Race Day

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The 2013 Bratislava, Slovakia Marathon and Half-Marathon

The 2013 Bratislava, Slovakia Marathon and Half-Marathon

“It’s the Final Count Down”

It was 6 a.m. when my iPhone alarm went off on the morning of March 24, 2013 in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was our big day. In a couple of hours some of the women of our running group, “Women Running the World”, would be participating in our first half-marathon and longest run yet, 13.1 miles/21 kilometers. We had all been checking the weather apps the days before, hoping the forecast would miraculously change but when I opened the window curtain, it was as they had predicted, snow was falling and the temperature was 28° (-2.2°C) feeling like 15 °Fahrenheit (-9°C). We had trained in weather like this in London so I felt ready. The night before I had texted my husband to share that the Kenyan runners had arrived at the hotel. They were there to complete the whole marathon as a qualifying event for other competitions. That morning I texted my husband the weather conditions and he texted back, “Just think of the great advantage the weather gives you over the Kenyans! You have trained for this weather!” I decided what layers of clothing to wear and I placed my clothes and accessories neatly on my bed. At 7 a.m. I went to see our head coach so that she could tape my injured/recovering leg with kinesiology tape. I was excited but not anxious. I felt like an astronaut preparing for a mission, taking all the systematic steps before take off. At 7:15 a.m. I went down to have breakfast. We had been instructed to eat what we had normally been eating on previous long runs and not to try different things. So for me it was a fruit smoothie with white bread and peanut butter.

Picking Up Our Registration Packages the Day Before the Race

Picking Up Our Registration Packages the Day Before the Race

Then it was time to make the final preparations. I wore compression sleeves on both legs to help support my calf muscles. I pinned my running number, # 5082, to my shirt. I attached the electronic chip that would track my running time to my sneaker. I wore two layers of running pants, a long sleeve shirt, a fleece, gloves, a very light down jacket that would eventually end up around my waist, a running waist pack with gels and my iPhone. I strapped on my Garmin Forerunner 610 watch. I loaded all my pockets with tissues. And for good luck I wore the Third Eye bracelet that my Turkish girlfriend had given me last year and a necklace I had bought myself which showed a runner on one side and the number 13.1 on the other. I did my normal exercises and stretch routine along with some breathing exercises. It was show time.

Preparing for the Race

Preparing for the Race

“It’s the Eye of the Tiger”

At 9:00 a.m. we met for a group picture in the hotel lobby. We were quite the group, over 70 women with cute light pink Nike caps, all proud members of our running group “Women Running the World”.

Just part of the beginner runners of Women Running the World Running Group

Some of the beginner runners of Women Running the World Running Group
The Ladies in the Pink Caps

The energy level was palpable. Some of the women were nervous and others were excited. Some just wanted to get it over with, while others were taking it in stride. We hugged and gave each other support. A few of us went outside to start doing warm up routines. There were thousands of people. The race had an estimated attendance of about 3000 people. Then the moment of truth arrived when our leader headed out of our hotel to the front of the starting gate and we followed her like little ducks with pink caps. The excitement was swelling up inside of me. We took our positions in the coral. The more experienced runners of the group went closer to the starting point and the beginner runners stood further back. One of my friends dressed like Rocky Balboa provided light-hearted entertainment as she waved her fists in the air accompanied by our background Rocky music vocals. Another girlfriend was setting fashion trends with her layered garbage bag look (garbage bags for warmth).  Their plans were to shed these layers of extra clothes and plastic along the path. This clothing is later collected and donated.

Setting New Trends in Running Fashion Gear

Setting New Trends in Running Fashion Gear

We were in our pre-designated groups. I chose to stay with my usual group with the plan to fall back if my leg started acting up. Then we heard a count down in Slovak and the race started at 10:00 a.m. At first there was no perceptible movement in the crowd as the front racers took off, and then suddenly before I knew it I arrived at the gate. There I was crossing the blue carpets where the electronic chips in your sneakers are read and I found myself letting out a huge cheer of excitement. I later found out that one of my friends tripped on that same blue rug and fell flat on her face. We laughed about it later, but at that moment she could not believe this had happened. She thought that she had gotten up by herself but later learned that actually two men had whisked her off the ground and propped her back up. She went on to have a remarkable run. As she later said in her own words, “She hit the ground running!”

