Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons from a Marathon

About a year and a half before the 2006 New York City Marathon, my friends and I decided it would be a good idea to sign ourselves up and spend 2005 as members of New York City Road Runners, completing their qualifier races to get guaranteed entry.  We ignored the fact that, collectively, we’d never run 26.2 miles at one time combined, and I couldn’t even run a 5k race without stopping multiple times.  Nevertheless, we embarked on nine trips to Manhattan and discovered the wonders of Central Park, Harlem, Randall’s Island, and Washington Heights. 
Four months before the marathon started my friend Melissa and I began our training program.  Our other friend, Cindy, having discovered she had a bun in the oven, had to bail on us, and secretly I was envious that she had such a valid out.  Running had never been my strong suit.  It served the dual purpose of keeping my penchant for junk food in check and fooling me into thinking I could meet the man of my dreams while I huffed and puffed at the back of the pack, looking like I was in need of immediate medical attention.
My first month of marathon training wasn’t so bad.  I pushed past the constant wish that a truck would hit me, ending a (so far) miserable journey, and surprised myself when I could finally run a 5k without stopping. I started to see that if I stuck to the program, my body would respond and my fitness would improve.  The weeks wore on and when I ran 10k without stopping I cried.  Some people saw me as a bit of a screw-up, inferring that I never finished what I started (not entirely true), so being able to run a distance that had long eluded me renewed my sense of self-worth.  And if I could run a 10k, then a half-marathon wasn’t far behind.
What I didn’t know at the time, and learned the hard way, was that when the human body is running for more than two hours some changes occur.  The blood that normally flows through one’s major organs moves to the legs to provide the muscles with needed energy.  When that happens, the digestive system doesn’t work as well.  I’ll spare you the details, but after spending weeks feeling ill I questioned my ability to finish a marathon when running a half-marathon left me with debilitating stomach pains.  Like an angel from heaven, my friend Jen swooped in and told me to switch the brand of fuel and hydration I was using.  It worked and I was back in the game.  Well, I was until a (not-so-healed) stress fracture in my foot came back to haunt me two weeks before the race.
At that point, whatever it took, I was going to make it to the start line at Fort Wadsworth.  I didn’t care if my foot broke once I cleared the Verrazano, I had given up too much to get there and, come hell or high water, I was going to cross it. Two weeks of twice-daily ice baths, Advil, and cross-training got me there.  Once the race started, adrenaline proved to be the best pain killer and I felt nothing until about Mile 13.  Mile 16 (59th Street bridge) threatened to take me out with stomach pains, but by the time we crossed the Willis Avenue bridge into the Bronx at Mile 20 I knew I would finish. 
I finished the 2006 New York City Marathon in 5:40:44 and felt like I had gotten my life back.  I had finished what I’d started, albeit in extreme pain, and proved to myself that I really could do anything.  ANYTHING!  I’ve since spent the last 6 years taking on other challenges – some more successful than others.  And as time is wont to do, it has dulled the memories of what it really takes to achieve what you want most in life. 
It has been 7 weeks since my last post and I’ve been beating myself up for getting off track with Weight Watchers.  I’ve gained back 3.8 pounds, and added on about 50 pounds of guilt.  But the other night I was looking at my marathon photo and it all started to come back to me.  The best achievements in life are not meant to be easy.  We’re supposed to get knocked down so we can get right back up again and fight for what we want.  It’s delusional to think the fun part is the journey.  The fun part is crossing the figurative finish line and ultimately forgetting how hard it was to get there.  When I think of my marathon, I remember my elation at crossing the Verrazano (a bridge my father helped build), of the crowds and music that buoyed us along when we felt our worst, of crossing the finish line with one of my best friends, and of showing myself that there isn’t anything I can’t do.  Losing weight is my new marathon, and giving up is not an option, so I guess I’m in it for the long haul, no matter how much I may hate the journey.