Friday, November 10, 2017

A VIP Experience at the NYC Marathon

I mostly write about my race experiences but last weekend’s festivities were too awesome not to blog about. So here ya go....

Exhibit A
Watching Shalane Flanagan become the first American woman in 40 years to win the NYC Marathon = Priceless

My connection to New York
Since I was born in New York City and raised in Northern Jersey (20 minutes outside of the city), I grew up watching the NYC Marathon. In fact, I didn't know other marathons existed for a long long time. No, not even Boston. My Grandpa was a sports fanatic (and a genetic freak of nature: athletically - Haywood Henry... a prodigious athlete...ran the 100 yards in less than 10 seconds and musically - he played on over 1,000 rock and roll records in the 1950s and 1960s) and I remember hearing him talk about the NYC Marathon every year. In fact, it became a goal of mine to one day participate. Of course at the time I figured I'd walk it. Never thought in a million years I'd become an endurance athlete. Funny how your life can head in a different direction than you ever imagined. It's also fascinating how conversations can shape the person you become today.

With my multi-talented Grandpa. Excuse the hair. And what am I wearing?!? Mom, seriously?
Me running in the One City Marathon earlier this year and trying my hardest to break 3 hours. I came up 6 seconds short but I think my Grandpa would be proud :-)
Enough with the nostalgia... I'm sure you're wondering how a regular Joe Schmoe like myself got VIP access to all of the NYC Marathon festivities. Long story (sort of) short: In late July I was chatting with Tony (Anthony) Reed, Co-founder / President of the National Black Marathoners Association and he mentioned doing a bunch of speaking engagements and NBMA meet and greets on the East Coast in Oct/Nov. I told him about Ironman 70.3 North Carolina and how I wanted to qualify for next year's World Championships. He agreed to make Wilmington, NC, one of his stops before heading up to New York for the marathon. "Did someone mention the NYC Marathon?!?! VIP access??"

With Tony at Ironman 70.3 North Carolina a few weeks ago. Yes, I qualified for next year's Ironman 70.3 World Championships!! Many people don't know this...Tony is the first person to talk me into traveling for a race. I used to be too scared. Somehow he got me to do the Dallas Marathon on December 13, 2015 - my birthday! Wonderful experience (4th female). I've been traveling for races ever since.

Of course when he mentioned the NYC Marathon my ears perked up. "Soooo Tony.. any chance I can tag along?" Tony: "I'll see what I can do". My mother always says "if you don't ask, you won't receive". Touché Mom.
The Golden Ticket
The timing was perfect. I had just wrapped up my tri season. Stay out late? Drink? Go to the marathon and NOT have to race?? Heck yeah! Flight booked. And lucky for me my parents still live right outside of NYC = no hotel fees + family time, AND my parents got to join me in the VIP tent at the marathon. THANK YOU TONY!

The evening before the marathon I had dinner in Harlem with fellow NBMA marathoners and got to catch up with friends I only get to see once a year at the annual summit. It was so strange listening to everyone talk about racing and paces and nerves. Usually I'm going through the same emotions. It was a welcome change being able to sit back, relax, eat what I want, have a beer, and not think about a bed time.

At Harlem Tavern
The National Black Marathoners Association has over 5,000 members
Our next stop was an event hosted by Running USA ("Network With The Running Industry") in Manhattan. As my friend Alex put it, "How often do you get to be in a room with 'Who's Who' of the running industry." FYI I saw Kara Goucher across the room and all I wanted to ask her was "Where is Emma Coburn?!?"....I'm such a fan of hers. Probably a good thing she wasn't there because they probably would have had to call security.
With Tony and Alex at Running USA's pre-marathon reception.
One of the most enjoyable conversations I had was with 2X Boston Marathon winner Geoff Smith.
With 1984 and 1985 Boston Marathon winner Geoff Smith.
This man was hilarious. He asked about my running and triathlon background. I proceeded to tell him about falling 6 seconds short of my sub-3 hour attempt and how frustrating and upsetting it was. He said "Oh that's nothing" and shows me this pic on his phone. 

That's not him with his arms in the air, basking in the glow of a Boston Marathon win in 1983. He's the other guy on the pavement that lost by a few seconds. Funny but not so funny. What I loved about his story is that he picked himself up and won the next year and the year after.
I feel so blessed to be able to have conversations with such fascinating people. I'll never take it for granted. Ever! In fact, I could go on and on about who else I chatted with that evening, but I'll end it on this note (because I still have to talk about the NYC Marathon lol)...one convo I did find helpful was with Liam Fayle, of Hawi Management. Yep, the sports agency that represents Meb Keflezighi, Kati Zaferes, and countless others. A snippit of our convo...

