New York City Marathon 2011: Running through the Concrete Jungle
From the moment I landed at La Guardia Airport on November 5th and up until I exited the City after the run, my experience in the New York City Marathon was a whirlwind of emotions. They swayed from happiness to anxiety to pain and back to happiness.
At the Miami International Airport waiting to board the plane with my bananas! Mmmm
At the hotel room. I woke up at 3:30 am =/
Many told me that the NYC Marathon was special because of what the runners were expected to endure before starting the race. I did not know what that entailed, but I would inevitably find out. Weeks before the race I was advised that I would begin in the first wave which started at 9:40 am. Little did I know however, that I would wake up at 3:30 am in order to arrive at the race's starting location in Staten Island by 6:00 am. It was like a rat race to get there. First I had to catch the subway to the Staten Island Ferry and then a ferry to get to Staten Island. Upon arriving to the Island, we were escorted to the “waiting location” by a bus. As soon as we exited the bus a multitude of volunteers working for the race demanded to see our bibs. I felt like I was in a military camp. “Let me see your bib!” demanded the volunteers. After showing them the bibs were divided by colors. “You, go to the right. You, go to the left,” yelled the volunteers. As I made my right turn, I was finally in. I waited and waited and waited. For 3 and a half hours I sat in a frigid 35 degree weather. I was alone, but I did not care. This gave me time to visualize and concentrate on the race. I was cold, but I did not care because the faster I ran, the warmer I would get. I wanted to feel bad for myself, but then I took a good look around and 45,000 runners like myself waited anxiously for the most amazing race to start.
As I entered into my corral minutes before the race started, I eavesdropped into a man's conversation with another runner. He was telling the other man what a great race we were about to run. "I've ran it 4 times," said the man. What a bragger I thought. I then turned to the man and asked him, "How steep is the Verazzano Bridge?" He replied, "Steep is nothing but a word. I don't know because I've never seen it." How is that possible I thought--this man has run the race 4 times and he's never seen it? The zealous man looked at me with a bold face and said, "This is your day. You can do whatever you want. No one can get in the way of YOUR day!" Those words resonated in my mind--I would make it MY day! It would be the day that I would accomplish my personal best record in a marathon!
The Verazzano Bridge
As I stood in the start line, Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" filled the air along with cheers from the by-standers. As tradition would have it, I stripped my layers of clothing and threw them on the side of the road. As the countdown continued, I anxiously looked at my watch and noticed that I would start in two minutes. I could not stop shaking, it was so cold. My fingers and toes were numb. A man looked at me and asked me if I was okay. I inquired, "Do you think I can run with numb toes? Should I worry?" The man said, "Toes are overrated. Just run." And so, the two minutes were up and off I went to the second part of the journey.
The influx of runners from the starting line to the Bridge was as scenic as watching a bull released from a bull's pen. Everyone rushed the Bridge as if they were running to catch a cab. As I watched from aback, I realized that the only way to get ahead was by running on the narrow concrete block on the side of the Bridge. I hardly fit on the slab, but I did not care. "What if I twist my ankle?" I thought. I did not care. I could not let anyone get ahead of me or block my path--this was MY day! As I managed to weasel my way through the crowd I realized that I had just finished the first 5k. Great!! Only 23 more miles to go.
The next twelve miles were as easy as my easy long runs. I was hot and contemplated throwing my gloves and earmuffs away. “I’ll hold on to these. You never know what lies ahead” I thought. As my intuition would have it, the TRUE journey would begin at mile 15.
As I started on the 15th mile, little did I imagine that I would be running a complete mile on an incline. As I entered the mile long bridge, it suddenly turned cold. The Bridge was long, dark and painful. “When is it going to end? When is the sun going to shine? When is the pain going to subside?” My mind was filled with thoughts of helplessness. Wait a minute! I’M running the New York City Marathon! What is wrong with me? Get it together Erika! I ran and ran for my life. Suddenly what seemed like an eternity of pain was overshadowed by the screams of spectators that waited at Mile 16. “Erika, Erika!” shouted my husband and sister. They were standing so far away from me, but I could feel their presence right by my side. Their faces of joy removed any doubt in my mind that I could not finish this race under three hours. I kept running.
At mile 16. I was grinding my teeth from the cold weather. I was freezing!
