The marathon was months ago and I have had many thoughts on the marathon. I have put them down in many ways, but the pull of other passions and projects have distracted me from putting all these thoughts and feelings into a single narrative. So, here in the midst of a pandemic I will attempt to put these thoughts and feelings into a story.
The actual start of the marathon began the day before the marathon was scheduled with meeting my brother, his girlfriend, and my mom in New York City. We had the opportunity to be together and spend time in this city that we have each grown to love over the last few years. Just having these individuals here for me, brought me so much joy. During this time, I went for my last run before the race. It was a strange feeling to know that this was my last training session before I would have to deliver on race day. I stuck to a short easy run through the same streets where I began training for this marathon. During this time, I also picked up my bib number at the Javits Center. Walking in there made everything feel real, like this is actually happening, and it is happening tomorrow. Everyone there was going to be participating in the race, and like me, had been preparing for this for some time now. That night I went through the routine, that I had cultivated and practiced throughout my time training for the marathon, of preparing both my body through my mobility routine, and my mind with a guided meditation.
The morning of the race I did exactly what I did before every long run. Similar to my evening routine I went through a meditation, completed my mobility routine, and then journaled. The amount of love that was directed toward me that day was incredible. I felt, and continue to feel, so grateful for all the kind words of encouragement and support that was given to me throughout my training and what was concentrated on that day. As I made my way from my hotel room in Union Square to the start line on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge my mind was in 1,000 places, trying to predict how this race was going to go, wondering what this means to me, problem solving various difficulties I thought might have along the way, remembering all of the support I have had, remembering all the support that I would continue to have, reminding myself that this is just another run that I have placed arbitrary meaning to. Once within the starting corral the sun had just started to rise. Having more than an hour in the starting corral and watching the sunrise I was able become fully present for the journey ahead.
I raced as an athlete with a disability, which meant that I was able to be in the same corral with all of other athletes with disabilities. I have never felt more at home than with these individuals. Each of them taking on the task of not only the marathon but their own unique way of moving through this world. In all of my runs prior to the race I felt as the outsider, the runner with unusual gait, the “inspirational” runner. There in that corral I was just another runner and I have never felt more included in a race than during this one.
I have been on hundreds of start lines, but this time was different. This time I lined up with thousands of others to complete a race throughout one of the most beautiful cities in the world. To signify the start, it was not a pistol loaded with blanks but a cannon adding to the emphasis to the event. The first fourteen miles of the marathon did not take any effort at all. It felt as if I could run forever. For me, the feeling of being able to continue effortlessly for such a long distance, is part of the freedom I find in running. Movement is often strenuous and requires a lot of effort both physically and mentally. When I get into a space where I can just run and fall into the repetition and rhythm of both my feet hitting the ground, and my breath in and out, it is a magical space. This is the freedom that keeps me coming back to running.
As I completed the first fourteen miles there was very few places where there were not people cheering us on. There were people crowded around the streets and in some places whole stands built up for people to watch the runners pass. Scattered throughout were bands playing live music, people handing out every kind of running aids, and (my favorite) kids handing out high fives. Each time a kid gave me a high five my pace definitely increased. It is hard to explain the feeling of running the race throughout NYC. People talk about NYC having a lot of energy, it felt like the people of that city directed all that energy towards each of the runners that the day.
Mile fourteen was the dreaded Queensboro Bridge due to the incline and it being the halfway mark. Going up I was fortunate to be in a pace pack, which helped keep my pace taking on the incline of the bridge. Going down I was not so fortunate to be in that same pace pack. Everyone was so crammed in that it was hard for me to see the path ahead of me. Going downhill is more difficult for me from a balance perspective. I have less control downhill increasing the risk for falling. The lack of sight of the path ahead combined with going downhill lead to me falling as I came down the bridge. There was a space on the road where large pieces of the bridge connected leaving about an inch to an inch and half of space where, due to my running gait, my left toes got stuck inside bringing me to the ground. Luckily, I did not trip anyone else and there were many kind runners who stopped to be sure I was okay. I was, and I got up quickly, walking the rest of the bridge, coming to an aid stating at the end. My shirt is still stained from the blood after falling and I think I will keep it that way. At the aid station I was able to clean everything up and had a quick check by the people at there to be sure I was able to still run.
Miles 14 through 19 came without much effort. There was pain from the fall, but it did not slow me down too much. Then, at mile 20, my knee started giving out due to the fall. I had to walk to prevent myself from falling again but was able to continue running after a short stent of walking. I went on like this throughout the rest of the race, running until my knee would give out, and then walking until I was sure I was not going to fall. This was brutal because I would lose all my momentum and pace. As the race went on the intervals spent running decreased and my intervals spent walking increased with more pain and instability.
There were moments where I felt like the race was ruined because of the fall. I was on track to not only meet my goal but exceeded it by minutes. Luckily, that thought was greatly overshadowed by the mindset of allowing this race to be just what this race was going to be. Falling was a part of this marathon and it was a part of the journey of how I was going to finish. Like during my training, I had to give up my own expectations of what I thought the race was going to be, and instead, become present with what the race was by doing my best to be in each moment of the race.
The end of the race takes the runner through Central Park. At this part of race, the change of incline throughout the park becomes painfully obvious. This portion of the race was completed by mostly walking with the mindset that I was thankful to just be moving forward instead of seated on the sidelines, unable to move at all. As I came to Columbus Circle, the South West corner of the park, I knew the finish line was close and started my last interval of running. I remember thinking that I did not run this far to walk across the finish line. I knew that no matter what happened, no matter how I felt, I was going to be able to complete the rest of the race running, and I did.
For me crossing the finish line felt just like the next step after completing thousands of other steps before. In that moment there was not this sudden feeling or ecstasy, or realization of completing something great, or some sort of transformation like I had expected. Crossing the finish line felt just like the next step following thousands of others. This feeling, or the lack of feeling, was not a disappointment. This feeling allowed me to see that every step counts on whatever journey that we are on. It showed me that some steps might seem like they will be difficult or will bring us joy, or a sense of completeness. It showed me that just because I might think a single step will make me a different person, the person I want to be, the person I think others want me to be, that in the end it is just another step. It taught me that the only step that really matters is the next one. That each step on a journey is important no matter what arbitrary meaning we put to the beginning or ending of the journey. The point is to be on the path, to take the next step, and allow every step to be what it was always meant to be.