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12 Hours

The following is a race recap from our very own, Vikram Singh, at the Sri Chinmoy 12 & 24 Hour Race. That’s right, 12 and 24 hours! The race was held on June 12th and June 13th at Rockland State Park and it’s a great recap of having a strong mentality and not giving up when the going gets tough through any race.

The 24-hour timed race events are called “life in a day.” Just like the rollercoaster of life, people go through highs and lows throughout the event. While reading And then the Vulture eats you by John L. Parker Jr., the first story was about a 6-day timed event on a track that caught my interest. The book features stories about ultra-running in the 80s, which piqued my interest in timed events. Still, I don’t think I would have pulled the trigger to sign up for a race ‘till a QDR teammate, Dave Law, asked if I was interested in the 12 hours event at Rockland Lake. He had recently crushed his marathon time at the same loop, and I figured if he wasn’t tired of it after almost nine loops, maybe I won’t either. I also thought it would be mentally easier to run a 3-mile loop instead of a quarter-mile loop (most of these long-hour events are held on a running track).

My season so far consisted of the Hyner 50k in the wilds region of Pennsylvania and Rim to Rim to Rim (46 miles) in the Grand Canyon. With a long 10-hour hike in the Great Range of the ADK, I was pretty confident in my ability to spend time on my feet and keep moving. Unfortunately, I got rear-ended, and my car totaled two weeks before the race. It didn’t seem to affect me initially. Still, the following week was a stressful one dealing with the insurance and, combined with some long hours at the office, affected the quality of my recovery from workouts. My double-long run the weekend before didn’t go off too well, and I had some hamstring soreness on my left leg the days leading to the race.  So I focused more on foam rolling the days before the race. I also started reading Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor, and it reminded me how important your mindset was. I took some of the lessons from the book to me on race day.

My strategy was pretty simple; I would jog for six minutes and walk for one minute. I debated this ratio a lot, but my goal was to keep moving, and I thought the one-minute breaks would help preserve my legs. Also, I thought it would be mentally easier when things got more challenging; I would simply tell myself to get through a 6-minute jog before getting a break. During the walk, I would try to mentally recharge and then make it through the next 6-minute jog. My A goal for the race was 60 miles, my B goal was 50 miles, and my C goal was to get over 40 miles.

Since I wasn’t in the mountains and had access to a small area along the course for my stuff, I decided to fuel up on real food during the race. On trail races where I have to carry my food, the weight to calories ratio is more of a factor, and I depend primarily on gels. Here I could always be 3 miles from my food and could motivate myself with having real food to look forward to eating. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan this out too well. I only had time to get a chipotle bowl, prepare a bagel with a veggie patty and a peanut butter sandwich. I also packed some Larabars, five ladoos, and some Enjoy-Life cookies.

I planned to get to the start around 7:15 am, set up, and then do some quick stretches and lie around, not spending time on my feet before starting at 8 am. Unfortunately, I got delayed and ended up getting to the race at 7:40 am. An overcast day in the low 70s made for ideal weather, especially compared to the weekend before. Still, on the drive over, the overcast looked more like a storm. While talking to a volunteer setting up, she mentioned spots with shade, but I failed to realize there were spots on both sides of the course. In my hurry, I simply placed my belongings in an area along the racecourse. I just didn’t want anything that would have required extra steps to get to. Besides my food, I brought three pairs of shoes and two chairs. One chair seated two people, and I used it as a table. Knowing that some rain was coming, I covered my food with a bag and kept my other shoes in a bag under a chair. It worked pretty well.

The start and finish line of the 12 and 24 hour race.

I walked over the start, not doing any stretches or a last-minute bathroom break due to lack of time. The race packet came with a bib belt where my bib was currently on. I checked in with the race director, who informed me about the counters -people who manually count a runner’s lap. He gave me an extra bib if I wanted to pin it to another shirt. I haven’t used a bib belt before, the only time I have considered using them was for triathlons, but I constantly just change to my singlet with my bib already pinned to it.

The start line was socially distanced, with tape markers separating people. Masks were required at the start as well. About 40 runners were doing the race split 50/50 between the 12 hours and 24 hours races. Another set of 12 runners or so were doing the 12 hours overnight race. I didn’t make it to a taped spot in time when the race started, so I just ran in, starting my watch as I crossed the start line. Since the bibs weren’t chip time but gun time, my watch was about 20 seconds behind. The start felt like any other race. As I started running, I immediately felt my left hamstring wiggle but felt good otherwise. It felt like the hamstring was in pre-cramp mode, as if it cramped up it would hurt, but then I would feel relief. A half-mile in, I was running behind three men who were talking. I overheard that this area we were passing was a good place to park your car. This parking lot was right next to the course, and there was a bathroom right there as well. I decided to make this the bathroom I would use if I had to go. Every step saved counts! For the first half of the loop, my jog for 6 minutes and walk for 1 minute worked reasonably well.  I kept pace with many people who were also utilizing similar walk-run strategies. I didn’t make any effort to keep pace with anyone or follow or stay ahead; this was going to be my race.

The first loop went fast; running with the feel of the race environment with people made it easy. I made it through at a good pace and on track for the 60-mile goal. There were three-lap counters and one was assigned to each runner. This personal counter was supposed to make the race more personal to you. I didn’t feel it at first, but as the laps went down, it was lovely to have some people say your name and applaud you. My goal was to maintain a 12 minute per mile pace, and I effortlessly achieved that in my first loop. Based on my 50 mile PR at the 2018 Cayuga race, where I ran 50 miles on a hot day with 8,000 feet of elevation gain in 10 hours and 40 minutes, I thought it would be easy to get to the 60 mile goal. It didn’t seem far-fetched since this race was on the road on a flat course. Even with some loss of fitness, it should have been doable.

Slowly, the runners spread out, and by the close of the second loop, I was running alone. Now, the goal was to make a game out of running. I noticed the plants along the path and named some of them, noted the geese territory (sometimes a tense moment where I would keep a lookout to see if they would come flying at me). At one spot, two musicians were hired and performed 1970s rock about halfway in the course and their music echoed for a good quarter to a half-mile out. I heard that the organizers attempted to get more musicians but were unsuccessful. Then there were the rowing boats and, of course, there were the three aid stations—one about every mile. I created a list of things to look forward to on each loop. This is very different from trail ultras. Usually, when I’m not dodging rocks or roots, figuring out the straightest path, or deciding if I should charge or speed hike uphills, I wonder if I have enough food and water to make it to the next aid station. With this 12 hour course being on the road and well supported, all those variables were out leaving me to my thoughts.

On the third loop, I ran with an older runner. He said he has been doing 24-hour races for 40 years. He also mentioned that he once ran a 2:30 marathon. When learning I was doing the 12-hour event, he remarked that there was no 12 hour back in his day; only 50 miles, 100k, and 24 hours races. I noticed he left out the 50k distance as well. He emphasized to keep moving unless you need to go to the bathroom. Eventually, we parted ways as he wanted to say something to the band as we passed. Thanks to him, this third loop went pretty fast.  

The race tracker for all runners.

At the start of my fourth loop, I ate a bagel with a veggie patty. It tasted great! Soon my feet started to hurt and I decided to wear toe socks for the race, something which was new. I think my fear of road ultras was creeping in and I was afraid of getting some sort of blister, so I broke the “never try new things on race day” rule. Thinking about this now, this is bizarre since I have run many ultras through streams and mud and never gotten a blister. Fatigue started creeping in too on this loop and I started to wonder if I should have stuck to my usual diet of gels. I changed my goal to something between A and B, 52 miles. I thought it would be nice to do two marathons but would be happy with over 50 miles. The race didn’t have any soda to my disappointment which is my usual go-to for sugar in ultras. As I finished the loop, I saw the main aid station tent have brownies. I took one and also ate two of the ladoos. Then I switched shoes and put on a music playlist I made years ago based on suggestions on Facebook.

