Races Running

Brooklyn is the New Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Half Marathon didn’t start until 7 a.m. last Saturday, but in the hours leading up to it, my mind was already racing:

  • Am I going to make it to the Prospect Park starting line before bag check closes at the ungodly hour of 6:10 a.m.?
  • Is it going to start pouring mid-race like this ominous cloud cover suggests?
  • Is a 9 a.m. hot dog on Coney Island a socially acceptable recovery snack?
Spoiler Alert: It was.
Spoiler Alert: It was.

But for all the pre-race thoughts and anxieties filling my head, there was one question notably absent from my stream of conscious in the days and hours leading up to my second half marathon of the year:

Will I PR?

For every past race, I’d always checked my previous PR — or personal record — before the starting gun so I’d know just how fast I’d have to run in order to beat my earlier efforts. As a middle of the pack runner, I’m rarely going to beat the other participants, but if I can shave off a few seconds from a previous race time of the same distance, it shows my hard work is paying off. A new PR isn’t the only sign of a good race, but it’s certainly a rewarding one.

For the Brooklyn Half, however, I didn’t even bother looking up my previous half marathon PR before entering my corral. Why not, you ask? Plenty of reasons. I knew I logged it in 2013 when I was in better shape. I remembered it happened when I was running with my fast friend Adam. I recalled it was a sub 1:50 time, which is at least three minutes faster than my performance in the MORE/FITNESS/SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon just one month ago, and my training since then has been anything but stellar.

The odds of PRing weren’t in my favor.

Flash forward to race day. I was up at 4 a.m. to meet my friends Z-Z and Leigh-Ann (and Leigh-Ann’s brilliant hired van) at 5:15 a.m. to get to bag check before 6:10 a.m. to get in corrals by 6:40 a.m. before the 7:00 a.m. start. Thank god I’m a morning person.

Who needs coffee? (Just kidding. We both do.)
Who needs coffee? (Just kidding. We both do.)

I started to talk with my corral mates to pass the time, and I quickly discovered I was surrounded by some really fast individuals. “I’m trying for a 1:30,” said Kevin, the chatty stretcher by the railing. “I’m taking it easy after qualifying for Boston last week,” said approachable Alan in line for the john. “I am Meb Keflezighi,” said Meb Keflezighi as he smacked me with his Olympic silver. I could be exaggerating on that last point, but I can’t be sure. I was clearly in the wrong corral.

Knowing I was surrounded by greats, I made an important decision as the starting gun went off: I wasn’t going to go out sprinting with them. I was going to run my own race.

So I did. Miles 1-4, I kept myself at a steady 8:30 pace, even though my legs were itching to keep up. Mile 5, I was passed by a speedy friend who I decided not to chase down because I wasn’t yet ready to drop the hammer. Mile 7, we exited Prospect Park and even though the crowds were roaring, I simply maintained.

And then we hit Ocean Parkway — the 6.1-mile stretch that would take us due south to the finish line — and I let it have it.

Sure, my quads were starting to ache and my calloused feet were barking, but with more than half of the race under my belt, I felt like I still had more gas in the tank, so I started to push my speed. For the next few miles, I threw back every cup of Gatorade I could get my hands on, ate my Honey Stinger energy chews and counted down the alphabetical avenues from A to Z. At mile 11, the sky opened up to a torrential downpour, so I put my head down and cranked up the effort. As I approached mile 12, I started to do the math and realized that if I could maintain an 8 minute mile for just 8 more minutes, I might be able to finish under the 1:50 mark. So I squared my shoulders, widened by stride and tore my way down the boardwalk and over that finish line at 1:49:12.

I collected my medal and heat sheet, gathered my baggage, unabashedly stripped out of my wet clothes in the minor league baseball parking lot (sorry, mom), and met my friends for a beer and dog at Nathan’s. It was only when I was in the van headed home that I got the idea to check my existing half marathon PR just for hell of it.

And what do you know? It was a 1:49:47. With no expectation whatsoever, I’d just knocked 35 seconds off.

And who says Brooklyn is all played out?

Thanks, Brooklyn!

I was just one of 26,482 finishers, so I know some of you did it do. How’d your race go?


