After crossing the Mile 22 marker, I tried to run for a little bit. I lasted a very short distance. Everything hurt. My quads the most, but really everything from my quads down had some element of soreness or pain - especially my stupid useless pinky toes that I need to have amputated.
I thought it was funny that despite being slower than I expected, I kept pace with the 5:30 pacer. That was my goal time and obviously this guy was having just as rough a time as me. I wasn't going to finish in 5:30 and neither was he.
From this point on the course, it was all mental. My body had given out long ago. I didn't like it, but I had admitted to myself that I would be walking the majority of these next 4 miles. So I did whatever I had to do to make sure I got them done. I continued to enjoy the music, the crowds, the signs, and despite my physical pain and disappointment in my fatigue, I kept a smile and a good attitude. I was not going to let anything get me down. I had worked too long and too hard to get here and this experience - a first marathon - only comes along once in a lifetime.
To pass the time in my head I thought about a lot of things and made sure to keep it positive. I thought about my Grandpa Frank, Grandma Margie, Great Grandpa Mario and Rasha, all of whom aren't alive anymore but would all be so proud of me. I thought about all of you on many occasions - some of you specifically, things you've said or ways you've inspired me - and I thought often about the fact that there were people all over the globe at that very moment that were cheering for me, many that I never even met. That's a surreal and beautiful feeling. I don't think many people have that kind of support and I consider myself very lucky.
When it got especially tough out there I reminded myself of 2 things:
1- Amy is waiting at the finish line with my medal
2 - My Dad is waiting outside the park to drive me home
I knew that no matter what happened between now and then, and no matter how long it took me, those 2 things were true. I had both of them waiting for me and was so looking forward to seeing each of them.
I passed the BGR girls, always full of excitement -
Yep. Still keeping pace with the 5:30 pacer.
At this point I was freezing. Although it was still light out, the streets were dark in Manhattan because of the shadows cast by the tall buildings. I couldn't feel my hands and I couldn't get warm since I was just walking. I wasn't even walking as fast as I normally would because I was so sore. I fantasized about that poncho we were going to get at the finish line. I dreamed of a time when I would be warm again.
I knew it was only going to get worse too because I could see the sun was very close to setting.
Just before Mile 23, I ran into a friend of Janet (who I started with). I never met Beverly before but she knew me from Facebook. She joined me and walked about a half a mile with me. I was thankful for the company and the distraction.
In the distance, through the trees in Central Park, I could see that building I like and photograph often -
As I made my way down Fifth Ave I thought back to that amazing Fifth Ave Mile I ran not long ago on this very street - when I ran the fastest mile of my life at a 9:21 pace. That was a spectacular day and unforgettable run.
The crowds were getting thinner, but I was thankful for anyone that was still out. Surely they had been there for hours and it was cold and getting dark now.
Though the crowds were smaller, the thing is, from this point forward, it seemed every person cheering knew exactly what I needed to hear. Every cheer seemed so perfectly suited for this incredibly tough portion of the run.
I remember a young healthy looking woman on the right telling us how awesome we are, telling us that she couldn't do what we were doing and she kept repeating how awesome we were to be doing it, to be marathoners. She looked like someone that could do it if she wanted to, but she insisted we were awesome - even though none of us were running at this point! She insisted on our awesomeness - because we were doing something she could not.
Then I saw someone smiling at me and photographing me. It was Christina, who I recently met on the Tour de Bronx. I was so happy to see another familiar face.
I think I told her how awful I felt and she took a few photos of me. But I didn't stick around long. At this point I really wanted to finish. We were so close to entering the park!
We entered at 90th St, I posed for one of the professional photographers and blew Frank Lebow's poster a kiss.
Once inside the park, I went to the port-o-potties for the 3rd and final time on the course. A woman bystander offered to hold my heat sheet while I went in. She could see I was in pain, too. When I returned to retrieve the sheet, I was just so thankful for her kindness, I thanked her repeatedly. She told me it was the least she could do for me considering all that I had done today. The least she could do? All I had done today? She made me cry.
It's those little gestures that were so touching. Because, I mean, I didn't do anything - I decided to enter this crazy event, train for months just so I could wake up super early today and push my body well beyond what it has ever done and clearly beyond what it wants to do. No one made me do this. I did it to myself. It's not like I'm not out here helping society in any meaningful way or doing anything to benefit anyone but myself. Yet she treated me, and all the spectators treated me, like I was magnificent and special. I don't know what it is about a marathon but people really do treat each other so beautifully. It should be like that every day, but I'm happy to take it this one magical day.
