My Running Journey

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In 2012, my 5″1′ frame clocked in at about 130 pounds, and my doctor told me I needed to lose at least 10 of them. Before that, I hadn’t really thought much about my weight or about the foods (read: Taco Bell) I put into my body. I didn’t care about organic or sustainable or exercise. But I had noticed that it was harder to play ddr (that’s Dance Dance Revolution, for anyone who didn’t spend high school in arcades dancing in sync with colorful arrows scrolling on the TV screen), and I figured that my doctor might be on to something. So, challenge accepted.

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At right, in 2010, about a year and a half before my doctor suggested I lose weight. At left, me now: not my lightest weight, but at my healthiest.

I started with food: I downloaded the MyFitnessPal calorie-counting app and painstakingly plugged in my meals. It got easier over time and pretty much became a habit; I still do it, mostly to check myself when I want to eat too many chocolate-covered mangoes or coffee-nut M&Ms. Bit by bit, I gave things up: soda, fast food, mindless snacking. I still eat burgers and ice cream and candy, only I do so now in moderation instead of all the time. That philosophy became, and still is, my mantra: Everything is fine, in moderation.

Then I added in some exercise. At first I only did the warm-up to Shuan T’s Insanity workout videos, because I couldn’t complete any more than that. By 2014, I felt ready to attempt my first race, mostly because you could score a cuddly stuffed elephant if you raised a certain amount of money. Todd and I finished in 34 minutes. Afterward I wrote: “I wouldn’t call myself a ‘runner’ by any stretch of the word. I don’t pace faster than eleven and a half minutes per mile. I don’t jog more than file miles per week, most weeks.” So I started doing practice jogs; I added weight training to my routine. I struggled my way to push ups and chin ups (well, I’m still working on that; I can only do one) and burpees.

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A family photo at the hotel gym the night before the third annual Chocolate 5k Race in April.

Now I can do speed runs and intervals and long runs and half marathons. Sometimes I run alone, or with Todd, and sometimes we do races as a family. I weigh 110 pounds, give or take a few depending on the day, and I can see muscles (baby ones) in places I didn’t have any before. My best 5k pace is now about 26 minutes, and Todd’s is even faster. We’ve come a long way.

But I still want to keep improving. This past weekend, Todd and I ran a 10k in Queens, our first in Flushing-Meadows Park. It was drizzly, and the course was muddy, but we completed the 6.2 miles in 58 and a half minutes. We crossed the finish line holding hands. For me it was a win, even though I placed 1,878 out of 5,101 women and 5,963 out of 10,884 total racers, even though the fastest female finished the course in 34 minutes, a full 24 minutes ahead of me. I can’t even wrap my mind around that kind of strength and speed, but I’m going to keep reaching for it.

And I won’t stop trying to reach new milestones—like next year, when Todd and I attempt the NYC Marathon. I’m scared, but determined. After all, I am a runner.

My Fastest 5k Yet!

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16939531_10106026132379209_4669073140362198351_nThis year Todd and I are working toward the NYRR 9+1 program, in which you run nine races and volunteer at one to gain guaranteed entry into the 2018 NYC marathon. (No, we have never attempted such a long distance before. No, I am not sure I even can run an entire marathon. But I know I have to try, at least once in my lifetime.)

Because we figured January and February would be super cold, we chose the Washington Heights 5k in March as the first of our nine runs. Did I expect it to feel a little bit like spring? Silly me. The temperate was in the 20s; I could see my breath while we hurried to the starting line. I’d dressed in high socks, leggings, a tank top with a pretty warm jacket on top, gloves that could become mittens, and my Pusheen hat—and though that combination worked perfectly during the race, it left me hopping around trying to stay warm while we waited in our corral.

The course was a simple out-and-back that looped up through Fort Tryon Park, taking us around the Cloisters, a MET museum specializing in medieval art and architecture. I highly recommend checking out the collections there; the entire museum is so incredibly peaceful and awe-inspiring. It’s also situated at the top of a very large hill, which we had to run up as part of the race. This is where I say thank you to the creators of Disney’s Moana soundtrack: As I labored up the steepest of the inclines, the song “How Far I’ll Go” popped up on my playlist, and its yearning buoyancy gave me the push I needed to stay strong and positive. From there just another small hill, and then I sprinted the rest of the way down Fort Washington Avenue, about a mile left to the finish line.

