I still can’t tell if I love or hate running

I’ve started a habit of ending my run a few blocks from home to build in some cool down & gratitude time. I have a history of hating myself on the run and having a general self-deprecating outlook on myself as a runner (something I’ve been working on the past two years).

I think a lot of it is the result of having a running history plagued with injury. They started in minor ways in high school and got much worse overtime. In college, I had a coach that watched me limp around campus and still refused my requests to take time off or skip a race. (Mind you this is D3 athletics so … WHY!?!)

Post college, I have continued to have all kinds of fun running pains, but nothing that a week off or a little extra icing didn’t solve. Turns out those band aids won’t work forever. In May I went to stretch my leg and felt the most intense burning, sharp then radiating pain. It felt like lightning. It hurt so bad it made me wince and tear-up, when touched. It hurt when I ran, walked, laid down. It instantly killed my thoughts of running a fall marathon.

I was positive it was a break or stress fracture.
Corey was positive it wasn’t.

In my mind, myofascial pain can’t be that intense, but in Corey’s experience it absolutely can. He drew up a little regiment for me and I took nearly 4-6 weeks off running.

I have been doing a lot of icing, rolling, elevation, compression. Anything and everything to help the inflammation. I have a roller and two type of myofascial sticks I rotate between. I started with little runs a few days ago. 2 or 3 miles at a time, with a full day off in between. Rolling before, rolling after. Compression sleeves on the run (which I personally hate the look of but, wow, they are incredibly helpful).

I couldn’t tell you exactly what went wrong, but what I can tell you is that our current solution is working.

So … a fall marathon is back on the table. I’m confident that between now and November 1st I can be ready.

How to Fall in Love With Running

“Why do you like running?”

“Have you always been a big runner?”

“I hate running.”

“I don’t think I could ever be a runner.”

“Don’t you get bored?”

 

Above is a selection of DMs that I typically get on Instagram when I mention running, ultramarathons, or racing. And I get it, a lot of people don’t “get” running. They think it’s boring, tedious, “bad for women” (cue: eye-roll), too hard.

A lot of you ask me how you can fall in love with running and I have a few thoughts about it. For one, you don’t have to love running. Forcing yourself to love something is not productive. That being said if you like running, but maybe have lost a little of the psych with training there are a few things you can do.

/ Book a race in 8-10 weeks at a distance you feel comfortable so you have a goal and a “why” for all the training. Focus intensely on your goal. Every time you don’t want to train anymore or don’t want to lace up bring it back to that race on the horizon and use that to keep you disciplined.

/ Try a distance you’ve never stepped into before. If you only race 5Ks it’s understandable that you feel in a rut. A lot of people get stuck in a 13.1 rut because in most cases the next race is 26.2 and that’s intimidating. The marathon is not nearly as scary as a lot of people make it out to be. I’m not trying to rob you of your accomplishments if you’ve run a marathon, but the distance is getting incredibly saturated for a reason, people are waking up to how possible it is. If you’re stuck in a 13.1 rut try a marathon or look for a 15-18 mile distance race. Or loop in a friend and just hit the trails.

/ Focus on time not distance. If going out for a five mile run sounds like torture one day switch up your mindset. Instead of focusing on the distance you have to be out running start thinking about the time. If I have a day that I need to run 10 miles I’ll focus on running for 90 minutes instead of the miles. It keeps me a lot more relaxed, especially because long days are typically more about time on your feet than actual mileage, meaning that you can run a little under-pace (any maybe not hit the full 10 miles) but still get major benefits from moving for 90 minutes.

 

And do I get bored on runs? Sometimes yes, but mostly no. I run body checks to see how I’m feeling, I play little games with myself, I solve long math equations, I try to memorize a sudoku puzzle and do it throughout my run, I listen to podcasts. Running in a city is definitely more boring than a trail run because there isn’t a lot of “focus on the task at hand” needed. If you’re someone who gets bored during runs remember that it’s a massive strength. It means you’re able to get in the zone quickly, hold pace, and cruise. If your mind needs an activity check out one of the ones I listed and you’ll fly.

