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Just behind Lance Armstrong

TODAY -- NBC News -- Pictured: Natalie Morales, National Correspondent for NBC News \"Today\" -- NBC Photo:Virginia Sherwood --  FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY -- DO NOT RE-SELL/DO NOT ARCHIVE
TODAY -- NBC News -- Pictured: Natalie Morales, National Correspondent for NBC News \"Today\" -- NBC Photo:Virginia Sherwood -- FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY -- DO NOT RE-SELL/DO NOT ARCHIVEVirginia Sherwood

Just behind Lance Armstrong • November 5, 2006 | 6:30 p.m.I’m just getting up from a warm, cozy nap next to my munchkin, Josh. He apparently fell asleep waiting for us to get home. I wish he could have been there today to see his Mommy and Daddy crossing that finish line. Maybe when he’s a little older he’ll be there with us. It’s an accomplishment that you want to share with all those you love. I called him the minute we finished and he said, “Wow, Mommy.”  I don’t know if at the age of three he quite understood what it meant, but he seemed to understand that whatever we did there was a reason to say wow.Here are a few reflections from this tired and hobbled, yet successful, marathoner. I gave it my best shot and, as a result, I did my personal best for time. That is so rewarding. Though the competitive side of me was a little disappointed, I missed 3:30 by just one minute, I realize there’s always next time. All kidding aside, today was simply perfect — perfect weather, perfect crowds, just perfect. I must thank everyone who came out and cheered us on. Every bit helps (especially at miles 20 to 23 for me). 

I also have to say how proud I was to see Karen, beaming from her run, shortly after she finished. Her face said it all. I asked her what was the best part for her and she said running past Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where she finished her radiation treatment for breast cancer just a little over a year ago. I can only imagine what she felt. I was very moved when I saw some of the center’s young patients, a few in wheelchairs and one wearing a face mask, standing outside in the cold happily giving us all their support. It feels good to know in a small way, that we and other members of Fred’s Team helped raise money for pediatric cancer research. (And thanks, once again, to all who donated). 

I heard Lance Armstrong say this was the hardest thing he’s ever done. The guy beats cancer, wins seven Tour de France races, but a marathon was the most difficult. It feels good to know even to a super athlete like him, this was a major physical challenge. Oh, and Lance, you beat me by just 31 minutes. But who’s counting? 

I met so many great people today who thanked me for doing this. I also heard a husband tell Karen, right at the start, that his wife was so inspired by her that she was training for a half marathon. I hope, if nothing else, you enjoyed this experience and sharing this moment with Karen and me. I also hope we gave you some motivation to face challenges in your life ... maybe something you’ve always dreamed of doing. Remember nothing is impossible unless you try. And the rewards of just trying are the most fulfilling. 

Now for the fun part — besides going up the stairs — eating dinner! And boy, can I eat right now. They say you burn 2,600 calories running a marathon. So I say, waiter, bring me a large steak and an equally huge desert.

Pre-marathon jitters • November 4, 2006 | 6:27 p.m.

Less than 17 hours to go until the big day and I’m starting to get those pre-marathon jitters. I’ve been carbo loading, but I’m sick of pizza and pasta by now, if you can believe that. I have also been drinking lots of water and sports drinks, trying to keep well hydrated. The forecast couldn’t be more perfect: low 50s. The last two New York City Marathons were quite tropical in comparison and were pretty tough on the runners. So I feel ready … just one problem: I’m worried about my husband. We have trained long and hard, but unfortunately for him, he caught my very bad cold this week. It’s that time of year — flu season — and he definitely has a bad case of it. He’s been dosing up on cold medicine and vitamins and drinking tons of fluids.  So many runners often are confronted with similar issues right before the run, but they go ahead and battle through them. That’s what my husband is going to do. He says he’ll try his best. It’s hard enough running a marathon when you’re healthy, so imagine when you’re not feeling 100 percent. Oh well, c’est la vie. 

