There are no words, but I’m going to use more than my share of them to try to process last weekend.
Last weekend, I ran the New York City Marathon. People say it’s a race unlike any other and they’re right. It’s either my favorite or my second-favorite marathon ever. This year, it wasn’t just that it was a race unlike any other – my race was unlike any other. So different from anything else I’ve ever run. And I’m still figuring it all out, absorbing it, processing it. But while I do, I’m going to use this space to try to document everything because I don’t want to forget a single moment of it. Many thanks to Denise, Ariel, and the others whose photos I’m using here, they captured it visually so much better than I did.
TL/DR version: We started with four or five of us who never left each other. Picked up another person then another then another. Like blob tag. By Harlem we were all in this together and we nonverbally committed to doing it together and supporting one another. Three of us were first time marathoners. We slowed and waited for one another as needed. And we finished. All of us. Together. I wouldn’t have traded it for a three hour marathon.
Now, the whole story.
I couldn’t believe I was at the end of this two month long running… something. I don’t even know what it’s called but it was intense. A half+5k or a full every weekend for five weeks, a two week break and then two marathons (these would be marathons #16 and 17, I believe) in eight days.
I was coming off a really bad time. The week before the first of the two post-break marathons, one of my hospice rescue dogs bit my foot. My toes, to be exact. Multiple times. And broke the third toe on the same foot (I picked up my foot to get it out of the way of his biting me… ‘how is this dog still attached to my foot?!?!?!’). Within 12 hours it was infected, which necessitated two urgent care visits in the week between the bites and the first marathon. It was iffy… I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run. My gait was off, I was in a lot of pain, and I couldn’t flex my foot very well. I couldn’t even isolate the pain enough to realize that it was the broken toe more than anything else that was causing such pain. It was the second most miserable race I’ve ever run (for the most miserable, see the Dirty German Monsoon, Pennypack Park, May 2017). It was a good 10-15 degrees colder than the forecast. The sun never came out. It was headwinds all the way. How can it be headwinds in every direction in an out and back race?! It’s a beautiful area to run in, the Shawnee Forest, and now when the colors are changing of all times. It’s just… very quiet and isolated. It’s misery to me to be so cold, for one, and then to be so alone. Alone doesn’t always mean lonely, but for me in this race it did. This is not to say this is a bad race! The RD was awesome, and super accommodating. The volunteers were absolutely fantastic. Even the guy who picks up the portapotties was super nice and helpful. Without Melissa and Jim, though, I never would have come to do this race. Never would have made it. Never would have found the area and then if I did I would have been too intimidated to do anything or go anywhere. The two of them made it a FUN weekend despite the misery I was in! (I just, well, I just should have done the half instead. But I was too stubborn.) I’m skipping a lot from that weekend but that doesn’t diminish the affection and love I feel for these two people, some of the absolute best people I know. And they saved me. My sanity, my spirit. Much love, Websters. ❤
This race took me forever to recover from. Since I don’t get any faster, I have begun to chart progress in other ways. One is the amount of fun I Have. Well… erm. So another is how well do I physically recover from a marathon – and in the three years I’ve been doing marathons, I’ve gone from a week, to a day. Well, this race… it took me nearly a week to recover from. I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it to do the New York City Marathon. I thought I might have to defer til next year, and just do the nonrefundable 5k and cheer because, nonrefundable room at the YMCA. I thought, well, I’ll see people I know and love, and meet people I’ve never known in person before… I’ll see what happens. I knew, though, that if I started, there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to finish it.
This marathon was so different from any other one I’ve ever done. The ‘stuff’ leading up to the marathon was… amazing. The expo was okay, the pavilion was fantastic. They had the virtual reality of the NYCM last year, and I got to see and hear what the Wall of Sound was like coming off the Queensboro Bridge. I’ll never be fast enough to see or hear that, so being able to was incredible. I snagged the last gorgeous finisher sweatshirt that would fit me (women’s running clothes run so small!), paid way too much but it was so gorgeous.
