The Joy of Running

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The restart button worked.  After a much-needed two-week rest from running, I am relishing my runs again.

A rest period did not mean I was doing nothing towards my fitness. I still enjoyed other activities like spin, weight training and even skiing. However, not running was bringing me down. I started to feel lazy. I hate feeling lazy. I had to constantly remind myself that proper rest is not the same as being lazy. It is all part of the training. Like when you need a great vacation after a long period of hard work, not just the break of the weekend.

On Saturday I looked forward to my first morning run with excitement. I didn’t have a plan for distance or course. I just went for a run. Spring air could be felt on the kiss of a cool breeze with the temperature at +46 degrees. I didn’t look at my watch. I didn’t try to go fast or pace to other runners.  I just ran wherever my legs and heart felt like going.

I ran the hilly streets near my house and over to the park for a loop around the lake. I did a second loop without realizing. I forgot I was running. I saw a path for a hill and suddenly was halfway up the incline. I saw a road I hadn’t run in a while and pranced on over to run it without giving a second thought about the distance, gradation and terrain.

My mind was clear and relaxed. My legs had a spring again. I could hear the inspiring musings of the infamous painter Bob Ross from the PBS television show The Joy of Painting calmly reminding me that it’s my world. I can do whatever I want in it.

Moving in a peaceful flow my mind started to paraphrase Bob Ross’s popular quotes to running: “The road is your canvas. It’s your world, run wherever you want. In running you have unlimited power.  See a happy little tree or a titanium white cloud floating by in the sky.”

The Joy of Running

Reflecting on The Joy of Painting lead me to think about the art of running. I was reminded of the philosophical phrase- Does life imitate art or art imitate life?  Is there any separation between running and life or are they mirror images of each other? Sometimes life is reflected in the run and other times the run is reflected in life. Or does everything come from the root of life?  A deep philosophical question to ponder during a run! (And one that has been poetically expressed in the works of Oscar Wilde.)

If I have a great run, my day is always better. If I have a lousy run, my day is never quite balanced. If I’m under a lot of stress or pressure from life, my run can sometimes imitate that sentiment causing me to drag my feet and have a tough run while other times it helps me to process and cope with stress.

When I finally got back home I had run 8 beautiful, easy miles. I felt amazing and the runner’s high stuck with me throughout the entire day.  To me, life is always better after a run.

Life is Always Better After a Run

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NYC HALF MARATHON

It had been almost 8 weeks since my last race, the Manhattan Half Marathon so I was looking forward to the NYC Half Marathon on March 17. My Race-iversary was this month too. Two years since running my very first race, the NYRR Colon Cancer 15k Challenge. I have since run a total of 27 NYRR races plus two marathons (The Philadelphia and Disney Marathons) that equals 311.5 Total Race Miles.

It all started with one step.  Every single mile has been a precious blessing. Some of those miles have been magical, where I feel as though I’m floating just above the ground for miles upon miles. And of recent, the miles have been tough, sloppy and hard on the ground.

Many months ago when I first signed up for the NYC Half Marathon I had hoped to PR under two hours.  Being stuck in a runner’s rut, I realized that goal was just out of my reach.  So I changed my expectations. Just because I’m having a tough time with running doesn’t mean I have to give up all my joy and enthusiasm! I switched my focus on the goal that is at the heart of every race, even every run, that I tackle one step at a time: to smile across the finish.

I went into the NYC Half Marathon with excitement and weariness from winter running.  The morning of the NYC Half it was 28 degrees with a bone-numbing wind.  Wake-up was for 4:00am in order to start prepping.  My father, husband and I were all running the race.  We drove into the city from Staten Island at 5:00am.  Parked uptown on the east side of Central Park.  We walked with herds of runners in the frigid cold to baggage check and then walked across the park to the west side for the race corrals. I couldn’t stop shaking from the cold air.  The corrals closed at 6:30am and I waited another 45 minutes before I actually crossed the start line.  The cold was torture.  I knew once we started running I would warm-up. The start could not come fast enough.

The course was one full loop of Central Park, down Seventh Avenue, through midtown and across 42nd street, and then down the West Side Highway, past the World Trade Center, into a tunnel that was completely flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and then to the finish line at Wall and Water Streets.

The loop in Central Park was smooth sailing.  I kept a steady pace and tried not to go too hard as I wanted to tackle the Harlem Hills with an energy reserve.  As I hit the steepest hill on the north west corner of the park I pushed myself to pass runners.  At one point I was so determined to get the hills over with that I even shouted, “Oh how I LOVE hills!” which gave me a good boost up the final climb.

There were two funny moments I encountered along those hills.  As I past a fluid station a friendly volunteer was shouting, “Get your Gatorade on the rocks here!” The Gatorade was more like a slushy and the water cups had to be squeezed a few times to crack the top layer of ice. I also had a runner’s celebrity moment.  I ran past the infamous NY weatherman Mr. G who is also a lifetime marathoner.

From then on it was time to relax and enjoy the fun.  I came out of the the park, down Seventh Avenue, where there were crowds of cheerers.  The feeling of racing in the streets of NYC are like nothing I have ever experienced on any other race course.  There is a natural energy that comes up from the street and bounces off the buildings. I felt it in my legs and easily picked up my pace. There was even a moment where I was on pace to come in just under 2 hours.  I was working very hard to keep consistent.

Around mile 8 my sister met me along the sidelines and helped pace me to mile 13. Running across 42nd street towards the West Side Highway the winds were relentless.  Whereas at the start of the race I was freezing, now I was freezing and sweating.  If this had been January, I would have been enjoying the challenge of the new season.  But after months of this cold weather I just could not take it any more.  I had decided that after the NYC Half Marathon I would take a two week break from running.  I had never taken a proper break from running since running the Philadelphia Marathon in November and then the Disney Marathon in January. Like it or not, it was time to rest.

Passing the World Trade Center site I started to slow down. I used each water station as a chance for a brisk walk in an attempt to recharge my batteries.  We headed down into the tunnel to loop around towards the finish line.  That tunnel seemed to never end.  And then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.  I had to push up a final short and steep hill.  That was where I felt as though I was running through mud, dragging bricks behind me.  My sister was pushing me to move.  She would say, “You only have a two miles to go!” “Just one more mile!”.  The problem for me was that because of my struggles with running, two miles felt like an eternity to run.