I was so glad to be in Central Park - knowing the finish line was truly close now. And though I knew I wasn't going to be finishing as strong as I would have liked, I wanted to appreciate the simple joy of being in Central Park in the fall. It is absolutely beautiful.
Despite all of my discomfort, I was still smiling. I really hadn't stopped smiling since I began this crazy journey hours ago and boroughs away.
I can't tell you what a beautiful sight this was - Mile 24!
|a blurry Mile 24 marker|
Not only was I thrilled to see I had completed another mile but was looking forward to seeing my final friend on my list, Marcus. His running group, the Front Runners, was manning the next water station. I gave him a hug and told him that I was in so much pain but was so happy to see him. He understood and offered me encouraging words. He has one of the most pure and beautiful souls of anyone I've ever met.
|Love you, Marcus!|
I remember coming up on this sight and saying out loud "Mother Effing Cat Hill!"
|there's the cat statue on that rock. She's blurry, but she's there!|
I thought about something I once told Jenn from work and that I often tell myself, "Take advantage of a downhill". Yes I was sore but I know I can get longer strides by running on a downhill, so I did it. I ran for that brief down hill. And as the road inclined again by the 72nd St transverse, I walked again.
From this point forward, there are very few pictures because it was officially too dark to get a clear shot while I was moving, so I will recreate the last 2 miles with mostly just my words...
As I had mentioned earlier, I really hadn't stopped smiling since I started this run, despite the pain and the few emotional crying outbursts, I had a smile on my face all day. But that all changed between Mile 24 and 25.
It was at that point on the course, on my left, where I saw a spectator. It was dark in the park but I saw her. She had a wide smile on her face while she cheered her heart out for us. She told us how great we looked. She was as excited as any of our other spectators had been all day except...
She was in a wheelchair.
I briefly wondered why she was in the chair - was she born that way? Was it an accident? An illness? - but mostly I was just filled with amazement that she was not bitter about it. She was out here cheering for us, the able bodied people, and she was doing it sincerely with a smile. I was moved to tears just absorbing and processing it all.
I always remind myself how lucky I am. I'm always so thankful to have been born with everything in tact and functional. And when I run past someone who is differently advantaged I remind myself again how very fortunate I am. I don't ever want to take that for granted because I'm aware it can be taken from me at any moment. I like to think about that fact when I run, because I'm guessing there are people who would do anything in their power to be able to run or even walk. I'm lucky enough to be able to do both, though walking was about all I could muster at this point. I know how fortunate I am and I'm extremely thankful for it. Seeing her there reminded me of 2 things: 1) It's all about attitude and 2) Even though I had nothing left in me to be able to run anymore, at least I could walk. At least I could walk.
And then we crossed Mile 25.
With every step I take, I know I'm getting closer to the finish line. I have no more smile. I have only tears. But they're tears of "Oh my God. I'm seriously about to do this. I'm so close to finishing the New York City Marathon!"
But before we can get to the finish line, we briefly exit the park at 59th St -
As we are leaving the park, there is a young woman chanting at us: "You. Are. Amazing! You. Are. Amazing! You! Are! Amazing!"
I can feel my internal excitement and the external excitement of the crowd mount even greater as we get closer and closer to the finish. I'm crying even more now.
I'm walking as quickly as I can across 59th St, still crying. People are still cheering for us. A cop tells me I have half a mile to go - HALF A MILE TO GO! - and high-5s me.
My heart is racing. My blood is flowing. I want desperately to be able to run but I'm in so much pain. I tell myself that when I get into the park at Columbus Circle, I will try to run.
I'm already crying thinking about what is about to happen, and a woman bystander shouts at us: "You're about to become marathoners!" Oh my god, she was right! This was really happening. It was once again exactly what I needed to hear at that precise moment!
Another is telling us "You're so close! Just go into the park at Columbus Circle!!!"
I enter the park and look to the left. I see the Mile 26 marker and make my way towards it.
I walk faster, psyching myself up to run, because I am NOT crossing that finish line while walking!
I start walking up that last and final cruel hill that leads to the finish line.
I'm staring at the finish line. It's in my sights and it's all I can see - The blue banner that is the finish line of the New York City Marathon.
