I am sitting here nursing a cold that's been coming on for over a month, thinking about howI'm going to explain New York. I don't have any idea how I can keep this short; there are so many amazing memories from the race this weekend. (For one, I want Brooklyn and Midtown to know this: MAJ loves you!!!!)
So let me first apologize for the length of this entry today. But there are just so many reasons why this race was extraordinary.
On the morning of my 6th marathon, I woke up in New York. The City That Doesn't Sleep. The Big Apple. My favorite place in the world. I thought I'd be nervous about running 5 hours with a bad head cold. I thought I'd be anxious about making the aggressive goal I've been chasing (and head colds and stress fractures have thwarted) for the past two years. I even thought I'd be a little sad that I only get to do one marathon a year and I almost didn't get to do this one.
But I wasn't. I knew, in my bones, that this would be a special day.
It was a very emotional week for me. For one, we raised $1785 this year, which puts my lifetime totals well over the $3,000 mark for the ACS. For another, I carried over 30 names with me through the 5 boroughs and I did that - as I figured I would - with a lot of smiles and tears. So many smiles that my face literally hurt from smiling (although, for some reason, the professional photos only caught me during the "hurting" moments!)
I've often said that running a marathon is a transformational experience, but New York is unlike anything I've ever done. You wait a long time to start, but even getting to the start is an experience. Once you're there, it's walls of people and energy and culture and excitement and love - no better word for it - love like you have never seen. Or felt. You're never alone - not for one tenth of a mile of the race; there's always something to see. Even as you exit Central Park and collect your poncho, the volunteers are reminding you that you run this city, that YOU are the marathon.
I felt like this was my first marathon all over again, except I wasn't a lost little kid wandering Philly alone this time, but surrounded by all my favorite people and places.
The night before the marathon, I headed to the ACS Team DetermiNation dinner. I'd been up since 3am and I was trying my best to fight my cold but failing. My ears were plugged up. Just as I got off the subway on the way to the dinner - running late, of course - I reached behind my ear and discovered the back to my earring was missing.
I am very superstitious: I have only two specific pair of earrings and one necklace I will wear during a race. This particular pair was from Mom, who had given them to me recently because she'd gotten tired of wearing jewelry and she knew I would love them. And love them I have - especially the fact that they have screw-on backs, which actually have to be turned like screws to go on and off, making a klutz like me a lot less likely to lose them.
So there was no way I was going to run this race without them. But, with a back missing - a special back that I'd have to pay a jeweler cash I don't have to replace - there was no way that was going to happen.
As I sat there at the dinner and we talked about the people we have loved - and lost - the tears flowed freely down my face. I lost track of whether I was wiping my face because of the cold or the tears. I cried because I wanted to wear those earrings. I cried because I know they're just things. I cried because I didn't want to tell mom about the lost back, and because I wanted her to be there. I cried because I have a lot of other things going on in my life. And I cried because I had no clue how I was going to run 26.2 miles in such an emotional state, with such a bad cold. I kept reminding myself, if you believe good things will happen, they will - whether they actually happen or you just choose to make the things that happen good. I really, really, wanted to turn this into something good.
And then later, in the hotel room, as I lay out my race gear for the next day (still crying a little), I saw it. Near the door to the bathroom, calmly nestled between the tile and the carpet, sat the earring back. With the earrings were screwed - much more tightly - into my ears, and I knew that my Mom was there.
So I have to tell you now that I missed my lofty goal time again this year. I have to tell you that because I want you to know why it didn't matter to me.
Every time I got tired, or sore, I had a little conversation with my mom. I know that sounds crazy, but it worked. I would say, come on, Mama, I need you now. or Just you and me, Mama, we got this. Or sometimes it was Mama, please help me get through this. I am doing this for you and I want to honor you. Each time, she'd give me a little push, and I'd pick my feet up a little higher and carry on.
I asked for her help a lot. The Staten Island bridge is such a long climb that you don't even hit mile 1 of the race until you've crested it. No joke - you climb that sucker for almost an entire mile. And it's one of about 5 slightly shorter - but still brutal - bridge crossings. As I crested the bridge at mile 20 or so, I glanced up and I saw my name on the sign. I thought to myself, there is no way my name is on that sign; but since it was a good half-mile up, I had a lot of time to stare at it. I realized the sign was announcing a parkway named for a Major, the abbreviation of which is MAJ.
I still felt like it was for me.
But by far the sharpest memory was the first time I wanted to walk all race, between miles 22 and 23. I usually only walk at the very end if I absolutely must. And I had been on track to hit very close to my goal pace, making my fastest splits at miles 16, 18, then 20, even 22 - but miles 20-21 just did me in. I kept talking myself out of walking a little. I kept telling myself how close I was. I kept asking my Mom for her help. I kept trying not to be queasy, but this time it didn't work; I was too sick and tired for mental energy to pump me back up.
Right when I thought I had to stop and walk, I rounded a corner and saw someone holding a sign that said your mother did not raise you to be a quitter. You're almost there.
I forgot I felt like puking because I was too busy crying. I only walked parts of 24-26. And I found out later that my parents had been watching the race on TV, hoping to see me pass by.
So, I was right. Mom HAD been there with me.
Make no mistake about it, NYC is a very tough marathon. I still managed an 8 minute (15-second-per-mile) personal best, but I have a long way to go to the next level. And I am obviously taking a good week to recover from this cold. Which is how you find me with enough time sitting on my ass to keep writing for this long.
Training, racing, and fundraising for New York this has been a most incredible experience. And for that, I have a lot of wonderful people to thank.
And I have a lot of (hopeful) plans for the Off-Season . . . and for 2014.