We went into the city this morning and runners from all over the world were proudly parading their track suits emblazoned with their countries flags. That’s what I love about the New York City Marathon — it really is an international event and New York and New Yorkers are at their very best — doing Americans proud. Having done two New York City Marathons more than 10 years ago, I was thinking today what I was most excited about. First, there’s the start ... coming over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and seeing the masses of runners in front and behind. It does actually take quite a while to cross the start line, if you can believe it, because there are thousands and thousands of runners (about 37,000 this year). Then I love when you cross into those first neighborhoods in Brooklyn and see all the local bands and crowds out there cheering you on. What’s remarkable, from start to finish, is how much support there is along the entire 26.2-mile route.

The hardest part is also the most rewarding. Around mile 15 is the daunting 59th Street Bridge. There are no crowds, just runners breathing hard, facing the steep upward climb of the steel bridge. It is the first breaking and breakthrough point for many runners. But once you get past it and reach the down hill, you’ve made it through the worst. And all along First Avenue is the most incredible cheering section you’ll ever see. Those miles from 15 to 20 seem to go by pretty quickly, as I remember. Then, the absolute best part is that last stretch down Fifth Avenue and through Central Park. It’s a beautiful sight seeing the end almost near and that’s where many family and friends line up to bring you on home.I’m always touched when I see a runner struggling and perfect strangers do their very best to try and get them going again. And I’m also always moved by the Achilles athletes: thousands in wheel chairs, amputees on crutches, blind runners...  so close to the finish. For all who say, I could never think to do a marathon, you need only to see the look on the face of one of those athletes — their pain is clearly visible, but their pride and determination is even more apparent. My accomplishment seems so insignificant when I see that display of true courage. And finally, what I can’t wait for the moment when I’m crossing the finish and looking up at the clock, and seeing whether I finish in the time I’d like to or not ... just knowing I did it! Wow! I hope it all goes like that tomorrow. I only have my very best to give, but you never know until you get started, if it’s going to be a good day or a not so good day. So wish me luck and Godspeed. 

A day to remember • November 1, 2006 | 6:23 p.m.
This is it — almost anyway! I can’t believe it, 16 weeks later, it’s time to get the job done. What I’ve learned this time around? Well, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy juggling a full schedule with lots of travel and being a mom and a wife. The hardest part, as I've said before, is not the 26.2 miles; it’s the several hundred miles in training that is the challenge. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it will all be well worth it. Nothing is more rewarding than really working hard for a goal and finally being able to complete it successfully. (I hope, so cross your fingers.)

I have also learned a lot about the strength of the human spirit.  Please don’t take that as me just being corny. To me, seeing Karen Gorrell, who beat advanced breast cancer just last year, getting ready to run her first marathon is the most incredible testament to a person’s will to survive. She’s not letting an illness get the best of her. I have run four marathons and each time I’m blown away by how many survivors, like Karen, are out there. I applaud her for her courage to run a marathon and to share her story and her time with all of you, our viewers.  I hope she has opened your mind to the possibility of reaching for a goal that may seem a mile high … or in this case, 26.2 miles away. Go Karen! And all 36,999 other runners Marathon Day, all of whom have a story about why they are running this race. 

I am most excited to see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (often called the longest latrine on Marathon Day), because it is the start, and not the finish. I know it sounds weird, but if you could bottle all that energy and excitement on that bridge, it would be truly awesome.  And it will remind me that I will never want to forget that day. As with Christmas, to me, the most fun is always the anticipation.

Breaking through the wall  • October 25, 2006 | 10:23 p.m.Every marathoner has that point when every ache and pain seems magnified by the factor of 10, when your legs feel like lead weights, when cramps set in, or when your mind goes into overdrive saying, “You can’t go another mile, much less 6.2 more!” This point is called “the wall.” And for those who have been there, you usually run smack into it anywhere from mile 16 to mile 24. At that point, when you feel that your body is ready to give out and you’re ready to give in to that feeling, you have two options: quit or go on. Most of us, go through “the wall,” and continue running, though somewhat slowly and painfully. Besides getting an injury, facing “the wall” is one of marathoners’ biggest fears.

