After the congratulations and the all too common “how many miles IS that?” lots of people want to know how long it took to run 26.2 miles. For two years I answered in numbers; 2017 was 4:24, 2018 was 4:29…but this year, when asked, my answer will be, “I had the best time!”
Full disclosure, I won’t being saying I had the best time because the clock reflects that (it was in fact my slowest @ 4:37:04), but I also won’t be omitting the numerical answer out of shame; I’ll be answering it was the best time, because I had the most fun!
On Sunday, I ran the TCS NYC Marathon for the third year in a row, with my best running friend and training partner; side by side, step for step, smile after smile, I watched her become a Marathoner. Admittedly, it was not my original plan, nor was it hers, but halfway through mile one, on the top of the mighty Verrazano it became clear, that it was meant to be.
Loretta and I met when our boys were in pre-school together back in 2015. I was a new runner then, just starting out, and knew nothing about the benefits of running with friends. It wasn’t until the summer of 2016, when by chance at a birthday bash for a sweet little 5 year old, Loretta showed up in a brand new pair of running sneakers, and I asked “do you run?”
In an instant, we were no longer just mom-friends (not that there’s anything wrong with that), we were running partners. At that time, I was in the midst of training for my second half-marathon, and Loretta happily embarked on many of my regularly scheduled training runs. Before we knew it, she was no longer able to say, I only run 5 or 6 miles…
Time kept on going by, and Loretta kept right on running alongside me. In 2018 when I started training for my second NYC Marathon, while simultaneously going for the 9+1 NYRR series for 2019…Loretta did the same. She trained with me all the way up to the 18 mile mark, and secured her 2019 marathon spot too.
We began our training for 2019 together in early July. We ran countless miles together and many apart as well…Loretta even got to do some of her training runs while on vacation in ITALY!!! Long runs got longer, hot days got hotter, tired legs grew weary…but we never gave up. Injury threatened to take us out of the game towards the very end, but once we surpassed/got used to running in pain, (with doctor approvals) and nailed that last 20 mile training run (together of course) we were confident.
Fast forward to 11•3•19…she was meant to run wave 3, I was wave 2; we knew we wouldn’t be running together. But life happens and plans change and orange is orange 🤫🤫🤫 and up we went together to the top of the Verrazano, where began the best, most fun (albeit it hard) run of my life.
On Sunday, I watched my best friend and training partner become a marathoner literally one step at a time and WE HAD THE BEST TIME!
In the beginning: those first few days, weeks, months, even years, it seems impossible to think that one day you will be able to live normally with the weight of such a tragic, and incomprehensible loss bearing down on you. The waves of grief wash over you with force, pinning you to the bottom, at times for so long, you’re sure you won’t ever come up to the surface again. But you do, and you keeping on doing it: day after day…until one day, you find yourself (I did) seventeen years removed from the beginning…
and you’re alive…
and you’re breathing…
and you’re riding on top of the waves instead of beneath them…and you realize, with full force, that you have actually learned not only how to grieve, but to embrace your grief.
Perhaps it’s because I have two small boys, and it’s time of year that we’ve happily flopped back into swimsuits, sunblock, goggles, and wet towels, that the comparison between grief and swimming crystalized. Or, perhaps it’s because after nearly seventeen years of living life without my brother, and giving a voice to loss, I have finally stumbled upon a way to describe it that makes sense. Whatever the reason, this is my attempt to articulate what I couldn’t for so long, and to assure those who find themselves in the “beginning/a non-swimmer”, that one day you too will learn to swim in your grief.
When my eldest son learned how to swim, he seemed to find his groove early on, and happily finished each swim lesson with accolades from me, and his father – he was insistent (classic first child syndrome) on making us proud, and put those feelings before any fears of his own. I know now, this is not the norm, and if I was lulled into a sense of complacency because of it, as I most definitely was, shame on me.
When my youngest son began to show signs of readiness (ahem…attempting to jump into the pool whenever the spirit moved him) to learn to swim, I did what I did round one, and signed him up for lessons. But he refused, and would hide beneath any object he could to avoid the pool…his fear of water without me beside him, seemed insurmountable. He didn’t want floaties, or kick-boards, he didn’t want swim instructors or classmates, the thought of getting into the water was simply too great. The waves were too big. The ocean was too unforgiving, and he wasn’t ready to employ coping mechanisms that would enable him to stay afloat…much like the grief. The beginning is hard, you’ve got all sorts of people reaching out to you and wanting to help, but you aren’t sure which to trust, and you don’t know what will work. That’s ok…in fact…it’s not only ok, it’s normal.