 

Race Recap {fire on the mountain 50k}

The Race

On Sunday, November 3rd I ran my first trail race in nearly six years. Despite having a background in cross country, I was never a big trail runner. I loved it, but I didn’t do it often as the majority of XC courses are buffed (you won’t find technical scrambling or climbing on them). Moving to NYC has only further distanced me from the trail running community, but with the Scotland race looming I figured it was time to see where I was at.

I went looking for a benchmark race that would be tough, but doable. A challenge, but not cause an injury or training setback. I settled on Fire on the Mountain 50K. It looked tough, but at the 50k distance didn’t look insane and I figured it would be a good benchmark to see where I was at in training. As mentioned, NYC has removed a lot of my vert and technical training and admittedly I’ve been a little lazy about making the time to add it in through trips up to Van Cortlandt Park.

FotM was an out and back style race, running through Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany County, Maryland. If you’d like to replicate, we started at Point Lookout, ran a mile down Oldtown Orleans Rd, cut into the Red Trail and ran that to the Green Trail, turned around and doubled back, Green to Red to road to finish. Overall the course was an estimated 32 miles (51.5 km), a touch over 50K however I ended up tossing in a couple extra miles (we’ll get there) making it a nice 34 miles for myself 😅.

 

Starting Off

I didn’t get the pre-race morning of my dreams, but it wasn’t too bad. I was up at 3 am to leave by 3:30 am and drive 2.5 hours to the start line. I was a little tired, but by the time I got there didn’t notice it too much. I had hydrated effectively for days, fueled well the night before, and earlier that morning with both food and pre-race gels which gave me a small mental foothold at the start.

 

View from the startlines overlook at 6:45 am.

 

It was incredibly cold standing at the start. 30 degrees, windy, on an exposed ridgeline. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the way of stretching considering the only thing that would warm me up enough to stretch would be to run a little, which I was not planning on doing before running another 30-something miles. I settled for a little joint mobility and dynamic stretches to try and stay loose.

The first mile was a pretty easy blur. All road, all downhill. Stepping into the woods I was quickly informed of how under prepped I was for trail running. The first descent wasn’t super steep, but was technical and had a significant amount of post-storm leaf-cover. (In the days leading up to the race a storm and tornado watch had swept through the area leaving the trails and streams pretty bogged down and covered in leaves). I really loved the first 5K of the race, we were running on crunchy frost-covered leaves, the sky was incredibly clear and blue. I did take one fall early on, around mile 2.5 and split my knee open. But, with how cold it was I barely noticed the swelling 👍.

 

Sun coming up and hitting the tops of trees around mile 4.

 

Fall running is always my favorite, especially when there are crunchy frost-covered leaves.

 

First climb was a wake-up call to the vert that I was in for. If I haven’t mentioned it enough, let me reiterate: I have almost *no* hill training under my belt. I managed a solid powerhike getting up the first peak and figured that if I could maintain a strong powerhike uphill, gun it on the descents, and keep steady through the flats that I would have a good race. What I didn’t expect was that the descents would be more gnarley than the climbs. They were loose dirt and scree, covered in leaves.

As this is not a running blog and many of you might not have a strong background in anatomy, let me explain why by mile 4 my mental game was getting a little rocked. Walking or powerhiking uphill primarily uses your quads (think like walking upstairs). Running uphill keeps you on your toes, primarily using your calves. When running downhill your body’s braking system (hamstrings and glutes) comes into play. There are two main ways to run downhill. The first way would be on steep or rocky terrain where you lift your knees higher to jog down, ledge to ledge, similar to a mountain goat. The second way is a little bit like controlled falling, with the hammies, glutes, and quads acting as stabilizers so you can get the most speed from the littlest work.

The problem with this situation is that there wasn’t enough solid ground to hop down mountain goat style and it was too steep for controlled falling – I would end up fall running straight off a mountain. So instead it was this modified lean back braking that put more pressure on my lower back and hip flexors, plus didn’t allow my quads adequate rest as we scree skied down. In less than one mile we did about 1,000 ft of ascent and descent on some of the steepest terrains I’ve ever run.