In my four previous marathons, I’ve been very lucky. Maybe that’s been due to good training. But before a race, you never really know if you’re going to have a good marathon, or a not so good one.  My husband has run my four marathons with me, and every time without fail around mile 22, he hits “the wall” — hard! Smack! This time, he’s determined to beat it. Maybe women are just better at endurance, whereas men are better at speed. I know that’s subject of debate, but that seems to be the case with my husband and I. This time, I’m confident he won’t have that problem because he has the right attitude and he actually seems to enjoy himself more when he runs long distances. That’s what I think is the key to getting past “the wall”: living for the moment and trying to have fun throughout the challenge. It also helps to find support every way and everywhere you can, and especially drawing extra energy from the cheering crowds.

Anyway, “the wall” is very real, as are other aches and pains that go along with it. But, as with all challenges in life, it’s best to try not to get worked up about them. At least, that’s my philosophy. At this point, I can only put on my best performance with the confidence and the determination that I have built up over the last 15 weeks of training. I know Karen, in her training, recently broke through “the wall.” Now all that’s left is putting one foot in front of the other for, oh, about 26.2 miles, but who’s counting? With marathon day, November 5, fast approaching, I know I’m counting every mile. But I’m also confident we all have the right stuff to finish the race. We just have to prove it. I can’t wait! 

Strength from within • October 19, 2006 | 8:22 p.m.

Sixteen weeks!  Where has time gone?  Here we go ... and this is the part I love, the tapering phase.  From now until November 5th, the goal is to keep my muscles strong and continue running, without doing the longer 20-mile runs.  But I can feel that marathon excitement is already in the air.  Running through Central Park yesterday, they were already putting up the bleachers at the finish line, which got me thinking about how far I’ve come in the last 16 weeks. And for those of you who say to yourselves, “I could never do it,” I encourage you, wherever you live, to go to a local race and watch marathon runners crossing the finish line. You’ll be amazed.Marathoners come in all shapes and sizes and in all ages. And some of them may have had life-altering injuries or illnesses that they have overcome. For them, finishing a marathon is a dream come true. You can do it too, if you want it badly enough. Look at Karen Gorrell! She couldn’t run 10 miles 16 weeks ago. And now she’s doing 22. I hope, if nothing else, watching Karen and me run in two weeks' time, you will come to realize that any goal — no matter how lofty it may seem — can be reached with commitment and perseverance.

Anyway, some interesting questions I’ve had along the way: How do you keep going through the long runs? What motivates you and how do you manage to fit it all in? I will tell you that a lot of it comes from within. There are ways, however, to make it more fun. First, find a running partner. I’m lucky that my husband is also training with me, so on days when I really feel I can’t possibly run, he’s forcing me to do it. Also, he makes me try harder and run faster (it’s a guy thing, always wanting to be ahead, you know?) I also have found training with music makes all the difference for me. Some of you have asked me what I listen to when I’m running. Well, my music taste is a little eclectic, but I love U2, Five for Fighting, the Black Eyed Peas, the Foo Fighters and the Goo Goo Dolls, to name just a few.Second, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I can’t say it enough! And third, fit in a run during your day. I do. If you have one hour a day, you can squeeze in a quality run. Plus, I think it’s important to make the point that giving yourself that one hour to do something for you — to allow you to hear yourself think and make you feel good, healthy and charged — is the best thing you can do for you and your loved ones. I know I am at my best after having that time to breathe. I do my best thinking when I am out there running. Give it a try ... listen to your heart, your mind, your body. You may love that feeling as much as I do!

Eat Fig Newtons, but not broccoli • September 27, 2006 | 2:10 p.m.

