Great day in my life • November 6, 2006 | 7:03 a.m.Yesterday, I ran 26.2 miles. Wow, am I glad to be able to make that statement! And surprisingly, I enjoyed almost every minute of the day. Contrary to my fears going in, I did not have to dig down to the depths of my soul to find the wherewithal to finish. The key for me was to stay in the moment and not anticipate finishing, but to just run. I realized that whenever I did begin to think about the finish line, I would remind myself that it was still many miles away. “Ugh! Eight miles. Wow, I wonder if I’ll be crawling by then …” So I found it was best to just take in the sights and enjoy the crowds.
It turns out that this event is a great New York celebration. Running through the different neighborhoods gave me a chance to really appreciate the people who live there. Some of the images that come to mind as I remember it this morning: an auto repair shop in Brooklyn that had a banquet of food set up on tables along the sidewalk; the lady in an apron who came out with her pots and pans to make noise and cheer us on; the open doors of a church with the parishioners all gathered outside to watch; the many different bands that were on the sidewalks playing different styles of music; the goofy balloon hats and face paintings worn by members of the cheering crowd, and the great signs of encouragement seen along the way, such as “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” And let’s not forget the runners: the man dressed as a cup of coffee who ran the whole race in his costume and collected his medal just the same; the runners with prosthetic legs; the runner who offered me the other half of her banana; the pats on the back and words of encouragement from those who read our blogs and watched the “Today” show. I could go on and on.
I was also touched by the friends and family that I saw along the way. That gave me a jolt of energy each time and made it feel like home to me. I was also very impressed with Natalie who was so enthusiastic and so excited. She loved the crowds at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island, beaming with pleasure as she watched them get pumped up at the starting line. She made it seem easy. I think she has the strength of a giant.
This experience has been wonderful for me all the way around. Yesterday was a great day in my life. Not equal to the births of my children, but pretty up there. I’m looking forward to doing it again in April at the Big Sur Marathon. All those hills, ugh!
Having a truly winning spirit • November 4, 2006 | 6:22 p.m.Last night, I attended the very inspirational Runner’s World 2006 Heroes in Running awards ceremony. This was the perfect pre-race event for its uplifting atmosphere. I left feeling proud of everyone in the room and glad to be a part of the community and the celebration. For a few hours, I took in the presence of some truly awe-inspiring athletes, runners who have been using their celebrity to improve the lives of others. In addition to being great athletes, many of them have championed worthy causes and spent their time and energy educating people about the benefits of their sport. The most amazing among them is Rudy Garcia-Tolson. He is conclusive proof that the human spirit can transcend even crushing limits to realize a dream. Despite Rudy’s two prosthetic legs, he runs a 5:57 mile! He saw himself not as a person with a severe handicap, but as an athlete. I smile just thinking about the life he made for himself and the person he has become.
To me, it is one of the greatest truths in life that through vision anyone can turn a dream into a reality. Rudy is a prime example of this. So is the “Today” show’s Natalie Morales, who matter-of-factly lives that truth everyday. When I met her she told me that she started her career in banking, but knew she would one day become a journalist and work in television. I knew almost immediately that she had a winner’s determination and spirit. She set her sites on a career just as she set her sites on tomorrow’s marathon. That winning spirit is the same quality that anyone battling cancer can use to see their life beyond it. I know that it isn’t always so easy to focus on the positive while undergoing treatment. I can remember some chemo weekends carrying around the ever present worry that I might be beginning the decent into truly bad times. But those thoughts have to be brushed away in favor of visualizing the future you want. For me, cancer turned out to be a bump in the road on the way to a good life. Six months after finishing treatment, I had a fleeting thought that I would like to run a marathon. The fleeting thought became persistent and then demanding. Tomorrow, I will be lining up with Natalie and 37,000 others with that same winning spirit. Maybe a few people watching or reading this will get the running bug that is waiting just beyond their bump in the road and line up with me next year. On a lighter note, at last night’s ceremony, Paul Tergat, the world’s fastest marathoner, stood near my table while waiting to accept his award. I thought about touching him, sort of like rubbing Buddha’s belly, but decided that it might be rude. So instead, I consciously breathed very deeply in his presence. I am pretty sure I got some of his oxygen. I am thinking that this will add some of his magic to my run tomorrow. He is thinking that he encountered a true New York nut job. I am very pumped up for tomorrow. Hope I can sleep tonight, but I know it won’t be easy.
