cover photo credit Alexis June Weddings
I was having lunch with the lovely Judy Pak last week and we got to chatting about my fitness/running journey. She’d asked me if I’d been running my whole life and asked how I’d gotten into running marathons. Most people assume I ran track in high school, I did not! After laughing a lot reminiscing and sharing so many funny memories on how I started, she’d strongly suggested I write about it so that I can help to inspire others who maybe want to get into running, or fitness in general, but feel they just can’t do it.
To be honest, I used to never work out or exercise. I hated to sweat and was very much a primadonna when it came to the gym and exercise. When I graduated from college (2009) and it was time for me to become a real adult, or at least try to be, I’d thought about getting into better overall health as well. I started to go to the gym here and there but kept to just the elliptical. I didn’t know how to use anything else in the gym and, at the time, it looked like I was walking through a warehouse of torture contraptions. Since I was also completely uncoordinated I’d decided that I should give running a try because it’s just moving your body forward, there is nothing to hit, throw or catch – perfect! I would run around the block 1-2 times and then call it a day. It sort of felt pointless and I started to wonder why running was even considered a sport.
I then thought, maybe if I have a goal to reach I will be able to focus on actually getting into better shape. So I signed up for my first half marathon in Atlantic City (2010). “Why not a 5k or 10k to get your feet wet?” is what a lot of people would ask, but I have that sort of ‘go big or go home’ attitude and I knew I’d have to push harder to achieve 13.1 miles.
I was running maybe 1-2 days a week (clearly not enough) and decided to transition to the treadmill because running outside was so much harder for me at that time. I could barely run .5 of a mile and started to cover the numbers on the treadmill with my towel so that I couldn’t see how fast, or slow, I was going. The first time I did that I ended up stopping at .3 of a mile. I thought to myself “oh my gosh how the heck am I running 13.1 miles if I can barely run .3 of one mile.” Yikes!
From this I’d realized I was going to need to run more but didn’t know how. I did a lot of volunteer work with New York Cares and saw something for Achilles International. It is a program for disabled athletes of all levels and it specifically stated that the volunteer opportunity would be to ‘lead blind runners.’ I thought “well I have no idea how this is going to go but let’s do it!” I show up and they put you in order of pace with each member’s matched pace, along with other volunteers. Side note, you run in Central Park, and this was my first time ever running there, apparently the same went for the other volunteer who was with us. We were supposed to be doing the 3 mile loop and I had no clue where the cut off was so we just kept running. It began to downpour and I felt so horrible because my partner, Dale, was not at all thrilled and started to get anxious at all of the extra miles we were now running. We get to Harlem Hill and this was how we all knew we’d ran one mile too many. I could not get up this hill to save my life. I had to keep stopping to walk, it’s raining harder, we’re all freezing, it was so truly defeating. But I signed up to meet again the following week in hopes to redeem myself and ended up with a guy named Lamar, who I am still friends with, and run with today. He was really fast and I had a hard time keeping up with the group. I would walk a lot and then run for as long as I could. It was so mentally and physically draining because I would think “what am I doing?” Lamar had kindly offered to help and run with me at anytime I needed amidst my crazy catering schedule at the time. I started to run 2-3 times a week and got my mileage slowly up to 8 at roughly a 9:30 pace. Lamar and all the members of Achilles truly inspired me to keep pushing myself.
I’d ended up resigning from my catering job 2 weeks before my race (2011), started MEW and ended up finishing that first half marathon in 2 hours on the dot!
Post race, I was starving and met with my family after to eat bananas, pretzels and anything I could get my hands on and then suddenly felt sick. I went back to my hotel room and just slept. I didn’t wake up until around 7pm, which was roughly 8 hours later. I physically couldn’t walk down stairs, it was so painful I’d have to hold the railings on both sides and swing my whole body down one step at a time. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it was then that I decided I wanted to go for the NYC Marathon. I knew I wouldn’t be in pain forever and if I could go from .3 of a mile to 13.1 miles than I could do anything.
