After the Friday night pasta pow-wow with Josh, after the 2 mile shake-out run to the finish line Saturday morning, after the brunch with so many of my lovely runner friends, new and old, after watching Rocky training montages countless times, getting up incredibly early, after putting on four layers of throw-away clothing and heading down to the Staten Island Ferry with Joe, I found myself sitting alone at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island. So. This is it, I thought. I've done all the work. And here I am. I didn't talk to anyone else. I just looked around at all the other runners. All of us had worked so hard to just to get here. All of us came here with different purposes, different goals. I hoped we would all achieve them.
When I lined up in my corral for the 2nd wave of runners, I heard the cannon go off, signaling the start of the 1st wave. From where I was, below the bridge, I could see the first runners take off, and my eyes welled up with pride and awe for all of them. For all of us. We made it this far.
And then it was my turn. It took about 8 minutes from the time the 2nd cannon fired until I crossed the start. I did a little gazelle leap over the starting line and yelled "Thank you!" for my friends. And then... I was running the fucking NYC Marathon! Oddly, in those first few miles I felt a little lonely. With all those people around me, I really wished I was running this along side all the people who've become so dear to me during these last few months. As we got a little further into Brooklyn, and the crowds of people cheering started to become 3 or 4 deep along the sides of the street, I patted my waist pack. There was a picture of my mother in there. A smile spread across my face. I realized that I was running this with everyone I wanted there with me, whether they were at my side or not. I was running this with them, for them, and because of them. Over the next 23 miles, that became my mantra. With them, for them, because of them.
A few more miles in, along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn I realized that I was absolutely having the time of my life. I'm not sure I could have been happier. I was absolutely cruising and loving every second of it. I had my name on my shirt and was smiling so hard at the many various accented versions of my name that people were yelling out in support. "GO CHAY-RONE, GO CHAY-RONE!" and in Hasidic Williamsburg, "GO SHEH-RUN!"
As I approached the Kosciuszko Bridge, I was already more than halfway there. I hit the halfway mark at 1:51:19. When I talked to Josh on Friday, I was full of doubt. I didn't know what time I was aiming for, realistically, and I didn't know what I was capable of. He told me, "You can do it in 3:50." At that halfway mark, I knew he was right. I COULD hit that time. And goddammit, I was going to! As I cruised along, I heard someone yelling my name frantically. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see Tavia waving and jumping up and down. I yelled back at her and waved. Just a little bit up ahead at mile 14, I saw Josh and his BRIGHT RED ARM SLEEVES. He ran with me for a bit, giving me some advice, asking how I felt. I'm pretty sure the only thing I could say back was "I FUCKING LOVE THIS!"
Just before turning onto the Queensboro Bridge, I saw my friend Karen with a great "GO SHARON PAIGE!" sign. And as I ran over the bridge, as I'd done dozens of times before when I used to live in Queens, it was eerily quiet. Having been bombarded by all the cheering for so long, this stretch allowed me to go into my own thoughts again. I thought of my other friends who were out there running this same course with me. With them. For them. Because of them. I turned onto 1st Avenue and into an absolute cacophany of screaming. I'd been told about the crowds at this point in the race, but I couldn't believe my eyes or ears. Thanks to her great big orange sign which read "GO SHARON, KEEP RUNNING, YA BUM!" I saw my friend Leigh in the crowd.
I cruised up 1st Avenue, and into the Bronx. When I saw the 20 mile marker, I thought back to this time last year as I stood at that exact spot for hours, cheering on strangers and waiting for my friends to come by. I thought about how strong and happy they looked. I hoped I was looking half as powerful as they did last year. I was still feeling pretty good as I crossed the Madison Avenue Bridge into Manhattan, but I knew I was losing a little bit of steam. I saw Josh again and he asked me how I was feeling. "Tired!" I replied. "That's not allowed," he told me. I smiled and nodded, and kept on moving. Just past mile 23, I saw Allen, who threw his hand out for a high 5 and yelled that I was still looking good. It was just the boost I needed, but I was definitely tiring out quickly at this point. I knew I'd see my friend Sam at mile 24, so I told myself, just get to Sam. Just get to Sam.
I entered Central Park, the place where I've run hundreds of times at this point. The place where most of this hard work was done. The place where so many friendships have been strengthened by thousands of footsteps. Just the week before, I ran this exact route with Maura, and we had talked the whole run about the gamut of emotions that we were both dealing with throughout the training and what we were anticipating at the finish. I thought about the morning before, running with Josh and his JDRF team, and seeing the finish. I was overwhelmed then, and the tears started to flow. I thought about all the people out there cheering for me. The strangers, the friends, all of them. I thought about the one person I wanted to be there cheering for me, more than any other. I thought about how much I missed her and how proud she would be.
Just past mile 24 I saw Sam and Erica. Erica jumped up and down and yelled "There's Sharon, There's Sharon!" and Sam just screamed. I screamed back and waved my arms, which I'm pretty sure used up the absolute last of my extra energy. I thought at that moment, "I'd really like to be done running now." The Wall. The knee that been hurting me a few weeks earlier flared up then. I was tired and hurting. I just wanted to be DONE. The only solution to that, though, was to finish as fast as I could. I could doubt myself as long as I wanted, and complain as loud as I could, as long as my legs just kept moving. So that's what they did. The distance between me and the finish line became measurable in fractions of a mile. With them. For them. Because of them. Over and over. The finish line was in sight now, and I looked up into the stands for Jeremy, my dad and my brother. I couldn't find them, but I just had to keep moving. I knew they were there. Just before the finish.
I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch. 3:50:27. Quietly, I said "Mommy, I did it."
I did not cry then, as I thought I would. I did not feel overwhelmed, as I was sure I would have. Instead, I felt completely satisfied and full of gratitude. I did it. I was a marathon runner.
After a long, slow, painful walk to collect my bags, I found Jeremy, my dad and my brother along Central Park West. We took a bunch of pictures with my finisher's medal, and I hobbled slowly towards my dad's car. They all told me how proud they were, and I just smiled. I was pretty proud, too.
After the most magical shower ever, I threw on some jeans and a pretty shirt and my medal and headed out with Jeremy to meet up with Josh, Erika and Baker for a celebratory drink. Over a glass of whiskey (WHICH I MISSED SO MUCH), I told Josh how my friend Mark had tweeted that my blog title was a liar by 25 minues. I said, as a joke, "Maybe I should change it to '52 Weeks to B.Q.'" "Yeah," Josh said, "But you'd be selling yourself short."
So. There it is. The next challenge.
I'm up for it.