- 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
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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/)