Tag Archives: Finish Line

My NYC Marathon 2013 Experience

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

THE FIRST TIME I EVER RAN

Back in August 2010 I could only will my body to run for fifteen minutes around a few blocks in my neighborhood.  One day in August, before my young twins would start Kindergarten and my morning gym routine would be rocked upside down, I had asked my Dad, an avid runner and marathoner, if I could try running with him.  We met on a Sunday and without any instruction we simply started to jog together.  I had planned to run a half hour except I couldn’t make it and stopped halfway because I was convinced I would pass-out and my knees would be damaged forever.

Every time we met I added a few more minutes to my run.   I didn’t know the distance or pace I was running. I didn’t know that my sneakers would have a huge impact on my legs. I didn’t think about nutrition or hydration. I didn’t think my clothes would impact my comfort level.  My goal was to run for however long I felt I could manage. I would tell myself to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, a little bit more each time.  It was hard and yet so much fun.

Fast forward three years later, I am running the first mile of the NYC Marathon across the Verrazano Bridge, and I remember how there was once a time when I couldn’t run more than fifteen minutes.  The thought gave me a wonderful sense of internal calm and joy that cocooned me from the gusts of chilly winds.

START OF THE NYC MARATHON

START OF THE NYC MARATHON

THE NEW YORK CITY MARATHON EXPERIENCE

Running the NYC Marathon was much more than a race, it was an experience.

The experience began when I went to the expo at the Javitz Center to retrieve my bib.   The moment I walked into the expo I felt a tremendous surge of emotions, my eyes welled up and suddenly I was crying.  Last year I went to the expo with my sister, just after Hurricane Sandy and having travelled through the dark, powerless streets.  While we were paying for some running clothes the official word came through from Mayor Bloomberg that the marathon would indeed be cancelled.  

Here I was again.  Two seasons of hard marathon training, now with two marathons on my legs (Philadelphia and Disney). I felt incredibly proud of myself.  My mom was with me for support. She hugged me as we wiped away our tears of joy and I got my bib.  When the volunteer handed over my bib it was as if I had just been handed a pass into heaven and an angel was telling me, ‘You did good, Tara. You made it.  Go on through.’  

There were giant maps of the course on display. Many were taking pictures while other’s were just staring at it in adoration and deep prayer.  I did both.

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

On my drive home to Staten Island I crossed the Verrazano Bridge and said a little prayer for strength and safety for  me, my husband, my Dad and my awesome running group friends who were all about to run the NYC Marathon.  The next time I would cross the bridge would be on foot.  Quite a mind-blowing thought when you really think about it!

MARATHON DAY

I live just a 10 minute drive from my home on Staten Island to Fort Wadsworth.  Preparing for the start of the marathon was the most relaxing and pleasant experience.  Since the marathon also took place on Daylight Savings, I gained an extra hour of sleep too.  I had concerns that starting late in the morning (10:30am) would throw me off since all my long runs are at 7am.  Not the case.  The later start time gave me the chance to properly eat, hydrate and warm-up before hitting the course.

Any aches and pains I had been dealing with throughout my training went completely out the window on marathon day.  What plantar fasciatis? What ham-string issues?  Calf pains? Not on me.  My body was wiped clean from all the adrenaline pumping through me.

The week leading into the marathon I could not sleep.  I would lay in bed and literally feel my muscles itching to run.  The night before the marathon I had the best night sleep.

My husband and I leisurely enjoyed breakfast before getting dressed for the race.  I ate 2 multi-grain waffles with some almond butter and a dash of maple syrup.  Drank some orange juice and a big glass of water.  And had my usual shots of espresso. All consuming was done about 3 hours before I would start running.  We blasted on our stereo AC/DC “It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock And Roll” and woke-up our young daughters with fanfare.

