Posts Tagged ‘ryan hall’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear TK,

I think by now we know each other well enough that I can spare the formalities and cut right to the chase. You have grown as a runner, but I don’t mean that you’ve gotten faster. I won’t lie to you about such things (or anything, anymore). Despite your speed lagging behind last year’s, you can still legitimately claim improvement. No, I’m not referring to the PR you ran in a 4-mile race earlier this summer (low-hanging fruit). What I’m talking about when I’m talking about your running is your attitude towards your sport, and your ability to recognize the difference between forcing an issue and persistence and determination.

Remember in 2009 when you stubbornly trained through the winter despite never quite feeling 100%, and never really enjoying the training? Oh yeah, you got injured, had to defer your marathon a year, and then slipped into a depression that lasted four months. Sure, you exhibited persistence and determination in the face of inhospitable weather and what I’ll call a Qi Depletion (blame that hippy-dippy mumbo jumbo on the acupuncturists). But you also were pigheaded, proud, and living in denial about what your body was capable of accomplishing that year.

Remember in 2010 when less than seven days after racing the London Marathon you embarked on a running streak of at least 1 mile a day for 30 days? Oh yeah, you called it quits after four weeks, the streak having thoroughly exhausted you and leeched all the fun out of running. Once again, persistence and determination were clearly on display, as was resourcefulness (how did you manage to fit in a run every single flipping day?). But oops, your blind insistence to push the agenda despite warning signs once again caused problems and a mandatory cessation of training for a while.

Remember in 2011 when you were so emotionally depleted from the great upheaval in your life, that you could barely make it out to run more than twice a week? Remember how you felt like you were simultaneously bouncing off the walls and pegged to the floor by gravity? Remember how one run along a snowy trail (you were trying to be accomodating to your friend) aggravated Betty so much that you nursed your adductor brevis for seven months?

Oh. Yeah.

Sometimes our memories turn around to face us and give us the double Fingers, don’t they? Not accepting the truth is no different than lying to yourself (the slang term for that is denial). Lying! How often do we lie to others not to hurt their feelings? (Your hair looks great! Love your dress! I heard every word you said!) Well, I have also done a lot of lying to myself, so as not to hurt my own feelings. There have been more moments than I care to remember (fear of the double Fingers) in which I have carried on in denial about my physical preparedness. It seemed less painful to avoid the disappointment that accompanies scaling back on mileage, deferring race goals, and acknowledging the way my body has let me down. Remember when you were benched, and you’d watch others run by and feel like they’d stolen your boyfriend? Well those days are over TK, because now you know something that makes no sense, but is true: EVEN WHEN YOU ARE NOT RUNNING, YOU ARE A RUNNER.

Essentially, TK, your improvement as a runner has to do with surrender. You know that your running is not in your hands. Running is a gift that is presented to you over and over until you accumulate training, the same way a race is a step you take over and over until you accumulate a PR. Running is something you do on God’s time. You mocked Ryan Hall and the way he brought God into his running, but now you understand–it is only through the grace of the universe that you are here to move forward at a clip. And not only that, but you don’t run for yourself. Your running is a way to be of service to others. Perhaps you inspire others to take on their athletic dreams, or to dare to attempt what was previously thought impossible. Perhaps you write about your running in a way that helps new runners find a workout schedule, or understand how to prepare for race day. Perhaps by inviting others to run with you, you give them a chance to talk through their troubles and find an easier way forward. Ryan–your running has been a service to me: by bearing witness to your graceful form and Amerian Records, I attempt to approach my finest effort as a runner the way you have. Our finest effort–that is what God asks of us, though She is happy with an honest effort, too.

Don’t buck at the God talk. It’s just another way of saying “inexplicable,” “luck” or “beauty” and you know it. You don’t need to wear that cynicsm, it is not the most flattering dress on you after all.

TK, you precious thing. Tell them, go on. You’re not racing a fall marathon, are you? More momentous: you’re STILL A RUNNER! And also: you grieved your marathon plans and aspirations for 24 hours before you realized they haven’t died, just stepped aside to let other others claim your attention. You just improved your recovery time from four months to 24 hours. And there you have it, the crux of your improvement as a runner is surrender. Ultimately, this will serve you better than additional speed, since speed is like physical beauty (fleeting, subjective, and an illusion).