Not completely insane for an ultra, but when you are not expecting a lot of vert and when this race was described to you as “chill” and when you have little to no hill training? It blew. It was really cool and super fun, but it blew and we had more than a marathon to go and I had no idea how many more climbs were coming so I dialed back my flat running pace to keep a little in the tank for potential future climbs. Getting onto the Green Trail we were weaving along a riverbed with two large hills (500+ ft of elevation) on either side for about six miles. I was just waiting for the trail to veer off and hand us another climb. But it didn’t. The Green Trail stayed flat and boggy with several river crossings until just before the turnaround at 17.5 miles.

 

 

 

The Turnaround

Going into the turnaround checkpoint we had another climb, but after the first one, it didn’t feel nearly as tough. Funny enough we actually climbed higher during those miles than we had with the first climb (about 500 ft of gain compared to 800 ft of gain).

The final steps to the turnaround checkpoint (the ‘Oasis’) had their own pop of 100 ft of gain which was mild cruelty after 17 miles.

 

“The Oasis”

 

Ah, but at the top was every food you could think of. I ate more pretzel sticks and Uncrustables at that stop than I have in the past two years. In general, I didn’t linger too long at any of the stops, taking less than six minutes at the Oasis and less than 10 minutes at all the checkpoints combined. I didn’t want to get sucked into the comfort of not moving or worse sit down.

 

Doubling Back

The second half had a few curveballs of its own.

1 / After leaving the Oasis I started back on the trails and took an unplanned detour. After 19 miles I had a bit of runner’s brain and wasn’t thinking my sharpest and when I saw a rock with a green arrow (on the Green Trail, mind you) I followed it. For a mile. Until, after getting eaten up by greenbriers and other thorny vines I decided to double back to where I had left the trail and recheck. I got back on trail after 25 minutes, two miles, and 200 extra ft of climbing. I was less than enthused.

2 / Running the trail backward was a completely different experience (as the RD promised us). All the downhill scrambles became savage climbs with dead legs and all the uphill hikes became sweeping downhills that were … fun (?)

 

 

3 / After 20+ miles I got incredibly clumsy. My legs weren’t super tired, my knees and hips felt fine, but mentally I stopped being so sharp. I tend to be a light-on-my-feet runner and pretty agile with the ‘bob and weave’ needed for road racing. But we weren’t on roads, we were on trails, and I took a rough misstep that almost fractured my tibia. Coming around a turn along the riverbed I stepped where I thought was solid ground. What it was was an area where, during flooding, the river had undercut the shoreline, leaving a thin and deceptive patch of ground overhanging between the actual shoreline and a protruding tree root. When I stepped there, landing with 3x my body weight, I went through up to knee and my body weight fell toward the river while my leg was caught between the root and shoreline. Thankfully there were seemingly no injuries, but it didn’t feel like a kiss and considering I was already worried about some issues in that part of my leg it didn’t help the mental game.

 

 

4 / After gorging at the Oasis (rookie mistake, Moll) I was worried about putting gels in my body and ended up under fueling. Typically, I would take a gel every 30-45 minutes (starting one hour into the run). After leaving the Oasis I didn’t eat for 90 minutes, which is a long time after four hours and 20-something miles. I didn’t feel like it was hurting me until the last three miles. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so emotional about hunger before. On a post-race call, I even said: “I don’t think I’ve ever been that hungry before, and I had an eating disorder!” Which sounds comical, but I was actually tearing up thinking about pasta. I had another gel with me and I probably should have taken it, but historically taking gels on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster for me so I decided to tough it out knowing I would be finished in 30 minutes.

 

The Finish Line

The final mile (being a reverse of that “all downhill” start) was another cruel climb. I gotta give the RD props for making us work so hard for a midpoint food stop and for the finish line. I wasn’t sure if I would make it halfway, I wasn’t sure if I would leave the Oasis or if I would drop, I wasn’t sure if I would finish. That race was a battle to the end. I later learned the names of some of the climbs/descents we did were all aptly named: Buttslide Descent, Steep Kicker Home, and Dig In Climb.

