Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ich Bin Ein Berliner!

My earliest childhood memory is dancing in our apartment in Queens, NY to Chubby Checker on TV while he was singing “The Twist”. About 50 years later, I heard Chubby Checker’s voice again, urging us all to “Twist Again”, blaring out from the loudspeaker at the water stop at mile 11.24 during the Berlin Marathon. As I sipped my water, I couldn’t help myself – I danced the twist again for a few seconds, then threw my paper cup down and ran back into the street. If I could have danced the rest of the 26.2 miles I would have. It was that great of a race, a weekend, an experience.

The Berlin Marathon is one of the Five World Marathon Majors. After running two of the Majors, NYC and Boston, I thought it would be cool to complete all five, the others being Chicago and London. I also thought it was an original idea for a non-professional athlete. When I arrived at the Welcome Cocktail Party for the group of North American runners with the group from Marathon Tours and Travel at the 5 star Concorde Hotel in Berlin, Germany, I met 99 other non-professional runners with exactly the same idea.

Everyone I met from our group was in Berlin to knock another Marathon Major off the list. I ran NYC and Boston with some of them, including this one guy, Tim. Tim, after hearing I was going to run London in April 2012, said “oh, I ran London this year, you’ll love it.” I said, “Wait, you just told me you ran Boston with me this year, London was the day before, you must have one of those dates wrong.” He smiled and said, “No, I’m right, I ran London, hopped a flight that evening to Boston, got in to Boston that evening, then ran the Boston Marathon the next day.” And he was typical of the people I met in the Marathon Tours group, they are uber runners! Most have run 10 or more marathons, some dozens, 30, 40... One guy, Dave, has run all 50 states at least once, 8 foreign countries, a total of 75 marathons. He had run the AF marathon the week before Berlin. John, a member of the Seven Continents Club answered my question about the Antarctica Marathon: “Not that cold, temperature in the 30’s.” Another guy told me, “Since I’m already in Europe, I’ll run Berlin tomorrow, then Budapest next week and Istanbul the following week.” And then there was Henry. He is 62 years old, and Berlin was his 751st marathon!!! That is, as he said, “If you also count the ultras.” I said, “Oh yes, we will also count the ultras.” It was so cool to spend the weekend with people who were as passionate – some might say as crazy - about running as I am.

Here I am with Henry - right before he ran his 751st marathon!

Before I hooked up with the group, I had a day of running and sightseeing on my own. Although the hotel provided me with a map of the area, I found it hard to follow, since many of the streets were blocked off. I figured the city was getting ready for the marathon a few days early, but there was another reason. After finishing my run, as is my custom when running in a foreign country by myself, I got horribly lost. I asked a cop for help, and then noticed there were hundreds of cops and police cars lined up and down the street where I wound up. “What is going on here?” I asked. The policeman answered, “The Pope is coming here any minute.” So I waited around and got to see the Pope arrive in his motorcade! And not only did I get to see a world religious leader, but Germany’s leader as well. During the half day city tour Marathon Tour representatives Jacqui and Kelly organized for us, our bus went by Germany’s version of the White House where Chancellor Angela Merkel was holding a press conference on her balcony and I got to see that too!

Our city tour was highlighted by our 50 year old tour guide, who personalized Germany’s recent history for us when she explained that the Berlin Wall went up the year she was born (her grandmother was living on the east side of the Wall so was separated from the rest of the family for 28 years) and the wall came down in 1989, the year her son was born, so although his parents and grandparents had the Wall play a significant part in their lives, he has no recollection of that great divide in the country. It was very sobering for us to hear personal stories of the time Germany was divided in two.

We all posed in front of the Berlin Wall and snapped photos at Checkpoint Charlie – for the price of two Euros.

At the Berlin Wall

Hi from Checkpoint Charlie!

Berlin does not hide its past during World War II from the current residents or from visitors. In fact, the Holocaust is front and center in many places in Berlin, as if by highlighting the horrors of what happened so many years ago, everyone is educated about the evil and it can never happen again. On our city tour, we toured the Holocaust memorial, a walk through and around multi slab sculpture that is on uneven sloping ground that keeps the observer off balance and wondering what will happen next.

Many places throughout Berlin have plaques on the streets, naming and memorializing Jewish families who lived in the building in front of the plaque who were taken away to die in concentration camps. On my own, I visited the Jewish Museum of Berlin. The building itself is an architectural marvel – one of the American students I met on the way there had learned about the museum in her archicture class, since it was designed as both a traditional museum but also had a section similar in theory to the Holocaust Memorial, all uneven ground and walls, as if one never knew what was waiting around the next corner. The museum was in part a celebration of Jewish life since the 1200’s in Germany – I loved seeing the pictures and artifacts of Jewish life through the centuries, from clothing and furniture to paintings, religious symbols and articles and pictures of holiday and life cycle celebrations, to home movies of a happy family on a ski trip. But it was also a walk through centuries of discrimination and persecution, including many photographs of the Holocaust. I was glad to see so many people at the museum, including hundreds of German school kids. Those who are now in power in Germany want everyone to know what happened to their own people and want everyone to know the dangers of their past. I was proud of the modern day Germans and their approach to the Holocaust.

I also attended Friday night services at the New Synagogue, once Germany’s largest temple, the heart of Berlin’s Jewish Community. I had written to them in advance, asking to tour their historical temple, and was invited to worship with them on Friday night. In the email, the secretary told me there would be heavy security and I should be prepared to answer questions as to why I wanted in to the building. I arrived early, partly because I didn’t want to be late, but also because I wanted to catch a glimpse and hopefully shoot a picture right before sunset of the dome of the synagogue illuminated by the sun’s golden rays. My guidebook informed me this was a must see in the city. I was lucky enough to witness this beautiful sight and snap a few photos.

