Marathon Training Movie Reviews – Part 2

In case you missed it, I kicked off a new series on the blog last week called The Jess Runs Happy Marathon Training Movie Reviews. In this series, I review the movies that I watched on the treadmill while I trained for the 2017 NYC Marathon, through the very specific and slightly skewed lens of a marathon runner; i.e. judging based on the number of miles each film helped me run and whether or not I cried while watching it.

Today I’m continuing the series with:

Ex Machina

As a Star Wars fan, this one was a no-brainer: it has General Hux AND Poe Dameron!

MV5BOWNlNzdjZjQtMWU1Yy00ZDg3LThlODgtN2FiZDIxOTE0MzVmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc3MjUzNTI@._V1_.jpg

sure, they look a little different, but space does weird things to a body…

In short: Bro-genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac) has invited schmoopy Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to his underground laaaairrrr to perform the Turing Test on Alicia Vikander plays Ava, a slinky android. And, as is to be expected when you lock two supremely smart men in a labyrinth of underground halls filled with technology and *spoiler alert* evil robots, it takes a pretty hard left.

But not before we get treated to what is possibly the most mesmerizing, oddball, and perfect piece of dance in 21st century cinema:

I mean.

ex-machina-1.jpg

#NewProfilePic

Come on.

The absurdly deep V-neck. The drunken swagger. The use of the best Oliver Cheatham song ever. Move over, Citizen Kane. Poe mother*ckin Dameron is here and he’s gonna tear up the dancefloor.

Enough about the silly dance scene, you’re probably saying; how did it fare as a marathon training movie?

Distance: Right off the bat, this one gets an A+. With a runtime of 1 hour 50 minutes, I started this one at the beginning of a post-work 8-miler and expected to lose interest or call it at the 60 minute mark when I had to restart the treadmill. But I was so absolutely enthralled by this movie that I not only blew through it, but managed to finish my run just as it ended, all in one night, with only a few walk breaks. Near perfect.

Sob Factor: No tears. But in this case, I’m going to say that means it gets an A.

Inspiration Meter: There’s no real action to speak of, but Alicia Vikander and the rest of the androids are f*cking flawless, and both the male leads each had their own specific appeal. A+ for eye candy alone, #sorrynotsorry.

Overall Score: Let me set the scene for you so you can understand why this movie is getting the rating it is:

It’s near 8:30PM on a Tuesday. It’s dark out, you’re just finishing a 95 minute run in your office gym and there’s no one in the parking lot. You’re entirely alone. The building is very modern, lots of automatic lights and glass and marble – much like the set in the film about murderous robots you just watched. You leave the gym exhausted and sweaty, and walk into the empty hallway to get to the other side of the building where your car is parked. As the gym door closes behind you, a motion-activated light on the far side of the building flicks on, too far to have picked you up. “Hello?” you call. No answer. Slightly spooked, you take a slightly different route down a parallel hallway. You feel your pace quicken slightly as your heart starts to pound. Just as you’re about to get to the exit, a shadow on your left jumps out at you and you scream – before you realize that it’s your own god damn shadow, the god damn glass door is just half open, god dammit. You REALLY shouldn’t be watching scary movies alone.

A+. Have watched again. And again and again.

Marathon Training Movie Reviews

So now that we’ve established that my marathon training nostalgia means that I’ve completely lost my marbles, come with me on a trip down training memory lane – with a twist.

I give you: The Jess Runs Happy Marathon Training Movie Reviews.

In this series, I’m going to examine the movies I watched on the treadmill, all through the lens of a runner and rate them based on very specific, marathon-training-based criteria:

  1. Distance: Pretty simply put, how many miles did I run while watching this movie?
  2. Sob Factor: Because marathon training had a knack for making me emotional, especially towards the end, how many times did it make me cry?
  3. Inspiration Meter: Not all movies are about running, but they can still light a fire under you. How engrossed did I get in the movie that I was inspired to run farther?