Excitement in the air • November 1, 2006 | 12:17 p.m. While I was in Central Park yesterday, I watched workers setting up the finish line for Sunday’s marathon. There is definitely excitement in the air and it is beginning to rub off on me. Surprisingly, I am really looking forward to Sunday, but I’m not anxious or worried. Maybe this is because in some ways I have already accomplished one of my goals.
When I set out to run the New York City Marathon, I was as much interested in going through the training as I was running the race itself. I knew I’d feel really good after months of regular training. That goal is already accomplished. I do feel really good; the best I’ve felt in a very long time. So no matter what happens on Sunday, I know I’ve made big changes in my life that I will forever benefit by.
Anticipation of the race aside, I am also thoroughly enjoying the tapering part of my training. I am eating bagels and bananas, as if they were the only food. I am going to bed early and running shorter three to four-mile runs in the mornings. This feels a little like a well-earned vacation.
In fact, because the whole experience is devoid of any pressure to perform to a certain standard, I am really enjoying it. Now Paul Tergat of Kenya, last year’s winner, he has some pressure! He may be anxious and having a hard time sleeping, while I’m still sleeping comfortably. Funny that as I was thinking about this during my run this morning, I slipped on some shaving cream left behind by Halloween mischief makers — and fell. This is the first time I have ever fallen, and it happened just five days before the race. Though I didn’t get hurt, it really scared me. How awful would that be to get this far and then have an injury?
I wouldn’t be surprised if that negative thought is the beginning of the phantom aches and pains that go with the taper. Hmmm, maybe I should go home and stay in bed until Sunday.
Secret of athleticism? • October 30, 2006 | 12:40 p.m.
It’s getting cold outside; most mornings when I leave the house for my run, it’s somewhere around 40 degrees. I find this to be the ideal weather for running. It’s easier to breath, I sweat less, and I have a natural incentive to finish — getting back home for a hot shower! And something about running in the cold leaves me feeling more invigorated and alert than I would be during a warm weather run. The change in seasons also makes me think about how things have changed over the months since training started. Back in August when I first began, in the first few miles of every run, I would listen for signs that my body was up to the task. If my body complained that my run was going to be hard, usually it was because either the weather was too humid, or I didn’t get enough sleep or food. In the later miles of a “difficult” run, I would sometimes walk a bit of the way. Once or twice I have even quit and walked the rest of the way home (only because you can’t get a cab in my area).
But my muscles grew stronger with regular practice. As the weeks went by, I graduated from walking when it got difficult to slowing down to an easier, more manageable pace. By then I had eliminated many of my food issues by eating the right stuff at the right time. I also eliminated problems with running out of breath by regulating my breathing and my pace … or “running within the breath.” This is a phrase whose origin I can’t place but one which I love for its conciseness. It forms a mental picture that suggests that pace is limited by an invisible but expandable boundary. I can slow my running to fit within my current breathing boundary, or stretch my breathing boundary to allow for a faster pace. Each is a separate entity, though both are bound together and force constant improvement upon the other.
My mind over time has also been conditioned to see that a generally lazy person would always rather be home sitting on the couch with a good book … or even a bad book … than out hustling. I’m one of those who vote for the couch. I will always — and forever — vote for the couch. I can listen as intently as ever for signs that the run is going to be difficult. But the trick to running is that whatever the answer, you have to run anyway. So, is there anything left to learn about running?
Actually, I still have many, many questions. I read books, browse the Internet, ask questions of people in the know, but still my curiosity remains endless. How do you go from 9-minute miles down to 8 or 7? Is a person who is running a certain pace destined to remain in that general pace range, or can she one day achieve a pace to be proud of. And can the mind become so good at disregarding the whining body that at some point the body stops whining?
