Tuesday, November 26, 2013

All About The Flying Monkeys

We were warned, we were told, we were reminded that Running Is Stupid. But then again You Can't Fix Stupid. This is why some 335 runners registered, not sure at this point how many actually got the message and didn't show up to brave this year's  Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, TN. or more importantly, how many actually survived the Monkey.

In the eyes of many, it is Tennessee's Best Marathon, and according to Wikipedia, "it was created to be among the top five most difficult road marathons in the United States", but who am I to argue with this, after all, if its in Wikipedia and the internet, it has to be true... right? You just have to be stupid, and a big enough idiot to finish this marathon in order to make your own conclusions.

Last year I volunteered. But after watching all the "fun" runners were having braving through the estimated 7000 ft of elevation change, I decided to add this to my bucket list. One day I will be brave enough to run this, one day.

Tennessee's weather this time of year is extremely unpredictable. The air temperature at race start was 22°F. The winds were somewhere around 10-12 mph, therefore the "feels like" temperature at 8 AM on Sunday, November 24, 2013 was a crisp 14°F.  Yeah, perfect Monkey weather, right? So, layers we wore.

After the registration process, which this year due to the popularity growth of the marathon included a lottery, I received an email which very gently expressed deepest condolences and extreme concern for what I had just committed to do. Somewhere along the line I was encouraged to make sure my will and life insurance were current. Which I did. This is the recurring communication theme from the organizer, Trent Rosenbloom. From the git-go he warned us that "you can't train for the Monkey". I thought it was hype. I am now a believer.

With the many layers of clothing on, it was a small miracle that we could even move. Well, at least I had many layers on. Three top layers, two bottom layers and even my hands had two. I'm not sure I mentioned this before, but it was frigid cold. And it was windy.

Our running group, Hendersonville Running Club (HRC) was extremely well represented. Most of the other runners are highly experienced and fast. Not most. All. But me. When it was all said and done, I came in about 50 minutes after the previous last one had already finished. Even one of them who was out there sicker than sick, came in about an hour faster than I did. So what was I doing here? What possessed me to venture into this event? Surely, the simple idea of adding this to my list of accomplishment could not be it. I have an appointment with a Shrink to figure out why I do stuff like this. Running IS Stupid.

During the training process, which I know, I know I wasn't supposed to do, I wondered if I should have gone to the park and do a recon run. I found out yesterday that "ignorance is truly bliss". Had I known before hand what was ahead of me, I probably would have not made it to the starting line. Which begs the question... "why do so many runners keep coming back? over and over again?" It seems like every step along the way, you were either going up, or coming down. I do not recall any "flat" spots, anywhere. Where there any? Didn't think so. Next year, I'm going to suggest that whichever volunteer group has the duty of staffing the water stop atop Mt. Percy, that they provide oxygen masks! Yes, the air was very thin up there!

This marathon is about having some "serious" "fun". This marathon is not sanctioned, it's not a BQ qualifier, there are no pace groups, nothing is official, times don't really matter. It's about the "I Did It" factor.

Small details, sometimes became big reasons to smile during the race. Upon approach to one of the water stops, the one at mile 23, at a point were something, anything encouraging was very much needed, I saw this written on the road...

This my friends... made my day! Thanks folks, you know who you are!

I ran with a gentleman for a couple of miles who told me that he is not a marathoner, that this is the only marathon he runs every year, his seventh straight. When I asked why he continues to come back, he told me that it's all about validation for him. He proves to himself, at the end of every year, that he in fact, can finish a marathon. So why this one? He didn't have an answer, but I think I know.

Will I run this marathon again? I'm glad I don't have to make a decision yet. But the quick answer is: "you betcha."

I continue to grow as a runner and this allows me to continue my growth as a person. Over the last few months which included the NYC Marathon and yesterday, I pushed the limit to new levels. I asked my body and most importantly my mind, to do things I could not have imagined a few short years ago. I hope to continue to have good health to see how far I can take this. For now, I need to rest. Training for Ironman Chattanooga 2014 is right around the bend.

