Hi! DID IT! Please see blog for brief update, more follows!Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand: One of running’s most iconic women will be attempting her first marathon in 34 years at the Mototapu Icebreaker 26.2 mile / 42.2 kilometer run on March 13.
Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the famous Boston Marathon in 1967 and who is credited with championing the equality of women in long distance running, has chosen the challenging off-road Mototapu Icebreaker for her ‘comeback of sorts’ in the marathon event.You can follow her training progress with her first-person accounts from her training diary, below.
Switzer is not afraid of challenges: in her debut Boston in 1967, the race director was infuriated at seeing a woman in the race and attacked her mid-stride, trying to rip off her bib numbers and throw her off the course. She prevailed and finished, vowing to change the status of women in the sport. Photos of the incident were flashed around the world and became one of Time-Life’s “100 Photos that Changed the World.”
On March 13, Switzer will be wearing bib number 261 to celebrate the occasion.
“I attended my first Mototapu in 2007 when I launched my book Marathon Woman here in Queenstown. I fell in love with the event and the beautiful land, and vowed to run it someday. Then I realized I was over 60! If not now, when? I didn’t want to miss out on seeing that incredible landscape; this kind of magical event did not exist even just a few years ago. I’ve been training as hard as I can, but wow, this body is not the same one I had in 1976! I keep forgetting that and wonder why I come in from my runs and do a face plant on the sofa! Already, the process has been, shall we say, extremely enlightening.”
Switzer was one of the best women marathon runners in the world when she ran her last marathon in 1976. “By that time, I’d helped women become official in the sport, I’d run 35 marathons and won the New York City Marathon, and I had achieved a 6th in the world ranking,” said Switzer. “So I turned my energies into leading the drive to get the women’s marathon into the Olympic Games, and that consumed my life.”
With her Avon International Running Circuit, she organized over 400 races in 27 countries for a million women; the resulting global participation and results were the main reason the women’s marathon was included in the Olympic Games in 1984 in Los Angeles. By that time, Switzer was also a television commentator and author, but she still ran every day and competed casually in shorter events. “The marathon training just took too much time,” she said. “If I didn’t have to do those long Sunday runs, I could write another book.” (In addition to Marathon Woman, Switzer is the author of best-selling Running and Walking for Women Over 40, and is co-author of 26.2 Marathon Stories).
“I live in Wellington, New Zealand for half of each year so I think I’ll be OK on the hills, commented Switzer when asked about the course, which is over a mountain range. “It’s just the distance; at my age, it takes me twice as long as it did to cover the ground so I’ll be out there quite awhile. Still, if I can do it, I’ll be thrilled. Thirty years ago I said the wonderful thing about this sport is that it’s for everybody, at any age…and now that includes me.”
Here is Kathrine’s first-person account of her training, excerpted from her training diary:
I am pretty nervous about this Mototapu event. It’s been 34 years, after all. But the inspiration to do this actually began over two years ago, so that’s where I’ll begin. The excerpts, of course, are in reverse order, so to start at the ‘beginning’, scroll way down.Please, if you use any of this material, do credit my name and authorship.
March 10, 2010: And now, I’m packing my bag and heading to the South Island. For the last 16 days, I’ve just done maintenance runs, becoming increasing careful not to trip or fall, practicing with the pack, and it seems, sleeping an awful lot. I keep thinking my knees hurt, my butt hurts, my back aches. Maybe I’m getting a sore throat.
Hey, I tell myself. I’m 63 years old and I’m still doing it. I’m doing something very difficult again, and that is a privilege. And when I get to that Mototapu, I will see a landscape that others can only dream of. For sure, it’s time to run.
February 21, 2010: It’s a one in a million day in Wellington, bright sun, blue sky and barely a breeze. It probably still will be gale force up on the tops, but it will never be better than this. Despite having not taken a rest day yesterday, I’ve got to go. Big breakfast, PowerAde in my pack and 2 gels and I’m away, climbing first up Johnson’s Hill and then running across the old sheep tracks that have now been marked with flexible kind of ski poles to indicate the way across the top of the mountains.
The wind is ferocious, and when I’m into it, it is all I can do to keep from being blown over. Normally, I would not come up here for this long a run by myself, but it’s Sunday, and there will be a ton of other nut cases like myself out training for one of the many astonishing New Zealand endurance events. Plus there are plenty of other people, out for a good hard Sunday walk, and I know if I were to fall or twist an ankle up here, someone could go for help before too long.