As I came out of the tunnel downtown and approached mile 13 I became very emotional and tears swelled up in my eyes.  I was pushing my legs to move but they just didn’t want to go any faster.  My breathing was staggered and my chest was burning from the cold air. Although the Half Marathon (13.1 miles) was a distance I had raced countless times and run on countless Sunday runs, the NYC Half was a true challenge for me.  I reminded myself to pull it together and finish strong because after this race it was rest time.

So I took a huge gulp of cold air into my lungs, pushed it quickly out of my mouth and charged for that finish line as though I was in a fight for first place. I crossed the finish line (2:08) with complete relief that it was finally over, exhaustion from the challenge and  a total joy that I accomplished yet another race. Now it’s time for a two week vacation. I can’t wait to see how I feel on the other side of it.

Photo: 3 highlights of today's NYCHalf Marathon: 1) Running last 5m w/ my sis who pushed my to finish strong 2) Sharing entire experience w/my Dad (finished in 2:34) & husband (1:48) 3) Seeing the infamous Mr. G twice running loops in Central Park and having him shout at me: "Hey Baby! Lookin' good!" both times!!

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Stuck in a Runner’s Rut

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These past few weeks of winter training runs have not been the most inspiring or motivating. I’ve given over to my lazy voice and have taken more rest days and shortcuts on my runs than I ever did throughout my marathon training season (May-Jan).

As someone who loves to run races, I like to fancy myself as always in training. I had planned to treat Feb – Mar as maintaining a half-marathon training schedule.  Coming off a marathon training season for the first time, I found it hard to restart a new training season.

On weekdays I have been forced to hit the dreadmill at my YMCA because I don’t feel safe running alone outside in the dark.  The dreadmill is fine for working on speedwork. It holds me at a steady pace and within a timeframe. However, for those nice, easy 6m runs, the dreadmill is utterly dreadful. And with daylight savings time the morning’s have just become a whole lot darker.

After months of training in winter weather, Spring cannot arrive fast enough! I am bored with running indoors, staring at a dark parking lot. I am done with the cold weather and biting winds. I am sick of running around black ice patches or through snowstorms where the snowflakes disrupt my breathing. I want to retire my three winter jackets and simply go outside for a run without having to winterize myself.

I am nostalgic for my marathon training season. I miss running 6 miles almost daily and to regard it as an easy run. I envy anyone running long 18 milers now as they prep for a May marathon.  I miss feeling ravenously hungry, legs achy and body depleted of energy after a week of hard training and a long run (i.e. 10miles Saturday, 14+ on Sunday). Although I long for marathon training season, I also know that I need to rest.

Sometimes my runs start out bad and then flip to pure elation by around mile 3. Sometimes I’m like a race horse and immediately get started with a strong energy that holds to the end. And every so often, although not frequently, the entire run simply sucks. My legs won’t move smoothly. My breathing is uneven. My head is weighted with every negative thought and stress in my life that finds its way to my legs. My stomach feels either bloated or hungry. My lips are too dry. My ears are cold. My neck is too hot. My legs are chilly. Nothing feels right. Everything is off. These past few weeks have been very off.

I am told this happens to all runners eventually.  It’s part of the process and makes for stronger mental training.  I think it happens because our body or mind needs to properly rest. As runners, we need to allow time for our muscles to regenerate tissue fibers and our mind to clear itself of ‘runner’s clutter‘.  Runner’s clutter are all those nagging negative thoughts that are leftover after months of hard training and races.  They are the thousands of no’s and i can’t’s that our mind tries to scream at us while we push our legs forward mile after mile. Eventually they become a pile of clutter blocking our positive flow of thoughts.  The only way to clean them out is with proper rest. Sometimes rest is a day, sometimes it’s two days and sometimes you really need a good week or two for Spring cleaning.

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Sometimes my Sunday Long Runs are with a friend.  Having a running-mate makes a world of motivational difference. We keep each other moving.  We help each other forget about our legs and think about life.  The simple act of talking helps us improve our breathing as runners.  This past winter my solo Sunday Long Runs were a big challenge. I would wake up late (8:30am) and eventually drag myself outside for a run. As I stepped outside and got blasted with the cold air I immediately wanted to go back inside.  Normally I relish being outside for a run, no matter the elements, no matter the company or being solo.

I have a few bad runs and suddenly the drama plays out in my head that it’s all over, I’ll never have a good run again, I might as well just give up.  My biggest fear is to lose it all. To never be able to run again.  So when I miss even one day of running or encounter even one bad run I start to panic. It feels like the end of the world!  But I refuse to listen.  I have faith that it will get better.  I never, ever give up trying. I know tomorrow is another day to hit restart.

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Walt Disney World Marathon 2013: My 2nd Marathon in 8weeks

Disney Marathon 2013(20th Anniversary) Mickey Mouse the Runner

Disney Marathon 2013
(20th Anniversary)
Mickey Mouse the Runner

Somewhere around mile 18, clothes sticky and wet, hair dripping, sun beating on my burning skin, legs moving in a steady rhythm on cruise control, arms tucked at 90 degrees near my hips, breathing the thick air uncomfortably easy, surrounded by all shapes and styles of runners on the two-way section of the course, my mind deep in conversation with my body and spirit to make sure every part of me was fully engaged and connected, I looked around at the running course of a sprawling highway, built for automobiles not human legs, and realized how deeply I love to run and more so how profoundly I love to run marathons. I realized I had found myself in that moment. I am a marathoner.

Disney Marathon 2013 Course – 20th Anniversary

Another 26.2 miles on my legs and accomplished 8 weeks after my first marathon. Running a marathon as a marathoner is a very different experience! I knew what to expect, how it feels to start, to pass mile 6 (go fast but not too much, still a long way to go), mile 13 (halfway there, stay consistent), mile 20 (now is when the real work starts) and what it feels like at mile 24 (so close and yet so far).

The Disney marathon was on Sun Jan 13. I flew to Orlando on Thursday and stayed with family. There were heat advisories for the weekend with temperatures pushing up to 90 degrees. Last time I had trained in extreme heat was July/August. All my recent runs were done in NYC frigid cold and face-numbing winds.