One of my obsessions for the marathon revolved around fashion and weather. What do I wear?  I know layers are the answer but what layers? The high would be 50 degress with 15mph winds.  I reminded myself that I always get hot once I start running so I layered a long-sleeve dri-fit shirt with a light tank-top. I was prepared to toss the top if necessary.  I wore hot pink sleeves that served me well once I eventually shed the long-sleeve shirt around mile 20.  I also had gloves that could be tossed.  Knowing there would be wind gusts I also wore my neck-scarf.  It’s great for covering your face in winds, or pulling over your hat to keep from blowing away. For the wait in Fort Wadsworth I wore a sweatshirt that I tossed aside at the start.

We were allowed to take a clear plastic bag into the Fort. I packed a Gatorade (to take a few sips just before starting), some toilet paper, a small towel to sit on and a large garbage bag where I had already cut a hole for my head.  In case it was very windy I would have put the bag over my body for insulation.

My husband’s start time was 10:00am, mine was 10:30am and my father 11:00am.  I went to the Fort with my husband while my Dad arrived later.  As a married couple with young children, training for a marathon added more challenges to our daily routine.  For more than six months we had plotted our running schedules around each other and the activities of our children.

Here we were on the verge of achieving our ultimate goal and once again, we would be on different schedules. We strolled through the Fort hand-in-hand enjoying the sight of thousands of runners from all over the world mingling about before he went off to his corral.

I then caught up with my running partner Ken in our corral. We sat on a grassy knoll off to the side of the bridge, waiting for our turn.  We heard the cannon blast for Wave 1 and looked up onto the ramp to the Verrazano Bridge to cheer on the runners. Such excitement to know that soon it would be our turn! We were in Wave 3 / Green and that put us on the lower level of the bridge. Of course I wished my start was across the upper level but there was nothing I could do about it so I accepted my course.

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

Everything was nicely organized and very accommodating for the runners. There were Poland Spring tents with free bottled water.  A Dunkin Donuts table with free coffee.  UPS trucks collecting bags if  a runner wanted to reclaim a bag at the finish line.  And most importantly, the Royal Flushes were in great abundance.

We made our way over to our corral and were shuffled to the lower-level entrance ramp just past the toll plaza.  We were running on the left-side of the upper-level, closer to NYC. This is normally the lane for cars driving to Staten Island from Brooklyn.  The speakers blasted Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” to which everyone sang along and waved hands.  An announcement was made warning runners not to go to the bathroom on the bridge because it is dangerous and unpleasant…that gave us all a much-needed comic relief.  I was extremely relaxed. Ken and I mapped out our plan – take it easy, it’s a nice long 20-mile run and then we race.  I told Ken that although we will start the race together he should not feel obligated to wait for me or hold back if he starts to feel the need to push ahead.  No matter what happens, we need to run our own best marathon.

The gun went off and we started jogging, I hit start on my watch and stayed relaxed.  Not 100 feet onto the bridge we got hit with the first gust of wind. Oooo, it was strong! I hunkered my head down into my hat, tightened my form and nestled behind a pack of runners.  I figured being on the lower level probably had an advantage in that it buffered some of the strong wind gusts. 

We also didn’t have an incline like the upper level. I soaked up the views that I see every day going to and from work.  It was awesome.  I looked to my left in the direction of Manhattan and the upper-east side bridges and realized that in a few hours my little legs were going to bring me over there. It was such an overwhelming thought that I simply regarded it as no big deal. I knew I would do it.  

As we started to descend the bridge I could feel the marathon was really about to begin as I started to hear cheers.  I repeated my affirmation that I always say at the start of a race – I will finish this race. I will finish strong. I will run the entire race.  By saying these words it’s like I’ve mentally locked in a promise between my brain and body to achieve my goal. It works every time.

My wave ran the first 3 miles on a slightly different course in Brooklyn before joining the other waves on 4th Avenue. We were never without cheers.  As we approached 4th Avenue the crowds were loud and packed on both sides of the street.  Runners were pouring onto the street like rainbow-colored sand in an hour-glass.  As we merged into 4th Avenue I felt a wave of energy sweep me off my feet. I wasn’t running. I was gliding!

