Tag Archives: Queens Marathon

Guiding for Achilles at the 2nd Annual Queens Marathon

On Sunday, March 26th, my Achilles buddy and I negotiated turns, avoided potholes, and dodged puddles en route to running 26.2 miles (26.8 according to my Garmin) at the NYCRUNS Queens Marathon.

Pre-race with the Achilles Queens group

Held in Corona Park and co-sponsored by the Queens Distance Runners, this event offered both a full marathon and 20-mile tune-up option and welcomed about 300 athletes.  The Achilles cohort had five athletes participating and 18 guides who ran anywhere from one to all four loops of the course.

If you’ve been reading for a while, then you may recall my renewed perspective on the 2017 triathlon season, and one of my guiding principles: service.  I want to give back to the community that has given me so much.  My experience volunteering as a handler with the Challenged Athletes Foundation during the NYC Triathlon in 2016 rejuvenated my outlook on sport, and functioning in this type of capacity is something I plan to do on a regular basis.  Several of my triathlon friends are involved with Achilles—a nonprofit that aims to enable people with disabilities to participate in mainstream running events—so getting involved was easy.  Achilles NYC hosts two workouts each week (the group meets Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings in Central Park), and I started attending sessions in December and gaining experience as a guide.  There is a rough guiding framework, but its execution varies from athlete to athlete.  I can only speak to my experience so this post will focus on what I do for the athlete I guide.

My Achilles buddy and I first ran together in December—he was the second person I guided, ever—and we hit it off immediately.  He’s an experienced runner and triathlete who’s tackled marathons and even completed Ironman Lake Placid, and we have a lot of mutual tri friends.  He is visually impaired and legally blind, so when we run together, we use either a tether or a race belt that we both hold.  By pulling the device, I can make adjustments to the direction he runs, and we also communicate a lot. (More on that in a bit.) Anyway, when he asked me to guide him for the Queens Marathon, I was honored and honestly shocked—I had yet to run a marathon myself!  He knew, though, and had no concerns or reservations so I said yes.

As the marathon approached, we ran together on a regular basis, usually doing six miles on Tuesday evenings and going longer on Saturday mornings.  Prior to race day, the farthest we ran together was 11 miles. (The weekend before the marathon, he did the NYC Half, which was his longest pre-26.2 outing.) For me, my coach said to think of this event as an ultra-marathon:  I would be running at a much slower pace and would be on my feet for much longer.  In addition to my normal tri training, we increased my run mileage, and I capped off at a 15-mile long run.  We knew from my training load my engine would be able to run (ha!) for close to five hours, and we also knew I would be OK muscularly.  Sure, there would be pain, but nothing debilitating.  The challenge for me, however, would be mental: being out there for a long time and staying present, focused, and engaged.

Out there: this is loop three or loop four.

At this point, I will disclose this is neither how I would’ve trained for “my marathon” nor how I would recommend training for a marathon in general.  I should also disclose there was a discrepancy in our training paces. (I did my solo long runs in the 8:40 min./mi. range, and when we ran together, we were in the 9:30 min./mi. ballpark; for the marathon, we were targeting 10:00 min./mi.) Finally, my buddy knew the training wasn’t there for a PR, so it was all about having fun and enjoying the experience.

That said, though, I didn’t know what my body would do after 15 miles. This outing would be one of the toughest things I had ever done. The buildup was far from perfect, but I put my body through some brutal workouts—power tests, race-simulation workouts, swim meets. (The 100 IM at Harvard was one of the most painful things I have ever done.) I knew there would be pain during the marathon, but I knew I could handle it.  I mentally prepared for dark patches, and to work through those times, my coach told me to remember:  “this is a gift you are giving someone else.”  Maybe it was naïve, but I knew that sentiment would carry me through the darkest of times.

There were no dark times.

Heading to the start line: almost marathon time!

