Towels and bed sheets. When I look back at the first time I ran 26.2 miles, the 2017 New York City Marathon, that is what I will think of first: towels and bed sheets.
I’ve got you confused. Let me start from the very beginning…
On Friday night I left work a bit early to head to the expo to pick up my bib. I was anxious to spend the whole day Saturday lying around and didn’t even want to leave my apartment if I didn’t have to–much less head into the city and deal with crowds. My exit from my office was rather uninspiring. I wasn’t expecting a ticker-tape parade sendoff, but I did think my coworkers might be a bit more enthusiastic seeing that it was my first marathon and a long-held goal of mine. Even more disappointing, it seemed none of them were planning on going out to cheer me on on Sunday. I had learned this earlier in the week and had since tried to curb my hurt feelings; I had too much emotion swirling around my body already, I had to let some things go.
Despite the lackluster adieu, I left with a hop in my step; I had waited for this weekend my whole life and it was finally getting started. I met my hubs somewhere along the subway line and we finished the journey on the 7 train out to the Javits Center together. Even a block away there was marathon buzz in the air. I saw moms and dads with their kids, groups of older ladies in matching outfits, men in suits coming from work–all holding gleaming plastic drawstring bags that I knew held their shirts and numbers.
Everything at the expo went quickly and smoothly. It was busy, but we didn’t wait in even one line. We built in a bit of time in our schedule to walk around but our interest faded pretty quickly. We are not big shoppers. I am one of those people around the holidays that gets bummed out and judgmental about everyone running around furiously with mountains of bags and camping out for deals on Thanksgiving instead of being home with their families. I’m aware that I probably need to work on the judgmental part of all this. But at the time, watching runners at the expo stock up on overpriced New Balance gear was a bit of a turn-off. We found a place to snap a photo of me with my bib, and headed back out onto the city streets.
We had dinner reservations in the West Village with my sister and my mom, who had just flown into the city earlier in the day. I was glad we left the expo with time to walk all the way downtown, it’s thirty-five minutes I’ll never forget. I often wonder if when I’m older, walking through the streets with my hubs will be my most cherished memories. I think they might be. On this night it was unseasonably warm. People were sitting outside of restaurants and cafes laughing, sharing baskets of crusty bread, and clinking their glasses of pinot noir.
Every street we turned down held something old, and something new. In one moment we’d remember an apartment we went to a party at or a scrumptious Saturday brunch. In the next, we’d see a little hole in the wall restaurant that I’d read about and exclaim “Ahhh, that’s where this is, we need to eat here soon.” That’s what I love about New York City–how it always feels like home and a new adventure, all at the same time.
Our walk to dinner also allowed me to talk out some of my feelings with my hubs. He kept encouraging me to let things out; it was hard to contain all the emotions I was having leading up to all of this, but it was equally hard at times to let myself feel them. A dream I’d had for myself for seventeen years was so close to being realized–everything felt BIG. It felt most important on that walk to reveal the grief I had over my Dad not being there to see me run, and his overall lack of encouragement and interest in me reaching this lifelong goal. It’s impossible to get him to come to New York to visit, even though my sister and I both live here. Since I moved here almost eight years ago, I’ve said to him many times, “Alright, I get it, you’re not going to come–but if I ever run the marathon, you’ve got to come then.” I’d imagined the whole scene in my head a hundred times–him finally getting on that plane. But, this year, when I actually got into the marathon, I knew I had to let that part of the dream go. It made me sad. But like always, more than that, it made me mad that it made me sad. Over the years, my hubs has gotten very good at helping me release the anger I have for myself–that bullshit idea I have that I am weak because people can hurt my feelings. I am so grateful to him for that night and for letting me say what I needed to say, and for allowing me to grieve the loss of the fantasy I had about a proud Dad swooping in for marathon weekend. It was essential that I let these feelings go so I could receive and enjoy my other parent who was actually there, and whose heart was totally in every moment. By the end of that walk I wasn’t feeling lack, I was feeling unbelievable gratitude for the man by my side and the two women sitting on a bench, waiting for us outside the restaurant. A beautiful and delicious Italian meal was had along with loving and inspiring conversation in the coziest corner booth in Manhattan. I went to bed that night feeling warm and full and honestly thinking, Who in the world has got it better than me?