Before I entered the building, history was brought back home to me by a plaque in front of the temple which told of how the temple was burned on November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht, when synagogues all over Germany were burned. There were two armed police men in front of the main entrance, which led me inside, where a scanner like you see in airports was in the lobby. As I put my purse through the scanner, a man was waiting to speak to me. I started talking fast, explaining why I was there, where I came from, and the email I received from the temple. I guess I was a bit freaked out by all the security for a simple Friday night service. When I was done talking, he smiled, looked at me, and said one word: “Shalom”. I smiled, and it was as if everything else melted away. I walked into the sanctuary, and I could have been anywhere, at any other temple in the world. The service itself was all in Hebrew, lots of singing, led by a woman rabbi and a woman cantor. The 100 worshippers ranged in age from a 3 month old baby to a gentleman who must have been in his mid-eighties. The rabbi’s sermon was in German, but there were a few remarks in English to several of us English speakers. Afterwards I spoke with the rabbi and cantor, and several of the people in the audience who spoke English – a college student from Australia, a 30 something guy working in Germany for a year who was from Florida, another American about my age who moved “home” to Germany, the country where his mother had been born. Everyone was so friendly, and wished me luck in the marathon.

There was so much to see and do in Berlin I almost forgot I was there to run a race! I spent Saturday touring the Berlin Zoo, a very cool world class zoo with the most amount of species of any zoo in the world. I didn’t want to miss anything – from the elephants and monkeys to the panda bear and rhinos.

I also enjoyed people watching on that sunny warm day, trying to guess which of the people might be running the marathon the next night. That night at dinner, our group got together again for a pasta dinner organized by Jacqui and Kelly from Marathon Tours, to carb load and regale each other with stories of marathons past and our hopes for the next day. “Weather looks great,” I heard more than once, as people kept checking the latest weather report.

At 7:45 AM the bus took our group to the start of the race. The only complaint any of us had about the marathon was that there were only two port a potties at the start. “2 bathrooms for 40,000 of us?” an English woman said to me as we all stood in line. Always the optimist, I tried to spin this around to, “well, that’s one for 20,000!” She just glared at me, like it was my fault there weren’t more bathrooms.

But all was forgotten once the race started. In picture perfect 50 degree weather and partly sunny skies, one million spectators cheered for us as we ran the streets of Berlin. Passing government buildings and parks, museums, churches, statues, stores and restaurants, we ran and ran and ran. What kept us going, besides the cheering German people, as friendly in a group as they all were individually, was the music. There must have been at least 50 bands playing for us that Marathon Sunday, some playing traditional German oom pah music, some all drum bands, beating out a rhythm that helped us keep running (the coolest was the drum band inside a tunnel we ran through, so loud!!!), but mostly, full piece jazz bands and orchestras, some with singers, playing and singing American songs. And in the places there weren’t bands, the race organizers set up loud speakers with music. I heard everything from “Gonna Fly Now”, better known as the Rocky song, to Santana’s music, and of course, this Jersey girl’s favorite running song, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”. Those spectators and that music kept us going…

The runners too were entertaining. Many were wearing traditional costumes in this international marathon¸ such as the woman in the Hawaiian skirt and the Scottish man in the kilt. The back of one runner’s shirt said: “ Haile, keep up with me, Paula, keep following me”. And did the Queen of Denmark tell all her people to run or watch the Berlin Marathon? The Danes were out in full force on Sunday, hundreds running with identical Danish running outfits, and the spectators literally waving the Danish flag all over the streets of Berlin. There were runners from all over the world, but most visible, after the Danes, were the Japanese, and not only their fans on the sidelines held the Japanese flag but several runners as well ran with the flag of Japan for the entire 26.2 miles. They were there, inspiring us, strong and proud, representing Japan after the recent disasters that hit their country.

We ran with champions. The two current world record holders, Haile Gebresalaisse and Paula Radcliffe, started the marathon and were favored to win. Haile had to pull out of the race about 2/3 of the way through, due to exercise induced asthma. Paula, at 37 years old and a mother of two young children, came in third place and is expected to use this standing to make the British Marathon Olympic team. The race was won by two Kenyans – Florence Kiplagat, in 2:19:44, and a new world record was set by Patrick Makau in 2:03:38. My friend’s husband who was watching the race said that the bicyclists hired to ride with the elite runners had trouble keeping up with Patrick’s 4:43 average minute miles.

As I ran through the Brandenburg Gates, just a few yards or meters from the finish line (by that point I had stopped doing the math in my head, trying to calculate how many miles or kilometers I had left, when the next water stop would be in miles or kilometers, whichever unit of measurement sounded easier to my tired body) I smiled for the cameras and realized there will never be another marathon like Berlin. And it wasn’t just the celeb connections, from the Pope to Chancellor Merkel to running the same course at the same time with some of the greatest runners in marathon history. It was the people I met on this journey, from Jacqui and Kelly, the amazing and efficient leaders of our group, to every accomplished and interesting runner from Marathon Tours, to every single German person I met that weekend, all incredibly helpful and nice and cheerful, that made this trip phenomenal for me. As I crossed the finish line, automatically stopping and checking my watch for my time, I missed everything about Berlin already. I hope there will be many more marathons in my future, but there can never be one that touched my heart and my soul as did Berlin.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I'm running with Kathrine Switzer!

I have had several friends say to me, "you're going to run the Berlin Marathon by yourself?" I just smile and nod my head. I guess what they mean is I am flying out to Germany by myself (that's a first, I've never been to a foreign country alone before!) But once I get to Berlin, I will be surrounded by my kind.

There's 40,000 of us who will run the Berlin Marathon on September 25. I'm the oldest of the 10 Cindys (including the alliteratively named Cindy Gindi from New York) who will be running. Well, not all of us are running. Two of the Cindys will be participating in the in line skating portion of the marathon. That's the thing about Berlin - it's a marathon like the other 4 US marathons I've run, but many things about it are slightly different, such as having skaters complete the 26.2 miles. Oh, that's another difference, it will be measured in kilometers, which has this math challenged Cindy nervous. I know 42 point something kilometers equals roughly 26.2 miles, but I can't do the math while I'm running. Hopefully my Garmin watch will still calculate the miles in, well, miles, and I will know how to pace myself. Other differences include showers and alcohol free beer at the finish line (not sure in which order) and weird food handed out at various kilometer points. I'm imagining bratwurst, beer WITH alcohol, dumplings... all bets are off for trying to guess what we will be served during this international marathon.

