Tag Archives: Marathon

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

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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PUSH = Persist Until Something Happens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUSH = Persist Until Something Happens.  SOMETHING.

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

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

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

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

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Twin Mom Joins the 26.2 Mile Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Amen sister!

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From Runner to Marathoner: I Have Only Just Begun

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to run the Philadelphia Marathon 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miles 1 – 5: warm-up

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

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

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

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

26 – 26.2: let the finish line pull you in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around Mile 14 – Philadelphia Marathon 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 18 – Philadelphia Marathon 2012

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

Mile 18 – Philadelphia Marathon 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1981 NYC Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How I FINISHED the ING NYC Marathon 2012

Hurricane Sandy blew destruction across my Staten Island neighborhood. Fortunately my family was just inconvenienced without power for 6 days, tree damage and low gas in our cars. Many other’s were less fortunate. Areas that are among my most favorite running grounds were completely demolished and flooded.  This is a blog post from Oct 14 where I completed my last long run in the sections destroyed by Hurricane Sandy: http://bit.ly/TdFKdb

Staten Island – West Brighton – Tree Damage from Hurricane Sandy

I kept asking myself, “How could there be a marathon?” And the answer in my heart was always, “No, there just can’t be.” I had already accepted the marathon would be cancelled even though an official announcement was yet to be made by NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg. She never made it. Mayor Bloomberg insisted it was going forward. NYRR sent newsletters to confirm that it was on.

I just couldn’t believe it. And then an angry mob began hating on runners. I had Facebook Friends post about tripping runners, protesting at the start line, blocking the course. The general sentiment that echoed in my head was: “Running the Marathon is a disgrace. It is an insult to every New Yorker who has suffered in any way.”  This is not the spirit of the NYC Marathon. The marathon was founded on bringing together all 5 boros of NYC.  I was very conflicted.

At Friday afternoon’s press conference (2 days before the marathon) Mayor Bloomberg continued to insist the marathon would happen.  So I took a deep breath and began a 3 hour commute into NYC to the Javitz Center for the expo where I would pick-up my bib. This was supposed to be a thrilling process and instead I was masking feelings of dread and sadness.

Minutes after receiving my bib, while at a cash register with my sister paying for some running items, a friend called to say the Mayor just cancelled it. I was beyond relieved and also sad and angry. Why wait so long to make a decision?

Moments after getting my bib at the expo for the NYC Marathon 2012, Mayor Bloomberg announced it was cancelled

On Sunday, Nov 4, I joined NY Runners Support Staten Island at the ferry (met my sister too) and went into the coastal areas hit hardest to distribute supplies and help my neighbors cleanup. It was heartbreaking and uplifting to use my well-trained body to help another in dire need.  The group was organized in a matter of 2 days all via Facebook.  This is an interesting article from the Huffington Post that describes how the entire event was organized via social media.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jordan-d-metzl-md/nyc-marathon-staten-island_b_2094399.html

We were a group of strangers and yet we organized quickly and smoothly and adapted to any change of plans.  One of the great things about runners is that we are very familiar with organized chaos (on a race course thousands of runners weave past one another; in training a lone runner dodges the surprises of urban streets: cars, dogs, pedestrians, potholes) and being corralled into groups (12:00 pacers go to the back; sub-8:00 pacers to the front).  We are also task-masters (give us a training plan and we will get the job done) and highly goal-oriented (when’s the next race so we can plan our strategy to cross that finish line).  There were at least 500 runners that flowed off the ferry.  The orange river poured outside the terminal where everyone organized into smaller group’s based on which area they were going to help.

My group chose to run into the Oakwood Beach area. As we ran into the residential streets where homes were completely shredded apart my heart dropped.

Staten Island – Hurricane Sandy

Staten Island – Cedar Grove Beach area – tops of homes blown off their foundations

There were no signs of FEMA, Red Cross, government personnel, military officials… I don’t even know who should have been present around such a catastrophe.  All I saw were lots of neighbors helping neighbors in every way possible.  With our backpacks stuffed with supplies, one of our fellow-runners even had a twin-baby stroller stuffed with items, I sort of felt like the cavalry.  These folks clearly needed man-power desperately.

It was amazing to see my community come together.  There were teenage girls walking the streets with trays of coffee to hand-out; packs of men walking with shovels and gloves ready to move debris; older women setup tables in front of their homes where food was on display for anyone to take (“Want some baked ziti? I have hot lasagna here!”); pick-up trucks with out-of-state license plates were cruising the streets looking to help provide man-power or unload supplies.

