The 2016 NYC Marathon and Choosing Not To Suffer
Running the New York city marathon is a life changing experience in and of itself but to do it as a participant of the Footlocker Five Borough Challenge was humbling, surreal, overwhelming, and life changing.
Running has always been very difficult for me. Rarely do I set off for a run, be it a fun run or a hard track workout, and think, "WOOHOO! This is easy." Nine times out of ten, I'm using every tool in my running tool belt to survive the workout at hand. But becoming a runner helped me understand that I can't define what I can and can not do by what I perceive to be possible and impossible. Running and anything physically active for that matter, doesn't come naturally to me and I'm almost always driving the struggle bus but this year, I learned how to choose not to suffer when everything hurts, I feel like dying, and I struggle to remember why suffering is worth it.
The Footlocker Five Borough challenge is a race within a race. Footlocker selects five people to represent their borough (one person from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan, and the Bronx) because running helped them overcome a hardship in their life. I was chosen to represent Brooklyn because running has helped me manage my grief and the aftermath of my younger brother Scott's traumatic passing in 2009. From losing over 75 pounds and helping me redefine what body confidence means, running helped me blaze a path for myself when I didn't know what to do with my life. Being given an opportunity to share my story along with my #SportsBraSquad initiative was in and of itself, an honor.
I knew going into New York City that I was going to have a really tough race. In April, I set a goal to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon (BQ) during October's Chicago Marathon and this summer when Footlocker approached me to see if I'd be interested in possibly applying to participate in the Five Borough Challenge, I was nervous to accept because I didn't think four weeks was enough time to recover from an all out balls to the wall BQ attempt in Chicago. I've worked my ass off to get in the strongest shape of my life and I wanted to win the challenge! I wanted to break that tape and show the world that anything is possible if you believe in yourself and put in the work!
But that didn't happen during the New York city marathon. Chicago left my body totally and completely spent. My left hip flexor and hamstring have been giving me trouble and I took the entire week before the NYC Marathon off in a last ditch attempt to recover. I obviously wanted to be a contender to break the tape but more importantly, I didn't want to suffer through my favorite marathon ever. New York is home and every time I turn a corner during the race, I see a new friend or Run, Selfie, Repeat family member. I wanted to make Brooklyn proud but mostly, I wanted to be able to run smiling and pain free.
From the moment we crossed the starting line, a smile sat permanently on my face. We had the first 13 miles of the course, all of which went through my borough of Brooklyn, to ourselves. Well, except for mile 7 when the elite women went zooming past us.
And then again around mile 11 when the elite men went zooming past.
Because we were alone on the course, I got to give all the high fives and hugs to my friends. And the most amazing part was getting to stop and give a thank you hug to anyone who read my blog or followed me on Instagram. When I run for a PR, I don't get to stop or run across to the other side of the street for a high five. But this time, I got to take my time and appreciate every single step I took towards the finish line. I'd be nothing without all of you and getting to hug you all along the way was very, very special. I've never felt so supported in my entire life and I am so grateful that you all showed up and got my attention yesterday.
And can we just take a second to talk about how HILARIOUS my sister Samantha, my Mom, and my Aunt Mary Ellen's race day signs were!?!?!
Once we hit the 13.1 mile mark, it was time to race. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get faster but I wanted to try. Chicago taught me that I'm capable of pushing through pain and discomfort and I couldn't tell if my legs were fatigued or if my hamstring was actually a problem. After two miles at my "normal" pace, I knew I was in for a suffer fest if I tried to race. It was right before I hopped onto the Queensboro bridge that I had to have a major pep talk with myself and knocked the "if I don't run fast, I'll let people down" idea out of my head.
Look, I think when it comes to running and racing, it's important to set really terrifying and impossible goals and run them down. But I ALSO think it's equally important to know that PR's and times don't define success and failure. Just because I ran a 3 hour and 41 minute marathon doesn't mean that I need to go for a PR every marathon I run for the rest of my life. I had to remind myself that I had nothing to prove almost every step of the way. I'm not an elite athlete and I didn't want to suffer through 13 miles of my favorite race to try to get below 4 hours.