This is an athletic endeavor after all. What does it take to be really good at an athletic endeavor? Think of the intense concentration that Michael Jordan was known to be in the midst of when he would stick out his tongue before a shot. Think of the intense concentration that has carried Tiger Woods to the pinnacle of his sport. Is that kind of concentration or any small degree of it a byproduct of athleticism, or are the concentration skills the driver of it. Think of Dean Karnazes. How in God’s name does he do 50 marathons in 50 days? And most intriguing of all, how is it possible for him to eat a slice of pizza while on the run? I think I will be at this running thing for a while.
Running on tired legs • October 18, 2006 | 7:32 p.m.
I can’t believe how quickly these past few months have passed since my marathon training began. Somehow, it's mid-October and I’m already tapering. For anyone who hasn't trained or read about it, tapering is the period two to three weeks prior to the marathon when you cut back on your training and your long runs. During this time you allow your muscles to heal and your body to build up deep energy reserves that will be used on marathon day. Once you hit the taper point, your deadline is upon you. There are no more chances to get your body in gear. You are either ready — or you aren't.
This past weekend was my last long run before tapering. Normally, I run a nine-minute mile on my daily runs. The long runs are slower, but I’ve really been pushing myself to try and get below 9:30 a mile, mostly because I don’t want to be running for an eternity on marathon day. So it was serendipitous that I happened to be running with my friend Denise who had a hamstring injury and had slowed her pace down to a 10-minute mile to compensate. As it turns out, 10-minute miles are perfect for me on long runs. We ran together, talking much of the time. Before I knew it, we had gone six miles, then 10, then 16, then 20. At the end, I could have kept running and would have if Denise hadn’t been nursing an injury. This was the perfect way for me to end the hard training. I felt confident afterwards that as long as I take it easy on my pace, I will enjoy the marathon and can stop worrying about the public humiliation of crawling to the finish line.
For at least the next three weeks, I will enjoy running at my current pace and will be happy with the progress that I have made so far. I won’t think of improving my speed or my form, or building my endurance. I’m done with the pushing for a while. I will go back to running for pleasure, for the solitude, and for the peace of mind that it brings me. But contentment runs in cycles with me. I will be content for a time, but eventually I will want to see progress and growth. I have been down this road many times before. I know the pattern by now. If I don’t push myself, my contentment will be followed by dissatisfaction with my present state, which is then followed by frustration acute enough to cause me to push once again.
In running, I had to learn to run with tired legs. I had to push, even though I really wanted to quit. I had to learn to regain my breath and keep running, after getting winded. Denise ran through her pain this past weekend and felt a sense of accomplishment for finishing, even though she considered quitting after the first mile. As with running, in life I’ve had numerous skills to learn. I’ve had to learn to deal with uncomfortable situations, awkward moments, personal flaws big enough to drown myself in, cantankerous bosses, failure, disease, grief, disappointment, you name it. Each of these required me to push myself out of my comfort zone. So in life, as with running, I am able now to run with tired legs. It takes more to make me quit at something today than it did 10 years ago. And I continue to try and improve my pace. I can't remember if I'm talking about running or life ... it all runs together after a while.
Searching for a magical “zone” • October 8, 2006 | 10:23 p.m.
This weekend, I participated in an 18-mile training run in Central Park sponsored by the New York Road Runners club. So far, I’ve completed four runs that were 17 miles or more, so I am no longer completely and blissfully ignorant of what I am in for when I set out to do a long run. Yet, somehow I still started out thinking that it would be easier this time, since I am stronger than I was the last time. I realize this is foolish optimism around mile 14 and during the next four to six miles, I oscillate between playing various mind games designed to trick my body into continuing and hoping in vain that I will stumble upon the magical “zone.”In an attempt to stave off desperation in the final miles, I followed a number of the lessons that I’ve learned during my training. I ate well and drank sufficiently prior to starting. I greased my body up, down, and sideways with lotion to prevent chaffing. I focused on breathing deeply and rhythmically throughout the run. I conserved my energy for the later stages, when I knew that it would be in short supply. And for once, I deliberately held back and ran at a slower pace, intending to surge after the halfway point, if I felt I still had it in me.In the past, my form had devolved into a lazy, wobbly kneed, knuckling-dragging exhaustion. To combat that, I reminded myself to remain relaxed and conscious of my stride. I didn’t zone out to music or an audio book. I might have listened to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” at least 15 times, but only because the beat is perfect for a 10-minute mile pace. All the while, I paid attention to my body. I drank something at each water stop, even if it was just a few sips. And I had a container of Kai’s Power Goo at the half way point to keep my energy level up. The first six miles were easy. No problem. The next six weren’t as easy, but not that hard either. But during the next two, my difficulties began. And then, bam! Mile 14! Holy cow! And I still had four more miles to go. I hauled out the few mental games I could remember. I told myself that the last few months of training had made legs strong and that they would carry me to the finish line. “My legs will carry me,” I repeated. Then I thought about my husband yelling, “Skate!” at our son, when he seemed to be lollygagging around the rink during a recent hockey game. How can I expect him to perform at his best, if I can’t do it? So I told myself: “Run! Don’t be a quitter! Your children will be quitters if they watch you do it!”
