Follow This Mother!

Michelle, family, and space blanket after the NYC Marathon in 2011

It’s a safe bet that Michele Gonzalez, a mom of a toddler in Staten Island, N.Y., would stand behind the phrase, “go big or go home.” The first race Michele did, other than high school track meets, was a marathon; in August this triathlon-virgin is going to conquer an Ironman as her debut swim-bike-run race. Oh, and this 30-year-old West Point graduate was deployed to Iraq not once, not twice, but three times (although, obviously, that decision wasn’t hers to make). Find out more about this petite mom who goes big.  

Best recent run: I am 11 weeks away from my target marathon this spring (NJ Marathon). In lieu of a long run three weeks ago, I decided to do a mid-distance run faster than I do my long runs. My plan was 10 miles at my goal race pace (~7:15). Mile 1 was my warm-up (7:42) and Miles 2-7 were within my target range (7:08-7:13). With 2.5 miles remaining, I realized a PR was possible, and I pushed myself harder than I have in a long time. The last 3 miles were 7:07, 6:43, and 6:28. And I PR’d (by 7 seconds).

You’ve come a long way, baby: After running my first marathon in 3:54, I knew I had to learn more about marathons, training, and pacing to qualify for Boston. I began incorporating speed and tempo runs on a more regular basis. By far, these were the toughest two runs of the week for me. The hard work paid off--my second and third marathons were 3:23 and 3:21, respectively. I love pushing myself out of my comfort zone: Once I reach a goal, I enjoy setting a new one and determining what I need to improve upon to reach it.

Tiny Michelle meets top brass (Curt Schilling)

Iraq and a hard place: After graduating from West Point, I was commissioned as a 2LT [second lieutenant] in the U.S. Army. During my six years in the Army, I deployed to Iraq three times (for 4 months, 1 year, and 15 months). I was fortunate enough to be stationed each time on large bases, so I had running water, air conditioning, Internet, and a gym. The hardest part of deploying was always the good-byes to family and friends – once you are deployed you immerse yourself in the task at hand and forget what it’s like to wear regular clothes (you wear a uniform 24/7), have complete privacy (I shared a 12” x 8” trailer with another female), and have days off. I ran (and trained for 2009 Boston Marathon) while I was deployed: It helped clear my mind and deal with the stress of long hours and homesickness.

Baby on board: Running during pregnancy was one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences in my life. I set out with no expectations--I took it day by day. There were days I felt great and ran 10 miles. There were days I didn’t feel 100% so alternated walking with running. The hardest transition was to not worry about my speed; I stopped running with my Garmin. I ran three races during this time, ranging from 4 miles (35 weeks; 37:26) to half-marathon (27 wks; 2:00:15), and I was able to run a brisk 5-miler the day before my son was born.

Run and the City: Although I live just outside NYC now, I was fortunate enough to spend several years on the Upper West Side (UWS), just two avenues from the famed Central Park. Most of my runs were early morning (5 a.m.) to avoid the traffic and tourists (especially on the weekends). When I was training for my ultra [[]], my favorite run took me around the perimeter of Manhattan--from the UWS to the southern tip of the city and back up along the East River. The route took me through so many distinct neighborhoods – Chinatown, Battery Park and the Financial District, the Meat-Packing District, and Greenwich Village.

Iron will: The Ironman triathlon in NYC will not only be my first Ironman, but also my first triathlon. It sounds crazy, but I did the same thing when I signed up for my first marathon: Other than track in high school, I had never run a race. I decided to sign up for this race because completing one is a lifetime goal and I know my free time will decrease as my family grows and gets older. I have begun swim training two or three mornings a week and will incorporate bike workouts beginning next month. My focus will remain on my spring marathon; once complete, I will turn my attention to the IM.

Making strides with a stroller: I usually run with my son in the stroller two or three times a week (usually on my easy days so I’m not worried about the slower pace). Running with a stroller is not just a cardiovascular exercise: Within a few weeks, I saw a difference in my arms and core. It not only makes you a stronger runner, it makes you a stronger mommy! My son doesn’t enjoy being restrained for long periods of time, so I try to head out for our stroller runs close to his naptime. Within 15 minutes, he’s fast asleep, and I can run 60 to 75 minutes.

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Half-marathon'ing at 21 weeks pregnant

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