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Casual Running Picture Challenge

When working towards a goal, especially a fitness-orientated goal, we find that we must challenge both our bodies and our minds. The body will learn the rhythm of the constant contracting of muscles in orchestrated movement. Your mind will repeat lyrical motivational mantras to the beat of your drumming heart.

Runners are constantly on a journey to self-improvement. We aim to run a faster mile or to run a further distance. When we challenging ourselves, we push ourselves to the limit, break those limits and raise our personal bars higher. There is always some goal to runs towards.

After finishing my first half marathon, I was planning on cutting back my mileage. I set my next long-term goal to run under 10 minute miles consistently and new I had to start getting to work. It is sometimes hard to find motivation after accomplishing a huge goal, your body still recuperating. Although I wasn’t focusing on running long distance last week, I still had rather been sore than sorry.

7 mile beach run

 

 

A nice 7-mile run along the beach the previous Saturday had my running spirit still going strong, but my knees had beginning to feel the toll of the mileage. That is when I saw the “What Do You See When You Run” photo challenge by the blog Casual Running. (Run 5 days in a row, taking the best pic of your run—later changed to 3 days.) I love the idea of setting small goals, which pushed me to continue to run, even if it was shorter miles. This challenge got me motivated to get back into my running routine and allowed me to feel and see the beauty of my runs.

 

Day 1 (Sorry, didn’t take an original pic!)

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Although I prefer running outside, I checked out the new gym by my house. I started with the elliptical, then a treadmill run, and finished with some weight training. I left feeling super strong.

Day 2

DAY 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Started this run at 5 a.m. My first mile pace was 12:25—not too bad for wiping the sleep from my eyes. By the 3rd mile, I was at a 11:55 pace, and stopped to snap a pic before finishing that mile at 10:34. Finished feeling very proud of that time.

Day 3

DAY 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had no energy for this after work run that I begun at 8: 20 p.m. I was feeling down, but thought about how I made a commitment to running consecutively. I had a super slow 13:21 first mile, but by 2nd mile I was at a 12:11 pace. A slow run is better than no run.

Day 4

DAY 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was an early morning beat the sun run. I started this run 6:44 a.m., just as the sun had risen. My pace was within the 11-minute mark throughout this run. I felt strong throughout the day and my positive mindset followed me throughout the day.

Day 5

DAY 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spartan Race run! I completed my first Spartan Race sprint, a 5K plus over 15 obstacles. The hardest obstacles included putting a band on your ankles and jumping up stairs, and climbing rope. I was nervous about the 8-foot wall climb, but mastered that. My favorite obstacle was the spear throw, although my spear made contact with the target but fell to the ground, causing me to do 30 burpees. I had to do lots of burpees and this was the hardest race I have ever entered, but I finished earned my medal!

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Spartan Strong

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 2.26.42 PMI have a few 5ks and a half marathon under my fitness belt, but those seemed like a piece of cake compared to my first Spartan Race. I had been training since late winter for the 5k plus 21 obstacles, but because my half came first, focused more on my running than weight training. Finally, Saturday, April 12 arrived and I headed to Citi Field with my sister, feeling nervously excited.

It felt good to be back in Queens. I previously lived not too far from the home of the Mets (even though I am a Yankee fan) and it felt like home to ride the 7 train passing by familiar sights. Once we entered the stadium, we sat outside to watch other Spartans cross the finish line. Some obstacles like the rope climb, money bars, and 8-foot wall climb were shown on the jumbotron screen, the sights feeding my hungry fears. But being Spartan strong means that these fears are constantly defeated. The words, “I can’t” don’t exist. Even if you fail to complete an obstacle (which means you have to do 30 burpees each time) at least you gave it your all. My fears were immediately crushed when I witness Army vets crossing the finish line, one brave solider on his journey to greatness on hands. Having no legs didn’t mean he didn’t have heart. He received a well-deserved standing ovation as he and his team crossed that line.

After checking in our bags, gearing up, and stretching, my sister and I lined up for our 1 p.m. heat starting time. Spartans took off 15 people at time, hype men with megaphones getting us pumped. Teams of The Bigger Loser started their sprint just before us, adding to the theme that any goal is achievable with hard work and dedication. The strongest Spartan I saw was a man without usage of his legs who lowered from his wheelchair, a buddy holding each of his legs so he could compete on his hands. A camera crew followed him the entire time to capture this incredible accomplishment. Chills ran throughout my body watching this man and at that starting line every single Spartan cheered him on, not a dry eye in sight. If that doesn’t drive you to be the best you can be, I don’t know what can. I applaud that man’s dedication, hard work, and strong spirit.