Some  of our Coaches

Some of our Coaches

I remember reviewing the map of the route thinking I would have a fair idea of where I was going. It really did not help because what looked to be so simple on paper was very different in reality. The route started out by the Danube River in front of our hotel next to a Eurovea shopping center.

Attempting to Learn the Route

Attempting to Learn the Route

Soon after we found ourselves running along Communist era construction apartment buildings which were not very pretty. The view improved as we ran into the old town.  Although the view improved, the cobblestone streets were dreadful especially going up hill. The snow thankfully was not sticking and eventually tapered off. As in all races there were water stations. The cups were kind of big and drinking water while running proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. I probably splashed more water on my face than I actually swallowed. But that was good enough. We then flung our cups off to side like the professionals. Yeah!

I started out running with my assigned group and was doing really well with the injured/recovering leg. Suddenly at about the 45-minute mark I felt my calf muscle strain and I thought to myself, “Oh, no, this cannot be happening. I will complete this race”. At that point, I decided to slow my pace down, send energy to my leg and see if the muscle would recover. It seemed to feel better and I stayed at this pace for a while. But I had to emotionally let go of my group of friends as they slowly disappeared ahead of me and moved on. I would be running this race alone and I had prepared for this. Over the course of the race we were able to recognize each other because of the pink caps. There was a switchback in the initial part of the route, so we would cheer our faster runners that were on the other side and they would cheer us back. Once I restored my confidence with my leg I found myself in a comfortable place. I was happy as a clam to be running my first half-marathon. Furthermore, we had seen a bunch of guys quit after 30 minutes making us feel like the real trained professionals that we were. No messing with these ladies in pink hats! We would hear cheers in the crowd, “Go Pinky”. We also heard a lot of Slovak cheers and applause to which I would applaud back and say thank you. Perhaps not a customary thing to do but I was so grateful to have these people standing in below freezing weather to cheer us on. Caught up in the excitement, one of our fellow runners thought she would try her Slovak language skills. Enthusiastically she cheered back at the crowds, although not really sure of what she was saying, but hoping it was proper, especially since she had  cheered back at a nice group of nuns.

“It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight

Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival

And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night

And he’s watchin’ us all with the eye of the tiger”

“It’s My Life”

At the 18 km point (about 11 miles) of the run we reached the Danube River. There was another switchback. First we would run on the street in front of the river and then make a U-turn to run along the pedestrian walkway by the Danube. I suddenly heard Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” being played and I got super pumped. I was on cloud nine. It seemed like the end was so close. In my head I was singing “It’s my life, It’s now or never”, and then as if though the record player needle skipped on the L.P., the song came to a screeching halt as I realized that the turnaround was quite a distance away. NO WAY!! I had to rationalize in my head that the end was near although emotionally it seemed light years away. At this point, my injured leg was feeling fine, and I thought I would try to go faster but it was so hard to muster more speed. Consistency would be the name of the game.

We finished the river segment, turned left back into the city, and finally saw signs that read, “2nd lap go left” for the full marathoners, and “Finish go right” for the half-marathoners. From somewhere or from nowhere I squeezed that last bit of energy to pull it off. I could see the final gate. As I approached I saw a bunch of our pink hat ladies in the cheering crowd yelling, “Go Ariadne”. As I looked ahead at the clock I was determined to make it to the finish line within the next 30 seconds. I took those last strides that pulled me into victory. Once I ran through the finish line it was almost difficult to stop. My legs felt like ocean waves as I slowed down. The elation and excitement overtook me. I had finished my first half-marathon. So this is why people do this, for this remarkable moment of euphoria and accomplishment. In front of me was a young lady handing me a medal. WOW I got a medal, my very own medal. I was not expecting that. And then I saw one of my lovely friends who had already finished, running towards me to give me the biggest hug in the world. A camera guy captured this moment on film. It was surreal, it was dream-like, and it was amazing to have finished the race. We hugged and yelled in celebration.

At the Finish Line1st Half Marathon

At the Finish Line
1st Half Marathon
and Wearing My Medal

Suddenly the freezing temperature set in. At that point a group of us made our way out of that finish line area  and went to join the rest of our group in the cheering section. In order to exit we had to climb the most ridiculous makeshift steps in the world to cross a bridge and then come back down. This was absolute torture at this point in time. We returned the chips that were attached to our shoes. We were shivering so much we could barely untie the laces to take the chips off. We made a quick stop into the hotel to warm up before joining the others in the stands.

