|Go Daddy Go 5K in 2009. That had on the left would be my boy's.|
No, I'm not referring to the actual ingestion of these food items, but to the great advice on form I received during a running program sponsored by The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. This was in 1998, my second flirtation with running regularly. I was working in CORPORATE AMERICA, single, and carefree. One day in the office during an extended "break" in which I would spend much coveted time with the PAPER version of the New York Times. (What is paper? you may be asking yourself...) I happened upon a small ad announcing a free 8-week running class for women that would meet on the Upper East Side. WOW! I had been running on and off around the 1.5 mile loop in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx for a couple of months and always looked jealously as the super-runners who would 1. bounce around at a seemingly effortless pace while I lumbered around and 2. subsequently lap me, twice. So this would be a great opportunity to run and to prepare for my very first RACE, the Avon 10K that would take place at the end of the eighth week of the program.
That first day, we convened at the hospital, listened to a panel of seasoned running enthusiasts, former Olympic athletes and sports medicine doctors who talked about the benefits of running. We did a brief aerobic warm-up, stretched and went out for a run on the East River Esplanade. Being a born and bred New Yorker, I'm embarrassed to say that I hadn't even known that the Esplanade existed before then. Anyway, they started us out slowly-run to the street lamp, walk to the next one, run past one street lamp YOU CAN DO IT, walk to the next one. This is how it went for the first few weeks. Panel, questions, stretch, run, stretch and snacks-see ya next week.
I looked forward to those Tuesday evenings. The participants in the program were friendly and encouraging as we had all come for the same thing-to be part of something awesome and healthful. I also looked forward to completing the homework they gave us, which was absolutely doable and plain fun. Run 1-2 miles alternating 1 minute of walking with 2 minutes of running. I could do that. I've always been an early riser, so I enjoyed getting up at the crack of dawn, greeting Tony and Maria, the superintendents of my apartment building, crossing the street and running the loop in Van Cortlandt Park. (If you a New York City resident and have not yet experienced the wonders of VCP-GO NOW! You won't be disappointed. The loop is a cinder pathway-so easy on the feet and legs. There is also a wonderful cross country trail that is used on the weekends for high school (and college?) meets, along with an oval track.) So it is absolutely imperative to get your run on in the Bronx.
We did speed workouts, hill workouts. Today the goal is to do ten hills, ok? NO, NOT OKAY. Of course that's just what I was thinking, but I did it, albeit not without a tremendous amount of mental effort. They coached us on form-keep your shoulders relaxed, your elbows at a 90-degree angle pretending that you're holding potato chips (I preferred to imagine the Cape Cod brand) or eggs in each hand. I still abide by this advice today. People may laugh or scoff, but the potato chips have saved my shoulders and neck from muscle soreness. So eat that!
During the 5th week, the crazy people who ran the program thought it would be fun to do a three mile run without stopping for walking. Just to make sure we would do it, they paired some of us slower-I-need-to-walk-now-please runners with trainers. I got a former Olympic discus thrower-GREAT! She ran right behind me, encouraging me the whole way, even up the damned hills and stairs. I worried that I was running too slowly, but she just kept on keeping me on. I finished my first 3 miler without stopping, running with an OLYMPIAN. We even got to meet GRETE WAITZ. I wish I had had more of an appreciation of who she was back then, and how she would help set a precedent for women in the marathon distance. May she rest in peace!
After getting through the first 3 mile hurdle, the next two weeks were 4 and 5 mile runs, respectively. We had one final panel that last week of the program and then they gave us our T-shirts. My first race tee! It's torn in many places, has missing seams, but it's one shirt I will never throw away for obvious reasons. That Saturday we met before the race to give each other final words of encouragement. It was bittersweet; these people (both participants and coaches) had given me the gift of running, camaraderie and personal accomplishment, and I probably wouldn't see them again. The gun went off and we started running. I ran 4 miles without stopping (a first!), and alternately walked and ran the last 2.2. The rest is history. (Well, not really but I'll get to that in future posts...)
Thus began my burgeoning addiction to potato chips, eggs, races and t-shirts.