Despite the disappointment of the 2012 New York City Marathon being cancelled, I was fortunate to have a support team that pulled me through a situation that none of us had trained for. When I made my travel arrangements to come to New York, I knew I did not want to run it without a backup team. I’ve been there, done that. I ran both the 2010 and 2011 Boston Marathon without an entourage to meet me at the finish line. In some ways, it forces you to take care of yourself along the course. The knowledge that there would be no one to pick up your exhausted and depleted body stays with you and forces you to monitor your pace and your well-being. It also deters you from pushing your own personal limits. In 2010, I was blessed with perfect conditions and I proved to myself that I could be my own cheerleader. In 2011, the story was much different. Record heat hit Boston and race officials warned runners that hadn’t trained in high heat conditions not to run. I decided to run and by mile eight I was suffering. I dialed back my pace and ran for survival. Every mile was a struggle between keeping my body temperature down and keeping hydrated. I crossed the finish line having completed the hardest thing I had ever done. There was no one there to greet me, hold me, comfort me and nurture me. It was a bittersweet victory. As much as I wanted to fall apart, I had no choice but to carry on.
This marathon would be different. With the lure of New York, my daughter volunteered to accompany me in a heartbeat. I reminded her that mom massages and tender loving care needed to be top priority. My daughter is mature and the trip would bring her close to her 17th birthday, but I still wasn’t comfortable leaving her alone in the big city awaiting my finish. I reached out to my mother who had never been to the big city before and convinced her to rendezvous with us to be part support team/grandmother/cultural tourist. Not too long after, two friends announced that they were also coming to New York to cheer me on. It was going to be an all-female bonding trip. I would have more support than I imagined, a welcome relief given my year of struggle and disappointment. It had been a year that people that I trusted and counted on let me down. It was a year that stripped me of a hopeful heart and replaced it with an emotional armor designed to fend off the careless and the cowardly.
I won’t write about the depth of my personal disappointment when the New York City Marathon was cancelled as it seems petty compared to those that lost so much more. I lost the ability to prove to myself that I could still cross the finish line, but that paled in comparison to those that lost their homes, loved ones, and/or a week of creature comforts such as heat, electricity, and transportation. What I will write about is my support team with a depth of gratitude that I will always carry with me.
First, I have to acknowledge my family, who never complained when the alarm went off at five in the morning so I could fit a training run in and not compromise the mom taxi, the tag-team parenting or the longstanding cooking schedule. My daughter and her boyfriend used my long runs to Marymoor Park as an opportunity for a long bike ride, prepared to bring me water when I could not locate a drinking fountain or to come rescue me if I succumbed to heat exhaustion. My husband made sure that I never got too full of myself, reminding me along the way that it was just a marathon, otherwise hinting that there were many more important things in life. When I lamented about the path of Hurricane Sandy and wondered how that would impact the marathon, he said simply, “Don’t go.” Thanks to my family I was reminded that this wasn’t life and death, it was only a marathon, a feat I had accomplished four times before.
With that said, my daughter was my rock in New York. On the night of the cancellation, it finally sunk in that all my training and symbolic positioning of the marathon was for naught. As I crawled into bed and shed a few silent tears, I heard soft footsteps approach my bed and then felt her hand on my shoulder. She knew that there was a sad, broken person behind my brave persona. She comforted me, acknowledged my disappointment, and simply let me be sad for that moment. With that gesture she provided a safety net and broke through the stereotype that teenagers are self-centered, myopic, and unable to relate to any angst other than their own. That will be a moment that I will hold dear. I learned in that moment that acknowledging and reaching out to another’s pain is one of the most generous and healing acts that a human being can do.
My mother provided stability in the fact that she was always willing to soldier on regardless of the path of Hurricane Sandy, a changing itinerary, and at times differing opinions. That she was up for attempting the rendezvous of our flights in the Newark airport the day that it reopened, tempered riding the subways to stretch our budget and our “to do” list, and being our wine steward along the way was a testament to her adaptable spirit. They say that we get more rigid as we age. In many ways she was proof that aging can also develop wisdom that allows one not to sweat the small things. I come from a line of women that aren’t easily defeated. It was a comfort to see where that tenacity comes from.
My friends that traveled to New York helped keep the atmosphere forward looking and cut through the inevitable intensity by their overall enthusiasm for the experience. They were destined to make this a memorable trip, complete with fun, entertainment and curiosity. They traveled ahead of me and secured the apartment, charming the beautiful albeit quirky landlord. They put together long lists of possibilities, so there was never time to wallow in self-pity or lack for something to do. And they were first to insist in accompanying me to the Staten Island Ferry relief trip in the early morning that was instead of the marathon, wanting as much to be part of the experience as I had the need to be a part of something bigger than me. I thank both of them from keeping the intensity of me in check and allowing me to experience the joy of discovery with both of them as able and astute teachers.
I was astounded to learn that my boss, who was traveling in Europe at the time, but had given me advice on the New York Marathon route as he had lived in the city for over twenty years, had made special plans for my marathon experience. Unbeknownst to me, he had arranged for his wife and son to travel to New York in order to surprise me at the finish line. They arrived in New York just in time to hear of the cancellation, so the surprise was foiled. In some ways, I felt as if I had let everyone down even though it was of no fault of mine that I would not be crossing the finish line. We planned a celebration dinner anyway, with my family and friends and my bosses’ wife and son. I was touched beyond measure that they would rally to celebrate this milestone with me. It was also great to have another clearheaded mother figure and another enthusiastic city explorer. Dinner was warm, comfortable and easy, it was just what I needed.
It seemed odd to be at such an event without my sister who has been my partner in so many of my endeavors over the years. She has been my most stalwart cheerleader, always there, always checking in, always willing to lift me up when I fall and skin my knee. She had agreed to pick me up at the airport upon my return. Little did she know when she agreed to do so how important it would be to see a familiar face, a face that welcomed me home to a place that I knew, a place free from controversy, and a place where I could always count on her open arms, finish line or not.
I would be amiss not to thank the friends that cheered me on at work, via texts as the news broke in New York, and those that had been at the finish line for the various training runs that led up to this occasion. The phone calls and messages reminded me that I was not alone and to pay attention to those who are willing to be in your corner whether it is easy or difficult. Those that have the staying power during the difficult times are the ones that are worth spending time with. They are the trustworthy, the constant, and the ones that will make a difference. It’s easy to be a cheerleader when you’re backing a winning team. That takes little effort. It takes commitment and faith to back someone who hasn’t made it past the finish line.
Thank you New York City Marathon for letting me see who I have in my corner. I am indeed a fortunate woman to have learned that regret is highly overrated and gratitude is a purse worth winning.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012