With my newfound courage, inspired by the athletes who are the living definition of true warriors, it was my time to sprint. My nerves faded away and I felt ready as my legs began to move. The first obstacle, which consisted of bear crawling under rope, came faster than expected and I cut my hand on my wrist tracker. The third obstacle consisted of putting a band around your ankles and jumping on what felt like endless, but was probably 6-8, flights of stairs. By the time I completed this I was dead tired. “If you mess up your breathing in the obstacles, you’re done,” I overhead a Spartan say earlier. These words were truths. As a runner, I know how to control and manage my breathing, but I found myself winded early on and struggled to keep a consistent breath pattern.

Other obstacles included: putting a band around your ankles again and jump roping 25 times, carrying (a heavy ass) water jug down and up a few flights of stairs, running up and down stairs, carrying a 20 pounds sandbag up stairs, box jumps, scaling a wall, and my favorite—the spear throw. My spear made contact with the hay target, but need a bit more force and didn’t stay up. 30 burpees followed. My hand bled a bit from my early war wound, which made burpees and my pushup obstacle a bit painful, but nothing I couldn’t manage.

My sister and I did skip two harder obstacles. My upper body strength (which is way weaker than my toned legs) was nonexistent when it came down to the monkey bars and the rope climb. The rope climb was the obstacle I was most nervous about, and I promise the next race I will conquer it. For now it was 30 burpees.

My sister and I finished strong together and received finisher medals. This was the hardest race I have ever participated in and am proud I got through it. We celebrated our victory by taking a bus up to Connecticut to celebrate my cousin’s wedding and danced the night away. Every single muscle in my body is still Spartan sore, but at least I am officially Spartan strong!

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My Road to the Big Race: Part 2 – RACE DAY

Ladies FirstSaturday, March 29, 2013, I woke up energized as if someone shot adrenaline right into my veins. The night before, I made sure I did 30-minutes of yoga stretches for runners and would stretch again before the race. Grabbing a bagel with a teaspoon of peanut butter and a banana, I was ready to hit the road for NYC Runs Ladies First Half Marathon on Shore Road in Brooklyn. At 9 a.m. my mother and sister ran the 5k race, coming in 12 minutes faster than their previous PR. It feels so good to motivate my whole family. At 10 a.m. it was my time to shine and instead of feeling nervous, I felt calm and ready.

I had imaged that I would run with a clear head, thoughts drifting out to the ocean as waves crashed along the shoreline. Instead, the first three miles I was very present and focused on the race, the time, and the distance. I clocked 11:38 min/mi for the first two, and felt good, but was a bit worried that it might be too fast for me (I normally run 11:40-12:45 min/mi). It is never good to be too eager. I knew I would need to keep my endurance up. The first five or six miles were a bit challenging, but they all blended together and it was smooth sailing. The light rain anointed me as I ran under the Verrazano Bridge. Ducks plunged and bobbed in the water to my right and cars continued along the highway to my right.

My knees began to hurt around mile five, but I talked myself out of feeling pain. My ankles became like rubber by mile nine and ten, but I worked through that too. Not once did I have a negative thought in my mind. I thought about the only person trailing me was me. It was me against myself. I shed my fears, my frustrations, negativity and imaged stumping on them with every stride.

Every once in awhile a runner would pass and give a smile, a thumb up, or say uplifting words. These moments meant the world to me then. Every moment I felt a bit drained, these acts from supports raised me up. I immediately felt light on my feet and unbreakable. The volunteers were also so supportive and I applaud them.

My body did get tired, but I focused on getting to mile nine and then focused on the last four miles. I didn’t stop; I wouldn’t stop (besides 10 second water breaks and to tie my shoes). Although it was challenging at times, overall it was not as bad as I mentally prepared for. I never felt defeated or that I could be defeated. Although in slight pain at times, I was happy.

