by Francesca DeLucia
Back in July, my New York City Marathon training started with a single question: “What is your moonshot goal?” Inspired by the epic Nike Breaking2 event where Eluid Kipchoge ran the fastest marathon ever, Nike reached out to some local athletes training for the NYC marathon with the support to push everyday athletes to their limits.
Having run a 9-minute positive split in each my last two New York City Marathons, I told the Nike representatives that my moonshot goal was a 8-minute positive split and maybe a 2:55 marathon. Given my PR of 2:54, I was asked if I would try for 2:50 and I laughed, “Not on that course!” Fearing that they would reject me from the program, I did my best to hide the fact that my last races were a 5:58 at the Strava mile and a 4 miler which I completed at a 6:30 pace, slower than 2:50 marathon pace.
Project Moonshot included a weekly training plan, but we were encouraged to continue training as we had in the past, so I roughly followed the Whippets training plan. I was fortunate to have Sammy, Chandler, and a rotating crew of other early-risers to meet for morning workouts. Getting workouts done in the morning took away some the dread associated with running after a hard day of work and we adopted a “just do it” attitude. In the past, we might have evaluated the workout and our ability to run at the designated pace, but this time around we were relentless. Amongst the group, I noticed that we were becoming more confident and approaching workouts with a sense that we got out of bed so now the hard part is over.
As I continued to train as normal, I made some small changes to my recovery and nutrition which in my mind, made a huge difference. Project Moonshoters were given weekly credit for meals from Kettlebell Kitchen which resulted in me eating significantly more protein, fewer carbs, and disappointingly, way less candy than other marathon cycles. We also got a monthly massage from the amazing Sarah Hunninghake at Finish Line Physical Therapy along with physical therapy treatments and use of the NormaTec boots. I did my best to make it to a class each week from one of the studios that participated in the program: SkyTing Yoga, Brick NYC, and Fhitting Room.
Training was going well, but I faced one giant challenge: business school. People will tell you business school is so fun, but, word to the wise, the first semester is full of endless recruiting events, sleepless nights for case competitions, and, as if the world was against me, midterms the week of the marathon. Knowing that school was my number one priority, I was able to take pressure off of the marathon and approach it as a fun run. For once, I was relaxed. I was happy to not be at school, not in a suit, and to have half a day to do what I love.
On race day, my goal was not to make the same mistakes as my previous attempts on the course. One of those mistakes was getting overly excited in the sub-elite start area. Nine of us Whippets were in the sub-elite corral and got to warm up at Ocean Breeze indoor complex on Staten Island along with the elite athletes. As much as I wanted to hug Meb and Shalane, I kept my distance. There was so much running greatness around that some interactions were unavoidable. I accidentally struck up a conversation with Olympian Emily Infeld and the winner of the 1998 NYC Marathon, Franca Fiacconi, sat next to me on the bus to the start.
Sammy and I did not plan to run the race together yet I cannot imagine the race going nearly as well without her by my side. Somewhere in Brooklyn, I said to Sammy, “Are you still having fun?” and she gave me the biggest smile. We caught up to a few Whippet men and as I ran in a sea of blue singlets I felt that I could do no wrong, unwise words so early in the race.
Sammy wanted to go through the first half in 1:28. I wanted to go through in 1:27. We went through at 1:26. We were trailing a few other women and Sammy says to me, “we need to get them.” I told her to wait until the bridge or the Bronx and reminded her, “No one knows the bridge like we do,” since we spent many Friday mornings running easy runs on the Queensboro bridge. We passed them and a few other women but not a single woman passed us the entire race. We smiled our entire way up 1st Ave and into the Bronx. Coming back down 5th Ave, I passed the water station where I had a mild breakdown two years ago. At this point, I started to slip off Sammy’s pace. I still felt good and my watch showed I was still running faster than goal but I had to fight my mind from filling with doubt as Sammy kept pressing ahead. The mile before the park felt like a personal cheer zone filled by my fiancé, so many Whippets and other friends whose support pushed me to close the gap.
Chandler yelled I was on pace to “beat her time.” Knowing that she had just crushed Chicago in 2:52, I laughed and thought, ” OK, maybe I could break 2:53.” It was not until after I crossed the line that I realized I broke 2:50.
Last year, when it was announced that the Olympic Trials qualifying time was set at 2:45, I told myself I would see how close I could get to 2:50 training on my own and then make sacrifices for the last five minutes. With my new PR of 2:49:59 I have the confidence to chase this goal. I am thankful to train with an extremely empowering group of women and I believe that at least half a dozen of us will be toeing the line for the trials together.