By Dara Kelly
Dara Zall Kelly is a Boston born and raised middle aged runner, athlete, and fitness and wellness consultant. She is a master trainer through ACSM, NASM and CSCC and has completed over 25 marathons chasing down that Olympic Trial dream, plus some Olympic and 70.3 tris for fun. She has written for numerous fitness publications and has been featured multiple times on local television as a fitness and lifestyle expert. Dara spends most of her day with clients of all ages and abilities, from teen athlete to elite athlete to nonagenarians. Between client engagements, she attempts to wrangle her three teenagers, two dogs, and one wily tortoise named Wally. Don't judge, Wally is much faster than you think. When she's not mom-Ubering, coaching, or training for various marathons/70.3s, she loves to travel with her very patient husband. In her one free hour per week, she hits the ice with her hockey team, the Honey Badgers. It's not pretty, but it sure is fun.
From ICU to 26.2…what a journey it has been.
APRIL 19, 2023
OK, it was Acute Care but that didn’t rhyme. Last summer, I was building to a 70.3 triathlon. I was truckin’ along, biking, swimming, running… all the things. My back hurt but you know, training. Old people. We hurt. Until I hurt so much I couldn’t get off the floor. Long story short, I showed up in the ER with a 104+ fever and was admitted to the hospital for a week in a not-so-fun situation. When I finally emerged, I could barely walk down the hall. I went from half Ironman fitness to must-lie-down-all-the-time fitness. I couldn’t imagine running. It took months for me to build back the stamina to run 3 miles. It was hard.
And then my running sisters, my hot mama crew, said they were going to run Boston for the 10th anniversary of the bombing. In 2013, the three of us ran side by side for 26.2 miles with millions of smiles. We were not only running Boston, but also planned to go to Big Sur the next week for the Boston 2 Big Sur challenge. We were deep in it. We finished strong in Boston, and headed to the Lenox Hotel for a little gathering. My friend Christy was met there by her 5-month old and her husband, and my husband joined in as well. Just as Christy began to nurse (yes, she’s a rock star), and Meredith hit the shower (also a rock star, and definitely the only clean one that day), a deafening BOOM sounded. My husband looked out the window and said stand back (Also a rock star, and an ER/Disaster Medicine doctor). Then the second boom. The Lenox shook. My husband ran right out the door (after a thumbs up from me) to help on the street. We were right over the bombs.
Needless to say, the next minutes, hours, days were a mixture of shock, sadness, disbelief, anger, and oh yeah – recovering from a marathon.
The three of us (Meredith, Christy, and I) had been through so much as running sisters already. Countless training runs, races, travel, and simply being close friends created a bond. But after that day, the bond, no matter how far apart we might be, became unbreakable. We ran the 2014 Boston Marathon to take back the city. And another here and there. I swore I was done with Boston. But then came the call… the 10-year anniversary. Christy and Meredith were in. Sigh. Well then, so was I. Because I love those guys. And what we start together we finish together. Even if we finish an hour apart together. They are VERY fast.
So I dug down deep, and put one foot in front of the other, slowly gaining strength. I knew that I would probably never regain the speed I once had, but I could get through.
The past few months have been a reminder of what it means to find joy in running – thanks to all of you readers. I have gone out, whether or not I wanted to, to do these runs and be able to report back. And I was able to laugh, cry, be ridiculous, and remember how fun it is to just be out there running. There is joy in the movement, the adventure, the quest for something that challenges the mind and body.
And today I ran those 26.2 miles. OK, I ran most of them. I got really tired of the pain in my quads after 22 miles so I walked a little. And it was FINE. The competitor in me was a little mad at myself but the Dara that was lying in a hospital bed eight months ago was pretty happy. I waved, took some pictures, and got a little pep in my step before I saw every photographer. Because, MarathonFoto, I gotta get at LEAST one good one out of 26.2 miles.
Today’s marathon was a celebration of so many things. Starting with the celebration I had when I found a full roll of toilet paper sitting on the table at the start line, waiting to be thrown away. Cheers from Wave 4 runners in line for the porta potties were heard for miles as I held it high and ran to the wall of poop tanks.
Then there was the celebration I had AFTER my panic attack that my airpods were NOT CONNECTING TO MY WATCH. Stupid technology. They did, however, connect to my phone. As I was running up the hill to the start line. Celebrate!
And then there was the moment where I literally stopped one millimeter from the start pad when I realized that I hadn’t started said stupid technology watch. I ran backwards, started the watch, then hit the start pad JUST as the timer began. CELEBRATE!
I stayed completely in my target range for the first 10 miles, then shifted gears to a bit higher speed from 13-18. I think a lot happened in there, but I can’t really tell you because I was delirious from a downpour, freezing rain, and the fact that I pulled my hat down over my eyes and cranked my music so I wouldn’t get distracted. Wellesley is also a lot longer than I thought it was.
I celebrated when I found the HUMA I had tucked into my arm sleeve. Bonus fuel! And to think I almost threw those arm sleeves away. I actually did a little dance when I found that. It was an internal dance because quad pain, but still, I danced.
I celebrated as I approached the Newton Hills, because baby, I’m almost home. And I made it up those hills with more grit and punch in my step than I had imagined. I celebrated when I didn’t hit the BC student who spilled his beer on my feet. Because hey – he was celebrating too!
Then I didn’t celebrate for a little bit because I felt like death. And I walked. Because my poor quads. But then… BROOKLINE! I’m home! Not the finish line “home,” but the town where I live “home.” I celebrated when I saw friends lining the streets. I celebrated when I saw my daughter’s boyfriend and he obliged me with a hug even though I was a disgusting mess of a human. I celebrated when I reached my Oiselle running crew at Mile 24, and got a big hug from our life-sized unicorn.
Then I didn’t celebrate for a while because I was tired. And then… right on Hereford, left on Boylston.
I made it. Almost. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS RUNNING THAT IS THE LONGEST .2 MILES IN HISTORY. The finish line moves farther away as you approach. No joke.
I will say, in a moment of seriousness, that I did glance from side to side as I ran down Boylston Street. And I consciously ran down the middle, not to the sides. Perhaps some things from 2013 will take longer than 10 years to disappear. Perhaps they never will.
But finally, I raised my arms over my head as I crossed that line. I did it. My slowest yet. But I crossed that line. I celebrated.
Running can be a solitary sport. But racing, for many, is never done alone. The bonds that we create, the running family that supports you and lifts you up and gives you hope and helps you to take those steps forward – these are things that make the running community so strong. We understand each other, we help each other, we push each other to make ourselves more powerful both physically and emotionally.
For me, there is my running family – which has grown exponentially even in the past week. But then there is my home family. My kids, who every day encourage me in ways they don’t realize; my parents, who have been my supporters from the moment I was born; and most of all, there is my husband.
I met my husband 26 years ago today on the bus to the start line of the Boston Marathon. I actually saw a sign on the course that said 26 miles for 26 years and I was all like what the heck, how did they KNOW? Oh wait, that kid is 26 years old and running 26 miles. Fine. Whatever. But it was another moment of celebration.
In any case, this guy who I met on the bus 26 years ago has been my rock since that day. His unwavering support, his confidence in me, and his ability to listen to me complain endlessly about running are outshined only by his dedication to taking care of EVERYTHING so I can do my crazy running thing. SPK, you are my hero and my heart. Thank you.
To every single one of you who followed along my journey, it’s been an honor to keep you posted. Thanks for sticking with me. Now onward to the next adventure… I see a triathlon in the near(ish) future. Stay tuned.
So, bye. I have to go now. I just realized I’m wicked hungry and a little tired. And I have to go pack – leaving on a 6:00 am flight to take my middle on college visits in California. Because – motherhood.
Last Long Run
APRIL 7, 2023
As I sit here and type this, I simply have to shake my head in disbelief. How is it possible that I am writing about my final long run of this training period? Remember when I ran 7 miles to my son’s hockey game in January? How I was so excited to get out on the course for the first time in years? And how daunting that long run felt in my head – and body – from beginning to end. Also, I was really excited for the new Taylor Swift song which is now so irritating that if I hear it one more time I’m going to stomp on my AirPods. I guess we now know that the lifespan of a pop song is equivalent to one marathon training cycle.
This weekend I set off for my final long run before the big taper. An easy 16. Did I just say easy 16? How can that be easy? No matter how many times I train, it never ceases to amaze me that TRAINING WORKS. Slowly but surely, you put in the time on your toes, lean into those hills, and build. All of a sudden, you look back and see how far you’ve come. You’ve done the work, and it shows. And yet, somehow we all panic and think we’ve never done enough…
This last long run will be a good test. I’ll head out on the course and tackle those hills one more time. Armed with my Huma, my water, and my trusty Sauconys, I’m ready to roll. As usual, New England has lied to me and although the promised weather is 60 degrees, the 15-20 mph winds make it feel like negative 30. Gahhhh. Back inside. One more layer.
OK. Now I’m ready. Let’s do this! It’s a sunny day, so people have been tricked into thinking it's nice out. (New England, sigh.) The sidewalks are crowded with people attempting to enjoy the sunshine but completely tucked into their hoods and huddled together in packs, thereby completely making these first couple of miles a veritable dodge, duck and weave. Which, I tell myself, is actually PERFECT marathon training! The start of Boston is a bottleneck. Thousands upon thousands of people crammed onto a tiny road in Hopkinton center, ready to unleash their speed over the next 26.2 miles. The energy builds as you await the starting gun; people are vibrating with nerves and excitement. (Let me tell you, our beloved national anthem is the LONGEST SONG EVER CREATED when you are listening to it at the start line of a race.)