As I entered Mile 18 doubts of finishing the race conjured in my mind. Can I do this? I don’t think I can. I can’t feel my legs anymore. I’m cold and stiff. My limbs and toes are numb again. And there it was, the Wall. It was like running into a glass window and hitting yourself in the face. The Wall slyly crept up and stared at me in the face. Could I make it in this concrete jungle? At that very moment I knew I would have to valiantly face the Wall. It was do or die. I gave it a piercing stare as if I was looking at myself in the mirror. I asked God to give me the fortitude to continue. God please take the pain away I prayed. After a moment of praying and begging for the pain to subside, I felt as if I was looking at myself from above. I felt no pain. I was not cold. I was just running. I could see my stride; I could see the pounding of my heart; and I could feel the breaths in my chest. I kept on running without looking back. I would either do it or die trying! I kept running.
Ah, finally I’m in Central Park. It’s about Mile 22 and I anxiously await the rolling hills that everyone told me about. But there aren’t that many. This is easy! As I continued running, the waves of cheer and laughter filled my ears—“You go girl! Show ‘em how it’s done!” I was filling triumphant already! I looked down at my watch and realized that I was cutting it close to my goal time. I repeated my coach’s words “Don’t be a soldier to the watch. Run by feel.” I ran and ran like a mother------. I’m going to do this!
Finally, Mile 26-- It was like entering into the twilight zone; it seemed surreal. I’m here, but I’m not done yet! I began visualizing my mantra. It became a song in my mind. “Just run. Toes are overrated. It’s your day. You can do whatever you want. Even when you think that you cannot run anymore you still have 20% left; it’s a survival instinct. Do or die. You either do it or die trying.” I repeated these words like an echo in the silent night. Oh no, .2 miles left! I gazed at my watch one more time and realized that I was in the 2:50’s. Oh my God, I think I’m going to make it! Run like a mother------ Erika. Run like you stole something. I could see the inspirational words written on the spectator’s signs. I ran and ran for my life. I could taste victory with every bit of sweat that fell on my lips and she tasted sweet. As I hurried down the street I could see the Finish sign a few steps ahead of me. I made it! I ran a 2:59:08! I did it!
At mile 26. I'm actually in pain in that picture =(
Months of training and sacrifice were finally revealed. I ran for two hours, 59 minutes and 8 seconds waiting for this very moment, and almost instantaneously nostalgia kicked in. As I wobbled to receive my medal, I took a good look around and realized that “this is what dreams are made of—there’s nothing you can’t do” in the concrete jungle. I could die happy now!
And so, I finally arrive to mile 20. Coach Omarto would always tell me that a marathon truly begins at the 20th mile. It’s at that point in the race that runners typically “drop the hammer” and run with all their life. It’s at that point, when runners attempt to pass their competition and essentially get ready to run as fast as they can. It was a bit different in this race. As soon as I made a turn on the 20th mile, the course veered towards the south. For the remainder of the race, I would have head winds of 30 to 40 mph for the last 6.2 miles. I was tired, but I still kept a 6.15-minute pace by the time I arrived to mile 20. As soon as I started that mile, my body practically halted as the wind pushed me back. I ran with all that my body and mind had. For the next 6 miles, I prayed to God to give me the strength to finish. My body was fatigued and my mind wondered about stopping. I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop though. I kept going and I tried to ignore the pain. I felt like knives were piercing my quads and inner thighs and my face felt a burn from the wind. I closed my eyes and envisioned the finish line. It’ll all be over once I cross the finish line, I thought. It’s only a bit of pain and it will subside, I repeated to myself. “God please give me the strength and courage to endure the pain. Save me from the pain,” became my mantra until the end of the race. The winds I endured during the last 6 miles of the race are almost indescribable. I felt like I wasn’t even running. I felt like a Halloween ghost ornament that hangs on a string outside of a house and it sways back and forth from the wind, but never goes anywhere.
At about the 22rd mile, a male runner noticed the pain in my eyes and I noticed the pain in his. He looked at me and said, “Come on, you can do it! I’ll stay by your side.” What kindness he expressed to me. I was grateful to have met him at mile 22. The male ran next to me for about two miles until his body gave out and I out-ran him. At the 24th mile I was pretty much by myself on the course. No one was ahead of me and I did not dare look back. Like Forrest Gump said, “I kept on running and running.” Moments later I was back on The Strip. I could see the enormous hotels from a short distance. All the bright lights were on and I knew I was almost home. It was difficult to marvel at the beauty because the pain in my body forced me to close my eyes in agony. At a blink of an eye I was finally in the last .2 miles of the race. My eyes were watery from the wind and my mind found solace when I saw the FINISH line only a few steps away. I ran with my life and with the help of God.