You are a treasure! Run when you can. Write when you feel inspired. I’m here for you to remind you that you are still a runner whenever you need it (the reminder, or the running).

Run strong and beautiful,

Pigtails Flying

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This is the fourth or fifth year I’ve come to Boston on Marathon Weekend to cheer on friends and elites. Here’s a lovely ratio: the fewer minutes that stand between my marathon PR and a Boston Qualifying Time, the more friends I have competing on race day. Here’s another sweet ratio: as proud as I am of my talented running friends is as proud I am to be a fan of the professional side of the sport.

Random thought: is the degree of incline on Heartbreak Hill subject to the same debate as the height of the pitcher’s mound in baseball? For example, let’s say a major repaving of the road resulted in Heartbreak Hill being flattened by a few feet. Would that give runners the same advantage over the course that a few extra inches off the mound give batters over a thrown ball?

At the Expo, in the John Hancock booth they were showing a short movie that had past champions of the Boston Marathon course describing each mile, and what runners needed to know about what the physical and mental challenges were at any given mile. I stood there for 15 minutes watching with a lump in my throat, as I imagined the day I would get my chance to experience the long run from Hopkinton.

My friend JG’s dad is a superstar hero to this nerdy fan of pro marathoning: he worked his connections and got us VIP passes to the bleachers on the right side of the finish line. Wow I am so grateful, we had a fabulous view and there was none of the frustrated, territorial shoving that goes on when you spectate from the curb. Also, we didn’t have to get there at daybreak to secure a good viewing spot, so we had time to go for our own run this morning. Another reason to be grateful: 5 glorious miles along the Charles with my friend. It was absolutely gorgeous—apart from yesterday’s 5k race, I had never run in Boston before, so I really enjoyed this tour of a popular, local running route. Trees were starting to flower, the Charles had a flirty sparkle to its surface, and the wind was enthusiastic. Oh those lucky marathoners, what a blessing of a tailwind they would have!

On our ten-minute walk to the bleachers from JG’s house in Back Bay, Ryan Hall had dropped from the lead and was now shuffling with the pack, and Kim Smith had fallen off completely, leaving Desiree Davila and two Kenyans to battle it out the last six miles. Desi, Desi, Desi! No one in the bleachers around us knew who she was, they didn’t even know she was an American. I remember watching her race for the first time here, in Boston, when she tried to gain a spot on the Olympic Marathon team in 2008. Even though I was disappointed that Kara was not in podium position, I was supremely pleased for Desi, a real talent who would finally have her moment in the spotlight. Also, she races in shorts. NO bumhuggers for her.

The noise coming from the bleachers was deafening—when they turned the corner from Hereford Street, and Desi lost then gained then lost the lead to Caroline Kilel, we cheered as if our shouts of “USA! USA! USA!” would propel her once again past Kilel. It was a thrilling moment, to be one voice among many all screaming for the same thing, all taking on Desiree’s greatest wish as ours (if only for a minute), too.

We barely had a chance to catch our breath before we realized the men were caught in a world record paced race to the finish! As Mutai streamed past, my spirits were lifted again—I had just witnessed history being made! A world record—he beat Emperor Haile’s PR!! On the Boston course!!—it was all too much and I grabbed JG’s shoulders. Oh my God do you know what we just saw?! Okay so maybe I haven’t yet run the Boston Marathon but I’ll forever be able to say I was there when Mutai broke the world record. Now I understand there are IAAF rules that prevents him from actually taking the world record on the Boston course? Even if the BAA cannot get the iAAF to change its rules, Mutai’s feat cannot be diminished. What an achievement, averaging a 4:42 pace for 26.2 miles on the most difficult World Marathon Majors course. Oh and here comes Ryan Hall, in fourth place again. Why must he insist on being a front runner? When will he learn to use the pack?

We stayed and cheered until 2 PM. I searched the crowds for my friends but only managed to spot three of them. First I saw @runnermatt, host of the Dump Runners Club podcast and my Green Mountain Relay Teammate. Then came @SpeedySasquatch, much later than I’d expected him, helping a cramping and limping runner to get to the finish line. And then I caught @tartar_runner, Matt’s twin and another GMR teammate. I missed @tobadwater (who came in at sub-3), @NYCe (who BQed), @luau, and @willrunforbeer, (who set a big PR and also BQed). Wow, my friends are such talented runners, I am so proud and excited for them. They are all stars in my book and inspire me to live up to their example in dedication and speed.