When the gun goes off, the crush of humanity is almost overwhelming. Thousands of people attempting to sprint out of the gate – yet every sprint speed is different. Thus, the dodge, dance, and weave. For the first 5K, marathoners travel downhill on a narrow street, trying to outrun their nerves and fall into pace. Patience and a steady stride are key.
So here I am, dodging and weaving down Beacon Street. Except I’m the only one dodging. No one else cares about the brightly colored runner bobbing down the sidewalk. Everyone else is sipping coffee and trying to pretend it’s spring and not actually 30 degrees outside.
Anyhow, much like the marathon, after the first few miles I am able to settle in. I focus on breathing and maintaining a steady stride. Which is actually hilarious since I’m barreling into a full on headwind and my stride is getting me nowhere. I whisper a prayer to the marathon gods: please let there be tailwinds and not headwinds on marathon day…
I cruise down the hill, happily sucking down my first Huma. Right on time. And boom! The water cooler at Heartbreak Hill Running Company is full and welcoming, two minutes after Huma consumption. I’m still feeling a bit sluggish, but I blame last night’s burgers and margaritas for that. I know I should have practiced my pre-marathon eating, but life is too short to give up margaritas when old friends come to town. In my head, truffle fries seemed like a great way to add some carbs in pre-run. Like, potatoes, you know? According to the bowling ball hanging at the base of my stomach, I was incorrect. Oops.
Anyhow, bowling balls aside, feeling pretty good as I push against the headwinds down Heartbreak Hill. I wave to Johnny Kelley at Walnut Street, and continue down the carriage road that parallels Comm Ave. The dodge and weave begins again, except this time with…PUPPIES! So many puppies! It’s a dog walking extravaganza. And every dog is SO EXCITED TO SEE ME! No one is ever that excited to see me. To the woman with the black lab puppy that tackled me, there was no apology necessary. Best thing that happened to me all day was being pounced on by a puppy who wanted to snuggle with me mid-run. So naturally now all I want to do is sit on the ground and play with puppies but no, the run must go on.
I push forward up the hill. Yes, going backwards on Heartbreak Hill has uphills. Which means going up Heartbreak Hill has downhills. More on that later. Anyhow, heading up, into the wind, I’m pushing as hard as I can. I turn my head to the right and a 4-year-old on training wheels blows by me. What the? Turn my head to the left and there’s her dad pushing a double jogging stroller. He waves and sprints ahead. Ohhhh the humiliation. It is now my mission to beat the 4-year-old with the training wheels. I speed up and catch them at the stop sign. Ha! I’ve got you now! Take that 4-year-old. Oops. There they go. Down the hill. Well. I have no words. I’m just going to suck down a Huma and some water while I contemplate my comparative speed to a that of four-year-old on a pink bicycle.
Humbled, I swallow my pride and, harnessing the power of the Huma, I turn the corner at the firehouse and head toward the hospital. Yes, if you’re going to have something go wrong, god forbid, mile 15-18 is a great place to bonk, with two fire stations and a hospital. But don’t do that. Stay healthy! Right at the edge of the hospital entrance I check my watch. BOOM! Exactly on target. I flip around and head for home. Here we go. Up Heartbreak Hill.
I heard a recent interview with the incomparable Joanie Benoit Samuelson the other day. She, a decorated Olympian many times over, Boston course record holder, and more medals than I can imagine, was telling the interviewer that the hills really weren’t all that bad in Boston. I snorted out my coffee. Have I been making mountains out of molehills? Are the hills in my head? As I started up the steep first section of the Newton Hills, I took Joanie’s words to heart. Maybe the hills aren’t that bad? And you know what? They are bad. But they aren’t that bad. (Please do NOT quote me on this as I waddle by you on the Newton Hills on Marathon Monday.) But for all those people out there who have never seen the course, the hills of Newton are rolling. There is a steep incline as you turn the corner at the famous fire station, then a flat, and even a little downhill. (Remember back when the Ironman 4-year-old passed me on her bike a few minutes ago?) You then see Johnny, and up you go for a bit, then flat to Newton Center. Then up up up you go to my nemesis at the corner of Boston College. It’s not straight up. So ride the flats and the downhills and lean into those hills when they come.
That all sounds awesome until you’re actually leaning into the hills. I’m leaning so hard I’m almost on the ground.
I grind it out, tears in my eyes. But the wind is at my back and I’m over halfway done. Let’s GO! Past Boston College, on my toes as I dodge potholes and students, All of a sudden I am flying down Beacon. Please, oh please, let there be a tailwind the whole way on Marathon Monday. It’s so much more fun.
I feel my quads starting to burn a bit. But I’m almost home. I feel my pace slow as I approach the turn towards home. Annoying. I try to push through but I definitely need a boost. With a mile to go, I just have to ignore it. Lesson there… I need a Huma at mile 21-22 to get me to the finish!
I look up as I turn onto my street. And I see my parents turn in at the same time. YES! Looking at my watch I see that I am exactly 30 seconds from when I had told them to meet me. And when we both arrive at the house at the same time, I stop my watch. The goal was 2:30:00. My watch – 2:30:02. I love it when a plan comes together – despite multiple attempts at sabotage. (I’m looking at you, black lab puppy!)
And that’s all she wrote. (Not literally. I’m still writing). The final long run in the books. Let the taper begin. Now all I have to do is obsess over every niggling pain, worry that I haven’t trained enough, and panic over everything in sight over the next two weeks. GOOD TIMES AHEAD!
Stay tuned for the report on the Taper Crazies, coming to you next week. If you know, you know. Marathoners, keep yourselves together over the next two weeks. Rest up, don’t rust up, and get ready for the 26.2 mile rolling party in your honor. If you’re heading into Boston, I’ll see you at the expo! I’ll be the one in the running shoes and baseball hat, nervously swigging out of a jug of water and carrying a big clear BAA plastic bag over my shoulder. ;)
Heat, Hills & Hallucinations
MAR 31, 2023
Guys! It’s been a minute. So many stories to tell, not sure where to begin. I guess a sensible start would be HEAT, HILLS, AND HALLUCINATIONS…
I make my way through my Mexican hotel lobby with a jaunty saunter. Perhaps a bit of swagger, and a big smile. Because baby, it’s 90 degrees out and I am heading out on one of my favorite long run courses. Now, haters go ahead and hate, but (motherhood) I’m traveling again. Let’s all blame the school system for varying vacation schedules. I know that I am beyond fortunate to be able to travel with my kids during these breaks, and I am grateful for it all.
Speaking of kids, send good thoughts, for the two teens I left back in the condo apparently starving to death. After two hours of me asking what they’d like for breakfast with no answer, I gave up and started out the door. As if on cue, the dreaded “WHAT IS THERE TO EAT?” came echoing down the hall. “Cereal, PBJ, yogurt, fruit, waffles, bagels, eggs,” I yell to no one in particular. A dissonant voice responds “but that’s not food…” So. Hopefully they will survive the duration of my long run.
Anyhoo, back to the run. This time, my running apparel is in sync with the rest of the fashion-forward vacationers, so I feel pretty confident as I begin this week’s long run adventure. I leap off the curb, and head for the hills. The sun is shining, I’m warm, and have the ocean to my right, and the mountains to my left. Happy place.
Just under a half a mile in, I reach my first decision. It happens every single time I do this run. Straight ahead of me is a very steep downhill, perhaps only 400 yards. But the road is full of potholes and uncomfortable and then I have to come UP the hill and that is a LOT to think about in the first 5 minutes of my run. Plus, it’s an out and back, so I’ll have to do it AGAIN on my way home, which, ugh. No. I could just add on a half mile in the middle and make it up? But that’s too much math. I hate this wee little hill. But it’s my first time out so I might as well take a wander down.
Regrets. I have regrets. I am NOT doing that again. The road was bumpy, there was a huge puddle at the bottom, and a whole mess of chickens charged at me at the end. Going uphill was the equivalent of scaling the Empire State Building. Or at least it felt that way. Next time, I’m just turning left.
So, mini Everest conquered, I’m off toward town. I’ve been running for about 12 minutes and the sweat is starting to drip. But that’s OK. I’m a warm weather runner! I carry on down the hill, noticing as I always do, the giant seafood taco open air restaurant, already open at 8:00 am (because who doesn’t like to start their day with a shot of raw fish and tequila?), right next to the old bullfighting ring. Which somehow reminds me of the Boston course, and running through Boston College in the middle of Heartbreak Hill. Where very apparent non-marathoners love to spectate and grill all sorts of meat. There is nothing like the scent of burning meat as you are gasping for air at mile 21. Except maybe the scent of raw fish tacos in the 95 degree heat. Now I’m a bit nauseated. At least I’ll be happy at mile 21 that I only smell meat and not raw fish. Always focus on the positive!
I round the corner and head for the bridge. This is a near death bridge. I have only in the past 5 years learned how to navigate said bridge. I have to pass under the bridge, dodging cars going both ways, crisscrossing to opposite sides, and then leap up on the largest curb I’ve ever seen to access the narrow sidewalk that spans said bridge. It’s a balancing act to stay on this narrow sidewalk without falling into traffic, a feat made all the more difficult by giant portions of the sidewalk falling in. If that was not tough enough, I always seem to be blinded by some sort of light (that would be the sun, Dara) in my eyes. But on top of that all, I am always struck by the beauty of it all. I’m not kidding. Looking to the sides, there is an estuary leading out to the mountains on one side, the sea on the other. I can’t look away – especially when I see a herd of cows heading toward the beach, escorted by herons on either side of them. As usual, I stop to take a picture. Luckily this long run is meant to be run slowly. I don’t think I’m really meant to stop, but we’re calling this another adventure run.