Champions

Champions

Not only was it amazing to have finished the race but it was equally as thrilling to cheer on the rest of our friends. Like proud parents we swelled up with pride and joy as we cheered the rest of the ladies coming in. There were several friends who miraculously finished even with their severe injuries. Tears of joy filled our eyes as they came through high-fiving us. And then we saw the last of our group. It was our head coach holding one of our friends by her hand and leading her to the very end. And as the two of them went through the finish line, we celebrated the successful completion of the Bratislava half-marathon by our group “Women Running the World”. Our group of beginner runners had graduated to “Runners”. We had done it!

Relishing in the Moment

Relishing in the Moment

That's How It's Done!

That’s How It’s Done!

Happy Friends

Happy Friends After the Run

Celebrating Our Victories

Celebrating Our Victories

Champions All The Way

Champions All The Way

Celebrating Our Race

Celebrating Our Race

After a wonderful celebratory dinner on Sunday night we returned to London on Monday. We sadly parted ways. But we do plan to continue running together!

When I arrived at home I found a wonderful surprise. My husband had baked a double layer chocolate cake and my children had written a special congratulations letter. I was overtaken by emotion and started crying.

My Welcome Home Congratulations Chocolate Layer Cake and Letter

My Welcome Home Congratulations Chocolate Layer Cake and Letter

To my dear fellow runners who shared this journey with me I send you a big thank you and lots of love. I am so proud of what we accomplished together. To my readers and friends, I hope you can someday experience something as special as this and above all to be able to have the opportunity to share the experience with a group of remarkable people just as I did.

“It’s my life

It’s now or never

I ain’t gonna live forever

I just want to live while I’m alive

It’s my life

My heart is like an open highway

Like Frankie said

I did it my way

I just wanna live while I’m alive

It’s my life”

Lyrics: Bon Jovi “It’s My Life”

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The Journey

Back in September I snuck into one of my posts that I had just joined a women’s beginner running group and that we were in training to do a half-marathon in Bratislava, Slovakia in March of 2013.

Part of the Beginner's Running Group in our favorite meeting place

Part of the Beginner’s Running Group in our favorite meeting place

We are now 3 days away from the big day. I leave to Bratislava today and the run is on Sunday March 24th. Our group of 33 women, ranging in ages from 30 to 50’s started out with routines of walking 2 minutes, running 2 minutes and so forth and so on, to eventually running 11-mile runs. Back in September, when I printed out the training program I was amazed with what we would accomplish. We slowly increased our running times. We used to wince at running 15 minutes straight, then 30 minutes seemed outrageous, and an hour run was the “unthinkable”. Then the runs started getting longer and longer. By December we were running 3 times a week. The short run was 35 minutes long, the medium run was initially a 45-minute run which eventually became an hour run, and the long run, well we made it to 2+hours. Last week was our last “long run” before the race. We are ready for the half-marathon. Our main coach is a woman who has dedicated the last 11 years of her life to introducing women to running. She does not charge for this, for her it is a labor of love. Through her dedication to us she shares her passion for running while at same time building our confidence and serving as an inspiration. She recruits other runners to be assistant coaches to help her with the rookies. Every year she takes an average group of about 70 women, both beginner runners and graduates, to half marathons. She also trains some of the women to do marathons.

Our First Run to Big Ben

Our First Run to Big Ben

What we achieved as individuals and as a group was remarkable. I get a little misty eyed thinking of this group of amazing women, my pillars throughout the training. When the weather was dreary and dark, with temperatures below freezing accompanied by that quaint London spitty rain, all I wanted to do was go back to bed after the kids went to school. Instead, I donned my running gear and knew the group was waiting for me at the St. John’s Wood High Street Starbucks. Although over time the group divided into 3 sub-groups depending on our running speeds, we all remained cohesive and supportive of each other. We “left no woman behind”. There were falls, injuries, and disappointments along the way but we endured. There were also triumphant achievements, laughs, and celebrations. I was also very fortunate to have a fan club at home. My husband and children were so supportive throughout the training. They have been very proud of me and that is such a special feeling.

