Tag Archives: New York City

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

Bronx 10-Mile Race: Best Race Ever!

2681_2nd

I boogied down hard in the Bronx 10miler this past Sunday!! By far the coolest and most fun course in all NYRR Races. Felt super strong, finished with a PR of 1:35 (9:30pace). Best part was digging deep in my soul to hit negative splits & get faster with each mile! Refused to let the ‘I can’t’ voice win. I kept calm, relaxed and let the finish line pull me in! 

I went into the race relaxed. 10 miles is nothing but a mere warm-up when you’re average weekly mileage is 45-50miles per week and your easy daily runs are 6-8 miles.  The course runs most of the Grand Concourse (think the Park Avenue of the Bronx) a swings out to a park and little of the Mosholu Parkway before you head back the way you went out.  There were a few hills and inclines but they all were manageable and did not drastically slow me down.

I did a 1 mile warm-up before the race with a very easy trot.  Got my heart-rate up just enough so that I was sweating (it was also about 80% humidity).  The urban landscape of old apartment buildings and views of the subway running on the elevated tracks were quaint and reminiscent of the roots of New York.  

For the first time I experienced what it feels like to have an imaginary cord pulling you towards the finish line.  On all my past races I had felt myself moving away from the start or that I was moving forward, inching towards the next mile marker, not necessarily the finish line.  In the Bronx 10-mile my mind entered a new frontier.  I kept digging deeper in my mind to relax and go a little faster.  Just push a little more. It’s only 10 miles after all. I didn’t have that far to run.

So I kept pushing myself and by mile 5 I started to feel something pulling me (instead of me pushing myself) forward, faster, towards the finish line.  I focused on that sensation, all the while trying to stay calm in my breathing and in my muscles. My legs have been weary with fatigue with all the marathon training!

The runners around me kept changing and I realized I was moving into a faster group, passing a lot of folks. At around mile 8 I’m back on the Grand Concourse and I see the road drop under an overpass and then a steep climb back up to street level.  I used the opportunity to gain some ground and let myself float quickly down and charge in tiny pitter-patter steps up the hill.  My breathing stayed fairly steady.  I hit a few more hills and although I saw them approaching I actually didn’t realize I had even made it up the incline until the road was flat in front of me and I couldn’t recall ever feeling I was working up a hill.  There were scant moments where my mind tried to tell me to stop or slow down.  I shouted back, I will finish fast!

About a mile to the finish line I stopped to grab water. I wanted to make sure I had fuel in my engine for a strong finish.  Stopping 10 seconds to drink water helped drop my heart rate.  I tossed the cup and kicked off briskly. I knew the finish line was approaching even though there wasn’t a large sign that read “FINISH”.  I let my mind zone in on that imaginary cord that I had been feeling for the past 5 miles and enjoyed the sensation of letting it pull me in.

For the last 500ft I sprinted.  As I crossed the finish line I let out a huge yell of satisfaction, stopped my watch and took a sweaty, joyful picture.

Here are my mile splits off my Garmin, overall 9:26 pace:
1. 9:28
2. 9:43
3. 9:43
4 9:33
5. 9:13
6. 9:36
7 9:38
8 9:13
9. 9:20
10. 9:07
Last 500ft 7:17

After the race I enjoyed the most delicious cup of Spanish coffee at Molino Rojo (161st Street), a visit to the Yankee Stadium gift shop and back to Molino Rojo for a 2nd cup of coffee.  This was the perfect race and perfect New York day!

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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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My Victorious 1st Race Anniversary

“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance — and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” – Oprah Winfrey

Happy 1st Race Anniversary to me!

My first race was the NYRR Colon Cancer Challenge 15k in Central Park (2011) and on Sunday I ran it again.  Since this 15k (9.3 mile) race in 2011, I have run 133 miles of combined races over the past 12 months.  How?  One foot in front of the other. I wasn’t always fast, or smooth, or with a huge stride… just one foot in front of the other.