My body felt renewed with the sugar rush and music, and I got out of the mental stump I was falling into. For the next loop, I ignored the walk breaks and also decided on every loop I altered between brownies and “magic” muffins. For fluids, I started alternating between cryptomax electrolytes and a homemade maple water drink. I started the race drinking six fluid ounces of water per loop, but when I started feeling tired, I decided I needed more electrolytes to make it easier to digest the water.

On the 8th loop, I ran with a man from NJ. His longest run was a 50k, and he was a 4:00:07 marathoner (so close to breaking 4 hours). He had done the virtual NYC marathon last year as well. He wasn’t too confident about how far he could get. I only caught up to him because he walked a loop with his wife. We finished our marathon distance together. We clocked a 6:02 marathon, my slowest road marathon! By now, the hamstring wiggle was gone, replaced by my feet hurting. He stopped to rest after we finished the loop. I changed my socks and shoes. The change of shoes felt great; each time so far, I felt like my feet were a bit fresher.

On the 11th lap, I caught up to two guys that were suffering. One asked if I was having fun yet, and I said it goes here and there. They were one lap ahead of me (because I heard their lap count as we finished a lap). They took long breaks, which I interrupted as they were on the verge of quitting and that gave me a goal; it motivated me to beat them. At the end of my 12th lap, I learned that this was their 13th and they decided to trash themselves to finish it. That motivated me to do my 13th and my 14th to “beat” them. A young kid also came up to me on this loop and wished me good luck in my 12 hours which lifted my spirits for a bit. The route passes by a few picnic areas, so seeing people enjoying their Saturday was a typical sight throughout the race.

After the 14th lap, though, I was back in the struggle bus. My feet hurt so much that walking was starting to feel hard. I wear pretty light cushioned shoes on trails and my feet could last pretty long thanks to the softer surface of trails. I resolved just to walk a loop. Fifteen minutes after making that decision, I received a text from Nancy that she and Abby were coming. I told Nancy about the race the day before, and she mentioned maybe coming to support. I tried to discourage it by saying it was too out of the way. It wasn’t like I didn’t want support, but I find it hard to ask when it’s just for me. I’m here selfishly running my race, and it doesn’t feel like I should inconvenience others. I texted back stating that I felt pretty dead already. My thought was that maybe letting them know that I was pretty done would discourage them from coming. Instead, I got a text telling me to hang on till they got there. Like magic, this turned on a switch to me, and all of a sudden, I felt revived. I ran the rest of the loop, completely ignoring the walk breaks strategy again. With the option to do how much you want to, I lost internal motivation to push through the pain once I felt pretty bad. With Nancy and Abby coming, that external motivation made me keep going. I wanted to keep trying till they came and then hope their presence could keep me going.

Passing the main tent and aid station for the 15th time, I started thinking that I might miss Nancy and Abby (I assumed I could only meet them at the main tent area) and soon started feeling discouraged and feeling pain again. Another well-timed text from Nancy said that she just parked at the first water aid station which was just a half-mile from where I was heading. I got my strength back up and made it to them. I know Nancy wanted to run with me, but Abby did the NYRR Mini 10K that morning and wasn’t sure if she was up for more running. To my surprise, she joined as well, and I ran the final loop with them. Talking to those two made the time click fast, and I didn’t notice the effort. Nancy brought a bottle of Gatorade which I gladly chugged down. I’ve wanted something like Gatorade the whole day. We met the man I talked to on my third loop and ran together for a bit. I was amazed at his ability to keep a conversation going. Passing the main tent, the race director advised me to make it to the next aid station.

At the end of the 12 hours, you only get credit for the last aid station you pass. I started talking with a man in the 24-hour race during my final push. He explained that he now just speed hikes the entire time and could still hit some impressive mileage. Looking at my watch, at about 200 feet from the aid station, I saw that I only had about 7 minutes to make it to the next one upon making this one. The next one was a mile away, so it wasn’t possible in my current state. I was barely keeping up with this guy’s hiking pace so I decided to walk it in. After making a weak effort at stretching, I got a ride from Nancy back to the start. I also got assistance packing up and loading the car, which I was very grateful for. I made it to 48.3 miles. Not what I thought I could do, but pretty satisfied with the effort. 

Vikram running.

I knew that the mental game is crucial in the sport of running. Even on a 5k distance, if you start feeling like you’re struggling and don’t think you could hold on, you won’t. I applied a few tricks but I was surprised at how motivating it was to have people come to support you. I went from someone struggling to walk to someone who could run pretty strongly from just the idea that someone would be there. The mind is such a fantastic factor in what we think might be our physical limits. I realized I was also afraid of running long distances on the road (7 years of trail ultras before taking on this road race) and that made me act in a way that wasn’t right for me. Going forward, I need to look at my mental game and preparation and not just focus on the act of running. And on a daily schedule, I will look further into how my expectations of workouts and runs should be so I can do my best on race day.

Vikram Singh

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Post-Pandemic into the Boston Marathon

The following double-blog post is written by co-founders Maria Wong and Edwin Guzman. Starting with Maria and then following up with Edwin, they both discuss their experiences through the COVID-19 pandemic and their renewed motivation for racing since then. Both will be representing QDR at the 125th Boston Marathon this Fall on Monday, October 11, 2021.

More than a year ago, I was flying high — I had gotten a new job, I signed a new lease, and I was in the best shape of my life. And then it all came to a screeching halt.

To be honest, I didn’t believe that the US would get impacted by COVID-19, based on previous airborne diseases that have transpired in China. I was so ready to run the Boston Marathon in 2020, but when the NYC Half got cancelled a few days before it was supposed to be hosted, I knew that everything would change. I had my last hard training run that weekend and then I caught COVID-19. 

Those two weeks were the dimmest days of my life. I could barely move, eat or talk. Everyday felt foggy but I could always hear the sirens late in the day and early the next morning. It was a scary time. When I ventured out a few days after I felt no symptoms, my body didn’t feel like my own. Anxiety seeped out of me. My breathing was short and erratic. I couldn’t focus on my run because I had to dodge PPE littered on the road and flattened roadkill every few steps. My internal self was battling with my physical self and I couldn’t get either of them to cooperate. When I got home, I didn’t want to go out again. But Kevin would convince me and stay by my side each time. Still, it would take about eight weeks for me to feel like a semblance of my old running self again.

After recovering, I fell back into my old pattern of taking the summer off and trying to enjoy the miles. What I didn’t see coming was the turmoil of the nation’s unresolved racial discrimination and injustices highlighted at height of summer. Everything bad just seemed to keep compounding. It affected me deeply and I couldn’t run without bursting into tears or feeling a tightness in my chest. But I soldiered on, with Kevin by my side. 

Even though many things were still uncertain, I felt that I needed something to keep myself “sane” and in control. So I started marathon training again. At first, I felt a jolt of excitement, but the anxiety of the summer came back. I would try to override it, but it was always lurking in the background — at every workout, every training run. I tried really hard last fall and this past winter to grasp onto that motivation that had powered me through many training cycles, but it was just out of reach. I was disappointed in myself and questioned my purpose every day. Why am I running? How could I focus on running my best times when people were dying and being killed? Do my workouts even matter? I donated so much money and time into causes and protests that I believed in last year but it didn’t seem like enough. 

The one bright spot of last year was using running as a way to help people and organizations that mattered to me. In between training, Queens Distance Runners raised funds to support teammates that didn’t receive stimulus checks; our leadership called teammates to see how they were doing and if they needed financial help; QDR hosted virtual races to raise funds for local community organizations and groups; and we put together socially-distant training runs and races approved by the Parks Department. It was hard navigating the new circumstances and restrictions but I felt better knowing that people who needed help were getting it directly through us, immediately. Though I wasn’t proud of my own training, I am proud of helping my Fam, the community and local organizations that needed it.

