The Bronx was a lonely place but loyal cheerleading going on up there. Small crowds but they stayed out there. I was expecting to see some friends when I came over the bridge but I didn’t see any. I didn’t see any coaches either. My friend Mo said she would be there 138th street and just as I was convinced I wouldn’t see her either (I figured everyone had given up), I saw Mo and Colleen jumping up and down while running toward me. It was nice to finally see some faces that I knew. Lots of great words of encouragement and again I couldn’t jog and talk at the same time so I took a little walk break so I could talk a little. It meant a lot to have them wait out there all that time for me. I picked a spot to resume jogging, said my goodbyes and headed over the Madison Avenue Bridge onto 5th Avenue.
I was surprised to find myself on 5th Avenue so soon. I knew would see Melissa at 110th and 5th and that didn’t seem so far away now. 1 mile – I could hang on that long. I saw my friend Chris out there. That was a nice surprise – she had waited all that time just to see me. She said that Stephanie was not that far ahead of me. That gave me a small feeling of relief. I waved goodbye to Chris and she shouted that she would see me at my place afterwards. Right, I forgot people were coming over afterwards.
Soon a strange feeling of loneliness started creeping over me. I had never really experienced that before. I stopped for a second and stretched out my quads. I looked behind me and saw quite a few people coming – that surprised me too. I was beginning to feel like I was the last one in the race and seeing that many people behind me made me keep going. I was feeling physically renewed – I think I finally had my blood sugar to the right level but emotionally I was feeling a dark cloud settling over me. I just wanted to get to 110th and Central Park and find Melissa.
Finally I saw that bright orange shirt waving my Gus in her hand and then she was there “what do you need?” She said. “Just run with me” I said. I think I shocked Melissa because I never like to have people run with me. I just needed to have another human being around me to let me know that I was okay. It was similar to that awful creepy feeling I had that day out on my 18 mile run when I thought I was in a remake of the Blair Witch Project. There was some cloudiness, some slight confusion. I didn’t have confidence in my own clarity. I could have made it on my own, but just having someone there to help with the decision making process made me feel better. I don’t know what decisions I thought there were to be made, but I felt like there were decisions to make and I wasn’t qualified to make them. I wanted someone to just tell me what to do.
Melissa, as usual, was great. She ran ahead and got me waters and Gatorades and kept talking me through everything. We started to see more people that I knew and I just told her to respond for me because I just couldn’t spend the energy to say “Hi” to everyone. I knew Fifth Avenue was supposed to be hard because it was uphill. I would say it was a little hard – not as hard as the 59th street bridge. It was more that I was getting tired. Then coach Brad jumped out and ran with us for a little bit. His advice was to break everything down into little bits. Half a mile into the Park. 1 mile to Central Park South. Another mile to the finish. I was half listening to him – at that point I was just on auto pilot.
My breathing had become labored. Melissa kept telling me to take deeper breaths, keep the breathing smooth. I don’t know why I was breathing that way. I was breathing like I was dragging a ton of bricks up a hill. Oh, that’s right, I WAS dragging a ton of bricks up a hill. I was dragging ME up a hill. Then we saw Patty, my TNT quasi running partner. Patty and I usually end up together. She run/walks to the same speed as my run. She’s a faster runner than I am, but I run faster than she walks. I clung onto her like a lifeline. I just wanted to keep up with Patty. But Patty wasn’t walking anymore. Now Patty was just running and I couldn’t quite keep up. I had to let that go and let her go without me – hoping I would catch up with her later.
I saw other familiar faces but I couldn’t focus in to talk to them. It was somewhat dreamlike. I saw the faces but everything was in slight slo mo. I saw the mouths moving but what I was hearing was “wha, wha, wha, wha.” Then just as we were about to turn into Central Park I saw my friend Paul and that snapped me awake. “Paul!” I shouted. I recognized him. And then I saw Robin and Barbara and Robina again. They all looked so happy and that made me happy. Paul and Robin started running with me for a few feet into the park. I think I made world history for the most ridiculous thing to say during a marathon. Robin and the gang had run around the city looking for more Gus for me (not knowing I had reached the power gel station at mile 18). That was so sweet. Melissa held them for and then I turned to Robin barely able to get the words out “Robin…. Very Important…..” Robin was hanging on waiting for my incredible words of wisdom that I would impart — “Tortilla Chips” I said. “I need Tortilla Chips and bread for the bruschetta for the party. Can you get those for me?”
Marathons are supposed to involve a lot of soul searching, battling inner demons, coming to terms with yourself. In my case, it is an opportunity to review party plans. I was suddenly aware that for the last two miles since I saw Chris I had been consumed with how many people were coming over and whether or not I would have enough food for them. This seems to be a repeating theme in my life – food. Enough for me, enough for my friends. I didn’t care about my breathing, my bleeding feet, my twisted ankle, my buckling knees or my sore back. All I cared about was whether someone would pick up Tortilla chips because I had bought some Raspberry Chipolte Salsa and wanted to make sure I had something to dip in it. The depth of my athleticism (or lack of) shocks even me sometimes.