The other thing about this adventure run? No shade. I’m about 3 miles in at this point and I can feel my face starting to turn red. But I’m a warm weather runner! It’s OK! I jog past the cactus museum (yes I said that), reminded yet again that I’m running in the desert. I’m so glad I’m a warm weather runner!
And now here in front of me lies the greatest challenge. I have chosen this route specifically for it. The big, steep hill. With a hill on top. I can do this!!! I pick up my pace and charge into the hill. I can do this! Keeping my steps light and knees high, I lean into the 10% grade. Sweat pours down my face and despite my attempts at steady breathing, I start breathing through my mouth and suck in a massive gulp of desert sand and hot air. Good thing I’m a – no, I can’t say it now – I’m not feeling like a hot weather runner.
Of course this is the run on which I decide not to bring my water. Because it's a “shorter long run.” My idiocy astounds me sometimes. So now I’m completely dehydrated, a little bit woozy, and a lot hot. I scrape my way to the top of the hill and – oh my god I forgot it's a hill on a hill. Up up up I go. My face is pulsing, my mouth is dry, and my head is swirling. With a final push, I reach the summit. Success. I look to my left. With the sun blazing behind it, an enormous cross stands in the distance. At the base… is a camel? I shake my head. I look again. No camel. Blink. 2 camels. I’m either hallucinating, going crazy, or something is afoot. Ah. I’m not crazy. Camel tour. Because obviously, that’s what Mexico is known for… camel tours by the cross on a lazy Sunday morning.
Feeling a bit rejuvenated by the fact that I’m not crazy, I plunge down the hill toward the marina. The dolphins are out, the seals are barking, and I’m feeling good. Luckily, my favorite gas station full of tasty treats and bottled water is around the corner. I enter, and end up standing in line, a fluorescent red hyperventilating runner amidst a slew of locals buying snacks for the beach day. So much for blending into the community.
The next stretch is another long, gradual hill, sans sidewalk. I creep along slowly, feeling my legs tighten with each step. This is another hard one. I look at my watch. Then shake it. It must be broken. My heart rate is sky high and I’m running slower than I walk most of the time. This, my friends, is an overheated cluster of a run. Finally, miracle of miracles (no, I’m not near the camels and cross) I make it to my turnaround. I am again out of water, and a wee bit woozy. I could take the shortcut through the marina… but no. Stubborn woman that I am, I’m going BACK UP THAT HILL because Heartbreak Hill doesn’t care that I was overheating during training. In fact, Heartbreak Hill is probably a bit angry that I chose to run in Mexico rather than grace the course.
Back down through the neighborhood I go, stumbling a bit on the uneven pavement. Luckily there is a bit of shade as I move past the marina. I’m still slow, but I’m moving. And here comes that hill. I’m really in no shape to do this but here we go. Hot, dehydrated, and on the verge of tears, I hyperventilate myself up the hill. My music is pumping, I stare upwards at the great cross at the top. I’m in the midst of one of the hardest moments in my training… BRRRRINNGG BRINNNNGG. What the??? OMG. My children. They are instructed to call in an emergency. Panicked, still trudging up the hill, I answer and gasp “ARE? YOU? OHHHKKKAYYY?” “Uh, yeah. Just wicked hungry. Can we order from the pool bar?” “What? Yes.” (Because I’m too verklempt to answer anything else.) Think positive thoughts for the teens that just interrupted my run AFTER I TRIED TO GIVE THEM FOOD IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Somehow this moment has given me the impetus to crest the hill, where I gratefully raise my arms in victory and begin the descent. Down we go. My legs are complete jelly and I’m woozy and hot and not really completely sane, but I only have 3 miles to go. I start back over the bridge, using all my focus not to fall off the narrow ledge and trip over the raised concrete. I now have a bit of a headache and I’m definitely woozier than before. (For all you asking why I didn’t just stop for more water, again, I’m stubborn. Who needs water 2 miles from home? Absolutely do not recommend this method of training.) I stumble off the bridge and round the corner. Only 1.5 miles to go. I notice crowds gathering on the sidewalk, and police by barriers on the side. Omg. Is it a race? Did I find a race? I run out into the street looking for the race (and a water stop?) and IMMEDIATELY COME FACE TO FACE WITH A FLOAT. A float carrying some sort of mermaids and then one carrying cowboys and I have definitely entered a stage of delirium that I might not come back from. No. No, that is not it. I have quite literally run through the center of a parade. And I’m now weaving in and out of floats while being pelted with handfuls of candy. One never knows how much hard candy hurts until you get pelted with it. Small children are cheering for me and I’m almost crying trying to figure out how to get myself out of this mess while at the same time still wondering if someone might toss me a water instead of candy. And if I should actually eat that said candy. This stupid road goes uphill for a mile toward home and I’m literally stuck in a parade going the opposite direction so I’m panting, wading upstream, red faced and sweating, praying for a break in the floats. No dice.
I finally make it to the top and see the little hill that I’m supposed to go down and up. Remember, from the beginning? Hell to the no. Mileage be damned. I’m going home. I dodge right as a mariachi band marches in place for a minute. I’ve escaped the parade! Still getting pelted, but at a much slower rate.
I enter the lobby of the hotel. Less jaunty saunter, more crazed crawl. I have made it. That whole run. 1.5 hours. Slowest run to date. Maybe the slowest in my life.
I swing open the door to our condo and am blasted with heavenly air conditioning. I’m still a hot weather runner, but man. I’ll be better prepared next time.
I look up, still sweating and red faced, to see my beautiful teenager beaming in front of me, offering me sustenance.
“Want a shrimp taco?”
The Longest Run
MAR 17, 2023
I peel my eyes open. After a long night of kids hockey playoffs and a late return home, I’ve gotten a few hours of sleep. And now, it’s Sunday morning, 7 am. The plan calls for 18 miles. Every detail has been meticulously planned because motherhood. My son has hockey playoffs (yay semifinals) approximately 27 miles away, starting at 11:30 am. Over the past two days I have plotted, replotted, calculated, and detailed with the precision of the NASA team sending off the shuttle. If I leave at 7:43, that allows for enough time to make it to Framingham, find an Uber, and jet to the rink by puck drop. It even allows for three traffic light stops and four 15-second water breaks. I’m good to go. Except there is a layer of ice on the ground. UNACCOUNTED FOR DISASTER! What to do? Do I risk it? Or do I hop on my trusty treadmill and go the safe route? But then we’ll have to take 2 cars to the rink because I won’t be done in time…
I poke my toe out onto the porch. Hmm. Slippery. But then again, that’s in the shade. Shuffling to the sunny side, I notice more patches of wet, but not ice. Time is ticking. Departure time is fast approaching. Decisions must be made. Anxiety mounts. There really should never be this much anxiety involved in walking out the door. But yet. Here we are.
I slide my foot again. Kick the ice. Ok. I’m just going inside. Treadmill it is. But. The sun. Should I? Oh for the love of everything just RUN. Let’s GO! I’m even annoying myself with this banter the second time around. TIme’s a tickin’.
I’m going for it. Bundled up, backpack full, I head out the door. And realize I haven’t had breakfast. Or coffee. Oh lord. 2 shots of espresso and a Huma later, I’m out the door. (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. NOT FUELING IS FOR PROFESSIONAL IDIOTS ONLY).
I begin my shuffle toward Beacon Street. I’m headed out the Boston Marathon course backwards again, but this time, I’m not coming back. It’s a point-to-point. I’m excited because I haven’t seen farther than the base of Heartbreak Hill this season. I’m ready to explore the rest of the course. Espresso and intrigue kick me into gear as I head toward the hills.
Sadly, due to the extreme early nature of this run (I’m not a morning person), the sun has yet to shine on Beacon Street. Which leads me back to that whole Minister of Silly Walks as I tiptoe/run with my knees high and arms out to the side as I attempt to avoid ice and snow patches. This is why we work our core, people! Balance, balance, balance. Why did I opt for running outside again?
As I approach Boston College, the sun breaks through and, like a beacon of hope, draws me to the carriage road which is blissfully ice free and full of marathon runners. Huzzah! My people are here! I am so excited to join the crowd on the carriage road. The excitement of the crowd, the amazing work of the volunteers who set up aid stations all along the route gives it a marathon day feel. I pick up my pace as I head down the hill, head high. Approaching mile 6, I come to a stop at the light and begin to feel a little logey. Time for Huma number one. I’m still doing my best to train my gut, which is something I have never done before in all of the 20+ marathons that I have completed. My goal today, in the almost 3 hours of running I will be doing is to suck down 3-4 of these babies. Daunting.
