I decided I’d run the New York City marathon to qualify for Boston and unlike the usual marathons that insist on a qualifying time in another marathon that meets their standard for your age and gender, NYC has a lottery where participants are chosen by chance. Everyone told me the odds were slim that I’d get accepted the first time I tried to enter the lottery, but I trained with the thought that I would. Imagine my excitement when the letter came that I was chosen! My excitement was short-lived when I developed pain in my right knee with the continuing increases in mileage. I found I couldn’t run and went to a sports clinic to find an answer. After conducting several tests, the doctor asked me how long I’d been running and when I told him less than a year, he smiled and said find another sport. Apparently my kneecap tracked too far medially and he felt if I continued to run, I’d develop chronic pain.
Initially, I crashed…how could this be? Give it up? I couldn’t fathom ever giving this up after all it had taken to get here and especially since I now knew there was more than a chance I would be able to actually qualify for Boston. But, every challenge I encountered in the months it took to actually be able to run, had shown me that coming across an obstacle meant I was on the right path. The universe was gearing me up for another quantum leap that would only be possible through that specific challenge.
I went home and looked on the internet about runners’ injuries and found something called a jogger’s vest that enabled an injured runner to continue their training in the water tied to a lane changer to keep them erect while running against the resistance of the water. I ran for two hours, three times a week, chained to the rope in the pool to keep me erect, with only my thoughts for company. I decided that I needed to train not only my body but my mind as well. My thoughts continually tried to get me to stop this boring routine, but I refused to give in and stayed the course.
The mind is extremely important for staying in the race, and now, I was in charge of my thoughts–not the reverse. It took a month before the pain in my knee subsided. I also found I could use athletic tape to keep my kneecap in the right position while I ran so there wouldn’t be any pain. Surprisingly, my time in the water had made my knee stronger and I finished my training on the road without any problems.
Riding through the streets of New York City with a motorcycle police escort, people waved excitedly to us and shouted words of encouragement to all the runners. It felt like a dream. My heart was pounding in sheer joy. My generous co-workers had donated to Memorial Sloan Kettering and because of the amount donated I got to ride to the start of the marathon in style-on the elite runners’ bus. It was a special year because the co-founder of the New York City marathon, Fred Lebow, had died of a brain tumor the month before and the organizers had gone to great lengths to remember him with this race. There I was on the longest suspension bridge in North America- the Verrazano Bridge- lining up with thousands of other runners pushing and squeezing forward.
The excitement was palpable.
Suddenly all the noise stopped when the National Anthem played. All I could hear was the flapping of the flag in the wind. My eyes filled with tears…this isn’t real…I had never even been to New York City, never mind be a part of its famous marathon. Fireboats on either side of the bridge spouted multicolored jets of water and suddenly the huge boom of a cannon sounded and we were off.
I couldn’t believe the thrill of being a part of this mass of humanity. Live bands lined the streets playing music of every description, with so many spectators holding signs, screaming and giving us high fives. I felt as if I was levitating as I ran. This was the stuff dreams are made of.
I found it hard to hold back the tears of sheer joy that streamed down my face. For all those years I had led a life of quiet desperation and now I had this wonderful, absolutely amazing experience that I knew would live on in me forever. At mile seventeen, the quiet of running without spectators on the carpeted Queensboro Bridge was astonishing, but the view of Manhattan was heart-stopping. Just when I felt my energy start to drain, I got a big boost.
As we came off the bridge, the crowd was waiting for us and the noise was deafening. Several boomboxes played the theme from Rocky and suddenly I was flying again. Tears streamed down my face, I had lost all control of my emotions and I didn’t care. This was life! This was what life should feel like…amazing, exciting exhilarating! I knew right then if this was all I had, then so be it. It was more than I’d had in years. As we neared the finish line running through Central Park, my pace quickened with the roar of the crowd. I sailed across the finish line and people ran to slap me on the back. Women were excitedly screaming all around me. To think that I was a hero for women everywhere. I was handed a rose and bent my head down to have my medal placed around my neck. Someone put a shiny foil blanket around me to conserve heat and another woman put her arm around my shoulder and encouraged me to keep walking so my legs wouldn’t cramp. I was now literally sobbing with emotion and couldn’t even talk. My legs felt like stumps. When I found out I had finished in 3 hours and 36 minutes, more than qualifying for the Boston marathon with the qualifying time of an eighteen year old, I was shaking so bad someone thought I must be convulsing. And the finishing touch was when I headed to the family waiting area in the park and there was my husband with the largest bouquet of red roses I’d ever seen. He had waited in the hotel until he felt it would be close to my finish time and had gotten to the Park just in time to see me finish on one of the huge screens set up in the park for the waiting family members. He was smiling so wide, I thought his face would split in half.