At the beginning of this year, I felt another wave of sadness when the news of the Atlanta shootings and the attacks on Asian elders proliferated all news channels. It felt like my teenage years were coming back to haunt me — that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, American enough. These feelings directly translated to my training and I perceived myself to be falling behind, yet again. I felt helpless and hopeless. Somehow, I found the courage to put together a protest in Flushing and was overwhelmed by how many people showed up in support. It made me realize that there were good people around me that reminded me often that I am good enough and that I can do it. I think this realization really helped my mental state and my running finally clicked in the last two weeks of my training cycle. I was finally hitting the prescribed splits and I felt like me again.  

On April 18, I ran my twelfth marathon at the Coach Medina Marathon in Rockland State Park. It is my second fastest marathon in my ten years of running. Even though I felt great in the past two weeks, truthfully, my head and heart were not fully in the game. I blame myself — I had little to no motivation throughout the whole training cycle and I allowed a lot of external factors to affect me. During the entire race, I kept thinking, why am I doing this? Kevin ran 18 miles with me and I was surrounded by teammates and training partners, but where was my purpose? I felt disappointed in myself when it was over. I was smiling on the outside but frowning on the inside. I was truly happy for my teammates and training partners but it would take me another two weeks of reflection to acknowledge my own feelings about my performance. 

And then two days later, I hesitantly signed up for Boston 2021. 

You’re probably thinking, is she crazy? Why would she sign up for another marathon after experiencing such a bad training cycle? You’re not wrong in thinking that. 

In the days after, I reflected a lot on the past year. I examined everything — from the snacks I decided to eat to each rep of each workout. I took a lot of long walks and did a lot of yoga and meditation. It really helped me to slow down, step back and just look at the facts. Yes, emotionally, it was my hardest training cycle. My splits weren’t that bad but I didn’t believe in myself and allowed the negativity of my own thoughts to swallow me. I knew that not every run was going to be good, but it was difficult to see that when everything else was already out of my control. 

These past six weeks, I’ve paid more attention to how my body feels versus what pace I’m going. It’s because of these runs that I decided that I would gauge my efforts more seriously and focus less on my splits and times for my next training cycle. After this past year, I need a change and, so far, I feel like I have rediscovered some of my confidence. It helped that restrictions are being lifted and people are getting vaccinated. Things have been on the upswing and I feel a shift in the air, which has shifted my outlook. I feel myself looking forward to running again; I feel a renewed purpose and excitement to run again. And as things continue to ease, I am excited to be able to run in a major event with fellow competitors from around the nation again. It feels like a lifetime ago, but I finally feel motivated and hopeful again. 

Maria Wong

Last February in 2020, I felt a deep sense of dread from all the COVID-19 news. The number of people infected with COVID-19 started to increase steadily, the City was confused, and rumors were flying around about whether this or that location would be closed due to an infected case in the building. And even through all of that, trying to adjust to a pandemic world and now the aftermath after a vaccine, I can’t shake off a lot of the negativity, just yet. Thankfully, future race events have changed that for me.

Once the 2020 NYC Half got cancelled and I received news about working remotely for (at that time) a month, I knew everything would change. Of course, no one knew how long it would last and that we’d be in lockdown for over a year, but once cases and deaths due to COVID-19 kept rising after the initial “let’s shelter in place for two weeks”, it made a lot of sense to stay inside for the foreseeable future. It also, as much as it hurt, made sense to see all big races get cancelled or postponed for the fall or for the rest of the year.

Luckily, I didn’t get infected. I think. If I did, I had minor symptoms that made it slightly harder to run for two days, but I ended up taking a week off just in case. It was tough hearing about friends and family suffering through the early months of summer in 2020. Even as others got sick and some passed away from COVID, many kept complaining about cancelled races or contemplating when they’d be back. Others not reading the room, or not being aware of the state of the world, really messed with my motivation to get back to racing. As much as I enjoyed working hard for a PR or running with friends, it was just that much more important that we stayed safe so we could return to some sense of normalcy.

Prior to the pandemic in early 2020, I signed up for the 2020 TCS NYC Marathon. It was my goal race of the year not just because it was the NYC Marathon but because I signed up with Make the Road NY (MRNY) to fundraise for their Legal Services department. MRNY provides a wide range of legal services to families, but the work they provide for undocumented and DACA recipients in NYC means a lot to me. I’ve been through the DACA struggle personally; it still haunts me in certains ways every day, and it’s easy to feel hopeless. Unfortunately, that initiative fell through because the 2020 TCS NYC Marathon got canceled, but I hope many donated to the organization and the cause (and you still can).

In addition to race cancellations, COVID-19 wasn’t the only event that affected everyone in 2020; we all encountered racial and social injustices personally, or saw how it affected others and systemic injustices in the systems we live in. In many ways, I put running first because it was an escape from everything I had to deal with for the majority of my life. Although doing so can help, you can’t run away from problems all the time. It wasn’t just the insecurity of growing up as an immigrant and feeling like I didn’t belong here, but also having the nagging thought every day that I actually did not belong here.

In some ways, living through a pandemic has shown me what kind of person I am and what kind of person I want to be. The leader inside me didn’t come out in ways I wanted to because I focused elsewhere. Although I helped QDR organize funds for teammates who needed support during the height of the pandemic or helped organize virtual races to fundraise for local organizations, it felt like I wasn’t doing enough.

After getting vaccinated against COVID, I felt a big sigh of relief. What really pushed my confidence towards returning to “normal” was being able to set vaccination dates for my parents and siblings; hours spent refreshing trying to find a vaccination date, time and site lifted my hopes up when the registration confirmations came through. Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I still feel uncomfortable in many situations with large crowds. But seeing the city and teammates being comfortable eases my nerves. 

Now, we are starting to have races with larger crowds and with minimal social distancing. As many more get vaccinated and the number of cases decreases, we’ve been a part of races with a good size of runners; and we, as QDR, have hosted many races safely and without issues. Although I bike-paced many waves of the Queens Marathon in the Fall of 2020 and the Spring of 2021, it didn’t hit me to sign up for a race until I helped pace Kevin at the Faster Together Half Marathon in April of this year. The feeling of lining up at a race start line and being in a race (even though I dropped out after finishing pacing duties) felt great and motivated me to sign up for the 2021 Boston Marathon.

So here I am now, getting drenched in sweat after running for five minutes outside and re-thinking my decision to train for a marathon through the blistering hot summer. As awful as it is to feel the sun burning my skin and dehydrating me towards the end of a run, I am as motivated as ever to run another big marathon this Fall. Seeing more and more vaccinated friends running and training together is bringing a sense of normalcy for the running community and it’s beautiful to see. We are not out of this pandemic yet, however, and when we get through this we will still deal with the aftermath. For now, stay safe, keep following the guidelines and I’ll see you out on the roads.

Edwin Guzman

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NYC to Philly

The following was authored by Robert Sanderman, one of the hardest working athletes we’ve had the pleasure to train with since early 2019. Snowy days did not stop Rob from coming to QDR track workouts at Juniper Park in early 2019 and since then, he’s come a long way as an athlete and a teammate. We hope his story resonates with many who have ever felt intimidated to join any running group. You get as much as what you put into your running group. So, come out and surround yourself with other individuals who will push you further!

Rob trains with QDR coaches, Coach Medina and Coach Marie of Coach Medina NYC, who train athletes from any club. For further information regarding their plans, check out their site!

Queens Distance

Before joining Queens Distance Runners (QDR), I was a very casual runner. I ran to supplement my strength training. My first race was the NYRR UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in 2013 and then the 2013 Brooklyn Half. I did them because a friend encouraged me to run with her and I was also inspired by my coworkers whose offices were decorated with finisher medals. At that time, I did not put a lot of thought and training into running. For the Half, I prepped by running 5 to 8 miles a week or so a few times before the race but that was the extent of my training. I always told myself that I would never hate myself enough to run a full marathon. During the Brooklyn Half, on May 18, 2013, I saw a sign that read “you are only half crazy.” I nodded in agreement as I tried to push through the last few remaining miles.