Racing is as much mental as physical. I knew going into a January marathon in Florida that I was in for more challenges than just running the distance.  Last year I ran the Manhattan Half in a snow storm. I did it to prove to myself that weather cannot be an issue for finishing.

I had to acclimate to the heat and begin my nutrition/hydration preparations.  I guzzled what felt like an endless amount of water, coconut water, Gatorade, in that order, for 5 days straight. I increased my carbs and munched on pretzels for the extra salt.

My taper plan had me running 2 miles each day leading into the marathon. I used those easy runs to acclimate my body into the heat. I used them to clear my mind of any doubts and reassure myself I can do this marathon.

I felt relaxed, like the edge was gone.  I didn’t get butterflies thinking about the course or antsy to hit the race.  At the expo I didn’t feel a wince of anxiety or fear. When I received my bib I didn’t feel the need for a photo to remember the moment.  I decided my casual attitude would only serve me well in relaxing my muscles and mind, down to the core.

My cousin was running the Goofy Challenge that weekend (Half Marathon on Saturday, Marathon on Sunday for the coveted 39.3 mile honor!) and my sister came along to cheer me on and run as a pacer at a few mile markers.

The day before the marathon we stayed at the Hilton Bonnet Creek. It was fabulous. We sat by the lazy river pool and instead of frosty cocktails I continued to sip water, coconut water, Gatorade. After awhile it was too hot and I realized sweating was counter-productive to my hydration process so I went back to the room to use my foam-roller.

I went to bed by 8pm but couldn’t sleep. I just enjoyed the quiet time with my thoughts and the fact that my legs were being rested. Wake-up was for 3:30am. Start time 5:30am

If you just read 3:30am wake-up, gasped and made the abrupt assumption that you could never, ever wake-up at that hour and most certainly not to prepare to run 26.2 miles, I would like to take a moment to tell you that you are wrong and are just listening to the i can’t voice in your head.  you can.

Normally I never shower before a run. What’s the point? This time I tried changing my pre-race routine and instead took a hot-to-cold shower to relax, wake-up and keep my body temperature cool.

We drove to the start line in Epcot. At the corrals there were more runners dressed in Disney-themed costumes than running gear. It made for fun people watching throughout the race.  The temperature was pushing 70 degrees in the still of morning darkness yet participants were dressed in stifling full-body costumes.

As each corral was called up to the start line Mickey Mouse counted down and then fireworks were ignited in the pitch black morning sky.  I felt calm, focused and excited.

Despite the fireworks, the race began with little fanfare to jolt you out of the gate.  The course began along a highway that leads towards the Magic Kingdom. The only spectators out were the wonderful volunteers and workers.  I clicked my Garmin watch to ‘start’ and got to moving briskly.  

There were many slow runners that likely should have been in corrals further back. For the first 4 miles I was maneuvering around a lot of walkers. At times I ran miles along the grass in order to move away from packs of walkers.

If I wasn’t aggressive I would have been meandering along, boxed in around a gaggle of runners dressed as Disney characters who were more interested in taking pictures on their phones than racing.  I busted out the Kenyan stride technique, pushing quickly for :10 seconds  never to see them again.

At the first fluid station I activated my hydration plan: one cup of Gatorade (a few sips); 2 cups water (one to dump on head; one for a few sips).  The water was refreshing and soaked my shirt and leggings as though I had plunged into a pool. I should have tipped my head forward and dumped the water on my head.  I only figured out that technique around the 3rd fluid station into my run.

Disney characters were spread along the entire course. Many participants were stopping to take a picture with the character, waiting on lines at least 30 deep, and losing precious race time.  The only picture I was focused on getting was crossing the finish line.

Runners take note: This marathon is not for runners who love to race. My impression is that the Disney Marathon is like a fun run, 26.2 miles of magical, happy fun, especially for Disney fans. 

By mile 5 I was still passing many super slow joggers/walkers. I realized what was going on. They had put themselves in the front corrals in order to buy more time on the course to get pictures with the many characters.  The race is time-limited at 7 hours from when the last participant crosses the start line.

Approaching Magic Kingdom was very, well, magical.  It was still pitch black outside, and in the distance you could see Cinderella’s Castle lit up like a frosty, sparkly cake. I held a quick pace.  I wanted to knock out as many miles as possible in the darkness before the sun became a factor.

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Disney Marathon 2013 – Approaching the Magic Kingdom – Mile 4

The sun was now starting to change the sky a burnt orange and the ground was smoking everywhere with fog.  The fog was a welcomed natural air-conditioning.  The scenery was picturesque, just like a Disney movie.

I had been warned that there tends to be a bottleneck of runners through the castle in order to capture their photo moment as they exit.  Fortunately this was not the case for me.  I spotted the photographer and made my standard racing pose – arms up like a champ – and probably photo bombed a few other’s photos.

Disney Marathon 2013 - Exiting Cinderella's CastleMile 5-6

Disney Marathon 2013 – Exiting Cinderella’s Castle
Mile 5-6

The run through Magic Kingdom was quick, dark and peppered with cheers from the workers.  Hitting Main Street USA was one of the only spots with a crowd of cheerers but it was over in less than a minute.  After a few quiet zig-zags through the empty park grounds (Tomorrow Land, Frontier Land) we worked our way through back roads of the park.

Along miles 7 – 8 I caught my sister among the cheerers and that was a welcome boost.

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The next ten miles are a blur of highway, parking lots, passing walkers, glancing at Disney characters, hearing lots of Disney movie songs, taking GUs every 6 miles, wetting my head.

There was one incline on the highway that I suppose counts as a hill but after that I don’t recall any other true hills beyond a scattering of little bumps throughout the parks.

The run through Animal Kingdom had workers standing outside in what seemed like a private road for delivery trucks with an array of petting-zoo animals on display.  At another point we ran through the ESPN race car speedway.  Muscle cars and Disney’s Cars were on display around the entire track.  The drivers were sitting in folding chairs, sipping drinks and just staring at us as we trotted along in the piping hot sun on the black tar.

At another point on the course there was a sewage treatment/ water-processing plant that stunk worse than a port-o-potty at the end of a marathon.  That was definitely the lowest point of the course.  Even so, I grumbled for a moment to myself and then chuckled and enjoyed the craziness of the experience. No matter where the course leads, I loved every minute. And I realized that if you put me in a race, surrounded by other runners, I am going.

