Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Boston Marathon 2015 Recap Part 1 of 2: Race Weekend

Get ready for a long, photo-heavy Recap!

The Friday before the 119th running of the Boston Marathon, I arrived by Train from NYC to Boston. Rolling my little suitcase along, I could tell fellow Marathon journey-ers. They were the ones wearing sneakers instead of stylish shoes. And rocking their garish orange 2014 jackets. I felt like I wanted to go up to them and give them a hug or ask them how they were feeling. But I decided instead on being appropriate. For once.

My parents picked me up from the train -- just the start of a full weekend of them being the most supportive, amazing, wonderful fan club in the world. You've seen the pictures on Facebook already, so you know I'm not exaggerating! I got to see some of my good friends from high school that night before getting a good night sleep in my childhood home.

That morning I had my only real freak out of the weekend when I saw the long term forecast was for temps in the 40s with headwinds and rain. When my Dad asked if that was a problem while being amazing and cooking me eggs I was like, "OF COURSE THAT'S A PROBLEM AND I DON'T LIKE WEARING PANTS AND WILL I BE ABLE TO WEAR A SHIRT UNDER MY CHARITY RACE TANK AND WHAT IF I CHAFE AND GAHHHH." And my Dad was like, "Would you like Kielbasa with your eggs?" And I was like, "yes please" and that about covered the freak out.

My Mom and I got up bright and early on Saturday to drive to Boston to register and spend money time at the Expo at the Hynes Convention Center.

I got my race bib without incident (they run a good ship at the Boston check-in!) and alongside other eager runners took my turn to grin for the camera. Myra is well-practiced at the step-and-repeat wall photo now!
Entering the Expo! Always gives me chills....

I bought. All the things. All. The things. And my mom insisted on holding all the things so I would "rest up" and have my hands free. I did not argue. She also bought me these amazingly ugly comfortable "recovery footwear" sandles by Oofos at the expo. I scoffed at them at first because they are--frankly -- less than stylish. But they're AMAZING on the feet. I'm in love. Runners, take notice.

Note: She also insisted on purchasing them for me, but only if I would consider the hot pink option instead of black. Because they are "snazzier." For once, I can not argue. They are indeed snazzier.

Me and my sherpa
How many headbands purchased....are too many headbands? Would you say? These headbands all speak deep truths so I think it's okay.

I always love a good expo, and I find Boston second-to-none. There are so many great booths in addition to the typical fare from pre-race events (Sam Adams? Yes PLEASE!) And the custom Boston shirts were so cute. I had to hold myself back from buying them all. My Mom kept asking me, "But do you need it?" To which I kept replying, "I literally need nothing. I will -- however -- buy everything."

After spending some quality time, we headed from the Hynes Convention Center to the Marriot Copley where Dana-Farber had their own check-in. There, I received detailed instructions from amazing volunteers about our own pre-race activities.

I also was able to check out the board which listed the fundraisers who had reached different fundraising goals. Here is Mom pointing with pride to my name(ish) as an $8K Pacesetter!

It was so fun to do these activities a second year in a row. Going into it, I thought maybe I'd be a little "let down" being a veteran. Would it be as special a second time as the first? Would it feel weird? Redundant?

It actually was fabulous.

Ran into another fan club of mine outside of the Expo! Val and Rob have known me since I was a baby and -- how wonderful are they? They made signs for me at the expo! And are dressed for the part!

Last year I was a bit consumed by the logistics and newness of it all. And frankly, I was also very consumed with it being the one year anniversary of the bombings (understandably). I found it wonderful to enjoy a "normal" expo that still had the vibes of Boston Strong pride, but without the mayhem of the crowds from the year before that flocked to the Expo and Finish Line. I also enjoyed knowing where to go, and what to see. I learned from the year before and optimized my experience this time.

It was, in fact, freaking awesome.

I finished the day a bit tired having walked more than I probably should have (but I had the OOFOS!) but feeling energized. Weather schmether. The expo had hooked me in to the energy, power, history and wonder of the race and the unique, unparalleled Boston Marathon vibe. 

Sunday I got up and packed my bags. One to check with Dana-Farber for after the run, and one to keep with me when I stayed with college friends of mine who were amazing enough to host me at their place in Brookline for the pre-race night. I can't stress enough how much better having solid pre-race logistics makes your mental state. A comfortable place to stay with friends who will drive you to the Boston Common at 6:30 am to catch the shuttles to Hopkington is more than clutch. Thank you, Steven and Amy!

My parents and I drove into Boston and spent some quality time on Boylston Street taking in the gorgeous day. My brain kept alternating between: "Why can't this weather just be tomorrow?!?!"  and "Shut your face everything is wonderful." 