I had my name taped on my shirt and spectators were calling me. Go Tara! Tara! Tara! Strangers were cheering for me. It was an amazing feeling.  I wasn’t paying attention to mileage.  Suddenly we were almost 6 miles in.  I kept an eye out for friends who were to be stationed along this marker.  I saw my dear friend and screamed and jumped and hugged her tightly.  I ran off and not 2 blocks later a runner taps my shoulder and says I dropped my phone with my friend.

I froze.  Ken said not to worry, just go back.  So I turned around and started trotting back, against the push from the runners, looking into the crowds that were packed 5 rows deep.  I saw my friend, yelled out and she tossed the phone to me.  This ordeal took no more than a minute. I figured it was meant to happen so I didn’t get upset. Maybe this little interruption helped recharge my muscles or saved me from a fall that would have otherwise happened? We made up the time lost because in a few miles we past the runner that had initially helped us.

At every fluid station we grabbed water and Gatorade and took a few sips.  By mile 10 I took a few energy chomps just to be safe on my glycogen reserves.  After mile 10 it felt like there were quite a lot of hills.  We paced ourselves through each one, reserving energy so we would be strong for the finish.

When we got to the Pulaski Bridge between Mile 13-14 that was the first spot where I saw lots of runners falling apart. There were many off on the side stretching or walking and with faces of pain.  It was a very steep, although short, incline over the bridge.  I leaned a little bit forward, hiked my legs high and charged up and over.  As we came down the hill I increased my speed and let gravity replenish my lungs and muscles.  If there were strong winds, I didn’t notice. If there was a chill, I didn’t feel it.

NYC Marathon 2013 - Mile 13 SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

NYC Marathon 2013 Mile 13

The crowds were everywhere and they carried me through every borough.  It was one big party on the streets of New York.  Anyone that had hands out I smacked with a high-five.  If there were little kids I made sure to give them a high-five too.  The feeling of connecting with so many people was phenomenal.  I remember how I felt as a young girl watching my Dad run NYC Marathons in the 80’s and 90’s. I would get dizzy watching the endless runners move past me as I stood crammed behind the police barricade.

As we made our way towards the Queensboro Bridge I felt its massive height looming above me from the roadway. I stared it down and thought, okay, I gotta run over that too. I’ll get there. I can do it.  One step in front of the other.  On the bridge more runners were crashing.  We passed them though we weren’t running faster. We definitely slowed down but mentally we were feeling strong and in good spirits.  There was a police helicopter hovering just off the side railing of the bridge. Runners were stopping to take photos.  I soaked up the amazing views.

I am a New Yorker so while skyline is a view I know very well, it never ceases to take my breath away.  I thought of the foreigners running around me and how the impact of all the tall, closely fitted buildings and bridges must captivate their attention.  Does it make them feel intimated and insignificant?  Does it overwhelm their inner-strength or motivate them harder?

The bridge was a steady incline and we all felt it.  There was a silence and just the sound of sneakers hitting pavement. I didn’t put on my music. I enjoyed the sounds around me.  Finally we peaked and started to feel the relief of running downhill.  I knew we were about to hit onto the streets of Manhattan and that thought made me happy.

Ken and I braced each other. We know that at  Mile 16, when you start to head up First Avenue, is where runners get into trouble because they feel the energy of the crowds and being in Manhattan and then make the mistake of going too fast and ultimately bonking out.  We kept our pace steady.  The crowds were back and a welcome sight. I’ve heard of the ‘wall of sound’ that runners feel as they come off the Queensboro Bridge.  What stood out to me was seeing mobs of people crammed along the barricades, waving and cheering every single runner.

First Avenue is one long incline. At first I was looking at each street number but after a few blocks I stopped because it was making me feel the distance I still had to run. Instead I focused on the massive crowds that were cheering. By now my name tag had fallen off my shirt. I wished I had come up with a better plan for getting my name on my torso.  It was the higher miles where I really needed to hear my name.

