Three weeks ago, my family and I landed in the city that never sleeps so I could lace of my running shoes and participate in the New York City marathon. As the world’s largest, I joined more than 51,000 of my closest running friends on Nov 5. My bucket list item was about to get the check.
I’m a runner, but not a fast one. I’ve run one other marathon, but it was 12 years ago. For me, running is challenging, sometimes painful, but consistently calming. It makes me feel accomplished and at times defeated. While I slog away on my flat feet, I solve small family issues and large word problems. When I come to a stop I may feel fatigued, but always fulfilled.
After three years of throwing my name into the lottery, I became one of the 25 percent whose name is drawn for the 2017 NYC marathon. It was a whirlwind trip, arriving Thursday afternoon. I hauled the family to the exhibition center on Friday to retrieve my number, and take the “I was here” photos, and purchase the must-have gear to confirm that I was a participant in the 2017 marathon. Multiple languages floated through the expo. I chatted with a few women who were searching for smalls that appeared sold out in many of the most popular items. We traversed through people and lines numbering in the thousands. It was exhilarating and a bit exhausting at the same time.
From there, we made our way to meet my dear college friend and sorority sister who I hadn’t seen in um, well, 30 years, since college. She’s an amazing runner whose done numerous races, marathons, and Ironmans. She’s a true badass and ran a 3:35 race two days later. Reconnecting with her and meeting her husband warmed my heart. She was as kind, caring and genuine as I remember. It added a delicious icing on my bucket list journey beyond what I had imagined. To top off our visit, we walked to the start line together to take in the full view of where we would finish about 48 hours later.
That night, my daughter and I headed out to a Broadway show. We had secured tickets to Dear Evan Hansen, getting in a performance just two weeks before Ben Platt stepped down from his lead role. Ben Platt is as good as it gets. He’s phenomenal, and the play is a must see. While this wasn’t a bucket list item, it was worthy of it.
Then comes Saturday. It’s shopping day for Payton and eat right and attempt-to-walk-less day for me. We successfully invest in the retail establishments in Manhattan and Payton fulfills her need to bring home some new, fashionable clothing. That night, Tom and Payton head off to Hamilton and I settle in for an early bedtime. I’m feeling nervous, anxious and emotional. My hip flexor is still not 100 percent, and I know that by the end of tomorrow it will not be my friend.
Marathon morning starts at 4:30 a.m. After dawn prep, including makeup, I’m out the door. If I’m going to be in pain and look bad, I at least need a little makeup to mask what’s underneath. One minor issue: I don’t own waterproof mascara and by the end of the race one side of my face looked like I was preparing for a Halloween night or a raccoon reunion. But, that comes later.
Next, I grab a taxi to catch the Staten Island Ferry, my assigned transportation to the start. The ferry terminal is packed with runners. Like lemmings, we squeeze our way through security checkpoints onto the ferry. I grab a seat and meet a few fellow runners, some who’ve run it before. They offer some insights and last-minute advice. After an hour ferry ride, we land on Staten Island. After we exit, we hop on buses that transport us to the holding areas. Here, you find hundreds of porta-potties and thousands of people waiting to run. People are milling, chatting, sitting on curbs, meditating, jumping. It was perfect for people-watching as I had about an hour of waiting, waiting and waiting. Eventually, they call for “blue start corral” and we walk again. We leave our clear bags behind, shed our keep-warm clothes into the Goodwill bins, and shuffle toward the start. I say goodbye to my water bottle, a pair of gloves, my sweats I typically wear for cleaning and an old sweatshirt. It’s not raining yet. The temperature is ideal, somewhere in the high 50s.
Finally, the Verrazano Bridge is in sight, and I can see thousands of runners ahead of us, already making their way over the bridge and beyond. After more waiting, the gun for our corral goes off. Three minutes later I cross the start line and begin my bucket list journey. I think about getting my phone out for a pic, but the thought of slowing down and dropping my phone in the throngs of thousands overrides my desire to capture the moment. I’m on the top tier of the bridge. The view is phenomenal, and the energy is palpable. Tears well in my eyes as I soak in the experience.
My hip flexor feels manageable as the journey continues. Brooklyn is first. People had shared stories about the crowds, the music, the smells. But, it was beyond what I imagined. People are cheering the entire way. Children hold their hands out for high fives. I smell food. Music plays. People call my name as I’ve put it on the front of my shirt, which is a piece of advice many past runners give you. About seven miles in I saw a sign that said: Debra, toenails are underrated! My first thought was, “That’s cool that some person named Debra is getting her own sign.” I later learned it was made for me. I participated in the Adopt-a-runner program and had been matched with a local New Yorker.
it started to rain about mile four, a fine mist that continued for most of the race. It wasn’t enough to soak my shoes or ever make me feel miserable, but it did contribute to the smearing of my mascara! When I hit mile eight I was feeling great, telling myself to keep a slower pace, knowing that if I had a slow and steady first half, I could power through with sheer grit the second half.
Things got eerily quiet at mile 11. We passed through the Hasidic community of Williamsburg. It’s my understanding that this is an insular community that speaks Yiddish, wears traditional dress and shuns much of modern life. I saw a lot of black, downward stares, and absolutely no interest in the runners.
Around mile 13 we started up the Queensboro Bridge. I was warned there are no spectators on the bridge. All I could hear was heavy breathing and equally heavy footsteps. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but it was a hefty incline. Many people walked but I told myself the one thing I wasn’t going to do during the marathon was walk. I figured if I did that my hip flexor would seize up and I’d be out of commission.
We traversed through Queens, the Bronx, Harlem, and Manhattan. I took in the sights, smells and sounds with every mile. People were on porches, firefighters stood outside their stations, homemade signs hovered above the crowds, families were making a picnic of the “rainy” day. It reminded of one long, lively parade. In Manhattan, the crowd was five deep in places and the cheering never ceased. My pain was overcome by my exhilaration from the sea of people who blanketed nearly the entire course. I heard my name yelled over and over, and by this juncture, I mustered all I had to give a wave, a smile or a head nod. It was getting tougher to expend any energy beyond putting one foot in front of the other.
By mile 22 my legs were starting to feel like concrete. I wanted to run faster, but my limbs were telling me otherwise. We reached the outer boundaries of Central Park. I could smell the finish line. I kept running, but my tank was nearing empty and my hip was screaming.
I knew that once we entered the park we still had two miles to go. I wanted to declare victory, but I’ll admit that last two miles took all the grit I could muster. And then to my right, I saw Payton and Tom. I’m not sure how I saw them, but there they were cheering me on. Tears welled. It gave me that extra boost I needed. I knew I would finish. Many runners were now walking, but I refused to slow to a walk.
At about a mile to go, a woman had a giant, open bag of Swedish fish. I love Swedish Fish and would have relished the taste of one in my mouth at that moment, but exerting the energy to veer over, try to grab one and keep moving was more than my mind and body could process.
At .2 miles we took a sharp turn right and the finish line was nearly in site. The loudspeaker blared, and the music played. The announcer shouted words of encouragement and we headed near the bleachers. By this time of day, the bleachers are nearly empty, as all the fast runners are in and it’s only around 14,000 of us left to bring up the rear. But, I’m okay with that. A smile on my face uncontrollably forms when I see it. The finish line. My time is not what I had hoped, and my injury is worse than when I started, but nothing matters at this moment. I cross.
Bucket list: NYC Marathon. Check.