The last time I saw her, she was standing across the room from me at a networking event. I remember the cruel things she said to my then best friend. Suddenly, the boldness set in and I walked over to where she was standing. I smiled as though I was going to strike up a conversation and said nonchalantly, “I know what you said about her and actually feel sorry that you are such a miserable, unhappy person.” I walked away from her that day and I didn’t look back, until I found out her mental and physical health had diminished. She cut nearly everyone out of her life, and then within a year, she took her own.
The next time I saw her, she was in a wooden casket and I was among hundreds who were sobbing. I wouldn’t have imagined that 10 years after we were bridesmaids together in our mutual best friend’s wedding or a falling out that I would be attending her funeral. I thought about reaching out to her in the months before she took her life. I thought about apologizing for that night when my last words to her were probably just more salt on her already existing wounds. Instead, all I could do was cry from guilt and utter sadness. She was 36. She wasn’t the first person I knew who took her life.
Harper Lee once wrote, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
It’s easy for us to think that a person who commits suicide has given up on life or that it is selfish of him or her to leave family and friends behind to suffer. Surely, there is no greater suffering than a parent burying his or her child with no answers and no goodbyes.
But, mental illness is not something easy to understand, unless you’ve experienced it for yourself, first-hand. Depression comes in many forms and at varying degrees. Sometimes it can trigger upon the end of a long relationship, spiral from a tumultuous work environment, result from the loss of a pet or a loved one, come forth from illness, or perhaps simply stem from no trigger at all. For some, the symptoms can be daily sadness, crying spells, emotional roller coasters or a lack of desire to do the things that once brought pleasure and happiness. For others, it can mean withdrawing socially, eating less or eating more. And for many, it can be so physically debilitating that the person cannot think clearly, rationally or face another day.
It’s easy for us to tell someone who is depressed to “snap” out of it. It’s easy for us to sit back and judge that it’s just a “phase” or that the person has a plethora of financial success and materialistic pleasures so there is no need to feel sadness. It’s easy as an outsider looking in to think we know what someone is thinking or feeling when they hit rock bottom in their lives.
We live in a very cruel world, a society that is flooded with commentary about how we should live, how we should think and what we should feel. We are constantly competing to be better, to make more money and to have more than we had yesterday. And then, our moral compass diminishes. We forget what it’s like not to be society’s form of perfection.
Everyone is suddenly an expert on suicide now that Robin Williams took his life. Until you have actually experienced depression, don’t talk negatively to others about it. Don’t judge people who are suffering. Don’t condemn them for their sadness. Don’t question why aren’t they happy with all that they have. Don’t think that because their life seems perfect on social media or on TV that a person can’t be hiding tears behind the laughter.
Be kind. Listen to their story. Show a caring, understanding heart. You never know the inner struggles of someone until you are that someone.
Having a birthday at the end of the year enables you to do a lot of self-reflecting and thinking about what you want for yourself in the next year. 2013 brought a lot for me: stronger friendships, more time with my family to vacation, Europe, falling in love, falling out of love, investing in my 401k for the very first time, breaking a few hearts along the way, races, running my second marathon (and a new PR!), as well as basking in the glory of heading into the second year at my dream job. Life is pretty amazing when we think about it. It is full of ups and downs and twists and turns. I cried, I laughed, I yelled, I sang, but most importantly, I grew wiser and stronger.
I have had good years and bad years. Notably, the last few years have been the best ones of my life. They have brought me a lot of joy, happiness and a feeling of completeness in my life. For a long time, I was on the search for something I didn’t have, whether it was a better body, better friends, a better job, better financial stability, and it just never came to fruition, until now. It all came together at once before my very eyes without me even realizing it.
Life is very much a domino effect. When you line up all of the dominoes and tilt them the right way, they begin to fall in place, one after the other, all in sync, all at the right time. I got my health under control and I began running, horrible form, slow time and all. I wasn’t running away from the life I had, but I was running towards a stronger me, a better version of who I was. It put everything in my life into perspective. I was a goal-oriented person before I started running (hello, law school), but running brewed greater passion in me, a stubbornness , discipline and a refusal to give up no matter in my darkest, most painful hours. I wanted an in-house job since I started practicing law. I never wanted to be partner at a law firm. I wanted the 9-5 job with a life on the weekends. The day I went on the callback interview at my company, I walked in there with more confidence than I have ever had and I walked out fist pumping with a job offer in my hand. I seized the moment and the day just as when I crossed the finish line at Chicago. You set your eyes on something and it’s yours, without fail.