The next day I left the house at around 7am for what I had determined would be my only outing: a meeting. When the chairperson mentioned they needed a volunteer to speak, I knew it was my day to try and share my experience, strength, and hope. After all, there was never a day where I felt more hopeful. More than anything, it was important for me to tell the group how much they meant to me, and how each and every one of them had a part in me finally getting to that starting line. They had to know they would all be with me, every step of the way. Afterwards I had 30-40 alcoholics come up one by one to give me a hug, tell me how proud they were of me, and wish me luck. There were tears. Lots and lots of happy tears. I had already felt like I was physically ready to take on the marathon, but leaving my tribe, I felt spiritually fit as well. It was just what I needed.
When I got home my hubs asked if we could go for a walk in the park later. I felt a bit annoyed, he knew I wanted to lay on the sofa and relax the whole day. He insisted that we wouldn’t be long. He said that he had regretted a bit that the year before for his marathon, he had stayed in the whole day and not gone out to take in a bit of the city with me. I didn’t really get this logic seeing as I would be taking in 26.2 miles of the city the next day. Still, my husband doesn’t ask for much, and since this walk seemed important to him, I agreed.
After some brunch and a brief visit by my mom and sister, I threw on some sweats and we headed out the door. As we sauntered down the hill towards the park I began to feel a bit suspicious. When I mentioned taking a detour to grab a green juice, it seemed to throw my guy off a little. I backed off the idea and told him we’d get it later. As we continued walking, and edged into the park near the water, I watched his eyes dart around as if he was looking for something, or someone. Finally, we came upon two people sitting on a bench, and I burst into tears. It was one of my best friends and her husband. I couldn’t believe it. Their business sometimes takes them to the city, so honestly, my first thought was that they were there for that. When I exclaimed, “Oh my God, what are you guys doing here!?” My friend answered, “We heard you’re running a marathon!” I couldn’t believe it. I had just talked to her two nights before; I had to make sure we spoke before the race, I needed her with me. And then, there she was–in person, to witness it all. My hubs had arranged the whole thing. We found a table outside a cafe in the park and all four of us sat down and drank tea and talked for hours. The warm sun bouncing off the glass buildings and rippling waves of the East River perfectly mirrored the gloriousness I felt in every moment.
We left our friends around 4pm. As we walked back up the hill towards our apartment, my hubs told me they were all thinking we would meet up for dinner at our house in a couple of hours. I was excited to spend more time with them, but also a bit anxious. This wasn’t the plan. I had a whole plan for everything I was going to do and eat the day before the marathon, and things were being thrown off. Happily so, but still thrown off. Again though, my hubs seemed quite determined, so I loosened the reigns and allowed myself to live in the present.
My friends arrived a couple of hours later and I could feel nothing but happy from the moment they walked in. My hubs and I had ordered steak and potatoes for my pre-race meal. They later decided on Thai food for themselves. Although they ordered after us, their meal came first. I began to set the table for four and the doorbell rang for our delivery. As the courier handed me the bag, he smiled at me strangely. A little creeped out, I thanked him and began closing the door. That’s when a crazy Columbian man appeared in the hall and began pushing his way through our apartment. I jumped and began pushing him out the door. Then I looked up and saw another familiar face and I stopped. I was floored. Two more of my best friends in the whole world were there, in Brooklyn, in my apartment. My friend, the wife of the crazy Columbian man looked up at me and said, “Surprise, we’re here for a sleepover, and to watch you run the marathon!!” Of course tears. Total sobs. I had never felt so loved in my entire life. I looked at my hubs and he smiled at me, relieved. “No more surprises, I promise, they’re done now.” I laughed, and I cried some more. I could not believe that all of this joy was for me.
True to form, my happiness was suddenly served with a small side of panic. Thankfully we had had help (thank you Lenir!) and our apartment had been cleaned the day before, but I still wasn’t sure we were prepared for guests. Then I remembered earlier in the week that my hubs had insisted on organizing our guest room/office. I thought it was too much for him to take on at the time, but he spent a whole afternoon tossing papers and getting things in order. Upon remembering all this I grabbed my hubs and hugged him and kissed him for the millionth time that day. Then I interrupted my friends who were chatting around the table. “Apologies in advance for our shitty sheets, our guest room is not quite where I want it to be.” As my girlfriend rolled her eyes and began insisting that they didn’t care, my hubs interceded. “No, we have new sheets, and new towels, it’s all taken care of.” I looked at him. He took my hand and led me into the guest room. He opened his closet door, grabbed a giant reusable bag, and began tossing it’s contents on the bed: new sheets, pillowcases, towels, washcloths. I looked at him in disbelief, where had it all come from? He told me he had planned on my friends staying over for a while, but knew that I was not happy with our guest linens. He had secretly employed the help of my mom to pick out everything and had it all shipped to my sister’s apartment to avoid any suspicion on my part. Standing there in our perfectly imperfect second bedroom, I felt blown away by the work and the care and the love that my partner especially, and everyone else put into every detail of the weekend. The rest of that night was one of the best I’ve ever had. Our apartment in Brooklyn was full of people we loved, amazing honest conversation, yummy food, and Michigan Football on mute. I insisted on interrupting all the gabbing to take the photo below. I knew I would want to remember the evening for the rest of my life.
