Tag Archives: exercise

My 1st Ultra: The Niagara Ultra 50k

“Can I give just a little bit more?”


The Ultra Decision:

“But I don’t want to get lost, get eaten or get injured.”

This past January I was between marathon training seasons and starting to wonder what would be next. Do I want to run another Spring marathon? Do I want to try and PR (your personal record) in a Spring marathon? Or maybe take a break and focus on a PR for the Brooklyn Half in May?

I was feeling burnt out on training for speed. I had just come off running my 4th NYC Marathon in November and a long year of marathon training: a total of 3 marathons for 2016 (Newport Beach, CA in May and The Hamptons Marathon in October). Running the Hamptons Marathon and then the NYC Marathon just four weeks later was a big indicator to me of what I am capable of achieving as a runner. Both marathons I finished in my typical finish time range (4:30 – 4:40). I recovered fast from the Hamptons and rolled into the NYC Marathon ready for a fun block party. 

My husband, who is also a runner and triathlete asked me what do I want to do next? I told him I just wasn’t sure. I love long distance running but I am tired of the same old speed workouts. I already had 9 marathons under my belt since 2012. Basically, I am always training for a marathon – in the Spring or in the Fall. Despite trying my best, all my finish times for every marathon tend to be in the same range anyway. What goal did I want to set for myself in 2017? He was flipping through a copy of Runner’s World magazine. There was an article featuring Ultra runners. He turns to me and says, “You know you could do this. You could run an Ultra. You are so good at running long distance and pacing yourself. You alway finish marathons feeling like you could keep going. Why not do an ultra?”

Yeah, why not? Oh I know why. I don’t like running rocky, lumpy trails where you can get lost, get eaten or get injured. If only there was an Ultra run where it was on asphalt and streets. Maybe I would do it. So he got my wheels turning and I started researching Ultra race options.

Any race distance beyond 26.2 miles (a marathon distance) is considered an Ultra distance. The first step up into the world of Ultra Running is a 50k distance (31 miles). I knew I could go 5 miles more. Who can’t run 5 miles more?

Next up was to figure out which Ultra 50k would fit my style of city running. I had recently visited Niagara Falls in Canada for the first time and fell in love with everything about the area. My runs along the river were spectacular and I knew they had a marathon in the Fall. I was looking for a Spring/early summer race. I figured there must be a local running club that has small town races in the area. Sure enough, I discovered Saint Catharine’s Running Club who organize the Niagara Ultra in mid-June (my race was 6/17/17… lucky numbers in my book). The race includes a 10k, Half Marathon, Marathon, 50k and on alternate years a 100k. This looked like a perfect fit for me!

The course starts at Niagara-on-the-Lake and has you run the asphalt roads and gravel paths along the river for 15 miles out to the Falls where you turn around and run back. Scenic, not too hilly, and most important: I would not be lost, eaten or injured along the course. I shared it with my running club friends (Sunrise Girls Running Club) and my friend Nicole jumped at the opportunity with as much excitement as I did.


The Training:

“We’re gonna run a marathon distance in our neighborhood, just for training. An unofficial marathon.”

Ultra training was wonderful. It was like a recharge to my entire power system. It was everything I needed to get my running mojo back. I created a plan based on several Ultra coaching websites and my own experiences after almost 10 marathons. The biggest difference from marathon training is that we did not do speedwork. Everything had to slow down. The focus was to be on our feet, not about pace. We would constantly have to slow ourselves down and settle into an 11 – 11:20 pace. It was a lovely, conversational place to be running for 4-5 hours. And although a chunk of our training took place in the NYC winter months in the wee hours of sunrise, the running Gods were on our side and we were able to do almost all our runs outside although there were a few 16 miles we had to endure on the treadmill.


We are part of a crew of women who run before sunrise (The Sunrise Girls Running Club) so the only major change to our routine was that we had to start earlier than our usual 5am start. Many times we were meeting at 4:30am or 4:45am. For those perplexed that humans function at this hour… yes, I wake-up at 4am. Sometimes even 3:50am.  On weekends we would run back to back long runs: Saturdays would be 20 – 26 miles and then the next day we would run 8 – 10 miles (depending on the week in the plan).  It was thrilling and empowering to plan to run a marathon distance in our neighborhood, just for training. An unofficial marathon.  We actually ended up squeezing an extra mile and made it 27 just to prove to ourselves that we can give just a little bit more.

In Ultra running you walk the hills with intent. This just means you pump your arms and keep your legs moving quickly but not in a jogging movement. However in all our training we always ran the hills in order to maintain our strength and form. We also cross-trained 2-3x a week with strength training, core and HIIT workouts at our local YMCA gym.

I had my training board pinned with my 20-week ultra plan that I customized for myself off several various Ultra training web sites. I loved seeing all the check marks and my notations next to every goal I set throughout the 20 week plan- from the short runs to the super long runs and the cross-training in between. The philosophy behind my Career, Executive & Personal Development Coaching company is inspired by my running:

1) Celebrate the little victories. 2) Find the joy in the journey. 3) See it. Believe it. Be it.

ultra training board

My training board for the Niagara Ultra 50k.

