Sunday, November 27, 2011

Adventures in Europe: Part 1

I got back from London and Zurich last Sunday, and between recovering from jet lag and recovering from Thanksgiving, I haven't had a minute to sit and write out a post about my trip! So here goes...

Big Ben!
London was lovely. I literally did not stop smiling for the first 48 hours that I was there (and when I stopped smiling, it was only because I'd finished my scone). I had two wonderful hosts, Sarah (my friend and old roommate from college, who just moved in London not too long ago) and her boyfriend Ricardo.
Sarah and me
We wasted no time and as soon as I arrived, we set out for the nearest pub in search of fish, chips and ciders. We made our way to Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery, the Horse Guards, Whitehall (where the Queen laid a wreath to honor veterans the next day), the Winston Churchill museum and Cabinet War Rooms (SO cool...if you go to London, you really should go there!), the Thames, had mulled wine in Covent Garden, walked around Somerset House... I saw a lot, and absolutely loved it.
Christmas tree in Covent Garden!
String quartet playing at Covent Garden
Next day we had a traditional English breakfast (baked beans, sausage, bacon, toast, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, tea) and walked over to Portobello Market. We walked along the market, to the pastel houses, through Hyde Park to Kensington Palace, and finally to Harrods.
Notting Hill
Why yes, I AM a tourist, how could you tell?!
Monday and Tuesday I was on my own since Sarah and Ricardo had to work, but I definitely kept myself busy. Monday I visited London School of Economics and London Business School, and treated myself to tea -- a pot of tea, a scone, and clotted cream were all I needed to be in heaven.
Tea at Clifton Kitchen
Afterward, I went to Trafalgar Square, then walked along Old Bond Street and New Bond Street to get to Fortnum & Mason (this AMAZING specialty food store), then walked along Oxford Street to take in the holiday decor, which was definitely in full swing!
Department stores ready for the holidays
Pretty lights on Oxford Street
Before I knew it, it was my last day and it was definitely time for a run! I really lucked out with gorgeous weather during my trip (except at night, when I'd come out of the tube station to a misty rain...what's up with that?!), and went for a quick jaunt along the canal that was near Sarah and Ricardo's apartment in Little Venice.
A path along the canal similar to
the one I ran along

We'd done a lot of walking around, and it was lovely to get outside and run!

I hope you enjoyed this recap of my trip to London! Next up: Zurich!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dear New York...

Dear New York,

We've been together now for over four (sometimes rocky) years. But you've always been there for me, especially last weekend when all I wanted to do was stop and you just wouldn't let me, teasing me with your crazy marathon course and making me leave my beloved park before going back to cross that finish line. Yup, you sure can be difficult sometimes, but I love you all the same.

This week, though, I'm leaving you. I'm leaving you for nine full days, jetting across the pond to spend four days in London and five in Zurich before coming back and leaving you all over again when Thanksgiving comes around. (Sorry I'm not sorry -- I love traveling almost as much as I love homemade apple pie.)

I promise I'll get some runs in while I'm gone, but I can't promise they will ever measure up to the awesomeness of Nov. 6, 2011. I'm really just not comfortable admitting that that could even be a possibility, so for now we'll just say that nothing can ever compare to that day, that race. I think my smile and crazed look really prove that:
Crazy face.
But thanks again for a seriously awesome, kickass weekend last weekend. I won't soon forget it.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New York City Marathon: If you can make it there... can make it anywhere. So goes the song that serenaded us as we prepared to cross the start of the 42nd New York City Marathon!

Does my face show how excited I am?!
And/or insane.
Seriously though, this was one of the best days of my life. This race and day was one for the books and one I will not soon forget.

Thursday night after work I went to pick up my bib number. I didn't have much time to linger though, because I was going to the NY Flyers pasta party where THE BART YASSO would be speaking. While the food was pretty boring, the company was lovely and Bart's speech and slideshow were a great way to kick off marathon weekend.

Friday night my parents came in from Virginia and we went to dinner at Georgia's Cafe on the Upper West Side. I was sure to request an extra bread basket that was devoured in addition to the pita bread that came with my main dish. I also got a dried cherry pumpkin oatmeal cookie that played an important role in my carbo-loading for the race. I probably wouldn't have gotten through mile 20 if I hadn't had that cookie.