What does 2014 have in store for me? I have no plans to run a marathon in 2014. My top goal is to stabilize my thyroid levels so that I can perform better in all athletic avenues, particularly strength training. My body has taken a beating the last 3 years training for NYC twice, and then Chicago. I will still run 5k’s and half-marathons as I have a person I want to run a race for, but I need a break. At times, the training has made me a compulsive exerciser and created too much stress and pressure as I could not lose weight despite working so hard to do so. I want to spend the next 6 months just focusing on being on the right dose of medication and enjoying a few rest days without guilt. I have a lot of traveling planned for 2014 as well.
2013 has taught me many things, but most importantly, to live life to the fullest extent possible and to never settle to make anyone else happy but yourself. Don’t ever sell yourself short and don’t compromise on the things most sacred to you. Don’t accept mediocre. Don’t give in to people who aren’t willing to meet you halfway. Don’t accept anything less than what you truly deserve and yearn to have in or want for your life. Be the best you can be and work hard everyday because tomorrow is not promised. My last lesson of 2013 is to have a forgiving heart, always. You never know who wishes they had the life you are living.
Goodbye 2013. Hello 2014. I cannot wait to conquer you.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
I arrived at the start of the 13.1 race ready to finish my 8th half-marathon and set a new PR. I had been running faster since Chicago and I was on a roll. Everything had gone right in my pre-race prep. 10 hours of sleep 2 nights before, good hydration, foam rolled, took an Epsom salt bath before bed, and ate a baked potato as my pre-race meal. I was feeling better physically than I had ever felt.
I was relaxed. My iTunes playlist was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better pre-race feel.
The gun went off and the race started. I was moving in sync with the runners around me for a good few minutes. About a quarter of a mile in, I came upon a band of walkers, around 4 or 5 of them, stretched out in a line across the route. I tried to maneuver past them but there were other people trying to pass as well. I went in for what seemed to be an opening between two of them and the woman on the right pushed back with her arm causing me to lose my balance and trip and fall. I landed face first into the ground, my hands breaking the fall so I didn’t scratch my face. I was startled, and had not even a few seconds but to just get up, and start running so I didn’t get trampled. It was an instinct I can’t explain. I didn’t feel any pain. I wasn’t even thinking straight at the time. I had so much adrenalin pumping through me. My first mile, fall and all, wound up being an 11:54.
The miles seemed fine just until I hit mile 4. That was when the pain started to set in and I realized I was hurt from falling at a quarter of a mile into the race. My left knee was hurting and my leg began to lock up. I couldn’t flex it properly. I had an issue with my IT band during training but this was more intense. Anger started to set in. How the hell are you walking in a group and blocking the runners? I wanted to see her again so I could tell her what an asshole she was for not having the courtesy and intellect to move to the right side so that runners could pass by her.
I would stop to walk for a minute or so and start running again. By mile 6, the pain deepened. I was now angry that I didn’t bring Advil with me, but I told myself before the start, it’s only 13.1 miles. Only. So I kept running. The cramping increased. I kept running, pushing through it.
By mile 8, I knew that I should have probably stopped, but I said, only 5 more miles to go. Only 5 more. That’s nothing. There’s no stopping. No quitting. I don’t ever quit. I paid $90 for this race. I just ran the Chicago marathon 4 weeks ago and I am finishing this race if I have to crawl to the finish. I kept going. Run for a few mins, walk for an extra minute. I switched back and forth. Whatever it took. I wasn’t going to stop. I wanted to push harder, but my body wouldn’t let me.
Then there was mile 10 and mile 11. Mile 11 seemed to be the longest one. I felt tears forming in my eyes. I just wanted to finish. No one could see my pain. I was still smiling. It’s the best disguise.
Mile 12, I had a surge of energy. It was redemption. And then there was the blue finish line area. I saw the people on the sidelines. If they only knew that I had not even felt this much pain at mile 20 in Chicago that I felt at that moment. Then I crossed. I had to regain myself and collect my thoughts.
