This week I celebrate my seventh year as a real runner. I have run 80 New York Road Runners races and 92 overall races, including 12 marathons or ultras, since I traded smoking for running on 12/1/06. The best advice I can pass along from that experience is at the very bottom of this post, a lesson for each year.
Here were my first shoes -- the actual ASICS I bought at a Foot Locker in Times Square:
And here they were after I retired them about 350 miles and many spectacular runs later...
They are hopefully being worn by someone in Africa now, as I donated them to Soles 4 Souls with many other pairs two years ago to mark my fifth runnerversary.
First race: Joe Kleinerman 10K on Dec. 10, 2006 -- nine days after I quit smoking. It was one lap around Central Park in the cold. My net time was 1:18:40. NYRR chief Mary Wittenberg told us at the beginning: "Start easy and finish hard."
First Half: Manhattan Half on Jan. 21, 2007 -- two laps around Central Park. My net was 2:30:03. I was planning to quit after the first lap, but a woman in line with me at a portapotty said, "Just go out there and keep running, you can do it." I did it, and she taught me that I can find more in myself.
First Official Marathon: NYC Marathon on Nov. 4, 2007. My net was 6:08.25. I raised funds for Team for Kids and struggled the last 14 miles with a bad case of plantar fasciitis. It obviously was not the time I was looking for, but it was my maiden voyage and finishing was like nothing else as I ran the last 400 meters looking up at the sky at my dad and crying in joy.
First Invented Marathon: Statues on Parade Marathon in July 2008. That is when I knew that I just loved running and would do anything to keep improving myself and see the world in a new way. I have loved creating my own unique races and routes. At Major League Baseball, we had 42 Statue of Liberty replicas positioned around NYC for All-Star Week, and I ran 26.2 miles to see each of them, stopping for a photo and to take notes with each one, running from the morning until 8 pm, even getting a hand from the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation to get me on a ferry fast to see the ones on those two islands.
First Ultra: Knickerbocker 60K on Nov. 15, 2008. It was 9 laps around the interior of Central Park, 37 miles. My net was 9:51:00. My future wife Lisa ran the last lap with me in the dark. I had PR'd in the NYC Marathon 2 weeks earlier, so I figured then was as good a time as any. It qualified me for Marathon Maniacs, and I am now member #6697.
Most Amazing Run: Pictured to the right here, it's me running the entire 2009 New Jersey Marathon in the rain, and knowing that my life would be changed at the finish line. With help from race organizers, I grabbed the ringbox at the Mile 25 fluid station, and ran with it to the finish line along the ocean. I crossed the finish line, got down on a painful right knee, and Lisa jumped on me as she said yes. It was just an unmatched moment for me that I will treasure always, and running made it possible. It gives you more confidence in your personal life, and for me that had meant meeting Lisa on match.com, meeting her for the first time at the Ocean Grill restaurant on NYC's Upper West Side, and hititng it off immediately. We are happily in love, and she runs with me sometimes.
I have passed on any lessons I have learned along the way, through MySpace and then with Facebook and through my @Marathoner account on Twitter. At this point, most of what I know is just infused into my being, so that instinctively I know how to train, run a race and recover. I know how much running carries over into my personal and professional life, making me want to finish everything and reach beyond my boundaries. I have seen the running community grow by leaps and bounds in these seven years.
7 BIG LESSONS:
1. You can do anything you set your mind to. Just schedule a race.
2. There is no such thing as bad weather.
3. Wash your gear by hand and hang it to dry or lay your socks out flat. NEVER put socks in a dryer. I did that once, a seam was raised, and it caused a huge blister ruining a Miami Marathon.
4. Support other runners. Don't go it alone. Be part of the running community, and the support you get back will help you through the hardest times. Talk with runners at expos and races. We are all in this together, even though we have different shapes and different finish times. Make it a team sport.
5. It's all about the shoes. I mean ALL about the shoes. I spent the first year or so scuffling my way through tick-tack injuries, plantar fasciitis, shinsplints, etc. Finally a Fleet Feet store saleswoman in St. Louis, a marathon runner, got down on her knee and put her index finger under my foot and said, "You have high arches." I never knew that. She put me in a pair of neutrals. That's all it took. I have been healthy almost the entire way ever since, save for a 2012 bout of ITB that was actually caused by a weakened left hip, which I strengthed in 14 physical therapy sessions. It's all about the shoes. Nothing else comes close. If you're battling injury it's probably because of your shoes.
6. Keep a running blog, so you can go back like I am doing now and recall things you now take for granted. It is mainly for your own benefit, and maybe others will get something out of it as well.
7. Motivation will come and go, and you should not fret over the days when you find yourself yearning for a sense of purpose in your miles. It is going to happen, guaranteed. Especially after a big race like a marathon. In early 2009, I was really struggling with that, worrying too much. Then before I knew it, I was running that NJ Marathon in the rain and proposing. When your running purpose seems diminished and you lack a charge to go out for a run, just relax, wait for tomorrow, make sure you schedule a scary race, go buy yourself some new ASICS gear and drink a lot of water. Running is for life.