Friday, November 15, 2013

NYC Marathon ~ The Flight & Plight of # 542

I remember it like it was just yesterday. I opened the email from NYRR with my race number assignment. Remember thinking as I was opening that the date was getting closer and closer. Remember the excitement building. Remember that gut wrenching feeling when I saw that my assigned number was 542. Remember the cold sweat pouring down my face when I read: Wave 1.

Almost immediately, I jumped and retrieved last years number, the one that had been assigned to me before the race was canceled. Last years number would have been 65201. This year's number, did I tell you? would be 542.

I'm going to assume (but you know what happens when we do that), that if you're following this blog, you know a thing or two about "corral" and "wave" assignments. But just in case any of you don't know what I'm talking about, the lower the numbers, the earlier waves and corrals are usually reserved for those faster than fast runners. Obviously that's not me. Obviously someone made a big mistake.

I tried to justify this by thinking that maybe, just maybe the NYRR had assigned a special starting place to those of us who were to run last year and returned this year.

Nah, that couldn't be it.

As time passed I looked for the positives in this. There had to be some, right? The first one, and only one I really embraced was the fact that I would start earlier and that the wait in the cold would not be as long. But even that came with a hard realization that if I wasn't really careful, I would get trampled. There went my positive!

So how did this happen, I kept asking myself. There had to be only one logical explanation. The person or persons in charge of making bib assignments for the NYRR must have thought that "Mauricio" in Kenyan meant "With Gazelle-like Speed" and therefore gave me that number. In reality, they should have known that "Mauricio" was Spanish for "So slow he's moving backwards".

Come race day, I attached my number to my race belt and off I went. Didn't think about it any longer.

Well, that is until I arrived at the staging area.

There's something to be said about a mature, slim looking gentleman, sporting white hair and wearing a number 542. He must know a thing or two about running and racing.

As I sat patiently waiting for us to be called, a gentleman from Dublin sat next to me. He must have noticed my number, my HOKAs, my "experienced" look and promptly asked me: "what's your time goal?"

I told him sub 5.

Immediately, I saw the puzzled, bewildered look on his face. I asked for his and he said 4:00 hours. He was wearing a number in the 30-000 range.

He proceed to ask about my number. I told him not to ask. He insisted. I shrugged.

I moved to a warmer place. Found a spot inside a runners tent. The temperature here was about 10 degrees warmer. I thought I would just wait here.

But then someone said..."You best get moving. Start finding your way to the start. You're off with the fast runners, and they take of in about 40 minutes."

And so I did. I navigated my way through the maze to the corral to find my spot with Wave 1.

Once there the conversation was pretty much the same. Everyone was comparing notes. "What pace will you be running?", "What's your expected time?", so on and so forth.  I was trying as hard as I could not to make eye contact with anyone so as to prevent anyone from asking that or a similar question of me.

But then something hit me and hit me hard. Real hard. A pace sign went up a few people in front of me. I was standing smack, dab in the middle of this pace group. Said sign read: "3:10". Okay, that's not going to happen today.

Very carefully I moved as far back of the corral as I could. I figured back there, I would not get trampled upon. This worked out good, I survived the start.

And so concludes the flight and plight of bib no. 542. Or does it?

I did discover the humongous benefit of having this number, one I had not thought of before the race. I was not blocked by any runner. I found my way to the middle of the road and ran the race without having to weave through slower runners. This made it a whole lot easier to run a steady, controlled pace.  However, it was demoralizing for a moment or two, when I realized that I had passed no one and that everyone was passing me. Oh, well. I got over that real quick!

As I made my way through the Boroughs of New York City, I never gave the number a second thought. That is until I saw pictures of me at the finish line. Alongside runners sporting bib numbers in the 39-000!

Read the entire recap by following these links:

NYC Marathon Part I ~ The Training Process. Click here
NYC Marathon Part II ~ The Middle Half. Click here
NYC Marathon Part III ~ Why I Love My HOKAs. Click here
NYC Marathon Part IV ~ Race Day. Click here

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NYC Marathon Part IV ~ Race Day

The ING New York City Marathon is billed as the World's Largest Marathon. This year, over 50,000 runners started. This number is a bit higher than usual because additional spots were opened to accommodate those runners that opted to return after last year's cancellation. I was one of those runners.