Me: So when do you know when you need a sports agent?
Liam: When different companies are trying to negotiate contracts with you, throwing out numbers and prices....
Me: Oh darn. I guess I don't need an agent :-)

The Big Day
With my parents near the VIP entrance to the NYC Marathon Lounge. Steps away from the finish line. Oh and I'm not an only child. My brother is in school. Nile - hurry up and finish. We miss you!
Media above. They must have been working with hundreds of cameras. I couldn't count all of the screens.
Watching the pro women take off...with hot coffee, donuts, eggs, muffins...the catering was on point!
In between watching the race and eating a ridiculous amount of food I met some AMAZING people.
ELIUD KIPCHOGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you have not seen the Documentary "Breaking 2" I suggest you watch it. He was part of the Nike sub-2 hour marathon record attempt. He ended up running 2:00:24. So close! I thought about telling him about my sub-3 hour attempt from earlier this year. I thought he could totally relate hahaha. JK! But in all seriousness, for all of his accolades (including Olympic Gold in the Marathon), he was so kind and so humble. 

A few other awesome people I met....
Rich Harshbarger, CEO of Running USA. People's backgrounds are so fascinating. He swam in the Olympic Trials when he was 17 years old. 
With Ashton Eaton. Decathlon and Pentathlon World Record holder. I forgot to turn my flash on :-(
I felt so lucky to be able to watch history in the making...
Meb's last marathon before retirement.
And Shalane Flanagan winning the women's race!

WHAT.A.WEEKEND <3
I'm glad I got to share it with you

Mom, Dad, Tony, and I
...the end.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ironman 70.3 North Carolina (4:49:18)

Yes, that's a smile :-)
“Have patience and spend less time comparing yourself to others. We all improve and develop at different rates, don’t stress about how you measure up to others just focus on making you a better version of you.”
― Desi Linden
(one of my favorite marathoners)

After the 70.3 World Championships last month I had mixed feelings - elated that I survived and crossed the finish line of a major race AND frustrated, disappointed, and quite frankly embarrassed about my time and place. I finished in 5:38:44 and came in 589th place. Five Hundred and Eighty Ninth *insert rolling eye emoji*. 

I took a week off. Stepped away from the sport. Went to the Dominican Republic with one of my best buddies and ate, drank, and laughed the days away. You know that saying..."all work and no play"....

Proof that I do have fun. Thank you Catherine for the memories!
When I got back in town I gradually returned to training and set my sights on Ironman 70.3 North Carolina. After all, it was my "A" race for the season. I told my coach that I wanted to peak for this race and end the season with a bang. I knew I was more suited for this course - flat (unlike Chattanooga). Lesson learned from Worlds: you can't go from training and racing on one terrain and expect to do well on a completely opposite course. I train day in and day out on pancake flat roads and trails. Climbing a mountain on a bike was completely foreign territory. My only saving grace - 5 Days with Dan Empfield.

3 weeks before 70.3 NC...
I did a lot of long rides and some hard workouts in TrainerRoad so that I could get used to my new bike. I had two big run workouts (one was a super hard 12-miler on tired legs), and started getting up at 4:30 am to swim with a Master's group coached by Steve Hennessy. As the race got closer I set a goal of breaking 5 hours and qualifying for the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in South Africa. 

I only ask my parents to come to certain races. I really needed them at this one.
My parents flew to VA and then made the drive with me to Wilmington, NC. I can't express the gratitude I have for them. They give me confidence. They make me laugh. They calm me down. They believe in me. They love me. (My brother isn't pictured...he's in school...but he was there in spirit!)

The day before the race....
Athlete Check In with Dad
Bike Drop Off
Checking out the swim course with Brian
Race Day
I was eerily calm. Now that I've done Worlds (absurdly difficult) this race felt pretty low key. I didn't have to swim upriver, or climb over 3,000 feet on the bike, or run up and down hills for 13.1 miles. I knew I could just lock into a pace and go go go - what I like to do best.
All smiles at the swim start with Dad. FYI my Dad is 65!!
Can you spot me?? Stupid Budget truck ruining the pic.
The Swim (1.2 miles): 29:24
Side note: my self esteem, when it came to swimming, took a serious nose dive this season. I went from being relatively competitive to climbing out of the water at the back of the pack (10+ minutes behind). I wasn't sure if it was mental or physical, and I only had 3 weeks to get out of my rut, so I started going to 5:30 am Master's practices and spent one-on-one time with Coach Steve (Hennessy). Wow! There's nothing like being in a group setting and being pushed. Swimming became fun again. Looking forward to making this a habit in the off-season.

Back to the race ... the swim was downstream = fast times. I just needed to make sure I was competitive - within 3-5 minutes of the top women. 
My zipper got stuck!!
It's still a work in progress, but overall I was pleased with how the swim went. I was engaged, focused, fought hard. Strong pull, high elbows, stay on course, stay on feet. And most importantly stayed within those 3-5 minutes I desperately fought for.

