The Dublin Marathon

imagesCA32IXH9Ireland conjures up images of green rolling hills, Irish pubs and beer–I can attest all of those are true. Two weeks ago, I participated in the Dublin Marathon hoping for a little bit of the luck of the Irish to pull me through the 26.2 miles. My luck paid off that day and I crossed the finish line–with a very slow time due to injury. However, I recommend this race for a number of reasons, all of which relate to the Irish spirit.

The crowds–Chanting “Well done” and “Good on you” constantly throughout the race, the Irish spirit came alive in support of all the thousands of runners. They lined the streets singing, cheering and playing Irish music to pep up the step of the marathoners. In fact, of all the places I’ve traveled to in the world,  Ireland tops the list of friendliest people. Plus, if you want a country loved ones will enjoy while you attend the expo and spend a half a day running, the Irish citizens’ smiles are ready and waiting.

The post-race parties–While I didn’t find any official “post-race party,” no worries. Any street in the City Centre (where all the Dublin action happens), will supply a choice of Irish pubs and pints of Guinness Beer. The Irish call it “strong tea,” as evidenced by their ability to out drink any tourist. You’ll resupply your energy with plenty of liquid calories.

Pre-race food–I was hard pressed to find spaghetti–typically the runners’ pre-race food of choice, although the marathon itself did offer an extra-cost carbo-loading dinner. But the pubs offered hearty Irish stews with flavorful potatoes and your standard Irish soda bread. Carbs aren’t hard to find!

The course–Taking you down O’Connell Street, the widest street in Dublin, the course traverses throughout the city, through a quiet park, next to the Dublin Zoo, and up the hills of the city. The only bad news: headwinds and rain. I didn’t face too much rain, but 40 mph headwinds greeted me for a few miles. 

The 2014 Dublin Marathon awaits! Happy training!

Marathons and Your Heart

No one ever said that marathons were easy. That’s just not part of the equation and you likely approach your races expecting a significant challenge,  even if you’re a more experienced runner. Many have concerns, though, that marathons may be more than just difficult; Research has brought put that it might even be dangerous. What are the potential concerns associated with marathons and how can you protect yourself?

 

A Look at the Science

A brief review of the research may paint a pretty grim picture of your post-race cardiovascular health, especially if you peruse the headlines that feature variations on the phrase “Marathons Could Kill You!” The happy truth, however, is that this doesn’t represent the whole picture.

While it is true that marathons,  obviously,  put an immense amount of stress on your heart, it is also true that only about one runner in every 184,000 suffers cardiac arrest during or after the race. And most of these runners have had a preexisting heart condition that was either undiagnosed or ignored.

So, then, it seems plain that the average person,  with a clean cardiac bill of health,  has nothing to worry about when tackling 26.2 miles. The reality, though,  is slightly more complicated.

A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology discovered that several negative changes take place in a runner’s heart immediately following a marathon. Specifically,  there was an observable decrease in ventricular function on both sides of the subjets’ hearts. Significant damage was also seen in the cardiac tissue.

This might all sound scary at first, but the stuy also contained one key point: These negative outcomes were only noticed in runners with less training and preparation. Basically,  the stuy supported the very logical conclusion that the lower your fitness level, the higher your risk of heart damage.

It’s also important to note that this damage was only temporary. Again, though,  fitness level played a key role in recovery. The researchers theorized that a better trained heart is more adept at recovery from the damage and does so more quickly.

 

Proceed With Caution

Clearly, then, there’s a need for caution when preparing and training for a marathon. Your first step should be to see a doctor.  Not only will it be important to judge your own risk for heart disease, based on blood pressure,  cholesterol and other factors,  but your doctor will also want to consider your family’s history. If you have family members with heart disease, your risks arw significantly higher.

Then, of course, you’ll want to begin a careful training program. Your workouts should be gradual,  allowing your body ample time to adapt.