I had not a clue on how New York Road Runners (NYRR) worked and missed all of the cut offs to put into the lottery or complete a 9+1, which I had no idea what that even was at the time. Through research I’d learned that my only option was to get in through a charity. I chose Achilles International of course! As a charity sponsor you are required to raise $3,000 and I thought “that can’t be too hard”, well it was! I hustled like no other to get as much donated as possible because I had to reach this goal. If you don’t reach the goal then you are responsible for putting the remaining funds into the charity and I did not have that kind of money just lying around so I needed as much help as I could get.
There I was, donation completed, grueling training done, overcame countless injuries, and was ready for race day. Well in 2012 we received a little gift called Hurricane Sandy causing the NYC Marathon to be cancelled for the first time ever. I didn’t want to believe it and admit that I cried for hours. If you’ve ever trained for a marathon, especially for the first time, you know the work, dedication and sacrifice you make physically and mentally; I was devastated. Instead of sitting at home and continuing to wallow in my tears I got up and volunteered my time that week to those who’d lost more than me.
Weeks later, NYRR had given the option to run either 2013, 2014, or 2015, guaranteed. Of course I chose 2013 and was ready to re-train, work harder and do things better now that I was, in a way, given a second shot.
That first time took me over 5.5 hours. When I tell you your mind goes to some crazy places throughout the race, oh my gosh. You have moments of “this is the best day ever” to “am I going to die?” I will never forget the Queensboro Bridge, mile 15, I thought my body was going to just collapse. It was one of the most frightening moments in my life. My legs were cramping up and it was hard to even walk. On the bridges there are no spectators, just you, the road, other runners, and it feels absolutely silent. There were some people also suffering as I was and they were stretching so I thought “ok I’ll stretch too.” Nope I couldn’t even move, it was awful. I’d decided I’m just going to walk and even if I am so slow it doesn’t matter, the time doesn’t matter, finishing is the goal. Coming off of the bridge and entering Manhattan you are hit with a flood of excited and loud spectators just screaming and cheering you on, I can still feel that moment and get chills every time. I had been told to “let the crowd carry you.” The spectators’ cheers made me feel as if the pain had went away and I ran my little butt to mile 18 with no problems! I re-fueled and was ready to finish this! Mile 22, I was thinking “oh my gosh, why, WHY are there FOUR more miles!?” Getting into Central Park and you begin to see the flag mile markers: Mile 23, Mile 24, Mile 25, and FINALLY Mile 26, only .2 left to go! I crossed the finish line and burst into tears, I was crying almost hysterically and could not believe I had just survived 26.2 miles!
Enjoy some visuals of the rollercoaster of emotions I’d went through . . .
ON THE COURSE, FEELING GREAT!
MILE 26, WHAT WAS I THINKING?!
*PS – I love this photo because it shows the true reality of what it looks like to push through something no matter how challenging, but at the time I thought it was the worst photo of me. I regret not buying it so unfortunately we have this annoying PROOF stamped across … but you can still ‘get the picture’ 😉
I DID IT!!!
MEDICAL TENT MISERY, BUT FEELING FINE!
*Since it took me over 5.5 hours to finish the temperature had drastically dropped from when I started the race. Upon crossing the finish line you have to walk, probably another 1/2 mile just to get your poncho and snacks. Well my body went into shock and I had gotten hypothermia almost immediately after crossing the finish. I felt dizzy and almost passed out so thankfully there are a ton of American Red Cross members there to whisk you into the medical tent quickly. Drank some hot water, put my feet up on a box and I was ok to leave after about 45 min.
Completely addicted, I ran the NYC Marathon 2 more times crushing that first time and finishing now at 4:30 both times! I have also already begun my training for my FOURTH NYC Marathon, happening this November!
MILE 26 TWO YEARS LATER, SO MUCH IMPROVEMENT!
I now get out of bed in the morning, head to the park, run however many miles are needed in my training schedule, weight train, swim, spin, take yoga classes and some days really just can’t believe how far I’ve come.
Barely could handle .3 on a treadmill 8 years ago and now it’s rain, snow, or sunshine I throw my sneakers on and just go – 3, 6, 12, or 18 miles. I do have bad days sometimes, we all do, but looking back and seeing how far I’ve come is the push that helps me keep going.
Moral of the story is never ever think that you can’t do something. You can do anything you set your mind to! Don’t give up, don’t quit, keep pushing through and prove it to yourself that you are capable of doing so much more than you think!