When you tell someone – especially a non-runner someone – that you are going to run a marathon, you’re generally met with some version of a respectful “that’s great … good for you.” Contrast, when you tell someone that you are going to run the NYC Marathon, there’s a special, heightened aura that surrounds what surely, inevitably, will be nothing short of an epic race. So, when the post-race, water cooler moment comes around and you’re politely asked about it (because after listening to you talk about NYC for 6 months, people are kind of compelled to ask), you know they really just want a 30-second soundbite describing the glory and triumph of the day. Those poor souls didn’t get this from me. All I could give them was my honest best: This year, the NYC Marathon was physically hard and emotionally complicated.
More than once, that answer was met by awkward silence and confusion. I mean, what’s a body to say to that?
Let me offer this assurance: great and sustained efforts that are physically hard and emotionally complicated are not necessarily bad.
To understand the fullness of what happened, you first have to know that my training going into the race was solid but, objectively, not where I wanted or needed it to be. Two months of exceptional career demands in the middle of my training cycle led to a literal SOS to my coach asking her to carve an impossible path to get me to the start line and to the finish. On the other hand, mentally and emotionally, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt better going into a race.
My race was broken into thirds. The first third – pure joy! By the time I reached my husband standing with a Brooklyn-based Wilder friend cheering at Mile 7, all was right with the world. There were clear blue skies, vibrant Fall colors, and enthusiastic crowds and cow-bellers. My legs were getting into a rhythm as the runners on the course sorted themselves out into pace-based packs. Everything was on point and my version of perfect.
Welcome, Mile 9 and a new and unfamiliar pain in my right knee. It hurt, I didn't know what to do with it, and with so many miles to go, it was worrisome. Miles 9 - 15 were an exercise in trying to ignore my knee and distracting myself by absorbing the changing city scape, the bands, the signs, the people. I also knew that I could check in with my husband – the good Doc – at Mile 15 and he might be able to provide some welcome assurance that whatever pain I was feeling was temporary and run-able.
My husband and I missed each other at Mile 15.
The dark miles started around Mile 17. My knee was still hurting and, as a further insult, my right hamstring started to cramp. The crowds were thinning on this stretch, my Garmin continued to remind me that my pace was dropping off, all hope of my A goal (PR) was long gone, together with my backup B and C goals. When I crossed the timing mats, I could palpably feel the disappointment of family, friends, and my coach who were tracking me. My mind swirled with questions and confusion: Why can't your body move? Why is this happening? You should be able to do more, why can't you do more? Can you do more? Why is it hurting so much?
When my body started to fail me, I couldn’t help but feel like I was failing myself.
Around the same time, a group text from my daughter slipped through on my watch, wondering if I had dropped out. What I wanted to telegraph to her, loudly and from the depth of my soul, was this: Your mom is strong. I am struggling to adjust to find my best way forward. But there is no part of me that is thinking about giving up.
Hubs caught me at Mile 22 and for about a block with him by my side, all of the emotion tumbled out at once and I had a fantastic, full sob, self-pitying, ugly cry. In the middle of a marathon.
And then he ducked off into the crowd and I pulled my shit together. I reminded myself to look up and to soak in the energy. I gave up fixating on my watch in exchange for celebrating what was left in the last few miles of the race. I committed to following my body's lead ... to push, but to give myself permission to adjust and walk a bit if I needed to ... and I did. I celebrated with the crowds, high-fived kindergarteners, smiled at the signs, and embraced Central Park in all of its Fall glory. I hugged the blue line that the elites followed earlier in the day, and I gave thanks for being able to be on that iconic course in one of my favorite places in the world.
I’ve come to believe that perseverance and grit are learned and practiced skills. Where better to exercise these character muscles than on a course, lined by thousands of joyful people cheering you on? So I celebrate a successful NYC Marathon not just because it was an epically phenomenal race experience, but because it also was accompanied by challenge, learning, and growth.
It was a beautiful, unbelievably hard, emotional day. And that’s a good thing.