched, and popped an ibuprofen, hoping one of those things would help. After about a mile or so, it cleared up – but I had lost a couple of minutes I was pretty sure I couldn’t make up.

Around the 23-mile mark, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make my 3:35 goal. I had two options: give up and take it easy for the last 5k, or see just how fast I could go – even though I wasn’t going to hit my time.

I played out the post-race thought-process in my head. If I didn’t run my hardest for the last few miles, I’d always wonder what I could have done. As a good friend said, “when you have doubt, there is no doubt.”

One of my first managers was a runner as well. In one our one-on-one meetings, we talked about managing energy. He said, “I know you’re good at this – you’re a runner. You know that in the final stretch, you don’t leave anything on the table. You go for it.”

I threw down.

The last 5k were very hard, but I felt strong. I finished in 3:39:24.

While I wasn’t thrilled that I didn’t meet my goal, it was my second-fastest marathon.

All in all, it was fun to train hard with my fellow students. It also put a lot of pressure on the race, and because I didn’t quite hit the goal I was aiming for, I felt a bit deflated afterwards. I run for the enjoyment of it; not for time. Putting time goals into a race takes some of the magic out of being out there.

That being said, I still think I can hit the 3:35 mark. So I’m signed up for another race … which is 21 days away.

At the finish line with another Wharton runner. One of us ran a 2:49 marathon … can you guess which one? (Hint: it’s him.)

Behavioral Contagion – or Why I ran a Solo Marathon this Weekend

I just ran a solo marathon. Google+ makes these gifs look good.

My usual training method is somewhat ad-hoc:

  1. Run a few miles a week
  2. Run a few more miles each week
  3. One day, notice I’m running a lot of miles
  4. Sign up for a 50k race that’s three days away.

This somewhat contrasts to my new Wharton MBA classmates plans. Several of us are running the Philadelphia Marathon; my classmates are following quite rigorous training plans, which involve increasingly long weekend runs: 18, 20, 22 miles. Out of laziness with regards to my own training plan, I’ve latched on to their long runs.

Behavioral Contagion is a fascinating type of social influence. It explains why members of a social group tend to do similar things , like all face the same direction in an elevator or all order diet-busting dessert at a restaurant. It also explains why I seem to be following a training plan for this race – everyone else is doing it.

Behavioral contagion played a part in my decision to run a solo marathon this weekend. Here’s how:

  • Hogfest. On Saturday, Wharton hosted an inter-collegiate rugby tournament. I know I would be celebrating with the team that evening, and I also knew they’d be glowing from post-tournament exhaustion.  I felt like I would be missing out if I weren’t also athletically drained and able to celebrate with them.
  • 20 miles is almost 26.2 miles. I also knew that my runner colleagues would be running about 20 miles this weekend. But, in my mind, 20 miles is just an hour short of a marathon. It seems silly to not just tack on an extra 6.2 and get the marathon.

Perverse logic. But, there it is.

I thought about all of this on Thursday. True to my historical training regimen, three days later, I woke up and ran a glorious, easy, solo marathon.

The weather was amazing – just around 50*F. I ran along the river, with a very slight breeze and the sun low on the horizon. There were a few stretches of gravel path with green branches arching up on either side. It wasn’t a redwood forest, but it was gorgeous nevertheless.

The geeky runner information: My goal was to run a 4-hour marathon without feeling terrible afterwards.  I was trying to run at a consistent pace – one that didn’t feel frantic, but also that was a bit of a push. I ran my first 13.1 in 1:59:53 (just under two hours), then finished the entire run at 4:04:22 – pretty close to goal. Legs were a little wobbly around mile 16, but a Gu helped with that. Overall, this wasn’t terrible – and I think I can improve on 4:04 for Philadelphia, especially since I hadn’t tapered at all for this particular run (the total mileage for the week was 56.2).

In summary: I was “contaged” to run a solo marathon. But it was the best kind of contagion – the kind that pushes you just a little farther than you would have pushed yourself.

Also – this happened to be my 30th marathon. Yay!