19 Nov 2012 Hope.
The last race I ran was the Poland Springs Marathon Kickoff Run – it was a beautiful morning in Central Park the day before Hurricane Sandy moved in. She changed everything.
I ran well that day – better than expected given my fatigue, and I’m so glad John urged me out of bed that morning. “You’ll be happy that you ran,” he said, “Go. Do it.”
I wore my TFK singlet – I’d been saving it for marathon week. It was the only time I got to wear it.
Plans change, expectation turns, and sometimes everything you’d anticipated and worked for and looked forward to gets upended.
Things will turn again.
That Monday’s practice was canceled, obviously, as the force that was Hurricane Sandy moved in. Wednesday’s final team practice and celebration were canceled as well.
But the race was definitively ON, we’d been told. Full sails ahead. So on Thursday, transit down (and our power still out), John and I *walked* to the Javitz Center (which may as well be in the middle of the Hudson) to hit the expo and pick up my bib (and assorted odd other race goodies; it’s the expo!).
I was excited. I’m still excited just thinking about it. At home I took out my race number and held it; I looked at it – I mean really *looked* at it – picturing it on my singlet, planning my day before the race. I thought about the season and all we’d done; I thought about the kids we raised money for; I thought about everything that had happened since Labor Day.
I worked hard for this marathon, digging deeper than I ever thought I’d have to go. I’ve done three marathon seasons in my life, and this wasn’t like any of them. Not by a long shot.
And I am so grateful for whatever it is that possessed me this spring to just *do* it.
Training started slowly in May and June, but by July I was getting stronger; by August I was getting faster. Running had become part of my life again, and it felt *good*. It felt right.
I had plans. I knew what September was for. I knew what I needed to be working on, and how I needed to train. I tracked and analyzed all my runs, my progress. Gmaps pedometer got a workout and my pace calculator was on overdrive. It was exciting and real. I was up to 16 miles before Labor Day.
And then fall.
Autumn came crashing down on us with a vengeance, leaving, quite literally, death and destruction in its wake. Fall fell hard. The world was upended. Everything. Changed.
It started Labor Day weekend. A toothache. A simple, stupid, excruciating toothache that left John in horrendous pain and both of us scrambling to find an emergency dentist that was in town and available. In retrospect, it seems silly. We didn’t know what was coming.
The death of John’s father on September 23 was a shock to the system from which we are still reeling. Our world twisted in an instant, a phone call, and our lives were forever changed.
My father’s stroke four days after the funeral seemed unfair and uncalled for. Not *now*, not *this*. No, no, no, no, NO. I was already exhausted; this was too much. I was petrified.
Our life had become tragedy and hospitals, danger and reaction; there was no time to reset, reflect or grieve. We were on constant alert, ready to move on a moment’s notice. We were anxious and sad; sleep was fitful, and days were the shape of unanswered questions.
I went to practice. I kept going. It kept me going. Not only the exercise, which was important, but the act itself: showing up, doing it, forcing myself out of the terror cocoon to smile and laugh with the team.
I couldn’t always be there – so much travel and rescheduling – but I went when I could and when I couldn’t I ran on my own. For the most part. (It was somewhat sporadic, as you might imagine.)
But still I was getting stronger, faster, and when I was able to run 20 miles *on my own*, I knew I was ready; I knew I had it in me.
The marathon was a lifeline, something I’d been holding on to with all my heart. It had all the attention I could muster, and though I’d given up any pace goals, I knew I could just keep going. This was something I could hold onto, this was something I could control.
And it was going to be magnificent. If I had to *crawl* across that finish line, I was *going* to finish. And that completion would be a tribute and a celebration, my gift and my thank-you for all who have come before and all those who had supported me this time around – donors and family and friends. It was my offering, and my way of making peace with the difficult events that preceded it.
They were predicting the storm over a week before the race, but it looked like we’d be clear by race day. We were all obsessively checking marathon-day weather forecasts (less to with Sandy than with normal marathon obsessiveness in general).
