Archive for the ‘Elites’ Category

It meant over eleven hours of travel, but I didn’t really care. The line-up of professional athletes at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix made it worth the trip. Plus, I’d get to spend a good amount of that time with my Green Mountain Relay teammate Mike, the Connecticut half of the twin set that is completed by my friend Matt, podcaster of the Dump Runners Club. Mike picked me up at the New Haven train station and drove us to Boston, and we watched the track meet together. I’ve never run track myself–didn’t start running until my mid-20’s–so I love going to meets with people who have competed on the track themselves, as their commentary help me learn more about the sport. Plus, Mike’s pretty hilarious (don’t tell him I said that).

Here are the superstars I got to see on the track yesterday: Jenn Suhr, Maggie Vessey, LaTavia (!) Thomas, Matt Centrowitz (in his pro debut), Andrew Badderly, Silas Kiplagat, Galen Rupp, Mo Farah, Jenny Simpson, Sara Hall, Shannon Rowbury, Meseret Defar, Kirani James, David Oliver, Tirunesh Dibaba, Lauryn Williams, Morgan Uceny, and Delilah DiCrescenzo (perhaps just as famous for the song written about her by The Plain White T’s as for her running).

Mike and I had seats just inside the finish line, and the Reggie Lewis Center is a small arena–it’s a 200 meter track, and the bleachers are maybe 10 or 15 rows deep. We felt like we were right next to the action. The first event was the Men’s Masters Mile–the winner, Charlie Kern, was totally cute (hey, I only blog about the most essential details of the race here). Apparently, he’s a big deal at the distance for his age group.

The amateur races are adorable–the youth relay, the junior miles, and the high school 4 x 400 and 4 x 800 relays. Mike gave the race analysis and I provided the color by critiquing the kids’ hairstyles.

It seems like every track meet I attend, there’s Jenn Suhr trying to break the American Record and the World Record. I don’t understand how she gets so many tries over the bar, and honestly if I was a pole vaulter I’d be so discouraged by her dominance I don’t know if I’d bother to show up. But last night she broke the American Record again (which she set in 2011). So that was cool to be present for.

I was enjoying myself so much that I had great pangs of remorse I have to miss the Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR this year.

The Women’s 800 meter race was exciting not only because of Maggie Vessey in bumhuggers and a racing bra (who Mike thinks is so hot. What’s the consensus here?) but because first and second place both finished with the same time of 2:02.37. Apparently The Maggster had a more aggressive lean at the tape and got the win over Erica Moore (so, less was Moore this time?). Mike was also all jazzed about David Oliver, who ran for his alma mater. When Oliver came to sign programs for the kids, Mike couldn’t help himself, he told me five times what a great guy Oliver was–perhaps the sole criteria being that he’s a Coloradan.

The Women’s 2 Mile race seemed to be more of an exhibition race, a chance for Tirunesh Dibaba to run a low-profile race as she kicked off her season. She won by 30 seconds and lapped most of the other racers by the time she crossed the finish line. Both she and Meseret Defar were like hummingbirds on that track, so slight and sprightly.

So, the men’s 3000 meter race was not at all what I expected. Or rather, Centro’s race was not what I expected. Perhaps I was looking for too much based on the hype of his 2011 performances. But watching him race, I just did not see the zip and ambition in his effort that I’d been hoping to see. It looked like he was just out there looking to hang in there with the pack but at no point did it seem like he was trying to make a move to move up, or flash out towards the finish. He came in seventh (granted he set a PR and beat Badderly, so no doubt I’m being harsh on the kid). The win-place-show was an exciting duel, though. Silas Kiplagat, hot off his win at the Madison Square Garden Open the weekend before, was the favorite but he was bested in battle between Caleb Njiku and Dejen Gebremeskel. 1-2-3 went to Kenya-Ethiopia-Kenya.

The appeal of sprint events is lost on me, but the little girl in me loved the 60 meter race’s post-finish. The women cross the finish line with so much speed that they cannot slow down before they reach the end of the arena, so they run headlong into gigantic mats placed along the far wall. Pow Smash Pow! Now that looks like fun to me–just turn your head so you don’t break your nose.

Talking about hairstyles–not one woman ran in pigtails, though a few kept their tresses unfastened and flowing. Anna Pierce had her hair all entirely hot pink for the Women’s 1000 meter (yeah yeah Mike I know she’s a steeplechaser. Yeah I know you were, too…). Morgan Uceny came in second after having a provisory lead during the middle laps.

In the first lap of the Men’s Mile, Mo Farrah (Mo fucking Farrah!) took a startling tumble, and even though he popped right back up, it took him a few laps to get back in the mix and after tracking in the top 3 for a lap or two was ultimately outkicked by Ciaran O’Lionaird, Taylor Milne and Galen Rupp for 1-2-3. I’d voted (through the text messaging game New Balance sponsored) for Rupp to win. Hey, I’m a sucker for a wonderboy (e.g., Ryan Hall, Alan Webb). In this video on Flotrack, Mo talks about the fall. Mike was so psyched Ciaran won the race, because he’d texted him to win–and Mike ended up winning a pair of New Balance sneakers for choosing the winning racer.

By now you will have all read about Jenny Simpson’s stunning flame-out in the Women’s 3000 meter race. After holding second place and trying to take down Meseret Defar for most of the race, she completely burned out and finished dead last. Sitting in the bleachers, Mike and I could see her strain starting to build in later laps–her face even looked kind of pale and pasty–and to say she faded over the final 4 laps would be an understatement. To her credit, Jenny completely owned up to her performance (how could she not?) in the press conference afterwards, saying, “that’s what it looks like when someone dies in a race.” I was a total fangirl to see Meseret zoom by, basically agog each time she pranced past. I cheered enthusiastically for Hall and Rowbury, too–it seemed like all the Americans (except for Simpson) were happy to hang back at least a half a lap behind Defar, and then ultimately be lapped by her. Hall came in fourth and Rowbury in fifth; again the thrill in this race for me (well, the battle for second place was interesting) was seeing such talent in action just 15 feet from me.

