Archive for the ‘Race’ Category

Today I spent 4 hours cheering for the athletes competing in the first-ever Ironman triathlon held in my city. Despite some initial reluctance, I ended up having a great time.

Keeping me company for the afternoon was MJ @BklynRunner. Before we headed uptown to cheer, we fortified ourselves with a healthy lunch and had some good girl talk. While in the restaurant, who should wander in but one of my coworkers, with her boyfriend! Apparently they were all doing the exact same thing–grabbing a bite before going to cheer a family member who was racing today. Nice.

Next MJ and I took the A train up to 175th St, and wandered over to the base of the GWB, where the athletes would be coming over at around mile 17 of the run, the third and final part of the race. We arrived as the first dozen runners were coming through, and set up camp at 180th St. and Cabrini Blvd.

The crowds were pretty sparse, and no one had a sign, so I felt a little self-conscious about taking out the one I made. It was a little edgy, see:

But, after a few minutes I unfurled it in all its profane glory. The athletes started catching on, and I got a variety of great responses. I absolutely loved when they would look at me and say back, “Fuck yeah!” Lots of people gave thumbs up, or the rock and roll waggle. MJ started counting how many runners would point at me, I lost count around 25. No less that 5 other spectators took a picture of me with the sign, and so many athletes got a chuckle or a smile out of it. The sign was a hit, and I was glad I was able to give the runners a boost at such a tough part in the race.

MJ and I also bumped into MK @mpkann and EI @herroyaltallnes, who were volunteering as cheerers with the Hell Gate Harriers. It was fun to chat with them, too.

We could not stop marveling at the spirit and endurance of these athletes. They were coming down the hill towards us with smiles, totally pumped up. I was amazed at how they could be so perky after 8, 9, 10 or even more hours straight of strenuous, exercise. I can’t say I was necessarily inspired, because I know my distance limit is the marathon, but I was most certainly impressed. I also couldn’t stop thinking about my brother, who has competed successfully at the Half-Ironman distance. I know he wanted to do a full Ironman but has backburnered that plan due to his complicated and fragile digestive system. I hope one day he’s able to, if he still wishes to.

Because there are only 2500 competitors, and they are much more spread out on the course, it’s supereasy to spot your runner in an Ironman. MJ and I had no problem seeing CB @Lord_Baker go by, a dashing devil in his red tri suit. We also spotted SC @cutlarock, who after having crushed the swim and bike, hobbled through his run due to godawful plantar fasciitis (I feel his pain). He stopped and chatted with us for a bit. Finally, we saw NZ @experiri much earlier than we expected, which was so cool! He looked strong and happy, we were so proud. In fact he ran by just as I was trying to track his location on the Blackberry.

I think it’s the coolest thing to have such athletic friends! I like being around people who make fitness such a priority, and who challenge themselves be accomplishing such daring athletic goals. Also, it does not hurt that literally every single person who ran by MJ and I on that course was unbelievable gorgeous. I mean, these men were HOT. All kinds of faces, but let me tell you, those bodies were like from outer space, in a good way. I can imagine how hard they worked to be so fit, and they deserve all the admiration they get for their efforts and for their appearance.

All in all, it was a great day. I am wiped out! My arm’s sore from holding up my sign for four hours, and my plantar fasciitis is throbbing in both feet. My whining is ridiculous in the face of what the athletes accomplished today, which is exactly why I point it out: it’s good for a laugh.

Congratulations @Lord_Baker, @experiri and @cutlarock–YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

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In order to squeeze all the juice out of the Green Mountain Relay, you must suspend your disbelief in love at first sight.

I’m not talking romantic love here, people. I’m talking about how my teammates all put aside that normal, gradual progression towards friendship and instead assumed our friendship was pre-existing, we just had to take it out of the box and pop in the batteries. Instafriendship. Boom, I got your back.

Admittedly, was worried. I worried that personalities wouldn’t gel, or would clash. I worried people wouldn’t feel included, or wouldn’t open up. I wanted everyone to have a great time; I wanted them to love this relay as much as I do.

Why did I worry? Silly TK.

