Categories
Races Running

Moving Forward

An anonymous blog reader with terrible typing skills, questionable computer privileges and the twitter handle golden.doodle12 emailed today to ask when I’d move on from Boston and start posting gratuitous dog photos again.

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Do you think our pets use OUR names as their passwords for everything?

The truth is, I don’t think most of us will ever truly move on. The events on Boylston Street that transpired a week ago Monday left both the running community and the nation as a whole feeling targeted, confused and downright terrified in a way only terrorism itself can muster. Shops along the race course may be reopening and the Boston Police Department may have a suspect in custody, but with the understanding that that could have just as easily been me crossing that finish line, I think I speak for a lot of us when I say I don’t think I’m going to be ‘moving on’ any time soon.

I’ve had a lot of friends ask me whether I’ll hesitate to sign up for future races in the wake of last Monday’s attack, and I have to be honest – there does in fact exist a new element of apprehension for me and I imagine countless other athletes alike. I used to worry about PRs and whether I could ramp up mileage quickly enough when I submitted online race registration forms; now, I have a whole new set of previously unfathomable concerns.

“We lost some innocence and some vulnerability on Monday,” Marine Corps Marathon Race Director Rick Nealis told active.com. “It was a wake up call.”

It’s in some ways tempting to give in to the anxiety. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Plenty of New Yorkers avoided public transit in the aftermath of September 11, and some travelers still prefer not to fly. Heck, I myself have barely set foot in Times Square since the thwarted 2010 bombings, although – let’s be honest – that’s more a personal decision to maintain my sanity than a survival tactic.

But if we are going to truly move forward from last week’s tragedy, we can’t be living in constant fear. Yes, something absolutely horrendous happened and yes, it could have just as easily been you or me or any of us crossing or cheering alongside that finish line. But choosing to forgo the things we love as a result – be it traveling or racing or (ugh) even Times Square – isn’t the solution. Cliche, sure, but true: if we retire our running shoes because of the heartbreaking events in Boston last week, the terrorists win. Also, the couch makers. And probably diabetes. And no one wants diabetes to win.

So in addition to all the other wonderful things I’ve witnessed people doing in the aftermath of Marathon Monday – from donating to The One Fund to volunteering in the community to simply being a kinder stranger on your next Brooklyn-bound 4 train – I ask that you also do this: sign up for a race.

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete with multiple contests under your belt or a novice walker with no visions of grandeur, there’s an event out there for you. There are countless websites that compile lists of nearby races, like active.com and runningintheUSA.com, and with offerings ranging from timed miles to ultras that would make Scott Jurek cringe, there’s something for everyone.

There are literally thousands of races out there and they all have their merits, but as I personally look to dedicate a summer’s worth of training and my race-day performance to the victims of last week’s bombings, there’s only one event that will do. So yesterday evening, I put my anxieties aside, dug out my credit card and filled in my first race registration form since the Boston race clock read 04:09:43 and our worlds were overturned. And I think it was a good choice.

accepted

I realize the New York City Marathon isn’t for everyone, but if we all go out and sign up for an event, it will mean something. It will allow us to honor those who fell last Monday, it will prove we won’t be terrorized and – above all – it will demonstrate that we’re beginning to move forward. And luckily, moving forward is something we runners are good at.

What will your race be?

Categories
Races Running

It Takes a Village

When news broke last Monday of the Boston Marthon bombings, my initial thoughts centered around a core theme: ‘Why would anyone specifically want to target runners?’

In the wake of last November’s ING New York City Marathon cancelation, runners were branded by some media outlets as selfish and short-sighted and out of touch, but in my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, we spend an unnatural amount of time thinking about ourselves – about our gaits, about our nutrition, about our injuries – but we also fundraise for research and race for charities and volunteer at packet pick-ups and water stations and finish lines, keeping us intimately involved in both our local neighborhoods and our larger communities.

To be fair, every group features its fair share of braggarts and bad sports, and the running community is no different. But in my two-year tenure as a member of the pack, the vast majority of runners I’ve met are friendly, passionate and engaged individuals. Runners by nature must be disciplined and focused yet appreciative and flexible, and as a result, I think it’s no coincidence that some of the nicest people I know wake up early every morning to lace up, stretch out and pound the pavement.