On the drive back to New Haven, Mike got lost (instead of heading towards Rhode Island we ended up by Salem, MA) so I didn’t get home until 2:30 AM! Admittedly, he drove much better than I remembered from the relay in 2010, and I was grateful for his company. Despite the crazy travel involved in getting to the track meet, I am so glad I went. I saw some of our nation’s and world’s best runners do their thing, live and in the flesh, right in front of my eyes. Track meets of this calibre are hard to find around the country, so we’re really lucky in the New York area that we get a few each year. The SuperBowl is tonight, but as far as I’m concerned the Grand Prix was much better entertainment.

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The leaders in the women's race, coming off Mile 5 along Memorial Drive.

For some reason, I didn’t get any photos of the men’s race. My friend @tejasrunnergirl took a fantastic one of their butts, which you can view here (along with her fantastic blog report of being my primary support crew at the Houston Half-Marathon.) Do click through and observe the wondrous spectacle that is the rear view of male marathoners.

The women, turning into their first out and back along Waugh Drive, about a quarter mile short of Mile 7.

The women pulling away from Mile 13 along Memorial Drive, you can pick out Kara and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom (5th place finisher)

Desiree Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher crank into Mile 22 along Memorial Drive

Deena Kastor, heading up Waugh Drive with about 3.5 miles to go. She would finish 6th.

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The speed these women and men throw down is inconceivable to me. Intellectually, I understand the numerics behind a 4:55 or 5:33 pace, but I have absolutely no physical way to ever know what that feels like: how fast my legs would have to switch places, how brief a period my feet would touch the ground, how the wind would ruffle my hair, how hard my heart would beat.

For most of the competitors in the field at the Olympic marathon trials, getting to the trials will be the peak of their running career—no small feat, with “A” qualifying standards at 2:19 for men and 2:39 for women, times most humans take to run half the distance. Consider the fact that probably 95% of the qualifiers hold down full-time jobs while training for the trials, and it’s no wonder I saw so many runners on Memorial Drive (who clearly had no chance of winning) wearing some sort of smile on their faces, even up until Mile 23. Just getting to the game is the fulfillment of the dream. The equivalent for a runner like me is qualifying for the Boston Marathon enough under the required time that I actually came away with a bib during registration.

But there’s that top 5% of runners, the professional elite, who might even take it for granted that they are going to the trials. Men like Ryan, Meb, Dathan, Jason and Brett; women like Kara, Shalane, Desi, Deena, Tera and Magda—the prize in their eyes isn’t a bib for the trials, but a spot on the United States’ Olympic marathon team. That’s not to say the other 95% doesn’t hope for and train for a daring and stunning performance that will earn them a spot on the team as well. No doubt, many of them made tremendous sacrifices on the slight chance that January 14, 2012 would be their miracle day.

When we watch the Olympic trials, we are observing a rarified talent unleashed across a range of ambitions, and that is what makes the race so emotional, so thrilling, and so unforgettable.

The beauty of the circuit course is that as fans, the athletes could pass us as often as eight times. We not only get to monitor the progression of the battle between the elites with enough frequency to really feel the drama, but we also get to know the pack runners. Normally I give chicks who race in skirts a hard time, but at the trials, I gave the woman in the hot pink skirt with ruffles and a matching hair ribbon props—she dressed up for her debut on the national stage, and damn if I didn’t cheer for her each time she zipped by me.  Then there were the Storage twins, and the woman whose last name was Sunshine—you know I cheered my guts out for her, even though I was a little covetous of her name. And the men? Well, I admit that I was admiring their gorgeousness right along with their speed. Fernando Cabada? Hel-lo! And how awesome was it to see my old favorite Andrew Carlson up there in the mix of the top 10? It was very awesome. My heart gave a twinge each time Stephan Shay, who was racing the trials in his brother Ryan’s memory, sped by.

I knew who I wanted to come in first: Ryan Hall and Desiree Davila. Even though they both had the top qualifying times in their divisions, I still felt like they each had something to prove to the world—Ryan because he is self-coached, and Desi because she has toiled away in the shadows of Kara and Shalane for so long. (It was a terrible flashback to the natural laws that goverened my high school when the gorgeous blonde won the day over the girl-next-door brunette in this marathon). Ultimately, the men’s and the women’s races were very similar, in that the runner who led for the majority of the race came in second because they were overtaken in the last mile or so by the eventual champion. Even as I was watching these pros fiercely compete with each other, I knew that they have a deep respect for each other, and that many of them are friends and teammates. This is a beautiful thing, and is a way of relating with other humans that I greatly admire.

Later, after @tejasrunnergirl and I had cheered and tweeted from just past Miles 5/13/21 and Miles 7/15/23, we watched the televised coverage of the race. Even though I knew the outcome, I could not help myself from shouting out loud for Dathan to reel in Abdi and earn back the third place on the team, and for Desi to crank it up and overtake Shalane in the final half mile to win instead of place. I got all choked up when I saw the men’s leaders begin to overtake the trailing women racers, because these women were cheering Ryan, Meb, Abdi and Dathan. And also: imagine what a twisted pleasure it would be to say, afterwards, “Oh yeah, I was totally lapped by Ryan Hall!” Watching Ritz, the fourth men’s finisher, collapse into tears once he crossed the finish line was nearly too much to bear; I felt squirmy and bereft, his private grief was painfully honest. How does Amy Hastings reconcile the bitter disappointment of fourth place after leading several miles—will she be able to ever stop replaying the vision of Shalane, Desi and Kara hugging triumphantly, draped in American flags right in front of her eyes, as she trundled across the finish line in fourth place?

