Post NYC Marathon 2009 Reflections

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Me and my extended family post raceI have not actually met Suman face to face but I am very confident that I will in the near future.  We were introduced virtually by Sanjay Singh who knew we were both running the New York City Marathon.  Suman and I emailed sporadically leading up to the race and after the marathon, Suman suggested that I blog about my experience, specifically my next adventure which is the Boston Marathon on April 19, 2010.  I was hesitant, but am going to try blogging about my running and hope it is at least sort of interesting. 🙂

I have trained for 7 marathons and completed 5 having to withdraw from two races due to a stress fracture in my right femur.  Yes, it took me two fractures in the same place to train in a manner that works for me without suffering from overuse injuries.  Before I ever ran a marathon, I knew I wanted to run New York and I entered the lottery 3 years in a row without getting a number; therefore, I was an automatic for the 2009 race.  I signed up on Saturday, March 14 after having 2 PRs in the half marathon at Mercedes in Birmingham and in Seaside, FL.  The day was also significant because it was the day after my almost 3 year relationship ended.

With a heavy heart and still going through physical therapy for my stress fracture, I set November 1st as a goal to simply finish the marathon.  Every day, I made a plan to meet friends to run and I got up, made my bed and headed out to meet up at 5:30 AM with the girls who not only pulled me through the miles, but helped to heal my broken heart.  I am definitely not going to bore everyone with the details, but over the course of my training, I switched jobs within CTS and moved twice.  I also traveled extensively and the night before the marathon, I made a list which showed I had run in 13 cities in 7 states in 3 countries on 2 continents to arrive at 1 race.  That in and of itself was a marathon!!

My training went very well but I could only run 4 days a week.  I focused intensely on training at my race pace especially during long runs verses following the more traditional school of thought that you pace your longs runs at 30 seconds to a full minute slower than your goal pace.  In order to qualify for Boston, I needed a 3:40:59 which is an 8:23 minute mile pace.  I was totally obsessed with those two numbers.  My last long run was 21 miles and I ran it at an 8:25 minute mile pace.  I was so very pleased . . . I knew that I could run at Boston qualifying pace.  The only question was would I be able to do that pace across bridges through Manhattan into Central Park and with 43,000 plus other runners.

My NYC weekend had one other glitch thrown into it 7 weeks out . . . my parents were supposed to travel with me and we were going to stay in the city.  My mom, a colon cancer survivor, was told that her cancer was back and she needed extensive surgery to remove the new tumor two weeks prior to the race.  Mom and Dad would be following online and I was going to travel alone . . . until my super awesome cousin, Carol, offered to host me at her house an hour outside the city in Old Greenwich, CT. With plans readjusted, I flew to New York on Friday, October 30th, picked up my race packet and took the train to Old Greenwich.  I had cheerleaders the minute I walked in the door with Lilly, Grace and Claire (Carol’s daughters) and lots of great artwork to take home with my finisher’s medal. 

Saturday was filled with resting, hydrating, eating, and the arts and craft project du jour of making a shirt with my name on it in big pink letters, essential for crowd support.  Of course, it was also Halloween so after a dinner of my Grandma Lil’s spaghetti and meatballs, we went trick-or-treating.  To wind down the evening and to help me relax, I enjoyed a glass of wine while handing out candy to the last brave trick-or-treaters out in the cool drizzle.  The cool drizzle was a bit upsetting but I was most concerned about being hungry with the race not starting until almost 10 AM.

November 1st!  Marathon day!! 6 months of training!!  I almost overslept.  No pre-race jitters for this girl.  Carol fed me an English muffin with egg and cheese and my biggest regret was not eating two of those tasty breakfast sandwiches.  She had arranged for me to ride with a group straight to the Staten Island Ferry and the logistical dance began all the while with me thinking how great I felt, how the temperature was perfect and how I just knew it was a great day to run.  All days are great days to run though, right?  Once in my corral, I met a great girl named Paige whose father is battling colon cancer as well and we had a wonderful discussion pre-race that took our minds of the big event.

Then the National Anthem, the start, the playing of Frank Sinatra’s New York New York and there I was three minutes after the gun, running across the Varrezano Bridge.  I could not believe the sheer volume of people but I spotted a girl in front of me with an Emory Healthcare shirt with a good pace.  I introduced myself and we set off at a pace that at the 5K mark had me in a panic.  There is no way I could run sub 8 minute miles for an entire marathon.  I had trained well but that was really fast.  Yet, as the miles flew by (literally) I held that pace and was feeling great as we came into Mahattan at mile 16.  I knew to look for Carol, her husband Joe and the girls between mile 18 and 19 and there they were cheering me on and I was feeling amazing!

At mile 20, I was ecstatic that there was only a 10K left, but my running partner told me she was starting to fade.  I had yet to break pace and knew I was well on track for Boston but I did not want to slow down.  Between 21 and 22, I lost my running partner and feel terrible that I do not remember her name as she lives in Atlanta, was overcoming a stress fracture in her pelvis and would make a great training partner.  Then at almost mile 23, as I was running up what felt like a mountain back to Central Park, I started to fade.  If I hit a wall, this was it, but there right past the mile 23 mark, I saw my family cheering loudly and enthusiastically for me and I knew I had to pick up the pace.  I hit mile 24 and the course leveled out and when I stepped over the curb into Central Park, I knew that I was so close and started to pick up the pace with an energy that surprised me.  It might have been the Twizzlers I ate on the course or it was just the simple desire to finish.  At any rate, I ran through the crowds, saw the finish line and with a last burst of speed, crossed the finish line at 3:29:08, a full 11 minutes faster than the qualifying time for Boston and 17 minutes faster than my previous fastest marathon.  I was in shock at my 7:59 minute mile pace and definitely experiencing the runner’s high, especially when I heard it announced that the actor, Edward Norton, was crossing the finish line almost 20 minutes after me! 

The rest of the day was a lot of walking, hugging, answering phone calls, text messages and emails, eating, resting and finally showering to lay on the couch and watch the World Series before flying back to Atlanta on Monday morning.  Of true significance is that the moment I arrived back home in Atlanta, I registered for the Boston Marathon.  As Suman put it, I have “graduated from running school.”  I absolutely feel that way and realized how important running Boston is not just to me, but all the people who have run a mile with me or followed a race online.  Of special significance is how much running Boston means to my mom who told her oncologist that she is coming to see me run in the Boston Marathon no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  If that is not inspiration to keep running and to keep running healthy, then I do not know what is . . . if Mom can handle chemo, I can put in the required miles.

There is my story in a much more abbreviated version than I thought possible (and I still used a ton of words!).  I am happy to have written everything down and hope that you will join me on my journey as I train for and run Boston in April.  I received my official acceptance from the Boston Athletic Assocation last weekend and it struck me once again what a great accomplishment qualifying for this race is in the running world.  I am delighted to share! 

Happy running everyone.

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4 thoughts on “Post NYC Marathon 2009 Reflections

  1. Cara, congratulations on a truly inspirational race. I am a friend of Suman’s and run with him often here in Birmingham. I know he is both proud and very envious of your preformance. Good luck in Boston I words can’t describe how great it is (I’ve done it 5 times). Again, congratulations and I’ll be praying for your mom and her marathon

  2. Cara,

    Congratulations!!! Yes, you have “graduated from the running school.”

    Like Coach AL put it – “Truly Inspirational”. As a runner I could feel pain and joy you went through to get to the Boston Marathon.

    Please post more about “Road to Boston” experience.

    Good Luck!!

    Suman

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