Tag Archives: NYRR

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

THIS IS MY HAPPY PLACE: Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

The above picture truly captures me in my happy place: body mid-air, arms swaying strong, relaxed posture, music pumping, hint of grimace and determination on my face as I taste the finish line just ahead.  It was taken at mile 13 of the Staten Island Half Marathon last Sunday. 

Ironically, I was actually quite uncomfortable: my calves started cramping around mile 11 because I was lacking salt, I was sweating so much that my glasses were fogging, my toes were starting to get a little bit numb and my brain was trying to lure me into slowing down to a more comfortable breathing pace.  All that is not what was on my mind in the moment the picture happened.  It’s what was in the back of my mind, trying to takeover.  

What was front of mind is a very simple thought, “You are stronger than you think. The uncomfortable will pass.”  I kept saying these phrases over and over again and willing my legs to go a little bit faster, my knees to lift a little bit higher, my breathing to relax. I thought of my training runs where my coach would push me to run tempo pace for miles (a much faster pace) after an easy 10 miles. Even though I was uncomfortable I knew that eventually I’d settle down and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  

 

Since January 2013 I have run five Half Marathons (13.1 miles) and all within a finish time range of 2:10-2:14.  I finished the Staten Island Half in 2:04. Not a PR (Personal Record) or the sub-2 hours I so very much long to achieve and not my best Staten Island Half time (last year in 2012 I finished in 2:02) but I gave it my absolute hardest effort. Can’t ask for anything more of myself.

I realized after finishing the Staten Island Half that my legs have two marathons on them over the past year. Although I’d like to believe this fact makes me stronger, it can also make me plateau and face more muscle fatigue. (And oh have I: shins, plantar fascia, calf pains, hamstring tightening!) None of this matters. Comes with the training. I need to just stay relaxed, listen to my body, rest when I should rest during taper, believe in my strength and go as hard as I can for that finish line.

Although I’m not smiling in the above picture, a picture that truly captures my happy place, as soon as I rushed across the finish line, I was smiling ear to ear with immense satisfaction and pride.  I just LOVE that finish line!

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Bronx 10-Mile Race: Best Race Ever!

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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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NYC HALF MARATHON

It had been almost 8 weeks since my last race, the Manhattan Half Marathon so I was looking forward to the NYC Half Marathon on March 17. My Race-iversary was this month too. Two years since running my very first race, the NYRR Colon Cancer 15k Challenge. I have since run a total of 27 NYRR races plus two marathons (The Philadelphia and Disney Marathons) that equals 311.5 Total Race Miles.

It all started with one step.  Every single mile has been a precious blessing. Some of those miles have been magical, where I feel as though I’m floating just above the ground for miles upon miles. And of recent, the miles have been tough, sloppy and hard on the ground.

Many months ago when I first signed up for the NYC Half Marathon I had hoped to PR under two hours.  Being stuck in a runner’s rut, I realized that goal was just out of my reach.  So I changed my expectations. Just because I’m having a tough time with running doesn’t mean I have to give up all my joy and enthusiasm! I switched my focus on the goal that is at the heart of every race, even every run, that I tackle one step at a time: to smile across the finish.

I went into the NYC Half Marathon with excitement and weariness from winter running.  The morning of the NYC Half it was 28 degrees with a bone-numbing wind.  Wake-up was for 4:00am in order to start prepping.  My father, husband and I were all running the race.  We drove into the city from Staten Island at 5:00am.  Parked uptown on the east side of Central Park.  We walked with herds of runners in the frigid cold to baggage check and then walked across the park to the west side for the race corrals. I couldn’t stop shaking from the cold air.  The corrals closed at 6:30am and I waited another 45 minutes before I actually crossed the start line.  The cold was torture.  I knew once we started running I would warm-up. The start could not come fast enough.

The course was one full loop of Central Park, down Seventh Avenue, through midtown and across 42nd street, and then down the West Side Highway, past the World Trade Center, into a tunnel that was completely flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and then to the finish line at Wall and Water Streets.