 A magical place for a stroll!
It's I! On an I!

There's Only One #DFMC. But there's also only one Boston Marathon. And only one bestest fan club in the whole wide world!
Let's take a selfie!

Let's take an excited selfie!!!
My Dad would tell you this is part of an inside joke. I would tell you that these are two of the most badass gangsters you've ever seen. You decide.  
The man who inspired me running with Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge! 
My Dad is wearing a button in this picture that says he is "Living Proof." This is Dana-Farber's way of recognizing friends, family and -- in many cases -- the Runner themself. Living Proof are current or former cancer patients, and they are strong. They are resilient. And they -- and their families -- are why I run.

See you tomorrow....

Although the ambiance was positive, upbeat and full of excitement, there was of course reminders of 2013. We never forget.

And we also never forget that nobody. And I mean Nobody. Runs like Boston.
Nice Marketing New Balance! xoxo

We went to the much anticipated Adidas "RunBase." It's basically a Boston Marathon store run by Adidas that sells merchandise, provides course information and displays memorabilia. But it will also serve as a place for Boston runners to store clothes, change, shower, etc. while they run. In essence it's the most brilliant marketing ever. And it was cool!

3D topography map of the course
Interactive digital view of the course

After spending some time there and strolling Newbury Street, we meandered back to the Marriot Copley -- DFMC's home base -- for the other main event of my Marathon experience: The Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Pasta Party.

If you followed me last year, you know how incredibly moved I was by this experience. And this year provided those same strong emotions.

The event is top notch.

This picture doesn't capture how MASSIVE the ballroom is. I think there was something like 140 tables and 6 pasta bars!

Our table. Cookies and brownies already out and ready for the taking. On point.

I could write a novel just trying to capture the experience of being at this dinner. They had speakers from DFMC explaining how much we raised and where the funds would go. We had the Boston Marathon Race Director talk to us as well as Uta Pippig who won the women's race in the early 90s and is a big DFMC supporter. And we were reminded why we run.

A gentleman spoke who had lost his wife to cancer and who himself had battled the disease. He thanked us for the 1004 "bonus days" he spent with his talented, artistic wife due to experimental treatments that came directly from Basic Research which we were funding. He and his son would be running with us on Monday. And we were reminded why we run.

We watched an In Memorium video of children who lost their battle to cancer. And we were reminded why we run.

And we watched children currently being treated for cancer get awarded their own special medals by their runner partners. And we were reminded why we run.

We were told that of our team goal of $5.2 million dollars towards Innovative Basic Cancer research, we were already at $4.6 million. And more continues to pour in. This money will fund programs that will help extend lives and improve lives. We are making a difference, and we were reminded why we run.

Tears poured out of my eyes so often. But beyond feeling those pangs of sadness, I felt so proud of our accomplishment. Of my accomplishment. As of today -- April 28 -- I have raised $12,548. This is over $1,000 more than last year and brings a two-year grand total to nearly $24,000. By the people I know and have connected for this cause that I hold so critical near and dear.

So when I was asked, are you nervous about tomorrow? No. Not at all. I have the support of countless friends and family. I have done an outstanding job raising money. I have trained. I have prepared. I am ready.

Let the rain come and get me. I didn't care. I was reminded why I run and I was ready to take on Boston.

In addition to his Living Proof button, my Dad is wearing his PMC hat. He has been a volunteer of the Pan Mass Challenge -- which also supports Dana-Farber -- for over a decade. My Mom dons her DFMC cheering shirt. #FashionFirst.

And with that...I was off to Steve and Amy's to rest and prep for the big day....

...to be continued....

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What I've Learned This Time Around

Friends, we are just about a week out from the 2015 Boston Marathon. This will be my fourth marathon...yet somehow it feels no less special than #1, #2 or #3, as magical as they were.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I feel about where I am at with my running. I'm a solid "Marathoner" now. As of next Monday, I'll have run 4 marathons and 17 Half Marathons which -- I think we can all agree -- puts me solid in experienced runner territory. Despite this irrefutable fact, it still feels odd and different as I still don't see myself as the athletic racer. I rather still see myself as the unathletic, chubby girl struggling to hang from the high bar during the Presidential Challenge. :::Shudder::: And don't get me started on the Shuttle Run.

Despite running Marathons, this logo still is my nightmare
And so I've been doing a bit of soul searching as someone who has a personal brand, basically, as an athlete now. As a runner. As a cat-lady runner. As a tapering, crazy, cat-lady runner.

Sing it, sister
This running identity is now just so core to who I am, who I've become, and who I will be in my life. Maybe I'll never run a marathon again. Maybe I will. Maybe I'll set other running or non-running goals for myself. But there's a lot that I've learned about the person I am through this process, which I'm going to try to articulate just a little bit now.

