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NYC to Philly

The following was authored by Robert Sanderman, one of the hardest working athletes we’ve had the pleasure to train with since early 2019. Snowy days did not stop Rob from coming to QDR track workouts at Juniper Park in early 2019 and since then, he’s come a long way as an athlete and a teammate. We hope his story resonates with many who have ever felt intimidated to join any running group. You get as much as what you put into your running group. So, come out and surround yourself with other individuals who will push you further!

Rob trains with QDR coaches, Coach Medina and Coach Marie of Coach Medina NYC, who train athletes from any club. For further information regarding their plans, check out their site!

Queens Distance

Before joining Queens Distance Runners (QDR), I was a very casual runner. I ran to supplement my strength training. My first race was the NYRR UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in 2013 and then the 2013 Brooklyn Half. I did them because a friend encouraged me to run with her and I was also inspired by my coworkers whose offices were decorated with finisher medals. At that time, I did not put a lot of thought and training into running. For the Half, I prepped by running 5 to 8 miles a week or so a few times before the race but that was the extent of my training. I always told myself that I would never hate myself enough to run a full marathon. During the Brooklyn Half, on May 18, 2013, I saw a sign that read “you are only half crazy.” I nodded in agreement as I tried to push through the last few remaining miles.

Then, on one fateful day in the Spring of 2018, my job informed me that they had spots for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon. For whatever reason, I was like “why not?” This was my first time training, especially with a disciplined schedule (I used the Nike Training App and the NYRR Virtual Trainer). I thought that as long as I followed the plan, I would be fine. During the grueling “hot boy” summer training, I ran into an old college friend—Kevin Montalvo—while I was running in Central Park. He eagerly told me about his running club, Queens Distance Runners (QDR), and prompted me to join. This all happened within the seconds as I continued my stride past him and the QDR cheer station. “Sure”, I responded, but I later asked myself “why would I want to join a running club?” I was close to the end of my training and I didn’t want to do anything new. This would also be my first time joining a club so I was intimidated because I thought it would be an overly competitive environment.

Rob running with Luciano Medina
Photo courtesy of Coach Medina NYC

2018 TCS NYC Marathon

On November 4, 2018, I completed the NYC marathon—my first! To this day, it’s the best course I’ve run. The NYC marathon is a run across all the boroughs and each borough brings its unique energy. It is a thrill to run past the crowds. It’s as if you are a star in the biggest parade in the city. My goal was just to survive, a.k.a. finish, but I learned a lot from the experience. 

I ran way too fast in Brooklyn. Therefore, I slowed down significantly after mile 9. By the time I made it to the Bronx, I only had enough in me to twitch a bit to the salsa and merengue emanating through the speakers. I was so happy I survived and finished at 4 hours and 16 minutes. Realizing that I might have improved my time if I started out slower, held a steady pace, timed my hydration, and did less zig-zagging on the course encouraged me to do another marathon and to set on my journey to improve my marathon time.

Spoiler!—I Joined QDR

In January of 2019, I somehow reconnected with Kev and realized that QDR held weekend runs 20 minutes away from my home in Jackson Heights. Therefore, I had no excuse. Upon my arrival to my first meet, we all introduced ourselves and took a group photo and began the run, which already gave me a “this is more than running” vibe. I usually ran by myself but that day I met new people—folks from the community—who enjoyed running. I spoke with people who ran several marathons, completed triathlons, and ran in races across the world. I thought I stumbled upon a group of professional Olympic athletes. It was incredibly encouraging and inspiring to learn of their past accomplishments and future goals.

I also connected in a different way: I had a professional connection with one of the runners. The “speed dating”-esque style of getting to know one another during a long run was pretty awesome. I soon realized that this was a great group of people with running goals ranging from leisure runs to triathlons. The familial feel of this group generated excitement to participate in future runs. Luckily for me, QDR created a training series for the 2019 Queens Marathon. That’s how I found my second marathon.

2019 Queens Marathon

My goal for the 2019 QDR Queens Marathon was to finish under four hours. I thought this was achievable because through the winter training cycle, I learned a lot about hydration and pacing from my fellow QDR fam. Also, the regular QDR runs and the Strava app kept me honest. I never used Strava before signing up for QDR but I was motivated to see the running community getting it done, whether it’s a 5 a.m. easy run or an ultra-marathon. I eagerly branched out from the weekend long runs to join other groups throughout Queens where I met other great QDR members. Wednesday track workouts were my favorite because it was the first time I seriously incorporated track work into my training regimen (the Nike App had a few but I did those sporadically and in the neighborhood—I literally never ran on a track before). Thankfully, I was able to take advantage of the Queens Marathon training runs, which provided additional opportunities to run with other running clubs such as Woodside Sunnyside Runners (WSR). I learned a lot.

At the QDR Spring Marathon Tune-Up, on March 24, 2019, I surprised myself (and some of the folks in the pacing group) by finishing at an 8:17 pace per mile (ppm). The Queens Marathon was still a month away so I was encouraged by what I thought I could accomplish. On my last long run leading up to the marathon, I did 16 miles at an 8 min ppm. I felt ready!

