Editor’s Note: If you participated in the Home for the Holidays Virtual 10K don’t forget to submit your times here and email me your pictures as we will be choosing winners by December 31st! Also, check out the photo album here!
I’m Melinda, a founding member of the New York Flyers , former member of the Central Park Track Club, and trying to get my groove back. Approaching the 50-year mark—I am 48—I told myself last year that I finally have to complete the big one. Most people have completed a marathon in their first two years of running, according to Running USA. But, here I am after 38 years on the roads…and nothing!
When I used to be a fast runner, I decided to run the New York City Marathon in 1989. My training partner and I were at the start on the upper level of the bridge. Note that the start was arranged completely different from now, as everyone went off at the same time. The women’s start, along with the master’s men, took off from the top center level of the bridge. What the foreign men didn’t realize was that men were prohibited from the first 21 rows of runners and could be disqualified if they passed the elite women before two miles in. Needless to say, the guys didn’t realize that. After Fred Lebow, the founder and late race director of the NYC Marathon, realized that there were men at the front of the women’s start, he began screaming at them through his megaphone and kicking them out. Scared, I turned to my training partner and asked her what was going on, “Fred’s kicking the guys out. They don’t belong here.” I found myself moving up and then realized that I was in the second row—Ingrid Kristiansen was in front of me. Yes, the eventual winner. She crossed the finish line, but not me. I had to drop out with hypothermia at mile 19. The sag wagon was a school bus which followed the course—slow torture watching those who I ran with on their way to completing the race. For me, unfinished business.
Unfinished Business to be Finished was the goal for 2011. I signed up for the NYC Marathon lottery, but didn’t expect to get in after being selected for the NYC Half via lottery. Who gets in to two races in a year via lottery? So, I signed up for Chicago. Lottery Day finally showed up and I wasn’t selected, or was I? The searchable database said “not selected,” so I was relieved I signed up to run in the Windy City. Later that afternoon, a friend wrote on Facebook that he had seen my name on the NYC list. No way! I had already checked. Went back on the database and there I was! Wait, two marathons in one month? Not exactly what I planned for the Year of Unfinished Business!
It gets worse. I was asked to help put on the inaugural Empire State Marathon. No problem. Wait, the race is a week after Chicago? No problem, three marathons in four weeks. How does this relate to moderation?
Planning trips and running distances that you’ve never done before in your life requires moderation. At the age of 48 and having run 38 of those years, you develop a unique sense of what your body can handle and what amount of recovery you need.
Add a twist to the story: while training on the Erie Canal Trail in May, a 2-year old child attached to dysfunctional parents ran in my direction and trying to avoid him, my foot caught a gopher hole and I went flat out. Are you kidding me?! The skin wound was severe and I was not allowed to run for two weeks, but it healed fine (though with resultant war wound scars). As training progressed toward double-marathon month, my patellar tendon flared badly. This is where moderation set in.
My training required me to only run on flat surfaces and limit my mileage. But, how was I going to complete a marathon on limited mileage? I got through the 20, but the 13 mile drop down weekend to follow is where my knee seriously flared up. My physical therapist took me off of long runs and put me on a schedule of shorter base runs with cross training on the weekends. No long runs for five weeks prior to Chicago, but I did get in a two-hour EFX workout. I do not recommend that anyone tries this—worst workout of all-time.
Moderation required me to run only four days a week with scheduled rest days on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. When I was younger, we were always told that running 6-7 days a week was the gold standard. Double workout days were also common. Take it from this 40-something year old woman, training is overrated. Or, is that, “rest is underrated?!” Plan your rest days accordingly.
Here we go! Got to Chicago and the excitement of runners at the expo and folks from Chicagoland was awesome. Seeing the banners up on streetlamps on Michigan Avenue set in, “I am finally doing this!” I promised myself that I would not drop out, no matter what. Moderation in pace was absolutely key, as the race day temperature was supposed to get up to 80 degrees. My mantra for the race was “crossing the finish line is the only option!”
The start was bounding with excitement and we finally took off. Getting through the first six miles was easy, but the heat was starting to seriously set in. As we exited Lincoln Park, we got blasted. It wasn’t the heat, it was 2 million people from Chicago out to cheer us on. The sound was so loud, it scared the you-know-what out of me!
I felt like I was in the Tour de France with folks pushing out onto the street and us having to attempt to pass through. I was angry at first, but people were actually giving out bottles of cold water and Gatorade. I was so psyched. This was about to get better. A woman walked out into the street with a huge bag of ice in her arms. As we saw her, we ran in her direction and ripped it open! I put some under my hat. This woman was a godsend!
