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Manhattan Half Marathon 2012: Running in a Beautiful Snowstorm

Last Saturday (Jan 21) I ran the NYRR Manhattan Half Marathon in the heart of a beautiful cold, slushy, icy snowstorm.  From a week out I was watching the weather reports and “Wintry Mix” kept appearing in the forecast. I knew I had a choice to make. I could either moan and groan and worry about all the discomfort and troubles that snow might cause or I could just accept it and make the absolute best of the situation.  I decided to accept it. To that point, I decided to fully take it on, embrace it as a wild adventure and truly enjoy the challenge of running in a snowstorm for 13.1 miles for the very first time.

Every time I looked at the weather forecast I automatically reacted with an enthusiastic ‘Yes, Snow! Bring it!’ and decided no matter what the scenario, I was going to finish this half marathon. Nothing was going to hold me back unless the NYRR organizers decided to cancel the run.

A few days before the Manhattan Half Marathon I started reading “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne.  (I’m a voracious reader because I spend a lot of time commuting for work.) I was deeply affected by the notion of the Law of Attraction and the tremendous power we have within our thoughts to project us onto various frequencies.

“Your thoughts are the primary cause of everything…You are the one who calls the law of attraction into action, and you do it through your thoughts.  You will attract everything that you require.
“If you’re feeling good, then you’re creating a future that’s on track with your desires. If you’re feeling bad, you’re creating a future that’s off track with your desires. As you go about your day, the law of attraction is working in every second. Everything we think and feel is creating our future. If you’re worried or in fear, then you’re bringing more of that into your life throughout the day.”  – Rhonda Byrne (The Secret)
Basically, the universe hears our thoughts and will attract to us what we think.  The key: Be Positive.  I’ve always been a generally positive person so a lot of what The Secret discusses naturally resonated with me.

In preparation of this race and throughout the actual run, I thought a lot about what The Secret teaches about how to think positive. Thinking in negative terms will not be heard by the universe.  For example, as a runner if you think – “I won’t fall on the snow. I won’t get hurt.” – the universe doesn’t hear the negatives, only the positives.  Your thoughts will be interpreted as “I fall on the snow. I get hurt.” and thus attracting those events to you.

The night before the race there was a lot of chatter on the NYRR Facebook page about whether the race will be cancelled. Would anyone run in the snow? And plenty of negative talk about hating to run in the snow.  I put up my mental shield, closed my eyes and went to bed visualizing myself running through the snow, around the loops of Central Park, gliding up and down the rolling hills and finally crossing the finish line. I even visualized sipping slushy water and Gatorade at fluid stations.  I ran the race before I even crossed the start line so I knew I could do it.

Early in the dark of morning, my husband, who is also a passionate runner and signed up for this race, was concerned about traveling into the city and whether we could run in a snowstorm without getting hurt or freezing cold.  I told him I was confident we could do it. We just need to dress warmly (we had all the right gear), take it very slowly and carefully. Make the event fun, not a nuisance. Don’t focus on achieving a specific time. Just finish.  As it turns out, the organizers had the same idea and decided to turn the race into a Fun Run with no scores or official times.

When we opened the door to our house and walked to the car the dark chill was invigorating.  I just kept repeating to myself, “I will finish this run.”  The ride into the city was slippery and slow.  When we came out of the Battery Tunnel and drove up the Westside Highway there wasn’t a runner, let alone a dog-walker, in sight.  My mind wanted to drift into negative-land but I concentrated on countering with positive thoughts.

As we drove along Central Park West, getting near 63rd street, I finally saw one runner with a bib prancing over the snow into the park.  I felt a little relief.  Then as we drove a block more I saw a handful more runners jogging across the snow-covered street.  And soon there were at least 20 runners heading into the park for the race.  I felt motivated and excited to join them as soon as possible. The party was on!

We parked the car and lightly trotted into the park to the baggage check-in area.  There were about 2 inches of snow on the ground and the storm was just getting started.  In case you were wondering, NO the paths were not plowed.  The streets had barely been touched. Who was going to take time to plow and salt the walking paths of Central Park before an 8am race?

