Rest and Re-Inspiration

After two full weeks of absolutely no running (save for a certain brush with Ryan Hall’s f-ing fast marathon pace), I’ve spent this week slowly coaxing my legs back into running. Winter decided to arrive during my hiatus, and despite a few “niggles,” it feels wonderful to breathe in that cool, fresh air, break a sweat, and laugh with the guys again.

I decided to commit to 14 days of rest because Marine Corps left me feeling a bit banged up. I’ve been marathon training for the better part of the year, so the lingering aches gave me a good excuse NOT to run to let my body heal. Besides, MCM fell smack dab in the middle of the madness that is “working” at the RW Half, MCM, and NYCM on back-to-back-to-back weekends. All of it was incredibly exhilarating and inspiring–heck, I LOVE everything about races–but it’s also exhausting. My brain and body needed some downtime. Badly.

So while I’m here dusting the cobwebs off this blog, I have to say that even though I wasn’t out on the roads, running still managed to find ways remind me why our sport is so tremendously incredible. For instance…

I’m officially “in real life” friends with Iron(wo)man and mother-runner Michele Gonzalez (right), who raised over $10,000 for Superstorm Sandy relief efforts last year; Pam Rickard, an ultrarunner whose comeback story is best summed up by this Facebook post; and Summer Sanders (left), an Olympic swimmer, one of my childhood idols (thanks to a certain TV show), and now an incredible, speedy! runner. Words can’t really express how impressed, amazed, inspired [insert more similar words] by these women. They are the embodiment of why runners are awesome.Summer-Michele

I got a dose of the November Project, the highlight being a high-five with co-founder Brogan Graham, who’s gracing the December cover of RW. The bear-hugging, no-excuses, potty-mouthed “tribe” that began in Boston has injected a whole new level of badass-ness that’s shaking up what it means to be a running group. Get a better sense of who they are here and why they’re the shining light in an otherwise rough year for the running community here.

RW1213_COV_spread

And finally, I spent a weekend witnessing, for the first time, the magic of the New York City Marathon. It’s truly eye-opening to see runners from around the world literally take over the city, to see them streaming into Central Park from dawn until dusk, and to watch the elites cover 26.2 miles with precision, strength, and in Meb’s case, courage, from the gun to the tape. I bumped into Shalane and Julie, who again reminded me that the pros are just (blazing fast) regular runners. The list goes on… I left the city with my mind made up: I need to run New York next year.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 6.05.18 PMBasically, I can’t help but smile at all that went down over the past month or so. And trust me, this post touches on a fraction of it all. I couldn’t be more thankful. Thanks everyone.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running is not, as it so often seems, only about what you did in your last race or about how many miles you ran last week. It is, in a much more important way, about community, about appreciating all the miles run by other runners, too.” – Richard O’Brien

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What a Whirlwind of a Year

photoA couple weeks ago was my alma mater’s graduation day, and a couple weeks before that was my one-year “run-iversary” (I consider mine May 4, the day of my last collegiate race, because I couldn’t tell you what day I started running!). And somewhere in there was my official one-year anniversary at Runner’s World. Seriously, say what? It’s been a whole year?!?

The last time I spoke with my Dad, he said, “Can you believe how much you’ve experienced in just one year?”

After falling right back in sync with my college teammates like nothing had changed, like the year had been shortened to maybe a month, I genuinely can’t believe how different a runner I am today. I’m thankful to report that I’m still just as in love with the sport as I was a year ago. I’d even venture to say that that passion has grown deeper. Career-wise, to say it’s been eye-opening is an understatement.

So here’s what happened this year and a bit of what I learned along the way:

