Friday, April 4, 2014

Finding Meaning in 22 Miles

Last weekend I went home to complete my final crazy long run with the Dana-Farber team.

I didn't know what to expect from this run other than that it would be 20-22 miles and on the marathon course. Team members who live in New York assured me that this was a run not to be missed, so I took their word for it and decided to give it a try.

I stayed overnight with college friends and appropriately carbo-loaded with them. My friends are really supportive and willing to participate without much coercion in the pasta-eating portion of marathon prep, I've noticed. 



One of my new DFMC friends -- Betty -- and her boyfriend Andrew picked me up in the morning and drove me to the meeting area at the Boston College gym. (DF team members become like family so quickly!) There, we could use the locker room bathrooms, prep for the run, and mingle with some other fellow runners before we started our little jog.

Me and Cassie -- another kick-ass New York DFMC runner!

If you are training for a marathon, about three weeks prior you will have your dreaded long run of 20-22 miles on the schedule. If training in any city, you can tell who else is doing this run. In New York you can see the determined look as they run by you on the West Side, or the limping fatigue through Central Park. They're with friends, or solo, or sometimes with one of the charities like Team For Kids or Team in Training. They're all over Manhattan and the bridges and the boroughs, and you come across them and you know...they're doing it too.

Last weekend was that weekend for all those prepping for Boston. And turns out it's a very, very different experience.

Before we set out on that crisp, running-perfect morning, the team made some announcements and awarded recognition to those -- like myself -- that had achieved certain fundraising milestones. 

Then a woman spoke. Her son Matty had been treated for cancer and passed away several years ago. She told her story and explained the importance of remembering her son, but also thinking of those -- like the siblings of children who are treated for cancer -- that need support too. She asked that we run and remember, as a team. 

Up next was a guy who was running for his friend. She has breast cancer, and it has spread to the brain. She is 31 years old. He asked that we sign a banner for her to show our support for her. As a team. 

I could barely hold back the tears. THIS is why we donate. This is why we ask our friends and family. This is why we run. We are doing something important here by trying to raise $5 million in 2014 to make the lives of people better. I know that this act of giving back is -- quite possibly -- the most meaningful thing I've personally ever done.

And, just as I write with tears now, I started running with tears in my eyes. We were off.

D-F had fueling stations for us spread out every 2 miles or so for our run, so we'd hit each station twice (if we wanted to). Stations were amazing. Volunteers had water, different Gatorades, preztels, candy...it was a bonanza of fueling fun!

But it wasn't just us out there. Dana-Farber is the largest charity for Boston at about 700 runners. But it is by no means the only charity. There are thousands of charity runners collectively raising millions of dollars for amazing causes. It is the only way in to Boston if you can't quality for a really fast time. A lot of charity runners didn't finish last year, because it was us slow-pokes who would have finished after that infamous 4:09:43 on the clock last year. (Check out this wonderful ESPN article for a great write-up on unfinished business for charity runners). This year, charity runners like my friends Meghan (Samaritans) and Ashley (Boston Medical Center) as well as those with my D-F team will get a chance to go at it again. They'll finish what they started.

All the other charities too had tables set up, with volunteers manning the stations and cheering us on! I learned that some small charities started at the beginning (a very good place to start) and ran to Mile 20-ish. Others began around course Mile 6 and ran to the Finish. Because Dana-Farber started at BC (~Mile 20), ran backwards along the course to Mile 9 or so, and then turned around to run back. If you did the full out and back without turning early, you'd therefore complete 22 miles. And we were running head on into fellow runners coming our way at first. Head on into charity runners like the indestructible Meghan and the unstoppable Ashley, both of whom I saw as we each conquered the hills of the course in our separate directions, 

Running stores and even major companies like Saucony got in on the fun and had set up fueling stations for us runners.