Then time passes…you dip your toes back into the pool, on your own terms…you breach a new day without tears springing to your eyes the second they open. You’re still in unchartered territory, yes, but it’s not as scary. You think, today I’ll try the kick-board, today I’ll let myself smile…today will be different. After a while those todays string themselves together, and your swimming; your living life with the loss.
Some days will be harder than others, even years down the road; birthdays, remembrance days, holidays…but on those days you just need to remind yourself a little more often to get back to the surface and breathe, to reach out for the kick-board, and know you can ride the toughest waves, in honor of those you lost.
Happy Birthday Greg, I love you, I miss you, and thanks for the kick-board. xo
I’m the first to admit that I used to SUCK at asking for help…and while I’m still not necessiarily good at it, I am, for the most part, ok with it. I am (mostly) ok with putting myself out there and being vulnerable enough to admit I cannot do something alone, and thus need back-up. But getting to this place…it took years.
So while I sit here tonight, as I have myriad nights in the past, and wonder why someone near and dear to me who needs help, won’t accept it…I am reminded I too, was once hesitant to do the same. The conditions surrounding my inability to ask for and believe I was worthy of receiving help don’t mirror those of my friend’s current situation; but our shoes are so closely sized, the heartache is palpable.
Despite my best efforts and the most well-intentioned heart, I cannot save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. It’s not the first time I’ve learned this lesson, and I’m quite sure it won’t be the last, but, I repeat, I cannot save someone who doesn’t want to be saved…at the end of the day, the only person I CAN save, is myself.
Last week, my youngest brother and I went to listen to Chris Herren share his story of recovery (go peep here: https://herrentalks.com/about/) and so much of what he said radiated deeply. That night though, after close to two-hours of listening, I wrote down just two things I wanted to be sure to take home with me. The first, I’ll hold close, the second I’ll share with you tonight: “sometimes you have to be ok with loving someone from a distance.” Hard truth. Full stop.
I’m reminded of that tonight, as I feel depleted and helpless. I’m reminded that just because help was refused…doesn’t mean I can’t love from afar in order to protect myself and hold hope. Hold on to the hope that, one day, in our society (for my friend) it won’t be so scary to ask for and accept help. One day, although HELP is a four letter word, it won’t be perceived as such.
“You’re insane!” – that’s the most popular phrase I’ve heard on repeat the past few days when I told people what time I planned to wake up for the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon. In case you were wondering, the answer was 3:30am.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t alone, it wasn’t the first time, and it likely won’t be the last…although I may have sworn off of this particular race for logistical reasons (I also may have had my fingers crossed behind my back when I did).
When logistically the hardest part of your training cycle is getting to the start line the day of the race, it’s safe to say, you’ve done your training right. I’ve just recently begun to create my own training plans for 13.1 mile cycles, this particular one began the day after I completed the NYC Half Marathon in March (which I ran for fun and did not race). My plan focused on keeping a very solid weekly base (never below 20 miles), and slowing increasing my long runs week by week. I incorporated yoga, some Peloton bike work, and of course, rest days. Ninety percent of my long runs were done at a slow, conversational pace, my weekly runs varied a bit more, and I aimed to push myself about twice a week. Living in Westchester, and knowing this course was predominatly down and flat, I didn’t stress about hills, as it’s nearly impossible to escape them here. I poured 225 miles onto the pavement in preparation to run thirteen-point-one.
I’ve already mentioned I woke up at 3:30am – insert anxiety – rolled over and turned off the alarm before it woke me up. Looked out the bedroom window to the most amazing full moon and the brightest star. Obviously, I made a wish… Hopped into the shower, cause that’s always part of my race day routine, and was dressed and ready by 4:15am. I kissed my husband goodbye; he replied with his staple “have a great race, be safe, love you!”
By 4:35am I’d met three members of my #runsquad (Sharon, Erin, and Lily) and we were happily on our way to B-R-O-O-K-L-Y-N! The ride went by quickly, as we laughed, and told stories of how we’d never do this again, and then laughed again, cause we all knew that was likely not true. We arrived in Brooklyn with the rising sun, and about 28,000 other running hopefuls. Did I mention this was the POPULAR Brooklyn Half…they mean it!