Ken and I were looking at the crowds seeking friends.  Somehow we missed seeing everyone.  Except at 86th Street where we spotted his family.  There is simply nothing like seeing someone you know amid miles and miles of strangers.  His wife gave us bananas that we ate as we ran off.  That banana was a fantastic energy booster.

As we hit the Bronx the crowds thinned out but there was a lot of fun music blasting.  I realized how depleted everyone’s energy levels were becoming because there were few runners waving hands or high-fiving spectators.  We were all reserving as much as we could to keep our minds focused and legs moving.  The party atmosphere we felt throughout Brooklyn and Queens took a very different tone in the Bronx and Harlem as the real race – the last 6 miles – was about to begin!

I saw the Willis Avenue Bridge and thought, “Holy cow! We are actually here now, already!  It’s gonna be over very soon.”  The Willis Avenue Bridge has always seemed extremely far away from my point of life on Staten Island.  

My nutrition for this marathon has been a different approach from the past marathons.  I limited my Gu and Gel intake to just 2 packets and only once I reached +18 miles.  In the lower miles I took a few chomps.  And I ate two bananas.  One around mile 16 and another around mile 22.  What I found I most needed was salt.  I sweat a lot.  

Ken had a few salt packets and gave me one at mile 18 as I started to feel my legs getting a bit stiff and my running posture trying to compensate.  As if I was doing a tequila shot, I licked some salt, grabbed a shot of water and boom! I was back in action. I had to do it again around mile 22 and it made a world of difference.  My legs were starting to get stiff again and I could feel that my calves might start to cramp. I didn’t chance it. Another salt packet and like magic my legs loosened up again.

Every new neighborhood we crossed into was amazing. At some point we were in a Mexican area and I found myself shouting ‘Viva Mexico!’ and then it was Indian where the DJ was blasting Bollywood music.  As we came down from the Bronx into Harlem there was a Latin band playing salsa.  I found the energy to give a little cha-cha-cha in my run.

SmileAcrossTheFinish

NYC Marathon 2013 Mile 20

Coming across Mile 23 I  looked ahead and saw the infamous Fifth Avenue.  It was yet another long steady incline.  I was expecting this moment after months of training.  I decided to ‘go fishing’ as I once read in a marathoner tip guide.  I’d spot a runner, reel him in and move on.  Runners were really hurting at this point.  Many were walking.  If I passed someone walking I’d pat them on the back and try to encourage them to keep on moving.  My pace was pretty steady throughout the entire marathon but here is where I really felt I was gearing up for a big finale.  I felt myself growing stronger.  As we started to get close to where we would enter into Central Park, Ken and I both began to really pick-up the pace.  The crowds were non-stop.  Our coach had trained us to get comfortable (although it’s never really comfortable. You just get comfortable with the uncomfortable) with running faster the last few miles of our long Sunday runs.  As we came to our final 5 miles our brains were doing just what it had trained to do.

I know the course in Central Park with my eyes closed.  We started to run past the museum and then down Cat Hill (finally a down hill!) and I could feel the finish line coming closer!  I was scanning the crowds for my family but never did see them. At this point Ken was also feeling juiced up from the crowds and surged ahead of me.  I watched him run off with his hands waving to the crowds shouting “Make some noise, New York!”  We were both feeling on fire. I was happy to see him charge off because since I had trained for many months with him step-in-step I knew it meant we both had the strength in us to push harder.  He inspired me to push harder.

I was now zig-zagging past runners as I came along 59th Street and just a mile away from the finish line.  Only when I got to Columbus Circle did I notice that daylight was starting to slip away.  I kept picking up the pace and smiling at the crowds.

I don’t think I could have been living more in the now than during the 4 hours and 41 minutes it took me to run 26.2 miles.  There was never a moment where I thought in the past, nor did I think in the future. I just kept focused on the present moment I was in with the bounce of each step.  Right up until the finish line.

NYC MARATHON 2013 SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

NYC MARATHON 2013 SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

I was so happy to see the finish line but also felt very sad because I didn’t want the marathon to be over.  I remember thinking the moment I saw the finish line that I could definitely run another 10 miles.  I looked around and made sure no one was blocking my moment.  I held my arms up with my hot pink arm-warmers, looked up to heaven, said thank you to God and my angels and smiled across the finish.

