Stepping Up to Run Your 1st Marathon

With all the marathon talk getting batted around, I figure now’s the best time to dig into the how, why, and which as it relates to embracing your own marathon moment. While this is not a comprehensive guide on the marathon process, from start to finish, it, at the very least, gives the prospective marathon runner an insight into the basics of how to go about planning and preparing for the race event of a lifetime.

Why a marathon?

It’s natural for someone who’ve run at least a dozen marathons to recommend it as a must-do, at-least-once-in-your-life, bucket list event. If for no other reason than that everyone should, at least once in their lifetime, push their perceived limits and embrace the incredible potential they were created with. Only then can one honestly know what he or she is capable of. As most marathon runners know, running a marathon will challenge, empower, inspire, motivate and change you. And not for the reasons you may think, for while the accomplishment of crossing the finish line on marathon day is the crowning achievement – and really is the sum of all your efforts leading up to that moment – it comes second to your dedication to training and the physical, mental, and financial sacrifices you made to get there. It is the tenacity, grit, and courage that has defined your training that will outlive your moment of glory and redefine you as a stronger and better version of yourself.

How do I choose which marathon to run?

It’s the 50,000 dollar question, made so as I’m a big believer that if something’s worth doing it’s worth doing well. So, if you’re in the market for a marathon, I’d suggest a popular one. And because I’m a New Yorker, and well because it’s popular, and famous and all that, I’d recommend the New York City Marathon. However, no worries if it’s outside of your range, I’m sure wherever you are, or somewhere close by, is bound to have one that meets the criteria of being a challenge and providing an enjoyable experience. One of the main reasons for going with a popular marathon for your first is that it provides a few things you will need as a first time marathoner. A popular race will have a lot of hype attached to it. This will overflow into the running and local community, which then encourages and fosters team and community spirit. The new runner needs this support and community for accountability, advice and training. Additionally, a popular race will also boast a certified and well-known course. You can use the information available to prepare and get yourself familiar with the race. By race day you should be comfortable, confident, and ready to run. Lastly, a race that is well-known holds the promise of a memorable event for a few reasons: there’s a very good chance it’ll be a well-executed race, have good crowd, support, great swag, and eats at the finish in addition to cool bling.

From Zero to Hero: preparing for the run of a lifetime

This part actually requires an entire article dedicated to it, but I’ll go ahead here and touch on the key concepts for running your first marathon and follow up with greater detail in a subsequent piece.

Because no one gets up one day and decides to run a marathon right there and then, it means careful thought goes into the planning and execution of such an event. Once the decision is made the runner can join a running club and be privy to their training schedule or adopt a certifiable training plan either through enlisting the expertise of a running coach or following a proven plan (online, from print etc.,) if training solo. Only, beware that enlisting professional help will get you a plan tailored to you while any other plan will have to be adjusted to your abilities and goals. In addition, new marathoners will likely have to change or enhance their diet to accommodate the change to their [active] lifestyle. As such, runners are encouraged to see their physician to assess their health and visit with a nutritionist if necessary to ensure they get the required foods in their diet that will fuel their training. Also, proper and adequate sleep is another key element that comprises a runner’s “diet” and oftentimes requires a concentrated effort to follow through on, this becomes even more critical in the final 3-4 weeks before race day. Additionally, Because of accountability and support factors, training with a group or team is recommended, however solo runners should be sure to get some group runs in to help with speed work and long runs. Just as important is gearing up and making sure to get good trainers and running shoes along with proper running wear. Finally, new runners should, in addition to their training, seek to participate in official races such as 5k’s, 10k’s and half marathons, where those races can be seen as additional training under race-like settings and their official time can be used to gauge progress and track ability and preparedness.

Now that you’ve gleaned just a little of how this momentous occasion goes down, trust me there is so much more tricks and tips to pulling this off in true warrior-like fashion, you can possibly appreciate the impact running a marathon can have on one’s life. It is not far-fetched to believe that it will change you.

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Running Dreams: The TCS New York City Marathon

Source: getty images

Only those who dare to dream long enough and work hard enough will ever have a true shot at something grand enough to make believing worthwhile.