When that trick stopped working, I thought about my own Dad who ran up and down the hills of San Francisco for years. He had somehow convinced himself that the universe was conspiring to help him by rotating the Earth so that it would move to meet his next step. Eventually, however, each of these tricks lost their power to persuade my legs of anything. I gave up on mental games and just went on sheer will. “Shut up and run,” I told myself until the end of my run. I finished the 18 miles in 2 hours, 55 minutes. At the finish line, I devoured a bagel and then I limped back to my car. Luckily, there is still next week to try again for composure and ease during a long run. By the way, I am sure it is no surprise to anyone that I never did surge at mile nine.
On a separate note, Natalie Morales and I are running the NYC marathon in November as members of Fred’s Team. Fred Lebow, the much loved founder of the NYC marathon, died of cancer in 1994. He was treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where I was treated in 2004 for my own bout with breast cancer. Fred’s Team is raising money to fund the center’s cancer research efforts. And I am very grateful to my employer, Barnes and Noble, for their generous sponsorship, though additional donations are still needed. For information on how you can make a donation, check out my page on Fred’s Team’s site.
Getting emotional about food • September 27, 2006 | 9:32 a.m.
I am seeing food in a completely different way now that Madelyn Fernstrom from “Today” and Liz Applegate from Runner’s World magazine have set me straight on its true purpose: fuel for the body. You need a certain amount of carbs, protein, and fat, in order for your body to function optimally. This is not very different from a car needing oil, fluids, and gas to run smoothly. I don’t know why it took me over four decades to understand this, but now that I do, I’ve changed my eating habits for the better. I am drinking way more water than I ever have, and I am eating fruits, vegetables, and proteins in larger quantities than ever before. I don’t want to suggest that the story ends there and that my new leaf is permanently glued right side up. The car analogy is working for me at the moment, but I know that there are some powerful emotions tied up in food and this is where the analogy falls apart. None of the cars I’ve ever owned have gotten emotional about gas and oil. But food for me has been at the heart of many different emotions. I almost salivate when I ogle the extraordinary coconut cream pie at my favorite restaurant. And I experience comfort, pleasure, satisfaction, and even pride when I eye my gorgeous Thanksgiving meal the moment before my guests begin to devour it.
And I can’t forget the negative emotions — the revulsion, disgust, and even the pain — I felt during a brief period when bananas caused blisters in my mouth. Negative emotions associated with food can be particularly difficult to forget. When I was 10, I watched a Burt Reynolds movie, while struggling through a stomach virus. To this day, I can’t watch that movie without feeling slightly queasy.
So there are two masters to serve when it comes to food: my body and my brain, or at least the part of my brain driving my emotions. I need to please both to win my battle with food. If I do what is right for my body and tell my brain to stay out of it, it will be very disappointed and most likely direct me to the nearest Dairy Queen in protest. On the other hand, if I give my brain what it desires, I will struggle to eat the right foods — in the right quantities — for my body. Of course, this is battle many of us have to contend with every single day. But for those of us who are long-distance runners, there are additional dietary considerations. We need more complex carbs and lean protein to give us sustained energy during long runs and to help repair our muscles afterwards.
You can think of this as a game albeit with some pretty silly rules. My game looks something like this: There are two beasts to feed:
- The brain, which wants what it wants.
