PR and Death at a 5k

My high school reunion is a school-wide event that happens every five years.  It includes a 5k race, which in past years I didn’t run, because I wasn’t a runner then and the idea of running 3.1 miles (or walking 3.1 miles) was a bizarre concept.  So 2010 was my year to see all my old pals AND run the reunion race.

I’ll be honest, the course sucked.  The first mile was uphill, which is something I didn’t even think was possible on the plains of the Texas panhandle.  The weather also pulled a fast one on us that day.  Instead of typical dry heat and wind, we had still hot humidity.  When we lined up at the start, I ended up near the front, so I was ahead of most of the field for most of the race.  I barely barely made it to the top of the long hill.  The only aid station was at the top before we turned off onto a section of highway, but I didn’t stop.  (I don’t typically stop for water unless I’m running 10k or further.)  I had to shuffle along a bit during that second mile to get my breath back, but what goes up must come down:  the last mile was a quick one back down to the finish, with just a slight uphill turn right at the end.

I ended up second in my age group and earned my first medal.  (I had won a plaque in a previous race, but somehow medals are cooler.)  And I PRed–ending with a time of 28:35.

First Medal

Now here’s the sad part:  a man died at the race!  After I finished, I went inside the community building that was the race staging area and got some water and fruit.  When I got back outside, there was a man laying just past the finish line and the race director was running over to him.  Luckily, there were a couple of people who knew CPR, so they began helping him breathe right away while an ambulance was called.  The ambulance arrived in just a few minutes and they continued CPR, then used a defibrillator on him and eventually took him away to the hospital.  He never re-gained consciousness.

Apparently, the man had collapsed early in the race and another runner offered to help him back to the community building.  He declined and finished, then collapsed again at the finish.  I hope he didn’t have any pain, but I wish he had stopped at his body’s first warning signs and been checked out.  I hope I would do the same.

A Year of Running in NYC

I ran the Joe Kleinerman 10k a couple of weeks ago, my ninth race of 2009, capping off my first year of running in NYC (and guaranteeing my entry into the marathon in 2010). I don’t know what other people think about when they run, but I generally think about what I would tell people about running. My geek status is probably secure by admitting that. (Or cult status, if you believe my friend Mindy.)

So during this particular race, I was thinking back to my first race post-move, which was the four-mile Run as One way back at the beginning of April. I recalled the surreal nature of lining up to race with about 7500 other runners. At that point the largest field I’d raced with was about 400 at Amarillo’s Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5k. Further, the surreal nature of lining up to race in Central Freakin’ Park was a bit overwhelming at that race. The Kleinerman 10k was the seventh race I’ve run in Central Park this year and trust me, that feeling wears off. I’d LOVE to race anywhere else at this point! But the upside is that I’ve done a fair amount of Central Park sightseeing via running and I’m pretty familiar with the lay of the land now.

Something I’ve enjoyed throughout the year is the camaraderie at the various races, the chatty fellow runners in the corrals, the friendly and helpful volunteers. I always found the runners in Amarillo to be quite snobby. I spent a couple of the six-point-two thinking about the nice people I’ve met, including the woman who yelled “I’m following you!” while I scrambled over an outcropping of rock before the race to get to the baggage area. (Thanks for being late, 6 train!) She was quite nice and we convinced one another that cabs on race mornings are probably better than public trans.

I spent most of the race just reliving other great race moments, like my first sub-30:00 5k at the Wall Street Run and my first appearance in the pink corral at the Japan Day race. (It’s the little things.) Not to mention continual PRs just from improved fitness and running on hills! (I never knew I could love hills…but I do…)

Goals met in 2009:
1) move to NYC – check
2) run two 10k races and a half marathon – check
3) guarantee entry to 2010 marathon – check

I was going to take it easy in 2010, maybe run a half and then the Marathon in November, but I made the mistake of looking at the New York Road Runners calendar. I’ll be running a five-mile race in January (a new distance for me) and a 5k in February–because it’s in Prospect Park, practically in my own backyard and far from Central Park! I also plan to run the Brooklyn half marathon for sure because you just can’t beat ending a race at Coney Island. But that’s it.

I swear.

