The following is the final installment of our 3-part profile on Courtney Manning, the now 30-year-old New Yorker, who’s inspiring story has captivated us. (Click for the first and second profiles on Courtney). When asked to describe her experience over the course of the last 11.5 months, Courtney chooses the word “transforming.” She is completely changed, physically and mentally. Five months ago was the first time that Courtney was able to run a mile without stopping to walk; three months ago, the idea of running a race (let alone a half-marathon) terrified her to a degree that the goal seemed unattainable; today she is a finisher with grand plans to run many New York Road Runner (NYRR) races in the future. A week after completing her first half-marathon (the NYC Half-marathon), Courtney shares her post-race thoughts and feelings in the following interview:
The day after the race my right hip was a little sore. I was grateful because it really wasn’t bothering me. I found that moving helped and I didn’t have any pain during my one-mile recovery run (the day after the race). It is now a few days later and all the initial soreness is gone.
How did you feel the night before the race?
I was very anxious. I was afraid I was unprepared and also nervous that I would oversleep or forget something at home (like my bib or shoe tag) that I needed for the race. I only got about 4 ½ hours sleep, but it was a restful sleep.
Tell us about how you felt the morning of the race.
Stressed is an understatement. I was running later than I had planned and this did not help ease my fears. When I got a couple of blocks away from my apartment, I realized that I did not eat a banana, which I do before all long runs to help give me energy. On the train ride over, I had managed to convince myself that I ruined all chances of finishing the race because I had not eaten anything.
What calmed you down?
When my coach arrived at the meeting point, I’m pretty sure she could tell I was freaking out. I let her know that I had forgotten to eat anything. She tried calming me down and we walked to a nearby deli to get a banana. The deli we went to was one I went to very often before I began my diet. While at the checkout, the cashier was staring at me. It was obvious that he was trying to figure out how he knew me. He asked me if I worked in the neighborhood. I told him that I used to come in all the time with my sister and niece. When he realized who I was, he gasped. I laughed and told him that I lost a few pounds since he had last seen me. My coach excitedly let him know that I was about to run my first half-marathon. That exchange definitely calmed me down. It reminded me of how hard I had been working for the last 11.5 months and if I did what I have already done, I could run this race.
My coach had a shirt made for me. The front had my name and NYC Half-Marathon plus the race date. The back said: “If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a half-marathon.” I was very touched when my coach gave me the t-shirt. It pretty much summed up my training experience. This was something I never even dreamt of doing because it seemed like something that was completely out of reach. It was really nice to have people call out my name during the race. I have been on the sidelines of races and cheered for strangers so to have strangers do that for me was wonderful. I would recommend that first-timers wear a shirt bearing their name because if you’re having a difficult time, or the finish line seems too far away, hearing someone cheer for you can help push you further.
I spotted them before they saw me and started screaming out to them. It was incredibly emotional for all of us. They were holding signs and cheering as I ran to them. I gave them quick hugs and kept running. I felt like the luckiest runner on the course. They all came from out-of-state and could not have been more excited to be there for me.
After seeing my family at the 10K mark, I was ready to get out of the park. Central Park is where I have done the vast majority of my running and I was ready for something different. I got to run in the streets of NYC which is not something a lot of people get to do. My friend Rachel, from Nike Run Club was a couple of blocks outside of the park waiting to cheer us on so it was great to see another a familiar face.
What was it like running through Times Square?
It was awesome. I don’t know if I really took in that it was Times Square as I ran through it. I was simply struck by the fact that the streets were closed to traffic so that we could be there.
Running on the West Side Highway was great. I am familiar with the West Side so having familiar landmarks was helpful. When I saw Chelsea Piers I knew we could not be far from the finish line. When I was able to spot the buildings in Battery Park, I knew the finish line was within reach. I didn’t find a second of the race boring, I thoroughly enjoyed it all.
What went through your head when you realized you had run more mileage than ever before?
Shortly after hitting Mile 10, I realized I had never run this far before and it felt like I had just achieved another accomplishment. It fueled me to keep going.
I was very upset. Physically, I felt fantastic the entire time and in that moment, I felt completely drained. I really wanted them to see me finish what I had begun. My coach gave me a pep talk and I got it together.
People sometimes hyperventilate when they see the finish and you experienced this briefly. How did you get through this reaction to finishing?