By the time we got to the start line of the Ultra, I felt we had run the least amount we needed on our legs in order to be fully trained and ready to rock. In other words, we were not overtrained, tired or wiped out from doing too much. We did just enough, with plenty of fuel in our tank.

The Pre Race Experience: “Damn this is far.”

The morning of the Niagara Ultra we grabbed a taxi outside our hotel near the Falls.  The taxi drove along the Niagara Parkway which would be our race course. As we got close to the start line we both had a similar thought, “Damn this is far.” Yet we knew we had only driven about 13 miles. Why did it feel like a long distance? I shook the thought from my mind. I reminded myself how it feels at the start of the NYC Marathon, at the very start on top of the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island, looking way out across the Hudson towards the skyline and knowing you would run 26.2 miles to get to the finish line in Central Park.

I can do this. I have done this. No big deal. I have run 26.2 miles 9x times now in marathons. And I ran 24 and 27 miles in training for this run. I reassured myself I would come alive along the distance. Just like I always do. Oh, but we are driving such a long time!

Our cab driver clearly took advantage of two out-of-town runners who were geared up for a race and told us it would cost $40 in American or Canadian dollars. Alrighty then. We intentionally didn’t bother to haggle.

Along the ride to the start line, we were passing a pretty wooded, park area. Nicole saw a coyote on the side of the road and let out a loud “Oh my GOD that was a big animal and it wasn’t a dog or a fox!” We both looked at each other, didn’t speak and had the same thought, What are we about to do? Or rather… where the hell are we about to run in this Ultra course? Were we mistaken with thinking this was a mostly-asphalt course and not a deep in the woods trail run?

Just as we were both questioning our sanity and what this course was actually going to be like, our taxi began driving down a very long, steep, winding hill. This part of the road also seemed to never end and our thoughts of “What the hell are we about to do? never quit either. 

Excuse me sir. Is this the only way to get to our destination?” We knew the answer. “Yes there is only one road to get to Niagara on the Lake. This is it.” Nicole and I began cracking up with laughter. What else could we do? Give up? Complain? Groan? What would have been the point? We had to face it. There was no turning back. I took one of many deep breathes I would take for the day and told myself I would get it done and love every second of it. That was all there was to it.

We pull up to the Race Start Line and see a few runners collecting their backpacks from their cars or stretching on the grass.  To me they all looked like real Ultra runners. They were geared up with backpacks, running belts, compression socks, headbands and scruffy beards in the fashion of Forest Gump. They all seemed to have this Ultra look about them. These folks were not high-energy, bouncing, jumping, sprinting to warm-up for their kill to a PR race time. They were chill. Reserved. Quiet. I felt like an outsider. And then I adjusted my own mini-backpack, and organized my fuel of salt tablets, Gu’s and protein bars in my pockets and I realized that I probably looked like an Ultra runner too! I felt calm, peaceful and strong— mentally and physically.  I did some easy stretches and then stayed in this mental ‘chill zone’.  I was conserving my energy because I knew I would be exerting myself for 6 plus hours.

Since the Niagara Ultra is a small town race, the ‘Race Expo’ was in a community center hall.  The Hall reminded me of the church in the TV series Little House on the Prairie.  There was no Ultra race expo happening in this tiny Hall.  No vendors selling running swag or giving out free merch.  We got our bibs from a single line and then got our sweatshirts from another man who was pulling them from the box. The Niagara Ultra organizers actually state in their race info that they distribute hooded sweatshirts rather than T-shirts because there is something twisted about giving out sweatshirts in June and we like that. Ok – that pretty much sums up the Ultra crazy mindset. I liked it too.

I asked the woman who gave us our bibs if we could pick-up our shirts after the race and she said no because they will be all gone. “But you can just leave them in a corner somewhere here. No one will take it.” So it’s the honor system. Nice.  We hung our shirts on a hanger, put a garbage bag over them (I came prepared with a plastic garbage bag in case I needed insulation from wind or rain pre-race) and hung the bag on a rack along the wall.

We got ourselves pinned with our bibs and put the old-fashioned chip tracker on our shoe lace. Nicole and I chatted with a few guys around us who were also attaching their bibs. One guy was from NYC and this was his first Ultra. The other guy looked like a lean Grizzly Adams.  We sized him up to be a force to be reckoned with. Turns out he was one of the top finishers of the 50k!

Looking around, I realized that any of these runners could become part-time running partners with me along the distance of the course. Unlike most races or marathons that I have run, where you get lost in a sea of runners, never to cross paths again except for the odd chance if you’re in the same pace range; with only 195x runners participating in the 50k, I knew I would be recognizing many of these faces along the course.

There were plenty of port-o-potties and we took care of business before heading to the grassy area of the start line to relax. Yes, relax. Everyone seemed to be relaxing. I don’t recall seeing anyone doing major runner stretches or the jittery muscle pre-race bounce. There was a friendly atmosphere of longstanding camaraderie.

We saw the inflatable START area and whipped out our phones to take selfies and pictures. I have seen many START lines since I began running races in 2011. This one gave me butterflies because I knew it was going to be a first for me. I felt very prepared. 100% ready. I just had no idea what was going to happen once I crossed the start line other than the fact that I would have to run for the longest amount of time I have ever run in my life. I didn’t bother to look at the flip-side of the sign to read FINISH. I only wanted to see that sign when I was about to hit 31 miles.


