Posts Tagged ‘nyrr’

Ted Corbitt 15k

True confidence is a rare thing. I’ve motored through most of my life gassed up with bravado, pep talks, and blind fear and (sometimes) liquid courage. I’m good at acting spunky, brash, and judgemental–these are all qualities, when combined with how I wear my heart on my sleeve, that combine to confuse the viewer into thinking I’m a confident woman.

Rarely my confidence is actually so, though more and more often I have a realistic grip on my strengths and weaknesses, so I can at least be patchily confident.

Rarer still is when I head into a race feeling confident about being able to meet time goals. It’s a tricky thing, connecting the dots between training (I should be faster in my intervals, I shouldn’t get side cramps, my legs should feel springy, etc) and racing (every step I’ve taken up until this moment will carry me through to the finish line). It’s been so long since I’ve trained with serious intent (January to April 2010), that I’ve forgotten the way all those workouts fit together to form a viable race performance. So, I was nervous. Also: this 15k was the fitness test for Houston. So if I failed to perform in Central Park, then I would have even less hope of breaking 1:45 in my half-marathon a month later. My PR would be a PR, but it would also be a fortune-teller.

Granted, I wasn’t so nervous that I skipped The National concert at the Beacon that Friday night. I went with my best friend, CB, and it was cathartic. Their music is like opera, except sung in mumbles by a self-aware hottie. Also, no one dies, gets married, or goes to war. And there are multiple electric guitars. Amen.

As a nonsequitor for my Twitter followers: Damn you, Hot Cabinetmaker!

Back to the race report.

It was cold, but not nearly as cold as the last time I ran the Ted Corbitt 15k. Rereading that race report now, I realize that I was a lot more reflective during that race than I was this time around. I would be lying if I told you I thought of anything beyond constant system checks (can I keep this pace up without bonking or puking?) and how many women in my age group might be in front of me (less than 50? is that good or bad?). I focused on running the tangents, because I didn’t want to run any further than I absolutely had to (I think I ran about .15 of a mile extra). I focused on my breathing, and my heartbeat–was I relaxed or was I deseprately pushing? And I obsessed over my splits. Mile 1 was quite slow at 8:17 due to the crowding (damn NYRR races) and on Mile 3 I took the hills easy (8:01), hoping to save myself for the final miles. Yet according to my Little G, apart from those two, I didn’t run another mile slower than 7:49.

Every now and then I’d snap out of my self-absorption and try to pass someone. Somewhere around Mile 7 a woman pulled up next to me, practically wheezing, and it was clear she was trying to pass me. Hey, I understand the need to pick people off as a way to maximize personal performance–I do it all the time, and went on to do it a few times in this very race–but there was absolutely NO WAY I was letting this lady pass me. Hell, I was breathing easy! I thought, Find someone else to pass, bitch, sped up and left her in the dust.

There were two women with whom I’d been taking turns leading or following for the bulk of the race. In Mile 7, I decided I’d had enough. I needed to know if I could pass them for good, or if they really did have it all over me. I picked the first one, a woman too skinny for her tights (they sagged around her ass. NO FAIR.). Passed her, and she stayed passed. I was surprised. Then, the second one, she was a little blonde sprite. Shit, I may have tried to catch her in other races, too–she had that archetypal look going on. I thought, I’d like to pass her for good, too. I nearly burned out my lungs doing it, but I passed her and never had the pleasure of seeing her tushy again.

For context, I was trying to beat a PR of 1:16:51. But also, I was hoping to be able to run at least 7:55’s, because if I couldn’t sustain that pace for a 15k now, there’s no way I’d be able to do it for a 13.1 mile race a month later (that’s the slowest I hope to run in Houston). So simply PRing wasn’t enough for me, which is why I wasn’t feeling very confident. My training had been going well, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough to get me to 7:55’s.

