Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tale of the taper.

And so it begins.

The countdown. The mental workup. The downward spiral into complete and utter anxiety. Oh yes, I'm tapering.

Now, before this summer if someone had told me I was "tapering" I would have checked my behind to make sure I hadn't tucked the toilet seat cover into my jeans before walking out of the bathroom. I am now schooled on most terms running-related and have been waiting for the taper for weeks. It's the homestretch to the big day when you give your body the physical and mental rest it needs. That means shorter Saturday runs and an overall consciousness at all times as to how your body and mind is feeling.

It also means I'm totally freaking out.

To the taper in a moment. But first, I had on Saturday what is most likely my last really long run before the marathon. It was also the last long run where we'd meet at 7am. Earlier this summer, Ramon gave us the option of meeting at 7am or 8:30am. We jumped at the earlier option, even though it sounded painful. (And for those of you who I have familiarized with my morning schedule ... dude, I'm getting up at like 5am on Saturday. What the what?!) But it felt good to be finished just when the Manhattan summer sun was starting to cook, so we considered this a luxury.

But I will miss those quiet walks from my apartment to CP. Okay, so I have to stay alert for a couple of blocks to make sure I'm not getting clubbed over the head if it's still a little dark out, but it's a small price to pay to seemingly have the city all to myself for a few precious moments. I took advantage of my 20-minute walk to show you something you don't see often in New York City:

Okay, it's a bit dark but I guess that's the point. This would be the Met on 5th Avenue. And there is not a soul in front of it. No cars anywhere down 5th ...

And one of my favorite stretches ... the tree-lined path lining the park:

And empty benches that will be crammed later ... but for now, only see the occasional pooch who is allowed to be off-leash before 7am:

Some would say it's surreal, as if there's something amiss in the city. Me? I like to think the city and I are sharing a secret before the masses stir hours later. I am seeing only the beauty of her rather than dodging pedestrians or avoiding planting my heel in doggie doo. There are no cars honking for me to get out of the way, no cyclists whizzing down the streets. I get to watch the shopkeepers turn on their lights and sweep their sidewalks and I actually smell fresh bread baking without it being masked by the stench from a garbage truck nearby. Sometimes I listen to the sounds of New York waking up and sometimes I throw a good playlist on my Ipod (oh, and if I'm doing the former rather than the latter, it's usually because of the whole clubbing over the head thing). Saturday, I thought a little Miles Davis ... from "Kind of Blue" was appropriate.

These past few months have allowed me a new appreciation for my city. I've been able to concentrate fully on how breathtaking she can be. She and I have had a great understanding for one another this summer; I'm a little heartbroken our special time together is coming to an end.

'Cause, come on, peeps ... once this marathon thing is over I am hard pressed to get my ass out of bed on a Saturday before 9.

So anyway, none of us was totally stoked for a series of loops in the park to equal our 20. Instead, TNTer Rose suggested a run over to Randall's Island, do a couple of loops and come back. I'll spare all the deets only because I left the camera at bag watch AND I mean, we finished, I'm alive, how different can that run be than the others before it?

Elkin and I were together; Babs did her run on Staten Island and Javi ... well, Javi's 23. We cannot expect him to show up for a 20-mile run on Saturday morning at 7am. (He later admitted he slept in but dutifully finished his run later that morning). But Elk and I banged out 20 miles on the button.

(And Elkin will think I am remiss for not adding why that was "on the button." When we got back to bag-watch, we were only at 19.75. My OCD was in full force and I made Elkin run another quarter mile down the hill and back to make 20 miles. Alas, the second time back only gave me 19.95, so I ran in circles around bag check until I had clocked 20 miles even. The TNTers stretching looked at me like I had five heads. I looked like a rabid dog, only minus the foaming mouth. I am not sure I will be allowed at Tuesday's practice.)

But we finished strong and Rose (who is a mentor for the Nike marathon) and I started talking about what to expect in the coming weeks as we taper.

Elkin, on the other hand:

Hee hee! I love this picture. Every week.

Well, since Elkin is doing the New York, he has a couple more weeks. He will most likely taper sometime after us.