 

 

Sources

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131009130117.htm

http://news.discovery.com/adventure/marathon-running-heart-011112.htm

What the Events of the Boston Marathon Mean to Me

Normally I love April. My birthday is in April. I love April flowers blooming in my yard. I love the change in the weather from the listlessness of March rain. I love Earth Day (today!) and running in an Earth Day race each year. I love Arbor Day. Although Tax Day is in April, I do love refunds. April is my favorite month.

Minus this year.

Like all Americans, I felt stunned and bewildered by the horrific events at the Boston Marathon, among the many other tragedies that splashed across the nightly news.

We are all too familiar with violent attacks in this day and age, but I always felt somewhat removed from them. I didn’t have any relatives or friends involved with the Sept. 11th attacks. I didn’t know anyone at Sandy Hook or at a movie theater in Colo. But I had four friends running in the Boston Marathon this year. All four are okay; two finished and two didn’t. They were still on the course when the explosions occurred.

But this was about more than my friends; this felt like an attack on my community–the running community. We all are in this sort of brotherhood/sisterhood no matter what race in the world. These individuals attacked my friends, even though I’d never actually met 27,000 of them.

To anyone involved with marathons,  you know there are two types: Boston and all the others. Boston is the pinnacle of a marathon achievement; a race so exclusive runners spend years trying to qualify. It’s difficult to get into and the ones who do it say it’s a dream come true. Bostonians know how much this race means to the running community;  they treat the runners like rock stars even before race day.

Even the “mascot” of the Boston Marathon symbolizes something unique: a unicorn. A unicorn is a beautiful, mystical creature that only exists in fairy tales and imaginations. I think it perfectly complements the sentiments of many on the Boston Marathon; it’s a surreal race that only will ever exist in their dreams–to make it a reality is an impossibility.

This is what it is for me.  I’ve never done Boston. I simply hope that one day I’ll be able to cross the finish line and receive my medal. To peak Heartbreak Hill wearing a bib you earned must feel like total euphoria. I wouldn’t know. I only dream about it.

Today many runners across the nation have organized Run for Boston. I hope that anyone with two legs runs just even a few steps to show support for those who will never walk again.

The Boston Marathon

*Updated! As I was writing this, word came in of the explosion. Thoughts are with the runners and spectators! Much love. Such sadness on what should be such a happy occasion.

 

Today the most famous marathon in the world took place: the Boston Marathon. As a slow runner, I am no where near reaching the qualifying time for the marathon. I dream about it, but I’d have to completely change my lung capacity to reach the speed needed to shave literally an hour off my PR. Not easy to do. Thus, Boston remains an intangible goal.

Here are a few of its highlights–maybe one day I’ll experience them with a bib on my shirt and a racing chip on my shoe–not as a spectator:

It takes place on Patriot’s Day. To those of us outside of Boston, the third Monday in April usually means a standard work day (except this year it also means Tax Day). But for the citizens of Boston, it’s a special day off–although no one seems to know why. I guess we can call it Patriot’s Day/Marathon Monday…?

Heartbreak Hill. Anyone familiar with marathons has heard of Heartbreak Hill–the most notorious, dreaded part of the course. Kicking off the last 20 miles, this hill is a killer with runners pushing their bodies to the top (and often vomiting along the way). Be careful if you choose to watch the race from here–you may face a little extra liquid coming your way. Take caution.

Wellesley College. Around the 10-mile mark, runners pass by this all-female college and almost every female comes out to cheer. It’s loud, festive and provides an extra kick in the step of runners as they near the back half of the marathon.

Coolidge Corner. This area can get pretty lively with bar goers packing the streets and local pubs. After watching your runner go by, you can hop onto the Mass Pike or Storrow Drive to continue to spectate and see your runners pass by again.

While it’s difficult to quality for the Boston Marathon, runners do have options to participate. You can join various fundraising groups and if you raise enough, the Boston Athletic Associate will give you a bib and make you an official participant. You can also try becoming a racing bandit and race behind all those officially registered… It’s not the same, though.