I’m pretty sure of it.


I had an amazing and humbling opportunity recently to interview Toby Tanser. Runners will recognize the name, but if you aren’t a runner perhaps you haven’t heard of him. Toby is a former elite runner (sub 2:20 marathoner) who has competed all over the world. Currently, he is on the board of directors of the New York Road Runners (my running club) and Achilles International; he is head coach of the New York Flyers; running coach at the Fashion Institute of Technology; the author of three books: Train Hard Win Easy the Kenyan Way, The Essential Guide to Running the NYC Marathon and More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way. But that’s not all! Toby won a humanitarian award in 2008 for his efforts to bring shoes, health and peace to Africa.

Toby is the founder of Shoe4Africa, which has provided tens of thousands of shoes to children and adults in Kenya. Shoes are important because they keep the feet healthy–they prevent cuts, infections and hookworms from invading the body. How Shoe4Africa works is that runners (or anyone else) send their used running shoes to Kenya. Toby organizes races in Kenya and participants earn a pair of shoes by racing. In addition to providing shoes, Toby has worked tirelessly to promote HIV testing, the empowerment of women, and peace among the tribes in Kenya. He is now embarking on his biggest project ever and you can help!

Toby is raising $15 million to build the largest children’s hospital in Africa in Eldoret, Kenya. Every bit helps, even a $10 donation is appreciated! As you’re making your end-of-year donations and thinking of ways to give to others, consider making a donation to Shoe4Africa. In a country ravaged by violence and lack of healthcare, you could literally help save the life of a child.

Shoe4Africa Website

Shoe4Africa Facebook Group

Runner’s World Article about Toby’s Humanitarian Award

A Run on Coney Island

Today, in an effort to jump start my running again, we went down to Coney Island. Finally, there is evidence of the rumored changes that will forever affect the way the famed boardwalk looks. Arriving at the stairs near “Shoot the Freak,” we discovered that “Shoot the Freak” was shut down–along with the strip of shops and restaurants around it. In fact, about 20 feet of the boards are missing from that area, too, surrounded by chain-link fence. I assume they’re fixing the boardwalk itself there, and there are “shops for rent” signs all along that hundred feet or so.

Even two years ago when we made our first trip to Coney Island, we were continually told that it was “closing” and that all the attractions were going to be torn down and replaced with condos. According to the site I linked to above, that’s not entirely true. In 2009, there will be lots of things open and operating, including the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel and the freak show. That’s good news.

Coney Island isn’t like Disneyland. Everything is owned separately, so I can understand how there is confusion over what is still there and will remain and what will go away. Sadly, Astroland is gone. It’s a shame that such a piece of Americana will eventually be overcome by rich people living in brick boxes and other progress.

Here are some pictures in the meantime:

Anyway, Mike was there to walk and I was there to run, thinking the boards might be somewhat forgiving to a runner who hasn’t run in awhile. I took off and ran all the way to the Manhattan Beach end and back, which is about two miles. On the way I passed Brighton Beach, which is a Russian neighorhood. Pretty nearly everyone you pass there is speaking Russian. It’s pretty cool and we’d like to visit some of the delis, after seeing them on Bizarre Foods. ha ha

It was a cold day, reasonably good for running, but not so good for much else. We spent about an hour and then got on the train to go home. Planning a lot more trips to the beach this spring and summer!

How I Started Running

I mentioned the early days of my running career in a previous post, but for some reason, I’ve had a lot of people ask lately how I started running and why. So I will revisit and give more details.


I was an active child. I liked getting new sneakers because I always imagined they made me run fast. I liked to jump over the fence that separated our yard from the neighbor’s. I played soccer for many years and in middle school I trained with our track team, but I don’t think I ever actually competed.


I got it in my head that I wanted to run. I’m not sure why; I just did. The friends I mentioned this to were total naysayers. They basically told me that running was bad for people, that it damaged the body and that walking burned as many calories as running. I believed them. This conversation was repeated three or four times over about a year. I never started running.