I didn’t catch my time as I crossed, but I felt really good, not winded or aching despite what I knew had to have been a faster pace than usual. I’m hopeful that this means my weekly combination of one long run and several short speed bursts is training me to become a better runner—either that or I was just trying to outrun the cold! When I later checked my chip time, I’d completed the course in 27 minutes and 7 seconds, a new PR. I’m a little worried that it was just a fluke and I’ll fall behind in my next race, but the only way to find out is to sign up and run. One down, eight to go…2018 NYC marathon, here we come!

Following My Animal Instincts

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I might have mentioned that Todd and I signed up for the NYRR’s 9 + 1 program this year. If we run nine races set up by NYRR and volunteer for at least one, we’ll have guaranteed entry into the 2018 New York City marathon. The first of our nine races isn’t until March, but since our midnight run on New Year’s Eve, I’ve been trying to keep up my mileage, which I’ll have to slowly increase throughout the year. And I’ve been finding my inspiration in animals.

Aside from naming each run in my travel log, I’ve been assigning each an animal emoji to sum up how I felt during the run. On longer runs it keeps me distracted; I spend time thinking of which animal might best represent those seven or ten miles. On shorter sprints, it encourages me to pick up the pace: if I want to assign a cheetah to the run, I’d better earn it.

Our midnight run got a chick with its arms spread wide, signifying my willingness to embrace a new year and new running experiences. A two-mile run, my first-ever in the snow, received a penguin because I was so bundled I could barely do more than waddle. To the five more miles I did on the treadmill when I got back inside, I gave a poodle; those five miles felt like I was being pampered compared to the bitter cold and icy snow. My most recent run, Wednesday morning before work, was a camel because I did the entire thing on a 5 or greater incline and felt like I was trudging through sand dunes with belongings piled on my back.

I’m looking forward to our first race of 2017 in March, and already wondering which animal emoji I’ll assign to it.

 

7.5-mile Fall Harvest Race

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The day before the 7.5-mile Fall Harvest Race in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, I trimmed down my Spotify running playlist and packed leggings, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve insulated shirt, a head warmer, and two pairs of socks. Todd, my parents, and I drove about an hour upstate to Beacon and walked around the town: art galleries, a hipster coffee shop that wasn’t as good as we remembered, a chocolate shop, and a record store, but also a Key Food, a squat library, and a smoke shop or two. Mountains rose in the distance, but I could never get a picture unmarred by houses or cars or telephone poles. We ate dinner—a patty melt for me, a pork chop for Todd, a chicken-and-avocado sandwich for Dad, and a walnut-crusted chicken salad for Mom that had more meat than lettuce—at a diner a few towns over, then retired to an airport hotel room infested with ladybugs.

At half-past seven the next morning, we picked up our free t-shirts and race bibs at the Storm King Engine Co., a firehouse on what appeared to be Cornwall-on-Hudson’s main street, alongside a cafe, a diner, a flower shop, a post office, and a gazebo. In the same room as packet pickup, colorful gift bags held raffle prizes and organizers offered coffee and bagels to runners. Around 8:20 we made our way to the start line, where we found only a dozen or so others waiting. By 8:30 a small crowd had formed, and we were off! It turned out that only 80 of us participated, a majority of the crowd potentially having signed up for a nearby trail race instead (according to what I overheard one local saying to another, anyway).

