R.I.P. Saki (2006-2018)

Warning: this is a non-running-related post, and also sad.

Earlier today I had to make the excruciating decision to put down one of my dogs. Saki had been my mom’s dog – I adopted both him and MacGregor after my mom passed away last year. Literally the only thing she cared about as her condition grew worse was that her dogs were kept together and looked after. There would be no giving them to a shelter or splitting them up. So that was that – her dogs became my own.

But my mom didn’t choose Saki. He chose her.

She met Saki one night in 2008 as he jumped up on her car door while she was at a stop sign. He was filthy and covered in burrs, and she knew he needed a bath and maybe some food. Clearly, he hadn’t been looked after and he certainly hadn’t been living indoors. She brought him home and saw from his tags that he belonged to a junk yard. They were closed for the weekend. She called and left a message, figuring she’d keep him inside for a couple days. But by Monday morning, she smartly decided that his life would be better spent with her than with them. So she called them back and told them he ran away.

She loved him so much and gave him an incredible life. When she died, I did my best to do the same.

Saki had been slowing down in recent months, even before our move from Long Island to the city. We think he was 12, but we weren’t positive – it was assumed when my mom found him in 2008 that he was a year and a half. He had developed a bad cough in the past few weeks. I’ll spare all the details about the visits to the vet and such, but in the end, three separate doctors felt it was in his best interest to end his suffering. It was most likely lung cancer, for which there is no cure.

It was also the disease my mom had.

He went peacefully, with his head resting in my hands while I told him over and over that he was a good boy. He kept looking into my eyes with what I hoped wasn’t sadness but rather a feeling of relief that the pain was finally leaving his body. MacGregor was there too, licking Saki’s face until the end and resting beside him after he was gone. I like to think he understood.

Here are some photos I’ve taken over the years of this beautiful, sweet, sensitive dog who loved my mom, hoses, and roughhousing in the backyard with his best friend MacGregor. I love you, Saki. I’m glad I got to be your mom for a little bit.

 

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Starlight, Star Bright: Retro 4-Miler Race Recap

I signed up for the NYRR Retro 4-Miler a few weeks ago, thinking it would be a fun addition to my 2018 race lineup. It was only 4 miles. The start was close to home. And anything with the word “retro” in it would probably be fun.

There is a race shirt for this race: a very nice cotton tee. But there was no way in hell I was going to run a race in a cotton shirt. I’ll wear it around town instead.

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Apparently, runners dressed in old-school running gear for this race. From previous years’ pics, it looked like most people who opted to run in costume (it was not mandatory) bought some high socks and sweat headbands and called it a day. Boring!

My go-to “retro” costume is almost always something 80s related, because that is the decade in which I spent my childhood, and therefore, the best decade. I thought if I were to dress as any decade for this race, it would be that one.

A super trivial pet peeve of mine is when people dress up as “80s” and wear those shirts that say I LOVE THE 80s. The reason being that NOBODY IN THE 80s WORE SHIRTS THAT SAID THEY LOVE THE 80s. I prefer authenticity in my absurdity, damn it.

My first idea was to get my hands on a version of Madonna’s famous HEALTHY crop top.

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I searched the internet, and the closest one I found was on Amazon UK but they couldn’t guarantee arrival before the race. So that was out. (Although I MIGHT still order it… just to have.)

I considered making my own HEALTHY shirt. But that seemed like more work than I was willing to do. It’s a very specific font.

So I thought, why not just dress as Madonna? Forget the HEALTHY shirt. And not even the clothes she would have worn while running. Just like, Madonna. Lucky Star Madonna. That is what I would wear for this 4 mile race in which I would run alone, eat a free bagel, then go home.

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I already had a black mesh top, purchased in a vintage shop when I lived in LA. I think I’ve worn it twice, so, really gotten my money’s worth so far. I had a black sports bra. I had some jewelry but could buy more because 80s Madonna is ALL about the accessories. Although not too many, as I didn’t want to be weighed down. Maybe I’d get a black skirt. But not a tutu. That’s more Cyndi Lauper, a whole different animal. And Cyndi wouldn’t wear black. Some people make the mistake of thinking 80s Madonna is brightly colored clothing, but that is wrong. It’s black. Or white, if you’re emulating her 1984 VMAs performance.

It has occurred to me that 90% of this “race recap” will be about my outfit.

The day before the race, after a 2-mile hot-as-hell run home from work through Central Park, covering some of the same course the race would, I stopped by Unique Boutique, a secondhand store not far from home. It’s kind of a nicer Goodwill, with clothing arranged neatly by category and a good array of accessories. I found a black skirt, studded belt, some hard bracelets (unfortunately I couldn’t figure out where to buy jelly bracelets) and, to my delight, a small metallic cross that would make the perfect centerpiece.

A few blocks later, I stopped by Party City and found some black fishnet fingerless gloves. Perfect. I resisted buying any candy while there. Party City has a surprisingly large assortment of candy.

Race morning, I woke up at 5am, my standard time to wake up. I had a bowl of oat bran with a banana and cup of black coffee, my standard breakfast. I gave the dogs a walk, took a shower, and put on the basics of my outfit, leaving the accessories in a plastic bag that I would carry until the last minute. I had quite a few metallic bracelets and didn’t want to be clanking around town before I needed to.

At first, the cross was a concern, as the hole was too small for any of my necklace chains. So I used black thread to tie it around my neck. Genius, I thought, as I wondered why I had never pursued a career in fashion design or mechanical engineering.

I thought the mesh top looked perfect. The skirt suddenly seemed too awkward to run in, so at the last minute I opted to just wear black shorts. In all the fuss about my clothes, I almost forgot my bib. I decided to attach it to my shorts to leave my Madonna-esque midriff exposed.

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I wasn’t really going to nail the hair but oh well.

