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May 21, 2013 / fionarwbl

Ragnar Cape Cod Recap: Part I

It’s been over two weeks since we finished up the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay. That’s probably a good thing because if I had tried to write  recap then, it would have taken me about as long again to recap the race. Instead, I’ll just share the edited highlights and stuff we learnt along the way.

Doesn't this look like a winning team to you?

Doesn’t this look like a winning team to you?

Second most-importantly: WE WON OUR DIVISION! Ok, we one of only two female ultra teams, so it was either winning or coming last. I’m actually quite surprised by the lack of all girl ultra teams, as I was sure I saw a lot more in Napa.

Most importantly – we had fun while doing it. Even the parts that we weren’t sure we were having fun at the time, turned out to be lots of fun in hindsight. Above all, this was our primary goal, as for everyone but me, it was our first relay race, so I consider this a major race win.

Stephanie was our awesome primary driver. She showed considerable skill at dealing with NYC traffic at commuter time. Beware Steph – if you are good at something you might be asked to do it again… We left NYC around 6.30pm and made it up to Weymouth by around 11pm. There were definite junk food stops along the way. Apparently my mid-Ragnar McDonalds last year left a lasting impression on me and I decided to pregame it. However, our poor vegetarian Katie was forced to consider a McFlurry dinner.

Katie was also our accommodations expert. She saved us from staying at a place where Yelp reviewers found “blood on the mattress”, “dirty cups on the floor”, and “bugs everywhere” (and yet they gave it two stars…), and found us a hotel just outside Boston which had a reassuringly large number of white vans parked in the parking lot. Relay time! Even better was the awesome early breakfast that we completely took advantage of. Yes, we were the people who took “bananas for the road”. I mean, just one each…


Bananas and whale art FTW

Bananas and whale art FTW

We had a 7am start, but since we weren’t “in it to win it” (next time – mwha ha ha!), we decided to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep rather than a 5am wake up call. We all figured that with the long day ahead of us with no sleep, any extra minutes we could sneak now would be worth it. Once we checked in, our first runner, Kim, was ready to start. Sort off. Actually, Kim timed it perfectly that she ran from the portapotty to the start line right on the 7.30am starting whistle. And we were off!

As an ultra team, we had decided to double up our legs, so Kim’s first leg was approximately 12 miles. Kim is a kick-ass speed demon, so we figured we had about 90 minutes to take care of business and get to the next exchange. And by take care of business I mean buy the largest coffees known to man at Dunkin Donuts and finally decorate our van. Of course I forgot all about the essence of relaying, which is vans pulling over on small roads to cheer to friends and strangers, and instead headed to the next exchange point. Major fail – sorry Kim for leaving you running solo. Kim was our team hare, and she came gambling in like a gazelle to her exchange, slapped the bracelet onto Shaya, and we were off again.

As we drove Shaya’s leg, it was clear it was a randomly hilly run. Who finds hills on Cape Cod? Ok, technically this wasn’t Cape Cod yet, but still, this was one of those roll-y Ragnar legs that goes on forever. We drove to the mid-exchange point to cheer Shaya on and make sure she had enough water etc. As she came tearing through the first exchange, disaster happened and she twisted her ankle. Needless to say, she was in lots of pain and our team was thrown into a state of confusion about what to do and how to continue.


Dr. Steph and injured Shaya

Dr. Steph and injured Shaya

This is the risk of running an ultra team. If something happens, then there is very little room for error, and the rest of the team members need to (a) be able to pick up the slack and (b) not get injured themselves. And we were only on mile 16 of a 196 mile odyssey. Yikes.

What now, Captain?

What now, Captain?

We didn’t really have a game plan at all for what to do next, so I impulsively decided to run. I already had 35m to run this weekend, what was another 8? Yes, great decisions are not made in the heat of the moment. I ran back to the van (an extra 0.08m!) and changed / flashed into a random run outfit. All that work ziplocking and labeling went out the window and I just pulled on whatever came out of my bag first. It turned out to be my “aye aye captain” themed outfit of striped top and sparkly skirt. Yay?


