NYC Marathon Team Spot Check-In: Ali Fenwick

 

1. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be involved with NBR. What was your first run? How long have you been involved?  
I ran the hurdles way back in high school but hadn’t done much running since when I first moved to the neighborhood in the fall of 2009. That’s when I first heard about the club from a roommate of mine. According to NYRR, it wasn’t until 2012 that I officially ran a race under the NBR flag and I can’t remember my first NBR training run but it must have made a good impression because since then, I’ve volunteered for four years at NBR’s NYC Marathon Mile 12 water table under the legendary leadership of Jose LaSalle and I lead the Community Outreach team that organizes volunteering opportunities for NBR members while also helping to manage NBR’s social media presence.

2. How is marathon training going? Are there any specific workouts that are really moving things along for you? Tell the world a good NBR long run story.
This will be my first-ever marathon so it’s going historically well! Karina Christiansen agreed to be my coach after Radford Lathan told me to hire her and Karina’s calm and steadying guidance has been a godsend. (Sidenote: Listen to Radford, she is always right). Having a coach and a weekly prescription of workouts has taken the guesswork out of training for me and kept me accountable. I learned early on in July with a strained calf muscle that it is my job to show up healthy at the starting line. That week of NOT running was honestly the hardest part of marathon training, but I now know that the fitness lost by taking a few days off to heal an injury is not going to make a real difference in the end and is certainly not worth showing up at Fort Wadsworth hurt. An inflamed right knee that has recently forced me to take a break from running and turn to yoga and swimming in these last two weeks is really testing that conviction right now, but I feel confident I can make it to the starting line feeling good, which will be a win all by itself.

Which isn’t to say I don’t have goals - everything is a PR when it’s your first marathon, and I think I can realistically finish under 4:30:00, but I really have no idea what I will do. Somewhere along the way to training me for a marathon, Karina turned me into a (relatively) fast 5K and half-marathon runner! I smashed my previous 5K best back in August at a PPTC speed series race with an 8:01 milesplit and I ran my first sub-2 half at my hometown half-marathon in Ocean City, NJ, thanks to running with or chasing Marie Figueredo for most of the race. It was a 13 minute improvement on my previous best! So who knows, maybe I’ll surprise myself in the marathon too! Then again, I can see myself veering all over the course in distraction to see familiar faces and collect every high five I can get.

As far as a good long-run story, the Narwhals run to Rockaway Beach on a blazing hot July day this year, followed by jumping in the ocean and air-drying on the high speed ferry home left a real impression on me and showed me that long runs weren’t torture, but FUN. That was my first time running farther than half marathon distance, and I felt like a pioneer woman forging unknown territory, which is honestly the most exciting part of being a marathon newbie. Every long run you do is an all-time world record. I’ll miss that if I ever marathon again. 

Then there were several times my teammates straight up saved my life during a long run: Once when I tripped on a sidewalk because I forgot that when you run you have to pick up your feet and Seth Pompan, who was running in front of me, broke my fall. (Thanks and also sorry, Seth!) And the time that a group of us, including another Team Spot runner, Alisa Mead, hid under an awning right before the on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge when the sky suddenly turned black and our cell phones lit up with flood watch advisories as we found ourselves in the middle of a torrential downpour. A Florida native used to tropical weather, Alisa had the sense to halt the group before running onto the highest possible structure in the middle of a lightning storm and made us wait until the count between thunder and lightning was at least 10 before she’d let us venture out. Thanks for saving my life, literally and figuratively, NBR!