People are asking me if I'm ready. If I'm nervous. Yes, I am ready but I'm not nervous. Of course there will be pre-race jitters (did I pack everything I need? Will my tummy cooperate? Will my quads give out on the Newton Hills?) But the nerves are more manageable now then they were before. Like most things in life, with experience has come confidence. I know what to expect from this race. I know what to do before the race to maximize my results. I know that ultimately what happens that day is as much to the whim of the Weather and Tummy gods [Oh, FYI, side note that I've decided there is a Tummy god who lives in the gut of all runners] as it is to the preparation and training I have put in. So what will be, ultimately will be.

But that doesn't mean I didn't train to the best of my abilities. I found this marathon training season to be surprisingly challenging on the mental front. This winter was simply atrocious to be training for a marathon. Atrocious. I mean, c'mon now. At points that was ri-god-damn-diculous.

What I found even more challenging though was the issue of having done this all before. Many times. When marathoning was a glimmer in my eye and when it was new, the concept of running 14, 16, 18, 20 miles was just beyond fathoming. I'd see it on the schedule and be like, "whaaaaaa.....? Noooo....." and then it would be those weeks and I would get nervous in advance and I would gear up and I would talk about it to everyone and I would kind of freak out, and then I would DO IT and it would be this amazing mental rush! I had pushed my body! I completed something new! I had gone above and beyond!

But then I did it again. And again. And again. And now I find it difficult, especially on bad weather days, to find the mental strength sometimes to find the excitement. Because I know I can run 18 miles solo now. And I know it's going to kind of suck. And I know I'm going to be cold and hungry and tired. And sure, I know I can also find the joy, but I just know the pain as well. Digging deep when you know can sometimes be harder than digging deep into the unknown. It requires a different mental energy to push yourself to be faster, better, stronger....when you know it is achievable.

I also realized that the social support I receive as a runner provides me a joy I didn't think possible. I've learned to accept and appreciate that support with my soul and to allow it to provide me strength.

Super sorry that last sentence sounded so cheesy, but it's true. So I'll say it again.

I accept and I appreciate the support I receive from others. Deeply into my person and into my soul. Now more than I ever have before.

I have met deep and lasting friendships through my running. The community I've found has made me a happier and healthier person. And so many people in and out of this runner community ask me about my running. About how I'm doing. About how I'm feeling. They (inexplicably to me!) read this blog. They care.

And that's pretty darn cool. To have people care about your personal hobby, your personal goal, perhaps your personal struggle so much.

And the Dana-Farber connection. Wow. Just wow. I feel like raising money again this year for DFMC is like the apex to my running climb. It's the cherry on my sundae. The missing piece to a puzzle I didn't know was uncompleted.

I have found a way for my running to be bigger than me. To provide me purpose. I am overjoyed to announce that as of today I (WE!) have raised $11,736 which will go directly to Innovative Basic Cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This breaks not only my initial goal of $10,000, but also my astounding fundraising amount from last year. Over the past few years my running has raised -- as of today -- over $23,000 for Cancer research.

And if you'l allow me the self-indulgence...I am happy to say that I've never felt prouder of myself than I do right now. I've never felt more certain that I did something well, something right, and something good.

It's bigger than me just running a race now. It's bigger than any race I could run, walk or -- hell -- crawl next week.

So when you ask me how I'm feeling and how I'm doing and if I have a time goal and if I'm nervous, I say this:

I already did it. I already won. Whether I run it in PR time (which would be nice!) or I stop 50 times to go to the bathroom and end up walking it in 7 hours, I'm happy and I swear you will see me smile when I cross that line.

I've found away to connect my passion for running and my passion for cancer research and to do it in a way that makes me as a person feel physically and emotionally happy. If anything could make a person feel hashtag #blessed....it's gotta be this.

Thanks for continuing to be a part of my journey.

If you'd still like to donate or pass this along, here's the link! rundfmc.org/2015/merig

You'll notice I've raised the goal to $13.1K which would make each mile I run worth $500. Can we get there??? 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flywheel vs. SoulCycle: My Take On the Matter


Note: My blog graphics skills are second to NONE. To none.

I didn't think I liked spinning classes. I had tried them before and was left feeling unimpressed in the mind and sore in the butt. Granted, these classes were usually in old bikes, in old NYSC gyms, but still. Butt sore and would #RatherBeRunning.

I'll get you my pretty....

About a year ago I tried SoulCycle and I actually conceded to liking it a lot. I even went back a second time. It was quite enjoyable.

But then, at the urging [read: berating] of friends, I tried FlyWheel. And oh my goodness, you guys. I am obsessed.

