Caitlin Grams: Training Solo for NYC and Loving It

Caitlin Grams is a 24-year old who lives in New York with her husband Nate and their one year old puppy, Buddy the Elf. She recently completed the New York City Marathon, thanks to a lot of self-discipline and careful planning. Not only did she get her belongings ready the night before a run, but she planned her post-run rewards before she ever set out on foot.

When did you start running? Why did you decide to run a marathon?

I started running seriously about 3 1/2 years ago (my junior year of college) as a way to lose weight and because a friend encouraged me to sign up for a local 5k with her. I continued to run 5ks with my same running buddy and a year later ran my first half marathon with her. When I finished that half, I remember thinking, “I cannot imagine doing that twice!” However, I decided a full marathon would be a goal for the future, though I really couldn’t imagine being able to do it anytime soon! That year I moved to New York and joined the New York Road Runners. When they sent out an email with an invitation to join the lottery for the NYC Marathon, I figured I would take my chances and enter — and I got picked!

Why NYC Marathon?

I picked NYC because I had just moved to the city and started running races and really liked the running community. I also figured it would be easy to run my first marathon in the city I lived, so I could train in the city and not have to worry about travel, etc. Though I got in on my first try using the lottery system, because of an injury, had to defer my acceptance a year.

What was the training experience like? Were there any high points? Low points?

My training experience was amazing. I trained entirely on my own, which was difficult but also really empowering. High points — really seeing and experiencing the city on my runs. I did most of my long runs down the Hudson river, I ran my first 20-miler from my apartment on the Upper West Side to Brooklyn and back, I did a tune up run in Central Park with NYRR and completed 3 laps of the park (18 miles). The high points were just having amazing runs and feeling confident and accomplished. Low points — injuries (tendonitis in my left foot) cutting runs short or making me miss runs altogether, having to mentally get through long runs.

Did you train with others? If so, did it help? If not, how did you have the discipline to do the long runs solo.

I trained on my own. For me, the discipline came from making my long runs a non-negotiable — planning them in my calendar, setting out my gear the night before, pre-planning rewards after (special meals, hot chocolate and ice baths, etc.) Also I really do think telling people about my runs (family, friends, through blogging/Facebook, etc.) really held me accountable. People knew I was running, they knew the distances I was tackling and so it was really motivating to want to be able to come back after a run and tell them “I did it!” Also, like I mentioned before, there really is something so empowering about training on your own. No one made me do anything — I did it entirely on my own.

What did you think of the logistics of getting to the start of the race. How did you prepare?

The NYRR made getting to the start so easy. I signed up for transportation, so they assigned me to a ferry to Staten Island. The subway to the ferry is literally a block from my apartment, so I just hopped on the train to the ferry. Once on Staten Island, they had shuttle buses to take you to the start. It could not have been easier. Again I prepared by laying out all of my gear the day before, waking up early enough to have breakfast, get all of my things together and head to the subway. I was very calm before the race – a nice surprise! I think because I had been so organized the day before that I wasn’t rushing or anything.

What was the race itself like?

The race itself was unlike any race I’ve ever run (and I’ve run 4 half marathons, a few 4 milers and at least a handful of 5ks). It was exhilarating, exciting, painful, so incredibly difficult – it really is an intense experience. So many emotions, so many feelings were going through me at all different times during the race. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to run, I was amazed at the crowd support, I was motivated by the spectators, I was tired and in pain. I will say overall the experience was amazing – I set out to achieve a goal even I wasn’t sure was possible, and I did it, and I ran through one of the most amazing cities in the world with hundreds of people cheering me on. It was awesome!

How did you manage to find your friends through the throngs of spectators (btw, this is something I have NEVER accomplished in running NYC twice!).

I did find my friends and family along the way! The biggest part of this was the planning — I knew exactly where they would be down to the side of the street. They made huge signs, and we picked places we knew ahead of time wouldn’t be as crowded.

Did you have a goal before the race? If so, did you meet it?

Since it was my first marathon, my initial goal was just to complete the race. I did achieve this! My secondary goal (one that I didn’t even admit out loud to myself!) was to finish in under 5 hours, and I just missed that goal — coming in at 5:01:08.

Would you run another marathon?

I will definitely run another marathon. Even though it really was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, it was such an amazing experience – not just the race, but the training process as well. I learned so much about myself and I gained so much from the experience that I have to do it again. Also, I need to beat 5 hours! 🙂

What advice would you give to another first-time marathoner?

I would say the biggest piece of advice I have for first time marathoners is to gather as much information as possible. From training plans, to hydration and rest and ice baths and nutrition, there is so much information available to you and even the smallest things can make a huge difference in your training. Don’t be afraid to try new things — I was so scared of ice baths, but after just one I noticed the huge difference it made in my recovery from long runs. Make training a priority — it may seem like it is taking over your life (and it is!) but it is so worth it, and your body will thank you on marathon day for all of your preparation and hard work. Most of all just really enjoy the process and take as much from it as you can!


Melinda Hinson