Some day I’ll be in that line up!

 

 

Running a Marathon in Peru

As a lover of international travel, I certainly look for any opportunities to marry my two favorite worlds: travel and running. Exploring a new city via a catered 26.2 miles is a lifelong memory, albeit a painful one. A few years back, I hopped onto a plane to travel to South America for another global race in Lima, Peru.

Held at the end of April/beginning of May each year, I thought that it is fitting to write about my experiences abroad because this race is coming up soon. I highly recommend participating in races outside of America because you quickly realize just  how demanding and spoiled we truly are in the U.S. endurance world.

Uniformity 

As seen in the photo, participants wears their race shirts. This isn’t typical of other international races in which I’ve participated, but in Lima, they like to don their new race shirts. Instead of running in a sea of colors, you run in a sea of whatever color the race directors chose for that year. Good luck trying to pick out someone in a race!

Aid Stations

I’m used to aid stations every 1-2 miles, maybe every 5K in smaller city races. Although Lima is a standard city race, the marathon offered a total of five aid stations for all 26.2 miles. And they ran out of water at the halfway point. If I could redo that race, I would have stuffed a few extra wads of cash into my racing belt and stopped in a convenience store located along the route. I did carry a water bottle with me and begged and pleaded with the volunteers at the few aid stations available to fill it up, but was told, “No hay agua.” (There is no water)…say what? For us slow pokes, the water ran out.

Interesting Mechanics

One of my best friends is also a Peruvian resident and I luckily visited her during my trip. She even came to cheer me on during the race and sat in the spectators’ bleachers. Unfortunately, they literally fell apart as my friend, and many others, were sitting on them. Everyone walked away unscathed and laughing, but in America, that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Open Course

I kept hearing “peligroso,” meaning “dangerous,” from police officers along the course. I concurred. The course was open to cars, and traffic in Peru is kind of a free for fall. I heard a honk behind me at mile 18; I turned around and saw a gigantic tour bus merely inches from my heels. That’s enough to make me run faster! I also had to make my way through roundabouts as traffic flowed in and out.

I finished still alive!

Running a Marathon in Copenhagen

Two years ago I participated in the Copenhagen Marathon, which is still one of my favorite races. Anytime I travel to Europe, I fall in love with its wonders all over again–European chocolates, outdoor cafes, adorable pastries and delicious cuisine. Thankfully, this time in Europe I partook in an opportunity to burn the calories I generally acquired when traveling to this part of the world.

European marathons are quite different from American ones, mainly because they are run primarily by men…and fast men. Out of 10,000 runners, 8,500 were male in the Copenhagen Marathon. This marathon actually has a greater percentage of women than other races in Europe. Spain’s main marathon in Madrid, for example, is 97 percent male. It’s not a bad demographic for a single female, I must admit. One of the positives of European marathons is getting to run with loads of attractive European men.

However, the negative is the field is very quick. For a not-quick person such as myself, it’s hard on your mental endurance to end up so far in the back.

This course had a relative out-and-back of sorts for part of it, so I saw the 3:15 marathon group coming toward me (of which I am clearly behind). This pacing group had at least 1,000 runners with it–a massive amount of racers keeping a very fast pace. Because of the sheer power of the marathoners, I actually ran faster than I expected just to keep up with the crowd.

I experienced very unfortunate weather the year I participated. While other years runners get lucky and the Marathon Gods clear the skies, it wasn’t to be for me. At mile nine, the clouds burst and torrential rain poured through the streets. All spectators abandoned the course and numerous ambulances carefully maneuvered through the streets to attend to runners suffering from hypothermia–not exactly ideal racing conditions. I considered the weather that morning and wore a long-sleeved running shirt, but sans gloves. My hands froze and I kept trying to pull the sleeves down over them to warm up; unfortunately my shirt was so wet it didn’t quite work.