Crossing the line, throwing my log on the fire (the action to officially stop your time) and being told I finished top 10 for women was 🤯. Completely, completely unexpected. I remember a few people shaking my hand, saying/getting a few good jobs and crushed its, but mostly I remember the picnic table of food. I have never drank coke (much less three cokes) so fast in my life. I was eating everything that was in front of me.

 

Finisher “medal” made of chocolate 👍

 

Post-Race

I didn’t linger at the finish line too long, knowing I had a 2.5 hour drive home in the dark. I don’t remember a lot of that drive, except that I was incredibly tired (at this point I had been up for 16 hours, running for over nine of them) and using my radio as a karaoke machine to keep me alert. A few miles from my house I stopped off to pick up the healthiest of dinner options: Royal Farms chicken. If you don’t live in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania or New Jersey you may not know what I’m talking about, but there is something so good about Royal Farms. And something about running 34 miles makes it even better.

I tend to be fairly productive post-race so after getting home and eating a pint of mashed potatoes, I showered, did some laundry, walked the dog, answered tons of texts from friends and family asking about the race, watched a little of the Ravens game and did a lot of stretching. By 10:15 pm I was out cold, but I woke up hungry at 3:30 am and ended up eating another pint of mashed potatoes (truly divine).

Over the next few days I had some soreness, but nothing extreme. I plan to take time off running until my body feel good again and then taking a few more days just to be sure any micro injuries I caused have time to heal up. In the meantime, I’ll be doing a lot of biking or walking to keep my body moving.

 

Final thoughts

To sum up that race up in one word: Brutal. It was a stellar course overall, super scenic with cool climbs, but I was remarkably unprepared for it. Squeaking by with a top 10 finish for women blew my mind. I was shocked to have finished at all.

Going into the race I was pretty mentally drained. The day prior to the race my family had received some tough medical news, I didn’t sleep well, and my anxiety was pretty high. Going to sleep on Saturday night I knew I would consider this race a ‘win’ if I started it. Mentally I wasn’t in it. I spent the whole race questioning myself, the sport, and I kept asking myself “Why am I out here at all? I could be spending time with my family. I should be with my family.” The answer I kept coming back to was “Because you can.” Not in an ego-inflated ‘I-do-what-I-want’ kind of way, but in an honest ‘The ability to do this is a gift, don’t waste it’ kind of way. On Monday night I went to see Pop (my maternal grandfather) who is battling stage 4 esophageal cancer, to tell him about my race. I don’t know what to say more than, sharing that with him made the miles worth it. Sharing a beer and hearing him cheers me with a Slovenian “Na zdravje!” made the miles worth it.

That race was tough. I was underprepared, thrown into the deep end. But I think my mom summed up my attitude about the race pretty perfectly when she said “Very proud of my strong stubborn daughter, who was definitely channeling her grandfather today. Finish what you start and always do your best.”

 

Vert profile

 

Finding Limits: Multi-Stage Ultra Running

Ever since mentioning my entry in the Cape Wrath Ultra I’ve been getting a lot more running-related questions, as well as questions about my sanity and why a marathon isn’t long enough. I wanted to take a personal post to breakdown why, for me, a marathon just wasn’t enough. Please note that I do mention aspects of my sexual assault and some people may find that difficult to read.

 

The Why

I’ve always been a bit of a masochist when it comes to running. I naturally have a slightly aggressive, goal-oriented personality and I pour it into the things I love, like my favorite sport. The more difficult, more intense, and the more it made other people cringe, the better. If it seems impossible and challenging, and like something that requires an immense about of grit, then I’m in.