Anyway, back to who is running. There will be 2 other Bishops, both from the UK. Alexandra Oppenheimer will be skating the marathon, and there is a guy with the last name of Oppenhaim running. He can't use the excuse that one of his ancestors had the family name changed back at Ellis Island since he is from Israel. And there are at least a dozen runners (no skaters in this group) who are from all corners of the world (North America, Europe, Asia) who are between 90-91 years old. How cool is that?

And then there are the elites. The current world record holders in the marathon, Ethiopa's Haile Gebresalaisse (2:03:59) and Paula Radcliffe from Great Britian
(2:15:25) will be running Berlin and trying to smash their records. Lots of other super fast world class athletes will be running this World Marathon Major super flat and fast course. And then there's Kathrine Switzer. She is the woman who broke the no women allowed barrier at the Boston Marathon back in 1967, was instrumental in getting the Olympics to accept women as capable of running a marathon back in 1984, and then is spending her life getting women involved in running and fitness. I just found out (on a German website!) that Kathrine will be appearing at the expo and running Berlin. I met her back in '09 when she was a speaker at the Space Coast Marathon, and was impressed with her and her passion for women in athletics. I hope to be able to see her again at the Expo - or out on the streets in Berlin.

I'm psyched, nervous, and excited about this adventure in Germany. A week away, the weather looks fantastic. Soon it will be me, along with other Cindys, Bishops, Oppenheimers, 90 somethings and many elites running Germany's Berlin Marathon. I can't wait!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another run Czeched off the list

One of my favorite things about travelling is running on foreign turf. At first it all seems so different - the streets signs are unfamiliar (sometimes in a foreign language), the cars are funny looking (I smile every time a see a Smart car in Europe) and there's none of those usual suspects I always see while running in Brevard County (no Mike fishing off Mathers Bridge, no mainentance men at Oars and Paddles Park asking me "how far are you going today?, no 5:00 PM running camp buddies at Wickham Park, none of my friends driving up Tropical Trail waving and occasionally stopping and saying "can't I give you a ride home? No one will know...")

But all I need to do is take a few steps - and I am back in the zone. I'm running, I'm where I belong, just me, my Newtons, and the road leading to all sorts of adventures.

Last week in the Czech Republic, I was able to get a run in on the last day of our 8 day bicycling trip. It was a tough, long ride, and it had to be done fast so that we could spend a half day in Cesky Krumlov, a charming medievel town. That meant it was a ride for Larry Bishop - Dan and Caroline, Liana and Josh, and I were not up for that ride. So after Larry took off with our guide Hana on the ride, I took off for my only run in 11 days.

I started at the Plague Column. Just about every small town in the Czech Republic has a Plague Column, a monument built by the survivors of the plague during the Middle Ages, thanking God for sparing them from the disease. The column is always smack in the center of town. Several times when we would split up to shop, we would say to the kids, "meet you back at the Plague Column". So I figured that would be a good place to start. My ulterior motive was that if I got lost, I would look for this tall structure and that would be my beacon back to the town square. I am very directionally challenged even in my own country, so in a country where I can't speak the language, any help I can get, even from a centuries old statue, is gratefully appreciated!

Running in cool high 50 degrees was invigorating. I had been running slowly in Florida the last few months - it's tough to run in mid 90 degrees and about that percentage in humidity, and for several hours. I was kind of down about my slow times, although happy to be running uninjured and pain free. But it was this run in the Czech Republic town of Trebon that made me feel like I was flying again. I ran fast, for about an hour, enjoying the sights of parents walking their kids to school, adults going off to work, and there was that guy in an Indiana U. sweatshirt riding a bicycle! Go Hoosiers, Dan's current university! Most fun of all was another local (not wearing an American university sweatshirt) riding a bicycle, who rode past me and said, in heavily accented English, "Good morning!" I smiled and answered back (in unaccented English, unless you count my New Jersey accent I can't seem to shake), wondering how in the world he knew I was an American. My running clothes were devoid of any English words. But I guess it was the running by itself that gave me away. We saw thousands of bicyclists during our Czech trip, but I can't remember seeing any runners. I know I didn't see any that morning during my run. I certainly love a country that is bicycle friendly; but I miss the running community that is endemic all over the US.

I finished the run happy to be running again, and happy to have seen more of Trebon, and the regular neighborhoods, that tourists to the center of the town don't see.

I would highly recommend visiting the Czech Republic, especially for a bicycle trip. The people are friendly, the castles, the lakes and forests and farmland are beautiful to bike by, the ubiquitous bike paths beat anything in the US. The history comes alive, from the medievel times, through exciting 17th - 19th centuries, to the horrors of WWII and Communism, through passionate local guides. But if you can sneak out for a quick run - maybe I can sneak away with you. See you at the Plague Column!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Learning to run on the other side of the street

Looks like I'm going to have to learn to run on the other side of the street - I just found out I will be running the London Marathon in April, 2012!

Some cool facts about the London Marathon - the last mile will take us over Tower Bridge, by the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben will be chiming if I time it right, and best of all, we finish right in front of Buckingham Palace!

Maybe I'll climb up to the balcony after I finish the race and give a big American "hello" to the Royal Family. I can just picture it right now...

Monday, May 23, 2011

I'm no longer running naked!

At running camp we talk about the joys of running naked. Now, before Larry reads this and says, "No wonder you like running camp so much," I need to explain.

Running naked feels like freedom, just running without a care in the world, and without - a watch. I train for a marathon for four months. Every day when I run I check my watch every few minutes to see if I am on the target pace for that day's assigned run. Then I enter the time, pace, and daily mileage into my running calendar. And then during the marathon itself, I am constantly checking my watch to see if I remain at my target pace. That's why, in the month after the marathon, when I'm not officially in training, I so enjoy my watchless wrist, no pressure, just the joy of running.

