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State College woman competes in N.Y. marathon

State College resident Terri Lukens-Gable runs with a stuffed horse given to her by her son during the New York City Marathon on Sunday. She named the horse Bronx and carried it with her the entire time she was running in the Bronx.
State College resident Terri Lukens-Gable runs with a stuffed horse given to her by her son during the New York City Marathon on Sunday. She named the horse Bronx and carried it with her the entire time she was running in the Bronx. For the CDT

When training for a marathon, many runners adopt 16- or 18-week training plans.

State College resident Terri Lukens-Gable admits, “mine’s been a 52-week training plan” in preparation for Sunday’s TCS New York City Marathon.

Lukens-Gable lost in the marathon lottery entry from 2011 though 2013.

Serendipitously, she is in the last group of runners affected by the now-defunct “three strikes, you’re in” rule that mandated an automatic spot after three consecutive lottery rejections.

Knowing a year ago that she could plan on the 2014 race, she resolved to dedicate the entire year to preparing herself. She tracked her progress on her blog, See Jain Run, with hashtag #52toNYCmarathon, a reference to the length of her training — and her age.

The blog’s title is a reference to Jainism, an Indian spirituality. Although Lukens-Gable is not a follower, she admires the tenets of the practice. This includes nonviolence toward all living things and a mindful and peaceable attitude to life — an approach she finds helpful during particularly difficult or frustrating runs.

Though Lukens-Gable describes herself as having been active as a child, and she was a sprinter in her middle school years, she says other interests took precedence as she grew older. When her only child, Arron, moved to New York City at age 15 to study ballet (he’s now a dancer with the American Ballet Theatre), Lukens-Gable began to rediscover her individuality and interests.

“I’ve been able to embrace some things that I had forgotten meant a lot to me,” she said.

Her renewed interest in running was somewhat incidental. One winter, the weather conditions were too harsh for her usual outdoor biking. She decided to run instead and was struck by an immediate sense of familiarity: “It was like coming home.”

Initially running “solely for fitness,” Lukens-Gable undertook the Couch-to-5K training plan as a New Year’s resolution but soon found herself regularly eclipsing her mileage goals.

By October, she had completed her first half marathon, an all-women’s Divas race that provided runners with tiaras and pink feather boas near the finish line.

“It was so over the top,” she said.

Now she tallies at least a dozen races. “It’s very odd for me not to participate. If I’m around a race, I want to be in it.”

Competitively, she often places in her age group, but most of the time, “I’m competing against me, hoping to be better than the last time I did it.”

Her favorite length of race to run? Either a 10-miler or a half marathon, the latter of which makes her feel “like a rock star” at the finish line. “You’re really starting to feel the wear and tear. After that, you feel pretty accomplished.”

Lukens-Gable credits that sense of accomplishment with her continued motivation to run. She trains early in the morning; often so early she is forced to wear a headlamp to see. However, she concedes that she is sometimes tempted to stay in bed.

“Getting out the door is the hardest thing, but I can’t think of a run I’ve ever regretted. It’s the kick-start it gives the day. It’s the sense of accomplishment when I’m done — that’s what keeps me going.”

As the marathon approached, Lukens-Gable experienced a mix of excitement and nervousness she calls taper madness, a term referencing the shortening lengths of her training runs as she neared race day.

“It feels like the momentum of all of my training is pushing me forward and, even if I wanted to stop, I couldn’t. Like when you’re on a roller coaster — it’s wonderful and just absolutely frightening.”

With an official finishing time of 5 hours, 18 minutes and 40 seconds, Lukens-Gable was about 45 minutes behind her previous marathon time — and that was fine with her.

“I have absolutely no excuse except for the fact that I was having so much fun, she said. “I was high-fiving people, I took my time, and I wasn’t going to suffer. I was going to enjoy every step. The headwinds were crazy but the skies were beautiful. The fans were absolutely wonderful. I had a blast.”

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