It worked, like it always does. Slow White and the Eleven Dwarves all fell in love. We encouraged, joked, supported, empathized…and tweeted. There was a lot of tweeting, which was excellent. We also rubbed, tickled and spooned, but that was mostly Van 2 and I can’t share the details.

As captain, I did my best to have everything run smoothly. I wanted all the details covered so all my dwarves had to do was run and laugh, not necessarily in that order.

Here I must mention how much it means to me that NI, TW, SS, and AC returned to run with me again. I’ve been in the foxhole with them. They are the through line–the strand upon which I string the beads–connecting 2008 to 2012.

For me, the Green Mountain Relay is a potent mixture of new fun and old memories. Even though I am always thrilled with the present team, every moment from the past three GMRs I’ve done rise up throughout the weekend to tweak my nose. I pined for the affable, snarky, and weird spirits of runners with whom I’d shared a van before. God, I love those runners.

It was hard not being out there on the road this year. 99% of the time I was totally fine, in the moment and having fun. But when the tee-shirts got handed out and there wasn’t one for me? And when our medals were disbursed and there wasn’t one for me? The reminders that I wasn’t a runner this year pinched a little. Just a little, because otherwise I loved that I was there to help out managing the timesheet, driving the van, etc. Also, I loved that I could jump from van to van to hang out with everyone, and sleep in a bed while my dwarves were running legs 19 to 30. The sleeping, yeah that was pretty sweet.

Everyone ran their hearts out. They ran through direct sun and humidity, through the darkest dark; up intimidating mountains, and down quad-trashing hills. Some even ran through congestion, fever, and nausea; some ran extra miles. These are not runners we take for granted.

To the teammates new to SWATED this year: MW, SC, BG, MK, LL, LR, JS, MW–you were what I expected, and you were so much more. It was an absolute delight to get to know you to begin with, or to get to know you better. You are now SWATED alums, which means you have a standing invitation to return to the team.

Another person I’d like to mention is Paul, the race director. Over the past 4 years he has become a friend, too. I owe him–for without him founding this relay, I might have never met the dozens of wonderful runners I now consider friends. Late Friday evening, he texted me. “Just checking you got a race medal and tee-shirt for being team captain?” That really meant a lot to me, I was really touched he thought to ask. Thank you, Paul. I love your race.

Ultimately, we placed first in our division, and fourth overall. That was pretty thrilling, because I am after all still a competitive woman. However, it’s also slightly besides the point, since the point is (as I have already explained) the people with whom you fall in love at first sight. Image

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It’s my fourth.

Damn, I love this race. (And by race I indicate not just any relay, but the Green Mountain Relay. Just that one.) It’s a little torturous, like that emotionally unavailable lover who is your sexual ideal in bed? But that might be the appeal: the elusive hunt for the perfect team chemistry (everone’s fast, gorgeous and funny!), and the perfect race (no bonking, cement legs or nausea!).

It might be fair to say that, as a non-running captain of Slow White and the Eleven Dwarves, I’ve perhaps lost the hunt this year. I’m certainly not complaining, but it’s been hard to captain this team by myself. It’s been one of those labors of love. Love for myself–I want to participate in this relay again because of the ways I get to connect with other runners for 48 hours. Love for others–even though it would have been easy for me to bail when I knew there was no way I could run, I held up my end of the bargain for the rest of the team. And love for this race–it holds such sweet, sweet memories for me; and it needs teams to support it through participation. I guess I stuck with it to keep both my memories of and the future of the Green Mountain Relay alive.

Just saying, though: the ceaseless recruiting, endless emails and follow-up, the failed attempts to schedule a happy hour? They all reminded me of how crucial a good co-captain is to this experience.

But isn’t that true of most of life? Sure, I can take care of it myself. Sure, I can get it done flying solo. But the grind is a lot less wearing (and sometimes a lot of fun) when you’ve got a partner to share the drudgery. It leaves more time to share the laughs.

(Sometimes I worry that I take the metaphor too far in this blog. I take it so far that it stops being true. This metaphor could very well be headed in that direction. Pay attention; let me know what you think.)