When in doubt, sparkle

When in doubt, sparkle

I just sort of took off on this run without a watch or idea of route and hoped it would be ok. Of course, drinking a GIANT iced coffee with cream and eating a donut about 20 minutes before left me feeling … uncomfortable for most of the run. I ran a lot of it with a woman who also lived on the Upper West Side, so we talked neighborhood chat for a while, before I told her to go on without me. I talked myself into enjoying the moment, not thinking about the gazillion more miles I had to run, and ignoring the fact that my legs were cursing me for last week’s marathon. Doesn’t it sound like I was having a good time? But really, I was! I loved the New England scenery and smells, the quiet roads, and the sheer joy of “ohmigod-I’m-running-a-relay-with-my-friends-wheeeee!”. And then I asked someone how long we had to go and we still had 4 miles and that put a little bit of a dampener on things. Running watchless can be such a risky approach to runs.

My first leg ended up running through some sea marsh and a cute little village. I would show you pictures, but spoiler alert – a van drove over my phone – so there is no evidence of my run. However, my team were awesome at cheering my in and I handed off my slap to Stephanie who charged off with a flurry of excitement and instructions which we proceeded to forget.

Steph is probably asking for water, but we are so excited to see her we don't listen. #teamawesome

Steph is probably asking for water, but we are so excited to see her we don’t listen. #teamawesome

I now got my team to drive dangerously around small roads pulling in at opportunities to yell encouragement and wait for Steph to run by us. We sort of had a rule: if you were were headphones, you didn’t get a cheer, because we couldn’t be sure you heard us. But everyone else got harassed and yelled for along the way. Gotta love the Ragnar cheer bombs! And yes, somehow in the midst of this I dropped my phone, and then by the time we found it, it looked like this. That is one gone phone. Sidebar – Apple replaced it no questions asked for $229. Expensive, but not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Of course, I hadn’t backed it up properly.

The start of America

The start of America

At this point we were sort of ignoring Shaya’s ankle injury hoping it would go away. Because you know, that’s the best way to deal with problems. We were also doing things like discovering the Plymouth Rock (American Studies MA geek out time!!!), and compulsively hydrating. (Thanks Nuun for the goodies!). Steph ran her legs like a champ, who handed off to Katie, and then it was back to me running again. This time I had a 13m leg, and it was about 5pm.


Can I stop please?

Can I stop please?

This was one of the most miserable runs that I’ve had in a long time.

Even though my team mates were awesome – especially Kim and Elena – who were there for me every 4 miles to give me water and margarita shot bloks, I just could not get any rhythm. The road wasn’t particularly pretty, and there was school-run commuter traffic, and instead of kills I was being killed. I kept thinking I had so many more miles to run, and had already run too many miles and wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. As it was two legs, I broke it up into 7m, 1m, 3m, 1m in my head. Finally, somewhere around mile 10, I started to have a good time. Maybe my legs started to feel looser, or was it to do with the crazy menopause weather cooling down, or the route turning into a cute little residential area? I don’t know, but my legs started to spring again. The last mile was along the canal, while the sun was starting to go down, under the Bourne Bridge. Oh, and randomly, after not seeing anyone for about an hour, I started to get some kills. We also set up a super picturesque exchange. Don’t you just want to be there?


Soooo pretty. And not just Elena :)

Soooo pretty. And not just Elena 🙂

It was 5.30pm, and we were at the Bourne Bridge, aka Cape traffic hell. Since I’ve been to Cape a ton of times, I would randomly shout directions. This time, I shouted us away from the traffic (yay!) towards Boston (boo!). Rookie error, mostly due to the completely terrible maps that Ragnar use in the Race Bible. Can someone please develop a Ragnar app? Anyway, it turned out to be a fun adventure for the van, as we got offered sandwiches from a van of shirtless Cali firefighters, but not so fun for Elena who ran through her first exchange and then was left to arrive solo at the next exchange and freeze for 10 minutes. And that girl feels the cold.

So concludes everyone’s first run at Cape Cod. Up next: NIGHT RUNNING!!!

May 15, 2013 / fionarwbl

Determining The Possible: How Do I Figuring Out How Fast to Run a Marathon?