- The body, which needs carbohydrates to create the energy needed for running.
If you give both beasts exactly what they crave, you will be obese and die of heart disease. Here are the rules of the game today (they change frequently):
- You must maintain a ratio of 50 percent carbs, 25 percent protein and 25 percent fat or you will not run as well as you could, according to Madelyn Fernstrom’s book, “The Runner’s Diet: The Ultimate Eating Plan That Will Make Every Runner (and Walker) Leaner, Faster, and Fitter.”
- You must not exceed your maximum caloric intake on any given day. Consequence again is obesity.
- You must keep your sugar intake in check because it’s bad for you. (My rule: each person will have one or two). Consequences are cancer, failing memory, and heart disease, if you believe the bad press.
- You must have eight or more glasses of water a day. Consequences are difficult long runs due to dehydration and shriveled, drying, old, leather-like skin … or so they say.
- You must eat fruits and veggies or will suffer a lack of energy and not get up the hills or finish the long runs.
- You must cut back on caffeine. In my game, I think both of my beasts are addicted to coffee. When I want another cup of joe, I am never to sure if it’s physical or mental.
In trying to satisfy these rules over the last week, I’ve found that low-fat cheese is much like eating a substance meant for sneaker production. I’ve also found that my brain is persistent and annoying when walking past a Mister Softee ice cream truck. I hear comments from inside my head sounding like “Go ahead, the cones are small, there’s protein in ice cream, isn’t there? Don’t be so joyless, girl, it’s only a little ice cream for God’s sake.” Unlike my mind, my body remains mute at the moment when I am cheating it out of the fuel it needs. It is silent and doesn’t complain at all. Until later, that is, when it refuses to keep running or stay awake when I need it. So I have to remember that the effects of my bad food decisions are not immediate, but I’ll eventually feel them.
Obviously, the solution is to eat foods that taste good and are healthy. Maybe it’s not that difficult and I am making a bigger deal out of this than I should. I can’t really say since I’ve never tried very hard to find these foods before. I have a few in my collection and am building my repertoire daily. I still hate lima beans and peas, and I don’t intend to even try changing those long-standing prejudices. But I have recently discovered tofu and am serving two vegetables at my dinner table instead of one, thanks to Liz Applegate’s good advice. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get adventurous at some point and try a spinach shake.
Giving up Fluff-a-nutter? • September 20, 2006 | 6:54 p.m.
I wanted to do the “Today Runs a Marathon” series because I hoped that the training would leave me in excellent physical shape. I was sure that the habit of sustained and regular aerobic exercise would change my life. And I knew that a segment on nutrition was planned. But in truth, I didn’t really consider that marathon training would involve changes to my diet that would also have a really positive impact. I have notoriously given little weight to nutritional concerns, though I’ve gotten more aware of them over time. Here is a short history of my dietary evolution:
- 10 years old: I ride my bicycle to the supermarket with my friend Maria to buy, and then completely consume a container of cake frosting. No cake, just frosting. We ate the frosting in heaping spoonfuls, until it was all gone — and we were still standing in the parking lot.
- 20 years old: Out on my own, I buy boxes of toasted almond bars and eating them with complete abandon, maybe after dinner, maybe before.
- 25 years old: I quit smoking, gained 10 pounds, still eating whatever I want. And I drink lots of coffee.
- 30 years old: I eat an entire box of macaroni and cheese for breakfast while pregnant. At least by this time, I knew I was doing something really bad. But I did it anyway. I also fit in some fruits and vegetables to make up for the mac and cheese.
- 35 years old: I know what fat grams are and I understand the concept of a calorie. I can tell you how many calories and/or fat grams commonly eaten foods contain. I know Fettucini Alfredo is really bad for you, and I rarely eat it. And I know soda is sugar water, so I don’t drink it often. But I still love sweets. And coffee. I am very addicted to coffee.
- 40 years old: I’ve had cancer. I am concerned about nutrition. I try to eat fruit and salad, though I don’t much like them. I have a friend who reminds me that sugar is not your best friend, if you’ve had cancer. Fluff-a-nutter sandwiches to him are gross. I try to feel the same way, but I still like them.