The view is astonishing. Layer after layer of ranges fold in different shades of blue and green on my left, one hillside is covered in stunning white windmills, facing the sea, and beyond the sea, on the horizon, you can see the mountains of the South Island.
On the right, the city of Wellington, the harbor and the mountains beyond spread out. The city glimmers in the intense sunlight; the harbor is calm, a kind of neon turquoise color, and sailboats slip across in a Sunday race. Even if something happens now and I don’t make it to the Mototapu, this beautiful experience was worth all the effort.
The time slips away with me running further than I imagined I could, discovering all kinds of tracks and trails and access to outlying towns that I never knew existed. One of things I loved the best about my early running was sometimes doing the “Discovery Run”, a run with my coach or my friends, taking us down roads we’d never traveled, just running to use up time and discover new places. It had been a long time since I’d done that, sure that no matter how lost I became I had the endurance to find my way back, and today was just such a day.
The hardest part about 5 ½ hours was climbing back down Johnson’s Hill; it took me longer to get down than it had to come up, because the legs were good and weary. And when I got to the car, I laughed, I’d miscalculated by 7 minutes and ran laps around the parking lot to make sure it was truly 5 ½ hours; hey, it’s important! “ DID IT!”, I said out loud and high-fived myself. In the car, I found a note left by my husband, who had been out on his bicycle. “Good on yer, Kate!” it said.
February 11-20, 2010: These days I run every day, throwing in three 1:30 runs and am amazed now how much stronger and faster I am. Well, at the shorter distances anyway! Still, it’s encouraging, even if the butt hurts and has me sitting on a tennis ball wincing in pain afterward.
I’m now also wearing a pack, and the first time I wore it I thought I was a goner, as with all the regulation gear I have to carry in the race, it felt so heavy even on an hour run that I could not imagine carrying it for 5 or 6 hours. Because the race is all off-road, through a mountain valley in the high country of New Zealand, the weather can change quickly and dangerously—like from sunshine to snow in a matter of minutes. So every runner is required to carry their own parka, first aid kit, foil space blanket, torso layer, gloves, hat, and for me, gels and a banana. You have to pass a bag inspection, too, because it’s serious stuff.
And me, in Wellington is watching the weather closely, because I’m really ramping up my next run which will be a mimic of the race itself: I plan to do 5 ½ hours over the mountain tracks around Wellington, carrying my pack, and mixing hiking and scrambling with the run. “Up on the tops” they call it here, and it is ferociously windy even on the nicest day. When it’s good, I’m going.
February 10, 2010: I’ve decided to do another 4 hour run, this one I’d call a ‘steady-state run.’ The previous run was technically harder, but parts were so steep that I had to walk up, or kind of climb down slippery slopes, so one could, I suppose, count that as rest. But it’s time on my legs I’m looking for, and today is a steady state run—an 1:20 out along a flat track by the Hutt River, 1:20 back; change shoes, take a drink, back out 40 minutes and back the final 40.
In the course of this run, I had a headwind out, and then the weather changed so that I had a headwind coming back; it seemed rather unfair. Also unfair and a little upsetting was how I felt like I had rigor mortis for the final 20 minutes. My left buttock in particular felt like I was carrying a small anvil in my back pocket that jabbed and made it hard to even lift my leg. I was wiped when it was over, and took a beach towel out of the car and spread it on the nearby grass just to lie down and stretch. Only I just lay there awhile trying not to doubt that I could finish this monster marathon distance again. When I got home it will surprise you, as it did me, to want to get into a tub of cool water. Not ice water, but the cool was great on my legs and hips. I’m finding it hard to stay asleep on the night after a long run, as if I’m exhausted and have drunk too much coffee. The next day is bliss, however, not only because I don’t run at all and can get some paid work done, but because I can sleep very soundly, and wake up optimistic again.
February 2, 2010: My first 4-hour run in three decades. And not easy either, as I ran in the Wellington Botanical Gardens, up very steep trails, often rocky and rooty, plenty of steps to negotiate and downhills to be wary of. I do NOT want to fall; that would be a disaster. It’s a rainy day and some of the trails are slick, on one leafy uphill stretch I found myself suddenly sliding into a split. Oh boy, there goes the hamstring, but it was no problem. I changed my shoes at two hours and tried hard not to think I had two hours more, concentrating on the gorgeous undergrowth of the gardens, the deep shadows, the brilliant flowers when I emerged into the open gardens, and I explored every darn path in there. I had no idea it was so vast. On the long uphill run to our house, carrying my empty water bottle, I thought, ‘Damn, I did that!’ and I burst into the house shouting “Bring on the Western States 100!!”