I’ve explained the Olympic marathon trials to my non-running-fan friends as “the SuperBowl of running.” But I’m not sure that’s adequate. The SuperBowl is every year. Football fans get to see their teams play a gameon TV every week throughout the entire 17-week long season. There are bragging rights, money, and Hall of Fame potential at stake—but nothing as theatrical and grand as representing your country in a field of competition that convenes once every four years.

As fans of the marathon, and as fans of individual distance racers, we get to see our favorite athletes unleash their training at most twice a year in the marathon, more only if they also compete in cross country, track, or shorter distances on the roads. More often than not, those races are not on TV. And the opportunities we have to see the best our nation has to offer compete directly against each other? Rarer still. I’m not complaining, I’m trying to explain to you just how unique, dramatic and inspiring the Olympic marathon trials are. I fear my words are not adequate.

My imagination is sparked by these men and women. I am grateful for the way they so thoroughly exploit their God-given talents. Being a fan of the sport has done nothing but enhance both my enjoyment of and my performances within it.

To Meb, Ryan, Abdi, Shalane, Desi and Kara: congratulations! I cannot wait to watch you take on the best of what the rest of the world has to offer in London this August. I’ve already raced those streets—now it’s your turn!

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In Jonathan Beverly’s Editor’s Note in the January issue of Running Times, he asks two other editors as RT about their “most vivid trials memories.” This got me thinking about mine. I was training for the 2008 DisneyWorld Marathon with Team in Training when our coach insisted we all meet outside of Magnolia Bakery on The Avenue of the Americas at something like 7 AM the day before the New York City Marathon to watch the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials. I owe that coach a great debt for things in my running life, but spectating the OT’s that year was a pivotal moment in my trajectory as a runner.

It was a tough training season for me; it was my second marathon and I was afraid of not improving, and I struggled with heel pain (the same heel pain that gets me today) and a whole lot of crappy long training runs. I didn’t have the same amount of friends on the team, and I wasn’t losing weight even when I hit 30-mile weeks (that was a lot of mileage for me then). But, I’d gotten the marathon bug when I raced Arizona back in 2007, and had applied myself learning about the professionals in my sport. I knew the top guys who were racing in the trials, and I couldn’t wait to see athlets like Brian Sell (he was my favorite), Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenheim run by. I was also a fan of Abdi, and Ryan Shay, Alan Culpepper, and Khalid Khannouchi.

So there we all were, shivering our tushies off outside of the Magnolia Bakery, waiting for the guys to jet by and up Sixth Avenue into Central Park. And then here they were! Dashing past! Who’s that weirdo all the way our front? (Michael Wardian) And there they go! We were passed, and I didn’t pick a single athlete out of the pack.

Anticipating I’d be jogging from site to site, I’d worn running shoes, and a sports bra under my speater and jacket. So up I went, to position myself inside the loop of Central Park so I could move back and forth and see the racers twice in each lap. No one else was with me–I lost everyone else as thousands of other fans raggedly chased the elites into the park. I remember being thrilled at being part of this crowd of “real runners,” unsure I actually fit in.

In the beginning I ended up somewhere on East Drive beneath the 72nd Street Transverse. It’s the same spot I cheered at the NYRR Mini a couple of years ago. As I waited for the guys to show up, I struck up a conversation with other spectators. Unlike myself (just a fan), they were proud parents supporting their son, who had raced a qualifying time and was in the mix. I wish I could remember his name; I know I cheered for him the first time he came by. For some reason I want to say his name was Dan, and he had red hair, but I could be making that up. My imagination was siezed by the fact that “regular” people like you and me–runners who also held day jobs, and trained in their free time–could compete for the same honor as our nation’s elites.

From there I walked up to the 79th Street Transverse at the top of Cat Hill, and I basically jogged back and forth between the east and west side until it was time to head to the finish line by Tavern on the Green. This enabled me to see the men at all stages of their race; I think I saw them a total of 8 times. After a while, I recognized the men by their singlets, or their running style. I observed who fell off the pack, and when; how relaxed (or not) the runners looked at the various mile markers; and all their ticks: how their form maintained or crumbled; who looked behind them, gripped their hamstring, grimaced, or winked to the crowd.

Yes, at least one of the athletes gave a wink to some pals on the sidelines. One of my favorite parts of watching this race is that the other people out there really knew the sport, so their conversations were highly informative. Also, some of the guys I was standing near seemed to be working in a team, and would send half the group to work the sides and the other half to work the top and bottom of the loops and text back and forth updates. As I was eavesdropping on their shop talk during the later miles, one of them said, “Sell just ran past Rob* [a friend elsewhere on course] and winked. He’s got this.” I loved that little detail! I’d have never gotten that by watching the New York City Marathon, it’s too sprawling, the crowd is too focused on the amateurs.

Soon after that I hustled down to the finish line. I knew I wouldn’t get close, but I wanted to cram as close as I could. The energy and excitement was fantastic; everyone was so excited. Ryan Hall was about to win in record time and become our Golden Boy. I remember watching him race in, really savoring the moment, greeting the crowds. We all were cheering madly. Then came Dathan, and Brian. Our team, we had our Olympic team! They wrapped themselves in flags, and everyone shared their triumph. It was only once I’d made it home and jumped online to find out the final results did I read about Ryan Shay’s terrible collapse and death.

For over a year, whenever I ran past the place I imagined he’d fallen along East Drive, I’d say a quick prayer for him and his family.

