Sky Runs

Taking the long way round

2014 in Review

This is a review of my year in running only. I didn’t start the year with too many concrete goals, so it’s interesting to see how things developed.

Towards the end of 2013 I put some broad ego-boosting goals in the “someday” file that include winning a race overall (it would have to be a very small one), running a sub-3-hour or seeing how close I can get, being the women’s winner at a marathon (again think small), and winning some prize money (think really small– even $25 or $50 would count!). I didn’t meet any of those this year but that’s fine because I can’t say I tried for any of them either. The closest I came was with the prize money. I won some expensive gear in the Hong Kong mountain races I ran, I helped my road running team win $400 as the second place women’s team at the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K, and I got my entry fee for NJ One Day refunded for hitting the 120-mile USA team qualifying standard, plus 75% off my next NJ trail series race for coming in second– but still, no “prize check” in my name!

Winter training in the Palisades. Photo: Tommy Pyon

Winter training was a frigid blur. Photo: Tommy Pyon

Coming into 2014, I only had a few races on the calendar (or should I say, that I’d already paid for): Boston, Berlin and NYC marathons, the Rock n Roll New Orleans, NYC and Lehigh halfs, Caumsett 50K and the North Face San Francisco 50-miler, plus I had committed to pacing 4:00 at the New Jersey marathon (Okay, maybe more than a few but still very little compared to the 34 races I ended up with!) Come January I started adding some big races that filled up quickly (TGNY 100, Vermont 100K) as well as last-minute sign-ups to run some low-key shorter races like the Boston Buildup races (a terrific series, btw). I started the year with some hip pain that still hasn’t totally gone away and spent a bit on chiro with Wayne Winnick and other treatment to keep me going at least to Boston. My original plan was to train well for my first Boston, run some half-marathon PRs along the way, and race the Caumsett 50K for a sub-4 hour time.

Cold-weather pacing at the Fred Lebow Manhattan Half. Photo: Atsede Aemro- Selassie

Dressed for cold-weather success pacing the Fred Lebow Manhattan Half. Photo: Atsede Aemro- Selassie

My real focus for the first several months was the Boston training. After a rough PR day at the New Orleans Half in early February, I dove in to week 9 of the Hanson’s Marathon Method and stuck to it pretty consistently for the rest of the cycle, with the addition of a few longer runs (20-22 miles) instead of the prescribed 16-mile maximum. This was my first winter of running and it was a baptism by fire. I got colds and the flu fairly regularly, especially after fast races, and my hip was a concern, so I scrapped the Caumsett 50K and ran the 25K instead. I did most of my speedwork on the treadmill, and even some of my easy runs when there was too much snow on the roads. Thanks to the New York Sports Club’s $30 for 30 days trial (which can be re-tried annually), I was able to use a treadmill two blocks from my apartment during the rough month from late January through most of February.

Framingham, Boston Marathon 10K mark. Photo: Joan Kim

Framingham, Boston Marathon 10K mark. First warm day of the year and I got a fantastic race outfit sunburn on the right side. Photo: Joan Kim

The training worked and I PR’d at the NYC Half and then ran an emotional 3:14:15 PR at my first Boston. It had taken me so long to get to there (8 years!), and after all that the city and running community had been through, I broke down in the Wellesley scream tunnel. Even now, the memory of their haunting cries brings tears to my eyes. The infamous hills did do me in but that will give me additional motivation for next time.

Four hours or bust! Photo: Otto Lam

Leading the charge to 4 hours at New Jersey. Photo: Otto Lam

Pacing the New Jersey Marathon six days after Boston was really tough in the state my quads were in, but Otto Lam did such a superb job of organizing the pace teams for the full and half that I really wanted to be a part of it, and we had a great time in the marathon party house that Kino arranged. I took it pretty easy for most of May, racing my first ever 5K (which I won, haha!) and starting a new training plan under my new coach Michele Yates. I told her my near-term goals were to get a sub-4:30 trail 50K, a win and under 20 hours at TGNY, and under 14 hours and podium at the Vermont 100K.

