How far is a Marathon?

Wine, great friends and before the night was over I’d signed up to run the New York Marathon again. Misery liking its company I’d convinced my husband and a friend to sign up too. 

Generally I never do the same experience twice and yet this would be different. The first time, I taught myself, trained solo and ran the race with 45,000 new friends. This time, I’d train with my husband, and eleven Kilimanjaro friends, plus several new friends. Together we would run the race with 50,000 other people on race day.  It would be different. 

When people learn I’m running a marathon the most common question is, “how far is that?”  The simple answer is 42.2km or 26.2 miles.  This answer is incomplete. 

I began training in January. I ran through all four seasons, logging miles and running four days a week. I ran hills, cross trained by biking and walking and participated in total body workouts by attending Orangetheory for the first 6 months of the year. In total, I ran 1200km, the distance from Prince Edward Island to Manhattan. I will complete the final 42.2km on November 1st. 

I trained with the Pulse Generator group, led by Joan when I could and admired how each person transformed into fitter, leaner versions of themselves. I especially enjoyed the weekly run at my home followed by wine and great food, thanks Maxine and Gilles!  The hill training was difficult though fun when shared with the group. I’m thankful for all the words of encouragement. 

I started training early to gain strength and keep up with my speedy husband, John. In a case of be careful what you wish for, I will achieve my goal, though John will not run his best race. Surgery derailed his plans in early summer and while recovered, he is now battling bronchitis. We will run and walk and cross the finish line together, certain to remember that salient point years from now. Our finish time will not matter. We climbed Kilimanjaro together one year ago and I will never forget how John stayed with me that long night while I shuffled up the mountain. How fortunate am I to repay that selfless and loving act. 

I trained for a marathon and along the way I gained fitness, flexibility and strengthened the bonds of friendship. I learned what matters is not the time I finish but who is next to me when I do. NYC here we come!



NYC Marathon Memories

I am training to run the New York Marathon  this year.  I needed some motivation today and  read the words I wrote after running the NYC marathon, my first race ever in 2006.  I found my motivation and thought I would share.

My roommate took two hours to choose her outfit for the marathon.  I would learn that marathon runners are a very superstitious group with a good dose of OCD.  I was becoming like them as I adjusted my special rock for the eighth time!

I barely slept the night before the marathon.  I got out of bed at 2:30a.m., and started my day.  I went outside to enjoy the relative calm in the city that never sleeps.  Already the photographers were making their way to Staten Island via taxis.  There were 70 official photographers for the marathon.  Many runners were hailing taxis to get to the start line.  The vast majority would take chartered buses, or the Staten Island ferry.

The bus lines were enormous, but then no one moves people quite like New York City.  Very efficient!  So many different languages I heard while waiting.  People talked about their injuries, doubting themselves.  Others, their words in languages I could not understand, but smiles and laughter are universal, we were all part of a large family on this day.

I boarded the bus.  My seat mate was from the United Kingdom.  We had a lively discussion.  She asked if I had ever run a marathon.  I admitted that I had never run a race.  She said that I was lucky to be running this race first.  She asked if I thought I would only do one marathon.  I told her likely I would just do one.  She laughed and said, “that is what I said, but now I’ve run more than ten!”  “You will too, and you too will have lucky pants or a lucky charm to take you to the next race.  You will be a different person when you finish,” she said knowingly.  I gained some great tips from her, but mostly remembered her message to have fun, enjoy and be in the moment.

There was so much energy in the air at Staten Island.  There were 13,000 runners at each of 3 stations.  We were told to bring throw away clothing to Staten Island as our bags would be checked an hour before the race.  Our job was to keep warm without exhausting ourselves.  The clothing that we would throw away would be donated to the homeless.  We were such a rag tag group.  There were people in painting clothes, ripped clothes, one guy had on a lovely pair of reindeer pyjamas that I think were making their second showing, the first being the Christmas he received this treasure.  We were all wearing our running gear underneath our lovely attire.

The start time drew closer and people began to shed their clothing.  Some people folded them neatly, others’ just dropped them on the road.  It was amazing how many clothes were left behind.  Some stuff was really nice and there was the temptation to do some last minute shopping.  I resisted the temptation as I would need to carry the stuff 26.2 miles.

The canons boomed, signalling the start of the race and a fighter jet flew real low and then dipped its wing.  There  were NYPD helicopters in the air and the cheering from the runners was deafening.  Nearly 40,000 runners started the race.  We were off!

