Posts Tagged ‘Grete Waitz’

I was disappointed, but the NYRR Mini 10k did not disappoint me. Even though I felt crushed over my performance, how delighted was I with every other aspect of this race? VERY.

The NYRR Mini 10k is a historic race. Spearheaded 40 years ago by one of my personal heroes, Kathy Switzer, the first running of this race had only 75 participants. This year, it had more than 7,000. Today, no one questions a woman’s right and ability to run for pleasure, exercise, and competition, but 40 years ago it was still considered a radical, unfeminine, outlandish activity. I can blog (and pout, crow, muse, and navel-gaze) about my running with such abandon today because of to work done by female runners such as Switzer, Benoit, and Waitz decades ago. Speaking of Waitz–this year’s Mini was run in her honor, and I was proud to be participating in the memorial, and in the larger tradition of the race. Apart from everything that Grete did for women’s running worldwide, and her importance to the New York City Marathon, she raced in pigtails–what’s not to love about that?

After spectating last year, I decided I would not let another year go by without racing this one. As I’ve said before, I generally pass on most New York Road Runner races because I am not interested in paying to run around Central Park. But the Mini, with its start at Columbus Circle and course that takes us up Central Park West and clockwise around the big loop in the park, is an exception. BUT if they’re closing a major thoroughfare, giving me the chance to run down Harlem and Cat Hills, and setting up the finish in front of Tavern on the Green?–then hell yeah, I’m in!

As I walked to bag watch, I imagined that I knew all of the women headed that way, too. I strolled and reflected (since I was in no hurry for the race to start) that at one point or another, I was or will be one of these women. I have or will race: skinny, fat, hungover, well-rested, slow, fast, for fun, a PB, to test my fitness, to be among friends, injured, peaking, PMSing, to heal a broken heart, to burn off lust, to actualize myself, to get guaranteed NYCM entry, to prove something, to set an example, to support another woman, to burn 700 calories, to believe in myself, to remember who I am.

When I got to bag watch, I realized that I actually did know dozens of the women on the course that day. I had met then through my blogging, tweeting, racing; through my family, work, racing, Team in Training and Team Fox. Women runners pervade every segment of my life–and there are few comments on who I am and who I hope to be that are more beautiful than that. How lucky am I? VERY.

Among the runners I know, I was able to see these women before or after the race: @raceslikeagirl, @mdwstrnNYer, @sugarpop, @ericasara, @nycbklyngirl, @BklynRunner, @susanruns, @Running_Fox, @EvaTEsq, @kbruning and others I am sure I’m forgetting. When I pushed into my corral (the second corral! A red bib!), I ended up right behind a woman I know from work. I saw my old TNT Coach Nancy by the raffle table. I know there were many other women racing who I knew were there but didn’t catch up with–plus the other women I know but didn’t realize were racing. How cool is that? VERY.

I was agog with the calibre of professional competition in the race, as well. As we raced, I would follow behind athletes such as Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, last year’s victor Linet Masai, Kim Smith, and many others. How many amateur runners in this country get to tread directly behind such talent? A small percentage, yet there I was! How rare is that opportunity? VERY.

Now for the race itself. It wasn’t until the Chacha man shot off the Go gun that the competitor within me woke up and said a quick prayer, Please let me have a good race. I enjoyed the course immensely, even though I had my eyes cast down nearly the entire time. My mood was subdued, to say the least. I erroneously thought the conditions hospitable–skies were overcast and there was a light breeze, but I learned afterwards that humidity was 96%. My legs, my legs, people! They haven’t felt kicky in nearly a month. During the race, I kept expecting some sort of grit to push its way to the surface through the pudding. Usually that race mentality picks up on the cues: What are these hoardes of people, timing chips, bibs, racing flats doing here? Oh, okay! Nope, pudding all the way. I felt like a pile of damp leaves and kindling. No spark was going to set me on fire. This was my thought pattern the entire race: Q: Can I sustain this speed? [look at Little G] A: It reads slow but it feels dangerous.

At Mile 3, I broke out in a huge grin despite myself. The Front Runners were cheering as if their lives depended on it. NYRR had set up cheering stations, assigned to various clubs (whose male members were wearing shirts emblazoned with “This one’s for Grete.”). Their shouts were amazing, and gave me a boost like I’ve never experienced in any race previously. They made me feel special, like I was doing something remarkable, and for that I was grateful (because I didn’t believe I was remarkable at the time).