Summer 2013 was the first time in my life that I wasn’t training for a comp season with a team. Without a coach and a training program, my running went from being regimented to sporadic. It’s a very weird feeling to slowly stop doing something you used to do daily, but I figured that maybe my time as a runner was over and I focused on other sports, like swimming. And then, in late July 2013, I was sexually assaulted. I don’t think I need to dive too deep into how fracturing and disorienting the aftermath of an assault is. It happened when I was working on my college campus, which was empty for the Summer. I was far from my family and had only one friend I could talk to on campus. I didn’t have access to mental health services. I was isolated and scared and starving for a way to feel like myself again.

I set a goal to run a marathon, on less than three months of training, two weeks before my 20th birthday. I found the race, the same marathon my dad had run a few decades prior, paid the money, and told myself I would figure out the rest.

I felt it was the perfect intersection of reclaiming control over my life and the nostalgic “coming home” feeling of running the same route my dad had run.

 

The 2013 Baltimore Marathon

I got in touch with a former coach, got a few pointers, worked out a training schedule and got to work. It’s true what they say about Fall races, it means all your training will be in suffocating heat all Summer. I managed to hit the mileage I was looking for and going up to race day was feeling nervous, but pretty confident in my training. Personally, I’ve always found that to be the best mix of emotions at the start line. A little bit of nerves is healthy, you should have butterflies, but you should also be confident in the work you’ve put in and where that prep can take you.

I had high hopes for this race. At the start line I truly felt like I was 26.2 miles from my old self. Crossing the finishing line was underwhelming, to say the least. I was vaguely proud of myself and happy to have crossed off a bucket list item, but where was the moment of enlightenment? Where was the high of accomplishment? I didn’t feel “done”, I didn’t feel “fixed”, I felt like a disappointment. Like I could have done more. Like I should’ve done more. Like I had ruined my chance at “healing”. The point of this race was to reclaim a piece of myself, to push myself harder than I ever had before and come out on the other side feeling like I’d won not just the battle, but the whole war.

I replayed that race over and over, critiquing every decision I made. I didn’t push myself hard enough at the start, I should have paced for a faster mile time, I should have been negatively splitting. I should’ve done this. I should’ve done that. I kept wanting to open up more, but I was too in my own head about everything I had been told by coaches, my dad, running blogs, and my own years of training to allow myself to push faster. I spent the first 18 miles holding back, anticipating the notorious “wall” that crushes people. For me, that wall never came. I cruised miles 18-26 with just as much energy and ease as the first eight. The ease of it was really upsetting for me.

the only photo I have of that day memorialized in stunning iPhone 4 quality

To say my ego was bruised is a massive understatement. So much of my identity is wrapped up in who I am as a runner, and after being assaulted I badly wanted to reconnect with that side of myself. I was so concerned about the 18-20 mile wall that I held back and once I got there I didn’t have the distance to make up the time. There’s a lot of planning that goes into each race and I was a Class A example of what overplanning can do to your race. It prevents you from trusting your intuition and keeps you so “in your head” that you’re unable to make dynamic decisions. In my opinion, if you lose that agility you aren’t racing.

 

Post Race

After the race I was tired, I was sore, and mentally it took me a long time to want to run again. I remember people asking me about the race and fake smiling my way through lies about how great it was and how accomplished I felt. Running has been my life since I was six, I’ve raced on numerous track and cross country teams, raced competitively since I was old enough to be entered, ran in middle school, high school, and college. Post-college I would go on to be sponsored by Nuun, GU Energy, RoadID, and various other brands, competing as an amateur athlete. Running a marathon was supposed to be where my nearly two decades of this sport culminated. It was what I felt like my entire running career had been prepping me for.

This race was supposed to radically push my limits. I wanted to crawl across the finish line with a time I was incredibly proud of. I wanted to give this race everything I could and dump all my darkness into its miles. I just wanted to feel okay. Going into the race my goal was to finish around 3:18 with a 7:32/mile pace. I knew that pace would push me and get me what I wanted, but it was risky. I didn’t have a huge training base and pushing too hard could land me in a med tent. I held back and held back and held back and finished over an hour after I initially had planned to. The best word I can use to describe how I felt after the marathon? Gutted.

