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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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Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

The following was authored by Vikram Singh, an all-around great person to be around with. Besides running ultras, he has shown great improvements as an athlete and as a person. He won the Marisol Mendez Volunteer of the Year and Most Selfless Teammate awards at this past year’s QDR Club Night Gala event, and those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing who he is. Read about his upcoming dream race and cheer him on in August 2019!

Edwin


I don’t know how long I’ve been counting trail markers to pass the time. I had hoped that there was a quantified distance between trail markers so I could figure out exactly how much farther I had to go. I had been dragging my feet for the last few hours, barely feeling like I could walk. I knew I would make it to the finish but at my current rate, I knew I wouldn’t finish in time for the final cutoff. “Running 100 miles is impossible. It’s too long,” I concluded. This was the first race I ever trained for, the first race I followed a  training plan for. It still wasn’t enough. Runners who I had passed in the first quarter of the race were now passing me, around 88 miles in. The “good job” type of encouragements, commonly said when runners meet each other in ultras, turned into “hang on”. I was mentally defeated, it felt like my body was gone and I had accepted that I couldn’t make the final cutoff–that this would count as a Did Not Finish (DNF) at the Mountain Lakes 100.

I had used all the mental tricks, warm thoughts, and mantras I had prepared as pickups in tough times. Now, I was in survival mode. I knew that if I quit at an aid station, in the middle of a forest in central Oregon at the Mountain Lakes 100 race, I could get hypothermia. I had been in such a situation the year before in 2016 when I quit at mile 55 in the same race. I ended up spending time shivering in front of a heater, covered with a blanket for two hours after I stopped running trying to get warm. If I wanted to stop, I had to wait with volunteers for their shift to end, hike to a bail out point and then have a volunteer drive me to the start. The easiest way to get through this ordeal was to finish. 

In the nick of time, as I was leaving the final aid station before the finish at mile 97, a man told me that Martha wanted me to finish. Martha was one of the top female finishers of the Volcanic 50k, a race I did two months earlier and whom I got a chance to talk to after that race. She was volunteering at this race and she made sure to cheer for me whenever I saw her early in the race. From that small connection, I now had a reason to forget about DNFing and start trying again. After hours of feeling like I could barely walk, I started running.

On September 24th, 2017, after 29 hours, 47 minutes, I crossed the finish line of my first 100 miler, with just 13 minutes before the final cutoff.  I went through hours of gastrointestinal (GI) issues, running alone through the night, quads blowing out, and then shin splints to finish the race at last place. I didn’t realize at that point but the race also gave me a valuable 6 points towards a race called Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). 

Qualifying races

In early November 2017, I decided to look up if I qualified for this European race called UTMB. The race follows the Tour du Mont Blanc trail around the Alps of France, Italy, and Switzerland. I’m not sure at what point I became aware of the race but the idea of running through the beautiful Alps had always been appealing. To my surprise, I found out that I was one point off qualifying for the lottery taking place in January of 2018! I earned 14/15 points in three trail races. I needed a race with 4 points to replace one of my 3 point races to get to 15. I basically needed to finish a 50 miler with some significant elevation gain. I immediately decided to see if I could find a race to make up the difference.

Ultra-running, simply defined as running longer than 26.2 miles, covers many branches and races that are drastically different from each other. From multi-day stage races in some of the harshest environments of the world, to looped timed courses (6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour), to autonomous mountain crossing with no trail markers or aid stations, to last “man” standing types of events where competitors keep repeating a loop every hour till there is one person left (the only finisher). Of the many branches, the most popular and growing branch is mountain running. While Western States 100 could be considered the equivalent of the Super Bowl of ultra marathons in the United States, UTMB is considered the Olympics of ultra marathons. The race attracts some of the world’s best runners and the number of participants, crowds, media, and sponsors is unrivaled compared to any other ultra in the world.

