Thursday, November 18, 2010
Hi Everyone! I'm so sorry to be getting this out so late. Things have been a little crazy this week, and I have a LOT to say about this year's marathon!
For me, this year's ING NYC Marathon was a hundred, no, a thousand times better than last year's. And, it couldn't have been more different.
It started on a shaky note. The Saturday before the race, I went for a short 5 mile run in East River Park. I took it easy. About 2 miles the front of my left hip began to ache. At around 4 miles, it took all my energy to move my leg. I stopped, stretched, iced.
I took a few days off, trying to enjoy the taper. I was on the surface, ready ... but in the back of my mind all was Not Ok.
Wednesday I went out for my team's last training run called Light Up the Night. With the glowstick around my neck, the throbbing pain started as soon as I set out. I stopped after 3 miles. I couldn't do the group stretches. My hip was inflamed and hot to the touch.
I stopped running completely, and on my dad's advice started taking anti-inflammatories like nobody's business. I iced and stretched nearly every night. Unable to run off the tension, I was a ball of nerves for 4 days, until marathon Sunday.
I figured I had a 50/50 shot of finishing the marathon. I considered dropping out. But, I'm pretty stubborn- I wasn't going to give up after all the training. So, I carbo-loaded, laid out my outfit, attended the Expo. I gave a few people the new emergency phone number, just in case I ended up in a medical tent.
Sunday morning, at 5:30am, I sat in the heated bus, and read Timeout, trying to relax. People on the bus were buzzing with excitement, but, like I was before my only job interview in 2001, I was 100% focused. I watched people but saved my energy for what I thought would be my next biggest test.
For the first time, I realized how running for charity is different than going solo. Our convoy of 20 charity buses had a police escort, blocking all the roads as we got to Staten Island. At Fort Wadsworth we were ushered to a warm tent, protected from the wind, where we could wait and stretch until our corral start time.
When the corrals were opened, there was more waiting as they released Wave 3 in stages. I jumped around to stay warm, and looked up to the sky. As they began to open the corrals, we thousands began our slow walk to the Start. The steel of the Verranzano loomed over all of us, and more blue sky. We could hear choppers.
A plane flew over miles away, pulling a message: "Breathe deeply and appreciate the moment." Later, I realized that was a Lululemon advertising slogan. At the time, it seemed like sage advice from above.
I breathed in, and took off my headphones as we walked. I joined in the singing of the national anthem and "New York, New York," my eyes tearing. I told myself, even if I can only run 4 miles, it will be fantastic. This is what all 4 months of training were for. Every mile will be a gift.
My hands and feet were frozen from standing in the cold shade. I couldn't wait to run and warm up in the sun. Finally, the horn blared.
Over the bridge we all went on fresh legs that barely felt the steepest incline of the whole race. As we zoomed up and over and through Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, I found it impossible to regulate my speed. I was running 11 minute miles here, 9 minute miles there. I think I had one in the 8 and a half minute range.
I reeled back, I surged forward, holding to middle lanes so I could pass people. Literally hundreds screamed my name (which I had pinned to my shirt). I wasn't expecting any friends or family until Mile 11, so I kept the headphones off and enjoyed the boosts from strangers. I passed 77th street, and got teary again. That was where I had excitedly watched my first NYC Marathon back in 2004.
I remember laughing as I ran. The hip didn't bother me at all- yet. At Mile 6 I still felt lucky, and like I had a lot of energy I could tap into, but I wasn't taking anything for granted. There were 20 miles to go, for God's sake. Blessed, I chatted with folks running next to me. I overheard one man say to his running partner, in an English accent "This is pretty f---ing amazing."
Last year, my favorite part of the race was Lafayette Avenue. And this year, it didn't disappoint. One long stoop party, everyone was out on the street and the sidewalk, including some church choirs. The street was intimate and shaded and almost reverend, yet so loud sometimes you couldn't hear the bands play. People were so far into the street cheering us on, we could only run 3 across. I loved every second it. One woman held a sign that read "Run Like You Stole Something." Another person held: "Run Like a Faucet!" Babies were handing people candy. Everyone was cheering for everybody. I heard "Lookin' Good, Christina!!" so many times, I began to feel cocky.
Some more quiet neighborhoods followed, and I realized I'd past the spot where I'd hurt my ankle last year. I decided to reel back a bit, anyway. I used a restroom. I was still hanging out with the 4:30:00 pace team and the Rhinoceros, but I wasn't sure whether to push harder or not.