I launch myself forward and head on up past the Kelley statues, when all of a sudden a trio of women passes me. I’m not sure what it was about these women but within seconds they became my immediate competition. Why them, I have no idea. But I gave a little surge and tried to stay right behind them. Pushing myself a bit faster than usual, I was able to stay with them for a mile or two, when they slowly began pulling away. Wait! I thought! The sisterhood! No woman left behind! I feel left out, lonely, and distraught. Why am I so slow? I watch them creep ahead and decide that the next best thing is to keep them in my sights. As I approach the turn onto Washington Street, I notice that they go straight ahead. Immediately I panic. Oh. My. God. They changed the course. Hey! You’re going the wrong way! Turn! Wait-are they going the right way? Am I lost? (I’ve run this course 100 times at the minimum over the past 20 years but today I’m lost?) Now I’m worried. Are THEY lost? Should I tell them to turn? Never, ever did it cross my mind that maybe they were just out for a run. Like, not running the course. Simply not even an option if you are running on Comm Ave on a Saturday or Sunday between January and April. Who does that?
So I had to let them go, although I did keep wondering if they ever made it where they were going. Where WERE they going? But I was excited as I headed up the road past Newton Wellesley Hospital and began my descent over the highway. This is my farthest run to date, and I was so happy and proud to have made it this far. Humming along to myself I skirted the edge of the sidewalk, avoiding an ice patch when BOOM! ANOTHER trio of women come blasting by me, so quickly that I screamed. And they screamed. We all screamed. And then we kept running. I could not catch them. They were little cheetahs on steroids. I looked up and YES! I had passed the sign…entering Wellesley. I’m now three towns into the marathon course! Time for another celebratory Huma.
People were still coming and going on the course as I made my way past the firehouse (halfway point of the marathon), some even smiling. I love a good running smile. Puts a little pep in my step. And then they hit. The hills. I’ve been going downhill for a solid 12 miles now. And all of a sudden, it’s up up up we go. Quads come to a screeching halt. It’s like driving with the emergency brake on. This hurts. This is not fun. Tears form in the corners of my eyes as I struggle forward. Someone smiles at me as they come down the hill. Don’t f-ing smile at me! Why are people smiling? This is so not fun. Why do I write happily about my training and running when it is SO not happy and fun? I’m miserable. I start crying. And then laughing. Because now I’m going to write about how miserable I am while crying in the middle of Wellesley center, much to the dismay of some very proper people coming in and out of very proper coffee shops. Snot and tears rolling down my face, I give a giant sleeve wipe and carry on. I’m on a schedule here. No time for tears or I’ll miss the playoffs! Motherhood for the win.
I pass by Wellesley College and picture the scream tunnel, which carries me down the hill right into Natick. One more Huma (gag) on the go I look up. No more runners. Anywhere. Oh my god I’m lost. Did I miss a turn? There are precisely two turns in the marathon. I know this. But maybe…they changed it? Where are all the runners? I decide to trust my gut and move forward. After I checked Google Maps to make sure I was on the right track.
And then, there it was. Like a shining star (or a white sign in a pile of dirty snow – Framingham definitely lost the sidewalk shoveling contest I was holding internally between towns) the sign rose in the distance. Tears rolling down my face, quads burning, I pushed myself forward toward the train station. The end. I did it. I looked around in wonder, awaiting the applause. No applause, just a concerned gentleman reading his paper looking at me with raised eyebrows. Catching a glance of myself in the dirty window at the station, I see why. I have snot and tears dried on my coat, my hat is askew, backpack half open, and a glob of my last Huma on my sleeve. Not pretty, but productive. I DID IT! And in good time as well. I even have four minutes to spare. My final concern was getting that Uber to the rink. Who’s around at 11:00 am on a Sunday in the middle of nowhere? Apparently George is. George picked me up within three minutes, and I made it to the rink by puck drop. Precision running at its finest. A few more odd looks at the rink as I shivered in post run sweat, but our hockey family is used to my running antics by now. The world moved on that day, as did I. But I had to smile at myself every now and then. Because I did it. Longest run to date, three Humas ingested, and only one breakdown. I call that a win in my book.
Runner In A Strange Land
MAR 8, 2023
Guys! It’s been a minute. I’ve been having exciting adventures abroad, and I’m so excited to share with you, even if you aren’t excited to listen. Because I’ll just keep on telling you, like it or not. I’m that kind of girl.
Anyhoo, life kind of threw this little adventure my way (totally false, I planned this whole ridiculous thing for months and almost passed out from the stress of coordinating it) and last week our family all found ourselves together in Barcelona. Sunshine! Warmth! Relaxation! Tapas! Sangria! Sangria! Sangria! (No really – three types of sangria).
We bravely faced the overnight flight with earplugs, 7 hours of downloaded Real Housewives, and a bag full of Swedish Fish and trail mix. By we I mean I. Which meant upon arrival in Spain, I emerged from the plane hunched over, bloated, bleary-eyed, and missing several thousand brain cells. We’re off to a good start!
And so begin the trials and tribulations of training and traveling. How on earth was I going to keep up with my training without the comforts of home? It’s always a risk you take, traveling while training. But with a little bit of finagling, it can be done. I think.
Day 1: Let’s just call this a wash because between the Swedish Fish and trail mix sitting like a bowling ball in my stomach, lack of sleep, lack of coffee, and complete wackiness with the time zone changes, (plus several glasses now of sangria sangria sangria), there is zero probability that I will be able to hobble down the street. My brilliant self did indeed anticipate this and very wisely did 15 miles on the treadmill the night we left. See! Look how flexible I was. Long run on a THURSDAY NIGHT!
Day 2: I fling open the door of our apartment building, arms raised to embrace the glorious morning in front of me. 8 am, 50 and sunny, a perfect way to start the day. Until I notice the people passing very slowly in front of me, mouths agape. Sideways glances between couples, stares from children, and the full up and down from several women make me pause. What the heck have I done now?
Quick assessment of the crowd leads me to the slightly embarrassing answer. Apparently my bright yellow jog bra and flowered shorts weren’t what these people were prepared to see so early in the morning. Or maybe ever. Everyone is dressed in full winter gear. Long parkas, gloves, scarves, hats, and boots. That’s how I dress when it’s 10 degrees out. This is summer weather for Bostonians! Nope. Not here. Runner in a strange land…
I hold my head high, and begin my run. A brightly-colored salmon swimming upstream in a sea of black winter garb. More awkward stares. Seriously? Let’s get over the gear, people. But wait. I can sense that it is no longer about only the gear. It’s … the running?! I am the only one running. The streets are crowded with Saturday morning strollers, blissfully dragging on their cigarettes, nary a fitness fanatic in sight. I am now slightly concerned that someone is going to call the policia because there is a possible wacko running in her underwear through the streets of Barcelona. Good idea or not, I pick up the pace (as much as is possible in my jetlagged state) and stumble down the road, giving a glance over my shoulder to make sure I’m not being chased. And there in front of me, it appears, an oasis in the midst of chaos. A park. With people doing what appears to be some sort of strange fitness class (no judgment here from the lady running in her yellow underwear) and runners! OK, there were 2 runners, dressed basically in snowsuits, but I felt connected, you know? I have found my people. I’m going to be OK. Until I realize that the park is actually 400 square yards. That’s a pretty small area to run for 40 minutes. Sigh. I say an internal goodbye to my kindred spirits, and head down the road. Lo and behold, a bike lane, right in the middle of the road! I can run there without weaving in and out of foot traffic. Awesome. Trotting down the center, I feel free, uninhibited, ready to pick up the … oh my god that guy came right at me! And another! What is HAPPENING? All of a sudden it's Frogger on the path – dodging cyclists left and right. People actually bike on the bike path! It’s like the cycling highway! Gahhh! Panic! I fling myself to the side, looking to cross the road to the sidewalk, where I am immediately swallowed again by the puffing parka-wearing Saturday-strolling Spaniards.
Let’s remember, my body still thinks it’s 2:00 am at this point and I am in no shape to contend with this type of aggressive strolling. I decide I’m safer doing circles in the tiny park, with my kindred spirits again. So back against the tide I go, to do a few laps, and finally head home. I’m sweating, somewhat disconcerted, and in dire need of a coffee.
I duck into a cafe, and order an iced coffee. The stare I receive are nothing short of a death stare. Plunk. One ice cube hits the bottom of the glass. Two shots of espresso and some oat milk immediately melt the lonely cube, and I look longingly at the cashier. Por favor, mas hielo? You’d think I asked for diamonds. One more cube plunks into the glass. Apparently, we will NOT be drinking iced coffee this week. Go with the flow. Nothing like a burning espresso shot to freshen you right up as you continue to sweat post-run.
Finally back in the apartment, I sit down and look at my watch. It’s been 37 minutes. What? Good thing today was an “easy” day. I’m exhausted. Tomorrow, the tempo run. I’ll be better prepared for sure. More clothing, less time in the bike lane. And maybe pre-determining the route. Because Google maps exist for a reason. I’m not sure the actual reason is running-related, but we’ll work with that.
Training abroad takes a special kind of flexibility. But it can be done! From shifting different runs to different days, adjusting to new time zones, and figuring out new routes to finding the right fuel and proper gear, it’s important to let go of the stringent plan and enjoy the running adventure. Training well can be done with a bit of advanced planning; my treasured Sauconys and running gear are a must in the carry on. I always carry some Bobo bars with me in case of a pre-run food emergency – what if I can’t find oatmeal? And most of the time, I have scoped out a safe place to run that does not involve dodging bikes, cars, and cigarette-puffing parka wearers. If I had done my research prior to this trip, I would have seen that the BARCELONA HALF MARATHON WAS THE DAY AFTER MY ARRIVAL and wouldn’t have run for 2.5 hours on the treadmill at night before I left. And I would have found my running people a lot sooner…lesson learned. Sigh. It’s all about the adventure, right?
Simply not in the mood. At all.