I decided to cab it down to 72nd Street, as I don’t trust early morning weekend subway schedules. Once in the park, I warmed up for a mile, going faster than I normally do for warmups, which are usually a 9:45–10:15 pace. This warmup pace was 8:16. I felt good, though, and thought maybe better to amp it up early. This was only going to be 4 miles.

I made it to the corrals and assembled all of my accessories on a lawn while doing some basic stretching. Not too many people were dressed up; those who were either had the requisite long socks & headband, and I saw a fake Afro or two. Mostly a 60s and 70s vibe, although later pics did reveal a few 80s stalwarts.

There is this feeling of absurdity in dressing up in costume for an event while attending it alone. I know it’s weird and most people might think it’s weird. Or that I’m weird. I get it. I think most people would not want to do it. Maybe that’s why most people weren’t dressed up. But I’ve made this decision to commit myself to doing things I want to do, whether someone joins me or not. I will never be one of those people who doesn’t participate in something because I don’t have a partner. Those people are exhausting. I’m fine by myself and with myself. Life is short. I might as well keep myself entertained.

So with that feeling of assuredness, I bravely stepped into Corral D in full Madonna regalia. There was only one problem: my bracelets were super clanky. And I was about to run 4 miles while wearing them.

It turns out I didn’t, as only seconds into the race, which began heading north on the east side of Central Park’s inner loop, I took off several bracelets on my right wrist and held them in my sweaty hand. I alternated hands throughout and figured I’d put them on again before I crossed the finish line.

The rest of my bracelets were still clonking away. I knew they’d be, but since I hadn’t practiced running in them, I wasn’t fully prepared. I hoped they weren’t too annoying to the runners around me. Look at it this way, I thought, the next time I run a 4 mile race NOT wearing a ton of bracelets, it’ll feel SUPER easy.

My goal for this race – other than to spend an inordinate amount of time on my accessories – was to run slightly faster than my last two 10Ks, which were 7:57 and 7:53 paces. I would’ve been happy somewhere in the 7:40 range. I wasn’t confident I could pull off a 7:30. Not yet.

The first mile was up Cat Hill, probably the second hardest hill of the whole inner loop. It’s not crazy steep, but it’s about a quarter of a mile long. It’s a solid effort to run up fast. Lots of heavy breathing happened in mile 1.

Two mantras kept running through my head: open up your stride and lead with your hips. These are things I’ve read or heard again and again from experienced runners, and I’ve found that repeating them helps me run faster. Especially the hips one. I don’t even know why, but something about telling myself to lead with my hips makes me stand taller and move my legs more efficiently. I think it legitimately works.

MILE 1: 7:45 pace

Right on track.

Mile 2 was great. Once you reach the top of Cat Hill, there’s a nice flat section for a while, then just a few dips and inclines, but nothing crazy. Luckily we were not going up the inner loop’s hardest hill, but instead crossing the 102nd Street transverse. This was a good mile. I felt strong.

MILE 2: 7:28 pace

Wow. I think my fastest race mile ever?

Mile 3 was divided into two parts: a continuation of the easy flat section and a not-as-easy uphill section. After crossing 102nd and picking up the course on the west side, there was a steady uphill from around mile 2.4 to about 2.8. All uphill. I’ve run this loop many times, and I almost never even notice this hill. But I don’t normally run this fast. So I noticed it. I did the best I could, bracelets still clanking away.

MILE 3: 8:04 pace

Well, that pace made up for the fast second mile, so it looked like I was still on track for an overall pace around 7:45. Right where I expected.

A funny thing happened in the beginning of mile 4: I thought it was mile 3. I think I was losing my mind, or just distracted by my clonking bracelets. I kept thinking, a mile and three quarters left, and then realized: wait, it’s just three quarters! So I picked up the pace. At least, I tried. I really, really wanted to run faster. I hadn’t eaten or drank anything in the race, as 4 miles seems a ridiculously short distance to need food or water. But I had lost some steam. I wanted so badly to run another 7:28, but couldn’t hack it. But I did okay. Not horrible. I finished as strong as I could.

MILE 4: 7:43 pace

Keep in mind, these paces are courtesy of my Garmin, which said I ran a total of 4.04 miles at an average 7:44 pace. The official results will be slightly different. Speaking of which…

According to NYRR’s app, my “unofficial results” said my overall pace was 7:49. Makes sense. It’s close to what my watch said, but slightly slower to account for the fact that I ran 4 miles, not 4.04.

Here’s my Garmin breakdown:

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However, I was shocked when the official results came in a few hours later.

Because they were wrong.

Look at this: my official time is the gun time? Not possible, unless I crossed the start WITH THE GUN, which I would NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO, since there was a STAGGERED START and I started in CORRAL D.

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That 8:37 pace was the first thing to catch my eye. No fucking way.

Don’t worry, I requested a correction immediately. It’s probably dumb how anxious I got over this. But also, like, I’ve worked my ass off to have paces in the 7s. I’ve worked SO HARD. And I want it reflected! Especially since this is my first race as an official Harrier – I didn’t want any of them to see this and think I’m not up to snuff. Basic new kid anxiety.

It’s also weird that my “unofficial results” were CORRECT. Clearly it wasn’t an issue with my bib. So I’m not sure what happened. I just want it fixed.

Anyway, here is a sweaty post-race pic featuring one arm of jangly bracelets, some of which were actually necklaces.

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The full body shot:

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After eating my free cinnamon raisin bagel (really the only reason I do any of these races), I headed back home. One of my dogs isn’t feeling so well and I was anxious to get back. I was curious to see who would win at the costume contest, but like, not that curious. And it’s another reason why I didn’t take many post-race pictures.

Here’s hoping my official results are fixed soon and that I find another opportunity to wear any of these accessories ever again. But probably not in a race.

Like a Virgin

Hi, remember when I used to post to this blog several times a week? I haven’t meant to neglect you, li’l blog. I’ve spent the past two months making some big changes in my life – moving out of one home and into another; adjusting to new running, eating, dog walking, and commuting schedules; figuring out how the old pieces of my life fit into the new. It’s been a strange but mostly good time, and something I never would or could have predicted happening a few years ago. I’d like to fall back into posting here more regularly, especially now that summer has arrived and official marathon training is staring me in the face.