As JG and I walked away from the bleachers, we heard race officials in the finishers’ area saying “Welcome back to Boston!” through their bullhorns. We were both moved by these runners’ accomplishments. JG seemed to swim in her vicarious joy for them, while I was struck with a fierce longing. I wanted to be on the other side of the fence with them, sweaty and spent, elated and exhausted. This is why I make the trip to Boston every year: it has all the ingredients–the Expo, the meet-ups with friends, the elite race and then finally the masses—for a potent brew of reminder and motivation. I leave Boston holding truths in my heart. I know why I train. I know why I run. I know who they are, on the other side of the fence—because I am one of them, too. I’m just in the middle of climbing over the fence.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*blogging mojo

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I will say this: I hope the only reason I wouldn’t be at the finish line of the Boston Marathon waiting to cheer the racers across is because I am running it myself. There’s nothing like spectating at this race, I never want to miss it. The field (both elite and amateur) is deep with talent, and it is inspiring and humbling to watch them at their art. Overheard at the curb: “There are so many runners faster than I am.” Indeed, we all get so wrapped up in besting ourselves that it’s easy to forget where we land exactly in the continuum of speed.

All my favorite elite athletes flopped to varying degrees. In the women’s race, Dire Tune was a DNF and Salina Kosgei, last year’s champion, came in third this year behind Teyba Erkesso and Tatyana Pushkareva (who reeled Erkesso in from a huge lead to finish just 3 seconds behind her. It was pretty exciting to watch, I ws rooting for Tatyana.). Again, in the men’s race last year’s winner Deriba Merga came in third, bested by Robert Kipromo Cheruiyot (the Younger) and Tekeste Kebede. Ryan Hall (looking haggard) came in fourth, two seconds (2!!) behind Merga (like last year, Hall regained on the leaders after falling off the pack in the middle miles), and followed by Meb in 5th.

Meb Keflezighi

Roberty Kiprono Cheruiyot

But, other elites delivered an historic, memorable race, as we witnessed two records. Ernst Van Dyk (men’s wheelchair division) is the first athlete to win this race 9 times; and Robert the Younger smashed the course record (2:07:14) and completed the second-fastest marathon ever run in the United States (2:05:52). Thomas S. Grilk, the man who has been calling the race and greeting finishers from atop the finish line for nearly 30 years, said something along the lines of “it is rare that we get to stand in the presence of history like this” when announcing the awards ceremony for Van Dyk (who, naturally, was seated in his wheelchair). Whoops!

Then the crowds started to come, a sweating, grimacing tide of quick humanity. I think I caught these friends as they ran past: Robert, Allen, and Megan. But then I soon had to leave my spot at the sidelines to collect my luggage and get my train home, so I missed friends like SarahSarah (who ran a double), Elyssa and Barb. (Folks, I hope you know that you were in my thoughts even though I abandoned my post.)

There are the runners I simply must cheer for, no questions asked. They are: folks wearing a Team Fox or Team in Training singlet; people with their names on their shirts; and the fast, teeny women who finish with the earliest men (Way to run it, lady!). Oh, and I also like the fit old guys, the ones in their 50’s hanging tough with the pups, silver-haired and flashing by with a wink (they know they’ve still got it). My favorite racers, though, are the ones who revel in their finish. Like the guy who spread his arms and airplaned it in. Or Cheruiyot himself, who blew a big kiss to the crowd as he was less than 100 yards out.  Or the men and women who pump their arms, or look to the sky, or who put their chins down and battle it out with the one next to them to eek out a few extra seconds. And, I am slightly embarrassed to admit, whenever I see a couple cross the line holding hands, I get a lump in my throat.

Mark my words: I will race the Boston Marathon as a qualifying athlete. And when I do, I will blow kisses, I will propeller, I will smile, weep, glance at the heavens and think, If I can do this, then what else am I capable of?