I came home and took an Epsom salt bath and iced my leg for what felt like hours. I foam rolled. I stretched. I iced again. My leg is pretty beat up a day after, and I am not happy with my time, but I finished that race. I remind myself most people were just waking up when I was finishing. Others will never feel pushing through that type of pain just to test their strength. For me, it’s a moment that I will always remember and one which makes me hardened for the next race.
The next time, the walker gets pushed out of the way like she’s been hit by a brick wall.
Perseverance. Yes, that brick wall.
Cancer runs in my family, so I always knew that when I turned 35, I would need to go for my very first mammogram.
My mammogram screening was scheduled for mid- morning on October 26th. I had run 5 miles earlier that morning and celebrated my recent marathon. Therefore, I was going in with a clear and very calm mind. I was nervous about the procedure more than waiting for the results, but Rotem had prepared me for what they were going to do.
My mom accompanied me to the appointment as I did not want to go alone. The initial questionnaire was pretty nerve-wracking for me. Family history: my grandmother had breast cancer at age 52, my dad’s father died of colon cancer at age 52, and my mom had uterine cancer a few years ago. Additionally, I am an Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jew and that puts me at a higher risk combined with my family history.
When I first walked in and saw the machine, I started laughing. My initial thoughts were, I have very small B-cup breasts, how are they fitting in *that* machine? The machine was rather cold and uncomfortable. If you are sensitive like I am, it’s even worse. You stand up the entire time while your breasts are placed on the machine like batter in a frying pan and compressed by the machine. Literally, flat as a pancake. They do multiple views. The side view was the most uncomfortable for me as it pressed hard against my chest muscles. The whole process lasted not even 10 minutes, but in many ways it felt very masochistic.
I left the hospital that day not thinking anything of it. In fact, I had forgotten about the experience. Then, the results came to my parents’ house a week later.
My mom called me on Saturday afternoon and read the letter to me. “Additional testing is needed.” My heart sank. I didn’t know what that meant. The letter simply advised me to call my doctor’s office for a prescription for additional testing.
Monday morning, my mom and I were on the phone with the doctor’s office as soon as they opened. My doctor’s office claimed they never got the results. The results were actually faxed to their office on October 28th and simply put in my file. No phone call telling me I had to get additional imaging. Had a letter not been mailed to my parents’ house, we would have not known anything.
Within an hour, my parents were at the doctor’s office picking up my prescription for an additional mammogram and ultrasound while I was at work trying to keep it together. A 5mm nodule was found on my left breast. All I could think was, I just ran the Chicago marathon for a breast cancer charity three weeks ago for one of my closest friends who beat breast cancer last year. It was all too real for me. I had an appointment scheduled for Thursday, but I kept calling every hour to see if there were any cancellations.
Then came my lunchtime encounter on Monday with a woman who was actually in the midst of breast cancer treatment. She was my cashier at Whole Foods and she was just 38 years old. Her skin was reddened by her recent radiation treatments. I asked her how she was diagnosed. She found a lump. She told me the most important thing to do was to get re-tested right away and be proactive. It was no coincidence I met this woman. Yet, I was still unable to get an earlier appointment in the week.
By Tuesday morning, I stood in my shower, my tears mixed in with the water. I kept feeling my breast, looking for a lump. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Rotem said she felt a marble. I couldn’t feel anything. I would feel tightness but then realized it was muscle under the breast that was tightening up from tension. I had all of these flashbacks to everything Rotem went through the past 2 years. How could I not be in a frenzy about this situation? This is real life. My friend went through an entire year of beating this disease, multiple surgeries, chemo, radiation and I had been there watching her through it all. Cancer is no joke, not for your friends or their friends, and definitely not for you.
By Tuesday around lunchtime, I found myself begging and pleading to the scheduling receptionist that I needed an appointment sooner as my family history and the fact that one of my close friends just beat breast cancer me made me very concerned . The receptionist said, “I hear the trembling in your voice. I can get you in tomorrow (Wednesday) at 8am.” Done.
I didn’t sleep much on Tuesday night. In fact, I was up most of the night again feeling for a lump, some sort of “nodule” the mammogram identified. All I could think is, what if it’s cancer? What if? In an instant your life flashes before you. In an instant everything in your life can change whether you are ready or not.