My reaction to Monday’s events was raw and multifaceted and complicated – I was sad, I was angry, I was frightened, I was shocked – but above all, I was confused: why would the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly look to target a group as positive and good natured as runners?

But as more details trickled in and the 24-hour news cycle began subbing misinformation with facts, it became painstakingly clear that the bombing suspects hadn’t been specifically targeting runners after all. They were seeking mass collateral damage. They were targeting spectators.

Five days out, news reports are still murky at best, but consensus reporting seems to suggest friends and family waiting at the finish line bore the brunt of the casualties on Marathon Monday. Indeed, it appears it was not runners themselves – but runners’ support systems – that suffered the worst physical impacts in Boston last week.

Suddenly, I’m not just angry. I’m furious.

As anyone who’s ever planned a weekend around a 20-mile long run knows, marathon training is only possible with the unwavering support of one’s family and friends. How many times have you made a friend plan a mealtime around your multi-hour workouts or had your parents meet you at the finish line so you could skip the crowded subway or suggested your boyfriend forgo a Friday night on the town to stay in and eat pre-race pasta with you instead? And let’s not forget those friends and family who wake up alongside us before the sun, bundle up, and make their way all the way to the race course just to momentarily wave a sign or shout a word of encouragement as we registered runners sprint past. Sure, they might be rewarded with a sweaty hug or an invitation to brunch, but us runners undeniably get far more out of the deal: motivation, support and the promise of a familiar face in those final few miles when it would be easier to simply throw in the towel and step off the marathon race course unnoticed.

I’ve been fortunate to have support in the form of spectators at a number of my races, but none more so than at the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I knew my father, brother and a handful of cousins were planning to stake out spots somewhere between miles 16 and 18, and as a result, that stretch flew by as I scanned the crowd for their faces. I finally spotted them in front of the National Gallery – and again when they sprinted across the mall to catch me on the south side of the loop – but for all the excitement they instilled in me, what did they get? A 90-minute commute to Washington, three hours under chilly October cloud cover and thirty seconds of my sweaty face. And only I walked away with a medal. For all the encouragement and patience and support they offer us, spectators clearly get the short end of the stick.

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Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way trying to suggest the injured marathoners now being treated in Massachusetts hospitals are any easier to come to grips with. They had worked so hard to qualify and train for the most elite marathon out there – Boston – and everyone wearing a bib that day – from the front runners to the injured to those unable to finish – will undoubtedly bear heinous physical or emotional scars from that day forward.

But many of the runners – both those in intensive care and those fortunate enough to walk away unscathed – would not have been able to compete in the first place had they not had the support of their husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and partners and friends and children during 20 weeks of training and along the race course itself.

It’s for that reason that the hundreds of spectator casualties recorded in Boston are so difficult to come to grips with. We as marthoners are only able to do what we do because of those standing behind us – or more accurately, alongside us – every mile of the way.

So I’d like to use this space today to thank those of you who have come out in the past to support the runners in your life – be it me or someone close to you or perhaps a race full of strangers fortunate enough to have you in the crowd. We couldn’t train or race without you, and as we all begin to heal from Monday’s tragic events, I apologize in advance: I fear we are going to lean on you more than ever.

At the same time, know that when you sign up for your first race, I’ll be waiting at the finish line to welcome you home. Cheering on friends is one of life’s great pleasures, and no one is going to take that away from us.

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How has your support group been instrumental in your training?

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Uncategorized

Boston

When I crossed the finish line at my very first marathon this past October, I had tears streaming down my face. I was crying because I was proud. I was crying because I was exhausted. I was crying because I had completed something a year earlier I had known to be impossible.

If I cross the finish line in New York City this November, I’ll have tears streaming down my face for an entirely new reason.

There’s very little I can say about today’s events, except that something horrendous has rattled the traditionally resilient running community and left its individual members feeling targeted and violated and shattered. It broke my heart last November when NYC runners couldn’t race after all those months of dedicated training due to Hurricane Sandy, but this is on a scale previously unfathomed.