You are what you eat, or so they say. And in training for a marathon that couldn’t be truer. Your body needs fuel to perform at its best and most efficiently.  Having run four marathons already, I’m very aware now of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to eating right for me. But I remember some uncomfortable moments of trial and error. For example, on the night before a long training run for my first marathon I had some creamy leek, or spinach, soup. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but, boy was it an uncomfortable 15 miles.... Not to be too graphic, but I remember racing to the bathroom. Some runners have bladder control issues, while others may experience intestinal cramping that can lead to unpleasant situations. I’ve had both — not to be gross again. But those are the facts, and running long distances is not what your body is used to. 

On days before a long run, a marathon, or before some other big athletic endeavor, the best thing you can do is really hydrate. You’ve probably heard of carbo loading before a big race. Here’s what I found out: a bowl of pasta and some lean protein will help you on race day, but skip the broccoli as well as heavy creams or sauces. And this is not the time to try something new.  Another good piece of advice, I think, is to not overdo it. Carbo loading doesn’t mean gorging yourself. I’ve learned all of this from personal experience (painfully) and from reading good training and nutrition pointers in Runner's World magazine and other magazines that deal with running and training. Things that also work during a long run for instant fuel (and to stave off your hunger pains): pieces of bananas, raisins in the mini boxes, a PB&J sandwich cut up in pieces, Fig Newtons, and gels, like those made by Power Bar. 

Always drink, especially water. For every hour I run, I try to drink at least one bottle of water. And after a long run, it’s equally important to keep drinking. If you have chills or even a headache, your body is overheated and dehydrated and needs water fast. As for the sports drinks, they do have a lot of calories and sugar. During a long run, I'll drink a bottle of Gatorade in between drinking water. But now that there are so many waters that contain electrolytes, and they’re healthier, I may drink them instead.

On race day, because I have to have some coffee, I allow myself one cup with a little skim milk (again, avoid heavy cream). And I will eat a banana with peanut butter and/or dry toast or a bagel. Training means exactly that — finding out before your runs, during them, and after them what makes you feel good and will let you perform your best. But remember, keep it simple and stick to what your body already knows. 

And after a good long run, don’t be afraid to treat yourself.  My husband and I have made it a tradition to get a great steak dinner somewhere to celebrate our accomplishment.  The protein is just what the body needs to repair the muscles.

Running is mental not physical  • September 26, 2006 | 8:30 a.m.
I’ve gotten so shamefully behind in my blogging — and training — lately. Funny how the weeks are slipping by; November 5th seems to be right around the corner. Last week was another week of travel, which always throws off my training.  I tried to get out and do a few miles, but my grand total for the week is less than spectacular. I had to squeeze in a 20-mile run to make up for all those miles last weekend. When it comes down to it, the marathon itself is not the hard part, rather it’s all the training, commitment, watching what I eat, etc. ... that is really what it’s all about. And it’s all mind over matter — the mental over the physical.  Psyching yourself up is the real challenge. That’s where I'm at right now. 

Karen blogged about how even your iPod music starts to get so old. Boy, is she ever right. So again, mind over matter as the miles pass on by (I hope). It’s generally recommended in training for a marathon to do three 20-mile long runs beforehand. The idea is that you can generally do another nine miles or so on top of what you’ve already conditioned your body to do. Well, there’s not much time since it’s almost October. Gulp!

As far as nutrition goes, I’ve been really bad there too, especially with traveling this week. The good thing about running is you feel like you can almost eat with abandon since you’re going to run off that Dunkin Donut doughnut anyway. I’m usually a very good eater; I eat all the right foods, three-square meals and healthy snacks. But putting in all the miles lately, I find I crave carbohydrates like bread and doughnuts like crazy.  I think I’ve actually gained a few pounds while training, as strange as that may seem. That’s probably because I’m hungrier more often and because I am in training, I figure, why not? The key with marathon training is to up your intake of good carbs a little, but really give your body a lot of healthy and lean proteins, which takes your body longer to convert into real energy, which lasts longer. So reallym it’s not great to carb load, but better to balance carbs with proteins. Also, while it’s good to load up a little the night before a long run, most trainers and nutritionists will say, don’t have too much of a good thing. And don’t try foods your body may not be used too, because no doubt, you will feel it the next day.  Anyway, that’s my two cents. You’ll hear more about what to eat and what not to eat on “Today Runs the Marathon” this Thursday.

