On October 30, 2011, I ran my first half-marathon as part of Team ASPCA. I started training in the summer for roughly 4 months. When I started, I was unable to maintain a run for a straight 60 seconds. When I was making my decision to take this on, my personal trainer, Dani Tsukerman told me “you will be a different person when you cross the finish line.” I had grand visions of being 100lbs lighter with a runner’s physique and becoming the perfect specimen of health, both in body and mind. Running suddenly seemed like the magic cure-all. While my grand visions were just that…”grand,” I can indeed say that I crossed the finish line a different person. Before the glamour fades from my eyes, I wanted to take a moment and record my experiences.
I met with one of our coaches from Terrier Tri on July 1. Prior to our meeting I expressed all the concerns I had about running this marathon. The concerns all seemed significant enough that I questioned if I should be participating or not. I was overweight, bad shin splints, knee issues and… simply put, I have always hated running. To top it off, during my first meeting with the coach, I discovered I have not been running properly and I would have to relearn how to run. On the bright side, maybe this would be the fix to many of my complaints.
Coach Spencer was realistic about the amount of work I had in front of me, but he was encouraging and supportive and he convinced me I could do this. Besides, things I hate become challenges and challenges I relish… so I was hoping this would turn the tide and I’d come to love running. I can say this…there are some things in life that I am right about.
When my partner Steven heard about this, aside from the enormous amount of support he bestowed upon me, he also discussed doing a photographic journal of my progress. While the photographic record didn’t pan out, in my head I can see the moments that would have been the defining shots in his essay. Moments such as:
- The look of wonderment and excitement when I bought my first pair of running shoes. My sneakers seemed to hold the key to success. I thought with the right pair of sneakers I could be transformed instantly into a runner!
- The look of failure and frustration when I wasn’t able to maintain sixty seconds of running. I quickly learned time takes on a new meaning when running, 1 second can last an eternity.
- Scared in bed. Like a child about to go to school for the first time, I didn’t want to get up and go for my first group training. I was afraid of being the slowest, the heaviest, the one who would be last in the group. Funny, as I read this now I realize those things were true, but it never mattered. Getting there that morning was probably the most important moment of the entire 4 months.
- The biggest visual for me? I would have to say it was the morning I was running the track and I was pushing myself towards 20 minutes straight. I did it. I watched the time adding up, feeling expectant as I got closer to 20 and I was still running. And the moment I hit 20, my arms went high into the air and I smiled what felt like one of the biggest smiles in my life. It was such a joyous feeling and I didn’t care who saw me acting like a giddy little girl. I did it. I pushed myself and I did it. I lived on the adrenaline of knowing my body was listening to me.
Beyond those, some memorable moments for me included things like the transformation of my shopping experience. Athletic stores became like candy stores. I was enraptured and curious. I wanted to buy everything and it all came in childlike hues of pinks and baby blues or racy and sleek black, form-fitting apparel. Standing in the magazine section of Barnes & Noble every month reading Runners World magazine. The ritualistic approach I took to putting together my gear the night before my early morning runs. The sprint in my steps as I neared our weekly meeting place in Central Park as I would meet my teammates and see how far I would push myself that day. Each week became a mysterious and exiting challenge to see how my body would react and how far I could go. Times when my body would hit the wall and I felt like I couldn’t go a step further, or the grimace in my face the day after a long run when my body was in pain. I can see the look on my face when I would dress up to go out and I couldn’t fit my swollen feet into a pair of pretty heels.
It’s at this moment I want to take a step backwards. I had been training hard. I was keeping my heart rate up, running 4 times a week, increasing speed, distance and time. I was nurturing my body, stretching, icing, eating and drinking properly. I was so aware of how my body was changing as it relates to stamina and endurance, but where was the weight loss? People said they thought I looked different and I suppose I could see those changes, but when I considered how much work I was doing, when I stepped on the scale or put on my clothing, I was disheartened by the lack of change. It was depressing, and I figured it had to do with age. I stopped thinking of my grand vision of losing 100lbs or gaining a runner’s physique. However, something else happened, I faced unanticipated results of my training that took my mind away from those thoughts.
On the morning of the marathon, I stood in our corral waiting for the moment we had been training so hard for. My teammate Irka remarked to me how different, and lonely, all of this would be had we not been together in a group. I agreed and I looked around me at the large crowd of people surrounding me and I saw eight, unique individuals who were part of a summer of transformation together. In an instant I had a rush of memories as I thought about the last 4 months. Eight of us coming together every Saturday in Central Park under the nurturing guidance of Coach Kevin. In the beginning, the accomplishments I remember were solitary ones, only to replaced later by memories of victories that happened from being part of a team. Working together and encouraging each other. Supporting each other and helping to push each other on. Together we were able to push ourselves harder and go further than we would have done had we been training alone. We shared our stories and our reasons why we started running. We empathized every week when one of us was feeling sick or in pain. We laughed with each other as we realized we were actually becoming, dare I say, “runners.” We shared our accomplishments, our disappointments and our frustrations, and I might add, those frustrations certainly took center stage as we neared the end of our training! We discovered through each other that these disappointments were normal, we were normal. We were okay. We were better than okay. And here we were, standing together as one unified team among so many. We all made it.
When I crossed the finish line that day, I was elated for myself and what I had done. I laughed and cried for my journey. But as I sprinted towards my goal, the crowd faded away from my peripheral vision and all I could see were the open arms of the people who had faith in me. My coaches who understood what work was necessary and how to help me get there stood as a beacon by my side and over the finish line, bringing me in. Steven, who empathetically endured every step I took during those 4 months and who stood patiently in the sidelines as I worked my way there, photographing me and the team along the way. And my teammates who all finished before me, but who were with me every step of the way, and will forever have a place in my life as those who helped me cross the finish line a different person.
The greatest part of this entire experience? When I think of the ways my life changed as a result of this experience, it’s nothing compared to the changes that I was able to help bring to stray cats and dogs as a result of the fundraising. Knowing that this process was going to do such greater good was certainly a motivator at those times when it seemed so difficult. And I have so much gratitude for the people in my life who were so supportive and helped contribute. Thank you.