My last long run is done. 19 miles looping around Central Park. Normally I don’t run long in Central Park as I find the endless loops frustrating, but after two weeks of hopping around in airplanes, vans, coasts, and countries, I guess I was in the mood for familiarity. They were not the most successful miles I’ve ever had (no thanks to the 12hr overnight flight and 3hr journey from JFK to the UWS I endured before going out), but not every run is a winner, and I’ll take any time I get on my feet as money in the bank at this stage.

Technically, this marathon cycle was just twelve weeks. However, I feel like between NYC, Richmond, #redemptionrace, and two unplanned months of step back, that I’ve actually been marathon training for a year now. This training cycle was fun, and I have enjoyed winter training far more than I thought I would, but I’m looking forward to being goal-less for a month or two. Run for fun, go spinning, get my muscles back at Refine, get back into yoga. All those things that took a backseat as I juggled 60 hour weeks with 30 plus miles of running a week.

Is my goal to be this happy during a race?

Is my goal to be this happy during a race?

I have not yet figured out my goals for Vermont. I have ideas about how fast I want to run, how I want to feel, and grand ideas about negative splitting. But I haven’t realistically sat down and thought hard about what I’m capable of, because in all honesty, I’m not really very sure. At the start of training I ran a 1:50 half marathon on little to no training, but haven’t run a race since then, so can’t use any fancy calculators to tell me if I have gotten faster or not. In some ways, I’m going into Vermont blinder to my running capability than going into NYC or Richmond. I have not yet decided how this makes me feel. Am I relieved to have no expectations, or am I frustrated that I don’t have a clear target?

Do you always have goal times in mind for big races? How do you feel when you exceed them, or do not make them? 

May 11, 2013 / fionarwbl

My Legs Are Tired AKA Man Up Week Might Ruin My Vermont Plans

Hi from Israel! I ran yesterday and it was really hot and kind of sucked, but at least it was pretty?

Trail running outside Jerusalem.

Trail running outside Jerusalem.

It’s 7 days since I finished “man up” week, and, while it was one of the best running weeks of my life, my body and legs are still mad at me, and I’m wondering if they’ll forgive me in time for Vermont. In all honesty, I’ve run off-plan now for 3 weeks – no speedwork, no tempo, no hills. All long runs, all the time. At least I have endurance?

Running 67 miles in a week when I normally run less than 40 was pretty silly. However, the experience of running the Big Sur Marathon and Cape Cod Ragnar was amazing, and I would not exchange it for anything. While I might have blown my lofty race goals for Vermont, I have to remind myself that I wanted to run everything, and that I had an amazing time. Running is a hobby; it should make me happy. A body cannot run all the things, it turns out though, and I cannot do everything, run everything, and then run fast at the end of it. My body knows this; my mind has to catch up.

So, when I run Vermont and do not run as fast as I think I’m capable of, how will I feel? Will I remember to remind myself of the good times spent in a van, the glory of reaching Hurricane Point, the beauty of Bixby Bridge, and the adrenaline of running under the stars? I will try to.

May 10, 2013 / fionarwbl

Big Sur Marathon Race Recap

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been on multiple planes, vans, coasts, and continents. At the time I thought that it was a good idea to put every single thing I wanted to do in life in a 10 days span in May. Hindsight? Well, it would have given me a little bit more time to pack, but I do not regret a single minute of it.

This is a long post. Summary: marathons on pretty roads without watches are amazing.

Our flight got into San Francisco late on Friday night, and by the time Ori arrived it was 11.30pm. A great time to start driving two hours south to Monterey. So this happened.


No justification necessary


We finally got to our hotel at about 3am, and weirdly woke at about 8am. Maybe the California sun had something to do with it? Not really, because Monterey was mostly cold. We headed over to get breakfast, where we experienced that New York restaurant confusion over the menu? $8 for 2 pancakes? I’ll take everything. Plus, we were carb-loading. And these were the most amazing raspberry coconut pancakes ever.

brunchtime is the best time
brunchtime is the best time

Afterward we headed to the expo where we wandered around for a short time, signed a banner that was going to the BAA, and picked up our bibs. Very chill and low-key. After that it was time to explore the famous coastline, so we went to Seventeen Mile Drive and saw the lonely cypress tree and large houses. I’d be happy to live there if someone offered. Just sayin…

Alll byyy mmmyyyseelllfff
Alll byyy mmmyyyseelllfff


After hanging out for a few hours in the super pretty town of Carmel, we decided it would be a good idea to drive along the coast, or “scope out the course”.