Mile 16 came fast. At mile 18 I felt enlightened. As I passed mile 20 I felt charged-up and ready for the hard-work.  These next 6 miles are the ones I had been training for.  I shifted my brain into another gear and moved into a quicker pace. I was soaking wet, with the exception of my feet, and I felt strong.

Disney Marathon 2013 - Mile 20

Disney Marathon 2013 – Mile 20

Suddenly by mile 22 the heat was getting to be uncomfortable. I had hopes of finishing faster than my time for Philadelphia but by mile 22 I was pacing to finish around 4:30, my Philadelphia Marathon time was 4:36.  Now I realized I was in a fight to match my time and not be slower. I had to keep moving and step it up. I thought about my training runs in the summer where I had to push faster and harder on the high miles. I can do this!

There were minimal spectators around to cheer the runners on.  Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, Mary Poppins and the creatures from Monster Inc. were not going to motivate me to move my ass!  This is where I missed the power of the crowds to push you along.  I had to cheer myself on. I turned up my music and blasted Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive and Wail”. I sang the entire song as I chugged through the heat. The singing also helped to steady my breathing.

I briskly walked through each fluid station, drank water/Gatorade, dumped water on my head and kicked off again. The mile 22 fluid station offered fresh bananas. I took a few bites and enjoyed the sweetness as it settled in my stomach. It was a welcomed change in taste and texture to my energy gels and chomps.

At Mile 23 there was the last fluid station. As we moved beyond the water tables runners were still walking.  I was a good twenty feet past the station when I realized I needed to start running and stat! I couldn’t let my engine turn off.  I shouted to my legs and literally out loud not caring who heard me – Come on Tara. Move your legs. You. Must. Run. Do. Not. Walk. I moved my arms first and immediately my legs followed in rhythm.

The last 3 miles were brutal.  Runners were dropping like flies, walking, slowing down.  I kept pushing past but it was so tempting to want to walk too. More than once I had to tell that nagging voice in my head to shut-up about walking.

I focused on the fact that my sister was going to be somewhere up ahead before the finish line. I cranked up Cypress Hill’s “Insane In The Brain” as I thought it was a very appropriate soundtrack for what I was experiencing.

Disney Marathon 2013 - Mile 24, Epcot

Disney Marathon 2013 – Mile 24, Epcot

Mile 24 I’m in Epcot passing a surreal imitation of what is supposed to be a street in NYC.  I see the Epcot Globe off in the distance and I know the finish is somewhere way over there.  I still have 2.2 miles to run.  The park is open to the public but few of the visitors are cheering the runners. We were being routed throughout a very winding course in the park.

Disney Marathon 2013 - Mile 24

Disney Marathon 2013 – Mile 24

I don’t remember much of the sites.  There was an extremely steep and short ramp down into a cool dark tunnel where the costumes are created and then back up and out into the harsh sun.  A very narrow walkway around a lake where I had to again run on the grass in order to pass walkers.

My legs weren’t cramping but I was starting to feel some niggling sensations in my ankles.  So much of the course was on uneven, beveled ground that my ankles were getting quite the workout.

I was in a fight to get to the finish line under 4:36 hours.  I couldn’t afford to lose a minute.  I needed water but there were no more fluid stations.  Where is my sister? I come around a turn and finally I see my sister standing on the sidelines.  What a welcomed sight!

Disney Marathon 2013 - Mile 25 - I see my sister!

Disney Marathon 2013 – Mile 25 – I see my sister!

It was also messing with my head because I almost felt like I had finished when in actuality I had 1.2 miles to go. She was pep talking to me – You did it! You are done! It’s just up ahead! But I wasn’t done yet. I had to keep on moving and not waste a single second or step.

Disney Marathon 2013 - Mile 25

Disney Marathon 2013 – Mile 25

I could barely talk to her. I had been running for over four hours alone, nestled away inside my mind, staying focused on moving and piloting my body.  My sister started to burst forward with a quick run and I willed myself to move with the same spring and bounce.  I could keep up for a few steps and then my legs would resist.  I ripped off my iPod headphones and phone armband and threw it at her hoping the change of sensation would give me a much-needed boost. It helped.

Disney Marathon 2013 - Pushing through Mile 25

Disney Marathon 2013 – Pushing through Mile 25

I had just a mile to go and it felt endless.  We kept pushing around twists and turns, behind bathrooms, kiosks, gift stands, a Gospel choir, park goers who paid us no mind and that finish line was no where in site. My sister had said the finish was just around the corner.  But we went around at least 3 corners and it still wasn’t there.

Disney Marathon 2013 - Mile 25

Disney Marathon 2013 – Mile 25

Finally we come around another corner, up a tiny incline and there is the finish line and the only true cheerers I had seen on the race course for many miles.  My mom and aunt were on the sidelines hooting and hollering my name. We spotted them and I gave them a thumbs-up. I could not slow down or run over to the sidelines to give them extra attention. I needed to get this job done and quick.

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Disney Marathon 2013 – Thumbs-up! Approaching Finish Line

Disney Marathon 2013 - Go, Go, Go to the Finish Line!

Disney Marathon 2013 – Go, Go, Go to the Finish Line!

As I came to the Disney Marathon finish line the emotions that ran through me were completely different from when I crossed my first marathon finish line.  A single thought came to mind as I approached – Now you are a marathoner and not someone who just ran A marathon. Go!

I saw Mickey Mouse giving high-fives and decided I’d give at least one Disney character some attention just as I crossed the finish line.

Disney Marathon 2013 - Finish Line - High-Five with Mickey Mouse!

Disney Marathon 2013 – Finish Line – High-Five with Mickey Mouse!

After crossing I started to walk.  The magnitude of the moment sank in and I let out a huge yell of relief and joy.  I finished within a minute of my Philadelphia Marathon time: 4:37.

Rankings/Stats: #255 out of 1751 Women in my Age Group; #1508 out of 10,619 Women; #4376 out of 20,680 Finishers.  There were 25,000 participants and almost 5,000 never finished.

Disney Marathon 2013 - SMILE ACROSS THE FINISH!

Disney Marathon 2013 – SMILE ACROSS THE FINISH!

