Last Sunday was the NYC Marathon. We happened to be in New York for work and I was thrilled to cheer on some friends as well as athletes I had been training.
I started the day off bright and early at the rink and then threw on a pair of shoes and raced home to where we were staying in Brooklyn. I had carefully plotted out a way to avoid the race through Manhattan but hadn’t thought about where the runners would be in Brooklyn. Imagine my surprise as I came off the Williamsburg Bridge and ran smack into mile 11. The road was packed and I got permission from a race official to slowly weave over to the other side.
As I dashed home to grab Mary and change out of my sweaty clothes, I was tracking one of my runners who I had planned to meet out on the course. Imagine my surprise when I got out there and saw that she was running way faster than I had expected and I missed her. I was bummed and headed back home. But later, I decided to go back to the bridge and hang out where I had crossed over earlier. Rock would be headed home soon and I thought it would be fun for Mary and I to cheer on athletes and meet dad on his return.
By the time I got back to the bridge I was shocked to see that the crowds were gone and so were most of the runners (As a new mom, I tend to lose track of time). Officials were starting to take down the tape that blocked the crowds. However, small packs of runners and walkers were still coming through. Some were smiling, some were struggling, but they were still pushing forward.
I chose my words carefully as I cheered them on. I gave thumbs up and high fives and some people rubbed Mary’s feet as they passed us. I avoided telling them annoying things like, “You’re almost there!” because as mile 11, you really aren’t. Hearing that is frustrating and discouraging. Instead we cheered and smiled.
I told one man he was awesome and he looked at me with a defeated sigh and said, “I still have a long way to go.” It was true but I reminded him that he had come so far and to just keep going one mile at a time. Looking back I wish I had given him a hug and hopped in and walked with him for a mile.
I saw a girl pushing a walker. She had a smile on her face and later I saw a video on Facebook that the marathon posted. It was that girl, one of the last finishers, crossing the line almost 12 hours after she started. It was so awesome to see her receive her medal.
I am by no means a speedster. But I have been blessed to be able to run and have some mild success. I’ve been near the front of the pack in a few races. I’ve been fortunate to place in a race or two or to even place in my age group on occasion. And those were great moments for me.
But my experience on Sunday taught me more than any other race I have run. It inspired me in ways that my own personal races or medals earned could never have ever given me.
Running is hard. And we all experience pain and struggles during a race. Whether you are the first to cross the finish or the last, you feel the burn in your legs and your lungs. We all question if we will actually make it to the end or if we can achieve our goals.
To be the runner near the back, to watch the crowds dissipate and go home and see the race itself pack up for another year, must be incredibly difficult. If you have ever run a race, you know how much the cheers and signs help carry you along, especially during moments where you have struggled.
It takes a strong person both mentally and physically to keep pushing as this is all going on. To know that you still have 15 miles to go and that you will be alone out there for most of the race and to maintain a smile and not give up, is nothing short of incredible. I know runners who have been near the front of the race and when they realized they weren’t going meet their goal, they gave up. Why? Because it is mentally draining. It is overwhelming.
I had tears in my eyes then and I have tears in my eyes now as I type this. Watching this determination and dedication was one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen. Getting the chance to cheer on these brave souls was one of the greatest highlights I have had at a race.
Rock saw Meb in Central Park yesterday. That was pretty cool. But I wouldn’t trade what I saw for the chance to meet any elite runner. I saw the true elites on Sunday. They showed me every reason why it takes guts to be a runner.