FEB 17, 2023
I’m in my PJs. Staring out the window with no plan in place. Where is the enthusiasm? The spark? The JOY OF THE LONG RUN? Today, I am thwarted by the long run boredom blues. The motivation is low, the drive to online shop and scroll through BuzzFeed is high. Anyone else? Or is it just me?
I look at my shiny new Sauconys. They ignite a tiny spark. So let's start with the first step: get dressed. I can do that! So many options. Look at this drawer full of running shorts. I think I should clean that out. NO! Choose one. Not that one. Actually, is it warm enough for shorts? Leggings?
A good outfit can be a fabulous motivator so I’m on a quest now. Fifteen minutes later…I have it! Feeling good. Looking good. Ish. I realize that I am completely dressed in blue, right down to my brand new Bombas performance socks, finished off with my favorite new (black) Sauconys; perhaps a reflection of my mood. Perhaps a coincidence. Perhaps due to the fact that 98% of the clothing in my closet is blue. Anyhow.
The time has come. I’m going to take the advice I have always given to my clients. Give it a shot for 10 to 12 minutes, if you’re not feeling it, change it up. I start my watch in the kitchen, slowly walking out the door. This may in fact be cheating on my own advice. Don’t care.
Look! It’s my daughter coming down the street. I told her I was on my way out 2 hours ago. She cheers: “You can do it, mom!” To which I reply: “Hey, take a picture of me to capture my non running mood. I’ll just jump off the curb and you take a picture.” Oh my god the eyeroll. “Mom,” (exasperated sigh) “that is SO 2012. No.” Whatever. Take the picture kid.
I look at her and she sends me off. “Do it for your fans!” she yells. I start laughing. So, um, Mom and Dad, I guess this one’s for you! Which really is very little motivation since I could be sitting on a rock and my mom would tell me that I’m the best rock sitter she’s ever seen, and my dad would say: “So, have a good run. But if you don’t, that’s ok too.” Motivation at its finest.
Off I go. Ten minutes drag by and I’m very close to circling back home to my cozy treadmill. But wait. I cross the street and I feel a shift. An energy, a wee burst of adrenaline surges (could have been due to me dodging a car as it barreled toward me, but we’ll take it), and I feel that Saucony bounce kick in. I’m going to go for it.
Heading down Beacon Street, I move into gear a bit. But ever so cautiously since the cracks in the sidewalk are jumping up at me – real ones this time – and I have to alter my gait a bit. So now I’m kind of high stepping down Beacon Street in my blueberry attire, knees up, kicking my feet forward, all Monty Python Minister of Silly Walks-like. Which makes me crack up. So now I’m cackling to myself and high stepping down Beacon Street. Let me tell you, nothing clears a sidewalk like a cackling middle-aged woman dodging invisible cracks. At least my path is clear. And I’ve definitely dated myself with that little anecdote.
I stop at the next red light to compose myself. (For the love of everything, stop cackling to yourself, girl!) I realize that I have come to a crossroads. Actually just a crosswalk, but one leads straight, and the other takes me onto the actual marathon course. Deciding that I would rather eat my own hand than go on the course again (guess I’d already made my mind up there), I set off on the route parallel to the course. This route is a steeper grade than Heartbreak Hill, but I’m up for the challenge.
I pass Boston College and begin my first big ascent. I’m feeling a little bit tired and realize it might be time for some fuel. In other words, STOP! HUMA TIME! Yes, I actually said this to myself, setting off another cascade of cackles as I tumble down the back side of the hill. At least I’m not wearing parachute pants. Apologies/credit to MC Hammer for that little moment on the hill.
Feeling very proud as I navigate the inclines and declines of today’s course, I also notice that I am definitely running faster than usual. Thanks, Sauconys (and training)! Good news, feeling great. Bad news, need to run farther to make my time goal. Now I’m doing math in my head again, which never ends well on a long run. At least I’m occupied as I approach the turnaround point and head back home.
Up I go, reminding myself that hills are a good thing. Second Huma sucked down very gracefully/gratefully at a stop light. These hills are killing me. I know. They’re good for me, but also killing me. As is with so many things in life. Like, chocolate. The amount I eat, anyhow. And water. Too much water can kill you, right? I start philosophizing on all that is both good and bad at the same time when I realize that is simply too much brain power for me. And I’m really thirsty all of a sudden. Did someone mention water?
I have begun the descent past BC, into Cleveland Circle. I’m back on the course. I have conquered those hills. I’m a superhero! I stop my watch at a ridiculously long light, take a swig of water, and triumphantly make my way back down Beacon. I’m zipping along, feeling a little breathless, so I decide to check my watch for my pace. Seems fast. OH FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY AND RUNNING-RELATED, I FORGOT TO RESTART MY WATCH!!!! The agony, the pain,the devastation. Now I have to do math again to figure out where the heck I am. Agggh. Annoyed.
This too shall pass. I will keep on keeping on. I have set my sights on running almost to the finish line, so it’s time to focus. I am now on approach to the turnoff to my street. The voices in my head start chanting: Turn. Turn now. Turn Turn Turn HEY IT’S TIME TO TURN. HEY YOU’RE MISSING IT. And then the other side of my head tells me to turn the music up instead to drown out the first side. So now Miley Cyrus is blasting in my ears. I CAN BUY MY OWN FLOWERS (TURN! TURN!) I CAN HOLD MY OWN HAND! (TURN!) So now I realize that I’m actually singing out loud to drown out my own thoughts and I have successfully made it by the turn but have most certainly alienated a few people on this side of Beacon Street. Hopefully this is a different group than a few hours ago or someone’s going to be concerned.
It is a privilege and a joy to report that I made it to what my running partners and I have cheerfully termed “little b**ch.” It’s that lovely little bridge one mile from the finish line. The one that feels like Mt Everest at the end of the marathon. It’s a b**ch. I can see the Citgo sign – through a construction fence blocking the road??! I hope someone’s on that. Could be problematic in April. In any case, I’m feelin’ beyond proud that I actually hit all of the goals I had set for this run. I’m taking it home now, about 2 miles to go. Legs are dragging a bit, but I choose the more difficult route home. I sprint down the street and raise my arms as I pass my house. I made it. 2 hours and 30 minutes on the nose. BOOM! I am victorious!
Sometimes, it takes a little while longer to get out there. Marathoning is an exercise in patience and talking yourself into things. And talking to yourself in general. Training is time on the toes. But today I had a good run, in the end. So for half of my fan base – mom and dad – that one was for you. I dug down deep, with a pretty good outcome, if I do say so myself. For the other half of my family, er, fan base, thanks for pushing me out the door. Now don’t talk to me. I’m taking a nap.
The Running Adventure
FEB 10, 2023
Listen. Marathon training is no joke. It takes a lot of time, effort, and concentration to get ready for a 26.2 mile trek. And to properly train generally involves a few different types of runs. The tempo, the interval, the easy, and the LONG RUN. Each run only occurs on one day, right? No. Absolutely not. THE LONG RUN is really a 4-5 day event with only one day of actual running.
Four or five days out, I start thinking about the long run. What’s the weather forecast? How long will it take me? Three days out: I’ve got this! I’m so excited for the long run. I’m going to run THIS route. Woohoo! Two days out: I think I need more sleep. I have to get ready for the long run. It’s in two days. I should take a nap. One day out: What am I eating today to prepare? Do I need more carbs? No. Wait. Yes. Tomorrow is my long run. I’m SO NERVOUS!
The long run day. It has arrived. By now I am so stressed about THE LONG RUN I’m just staring out the window with butterflies in my stomach. Can I make it? Will I make it? I have to talk myself off the ledge. Running for two and a half hours is a long time.
You know what changes things? Alters that mentality? Making it a running adventure. Who doesn’t love an adventure? It’s a little less daunting to think of going out on a run to see what you can see. I think this might also be called mind games but I’ll take it. Let’s go!
Over my first few miles, I challenge myself to go up some pretty steep hills on my journey over to the Boston Marathon course. I reach the intersection of Chestnut Hill and Comm Ave – the beginning of my time on the course – with much huffing and puffing. Thank goodness for the red light. I take a big inhale of … pot??? (Marijuana, mary j, weed, whatever it is the kids are calling it these days – totally legal here in Mass). I look up and there is a gentleman standing in front of me, blowing a huge cloud of smoke through where his two front teeth probably should be. He shakes his lovely long (greasy) locks and says “Hey there,” which, in Boston, is akin to verbal assault. We do not speak. We nod and ignore. I’m left startled by this little interlude and almost miss the little “WALK” sign. He blows another puff in my face and waves as I step off the curb.
Still reeling a bit, (who says hi at a stop??!) I make my way along Comm Ave and up toward BC. Weaving in and out of students, I’m in my groove. Feeling pretty good in my new Bomba socks and Sauconys I bounce down Heartbreak Hill. I’m crushing this long run. I check my watch. Never check your watch. I’m twenty minutes into my 2.5 hour long run.
I look across the street and see two runners about my pace. I’m running parallel to them. Hey! Hey guys! Over here! We’re so cool running this together. Obviously this is all in my head since, see above, acknowledgement of other runners would be a definite sign of aggression.
So on I go, taking in the Newton scenery and noting that there is truly still an overabundance of holiday decor perched on these lawns. My thought is that when the buds start appearing on the bushes on which the decor is displayed, it’s probably time to take it down. Which is now. But who am I to judge? That reindeer probably looks festive frolicking in the roses in June.