Wednesday morning, my mom and I arrived at the hospital at 7:45am. Everyone there was very warm and friendly. One thing I noticed is that while there were women of varying ages, I was definitely the youngest one there in the waiting room. The mammogram was first. I found it to be more uncomfortable this time around, particularly the side view. The pressure was very intense, so much that my eyes squinted. There was a giant monitor in the room which was pretty neat as the technician actually showed us where the nodule was. Again, I never was able to feel it.
Afterwards, we were taken in for the ultrasound. The technician moved around me for over 20 minutes trying to locate the nodule. A second technician came in and attempted to locate the nodule but was also unsuccessful. Then the radiologist came in and she also tried to locate the nodule but couldn’t. Three people performing an ultrasound on me and no one could locate it. I was worried. Then the radiologist spoke. She said the nodule was very small and appeared to be more of a cyst than an area of concern. I was told that I needed to call the doctor should I feel any changes in my breast and to follow-up in 6 months for another mammogram.
I felt a huge sigh of relief. A weight had been lifted off my chest, literally. My greatest relief was when I dropped off my mom at home afterwards and my dad hugged me. I may be 35 years old, but I am still very much my dad’s little girl. It was at that moment that I knew my parents were equally freaked out by this ordeal. Someone was definitely watching over me and protecting me.
I share this very personal experience to shed light on the importance of being proactive with medical care and precautionary care. Many women put off mammograms until age 40, but the reality is, women are getting breast cancer in their early to mid-30’s more rapidly than ever. Do not put off medical tests. Do not wait for your doctor’s office to call you with results. You need to stay on top of these things and put your health first. Get a second opinion if necessary. Women need to do monthly self-exams. Educate yourself on how to be proactive not reactive.
I am most grateful for my parents’ support through all of this. It was possibly one of the scariest experiences in my life and I would not have been able to get through the last several days without them making additional calls, going to the doctor’s office to get the paperwork, calling me every few hours to keep my spirits up and especially my mom being at my side the entire way. Even as a grown adult, there are things you do not want to go through alone, and that familial comfort is sometimes what you need the most.
It was a serendipitous morning, not just a typical Sunday. I awoke early and headed to the gym. I was on the elliptical machine as I began to watch the news coverage. I felt the chills going down my spine.
Two years ago on this very Sunday morning at that very moment, I was sitting at the bottom of the Verrazano Bridge on Staten Island waiting for what would be the biggest life-changing event in my life. I had no idea where 26.2 miles would take me, or whether I could really complete 26.2 miles. A year later, on this very Sunday morning, I was supposed to commence my second act, only it didn’t take place. I didn’t know at the time that I would trade in my bib for 2013 for a chance to run Chicago, another world major marathon.
The chills continued as I got home, sat on my couch, and drank my protein shake while basking in the glory of watching the runners on tv. Maybe it was the familiarity of knowing I ran that same exact course and could remember how I felt at each and every point – the runners’ village, the hollowness of the bridges, the screams and bells ringing in the 5 boroughs, my parents waiting with signs at 59th street, and the tears that welled up in my dad’s eyes as he looked at me knowing that I was achieving the unthinkable. Or maybe it was the nostalgia of realizing I had just completed my second marathon 3 weeks ago, never believing that I would have done it yet again. Or maybe it was the appeal of realizing that after running NYC, my love and passion for running grew stronger. It was all of those things, and more.
Somewhere along the twists and turns of life, we need moments like this to reflect, to ponder, to analyze and to appreciate what we really have. This morning, I felt thankful, grateful and so blessed to have discovered myself, my happiness and everything I ever wanted to be. It may sound lame, it may sound foolish to many, but the level of determination that existed in me before running paled in comparison to where I stand today. People thought because I was smart and a lawyer that I was successful. I was on a certain level, but not the kind that really overtook me and made me dream bigger or achieve greater. Everything in my life changed that day. My priorities changed. My zest for life grew. I was no longer just an average person dreaming and “trying” to do things. “Try” was not a word in my vocabulary. What I wanted, I would get. No, I wouldn’t settle in any aspect of my life. I wouldn’t accept anything less than what I deserved or wanted or knew I could achieve. When you cross that finish line, you relinquish your fears, and you hold onto the moment. A part of you dies, and a new person is reborn.