First, I’d like to recap the past several weeks. It recently dawned on me that May and June were months of trying things for the very first time, stepping out of my comfort zone, and taking risks. A time of firsts. Here’s some more about that.

I BOUGHT MY FIRST PAIR OF BROOKS

The last time I purchased new running shoes was October. I had been having some calf soreness recently and, while I could probably attribute some of that to increased mileage and a lack of decent stretching, I knew I was due for a new shoe (luv 2 rhyme).

I’ve read so many positive things about Brooks. I like the fact that the company only makes running gear. Plus, people who wear Brooks just look more like runners to me. People in Nikes look like people wearing sneakers; people in Brooks look like runners. #sorrynotsorry.

So when it was time for new sneaks, I hit the local Super Runners Shop and tried on a few different brands. Sure enough, the ones I liked best were the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18. So I bought them. The next day, I took them for a 7 mile run and they felt great. I’ll still wear my Saucony Kinvaras and I might even buy another pair of Sauconys at some point to alternate. But I’m happy I got the Brooks. I’m even happy with the color, and they’re not even gray!

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I TRIED GU

Yet another thing I’d heard a lot about but never purchased. I bought this at the Super Runners Shop when I bought my Brooks. I ate (drank?) it on the 7 mile run, somewhere in mile 5. Normally I eat Clif Bloks on longer runs and the only other time I’ve tried a gel-like substance was a few weeks earlier when I had one made by PowerBar that was so sweet, it was straight up like eating vanilla icing. Which was delicious but also disgusting? This Gu was good, though. Not too sweet. I’m not sure how much stronger and faster it made me in the moment, but it tasted good. But at $1.50 a packet, I’d rather find a way to buy it in bulk.

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I RAN 16 MILES

This was my longest run to date. It happened about a month ago, and due to a couple of minor soreness issues as well as scheduled races, I haven’t run that distance since. I plan on working up to it again soon. After I finished that run, I had a truly emotional moment (as I’m sure is obvious by my very blurry face here) as I realized I had just run for two and a half hours without stopping.

For a very long time, I didn’t think I was capable of running for more than an hour. I didn’t think I had the “right” body for it, or that I had much natural running talent. Realizing I had been very wrong about those things has been one of the most amazing things that’s happened to me in recent years. If you also think those things about yourself, I urge you to stop right now.

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I RAN WITH FRED’S TEAM

Named for running legend Fred Lebow, Fred’s Team is the organization I’m fundraising for in this fall’s NYC marathon. Just one of the perks of doing this is that I get to join other Fred’s Team fundraisers on runs all over the city (where they provide COMPLIMENTARY SNACKS AND DRINKS!) and get tips from coaches. I also get a private shuttle bus to the marathon start, woo-hoo! (p.s. here’s my fundraising page.)

Recently I joined 30-40 other Fred’s Team runners for an 11 mile run in Central Park, and it was a really fun experience. I didn’t bring headphones and pretty much ran by myself, although I tried in vain to keep up with a few of the faster runners in the beginning. I lost them around mile 3 or 4, as they were probably going around an 8:00-8:30 pace, and I could only muster an average 9:12 pace for the 11 miles. Which was actually faster than my usual long run pace, so I credit them and other clumps of faster runners along the way for unknowingly helping to push me. It was interesting running without headphones or music but not as bad as I thought it would be. It turns out my brain still knows how to be active, either with or without music.

I’m very happy to be a part of the team and hope to run again with them soon.

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The Fred’s Team coach’s dog knows how to dress

I JOINED A RUNNING CLUB

I wrote about this recently. This was a major accomplishment on my part, only because I’ve been thinking about doing this for years, and spent so much time checking out various NYC running clubs online before finally settling on the Harriers to meet first. Turns out I liked them so much, I didn’t even want to meet anyone else. I felt like they were my people. So I joined the club.

So far I’ve done three speed workouts with the Harriers and hope to join them soon for a tempo run and a long run. I haven’t hung out with any of them socially yet, but I’ll find a way to work that in soon. I’m so excited to be a part of a club – and a respected and storied one at that – and can’t wait to wear one of their signature shirts in a race.

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Just a few of the Harriers after a recent morning speed workout. Yes, the dog is a member.

I RAN TWICE A DAY

I started doing this a few weeks ago. Only two days a week so far, which I think is all I’ll do for the time being. Running twice a day is surprisingly not exhausting. When I do it, I only ever run about 4 miles in the morning, and the run home from work is about 3.5, provided I walk to Central Park and just start there. (At first I started running before the park, but found it too annoying to navigate the foot and car traffic, plus my Garmin is totally out of whack when I do this.) The two runs are about 12 hours apart, so I have plenty of time to rest in between. And I’m not going super far or super fast either time. I just have to make sure I’m not pushing myself too hard. I know the elites run twice a day all the time, but I often have trouble remembering that I am not one of them.

I GOT A SPORTS MASSAGE

This was very nice. I wrote about it in a recent post. I hope to get another one soon!

I WORE CALF COMPRESSION SLEEVES

These are great. They don’t cure sore calves, but they do make them feel better during the run. Plus they make me look tan.

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I got white because that’s what Gwen Jorgensen wears.

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I AM LIVING BY MYSELF

It’s pretty fucking great. Not to knock anyone I’ve ever lived with, because honestly they’ve all been cool and good (except for the guy who cheated on me a bunch) but there is something nice and very “adult” about being in my own space with my own stuff doing my own thing. Like I’ve finally made it over some proverbial hurdle. Like I am finally a woman. Like that song “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” which is actually really gross if you think about it, except if you think about it in terms of the fact that maybe she will be a woman soon because she will be living by herself in a nice one bedroom in a pre-war elevator building, then I guess the song isn’t that gross.