This year, I captained well enough. Not as wonderfully and exhuberantly as I would have liked, but well enough that the rest can be filled in by my marvelous teammates. Teammates who, to a one, I am thrilled and honored to spend a weekend with. I kind of already love these people; I can’t wait to see how they handle being canned in a van. Canned in a van, with me.

So I might not have a co-captain, but I have a whole damn team. Lest we forget: Snow White would be dead in the woods, thwarted by an evil bitch, if it weren’t for her seven dwarves.

(Now that I think about it, that metaphor ended pretty well. Do you agree?)

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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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I emailed my friend MT, the voice of Dump Runners Club and one of my Green Mountain Relay teammates, to ask his opinion and analysis on my half-marathon splits. I thought I’d raced poorly since I missed a negative split, and wanted his opinion as to what I could have done differently. I’m sharing the email he sent me, because I think it’s a very helpful way to build a race strategy for a half-marathon. Also, he makes me sound like a racing genius. I pasted my splits so you can see what he’s talking about.



Okay I did some serious analysis. First of all, it was damned near perfect as far as I am concerned. (even if it it didn’t feel that way). As you may remember, I judge a half in 3 phases….the first 5 miles, the second 5 miles and the final 5k. You ran very evenly the entire race. Your first 5 miles averaged 7:53, second 5 was 7:51 and final 5k was 7:54. BTW I assumed the last 1.1 was 1.1 and not 1.25 as your watch showed. I am sure you ran more than the 13.1 distance but that is the race. This is based on Garmin.

Mat(t) Times-

Next, I looked at your splits and determined that you were actually going faster over your last 5k than then what the above shows. So I estimated the last 1.1 based on splits. Then I put the “extra” time evenly divided back into the previous 12 miles. Here are my alternate splits for you, First five miles avg=7:58, second 5 = 7:56 and final 3.1 was 7:40! This is more closely with what the mat times say. Which mean you have a super fast finish and were increasing your pace at every phase of the race.

I think your mat times are what happens and shows why you ran so well. Congrats.


p.s. Sorry if this is confusing

How awesome is that? And look at who was smiling at me from the in-flight magazine on the way home. 

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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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It had been a long time since a half-marathon had been my full-stop goal race. Wait: I must self-correct. The distance hasn’t ever been the specific focus of my training–I’ve always leaned on it as a fitness test leading into a full marathon. Standing in my corral on Sunday morning, I felt set apart. I wondered how many of the other runners had trained as hard and as specifically as I had for this race. No doubt, I was being judgemental when I assumed most of them had signed up to run it for fun, or as a longer training run. 

After a fabulously uninterrupted six hours of sleep (no doubt, the small and warm company of @tejasrunnergirl‘s dog Lola helped with that), I awoke at 4 AM, immediately ate a bowl of highly-salted oatmeal, and then moved methodically through the rest of my race-morning timeline. Body Glided, hydrated, sunblocked, bibbed and bundled, by 4:50 I was in the car, with @tejasrunnergirl at the wheel. Bless her soul for waking in the middle of the night to shuttle me to the start–whenever I’d set out on four wheels this weekend I ended up hopelessly lost. (There must be some preexisting and unresolved bad karma between me and Houston.) @tejasrunnergirl dropped me off with a hug and a big, encouraging smile; I arrived at the George R. Brown early enough that I could attend the 5:30 AM Catholic mass.

While my relationship with God (or the Universe, the Cosmic Lifeforce, or whatever you want to call it) has gotten much stronger this year, I remain quite uneasy about organized religion, including the one within which I was raised. After so many years away, the rituals and vocabulary seem strange and rigid to me. But I decided that I wasn’t against giving a little thanks to a Catholic God before I headed out to conquer the concrete streets of Houston. It ended up being a beautiful gathering. The priest had given mass at the Houston Marathon for over a decade, so in a way he was one of us runners. I was moved by sharing the handshake of peace knowing that everyone around me was about to undertake the same momentous running effort. I also took the opportunity to turn the results of my race over to God, and asked to be satisfied no matter the outcome. That’s my way of taking out an insurance policy against bitter disappointment, just in case everything went terribly wrong out there. Note: this prayer did not lessen the huge amount of pressure and tension I felt.