I thought about Austin, and my trail runs. I'd vowed to stop the egomania of bests upon personal bests. The point was to enjoy myself, not clip more meaningless minutes off my time. I knew that no one but my ego would care if I finished in 4:15:00, and felt sick, or 4:30:00 and felt good. So that became my new mantra: Feel good.
At Mile 11, in Williamsburg, the streets narrowed again. I saw Dan, who started running next to me by himself. As my eyes swooped to see where he was pointing, I saw a group of Sunday Dinner folk cheering and jumping and filming me. I waved, boosted.
Mile 12 and 14, I just kept the momentum going. I didn't look at my watch, instead keeping my head up for Shirley, Steph and Heather. Mile 16, I climbed the Queensboro Bridge and felt the familiar pounding on my knees as I came down the other side. I willed my kneecaps to stay in place on the downhill (one had gone out on a recent hike). I started talking to them like dogs, "Come on. Stay. Come on. Come on."
This is one reason I don't have a running partner.
The knees obeyed for once, and I looked around again for Dan, but missed him. He got me on tape going at a decent clip, but wasn't allowed to film close to the road.
Mile 16 to 20 was 1st Avenue- back in Manhattan. Last year, I had been unimpressed. When I passed through, the crowd had been sleepy from drinking all day, and a bit too thin to hear. This year, though the crowd was better, I still didn't feel it. I put my headphone on for the first time that day. And, I kept my eyes peeled for people I knew, but the blur of frat boys and blond ladies became dizzying.
Or maybe, I was just hitting a wall. 1st Avenue was that day one long, long, hill, and I felt every inch. I took my gels and my Gatorade, and pushed through it, but noticed my speed had leveled at about a 10:30 min/ mile. I would speed up when the downhill started, I told myself.
One volunteer yelled to me "It's all downhill from here."
I thanked him for the boost, but about a mile later, I realized he was a liar. I hadn't studied the course elevation map well enough, but it ALL felt uphill.
How had a failed to notice that detail?
When I saw Nicole and her awesome sign at Mile 18, I was so grateful. Seeing people I knew was the only respite from this hill that would not end.
Finally, we hit the Bronx. And another uphill - a bridge. I was cruising, but in 2nd gear. The brick buildings, and huge LCD monitor cheered me up -- I waved to myself. Bands blasted. The crowd was magnanimous. Disoriented, I thought I was in Harlem, and began looking for my friends. It was enough to boost me up to second gear until we really did reach Manhattan again a mile later.
I didn't care that I was so mixed up. I concentrated on kool-aid pickles, and how good I felt. I'd been saving my high-fiving hand all day for this moment... and when it came, I saw Calvin first, right at the Madison Avenue bridge.
Then came a full-out Voltron power boost, and I high-fived them in a huge arc. They held up signs, Joanne had her head through one. It was insanity. I laughed again.
Right after passing that bunch, I stopped for a drink of Gatorade. I began to walk through the water stops. It's hard to describe the total seizing of the quads after a series of hills, but all I can say is that it felt glorious for about 5 seconds. Yes, the pain of stopping was better than running. Just for a bit.
I only walked a couple steps when I knew I had to pick it up again. My legs were so heavy, I could have sworn I was sprinting, going faster and faster, but my watch kept reading about 11 minute miles.
I ran Mile 23 for Bridget, because she couldn't run- or even walk to see me this year. I wanted to stop again at Mile 24, but I told myself the finish was just around the corner, and I lifted my legs more. Mile 25, I couldn't lie to myself again, but I remembered how I had walked last year, and how I wasn't going to do it again.
I kept reminding myself- this is my last NYC marathon, and I'm going to run it.
I saw the finish finally, and though I couldn't pick up the pace as much as last year, I was in fourth gear, watching the sides for Alice. I spotted my mom on the top edge of the grandstand - in a location I'm sure she'd negotiated with as much perseverance as I'd put into my training.
I yelled and waved "MOMMY!" **
I think it's at those times, when you're physically maxed out, that it's OK to regress. It's eloquent, even. Like coming full circle.
I crossed the finish with a smile on my face, let them put the ribbon around my neck, and let the Team for Kids escort pull me up a chair.
4:29:18, and never happier.
THANK YOU again to all who made this moment possible with your contributions, your signs, your cheers and your encouragement. I am SO grateful to share this moment with all of you.
**I'm SO glad I don't have a running partner.