A hysterical poster from inside of a Saucony-sponsored port-o-potty. After needing an emergency stop on the way back at Mile 14, they will have some brand loyalty from me FOR LIFE


What got me most, however, were the random people who were there cheering. People! Cheering a training run! It was insane. There were several cars pulled over that had even set up their own make-shift fueling stations and were offering free food and beverages to runners. And there were families with kids holding out fruit. They were smiling, and they were cheering, and they were supporting our every step.

It was amazing. The energy was contagious. It was like nothing I've ever experienced. Put it this way: if Saturday had been the main event? It would have been enough. It was that good. I can't even fathom what race-day will be like. 

What I'm doing here is so much more than "just" another marathon.

I know that this is a special year and it's bound to be more than "normal." But there is just something about Boston any year. About running The Boston Marathon. 



It's difficult to put in words what last Saturday did for me and meant to me. Raising money for Dana-Farber. Running the premiere, most distinguished, and most famous marathon in the world. Joining in with my home city as it shows strength, dignity, courage, and the willingness to overcome. Its's like being there on that course with my team finally allowed it to sink in. The emotion I have felt since Saturday sometimes just swells and I have trouble holding it back.

Even on, like, crowded subway cars. Or in line waiting for a salad. Awkward.

I'm glad our 22-miler run -- which I finished without any issue -- did not allow me to practice crossing that now infamous finish line in Boston. Because I've never been so glad to participate in anything as passionately and fully as I am to be running this marathon for this charity in its 25th year of running. And I know that Monday, April 21st is going to be one of the best days of my life. I'll cross the finish then, and I'll know that every glorious, hard, painful, beautiful step will have been worth it. 

We run Boston in 17 days. Together with the support of over 100 donors, we have already raised $10,200. Join me on behalf of Matty and of the 31-year old patient. On behalf of my Dad who -- healthy -- drove an hour to pick me up from my run and drive me back home. On behalf if the loved ones in your life. We run to fight cancer. And we run Boston Strong.








Tuesday, March 25, 2014

That Time I Ran Alone...For Over 3 Hours.

I woke up on Sunday morning with the second-to-last of my loooong long runs for Boston Marathon training facing me. I had figured out a group that I could try to join in with for "8-13 miles" (such a big difference between those things!) and woke up with plenty of time to get to the West Side and join them.

But then I realized something.


Ok, fine. Not entirely accurate in the macro sense. But that morning I was not in the mood for pleasantries and get-to-know-yous. I wasn't in the mood to smile when I felt like having neutral-face. I wasn't in the mood to be around anyone but myself.

And so, I set off to conquer 19 miles on my own. As someone who has never gone more than 16 solo (and that was rough!) it was a bit of a daunting task.

I programmed in about 3 hours of NPR podcasts and reports onto my iPhone and, now appropriately nerded out, began my little journey around the isle of Manhattan.


To break up the time and have a "task at hand" (other than, you know, the running), I decided to observe my surroundings as much as I could. I captured some of my favorite sights from my jaunt which began at my apartment on the Upper East Side.

I ran down 1st Avenue and then cut over to the water in the 30s.

East River park, looking north

I ran south along the east side of the island and then ran across the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn.

I kind of love how grimy and non-touristy this bridge it.

East River

The Manhattan Bridge path. Very few people see this view of this well-traveled bridge.

And battled the brisk (still winter-feeling) air back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Approaching the bridge. 
Looking back



 Back on the Island, I headed over to the South Street Seaport.



And continued to make my way down south, around the tip of Manhattan, and up the west side.




Colgate clock in Jersey City

I entered Central Park at Columbus Circle.


And finished my last 1.5 miles comfortably, alone, in Central Park.



19 miles ending on Cat Hill? Don't mind if I do.... 

The run was tough, but not as tough as I expected it to be. Between NPR, the scenery, and all the crazy thoughts that ran through my head, I truly never bored. There's a lot that can go on in this little brain of mine when left to its own devices -- it's actually quite terrifying. To be honest, at some point I may have figured out how to work through tough issues such as nuclear fusion or the Middle East Crisis or during my 3+ hours of solo MeriG thinking time. But who can remember these details now.