The news casters talked about the significance of 26.2 miles, that the body breaks down and isn’t meant to run that many miles. It is all about the mental strength that keeps you going. You fight the demons telling you the pain is too great, but your mind tells you that you cannot and will not give up until you finish. The news casters were reading my mind. That fight within you becomes the key to every door that awaits you. Nothing is too hard for you anymore. No pain is too great. No one can challenge you or disrespect you. Your self-worth is higher than you will have ever believed. You are alone in that very moment, in those dark miles, and people are thinking about you, but you are thinking about all of the people who told you that you couldn’t do this, or that it is completely crazy to run a marathon.
Some people are thinking about how to make their lives better, or are waiting for that opportunity. Some people are settling for average things or an average existence. I spent the majority of my life being that person, wishing that I had a better life in all avenues. I realized this morning that just two years later, I am living the life I had been dreaming of for so long. I’m simply adding more items to the bucket list.
Thank you NYC for being my serendipity.
Several months ago, while in the midst of my Chicago training, one of my claims adjusters came to my office and said she wanted to do a race with me. We talked a lot about running, about how it made me believe in myself and how it enabled me to rediscover my happiness. She said my running stories inspired her. Her goal was to build up to a half-marathon by the end of 2013. So, we picked a 10k race two weeks post-Chicago. My promise to her was that as long as I was injury free, I would run the 10k.
A few weeks before Chicago, I had a major meltdown which very few people knew about. I told myself this was the last marathon I was doing, that I was done with the stress of training and not being where I wanted to be physically or running as fast as I had expected to by this point. The pressure consumed me. It became overwhelming – – am I drinking enough water, did I eat enough carbs, waking up early every single Saturday, and who could forget the brutal summer heat. I tried not to post about the struggles of training because runners are superhuman. But the truth is, I had hit rock bottom mentally and emotionally in my training that I almost lost my love for running. That meltdown was my last and final one.
Coming off of Chicago, I found myself asking what was next? I had a lot of questions from friends and family as to how my recovery was the first week out. I walked crooked for 3 days, including walking sideways down my stairs, but it was a prideful shuffle. Four days after the race, I got back to working out at my 6x a week routine. I firmly believe that cross-training, strength training and swapping out some easy runs for harder workouts on the elliptical (at 7.6 mph speed) are what peaked my fitness to enable me to run Chicago with far less long runs logged in than my previous training for NYC and also enhanced my recovery.
Leading up to the 10k, I put ZERO pressure on myself. I was not in it to set a new PR at the 5k split, nor was I trying to run faster or harder. I just wanted to show up and do the race to further inspire my claims adjuster. I did not plan to run the day before the 10k, but my running group was having a celebration for the marathoners. So, I set out to run an easy 5 miles, which turned into a strong 5 miles and a push the last 2 miles. Somewhere along that morning run, I had this glorious epiphany. I kissed the morning air and felt it embrace me. My love for running knew no pressure. I was back to exactly where I belonged and my legs felt limber.
I broke all of my cardinal rules the morning of the 10k: no sleep, wicked hangover, and eating before the race. I don’t take myself very seriously in life, but when it comes to running, I am anal about sleep, hydration and nutrition before a race or a long run. I woke up about an hour before I was supposed to and had a banana, a piece of gluten free bread and sunflower butter (this is my new nut butter since I had to give up almonds after learning I have an intolerance to them). I chugged some water and went back to sleep for what felt like 15 minutes. My alarm went off and I got ready and arrived to the start line hoping my stomach would feel okay during the race. My thoughts were, it’s only 6.2 miles. That’s what happens when you’ve been running for awhile. You think disturbing thoughts that at least it’s not an 18 miler you’re running that morning.
The race began. I was running comfortably, not pushing hard, but just moving along. I was extremely thirsty and my sweat reeked of vodka. Why did I sign up for a race the weekend of Halloween? Why do I torture myself by waking up two days in a row at ungodly hours to run? Because it’s what I know and what I love. The music blasting in my ears, the feeling of freedom, of complete solitude, of utter bliss. There is the glory of doing it when the rest of the world is sleeping the morning away.