I quickly get a crash course on how to run on snow.  Woah, was it slippery and slow!  But I was doing it and so were lots of others around me. No one fell or wiped out or crashed.  Everyone was bouncing gently across the packed-down snow that kept on sprinkling on our running gear.  Turns out that there were many runners who showed up (i don’t know actual count but at least a thousand based on the snaking trail of racers).   It was an awesome feeling to be in that charged environment.

Off we start to lots of cheers and shouts of encouragement. We work our way around the bottom loop of Central Park and then up the east side.  We had to run 2 counterclockwise loops.  It was a lot of work just to take a step that could project your body forward.  My entire posture had to be re-adjusted. At first my ankles were a bit wobbly.  I had to watch for ice patches and keep to the fresh powdery snow with good traction.

My eyes had to adjust to all the whiteness to avoid feeling nauseous.  My hat and jacket were getting covered in a nice coating of snow that I had to shake off every so often.  My eye-lashes were frozen icicles that I had to keep wiping.  My breathing was also impacted because the snowflakes kept being sucked up my nose or into my mouth causing me to choke and get a chill at the same time.  Some might find these obstacles a complete turn-off to running; I loved every single moment of being confronted with new challenges.

Running thru a snowstorm

For the first several miles I kept expecting my feet would get wet and chilled.  It never happened.  Throughout the entire race I was always comfortable and warm. My face was chilled but it felt wonderful.  My hands were warm.  My body felt strong and light. Most important, my feet were warm and dry!  God bless the inventor of the Brooks Pure Cadence sneakers and my WigWam Ironman Socks (yes, socks are equally important as sneakers to a runner.).  I was very curious to see how my sneakers held up in snow or rain.  They remained perfect the entire run.

As we passed mile 3 my husband and I looked at each other in wonder… ah, only mile 3?  We had worked extremely hard to push along the course.  Every step was a subtle slide back so that it sort of felt like running on a treadmill if you didn’t concentrate on projecting your body forward.  So many times I could have let negative thoughts sweep over me.  Like when we passed mile 5 and the snow was a good 4″inches and covering most of the mile marker sign.

Central Park covered in snow is a magical vision.  I lost my bearings often because there was nothing but a milky whiteness surrounding me, covering all the buildings and paths.  The park was also very quiet and still except for the gentle movements of the runners.

There are many reasons I wanted to do this half-marathon but mainly it was because I wanted to prove to myself I could do something I’ve never done before as long as I set my mind to it.  Amazing challenges have come my way throughout my life and I have conquered them, worked through them, feeling stronger and better for it. But the challenge of running a marathon I have yet to accomplish.  This half marathon was one goal I set to keep me on track towards achieving a marathon.

One fear that had been nagging at me for months was the weather on the day of the NYC Marathon.  What if it rains? What if it’s freezing cold? What if it snows? All of which are possible in early Nov for NYC.  How can I prepare?

The Manhattan Half Marathon was my test. Now I know that the weather will only help me to finish the marathon, not hinder me.  I do not have a real-time goal… 4:30 hours would be very nice though.  It’s going to be my first one so I will just focus on finishing.

Weather will not stand in my way and I’m learning how to keep my mind from getting in my way.  If you put your mind to it, you can do it.  All these phrases can sound cliche` if you never actually tried putting them to good use.  But I did use them to push me across the finish line of this race. The power of positive thinking is where true strength can be found!

We finished the race in 2:30 minutes which is a few minutes slower than our average half marathon finish time.  Our average pace hovered around the 11 min per mile range.  With double the energy it required to take each step this race was as much a strength training experience as it was cardio.

As I approached the last mile I felt sad to see it all come to an end.  Once again, I wanted more and felt strong enough to keep going if I had to.  Give me a blizzard and I was ready to run straight through it! I think that’s a great way to end a race when your longterm goal is to run a marathon.

At the Finish Line of the Manhattan Half Marathon 2012

 

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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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