Well it has taken me a while to sit down to write out my thoughts/feelings about Sunday’s race, but that’s partly because it took me a while to process such a huge experience.
I was so much more relaxed going into this year’s marathon. Jay was quite busy gearing up at work, but Mom was here making soup and cookies while I painted my nails purple. It was all pretty chill until Saturday afternoon. Then reality, excitement and fear started to settle in.
I didn’t sleep a wink Saturday night. Jay got up at 3am to head into work and then to the start village where he’d be field-producing the pre-race coverage. My alarm was set for 5am, at which point I got dressed, made my UCAN breakfast to drink later, looked over my checklist to be sure I didn’t forget anything, and kissed my mom goodbye. I walked out the door to find an adorable poster attached to the “wet floor” sign in our hallway thanks to my wonderful neighbor. I flagged a cab to Union Square where I met up with the rest of the Alzheimer’s team for a 5:45am team picture and a 6am departure. Our friend Amy from out of town hitched a ride with the team, so I had someone to distract me on the ride over. I ate my over-night oats and stared out the window. Once in Staten Island, we had to go through several security checks. One officer was concerned about the chia seeds in my water, saying it looked like metal balls floating in a bottle (because that’s what metal balls do… they float… right.) We were not permitted to bring any opaque bags, which included trash bags to sit on, so I just had to hide mine in my pocket. Really, the list of items you could or could not bring totally depended on the security guard that stopped you.
Once in, Amy and I walked over to where ABC was producing their coverage. Amy used to work at the station, so she was just as eager to see the news crew as I was. We got hugs of encouragement during a commercial break, and then it was back to business. Amy left to find the blue section of the village, and I stayed by the ABC staging area because it happened to be in the green section of the village (and I was in Green Wave #1). At one point I felt a jacket plop down on me from above and looked up to see Jay on the other side of the barrier, headset still on, mouthing ‘keep warm!’ It was pretty chilly and windy out there.
Right before my coral opened, I drank my UCAN and changed my shoes/socks, shedding a few layers and returning Jay’s jacket. He mouthed from the stage, ‘I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!’ and we waved goodbye. The corrals were lined with porto-potties and I made two stops for good measure. Then it was time to line up. It was cold, but time to strip down to the essentials. I tried to throw my jacket over to the side of the crowd, but elbowed some woman in the head in the process. I felt reeeeallly bad about that.
And then I heard, “On your marks, get set, go!”
I said, “That’s it??” and then slowly made my way with hundreds of runners to the start mats. To my knowledge, there was no clock at the start mats–this proved problematic later. I had no idea how much time had lapsed since the gun-time, so it was hard to gauge my pace. The green wave runs on the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge, so I had no satellite reception to help me out. People following me on their computers had a better sense of how I was running than I did.
I knew my first mile would be slow and my second mile would be fast. I didn’t try to weave through people. I just went with the flow and surged when I saw an opening. It was actually less crowded than I imagined. And despite rumors that runners on the lower level of the bridge get peed on, I did not see (or feel) any evidence to support the claim.
Coming off the bridge I felt the tongue of my left shoe putting pressure on the top of my foot. I decided to pull over and adjust, thinking it would be better to lose a few seconds than run uncomfortably 24 miles more.
And then I just ran. The miles went by quickly. I was comfortable and kept reminding myself not to go out too fast. My Garmin would say 8:00 or 7:55 pace, and I’d pull back. I told myself to save it for Central Park.
Brooklyn gets the prize for best cheering. The crowds were just awesome. And the fact that I got to see my friends Becca, Bianca and Nick between miles 11 and 12 gave me something to look forward to and then carry with me. Every few minutes I’d cross another timing mat and think, ‘Alright friends and family, now you know where I am…’ I especially wondered how Jay was feeling about my splits since he gets concerned as a husband but pushes me as a coach.
At one point I crossed Norman Street in Brooklyn–felt like Aimee was smiling down on me running around the streets of her favorite city.