I did want to stop around mile 13 when I was just "not feeling it." So I actually did for a few minutes. I stopped. I breathed. I took a sip. And then I said to myself, do you really want to spend $30 on a cab home at this point? And the answer was a decided no. Might as well just run there.



During this lonesome run I only had to worry about myself (my favorite motto). When I was thirsty? I drank. Cramping or sore? Didn't hesitate to stop and stretch. When I had to use a restroom? I did so. Running with a group has its perks for sure. But running at your own pace without having to worry or accommodate anyone else? Well that certainly has its own Pro list as well.

Forrest Gump: When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went. Elderly Southern Woman on Park Bench: And so, you just ran? Forrest Gump: Yeah. 

Boston Marathon training has been a series of firsts and superlatives for me. Longest treadmill run. Coldest run. First run with a new group. And this longest solo run means as much to me as those if not more. This was all me, and it felt great to know that I could do it.

To quote the poet Jason DeRulo:


I then got the greatest surprise when I arrived home and found out that I had officially reached my $10,000 fundraising goal for Dana-Farber. It was an amazing moment, full of complete shock, awe and gratitude. More on this later.

Screen shot!

Only Archie remained unimpressed.


* * * * * * * * * *

I am running the Boston Marathon in 26 days with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge! I have raised an astounding $10,050 towards my goal of $10,000+! Find our more or donate here: http://www.runDFMC.org/2014/merig


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Race Recap: NYC Half Marathon 2014 -- Lucky 13!

Last Sunday I completed my 13th half marathon right here in New York City. This is my third year running this race which I completed in the freezing cold in 2013 and with my parents spectating in 2012 right before my Dad was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. 

It's always a fun race but, like, all NYRR events lately, it's mucho expensivo. At something like $120, I may have to start evaluating if my wallet can continue to handle these races! (Answer post-analysis: No, no my wallet can not continue to handle these races).

It is the price you pay, I suppose, for running these world class events. Evidently over 20,000 of my fellow runners completed this race, which is truly insane when you think about it. That's like... a town. All running a Half Marathon. Or something.

People fly in from all over the world to run races such as these and I've gotten to thinking that perhaps I just shouldn't feel the pressure to always run them just because I live, you know, right here. I'm thinking that I may want to start focusing on smaller [read: cheaper] races. And I may want to focus on more races outside of the Tri-State area.

But then I get coerced into [read: just asked once] to run a Half I know I love, and it's all over. (P.S. Look for my 5th Brooklyn Half this coming May...)




Anyways.

Here's how things went down. I woke up on Sunday morning at 5:15 am to get dressed and prep. I want to complain but, to be honest, I have written way too many of these posts where I did this TO MYSELF so really....just....yeah.

I checked the weather hoping that the 30 degree plus wind prediction forecast had changed. Indeed it had. It was now 25 degrees. Ugh.

Along with many other crazy wayward zombies runners, I made my way over to Central Park South to check my coat and some items for after the race.

It was cold. It was dark. And I was angry. I took a selfie of myself to exhibit my emotions:



...and then upon review realized something...




Yep, we are starting to look alike. It's amazing. I'm going to give you a moment to let that sink in. And then another moment for you to collect yourself.

.....
.....
.....

We good? Good. Let's continue.

The baggage check area was a little bit of a hot mess. But then again, so am I, so who am I to judge? 



By 7 am I had to peel myself away from my puffy coat and make my way through security. I thought I had plenty of time before my 7:45 start, but security was out of control and took me nearly 30 minutes to get through.

In this day and age -- given what happened last year in Boston -- it makes sense and I'm not going to argue it. It is what it is. I suppose to run these big, world-class events, it's a reality that we are just going to have to live with. But for those of you thinking of running a big race? Leave yourself time. And bring hand warmers (mine may have saved my life!)

Through the annoyance of security, sunrise in Central Park is always a happy thing.

