The New York City Marathon was this past Sunday. When I committed to running in this race in April, I thought that by this time I would be leaner, faster, and wiser. The reality is a bit different: I’ve gained weight (and, no, it’s not all muscle); I was slow and afraid that my legs would give out on me; and in terms of wisdom, I am sure the lessons of the past few months will continue to unfold their depths, but right now, I’m just tired.
To be honest, I didn’t have the time or the energy to train properly for this race. Working full time and caring for CR competed with building the endurance and strength I needed to cross the finish line in Central Park. I followed a training plan but completed only about 75% of the prescribed miles. Re-building my running legs was torturous, and I had to take whole weeks off to recover, but still had lingering pain in my joints. At one point in July, I thought I was having a heart attack: I was sitting at my desk at work, and I felt an intense squeezing pain in the center of my chest that radiated up to my jaw. If you Google those symptoms, which I did after the pain subsided, Google will answer, “Drop everything and get to the ER!” An EKG, blood work, and a cardiac stress-test later, my doctor concluded that my heart was just fine and I had experienced an esophageal spasm, which can be brought on stress-related acid re-flux. She asked me if I was seeing a therapist to help me manage the stress of losing Patrick. I told her, “Running is my therapy.”
My run on Sunday started out well. The City put on it’s best face with blue skies and perfect, cool running temperatures. The camaraderie on Staten Island before the race, all of the runners watching the sunrise behind the Verrazano Bridge, was palpable and heartwarming. I felt good the first half of the race, which tours through Brooklyn streets packed with cheering spectators. I painted my name on my running jersey, and I heard encouraging calls of “Go Collins!” as I ran past joyful strangers.
By the time I got through Queens and was crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan at about Mile 15, I knew I was in trouble. While training, iliotibial (IT) band inflammation and tightness, particularly in my left knee had me limping and unable to run. The balance of letting it heal and trying to run the miles I wanted to resulted in recurring ligament stress and presented itself as severe knee pain. On the downslope of the bridge, I could feel the familiar twinge that I knew would only get worse. I ran pretty steadily to Mile 17 where my family and friends had gathered on the corner of 78th and 1st Avenue to cheer. Seeing them waving and wearing sky blue “Paddy Power” hats brought tears to my eyes; I ran up to greet them, and after a moment, turned up 1st Avenue to continue the run. At the water station a mile up the road, I almost turned out of the course; the pain so sharp that I was tempted to quit. I stopped by a barrier to stretch for a bit, and the lovely people on the sidelines murmured encouragements.
The rest of the race was powered by raw grit and will. A good friend of mine had told me to take in the sight of the thousands of runners and spectators on the long 1st Avenue stretch, but I mostly looked at my shadow on the road ahead of me, saying “Hail Marys” to keep from crying, and hefting my increasingly stiff leg in heavy, arcing strides forward. I walked through the next couple of water stations, but I realized that walking hurt even more than running, so through the Bronx and the last six miles of the race, I skipped stopping for water and kept running through the crowd. The turn into Central Park was at once relieving and daunting: only four miles left to go, but I knew I would be suffering every step. The incline between Miles 24 and 25 nearly broke me, and I had to walk. A man wearing a back bib that read “70 year old runner” jogged relatively easily past me. I could barely bend my left knee, and my breath was wheezing and labored from trying not to cry. At the Mile 25 marker, I started running again, and the first ten steps were lurching as I tried to regain my stride and bend my knee.
I am proud to say that I ran through the finish line, and I was able to look up and smile (grimace) for the cameras.
Once past the official timer, I immediately broke down. Ugly, gasping sobs of agony and relief shook my whole body, and I couldn’t stop crying for about twenty minutes as I walked with the other runners through the finish corral. My whole body hurt, but that was only part of the overwhelming emotion. So much of my training the past few months became a way to process and grieve Patrick’s death. I know that I suffered from some post traumatic stress, and often while running, a memory from Patrick’s final months would flash through my mind, recalling some awful trial that he and I endured. The purpose assigned to training and raising money for brain cancer research was fulfilled once I crossed the finish line, and while that will be satisfying at some point, in the moment, I felt another great loss and emptiness.
After I retrieved my bag and put on dry clothes, I still had to walk another two miles down Columbus Avenue to meet my support team. I had a hat and hoodie over my head with the foil finisher’s space-blanket tied around my shoulders. Groaning and limping as I went, I’m sure I would have looked homeless and deranged if not for the thousands of other runners on the sidewalk in similar garb and attitudes. When I got to Columbus Circle and saw I was in the dark shadow of Trump Tower, I startled a man next to me when I yelled, “Ugh! Where am I? I didn’t want to be HERE!”
Hours later, after I had had a shower, a martini, and a wonderful meal, I finally started to feel happy and proud of my accomplishment. I would have liked to have trained better, run faster, and had avoided injury, but I had just finished the New York City Marathon!
That feeling of joy and relief carried me through my trip home on Monday and my workday yesterday. CR greeted me with such love and sweetness, and I was so glad to be home having completed a major feat. Unfortunately, the results of the election have deflated my elation. I, like so many Americans, am feeling depressed, shocked, and terrified for the future of our nation and democracy.
2016 has been an awful year.
I am going to take a break from social media and news outlets for a while. I need to focus on what is within my control: my daughter, my home, my relationships with family and friends, my health.
Thank you all for supporting me on this marathon journey: I could not have done it without you! I will continue to write, and I’d love to be in touch with you via email, phone, and in person.