Last week proved to be a fateful week with regard to my running. On the day of our “last long run”, last Thursday, during the first 10 minutes of an 11-mile run I felt as if though a dog bit my right lower calf muscle.  I continued running thinking it was a cramp and that it would go away. I slowed down, and waved my friends on. I felt a pulling in the leg, not really a harsh pain, but things were not right. And as always, our head coach was suddenly there, massaging my leg, asking me questions, and assessing what to do. She asked me to slow down my pace and see how I felt. Part of me was afraid of further injury, but part of me was determined to accomplish the long run. Since there was no harsh pain, just a dull discomfort, I slowed down, and was able to complete the 11-mile run. I was fine once I was running. By 1:30 that afternoon I was at the physical therapist’s office. And yes sadly, I had a small tear of my right leg calf muscle. The good news was that based on the strength I showed in the leg that afternoon he felt confident that he would have me ready for the race, only of course if I followed his strict instructions. So this past week I was very busy icing, exercising, stretching, and going to the physical therapist. I did 3 short runs successfully and that helped increase my confidence. I will do the run on Sunday but I will need to start at a slower pace than usual and depending on how the leg feels, then I will increase my speed for the second half of the race. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

This journey I have taken with this amazing group of women has made us all richer in spirit, stronger in body, and courageous and confident in mind. It has reminded us of how important it is set goals. And I have had the opportunity to make wonderful new friends. This journey reminded me of how important it is to reach beyond our comfort zone and to aim to do things we thought we might not have been able to achieve. We set our mind to it and we achieved it.

My Second Half Century – New Adventures

I have decided that my second half-century should be as exciting as my first half-century.  It was a year ago that with some trepidation I welcomed the big milestone of 50. My fifties would find me living overseas in London with my family. I would spend my whirlwind year settling into London living, doing lots of traveling, and making many new great friends. In retrospect, I have had a wonderful 50th year.

Maya and Me
At Hampstead Heath September 2012

Today, I am celebrating my 51st birthday.  I decided two weeks ago that I want the next 50 years to continue to be about “Firsts” and “New Adventures”. So I decided to join a women’s running group for beginners. I stay in relatively good shape by watching what I eat and exercising but I have never really run. I lost 30 pounds with weight watchers during college and it has been a lifetime goal to keep the weight off while still enjoying the pleasures of food and wine (and beer too). I have succeeded at this.  My exercise routine has varied over the years and has included gyms, group classes, and working out alone. I currently ride a recumbent bike at home and do enormous amounts of walking while living in London. I do recognize I need to add back some weight/toning exercises into my routine.

Several friends had tried the running group last year that culminated in doing a half-marathon in March of following year. I have to admit that: a) I felt very proud of them for their commitment to running and doing a half-marathon, and b) I felt a bit left out from a social perspective in not sharing in this special event. A couple of weeks ago, I cornered one of my friends and said to her, “I am on the fence about joining the running group, convince my why I should do it”. She did an amazing selling job. Within hours of our discussion I had joined the running group. Not only would I start running but I set the goal of running the half-marathon to be held in Bratislava, Slovakia next March.

Initially, I did not tell my family. I wanted to start the training to see how I would do and how my knees would hold up. Besides, they tease me all the time with, “Mommy runs like a girl”, hello… that’s what I thought I was, well a woman, but certainly my running style has not been very graceful during past attempts at making green lights. My family also teases me when I tell them that I used to play on the high school basketball team. The reason this is so hard for them to visualize is that I am all of 5 feet tall. However, it was a small school and they needed players. I had enthusiasm, which was just about all I had. My basketball career soon ended but was rekindled when I dreamt about 2 years ago that the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat were recruiting me to play with them. In the dream, I chose to play for the Miami Heat because the weather in Miami was warmer than in Chicago. At the time in real life, I was undergoing physical therapy for a shoulder injury I had incurred while doing intense yoga, go figure. I had probably spent too many hours at the physical therapist watching ESPN and watching basketball commentaries. Although, I’m not very athletic, I have skied since my mid-twenties. I vowed I would be skiing into my 90’s. Back in 2001, I felt knee pain and after a visit to a doctor and then to a physical therapist I learned that I had to strengthen my quadriceps muscles that supported my knees. I have succeeded at this and I have skied pain and trouble-free every year.

The night after my first running training, I shared the news with my family that I had joined the running group and that I was going to do a half-marathon.  I was overwhelmed by their amazing support. I expected them to tease me and instead they were all very proud of me. I relished in their positive support.  I am into my 4th week of running and I feel great. I have increased my quadriceps exercises and added stretching routines and other floor exercises. The beginner program starts out with a walk-run-walk routine that eventually has you running 130 consecutive minutes. Not only am I continuing to stay fit and working towards the goal of the half-marathon, but I’m also making wonderful new friends in the group. I have rediscovered that I am a very goal oriented person. I thrive if I have goals set in front of me and I thrive in social settings.

