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Posts Tagged ‘mary wittenberg’

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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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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Despite two weeks of taper freak out, stress out and insecurity, I awoke on race day in a buoyant mood: happy, relaxed, and excited. Also, for the first time ever the night before a marathon, I got solid, uninterrupted sleep. 

Everything, down to defrosting my breakfast berries, had been laid out in procedure order the night before, so all I had to do was follow the yellow brick road. The Plan. I take great comfort in The Plan, and I followed it to the letter. Luckily, even things I had to leave to chance, like the weather, or the cab driver who took me to the NY Public Library to catch my official race bus to Staten Island, were fantastic. As I rode over the Queensborough Bridge, my excitement bubbled over as I thought I’ll be racing across this bridge later today! 

Compliments to NYRR’s, as all the tricky bits of logistics–getting runners onto the busses, shortening the lines at the port-a-johns, the new wave start–went off so smoothly. I was impressed and grateful, and it definitely helped me stay calm in the final hours before my race. Love ya and thank you, Mary & Corps! 

All the volunteers were cheerful and helpful, even the ones there at 5 AM, ushering us onto busses, directing us through the dark to our color-coded staging areas within Fort Wadsworth Park. I found a spot beneath a lamppost, laid out my trash bag, pulled on my third layer of warm-ups, and settled in with my 4 bottles of water, thermos of coffee, iPod and book (an early galley of Tim Dorsey’s Nuclear Jellyfish–hilarious stuff) to wait. I had four hours until I needed to start checking my bag and finding my corral (wave 2, corral D). 

Staten Island (Miles 1 to 2) 

It felt a little bit like a refugee camp, all of us huddled together, in the elements, wearing throw-away clothes and trash bags, hunched over steaming mini-cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I was shivering involuntarily by 7 AM, despite the many layers of clothes I had on. Finally, finally EN called and insisted I sit with him and some TNTers in the blue area (I was in orange) so we could cluster together for warmth. This ended up being a good plan: even though it entailed more pre-race walking than I’d have liked, it kept me relaxed. 

EN decided he wanted to start with me, even though he was scheduled for the first wave, because our time goals for the race were very similar. Once again, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with a friend moments before a big race, and I felt grateful at the thought that my passion, this sport, has brought such quality people into my life. As I bent over to stretch my hamstrings, I saw a forest of running shoes around me, and grinned at the beautiful sight. I reflected on the years I’ve dreamed and planned for this race (since December 2006), all the training I’ve put in since July, all the spectating I’ve done (I’m not above banking on good karma), and the fact that I really had to pee! More props to the NYRR’s–there was a port-a-john IN the corral!! Brilliant. 

Then everything happened in a rush. The corrals merged, we walked to the starting line, some guy sang “God Bless America,” the cannon boomed, we shrieked, and Ole Blue Eyes started crooning “New York, New York.” I’d never before thought of this as a fight song, but man oh man was it ever in that moment. Grr, watch out New York because–as my best friend CB told me I would–I was gonna own the road today. 

It’s surreal, running over the Verranzano Bridge. Are those minty-hued arches really spread for me to pass beneath? Although, it could be argued that I wasn’t exactly running over the bridge. My first 5K was so slow (29:20) that even my mom told me, after the race, that she was concerned when she saw my split come through over Athlete Alert. (Bless her!) EN reminded me that we had 25 miles to make up our horrifying pace for Mile 1. The thing was, I was so chilled, my muscles were so cold from shivering and being still for five hours, that I simply couldn’t run any faster. I had to warm up and loosen up and get my engine humming. Before we even got off the bridge, EN and I had both gleefully stripped off at least one piece of clothing (he pretended to be the Incredible Hulk; I pretended to be Dita Von Teese). Bye bye ugly green pants; have a nice life striped hoodie; it’s been swell old race tee

Brooklyn (Miles 2 to 13) 

My calves and shins were painful these first few miles me, but thankfully it was as I suspected: once they were properly warmed up & loosened up, they gave me no problems. (I still did pop two Tylenol, though, at Mile 3). First impressions of Brooklyn: a woman saying “Go!” from her driveway in her bathrobe and slippers, a hungover-looking dude banging a pot with a wooden spoon from his fire escape. And then, barely 3 miles in, there was JB from the Green Mountain Relay hashers team, coolly greeting me by name. These first miles, all I wanted to do was get my pace back on track, closer to 9:09’s. I had now chucked all my layers, except my gloves, in which I love running because my hands do get cold even when everything else is warm; plus, the gloves can be used to sop up splashed Gatorade, to make sure I have no chocolate Gu on my chin, and to deal with a runny nose (yes, even my nose was running this marathon). 