Finished!The home stretch was exactly what I pictured it to be. I felt so close, but so far from the finish line that last mile. I pushed on. I thought about how far I had come and how far I still could go. I thought about the hard work I put in and how proud I was of myself. I put my heart and soul out in the race and as I reached the end, I was overwhelmed with pure joy. It was euphoric. My mom was there right before the finish line cheered me on, tears of happiness forming in my eyes. After blinking them away, my feet crossing that line at 2:40:55, four minutes faster than my target. Immediately I ran to my sister to hug her, as a wave of emotions drenched me worse than the never stopping rain. I had envisioned my muscles collapsing after, but although I was sore, it was bearable.Race Bling

I came in 202nd place and 85/91 in my age division. From here, I can only get better. I know that finishing this half is only the first of many, but I am still in awe of my achievement. I proved to myself that no goal is too big and there is nothing I can’t do. I learned what it means to persevere and the true meaning of mind over matter.

I had the best experience and cannot wait to sign up for my next one. My next step is to increase my min/mi pace and aim for 2:15:00 next time. Although I have been taking to easy the past three days, tomorrow picks up my training for my first Spartan sprint April 12th. AROO!

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My Road to the Big Race: Part 1

Ladies First

Track StarMy running journey began by not running as a child. In the fifth grade, I joined the track team, but it didn’t qualify me as a runner— not because I was ten-years-old —but because I barely even ran. My specialty was 400-meter walks that took precise movements of heal, toe, heal, toe. When I won my first silver metal I was hooked on “the walk.” My competitive fires had been ignited. I would have to be careful not to elbow the next Catholic grade school girl as us walkers grunted and swung arms as if they were wings. We flew around the track legs straight, never bent. Even if it looked like you were running, you were called out on it and possibly disqualified. I walked my heart out.

Until I quit the team.

In my teens, I began treadmill runs with my best friend and had sporadic health kicks. It wasn’t until last year that I began to take a more holistic bite out my life. One taste and I was hooked on the idea of a healthy body, mind, and spirit. I began to eat clean, practice yoga, and started running. I spent the summer running through Kissena Park in Flushing, Queens twice a day. The summer sun stroked my face and moved down to my bronzed shoulders as I ran under fully leafed trees.

The brilliance of my summer runs faded into my favorite time to run, fall. The leaves would gently tumble as I pass, the air crisp but mildly delicious, like warm apple pie.

Feb RunsIt was late fall when I began to take my running more seriously. By this point I had ran 5ks and consideredRace Gear myself a runner, although not the fastest or the greatest. As winter frosted the world outside, my world inside was burning with desires to push myself in my new-found passion. I began reading books on runners, races, and ultra marathons, which sparked my interest in training for my first half-marathon.

And so it began.

Some days I just didn’t want to hit the gym for weight training or go for my scheduled run. Other days I couldn’t stop thinking about running. But even on the days when I slowly began my mileage, eventually something would come over me, engulfing my soul, sending shivers of tingles throughout my body and I was off.

Misty RunIn those moments my mind is empty and blissful. My body is strong and controlled. I feel a connection between my body, mind, and soul. I feel aware of nature and feel everything breathing with each of my exhales. I feel the world beating with my heart. Running is like art to me. It is beautifully painful. It makes me feel perfectly flawed. It humbles me, crushing me and picking me back up—all within the same mile.

When I started training for my first half, I worried a lot about the distance and the time and there was plenty of self-doubt. But my dedication outweighed any doubt. At some point, I had shed all my fears and felt prepared, strong, resilient. Each week I ran further, sometimes faster, but always stronger.

On my first eight mile run, the wintery Staten Island scenery hypnotized me, as I ran on mountainous inclines of smoothly paved road. Cars were neatly parked along the sides, snow compactly filling in the edges between sidewalk and black tar. Maybe it was the act of running itself that was mesmerizing. I conquered steep hills, giving it my all, and ran along somewhat unfamiliarly familiar roads until the Verrazano Bridge appeared in the right distance like fortress surrounded by fog.

The bridge was a beacon of dreams, for in just a few more weeks I would run the NYC Runs Ladies First Half Marathon under it.

But first I would have to work through my hardest run yet.

GatewayTwo weeks before the race was my 11-mile run. I ran through my neighborhood to Gateway National Park and all along the park, running it almost twice before heading home. My hips throbbed, knees wobbled, my throat parched. My whole body hurt and thoughts of giving up popped into my mind from time to time. However, I never stopped loving the run. I pushed through the pain proudly and was happy I did.

On race day, I would find out that all that training paid off. The hardest part was over and now I can enjoy the ride.

 

The second part of my journey, “Race Day,” will be published tonight. Come back to read about my experience!