I don’t typically consider myself a runner. I run once or twice a week, but only short runs. But the idea of a marathon kept coming up for me. While I was considering it, I remember asking one my running partners who regularly runs marathons, how do you know you can run a marathon? How do you do it? I was trying to wrap my brain around it. She told me – you find the right training program, and you follow it, and you run. In the end, it was actually that simple. Decide to do it, and then, do it.
I decided to run the NYC Marathon, because once I got the idea in my head, it circled around, and stuck. I decided to do it in 2015 because I wanted to leverage the fitness level I had achieved when I trained for a half marathon earlier this year. Finally, it seemed fitting to run this year ,because it was five years since I had finished my last cancer treatment. I decided to get in as a runner for Fred’s Team, and raise money for cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. When I clicked the button on their website to sign up in early July, I was excited, and unsure about what I had just committed myself to.
I followed the Hal Higdon training program for novice marathoners. I ran four days per week, including a long run on the weekends, over four months. Each week the mileage progressively increased, with the long run shortening a bit every few weeks before building up to a longer long run. My first long weekend run was 5 miles, which was totally do-able. The distances increased to my longest long run, which was 22 miles. Running four times a week was a big commitment for me, but I managed to work it in. While there were mornings I dreaded waking up in the dark and running (again), there was also a sense of accomplishment as I was getting in to work knowing I already had a 9 mile run under my belt.
What I found most incredible about marathon training was how consistently I was pushed past any previous barriers. In my past, I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone for a goal. For example, performing an exercise I never was able to before, or presenting to a group larger than I’d ever presented to before. In those cases, once you’ve achieved those goals, you’ve achieved them – I did the exercise, or I presented to that group, and then I was done. With marathon training, as soon as I achieved a goal, my training plan had me at the next one. During week 10, the long run was 15 miles. I’d never run 15 miles before, and when I finished, I felt great – but then immediately knew I had to run 16 miles the very next weekend. It was a prolonged stretch outside of my comfort zone and was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I began to realize that this was an opportunity to learn more about myself than I had ever imagined.
The week leading up to the race, I wavered between feeling confident I’d done everything I could to prepare, and feeling generally terrified. I knew I could do it, but I didn’t want to fall apart. I knew it would hurt during those last six miles, but I wanted it to be a good run overall. The morning of the marathon, I got dressed, had breakfast, packed my food, got my gear and went to the ferry. There was a lot of waiting in a lot of different areas, but somehow I was finally at the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Bridge, ready to run. At 11 am, I started.
It was an incredible experience – the Verrazano Bridge views were awesome, and the crowds were great in Brooklyn and Queens. At mile 15, on the 59th street bridge, I was feeling prepared – I had trained on this bridge, I knew what to expect, and I felt good. However, I didn’t expect the pain in my knee when I hit the downhill part of the bridge. I stopped, and stretched, and told myself I’d be fine. Manhattan was amazing. I saw my friends and family, which gave me a lot of inspiration. But as I ran into the Bronx, there was no denying it. Something was not right with my knee, and I had 8 miles to go. I dug deep and found the determination to keep running.
As if I needed another lesson from the marathon, it became very clear that there is strength in relying on your training and putting one foot in front of the other to get yourself where you need to be, which is what I did. Honestly, it wasn’t the race I expected or planned for. But I was prepared and I stuck with it.
I crossed that finish line with my arms up, a smile on my face, and a whole lot of pride in my accomplishment.