Pre-start. I was reviewing my game plan in my head. Trying to stay calm and relaxed.

All of a sudden Nicole says, “We have incoming!” And her radiantly warm Canadian cousin, Adriana, comes running towards us with her hands waving. Turns out that Adriana’s mother lives just on the other side of the park where we were stationed. It was a very happy and loving reunion between Nicole and her dear cousin.

The Race Director begins prepping and corralling (more like huddling) the pack of runners. Where do we position ourselves? We knew better than to go up to the very front. At the same time, I didn’t want to be dead last because my one goal was to not finish last.

The race director – Henri – gave directions about how to run the course. “This is an out and back race. You will turn-around just past the Falls and there you will find your drop-bags. Remember you do not have the right of way on streets so you will have to stop to let cars pass.” This is all normal, small-town race commentary. Then he says, “We have put yellow duct tape on the paths to help you follow the course.” HUH? Duct tape? I had this vision of a long line of duct tape running along the sidewalk and streets, like the line they run for the NYC marathon. One more crazy thing to add to the growing list of surprises.


Before Nicole and I had time to chuckle at the duct-tape commentary, the director shouted with a Canadian accent “Let’s Goooooo!” and within seconds we were over the Start line. There was no singing the National anthem or other pomp and circumstance.  Everyone was ready to dig into their long run.


Ultra Ready. Sunrise Strong. Notice the old school tags we had to wear on our sneakers for tracking. I still have mine on my sneaker for a keepsake.

Course Experience:

“Follow the yellow duct tape”; “Cubes for your Boobs!” & “Good Vibrations”

Never judge a run in the beginning. It always takes a good 3-6 miles to feel settled into a long distance race. We started running our easy, slow pace. This is not race-pace time. This is Ultra-time. Our goal pace was between 11:00 – 11:20 minutes per mile. Everyone was just easing into their groove. No one went flying around us or pushing alongside us like they do in the marathon or other road races. Instead there were packs of runners starting to bunch up based on their pace and then very gradually spread out. The folks looking to win or place for their age group were probably way ahead of where I was running too.


In the beginning of the race, I had a bottle of water I was holding like a silly security blanket because my survival instincts were in full-effect (after seeing that big animal in the woods as we drove to the start line) and I was fearful that I would get so hot that the water in my backpack would not suffice. I didn’t trust the aide stations would be competent. Boy was I wrong!

About a mile into the run I hear a man coming up behind me making a flop-flop noise with his feet. As he gets in front of me, I see he is wearing flip flops. They looked like the cheap rubber kind that you slip on between your big toe. I have seen all kinds of runners in funny, weird costumes and get-ups: barefoot, gladiator shoes, wearing tighty-whities, thongs, super-hero costumes or cross-dressing. This man was steadily flopping along in what looked like a pair of drugstore flip-flops. We stayed near each other for a little bit. Sometimes he was in front, sometimes he fell behind. He was amazingly strong and steady with his gait.


At one point I hear a woman comment from behind me, “Wow, you are hardcore! Guess you don’t have to worry about black toenails!”  Well, that gave me, Nicole and the others around us such a laugh. It felt good to laugh. It took our minds off the pressure of what we were about to endure and calmed our nerves.

We come to our 1st aide stop and it was… charming?  I don’t know how else to describe it.  There was a woman cutting the packaging for chomps and lining them neatly in a dish. They had other snacks too but at this early in the race we just wanted some water, maybe a chomp.  The chomp flavor was perfect: salted watermelon. These race organizers know what a runner needs! Extra salt. We were the only runners at the aide station now that everyone had spread out.  We told them we were from NYC and a friendly male volunteer whips out his camera and says he wanted to take a picture of the girls from NYC. So of course we struck our tag-team pose.

A little later on we run into a guy and his girlfriend along the course. He was a seasoned Ultra runner. Has run 100mile races and averages 75 to 100 miles a week! We asked him for his advice. It was the best advice he gave: ultra running is an entirely different world from marathon racing. Never run a hill. Ultras always walk hills with intention. His girlfriend was chugging along and while she looks to be very fit she did not look like a seasoned runner, let alone an ultra runner. Turns out she only ran a half marathon and seemed to wake-up one morning and be convinced by her boyfriend to run a 50k.  

This friendly couple were guiding a blind runner. We realized this because suddenly she shouted “Tree!” with a second to spare and he moved to the side. I don’t think he was 100% blind because he didn’t have a leash guide.  Hours later he broke away from them and eventually we caught up to him around mile 18. As we gradually past him on a bridge along the Niagara river where there is a power plant on the Canadian and US sides, he said to me, “Isn’t it gorgeous here?” It truly was spectacular, every section of the course was gorgeous.

At the 2nd aide station there was an amazing buffet of candies, cookies, chips, Coke, Nuun hydration water, water and my fave- ginger ale! Being the Italian-American girl that I am, my instinct was to try everything and stock-up. Not that I needed anything. But it was there so I should just load up, as though I was at a wedding in Brooklyn’s Le Grand Prospect Hall during the Venetian hour of desserts.  I just stood there staring at the assortment of drinks in tiny cups and exclaimed: I feel like I should be doing shots! Nicole almost spit out her chomp at the volunteer.