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My marathon, my 26.2, my London is in 8 days.  But first, I am going to Boston to spectate. I will stand at the finish line and cheer for the elite men, then the elite women, and then finally for the speedsters, my friends, the riff-raff and the charity runners. This is one of the touchpoints of my annual cycle as a runner. One year, I will be there as a qualified racer, but for now, I must go, cheer and draw inspiration and motivation from the fastest among us. Normally I like to arrive Saturday night so I can poke around the Expo on Sunday–lots of companies use it as their launch for new products (it’s where I first set my sights on the Garmin Forerunner 405 in 2007)–but this year life’s twisted around to prevent me from leaving before Sunday afternoon.

This morning I ran 8.14 miles (let’s not forget the 0.14 miles, kids!!) and nearly the entire time I thought of my friends who will be racing the epic, historic course. Elyssa. Sarah (also a GMR teammate). Barb, a long-time blog reader who I hope to one day meet. Jeff. And Michael, who owns the PT clinic I use when I must. Robert and Antonia (also GMR teammates). Goodness gracious I am positive I’ve left folks off. Perhaps now is the time for me to say I love my network of NYC runners, it makes me so happy every year when I pull a few more quality people who run into my orbit. One day I want to have a massive party with everyone, where we celebrate our accomplishments and talk about running all night long. I digress.

The elites. Predictions. Yah, me & strict predictions is always a mess.  So I will tell you who I am rooting for, which is tricky. I am rooting for Meb and Ryan equally, since I love them equally. This is the thing about marathon runners: the closest thing we’ll ever get to a grandstanding athlete like baseball’s Manny Ramirez, football’s* Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson or Terrell Owens (ugh, end-zone dancing), or basketball’s Dennis Rodman is Sammy Wanjiru, who has publicly said he wants to break Gebreselassssie’s records. Which goes to show: Meb and Ryan play nice. they train together, they race together, they each hope to win but manage their victories or disappointments solo.  I guess deep down I want Ryan to win, the golden child, but I would still jump for joy if Meb did, too. I would like to see last year’s winner, Deriba Merga, run a strong race as well. Even though he won Boston last year, I still consider him an underdog, given his past racing results. As far as the women’s race goes, I am not so invested without Kara in the field–in fact, the only American LetsRun.com mentions in the bios is Michelle Frey, and I’ve never heard of her. (Perhaps that is my bad.) Nevertheless, I will root for Tune and Kosgei.

I ran this morning, my last chunky mileage run before race day (anything less than 15 really doesn’t count as a long run, does it?). It was nice, easy and humid. It’s the humidity that gets you, that’s what we said in Baltimore but it’s true for wherever there is moist air. It really does make the effort harder. Nevertheless, I managed to pull out a decent showing as I ran from Sunnyside to Astoria Park, around the park with a loop of the track, and then back home again. This is my “Hell Gate” route, since it takes me alongside of and next to the Hell Gate Bridge (and the Triboro). I like to run familiar routes the closer I get to my big race, because their familiarity makes me feel like the mistress of my universe, and therefore boosts my confidence.  8.14 miles in 1:16:40. Average pace 9:25; fastest mile 9:05; slowest mile 9:48

*I must admit I got these football names from Husband. But the baseball & basketball references are my own.

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NYC Marathon 2009 flag croppedIt began in the dark. At 5:30 AM, Lil Brother slipped out to Queens Boulevard to hail a cab which would take him to the bus which would take him to the runners’ village in Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island. I gave him a hug and a kiss and sent him off with one final reminder to keep hydrating. Then I went back to bed for another three hours.

At 9:15 I was out the door myself–it was time to make my way to Vernon Boulevard to catch the elites just before the Mile 14 mark. I was carrying by BlackBerry, a cowbell, my camera, the course map, house keys, my credit card, MetroCard, and about $15 in cash. All these things fit in the pockets of the snazzy lime green running jacket EN got me for my birthday last year. I was happy; I was heading off to cheer for my people. Mom and Dad were set to meet me at a predetermined corner in Queens around noon, a little before we expected to see IK come trundling by, but until then it was just me and the early runners. Communion.