Then there was KP, my friend from publishing, chasing me down to cheer me on along Fourth Avenue in his green scarf and silvery sideburns, as I ate my first gel of the day (Clif Shot Apple Pie). Gatorade. Then there’s my crazy-enthusiastic cousin DC shouting at me “Go! Run!”–she cheered for me in the Brooklyn Half, too. I missed my dearests, CB and JW, but as I suspected they were on the right side of the avenue, while I was on the left. I knew we switched neighborhoods when a middle-aged, potbellied Hassidic man almost got knocked on his tuchus trying to cross through the runners. Still trying to moderate my pace, keep it at 9:09’s but it was hard–stretches of the course really narrowed as spectators pushed towards us. I hit to 10K mark in 57:32 (improving my pace by 11 seconds per mile, but still not close to 9:09’s). Hardly anyone knew how to run through the water stations, and I began to regard them as treacherous, since other runners’ attention lagged, the road became sticky, and crushed cups were like fallen foliage in Vermont–proliferous, and blanketing. 

The crowds were so loud in Williamsburg, wow, can those hipsters cheer (they all were holding beers). This is when I started to feel contrary. Everyone talks about how the crowd support is so key, how it sweeps them along, how it’s such a notable aspect of the race experience. But for me, the noise, the crush, and the way it distracted and slowed down my competitors made me somewhat anxious. I didn’t want to knock into anyone, or stumble, or have to pull up or turn sharply. And I sure as hell didn’t want to have to run slower because Pierre and Lotchen wanted to sightsee as they ran through the colorful neighborhoods of my city. 

So, as we moved through the dregs of Brooklyn (sorry, Greenpoint), and came through Mile 13 in our approach to the Pulaski Bridge, my emotions started to ease up. I was running towards familiar turf, my breathing was comfortable, my form was strong, and I was on pace to complete the first half in under 2 hours (1:59:08), which was the first major marker of my race plan. I knew if I didn’t hit 13.1 in under 2 hours, it would be that much harder for me to reach my ultimate, A Goal – finishing in under 3:55.

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The Berlin Marathon marked the beginning of the Fall season, it being the first of the three World Majors (Chicago and my NYC follow) that occur in the second half of the year (Boston and London are in the Spring, which you should all already know)… Haile owns this race, having set the world record there last year; and now he’s gone and set another world freaking record while also ensuring himself a spot in history as the first man to run 26.2 miles in under 2:04. Hubba hubba, who needs the Olympics?… I am psyched to see Irina Mikitenko win again, I watched her win London last year on my computer…  The elite field for NYC is nothing short of spectacular, Mary & Corps have really outdone themselves this Olympic year…. As I mentioned earlier, my girl Kara will be debuting her 26.2 mile chops… Also joining will be Paula to defend her title, 2007 World Marathon Majors winner Gete Wami, 2008 Boston Marathon winner Dire Tune, the majestic Catherine Ndereba. Among the male elites, I am most excited about Paul Tergat, Marilson Gomes dos Santos, and Abderrahim Goumri (he came in second after Martin Lel last year)… With each new name the NYRR’s releases, I feel a pang that I won’t be at my usual spot in Queens to watch these inspiring athletes flash by…. I ran my last 20-miler of training on Sunday, actually logging 20.33 miles in 3:09, wow. Ideally October 12th would have been my last 20-miler before taper, but I am determined not only to run the Staten Island Half-Marathon, but to race it… As my training winds down, I can already sense the post-race blues which await me. My friend and colleague EG recommended I read A Race Like No Other to get myself psyched for race day, since oddly I’ve begun to lose enthusiasm for this race I’ve been dreaming about for over a year… Has anyone read A Race Like No Other yet? I know I sent out some free copies… The reviews have been very positive, with an excerpt in this month’s Runner’s World, and an early mention in the New York Post. Library Journal says the book “is poetry for runners; pulsing and energizing in its immediacy, and as raw and persistent as its subject.” Now if only I could get someone to say that about Pigtails FlyingBenjamin Cheever writes in his review in The New York Times that Liz Robbins “packed her book with scrumptious details…” I expect more book coverage as marathon madness heats up in the city; early last week I received my info booklet in the mail, and today I saw my first subway ad as I headed down into the E/V at Fifth Avenue to go to acupuncture… My little G was a perfect running buddy yesterday, it amazed me when I ran past the point in the route I’d always sensed, viscerally, was the 10-mile point. I looked down at little G, who told me: 9.95 miles! See, he and I already have a special connection…One of my industry contacts works support crew in ultramarathons, even though she herself specializes in 5- and 10k’s. She passed me an article by Sunny Blende from the September 2008 issue of UltraRunning magazine that explains why I sweat more now than I ever have before during my runs: “you will sweat sooner and more as you increase your miles and become more fit.” Sweet!… Husband spent the weekend at the Pennsylvania house, leaving me pining away for the mountains’ Fall foliage. Fittingly, Manhattan User’s Guide has raked together all the links we need to get our peep on… And, will someone please give me a massive pile of cash so I can redecorate my apartment entirely from West Elm? Browsing this catalog is like staring at Clive Owen behind glass–he’s right there, and so, so gorgeous, but I just…can’t…touch.

