On a cool, windy Sunday in New York City, Mountain View resident Kelley Blalock ran for four hours, 32 minutes and 10 seconds, with no walking or bathroom breaks. She stopped running only when she completed the 26.2 miles required to finish the ING New York City Marathon. This time last year, she would have laughed off any suggestion that she could run that far.
"I'd tell you (that) you were crazy," she said.
Zipping through all five of the city's cement-paved boroughs is not the easiest endeavor for a first-time marathon runner, but this 27-year-old personal trainer ended up running the New York City Marathon because she said she needed a challenge.
Mad for marathons
Sandy-haired with bright eyes and a bubbly smile, Blalock has been an athlete since she ran track and cross-country at Saint Francis High School. While she was earning her psychology degree at Loyola Marymount University, she worked summers at Runner's High, a Menlo Park athletic shoe store. She'd see customers jazzed about an upcoming marathon and wonder why they were so obsessed. "It was just kind of like the thing to do," she said.
After she graduated from college in 2005, Blalock was promoted to manager at the store and met some customers who belonged to Focus-N-Fly, a Bay Area group that helped runners reach their long-term goals. When she first started training with them for a half-marathon, she found herself scurrying alongside hardcore athletes, the kind who only skipped Bay to Breakers if they were expecting a baby. Blalock was both the youngest and slowest person on the team.
"There were 50-year-old men that could kick my (butt) easily," she said. "I just kind of had to check myself and say, 'I'm out here for myself to make myself feel good.'"
Last January, after realizing she needed to aim higher if she wanted to really push herself, Blalock made a New Year's resolution to run the New York marathon. She was working as an in-home personal trainer and had completed several 5K races and half-marathons. (Her favorite, as she recalls, was the Nike half-marathon in San Francisco, where tuxedo-clad firemen lined up to give out silver platters of Tiffany's necklaces, in place of medals, at the finish line.)
Still, Blalock was weary from seeing so many of her clients and customers injure themselves while preparing for a marathon, only to continue training. So when she found out she made it into the marathon in March, she proceeded with caution. For fear of overexerting herself, she trained with intense care. Blalock has measured herself in every sort of wellness test imaginable. She knows her resting metabolic rate ("How many calories you would burn in the day if you were laying in bed with the flu") and her VO2 (the rate of carbon dioxide and oxygen exchange).
When she had a question about her diet, she called her sister Casey, who's a nutritionist. When she strained the ligaments in the top of her right foot on an Oregon road trip this summer, she took time off of training and got massage work done.
The night before the marathon Blalock made sure to drink some coconut water (a good source of electrolytes and potassium). The next morning, she put on her smelly, worn shoes -- a pair of teal Mizuno Inspires she wore for the New York half-marathon last year -- and hurried to check in on Staten Island. When she first started running, it took a while for her lungs to warm up, but she kept a wide smile and a steady pace, slowing down only to text friends along the sidelines. When she finally crossed the finish line in Central Park, her eyes were filled with tears.
"That was my biggest, proudest moment," she said. "Even though I ran a little slower than I expected, I didn't stop once."
Draped in an orange, blue and white plastic "heat sheet," Blalock collected her things and headed straight to meet her friends for a drink at Jake's Dilemma, a bar on the Upper West Side. Though her knees ached and her blood sugar was low, she'd made up her mind about marathon running.
"I did it today," she said. "And I'd do it again."
Alyssa Bereznak is a Sunnyvale native and a graduate student at New York Univeristy's Arthur L. Carter Institute of Journalism.