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Off O'Mara's bucket list: NYC Marathon

November 10, 2010 - On Nov. 7, 45,344 runners took part in the ING New York City Marathon. Erin O'Mara, a 2002 Goodrich High School graduate, was among them.

Her finishing time of 2:52:24 placed her 17th in her age group of 25-29 year-old women, 44th among all female finishers, and 450th overall.

A remarkable accomplishment by most people's standards, but O'Mara is exceedingly humble.

"I thought I would run a little better, but it was a more challenging course than I anticipated," she said Wednesday. "It wasn't my day, but I was pleased that despite not feeling well, I did the best I could on that day."

The 26-year-old Eastern Michigan University student's time was about two minutes slower than her personal record, which she set in the Bay Shore Marathon last spring.

O'Mara had guaranteed entry into the New York Marathon because of a previous qualifying time. This was her first time running New York. Besides Bay Shore, she has run marathons in Detroit, Chicago, San Antonio, Dayton (Air Force Marathon) and the famed Boston race.

"Everyone talks about the New York Marathon and it was just one of the ones I eventually wanted to do," O'Mara said. "Now I can check it off my bucket list."

Because of the large number of participants, the race is organized into three different start routes before runners merge into the same route at around the 8-mile mark. O'Mara was assigned to the orange route, "fairly close to the front."

"It was cold, I just wanted to start," she recalls. "It was about 40 degrees— great if you're running, chilly if you're just standing there in shorts and a singlet."

She noticed a lot of large international groups that had come to run the marathon and said runners just seemed so happy to be doing the race.

Once the race started, O'Mara found the course through all five New York boroughs to be "really tough," made more challenging by a windy day.

"Some people may feel Boston is a bigger challenge," she said. "In Boston there are bigger climbs, but not as long as the climbs in New York. I was feeling better when I ran Boston than New York."

O'Mara suffered a hamstring injury over the summer that is still causing her soreness and said she missed some key workouts in her build up to the marathon. Although she knew she had the base to finish the race, she wasn't able to attack the course as she would have liked.

Although there were lots of crowds along the route, O'Mara was focused on racing. Still, there were a few places where she saw people she knew, and was grateful for the support. She also wound up running much of the race alongside Jeff Rizer, another Michigan runner, whom she heard call her name at around mile 6 and who she stayed with for the next 15 miles.

During the last six miles of the race, O'Mara thought she was picking up the pace as she passed several runners, but when she saw her split times, she realized it wasn't because she was going faster, just that runners were falling off their pace because of the hilliness of Central Park. "The last two miles of the race was rough," she said. "I felt awful, I just wanted to be done. My stomach was really upset....You definitely try to push as hard as you can, sometimes you have a little less than at other times. I haven't figured out the magic formula for a perfect race. The most important part is training, but sometimes the race comes and things just don't go well."

The most memorable part of the New York Marathon for O'Mara will be knowing that she raised money for a good cause by running it. She had never raised money for a charity by running, but was inspired by a woman from northern Michigan named Sarah Shay who wanted to raise money in honor of her brother, Ryan Shay, an elite runner who died of a heart attack in November 2007 while participating in the Olympic Marathon trials.

Sarah Shay set a goal of raising 26.2 thousand dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project, which offers support to injured military personnel. Shay never made it to the starting line on Sunday due to an emergency appendectomy just prior to the race, but O'Mara raised $2,000 through support from her friends and family and visited Shay in the hospital.

"She was so inspiring— I could related to her wanting to keep her brother's memory alive," said O'Mara, whose sister Kayla, a running star at GHS, died in a car accident in 2006.

"My friends and family that donated, I was really touched by that and amazed and grateful for everyone who wanted to support me in my mission for New York," said O'Mara.

She has no plans to run New York again any time soon, although she is glad she can check it off her bucket list. Her near-term plans include running a half-marathon and 10K in Barbados in December and then the Rock 'n Roll Arizona Marathon in January.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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