"As I entered Central Park for my final .2 of a mile, I wasn't tired at all. From my hips upwards, I felt completely energized, strong, and endurance wise like I could keep on going. But my legs which had been severely cramping since mile 21 were telling me a different story. It was the strangest feeling to feel- in some ways- like I could run another 10-12 miles yet in other ways like I couldn't move another inch. When I finished, my mother said "you look unusually great! How do you feel?" I looked at her and those around me, many who were limping or hovelled over, and said "I'm fine. I don't even feel that tired." Why did this happen? Read on."
At 430am, Sunday morning November 5, I woke up to take the Staten Island Ferry to the starting line. After about a four hour wait, I entered my assigned corral for my 10:15am start. As we walked onto the Verrazanno Bridge, my legs shaking with anticipation I took "it" all in. After the National Anthem, the gun went off, and the second wave of the 2017 NYC Marathon commenced, and I started my fifth marathon before turning 40, with Frank Sinatra's "New York" playing in the background.
Just like the majority of this training season, the weather was humid and unseasonably warm. Expecting this, and knowing I run "hot", I dressed accordingly. Nineteen years ago, when we all started in one big wave, the custom was to wear as many layers as you wanted to the start and then either check the bag or leave your clothes in Staten Island. I remember in 1998, as we walked onto the bridge, people shedding their clothes and throwing them up on trees where they dangled.
From start to finish, I was in awe of the organization of the 2017 NYC Marathon. So it was no surprise that, upon entering our corralls, NYRR anticipated people would be getting rid of layers and they nicely had huge blue bins where we could put our clothes in for Goodwill. The same bins were just inside the corrals. Trying to find the right balance between being cold pre-race which in 2010 led to the numbing of my feet for the entire two miles I ran on the Verrazzano, I tried to time my de-clothing as best as I could which led to me ditching my outermost layer when I was already on the bridge. True to form, as I took in the views from the Verrazzano Bridge just one mile in, I was already sweaty. Around mile 7.5- just over an hour into my race- it started to drizzle and that spitting rain at 96% humidity stayed with us for the entire time.
A native New Yorker or not- if you ever feel that New York isn't your city- on Marathon Sunday think again. In a city where everyone is trying to be someone; where we move at 100 mph; the New York City Marathon is the time where it feels like the entire city pauses and comes together either to participate or to cheer. Whether they know you or not, if you are wearing your name or something on your shirt they will cheer you on. New Yorkers also have a sense of humor second to none, and I found myself often laughing at the signs I read as I ran as well as inspired to push on, particularly when- at mile 22 on the Madison Avenue Bridge- I saw a man just standing on the side, in the rain, holding a sign that read "#LastDamnBridge" (I had forgotten and had thought the Willis Ave Bridge was the last!)
Having those that you know cheer you on and anticipate seeing them; that is a feeling like no other. Knowing that my parents, Sophia, my brother and possibly sister-in-law and nephew (depending on nap schedule) were in Brooklyn, between mile 6-7, kept me going. This video says it all....
Just a half mile later, my good friend Janna, was looking out for me. Janna- a working mom of two and a very good friend of mine- in the spitting rain, on her Sunday, was out and cheering. I was overwhelmed with exhilaration and emotion when I saw her.
I know I missed my friend Erica and Pamela who were looking for me. As I headed into Queens and then over the 59th street bridge, my freshmen year roommate from Cornell, Jess and her daughter were waiting for me on 72nd and 1st as well as my client, Trisha and her daughter Alex. I caught up with them at mile 17.
I have always said a marathon is two races; the first 20 and the last 6.2. For this reason, after seeing my client Kate ate at mile 19, I buckled down, zoned out as best as I could, and focused on the end where Sophia, my parents and my boyfriend were waiting at the finish line. I had an incredible unexpected sighing of a fellow UWS Mom Alison as I was entering the park for my final .2. who took the photos below as I passed....
And then it was done.
Last week, the title of the post was "No Expectations?" I also said that it would be dishonest for me to say I didn't have an expectation for myself.
Competitive to the core, as I finished my previous two marathons in under four hours, I was hoping to replicate that. I knew that I hadn't trained the same way as I did when I ran NYC in 3:50; similar, I was in better running shape leading into my training for Houston, where I finished a relatively flat but humid race in 3:53. But I was hoping that- despite my inconsistent training - I would achieve my third marathon time in under 4 hours.
For the majority of the marathon, I was on point to finish around four hours. I hit each of my "arrival" times at each location. I continuously checked in with myself and assessed that I felt good, strong, and able to stay at the pace I was at. There were several moments where I definitely felt like I could run faster but, unlike previous marathons, I wanted to conserve the speed until the last 6 miles.
Around mile 12, however, I noticed that I was unusually thirsty. I had been hydrating throughout the marathon already, but I felt like no matter how much water- or Gatorade- I drank I couldn't get enough. When I started to run up the Queensboro Bridge, around mile 15, the cramping I started to feel two weeks prior during my 19 mile run came back. I did my best to ignore, and didn't feel it again until around mile 20.
Around mile 21, I was no longer able to ignore the leg cramps. At this point I reassessed. The four hour goal was starting to slip away. Unlike previous marathons, I had to get up and teach the next day; my daughter was at the finish line and I didn’t want to look sick or injured once I saw her. So, for the next 5.2 miles, I ran and walked as needed.
When I ran across the finish line 27 minutes slower than my goal, 37 minutes slower than my fastest time, I felt good and, in many ways, like I had not just run a marathon.
What Happened to My Legs?
The obvious answer: after running more than 13 miles, anyone would have leg cramps. The human body is not naturally designed to run 26.2 miles. But I had never experienced this before. Moreover, the fact that I felt I could continue in terms of endurance even after I crossed the finish line indicates there was something else going on.
It turns out that I had a condition called Rhabdomyolysis; a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases a damaging protein into the blood, resulting in weakness and muscle cramps. This occurs- at times- during strenuous exercise, when your body is depleted of carbs and fats to use as fuel and then starts to rely on your own lean muscle tissue. If not taken care of, it could be very dangerous and lead to renal failure. The best way to take care of it as quickly as possible is to - in essence- rehydrate. I have done so, and my recovery has been fine. I taught the very next day and have gone for a few runs.
When people asked how my time was, for this marathon, I said it was my "fourth out of fifth" best. A common response: well, you aren't in your 20s and you are clinging to your 30s.
Shalane Flanagan- the first American woman in 40 years to win the NYC Marathon- is 36 years young. Do I dare compare myself to her? No. But I am certain, with the right nutrition and training, if I want to replicate my days of 3 hour 50 minute marathons- or better- I can.
For now, I'm doing my best to relish in my accomplishment. Running a marathon is no easy feat, and running five of them is something to celebrate. It was an honor to run in honor of Marvin and JoEllen Kipnes, and tears are brought to my eyes every time I think about this intention.
Will I go for #sixbeforeforty or #oneafterforty? Undecided. But this coming Sunday, November 19th, I will be joining my client, who created a team called FitCo and Friends, for the 24th annunal Race to Deliver, a four mile adult run/walk followed by a children’s run at 10am. For those in the NY area who want to join, click here.