Around mile 7 – 8 we hit our first whopper of a never-ending hill in a wooded park. We were ready to charge up it. This is how we trained all season. Run a hill. We remembered our ultra running buddy’s advice. Walk with intention on the hills! But did he mean this hill? Or something else? Then we saw the folks up ahead slow down to a walk. Ok, we are walking. That was an odd sensation to stop running and walk. I never do that in races unless I’m at an aide station. I had to give myself permission to walk. The hill was a mile and a half long and just kept winding and going up, on a very steep slope. I was happy not to run it. I pushed out of my mind what it meant on my finish time.  Must conserve my energy.

After the big climb, we picked up running again and passed the School of Horticulture, Botanic Gardens, Golf Course, vineyards, a vineyard with the sign “Ice Wine Slushies” that sounded so delicious, and spectacular mansions. At one point we were alone and didn’t know which way the course went. And then we saw it: a small strip of yellow duct tape. There it was, looking completely out of place. So off we went in the direction of the tape.

There were no mile markers so I used my watch to keep track.  We come to the 3rd aide station and again the volunteers were amazingly warm and friendly. Very attentive to our running needs. A young girl was spraying runners, unsolicited, with her water bottle. She just started spritzing me the entire time I was in the station drinking and chewing. It felt amazing as the sun was getting strong.

I love running a new course because the adventure of discovery is an awesome distraction from having to always pilot your body through the run.  We passed a heliport where tourists can get rides to the Falls (I did that the next day!), a zip line jungle gym that took you to the edge of the cliff leading down to the rapids, and a beautiful bridge for a water power station. There was a section on the road where helicopters continually passed overhead and the noise was like a drum-roll leading to our next destination… the decent down the road towards the main tourist area and the Falls.

At this point we start to see the lead Ultra runner’s coming back towards us. We were confused because doing the math it meant they were running a pace of around a 7 or 8 minute mile. Very impressive for a 50k!

By now it was hot and humid. There was a lot of shade and sometimes pleasant breezes but then the sun would burn bright on our shoulders.  We get to aide station 4 at mile 12 and a wonderful woman is pouring water on our heads and another is shouting the greatest phrase I have ever head in all my years of running marathons and races

“Come get your cubes for boobs!!”


Well I don’t mind if a do. Never did this before. She said to take a handful and shove them down my shirt.  I took a handful of the ice cubes and dropped them down my running bra. I immediately felt the relief of being cooled down. So I took some more cubes for my boobs.  And then I put ice in my hat and off we went towards the Falls.

We get to mile 13 and are in the center of Niagara for the tourist sites. There are no race marshals or fans cheering. We just had to zig-zag around tourists who had not a clue what we were doing there.  A few noticed we had race bibs on and stopped to stare in confusion. We just kept trotting along. Other 50k runners were coming back and we all high-five’d or encouraged each other in a nod of Ultra camaraderie.

Around mile 14 – 15 I saw my family waiting along the promenade to the Falls; my 11year old twin daughters, my sister, her husband and son. They were all cheering as they saw us coming towards them. It was a funny sight because again, it was just another tourist day except for a scattering of ultra runners. My little nephew (4yo) asked what took me so long. “Auntie can’t run that fast. I have to run a very long distance.” I guess he couldn’t stand waiting to see his Auntie. Seeing everyone was the best boost to our spirit.




We get to the Falls at Table Rock and a volunteer points to a cone on the ground and says, “Make sure you go around this cone and then you can stop on the grass patch over there for your drop-bag.”  This is the most visited part of the Falls, lots of tourists taking photos. And then there were us Ultra runners, some on the grass stretching, other’s mini-picnicking from their drop-bags or changing their socks.  No one around us gave a damn or cared what we were doing. Obviously the Falls were more interesting to them. But we all felt like super rockstars and it didn’t matter what kind of attention we received. 


We stopped at our Bag Drop area and picnicked with coconut water and a Powerade bar. We met a bunch of female Ultras who whipped out a cooler with watermelon, pepperoni and turkey sausage. They were very friendly and offered us everything.  The watermelon was refreshing.

A young girl from their group said she was going to head out and not wait for them since she felt good. They waved her goodbye. I remember wondering if she was rushing and not taking care to pace and fuel herself. Or perhaps she was feeling good and didn’t want to lose momentum? (We passed her a few hours later).

Heading back on the course we hit a pretty big hill just after the center of the tourist sites. Everyone was walking up the hill so we did too. Now we were starting to feel the distance and the time on our legs and a slight taste of the end coming since we were more than halfway there. So we ran up the second half of the hill while others were slugging it up in a walk. We were feeling strong and recharged. As we were running up the second half of the hill we caught back up to our couple friends who lost their “blind” runner (he broke away) and they were walking. He reminded us they were walking cause ultra runner’s don’t run hills. This time we ignored his hidden warning. We pushed on. Plenty was in our bank of reserves. Besides, we train in Staten Island where our favorite course is loaded with big hills.

We chatted with a few ultra runners who all made the jump to ultra running after many marathons and the common thought we all shared– I wonder what it’s like to do a little bit more?

At one point we passed a runner on a stretcher with a neck brace and a bloody nose.  It looked like she had an accident with a biker. The volunteers were amazing at tending to her comfort.