At the end of each review I’ll tally the total points to give it a total score that means absolutely nothing in the real world but will hopefully give you a little chuckle. Ready? Let’s kick it off with a film that stands out in my memory right off the bat:

Neon Demon

This film had been on my must-watch list for a while, mainly because it looked *cool*. Dakota Fanning stars as Jesse, an aspiring model in a strange, fever-dream version of LA that’s filled with fashion-world predators. The marketing made it look like a slick, visually striking murder-mystery-with-a-neo-noir twist – and it was, at least for the first hour that I watched during a sunny post-work 5 miler. Hell, it even had Keanu Reeves and a mountain lion!

ZZ0F4A9FBB.jpg

Basically, Jesse leaves Georgia for L.A., and meets up with makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and two models, Sarah and Gigi. The fashion world is obsessed with Jesse’s youthful innocence, and the film makes no bones about the literal consumption of uncorrupted, perfectly packaged beauty and youth. She’s innocent enough, and I genuinely felt frightened for her in some scenes, like when she’s left alone with a creep-tastic photographer, or when she hears a woman being attacked violently in the hotel room next to hers one night.

But just as I finished my first 5 miler with this film, she walks the catwalk in a show and literally goes through the looking glass, into the heart of darkness. When I picked it up the next week during another 5 miler, The Neon Demon took a HARD left into psychological, gory horror-ville.

And I. Was. Not. Prepared.

 

The second half of this movie is so violent and strange and disturbing that I legit went off my company’s WiFi and watched on LTE because I worried I’d be put on some kind of list for using company resources to watch it.

While Jesse turns into the exact opposite of the naive ingenue she was in the first half of the film, Sarah, Gigi and Ruby all turn on Jesse too. And their true, witchy natures come out to… I guess play? Because when I say they turned on her, I don’t mean in a Mean Girls, three-way-calling-while-secretly-listening-in-while-we-talk-trash kind of way. I’m talking about pushing her off a diving board into an abandoned pool and murdering her with knives, then bathing in her blood in some kind of occult ritual kind of way.

It would have been weird enough to end there – I haven’t even mentioned the necrophilism, the knife swallowing, or the blood rivers that Ruby apparently can control with her punani. But instead, it kept going, for a final scene where…. I’m going to be real with you, I nearly had to stop the treadmill to be sick. I was going to copy and paste the final paragraph of the Plot section from Wikipedia, but honestly I don’t want to have that kind of copy on my blog. So go read it there, and then come back. Just know that I’m not responsible for any nightmares you may have from visualizing it.

Back? OK. So yeah. I finished mile 5 just as the credits started rolling, and basically regretted ever wanting to watch this movie in the first place. The worst part was, I’d been recommending it to people after watching the first hour! I immediately took to IG to recant my statements about it being cool and vowed to watch a whole movie before recommending it to people.

But hey – it helped me run 10 miles and gave me a good story, yeah?

Distance: 10 miles over 2 nights, a solid 2 hours of nonstop running. And running in fear counts, so it gets an A+ there. Best I could hope for in a film while running.

Sob Factor: I did not cry. At all. I screamed a lot though. So let’s give it a C- here.

Inspiration Meter: I wouldn’t so much call it inspiration as I would call it… distraction. But again, because I was so focused on the film, I forgot I was running on more than one occasion. A+.

Overall Score: If you can handle gore and don’t mind going “What the actual f*ck?” about a dozen times in an hour, by all means, give this a go. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Solid B+.

Stay tuned for the next installments where I cover movies like Ex Machina, Zoolander 2, and Paterson!

Muscle Memory

Guys, I don’t know what’s going on these past few days, but I’m just going to come out and say it:

I’m nostalgic about marathon training.

what

I honestly don’t know what snapped, but I find myself scrolling through old pictures and videos from those peak NYC Marathon Training training months of September and October of last year from the other side of the finish line, I suddenly feel… nostalgia.

Particularly those late weeknights where I’d run 5, 7, even 10 miles after a full day of work, all by myself, alone in the office gym with no one but me, myself, I, and my cell phone.

It was hard work. It was painful. And I KNOW I was burnt out, especially towards the end – hell, I have videos where I said exactly that to the camera:

I also remember a few nights where the miles wouldn’t come easily. One night I wound up screaming at myself for not being able to run 10 stupid miles when I’d just done 15 the weekend before.

IMG_5118

But there was also a lot of joy in those hours of running. I watched a lot of movies I’d been wanting to watch. I cracked myself up when I realized I’d filmed 3 Insta-Stories in a row about Jeff Goldblum’s Instagram feed and younger-than-me wife.