The people were so kind and thoughtful. People made it a point of calling out your name. Whole church congregations came out and cheered on loudly. The volunteers were amazing, they not only gave out water, sponges, and ice, they also acted as spectators and cheered you on and called out names. A guy around mile 23 started running with me to help push me toward the finish. Crossing the Finish Line Is the Only Option.
As I turned right over the bridge at 26 miles, I freaked out. The mass of people at the finish was unbelievable. The last turn toward the finish put visions of entering the Olympic Stadium in my mind. I felt like an Olympic champion! People were about 15-20 rows deep at the finish stands and calling out my name. I finally crossed the finish line!
Recovery was easy, but I returned home only to continue work on the Empire. No rest for the weary. We had few volunteers, so a majority of the work was put on my shoulders. Two days after returning home, here I am putting up tables, banners, and moving endless goody bags for runners. I spent 14 hours per day on my feet putting this thing on—more than 2,400 runners from 35 states and six countries. Lots of aggravation and problems, but the runners didn’t notice. Thank goodness. Only one runner sent to hospital and she is fine.
Next stop: NYC Marathon. For two weeks, I contemplated bagging the race. No. This is The Year of Unfinished Business!
I finally made it to New York, but had tremendous anxiety and could not calm down. I couldn’t eat and was scared that I was too exhausted to finish. My non-runner friends and father told me to drop out if I wasn’t “up to it.” This is The Year of Unfinished Business.
The bus traveled from the New York Public Library to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at 6am. My start wasn’t until 10:40am. It was cold and dark, but Dunkin Donuts was giving out coffee and awesome hats to keep us warm.
The four-and-a-half hour wait to the start was brutal. On the bridge, the foreigners were going crazy taking pictures. What I wasn’t expecting, was that this would take place most of the race. The cannon went off. Frank Sinatra was playing on the speaker system and my first experience with a “tourist,” I mean a runner, stopping in front of me happened at the apex of the bridge. I had to dodge him to prevent getting seriously injured. Brooklyn is finally here! The first three water stops revealed disorganization and having to wait for cups to be filled, but I kept going with the flow.
I started feeling it as we got on the 59th Street Bridge. I swear that is the longest and most monotonous bridge I have ever crossed! On First Avenue, my left quad began cramping like crazy. I stopped to stretch it out. Most people ignored me. A woman came over wearing a long fur coat and emotionless, asked me if I was alright. No worries! Crossing the Finish Line is the Only Option! She looked at me like I was nuts.
This began the long road of the run-walk. I had a bad headache, was freezing, and my quad was screaming at me. People kept encouraging me. I started focusing on signs. Anything to get my mind off. I finally made it to The Bronx. One sign still resonates with me, “You are doing what less than 1% of the world’s population has ever accomplished.” I started running consistently again!
Back on the Island of Manhattan, the trek down Fifth Avenue was brutal. Once again, as in Chicago, a guy started running with me to help move me toward the finish. I got into Central Park and knew I would eventually get to Tavern on the Green. But, how long would this journey take?
The last 5K was total breakdown. It didn’t help that I would finish in the dark. Get to the start in the dark. Ran the last couple of miles in the dark. Something is seriously wrong with that. This is a marathon, not an ultra marathon. As I started up West Drive toward the finish, there were still a few holdouts still in the viewing stands. Not what I was hoping for based on my experience at Chicago.
Unfinished business was now finished! Volunteers were plentiful at the finish area. Thank you! Someone was there to congratulate me and put a medal around my neck at the finish. He even gave me a hug…I needed that!
I was freezing and dying to get my dry clothes at the UPS truck. But, the crowd was not moving. There was a bottleneck. As I stood there, I started to decompensate and became disoriented. There were medical folks walking up and down the sides of the line. I grabbed onto one. He looked at me and took my arm, “come follow me.”
I was triaged and brought to a cot. This was a mini hospital. Eight people were working on me. Labs were taken and I was given two bags of warmed IV fluids. A physical therapist worked on my quad and foot cramping. I started to feel better, but still couldn’t eat or drink on my own. As I looked around the tent, the other cots were being removed and I realized that I was closing down this tent. I had been there almost three hours. I asked her how many runners they treated in that one tent—“1,500 and a few were sent to hospital with chest pain. We didn’t expect this many at our tent. Usually, the last tent gets slammed.” I didn’t feel so bad after all. There were others also having issues. Thankfully, there were no deaths.
Two hours later, I was in a restaurant having dinner and thought “two hours ago I couldn’t have imagined walking on my own, medal around my neck, and eating out.”
For the second time in a month, I have Crossed the Finish Line. The Year of Unfinished Business is now finished!
Next stop: Rock ‘n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. The madness never stops. I love it. My moderation: running half marathons. This will be No. 14.