Highway 1 is one of the prettiest roads in the world, so running a marathon on it is an extreme privilege. However, driving through all types of weather just 12 hours before is probably not the smartest when it comes to “scaring the crap out of you”. When we drove we got to experience all the weather micro-climate possible – from blazing sun to crazy fog to chilling winds back to blazing sun again. Oh, and some gorgeous views and treacherous driving. What were we getting ourselves into?

Well, we woke up at 3am to find out! Gotta love an early start. But that’s ok, because Starbucks was open at 3.45 to welcome us crazy runners. A friend had texted me the night before suggesting I would need sunscreen, so I made a last minute decision to ditch my longsleeves and run in a tank. Spoiler alert: great decision. We grabbed coffee and settled into the schoolbus that would drive in the dark and the fog. You know what’s even scarier than driving Highway 1? Driving in the dark in a schoolbus. I consoled myself with the fact that these drivers must have driven these roads at least 1000 times before.

Arriving at the start line was that joyous chaos of thousands of homeless looking athletes. Lots of people came prepared with mylar sheets and old clothes. I was rocking a random man’s shirt and some NYRR t shirts. Big Sur is definitely a race that people travel for, so it was kind of cool to see the different races that were represented – plenty of Boston obviously, and then plenty of race shirts from Chicago, New York, LA, and other places. Although we got there super early, it didn’t seem like we were waiting until too long until we were lining up, signing the national anthem, and starting!

I never had any plans to treat Big Sur as anything other than a long training run, so didn’t even wear a watch. I had a vague plan that was to run easy until mile 10-12, take a walk break, run again until 19ish, take a walk break, and then run to the finish. That’s still a lot of running. My longest run to date in this training cycle was 19.5 miles, and while it went really well, I didn’t know how my legs would feel given the extremely hilly course and the lack of high mileage on them.

These hills don't lie

These hills don’t lie

Miles 1-4ish were deliberately really slow – around 9:30 pace. We were actually dying for the bathroom so ran in as soon as we got a chance, we ran into some real bathrooms that were part of some cabins. Bonus for not running for time – not getting stressed about an extra 100 yards of running and waiting a minute or two for a real bathroom. It was still pretty cool and foggy as well. However, by the time we got to mile 5 or 6, the sun was out, and we emerged from the woods to the coastline. Then we got to run along to this. There were also debates whether we saw a whale or a rock. I think it was a rock.

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

We started to speed up a little at this point, and find a really nice rhythm.  Big Sur is small enough that you really recognize the runners around you, and although we didn’t really chat a lot, it was great to see people again and again, like the chicks with the awesome leggings, Antonio Banderas (actually, we passed him around mile 10 and didn’t see him again). While running between 6 and 10 there is a constant feeling of moving toward Hurricane Point, the highest point in the notoriously hilly course.

boom boom boom

boom boom boom

Before you get to the top of Hurricane Point, you have to get to the bottom, where these guys are. You hear them before you see them, and it is the most magical, primal, moment of the drums beating in time with our footsteps. Those drumbeats propelled us up the first half mile of Hurricane Point, and then adrenaline the next mile. At mile 11, we stopped for a previously agreed walk break. However, adrenaline was pumping, and the temperature was dropping as the wind picked up and the fog rolled in, so while we planned to walk for half a mile, it was closer to three minutes before we started running again. Then, somehow, weirdly, out of nowhere, my legs got this crazy kick and powered up to the top of the point in a seemingly effortless push. We reached the top! And then I made the high risk decision to do this:


As I jumped I thought about how mad my mum would be if I fell...

As I jumped I thought about how mad my mum would be if I fell…


Not gonna lie: had serious concerns that if I stumbled on my fall I had a 1000 foot drop into the ocean behind me.