But when I strap back on the watch, the freedom of no watch (and, I'll be honest, slower runs) is traded for the excitement of a new marathon. A new city, a new state to run and party in - and this year, it will be a new country. Berlin beckons!

After I finished The Boston Marathon, I realized I had run two of the five World Major Marathons. The Majors are the world's largest (and some say the most prestigious, as Boston certainly is by definition) marathons, in really cool cities to spend a long weekend (New York City, run by me in November '09, Boston this past April, and along with Berlin, Germany there's London, England and Chicago). So, being a numbers kind of girl, I got the idea to run all five of The Majors. The plan is to run Berlin on September 25, then run London next April, followed by Chicago (with about five others from my running camp) next October.

At the end of a marathon, all the finishers are given a medal. I cherish the four medals I already have, and hope to earn many more. A crazy coincidence is that I already have a medal from the Berlin Marathon.

When Danny was studying in Berlin last winter, he found a medal from the Berlin Marathon at a flea market and bought it for me. I remember thinking what a great gift it was, but feeling a little guilty that I had a medal from a marathon I hadn't yet run. I hoped, but did not yet know in March of 2010 that only 7 months later I would qualify for the Boston Marathon at the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon with a 32 minute PR, by 6 minutes and 47 seconds. But once I ran Boston, I knew it was time to run Berlin and earn that medal I already received.

Berlin, here I come. Maybe this was meant to be!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Greatest Marathon in the World

Heartbreak Hill. It's the most famous hill in the most famous marathon in the world. By mile 20, every runner in the Boston Marathon has been tested by a series of up and down hills throughout over a half dozen New England villages, especially the brutal Newton Hills, which are a mostly uphill course from miles 16 through 20. But the steepest hill awaited us around mile 20, where for almost a mile runners ran, walked, or limped up the incline. There is no sign that lets the runners know when Heartbreak Hill started. But at the end, there was a balloon arch, which said "Heartbreak Hill is over!"

I guess the guy next to me on the ascent up Heartbreak didn't read the words on the balloon arch. I don't blame him; he probably was a bit oxygen depleted from the climb, as I was.

He turned to me, a stranger in the normal sense of the word but one of "my people", as he and I had just run 21 miles together through 8 Massachusetts towns before conquering the final 5.2 miles of the Boston Marathon. "Is this where we start Heartbreak Hill?" he asked, in between gasps. "You just did it! It's over," I answered with the biggest smile I could manage. My fellow marathoner returned the smile, a bit amazed. We kept on running, towards the next landmark, the CITGO sign at mile 25, then finally, towards the finish line at mile 26.2.

Running the Boston Marathon on April 18, 2011 was one of the highlights of my life. I had an incredible journey that day for 4 hours and 20 minutes and 8 seconds.

But the journey that got me there, got me running, then running marathons, then qualifying for The Greatest Marathon in the World (as Coach Doug Butler, our running coach here in Florida, calls Boston) was even more incredible. It has been one long wild ride.

If you could find my elementary, middle, and high school gym teachers now (and how hard could that be in 2011 when everyone is on Facebook? Oh no, does that mean I could actually find them?) and tell them that Cindy Oppenheimer, the smallest and skinniest kid in the class, the the last one picked for any team sport, had become a marathon runner who had qualified for the Boston Marathon with over 6 and a half minutes to spare and had run and finished Boston, smiling the whole way, they would be speechless. They might even blow their whistle at you, and make you "get down and give me 20 pushups for lying!" But you could explain my story to them, and by the end they would believe you and be rooting for all of us, the non athletic kids in the 1960's and 1970's, who as adults finally found their version of physical fitness fun and exhilarating and a necessary part of every day. Plus they could verify it on our Facebook pages!

So I didn't enjoy PE back then, especially the light blue polyester gymsuits with the elastic waists and baggy shorts I had to wear. I practiced the anesthesia school of athletics, which is best described as 99% of the time complete boredom as the girl furthest out in the outfield during a softball game, then that 1% of the time when the patient under anesthesia has a problem during the operation and the doctor must act quickly to remedy the situation. Can I extend that analogy to me being the doctor and when the one girl who could actually hit the ball when it was her turn up at bat way out into the outfield and I had to scramble to save the patient's life (which would be actually fielding the ball back into the baseball diamond somewhere?)

Most of us girls didn't really have much love for sports. We just weren't ever exposed to it, except in those scary moments in PE class wearing even scarier outfits, since when we were kids in the 1960's, organized sports, such as league baseball and football and basketball, were just for boys. It wasn't until the advent of the passage and funding of Title IX in the 1970's, which guaranteed equal opportunities for girls in all sports, that the ball began rolling, so to speak, for girl's athletics. But by then I was totally ensconced in my own world of band, theater, student council, and writing, so athletics could wait.

Then I had my own kids. I was the world's best soccer (and baseball and tennis and ice skating and gymnastics and karate and marching band and...) mom! I drove my kids to every practice, rehearsal, game, contest, match, show, etc. I was the snack mom, the clapper and head cheerleader for my kids and everyone else's kids. But sometimes, especially when I would watch the young girls run on the soccer fields, I thought about how I had missed out and was glad for these young girls who had the chances I never did, young girls who looked free and happy and strong as they ran.

One day Larry asked me to join him on a training walk for a hike he was preparing for in the Rocky Mountains. I thought, yes, this is what I was waiting for. Maybe I'll take up walking as my sport.

Now, Larry is about 12 inches taller than me. He walks fast. Really fast. Is there a race walking sport in the Olympics? If so, Larry would be a gold medalist. As we began to walk on Tropical Trail, I realized that if I were to keep up with him, I would have to move faster. I walked as fast as I could, but I still couldn't keep up with this man. So I began a light jog. Larry looked over at me, realized the stakes had been raised, so he began jogging. Even in his hiking boots, he was jogging so fast I needed to ramp up my game. I started to run, and so did he. To this day I wonder if Larry planned this all along. I was running hard, sweating, my heart was pounding, my breathing ragged. We ran side by side for awhile, then turned around and reached our home. My sides hurt. My everything hurt! I looked up at Larry, and realized, as I ran, I felt free, happy, and strong. I was hooked.