(I had nothing significant to add about this picture. I just liked it).

But there was something palpably different when we finished on Saturday. Physically and mentally I am supposed to have peaked. At this point, 20.55 is my longest run ... and I will do no longer until marathon day. What in God's name am I supposed to do before then? A part of me is totally afraid I will spaz out (as I am wont to do) and just eat eclairs for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 3 weeks, washed down with margaritas. I'll sidle up to the corral on October 18th, 10-pounds heavier, skin full of acne and my body and psyche both in bad need of a detox.

I'm just sayin'. It could happen.

Everyone says the taper is all about taking care of your body and keeping your mental game sharp. I guess eclairs and margies aside, I'm more worried about my mental game. I was obsessing about it already after our run Saturday when we came across this leaving the park:

It's a cool 1-miler qualifying race down 5th Avenue. By the by, dude in front? Hauling. Anyhoo, I was walking with Rose and Elkin and when the rest of them started running past us:

(Cool shot, no?) we all cheered and yelled encouraging things to them. Then Rose yelled to a group of slower runners at the back, "Nice job, you guys! There are people who gave up and walked it but you're giving it everything!!"

So it makes sense. The taper isn't about giving it up and walking, it's about preparing to give it everything on the day you have to.

On Sunday, our little group took advantage of a great football lineup and got together for something other than running. (Oh yes, Ramon. This was misbehavin')

And being with my new friends, I pondered. Maybe the taper freaks me out not because I am not prepared for the event, but because I am not prepared for what comes after. This has been a life-changing experience in so many ways and perhaps I'm simply not ready for it to end.

There will never again be a first time for me. I've wandered into this with wide eyes, drinking it all in and absorbing it like a sponge. I'll never again have that pure experience, and I'm wistful.

As Babs and I were leaving the bar Sunday night to share a cab uptown, I turned to her and asked her if she would still run with me on Saturdays after our marathon was over. Of course, she responded she would. But I think we both knew it just wouldn't be the same.

For now, I'm taking every second of it in, knowing that - as my boy Frank put it so well - the best is yet to come.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Walk a mile in Mike's shoes.

Or as one random dude did ... run 13.1 of them.

In Mike's shoes.

This might be my best story yet. And it far eclipses the news of the day, which was my first half-marathon that I ran seemingly in another country (A very far-reaching part of Queens. I don't like to leave the island of Manhattan, let alone another borough that has far-reaching parts.) But being that I want you to read my entire blog, I am going to make you hear all about the race first before I get to Mike's Great Shoe Giveaway.

First of all ... Queens? Really? And not just Astoria or Flushing or other parts of Queens that I know can be reached by my old friend the MTA subway. No ... this is College Point. Miles and miles from the last stop on the 7 line. I looked on the map when we were all trying to figure out our transportation options and it may as well have been Buffalo. But Jenn, Barb, Mike and I dutifully boarded the New York Road Runner's bus at - choke - 4:30am Sunday to ensure we'd make it to the starting line on time. Mike was debating just taking the 7a flight out there but decided that in an unknown borough, there's safety in numbers.

It was cold. And dark. And we may have looked a tad homeless, being that we were all bundled in sweats sitting on park benches waiting for the sun to rise and for other TNTers to arrive:

Hey, Queens is kinda picturesque in the dark. Especially when there is a body of water surrounding it.

Okay, so dark and cold. Regardless, we were excited. Coming off our big 20+-miler the weekend before, I think we were all anxious to hit the road and see what the course looked like. We'd be racing this time, which meant a faster pace than we were doing on our long runs. But it was also significantly shorter than what we had been doing, so 13 miles seemed so beyond do-able. I was nervous; all the downhills from my Jersey run had wreaked havoc on my knees and I dialed back in the previous days, fearful that I would feel that twinge in my legs once again.

But as always, once I had all my best running buddies around me, I calmed down.

And I bid adieu to Mike, who had big plans for the morning. Once we headed over to check our bags, he was to plant himself back on one of the park benches until, the half-marathon gods willing, just before 9a to see my cheerful face and not-at-all-winded body come up on the finish.