NYC Marathon 2009 women elites mile 14I stood here for two and a half hours, but it felt like 10 minutes.  I was so excited to see Paula, Magda, Ludmila Petrova and Salina Kosgei I thought I’d jump out of my skin. I knew that as soon as they were here they’d be gone; I had my cheers prepared ahead of time. The lead vehicles came by, first Mayor Mike, then Mary with (I learned later) Sammy Wanjiru, Shalane Flanagan (who later said on national TV she’d be running NYC in 2010) and Amy Yoder Begley. And then here was the lead pack of women and all my cheers flew out of my head as I stood there in awe, shouting something like “oh my god” or somesuch starstruck nonsense. Paula is just. so. tall. Then here was Magdalena Lewy Boulet pulling up about 10 seconds behind in very cool orangey arm warmers. I pulled myself together enough to shout, “We love you Magda!” (The people around me had begun to back away by this point, clearly thinking, “Speak for yourself, lady.”) Then I cheered for the locally-ranked runners, those zooming by in Central Park Track Club, WXC, New York Athletic Club, etc singlets.

NYC Marathon 2009 men elites mile 14Before I knew it, the media truck for the elite men was coming around the corner from Pulaski Bridge and I was freaking out again. Abdi Abderahman was leading when I saw them, but they were all so closely strung I couldn’t read their singlets. Whoosh they were gone–wait there’s Ryan, eesh he’s lagging!–and then here came Brian Sell, oh Brian I love you for dreaming (2008 Olympics) and then for turning to practical matters (dental school). They were gone before I could think where was Torres, where was Meb, where was Cheruiyot, where was Gharib? Thank goodness for Twitter; all my faithful tweople (@runblogrun being the most reliable) were tweeting the proceedings so I could keep up with the action from the curb.

I beckon thee, oh mass of citizenry, run to me! Run through Brooklyn, run through Queens! Be the rushing river of humanity through the streets of this great city. Be greater than Manhattan, be swifter than a crosstown bus, be stronger than the Chrysler Building, be tougher than the Bronx, be your own legend. I promise I will stand here and tell you want you need to hear to get the job done. I will shout and cheer because what you are doing is amazing, it’s crazy and mythical. For a few hours the entire population of New York City hovers a millimeter above the earth as we are caught up in your tailwind. When you cross that finish line with a grunt and a cry, with a raised arm or a hung head, we will marvel, and bow.

The locally-ranked guys came by in loose bunches, I cheered for the clubs as I recognized their singlets.  They mesmerize me, these powerful yet light men, barreling forwards. Some looked so young; most looked “my age,” which very generously indicates anyone within a ten-year window on either side of 36. I love how it plays out; next come the speediest “regular” women, the ones who are used to running shoulder-to-shoulder with the dudes. Before I knew it, Vernon Blvd was a mass of people running for the hills; specifically, the hills of the Queensboro Bridge and First Avenue. Mom and Dad showed up, and we began scanning the crowd for my brother. Dad’s a great guy to have on the curb as he is so tall he’s easy to spot, and around 12:19 IK came trotting up. He didn’t see us at first, I saw him first and started screaming his name and waving my arms like mad. He saw us and came over, we all hugged him, I knocked him in the chin with my shoulder because I couldn’t stop jumping up and down. Then he ran off and that’s when I saw he was wearing compression shorts–essentially, tights that stop at the knees. Oooh I couldn’t resist, he’s my brother of course I’m going to embarrass him, so I shouted after him as loud as I could, “NICE ASS!”

[50 tense minutes ensue as we get the subway to 117th Street and First Avenue hoping not to miss him.] I sent Mom and Dad ahead to the corner as I stripped off my jeans–I was going to jump in and pace Lil Bro from Mile 19 to 22, and had on running shorts beneath my jeans & jacket. Here he came, a bit later than I’d anticipated (he was slowing down from the 10-minute miles I’d counted earlier), but glad to see us. And we were off. I drilled him with questions (his stomach was queasy and his legs were tired–oh no!) and chattered on to distract him. As we ran, I roused the spectators to cheer for him, and tried to keep the patter up but eventually he just wanted me to hush. As we came around Marcus Garvey Park, I told him that once I left him at Mile 22, it was going to start to feel like he was running up a hill. That’s because it is a hill, I said, but don’t worry because you will pass a lot of people on it. He snorted. Mom and Dad were waiting for us just past the water station, and I nearly hip-checked Lil Bro into the sidewalk as I craned around looking for him. Oh yeah I got some shit for that! So then he was off and we cheered him away. I was still excited for him, but I was a little worried. He looked tired, and I just didn’t want him to hurt; I wanted him to whoop it up through the streets of New York City.

