First weekend in November is a big deal for Marathoners from all over the world. It’s the ING New York City Marathon. After living in the city for a couple of years, becoming a runner, undertaking a marathon elsewhere and loving it, I decided I wanted to be a part of one of the biggest races in the world. Handy that it was also my hometown. So I entered the lottery one year, then again the next year, then missed a year due to pregnancy, then again, and after those several years of luck not being on my side I decided to take matters into my own hands and join New York Road Runners in order to complete their requirements for guaranteed entry: run nine races and volunteer at one sponsored by them during the calendar year and get a spot in the marathon the next year. Easy as pie, right?
One little hiccup occurred: we decided to move away from the city. So I busted out all the races and my volunteer gig before we moved away in June. Many weekends began with me trekking to Central Park on the train to run for Japan or Lung Cancer fundraising or Scotland. I know, sometimes the races didn’t make sense to me either. But I finished all the requirements, and all I had to do was wait until next year, I was in.
Oh wait, before race day came I did a few other things too: moved my family to Colorado, then got pregnant, did my best to stay fit during pregnancy, had the baby, started training as soon as he turned six weeks old, got up and ran three or four times a week no matter what else was going on in my life or what the weather, flew back to NYC with aforementioned baby on my lap, still breastfeeding, and THEN I ran the 26.2 miles through the streets of a city I absolutely love!
That is what I just did, and it was CRAZY!!! As much as I loved the marathon and going back home I am officially on break from marathons. I have said that in the past after finishing a race, and my sister always comes back with the, “Oh, you’ll feel better in a few weeks and be ready to sign up for something again.” I don’t think so; this time feels different. After my other races the physical fatigue did pass and the exhilaration of such an accomplishment has led me to seek out another race to register and train for. I have habitually talked someone else into joining me as well and away we go.
In each marathon I have run I arrive at a point during the race when tears start to well up and I have to talk to myself about why I will, of course, finish. This has generally taken me a few minutes, a brief walk break to recompose myself with a pep talk and then back on track. My self-talk consists of remembering my many weeks of preparation, appeals to not let myself down, thoughts of all the people who have supported me to get here and are thinking of me or waiting somewhere along the course to offer their love and faith that I can in fact finish what I started. This has generally been enough and I plod along feeling the blisters form or the chaffing under my sports bra get raw and choosing to ignore it. Knowing that the glory of doing it will outweigh the other discomforts and inconveniences.
That moment came during my NYC marathon. But it didn’t go away after a few minutes. At mile 16 my legs started to cramp and it didn’t make sense. I was well rested, hydrated, fueled, and had been exactly on pace with my plan and what I had trained for. I had enjoyed reuniting with running buddies from before we moved. We had taken pictures, wished each other luck, shared bagels. Every moment of the morning pre-race passed in a celebratory fashion. I had even taped my name on the front of my shirt so strangers would know how to cheer me on. I had enjoyed a gorgeous vies of lower Manhattan while listening to someone belt out, “Start Spreading the News!” at the start. As I crossed into Brooklyn natives lined up in front of their brownstone apartment buildings to clap and call out, “Go Heathuh,” in a classic New York accent. This exhilarated me and I was having the perfect race. But for some reason, my legs started to cramp anyway. And I got so discouraged. I cried for a while, stopped to stretch and wondered how in the world I was going to finish 10 more miles, make that 10.2.
Along the east side of Manhattan, running up famous 1st Avenue with some friends who jumped in to help support me there were literally millions of spectators. They had signs, balloons, smiles, cheers, tissues, Vaseline, and anything else you might hope for. And yet I couldn’t get over my self-doubt. What usually takes me a few minutes to mentally work through consumed miles of my race. Due to the cramping I had slowed my pace and started planning in more walk breaks. The time goal I had set for myself and trained so hard for slipped away in those minutes I walked and the seconds here and there when I moved to the side of the course to try and stretch my muscles. My friends did their best to keep a spring in their step as I trudged along. They assured me that just finishing this race would be amazing and something to be proud of. They reminded me that I had a 5-month-old baby waiting for me at the finish and they didn’t have to remind me that I had breasts engorged with milk. One friend started showing me texts from my husband and kids. All of this helped, but not enough to ensure that I would in fact finish. My new goal became to make it to a group of other dear friends who were waiting at a specified corner about a mile away. As we approached and their cheerful faces beamed at me I stopped to hug them and thought, okay I have come far enough; let’s go home now. They had signs that echoed something a friend and I had experienced and loved during our first marathon, they read, “Legs, Mind, Heart.” That first race I saw those and it had spurred me on. My legs were spent, mentally I had stuck in there, and all that remained was heart-100% desire to just do it. But today it just made me want to cry more because I worried that I didn’t actually have the heart to follow through. I thought up all the reasons I could throw in the towel right then and completely justify it. But they were planning on crossing a couple of avenues and meeting me in a few more miles, so I just kept going. And somewhere in those next few miles the moment finally came where I let go of my lost time goal and I knew I would finish.
I started to smile again and look at the faces of the spectators. None of them were there thinking, “Wow, she’s really slow. Why hasn’t she finished this race yet?” They were just there, with nothing but good will and admiration. They smiled and cheered. We approached my cheering friends again. They promised to find me after the finish; the other friends who’d jumped in left me with encouraging words and smiles as I entered Central park for the final three hilly miles. My discouragement faded at last and I admired the beauty of the fall foliage and the diversity of the people watching. I’d given the water belt and pouch I’d been wearing to my friend so I wouldn’t have to carry it any longer, but I hung onto my phone so I could connect with everyone after the finish line. Carrying my phone allowed me to see all the messages people had been sending and each of the final miles my dad sent words of encouragement as I passed the mile markers. He was tracking me online and knew exactly where I was. He wrote things like, “Mile 23 in the rearview,” and, “You’ve almost got this thing licked!” And my one of my favorites, just before the final climb to the finish, “Bring it home.” I actually laughed out loud as I ran those final yards. After the literal years of planning, the hundreds of miles in training, dozens of hours given by others in support, the discouragement, the tears- I finished! It was hard and it was awesome! I’m so glad I did it and I’m also glad that I don’t ever have to do it like that again.
More than a month has passed since the race. I haven’t registered for anything. No mental plans have started to form about what cool place I could travel to in order to run a race, and I haven’t pestered anyone about training for a marathon with me. Initially I wondered if the difficulty of the race broke me, but after some time to think about I’ve come to another conclusion: What I accomplished was enough; it filled me up. Now it’s time for a new beginning.
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