Got a little bounce in my step as I approach the water stop at Heartbreak Hill Running Co. Every week, rain or shine, they leave a water cooler and cups out for all the adventurers out on the roads, trudging up and down Heartbreak Hill. And every week I grab my water, open the door to the store, and give a little thank you wave. Today I give my wave, toss my cup, and notice another runner at the light next to me. It’s an adventure. I’m going to say hi and see what happens. “Hi! How’s your run going?” Guy looks like a deer in the headlights. He stutters, glances side to side, and darts across the street. I knew it.
Things are moving right along as I continue down the stretch to the Johnny Kelley statue. Judging by my time on the course, it’s about time for my Huma. I could really use some…oh no. OH NO. Things are moving right along. I mean. Not in a good way. I just. Ugh. Stomach is getting a bit churny as I bounce towards Johnny. What could I have done to cause this? Everything is the same! Wait, no! I had an extra coffee this morning. It was just so good and I was so cozy. Lesson learned. You are OHHKAAAYY. No. No I am not. My eyes scan the horizon. Is that? Could it be? Yes, yes it is!! CONSTRUCTION! And you know what that means – Porta potties! In the distance! I have never been so happy to see a contained sewage capsule.
I count myself lucky. Not everyone on their run can find a Porta potty. But that’s a story for another day. I hold my breath and dart in. Um. False alarm. PHEW! And also ew. I guess this too has passed. As long as I’m thinking about GI things, I might as well suck down my Huma. I’m about halfway through and the mental gymnastics are draining right now. Not to mention the past 8 miles. Boom. I’m fueled, I’m ready to tackle the back end of the run. YES!! I sprint across the street, back on the course. I bound up the hill and FALL FLAT ON MY FACE. Yes, dear reader. Flat on my face. Luckily, my knees and hands slid out underneath me in a full on superwoman pose, so I saved my nose from destruction. But I’m left with a gaping hole in my tights, a massively bloody knee, and two hands with asphalt imprints. I roll my eyes, hoist myself up, and shake it off. Gah! My watch is still running. That’s the biggest insult. My pace is off.
Welp, I’m almost to the turnaround. Only one way back anyhow. Off I go. No, I did not check to see if anyone saw me fall (why is that always the first question people ask?). I’m too old to care what other people think. I have better things to worry about. Like finishing this ridiculous running adventure.
Despite my fall, my porta potty misadventure, and other general malaises, I smile. I have made it to the famous Newton firehouse! Three weeks ago I could never have envisioned making it this far. I’m proud of myself. Now I just need to make it home.
I am laser focused. Let’s get up Heartbreak Hill and take it to the finish. Granted, I’m a little sore, and do stop at the lights a bit more on the return trip. Side glances at my torn running outfit at these lights almost encourage me to chat but I simply nod and give a thumbs up. I’m fine.
Slow and steady, I climb to the top, swear appropriately, and smile as I descend past Boston College, along Comm Ave to the turn toward home. I’m about 4.5 miles out. Do I take the second Huma? It’s mango. Now THIS is going to be an adventure. Oh. It’s like mango baby food. I’ll take it. And I’ll take the little burst of energy that accompanies it.
As I near my home stretch, I notice 6 fire trucks, 3 ambulances, and more police cars than I can count. Ladder is up on the 3rd floor. First thought – oh no! Hope everyone is OK. Followed quickly by um, they’re blocking my route and now I have to go ALL the way around them to get on the street and I DON’T WANT ANY MORE MILEAGE! Gah. Just get me home. I zig zag through the mess, weaving in and out of the police cars. Tough to weave on tired legs, just sayin’. (No injuries reported at the scene, just a kitchen fire, for those wondering.) Third thought, a lot can happen in a 2.5 hour time period. I glance at my watch. AGGGGHHH. (Have I learned nothing from my own experience?!) I still have 10 more minutes to go. But my house. It’s right there! Nope. Down the street, up the street, down the street, up the street. Past my house. I hear my dogs barking. Sorry guys. And finally … Done. Running adventure complete. But the LONG RUN. No. It continues through tomorrow when I will go over every detail in my head. And start preparing for the next one…
Fuel for thought...
FEB 3, 2023
Once upon a time, there was a girl who ran. She ran for a long time and then stopped. She was hungry. And very tired. She ate something and felt better. Stronger, in fact. Could it be that food could change the way she ran and recovered???
EUREKA! THE FUELING REVOLUTION HAD BEGUN! Actually I’m sure it was a bit more complex than that, so huge apologies to all of the scientists who have actually done the legwork on this. And thank you. Because it seems like overnight, there has been an explosion of tantalizing (and disgusting) treats to keep your body fueled for the long run. So to speak.
Head into any running store these days and there is literally a wall of flavored sugar in various stages of goop for every discerning runner. From fruity to chocolate, gummy to gel, waffle to bar, runners are now inundated with choices on how to properly fuel for an endurance event. But, as my insanely speedy, multi-marathoner father-in-law would say: “Is this a buffet or a race??!” How much do we need, and what kind?
The answer is…who knows? It’s up to you. Training for a marathon also includes training your oh-so-unique GI system. What’s a girl to do then? Practice, practice, practice. With all the fuel.
This marathon training period I have promised myself that I am truly going to practice. Really. After much (too much) research, I have found that Huma seems to be the best source of fuel for me for this type of race. Looking at the ingredients, I was intrigued, yet tentative. It’s one of the only gels I’ve found with no maltodextrin, a substance that my poor body does NOT like. Huma consists of fruit puree, brown rice syrup, salt, and Chia seeds? On a run? That seems…dangerous. But, after a few trial runs, quite literally, I found that Huma was in fact, quite tasty – like lemonade or strawberry jam – and hallelujah, did NOT make my stomach explode into a bowling ball. Let’s be clear. I have run with a bowling ball belly for over 27 months during three pregnancies. I’ll take that any day over a gel-induced bowling ball, thank you very much.
Run a marathon and it is, in fact, a buffet of sorts. Watching runners fuel, and what option they choose, could be a bingo card for spectators. I feel like I’ve seen pretty much everything out there.
There was that one New York Marathon where one of my running besties was keeping me company while I ran, graciously running up ahead to grab water or Gatorade as I plodded along. She came back at mile 18 with a piece of pizza. People were handing out slices of pizza and people were RUNNING AND EATING THEM! I mean I guess that’s just New York for you… but still.
Then there was the friend, absolutely brilliant in his medical field, who told me he wasn’t feeling so well after some of his runs. Turns out he was stopping at the gas station, buying two king-sized Snickers, and eating them during the last half of his long run. Which does sound delicious, but holy cow it takes more energy to actually eat that thing than to do the run. Plus they must be 3 pounds each so it’s like running with weights on top of everything else.
(All of the ultra marathoners out there, sit back down. You can write your own article on fueling for an ultra later, in which you might discuss the merits of eating snickers and pizza on a long run. In the woods. In the middle of the night.)
Anyhow, for most people running a marathon, it turns out that a simple carbohydrate with very little to no fat seems to be a fairly digestible fuel source. I did once see a group of runners zoom by me with lollipops hanging out of their mouths and maybe it’s the mom in me but my first thought was: “Oh my god, someone’s going to choke.” Or lose an eye. But then again, 95% of the planet is more coordinated than I am, so there was less of a likelihood of death by lollipop than I imagine.
At the start of yet another race, I saw a woman whip out a full jar of honey from her pocket, ALONG WITH A SPOON, and wolf down a few dollops. She then put the jar back in her pocket and off she went, in the 3:20 pace crowd. I have no idea how that ended, but huge props for carrying a jar of honey with you for 26.2 miles. Better woman than I.
For awhile, my running partners and I were all about the chews. Gu Chews. Or Clif Shot Bloks I have a distinct memory of running my good friend into the finish of the marathon. With a mile to go she was feeling a bit woozy, so what did I decide? THE GIRL NEEDS A SHOT BLOK! So here I am, heading over the bridge to Kenmore Square, literally shoving gummies in her mouth and making her chew. And perhaps choke a tiny bit. All the while cheering at the top of my lungs and hitting her in the head with her water bottle that I was supposed to be holding. Worst. Partner. Ever. (Sorry, Mere.) Marathons make us do stupid things sometimes. Because timing is everything with fuel and turns out, stuffing a wad of shot bloks in your mouth 10 minutes before the finish does not actually improve your speed or strength.
For me, in the past, mid-race fueling has been nearly impossible. My stomach simply doesn’t seem to like eating and running at the same time. I’m usually horribly nauseated by the end of a marathon and have indeed puked at the end. In front of a cafe with people enjoying a lovely Sunday brunch. But this time I’m practicing. I have my Huma ready to go and am following directions. One 40 minutes into the run, and then 45-50 minutes later. Still figuring out how to deal with those sticky wrappers and wondering how I always seem to get it in my hair but I’ll keep you posted.
I’m also intrigued a bit by the whole Honey Stinger waffle thing, sport beans, and the maple syrup craze. Stay tuned…watch for me during the marathon. I might be able to fill your whole fueling bingo card with my variety of snacks. It truly might be a running buffet.
Remember, as always, running is an individual sport. Everyone has their unique combo of fuel and training that works best for them, so go with it! Whatever your plan is, just make sure you practice before the big day.