I looked down at my Garmin as I was about to hit the 5k mat. I am going to PR while running hungover, dehydrated and barely clinging to life. Seriously? How does that even happen? And so it was written. I crossed the 5k mat at 39:35. My last PR was a 39:52 in June 2012, the day after a long run while I was training for NYC again. Notably, that was a 5k I was pushing to PR. This one was just a show up and get ‘er done.
After the race, we texted about doing the Palm Beach Half-Marathon so she can hit her goal of doing a half by the end of 2013.
No one knows where a race will take you or a run will take you. I’ve spent a lot of time obsessing over the places I’m not at, but where I’m at now is ready to sign up for the next one. Yep, I’ve been bitten by the race bug yet again.
I sat in the airport last Thursday ready for what would be one of the most memorable weekends of 2013. I looked over to the guy sitting next to me and noticed he was wearing a Boston Marathon shirt. We started chatting. He was headed for his second Chicago and hoped to run a sub 3-hour race. He had NYC lined up, the Dopey challenge in January, and Boston in April. He told me he wakes up 4 hours before a marathon and eats 5-6 slices of Sunbeam brand cinnamon raisin bread. I felt very inconsequential to his running feats, but I was also going to Chicago for my own hopes.
About a month before Chicago, I had my last breakdown and breakthrough. I was over the setbacks and the struggles. I expected so much more out of my training, out of myself and where I was 2 years later after NYC. I was done dwelling on it. I was done grieving about it. I told myself that I was just going to go there and run the best race I possibly could with erratic training. This race had so much more meaning to me than everything that had deterred me from doing it.
I took off to Chicago with a very clear mind and a goal of what I wanted from it: an inspirational race to run for Rotem, to honor her courage and defeat of breast cancer. Nothing else mattered to me other than getting to the start and doing the best I could. I had no pressure on myself. I didn’t care about time. I was going to run purely on determination and hope. Everyone comes to a marathon with determination and hope. But, having run a marathon before, I knew what I was in for and I wasn’t scared. I already knew what it felt like to cross a marathon finish line and how it changed my life. I already knew what it felt like to walk crooked for a few days after and the post-partum depression that would ensue once the race weekend was over.
The jitters I had the week leading up to the race completely dissipated. I had 48 hours of incessant laughter, jokes and happiness with three close friends. I went to bed the night before the race with a smile and woke up race morning with zero nervousness, other than getting to the start line on time.
I took a cab with 3 other runners who were staying in my hotel. The two male runners were from the Philippines and it was their first marathon. The other runner was a woman named Donna who proclaimed to be a “marathon maniac” and runs 1 marathon a month (she’s done 19 total). We laughed during the cab ride. The guys asked me what my fears were during a marathon. I said, “Pooping my pants. It’s never happened, but I hear stories about people who have and it scares me.” They thought I was the funniest person they had ever met and they paid for the cab ride.
By the time I finished waiting in line at the restroom at a nearby hotel, I turned in my gear check bag and lined up in my corral. I looked around at the thousands of people surrounding me. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was going to run 26.2 miles. I just turned on Pandora and got lost in the music. The crowd began to move as one big mass. I crossed the start line and felt the groove. It was easy, it was effortless. It was familiar territory. I had some mild cramping in my calves the first 2 miles, but I knew they just needed to loosen up. My first mile was an 11:40. I knew I needed to slow down and pace myself. I still had 25.2 miles to go.
Mile 3 came up pretty quickly. I was just getting warmed up. A girl passed me on the right and I noticed she had peed her pants. Hard core. Wonder what she felt like by mile 20. Perhaps she could have started a fire with the friction in her ass.
I decided to stop for a pee break at mile 5 knowing that I was better off going early on in the race than later in the miles when it would possibly hurt to squat or my knees would lock up. I lost about 7 minutes of time waiting in line and then using the nasty porto potty (they were already out of toilet paper which is why I always carry a few baby wipes in my fitness pouch).
Mile 6 I saw a girl being put on a stretcher and having her knee wrapped up. It freaked me out to see that so soon in the race. I was actually glad I biofreezed the shit out of my knees before the race. I never had any tendinitis flare-ups.