As the race begun, I entered a space of intense focus.  My job was to get our team across the finish line.  Mile after mile passed, and I found myself in a state of flow.  No thinking; just doing.  Calm confidence. The looped nature of the course brought both positives and negatives. On the plus side, our Achilles team did not face new terrain after six miles, and there is something to be said for comfort in repetition—just not in terms of this course specifically.  There were tight turns, including some traffic circle-like patterns, and the road itself contained potholes and speed bumps.  Several times per loop, we had to go off-road onto the grass to avoid running through puddles.  These obstacles could’ve been disastrous, but luckily, my buddy and I communicate well:  I would announce turns, terrain changes, etc. at least 20 seconds in advance; I would audibly count down as we approached speed bumps (“Speed bump coming in three … two … one”); and I would give clear instructions on our general plan (like veering right, making a sharp left, stepping onto grass).  Basically, I was the primary guide/navigator/coach, so I was responsible for maintaining our formation, delegating jobs to our supporting guides, and making sure everyone was feeling OK throughout the race.  Our team had two guides per loop, and having that extra person was incredibly helpful.  In most cases, I had the second guide run slightly in front of us to create space and announce to fellow athletes that a blind runner was approaching.  The second guide was also tasked with running ahead to aid stations and getting hydration/nutrition needs sorted.

See the race belt? We used it as our tether during the race.

As we grinded through the later miles (my buddy hit the wall at mile 18), I found myself repeating sayings my coaches have told me over the years, and I had no reaction when we reached uncharted distances for me.  Everything after 15 miles was new, but there was no internal dialogue or narrative. Instead, it was all about making sure my athlete was doing OK:  asking if he needed nutrition, inquiring about how the pace felt, listening to his breathing pattern.  The only time the miles got “personal” was when we hit mile 25 because that was my number for basketball, a fun fact I relayed to our team.

We did it!

We crossed the finish line in 4:45:45, and the experience seems surreal.

What was the most memorable moment during your first marathon or most recent race?

Triathlon Training Log – Week 12 (March 20)

Sunday was the best day.

Twenty-six point two, Team Asim smashed you!

Training notes: coming off a fun and intense weekend in the pool, by body realized just how much effort it put forth, and I spent this week battling a head cold. Apparently post-swim meet congestion is normal, but sneezing and blowing my nose every five minutes was not how I wanted to spent my marathon week. When I was stuffy earlier during this training cycle, I tried to power through and log my workouts as prescribed. I’m stubborn, and it took me a while to realize in order to truly heal, I needed to rest. So that’s what I did this week: slept in, took it easy, and only ran twice before Sunday’s marathon.

Monday – off

Tuesday – a.m. run

My running buddy and I met for the first time in weeks for an easy shake-out. He raced the NYC Half, and my body was still feeling the effects of three days in the water, so it was very much a gossip-paced run.

Wednesdaya.m. swim with Bearcat masters off

I woke up stuffy and congested so I skipped my swim workout.

Thursdaya.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance off

Trying to be a responsible athlete is tough.

Fridaya.m. run off

Womp, womp

Saturday – a.m. run

Easy 20-minute shakeout in Central Park to make sure I remembered how to run

Sunday – Queens Marathon

We did it! My Achilles bud and I tackled four loops of Corona Park for the NYCRUNS Queens Marathon. It was an unforgettable adventure (it was also my first marathon!), and I’m so proud of my friend for hanging tough and getting it done. Race recap to come!

Triathlon Training Log – Week 10 (March 6)

Although half over already (what?), March will be a memorable month.

Long run headspace for the win

Next weekend is my third swim meet, and on the 26th, I’m guiding an Achilles athlete for the Queens Marathon. Big things coming!

Training notes: overall, this was another good week of swimming, biking, and running, and I also came to a few conclusions about training thus far. First, after Monday’s power test, I confirmed I cannot expect to make huge gains on the bike by riding only twice per week. I also realized I am ready to start biking more (remember how I avoided my bike for three months during the off-season?). This realization came at the right time, although I have a few events to finish first—my swim meet on St. Patrick’s Day weekend and the Queens Marathon on the 26th. After those two outings—and after some recovery from running 26.2 miles—we will shift to traditional triathlon training. Although I like swimming four times per week, my swim frequency will decrease to make room for more biking and running intensity.

Monday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

So that was a power test that happened. It had been a year since my last one, and I forgot how mentally tough it is. We started with a five-minute “blowout” effort to wake up the legs and open up the lungs before the official test began. I broke up the 20 minutes into mini, five-minute blocks and focused on building the effort throughout.  I did not make as many watts as I wanted, but I will get them back.