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Some of my girlfriends (and some of my guy friends, too) are as psyched as I am by the phrase “Fifth Avenue Mile,” but with one key difference: they’re thinking shopping, and I’m thinking elite runners. Some people get a lot of mileage dropping names of famous celebrities they’ve seen in restaurants, on airplanes, or in Bergdorff’s. I get a lot of mileage remembering (for my own inspiration) stunning performances by the elite runners I’ve seen in races.

First thrill of the day: spotting Ryan Hall casually leaning against a bus stop post on Fifth Avenue, watching his wife Sara Hall warm up before her race. I wanted to go shake his hand so badly but he really looked like he was just trying to chill out and let his wife be the star. I couldn’t resist though grabbing him with my digital camera, that’s him yawning in the gray shirt all the way on the left side of this photo. Sorry, it’s the only one I could get before he disappeared!

Also of note in this picture, the woman in brown taking off her shirt is the third-place finisher who ran out in front for much of the race, Rose Kosgei from Kenya (she normally runs longer-distance races). I’d also like to point out Amy Mortimer (black tank top), as she was the only female runner sporting pigtails. Ultimately she came in 7th (out of 11 runners), but she wins first place for style.

The women in this race were social and chatty pre-race, but their easy way with each other was dropped (as expected) once they toed the line. Below, Olympian Shannon Rowbury, Kosgei and Hall all look very focused. Hall has won this race in the past.

Next are the women all lined up at the start; UK Olympian Lisa Dobrisky is all the way to the left. Also of note in the line up is Olympian Erin Donohue (who I watched compete in the Women’s Invitational 8K this winter); after the race, I saw her hanging out with her mom (she’s from South Jersey), introduced myself and got a photo with Erin. Cool. (No, you can’t see it.)

This is the one photo I was able to snap before the competitors were passed, their ponytails waving at us all as they tore towards the finish line. Cool, right? Am glad I got a closer shot of Dobrisky.  I was able to get right up against the barrier fences, truly no one had stuck around to watch the race at the start; there was a crowd at the finish but I wanted to get candids of the elites and there isn’t as much of a chance once they’re done running.

The final results are pretty amazing, with the top finishers getting close to course records and really racing shoulder-to-shoulder through the final meters. 1-2-3 went to Dobrisky, Rowbury and Kosgei, with Erin finishing fourth and Sara eighth.  Media coverage up at this point includes the Associated Press on USAToday.com, NYRR.org including photos, and FloTrak.org. FloTrak video includes interviews with Dobrisky (this was her first time in New York) and with Rowbury (who shows off her plexiglass plaque), as well as a full tape of the race, with commentary.