  • I helped cover two major marathons that (unexpectedly) turned into major nationwide events: At the New York City Marathon press conference, I sat beside one of my professional and running idols Amby Burfoot as NYRR CEO Mary Wittenburg announced the cancellation of one of the world’s most famous marathons. After the Boston Marathon, my post was published on runnersworld.com, and the positive feedback I received played an essential role in the healing process. Interviewing witnesses of the tragedy further helped me process all that had happened. After both events, I watched the stellar RW staff pull together two of the most powerful issues I’ll likely ever be a part of in my career. They are the very definition of professionals. I can only aspire to be even a little bit like them in the future. And in both instances, I witnessed the running community unite to support each other and complete strangers. All around, very powerful experiences.      
  • I ran FOUR marathons! I still remember the spring of last year when I registered for my first marathon. I spent the rest of the day in sheer disbelief that I’d just paid $80 to run 26.2 miles…voluntarily. Turns out, it became one of my all-time favorite experiences so far in life. 104.8 miles later, I can say I learned: that following my veteran colleagues’ advice will more than pay off, to respect the distance (feeling like crap at mile 10 sucks) but then discover that mystical “marathon magic,” that the running community is far greater and more awe-inspiring that I ever imagined, and that runners can endure far more than the 26.2 miles in front of them.
  • I started this blog! Beyond helping me grow as a writer, this digital diary has introduced me to SO many incredible runners. Having a platform to share experiences with others and compare notes on all things running has been way too much fun. (I now understand why y’all do it! =) ) I get totally engrossed reading blogs, virtually taking part in your running world. I’ve learned so much, and I’ve grown as a runner and person. I really can’t thank y’all enough for the words of support and encouragement. I hope you know that you have inspired me, too!   
  • I took up running naked (meaning sans watch, not actually naked, hah) most days and adopted what my boss calls “secondhand training.” It’s been a pretty drastic, but freeing change that’s helped me enjoy running for what it is, plain and simple. Rather that worrying over my paces or what workout is coming up on the calendar, I’ve embraced the spontaneity and learned how to love racing again. Let me put it this way: I PR’d after a day (and night’s) worth of St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans, just four hours of sleep, and arriving to the race maybe five minutes before the gun. Compare that to my college self who would hyper-worry over every pre-race meal and warmup drill. Personally, I like modern-day, let’s-just-have-fun-and-see-what-the-day-brings Megan.

And for some not-nearly-as-life-changing, but still pretty sweet highlights:

  • I ran up the Empire State Building and got my butt whooped by Kelly Ripa along the way.
  • I ran my first long-distance, over-night road relay and learned what it’s like not to shower or sleep for 30 hours straight.
  • I met the U.S. women’s marathoning trifecta: I ate Dunkin’ doughnut-holes with Shalane Flanagan, told Colt that his mommy Kara Goucher is one of my running heroes, and ran into (and probably scared the s*** out of) Desi Davila at our hotel at the Walt Disney World Marathon.
  • My current track record for throwing up after a marathon is 50/50. So there’s that.
  • I won the media heat of the 5th Avenue Mile. (It’s not as impressive at it sounds, honestly).
  • I got Nick Symmonds’ sweat on my jacket when he hugged me at the Millrose Games. He’s an incredibly nice guy, and it was very cool getting to meet him in person. (And seriously, where can I sign up to be a contestant on The Bachelor if he ends up being on the show?)
  • I lost whatever upper-body strength that I once had (and likely–hopefully?–channeled that “strength” toward those absurdly long marathon training runs).
  • I ran over the Golden Gate Bridge at midnight and through a closed-down Times Square.
  • I learned how to snot-rocket in motion.
  • I freaked out my 10-year-old self when I met “Figure it Out” (from Nickelodeon, remember that 90s kids?) host Summer Sanders and was meters away N’SYNC member Joey Fatone.
  • I’ve held an Olympic gold medal. Literally made my heart race.
  • I can now run or race at all hours of the day or night, thanks to Disney’s 5:30 a.m. race starts and the midnight relay legs.
  • I’ve done a lunch run in a tutu and did a (totally legit) stair-climb race at RW HQ.
  • I began blogging for–and therefore became friends with–Lauren Fleshman. Love this girl and everything she represents. ‘Nuff said.
  • I’ve almost gotten over being star-struck around elites. This past year, I’ve met or been in the presence of: Bernard Lagat, Meb Keflezighi, Evan Jager, Kim Smith, Alysia Montaño, Hannah England, Anna Pierce, Matt Centrowitz, Leo Manzano, Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, Jenny Simpson, Brenda Martinez, Mary Cain, Jordan Hasay, Molly Huddle, Amy Hastings, Derrick Adkins, Dean Karnazes, (…and I’m sure a few more) and the legends Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Katherine Switzer. Crazy.