The rest of the pre-race period couldn’t have been timed any better. I checked my bag, found two blocks to run a 10-minute warm-up, had some quality time in the port-a-potty, then headed to the corral. There are seeded corrals in Houston, but they aren’t broken down by pace–I still had to weave my way up to somewhere between the 7’s and the 8’s. I stretched, told myself to relax, used the port-a-potty one last time (love when they have them in the corral), and tried to ease my game face into something a little bit friendlier than the frown I knew I was wearing. No dice. This is when I surveyed the crowd and wondered who else was out here with serious intent today.

After a few absurd speeches (Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, the mayor) and a scarily enthusiastic prayer (personally, I don’t think God gives a shit how our races go, but whatevs, Preacher), we were off. I was feeling rested but under pressure. Prepared but not necessarily kicky, which might have been because I felt so tight, all my muscles, everywhere.

I knew the first mile was going to be the slowest simply because it was crowded, but when Little G beeped 8:11 I freaked out (I was aiming for 8:05) and sped up a bit too much. My arms were still chilled by the cool breeze. Mile 2 came in at 7:42. That’s when I started repeating the mantra The road will open before you. I can’t say I was feeling especially strong or fluid at this point. I was still warming up, my breathing felt ragged. In fact, whenever I felt relaxed and comfortable, Little G would show me that I was running slower than PR pace and I’d have to push it again. Although the miles did click by quicker than I’d expected, at no point in this race did I just feel like I was cruising. I suppose if you’re chasing an ambitious PR, that’s about right, but it worried me some, and I was constantly doubting if I could maintain the pace. I didn’t know, so I just kept pushing, mile after mile.

My 5k split was 24:42, or a 7:55 pace (of course I didn’t know this at the time). Not bad considering Mile 1 was 17 seconds under that. I had the niggling thought that I might have gone out too fast, but I was working with the knowledge that 7:55 was the slowest I could run and meet my goal, and as a carrot I’d set Little G’s virtual partner at 7:50. Feeding the hunger for more speed was @tejasrunnergirl’s remarkably optimistic battle cry of “1:40,” which she had been repeating to me all week long. I didn’t know my mat splits until after the race,  on the course I just had the autolap mile reports from Little G to work with. I was dismayed to see that even by Mile 3 I was over a tenth of a mile up on the course distance, which meant that I’d have to run even faster than Little G said to meet my goal time.

Somewhere around Mile 6 my left foot started to really hurt me. You know, the fascia. Pounding the concrete roads in my racing flats was aggravating the tightness that I’d been keeping at bay through acupuncture and massage-by-golf-ball the past few weeks. Each time I hit a timing mat, I’d think OK @BklynRunner, do your thing! She’d generously agreed to tweet out my splits for my friends. I didn’t know it at the time, but the sub-8 splits I laid down those last five miles gave me a 10k PR (49:27, over a minute improvement) in the middle of the Houston Half-Marathon. (That’s kind of hot, right? 2 PRs in one race?) I kept telling myself I’d done all those fast finish workouts, into headwind, uphill. I decided to go for broke and keep pushing hard. I ate a Hammer gel with some sips of Gatorade; I had trouble catching my breath during the “snack;” this slowed me down and Mile 7 dropped to a 7:57 pace (from 7:49).

The volunteers, by the way, were all so kind. Whenever I said thank you, they all responded with words of encouragement. It was very refreshing to be around such polite, happy people.

Then I saw @tejasrunnergirl, who was waiting for me close to Mile 7. The entire mile leading up to me spotting her went by in a flash because I was focusing on finding her–so grateful for that distraction. When she saw me she went bonkers cheering, there was jumping, waving and shouting involved, plus this awesome sign. Clearly @tejasrunnergirl knows what’s what. I told her my pace (7:50’s) which I hadn’t yet realized had dropped by practically ten seconds.

