The 2013 New York Marathon – Part Deux

Now my heart was pumping fast and the voice of Miss USA singing “America the Beautiful” confabulated with the chill winds to bring goosebumps to my skin and a few emotional tears into my eyes. Now the stage was set up to me to play the part I had rehearsed so many times at the shores of Lake Austin, back home.

The gun went off and a sea of runners covered the Verrazano Bridge as a tide of water surging from the Hudson River. I started slower than my goal pace, for the first two miles of the course are a steep uphill onto the bridge and I wanted to save my legs for the remaining 24 miles. NYPD helicopters floated next to the bridge with the proud stance of an eagle and the swiftness of a hummingbird on the lookout for any threat to the almost 55,000 people crossing into Brooklyn. The memories of Boston and of 9-11 flashed through my mind as I took a moment to remember those affected during these tragic events.


Brooklyn greeted us with a roar of cheers and excitement, which felt like an invitation to join in the surge of energy and increase my pace, but I resisted the urge to do so, knowing that disaster would happen if I caved. I anxiously awaited to get to the flatter part of the course to set my internal engine into marathon goal pace and navigate the first 13 miles of the course. To my dismay, the ups and downs of the streets of Brooklyn continued to form hills which were steeper and more numerous than I had imagined, and which continued all the way into Queens. Knowing that this was as flat as it was going to get, I set my pace to be a bit slower than my goal during the uphills and maintaining that same effort during the downhills, with the goal of having my average pace match the 8:00 per mile I had planned.

The whole NYPD seemed to have been called to be on the course. I could see their distinctive octagonal shaped hats and dark uniforms lining up the streets for as far as I could see. The energy from the crowds was contagious and I felt great as I continued to make my way through the rolling hills and into the latter half of the race. My legs started to feel tired, after so many unplanned hills unaccounted for during my training, but this was my moment of truth and I could not go back in time to modify my training, so I continued to drive ahead with the hope that the multiple GU gels and constant intake of Gatorade at the water stations would be enough to keep me going strong. 

As we approached Manhattan and crossed the Pulaski bridge into Queens, I had to draw all the strength I had left as the horrific view of the otherwise magnificent Queensboro Bridge appeared ahead. The idea of going up the almost one mile long bridge consumed me mentally, as I visually measured the steepness of its grade as I got closer to it. I had no choice other than charge ahead, so I proceeded to run all the way up, trying to slow my pace but keep moving forward. Silence surrounded us as we made our way onto the bridge, for there is no room for crowds to line up around it. Amidst the silence, I focused on my goal and finally made it to Manhattan, where the roaring crowds seemed to celebrate the fact I had made it this far and cheered me to keep going. At this point, the law of training specifity made it clear that gentle hill long-runs during my training would not be enough to take me through the 26 miles of surprisingly challenging hills in New York at the pace I had planned for.

My quads started to feel like knots being weaved by every step as my feet hit the pavement with every stride. My brain invited me to stop the pain and suffering, my legs complained loudly as I continued to run steadily. Giving up has never been an option for me, and it would not be this time either. I forced my mind to take control of my muscles and continued to follow the plan as best as I could. Cramping kept creeping onto me and my quads desperately requested a bit of sodium to be able to continue. Thankfully, as I approached the next aid station, I was able to find a few envelopes of table salt, which I mixed into my Gatorade, giving it a different taste than usual, but which tasted pretty great at that moment.

At this point, my mind had taken over, since my muscles were not responding as they were supposed to. The crowd could read the pain on my face, but they could see the determination behind it and kept encouraging me at every step I took. As I crossed into the Bronx and back into Manhattan via Harlem, my body begged me to stop and I disdainfully responded by screaming “C’mon!!!” at the top of my lungs as I forced myself to visualize the finish line, which was a few miles ahead. The last five miles felt like an ancient instrument of torture being applied to my legs, but I continued to see the miles on my Garmin adding up as I got closer and closer to the magic 26.2. 

Finally, Central Park… yes… I could already feel the race coming to an end and pushed myself up the last few hills, the crowds cheered, I could see the photographers lined up, the mile 25 marker… it was time to play the cameras and smile, despite the shattering pain. The finish line was only 500 yards away, then 400… 300… 200…one final push… and I had done it. I had completed the 26.2 miles and was a New York Marathon Finisher!!