January, 2010: It was relatively easy moving up to two hours, then 2:15, and not bad to 2:30. 2:45 seemed like a challenge, but my focus was on 3 hours and that began to bite a little. By the end of this month, I jumped to a 3:30. I know this is more than 10%, but it has suddenly dawned on me that it could well take me six hours to do this race. I MUST be able to be on my legs that long. I am not panicking, but it does stir my heart to think about running through the mountains, carrying a pack, 28 river crossings….
In this training, I decided on a few things up front: first, not to worry about distance per se, but to run for time. My longest run will be 5 ½ hours, if that is not enough to do the race, then it should give me enough strength to see me through it, particularly if I pace myself with the inevitable walking.
The second thing is that I’d do the majority of all long runs on dirt trails or grass. The only road running I’d do would be to get to the trails themselves; this was to save the pounding from the hard road surface. There is no doubt that I’m worried about my body—it is not the same resilient body I had when I was running marathons all the time 30 years ago. This body is also 15 pounds heavier than when I was running 100 miles a week, not surprising, but worrisome as the sudden addition of mileage and extra weight is a lot to ask. Especially now that I’m yes! another year older—63. The increase in mileage always concerns me, because many friends my age can’t run anymore because of injuries. For example, it’s been proven again and again that running per se does not damage knees, but hard surfaces and imbalance can hurt them. Plus, things wear out! And I don’t want to make them wear out any sooner.
While trail running helps to somewhat counter the possibility of imbalance because it requires so much varied movement and is not so repetitious, I also change the brand of my shoes several times a week. This keeps my feet and legs from getting into a ‘rut’. I’ve done this for several years now and I decided to stick with this, even changing them mid-way during some of the long runs.
Something new is that I decided to use a replacement drink product on the long runs, not just water. This undoubtedly sounds like a no-brainer to you, but I’d usually only used these products in races and AFTER a run. I’ve become quite ingenious at carrying a large bottle—about 3 cups worth—to my course, and stashing it under a Punga (fern) tree and running loops and coming back for a drink every 45 minutes. Amazing. I’d come home hydrated, more energetic, and even having to pee. Now THAT’S a first!
December, 2009: Back to New Zealand for the American winter, it’s also back to the drawing board. If I am going to do the Mototapu Icebreaker on March 13, I must now be consistent in getting the long runs up, and I mean UP. On Christmas Eve, I ran a good hour and a half , finishing very strong. My plan is to move up 10% a week again, and give myself recovery after the long runs.
November 22, 2009: In my last race of 2009, I cannot resist going to the Inaugural Women’s Running Magazine Half Marathon in St. Petersburg, FL. It is hard for me not to love ‘FIRSTS’ and like the MORE /Fitness Marathon and Half, this race touches the heart of the women’s running movement. Both are sponsored by publications that not only cater to women, but also showcase and applaud a special group of women—those of us who are ‘go for it’ kind of people. It is hard to imagine an inaugural race with over 5,000 women when I can remember for years being the ONLY woman runner in a sea of men. This race was a happening in pink, the expo was jammed, and for two solid days I was thrilled to have a constant line of people wanting my book. By race day, my legs felt like overcooked spaghetti from all that standing and signing, but it was nearly as good a feeling as tired legs after a satisfying run. It was the end of my ‘season’ so I decided to take it easy, not that I had a choice really, and I ran around 2:08. And then I recall that the half mile back to the hotel and a nice bath took forever! Time to get in longer training runs.
November 1 and 7, 2009: The ING New York City Marathon and the Harvard Pilgrim Maine Coast Half Marathon for Women—two races within a week of each other and as different as races can be. I did my 22nd or so broadcast of New York, this time for the Global Television feed—to 234 countries! It’s an awesome assignment that I love.
The rush of New York cannot be understood unless you are there: 42,000 runners and over a million spectators change the Big Apple from an impersonal and intimidating city into a an outpouring of positive achievement and color.
The elite athletes are stunning….the back of the packers are inspiring.
Some of my most memorable runs are in the morning before the press conferences and production meetings; if you run the loop in Central Park counter-clockwise, you pass and wave at previous champions, visiting Olympians and all kinds of VIPs. I stopped my run to listen to an interview going on near the finish area early on Thursday and someone sidled up to me for a hug and a chat: it was American champion Deena Kastor. And on subsequent days, you can watch who’s doing last minute hill springs, in anticipation of the uphill finish. Good TV material for later, particularly when that person was Derartu Tulu, the first ‘black’ African woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she won the 10,000 meters in the Barcelona Olympics. Nobody would have picked her, but I saw her doing those hill springs, and I thought, YEAH. She was the surprise winner of the marathon two days later.
