Monday, November 15, 2021

Racer Story: Age Group Podium and PR! Sally Reiley Doubles the Boston & New York City Marathons

Article by Sally Reiley

The entire NYC Marathon experience was magical. This was a race that I didn't even know that I was going to run until 17 days prior (yes, I know that sounds crazy, but it’s the truth), and yet everything fell into place and worked out better than I could have dreamed. I am still on a high 5 days later…

Running (solo) kept me sane during the pandemic while working full-time from home, but I did not do the smart or expected thing and ease back into racing gradually; instead, I started off with a bang and ran the Boston Marathon on October 11. Quite an abrupt return to racing after a long 19 month pandemic hiatus! This was my 8th straight Boston, and it went surprisingly well for me as I finished in 3:32: placing 5th in my F60-64 age group, and feeling great. I am most proud of the fact that despite the pandemic challenges, I raised over $25,500 for Mass Eye and Ear. Several fellow masters runner friends mentioned that I had a good shot at doing well in the WMM Wanda Age Group World rankings if I ran another marathon in 2021 with reasonably good results, and since my recovery was going so well, I started to look into other qualifying marathons. CIM was reportedly awesome, NYC was a blast 2 years ago, Philly could be fun… But any race within reason was already sold out.

Be careful what you wish for! I mentioned to a college friend that I wish I could run NYC again, knowing full well that entry at this point was impossible, and lo and behold, he reached out the next day and said that he got me a bib! My response was woah, let me think about it, and this was his response one second later: 

So I am suddenly running the 50th NYC Marathon on Nov. 7! 17 days away. My Boston recovery runs are somehow now New York taper runs? Feeling strong, I ramped up my training runs a little and did a 14 mile run that weekend, now two weeks out (meanwhile, I was out visiting my parents in Minnesota for one week). That felt okay, so then I just kept to some consistent daily runs with a little speed mixed with easier miles. For once I really wished I had a coach to tell me what to do! 

My NYC bib came through the  New York Road Runners Team for Kids, a phenomenal well-oiled machine of a charity running program. So impressive! The bib obviously came with a fundraising obligation, but of only$2,620, which seems so minimal relative to Boston Marathon charity fundraising requirements. The challenge was that I only had two weeks to raise the money, and I had literally just finished fundraising for Boston (remember, $25,500 collected for Mass Eye and Ear). Challenge accepted.

 My friend off-handedly commented that I could/should add “Team Osprey” to my NYRR marathon registration… So now I am suddenly a member of Team Osprey, a local NYC running club that formed organically during the pandemic, whose name came from a popular brand of hydration pack, suddenly a covid runner necessity when water fountains were turned off in public places like Central Park. I was even invited to a potluck team dinner at my friend’s home on the Friday night of marathon weekend, some 60 runners strong.

On such short notice, I had to scramble to figure out logistics for travelling to NYC for a weekend. I was very fortunate to be offered a place to stay near Columbus Circle with another college friend, so I did not need to find a hotel. My husband was able to clear his calendar to be my chauffeur, escort, cook, Sherpa, whatever – I owe him huge thanks! The friend I stayed with was also running the marathon, as a guide for a disabled athlete with the Achilles Foundation. New life goals for me!


One of the absolute highlights of the weekend was doing a small private shake-out run in Central Park on Friday afternoon with no less than Olympic medalist Molly Seidel, courtesy of Athletic Brewing Co. I am thrilled to be a new ambassador for Athletic Brewing. They make incredibly great tasting craft non-alcoholic beers – I love beer, but a great tasting NA beer makes so much sense for us as athletes in training. 

Molly is an ABC athlete, and ABC invited any ambassadors such as myself who were in NYC for the marathon to come run with her and “hang out for a few beers.” We were told the pace would be 7:30 for 3-4 miles… (shakeout?!) I can report that Molly is an unbelievably cool human being, very down to earth and non-assuming, humorous and FUN. As well as fast ! I still can’t believe she finished 4th and set a new American course record! It was such an incredible honor to get to meet her!

Give ABC beer a try – I recommend the Upside Dawn or Cerveza, my husband prefers the Run Wild IPA. There are numerous varieties and always new ones to try! 

Use my referral discount code SALLYAR20 for 20% off at Athletic Brewing

On Friday evening I went to the Team Osprey team dinner, and met all kinds of new friends. 

