Our Favorite Race: The Chocolate 5k Run

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When Todd and I first started running, I wanted to find a race that was timed and competitive but also fun, with good prizes. As fate would have it, my Google search led me to the Chocolate 5k Run. It offers a challenging course (with an off-road element), a spirit of community, and both a race shirt and breakfast (eggs, sausage, pancakes, chocolate fountains!) included in the price. This year, as the race marked its fifth anniversary, Todd and I received honorary jars of chocolate for being two of only fifteen people who have participated in the run every year since its inception!

Clockwise from top right: at the starting line;
standing among the five-year participants;
getting coffee in nearby Cornwall, NY.

The race organizers, members of the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in New Windsor, have no idea how important that jar of chocolate was to me this year: For the past six months, I’ve been dealing with a scary head pain that started a couple of weeks before Todd and I ran the New York City Marathon in November. Tests have, thankfully, come back negative for anything sinister, but I’ve still been really anxious for it to go away. Plus it’s completely affected my exercise regimen and my training, so I knew that I wasn’t going to run the 26-minute Chocolate 5k I did last year, placing in the top three runners of my age group to earn a jar of chocolate.

I’m proud to say that, on race day, I did the best I could, given the circumstances. I made sure to stretch and do the neck exercises my physical therapist has assigned to me, and despite the rain, I started the race in good spirits. I kept a slow pace for two miles, running first beside Mom, then Dad, who encouraged me with his antics (racing past me while singing, zooming ahead only to wait for me and wave me on at the top of a huge hill). I took the time to look around and be grateful, for the pretty trees and blooming leaves, the handmade signs of encouragement around the course, and the community members who stood outside in the rain to cheer us on. And I even finished the race with a spurt of speed, thanks to one very competitive runner who tried to beat me to the finish line in the final stretch.

I might not have placed this year, but my honorary jar of chocolate is an award enough, because it means I didn’t let pain or fear stop me from running my favorite race or living my life to the fullest.

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Not Goodbye, Just See You Later

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Dear friends,

I know I’ve been miserable at posting in December, even after swearing to a posting schedule. I’ve just been busy at work, down with a cold, preoccupied with Christmas decorations and gifts and baking and cheer—you know how all the excuses go. And since failing to meet my NaNoWriMo deadline (or even come close, yet again), I’ve been feeling kind of lackluster about writing, blogging and otherwise. So, after some deep thought, I’ve decided to take a hiatus from this blog.

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A Runner’s Dream

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Yesterday, for the first time in 40 years, an American woman (Shalane Flanagan) broke the finish line tape of the New York City marathon! I’d been following her career with interest, so I was especially excited to watch her succeed in what she’s called a childhood dream. Her unofficial time was 2 hours and 26 minutes—only one minute and one second faster than that of the three-time defending champion. It’s so crazy to think that had she taken a slightly slower pace, she might not be celebrating victory today. It’s something that strikes me every time I run: whenever I want to slow down, I remind myself that even a few seconds can matter, though my races are nowhere near as high stakes as the marathon was for a four-time Olympian like Shalane.

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View from the Pelham Bridge in the Bronx. #nofilter

I’d never dreamt of running a marathon. In fact, a few years ago, I couldn’t begin to contemplate completing a 10K. But somehow, the sport takes hold of you, and once it does, you find yourself pushing farther than you’d ever believed possible. And in 2018, I will race the NYC marathon, even though racing double the amount I’ve ever run before seems intimidating at best, impossible at worst. About half a year from now, I’ll start looking into which training plan Todd and I should follow (yep, he’s doing it with me; I have the best husband ever) and I’ll focus on things like pace and gear and timing and energy gels and how to run 26.2 miles without having to pee.

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A perfect postrun snack: Cocoa-topped coffee accompanied by a homemade, whole-wheat, pumpkin olive oil bread with walnuts and fresh ginger!

Until then, though, I’m going to just bask in the run: short two-mile morning jogs under the few stars I can see from my neighborhood, long runs in the Botanical Garden or to the cemetery to visit my grandma and grandpa’s headstone. My running dream is to appreciate each experience, even if it’s hard or I just want to sit on the couch and watch TV instead. This weekend, Todd and I did a run to the beach and back home, seven miles in all. We didn’t worry about how fast we were going, we just took in the scenery and walked when we needed to and ran just to enjoy the run. For me, that’s the best part. That and and the post-run coffee (accompanied by carbs & protein!) I like to have when I get back.

Running: A Love-Hate Relationship (But Mostly Love)

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Every weekend it seems like Todd and I either have a race or just go out for a run. I both love and hate that schedule: I like that it’s great for fitness, and great for getting extra calories to put toward food (though too often I put them toward snacks). I don’t like that it complicates plans and means getting out of the house super early after a long week at work. But we’re well on our way to completing the nine races (and one volunteer event) we need to guarantee our entry into the 2018 marathon, and that goal is worthwhile enough that I’m willing to deal with some inconvenience. (Even though I’m still kind of scared about running the 26.2 miles.) Plus, we try our best to keep our runs as varied as possible: morning runs, a few evening runs, short, long, speed, distance, indoor, outdoor. Overall, any run is better than no run, and our love of the sport means we’re willing to sacrifice things like time and toenails.

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On an early morning run in the neighborhood, noting all the unnecessary artificial lighting and wishing I could see some stars.

My favorite runs are long runs, especially if it’s a breezy Saturday morning and we can take our time looping through the Bronx. Maybe we’ll pass through the Botanical Gardens and snap some photos of flowers or Chihuly sculptures; maybe we’ll detour across town to Riverdale and then up to the Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. The slower pace gives me time to think, to relax into my body and the rhythm of the run. Yet there’s something to be said for short runs, too. They’re faster and harder and after only two or three miles, you feel accomplished and exhausted in the best possible way. Case in point: earlier this month, Todd and I ran the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile in the city. To my surprise, I achieved my fastest mile (7 minutes, 14 seconds) and placed 1,339 out of 3,646 women. I felt like my lungs might burst but I also felt glad because I had pushed as hard as I could. And I was very proud of Todd, who ran the mile in 6:26! That’s a time I can only dream of.

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After the New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile

This Sunday we’ll race the out-and-back course of the Bronx 10-Mile. Though I’m not looking forward to dealing with the subways (always a mess on the weekends and sometimes not running at all), I am excited to explore a new part of our hometown—and then hopefully eat a good breakfast. (After all, what’s a love of running without a love of food?) In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: What are your favorite kinds of runs?  Your tips will hopefully inspire me to try a new workout or introduce a fresh element to my training, especially as we start preparing for next year’s marathon.

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.