Somewhere around halfway through, I was suspiciously confident that I could carry on with the sub-8 minute pace through to the finish line. It came on gradually. It wasn’t cockiness, it wasn’t shock. Simply, I knew I was locked in, that my body was on the case. I knew had it. Did that knowledge make the race any easier? Fuck no–it made it harder. Because once I was sure I’d average 7:55’s, I wanted something more than that. I wanted faster! I wanted quicker! I wanted more speed, more fleetness, I wanted to feel powerful and postpone the gasping as long as possible. My confidence begat my ambitions…en route to them.

This was the proper response to the knowing; I need confidence and ambition to grab a sub 1:45 (and I mean: as SUB AS POSSIBLE) on January 15, 2012.

No doubt there will be a Superskinny and a Sprite there for me to chase in Miles 11, 12 and 13 in Houston. Do Texan women race in full make-up and with teased hair? I hope so.

Official race time: 1:13:07, 7:52 pace. I placed 30th out of 364 in my gender age group, and I PRed by 3:44 (a 24 second per mile improvement).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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I post this race report of the Staten Island Half-Marathon concerned that you are all going to roll your eyes and say, “Here she goes again, we’ve heard this song before.” Granted, my nearly uninterrupted stream of PR’s could seem a bit repetitive. But isn’t that the kind of repetition we all want in our running? 

Two hours before my alarm was set to go off, I was wide awake, fretting over the challenge which lay before me. How on earth was I going to break 1:53:34 today? It was a Charlie Brown Argh Moment, if ever there was one. 

Finally, finally 6 AM came and I could leap up with purpose, distract myself with race preparations. I cabbed it to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, where I was meeting EN and his girlfriend AG (who was there to cheer) at 7:15. The terminal was full of runners, which was a pretty [cool] sight. I also ran into one of my TNT coaches, SH, and we all trooped onto the ferry en masse. I ate my breakfast (whole wheat English muffin with almond butter and apple jam) and drank my coffee and became decidedly non-chatty. I am a nervous talker, but apparently I’d entered a whole new realm of pre-race jitters. 

After we’d gotten our bibs and joined the TNT base camp (EN is mentor captain), we went for a very easy 10 minute warm-up run, then stretched. I’ve never done this before a race before, always figuring it was better to conserve my energy for the course, but today I decided to move the warm up out of Mile 1, since I needed to run strong from the start if I was to PR again–my first mile pace couldn’t lag more than 15 seconds. 

As EN and I stood in our corral, he generously offered an alternative race goal: let’s just run it as we feel it, have fun, and not try to PR. Even though this was an unacceptable plan for me, simply having him put it out there without judgment relaxed me enough so I could focus on what I needed to do to hold our goal pace of between 8:33 and 8:38 per mile, which would bring us in just under 1:53. Modest improvement: it’s all I dared ask. 

And, we were off, as luck would (not) have it, I somehow brushed the wrong button on my Garmin and didn’t end up starting my watch until about 30 seconds or so into the race. Another Charlie Brown Argh Moment, as I was totally looking forward to recording my first race on little G exactly. But finally I got him going, and just hit the lap button at each mile marker to record my splits, knowing Mile 1 would be the only one off. 

Even though conditions were much more hospitable than at the Queens Half (60 degrees and 65% humidity compared with 73 degrees and 83% humidity), nevertheless the bright sun beating down, coupled with the late 9:40 AM start, bothered me the first five miles or so–I even came away with sunburned shoulders and nose, despite applying sun block (wrinkles, no thanks). I was also a little dehydrated, and a little hungry–I ate breakfast too early. Gatorade didn’t show up on this course until Mile 4, which felt late. (This season I’ve been insistent on “Gatorade only” during my long runs and half-marathons. I think it actually maintains my hydration more effectively because I’m not diluting the electrolytes.) After I drank that first 8 ounces of Gatorade, though, I felt much better, and was much less affected by the sun, although we did run in the shade at every opportunity. If I do say so myself, I’ve developed quite an efficient water station technique over the years, and lose very little time drinking and eating. EN, on the other hand, slowed down every time to drink his water, and had to burst his speed to meet me up ahead. I felt for him, surely that uneven pace was exhausting.  He commented later via email, specifically for Pigtails Flying:

I have to learn how to drink water while running.  At every water station, I would deftly maneuver around the crowds, grab the water and slow down while hydrating. All the while, TK maintained her aggressive pace, forcing me to sprint to catch up; the uneven tempo finally took its toll around Mile 9, where I could feel exhaustion creeping in. 

