The Long Distance Journey

photo 2I’m a long distance runner. My muse is the marathon. That increasingly popular athletic pursuit of the masses.

On a glorious, windswept sunny day- the first Sunday in November I stood on the Verrazano Bridge high above the northeastern shores of Staten Island with my race plan committed to memory. The New York harbor and the iconic skyscrapers beckoned me-so close and yet so far.

If you are a marathoner you understand the intensity of the start. The fear and apprehension- the joy and excitement.  With so much on the line during a marathon please help me understand why cell phones have become de rigueur?
When did taking photos and texting become part of our sport? Enjoy the moment-people. But I digress.

For me some unfinished business was the motivation to run in New York this year – in 2005 I ran New York and ended up in the medical tent as my core temperature dipped dangerously low waiting to get my race bag. This year I opted for no checked bag!

With a thundering cannon blast we began our accent towards the highest point in the race. Over the next several hours, elite runners and the rest of us would find pleasure and pain in hurling ourselves into Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan and the leafy confines of Central Park for the grand finish. Anyone who has run New York will tell you that it is one of the hardest races of the World Marathon Majors, because of it’s rolling terrain and bridges.

From the very start I concentrated only on what was in front of me. The nagging injury I’d been dealing with would reappear I knew that. But so would a hundred other bodily sensations including pain in my foot; a result of tying my shoelaces too tight. Really, you tied your shoelaces too tight? I asked myself. You have time for these thoughts during a marathon.  But I would not stop to re tie my running shoes. No, that would waste valuable time and did I really want to bend down at this point in the race?  However, those fleeting negative thoughts were no match for my mental state.  I was patient on marathon day and did not give into random thoughts and excuses. And it is worth noting that I did not hit the infamous ‘wall’, which typically sets in around the 20-mile mark, where precious carbohydrates are depleted and fatigue takes over.  Instead, I recalculated where I was and realized I was still flirting with a BQ (Boston qualifying time). Could I increase the pace-or would that jeopardize this very good race effort? Accepting that the pain in my hip was not going away and the headwinds continued to be challenging I elected to stay patient. Tucking in behind runners to protect myself from the damaging winds I remained calm. My speed work would pay off in the closing stages of the race-but not right now.

Mercifully, I made it to Manhattan-a mostly uphill stretch that empties into Central Park and affords an uphill finish and a wall of noise from enthusiastic spectators screaming at you to “hold on-you’re almost done!” “You own this city!”  My husband and daughter spotted me. “Mom, Mom!!” I heard their chants and turned to see their smiling faces on the curb. I reached out and touched their hands and then focused on the remaining miles.  I had come to the point in my race where I was ready to leave it all out there on 5th Avenue. Patience and pacing allowed me to kick into another gear and literally take flight past runners heading towards the hallowed New York City Marathon finish. Touching down on the finish line I bent over in tears-full of appreciation for everyone who encouraged and supported me. From my coach who believed in my ability before I did to running friends who shared their tips and supportive emails to my family who in bone chilling weather conditions managed to find me at three different points along the route. They are my A team and they know it. I couldn’t do this without them.

I’ve run many races, including four Boston Marathons, but this marathon day was the most memorable. Knowing that I could still lace up with the Kenyans, albeit in a different wave and still find joy in pushing my body past its limit is in itself inspiring. Knowing that I can depend on myself keeps me in this running game. I feel immense gratitude because I live with two chronic health conditions and yet my body and mind can still be in perfect harmony.

On the first Sunday in November I was in my happy place with my tribe pursuing similar and different goals. My (PB) personal best in the marathon may be more about the journey and experience now, than times and splits.  But I am still fortified by the prospect of hard effort, going the distance and savouring the ability to plan the race and race the plan.