Since it was such a whirlwind of a first year in the “real world,” I wanted to take the time to collect all that happened in one place so future me can go back and remember it. Looking back on this year, all I can say is that I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunities my work has given me and the people who I work with who have made me a better, happier runner. It’s opened my eyes to how truly unique the running community is, and I’m reminded every day of how lucky I am to be a part of it. Runners are a different, but brilliant breed. This year–maybe more than any in at least my life time–this fact was all the more apparent. And I got a front-row seat. What a whirlwind.

Here’s to another incredible year!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.” – Shalane Flanagan

An Interview With Julie Culley Post-NYC Marathon Cancellation

0033025d-b4d1-48f5-ac71-2ac8d1e99e7e.LargeAfter witnessing first-hand the events throughout the would-be New York City Marathon weekend, I can tell you that nearly everyone in the running community couldn’t quite articulate how they felt about the news. From what I gleaned via interviews RW did with participants and social media, the general sentiment was this: although it was the right decision, it was made too late. I still volley back and forth about how I feel–I’ll read an article that’ll sway me one direction, then read another that swings me back–so it’s not worth delving into that mess here. But, in the days following November 4, the RW staff scrambled to summarize and draw meaning from the cancellation, putting together what I think is an incredible, comprehensive look at what went down. Though it offers various opinions, I agree with it all. (The package is in the January 2013 issue–I’ll link to it once it’s online). Though it didn’t make the cut for print, I did an interview with Julie Culley, an Olympian who was set to make her marathon debut in New York. She’s also happens to be a New Jerseyan through-and-through and was directly affected by Hurricane Sandy. Julie offered a truly unique, heartfelt, and eloquent perspective that I think is worth sharing. Below is our conversation detailing her thoughts about the NYC Marathon cancellation:

Me: Now that it’s been over for a few days and you’ve had some time to let it sink it, where are you at emotionally today?

Julie Culley: I’m disappointed. I feel sad about not having run the marathon this weekend, and I’ve personally chosen not to run another marathon because of the emotional highs and lows that I’ve experienced this past week. I took a day or two off and suddenly came crashing down and got sick. I guess that’s a true sign of your emotional and physical state. I understand the pressure that was put on by the city and the pain that the city was feeling. I’m disappointed that the runners and NYRR became vilified because I truly and honestly believe that they have their best intentions at heart–in particular with the amount of money that was being raised for charity both for the relief efforts and for people who raise funds for other charities to gain access to run the race. And on top of that, the amount of expenses paid by 40,000 people to get them to the race–it’s really a shame. I think honestly if this marathon had been called off when the storm hit, it would be a lot less difficult for everyone. You know, natural disasters are not something you can prevent, and I’m sad that people are suffering the way they are suffering. I don’t think we should take anything away from their hardship.

Me: As an elite runner who prepared to run your first marathon, I can only imagine how you felt when you heard the news. How did you handle it all after Friday’s announcement?

JC: The day that it hit me the most was on Monday morning when we were leaving the city. The most frustrating part–and to me this is not a selfish thing–was the way that I saw the city continue on. As an elite runner and just seeing all the full time jobs, we were going to work on Sunday. I know that we were attacked even further for saying things like that because of the hardship that people are facing right now. Come Monday morning, that city was hustling and bustling and people were off to work. As soon as the power was back on, everyone went back to work. The frustrating part is that knowing people are hurting, people have passed away, and dealing with that emotion in and of itself. And also feeling somewhat betrayed because the marathon does so many good things for so many people. And me personally, I’ve been active in some of the charities and programs that they offer to the city of New York, so I know what the NYRR represents as well as what the elite runners were there to do. It’s a big financial hit, and I understand that everyone needs to play their part. It was definitely hard Monday morning seeing the city back to work, business as usual, long lines for the retail shops, long lines for the coffee shops, and thinking, that was what we were supposed to do. I struggle with that because my family’s shore house needs to be completed gutted. Obviously we are very lucky to have a second residence. We are not put out, our primary house is fine, but you know, it is difficult on a lot of levels.