My Dad with Anthony (Tony) Reed, Co-founder of the National Black Marathoners Association
They didn't understand the concept of volunteer "strippers" haha. FYI there are volunteers on the course that help you take your wetsuit off :-)
The Bike (56 miles): 2:42:08 (21.17 mph)
After the longest transition known to man...literally…my Garmin says the race was about 72 miles (not 70.3). I hopped on my bike. And by “hopped on” I'm not referring to a graceful, flying mount / shoes already clipped into my bike. I can't even describe the scene. Totally embarrassing. I'm already discombobulated from the swim, and then trying to get on the bike, clip my shoes in ...I'm all over the rode. People are like "get out of the way" :-(

Post race…
Me: Mom, did you see me get on the bike?
Mom: Of course
Me: Were you embarrassed?
Mom: Of course not. I know you don’t do it like everyone else. Besides, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Gotta love Moms. They always know how to put a positive spin on things.
With the hard part over (the mount), time to ride for 56 miles ;-)
I pedaled off into the distance confident that my bike and I were going to have a major breakthrough. If you've read my previous blog posts or have been following my bike journey via Slowtwitch.com, then you know the struggles I've had. Lots of ups and downs (mostly downs) when it came to the bike - crying fests, threatening to quit, you name it. To FINALLY be in tune with a bike ...such a blessing!

My genius idea..after watching 3x Ironman World Champ Daniela Ryf's post Kona interview, where she talked about riding hard and pretending like she didn't have to run a marathon after, I decided I'd give that a try. I felt like a bad *ss until about 10 miles into the bike course when I remembered I wasn't Daniela Ryf. I was just little 'ol Sika Henry.

Mind games...I broke the bike course into 5-mile sections and pretended like it was a typical Sunday long ride with Connie (Maxwell) and Marc (Lee). There's always a point when I can't hang on and get dropped and then have to work really hard on my own to keep them in sight. Everyone off in the distance became Connie and Marc.

The best part of the ENTIRE race though happened at the second bottle exchange. I spotted the littlest volunteer. A young African American girl. She was holding a Gatorade bottle up as high as she could. I was soooo going to get that bottle from her. I slowed, grabbed it, she screamed "YES", everyone cheered. It was awesome. That moment/that girl made my day.

Approaching bike dismount
I don't understand all the aero testing Brian and Heath do, but I like science and numbers. The Giro Aerohead (helmet) tested well. Thanks for letting me borrow it! 

The Run (13.1 miles/half marathon): 1:31:15
Leaving transition. Heading out on the run course.
I immediately started calculating my times. I knew I was on pace to finish under 5 hours. My next goal was to break 1:30. As always I start out conservative and then try to get faster and faster each mile so that I can ultimately negative split the course. The one thing that took me by surprise was the first 3 miles. There were actually a few hills. In hindsight I wish I pushed harder during these miles.

5 miles into the run I had passed a lot of women and was feeling good. I remembered seeing them fly by me on the bike and wondered if our paths would cross again. This gave me a lot of confidence. All was going well until around mile 7. I hit a rough patch and felt like I needed to walk. My watch beeped and I was afraid to look at it. "7:22" - my slowest mile. I was honestly expecting it to say 8:30 or 9. Relief! But I knew at that point I wasn't going to break 1:30. It's surreal to be complaining about this considering I tried to break 1:30 in a regular half marathon not too long ago (2014) and ended up in a med tent drinking Pedialyte (and didn't break 1:30)! The mind and body are incredible.
I ended up having the second fastest run for the women.
The race had strung out so much at this point. At the turnaround I saw the top 3 women (they had the lead cyclists with them). And then I was told I was in 5th. But I knew that wasn't guaranteed because there were women in waves behind me. Side note: this is what I like least about racing as an amateur. Since we don't all take off at the same time you don't know what place you are truly in until all of the women finish!
Run splits
Over the last five miles I focused on the men in front of me. I pretended they all had ponytails and were women I needed to pass. Some cheered for me as I passed, others grunted LOL. I checked my watch one more time and realized I could break 4:50 if I held 6:40s over the last couple miles. I'm getting pretty good at calculating splits under duress!
I did it! 4:49:18. 9th Woman.
With Tony. Thank you for making the drive and cheering for me all over the course!
Little known fact...he's run over 100 marathons, one in 50 states, and one on every continent.
Reflecting on the race, I'm most proud of my bike split.

Top 10 Women
Yes, I know the girl that placed one spot in front of me outbiked me by 20 minutes. But you know what? This used to be 40 minutes. The possibility that one day I'll bike 20 minutes faster is exciting. 20 minutes faster = 4:29. A 4:29 would have won this race by 5 minutes.

"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting." ~The Alchemist

I qualified for the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Heading to South Africa!!
Last but certainly not least, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world that USA Triathlon Magazine ran my article in their fall edition. My blog is for fun, random, scatter brain thoughts. But I also enjoy writing about more serious topics. You can access the article HERE

I can't believe the tri season is over. I had so much fun being on a team - IRaceLikeAGirl, racing at the Boston Triathlon, winning my first Virginia Triathlon Series race, working with Coach Sooz for another year, and of course my trip to Valyermo. I can't wait to see what's in store for next year.

For now, I'm looking forward to the offseason and doing some local Flat-Out Event road races. It's been awhile since I've put on my Point 2 Running Company singlet. Good luck to everyone running in the NYC Marathon this weekend!