Last Sunday over 50,000 runners lived that dream at the TCS New York City Marathon. For some it was their first, while for others it may be their only or their last. Still, there are those who do this regularly, and for such as these, it never gets old. Regardless, I’m almost certain it was a defining moment for most, if not all, of them. I mean it was pretty defining with an American woman winning in the women’s category for the first time in forty years. Congratulations to Shalane Flannigan! For each runner though, their victory was just as important and valid. While many of us can talk a good talk, it takes so much more to run a marathon, half marathon or any endurance race that requires months of training. It takes grit, passion, determination, fortitude, sacrifice, and vision. No one gets up one day and decides to run a marathon tomorrow, it requires months of planning and preparation and all of this for one day, one race – a moment in time – and a medal, or so it seems.

In fact, many runners will dispute the notion of running for “just a medal.” For them, their sacrifices of time, effort, energy, pain etc., is worth the immeasurable feelings of pride, passion and purpose they experience every single time. Take all of that, times a hundred, and what you have is the resulting glory that is running and finishing the TCS New York City Marathon. It has the largest field size, the biggest spectator size, and the most volunteers compared to any other marathon around the world. And if that isn’t enough to entice your competitive and inspiring spirit, then the fact that it’s run as the most diverse and patriotic, yet inclusive, melting pot of humanity in the largest street party in one of the most renowned cities of the world ought to surely secure this momentous achievement high up on your bucket list.

The truth is while a lot of this sounds really grand, the average runner, the one who runs an average of 25-35 miles per week, is the one, forget the fanfare of running New York, who sees running a marathon or completing an endurance race as an opportunity to let the sport speak to their sense of determination, commitment, and tenacity. It’s a statement to anyone who’s listening that, ” Hey, I’m stronger, tougher and so much more able than you think!”

In a world gone crazy with all the violent acts being visited on citizens almost daily, we had that here in New York just days before the race, there is an indelible need to have an impact, to make our own positive mark and inspire others to do the same. In the face of evil, adversity and turmoil, nothing says “F you” like the communal spirit that is the marathon. And so crossing the finish line and getting that medal whether in New York, Bejing, London, or any other city, here in the United States or around the world, allows us to not only fulfill a dream, but it is our determined effort to face down life’s adversity and own the moment we deserve. Meanwhile, we get to wear the crown of our victory forever and will take all the bragging rights that goes along with it. #BADASSWARRIOR

Source: eBay

Running Like a Marine at The Marine Corps Marathon’17

It hardly seems right that we’re hell-bent on gobbling up November already. With the New York City Marathon on in a couple of days (Sunday!) and having just come off a tough 26.2 myself, I feel incredibly rushed – as if I’m on a spinning wheel of sorts with the only option to keep moving or jump off and crash. But I digress. Two Sundays ago, I felt incredibly honored to run the prestigious and inspiring Marine Corps Marathon with about 25,000 runners. It was a huge accomplishment for me, not because of the medal, or the challenge – and it was that, not even because it was marathon #12, but because it allowed me the opportunity to add meaning to my miles and truly make my running count for others and not myself – at least not this time around.

It was beautiful out in Virginia and had the temperatures stayed in the low sixties/ high fifties as it started out on marathon morning, it would have been as near perfect as it could get I’m sure, but as fate or luck or whatever would have it, that was not meant to be. Marathon Sunday, we woke up to a sunrise that displayed the most gorgeous hues of color against the backdrop of a spotless sky. As we shuffled by the thousands into the Pentagon area in making our way to the start the promise was of a bright and beautiful day though a bit misty at the start. This proved to be too hot with temperatures reaching in the high seventies under brilliantly blue skies by late morning. I recall a runner I passed by wondering aloud,”where are my clouds,” then I thought sadly, not today my friend. With the earlier part of the race, we had some cover running through Rosslyn and suburban VA.

