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NYC HALF MARATHON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The “Take It Easy” vs “Pass One More Ass” Strategies

I’ve just started reading Hal Higdon’s book “Marathon: The Ulimate Training Guide”.  Practically every page makes some kind of profoundly inspiring statement about running a marathon that just tugs at my heartstrings and makes me bawl up in tears!  

He says the training should begin around 16-18 weeks from the marathon date so for me that will mean in June.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not already focusing on keeping a steady and consistent running schedule to keep my legs strong and endurance at its strongest level.   He suggests keeping a diary or a blog throughout your training.  Check! Already on it. 

This Saturday I’m running a lovely 10k NYRR race in Central Park.  My strategy is to run it for speedwork.  I’ve been trying to improve my pace this past year into the 9:30 – 10:00min pace range for runs over 5 miles. 

On Jan 21 I’m looking forward to running the Manhattan Half Marathon in Central Park.  For that one I just want to have a steady 10:30 pace which will be the same pace I had for the Staten Island Half, Grete’s Gallop and Queens Halfs in 2011.  Grete’s Gallop was also a half marathon in Central Park and it was, by far, the hardest course I have ever run.  The rolling hills were just that, rolling… and endless. Even the last 5 miles, up and down, up and down.  So my attitude is to just take it easy and focus on having fun and finishing.

Funny how I mentally go into races generally thinking I’ll take it easy and just push when I can, and cruise when I want, don’t overdo anything, just focus on finishing and having fun.  But then once I cross the Start Line the ‘Take It Easy’ strategy flies off with the breeze of a pack of runners and I’m suddenly pushing myself to pass one more ass.  The ‘Pass One More Ass’ strategy has really helped me go faster. 

My sister (also a runner on a similar journey as myself in planning to run her first marathon at the ING NYC Marathon) made the suggestion to me once when she joined me halfway into Grete’s Gallop to help push me along.  She said, ‘Find an ass and pass it!’.  It works.  There’s always some ass in front of me that if I zone in on it and take a deep breath I’ll gradually manage to squeeze past.   Now whenever I run a race, I inevitably take the Pass One More Ass strategy. 

 

 

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