I had a blast talking to the camera about how I attempted to run the first mile or so on an incline and simulated the race course (with disastrous results).

I was happy knowing my body could do nearly impossible things. I was achieving new goals with every run. I remember driving home after some of those longer mid-week runs at 8:30, even 9PM some nights, singing along to my radio in total joy over what I had accomplished.

Go ahead and say “I told you so”, but… I am profoundly sad that I’m not doing that this year.

Does this mean I’m going to sign up for another marathon tomorrow? No. Not by a long shot. But it’s helped me learn that a lot of my marathon anxiety – and the general bad taste about running that was left in my mouth after the race – stemmed from the fact that it was my first time doing this big, huge, impossible thing.

With a little perspective, I realize now that the first time I attempted any distance, from 5K to half marathon, was rough. But with each race and each training cycle I kept at it, got stronger, learned new skills to cope with the dark times and better anticipated what to expect. Why would the marathon be any different?

In my nostalgia, I went back and re-read one of my final training posts from last year, when my sweet friend Liz gave me this gift when I was at the absolute lowest point of training:

IMG_4401

I thought “one day” meant Race Day.

I was wrong.

It’s taken me nearly a year, but all the physical and mental pain I went through to get to the end of 26.2 is finally starting to make sense.

And that’s pretty cool.

Mile 26

Real Talk: The TCS New York City Marathon left me turned off about running. With having to put our cat to sleep the day after the race and dealing with injuries for months post-race, I never felt that post-marathon high.

I deleted almost all of the pictures from that day off my phone. But for some reason, I couldn’t delete this one: the Mile 26 marker.

I still remember how I felt when I snapped this picture. Every inch of my body hurt. It was dark and rainy, spectators had all gone home. When I saw Mile 26 I thought “Who cares. There’s no triumphant final push left in me, why should I take a picture?”

But I did, and every time I clean my camera roll, I still won’t delete it. It took me 7 months, but now I know why: because it was the lowest point I’d been at in months… BUT I KEPT GOING.

I got that medal. I pushed through a mental and physical hell I created for myself over 25+ miles through the five boroughs of NYC and I survived, just like I’ve survived every other “lowest” point in my life. It’s a reminder that there’s always something to look forward to, even if I have to go through just .2 more miles of hell to get to it.

When you get to your Mile 26, just keep going. I know it hurts. But it’ll be worth it.

NYC Marathon Race Recap

You guys.

I have some news:

I RAN A MARATHON!

IMG_6104.JPG

I know, I know – I ran it like two stinking weeks ago, I’m a bad blogger! But hey, I’m back, and I’m blogging about it, and I’m a FREAKIN’ MARATHONER!

734311_267443005_XLarge

So let’s jump right to it, shall we??

On race morning, I woke up after actually managing to get a good night’s sleep, and Mere (who was also running) and Damian came and picked us up at about 4:15am.

IMG_5862

Just look at those crazy eyes I’ve got. Those are the eyes of a terrified woman.

We planned on taking the NYRR-provided NJ Bus, and had the smoothest morning. Seriously: after a 30 minute drive, we rolled up to the Meadowlands, kissed the boys goodbye, walked 50 feet to a waiting bus, and were on our way within seconds! Bravo, NYRR.

IMG_5864.JPG

Sure, we got the last 2 seats on the bus and couldn’t sit together, but it was OK, we made it work 😉

After a quick bus ride, we arrived at Fort Wadsworth while it was still dark, and breezed through security and into the Starters Village.

 

After checking out our individual colored corral areas, Mere was sweet enough to come over to my area in Orange and hung out with me while we waited for her wave to start.

 

I even got to meet Alissa while we waited (nice job on your BQ, girl!!)

819167_1002_0020

After saying goodbye to Mere, I hung out with the NYRR therapy dogs. No, seriously:

 

It was so nice to give some pets to Tugboat the Frenchie, Lass the Labrador, and WLLY the… poof? Man-bun? Whatever he was, he was my favorite and required a selfie.

 

Arun came over to say hey, and after he said goodbye to go back to his area, I met Amanda and Gregg, and we watched the start of the race from our spot at the base of the bridge.