I prepared myself for this race like I've never prepared myself for any other marathon. This would be my fifth. The training plan was very specific and very methodical. I followed the plan to a tee.

The most often advised received from friends that had been here before was to have fun, enjoy the day. Take pictures and make memories. I did all of these, except I did not take many pictures. I came to race, because chances are big, I will never do this one again. Not that I did not enjoy and love every minute of it, that's not it. I don't enjoy big cities. I'm a smaller town kinda guy.

A few weeks before the marathon was to take place, I received my number assignment.  I would be #542. That seemed somewhat strange to me for I remember last year my number was quiet a bit higher, actually much. much higher.  Last year, I was assigned #65201. Per my calculations, I would have been the last one out, into the race.

The mystery of my number assignment became more confusing when I realized that my corral would be the very first one out. How did this happen?  I thought the faster runners would go first. How did I get placed there? The more I thought about, the happier I became about this because this meant that I would not have to weave through the crowded field in order to achieve my goals.

We arrived into NYC on Friday. Our flight had been changed, so instead of getting there mid morning, we landed very late. I had planned to go pick up my registration packet and visit the expo on Friday afternoon, and on Saturday I just wanted to rest and relax. This did not take place as planned.


Mid morning Saturday, we went to the Javits Convention Center to get registered and pick up the race packet. Upon arrival, the enormity of the event began to sink in. This place was huge, and full of people. The lines were large, lines for everything; to get in, to pick up bib, to pick up tee shirts, to get into the expo. They were all big. But amazingly enough, they moved fast and everyone was very efficient.

I had been given instructions that I was to visit the booths in the back of registration. There they would have a special something for me for returning to the race after last year's cancellation. I was given an orange bracelet that had both 2012 and 2013 ING NYC Marathon inscribed, plus I was also given a commemorative 2012 ING NYC Marathon medal. I cannot tell if this medal is a special medal made just for this occasion, or if its the actual medal from last year. Regardless, this medal will not be hung alongside the rest of my race medals.

And then came the Expo. Oh my goodness, the size of this thing! I have been to many an expo in my life, but nothing compares to this. The Asics marathon collection pavilion was something the likes I've never seen. If only time and budget would allow, I could have left there with plenty. Instead, I opted for just a jacket. One jacket was all I bought.

There's just one piece of advice I'd like to pass along to the organizers. Having just ONE bathroom available to a crowd this large, mostly runners who have been hydrating for days, well...not a good idea!

At about 1 pm, we left. Maybe a little later. We asked for directions to get to Little Italy. We wanted to find a restaurant to get some good carb loading appropriate food. We would have to venture into the subway. I don't like the subway, nothing about it appeals to me. But my wife was excited about this and the prospect of going to Little Italy was enough to get me to venture into this. So off we went.

We ended up in a very nice restaurant, eating the very best lasagna I have ever eaten. It was fabulous. And the timing was just right. I would have plenty of it to allow my meal to digest properly before calling it a night. But before this could happen, there was that small detail of making it back to the hotel. A small matter that required two different subways, one bus transfer and a shuttle. Yes, I was really looking forward this. Not!

I had not fully realized until later that day that the time would change. I guess I knew it would but it finally dawned on me that that meant one more hour of rest that night. This was nice. The shuttle to the start would load up at 5:00 am. It was time to go to bed.


At 4:00 am the alarm went off. I had been awake for about 30 minutes so jumping into the shower immediately was not a problem. I took a quick one, fixed a peanut butter sandwich and had it with a cup of hotel room coffee. Got dressed and it was time to go get in the bus.

The ride to Staten Island, where the start village was located at Fort Wadsworth took about 45-60 minutes, or maybe it was an hour and a half, I couldn't tell you. This time was well spent reflecting on the journey that got me there and the journey in front of me that day.

By the time we passed through security and were guided to our staging area, mine being the green one, it was about 6:30-6:45 am. There we had available coffee and beagles. A hot cup of coffee was very much needed at that time. The temperature was low; it was very cold and it was windy. Boy was it windy! But would it be at my back?