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Clouds on a Sunny Day

I’ve had a stormy black cloud following me around for a couple of days, and apart from all of its other depressing effects, it sapped me of my usual enthusiasm to hit the road in pigtails and sneaks. This has upended my training plans for the weekend, which called for a 10-Miler and a 20-Miler, as part of one of my top-mileage weeks of the season. Alas, I couldn’t get out of my favorite chair yesterday, and reclined there like some Victorian woman with consumption, legs up on an ottoman gazing wanly into space. Husband checked on me as he headed out the door around 5, tucking a chenille blanket over my lap and kissing my forehead. 10-Miler? The closest I got to that run was to note the concept, abstractly recognize it would do me good, and then discard the idea like a used tissue. Matilda laid curled on the couch licking her paws, and I sat in that chair until the apartment was dark. 

I knew I was too exhausted to even try for a 20-Miler this weekend, but thought if I went to bed early enough, I could get up, run 10, then head into the city for the Fifth Avenue Mile, since my heat (Women 30-39) started at 10 AM. I got up with my alarm at its usual 5:45, got dressed for my run, ate breakfast, took some Aleve and promptly laid back down in my chair, pulled up the ottoman, arranged my blanket and slept until 8:30. Pigtails Lying, more like it. 

When I glumly woke up at 8:30, though, it became about dropping the melodrama, taking myself by the scruff of the neck and tossing myself out the door to my race. I promised myself coffee if I was at 86th and Lex by 9:30, so I grabbed my race essentials (and camera), and focused on the small black cuppa Dunkin’ that awaited me on the UES. Thank God I signed up for this race weeks ago–would I have otherwise even left the house today? I doubt it. Talk about preventative medicine.

I got that cuppa, and the persistent sunshine and familiarty of race prep shook some of me loose, too. Pin number. Lace flats. Zip chip. Stretch legs. Jog warm-ups. Normally, I’d have done some research for this race, at least ascertaining an appropriate time for the distance, and maybe even memorizing quarter-mile splits I thought I could hit. This time, I thought to myself, TK, you got nothin’. Just break seven. That’s not even fast for a mile (I’m pretty sure), but what could I do? Simply showing up felt like a stroke of genius today.

As we’re waiting for the gun, Mary Wittenberg addresses us in her so-cool way and says, “This one’s gonna hurt.” Bring it on! And then pop! We’re off, one mile down Fifth Avenue, from 80th Street to 60th Street. I tracked my splits in the hopes of developing some sort of mid-race strategy (this never really panned out, I need more than six minutes to plan my breakfast, forget strategize a race distance I’ve never run before), but have now completely forgotten them. There was a hill in the second quarter-mile. I was also dimly aware that we were streaking past some iconic New York City buildings, but thought, BFD, I run by them all the time. My two prevailing impressions were Gee my legs feel heavy and My this race is going by quickly. (Deep thoughts, I know.) At the 3/4 mark I dialed back to that moment at speed training when I zoomed, and really dug in. I stared right at the finish line and tried to pass as many women as possible. It hurt: my lungs, my legs. My shoulders, amazingly, were relaxed. When I crossed the finish line, all I could think about was the Olympic Trials (I tell you this next bit well aware that I am going to sound like a total idiot; you are allowed to tease me in the comments section), when the sportscasters would shove a microphone in the winners’ faces and start asking them questions, and I’d think, how come they can’t catch their breath after running just 1500 meters? Well, clearly I’ve got to learn everything the hard way because now I get it. Boy, do I get it–I couldn’t even talk. 

As it turns out, I came in 27th in my age group (out of 207 women), and ran an official time of 6:36, which would have been about 5 or 6 seconds faster if I’d pushed my way up to the start line before the gun (lesson learned for next year). I’m not sure if this is a good time; I suspect it’s not embarrassing-if I look at McMillan Race Calculator, and plug in my half-marathon time, it tells me I should be able to race a mile at 7:05:05. So purely against that measure of equivalent performance, I did well.