Everyone told us that the trick to Big Sur was to think of it in term of pre-Hurricane Point and post-Hurricane Point. That was sort of good advice, apart from another 14.2 miles to go is also quite overwhelming. Having said that, with a course that is so pretty that warrants a photo stop every 10 minutes, the time really seemed to fly by. After Hurricane Point, the next big “landmark” was Bixby Bridge, which is (a) gorgeous, and (b) has a piano player serenading us as we ran over. Oh, and he just happened to be playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” while we ran over. He definitely played another song after that, because at first I thought that was his only song. So no, we were just really lucky.

If only every mile 16 looked like this...

If only every mile 16 looked like this…

After that was more beautiful miles by the coast, and plenty of stops for fruit, water, gels, and anything else that we were offered. With no time pressures, it was awesome to be able to take the time to enjoy a slice of orange, thank all the volunteers, and soak up the moment. At mile 19 we took another pre-ordained walking break, and by this time my legs had finally realized that they had run a long way, and still had a long way to go. Nothing serious, just a little cranky. The scenery was still fabulous, but it was definitely getting a little chillier as well. The whole course was pretty rolling, and the road camber is pretty tough, and we were starting to feel it at this point. However, the thought of strawberries at mile 21 (delicious!) kept us going, and then began the steady ticking off of miles.

I had texted Ori our approximate finish time, and then that I wanted a finish line photo. When we got to the actual 0.2 finish, there were thousands of people cheering, but I actually saw him, and who knew, but my legs actually had a crazy sprint in them as I sprinted to him, gave him a sweaty hug and kiss (lucky guy!!) and then sprinted over the finish line. Very reassuring to know my leg had some kick after 26 miles. Actually, as we had never pushed the pace, they felt like they had another 2-3 miles left in them (ultra anyone?). Final time: 4:23, which is much faster than it felt given our multiple stops, walks, and photo ops!

going the wrong way!!

going the wrong way!!

Big Sur was by far one of the best running experiences I’ve had. I was so lucky in having someone awesome to run it with, a husband to drive us everywhere and cheer us, and amazing weather. I enjoyed this marathon from beginning to end, and appreciated that running a marathon for pure enjoyment is not only possible, but highly recommended to remind me that running is not just about times and paces, but for the sheer physical enjoyment of it. And the beer at the end.

All done!

All done!



April 8, 2013 / fionarwbl

Vermont Marathon Weekly Round Up: April 1st – April 7th

This week was all runner’s hiiiiiighhhhh. This is one of those posts that you do not want to read if you’ve had a miserable run. I know. I’ve been there. There is nothing worse than reading about other people’s awesome runs when you ran 0.83 miles before going home and eating an entire bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as therapy for misery legs. But, for once, I’m on the other side of those feelings, and my legs were actually co-operating.

Monday: 45 mins easy: REST. Scheduling challenges

Tuesday: REST. So easy

Wednesday: 45 mins of hilly terrain, or 3 loops of the Harlem Hills, chased by a gigantic serving on 16 Handles. Will run for fro-yo.

Thursday: Tempo / Speedwork combo, with 2 miles of tempo, and 4×800. Holy crap, I negative splitted the hell out of this run. It almost looked like I knew what I was doing.

Friday: 6.30am spin class at Pedal with Ashley taught by Erin. First time doing TRX. Not sure I have the coordination or balance for it. My abs hurt from pikes the next day. Yikes.

Saturday: Rip Ride at Revolve with the famous Kira Stokes. Class totally lived up to its reputation. I was a sore but happy camper by the end of it. Full Revolve review coming soon since I’ve now been three times. Attempted an easy run in the afternoon, but knee and foot were cranky so gave up and walked home via Momofuku Milk Bar. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, people.

Sunday: 14.1m, 2:07mins. Every 10 minutes I had a “surge mile”. That was fun. Broke up the run nicely, as did the lovely water stations set up for the NYRR Colon run (am sure it has a more official name than this). The surges gave my legs a little more confidence about running harder on tired legs. Wore a new Nike top that apparently wicks sweat so fast I didn’t even have elbow sweat. Amazing. Maybe my favorite new run thing. Weather was weird because I started off a lot warmer than I finished up. Retreat to Narnia was continuing. It’s warm today though (don’t jinx it don’t jinx it don’t jinx it)


Get used to these. I am cataloging alllll my run outfits. Useful?

Get used to these. I am cataloging alllll my run outfits. Useful?