During the rain, one of the aid stations offered bananas. The runners tossed the peels right onto the course–runners + banana peels = slipping and sliding. The streets are also quite flat, so the rain really had nowhere to go; we just ran through puddles down the cobblestone streets.

Despite the weather, running through the colorful European neighborhoods and smelling the European bakery treats made this a wonderful running experience.

I’d totally do it again.

North Pole Marathon–Coolest Race on Earth

Photo courtesy npmarathon.com

On my various marathon travels, I’ve met a number of runners with incredible tall tales of racing stories from around the globe. None meet the intensity and awe I feel toward the North Pole Marathon. Yep, this exists. Boasting itself as the “Coolest Race on Earth” (I’m sure both literally and figuratively), once a year runners from throughout the world trek to the top of the earth to take part in one of the most challenging marathons on this planet.

In honor of the upcoming holidays, I thought I’d delve a little into this truly adventurous race.

What is it?
The North Pole Marathon is a 26.2-mile foot race across the Arctic snow and no, no one has run into Santa Claus (also both literally and figuratively). It started in 2002 and now a total of 10 races have been completed with 38 nations represented.

What makes it unique?
If running at the top of the world isn’t enough, the North Pole Marathon offers a heated tent every few miles to warm up the body so you don’t get hypothermic. Because it is near impossible to run it all, the cut-off time is very generous so even the slowest penguin-like runners can still finish. People who have never completed a marathon still finish the North Pole Marathon–which means you can do it! Because runners traverse over snow and ice, trail running shoes are worn and flags guide them through the course.

Is it expensive?
Yes. If you have bags of money, this race is certainly a must-do. If you do not (like me), this race is merely a dream. Most of the runners I’ve met who’ve completed it are quite a bit wealthier than I am (actually, that’s an understatement…a lot wealthier than I am).

What do you wear?
In addition to the aforementioned trail running shoes, racers wear thermal clothes, thick ski gloves, as well as face masks, hats, gaiters and goggles.  I can’t imagine how cold your body gets, even while running a marathon. Bundling and layering is a necessity to keep your body temperature warm.

Is it safe?
So far so good. No one has yet to see any polar bears and no flight accidents have occurred getting runners to and from the North Pole. The only time runners should be concerned is keeping their bodies warm and not frost bitten.

Is it worth it?
According to my friends, the answer is yes. I cannot speak from experience because I am not Daddy Warbucks and cannot afford it right now, but this race is enticing and I hope some day to check it off my bucket list…when I win the lottery!

Good luck if you do it! I’d love to hear about it…hopefully someday I will be at that starting line.

 

Running a Marathon in New Zealand

As I type this blog post, I am laying in a hotel room in New Zealand having just finished another marathon. I am in pain (which is slightly an understatement.) The race didn’t go well for me and I ended up with my worst marathon time by approximately an hour. Why? I didn’t train. I completed approximately two long runs to prepare my body for 26.2 miles—obviously not nearly enough. And being a non-athlete, this makes it doubly as difficult. But the race was in a particularly enchanting city with spectacular views of both land and sea. Here are a few of my favorite moments running in the Land Down Under.

Crossing the bridge. One of Auckland’s most famous landmarks is the harbor bridge and luckily for runners, race directors receive permission to shut down two lanes to make it a part of the course. The quads certainly work hard for this portion of the marathon as it climbs approximately one kilometer at a high grade. Fortunately, participants are rewarded for their efforts, as you descend the same distance and overlook the harbor parked full of sailboats and expensive-looking yachts.

Running along the coast. On the back half of the marathon, you run next to the coastline and watch boats circle the calm waters, feel the cool breeze on your sweaty body and pass quaint cafes and restaurants that line the waterfront. To me, I feel something comforting about the water and it’s particularly helpful during a marathon.