The marathon itself was an incredible experience. I had the benefit of the knowledge of both my husband and other bloggers who had run NYC before which took all the stress out of all the logistics of the day. I saw other runners freaking out when it took a while to board the ferry, or when buses got full and we needed to wait for the next round. I felt so lucky that instead of feeling anxious, I knew what to expect and I knew everything would work out. I took every moment as it came and was able to enjoy all the nuance and even offer some comfort to a couple other first timers.
I’m not going to go through how I felt at every mile or 5k. Many of you know my biggest fear for this race day was rain. By the time we started those fears had melted away–I knew I was going to do the damn thing regardless. But I couldn’t help but feel like the Universe was winking at me as it rained almost every single step of my 26.2 miles. Some points were just a drizzle, some were heavier showers–none were dry. I didn’t run the way I thought I could or would. I had had such a strong 18 and 20 miler, I was sure I had 4:30 in the bag. It was not to be. I realized that when you are running 20 miles, it is quite a different thing to reach 18. Two miles left feels like nothing, you can fly. But when you reach 18 miles and you’ve got 8.2 left, it’s an entirely different animal. Wrapping your head around the distance you still have to run is a type of agony I didn’t know existed.
The thing is, I thought the race was about the running. If in the end, that was all that it was about, then it would be easy for me to feel disappointed. But that wasn’t it. For me very little of the race was about running; the whole weekend, including the 26.2 miles, was about people.
At mile 3 I couldn’t find my yoga teacher Vin, but I could feel him there. He was telling me to take it slow and save my energy at a place where everyone was getting hyped up by the first crowds. I carried him with me further into Brooklyn where I saw a dear friend from AA who shouted out for me around mile 6. At mile 7 I saw the man who sits in the park every morning, who I’ve been running past and nodding hello to for years and years. This man who had maybe unknowingly (and maybe not) witnessed me chasing after my dream for so long, was then witness to that dream coming true.
Around mile 8 I saw my incredible family and friends–right where they said they would be. At this point I was in love with the city and in love with running so seeing them made me feel pretty much unstoppable.
As I left them my hubs reminded me that around mile 10 I was supposed to look for his friend William. I had never met this friend so the past few days that my husband had been reminding me to look for him felt odd–why was he so insistent, why was his friend so set on seeing me? I shook off my questions for the last time and decided to just try and focus my eyes on the crowd and find this guy. As I turned the corner onto the street where he was supposed to be I instead found my husband’s actual last surprise: almost all of my amazing, nerdy, insanely lovable coworkers were there with a GIANT blowup of my face and other signs, screaming my name and cheering me on like mad. I was moved beyond belief. I of course lost it, right away.
After the high of all this came some strong miles. While a lot of people walked the bridges, I ran them all and felt powerful coming off the Queensboro at mile 16. First avenue though was when it really started to get hard, and right before mile 18, I showed my first signs of real struggle. Luckily, that was right where my next group of people were at. My legs wanted to call it quits but when I saw my girls–one of whom had to travel down from Upstate– standing there in the rain with signs, shouting their hearts out for me, I knew I had to keep going.
A little less than a couple miles later, one of my husband’s friends actually was there, and him and his wife and their little girl got me through one of the toughest points in the race. I remember they kept on saying, “You look great!” I knew they were lying, but it bolstered my spirit all the same.
I’ve had a week to think about this now and I’ve decided it’s a tie–Miles 20 through 26.2 are tied with getting sober and quitting smoking for the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Everything in my body hurt–but the pain in my mind was the most unrelenting. I kept thinking, what could I have done differently to have made this NOT like THIS. The anguish came from knowing that the answer to that question was nothing. It was my first marathon, I was soaked, and there was nothing I could have done. There is a reason that only .5% of people in the US have run a marathon, and that reason is miles 20-26.2.