After the race, I confirmed bag watch would stay open for a couple more hours and headed into Central Park for 6 miles, which I ticked off in about 57 minutes. They felt so good. I had completely lost track of what part of the day it was (it could have been 10:30 AM, it could have been 4:30 PM), and my body just took over. I felt the sun as I ran through the bright patches, and appreciated the shade as I ran through that. Memories and visions of family, friends and other favorite people occupied my mind, and for once I saw no one I knew in the park; I liked that. Chances are good, I thought, that I’m outrunning that stormy cloud.

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I had to strategically nap, and rant at the television a few times, but I finally was able to watch the  highlights of the women’s 10,000 meter finals. Yes, the experience was diminished because NBC truly showed just highlights — the first five minutes and the last four laps — and also because I already knew where our American runners placed. (Cruise through LetsRun,com if you think I am the only person who says NBC’s coverage is biased, and sucks.) I stayed up until 1:30 AM (Saturday morning) and sat through an hour of mind-numbing coverage of other sports like swimming (I’m beginning to belive that excellence like Michael Phelps’ is just obnoxious, like the Yankees), to watch ten minutes, interrupted by commercials and other sports, of the women’s 10,000 meter.  Well, it was great, nevertheless. Kara Goucher stuck it out for the early laps, staying with the lead pack, but eventually dropped back to finish 10th in a PR of 30:55:16. (Official results.) But Shalane, when she finished third, was the picture of gratitude, and awe, and she won me over for that. Her score of 30:22:22 not only earned her the bronze, but broke the Amercan Record, which she herself had just set several months ago. It’s not surprising that she wasn’t sure in what place she finished, flashing fingers at the press box asking “third?”, because that track was a mob scene, with women getting lapped all over the place. The gold medalist, Dibaba, set a new world record of 29:54:66, and eight women ran personal bests, including Kara. That makes me a little misty-eyed: not every woman can with a medal, but every competitor has the chance to run their best race ever, and the fact that over a fifth of the field did, well, that’s just beautiful. Here is a video of T&F highlights from the day, which includes the race (fast forward to 3:50), here’s another one with highlights with voiceover (fast forward to 32:20), for three minutes only click here, and here’s an interview with Shalane (after the Women’s 8k in Central Park earlier this year, talking about Athens 2004). I was totally impressed when Shalane said that due to her food poisoning earlier in the week, she wasn’t sure how she would perform in the 10,000 meter, so she decided to just go with the flow, and “zone out.” So much for all the coaches who tell us to focus etc etc. For more reading beyond the papers, I recommend Mary Wittenberg’s blog post and analysis of Shalane and Kara’s performances.

Seven hours later, I dragged my body out of bed (it was so warm, and cozy, and I was having a lovely dream about a handsome man making me lasagna) to go do my scheduled 8-mile race-pace run. I have begun to consider these Saturday tempo runs the toughest of the week, probably because they freaking are! Also because lately I’ve been doing them on Route 940 in the Poconos, which is hilly, the last two miles all on an incline. But, I hit the pace I’d been hoping for, completing the approximate 8.4 mile route in 1:15:32.

On Friday, I forgot to tell you all, I signed up for my final races of the season with the New York Road Runners (so I have guaranteed entry in 2009 to run with my brother).  In addition to the two remaining half-marathons in the Grand-Prix (Queens and Staten Island), you’ll be able to find me at the Fifth Avenue Mile and the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff. I hope to also run a 5k before the year is out, to benchmark my improvement; the last 5k I ran was the Wall Street run in August 2007. Ideally there will be one I can find on Long Island so I can coerce my mom to sign up as a walker, too, on the promise that I’ll run my 5k in 24 minutes (wouldn’t that be fabulous) and then jog back to finish with her.

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Thank you Mary Wittenberg, thank you New York Road Runners, holy freaking cow I just met Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, and Blake Russell! Our 2008 Women’s Olympic Marathon team is making a special appearance in the Mini on Saturday–that’s right, all three women will be running the 10k–and since they’re in town they stopped by the NYRR’s Runner Station, which has been set up every day this week in Central Park in celebration of Runner’s Week.

It’s events like this that compel me to check NYRR.org nearly every day. They are always announcing elites’ entries in their pro races somewhat at the last minute (I am sure that has more to do with the elites than with the NYRR’s). I mean, if it had been even one of the three marathoners, I’d have been psyched, but all three? Ice the cupcake then tell me it has no calories, why don’t you! It doesn’t get much better than that.