Back in 2011 it was a frigid, windy day yet the cold didn’t bother me. What I remember most were my cheeks hurting because I could not stop smiling throughout the entire course.  I was so proud of myself for discovering this new me, the Runner. I finished that race with a pace of 11:46 per mile.  This year I finished it with a pace of 10:15 per mile!

This past Sunday’s race was a challenge for me.  I did not go into it feeling I was in my best shape.  For the past 3 weeks I have been suffering from severe allergies and unable to train without heavy coughing and difficulty breathing. The day before the race NYC received a nice soaking of long-awaited rain that cleared the air of the high pollen count and cleared my nasal passages and lungs too.

Looking back at my splits, I was moving at a swift pace (for me).  This is my chart from the RunKeeper app.

mi Pace (min/mi) Elevation (ft)
1 9:56 25
2 9:26 -45
3 9:51 59
4 9:55 -30
5 10:03 -38
6 10:21 30
7 10:23 2
8 11:11 22
9 10:00 -45
10 9:15 7

Miles 5 through 8 is where I felt the struggle.  I need to work on my speedwork.  I have this problem where I’m running for at least 5 miles, feeling great, and then suddenly it’s like I’m breathing through a straw and it’s just really hard to get a comfortable deep breath, settle down on the pace and push along.  Instead I have to slow down drastically, sometimes walk a few seconds, stretch my arms up to open my diaphragm (although I don’t get a side-stitch I think a good stretch might help) and just focus on opening up my breathing. This breathing problem has only occurred when I’m in a long race which is when I’m pushing my pace the hardest.

The Gift of an Angel Runner

Running Shoe With Wings Clip Art

Mile 5  is when you start coming around the bottom of Central Park and roll into your 2nd loop, climbing the hills.  I needed a boost.  I needed, what I like to call, an Angel Runner, to make an appearance. An Angel Runner is that special someone, usually they are a stranger, who crosses paths with you in such a way to give you a jolt of positive energy.  It could be that NYRR male volunteer that usually can be found standing along the Northeast corner of Central Park cheering runners with uplifting phrases and high-fives. Or a runner who comes up along side you as you’re obviously slowing down and says something kind or gently pats your back in solidarity. Sometimes YOU are an Angel Runner too so pay-it-forward, it feels amazing and comes back to you on the course.

My very special Angel Runners are this dynamic female duo who I first met while running in a NYRR race last Fall.  I was fighting to keep a quick pace when up ahead of me were these two women who had a call-and-response thing going on.  One would shout something to the effect of, “Come on, we gonna do this.  Looking tight, baby. ” And the other would respond, “What? What? We gonna go for it.”  Back and forth they would give each other these little positive affirmations. When I first zoned in on them my emotional reaction was to be disgruntled and annoyed that I had to listen to hooting and hollering while I’m struggling to do my own thing.

No matter how much I pushed, I couldn’t pull away from the women. I had now run merely a mile with them by my side, sometimes in front, sometimes in back, but always within hearing distance.  Finally I decided I was just being ridiculous to try to work against what clearly was a sign from God that I needed to embrace these two hardworking women.  They were doing exactly what I was trying to do: run a race and feel great doing it.

I embraced the moment, pulled alongside them and chimed right into their chanting.  “Hey! Let’s go ladies. We are gonna finish this race together.  Come on now. Pull it tight.”  They welcomed me, and from a 2-way exchange it was now a 3-way.  I looked in both their eyes and saw a strength, determination and warmth unlike any other.  I was so happy that I re-framed the experience and opened these beautiful women into my mental running-space.  By letting them in, I was surprised by how positive and special the experience became. And it didn’t end with that race.

Just about EVERY race I have run since then I have crossed paths with my Angel Runners. Every time I see them we run a little ways together giving each other words of inspiration, compliments, a pat on the back… a fuel with more value than any Gatorade or Gel pack could ever provide.

