Sunday, November 20, 2016

The best medicine

I thought I knew the sport pretty well when I entered the lottery for the New York City Marathon in January of this year. I'd completed 19 different marathons in 19 different cities, and17 states across the country. In Estes Park, Colorado, I'd run at 8,100+ feet with 148 runners. In Chicago I'd run what the next year would become one of the World Marathon Majors in a field of 33,0000. And across the country I'd seen marathons of a range of sizes and varieties in between. Over the years I've had a few good races and a few terrible races, and while I'd never claim to know what to expect on any given day, I generally felt that I understood the 26.2 mile distance and its impact on me. When the lottery opened I was only one difficult month into what I knew was going to be a long recovery from a painful calf tear, and still prohibited from running for another several weeks at that point. But my brother-in-law really wanted to run NYC together, and figuring there's no way I'd actually get in on my first try, I went ahead and entered the lottery. Naturally, we were both struck with beginner's luck this year, and on March 8th learned that we were in. I had only recently been able to start running very short distances by that time, and was battling chronic compartment syndrome in that damaged calf, but still I couldn't help getting swept up in the excitement of the day. The Huffington Post ran a cute piece on The 11 Emotional Stages of Getting Accepted into the NYC Marathon that featured one of my tweets that was, naturally, focused on the subject of what I would be eating in New York City:

Fast forward through the eight months of rehabilitation, training, work, travel, and life that ensued, with an apology for having neglected this blog during that time. There's a slew of reasons for it, none of which really matter. I'm back. Hi.

The marathon expo (Friday November 4th),
at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Glass ceilings and all.
The week of the race was a jarring, disorienting, exhausting carnival ride of a week. The night before we left town, we stayed up late celebrating as the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. (For those who don't know me personally: I am a huge fan of the game of baseball and do not take the World Series lightly!) The night after we returned, we stayed up late mourning as America elected its 45th president. (For those who don't know me personally: I am a huge fan of Hillary Clinton, and was an invested volunteer on her campaign.) There were highs, there were major lows, and then there was a trip to New York City and the experience of the world's largest marathon stuck right there in the middle of all of it. 

The NYC Marathon is an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Between the race entry, the cross-country travel, lodging, food, and the cost of boarding the dog .... I don't even want to do that math. But whatever that total turned out to be, I can say with total confidence that it was worth every penny. I admit that I didn't expect it to, but the 40th running of the New York City Marathon lived up to all of the hype. It was unlike any 26.2 I've run to date, not only in terms of the sheer number of people -- a record-breaking 51,388 finishers and a million spectators lining the course -- but also in terms of its incredible organization and thoughtful amenities. The course is a breathtakingly beautiful foot tour of all five of the boroughs of the city, and is just as challenging and filled with energy as everyone says it is. As you enter each borough, you're greeted by residents, local businesses, and volunteers filled with neighborhood pride, screaming wildly. "Welcome to Queens! Welcome to the Bronx! Shout if you love Brooklyn!" I actively seek out and fully enjoy small-town and small-scale racing, where local cross-country kids help out along the course, and all of the funds that are raised will stay in the community. I love a good screaming crowd, but also appreciate the quiet miles in the outlying areas of those smaller races that afford runners an opportunity to chat with one another, or run in silent meditation. NYC doesn't give you much in the way of quiet time, though, beyond a few less raucous moments on the bridges (where spectators can't congregate, but still the police and construction workers are cheering you on). Crowds line the rest of the course, several people deep in most places, and the famous "wall of sound" as we turned onto 1st Avenue was utterly overwhelming, in the most perfect way. The final miles through Harlem and then through the rolling hills of Central Park were difficult but strangely almost painless for me. I can hardly remember any discomfort, but can recall with unusual clarity the rows of yellow trees, smiling and high-fiving with countless strangers, and the pleasant dizziness of the finish line. Thanks to the energy harnessed by the people of New York, I managed a steady pace through those final miles, awestruck and numbed by the best analgesic there is: love. 