After that inaugural run, I ran every day I could. Soon, after my friend Margie Dubois challenged me to run a local 5K, I found that I loved competing - with myself - at races. Each subsequent race became an opportunity to beat my previous time. I became a regular on the local 5K circuit, then began running wherever we went on vacation. In 2004 Larry and I started a yearly Thanksgiving morning tradition where our whole family would run the Turkey Trot together. Running became a huge part of my life. I couldn't imagine not running.

I thought of all this, my nontraditional path to running, as I said goodbye to my friend and uber athlete Sue Bellon, (3 hours and 44 minutes later she would PR at Boston!) who I had just spent 4 hours with, hanging out on the bus and in the Athlete's Village, prior to the race.

She went to her start corral and I went to mine. The gun went off, and I hit the start mat in suburban Hopkinton at 10:47 AM on Patriot's Day. I was so happy to be running this race, grateful, honored, even humbled. I blinked back tears at the start, and began running.

The 24,390 runners of the 115th Boston Marathon started running downhill, through hundreds of cheering spectators, past impossibly quaint centuries old farmhouses, stores, and churches so old fashioned and pretty I practically wanted to convert at once. Norman Rockwell or Currier and Ives would have a field day painting these towns we ran through in these Massachusetts villages on our way to Boston. I kept expecting to see Martha Stewart herself walking out of one of the stone walled cottages, beaming at us as she held a tray of delicious looking concoctions in her arms, desserts so intricate that I wouldn't have been able to buy them, much less make them.

But even more than the scenery, which was spectacular, it was the spectators who kept me going all the way from mile 1 through mile 26.2. Sitting in lawn chairs outside their houses in the suburbs and standing five people deep in Boston, these New Englanders cheered, called out our names, and screamed for us the entire race. 1/2 million strong, they let us runners now they were proud of us running through their cities. They made us feel like the biggest rock stars in the world.

And the spectators themselves put on shows for us. Dozens of people in a drum circle, playing bongo like instruments, hammered out a beat for us as we ran by. A few miles later I noticed about 20 mini trampolines lined up on the side of the road, all with a child bouncing up and down, calling out our names while they were jumping into the air. There was a Red Sox game going on at the same time as the marathon, and every few blocks there would be Red Sox shirted fans with signs showing the score of the game at that moment, or holding up radios with the game's broadcast on, loud enough for us to hear. And the signs these marathon fans held up... Some were funny: "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon"; others inspiring: "Keep going, almost there, you can do it" even when we were far away.

And then there was Wellesley College at Mile 13. I'd read about it, I'd heard about it. But nothing could prepare me for this wall of sound. Every year at the marathon, the Wellesley girls stand outside the college and scream non stop at the runners. Ryan Hall, America's top male runner for whom every second counted in the marathon, smiled and put his hands over his ears as he ran by.

The girls of Wellesley also hold up signs. Signs their mothers might not want to know about, but I'm here to report to you that at least 3/4 of these coeds held up signs that said "Kiss Me!" Most of them added another phrase to their sign such as: "Kiss Me, I'm": "Jewish", "from South Carolina", "Korean", "Please Kiss Me, I go to an all girls college", and its counterpart, "Kiss Me, Ladies Only", "Kiss Me, I won't tell your wife"... I watched one of the male runners take a Wellesley girl up on her offer. My favorite sign was "Run fast Sue and Cindy" a sign Sue's friend, a Wellesely alum, had the girls hold up for us.

The buzz from Wellesley kept me going until I reached the infamous hills of Newton around Mile 16. These hills continued for 5 miles, mostly steep uphills, with a steep downhill as the only break in the action. I trained for these hills, I stared at pictures of them, but like the screams at mile 13, they really had to experienced first hand to be believed. I did slow down for these hills, but never stopped running. I wanted to meet these hills on their own terms, keep going, and conquer them. And I did.

Hills happen, in marathons as well as in life. They won't go away, you just have to make your own way over them and then enjoy the feeling that you beat the hill.

In my running life, I had two very high hills to conquer. The first one came in January of 2005, when The Very Rare Disease That Is Fatal Unless Emergency Surgery Is Performed Right Away occurred. Larry rushed me to the hospital at 4:00 in the morning one Monday, and my life was saved by Dr. Fusco's surgery. I came home a week later, broken and unable to walk more than a few steps at a time, and that was at a 45 degree slant. Not overweight to begin with and only an inch over 5 feet tall, I lost 17 pounds in 17 days. Those slim Kenyans who win all the marathons? I made them look chubby.

I stayed home to heal, president of my own pity party. One day Margie, the same friend who challenged me to run my first 5K, came over to my house. Her arms were empty of the flowers and dinners other people brought over. "Where are your running shoes?" she asked, looking around the living room for them. "I don't know," I answered. "Bring them out now or I'll go into your closet and get them," she said. I knew better than to argue with Margie. "I'll find my shoes, but I can't run," I said. "We'll walk," Margie answered. "Put them on, we are on the Trail in 5 minutes."

So began my recovery. Since I couldn't get rid of Margie, I went along with her plan of walking on the Trail every day. As the days went by, my walks went further, then faster. My 45 degree slant began to straighten up until I was standing tall. I began to run again, measured in a few steps one day, a fraction of mile another day, then the miles began to ratchet up again. I healed, then became better than before. I got back on the 5K circuit, and now, instead of my middle of the pack finishes, I began to bring home hardware, placing 3rd, 2nd, or 1st place in my age group. Life wasn't good, it was great.

Once someone told Ginger Rogers they thought her dance partner, Fred Astaire, was an amazing dancer. She answered that she did everything Fred did, except backwards and in high heels. When I hit my second hill, I had to do everything all over again, except without Larry and in Spanish.

