"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My first marathon!

On Sunday, November 7, I ran the ING NYC Marathon, a distance that seemed impossible to me even a month ago. I trained for 16 weeks following (or trying to follow) Hal Higdon's Novice Marathon Training Program--I admit I slacked a bit at the end. But I did it! And it was one of the best, and definitely hardest, both mentally and physically, things I've done in my life.

I had been sick since the Tuesday before, nursing a nasty head cold, and I was also worried about a bruised tailbone I'd suffered from getting my foot stuck in the toilet and hitting my butt on the tile floor (but that's another story...). On Friday, I was getting seriously worried I'd have to back out, but by the Groundwork pep rally and carb-loaded dinner on Saturday, with the help of copious amounts of Dayquil, Airborne, Zicam, kombucha, ginger tea, and sleep, I was feeling a lot better. It also probably had a lot to do with Ad babying me and Dana flying 700 miles to cheer me on!

Sunday morning I felt surprisingly good and totally ready to tackle the thing. Instead of just wanting to get it over with (the way I'd felt days before), I was REALLY excited about seeing all of the boroughs, experiencing the camaraderie of the runners, and feeling the real strength and power of my body. With a forecast of 51 degrees and sunny, it was also absolutely perfect running weather.

For breakfast, I had a salt bagel with peanut butter and banana, a gatorade, and a coffee. At 5:45am, I set off in my hot pink throw-away sweats, armed with tissues tucked into my shirt sleeves for my still-runny nose. I didn't see ANYONE in running gear on the C train, and started to get really worried I was headed the wrong way, but at Chambers Street I finally found a huge cohort of marathoners and followed them to the ferry. The next few hours seemed to fly by as I stretched, drank an obscene amount of water, and got to my corral. I made a friend there named Erin. She was around my age and running her first marathon alone as well, and we bonded over strategies and nerves. Then, at 10:40am, it was finally time to start.

Erin and I surged over the Verrazano Bridge together. It was an incredible rush (I'd never been to Staten Island before), and clothes were flying left and right like colorful flags. I was practically sprinting through miles 1 and 2, despite warnings to conserve energy, but soon I waved Erin on--she was much faster than I was!

Erin had warned me to keep to the middle of the bridge since people pee off the sides, and I have to admit I wished I was a guy about half way across, my bladder already bursting from all the gatorade, coffee, and water I'd slugged before the start. I didn't have to wait too long, though--a water station and porta-potties were set up at mile 3, and pretty much every mile after that.

Running up the streets in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was a great way to start the race. Lots of vibrant music, and the crowds felt really intimate. I ran behind "Bob from Jersey," who was carrying two American flags, for a long time, and let me tell you, people LOVE Jersey! I laughed when I saw a sign that said "You're almost there! Only 21.5 miles to go!" I was feeling great, and that feeling just grew as more and more people were yelling my name. It felt like all those people were out there cheering just for me.

My former coworkers, Alvina and Sarah, were the ones who initially got me running, starting with the Chase Corporate Challenge 5k three years ago. I remember watching them run the NYC Marathon in 2006 and being totally in awe of their accomplishment. I was convinced I would never be capable of such a feat, but they were so encouraging, insisting anyone could run a marathon if they trained for it.

I reread Alvina's marathon blog post a few weeks ago for motivation, and took her advice (and Rose's before her) to write my name on my shirt. I'd also gone with my cousin, Cullen's, call to "dress like a superhero so you'll feel like a superhero." Standing in front of the mirror at 5am that Sunday, I was having doubts and feeling a bit self-conscious about the neon yellow shirt and huge black letters spelling my name. In all probability, I was going to spend the day sweaty, in serious pain, and with facial expressions ranging from scowl to suicidal. Did I really want to essentially wear a flashing sign saying "LOOK AT ME"? Turns out, yes. At times, people shouting my name was the only thing that kept me going!

I unexpectedly saw Elliot in Park Slope at one of the water stations. He was the first person I knew, and I was thrilled and totally shocked to see him, since I didn't think I'd be able to pick anyone out on the sides of those very wide streets!

By Clinton Hill I was really hitting my stride. It was great to be back in the familiar territory of my old neighborhood, and the dance parties along the Lafayette sidelines were epic. And of course dear friends were waiting for me there. Karl, Amy, Sharon, and Jon were great motivation, and were also able to take my gloves and ipod shuffle off my hands. (I should've listened to Ad--headphones were an absolute nuisance.)

The first 12 miles flew by! I was averaging 9-9:30/min miles--WAY under my training pace--without even feeling winded, and smiling from ear to ear. I saw Serena and the Groundwork crew in Bed Stuy shortly after. Team Groundwork raised over $26,000 for leadership programs for kids in East New York and Bed Stuy, and it was thrilling to be a part of that effort.