Saturday I laid low while my parents went to some museums. On top of relaxing and getting in a two-mile run, I also met up with Janae and 10 or so other bloggers/Hungry Runner Girl readers at 16 Handles (conveniently just up the road from my apartment!). (A big thank you 16 Handles for getting me through mile 21.) Let me just say that Janae is the sweetest, most hilarious girl -- we all had a blast talking about the race and running and everything in between!
Clearly I should not stand in the back row!
And I shouldn't wear a ponytail with a headband.
(picture courtesy of Janae)
Afterward my parents came to my apartment and we got ready to go to Uva for dinner. Dinner was super delicious -- we started with bruschetta and a killer bread basket, which I chased soon after with a whole wheat farfalle dish, filled with delicious sauce, mozzarella, and spinach. (Uva got me through mile 22, for sure.)

I attended to some very important business after dinner -- decorating my nails.
Disregard the accent nail - I ran out of zebra print.
I used Sally Hansen nail decal thingamajigs that were zebra print to remind me A) that I am an animal, and B) to run like a zebra running from a lion. I also wrote a mantra on my hand that I saw every time I looked at my watch -- "Think strong. Be strong. Finish strong." It helped.

I went to bed around 11pm, full and happy and totally ready to wake up and race the crap out of the NYC Marathon. I set three alarms and while I didn't wake up every hour on the hour like I'd expected I would, I did wake up once at 2:34am and checked to make sure that my iPhone had, indeed, fallen back with the time change. At 5am my alarm went off and I LEAPT out of bed, popped a bagel in the toaster, and threw on my race outfit, fleece throwaway pants and top, ear warmer and gloves. I grabbed my UPS bag and went outside in search of a cab -- of which there were none. Luckily I ran into two other girls who were also searching for a cab to Midtown (I took the 6am bus from the NYPL), so we headed to 3rd Ave. in search of a cab -- which we finally found!

The bus pickup at the NYPL was seamless -- there were a ton of people, but no pushing or shoving or worry that anyone would be late. As soon as one group of buses was full, they would take off and another group would file in. It took about an hour, but I made it to Staten Island around 7:15 and immediately located the portapotties and my start village (not to mention Dunkin' Donuts coffee). The whole thing was rather uneventful and quite solitary for me -- I chatted with a couple of people, but was mostly inwardly focused on getting my head in the game and trying to control my excitement.

At the Staten Island Half Marathon, I'd eaten my normal pre-race fuel, but I still felt empty and like I didn't fuel enough before that run. This time, I tried to stay very in tune with what my body needed. I had my traditional bagel with peanut butter on the bus and drank a lot of water all morning, but I knew I'd need more to eat. I had a banana at some point, then grabbed a free bagel that I nibbled on throughout the morning. My body felt strong and happy and not empty in the least throughout the entire race, so I think I did a great job of listening to it and fueling it well. I ended up drinking water and Gatorade every other aid station (note that running and drinking WILL result with Gatorade going up your nose), and taking a gel every six miles.
Before I knew it we were lining up in our corrals, and I heard "New York, New York" and the cannon sound for the first wave. Slowly we made out way up, and all of a sudden it was our turn to take the city by storm and run the biggest marathon in the world. I took a Gu and reminded myself that THIS was what I came for (a mantra that I repeated many, many times throughout the race). 
Sea of people
The race, according to my Garmin (which was a bit inaccurate, but hey, let's go with it):
Miles 1, 2 - 9:58, 8:45. I did well in the first mile, and let my legs fly running down the Verrazano Bridge. I did my best not to weave and just keep a strong, steady pace.

Miles 3, 4 - 9:13, 9:06. Oh man, it was SO GREAT to get into Brooklyn. The crowds early on were mostly people on their stoops and hanging out. It was also around here that I ran into two NY Flyers whom I'd met at the previous Three Bridges Runs, and they also happened to be aiming for a sub-4 hour marathon. (I ended up sticking with them through mile 17!)

Miles 5, 6, 7 - 8:55, 8:48, 8:51. Wow. A little quick there, Margaret. I got a little taken away by how great I felt and how wonderful the crowds were in Brooklyn. I was actually very blown away by the crowds that showed up, and the support that they showed; from signs to cheers to high-fives. This was one of my favorite parts of the race.

Miles 8, 9, 10 - 9:13, 9:06, 8:57. My legs felt good, the crowds were still great, and I was having a hard time not letting my legs go as fast as they wanted to go. I just let them fly! It also helped that I had two other people to run with and listen to and chat a bit with. Somewhere in here I also saw Johnny, who I met through the NYCM Facebook group and hung out with before the Staten Island Half Marathon! Who knew I'd run into so many people I knew among 47,000?!