It was pretty, gorgeous actually, and heartening to run with such a wonderful group of runners from varying teams. While team Semper Fi was out in their numbers and I had great support from team members along the way and from the spectators, who were phenomenal in every sense giving everything from water, to beer, to candy, to Vaseline, to ice and fruit and everything in between, there were many other charity groups running awesome that day; however, none were more touching than the marines and others who chose to run pushing the chairs of disabled children and veterans. Then there were the disabled runners themselves, who made my heart beat faster with their determination and passion. These runners inspired and pushed me to stay focused and in the moment and to remember it wasn’t about me. Many times when I was tempted to go faster or push harder those thoughts encouraged me to keep a sane and steady pace. It would later prove to be my saving grace as it got hotter and tougher around mile 19.

Wear Blue: run to remember

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the “Blue Mile:” dedicated to fallen marines. Pictures of deceased service men and women lined both sides of the course as we ran along the Potomac river with a backdrop of Washington, D.C . It was the most silent, tear-jerking and inspirational mile of my running years and one could almost hear a pin drop. I ran thinking of all those, so many young marines, who laid down their lives for this country, willingly or not, and that they will never get the chance to run as I am fortunate to do.

Other memorable moments included running through DC and past all the iconic monuments in the nation’s capital to the amazing cheers of hundreds of spectators and the thousands of marine volunteers who were out there faithfully giving us water, Gatorade, and energy gels and encouraging us on at specific locations. They provided profound support and inspiration. We loved it, fed off it and used it to get us over the bridge, through Crystal City and the crowds, where a friendly face tried to pump me up, however, by then I was having a really hard time with pains in my right knee and ankle and was really looking forward to the finish line. The last mile through the Pentagon and finishing uphill was screaming tough for me and made me what I like to now refer to as “marine tough.” Too happy for words, I limped across the finish line revelling in the fact that I did it. I ran for the marines..for the veterans of this great country and had a blast for the most part.

A Month of Marathons

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Source: Pinterest

These days life is a marathon: a long, sometimes tough, sometimes enjoyable, but always enduring experience. And our city is caught smack in the middle of what I refer to as, the throes of a malady – marathon fever. This feeling, though widely prevalent, is not unique to New York City, for while we boast a ridiculous amount of runners and the largest marathon around – the TCS New York City marathon – the running obsession that hits here in the month of October is sure to be similar to cities around the world that are part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors (WMM).

The WMM is a premier racing event where runners take part in six stipulated marathons to earn the coveted title and medal of world marathon major. Thus, I’m sure cities such as London, Berlin, Tokyo, Chicago and Boston are similarly prone to this type of marathon-induced crazy that characterizes NYC these days. Notwithstanding, New York’s marathon, which is November 5 this year, October happened and with such a bang with so many marathons and half marathons happening around the United States, some very close to home, one could be forgiven for missing out on the change in weather, which certainly must have something to do with the hike in running. We had the Marine Corps marathon last weekend, which I ran, the Chicago marathon, the Steamboat marathon, and the Staten Island Half marathon, which I also ran, and which were all the weekend before last. Apparently we like to keep it pretty busy around here. This has all served to keep the pressure on and have everyone either on their A game or on the edge.

As such, the city is busy trying to keep up with the countdown that’s underway. Even if one is not running the New York City (NYC) marathon, chances are good you either have friends who are or know someone who is or a few who are – hence everyone’s involvement. While I’m not running it this year, I do have ongoing plans to try to qualify for next year after wrapping up two races in the last two weeks. With all the attention it’s getting, it’s fair to say the NYC marathon is the hottest ticket in town for the running community and no expense (where the currency is time) is spared by runners in ensuring they have the best seats in the house, whether that is on the course running or cheering on fellow runners. In the days ahead, as we whine down the year, there will be more races to come. For now, my part will be out there cheering my heart out for those running folks who’ve earned their spot on the world stage, if only for a moment, hoping to inspire the run of a lifetime.