In a period of my life and our history as a country that's so filled with conflict, anger, fear, and hatred, I am clinging to these memories of the NYC Marathon for my life. For my sanity. As I rested under my blanket in the starter village on Staten Island that morning, I watched and listened as runners from 124 countries, and all 50 of our United States spoke our shared language - advice, encouragement, and our mutual appreciation and respect for the great human challenge that is the marathon. For all of my hesitation about the crowds and logistical challenges, the NYC experience was one well worth having, and I'm eternally grateful to my brother-in-law Ian for talking me into it. To any extent that I helped inspire him to become a marathoner, his enthusiasm and curiosity about the sport has helped me infinitely more. 

So many thanks. To my husband and friends who supported me through my training and out there on the course. To the friends, family, and colleagues who contributed to my fundraiser for Alzheimer's San Diego. To the staff, sponsors, and volunteers that make everything happen. And to the people of New York City for letting us take over your town for the day. 

Here's the race, in a few pictures.

Oh nothing just me and Ian with American distance running goddess supreme, KARA GOUCHER, at the expo. We had her sign our bibs for good luck.

The runner graffiti walls at the expo were beautiful.

Everyone has their own pre-race ritual. Saturday night at Adrienne's Pizzabar, in Battery Park. We stayed in Lower Manhattan for easy access to the Staten Island Ferry on race morning.

Even with the extra hour of sleep due to the time change on Saturday night, race morning sure came early. Zombie-selfie on the 6am Staten Island Ferry! I sat next to an awesome runner named Paul who has run NYC many times, and provided me lots of interesting insights. (Hi Paul!)

And then, all of a sudden, the early morning wake-up was worth it.

At the starters' village on Staten Island, getting my first look at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, where the race begins.

Lining up on the Verrazano-Narrows, ready to head out of Staten Island. We were led in a huge chorus of "New York, New York" before the national anthem.

Waving to my awesome crew, somewhere in Brooklyn. 

Beautiful view of the long stretch of 1st Avenue, after just having passed the "wall of sound" that greets runners after crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. Look at that perfect, blue sky, 57 degree day!

Sarah, Tiffany, Marc, and Mike, killing time on the mean streets of New York. I was so grateful to have them (and Josephine, not pictured!) cheering me on, as well as the friends and family who tracked my progress on the marathon app.

Shout out to everyone who contributed to my fundraiser for Alzheimer's San Diego! Together we raised over $1,900 to help fund education programs and supportive services for families impacted by Alzheimers' disease and other types of dementia.

The RUNNER'S HI rocks the Bronx! Somewhere around mile 20.

The finisher's walk to the meet-up area, aka the zombie apocalypse. The fleece-lined poncho (for runners who don't check a bag at the start) is such a nice touch.

I generally crave a cold beer at the end of a marathon, but all I wanted was this warm cup of coffee! The 10 am start time was so disorienting.

My brother-in-law Ian crushed his second marathon! He said then it would probably be his last for a while, but I knew the truth. He's already looking at the spring calendars. #junkie

Friends Steven and Josephine (and Jojo the chocolate lab) hosted us at their beautiful apartment in Newark for the most magnificent post-race feast you've ever seen!

New York City Marathon
November 6, 2016

And the rest of the trip was pretty fun, too!

Ian after we shoved him into a subway car. 
New York is crowded.

Katz's Deli!

Wrenching visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

The 9/11 reflecting pools.

World Trade Center.

Being in New York meant the chance to reconnect with several friends.
Beautiful pre-race stroll through Central Park with Marissa.

Steven and Josephine:
Support crew extraordinaire, on the course and off!

My husband and I spent a fun day visiting with my very oldest friend, Melina.

Took a lovely ride on the SeaGlass Carousel!

Battery Park.

I prefer to carbo-load after the race.

With the marathon behind me, thoughts already turning to training for a January Spartan Race .....

Aftermath. Homeward bound.

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