“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.” President Obama.
Well, the New York City marathon is over. It was not the race that I dreamed or envisioned, but as it turns out, life is not a fairly tale. In the end, the race experience that I actually had and the events of the next day were much more meaningful and impactful than the fairy tale version my imagination had written.
If you read my post New York State Of Mind, then you know about my relationship with New York City and why I wanted to run it. Growing up, New York was a place we visited annually that felt like an escape, where I would spend all day walking through the crowds, blended into a sea of diversity, and feel a sense of belonging that I didn’t feel in my hometown. I had this fantasy that since my first marathon was all about dedication and run-therapy, this marathon was going to be all about fun. I was going to float through all 5 boroughs in my sparkle blue Tiffany tutu as if I was Sarah Jessica Parker, and the sights and the scenes and the cool weather were going to make running this 26.2 miles a breeze compared to LA. As I sit here typing this, the idea of a grown-ass 43 year-old mother of 3 having this little fantasy race in mind seems pretty ridiculous.
As race day got closer, I also thought about what my ideal time goal was. I did LA in 4:36 which is pretty amazing for a first marathon, but I thought wouldn’t it be great to beat that time. And not only did I want to beat my time, but when I heard that Oprah’s marathon was done in 4:29, I thought that I have to beat Oprah’s time. 4:28 (or better) became the ideal fantasy time I envisioned while I floated through in my sparkle blue Tiffany tutu. When I looked up the race course, I saw that it was definitely a harder course with more rolling hills and a tough last 3 miles compared to LA, so I did realize that there was a good chance that I would not beat my prior time, but still, I hoped I would.
I will start by saying that I had a great time the couple of days leading to the race. I met some fellow runner friends from LA who were also doing the marathon, including my friend and mentor who planned out and did every one of our training long runs with me. We also had a great time immediately after the race and the following day, with lots of wine and laughter. My pre- and post-race experience with my friends was priceless.
The race itself… On race morning, I had to take a cab at 4:15 am to get to midtown for the Team For Kids bus. I woke up at 2:45 am and could not fall back asleep. My race start time was at 10:40, so by the time I started, I had been up for a full 8 hours. That may have been a factor in my not so great race. Team For Kids was very organized with heated tents for us, and guiding us all the way to the start line. They also had coaches all along the race… I am grateful for experiencing the race with them as well.
The run itself started out amazing with going over the Verrazano Bridge and breathtaking views. I thought to myself that wow… this is going to be that dream race. But after the first couple of miles, the scenery was honestly not nicer than LA’s course which is overall more interesting throughout. I was feeling great for the first 8 miles, but after that I started to get tired and slowly fall apart. By mile 16, I had many muscle cramps and spasms and walking breaks. In the end, I struggled to finish in 4:44:34, not beating Oprah or myself.
But let’s get to the most important parts. There were a few highlights that made this experience much more important than the time or the scenery. For one, I had family cheering along the course for me. At around mile 10, my friend/mentor happened to run by me. We were in different start corrals before the race, so we couldn’t start together. It’s amazing that with 50,000 runners, we saw each other at mile 10. She ran with me for a couple of minutes, but it was clear that she was having a great run and I was just getting through, so I told her to please go ahead and run her own race. She looked at me just before taking off and said, “I know that if there is one person here amongst all these runners that has the determination to finish, it’s you.” Later in the race, there were many times that I thought of her words when I wanted to quit.
At mile 19, just before getting on to another short bridge, I started to walk. Another Team For Kids runner that I did not know ran up to me and said, “No, you are not walking. I’m running with you to the end. We’re finishing together.” From mile 19-23, we ran together. During that time, multiple times I told her to go ahead and speed up and run her own race, and she kept insisting that she was not leaving me. We didn’t even exchange names. I didn’t have the energy for that. Finally at mile 23 with my quads cramping so badly that I had to walk, I thanked her for getting me through those 4 miles, and told her to please go on so that I could walk. And she did. Whoever she was, I’m grateful for her kindness in slowing down and just staying with me for those 4 miles, keeping me upright when I may have given up.
And now for the most important part, at around mile 15, we got to the Queensborough Bridge. I was struggling to go up the bridge, when I noticed a girl who looked to be in her early 20’s with long brown hair in a pony-tail running. She had a sign on the back of her shirt that said “Never forget…9/11/01…in honor of dad.” I started crying on the bridge. I decided right then that I was going to run and finish in honor of her dad no matter what it would take… the rest of my miles and my run would be in his honor. Every time I wanted to quit, I thought of her… I thought of him… and I put one foot in front of the other. They got me through, and I will never forget seeing her running on the bridge.
After my marathon, I posted on my Instagram about how tough the race was and about the girl on the Queensborough bridge getting me through to the end. The next day, through the power of social media, she found me. Someone saw my Instagram and sent her the link. She wrote to me, “Hi, first off-CONGRATS on an amazing accomplishment….. It was me who you saw on the Queensborough bridge. I ran for my Dad, James Waring, for a 9/11 organization called Tuesday’s Children. I’m glad I could inspire you yesterday! Thanks for honoring my Dad during your last 10 miles! He got me through the race as well. God Bless.” I immediately found her Instagram and her crowd rise page and made a donation in honor of her dad to Tuesday’s Children.
I had spent the night before disappointed in my race. I had told my girlfriends about how much pain I had, how it wasn’t the scenic fantasy run, how I hadn’t been able to enjoy it the way I had wanted…. how I hadn’t beaten Oprah or myself. The next day, when I got that message from Jessica Waring, my entire perspective changed. What would be a more successful race? Finishing in 4:28, or making a connection with Jessica… donating money in honor of her dad… learning about Tuesday’s Children that supports family members of all those who have lost someone due to an act of terrorism. Would I rather have finished in 4:28 or had my never forget experience…. the fantasy race I had in mind now seems ridiculous.
Marathons are supposed to be hard. They are supposed to be a test of pushing yourself. It’s about not giving up and putting one step in front of the other. It’s about progress…. no matter how slow….no matter how long it takes.
After the marathon, I told my girlfriends I’m not sure if I’ll run one ever again… The next day, I already knew that I will. Because I know that every marathon will be its own experience. Every marathon will teach me something. And clearly, I’ve still got a lot to learn….
***To learn more about Tuesday’s Children please visit this: Tuesday’sChildren. For a link to Jessica’s crowd rise page and to learn about her dad, please visit this: JesWaringCrowdRise. I wrote the first draft of this post on the morning of election day. After feeling devastated by the election results, it seems appropriate to remember to look for the light in the darkness and move towards it….to remember that love is the answer.