What it feels like to run 13 miles

Last weekend, I ran a half marathon (13.1 miles) in Central Park. Here’s what it feels like to run 13 miles:

Mile 1: Let’s take it nice and slow. Ah, this feels good. What a lovely morning.

Mile 2: Almost 10% done. Deep breaths. This is good. This is fine.

Mile 3: OK, we are at the top of Central Park. Oh, a water stop! *glug glug glug*

Miles 4-13:

Ahhh here come the endorphins. Sweet, sweet endorphins.

You know, I was never good at running. I’m still not. I don’t know why I do this. Running makes me hurt all over, it’s made me dry heave, it’s given me severe dehydration, it’s provided too many blisters and shin splints and cramps and nipple bleeds and random, unexplainable owwwwies.

There are times when I think about quitting. Not this race, no, I’ll finish this race, even if it kills me. Otherwise, I won’t get the big, shiny medal. And I love big, shiny medals! 

But I’ve thought about quitting running altogether. Sometimes I hate running, especially when it’s cold out and my fingers start to numb and my knees start to scream. There are easier ways to stay in shape. Running is INCREDIBLY HARD and A VERY LONG PROCESS and SOMETIMES VERY PAINFUL. But, shoot, that’s part of the fun. You should do things that aren’t easy. That’s where the good stuff is. It’s incredibly rewarding. The soreness is a reminder that I’m doing something with my life. Even if it hurts. Even if no one notices.

And I guess that’s what keeps me from quitting. Why would you quit something you love?

So I run. I’m not trying to beat anyone. I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other, challenge myself, and do my best to remain present. Through the pain, I find serenity.

 I’ve never meditated, but when you’ve run for an hour, you start to meditate. By this point your body has sufficiently drugged itself with natural opiates, and things start to feel pretty good. You sort of forget about the world and turn inward. You go on autopilot. Sometimes you pee yourself a little. I don’t know, some weird stuff happens. 

It is 2016, and we are constantly tethered to the world. Our phones are always on us, we can be reached at any time, and we all just sort of accept that now. But when I run, I block out everything. I tie my shoes, leave my worries behind, turn on some music, and … just … go.

OH THANK THE LORD, THERE’S A WATER STOP.

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

I wonder if I could reach that mile marker before the song ends.

I remember when I finished my first race in high school. It was only three miles, but up to that point I had never run more than a mile or two. It was a cold, rainy day, and I ran through puddles and slush and mud that went over my ankles. I remember seeing the finish line and getting a burst of energy. I put my hands up, crossed the finish line, and high-fived my teammates. It was euphoric.

And that’s what running can do. It can make you feel like you’re on top of the world. All these years later, I still feel the same way when I see the finish line. It’s the great northern light, beckoning me home.

Sometimes I don’t finish. Well, one time. I ran the 2013 Boston Marathon and for four hours I felt like anything was possible. And then I was a half mile away from the finish line when bombs went off. Three people died and dozens were wounded. The race ended with me frantically texting my parents, finding my friends, and walking to safety. I’ve written before that it was the best and worst day of my life.

Every time I run, I think about that day.

Matthew Inman wrote the greatest thing on running that I’ve ever read. He came to this conclusion: running is not about vanity. If I wanted to look good I’d get a gym membership and stand in front of a mirror doing bicep curls. I’d go tanning and drink protein shakes and participate in all the other synchronized stupidity that has come to embody bad gym culture.

Running is not about building strength. It’s about finding strength.

It’s a process. Sometimes my thoughts turn negative when I run. My subconscious wakes up and starts asking questions. HEY REMEMBER THAT AWKWARD THING YOU DID ONCE? HEY LET’S THINK ABOUT ALL OF OUR LIFE’S REGRETS. HEY, WHY AREN’T YOU RUNNING AS FAST AS THAT OTHER GUY? OR THAT GUY? OR THAT GUY??

But then I run a bit longer, and those thoughts fade away, and the music gets louder, and I start to feel good. I got this. Life’s just a bit better here, in the calm serenity of a long run. Everything’s gonna be OK.

Mile 13.1: OH MY GOD IT’S THE FINISH LINE, PRAISE JESUS!!!

The Run to Remember

I never planned on being a runner. I joined my high school’s cross country team on a whim. I had to quit my after-school job to do this, but it was worth it. I was looking for something different, a literal change of pace, and running was an outlet to do that.

At the beginning, it was hard. Well, it’s still hard, I guess. Running is never easy. There were days where I dreaded going to practice. My body hurt. My high school coach was great, but she was tough, she pushed us, and it was all a new kind of pain – shin splints and calf strains and terrible cramps. And then I started getting better, getting stronger, and I liked that, I liked seeing a marked improvement. I knew I would never win a race, but I could always get better, I could always beat my own time. Running isn’t about beating an opponent, it’s about beating yourself.