Finally, I wanted to thank all of you who have e-mailed asking questions, giving me your support and even donating to Fred’s Team (for Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s pediatric cancer research) on mine and Karen’s behalf. The support really has been incredible, and on the days when I struggle to get out for a run, it’s always nice to know you’re all cheering me on.  Some of you may have even spotted me in Central Park, and it’s really great to hear the shout outs.  Please keep them coming ... because we’re almost there — this is the homestretch.

Running is like childbirth  • August 30, 2006 | 5:30 p.m.

A little more than 10 weeks to go until the big day … marathon day! The big question is whether I will be ready for it, again. And will Karen, a first-time marathoner, be ready? Actually, the nice thing about doing this with Karen is that she and I have motivated and encouraged each other through good runs and bad ones, by comparing notes and exchanging e-mails. And we’ve kept each other honest.

On Sunday, I completed the NYC half marathon and when I crossed the finish and felt that huge rush again, I remembered exactly why I was doing this again. It has been a difficult two weeks of training though. I have been busier than ever at work and my husband was traveling for work and spending time with his family in Colorado. So that made me have to be more efficient in my training — getting in more miles in less time. (Gulp!) But what has kept me going is great the response I’ve gotten from “Today” viewers and readers so far. And a lot of you have had some great questions for me that I thought I would try and answer. So here it goes:

Jennifer from Claypool, Ind., asked me how I stay in shape besides running, especially as a parent (which she is also).

Jennifer, I have to be honest, running is my primary source of exercise (as is chasing after my son). I have been a runner since high school, though I didn’t really do a marathon until 11 years ago. I do try to do some cross-training too though on days when I’m not running, like taking a spinning class or yoga. I hate lifting weights, but at least once a week I force myself to do a session of light weights after a run, as well as doing abdominals, crunches, etc… all torture. But I think running is the best exercise there is.Andrea in Lexington, Ky., asked me what I eat and what my diet is when training for a marathon.  

Andrea, diet is very important for marathoners, because you want to give your body enough calories and fuel to make up for all the calories you burn up in long runs. The great thing is calories are actually your friend when training for a marathon. So I eat up. However, it’s important to eat healthy foods and ones that won’t aggravate your stomach too much. Before long runs, I try to carbo-load, though that doesn’t mean overdoing it. It’s important to have a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, protein and carbohydrates … but most importantly, tons of water!A typical breakfast for me is a bowl of cereal, fruit, coffee and, yes, sometimes a doughnut. Lunch is a sandwich or salad with chicken or another protein source. And for dinner, for example, I’ll make chicken or meat with brown rice and a vegetable or salad. I also am a big believer in mini-meals … or healthy snacks throughout the day to keep my energy level up. Wendy from St. Louis is a mother of three, and she asked me how she could get started and stay in the game, after setting a goal to run a marathon.

First, Wendy, congratulations on the new baby and you are to be commended for setting a marathon as your goal with three little ones. Running a marathon is a lot like getting ready for childbirth (though less painful, I think). You really have to get your mind in the game as well as your body. I think it’s important not to get discouraged early on, so maybe start off with a smaller goal, like running in a 5K or 10K race. I do think it’s good to sign up for some kind of organized run, because it will force you to get out and actually train.

Second, there is nothing wrong with walking and running to get started and don’t worry about how long it takes you to run now. It should be fun, and not torture. Eventually, you’ll grow to like it — at least I hope so. Also, I run with my son (who weighs 32 pounds) in our baby jogger, but I know his attention span is limited as is my ability to push that jogger … so I know I can only go about three miles with him. But I have made it fun for him too. We like to run down a stretch in my town to a nearby park where we’ll play for a time, then we'll run back home. The key is he knows there’s also something in it for him, when I put him in the baby jogger. Good luck!