JAN 27, 2023
I saunter down the stairs, sashaying past my 14-year-old son, a brief fashion show for the completely uninterested. Today’s middle-aged model is sporting 3 layers of shirts, a vest, windbreaker, and long insulated tights. Weather said “feels like 30 degrees,” so I’m prepared. I kicked my shiny new black and gold Saucony Endorphin Speed 3s up on the coffee table (I’m the mom, I can do that) and said: “I’m off for my long run”! AHEM, “I AM GOING TO DO MY LONG RUN!” My son looked at me from under the full length curtain that is now his hair – at least I think he looked at me?-and said: “Is it really that cold out, Ma? Really?”
Lordy. Now I have to mentally access my teenage translate button, because Google, despite my helpful suggestions, has not added teen speak to Google translate. Is it really cold out? Is it sarcasm? Sigh. I open the door. Oh. Sarcasm.
I peel off the vest and the first shirt layer, pulled back the hair curtain, and mouthed goodbye to said teenager. “K. Bye, Ma. Nice kicks.” Ah… He DID notice.
And off we went, my new Sauconys and I, for our first adventure together. Usually my first two miles entail me awkwardly trying to find my pace, my footing, and convincing myself that it's really not that long at all, it’s an out and back, and if I make it to the turnaround, I’m really almost there. So today it's actually more like 7 miles, than 14. Easy peasy!
Today is a whole different animal. From the first step of the run, I literally bounced down my street like Tigger, as opposed to the usual Eeyore shuffle. My knee drive was up where I had always attempted to train it to go, but it was happening naturally. My stride felt lengthened and easier. Again, still a little wonky as I struggled to get used to the feeling for the first few miles, but then there I was, bouncing down Beacon Street like Tigger on a mission.
After those first few miles comes the real test. It’s a test in agility and core strength. Remember how I am a big fan of NOT running at 5:00 am? I like my coffee and my oatmeal and my stretching after the sun comes up. So here I am at 11:00 am, bounding down the road when I am confronted with the major issue that arises on a Sunday midmorning run. The hungover BC gauntlet that is Cleveland Circle. Coming down that stretch is a game of frogger on level 12. Bleary-eyed kids whip open doors, clutching burritos and coffee, nary a glance to either side as they roll onto the sidewalk in little gangs full of gossip and guffaws. Jump to the right there, avoid the hooded teenager; crouch low to avoid burrito swinging basketball players; weave in and out of the parking meters. Jump the curbs, leap over potholes – Sunday morning Urban Parkour.
Feeling light on my feet with the success of not falling on my face in Cleveland Circle (celebrate the little things!), I take stock of my pace. Generally, I try not to look at my pace/time too much when I run because then I get in a race with myself and usually lose. But today I felt like I was moving faster along the course than normal, yet my breathing was easy and steady. HOLY COW! I am running 25 seconds faster per mile than intended. Which is stupid for a long run, so I tried to slow myself down. However, the change in knee drive and foot strike seems to be organically moving me along at a faster pace. Here come the mind games. I’m going DOWN Heartbreak Hill now, so do I use the speed, or do I control myself and conserve energy for the uphill? I know myself well, so I simply go with the current pace but don’t push the downhill. I know that my slow-to-awaken body truly kicks in around mile 7, and I’m on mile 5.
Here comes the Johnny Kelley Statue -- my signal that I’m closing in on 6 miles. Once I pass Johnny, only a mile to go ‘til the turnaround. Huh. This mile seems a lot longer when you run it than in my head. But no, here I am! My watch dings 7 miles and I flip around. Let’s take it up the hill. Homeward bound!
Still feeling strong, I look at my watch. I’m now almost a minute faster than I should be for long run pacing, according to my plan. But here’s where I kick in. So I let it ride. From Walnut Street to Centre Street is a piece of cake. Heartbreak Hill Running Company is such a welcome sign at Centre Street -- it’s the 20 mile marker of the marathon, and gives you a boost as you head into what I consider to be one of the most difficult stretches of the marathon. Centre Street to BC. It’s a sneaky little hill with a hill on top. Almost every Boston I run, I end up swearing up this hill that I will NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. Today was no different. Agh. TIgger has lost some of her spring. I make it to the top with huge apologies to the owner of the design store on the corner, outside which I swear loudly every week.
My pace picks up again as I pass BC, head down Comm Ave, right on Chestnut Hill Ave, and back onto Beacon. Urban Parkour has diminished in the hour I’ve been dealing with Heartbreak Hill, which is a relief since my little legs are starting to feel a bit less agile at this point. With 2 miles to go, my quads are speaking to me in a loud whisper that they’d like to stop now. “Look, there’s a coffee shop. You could grab coffee and walk home.” NO! We’ve got this. We CAN do it.
As my quads move from a whisper to an angry shout, I push down the last mile to home. This mile is definitely longer than most miles. I see it in the distance…the turn onto my street. I pick up the pace and give a little sprint to the end, envisioning that bright yellow strip on Boylston. I did it!! Longest run yet. And in my sparkling new shoes. I bounced up the stairs to announce my victory, where the cheering was markedly more subdued than the actual finish line. According to my teen translate app, I think the cheer/mumble was “Way to go Mom”. Sarcasm? Nah.
Fast forward one day. Oy. My back. Let's face it. I’ve broken yet another cardinal rule of running. Don’t take your brand new shoes out for a 14-mile run. The difference in gait and knee drive definitely hit my body differently than usual. The bounce was… well, a lot for 14 miles. BUT - I wouldn’t change a thing. This is a normal adjustment. The Saucony Endorphin Speed 3s were everything they promised. The forward propulsion/rocker movement truly increased my pace without a huge cardiovascular effort. The fit, feel, and performance of this shoe delivered a solid, speedy run that was FUN! Can’t wait for our next outing together. Stay tuned.
1: No teen feelings were injured in the writing of this piece. Son is unharmed and unphased per usual.
2: I’m just an average runner doing my little thing out here, reporting from the road on my adventures in training. Make sure that you follow your OWN plan and do what is right for you, from shoes to running to fuel to all the things training related. I like to test out different gear and let you know my thoughts. Whether you asked for them or not.
If the shoe fits…
JAN 20, 2023
It’s the night before Friday and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… except me, obviously, since the minute my head hits the pillow 8 million thoughts go zooming through my head. But tonight’s thoughts are all centered around one thing. SHOES.
I know. Go to bed, Dara. But no. First, I have to tell you all about my chat with Brian Metzler, the shoe guy. I had so many questions. I could have spoken to him for HOURS on the ins and outs of running shoes, from laces and lasts to cushion and carbon. But I began with the standard: “Will this shoe make me run faster?”
Because seriously, what’s the point of new shoes if they don’t make you go faster?
Well, there are many points to consider, I soon learned. From the density of the foam, to the tightness and durability of the last, to the shape of the shoe, each brand is unique. And it’s up to us as runners to figure out which shoe works best with our body mechanics, structural feetures (haha, foot joke pun), and what we’d like to accomplish in those shoes. Are we in it for daily mileage? Speed? Trails? Each brand has its own take on how to address these issues, and since each of us has a unique physical/emotional makeup, it’s important to give the shoes a try rather than rely on marketing, popularity, or style.
I happen to have a neutral foot, on the wider side (thanks, pregnancies!), and have a midfoot strike. And a heel strike when I get tired. I know. It’s not pretty. Brian and I discussed the options and after much deliberation, I was sent off to Marathon Sports with a list in hand.
My mission was to try on three different types of shoes, each with a different heel drop, cushion, and style. But each COULD feasibly work with my body. The Brooks Ghost, the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3, and the Altra Torin. All amazing shoes. But which one would get me to the finish line without injury? And faster. Because despite all this I’m still holding out hope that one of these shoes has a secret rocket that will make me go faster.
Brooks are up first. As I slip my foot in, I smile. It’s like coming home. I feel completely natural in these babies. Like a blue extension of my foot. They have both cushion and spring, with a supportive midfoot. 10 mm heel drop. My happy place. I’ll just set those off to the side there for safe keeping.
Next up, the Altra Torin. Now I’ve heard some great things about the Altra, and I’ve always been intrigued. I’d thought of them as more of a trail shoe but these are made for the road. Sliding my foot into the very pretty purple shoe (fine, I’m a sucker for style, too), I literally yelped. My foot could FEEL the floor underneath me. I felt like a platypus flopping across the floor. Flat footed and definitely not springy. Zero millimeter drop sent shockwaves (not the good kind) up my spine; my hamstrings said what the actual heck?? and my quads braced for impact. That was all from walking to the cash register. Nope, nope and triple nope. I would love to be a zero drop runner. It has been all the rage. And the Altra is a fabulous shoe. But sadly, not for me.
Final stop on the shoe journey – the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3.
First thoughts…it’s cushiony, but less so than the Brooks. And the shoe fits nicely around my midfoot. Supportive. Time to stand. WHOOOOOOAAAA. What the?? There’s a little rocker-like action going on there. Is that…good? It’s like someone’s giving me a little sendoff each time I take a step, propelling me forward. Brian the shoe guy tells me that this is a flexible nylon propulsion plate, with flared out wings on each side for stability. This is interesting. Do I love it or do I hate it? It feels fun. Do I want fun? Maybe I do. It’s an 8mm drop, which is less than I’m used to, but more than the Altras. There might be an adjustment period where I see some stress in my achilles, but if I ease into it and stretch well, the transition should be fine.
Now, what’s a girl to do in a situation like this? The Brooks feel like home. They are my safe place. I know what they can do for me. But the Sauconys offer a little something different that could help with my gait, making me a bit more efficient, therefore less fatigued, therefore… FASTER when I run. But I know the Brooks have always treated me well. Agggghhh. I hate decisions. The lovely people at Marathon Sports might want to close the store soon though. A decision must be made.