- 41 years old: I slowly run up a steep hill as part of my marathon training, trying hard to just keep going. Why didn’t I eat some fruit before trying this run? Why did I eat all that chocolate in the office yesterday afternoon? I should have had some protein.
Now I am ready to take on nutrition. I am so ready that I’ve allowed Madelyn Fernstrom, a nutritionist and “Today” contributor, to peer into my fridge and read my food journal. She has brought my truly appalling eating habits into focus, reminding me that what I eat really does affect my energy level, my mood, my thinking, my sleep; in short, my life.
Why wouldn’t you want to follow the rules? Bending them once in a while to enjoy a bowl of ice cream or a piece of chocolate is still OK. But if you want to run a marathon, if you want to be at your best, think clearly, sleep well, and be happy, you probably should look closely at the fuel you are putting in your body. I plan to pay much closer attention to this aspect of my life and to make the choices that will pay off for me on marathon day.
Nutrition aside, training is continuing to go well, for the most part. I did manage to do a 20-mile run last weekend. I participated in the New York Road Runners training run which included Gatorade and water stops as well as some well placed Port-a-Johns and bagels at the end. This is a great way to get the miles in without all the fuss that goes with a long run. But I have to add that at the end of the run, I accidentally dropped my iPod while fidgeting with my jacket and bag. When I bent down to pick it up, I felt such a pain in my legs that for half a second I considered leaving it on the ground. I did eventually get upright again, iPod in hand. I can tell you that the simple act of bending over takes some doing, after a 20-mile run. I still struggle to get the long runs (and sometimes the short runs) in during the week, particularly now that September is in full swing — piano lessons, ice hockey, roller hockey, gymnastics, school, life ... Phew!
Lessons from the road • September 14, 2006 | 5:37 p.m.
On Sunday, my training plan called for a 17-mile run. And once again, I can say that this is the longest run I’ve ever had to do. With a run of this length, the simple act of putting my sneakers on and going for a run becomes a little more complicated. First of all, there is the question of where to run. Living in a densely populated area, I had a hard time laying out a course without running into areas where I didn’t want to be, running near highways where I’d be breathing car exhaust, or running along busy roads and risking getting run over. Then there’s the question of whether there will be an opportunity to buy water and Gatorade, if I need to, along my route. And that, of course, leads to finding a bathroom along the way.
So I decided to drive in to the city and run the Central Park loop a few times, knowing that it is 6 miles long. I planned to run the loop three times and go home proud of myself for completing the extra mile. I expected that I would easily find a bathroom, so I didn’t worry too much about that. I did stash some Gatorade before I started my run, so that I could get to it when I came around the loop.
A run of this length requires keeping my mind either busy or idle for three or more hours. I started by listening to music. For the first hour, I played a few favorite songs. When the beat was right and it kept me moving, I played that song until I was sick of it. But eventually, I was sick of all of the songs on my iPod. Out of boredom, I switched to an audio book. That kept me going for another hour or so. Eventually, I was sick of the iPod altogether and put in my pocket.
Around the time I hit 14 miles, I couldn’t go another step until I found a bathroom. After 15 minutes of frantic searching, I finally came upon one. I started up again and ran for a mile or so still blissfully thinking that I would finish. Then with two miles left, my legs turned into 300-pound stones. My run came to a screeching halt and I was forced to walk from 110th Street back to 80th Street, where I met my husband and we hopped into a cab and headed back to the car. The difficulty I had finishing this long run made me realize that I am not “trained” yet and if I don’t get my butt in gear, my children will watch me fail miserably on television on November 5.
I believe me children should learn to accept failure, if they want to become a happy and successful. But that’s not necessarily the lesson that I’m trying to teach them right now. At this point, I’d rather teach them about determination, concentration, and perseverance. And those will be the lesson that I hope to teach them when I go out next weekend and attempt to run 20 miles.
Perseverance counts • September 5, 2006 | 7:20 p.m.
This past weekend I ran the longest and hardest run I’ve ever done. I knew I had to go 15 miles to stick with the training plan, but the weather didn’t make it easy. A tropical storm brought rain and high winds. On Saturday, I was almost home, but I still needed to put in a few more miles. To make up the distance, I had to run up and down hilly roads. By the time I got in my house, I was soaking wet and dog tired, but I had finished my long run.