And then it was time for the Queensboro Bridge. It’s a beast. I had run over it twice in the past several weeks, so I was mentally prepared. Right as I reached the bridge a live band was playing “Eye of the Tiger” and that made me laugh as I started to ascend. The bridges are the quietest part of the marathon–the only stretches where fans aren’t stacked 5 deep. But then coming back down the Queensboro bridge, you begin to hear the 1st Ave crowds. As I ran down the exit ramp, not yet seeing the crowds but hearing them cheer, I blurted out “Holy ****!” It’s that kind of moment. On 1st Ave I knew my legs were starting to get tired, but also I knew I had less than 10 miles to go. I started counting the streets as we headed north, knowing I’d see some familiar faces at 88th.
Suddenly my dear friend Tanya was running toward me. I knew she planned to jump in at 88th, but I was still surprised when it happened. She had a bib, but it’s just so easy to miss people when you are 1 of millions. We waved to a bunch of teammates and took off. Tanya told me my last 5k was a few seconds off pace, so we picked it up. She filled me in on who had won and how some of our elite friends had fared. And then she basically distracted, encouraged, and pushed me the rest of the race. We dedicated miles to my family. We dedicated miles to her family. We dedicated miles to things I can’t repeat. We talked about my Grandma Lucy who I was racing in memory of. We talked about Tanya’s mother who had purple hair (though she thought it was red) like me. And really when I say “we talked” I mean I listened to Tanya talk. She ran ahead to get water or Gatorade for me. She made me do crazy things like striders (to stretch my legs a bit) and butt kicks (to loosen my quads) and high knees (to make me look silly). People running near us were probably like ‘who is the girl with so much energy?’ But they didn’t have to wonder for long because while others were slowing down, we were speeding up.
And this is where it gets tricky. We slowed some on the 3/4 mile slight incline (feels less slight after 20 miles) that is 5th Ave. Tanya helped me push through by giving me landmarks to strive toward. Then we turned into the Engineers Gate entrance of Central Park and I knew I was almost home-free. I run in the park several times a week. I know every curve, straightaway, up and down. I was in “lets-do-this” mode. So Tanya started to pick it up. It hurt. But I thought, ‘I can do anything for 3 miles–the faster I run the sooner I’m done.’ And we just kept passing people left and right. She stopped counting at 50. At one point she said, “There’s a woman up there with wings on her shoes.” I looked up and said, “That’s Carol–she’s awesome.” Tanya ran up beside Carol and said, “I’m running with Lauren. Come finish with us.” I caught up and said, “Come with us Carol.” She smiled and said, “Good job Lauren.” And we went on. I knew Carol’s goal was 3:30 and lots of people around us were wearing 3:30 pace bibs as well. I think Tanya and I both thought we had a BQ in the bag at this point. Her Garmin was reading sub-8 pace (mine was too, though I didn’t look at it until after the race). I almost said to her, “We’ve got this, we can cruise in now.” But I kept quiet and kept pushing. And we kept getting faster. We exited at 7th Ave to run along 59th and I could see Columbus Circle up ahead. “You’re so strong, Lauren. Give it everything you’ve got!” Tanya said. We hung a right at the circle and re-entered the park for the home stretch. I saw the sign for 400 meters, then 300, then 200 (where the shortest and hardest incline of the race is located), then 100… then with arms up in the air and a huge smile, I crossed the finish. My hips were screaming at me, but I felt amazing.
I walked a few steps, remembered to stop my Garmin, and looked at the screen for the first time in 9 miles. It said 3:35:11. I turned to Tanya and said, “My watch has been all over the place, but it’s possible I didn’t break 3:35.” She pulled out her phone to check my finishing time on the NYCM App… sure enough, 3:35:07. I threw my arm over her shoulder and said, “Honestly, I didn’t have another 7 seconds in me–If that’s my time, I’m totally happy with it.” And then she pretty much carried me for a mile of walking, which is impressive if you know how petite Tanya is.