Ken finished a minute ahead of me and we both felt amazingly strong and pumped with energy.  We were handed our medals, took pictures, grabbed a tart apple, got a goodie bag (Gatorade protein drink, pretzels, protein bar) and made our way out of the park where we were wrapped in the most amazing NYRR Poncho. These ponchos were only given to those that opted not to check baggage.  I felt like a superhero being given her cape.

We met up with my husband (finish time 4:17) and compared stories.  Before Ken went on to find his family we said we’d speak later in the week and figure out our running plans for the following weekend!  Runners never stop.

SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

Me and My Husband after the NYC Marathon 2013 SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

My husband and I made our way back towards the finish line and waited for my 69-year-old Dad.  By now it was getting dark outside.  I spotted his stride and he was moving steady and strong.  For the first time I wasn’t just a spectator for my Dad.  I was a marathoner too.  We screamed and hollered for him, gave him a huge hug and watched him finish like a champ his 9th marathon in 5:48!

REFLECTIONS

Looking back on my marathon experience, do I have any regrets? Is there anything I would change or do differently?  Regrets, absolutely not.  Do differently? I would run a lot more hills in my training.  And every time I would think I ran enough hills I would turn onto another hill just for good measure.  The NYC Marathon course is packed with hills, a lot of sneaky incline hills like on First Ave and Fifth Ave and a handful of rolling steep hills especially crossing the bridges.

I would also reserve my energy during the first 14 miles. Brooklyn was such a rush and I loved high-fiving spectators and waving and smiling at everyone.  That act used up a lot of energy and probably also slowed down my pace when you add it all up.

I hope that my journey to crossing the finish line, over all the months of training and while in the very moment of running the course, inspires even just one person to do something they never dreamed possible.  When you make an authentic decision to do something, the universe conspires to make it come true.  If you remain determined, committed and give it your best effort, you too can Smile Across The Finish!

NYC MARATHON 1979 & 2013 SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

NYC MARATHON 1979 & 2013 SmileAcrossTheFinish.com

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November 30, 2013 · 3:16 pm

THIS IS MY HAPPY PLACE: Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

The above picture truly captures me in my happy place: body mid-air, arms swaying strong, relaxed posture, music pumping, hint of grimace and determination on my face as I taste the finish line just ahead.  It was taken at mile 13 of the Staten Island Half Marathon last Sunday. 

Ironically, I was actually quite uncomfortable: my calves started cramping around mile 11 because I was lacking salt, I was sweating so much that my glasses were fogging, my toes were starting to get a little bit numb and my brain was trying to lure me into slowing down to a more comfortable breathing pace.  All that is not what was on my mind in the moment the picture happened.  It’s what was in the back of my mind, trying to takeover.  

What was front of mind is a very simple thought, “You are stronger than you think. The uncomfortable will pass.”  I kept saying these phrases over and over again and willing my legs to go a little bit faster, my knees to lift a little bit higher, my breathing to relax. I thought of my training runs where my coach would push me to run tempo pace for miles (a much faster pace) after an easy 10 miles. Even though I was uncomfortable I knew that eventually I’d settle down and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  

 

Since January 2013 I have run five Half Marathons (13.1 miles) and all within a finish time range of 2:10-2:14.  I finished the Staten Island Half in 2:04. Not a PR (Personal Record) or the sub-2 hours I so very much long to achieve and not my best Staten Island Half time (last year in 2012 I finished in 2:02) but I gave it my absolute hardest effort. Can’t ask for anything more of myself.

I realized after finishing the Staten Island Half that my legs have two marathons on them over the past year. Although I’d like to believe this fact makes me stronger, it can also make me plateau and face more muscle fatigue. (And oh have I: shins, plantar fascia, calf pains, hamstring tightening!) None of this matters. Comes with the training. I need to just stay relaxed, listen to my body, rest when I should rest during taper, believe in my strength and go as hard as I can for that finish line.