Next weekend, there will be an even longer one to tackle. I’ve been following a training program designed by Bart Yasso, who’s with Runner’s World magazine. When I started training, I was doing five mile runs three times a week. The first six weeks of the program, I ran 25 to 30 miles a week, adding more miles with a long run between 10 and 15 miles on the weekends. This week, my training plan calls for one longer mid-week run of eight miles and a long run of 17 miles on the weekend. By the end of this week, I should be somewhere around 35 miles a week.
It’s a struggle pushing through those long runs. This past weekend I tried not to think about how nice it would be to stop and walk, and how much distance I still had left to cover. Instead, I constantly reminded myself that if I could get up one hill, the rest of the run would be that much easier. I woke up this morning, after a long weekend of shopping for kids’ shoes and school supplies, chauffeuring children around and attending BBQs, and I was so tired I really wanted to go back to bed. I thought about those hills and I thought about Natalie’s comment in one of her blogs that running parallels life in so many ways. OK, I just need to get up this one hill...
All these miles are getting my body into shape for running a 26.2-mile marathon in couple of months. And I feel really good about finishing those long runs, because that reminds that perseverance counts. I try to remember to apply that lesson to my daily life. I’ve gotten to the point where I always want be training for a marathon and reminding myself that I can do more every day. With this in mind, before I’ve even finished my first marathon, I signed up for the Big Sur International Marathon in April. It goes along the Pacific Coast highway in California. My sister Kelly lives in Monterey, so the run will give me a good excuse to visit her … and maybe even convince her to run with me. With all those hills, I expect the course to be breathtakingly beautiful — and super challenging. And I know that I will have to keep training after the NYC marathon to run that one.
I want to thank Jules Herbert, who works with me at Barnes & Noble, for sharing his marathon stories. He told me which ones were tough, hilly, scenic or overrated, and he told me how the crowds make you feel, what the weather was like on marathon day, and even what food and drink is served at the finish line. Jules made me realize that running marathons isn’t just a sport; it’s a way of life, almost an addiction — although a healthy one. He inspired me to sign up for Big Sur. Why stop at one?
My long run • August 29, 2006 | 11:30 p.m.
Last week I received e-mails from people at various stages of their lives who are trying to fit marathon training in their hectic days. I heard from women who were struggling to get past mile one, three, or 15. One woman had already run numerous marathons and was preparing for her first ultra one. I heard from a woman in the midst of breast cancer treatment who one day wants to run. I even heard from a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 46; today she’s a 17-year survivor who regularly runs ultra-marathons.
The wide spectrum of these women’s experiences reminded me about how much my own life has changed since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Thinking back to that day, I could never have imagined myself writing a blog about running for the “Today” show. In fact, I didn’t imagine running at all. I only thought about getting through treatment. Later on, when I starting running, I couldn’t imagine running a marathon. To me, that would have been pure fantasy. But I could imagine running five miles a day. And once I ran that distance, my next goal was running more than five on the weekends, which would become, in training parlance, my “long run.”
Trying to visualize the end state when it’s such a long distance from where you are can make it feel impossible to reach. Sometimes thinking that far ahead will kill your motivation. You need to think about the next few steps and make sure they are in the right direction. I am sure that the amazing Linda from Longview, Wash., the 17-year survivor, who now runs ultras, would never have predicted on the day of her diagnosis that she would one day run 66 miles.
I look at my training for the New York City Marathon as a series of small steps. Since I am not naturally athletic, I accepted from the beginning that, unlike my college botany final, the procrastinator’s cramming strategy wasn’t going to work. Slow and steady weekly gains in physical and mental strength and stamina are the only way for me to imagine my body lasting 26.2 miles. So I am hoping that mile one becomes mile two and three and so on. And over time, before I know what hits me, one day I’ll eventually cross mile 26.