Around mile 20 we were starting to pass runner’s. There were only 190 ultra runners so we had been very spread out throughout the course and yet now we were closing in. A couple of times we passed runners who were on the floor sprawled in odd poses (half a stretch and half a badly cramped pose) and we thought they were in distress.  When we asked if they needed anything they perked up, “No, all good. Just stretching.”  I guess ultra runner’s die a few times along the course and then bounce back from a dose of mental toughness?

Once again we came to our Cubes for Boobs lady. This time I took a massive chunk and shoved it in my bra. The ice jangling like change in a pocket. I did not care. I needed to survive the heat.

We are about ten miles to go. As I always do with all my races, I broke it down into bite-sized chunks. Just 2 sunrise loops to go. A sunrise loop is the my daily course during the week with my Sunrise Girls Running Club. It’s 5.25 miles each loop. We knew it was game on from this point forward.

It was hot and sunny. Lots of open areas without shade. We had to dig in. Be a robot, as my triathlete husband always recommends. Autopilot on.  Just keep moving. My body felt strong. No cramps or hints of cramps. Just felt waves of heat and then I would shut it out of my mind.

Then we hit a big downhill for over a mile, in the shade. Our legs loosened up as we enjoyed the downhill.  We almost got lost as we came out of the hill but then we found the lonely piece of duct tape. Runners were spread out wide and we didn’t have anyone to look ahead towards. Just that little piece of duct tape indicating we were heading towards the finish line.


Around mile 22-23 Nicole started to feel the mental load. I gave her a pep talk and reminded her that this is everything we trained for. Now is when it all kicks into gear. All those months of 4am runs, cross training, clean eating. All for now! Everything we invested in our running bank, it’s time to take a withdrawal and go big! Can’t throw away all that handwork just cause right now, when it really counts, we feel a little sluggish. This is our ultra and we are going to finish it strong. She stepped up her pace and fell into a healthy rhythm with me.

We came to mile 24 and decided to put on our music for an added boost. Turning on music this late in the game gave us a sugar rush and a bounce in our step. I cranked up my AC/DC “Highway to Hell” and “Thunderstruck”. And then I got down with a mix of RuPaul dance tracks, Hamilton soundtrack, Kendrick Lamar, Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam, Katy Perry “Swish Swish”, Black Sheep “Choice is Yours” and Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch “Good Vibrations”. The last song was on repeat the entire final 2 miles. It became my theme song.

At mile 25 we did a quick stop at the aide station. The volunteer was so thoughtful and offered to unscrew and fill my water bottle. This sounds silly to a non-runner but when you have been running for as long as we were, our hands don’t have normal dexterity. It was a welcome service.

We had a strong groove in our step and as another small hill approached and others were walking, Nicole said, “No, let’s just take this puppy home all the way!” Alrighty, let’s go! Just as I pepped talk Nicole earlier, she pepped me with that one simple sentence. Thank God we had each other to motivate when we each needed it most.

At mile 27 I saw my sister and my daughters. They went driving by honking and shouting and then caught us along the course. My sister even had my husband (who was home working) on Facetime via her phone so I could say a quick hello.

We are down to just 4 miles to go. Two loops of Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island. No biggie. It’s a tempo run! Our energy was picking up with each half mile. We hit a quaint town with an old stone church. It was quiet and lonely. We saw one other ultra runner and no one else. Our pace was strong and steady.

I got a huge surge and started ticking off runner’s who were walking or trotting. I felt my legs go high and arms were pumping. Nicole was with me and then a little behind me. We dug deep. It felt like when you come off Fifth Avenue in the NYC Marathon with about 3 miles to the finish line. I did not wanna give in to the walk. I paced myself to finish strong. Most of these runner’s probably went too fast in the beginning, lost their steam and now we are ticking them off.

ultra talk to god

We were holding a 10:15 minute per mile pace and volunteers who were ultra runners commented how great we looked for a 50k. That’s when I realized I was meant for ultra running. And that I might have found my hidden talent as a midlife athlete.

I turned on “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Good Vibrations” and found a third gear. I started singing out loud. It helped to control my labored breathing. I also felt really joyful and in a runner’s high — ultra high? — and singing felt silly and good to me. Something in my brain flips over to a very happy place whenever I cross over to 20 miles. I was passing a few runners who were walking or limping and I just kept my pace while singing. I knew I wasn’t going to enter into that dead-mans walk territory. I conserved my energy for the last 5 miles and tapped into my gritty mental toughness so I could finish strong.

It was open fields and sunny but I didn’t let it stop me or slow me down. I was breathing heavy but told myself today is a good day for a suicide pace. This is what you trained to do. Go do it! Nicole was not too far behind me and then at a certain point I must have stepped up faster than I realized because I did not see her when I turned around.  I kept pushing myself forward. There were no crowds but I just knew I was close to the end.

The Ultra Finish Line: “Smile Across The Finish!”