I think that it is very unfortunate overall, and I think that the resiliency of the running community is inspiring because a lot of people put that time on Sunday to good use. I as well as many others were out there volunteering on Sunday, even after some of the harsh criticisms that came. The running community is a strong one, and I’m proud of the way people handled it. I think that’s a really important aspect of it all. It was a sad experience, and my heart breaks for the New York Road Runners because somehow this has turned into a big business move. That’s not it at all. If you see the differences that these guys make in the community and outside of it, too, it’s really inspiring. So it was hurtful to see them take so much from this.

It’s tough, you know, Monday I came home and after being so angry leaving the city, and then my parents came home after the first day they were allowed to go back on the island to see the devastation. It puts everything in perspective, of course, but it doesn’t make it hurt less.

Me: Out of the entire situation, what was the most striking or poignant moment for you from the weekend?

JC: The hostility had gotten to a point–whether it was real or just a bunch of talk–where I was with a fellow runner on Friday afternoon going for a jog, and the both of us expressed our concern for what was it going to be like out there on Sunday morning, especially with the women’s elite start being the first runners to come through the city. What is the tone of the city right now? Is it safe for everyone to be out there? That was starting to become a legitimate concern obviously for us, but for the organization, too. Honestly I think the New York Post article is what changed the entire tone. It went from, “Okay we’re going to do this, we’re going to put all of our efforts toward lifting the city and raising money for the relief efforts through the run,” to, “How dare you march through our city’s streets and parade around like nothing’s happened?” I think Friday morning when that article was published was when things really started to go downhill.

Ultimately, I think they did what they needed to do. I think if it was going to become such a divisive event toward the city, I think that this is what they needed to do. It’s still kind of like, was this the opinion of the majority or the minority–like a really small group that was making a stink–it’s really hard to know. Of course we weren’t there with Bloomberg trying to decide, but I think politics played a big part of this, and it’s sad that it happened to the marathon. Everyone had a criticism about it. I mean you turn on national television and people are chiming in about what the runners should do. And you know what? No one has ever paid attention to this before, so please don’t act like you know what to do going forward. You can’t postpone the NYC Marathon for two weeks. It’s kind of like asking the Super Bowl to be post-poned and having only 50% of the players show up. It’s crazy.

Me: What drove me nuts was that the Giants and the Knicks got to play.

JC: Yeah, when that happened, to me of course they passed the buck off elsewhere. You know, New York teams are New York until they don’t want to deal with them because they’re in New Jersey. I just felt that if it’s something that brings people together that’s positive for the community, then I wouldn’t be against the Giants game being played. I was against the fact that we were the ones that were singled out. At this point in time, it’s better for people to have something positive to focus on because it helps them keep moving forward, and it helps the recovery effort. It really, truly does. But if you take away all those things, there’s no inspiration or positivity. You’d be amazed at how much sport unites people and gives them hope.

Me: I think that was pretty apparent with what happened on Sunday between the runners who volunteered on Staten Island and who ran in Central Park. I mean, you talk about inspiration and unity, and what happened on Sunday was what it could’ve been like had the race gone on.

photophoto[1]JC: Exactly. It’s funny, you know my boyfriend and I decided we were going to go down to the East Village, and we found out about a community center that we could bring a bunch of stuff down to. We gathered some clothes and stuff from Asics, like a whole bunch of brand new stuff from the expo. We filled up a big duffle bag of it and brought it downtown. We thought if there is anything we can do to volunteer. I’m not trying to be a hero by any means, but he said to me, because I was dressed in all my marathon gear from Asics, and I said, “I should probably change, huh?” He just looked at me and said, “I’m not going to change. Why would we change? We’re proud of who we represent right now. We’re proud of this organization. If they want to yell at us, that’s fine, but we’re here trying to help out. The runners that ran in Staten Island in all their marathon gear, it’s like, we’re not a bunch of selfish people. We’re actually really here to help. I think that on some level, if there was enough time for the New York Road Runner’s to really create some sort of rallying effort, I think there would’ve been a different feeling about it. I think that it was a reaction to the negativity, and it was almost too late.

Me: So last question, what have you been up to all week?

JC: Monday when I came home, I wanted to take care of my parents who had just come home from smashing hammers into the walls the entire day by making them a big dinner. Unfortunately my intention was to try to find volunteer work as soon as I could this week, but I got sick. So my best friend from home and I started working on food donations that we’re going to deliver on Friday.

Photo credits: Elizabeth Maiuolo and Julie Culley

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” – A.C. Green