I walked around a bit and found me a spot to park myself. Drank my first cup of coffee, a couple of bites of a bagle, and made friends with a gentleman from Dublin. This was his first NYC Marathon as well. We exchanges stories for a bit. I began to get nervous because time was getting closer, so I got up and walked some. Also went to the porta potty. Big Bonus surprise... there were enough of these so that there was never a waiting line, I had to use a few times and never had to wait. Okay, I had to use it A LOT!

Then, just like that, the announcement came over the p.a., staging for the first corral and the first wave would begin immediately. So off we went. It was like herding cattle. We would walk from one stage to the next, then from one area to the next until we arrived at the starting line, at the bottom of the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge. There we waited for about 30 minutes. It was still cold, it was still windy.

Now for that awkward moment when you realize for sure that a mistake had been made with your race number. Everyone around me was asking everyone what their planned or goal time was. I just kept silent when I began to overhear these conversations. My suspicions were confirmed when the pace sign went up and it read "3:10". Yes, a mistake had been made.  I made my way as far back to the corral as I could so that I would not be trampled as the race started, besides, back there I would not be tempted to try to run at the speed these folks would be running... not that I could anyway.

This was the only moment I ever wished I had my iShuffle with me. You know, I could pretend to be deep in concentration and lost in thought with my music and no one would venture to ask me my projected time.

At one point I thought... man, if I could keep some sort of pace with some of these folks, I could quiet possibly BQ!  HaHaHa! Enough of that nonsense!  We all know why I was there!  Actually, not really, no one knew how I got to be there!


At exactly 9:40 am the gun went off, and so did we. We were off and running. The V-N bridge was long and tall, the wind was howling and it was cold. But it was a beautiful sight to see.

The other side of the bridge dumped us into Brooklyn and into the yelling and hollering of the crowds.  Yes, the promised crowds of support were there. Hundreds of people, no thousands of people, everywhere, both sides of the street, two deep, three deep, as far as the sight could see, you saw people, they were yelling, screaming, ringing their bells and horns, playing their music, encouraging the runners. If this didn't put a smile on your face, ice was running through your veins.

It was my plan, from the start, to run the first 13.1 miles all out. Give everything I had, but at a steady, controlled pace. Much like I had done two weeks before at The Middle Half. After this point, it was my plan to run a 5-1 plan. 5 minute run at best possible speed and walk for a minute. I would stop at all water stops at take both water and Gatorade so as to stay hydrated. This worked really good for me.

This was my plan, not because I was not sure if I had the endurance to keep that pace up for an entire marathon, for I believe I did. It had more to do with the fact that I did not want my ankle(s) to blow up. If that happened, that would be the end of the dream.

I would also enjoy the second half of the race to the fullest. I would high-five the crowd, mostly the children. I would also wave to and thank the police and firefighters. There were plenty of both.

Brooklyn was the longest of the Boroughs. Not sure how long but it seemed like it took forever to get through it, I'm guessing somewhere around mile 15 we entered Queens and then crossed the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. It was at this bridge that I lost my Garmin satellite signal for a while. No big deal except for the fact that now my average pace and distance were messed up.

Passed Manhattan and into the Bronx and returned to Manhattan where we entered 5th Ave and Central Park. All five Boroughs just like that.

 As I approached mile marker 24, I heard  my name called. It was Monica! She had been tracking me with the help of our daughters and my brother and she knew to be there when I came through. Right about that moment, it was the best sight I saw all day. I back tracked a couple of steps, went to her, gave her a big hug and a kiss and went on to the finish line.

From here to the finish line, the last 2 miles took forever. Every step got heavier and heavier. It seemed like I had weights on my feet. Everyone was slowing down somewhat and this made the course crowded. The final stretch, or .2 miles were fun. They had the distance marked on the road, 800 yds. "That's two laps around the football field", I thought. 400 yds., "just one more lap around the stadium, a victory lap, if you would." 200, 100... and there it was. The Finish Line!

4:51:27 was my official time. This would be well below my goal of 4:59:59 and some 50 minutes below my previous best time... So my day and mission... DONE!