Giving Back: The Marine Corps Marathon 2017

Source: military.id.me

On Sunday October 22, 2017 I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Virginia to support our veteran service members of the armed services. I’ve chosen this cause, and by extension the Semper Fi fund, to raise awareness and contribute to because for far too long so many of us, while well-meaning, offer little, save lip service, to those who put their lives on the line daily to protect the freedom we enjoy. This has never been more true than today. We live in an uncertain and volatile world and where in the past many may have viewed signing up to be a marine, soldier or joining the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard or Reserve as just a job, and even then I would have begged to differ, today it represents so much more. In fact, I would argue that if anyone goes in with that notion, they are all too soon disabused of the idea when duty calls.

Never before have we, as an American society, been privy to the chaotic and stormy domestic and global political climate as now. Our armed services, true to form with the respect and honor they deserve stand ready and able to defend our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We honor and applaud that every memorial day,  4th of July, veterans day, and flag day to a lesser degree. So much have been said in honor of their fight and of the many who have lost their lives and those who have returned injured and in many ways unable to fend for themselves and/or be a regular contributing member of society anymore.

The Semper Fi fund 501(c)(3) nonprofit and its program America Fund, gives us an opportunity to pay – pun intended -more than lip service and to literally put our money where our thanks are. The fund utilizes charitable donations to provide immediate financial assistance and lifetime support for wounded, critically ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

The basic ideal that drives the fund’s efforts is simple: as much as these American heroes have sacrificed, they deserve the best care and support available in their hour of need. Injuries are often severe, and the road to recovery or rehabilitation can be long and costly. We have the remarkable opportunity to improve their circumstances by as much as 50%.

Please consider making a contribution, no matter how small; Individually we cannot achieve as much as what we can do when we come together. My goal of $1500 is a small part of the bigger picture of making sure all our injured veterans & their families in need are cared for.

Click on this link:

https://runsignup.com/Race/14046/Donate/EAgGYJk8jpKxHz5X

Thank you so much. Our injured veterans and their families and I appreciate your support!

Back In the Game and training for a half-marathon PR

 

It’s been forever since I’ve trained for a half-marathon. So long in fact that this past week found me searching out advice on the best approach to training for a goal time come October 8. The chips are down and I’m back in training mode and ready to run. This is sure to be different from what I’ve become used as I’m now focusing on shorter tempo runs and speed work minus the famed long runs. Although, I’ll still be doing a bit of the long runs, only not as much, as I have another race–my yearly charity run–that same month. Double Yikes! I have never ran a half and full marathon in the same month before. Even so, my goal is centered on the half and so training is geared towards increasing speed and performance for 13.2 miles.

It’s incredible how quickly the year is flying by. My plea remains, “Why the rush?” I’m only just beginning to embrace Summer and all that it means. Never mind the temperate weather patterns we’ve been experiencing. I’d love to hang out here a bit in the sun, kicking the waves and dallying in the sand under the blue skies. Alas, that seems but a fleeting reality, which I’ll have to grab before it is but a distant memory. Pretty soon it’ll be August and then we’ll start counting down the weeks to race day. For now, I’ll hunker down in training and try to catch some waves on the weekend as much as I can–after training of course. Here’s a quick look at what my half-marathon training will look like:

  • Mon – 3 easy miles and cross training (body pump gym class)
  • Tues – 5 mile tempo run (increasing by 1 mile weekly)
  • Wed – 5.5 miles speed work (intervals or hills)
  • Thur – 6-8 miles (half-marathon pace on weeks where tempo run is on Sat otherwise off day)
  • Fri – cross training (cycling/yoga/rowing/abs workout/weights)
  • Sat – 10 mile tempo run (increasing every other week to accommodate for marathon training at marathon pace)
  • Sun – rest day
Naturally, a lot of this running is being done during late evenings on account of work as well as to escape the summer heat. It’s simply a bonus that I happen to enjoy night runs. Additionally, I have the added challenge of fitting in my cross fit training into this tight schedule. Since I’m fully committed to each of these projects, it’ll be interesting to see them all meld together into a perfect training plan that produces the results I’m striving for. I’ll admit my energy and anxiety levels are doing battle for prominence but this is my plan and I’m sticking to it.