Since I left the camera with Mike (1. I really couldn't fathom another run with not only an extra few ounces on my backside but a risk of a Gu-electronics conflict; 2. Duh! I need someone taking my picture!) I didn't take my requisite run photos. But I have something to say to our neighboring borough. Dear Queens: Widen. The. Streets. Nothing like you and 6,999 of your closest friends squeezing down a narrow avenue dodging sideview mirrors of cars that residents refused to move for one single Sunday morning.

The run was pretty residential the whole way. So while we had a few really great cheering sections as you ran through an intersection, mostly it was just Marge sluffing out in her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers holding a steaming cup of coffee to pick up the paper. Bed head and all. Looking at us like, "Did something happen? Why are all these people running in the same direction?"

Oh, and we totally saw chicks doing the Walk of Shame. Elkin thought they were girlfriends of runners, but I'm sorry. You don't wear black drapey rayon and 4-inch heels while carrying a glittery purse at 7:30 on Sunday morning. No, that would be just getting home.

Anyhoo, many many turns and lots of inclines equals a bit of a challenge. We all handled it really well though and Elkin, Barb and I came in in that order. Elkin about a minute before me, Barb about 30 seconds after him. I brought up the rear but was just happy to be bringing it in at all:

And there I go:

I was so excited to look up at the clock as I crossed the finish, knowing I had done my first half-marathon in less than 2 hours; 1:55:10 to be exact. Click below for my full stats. For all of you who thought I was really 27, consider me outed now.

Last Name

First Name












AG %
GALLI CINDY F38 4230 LEUK NEW YORK NY 2011 444 60 1:55:10 8:47 1:52:00 428 58.7 %

Although we still have to solve the mystery of why Babs' D-chip didn't register. Especially since she did such a great job of attaching it to her shoe:

So at the finish? We were pretty stoked. TNT made a great showing and Ramon told us later he was impressed with our times. Lots of PR's and even more smiling faces.

And this is when we had the biggest laugh of the day. So I call Mike and have him meet us back at bag check. He was hesitant at first, said he needed to wait for something. But I see him a few minutes later, shuffling over to us slowly. I look down at his feet and notice his shoes are untied and he looks a little skeeved out.

And he tells us his story.

Apparently after leaving us at bag check earlier, he was approached by a guy frantically asking everyone sitting on the benches what shoe size they wore. Now, being a New Yorker and not finding this terribly off-putting, Mike listened to his plight calmly while patting himself down to make sure the stranger hadn't somehow lifted his wallet. Turns out, the guy had registered for the race but in his dash out the door in the morning, had managed to leave both pairs of his running shoes behind. There he stood, flip-flop clad, desperate for a willing size-13 to get him out a jam.

The last person I would have ever expected to agree is my husband.

For those of you who know Mike, you can skip this next paragraph since you know why I write this. But for Mike newbies, here's a primer. My husband is the most generous man on the face on the planet and as long as he doesn't think you're scamming him, will rip the shirt off his back (or shoes off his feet) should you need it. But he's conflicted with the whole "I think you're scamming me" thing, which will cause an inner struggle for him from time to time.

That and he is easily icked out. If he's on the bus home and someone sneezes on the bus behind that bus, he will evacuate and walk the rest of the way. So needless to say, I was in a state of total disbelief that he responded to "Sam" ... "Sure. Have my shoes. See you when you finish." Note my disbelief:

Not only did "Sam" (if that's your real name), finish and immediately come back to a now flip-flop-clad Mike waiting at the end of the race ... the dude ran it in 1:39.

So next race? I will be wearing Mike's size-13s.

But it led us to have an interesting discussion over many beers at the Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria. (Oh, and note to my thousands of readers who plan on being in Queens at 11a on a Sunday ... you cannot drink until noon. Sucks when you finish a race at 10a and all you want is a bloody mary. Good luck with that.)

As I officially become a "runner," I realize what an odd bunch we are. Not only will we have candid discussions with one another about bodily functions and bathroom issues, but runners like Sam (and probably many others) have no qualms asking someone to lend their shoes for a couple of hours. It's a pure sport, running. And I have no doubt that those who feel great love and passion for it will do anything to ensure they don't pass up an opportunity to hit the road before them. Heart and soul don't come easy, but running shoes are a dime a dozen.

