one long distance runner's rockin' race

Our talented receptionist Stef recounts what it felt like to run a Brooklyn half marathon just two weeks after an unexpected setback--and the post-race treat that has now become a permanent part of her runner's routine.

Earlier this summer, when I heard the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series was returning to Brooklyn on October 10th, I knew I had to sign up. The course was scheduled to go right through Prospect Park, covering part of the very loop I run each morning -- my home course, so to speak. On top of that, the Rock 'n' Roll Series is known to be a really fun, motivating course for runners, promising live bands at every aid station, support at every mile, and tons of volunteers, cheer squads, and local crowds. As a native Brooklynite and avid runner, I thought, "Sign me up!"

Running first became important to me in college, where I spent 3 years competing on Brooklyn College's Cross Country team, with my final year as team captain. After college, I never hung up my running shoes. Long distance running had become an intrinsic part of my world. After graduating, I worked at running specialty stores, analyzed running gaits, sold running shoes, compared running shoes, traded training tips. I was dating a runner. My best friends were runners.

I remember in my first year on the Cross Country team, I thought that a marathon was just a synonym for a long race. I later learned that the two races were always precisely measured to be either 26.1 miles (marathon) or 13.1 miles (half marathon). In April of 2014, I competed in my first ever half marathon: The Nike Women's DC Half, earning a finisher medal that was actually a beautiful Tiffany's necklace with the name and date of the race engraved on the medallion (I wear mine everyday!) In January of 2015, I ran my second half marathon at the Florida ClearWater Half, and I won third in my age group and earned myself a new personal record (PR) of 1:50.

This summer, to prepare for my third half marathon, the Rock 'n' Roll Half, I trained as I'd often advised customers to train, on a schedule of 5 or 6 days a week, which looked like this: Mondays were easy 3 milers. Tuesdays involved some kind of speed, maybe 4 400 meters on a track, with 2 800s in the middle. Wednesdays I ran however much I felt like, sometimes doing hills. Thursdays were Fartlek days, which involved interval speed work where I ran fast, then slow, then fast, then slow. Fridays were my long runs days. I worked on a tier, adding a mile each week. Saturdays were blessed off days. Sundays were like Wednesdays--whatever I was feeling.

I was doing pretty darned good. About a month before the race, I was up to 7 miles in my long runs and right on track to run a good race. But I had a problem: I was suddenly starting to feel an aching pain in my jaw, and it wasn't going away. I made a trip to the dentist, and it was what I feared: my wisdom teeth were coming in, and with the pain as bad as it was, I had to have them extracted.

It was a major setback. Before I knew it, with the surgery and recovery, I had racked up 2 weeks of no running. October 10th was approaching with a vengeance. I began to experience serious indecision and anxiety. Would my jaw heal enough in time for me to run? How quickly were my muscles deteriorating? Would my tooth sockets heal enough for me to run? What does running even feel like anymore?! I'd finally traded in my retail job for a position as receptionist at the award-winning, Yelp-famous Massage Williamsburg, and I started asking my coworkers what I should do. The massage therapists said I'd be fine. So did my boyfriend, who'd just won a 50 mile race the month before. 

I listened to them, and I continued to listen to my body. Finally, I was able to chew food again, and a few days later--on the eve of the big race--I was prepared to do a trial run. I laced up and was out onto the trails in Prospect Park by 9:27 a.m.

The weather was wonderful. In my weeks off the season had shifted to that real fall weather, which is really the best weather for running. I wasn't breathless or particularly crampy. Within  25-30 minutes I was done. My first run back was as simple as brushing my teeth! I was suddenly ecstatic. As I browsed through my neighborhood supermarket afterwards, I knew I was going to run that race. And, I observed something different in my usual pre-half marathon ritual. For the first time ever, I wasn't terrified. Maybe it had something to do with going through that awful dental surgery, but it just seemed that I knew--calmly and coolly--that I could absolutely do this race, even after 2 weeks off.

On the morning of the 10th, at the front of the first corral, I stood looking around at all the many, many runners: women in their 20s, grandfathers, men wearing shirts that said "Go Daddy!," women in tutus, men in crazy colored shorts, and then of course right up front there were the elite runners. At the sound of the gun, I thought to myself, I'm finally going to see what kind of runner I am.

It's commonly known by long distance runners that after a while, the miles start to go by quite quickly. We no longer feel the 2,000 steps that make up each mile--endorphins kick in, and you begin to feel like you aren't even running anymore. 

That's how I got through my race, on that heavenly runner's high. Plus, Rock 'n' Roll made the whole thing fun and entertaining. There were entertainers on stilts dressed like members of the band Kiss, cheerleaders, African drummers, and even indie rock bands performing at various aid stations. And the signs! There were so many hilarious, encouraging signs held by spectators throughout the course. A few memorable ones were "Run now, brunch later," "Hurry up and finish so we can drink," and "You think you're tired? My arms are killing me!"

All was well until mile 12. That final mile dragged on. The old expression "so close and yet so far" speaks measures here. But then I rounded a turn and saw I was about 50 meters from the finish line. I heard the music. I gave it one last good, healthy sprint to the finish. And it was all over! I waited in line, panting, and leaned in to receive my medal.

The most amazing perk of my job, besides the peaceful, comforting environment, is that I receive 1 free massage a month. So you can bet I had mine that very same day. I had never experienced a post-race massage before. Now, after being in the hands of Ashley, one of Massage Williamsburg's therapists, I know post-race massage will be tradition--like birthday cake. I had tons of endorphins and positive chemicals coursing through my body, and then I went and got a 60 minute full-body massage. I felt like a completely new person. The massage, coupled with the pride and joy I felt at finishing 3 minutes under my P.R., made for one Rockin', unforgettable Saturday!