The Run of Champions: A Recap of the Boston Marathon ’17

Photo by Madeline Bills, Boston Daily

Most times when you run a race there’s a clear case of “hated it” or “loved it” only rarely are you caught in the middle, ambiguous about where on the running experience spectrum it belongs. My Boston run this year falls somewhere along the lines of amazing and disappointing.

@the start line

No surprise that the disappointment was all due to the weather, which, in all honesty, was hardly surprising as for days leading up to the event we were made aware of the impending warm temperatures. Of course one can always hope as in instances such as these, that maybe, just maybe, it won’t be as bad as all that. It turned out to be maddeningly so, though it felt slightly better than last year, or maybe I was just better prepared. Whichever it was, I’m thankful that I had a better experience.

The truth is, it was amazing. I can find no fault with organizers as the race was seamlessly executed and we were treated to the full effect of phenomenal volunteers and spectators along the course. It’s hardly the organizers fault that the sun graced us with its unabashedly glorious presence from the moment we disembarked the busses at Athletes Village until about mile 22. I did then what every runner had to do, which was adjust my expectations and my strategy – got comfortable with the idea and was able to enjoy the race – for the most part.

Spectators @ Framingham, Massachusetts. (Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images), abc2news.com

The cheers helped tremendously, so did the endless supply of Gatorade and water, both from the amazing volunteers and the awesome spectators. And then there was the sprinklers and open fire hydrants and soaked sponges and wet paper towels and the ices and the list goes on and on. Even the dreaded heartbreak hill and the other minor mountains didn’t seem so bad at all. In fact, the steady down hills for the first half of the race proved more difficult and taxing on my prevailing runner’s knee issue, that flared up during those said miles, than when the course was flat or uphill.

In the end, it was the sure knowledge that I was in Boston and approaching Bolyston Street and the finish line that bolstered the last mile and saw me running it in my fastest time since mile 3. Nothing like running down the home stretch to the uproar and cheers from a sea of spectators rooting for you every step of the way.

Boston-Bound and Race Readiness

What does race readiness look like? For that matter, what does Boston-ready look like? I’m not sure even I know at this point. It just so happens that this race falls smack in the middle of Easter, which is a big deal in these parts, and I normally have a routine I diligently follow. That’s all turned upside down now, but I’m nothing if not adaptable, so although the last couple days have felt like I’ve been on something akin to a rollercoaster, with getting to Boston and the Expo and all that entails, while getting in some church time as well as a tad bit of the sights and sounds of Boston. What can I say, it’s a beautiful city, I love it here in gorgeous Spring.

All that said,  I’ve somehow managed to make it to the eve of marathon day and I’m ready to hit the sack. I’ve gone over my checklist: running gear, bib, pins, shoes & socks, hat, gels, heat sheet, chap-stick, snacks & Gatorade.

Additionally, I’ve read over the course details as well as the transportation details to the start. I think I’ve got it all covered and save for getting up four hours – enough time to eat breakfast, dress and get to the start – before my race time, I’m pretty much ready to run. Maybe I’m Boston-ready after all.

Training Day: long-run Saturdays


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For the past four weeks or so, I’ve been in training mode preparing for the Boston Marathon in April. Seems I’m always in-training these days, though I did have a few weeks off last November. No matter, the important thing is to get it in so as to be up and ready when the big day comes. To this end, I’ve been paying mind to the necessary components of a good training plan, particularly the long run aspect. I should stress that all parts of a plan are important; however the long-run, for me, is of great significance because of two things: the opportunity to develop strength and endurance and, in the latter phase of training, the opportunity it presents to simulate your race day strategy.

Developing strength and endurance happens over time, it involves steadily increasing mileage and alternating workouts to encompass building speed, stamina aka endurance and running efficiency. Any good training plan, for the average runner concerned with running a marathon goal time, will include speedwork: interval training, some hill work, tempo runs and long runs and rest days. The long run builds slowly over weeks (between 16-22 weeks) of training up to two weeks before race day. During this period, the focus is on building endurance through getting the body accustomed to running for longer periods each week, gradually increasing mileage to the point where one can confidently and comfortably complete 20-22 miles. For example, in my training, my long runs may start at around week 8 with 12-13 miles (which is really a bit of a medium-long run) to which I will add-on a couple of miles each week.