It took about 1 hour and 30 minutes to meet up with Monica after the race was over. Just getting out of the park took about an hour. It was a slow, methodical process but it went smoothly.


I thoroughly believe that you should always take something with you from every journey traveled. So it is always my intention to ponder back and draw something from each experience. This was no different.

The journey to the NYC Marathon taught me that I really never trusted myself and my abilities to the fullest. I always held something back. Not sure why, but I did. During this journey, I pushed myself way past my comfort zone. I learned to be comfortable outside my comfort zone.

Now I am tired and I need some rest, if it weren't for that little matter of The Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon coming up in two weeks, I would just sleep for a month. Oh, heck...I can always sleep on the other side! Right?

One more post to conclude this series will come tomorrow!

NYC Marathon Part I ~ The Training Process can be found here.
NYC Marathon Part II ~ The Middle Half can be found here.
NYC Marathon Part III ~ Why I love my HOKAs can be found here

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NYC Marathon Part III~ Why I Love My HOKAs

When a conversation about running shoes begins with the statement: "They aren't very good looking shoes!", you have to wonder...

Lucky for me I don't buy, and have never bought a pair of shoes, because of "what they look like". For me, performance and comfort above style, color and look. Mostly comfort.

Quiet possibly there's no other piece of equipment more important to an athlete than the shoes are to the runner. And there's quiet possibly no piece of equipment more important to a runner with bad feet than the right shoes.

And what does a post specific to running shoes have to do in the middle of my NYC Marathon recap?

Let's see...

It could be argued, and it has been, that anyone can run without shoes.  Yes, this is true. I see at each race plenty of folks running barefoot. However, to someone who has the issues I've had with my feet, this is not an option. If you care to know more about these issues, next time we see each other, ask me to show you my feet, in particular my left foot.

I have tried just about every brand of running shoe available to me in Middle Tennessee.  I have had "professional" shoe fitters fit me, I have fitted some myself.  Some have worked for a bit, others longer and a few have just bombed.

The issue I have boils down to support and comfort, which leads to improved performance. My left ankle is good for about a half marathon. After that distance it begins to ache and the longer the run, the stronger the pain. I've had ankle surgery, two tumors have been removed and after this surgery, the ankle was never the same.

I heard about this new shoe called HOKA. I was told that it was an "ugly" shoe.  Not sure why it mattered what it looked like but when I first saw one, I understood what they meant. It is in fact, an interesting looking shoe.

When I brought the HOKAs home and my daughters saw them, only thing they had to say was... "Seriously Dad? Seriously?"

I was told that running with this shoe on was like running with pillow tops on your feet. "This may just be what I've been looking for", I remember thinking.

After researching more about this shoe, I decided to give them a try. So I bought me a pair.

At first sight, you might think that this shoe is a heavy sort of shoe, that its weight would be an issue.  Let  me show you...

A total weight of 12.7 oz!  That's it!

I laced them up and took them for a run. On your feet, they do feel like pillow tops. A few steps with them and you can't believe how they feel.

First couple of steps were a bit odd but felt good. But within a few yards I could feel a potential problem:  I was striking heavily on my heel.  I did not feel the impact on my ankles and knees because of the padding of the shoe, but I could tell I was doing this. This would be a problem. Perhaps this is a problem I've been having all along, and this shoe just magnified the issue.

It made me concentrate hard on my striking. It was a struggle to focus on this again, but soon enough I had the issue under control.  At the start of every run, I have to fix this and every so often I catch myself going back to the heel strike. I'm not sure why I've noticed this more with this shoe than with any other shoe, but I have.

The first real test came during a 20 mile long run. I cannot tell you the ankles did not hurt, for they still did, but the pain I could feel was cut probably in half.  In shorter runs, anything over 8 miles and including the Middle Half Marathon, the ankles were not an issue.

In the ING New York  City Marathon, these shoes were a Godsend.  During the last marathon I ran, the ankles were literally on fire. In NYC, although they hurt, the pain was manageable.

