New York State of Mind: Countdown to the New York City Marathon

72 days until the New York City Marathon.

With two months of training for the New York City Marathon down, there's really nothing I enjoy talking about more than my new running lifestyle. And when someone inevitably tells me how nuts the idea of running a marathon is, I usually just feel a tremendous sense of pride. But this week, I think I finally realized just how crazy I've become while I've been out there pounding the pavement.

It all started a few weeks back. It was 5:18 a.m., the sun was far from rising, and I was sitting alone in my Hoboken apartment... eating candy. That's when I knew I was a little insane. The candies (some orange-flavored Sport Beans) were to help fuel the early morning 12-mile run I was about to do -- over to Jersey City's Liberty State Park and back.

About five miles in, while I was coasting along the park's waterfront path, with a beautiful sunrise over Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn, I was thinking how lucky I am to be a runner and get to see this sight that so many others sleep through. But then, I saw something else. Way out in the distance. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge -- the start of the New York City Marathon.

Panic struck. I immediately felt like I wanted to turn around and head home. I just wasn't ready to imagine myself going across it. I'll just deal with that in November, I thought. Sure, it was kind of cool to see, but that's a pretty tough mental exercise for that early in the morning. I went another mile, while avoiding eye contact with the bridge and soon enough, it was the scheduled time to turn around. Phew! Crisis averted.

I had a similar hang-up last Tuesday night at a Team In Training hills workout in Central Park. We were running repeats from the southwest corner of the park up to Tavern on the Green at W. 67th Street -- the finish line of the New York City Marathon. I couldn't escape these mind games! I'd also like to know just whose cruel idea it was to end the race on a hill anyway. Nice touch.

Before we started, we were encouraged to really push it during this workout, knowing that when we'd be climbing it in on race day, it would be on fatigued, 26-mile legs. We were also told that it would be a good opportunity to work on mental training -- to think about how you'll be feeling that day, practice a finishing pose, etc. Great, I thought. Everything was feeling good until I did start to imagine it. This felt hard enough on fresh legs -- how would I ever do this after already running 26 miles, starting back at that stupid bridge? I quickly felt short(er) of breath. Are my lungs caving in? Is this what a panic attack feels like? I reached the top of the hill, turned around and decided to play the "let's-just-pretend-like-this-is-any-other-hill" game for the rest of the repeats and that seemed to work out just fine. Like a true procrastinator, I'd worry about that "mental training" another time.

Needless to say, I wasn't feeling super confident going into this past weekend's 15-mile training run. I needed a dose of inspiration. So obviously, I watched the Justin Bieber movie Never Say Never. Seriously. I wish I was kidding you, but this is what my Friday pre-long run nights have come to. In it, The Biebs is on a journey to play his first (and certainly not last) sold-out concert at the iconic Madison Square Garden. And if that little boy from Canada can make his dream come true, anything's possible. Right? Right. (Was this Bieber rant enough to convince you that I'm completely off my rocker?)

After having my tween moment, I honestly did feel a little better and more excited to join the rest of the TNT group the next morning. It would be my first long New York run, after a few weeks of running around my hometown or down on the Jersey Shore. Maybe all I needed was to settle back into my New York routine to get my mind right.

We'd be running through Summer Streets. It's the fourth year in a row NYC DOT has shut down traffic on Park Avenue from Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturdays in August to encourage New Yorkers to get out and get active.

As I previously mentioned, I'm not a real New Yorker. I know, I know. I live across the river in -- gasp! -- Hoboken. It might as well be a million miles away, right? Don't knock it, though, until you've run along that side of the Hudson -- we've got the best view in the world.

So I'm not too proud to admit that I still get a little amazed when I think about how lucky I am to live and work up here. But that doesn't mean I'm super touristy and don't understand the subway (duh, I take PATH), or that I gawk at celebrities on the street (seriously, John Leguizamo, if I see you one more time...) or that I've never been to the outer boroughs (I've been to Brooklyn like three times and Queens once, thank you very much!). Joking aside, you can imagine the thrill I get when experiencing new things in this amazing city -- and I certainly experienced 15 miles of New York in a whole new way on Saturday.

Listen to this route: Start at 51st and Park and head south on Summer Streets to the Brooklyn Bridge, go across the bridge and back, run north on Summer Streets to 72nd, turn left, enter Central Park, head up through the park to E. 95th and then back to 51st and Park.

Just hearing the route itself made me sweat, but I seriously needed to suck it up and start acting like a real marathoner. (I did, however, pack a credit card in my water bottle's pouch -- just in case I needed to catch a cab back at some point along the way.)

I hopped in with the 10-minute/mile pace group and buddied up with fellow AOL Marathon Team member Caitlin DiLena. Looking down at her feet, Caitlin realized she was wearing two different sneakers by accident. (And it wasn't the first time this has happened either.) As you can see, she's gone a little crazy, too. I figured we'd make a good team for the day.

Many, many, many New York minutes later (like 150), Caitlin and I cruised down our final downhill stretch on the way back to 51st and Park. It was a mostly pleasant run -- except for almost getting crushed by a bike on the Brooklyn Bridge -- and it really did help put me in a better state of mind by conquering something I thought was totally overwhelming. But as we finished up, I again had a completely batty thought -- I think I could keep going. In my previous long runs, I was always shot at the end. And here I was, 15 miles down, feeling like I could take on a few more... or at least a few more blocks. Now that is crazy.

As I sit here, staring at my brand new pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 11s (my name is Emily and I'm an over-pronator), I can slowly feel a freak-out moment creeping up on me again. These sneaks are going to be with me every step of the 26.2 miles in November (and all the long training runs leading up to it). But you know what? Maybe all this mental training that has me feeling overwhelmed and crazy is to be expected. Completing a marathon is a pretty aggressive feat that something like 0.1% of the world's population ever completes (depending on who you ask). I need to accept it and then get over it, by taking my training one week at a time and focusing more on the pride that goes along with this experience ... as soon as I break these bad boys in.

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