Ultimately, I finished more than a minute thirty off my PR, which left me feeling pretty crushed and wondering if I am a fool to think I can run a sub-3:45 in my marathon this October. Friends reminded me I raced on only five weeks of consistent training, the humidity was killer, and I have been exhausting myself through BEA, moving house, and unpacking. All of that is physical, and can leave a body in need of recovery the same way a long run or speed workout does (so they told me). I am grudgingly meeting them half way. I am also considering this: I ran a 35-second negative split, my fastest mile was my last, and I lost one pound this week (I am attempting to get back to race weight by August). While those facts aren’t VERY encouraging, for right now, they are encouraging enough.

6.2 miles raced in 52:07. Fastest mile 8:09 (Mile 6); slowest mile 8:33 (Mile 1); average pace 8:24.

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I’ve been looking forward to this event for weeks–the TimesTalk with Grete Waitz, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Deena Kastor. I bought my ticket nearly a month ago, always with the intent of this being my date night with myself. (Am I the only social misfit who loves the solo date? I even got spiffed up and put on extra make-up! I wore my red high heels!) I didn’t want anyone interfering with my unabashed adoration of and riveted attention for these world-class marathoners.

They took the stage about 15 minutes late, which I blamed on Lance. Surely he was being a prince and arrived in his own sweet time. Regular readers will know I’m no fan–I get indignant about all the special treatment and media he got the few times he ran marathons; and at how lightly he took his preparation the first time out (so disrespectful and arrogant); and how the organizers of the Boston Marathon let him break a tape when he crossed the finish line.  That he shoehorned his way on to the panel, tainting which was otherwise a celebration of female marathon greats, totally annoyed me!  He got the most enthusiastic applause when the panelists were introduced–boy did that really piss me off. Runners are always competing for a bigger piece of the sports media pie, so to have their panel usurped by Schmance Warmstrong, on the eve of one of our sport’s greatest events (our one big chance to have full attention on running), was nearly enough for me to show up with a bag of rotten tomatoes. (If only I didn’t throw like a girl…)

I’d decided to ignore everything he had to say. Fingers on ears. Low humming. Noo Schmance, I can’t hear yoooouuu!

When Grete, Joanie, and Deena took the stage, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and tears welled up in my eyes. These women–they have done so much for the sport, and for women in the sport! Their stories, efforts and accomplishments have kept me running and pushing through long runs, speed workouts, and injury recovery. And there they were, on the stage, ready to dispense wisdom and humor, for me! Oh, this was going to be a very, very good date night.

Tara Parker-Pope (she blogs at NYTimes.com and has been training for NYC, her first marathon) did an excellent job as moderator. She really knew the stories of each athlete and of other professional runners–her expertise came through in her questions, responses, and commentary. So, um, I took notes. Perhaps one would even call them copious. I’m just going to type them up here for you. (Yes, I am blushing at my display of massive geekiness. I can only hope you find them charming, both the blushing and the geekiness.)

Grete: [she looks so young! wearing warm-up pants & jacket] Her hardest marathon was the one she ran with Fred Lebow.
Joanie: [also wearing warm-up pants & jacket] Finished every race she’s ever started.
Deena: [wearing a pretty black dress and jumper with floral embroidery across the right shoulder] Finished 6th in Chicago this year because she had to use the toilets.
Grete: she took a potty pause twice (once crouched between 2 cars; the other time she just peed on herself while running) but managed to win the NYC marathon each time
Lance: [wearing jeans and a cool gray windbreaker. suspiciously tan] Admitted he “weaseled” his way in when he saw the TimesTalk advertised in the paper a week or so ago.
Grete: Ran a negative split her first marathon (her longest training run had been 12 miles!) by 4 minutes. She was a miler (best Mile = 4:25; best 1500 meters = 4 flat) in her home country of Norway.
Joanie: The first time she ran Boston, she asked a guy on the course when they were going to pass the Heartbreak Hills only to be told she had already run over them.
Lance: When queried if he was looking at triathlons again, he replied, “I look at them… on TV.” But then said that in 2011 he may do “a couple of Ironmans.” Just a couple? Pussy!

Grete: After her cancer treatments, she became a couch potato. Lance sent her an email (they had never met before) which motivated herto begin training again.
Lance: “It was a simple note. I had to really think about what I was going to say. I mean, it was Grete Waitz!”

Grete: In your training, it’s okay to “hurry slowly” towards improvement.