Curt’s Amazing Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza

I could not feel happier on this special birthday (they are all special, by the way) I have a wonderful husband, son, and daughter. My husband is frosting a cake he baked for me as I type this posting, and is finishing up his delicious homemade Chicago Style deep-dish pizza for our celebration dinner. I have amazing parents, in-laws, and extended family. We all have our health. I also feel privileged to have some wonderful dear friends around the world. Oh, and let’s not forget my gorgeous, chocolate lab Maya who brightens up even the cloudiest of days. I am happy with who I am and grateful for what I have on this birthday. Here’s to turning 51, and to the next set of adventures that await me or better yet the adventures that I will seek out.

Celebrating my 51st Birthday with My Family
and with Curt’s Delicious Chocolate Cake
September 30, 2012

The London Paralympics

2012 London Paralympics
The Olympic Flame

There are times in our lives when we are impacted by something. Well, one of those moments for me was when I attended the Paralympics on September 6th in London. It was one thing to watch the various events on television and it was another to sit in person and cheer these men and women on. It was both sobering and moving to see the Paralympic athletes compete in athletics, track and field. Once you get past feeling sorry for them because of their disability, you begin to admire their physical and emotional strength and there’s only room for pride in your heart.  I could not help but think as well of all of the amazing parents, families, friends, and coaches who have supported these athletes. By now you are all familiar with the South African blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, who also ran in the Olympics. I loved hearing what his mother would say to him and his brother growing up, “Carl put on your shoes, Oscar you put on your prosthetic legs”. Pistorius grew up not really thinking he had a disability. He grew up thinking he had different shoes.

The blade runners get ready to run. T44 100 meters
Pistorius standing in the middle behind runner #3.
World-record holder Peacock #6 of Britain standing behind Pistorius won the race.

It is about focusing on the abilities and not the disabilities.  I was so happy to have shared this experience with my children. I do hope that the younger generations are growing up with more empathy, understanding, and acceptance of people with differences. Attitudes have come a long way since I attended Public School 151 in Queens New York in the late 60’s. I remember we had children with Down syndrome in the school but they kept them completely separate from the rest of the students. I suppose that the fact that these children could attend public school was at least a trend in the right direction.

Visually impaired runners prepare to run.
Some have guides with them.
The guide is also awarded a medal if their runner wins.

I also took the opportunity to learn about the differences between Paralympics and Special Olympics. Both are non-profit organizations. The Special Olympics started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities (ages 8 and above) and all levels. This organization helps develop children and adult’s self-confidence and social skills through supporting sporting events held throughout the year in different locations.

David Weir of Britain winning the T54 800 meter race.
The audience roared!

The Paralympics is for high performance athletes with physical disabilities however, beginning this year mentally disabled athletes qualified for some events. The overall categories of allowable disabilities are: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, wheelchair, visual impaired, and Les Autres (meaning The Others). Included in Les Autres are dwarfism, multiple sclerosis, and congenital disorders. These categories are further broken into classification. The athletes must conform to strict criteria regarding their disability and all receive a classification before the beginning of the competitions. The Paralympics follow the same schedule as the Olympics.

Women Blade Runners
On Your Mark, Get Set…

Some athletes were born with their disability and others obtained their disability later in life, either through an illness, an accident, or a war injury. And although, I don’t know every athlete’s personal circumstances, I do know that at some point in their lives they made the critical decision to focus on their abilities and pursue their athletic dreams. Knowing what these courageous athletes have done serves as an inspiration to me.

The women wheel chair runners get ready.

To read more about the London Paralympics go to: http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/sports/

To read more about the Paralympics go to: http://www.paralympic.org/

To read more about the Special Olympics go to: http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/What_We_Do/What_We_Do.aspx

Marathon Maya Takes The Gold

It seems the sporting world missed one amazing performance.

Marathon Maya

Maya took the Gold Medal in the Regent’s Park Marathon during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Maya Accepting Her Gold Medal

Even with fierce competition, no one could out run this powerful athlete.

Maya Posing with the Olympic Mascots at the Park

After hours of interviews and posing for the paparazzi, Maya was humbled by the experience.

“Please, it’s nothing, anyone could have done it.”
“Thank you to all my supporters and fans”