Tuesday – a.m. run and p.m. run

Started the day with five Cat Hill repeats for a total of five miles. After work, my Achilles buddy and I met up for a loop of Central Par. We both wore our neon Achilles t-shirts and received a ton of cheers and words of encouragement.

Wednesday – a.m. swim with Bearcat masters

There was a lot of “choice” work during this practice, meaning each swimmer got to select which stroke(s) to do—and since I have a swim meet in a week, I chose IM. (Never thought I’d see the day!)

Thursday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

This short, 60-minute ride was a “zone tester” to make sure our new FTPs were accurate. Since my FTP increased only a handful of watts, I didn’t have too much trouble hitting and holding threshold and low VO2 max intervals.

Friday – a.m. swim with Bearcat masters

We kicked off taper week with some short and fast efforts (lots of 25s and 50s), and during the workout, we also had our choice of strokes to work on. Since I’m doing the 100 IM at Harvard, that’s what I chose to do during our main set. I logged about 3,000m before heading to work.

Saturday – a.m. run; p.m. swim with Bearcat masters

Like last week, I tackled my long run on Saturday (12-mile progression run) before a longer, 1.5-hour (and 3,700m) swim with my Bearcat buds. It was a high-volume day, but I felt great during and after both workouts.

Sunday – p.m. swim with Bearcat masters

Short, hour-long swim just to get a feel for the water

When’s your next race?

My 2017 Triathlon Life: Race Schedule

The time has arrived: let’s talk about the 2017 triathlon racing season.

The 2016 campaign seems like another lifetime, and although I thoroughly enjoyed the off-season, I’m ready to start laying the groundwork for a successful 2017. Overall, I made a lot of progress during the 2016 season—it was my first year training with a coach instead of putting together my own “piecemeal” plan—and I’m excited to continue this journey: growing, maturing, and becoming a better endurance athlete.

Favorite time, favorite place: dawn patrol in Central Park

As my fifth official tri season (wow!), this year will center on expanding my endurance portfolio. Multisport has become my lifestyle, and I love being a student of the sport; continuing to learn, grow, and challenge myself will be the overarching objectives this year. Therefore, in addition to a handful of “normal” Olympic-distance races, we’ll do events that take me outside my comfort zone—like swim meets and stage races.

My long-term triathlon goals have also prompted the diversification of my endurance portfolio, mainly because long-course events, specifically a 70.3 (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run) now seem feasible. I’ve been around the sport for a good amount of time, and I’ve also seen and trained with friends who have tackled this distance; this experience has demystified the distance, and it has also showed me what is necessary to string together a solid outing. My mindset has gone from ‘someday, a long time from now’ to ‘maybe in a few years’ to ‘I want to do it.’

cRUNch, cRUNch

With this in mind, the primary focus of the 2017 season will be building a base for making the jump to long-course racing—specifically racing a 70.3—in 2018.

New England Short-Course Meters Championships

Boston, MA

March 17-19

Can’t stop, won’t stop: swim meet number three is going down in March.  The New England Short-Course Yards Championship draws tons of regional teams and promises solid competition.  Not that I’ll be “competing” against anyone else.  My only goals are to further expand my race experience portfolio and have fun.  Hopefully I can string together decent swims, and since my masters team goes every year, I know we’ll have a blast. When registration opens, I’ll sign up for all the freestyle events (50 free, 100 free, 200 free, 500 free), plus the 100 IM. My masters team will race relays, so I’ll probably end up swimming the 200 free relay, 200 medley relay, 400 medley relay, and/or 400 free relay. And yes, I know this is an aggressive schedule for three days, but it’s all about gaining experience.

Queens Marathon

Queens, NY

March 26

For the past month or so, I’ve been guiding with Achilles, and for the most part, I’ve been running with the same athlete. He was the second person I was paired with, and we hit it off. He’s also a triathlele, and we have a lot of mutual friends in the community. Because of this connection, during our third or fourth time running together, he asked me to guide him for the Queens Marathon.

I have never run a marathon—but this is not about me.

My coach and I have talked about it, and I’m taking the necessary measures to prepare myself for tackling 26.2 miles. If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, you’ve seen my long run increasing throughout the past few weeks as well as my weekly mileage. While covering the distance will be a mental challenge for me, I am also cognizant of the time on my feet. Thus far, it looks like our target marathon pace will be about a minute slower than what would be “my” projected marathon pace so muscle fatigue will be an issue for me once we get to the later miles.

