Monday, December 31, 2012

The marathon that never happened

I suppose now that it's been over a month almost two months (started this post almost a month ago) I should write about the marathon.  I've felt so overwhelmed with so much happening, the thought of writing it all down was just too much.  However, I'd like to get my thoughts down before I forget too much.

Over the last several months I've read so many blog posts written by strangers and people I knew, about their experiences running the New York Marathon, or other marathons for their first time.  I so looked forward to writing my own recap.  I never could have predicted what would have happened.

About a week and a half before marathon day I'd started hearing about the hurricane headed our way, "Frankenstorm" they were calling it.  I didn't think too much of it.  Every winter we have some "huge" storms that are supposed to hit us, and it's very rarely anything that affects normal every day life.  Of course I'd been stalking for about two weeks before marathon day, hoping tradition would hold and we'd have beautiful weather on November 4th.  The storm was supposed to hit around Halloween.  Perfect, I thought. In and out and then clear for the race and when my family will be in town.

It turned out that storm turned out to be a much, much bigger ordeal.  The stock market was closed for two days, which hadn't happened due to weather since 1888.  Half the city lost power for days, weeks even.  All of lower Manhattan was dark.  I saw images of my regular running path, the West Side Highway, completely under water.  Outside the city the devastation was unbelievable.  I feel like there's nothing I could say to adequately describe the devastation so many are still dealing with, and will deal with for a very long time.

My dad had called to ask if the marathon would still happen, as both my grandmas had plans to fly out, along with my parents, for my big day.  I hadn't heard anything to expect otherwise, so I told him yes.  Marathon day is a huge revenue day for the city.  Tens of thousands of runners fly in from all over the world, as well as travelers like my parents, coming in to watch someone in the race.  Marathon day is one of the biggest days of the year in the city.  I thought there was no way they'd cancel it.  I didn't realize the level of catastrophe at this point.

The Tuesday or Wednesday before the marathon it was announced it was officially on as scheduled, the following Sunday.  I was relieved to hear this.  I know it sounds selfish, but I just didn't understand the extent of everything.  What I knew was I had dedicated basically my entire year for this race, I'd raised money, I'd spent countless hours running, planning, researching, trying to rehabilitate my knee, put so much money towards this race and all the training it entails, cried so many times due to frustration, doubt, happiness, and just feeling an all encompassing emotional whirlwind.  It never crossed my mind that it would really be canceled.

After the announcement was made followed the outrage.  People not only in the city, but all over the country were furious.  How could the city throw a parade, party, what have you, when so many were in such dyer situations?  How could we take away the sanitation workers, the police officers, etc from the victims of Hurricane Sandy?  I could see their point.  I started to feel a lot of guilt.  Guilt for wanting the race to happen, guilt for planning to run, survivor's guilt for not being affected by the storm.  Such mixed emotions.

I heard stories of runners deciding to opt out of the race in protest.  After thinking about it, I decided since the race was on, and I had family flying out I was going to run the race.  I believed there were better ways to help with the relief than backing out of the race.  Unless anyone was working around the clock, how could they blame me for running?  I had every intention of volunteering and donating, but also wanted to stick to my commitment for myself, for my family, for those who donated to my charity, and for Dina.

On Thursday the marathon expo opened at the Javits Center and I went that night.  I was giddy.  I'd been preparing all week by hydrating like crazy, and toward the end of the week started carb loading.  Going to the expo was like the kickoff.  I got my swag bag, number, and a couple Asics tops.  All week I'd been asked if I felt nervous, but I just felt excited.  I was a bit nervous the week before but with the hurricane it kind of took the marathon off my mind.  It just didn't feel real until I went to the expo.

Friday at work every asked me about the marathon; my thoughts on it not being canceled, how I was feeling, etc.  I still felt the mixture of emotions, but overall excited.  It was around 5pm that I was finishing up some loose ends at work, hoping to get out soon to meet up with my mom and grandma who'd just flown in and were waiting for me at my apartment.  Half my company had left for the weekend, and there were only a handful of us left.  Something one of the analysts said caught my attention, and I turned around to look at the tv, which we keep on CNBC all day.  There was the big headline across the bottom of the screen, "MARATHON CANCELED."  My jaw dropped and I jumped out of my chair to turn it up to hear what they were saying.  I can't remember a thing I heard.  It was like time stopped for a second.  Everyone was sort of quiet and then started telling me they were sorry.  I was just in complete shock.  I didn't know what to do.  Holy sh** was all I could think or say.