I HAVE DOGS NOW

I guess I’m not really living by myself. But it’s close – they don’t have much input as far as how I decorate or what I watch on Netflix. They are pretty cool dudes.

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I AM FINALLY WATCHING THE GREAT BRTISH BAKING SHOW

British Baking Show

THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD! I LOVE IT! I WANT TO TAKE BAKING CLASSES NOW!

Harrier Birthday to Me

I don’t really “celebrate” my birthday in the sense that I don’t have a party or go out or drink or do anything out of the ordinary, other than cupcakes courtesy of my department at work (which were DELICIOUS, thanks guys). With a few exceptions over the years, it usually feels like a normal day. I’ve almost always worked on my birthday, either in an office or at a photography gig, depending on what my career was that year.

Lately, I’ve made it a point to run on my birthday. This year was no different. I also like to take a cheesy, post-run, sweaty selfie on my birthday. Here are two years ago, last year, and today.

 

Last Wednesday, I went to my very first Harriers workout and really liked it. As my birthday is on a Wednesday this year, it coincided with what would be my second workout with the team. So that is exactly what I did this morning at 6:30 am.

After the 18-minute easy run to the meeting point in Central Park and some small talk with a couple members of the group, we set out for the workout. Like last week, it was on the short side because a lot of them are running a 5-mile race this weekend. It was like last week’s workout: 6 x 400 with a 400 jog in between. And thankfully it wasn’t so hot or humid this morning.

I hung back with a group of 5 dudes and felt comfortable going at their pace. This time, I did something I should have done last week, which was to shut off the auto lap function on my watch and record the laps manually. This way I’d have a much better idea as to how fast each one was.

I think the fast 400s were just slightly slower than last week’s, and the slow 400s were faster. Lesser extremes. My watch recorded our fast paces as: 7:20, 7:16, 7:58 (an uphill), 7:32, 7:38, 7:12. In between, the recovery paces were anywhere from 10:16 to 9:02.

This felt perfect to me. Just enough of a challenge without being impossible. I’m very glad there are people in the group who run at paces I’m comfortable with. If everyone ran 5:30 paces, I’m not sure what I would do. I guess just lag behind.

It was also fun to run with a pack of guys. I don’t care which gender anyone is, but maybe after all that time in elementary school running the 600 yard dash and wanting so badly to beat the boys, it’s cool that I can run alongside them now.

After getting back to the meeting point, we did some drills and strides. It wasn’t a super long workout but it was solid, and probably the best thing I could have done to start out my birthday.

We took a post workout pic. I like these folks. In fact, I thought that a good birthday present to myself would be to officially join the Harriers.

So that’s what I did.

Happy birthday to me.

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Turn! Turn! Turn!: Queens 10K Race Recap

I signed up for the Queens 10K a couple of months ago on a whim, while I still lived on Long Island. I had no other 10Ks planned other than September’s Cow Harbor, and when I saw that the Queens course was “flat and fast,” I thought, why not get another 10K in there?

I registered for last weekend’s Mini 10K later. Two races two weekends in a row is something I wouldn’t even have considered a year ago, especially two 10Ks. It wasn’t long ago that 6 miles was my long run. To race that distance 7 days apart would have seemed crazy.

These days, 6-7 miles is a “regular” run for me. Ten miles is mid-distance, and 15 is long. It’s funny how your perspective shifts the more you challenge yourself.

Also, I figured if racing two 10Ks a week apart felt too hard, I could just relax on the Queens one.

I did not relax on the Queens one.

I was a little sore all week. I think I hadn’t done a great job of stretching after the Mini, nor after the following day’s 10 miler – after which I walked over 3 miles home along Broadway and through a street fair where I ate a delicious falafel. I’d done a lot of moving my legs and not a lot of stretching. I felt it on Tuesday morning’s run, which was pretty slow going. The run home from work that day was better, but still on weary legs.

After Wednesday morning’s speed workout with the Harriers and a slight-but-somewhat-concerning hint of soreness in my left heel, I decided to take Thursday off and do some low-impact lower and upper body strength training instead. I also took off Friday morning, and did something I’d never done before: I GOT A MASSAGE.

Techincally, a “sports massage.” It was FANTASTIC. It was at Body Mechanics, not far from where I work. They specialize in runners. My masseuse was a lovely woman who not only did a great job on my muscles, but took the time to explain what she was doing, why she was doing it, and gave me tips and advice as to how to best take care of myself before, during, and after a run. I even got a free massage ball. It was absolutely well worth the $120 (plus tip).

She taped up my calves, too. A first for me. Kind of cool, in a tribal tattoo sort of way.

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Luckily, I felt good enough to go for a short, easy run Friday evening, still in the tape. Just under 3 miles. Slow as hell at first, organically speeding up to a brisk 8:30 pace by the end. I was very glad I did this, as it made me feel much more prepared for the following morning’s race.

Which all brings me to… the race!

The Queens 10K was to start in two waves: Corrals A-F (the faster runners based on past NYRR races) at 7:45 am, and Corrals G-? (not sure where it ends) at 8:15 am. There had been some confusion when I’d gone to pick up my bib a couple days earlier: the person at NYRR put the letter D on a Wave 2 bib, which I didn’t even notice at first. Luckily before I left I remembered that the race email said I was in Wave 1. I told them, they were like “Oops,” and I got my proper bib. All good.

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I immediately liked this number, as my mom and dad were 28 and 31, respectively, when I was born. It seemed like a good omen, if I were one to believe in omens, which I’m really not.

And here’s the as always super nice NYRR shirt we got.

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The subway ride to the race was supposed to take an hour and 15 minutes – a longer trip than if I still lived on Long Island and had driven in. Damn. I wanted to check a bag, as I anticipated wearing a hoodie on the long, air-conditioned train ride.

So I got up at 4 am, ate my standard oat bran/banana & coffee breakfast, walked the dogs, and left my apartment at 5:30. One other guy at my subway stop was also headed to the race, and he sat directly across from me in the nearly empty car. Naturally, I made sure not to make eye contact.

