Wednesday, October 5, 2011

2008 - new york city marathon

**This post is actually an excerpt of an article I have submitted for publication. I left a lot out, but kept in the parts about the actual race. 
I vividly remember training for the 2008 New York City Marathon. It was my second marathon and I was elated simply to have been picked from the lottery. My running partner, Julia, lived on the opposite coast, which left me a lot of solo time to think on those long, grueling training runs. 

As the mileage increased, I decided to set some personal goals for the race:
1. To finish. I just wanted to complete the course.
2. To finish in under 5 hours. This was doable. I completed my first marathon in 4:47, so an extra 15 minutes was not only reasonable, but would secure a spot for my name in the following morning's New York Times (as a journalist in college, the mere thought of my name in print left butterflies fluttering in my stomach).
3. Enjoy the run. This was New York City! I'd never been and I was one hundred percent set on soaking it ALL in. 

That's it. Finish. In under 5 hours. And enjoy the journey to the finish line. While there were many things in my power throughout the course of my training and during the race, there were simply some things I couldn't control.

The race was scheduled for the first Sunday in November. A "chilly" low of 50 degrees for me in California, but potentially much colder on the East Coast. I went prepared. 

I layered with tights, shorts, pants and sweats; a tank and shirt with a jacket on top; gloves on my fingers and muffs on my ears. I was ready for the cold and prepared to shed clothing as the sun shone and the day warmed. Prepared as I was for the wintry weather, I wasn't prepared to the pre-dawn chill...for four hours. After the bus dropped us off at the starting line, Julia and I shivered, literally, for four hours until our group heard the gun. Expending energy trying to stay warm when I needed to save it for 26.2 miles on foot wasn't in my plan.
{so. so. cold.}

The gun sounded and off we went. Because the streets and bridges in the five boroughs aren't large enough for 40,000 runners to tread at once, there were three separate starting times each with three separate starting lines. We were in the last group. The smile on my face grew and grew as we passed over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn. The crowds were on fire and I was having the time of my life.
 {ready to start.}

At mile 8, we shed our sweats and continued through the tree-lined neighborhoods. By mile 11, I was going strong, but noticed Julia lagging behind. She is normally a running powerhouse, so something wasn't right. After a few miles of running, then slowing, running, then slowing, I turned to a teary-eyed Julia and said, "You have trained for this. Your body can do it. You just have to believe you can. It's all in your head." After a quick stop at the porta-potty, a new and improved Julia emerged ready to conquer the next three boroughs.
 {looking - and feeling - super sexy around mile 8.}

Julia and I sailed up and over the Pulaski Bridge and down into Queens. We even stayed steady on the gradual climb up the Queensboro Bridge that led into Manhattan. We were feeling good, running steady and loving the water stops at each mile marker. Water never tasted so good! We'd take a sip, refresh ourselves and keep on moving. I noticed a small cramp creep up into my left quad. Not to be deterred, I stopped to stretch at mile 18. Just a kink in the road. We sipped, I stretched and we were again on our way. Julia was back to her normal running self; she was now encouraging me through a minor setback. After my leg cramp subsided, we trucked up First Avenue, embraced by throngs of supporters cheering us on, and headed toward Willis Avenue Bridge leading into the Bronx.

By mile 20, what had been a minor annoyance, turned into quite the cramp - more than anything I had ever experienced. But we were still on target for our goal time and the crowds and sites were enough to keep me moving. As we approached the bridge, the masses in Manhattan faded to the background and I stopped to walk. I decided I’d just take it slow over the bridge so I could run the last few miles into Central Park. My leg had other plans. No matter how much I stretched, how much I walked, how much I rubbed, massaged or rested, my leg would not run. Mentally, I was in the game. Physically, it seemed, I was out. And there was nothing I could do about it. I was determined to finish, but with the continued walking, the clock ticked on and my five hour goal quickly ran by.
As I slowly wound my way through the Bronx and over the Madison Avenue bridge leading toward 5th Avenue in Manhattan, I urged Julia to continue on without me. With only five miles left, I knew I’d finish, but it could take me awhile and I knew she could finish strong. She, of course, refused because I had helped her through the first half of the race. 

I was so confused and frustrated. I felt like my mind was strong and I knew I could run, but my leg wouldn’t listen. I felt I could somehow just will it to work and be on my merry way. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I didn’t want the bystanders, the other runners, or our friends and family at the finish line to see my tears of frustration and, ultimately, disappointment in myself. I wanted to run like I had trained and for my leg to just be normal again.