As the rain came down harder my feet began sliding a bit in my shoes. About every half mile or so I yelled out “FUCK!!!!!!”, at times to the amusement of the young volunteer handing me my water or gatorade. I felt like a wild animal trying to escape some inevitable fate. Noises I had never heard emerged from deep inside my belly. One of them I am sure was especially heinous as it elicited a side hug and a “we got this!” from a lanky but strong brunette passing me around mile 23. Each step felt impossible. But I kept on. Honestly, if this race was anywhere else but New York City, I am not sure I could have done it. The crowds literally carried me to that finish line. I can’t tell you how many eyes I connected with–people standing in the rain in ponchos–looking me straight in the face and telling me I could do it. As I was in “animal” mode my natural rebelliousness was out in full force. When some of them yelled, “You can do it!” I yelled back, “You don’t know that!” When they’d tell me, “You’re almost there!” I’d shout back, “No I’m not, there’s still two miles!!” In any other place, they might have thought I was crazy, or negative, or rude. But these were mother fucking New Yorkers–they came right back at me. They looked me straight in the eye and yelled, “I DO know! I DO know you can do it, just keep going, I know, that YOU have got this!” Another girl answered me, “Two miles ain’t shit–you’ve run 24 miles, you’re about to KILL these two miles, let’s go, one step at a time.”
It felt like I was in some alternate universe that knew itself well, and that I somehow fit into without ever having visited before. We were all there for each other. All of us in the race were running for those who didn’t have the strength in their bodies, but we were being carried by those on the sidelines who had the power in their minds and in their hearts. We all need each other. It’s something I had always known–I had just never seen it in action like I did on this day. The whole city was together–young and old, rich and poor, black and white. I have never high-fived so many cops in my life. It felt like everyone had put aside all their differences. It’s an experience and a feeling I know I will never forget and that I will share with others in times where we desperately need that sense of hope.
As I gave it everything I had in the last couple of miles and chased down that finish line, I knew I was far from my goal time. Almost poetically, my legs found the strength to sprint out the last half mile or so, just like they had in every other race I have ever run. Right before I crossed the finish I looked up and saw my husbands sweet face, and I knew the loud blur of voices and figures behind him belonged to people that I loved. It was the ultimate ending–it was validation like I had never received in my entire life. It’s as if they were all shouting: We see your dream!! You’re gonna do it! We had to be here to see it because we love you and this is a BIG FUCKING deal!!
I crossed the finish line at 4:53:18 and proceeded to add to my record for the most tears cried before, during, and after a marathon. When I got home and read all of your comments and saw how many of you were tracking me the whole day and cheering me on all over the world, the waterworks continued.
My Dad told me once that joy and pain are kind of the same. At first, it sounded absurd to me, but over the years, I’ve come to understand what he meant. Apathy, indifference, these things are easy. But pain and joy can feel so enormous to hold in your heart–the weight of each of them can be overwhelming. I can’t tell you how many private moments with my hubs I’ve had the past week where I’ve just sobbed into his chest and tried to catch my breath because the joy and the love almost felt like too much.
The running will come and it will go. I will get faster, I will get slower, and some day, I’ll even have to stop. That’s what I realized out there–that there were some elements of my strength that can be weakened, or even taken away. But, there is one part, that no matter my physical condition, I can always grow and draw power from: the love of other people. As long as I am a human that loves, there will be humans that love me right back. I know that now. I believe in it. We are up against a lot in this world. Some have bigger battles and longer races to face than others. Not everything is simple. Solutions can be complicated. Still, LOVE is the answer. Always. Politicians and pundits will tell us otherwise. But I’ll never believe it again. Love is the most powerful thing on this earth. I saw it last Sunday in a way I had never seen it before, and I know now that I will spend the rest of my life, witnessing it over and over again. It took me seventeen years to get to that finish line–only to find out that this was only the beginning.
I can’t thank you all enough for all the love you have shown me throughout this entire process. The night after the marathon I think my hubs was secretly praying I would put my iPad in the other room. Every time I opened it and read a message from one of you I bawled like a baby. And then I told him all about you–what you blogged about, where you were from, what your goals were. My heart was so full, and it still is. Thank you thank you!!
For all you running junkies who prefer a more technical recap–I will be following up with something more along those lines–and shorter!! So please look for that sometime this week. I can’t wait to catch up with everyone and read about all the running and life trips and triumphs that have gone on while I’ve been completely self-centered and in my own glorious marathoning world. Thank you guys, really. Love you all. x