Hanging out with Denise. The meetups – restaurants, brunches, the 5k Dash to the Finish. The incredible opening ceremonies, a mixture of loud joyous pomp and quiet singular pride mixed with the biggest fireworks I’ve ever seen not on July 4th.
Last year’s panic and weariness of hours spent in the Staten Island Ferry terminal and on the buses to Fort Wadsworth, were replaced by a leisurely ride on a single bus walking distance from my accommodations. It meant I was with Denise the whole time. Denise is the woman I did nearly the entire Chicago Marathon with three weeks before; it was my goal to keep up with her this marathon too. This is her turf. Not only did she have the confidence of knowing this course, having run it wholly and in pieces various times before, but she had friends with her – she came with her own pace group. There were five of us who basically stuck together the whole time – four of us (Denise, Ruth, Sophia and me), plus Pat who began with us and surged ahead with Stephanie from about miles 6-16 before joining us for good. I never knew any of these incredible people existed before this day. We all were together at the start… the start village where this time I got to enjoy it, instead of rushing around trying to figure out my bearings. We sat around, we ate, we pottied. We got Dunkin’ Donuts hats. We pottied. And pottied. I saw so many people I knew – Maria, Tom, Mary, and so many others. I petted dogs. There are therapy dogs in the runner villages. We took photos. It felt like a party. I felt awesome. Denise took my pre-race Fluffernutter to a whole new level by making it on CHALLAH! I was so ready to go!
Something super interesting – so every wave, and there were 5 or 6, I think – the main 4 and then the wheelchair and elite divisions (I may have this wrong, but anyhow when you’re in Wave 4 and hanging out til 11, you lose count), they start with a cannon. The first time it was really startling. But then we tried to figure out which waves was starting when we heard the cannon. It was kind of like being in the Hunger Games, trying to figure out which tributes were now gone, when we heard the cannon.
And then it was our turn. We were a motley crew, the party in the back. We were joking and having a good time. A shout out here to Wonder Woman, who had the most incredible outfit, makeup and hair. And to the guy who wrote “I’m single” and his name and phone number on the back of his shirt. I hope he got some dates out of it! We made the last of our clothing adjustments, I ditched my sweatshirt and tied a poncho someone else was discarding onto my belt, and sashayed my way to the start of the Verazzano Bridge to “New York, New York”. What follows are images and impressions after the two miles of Staten Island.
It starts raining, but at least it’s temperate. It rains all the way through Brooklyn. Half the marathon is here. Whole range of emotions. The joy of coming off the bridge to the cheers. People on overpasses, calling out to us. When you have your name on your shirt or bib… and you feel like a rock star because everyone on Fourth Avenue is calling your name. And then… then it gets quiet. Everyone sort of leaves you behind. Except, it was five of us. Five of us, doing intervals on Denise’s pace, and Stephanie, a first time marathoner whom we met later. It really emptied out. There were still stragglers on Fourth Avenue, and they cheered us. And the buses passed us. The official vehicles, the buses. This time, they asked if I was sure I didn’t want a ride. Nope, I’m good. They asked if they could at least give me a MTA card. “Why?”, I said. So they got out and took our bib numbers. They told us it was something new for this year, so they’d know who was still out on the course. I told them I likely wouldn’t be done until about 9 that night. They were fine with that. A sweet blonde woman told me that she’d be there, waiting for me, at the finish line and she wanted a hug when I got there.
