My Year as a Runner

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Precisely one year ago (ok maybe more like 11 months and three weeks), my two friends accomplished what seemed to be to be an unfathomable feat of endurance by finishing the 2013 New York City Marathon. It had been a long road for them as they originally planned to do so in 2012, but had to delay a year due to the event’s first ever cancelation due to hurricane Sandy. They bruted out another year of training and crossed the finish line together, inspiring me to do something that seemed impossible, start training for my first marathon. 

Prelude: Seattle

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I began what would actually be my training ramp up before deciding to do any real long distance training. I spent a month in Seattle for work, and after the first week of good eating, long hours sitting at a desk, and a short walk for a commute, I decided I needed to do something to not gain weight. 

I had been running a few miles on and off on the treadmill for a while, but had never made a concerted training effort. I began running and cycling at the hotel gym nightly, actually working on a schedule to avoid injury, mostly because the gym had NHL game center and hockey season had just begin. I also began running outside with the wonderful South Lake Union trail. If you haven’t run or walked this trail around the lake with great views of the skyline, the Space Needle, houseboats and the sea planes, you are missing something. This helped keep the pounds off while trying every restaurant in town, though I still wasn’t training toward any goal.

Getting Serious: New York City Half-Marathon

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After setting my goal on the marathon, my first big step was a half marathon. The New York City marathon, with it’s course through Central Park and all the way down the West Side Highway seemed a great mental and physical preparation for the full marathon. The early March weather also turned out to be a great preview of the weather as well. 

My training during this time, before the weather got warm enough for outdoor running, was also some of my favorite of the year in terms of insanity. Due to the seemingly never ceasing freezing temperatures and amount of snow, I made good friends with the treadmill. This was also the only time in my training when I somehow motivated myself to get up early and run before work at the office gym. I ran distances over 16 miles on the treadmill on a few weekends and burned through a good part of my tv show and movie list. I watched the entire series of Breaking Bad while running. I also tried to do a long outdoor run before the snow fully melted, got angry at the subpar clearing of sidewalks, and ran 16 miles, or 64 laps around a high school track. 

The race itself, my first large scale organized running event went off without a hitch. I powered over Central Park’s infamous hill due to my training running on the mountain streets I live on. The West Side highway was never ending, and a harsh wind made it seem longer, but when I came in sight of the finish line, I found another gear and powered through it. I couldn’t have done it without my marathon buddy Rebecca who not only talked me into all this running, but put up with my million questions about race day. This was also my introduction to how great a post run beer tastes.

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Baywatch: Bridgehampton Half-Marathon

Bowing to peer pressure at work, I signed up for the Bridgehampton half marathon, a short time later, and a long drive from home. Training for this went smoother with respect to getting some outdoor runs, but a busy work and social schedule made consistent training a bit harder. I paid for it at the end of the race where I really faded, but broke through the wall and finished. I was going to run with my co-worker, but when I saw his training runs were often in the 7 minute mile range, I decided to run alone. The run was nice, though didn’t have the big supportive crowds of New York or the landmark rich scenery, so staying motivated was a bit harder. The mansions and beach were nice to run past, but this felt like the longest 13.1 miles I had done. I could barely stand at the end.

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5k Season: Donor Dash

After summer kicked in and the weather got a bit hot for long runs, I ran a few 5ks with friends, beginning with the Donor Dash for Organ Donor awareness in Philadelphia. My good friend from high school and best man had been the recipient of not one but two kidney donations and supporting this cause was a no brainer. Starting at the Art Museum, the stairs of which Rocky made famous certainly inspired me to try my best. I set a blistering pace (by my standards, not actually that fast) and learned an important lesson that even a short run can be difficult if pushing above normal pace. It was great to start using running for social events and to meet some new friends while supporting a good cause. 

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Color Explosion: Color Me Rad 5k

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In the heat of summer, we began what I call our stadium series with a color run at Met Life Stadium, where the Giants and Jets play. The course started inside the stadium on the 50 yard line and running to the end zone, around the stadium, and then out to the parking lot where we were frequently doused in color bombs. This was my first run with my wife and while we didn’t exactly have a lengthy conversation while running, it was a great bonding event. We were supposed to run with some co-workers but never found them which turned out just fine. It was a short run, but full of fun and a great festival atmosphere. I think my shoes still have some dyed powder in them.

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Getting Joggy with it: Yankee Stadium 5k

Completing the stadium tour was a 5k through Yankee Stadium. This looped several times around the entirety of the stadium and around the field. It has to be one of the hardest runs due to the number of stairs it involved. I ran with a friend who had just begun running, but set a fast pace. Our results weren’t that quick, probably because of the steps, but I swear it was the fastest I’ve ever run. Running the bases on the field was a great mental boost to keep up the pace. Again, it gave me a great opportunity to share a passion with different friends.