Ad, Dana, Bryn, Neil, and Kari were waiting for me among shrieking hipsters in Williamsburg, and I stopped long enough to slather my mouth (and most of my face) in vaseline, pose for a picture for Dana to send to Mom and Dad, and shriek "I can't slow down! I really need to slow down!" Turns out I didn't need to worry, because slow down I certainly would.

I loved Queens, but I might be biased by the fact that I was given a fist bump, a banana half, an orange, a cookie, and a hug all within five minutes of entering the borough, right when I needed it. And the jam bands were seriously out of control! So were the firefighters all in a line giving high-fives.

When I hit the dreaded Queensboro Bridge at mile 15--a very steep mile, made more harsh with the sudden silence of no cheering crowds for the first time in the entire course--I started to feel a twinge in my lower right leg, but I tried to shake it off and breathe into it, sure it was just temporary.

What they say is true: turning onto First Ave, with the people on the sidelines ten rows deep, was so inspiring. But the pain in my leg was getting rapidly worse, pulsing through shin, ankle, and now knee, so it felt like a long, straight road to hell. I still don't know what went on there--I hadn't had any trouble with that leg in any of my training runs, and it didn't take long to feel better in the few days after the race, either. Regardless, I was pretty miserable, and started counting down the streets until mile 18.5, where I knew I'd see Ad, Dana, Bryn, and Neil again. I needed a familiar face. A hug and a kiss and a bit of encouragement. Thirty blocks until Ad and Dana. Ten. Five. When I finally reached them, I downed my first goo, said "I'm not in as good of shape as I was last time you saw me," and then braced myself and got going.

There were a lot of Achilles teams--able-bodied runners flagging others with disabilities that made it tough for them to complete the race alone (blindness, a bad heart...). I ran behind a man with a leg amputation for a bit, and felt so inspired and grateful that I started to enjoy every second I could keep going.

Getting into the Bronx was a huge relief, because I knew there was no way I'd quit now. The crowds were enthusiastic, and I probably got more "GO JILL!"s and "You can do it, girl!"s at mile 20 than anywhere else. And boy did I need it. 20 was my longest training run, and those extra 6 miles were truly brutal. I didn't ever hit "the wall," exactly, but by then my whole right leg was absolutely throbbing, a blister was getting serious on my left heel, and I was just exhausted. But there was no stopping, and I even avoided water stations for fear I wouldn't be able to get going again.

Harlem was full of music, loud cheers, and really excited little kids handing out gatorade. One of the best parts of the course for me, for sure, especially since I was in the home stretch. Memorable signs on the way down 5th Ave included "Who needs toenails?", "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon!", "Your feet hurt because you're kicking so much ass!", and "Just finish your f*cking race!" That last one, in particular, really hit home.

By the time I got to Ad, Dana, Bryn, and Neil for the last time at mile 23 (they were all over the city that day!), I was in pretty rough shape. I teared up as I limped toward them, but didn't stop for a hug because I knew I'd never get going again if I stopped for even a second. I think I whimpered something like "I'm going to die here" to Dana as I passed. I believed it at that point.

The last 3 miles were slow, uphill torture, but the crowds were seriously going crazy! A man who had to be at least 80 sprinted past me in that final stretch, and I tried to push my legs to follow his example, but I didn't have much left in me. I thought about walking (or just quitting entirely) constantly, but someone was screaming my name and words of encouragement literally every ten feet. It really helped. And as I rounded that last curve and passed the 400, 200, and 100 meter signs, it suddenly all felt worth it.

Getting handed that medal and Mylar cape after I crossed the finish line was as incredible as I'd imagined it would be, and tears were streaming down my cheeks. On the walk back from the finish, I ran into Peter Brown, who was waiting for his girlfriend, Gwen. Check out Gwen's awesome stop-motion video of the marathon (shot from a camera on her head) if you get a chance.

I had no time goals for the marathon. I'd estimated I'd been training at about an 11 min/mile pace, but for my first marathon, my goal was just to finish, not keel over, and run (jog) the whole way if possible. With a finish time of 5 hours and 50 seconds, I accomplished all of those goals. And looking through the Brightroom Photography photos posted online a few days later, I was proud to see I was grinning in every picture, looking like I was having the time of my life, even when it hurt, doing something I never, ever thought I could do.

Ad and co. were waiting for me after at 72nd street, and wrapped me up in warm sweats and lots of hugs. When I called my parents to reassure them I wasn't dead, Mom said, "You're done with marathons now, right?" and I said yeah, I thought one was enough. But when The New York Times posted the names of the marathoners in Monday's paper and I missed the cut by 11 minutes, I went straight to the New York Road Runners web page and put my name in the lottery for the 2011 marathon. It'll be easier the second time around, right?

1 comment:

  1. Awww, Jill. Just read this, and it made me tear up. Congratulations again on this great achievement!!