So we drank well into the day, celebrated our great run, and being that we were at a Czech beer garden, um, had Klibasa, thank you very much.

(Oh, and below? Nice sausage, Babs! Sorry, my girl is holding a ginormous hot dog in her hand. Must acknowledge.)

Me? I really enjoyed introducing Mike to my running buddies. He had been worried he wouldn't have anything in common with them or that we might digress into some secret runner's language he wouldn't be able to speak. (Once he got past our secret handshake, we were all good).

As it happens, Mike has more in common with runners than he thinks. He appreciates the challenges they take on and has great respect for anyone who is willing to ask a random stranger to strip his shoes so he can get a quick 13 miles in. Anyone else would have checked his pockets to make sure he wasn't missing anything and then promptly said no. Mike wished the guy luck when he started, congratulated him when he finished.

(He also tried to air out his Nikes before putting them back on his feet but cut the guy some slack. That's gross-ville!)

I'd like to think I would do the same. Regardless, I'm pretty convinced I could learn something from Mike's funny experience.

And if that's the case, I have big shoes to fill.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A few words about friends. And money. And friends with money.

They're good to have.

I wanted to pay tribute today to all the people who have helped me reach a pretty awesome goal. Yesterday I hit the Team In Training fundraising "minimum" for the Nike Women's Marathon. $3900. A colossal amount of money, especially in this economy. I have nothing pithy or funny to say, simply because I am humbled by the generosity of the following people:

Valerie Montellano
Paula Marcheschi
Matt DeNinno
Shelly Scannell
Bob and Michele Read
Lynette Cox
Larry Posner
Don Fair
Mateo,Joaquin,y Talia Sofia Valenzuela
Melissa Crawford
stacey guerra
Michelle Threde
kimberly rose
Len & Darlene Fleischmann
Nicole Rusin and Family
Marcia Esterman
Mom and Ken
Lynne Plotnick
Jen & Doug Jaclin
Sheila and Jerry
sandra Lee
Steve Kardian
The Halvorsens of San Ramon
Penny Halvorsen
william halvorsen
Jenna Campagna
Laurie Petterson
Leslie Ash
gina glasser clemens
Scott and Heather
Aileen Arellano
Pete, Allison & Juliet Halvorsen
Kim Dean Holderness
Lauren Mensch
Erin Connolly
Jodi Berkowitz
Alanna Stack
James Moret
Tana Prosper
Kerry Dantzig
Erin Kvistad
Michael Shapiro

For any of you who have ever had to raise money, you know it can be a tad awkward. Thank goodness for Facebook, Twitter, email and blogs, which make it OK to have zero personal interaction and remove yourself entirely from the transaction.

Okay, maybe not the best approach. But it worked.

If you didn't get a chance to donate, no worries. The "Walter Challenge" still stands. My good friend Walter thought $3900 was for wimps and refused to donate unless I upped my goal. I raised it to $5000 and the Valenzuela family gave generously. So don't disappoint Walter ... he'll track you down and make you listen to loud Honduran music.

Not really, I just found the image of that funny.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It must have been my mad bocce skills.

Because I bocce balled ...

... and the next morning, I did my first 20-miler.

20.55, to be exact.

The 20-miler had been looming in my mind since I decided to train for a marathon. It's the pinnacle of training, the last big mileage log before The Day. And, frankly, as Ramon puts it, "ees twentee freakin mi-yells!" So it was big. 20 miles big.

The night before, Barb and I joined my TNT mentor Shari and other TNTers for a pasta/carb load dinner and bocce ball at Il Vagabondo on the UES. None of us was really sure how to play bocce, but we think it was red against green and the teams tried to get their balls closest to the marker:

No offense to my Italian brethren but seriously? Bocce? Zzzzzzzzzzzz. I imagine a bunch of ancient dudes sipping espresso and swapping tales from the old country. And one game probably takes an hour. We zipped through it in about 30 seconds and we still have no idea who won. But at least we all looked cute holding up the balls for a picture:

So the next morning.

