First Cross Country Race

I like things to have official beginnings, even if they are spontaneous.  So when I was perusing the local fall race calendar and saw a listing for the Peter Rabbit Cross Country race in Prospect Park, I immediately recognized it as an official beginning–to my ultramarathon career.

Sure, there are ultramarathon road races, but the vast majority are run on trails.  I’ve never run on trails and a beginning was required, so I signed up.  It turned out to be a good thing.  The three-mile-ish race at Prospect Park was organized by the Brooklyn Road Runners Club.  It was a cozy affair, with just 50 runners lined up on a chilly December morning.  Someone yelled “GO!” and we were off, running a path marked by small red and pink flags.

The path took us over some killer hills and mostly over grass, with a couple of diversions onto dirt path.  Cheerful club volunteers were posted at the far end of the loop to clap and make sure we didn’t veer off.  The finish line was a bit haphazard, but I finished with a good time and came in 11th among the women finishers.  That was good enough for a medal!

Race Medal

It was a good beginning to my long running career.  It was challenging and fun at the same time.  I met some great people, which was a bonus.

Marathon Medal

NYC Marathon 2010 Race Report

before the race

November 7, 2010

6:00 am
I got up after an amazingly restful night (seven full hours of sleep!) and got dressed. I had laid out everything I needed over the several days before, so there was no last minute worry. It is recommended that you wear “disposable” clothing over your running gear to stay warm, so I left the apartment in an old pair of sweats, carrying my clear plastic “baggage” with a hoodie and my breakfast inside.

6:45 am
I got on the train headed for South Ferry station. Over the course of a dozen stops, eight more people boarded wearing D tags on their shoes and carrying their plastic bags. I had my Luna bar and a bottle of Gatorade on the train.

7:20 am
Arrived at South Ferry and left the subway to get on the Staten Island Ferry. Talk about a madhouse! Several thousand runners were standing, sitting, and laying around. I discovered that an earlier ferry hadn’t appeared at the appointed time, so there were people there that should have already left. Because I got stuck in a ginormous clump of people and had no choice but to move forward, I ended up on the 7:45 ferry, which was earlier than the one I was actually assigned to.

8:05 am
Arrived on Staten Island and began the mile-ish walk to the shuttle buses. This is when it became apparent how cold it was outside, particularly with the wind coming directly off the water. I wished I had brought gloves.

8:30 am
Arrived at Ft. Wadsworth, the staging area for the marathon. I was assigned to green wave three, so I walked another mile or so to the green athletes village to wait two hours until I was scheduled to start running. I visited a porta-pottie, had half a bagel with salt, had some water, turned my baggage over to the UPS workers, then watched the beginning of the race on the giant screen that was in our village.

While watching the race, I spoke to a woman who was 80ish. She was running not only her first marathon, but her first race ever! Every runner has a story.

10:15 am
The corrals for my wave opened, so we all walked toward the fenced off area at the on ramp to the Verrazano Bridge. That was where we were told to discard our disposable clothing so that it could be picked up and donated to local homeless shelters. We all took off our warm gear and stood in the cold. And believe me, it was COLD.

10:30 am
The corrals were opened and we were released to the starting line on the bridge. There are three colors per wave: blue, orange, and green. The blue and orange runners run on the top level of the bridge; the green runners are on the lower level. I was headed to the lower level.

10:40 am
After singing the national anthem and a short speech by someone, the cannon went off and it was finally time to run! The Verrazano was BRUTAL. Since I was on the lower level, it was shaded and with the high winds…wind chills were probably hovering right at freezing. My teeth chattered the first half mile at least. Oddly, the bridge went by really fast and didn’t feel steep at all. The mile one marker is halfway across and then next thing I knew, we were in Brooklyn in the delicious sunshine!

That was where the runners still wearing warm gear started shedding. (There were really nice discarded pieces of running gear along the entire course. I was so tempted to pick things up!) But that was also where we started experiencing cheering crowds.

Miles 2 – 6, Bay Ridge and Sunset Park

This was a favorite part of the race. I felt good and it’s my home turf. I run through these neighborhoods all the time, so there was familiar terrain and familiar faces. Also, these neighborhoods have the most children, so there were lots of little ones lining the route wanting to give high fives. And my sweet husband was right at mile 4 waiting to give me a kiss. There were a bunch of guys yelling “Where’s my kiss?” but I did not kiss any of them.

Miles 6 – 9, Prospect Park, Prospect Heights, and Clinton Hill

Still cruising along through fabulous Brooklyn. This is where I saw co-workers Vanessa and Donna. This was also the stretch that had some of the best fans. There were lots of marathon watch parties, with people in costumes, giant bunches of balloons, posters and banners hanging off buildings, and lots of good bands.

Miles 10 – 13, Williamsburg and Greenpoint

It was a little more subdued in Williamsburg, the home of many Hasidic Jews (who, frankly, didn’t look all that enthused to have us running through), but there were also some enthusiastic hipsters hanging around and some good bands in this stretch as well. I saw another co-worker, Patty, in Greenpoint, just before we hit the Pulaski Bridge into Queens. At the halfway point I realized I had smashed by half marathon race record by 13 minutes! That felt like an accomplisment in itself.