Amanda and Gregg and I became fast friends – Gregg also gave us some sage advice about how you can only run the race with what you’ve got in the tank. To pass the last hour before we started, the three of us ate our breakfasts and chatted about our previous races, our taste in music, and how we prepped for the race. Secret reveal: Gregg and I both have the Moana soundtrack on our marathon playlists. Shhhhh! 😉

IMG_5927

After Greg took off for his start in Wave 3, Amanda and I were left behind to nervously chat while we made quick port-a-potty stops, de-layered, and strapped on our running bags before heading over to the corrals of Wave 4. I was so grateful to have her there with me – if you’re reading this, thank you, Amanda!

We said goodbye just as the corrals were closing, and I was able to take a quick video before they closed the gate:

I will admit: I was super nervous up until I heard New York, New York blaring over the loudspeakers, and then a kind of calm came over me. Once the cannon went off, I was ready:

Within another few seconds, we were walking up the incline to the start, ran over the mat, and the marathon had begun. And, forgive my language, but holy shit, it was amazing.

IMG_5968.JPG

I knew the first 1.5 miles was uphill on the bridge, but honestly as we ran it, I didn’t notice the incline. All I felt was incredible energy: from the people running around me, the police on the bridge, the people that worked on the bridge, the AIR… everything was electric and perfect.

The only issue I was faced with was worrying about my phone in the rain. I had made the decision to run with my phone in my hand so that I could easily take photos and videos, but the constant drizzle ended up covering my phone in water before the first mile. But it turned out okay in the end.

IMG_5975

Once we began mile 2 and entered Brooklyn, I quickly discovered what everyone meant when they told me this would truly be a race unlike any other I’d ever run. Even in the rain, people of every race and shape and size and color lined both sides of the street and screamed and clapped and rang bells and shouted our names – for miles and miles and miles. It was like running through a block party that never ended!

I ordered a personalized name bib from Races2Remember and I’m so glad I did. Every 10 seconds or so, there was a new person yelling for me, cheering me on, making songs about my name… my favorite was “No one better mess with Jess!” It was incredible.

For the first 6-7 miles, I honestly felt so good that I didn’t even notice I was running. The music, the spectator high-fives, the sights – it all carried me. I ran from one side of the street to the other to get all the high fives I could!

At mile 3 a swing band on the sidewalk was blasting music and made 2 runners stop and break into a full-on choreographed swing dance in the street. At mile 5 a full gospel choir sang for us on the steps of their church. At mile 7 NYPD officers danced with us in the streets.

IMG_6002

At one point near mile 9, the crowds were so thick I couldn’t tell where the runners ended and the spectators began. Groups of friends spilled out of the bars with drinks in hand, cheering for us and dancing to the music that bumped from inside the bars.

I put my headphones in but rarely used them – I was too busy singing along with the music on the course!

By mile 11, I knew I should be feeling some fatigue, but I still felt great. My miles were around the 12:00 range, and while that was a bit faster than I wanted, I thought maybe I’d have some luck and that energy would keep carrying me.

Well, I was a bit wrong.

Mile 13 was a bit slower – I walked/ran for the next few miles, saving my strength for the Queensboro Bridge I knew was coming up between 15 & 16.

The crowds were a little more sparse here so I cranked up my music, and almost as soon as we got onto the QB, my iPod died. I had expected this after it died during long training runs, so I’d packed a backup iPod (no, really, I NEED my music), and walked a bit on the bridge to swap them out and recover.

Once I got a boost from fresh music, I put my head down and barreled through some crowds of walkers, keeping a steady pace. But after about a full uphill mile of that, I realized the mistake I’d made. My legs burned. I knew that Manhattan was next so I was counting on that energy, but what I wasn’t counting on was the rain really picking up as soon as we got off the bridge and turned onto First Avenue.

IMG_6034

If the first 13-15 miles were easy as pie, 15-22 was where I actually had to put in work.

I asked 26 of my closest friends and running buddies to give me a song each for a Power Playlist, and this is when I turned it on.

IMG_6039

A few of the songs really charged me up, but when one particular song my mom picked came on, I started weeping. It’s the song that my mom and dad walked me down the aisle to on my wedding day. While I tried not to cry too hard, I took some time at this point to be grateful. Even though I was in pain, I knew I was going to finish this thing. All the work, the endless hours, they were going to pay off. It was emotional.

