FFTFL premiere

FFTFL premiere

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

We ARE Marathoners!

The last few days I have been trying to digest what transpired over the weekend. Never have I experienced so many emotions in one period of time. The few weeks before the big day was riddled with anxiety and self-doubt to the point where I was having stomach pain, so I ditched my strong coffee brew and opted for calming tea to help soothe my stomach and my nerves. It helped my stomach.

Marathon Eve Eve was spent getting our act together. I made my list and checked it thrice. I dyed my hair (marathon photos are forever!) and cleaned the house since my kids were hosting a couple of my sisters and their kids for our traditional Halloween trick-or-treating/pizza party. I had to pack all of our running attire, nutrition, fuel belt and handheld, registration forms, licenses, cash, throwaway clothes for Athlete's Village, Body Glide, and toiletries. I managed to get it all in 1 backpack. (FYI: Rolling clothes takes up less space.) We went to bed knowing how important that night of sleep was for marathon day and managed to doze off somewhere around 11 pm... and then the phone rang...at 2:20 am. I leaped out of bed to get to the phone only for it to stop ringing and not register the call. Your mind always assumes the worst when the phone rings at that time of night! Charlie and I attempted to return to sleep with our hearts in out throats.

And then it was Saturday. We took the train directly from our town because there was track work being done on our regular LIRR branch. Charlie and I arrived in Manhattan at noon and walked to the expo at the Javits Center.

"Get you New York on."

"It's a big race. Go run it!"

I had never been to JJC and it is enormous! We were relieved to discover that even though it was the runners' last chance to pick up race bibs it was not as crowded as I had anticipated. We were able to walk right up to our assigned number kiosk, show our IDs and get our bibs. Next we picked up our lovely long sleeved tech marathon shirts and then milled about, trying samples of different nutritional products. The expo was basically the biggest running store in the world. I heeded Jen's (my From Fat to Finish Line team mate) warning and didn't shop for anything. I can do that from the comfort of my own home and not have to wait on a ridiculously long line.

We took the provided shuttle bus back to Penn to spend the night with Jen and her family in NJ.  Even though we live so close we don't get to see each other enough! Jen graciously opened her home to us so we could take the NYRR  bus from the Meadowlands to Staten Island marathon morning. While we were there we got to discuss all our worries and concerns about the race, as well as how much fun we were going to have and the memories we were going to make. Since it was Halloween we sat out on the stoop and handed out candy to all the trick or treaters with Jen's adorable son. He was trying to convince Charlie and I with his astounding persuasive abilities to visit the neighbor's haunted garage. He might have managed to get me to eat M&Ms and a piece of Double Bubble, but he was unsuccessful in getting us to that guy's house!

You never sleep well at a different location than your own bed, let alone the night before your first marathon. Charlie and I were awake well before our 4 am alarm. (The extra hour we had because of Daylight Savings Time was lost on us.) We put on the several layers of clothing required for the outdoor wait and had some breakfast. I attempted to choke down some oatmeal with peanut butter but it just wasn't appealing at all. Jen's husband and son also woke up before the crack of dawn to take us to the bus. I was pleasantly surprised to see many NJ Transit buses waiting for us, again without long lines. The three of us hopped on a bus and enjoyed talking with other runners and the commute went quickly.

We arrived at Fort Wadsworth around 6 am and walked a while until we found the Green Athlete's Village we were assigned to. It was a great coincidence that Jen, Charlie and myself had signed up for the biggest marathon in the world and wound up with the identical color, wave and corral! So we walked past all the food, Dunkin' Donuts coffee and nutritional supplements offered and found an empty (non-heated) tent to camp out in until we needed to head to the corral at about 10 am.

the Verrazano Bridge, start of the marathon

 The tent began to fill up around us and the four hours we sat on the ground went quickly sharing stories with the runners around us. We met Pam from Hungary, Marlo from New Jersey, a German man who spoke little English, and an Adam Levine look alike from Virginia Beach (wish I had gotten his name!). Did you know that liverwurst is a common breakfast in Hungary? Me, neither. I really enjoy talking to people, so I could have spent the entire day there, especially since there was plenty of hot coffee, food and port o potties. Speaking of the john, one trip I made resulted in a somewhat teeter totter bathroom experience and when I opened the door a couple men were waiting to see who came out, so I announced "You need your sea legs when you're in this one!" and they started laughing. 

in our corner of the tent

Ready to go!

