Coming back to the NYC Marathon – A Right of Passage
It was only a month ago that I decided to participate in the NYC Marathon again. It’s been six years since I last ran it and I told myself I would never run it again. The NYC marathon, in my opinion, is one of the toughest of marathons for several reasons. I also believe its the best experience that will no doubt make you stronger and tougher than you ever were before.
When I first ran the NY Marathon, it was 13 years ago – one year after I had a stroke. It was a run to overcome my adversity. It was a symbol of empowerment. The race was one of the most incredible, ecstatic days of my life. It was a celebration of my regained health and in the city that I’ve loved since I was a young girl. The camaraderie of the crowds, the music all over the course, the city so alive with beautiful festive energy –it was an incredible experience.
The next year, I ran as a guide for a disabled Brazilian man with two prosthetic legs from having lost them in a car accident. This was something I felt I needed to do to give back. I wasn’t prepared to run the full marathon distance but since he didn’t have a guide, I volunteered . I can only describe the experience as “outer body.” I couldn’t feel my physical body that day, it was all heart and emotion. It was one of the best days of my life, where I learned so many lessons and felt truly gifted for the opportunity to witness a spirit who fought his way to the finish line with dignity and might.
The years following, I ran another nine marathons that were more competitive. I trained with goals and was driven to run harder and faster. I chose different destinations and traveled with my family to make those marathon destinations an exciting experience for all of us. After racing on courses way more forgiving than NY, I told myself I was done with the harsh course of NY. Lately, my goals with running have shifted. I’ve gotten busier with projects and other priorities, and now I run for the enjoyment of it, for the peace it brings me in solitude. Yet even though I let go of the competitive nature, something sparked in me a month ago. I had the idea to participate in the marathon with the base of miles I had stored. I would just tweak my long runs with enough extra miles to be prepared to run NY. This idea emerged from reflecting upon my first marathon with the synergy of the initiative of The Joyful Approach. I thought it would be a beautiful experience to come back after all these years and enjoy the experience again rather “racing.”To truly take it all in. Knowing I would be a lot slower than my personal best times would give me a chance to practice humility and grace.
On the day of the marathon I faced a few challenges and questioned whether or not I could run at all. I strained my pectoral muscle and the rib attached was bruised, so taking even the slightest inhalation was painful. Each time I tried to breathe in, it felt like I was being jabbed. I had tears in my eyes as I lined up at the Verrazano Bridge. I knew I had to make a decision that wouldn’t put myself at more risk. I decided to start the race and see how it would go. I limited my breathing and my arm swing throughout the race. I wound up getting unusual diaphragmatic cramps from compensating my breath that I just had to work through with grit. I wanted to quit so many times and yet I kept reminding myself what my purpose was. I used the energy of the crowds to keep going. The course was tough. I crossed five bridges and relentless hills even at the last 800 yards of the finish. It was certainly humbling.
On the last three miles, my wheels were coming off but knowing my family was at mile 24, I needed to keep going to see them. When I was in the Bronx – one of toughest segments of the marathon course – I was holding back tears and barely moving, when a man from the crowd took my arm, looked me in the eye and said boldly, “Girl, you got this, now keep going!” I have so much gratitude for that man and the courage he gave me. When I lost my form and my legs wanted to give out, I used my mind and said, “Pick up, pick up. You’re almost there, Joy.”It worked.
Sure enough, seeing my family was everything I needed. Throughout all my races and goals – no matter how fast or slow – they are always so proud and supportive and for that I am truly grateful. I took a good look at their faces and used that love to carry me to my seventh NYC medal. It was an accomplishment that felt like a great feat for me.