As one often hears from women who just gave birth, the pain of labor is all worth it in the end when the baby is born, and the same sentiment is true of the marathon. The numerous months of grueling training, the sore muscles, the blisters, the runs done in the dark after a long day at the office, the skipping of social events to get in a long run, the heat stroke, the blackened toenails, and the time suck—my God, the time suck—all suddenly seem worth it.
Running across the Verrazano Bridge as the race begins with throngs of other runners, hearing boats in the harbor tooting their horns is very exciting. This year, however, there is a new challenge—the wind. With gusts of forty miles per hour, it feels like running in a wind tunnel. I actually have an image of a Sesame Street episode where all the characters were trying to walk against a head wind. Going over the bridge my fellow runners fling aside their garments, which take flight and smack others in the face before flying off the bridge into the water far below. I’m blown around like a rag doll for the first mile. Trying to draft off of others, I finally make it to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
The first few miles are pure adrenaline-based. Lining 4th Avenue in Brooklyn are enthusiastic fans—including many smiling children. One small child hands me an orange slice (and a paper towel!). Kids and adults alike (also one cute dog) want to slap high-fives and I feel energized to run forever (which is pretty much the length of the marathon). This feeling lasts until about mile twelve as we run into Queens. It becomes difficult to ignore the aching in my legs; the crowds start to thin.
Some of the things that I love most about the marathon (especially as an immigration attorney) are the different country flags and the variety of music that fills the crowds. Never is this as true as when the racers cross the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan and the runners head up First Avenue. The crowd actually seems to be roaring as we head north. Crowds stand six people deep on each side of the street and flags of every country seem to be waving at me. I definitely need this energy. The sixteen to eighteen mile points are tough. But not wanting to disappoint the spectators, I push on. I’m struggling to keep my pace when I see my boyfriend at mile eighteen. I tell him to never let me do this again. I make him promise that if I talk about doing a fifth marathon that he is to remind me of this moment. He promises.
I see Protima for a brief hug and encouragement at mile nineteen. When we get to Harlem the bands get awesome but my legs are really suffering. Every step hurts and I try to focus on anything else but the distance I have left. After a brief stretch in the Bronx, we cross the 125th Street Bridge back into Manhattan, and I’m lying to myself to “Just make it to the next stop light.” Having friends standing on Fifth Avenue is a much needed boost. I get apples slices from Joseph and his girlfriend Radford, who is holding a sign that says, “Your Butt Looks Great!” I almost cry when I see my boyfriend cheering on 92nd Street but I can’t stop for long for fear of not being able to keep going and finish. He’s a good cheerer, and the crowd around him laughs when he calls me “a beast.”
Entering Central Park at East 90th Street feels like a dream. I’m almost done. Gatorade cups fill the street and fans scream at me to keep going. Shouts of “You can do this!” spur me on. I concentrate on the runner’s shoes in front of me. I don’t look ahead as I attack a hill so I don’t see how long I have to go.
“Thump, thump, thump.” I watch a pair of pink and green shoes hit the ground over and over. When we hit Central Park South I allow myself to look up and enjoy the last mile. I can’t even hear myself think (which is a good thing). Music is blaring; I feel like sprinting. Do I even breathe? I can’t remember. When I cross the 26th mile marker I don’t allow myself to celebrate. I remember my first marathon when I prematurely celebrated 26 miles, not understanding what the remaining .2 miles would be like. In the New York City Marathon the last .2 is uphill. WHY?! “Why are they so mean?” I practically wail but then I see the finish line.
It’s just ahead. As cameras flash, I feebly try to hold up my arms in a cheer. I force a “warrior face pose” but then as I cross the finish line my smile isn’t forced—it’s genuine. I’m done! I can barely bend my neck to accept my medal but I do and admire it. I’m high on endorphins and I start talking to my fellow runners about where we will do our next marathon. My thoughts flicker back to the words I said to my boyfriend at mile eighteen about never doing another marathon but I push them back. For now I’m a runner and feel I will always be. I meet my friends at the meeting area.
“I can’t believe you just ran 26 miles,” someone says.
“26.2,” I remind her. "Don’t forget the .2!"