Someone asked me if the shoes made me faster during my Half Marathon PR run. That, my friend, I do not know.  I'd like to think that the shoes allowed me to run the race I had trained to run.

So, do I wear these shoes during all my training?

No, I don't. I only wear these shoes for any distance longer than 8 miles, give or take.

For short, tempo runs I wear ONs.

And for speed work, I wear Brooks.

Notice that there's only .7 oz difference between the HOKAs and the ONs and 1.7 oz difference between the HOKAs and the Brooks.

So, if weight is not an issue and looks really don't matter, then it must be all about the comfort and improved performance.  That's why I love my HOKAs.

Added bonus... wearing the HOKAs in the NYC Marathon made me a popular kinda guy while patiently waiting in the "Staging Area" before the race started.  One runner asked me how I liked my shoes. I told him. Before I knew it, there had been at least 15 people around me wanting to know all about the HOKAs.

Okay, I must confess.  I don't think they would have valued my opinion quiet as much had it not been for the bib number "542" pinned to my shirt. I could just hear everyone thinking... "this guy is fast, so we really need to know what his opinion is". More about this in upcoming posts.

This is Part III of a IV part recap of my NYC Marathon Experience and Journey. Part IV ~ Race Day coming tomorrow.

NYC Marathon Part I ~ The Training Process, can be found here.
NYC Marathon Part II ~ The Middle Half, can be found here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

NYC Marathon Part II ~ The Middle Half

A few days before the Middle Half Marathon, which was held in Murfreesboro, TN on October 12, 2013, I received a call from my good friend Skip.

"A little birdie tells me that you want to run a sub 2 hr half marathon this Saturday"
"Yes, that's the goal" I said.
"Well, do you want a pacer?"
"ah, duh... a pacer? well, yeah. That would be nice" I replied without really knowing where he was going with this, and without really understanding what I was getting myself into.

Skip is one of those runners you always look up to. He is dedicated, committed and most of all he's fast.  So, what would he mean by "do you want a pacer?"

"I was planning or running my usual race this Saturday, but due to lingering injuries, my plan is to take it easy.  So when I heard you wanted to run a sub 2, I thought I would offer to be your pacer."

"Are you sure? You know that this pace is well below your normal pace. It will hold you back tremendously" I asked him.

"Yeap.  I figured if I pace you, first I can help you get to your goal, and second it'll prevent me from going too fast and aggravating my injury, so my motive is two fold." Skip told me.

And just like that, I had my very own pacer. 

Did I mention Skip is a very fast runner?

It was a perfect day for a race, weather couldn't have been better. I was nervous and yet excited.  I had never ran with a time goal in mind, I had never ran with a pacer.  But I felt ready.

I had asked coach Barry before the race what he suggested my race day plan should be. I wanted to know if I should go out faster the first couple of miles, settle into a comfortable pace during the middle of the run, then kick it into high gear at the end? or should I go slow, then fast and finish stronger, or should I go steady all the way through.

His reply was simple and to the point. He told me "don't over think it. Just go out and run, run your race, run your pace. Have fun."

So that's what we did. We started at a comfortable pace and settled into a more comfortable, steady one.  This served me well. I was feeling it. I would look at my Garmin and see that each mile was just where it needed to be.

Skip was more analytical than I was during the race. He was keeping track of our progress. Perhaps that's the job of a pacer, perhaps that's Skip doing what Skip loves to do, besides running fast.

Somewhere around mile 8ish, he said something like this: "don't want to jinx this, but we're running negative splits"

"WHAT?"  Negative splits, Me?  Never!  WOW!

Later on he asked me if I wanted something to feel really good about.  I said yeah, of course.

"See that 2 hour pace sign ahead?, they started way ahead of us.  Let's give it a push and pass them."  So we did.

We continued to navigate through he streets of Murfreesboro, without incident. The miles added up as we came closer to the finish line.  With some 2 miles left, Skip said, if you can, lets pick this up a bit and not only will you beat your goal, but you will  crush it.

"Crush a Goal?"... lets do this.

We crossed the finish line in 1:57:51, exactly at a 9:00 mile pace.  Two minutes faster than the goal. I will take this.