I took a moment to savor victory as I crossed the blue and orange arches marking the finish line, but could not help to feel disappointment for not achieving the time I had trained for over the last twelve months. The course terrain made victory less glorious, but I vowed to challenge it to a second duel… And so, on December 2nd of this year, right after the Thanksgiving weekend, I applied to the lottery of the 2014 New York Marathon with the hopes of making it in for a second time and getting the satisfaction of conquering the terrain, and satisfying my runner ego with the finishing time I know I can achieve. New York.. it is just a matter of when… not if.    


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The 2013 New York Marathon – Part One

It was four in the morning and the temperature was forty one degrees Fahrenheit with a good amount of wind, but as I was not thinking about the cold as I woke up the morning of November 3rd. I put on the clothes that I had laid out the night before and had a light breakfast consisting of a banana and a white chocolate macadamia nut flavored cliff bar. I pinned my bib on to my shirt and wore an extra layer of jeans and long sleeve shirt, which were destined to be dropped off as a donation to the homeless people of New York at the start of the race.

I made my way down the 5 flights of stairs in the upper west side apartment in Manhattan where I was staying. I could feel the cold wind trying to warm itself up by wrapping itself around my body, but I ignored it and walked the eight blocks to the subway station. As I got into the station, instead of the busy crowd wearing their dressy coats on their way to work, there was a handful of runners awaiting their ride to the ferry station which would take them to Staten Island. Everyone was silent as we boarded the train and made our way to the next few stations. I knew what was on everyone’s mind, for despite coming from different countries and cities, we all something in common. We were going to run the New York Marathon.

The handful of runners in the train had multiplied as additional athletes got on the train at every station along the way. By the time we got there and walked to the ferry station you could see thousands dark bodies wearing running shoes making their way into the building and out of the shadows of the night, as we went through police screening and boarded our ferry. Unsuccessful on its attempts to steal a bit of warmth off our bodies, the cold wind made its frustration and anger felt by hitting us harder as we left port and navigated into the freezing waters of the Hudson River.

The sun was peeking out in the horizon, after completing its daily voyage around the other side of the globe. As its light began illuminating our surroundings, we could see several smaller boats flanking us with face covered individuals all in black clothes and holding cold machine guns in their hands. Thankfully, I could see the stars and stripes waving in their boats and the words “U.S. Coast Guard” and “N.Y.P.D” identifying them as the good guys. This was just the beginning of an amazing security operation setup by the City to protect us from any potential harm.

As we reached Staten Island, a long line of buses was awaiting us at the harbor with their heaters set to maximum force, which seemed to be a preamble to the warmup for the race. After a very short trip that took us through the coast and into Fort Wadsworth, it was time to get off the bus, whose warmth felt like a tease as we exited into a sea of policemen who would screen us from top to bottom one last time.

UPS trucks were lined up next to the athlete villages, awaiting our bags, which they would transport 26.2 miles into the city so we would have some dry and warm clothes after crossing the finish line at Central Park. I intended to wait as long as I could before I had to shed my layers of clothing and walk up to the starting line, so I snugged next to a group of strangers at one of the village tents, made up of vinyl and with a maximum capacity of about a hundred and fifty people. Despite the limited capacity of the tent, the need for warmth and basic instinct of survival worked its magic and about two hundred of us managed to find a spot inside, where we could escape the cold arms of the wind and mentally prepare for the race ahead. As I laid down on the grass inside the tent and curled up inside my jacket, I could hear people speaking German, Spanish, Italian and other different languages I could not identify. It was about and hour and a half before race start time and something told me I should get up and find my way into the starting corral. Begrudging to leave my warm spot, I put my extra layers of clothing in my baggage bag and braved the cold wind head-on as I found my assigned UPS truck, painted in their characteristic brown and yellow colors, to drop-off my bag.

I proceeded to strip off the extra pair of jeans I had been wearing over my running shorts and dropped them at on one of the clothing donation bins in the parking lot as I ran towards the corral check-in zone, maneuvering my way to avoid tripping into the seemingly countless runners everywhere and staying warm solely by the sheer excitement and the friction produced by my muscles as they moved my body into a running motion and closer to the starting line.