Although I’m not smiling in the above picture, a picture that truly captures my happy place, as soon as I rushed across the finish line, I was smiling ear to ear with immense satisfaction and pride.  I just LOVE that finish line!

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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.

Disney 2

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.

Disney 14

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.

Disney 5

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!”

DisneyFinish1

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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Running the Brooklyn Half Marathon: I Want More

I love running Half Marathons!  Within the past year I have run four.  In a week I will run my fifth (NYRR Manhattan Half) and then I look forward to the NYC Half on March 15 and the More Magazine/ Fitness Magazine Women’s Half on April 15.  I figure eventually all these halfsies will lead me to a whole: specifically the ING NYC Marathon.

How did I get to this point?  Here’s the story of my first half marathon.

I ran my first Half Marathon in May 2011, the Brooklyn Half. It was a beautiful Spring day and my first time running 13.1 miles.   I ran that race with my Dad and sister.  My sister is a lot faster so I only saw her for hugs at the Start and Finish line.  My Dad, who is my running buddy,  stayed with me for a few miles in Prospect Park but then I gradually drifted away around mile 4.  He, being a very experienced runner, kept telling me to just follow my feet so I did just that.

I had no strategy or plan of attack. I was just focused on finishing.  I didn’t care about my pace. I didn’t care about my NYRR Account Profile and what race times would appear. Being a newbie to the racing community and entering it without any sense of competition my only real fear was that I would fall behind in the pack as everyone passed me and when I got to the finish line they would have already started packing up.  Back then I didn’t even feel I could call myself a runner even though I did run 3-5x a week mostly with my Dad.  I guess I just hadn’t caught my mind up to my body yet.

The Brooklyn Half was my second race.  The first race I ever ran was about 8 weeks earlier, the 15k Colon Cancer Challenge (March 2011).   For that race I was giddy with enthusiasm just over being a participant that it wasn’t until I looked at my time and ranking on my NYRR profile that I realized I was quite close to being the LAST one to finish!

Last?!  Oh, was that why as I came around mile 8 there were so few runners around me?  And why when I crossed the finish line – smiling, arms up like a champ – I felt like I had joined a party that had been going on for hours?  What did I know about running races?  Nada.  So the fact that during that 15k race there were merely 149 runners behind me was a smack on a pride I didn’t even know existed in me.

So my strategy for the Brooklyn Half was simple: Don’t Be Last.  I had this fear of running alone, watching every runner pass me by, as I struggled to get to the Coney Island finish line.

My Dad said the biggest mistake runners make is they start out too fast and then crash. He kept reminding me to take it easy and not get caught up in the rush because later on I will pass a lot of these runners who were flying by me.  Wise advice except it sort of messed with my head after knowing how I ranked in my last race. What if I go too slow?

Like a sign from God, as I was settling into the run around mile 5 there was a girl just up ahead of me wearing a T-shirt that read “DON’T BE LAST!”.  I took a moment to get a sense of my surroundings.  There were a lot of runners still behind me and I saw quite a few stopping on the sidelines at fluid stations or to stretch.  I suspected my Dad hadn’t passed me cause surely I would have seen him. So I calculated that there were at least 40 runners who will definitely be behind me.  Phew, I won’t be last and I won’t be alone in the end!

When we came out of running the two shady loops in Prospect Park and hit the sprawling, flat Ocean Parkway in a beating Spring sun my heart skipped a few beats in awe.  I was about to run up a highway ramp! Where are the cars? Do I need to look both ways?  Can my body do this?

There were all kinds of shapes, sizes and ages around me and ahead of me.  In the time it took to absorb this thought I was coming down the ramp onto the parkway, finding my strength from the pack of runners all around me.  If they are doing it, I can too.  And off we merged onto Ocean Parkway.