Denise in Brighton, Minn., asked me what I used for running shoes and which ones I think are the best. She also asked if running with an iPod is helpful.

Denise, I will tell you for my foot and the way I run, I tend to prefer Nikes. I have had many other brands before though, like Saucony and Asics. I like the Nike Shox, because I have had good results with them with little or no blistering. I think you really have to try them out and find what works for you though. Everyone’s feet are different. My observations: Nike seems to be better for people who have medium width or slender feet and need arch support. Saucony was good for a runner with a wider foot. Asics shoes have a new gel system, which I don’t know much about, but they look cool. Anyway, one thing you should do, if you’re a regular runner, is be aware of how many miles you put on your shoes. Just like tires, the treads and shock absorption go, so you need to replace your running shoes about every 500 miles. Sounds like a lot of mileage, but when you’re training for a marathon or other big race, it usually means your shoes last a couple of months. As for running with an iPod, again, if it works for you, do it. I usually run with mine, but sometimes silence can be nice too. Also, keep an ear out, as always, for traffic.Perry in Leesburg, Va., asked me what my goal is for a finish time.  

Perry, New York is a difficult marathon. I would love to qualify for Boston, which would mean around a 3:40 marathon for my age group; however, if I do it in under four hours, that would be fantastic. The last marathon I did was Hartford in 3:43, so I would like to beat that, but I’m going to be realistic because after having a child, my body isn’t what it used to be.Anyway, I will answer more questions next time, but again thanks for the great response and support so far. I hope Karen and I have helped motivate you in some way.  But please keep the emails and questions coming!

Extra motivation • August 15, 2006 | 11:00 am

What would possess me to run a marathon again, I thought to myself as I struggled through a six-mile run this past weekend. That was on top of having a terrible running week; I barely put in any miles with traveling for work and rushing to get home in time to have fun with my son. And did I mention how early I have to get up? I have a lot of reasons for procrastinating when it comes to training for a marathon. This is not my first, so I know I can get it done. It’s just that finding the time is half the battle. It always is. But this time, I have extra motivation.  

This will be my fifth marathon, but it is my first as a busy working mom. And I hope over the course of the next three months, as you read my blog and follow along with my training, you will be inspired, not just to run a marathon, but to accomplish whatever long-term goal you set for yourself.  How many times have you said, “Someday”?  Well, that’s one word I decided to eliminate from my vocabulary 11 years ago, when I caught the marathon bug for the very first time. I had always dreamed of running New York's marathon, but it seemed like too lofty a goal and too much of a physical challenge. However, I had just met my future husband and he too caught the running bug, and next thing I knew, we were training together. We crossed the finish line later that year — together — and he’s hoping to join me once more for a fifth try at running 26.2 miles.

There are many parallels in life to running a marathon, and that is so very true this time around. After having a child, I thought my marathon days were over. I’ve always kept in shape, but certainly not marathon shape. According to the training log I’m following, I should be running about 35 miles a week (yeah, right!) Well, there’s still time, I keep telling myself. Besides, running a marathon is not an impossible task. Sure, it’s a big time commitment and you do have to really train, but it is doable with the right attitude and motivation. And I have plenty of both. Joining me in the 12-week “Today Runs a Marathon” series is Karen Gorrell, who is training for her very first marathon. A working mother of two, Karen beat advanced breast cancer a little more than a year ago.

Karen says she confronted cancer with the same attitude that she does long-distance running: her head down and her mind focused on finishing — no matter what. In May 2005, after completing her treatment at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, she started running to get healthy again. Karen and I are running for the center’s Fred’s Team, which raises money for cancer research. (I’m joining the team in Karen’s honor.) Training for this marathon during the next couple of months will be a lot of fun — and a lot of hard miles, but the best part may be watching Karen cross the finish line on November 5.

If you'd like to sponsor Natalie and help her raise funds for cancer research, check out Natalie Moralesjoined “Today” as a national correspondent in February 2006. If you'd like to learn more about Natalie, check out