Remember last week when I was nervous? This week? Apoplectic.

I called on my marathoning friends for their best advice. Some were practical and well-grounded. Lauren encouraged me to embrace the pain. Jarrod reminded me to pay attention to my breathing and my stride. Daleen told me to drink a Coke. Some offered a "you go girl!" which is sometimes the best thing I can hear. And then there's Gina. Gina is a high school friend with whom I lost touch until the Great Communicator (um, Facebook, duh!) brought us back together last year. She's done the Nike and she's a big TNTer in California, so I've looked to her for inspiration over the past months.

Oh wise sage Gina say: "No one is going to carry your sorry ass back to the start. There is no other way to get back to your coaches except to put one foot in front of the other." (She also later added to this that I should not only be shopping at Lululemon to look cute while I run, but also to enjoy road rash should I fall, since I would look hot showing off my cuts and bruises with a slinky dress later that night.)

Before we took off, I kept telling myself that 18.5 had been a great feat and if I just got close, I'd be happy. But I have the misfortune to hang with other overachievers, so every week, it's like Elkin and Barb and I are all hopped up on testosterone and practically chest-bumping each other to up our mileage. Elkin picked up Barb and Joanne and I and we all drove to the base of the GW again on a gloomy, cloudy, drizzly ...

... and cold Saturday morning.

I have no pictures to share from the run because after my Gu-on-the-camera-lens incident last week, I figured my Canon has had it up to here with me and I would be totally pushing my luck to snap pics in the rain.

It was cold and wet and the rain had left piles of debris along the pathway. Although it was great because the park was closed off to cars and there were less cyclists to yell at us, it was like dodging landmines, which after 20 miles, zaps a lot of your energy. But I felt stronger, maybe even a little faster, possibly because of the rain.

Last weekend, we got about a quarter of the way up the hill that ends the Palisades Park path. At the top is a ranger station that marks mile 10 from our start at the base of the GW. So basically, you make it to the ranger station, you're doing 20 miles. We chugged to a clearing last weekend, huffing and puffing. We looked up the hill and chuckled, thankful that we were now turning around to go back home.

But yesterday, we had to finish that damned hill. Nearly a mile long, this baby was never-ending. And this thing was so high that when we were nearly at the ranger station, the trees were shrouded in fog. Okay, this is not San Francisco. They don't get much fog out here. Unless you're at like 10,000 feet. Which is, I believe, how high we were.

When we reached the ranger station, I nearly wept, knowing that we had a great downhill and that for some reason, the path is much easier heading back than heading in. Easier mentally, yes, but also physically. But Javier was next to me and when he saw some of the advanced TNTers running past the ranger station, he encouraged us to keep going about a quarter mile to the highway entrance around the corner. Damned Javier.

Thus the 20.55.

The turnaround was awesome. It started drizzling more and I felt totally invigorated until we hit Ramon's fueling station at mile 4. As soon as I stopped, I felt the effects of all those downhills. My knees were aching and my hip joint felt creaky. I didn't need water, I needed an oil can. But we pressed on and I inevitably hit my wall about a mile away from the base of the GW. Stupid hills.

And this is when Gina's advice became my mantra. I started yelling at myself. I may have used the p-word. But I told myself that no one else was going to get me back. That one foot in front of the other was the only way. I reminded myself who I was running for. (Not me, btw. If you don't know, that means you haven't donated, so stop reading now and go to my TNT homepage and give me money, dammit.)

And I don't think I am revealing too much to say that we all started talking to ourselves at about the same time. I heard Elkin chattering away behind me, yelling something about "state." I thought he might have been reciting the Constitution but he said later he was reminding himself to keep his mental and physical "state". It was a bit surreal; the four of us pounding along through the dark and creepy forest, the only sound being our slushy footsteps, the dropping acorns, an occasional waterfall and "STATE" and "P---Y" being yelled sporadically. It was like an M. Night Shyamalan flick with porn.

