It took 4 hours to get to the starting line. The whole experience began at 6:45 am and I crossed the finish line 8 hours later.
We left the hotel at exactly 6:45. My husband, Mike, was sensitive and supportive. He didn’t say anything to upset my focused mood and made sure he was ready to go on time. The subways in New York are both amazing and intimidating to a Midwesterner. There are countless stairways leading down to the intricate system below the street. The trick is to know which stairway to take, where to buy a ticket, and which direction to head. One wrong move can leave you without a way through the gates or speeding north when you need to go south.
6 stops to the Staten Island Ferry. Mike was clearly as delighted at all the excitement as I was. He obliged me by taking a picture. Thousands of runners waited in the station. Thankfully we found a bench to sit on. Although we were there 45 minutes early that gave me time to wait in a line for the restroom as my early morning hydrating started to work its way through my system.
After a couple of more pictures it was time for me to board the ferry. Mike gave me a kiss good-bye. His support and excitement at my marathon pursuit encouraged my mood to stay sky high. Completing a marathon can’t be done alone.
The ferry ride was just 40 minutes. Filled with runners of all ages and sizes, we wore warm clothes that would be donated to charity at the starting line. There was so much chatter. I wondered if people already knew each other or were making new friends in their nervous excitement. There were so many languages being spoken. I loved being with these people who were going to venture out and travel 26.2 miles before the sun set. I loved the diversity. I loved both those who sat quietly reflecting and those who laughed and chatted.
As the captain announced our departure from the ferry, I allowed the others to charge ahead. This was a calm and perfect morning. I had no anxiety, just gratefulness, for being in this place at this moment. I was about to embark on a race I felt prepared for and joyful to be a part of.
The next line worked its way through the ferry terminal on Staten Island. I found another restroom. Although I was in a large crowd, I could be within myself, observing those around me without expending the energy it would take to make small talk. It was a marvelous state.
Riding the coach bus to the starting line was another delightful experience. The conversations around me were now muted and contemplative. I began texting my friends in Minnesota and giggled out loud at their comments and encouragement. Finally, I texted, ‘now go to church and pray for me!’ I meant that literally. It was Sunday morning and they would be worshipping when I began my race. Their interest in my goal, support and encouragement was like sweet smelling lotion on dry hands. It was as if they were right there with me.
Once I reached the starting village, I got into another line for the restroom. I patiently waited standing in the warm sun. It is marvelous to look at the faces of the other runners. What was their story? Why are they here? Where did they come from? How many marathons have they done? What brought them to this place in their life? So much potential.
I found the free bagels and decided a few more carbs would be a good idea. As I walked towards the ‘Blue’ wave, an announcement came over a loud speaker that the corral would close in 10 minutes. Everything was working out perfectly!!! I shed the donated clothes and hurriedly put them in the donation bins without a chance to mourn never seeing them again. Gone was the red ‘New York’ stocking cap that made its way mysteriously into our cold weather gear closet back in Minnesota. Gone also were the ‘Mankato West’ mittens that showed up in the same way. Some unfortunate parent had paid for those mittens during a cold football game only to never see them again as the student left them at our house. There wasn’t nearly that much attachment to the pants and vest I had purchased at the Thrift Store just a few days before. They did, however, make a striking combination with my ugly Christmas sweater. Oh well, off they came and into the corral I went.
I edged my way towards the front. A man who had done marathons all over the world smiled as he said he has never had to walk so far to get to the starting line. The start was uneventful. People started running before we hit the time strip but I continued to walk conserving my energy for my last few steps. I clicked start on my watch and off I went.
The first bridge was beautiful. Although we were high above the water, my place in the large crowd of runners felt cozy. I tried to go along with the pack at first but began to dodge and weave my way forward. The pace was slow and I was grateful that the big crowd kept me from going out too fast.
What can I say about the spectators? From the moment we got off the first bridge until we crossed the finish line in Central Park, the crowd roared. They were clearly having fun on this beautiful fall morning. Some were out in costume, some held home-made signs and others screamed at the top of their lungs, clapping with excitement. Their energy was palatable. At one point, I audibly gasped and said, ‘this is amazing! I am so grateful to be here!’ The race is 26.2 miles of adrenaline. What a thrill to run between throngs of screaming fans and hundreds of volunteers. I felt like a rock star.
My plan was to eat a Gu every 5 miles, drink Gatorade at every stop, and give myself permission to stop and go to the restroom. Each one of those things happened. From miles 14 - 17 I looked forward to seeing my family and letting them know how awesome the race was. My family met me at 77th and First Avenue just as planned. They screamed and yelled as I waved my hands in the air. Pure delight.