I realized that there is a strong reason for why I liked FlyWheel whereas I have other friends Soul obsessed. There's some key differences between theses two trendy boutique studios which I wish I had known in advance and which I feel like may be helpful for you.

Let's start with SoulCycle

Class Structure: 
45 minute classes on the bike. One song (towards the end) using light hand weights for your arms. Lots of choreography (i.e. bike push-ups! side-to-side! up and down! tap it back!). All about doing the movements "together, as a community."

Awesome music. Dark. Candles. Cool quotes on the wall to make you be like "yeah! go me!"

Their Description:
At SoulCycle we believe that fitness can be joyful. We climb, we jog, we sprint, we dance, we set our intention, and we break through boundaries. The best part? We do it together, as a community. SoulCycle doesn't just change bodies, it changes lives. With inspirational instructors, candlelight, epic spaces, and rocking music, riders can let loose, clear their heads and empower themselves with strength that lasts beyond the studio walls.

Anyone see the SpiritCycle Kimmy Schmidt parody? It was glorious. You should be watching (and probably have finished) Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt by now. Get on it.

The Bikes: You can reserve your bike in advance when you book the class (no need to rush in early to grab one!) The instructors and staff are great about helping you set up if you need. Light hand weights are kept in holders on the bike. You adjust the torque (i.e. tension) with a knob and you ride based on feel.

The Money
First-Time Class = $20 (includes shoes)
Regular Class = $34
Shoes = $3
Water = $2

My Take: 
Soul Cycle's description is totally accurate. It's all about together and community and setting intentions. And is kind of where they lose me and gain others. I think it's a very cool concept, the idea of fitness community. And I've definitely found that with November Project (with which I'm totally defunct lately! My B!)

I got a phenomenal workout at Soul, but the vibe wasn't entirely for me. There's a cult-ish element to it which -- like all cults -- is probably only fun if you are in it. Being a cult outsider never seems as fun as being a cult insider. Also, there's a lot of choreography which I did feel like was distracting me from perfecting my form and maximizing my workout. I'm sure after many classes I'd feel differently, but I felt a little uncomfortable for a lot of the class. And the other big matter is the money. It's steep! Very steep! And to not include shoes? Big miss from my perspective.

Frankly, if I want the SoulCycle vibe I'll pay for a yoga class or I'll go to November Project for free. 


Now to Flywheel:

Class Structure:
Usually 45 minute classes on the bike. Like Soul, one song towards the end on the bike is dedicated to arms and you use a light weighted bar (that's stored also on the bike itself). Focus on riding hard and achieving personal bests. Also choreographed somewhat to music.

Vibe: Great music. Dark room. No candles. Less spirituality and more "get your ass in gear."

Their description:
The workout that offers a chance to achieve something more. The step up onto a custom engineered bike. And ride as hard as you dare.

Our instructors lead the way, suggesting target resistance levels and RPM's to strive for. But YOU decide exactly what's right for you by controlling the technology on your bike. And your performance stats are made available in your private account on our website.

The Bikes:
Here's the key difference, and it's highlighted in the description as well. Like in Soul, you reserve your bike online. But unlike Soul, your bike has a screen that shows you your exact speed and torque so you know where you are in the ether of bike riding. What's better is that since it's tracked on the screen, you can track it later on an app and see your progress over time (I've taken 3 classes and I'm improving each time!) 

 You can also opt in to the "TorqBoard" which -- periodically in class -- will show how you are performing in relation to the others in the class. If you're not crazy competitive like I am, absolutely you can not show up there (and many don't). If you're a maniac like me? Well, ride....and compete...and do awesome.

The Money:
First Class: Free!
Regular Classes: $34/Ride 
Shoes: Included
Water: Included
Bananas & Apples: INCLUDED

My take:
No contest. FlyWheel for the win. I like that you can track your progress in an app. I like that it's competitive. I like that there are free bananas.

The biggest win is honestly instead of an instructor saying "turn the knob a full rotation," at FlyWheel she can say "Your range is 30-35 torque." Okay. I get what that means. And it's helpful to know if I'm struggling at the low or high end of that. Or to know that next class maybe, just maybe, I can push myself to 36. I like the exactness of it and the competitiveness of it. But I can see how others may not. If one was a more "go with the flow" individual, one might not like it. I am...it turns out....a crazy person who likes to know if I am at 80 vs. 82 RPMs. #Important #Psycho 

So ultimately you should decide for yourself. Both studios are really nice, with very helpful staff. Both studios have great locations, including the UES (perk!) and locations country-wide. Both studios will give you a killer workout.

So what do you think? Do you agree? Do you Soul? Do you Fly? Do you....care?