I then called Val to see if she'd heard.  She hadn't.  She'd just left the Javits Center.  We talked for a minute and then I went back to my desk to try to finish up my work.  It was then that the text messages from all over the country started blowing up my phone.  I will never be able to express to my friends and family how much their support truly touched me.  This is the point that it started to sink in that it was real, my eyes filled to the brim with tears.  I find it incredibly uncomfortable to cry in front of people, so I was just doing my best to focus (impossible) and get out of the office.  My colleague who sits behind me started talking to me about something work related (not actually needing to talk, just basically shooting the breeze.)  I just looked at him and said something along the lines of, "I seriously can't talk right now."  It was taking everything in me to keep it together at my desk.  I knew if I even allowed myself to go into the bathroom and cry I would have been a mess.  I had probably ten minutes of work left and just needed to get it done.

I finally put my phone in my desk so I wouldn't be distracted by it anymore, finished, and left.  I wondered if my parents knew.  I couldn't bring myself to call them.  I figured they had to know.  As I started walking home I listened to a voicemail from my sweet aunt Kate, who'd called about ten minutes before the announcement.  Leaving me the most thoughtful, and emotional voicemail wishing me well and telling me how proud she was of me.  I couldn't hold back the tears any longer.  I walked past the park towards home and just cried and cried.  There were so many runners in the park, clearly prepping for the race that was scheduled for less than 48 hours out.  They don't even know yet! I thought to myself.  Then I started thinking of the runners who were probably on a plane headed to New York, who wouldn't know until after they arrived.

I feel terrible saying this, but the last thing I wanted to do was go home and entertain guests.  I knew my family would be incredibly understanding, but I just wanted to be alone in my apartment and let out the cry I'd been holding in.  I was beyond devastated.  I should mention, for anyone who thinks I'm being ridiculously dramatic, that I've never worked half as hard for anything in my life.  I've never put forth a fraction of the discipline that I had while I was training.  I've never put myself through something so emotionally, physically, and financially taxing.  That probably sounds pathetic, but it's the truth.

When I walked into my building my doorman gave me a look (they all had seen me leaving the building in my running clothes the past eight months) and I just said, "I can't even talk about it."  He reminded me my mom and grandma were upstairs and I would be really happy when I got up there.  Not wanting to sound like the ungrateful jerk I was being at the time, I didn't say, "Yeah, I'd really prefer to be alone."  I just tried to smile and say, "I know, it's great."  He then stressed how happy I would really be when I got up there, to the point that I could tell there was some sort of surprise.

As I walked into the elevator I racked my brain, trying to figure out who was here, but my mind was mush.  I couldn't think straight.  I had no clue what he could mean.  When I walked into my apartment I put on my best fake smile as I saw my mom and both my grandmas.  I hugged everyone hello and wondered what he was talking about.  I turned the corner and saw my dad holding an iPhone up.  For a second I thought, Seriously Dad?  I really don't feel like having this moment documented.  And then I saw the real sister was here!  I was shocked.  Seriously blind sided, and so happy.

We hugged and laughed and then all stood around talking for a bit about the news, and finally decided to go to dinner.  I have to admit, even though I wanted to go home and sulk my night away, and am not good at faking a happy mood, my spirits were genuinely lifted and I had such a great night at dinner with my family.  I am so lucky they were so supportive to come out and be there for me.

After dinner we went back to my apartment and watched all the news coverage of the cancellation.  Reporters interviewed so many runners and the general consensus was happiness with the decision.  Everyone was applauding the NYRR and the mayor for finally making the right choice.  I felt so guilty.  Even though I was in agreement that it was the right thing to do, I was still completely upset.  I'm so thankful no reporters stopped me on my walk home because I would have just cried on camera and looked like a huge jerk.  I was, and am, completely aware that my disappointment pales in comparison to what people are dealing with.  I just couldn't deny my own heartache.

That night my mom, grandma, and sister all stayed in my shoebox of an apartment and I stayed at Kelly's place.  We stayed up late chatting and then I was up early for brunch with my family.  After we finished eating we took a walk through Central Park.  The entrance to the park near my apartment is two blocks from where the marathon finish line was set up.  Everything was ready for the big race, and the park was packed with runners and spectators.  All the international flags were hanging, and so many were posing for photos at the finish line.  I couldn't help but get choked up as I stood there.  I couldn't believe all the runners I was seeing, wearing their countries names with pride.  I saw a group from as far as Indonesia.  I just can't imagine flying to the other side of the world only to have the race canceled.

