It’s no coincidence that in the aftermath of a four week music tour then running the New York City Marathon soon after, I’ve gone through my house and filled bag, after bag, after bag, of things I don’t need. For one thing, I found on tour that I was perfectly happy living with only what I had in my suitcase. I missed nothing from home, save my cats. When I crossed the finish line of the NYC Marathon in Central Park, I felt as if I had shed whatever emotional weight I had carried with me up to that moment. After a year of worrying, fretting, stressing… I made it. I did okay. No, I did just fine.
About an hour and a half before the race began, Shasta and I took one last photo together before parting ways to our respective start corrals. We had the brilliant idea of purchasing throwaway onesies to keep warm in.
Speaking of brilliant ideas, I decided to eat a banana just then, you know, to top off the energy reserves. 20 minutes later, my stomach started cramping horribly. I spent the remaining time leading up to the start trying not to panic and doing an extensive amount of side stretching, drinking water, and jamming my fingers into my belly trying to massage away whatever knot was twisting tighter and tighter within. All because of a banana??
Alas, the New York City Marathon could not wait for my stomach to settle and it was time to run! Without a very specific time goal (though I did hope for 3:15-ish), I started at a very easy pace, as if I were going out for a long run with 50,000 of my very closest running buddies. My starting corral was on the lower part of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and if you spoke to me before the race would know I was very concerned about being peed on by runners from the upper deck of the bridge. It’s a thing! I’ve heard stories! I made a point to stick toward the divider in the center of the bridge, just in case.
My stomach continued to bother me, but I told myself it was a long race and it would work itself out. Seven miles later, it did! I finally allowed myself to take my first Honey Stinger gel (which I would have normally done at mile five). With no more ailments plus the little burst of sugary energy, I picked up the pace just a little bit.
Purists will hate this, but after crossing the 10K timing mat, which pinged my time and pace to those tracking me on the NYC Marathon app, I received a message on my Apple watch from my friend Krysta back in Portland saying, “Shasta’s just ahead!”
Considering the amount of runners and our separate starting locations (Shasta began at the top of the bridge), I knew our chances of finding each other on the course were zilch to none. Knowing she was close, I picked up the pace a little bit more, and started scanning the crowd for the bright pink and yellow singlet matching my own. And there she was! We ran together for a bit and checked in with each other, but otherwise kept our focus on the task ahead.
We were running through Brooklyn, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the course. There were plenty of spectators and the vibe was lively (might have to do with all the bars conveniently lining the course). I realized I was on the same street I had run along just a month earlier when I was in town to play a show at Brooklyn Steel. I may have googly-eyed a bagel shop or two. I hit the halfway point at 1:39:52, on track for a sub-3:20 finish. I felt good. I thought, “Of course I can do that again!”
At some point, Shasta had pulled off to use the restroom, but I knew we’d see each other again. It was maybe around mile 14 or 15 that she caught back up to me, said “something-something just striding out!” and continued to clip by looking strong and effortless. By the way, she would go on to finish in 3:14 (which meant running a six minute negative split) in her very first road marathon! I so wanted to go with her, but couldn’t even if I had wanted to. I was beginning to feel weary at the pace I was at.
Crossing the Queensboro Bridge was both the worst and the best part of the race. I really enjoyed the quiet respite from the throngs of spectators lining the streets of Brooklyn and Queens, the only sounds being the pitter patter of runners’ footsteps. It was perfect timing to be able to mentally reset before entering the streets of Manhattan. But it was during the long gradual ascent up the bridge that my lack of conditioning for the race really started to show itself (I had a short build up to the race due to an injury this summer). For how good I felt just a couple miles before, the rails came off pretty quickly. My knees began to ache with every step. My feet were actually starting to hurt from striking the ground, to a point where I wondered, Am I going to fracture a metatarsal? Am I going to finish this race?
It was just after the turn onto 1st Avenue (I think) that I heard my parents-in-law cheering for me and I was able to give a smile and a wave. Like my stomachache earlier, the pain in my feet began to subside. If I’ve learned anything from marathoning it’s that pain can come and go in phases. If something goes wrong, but you feel okay to keep going for even just one more mile, it’s worth it to ride it out and see what happens.