Most everyone was running the NYC Marathon that weekend, some rookies, some seasoned veterans, and everything in between. Our host was running his 22nd marathon and has already earned his Abbott WMM 6 stars medal; yet another new life goal. My contribution to the dinner was Athletic Brewing beer, so there are now a bunch of new ABC beer fans.

I went to the Marathon expo at Javits Center on Saturday morning. The expo was much larger than the Boston marathon expo had been, but still not huge as 2019 was and not many vendors beyond a MAJOR presence by sponsor New Balance. 

Some runners were leaving with multiple shopping bags of NB clothing; I have learned restraint. There was a lot of shiny gold and black apparel to commemorate the 50th Golden anniversary – that did not tempt me in the slightest (glitz is not my style). 

I walked over 5 miles that afternoon exploring NYC, not exactly staying off my feet. 

It was so nice to stay with a friend in a private home, as we could cook our own pre-race dinner and relax, talking of non-running related things to distract ourselves from the race. We cooked my go-to meal of farfalle pasta with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, grilled boneless chicken strips, and well-cooked broccoli. And of course an ABC beer.

I have become a big fan of the Maurten nutrition.  It works well for me, and I continue to fine tune it. I used to gag on the syrupy sweet gu packets and feel a bit nauseous after a while with them. Not with Maurten hydrogels and products.  I began to drink the Maurten 360 drink that afternoon, and finished it within a few hours. I then drank the Maurten 160 on my way to the start in the morning, and took my first gel about 30 minutes before the start, before heading up to the line on the Verrazano bridge. I then alternated regular and caffeinated  gels at approximately miles 5 - 10 -15 - 20 – 24, and took water or a sip of Gatorade at many water stations along the course.

Race day was forecast to begin with a low of 37 degrees and clear, but dawned a little warmer than that. And by dawn, I mean a 4 am wake-up call! I was in Wave 1, Corral C, color orange. That meant my start was at 9:10am. The bonus was that Daylight Savings ended overnight, so we actually gained an hour of sleep (yet we had the added anxiety of the possibility of confusing the time).

I got up at 4am to drink a mug of hot tea, and eat my overnight oatmeal (I swear by Shalane Flanagan’s cookbooks!) and a banana. 

The NYC Marathon is a point to point race that starts in Staten Island and runs through all five boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan. There is no Heartbreak Hill, but those bridges are formidable!  Getting to Staten Island is a process, to say the least. Many runners take buses (my bus in 2019 from midtown took 2 hours, 20 minutes), while some take ferries. One amazing perk of running with Team For Kids is the option to take a midtown ferry from East 34th St. I had to be at the ferry dock by 5:15am, so I took an Uber to get there. The streets were empty and the city was dark. But as the ferry departed for Staten Island, the sky was beginning to brighten and we were presented with a phenomenal view of the Statue of Liberty at sunrise. 

Team For Kids coaches/leaders were with us on the ferry, and led us to busses that transported us to the Start Village. Once again, Team For Kids runners received special treatment, and we were escorted to our own TFK tent in the village with…. Private porta potties! Wow, that is worth the price of admission right there (in 2019, my wait for a portapotty upon arrival was 41 minutes). TFK had hot coffee, tea, water, bananas, bagels, etc ready for us.

And who else was there? Meb Keflezighi! I had the opportunity to chat with him for a few minutes (I have met him several times at Team Eye and Ear events in Boston) and he suggested we do a selfie – when I said I do not run with my phone, he pulled his phone out, took the photo, and then typed my phone number into his phone and texted me the photo!

At this point, we are all wearing throwaway layers of warm clothes. To keep warm. I opted for prep school sweats that had belonged to my kids, a down vest, hat and gloves, wool socks and old sneakers, and a Boston Marathon heat sheet. It wasn’t as cold as I feared, and the time flew by chatting with other TFK runners. 

I wore my new TFK singlet (did not get the usual opportunity to wash it/test it on a run) and literally had a medic in the Village Med Tent cut (hack?) 6 inches off the bottom with scissors because the singlet hung below my shorts. I chose again to wear my favorite Tracksmith Session Speed Shorts, which I had just worn in Boston. There is nothing better than a piece of apparel that you never think about when you are running – these shorts are that comfortable for me for a marathon. 