Then, on one fateful day in the Spring of 2018, my job informed me that they had spots for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon. For whatever reason, I was like “why not?” This was my first time training, especially with a disciplined schedule (I used the Nike Training App and the NYRR Virtual Trainer). I thought that as long as I followed the plan, I would be fine. During the grueling “hot boy” summer training, I ran into an old college friend—Kevin Montalvo—while I was running in Central Park. He eagerly told me about his running club, Queens Distance Runners (QDR), and prompted me to join. This all happened within the seconds as I continued my stride past him and the QDR cheer station. “Sure”, I responded, but I later asked myself “why would I want to join a running club?” I was close to the end of my training and I didn’t want to do anything new. This would also be my first time joining a club so I was intimidated because I thought it would be an overly competitive environment.

Rob running with Luciano Medina
Photo courtesy of Coach Medina NYC

2018 TCS NYC Marathon

On November 4, 2018, I completed the NYC marathon—my first! To this day, it’s the best course I’ve run. The NYC marathon is a run across all the boroughs and each borough brings its unique energy. It is a thrill to run past the crowds. It’s as if you are a star in the biggest parade in the city. My goal was just to survive, a.k.a. finish, but I learned a lot from the experience. 

I ran way too fast in Brooklyn. Therefore, I slowed down significantly after mile 9. By the time I made it to the Bronx, I only had enough in me to twitch a bit to the salsa and merengue emanating through the speakers. I was so happy I survived and finished at 4 hours and 16 minutes. Realizing that I might have improved my time if I started out slower, held a steady pace, timed my hydration, and did less zig-zagging on the course encouraged me to do another marathon and to set on my journey to improve my marathon time.

Spoiler!—I Joined QDR

In January of 2019, I somehow reconnected with Kev and realized that QDR held weekend runs 20 minutes away from my home in Jackson Heights. Therefore, I had no excuse. Upon my arrival to my first meet, we all introduced ourselves and took a group photo and began the run, which already gave me a “this is more than running” vibe. I usually ran by myself but that day I met new people—folks from the community—who enjoyed running. I spoke with people who ran several marathons, completed triathlons, and ran in races across the world. I thought I stumbled upon a group of professional Olympic athletes. It was incredibly encouraging and inspiring to learn of their past accomplishments and future goals.

I also connected in a different way: I had a professional connection with one of the runners. The “speed dating”-esque style of getting to know one another during a long run was pretty awesome. I soon realized that this was a great group of people with running goals ranging from leisure runs to triathlons. The familial feel of this group generated excitement to participate in future runs. Luckily for me, QDR created a training series for the 2019 Queens Marathon. That’s how I found my second marathon.

2019 Queens Marathon

My goal for the 2019 QDR Queens Marathon was to finish under four hours. I thought this was achievable because through the winter training cycle, I learned a lot about hydration and pacing from my fellow QDR fam. Also, the regular QDR runs and the Strava app kept me honest. I never used Strava before signing up for QDR but I was motivated to see the running community getting it done, whether it’s a 5 a.m. easy run or an ultra-marathon. I eagerly branched out from the weekend long runs to join other groups throughout Queens where I met other great QDR members. Wednesday track workouts were my favorite because it was the first time I seriously incorporated track work into my training regimen (the Nike App had a few but I did those sporadically and in the neighborhood—I literally never ran on a track before). Thankfully, I was able to take advantage of the Queens Marathon training runs, which provided additional opportunities to run with other running clubs such as Woodside Sunnyside Runners (WSR). I learned a lot.

At the QDR Spring Marathon Tune-Up, on March 24, 2019, I surprised myself (and some of the folks in the pacing group) by finishing at an 8:17 pace per mile (ppm). The Queens Marathon was still a month away so I was encouraged by what I thought I could accomplish. On my last long run leading up to the marathon, I did 16 miles at an 8 min ppm. I felt ready!

On race day, April 21, 2019, I ran with the amazing 3:30 pace group. I felt strong the first 17 miles but then realized it was hard for my body to keep up. My legs felt heavy, I was dehydrated, and I started to feel a sharp pain in my side. My pace slowed significantly to the point where I transitioned from running to jogging to walking and finally standing. I stopped three or four times! This was devastating for me because I only stopped once, to use the restroom, at the NYC Marathon. I was further discouraged because I thought a significant amount of time had passed (my watch died at this point) and that I was not going to beat my 2018 NYC Marathon time, much less my sub 4 hour goal time. Although I am not a huge fan of looped courses, I was so grateful that day because I saw familiar faces (QDR members, loved ones, strangers with hilarious/motivating signs) multiple times as I ran through the loops. It also helped mentally to say to myself, “3 loops down, you are halfway there…2 more loops…1 loop to go…there is the Unisphere!” which pushed me to the finish. The expectation of knowing that your support group is in a specific spot was also comforting, unlike my NYC Marathon where I had no clue where people were (I didn’t see anyone I knew).

As I was struggling to jog it out, finishing the race instantly became plan A, B, and C. And I did just that. To my surprise, I somehow beat my NYC Marathon time by 30 minutes. I finished in 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Training with Coach Medina

Photo courtesy of Coach Medina NYC

I learned about Coach Medina NYC when I signed up for the Queens Marathon but it wasn’t until I was paced by someone who ran with him that I decided to look into it. I noticed at the marathon how Coach Medina and Coach Marie ran around the course cheering on the runners. Dwelling on why I stalled after mile 18 at the Queens Marathon, I figured it would not hurt to reach out to Coach Medina for tips. Although I have learned a lot since my first marathon, I figured I had a lot more to learn (and third time’s the charm). My new goal was to finish the 2019 Philadelphia Marathon under 3 hours and 30 minutes.

After signing up with Coach Medina at the end of May of 2019, a month after the Queens Marathon, I saw some big 5K PRs. This was a big deal for me because I never considered myself fast and although my goal was to improve my pace, I did not expect this type of progress. Unfortunately, after training with Coach Medina for roughly a month, I injured my calf (I rarely stretched and I slacked on my strength training although I ran fairly often). I couldn’t run for 6-7 weeks. This is the moment I realized I loved running. During my recovery break, running was constantly on my mind. I did everything I could to get healthy. Also, since I was new to running and didn’t know how common injuries were, I was concerned that my injury would have lasting negative effects on my ability to run.

However, I was super grateful for the Coach Medina group, QDR folks, and my physical therapist for counseling me through the injury. I started to take better care of my body: stretching before and after runs, foam rolling, and strength training. I try my best to keep this up now. After I was cleared to run, I did the Governor’s Island 10K on August 10, 2019. I planned to do an easy pace but I felt strong and ended up with a 6 minute and 36 second PR. I was ready to start training with the CMSub330 group again.

I greatly benefited from having coaches that worked with me through my injuries. Just like how I see QDR as a second family, I had this additional support group with the CM runners—particularly, the CMSub330 group (the group’s goal is to complete a marathon under 3 hours and 30 minutes). We pushed each other to be better, supported each other when we raced. I learned in a very short time that it was more than just running fast or hitting that target pace because training through the elements and witnessing all the hard work my teammates put into their training, I started to realize that we are making each other better—period! That means a lot.

Closer to my marathon date, I reinjured my left calf a few times but I was just grateful that I could still run and give my best effort. Towards the end of the training cycle, my runs were trending faster but I was concerned because my prior two marathons did not end as I hoped, although I was grateful for the PRs. I understood that I could not control everything that may happen on race day but I was less concerned because I knew I was going to sign up with Coach Medina again for the winter training cycle and that there would be more opportunities to hit my goal pace.