Liana and I never made it to our cruise ship at the port in Barcelona in July 2007. Once the plane landed in Spain, The Very Rare Disease That Is Fatal Unless Emergency Surgery Is Performed Right Away struck again. Armed with her high school Spanish, and with the help of Michelle Romandetti, a Brevard County woman who I had met just a month prior to this trip who "happened" to be on our plane (some times things happen for a reason) my then 16 year old daughter got me to a teaching hospital where two women doctors with stylish funky eyeglasses and dangley earrings saved my life with their surgical skills. Liana was able to contact Larry and our son Danny, who were on their way to Africa but were able to divert to Spain. When I opened up my eyes after the surgery, there was Larry, my hero in a bright yellow shirt, who told me once again my surgery went fine and all would be great.

Larry, as always, was right. As this was not my first rodeo, I ran over this hill faster than the one in 2005 and recovered quicker. Larry arranged a schedule that all day long either he, Danny, or Liana would stay with me in the hospital room. Finally, after about 5 days, I said it was OK if they left me alone after dinner and at least had some semblance of a "vacation", although not the ones we planned. I needed them gone because I was a woman on a mission. My first time alone in the room, I briefly thought of how Margie got me back on the road after Hill #1. Margie was not there in Spain, but I thought of her as I decided in that hospital room, having never run a race further than a 5K, I was going to start training for a marathon. As in immediately. With no one around, I got up out of bed, held onto my IV pole for support (to which I was attached with several tubes) and left my room to start training for my first marathon. I was wearing two hospital gowns, one closing in front and the other closing in the back, and I was holding onto my IV pole with one hand and hanging onto the wall in the other hand, but in my mind's eye I was wearing a cute running outfit from our local Running Zone and running along the Banana and Indian Rivers on Tropical Trail in Merritt Island, Florida. I only made it part way around the circular hospital unit until I made it back to my room (with the help of a nurse who was speaking very rapidly to me in Spanish. My high school Spanish was not good enough to get the gist of what she was saying, but I think I heard "Americana loco" or something to that effect) but I didn't care. I was no longer the girl in the bed but I was a runner again, training for my first marathon. I was once again the girl on the road.

After arriving home (very dramatic trip home, the kids flew commercial and Larry and I flew home in a medical evacuation Lear Jet, with two nurses on board, since I was too weak to fly in a regular plane) I was focused on getting better ASAP and continuing my new marathon training. I was back on Tropical Trail again days after landing back home, first walking, then running 2 steps one day and 4 steps the next. "Should I run 6 steps tomorrow?" I asked Larry, trying to chart my progress. "No, 8," he said. And so it began. I ran my first half marathon that November. Larry took a picture of me running that day, and framed it with Calvin Coolidge's quote beneath the picture which says: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

The following year I joined Coach Doug Butler's (Coach Butler has a 2:25 marathon PR) running camp, where I trained with serious runners, Athletes with a capital "A" who I don't think were in the marching band in high school. I ran another half marathon, beating my previous time by over seven minutes. In January 2009, I ran my first marathon, the Disney World Marathon, finishing one minute over my projected time of 4:30, with Larry, Liana, and my parents waiting for me at the finish line. The New York City Marathon followed in November 2009, followed by the race of my life at the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon, were I got a 32 minute PR of 3:59:12, which allowed me entry into the most prestigious marathon in the world, the one you have to qualify for, the following April's Boston Marathon.

As I crested the Hill at Heartbreak (and ran over the next mini hill, what a place for another incline!) I was focused on only one thing: making it to mile 25. Most marathon runners, if they are doing it right, are hurting by this time, and thinking only of the finish line. That could wait for me. I just wanted to make it to that iconic symbol of this marathon, the CITGO sign, where Larry was waiting to take a picture of me. I was ready to pose, just like we had practiced the day before.

Hours before I arrived at mile 25, Larry shot amazing pictures of the elites racing towards the finish. He didn't know it at the time, but he just snapped a photo that would make history, of Geoffrey Mutai, who was minutes away from running the fastest marathon in the world, in 2:03:02. It is a Sports Illustrated Magazine quality photo. And unlike me at mile 25, Geoffrey Mutai was not posing for Larry!

The CITGO sign at mile 25 was my landmark. All I had to do, I told myself after running 23 miles, when fatigue and soreness set in and my legs became heavier, was make it to that large white sign, with the amber triangle in the middle and the large capital letters "CITGO" at the bottom, beckoning to me. A marathon is 26.2 miles, but I figured if I could make it to mile 25, the last mile and 2/10ths, a gentle downhill, would practically run itself.

Then there it was, that large square sign, almost beaming at me about a mile ahead. I kept running, ignoring the protestations of my weary legs. Right past the sign, my hero who wore the yellow shirt at my bedside in Barcelona was standing at the side of the road, snapping pictures of me while I smiled and realized I had almost done it, run the entire Boston Marathon. I no longer felt tired; I was exhilarated. I kept running, and the screams of the spectators, lined 5 deep on either side of the road, kept me going as I ran towards the finish line of the Greatest Marathon in the World.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A woman walks into the bar...

Argentina. Even the name sounds exotic, foreign, slightly dangerous. For over a year Larry had been planning our first trip to this new country. Visions of tango dances, Buenos Aires cultural sights, fine dining and shopping, and wildlife encounters in rural La Pampa enticed me. I couldn't wait until late March, 2011 for this trip of a lifetime.

Enjoying a lunch tango with Jamie, Ann, and Larry in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Then I ran a 32 minute PR at the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon on 10/10/10. My 3:59:12 time more than qualified me for the ultimate runner's dream, the Boston Marathon, which will be held April 18th, 2011.

I did the math and realized I'd be gone 13 days, 2 -3 weeks before the marathon I trained so hard for. I needed to continue my training not only if I wanted to do well in Boston, but tackle Heartbreak Hill? No way would I give up my Argentinian vacation with Larry, but I was bummed about the timing of our trip.