The trip wound up taking only 55 minutes, so I got to Flushing Meadows Corona Park with plenty of time to spare. Most of the people on the train at that point were runners. I still wasn’t sure how many people were doing this race, but it seemed like quite a lot.

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I spot a Harrier

One nice thing about having the race in this park: PUBLIC BATHROOMS. No porta-potties for me this time. What luxury! I used the facilities, pinned on my bib, threw a couple of Clif Bloks in my pocket, and checked my bag.

I jogged around for 10 minutes. Probably a mile. Super slow, just to loosen things up. I felt good. I was very glad I’d had that massage the day before. A few others were running lightly. Some were stretching. Some were sitting, which, honestly, I don’t understand. Maybe they think they’re conserving energy, but to me it just feels like you’re making yourself stiff? Am I nuts? I mean, to each their own. Whatever works for you. I prefer a non-stiff butt.

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At least it’s on the shady side of the highway
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“Okay, all the red shirts, stretch here!”

The park itself is nice. It’s bigger than it always seems from the Grand Central Parkway, there are plenty of trees, it’s where the Mets play. Perhaps due to the old-timey, World’s Fair-era structures – the most famous being the Unisphere – it also feels a bit dated and worn. Like it could use a good coat of asphalt and some fresh paint.

The start was right alongside a highway overpass. Maybe because of the narrow space in which we all had to stand, which lengthened the distance from the starting line, it felt as though we were very removed from whatever activity was taking place up front. I couldn’t see the actual starting line or hear anything. If there was a performance of our national anthem, I cannot tell you how good it was.

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Getting those playlists ready
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WHAT’S HAPPENING UP THERE?!

I didn’t even hear a gun. People just started moving. Slowly. It took about 10 minutes of inching our way up, but soon, people started running. Eventually, I crossed the starting line amid a chorus of tiny watch beeps.

My goal (in addition, of course, to HAVING FUN!!!) was to beat my last week’s 10K. That’s it. Just finish in under 49:21 and faster than a 7:57 pace. My plan was to run at a 7:50 pace for the first two miles, and then speed up if I could. I thought 7:50 seemed like a good middle ground between a pace that would beat last week’s and a pace I could handle for a bit. If I had aimed for 7:30, I don’t think I could have kept that up for more than a mile. 8:00 was too slow, and 7:56 was cutting it too close. So 7:50 it was.

I guess due to bottlenecking, I moved a lot slower than I would have liked at the start. It took a good half a mile to find a nice groove alongside others who were going my pace.

The course was pretty flat. Initially, I was confident I could beat the 49:21 finish time I achieved on Central Park’s relatively hilly course. But I hadn’t anticipated one, very important thing that might slow me down: ALL THE DAMN TURNS. Look at this pretzel of a course:

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There are like, 12 right angle turns in there. Damn. I had actually realized this beforehand, as I had seen the map of the route – but it hadn’t occurred to me that this might be a factor in slowing me down. Apparently, just like cars, runners must also slow down when making sharp turns.

Mile 1 was relatively straight; just one sharp turn. Still, I had been slowed by the initial bottlenecking, and fell short of my 7:50 goal.

MILE 1: 7:53 pace

I knew I had to make up the time, so I sped up. Nothing crazy, just pushed it a little harder. The second mile had a short hill leading up to a small bridge – maybe the biggest hill of the race, which really wasn’t big at all. It reminded me of the hill I run up at the end of my Central Park runs – I typically don’t stop running until I’m half a block from home, and the streets heading west from the top of the park all go uphill. Try running along West 110th from Central Park West to Amsterdam Avenue and you’ll see what I mean.

Since these hills tend to come at the very end of my runs, I tend to go up them pretty fast; I know I only have a minute or two left, and also by that point I can’t wait to get home so I can eat. So I’ve gotten used to pushing up short hills.

And that’s what I did here, in Mile 2, on the small hill leading up to the bridge. I booked up that thing, passing a bunch of people. Bye, suckers!

MILE 2: 7:42 pace

But I had a few more miles to go before I could eat. And I didn’t want to get overly confident. It was hot, and we still had 4 miles to go. On the plus side, this mile was a long, pretty straight stretch without any turns. On the minus side, a lot of it was in the sun. The end of Mile 3 would come right before a turnaround, after which we’d run back along the same stretch. Before the turnaround, we had to endure watching all of the faster runners well into their fourth mile. I watched some of the women who were probably going a 6:30, 6:00 pace, and wondered if I’d ever be able to go that fast for more than 18 seconds.

I did okay, though. Still under my 7:50 goal. So far, I was on track to best last week’s pace.

MILE 3: 7:47 pace

Mile 4 hit the turnaround and came back along the same path, this time with the runners behind us on the other side. This flat course wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be. At least there’s some variation with a hillier course, and nice downhills. This was very samey.

And just like in last week’s 10K race, I slowed down a little in Mile 4. Maybe my body is so used to doing 5Ks it’s confused as to why I’m still running fast at this point. But I knew that if I wanted to have some steam left at the end, I needed to hold back a bit here, so I did.

MILE 4: 8:03 pace

Just hearing “8” made me pick it up. Mile 5 had a few twists and turns, and a nice shady section under some trees. At least there was some relief from the sun. I was glad I had worn sunglasses, a last-second decision I was relieved to have made. Just one mile to go. I managed to get back to my initial pace.

MILE 5: 7:52 pace

Almost over. I knew I could pick it up a bit, and I did. One of my favorite Lady Gaga songs popped up on my playlist at that point: “Venus.” I love this song. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. No idea what it’s about. The solar system, goddesses, love, panties? All of the above? And I swear, as soon as I heard her sing Take me to your planet, take me to your planet, I looked up, and lo and behold: it was the famous Unisphere. Right in front of me. I laughed to myself.