taking subway home, Lil Bro and TKThe three of us had a long time to wait for him now–indeed, longer than we thought. I was texting with friends at home on their computers and found out that Brother definitely crossed the finish line in 4:44:16, so we knew it would take him a while more before he trudged through baggage check, etc. But as soon as we caught up with Husband in the runner’s reunion area on Central Park West, we got a call from IK that he got very dehydrated and went to the medical tent right at the finish line. Oh the poor kid! What a trooper. We all waited him out in a diner on Broadway, and then finally finally got him home to Sunnyside (taking advantage of his “runners ride free” subway discount, of course!) around 6 PM. Our newly-minted marathon stretched and showered after he cutely admitted he wanted Chinese for dinner. It was a long day for him, layered with anticipation, struggle, pain, inspiration and  ultimate success. I am so proud of him for taking on the 26.2-mile challenge, for completing the training, for persevering through the last 10k when he was debilitated from the aftereffects of his cold.

Four days later, after the Yankees won the World Series, I was finally able to sit and watch the elite race.  (Missing the coverage on TV last year is what convinced me to get us a DVR cable box). Even though I already knew the outcome, I was on pins and needles watching the moves and progress of the runners through the miles. I loved seeing them rush through my city’s streets, streets I know so well as a resident and as a marathoner. I shouted when Kosgei took a terrible tumble, I mourned when Magda, then Salina, then Paula all dropped off the lead pack. I exulted for Tulu, I felt Petrova’s bitter disappointment, and I could feel Dauney’s joy at third radiating off her. And Meb! Meb! I cried as he ran through Central Park, shivering with the excitement of an American champion, with the elation of his comeback–what an amazing career he’s already had and now this. Look at Robert Cheruiyot, crushed; and Gharib, also laid low despite his podium finish. It was wonderful the way Ryan Hall crossed the finish line, clutching his back (oh no!) but happy for his teammate’s glory; six male Americans in the top ten! What an amazing day for American distance running–with tens of thousands of epic performances, starting with Meb and scrolling all the way down, flitting upon IK and continuing past, a ribbon of effort and culmination and triumph over the competition and over ourselves.

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Had family obligations landed differently on the calendar, I’d have come to Boston earlier, to watch Shalane Flanagan, Anna Willard and Ian Dobson run the Invitational Mile yesterday, and to attend the Expo. The Expo is nearly as inspiring as the marathon itself. Wandering around in a mass of the best marathoners in the country, at the peak of their fitness, I get jumpy with the thought that I want to belong to this fast tribe! But, for this year, at least, I would just swoop in and out to watch the race. 

JG and I watched the women’s 9:32 AM start on TV then gathered up our stuff and headed to the finish line to wait for a couple of hours. The announcer was pretty good about calling the race for us, letting us know who was leading and falling off the pack; I also had my trusty UK correspondent TS emailing me updates to my Blackberry. JG is easy, lighthearted company, and we stood there swapping stories and complaints, catching up the way only two women can (ceaseless chatter punctuated with laughter and exclamations of astonishment). I’ve somehow taken on Matt’s bias towards runners who train in Colorado so I was thrilled to know that Colleen de Reuck and Elva Dryer were hanging on tight with the lead pack for so long. But really, it was just encouraging to see these three American women leading the Africans. Around Mile 19, two things seemed to happen at once: Kara began to push the pace to break up the pack, and Deriba Merga completely pulled away from the rest of the elite men. Both exciting, gusty moves and I wished I could have seen them. (I will later.) By the time Kara was at Mile 23, I was fidgeting anxiously, pulling my course map in and out of my pocket, futzing with my tin of lip balm, and scrolling crazily through my Blackberry’s inbox. Fandom is a strange affliction, and having Kara so close to victory, so close at hand, was more than I could bear calmly. JG laughed fondly at me. When it became apparent that Dire Tune and Salina Kosgei were not only at Kara’s shoulder but also inching ahead of her, I began to pray. I was afraid of Dire’s bitter kick. Finally, finally the women turned onto Boyleston Street and sprinted towards us, where I stood in a mass of people, screaming my head off. It was clear from where I stood that Kosgei had it; I watched the two yellow singlets streak by and tears welled up behind my sunglasses. Kara would be third. She came by next looking like a giant after the two diminutive African women (Kara is the tiniest woman I’ve ever met). Her legs seemed heavy even though she was moving at an incredible clip, and her face was dismantled, whether it was from physical struggle or emotional distress I was unable to tell. All I could think was how the disappointment must be crushing all the air out of her; my heart ached for her. She has to face a cold reality when she considers her third place finish: even though it’s amazing to have two Americans on the podium at Boston, it’s all conciliatory small talk, really. 

