I crossed the line.
After 16 weeks of training, after running/walking five miles two weekday mornings with my running partner at Tropical Park, and after staggering from my bed covers into the cold, predawn Saturday mornings to run one mile, then two, then three, eventually topping 12, I crossed the finish line Jan. 25 at the Miami Marathon & Half Marathon.
My first half-marathon. 13.1 miles. The sticker you see slapped on the backs of cars — 26.2 if you’re running the full race.
For many, running a half marathon is routine. My husband Ken has run several, along with a full marathon and, last fall, his first 70.3 Ironman — where the half marathon is tucked in at the end, after swimming 1.2 miles in Biscayne Bay and biking 56 miles from Miami to Broward County and back.
For me, a 59-year-old woman who hasn’t run since competing in the 4x440-yard relays on the boys’ track team in my senior year in high school — a feat that had more to do with girls’ rights than any athleticism on my part — running a half marathon was certainly not my calling.
But as I stood on the sidelines cheering my husband or listened to friends regale me with their running tales, faint whispers in the back of my mind morphed into a full-throated mantra: “I can do this. I can do this.”
My first step began at 6 a.m. Oct. 4 — Day One of TeamFootWorks training. FootWorks is the family-owned store on Sunset Drive in South Miami, a 42-year-mainstay in the Miami running community. TeamFootWorks, its nonprofit, has donated about $2 million to charities since its founding in 1994 — and trained about 20,000 runners.
As I parked my car, I noticed another woman getting out of her car. She was about my age and had the same deer-in-the headlights look I did as we crossed the street and headed to the store. Like me, this was her first turn at anything like this.
We chatted. She had two sons in college. I had two sons, one of whom just graduated from college, another in his senior year. She was a graphic artist turned immigration lawyer; I was a journalist. We both loved to read, hike and cook. And we both had lived in New York — I grew up there; she came via Cuba-Miami-Gainesville.
My new friend, Alina Cruz, and I stuck to each other as we picked up our running shirts, stretched on the sidewalk and listened to the leaders tell us we could do this: TeamFootWorks leader Josh Liebman has run 100 full marathons.
Being part of TeamFootWorks played a pivotal role in keeping my resolution to run. Training begins with the smallest of steps. On that first day, we ran and walked 20 minutes, from the store to Southwest 87th Street and back, along 58th Avenue. A little more than a mile.
The program is built on interval training, that is, running and walking at prescribed times. In those early weeks, runners could sample different pace groups — one/one (running one minute, walking one minute) two/one (running two minutes/walking one minute), three/one, five/one and for those in top shape, mile/one — running a mile/walking one minute/running a mile.
Alina and I settled on the one/one pace. (Whatever pace you choose, you run/walk the same in the marathon.) We had about 15 runners, divided into two groups — those who averaged 13-14 minutes per mile, and those who averaged 14-15 minutes. We were in the slightly faster group.
Every Saturday morning, we ran a little more. First week: 20 minutes. Second week: 30 minutes. Third week: 45 minutes. Fourth week: 60 minutes. Fifth week: five miles. And so forth.
We usually started from Baptist’s South Miami Hospital — Baptist Health South Florida sponsors TeamFootWorks. We ran under the Metrorail, crossed South Dixie Highway and continued into Coral Gables and Coconut Grove and back. TeamFootWorks sets up water and Vitalyte coolers at the Cocoplum Circle in the Gables and in Coconut Grove, where FootWorks owner Laurie Huseby and her helpers give out icy towels on the hot days (pure heaven).
The route was familiar, that is, until Week Nine.
Week Nine was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a brisk day whose early morning temperatures barely touched 55 degrees. Week Nine was the day we met at the Miami Seaquarium — at 5:15 a.m. Week Nine was nine miles — over the Rickenbacker Causeway, through Alice Wainwright Park off Brickell and slightly past Vizcaya in Coconut Grove and back.