I wasn’t sure what was happening when I began to hyperventilate. My throat felt like it was closing and I began to wheeze. It was scary and I let my coach know what was happening. I looked at the finish line and told myself I could make it across the finish line even with my uneven breathing. My coach made me focus on my breathing and it helped calm me down.
Luckily, you did still have important people waiting for you at the finish line!
Seeing my sister, Erica and my niece, Fatima immediately after crossing the finish line was incredible. It meant everything to me to have two people who love me waiting for me to cross. There were many times during the race when I held back tears of joy and I let it all out when I saw them.
Receiving the medal and being foiled in the heat wrap was very exciting. It felt like a rite of passage.
What was the hardest part of the race?
Finding out my mom and friends would not make it to the finish line was hard but that only lasted a matter of minutes. Somewhere around Mile 8, my coach wanted me to lengthen my stride. She said this would help if I was having any pain and it did help to alleviate the mild knee pain I was experiencing. I was also lucky enough to run the race with my coach and friend Crystal (who was also running her first half). Having them there definitely made the run so much easier. Bad runs here and there are par for the course and I’m grateful that I had a good experience. Running this race would have been impossible without the help of my coach. If it had not been for her, I think my training would have stopped after week 2. She answered question after question and was always encouraging and supportive. I’ll always be grateful for her help.
Did you ever need to stop running?
My only goal of the race was to finish, which meant I had to do it in 3 hours or less. Being able to run the entire time, which I did, was icing on the cake. I have found that stopping, even for a little while after a long run, actually hurts my legs. So any stopping or walking that was not necessary would have hurt me.
My mom and I went on our weight loss journey together. Crossing that finish line felt like a result of both of our hard work and I was thrilled to share it with her.
In past articles, you indicated that your mom and best friend, Jason were your biggest supporters. How important was it to you to have them there on race day?
They are two people who always have and always will believe in me. When I doubt myself, they are always there to tell me that I can do it. After this weekend, I have found that there are more people to add to that list. Jessica, Erica and Rachel were all incredibly supportive and could not have been more proud of me. All of them made race day so much easier and a day that I will never forget.
Absolutely. I’m a finisher. Not too long ago this was something I believed I couldn’t do.
I already registered for the Brooklyn Half-Marathon. May 22nd (race day) cannot get here soon enough! It’s too soon but I think I will most likely register for the Bronx Half, which is in August and the Queens Half in September. I also entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon! I find out in a couple of weeks if I will be guaranteed entry. Being from NYC, I would love for my first marathon to be the NYC Marathon. If I don’t get in this year, I don’t know if I will have the patience to wait!
You’re willing to put yourself through all of that training again?!?
Of course! The training became my new exercise routine, one I actually enjoyed. My plan is to keep setting these goals to run long races. It will definitely help me to continue to lose weight and maintain my weight loss when I do reach my final goal weight. I have now lost 141 pounds in 11.5 months!
How has running contributed to your weight loss?
While the speed of my weight loss has not increased since running, it has changed the way I have looked at being active. I thoroughly enjoy running. There are some days that are hard and I just want to get my run done but for the most part, I look forward to running and feel great when I’m done.
Running the race shortly after my 30th birthday was the best present I have ever given myself. I am hoping to give myself the same gift for my 31st birthday, as the race will fall around the same time next year. While Jessica was visiting me last weekend, she commented about seeing me shortly before I began losing weight; she said she wished she could show my old self the “New Courtney.” It made me think about how much I have changed and how my friends and family have taken notice.
Losing weight is hard and painful. I have failed more diets than I care to remember. The thing that has helped me the most is knowing that weight loss and exercise is my choice. I’m also not perfect, so on the days that I don’t do as well with my food choices, I brush it off and tell myself that tomorrow I will do better. It’s also important to find a good support system. If you don’t have people who can relate to what you’re going through, there are different support groups where you will find people who know exactly what you’re going through.
I would like to unequivocally say “no,” but in all honesty this is something I fear. I certainly hope not. I think as long as I keep the notion that I am in control of what I eat and how active I am, I will continue to be successful.
Congratulations to Courtney Manning, not only our “Biggest Loser” but most importantly, our half-marathoner!
Kenley Ferrara is a certified personal trainer and running coach for PPTS Wellness as well as a Pacer for Nike. Her website is www.pptswellness.com.