Then, they pull up the timing mats. And you see all the aid stations dumping out the water as you approach…
It’s quite desolate. I’ve written about this before. But it wasn’t all like that. People saw my Maryland skirt and I got the occasional “Maryland!” or “Go Terps!” cheer, we all got some cheers, including from the police still out. There were four of us – Pat had gone on to walk on ahead with Stephanie, whom we didn’t know yet. At Mile 8, Denise’s daughter Ariel and her SO Tom were there waiting for us. I love her photos. She really got in her photos how it is, at Mile 8 when you’re alone! (Plus she got pictures obviously showing me RUNNING – something hundreds of race photographers haven’t managed to do!) I was the first to see her – I knew I would lag behind at some point so I tried to stay ahead of the others by 20-25 feet or so so it would be less to catch up. Ariel told me there would be more people, that there was a huge block party crowd at Mile 9. I pressed on and… there was. As I approached… the Electric Slide came on. And people started to do it. I approached to their cheers, and they began to part to let me through… and I waved them off and danced with them. In the middle of the street. It was probably the high point of the marathon for me, energy-wise. I mean, what did I have to lose? I was already about last. I was going to do the marathon. And here’s the once in a lifetime opportunity to do the Electric Slide in Brooklyn. How am I not gonna do that. I didn’t even care, because where else are you going to be able to do the electric slide with 1000 people you don’t know, in the middle of the street in Brooklyn? Then the others caught up, the song ended, and off we went. But in the background, I heard the Macarena, and danced that as we Gallowayed our way through Mile 10. People – random people – stayed out to cheer us and render aid. Water, Gatorade, bananas. I had a banana. Sophia was eating hers, and a man dressed as a banana shouted to her, “hey, I like what you’re doing! That’s my cousin in your mouth.” Awesome.
And the miles stretched in Brooklyn. The roads stayed closed, police stayed out. Williamsburg. So quiet. What do they think of us, half clothed and running through their streets? I’m looking at the women, the little girls, the men. Some of the women and girls – they’re looking at me too, some of them are smiling or nod at me. A girl hanging out the second floor window yelling to me that she’s from Silver Spring. Mile 11, 12. My energy began to flag and my foot began to really throb. What kept me going? I really didn’t want to lose Denise. I had meticulously studied the directions and recognized where we were, and had my maps and directions on my belt (hydration belts – I don’t love them, but they’re so good for so much!), but I didn’t want to use them. I wanted the company that my comrades provided. I derived energy from the fire truck en route to a fire, lights and siren on, that cut the siren for a couple of seconds to cheer us on via the truck’s loudspeaker. Then there was the guy who said right about then, that we were the true heart of the marathon. He about made me cry. That was probably Mile 12, or close to it. Those were the longest miles, for me. I didn’t expect that, there. The Pulaski Bridge seemed to never get there.
In Brooklyn, I got to know Pat and Ruth.
In retrospect, I’m wondering about this. Jennifer, whom I spent so much of my Chicago Marathon weekend with, recommended I try a four-mile fuel regime instead of randomly fueling or forgetting to take a gel or something. I tried this in Chicago and it helped a lot. I did it the week prior at Shawnee, and so I did it here almost automatically – and then at Mile 12 I forgot. I didn’t take my waffle (I didn’t bring enough gels so I was using stroepwaffels) until after Mile 13, when I was on the bridge. I wonder if this crash was my body not getting the fuel it needed and had come to count on. I also forgot my s-caps. Lack of salt maybe? I had some salt packet in the beginning, but maybe that too. I don’t know. Things looked up when we hit Pulaski Bridge and that’s when I realized that yes, I could do this. (Of course I could. But, the mind plays tricks when the body is worn down.)
Pulaski Bridge… it was closed, but about to open so we went on the sidewalk. And again… random people offering us water, sports drink, food. And we came off the bridge and there’s Queens. Here we were on the sidewalk for the first part of it, but were able to be on the road after. We thanked more police, who were still out there. Then there was the best tee shirt ever: “The Anti-Social Social Club.” We were misdirected though, when we were aiming for the sidewalk of the Queensboro Bridge, adding about half a mile onto our route when we had to double back to get onto the bridge.
That damn bridge. This is also known as the 59th Street Bridge because it dumps you out on 59th Street in Manhattan. Also the bridge in Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “Feelin’ Groovy”, which is aka “The 59th Street Bridge Song”. Let me tell you, now that I’ve done it twice – no way am I feeling groovy on this bridge. It’s some kind of hell. It’s like ALL uphill. And it’s SO LONG. (‘How the F are we not in UTAH by now?’) It’s a pretty bridge though. And they tell you about how it’s SO quiet. Because there are no spectators here. Last year I didn’t experience this because the bridge had opened to traffic by the time I was on it. This year, for nearly the entire time, we had the quiet. We had the closed bridge. (We did stay on the pedestrian walkway for safety, but it was still closed!) And so we got to experience that.