So here we go. Drumroll, please!
The winner is…SAUCONY! I simply couldn’t resist the propulsion and energy of the shoe. It’s new and different and maybe that’s what I need to carry me across that line on Boylston Street. Stay tuned for more on my first adventure/outing with these babies. I can’t wait to see what happens. We’re all in this adventure together now, folks. Let’s go!!!
The Mental Game of Marathon Training
JAN 18, 2023
Every time I say I’m training for a long distance event, like say, a marathon, I get a few repeat questions. From everyone. First up, the always fantastic: “How long is THIS marathon?!” Immediately followed by: “Why?” And rounded out by: “What in the world do you DO for that long? What do you think about?”
First question – generally pretty easily explained. Um, it’s the same as well, all the other marathons. 26.2 miles. (Gasp, that seems like a LONG way to run!). Second, why? I don’t know. Challenge? I like running? It’s my zen?
It’s the last question that always gets me. What do I think about? Everything! Nothing! I get to the end of my run and immediately forget what I was thinking about so it’s a tough question to answer. But I’ve been trying my hardest to jot down my thoughts after running these past few weeks, and came up with some fascinating answers.
I think about math. How long is this run? What should my splits be? If I take that detour for water, how much off the course will I be and how do I factor that into my mileage? What happens if I go .33 farther in one direction but I have to cross the street and it ends up being longer back. I’m literally sitting on the couch writing this and I just gave myself anxiety. I even made those numbers up and I can’t for the life of me figure out how they factor into mileage. Math is not my strong suit. I usually get tired and give up on that after my first panic attack.
Then I move on to life events. I have found that during my runs, I have come up with some of the most fantastic business ideas; ideas of what I want my dream house to look like; what I want to do AFTER I finish the marathon…
Which brings me to the most important part of my thought process. Somewhere along the line I start pondering my training -- how it’s going, and where I want to be. Which, circling back to my first post, can be hard. It’s very, very tempting to compare yourself to others, or even your past self, when you are listening to the world around you. I remember a few events so clearly, that have stuck with me over the years, that I should really let go, but reappear as I lug myself up Heartbreak Hill again.
First off, the big one that always makes me laugh. I LOVE to run at 11:00 am. I am up. I am fueled. My body feels right for running. I cannot TELL you the number of times I have been told that “real runners” run at 5:30 am. Now don’t get me wrong. Some of my closest friends and running partners love the early morning run (I’m looking at you Sarah D) and thrive on the energy of the sunrise. I have tried and tried to be an early morning runner, but what usually happens is that my legs feel like lead, my eyes water, I’m hungry, maybe thirsty, I can’t breathe, and then I trip over a crack in the sidewalk. Nope. I’ll do it every once in a while, and love that sunrise, but man. No thank you. And yet, I have toed the line at more than 25 marathons and triathlons, plus a zillion other distances. I’m pretty sure that when I cross the line, I’m a real runner. And so are you. Get out there when you can, and don’t let the clock or peer pressure tell you when you’re considered a runner.
Second, pacing. Once upon a time, there was a girl and some running friends. They were young and wild and free. And had a bit of speed. Words were spoken. “If I ever run X minute miles during a race, drag me off the course. I’m not a runner anymore.” That literally makes me tear up now. Because if I had adhered to those words, I would have stopped running years ago. But that little shred of doubt sometimes creeps in. In fact, a few years back, I ran a marathon, popped a hamstring at mile 10, but limped along to the finish. I ran into a friend, who asked what I’d been up to. I proudly said that I was able to do this marathon, and before I could tell the story of the exploding hamstring, she said “Oh my god, I could NEVER run a marathon that slowly – you should just give up.”
First of all, when someone says something proudly, you just say: Congrats!” Second, the pit in my stomach followed me for days. Was I not a real runner any more?
And then I remembered who I am. I’m a runner. I like running. It’s my zen. It brings me joy. It makes me proud.
So if you feel any of that when you move your body forward one foot in front of the other, you’re a runner, too. No matter what time it is, or how fast you go. Because running is an individual sport, and you’re in it for you.
Training, day 1
JAN 13, 2023
What in the world have I gotten myself into? There is nothing more nerve-racking and exciting than the first day of training for a marathon. The road is your oyster and the possibilities are endless. Optimism flows, and your skin glows with the joy of that first step.
Until you open the friggin’ door and remember that it’s winter in New England. Training for Boston ALWAYS seems like a fantastic idea in September, when the sun is shining bright and you are warm and toasty in your apple-picking outfit. Let’s all take a minute to remember that yes, I was born, raised, and STILL FOR SOME REASON LIVE HERE in Boston. Despite being born and raised in Boston, every single year I do an internal scream as soon as it drops below 65 degrees. Sometimes it is actually not internal and in public, which is wicked awkward. You’d think I’d remember the winters. It’s like giving birth every year. You blank out the messy/mind-numbingly painful stuff.
But I digress. A huge part of training is the mindset, and the mental games we must play to stay on target. Time to suck it up, woman up, and layer up. With a giant puff of my inhaler and a final zip of the coat, I step out the door.
Oh hey now. This isn’t so bad. Legs are a little stiff but I’m ok. I’m really OK! I can do this! First 200 yards are right on target.
As I happen to live right on the Boston Marathon route, it seems like a good idea to train on the course as much as I can. Off I head to Beacon Street, to tackle the Boston route in reverse. I am ignoring the cold, envisioning the race in April. I’m flying. Ish. Or at least it feels like I’m flying.
Mile 1.5: How is this even possible? I’m hyperventilating. I have completely disregarded the cardinal rule of running the marathon. DO. NOT. GO. OUT TOO FAST. Let’s keep that in mind, shall we? Settle down. Settle in. Relax. Anyone else get antsy right out of the gate?
The Boston Marathon is downhill for the first four miles. DO. NOT. GO. OUT TOO FAST!
Mile 3: Settling in. Why is it so hot out here? Who turned up the heat? Is that the sun? Mittens off. God, that wind is cold. Mittens on. There sure are a lot of potholes on Beacon Street. I hope they fix them before April.
Mile 4: Heartbreak Hill, here I come! Well, backwards Heartbreak. Starting at the top and zooming downhill. I am flying again. I am truly flying. Like Kara Goucher flying! Wait. What the? How on earth did those two just pass me? I’m not competing here. Gonna let that go. No, I most certainly cannot let that go. I always say that I’m the least competitive person I know. UNLESS SOMEONE PASSES ME. Which is all the time.
Mile 5: WTF how did it get so hot again? Unzip jacket.
Mile 6: I think I might be bored. And possibly tired. Am I tired? It’s too early to be tired. But I think I’m tired. Or maybe bored. Both. I’m both. Nope. I’m hungry. What am I going to eat after this run? I’m definitely hungry.
Mile 7: Is that actual snow? OMG it is actually snowing out. Friggin’ New England. Why am I doing this? I HATE cold. I hate winter training. Zip jacket. This is going to take forever.
Mile 8 Wait what? I’m done?! How did that happen? I’m just getting started! I love running! Actually I’m hungry. Snack time!
A solid stretch and a little foam rolling complete today’s adventure. Sadly, my run ended at a hockey rink so warmth had to wait. Nothing like sitting in wet running clothes at a hockey rink. Note to self, change of clothes for destination runs.
All in all, I was very excited about the first outing. Truly, it’s the first time I have set foot on Heartbreak Hill in years, despite living 3 miles away. To run those hills is a) hard and b) brings up a slew of emotions that can be hard to sort through. To run them today meant shelving thoughts of faster pacing and days gone by. It meant learning to settle into a new pace and a new race strategy. It meant learning to listen to my body and get out of my head. Something that is key to ANY marathon training. Silencing the negative thoughts barreling through your mind as you encounter fatigue, rough patches, and pain over 26.2 miles takes training as well. One foot in front of the other, steady as she goes.
The Road to Boston
JAN 11, 2023
The Road to Boston.
Literally. The Boston Marathon is one long road into the city of Boston. For many athletes, it is considered the pinnacle of racing, the ultimate marathon, the most historic race of all. This year will look a little bit different.
Ten years ago I finished the marathon with two of my closest friends and running partners. The sun shone brightly, and the weather was perfect for both spectators and runners alike. We crossed the finish line with wide smiles and cranky legs, ready to celebrate our run at the Lenox Hotel with our families, who had followed us down Boylston Street. We joined up in a suite to shower and change, and as my good friend began to feed her 6-month-old, we heard a loud explosion. Within moments, a second explosion rocked the building and smoke filled the streets right below us. Boston would never be the same.
I ran Boston a few times since, but with a sense of trepidation as I turned the corner onto Boylston. And then I put it to bed. I’ve run Boston over 10 times. I met my husband running the Boston Marathon 25 years ago. Hard to top all of that. I said no more winter training, no more Heartbreak Hill. Until this year. On the 10th anniversary of that fateful day, it somehow seems important that I line up once again to celebrate this event, and take a look at how far we have come as a city, as a community, as runners.
And guess what? You’re coming along for the ride. In all of its messy glory. We’ll tackle the hills, chat about nutrition, gear, and how to prepare for the 26.2 mile road to Boston. Get ready. As with every marathon, the actual date is simply the party to celebrate all of the training. The real journey lies in the daily grind; the running, the strength, the fueling, the gear, the weather, and all of the emotions that come with preparing for the biggest running party in the world. The great Boston Marathon.