At last, the New York City Marathon has come and gone. The last month has been crazy with training (and not training- more on that) so I will begin at the beginning of the end.
Staten Island. October 12, 2014.
The plan was to complete my last long run in combination with running the Staten Island Half Marathon.
My Mister drove me to Staten Island where we parked near the start line around 7:00 am. That left me with about and 1 hour and 15 minutes to squeeze in a comfy 7 miles before getting to my corral. I set off along the course route and ran 3 ½ up towards the Verrazano, before turning around and returning. I was encouraged by the dozens and dozens of runners also adding in miles along the same route- we were all marathon bound and this was our final training stretch!
Now the thing is, I had run Grete’s Great Gallop ½ Marathon the previous Sunday and experienced an odd twinge of pain in my left knee. I've never had any sort of knee pain, running or otherwise, and it shook out quickly during the Gallop even as it ebbed and faded during the Gallop so I didn't give it much thought. Until now. During these 7 miles it was back. And it wasn't exactly shaking out. It was a general pain that tightened as I rolled through strides on my left leg.
I returned to the start area around 8:15 right on schedule and regrouped with my mister as we headed towards the corrals.
The Mister tells me, "Make sure you step on home plate when you finish." I told him “I’m feeling good, but I’m not sure about this knee. If I’m not on schedule during the ½ it’s because I’m having major issues. Major issues.”
The race began, and a FDNY fire boat kicked off the celebration in rare form.
Also in rare form, my knee which was already in twice as much pain as I had experienced that morning. This is mile 1. 12 more to go, right?
It got worse, and worse. By mile 3, I was seriously considering stopping, calling the Mister, and getting the heck out of there. I have no clue what is wrong with my knee, hypothetically I have a Marathon in less than 1 month, and this is the now or never time for my last long run, the ever important 20 mile threshold. And the Mister woke up early on his day off and drove me out to Staten Island to see a Half Marathon. If I wanted to do an everyday, plain Jane, sub-par distance training run I could have just gone to Central Park and at least he could have slept in. At least this is what is going through my mind since I can be tough on myself to the point of plain old foolishness.
So I continued. And hobbled. And walked. And welled up with tears as my marathon future flashed before my eyes and disappeared into a blur of ace bandages and ice compresses.
Near Mile 7, someone came up behind me as I was walking and choking back tears yet again. He put his hand on my back, “You’re ok. What we’re going to do is run two of those lamp posts. “ He was still running and began to pull me too, “I have two fake knees!” he added and I thought, “jeez, the universe is really laying it on heavy. If he is smiling with two fake knees and can give this another go.” So we began to run. I learned his name was Tommy, he was from Staten Island, and his current goal was to run a marathon on every continent.
Later that afternoon, I would actually discover via the Staten Island Advance that this was local legend Tommy Hart. And I couldn't have been more gracious to experience such selfless encouragement from someone who clearly represents the best in our running community.
We passed a flock of the famous Staten Island turkeys. Too cool. We wondered together where in god’s name the turnaround was. Altogether we ran about 2 miles together until we parted.
At this point my knee is howling. Real bad. I have no clue what is wrong with it, or if I should even try to keep running on it. It hurts just to walk and half of the time when I try to start running again it is excruciating and impossible to put weight on it.
And all of these thoughts keep going through my head:
Even if I can’t run any more, shouldn't I walk to the finish? But I’m still 4 miles out, won’t that take too long? They will close the course. So you want to quit because you’re embarrassed? Do you want to quit because of knee safety or pride?
And I couldn't answer that last question so I kept going. I was so far off of my normal time bracket and falling deeper and deeper into the field of participants. And at first, it pains me to say, my pride was wounded. I was walking a lot, I was nowhere near a time I was prepared to deal with, and I imagined every single spectator judging me. It takes guts to be slow, I thought. And I thought some more, I’m an ass for even trying to define what I think is slow. A real asshole that completely undermines everything that is beautiful and meditative and, I hate to use the word, uplifting about running. I have always known running isn't all about a number, but then again I'd always been fairly satisfied with my performance and, similarly, my time. This was uncharted territory for me and I learned what lies beyond is an experience far more evocative than running for a number.
On the topic of numbers though, this it what 13 miles of pain looks like with Grete's Gallop as control data.
And with wounded pride, a busted knee, and an entirely new view on running, I found mile 13.
I was, however, very disappointed to find that I could not, in fact, “step on home plate,” upon crossing the finish.