So - I decided I would run. Wherever and whenever I could, through the streets of Buenos Aires, and then, as I told Larry after our outfitter told us there was nowhere to run at the ranch in La Pampa, no one else had ever done it, too many wild animals, armadillo holes so large a semi truck could sink into them (OK, he might not have described the holes as that big but that's what I was hearing...) "If I have to run circles around the ranch all day, I will".

My runs in Buenos Aires were like several other big city runs. It's fun to run around city streets while everyone else is going to and from work, you really feel like you are part of the city life. And then I found Buenos Aires' version of Central Park - actually several long green leafy parks with lakes and hundreds of other like minded people running, walking, and biking. My people, only in Spanish!

I was glad to check off the miles on my marathon mileage chart in this pretty city in South America. The only problem was, after running all around the parks, I, being directionally challenged even back home with English languages street signs, got horribly lost and arrived back at the hotel over an hour late. I used as a landmark that guy on the horse statue I noted at the entrance to one of the parks. After a spectacular run, waving to my people, saying "Buenos Dias" to everyone like a real local, I kept running into that guy on the horse statue but the streets looked very different from where I had been before.

Soon, I figured out that on almost every street corner the Argentinians have erected a guy on a horse statue. Bad landmark to follow, I figured out too late! Finally, the ninth or tenth statue I passed almost seemed to have the guy quickly point the way to me to find my way back to the hotel. To this day I believe that guy came back to life and did that for me to help me out! Otherwise, I'd still be running around the parks and the statues. Anyway, once I arrived back at the hotel and Larry was happy to see I hadn't been kidnapped, I began planning my runs in La Pampa. This time there'd be no guys on horse statues to keep me company, only wild animals to keep me company. I was dreading these solitary runs, scared of the wild animals. And at that point I didn't even know about the electric fence I'd have to crawl under...

Fast forward a few days to Estancia Poitahue in La Pampa. Larry and I are sitting in the ranch's bar, along with the other American guests, enjoying our pre-dinner (dinner starts between 9:30 - 10:00 PM) drinks. The door opens, and a woman walks into the bar, followed by her husband. They introduce themselves (Sue and Dave) to the rest of the gang, hometowns are exchanged, and then Sue turns to her husband and starts talking. "So I ran in Buenos Aires," she said, a slightly tense edge to her voice. Her slim, athletic build seemed poised for action, as if she could take off on a run any minute. "Tomorrow I'll start running around the ranch."

Her words. Her intense talking about running just minutes after entering the bar. Why is she not relaxing on this vacation like everyone else (except for me)?

Looking at Sue was like looking into a mirror. Was it possible? "Sue," I asked, "is there something that you are training for?"

"Yes," she said, smiling. Her face lit up and she said, "The Boston Marathon!"

"Me too!" I said. And, to not sound like a poser, I let her know I knew the date. "21 more days!"

The other guests looked at us and thought either, wow, what a coincidence, two Boston Qualifiers at this ranch in the middle of Argentina, or wow, two Boston Qualifiers at this ranch in the middle of Argentina, must not be that hard to qualify since 20% of the guests here qualified for Boston!

Sue and I started talking and never stopped. We ran together almost every day on that ranch. (We took one day off to go shopping in the big metropolis of Santa Rosa).

Short runs, middle distance, long runs - we stayed on our schedules and had epic runs. Hills, sand, ruts in the road - none of that mattered. We talked and laughed on every run. Our 12 miler went by so fast it seemed like only 12 minutes had elapsed. Not only did wild animals cross our paths (red stag, blackbuck) but we ran by scary looking cows (to me anyway, Sue is a Hoosier and wild cows don't scare Indiana girls like they do Jersey girls)and even had to crawl under an electric fence!

Don't fry for me, Argentina!

In addition to being running nerds, we had so much else in common we were almost like twin sisters. Same profession, both of us avid readers, mothers of two kids (boy first, then the girl), and Sue even worked for and is friends with one of my law school friends! I've visited her high school in Indiana and our son is now a student at her alma mater, Indiana U. We were meant to be friends - and Boston brought us together!

Sue and I are texting and emailing daily, planning our weekend in Boston. Larry and Dave, both former military guys with wicked senses of humor and similar life of the party personalities, will hang out together and be our cheering section during the marathon. We plan to move the party that was Argentina up to Massachusetts. The roar of the red stag (Rooooaaarrrr!!!) will become the roar of the crowd. As Sue would say, "the adventure continues!"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

26.2 more days until the Boston Marathon

It's getting close! The Boston Athletic Association just sent the entrants an email letting us know we are 26.2 days away from the big race. They also gave us information about the waves (I'm in the third wave, starting at 10:40 AM) and gave us our bib numbers (I'm number 20409).
I know it's getting close to a marathon when I finish my last long run. That was Monday, when I ran 22 miles. Here's a picture of all the gear I bring with me on my long runs:

Flowers are optional.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I run in their footsteps

Gasparilla 5K, February 26, 2011

Some kids grow up with aunts who knit. Other kids spend their formative years listening to their uncles rave about their golf game. Me? When I was young, I had this aunt and uncle who would put on sneakers and go outside and run almost every day - rain, snow, or shine, just for the fun of it.

Most people thought they were crazy. I didn't think that - I thought it was cool that Aunt Mary and Uncle Sandy were out there running. They started for the sheer joy of the sport. Then they got bitten by the competitive aspect, and they started racing - first in 5Ks, then 10ks, then half marathons, and then the ultimate race, The Marathon.

I never participated in organized sports growing up, other than that mandatory P.E. class. But for fun, I swam, skated, and bicycled all over our county in New Jersey. As I described in my second post on this blog, one day I decided to go for a walk with Larry. I couldn't keep up with his long legged pace, so I began to jog a bit. Seeing my jog, he began to run. I had no choice but to follow. So began my running career. Like my aunt and uncle before me, I became a runner in my 40's.