Before I knew about Shay, before Hall had even crossed the finish line, something within me had permanently shifted. First, watching a marathon in person on a circuit course allowed me to observe the race’s progression in a way you can’t by standing in one spot. Because of this, I finally got the event.  I came to understand how a two or two and a half hour race could be suspenseful, and dramatic. I understood how small shifts in the middle of a race could be deceptively meaningless–but how a similar shift just a few miles later could mean the difference between the podium or simply finishing. I was hooked. I vowed that day to go watch the Women’s Trials in Boston.

Also, I was incredibly inspired. To watch our nation’s best male marathoners come together to push each other to run their best was a huge gift to me as a runner. It changed my attitude from that of someone hoping to finish, to someone wanting to try my best. Which begged the question for me, What does it mean to try my best as a runner? That was the big shift. I wanted to run my best, I wanted to find out what that was. Could I break 4:30? (My first marathon took me 4:45:45). Even though I knew I’d never run an Olympic qualifying time, I became a serious runner. It didn’t happen overnight–it took me another year before I could prove that I was the real deal in the NYCM–but I can say with only a sliver of hyperbole that spectating the Men’s Trials changed my life.

Cheering at the Olympic Trials is like spectating on steroids. It’s the one marathon where we get to see all of our nation’s best marathoners–professional and amateur–all race the same course, at the same time. And for most of the athletes on the course, it’s the one marathon where they are more likely in the pack than a front runner. I cannot wait to get some of that juice on January 14th. I’m hoping it will help propel me to my own PR on the half-marathon course the next day.

*placeholder name. I can’t remember the actual name.

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Sammy Wanjiru, while he was a braggart, treated his wife poorly, and perhaps assaulted those in his service, he still was an amazing runner and inspired many of us regular folks in our own training… Sammy’s performance in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was an amazing, splashy arrival of a formidable talent. I am sad that I won’t be ale to see how much he could have achieved on the roads…. The New York Timese quoted Haile Gebrselassie’s tweetsabout Sammy’s fatal fall. Even though Sammy publicly stated he was going after the world record, Haile was respectful and sorrowful to hear of Sammy’s death…. I was just wrapping up the most recent episode of the New York Running Show when news about Sammy’s death broke. Now the show seems silly, but at the time we had a great conversation about the Forest Park 4 Mile Classic… Still thinking about elite runners, I thought I’d let it drop that I am attending the adidas Grand Prix IAAF Diamond League Track Meet as an accredited member of the press corps! Thank you NYCRUNS for helping me to get credentials… last weekend while I was in Colorado I bought myself a ticket package to attend the U.S. Olympic Trials for Track and Field at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Now you all know where I’ll be the last two weeks of June, 2012… My ex-husband still occasionally sends me links to interesting bits of running news. Most recently he shared this inspiring story, and these song lyrics (which I would like to dedicated to Sammy)… <off-topic> One recent evening I came home and my roommate was playing “Lake Street Dive” by Lake Street Dive, and I instantly fell head over heels in love with the singer’s jazzy, jaded voice and the band’s fantastic melodies glued together with sweet, swirly notes on a Leslie organ. You all should check them out…. Running by swank hotels always gets my thoughts, er, racing, and this one, with its rooftop bar and glowing, supine decor tempts me to put on my fancy heels and show up for a cocktail… </off-topic>

You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don’t burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you’ve got to last…
–“Marathon” by Rush

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It’s my birthday week on the blog, which means I’m going to post every day, Sunday through Saturday. This is the first post of the week. My actual birthday is Friday.

This morning I woke up when most of the other people who were up at that hour were stumbling to bed: 5:30 AM on a Sunday is the hour of golfers, runners (racers or people running long in July and August), and people who party on Red Bull.

I was heading in to Central Park to spectate the NYC Half-Marathon since the elite field was superb, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to catch such talent doing that thing they do best, live and in the flesh. The subway service changes conspired to get me there late, and the NYRR was very strict about who had access to the starting line; since I didn’t have a racer’s wristband I wasn’t granted entry. So I just took entry: I was the lady in mauve corduroys and a black puffy coat clambering up the stone wall and hopping the wire fence at 96th Street around 7:15 AM. But soon enough I met up with @ericasara and @FitChickNYC. I’d never met Fit Chick before, so it was a treat to put a name and face with the Twitter handle. While we were waiting for the race to start I snapped this picture with my Blackberry, it’s the area where the elites were hopping around and the lead vehicle was gearing up. There was a Very Serious Vibe going on, with lots of NYRR people barking orders. I love this behind-the-scenes crap.

It was impossible to take pictures or even really pick the elites out at the start, they were all smushed together and just two feet away from us. Bear with me as I add all the crappy Blackberry photos I took today to this blog post. After some light debate about what is an appropriate cheer for runners at Mile 0.01 of a half-marathon (surely “looking strong” isn’t right), we strolled across the lower half of the reservoir to pick up the elites at West Drive and 87th Street, except we missed them by about 2 minutes. I immediately turned around and headed back to the East Drive to try and spot them at Mile 6.5ish. I had some great memories of watching the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials in 2007; I crossed back and forth nearly eight times during that circuit course race. The trials were right before I started my blog so I never wrote about it, but that is one of the specific moments I point to when I explain how I first understood the excitement and drama of the marathon.

When I saw the men come by this time, I was disappointed to see how far back Ryan, Meb and Abdi were. I missed Galen all together, but I did give a big shout for Jason. Then we all kicked the dirt for a while until the women showed up, and it was nice to see Kara tight in the lead pack. I was curious how the rest of the race would play out, and tried to keep up on Twitter as I

zoomed downtown in a yellow cab to catch the last 200 meters of the race at Franklin Street and the West Side Highway.$26 later, I arrived just in time to hop up on a concrete barrier to cheer as Mo Farah and Gebre Gebremariam sprinted by in a battle to the finish. And Galen! Mo took the win from Geb in the last meters, it was very exciting, and Galen was a solid third place. What a tickle, this track star placing in this world-class half-marathon ahead of his distance running compatriots. Later I learned that he ran a time which qualifies him for the Olympic Marathon Trials; wonder if he’ll go for it at this distance or if he’ll stick with his distance track events.