Six days later, I was running along the seafront road in the quaint and very old town of York, Maine. I love this race, as it’s a low-key but already very popular women’s only half marathon, and race directors Linda and Mike St. Laurent have asked us twice to be pasta dinner speakers and to assist with race announcing the next day. For Roger and me, it’s a mini-vacation; we stay at old inns and I indulge myself in my annual lobster. But it’s the expo that is igniting: again, it is an opportunity to meet and chat with hundreds of women who are just discovering this sport, and are spirited and excited about their personal transformation from it. I come away from these events especially pumped about running for as many years as we can, to enjoy every moment.
October 17 &18, 2009: The Toronto Marathon has become and annual event for Roger and me; for the last 4 years we have been part of the corps of pasta dinner speakers that race director Jay Glassman lines up. This is a marvelous race with a fun expo, the best pasta dinner in the marathon business, and a fast course.
I know this last item because I decided to run the half marathon this year. While I will relate the details in an anniversary blog next October, I ran because I was reunited with a woman I had not seen in 42 years who wanted me to run with her; we had run a marathon in Toronto together in 42 years before, in May of 1967, and that was the first and last time I saw her. At the time, she was only 13 and set what was then a world best time. Her name is Maureen Mancuso and she had only started to run again after 40 years. This reunion caused a flurry of publicity and we did a great show together for CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. In the race, Maureen proved that a 40-year layoff was no hindrance for her; she ran a 1:48 ! And I, still and always 7 years older, was thrilled to bits to run a 1:56! I honestly thought at 62 that I’d never see the underside of 2 hours again.
October 24, 2009: Roger and I were invited to the Marine Corps Marathon where we were pasta dinner speakers and did some TV before the start of this magnificent race. I lived in the Washington DC area for much of my life, run many races there, but by the time MCM came into being, I had put marathons aside and was concentrating on race directing myself. It was a joy to be there on a perfect autumn morning, and as we waited for the winners to arrive, I had time to slip into Arlington Cemetery, and visit the graves of my parents.
October 10 & 11, 2009: Off to work as journalists at the Chicago Marathon. No TV this year for me, so the pressure was off and I enjoyed myself at the expo and catching up with friends. TV makes me very nervous because you need to spend so much time gleaning information and getting all your notes in order. You don’t have the chance to delete a line and start over, or choose a better word, and you must find the exact moment to tell a story and tell it quickly. Chicago was extremely cold, such a fluke after the oppressive heat there the last two years. I think the cold and wind thwarted the world-record attempt for Sammy Wanjiru, the Olympic Champion, but he still went on to run a 2:05 new course record! Considering that the previous course record was a world record at the time, it is extremely impressive. It’s amazing to see these guys run—on TV they look like stallions; in person, they are quite petite. All heart and lungs.
October 3, 2009: October is Marathon Month, just like April. I began the month by running Grete’s Great Gallop Half Marathon. I just wanted to enter it and run like an ordinary person, no fan-fare, to honor Grete Waitz, for whom the race is named. Grete and I have been friends for many years; she even worked as a spokesperson for the Avon Running series I directed from 1997-2002. She is as unassuming, kind, and professional a woman as can be. She has been battling cancer for the last four years and has somehow kept up both her obligations and her spirit; she’s a fabulous role model. I knew she’d be at the start line waving to people and I wanted to surprise her by jogging by and being one of hundreds who high-fived her. It was a nice moment for both of us. Later, it was a funny moment for her husband Jack who was cheering at half way, and I high-fived him and he said, “Good heavens, you are RUNNING!” In 30 years, I don’t think Jack had ever seen me run; he’d only seen me as an organizer or TV commentator.
It was awful day weather wise—about 75 degrees but 100 percent humidity. We all felt like we’d had oil poured over us when we finished. But was I excited!—by starting slowly, taking plenty of Gatorade and pacing myself, I realized at the half I could break my goal of 2:15; then I saw I could break my “Over-60 PR” of 2:07. I’ll tell you the truth, I gave it all I had the last three miles and I finished strong, which I credit to taking some of that gel stuff for the first time. 2:03!!!! And everyone said the Central Park hills and the weather were good for a couple more minutes.