On this buzzable New York Times piece about marathon plodders:

Grete: Running with fast-walk breaks is fine.
Joanie: As the marathon is getting slower, it is also getting faster. It’s about achieving the goals you set for yourself. [She didn’t sound entirely convinced that she was OK with the plodders. Just my impression.]
Deena: Marathoners get to the starting line with mutual respect because everyone there has put in the work for the event.
Lance: The majority of the sport’s participants are slow. “Majority rules!” When Tara countered that the article posited that the plodders were removing the mystique of the sport, Lance replied “Well the marathon was very mystical for me.”

Deena: Mantra from her first Chicago Marathon, “Define Yourself.”
Joanie: Mantra from 1984 Olympics, “The Last Shall Come First, and the First Shall Come Last.”

When asked about how to overcome injuries and massive physical setbacks:

Grete: Move through recovery with a supportive circle of friends, family and coaches/teammates
Lance: Some people pump you up; other people drain you. Dump the drains and collect the pumps.
Deena: No matter your level of fitness or capability, it’s important for all runners to set goals for themselves, even if they seem like impossible goals, and to work towards them. Then look at how your life has changed and improved in pursuit of your goals, even if you fall short of them. [I nearly rushed the stage to fall at her feet in gratitude when she said this.]

Lance: On how he deals with the inevitable emotional vacuum after a race, “Drink!… Heavily.” [This may have been the point where I agreed to cut him a little bit of slack.]
Lance: Sports live and die (as far as spectator popularity and TV coverage) by the stories the athletes have to tell.
Grete: In a marathon, the first 20 miles is transportation.  Then start running.

Needless to say, I was entranced the entire panel, completely delighted by the women and ultimately willing to listen to Lance. He did beat the “humbled by the marathon” drum pretty loudly throughout the event. Grete was the biggest populist of them all, just very good-natured. Joanie had a bit of that New England no-nonsene sternness to her; she conserved her words. Deena seemed like a reflective, eloquent and positive California girl. Even though each of the four panelists told stories I’d read before, I will never forget what it was like to listen to my heros in person.


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Manhattan, Again (Miles 21 to 26.2) 

I remembered this part down Fifth Avenue clearly from my training run–lots of scenery, and freaking interminable. This was the tract where I was grateful for all the familiar faces–crafty PS with her smile; TNT coach LW pointing right at me (she helped me with race day strategy–thanks Coach!); and TNT coach CL, out there with her baby bump (and completely surprised to see me), she told me “one mile at a time,” which proved invaluable advice for the last three. As we rounded Marcus Garvey Park, I shouted back to EN, who was right on my heels, with Josh, You stayin’ with me? “I’m gonna try!” came back at me. 

That’s all I needed to hear. Jets: On! 114th Street was the final location I was expecting my folks, and they came strolling up at the exact moment I was running by. Once again, my father shouting my name was the only thing I heard, surely everyone on the course now knew who I was. I was so elated at this point, completely juiced with endorphins, that I took two steps BACK and jumped right into my dad’s arms. He lifted me off the ground and held me tight for a brief moment, then just as quickly I said OK, and I zoomed off to return to my great race. Love ya, Dad

After that, I never looked back (and I lost EN* somewhere behind me). I ran as hard as I thought I could sustain for however many miles were left–3, 2, 1. That gradual, mile-long hill up Fifth Avenue is a subtle, potentially demoralizing challenge–runners were dropping off to my left and right, I could feel the inertia building around me, and it took all I had to tuck my chin, pump my arms, and turn on the tunnel vision. Once I finally hit the top (nota bene: I passed a slew of other competitors on that hill), my determination sharpened even more, if such a thing was possible. I felt a gritty toughness, an isolation, a sense that the race had only just begun for me. I took my final Clif Shot, this time with caffeine. Giving in even a little to the way my legs were starting to tire wasn’t an option. 

The crowds at the entrances to, and throughout, Central Park were a single solid, wall of noise. I registered them in a blur, knowing I was running the most historic miles of the race, the miles where champions had surged to triumph or fell back in the shadow of another’s glory. I passed The Plaza Hotel, Columbus Circle, and my first-season TNT mentor KW screaming out my name so loud she actually shook me out of my zone. It was cold; these last few miles I wore my gloves, and it was the first time since Staten Island I wished I had something more on besides my thin singlet. I was breathing so hard, pumping my arms, remembering DRC Matt’s evergreen advice for a strong finish: stay relaxed and maintain form to conserve energy. Along Central Park South I saw a sign that said “Pain Is Temporary.” A perfectly-timed reminder: none of it mattered, the cold, my tiring legs, my maxed-out lungs and pounding heart. It would all be over in less than 18 minutes, and then I’d know, you’d know, if I could bring all my months of training, dieting, and planning to come to balance on the head of a pin. 