The first thing we do upon departing the car (after Erin and I douse our fair Irish skin with sunblock) was set out to the nearest Starbucks and will locked doors to open at 6am, with hopes of a bathroom that wasn’t a porta-potty. Alas, this particular Starbucks opened at 6:30am (I mean, seriously Brooklyn?!), we were OUT of luck; porta-potty here we come. We march towards the security gates, whilst still on the lookout for other parts of our run squad (PJ, Loretta, and Paola) and make our way to the never-short-bathroom-line. We tell more running laced stories, tie shoes tighter, stretch, and remind ourselves of pacing goals as we wait. PJ, Erin’s cousin finds us, it’s his very first race EVER – his bright eyes are hopeful reminders that anything can happen out there. His excitement is both refreshing and encouraging. A short while later, Loretta finds us, and we all excitedly talk about how the weather gods have blessed us, with the most perfect day for a 13.1 run. We remind each other to have fun, and enjoy the race, we hug and split off into our respective corrals.
Loretta and I remain together in corral J, and within minutes Paola finds us…it’s truly amazing that in a literal sea of runners, you can still find “your people” when you need to. We stand and chat some more, the 7am race start time has come and gone, yet moving we are not. This isn’t unusual however, as unless your an elite runner, you never actually start a 7am New York Road Runner race at 7am. I begin to get myself settled into my space, plug in my headphones, stretch a little bit more, remind myself of the goal I’d set long before this morning came (Goal A – 1:52, Goal B – 1:55, Goal C – 1:56:15), and then I looked up again to see another familiar face: The Bad Ass Lady Gang Leader herself, Kelly Roberts!
For those of you who don’t know who she is, I will insert this link, and leave you to explore her awesomeness: https://shecanandshedid.com/aboutkelly. Seeing Kelly, was the last sign I needed before I ATTACKED this race with all I had. I walked up to her, told her she was my good luck charm, snapped a selfie, and knew this race was MINE. #shebelievedshecouldsoshedid
Having run this race last year, and knowing my real goal was to beat last year’s personal record (PR) time of 1:56:16, even if it meant by 1 second, I quickly grew comfortable in my Brooks and Balegas. Where I normally don’t feel warmed-up until mile 5 or 6, I was good to go from the start, that being said, the start is a nearly one mile downhill, so ya know there’s that. The miles began to tick by quickly, and my positivity laced playlist sent sweet motivational melodies into my ear-pods (yes, of course, song one was the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn”). Mile splits – 8:31, 8:37, 8:06, 8:26, 8:31, 8:40…that’s it, I’m out of the thick of it, all the big hills are behind me, but can that be I think to myself. I’m on track to pull something off I didn’t think I could, and I felt good, like really, really good.
Some will find this next part hard to believe, but I had a harder time running the second half of this course, as it was technically net downhill, and mostly flat. I wouldn’t say that I love hills, but I do love that they provide an opportunity for my legs to shift muscles, and balance the work between hamstrings, quads, and glutes…I am not a proficient flat runner, at all. Yet I know if I can hold on to my current average pace of 8:29ish I can pull off my A goal, better yet I might be able to surpass it! 8:11, 8:29, 8:18, 8:13, 8:25 – I keep thinking to myself how am I doing this, my feet begin to hurt a little bit and its getting hotter with sun beating down, but aside from being out of water in my personal bottle, I am still felling ok. Better than ok.
Between mile 11 and 12, I veer right and grab for a water cup to dump into my own bottle, my pace hiccups at 8:31, and I know I’m so close to the end. The last 2 miles are hard, my legs are tired, I am hot and the toll of the day is beginning to weigh on me…but I was NOT about to slow, I was too close. My last mile was an 8:14 and the last 200 yards of the race were my slowest, but even with that, I crossed the line of the POPULAR Brooklyn Half Marathon with a 1:51:04 and an average pace of 8-freaking-28.
I’m still not sure how I pulled it off; if it was the star I’d wished on that morning, the amazing support of my husband and sons and their go-mommy-go good luck video, the network of running buddies who shouldered my hopes and dreams with as much importance as their own, the Kelly Roberts selfie, my Momentum Jewelry motivational wraps, my brother’s initial ring (GWP…wear it every race), the perfect weather, the POPULAR course…my theory is this: sometimes it’s just your day, and if you never give up, it’s bound to happen more than once.
Thank you Brooklyn…I might be back next year (don’t laugh girls!)
I haven’t blogged since December, and for a long time it bothered me a lot; like a lot, a lot. I thought about it far more than I’d like to admit (full disclosure: in the beginning, it consumed me), and still, no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t/couldn’t find words to share. I’d sit in front of the screen, at the blinking cursor, sometimes for hours, and wonder why the thing that used to come so easily, had seemingly dried up.
Then it clicked…silence is ok & it doesn’t have to be forever.
When I launched this blog, my timeline was self-invented, I was my own boss, and my audience were mostly (all) those nearest and dearest to me. I wasn’t being paid to share my thoughts, and I wasn’t going to loose friends or family if I didn’t get words onto the screen…it was in fact, ok to be silent; more than ok even. Had I forced, or spilled words onto the screen, I would have jeopardized what I’d worked hard to create; an honest and transparent space to share a little bit of me with you.