Finally we entered the Bronx – and were greeted by so many more spectators that I got a little boost.

I danced a little with people who were still out in the rain cheering for us, and one woman even stopped herself before she could give me a high five and instead threw her arms around me and said, “Girl, you don’t need a high five you need a hug, you’re going to finish this!!” I think maybe she was an angel.

Once we looped back into Manhattan at mile 21, I got excited – this was the home stretch, so to speak.

IMG_6046

I’d arranged to have Mike and the crew cheering for me at the same spot we’d spectated at last year, and knew I was getting close. So I shuffled along and kept up the pace, looking for them the whole time. But our spot came and went, and they weren’t there. I’d made a deal with myself before I even started: there’d be a chance I would miss them, and I had to accept that. So instead of getting upset, I shuffled up Fifth Avenue because the pain was too great to run constantly now, and I chatted here and there with the runners around me as we put one foot in front of the other. This was great because it took my mind off things, and before I knew it, the sun was just about to disappear and we were entering Central Park!

IMG_6053

I HAD to take a picture of my favorite spot in the city ❤

During training, I envisioned coasting up and down those Central Park hills at this point, riding a wave of adrenaline that would carry me to a strong finish.

819203_1398_0002.jpg

The reality could not have been farther from that vision: my ankles were wobbly and kept giving out, my calves burned, my lower back burned, my right glute was on fire, and every time I tried to move faster than a weak shuffle my entire body screamed. I couldn’t help but grunt and groan every time I tried.

IMG_6063

By the time we exited the park for that quick jaunt across Central Park South, the sun was gone and I knew I’d be walking it in… until I spotted Mike and Mere and Damian!

IMG_6147.JPG

When I saw them I broke into a run and stopped for a quick hug and kiss from everyone – but if I stayed any longer than that I knew I wouldn’t be able to move again!

So I took off with them screaming behind me, giving me my final power-up.

After grabbing a hug from Peter Ciaccia himself at the entrance to the park, I ran straight through, stopping only to get one last picture:

IMG_6084

I could hear the screaming and cowbells of the finish line, and turned it on for a final kick. The pain was still there but all I could focus on was getting up that final hill and crossing that line.

When I finally saw the finish line, I couldn’t help but start crying. It was happening. I honestly can’t remember if I heard them say my name, but I know I glanced around behind me to make sure I wouldn’t hit anyone, threw my arms in the air, and closed my eyes as I crossed the finish line and finally became a marathoner.

819249_1258_0016

It took a few seconds after I crossed for it to truly hit me, but when it did, I immediately started sobbing. And hyperventilating. The horrible wheezing sound I made caused a few volunteers to ask me if I was OK and I nodded, willing myself to calm down; there’d be no good finish line picture if I passed out before I could even get my medal!

So I staggered to a medal volunteer and sobbed again as she put the medal around my neck. She kept saying “bless you, bless you” and I thanked her with everything I had left. I asked her to take my picture and she obliged:

IMG_6104

As I staggered through the chute to get my poncho and exit the park, the pain finally had a chance to sink in, and it was intense. I cannot begin to describe it – it was shooting, throbbing, aching, burning… it was all the pain at once, everywhere. It physically took my breath away to do anything but stagger ahead with the flow of people in the same shape as me.

After I got my poncho and texted with my crew to confirm our meetup area, I was never so relieved to see my husband and our family. And as a bonus, I even got a huge finish line hug from Lizzie, who had volunteered at the race, too! ❤

To celebrate our finishes (congrats on your course PR, Mere!), we toasted with some wine at dinner and that was the most delicious red I’ve ever had.

And while the walk back to the subway was unbelievably painful (and hysterical), I made it down the subway steps in time to catch our train and we were home before 11pm.

I could easily write another 2,000 words about it, but I’ll cap myself now by leaving you with this: the NYC Marathon was incredible. It was awe-inspiring. It took my breath away, more times than I could count. I saw things that I never thought I’d see on a race course. If you ever have the chance to run it, DO IT. You will never regret it.

They say NYC is a race unlike any other, but you truly have no idea what that means until you experience it.

IMG_6136