The Marathon Diaries: First Training Run at Central Park

In 2010, after running both the Boston and New York City marathons, I decided I was done with the long-distance races. By then, I had five marathons under my belt, but these last two had been tough for me, partly due to poor training. As a result, I wanted to focus on fitness activities that were less time-consuming and less taxing on the body -- like half-marathons (much more reasonable distance), a triathlon (great cross-training and great for overall fitness), and Zumba (good workout, plus I really enjoy shaking my money-maker to some good beats with a bunch of cool women).

So when I was fortunate enough to score a spot in this year's New York City Marathon, I thought at first I wouldn't do it. I recalled how torturous the last 10 miles were in my last New York City Marathon. It was around mile 16 when I realized I was on a long, long hill, with 10 more of these suckers to go before I could cross the finish line and get to my exfoliating spa treatment and massage.

I ended up hurling my body over the finish line in a spastic, non-elegant, dramatic fashion, for a finish time of 3 hours and 55 minutes (my fastest marathon time was 3:29, in Los Angeles). I had so much lactic acid built up in my arms after the marathon that I had to ask someone to peel my banana. "Yeah," I thought. "I don’t think I wanna do that again."

But then I also remembered the crowd: New York City rocks when it comes to sideline supporters. Unlike other marathons where there are only pockets of spectators along the way and then you're singing “All by Myself” to yourself the rest of the time, New York has people everywhere. They’re cheering for you, and it matters.

You feel like a rock star superhero, especially when you come off the 59th Street Bridge and enter Manhattan (by the way, that’s a long, long bridge). And as you turn up First Avenue, the streets are lined with people screaming for you, and in your mind, you are Rocky Balboa running through the streets of Philadelphia.

So in spite of the memories of agony, it was the ecstasy of accomplishment and the strength of my ego (time for a rematch -- I wanted a better time!) that won out. I was going to do it, and there was a bridge out there with my name on it!

But this time around, I needed back-up. Rather than unstructured, willy-nilly running to Rihanna and Limp Bizkit in Central Park, I thought, "I’m going to call my friend Sid to train me."

That's Sid Howard. He is dope, and such an inspiration: at 72 years old, he holds 47 national championships, four American records, and one world record -- and, on top of it all, he is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. I called Sid and said, “Dude, I’m running New York this year. Will you train me?” Sid said, “I got you, girl, I got you!”

So with that, I met Sid and his running group in the park Saturday to kick off my training. Sort of.

Here’s why "sort of":

First, Sid had told me to meet him by the bridge at the end of the bridle path. I was running from my apartment in Harlem, which is already a few miles from Central Park. Because I’m directionally challenged and also had the reservoir in my head for some reason, I thought I was meeting him at a bridge near the reservoir. As it turns out, there are a lot of bridges in Central Park, and I think I ran past all of them. I eventually figured out the right bridge and successfully met Sid further down on the bridle path.

On top of that, when I started running at 6:30 a.m., it was already hot as Hades. By the time I met Sid I had run about five miles, was drenched and had actual steam coming off my body. I was a total hot mess on dry toast.

Because I had a 9:30 a.m. appointment downtown, and with “track work” on the subway, I knew I would only have time to do some exercises with the group before having to run back home.

So Sid and I only had time to do brief workout together, but it was a start -- we were in the marathon business! Sid told me what to do for that day’s workout (about 9 miles round-trip), and what to eat after. Later, we talked about training philosophies. I'd recently finished a triathlon and told Sid about my current exercise program, which includes a lot of cross-training (doing a variety of activities is more fun, and really does help with overall fitness). Sid and I were on the same page. Here's why:

  • Sid is all about the quality of the workouts, not the quantity of miles, and he focuses on training that specifically helps with speed, endurance, and processing oxygen. As I explained to Sid, my fastest marathon time was in Los Angeles -- the marathon for which I had done the least amount of running. L.A. is not as hilly as New York or Boston but the point is, more miles does not mean better times -- and too much running has actually caused me injury in the past.
  • Sid is helping me figure out an effective marathon training program which incorporates things I’m already doing -- like weights, cycling, swimming and kick-boxing. They're not only physical complements to running, but I also really like doing these activities. So much of marathon training -- or any training and physical activity -- has to be emotional. You’ve got to feel good and engaged; otherwise, the second something pops up (work, weather, stress), you’re going to bag it. It’s also really important when working with a trainer that you work together to figure out a program that works for you, not some cookie-cutter canned-spam plan.

So that’s the deal. Sid is my trainer, and together we’re going to kick that bridge’s butt.

For those of you who have never done a race and think you can’t, you can. I’m you, I’m just a little farther down the road, thanks to the help of a few Sids along the way.

I’m Jennifer Turner and these are my Marathon Diaries.

Jennifer Turner is a veteran television executive in New York City. A certified group fitness instructor and self-proclaimed "fitness activator," she believes that everyone has ability, with the right tools, social support, and inspiration to be able to connect to fitness in an emotional way. Her mission is to activate that ability and to inspire communities across the country. Jennifer blogs at

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