I’ve always considered myself, in every athletic undertaking, as a competitor, not a completer. I wasn’t there to finish, I was there to race. Crossing the line at 4:44:47 I felt like a completer, which is enough for some, but not for me. Mixed with the feeling of underaccomplishing I also felt immensely guilty. I knew I had hit a time a lot of people work years for. I knew I had covered a distance that sits on some people’s bucket lists for decades. I knew this distance, this time was a big deal to a lot of people, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. That made me feel incredibly guilty. How dare I not be happy after a marathon? I didn’t share these feelings with anyone, fearing that I would be looked at as ungrateful. And it was nearly a year before I laced up again.

Maybe if I had pushed myself I’d have been completely whipped at mile 18, or maybe I should have trusted my training more and it would have carried me through. The difficulty with planning for endurance racing is that you need to believe equally in all the prep you’ve done and what that’s taught you, along with everything you are experiencing in real-time. Running is 80% mental and the ability to synthesize what you know with what you are learning in the moment is crucial. Despite studying the course map and elevation guides, training hills, and prepping extensively for what I was told over and over was the “hilliest marathon around” I was still unable to open up in the areas where I should have.

This race didn’t push my limits in a lot of ways, mostly because I didn’t let it. I didn’t let myself come against the edge of what’s possible for me. I was so worried about popping the clutch I wasn’t releasing at all. I was so scared of bottoming out that I was white-knuckling my pace instead of doing what came naturally. I had planned to run the race nearly identical to how my dad ran it, using my first five miles as a warm-up, with a slow acceleration into race pace over the the next five. Instead, I stayed where I was out of fear of risking too much too quickly. Ironically, I have never raced like this. My coach used to say “You go out with the jackrabbits”. I always gun it from the gate and hold on as long as possible. I knew this strategy worked fairly well for me on a 3-mile course and knew it absolutely wouldn’t for a marathon. In an attempt to harness my urge to break out I held myself back too much.

 

Looking back

Today, six years later, I have no regrets about that race. I was incredibly inexperienced with that distance (it was 22 miles further than my longest race) so I held back more than I should have, it happens. Overthinking happens, and I did the best I could with what I had. I didn’t push myself into a medical emergency, I didn’t DNF (Did Not Finish) or worse DNS (Did Not Start), I ran the full race. Was it a perfect race? Definitely not. Did it set me up with a PR to smash in later races? Definitely.

It took me years to be able to step back, look at my 19-year-old self, and see how much I was hurting that day. My inability to fully trust my training and push during that race came from an inability to trust myself. I didn’t have the confidence to feel like I could step into the arena. I was trying as hard as I could to “fake it til you make it”, but after my assault, I wasn’t just broken, I was shattered.

I was assaulted on my college campus, in my room, in my bed. I woke up the next morning at 4 am, went to the college pool I was a lifeguard at and slept on the bleachers.

I trained for 50-60 miles a week, for six weeks (until the semester started), and each night came back to that room and slept on a 3mm yoga mat on the floor because I mentally and physically couldn’t get into my bed.

I look back at that race and I don’t give a fuck about my time. I think about that race in terms of the weeks that led up to it and how strong I was in my vulnerability. I think about it in terms of the miles I ran at 2 am after waking up with a panic attack. I think about that race in terms of how many times I stood against people who blamed me for it with literal tears in my eyes, but never once questioning if it was my fault. But mostly, I think about that race as the moment I realized how far I had to go in my recovery.

So why not just run another marathon, crush my time, and move on?

When I think about the marathon distance I think about something that I completed in my weakest moment. When my identity was splintered. When I was completely shattered. When I felt like a shell of who I am. But I am not that person anymore. I’m the strongest and most confident version of myself. I feel fiery and brave and capable. And I know the place where I will challenge myself most lies beyond the 26.2 miles I ran October 12, 2013.

Race Recap {the warriors ultrarun}

The race

Yesterday I *officially* completed my first ultra. The Warriors UltraRun was a 30 mile race from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, through Manhattan, and ending at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. We retraced the steps taken by the Warriors gang in the 1979 film by the same name.

