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Closed Door. Open Window.

Posted Nov 05 2012 10:36am

Last time we all “chatted,” I was on my way to NYC to run the ING New York City Marathon. A marathon that never ended up happening. The race was called off around 5:30 on Friday evening — less than 48 hours before it was scheduled to start.  But you all know this already.

What you may NOT know, however, is that I still ran a marathon last weekend. Just not one that I had trained or prepared for.  And honestly? It was amazing.

MCM_mile8

A weekend that started off with so much negativity and guilt became something encouraging and inspirational. It made me fall back in love with running — and the running community — all over again.

MCM_AliEm_mile8

It seems crazy to me that it was only a week ago when Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast and tore up the Mid-Atlantic. When the disaster first struck, I didn’t think it would be possible for NYCM to go on. But as the week progressed, Mayor Bloomberg and Mary Wittenberg insisted that the city could pull it off. Not only that, but they felt it would be the unifying, celebratory event that the city needed. AND it would be the symbolic start of a campaign to raise money for recovery efforts. They dubbed it the Race to Recover , pledged $2.6 million dollars along with their sponsors, and encouraged every runner to make a donation of $26.20 to the cause.

Obviously the race did not turn into the positive symbol of a resilient New York that the leaders were hoping for. Instead it became a source of anger and division. I wrote my post about traveling down to NYC on Thursday morning; published it Thursday evening. I’m sure you could sense the general lack of excitement about NYC…which had only continued to decrease in the time after I had written the post. Whether you agree with it or not, I had decided to head into the city, despite growing less excited about the race by the minute.

What I didn’t really know was that while I was traveling, the outcry against the marathon was reaching new heights. A petition to call off the marathon that had less than 1,000 signatures on Thursday suddenly gained over 30,000 supporters. The cover of the New York Post showed the generators that were to be used for the marathon sitting idly in the park — which caused an even greater controversy. I didn’t know all of this, but I did know that running the race didn’t feel right. I told Evan that I had a really bad feeling about the marathon and almost broke down at a rest stop along the way. I was wracked with guilt. And I certainly didn’t want me running a marathon to be seen as a frivolous “parade” that caused more pain, despair, and division in a city that was already torn apart.

I was boarding the train when I got the text from Ali: “it’s canceled” was all she said. I thought it had to be a joke…a stupid rumor. They couldn’t cancel the race on Friday night, when so many runners had already gotten into the city. The train was pulling up and I had no time to think. So we boarded. And I searched the internet for answers.

When the news was confirmed, I didn’t know how to feel. Shock was the first emotion that overtook me and then, as the numbness faded…relief. I firmly believe that canceling the marathon was the right decision. No race should be run under those circumstances. Not with the area still struggling to recover from the damage, and certainly not with that level of protest against it. I was glad I no longer had to make the decision whether to run or not. It had been made for me.

But of course, that didn’t erase the frustration. The race should’ve been canceled early in the week — not on Friday night. (Side note: NYRR didn’t send out an official email informing participants of the decision until Saturday morning…less than 24 hours before NYCM was supposed to start). And it did nothing to ease the guilt. It seemed the second the cancellation was announced, some very vocal individuals were taking to social media saying “GOOD! Now use your able bodies to volunteer! Donate all the money you would’ve spent at the expo for hurricane relief!” As if Sunday morning was the only time people could volunteer or donate. As if one day was all the city and surrounding areas needed to get back on their feet…

Volunteering time, donating resources and money are wonderful things. Some amazing things happened in NYC over the weekend and it was so inspiring to hear stories of runners who ran anyway, helping the relief efforts with volunteer or donation runs.

But everyone copes with tragedies in different ways. While I believe in the importance of giving back, I do not feel as though anyone should be guilted into it. Or vilified for wanting to run a marathon they’ve trained for.

{This is not to say that people didn’t have a right to be angry that NYCM was still going on…just that I don’t think that anger should’ve been taken out on the runners.}

Runners run. That’s what we do. It’s who we are. And so on Saturday morning, when Ali woke up with an alternative plan , I was on the same page. No, I wasn’t devastated that NYCM had been canceled. Compared to what people have lost this week, a failed marathon is nothing. But this was the second failed marathon I had trained for this year. A race that I had dedicated to my father, who is currently recovering from one knee surgery and is scheduled to go to the Cleveland Clinic at the end of this week to talk about another. The man who helped instill the passion for running in me. Who taught me that running is not just a sport — it’s a way of life.

Paul falmouth 97Dear Dad – love the shorts

Our plans came together in about 0.2 seconds. We emailed the race director of the Manchester City Marathon who responded almost immediately to let us know we could register at the expo. We called Ali’s parents, who just so happened to live about 30 minutes from the start of the race and were happy to take us in. We (easily) talked Emily into booking a flight to Manchester. And then Evan and I packed up our bags and headed out of the city…less than 24 hours after we arrived.

We knew nothing about the course other than the fact that it was described as “hilly” and “challenging.” We had all woken up Saturday morning dehydrated from drinking too much wine the night before. We spent the entire day before a marathon in the car. We didn’t have a spectating plan, or a parking plan, or pace plans.

But you know what? It was perfect.

MCM_mile18_1Mile 18 of a windy, hilly course and still smiling

We ran with many other displaced NYCMers — some wearing their shirts. People were out cheering and supporting each other. Family and friends were there supporting us. And one of us ran a huge PR…a time that I don’t even think she really believed she was capable of until she saw it on the clock.

MCM finish_group shot

In the end, it was exactly the weekend the three of us needed.

I realized that New York and the surrounding areas have a long way to go in terms of recovery. People are still without power, water, heat…homes. My heart breaks for them. I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. I know that I’m lucky to even have the choice to run something that seems so frivolous as a race. And so I’m doing what I can to help alleviate some of the immediate needs .

But I also know that running is an inherently positive thing. And I can’t even being to express how much my heart loved runners on Sunday. For us, it’s about more than one race. It’s a testament to the human spirit. The desire to become better. To unite together for one purpose and inspire each other to keep going. It’s about a community.

And I love our running community. I love how runners coped with the news of the marathon cancellation — whether going out and signing up for another marathon in the coming weeks or running in Central Park anyway. We know that there is more to life than one marathon. But we are also determined to never (ever) stop running. Life just wouldn’t be the same without it.

Race recap to come! But I will leave you with this: I discovered on Sunday that I am nothing if not consistent. Three marathons, three 3:18s on the clock. The course, my training, the race conditions were different for each one. And yet I still somehow run the same time.

Which means that it’s time to get my act together, get serious about training and go for broke. I’m so excited that I came back from injury with sub-optimal training and essentially tied my PR on a much harder course.

Which means that spring marathon plans are already in the works…

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