Rock N Roll Las Vegas Marathon 2012: A Race Full of Lessons
I’ll start this review by detailing the events and my daily schedule prior to running the marathon on December 2nd. Being that I am a full time police officer, I requested to have the weekend of the marathon off, but my supervisors advised me that I could not take those days off. I was upset, but they quickly told me that I could “swap” the days with another co-worker and that would be the best and only alternative. So, I asked a fellow co-worker if she would swap the days with me and she agreed. She asked me to work on November 23rd and 24th and she would in turn work on December 1st and 2nd for me. I immediately agreed to her request, but of course, I would regret that later on. So, my work schedule for that week went as follows: I worked November 23rd and 24th and then I was off on the 25th. I worked November 26th and 27th and a few hours on the 28th. By November 29th, not only was I ready to leave to Vegas, I was also extremely exhausted and trying to get over a cold. I had worked 54 hours in four days on the night shift (7pm-7am). Oh well, this is not the time to be Sour Puss Sallie, I thought.
So it’s Thursday night and my husband and I are at the Fort Lauderdale Airport--We are scheduled to arrive to Las Vegas at 1:30 am (eastern time). I put on my compression socks to avoid swelling in my legs from the altitude and I make sure to pack all my bananas and gels for the race. After a 5-hour flight, we finally arrive to Vegas and I immediately go to bed.
Our view from our room in the The Signature hotel.
I wake up on Friday at about 10:30 am feeling tired and sleepy, but I get ready to go to the Venetian Hotel to attend the marathon’s Expo for packet-pick up. My husband and I end up walking about 3 miles (another mistake of mine) instead of using the monorail to avoid my legs from getting stressed and tired. Once at the Expo Center, I pick-up my bib at the Solutions Desk and I’m told that I’m runner #104. I was so excited because I would be running with the elite females at the race.
At the Expo Center capturing a picture of myself =)
Milo and I made signs for each other. He's my biggest FAN!
After walking around for a while, Milo and I leave and we head back to our hotel room. I then get ready for an easy 20 minute jog (this helped with stretching out my legs and with “runner’s anxiety”) and I opt to take the Vegas Strip route (another mistake of mine). The sidewalks were as crowded as “La Calle Ocho Festival!” During my brief run, I assessed a couple of things; first, how my body felt and second, the weather conditions. My body was feeling pretty good at that point—it wasn’t sore or feeling heavy, but I was tired (dang it!). The weather conditions seemed favorable—it was about 70 degrees with low humidity and mild wind. This is good, I thought. So, I ran back to the hotel and I got into bed to rest. I attempted to watch a movie to relax, but of course, my mind began to wonder about the race. After a few naps, Milo and I went to dinner and quickly returned to the hotel to go to sleep. No time for partying or gambling; just straight to bed!
On Saturday, I woke up at about 11:00 am and Milo and I decided to sightsee The Strip. This time however, we used the monorail to save my legs for the race. After our little adventure, I returned to the hotel to rest and to take a few naps. This is the longest 2 days of my life, I thought. The anxiety was still building. After my nap, I got up and I decided to do an easy 20-minute jog. This time, I ran on the street parallel to The Strip. Again, I felt great—no soreness or heaviness, but I was still a bit tired. The weather conditions were pretty favorable again-it was cool, low humidity and mild winds. My anxiety was growing quickly, so I told Milo that we should see a show to distract my mind. So, we decide to watch the Cirque Du Soleil “O” show and my mind was actually at ease for about 1.5 hours. We returned to the hotel after the show and I put all my race gear together. I laid out my “FootWorks” singlet and attach the bib to it. I laid out my shorts and “Newton” sneakers and attach the chip to my shoe. I separate my three “Zipvit” gels (2 are non-caffeine and 1 is caffeinated) and I make sure my Garmin watch is charged. I then place it next to my clothes. I then lay out my Newton sneaker visor and my “Pace Tat” tattoo and I finally go to bed. Day number 2 is finally over!
It’s finally Sunday—oh what a fun-day this is going to be! (My sarcasm at it’s best). I wake up at 10:00 am (I did not want to over-sleep because that’ll make me feel tired later) and eat a light breakfast of old-fashioned oats and bananas. I did not consume any kind of caffeine (I save the caffeine for the race) and I made sure to drink a lot of water. It was about 11:30 am and the race was 3.5 hours away. Oh God, this is taking forever, I thought. I wanted to attend mass before the race, but it was too late to attend—I had missed the 11:00 am mass. I went back to the hotel and I relaxed for a few hours. During that time, I visualized the race and stretched out my legs and arms. At about 2:00 pm, I started putting my clothes on and I pasted my Pace Tat on my left forearm. I checked the weather on The Weather Channel and it advised that the temperature would be in the low 70’s, about 30% humidity and very rough winds from the south-southeast. Great, another windy race, I thought. Well, there’s nothing I could do, but strategize my pace and keep a positive attitude. It’s show time, I yelled!