I ended up signing up for McDowell Mountain Frenzy, a 50 miler outside of Phoenix, Arizona in early December to earn my spot in the lottery. To earn a spot in the lottery, you had to earn a total of 15 points within 3 races in the past two years. Races have to pay a fee to be considered for UTMB points so not all races give points. The points system applies to all runners, even professional and sponsored athletes need to get the necessary points. Gorges Waterfall 100K (which I did in the Spring of 2017 to help prepare for Mountain Lakes 100) gave me 5 points; Mountain Lakes 100 gave me 6 points, and McDowell Mountain Frenzy gave me the last 4 points. (Note that for 2020, the requirements to get in the UTMB lottery have been reduced to 10 points within 2 races).

I entered the lottery for the 2018 race but didn’t get in. Lucky, race results and points are good for two years and I qualified for the 2019 lottery without having to seek additional UTMB point races. Since I didn’t get in 2018, I also got two entries for 2019 (if you don’t get in the second year you get automatic entry the third year as long as you have the points). I entered the lottery again for 2019 using my 2017 races. On January 10th, 2019, I learned that I won the lottery for the UTMB race!

Descending down during the Escarpment Trail Run in the Catskills.

The race

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is a single-stage, 106-mile race with almost 33,000 feet of elevation gain. The race is the highlight of a weeklong festival at the end of August (26th until September 1st) in Chamonix, France. The festival also includes six other races, ranging from 15 kilometers to an approximately 300 kilometers relay race. UTMB is considered one of the most difficult foot races in the world yet it attracts more than 2,500 participants. While this number doesn’t seem high compared to road races, this is a huge number compared to your average popular trail race where participants may be capped at 400-500 runners.

Training

100 miles is a daunting distance but it’s the massive elevation gain that’s the x-factor for this race. In addition, the remoteness of the race requires racers to have mandatory gear throughout the race. I will be dealing with twice the elevation gain I have ever done in a race (Manitou’s Revenge is 54 miles with 15,000 gain) and will have to do it with a pack, carrying more weight than I am used to. My experience ascending Mount Elbert, with QDR at Colorado earlier this year, taught me the usefulness of trekking poles in ascending mountains. I have long hesitated to use poles in trail races but 95% of the field uses them at UTMB and the advantage of poles increases with more vertical gain, so I’ll be using poles! The poles will help reduce the workload on my legs and help save strength for later in the race. Hill repeats will be a greater focus instead of track workouts for training. While I could do short hill sprints at Cat Hill and Harlem Hill to develop power, 45 minutes of climbing repeats is more difficult to get in NYC. I will be using some weekend days to get away to the Hudson highlands and Catskills to get vert (vertical gain) more similar to the race.

Speed hiking is another variable to work on. With the elevation gain, it’s not possible to run the entire distance. Hiking muscles are not the same as running or walking muscles. Simply being a good runner would not mean I’m a strong hiker. Practicing speed hiking would allow me to increase my slowest speed which could save large amounts of time towards the later stages of the race. Spending time hiking would also allow me to spend more time on my feet and gain training benefits in a low impact way.

For any 100 mile race, one has to practice running at night. UTMB, itself starts shortly before nightfall so I will be running two nights in the race. Training at night would be even more important this time around. I will be getting up in the dead of night to do a few runs with my headlamp on. NYC is well lit and the headlamp may not help much in illumination but practicing while I’m already tired and getting use to having the lamp on my head will help me be better prepared for the race.

Chamonix, the start and finish of the race, sits just under 4,000 feet and the highest point of the race is 8,323 feet so attitude is not crazy high but might be enough to bother some people. Other than getting there a few days early to allow my body to adjust, I can’t train for this. Items such as altitude tents are limited in their benefits.

I’ll be using a mental strategy similar to what I use during marathons: I will be breaking up the race into smaller, manageable distances, thinking of the race 10k at a time. My focus will be in the present moment. I can’t be questioning if I can make this massive climb or if I can make the next 62 miles. That is destructive thinking (negative thoughts compound over time) and will not help me take care of myself to the best of my abilities. I have to learn to focus on things under my control, not simply the outcome. This requires a consistent and deliberate practice of mindfulness, which I’ll be practicing 10 minutes daily.  

