In just a few days, I’ll be staring at the starting line of the Walt Disney World Marathon on January 13, 2013. It will be my sixth marathon and the first I’m not running for a personal best. This one is just for fun, and I don’t care how long it takes me. I’m going to wear a costume, take pictures with Disney characters and enjoy a course that runs through four theme parks, a race track and a baseball diamond.
To honor the occasion, I thought I’d take a look back at my second marathon, which was the exact opposite. At the 2008 ING New York City Marathon, I set out to shatter my one and only marathon time—clocked on the same course just a year before—by an hour. It would be a huge marathon PR.
This race report was first published on TheSportsBank.net in November 2008, but I thought I’d finally put it up here at RunKarlaRun.com too. After all, it was my first true marathon PR.
I also happen to be in an ’80s cover band called The Fades. This month marks the 5th anniversary of our first show. We’re all—save one—marathoners. In fact, I’m the slowest of the bunch. This post was inspired by them. Rock on, Fades!
Marathon Redux, ’80s Music Edition
I did it. I ran the ING New York City Marathon. Again. And by ran, I mean ran. The whole blessed thing. Who knew all it would take was zealous devotion to a few ‘80s songs?
After battling a bone tumor that prevented me from running for 12 years, I entered the 2007 race as a newbie runner and virgin marathoner. I finished in 5 hours, 54 minutes and 25 seconds. I ran most of it, but walked about three of the last six miles having made a classic first-timers mistake: I went out too fast in the first half and paid for it in the second. I wrote about my trials and tribulations, and closed with a bold statement:
“I’m already thinking ahead to next year and possibly breaking 5 hours. In the words of the immortal Steve Perry, ‘Don’t stop believin’! Hold on to that feelin’…’ I think I may have a new addiction.”
Oh yeah, I’ve got it and I’ve got it bad. I’m a zealot. Sure, running a marathon wasn’t easy, and I questioned at times why I was even doing it in the first place. But this year would be different, I told myself as I set out to run the 2008 marathon. This year, I wouldn’t hit “the wall” or “bonk” or any of the other terms runners use for the phenomenon otherwise known as crapping out. I was going to run this race smart and under 5 hours, shaving roughly an hour off my previous time for a huge marathon PR.
I’ve come a long way from the huffer and puffer I was last year. Over the course of 16 weeks, I logged almost 500 miles and 6 training races only to discover—to my absolute shock and horror—that training actually pays off. Who knew? My 10K times were dropping like they were hot and I ran a mile in 7:42. My goal seemed (gasp) attainable.
Don’t Stop Believin’—Journey
Yes, yes, I already knew I could run—er jog/walk—26.2 miles, albeit very slowly. But now the question was, could I run it at a respectable pace? Could I really break 5 hours? Somewhere along the way I had stopped believing. I’d been so slow for so long that I found it hard to believe I could actually turn into a halfway decent runner. During a few of my long training runs, I thought of throwing in the towel altogether. I needed a good dose of Journey and I needed it bad.
Thankfully, I’m in an ‘80s cover band called The Fades, and our signature song just happens to be “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Phew! And thankfully, most of my band mates happen to be runners, two of them being local elite sub-2:45 marathoners at that. My band mate and personal running guru, Kevin, told me about a workout called the Yasso 800s that purportedly tells you how fast you can run a marathon. Supposedly, it’s infallible—the Pope of distance workouts. So I did it, and it was hard. Really hard. Like über-crazy-going-anaerobic-almost-can’t-breathe hard. And the result? It told me I could run a marathon in 4 hours and 3 minutes. Say what??? And all this time I’d been training an hour slower. Suddenly, breaking five seemed entirely possible. Now all I had to do was hold on to that “I can do it” marathon PR feeling.
About two weeks before the race, I had “the perfect run.” It was amazing. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and everything seemed perfect as I jogged along in my rosy colored glasses. The longer I ran, the easier it became. My pace quickened and I pushed myself faster and faster, and somehow my legs and lungs kept up. I ran six exhilarating miles feeling like I could conquer anything. The marathon? Eh, no problem. I went to bed that night satisfied and confident.
But then paranoia set in. And you know what The Kinks say—“Paranoia, the destroyer.” I started obsessing over everything I had done differently that magical run: what I ate, what I wore, how I slept, yadda yadda. Just as I was about to start a pro-con spreadsheet entitled “Shorts Vs. Leggings,” I realized I was on that slippery slope that leads to having a lucky pair of underwear. Let me be clear: I wanted no part of that. My training would have to carry me through, not the clothing I was wearing.
When marathon morning rolled around, I did wear the shoes and leggings from that magical run—a little superstition never hurts, right? But I also started believing what every knowledgeable runner I knew had told me: there was no reason I couldn’t run a marathon PR under 5 hours.
I Ran—A Flock of Seagulls
This was it. The moment of truth. The ING New York City Marathon redux. As I lined up for the start on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island, I focused in and forgot the crowd around me. I opted to run with a 5-hour pace team led by veteran marathoners who guarantee they’ll hold a steady pace and finish within one minute of that time mark. If I could just stick with them, I told myself, I’d make it through.