Seven Miles in Haven: Seven Mile Island 5k

The last 5k of the summer was the Seven Mile Island 5k in Avalon and Stone Harbor NJ. The shore vistas and sea air helped keep us cool on a sweltering late summer day. In order to keep up with my training, I ran a long training run up and down the entirety of the Island (yes it is actually 7 miles) the previous day. This was one of my favorite outdoor runs as it passed a beachside nunnery, a bird sanctuary, and miles of beaches. It was a rough run due to the heat and humidity, but gorgeous and a great reminder of why running can be so much fun. Because of this, I struggled in the 5k, but for my wife was able to keep on me to keep going and help with motivation. A day full of guilt free lounging on the beach with beer was the best reward. 

This brings me to my favorite part about running other than the feeling of accomplishment. I don’t run to loose weight or bulk up, in fact I think anyone who thinks they’ll get this from running is doomed to fail. I run so I can keep eating and drinking without ballooning up. It’s also a scientific fact (not actually a fact) that a long run makes food and beer taste twice as good.

The inaugural Hudson River training run: NJ to NYC

This wasn’t actually a race, but my favorite training run. To get ready for the quickly approaching marathon, since I had two half marathons and a trip out of the country coming up and knew my training plan would take a hit, I decided to do a 22 mile training run. We had plans in the city with friends for the night, but didn’t let this stop my training. After dropping me off at the foot of the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, my wife headed into the city to run some errands and do some retail therapy.

I spent the next 4 hours running. I crossed the bridge, the only non-bicyclist getting some odd looks, got lost in Harlem, and eventually found my way under the bridge to the river side park. From here, it was a straight shot all the way down into the Upper West Side. The run along the river was great with wonderful weather and lots of other people exercising recreationally. I enjoyed racing roller bladders, other runners, and even unicyclists down the park even though they didn’t technically know they were racing me. I then headed over into Central Park where I did two grueling laps, dodging murderous tourists on Citibikes and mastering the hill twice. I don’t understand how the entire park is somehow uphill with no downhill, but so it is. This firmly cemented my hatred of running in the park.

After completing my 22 miles, I trudged over to our friend’s apartment, now my temporary B&B for some refreshing and then enjoyed an amazing dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in the city, the Spotted Pig. I could eat as much pork belly as I wanted without worrying about my porky belly.

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Running on the Go: Singapore

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Every year my wife and I travel somewhere new to take in one of the Formula One races. After traveling to Canada, England, Texas, and Hungary, the premier night race was up next. You would think it might be easy to stay in shape while walking an average of 12 miles a day in 100 degree heat, but the food paradise of Singapore makes that a bit hard. See my previous post of the Hawker Centers for reason number one why. I had planned on running outside through the city, but after landing and experiencing the humidity, even at night, I realized this would not be an option. Luckily our hotel had a gym. I’m not going to complain about the gym because it was fairly well equipped and modern, but it was just over the size of a phone booth. I literally had to run while ducking to avoid hitting my head on the air conditioning unit though fortunately there was an air conditioner inches above my head. I got a few more training miles in here, though unfortunately never got to run along the beautiful waterfront esplanade. Though the walk around was probably nicer.

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Back to the End of the World: East Hampton Half-Marathon

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The week we returned, I had a new challenge of running another half out on the Hamptons after two weeks of fairly minimal running. This race was the longest we’d do with our friends, a few of whom were running in their first halves. We planned an awesome weekend of leisure, punctuated by this little run. We even rented a house, an interesting experience with our Manhattan apartment based friends. Let’s just say getting a fire started with comedy gold. 

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The run was another scenic run through the mansions and beaches of the Hamptons. It turned out to be the same organizers as the Bridgehampton race, both in their first year and went off very smoothly. I began the race with every intention of running with our friends. However, at the start, I bent down to tie my shoe and when I looked up, everyone was gone. So I ran my own race, found my spirit animal, and killed my personal best time. Apparently the time off in Singapore helped with tapering and left me feeling strong. The run through the woods was actually my favorite part. I may have to try some trail running next year.

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Schooled: Runner’s World Half-Marathon

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My last half marathon of the year, and one that came a bit close to the marathon, was the Runner’s World half in Bethlehem, PA. Having met my wife at Lehigh and always having a strong tie to the area through my dad’s side of the family, this was a special race for me. This was a very well organized race and I loved that they put everyone’s name on their bibs so supporters could cheer them on. Supporters lined the entire course which helped keep me going. The course was promised to be less hilly than last year’s course, though with how hilly it was last year’s must have been up the side of Everest.

The race began at the old Bethlehem Steel stacks, a fantastic backdrop to a race. It then looped through Bethlehem, across the bridge to the trendy north side, through Moravian College and back to finish at the stacks. Though it didn’t really go through Lehigh, the ties were there and my Lehigh apparel earned me many cheers. The hills were also fairly brutal, though my mountain running had me somewhat prepared for them. In order to get past them, I ran full out u and down hill, hoping to take a break on a flat part. The flat part never came and I ended up again shattering my personal record for a half. The finish line was without a doubt the coolest of any race. A flame spread across a steel arch from the steel mill ran across the top of the finish line.