Complicating my training a bit is the Lake Placid Ironman the month before UTMB which forces me to spend half my available time on cycling and swimming. Cycling in particular may be useful as it would help develop the quads–the muscles that get the most impact on running downhill. Another important training tool, a staple of ultra-running, is the back-to-back days with long runs. The run on the second day will help mimic the feeling of running on tired legs.

The aid stations at UTMB are a step above the U.S. counterparts. Most have sport drinks, water, tea, fruit, chocolate, biscuits, soup, other standard race snacks, and lots of dried meat and cheese. Larger aid stations also have pasta and beer! On the other hand, there won’t be gels or salt tablets that U.S. ultras normally have. I might do a few runs after eating French bread dipped into soup to test what works with my stomach.

Looking Forward

This race will be quite different than anything I have ever experienced before.  The communities around the race come out to support the runners which itself will be quite the unique ultra-running experience. Unlike road marathons, ultras usually only attract some volunteers and a runner’s support crew as speculators. People have remarked that the finish line crowd experience is like if you are winning the race. I’m also looking forward to passing by the mountain towns and villages of Les Houches, Les Contamines, Courmayeur, and Champex, getting cheered by people speaking various languages, seeing the beautiful views of from highest point Col des Fours and the cool views of Mount Blanc, and watching the first sunrise during the race.

For those interested in ultras but not sure if they should take the leap of faith into it, I would start with the “why”. Even with perfect pacing, nutrition, and hydration, the body’s energy levels are unpredictable and hard to explain. You will feel downright awful at some point in an ultra. The longer the distance, the more variables and the higher chances of something going wrong. Expect to reach points where going forward feels impossible but remember your “why” and keep the faith: “it doesn’t always get worse.”  You may be surprised at how your body rebounds in a few miles.

See you out on the trails!

Vikram Singh


Follow Vikram on Instagram and read his other blog posts.

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June 2019 Recap

June, when you start to get excited about marathon training but then remember how hot it is!

June is all about looking forward to Fall marathons, checking back on previous cycles, thinking about a training plan, and deciding that it may be a good idea to wake up very early in order to get a run in. It is also the month where we have the Queens 10K in our own backyard in Flushing Meadow Park!

We covered many track workouts and track races, a few more marathons, and the beginning to the QDR Destination Runs! Did you see the special guest in the banner image for this blog post? Michael Capiraso joined us on our QDR post-Queens 10K picnic and we’ll have a separate post on just the Queens 10K soon!

Lastly, we’d like to congratulate our teammates who got engaged this past month like Chelsea Mailler and Elaina Nellis, and those who got married like Margaret Conlon!

Races

There were plenty of races this past June, many in the rising humidity and temperature that comes with Summer. Still, we went out and followed through.

From short distances like the 5K all the way to the marathon, June had many races that most of us are using for training for other races in the Fall. Just one example is the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman where Cathy, Jessica, Vikram, and David all raced in Maryland. Whether it was their first half Ironman or a race for a later full Ironman, it was exciting to track these athletes cycling and running in Maryland (the swim was canceled).

June was also the start of the NYRR Tuesday Night Speed Series at Icahn Stadium. The first two in June were good gauges of fitness to see where we are, but many of us had PRs on the track!

Alison, Erin, and Meagan at Icahn Stadium

Other big races we all came out for were the Italy Run, NYRR New York Mini 10K, the Achilles Hope & Possibility 4M, the NYRR Queens 10K (of course!), and the Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run 5M! Even though we had the biggest scream station at the Queens 10K, we came out as a team to cheer on all the runners.

At the Achilles Hope & Possibility 4M

Destination Runs

“When is the next Destination Run?!” That’s what we hear all year round. We are happy to have hosted two runs this past June and excited about the next two we have this month of July.

Destination Run #1 – The Rockaways

Our first Destination Run started at the Queens Center Mall and went all the way to the Rockaways. This is always our first run to kick off the Summer Destination Runs and we enjoy meeting up at the beach for post-run fun. This year, we were fortunate to have Tony and Mario who set up a water station and drove our bags to the finish line. We really appreciate all that we offer one another for our training and many go above and beyond!