Then we started losing runners to their waves and the tent began to empty. We were the last men standing and then it was our turn. Jen, her two running buddies, Charlie and myself made it to Wave 4, Corral B, and were herded just like cows to the slaughterhouse. With each wave a canon is shot and we were able to watch Wave 3 take off. It was so exciting!

Wave 3 moving along!

at the start
I can honestly say I was unusually calm. Charlie convinced me that our time did not matter to him. He just wanted us to enjoy the experience and finish. This day was the culmination of more than 6 years of running, losing weight, rehabbing, planning, and fundraising and he wanted it to be a celebration. The fact that Charlie was putting absolutely no pressure on me is why I was even able to breathe at the start line, let alone put one foot in front of the other.

Our cannon went off and the party started. We were on the lower level of the bridge, so it was warmer with absolutely no wind. We were already realizing we were overdressed. I shed my Pooh jacket on the bridge by mile 2. (Note: all clothes/blankets left behind at the villages and on the course are cleaned and donated to the homeless!) We were able to follow my 2:1 run/walk intervals and things were going well. When we made it onto the Brooklyn side of the bridge Charlie disrobed and threw away his long sleeved shirt.

My strategy to make the marathon seem more manageable was to break the run into 6 segments, one for each borough plus another for being in Manhattan twice. Staten Island went by quickly, since it was just the Verrazano Bridge. But Brooklyn? Even though the crowd support was like no other race I had ever been to, with people lining both sides of the street, yelling your name (make sure to put your name on the front of your shirt!!), holding up signs, (our favorite was "If you PR, Glenn lives!" a perfect 'The Walking Dead' reference!), it covered 10 miles on the course! While most of the miles had spectators and live bands and little kids high-fiving us galore, Williamsburg, a Hasidic Jewish community towards the end of the Brooklyn segment, was nearly desolate and quiet. The adorable little girls in their uniform dress staring at us from a second floor balcony made us feel like we were an anomaly, something to be studied and almost feared. *crickets*

Queens was almost an afterthought on the course, covering a mere couple miles before heading over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. We were doing well, hitting the 13.1 marker at around 3:20, crossing the Pulaski Street Bridge, when a course marshal bicyclist came by saying the roads would be opening soon, split timing mats would be lifted and we would need to move to the sidewalks. The finish line mat would be open and we would get medals, but we would fall off the radar as far as people being able to track us. This is the moment I broke. I didn't realize this would be a possibility. I never checked the bridge and road closure list with the times those roads would reopen. Panic set in.

the view of the Manhattan skyline

The Queensboro Bridge was a challenge. We came upon a Spanish gentleman walking with wooden crutches and one leg. With the little Spanish we knew we tried to encourage him to keep moving as we passed. I have no idea if he finished. By the time we came off the bridge I called my parents' house where my kids and siblings would be to let them know although they weren't able to follow us much longer we were still on the course, still moving slowly forward. The tears started to flow as I spoke to my father. He encouraged me to keep going. It was too early to be hitting that wall.

The "wall of sound" coming into the Black Girls Run and the Mile 16 water station on 1st Avenue in Manhattan was now a dull roar for us back of the packers. It was still great to see them and know I had been there, volunteering with them the year before. I was hoping and praying that my friends Laurie and Cathy would still be waiting to cheer us on, even though we were taking such a long time out there. Well, I couldn't hide my emotions when from about 100 feet away I saw a neon green sign with the words "Linda and Charlie" as the title.