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 I also got to run with one of my running book heroes, Bart Yasso. Audible had definitely helped get me through some long training runs with some motivating running books. Listening to tales of running hundreds of miles, or 50 marathons in 50 days made my 10 mile struggle seem much more doable.

End Game: New York City Marathon

After nearly a year training, four half marathons, and several hundred miles run, the big day was upon me. I was not lucky enough to get in via the lottery, so instead decided to raise for a great charity, the Cancer Research Institute. After several months of badgering friends, family, and co-workers, I reached my goal and was ready for the run.

I was again joined by my marathon buddy Rebecca and we set out from the Meadowlands in New Jersey at 5:00am on race day. The bus went very smoothly, almost too much so. We got to Staten Island and the start village with four hours to spare before our start times. The village was nice with free energy food and drink, but the cold temperatures, cloudy sky, and very high winds made the time pass very slowly. We later found out that it was the coldest marathon since 1995. 

After four hours huddled in heat shields, the race began. Only to be nearly knocked out by incredibly high winds on the Verazzano bridge. The incline was nothing, especially after all the warnings I’d heard about it, but the wind made it feel like I was moving about one mile per hour. After hitting Brooklyn, I hit my stride and made it to mile 7 with little to note. 

At mile 7, I encountered my wife, friends, and her family for the first time. I was warned that I’d see them, but had no idea how. From about a mile away I could identify them by the enormous cardboard print out of our beloved dog’s doofy grinning face. I almost passed out from laughter, nearly taking out a few runners behind me when I doubled over to crack up.

 

After this pick me up, I powered through never ending Brooklyn. My favorite part in a weird way was the only stretch of the course not surrounded by supporters, the orthodox neighborhood before Williamsburg. I found it incredibly funny that the streets were deserted and we got dirty looks from the few people we did see. People were also crossing the street as if nothing was happening while hundreds of runners went by.

Around mile 18 I began struggling. I don’t know if it was the cold, the wind, too much tapering, too many energy bars, or what, but this was the hardest 18 miles I had done. I began experiencing incredibly painful leg cramps and started pounding gatorade at the water stops. This would help briefly, only for the pain to return in a half mile or so. I may have also been hallucinating, but at this point I was passed by a giant iced coffee cup running as well as running past a bagpipe band. 

At the Queensboro bridge, described by many marathoners as the lonely mile because it is the first point in many miles with no supporters, I hit another low. An energy gel helped briefly, but didn’t get me all the way over.  Only the support of other runners kept me going. This was the first race I had run without headphones. I like listening to music while running, and typically like being in my own bubble, but I’m glad I didn’t have this in this race as the supporters and other runners were so great.

The biggest and most important pick me up came at another low point in Manhattan for the first time when I saw my cheering squad again. The doggy banner drew me toward them and their cheers and energy got me going again. It’s hard to express how important this is in a long race and how big of a difference it makes. I honestly think spectating is harder in a long run than running it and my wife had made it to all of them, often waking u even earlier than me to make food, then driving me in. My parents also made it out for most of them, setting out very early for long drives. My friends were also great, coming out for no reason other than to support me and getting me through the run.

From here, the Bronx was a long drawn out tedious straight line up and back which I can hardly remember through the pain. The supporters here were again some of the best though. Having no headphones on helped again as I was constantly greeted with supportive cheers. I didn’t have my name on my shirt, but the cheers of Lehigh were obviously directed at me. The throngs of people lining the street, and sometimes even in the street urging runners on through words, song, and even dance were amazing.

This only got me to Central Park though. Have I mentioned I hate Central Park from running yet? After my half and my long training run with the hills and maniacal bikers, I was not looking forward to this section. My only consolation was that this was only a small section of the park. Yeah right, this felt like the longest two miles in history. And of course it was again somehow only uphill. Luckily I again had my support squad waiting for me near the end who got me within sight of the finish line. This was the first race I had run where I had no energy left at the end for a burst. Instead I stumbled over the line and grabbed my new medal like Golem with his precious. 

So what had I learned? Supporters matter. The support that friends and family give is just so valuable in critical times. My wife is a saint for putting up with this habit. Walking down stairs is somehow way harder than up. The fleece lined poncho after the marathon is the warmest feeling I can ever remember except for the feeling of right out of the dryer socks after a day playing in the snow. New Yorkers act like you are a hero on marathon day if you are wearing a medal. This was the only time someone has actually held a door for me in the city. And lastly, that I can do seemingly impossible things with the right motivation, training, and mentality.

Epilogue: Philadelphia Marathon

Because I am a glutton for punishment, at the urging of my running buddy, I decided to sign up for the Philadelphia marathon, taking place a mere three weeks after the New York City marathon. Because the deadline was the night before the NYC, I decided to go for it. I figured I wouldn’t really have to train additionally for it. For three days after the New York Marathon, I felt there was no chance I would do it. A week after now, I’m actually entertaining the idea again. I have a feeling by next week I’ll be rearing for it. I’ve also already signed up for two half marathons in January and March. Is something wrong with me?