When patience, focus, and hard work pay off...
It all started in the Fall of 2013 when I laced up my running shoes one morning to participate in a collegiate cross country race in the famous Van Cortlandt Park. I started the race striking the grass with determination excited to complete my fourth race and score for my team, NYU POLY. The excitement completely vanished later that day when, after I crossed the finish line with a strong limp, I was diagnosed with a triple pelvic fracture. My ability to endure pain was probably the only sign that I had potential to becoming a decent runner as neither my running mechanics or my performances would have ever indicated any talent. The recovery process took about a year during which my desire to run increased day after day. I eventually put on new trainers and was ecstatic about running 5k races, while my father was running marathons around the world. I was then a mid-pack runner in local races, never fast, but making significant progress very quickly.
My first 29:44 cross country 5k became 21 minutes and some change one year after hitting the road. I understood that this trend was not uncommon and almost expected for beginners. I knew that massive personals bests or as I like to call it, “making jumps”, would not keep happening forever, but I was surely enjoying it, for as long as it would last.
I always truly believed I could be “good”, whatever that meant for me at the time, even though nothing ever indicated that my performances would even stand out. Starting 2015, I sort of trained for a mile race. While I always had common sense regarding training strategies, my knowledge of the sport was still quite limited. I ended up running a tad disappointing 5:18, still better than the previous year’s 6:03 at the same race.
The following two months were dedicated to getting myself to survive a marathon. My father and I were signed up for New York City. Very soon, my 40+mile weeks became 50+ mile weeks. I began to put more emphasis on the long run, but mostly raced my way into shape. Coming up to the race, I locked a 3:15 goal finish time and hoped for the best, as I was getting myself into a whole new kind of experience. While the beginning and the end of the marathon felt easy and amazing, I remember suffering in the middle miles, but felt satisfied crossing the last mat in 3:16:42, my first marathon was in the books. A flame had just ignited inside of me.
Starting 2016, I trained better, harder, and smarter. 50+ mile weeks became 60+ mile weeks, training was more consistent. I had promised myself I would run a spring marathon if I ran under 1:25 at the NYC Half, as I believe this would be enough cushion to get a first sub-3 hour marathon. If you had told me after the New York City marathon that six months later I would be aiming for this already, I would probably have laughed at you. I ran 1:24:45 and signed up for the Inaugural Queens Marathon. I stepped on the starting line very confident, but felt terrible from beginning to end. I clocked a 3:06:08. It had been a tough run, but at least I had hung in there and lowered my time. My ability to look at things from a positive eye would go a long way.
After taking the summer easy, I was back into marathon mode, ready to tackle NYC again. Guided by my now husband Luciano Medina, I took my training up a notch again. 60+ mile week become 70+ mile weeks. Not only I was putting in quality work, I was also making sure to put in hard miles on a course simulating the hills of the race, this was all new to me. 8xmile, 3x5k, 4x2-mile,... my marathon specific workouts where heavy and strong. My long runs where no less impressive to me, strong fartleks, 16-mile tempo at ten seconds slower than marathon pace, and some 25-milers. As I was gaining fitness, I learned to embrace prolonged moderate efforts.
When November 1st came, I knew I was in good shape and was super excited to take on New York City again. My current best was still far from a sub-3hr marathon, but I knew I could do better than just that. My A goal was set as being 2:55-2:57 with a specific race plan. Race day morning was more stressful than expected as I went to the wrong location to catch my bus to the start. No phone, no metrocard or money on me, feeling very lonely at 6am on a Sunday morning in Manhattan, I had a little moment of panic. While I had imagine lots of race scenarios, I had never considered not making it to the starting line. Long story short, I made it to the sub-elite start with the help of wonderful individuals. When the gun went off, I felt more relaxed than ever, I had exhausted all the stress from my body, I knew everything was going to be fine. From there, I simply executed my plan, finished with a negative split in 2:52:48, good enough for 30th place and for the Borough and Age-group awards I had my eyes on.
Next was Paris in April, a race I was already signed up for. It is hard to take time off when you are so excited, so I jumped back into marathon training quite quickly. As usual I started with some speed, but by January I was already doing marathon specific work. Doing some hard 22-milers early on, I felt stronger than ever. I introduced new workouts and became very picky about accuracy so I would measure and remeasure courses, and do a lot of marathon pace work on the track. My 70+ mile week became 80+ mile week, peaking right above 90. Four weeks out of Paris, I had a moment of inconsistent when I tried to overdo it by racing a half-marathon the week after running a marathon as an easy aided long run (One City Marathon). This resulted in overworked strained calves that forced me to take a week off, three weeks out of my goal marathon. I made it to the starting line feeling okay, goal was to run to my potential, which I hoped would mean falling under 2:46. Another tough marathon, never feeling horrible, but never feeling great. I struggled quite early, around 25k as I recall.
I crossed the finish mat in 13th place in 2:48:29, and 3rd French female athlete. I was happy with the result not so much because of the time, but because I never gave up, and even as the splits were slower than what I wanted them to be, I fought for every bit to the best of my abilities, as if every mile was the last one. Looking back at it, that should always be the A goal.
So here I was, excited again. Still undecided about my Fall marathon plans, I began by working on speed for a few months and did not start marathon specific work until late August. I have tried many new things this time around, such as logging more volume with double runs, which turned out to be a mistake that gave me quite a few set backs. When “Marathon Season” came around, I was excited to start the core of my training; that meant focusing on two strong workouts a week. But things did not come so easily this time around. The lack of physical and mental rest after my previous marathon cycles hit me hard. The struggle began by not performing well on my workout days, continued by having every run feel hard, and got me my first official DNF. I felt mentally defeated and physically exhausted. I threw my training plan out the window, it was time to re-evaluate. As much as I wanted to believe the problem came from my body that felt overworked, the real issue was hidden in my mind. I had lost that positivity, that grind, that desire to push myself to my limits, that ability to suffer and get things done. Expectations were much higher, and pressure got to me. So I focused on getting my positivity back, stood strong with only 6 weeks until my pro debut at the NYC Marathon.
Every race is different in just about every way possible. I am sure the 2017 New York City Marathon will not disappoint me in this manner. I thought of withdrawing many times, but on November 5th, you will see me hidden behind some of the best marathoners in the world and history of the sport lining up for a race of their own. I will be ready to give it all I have physically and mentally before putting my legs up for a while.