Yesterday I went for my first run since the NYC marathon, which happened over a month ago. While running, I remembered that I promised a few folks, and myself, that I’d blog about the experience. Most of this writing is taken from my journal entry the next day. It’s long, but the synopsis is, I had a blast, and I am so thankful to each of you for the ways in which you supported me. I hope you enjoy my story. 🙂 xo L
Saturday night, a thousand doubts and fears kept me staring at the ceiling. Despite training faithfully, raising money and being part of team Sanctuary for Families, and the hype created by my amazing support group, I could not imagine running 26.2 miles the next morning.
Somehow, I slept. I coffeed. I ate a fakin-bacon and cream cheese bagel, and journeyed by train, ferry and bus with my neighbor Chris and her sister Kat to the Staten Island “Villages” located just below the Verrazano Bridge.
This “village” was surreal- some sort of runner-zombie wasteland. Wearing ripped pajama pants and sweatshirts their cats had attacked, people toddled around in slow motion, their bodily movements slowed by the chill of the wind. Through giant, hidden loudspeakers, voices in various languages filled the village, looping directions and rules. I felt like I was in the Hunger Games, waiting for something really bad or really triumphant to happen. Needless to say, I was not relaxed.
The voice called my corral and told me to approach the starting line. I took out the iPod Nano Heather gave me the day before, and pushed play, as instructed. I recognized the voice in my earbuds. It was the marathon man himself, Greg, telling me to take a deep breath and look around me…to savor this moment. That I was prepared and capable. And that it was time to loose my mind because that’s the only thing one can do before running 26.2 miles. His message was one of over 15 personalized voicemails I received on a playlist complied by my besties since middle school, Kelly and Heather.
I paused the playlist and took off my earbuds as we huddled towards the starting line. The zombies were awake now, jumping around a little and grunting a little in a huddle of goosebump-filled legs and arms. The loud speakers were now Frank Sinatra, blaring “New York, New York” and the we approved and sang along. The cannon blasted and we shouted. We kept singing, waiting our turn to cross over the starting line and activate our tracking devices. I took a deep breath in. Pushed it out. Felt ready as I’d ever be. And told my legs to go.
The cold and windy Verrazano Bridge dumped us into the embrace of Brooklyn. Up 4th Ave in Bay Ridge, where children cheered and commanded high fives through their mittens, and grown ups danced in the block party that extended for miles. The diversity of ages, ethnicities, musical samplings, food smells and languages flooded the route as we ran along, and made the time fly.
People held ridiculous signs (Hurry up! Beer misses you!) And motivational signs (Your body does what your mind believes!) in support of family runners and stranger runners. A fellow ‘thon-er ran up beside me and squeezed my shoulders, “I believe in you and your cause” she said say after seeing the back of my shirt, which read “Running to End Domestic Violence”, Sanctuary’s running creed.
I saw a brother and sister runner pair, and shortly after “No Scrubs” came on my playlist. 4 years ago, my big brother Erik and I ran a ten-miler together in Philly, which until this day was my longest race. On that run, I thought I was going to die in the heat at mile 7, and almost quit. Erik said, “No way, we are finishing this together” and put one of his earbuds in my ear. It was TLC’s No Scrubs- and if you know this song, and you know my brother, you will understand why this made me laugh then and every time I hear that song. (We both finished that race).
I was feeling pretty good until I saw the man in the blue coat, face hidden by a giant camera lens. It was Larson, and next to him was his dad, Gene and one of his brothers, Michael. This is when the pocket of joy began to erupt in my body and set me into “float” mode. Now, I was feeling great. Quick squeezes and kisses and a baby food pouch and I was onto the next stretch. I saw our neighbors just steps down, and 3 miles later, Abbas and Melissa jumping up and down with a heart Lisa sign. There’s that joy-burst again!
Leaf piles of green Gatorade cups and Cancer-Free running shirts. Stuart’s proud smile at Bedford. The sleepy Hasidic neighborhood and hipster Williamsburg where there was obviously some marathon drinking games occurring. Live bands and dj’s. Inspiration coach Kelly R sprinting to catch me with a big pink sign. People giving out orange slices for energy and vaseline scoops on popsicle sticks for chapped faces. As I ran, I marveled. I didn’t know anything could make New Yorkers slow down OR get along in a giant crowd, but I learned that a wave of 46,000 runners can shut down shop, turn this mother into a party, and make friends out of strangers.
Then came creepy Big Bird, the faces holding faces, and the Pulaski Bridge to Queens.