But my mantra worked like a charm. Javier and I picked up the pace on the bridge and on the other side we were jubilant, finishing 20.55 in about 3:15. And that's when "the annoying girl who always takes pictures" (I'm convinced that's how other TNTers identify me) pulled out the camera:

Get it? 20. As in miles. I thought it clever.

But I'll admit, 20 miles got me very emotional. And somewhat delirious.

(The other way around, genius).

We all lingered on the lawn a little longer than usual. We had aches and pains we hadn't had before and I think the thought of all those miles hadn't totally set in yet. And while we're on the subject of the lawn, let me explain how the meeting place thing works, since it's fairly cool. Each time we meet - Tuesdays and Saturdays - TNT mentors watch all of our bags, no matter where we run. It's a great benefit for us, but I would imagine somewhat boring for the bag watchers:

But at this location, it's a totally different ballgame. These girls had to be on high alert the whole time. You see, it's under a bridge. And for those of you non-city folk, that translates into "crime-infested, dirty junkie encampment." In fact, as we were stretching, a nice police officer (who, I'm told, checked in on our girls a couple of times as they sat there) came over to announce that we had better watch where we are laying:

Until then, we had all just been pointing out the inordinate amount of dog crap to one another, but I think Mr. Officer's words were, "there are a helluva lotta needles in this park so watch where you're sitting." So that (and then the realization that the dog crap may not have been dog crap) was enough for us to pack it up fairly quickly:

(Oh, and we were all in such a hurry at that point, Babs thinks she tossed her house keys out in that nice plastic bag she had packed to keep all her gear dry. Oops!)

Of course, no Saturday run is complete without pictures of us sweaty and posing:

And this is us with one of our kickass coaches, Sandy:

I have come to love Saturdays more than any other day in the week, not only for what I am capable of accomplishing, but for what comes after. Javier and I contemplated when we would start drinking: (This signifies five martinis at 5:00. Which could be anytime, since it's always 5:00 somewhere.)

When I limped through the door around noon, Mike had not only already ordered a huge breakfast for me, complete with french toast, bacon, eggs and fresh fruit (of which I ate, oh yes, all ...), but he had drawn a hot bubble bath for me and filled the bathroom with candles, relaxing music and my rubber duckie. That's not code for anything, it really is a little yellow rubber duckie. He looks cute in the bath.

I hobbled into my bed for the the better portion of the day, watching crappy movies and college football. Mike waited on me hand and pedicure-challenged foot. I only got up at 5:00 to mix a great pitcher of martinis for us and then broil two perfect ribeye steaks. We drank a bottle of red wine with dinner, had Junior's cheesecake for dessert and I promptly passed out on the couch in the middle of the USC-Ohio State game (Good game, crappy outcome. I will never cheer on the Trojans. You cannot make me.).

Next week, we don't have a long run. Instead, we have a half-marathon in Queens. I'm a little nervous about that one. Not the distance, but the sheer competitiveness of it. A real race.

But I'll don my Lululemon and trash-talk myself to the finish. After all, no one is going to carry my sorry ass to those 5:00 martinis.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm a really good gum chewer.

There's a guy at my gym who I see on the treadmill from time to time. Easy to spot because he juggles as he runs at a pretty good clip. Juggles. Three balls. And I think he also listens to his Ipod and reads the NY Times Digest the whole time. It's way impressive and although I try my damndest not to check other people out at the gym, I fully gawk when I see him. Dude doesn't bat an eye.

Meanwhile, I have a very set routine on the treadmill that would never be conducive to throwing three red balls in the air simultaneously. Ipod goes on the console in front of me and my earbud cord must run underneath my shirt for fear of an inch of it touching my skin as I run. Water bottle in the left holder, sweat towel in the right. If it's laundry day and I had the misfortune to wear a shirt with sleeves (total OCD), I yank those babies up to my shoulders. Oh, and during a morning run? The TV in front of me MUST be on Channel 4 (that's NBC for my non-NY friends). If I am finishing up my run by the 7:00 hour, I must see Matt and Meredith or my whole day is thrown off.

(And while we're on the subject? I am still surprised by the number of people who don't do the "point and shrug" to a TV to see if you're watching that channel before they change it. Don't even THINK about turning on "Fox and Friends" when I'm in the middle of a run. I have a body full of adrenaline and I'm not afraid to use it.)