The rules were simple: run from Van Cortlandt Park to Coney Island in whichever way you would like, with two stipulations:

/ You needed to pass through both the 96th Street and Union Square subway stations

/ No walking in subway stations

Otherwise, we were free to run however we would like. Being that the race was through Manhattan there were no aid stations, plenty of 24-hour bodegas along the way. Why 24-hour? Because the race began at 1 am.

 

Prepping for one long night

Backing up for a moment, let’s go back to the Wednesday before the race, September 18, 2019. I woke up that morning not even knowing the race existed and went to sleep having signed up to run an ultra on no training. My two plus decades of running give me a significant base for racing and I’ve been known to sign up for big races with little to no lead-up time, but this was a little much, even for me.

In the previous eight weeks, I had been resting and barely running in order to help heal a pulled hamstring. My weekly mileage was less than this race would be in a single push, but I couldn’t walk away from the chance to run such a historic NYC ultra (historic because of its roots in the movie, the race itself was inaugural). After connecting with the RD, confirming I would run, I switched into planning-mode.

Within the world of running, especially long distance running, planning is everything. I meticulously plan my kit, nutrition, pacing, everything. Granted it rarely goes according to plan, but it’s part of my anxiety coping. If I feel like I’m organized, I’m able to relax and stress less about the race. I picked up a few bits for the race, namely using it as an excuse to finally get some Goodr sunglass I’d been eyeing, and restocked my gels. Nutrition has always been the toughest part of races for me. My body does not like to eat on the run and the majority of gels, chews, etc end up making me very nauseous … or worse. I had some luck with GU energy chews so I went with those, crossing my fingers that they would be good to me. I also packed a few “normal” food bits, like an Uncrustable sandwich and Lara Bar.

Knowing that the race would last all night I tried to catch a few hours of sleep before the start, but it was ineffective. Collectively I napped about 45 minutes and then geared up and spent about two hours pacing around my apartment until it was time to leave. I’ve never been known for my patience, especially when I’m excited about something, and I was very psyched to get going.

 

 

One hour long subway ride later and I was arriving at Van Cortlandt Park. Very excited, very nervous.

 

The Bronx

True to the movie we started the race at 1 am in Van Cortlandt Park. Over loudspeakers RD Todd Aydelotte played the opening conclave scene, with the gunshot that (*spoiler*) kills Cyrus being our start gun. This was the part of the race that concerned me the most, the start and falling into pace groups. Being 5’2″ I was not enthused at the idea of spending 5+ hours running through New York City alone, overnight. This is where the camaraderie of this race really shined for me. By the end of the first mile, I had joined up with four other runners that would become my “gang” for the remainder of the night.

There was Peter (a fellow ultra-novice like myself who was prepping for a 50k), Anna (who chatted with me for over ten miles), Kumi (a veteran-ultra runner who introduced me to Spring, my GI salvation), and Ntino (who’s positive energy got me through my mile 22 bonk).

We left the park and started running down Broadway, the street I would give many miles to over the next few hours. After crossing the Harlem River we veered left and started following Tenth Ave toward Harlem River Dr. This made the first piece of the run absolutely beautiful. It was still pitch black out, with Highbridge Park on our right and the Harlem River and Bronx skyline on our left. While we were technically in Manhattan it didn’t feel like we truly were until we left the riverside.

 

Manhattan

We broke away from the river and started down Convent Ave, headed toward our first of two checkpoints: 96 Street station. After running eight miles through City College and Columbia University we arrived. Those first eight miles of the run flew by. I was happily and genuinely surprised when my watch buzzed at eight – it felt like we’d been running for two. I took it as a sign that maybe I would feel solid for the whole run (wishful thinking).