The Queensboro Bridge was by far the hardest part of the run for me. It was steep, cold from the water’s breeze, and silent. But Manhattan was right there, just over this hump, and I was ready for more.
1st Ave roared quietly in the distance and I was greeted off the bridge with “BARNSHAW!!”. It was a friend that I hadn’t seen since high school, Mike Mangano, who randomly spotted me in the crowd.
On 1st Ave, the spectators were looking for specific people. This was really different than BK, Queens, and the BX, where people were going crazy for any runner that made eye contact or looked like they needed a boost. I luckily had my cheer squad on 1st looking for me. The Harley boys provided more baby food, more hugs, and more questions about my mental and physical state. Larson looked so concerned but so happy. “You look great but are you feeling okay?” My left toe was throbbing (bizarre), my right IT band was feeling tight and pretty terrible, but the physical pain didn’t matter. I was 17 miles in and I was feeling on top of the world. “I feel amazing.” I took 4 Advil and 3 kisses and continued up 1st. Some kiddos had their hands out, slapping runners 5’s. “Finally,” I thought, “random acts of cheering in Manhattan!” Wait…was that last little hand Maia’s?! I turned back and saw Geoff beaming and cheering me on. I saw coach Kelly one more time in el Barrio.
Onto the Bronx, where the infamous “wall” hits most runners, but not me because I knew I had some beautiful faces waiting for me there. Running over the Willis Ave Bridge, I reclaimed my shitty daily commute from Brooklyn to the Bronx, and put my feet on the very pavement where I sit in traffic every day. It felt liberating.
Then, around the bend, there they were- my students!! I first saw Jashibel, and Patricia with her son Matthew. Patricia’s strength was one of my inspirations on this journey.
Then Jamin, Sam Sam, and Lisa beaming at me around the corner…
Then there was teacher friend Ann, holding a giant “YES, You Can!” sign.
My only regret of the marathon experience is that I missed a bunch of my students who had come out…thank you Dixon, Aaron, Taylor, Dania, Jefferson and Team Leader Ezzie for coming out to try to see me! I felt you in spirit- because there is no other way I could have floated through the “toughest” part of the race unless I had you as my wings.
I crossed back into Manhattan for the last stretch. Harlem gifted me two marathoners- Jessica and my 3rd Kelly R sighting, and both of them said I was in the clear. Up the final climb and into Central Park.
At Mile 24, I saw her.
Mama’s little frame, jumping up and down with her bright red gloves waving in the air. Tears of joy came as we hugged. It was mile 24 and I was still smiling, and we both knew I’d be okay.
Behind her was my big bro, sister in law Karen, Gene, Michael and Larson. Everyone was smiling so much, and I couldn’t help but do the same. I ran to Mile 25. Holy shit, I’m almost there! I knew who was waiting next and I felt my body racing to them. Kelly, Heather Noelle, Joy, Rich and Laura cheered me on as I entered the last mile of the race. They went crazy when they saw me, and my adrenaline spiked in my body in a way I’ve never felt before. They were my finish line. Heather handed me a water bottle and told me to hold down the top very tightly…I ran home.
The Mile 26 flag came…then 400 yards…then 200…then the finish line. I crossed it and smiled. “Huh.” I thought. “I just ran a marathon”. It took me 5 hours and 6 minutes, and I somehow picked up an extra 1.3 miles according to my running watch. I had to laugh…I literally went the extra mile (‘Sup, ROADS?) They medaled us, took our photos, and we all returned to that zombie state, in a daze about what our bodies just did.
There was one more little surprise though. The container from Heather, which happened to be filled with beer, which happened to be extremely pressurized from all the shaking of the final mile, shot ten feet from it’s container when I opened it, spraying a follow finisher in her face. Oh. my. god.
I was mortified. I went over to her and apologized profusely, and begged her for her contact info so I could pay for her dry cleaning. She said it was okay, but then slowly smelled the liquid on her fingers. “I know this smell…is this beer?” she said. “Yes” I said sheepishly. Wincing. Her face twisted into confusion. “Do you want some?” I said offering her the container. Her confusion turned into a smile, then laughter. “Why not.” She said chuckling, and we drank the beer together, then went our separate ways.
The volunteers swaddled me in a giant orange poncho and I walked out of the Park, following the sea of limping parking cones. Kelly Jennings found me and I’ve never seen her look more proud. We walked over to the bar where we met up with my family, Larson and his family, and Jashibel, Patricia and Matthew. I drank a lot of beer, and ate a lot of everything.
This experience was one of the most exciting things I’ve accomplished and lived through. I will be forever grateful for all of the love and encouragement I received along the journey, and to have crossed this one off my bucket list.