I'm now 400 meters away. I think of the McCarren Park track where I did all those speed work sessions. 400 meters is one lap. I've done this a million times. This is what I've been training for!
I crumple up my space sheet and toss it to the side because I do not want it in my finisher photo.
I tell myself that I don't care how much pain I'm in, I'M RUNNING ACROSS THAT FINISH LINE!
At the 300 meter mark, I begin my pained run towards it.
As I run, I don't even feel my body. I hear and see nothing else. There is only that finish line.
My eyes are transfixed on it. I don't even blink.
And in those final seconds, I'm aware that every single long run, every single track workout, every sacrifice I made the for every running event the last two years, has all led up to this.
The moment where I throw my arms up in the air and with tears in my eyes, I become a marathoner!
The moment where I cross the finish line of The. New. York. City. MARATHON!!
I crossed that line, stopped in my tracks and cried really hard. A man came over and hugged me and told me it was ok, and to cry it out. I break loose from his warm hug to tell him my friend is here with the medals and I need to find her.
Before I can even look for Amy, I hear "Sheryl!"
She spots me and comes running over to me. We're both crying. It was the best cry and best hug I might have ever had in my life. I was so happy to see her and so happy to be able to get my medal from her. I had her put it around my neck and we cried and hugged some more. It was one of the absolute most beautiful moments of my life and as long as I live, I will never ever forget it. I remember Amy's first ever run. It was in Central Park just a year ago. I made it a point to go to Central Park on that freezing morning and be there for her when she crossed the finish line even though I barely knew her. Today, she was there for me at the most important finish line in my life.
This is a selfie I took -
Here's another great shot her friend took of us -
And that's it. That's the story of how I became a marathoner. Something I am so proud of and will never forget. Something I will think of very fondly for the rest of my life.
Since Sunday night, I've been bombarded with questions about how did I feel, what was it like. It is tough to put into words with a quick answer, because it is enormous. But I would sum up the NYC Marathon like this: It's not so much about running, as it is about love. To explain...
I have literally never felt so loved in my entire life as I did this past Sunday. I felt loved by people that know me in real life that were bursting with pride for me. I felt loved by so many of you that took time to track me that day, send me messages on the course, blow up my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and cell phone. And I felt loved by my city - the millions of every day New Yorkers that came out to cheer for mostly random strangers who were doing something as silly as running a marathon.
I've truly never felt so loved and it is for that reason that I am certain I will run the NYC Marathon again next year. I'll have to figure out how to train better so I don't fatigue as quickly but I have time to work on that. In the meantime, despite being sore for days, having had the experience, I can't imagine not doing it. It was probably the single greatest experience of my life (I can't think of another that tops it).
I'm absolutely amazed at myself. Not for finishing - I knew I'd finish come hell or high water - but for having the nerve to do it at all. And though it happened 3 days ago, part of me *still* cannot believe it. It still feels like a dream. But if it was a dream, it was the most beautiful dream I ever had in my life and I don't want to wake from it.
Thank you all so, so much. Thank you Melanie for helping me train, crazy runner Mary Harvey for always making me think I have more in me even when I don't, Amy for waiting for me at the finish and being the person I get my medal and first hug from, my Dad for being there with a warm car and my protein shake, to all of you who came out on the course to cheer for me, to all of you who followed me and send such heart warming messages of love and support, and to my running team North Brooklyn Runners for allowing a slowpoke like me on the team. I may have been the one on the course but all of you helped me get there! You were there with me and I did it for all of us.
Before I go, I want to mention Mrs Kim since she wasn't in the part 2 blog and a few of you asked about her. The day before the marathon I stopped in the shoe store. Her daughter was in there and since she speaks English fluently, I spoke to her. She told me they had to attend a family christening on Sunday and that Mrs Kim couldn't be there. I was, of course, sad. But obviously I understood. So on Sunday when I ran past that corner I thought about Mrs Kim, even though she wasn't there. I knew wherever she was, she was thinking of me. I stopped into the shop yesterday to show her my medal. She congratulated me and held my hands and apologized. I know how much she wanted to be there and how sorry she was that she missed it. I told her it was ok and that I had her in my heart when I ran past.
Finally, I'll end here and the next post will be post-marathon stuff; what I did that night and the following days.
Then maybe if you're lucky I'll stop talking about the marathon for 5 minutes. Maybe. :P