Post-run at the Rockaways

The second Destination Run is a runner’s favorite: the NYC bridge run. This year we cut out the last two bridges in the Bronx to favor a slightly short run given that we are still early in the marathon training cycle.

Destination Run #2 – Five Brides + Bridle Tempo

Once again, Mario proved to be the real MVP as he, Kevin, and Maria, drove with our bags and set up two water stations: one was midway on Kent Ave. in Brooklyn and the second at Engineer’s Gate in Central Park. This allowed runners, if they wanted to, to run more miles on the bridle as we wait for everyone to arrive.

Following the run we then went to Urban Athletics who warmly welcomed us with bagels, coffee, a nice discount on their products, and many prizes on raffles! Thanks a lot Urban Athletics and make sure to go to their store on 1291 Madison Ave!

Post- Destination Run #2

Keep an eye out on our site’s calendar as well as on Strava for more group runs and training sessions. Make sure to also follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates and news!

Queens Distance


Here’s a list of events this past June, 2019 (pictures courtesy of various team members):
1 – LIC Waterfront 5K
B.U.S “Sorry ass trail mix up” 30k

2 – Italy Run (5M)

Destination Run #1 – The Rockaways
3 – Monday Morning Miles: FMP
QDR Monday Evening Group Run: Central Park

5 – NYRR 1 for You 1 for Youth 5K
7 – Friday Morning Miles Group Run: FMP
QDR Friday Morning Group Run: FunFridayRun Astoria
QDR Friday Evening Forest Hills: The Kessel Run
8 – NYRR New York Mini 10K

Jogging for Joe 5K Fun Run
9 – Ironman 70.3 Eagleman

Kids of Queens

10 – QDR Monday Evening Group Run: Central Park
Monday Morning Miles: FMP
11 – NYRR Tuesday Night Speed Series #1

12 – QDR Wednesday PM Track Session: Queensborough Community College

14 – Friday Morning Miles Group Run: FMP
QDR Friday Morning Group Run: FunFridayRun Astoria
QDR Friday Evening Forest Hills: The Kessel Run
15 – NYRR Queens 10K
17 – QDR Monday Evening Group Run: Central Park
19 – QDR Wednesday PM Track Session: Queensborough Community College

20 – Friday Morning Miles Group Run: FMP
QDR Friday Morning Group Run: FunFridayRun Astoria
QDR Friday Evening Forest Hills: The Kessel Run
21 – Grandma’s Marathon

22 – Vegan Power 50k
QDR Destination Run #2- Five Bridges+Bridle Tempo 
23- Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon

NYRR Achilles Hope and Possibility (4M/1M)

B.A.A. 10K
Katie’s Run 5k

24- Monday Morning Miles
QDR Monday Evening Group Run: Central Park
25 – NYRR Tuesday Night Speed Series #2
26 – QDR Wednesday PM Track Session: Queensborough Community College
27 – Police Chase 5k

28 – Friday Morning Miles Group Run: FMP

QDR Friday Morning Group Run: FunFridayRun Astoria
QDR Friday Evening Forest Hills: The Kessel Run
29 – Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run (5M)

Front Runners Chicago Proud to Run 5K/10K
Chicago 10K

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2019 Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run & 5K Run-Walk

Welcome to another edition of Ed’s Calm Corner! This post will be a post-race edition instead of the usual pre-race posts.


Queens Distance just had another amazing weekend with teammates participating in many races in and outside of NYC. Races included the St. Louis Marathon, the President Lincoln’s Half, Rockaway Spring Half, the Boomer’s Cystic Fibrosis Run to Breathe 4 Miler, and others. I, for one, participated in the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race in Washington D.C. along with Vikram Singh, Cathy Huang, Valerie Lores, Abilene De Jesus, Cannigia Laluw, Jessica Peralta, and Diana Wong. Jose Donado, who is coming back from injury, raced and WON the 5K event in D.C.!

At the expo the day before the race, we met with Deena Kastor, American record holder in the marathon, who signed my bib and Diana’s copy of her book, Let Your Mind Run. It’s a personal favorite running book and one that helped me realize that everyone has untapped potential to achieve more than they think is possible. We’ve seen this recently. Many teammates are about to run a marathon very soon (Boston, New Jersey, Queens!) and their training has been excellent. Kevin and I keep an eye out on everyone and it’s exciting to see all the progress and achievements being accomplished.