I picked up the pace. I looked for the finish line. I was sure we were almost there. I could see runners across the field to my left but it was hard to tell how far ahead they were. I kept thinking we were almost at the finish and we weren’t. We were in the sun again by this point. I felt like I couldn’t go any faster. We had less than a mile to go. I didn’t want to hold anything back at this point.

MILE 6: 7:30 pace

When I heard “7:30” my jaw dropped. I think that’s the fastest mile I’ve ever run in a race.

I finally saw the finish line up ahead, and somehow, out of somewhere, I picked up the pace even more. I really wanted to finish strong.

MILE 0.2: 7:14 pace

My watch said 48:56. I knew this would be a little off from the official results, but I hoped I’d beaten last week’s 49:21 finish.

(Spoiler alert: I had.)

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I was very sweaty

After that selfie, a man offered to take my picture. I’m glad he didn’t run away with my phone because I would have been too exhausted to chase him.

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The world’s most tired thumbs up

We got a nice medal and swag bag. I had this idea for a photo and walked to a shady patch of grass well out of the way of others so as not to fully embarrass myself. But I just couldn’t resist.

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I drank the Gatorade and ate the Powerbar right away. The Gatorade was pretty good. I was dehydrated. I never buy sports drinks, but I probably should try getting more electrolytes in during and after long runs. The Powerbar tasted like a big Tootsie Roll.

I didn’t really hang around, as I wasn’t sure what to do. I never go to races with people, which is just fine with me, but it also means that I just head home afterward. It was going to be a long trip.

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The requisite medal shot
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The trek back to the train (which for once is not the Long Island Rail Road)

I ate my pretzels on the subway ride back, which for some reason seemed to take twice as long as the ride there. I felt good about the race. I did what I set out to do: beat my last 10K time, set a new PR, and, of course, HAVE FUN!!!

Only time will tell if I can PR again at this September’s Cow Harbor 10K – a MUCH hillier course (although fewer sharp turns). My goal since last September has been to run Cow Harbor at a 7:30 pace. Based on what I did here, I feel like it might be… possible. Maybe. We’ll see.

Good to see you again, Queens.

OFFICIAL RESULTS:

  • Time: 48:54 (PR)
  • Pace: 7:53/m
  • Age Group: 45/714
  • Women: 339/5242
  • Overall: 2236/11439

Joining a Running Club: First Steps

I’d first thought of joining a running club when I was living with my mom last year. I would visit Northport Running Club’s website and wonder if I should go to a weekend meetup and just see how it went. I even met a member of the club at a race and she encouraged me to join. Part of me wanted to, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be in Northport for long. I’d be moving back to the city at some point, and I guess I didn’t want to join a group I knew I’d be leaving. Like going on a first date when you are terminally ill, I was reluctant to face the extreme emotional highs and lows, opting instead for the neutral. I was also just very busy. Either way, no one will ever write a movie about me.

So when I moved to the city, I revisited the running group idea. I’m confident I’ll be here a while. I have no plans of moving out of New York ever again; the only reason I might is if a natural disaster puts the island of Manhattan underwater, and then I suppose I’d just head to Brooklyn.

I scrolled through a list of NYC running clubs and visited a few of their websites. I focused mostly on ones I’d heard of – meaning, shirts I’d seen worn at races. I settled on three, figuring I’d go to a workout for each club and see which one I jelled with most.

Last Wednesday, I met up with the Harriers, a club/team that’s been around since 1988. That’s right, the year I had braces put on was the year they formed. I liked their vibe. I liked their shirts. I liked their website. They seemed serious about running, but there was also mention of donuts and beer. They seemed fun and unpretentious. Funpretentious?

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I had braces then

I emailed them and asked if I could show up to a workout – pretty much all the clubs encourage you to come along for a run or two before making the commitment to join. I was invited to come to any workout I wished. I saw they did speed work on Wednesday mornings at 6:30 so I bit the bullet and put it on my calendar. And once something’s on my calendar, I have to do it.

I was nervous. I thought they’d all be faster than me. Maybe I wouldn’t fit in. Maybe I’d feel too old. I don’t know. All the potentially terrible things that could happen ran through my head. Still, I knew I had to give it a try. I mean, it was on my calendar.

The meeting point was in Central Park about a 17-18 minute easy run from my apartment. Perfect, actually. A solid warm-up. The morning I set out for the workout, it started to drizzle. I had butterflies in my stomach. I felt like I was heading to freshman orientation, only everyone there already knew each other.

I found them easily, as they were the only ones standing in a small group. There were 5 or 6 of them, with more to arrive shortly. I introduced myself. They were all super nice. One of them, the coach, said that today’s session would be relatively short because of that weekend’s Queens 10K that most of them were running. I was running it, too. Maybe I’d fit in after all.

Eventually about 20 of us were there on this humid, drizzly, overcast morning. We were going to do 6 x 400s with a 400 jog in between, heading north up the park’s east end, then cutting across and eventually making our way back to the starting point. Just a few miles. Easy distance. I hoped I could keep up with the pace.

We started out, immediately breaking into a few smaller groups – the fastest one way too fast for me. I hung back, right behind the coach and another woman and in front of a group of 4-5 guys. So in the back, but not dead last. I thought there might be a warm-up (because maybe not everyone can run for 17-18 minutes beforehand) but we started out pretty fast. Like a 7:00, 7:15 pace. I asked out loud “Is this the fast or the slow?” and a couple of them chuckled and I was like “ha ha” but in my head I was like, No, I’m serious, because what do I know? Maybe this was their warm-up. If so, I was fucked.

But it was the fast pace! No warm-up. Thank god. After a quarter mile, we all slowed to about a 10:00 pace. Phew. I had done it. Now I just had to do it five more times. I slowed a bit on the uphills but overall, I kept up with them.

When we got back to the starting point we did some form drills and strides, things I never do on my own but seem incredibly helpful. We made small talk; a few of them invited me to various races they were doing, and there was mention of a party and a picnic. They were incredibly welcoming and warm to me.