I got there 15 minutes early and sat on the bench nervously waiting, afraid mobs would arrive and I’d be stuck in the back. There weren’t mobs, just a nice mingling little crowd (I couldn’t believe there weren’t mobs. That’s just sad.)  The NYRR’s graciously provided postcards for us, which the women signed for us. (I’m getting it matted and framed tomorrow.)  I wanted to shake their hands, so I introduced myself. Then I requested a photo, which the women kindly smiled for.

First of all, these women are teeny tiny. Like little birds. I think Deena’s entire hip measurement is like my thigh measurement.  But, they each had such beautiful, radiant smiles, I was really struck by how gorgeous they all are. Deena clearly knew the drill — she was interviewed, she gave the answers, she smiled, she was aware of the cameras — and had an air of celebrity about her. But Magda and Blake were a little less experienced, they had a freshness about them, maybe less of a screen, or something. (I could be intuiting too much.) 

Let me say now: I definitely was starry-eyed, and got tongue-tied talking to Magda, as memories of her amazing Trials race flashed through my mind (this is that girl!). After I met Deena (who was last in the receiving line), I was a little shaky. You can kind of see a bug-eyed astonishment in my photos with them.

I hung around for the full hour, and kept taking photos to the point where I hoped they wouldn’t consider me a stalker. During this event, which started to feel like a cocktail party with recovery drinks, I met another avid runner, TS, a woman who is as equally entranced by the elites as I am. As we swapped names and sightings of our favorite pros, it was like clicking with a kindred spirit.  Finally, another geeky fan! We stood there chatting as we snapped pictures of the athletes. I then took pictures of TS with each of the marathoners, and that was surreal. As I looked through the viewfinder, I thought, I am taking a photograph of an elite runner who I usually only see in photographs, not in personTypically, the trippy moments in my running come at mile 18, not when I’m standing in Central Park in my work clothes with my Fendi bag slung over my shoulder.

What an amazing evening. Oh and the “finishing kick”–I got a totally cool wristband. I am sorry I missed Grete Waitz last night (the original pigtailed-marathoner), but I was running my first-ever double (more on that later). Surely she would understand.

The Wristband:

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I woke up at 4:15 AM, threw on my running togs, slurped down a mini Diet Pepsi (no time to brew coffee to get my caffeine), ate a Luna Bar and a nectarine, grabbed my bag with my work clothes, and was out the door by 4:45, umbrella and sense of humor firmly in hand.  I had laid out everything the night before, my bib pre-pinned and my chip pre-laced, and I was up so early this morning that it felt like I was heading off to a marathon. In fact, I even had pre-race happy dreams, in which I dashed through the crowds, finished with a PR, and met Mary Wittenberg who gave me a Most Improved Runner award. No joke! What an awesome dream.

I’ve been so excited about this race ever since I registered. I was captivated by the idea of racing in Central Park, before work, with thousands of other crazy runners.  Surely only the die-hards would get up to run a 5:30 AM race. My growing affection for the club that stages the NYC Marathon and dozens of other races, classes, and events each year, and has played a big role in my own development as a runner, makes me want to celebrate its anniversary the same way I’d toast landmark moments in my friends’ lives.

What I wasn’t anticipating was a full-on rainstorm. It rained as I hailed a cab, it was raining when I got to the park, as we all waited for the start (in the dark, huddled together, under trees, umbrellas and trash bags), and as we raced the 5-mile course. When I got out of the cab, and made eye contact with two other women who had just arrived. I said, “What the fuck are we doing?!” and we all cracked up with delight at our insanity. I was loving every minute; I knew as soon as we started running the rain wouldn’t bother us anymore. I bumped into my coach and a few teammates from TNT, not at all surprised to find them there.

Finally, finally Mary and her men described the course, pepped us up (“Who’s here from the outer boroughs?” [a smattering of cheers] “Who’s here from the tri-state area?” [two random shrieks]), and we were off. This was the best race I’ve ever run without company. Better than my marathons, even, because this run truly felt like a party.  The sense of camraderie — and of general hilarity — was palpable through the pack. Splashing through puddles like were were little kids, in the wee dawn hours, being cheered on by NYRR staffers and volunteers, was a whole heap of good, clean fun. It’s too bad that while 5,000 runenrs registered, only 2,000 showed up to run through the raindrops. Those sleeping 3,000 missed out, big time.

