Dear 2016, I conquered you! I closed out my running of the year on Saturday, December 10th with the Ted Corbitt 15K 2016 race. Seven months and almost sixty miles of racing later, I’m stronger than ever and eager to be part of the TCS New York City Marathon next year. When I started this whole thing, all I wanted was my marathon qualifier but I ended up adding three additional races and an extra volunteer shift. As I wrap up my running for the year, I want to summarize and reflect on the process and round up the best of the best.
After I qualified:
The Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff (5M) 2016 on Sunday, October 30th was my final qualifier race. When I started 9+1, I was convinced that when I got my ninth qualifier race in, I would call it quits until next year. I gave myself a million excuses as to why I wouldn’t race after that. “Racing is costly. Running in the cold is awful. I already did nine races so I don’t want to do more.” Well, that went out the window. I signed up for three more races and volunteered at the TCS New York City Marathon this year, which doesn’t even count for the +1. I have to keep the momentum going, wouldn’t you agree?
A week after the Poland Spring race, I completed the Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K with Jihii, Bethany and Raul on Saturday, November 5th, the day before the marathon. Since I wasn’t qualified this year, running this race was the closest thing I could get to being a part of the marathon experience. The course started at the iconic United Nations and ended at the actual finish line of the marathon. Despite the fact that it was only 8:00 in the morning, the energy out there in Midtown Manhattan was unbelievable!
The next day, I woke up early to volunteer at mile 17 of the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 6th. It truly is the biggest and best block party of NYC. I had already fulfilled my volunteer requirement in September at the Marathon Tune-Up 18M but I volunteered for this one because I wanted to develop appreciation for the work that goes into the marathon. I was out there all day handing water to over 50,000 racers from around the world to make sure they were hydrated and ready to conquer the rest of the race. Cheering for the elite athletes and coming in contact with racers of all walks of life was such a rewarding experience.
To prepare my body for Thanksgiving weekend festivities, I ran the Race to Deliver 4M 2016 on Sunday, November 20th. It wasn’t the smartest choice to go through with this race because I caught a nasty strep throat two days before but I did it anyway because I’m stubborn. (I even took that Monday off from work because I got too sick.) With the cold weather getting a bit too real in New York City, I’ve been struggling to keep up with my training. The day of the race wasn’t any better. It was a windy and cold morning. Somehow, I managed to get a PR and lowered my mile time so I was pretty excited about that.
Finally, I closed out the year with the Ted Corbitt 15K 2016 race on Sunday, December 10th and reunited with a fellow teammate from Soka University of America, James. Despite the fact that it was below freezing temperatures (29 degrees!), I managed to maintain a steady pace and finish under my goal time by a little under four minutes. By this point, I’ve done eleven races but it was at this one that I learned how slowing down is much harder than staying at the current pace. When I slowed down for some of the hills, my body started reminding me even more of the pain I was going through. I need to start focusing on adding miles and getting comfortable racing long distances because 26.2 miles is no walk in the park.
Let’s get right into it.
1. Toughest race | NYRR Staten Island Half 2016
Before going into this, the longest I have ever ran was five miles. And let me tell you, running 13.1 miles was the easiest part. The long, subtle hills killed my legs and the lack of people cheering made me feel lonely. On top of that, Staten Island was experiencing the leftovers of Hurricane Matthew so I was basically running through sharp rain, strong and cold winds and muddy puddles. My feet were drenched in freezing water so needless to say, my toes were numb and each step felt heavy. My arms were in pain and my fingers were swollen. I had to stick them in some pretty awkward places to get warm. But shit, I ran the entire thing and finished strong.
2. Best energy | Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run (5M)
The LBGT community is notorious for being full of energy and love and I felt that through every inch of the race. This race was my first five miler and at the time, that distance was a huge challenge. I remember having two open blisters that aggravated me throughout the race but managed to finish because of the adrenaline that I got from everyone’s cheer. On race day, we were reminded of the struggles that the LGBT community faced just for loving the people they do and being the people that they are. It was truly a blessing to even have a place where we can safely run and express who we are and that experience was beautiful.
3. Best course | Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K
Raching took me through a lot of iconic places. I’ve sprinted through 5th Avenue, finished at Yankee Stadium and enjoyed frolicking through the scenic and charming Harlem. I must say, however, that the Abbott Dash 5K won the best course. It started at the United Nations on 47th Street and First Avenue, took a right on 42nd Street and ran up to Avenue of the Americas. We took another right turn and entered Central Park through Center Drive, which eventually led to the actual finish line of the TCS NYC Marathon. The weather was gorgeous, the energy was exhilarating and I can’t wait for my own marathon debut!