July-September, 2009: Finishing that half marathon in Kenya has really given me confidence. Really, if I can run at that altitude and in that dust and not be eaten by the lion (literally!) I feel I can train up to the Motatapu next March. If the wheels stay on, anyway. I say that because already this has been an amazing experience. Even though I’m 62, I keep thinking I’m 25. It’s only when I’m running (and looking in the mirror) that I feel like I’m living in a different body. Some days running feels good, but I have yet to feel like I can run forever like I sometimes used to. And when I look down at my legs, I’m always surprised how slowly they are going and how flaccid they look.
I refuse to get too daunted, though. July through September are spent in travel and maintenance runs, and into September I am beginning with a few more 2 hour plus runs, again on the trails, to save my legs from as much road pounding as possible. It’s been a cold and dreary summer in the Hudson Valley, and autumn and the changing leaves seems to be coming early. I don’t mind this; at all, I love it cool, and the change in color increases the interest.
May-June, 2009: The African Adventure: That MORE half marathon in 95 degree heat was just what I needed both for training and confidence. I have now five weeks to get in several 2 ½ hour runs in preparation for another long-held dream: to run the Safaricom Half Marathon in Kenya in June. I got these long training runs in on the exceptional running trails in the Mohonk Preserve in the Hudson Valley, near our home. It was almost as good as New Zealand!
Instead of having a party for Roger’s birthday, we decided to go to Kenya. One of the great joys of being a TV and/or magazine journalist to get to interview and know elite runners, and many had become friends over the years, especially the Kenyans. They often asked us to visit Kenya and we decided that this was the year.
One of Roger’s oldest friends is Bruce Tulloh, the famous English runner, and he is the race director for the Safaricom Marathon. He and his wife had been urging us to come as well, and they were delighted that I wanted to run the event. It is a heart-stopping experience as it is run on the Lewa Game Preserve. One day a year only they buzz the lions and rhinos off the dirt track through the preserve for the 1,000 runners. Roger reassured me with a warning: “It’s OK to be slow, darling, just don’t be last.”
The night before at the pre-race briefing in the tented encampment (most people stay in tents), we walked right up to our friends Catherine Ndereba and Paul Tergat, Olympians and former world record holders in the marathon. It was a wonderful reunion, and we made a date to have tea with Catherine and her husband when we were back in Nairobi the next week.
We had a reunion with other friends, old and new when we joined with Thom Gilligan’s Marathon Tours group for a few days also. Here, once again, I met runners who were so intrepid they put me to shame. After running the full marathon, many of them planned to hike up Mt. Kenya or even more daunting, Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’ll tell you, the more you do, the more you travel, the more you meet people who have embraced the ‘no limits’ as a life policy.
The race was a challenge: although cool in the morning, when the sun emerged it was piercing, the track was extremely dusty, there were a couple of huge hills, and it was at 6,500 feet of altitude. So, how to run it? Slow down. There were plenty of water stations and volunteers and sponsors cheered like mad. It was wonderful, frankly, a once in a lifetime experience. I finished a very tired 2:23, but won my 60+ age group, not that there are a lot of 60+ women runners in Kenya, ha ha! But once again, I had a non-stop grin that made up for my dusty, dehydrated state.
Africa was a stunning experience, far too much to put into this ‘training diary’, and I will be writing more about it in a future blog.
April, 2009: I have decided to use the training I have to pounce on a few half marathons in 2009 and get strong and secure-feeling again at that distance. After all the hoopla at Boston with speeches, and expo and book signing appearances, and the TV commentary of the race, I was plenty tired for the MORE /Fitness Marathon and Half Marathon the next weekend. I’d vowed to run it this year and was excited at the prospect, even after having been on my legs for two solid days before at the event expo. Honestly, I was so ignited by the women I met at this race! With the emphasis on women over 40, it was thrilling to see thousands of women in their 40s,50s, 60s and beyond running their first marathon or half marathon and embracing the sport as excitedly as I did in my 20s. Many women partnered in the race with best friends from another part of the country, or with their daughters. It was heartwarming to see 25-year-old daughters walking arm and arm with their moms, and telling every one they met in the expo, “This is my mom! She got me running! She’s my heroine!” It was a mob scene of laughing, hugging, photo taking women. And did they shop! It’s the Big Apple, after all.
The next day, New York City had one of those totally off-the-wall days. Usually April is wonderful in the City, with early spring flowers in the park. But I’ve also known it to be cold and snow-showery. But today it was 95 scorching, humid degrees. Insane. The organizing NY Road Runners cancelled the marathon and turned the whole thing into a fun-run half marathon. It was so wise. There were 8,000 of us packed into the park; we already created a microclimate. Fortunately, being a women’s race, we all still smelled pretty nice at that stage. I’d never been in a race where they took down all the clocks, pulled up the mats and asked us to take it easy.