2019 Philadelphia Marathon 

On race day, November 24, 2019, I was super excited because it was my first race in Philly and I heard great things about the course. I sweat easily and my body warms up super quick so I had to figure out what to wear during that cold and rainy day. I started off with the 3:20 pacer which felt like a very comfortable pace. I broke off at about mile 14 and still felt strong. I started to feel tired around mile 21 but I pushed since I was just trying to convince myself that 5 miles were nothing. My watch died (it’s a recurring marathon theme but I did not have one during the 2018 NYC Marathon) so I didn’t have the playlist that I spent weeks putting together and I was ignorant to my pace. I only knew that the 3:20 pace group didn’t pass me and that I was passing others on the course.

Mile 24 is when it got real. For some reason, I tried to convince myself that I did enough and could jog the last two miles to the finish line since I was on pace to finish under 3 hours and 30 minutes. Luckily for me, seeing QDR and WSR members, either cheering or running the course, gave me life. A little past mile 24, there was a large group of spectators cheering us on, and that gave me the energy I needed to push through. As I got closer to the finish line, when my energy was beginning to fade out again, I saw a WSR member, one of the first athletes I met at my first QDR run. Him yelling out my name and giving me a hi-five resulted in the push I needed to muster all that I had left to cross the finish line at 3:19:08–a 26 minute PR!

I would never have thought that my pace would have improved almost 57 minutes within a year. Qualifying for Boston was not a thought last year or earlier this year but now it seems more feasible. I’m surrounded by friends who inspire me to be better and people who have already accomplished the goals I am now setting for myself. QDR, the Coach Medina crew, WSR, and others have been essential to my growth and progress.

Cheers to having fun, building community, and chasing future PRs!

QDR and CM Chase Pack Member

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The Journey to Ironman Lake Placid

The following was authored by Cathy Huang who recently completed her first full Ironman at Lake Placid! It is hard enough to run a marathon but running one after swimming 2.4 miles and a 112-mile bike ride is a step many of us have yet to complete! This is how Cathy trained and performed at Lake Placid and her original post can be found on her Strava.

Queens Distance

The journey to an Ironman takes a village, and I am so thankful for my village that got me to the finish line for Lake Placid! From the encouragement (read: coercing) to sign up for the race, to the training buddies who made sure I logged miles, and family and friends who provided mental and emotional support leading up to, during, and after the race – thank you!

It’s been weeks since I completed Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) and it still feels surreal that it’s done. It took me a long time to write this recap because there were so many different aspects of my journey that I wanted to convey without making this recap even longer. I decided to focus on the why, the how (training), and the race so that if I ever decide to do this again, I’ll remember what some of the main drivers were. I’m also hoping it provides perspectives for others who are considering tackling the 140.6 miles. There’s a lot more details than what’s written, so happy to discuss further over a run/ride/drink/meal anytime!

– Finish time of 12:55:00 – 20th in AG; 104th in Gender; 619th overall
– Swim 1:32:56
– T1 8:56
– Bike 7:06:21
– T2 9:25
– Run 3:57:24

Basking in my sweet, sweet victory.

Where It All Started

If you told me when I first started doing triathlons 5 years ago that I would one day compete in an Ironman, I would’ve told you you’re crazy. In fact, after I did the half-ironman distance in Lake Placid in 2017, I said I would never do a full in Lake Placid… But when you’re surrounded by the same “crazy” friends who like to push the limits, you inevitably end up signing up for one. My reason for Ironman Lake Placid is redemption. I Did Not Finish (DNF) the Age Group Nationals Champion Triathlon last year, which was the first time I DNF. I won’t go into all the details, but I signed up for IMLP as a goal to work towards. I wanted a course that would have an easier swim and Mirror Lake is exactly that. IMLP is a hilly course, but also an iconic race and one of the longest running Ironman events, or so the friends who were already registered told me when they were encouraging/coercing me to sign up.

The Training

I signed up for the race almost a year out with the intention to work on my swim technique (my weakest sport) and keep up a running base during the winter, before ramping up the miles on bike in the Spring. But between the combination of being the busiest time at work, buying an apartment, and moving to Queens, I didn’t start triathlon training until late March. Most people take 6-7 months to train for an Ironman but given I was short on time, I tried to maximize my training by incorporating brick workouts (doing two different sports with minimal rest time in between) to help my body adapt, focusing on swim drills to improve my technique, and doing one long bike ride during the weekend. I started with 50 miles as a long bike ride before getting two 100+ miles before the race.

While I almost never met this schedule, my training plan was to swim 2-3x, run 2-3x (two early weekday runs, and one run on the weekend after a bike ride), and bike 2-3x a week. In reality, I had a great training week if I swam 1x, bike 2x (usually only over the weekend), and ran 2-3x a week. Training hours per week varied between four hours to peak of 15 hours (more in June when I ramped up the long bike rides). I missed more training than I liked, especially when work hours got crazy, and it led to many moments where I really considered deferring my race because the training and miles seemed impossible. I felt stressed about being behind in my training, which added to me not feeling ready and questioning why I signed up for this race. Thankfully I had family and friends who lent an ear, talked me off the ledge, and offered to ride/train with me to keep me accountable. Shoutout to Maria and Kieran for the routine and company during our early #morningmiles; Jason, Samson, and Jackie for the company on long bike rides; CC and Alex for their advice throughout my training; and to Jessica and Jian for calling me impromptu at always the perfect moment to ease my concerns, and sound advice to focus on one week at a time. Lastly to David for always being my #1 supporter and taking care of everything else (often doing all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry) so I could focus on training.

It wasn’t until two weeks before the race that I finally felt ready for the Ironman. Yin, Jackie, Nima and I went to Lake Placid for a training weekend. We swam two loops of Mirror Lake on Friday and Sunday, and rode almost the full bike course (minus the newly added out and back by the Olympics Center) on Saturday, followed by a brick run. It was a hot day and we didn’t have enough water on the bike course but we got to fine-tune our race strategies. I learned I needed to eat every 45 mins and that I needed to drink way more liquids. I also finally felt comfortable (enough) going down Keene Valley descent  (about 5 miles of downhill ~2,000ft elevation change) to not brake the whole way down. Of all three sports, I trained the least in running. My longest run was 13 miles 8 weeks before the race, but I was trusting my running base that I’ll be ok for the marathon.

Congrats to Jackie, Nima, and Yin on finishing! We couldn’t have done it without this support group.

Race Weekend

Friday – I finished packing around 1AM Friday morning (so much for getting extra rest before the race!). I had learned from other Ironman friends that Ironman is not like your traditional triathlon where you get to lay out all your race gear for each segment. Instead, you’re given gear bags to pack what you need for each transition, in addition to special needs for halfway through the bike and run. Worried I would forget something, I re-packed multiple times and used ziplock bags to simulate packing for the gear bags.

David was really great at trying to help me relax on the drive up to Lake Placid, and didn’t let me split the five-hour drive so that I could focus on positive race visualization. We arrived at the athlete check-in around 1PM and met up with Vikram, Yin, Jackie, and Nima for athlete briefing. We went for an easy 30 min swim before heading for our Airbnb to make a pasta dinner and pack our gear bags. Even though I had prepared my bags already, I still repacked a few more times until I felt ready. I ended up not using the special needs bag for the run since I planned to carry my gels. Knowing I likely won’t get much sleep on Saturday, I was in bed by 10:30PM.

