Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The New York City Marathon. And My Faith in Human Nature.

"If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon."  True words spoken by the famous Kathrine Switzer, a woman who made marathon running possible for all women.

Another way of restoring your faith in human nature? Going out and running a marathon.

On November 6, 2011, I ran the New York City Marathon.  I've watched coverage of the race numerous times, always in awe of the pure athleticism and determination of the elite runners.  Years ago, I thought to myself, one day I'd like to run that.  And my opportunity came this year with a lucky draw in the lottery. 

I knew that I'd run/walk it slowly.  And I was slow, finishing in 6:06.
I knew that it would really start to hurt around mile 20 or so.  And it sure did.
I knew that I would be excited, terrified, nervous, happy, overwhelmed, exhausted, all at the same time.  And I was.

I had heard that the New York spectators were incredible in their cheers and support of all the runners.  And they were. 

It was the spectators that made this one of the most amazing days of my life.

I could write about how I felt physically, mile by mile. 
I could write about the pain in my knees.
I could write about the challenge of running those famous New York City Bridges.

But instead I'll write about how the cheering made me cry tears of happiness, and run in almost disbelief, that these thousands and thousands and thousands of people were cheering for me.  Me, an accidental runner, a bit overweight, slow, but a New York City Marathoner, nonetheless.

Before the race, I put my name in big letters on my chest - I'd heard that a lot of runners do that so people cheer for them by name.  So I started across the Verrazano with "DEB" written for all the world to see.

Coming into Brooklyn, before the crowds were numerous, I heard my name for the first time.  "Hey Deb," shouted a man, "where're ya from?"  "New Jersey!" I shouted back, only to hear laughter and kind of a "shucks!" response.  I think he was hoping for a more exotic locale, rather than across the Hudson.

A little further on, a man leaned out and shouted "I love you, Deb!"  I told him I loved him too!

Then the crowds started to get thick.  Everyone cheering and clapping.  Groups of people - men, women, children - were shouting and chanting my name. "Deb! Deb! Deb!"

I highfived every child I could.  Little kids in their dad's arms.  Big kids with smiles on their faces.

I highfived little old ladies in wheelchairs.

I heard my name everywhere. "Go Deb! Go Deb!"

I started to cry.  All these people were cheering for me!  They had no clue who I was, where I was from, but I was a runner, and had 20 miles in front of me. And they cheered me on!

Outside churches, stores and homes, there were bands and choirs, playing music and singing.
People were tailgaiting, cooking burgers on the side of the road. And they cheered us all on!

At one point in Brooklyn, the street really narrowed and the energy became more condensed.  On one side of the street was a group of young men who seemed to be enjoying a party.  From their balcony they chanted in unison "Deb! Deb! Deb!"  Beleive me, it's been a while since this 40-something-muffin-top-mom-of-three had a group of young men chanting my name.  If ever!

Down the block, on the other side of the street, were three nuns, in their habits, also cheering my name.

Now where else but in New York can that happen?

I gave up listening to my music a few miles into the race, because I couldn't hear it over the noise of the crowds.  Their supportive cheers were far better than anything Lady Gaga could belt out that morning!

On 1st Ave in Manhattan, the crowds were also thick.  There was a man holding up a sign reading "Free Hugs!"  So of course I gave him a hug!  I wonder how many sweaty stinky runners he hugged that day?

I stopped to take a picture of two ladies chanting my name.  They loved it!

Then next to them, another group of ladies starting chanting "Deb!" even louder, so I stopped to take their picture too!

The crowds got a little thinner along 1st Ave, but still people cheered me on. 

A single lady standing alone, "Keep going Deb!"
A dad with his son, "Looking good Deb!"
A family standing together, "Way to go Deb!"
A race official, "Looking pretty in pink Deb!"

It went on, and on, and on.

The bands, the drums, the dancers, they went on and on for miles.

Entering Central Park, I saw my family.  My three boys and husband waiting for me - now the cheers changed from "Deb! Deb! Deb!" to "Mom! Mom! Mom!"  They hugged me, kissed me, encouraged me, and sent me on to battle the last 2 miles.

Coming up Central Park South, cheers of "Deb!" were all around me.  I was exhausted, but their voices propelled me on.  Then there was one woman, standing by herself.  She shouted to me "Hey Deb!  I saw you in Brooklyn!" 

From there, I cried all the way to the end of my 26.2 mile run.  Tears of happines, exhaustion, accomplishment.  I finished and got my medal.

I've had some time to reflect on that incredible day, and I keep going back to that quote from Kathrine Switzer. 

Faith in human nature.

We are bombarded every day with news of war, death, famine, poverty, violence, a shattered economy, nasty politics, bullying, hatred, greed, tragedy. And the list goes on.

But for that one day in New York, we were all together on those streets of the five boroughs.  It didn't matter what color people were, how rich or poor they were, what neighborhood they were from, what religion they were, what political affiliation they had.  They were there together, standing shoulder to shoulder, cheering me on, cheering all 47,000 runners on.  The fast runners, the slow runners, the thin runners and those not quite so!  The runners from around the world, from 100 different nations.  All different colors and creeds. 

We were all there together to accomplish one of two things.  Finish the marathon, or cheer those running on to the finish.

Thank you to each and every spectator.  To all those who cheered my name.  Who gave me highfives. Who smiled and waved.

You are the reason I ran that day.  And you lifted my heart, and my exhausted legs, to a place never before experienced.  You made me remember that no matter what, we are all human, capable of great strength, determination, and most importantly, kindness.

Thank you New York.  From the bottom of my grateful heart.