Once my checklist is complete, I can get started. God forbid the stars are not aligned that day. One tilt of the Earth's axis and I'll find myself ass over teakettle.

Here's my point.

There are some people who can not only walk and chew gum, but can also write a full dissertation on the history of Juicyfruit as they do it. Me? Not one of those people.

I do consider myself quite the multi-tasker. When it comes to my job, for instance, I may be working on a half-dozen stories at one time. But I am also a firm believer in focusing on one thing you want to do really well ... and then killing it.

As I close in on The Day, I find myself in a very busy time at work. I love my job and consider myself fortunate to do what I do every day. I work with great people and every now and again, the stories we do make a difference in people's lives. I take great pride in immersing myself into a story and knowing every facet of it, and for nearly 15 years, my job has been one of my top priorities.

But damned if it doesn't have a little competition right now.

I have become obsessive about my TNT practices and will bounce from the office at 6:00 every Tuesday to make sure I get there on time. I've only missed a couple of Saturday long runs because of shoots, which is really unusual. I work many weekends and have no problem doing so but since I've been training, I've become intensely protective of those precious few hours I have to complete a long run.

With the exception of my wedding, I don't remember an event that has captured my attention like training for October 18th has. It's on my mind constantly. I imagine being in the corrals at the start and I fantasize about crossing the finish line. (I also obsess about what my finish line picture will look like. Do I throw my hands in the air or pump my fists? Shades on or off? What if I'm picking something out of my nose or I have a wardrobe malfunction? What if my hair looks funny?) So yeah, I go through it all. Excitement, fear, anxiety, anticipation, heartburn.

(I threw that last one in. Had salmon with hoisin sauce for dinner.)

On the one hand, I'm looking forward to October 19th, when I can once again pour myself into anything (or anyone) I've neglected these past months. But on the other hand - and it's a big hand with like nine thumbs - I am scared witless about what I am going to do.

(Much to Mike's chagrin, I will most definitely be once-again available to complain about household tasks that may or may not be completed. Sucks to be him.)

Should this little 26-mile experiment be successful, I would absolutely do it again. Maybe in another city, even. I'd do half-marathons to keep my legs fresh. I'll do races in CP, just to get the rush of the throngs. (I will not, however, do a triathlon. Not only would I drown, but those wetsuits are not body-friendly at ALL.)

The takeaway here? I better learn to juggle. Maybe not the "three balls and look at me while I finish the Friday Times crossword at the same time" juggle, but we've all got to start somewhere.

Tomorrow, I am tackling patting my head while rubbing my tummy.

Or is it rubbing my head and patting my tummy?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy.

Actually, it was just the C train at 86th Street, but I like this picture and wanted to start my latest entry with it.

You wouldn't be able to tell from the badass look on my face here, but I was nervous. Oh so nervous. This is Barb, Joanne and I as we headed uptown to start our long run on Saturday.

Oh yeah, Elkin was there as well:

And as we trekked up to the base of the George Washington Bridge, we were mostly quiet. Partly because it was 7 freaking o'clock, but partly because we were all sweating the run ahead of us. We were going for 18 miles. And although every run now is farther than we have ever gone, there seemed to be a big mental jump from 16 miles (our previous longest run) and 18. Don't ask me why, but each one of us felt it. Could also be due to getting out of our comfort zone - no CP on this run - we were actually heading into another state.

New Jersey.

To recap, I'm a California girl. I don't get this concept of running over the border into another state. If I want to run to say Oregon or Nevada, it'll take days and it pretty much means I'm on the lam and dodging cops by running through forests at night and altering my appearance in dirty gas station bathrooms.

Sorry, I just watched "The Fugitive."

But the route looked awesome. Ramon plotted us over the GW and into the Palisades Park, where we would have an out-and-back along the Hudson river. Very woodsy, very hilly. Starting over the bridge, he cautioned us that we'd have to be single-file, since the route really is a cyclist route (btw, they also hate us in Jersey). We are quite the impressive group, though. I can't imagine what we looked like to oncoming traffic:

But just a few minutes into the run, we were greeted by this:

And we knew we were in for a special run. So as Barb and Elkin and I came off the bridge:

(Elkin is taking the picture) ... we were pretty excited. The nervousness subsided and we just kind of relaxed.