Wave 1 began at 7:30 and then fifteen minutes later my Wave started. The course began at 72nd Street on the East side of the park and ran counter-clockwise around the park to start (including a brief detour at Central Park North). 

Just past Mile 4, I had a little cheering squad waiting for me including Silvia, Rachel, Nicole and -- #1 Fan -- Betsy. 

I took a blurry photo of them while I was runnin'! TALENT.


Remember...#1 fan is a tier, not a person.



The course exited the south of the park around mile 6 and started my favorite stretch of almost any run. Ever. 

They shut down Times Square...and you run through it! THROUGH TIMES SQUARE!


This -- by the way -- is the only acceptable time for a New York-er to enjoy this hellhole of a neighborhood.


Me enjoying Times Square. Running Selfie!!!!

The race then took a right on 42nd Street and ran to the West Side Highway. We turned left, and then ran South to finish near the tip of Manhattan.

I finished in 1:58:27. My 2nd best time ever and my 3rd time at sub-2:00.

Check out my hot splits

What was most astounding -- and pleasing -- about this time is that I am smack dab in the middle of marathon training mode. I'm sore. I'm tired. And I certainly haven't tapered. I am in shape, but this was not the main event. And, to me? That's pretty amazing.

Now, what Run, MeriG. Run race recap would be complete without the obligatory "try to pose for the professional photos" photos? A boring recap, that's what. So without further ado:

Peace signs in Time Square

Getting ready to blow a kiss.

Blowin' that kiss in an oh so sexy manner.

A little excited in Central Park

Pushing it to the finish. I don't PLAY.

My 13th Half was a great experience, and one I highly recommend for any runner -- be you advanced or looking for your first Half. The crowds are wonderful. It's relatively flat. The scenery couldn't be better. And the energy of 20,000 other runners propels you. 





Now? The fun just begins. In exactly a month from tomorrow I'll be at the starting line of Boston. Between now and then I have two more long (looooooong runs) and then what I've decided will be a delicious taper. And my fundraising for Dana-Farber? Well that has been nothing short of amazing

With the support of my amazing donors and after this NYC Half experience, I feel confident, I feel calm, I feel strong, and I feel ready to tackle the world. In short? I've never felt better.

* * * * * * * * * *

I am running the Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge! I have raised an astounding $9,325 towards my goal of $10,000+! Find our more or donate here: http://www.runDFMC.org/2014/merig

Friday, March 7, 2014

Race Recap: Hyannis Half Marathon

On February 23rd, I completed my 12th official half marathon about a half an hour away from home in Hyannis, Mass. I had heard about this race for years, but always thought: "A February Half Marathon on Cape Cod sounds like a terrible idea." And I'm sure in other years, it really and truly is (except for the crazies!)

This year, though, I was training for Boston. And I like to add Halfs into my training plan to keep things broken up and so I don't have to carry water for long runs (I like a good fuel station!) Since this race was so close to my parents, I also would get a good combo visit.  Little did I know when I signed up for this several months ago that this would be, in fact, my warmest run of the training season. At about 45 degrees, I felt downright warm at points. It was great.

My friend Meghan slept over my parents' the night before, and then my #1 fan club drove us to Hyannis in the morning to pick up our bibs, see the cute little expo they had going on, and get ready to start.

My parents had never been to a pre-race bib pick up / expo situation. At first I don't think they understood why I was getting so excited at the Bondi Band station. 

Parent: "Um...Don't you have, like, a dozen of those already?" 
Me: "YES BUT I NEED MORE."  
Parent: "Now?  
Me: "NOW."

But then they got really into it.

Perusing the goods

"Run like an animal"

"I Run So I Can Drink"

I purchased myself a new goodie to add into the rotation and which I wore for the race. It was just so damn hot out at 45 degrees...I didn't need my winter hat so I needed some fun headgear!
Truth

At the expo I also got a first in-person glance at the 2014 Boston Marathon jackets that everyone has been hating on so much. I mean, I do see their point. It does, in fact, look like a traffic cone.

