Tag Archives: New York City 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

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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Waiting to Blast Off

I recently visited the observation deck of the Empire State Building.    Looking out across downtown, straight to Staten Island and then over to Brooklyn and Queens all I could think is that I am actually going to run all of that distance! I’m literally going to run this town.  The cool thing was that as I slowly visualized the entire course and put my body in the moment, I knew I could do it. What once seemed impossible, is possible and will happen.

I feel like there’s a rocket quietly sitting in my heart just waiting to take off! I have this vision of the Space Shuttle on the launch pad, 100% ready for the long journey, patiently waiting for the countdown and GO FOR LIFT OFF from the mission control room.

Training began back in late-May.  My coach put me on a steady running program with the goal being to run slow and steady about 5x a week.  He recommended a Garmin watch and that I track my heart rate.  In those early weeks the alarm would beep wildly as my heart-rate would go too high and outside of the target zone.

As the weekly runs and training programs pushed on through the hot summer I started to see a difference in my heart-rate.  I was able to run faster while my heart-rate remained low. This meant I was more relaxed and comfortable running faster rather than huffing, puffing and gasping for air while running a sub-10 minute pace.

On Wednesday evening’s our coach gave group training sessions.  We were introduced to Hill Repeats and Interval Runs.  Hill Repeats simply meant we would run – dash – up a steep hill, learning to pace our movements so that by midway up the hill we could push faster. Since they were repeats, we would charge up the hill 6x. I can feel myself panting and the strain in my legs just writing about the difficult process!

Thank God for my running mates. Their companionship and support made the entire experience a lot of fun.  The nice part about Hill Repeats is that once finished, I would run a 2 mile cool-down where my lungs felt open and my legs strong.  Now I’m programmed so that whenever I see a hill my mind imagines how it will feel to do hill repeats.  I instinctively want to charge up it and go faster.

When we did interval training runs we learned how to pace ourselves and shift gears.  Intervals are very empowering.  One of the training programs I had to follow was to run 4x 1 mile intervals at a 9:00 minute pace, recover a 1/4 mile at a slow jog.  The first time was always the hardest because my heart-rate was pulsing out of my ears.  By the second time I was questioning if I could hold out and still do it two more times.  By the third interval I was settling in and realizing I could probably go faster than a 9:00 minute pace.  And by the fourth time I was like a bat out of hell and would run 8:20 min pace just to shut-up my nagging-self and prove that I am by far stronger than I think.

I flip through my mind the memories of months of training runs. Here are some random snapshots:

  • The 5:30am morning runs where I would share the residential streets with just a handful of folks: the newspaper delivery guy driving slowly in his car tossing papers out the window, the woman collecting recyclable bottles, the bread-delivery guy for Key Food whose truck gave off a sweet aroma.  And the only sound ringing out on the quiet early morning streets was my Garmin watch beeping my heart-rate was too high or my RunKeeper app on my phone telling me my current pace and distance.
  • The runs in the extreme heat and humidity where I would seek out water fountains just to cool-down my arms and neck.
  • The runs in the pouring rain where the only hard part was mustering the will to walk outside the house into torrential rain.  Once I was soaked, the rain just didn’t matter. I thought of the rain-runs as a sort of holy blessing from God.
  • The runs I squeezed into my schedule while on vacation or a business trip.
  • The countless loops in Clove Lakes Park & Silver Lake Park. Getting to know the ‘regulars’ in the parks including the gaggle of seniors I fondly labeled as the Silver Sneaker Walkers… the grey-haired gals huddled together for a brisk walk and the clusters of men likewise out for their a.m. walk
  • The long-runs I enjoy every Sunday morning with my running mates and coach. Starting at 7am, the summer months they began in a bright sunlight and now that it’s October we begin with starlight twinkling away at the break of dawn. We would begin our morning as any dedicated running group: by panting, groaning, sweating and chit-chatting about everything and anything for a good two hours or more.
  • Our beautiful, adventurous, suburban long-run courses: From Clove Lakes Park, along College Avenue out to the majestic Bayonne Bridge pedestrian walkway with views of skyscraper cargo ships and the Bayonne Windmill blowing in the direction of the NYC Skyline, down along Avenue A and the Brooklyn-looking streets of Bayonne and into sprawling Stephen R. Gregg Hudson County Park and further into Richard A. Rutkowski Park (also known as the Waterfront Park and Environmental Walkway, a 40-acre wetlands preserve) before heading back all the way to Clove Lakes (approx 14 miles depending how you map the course).  Or in the Greenbelt Trails that would be accessed by parking in the Costco Parking Lot. Or along South Beach boardwalk to Miller Field and out to Fort Wadsworth.

I am now less than two weeks away from the NYC Marathon!  Every single time I think about it, or see an advertisement on an MTA bus or subway , or get a newsletter from NYRR, or see a commercial on TV, the butterflies flutter with anticipation.  Now I just have to sit and wait for mission control to give me the green light.

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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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Running the Brooklyn Half Marathon: I Want More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NYRR 9+1 DONE!

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

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

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

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

You guys look awesome!  You guys look great!  

Finish is just around the bend!  

Push it just a little more into the Finish! 

Deep breath and you’re home!

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

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

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

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

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