In an eerie echo of Boston 2009 (when Americans took third place in the men’s and women’s races), Kara finished third place, behind Caroline Rotich and Edna Kiplagat. This time though she didn’t look nearly as destroyed as she looked at the finish in Boston. Her finish was 2:06 off her PR (1:06:57) and 34 seconds off her time at Lisbon which was her tune-up before Boston in 2009. I am looking forward to cheering her on from my usual spot at the finish line in Copley Square next month; I still want to see her win a major marathon.

After the hullabaloo of the pros coming by, I stayed and cheered until I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering anymore. I saw RJR, CB and EN come by, but I had to throw in the towel because I was chilled to the core. It took me two hours to warm up! No doubt it was a great day for racing but as a spectator, we had it rough. While I always like seeing the elites, and I was glad I was there to give a few of my friends a boost, I think I would have been just as happy watching the race on my laptop; I would have seen a more thorough story of how it all played out with the elites, at least.

All in all, once I’d defrosted, I realized it had been quite a day in the world of distance running, and in the world of TK’s running. As I watched the pack start to come across the finish line, I remembered the best part of cheering at races. I love the way it stirs up my own desire to race, and perform. I love that moment, when the excitement and expectation for a race ignites within me, and I turn my primary focus to training; I love when it takes over my life. By the time I’m done cheering at Boston, I should be ready to dive in to base building for my Fall marathon. Soon, it will be my turn to own the roads.

But for today, congratulations to all the racers who owned the streets of Manhattan and finished the NYC Half-Marathon today. I know RJR set a wicked PR, and Galen has perhaps given himself a taste of what another kind of racing could be like for him.

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Although my running of the NYC Marathon in 2008 is  my best marathon experience to date, I still would choose spectating the race over running it. I staked out my cheering corner years ago, at 45th Road and Vernon Blvd, right before the 14-mile mark, and right after the water station and port-a-potties. (Of course this is in Queens.) I now recognize the other folks who cheer there year after year, including the couple with the golden retrievers who bring cartons of tissues to offer to snotty runners (once the fast people come through, they hardly ever get a rejection). This year I was joined by my dear friend and running buddy EN and my TeamFox teammate @nyrunningmom.

I got there at 10 AM, and EN and I passed the time before the female elites arrived cheering on the wheelchair athletes.  When we shout “Go athlete!” the wheeled competitors usually give us back a composed wave, as if they were visiting dignitaries. I always get choked up when the first few racers come by, overcome with the scope of the event and also with all the effort, planning and dreaming that most of these runners put in to prepare. These folks train for 4 months or longer–heck, I know people who don’t even date the same person for that long.

Before we knew it, the street-clearing police were whoop-whoop-ing their way past.  Mary Wittenberg followed, in the lead vehicle (she waved when I shouted “Hi Mary!”), with the motorcycle cops and the press truck in tow. Here they were, the female elites! I will never get over how quickly they pass, as if they were an apparition. Sometimes I even wonder if they hear us when we cheer for them as there is absolutely no acknowledgment. I was shouting my lungs out for Shalane, I was still yelling “Go Shalane!” when they were four blocks away. She looked relaxed and strong, and I was excited that she didn’t really have to share the spotlight with any other top-notch American marathoners. Even though it was the USA Marathon Championships, there wasn’t much noise made about Katie McGregor (who came in second among all Americans), etc. But I can tell you this: no one was looking for Edna Kiplagat– we were cheering for Christelle, Mara, Shalane, Kim and Derartu. This is what I love about the marathon–there’s no calling the winners at this distance. Who predicted Edna for the win? No one! No one was even talking about her until Mile 22!

It was so much fun to root on the American women running in the championship race, since they all had their names on their fancy bibs. This is when I realized that EN is as much of a cheer junkie as I am–to conclude an exciting round of shouting and clapping he would give his goofy laugh of enjoyment, a staccato Huh-huh, huh-huh that after an hour started to bring a smile to my face knowing my friend was getting as much out of this as I was. It felt right, cheering with the guy who had run stride for stride with me through 23 miles of this same marathon.

Soon enough then elite men were approaching. I was jittery with the excitement of seeing Haile run by me live and in person. I was also cheering for Meb, Dathan and Jorge. And I am always pleased to see Goumri on the course; he is one of my favorite underdogs along with Merga. I wish I could write you a few flowery sentences describing what it was like to watch Haile in action (when I ran the NYC Half-Marathon this spring, I followed far behind him on the course, and never clapped eyes on him), but it was all over in the blink of an eye (#twss). Little did I know that the big pack of runners would break up nearly the second they began the ascent up my bridge. My bridge, which will forever will be known as the Bridge that Broke Haile. (At least, that is how I will now refer to her.)

For the first time ever, I’d made a sign for the runners. I wanted to be as inclusive as possible, but I also wanted all my running buddies from Twitter to spot me easily. After the elites, the first runner I saw come by was my GMR teammate AN, who spotted me before I recognized him. Then @Lord_Baker sped by with a smile, then Coach Ramon, and then the river of runners started to flow. I saw dozens of familiar runners, including TNT friends, GMR teammates, and Twitter buddies both local and from out-of-town. An excellent moment was when Matt @luau stopped to give me a big sweaty hug and take an actual picture!  I was so excited when I saw my girl @MauraDeedy trot past–she looked strong and happy her first time through the distance. And another marathon debutante, @SharonPaige, ran by me in a bright green shirt, big white headphones, and a look of calm intent upon her face. I thought for sure I’d missed JG of RunWestchester.com fame, but after a while I saw him walking towards me with a half-smile on his face and his hair pleasantly disheveled. His quads had laid down the law a few miles earlier so he was run-walking until he got over my bridge into Manhattan, at which point he would DNF and head home. His plan had always been to stop running around Mile 16, but since he was run-walking it meant that I got to actually converse with him instead of clap and cheer as he ran by. An odd sort of treat–I’d have rather seen JG run by in a blaze of glory, but I was also happy to chat with him.