Then a few more Africans trundled through, and Lidiya Grigoryeva, and I had to pick my spirits up and cheer like a madwoman for Colleen de Reuck, who finished 8th as the top women’s finisher. Wow, what a comeback, what an amazing finish! 45 years old! And she looked super-fit, lanky as all get-out. I was so happy for her, and that we had two American women in the top ten. I also recognized Veena Reddy when she pranced by with her black hair streaming loose behind her; I saw her race here at the trials last year. 

Soon, Merga was there in his orange singlet (because the women’s race was so slow, he caught them), bounding towards the finish line. I couldn’t help but be happy for him; he was grinning from ear to ear and he had so much to vindicate, most notably how he hit the wall at the Olympics, his whole race falling apart on the track with less than 400 meters to go to a bronze medal. I was glad he won. Some African dude I’d never heard of came in second. And Ryan Hall our Great Golden Hope, pulled out a third place finish, which frankly I am jazzed about. We all cheered our lungs out for Ryan–he is such a beautiful runner–and I had flashbacks of his inspiring finish at the trials in Central Park, where we were chanting his name. I am impressed with the way he reeled in half a dozen runners to get back into podium position in the final miles of the race.

Elva Dryer dropped off the pack to finish 12th, and Brian Sell, who looked like he was hurting at the end (his form was all crumpled forward, poor kid), finished 14th, in 2:16:31. Awe, Brian. JG and I lingered for hours more, watching the crowds pour through. I saw my physical therapist run by, and an old TNT coach. We cheered and cheered. My thoughts kept wandering to Kara, what was she doing, how was she feeling? I was glad she had Adam there. Back on the course, I saw more than a few women sporting pigtails. At a certain point I had a pang of sadness as I realized my moment at the finish line has been indefinitely deferred. I smiled when I saw couples running across the finish line, hands clasped together and raised like champions. I was excited for all the runners, understanding everything they’d done–training for their qualifying race, grabbing the brass ring, training through one of our worst winters ever, and finally beating those hills and that headwind– to get to the blue and yellow finish line in Copley Square. I admire them, every single one. 

Last year, when I watched this race, I wasn’t yet sure if I could run a Boston-qualifying time, or if I even dared to believe I could. But now, with NYC in my pocket, I do dare. This knowledge made for a different spectating experience, definitely more vicarious. One day I will be you, I thought as my gaze pinpointed a woman striding towards the finish with a grin spread across her face. I am injured now, but that’s just for right now.

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Tonight, I’m heading up to Boston on the Acela for the Boston Marathon. I’ll stay with my friend JG and her husband in their gorgeous duplex condominium (yes, I totally covet their residence, with its open floorplan and modern design) which is just a few blocks away from the finish line in Copley Square. Tomorrow, JG and I will watch the beginning of the race on TV, then head over to the finish line to stand and wait for the elites to come on through.

It’s a big deal, having Kara and Ryan in the mix, and Robert Cheruiyot and Dire Tune back to defend their titles. Plus, each year I know more and more runners from within my own circle who are in the field, and it’s fun to scream them on as they take the final steps to the finish line, too. The finish line is a pretty inspiring place to watch a race, and I need all the inspiration I can get these days. (I’ll have to convert the “runspiration” into “recumbent bikespiration” and “ellipticalspiration.”) I’m destined to be a spectator for at least a couple of more years, but I don’t mind.

Without further ado, my predictions for 1 through 3 in both the men’s and the women’s race. These are of course meaningless since as we all know, anything can happen in the marathon.


  1. Robert Cheruiyot
  2. Ryan Hall
  3. Deriba Merga


  1. Kara Goucher
  2. Dire Tune
  3. Bezunesh Bekele

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