Whippet Wednesday: Kathleen Servidea

Photo: Bob Smyth

We asked Kathleen Servidea, fresh off a 1:23:40 PR at the Brooklyn Half Marathon, to tell us about how that race went, why she loves the Whippets, and how she balances training (she peaked at 70 miles a week before the Brooklyn half!) with being a mother of two children and working full-time time as a lawyer. Read on to hear her fascinating  and inspiring responses — including how she used the soundtrack to Hamilton to get through a Boston training cycle.

Why did you join the Whippets?

Because Matt Wong invited me to! Seriously, that is why.

I have been a runner basically my entire life, having started at age 12 after discovering that my tall, lanky build and total lack of coordination precluded me from mastering, even on a completely basic level, every other sport that exists in the world. I ran all three seasons from age 12 until I graduated from high school, but didn’t compete in college or law school.  After I moved to NYC in 2001, I started occasionally running NYRR races, but was definitely more focused on my career than on running.  I didn’t join a club team and didn’t train with any real thought or knowledge of the sport. My husband and I moved out of NYC in 2008 and, in the years that followed, we had two children, I continued to focus on my career (and, specifically, on how I could maintain it after having two children!) and, of course, I ran every day. But I didn’t train and, aside from a few marathons that I didn’t treat seriously, I didn’t race. And then my husband and I decided to move back to New York.

Our family of four returned to the city in the summer of 2016 and I quickly rekindled my love affair with Central Park.  That summer I ran one of the 4-mile races in the park, primarily because I was so excited to be back in New York. Within 24 hours of finishing, I had received a note from Matt asking me if I wanted to learn about the team.

I will admit that I admired his moxie!

I thought about it and said to myself: “Maybe this is the time to finally join a team.  You have taken the greater part of the past 8 years off racing, this Dashing Whippets group seems full of nice people, maybe it will be a good way to get back into more serious running, and, who knows, it could actually be fun!”

I don’t think I would have even considered joining a team if Matt hadn’t reached out.  I’m so glad he did — for the first time in my life, I am training with, and following, a real plan (I am embarrassed to admit that a year ago I didn’t even know the difference between a VO2 max workout and a tempo run!) and I have been improving continuously since I joined the team.  I have challenged myself to race frequently, even when I know I’m not in peak condition, and am more in love with running than ever. More importantly, though, the team has made moving back to NYC better and easier. Even though the group training runs and other team social events rarely fit into my schedule, I have still made some great friends and have met some wonderful people with whom I would have never otherwise crossed paths.  It has been a long time since I have been part of a team (aside from a legal team, which is, well, very different), and I love the support and the camaraderie of the group.

Tell us about your most recent race.

My most recent race was the Brooklyn Half.  I ran 1:23:40, was the 48th female finisher and placed 3rd in my age group, with an AG of just under 82%.  Despite that, I crossed the finishing line feeling – aside from the dead legs and nausea that one might expect — disappointment coupled with embarrassment.  Why? Because I didn’t hit my goal – a goal that I actually told people – of breaking 1:23:00.

And so, in truly mature fashion reflective of my age and life experience, I sulked.  I also reflected: on my training, on the lead up to the race and on the race itself.

My eight week training cycle was solid.  I followed the DWRT Brooklyn plan religiously, except I ran higher mileage, starting with 62 miles in the first week and peaking at 70 miles two weeks before the race. I have had consistent problems with my right SI joint since having kids, and it slipped out of place in my fourth week of training. Unfortunately, I had to take that week and part of the next week entirely off while it healed.  Otherwise, I didn’t miss any workouts, I hit all of my planned splits in every workout and felt confident that I could average 6:19 per mile for 13.1 miles.

While my training was going well, life was not particularly calm leading up to the race.  I was in the midst of a stressful career change (and long working hours in general), we were spending as much time as possible with my ailing father in law (who passed away the week before the race) and, along with every other parent in America, I was managing the morass of activities – concerts, plays, school projects – that always converge in the final months of the school year. In short, life was busy.  I recognize that this fact – a busy life – is hardly unique to me.

As for the race itself, I don’t know what to say other than that it didn’t go well.  I had some stomach issues in the morning and couldn’t get my typical pre-race breakfast (a black coffee and a peanut butter crunch clif bar) down.  I couldn’t tolerate the GU I typically take 15 minutes prior to the start. I had trouble with fluids on the course, opting to ‘swish and spit’ at the water stations since I couldn’t swallow the water. My stomach squarely rejected the GU I tried to take at mile 8.  My legs felt heavy from the start, and the pace felt too fast. Recognizing that things weren’t going exactly as planned, I spent a lot of time trying to focus on the mental aspect of the race. Having just read both Deena Kastor’s memoir, Let Your Mind Run, and Alex Hutchinson’s incredibly well-done book, Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, I was convinced that, pain aside, I could still think my way to my goal.  I did not, in fact, do that! (As an aside, the stomach issues remain a total mystery to me, as I had absolutely no problem drinking several glasses of wine the evening of the race – still somewhat caught up in my post-race sulkiness, I was perfectly content to drown my sorrows in rosé!)