And then I saw the finish line. I ran on the grass and had to watch my footing for dips and holes but I was still able to step it up. I saw my sister Jill and my daughters standing at the finish line! My heart was bursting with joy. I was so happy. I was running past spectators sitting along the grass as I ran the final stretch to the finish line. I heard the girls shouting – “Come on Mommy!” and then the announcer shouted “Here come’s Mommy! Smile Across The Finish, Mommy!” Hearing those words… the words that are my personal and professional mantra. The name of my coaching business (www.smileacrossthefinish.com), the foundation of my coaching philosophy, that is when I started to lose control of my breathing and feel a surge of pride and happiness burst through my eyes in tears.




I charged across the finish line, hugged my family and then realized I could not breath. Someone gave me a medal (oddly it was of a tree and NOT the Falls. As odd as giving a hoodie instead of a t-shirt for a June race). I needed to find water to cool down and catch my breath.


My sister was filming me come through the finish line chute. But in the excitement and cheering, she misfired and forgot to hit record. The race photographer caught the moment I came in and she realized she missed the entire thing on video. Oh well. I will never forget the visual in my mind!


A few minutes later Nicole came charging for her finish line. We all started cheering. She kept raising her arms, or attempting to raise them high, in a victory pose. Afterwards she said she felt so bloated that even her arms were too heavy to lift over her head. No matter the bloat. She did it. We did it. 




What did Nicole go for after she finished? Her coconut water and a vape. I went for water, a few sips of a beer and for the next 20 minutes felt as though I was sucking air through a straw. I sat against a tree in the shade while my daughters hung nearby and waited for my breathing to calm down. When I took off my hat, the ice cubes I had shoved underneath about 45 minutes earlier were stuck to the crown of my head!

Everyone was lying on the grass— some half dead and others just chilling drinking beer. It’s a crazy scene to look at ultra runners. They all push themselves to the brink of death, and bounce back again for more. Their bodies cramping, crumbling, sprawled on the ground and yet their spirits, their minds are in overdrive and they still manage to will their bodies to keep. on. moving.


My magic ingredient to make what seems impossible, possible


My 50k Ultra Finish by the numbers: 31miles in 6:30 (my watch had auto-pause and put me at 6 hours). Ranked 13 for my age range. 3500 calories burned.

It is damn hard work to push yourself to do more, to get comfy with being uncomfortable, to build your mental toughness and a deep reserve of resilience, to MAKE the time to follow your plan and hit your goals, to be consistent and disciplined, to hold yourself accountable to each milestone, whether it’s to run 4 miles, or do cross training with weights, to always be mindful of your nutrition and how you fuel your body (especially when you’re well into your 40s and things don’t bounce back like they once did), and to make sure you get enough sleep! And if you have a family and a job, I know it seems so hard to do. But it is NOT impossible by any means. It’s a choice you make, and you start with one foot actually in front of the other. For me the magic ingredient is waking up at 4am and meeting my Sunrise Girls Running Club for our runs, before my kids are up and my day begins. I type all this because I hope it can inspire some of my friends to realize that they too can hit their health goals despite it seeming impossible.

The Niagara Ultra 50k was the best experience we ever ran and we plan to return again next year. Now I have my eye on what’s a little bit more? Maybe a 50 miler? I know I can do it. Just have to set the plan and go for it.





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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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Waiting to Blast Off

I recently visited the observation deck of the Empire State Building.    Looking out across downtown, straight to Staten Island and then over to Brooklyn and Queens all I could think is that I am actually going to run all of that distance! I’m literally going to run this town.  The cool thing was that as I slowly visualized the entire course and put my body in the moment, I knew I could do it. What once seemed impossible, is possible and will happen.

I feel like there’s a rocket quietly sitting in my heart just waiting to take off! I have this vision of the Space Shuttle on the launch pad, 100% ready for the long journey, patiently waiting for the countdown and GO FOR LIFT OFF from the mission control room.

Training began back in late-May.  My coach put me on a steady running program with the goal being to run slow and steady about 5x a week.  He recommended a Garmin watch and that I track my heart rate.  In those early weeks the alarm would beep wildly as my heart-rate would go too high and outside of the target zone.

As the weekly runs and training programs pushed on through the hot summer I started to see a difference in my heart-rate.  I was able to run faster while my heart-rate remained low. This meant I was more relaxed and comfortable running faster rather than huffing, puffing and gasping for air while running a sub-10 minute pace.

On Wednesday evening’s our coach gave group training sessions.  We were introduced to Hill Repeats and Interval Runs.  Hill Repeats simply meant we would run – dash – up a steep hill, learning to pace our movements so that by midway up the hill we could push faster. Since they were repeats, we would charge up the hill 6x. I can feel myself panting and the strain in my legs just writing about the difficult process!

Thank God for my running mates. Their companionship and support made the entire experience a lot of fun.  The nice part about Hill Repeats is that once finished, I would run a 2 mile cool-down where my lungs felt open and my legs strong.  Now I’m programmed so that whenever I see a hill my mind imagines how it will feel to do hill repeats.  I instinctively want to charge up it and go faster.

When we did interval training runs we learned how to pace ourselves and shift gears.  Intervals are very empowering.  One of the training programs I had to follow was to run 4x 1 mile intervals at a 9:00 minute pace, recover a 1/4 mile at a slow jog.  The first time was always the hardest because my heart-rate was pulsing out of my ears.  By the second time I was questioning if I could hold out and still do it two more times.  By the third interval I was settling in and realizing I could probably go faster than a 9:00 minute pace.  And by the fourth time I was like a bat out of hell and would run 8:20 min pace just to shut-up my nagging-self and prove that I am by far stronger than I think.