The loop in Central Park was smooth sailing.  I kept a steady pace and tried not to go too hard as I wanted to tackle the Harlem Hills with an energy reserve.  As I hit the steepest hill on the north west corner of the park I pushed myself to pass runners.  At one point I was so determined to get the hills over with that I even shouted, “Oh how I LOVE hills!” which gave me a good boost up the final climb.

There were two funny moments I encountered along those hills.  As I past a fluid station a friendly volunteer was shouting, “Get your Gatorade on the rocks here!” The Gatorade was more like a slushy and the water cups had to be squeezed a few times to crack the top layer of ice. I also had a runner’s celebrity moment.  I ran past the infamous NY weatherman Mr. G who is also a lifetime marathoner.

From then on it was time to relax and enjoy the fun.  I came out of the the park, down Seventh Avenue, where there were crowds of cheerers.  The feeling of racing in the streets of NYC are like nothing I have ever experienced on any other race course.  There is a natural energy that comes up from the street and bounces off the buildings. I felt it in my legs and easily picked up my pace. There was even a moment where I was on pace to come in just under 2 hours.  I was working very hard to keep consistent.

Around mile 8 my sister met me along the sidelines and helped pace me to mile 13. Running across 42nd street towards the West Side Highway the winds were relentless.  Whereas at the start of the race I was freezing, now I was freezing and sweating.  If this had been January, I would have been enjoying the challenge of the new season.  But after months of this cold weather I just could not take it any more.  I had decided that after the NYC Half Marathon I would take a two week break from running.  I had never taken a proper break from running since running the Philadelphia Marathon in November and then the Disney Marathon in January. Like it or not, it was time to rest.

Passing the World Trade Center site I started to slow down. I used each water station as a chance for a brisk walk in an attempt to recharge my batteries.  We headed down into the tunnel to loop around towards the finish line.  That tunnel seemed to never end.  And then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.  I had to push up a final short and steep hill.  That was where I felt as though I was running through mud, dragging bricks behind me.  My sister was pushing me to move.  She would say, “You only have a two miles to go!” “Just one more mile!”.  The problem for me was that because of my struggles with running, two miles felt like an eternity to run.

As I came out of the tunnel downtown and approached mile 13 I became very emotional and tears swelled up in my eyes.  I was pushing my legs to move but they just didn’t want to go any faster.  My breathing was staggered and my chest was burning from the cold air. Although the Half Marathon (13.1 miles) was a distance I had raced countless times and run on countless Sunday runs, the NYC Half was a true challenge for me.  I reminded myself to pull it together and finish strong because after this race it was rest time.

So I took a huge gulp of cold air into my lungs, pushed it quickly out of my mouth and charged for that finish line as though I was in a fight for first place. I crossed the finish line (2:08) with complete relief that it was finally over, exhaustion from the challenge and  a total joy that I accomplished yet another race. Now it’s time for a two week vacation. I can’t wait to see how I feel on the other side of it.

Photo: 3 highlights of today's NYCHalf Marathon: 1) Running last 5m w/ my sis who pushed my to finish strong 2) Sharing entire experience w/my Dad (finished in 2:34) & husband (1:48) 3) Seeing the infamous Mr. G twice running loops in Central Park and having him shout at me: "Hey Baby! Lookin' good!" both times!!

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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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Speedwork

Speedwork: always heard about it from other runners but never considered applying it to my own training.  For the past year I have been content with simply running. Mainly focused on running for as long as I possibly can and then very slowly creeping up my pace to a 10:20ish range for half marathons.  I’ve been stuck in this range for the past year.