The first two miles took us through the town: houses and lawns, cars with Trump bumper stickers. I kept clenching and unclenching my fingers into a fist to try and get some feeling in them. Around Mile 3 we passed back along the main street and headed toward Storm King State Park, a 1,972-acre tract of protected land. During Miles 3 and 4, we got some great views of the Hudson River. Mile 5 took us steadily uphill. We had passed my parents earlier, and at this point Todd slowed to a walk. It was just me for a while, following the white painted arrows on the roads, which were open to traffic, to figure out which way to go in order to stay on course. I passed up a group of women who’d been in my sight at the start of the run but whom I’d since lost track of. My legs burned, especially the backs of my thighs. My breath came heavy, since I’d been running the race at a faster pace than usual. But I didn’t focus on those things; instead, I felt only gratitude—for the pure, crisp air and crunch of leaves and nostril-tingling scent of nature and woodsmoke. At the top of the biggest hill, there was a spectacular view of the Hudson Valley, a swath of red and gold trees. Another few more small climbs, then downhill the last mile to the finish line, where I came in at 1 hour and 13 minutes, with an average pace of approximately 9:50/mile. Though I placed 56th overall (those runners were fast!), I was second in my gender/age group and got a cool embossed cup as a prize.

On the drive home, we stopped to snap a photo at a scenic view:

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I Ran My First Half-Marathon!

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It was a long road to get here. I thought I’d attempt 13.1 miles last year, but a leg injury kept me out of my running shoes for too long before the race; I didn’t feel confident or prepared, and I feared hurting myself even further. So this year I made sure I was ready, running speed drills on weekdays and progressively longer runs every weekend leading up to the half-marathon, then slowly tapering and letting my muscles heal starting two weeks before. And last weekend I did it, in 2 hours and 20 minutes—10 minutes faster than the goal time that Todd and I had set for ourselves.

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Before the race, waiting for our corral’s wave to start.

In terms of running standards, it wasn’t very fast, averaging out to about 10 minutes and 48 seconds per mile. We started the first mile some distance down the block from Prospect Park. The weather was 58 degrees or so but it felt humid, with a little sun peeking through the clouds. I didn’t mind; I was just glad it wasn’t raining. Our corral, number 20 out of 22, inched forward, then finally the countdown began and we were off. Todd and I started out slow, about 12 minutes per mile for Miles 1 and 2. My parents ran, too, and they hovered just ahead of us for the first half of the race.

The first two miles felt easy, no huge hills or major descents. We ran comfortably; I listened to some low-key songs on Spotify, like “As We Ran” by the National Parks and “The Wolf” by Mumford and Sons. By Mile 3 we reached the Brooklyn Museum, and spent the next two miles traveling alongside the park. Todd and I chatted a bit and observed the other runners around us. I really liked a shirt than one older man was wearing: “I have fought the good fight,” it said, quoting from 2 Timothy 4:7 in the Bible, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

The start of Mile 5 turned us onto Ocean Parkway, which had been closed to traffic for the half-marathon. As we ran, we saw runners from earlier waves already making their way back up the parkway, passing the Mile 9 mark and getting ready to head into Prospect Park. Around Mile 6, I started to feel it. My knee hurt a bit; I was getting bored with the monotonous scenery and the knowledge that, as far down as we traveled, we would still have to come all the way back. I counted down: If that’s the Mile 8 sign across the road, it means we have another mile down this way, then another mile back up until I get to that point. To distract myself, I changed up my running stance, first skipping sideways for a few steps, then busting out a few high knees.

Mile 7: We looped around and headed back up toward Prospect Park. Around Mile 8 we caught up to my parents and passed them, then Todd broke away from me because he wanted to run faster. By this point I was running about 11-minute miles. It was hard but not too hard, and I knew I still had energy left. At Mile 9 we ascended a steep hill that left me breathless at the top, but when I tried to walk for a minute, my legs wobbled like jelly so I kept running instead.

We entered the park at Mile 10 and I sped up, running the next 2 miles in around 20 minutes. I kept an eye out for Todd and just after Mile 12, I spotted him walking. I ran up beside him—he looked at me incredulously, like he couldn’t believe I’d caught up—and then I pushed on ahead. He followed, and we ran the last mile together as fast as we could. We crossed the finish line holding hands. (Here’s a picture, but I have to link to it because I don’t want to pay $25 for a download.)

After the half-marathon, we received really awesome finisher medals and some free water and snacks. And then I got a good, hot latte from one of my favorite hipster coffee shops, followed by a celebratory meal at Shake Shack later that afternoon. This morning I signed up for my next race, a 7.5-mile scenic run in November, but I’m still looking for another half-marathon where I can try to beat my new PR.