I was so very happy and thankful that my friends were still waiting on me! I don't think I have ever sobbed so hard before. I do remember saying to the crowd next to Laurie "This fucking sucks!" (photo courtesy of Laurie)
I love seeing Charlie and Laurie high five as I continue to sob on Cathy.  (photo courtesy of Laurie)

And this is what the sign said!! LOL!!! (photo courtesy of Laurie)

Seeing Laurie and Cathy helped boost my spirits. We still had the long trudge up 1st Avenue and 10 miles to go. Just 2 miles later, around mile 18, I was thrilled again to see that our friend Kim was waiting, Selden Hills Warrior sign in hand and  provisions for at least 10 more runners coming through. She had oranges, bananas, pretzels, GU, ShotBloks, M&Ms and water. Not only was it fantastic to see her, but her supply gave us a shot of energy and much needed water for the miles ahead, since water stations were now being disassembled and trucked away.

more tears (photo courtesy of Kim)
First Avenue was a long journey into the Bronx. Spectators were dropping like flies, so when we heard cheers along the course we thanked every single person. By now, we were on the sidewalks and weaving through the police cars and the many Penske trucks coming along to break down the water stations. Again, the Bronx was only a couple miles, beginning with the Willis Avenue Bridge and ending with the Madison Avenue Bridge at mile 21.

It's our second time in Manhattan and the last of the six segments of the marathon. By that time it was dark, dark and desolate. We were sharing the sidewalk with pedestrians; some cheered us on and others seemed annoyed by our presence. We trudged on, hand in hand. Holding Charlie's hand gave me the determination to move forward and not slow down anymore than the 3.25 miles an hour I was moving. Harlem seemed to go on forever and then finally we turned into Central Park at Engineer's Gate and continued down East Drive in the park. It was a gorgeous evening for a stroll in the park. Other than some split mats and water tables being taken down you wouldn't know there was a marathon going on. We bumped into a young guy named Filip once again in the park. He had never done a marathon before and was walking the entire distance. He stopped several times along the last 2 miles and I just kept yelling at him to stop stopping and keep going!!

The last 1.2 miles were long. I started to kick it up a notch just to be done and we came out onto Central Park South and saw The Plaza Hotel, the place Charlie and I celebrated with champagne after getting engaged on a horse and buggy ride in Central Park, 23 years ago. We were now at the home stretch, turning into Columbus Circle and then back into the park. The grandstands were empty. The .2 miles to the finish were quiet. When the finish line was in sight we started to trot to cross the finish "running." We crossed hand in hand, arms outstretched overhead in victory.

I said before I was uncertain of how I would feel when we finished. I envisioned it being light out, holding Charlie's hand, turning to kiss him with tears gushing down our faces. However, I could have also been like a deer caught in headlights, numb to what we had been through and the magnitude of what we accomplished. We were spent. Charlie and I had shed so many tears throughout the day, from reading our daughter's texts in Athlete's Village, one saying "Remember, the finish line is only waiting for you. You'll cross it even if you think you can't," to the tears that fell when we saw our friends at miles 16 and 18. The finish line was just the end.

Just after the finish our medals were donned around our necks. We were handed finisher backpacks with food and water and thankfully our post-race ponchos were not even a block after that. NYRR didn't make the stragglers head up the additional umpteen blocks to get our ponchos and get out of the park. Now it was time to figure out how to get a cab and get back to Penn Station for the journey home. Because of the road closures and one way streets we wound up at Lincoln Center on Columbus Avenue to finally hail a cab. That was the best $11 (with tip) we have ever spent. No stairs necessary for a subway ride and when we were dropped at our stop, the LIRR has a blessed escalator.

the long ride home
The next train home was over an hour wait, so we refueled with some pizza and checked texts and got a congratulatory phone call from our friend Colleen, who became a marathoner at the Marine Corps Marathon just a week before. We arrived home at about 11 pm, and I was greeted by balloons, a card and gift from the kids and Charlie.

my first Alex and Ani bracelet for my first marathon

What have I learned from this journey that began back in 2009 with Charlie stating that if I ever considered running a marathon he would do it with me? I realized how very fortunate I am to have such loving and caring family and friends. I have such a dedicated and adoring husband, who, no matter slow the pace was, never left my side. Going through my Facebook posts took me several hours on Monday. The tears flowed yet again. I may not have the best marathon time, I have more than any running coach, gear or plan can give me. What matters is not what you have but who you have in life. Priceless.