I struggled the next three miles to drop the pace back down to the 7:50 range. Little G tells me Miles 8 and 9 were 7:54 and 7:55. I was a nearly a quarter of a mile off the race’s mile markers, so I knew I was tracking with less speed against the clock. I felt in my bones that I wasn’t going to negative split, which for me is the sign of a race poorly executed. (After much mind-bending math more than 24 hours after the race, I can confirm that I did not run a negative split. The first 6.55 miles took me 51:36; the second took me 52:42.) By this point my left foot was hurting so much that when I’d roll it along the road in my stride, I told myself the massage felt good. I should have raced in my trainers on that concrete–but there’s a lesson learned the (literally) hard way. Also, my lower back was starting to talk back, and I suspected I might be dehydrated.

Mile 10 was where @tejasrunnergirl was meeting me next. Perhaps it was out of vanity (I didn’t want such an incredible athlete to see me hurting or slowing down) but I picked it up to clock a 7:44 there. This time she was holding up her “Toenails Are Overrated” sign, which I could see from a mile away since it was flourescent green. She told me I was looking good but I was feeling the strain. I admitted to her that my foot hurt bad. Right before I saw her, I’d crossed the 14.5k mats in 1:12, or a 7:51 pace.

Mile 11 was painful (7:50); and in Mile 12 I gritted my teeth and pulled out 7:43–but Little G’s splits were still 0.15 of a mile behind the course markers, so I knew I was about 4 or 5 seconds behind the pace Little G was telling me.  The out and back between miles 7 and 11 seemed endless, but it was broken up by @mdwsterNYer catching me on the way back with a big shout. I barely acknowledged her as I was already hurting but I was so grateful to catch a glimpse of my Monday morning running buddy; it brought me back–you’re just running, dudette! I know how to run. I started to feel waves of the chills come over me, and I knew I was dehydrated, so I made a point to grab a cup of whatever and sip it each time I passed the “runner’s bar.”

I was wearing the same shorts and singlet I’d worn for the New York City Marathon back in 2008, which still remains my greatest race (even though I’ve bested the time, I have yet to execute a race as perfectly). I deliberately chose the outfit for that very reason; but unfortunately I just didn’t have a negative split in me on January 15, 2012.

Somewhere right before the 20k mark (20k-1:38:30, or a 7:58 pace) there was @grapevinerunner along a quiet stretch of road. I was looking for her, I knew she’d have a sign. By this point I was too exhausted and dizzy to read the whole thing–all I saw was that it was designed like a tweet and had my handle in there! Even better were her spoken words, “You’ve got this TK. Just a little bit more, you’ve got this.” Even though I’d been confident since the first mile I’d break 1:45, I wasn’t sure by how much–that was what kept driving me forward, that desire to burn myself as far away from 1:45 as possible. Hearing my friend tell me I had it, and feeling her support in my bones, let me release some of my tension. That’s right–I’ve got this. No matter the result, today was a great race. I kept running.

Not 50 feet up the road, I looked to my right and who did I see but Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan and Adam Goucher, running along the course towards us, out for a little recovery run! I couldn’t believe it; I snapped awake. Hi Kara, Hi Shalane! Hey guys! Kara oddly ducked her head, while Shalane and Adam looked over, wondering who was calling out. I ran a few more paces, kind of shocked at the sighting. Then I thought, Well, the least I can do, given their effort yesterday, is run faster now. So I put the pedal to the metal, thought about how I have a high pain threshold (if this is true or not I have no idea; I might have lied to myself to get the job done), and hammered out a 7:16 Mile 13 and ran the last bit to the finish at a 6:40 pace.

I crossed the line and my eyesight was blurry, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I felt the ground pulling at me. I was a little faint. I’d been here before and knew what to do; I found the smiley old guys monitoring the finish line and let them escort me forward. I let them ask me how I was until I felt I could walk on my own without fear of tipping over. Hey, it’s been over a year since I’ve been on a date: I was grateful for the opportunity to lean on a kind gentleman’s arm for a short walk.

With my official time of 1:43:18, I’d pulled out a half marathon PR by 3 minutes and 18 seconds. Along the way I PRed in the 10k by a minute and seven seconds. I know I had that crazy grin on, the one where I’m so bursting with happiness that I look like a deranged dervish. I got my medal, my bag, and met @grapevinerunner, @mdwsternNYer and @tejasrunnergirl at the reunion area. We swapped stories until I thought the ground buckled beneath me–um, time to eat!

