Well, I did it. It wasn’t easy. But I did it. And I have a whole, long writeup in the works but I can’t seem to find the time to truly bring it all together, so here I sit letting you know I am alive and well.
(Please forgive me for any grammar mistakes and/or spelling errors. The baby is taking one of his “flash naps”. If I get 30 minutes, I’ll be surprised.)
Let’s see. I survived the race injury free, which is pretty awesome. I was a good sore, but that only lasted for a few days. And every hour the aches lessened, I began to feel a touch more blue. There is a certain sorrow one feels after training for (and completing) a marathon that is difficult to describe. The only other time I felt anything similar was when I had postpartum depression. It’s kind of like you do all this work, spend all these months working toward something, anticipating one big event, then BAM! that something happens and you’re left thinking, “Cool. Ok, so now what?”
Yes, with one scenario you have a baby. With the other, you’re a marathoner. But something just feels… empty? That could possibly come off wrong to those who haven’t experienced postpartum depression. We love our babies. It’s just this inexplicably sad feeling. Anyway, a slice of that sorrow resurfaced after this race.
But enough about all that.
So back to marathon morning.
I woke up at 4:00 AM to get to the Meadowlands by five. Having gone to bed at 8:30 the night before, I was pretty well rested. It was a blustery cold morning. The wind gusts were insane.
How was I going to do this?
I arrived at the base of the bridge at around 5:45 AM. The sun had barely risen and the clouds were active and plump and deep shades of gray. The sky was unwelcoming, like summer and winter were refusing to give in and just let fall take over.
I made some oatmeal and sat down and tried my best to keep warm. Oh my goodness it was cold! I fantasized about a hot bath, the one I would take hours later after all this running nonsense was out of the way.
“If I survive.” I joked.
My village (Green) was stationed near the Army building. And a few of us joked about going to war. Couple that with the sound of the helicopters hovering above, our nerves, and the canon blasts, and that comparison became darkly comical at times.
The more seasoned marathon runners wore trash bags, or those metallic wraps handed out after many long races. They had deli bags covering their shoes. Plus, they were able to sleep somehow. Then there were the crazy people wearing nothing more than a tshirt and shorts. Just looking at them made me feel colder. So I tried not to.
Hours went by. Canons roared. Waves of men and women hit the bridge. The excitement grew. I was so nervous. I was so cold. I took an extra long time in a porta-john. If you’ve ever seen a porta-john at a race, you know how desperate I was for warmth.
At 10:50 AM, it was finally time to start. While I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life, and I worried my cold bones might shatter upon initial impact, I was ready to get moving.
They blared Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. Goosebumps covered my skin.
Wow. I am here. Finally. After years of spectating, clapping and screaming for runners until my hands hurt and my voice cracked. Dreaming of the day I would get to do it myself. Hoping it happens at all. Anticipating the reality of it. I am really here.
A canon blast! And we were off.
The wind was so strong on that bridge, my right foot kept blowing into my left foot, almost knocking me to the ground. An NYPD van drove by blasting the theme from Rocky over their loudspeaker, an event that would stand out as a favorite memory from that day. Wind slapped us from what seemed like every angle, but we kept moving.
Hats came off, jackets, pants, shirts.
Things warmed up on the other side.
The crowds in Brooklyn were amazing. I wanted to stop and hug everyone. People handed out orange slices, water, tissues, leftover Halloween candy, smiles. Oh my goodness! The smiles! The laughs. All the words of strength and support and love. My faith in humanity grew immensely that day. I have been a spectator of the NYC Marathon for over a decade. But nothing compares to being on the inside. Now, I understand why it’s so important to get out there and cheer. The people made it easier. It’s true what they say: the specators carry you.
The last time I felt so close to so many New Yorkers–complete strangers, unknown faces in a crowd–was right after 9/11. And the juxtaposition of these two very different events, the fact that I was experiencing some of the same emotions, gave me great pause. So I let myself run with it. Sometimes carrying emotional baggage helps.