At 7:25 we all spilt up to go on with our days. I jogged the 17-18 minutes back home, almost in tears because of how well it had gone. I felt great. I took a chance, and it had worked out. That’s a good feeling.

I stopped briefly at the reservoir to take a picture.

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I might not even go to another club’s workout. I really like the Harriers.

I’m excited to see where this will take my running.

Work Bitch: New York Mini 10K Race Recap

I ran a 10K this past weekend along with 8,372 other women! In Central Park! New York City! And I PR’d! This is my recap!

The NYRR New York Mini 10K was only my third ever 10K race, the other two being 1999’s Cow Harbor 10K (59:06 finish) and 2017’s Cow Harbor 10K (54:39 finish). I’ve run a lot of 6.2 mile training runs, but very few 6.2 mile races. So I was both confident and nervous, which is pretty much how I’ve gone through life.

I only signed up for it a couple of weeks ago. This coming Saturday’s Queens 10K, which I registered for two months ago, was going to be my “big” 10K race for the spring. But after moving back to NYC last month, I decided to sign up for some more NYRR races. And when I heard about the Mini, I thought, “Why can’t I run two 10Ks two weekends in a row? I can do that!” So I did that.

The Mini 10K is not a small 10K; it was named for the miniskirt. The race was founded in 1972 by running luminaries Kathrine Switzer and Nina Kuscsik. It is the oldest all-women race in the country. Runners who have competed in 15 or more Minis are nicknamed “Crazylegs” and I hope to be one of them someday.

The bib/shirt pickup was exciting in that I discovered I would be starting in Corral D for the first time. NYRR bib letters correspond to your starting corral: the closer to A, the faster you will most likely finish based on your fastest mile in a recent race. Trying to work my way down the alphabet. Getting there.

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I have to hand it to NYRR, their shirts are always stellar. They seriously make the best race shirts I’ve ever worn. Well-crafted, well-packaged, perfect fit. I’m a women’s medium, by the way. I might fit into a small? But I prefer the slightly looser fit.

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I don’t really wear race shirts for the race itself (I haven’t been wearing shirts to races at all lately) but they’re nice to have and a good enough quality to wear on training runs, which I guess is the point.

I used to not run the day before a race. I’d had some slight soreness all week from increased mileage and hadn’t run more than 4 miles at a time since Sunday (although I ran twice on Tuesday and Wednesday).

But I wanted to run the day before. The course for the race would be going clockwise around the inner loop of Central Park, and most people who run the inner loop, myself included, run it counterclockwise. I had never before run the entire loop clockwise. And I wanted to.

So I did. I ran the whole 6+ mile loop clockwise at an easy 9:16 pace – not my “long run” easy pace, but more of a general easy pace for me lately. I got a good sense of where the hills were; those hills I normally go down I now went up, and vice versa. I noted the biggest uphill at the park’s north end was actually not as steep as I thought it might be, and there seemed like there were more hills on the east side than west, although the west had one long one heading up to the northwest corner. So I kept that all in my back pocket and felt more ready for the course afterward.

RACE MORNING! I woke up at 5am, which is my standard time to wake up, no matter which day of the week it is, including weekends. I find it’s much easier to stay on schedule this way. If I’m always up at 5 and have no other wake up times to compare it to, it never feels early. It just is. I recommend this method, unless you like to party, which I do not, because I am boring.

I ate my standard breakfast of oat bran, a hot cereal I discovered because my mom bought huge bags of it while I lived with her. I always add stuff to it. It’s great. Like a more wholesome-feeling oatmeal. On weekdays, I eat this after I run. On race days, I eat this a few hours before I run.

Race morning breakfast:

  • 1 serving oat bran (40 g)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tbsp hemp seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 sliced banana
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • cinnamon

A nice 440 calories to fuel me for the next few hours.

Even though the famous advice is “nothing new on race day,” I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before a race. I read an article recently with advice from running goddess Shalane Flanagan, who said she does this as part of her pre-race routine, so I decided to follow suit.

I showered.

This, my friends, was a game changer. I felt SO GOOD after I showered and dressed. I was SO CLEAN and my legs were SO SHAVED and I smelled SO NICE. It made me feel great. Ready. Prepared. I am never not showering before a race ever again.

I decided to wear a crop top, as I wore one for the Brooklyn Half and liked it. I really like wearing less clothing for races. I honest to god think it helps me run faster. Because I wasn’t checking a bag, this meant I had to take the subway in a crop top, something I have never done before and was a bit apprehensive about. Luckily, it was a non-issue. And I only had to go a few stops.

It also helps to look tough.

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I got out at 72nd Street and walked to the park, where I jogged for 10 minutes as a warm up.

I decided to use the porta-potties as a precaution. The line was long but moved quickly. A lot of women were wearing the turquoise race tanks.

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It was cool to be in a women-only race. Not that I have any problem running with men. It’s hard to explain. The atmosphere was very relaxed, inclusive, and warm. I was walking around by myself at the time, yet didn’t feel alone.

With about 20 minutes to the start, I made my way to Corral D where we were led through a series of easy warm up exercises.

The view behind me…

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…and in front. So close to the elites… yet so far.

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I couldn’t see them, but it was exciting to hear introduced the elite women running the race: Desiree Linden, Mary Keitany, Molly Huddle, Aliphine Tuliamuk, Krista DuChene, Sarah Sellers… and many more. It was fun to feel like I was “competing” with them, even though, obviously, I was not.

Also, we were right next to this cruddy hotel. I hear it’s bad. Very tacky.

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Finally, we were off, running straight up Central Park West. It was actually really cool to see it closed off for us.

I have much more experience running 5Ks than 10Ks. I’ve pretty much gotten into my body exactly how fast to run in a 5K. I get it. I know what to do. But I kept having to remind myself this was not a 5K. I knew I couldn’t keep up my normal 5K pace for double the distance. I found it helped to repeat to myself: This is a 6-mile tempo run. This is a 6-mile tempo run. This is a 6-mile tempo run. I said this to myself over and over. I thought that calling it a tempo run would force me to hold back just enough, whereas thinking of it as a race may have made me go out too fast. Like a tempo run, I held steady at a “comfortably hard” pace for the first mile.