We worked our way over to a cooling area with fans and misting water.  Now I realized just how hot my body was. My sister revealed to me that when she saw me at mile 25 I looked very pale. I turned off my engine (that inner-voice that repeats go, go, go, go) and felt my body sizzling in the heat. I could feel how hard I had worked and I loved the feeling. Someone put the big, chunky medal over my head and I gave thanks to God for my strength and endurance.

My ankles were throbbing, my calves were slightly cramping and my skin was roasting in the sun.  I slugged down two bottles of water. There was a massage tent  – $1 a minute – so I got a ten minute massage that felt like pure heaven!

I took a photo and the photographer commented with surprise at  my big smile after 26.2 miles and in such sweltering heat.  I laughed and said, “I live to smile across the finish!”

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Disney Marathon 2013

26.2 Car SwagPhiladelphia Marathon 2012, Disney Marathon 2013

26.2 Car Swag
Philadelphia Marathon 2012, Disney Marathon 2013

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PUSH = Persist Until Something Happens

I'm a Distance Runner, I've been trained to keep going, even when it's hard, when it hurts, when it sucks, when i don't want to, I look past it, relentless forward progress to the finish. call what you want: stubbornness, Endurance, Determination, Guts. Deep down i don't know how to give up. [and it's always worth it at the end]

During an empowering, long, hot training run in July for the NYC Marathon I decided I didn’t want my marathon training to end after November. I couldn’t imagine just stopping after I finished my first marathon. All this hard-work to achieve marathon status; how could I quit? I wanted to keep going. I needed another goal, another marathon.  I signed-up for the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, FL for January 13.

How do you train to run a second marathon 8 weeks post your first marathon?  I looked at Hal Higdon’s Training Plan and it included a whopping 20miler in at the midway point of training.  After reviewing with my coach he modified my plan so that I focused on the quality of my runs and less on the LSD (Long Slow Distance) training runs.  Highest Sunday long run mileage was 16miles.  And my Saturday runs were 10miles at a quick pace.

The strategy behind this plan was to get me ready for the last 6.2 miles.  My legs would remember 20 miles.  It is those last 6.2 miles that are the hardest part of a marathon.

The first two weeks after the Philadelphia Marathon I tried to relax my mind and body and live like a runner without a cause.  I went for runs but only for fun and with little structure or training in mind.  I didn’t wake-up each morning with a determined amount of mileage or pace to hit. I just enjoyed running to my daily mood.

After two weeks, I began my training and got down to business. This is the plan I followed. It included spin classes and weight/core training at my gym.

Week 6 – Mon spin/weights, Tues 4m, Wed 4x 1m intervals/ 1/2m jogs (6m), Th spin/ core, Fri 4m, Sat 6m ascending tempo, Sun 16m = 36total

Week 5–  Mon spin/weights, Tues 4m, Wed Tempo 2 easy/2 5k pace/2 easy (6m), Th spin/ core, Fri 4m, Sat 10m @ 10:00 16m @10:40 = 40total

Week 4-  Mon spin/weights, Tues 4m, Wed 4x 1m intervals/ 1/2m jogs (6m), Th spin/ core, Fri 4m, Sat 10m @10:00, Sun 12m@10:40 = 36total

Week 3 – Mon spin/weights, Tues 4m, Wed Tempo 2 easy/2 5k pace/2 easy (6m), Th spin/ core, Fri 4m, Sat 10m @ 10:00 16m @10:40 = 40total

Week 2 – Mon spin/weights, Tues 4m, Wed 4x 1m intervals/ 1/2m jogs (6m), Th spin/ core, Fri OFF, Sat 8m @10:00, Sun 10m@10:40 = 28total

Week 1- Mon rest, Tues 2m, Wed 3m, Th and Fri, Sat 2m, Sun Marathon

Training was tough. I felt fatigued and like I had lost my mojo. I followed the plan but at times took an extra rest day or pulled back a mile on an easy run. I would never give myself a break while training for my first marathon and here I was giving myself subtle liberties off the training plan. It felt like I was trying to cheat.

I was reminded of my weight loss journey on Weight Watchers and how the first phase is known as the “honeymoon phase”.  Everything is wonderful and going the way you want. You’re motivated and focused and seeing results.  The next thing you know you’re trying to cheat and cut corners and then you hit a wall.

I was still nursing an injured left hip sprain. After the dust had settled from the Philadelphia Marathon my left hip started aching again. I did not want to take chances and went back to PT for a few weeks of sessions. The holiday season was buzzing with after-work parties and cocktails. I tried to resist as much as I could but also felt I deserved and even needed to relax a little.

By mid-December I was hitting my 16 mile long runs again. The first 16 miler I did was all alone on a freezing cold day. I didn’t pass a single runner or walker.  Not seeing any runners I realized December is an off-season and probably intended for rest. Marathon training starts again in January, for those May marathons.  It was very hard to keep my legs moving on those long runs but I still got the job done.

I kept on chugging along with my training plan even though my mind wasn’t focused and my heart was trying to hibernate. I had no choice but to just keep on pushing myself. The Disney Marathon was coming Jan 13 and not finishing was NOT an option.  Like it or not, I had to do my training runs.

With just 5 weeks to Disney, I needed to find a way to ignite my mojo engine.

PUSH = Persist Until Something Happens.  SOMETHING.

Okay. I will keep on pushing, persisting.  Something is bound to happen.  I tried to mix things up.  I enjoyed a few long Sunday runs with a running partner. That camaraderie helped motivate me. I took more spin classes to activate different leg muscles. I updated my iPod playlist. I bought a really cute new running jacket. I tried running at a different time of day.

I told myself be happy you signed-up for Disney Marathon. It allows you the chance to stay in shape over the holidaze. I tried to convince myself that by training in the off-season, when most others were home resting, would give me a competitive edge. Like all those folks who join the gym in June expecting to prepare for swimsuit season once it is already upon them.

I had moments of doubt that peaking my training with just 16m long runs instead of going up to 20miles wouldn’t get me across the finish. And then I had moments of enlightenment that it was all about the quality. I ran hard with my legs but even harder with my mind. I kept telling myself that this kind of training is part of how I will fight through those last 6 miles.  You want to stop, you want to take a break, a long rest, but you must keep on moving forward in order to get across the finish line.  