At the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race, I was not the fastest runner on the field but I succeeded in overcoming self-doubt, earned a personal best, and gained so much from the experience. The training cycle leading up to the sub-58 minute race was tough, but it contained many miles filled with happiness. The following few tips are not for the physical part of training, but more the mental aspect of training which I hope can be useful for experienced runners and new runners attempting longer distances.


Queens Distance right before the start of the race!

Enjoy the training cycle

Many runners run for fun but many run with big goals in mind. These are goals that get us up early in the morning to run and make us plan our yearly calendar in 18-, 16-, or 12-week cycles. Many of these goals won’t be achieved for years, and that’s okaybig goals are meant to be broken down into smaller goals that we can reach one at a time.

With a goal comes the commitment to train and have a schedule, one that may not always seem flexible for anything life throws in your direction. One of the most important things I learned this past cycle was to enjoy all aspects of training and not be so strict about it. For me, this meant that taking a trip to Zion, Utah for a half marathon and not running for a week (but hiking instead) before another race was acceptable.

I was worried about losing fitness that week leading up to the Washington Heights 5K but it turned out well in the end. The hiking made up for the lack of mileage as cross-training. You don’t always need to run many miles; you can enjoy a trip and still make gains. Reflecting back, the Washington Heights 5K was a club points race and that added unneeded pressure.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

There were plenty of times in the past when I was hard on myself leading up to training sessions or long runs, meticulously planning what I wanted to do. This time, I was more relaxed and often decided on a workout right before it was executed. It’s not that I wasn’t serious about training, it’s just a more relaxed mentality.

Each training cycle is different and sometimes you can’t hit a pace in a workout that you were able to execute weeks or months before. Fitness is different each cycle and knowing you are feeling well can be better than hitting a pace in a workout. So when sessions don’t go well, let it go, the road will always be there.

Acknowledge that training runs won’t always go as expected

There was one key long run workout I did to prepare for the ten mile race (2x3k, 3x2k, 5x1k) which I did not complete. The first part of the workout went much better than I expected it to go. When starting the last part, unfortunately, I could not move my legs to the pace I wanted to hit. I called it a day but did not consider it a failure. I reminded myself how well the first part went and that was more than enough to cheer me up.

Completed workouts that go well feel great, but they are not always the key. One workout won’t define your training. Whether it’s a great workout or a bad one, when you toe the line to your race you are showing who you are based on multiple weeks of training. So, when you miss a workout or it doesn’t go well, that’s just another reason to make the next one better. I would not recommend trying to “make up for it” and doing it the next day but instead letting it go and keep with the training schedule.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Young

Keep to your race plan

For the past two races I had trouble making up race plans. Should I be conservative or more aggressive? Whether you make up a training plan for yourself or your coach gives you one, stick with it. The coach knows you well enough to know you can execute the plan. They believe in you, now it’s your turn to believe and achieve.

Signed copy of Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor

The later miles in a race will always be difficult. For a marathon it can be the last six miles, for a half the last three, for this ten miler it was the last two miles. Whether it was a good day or a bad day, my plan was to give everything I had for those last two miles and I stuck with it.

Don’t rely on the watch too much

Sticking with a plan means having a pace you want to hit. The best way to keep track of it is with a watch but sometimes it can backfire. I’ve had races where I wasn’t hitting the pace and I panicked. Any small amount of panic can cause bad results.

Sometimes, like at the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race, the watch will read faster splits. Perhaps you need to slow down to a pace you know you can more comfortably hit. But, if you are having a great day and the faster-than-expected splits are feeling good, then why not keep going? The watch can unconsciously set a limit on what you think you should run and not what you are capable of.