All in all, I’m very excited and humbled by this opportunity. My triathlon racing season doesn’t start until June, so the timing of this race works. I’m looking forward to experiencing a race from a new perspective, and this will be an extremely memorable way to complete my first 26.2 miler. (Did I just say first?) I never thought 2017 would be the year of the marathon, but it’s happening!

Seneca7

Making the rounds through my old stomping grounds

Geneva, NY

April 30

Worlds will collide again this year when my NYC runner friends and I make the five-hour drive to the Finger Lakes.  The core of last year’s team will return, but there are a few of us who will be running this day-long relay for the first time.  And since I’m not starting a new job, we’ll spend Sunday night in Geneva after the race instead of driving back immediately after finishing. Like last year, I plan to view my three legs as workouts and use each as an opportunity to execute a slightly faster pace than what I hit running off the bike.

Rev3 Quassy

Middlebury, CT

June 3

This is one course I can’t seem to crack, so why on earth am I going back?  Well, for that exact reason:  I have unfinished business.  A few years ago, I had a disastrous race at Pat Griskus, and although I tapered expectations for last year’s Rev3 Quassy, it was still a mentally tough day for a variety of reasons.  I’m hoping actually riding outside (woohoo for health insurance) before race day will solve those problems.  In all seriousness, though, this race will be increasingly important this year, even just from a confidence building perspective.  Quassy is hilly and technical course, much like the 70.3 I’m eying for 2018.  With Earl in charge of the training, I have full confidence we’ll be physically ready for a good day, and I feel like my mentally game has improved leaps and bounds.

HITS Hudson Valley

Hardware for all!

Kingston, NY

July 8

Aside from the training weekend in Lake Placid, my weekend “Upstate” was the highlight of the 2016 racing season.  The fact that it was a good outing was a pleasant surprise. I always want to do well at races, but this event has been about executing across the disciplines—stringing together the best possible race on that day (and seeing where the cards fall in terms podium spots)—and then spending the rest of the weekend hanging out with friends.  It’s so important to strike that balance, and this race weekend always makes me feel grateful for the people this sport has brought into my life.

New York City Triathlon

July 16

My experience volunteering for CAF at this race last year was ultimately the catalyst for me getting involved with Achilles, and this time around, I plan to participate in the race as a guide.  My role will be similar to what I do during the Queens Marathon–I will be with an athlete every step of the way–but I have not solidifying who I will be guiding yet.  Not to worry, though, as this will fall into place as the race approaches.

Cazenovia Triathlon

Chasing that first-out-of-the-water feeling

Cazenovia, NY

August 27

The first multisport event I completed, the Caz Tri holds a special place in my heart. In past years, this race has served as a capstone to my season: typically, I’d have a humbling experience at Nationals and return home with my competitive fire burning and crank out one last solid outing before heading into the off-season. Although this race will be my final triathlon of the season, it will more accurately mark a turning point in my training progression as I shift from a swim-bike-run focus to a swim-run mentality.

SwimRun VA

Richmond, VA

October 21

I am beyond pumped for this stage race!  Throughout the course of one day, my team—Two Stevens, because my training buddy’s first name is Steven, and that’s also my last name—will cover six swim legs totaling 3.3 miles and seven run legs totaling 14.95 miles for a total mileage of 18.32. This race will provide new challenges as far as training and racing go, but we’ll also need to iron out logistics and get comfortable with a few things—like running in wetsuits and swimming with in our running shoes.

It’s worth noting that for the first time in four years, I will not be going to Nationals.  Although I fully committed myself to the process, last year’s race itself left a lot to be desired from an experiential standpoint.  In turn, those feeling gave me pause to reflect: why has this event become a season staple?  Do I really want to go back to Omaha and do it again (even if parts of the course have been changed)?  How does it align with my goals as a triathlete? Also, I can usually swing one training trip and one “destination” race per year, and the Richmond SwimRun race simply made me so much more excited.

So that’s where we stand for 2017. I’m sure I’ll hop into a few road races throughout the year–and I will go to Lake Placid for a training camp–but these are the events we’re building my schedule and progression around.

Which event are you most exited for this year?