I can't compare my experiences at Chicago and NYC because Chicago kicked my ass and I wasn't recovered to race New York. But looking back, I take the struggle bus I drove in New York over the pain train I ran through in Chicago ANY DAY. Now don't get me wrong, I love the pride and sense of accomplishment that Chicago gave me along with what I learned about myself in the months leading into the race. But fun running New York is what running is all about. It's not always about how fast you can go, it's about choosing not to suffer when everything hurts and you're not sure you can take another step. It's about letting the people who showed up to support you fuel your desire to keep fighting and believing in yourself when paralyzing doubt sets in.
I'll be honest, I thought about walking the last six miles. I had just gotten into the Bronx and my hip was throbbing. I saw my teammate Dom, stopped to say hi, and told him I was struggling. He looked at me and goes, "I'm not going to try to change your mind because you know you're too close to throw in the towel. It's only six miles. Even if you walk, you're too close not to finish."
It wasn't so much that I wanted to quit. It was frustrating that mentally, I was in it. I felt great. I was smiling. I was having fun. I wanted to keep pushing but my hip just wouldn't let me. Every quarter mile or so, a friend would come up behind me, smack my booty or grab my hand and make me run with them. I live for these moments. I wanted to run with them but my hip would start throbbing and I had to pull back.
Before we hit Fifth Avenue, I was sharing my struggle on Facebook live when my friend John Honerkamp grabbed my hand and yanked me to run with him.
I wanted nothing more than to be able to hang on with him for the final 3 miles. But I couldn't.
A mile later, I ran into my coach Josh for the last time. This guy is the reason I've had the strong year I've had. He taught me how to believe in myself and my own strength and he always know the right thing to say. He held me tight and told me not to worry. He reminded me that I've had a phenomenal year and walking isn't something to be ashamed of. It's hard to feel proud when these amazing runners run past you and tell you how inspiring you are while you limp your way up Fifth Avenue. I was quickly starting to feel sorry for myself but thanks to Josh, I remembered that that was just my own insecurity talking. There's no shame in walking. I knew that. And the walking break gave my best friend Anoush (who crushed a 2018 BQ) time to catch up with me.
I wish I would have had my GoPro with me because our friend Hannah pulled Anoush and I up Fifth Avenue. I mean PHYSICALLY pulled us. Whenever one of us started walking, she turned around, grabbed our hand, and yanked us into a run again. Then she turned to us and screamed, "I'm injured and I can't pull you the entire way! You have to keep going!" Then she shoved a Swedish Fish in my mouth and as my pace slowed, she and Anoush disappeared toward Central Park leaving my physical therapist Mike alone to make me laugh my way towards the Park.
The pain was unbearable you guys. But despite the pain, the smile never left my face because it's impossible to suffer during the New York City Marathon. It's impossible to work your way up First Avenue, back down Fifth, through Central Park, around Columbus Circle, and back into the park not feeling an overwhelming sense of belonging when you look at the people who showed up to help you get to the finish line. Once I got into Central Park, I remembered that my Mom was at the finish line and I just kept going. The smile got bigger and bigger and once I got into the park, I felt incredibly happy and grateful that I was a runner.
When I crossed the finish line, there were no tears of joy. Just a huge smile and endless hugs from the people I call my friends.
I'm so grateful that I found the running community. I'm grateful that I didn't quit when I was first struggling to become a runner and I am beside myself that I can have fun running a marathon. The 2016 New York City Marathon was the best victory lap that I could have asked for. It was a day spent with my friends, family, and fellow New Yorkers celebrating the pursuit of impossible. When everything hurt, there was always someone there to make me smile and celebrate the journey. I think I gave more hugs and high fives on marathon Sunday than I ever have in my entire life.
I finished in four hours and 28 minutes and I am beyond proud of my time. I am beside myself with what happened throughout the race and I am so humbled that I was a participant in the Footlocker Five Borough Challenge. Yesterday was a day I will never, ever forget. Truly one of the best, happiest, and most painful days of my life. Thank you all for the love, the words of encouragement, the laughs, hugs, high fives, and for your donations to Save The Children.
What a year. Where do we go from here?