“I would like to thank my friends at the Delco Road Runners Club without whom I wouldn’t be here today. Thank you Byron, Bill, Janet, Jack, Steve, Chrissy, Mike, Bob, Noreen, Terry, Frank, Bill, Shirley, John, Amy and all of you I am not citing now because I’m so emotional — you know who you are.” (Tears of joy. Make-up runs. Applause.)
It’s awards season in Hollywood, and in Pennsylvania too. I won mine 1 1/2 weeks ago. It’s not an Oscar. I didn’t get to wear an evening gown and go on a stage to accept it from Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. This award, my first in a New York City race, was earned in shorts and the acceptance speech is in writing. I like it that way.
I broke my personal record for a half-marathon on Jan. 24 by 7 minutes 15 seconds, finishing 3rd in my age category and 11th woman out of 2,155. The off-the-charts performance can be summarized by statistics. When I crossed the finish line in Central Park in 1h28 for 13.1 miles (21.1 km) this year, I was at mile 12.05 (19.4 km) on the same course last year. I finished 11 minutes 8 seconds behind the winner, who is 10 years younger than I am and, according to her biography on the New York Athletic Club’s Web site, was the most decorated cross-country athlete of Columbia University when she graduated in 2006. My age-graded score, a measure of the performance adjusted for age and gender, was above 70 percent for the first time, at 76 percent. That’s a regional class level; 80 percent is national. In the process of running this half-marathon, which is hilly, I broke my records on a 10 km and a 10 mile race — by minutes. The statistics make it seem like another person ran under my name.
Ever since, I’ve been trying to answer the question: “How did I do it?”
Among the factors that varied compared with previous races — and could explain the difference — were: the weather conditions were ideal with 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) and little wind; I jogged about 3.5 miles to get to the race, which warmed me up; I took water three times, even though it was too cold to be thirsty; I ate one gel around mile 8 and drank some Gatorade once to keep the sugar level in my muscles; I had decided to race and stayed focused all the time; I didn’t wait for the second half of the race to push myself, as I usually do; on hills, I pushed one notch further than I thought I could handle, yet stayed below a level I couldn’t sustain over time; I ran as fast as I could downhill to gain a few seconds here and there; I went to bed early and slept well; I didn’t run the day before, and only used the stationary bike for a mild workout; I recently converted to Mizuno running shoes and my pair of Rider 13 was new.
(Photo: Staying focused at the Manhattan Half-Marathon on Jan. 24.)
In the last 300 yards, I got a boost from a runner behind me, who I assume was a coach or team leader. “Let’s go team!” he said. “Now is the time to give everything you’ve got! See this girl, go get her. You can get her!” Although I’m not a very good finisher, I sprinted to the finish line as fast as if he’d send a pack of wolves after me.
All those reasons don’t seem enough to explain the gigantic leap in my performance.
“I don’t know how I did it,” I told Byron, one of the co-founders of the Delco Road Runner Club, my local club.
“It’s because you started running with us!” said Byron, who has run 44 marathons over a period of 40 years — including 39 between the ages of 21 and 36 — and a personal record of 2h37m45s on the distance.
Since Thanksgiving at the end of November, I have been running with members of the club three times a week. They make running in the cold and in the dark fun on Wednesday nights. They enabled me to train outside in the winter on a work day for the first time since I moved in the area almost two years ago — saving me from a dreaded treadmill workout at the gym. They took me to a trail race in Maryland. They made the longer weekend runs seem shorter and easier. Without realizing it, I trained better with them than on my own.
So thank you Delco RRC.