Road to a Sub 4 Marathon – From Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia Marathon.
November 1, 2015, I just finished my 4th attempt running the NYC New York City Marathon in 4:15:20, my 3rd failed attempt at breaking 4 hours. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a great experience and was a Personal Best and I crossed the finish line with a huge smile.
I started running in 2007 after my doctor told me I had high cholesterol, I was 26 at the time and decided to sign up for the NJ Half Marathon in April with my cousins Audrey and Gerry Nasar. We ran in memory of my father Joel Nasar A”H who suddenly past away of a heart attack in 2005. I signed up for this race without any training or knowledge of the sport. I put in a few training runs, never really knowing how far or fast I was going.
This was before I had a Garmin watch and I was running in basketball shorts and sneakers. I finished the race in 2:14 minutes and from that moment I was hooked and decided to foolishly sign up for the 2007 NYC marathon that following November.
I went to Jack Rabbit, I got my first pair of true Running sneakers and now considered myself a real runner. I was running about 2 times per week and never really put in a run longer than 10 miles, I started to regret the decision of signing up for the full marathon but decided to do it anyway telling myself it will be a once in a lifetime experience. I ran my first marathon in 5:14:23 and the NYC marathon was one of the greatest experiences you will ever have. The Course, the Crowds, The Accomplishment. I still remember crossing that finish line with tears falling from my face and a huge smile.
At this point I decided I’m done with Full Marathons but loved the sport and how I felt being a runner and my cousin Gerry and I committed to running the NJ half marathon every year since. Now understanding the sport and pacing I put a goal to finish the 2008 NJ half marathon in under 2 hours and happily did it with a time of 1:58:02. For the next 3 years I kept running 2-3 times per week and ran one half marathon per year around the same pace.
In 2011 I decided to give the NYC Marathon another try and gave myself the goal of breaking 4 hours. Now I had a Garmin watch and followed a training schedule and was super confident in achieving this goal. The Race started and I remember looking back on my first race in 2007 when I had no clue what I was doing. I was feeling strong but as the mileage went by the course starting eating me up and I just couldn’t keep up the pace. I finished in 4:29:46. I was still super excited and happy to PR and decided to go back to running shorter distances and start focusing on better half marathon times and got my Half Marathon time to a PR of 1:46.
Now fast forward to 2014. I personally felt like the sport has grown, more people running and I now knew so many other runners. Long runs were now group runs. Being able to run and train with other runners was great. My good friend and great runner Sammy Anteby and I decided to train together and run the 2014 NYC Marathon. Now those long 21 mile training runs were easy, training was fun. You never miss an early run knowing there is a friend waiting for you. We went in to that race feeling great and I was positive I would break 4 hours.
Race day weather was extremely cold that day with crazy winds, the first half of the marathon I was feeling strong and was at the half marathon point in 1:55:52 but I just couldn’t hold it. The Marathon course got me again and I finished in 4:20:07 and promised to train harder and come back next year.
I put in another great year of training and even had more friends to run with. Weather at the 2015 race was great, I started a little slower that 2014 and was at the halfway point in 1:57:39 but soon after that I just crashed . I was still happy and loved running marathons at this point and it was great to PR again and knowing I was constantly getting better. But I desperately wanted that sub 4.
I decided 2016 was going to be my year. I read in a book that the best way to become a better runner is to run more and I set a goal to run at least 100 miles per month and have a 1200 mile year.
I also thought a change of venue might be good idea and since I put in my best running in the Summer I signed up for the Lehigh Valley Marathon on September 11, 2016. This summer of running was some of the best and toughest running I ever put in. It was so hot and humid.
It felt like every day was hotter than the next but no matter what I got the mileage in. I am lucky enough to be a part of a great running crew, Ocean Parkway Runners and was always running with somebody. It made those miles easier.
This past Summer as I was in NJ I was able to spend more time with my good friend DJ Cohen. DJ was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic Cancer on February 27, 2015 at the age of 38. DJ is the devoted husband of Alexis, and the loving father of 3 beautiful girls: Linda Candice (age 10) Lori Stephanie (age 9), and Caroline Lee (age 6).
Upon his diagnosis, DJ took to poetry to express his most vulnerable thoughts, fears and emotions – mixing stark reality, inflections of sarcasm, humor, and feelings everyone can relate to. DJ began to share his poems with people via social media as well as in person, making an indelible impact on those who know him, thought they knew him, or didn’t know him at all. Since his diagnosis in February 2015, DJ made it his mission, and the mission of TeamDeej to motivate and inspire anyone facing any type of personal hardship, large or small.
Working with local community organizations, as well as businesses large and small, DJ speaks in fronts of crowds of hundreds and thousands as a living example of what it means to live life to the fullest each day. DJ educates others on the importance of practicing mindfulness, being aware of opportunities as they arise, appreciating the best in people, and how gratitude affects your attitude. Spending 5 minutes with DJ can change your life.