5K bling is much bigger than ultra bling. Photo: Tommy Pyon

Buckles shmuckles– 5K’s where all the bling is at. Photo: Tommy Pyon

My first ultra of the year was the PinelandsTrail Festival 50-Miler over Memorial Day weekend. I was signed up for the 50K and really wanted to run 4:30 or under to qualify for the elite corral at The North Face San Francisco 50-Miler. However, I wasn’t sure if I could run that time on trails and I didn’t know the Pinelands course at all, so I thought it might actually be “easier” to run the 50-mile race in under 8:30, the TNF elite qualifying time for that distance. I slept on it, woke up feeling pretty good, and changed my registration just minutes before the start. I started out a little too aggressively and had to slow in the last part of the race, but finished my first 50-miler with what felt like my best trail result to date, 8:11:30 and 2nd female! Oh, and I didn’t trip and fall!

This must be, oh, about 10 hours into the 12-hour. Photo: Larry Sillen

This must be, oh, about 10 hours into the 12-hour. Photo: Larry Sillen

After 50 miles, it was time to gear up my training for the TGNY 100 4 weeks later. I made a very late decision to run my first 12-Hour race at the BUS Joe Kleinerman run in early June, and won with just over 75 miles. The .97-mile loop was the shortest I’d ever run, it was hot that day and the course had a pretty significant hill, but I had a pretty good experience, while swearing to myself that this was enough and that I was NOT going to run a 24-hour race later this year.

Photo: Atsede Aemro-Selassie

Times Squaaaaaare here I come. Photo: Atsede Aemro-Selassie

TGNY was my first big goal race of the summer- the one that I really wanted to win and improve on my time from last year, which was a little under 23 hours. It was my first 100 miler last year and would now be my second. I didn’t spend as much time training on the course this year since I remembered most of it, just one group preview run organized by the RD Phil and another review of a tricky stretch in the Bronx. The 12-hour race was my real heavy training run and I felt good going in to TGNY. I only hit a few low points late in the run, and had great support from my pacers Emi, Simon and Francesca, as well as all the volunteers on the course. My goal was sub-20 and I ran 19:06. I also learned a few things about what I’ll have to do to run an even better race in 2015, which is what I plan to do.

In Vermont. Photo: Lucimar

A month later in Vermont. Yeah so I basically wear the same three things for all my races, especially when it’s warm. Photo: Lucimar Araujo

In July I ran the Vermont 100K. The big 100-mile race is very popular with NYC ultrarunners, but despite all their assurances that the trail was “easy,” I needed to see for myself before I’d commit to 100 miles on a course that might chew me up through the night and spit me out the next morning. Of course they were right, it was easy (defined as: I never fell down, and if I don’t fall on a trail it must be easy). I ran with the ladies’ winner from the previous year for the first part, until we ran off course and added three miles, and then she got in a hurry to make up her position, so I spent the rest of the day solo relaxing on the peaceful country roads and trails, power-hiking the hills and running the rest. I beat my 14-hour goal by a lot, finishing in 11:54 for 2nd.

Mountain time

Mountain time on the infamous Incline.

August was a very difficult month for me for non-running reasons, and you could say I made it more difficult by challenging myself on the unfamiliar terrain of big mountains. I had won the UTMB lottery in my second year of trying, but was very indecisive about whether or not to go for what felt like a long time. A great group of runners I know were going and had booked a house in Chamonix for a week before the race, so that was a huge plus, and I couldn’t shake the dream of running through the Alps in 3 countries in one go. However, I couldn’t realistically run this race and go back to Europe for the Berlin marathon a month later. Reasoning that I might not have such a cool opportunity to do UTMB again in the near future (since you need both qualifying races and lottery luck to get in) I chose UTMB.