Here we are eight years later. Yesterday, I ran the Run to Remember Half Marathon. It was my first half-marathon. And, like any race of that distance, it wasn’t easy, but then the endorphins kicked in, and the crowd cheered, and I spotted the finish line, and somehow powered through.

And finally, after many years of running, I got a medal.

medal

 

The Harvard Stadium steps

First, you will notice that I changed the look of the blog. After two-and-a-half years, I thought it needed a facelift. I think this is a fresher, more modern look. Hopefully you like it.

Second, I created an archive of all my old posts, which you can search through here.

And third – last night I did something I have always wanted to do, which is run the stairs at Harvard Stadium. All of them. I imagine this isn’t how most people would willingly spend a Tuesday night, but it has always been a goal of mine. I am also gearing up for a half marathon on Memorial Day weekend, so I thought it would be a good way to train for that.

Harvard Stadium is big, old, concrete, and U-shaped. It is like a modern-day Coliseum. Last night it was mostly empty. There was a team practicing ultimate frisbee on the field, and there were a handful of other people working out in the stands, but for the most part the Stadium was quiet. ​

I love being in an empty stadium. You could feel the history in there. You probably know about the great 1968 Harvard-Yale game, which ended in a 29-29 tie. It is one of the all-time classics – Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to tie a highly-touted Yale team that had won 16 straight games. This famously inspired The Harvard Crimson to print the headline: Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.

There are 37 sections, and each section has, oh, thirty steps. The steps are spread out at a wide angle and require long, high strides. It is a tough, demanding workout. There are also smaller steps which are easier to traverse. I alternated between the bigger and smaller steps and by the time I finished my legs felt like spaghetti and I could barely walk. My thigh​s haven’t been this sore since we did, like, an hour of lunges back in 7th grade baseball. Or, even worse, the time we did the inch worm exercise. I’m still sore from that.

​​Well, there is nothing like an endorphin high on a random Tuesday in May. It makes the pain worth it. ​And it makes for a great picture.

Harvard Stadium

One year later

I woke up at 5am on the morning of April 15th, 2013. It was not easy to process those bright, intimidating numbers on my clock. 5 : 0 0. Fueled on adrenaline and fear, I slipped off the covers, washed my face, made some toast, and sat, alone, in the early-morning haze of my apartment. Yeah, I was scared. It’s not easy to run 26.2 miles.

Our bus to Hopkinton was at 6. Right before we left, my friend David and I walked to the top of our parking garage and watched the sunrise. He took this picture.

310853_1846483276977_3608203_n

When I started the marathon, that fear turned to excitement.

It was a wonderful four hours, some of the best of my life. Some of my friends hopped the fence at BC and joined me for the last five miles. I’ll never forget that. And then we were stopped, and over the next few moments we were all trying to unravel what happened. Was this an intentional act? Would we be able to finish?  Where should we go? At the time, we didn’t realize the enormity of the situation.

Here is what I wrote on this blog the day after the marathon. Hard to believe it has been a year.

**

It is hard, impossible really, to make sense of what happened yesterday. I am still in a state of shock, knowing how close I was to it all, and how many friends and family were in the area.

It was such a clash of emotions – from the amazing high of passing the 25-mile mark, less than a mile to go, to the confusion, panic, and terror of hearing the explosions, seeing the police block the course, and trying to contact friends and family. I was thankful to be with five of my friends who were running the last stretch with me – but none of us knew exactly what had happened, the extent of the casualties, or whether there were more bombs in the area.

We were stopped about a half-mile from the finish line. Police barricaded the street while ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars rushed to the scene. We waited around for awhile, trying to get some more information. The scene was hectic to say the least. People were crying and shaking as they were trying to contact loved one’s. Cell service was down, and it took awhile to contact everyone. Soon after, police told us to leave the streets – there were erroneous reports of another bomb in Kenmore Square and even at BC.

I’m obviously disappointed that I was not able to complete the Marathon. But, more importantly, I’m glad that I had slowed up over the last few miles and was safe from harm – if I was five or ten minutes faster, I would have been right at the finish line when the bombs went off.

I will say this – the first 25 miles of the Boston Marathon were amazing. Fans packed the course for the whole run, each town with a different feel – the awesome start in Hopkinton, the screaming girls of Wellesley, the craziness at BC. And then, there were the signs:

You’re almost there! Actually no, you’re not

Today is the only acceptable day to poop your pants

You’ve trained for this longer than the Kardashians were married

My body was hurting, but I was inspired by the kindness of strangers and all the people handing out orange slices and water bottles and candy bars along the course.