I had gotten into the habit of walking on a treadmill at the gym, which remains a weird and disorienting activity for me. If you’ve ever walked on a treadmill at a gym, you’ve probably been surrounded by a whole bunch of people who are running on treadmills. I watched the people that surrounded me and marvelled at how fast they were going and for how long. After several months of walking, I decided to attempt running. It wasn’t a successful experiment. I ran a few seconds here and there, but instead of getting used to it and building endurance, I felt insecure on the platform and I found running on a treadmill just as boring as walking on one.

November 2007

I’d had enough with the treadmill and decided once and for all I was going to be a runner OUTSIDE. On November 1, I went to Tascosa High School and attempted to run a mile. It took forever and I discovered running outside was harder than the treadmill. I also discovered I wasn’t in very good shape, which made me sad because I thought I was. Time to regroup.

Anyone who’s known me longer than two seconds knows that once I get interested in something, I will research the hell out of it. So that’s what I did. I Googled everything I could think of about running and eventually landed at I found a beginning training plan and I was all set. I literally started out running :30 and walking 1:00. I did this for a couple of weeks, then started running 1:00 and walking 1:00. The plan added running time every few days, but I needed longer to adjust, so I was kind of going at my own pace.


I kept running 3-4 times a week, anywhere from 3-5 miles a week all the way through January. During that time I discovered the joy of running in the snow and I decided that I really preferred running in the cold than the heat. I bought my first pair of real running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline GTS 7) after a careful analysis of my own foot at the instruction of RW. I outfitted myself with two pairs of running tights and I learned to appreciate a fabric besides cotton. But toward the end of the month, Mike and I went back to Tascosa to run and I hadn’t even gone a hundred yards when I felt a pulling sensation and terrible pain.

I did the whole rest, ice, etc. but the pain didn’t get better. In fact, it got worse and it got to the point I couldn’t even walk without a lot of pain. That finally sent me to a doctor, who sent me to an orthopedic surgeon, who did x-rays to make sure I hadn’t broken my leg and then sent me to a physical therapist. Basically, the muscle pulled off the bone in my lower inside shin. It’s like shin splints times a thousand. I was given elastic bands and a set of 12 different exercises to do everyday. Yep, every single freakin’ day. It was so boring!!! But I did them (mostly) faithfully and was finally cleared to run on May 1.

During my time off, Mike and I did take a trip to Austin and we both got professionally fitted for running shoes at RunTex. That’s how I ended up with the Asics GT 2130. I have two pairs now and that’s all I run in.

Anyway, I didn’t have to start completely over, back at running :30, but I did have to backtrack and change the way I did things. I bought The Stick and started using that on my calves. I had Mike massage my shins every single day. That was a painful process, but in my opinion, it is the best way to heal shin problems because it increases blood flow and works out knots. I made it a priority to stretch my legs after every run. (Never before running!)

It didn’t take long before I was running better and stronger than ever. I ran my first 5K in July with a finish time of 35:09. At the time, that 11:19 pace (how long it takes to run a mile) was the fastest I had ever run. It amuses me now, having run a mile race at 9:07 and run miles around my neighborhood at nearly that pace. Faster times are surely ahead, although at the moment I’ve slowed a bit as my distance has increased. Fatigue, as you might imagine.

My favorite running days:

  1. The day I ran 8:00 without stopping. For some reason, that number loomed large in my initial training and I couldn’t imagine a day that I would ever be able to run that long at once.
  2. The day I ran a mile without stopping.
  3. The day I ran two miles without stopping. (That was also the first day I ever ran in the rain.)
  4. The day I ran 30:00 without stopping.
  5. Race for the Cure (my first “big” race)
  6. The day I ran a solid hour without stopping. (And didn’t notice.)

I’m hoping to have a lot more favorite running days. I would encourage anyone who doesn’t think they can run, to at least get out and try it. (Run :30, walk 1:00.) Your body is engineered to run. In other words, God made you able to do it. It’s a wonderful thing and you will feel wonderful running, even if it’s only for a little while or short distance.

If you’re worried about your joints, running is actually good, as the repetitive firm motion helps flush out and return the synovial fluid from them. Many people begin running late in life and run well into their 70s, 80s, even 90s. It’s never too late. And no matter what you’ve heard, walking does not burn as many calories as running! 🙂