I got by with a little help from some new friends…

So I may be a little crazy thinking that I could take on the challenge of training for this half marathon in the middle of winter, but I’m not stupid.  I know that with everything else I have going on, I need to make a commitment and the best way for me to do that is to elicit others to make me accountable.  Hence, I signed up for the New York Road Runners Virtual Trainer.

When I signed up, there were three different options. The first is just an online workout schedule.  The second, access to the coaches for questions. And the third, both of the above, with an option to do your three long runs with the coaches and others on the actual course in NYC.

I chose number three, for all the wrong reasons.  I get to go into the city three times throughout the next two months, alone.  The drive of peace and quiet is enough to be worth the money for me.  An added bonus is that I might be able to leverage business meetings and see friends while I’m there.  Another win for a modern day multitasking woman.  So I clicked to purchase the program, and my computer must have picked up on my excited nerves as it came back with the comment, “Are you sure?”

Hmmm, am I sure??  To be honest, not really.  Who is ever sure about wanting to get up at the crack of dawn on a cold winter Saturday? To spend a few hours running with people that you have never met but you can bet are probably in much better shape than you? And to run with coaches who push you to your physical limitations?  Maybe the better question should have been, “Want to try this out without any strings attached?”  I would surely have had an easier time clicking confirm.  But in life, there is no easy out, so confirm it was.

Our first run was in the middle of January.  I left a good hour and a half in advance to get to the city, and of course it only took me 40 minutes door-to-door.  So I had a little under an hour to contemplate how I might get through this all and come out alive.  On top of that, I had scheduled a business meeting directly after, so I had a purse filled to the brim with a change of clothes and even a new coat.  I got to the Run Center only to find out that the door was locked.  So what to do, what to do.  I looked up and I saw a familiar spot that adorns every NYC corner- Starbucks.  Even though I had already had my morning dose of coffee, I was there.

As I entered Starbucks, I tried to find something that I might be able to buy without regret.  I didn’t want to eat anything extra and I would pay for another coffee during my run.  Hence an overpriced Echo water it was.  The line was short but the wait was long, and for the first time, I appreciated that.  I had time to burn.

I completed my purchase and looked for a seat, and saw some folks in bright lime green jackets with the word “Coach” embroidered on the front.  Fate was in front of me.  I sat down at a seat not that far away and overheard their “coach-like” speak- the course, the plan for the day, how many people, and most importantly how they would get through this themselves.  At that point, I realized that these coaches were in fact people, not masochists.  So I went to introduce myself.

“Hi, I’m Maria and I am assuming from your jackets that I might be spending a few hours with you this morning?”  They too had names which they shared, and I accompanied them to the Run Center.  It was me surrounded by folks who were speaking of finish times that I couldn’t hit in half the distance, but I kept on reminding myself this is why these folks are coaches and not participants.

We got to the beautiful Run Center facility and I made a joke about not needing to leave.  The joke went flat, and that is when I knew these people are serious about running.  They are on a mission, and running is at the center.  As people started to file in, an in-shape 40-something attractive woman with an unfamiliar accent, Elizabeth, walked up to the smart board and put up a map of the race course.  She walked us through the race.  She stressed that once we got through the first 5 miles of the course, the rest would be easy.  However, the first part of the course was the biggest challenge with two long steady climbs named Cat Hill and Harlem Hill.

Then another coach, who seemed to be the head honcho, stood up. “Today, we will be running the first half of the race.”  My mind wandered back to a time of years prior.  I was training for the CIM Marathon, and as part of my training I signed up to run a half.  I registered for the Big Bear Half, which was literally half of the Big Bear Marathon course, a dual event.  The first part of this marathon coursed around Big Bear Lake and was totally flat, and the second half of the marathon took runners into the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains with drastic elevations and limited oxygen levels.  When I signed up for the half, I was under the assumption that it shared the first part of the course with the marathon, not the mountains.  At dinner the night before the race, Joe said that he was surprised that I wanted to do this race as it was all through the foothills.  I stopped mid bite and started laughing, hoping in the back of my mind that he in fact had the oversight not me.  We had just gotten a taste of these foothills on our long winding drive, and they were no joke.  Drastic inclines with hairpin turns so sharp that you had no idea what fate would bring at the top.  These mountains reminded me of the old Road Runner and Coyote cartoons.

I made Joe pull up the race course, and indeed he was correct. My deer-in-the-headlight look proceeded from then until the morning of the race.  I survived, but it was not pretty.  By the end I felt completely spent and slightly nauseous from the lack of oxygen throughout.

I snapped back into reality when everyone was getting up to leave and decided that I needed to give this my all.  After taking an easy run to Central Park where I happened to chat (a.k.a. grill) Elizabeth, we did some warm up activities and then got started.  I continued to run and talk with my new coach friend.  I dominated the conversation in the flat beginning of the race, and let her talk more as the course became more steep – I needed the oxygen for my legs. We had a great time chatting and getting to know one another and I forgot about the miles and the times, I just was able to get into a groove and she was a perfect distraction.

I learned that we shared more in common than just running.  We happened to share the same Italian roots from the same two regions and cities.  A definite rarity.  I learned about her family and her job, both very much like mine, and her husband who she had met while doing a race in her home country of Argentina. Most importantly I learned what motivated her to become a runner- a heart attack at age 28.  She opened up about what had precipitated this and her experience in the hospital and not knowing for sure whether she’d see another day.  I held back the tears and listened as we took one step after another toward the finish line.  I did finish, and I finished strong, having enough energy to sprint the last .2 miles.

I hugged her at the end and thanked her for sharing her story and motivation, as it became my impetus to run for the day.  I will very much look forward to our future runs. Now I can honestly look back on that day that I was hesitant to sign up for this training program, and without reservation say, “YES, I am sure!”

A big thank you to Sandra, Rob, Charlie and Isabel Burley and Tom and Lolly Burgin for your kind donations and words of encouragement this week!!

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