The sun was pounding down on us already. There was literally NO shade from mile 5 on. At mile 8, I noticed a volunteer at the water station wasn’t wearing a hat. I asked her if she had an extra one. It was my lucky day as she said, “Yes, please take mine.” I love Chicagoans. I put the hat on and took off.
Around mile 11, I felt pain in my left IT band. I had taken 2 Advil before the race began and packed an additional 2 in my pouch, along with extra glutamine capsules. I chugged them. I knew they would hold me over for the next 15 miles. I then saw another woman being carried off in a stretcher with an oxygen mask over her face.
Mile 13 was where I had 2 of my friends, Narmar and Amo, screaming and waiting for me. I ran to hug them like I was being reunited with lost family members. There’s something incredibly sentimental when you see a friend or family member at a mile marker in the race. The halfway point was the ideal place for them to be. I was balls deep in the race and there was no turning back. We stopped to take pictures and enjoy the moment.
The next few miles seemed to go by fast. Then came Mile 18. It was my wall and I hit it hard, head on. I felt the emptiness in me. I knew at that point I was out of gas (i.e. glycogen). It’s a feeling you can’t explain. Some people get cramps. I lose energy and feel dead. I became somewhat delirious and faded in and out of consciousness. I was moving, but I didn’t feel anything in my body other than tears well up in my eyes. It was a serendipitous moment. Here I was at mile 18 in my second marathon, and it was so surreal yet so very real.
I don’t know why in my times of glycogen depletion I begin to have the deep thoughts and teary moments. I thought long and hard about my running, where it all began and compared where I was at that very moment. I was living. I was breathing. I was so very alive. My health problems didn’t matter in that moment. I popped a Gu gel, flipped my iPhone onto Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and I saw Mile 19. I was giving it all to G-d.
I was on target for a 6:30 with a little pushing towards the end. The last few miles of a marathon always feels like a death march. Everyone is hanging on by a small thread. Everyone is struggling, but everyone is determined to get there, to cross the end, and achieve something greater than they will ever have imagined. It is all about the struggle, the determination and not giving up. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you, what matters is that you finish, never look back, and stop questioning whether you could really have done it.
From Miles 20 on, you really felt the generosity of the people of Chicago. They were passing out everything you could think of: Swedish fish, jolly ranchers, twizzlers, pretzels, bananas, orange juice. They were dancing on the sides of the race cheering everyone on. Little kids were giving high fives like there was no tomorrow. It didn’t matter how fast or slow you were. They were excited to see you pushing along.
My last 2 miles were the most memorable. My friend Monica from my running group met me at Mile 25. I saw her from a distance running towards me holding beer in her fuel belt bottles. I couldn’t stop laughing. I hate beer, and here she was already done with her race, running an extra 4 miles to run the last 1.2 miles with me. We laughed, we danced, and then we stopped and took pictures. She even stopped at a bar on the side to get a beer for a guy who had pulled out his back and his wife was holding him up so he could limp to the finish. It was the adventure of a lifetime. It didn’t matter that I lost another 10-12 minutes from the time clock, or that my IT band pain was inching up higher and harder. I was going to cross that finish line and remember Chicago as one of the most inspirational races, ever.
800 meters to go. I was still trucking along, still alive, still feeling the moment. I was living, loving and laughing. I turned the last 400 meters, saw Allyson, and headed up the finish path. I crossed. I took a deep breath and started sobbing. I couldn’t believe it. My second marathon completed like it was no big deal. I owned it. 43 minute PR even with the pauses and the breaks.
As I walked through the finish line chute, I saw a man being put on a flatbed by paramedics. He had collapsed after he finished, after he was adorned with his finisher space cape and medal. I think it was then when it hit me that we really push beyond our human limits in a marathon. I don’t believe the body is meant to run 26.2 miles. But we believe we can do anything we put our minds to, and that’s what the marathon teaches you – – to respect the distance, but to dream higher than you ever have, and to accomplish something you never thought possible. Chicago was the inspirational race I needed after NYC.
2 world major marathons under my belt and what’s next? For now, I want to enjoy shorter runs and more days in the gym doing strength training. I am looking forward to more variety and flexibility in my workouts. I have 2 races that I am signed up for: a 10k next weekend and the ING Miami half-marathon in February. Perhaps I will do some other small races in between. Someday I will run another marathon. The world is my oyster, after all. Never stop dreaming.