If biology is destiny, then I guess, like Bruce Springsteen, baby, I was born to run. I love every second of it - the freedom I feel with the wind blowing my hair, the belief that if I could run, I could do anything, the runner's high I get every single time I lace up my Newtons to go out for a run. Running has gotten me through some pretty incredible times. I have met amazing people on this running road, and have had some crazy cool experiences. To date I have run 33 races, and hope to run at least another 333 more.

I have emailed Uncle Sandy countless times for tips on running, and he is always quick with a response. Ask a newspaperman for advice and you get that and more! Both he and Aunt Mary were an inspiration and help to me when I started running marathons. Celebrating with them and other family and friends after the NYC marathon, a marathon they had also run several times, was one of the highlights of my life. And running with them, both here in Melbourne (my son Danny joined in on that race!) and at last weekend's Gasparilla 5K, was nothing short of epic.

Celebrating after Gasparilla 5K with my parents, Aunt Mary, Uncle Sandy, Liana, and Josh

I look forward to many more races with Larry, Aunt Mary, Uncle Sandy, Danny, and anyone else who wants to join me for a run. But watch out - before you know it, you may become addicted as well. You will look at each day as another chance to get out there and feel that wind in your hair, believe that if you can run, you can do anything, experience that runner's high...

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Times They Are A Changin'

On Wednesday the organizers of the Boston Marathon announced not only new qualifying times for each age group but a new method for registration. The new qualifying times are 5 minutes and 59 seconds faster for each age group. And registration will take place in waves, with the runners who qualified 20 minutes or faster earlier than their qualifying time on day 1, then on day 3 runners who qualified 10 minutes or faster, then on day 5 runners who met the standard can register, and registration will continue until the race fills up.

Well, something had to be done. This year, as described one of my earlier posts, the Boston Marathon filled up on day 1 in 8 hours and 3 minutes (sounds almost like a qualifying time, one that certainly wouldn't qualify a runner for Boston!) Last year it had closed out in 2 and a half months. So a runner had to not only qualify by speed to get to run Boston but had to register on day 1 in eight hours and 3 minutes and have run a qualifying race prior to October 18, 2010, the day registration opened.

I wish that everyone who qualified could have gotten a spot. And my heart goes out to those who did but couldn't register in time, as well as future runners who may qualify even on these stricter standards, but not 20 or 10 minutes faster than the stricter standards. They may not be able to say they've run the Boston Marathon.

Me? I feel lucky that I qualified, and lucky that I got to register on day 1. Those 2 and 1/2 hours I spent on the computer were worth every second of my time!

I will cherish every minute while I am running Boston. I can't wait!!!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beating Gladys

The big news in the running community is that Gladys Burrill, of Prospect, Oregon, just broke the record for the oldest woman to ever complete a marathon. At the age of 92, Gladys finished the Honolulu Marathon in 9:53:16 on Dec. 12, 2010.

Gladys ran her first marathon at age 86 (this is not a typo!), has run several marathons since then, and enjoys her new sport. But she needs another goal - and she says that would be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I haven't met Gladys Burrill but I am inspired by her. She is my role model. But also my competition...

I am thrilled and awed and so grateful to all the people who have gotten me here that I have qualified for the Boston Marathon. I hope that running it on April 18th will be one of the happiest days of my life.

Now I need new goals. Marathon tourism (come join me in London next year!) and getting friends and family into fitness are my new goals. But after hearing about Gladys, I realize that in a little over 41 years, I need to be the oldest woman in the world to run a marathon.

Sorry about that Gladys, but you know how it is. Records are made to be broken!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why I love marathons

"You can never be sure. That's what makes the marathon both fearsome and fascinating. The deeper you go into the unknown, the more uncertain you become. But then you finish. And you wonder later, 'How did I do that?' This question compels you to keep making the journey from the usual to the magical."
Joe Henderson, American runner, running coach, writer

Joe Henderson, American runner, running coach, and writer

Friday, January 14, 2011

Celebrities and Bandits

One of the coolest things about running a marathon is that every runner running a marathon gets to compete on the same course at the same time with world class athletes. I don't know of any other sport where this is possible.

So in Boston on April 18 I will be running with the top 2 American women marathoners, Kara Goucher (marathon PR 2:25:53) and Desiree Davila (marathon PR 2:26:20) and America's best male marathoner, Ryan Hall (marathon PR 2:06:17). It's my second running date with Ryan - we ran the New York City Marathon together in 2009. Wonder if he'll remember me?

Another cool thing about running big city marathons is running with the celebrities who show up to run the race. Last year Valerie Bertinelli ran Boston as a charity runner in 5 hours, 14 minutes. No word yet on other non elite runner celebrities at Boston this year, but it's fun to run and look at another runner and think: wow, there goes my fave movie star/rock star - and I'm beating him!

Another group of people who run are known as bandits. An article I read in "Marathon and Beyond" magazine says this is too cute of a name for them, they should be called leeches or parasites. Whatever you want to call "them", they are certainly thieves. They don't pay the three figure dollar amount the rest of us paid to run the race. Yet they run the same course as us, take up space, make us run around them, use the water and energy gels and other food that is put out for us paying customers, and use any of the other amenities, from port a potties to medical attention to massages that the rest of us paid for and the race director allotted for considering how many people he or she figured would attend. They can be spotted by the absence of the bib number that they are not wearing pinned to their runner shirt or shorts.

I know I should lighten up, but it really bothers me that these people are running this race for free when they are legally prohibited from running. It is difficult to catch them in a field of 26,000 runners, especially when many of the non elite runners are wearing jackets over their bib numbers for the first few miles, if not for the whole race, depending upon how cold it is. And in a race like the Boston Marathon, where the only people who should be running are the people who qualified for the race by running a specific time according to their age group, charity runners, and people affiliated with one of the sponsors of the race, such as the John Hancock company, it hurts to see non paying, non qualifying people running.

So what can I do? What else? If I see one of those leeches or parasites, I will pick up my speed, and run faster, until I've passed them, and make sure I stay past them until I beat them at the finish line. If I see a lot of bandits, then I'll just run that much faster. Maybe I'll even catch up to Kara, Desiree, and Ryan!