After spending time in the park we went to my church to help out with some of the relief.  I'd spent a fortune on emergency supplies for the hurricane, so I was happy to be able to donate.

By the time we finished at the church I just felt completely exhausted.  Emotionally drained.  My mom, grandma, and sister went and took a tour bus and I finally got that alone time at home I was desperate for.  I could finally let out my big cry, and I felt so much better afterward.  Crying can be very cathartic for me.  I truly felt so much better after, like the gloomy cloud over me was lifted.

I had decided that I was going to run in the park on marathon day anyway, as a symbol of my gratitude to everyone who's supported me emotionally and my charity financially, and in remembrance of Dina.  I hadn't decided the length yet, but that afternoon heard from Val that there was a group meeting at Columbus Circle to run the full 26.2 miles in the park.  I started getting motivated and thinking maybe I should do it too.  I got online and did a little research, and found that so many groups were forming to meet up and run the full marathon distance.  I started getting really inspired and thinking I was just going to do it also.  It wasn't until talking to a good friend I realized it wasn't a good idea for me.  Being a first time marathoner who was nursing an injured knee, it would not be smart to attempt this distance without the crowd support, medical staff, and all the other support that comes with an actual race.  I felt like a loser deciding not to do it.  Like I really wasn't able to run a marathon.  But as we talked, I couldn't deny the fact the from Friday night until Saturday afternoon I had not prepared mentally whatsoever, nor had I continued to hydrate or eat properly.  I just wasn't ready.  I decided I would run the six mile loop instead.

That evening I went to the hotel where all my family was staying.  My aunt and cousins were also in town for a girls weekend, and I hadn't seen them yet.  I was hanging out with my dad and grandma when my aunt Vicki and her four daughter walked in wearing these tshirts.  I was so touched, I couldn't believe they'd been so thoughtful and made these shirts for everyone.

The next morning I got dressed in my entire outfit I'd planned to wear for the marathon, including my race number.  I met my family at their hotel for breakfast and my outfit grabbed some looks.  I felt a little awkward, like I was trying to just draw attention to myself, but got over it.  There were racers running all over the city in their marathon outfits.

My mom, sister, and I got to the park and I started my loop at 11am.  The park was a zoo.  There were thousands of runners, and tons of crowd support.  It felt like a real race, and like a mini marathon.  It felt so good to hear people cheering for me by name.  I was overwhelmed by the gratitude I felt to be a part of the running community.  I love that so many people decided to still come out in run, not as a protest to the decision that was made, but as a sign of solidarity among runners.  There was a huge group of marathon runners that went to Staten Island to go help.  A big part of me felt guilty for not going, but we all help on different days, at different times, in different ways.  I have donated my time and money.  I've gone out to homes that were hit and have worked hard with my friends to help clean up, so I feel okay about choosing to run on that day instead of going to Staten Island.

I have to say, this loop was not my best run ever.  I was so distracted, in a good way, by the crowd, that I could never get in my running groove.  I wanted to listen to everyone cheering, and high five everyone, so it wasn't really about having a good six mile run.  I expected to get close to the finish line and get emotional, but it was actually pretty anti climatic.  The finish line was so congested with people, I actually had to just stop and walk the last 10-20 yards.  It wasn't until I heard a big cheer from the crowd and looked up and saw my friends and family that I was completely overcome with emotion.  I felt so many feelings of love, pride, gratitude, and a little embarrassed I didn't know what to do.  I stood there for a minute and just covered my face and cried while I looked into the stands and saw my loved ones cheering for me.  I finally went and gave everyone hugs and cried a little more.

Brittany, Courtnie, and Ashley joined my family and cheered me on with these cute signs they'd made for me.  They have been such amazingly supportive friends this year.

November 4, 2012 did not turn out at all the way I planned, but I am so grateful for my friends and family, my biggest cheerleaders.  I'm so thankful it was a beautiful day and I could still go run and then spend the day with those I love so much.

It's now been about two months since what was supposed to be Marathon Day, and we've finally heard back from the New York Road Runners.  I am eligible to run the 2013 marathon.  Here we go again...


maggie said...

This post was amazing. It brought tears to my eyes, and I felt your pain. You are awesome, and I am proud of you!

laura said...

Thanks so much for sharing--what a roller coaster of emotion. So excited that you'll be running it this year. You've earned it and then some! And now you have some time to rest that knee before it's time to train again.

Elise said...

Love this post Rachel. Such a roller coaster of emotions! I'm proud of you for all your hard work!