The miles seemed to zip by. Part of that impression is surely due to what I remember of the course, which I ran two years ago in 2:22:27. At that race, I simply spent more time at each mile. The segments along the water, through the warehouses, and the out and back all loomed as endless in my mind, when in actuality EN and I handily picked the middle miles off, 8:00, 8:02, 8:04, etc. Mile 8 to 9 was one massive hill, and I motivated my way up it by looking for someone attractive in front of me to ogle. (I think I found the only hot guy on the course, but I can’t be sure as he powered up the hill and I never saw his face. He did have fine arms, however.) That was our slowest mile, at 8:46. 

Mile 10: I sang a little “chicka bow bow” (split–7:57). It’s at this point I quickly did the math and pondered how fast we’d have to run to break 1:50, instead of just breaking 1:53. Mile 11: picking up the pace as much as EN will let me, still feeling like I’ve got plenty to give. EN was hurting at the pace I set, but it was time to reverse our roles from Brooklyn. I urged him on, reminding him that his girlfriend, AG, was waiting at the finish line to give him a big kiss and a homemade banana walnut muffin. Mile 12: ready to go! I’d been steadily picking it up, but when we made the final turn into the straightaway, I though of my declining ladders at 6:40 pace and knew I had it. It was definitely a Hells yeah! kind of moment. EN and I played our How Many game from the Bronx Half, and passed about 36 runners in the last half-mile, but I couldn’t be sure because we both stopped counting. I think we ran the last mile in about 7 minutes, because when I looked at my watch at Mile 12, I thought, there was no way we were going to finish sub 1:50 unless we really laid the hammer down. (Which, apparently we did.) 

EN and I crossed the finish line together, per tradition. It’s possible I knocked into a couple of runners, which is bad manners, I know. (In my defense, a pet peeve elaboration: runners who pull up before they cross the finish line. Don’t they understand that every second counts? If not, then A: Why are you here? and B: Get out of my way!) No swells of emotion for me this time, I just was feeling like a bad ass tough chick. Gave a few hollers of “whoo hoo,” EN and I gave each other a big sweaty hug of congratulations–for running a strong race, for completing the Grand Prix cycle, for running dozens and dozens of miles together. The next time we run a half together, we’ve decided, it will be to break his PR, which I think is 1:44-something.  I really like EN’s take on the event, again from his comments written for this post:

TK later told me I bitched like a little girl but nevertheless, I’m proud of the effort…we set out with a challenging goal and kicked its posterior.  We executed our race plan perfectly, had a ball along the way and started our finishing kick with 1/2 a mile to go.  We completed the Grand Prix with panache and now 26.2 awaits. 

In two shakes we were flopped out on the grass overlooking the water, two cold beers cracked open, toasting all of the above. AG showed up with her banana nut muffins and bubbly personality, and after a good stretching-out we were on our way back to the ferry. It took me nearly two hours to get home, but it was good chill out time, I even napped for a second, my head on AG’s shoulder as we headed uptown on the 1 train. 

It wasn’t until I turned on the home computer and checked my results on nyrr.org that I knew my official time – 1:48:50 (averaging 8:18 minutes per mile). Not only did I break another personal record by nearly 5 minutes, I broke 1:50 (which seemed so far-fetched 24 hours earlier it hadn’t even been suggested as a goal), I came in 24th out of 218 women in my age group, and 176th out of 1429 women overall (not quite in the top 10%, but darn near close to it). 

Oh yeah, and I can check off another one of my Five Worthy Goals.