I flip through my mind the memories of months of training runs. Here are some random snapshots:

  • The 5:30am morning runs where I would share the residential streets with just a handful of folks: the newspaper delivery guy driving slowly in his car tossing papers out the window, the woman collecting recyclable bottles, the bread-delivery guy for Key Food whose truck gave off a sweet aroma.  And the only sound ringing out on the quiet early morning streets was my Garmin watch beeping my heart-rate was too high or my RunKeeper app on my phone telling me my current pace and distance.
  • The runs in the extreme heat and humidity where I would seek out water fountains just to cool-down my arms and neck.
  • The runs in the pouring rain where the only hard part was mustering the will to walk outside the house into torrential rain.  Once I was soaked, the rain just didn’t matter. I thought of the rain-runs as a sort of holy blessing from God.
  • The runs I squeezed into my schedule while on vacation or a business trip.
  • The countless loops in Clove Lakes Park & Silver Lake Park. Getting to know the ‘regulars’ in the parks including the gaggle of seniors I fondly labeled as the Silver Sneaker Walkers… the grey-haired gals huddled together for a brisk walk and the clusters of men likewise out for their a.m. walk
  • The long-runs I enjoy every Sunday morning with my running mates and coach. Starting at 7am, the summer months they began in a bright sunlight and now that it’s October we begin with starlight twinkling away at the break of dawn. We would begin our morning as any dedicated running group: by panting, groaning, sweating and chit-chatting about everything and anything for a good two hours or more.
  • Our beautiful, adventurous, suburban long-run courses: From Clove Lakes Park, along College Avenue out to the majestic Bayonne Bridge pedestrian walkway with views of skyscraper cargo ships and the Bayonne Windmill blowing in the direction of the NYC Skyline, down along Avenue A and the Brooklyn-looking streets of Bayonne and into sprawling Stephen R. Gregg Hudson County Park and further into Richard A. Rutkowski Park (also known as the Waterfront Park and Environmental Walkway, a 40-acre wetlands preserve) before heading back all the way to Clove Lakes (approx 14 miles depending how you map the course).  Or in the Greenbelt Trails that would be accessed by parking in the Costco Parking Lot. Or along South Beach boardwalk to Miller Field and out to Fort Wadsworth.

I am now less than two weeks away from the NYC Marathon!  Every single time I think about it, or see an advertisement on an MTA bus or subway , or get a newsletter from NYRR, or see a commercial on TV, the butterflies flutter with anticipation.  Now I just have to sit and wait for mission control to give me the green light.


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My Last Long Run Before The NYC Marathon: 47 Total Weekly Miles

Photo: After a 16mile challenging trail run in the Greenbelt, this is how I feel...

This past Sunday I ran 20 miles and that tipped my weekly mileage in at a total of 47 miles; my highest to date and my max before the NYC Marathon.  This was my second 20 mile run.  I also ran two 18 milers over the past several weeks. I love the way I feel after running high mileage! Utterly, completely exhausted and fantastically strong all at the same time. This is the course I ran with my amazing Ironman running coach and fellow running-mates from the YMCA.

We met at 7am in the parking lot at the Fishing Pier off the South Beach boardwalk with pink and orange sunlight crackling across the NY harbor sky.  In the distance was the Verrazano Bridge, Manhattan skyline and the edge of Coney Island with the infamous parachute ride.

It was about 50 degrees with a crisp ocean breeze. I have this rule that unless the temperature is under  49 degrees, I will not wear a jacket or long-sleeves for a run. I always end up too hot once I’m settled into a run.  For this run I wore a T-shirt and although I felt a chill, I held out from adding a jacket.

The run our coach mapped out was fairly flat with the exception of when we got into historic Fort Wadsworth.  We hit those steep hills for miles 16 – 19 to really test our strength and prep us for the NYC Marathon course.

This is one of my favorite courses to run because of the views and the endless paths you can tack onto your route if you want extra mileage.  The terrain also switches at different mileage points with boardwalk wooden planks, concrete, paved streets, gravel and grass at various spots.  It’s a nice way to strengthen your tired legs as you push into high mileage.  There are also public bathrooms and water fountains along the way – an essential for any long-distance runner that isn’t willing (or forced) to rough it in a bush!

This is a view of the fishing pier and the Verrazzano Bridge in the distance.

Around mile 13 there was a car show setting up in the parking lot and a toy race-car speedway event happening too.  We took a 5 minute pause and watched the cars zip and zoom around the mini speedway. So cool!

This little guy was especially fast and slick on the turns!

When we ran into Fort Wadsworth I was knocked back by this breathtaking, up-close image of the Verrazzano Bridge.  I couldn’t help but get emotional thinking this is where I will line-up at the start of the ING NYC Marathon.

This is Fort Wadsworth. There are some delightful hills.  After our first loop and by around mile 17 we decided to go around again, you know, for good luck. It was tough and it was absolutely awesome.

I rarely looked at my Garmin watch to keep track of the mileage and time.  I just kept going and going, breathing easy and keeping loose in my mind.  As we hit mile 18 we kicked up the gears and I had the stamina and desire to push faster.  I imagined myself crossing the finish line in Central Park.  I know I will finish the marathon. I know I have the mileage in me.  I can’t wait to get started!