I thought, “So this might be how it feels running the NYC Marathon, running major roads and highways that are shutdown just for the runners.” I loved that sensation. That was the moment I actually decided I would one day do the marathon.  I may have been at Mile 8, not having even run 13.1 miles yet but that image of the Ocean Parkway leading the way to Coney Island sealed the deal for me.  I want to experience that kind of roadway all over NYC!  Give me the Verrazano Bridge, the BQE… I want to run the streets of my city.

The sensation of running an actual highway where cars zoom by was energizing. Passing traffic signs with speed limits and running through red-lights gave me a real charge. Of course I had trained on the streets in Staten Island plenty but I had to work around the bustle of traffic.  This time the roads were only for runners.  It was also one of the first warm days of Spring and the sun was beating hard so we all kept to the shade of the trees.  It felt great.

As I merged onto Ocean Parkway there was a lone man cheering.  He said, “You’re halfway done! The finish is just down this road.”  Ha, just another 6-ish miles. That flat run on the parkway was long and quiet.  There were no cheerers.  But occasionally an elite runner who had probably finished an hour earlier and now decided to run back on the course towards Prospect Park would shout a cheer like “You can do it runners!  Push it!”.  I felt grateful and inspired to think that I was able to participate in a race with other runners that were a hundred times faster than me.

The end was nearing when I approached the boardwalk at Coney Island and saw the Parachute Ride and Ferris Wheel in the near distance. When I turned the corner in the parking lot with my feet pounding the boardwalk’s wooden planks, heard the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” blasting and crowds cheering around the finish line, I actually felt a little sad it was all about to come to an end. I wanted more! I knew I had more in me.

I remember looking at that Finish Line as I was passing Nathan’s Hot Dog stand and the Verrazano Bridge far off in the distance, with my husband and sister on the sidelines screaming for me, and thought that if I had to run another 5 miles I absolutely had it in me to go the distance.  I felt so proud of myself for discovering I had 13.1 miles in my legs.

After I finished (2:31) and enjoyed a few bites of an apple we all gathered near the finish line straining to see my Dad come through.  About seventeen minutes later I spotted him in the distance and we started hooting and hollering like no one else around.  As he got closer, my sister and I busted back out on the course to help bring our Dad home.

A cute fact about Coney Island- my parent’s, who have been married 44 years, had their first date on the Parachute ride which is just to the right of the finish line.  Now another special memory was made in that same spot – finishing the Brooklyn Half Marathon with his two daughters and a smile across the finish!

Me and my sister bringing our 67yo Dad into the Finish Line!

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My First 10k Race: Where is that finish line?

This past weekend I ran my first 10k, the NYRR Joe Kleinerman Classic 10k in Central Park.  It started on the upper east side near 101st street and looped all the way to the edge of the northside of the park, down the west side, across the bottom of the park near 59th street and then back up on the east side to the finish line around 101st street. 

Once again I had to face the challenge of those Central Park hills.  I find I actually prefer not to know much about the course and just tackle it as it comes.  Perhaps this is an approach I prefer just for Central Park because of the varying degrees of rolling hills.  So just when you think you’ve accomplished the 2 big hills, suddenly you’re on mile 5 and there comes Cat Hill, kicking your butt even though it’s not supposed to be much of anything compared to what you ran at mile 1 and 2.  Or maybe this is a naive novice approach?  Isn’t ignorance sometimes bliss?

Running is such a mind-game of personal puzzle pieces.  Not everyone’s piece fits in the same way to get a picture of the finish line.  Some pieces require water at mile 2, other’s need a sip of Gatorade at every fluid station while still other’s won’t drink till the finish.  Some prefer to start out in the front of the pack, other’s prefer to lay far back and enjoy the feeling of passing other runners as you build up speed each mile marker.   

I planned to run the first 3 miles kinda easy and then push hard for the last 3.  I sort of kept to that plan.  I had a friend join me for the run and I don’t train with her so her presence still impacted my strategy whether I realized it or not because now the puzzle pieces I was fitting together to make my perfect picture of crossing the finish line unintentionally became a duo effort.  Sometimes that was a really good thing when it meant more motivation and sometimes it just became an added level of decision-making to an already tricky jig-saw puzzle

By mile 5 we were really pushing up Cat Hill hard and then as we started down the hill I looked at my friend and said for about the fifth time – “Put it in cruise control to the finish!” – because when you go down a hill it should be just a free-flowing sensation with minimal effort or energy so that you can clear your mind and cleanse out your muscles and heavy-breathing from the challenge of going up the hill. 

