My coach says not to run through pain. Everyone says that. The hard part is deciding when a minor annoyance, a slight twinge, a tug, an irritation…ok, this damn uncomfortable feeling in my right heel, Achilles’ tendon and ankle becomes pain. A week before the marathon? I refuse to entertain the thought. But the internal argument begins. 

Bib Number 717

The New York Marathon always feels like the last event of the year. Even though two more months of running will follow, the buildup to the race, the park filled with runners Рeven in the dark of early autumn mornings Рfeels like a great culmination. Afterwards, the park empties out. People take to the treadmills or even take a few weeks off from running.

In this last week before the marathon, I vacillate between anxiety and excitement. I store up excuses for not making my goal time. I imagine my best training run as the marathon and regain my optimism for a while. I worry about¬†bathrooms. I worry about starting too fast. I worry about my patellar tendonitis and my plantar fasciitis. And then I remind myself that it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the experience.

Plus, each step you run strengthens the neural connections. Each long run makes you a better runner. And the best run I had this fall (so far) was the half marathon I did purely as a training run. My goal was to make sure I didn’t get faster than 9:15 pace. The first mile was so packed, it wasn’t a problem. But then I kept speeding up and consciously having to hold myself back. I took my time at water stations and really drank the water.

After 9 miles or so, I realized I was averaging just over a 2:00 pace – around 9:10. I felt great, so I though, what the hell – go for under 2 hours. So I picked it up a little and did 1:59:53.

I have to remind myself as I head out for my last abbreviated long run.

My bib number is roughly 30,000 lower than usual. I qualified for Local Competitive for the first time in my life. That means I’ll be in the front of the race – Wave One – with people who will run the marathon in under 2:30. The slow people in Wave One will finish in 3:30. If I have an AMAZING race, I might finish in 3:59:59, but more realistically, 4:10 – which would still be an 11 minute PR.

Who cares, though? Really. At the hard parts I’ll call to mind every person I care about and imagine that I am running for them to be happier, healthier. I’ll run as a celebration of the fact that I am able to run. My idealism will keep me going when my legs get wobbly.