I don’t know how to give up.  I do know how to be positive.  I reflected on my accomplishments.  The fact that I can smack a snooze button off and get out for a run is a big deal!  I looked for the J-O-Y in JOURNEY and realized I will still smile across the finish.

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Twin Mom Joins the 26.2 Mile Club

My 26.2 Finisher Car Magnet aka Membership Card to the 26.2 Club!

I woke-up the day after the Philadelphia Marathon expecting to feel extreme pain and be unable to move my legs out of the bed. My eyes popped open at 5am and I took a moment to wiggle my toes. Yup, all good. I moved gingerly onto my side preparing my legs to get out of bed and anticipating the worse. In one swift movement I dropped my legs to the floor and stood up.

Humph! That’s it? Nothing unbearable.  Some soreness in the quads but nothing debilitating.  I felt like I had done a solid workout. It was a delicious pain. As the day progressed my legs became a little more wobbly and going down steps was a very ungraceful process. But still, nothing like the stories of agony I had heard. I considered my muscle aches were a sign that my body had worked hard and done a great job.

I went for my first run four days later on Thanksgiving.  It felt absolutely wonderful to work the kinks out and just flow down the street.  I wasn’t holding a flag and yet I felt like I had a giant flag waving above me that read “MARATHONER!”.

My running grounds suddenly looked different to me.  They were no longer the training grounds for something unknown. I now knew the answer to my burning question over months of training – how would it feel to run a marathon?

I passed familiar runners in the nearby park feeling as if I had returned from a very long trip after an extreme makeover.  It reminded me of how I had felt after giving birth to my twin girls and going outside for the first time pushing them in the stroller.  A little sore, a little tired, extremely proud, joyful, blessed and like I was unstoppable.

If I could birth and nurse twins, I could conquer anything. And I did. I trained for months and ran my first marathon. Loving every moment of the process.  At Thanksgiving dinner a family member asked me if it was hard to run the marathon.  It was certainly hard work but nothing compared to being a twin-mom.

I have only just begun! Next up, the Disney 2013 Marathon in five weeks.

Photo: Amen sister!

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From Runner to Marathoner: I Have Only Just Begun

Halloween – 1981 
The Year My Dad Finished the NYC Marathon in 3:29
Me at 9yo, dressed as “Daddy’s Super-Jogger”, holding my sis

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On Sunday, November 18, 2012 over the course of four hours, thirty-six minutes and twenty-seven seconds I went through a metamorphosis.  I went from being a runner to a marathoner.  Crossing that beautiful finish line I realized I was never, ever going to be the same person I was before 4:36:27.

I arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday and went to the expo for my bib.  There was a separate line for NYC Marathoners and I learned I would be corralled with my fellow NYC Marathoners in Corral 2.  I felt very welcomed at the expo.  Philly customized each runners bib with your name printed on it but since NYC Marathoners were late registrants, they had a booth setup with black markers where you could write in your name. How thoughtful and convenient!

That night my family and I had a lovely dinner at Pizzeria Stella where I carb-loaded again.  I had been carb-loading on pasta since Wednesday.  I also kept drinking lots of water and coconut water to fill my tank with as much of a reserve of energy as possible.

Back at the hotel room after I obsessed for the hundredth time over the weather, wind, humidity, hourly temperatures and my body heat while running, I laid-out my clothes with confidence they would serve me well. I organized every single item I planned to carry on me: my Garmin watch (fully charged), my energy GUs  (both with and without caffeine)/chomps/beans/water, iPod Shuffle, cell phone armband. I hate running with a belt and although I packed one I managed to shove all my energy shots into the tiny pockets around my leggings.

I also planned to pin my bib to my leg so I could take off my long-sleeve shirt. I wrote my name with a Sharpie on packing tape, put a second strip on top for protection and stuck it on my shirt. Everything was ready.

Ready to run the Philadelphia Marathon 2012

I tried to sleep and although I felt calm I could not doze off. I had slept very well all week so that I was confident even if I didn’t sleep before the race I would be fine.

My alarm went off at 4:30am and I got to business with more carb-loading. I chugged down an 8oz coconut water, 8oz water, 1 banana, a few scoops of peanut butter, half a bagel and a Stinger honey waffle. I forced myself to bite, chew and swallow at that ungodly hour even though I was still full from the pasta just a few hours earlier.  I wanted to get it all down within 2-hours before the race allowing enough time for digestion and absorption into my muscles.

Most important was getting my daily shots of espresso.  The Starbucks in my hotel lobby opened at 5:30am so I got on line with other caffeine-addicted runners around 5:15am.  There were already droves of runners starting to walk the dark streets towards the start line about one mile away. I couldn’t wait to get moving.

My husband and sister were running the marathon too.  We kept coaching one another on do’s and don’ts (wear the extra layer, bring the extra chomps, don’t forget to look on you right for our parent’s and the kids at miles 13 and 25, don’t focus on your time). None of us run the same pace so we hugged each other tightly at the start line and then scattered off to our assigned corrals.

The weather was sparkling perfect.  35-40 degrees, barely a breeze and mostly sunny.  I had a hoodie just to keep warm while waiting to start  but was so pumped up with excitement I took it off once I got to my corral.  I took a Cliff Double-Espresso Turbo Shot (yummy!) and finished my 4oz bottle of water. I had my iPod Shuffle and used the music to relax and center me.  AC/DC “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock n Roll)” was on repeat and I was bopping along to the riffs while keeping my leg muscles loose.  I imagined I was like an Olympic athlete with their headphones on while waiting to do their event. In other words, I was putting on my game face.

The race kicked off at 7:00am to the awesome theme song of Rocky. There is nothing like getting ready to run a marathon in the City of Brotherly Love near the infamous steps that Rocky charges up and having the theme song blasting in your honor!  The race got started at 7:00am sharp but my corral was still waiting at 7:30am to get moving.

Like a race horse behind a gate, I just needed to GO! I couldn’t take another moment of tapering, waiting, carb-loading, resting, stretching, pep-talking, hydrating, wiggling my toes, adjusting my clothes, tightening my hat, setting my Garmin watch, fitting my headphones, taking deep breaths… enough! I had my game face on and was ready to run a marathon.