Other fun long run memories include not running at all: There’s the time Susan Juray, Ellie Frame and I stopped at the delightful Sunset Park Diner for a bathroom break halfway through a 20 miler and I bought a glazed donut to justify our use of the facilities. Donuts are the new energy gels, guys! Then there was the time I only had to run 16 miles while everyone else around me needed 18, so I hopped on a Citibike and designated myself as bike marshal for Anna-Sierra Anderson, Rachel Hazes and Jennifer Buonocore — dinging my bell and generally making an obnoxious racket to announce our presence as we traveled through Greenpoint. They asked me to sing out loud to distract them and it’s hard to remember lyrics when your brain is foggy after a long run, but I obliged and I think I did a pretty decent version of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” The setlist also included “Eye of the Tiger” and White Snake’s “Here I Go Again.” Passers-by apparently filmed it, so it must have been good.

(Pro tip: I learned early on from the wise wizard Jordan Harrison that riding a bike is the ideal cooldown after a long run. You’re moving, but using different muscles and not pounding your joints and it all helps flush out lactic acid, resulting in less soreness the day after. Also, sometimes I had to bike home because L train weekend shutdowns are the way we live now.)

3. Which NBR runs are you attending regularly to train? Are there any NBR members who inspire you to train hard (er)?
I love the camaraderie of the Monday Night Easy Run, the pure (and temporary) pain of Tuesday Night Tempo Runs and the occasional Tigerwolves ice cream sandwich or Moneghetti run, and without the Saturday Narwhals crew and occasional Sunday Funday jaunt, I would be utterly lost. Respect to the folks who can somehow embark on a 10+ mile run on their own, but I need the pod to get me out the door. Not to mention the great routes that someone else chooses. I’ve run to so many places I would never think to go - to Rockaway Beach, to Four Freedoms Park at the tip of Roosevelt Island, Astoria, around Greenwood Cemetery, to Red Hook, the Ridgewood Reservoir up in Highland Park, over the Brooklyn Bridge on a Saturday, and it’s been an adventure every time. Not only is is fun to explore new parts of the city, joining the weekend long runs takes all the stress out of choosing a route. If it were up to me, I’d probably have worn a groove into the pavement doing loops between my house and the other side of the Pulaski Bridge by now.

My fellow Team Spot recipient, Lilly Stevens inspires me. She’s the mom of a busy two-year-old, is pursuing a PhD, lives in the faraway land of central Brooklyn which make it harder to join long runs and she just never quits. And Vito Aiuto, who was training for the Brooklyn Marathon and stepped up when an extra NYC marathon team spot became available, is a warm, kind and easygoing presence on any run. Vito is a pastor and just today he texted me that he’s praying for my knee, which made my knee AND my heart both feel instantly better. And I look up to Alisa, who has a very even-keeled approach - she never seems to get worked up about the dumb details that obsess me (like what is the best way to put my name on my singlet, or should I put it on my bib?) and she has taught how important it is to just listen to your body. Don’t wear the sneakers that everyone has that hurt your feet. It’s okay to peace out a few miles into a run if you’re not feeling well. And if you want to run TWO marathons in one cycle, like she did tackling Berlin last month and now NYC, you can do that, too. She’s a total badass.

Long time NBR’ior Meg Duffy, who also happens to be my neighbor, has become a new running buddy and invaluable sounding board throughout this marathon training cycle and I’m so grateful for all the times she met me on the corner for a run, even on the most humid summer mornings. She also introduced me to Worksong Acupuncture on Driggs, which lets you pay on a sliding scale and which I have enlisted to help with my knee in this last week. Doing all the things!

And the North Brooklyn ‘Reckers Hood to Haven “roller derby” relay crew are my ride-or-dies and the back-of-the-pack Narwhals’ “Caboose Crew” are also my people. I think someone coined the term when a group of us —  Alisa, Seth, Susan and Rebecca Hirschklau —  made a stop at the Socrates Sculpture Park on the return leg of a long run. I love that this club makes room for everyone and every pace - NBR is truly what you make of it. You get out what you put in.

And once again, Karina is the best and even though she is a super fast fastie, she took the time to loop me in on her daily runs many more times than I ever expected her to, including waking up really early on a weekday to pace me on a 14 mile run before work once because I was out of town that weekend (Meg was there, too!). Karina taught me along the way that running isn’t about speed and fast times, it’s about time and relative effort, listening to your body and having fun. The speed and fast times follow. She once said, “There must by joy,” and I have adopted this as my mantra. If it’s a total grind, you’re doing it wrong. And I think that goes for anything.