January Firsts

The year 2013 brought a lot of firsts for me.

I traveled to India.

And experienced my first Indian-wedding-caliber hangover.
And experienced my first Indian-wedding-caliber hangover.

I started a new job.

The view from my new building is the pits.
The view from my new building is the pits.

I taught a goldendoodle the ways of the force.

Er, taught a goldendoodle the ways of the force I did.
Er, taught a goldendoodle the ways of the force did I.

I went to my first NBA game, ran my first color run, went on my first pirate booze cruise and marched in my first New York City parade. And let’s not forget that epic birthday weekend in New Orleans, a city I visited this year for the first time since my conception. Thanks for that piece of information, Mom and Dad. Really made the trip special for me.

Unfortunately, 2013 also marked another first for me: It was the first time in recent history I failed to achieve my New Year’s resolutions.

I’m sure there were plenty of years in the not-too-distant past when my January resolutions also went unfulfilled, from that time I resolved to meet Harrison Ford to that time I resolved to marry Harrison Ford to that time I resolved to have my restraining order lifted by Harrison Ford, not to mention every single year prior to 2011 when I resolved to lose weight in the year ahead — and failed.

Not keeping my resolutions is nothing new for me in the long term, but at least during the past few years, I’ve been on a bit of a successful streak. In 2011, I resolved to lose 30 pounds and did; the following year, I wanted to run a marathon and accomplished that, too. I also vowed to floss in 2012, and — against all odds — have managed to keep that dream alive.

It helps when your niece goes in to get whatever you missed. Wait, was that joke too gross? Yes? Ok, delete it from your memory.
It helps when your niece goes in to get whatever food particles you missed. Wait, that joke was gross. Let’s forget I said anything.

But 2013 was different. Although I never actually put in writing  my New Year’s resolutions, I know what I wanted to achieve in 2013: a marathon PR in New York City. And not just any PR. I wanted to finish in 3:45.

Looking back now, I realize how silly that resolution really was. I’d finished my first marathon in just over 3:51, and while shaving 6 minutes off a multi-hour race may not sound like much, finishing in 3:45 would have required me to maintain an 8:35 pace the entire race — or almost 20 seconds per mile faster than my first marathon in October 2012. Add to that the fact that I trained less this year, with fewer long runs, virtually no speed training and a couple extra pounds on my frame, and hitting that elusive — and very arbitrary — 3:45 mark was simply not in the cards.

This. Is. As. Fast. As. I. Go.
This. Is. As. Fast. As. I. Go.

So with last year’s unresolved resolution in mind, I’m setting my sights on more achievable and measurable goals in 2014. Rather than setting up one lofty target for the new year, I’m going to target a series of self-improvements that I should be able to squeeze in even with my more demanding work hours and my rediscovered passion for sloth.

So without further ado, here’s what I’m aiming for in 2014:

Run a new PR. It doesn’t have to be a marathon or a half marathon or even a double-digit race. It could be a new 5K or 5 miler, or even a new distance or type of race altogether. Takes some of the pressure off each individual event if I have 12 whole months to achieve this.

Attend one group fitness class a week. Ideally, this would be yoga, but if I can’t get out of work in time, any strength training or even cardio class will fit the bill. This should help keep my cross training alive during racing season and make my $80 a month gym membership feel slightly less like a farce.

Eat five fruits or veggies a day. Let’s be honest, all five are probably going to be fruit. Chocolate-covered doesn’t count.

Stop ripping tags out of clothes instead of walking three steps to get the scissors. I mean, seriously. How many holes do I have to rip in new pairs of underwear before I realize my lazyman’s approach to tag-removal should probably be retired?

Go to at least one cultural event a month. Despite the plethora of museums and shows and art in this city, it’s easy to spend your entire weekend at the gym, at the bar or, let’s be honest, in bed with your sister’s Netflix account. At least once I month in 2014 — and hopefully more — I’ll step out of my comfort zone with a gallery visit or Broadway performance or musical act. It doesn’t have to be highbrow, as evidenced by my January activity that’s already lined up: bull riding. Stay classy, New York City.

What are your 2014 resolutions?