Two weeks out I ran the Pikes Peak marathon to prepare for UTMB, since the uphill portion of Pikes Peak would be much bigger than the biggest hills at UTMB, and the altitude greater. I absolutely fell in love with Colorado and got in some amazing mountain training on the days before the marathon. After all, I was training for UTMB, so no taper needed for Pikes Peak. I really enjoyed the Pikes Peak challenge but took a bad fall and banged my right knee on some rocks about a mile and a half before the finish.

Taking a break in the Swiss Alps. Photo: Harald Zundel

Taking a break in the Swiss Alps. Photo: Harald Zundel

It was really too bad as the sore knee followed me to Europe, where I did some easy hiking in the Swiss and French Alps during the ten days leading up UTMB. As much as I tried to avoid downhills that would aggravate my knee it simply wasn’t possible. And again, there was not much time for proper training or tapering, but I’ll take what I can get, especially when it involves unbelievable terrain.

Such a relief. Photo: Aleks Zuber

That’s 45 hours worth of relief on my face. Photo: Aleks Zuber

UTMB was an epically long race with some struggle. I had a great start despite the rain the first night and felt strong until around halfway, when my knee became an issue and I had to make the call on whether to quit or keep going with an occasionally hobbling pace on the downhills. Around 90K I was about ready to call it a day when I met an American guy named Nick who said, “oh please don’t quit” and reminded me that we had plenty of time to finish the race within the 46 hour cutoff. Thanks to him, who I occasionally met up with on some of the remaining parts of the course, I determined to stick it out.  Anyways, I always want to see the rest of the course and have a knack for persuading myself that, no matter how gnarly or soul-destroying the previous section was, the next one won’t be so bad (of course it can be worse!). I got my money’s worth at the aid stations, ate lots of cheese and salami and noodle soup and crackers, took a few catnaps, got massaged, sometimes hallucinated (but knew I was hallucinating), got sleepy and bored during the second night, sometimes lonely (no pacers allowed) and only cried in despair once at a never ending downhill and what felt like a long- delayed second surnrise. At the last major aid station, 20km from the finish, I got pale and dizzy, vomited, and made a big poop, and was held at the medical tent for an hour and half while my vitals were monitored. Once I was given the all-clear, I continued through one final brutal mountain, back to the village where I had started nearly 45 hours earlier, with my housemates there to run me in and cheer me to the finish. That made me feel like I can do anything.

To the finish of the Tahoe 200. Photo: Rebecca Lippman

To the finish of the Tahoe 200. Photo: Rebecca Lippman

2014 was also the year that I learned how to be an ultra pacer and crew person. I crewed and paced Teaspoon for 30-ish miles at Umstead in April, and within days of finishing UTMB I was on a plane to Reno to help Mama Michelle at the Tahoe 200, a 200+ MILE race around Lake Tahoe. I was so glad to be able to crew and pace Michelle since she was one of my pacers the first time I ran TGNY. 200+ miles has to be one of the hardest things I have ever seen anyone do- not just Michelle but for everyone out there. I was really glad that she persevered and despite all the struggle and pain she finished strong, running all the way down the last mountain. Remember, if she can run at the end of 200+  mountain miles and four and half days of sleep deprivation, you can always keep running too!

Hong Kongs Victoria to Peak Challenge. Photo: Club Balance

And chicking my way to the top of Hong Kong island. Photo: Club Balance

From Tahoe I traveled to Hong Kong for personal business, and made the best of the heat and humidity. I ran a couple of short steep uphill races and greatly enjoyed them, plus I won some fancy prizes like Salomon shoes and wireless headphones. It suits my lazy nature to walk hard up a lot of the big hills, plus pushing up a mountain in a race is something that makes me feel very alive.