 

outside 96th Street station at 2:40 am

 

After leaving the station we linked back up with Broadway and followed it down to Columbia Circle. This whole time I was feeling great, and as a group we running incredibly steady, staying right around 10:30 to 11 min/mi pace. We crossed off several of the NYC tourist spots, running through a surprisingly busy Time Square…

 

TIME SQUARE at 3:15 am (top to bottom: Kumi, Ntino, me, Anna, Peter)

 

Getting great views of a lit-up Empire State Building, passing Madison Square Park and its infamous Shake Shack, and running alongside the Flatiron Building. We ended our Broadway stretch at checkpoint number two: Union Square subway station…

 

“taking” a call from our RD somewhere inside Union Square station at 3:40 am

 

After crossing off our two subway stations the rest of the run was completely up to us. After taking about 10 minutes to fuel up, rest, grab waters, and use the facilities we left Greenwich Village. At this point, we were about 13.5 miles and nearly 2:50 into the run.

We ran down Bowery, anticipating taking the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn. However, when we got there we all agreed that the opportunity to run an empty Brooklyn Bridge was too good to pass up and worth the extra mileage. Canal to Centre looped us around Chinatown and we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge around 4:30 am, pausing for a ceremonial gel-cheers and mini-dance break to the Beastie Boys’ No Sleep Till Brooklyn.

 

photo another group took of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan

 

Brooklyn

Brooklyn, aka Bonk-city. To be completely honest I had never bonked before in my life. I didn’t even know I was bonking, I thought I was dying. I was honestly thinking “Okay cool, I die in Brooklyn. This is it. The first fatality of the Warrior UltraRun.” Yeah, it was so rough I wasn’t just anticipating death, I had accepted it.

The first chunk of Brooklyn (miles 16-22ish) wasn’t bad. We ran Adams St to Deans St, past the Barclays Center, linked up with Fifth Ave for a little under three miles. I felt a little sluggish, but I kept trucking figuring it was just my body adjusting to the mileage, late night, and anticipating that once my latest gel kicked in that I would be right as rain.

Wrong.

I was giving my body everything it could need, everything I could think of. I gave it water, electrolytes, gels, salt tabs, and nothing. No response. Miles 22-28 were easily the roughest six miles I’ve ever run. Despite the protest from my body, I’m happy with my overall mental game. I did need to put my headphones in and “check out” for a little while, but I pushed through. To illustrate how “checked out” I was, there was a section where we had two options: run through Prospect Park or run along Green-Wood Cemetery. Post-run someone was asking me which we had gone with and straight-faced, completely serious I went “We ran through a park?” I guess 5-am-me wasn’t really ‘taking it in’ anymore. 😂

The last bit of the run was a bit of a blur, but my watch GPS tells me that we ran Bay Ridge Pkwy, bumped down to 85th St (via 20th Ave), and took that to Stillwell Ave. Ahh, that road is burned in my mind. Stillwell marked the last 2.5 miles of the run. Hands down the longest 2.5 miles I’ve ever run, but turning the corner and seeing Wonder Wheel made it worth it. Something about seeing that iconic wheel in the early, early, early morning light, made it worth it.

 

 

And then we were done home.

 

finishing with Kumi, aka my personal cheerleader

 

Post-race

Bonk-Molly really questioned the entire ultra running sport. Like why was I interested in this? Wasn’t the first race supposed to come with some beginner’s luck? Or some kind of “ah-ha”, heavenly moment? Whatever fee you need to pay to get that I must have missed because it didn’t happen for me. But what did happen is a lot of work, new friendships, and a step leap outside of my comfort zone.

I went home exhausted, showered up, napped for an hour, woke up to my partner feeding me little pieces of grilled chicken, napped for another hour, got up and went out to lunch (thank you to Kev for treating me to arepas). By 2 pm I felt like myself again, a tired version of myself, but myself at least. Slapping pavement for 5:20:46 landed me on the couch icing my knees for the afternoon, but I was back to running the next day.

 

Crossing off goals always feels amazing, especially when it’s something that has been on your goals sheet for the past five years. The Warriors UltraRun was an incredibly fun new territory to dive into and I consider myself incredibly lucky that my first ultra was one based on camaraderie more than competition.