Remember why you run

The Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race was gorgeous. As you made turns you could see monuments in the distance and as you went on the straightaways there were cherry blossoms on each side of the road. During mile three or four of the race I reminded myself why I was running the race, who I was running for, and what I wanted to get out of it. You can be fueled with thoughts of “I need to get this time” or “I need to beat this person” but I don’t believe that will get you far. Whatever or whoever you think of, make sure it makes you smile. Just ask Eliud Kipchoge how much smiling helps him in a race.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Peralta


Failure happens to all of us. Bad failure is hard to deal with. Good failure motivates us to be better. Set the bad thoughts aside and put your heart out there. And remember, you have a whole team behind you!

Edwin

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You Never Know Until You Tri

Like Lori in the previous blog post, Elsie Alonso also completed her first triathlon this past summer. What started as wanting to learn how to swim for fun turned into signing up for a triathlon after a year of swimming. Even after multiple obstacles along the way, like taking a bad fall during the bike leg of the triathlon, Elsie was determined to finish and earned the right to be called a triathlete.


It was January 2017 when I signed up to run the Honolulu Marathon in December of the same year. I had promised my friend Meredith who lived in Honolulu that I would pace her for her first marathon and I thought of no better time to do so than right after the New York City Marathon while my legs were still used to the mileage. At the time I signed up, I had already been to Hawaii a few times and the one restriction that kept me from enjoying the islands as much as I could was my inability to swim. I lived in Honolulu for 3 months in 2016 and while I watched Meredith swim, snorkel, and dive into water, I wished I could do the same. I promised myself that I would learn how to swim before the Honolulu Marathon.

That summer in 2017 I took a swimming class for adult beginners at the YMCA in Long Island City, Queens. On my first day I was surprised to learn I was the youngest of the groupnot including the high school senior that was teaching the class. One man was in his 70s which, like running and any other sport, reminded me that it’s never too late to be involved, to challenge yourself, and to achieve a goal. At the beginning of June I was “swimming” with a kickboard and by August I was backstroking, freestyling, and moving around the pool comfortably even if that meant doggy paddling. I was so happy I went from being someone who was terrified of not being able to touch the sandy underwater floor at the beach, to being someone who could jump into a pool and not sink. I didn’t want to lose this momentum so I became a member of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Aquatic Center, where I still continue to regularly go.

Elsie (right) and her friend Emily.

While in Hawaii to run the Honolulu Marathon, I was definitely more comfortable in the water, but unfortunately was unable to do the ocean activities I wanted because of the rough waves during that time of the year. Bummed from those missed opportunities, I wanted to find something else to look forward to in swimming. My triathlete co-worker Emily mentioned a “sprint” triathlon to me that would be in June and I had no reason not to do it now that I knew how to swim. She talked me through everything I needed to know: the order of the triathlon (swimming, cycling, and running), what I should do during the transitions in between each sport, and she even trained with me on a few runs and a swim. 

The Hempstead Harbor Tri was in the middle of June 2018. I was nervous as the days approached because I wasn’t the strongest swimmer and I was new to swimming in open water. Despite knowing how to stay afloat and swim, I didn’t feel as confident in the ocean as I did when I was in a pool. In a pool, I knew the depth, had the floor lines guide me, and had an entire lane to myself. At the triathlon, it was a different story. But, as I waited to lunge into the ocean I felt oddly calmI wasn’t sure if it was because of Emily’s last pep talk on the beach, the fact that the way we were lined up reminded me of any NYRR race, or the fact that because I was going into unknown territory I didn’t know what to expect, thus I had nothing to fear.

This all changed once I was about 50 meters into the 500 meter swim. Like the start of any running race, people crowd at the start and the attempt to make it through becomes a challenge itself. It’s completely different doing the same in open water. I was in the middle of the pod when another swimmer pushed my head underwater as I was taking a breath and I took a huge gulp of water instead. I treaded water for a few seconds and was quickly aware of how far away I was from the beach and that I couldn’t touch or see the bottom of the bay. To stay calm I floated on my back and let everyone pass me before the next wave of swimmers started. I saw how far I was from the shore and instead of freaking out, I decided to float on my back and backstroke the rest of the way. This way, my head was above water at all times, but unfortunately had less of a sense of my direction.