To think just this morning I tweeted ‘Godspeed, #BostonMarathon runners! Run wicked smaht!’ I didn’t realize they’d be running for their lives.

We don’t know yet what the events in Boston today mean for our sport or for future races or most importantly, for the athletes and spectators involved. All I do know is something tragic has occurred, both to individuals and families as well as to the running community and our nation as a whole, and that as a result, we will be forever changed.

I find myself hoping a lot of things in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon. I hope this was an isolated event. I hope they catch whoever did it. I hope this doesn’t prevent other out-of-shape people, like me two years ago, from discovering a surprise love for the sport, setting a nearly unattainable goal with little expectation of succeeding, and proving herself gloriously wrong.

Most of all, I hope you’ll all join me in keeping the runners, spectators and first responders today in your thoughts and prayers. Boston, you’re on my mind tonight – and evermore.

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Categories
Races Running

Running Smarter

There are a lot of things in this life I’m not smart about – petting stranger dogs, wearing an O’s shirt to Friday night’s Yankees game, remaining an Orioles fan after that brutal triple play – but when it comes to racing, I’ve started to learn a thing or two.

You know how I know?

This morning, I completed my fifth – and fastest – half marathon to date and I didn’t do it by running harder. I did it by running smarter.

After an offseason free of tempo runs, weight training and general athletic upkeep, all signs pointed to a weak performance at today’s More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women’s Half-Marathon in Central Park. Throw in the fact that my last half marathon PR was logged with a pacer who consistently runs 6-minute miles and I was positive I wasn’t going to be crossing that finish line faster than 1:51.

But I did. I crossed at 1:49:54 for an average pace of 8:24, marking my first ever 13.1-mile feat in the 1:40s – albeit the end of them – and a new surprise personal best. (My mom also recorded a PR, as this was her first half marathon ever. Way to go, Mama Bear!)

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How did I do it? I won’t pretend to take credit for the following wisdom, because lord knows we’ve all been hearing this advice for years: start out slow, keep your pace steady, don’t drop the hammer until the final stretch. But after last week’s failed attempt at a new 10K PR that saw me shoot out the gate and quickly lose speed around mile 4, I decided to take my own advice and rein myself in today until about mile 10. ‘The real race starts after my second climb of Harlem Hill,’ I kept telling myself. For once in my life, I listened.

And it paid off. As much as I wanted to sprint and weave during the first few miles, especially after timing into the first corral for the first time in my life (!), I held back and kept a steady 8:30 pace. Frustrating to have so many other runners pass me during the first half of the course, sure, but worth it when I still had juice in my legs as we made our final descent down the West Side. I picked up speed those last few miles as other runners slowed down and rounded the finish line with a new one-minute-and-five-second PR – and just enough time to loop back to welcome my mom down the finisher’s shoot to boot.

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Don’t get me wrong: I can guarantee there will still be plenty of dumb races in my near future – races that see me start too fast, races that see me hydrate poorly, races in which I don’t have the mental will to push on. But today wasn’t one of them. Today, I ran smart.

Also smart? Keeping your poorly groomed canine out of the limelight. On an unrelated note, my brother is now accepting locks of love donations from any particularly altruistic poodles.

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How did you race or train or play smart this weekend? Orioles need not respond.

Categories
Races Running

Perspective

A lot has changed in my life since this same month last year. I’ve run a marathon. My brother has adopted a puppy. I’ve traveled to India and Brazil, I’m dating someone new, and heart-throb Seal is back on the market. (Those last two items may or may not be related.)

But you know what hasn’t changed since April 2012? My performance in NYRR’s annual Scotland Run 10K.

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This is the second time I’ve completed this race, giving me a chance to track my progress over the course of a year. Last year, I crossed the finish line at a respectable 50:58; a full 365 days later, I managed to shave off (drumroll please) a whopping 19 seconds to secure a time of 50:39. Not a bad performance in the scheme of things, no, but a time that’s in no way indicative of the literally one thousand miles I’ve logged in the 12 months since.

Saturday’s finish was also more than four minutes slower than my 10K PR of 47:31 recorded last June at the NYRR New York Mini. Four minutes may not feel a lot of time when you’re watching Ryan Gosling strut his stuff on the big screen, but it’s an eternity when you’re talking about 10K splits.