In Boston, Patriot’s Day is the best day of the year. It’s a celebration of the city, the history, and the thousands of runners that partake in the Marathon. Classes are cancelled and students line the streets for hours. When I first cheered on the runners at BC during my freshman year, I knew that this was something that I wanted to do – to play a small part in the day’s long history.

After the events unfolded, I was contacted by so many people – college friends, high school friends, family members, people I hadn’t talked to in years. I even got a few messages from phone numbers I didn’t recognize (what do you do in that situation? Do you ask them who they are, or do you just pretend you know who it is?). It means a lot to me that so many people reached out – I am sorry that it took so long to respond to the messages, but cell service was down for obvious reasons. And I’m also thankful that my friends and parents were around as we heard about what happened and left the course. It would have been a difficult situation to deal with alone.

I don’t think I have processed everything quite yet. My emotions are still in a whirlwind. To have been so close to the attacks and to see the panic and tears of the people in the street – it’s just awful. But I am confident that the city will respond with strength and courage – people tend to show their best in the days and weeks following a disaster like this.

In the meantime, I’m going to go take some Advil.

Some thoughts following the Boston Marathon

It is hard, impossible really, to make sense of what happened yesterday. I am still in a state of shock, knowing how close I was to it all, and how many friends and family were in the area.

It was such a clash of emotions – from the amazing high of passing the 25-mile mark, less than a mile to go, to the confusion, panic, and terror of hearing the explosions, seeing the police block the course, and trying to contact friends and family. I was thankful to be with five of my friends who were running the last stretch with me – but none of us knew exactly what had happened, the extent of the casualties, or whether there were more bombs in the area.

We were stopped about a half-mile from the finish line. Police barricaded the street while ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars rushed to the scene. We waited around for awhile, trying to get some more information. The scene was hectic to say the least. People were crying and shaking as they were trying to contact loved one’s. Cell service was down, and it took awhile to contact everyone. Soon after, police told us to leave the streets – there were erroneous reports of another bomb in Kenmore Square and even at BC.

I’m obviously disappointed that I was not able to complete the Marathon. But, more importantly, I’m glad that I had slowed up over the last few miles and was safe from harm – if I was five or ten minutes faster, I would have been right at the finish line when the bombs went off.

I will say this – the first 25 miles of the Boston Marathon were amazing. Fans packed the course for the whole run, each town with a different feel – the awesome start in Hopkinton, the screaming girls of Wellesley, the craziness at BC. And then, there were the signs:

You’re almost there! Actually no, you’re not

Today is the only acceptable day to poop your pants

You’ve trained for this longer than the Kardashians were married

My body was hurting, but I was inspired by the kindness of strangers and all the people handing out orange slices and water bottles and candy bars along the course.

In Boston, Patriot’s Day is the best day of the year. It’s a celebration of the city, the history, and the thousands of runners that partake in the Marathon. Classes are cancelled and students line the streets for hours. When I first cheered on the runners at BC during my freshman year, I knew that this was something that I wanted to do – to play a small part in the day’s long history.

After the events unfolded, I was contacted by so many people – college friends, high school friends, family members, people I hadn’t talked to in years. I even got a few messages from phone numbers I didn’t recognize (what do you do in that situation? Do you ask them who they are, or do you just pretend you know who it is?). It means a lot to me that so many people reached out – I am sorry that it took so long to respond to the messages, but cell service was down for obvious reasons. And I’m also thankful that my friends and parents were around as we heard about what happened and left the course. It would have been a difficult situation to deal with alone.

I don’t think I have processed everything quite yet. My emotions are still in a whirlwind. To have been so close to the attacks and to see the panic and tears of the people in the street – it’s just awful. But I am confident that the city will respond with strength and courage – people tend to show their best in the days and weeks following a disaster like this.

In the meantime, I’m going to go take some Advil.

My marathon playlist

It’s hard to believe that the Boston Marathon is one week away. I have trained hard over the last few months, and I think I’m ready for it.

Of course, for a run of this magnitude, I had to create an epic playlist. Here it is:

All Star, Smash Mouth
Fly Away, Lenny Kravitz
Helter Skelter, The Beatles
Hummingbird, Wilco
On’n’On, Justice
Gap, The Kooks
Good Times, Bad Times, Led Zeppelin
Ready to Start, Arcade Fire
Homecoming, Kanye West
Here It Goes Again, Ok Go
Under Cover of Darkness, The Strokes
My Body, Young the Giant
Month of May, Arcade Fire
Kick Drum Heart, The Avett Brothers
Who Are You, The Who
Walcott, Vampire Weekend
Houdini, Foster the People
Chelsea Dagger, The Fratellis
Times Like These, Foo Fighters
Hurricane Drunk, Florence and the Machine
Lose Yourself, Eminem
Carolina Blues, Blues Traveler
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Fortunate Son, Creedence Clearwater Revival
The Sound of Settling, Death Cab for Cutie
House of 1982 Built Like a Ship, Driftless Pony Club
Heartbreaker, Led Zeppelin
Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman), Led Zeppelin
Let Love Rule, Lenny Kravitz
Dream On, Aerosmith
If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel is Dead), Counting Crows
Are You Gonna Be My Girl, JET
All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix
Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey
Otis, Kanye West
Knockout, Lil Wayne
Till I Get There, Lupe Fiasco
Everything is Alright, Motion City Soundtrack
Do What You Want, Ok Go
Take a Walk, Passion Pit
Lonely Boy, The Black Keys
Joker and the Thief, Wolfmother
Bell Boy, The Who
We Are All On Drugs, Weezer
City of Blinding Lights, U2
Apocalypse Dreams, Tame Impala
In Too Deep, Sum 41
Run Like Hell, Pink Floyd
Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones
What is and What Should Never Be, Led Zeppelin
Dialogue, Chicago
All Right Now, Free
We’re an American Band, Grand Funk Railroad
Feelin’ Stronger Everyday, Chicago
Carry on Wayward Son, Kansas
Takin’ Care of Business, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Many Shades of Black, The Raconteurs
It’s My Life, Bon Jovi
All the Above, Maino
I Gotta Feeling, Black Eyed Peas
Army, Ben Folds Five
Beer, Reel Big Fish
Little Black Submarines, The Black Keys
I’m Shipping Up to Boston, Dropkick Murphys

Running in the frozen tundra

So my marathon training is in full swing, and this morning I did my longest run yet – 12 miles. The route brought me through Cleveland Circle, down to Coolidge Corner, past Fenway Park, past Kenmore, past the Common, and all the way to the State House. And then back.

I knew the run would be cold. The average temperature in Boston has been about 10 degrees over the last week. When I woke up, it was 11 out, with a negative wind chill.

And yeah, it was cold – by far the coldest weather I have ever run in. At first it was uncomfortable. But after the half-way point, my entire body numbed up and I felt great. I couldn’t feel the pain in my legs anymore, my knees felt good, and I coasted back. Breathing was never a problem.

But now I know how a chicken, or bread, feels when it gets de-frosted. When I returned to my room, it was like I was removed from a freezer to be prepared for cooking. Well, I guess I was, literally. The weather outside was much colder than a freezer.  It was painful for a few minutes. And then it was good.

And then I ate a lot.

(Click here to see the full route)

The Red Bandanna Race – and why I run

Yesterday was the 8th annual Red Bandanna 5k Run – I have run the race all four years at BC. No one knew much about the race my freshman year. No one knew the story either. There were 261 runners. Then, last year, ESPN published a 13-minute Outside the Lines piece that garnered national attention. This year, there were over 1,000 runners.

*If you haven’t seen the documentary, it’s worth your time. You can watch it here.

I finished the race in 22 minutes, which is exactly what I expected. It was my second-fastest time in this race. But the time isn’t that important to me. The feel of the race, as it has always been, is about coming together as a community, enjoying a brisk fall morning (it was really cold – barely above freezing), and honoring the memory of a fallen BC alum.

I love this stuff. The running part was difficult, as it always is, especially since the last mile is all uphill. My sides cramped up half-way through the race. My throat dried up, which will happen when you’re breathing heavily in 30 degree weather. But I’ve run in enough races to know exactly what I need to do to combat these challenges and power through to the finish.* And, when it’s all done, there’s nothing like sharing the experience over some food and a hot drink.

*Running, as you can see, is a metaphor for life.

I actually wrote an article about running for my high school’s newspaper – which, as it turns out, was never published. At the time I wrote that:

The sport in itself raises the most admirable attributes of athletes, that of competition, sportsmanship, and passion. Few know the effort it takes to run three and one-tenth miles at the fastest speed possible. As the track star Steve Prefontaine once noted, “The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.” Ultimately, in order to be successful in the sport, you have to give yourself up to the race and let yourself go.

A few things I’d like to add to this – running is an incredibly mental sport. All sports are, really. Something that I’ve learned is that it usually hurts to think about what you’re doing. If I thought about how much I was breathing or how much my shins hurt while running, I don’t think I would run as well. The same goes for baseball or basketball or tennis. Over-thinking is real, and it’s crippling, and the most important part of competing is to rely on muscle memory.

I look back on my decision to start running as one of the best decisions I have ever made. And this is just the beginning, since the behemoth called the Boston Marathon awaits in April. But, as Ted would say in How I Met Your Mother, more on that later.