Note, though, that I wasn’t there just to party in my technical clothes. No, I had a PR to set. My previous PR for 5-miles was at last year’s Poland Spring Marathon Kick Off (48:18).  I wanted to run 45 minutes or under, that was my goal.  I knew I could run sub-9’s for 3.5 miles, but I wasn’t sure if I could sustain that pace for 5 miles over the park’s rolling hills.

What a great race. Truly. There’s something almost magical about the park at that hour, and circling it with 2,000 other like-minded nutjobs felt somewhat once-in-a-lifetime to me. (Before you accuse me of melodrama please remember: I am a self-admitted romantic about this sport.) My mind’s eye could see around every curve, my feet tread lightly, my legs stretched over the crests of the hills.  

I crossed the finish line in 42:53, an 8:34 pace.  Wow, I kind of blew my goal of 45 minutes away. I was grinning so widely that the chip guy and the bag watch guy both asked my time (so what if they weren’t impressed?). This rainy morning was so perfect, I even got a kick out of being sopping wet (my visor dripped water everytime I leaned foward), dirty and stinky on the subway as I headed to the gym to clean up before I went into the office.

Happy Anniversary, New York Road Runners! Here’s to 50 more years of taking over the world through running.

Race Reports from other blogs:

Official Photos

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I’ve had the Healthy Kidney 10K in my calendar for a couple months now, but not to run. Oh no.  This was one to spectate, and even though the course made it impossible for me to see the athletes except at the start and the finish, I wasn’t going to pass up my chance to see world-class athletes do their thing.  Besides, I ran this baby last year. Who was I most jazzed to see? Dathan Ritzenheim (defending champ and member of the Olympic Marathon Team), Andrew Carlson (he won the 15K Championships earlier this year and finshed a close second in the 8K here in Central Park), Marilson Gomes Dos Santos (NYC Marathon champ in 2006), and Abderrahim Goumri (second in the NYC Marathon 2007). Of course, Ritz, the defending champ and course record-holder, pulled out due to illness (I say “of course” because he pulled out of the 8K Championship race several weeks ago, too. He’s such a tease). Really, though, who can blame the dude, no use risking anything with the Olympics coming up. It was still a thrill to welcome back Marilson and Gourmi to NYC after seeing them run our marathon. As far as the people’s part of the race, I was impressed to learn that 17,000 local runners registered for the race!  While I was glad I wasn’t racing in that horde of people myself, I was also a bit glowy at the thought of belonging to such an enthusiastic community. Runners rock.

It was a beautiful day, and even though the thermometer said 50 degrees, it felt wamer given the sunshine and the humidity; the elites were verrry sweaty when they crossed the finish.  The NYRR has this sweet ceremony where each elite is escorted to the starting line as they’re introduced by one of the kids from the NYRR Foundation program. I love watching this because the kids are clearly honored, and shy, and the elites get a kick out of these aspiring young runners. In the photo to the left, you can see them all lined up waiting to be called.

In the photo below are the elites (and a few superb local runners, running for club points) lined up at the start; what a beautiful sight. (L to R: Makau, Kiplagat, Beyi, Gomes Dos Santos, ??, Zaabi, Alemu, ??, Hartmann and Carlson. Gourmi must be further to the left.) I really like this picture below of Jason Hartmann offering the intense Andrew Carlson a sportsmanly handshake.

We all know now that Makau won, 12 seconds behind Ritz’s course record in 28:19; Gomes Dos Santos came in second; and Richard Kiplagat came in third. Carlson and Goumri both finished in 29:51. Click for the official results.

I was a little bummed when the elites skedaddled off the course right away. They hung out a little more after the 8K Championships, gave some high-fives to the fans and whatnot. Kudos to Wittenberg et al for pulling together such a stellar lineup of elites (we do notice, so thank you). Anyway, I took as many pictures as I could, given the fact that my camera is slow as shit.  Click to watch the NYRR video.

Race reports from local runners:

 

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