I awoke on Sunday feeling nervous. I remember dressing and looking in the mirror and being afraid. Not just of failing purely, but letting myself down. Sometimes we get accustomed to others letting us down but it hurts so much more when you let yourself down. I don't know if the person that looked back at herself was confident she would finish. I had a hard time sleeping, especially with a frisky raccoon outside trying to get at our empty bird feeders (I know, yet another blogpost), and my mind was far from the race as a way of distraction. I ate a bowl of Irish oats and berries for breakfast and watched that frisky raccoon scrummage through the remnants of the bird feeder before the sun broke through the clouds. My mind was very blank. Then 7am hit and I was a wreck. My brother drove as close as he could to the start line and I realized there was only 15 minutes to find my pace group and use the bathroom. I walked to Battery Park and to my dismay the poratapotties had the largest lines I'd ever seen in all the times I have run the VCM relay. I heard the singing of the national anthem as I was doing my business and prayed I would make it on time. What a way I would started the race! From inside a portapotty? No way. I forced myself through the crowd and found my 4:45 pace group.
This may sound cheesy but I experienced every emotion possible during this race. I stood there feeling disoriented and couldn't feel my toes. If anyone is familiar with the sensation you get when your around your crush or someone you love well that's what I felt. I was anxious with butterflies, my stomach was doing somersaults and I was slightly panicking. I didn't even hear the start. I started walking with my group and then we were off. After I began the race I realized this was more than crossing an item off my bucket list, even though I did exactly that when I got home, but it was about life. Turning the first corner was a crazy sea of people, runners and volunteers. I couldn't stop smiling. A cynical pace mate, a vet marathoner said to me in passing, "wait till you get to mile 20, you won't be smiling anymore." He was right but we'll get to that later. I felt good during the first part of the race but then again I was prepared for these miles. I even left my pace group for a duration. I almost got to the 4:30 group and ended up in between the two groups for a large portion of the race.
Before I hit the halfway point a few things happened. People started to call my name. I had forgotten that my name was on my bib. Whenever I got around spectators I got shy and even looked down but when called on I would smile and say thanks. At one point I thought I heard someone say chocolate. I looked up at the kind man holding chocolate cookies and gladly took one then a very sweet woman gave me a banana. It always touches me when people do gestures like this because they have no idea how much they're support gets you through this race. I know now and have a new found respect for them and the volunteers. So when did the pain begin? When I got to mile 15 I started to feel extreme tightness in my legs. I passed a disabled man on my way to heartbreak hill. I can't explain how I felt when he looked at me but I knew I had to keep moving. Was this the second wind? Then heartbreak hill came. I wanted to cry when looking up at the incline that looked like it didn't stop. People were all around me walking. Something else kicked in. This was mile 16 and I had a flashback of when I was 16. Throughout the race I had flashbacks paralleling my 26 years of life and my survival of the race was strangely syncing with my survival in life. I had a rough year at 15 when my beloved grandmother passed and I moved full time to Vermont. When I was 16 life felt like a weight to me and my fragility was scary. I spent most of the year crying and felt in mourning of everything. I thought about this going up that hill at battery park and told myself I wasn't stopping. As everyone around me walked I put my head down and ran. And I made it.
Then, at mile 17 I hit a wall. My legs were so tight I felt as though they were rubber bands stretched to the limit. I kept thinking, 'oh shit, I'm screwed now.' This is when the first thought of quitting came to my mind and I stopped running. I went to the side and stretched and felt as though I would explode. Then I thought, 'Ariel, your family is waiting at the end, how will you get home you fool if you don't run' and 'you'll be embarrassed if you don't make it.' Then I thought of all the strong women in my family that persevere and as corny as it sounds it made me start running after a spell of walking it. I hadn't had my GU (the nasty sports fuel) yet. At that point I knew why. The crap tasted like vitamin enriched sugar and was sticky and got everywhere. Out of nowhere I kept running and felt pretty good so it must have worked. Maybe I had just forgotten the pain? I had lost time and now found myself with my 4:45 pace group again. Before I knew it I was at mile 20. I knew at this point I wouldn't stop. I don't know how I knew this because I just did.
Then out of nowhere I hit another wall at mile 22 and started walking. I felt so mad at myself because off went my 4:45 pacing group and I couldn't do anything but walk in shame. A man to my left asked if I was okay. I tried to put on a brave face but he wasn't buying it. "Your legs sore?" he asked. I told him yes and that it was my first race. He told me that his legs were gone by mile 11 and he had walked to this point. I couldn't believe he walked that far then I had flashbacks of the women I saw in their 70s walking the race. I don't know this mans name but I started telling him my story as we walked together. The fact that I wished I had trained more but because of the rigors of grad school I hadn't. That I was a returned Peace Corps volunteer and that I was running for a charity. He said something to me that struck me, "You got this far right?" He was right, I had. Life has thrown me so many challenges but I had gotten ahead of them and ended up where I am today. Shortly after we past mile 24 I told him I would run again and he joined me. I was honored that he started running with me after having walked a lot of the race then I head him say, "Go get 'em kid," and I didn't see him again.
Mile 25 was here and I smiled, then on the last down hill toward the waterfront I tripped. Thank goodness I didn't fall to my face but the hard landing on my left leg made my left toe throb. I thought I would loose the nail (I haven't and I know TMI). Then I saw a huge crowd of people and turned a corner to the mile 26 marker. I couldn't resist kissing the marker and heard some laughs.
p.s: Race Results