Running over the Rickenbacker — twice — was quite the challenge, made more so by the whipping winds. But it was an invigorating day, and one of my favorite photos was of Alina and me standing atop the William Powell Bridge with the sun coming up behind us.
Alina proved to be an invaluable ally — and good friend — in our quest to conquer the half marathon. In addition to training on Saturday mornings, we ran twice a week at Tropical Park off Bird Road. (TeamFootWorks also runs on Tuesdays and Thursday after work, but running in the mornings suited us.)
We met at 6:45 a.m. every Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday, depending on our schedules. We would run/walk five miles each session, wending around the park’s lake, ball fields and equestrian stables, often watching the sun rise over the lake.
Having a running partner is critical to staying on track. We both knew the other was waiting for us, thus eliminating the temptation to shut off the alarm and turn over.
“I couldn’t do it without you,” said Alina, who quit smoking as a result of her running. I felt the same.
The friendships that develop are a big reason behind the success of TeamFootWorks and other running programs. Last Thursday, TeamFootWorks threw a party at ROK:BRGR, the South Miami gastropub. Hundreds of runners — full and half marathoners — showed up, celebrating with each other and their loved ones.
Laurie Huseby, who with her husband, John “Hans” Huseby, founded FootWorks in 1975, tells of meeting her best friend, Dr. Ana Campo, a psychiatrist and an associate dean at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, through a TeamFootWorks program 18 years ago.
Campo, who had just turned 40, decided she wanted to run 10 full marathons by the time she was 50. (She completed nine.) So, she and a friend joined TeamFootWorks.
“They ran in my program,” says Laurie. “They were actually faster than I was.”
No matter. The program is about camaraderie, not competition. (As evidence, more than 1,000 people showed up at the store for a tribute to Hans, who passed away in his sleep on Nov. 29, the Saturday morning we ran over the Rickenbacker. Hans and Laurie founded the Mercedes-Benz Miami Corporate Run, which draws tens of thousands of runners and walkers each year.)
As part of that communal spirit, TeamFootWorks often brought people in to talk to the runners after the Saturday training. We had yoga sessions, massage therapists and perhaps most important, physical therapists who taught us how to stretch and strengthen our muscles. (Tip: Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds and stretch three ways — center, left, right.)
Stretching and strengthening my leg muscles was an integral part of the training. Early on, my knees began to swell, the result of a sedentary lifestyle and weak leg muscles. I quickly made an appointment at Doctors Hospital’s Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, the folks who handle the pro athletes — and people like me.
Dr. Michael Swartzon, a team physician for the Miami Dolphins, took an X-ray and diagnosed bursitis, or an inflamed knee.
He prescribed six weeks of physical therapy, twice a week. My savior. Working with Aaron, a physical therapist at Doctors Hospital’s sports medicine rehab center in the Bagel Emporium shopping center on South Dixie, I began strengthening my leg and core muscles. Leg lifts. Squats. Leg presses. Clam shells. Planks. Resistance bands. Ankle weights.
I worked up to 90 minutes a session and did the exercises at home as well.
It worked. I walked/ran eight miles. No pain. Ten miles. No pain. Twelve miles. No pain.
13.1 miles. No pain.
Oh, yes, I had some sore hamstrings, but that’s to be expected after a race.
By the time Alina and I collected our medals, met up with our husbands and walked over to the TeamFootWorks tent — where they were serving omelets, bagels and cream cheese and mimosas — we were hugging our running mates and talking about signing up for the next training session (a half marathon in Raleigh in June). We may even graduate to the two/one pace.
After all, we had crossed the line.
If you go
TeamFootWorks is starting a new training program for the Raleigh, N. C., Spring Half Marathon, June 6. Training begins at 6 a.m. Feb. 21 at the FootWorks store, 5724 Sunset Dr., South Miami. Cost is $99. For information, call 305-666-7223 or visit teamfootworks.org