From 59th Street to 125th Street was a giant blur. I wanted to really take in the enormous crowds of spectators that I’d heard so much about, but all I could think of was putting one foot in front of the other. It began to rain, or mist, really. Goosebumps formed up and down my body. I was slowing down. It was getting very cold. It was going to be a grind to the finish.
I approached the bridge leading into the Bronx just before mile 20, and who better to see than my friend and host for the weekend, Cynthia, absolutely cheering her lungs out? She shouted, “GO LIZ! GET UP THAT BRIDGE, LIZ!” And you can believe I hustled up that bridge and into the Bronx.
At that point I was running on fumes, but being on display running through the streets with tons of families and kids watching made it a non-option to back off. New York is a tough city and I wanted to be strong for everyone out there. In my fatigued runner-brain state I just pushed forward and repeated to myself, “New York Strong. New York Strong.”
I crossed back into Manhattan, then up and up 5th Avenue. The pain had returned and was shooting through my knees and hips. One of my goals going into this race was to get to Central Park feeling ready to tackle the final hills, and I had failed miserably. I felt like garbage and had yet to enter its gates! One last thing that kept me hanging on was knowing that a giant group of Volée teammates would be cheering on runners just before mile 23. I told myself to keep it together for them. Pretend to keep it together. As soon as I saw them I picked up my stride, waved, smiled, gave the thumbs up, almost enough to convince myself that I was doing alright! I might have looked and felt like a zombie, but they made me feel like a rock star for a few moments.
As I entered Central Park shortly after, my legs began to lock up and my run reduced to what felt like a shuffle. I reveled in the downhill portions which allowed gravity to carry me for a little bit. Overall I was really not well. Something about the excitement of almost being finished was perhaps causing my brainwaves to give my body mixed signals. The mere thought of the finish line being just around the corner almost made me toss my cookies. I actually pulled off onto the median and stopped for a second just in case. I barely remember running down the homestretch to the finish, but I must have because there’s photographic evidence. What I do remember was finally crossing the line and feeling overtaken with both humility and gratitude. And insane shooting pain all up and down my legs! I think in every marathon report I’ve written I mention bursting into tears at the end, and yeah that definitely happened again. As I shuffle-cried my way toward the exit, another finisher commented, “It’s such an emotional experience, huh?” Emotional, yes, but honestly I was crying because my legs hurt so badly!
I finished in 3:26:08, about 27 minutes slower than my personal best. It was not the race I wanted, but as Kara Goucher said in Q&A I attended just a day earlier, “You don’t just get what you want.” I know I have a much better marathon in me, but it’s not going to come quickly or easily, and that’s okay. I’m up for the challenge. What I can be is completely grateful and proud of myself for making it to the start line healthy and pulling through to the finish when it was not my day.
I joined my parents, parents-in-law, and Shasta’s friends at Café Lalo (the one from You’ve Got Mail!) just two blocks from the finish. We all shared our race day stories over pizza and soup, gave big hugs and said our goodbyes, and walked almost two miles down Broadway back to our host home. I thought walking that far would be terrible, but it was one of my favorite parts of the day. We got to take in the city as daylight grew dim, then took in the surrealism of thousands of runners still making their way toward the finish after dark.
Since my recent music tour and NYC Marathon, I’ve taken the downtime to organize my life a little bit. I sold or gave away a ton of clothing, rearranged the kitchen, finished several projects I’ve been putting off for ages and ditched the ones I knew I’d never finish, said “no” to opportunities I was dilly dallying on, and this might seem trivial but I even caught up on all the books and podcasts I’ve been meaning to get to. After so much irregularity and being in a frazzled and/or injured state for much of this year, it feels really good to get back to normalcy, good health, and to be in a place where I’m ready to start fresh. I wrote a song earlier this year called “Start Over” which pretty sums up my feelings now. I’m ready to start over; I’m ready to try again.