Photo: Donna Sajulga-Tabios

Bloody but unbowed. Photo: Donna Sajulga-Tabios

Returning to New York in early October, I was in no way ready to race for good marathon times, but I still ran the Steamtown marathon the day before my birthday and decided to pace NYC instead of racing.  By this point I was pretty sure that if I wasn’t going to run good fall marathons (meaning PRs), I would go for my first 24-hour race at New Jersey One Day. I was familiar with the race venue and it wouldn’t require much travel or stress, and if the weather was bad I would stay home. I ran a 6-hour race two weeks out as my long run (got the win and a course record as a bonus), paced 3:45 at NYC on November 2nd, and toed the line at One Day the following week, running my marathon split in exactly 3:45 again. The 24-hour experience was a real handful and I’m still recovering. I was very happy with my 136 miles on my first crack at the 24-hour puzzle.

Two thumbs up for 24 hours. Photo: Otto Lam

Two thumbs up for 24 hours. Photo: Otto Lam

After a couple of weeks of recovery, I headed to California for my two final big races of the year, the Quad Dipsea and The North Face San Francisco 50 Mile. Very tired by this point, I still couldn’t pass up the chance to finally run in one of my favorite places in the world. Then I went and did a few more social races before I was really really really done for the year. Five days off and then back to some easy running, trying to stay around 30-60 relaxing minutes each day before the next training cycle begins in January.

Fun to the end of the year. Photo: Donna Sajulga-Tabios

Fun to the end of the year. Photo: Donna Sajulga-Tabios

A few other highlights from 2014 on the non-racing front:

Taking a quick break from pacing to give Mama a big hug. Photo: Young Cho

Gotta give our Mama a big hug during the marathon. Photo: Young Cho

After putting together a pace team for the 2013 NYC Marathon, New York Road Runners decided to start a pace team for its half marathons as well. I made the team and paced most of the NYRR halfs this year, as well at the marathon again. I love wearing the pacer singlet, carrying the sign (it’s not at all heavy!), and helping others achieve their goals with a steady pace.

I found a coach who’s my kind of crazy and a community of like-minded, hardworking runners at Rugged Running. Michele Yates is an incredible athlete and so inspiring, she really makes me want to train harder and smarter. As a bonus her services are pretty affordable and it feels like she is always there for us, even with a newborn baby and her own ambitious goals!

Whats inside is top-secret :-)

Whats inside is top-secret :-)

Purely through the luck of wearing a sample shoe size, I became a wear tester for Hoka One One and have logged a lot of miles and provided feedback on some of their shoes that will hit the market next year or later. This was really a dream come true!

Chilling at the TCS NYC Marathon Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations

With my pro hospitality teammates at the TCS NYC Marathon Opening Ceremony and Parade of Nations

Through a chance volunteer assignment at the Milrose Games in February, I met the team that handles professional athlete hospitality for the big events with New York Road Runners and I had the opportunity to work with them on the preparations for the NYC Half, Mini 10K and the really big one, the TCS NYC Marathon. It’s a cliche but true that the world’s best runners are the nicest people too.

IMG_3920

I won some accolades too: My team gave me the Ultrarunner of the Year award for the second year in a row, I was awarded the New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix Championship title in March for racking up the most points in their races last year, and New York Road Runners recognized me as (ultra)runner-up for Ultrarunner of the Year. I can’t say I run for any of this kind of recognition but it is sweet and I am grateful for it.

And finally– 2014 in statistics!

Races run: 34

Marathons: 5

Ultras: 9

Race miles: 1013

Road race miles: 643

Trail race miles: 370

Total mileage: 2706

It sounds hokey but I’m very grateful that I was able to run this much, in so many beautiful places and surrounded by wonderful people all along the way. I get a little emotional when I think about it, how far I’ve come and how long the road ahead still is. Happy new year!

2 Comments

  1. Sky, thank you so much for your review. I loved reading it and congratulations to a super fantastic year. Wow, you are really incredible!
    I can’t wait to see what you do in 2015!
    All the best
    Hilary

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