I thought, it doesn’t matter, I run the same pace anyway. But it DID matter, with no clocks to look at, it simply reduced the self-expectation that we impose on ourselves; I was happy for it, had fun and doused myself at every water station, and there were plenty. As we came into the finish, I head women around me say to each other, I’m going to do it! This is the longest I’ve ever run! And I thought, that is just so phenomenal—the longest she’d ever run, and on a 95 degree day. Girl, you rock, whoever you are. I ran 2:18, about right for how many times I stopped and sluiced down and left the park that day, slowly, but with a big grin on my face that I couldn’t wipe off. Yeah! I said I’d do it and I did.
March, 2009: Time has not hung heavy; I’ve transferred my energy from not doing the long runs into planning a national tour in New Zealand for the launch of the great film, Spirit of the Marathon. The filmmaker Jon Dunham and his associate producer Melissa Leggett have flown over and now Roger and I are with them in Queenstown 2 days before the Mototapu with a special film opening in a packed boutique theatre. The reception is rapturous, as the film is so stunning and very moving. What a psych-up for those running or cycling the event! Jon has decided to bike the 50km event; very impressive. The next morning, I went out alone and ran around the lake in Queenstown, a perfect surface and a beautiful day, and did my first three-hour run in many years. It was the run I’d hoped to have done a month before, but it was not possible with the toe. I felt so tired but so wonderful, but also knew that if I were to run the race the next day, I would have needed another two hours on my legs. And I didn’t have it. Not yet anyway. I’ll be at the finish line cheering and helping with announcing, and quietly eating my heart out.
Late January- early February, 2009: Just as I began to move from 2:30 to a 2:45 long run, I broke my baby toe. I tell people I was ironing, and that’s the truth, and have since imposed a ban on all housework, which is extremely dangerous and a definitely not recommended for people who also run. This sounds like a real Laurel & Hardy slapstick kind of injury, and in a way it is: I didn’t drop the iron on my toe but I was doing a million other things at the same time and running around the house between the iron the computer and a ringing phone when I slammed my foot into a corner baseboard, badly stubbing the little toe and breaking it. Running was painfully out of the question; plus I couldn’t get shoes on and lived in flip-flops for three weeks. But these were the crucial long-run weeks in getting ready for a marathon. I could not attempt this venture without those miles on my legs. I felt like an idiot, and take it as a big lesson: I am careful running around the house now.
January, 2009: The Bermuda International Race Weekend and the Bermuda Triangle Challenge were even more fun than the year before. I’m sure this was because I was less anxious about actually being able to complete the events, but it was also because it is a small island and everyone seemed to remember me from the year before. I was assigned my old Boston Marathon number of 261 and the newspapers had a great time re-telling that story, so many spectators cheered me personally when they saw that bib number. I found it interesting that on the same training as the year before, I was about 3% slower in both the 10K and the mile, which is about right for aging another year. However, I was nearly 5 minutes faster in the half marathon (2:07:45), a good sign for the distance work I’d been doing and auguring well for the upcoming Motatapu training.
Late November-December, 2008: I feel in many ways that I am starting all over in my build up for the 2009 Bermuda Training Challenge. I know there are remnants of some base there, a little muscle memory but there is some additional urgency this year. 2009 is the year I said I’d run the Motatapu, so the BTC is going to be a stepping-stone for that.
The buildup progressed similarly to last year, but indeed I had more strength. The flu-ish feeling and lingering affects of the food poisoning illness seems to have passed and I am thriving on the good runs.
But what is depressing to me is that the little jiggle on my stomach and thickening around my waist was still there. I’d put this little layer of fat on in early 2007 when I was frantically trying to make the deadline for my book, Marathon Woman. I had six weeks to completely re-write the book and when I looked at the pages and counted the days, it came out to needing to work straight through 18 hours a day for six weeks. That meant almost no running, as any spare moment was going to be for sleep. I holed up alone in the winter in our normally closed American house while Roger was in New Zealand and just hit it. Only a marathoner could have done that, and every day I was thankful for my health and especially my first coach for giving me the solid base training that had stuck with me long enough to pull off an effort like this. If the end result was my first middle-age spread, well I’d run it off later. But now here it was two years later, and the fat was still there. Clearly, running 4 or 5 days a week was what my body called ‘maintenance’. Weight loss was only going to come with those really long runs, where you were beyond just using glycogen and got into fat burning.