Saturday – After a light breakfast, we headed out for one more short brick (13-15 mile ride and 2 mile run) before bringing our bikes and gear bags to transition. On the way to the Oval I realized I had left my goggles and cap at the lake after the practice swim yesterday. Rookie mistake since you’re not supposed to use anything new on race day! Not the worst thing to lose since you can test the goggles before the swim start and make adjustments. I bought new ROKA goggles at the Oval. After hanging in our gear bags, I counted the number of rows I would need to pass as a mental note for when I get out of swim and back from bike tomorrow. Trying to stay off our feet, we checked into our new Airbnb before joining TriLife’s pasta dinner (thank you CC for making that delicious meal for all of us!). Besides great food, we got to talk to the TriLife coaches and other athletes on race strategies. I was most worried about the potential rain forecast, especially if it happened while I was on the Keene Valley descent. Based on when I expected to start the ride and when the rain was going to happen, I might be going down the descent right when it started raining. Knowing it was something outside of my control, I just hoped for the best. We left by 8PM and I was in bed by 9:30PM.

Saying farewell to my gear bags on Saturday – not your usual transition site!

RACEDAY – I managed to fall asleep almost right after going to bed but woke up a few times throughout the night until my alarm finally went off at 3AM. Vik and I wanted to get to transition right when they opened (4:30AM) in case there was limited parking (we were staying in Keene), so we headed out earlier than Nima, Yin, and Jackie. My breakfast was oatmeal with Justin’s version of Nutella and half a bagel. We arrived at the parking lot around 4:45AM and took a short 15 min nap before getting on the shuttle bus to transition. After getting to transition, I lost Vik and didn’t see him again until I was on the run. Saw Alix at the entrance to transition and she marked my arms with my bib number, and age on my left calf. For triathlons, your age is for the end of the year, not your actual age. I dropped off my special needs bag for the bike (second half of my food, which was Honey Stinger waffles and SIS bars, and a cold bottle of water with SIS tablets), pumped my bike, went to the bathroom one more time before I walked over to the swim start. I was carrying a banana with me to eat 30 mins before my swim start. Once I was in the swim area, you can feel all the nervous energy and buzz as athletes went in for a practice swim and spectators watched. I ate my banana and went in for a short swim to test the new goggles – works great!

Lake Placid swim is two loops of Mirror Lake, and a self-seeded swim start so you put yourself in the corral based on when you think you will finish the swim. My best practice swim time was 1:50 but I seeded myself in the 1:20 – 1:30 corral based on Ildar’s advice that everyone else is seeding themselves faster than actual pace, so I would get stuck behind other swimmers if I didn’t do the same. I saw Yin and Nima at the same corral, which was great since I didn’t see them since the night before. I lost Yin when she went for her practice swim but Nima and I got to talk to other first-timers before it was our turn to enter the water. The cannon went off (for the pros to start) and before we even started our swim, we saw the top three men finish their first lap (talk about fast!).

In my first lap, I was in a vortex of much faster swimmers and they helped pull me along. The best part of swimming in Mirror Lake besides the calm water is a cable line that holds the buoys and marks the swim course. Most swimmers try to stay close to this line to help with sighting and minimize extra yards, but you often get scratched, kicked, and bobbed in the head by the other swimmers. I tried not to swim right on the line but was pushed toward the line by the other swimmers so just tried to draft off of them. I finished the first lap in 43 minutes – my fastest yet! Grabbed a cup of water and ran back into the lake. In the second lap, most of the faster swimmers were already done but I was still getting bobbed and kicked to the point where I got really annoyed. I just wanted to get out of the water! When I got to the final turn before the exit, I was met with more arms and legs contact before I finally got out of the water. I realized later I got a cut on my right ankle, likely from another swimmer’s Ironman wristband, which is now a new battle scar on my ankle. I finished the second lap in 49 mins for a total swim time of 1:32 – 20 mins faster than I expected!!!

I happily ran out of the water and made eye contact with one of the wetsuit peelers, Mary, who got me out of my wetsuit. Got to say hi to CC and Alix during the run to transition before Mary caught up to me – my timing chip had came off when she peeled off my suit! Good thing she saw that or my time wouldn’t have recorded! I grabbed my bag from transition and ran into the changing room. This was an interesting experience as everyone was quickly stripping and volunteers were trying to help us get dressed and sunscreened up before the run. I tried to dry myself off with the towel I packed before changing into dry clothes. A volunteer came over to help me with my socks and I ate half a banana (the other half fell), drank 3/4 bottle of water before I ran out of the tent and to my bike. If you’re lucky, a volunteer would’ve already grabbed your bike while you were changing but given I was middle of the pack and there was so many of us, I grabbed my own bike.

The bike ride is two 56 mile loops of the Adirondacks, with about 8,000 feet of elevation gain per the athlete guide. You have small hills in the beginning, then a huge descent, then hills, more hills, and more hills. Then you repeat that again. I did the practice ride in 6 hours and 50 minutes and I felt good, but I wanted to save my legs for the run so I was aiming for 7 hours on the bike. I can’t say I remember all the details of the bike, especially the first loop. I remember going a little easier in the beginning, enjoying the beautiful views, going down Keene, some hills, eating every 45 mins, drinking every 10-15 minutes, taking two salt tablets per loop, and successfully grabbing water and bananas from the volunteers in the aid stations without unclipping or falling off my bike.

So happy to see David and Jenny – right after first loop of bike!

Around 30 miles, I saw a porta-potty and started thinking about needing to pee. Before the race, I read about people peeing on the bike to shave time but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t stop at that aid station but a few miles later, the urge to pee was bad. I tried not to think about it but the next aid station wasn’t for another 10 miles! I barely held it together before I finally got to the aid station. Of course, everyone else seemed to have skipped the earlier station and there was a queue for the porta-potties. I felt like I was going to explode. I finally got to do my business and continued the ride.

Around 50 miles, I started to feel very full. I was eating and drinking on schedule but perhaps too much since I didn’t practice this before, or I didn’t factor in the half bananas I grabbed from volunteers. I finished the first loop (around 3:23) and saw Alix during special needs and told her how I was feeling. She told me to only drink water until that feeling went away. I reapplied some chamois butter, grabbed the rest of my nutrition and cold bottle, and started my second loop. This is where I saw CC, Jenny, and David on the course and that gave me a small boost. Short lived because around 60 miles I was SO sleepy. All I wanted to do was pull over and take a nap. Since the bike portion is so long, the ride can get very monotonous. In hindsight, I should’ve packed gels with caffeine to wake myself up but since I never got sleepy on training rides, I didn’t think I’d need them. Between going down Keene descent (very happy to report no rain at this point because I had shaved off time during the swim!), which had some strong headwind, and another bathroom break that included reapplying sunscreen, I felt more awake. The full feeling I had finally went away and I was able to eat again. At this point my butt was starting to get sore. I didn’t realize I would have the opportunity to change for each leg until a week before the race and had done all my long rides with tri shorts, so per the “nothing new on race day” rule, I was racing in tri shorts. Tri shorts don’t have as much padding so I was feeling the pain.

When I got to Wilmington (another hilly portion of the ride), we got a few minutes of heavy rain, but not on the descent. I was relieved for the rain but right after, we were hit with 100% humidity and I could feel the steam coming off the ground. It was hot and with 16 miles left (which were mostly uphills) and a sore butt, I was losing steam. I stuck to the same nutrition plan of eating every 45 mins and drinking water and Gatorade (when my SIS water ran out) so I wouldn’t bonk on the run but I couldn’t keep to the same pace as before. During the practice ride, I was able to climb the second round of mama bear, baby bear, and papa bear hills with ease but I struggled on race day. There was a great support crew on top of papa bear cheering everyone on, and I leveraged their energy and pretended all the “Go Grace” written on the floor was actually “Go Cathy.” Finally, I got back to the village and saw the runners and knew I was close to transition. There was one more small out and back and this is where I saw Ildar who told me I was crushing it. Fueled by his positivity, I picked up the pace a little right into transition. I couldn’t be more happy to get off my bike and handed Eleanor to a volunteer to rack her. My Garmin watch showed about 7 hours for the ride so I was still on track with where I thought I’d finish.

