A New Chapter As A Competitive Athlete

A New Chapter As A Competitive Athlete

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Last Sunday at 8 a.m., about 7,500 women took off from the starting line of the More/Shape Half Marathon in Central Park. The field included Olympians and professional runners, most of whom started the race at the front of the pack in the “elite” group.

This was my first sanctioned long-distance race ever. And I came in 8th place.

I haven’t always been a runner. Actually, I was about as far from a “runner” as you can get: I used to walk the mile run in high school gym class. Back then, I wasn’t concerned with getting a personal best or going fast — or even breaking a sweat.

Right after high school, I moved to New York City after signing with a modeling agency here. About four years later, I took up running. A couple of miles along the West Side Highway grew into a few more, and a little spark was ignited.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy blew through the city and put all my modeling work on hold. Bored, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, I challenged myself to see how far I could go on the treadmill in my apartment’s indoor gym. Rain crashed against the gym’s windows as sweat accumulated on my brow. Before I knew it, I had racked up about 10 miles.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that run was a turning point in my life. Ever since then, I’ve run 10 miles a day, give or take.

As the next five years or so went by, I took my runs to successively higher levels. I started working on speed, fine-tuning my 10 milers until I broke the one-hour barrier.

After seeing my passion for running on social media, my little sister gave me the gift of a New York Road Runners membership. I had no excuses anymore and I entered my first official NYC race, which just happened to be one of the biggest female half marathons in the world.

I felt more than ready for the 13.1 miles ahead of me. The night before the race, I’d had one of my usual plant-based dinners: spinach, carrots, avocado and beans. I did my nightly meditation and drifted off to sleep early. The next morning, I woke up just before the alarm I’d set for 4 a.m. and sipped a little cold brew coffee before heading up to the race.

At the starting line, over 7,000 women of all ages and backgrounds took their positions, including celebrities like Natalie Morales (co-host of The Today Show) and Padma Lakshmi (Judge on Top Chef).

In the third corral beside Natalie Morales (The Today Show.)

Standing in the third corral beside Natalie Morales (The Today Show)

I noticed the elite group right away as they jogged in place in the corral a few groups ahead of me. While I had been pushing myself recently to get faster and faster, these girls were lifelong competitors. But I didn’t feel intimidated — only inspired. This was my chance to put all my logged miles to the test, alongside the pros.

I waited for the countdown, and before I knew it, I was bolting. I realized right away that I had no idea how to pass other runners. Was I supposed to pass on their left or on their right? Regardless, I wove around bodies as I tried to pick up my pace. Just one mile deep, I was in the top 20.

The elite runners I had observed at the starting line were suddenly right beside me. I heard their breathing, and steps in sync with my own. And to my surprise, one by one, I was picking them off.

But at mile six I hit the steep hills at the northern tip of the park. A girl in a yellow jersey passed me, and I worried. I looked down at legs that felt suddenly heavy, and I made a mental note to myself: It might be a good idea to add the incline training that I’d never included in my morning routine. I pushed on the best I could.

After one full loop around the park I reached the halfway mark. I couldn’t make out all the girls ahead of me, but I knew I had to be in the top ten. I decided in that moment that all I had to do for the rest of the race was maintain my pace without letting anyone pass me. I can do this, I thought. I smiled as the cityscape zoomed past. It was starting to feel exhilarating.

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Around the eleven mile mark, I hit a wall — literally. Hundreds of women running much slower paces were just finishing their first loop and ran shoulder-to-shoulder across the full width of the course. I had to find a way to get around them as I was kicking into my last 3 miles. I collided with another runner attempting to squeeze through an opening. This may have slowed me down temporarily, but it wasn’t going to get in the way of finishing strong.

Luckily, some of the people on the sidelines noticed the traffic jam and shouted “lead runner coming through!” That “lead” referred to me! I had been so distracted navigating the crowd that I didn’t even think of how my body felt. But once I hit the final stretch, I was flying.

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I took long strides across the finish line, and I was told I came in 8th place overall. Me, the non-athlete, placed in the top ten in an NYRR race. A national race. An international race. I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of what I had just completed until I called my mom.

She’d been tracking the whole race, and saw updates on a live feed. She was shocked — no, flabbergasted — no, dumbfounded that I’d placed so high.

The race had shed a whole new light on my potential. While I had always been running for myself, I didn’t know that what I love doing is actually a talent. I had placed in the top ten with no trainers but myself, and had so much fun doing it. I could only dream about what I can accomplish with a proper training plan, or even a coach.

20160417_094244As my adrenaline continued to pump, I chugged water and wandered around the finish-line pavilion, which was filled with sponsor stands handing out cold-pressed juice, tee shirts and healthy snacks. A few people approached and congratulated me, including a man who asked if he could take my picture. He asked who I ran for in college.

“No one,” I told him, flashing back to walking the mile-run in high school. “This was my first long-distance race. Ever.”

And so ended the first chapter of my new life as a competitive athlete.

 

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