As I approached the corral check-in point, I came to the disappointing realization that my wave had already departed and I would not be able to begin my journey until 30 minutes later, with the second wave. Eager to make the best off the situation and step on the Verrazano bridge without further haste, I joined wave number two, encountering along the way several of my first wave companions, who had missed the call time in a similar fashion to myself. And so we banded together and made our way to the front of the group in an effort to find a spot where we could avoid getting engulfed between the slower pace runners. This was it… finally… I was minutes away from running the New York Marathon… (To be continued)

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The 2013 Fall Marathon Season

Fall is a great season in Austin. The grueling 100°F+ summer days are over, which means clothes other than shorts and sandals can leave the closet, mornings and evenings are gorgeous, and, if you are lucky, you have been able to take some days off the daily grind and traveled to some gorgeous beach, mountain, city, or otherwise relaxing destination of your choice for a well-deserved vacation. For runners who are doing a marathon in the fall, it means the sweat-drenching training runs in the intense heat are becoming more bearable as the days cool down. At this point, they should be peaking on their distance and speed training, and feeling the indescribable excitement of race day being only a short few weeks away. If running a destination race, transportation and lodging reservations should be completed by now, and all that is left to do is keep up with the training program for a couple of more weeks until the tapering period begins and race day arrives.

I will be running New York, one of the six World Marathon Majors at one of the most iconic cities in the globe. I intended to run it last year, but fate and mother nature decided differently. They sent hurricane Sandy as their envoy to the East Coast at the end of October, and the NYC Marathon had to be cancelled for the first time in its 42 years, so that city government efforts were focused on helping the victims and rebuilding the city. And so, my meeting with the five boroughs and more than forty thousand runners from around the world was not meant to be in 2012. That gave me the opportunity to fully recover from an achilles injury that had been haunting me for most of that year and which threatened my attendance to the race, regardless of Sandy.

Training is part of my daily life, it is something I love to do and a part of my day I always look forward to. Sometimes the weight of the long work days seems to whisper in my ear trying to convince me that it will be okay if I skip, to which my body seems to agree, as the comfort of resting at home soothes away the exhaustion after a work day that sometimes begins at dawn.  And so, will power takes over and pushes me to go into the hot, humid Texas nights and give my best physical and mental effort, stick to the plan, and complete each training session knowing that the reward is well worth it.

Everyone who has run a marathon knows the glorious feeling of completing a daunting journey that pushes the human body beyond the limits it was designed for. Contrary to what many people think, it is not a mere 26.2 mile race, it is more often a 500+ mile race. For me, by the time I begin my ascent onto the Verrazano Bridge on Staten Island on November 3rd, I will have run around 750 miles specific to this race. So the final 26.2 miles will be the recognition to the months of hard work and sacrifice that have been invested into this amazing experience. And for those who will be completing their first marathon, it will be the right of passage into an elite group whose members have life-long bragging rights, regardless of whether it takes them 2:03:38 hours or 8 hours to complete the course, they now will be marathoners for the rest of their life.

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Stars, Stripes and Olympic Rings

It was only a few days ago when we celebrated the independence of our country. Truly, one of the most exciting holidays of the year. A group of my closest friends and I planned together the perfect 4th of July. Everyone spent the morning cooking a special dish we would later share at a potluck-type picnic while watching the traditional fireworks. I was in charge of bringing the beverages.. Iced tea and lemonade, and a bit of a “Russian kick” to spice it up. After the baking and cooking duties were completed, we spent some quality friend-time playing  putt-putt golf in the blazing Austin sun. Then, we made our way out to the shore of the lake, where the Austin Symphony was playing a free concert prior to the fireworks show.  


The evening was spectacular, families and groups of friends all gathered out in the park with their picnic blankets and lawn chairs enjoying a good time while dressed in the red, white and blue while a lonely striped and starred flag flew against a setting sun. As the sun started to hide behind the western horizon, the symphony played the national anthem culminating with those lines that inevitably always bring tears to my eyes, “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?.” The evening continued to glow with national pride until the culminating point of the festivity, when the now dark sky was illuminated by beautiful and multi-colored fireworks which brought joy and awe to the several thousand of people watching at the lakeshore and surrounding areas.