I wore Nike arm sleeves and compression calf sleeves (I am not convinced the compression actually does anything for my thin calves, but it is a superstition of mine that they help in a long race) and Balega no show socks. And like so so many other runners there, I wore Nike Vaporfly Next % 2 . I ran them in Boston, and all went well. I have numerous other carbon plate super shoe options, but I went with what had worked for me in the past, not willing to risk finding out at mile 20 that a shoe is a bit short or something.

I got chills for more reasons than one as we stood on the Verrazano Bridge, waiting for the Wave 1 start gun to go off, listening to the National Anthem and watching helicopters fly overhead and fireboats spouting down below on the Hudson River. There was definitely the excitement and nerves of anticipation of the 26.2 miles ahead of us, but also a celebratory mood: the NYC Marathon and other races are back! 

That first mile uphill was tough, I can not lie. Already I was questioning myself: why am I doing this again? Mile 2 was all downhill down the other side of the bridge, and I flew. I love downhills, but a sub 7 minute pace was probably not the best strategy. But it was fun! I then tried to settle into a pace, simply running by feel and not by my watch (remember, I did not know what to expect of my body so soon after running Boston). 

Mile 8 or so was another dark moment, but I pushed through. The crowds were fantastic! Their positive energy was contagious, it was as if the entire city had turned out to celebrate the return of the race and the runners, and a hopeful return to some normalcy in our routines. As always, I had written my name on the front of my singlet (simply athletic tape with sharpie), so I was constantly hearing “Go Sally!” from strangers. That motivates me big time. I did the Maurten hydrogels every 5 miles as previously discussed, and my stomach felt good. I often would slow to little more than a walk as I went through water stops, doing a mental check-in and giving myself a break.

Coming off of the Queensboro Bridge onto First Ave was a highlight – the roar of the crowds up ahead puts the Wellesley College “scream tunnel” of girls along the Boston mile 16 to shame. 

Mile 24 felt to be about 10 miles long with its gradual incline at this late point in the race. Negative splits were not meant to be for me that day, but so be it. The finish in Central park was coming soon, and I was realizing that if my quads could hang in there, I was going to accomplish this in a quicker than expected time. The crowds were even more exuberant and encouraging. You’ve got this!

As we ran through the final stretch in Central Park, I was thinking back to running those same miles on Friday with Molly Seidel. Familiarity helps. First came all the international flags lining the course, then the Finish line was in sight. What a joyous feeling of accomplishment! I finished in 3:26:54, a PR for me at age 62 (go figure!). And was thrilled to learn that I had once again placed 2nd in my F60-64 age group.

Back to back marathons 27 days apart went much better than expected. I did a condensed training schedule for Boston, ramping up quickly  to peaking with three weeks of 50-55 miles each before the taper. A joyous Boston 2021 with a finish time of 3:32:24 (5th place AG), followed by a not planned on jubilant NYC Marathon less than 4 weeks later with a finish time of 3:26:54 (2nd place AG) now puts me in good position to compete for a spot in the WMM Wanda Age Group World Championships next October 2, to be held in conjunction with the London Marathon. The top 20 ranked runners in the world in this age group get invited, points based on top two marathon results in calendar 2021. Fingers crossed! London would be amazing. Then Berlin, then Tokyo… new goal of being a 6 star finisher! And the day after NYC Marathon,  I registered for the next Boston Marathon in April 2022. No question.  Who’d a thunk… 

I first ran a marathon in 2014 at age 54 in response to the bombing in Boston 2013, thinking it was to be a one and done thing with my goal being simply to finish and to enjoy the experience. I was a busy mother of five who enjoyed running and valued it for its health benefits, both physical and mental.. But running has become so much more for me.  

Boston and NYC were both unexpected victory laps celebrating my love of running and the joy it can bring you. If I can inspire others to run and more importantly to face their uncertainties  and push themselves to attempt new challenges, it is a win for me. Don’t be afraid to try, just be your best! Remember to love the freedom and power of running.

Photo Credit: Toby Reiley

The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

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Cape and Valley Mom said...

Sally, you never cease to amaze me! Oh to have your energy (and speed)! Way to go!

Harold said...

Absolutely great race and congratulations. This is the kind of race recap that is so fantastic. Loved it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent race report. One could feel your joy and energy jump off the screen!

Rest up for April.