Miles 11, 12, 13 - 9:12, 9:07, 9:10. This was somewhat familiar territory for me -- the Three Bridges Run had passed along here on the way to Queens and the Pulaski Bridge, so I felt comfortable at this pace. It was right around my goal pace of 9:09, too.

Miles 14, 15, 16 - 9:20, 9:21, 10:10. Unremarkable miles through Queens. I hit the halfway mark at 2:00:25, which would mean I'd have to negative split to break four hours. I suspected this was unlikely, but just kept trucking. Mile 16 was uphill on the Queensboro bridge -- I'd heard this was a terrible part of the race because it's just sneakers hitting the ground, so I focused on the views of Manhattan to my left and just putting one foot in front of the other and preparing to head into my borough.

Miles 17, 18, 19 - 9:29, 9:14, 9:26. MANHATTAN! Whew! I was definitely NOT greeted with the "wall of sound" that everyone talks about so much, so that was a bit of a letdown. My feet also started to HURT, so I kept repeating, "Your feet hurt because you're kicking so much ass!" to myself, which actually really helped! I knew that my parents and friends would be along 1st Ave. though, so I stuck to the left side and kept an eye out for them. At 17.5 I saw Becca and Portia who I know from college -- we were all in the same sorority and they actually made a bright pink sign with ∆∆∆ and "MARGARET" written on it. I couldn't miss it, and screamed out their names so they'd know I saw them! It was a bit before then that I lost my Flyers buddies so it was exciting to see people that I knew when I was getting a bit tired. At 103rd St. and 1st Ave, I saw my parents, which was SO awesome. They saw me, too!
So happy to see my parents!
Miles 20, 21 - 9:39, 9:30. Heading up into the Bronx I didn't really know what to expect. I'd never run up there, but I'd heard that Willis Bridge was a toughie. Since I'd lost my running partners back at mile 17 and I was starting to need an extra push, I put on my headphones, pumped my arms as hard as I could, and made my way through the Bronx. I thought the crowds in the Bronx were actually pretty impressive, and before I knew it I was back in Manhattan.

Miles 22, 23 - 9:29, 9:28. I unexpectedly saw my friend Eileen along 5th Ave., but completely missed two big old cheering squads of friends. They saw me, but I was on the other side of the street and completely oblivious. I think I had some sort of a marathoner blackout (which sounds bad, but trust me, I didn't feel dehydrated or sick or anything) where I just don't really remember much and was 100% focused on getting through the last few miles. 

Mile 24 - 9:58. Hello, 5th Ave. incline. I did not enjoy you. Not one little bit! But the PARK!!! Oh, it was so wonderful to enter my park. The crowds in the park were really wonderful, too. (I have a Powerbar gel to thank for getting me through this mile.)

Mile 25 - 9:35. Big downhill along Cat Hill. I'd been warned about this hill, not to take it too fast so as not to thrash my quads (oh, but my quads still feel quite thrashed today!).

Mile 26 - 9:38. Slight uphill exiting the park, followed by a great crowd on 59th St. I remember thinking that Columbus Circle looked so. far. away. But I don't remember much else. Other than being SO HAPPY when I was suddenly AT Columbus Circle and making the turn back into the park for the final 0.2 mi. I might not remember the last couple of miles terribly well, but I do remember making that turn.

Last 0.2 - 9:15 pace. Thank goodness I picked it up, but let me tell you, it was NOT easy to do so. I was struggling at this point, begging my legs to go faster, take me closer to the finish, complete the marathon that I'd spent the better part of two years mentally preparing for. Crossing that finish line was indescribable, and I almost cried, I was so happy. 

Final time: 4:06:31, for an average pace of 9:25! A personal record by 6 minutes and 41 seconds. A personal record I am so, very, incredibly proud of. A personal record I set in my city, New York City, among 47,000 others (not to mention the 2.5 million spectators). 

It is a feeling I will not soon forget. It is a race I will always remember. It was my first New York City Marathon, but it will not be my last!
Full of pride, happiness, and beer.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I'm a New York City Marathon finisher!

Medal on. Beer in hand.
AND I PR'ed -- 4:06:31!!! (A 7-minute PR! Which is also how much I PR'ed by in the Staten Island Half Marathon! Lucky number 7 indeed!)

More to come in an official recap, but suffice it to say that this was a race of a lifetime. I had an absolutely amazing time (even when I was hurting!) and wouldn't change anything about this race.

Fittingly, this is also my 100th post here on Have A Good Run -- and the NYC Marathon is a perfect way to celebrate it!

Thanks to all for your supportive tweets, comments, texts and cheers along the course! I appreciate every single one :)