Here I am struggling around Mile 5 when, Surprise! I see one of the angels up ahead. I scooted up alongside her and said, “Hello my running friend! Here you are.  I was wondering if I’d see you.” She gave me a smile and her eyes lit up when she realized it was the strange friendly girl she keeps bumping into at a race. I asked for her partner and she said she was home nursing an injury.  Quickly we fell into a comfortable pace. My struggles dissolved.  “You look great! What?” “We gonna do this” “Yeah, let’s go” “Make it happen now.” On and on this wonderful call-and-response went until we hit a fluid station and we wished each other well and I pushed on alone. She thanked me for giving her a boost. No, THANK YOU!

Now I was feeling super-charged.  I hit the hills in the Northeast corner of the park with steady determination.  Ah, but once again my breathing closed in on me and I was struggling.  I knew I would finish but I wanted to finish feeling strong.  I started to feel deflated as I slowed down and runners I had passed a mile earlier jogged past me.  A year ago, none of these running struggles would have bothered me in a race. I was just happy to be doing it.  This year it was starting to irk me, badly. My enthusiasm and motivation were faltering.  I needed to change my mindset.

Success lies in the significance of the little victories.

I thought of how this is my anniversary race and how far I have come since last year.  How much I have learned about running and fitness. How much is immeasurable beyond the actual miles, the pace, the ranking. I wasn’t always a runner. I wasn’t always passionate about fitness.  I am a work-in-progress and I need to celebrate every victory, including the tiny ones, even the ones that can start out being perceived as a failure but when you look closely you realize are a victory.

Like when I hit around Mile 8 and drastically slowed down to an 11 minute pace.  Ironically, last year an 11 minute pace would have been fast for me. This year I felt like I was practically stopping.  I reminded myself of that fact; that improved strength. (A victory!) And then I passed Mile 9 and remembered all my previous long distance races, including 6 Half Marathons, where I passed the Mile 9 marker and found strength and pride that I was here doing it yet again. (Another victory!)  And all the miles I had in the muscles of my legs. (There’s a victory!).

Recognizing all these little victories helped me find my inner-strength. My pace increased, the wind was blowing my hair and I couldn’t stop smiling, again. I gained control of my breathing and more importantly of my mind and flew across that finish line,  victoriously!

 

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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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I’m IN to Finish 2012 ING NYC Marathon!!

My 67yo father has been running for more than thirty years.  He has run 8 NYC marathons and countless other NYRR races.  His first marathon was in 1979 when I was 7 years old.  Living on Staten Island, the start of the marathon was always an extra big deal in my house.  My mom would wake us early, my younger brother, sister and even my grandparents, and drive my Dad to Fort Wadsworth near the Verazzano Bridge and then cross over to Brooklyn to stake our first of several cheering spots throughout the race; Brooklyn and then on to Manhattan, on the East side just off the 59th Street Bridge and again in Central Park for the last 5 miles.

My Dad said that what piqued his interest in running were Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter, two of the most elite and successful American runners of all-time.  The NYC Marathon began in 1970 and originally consisted of four loops around Central Park with just a few hundred runners.  In 1976, thanks to the pioneering vision of Fred Lebow, the race expanded to hit all five NYC boroughs and attracted approx 2000 runners, including Olympians Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers.

In this picture we had just dropped my Dad off at Fort Wadsworth.  The date was Oct 21, 1979.  Notice the limited crowd and the low number on his bib.  The running boom was just getting started!

It was absolutely thrilling to see him come running up to us, cold and sweaty, and hug and squeeze us at every spot!  Back then there was no such thing as gels and power drinks.  My mom would have a huge container of honey that she’d scoop into my Dad’s mouth like medicine for a baby and I would hold fresh-cut oranges in a ziplock baggie.  My fingers would freeze holding out extra oranges and then go numb from clapping so hard for all the runners.  As if that was an act of endurance?!

I also remember seeing all kinds of characters pass by.  There was the waiter who we saw at every marathon.  He wore a black jacket with tails and bow-tie and held a tray in one hand with a champagne bottle and glass.  There were those who ran backwards and the guy who ran while juggling.  To my young eyes, watching the runners sometimes felt like being at the circus.