On the day of the kick-off run, we could feel her moving in. It was chill and windy. I called my dad in the hospital on the way to the subway after the race, and the wind distorted the sound in my phone. I was so glad to have a good windbreaker.
John and I stocked up that day and Monday, just-in-case. Irene had turned into really nothing the year before, but we wanted to be cautious. The air felt ominous; Lucy the Cat was acting strange.
And then all hell broke loose.
Our power went out on Monday evening, and we lived by candle-light for several days. We did not see the pictures. We got our information from a wind-up radio set to WNYC, and from casual conversations with the few people who were still in the neighborhood, the intrepids. We foraged north each day to find hot showers and electricity, and to send messages to those who were worried.
I was still hanging on.
So many things to do, so many plans to adjust. The marathon expo brought more questions, but still I had this lifeline.
At exactly 5p on Friday evening, the power came back – we cheered! We hooted! We updated Facebook! And seconds after that, we learned that the marathon had been canceled.
It was like having the rug pulled out from under.
I sat, shocked, disbelieving. I thought it was a mistake. It was 5p Friday evening – they couldn’t cancel it *now*. I stared at the tv waiting for the announcement that no, it was not canceled, that was only an unsubstantiated rumor told by stations looking for a story.
But it wasn’t a rumor.
It was the next last thing to be taken away.
And finally, for the first time all fall, I started to sob. Everything. Was broken. It was done. It was over. The fragile peace I’d built for myself, in working *toward* something, shattered and reality came crashing in uninvited.
For me, the marathon has always been more than just another race, a longer long-run. It has been a symbol of endurance, a test, a way of pushing all boundaries, of learning, of growing; it is a deep process of challenge and discovery, and it is a joyous celebration of every unexpected and far-fetched possibility. It is character-defining and life-changing. Terrifying and remote, it is a monumental journey that forces change and rewards courage and persistence. And patience. It is proof-positive that there is *always* more.
Except this time, there wasn’t. Not in that moment.
Grief is a strange beast. Some people grieve quickly and immediately, with gasping sobs and palpable, physical despair. Others take days, months, years. Perhaps it erupts in a storm of rage, or maybe it bleeds out slowly through a thousand tiny wounds. Grief has the awful power to shape lives. It is potent and personal; and it is not competitive.
In the days that preceded the marathon, there are those who attacked not only the organizers of the marathon, but the runners themselves. They said we were shallow, disrespectful, selfish, elitist, self-centered, disgusting; they said we were a “disgrace.” And they threatened – going so far as to warn us of “stray bullets.”
My out-of-state parents had heard the ugliness; I hadn’t. I’d literally been in the dark all week. We’d seen no pictures, we’d gotten limited news.
I held on to the idea that if the race was a lifeline for me, it could be so much more for the city. It could have been extraordinary – a way for everyone to say, “We’re still here,” and a way to keep moving forward.
I didn’t understand the scope of the devastation.
John and I were so lucky, and I am so grateful. We were inconvenienced. There are thousands who lost homes, businesses, lives – and too many are still suffering.
But my grief was real. And it was huge.
An acquaintance of John’s was dismissive and condescending. But on one level, she was right: it *was* just a race.
I will run again. I will run marathons again. I have a *wonderful* life that I must never take for granted. We are so lucky.
But on another level – it was never just another race. Not for me. And not for many others.
One of the most amazing things about the NYC marathon each year is how it brings the city together – NYC is at its best on marathon Sunday, and it makes me proud to be a New Yorker.
The vitriol this year was stunning and it still shakes me.
Grief prowls wide.
I don’t believe that decisions were made from malice, or with an eye on the bottom line. I don’t believe that there was intentional disrespect for the suffering of others.
No one running was doing it from a sense of entitlement or over-arching self-importance.
Decisions were made and re-made, a debacle wrapped in tragedy.
It was a tragic week.
We are *all* grieving.
The race was never about vanity; not for me.
It was about hope.