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Sunday, August 16, 2009

NYC Half Marathon 2009

It was still dark when I got up at 3:45am knowing I had to meet Catherine and Lisa at their hotel by 5:30am. I wanted to be sure I either found a taxi or caught a subway in time even though at that hour I figured there would be less traffic than normal. Somehow I made it out the door by 4:35, got to the main avenue and caught a taxi right away and was at their hotel by 4:50 am! Better early than late! I ran into two guys, must have been in their early or mid twenties, who had just gotten in from a long night of partying! They saw my equipment and asked what I was doing so I told them that I was there to film a runner for the half marathon. They had no clue there was a race about to take place but they were intrigued. They asked me if the runner was "any good". I had to supress a chuckle and told them a little about Catherine. They wanted to stay to see her but it was really early and she wasn't due downstairs until 5:30 and they decided it was time to get to their room before they passed out. It was an amusing start to the day!

Around 5:25 I went to Catherine's room and she was just about ready to meet her fellow athletes in the lobby to catch the bus to the offices of the New York Road Runners (NYRR). I followed Catherine, Lisa and Hosea to the bus and we were taken to NYRR along with the other elite runners. It was here that the athletes picked up their race bags where they would put the items in that they wanted at the finish line. They also put their numbers on their bibs and made sure their trackers were on their shoes. Once that was taken care of many of the runners warmed up by jogging laps around the block until it was time to go to the start.

The start of the race was at Central Park East Drive at 87th street and there was a sea of people milling around, looking for where to drop their bags, where to line up, saying goodbye to loved ones and stretching, drinking and chatting. It was so full of energy and at such an early hour! It wasn't even 7am! I missed following the elite athletes to the start so Lisa and I ended up running through thousands of people to get to where they were. There were "corrals" set up and where we came in was at the very back. We ran through all of the different corrals and it was probably close to a half mile into the course that we found the actual starting line!

Finally it was time for some ceremony and Mary Wittenberg got up on a podium and introduced the three headline female athletes: Catherine, Paula Radcliffe and Deena Kastor. They each spoke to the crowd and acknowledged how good it was to be there. Then they all lined up. It was awesome to see the three of them standing there waiting to hear the gun. Then they heard it and off they went. I stayed for a minute until they were out of sight and then had to race to get on the bus so we could get to the finish in time, before the atheltes!

We had a police escort to make sure we made it but it was the slowest ride you can imagine! Jane Monti, who is one of the key people involved in organizing for NYRR, finally had to get out of the bus at a red light and ask the officer in the lead car if he could speed it up a bit! He did and we got there in time. I set up at the finish line and waited. We did not have a live feed to see the race so had to rely on some updates that came over a speaker now and then. I have to say it is quite exciting standing there waiting for the runners to cross that finish line. The men first; Ethiopian Tadese Tola defended his title and the other men started to come in after him: Morocco's Ridouane Harroufi second and American Ryan Hall third. (I briefly interviewed Ryan and he is such a nice guy; I'm glad he did well!)

Finally the first woman could be seen in the distance and it was Paula Radcliffe. She was running to see if she was fit enough to run at the World Championships in Berlin next week! She won the race (1:09:50) by a good margin. Then came Mamitu Daska (ETH) in 1:11:04 and then I saw Catherine coming down the stretch. She placed third (1:11:56). As each of the top three men and women came in, they were draped in their country's flag and then took a victory lap back down the last leg of the course where they hi-fived fans and you could hear the cheers from afar.

Of course after the race many people would ask Catherine if she was disappointed in placing third and as always, her answer was no. She was quick to congratulate the other women ahead of her and happy to have accomplished what she did!

As Catherine was cooling down, a young American girl walked up to her and they exchanged congratulations. I was immediately struck by the way she looked up to Catherine; you could see the admiration in her eyes. I knew I had to speak to her. I learned her name is Ilsa Paulson and she is a very young but up and coming athlete who has been very inspired by Catherine. I spoke with her and also with her parents and her parents told me how Ilsa meeting Catherine last year has been so instrumental in her own development as not only an athlete but as a person. It turns out that Ilsa is very religious and felt a calling from God to pursue her running so she dropped out of college and moved to NY to train full time and run. Her parents are extremely supportive of her but Ilsa has found that some of the other athletes are not as supportive. Some feel she should have stayed in school and done the college track and field route and some do not approve of her devotion to her religion. But meeting Catherine inspired her to stay true to her own beliefs and live her life in what ever way is right for her. It was truly awesome to hear how much this young girl has been inspired by Catherine. She considers Catherine her role model in so many ways and I am so fortunate to have met Ilsa for both the benefit of the film as well as myself. This young girl was the first American woman to cross the finish line, placing 6th just ahead of Deena Kastor who placed 7th!

Finally it was time for the awards and people were lining the park near the finish area. There was music and people dancing in the grass and it was a very festive time! The weather was a bit hot and humid but there was no rain so it was great! Awards were given to the top ten men and top ten women.
Young children from a local running club presented the top 3 prizes; 3 boys to the men and 3 girls to the women. They were adorable. Some of the winners threw their flowers to the crowd but Catherine did not. She followed the little girl that presented her with her award and handed the flowers to her. The look on the little girl's face was priceless. Catherine spoke to her and asked her to promise to work hard in her training and do well in school.

After the ceremonies were finished, the athletes hopped on the bus and went back to their hotel. Catherine did her usual soak in the tub and packed up to go but when she went to the athletes lounge she got a little sidetracked. Ryan Hall was sitting on the sofa with some very strange "pants" on! It turns out that the race doctor had these pants that look almost like a cross between a space suit and hockey goalie pads and they are attached to a hose and a pressure system. The pants contract and expand and massage the legs. Catherine wanted to try it so she hung around and waited for Ryan's session to end. Watching Catherine get into this pant-like contraption was hysterical. They looked like they would swallow her up but, once it started working she really liked it!

Finally it was time to go, but before heading back to Philadelphia, Catherine and Hosea wanted to stop for lunch at their favorite Italian Restaurant. After lunch, it was time to get to the train. Catherine stopped a few times along the street to look at handbags because it just isn't right not to stop and look! She absolutely loves to shop!

The train ride home was crowded so we each sat separately but we were all exhausted and glad to have some quiet time. As I left Lisa, Catherine and Hosea I knew I could look forward to next month when Catherine would once again run the Philadelphia Distance Run. I'm still feeling inspired from meeting Ilsa and her parents and knowing how much she has been inspired by Catherine!


  1. Oh, I loved the story with the flowers! Tears came to my eyes...

  2. Catherine usually finds a child to give her flowers. Check out who she found at the ING Philadelphia Distance Run the next month, September 20, 2009!


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