We found Jay, beaming with pride, and then my Mom jumping up and down. I PR’d by over 16 minutes. It was an amazing race. A-MAZ-ING. Truly.
Jay, Mom and I swung by the Team Alzheimer’s after-party for an hour or so before I decided I needed to get off my feet and on the couch. I soaked in the tub and we ordered take-out from Bare Burger. The further I got from the race, the more obsessed I became with those 7 seconds.
Monday came and I was up early for class. Mom had to catch her train back to VA and Jay had to head into work. Before Jay left I said, “If there happen to be any marathons close by in the next few weeks…” He said, “My wheels are already turning.”
That night I went to the Team Alzheimer’s happy hour to celebrate all we had accomplished together–raising over $435,000 is pretty awesome! I was especially eager to hear about the races for our several first-timers. You only get one first marathon.
Talking to the team coaches, we all agreed that I ran a great race but probably went out too conservatively and had too much left in the tank at the finish. One coach suggested I run the Rohoboth Beach marathon in 4 weeks and even offered to pace me since he’s running it (for fun) anyway. I texted Jay as I left the bar: “DE in 4 weeks.” He responded, “I know. Tanya and I talked about it.” And then proceeded to tell me they’d both go and run with me if I wanted to do it. With two beers and 3 sliders in my belly, I was feeling confident. Walking home I pretty much decided my body could handle it, I’m healthy, and it’s sure as heck easier to run another in 4 weeks than it is to train countless hours for a race next year. I told myself I’d wait till my massage the next day to see if Leslie thought my legs were up to the challenge.
But the next day I woke up and felt differently. Instead of stewing over 7 seconds, I started to relish in the freedom of no training, no plan, and no goals. I reflected again on how awesome my race was, how hard I pushed and how happy I was with the results. I thought more about why the 7 seconds were nagging me and realized it had more to do with whether or not I was measuring up to my friends’ expectations and less to do with my own priorities and expectations. And as soon as I realized that, I realized just how silly the notion was, knowing that 7 seconds wasn’t going to make a lick of difference to my friends, and those measurements were a figment of my imagination. By the time Leslie told me my legs were in better shape than anyone she’d seen all week, it didn’t even matter. I’d already made up my mind to stay thrilled with my race and leave the BQ behind.
Here’s what I know: I wanted to run a race that would make Grandma Lucy proud, and I did that. I noticed things that made me laugh, I thought about things that gave me courage, I sung songs in my head that she would love. I ran a huge PR, made new friends that are as passionate about ending Alzheimer’s as I am, and raised a lot of money with a lot of help. I had a freakin’ blast doing it. Nothing could top Sunday’s race.
I also know I need to catch up on some reading before exams arrive. I need to take a break from running so as not to burn out. I have a big year ahead of me, full of transition and discernment. And I have some other dreams to chase after.
I said Sunday that not qualifying for Boston meant I could hang up my marathoning shoes. And that’s very true. But while I meant “for good” when I said it, I know there’s a good chance I’ll run another some day. And if I want to run Boston, I’ll do what I’ve always done and run for charity. Some people need a BQ. I need a cause. It’s the cause that makes me lace up my shoes on days I want to sleep in, not the PR. So who knows… the world isn’t going to run out of causes any time soon, so I won’t likely run out of miles.
Till then, it’s been real. Thank you Team Alzheimer’s. Thank you friends and strangers along the course. Thank you friends, family and strangers who donated to end the disease that stole my Grandma. Thank you UA coaches and teammates. Thank you Brian and Glen for your wisdom and perspective. Thanks SMST Church for the posters that I missed. Thanks Keegan and Kaylee for the home videos of support. Thank you Tanya for inspiring and pacing me in the race of a lifetime. Thanks Mom for coming up, cooking, and keeping me calm the way only a mom can. And thanks Jay for coaching me through a very difficult semester and loving me through it all–you’re my biggest cheer leader and I can’t wait to be yours again in April (slash every day of our lives).