I would say that training for the NYC Marathon is well under way at this point. So far, everything that I set out to do has been accomplished. There's just three weeks left until D-Day.

But there's still much more to do! Many more hills to tackle, many more intervals to run, many more miles to log.

This is Part II of a IV part recap of my NYC Marathon Journey.  Part III ~ Why I Love My HOKAs coming tomorrow

NYC Marathon Part I ~ The Training Process, can be found by clicking here.

NYC Marthon Part I ~ The Training Process

Its not quiet clear when, exactly, I turned my complete focus on the NYC Marathon training process.  Perhaps it came a week or so after Ironman 70.3 Steelhead, perhaps I was training for this all along, perhaps it just happened automatically and I didn't even notice the transition.  Regardless of the timing, I found myself immersed in a journey that took me through the streets of New York City on Sunday, November 3, 2013.

One thing is for sure, this adventure started some four years ago.  You read that right... Four years ago.

I first decided to put this Marathon on my bucket list back in 2009. Knowing and understanding that the process would be a long one, I took the plunge and entered the lottery that year. I knew the chances of being selected were slim. The day came and I was not. The same thing happened the following year.  I entered the lottery once again, and again I was not chosen.

On the third try, my name did come up.  I registered and began the journey.  But that was last year, 2012. And we know what happened.  Hurricane Sandy happened, the Marathon was cancelled. I took an automatic entry to this year's race and began the countdown again.

In my camp, I count with one of the very best trainers in the business, Barry Baird. From my early days in the triathlon world, he took a chance on me. I went solo on my first half iron distance race, Ironman 70.3 Augusta, a race which I thoroughly enjoyed but failed miserably in the run portion. It was obvious that I needed guidance; in comes Barry.

All along the way he has provided me with well thought out plans.  Plans that took into account my goals, physical ability and challenges I was facing at the time.  More often than not, I would follow said plans just as written, often though, I would take certain liberties and adjust to my liking at the moment.  Sometimes I would add, sometimes I would move but always I would train,  The sole exception was training for Ironman Louisville.  I followed this plan just as prescribed and the results were proof of how well it all worked out. He told me one day I was his "renegade" athlete. I took that as a compliment.

There are two elements of a running plan that I have never embraced; speed work and hill repeats.  Hill repeats became a must because in addition to the NYC Marathon, I registered for the infamous Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon to take place in Nashville's Percy Warner Park on Sunday, November 24, 2013. This Marathon boasts a total elevation change of over 7200 feet.  Speed work I had never seriously pursued because, well I think because I did not understand.

Hill repeats, I must confess, were a huge challenge at first.  Not that today I love them, but I now can do them and survive them.  Speed work, pretty much the same thing. It has become a love-hate relationship. I began to see results on my tempo runs. I had always been a 10 min/mile kinda runner.  Now this pace was improving, and improving rapidly.  I cut a whole minute off this pace in no time at all.

And then I became serious about these two. I would join my friends from the Hendersonville Running Club on long runs, hill work and speed work. I have always been a loner when it comes to training but I soon found out that hanging with these faster runners would also push me to places I had not been before.  I owe y'all a tremendous amount of gratitude for allowing me to crash your parties.

As my times improved, I allowed myself to think of the upcoming Middle Half Marathon, the first test of my training improvement this fall, as a race where I could improve on my previous best time, or a PR.  I did mention to one of my running buddies one day that my goal was to break that elusive 2 hour time, I had never done this before. About the same time, I expressed this wish to Barry.  I had never run any race with a specific "time" in mind.  Until now.  I was assured that this was within my reach. I began to believe.

Another change that took place, in my opinion a big change, was the fact that I eliminated "music" from my runs.

I have always had trouble getting earphones to fit properly.  I have tried numerous and none have worked. During one particular run, I removed the already falling earphone and put it away, forever. I have not looked back once. It has made my runs more pleasant. I am more aware of my body and my surroundings.

And then there's the shoes. But these deserve a post all to themselves.

Because this race cannot be recapped in one post, I have split it into four.  Next chapter will come to you tomorrow... NYC Marathon Part II ~ The Middle Half