Was the song I was listening to as I crossed the finish line of the Miami Half Marathon this past Sunday, January 29, 2017, though the cheering crowd pretty much drowned it out. I keep marveling at the photos of me crossing the finish, smiling, with my hands in the air.
When the race started, I certainly wasn’t smiling (see dee-in-headlight pic to the right). It was pitch black outside. I had been up since 3:45 am and our team, Team Friendship, walked to the marathon start at 5:00 am. At 6:30 am it poured and the wind picked up. When our group finally crossed the start at 6:52 am, I was already wet and uncomfortable. My only thought was “why was I doing this? I kept saying to myself that I didn’t have to do this and that this was crazy. I was truly miserable.
Somehow I was propelled forward with the group and headed to the ramp for the MacArthur Causeway. When I got over the bridge to the mile 1 marker, it was no longer dark. The rain had slowed down and I looked up and saw giant cruise ships. I stopped at the first row of port-a-potties (thank g-d). After that break I told myself to just go. I focused on my playlist and kept running forward, wet sneakers and all.
I ran to raise money for Friendship Circle, a Chabad organization that has programming for special needs children around the world. They enlist teen volunteers to work with and visit the children and give these often lonely children opportunities to feel like regular teens. My children had volunteered for our local Maryland chapter and I had done cooking classes with them.
The first half of the race is hard because the end is so far away. When I got to mile 2 and did my first planned 2-minute walk, I had achieved my first goal. We ran through South Beach, people cheering all along the soggy route. At mile 7, I was past the halfway point and couldn’t believe I had gotten that far. I downed an energy gel packet, which is like swallowing shampoo. The top of my left foot under the sock was chafing from the moisture and getting more painful every step. Channeling MacGyver, I took out my lip balm, stopped and rubbed it underneath my sock. It worked like a charm.
At mile 10, on the Venetian Causeway returning over the bay, I finally believed I would finish. I had thought that by mile 11, I would be walking the remainder of the race, but I still had some run in me. I downed half of a second energy gel and then I ditched my poncho at mile 12. Some tendons in my left leg gave me trouble around then, but walking didn’t make it better so I kept running.
I only started running about 2 ½ years ago with an app called “From Couch to 5K,” and at the time I was actually on the couch. In the first run, it tells you to run for a minute straight and I thought I would pass out. It took time to learn my body, accept that I could not run more frequently than every 3 days (I still keep to that schedule religiously), that I had to buy new running shoes every 8 months and how to stretch properly.
I completed the app and ran a 5k for several charities, including the Hope for Henry Foundation, and one in Boca Raton, Florida. My times were slow but I didn’t care; I was amazed that at ages 49 and 50, my body could do these races.
When I turned 50, I decided to run a half marathon, but my 50th year was largely not a good one – my mother passed away and I was fatigued for many months and too sad to focus and train seriously. Throughout her brief illness and afterwards, however, I found that running gave me a way to feel a bit more energetic and stay in shape, and allowed me to set goals I could reach and feel that I was accomplishing something for myself.
I refused to sign up until I had actually run 13 miles. I just didn’t believe those coaches who said that most people train a few miles short of the actual marathon distance and “they are fine.” I wasn’t leaving it to chance and started adding more distance.
My friend Melissa Arking, a runner, but also the mom of a spectacular runner, told me after we did the Boca race that she has a friend who ran an entire marathon by running for 4 minutes and walking for 1. I started doing that and went from 4 miles to 6, and then I got to 9. Jennifer Zimmer, a veteran marathoner, kept saying, “if you can run 5 miles , you can run 6, and so on.” Her voice was in my head for months. I started running a mile and then walking a bit. By the Miami Half, I was running for 2 miles and walking for 2 minutes, which I maintained until mile 7, and then walked a bit after each mile. For me, the breaks result in faster finish times overall.
I started learning about energy gels and ways to fuel to keep your stamina up during a long run. I listened to all the advice about eating more the week before – I drank a Gatorade every day, I ate lean proteins and tried to gain weight, which was hard for a serial dieter/pastry chef. I ate pasta the night before, which was a real treat. I carried bottles with watered-down Gatorade. I never got tired or dizzy, which had plagued me during my 13-mile runs back home.
Experienced marathon runners, you know those friends you think are nuts because they do 20-mile training runs in 10 degree weather with snow on the ground, shared lots of tips and encouraged me, though I still never believed I would actually do it. The day after the presidential election, I went to the Team Friendship website and signed up, and proceeded to raise over $4200 for them. You can still donate.
I carried several people with me on that race, in additional to the Friendship Circle kids and their families. Several times I found myself thinking about my mother Toby Marcus z”l and best friend Suzin Glickman, z”l amazing women who both died in 2015 and how I would have loved to share this with them. They would have told me I was crazy but cheered me on.
When I crossed the finish line, my first thought was “Wow, I really did this; I can do anything.” Then I experienced a wave of emotion I wasn’t prepared for. I was about to cry, overwhelmed with how blessed I was to be physically able to accomplish this and sad about the people in my life with disabilities who could not. Real tears were ready to fall when I got swept up with the jubilation of the crowd. My faced ended up soaked anyway as after a few pictures, it poured again. I was frozen all over and my fingers and toes were numb and painful.
Back home, I’m catching up on work yet distracted by the pictures from the race that prove that I did this. There are so many times when I feel that I could have accomplished more in certain areas of my life. But this week, and hopefully going forward, I will remember that it takes hard work, commitment and a lot of time to reach every goal. You have to train. And then train some more. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And bring snacks and good tunes.