The first 3 miles was over the Verazzano-Narrows bridge.  This was a huge hill and during my training I read about the steepness of this bridge.  I wondered whether my hill training was enough?  The adrenaline pushed me.  I could not see the curvature of the bridge due to the sheer masses of people in front of me.  Psychologically, it was not a hill.  The challenge would be dodging the strewn clothing and trying to find room to run.

We ran about 11 miles through the streets of Brooklyn, a working class neighbourhood with massive enthusiasm.  It was like a huge block party.  People were holding up signs, there were bands playing, noise makers and cheering.  The runners were cheering for the spectators, high fives all around, and the spectators were cheering for the runners.  I could not stop smiling.

At about mile 10, we entered Williiamsburg, one of the world’s largest Hasidic Jewish enclaves.  Many men were wearing black coats and fur hats.  It was like stepping into another world.  I wondered what their lives were like?

At the halfway point, we arrived at the Pulaski Bridge and crossed into Queens where we would spend our time in Long Island City.  This area is a mix of warehouses interspersed with expensive residential dwellings.

We crossed the Queensboro bridge.  All the bridges that we crossed were hills, though they did not feel like hills, except to my burning quads which would not be fooled by the lack of perspective.  I spent my time running and looking to my left and checking out the Manhattan skyline.  How many movies had I watched where I had seen this skyline, a pinch me kind of moment.  We ran off the bridge we were greeted with about a million spectators cheering,  The noise was deafening.  Incredible energy all packed into one place and I took some of that with me.  I kept turning around and looking side to side as I heard my name being shouted, “Go Cheryl,” “Looking good Cheryl.”  I wondered who they were cheering for?  It was me!  Wow!

We crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge and left Manhattan behind for now to enter the Bronx and the dreaded mile 20.  Many books have been written about mile 20–the wall.  The point where runners simply cannot go any further, where the grace and style of running is replaced by a slow shuffle or nothing at all.  I waited for it, nothing came, so I kept running.  Our time in the Bronx was spent passing gas stations, housing projects, views of the Harlem River and Yankee Stadium.

We entered Central Harlem, the cheering continued.  Children were handing out sweets, others’ had bananas and oranges to share.  We continued and Central Park our final destination was close.  I stopped and took some pictures of this incredible day. At the beginning of the day, I remembered feeling envious for the photographers and wished that I could do something I knew.  At this moment, I would not have traded places with anyone.

The wall–never really felt like I hit the wall.  I waited for it at mile 20, then mile 21, 22, and 23.  At about mile 24, I could not feel my feet anymore.  I never thought about quitting, though it felt like I had come a long way.  Mentally, I was trying to calculate how many miles in a kilometre and failing miserably at this complex math test.  I stopped and stretched and then the song on my IPOD began playing, What  Wonderful World.  I heard that song for the first time he day that my Dad died.  I asked my Dad to run with me and together we crossed the finish line in Central Park.

I had many emotional moments during the race as I ran each mile for someone special in my life.  I thought about each of them as I took them in my mind on a tour of New York City that few people experience.

I felt changed by the experience as though a calm had washed over me.  My life would be different from this moment, of that I was certain.  We were ushered through a variety of stations to receive our medals, our heat sheets, our food and to pick up our luggage and have our photos taken.  I had the opportunity to speak to many people.  One elderly gentleman, about 70 years old chatted about how he wished he had trained harder, how his wife thinks that he is crazy for running marathons at his age.  I think he was amazing and hope that I can do the same.  Many people spoke of how they wished their times were faster, that they pushed further.  As for me,  I was happy.  I had accomplished all but one of my personal goals and surpassed my fundraising goal.  The final goal would be saved for another day and another race.

Many marathoners were still wearing their medals days after the race.  Even without the medal, we could recognize another runner by the way they walked or the wince when they stepped off a curb.  There were family as we shared our individual experiences and found commonality. As I ran the race in under 5 hours, my name was in the New York Times.  It would take much effort to read the tiny font, when I found my name it seemed instantly enlarged to 20 font.

It was an incredible journey and one that I wish for everyone to experience in their lifetime.  I do know that all things are possible and the biggest limitations that we face are the ones that we impose on ourselves.  Though society, family and friends may tell us that we are not capable of something, it is the individual that ultimately decides.  Dream big, your life is waiting.