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The family with our medals after the race! Love doing things together 🙂

New Running Record: 13 Miles

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Todd and I in Ridge Hill at the end of our run.

To get ready for our half-marathon in October, Todd and I have been adding miles to our long runs each weekend. On our honeymoon we ran 9 miles in Budapest (the Buda hills were killer) and 10 miles in Paris; it was a really fun way to sightsee and keep up with our training at the same time. Back in the Bronx this weekend, we felt bored with the same old trails to Orchard Beach or City Island, so we decided to switch it up with a run to Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. Spoiler alert: We made it! But not without some struggles along the way.

After about 15 minutes of active stretching, our journey started on Pelham Parkway near our apartment. Though it sometimes gets congested, the street itself was closed to traffic Saturday morning so we had a nice open road before us and plenty of space to ourselves. We started off easy and slow, and our first mile took us about 13 minutes to complete. During that mile, I just focused on warming up, letting my legs and ankles and feet get used to the motion of running. I’ve been doing all of my long runs in my Asics GT-2000 sneakers (which I plan to wear during the half marathon) and they’re consistently the perfect balance of comfortable and lightweight.

Mile 2 took us near the Bronx Botanical Garden but not through it. The city had recently done some construction in the area; it turned out that the bike path had been repaved with smooth asphalt, but the run/walk path remained cracked and uneven. Needless to say, we followed the other pedestrians and used the bike path anyway. After about two more miles, we arrived at Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale. Its the third-largest park in New York City, and though I’ve explored it several times, I still don’t think I’ve managed to see everything it offers! There are tennis courts, a track, some historical buildings—and the Old Putnam trail, which is what we took to make our way up into Yonkers.

The Old Putnam trail, which follows the route of the former New York and Putnam railway that extended all the way up to Brewster, travels alongside a lake blooming with algae. The upside: the trees provided a lot of cover from the sun, which was good because on Saturday the weather service issued a heat advisory due to high UV and humidity levels. The downside was that the trail isn’t paved, so we ran about two and a half miles in the mud, constantly tripping on stray rocks and fallen branches and old railroad tracks. The path became very narrow at certain points and we had to be wary of bikers coming up behind us, so I was glad to reach Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers, where the trail becomes paved again.

For miles 8 through 11 we just continued up along the trail, past homes and a golf course and a shopping plaza where the smell of food kind of made me nauseous. Miles 8, 9, and 10 didn’t feel too hard physically, but mentally I just kept trying to remind myself that I was more than halfway done and that I’d run 11 miles before so I could definitely do it again. By mile 11 I had picked up the pace and was running closer to 11-minute miles. I felt tired; my legs ached. Then, around the 11.5-mile mark, we crossed off of the trail and onto a busy sun-drenched street. With no shade, the heat really hit me, and it only got worse when we reached the steep hill leading up to the shopping center. We slowed to a walk, which was harder than all of the 12 miles that had come before it. Drenched in sweat and out of water, I wanted to hitch a ride to the top.

But slowly, slowly, slowly we made it. Our total time was 2 hours and 36 minutes. We bought water at the candy shop and stretched our legs and tried to recover from the intense heat. Eventually Dad picked us up and gave us a lift home—there was no way I was running another 13 miles back. That night we celebrated with some delicious Vietnamese pho, followed by brown sugar pecan brittle ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery. After eating, we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight, a show inspired by the movie Avatar. The scenery and effects were really impressive, as were the acrobatics the performance troupe is famous for. All in all, it was a rewarding and exciting day.

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The closing scene in Toruk: The First Flight.

My Recent Run in Washington DC

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I love exploring cities—familiar or new, sprawling or dense, frenetic or sleepy, abroad or close to home. I especially love wandering around on foot, even more so if I’m wearing my Asics sneakers and my Garmin watch. And that’s exactly what Todd and I did last weekend after driving four hours down to Washington DC. Though we’d both visited the city before, I wanted a refresher on all of the major sites I hadn’t seen since 2008, and running felt like the best way to get in some exercise and also make good progress visiting the monuments.

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