And now I had 7 miles until I saw my supporters again. Those 7 miles were tougher than I had imagined. Although we had already climbed and descended two bridges, there were two more in my future. They were shorter and more difficult. Steep and unexpected. At one moment, I walked 3 steps and then said, ‘Nope, Cathy. You can do this. Keep running.’ And off I went.
As I came upon the 4th bridge, a woman sat atop a concrete barrier. She held a homemade cardboard sign without color or great penmanship. It simply said, ‘Last damn bridge’. It was the most beautiful sign I had ever seen. It made me smile and inspired me to climb the steep incline knowing that I would not have to do it again. Or so I thought.
As I ran up First Avenue from miles 14 to 20, it seemed to be a gradual incline. Although it was difficult, I told myself that I would feel a slight decline as I ran back towards the south along Fifth. How could it be that both stretches were uphill? Was it my imagination? No worries. This is what I came for. All the training and preparation were for these last 6 miles. This is where I got to practice gratitude. This is where I got to train my mental muscle to ignore the pain in my legs and stay in the present moment.
I spent mile 20 praying for my new friend, Sue. She has MS and can’t feel her legs as she walks. Today I was happy to feel my legs and prayed for her as she walks this mile every day of her life.
At mile 21, I did the same for Kris. A friend since childhood also has MS and has a lifelong battle in front of her. She can’t choose to ‘start walking’ and stop because of the discomfort of her life. She must face her body’s limits every day. That’s harder than running mile 21.
Mile 22 was reserved for my wonderful sister-in-laws, Kristi and Lisa. They had made signs to encourage me on my run and hung them in my backyard as a surprise. What a beautiful and thoughtful gesture!!! These next two miles were for them. I also knew that at mile 24 my family would be cheering me on. My mind was unable to fully focus, so 1 prayer for 2 miles turned into 2 prayers for 1 mile. As I approached what I thought was mile 24, I found the marker for mile 23. Bummer. I had to focus on the fact that there were just three miles left. Just. Three. Miles.
During those last 6 miles, I had moments where I felt literally carried along. At one point, my legs were going faster than they should have been. I knew the prayers of my friends were helping in that moment. It was an out of body experience.
Oh Lord, how can we understand all your mysteriously amazing ways? How can we as humans, limited by time and space, even appreciate what goes on in the spiritual realm? How is it that through all the twists and turns of the race that my time would be just 25 seconds faster than my goal? There is so much more happening here than I realize! Let me know your ways, God. Let me see how you wind in and out of our lives, moving us, motivating us, whispering in our ears, and accomplishing your purposes.
The last two miles in Central Park were beautiful. Under a canopy of trees, we wound our way towards the finish. Another uphill climb followed by a lovely downhill jaunt gave different muscles in my legs a chance to stretch. Mike, our son Jonny, & his girlfriend Jenna screamed wildly as I was able to raise my arms in the air purely by the strength they brought with their support. A short distance later I saw my longtime friend Jill and her husband Blaik jumping in the air with encouragement. They had taken the train from Philadelphia earlier that morning simply to see me for a few seconds as I ran by at mile 25. If we could fully comprehend the value of our relationships to one another, we would all become much kinder and supportive. Thank you dear, Jill for coming to my aid. Your beautiful smiling face and blonde pageboy haircut gave strength to my legs and heart. This was magical.
How can we tap into this each and every day of our lives?
The final ascent to the finish was a bit easier than I had anticipated. Just two steps beyond the finishing strip stood a runner standing still who I was liable to run over had I not slowed down. With hands raised, I completed the New York City Marathon.
I was excited and thrilled. It took just a few seconds to catch my breath and I felt proud of my accomplishment and grateful for the experience. A young woman ran up from behind me and said, ‘you were my competition the whole way!’ In my exhaustion, I didn’t have the energy to tell her how good that made me feel. We were handed a Mylar blanket, a backpack with food, and a beautiful medal was placed around our neck.
It was all worth it. So much happens along the way. So many people are involved. So many lessons from God. That’s why I do it. To learn the lessons that God can only teach me when I get uncomfortable. The lessons I learn from being vulnerable and needing support from my friends. The lessons of mental strength and emotional intelligence that He’s refining in me with each race. It’s so much more than running. In fact, running is just the vehicle to get this done. It’s the method of transformation. It’s a blessing from God.
I’m now going to stop and celebrate all that God’s done for me. I am going to bask in the accomplishment knowing that the medal or time wasn’t what this was all about. I hope to inspire others to take their own journey and be filled with what God has for them. I’m going to smile and be grateful for all those who went along with me, including those who responded with a ‘Like’ on my Facebook page. It all adds up to positive energy where we’re all changed.