I had to take a few breaks on the paddleboards of lifeguards to wipe my fogged-up goggles and check how far I had left to go. One of the lifeguards I latched onto saw how scared and upset I was and told me to take as much time as I needed. In a daze, I found myself telling her what led me to that pointhow I just began swimming, that it was my first triathlon, and how I wanted to be done already. In the middle of my rant she interrupted me and said, “Girl, you got this.” With that, I thanked her, left her, and kept backstroking. With about 100 meters to go I latched onto another paddleboard and the lifeguard told me he would take me to shore if I was struggling. Tired, I agreed. Before he began paddling I asked, “Will I be disqualified if you take me in?” He answered, “Yes, your race won’t count.” That said, I instantly let go of the board and kept backstroking all the way to the shore. The toughest part was over and I was glad to finally be on land and finish. Little did I know that the swim portion wasn’t the only challenge. 

Elsie finishing the run section of the triathlon.

In the transition area I grabbed my bike and peddled off. This portion of the tri was composed of two five-mile loops. I felt great, my legs were moving fine and I was conserving my energy for the run. I was following another cyclist for the final mile and during a turn in the last few meters she slipped and I followed her fall with my left side hitting the floor. My next memory was me sitting in an ambulance with an EMT flashing a light in my eye and noting down the identification number on my arm tattooed in Sharpie ink. He asked me my name, where I was, and my birthday. I answered his questions, but at that moment I had no idea why I was in the back of the ambulance. I used context clues (my triathlon suit, sneakers, and helmet) to realize I was in the middle of the triathlon. It was only after he began to bandage up my arm because of my bleeding elbow that I knew I fell. I looked at my Garmin to check my time and the screen was cracked. I refused to quit on land instead of in the water, which was where the real struggle should have been. I asked if I could continue and the EMT told me it wasn’t the best idea. I told him I was a marathoner and he finally obliged.

The next thing I knew, I was on the bike with tears in my eyes because my entire left side was throbbing, I didn’t know how much time I lost, and because at that point my last memory was driving to Emily’s house that morning to pick her up. After I parked my bike in my transition area, I ran to the start of the 5K course. In the middle of the run I caught up to the girl who fell in front of me. Her face triggered my memory and I started to piece events together. I saw she also had a bandage on her elbow and I asked her if she was alright. She said, “I just want this to be over.” I responded, “Same.”

I was beyond thrilled when I saw Emily, her boyfriend Ben, and Danny cheering for me on the two-loop course. I hugged Emily as soon as I crossed the finish line and we walked to the awards section. I was one of the last participants and by that time, the limited amount of medals were already distributed, but I walked away with a pint glass instead and was assured I would receive a medal in the mail, which I eventually did. Emily, who worked her butt off all year, won first place in her age group. It was a day of victories: hers, mine, and everyone who put in work that day. 

It was after the race that I realized I cracked my helmet when I fell and saw my bruised thigh and hip hidden under my triathlon suit. I took an MRI exam the following day as a precaution and was glad all was fine. 

Hempstead Harbor Tri finish photo!

Reflecting back on that race, as tough as it was for me, I consider it my greatest physical accomplishment and one of my proudest moments. What was initially a goal for me to learn how to swim turned me into a triathlete. Am I the strongest swimmer? Absolutely not, I just learned how to swim last year. Am I a strong cyclist? Absolutely not, I don’t own a road bike and had to borrow one for the race. Am I the fastest runner? Absolutely not, but I get the job done.

My determination to complete this triathlon was mostly an emotional effort and I would not have overcome my doubts if it wasn’t for my support system: Emily for putting my irrational fears in perspective (there are no sharks in Hempstead and there would be an abundance of lifeguards along the swim); Ben for waking up at the crack of dawn to lather himself in sunscreen and cheer us on as a bike course marshall; and Danny for volunteering so I can participate, driving my car afterwards because I couldn’t, and signing me up for previous races that were near-death experiences and prepared me for that day.

I don’t know how I want to surprise myself next, but I do know I want to complete another triathlon without any falls and especially as a stronger swimmer. I hope my experience inspires others to challenge themselves in ways they never imagined.

Elsie Alonso