And so it went, EN and I clapping, cheering and clanging for nearly four hours, until we were dizzy with the ceaseless undulation of runners approaching and departing. The only thing that would snap us out of our zone was when the wind would pick up cold and strong, whipping my sign and numbing my hands. I felt for the runners, who were headed straight into it. Even though the sun was rising, it felt like the temperature was dropping. I had planned to stick it out until 2PM, but at 1:30 most of the racers coming through were walking, with only a few determined souls running. While rationally I understand that every person is on the course with their own set of goals and expectations for the race, it is difficult for me to cheer for folks walking when they are only just halfway through. My heart breaks to see them, because all I can think of is the difficulty that awaits them at Mile 22, Mile 24, or 26 if they are already walking at 14. I know this is simplistic, and I knew that several of my friends were in that walking horde. I hoped they were dressed warmly. I hoped they had brough their cameras and were treating the race as a pleasure cruise to pass the time. I would never want to be out on the course for 7 hours, which is precisely why I admire those who stick it out for that long. I admit it: my thoughts turned towards my warm apartment, and towards the four hours of TV watching I had in front of me (I had DVRed the broadcast of the pro race on NBC). And so, with a final cheer and wave, EN and I hunched into the wind and trudged down 45th Road to the 7 train to find out who had won the professional part of the race, since clearly all the folks we had cheered on this morning were their own kind of winner.

My spectating didn’t end, though, since I spent my hours watching the taped race catching up with all my friends’ race results on Twitter, and tweeting them congratulations. There were more PRs and successful debuts than their were disheartening finishes. By the end of the day, I was amazed at some of the times my friends had thrown down; I was thrilled by the racer’s ebullience and pride; I was affirmed by the achievements and effort. But most of all, I was proud to be counted among them. We were all marathoners, whether it takes us 3  hours or 7 to complete the race. We are all marathoners, whether we run the distance once, or dozens of times.

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I have like a gabillion things I want to tell you, but none of them are important or even interesting. Perhaps the worst offense, though, is that most of them aren’t even related to running. All the important stuff is actually quite pedestrian (omg I am friggin hilarious). My blojo (no I did not drop a “b,” see elow)* seems to have left me temporarily; I can’t rein in my thoughts enough to write one of those posts that on the surface are about my running but really are about how the rest of my life is in the toilet, or how I’m deliriously happy, or how I am hopeful, fearful, disappointed, angry.

With the admittedly ambitious plan of running five days this week, I got in a workout before breakfast today. It was dark, and I should say it was cold but the temperature wasn’t the problem. The problem was Mr. Wind, that big meanie. Every time I ran west along Skillman Avenue to complete the third side of my Sunnyside Loop, that fat bastard (because surely Mr. Wind is grossly obese) would blow his coldest stuff right at me. I know he did it on purpose, just to fuck with me. I understand, he was bored. There weren’t that many other people out at 5:30 AM this morning (especially not runners since a lot had run the marathon the day before), so he decided to pick on me. Whatever, I had his number. I wasn’t going to let him win. Instead, I cut my run short (instead of 4.3 I ran just  3.45), effectively limiting the amusement he could get on my behalf. Oh yeah, I sure showed him! I am sure he got in some good knee-slapping laughs though before I stopped running, since I had to lean in and shoulder my way through some of his most powerful gusts. What a dick.

Anywho. Not even Mr. Wind could ruin the first Sunday of November for me, or for the dozens of my friends and acquaintances who ran and spectated the New York City Marathon yesterday. More on this in a separate “From the Curb” post, but to give you an idea: the only day of the year that is better than Marathon Sunday is my birthday.

This is a new development: I lllooove my weekends. I used to spend them either fulfilling family obligations or working (working! What a schmoe!). Now, I fill my weekends with fun plans with friends, running buddies and other people I know who can make me laugh (professional ticklers, amateur klutzes, etc.). I used to get itchy for Monday, anxious to get back into the office and to my midtown social circles.  But now when Monday rolls around, I am despondent and sluggish. Mondays officially suck. I realize that for the rest of the normal world this is far from a news flash, but it sure as hell is a revelation for me. It signals a healthy shift of attitude and priorities. Which leads me to…

Saturday was terrific! I woke up at an indecent hour (7:30 AM! So late!) to meet two Twitter friends, Matt @luau and Michelle @BklynRunner, for a pre-marathon easy run. Of course, Matt was the only one of us running the marathon. I’d never met him in person before (he’s from MA) so this was a treat. We met in Grand Army Plaza, with the plan being to run across the bottom of the park to the finish line and back so we could all get the subway. True to form, I started getting all panty and misty eyed when I saw all the runners mobbing the area, trotting into and out of the park for their pre-marathon shake-out. On a good day, I’m just as cynical and jaded as any other New Yorker, but on a race day I am romantic and sentimental. My heart filled with all of the hopes and excitement of every runner in the park; I was moved by what they had yet to accomplish, and I gave a few pathetic sobs. As quickly as the emotion seized me it had passed, I composed myself before anyone noticed (though I was relieved when Matt admitted he was moved too by the scene). We had come to the runner’s mecca–Central Park, the day before the New York City Marathon. The miles were indeed easy breezy, we weren’t setting any land speed records but rather just enjoyed each other’s company and the feeling of getting the legs going. Matt’s a big smiler, expansive in demeanor, and full of positivity. This is refreshing, since sometimes I feel like everyone in New York is always battle-ready, so guarded. We trotted over to the finish line, which they wouldn’t let us actually get near–it was all blockaded off, which felt right. Only actual finishers of the marathon should get to cross it. The sight of it did make my heart pound; it was like spotting an ex-boyfriend from across the room at a party. All the memories–good and bad, sweet and bitter–came flooding back. I missed a turn on the way back and we ended up at the 72nd Street transverse, so we trotted down Fifth Avenue for a bit. Then I left my friends to run home solo across my bridge, in the opposite direction of how the marathoners would go on Sunday.