We started by asking each homeowner what they needed and how we could help.  A very simple question that sliced through an onion of raw, burning pain.  Some folks were too emotional when asked the question.  Other’s were too proud to take anything so I had to be persistent.  Quite a few apologized that I couldn’t run ‘my marathon’ and I told them not to even give it a thought.  I could care less.  I want to help and I have strong legs so tell me where to run and I’ll get what you need.

There were make-shift supply distribution hubs (usually at street corners) that had collected cleaning supplies, clothes, food.  I grabbed a bucket, bleach, gloves and sponges.  I started trotting around through the streets passing out items.  Sometimes I’d stop at a home to help clear debris, other times I would ask someone what they needed and run back to the make-shift supply hub to get the item.

Would-be New York City Marathon runners instead pitched in to help storm victims on Staten Island.

I wore my orange marathoner shirt.  Funny how orange was the color for the 2012 marathon. It’s also the color for Staten Island, thanks to the bright orange ferries.

A year ago I was IN to FINISH the ING NYC MARATHON 2012. Here is my blog post that started the journey: http://bit.ly/SKcjuw.  I have spent the entire year mentally and physically preparing for Nov 4, 2012.  The day was supposed to start on Staten Island and take me on a course through all 5-boros, finishing in NYC.  God had another course for me to follow that started and ended in my own backyard, on Staten Island.  Helping my neighbors was the best way I could have put all my pent-up energy to a positive purpose.  I will run the NYC Marathon in 2013 and come back better, faster and stronger, just like New York City.

FINISH LINE PHOTO:  Me and my sister wearing our orange marathoner shirts, the same color of the Staten Island Ferry, after the most unforgettable day helping our neighbors.

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Quit Complaining! It’s Your Choice

Would you like some cheese with your whine?  It’s so easy to whine and complain.  Sometimes it seems like there’s more inspiration behind the act of complaining than in the act of being positive.  The groans can roll off your tongue so quickly. While complaining can make you feel better, for the short-term, it also brings on a wave of negativity to you and those you are complaining and commiserating with.

I could easily allow myself to whine and complain throughout my runs and workouts.  This past week of marathon training was tough, with high temperatures and relentless humidity.  I tipped in with a total weekly mileage of 35 (my max to date) that included Hill Repeats.  I am also very busy at work where there’s never any downtime thanks to the Blackberry which means I am constantly carving out pockets of precious time to spend with my 7-year-old twin girls.  How easy it would be to say I don’t have enough time or I’m too tired or it’s just too hard.

Nah. I don’t choose that option.  I choose to limit my grumblings if not avoid it altogether.   Doing so makes me feel better and stronger.  I have enough challenges to conquer with marathon training and work/life balance as a full-time working mom, that I see no value in adding ‘complaining’ as a means  of motivation and inspiration.

I have a habit of immediately looking for a solution whenever I’m confronted with a problem.  If I want to run the marathon, I need to train.  That means, even when it’s hot, humid, raining or whether I feel tired, bloated, achy… I need to get out and train.  It’s very hard work.  I might as well embrace the challenge of new behavior rather than blanket it with a negativity of complaints that will only slow me down.

Here is how I felt running last week in the high humidity and heat:  soaking wet through my socks, my eyes stinging from a non-stop waterfall of sweat down my forehead, a scratchy throat from the occasional gnat that flew into my mouth and when I paused for a sip of water my body was so burning hot that steam was rising off my arms.  That is how I felt.  What I kept thinking is that all these difficult sensations that I had to learn to run with are merely part of the training process.  I was reminded of this awesome quote: “Don’t Be Upset By The Results You Didn’t Get With The Work You Didn’t Do”.  I decided to grab the challenge, store it in my (sweaty) pocket and plan to bring it out at the marathon.

When I feel my mind wanting to drift into the Land of Excuses, sabotaging my will-power to keep going, to keep pushing, I remind myself of that phrase.  I will not put myself in a state of denial about my true actions.  I do not plan on running the NYC Marathon wondering if I trained enough.  I want to wake up that morning feeling 100% prepared physically and mentally to get up and just run all 26. 2 miles. No regrets.  I don’t believe you can lie, cheat or trick your body into running a marathon. Anything I DIDN’T do in training will reveal itself at some point over 26.2 miles.    I want to avoid or at least limit that kind of result from happening so that indeed I will be smiling across the finish line!

Pushing thru a heat wave at the NYRR Queens 10k in Flushing Meadow – July 2012

 

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