Grabbed my bag in T2 (the second transition) and ran into the changing tent again. I had decided before the race that I would change my entire outfit again so that I would be comfortable on the run. I even took the time to wipe my face and reapplied sunscreen so total time spent was longer than my first transition. Some may say this was wasted time but comfort was important to me.

For the run, I had a secret goal of 4 hours, and it was actually my only goal for the Ironman. It was a secret goal because I didn’t think I can do it since I ran only 15-25 miles a week and had done no speed work. It was a goal because before this year, in all my triathlons, I felt terrible on the run. It was more of a mental block on my end that I wanted to train so I had this 4:00 mark on my mind when I started the marathon.

At the beginning of the run, the sun was out and it was HOT. You start off with a huge downhill that seemed great until you realize you’ll later need to run back up for the second loop. My legs didn’t have that heavy feeling after getting off the bike and I was able to keep up a pace around 8:30 ish per mile. I had set my watch on ultratrac mode to save battery but because it wasn’t picking up signal as frequently, I couldn’t always tell if the pace I was seeing on my watch was accurate. I saw Ildar again at the beginning of my run and we chatted for a bit before I was on my own. I stopped at every aid station to either get water or shove ice down my sports bra to stay cool. I could tell everyone around me was feeling the heat and humidity and most were walking by this point. I had watched a Ted Talk on “How endurance athletes are using the power of the now” before the race and it talked about focusing on the present to get through the run/difficult part of the course. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and was able to break up the marathon into smaller miles, like thinking about the early morning runs I did with Maria and Kieran on Mondays and Fridays. Because the run was set up to be 6 miles out then back into the village, and repeat, I was able to see the other athletes multiple times on the course. I saw Fabian around 3 miles and Jackie was going back into the village as I was about to hit the 10K mark. I slowed down my pace around mile 8 and this is when I started to walk through the aid station instead of running through them, taking two cups of water – one to dump over my head and one to drink. It was still sunny and hot. Going back into the village around mile 12 was when we hit that big hill we started with, and I decided to walk it. I didn’t want to waste effort going up the steep hill and risk cramping, which worked well for me. My Strava showed my pace for that hill was still around 9:33 so the walk was definitely worth it. I saw TriLife members, David, Jenny, and Vik around the halfway point, which gave me another boost.

My nutrition plan was one SIS gel every 40-45 mins and I stuck to it. I ate some chips and pretzels on some of the aid stations, took a few licks of salt from salt base to prevent cramping, and continued taking water and shoving ice down my sports bra. My shirt was completely drenched in a mixture of sweat and melted ice. I was passing everyone on the run and still feeling relatively good. My legs were getting tired but again I thought of the Ted Talk and kept thinking, one foot in front of the other. Around mile 20, I saw Ross from TriLife on River Road and he told me to imagine everyone in front of me as a “kill” and to keep up the pace. It made me laugh and think of Ragnar days. When I got back into the village, I saw TriLife, David, Jenny, and Vik again (yay!). I walked the big hill again and knew I only had about 3-4 miles left even though my watch was showing me something different. I was trying to do math to see if I could hit my marathon goal but I was estimating maybe 4:03 or 4:04, which was ok too. I started to think about needing to pee again and saw a porta-potty around mile 23. This part of the course has a small out and back so I was thinking maybe I’ll pee on the way back. At the turnaround point, I saw Ildar again and he tells me I’m about to finish under 13 hours if I kept up this pace. I really wanted to pee but I was about to go through the finisher chute and blocked out the thought. I saw Jackie again and I ran in front of him for a little bit before he started running towards the finish. Going through the finisher chute I started to get emotional when I realize I was about to finish the race. I saw CC and she’s telling me to chase Jackie, but I just started crying. I wanted to hold on to this moment. I came around the finisher chute, saw the red ironman mat, saw Jenny, and David on the left, right before the finish line and heard Matt Riley say, “Jiayan Huang, you are an Ironman.” I had crossed the finish line.

Mixture of tears and joy as I crossed the finish line. Will never forget this moment.

Ildar was by the finish line and I told him my marathon goal. He checked the app – 3:57. I had beat my goal and that made the finish even sweeter.

Would I do another Ironman again? I initially said no but I think a part of me will want to. I had such a great race experience and want to hold on to that high a little longer. For now, I’m basking in this sweet victory.

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Tokyo Marathon Reflections

The following was authored by Queens Distance’s very own co-founder, Maria Wong! We’re very proud of her achievements and how inspiring she is.

Queens Distance

Pre-Tokyo & Training

Four months ago, I completed the Tokyo Marathon – my fastest marathon to date. I PR’ed with a time of 3:06:42 under the tutelage of Coach Medina (CM) and in the first class of the CM Sub-3 program. It was an incredibly hard but worthwhile training cycle with people I trust, respect, and admire. 

Since fall marathon training is in full swing and the Tokyo Marathon lottery has opened, I feel like this is a perfect opportunity to reflect on my experience in Tokyo this past March.

I’ve always dreamed of going to Tokyo since I’ve learned of it and its culture and food. Running the marathon just seemed like a good reason to go. Kevin and I made the choice last summer when I submitted myself to their Run As One program, where I had to have run a marathon between 2:45-3:30 within the past year. 

Photo courtesy of Tokyo Marathon

Let me preface this by saying that my previous attempts at a Spring marathon were abysmal. My training went well with a few hiccups but race day temps always hindered my performance, and thus, my goals were out of reach. I admit that I was (and am still) disappointed that I could not achieve my time goal for both of my Bostons, but I did not want it to happen for a third time. This is why Tokyo was a good choice. During this time, I was also training for Chicago with Coach Medina for the first time, so I was getting used to the hard workouts and summer heat and humidity. 

Fast forward to October, my Chicago marathon performance was hindered by stomach problems that I developed early into the race. Kevin and Edwin were kind enough to pace me, and Edwin stayed with me all the way to the end. I didn’t achieve my time goal again and managed to finish with a side stitch. Was I disappointed? A little. I wasn’t sure I could really even run another marathon and had already made up my mind to skip Boston next year. So again, Tokyo was a good fit.

Two weeks later, I started training for Tokyo with the CM Sub-3 group. There were good days and bad days, easy and hard days. Most times, I could barely hold a pace that I knew I could run. It was grueling but I had great company all the time. Everyone was just as motivated as I was to get to the starting line, fit and prepared. 

Expo, Takoyaki, and Rabbits

At the end of February, Kevin and I finally embarked on our first trip to Asia together. To say that we were excited is an understatement. We tried to fit in as much as we could: visiting sites, playing with rabbits, exploring the city, riding the subways, etc. My mind has expanded since I’ve visited Tokyo, in a good way. 

Back to the marathon, the number/bib pick-up was unlike any other I’ve experienced. It was outdoors, set in interconnected tents, starting with bib/number pick-up. When you enter, you are directed to one of the many friendly faces that scan your confirmation forms. Immediately after that, they scan your face and give you a bracelet (similar to entering a club or multi-day event) that you HAVE to wear until you complete the marathon. Then you walk towards the back to get your shirt and other goodies. The next few tents are Tokyo Marathon-themed paraphernalia, sponsor tents with samples and coupons, and some interactive tents. Honestly, it was all a blur and all I remember is sounds, colors, and a lot of people in an enclosed tunnel. Once I exited, there were picnic tables set up with food trucks all along the way to the exit. Of course, I opted for some takoyaki, which are fried dough with little pieces of octopus in the middle finished with a light drizzle of teriyaki and sweet mayo sauce. It was the perfect snack to end the crazy marathon pickup tunnel through which I just experienced.

The next day, we went to a Rabbit Cafe. It was a wonderful surprise that Kevin arranged that was both exhilarating and relaxing. Since this post is about the marathon, I won’t go into the details of our hour playdate with the rabbits. In short, it was bliss. And it was a well-needed distraction that made me happy and re-affirmed why I chose to go to Tokyo. 