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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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Today, Pigtails Flying pauses to remember TK’s first ever road race (or race of any kind) — the NY Mets Run to Home Plate 5k, on July 21, 2001.

I’d just started running only a few months earlier, as a cost-effective way to be fit. I started the way we all do — jogging, with fits of walking, wheezing, shin splints, and just for good measure, some doubling over with stitches in my side. The first time I could run one 1-mile loop of my section of Sunnyside (I lived on the South side of the boulevard then) I supposed I should have been proud, but I was just relieved to realize my body would appease my outrageous expectation: run without stopping for ten minutes, with hills. One day a friend (okay, a drinking buddy) from the office told me she’d heard about this race where you get to run on the field at Shea Stadium, and it was “just” 5 kilometers. What was this “just” crap? And how far was a kilometer? Being a Mets fan since the days of Ron Darling, I investigated further. Would Mike Piazza be there, giving out high fives at the finish line? No. But, 5K was “only” 3.1 miles, which meant I’d have to run for at least half an hour straight. The balance was tipped when I realized the race was being run for the National Parkinsons Foundation (one of my good friends had recently been diagnosed), and I had the option of also raising money.

I didn’t have a training plan, I just made it a point to run four days a week, trying to run three miles a few times before race day. Some of those workouts I ran on the treadmill, with a portable CD player and foam-wrapped headphones that sat on my ears. My workout gear consisted of cotton t-shirts and tank tops, one ill-fitting sports bra, $50 Nike running shoes, and cotton and spandex cycling-style shorts. I say “cycling-style” because they had no butt pads, and cost me about $8 each at K-Mart, I think. I balked at the $15 or $20 race registration fee, but my fiance convinced me to go for it.  I remember how out of place I felt when I went to the NYRR’s brownstone off Central Park to pick up my number, fearing it was completely obvious how new I was to all of this.

Race day arrived, and Fiance (now Husband) and I boarded the 7 train to head out to Shea. I’d raised about $150, and was proud to turn in that sum at the table the foundation had set up. Then I began to get nervous. What if I couldn’t run the whole way? What if I came in last? What if it hurt? What if I somehow did it wrong?

It was incredibly hot and humid, and I recall the race starting at a time that seemed late — like 10am or something — for a race in the middle of the summer. We all lined up on the macadam parking lot, behind the starting line, waiting for the gun.  I can’t remember if I started slow, or too fast. All I remember is getting hit with heat from all sides, as it blazed down on us through the uncovered course, and as it pulsed back up at us from the baking parking lot and streets of Flushing, Queens. I know now that we ran around the huge globe fountain in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, but I don’t remember it. I know I got a side stitch, I know I passed a few people at the end but not many. Yes, I ran the entire way; yes it did hurt; but no I didn’t finish last. I can’t tell you my time, although I am pretty sure it was around 31 minutes. I probably wrote it down somewhere, in a diary or in a letter, but I’ll be damned if I can find it now. Oh and how badly do I wish I still had that bib, but it’s gone, in a strange gesture, gifted to my brother through the mail. I have the tee-shirt, though, which I treasure and will never, ever throw away.

When I crossed the finish line, I was exhilirated. Never before had I willingly participated in an athletic competition of any sort, and that includes whiffle ball in my back yard with the neighborhood kids.  Never before had I trained for and successfully completed in an athletic event–my heart still shrinks when I think of how my middle school gym teacher laughed at me for almost fainting during the mile run of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. So, as I strode towards Home Plate in Shea Stadium, I let a sob go. Just one, and a few tears, too, because I never believed I could be that kind of girl, that kind of running girl.

I realize that my experiences as a runner are common, that many people’s lives have been changed, or at least improved and enriched, by their practice of the sport. And in fact, all I did seven years ago today was blithely set myself off in the direction which would eventually bring me to the race which would change my life. Funny the effect one casual remark from a drinking buddy can have on the course of things.