At the “One Mile to Go” sign, I glanced at little G and actually gritted my teeth. I wished someone would cheer me on, but instead I turned on my mantra, and let it repeat: Strong. Beautiful. From all of the Media Challenge events I’d run this summer, and last week’s Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff, I was very familiar with the terrain leading up to the Tavern on the Green. I saw the “400 Meters to Go” sign and thought, just one more lap around the track. Strong. Beautiful.  Arms helping as much as they could, breathing as hard as I ever have during a race, and now here’s the Hill of Spite we must climb before we can cross the finish line. I can see the finish line… back straight, collar bone up, shoulders down. I’m running, Strong I’m moving right towards exactly where I want to be, Beautiful little G tells me I’ve got it, my sub-3:55 but there’s no way I’m not still charging towards that finish line Strong with every single shred of energy, spirit, Beautiful and heave of emotion I have left. And then, in a final flash of speed and heat I was across, I could stop, I could walk, I could look around. Breathe.

Finisher Area

A race official in an orange jacket took me by the arm, asked me if I was fine, and walked with me a few yards until I answered him (I was a little lightheaded). Finally, I turned to him, looked him right in the eye and said, Yes, I’m fine. Meaning, I am fucking amazing. He gently released me, sending me into the river of finishers, to get my medal, my food, my mylar, and my baggage. It was then that I gave in to my traditional post-marathon weepies, impressed and in awe of myself, grateful, overcome. Soon I pulled myself together, and marched right up to a smiling woman to have her drape my finisher’s medal around my neck. My medal, I love my medal. The circular gold medallion is embossed with the image of the great Grete Waitz, breaking the tape. It means a lot to me to have a woman on the medal for this race, my first New York City Marathon, with my new PR time affixed to it forever. Also, Grete is a favorite because when she raced, her hair was always tied back in two pigtails, and you can see them clearly on the medal. I like having this in common with her. 

You already know it. And I’ve got it memorized. But I’d be happy to tell you all again. I ran the 39th ING New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 54 minutes and 41 seconds, meeting my A Goal with 19 seconds to spare and running a negative split, with my last 13.1 miles 2 minutes and 35 seconds faster than my first. I improved my time for the distance by 42 minutes and 12 seconds.

Reuniting with my family on Central Park West was just as I’d hoped. Big, long hug and kisses from Husband, a whispered “I’m very proud of you, sweetie.” My mom, beaming. My dad, rowdy but also still touched by my leap into his arms at Mile 22+. And surprise, here were SS and DS, older relatives of mine who on the spur of the moment hopped on the train from Long Island and stood at Columbus Circle to cheer. (When told how the whole timing chip & mat system tracks the runners, an astounded SS said, “And they can’t find Bin Laden?”) 

We filed into the subway (marathoners ride free!), and I relished this, too. Ever since I moved into my first NYC home (Avenue C and 14th Street) in September of 1996, each Marathon Sunday I’d consider the mylar-clad runners on the subway with admiration and jealousy. I wish I could do that. It’s one of those quixotically New York things–the racers, patiently standing on the subway to get home just like every other citizen in the city. So, part of the enjoyment of my marathon day was taking the subway home (the 7 line, at which I’d waved just hours before), nodding at my comrades in solidarity and respect. My mom said to me later, “Everyone was looking and smiling at you.” I think she loved escorting a mylar-clad one as much as I loved being one. 

Once we were back in Sunnyside, Dad treated us all to a pub lunch at P.J. Horgan’s Tavern around the corner from my apartment on Queens Boulevard. I had a cheeseburger, fries, and a Yuengling draft (I’d begun fantasizing about this meal at Mile 16). Husband sat next to me in the booth, and I kept gratefully slumping against him, tired and happy. I didn’t tumble into bed until nearly 11 PM–I just didn’t want the day to end. It was magical and perfect, like Christmas and my wedding day, all wrapped into one.

*This race report wouldn’t be complete without a Thank You and a Congratulations to EN, for hedging my excitement so I could blast the final miles, and for setting your own PR during this race. Well done, on both counts, friend.

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Wedged in between a morning of cleaning and an evening of shopping were two inspirational, honorable hours spent watching the world premier of the documentary film Run for Your Life, the story of Fred Lebow and the founding of the New York City Marathon.  The film is directed by Judd Ehrlich, who came to the story through his friend Moshe Katz, who is related to Lebow.