Through my friend Solly Elmann I was also able to get to know Cheri Srour . Solly is a great runner and loves running long distance. He joined me on most my long runs and slowed down on those brutally hot days that I just couldn’t keep up. One Sunday he invited us to sit with his family on the beach and Cheri was there. My 4 year old son connected with her from that moment and she is now a huge inspiration to our entire family.
At 18 years old, Cheri who lives in Manhattan Beach was diagnosed with an autoimmune, neurological disorder. Within two weeks, Cheri lost complete mobility, no longer capable of swallowing, breathing, or speaking on her own. Spending months in rehab, Cheri progressed and regained some strength. After some years, Cheri took the initiative and pursued her education.
Graduating magna cum laude from Brooklyn College, Cheri earned her degree in health and psychology. Leading by example, Cheri encouraged everyone around her to "just keep swimming". Finally breaking her silence, Cheri began showing the world that there was more to life than just physicality. Creating #BecauseICan, Cheri illustrates that although she may seem like a girl who went from being a fit dancer with a passion for art and design to a wheelchair-bound young adult overnight, Cheri's drive for perseverance hatched into the strong, open minded woman she is today.
Cheri continues to progress her fighting battle. She's taken something negative and not only made it into something positive, but instilled that message into others. With her contagious smile, Cheri stops at nothing, making the best of every situation. She reminds us all that even in the darkness, we can still appreciate the light.
Now its race day on September 11th. The Marathon started at 7am. It was extremely Hot and Humid and getting worse by the mile. With the Humidity it felt like over 100 degrees. I started out strong a feeling confident knowing I put in the best months of training I ever have. But the weather was just Too Hot. By mile 7 I was already crashing and was down to a slow jog. There were announcements that it was an extreme heat warning and they were stressing to the runners to stop at the halfway point and had shuttle busses ready. They made this announcement at every mile. At mile 11 I gave in , telling myself 2 miles left, there is nothing you can do, I had no choice but to quit.
Then once I got to the halfway point watching most people give up I don’t know what happened to me but I decided to keep going. There was so much running through my head at this point. I was thinking what kind of example I would be to my children if I gave up. But what really kept me going was thinking about Cheri and DJ and there no give up and positive attitude. To think what they were going through and how they push through I just had to cross that line.
Any other year I would’ve gave up but not this race. I had to finish. I finished the race in 4:38:05, It wasn’t easy, it was the hardest race I ever ran but I never felt better after accomplishing it. I didn’t care about the Sub 4 at that point and just told myself if its meant to be I’ll accomplish it another time.
After that I took a few days off from running and only did a few short runs over the next 3 weeks. Now the weather was starting to cool down and on October 2nd I decided to go for a long run with no specific distance in mind. I winded running from Brooklyn to NYC and back for a total of 20 miles. It was 60 degrees out and I was able to average an 8:42 minute per mile pace. My best long run ever and way ahead of a sub 4 marathon pace.
Solly Elmann then commented on the Garmin App that I should do the Philadelphia Marathon in November and I started to consider it. So 2 weeks later I did another long Run, another 20 miles at an 8:53 pace. All those hot weather runs were beginning to pay off. Solly Elmann again commented that I should do Philly and said he would run it with me so we signed up. I put in another long run 2 weeks later of 21 miles at an 8:46 pace and was feeling great.
Philadelphia Marathon was November 20, 2016. Solly just ran the NYC marathon 2 weeks earlier at a personal best of 3:27:31.We had so many people cheering us on this race. Our families ,DJ, Cheri, All the Ocean Parkway Runners and friends . Our phones were blowing up with Text and WhatsApp messages.
It was another freezing day. I started getting flashbacks of the 2014 NYC race. Our Goal was a sub 4 marathon , we wanted to keep our pace between 8:50 – 9:00 per mile. Every time I started speeding up Solly held me back keeping me in check. We hit the half Marathon point in 1:58:08 but I’ve been here before and knew there was still a long way to go.
Miles 13-20 felt like a breeze, we kept our pace and the miles went by fast and I was finally feeling confident and started to speed up for mile 20-23 with mile 22 at an 8:30 pace.
At this point I was tired but knew I had it, We slowed it down a bit as I didn’t want to risk anything. The final mile was amazing, we looked at each other and started screaming DJ’s and Cheri’s name knowing the huge inspiration they both are to us. As the finished line approached we held our hands up high and crossed the finish line together crossed the finish line together. We finished in 3:55:48.
I then let a huge a scream. We hugged it out and I thanked him Solly again and again. I finally did it!! And I couldn’t think of a better way or time to hit this goal.
After this race I found another level of love for Running. I’m now enjoying it more than ever. I finished the year with 1328 miles.
2016 will definitely be a year to remember.