At about 2:15 pm I left the hotel and ran to my corral. It was only about a mile away, so I figured it would be a nice little jog before starting the race. Once I arrived to the elite runner’s corral, I began assessing my competition. There were about seven elite female runners. I felt anxious, excited and everything in between. I was ready to go. At 3:00pm the announcers told us to get ready; 10, 9, 8, …, 3, 2, 1, GO! And so, as I passed the starting line at Mandalay Bay, I pressed the start button on my Garmin watch and I began running. My inner voice immediately told me, “It’s do or die, so get it done!” For the first five miles of the race, I assessed the feeling of my body and I gauged my goal pace. I also assessed the weather conditions and they appeared favorable. As I continued running north on The Strip, I was too busy acclimating myself to the race and watching the elite females running by my side to realize just how beautiful the scenery was. I was feeling great and confident. I relaxed my body at a 6:15 minute pace and I truly felt like I could keep that up for the remainder of the race. At mile 6, I reached into my sports bra and grabbed my non-caffeine Zipvit gel and calmly ate it while I continued running. The water station was at the end of the 6th mile, so I strategically ate it at the top of the mile.
At about the 9th mile, the course veered towards the south and I quickly got a taste of the windy conditions. Oh my, it’s like a windstorm, I thought. I could do this though, I told myself. At about the 10th mile, the course made a sharp U-turn so I continued going north. I was the 6th female at that point in the race, but I didn’t fret because I still had 16 miles left. As I continued towards the 13th mile, my body began feeling a little tired. Was it the occasional wind that I had endured a few times throughout the race? Did I start the race going too fast? Was I jet lag and tired from working so many hours the week of the race? I didn’t know, but it didn’t matter—I had a race to finish! As I continued running, I kept my 6.15-minute pace and I was able to drop two of the elite females; I was now in 3rd place. I then grabbed my second non-caffeinated Zipvit gel from inside of my sports bra and calmly ate it before arriving to the water station. At about the 14th mile, my mind began playing games; it would give itself goals to accomplish for every mile that I ran. Ok Erika, run run run, until you reach 16 miles, which will leave you with only 10 miles left, no biggie,” I told myself. Unfortunately, the course was not well marked so after a short while, I looked at my Garmin watch and realized I was on the 18th mile. Dang, 18 miles already! “Ok, I could do this. The race starts at the 20th mile,” I thought. At that point in the race, an elite female runner passed me (Daddy Long Legs is what I called her. She was about 6’2 in stature!), but I didn’t worry because I still had time to pass her again—I was in 4th place. At the 19th mile, I grabbed my last and final caffeinated Zipvit gel. I was especially relying on that gel because it was caffeinated, so it would give me a good boost to the finish line.
As I crossed the finish line at the Venetian Hotel, I immediately held on to a gate that was nearby. I felt faint and dizzy—as did the runners in front of me. There was a line of runners holding on to that gate as if their life depended on it. An older lady quickly came and assisted me to the medical tent. She happily told me I was the 4th female to cross the finish line and that made me really happy. I told her I felt fine, but just needed some water and a chair to sit on. After a short while, the male that had run with me for two miles came by and said hello. I was happy to see him, as he was happy to see me. After receiving my medal I joined Milo and we left to the hotel. I was tired, fatigued and in pain, but so happy to have experienced that race. It was a race like no other. I was upset at first because I didn’t finish within my expected time, but I was grateful for the experience. I learned a lot during that race. Post-race I learned that the news stations had made wind advisories during the race. The weather conditions were by no means ideal, but I was still able to finish in 3:00:37 and in 4th place overall.
My finisher medal
A Day in Beantown-The Boston Marathon
April 15, 2013
When I arrived at the Boston Marathon Expo on April 13th, I was given a “Welcome” book that outlined the itinerary for the race. Upon opening the first page, the first sentence read, “This is personal.” I was immediately captivated by those words so I continued reading. The remainder of the message said, “The Boston Marathon. It’s more than a race to you. It’s the culmination of a longer journey- a personal one. It’s your chance to make a statement to the world about who you are and what’s important to you. This is about your goals, convictions and hopes. This is your day. This is your marathon.”
The words written in that book resonated in my mind for the remainder of the weekend. I had trained so hard for the Boston Marathon and I had anxiously waited three years for this day to come. Finally, I would prove to myself that I was worthy of running in this race and I would validate why being called a runner is the most prestigious title one can have.