Then our moment came.  The friendly announcer called out to the NYC Marathoners to get ready.  The DJ played Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and we all started singing at the top of our lungs, hands waving in the air.  “Welcome New Yorker’s to the Philadelphia Marathon! You have waited a long time for this moment. Longer than you originally planned.  We are happy you can run your marathon here in our city.”

With that we were off and I was trotting across the start line, syncing my watch.  I started to push out fast pacing at sub-9. That’s too fast for me.  The crowds were cheering and I kept telling myself to calm down, slow down, relax.  For a split second I heard this voice in my head mumble, What the hell are you about to do? And then I quickly calmed myself remembering I’m going to do exactly what I am trained to do and what I love to do: just go for a run.

My plan was to think of the race in 5 mile increments. I kept re-programming my mind into thinking it was going to run five 5-mile routes instead of 26.2 miles and to just focus on each 5 mile phase. I had even thought up themes for each 5 mile phase.

Miles 1 – 5: warm-up

5 – 10: quicker pace, give yourself some padding on the time

10-15: stay loose and consistent and try to hold the quicker pace

15-20: stay loose, relax and expect to slowdown

20-25: who the hell knows? just keep moving! Go, go, go. Enjoy the experience. Look to the crowds and your surroundings for motivation.

26 – 26.2: let the finish line pull you in

Around mile 3 I was starting to settle into my warm-up. I turn to my left side and am shocked to see my running coach prancing along on the course just next to me!  He had secured a bib from a friend for the Half Marathon (13.1 miles).  It was a gift from the heavens to have my running coach there to pace me for the first 13 miles.  After mile 5 we kicked it up a little bit to a slightly sub-10min pace.

A lot of the course is flat, there were less than a handful of hills. Nothing like the rolling hills I was familiar with running on Staten Island or in Central Park, NYC. There is a real hill around mile 7-8 but what goes up, also comes down.  It felt good to cruise control down that hill and loosen up my legs.

This course was full of surprises with the change of scenery.  You run from historic downtown Philly where the streets are fairly narrow, through the colonial neighborhoods, out to the industrial section, along highway and then on to the park along the river and then back into the streets of downtown.  Not knowing the course or the landmarks awaiting me made it easy to get into a flow and lose myself on the course.

This was my first marathon and I was going to enjoy every moment of it.  Every time I saw a child with their hand out, I gave them a high-five and thanked them.  I tried to read all the fun and inspiring signs cheerers were holding.  There was one woman who was holding out a box of tissues.  Very smart! I grabbed a few.

One of the many tips of advice I was given was to take an energy shot (GU, Bean, Chomp) every five miles and at every fluid station take a few sips of water and/or Gatorade, even if it’s a tiny sip.  You don’t want to dehydrate or wait until you are thirsty.

I also made sure to do an honest check-in with my body every five miles.  I’d take a moment to really listen to my body. How do my feet feel? How are my legs? Time to do a few high knee strides to loosen them up and see how they feel. How is my posture? Give my arms a good stretch and wiggle my fingers.  Am I breathing easy or heavy?

At mile 13 I started to get very warm. I was wearing a tank top layered with a long-sleeve black dri-fit shirt and gloves. My Lululemon leggings and compression socks. I know the rule is never run with anything new but the gloves were a newbie for me.  I bought them at the expo when I realized it would be around 30 degrees.  I never run with gloves. Usually I wear mitten-sleeves.  These gloves were awesome and I think they helped keep my blood pumping better.

I was hesitant to take off my long-sleeve shirt not knowing if the wind would kick up around the river.  My coach said not to be hot and sweat too much or I could dehydrate so off came the shirt. I tied it around my waist.  Much better.  Wearing the tank with the gloves was a perfect combo, like a sugary-salty treat.

Around Mile 14 – Philadelphia Marathon 2012

My coach gave me one last word of advice before we departed. He said when I get past mile 22 just keep on moving. Hear him in my head shouting GO.  You think all those simple words of advice and signs of inspiration mean nothing?  That they are just noise?  Not when you’ve been stripped down to your pure heart and soul, trying to move your body across 26.2 miles! Those simple phrases mean everything to a runner and are all we can really process into our mind.

We parted ways and a few minutes later I saw my parents with my twin daughters screaming for me at the midway point.  I gave them all a cold squeeze.  I had packed an extra backpack for them to hold with spare clothing and energy shots/water just in case. (I wasn’t sure if Philly would be prepared for the extra 2000+ runners and decided to pack extra supplies).  My mom asked if I needed anything from the bag and in the blink of an eye – Nope, I’m great! And off I went.

The divide came up for those running the half marathon. At this point the marathoners continue out past the finish line for a long loop back. This meant I was running past a lot of elite and very fast runners pacing a 2 to 3 hour marathon. There was a moment where I felt the weight of the long road ahead of me while other’s were finishing their cool 13.1 miles. I sensed a pang of fatigue but quickly brushed it off by repeating to myself: The best is yet to come.

I settled down for the long stretch out along the river by watching the runners heading towards me on my right side hitting their 22+ miles. They all had a look of struggle and pain on their faces. How bad is it? Were they happy? Were they having fun? I had to look away knowing that in an hour I would know the answer to those questions. If those fast runners looked like it was a struggle, how will I feel? I pushed away any thoughts of fear. I decided to generalize the situation and told myself a white lie: they looked in distress because they cared about their time and ranking.  My goal for this first marathon has always been to finish feeling good and I needed to hold onto that thought.

Mile 14-15 I remember vividly.  I was listening to my music, trying to keep my quicker pace consistent when I realized I was breathing very hard. I felt like I was starting to breath through a straw.  It was time to do a body check.  I realized I shouldn’t be breathing this hard. Something wasn’t right.  At first I just thought I was running too fast and that was why my breathing was heavy.  I thought the chill in the air was making me work harder. I thought I was just getting emotional after seeing my family and that was why I couldn’t catch my breath.

One of my worse training runs came into my mind and saved me.  It happened when I had only been about 3 miles into a training tempo run when I crashed and could not catch my breath. I had to stop. My coach said I hit my lactic acid threshold and needed an energy shot or Gatorade.  I was glad that incident happened because if it occurred during a race I would know how to manage it.

