Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Award Thank You Speech

``I would like to thank my friends at the Delco Road Runners Club without whom I wouldn't be here today. Thank you Byron, Bill, Janet, Jack, Steve, Chrissy, Mike, Bob, Noreen, Terry, Frank, Bill, Shirley, John, Amy and all of you I am not citing now because I'm so emotional -- you know who you are.'' (Tears of joy. Make-up runs. Applause.)

It's awards season in Hollywood, and in Pennsylvania too. I won mine 1 1/2 weeks ago. It's not an Oscar. I didn't get to wear an evening gown and go on a stage to accept it from Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. This award, my first in a New York City race, was earned in shorts and the acceptance speech is in writing. I like it that way.

I broke my personal record for a half-marathon on Jan. 24 by 7 minutes 15 seconds, finishing 3rd in my age category and 11th woman out of 2,155. The off-the-charts performance can be summarized by statistics. When I crossed the finish line in Central Park in 1h28 for 13.1 miles (21.1 km) this year, I was at mile 12.05 (19.4 km) on the same course last year. I finished 11 minutes 8 seconds behind the winner, who is 10 years younger than I am and, according to her biography on the New York Athletic Club's Web site, was the most decorated cross-country athlete of Columbia University when she graduated in 2006. My age-graded score, a measure of the performance adjusted for age and gender, was above 70 percent for the first time, at 76 percent. That's a regional class level; 80 percent is national. In the process of running this half-marathon, which is hilly, I broke my records on a 10 km and a 10 mile race -- by minutes. The statistics make it seem like another person ran under my name.

Ever since, I've been trying to answer the question: ``How did I do it?''

Among the factors that varied compared with previous races -- and could explain the difference -- were: the weather conditions were ideal with 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) and little wind; I jogged about 3.5 miles to get to the race, which warmed me up; I took water three times, even though it was too cold to be thirsty; I ate one gel around mile 8 and drank some Gatorade once to keep the sugar level in my muscles; I had decided to race and stayed focused all the time; I didn't wait for the second half of the race to push myself, as I usually do; on hills, I pushed one notch further than I thought I could handle, yet stayed below a level I couldn't sustain over time; I ran as fast as I could downhill to gain a few seconds here and there; I went to bed early and slept well; I didn't run the day before, and only used the stationary bike for a mild workout; I recently converted to Mizuno running shoes and my pair of Rider 13 was new.

(Photo: Staying focused at the Manhattan Half-Marathon on Jan. 24.)

In the last 300 yards, I got a boost from a runner behind me, who I assume was a coach or team leader. ``Let's go team!'' he said. ``Now is the time to give everything you've got! See this girl, go get her. You can get her!'' Although I'm not a very good finisher, I sprinted to the finish line as fast as if he'd send a pack of wolves after me.

All those reasons don't seem enough to explain the gigantic leap in my performance.
``I don't know how I did it,'' I told Byron, one of the co-founders of the Delco Road Runner Club, my local club.
``It's because you started running with us!'' said Byron, who has run 44 marathons over a period of 40 years -- including 39 between the ages of 21 and 36 -- and a personal record of 2h37m45s on the distance.

Since Thanksgiving at the end of November, I have been running with members of the club three times a week. They make running in the cold and in the dark fun on Wednesday nights. They enabled me to train outside in the winter on a work day for the first time since I moved in the area almost two years ago -- saving me from a dreaded treadmill workout at the gym. They took me to a trail race in Maryland. They made the longer weekend runs seem shorter and easier. Without realizing it, I trained better with them than on my own.

So thank you Delco RRC.

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