On race day, April 21, 2019, I ran with the amazing 3:30 pace group. I felt strong the first 17 miles but then realized it was hard for my body to keep up. My legs felt heavy, I was dehydrated, and I started to feel a sharp pain in my side. My pace slowed significantly to the point where I transitioned from running to jogging to walking and finally standing. I stopped three or four times! This was devastating for me because I only stopped once, to use the restroom, at the NYC Marathon. I was further discouraged because I thought a significant amount of time had passed (my watch died at this point) and that I was not going to beat my 2018 NYC Marathon time, much less my sub 4 hour goal time. Although I am not a huge fan of looped courses, I was so grateful that day because I saw familiar faces (QDR members, loved ones, strangers with hilarious/motivating signs) multiple times as I ran through the loops. It also helped mentally to say to myself, “3 loops down, you are halfway there…2 more loops…1 loop to go…there is the Unisphere!” which pushed me to the finish. The expectation of knowing that your support group is in a specific spot was also comforting, unlike my NYC Marathon where I had no clue where people were (I didn’t see anyone I knew).

As I was struggling to jog it out, finishing the race instantly became plan A, B, and C. And I did just that. To my surprise, I somehow beat my NYC Marathon time by 30 minutes. I finished in 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Training with Coach Medina

Photo courtesy of Coach Medina NYC

I learned about Coach Medina NYC when I signed up for the Queens Marathon but it wasn’t until I was paced by someone who ran with him that I decided to look into it. I noticed at the marathon how Coach Medina and Coach Marie ran around the course cheering on the runners. Dwelling on why I stalled after mile 18 at the Queens Marathon, I figured it would not hurt to reach out to Coach Medina for tips. Although I have learned a lot since my first marathon, I figured I had a lot more to learn (and third time’s the charm). My new goal was to finish the 2019 Philadelphia Marathon under 3 hours and 30 minutes.

After signing up with Coach Medina at the end of May of 2019, a month after the Queens Marathon, I saw some big 5K PRs. This was a big deal for me because I never considered myself fast and although my goal was to improve my pace, I did not expect this type of progress. Unfortunately, after training with Coach Medina for roughly a month, I injured my calf (I rarely stretched and I slacked on my strength training although I ran fairly often). I couldn’t run for 6-7 weeks. This is the moment I realized I loved running. During my recovery break, running was constantly on my mind. I did everything I could to get healthy. Also, since I was new to running and didn’t know how common injuries were, I was concerned that my injury would have lasting negative effects on my ability to run.

However, I was super grateful for the Coach Medina group, QDR folks, and my physical therapist for counseling me through the injury. I started to take better care of my body: stretching before and after runs, foam rolling, and strength training. I try my best to keep this up now. After I was cleared to run, I did the Governor’s Island 10K on August 10, 2019. I planned to do an easy pace but I felt strong and ended up with a 6 minute and 36 second PR. I was ready to start training with the CMSub330 group again.

I greatly benefited from having coaches that worked with me through my injuries. Just like how I see QDR as a second family, I had this additional support group with the CM runners—particularly, the CMSub330 group (the group’s goal is to complete a marathon under 3 hours and 30 minutes). We pushed each other to be better, supported each other when we raced. I learned in a very short time that it was more than just running fast or hitting that target pace because training through the elements and witnessing all the hard work my teammates put into their training, I started to realize that we are making each other better—period! That means a lot.

Closer to my marathon date, I reinjured my left calf a few times but I was just grateful that I could still run and give my best effort. Towards the end of the training cycle, my runs were trending faster but I was concerned because my prior two marathons did not end as I hoped, although I was grateful for the PRs. I understood that I could not control everything that may happen on race day but I was less concerned because I knew I was going to sign up with Coach Medina again for the winter training cycle and that there would be more opportunities to hit my goal pace.

2019 Philadelphia Marathon 

On race day, November 24, 2019, I was super excited because it was my first race in Philly and I heard great things about the course. I sweat easily and my body warms up super quick so I had to figure out what to wear during that cold and rainy day. I started off with the 3:20 pacer which felt like a very comfortable pace. I broke off at about mile 14 and still felt strong. I started to feel tired around mile 21 but I pushed since I was just trying to convince myself that 5 miles were nothing. My watch died (it’s a recurring marathon theme but I did not have one during the 2018 NYC Marathon) so I didn’t have the playlist that I spent weeks putting together and I was ignorant to my pace. I only knew that the 3:20 pace group didn’t pass me and that I was passing others on the course.

Mile 24 is when it got real. For some reason, I tried to convince myself that I did enough and could jog the last two miles to the finish line since I was on pace to finish under 3 hours and 30 minutes. Luckily for me, seeing QDR and WSR members, either cheering or running the course, gave me life. A little past mile 24, there was a large group of spectators cheering us on, and that gave me the energy I needed to push through. As I got closer to the finish line, when my energy was beginning to fade out again, I saw a WSR member, one of the first athletes I met at my first QDR run. Him yelling out my name and giving me a hi-five resulted in the push I needed to muster all that I had left to cross the finish line at 3:19:08–a 26 minute PR!

I would never have thought that my pace would have improved almost 57 minutes within a year. Qualifying for Boston was not a thought last year or earlier this year but now it seems more feasible. I’m surrounded by friends who inspire me to be better and people who have already accomplished the goals I am now setting for myself. QDR, the Coach Medina crew, WSR, and others have been essential to my growth and progress.

Cheers to having fun, building community, and chasing future PRs!

QDR and CM Chase Pack Member