4. What does it mean to be chosen by your peers for a coveted NBR  marathon team spot?  I feel SO honored to be have been chosen for a team spot. I’ve volunteered at the NBR Mile 12 water table for years and I’m a strong believer in legendary marathoner, Kathrine Switzer’s famous aphorism, “If you're ever losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon."

This year marks a decade of living in New York City for me and I think Marathon Sunday is the best day in the city the whole year - all your fellow New Yorkers from all walks of life let down their tough-guy guard for one day to cheer on a melting pot of strangers embarking on a 26.2 mile mission that amounts to what is a really difficult, dumb idea with a huge payoff at the end. Which is kind of what living in New York City is: a really difficult, dumb idea — but with magical rewards. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate ten years of the struggle and success of living in NYC than to run the marathon. It feels like a valedictory, like a this-is-your-life victory lap tour of the five boroughs. I will probably laugh or cry, or both. Probably at Mile 12 when I see all of my NBR teammates and almost definitely at the finish line.

It’s a little overwhelming to think about because as a spectator on Marathon Sunday, you feel weirdly proud of all these strangers who are all doing this insane thing and it feels so great to cheer, shout their names and get a laugh or a smile. It’s human connection. And no matter what’s going on in the world, you feel for a couple hours like maybe this crazy, sweet, vulnerable, fumbling, foolish human race is going to be okay. I can’t imagine how great it will feel to be on the receiving end of all those cheers, smiles and high-fives. I get emotional just thinking about it.

5. What do you plan on eating post-marathon? What about the night before?
Immediately post-marathon, I am going to have a bottle of the full-fat chocolate milk from Ronnybrook Dairy stand, which is at the McCarren Farmers’ Market every Saturday. And when I get back to the neighborhood, I want a Hot Breast fried chicken sandwich with biscuits and honey butter at The Commodore. The day before, I plan to eat the Japanese breakfast at Okonomi, which is such a delicious comfort food treat - rice, a runny egg, miso soup and delicious roasted fish. I’m told that lunch the day before the marathon should actually be your biggest meal, not dinner. So I might hit up Hummus Market in my neighborhood for their shakshuka with homemade warm pita and dinner will be a bowl of rice with whatever poké Gary at Acme Fish Co. comes up with that week. That has become my go-to pre-long run meal, borne out of many months of doing the Salmon Run and hitting up Fish Friday. You know I’ll be first in line at Acme on Friday, Nov. 2!

6. What inspires and motivates you to run this year's NYC marathon?
It’s a funny thing because I have a journalism background and I know that of all the stories that behind the 50,000 runners at this year’s race, "Woman Runs First Marathon" is not a headline. But even though my marathon journey isn’t a terribly good story, the decision to race and embark on the training it involves has represented a lot of change, growth and introspection for me. So I run for a lot of selfish reasons, but my mom is also a big reason why I chose to tackle this daunting distance. She was the healthiest person when she had a hemorrhagic stroke nearly 10 years ago and lost the use of her right side. She now walks with a cane, drives with a modified brake and steering wheel, taught herself to write and paint with her left hand and goes through her day without complaint - even though the sheer amount of effort it takes her to just get dressed in the morning would be enough to make most people give up. She’s too stoic to acknowledge that daily struggle, but her determination humbles me. I think all the time about how lucky I am that I am healthy and have working legs. I’m so grateful to get to use them to do something as hard as what she does every single day. 

7. In your head, what celebrity do you think you most resemble when you're running?
If I’m wearing my long-run braided pigtails, I probably look most like Pippi Longstocking. Or Anne of Green Gables when I wear a French braid and maybe Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, when I wear a braided ponytail. Any braided heroine of your childhood literary or movie dreams, really!