In early June, on my very first group run with the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation team, I ran for 10 minutes and wanted to cry. Not even 3 months later, through practice and DetermiNation, 10 minutes turned into 10 miles.

Last Sunday, I ran for 10 straight miles for the first time through my participation in the Jack Rabbit Battle of Brooklyn race in Prospect Park. The course consisted of three laps around Prospect Park. Each loop was just a little over 3 miles making the total course 10 miles. It was generally a nice course, mostly in the shade with only one doozy of a hill.

While the change “on paper” seems miraculous, there is no miracle about this great accomplishment. Getting here took practice, persistence and preparation.*

*Please note: This is a personal account of my experience and would like to recommend that anyone wishing to make drastic life changes first consult with a physician on the best course of action.


Currently, my practice consists of long runs, short runs and cross training. I adhere to the following schedule, religiously:

Long Runs, Saturdays
Long runs are all about time on your feet. It’s not about the distance, but more about how long you are running for. When thinking about completing a marathon, it’s not about getting to a 10 minute mile… it’s about conserving energy and practicing running for long periods of time.

Short Runs, Sundays & Tuesdays
Short runs, for me, are about getting in a good workout that strengthens me as a runner. Currently, my short runs are anywhere from 3-6 miles. Initially, they were 1-3 miles. My Tuesday short runs are with the American Cancer Society team. As a group, our coaches teach us running techniques, such as correctly running up and down hills. It’s amazing the amount of detail that goes into a runner’s form!

Cross-Training, Mondays (at a minimum)
I spend time doing yoga, swimming , free weights or sit-ups during my cross-training. Monday is a requirement, but I add more days when my schedule permits.

Beginner Training
In the beginning, I practiced running twice a week and cross-trained once a week. Since I never ran before, I needed to start slow. Through the excellent guidance of my volunteer coach from the American Cancer Society, I learned how to set mini-goals for myself while running. Whenever I felt I must stop, I picked a landmark. I would say to myself, “I will only walk to that lamp post, and then I will start running again.” I would allow myself that amount of time to recover and then begin running again as far as I could. When I would feel like quitting again, I would pick a stretch goal and say to myself, “I can stop when I hit the top of that hill.” As soon as I stopped, I would immediately pick my landmark to make myself start running again. That’s really how I got through the first two weeks of running and that practice helped me with my stamina, and truthfully my mental game as well.


Your mind plays tricks on you while you run. I am always having to talk myself through and encourage myself to keep going, even when my mind is tricking me into believing it’s time to stop; or that I can’t go any longer. This is the “mental game” that a runner must win.

My mental game was definitely a “battle” during the Battle of Brooklyn. I hated myself during miles one and two. The entire time I was fighting with myself and telling myself that my plan to run a marathon was ridiculous. I seriously felt angry. A runner accidentally brushed past me, grazing my arm and I wanted to scream. I realized that there was no way I would get through the race if I kept up the bad attitude. Fortunately, just as that thought was crossing my mind, I saw a friend on the sidelines cheering me on. I was so grateful for that external aid which helped me snap right out of that bad attitude and run strong…for a few more miles at least.

By mile four, I started seeing people pass me who were likely on their final loop of the race. It depressed me. I think that’s the hardest part of being in a race. I am so slow, and I know by the time I finish the party at the finish line is over. It was right then and there that I saw one of my volunteer coaches who had come out to cheer me and my teammate on from the sidelines. Amazing how things like that happen to make you feel strong again!

So, I remembered coach’s words of encouragement during training: “This is YOUR training, this is YOUR race. Don’t worry about their training and their race.” I hung onto those thoughts until I hit mile five, the halfway point. I was so excited. I basically kept thinking how every step I took was closer to the finish line, more than halfway closer. That’s how I got to mile eight.

At mile eight, I was convinced I wanted to quit. I was tired and every step was laborious. I remembered my coach again, “Don’t say you can’t do it, say you are doing it!” And that’s how I made it through miles nine and ten. Because I was running in my American Cancer Society t-shirt, strangers in the park would call out at me, “Go ACS!” and “Stay Determined!” This also helped me a great deal.

While it’s so great to have strangers or friends cheering me on from the sidelines, I have to be prepared for the times when they are not there. Running can be very solitary at times. Staying positive and persistent is the only way to get through those times. Practice is not only for physical strengthening, but for mental strengthening as well.


It’s so important to stay hydrated and get proper nutrition prior to and during a run. Some marathon runners actually seek the advice of a sports nutritionist in order to put together a personalized plan. It’s important to try these plans out while training instead of surprising your body on race day.

I prepped the night before this latest race by being sure to hydrate and have a nice big dinner. I woke up at 4:00 AM for the 8:00 AM race and ate a big breakfast: potatoes, oatmeal and a banana. I brought with me some Jelly Belly Sport Beans, Gu Energy Gel, and some EFS powder for my water.

Overkill? Yes, I think so! I definitely did not need all of that; and in fact, I regretted putting the entire EFS packet in my bottle of water. I use Nathan’s Quickdraw Elite which is a handheld water bottle that holds 22 oz of water. I think because I wasn’t used to it, it was way too sweet and too salty and I was just craving real water. I ended up mostly drinking the water from the water stations and hardly drinking any of my 22 oz of EFS water…maybe 4 oz total. I didn’t really care for the Gu, so I ditched that and stuck with the Jelly Belly beans. Even though I plan to continue to modify the fueling plans for myself, the way I fueled this time worked. I didn’t feel nauseous after running I had plenty of energy and was completely hydrated after the race. The only discomfort after race was the muscle fatigue (and soreness).


Whether or not there are bystanders cheering you on at the finish line, it’s so rewarding to make it to the finish line of a race. I am always overwhelmed with a great sense of accomplishment; that often emotionally moves me. Whether a part of a race or part of a practice; every run is a milestone and something to celebrate. I constantly congratulate myself, and that’s how I make it to the next practice or run.

Celebrating at the finish line!

When you are part of a community, it’s impossible not to have others jump in to celebrate with you. For example, when I finished this latest race, I was 100% certain there would be no one at the finish line when I got there. What a huge surprise when I arrived, I saw two people still at the finish line cheering. It was my teammate, Rachel (who ran the race as well) and her roommate. After Rachel finished the race, they stayed and waited for me at the finish line until I got there. Their wait was at least 45 minutes, yet they still stayed.

Out of 739 finishers, I came in 737th place running the 10 miles in 2 hours 22 minutes and 2 seconds. Perhaps that’s not the most impressive finish, but for me it’s a huge victory that I am putting in my pocket. I plan on putting another victory in my pocket very soon, the 2012 Komen Greater New York City Race for the Cure on September 9th in Central Park. Please visit http://bit.ly/CUNYSPS to sign up, see who is on your team and learn more about the Susan G. Komen foundation.

Alexandra Hertel is an Ohioan living in Brooklyn, New York. She attends CUNY’s School of Professional Studies and works full-time in the events industry.