Now I was in Central Park. Home free. Homeland. At this point there would be no way not to finish – or so I thought. We were approaching Cat Hill – the point I had been dreading for the entire race. Downhill. I don’t think it was that bad – quite frankly I don’t remember it because I think that is where I saw Coach Christine coming toward me. I saw Christine bounding up the hill toward me yelling “Connie, Connie!” “Oh, no” I thought to myself. “Not Christine, not now!! I’ll start crying.” So I was mean and I said “Christine I can’t talk to you, go away.” I’m sure she was surprised but she complied and started running with Patty my TNT friend who was now steps behind me. Patty was happy to have the company.
As we are coming to the end of Cat Hill to my surprise I see the blue shirt and orange label of Heather – my super walker who had paced me all the way. Now I was jogging and she was lagging a little bit. I just had to acknowledge to her how much she had helped me. I turned to her and said “you got me through this marathon, thank you so much.” She was shocked. I said “I’ve been following you the whole time – you were a great pace maker.” She laughed and said “I’ve been following YOU the whole time!” I laughed to think the same woman who walked the first 8 miles with me was now finishing with me. I kept running and said “see you at the finish line!”
Then I saw a woman jumping up and down dressed in all pink. She was going crazy. She was in the middle of the road. I’m looking around trying to see who she is jumping up and down for but nobody is waving to her. Then I look closely and I see it is my sister-in-law Molly. OMG!! I can’t believe that’s my sister-in-law! Then I see my brother standing there trying to take a picture fumbling with his camera. For them I stop and give them hugs. Molly was crying she was so happy. That made me happy too. I stayed with them for a few seconds and then I had to keep moving.
Down the little hill heading to Central Park South. Now my ankle gives out. Felt like it cracked in two. I just had to pull over for a minute to rotate it a little. Melissa was worried I was stopping too long – “keep going Connie – don’t stop now.” I knew she was right. My body was starting to sense that the end was near and I had to keep it together long enough to get over the finish line. We made it to Central Park South and there was Coach Ramon ready to run with me.
I once admonished Melissa because I was in a race and she said “it’s not far – it’s like Bethesda to the Daniel Webster Statue.” I remember yelling at her in that race “that’s FAR!!! Don’t tell me that.” She thought I was nuts because in her mind that was nothing. In my mind that was painful. So now Coach Ramon starts running with us. He said something brilliant. He said “It’s less than 11 minutes for you.” I looked at him “11 minutes? I can do 11 minutes.” He said “of course you can. You’ve done 6 hours!” I thought this was such an interesting thing. Why would it bother me if he said “you only have 1 mile to go” which seemed like forever, but saying “you only have 11 minutes to go” seemed doable? This is fascinating psychology to me.
As I am running along CPS I am aware my body is starting to break down. Now it is getting harder to breath, I’m getting tired, my ankles are hurting, my knees are straining – it seems farther and farther away. I actually feel like I’m running backwards. Now Ramon is saying “seven minutes – seven minutes to go.” I start getting all mushy telling Ramon and Melissa that they have been the best coaches anyone can have. I’m very lucky. Just then a photographer appears. Melissa (who knows I want my own private photo opps at all times) jumps to get out of the way and Ramon goes the other way. I yell “NOOOO! I want you BOTH in my picture.” For some reason the photographer thinks this is hysterically funny and is laughing at this. I don’t know why he thought it was funny – maybe he knows what the picture will look like — we’ll just have to wait and see.
We pass Mo and Donna who are cheering on the side. There are still a good number of people on CPS. It is getting harder for me to breath and I can’t really talk to tell Melissa that they are going to kick her out when we get to the park entrance which they do. Ramon takes my hand and I say “thanks for everything” and I head into the finish shoot.
This is it. The final stretch. I see Cliff on the left. There seems to be still a lot of people around the edges of the finish. Then everything goes into sloooowww moooootion. I see Melissa bounding across the bleachers screaming and waving her arms “You’re doing it! You’re doing it!” There is a dull roar in my ears. 400 meters to go. I see the 400 and it looks so far away. My left knee locks but I try to keep going. I’m grimacing in pain and shuffling toward the finish like Quasimodo. I see people’s faces looking at me like they feel sorry for me. Some of them are looking away — I must look pretty bad. It’s hard to breath. Everything hurts. Melissa is going crazy.
Then I see the 300. For the first time I let myself think that I am going to finish. This is really happening. Everything is still in slow motion. And then I’m there at the finish and two guys run in front of me blocking my finish from the photographer. I give them a second and then I run over and the photographer is changing the film in his camera!!! I don’t care, I have crossed the finish and every cell of my body is in the process of collapsing.
Then there is a flurry. Someone puts a medal around my neck – it feels heavy. Someone hands me water. Then a woman comes up and puts one of those meallic looking shawls around my shoulders “this one is just for you honey.” I’m kind of dazed and confused. Then the photographers take my picture and there are all my friends standing by the gate. They look so happy – true joy in their faces. A joy I was not able to digest yet but seeing it in their faces made it more real for me. An overwhelming feeling of being blessed came over me. Not because I finished the marathon but because I had so many friends who came to cheer, because Melissa ran with me, because my brother and sister-in-law were there, because my teammates and coaches were there. When it was all said and done, what made me the happiest was knowing that people cared enough to come out and cheer for me and be with me. What made me happy was the feeling that I was loved. That and knowing someone was getting the Tortilla Chips.