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I’m IN to Finish 2012 ING NYC Marathon!!

My 67yo father has been running for more than thirty years.  He has run 8 NYC marathons and countless other NYRR races.  His first marathon was in 1979 when I was 7 years old.  Living on Staten Island, the start of the marathon was always an extra big deal in my house.  My mom would wake us early, my younger brother, sister and even my grandparents, and drive my Dad to Fort Wadsworth near the Verazzano Bridge and then cross over to Brooklyn to stake our first of several cheering spots throughout the race; Brooklyn and then on to Manhattan, on the East side just off the 59th Street Bridge and again in Central Park for the last 5 miles.

My Dad said that what piqued his interest in running were Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter, two of the most elite and successful American runners of all-time.  The NYC Marathon began in 1970 and originally consisted of four loops around Central Park with just a few hundred runners.  In 1976, thanks to the pioneering vision of Fred Lebow, the race expanded to hit all five NYC boroughs and attracted approx 2000 runners, including Olympians Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers.

In this picture we had just dropped my Dad off at Fort Wadsworth.  The date was Oct 21, 1979.  Notice the limited crowd and the low number on his bib.  The running boom was just getting started!

It was absolutely thrilling to see him come running up to us, cold and sweaty, and hug and squeeze us at every spot!  Back then there was no such thing as gels and power drinks.  My mom would have a huge container of honey that she’d scoop into my Dad’s mouth like medicine for a baby and I would hold fresh-cut oranges in a ziplock baggie.  My fingers would freeze holding out extra oranges and then go numb from clapping so hard for all the runners.  As if that was an act of endurance?!

I also remember seeing all kinds of characters pass by.  There was the waiter who we saw at every marathon.  He wore a black jacket with tails and bow-tie and held a tray in one hand with a champagne bottle and glass.  There were those who ran backwards and the guy who ran while juggling.  To my young eyes, watching the runners sometimes felt like being at the circus.

I remember after my Dad finished his first NYC Marathon he received a spectacular poster of the Verazzano Bridge with all the runners crossing it. The shot was taken from above so you saw the full span of the bridge from Staten Island and thousands of runners charging across it.  I put this poster on the wall just to the side of my bed.  At night I would lie on my side and stare at the poster wondering where my Dad could be amongst the crowd.  My Dad told me how runners would start stripping off layers of clothes while crossing the bridge and just throw them on the pavement or off the side of the bridge.  I found this little fact about littering your clothes on world’s largest bridge to be fascinating and would daydream at the poster imaging shirts flying off the sides of the bridge.

That same year I decided  for Halloween I would dress-up as ‘Daddy’s Super-Jogger’.  My mom ironed the letters onto a sweatshirt (she lost the ‘Y’ so it actually read Dadd’s Super Jogger), gave me my Dad’s sweatband and wristbands, a water bottle (she didn’t have a real water bottle so she gave me my little sister’s baby bottle!), sneakers and off I went proudly jogging in the P.S.69 Halloween Parade.  Running doesn’t require much of any props so my costume kinda looked like I was going to gym class.  That’s me in the middle holding up my sister.

In 1981, when my Dad was 37yo, he finished the NY Marathon in his best time ever – 3:29:30.  He said that as soon as he hit Central Park he suddenly felt like ‘a firecracker was up his ass’ and he ran like the wind to the finish.  He got across the finish line faster than my family could keep up to greet him.  My Dad bought a picture of himself crossing the finish line which has lived in a frame on top of the piano all these years.

Everyday when I would practice piano I would gaze at the picture and think how casually normal my Dad looked, merely hopping, over the finish line.  But I never understood the magnitude of what he accomplished, from achieving a fantastic time to simply finishing the run of 26.2 miles!  Until now.

Back then I never felt a desire to run.  I never even dreamed of running the NYC Marathon. I just enjoyed being an observer, the daughter of someone who was a marathoner and a very driven runner.  My friends and neighbors all knew my Dad as a runner.  So many times someone would tell me, “I saw your Dad running near my house at 5:30am when I went out to grab the paper.  How does he do it?”  I would shrug and just say, “He does. He gets up and goes running.”

It wasn’t until I myself reached my 30’s, when I began very light running on the treadmill and outside (3-4 miles tops)  that I started watching the NY Marathon on TV and unravel a hidden desire to want to run this race myself.  My childhood memories of being surrounded, unconsciously, by the NY Marathon and the determination of a marathoner, came flooding back to me.  Yet I never mapped out a real goal.  Occasionally I would go for a short run with my Dad but I never considered properly training for races or making running a consistent part of my lifestyle.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mother and wife now and recognize the value of organizing time, staying healthy, and generally feeling balanced between work and life that running has become my center around everything else.

So here I am now at the start of 2012, turning 40yo in October, officially accepted into the NYC ING Marathon! I just wish I could find that poster I once had on my bedroom wall.  Only this time I’d put it on the wall in my girl’s bedroom.

Here are some more vintage pictures of my Dad running the NYC Marathon back when it wasn’t even 5 years old. Notice the light crowd of runners and the simple clothing.



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