From early on, it’s important to plan these days and decide on which works best for you. Turns out Saturdays are ideal for my long runs as I’m mostly off from work and I can choose to either rest longer in the am ( during winter anyhow) and run later in the day or get it in early and have the rest of the day off. Usually, I try to get to bed at a decent hour the night before so I’ll wake up rested and ready to go. Also, I try to eat my carbs and hydrate well leading up to Saturday; this is all to make sure I’m in the best place to accomplish my mileage without killing myself. Most times it works out great, I clear my schedule and leave my day open for running and I’m able to do just that.

As it gets closer to crunch time – by then I will have racked up the necessary mileage and developed the level of endurance I need – I’m able to use my remaining long runs to simulate race day. On these runs, the focus is on running efficiency: pace, hydration and strategy. The idea is to perfect a plan based on the above in as near to similar conditions as race day to help project performance on that day; this will help to build confidence and race preparedness. I’m under no illusion that mastering the long-run will ensure stellar performance on race day. On the contrary, there are no guarantees in running as so much is particular to that run and that day. What your training long-runs do is give you the ability to control what you can and give you the confidence – ammunition if you will –  to go out there on race day and do the best you can.

Marathon Weekend: A Celebration of Running

Runners cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the start of the New York City Marathon, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Runners cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the start of the New York City Marathon, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

You know you’re a goner/runner when there’s a super-huge racing event coming up and though you had made the decision the year earlier not to run, you’re here mad wishing that you could be running – my current predicament as it relates to the TCS New York City (NYC) Marathon this Sunday. Of course it doesn’t help that the city is abuzz with Marathon fever and I’m smack in the center of it. I’m running past the finish line and on part of the course during my weekly runs for crying out loud. Is it any wonder then? Add to that the number of runners who are so happy to share their epic moment and I’m just about ready to forget all about the challenges and pain of last year and take up anyone’s offer to run in their place – just to be a part of the drama. Then I’m reminded that I do have a part to play, albeit a less challenging one, but surely no less important. I’m happily volunteering at the start!

Post my first time running NYC Marathon, I decided there and then, that I would endeavor to run every other year, partly due to its challenging course and in large part because of the entry criteria. I felt this would leave me with more opportunity to travel and explore other courses. And it has to a large extent so I’m happy with my decision. Around this time though, it’s easy to get caught up in the madness of it all and if you’re me..well, there’s that competitive thing happening..it can’t be helped. As it is, thankfully I know my place and it’ll be out there on the course cheering on those running folks, pouring all the enthusiasm and encouragement that have inspired my running so many times back into hearts and minds of my fellow soul runners. It’s exciting, it’s different, it’s all about running and in it I’ve found my happy place so it’s all good really.

As a brief aside, we’ve stolen into November without much fanfare and with some pretty cool temps. My inner summer is jumping up and down with glee and I’m busy running making the most of the miracle of a Fall that is a bundle of gorgeousness, from the cool weather to the mirage of colors as far as the eye can see. I love it here. It’s the perfect weather for running why wouldn’t I? The predicted weather for Sunday seems pretty cool – high 40s with a bit of a headwind at the start and heading into Brooklyn, then warming up to a high of 58 with partly sunny skies. A marathoner can do wonders with this I think. These conditions are much preferred over last year, which was much warmer; for that we are thankful.

Meanwhile, we begin Marathon weekend with lots of running-related events: Ascis Extra Mile Challenge, the Marathon Opening Ceremony, The Marathon Expo, The Night of Champions dinner tonight, then the Abbott Dash to the Finish race tomorrow leading up to the Marathon on Sunday, which will kick off with the NYRR (New York Road Runners) Youth Invitational and the kids leading the way of the few final miles of the race. All in all, it’ll be a good weekend for running. Of course I’m getting my runs in amidst all of this. Juggling it all is half the fun.

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