As the miles ticked on, I knew my leg being ‘normal’ wasn’t to be. I embraced my slow speed as much as I was emotionally able and put one slow foot in front of the other. Julia was a great cheerleader and understood it wasn’t something that could be talked through. She stayed by my side and together we took in the sights and smells of iconic Central Park in the fall. I smiled through my glistening, tear-filled eyes at each cheering bystander we passed and tried to feel grateful that at least I was going to finish. 

About a half mile from the finish, I finally talked Julia into running ahead. I assured her I’d finish and would feel better if she crossed the timing strip as strong as she’d hoped. She conceded and off she went. As she raced further and further ahead, my emotions got the better of me. I once again moved from a very slow jog to an awkward, strained walk and the tears swelling up in my eyes finally began to stream down my cheeks. I no longer smiled at the fans flanking my sides. In fact, I considered punching one who yelled, “Don’t stop now! Keep running! You’re almost there!” If he only knew.
This was not how I’d imagined my finish. I pictured an exuberant, exhilarated, mildly exhausted Maren. Instead, I found myself dejected, downtrodden and doubting my own worth.

As my aching and heartbroken body crossed the finish line, I nearly lost consciousness. If it weren’t for the throngs of runners funneling through the shoot shoulder to shoulder, I would have dropped to the ground. I eventually met up with Julia, her husband, and my college roommate Morgan and her family who live in New York City. I began to speak of the disappointment I felt but quickly realized none of that mattered anymore. I finished the race and it was incredible. I didn’t finish as fast as I had hoped or as gracefully as I had wished, but I finished. And I got to experience New York City in a way not many people do. I was encouraged by strangers, inspired by fellow runners, pushed farther than I ever thought possible. I struggled physically in a way I had never even imagined and I emerged triumphant.
 {ready to die.}

The next morning, Julia and I both woke up stiff as boards. Oh how we hurt; but it was that good kind of hurt – the kind where you know you earned it. We pushed through the pain and spent every second of the next two days racing all over that incredible city. We saw and experienced so much – Broadway shows, the Statue of Liberty, ground zero, Canal Street and more. People were amazed to learn we had run the marathon that weekend and were running around with so much energy. No one asked how fast I ran or if I was disappointed in my performance. They were simply impressed that we did it!

It’s been three years since I crossed that finish line. Some days I still wish things had played out differently. I wish I could have stretched out my cramp and finished strong and on pace. But I didn’t. I wish I could go look at that copy of the New York Times that I didn’t end up buying and see my name in print. But I can’t. And that’s okay. 

I realize now how much I learned through a simple trial that November day. I think back fondly and know I pushed myself to the limit and succeeded. I found strength in myself I never knew I had. My running life didn’t end that day. But that day became a part of me. It’s etched into my soul. I can use it now to draw strength when I doubt myself or lack the courage to take one more step. It doesn’t matter how fast I go or how I look as I do it, but that I make the effort and have faith in my preparation and abilities. I’ll need help along the way, but I can do it.

Also in 2008:
 {new year's day 10k. my fastest ever. i placed 2nd in my division! team mclayworth: scott, rachel, maren, kristin, paul}
 {feburary - multitasking. we won, i'll have you know.}
 {february - jelly belly factory with aunt kb}
 {march - scott comes to town!}
 {april - bon jovi}
 {april - byu 59th ward reunion - top: morgan, natalie, telisha, marseilles, debbie, diane; bottom: heather, maren, crystal, danielle}
 {april - slc half marathon. my mom power walked this one year after finishing chemotherapy}

 {april - chopped my locks}
 {may - biking the bay with leah and the johnsons}
 {may - mother's day #2}
{august - ghosting in hong kong with the wades}
 {august - beijing - busy and rainy great wall of china}
 {august - 2008 summer olympic games in front of the bird's nest. notice the blue skies in beijing!}
 {september - winchester mystery house}
 {october - go cougs!}
 {october - family pictures, courtesy julia wade photography}
{october - siblings}
 {november - half moon bay}
{november - opening night of twilight. i'm not a huge fan, but this night was seriously fun.}


Rach said... are the master of getting life lessons out of running. I love that. I still remember some of the life lessons you have taught me when we ran together. Thanks!

Erica said...


Amy said...

IO had to come back and re-read this because I entered my name into the NYC marathon lottery for this year! I have less than an 8% chance of getting in, but it would be the exPerience of a lifetime...even if I crawled to the finish. :) my friend and I have cconsidered it for some time, and remembering this Post inspired me to take the last step. Here's to hoping I get in, although knowing I probably won't. Yikes !!