I was going steady for the first 10 miles. Things were looking good for me. I was on pace. I felt great. I had energy. Things were awesome. And then, just like that, things started to feel a little off. I started to feel uneasy. I stopped for a second, which was probably a big mistake. Because when I started up again, my guts started sending me messages, terrible messages.
I saw my family in Williamsburg, right around mile 11. I hugged them and chewed up an Imodium. Toby warned me that it would likely not do a damned thing until much, much later—probably after I was done with the race. But I had to try something. Because things were going south fast.
I stopped at four different bathrooms between miles 11 and 16, waiting in line at each one. There went my steady time. There went the faith I had in my ability.
I became more and more disheartened as I continued on and I was ready to quit. But I couldn’t quit, and not because there was some internal voice imploring me to keep moving. No. I couldn’t quit because I had accidentally given my armband to my dad back at mile 11, the same armband that held my “ditch cash”, my lip balm and my Gu Gels. I had to laugh. Even if I decided to quit, I would have to walk. So that’s what I did. I walked. But I walked along the route in search of anything, something—a new set of guts.
Every time I tried to run again, I got sick. Every single time. The bouncing and jostling of my insides sent sharp pains throughout my entire abdomen.
I contemplated turning left off First Avenue and just walking myself back to the park to find my family. I considered trying to find a cab to where they were and letting them pay once I arrived. I tried calling Toby and my father via Siri (which I’d never used) and instead I ended up calling an old friend from Brooklyn who I haven’t spoken to in years. Oops.
Something didn’t want me to quit, even Siri.
Right as my guts were about to give out completely, I ran into my running guardian angel. Thank GOODNESS for my wonderful friend, Corie, who was right there waiting for me at mile 18, right where I needed her the most. She took the train in all the way from New Jersey and positioned herself where she knew from experience how difficult it would be.
I’ll be straight with you: there is no way I would have continued had it not been for Corie. She made me keep going. I told her I wanted to borrow subway money, she talked me into waiting until we hit the Bronx. She kept reminding why I was there, what I had been saying all along, which is that I just wanted to finish. She told me not to worry about my time. “In fact,” she said. “Don’t even look it up. Just finish. Do this for you. Screw your time.”
We made it through the Bronx and then back into Manhattan and at that point I simply couldn’t quit. It just didn’t seem right. I owed it to myself, to Corie and to my family to finish. Plus, Corie left without giving me any subway money. ;]
I still cry when I think about Corie. Joyful tears. What a remarkable thing to do for someone. (Thank you, Corie. Toby made a serious joke about cutting my medal in half and having your name engraved on it. Without you, it wouldn’t be mine.)
Corie left me at mile 22 and I knew then I’d finish and somehow I was actually able to jog again. My guts were ok. Finally.
I jogged slowly down 5th Avenue and into the park. At mile 24, I started to cry for no reason. Nothing happened that sparked it. I wasn’t particularly emotional before the tears showed up. I guess my emotions took over. I was able to compose myself for a bit only to fall apart all over again at mile 26 when I saw a young woman holding a sign that read:
Someday you may not be able to do this. Today is not that day.
Thank you, sweet gal, for totally making me fall apart.
I was almost there. I could hear the crowd, the voice over the loudspeaker yelling out finisher names. I was almost done.
Wait, had I even started? I couldn’t remember starting anymore. What had I been doing all this time? I’d forgot to remember what I was even doing out there. Just like that, it was over. The longest, most physically difficult endeavor of my life (so far) was over so fast.
Why hadn’t I remembered not to forget?
There are tears in my eyes, but you can’t tell.
Training for and running this marathon was the second most difficult thing I have ever done. It was trying and emotionally insane. It was also truly remarkable. I am forever changed in ways I can’t even begin to write about. I am humbled, gracious, and thankful. And it’s true, what she said, that someday I won’t be able to do this. And that day could come at any time.
I am just so grateful I was given the chance and that I took it. I am grateful for Corie, for my family, and for the city I love best. I am just so grateful.