August, 2008: A highlight of the season was the Women on the Run Retreat and Leading Ladies Marathon and half Marathon in Spearfish, South Dakota. What an event this was as 20 or so running buddies and their ‘mentors’ got together for 3 days in the upper reaches of a canyon in the Black Hills to train, talk and interact. And then, on the weekend were the expo, the pasta dinner and the races. The highlight of the pasta dinner was the live showing of the women’s marathon in Beijing, the opening event of the Olympic Games.
Being for women only (but very hunky guys working the aid stations)the buzz was of course terrific, and being in such a beautiful, almost otherworldly place like the remote Black Hills gave this week a magic quality. I was still feeling flu-ish and drained from my food poisoning, but I tried not to show it. Until, that is, the women at the retreat asked which race I was running on Sunday. I said I wasn’t running at all, I didn’t feel great and I had a long flight to Europe on Monday and didn’t think I should push it. I was met with stony silence and looks of disbelief. A mere tummy ache will keep YOU, of ALL people, from running a race? At least half of the women at the retreat were my age (61 then) or even older, and they had just come from running up and down Pikes Peak, or doing the Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon, or God save me, even running the 52 mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa at age 68. I felt like a criminal ! So I decided to run the half marathon. Thank God it was all downhill because I thought the last mile would never end. And at the end, the mountain stream we’d been following all the way down the canyon was a wide but shallow river by the finish line. The water was freezing and I was advised to go sit in it to ease my rigor mortis and help with the upcoming long flight. I always swore I would never sit in an ice bath, but I did this and although it was painful as hell and so cold it took my breath away, I do believe it helped with reducing soreness over the next few days.
I was as tired as I’d ever been in my life, and when I went back to the lodge to get my bags and head to the airport, many women in the marathon were still out on the course and I thought then I’d never be able to run a marathon again and felt such huge admiration for them. And then I fell sound asleep I the taxi.
June, 2008: The New York Mini Marathon 10K is always special to me as along with Fred Lebow and Nina Kuscsik, I was a founder of this race and it was the first ever women’s only road race. If I’m in town, I usually run it, and the NY Road Runners usually ask Nina and me to say a few words at the start and blow the starting horn. This year, I’d planned to run the even with my 28-year-old niece, whom I adore. She’d just finished her master’s degree and was staying with us a few days and I thought this was a once in a million opportunity. We were ready! But 4 days before the race I got the most extraordinary food poisoning; it just got worse and worse and on the morning of the race I felt like ground glass was in my guts. I could barely stand upright, so running was out of the question but I wanted to fulfill my obligation to be the honorary starter of the race. The next day I went to a gastroenterologist and that was followed by medication and even a colonoscopy. Fortunately, it was ‘just’ a toxic something—maybe one of the toxic tomatoes that was plaguing the Eastern USA at the time. But I had bad cramps on and off for a month, and felt quite low and flu-ish all summer.
April 2008, along with Grete Waitz, I served as a spokesperson at the MORE Marathon and Half Marathon in New York City. I just love this event as it focuses on women over 40 and every year I see women with whom I ran back in the late 70s or early 80s. So it is like old home week from that point of view, but also extremely exciting because so many older women are running their first ever half or full marathon….and in the Big Apple! They are all just nuts with enthusiasm and they really inspire me. But on Sunday, after cheering for thousands of them as they did laps around the park, I felt depressed and chilly leaving Central Park; I had exhausted all my endorphins by cheering, and they were jogging back to their hotels still sweaty and hooting with the high of accomplishment. Plus I didn’t even get a workout! That’s it, I decided. I’m running this thing next year one way or the other.
March 2008, we launched my book Marathon Woman in the South Island of New Zealand at the Mototapu Icebreaker Race. I talk about this in my blog, but I was so excited at the prospect of seeing this beautiful, environmentally-protected land and I was still so fuelled by my Bermuda experience, that in a moment of enthusiasm I told a TV reporter that I was coming back to run the Mototapu. I instantly regretted saying it, as the half marathon is one thing and the marathon quite another, especially the Mototapu as it is all off road, through the mountains, with 28 river crossings. Oh well, that was just a little local TV station. Wrong! Sunday night, on national news, the most watched evening of the week, there’s me, big mouth, saying I’m going to run it. Oh Boy.