Needless to say, the theater was packed with runners.  The co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival asked for a show of hands of all the runners in the theater, and easily two-thirds of the room put their hand up.  Mary Wittenberg, the current President and CEO of New York Road Runners, was in the audience, as were many of the cast and crew, including Nina Kusick, the woman who won the first-ever NYC Marathon (four laps of Central Park — ugh!).

As a fan and participant in the sport, I already knew parts of the history of the New York City Marathon and Road Runners Club.  But this documentary is a marvellous, rich presentation of road running in my city, and of course, an even-handed presentation of Fred Lebow, the “P.T. Barnum” of road running.

I’m not going to give you a rundown of Lebow’s biography — you can get that from Wikipedia; or better yet, you can go watch this movie.  (Ehrlich’s team is hoping the film gets picked up for distribution.)  In any event, the man and his life certainly make for a great story, whether you are a runner or not.

What I loved most about this film was how the story of Fred Lebow is the story of the New York Road Runners, and of the growth of road running in New York City.  I’ve heard pieces of this story told through other sources, but Run for Your Life really pulled it together in one place.  Wittenberg even said, in a comment after the premier, how the documentary was a huge assist to the NYRR’s efforts to archive their history.  Hearing New York running legends like Corbitt, Spitzer, Rodgers, Shorter, Waitz, and Salazar talk about Fred and the NY Marathon felt like an important thing to be doing. I realize that I am able to train and race as much as I want because of those who came before me, because of pioneers like Fred Lebow. 

 This movie is full of “Ah-ha” moments, in which I recognized the roots of today’s running culture in the vanguard efforts of Lebow and the NYRR’s. For example, the original NYRR’s were a small group of men who ran solely in the Bronx.  I was more suprised to learn that they ran in the Bronx, around Yankee Stadium, than to realize how very few runners were in the community. In fact, the tenor of the film was more homage than expose, more history than recruitment. 

I can’t help but briefly compare it to the other movie I’ve recently seen about running, The Spirit of the Marathon.  That movie was inspirational, expansive, and sweeping; it made me cheer and wiggle in my seat; it felt like it was trying to convince folks to run the Chicago Marathon.  Watching The Spirit of the Marathon was like spectating at a world-class running event.  While Run for Your Life had a few of those moments — when Salazar set the world record, when Lebow crossed the finish line with Waitz at the only NYC Marathon he’d ever run — mainly, watching the Lebow movie felt like I was earning my chops as a New York runner by learning our history.  Now, I can go forth and be an ambassador to non-runners, runners from other cities, and even local runners who may not yet know the story.

Spirit of the Marathon was very much a movie for runners.  Run for Your Life is as much a movie for New Yorkers as it is for runners.  I told Husband when I got home that he would have loved the movie, because of all the history of our great city that by necessity comes into the story of Fred Lebow and the NYRR’s. The grandness of the New York City Marathon is certainly captured here.  The shots of the river of humanity pulsing over the Verranzano and 59th Street Bridges are enough to quicken my pulse, and make me think how excited I am to be one of those runners this November, running in the footsteps of legends like Fred Lebow.

To Judd and crew: well done, and thank you.

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I was hoping for more. Now, granted, I am a tough critic because of my publishing insider status, so I’m jaded and suspect of pretty much any book that comes with a prefab concept or theme. However, I thought my skepticism of a collection of essays about women bonding through running would be balanced out by my own passion for running, and the romantic view I admittedly have of the sport, as both participant and spectator. Alas, that was not quite the case.

I started reading Sole Sisters several months ago, when I was training for the Disney World Marathon, but didn’t pick it up again until this week, when I decided to approach it like a point-to-point run and Just Read It. Unfortunately, after about four essays, the stories of these real women began to blur together. Most of the women profiled were running through some traumatic event, and they leaned on the support of their all-women running groups to get through it. I’m not saying this to diminish their struggles, or triumphs.  But I think these stories would have been more inspirational if I’d read one at a time, bit by bit, more like interval training.

Unsurprisingly, the essays that were most interesting to me were the ones that focused on elite and champion runners. I loved learning more about Joan Nesbit Mabe, Cheryl Treworgy, Grete Waitz and Catherine Ndereba and her sister. (I was delighted to discover is that Grete wore her hair in two pigtails as she ran, too!) The Quirky Award goes to Colleen Cannon, who runs flanked by her two horses.

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