The last blog I posted here spoke at length about an intangible loss; one immeasurable by any means familiar to me: intangible things I’d been muted. Silenced as an instructor. The little-motivational-engine-that-could deep inside of me, was stuck 1/2 way up the hill, and it sucked.
But, in time I’ve come to realize; in silence there is growth. I can now say, I am thankful for having had the opportunity to pause, even when I didn’t choose to, and to evaluate where I was and where I want to be. I am now moving onward and upward, loud and clear!
My voice is coming back, on my own terms, and this time I won’t allow anyone to push mute.
Recently, I suffered a loss. Comparative to other losses I’ve experienced, this particular loss doesn’t fall terribly high on the totem pole…yet, it remains incredibly significant. For me. Right now.
It’s hard to put into words the loss of an intangible object. This thing, albeit it meaningful, purposeful, wonderful…was simply what I/we made of it. I didn’t own it, for there could never be a true individual ownership, it was communal property; and I was blessed to have shared it with so many bright, beautiful, strong women.
It was blind to shape, to color, to background, and to age. It held no judgments or preconceived notions. It was welcoming and familial. It carved out strength where weakness once lived. It opened its arms and wrapped you in a hug on your worst day, and on your best. It encouraged you and challenged you. It was the commitment you made to yourself. It was the time no one could take away…
It’s always hard to loose something you weren’t ready to say goodbye to, I know a lot about that. But, it’s also hard to loose something you never knew you wanted…and, it’s harder still to loose something that was such a significant part of shaping the person you’ve (I’ve) become.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this nameless, significant entity, and that’s why I won’t. The fire it ignited inside of me flickered this week, but then I remembered (was reminded) the fire doesn’t just burn inside of me. The fire burns bright inside of the many others, who found their home inside this tribe. That fire, drives the desire to continue to want to best for myself and for others, and so while the loss stings, I will not allow it to extinguish my flame. My passion. My drive. The fire burns bright inside of me. Inside of you. I will find another candle to rest my flame upon, and I encourage you all to do the very same. We are stronger together, even when we are apart.
Perhaps one of the most unique gifts running has bestowed upon me, is the realization that finish lines can be crossed from miles away. They can be crossed from the comfort of your own couch. They can be crossed as you wait for another friend to meet you at the end of a race. They can be crossed states and oceans away…
In my brief stint as a runner to date, (it’s only been three years) I’ve crossed the finish line of 49 races independently. But vicariously, and because I’m blessed with so many close friends who also run, I’ve crossed countless others from afar. Just today, I “crossed the line” of the Philadelphia Marathon while making lunch for my kids!
The whole story is not mine to tell; the pace, the specifics within each mile, the thoughts that went through my friends head…not my own, but his finish, his finish brought me right back to my very own first marathon finish. And so, today we came to share a success story that only 1% of the world can call their own.
When I finished my first marathon last year, (after my husband’s text) it was this friend’s text that came through right away, saying simply “I’m so proud of you!” He was with me that day, before he knew he’d run his own marathon, he crossed the finish line of mine.
When I ran NYC again just two weeks ago, I journeyed down to the starting line with 4 dear friends, each with their own amazing story to tell. Two were running their very first marathons ever, another had had NYC on her bucket list since she was a little girl growing up in the very boroughs we were about to traverse, and the last, had overcome physical barriers that many would have deemed impossible (not her!) in order to toe the line.
Not one of us crossed the finish line at the same time, not one of us shared any of the same stories over 26.2 miles, yet that day, in NYC two weeks ago, I crossed the finish line not once, but 5 times. When in receipt of each of those special “I finished” text messages my heart swelled with pride and tears of joy sprang to my eyes; their finish line stories now permanently woven into my own.
I got to vicariously run the Boston Marathon this year; watching my tracking app with a sharp eye as my dear friends got closer and closer to the finish, and again tearing up with pride when they finished! I also got to “run” the Marine Corps Marathon just a few weeks ago, when again two dear running friends towed the line. Four more “finishes” and four more reasons to feel blessed to be a part of this community I’ve come to call home.
Running is a unique sport; it encourages the celebration of your own success stories, while enabling you to celebrate those beside you, behind you, and in front of you. The successes of others never dampen you own, in fact, if your very lucky, the successes of others, continue to heighten your own!
I would be lying if I said that I couldn’t wait to get a race recap up onto the blog, and to be honest I’m still not, so for now, I’m sharing just a little bit of my “marathon in the middle” story.