From the moment that I woke up at 5:30 am on April 15th, the Boston Marathon was nothing less than a spectacular journey. As I rushed to the Dedham Corporate Center train station at 6 o’clock in the morning, I began repeating my mantra in my mind: This is your day. This is your marathon! While waiting for the train to arrive, a man at the station immediately befriended me. He introduced himself as Malcolm from Toronto. Malcolm shared his running success stories with me and I was immediately drawn to his energy. Malcolm had run more than 40 marathons, including one where the temperatures were below 10 degrees. As we entered the train, the train employee asked me for the $6.00 fare. “I thought it was free for runners,” I thought. I looked down and told Malcolm I didn’t have any money. Without hesitation, Malcolm took out a $20.00 bill and told the train employee, “Make it two tickets.” With a sigh of relief I shouted, “You saved my life! You are a good Samaritan Malcolm.” After the train ride, Malcolm and I hurried through the streets of Downtown Boston to catch the bus to Hopkinton, which was the start of the race. I was in disbelief when we arrived to the park. There must have been about 2,000 runners waiting for the school buses to arrive. I’m going to be late for the first wave at 10 o’clock, I told him. “Erika, I will hold your spot in the back of the line. See if you could get a spot in the front. If you don’t come back, I’ll know you got through.” Those were the last words Malcolm and I shared. I clandestinely got into the front of the line and into one of the buses-this must be my lucky day I thought.
Forty five minutes later, I was finally in Hopkinton. As I waited in the “runner’s village,” I snuggled in a blanket to shield my body from the low temperatures to conserve energy. At 9:40 am the first wave runners were escorted to the start of the line. The distance from the village to the start of the line seemed like a marathon itself. I was shaking from the cold and from the overwhelming sense of excitement. As I got into the corral, I began stretching and praying to God for a safe and fun race. At 10:00 am on the dot, I was ready to go…
By the first mile in the race, I took off my ear warmers and gloves and I lowered my arm sleeves. I was warned about the first mile downhill, so I steadily kept my pace at 6.38 minutes (per mile). I had set a goal of finishing at 2 hours and 55 minutes, so I consistently kept my pace between 6.38 and 6.39. There were moments throughout the race where the crowds would provoke a burst of energy within me. The streets were flooded with thousands of people wearing Boston shirts and caps. I saw red and blue everywhere. There were young and old people. There were young children putting out their hands to receive a high 5 from the runners. There were beautiful college girls holding up signs that read “Kiss me!” Everywhere my face turned I saw glimpses of smiles and laughter. I saw young people kissing and older women yelling “Never give up!” At about the 13th mile, I heard an older male panting behind me. I immediately shortened my steps and I asked him if he was ok. “You have an excellent pace,” he said. “We BOTH have an excellent pace,” I told the older man. As I continued running a young female runner yelled at me, “Come on girl, let’s do this!” “I’ve been waiting for these hills all my life,” I said to the young girl.
A burst of energy filled my body as soon as the 16th mile began. Someone had told me that the race really began at mile 16, so I cautiously ran through it to save my legs for the Newton Hills starting in mile 17. As I ran through the hills I prayed to God to help me overcome all pain and to help me conquer my dreams because all things were possible through Him. I repeated those words until the last hill at Heartbreak. Running the Newton Hills was like a roller coaster, both physically and mentally. My quadriceps were tight and the little voice inside my head had moments of weakness. Somehow my body and mind fought through the moment and I regained momentum when I reached mile 23.
As I ran down the hill at mile 23, I suddenly tripped over a railroad track. I immediately stood up and a young male runner shouted, “We fall to get up!” His encouraging words helped me wipe the dirt off and off I went running. I limped for a few yards and then began jogging. “I have come too far to quit,” I thought. As I continued limping I fought through the pain and imagined the finish line. I was sweating profusely and panting in agony. By mile 25 I saw the big Citgo sign and I knew I was close to home. I ran and ran and ran without looking back.
My left knee.
By mile 26 my body begged me to stop. The pain was growing worse but the spectator’s cheers masked all my doubts of finishing. Their voices and praise helped me finish that race and my heart was thankful when I passed the finished line.
Looking back at the Boston Marathon I have to say that my experience was very personal. It was a personal journey and a personal race. I did not finish in 2 hours and 55 minutes, but somehow I managed to finish in under 3 hours (2:59:18). I proved to myself that faith goes a long way. You have to believe in yourself and what you’re capable of doing. I am thankful for the runners who ran with me and for the spectators who helped get through the race. It was an emotional journey for me and I am honored to have been a part of the most amazing marathon in the world.
The paramedic at the medical tent was very attentive.