Race Day

On race day, it was drizzling and would be raining for the remainder of the day. (Did I mention that it was also humid and raining during Chicago?) Kevin and I met up with Julie and David to take a photo before we all left to our respective corrals. I felt like I was going to kindergarten all over again. I went to check my baggage and then went on a search for the nearest port-a-potty. I encountered a port-a-potty line that winded around like a snake. In my mind, it didn’t make sense nor did it seem efficient. After waiting for almost 45 minutes, a couple of guys started directing people to unoccupied port-a-potties. It moved quickly for those 5 minutes but I needed to be in my corral in 5 minutes. I literally jumped in, did my business, and ran up a set of stairs to my corral, only to find that there was a separate section of port-a-potties for the Sub-elite. I didn’t even have time to think about that because I just rushed into my corral. I was surprised that there wasn’t more security/volunteers monitoring the corral closing, but I also showed my bib, which ensured that I was in the right place.

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Meet your QDR Tokyo Marathon Class of 2019! This will be the 1st Tokyo Marathon for each of them. Remember the names, because it’s SHOWTIME. Leading off, from Kew Gardens, frequent QDR Volunteer David Dominguez @duhminguez! Batting cleanup, one of our favorite #beyondtheborough members, from the Lower East Side, Julie Tran @eastvillageveg! Finally, standing in at 5 feet, 4 inches, hailing from Jackson Heights, your Co-Founder of the Queens Distance Runners, Maria Wong @mwmaria! We’d like to wish everyone running the 2019 Tokyo Marathon an incredible experience! See you on our stories 🤗 #queensdistance #queensnyc🌎 #itsinqueens #qdrteamtravels #tokyomarathon #maytheforcebewithusall #running #marathon

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As I was standing in the corral, I noticed a lot of other English-speaking runners around me. There were a set of bleachers to our left and one to our right. Once the announcer started speaking in Japanese, I just listened (even if I didn’t understand) and observed what other people were doing. Then all of a sudden, the people in the bleachers to our right stood up and started singing, what I assume to be the national anthem. Immediately after that was done, a huge group of Japanese men (who were dry) showed up to our left and lined up at the start line. The announcer also stated all the runners at the front of our corrals – the elites (because I recognized some of the African names). And then before I knew it, the start gun went off and confetti showered down on us. All I remember was starting my watch and saying to myself, “easy down the decline.”

The first thing I saw and was impressed with was the amount of Japanese women and men around me. They were all very fit, small, and purposeful in their movements. The crowds were loud, but not as raucous as the NYC crowds. My effort felt good and I enjoyed the sights and sounds. I knew that if I looked around too much, I would lose focus. And so, I focused on the road ahead and the backs of runners. There weren’t too many costumes, which disappointed me: Doraemon, Pikachu and a guy in a gold onesie. And then I saw some NYC club singlets: NBR, PPTC, and GCR. It felt like I was home for those few seconds. 

From the start to about 30K, all I heard were the continuous cheers from along the streets: “Ganbatte! (Good luck!)” Since the marathon is in Japan, all the marathon markers were in kilometers and miles were marked every 5 miles. I found that kilometers went by really quickly and I quite enjoyed looking out for the mile markers. It gave me something to focus on besides my breaths and steps. The water stations were also spaced out a little differently than I’m used to: the first at 5K, and then alternating every 2K/3K. It was a lot to think about, but it’s hard to miss the stacks of cups on tables as you near them. They also had an electrolyte drink called “Pocari Sweat” that was more agreeable to my sensitive stomach. It tasted like a lighter version of the Gatorade Ice series. For my fuel, I brought 5 Hammer gels with me, which I took every 45 minutes, or 8K. Dispersed along the course were nutrition choices that were odd to American taste-buds; they had pickled plums, chocolate, and other interesting choices that I didn’t even see. Suffice it to say, I didn’t touch any of those tables.

Photo courtesy of Tokyo Marathon

During the first 30K, I did a quick whole-body check every time I took a gel to see how I was doing. At around 30-32K, I did another check and mentally prepared myself for the last 10-12K. As soon as I crossed the 33K mark, my legs started to feel heavy and tight. I forced myself to focus on my arms and to stay with the people around me. I continued taking water when I needed it and just focusing on matching my arm swing with my foot strike. I remember that last turn at 36K before the long straight-away to the finish. I don’t remember many good thoughts or feelings – just a lot of struggle. The wind was strong, the rain was pelting harder, and I could barely feel my thighs from the cold wind and rain. As we were coming up on the finish line, a narrow section of brick-laid streets felt never ending. Every side street that opened up, I expected to turn to the finish. I just wanted it to end already! Then I finally saw runners turning and my heart did a flip. The turn and finish felt like 5 seconds, compared to the last 1K. And then, it was over. I saw my time of 3:06 on my watch and was happy. I had PR-ed by 4 minutes since NYC in 2017. As I was walking, I saw a blue shadow from my left peripheral vision calling my name. It was Michael Capiraso, eager to take my picture and congratulate me on my accomplishment. I was elated from my effort and time and even more so to see a familiar face. Little did I know, what was looming.

The march to the recovery food was brutal. I was cold and wet. We must’ve walked for at least 800-1000m before receiving a bag with a bottle of water, a bottle of Pocari Sweat and some form of carbs. (I can’t remember what it was.) We walked another 400m before receiving a Tokyo-Marathon-themed towel and heat sheet. Then we collected our baggage and went to our respective gendered changing tents, which was a god-send after being cold and wet for several hours. 

When I finally exited the area and went on a search for Kevin, I felt like a zombie. My limbs felt odd, like they were taken off my body and reinserted into its sockets. Since cell service was bonkers with so many people around, Kevin and I used Facebook messenger and finally met up in the underground station and headed back to our hotel. We later met up with Julie, her brother, and friend to take back to our hotel so she could shower and fly back to the states. We both rested for a while before managing to move around and eat a lot of delicious food before sleeping that night. Before the night ended, I contacted Coach Medina to let him know how I felt about my performance. I felt it was critical for me to let him know right away so that it was still fresh on my mind. Then, I probably had the best sleep in a while.

Our trip home was bittersweet. I loved our stay in Tokyo and wished we could’ve stayed for a couple more days. But my main purpose in going to Tokyo was to better my marathon time and I accomplished it. Along the way, I played with some rabbits, ate a lot of good food, and experienced a culture that I have dreamed about since I was young. What more could I ask for?

Photo courtesy of Tokyo Marathon

If you are considering running the Tokyo Marathon, take a look at the below Pros and Cons list, based on my experience. And as always, if you have any specific questions or topics I didn’t write about, message me and I will try to respond. Thanks for reading!

Pros & Cons


  1. Very well organized, from the expo to the family gathering area
  2. Clear directions on race course (kilometer/mile markers, turn signs, water/fuel signs, etc.)
  3. Super friendly and helpful volunteers
  4. Very clean (several volunteers were stationed right after each water/fuel station to collect trash)
  5. Easy to read signs pre- and post-race
  6. Very safe (only runners were on the race course; no pedestrians were on the course at any time. Police on motorbikes and police towers were visible on the course.)
  7. The 24-hour one-day metro pass (given in your race bag) is very handy for traveling during race day. If you don’t end up using it on race day, you can save it to use on another day.


  1. Even though volunteers were super friendly and helpful, they don’t always know the answer to your question and will go around in circles to try to be helpful.
  2. The walk from the finish line to the recovery bags, towel/heatsheet, and changing area felt quite long. As it was raining and windy, I was cold and my body was shaking after a few minutes into the walk. 
  3. The port-a-potty lines could be better arranged, instead of the snaking line that they use now. Be prepared to wait at least 30 minutes even if you show up about 1 hour before the race begins.
  4. Please bring your nutrition with you as you will not find any Western-branded nutrition (GU, Hammer Nutrition, Spring Energy, etc.) in Japan.