MILE 1: 7:53 pace

We stayed on Central Park West for the first mile and a half, then made a right turn into the park to join the inner loop’s clockwise route. I knew there was a long and steady hill before we’d hit the north corner, so I kept my pace on the conservative side. I’m not great on uphills. They’re my biggest weakness in running, and I was reminded of that this morning. But I used the old secret weapon to get me up that hill: my arms. I deliberately pumped them up and down to propel me up. I think it helped.

After the uphill, the second mile went downhill: the steepest downhill we’d encounter, which I knew because going the other direction, it’s the steepest uphill on the course. I didn’t fly down it – I don’t like to do that because I honestly think it’s dangerous – but it was a lovely relief to be going down instead of up.

MILE 2: 7:51 pace

Mile 3 started at the very top of the park, and was the start of another uphill (the one that, the day before, I realized wasn’t as bad as I thought). I decided to go for it a bit here. Four miles left, four miles left, I thought. I run four miles home all the time. I can knock this out. 

And in going up that hill, one of my favorite running songs popped up on my playlist: Britney Spears’s “Work Bitch” (aka “Work B**ch). Now, I am not what you might call a Britney Spears “fan” in the sense that I have never paid for a Britney Spears album or purchased a Britney Spears concert ticket or worn a Britney Spears article of clothing. Like, her music is fun but I know little about her.

But there’s something about this song that I love. The upbeat, driving, elegant bassline, yes. But the lyrics. The lyrics are what got me up that hill. I mouthed along with her as I pumped my arms and drove up that hill:

You better work, bitch. You better work, bitch. You better work, bitch. You better work, bitch. Now get to work, bitch.

And bitch, I did.

MILE 3: 7:45 pace

Unfortunately, all that work actually tuckered me out. There were some more slight hills in the next mile. Nothing crazy. Still, I slowed down a bit to catch my breath. Now firmly on the east side of the park, the sun was beating down on our backs. It was hot. I was very glad I’d worn a crop top, at that point pitying any woman in leggings or even a t-shirt. Sweat was dripping down my face. I wiped my eyes. Good thing I don’t wear eye makeup in races. I honestly don’t understand how some women do. I mean, look, do what you want. But the sweat? How does that work?

MILE 4: 8:05 pace

Mile 5 was mostly a blur. I knew I only had two miles to go. Two miles is nothing, I thought. I can do that standing on my head.

My plan had been to keep it steady until I was down Cat Hill on the east side, which would come at the end of mile 5. Then I was going to “let it rip” (aka go slightly faster if at all possible). For some reason, Cat Hill seemed to take a long time to get to. I kept thinking we were on it, and we weren’t. I had caught my breath from the “Work Bitch” hill and was ready to finish this thing. Two miles, 1.75 miles, 1.5 miles. I was passing people. Not everyone, but enough. I felt good that I’d kept it relatively conservative at the start. I think I’m pretty good at this. If anything, I tend to be more conservative, pace-wise, than risky. I’m forever trying to find that balance.

I ran my fastest mile of the race thus far.

MILE 5: 7:41 pace

Mile 6, the last full mile of the race, started on the end of the eastern path and wound around the southern part of the park. This was the home stretch. The big hills were over. Now it was just a matter of driving it. The crowds here were great. Very encouraging. I realized that the elite runners must have finished a while ago. I was hoping to break 50 minutes. I had a good feeling I would.

At some point, I wondered who I was competing against. Why was I trying so hard? I certainly wasn’t going to win a top 3 age group award. In a Long Island race where there were 20, 25 women in my age group? Sure, I’d probably crack the top 3. But here? No way.

Was I competing against myself? Always. But I knew I would PR. I was positive. I ran my last 10K, last September, at an 8:48 pace. I was 100% certain I would beat that. All my mile paces but one had been in the 7s. So I had the PR in the bag.

So why was I trying so hard? The best answer I could come up with was that I wanted to beat my PR by a lot. If I came in under 54 minutes, I’d beat it. But I wanted more. I wanted to come in under 50.

I ran the last mile as hard as I could.

MILE 6: 7:33 pace

The last 0.2 miles took forever. I actually slowed a bit. But I did it. I finished in 49:21. Average pace: 7:57.

I beat my 2017 Cow Harbor 10K time by 5 minutes and 18 seconds.

And I beat my 1999 Cow Harbor 10K time by 9 minutes and 45 seconds.

I’m used to only receiving medals for age group awards, so it was nice to realize I was getting one just for finishing! Here’s the very nice volunteer who handed it to me.

 

A sweaty selfie was in order.

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They were handing out pink bagels! PINK BAGELS! But they didn’t taste “pink.” I think they were cinnamon raisin.

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They were also the same color as my face.

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They also handed each woman a pink carnation, a very sweet touch.

They needed a lot of them.

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I admired my lovely medal and watched the other finishers make their way down the path a few blocks north of the finish line. I should have stretched but I just sat there, feeling good, eating my bagel and apple. Happy and proud with what I’d just done.

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I met up with my friend Kiki, who just started running only six months ago. She’s already got two half marathons under her belt, a bunch of other races, and she’s running the NYC marathon this fall. It took me literally years to be able to run just 10 miles. I really admire her.

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By the time I made it back home, I was ready to eat some more. I didn’t have much in my fridge, so I made one of those “don’t have much in my fridge” concoctions: black beans, mushrooms, eggs, and buffalo sauce. I have to say… it was really good.

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I’m looking forward to this Saturday, where I will run another 10K race, and do this all over again in a different borough.

Work, bitch.

OFFICIAL RESULTS:

  • Time: 49:21
  • Pace: 7:57/m
  • Age Group: 57/1132
  • Women & Overall: 531/8373