On the Queensboro Bridge, I got to know Sophia and I got to know Ruth better.
It began to get dark – thanks, Daylight Savings Time change – and we began the trek up First Avenue. It’s really only about 3-4 miles, but it feels like forever. Do yourself the favor and don’t do the math. (Well, let’s see, it’s 59th Street and I have to go to 125th….) We had some time in the road, some time on the sidewalks (sidewalks are so hard on your legs and feet!), and spent a lot of the time in the road-painted median between the bike lane and traffic lanes. The police allowed this and it enabled us to move and feel better, continuing with our intervals. The roads were still closed! This is also where we began picking up people along the way. This is where we found Pat and Stephanie for good. This is where we also found Michael, who asked if we were going to go all the way up. (What? Of course. How is that even a question?)
It’s kind of like that anti-social social club. I love being around people. It is awesome being with people when doing a tough race. Unfortunately I’m not a very nice person when I’m mid-long-race. I’m kind of bitchy and grumpy and emotional and kind of just an asshole. I’m not like that in normal life! I want to be around people so much and then I’m just not very nice to them when I am. To my fellow racers, I’m so sorry.
Even as heartening as the wall of sound is to run into, or must be, since I won’t ever see it, I feel like it was just as heartening to hear the small groups of people who saw us and where we were and what we were doing and cheered us as we went past. Police in small groups of three and four, diners, people just walking down the street on a Sunday night, the crazy amazing aid station that stayed out for us and treated us like superstars and took incredible care of us at mile 18.
And then… Mile 18. We reached it. 89th Street. The aid station. I have to say… New York’s Galloway group is amazing. I wish we had one in DC like that. They were responsible for the bus I was on in the morning, and for this aid station at Mile 18, and they stayed out late. And Ariel and Tom, who were out there with happy voices and faces. I love these two kids. They are the most cheerful, supportive, fun people. Denise told them we’d be late. If I’d lagged behind, they would have waited for me too. They had EVERYTHING. Chips, Coke, water, all kinds of sugar and salt and drinks. And chairs so we could sit as needed. And access to an indoor bathroom (albeit down a couple of steps… stairs… ummm)! This is also where we picked up Sue, who came down from Connecticut. Injured, and just getting back, she deferred this year but came down to cheer and boy oh boy, she was the course support that we needed for the last eight miles. That’s right. She accompanied us the last eight miles. She took photos. She talked nonstop to keep us up. She told jokes. She was armed with every kind of snack and drink we could want (where did she keep them?). Every time we stopped there was an instant buffet presented to us courtesy of Sue. She carried this big sign the whole time, and wasn’t afraid to use it – in the Bronx approaching the Madison Ave. Bridge and on 5th before Marcus Garvey Park especially – to stop traffic when we had the right of way but they would have turned anyhow.
Before we knew it we were on the Willis Avenue Bridge, and into the Bronx. Where we made our way through on the sidewalks, where Denise knew where she was going and I was tempted to pull out the maps and directions, because the blue line disappeared in the dark and wet roads and under cars. We figured it out from memory and the portapotties provided clues to reinforce our directions! And, this is where it solidified. Previously, when I had to use the loo, I asked if anyone else had to go too. I didn’t want to stop in case no one else did, and if they didn’t and I couldn’t catch up… this time, Ruth and I went, and was the first time that it was like, if someone needs to stop, we wait. We all wait. We all move together.
In the Bronx, I got to know Sue.
And then there it was, the LAST bridge. Madison Avenue Bridge. Back into Manhattan for the final borough!