We pass mile 6 and we have a point-3 to go.  That point NEVER came!  We started to hear the announcer and music but when I looked ahead I just kept seeing the snaking trail of the racers as though it was never end.  We are now passing speakers and a lot more runners that have finished and are eating their apples and bagels.  But still, we can’t see the finish line.  I can’t keep pushing at this fast pace of close to 9 min per mile.  My friend says “Where is it?! When is it gonna end?!” And then finally we see it just around the bend.

I finished the race feeling amazing and invigorated because I pushed myself harder than ever with an average pace of 9:54 but my per mile splits were a lot faster than I’ve ever done for a run of more than 5 miles.  I have never had a bad experience running a race.  Every one of them has been an incredible adventure and journey for me.  I always focus on the positives and little victories rather than anything negative. 

And yes, I absolutely did smile across the finish of my first 10k.

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NYRR 9+1 DONE!

On Sunday (Nov 20) I volunteered as a Course Marshall in the 4m Race To Deliver in Central Park.  I loved wearing the bright orange Volunteer vest, Emergency Contact tag and having a sense of authority amongst all the racers and pedestrians.  I was positioned less than a quarter-mile to the Finish Line, just at the sharp turn the course takes into the Finish Line.  Didn’t have to do much other than cheer. Oh if only I had a bullhorn.  

My hands were killing me from relentlessly clapping but I felt awful if I stopped clapping.  Every runner deserves a clap.  I hate when I run a race and volunteers just stare at me.  Say something! Motivate me!

Next time I’m gonna stick my hand out and get high-fives.  I always liked volunteers that demanded a high-five as you were pushing through a course. 

I know how wonderful it feels to hear cheers, especially the ones that really strike a chord with your body and make you get a rush of adrenaline, perk-up with a smile and bring it on home.  So rather than just shout the standard “Come on runners!  Go runners! ” I switched my chants to a series of phrases that I would personally love to hear:

You guys look awesome!  You guys look great!  

Finish is just around the bend!  

Push it just a little more into the Finish! 

Deep breath and you’re home!

It wasn’t until the 10+ min a mile pacers started coming in that I really felt a rush of energy and excitement with cheering.  These folks needed the cheers.  You saw their faces light up when you said that the finish was just around the bend.  And that’s when I started shouting, “SMILE OVER THE FINISH!”  The effect that phrase had on runners was just amazing to watch.  One guy was barely at a jog and when I said “Hey, you did it! Smile over the finish!” he smiled, waved his hands like a champ and practically sprinted to the end.

I ran my first race in March 2011.  It was a 15k Colon Cancer Challenge in Central Park.  Not really sure why I decided to become a NYRR member and do races. I just felt the need to give myself goals to better myself.  It was a bitter cold day, below 25 degrees, and pretty windy.  I didn’t care. I was so excited and captivated by the entire experience of running a race; from picking up my bib the day before at the 89th Street NYRR office, waiting around early in the morning with a DJ blasting music, lining up in the corrals, jumping around to warm-up, singing the national anthem, hearing the start gun, the slow herding to the start line then a skip, trot, jog and swoosh a run – that I smiled the entire time.  I smiled at pedestrians, volunteers, other runners. I could not wipe the smile off my face.  The only thing that was aching on me after I finished the race was my face from all the smiling. 

My cousin, who is a runner, told me very wise words for my first race. She said, “Don’t forget to smile across the finish line.”  That phrase says it all to me about the kind of attitude I have as a runner and how I plan to be when I cross the finish line of my first marathon in 2012!

I always ham it up for the cameras
Smiling across the finish after 13.1 miles in Central Park!

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