In the days that followed, though, I forced myself to stop with the self-involved pity and I asked myself if I would have done anything differently.  And the answer is no. The fact is that I trained hard, almost always alone, almost always at 5AM, while balancing a career and a family. Life is messy and also beautiful – often at the same time — and mine has been harder than usual over the past few months.  I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a lawyer, a friend and, yes, a runner. Those roles don’t exist independently of one another, and part of living a successful life is learning how to manage the good with the bad, the easy with hard and the hobbies with the real life commitments. Would I have visited my father in law less, in favor of active recovery? Obviously not. Would I have chosen to cope with the rigors of overseeing a 3rd grade book project (and related diorama) during race week with anything less than two glasses of wine? Definitely not.  Would I have opted not to make the career move that I knew in my heart was the right thing for me and for my family because it created sleepless nights at an inconvenient time? No. Would I have trained more and harder at the cost of seeing my family less? No way.

And so, one week post-race, as I write this, I have changed my perspective. I didn’t hit my goal, but I did run the fastest half marathon of my life at almost 42 years old. I pushed through pain and know that I ran the best I could on that particular day. I don’t think that I can ask any more of myself than that.

If I ever question whether I could have run harder, all I need to do is look at the truly horrible picture of me finishing the race, in which I actually look like death personified, to know that I gave it everything I had.  I have pushed my ego to the side, so that all of you, too, can see the misery that was me finishing that race.

Favorite Race: I think the Bronx 10-mile, which I ran for the first time last year.  I loved the distance, the course and, even though it was ridiculously, unseasonably, hot, everything about it. I can’t wait to run it again this September.

Favorite place to run: Definitely Central Park.  I certainly enjoy the beauty of solitary trail runs, but for daily running, nothing, at least in my mind, beats Central Park.  I love that I see the same people every morning. I love the beauty and hills of the park. I especially love that there are no SUVS, full of teenagers doing everything imaginable in the vehicle other than looking at the road. When we moved back to NYC after 8 years in the suburbs, my heart warmed (I think literally) when, on one of my first runs back, I saw a woman coming at me in the other direction who I used to see every morning before we left.  Even though I don’t speak to many people (I am on the shy side, so I avert my eyes more than I wave), the park is my little community.

Cross training routine: What’s cross training? I ask that in (almost) near seriousness.  I have no cross training regimen! All I do is run. If I manage to stretch my quads while I’m letting the conditioner set in the shower and remember to fit in a single 60-second plank before bed, I give myself an imaginary high-five for having so successfully mastered the day. But all that is about to change! I have recently taken a new job (I will be General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer of a relatively new asset management company) and, while I don’t think it will be any less total work than my last job, my commute will be significantly shorter and, at least a few days per week, I should have some flexibility in my schedule.  With all of this newly found time, I plan to… do pilates at lunch two times per week? Or something? Anything, really. I just know that, especially at my age, I can no longer just run. My core is weak. My glutes are weak. My right SI joint is almost constantly out of whack. So check back in six months and I’ll let you know whether I have managed to get stronger!

Favorite song to run to: In the interest of not completely embarrassing myself on the internet, I am not going to answer this question.  One of my larger life fears is that I’m going to collapse mid-run and the first responders will arrive, catch a glimpse at my playlist and then determine that I’m not worth reviving. In truth, I love music, like REALLY LOVE it.  Especially jazz. And anything soulful. And — here I go actually embarrassing myself on the internet – country. If I am at home, I have music playing just about 100% of the time. In law school – for reasons that are no longer entirely clear to me, but that probably related to extreme student poverty — I forced myself to choose between a CD player with speakers and a television, and I chose the CD player. But I tend to listen to not-particularly-noteworthy-in-any-sense (other than that it’s all bad) throwback hip hop when I run.  Except in early 2016, when I was training (and here I use “training” in the loosest possible sense) for the Boston Marathon. My husband and I saw Hamilton that fall and I spent the entire training cycle listening to the soundtrack, convincing myself to just get through the run so as to “not give up my shot” to run Boston.

Favorite elite runner: I think I have the same favorite elite runners that everyone does.  Though I like to think that I have liked them longer (this because I’m old and not because I’m particularly forward thinking).  So I grew up admiring Lynn Jennings, fawning over Paula Radcliffe (I took special interest in her because, like me, she is tall, though that is, of course, where the similarities end), sitting on the couch crying right along with Deena Kastor when she took home Bronze in Athens in 2004, connecting with Kara Goucher’s authenticity and, in more recent years, truly loving Des Linden and her grit. And who doesn’t love Meb?  I have more admiration for him than I can ever possibly write. Plus Eliud Kipchoge – he is so insanely talented and I can’t take my eyes off of him when he runs, but it’s humbleness combined with his true love of the sport that gets me.

Fill in blank: If I wasn’t a runner, I’d be ________________: I have this game I play with myself in which I live in a hypothetical universe in which I have free time (LOL!) and I have to come up with ways to use it. Because I have fully developed this parallel universe in my mind, I am prepared to answer this question! I would definitely play more piano, though, cognizant of the dual facts that I play piano badly and that we have neighbors, I would not play during my normal running hours, lest I wake up the people who live below us (who have a baby and are generally sensitive about the noise emanating from our apartment) with my rather poor attempts at Beethoven, would finally learn French (I can order a glass of vin rouge and that’s about it… actually I can order wine in all the colors: blanc, rouge and rosé!) and would certainly read a lot more: fiction, non-fiction, the works. But, despite my fantasy parallel universe, I’m perfectly happy with life as it is.  I love my family, love practicing law, and like to say that running is part of the fiber of my being. While I may not speak French or play piano with precision, I am grateful every day that I get to do the things that matter most to me and, most importantly, that I get to spend time with the people that I love in my favorite city in the world.

More about Jennie Cohen

Jennie is a member of the Dashing Whippets.

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