Is it a bit...much? Yes. Will it make me look like I'm directing traffic at a sporting event? Yes. But will I never get shot if running in the woods? YES. 

Looks like I have an $120 purchase to make come April. I have no choice, because I don't want to go the way of Bambi's mom.

Some more pre-start pics:
Meg and I 

My Mom takes her role as race Sherpa very seriously

Love this picture....no idea what we are cracking up about

The course as a whole was really great. The beginning was probably too tight for the ~4,500 people (4,000 Half-Marathoners, 400 Marathoners and 100 Marathon Relay participants) and I found myself running much slower than I wanted and weaving a lot. Since this was a training run for me, I didn't care...but would have probably been annoyed if I was attempting a PR.

But the rest of the course more than made up for these minor misfortunes.

Some parts were residential, but just so "Cape Cod"-y cute!

There was one area -- once the field had long thinned out around miles 10-11 or so -- that we had to go nearly single-file on a main road. It was a bit unfortunate, but no big deal.



But mostly it was just downright gorgeous. It was iconic Cape Cod through and through.



Run, Meg, Run!


My parents, as always, had mapped out the course and were ready to cheer us on. We saw them around miles 3, 6 and 11 and my Dad had the camera ready to capture the magic.

I love my #1 Fans!

Hiiiiiiiii!

Here is a video of me handing Meghan and my sweaty clothes to my mother that my Dad chose to capture. I've decided to share with you for no good reason except you've read this far, so it may amuse you:

video


It was such a pleasure running with Meghan the whole time. We have known each other since Sophomore year in college and it's been wonderful having this common hobby with her. She's also running the Boston Marathon for a wonderful group called the Samaritans, a non-profit that works for suicide awareness and prevention.. Meghan was one of the people who -- after running 25.7 miles -- was unable to finish the race last year. I'm so happy that she was safe and so proud that she has decided to run again. 

Neither of us were runners in college, so as we were running we kept saying things like, "If you had told me 10 years ago we would be running a Half Marathon together...I would have thrown up on you." or "Since when do we run marathons?! What is happening!?" Although she and I are both Marathoners, this whole being a "runner" thing still doesn't fully process for either of us.

Of course, I made Meg get foolish with me for the race photographers for posterity's sake. It was a new experience for her to make a complete ass of herself on the course, and I think she was doing it only to pacify me. Making funny faces and gestures at photographers is half the racing fun for me!

Thumbs up.

We finished in just over 2 hours and 2 minutes. A fantastic time for me and a PR FOR HER! I was so happy to be a part of her PR experience, and it was a pleasure running with her. So often with running friends you can feel like you are running too for someone or that you're holding your running buddy back. It's my experience that for the most part if someone wants to run in a pair or a group, that person won't care if the other is slightly slower than them. But I do think that it's always a bit uncomfortable for the runner who perceives themselves to be the slower one. You never want to feel like you ruined someone else's run, despite how ridiculous it might seem.

Weirdly -- and wonderfully -- Meghan and I were truly right on target with each other. I wish we lived closer so we could run together more often, but I guess we'll just have to make the most of our visits.

And make her sign up for more races with me.


I loved the race medal at the end. Super adorable.


Overall, it was a great race and one I would absolutely recommend for anyone in the area, anyone looking for a great winter Half, and particularly anyone training for Boston. Maybe go crazy and do the Full! Or find three friends and do the Marathon Relay. The people doing that seemed to be having a great ol' time.

Like all good running events, the race was followed by a large, delicious brunch with my parents, my sister and her fiance. All-in-all it was the recipe for a perfect day: Family + friends + good run + sea air + eggs and corn beef hash = One happy MeriG.

* * * * * * * * * *

I am running the Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge! I have raised $8,358 towards my goal of $10,000! Find our more or donate here: http://www.runDFMC.org/2014/merig