It’s the simplest kind of happiness, running over my bridge. It is just physical labor, just that. All she asks is that I don’t walk. If I keep running, no matter the pace, we maintain a mutual respect. So as I ran over her arched back, I told her she needed to be kind to my friends tomorrow, when they would join the crowds trampling her.  I got no response, but it was enough that I put it out there. Ultimately, she claimed Haile, but perhaps he was the sacrifice for everyone else’s easy passage.

Before I knew it I was home, then cleaned up and heading back into the city for the tweet-up brunch. Michelle pulled the whole thing together, she has an incredible reach into Twitter and DailyMile. She brough the people, I booked the joint. We played to our strengths, what a team! We had more than 35 people show up, both NYC Marathoners as well as local runners and people who had come to town to spectate and enjoy the runner’s mecca. I was absolutely thrilled to see so many of my “tweeps” gathered all in one place. Though some key favorites were missing, I was so energized by those who were present, most of whom were going to toe the line in Fort Wadsworth the next day. I also met a few new cool people, which was a pleasant surprise. Heroes, one and all.

Still working backwards, Friday and Thursday were painful for me, back- and shoulder-wise, so I didn’t run as I’d planned. Instead, I went to the Expo on Thursday and met up with more friends from my Twitter network. The highlights were being “spotted” by @multisportdad who totally picked me out of the crowd and shouted out my name (impressive!), and spending time browsing and having a heart-to-heart with my friend AG. Truly, one of the best things in life is talking racing and running with like-minded friends… while surrounded by the biggest shopping mall of running gear… on the precipice of the best marathon in the world… Are you all catching my ceaseless use of superlatives? While I was there, I was going to buy a Road ID, except I get a panic attack every time I think about who my emergency contact will be, so I luckily dodged that bullet when AG and I couldn’t find the booth.

Wednesday was really the kickoff to Marathon Week, as I went for a fun run (which was actually pretty frustrating) with folks from RUN by Foot Locker knowing that at the end I’d get to shake hands with Ryan Hall. One word of advice: don’t ever ever ever try and run across town along 14th Street, period. I can’t imagine a time of day when it would be enjoyable, when you wouldn’t have to dodge a million annoying fancypants people. Three things redeemed the night. 1) I ran my middle mile pretty fast 2) I got to catch up with Coach Steve H from TNT and 3) I shook hands with Ryan Hall! He has very nice hands. Unfortunately, he didn’t give a talk or take questions, but I wished him luck in his training. I hope he could tell I meant it. He looked tired and a bit trapped. I looked sweaty and a bit manic. All things considered, it was a draw. PS saw @earlymorningrun, @katruns26point2 and @RunKino there.

Tuesday mornings are becoming a touchpoint in the week for me. I meet MP every week for 5-7 miles, and it is reassuring to know that no matter what, we’re there, running. I’ve never really had a standing date before–it suits me. The rest of my week rotates around that Tuesday morning run with MP–it was the only workout I was able to complete the week after my car accident. Our conversation isn’t especially heavy, but yet I always feel like an enormous weight has been lifted after our run. Perhaps it’s because rather than introspection, we choose to laugh at ourselves. Whatever it is, I am grateful. This week especially, it was a privilege to share one of her last runs before her marathon.

Nov 8. 3.45 miles in 34:46. Average pace 10:04, fastest mile 10; slowest 10:13
Nov 6. 6.45 miles in 1:05:26. Average pace 10:08; fastest mile 9; slowest 11:22
Nov 3. 3.52 miles in 32:35. Average pace 9:15; fastest mile 8:55; slowest 9:21
Nov 2. 6.18 miles in 58:38. Average pace 9:29; fastest mile 8:16 (I think Little G is erroneous); slowest mile 9:47

*blogging mojo

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As I sulked my way to the subway, I thought, this feels eerily familiar. Then an uptick: that means it will end well.

With no speed training and nary a week over 20 miles this month, I decided I’d be happy to end up a few seconds south of seven minutes in today’s Fifth Avenue Mile. I was okay with that, because I’d also get to see friends today, run 6 with ET, gawk at the elites, and be outside on a gorgeous day.

My race is nothing to brag about. I ran the first quarter mile stupid fast, in 1:25 (or 5:50 pace). Then I hit the hill, and had my slowest split at 1:45. I barely managed to pick it up for the last two quarters. My legs and even my arms were heavy and burning, I could not believe how quickly my body rebelled. 1:42 and 1:41, yes, that seems about right. Once again I was struck with how the shortest distance on paper feels like the longest to my mind. My watch and the mats clocked me at 6:37, just one second slower than my PR of two years ago. Crappity crap–what if I had actually trained? (Thanks to all my Twitter buddies who quickly looked up my PR on my blog for me, since my publishing person’s brain finds numbers too slippery to hold onto.)

Afterwards though I could not stop coughing from the effort. There was a clutch of us sitting at the base of the golden statue, there, at the southeast corner of Central Park, all coughing as if we were some sort of avant-garde musical quartet. One of us quipped, “This must be the smoker’s lounge.”