*I’ve also run this race in 2002 and 2007 (chip time 29:54). I can only assume that due to the construction of the new stadium for the Mets, this year’s Run to Home Plate has been cancelled.

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This article by Elliott Denman, one of the athletes who’s been around the NYC running scene long enough to remember the founding of the NYRR’s 50 years ago, is worth giving a quick read. It’s full of snippets from the early years, and some great sound bites from Bill Rodgers and Mary Wittenberg.

Which reminds me, one day I want to run the Yonkers Marathon. It’s the second-oldest marathon in the nation, after the Boston Marathon, and is one of the most difficult courses.

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Earlier this week they held the lottery for the Nike New York City Half-Marathon and the ING New York City Marathon. Luckily, I wasn’t relying on an entry through the lottery for the full, but unless I wanted to be a charity runner, I had no other options for the half but to leave my participation up to the Fates.

Last year, they were cruel, shutting me out of both the half and the full. I couldn’t help it, I took it personally. It seemed like everyone I knew had gotten in to the half; I was the only one left out. And when my friend JM from Chicago got in to the full, I just knew the deck was stacked. I moped for a week, trying hard to be excited for her but really in my heart feeling like it should have been me. After all, I thought, as I ticked off my higher qualifications, I a) live in this city; b) have been an avid spectator of the event for years; 3) run over the middle passage bridge practically every day; and f) am a member of the NYRR’s. By comparison, JM’s flimsy cred was built on speed, years of athleticism under her belt, a passion for running, and an out-of-state driver’s license. Seriously, folks: what good is an international race if there aren’t some (namely: me) local New Yawkahs in the mix to keep all the interlopers in check?

Once I was done moping, I responded to this unlucky turn the way the best runners respond to any adversity. I rose from the ashes of my defeat and said, fuck ’em, I’m running my nine qualifying races now so no durn for’ner can take away my rightful spot among the 40,000 competitors in 2008! (Never mind that I could have run for Team for Kids or Fred’s Team with a fundraising entry; I don’t look good in lime green or orange.) So I showed up at the 2007 race and cheered my guts out for the fabulous JM. I also ran my nine; and this November 2nd I’ll be racing over my city’s bridges and through her avenues with a whole bunch of French, Dutch, Italian, and Chicagoan (apparently) marathoners.

But this year, once again, the Fates governing the raffle barrel spitefully turned their backs on me for the Nike NYC Half-Marathon. I was not selected to be one of the thousands of runners who get to tear through the streets of Manhattan, in hot pursuit of the world-class athletes who get to actually toe the line at 6 AM that day. I suppose there are some folks who accept this, easy come easy go, but that’s not me. I am disappointed. There, I’ve said it. I am pouting over a theoretically fair selection process that would have only been truly fair (in my mind) if I’d been selected.

My disappointment would have, um, dissipated quickly if it hadn’t been for the form letter I received from the New York Road Runners via email on Monday informing me of my No-Entry status. I quote:

I hope you will still visit New York, whether in August or at another time. We host races in New York City almost every weekend…. [yadda yadda]… For complete information about all New York Road Runners races and membership, go to the NYRR’s website at…” etc. etc.

An earlier part of the letter went on to describe how if I lived outside the U.S. or New York, I could purchase a tour package for my guaranteed entry. Couldn’t they at least compose and send out a separate email for their members who were shut out of the race, maybe something that included an insider joke, or encouraged us all to volunteer, or to show up and cheer for the elites and the pack? Maybe I expect too much; maybe I should thank them for bringing Deena, Magda and Blake to meet us, and just shut up and sit down. But I can’t help but wishing that us card-carrying local runners, who spend hundreds of dollars each year on NYRR race registration fees, were treated as members of the club, rather than as just another possible tourist who wants to run through the Big Apple.

(Done with my sour grapes now. You know I’ll be there as a spectator, supporting my friends who got in or are running for charity, having a blast, and trying to catch a glimpse of whichever elites they can get to race this thing so damn close to the Olympics.)

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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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