I remember after my Dad finished his first NYC Marathon he received a spectacular poster of the Verazzano Bridge with all the runners crossing it. The shot was taken from above so you saw the full span of the bridge from Staten Island and thousands of runners charging across it.  I put this poster on the wall just to the side of my bed.  At night I would lie on my side and stare at the poster wondering where my Dad could be amongst the crowd.  My Dad told me how runners would start stripping off layers of clothes while crossing the bridge and just throw them on the pavement or off the side of the bridge.  I found this little fact about littering your clothes on world’s largest bridge to be fascinating and would daydream at the poster imaging shirts flying off the sides of the bridge.

That same year I decided  for Halloween I would dress-up as ‘Daddy’s Super-Jogger’.  My mom ironed the letters onto a sweatshirt (she lost the ‘Y’ so it actually read Dadd’s Super Jogger), gave me my Dad’s sweatband and wristbands, a water bottle (she didn’t have a real water bottle so she gave me my little sister’s baby bottle!), sneakers and off I went proudly jogging in the P.S.69 Halloween Parade.  Running doesn’t require much of any props so my costume kinda looked like I was going to gym class.  That’s me in the middle holding up my sister.

In 1981, when my Dad was 37yo, he finished the NY Marathon in his best time ever – 3:29:30.  He said that as soon as he hit Central Park he suddenly felt like ‘a firecracker was up his ass’ and he ran like the wind to the finish.  He got across the finish line faster than my family could keep up to greet him.  My Dad bought a picture of himself crossing the finish line which has lived in a frame on top of the piano all these years.

Everyday when I would practice piano I would gaze at the picture and think how casually normal my Dad looked, merely hopping, over the finish line.  But I never understood the magnitude of what he accomplished, from achieving a fantastic time to simply finishing the run of 26.2 miles!  Until now.

Back then I never felt a desire to run.  I never even dreamed of running the NYC Marathon. I just enjoyed being an observer, the daughter of someone who was a marathoner and a very driven runner.  My friends and neighbors all knew my Dad as a runner.  So many times someone would tell me, “I saw your Dad running near my house at 5:30am when I went out to grab the paper.  How does he do it?”  I would shrug and just say, “He does. He gets up and goes running.”

It wasn’t until I myself reached my 30’s, when I began very light running on the treadmill and outside (3-4 miles tops)  that I started watching the NY Marathon on TV and unravel a hidden desire to want to run this race myself.  My childhood memories of being surrounded, unconsciously, by the NY Marathon and the determination of a marathoner, came flooding back to me.  Yet I never mapped out a real goal.  Occasionally I would go for a short run with my Dad but I never considered properly training for races or making running a consistent part of my lifestyle.

Maybe it’s because I’m a mother and wife now and recognize the value of organizing time, staying healthy, and generally feeling balanced between work and life that running has become my center around everything else.

So here I am now at the start of 2012, turning 40yo in October, officially accepted into the NYC ING Marathon! I just wish I could find that poster I once had on my bedroom wall.  Only this time I’d put it on the wall in my girl’s bedroom.

Here are some more vintage pictures of my Dad running the NYC Marathon back when it wasn’t even 5 years old. Notice the light crowd of runners and the simple clothing.

 

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Possessed by the ‘Spirit of the Marathon’

I haven’t begun any hardcore physical training yet for 2012 but I’ve decided my mental training is in full-effect.  The other night I watched the beautifully inspiring film “Spirit of the Marathon” (2005).  Simply Ah.May.Zing.  I actually got the notion that maybe after NYC I’ll run the Chicago marathon.  Why not?   

There were so many interesting folks interviewed in the film but I was especially impressed by Kathrine Switzer, a pioneer for female runners, who was the first woman to run the Boston marathon.  She wasn’t an elite runner, just a woman who loved running and proved to the world that anything boys can do, girls can do…and sometimes even better.  Listen to her bonus interview footage on this link where she talks about training with her male coach.  They decided to run their own 26.2 miles as part of training and when they got there – it was in a parking lot – she said to her partner who was already struggling, “Let’s do another 5 miles”.  And they did but she had to lock arms with her buddy to help him get to the end.  Now that’s serious determination.       

http://www.marathonmovie.com/

http://www.kathrineswitzer.com/index.shtml

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