I really didn’t feel it yesterday morning when I lined up for the race. I had arrived way too early, excited about my “local competitive” status. I was expecting something more than what I found – an open area, an open tent covering the food. And runners lounging around on the grass. But the bathrooms were clean and the waits weren’t so long. And no lining up in the corrals 50 minutes before the start. Just an escort directly to the line with only 20 minutes to go.
We went to the green start – the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge. Not the place for the awe-inspiring iconic start. Just the pounding of feet and Garmin unable to find a signal. The runners around me were fast. I had to try to keep myself in check. But Garmin wasn’t much help, vacillating between 7:30 and 14:00 pace. I knew I was running steady but with all the runners passing me, it felt as if I was going backwards. I just kept going with my eyes fixed on daylight ahead. Finally out into the open. Some faint superstition was bugging me. The only other time I had a green start, under the bridge, was in 2013. That was also the only time I started but didn’t finish the race. And once again I was feeling the uneasy burbling of stomach problems.
I was determined to keep myself on an even pace – nothing above 9:20. Sadly, unlike last year, when the wind and my months of training seemed to buoy me, keeping to a 9:20 – 9:25 pace wasn’t even easy. I didn’t feel much tendency to speed up. And after about 7 miles, I really needed a pit stop. I ran for the nearest. No line – that was good. But inside I found a truly foul mess of a place, a stopped up urinal almost overflowing, garbage stowed inside, no toilet paper (I had some with me, having learned the hard way). Pooped and ran, hoping no one else would make the mistake of opening that door.
90 seconds lost. I calmed myself, picked it up a little, but felt that I was going to have more stomach problems soon. Gurgling and chugging along. Arms ok, stride ok. Off pace, though and not really feeling it. The first half didn’t fly by, it was a slog. I repeated my mantra, “strong mind, strong heart, strong body.” But I knew my best long runs this year hadn’t been nearly as strong as my best runs last year. I didn’t go in with the confidence that I was ready.
Still, the sudden appearance of the 59th street bridge caught me by surprise. I must have drifted off. I had done that bridge backwards and forwards and I knew it would be hard. All I had to do was keep going. And find a loo. I really had to find a loo. But that would have to wait until First Avenue.
By the time I found a loo, just after the turn onto First, I was a mess. Called Harley, my training partner. I really wanted to drop out, but instead, I did my best to clean myself up. There were people out there cheering for me. My team from work. My friends. People I didn’t want to disappoint. And then the intrinsic motivation kicked in: Even if you’re not going to have a PR, you have a chance to prove to yourself that you have a strong mind, strong determination and – as we Buddhists say – that “never-give-up” spirit.
Another 6 minutes lost. So that was going to be it. I ran up First Avenue. Just needed some Gatorade. I was pretty sure I was seriously dehydrated. I had to take my time. I was getting dizzy. There was my friend and former coach, Susanne, calling to me. Still had the nagging thought that I could drop out and go home. But then the Willis Avenue Bridge was right in front of me. I reminded myself that the only way to make sure I finished was to run as far away from home as possible, so I’d have to run back.
How well I know that part of the course. I always practiced it: up First Avenue and across the Willis Avenue Bridge. I love running in the Bronx, past that old, stately church, the housing projects, car repair shops, taiko drums, and across 135th Street to the Fifth Avenue bridge. But whoa, I was really dizzy. Stopped to walk and almost lost my balance. Another runner saw my wobble and stopped to see if I was alright. She wanted to take me to medical. I didn’t want her to wreck her race. I talked her into running on, but then, when I saw the medical tent, I had to stop. I asked for salt. They checked my pulse. It was ok, they said. I sat for a few moments eating salt and drinking a little water and then said, I’m finishing. No matter what!
Two more minutes lost.
So off I went. Harley would be waiting for me on Fifth Avenue. And there was Elyse and the Merms yelling encouragement at Marcus Garvey Park. Then Mary Wittenberg at a water station. She called out to me, saying I looked great (although I surely didn’t). But no matter. One foot in front of the other. And then there was Harley, as promised, in her pink jacket. She jumped in and ran (and walked) with me, just coaxing me along. I had to walk a lot then. I was just trying to finish. There was no longer any hope of picking up the pace again. My quads were like rocks. Then we were in the park. There was Jon with the the kids. I was so excited to see them, I got a slight burst of energy. Then we just had to make it out of the park and across 59th Street. Harley stayed with me right up to the turn back into the park. I just had to finish. No matter what, I kept telling myself.
People have bad races. Sometimes they drop out. But Meb finishes. I thought about Meb. I thought about the other great runners I knew who had finished bad races. My orthopedist told me he finished a marathon a few weeks ago and was 22 minutes off his PR. Sometimes it’s enough to finish with your head held high.
So I did.
For a few hours I thought, ok that’s it. No Boston for me; I’m done with marathons. But this morning I woke up and had to keep myself from putting on my running shoes and heading out to the park. What is that? Determination. I can do better. And I will.