Top from Nike available here; shorts from Lulemon available here; similar here and here

Total miles for the week: 30

What’s missing? YOGAAAAAA. Must go to yoga this week or else my legs will divorce me.

Running milestones are coming up: 3 weeks until Big Sur, 4 weeks until Ragnar Cape Cod, and 7 weeks until the Vermont Marathon. Please let these happy legs continue. Hence the desire for yoga.

April 4, 2013 / fionarwbl

Happy Running With A Short Attention Span

The accidental week that I took off from running has done something amazing with my legs and they have felt fantastic on both the runs I’ve done in the last 24 hours. Yes, two workouts in 24hrs thanks to some less than stellar iPhone alarm skills. Suffice to say, alarms set at 6.15pm will not do anything for your early morning run. Last night I took a mid-evening jaunt to Central Park. The workout for the day was to find a hilly workout, which for almost all us Manhattan people, that means heading to the Harlem Hills.  Normally when I run after 8pm in the park I avoid the hills because they can get a little deserted, but I guess the later sunsets means people are out longer, and I never felt alone. I was even a little disappointed that my raccoon count was a lowly one. Anyway, this one of those runs that the moment I stepped out the door, I knew I was going to have a good run. Even though by the third loop around I was feeling pretty winded and working harder than I would have liked, my legs wouldn’t slow down. Fun times.


This "hilly terrain" workout may have more downhill than uphill. May.

This “hilly terrain” workout may have more downhill than uphill. May.

This morning I had a challenging little tempo / speedwork mashup to attempt. For the record, I hate tempos, love speedwork, and have a very short attention span, so this workout really worked for me. I could focus on getting through 2m of tempo work, and then move onto my 4x800s. Despite last night’s hills, my legs felt fine again this morning. They got a little tired during the tempo, but I knew I had 2 mins of recovery, so I didn’t freak out. I negative split every single one of my 800s, which means I deserve to have chocolate brownies for lunch. Multiple brownies. I wouldn’t say that my legs could have run forever doing this workout, but they could have done at least one more 800 repeat.





Also, check out my running outfit last night. I’m thinking of taking a more cataloging approach to what I wear to workout, because, quite frankly, I have tons of workout clothes, and also love to know what other people wear. Top from Lululemon, capris from Lululemom, similar (and cheaper!) available here. I love gray capris. Hands down my favorite color for my bottom half.

Working on my selfie pose

Working on my selfie pose

April 3, 2013 / fionarwbl

Answering My Most Frequently Asked Question

By far the most frequently asked question I receive is “what running app do you use?”. Although I have a Garmin, I rarely use it for training runs. Instead I am religious about using my favored running app, which is iSmoothRun. For an app, it’s the extremely expensive $4.99. However, it is worth that money and more. Here’s why:

  • It has the most powerful interval training interface I have ever come across. I can program in any combination of workout into the app. You can choose workouts based on time or distance, set particular target paces, repeat a workout multiple times quickly and easily, and build workouts based on multiple components of intervals, tempos, and warmups and cooldowns

A selection of my workouts

  • You can program it to provide voice-overs on whether you are running too fast or too slow, and provide audio feedback on your interval or tempo run performance. It has taught me to run on effort, but getting feedback every five minutes on my pace enables me to adjust to where I should be, without compulsively watching my pace
  • It provides me with a ton of data about my run, including breakdowns of each of my intervals and overall splits

Sample 1k intervals from last week

  • It provided me with fascinating other data about each run, including the temperature, windchill, and fastest song. Haven’t you always wanted to know your fastest song?
No, you are not finding out my weight

No, you are not finding out my weight. My stride length is fair game though

  • It integrates with multiple online run tracking platforms, including DailyMile, Strava, Nike+, GarminConnect, and many more
  • It tracks my shoe mileage. I KNOW!!!
  • You can provide feedback to the app creator, and frequently get a personal email response from the creator, Lambros. I have done this many, many times, and my feedback has been integrated into the app

I bought the app in 2011, and I went through a phase of trying other apps, but nothing comes close to being as well thought out and useful as this one. I cannot believe that it is not more popular, but it really should be. Handsdown, my favorite running accessory.