I ran my first NYC Marathon last year, and officially became a marathoner, afterwards, I was legitimately on top of the world for what seemed like weeks on end. I rode that marathon high for every ounce of what it was worth; capitalizing on the feel good vibes, and pushing myself to run back to back 5k PRs just 2 short weeks after the marathon. But here’s the (potentially) dangerous thing about a first-time-marathon runner’s high, it can trick you into overlooking the importance of recovery…as it tempts you with its splendour.
Those weeks directly after a marathon, are a super important time to allow your body to rest and recover. This certainly doesn’t mean you need to set up camp on the couch for good; but a nice 1-2 week hiatus from running is probably a (very) good idea. Last year, I pushed myself to run again too soon, I own that; I was back running just 4 short days after NYC. Running that soon (for me) wasn’t smart, and set me up for a 2018 fraught with injury after injury. However, while that marathon running high last year, pushed me to do some silly things, also ignited a fire deep inside of me, that crushed my “one and done” marathon theory. January rolled around quickly, and I literally threw my name into the lottery pool for 2018 as soon as it opened. I then, as everyone who enters to pool does, crossed my fingers and toes until drawing day in February. Alas, I didn’t get in (Adjusting the sails) but since the desire to run again was so strong, I quickly set my sights on fundraising for Team Answer the Call.
Fast forward to this past Sunday, November 4, 2018, when I ran my second NYC marathon in 4:29:33 (5 minutes slower than my 2017 time…no worries, I’m ok with it, mostly, I’m mostly ok with it). My training for this year was very similar to last, both had me running about 450 miles total in 16 weeks time…but this year I had all those pesky injuries to contend with, and also had my sights on running 9+1 (run 9 runs with New York Road Runners and volunteer for 1 event) to gain entry to the 2019 marathon. Insert craziness here, and again, I own it, all of it. The running bug has got it’s hold on me GOOD.
But enough about the how I got into races, and how I set myself up to run 3 back to back NYC Marathons…let’s get to this past Sunday, and my marathon in the middle. Sunday’s race didn’t have the splendour of my very first marathon, and it may not have the gusto (fingers crossed 2019) of my last, what it had was the simplicity of being smack dab in the middle of a first chance and a last hoorah. It was my place holder marathon, but of course being the freaking NYC MARATHON – it was an EPIC place holder!
Now to be fair and honest, I went into Sunday with hopes of a time (yes, of course a time faster than my 4:24 in 2017) in which I would cross the finish line…and for a lot of the race, that time seemed to be an actual, plausible possibility. But then around mile 18, 19 or 20, I honestly can’t remember, it slipped away, and, I was ok with it, like actually 100% fine. The end of the marathon is always the hardest part, no matter who you are, and on Sunday, I was let that pain slow me down instead of propel me forward. I allowed my physical to trump my mental game, and felt a significant sense of relief wash over me as I did.
I started to slow my pace even more, and took several walking breaks. I put on a brave smile for a photographer stationed on the damn floor of mile 25 **really NYRR – a low photographer at mile 25…OUCH!** I hydrated more, and then finally, texted my husband “I’m fading”…with love he responded: “YOU GOT THIS BABE!!!! LAST MILE…ALMOST HOME!!!” So close. It hit then, the reality of it sunk in, I didn’t have the finish I hoped for, but, amazingly I was completely OK with it. I still had 2019 in my back pocket as my moonshot for NYC, and so when I crossed that line I smiled one big, fat, I did it (again) smile and snapped a selfie, cause it tasted SO DAMN GOOD!
I’ll be back again next year NY, injury free, and READY…and then, you’re MINE!
Someone asked me just the other day, if I was nervous about the marathon coming up in 19 days, and without pause I said no. Oddly enough, last year standing at gate waiting for my corral to open, my youngest brother called and asked the same question; I said no then too.
In the last day or two I’ve begun to think about why I’m not nervous. I can say without pause, that a great deal of credit must be given to working the plan, and the roughly 400 miles I’ve logged during the last several weeks. But I think the real reason I’m not nervous as the final countdown ticks on, is because of the confidence in myself that running has gifted me.
Nerves used to have a very large portion of my head wrapped up in doubt. Nerves kept me from doing a lot of things over the years, that perhaps I ought not to have avoided. I know I’m not nervous, because where nervous used to live…is READY, doubt has gone off to die.
Will I ace this marathon and achieve the goal time I have set internally, maybe, but also, maybe not. Here’s the thing though, it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day I had the confidence in myself to believe I could run 26.2 consecutive miles…again, and that is achievement in and of itself for me.