Or in other words (lifted from my good friend Toby Keith), it appears I’m not as good as I once was. Also, I should have been a cowboy.

But while it’s tempting to let my failure to improve as an athlete over the course of the year get me down, I’m trying hard to keep it all in perspective. Yes, my performance at the Scottish Run was nearly identical to last year’s, but I’m also coming from a vastly different athletic base. By the time I’d run this past weekend’s race in 2012, I already had six first-quarter races under my belt, including two other 10Ks and a half marathon in a blizzard. This year, my first-quarter race count was a big ol’ goose egg.

As a result, I haven’t been practicing pacing in a crowd or negative splitting or drinking on the go or – most importantly – getting my speed up to a racing clip, so of course this run would feel a little rocky. Without putting it in perspective, it’s easy to find myself disappointed with my performance, but once you take everything into account, Saturday’s lackluster outcome wasn’t worth getting bent out of shape over. I came at this year’s Scotland Run with painfully little training, and if I was still able to finish 19 seconds faster than I did last year, then maybe I’m not in such a bad place after all. I mean, if I were to actually start hard training again, who knows what I’d be capable of?

But perspective isn’t just for an athlete’s arsenal. It’s also an invaluable coping mechanism for non-athletes and non-humans alike. I mean, ever gotten a terrible haircut?

Oh cruel world. I preferred not having to see ye.
Oh cruel world. I preferred not having to see ye.

Tempting to let it get you down, sure, but sometimes, it just takes a little perspective, some time and a lovely red bandanna to get you smiling again.

'I've got to admit it's getting better.'
‘I’ve got to admit it’s getting better.’

How do you try to keep a disappointing race performance in perspective?

Categories
Running Uncategorized

I Was 17 Going on 18 … A Decade Ago.

My definition of adulthood has evolved and expanded with each life stage, and just when I think I’m about as grown up as a grown up can be, I go and do something so mature it would make the Lost Boys cringe.

In high school, I thought I’d feel like a grown-up once I had a serious boyfriend. In college, I thought I’d feel like a grown-up once I had a full-time reporting gig. In my early days as a New Yorker, I thought I’d feel like a grown-up once I stopped stealing Splendas from the corner deli to add to my kitchen coffer. (Spoiler alert: that’s never going to happen.) My concept of maturity has shifted and veered so many times in my recent history that I had almost come to believe there could never exist an absolute end to my exodus from youth.

And then this past weekend happened, and – my god – I am now without question an adult.

Why, you ask?

Well, on Friday night, I passed on happy hour to embark on some much needed spring cleaning, and was so pleased with my newly organized closet that I documented the results, which I have since shown dozens of (now former?) friends.

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Yes, I own four pairs of GEL-NEO33 Asics in different colors. Don’t judge me.

On Saturday, I awoke before 7 a.m. on a weekend to meet two ladies for a 12-mile jog down the West Side Highway that culminated with a bowl of homemade oatmeal in my apartment rather than a bottomless mimosa brunch.

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I hate you for not sweating, Leigh-Ann.

On Sunday, I cooked a five-course Easter dinner for a collection of friends, complete with egg dyeing, three kinds of vegetables and seasonally appropriate cupcakes.

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Hippity-hoppity, diabetes’ on its way!

Pair this past weekend with me asking for a food processor for my birthday last year and it becomes painstakingly clear: I am ever so much more than twenty.

But I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing. In general, I prefer being a responsible adult to my naive, former self, especially when it comes to hailing cabs and picking up checks and buying boxes of Splenda in the sugar (?) aisle at the super market (did that sound believable?). Being mature enough to forgo a cocktail ahead of a long run or pick a training schedule and stick to it is crucial when it comes to marathon training, so while I occasionally miss the freedom that comes with youthful irresponsibility, I think I’ll take adulthood any day.

Unfortunately, being an adult also means finally getting over my silly preoccupation with my furry niece. So, dear readers, as I complete my transition to maturity, please enjoy one last slideshow of the goldeniest doodle around.

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Happy April 1, everyone! What do you do that makes you feel like a grown-up? And more importantly, what do you do that still makes you feel like a kid?