Recipes Running Training

Off the Record

My definition of a successful race has changed dramatically in the past 27 years.

When I was forced to run the timed mile in elementary school, I deemed the event successful if I could finish before gym ended without scuffing up my Keds.

When I ran the occasional charity 5K in high school, I declared an event successful if I completed all 3.1 miles without walking and took home a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt.

After losing 30 pounds and discovering my latent passion for the sport, I called a race successful if I high-fived spectators, thanked a volunteer and stockpiled a dozen free bagels after crossing the finish line.

That feel-good criteria of a successful performance remained unchanged through my first 10 miler, my first half marathon and my first 10K. And then something changed.

I ran my second 10K.

And suddenly, I didn’t just want to finish with a pocket o’ bagels and an ear-to-ear grin. The second time I ran a 10K, I wanted to finish faster than I had the last time I’d tackled that distance. And I did, thus transforming my definition of a successful race to that infamous runner-wide goal: record a new PR.

I throw the phrase “PR” around a lot on this blog like the LOA (lover of acronyms) that I am, but for all you non-runners who have yet to google it, PR stands for “personal record,” or the best time you as an individual have ever run a specific distance. (On this blog, PR may also reference an epic 2008 spring break trip to Puerto Rico; the only remaining NBC show of quality Parks and Rec; or the initials of my very first goldfish, Pipper Riley, may your memory live in infamy. Brits call it a PB, or personal best, but considering this blog’s frequent references to peanut butter, pirate booty and the Princess Bride, best I stick to the U.S. version.)

PRs are a good measure of success for an amateur runner because while you might never be the first to cross a finish line, you can usually count on your PR improving with each subsequent race as you put in more time, more effort and more miles. Following that second 10K, I redefined my definition of success to include a new PR, and for a glorious 18 months, every single race for me could be deemed a victory as a result.

And then the inevitable happened: I stopped getting faster. It’s easy to see incremental improvement as you bump up your weekly mileage from 0 to 20 to 40, but once you don’t have the time to put in any more hours on the asphalt, after awhile, those personal course records stop budging. Sure, you can do more honed training − speed work and intervals and strength training and steroids (what up, ARod?) − but even then, your race times are destined to plateau as your training routine flatlines.

A year ago this month, I ran the first non-PR of my career and told myself it wasn’t a big deal. I’m training for my first marathon! I said at the time. I didn’t want to push myself too hard anyways. Besides, I’m dressed as a cat. It may have been a Halloween 10K, but I’ll never tell.

I meant it at the time, but after 12 subsequent months of fewer and fewer PRs, I started to wonder whether my definition of success was no longer an accurate one. Sure, I wasn’t beating my course records, but I was doing all sorts of other fun and important things: inspiring friends to run their first races, enjoying the fall sunshine in Riverside Park, keeping the tutu industry employed.


Were those races unsuccessful simply because I hadn’t PRed? Consequently, could I really qualify a miserable race successful just because I happened to record a new personal best?

That second question went from hypothetical to reality on Sunday when I raced the Grete’s Gallop half marathon in Central Park in what was undeniably the most excruciating hour and 49 minutes of my life − and I’ve seen Gigli. From the moment I crossed the starting line, everything felt wrong: heavy legs, GI distress, a quarter-sized blood blister from my new shoes and a terrifying half mile when my lungs strangely stopped taking in air. My eternally patient running partner Adam coached me through it − despite my repeated declarations that if he asked me to run faster one more time, he and his lovely wife would be swimming with the fishies − and I miraculously hobbled across the finish line at a surprising seven-second PR with just enough energy left to force this pained half smile.


Yes, it was a new personal half marathon record, but was it really a success? When I someday think back on 2013 as a year of running, will I remember that morning I logged a new speed achievement and hated every minute of it − or the day I tie dyed my bathtub trying to scrub off the morning’s running festivities?


I might eat my words come Nov. 3 if that elusive marathon PR stays out of reach, but I think it’s time to redefine race success one more. Reaching new goals is a good motivator, sure, but I’ve come to realize life is about more than just PRs − unless you’re talking about poodle relatives. In which case, we all know that’s the only thing that matters.


How do you define a successful race?