At that moment, I reflected what the 530 athletes who will be representing us at the Olympics will feel every time the national anthem is played during the London Olympic, which will start only a few days from now. For an instant, I was transported a few days into the future, to London, and went through the opening ceremony, the moments leading to competition, the new records to be set, the tears of joy and the smiles that all those athletes representing the United States of America would experience… and I suddenly felt in unity with rest of the world with no hate, judgment, or prejudice against anyone or anything. Instead, a unique feeling of friendship, community and joy uniting five continents represented by five rings… all united by the flame of friendship and fair play… Good luck to the Team USA as it embarks into this amazing adventure.


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Training among volcanoes and inspiring athletes

In recent days, I was honored with teaching the first Nike Training Club class in Puebla, Mexico as a guest trainer of Nike Mexico. If you don’t know anything about Puebla, this is the state in Mexico where the famous “Cinco de Mayo” celebration started. It is also where the Mexican “mole” sauce was invented and a city bordered with volcanoes, one of which is currently active and throwing impressive amounts of volcanic ash into the air.

I flew into Mexico City, the city with the highest population in the Western Hemisphere, at about 21 million. The flight over the city, as the plane approached Benito Juarez International Airport, is impressive. As you look out the plane’s window, all you can see is buildings and houses for miles and miles. I suppose 21 million people need to live and work somewhere… You can see the famous city landmarks from the air, from the Latinomericana tower, to the World Trade Center, the Angel de la Independencia, and even the Zocalo, or main square, which is where the city government sits. My experience going through immigration and customs was the dream of any international traveler, no lines anywhere! I managed to leave the airport in a matter of minutes. From there, a two hour bus ride going up through the volcanic mountains and then descending into the valley where the City of Puebla was established in 1531, the City of Angels or “Angelopolis” as it is commonly know. According to the legend, Angels from heaven traced the design of the City when it was first founded and, upon the completion of its Cathedral, when the builders were despaired because they did not have a way to haul the heavy bells up to the towers, Angels came down from heaven while the builders were sleeping and installed them overnight.

Puebla is a magnificent mixture of colonial style buildings in the center of the city with modern sky rises, malls, and expensive golf courses in the outer parts of the city. People are very nice and friendly, but driving in the “high-speed” highways full of potholes and with aggressive drivers whose only purpose seems to be to get to their destination while beating the latest Formula 1 speed record, is always an interesting experience.

As Sir Paul McCartney was getting ready for his Mother’s Day concert in Mexico City and most Mexican households were getting ready to celebrate this important date, I got to the Parque del Arte in Puebla, where the marketing team of Nike Mexico was awaiting for my arrival with a stage built specially for my class, a sound system playing the latest hits, and the invaluable hard working volunteers who were making sure the event went without a hitch. About an hour later, people were already lined up waiting to come in and get ready for their workout. The electricity and excitement in the air were contagious. I greeted some of the participants, including a couple of great childhood friends who made the trip to Puebla especially to be part of the event, made sure my microphone was working properly and greeted the participants while still walking amongst them with a loud “Hola Puebla!” If you have ever been at an event in Mexico, you know Mexican people can be loud in a very warm and welcoming way, which was the type of welcome they gave me!

With the pavilion completely full with athletes, I jumped on to the stage, greeted the participants, organized them, and got everyone ready to go through the Nike Training Club class! There were runners and athletes of all walks of life lined up and ready to sweat. This was the first ever NTC class in Puebla, so they had no idea of the intensity of the workout. Regardless, everyone put their hearts into the training and endured its high intensity athletic demands without decreasing their enthusiasm and energy one bit. I occasionally got down from the stage and walked among them giving high fives and encouraging them to keep on going with the workout, to which they reacted with an ear-to-ear smile and a high-five back. After almost an hour of athletic intensity, I wrapped up the training, thanked all the athletes for their hospitality, went through a quick photo session, and headed back home. It was already night time and the ride back took me through historical monuments illuminated in bright lights and the normal city traffic of cars heading back to their homes for a good night’s rest.

An amazing experience that proved to me once again that athletes all over the world have the same commitment to fitness regardless of challenging environmental conditions, financial hardships, or any type of excuses… Truly inspiring… Thank you Mexico!

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