And there you have it. Not my most strategic race ever, but perhaps my gutsiest. I had the help of excellent training as designed and assigned by my coach, Meg Stolt; the bolstering support of friends new and old; and the calming force of God reminding me that I am so much more than my race results. I had the inspiration of the Olympic marathon trials the day before, and the good fortune of absolutely perfect weather conditions–high 40’s/low 50’s, no breeze and overcast. In a big shift from my usual attitude of low confidence/modest goals, I went with the motto of “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” I dreamed bigger. I dared to believe I could break 1:45 by multiple minutes, and then did it.

I hope everyone else out there had the same support and success as I did yesterday, regardless of their degree of serious intent. Running is running is running, virtuous and joyous in its essential execution. The goals are a separate thing, to be spared of outside judgement or ranking. I am a runner; but I can talk about other things if you’d like.

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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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Houston, TX is one of those cities I’ve never wanted to visit. If it weren’t for the OT’s, I’d have been more likely to avoid Houston, for fear of stumbling into someone else’s memories of their life there. I’d imagined a visit to Houston like walking through a spider web: you can’t see the strands until you’re already draped in its crepe-y, creepy weave.

The Olympic Marathon Trials forced my hand. As I’ve already explained, the Trials pack such a strong punch of motivation that I would have traveled to see this race no matter where it was being held–even New Jersey. Last summer, a couple of my relay teammates suggested I make the trip a two-fer and race while I was down there, and there it was: I had a game plan. Houstonians, I apologize in advance for my cluelessness. Please treat my New York City Girl routine with amusement.

So now here I am, actually looking forward to a weekend in a state that is as strange to me as Eastern Europe. Luckily, I have a trusty translator and guide, my Twitter buddy @tejasrunnergirl. (She also has a blog, you know. Go there as soon as you’re done reading here.)

The next few days are going to be the ultimate combination of inspiration and perspiration. I can’t fucking wait.

INSPIRATION. I want Ryan Hall to win again. And I want Desi Davila to live up to her end of the dare that she threw down in Boston last year. Predictions? I don’t have any, other than to say that I believe the women’s race is going to be much more exciting than the men’s. No matter what, it will be the best possible mental set-up for my race the next day. There isn’t anything else that could so effectively get me pumped to race the hell out of my own distance event. My only wish is that I had a better camera.* My crappy point and shoot takes terrible action shots, and I can only get in one click of the shutter before the runners have thundered past.

PERSPIRATION. I’m staring down 1:45 for this half-marathon. I. WILL. NOT. EXCEED. IT. Not only that, I will race for as big a gap as possible between my finishing time and 1:45. As in, minutes. Can I do it? The ever-faithful @tejasrunnergirl tells me I’ll finish in 1:40. That’s a 7:37 average pace–ain’t she a funny one. When I put my 15k PR, ran a month ago, into the McMillan Calculator, it gives me 1;45:01 for the half-marathon, which I think is funny for quite a different reason. I have tried to explain how my confidence begat my ambition. This is still true. I’ve been feeling strong and ready all week. Dropping five pounds doing Organic Avenue’s five-day *LOVE Fast  juice cleanse last week means that I’ll be racing on legs that were trained to run while carrying more weight than they will have to on Sunday.  The big difference between this taper and every other taper I’ve ever done is the subtle conviction I feel. That’s a new feeling, and I am grateful for it. No matter what happens on race day, I won’t have any regrets. I know I won’t, because I have had so much fun getting to Houston. I also know I’m more prepared for this race than I have been for any race prior.

If you know my name, you can track me on the Houston Marathon website. If you don’t, you can get my updates by following three of my friends on Twitter. @BklynRunner , stationed in Coney Island, NY, will be tweeting my splits as they come through the computer, and @tejasrunnergirl and @grapevinerunner will be live tweeting TK sightings from the curb in Houston.

*if this is my only wish, then life’s pretty darn good. Amen.

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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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