Unlike last year, I barely took in the sights and sounds for the first few miles. Like A Flock of Seagulls sang, “I just ran.” I hardly noticed Manhattan off in the distance as I reached the crest of the first bridge. The crowds in Brooklyn seemed smaller and quieter than before, and I paid less attention to them, instead focusing on my breathing and the task at hand. By the time I reached the 11-mile marker I was feeling great as I spotted a friend in the crowd screaming her head off with a “Go Karla” sign. Only then did I let the elation creep in as she jogged alongside me on the sidewalk for a few blocks. “Wow! I’m really doing this!” I thought. And once again, like the year before, I had to choke back tears.
I was right on target thanks to the pace team leaders, Mike and Michelle. There was a solid pack of runners in the 5-hour group, somewhere between 10 and 20 people at any given time—not many when you consider the 38,000 people running the race. When we crossed the half way mark going into Queens we were like a pack of hounds on a scent.
Should I Stay or Should I Go—The Clash
But we had yet to face the mighty Queensboro Bridge, which dashes many a marathoner’s hopes and dreams. It’s a one-mile up-hill climb to the crest. We were all struggling up that 15th mile when Mike and Michelle put it to a vote: we could make like Run-DMC and “Walk This Way” up the bridge like most of the people around us—and there were certainly more walkers than runners—or we could keep plodding up. Not a single person, myself included, voted to walk. We were committed to running the whole stinking thing.
But I was having a crisis of faith as I ran. It was so difficult, so trying that the devil on my shoulder actually suggested walking off the course when we reached Manhattan and heading home to my apartment, which was only a few blocks away. For a few minutes, I had stopped believing. I don’t think I can do this, the devil said. Heave-ho. Heave-ho. My breath labored in agreement. “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” I wondered. “Go,” the devil whispered.
But before I had given in to temptation, we peaked high above the East River and began our descent into Manhattan. My breath came back, and with it, my faith in myself. I knew I had three teams of friends stationed along the next three miles in Manhattan. Just get past them, the angel on my shoulder said. You can do this.
As we rounded the corner into Manhattan, the largest and most enthusiastic crowds of the whole marathon greeted us. I was back in the race against the clock. I managed to find all my friends along the course, who gave me a huge boost of confidence. Karen and Christy hugged me and took pictures; Cara and Amy dangled from a street lamp screaming themselves horse; Cindy shook pom poms cheering me on.
Just What I Needed—The Cars
By mile 19, I was hurting and trailing the pace team a little bit. This was the exact point the year before where I had thrown in the towel and started walking. And just then, I passed a cheering station that was playing none other than “Don’t Stop Believin’.” You just can’t make this stuff up. Like the Cars sing, it was “Just What I Needed.” With only seven miles to go, there was no way I was giving up. I caught up to the pace team before they rolled across the fourth bridge into the Bronx, and by the time we made our way across the fifth and final bridge back into Manhattan, there were only three of us left running with Mike and Michelle in the 5-hour pace team.
With five miles to go, I was counting the minutes to each water station, simply willing my legs to keep turning over. Mike and Michelle looked at the three of us.
“I hope you know that all of you are going to come in under 5 hours no matter what, even if we have to drag you along,” they said. “You can’t give up now. You’re going to do this!”
It was the encouragement I needed. They kept us going, prodding us along as the miles dwindled from four to three to two to one. My friends found me again on Fifth Avenue and in Central Park, screaming, “You’re doing it! You’re on pace!”
Bust A Move—Young MC
With one mile to go, Mike and Michelle told us to forge ahead if we had it in us. I was a little sad to leave them behind. They’d been so instrumental in helping me reach my goal. But I took all the juice that was left in my legs and charged forward. It was time for me to “Bust a Move” and get that marathon PR.
At the 26-mile mark, I found my band mate Cindy once-again waving her pom poms. Then I saw my boyfriend, who’d run the race himself in 3:35 flat, with a camera in hand. I waved and smiled as I cruised across the finish line in personal record time: 4 hours, 58 minutes and 12 seconds.
Mission Accomplished: Marathon PR
I did it! I ran an entire marathon, and came in under 5 hours, shaving almost an hour off my previous time. It was the marathon PR I was dreaming about.
I looked back to spot Mike and Michelle. I wanted to thank them, but I was lost in an undulating sea of runners. Someone put a medal around my neck, a heat blanket around my arms, and a bag of food in my hand. My cell phone started ringing non-stop—my mom, my sister, my friends all calling to congratulate me. After stumbling 10 blocks out of the park, I found Karen and Christy waiting for me with warm clothes and a car ride home. I was shaking and sore, but jubilant.
With the help of friends, family, and two strangers named Mike and Michelle, I made my goal. A few days later, I’m still euphoric. My band is playing a gig tonight, and this time when I sing “Don’t Stop Believing,” I’ll know that despite temptation, I didn’t.
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runner’s weekly lifestyle web show about running. She has completed five marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.