Now, I feel like I need to give New Jersey props here. The entire state gets a totally bad rap. Not a native New Yorker, I never engaged in the snobbish comments city dwellers consistently make ("How do you get to Jersey? Flush twice."). Granted, I have zero desire to settle across the bridge and I would much rather live in the New York City skyline than longingly gaze at it from across the Hudson ... but I have no ill will toward Tony Soprano's home state.

But just a mile from Manhattan, we were greeted by the most beautiful state park ... peaceful, clean, quiet .... and all ours for a few short Saturday hours. I mean, look how happy we all are in these pictures:

By the way, that's Javier and Ed with us. Good group.

But notice the pathway in the park. So pretty and shaded and we chatted happily about our surroundings and how beautiful it was and nearly forgot how far we had gone. The hills were tough - like San Francisco tough - and I gave Barb a little encouragement every time we hit one ("we need this, Babs ... gotta get used to these ...") but we all chugged up them like champs. Before we knew it, we had been running for an hour and a half and we were just over 9 miles. It was time to turn back, and we all did the math quickly in our heads. We make it back and we're completing 18.5 miles.

Holy cow.

So then a bit of panic set in. I started thinking about what would happen if I suddenly stopped running. Would that count? Could I walk it in and still have bragging rights to the 18.5? Doubtful. All I knew was, we still had 8 miles of hilly road to cover before we hit the GW and the home stretch.

Ramon had parked himself at Mile 4 on the way in to give us water and snacks and when we reached him again on the way back, he was a welcome sight. He coached us all in off the hill and told us how we should be running the last few miles. In a word, faster. The five of us took off again and I think we were all in our own heads. Instead of running as one group, we pulled away from each other and I found myself somewhat solo. I sped up in anticipation of the one last hill that would take us to the base of the GW ... and home.

I would have taken pictures of that hill had I not stashed my camera in my Fuel Belt along with a sticky Gu wrapper (no garbage cans along the route and I'm not a litterbug, yo). But take my word for it, this was bigger than an SF hill. So I walked it. And I am unapologetic.

But then we saw it. That confounded bridge. (Please tell me there are Led Zeppelin fans out there). And look how freaking happy we were:

I was jubilant. With the breeze from the river on my face (could have been car exhaust but whatev) and the sun hitting my shoulders, I nearly sprinted over the bridge when I saw the cluster of trees on the other side where we had started. I couldn't hide my excitement as I closed in on the last half mile:

Just as exuberant were Barb and Elkin as they came in:

I don't think we've ever celebrated as much as we did in the moments that followed. We all got just a small taste of how finishing our marathons might feel like. 18.5 was such a huge number in our minds that I don't think any of us could quite comprehend how we actually completed it. But we did. And we did it well.

We sat on the grass for a while, contemplating how much more we'd have to do to finish 26.2. It's just a loop in CP and an additional mile, we concluded. We knock off loops like nothing these days, we laughed. We've got this.

Runner's high took on a whole new meaning on Saturday:

But for the rest of the day, we didn't need to dream about 26.2. 18.5 was absolutely sufficient. All of us updated our Facebook pages with our accomplishments and I reveled in going home and planting myself on the couch for the rest of the day. When I wanted to eat, I ate whatever I wanted. When I wanted a drink, I poured myself into a perfect martini with not a twinge of guilt.

The next long run is 20 miles. Training for a marathon, you always hear about the 20-miler. It's the last big run you do before your race and from what my running friends have told me, it's mostly mental. Just like the jump from 16 to 18 miles was incomprehensible for us, I am humbled by the thought of actually completing double-digits that begin with "2."

But for now, I'm not thinking about it. Mike and I spent the rest of the holiday weekend relaxing and catching up with our good friends Mike and Claudette ...

... and I've had to pinch myself a few times, asking myself what I did to get so lucky.

Maybe it's karma for not making fun of New Jersey.