My goal last week was to add a few extra miles to my long run on the weekend. And I did. I ran along the bike trail in Cape Cod with my friend Kristine and our kids. They rode their bikes as I ran. I was so impressed that my children had the stamina to pedal for more than two hours. I finished the week with 25 miles. I skipped one training day during the week and I didn’t have any time to fit in cross training. I’m on track with my training schedule, but I would like to get out more this week, plus get in some cross training. I still have the long run ahead.
Pavement meditation • August 21, 2006 | 2:00 p.m.
My training schedule last week looked good, well, on paper, that is. I ran six miles three times last week and had a long 11.5-mile run on Sunday. But in reality, it wasn’t such a good week.
I wanted to run on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then do a long run on Saturday. Instead, I got out only for daily runs on Tuesday and Thursday. When I tried a long run on Saturday, I forgot a water bottle. I didn’t have any cash on me, so I had to quit early, after becoming extremely thirsty. So my long run turned into a six-mile run. On Sunday, I remembered to bring water with me, so I was able to run for roughly two hours. I walked a bit, but I blame the weather. It was very humid. So while it wasn’t exactly a hardcore runner’s training week, the miles added up to something respectable.
I now know the importance of water. But I’ve also rediscovered the importance of breathing, controlled breathing. A few days before I appeared on “Today” for the first segment of this marathon series, I spoke with Mary Ellen Keating, the senior vice president of corporate communications at my employer, Barnes & Noble. (She had arranged for the company to sponsor me as a member of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Fred’s Team.) Having worked for years in media-related fields, Mary Ellen would probably have good advice on how to do a TV interview without passing out. And she did. Her advice? Breathe.
I knew that breathing has a powerful centering effect. When you focus on breathing, you become more aware of the present. But if you’ve ever tried meditation, you know it’s not so easy to sit still and attempt to stay in the present. For me, it’s much easier to do when I’m running. So not only am I getting stronger, but I’m also able to clear my mind and relax. And frankly, for a working mom like me, it is very possible that these are the only truly peaceful moments that I’m going to enjoy during the day. This is why I chose to make running a part of my daily routine.
No time for settling • August 14, 2006 | 11:16 a.m.
Why would anyone want to run 26 miles? And why me of all people? It’s not that I’ve been a couch potato. I dabbled in exercise over the years. I’ve joined a few gyms, played some racquetball, and tried aerobics, karate, yoga, Pilates, and, of course, running. But I always dabbled. I imagined that at some point in the not so distant future I would stop dabbling and finally get into shape. This was never a very specific goal, like losing a certain number of pounds or getting a black belt in karate. And there was never even a timeframe associated with it like this month or even this year. It was more like a general feeling that when I finally got organized, exercise would have a prominent place in my daily routine.
Then the year I turned 39, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was treated in the standard way — chemo, radiation, and a lumpectomy. Eight months later, I was cancer-free and back to living my life. Only things were different for me; I was facing the truth that life is shorter for some people than it is for others. We don’t all get to be 90. And some of us won’t get to see next year. Maybe intellectually we all know this … but some of us don’t really get it. We procrastinate as if tomorrows are endless. But after having cancer, I understood that each of us has a limited supply of them.
I have since tried daily to teach my kids all the things I think they should know. They hate this, but I do it anyway. I can’t afford to wait until they are ready to hear it. And I tell the people that I love how much they mean to me, because it feels better than assuming that they already know. And I do what I can to live the life I want — now. In other words, I don’t settle for dabbling when it comes to things that are important to me.
I want to be healthy and strong for the rest of my life. Of all the physical activities I have tried over the years, running was always the simplest. It takes little more than a pair of sneakers and a serious running bra. But I don’t just want to run occasionally, as I have in the past. That is too easy to ditch in favor of other more pressing issues like work or family obligations. So I choose to run a marathon — 26.2 miles on November 5, about two and a half months from now. Nothing vague about this. I have a specific goal with a set timeframe. Sure, it will take a serious effort to prepare my body to run for four or five hours straight. This time I won’t be able to dabble. And while training, I will be the healthiest that I have ever been in my life.
Karen is running as a member of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's Fred's Team. If you'd like to sponsor Karen and help her raise funds for cancer research, check out her page on Fred's Team. The "Today" show's Natalie Morales is training along with Karen and will run the New York Marathon in her honor.