4. Most memorable | France Run 8K 2016
I enjoyed this race for a number of reasons. It was on a hot, August day and I dreaded waking up for it. Going into it, I knew that I was going to perspire more fluid than I had. And just when I was starting to feel sluggish from the heat, it pours down hard for about three miles. Running in the rain means my sneakers were twice the weight but that didn’t matter as much since I wasn’t boggled down by the heat. I also won a raffle and that was exciting. Finally, I met the lion queen of running: Bethany. I made it a point to proudly represent SUA and she wasted no time in sharing her admiration for that.
5. Most rewarding PR | New Balance 5th Avenue Mile
Throughout the months, I got a ton of personal records (PRs) but the most rewarding one goes to the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile. I love that this race represented the value of a mile in many ways. When I ran at SUA, my personal best for a mile was somewhere around the 8-minute mark. For this particular race, I set a goal of 8:30 because in my mind, I still wasn’t as fit as I was during college. Miraculously, I managed to power through the finish line at 7:16. I’m definitely looking forward to running this next year because I can’t wait to compare my results. And one day, I will get to a point in my running where I can go longer distances at that pace. Just watch.
6. Most inspiring | TCS New York City Marathon 2016 [Volunteering] After completing my volunteer shift on the actual day of the marathon, I was overcome with so much adrenaline because each of those 50,000+ racers had such an unshakable victorious spirit. There were racers from all walks of life. Over 120 countries were represented. Being able to see and support 50,000+ racers was such an honor. In particular, I was most inspired by a wheelchair racer who didn’t have legs nor arms and continued to power through mile after mile. I was at mile 17 and even then, he was moving forward with strength and determination. If he could prove the fact that limits do not exist, I have absolutely no excuses when it comes to my own life.
It’s about to get raw and emotional. But I need to talk about how much I grew from this experience. I’m generally the type of person that craves approval from others and wouldn’t usually start something without the support of someone else. That probably explains why I put off my goal of running the marathon for so long. I tried to convince people to run with me. But eventually, I got sick of waiting around when I could just go after it myself. Starting out alone and doing so for a while helped me overcome fears and insecurities I had. My skin grew thicker and my legs got stronger.
It’s appropriate that my marathon debut will be in 2017 since that marks ten years of running for me. It all started in August 2007 at SUA when I joined the Cross Country team there and ran with six other women. And during the past ten years, I probably ran thousands of miles while suffering with shin splints, cramps and aching quads. I went through uncountable pairs of shoes, some that just did not work. And don’t even get me started on the socks I’ve ripped and lost in the laundry. But none of those challenges stopped me. In fact, it has made me even more eager to conquer the marathon.
Running is one of those sports that appear to be mundane for those who aren’t involved. For me, running is the sturdiest backbone in my life and continues to shape my attitude on what it means to muster determination, work hard and destroy every limitation I place on myself. And it has turned into something that I can’t get enough of. During the ten years that I’ve been running, I’ve had phases when I didn’t run but looking back, those were the times when I was the least Riri. I’ll keep running as long as I live and continue to have my legs. (Please keep me accountable.)
Finally, here are my thank yous:
Thank you to SUA’s Cross Country and Track & Field teams for starting it all. Here’s a huge thank you to my dedicated coaches: Karla, Gigi and Patrick for treating me as the athlete that I have the potential to be. They never gave up on me. They recognized the limitations I set for myself and told me, “Nope, you can do so much better than that.” Thanks Patrick for mailing me the awesome team shirt. Being able to proudly represent the SUA team in New York City is humbling.
I am also thankful for those that ran beside me and encouraged me during my 9+1 endeavors: Raul, Bethany, Kimberley, Jihii and James – you’re inspiration. I hope you know that. I started alone and was doing it by myself for a while. Even if we race together, we still train alone. Running will always be a sport where you have to cross the finish line alone. No one else is going to do that for me. But wow, knowing that you’re out there with me on the same course motivates me.
What’s up for 2017:
2016 was incredible. 2017 will be even better. I’m already signed up to run the Joe Kleinerman 10K 2017 on Saturday, January 7th, the Gridiron 4M/Longest Football Throw on Super Bowl Sunday, February 5th, the Al Gordon 4M on Saturday, February 25th and the Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K on Sunday, March 5th. Following that, I’m running the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon 2017 (I got accepted through the raffle, yay!) as my first five-borough series race and can’t wait to take over the streets of Manhattan. And if that wasn’t enough, I’m doing the NYRR Central Park Spring Classic 10K a week later. All the details are in my calendar.
My goal for next year is to run all the races in the five-borough series, the TCS New York City Marathon and complete a grand total of twenty races. One of my biggest goals in life is to run as many marathons around the world as I can. 2016 was the year to qualify for the marathon. 2017 will be the year to conquer New York City. And 2018? I want to conquer the world. I’m after all the best marathons around the world. It will take a lot of blood, sweat and tears combined with stamina, determination and grit but I got this. It’s been real, 2016. Thanks for a great year. I’m coming for you, 2017!
Heart of a lion, heart of a champion, can’t be defeated!