Since I ran the More/Fitness Magazine Half Marathon about 4 weeks ago (average pace of 10:36) I decided it was about damn time I focused on speedwork and basically hauled some ass.  The pace group I kept finding myself in included Interval Pacers, a person that speed walks for a minute or two and then runs for a minute or two and then walks, then runs, for an entire race.  I find running near Interval Pacers to be very distracting and confusing on the mind.  One minute you’re passing someone, two minutes later they are jogging along side you and then they drop back again and then there they are at your side.  I find it motivating to have runners around me bouncing their heads and pumping their elbows in sync with me.  Toss a handful of Interval Pacers into the flow and my mind loses focus.

I became curious to experience the race world from another level of speed  – the 9 minute pacers! For the past 3 weeks I’ve been focused on speed not distance. I looked to the treadmill, a machine I typically loathe, as though it was a fun game.  Interval Speed Training became my new best friend at the gym.  Here is the training plan:

* Run a quarter-mile at a very fast pace (around 8:20)

* Recover for about a minute or two running at 10:15 pace (this is a fairly comfortable level for me).

I did this routine 4x times, on Tuesday morning, over the past 3 weeks.

Felt like so little but in actuality it was quite significant.  The impact of the training lied in the quality of the work, not the quantity.

Other days I ran 3-6 miles at a faster pace. I had to keep reminding myself it’s not about the distance.  It’s the quality of the short run.  During those runs my average pace was approximately 9:40.

Another technique I introduced into my training was improving the rate of my cadence.  In other words, how often my feet touched the ground within a minute.  Repeat after me: CADENCE.  It’s like the secret sauce to cooking up a great runner.

By necessity from morning runs with my slow-paced Dad, who is recovering from foot surgery, I’ve focused on increasing the rate at which my feet touch the ground to be around the recommended 85 -90 steps per minute (180 BPMs Beats per Minute). This doesn’t mean I have a wide stride. Just means I tap the ground with my feet quicker even if it’s in small, quick steps.  It kind of feels like I’m running fast in one place. This quick-step motion has given me improved elasticity in my muscles and trained my legs to be comfortable at moving them quickly.  (I like to imagine I’m moving like Jennifer Beals’ character in the movie Flashdance when she runs in place really, really fast dances to “She’s A Maniac”.  Check it out here for those that don’t know this 1980’s movie reference or want a refresher and a good chuckle:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NjbGr2nk2c

Flashdance moves aside, this link gives a good video demonstration for the cadence technique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVM6vy83Vy4&feature=related

The true test on whether the training was having any impact was when I ran the  NYRR Race As One (4mile) on Sunday, April 28.  Travelling into Manhattan from Staten Island for a 4 mile race is not appealing to me.  I would have preferred to stay home and enjoy a long run with my comfortable technique of pitter-pattering all around my neighborhood, occasionally throwing in a sprint but for the most part lumbering along for miles.  With my new attitude about speedwork and some encouragement from my husband, I decided a 4 mile race would be a great way to push my training and check-in with my progress.

As it turns out, I PR’d (Personal Record) with an average pace of 9:07! And most exciting was to see  my splits.

Mile 1: 9:12

Mile 2: 8:51

Mile 3: 9:36 (damn hills)

Mile 4: 8:53

What a great sense of satisfaction and motivation to see and feel the benefits of my training after what felt like such a minimal amount of time and effort.  Remember: Quality over quantity pays off in the end.

Being in this new race group of 9 minute pacers I noticed some changes to my environment and overall energy.  There were way more runners around me.   I felt like I was being carried by a wave. Even if I started to slow down a little it was still at a faster pace than my previous races.  As we came out of the Harlem Hills around mile 3 I felt everyone digging in hard and picking up that pace.  Few were complaining, more were pounding the pavement and grunting.  Few were stopping to walk, more were picking up the speed.  And I was right there, able to keep up.  Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed being in this faster race group was that everyone was breathing a lot louder and harder.

As we came down the west side heading towards the last mile of the race everyone around me was charging hard for that finish line.  I did the same.  I bolted across that finish line feeling my legs were flying, not just pitter-pattering down the trail.  Onwards and upwards I go, with a focus on achieving a solid 180 bpm cadence!

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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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