We were back on sidewalks, and some of us began to feel the injuries and the toll that eight or so hours on our feet takes. (And while most of us began after 11, in Wave 4, one in our crew began in Wave 2.) Our group began to get more loosely configured, separated by traffic lights. So we would forge ahead, and wait when we split up. And then somewhere around Marcus Garvey Park, which confused me so much last year but this year made perfect sense, we picked up our last group member in this blob-tag version of the NYCM we were running (okay, by this time, walking). I’m sad to say I don’t remember his name but he was as much a part of our tribe as anyone else. Police were still out and cheered us! We forged onward. When we got to the Museum Mile, we were able to go back in the street. It’s all uphill… and I said something and Sophia laughed. She was in a lot of pain and… I made her laugh. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, that I did that! At one point we were harassed by some random drunk guy who wouldn’t leave us alone. The police were there and dealt with him. There was a photographer and there was an NYRR person who checked us in by bib numbers. We were able to stay on the street until about two blocks from Central Park. In the park there was a man who offered us water and Gatorade, too.
In Manhattan, I got to know Stephanie and Michael, and I got to know Pat and Sophia better.
Two marathons in three weeks has helped me know Denise so much better – and then there were the extracurricular activities as well, in between.
Central Park has never seemed so large as it did that night. But I made Sophia laugh again, and that made it all worth it. We knew we’d all finish together, because somewhere along the way it stopped being an individual race and became a collective journey. But Denise had a plan – she choreographed our finish line. Let’s cross hand in hand, she said. I loved the idea – it’s not something I usually get to do, since usually I’m by myself and in shorter races there may be people behind me or us. This time, there was no one else. Ruth had the idea to put the three first-time marathoners, Stephanie, Sophia and Michael, in the middle. We dumped back onto Central Park South, and were marked a few times again by NYRR volunteers who – despite the late hour – were so full of such positive energy and enthusiasm. We passed David Fraser, who would be the final finisher of the marathon, and his team. We kept going.
Last year I wanted that damn poncho like nobody’s business and I panicked about the course closing. I saw I had nothing to worry about but last year there was nothing like this. There was a finish line and all the things and some people cheering but nothing like this year. Not only were there dozens of people assembled, including my friends, but there were some of the elites there, too, to welcome and hug us. I have lamented that I never hear that Wall of Sound after the QB bridge because I’m too slow and so Brooklyn’s energy has to carry me the whole way. Well, we got our wall of sound, didn’t we.
Remember that woman in Brooklyn who took my bib number and told me she’d be there at the finish line when I crossed it? Sure enough, she was there and found me. As promised, I hugged her.
I can’t explain how wonderful and incredible it was to run a marathon with people the whole time, and the support and the love and respect from everyone along the way. It was more than a group finish. Maybe I could have been a half an hour faster than I was, maybe more, because I was moving pretty well, but it was so much better to be with the group, they buoyed me when I faltered and as a group we slowed down when others needed to slow down. I think the very best moment (other than the finish) was when one of us, a first timer who was really struggling with pain issues in her hips, it was about mile 23 or so and I said something to her and she started to laugh. Her face was twisted in pain, she seemed on the verge of tears and she laughed. I made her laugh a few times and she said I was the comedian of our little party at the back. I made her feel good for some moments and I can’t tell you how great that was.
For once in my life I wasn’t dragging or holding anybody else back, I was right in the middle of things, right in a position not only to draw strength from others but also to return positive energy to them and support them when they needed it. I took, but I also got to give. I started out with Denise and four other people, we stayed together basically the entire race. It was, exactly where I belonged and needed to be.
There were cameras. There was video. It’s been Instagrammed. A woman interviewed me and I had no idea where she was from, and just kind of weepy-babbled incoherently. I had no idea!
Irony of ironies. If you finish fast enough, you get listed as an official finisher in the next day’s New York Times. Not every official finisher makes that cutoff, but that’s a goal for a lot of people. I know I’ll never make the NYT, and I’m ok with that. And then… we made the NYTimes anyhow – their video blog. Aha! So that’s what I was being interviewed for! I kind of cringe when I see myself on the video, my shirt was literally falling off of me!