January 15-17, 2008: A flat-out street mile is Friday night, the 10K is Saturday, and the half marathon is Sunday. Race plan is stride out gently for the mile, use the 10K for a warm-up, and then hang on for the half marathon. It is a marvelous, festive occasion and I’m having a ball. The mile run is like a Mardi Gras party and the 10K like the road races we had when I first got into the sport, all camaraderie and quaint little towns. Bermuda is a magnificent place. The half marathon was fine until the last two miles of strong headwinds but I didn’t relent, ran as hard as I could, and stunned myself with a 2:08 finish. That night I’d found out I won $100 cash by winning my age group in the 10K; it was my first ever prize money in 45 years of racing and I was so excited by winning it I spent it buying drinks for everybody who wanted one, which of course was everybody and $100 didn’t go too far. I know I was fuelled by an endorphin high, but this all did something new for me, it totally revitalized my outlook on running.
January 4, 2008: I have to run 2:13 today or dump Bermuda. That’s a big demand on myself but what is amazing is that I can actually imagine running 2 hours 13. Now that’s real progress! Just last week, it was unthinkable. Despite pushing this distance up by 10% a week–which is a bit risky, I really advise only 5% a week—I have given myself really good recovery days. Like, not running at all the day after a long run. Just stretching and using the time to catch up on work. And sleep. Boy do I need sleep. And then running 30 minutes the day after a long run, followed by 50 minutes the next day, an hour, 45 minutes, 30 minutes or nothing at all and then another long run. The days off have almost dictated themselves; if I am too tired to run, I allow myself to be too tired to run. Unless it is Long Run Day, and even then if the weather is totally intolerable or I really sense I need another day, I’ll allow a postponement. But today is perfect, breezy and sunny and while I’m looking at my watch a lot during the last 15 minutes, I’m feeling better than in most of my previous long runs. Roll on Bermuda!
December 28, 2007: Today is Two Hour Run Day. Thank God for Roger, who is a big help. He thinks I’m crazy, but he’s a big encouraging help by coming out on his mountain bike as I run an hour out along the Hutt River trail and back for an hour. The last five minutes I have lockjaw of the body. Arriving at the car I tear into bananas like an unfed ape, an unfed ape with rigor mortis anyway, and am asleep instantly. Thank God Roger is driving because I am incapable. Back at home, I do a face plant on the bed. Roger says, “You really should eat lunch; you’ll feel better.” I groan. “Don’t you want a shower?” I can only groan back.
December 13, 2007: Tonight at dinner Roger calmly said, “So, I gather you are running the Challenge in Bermuda? I thought something must be up.” I looked a little I-really-was-going-to-tell-you-sheepish. “How did you find THAT out?” I replied. “It’s all over the internet,” he answered.
December 12, 2007: Today my husband Roger said, “Are you training for something? You are usually not this regular about your running.” And I answered, “Oh no, not really! I just want to be able to do a half marathon distance again; it feels so good just to know you can get out and run around the bays!” Around the Bays has long been one of my favorite runs here in Wellington, New Zealand. That much of my reply was true. And if I felt I could not get up to the half marathon distance in time for Bermuda, I wouldn’t run it despite my promise to Thom. But if I could do it, then soon I’d tell Roger I planned to run while I was in Bermuda.
December 7, 2007: Pearl Harbor Day, so it’s appropriate for my first 1 hour 30 minute run since I can remember. I started with my ‘long run’ being one 1 hour and have taken it up by 10% a week. That’s been ambitious, but it’s the only way I’m going to get the distance done on time for Bermuda. It’s windy but sunny today, and at one hour I feel great, at 1:15 also good, but when I hit only 1 minute past last week’s 1:20 I feel like I can’t lift my legs. It’s been like this all along; cheer up, next week you’ll feel fine at 1:30 and have to cry until you get to 1:45. 1:45! I can’t even imagine that and yet I’ll probably have to run for 2:30 to get thru the half marathon! Why did I ever agree to this?
November 15, 2007: New York: Thom Gilligan of Marathon Tours and I have been working on re-igniting the famous Bermuda International Race Weekend events. Thom is an old and dear friend and full of great ideas. For this occasion, he has created an event called the Bermuda Triangle Challenge to really spur interest. It is 3 races in 3-days—a flat out street mile on Friday night, a 10K on Saturday and a marathon or half marathon on Sunday. And somehow he now has cajoled me into running the Bermuda Triangle Challenge saying it would be a great promotion. I must be out of my mind to agree to three races in three days. How long has it been since I’ve run a half marathon anyway? A couple of years. Well, maybe five years. How long since I’ve actually run three days in a row? Well, I’m running a few days a week, this won’t be a big problem. I don’t think so, anyway. Are you kidding yourself, or what! And boy will you need to get a move on, it’s only two months away! Yipes. That is not a lot of time! OK, I’ll start religiously in three days when I get to New Zealand for the winter.
END, and also BEGINNING AGAIN!