The proper people. Spectators clap and not yell. Instead, they rather decisively state, “Well done, mate,” in a reserved tone. The locals running in the marathon were very friendly and cheerful. When I felt so behind and started to cry dry tears, I could hear fellow runners with New Zealand accents come up next to me, tap me on the back and say, “Come on, you’ve got this. Just follow me.” I haven’t done many races where the other runners are just so encouraging. Usually by mile 24, everyone is in such a bad mood. But not New Zealand runners, their upbeat personalities shine through even in the toughest marathon moments.

Taking a ferry.The race started on an island (hence crossing the bridge.) We arose at 4 a.m. to make our way to the ferry boat to sit in quiet solitude with other marathoners and half marathoners for a quick jaunt by boat.

Taking a ferry to the start

The party animals. As I walked to the ferry boat at 4:30 a.m., the bars were still open and the streets were full of those just ending their evening (as mine was beginning.) Our first spectators were night owls coming in from a Saturday night of drinking and dancing. Usually early-morning spectators are spouses of runners wearing lots of warm clothes. This time it was nicely dressed men and women wearing their club outfits.

I recommend a race Down Under. I just wish I had a better finish time.

Running on the Great Wall of China

Running a marathon is hard no matter what the course–26.2 miles of extreme exertion. But as any marathoner knows, some races ask runners to complete the ridiculous. One such race is the Great Wall of China Marathon. Held each May, the course draws thousands of participants from all over the globe who complete the challenging miles one step at a time.

For those interested in such a challenge, here is a sprinkling of tidbits I learned by running it:

Not all of the course occurs on the Wall itself. The marathon includes two passes on the Great Wall, for a total of 8K. The first 5K is run up a hill to the entrance to the Wall and then the next 4K is on the Wall. Miles 21 and 22 are also on the Wall–the most challenging part of the course. Remember to build up your endurance to hang on for those two miles–you’ll need it.

Get ready to climb. For the 8K you’ll be completing on the Wall, it’ll involve climbing more than 5,600 steps, which is no small feat. I spent hours at the track climbing bleachers to train, but that did not one bit of good. The steps on the Wall vary in size from small to almost waist high. It’s a definite quad workout–strengthen those legs with weight lifting more for this race than any other.

Get over your fear of heights. Some of the steps are straight down and straight up. Many runners held onto the sides of the Wall for assistance due to fear of falling. It’s not a gradual descend like most staircases–it’s straight down–and on top of it, one climb is right next to a cliff with nothing on the side of you but a long way down.

All runners must partake of a mandatory climb two days before the race. Due to the challenging course, race directors felt obligated to insist racers try out the 4K Wall climb prior to the actual event. This lets you test out the stairs and decide if you’re up for the marathon or desire to switch to the half, which you can easily do on that day. My recommendation is to stretch after this climb. Most runners’ muscles ached from this mandatory climb, which meant on race day they were already sore before the race even started (including myself). Stretch, stretch, stretch and take your time on this mandatory climb. Bring a camera, stop for photos and enjoy the scenery for this 4K.

Crawl. Although it may feel embarrassing, it’ll help immensely. At mile 21 and 22, when your legs are full of lactic acid, using your arms for assistance up those stairs relieves the pressure from your legs. Your arms aren’t tired, so use them.

Carry a water bottle. The weather is hot and humid and it’s difficult to get water bottles onto the Wall to set up aid stations.

Enjoy the experience. When you’re not on the Wall, you’re running through the hillside of China and through tiny villages in which the Chinese people step out of their homes to celebrate you. I ran past a school in which children lined up to serenade each runner. Sweet young girls made dandelion bouquets to hand runners as they passed by; men driving in cars stopped to get out and take photos, so joyful to have strangers running through their land.

Although the Great Wall of China Marathon is one of the most challenging in the world, the scenery, support from the Chinese villagers and the ability to run on a part of the Wall normally closed to tourists, makes this a running experience unlike any other.