This was a weird stretch in one regard, though. I decided not to run with a pace group, but thought if I saw one along the course that I thought I could keep up with, I might run along with them. Well, somewhere in Williamsburg, I was passed by the 4:50 pace leaders–and they were going quite fast. I was all “Man! I’m getting passed up by the 4:50 group!” But when I looked at my Garmin at the next mile marker, it appeared I was going a lot faster than that. So I was confused. About 20 minutes later, I was passed by the 4:30 pace leaders! That made more sense, because at the half point, I was exactly on track to hit 4:40, but it still makes no sense for the 4:50 pace leaders to be that far ahead.

Miles 13 – 16, Long Island City (Queens)

I think the Pulaski Bridge was the hardest of the race. Most people say the Queensborough (59th St.) Bridge is the worst, but I thought Pulaski was terrible. Halfway across the bridge was a group of bagpipers, which was really really cool and they helped get me over the hump. On the other end was a man with a bullhorn yelling “Welcome to Queens.” That made getting off the bridge that much sweeter. In Queens it felt like we were turning and turning and turning, but finally we were at the Queensborough Bridge. (Mike and Tommy Tom Tom were there and yelling at me, but I didn’t see them.) This is considered a pinnacle point in the marathon and this was where I started having trouble with my hip. I stopped halfway across to re-tie my shoe and I did a little stretching, but it didn’t help. Right at the bottom on the other side I started having shooting pains.

Miles 16 – 19.5, Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem

Needless to say, this was a painful part of the race for me. As you come off the bridge, you make a left onto 1st Avenue. Everyone always talks about the “wall of sound” that hits you at this point in the race, but I personally thought Brooklyn was more enthusiastic. In the 80s, there were A LOT of bars having watch parties, so there were people 10 and 12 deep and quite boisterous, but I was in too much pain to enjoy it. Thankfully, my hip settled into a dull ache by the time we got to the Willis Avenue Bridge.

Miles 19.5 – 21, The Bronx

Not much time is spent in this borough, but I found the people there to be particularly insistent that I keep going. lol The fans there were quite loud and it felt like every single runner was singled out for cheering purposes. I felt pretty good and as I crossed the 20-mile mark and moved into uncharted running territory, I started being less concerned about hitting the wall and more confident about finishing.

Miles 21 – 23, Harlem

Except for the sun in my eyes, Harlem was one of my favorite parts of the race. There were amazing spectators here and really good music. However, it was the transition from Harlem to 5th Ave. that was also the transition from Norma feeling pretty good to Norma feeling pretty bad.

Miles 24 – 26.2, Central Park

As we came down 5th Ave., the crowds were all out in the street, so we had about eight feet to run in, which sucked. There were a lot of people walking by this point, so it was all about dodging other runners, which caused the hip to act up again. I had to walk myself for about two blocks and then stop and attempt to stretch again. Both my hips were tight and my hamstrings were on FIRE. But I managed to make it into the park and I skipped the last water station in an effort to get to the finish as quickly as possible. (This was where I tore my name off my shirt because I was tired of hearing it. lol) Amazingly enough, as soon as I hit mile 25 I had a second or third or fourth wind and literally flew down Central Park South. I felt like a million bucks and it was my fastest mile of the whole race! I felt like I could run forever, but luckily I didn’t have to. Turned at Columbus circle and the finish line was just .4 of a mile ahead. It felt so good to run through the arches and high five the volunteers there!

I didn’t cry, in case anyone was wondering. I just felt awesome. Unfortunately, finishing the NYC Marathon isn’t the end of the NYC Marathon. There’s the mile-long march of death at the end, as you pick up your medal, your silver blanket thing, your food bag, then locate your UPS truck to pick up your baggage. I don’t suppose there’s an easier way to do it, but you seriously want to die by the end of it. And it’s cold. And it’s getting dark because of the time change. And there are eleventy billion family members for every other runner when you finally get out of the park. And there are eleventy billion tourists when you try to get on the train to go home. 🙂

After the Race, Final Thoughts

Well, they say if it was easy, everyone would do it. But when you’re one of 44,000+ runners, it does sometimes seem everyone actually is doing it. 🙂 Seriously, you will never feel closer to being a rock star as you will running NYC. Since my name was on my shirt, I heard “NORMA” shouted from all directions all the time. The crowd support overall is amazing and proves once again that New Yorkers are some of the best people in the world. It also proves that our city loves to PARTY. lol I especially appreciate the people along the course handing out paper towels and tissues. Also, thanks to the woman on 1st Ave. who had the oranges. That was a big pick-me-up after getting used to eating apples on my long runs.

Item most missed: lip balm!

I found the first half really easy, truth be told. 13.1 miles is a fun distance for me now and I’m looking forward to running a couple of halfs next year. I’m planning on running at least one more marathon next year and I’m hoping to run NYC again–I’m already in the lottery! But if I don’t get in next time, I’ll be out on the course again, cheering everyone else. Because that’s fun, too!!!

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