Once I’d caught my breath, ET and I slowly trotted off to do a loop of the park. It was a seriously perfect day for running, and I was grateful for her company. ET is a Galloway runner, so in a decadent twist of my normal workout, we walked up Cat Hill, Harlem Hill, and that really annoying little hill on the west side.* All in all it took us over an hour to run 6.24 miles, but who’s counting. We were just icing the cake, we’d done the work earlier when we deliberately forced all our bodily functions to go into the red zone for six to nine minutes.

Then we got a quick snack, and watched the elite races with a few other friends. Wow, Erin Donohue really worked hard for that third place finish. She is audacious. And the men’s race, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be Lagat’s day but I do admire his cheer on the podium. Were Manzano, Webb and Willis even in the field, because I didn’t notice if they zoomed by or not from my vantage point on the sidelines. It’s interesting listening to the little speeches the top athletes give, because they are all so gracious. Truly, runners have to be among the most articulate, friendly and humble athletes out there. But, we couldn’t help but joke about what they would really say if they could be babies about it…

Shannon Rowbury
What she said: The competition in this field makes her a better athlete.
What she wanted to say: Look at my abs! I have fabulous abs!

Sarah Hall
What she said: it was inspiring to run by members of the Steps Foundation and hear them cheer us on at 400 meters.
What she wanted to say: Don’t you people know who my husband is?!

Erin Donohue
What she said: There is no shame in placing behind Rowbury & Hall.
What she wanted to say: Next time I’m using elbows, and grabbing pony tails. This race is mine, bitches!

Amine Laalou
What he said: This city is so beautiful, and I’d love to come back and race here again.
What he wanted to say: I won! I won! I beat you all!

Bernard Lagat
What he said: I’m going to keep competing in the Fifth Avenue Mile until I win.
What he wanted to say: Maybe I came in second place, but the fans love me the best.

Andy Baddeley
What he said: I definitely wanted to come back and defend my title this year.
What he wanted to say: I know you all forgot who I was but see? I’m back on the podium.

*You know the one, when you’re running south down the west side, you think the worst is over after Harlem HIll but then there’s that little guy. Does that hill have a name? If not, let’s just call it Ralh Hill, as in “Really Annoying Little Hill” Hill.

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When I heard Paula and Kara would be running the NYRR New York Mini 10k, there was no way I was going to miss it. The plan was to see them at the start, then mosey to the finish, leaving enough time to hang around and maybe shake their hands and get a picture with them. I was also hoping to bump into Kathryn Switzer (who I have been saving a hug of thanks for ever since I read her autobiography Marathon Woman), and to watch the awards ceremony. Of course, life loves to squeeze me like a vise and so I was stuck getting up at 5 AM for my 10-miler to fit it in before the Mini, and then jetting from the race as soon as possible to come out to Long Island to take care of my Nana (to give Mom a break).  As luck would have it (since I don’t believe in luck, I always get the bad kind), there were all sorts of public transportation issues this morning so Iarrived at the 50th Street and Eighth Avenue station 5 minutes before the starting horn. I ended up jogging the 10 blocks north to the start of the race, in front of Trump Towers at Columbus Circle and Central Park West (smart thing I wore my sports bra and running shoes).

I arrived there just in time to snap some photos of the fillies all lined up at the starting line, and to hear Paula Radcliffe give her remarks to the crowd. I was flustered because I’d been rushing so my camera was on the wrong setting, thus my photo of the first strides came out blurry rather than clear.

Hello, abs!


Linet Masai's legs are all the way over on the right. They won.

After the start of the race, my intention was to walk to the finish line and observe from there. I am nothing if not a soul with good intentions, which is a gentle way of saying I nevertheless usually screw things up; as a result I am either a clod or erroneous. This morning, I was erroneous as I walked over towards where the finish line would be for the Fifth Avenue Mile.  Who knows why I had it in my head to go east–I even had a print-out of the course map in my backpack but neglected to check it, that’s how sure I was that I knew what I was doing. The finish line (which I will never forget now) is the same as the New York City Marathon, in front of the soon-to-perish Tavern on the Green. By the time I reoriented myself, I was too far from the finish line to beat the elites there, so I camped out instead along the southeastern curve of Park Drive, somewhere around 5.75 miles, and decided to cheer from there.

No matter how many times I spectate in Central Park, I will always be amazed at how fast the elites zoom by. I stood right on the edge of the road, and was able to see the strain in their faces, see the rise and fall of their chests as they breathed heavily, and hear their pants and footfalls. I even caught a bit of their tailwind. It was visceral and after a while I gave up on taking pictures.

Mary Wittenberg was running on my side of the street, and her form is so distinctive (lots of arm work and frowning), so I spotted her before I saw Paula. But then I copped on quick enough to offer a casual, “Hey Paula, how’s it going?” And she actually half-turned around, gave a tiny wave and said, “Hi!” That’s exactly what any normal person who runs past a friend would do! Cool. Paula is preggers so she was just running this Mini for fun, and Kara sat it out altogether.

Soon the fast locals started pounding by, which is when I saw Julie. A quick masters runner, a blogger, and a Green Mountain Relay teammate, I was thrilled to spot her. She’s had a few chances lately to interview a bunch of elites; if you’re interested, you should visit her blog and read about the men, the comeback, and the women. It’s good reading, and good vicarious living.

I stood there for about another 20 minutes or so, waiting for other runners I know to trot by, but I failed to pick them out. I was a little disheartened as I was really hoping to give them a boost. Instead I stood there and did my best to cheer on the ladies, shouting things like, “Race it strong” and “Your hair looks fabulous.” You know, the important things.

Now that I know the course, maybe I’ll even race the Mini one year.

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