I wasn’t quite at Mile 15 but I ripped out another GU (Cliff Shot Vanilla) and slugged it back. The fluid station was coming up so I took two cups of Gatorade. That refueling made a world of difference.  My breathing became easy again and I relaxed.

Around mile 16 where the spectators thinned out and all you heard were runner’s footsteps I saw my sister running past me on the opposite side of the course. She was leading the charge in her neon yellow outfit in the 4:00 Hour Pace Group.  We locked eyes and screamed wildly at each other and with such intensity that I actually felt dizzy when the moment past. A few miles later I saw a friend and her husband cheering me on that gave me a huge boost in an area with a sprinkle of spectators.  I had been running for almost 18 miles, mostly talking into my head, conserving my energy, that when I let out the gush of screaming, I actually thought I might expend all my energy.

Mile 18 – Philadelphia Marathon 2012

Around mile 20 I passed a bar where folks were dancing and holding shots of beer out for the runners.  I passed on the offer and once again chugged a Cliff Shot Razz flavor.  I had been taking an energy shot every 5 miles so by now I was positively, absolutely DONE with the energy shots.  I started popping my watermelon flavor beans for electrolytes.

Mile 18 – Philadelphia Marathon 2012

I had tried not to look at my watch often and after Mile 22 I just stopped looking at it altogether.  I was indeed slowing down. Everyone around me was too.  There were runners starting to walk and limp along the sidelines.  I had trained to run at most 20 miles and here I was going beyond my maximum mileage.

At mile 23 I was feeling some new aches in my calves and quads but pushed on.  There started to be a quiet voice in the back of my mind whispering suggestively that I should walk, just for a few minutes. It was trying to tempt me with the idea of stopping to stretch. I shut it up immediately. Stopping was not part of my marathon training plan. It would be so much worse if I stopped.  My engine might not start-up again.

At this point I realized the truth of what all marathoners state.  The last 6.2 miles of the marathon is when the race really begins.  Anyone can get themselves up to 20 miles. (yes, even you sitting on your couch thinking you can’t walk around the block.)  It’s all about those last 6 miles, which potentially equals another hour or more of running at my average pace for the marathon.  I had to block the time out of my head and just focus on what my coach said: Keep it moving and go. My arms were in sync with my legs as I gently pumped my arms which helped move my legs up, out, back; left, right, left, right.

Somewhere around mile 24 I saw my husband walking along the side. I was very surprised and worried to see him. He had been pacing to do a 4 hour marathon.  He said his left leg started hurting around mile 14 and slowed him down drastically until he knew he had to walk/run or risk not finishing.  He tried to run with me but I was moving a little too quickly for him.  We gave each other words of encouragement and off I went. I couldn’t stop. I had to keep it moving.

Now I was running on the course where an hour earlier I had seen the faster runners with looks of distress.  I looked to my right-side and distracted my mind by watching the much slower runners only just now hitting their 16 mile mark. Some were struggling or limping in pain and other’s were just slow and very steady.

There were minimal crowds in the last few miles and those that stood by were just watching us and not cheering.  I cranked up my music and tried to relax.  The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” came on and then Talking Heads “Psycho Killer”. My legs were starting to kick up speed as if the auto-pilot knew the runway was coming up. (Pleased to meet you. Hope you guessed my name. ) The crowds started to get a little larger and there were now packs of folks holding signs.  I kept chugging through.  (Psycho Killer: Run run run awayyy.)

I didn’t look at my watch. I had no idea what mile marker I was at.  25, 26? I don’t know Philadelphia so I had no idea where I would spot the finish line. I just kept pushing along and looking on my right-side for my family. Now the crowds were packed in, 5 rows deep.  I turned off my music and took it all in. I never saw my family at the finish line but that’s okay.  What I did see was nothing like I had imagined at the end of all my long training runs.

The last .25 to the finish line seemed to move in slow-motion as I focused in on the Finish Line and realized I was minutes away from running 26.2 miles. I saw a collage of flashbacks in my runner’s-eye: my alarm clock of 4:30am, my street in the morning darkness, the spot where I practiced hill repeats, my Garmin heart rate monitor strap, a printout of my training schedule from my running coach and the classic photo of my Dad crossing the 1981 NYC Marathon.

1981 NYC Marathon

I was about to have that moment now too!  I couldn’t look anywhere else but at that finish line.

I was glad the moment passed in slow motion.  I almost didn’t want the journey to end. I had my arms up and was smiling and yelling for the last .2 of the marathon. My coach told me that before I cross the finish line, look around and make sure there was no one blocking me so that I get a great photo smiling across the finish.  I did just that.

Like a newborn not wanting to leave the comfort of its mother’s womb, I realized when I crossed that finish line I was going to be reborn as a marathoner.  Just like a baby, seconds after crossing the finish line I began sobbing uncontrollably.  The lone runner. It was my own race, my own journey, even though I was surrounded by 12,000+ other marathoners.

A teenage girl put a medal around me and I couldn’t stop crying.  A teenage boy put a foil around me and I was still sobbing.  I looked around and realized all the runners around me were crying!  I stood in line to take my post-race photo and with a tear-stained face I worked that pose like a diva.

As I gathered my emotions and checked in one last time with my body I realized I had more in the tank. If I had to keep going, I definitely could have done it.  Next time I will push myself to go a little faster too.  I have only just begun.

I found my sister and we screamed and hugged like maniacs.  She achieved her goal of sub-4 hours (3:55!). My husband came along shortly after feeling disappointed and glad to have finished.  He had trained to run Philadelphia, not NYC.  I felt very sorry that he was frustrated and at the same time reminded him that this was his first marathon so he still PRd (Personal Record). The three of us were like a little trifecta of the marathon experience.

Later that evening after we were back home and relaxing I was on the living room floor using my foam roller across my tired legs and my 7-year-old twin girls were nearby playing. I told them to sit close to me in a circle cause I had to tell them something important. We held hands and I told them to close their eyes with me and take a snapshot of seeing Mommy running up to them in the marathon. I told them that this is a day I would like them to always remember. I told them today wasn’t just a day they had to wait a long time outside, watching lots and lots of runners, cheering them on in the chilly air. One day they will understand just how special it was just as I figured out many years after watching my Dad run his marathons.

(Read here for that story: https://smileacrossthefinish.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/im-in-to-finish-2012-ing-nyc-marathon/)

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