I first learned, officially, of the NYC Marathon’s cancellation at about 5 o’clock Friday evening. We were stopped in front of Mimi’s Restaurant on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan in search of a place to carbo load. My eye caught the CNN headline on the t.v. in the corner of the bar: NYC MARATHON CANCELLED. At that moment, plans, preparations and proper fueling went out the window: we headed out for Mexican food instead. But there was still one thing I was certain of: despite the disappointing news, I would still run in Central Park—where the Marathon ends—on Sunday.
Over the weekend several plans and ideas unfolded via Twitter and Facebook. Many runners were going to meet at Central Park to run laps around the 6.1-mile outer loop, which was the course of the first Marathon in 1970.
I woke up excited and ready to run Sunday. It was a crisp 39 degrees. Sunshine reflected off the tall buildings—there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was the perfect day for a run. My sister and I planned to do a lap at the park to enjoy the camaraderie and presence of other runners. I ate three quarters of a Power Bar and downed some McDonald’s coffee. We made our way up to the park.
At 8:21 a.m., we joined what soon appeared to be thousands of other runners and started running counter clockwise (again, in the tradition of the first Marathon). It was the runner’s equivalent of a jaunt or a stroll; it was relaxed, light-hearted and fun. The mile marker banners for miles 25 and 26 loomed above us over the pathway; it had the strange feel of a bride who’d been left at the altar. Leaves dangled from the trees in splendid shades of orange, brown, gold. Runners passed by going clockwise. We cheered each other on. Flags from all around the world were donned like capes: there were runners from Brazil, Venezuela, Philippines, South Africa, Germany, Mexico, Amsterdam, Australia, Sweden. As the morning progressed, spectators lined the park. Cowbells sounded. Cheers resounded. Horns honked. Whistles blew. As I took in the beauty surrounding me and the international flavor, I forgot about the course, miles, pace and distance. It became very clear that the morning wasn’t about what wasn’t: it was about what was.
After one lap, my sister hung back and I ran with my fellow Marathoners solo. I thought that would be it for me. I thought it would be somewhat of a farewell loop. My sister joined me again as I began the third loop. I didn’t quite feel like stopping. We had some water and Gu energy gel. Apparently there was some confusion as to where Mo and the boys were. They were hanging out by the hockey rink. We were going to run to meet them. We soon determined that it was a different hockey rink—who knew that Central Park had two?— than the one we were thinking of. We were about halfway around: we could turn around or keep going. We kept going. About this time I saw a man to my left who was running about the same pace. “What lap are you on?” I asked. “Three,” he answered. “You?” “Three, I think,” which my sister confirmed. “Are you going to keep going?” I asked him. “Hell yeah!” he exclaimed. “We’ve got to finish what we came here for.” Dang it. At that moment I knew. He’s right.
As I began my fourth lap—it had been more than 18 miles, since we veered off a bit—I ate some warm pretzel that my sister got from a park vendor. She told me that she’d be at the Finish Line with Mo and the boys. (The Finish Line for the Marathon was still in place but barricaded off: with what I felt was a bit of a comic twist, sort of the icing on the cake for the experience, we could run around it, but not cross it.) I continued on. The final stretch. Spectators held signs. They cheered. They clapped. They handed out water and Gatorade, bananas and pretzels. Out of the kindness of their hearts, New Yorkers showed up to support and encourage. You never would have known the official Marathon was cancelled. There was an outpouring of good will and generosity. I slowed way, way down that last lap. My legs ached to the point of feeling like they might buckle beneath me. But I looked into the eyes of people and high-fived kids and, with their help, I kept going.
The spirit that was alive in the park is not something that can be contained. It was the human spirit. You can’t squelch it, you can’t quiet it, you can’t cancel it. It knows no boundaries, no limits, no nationalities. It was inspiring to be a part of. We were simply runners gathered to run. And that’s what we did.
At about 12:45, I made it to my Finish Line—the arms of my family.
I don’t know exactly how many miles I ran. Maybe 25.4. Maybe 26.0. But here’s what I do know. Ten days before the Marathon, I was out on the streets of our neighborhood doing five miles. I was keeping up a pretty good clip and pleased with how I was feeling. With 1 1/2 miles to go, I was overcome with gratitude for the upcoming Marathon and the opportunity to be part of it again, 20 years later. Tears flowed, and I was fully aware that I looked like the Awkward Crying Runner, but not really caring. I talked with God and told Him I was wondering how the story would end. Would I be faster than last time? How would things go? But I knew I needed to trust Him with it, and that the experience would unfold as it was supposed to.
With one mile to go, it hit me. I realized I’m not the same person I was when I started this journey several months ago. I am not a broken-hearted girl whose father died; I am a Marathoner with a father—and a Father—in Heaven. And maybe that’s what the journey was supposed to be. Maybe it hasn’t just been about running a few hours through the boroughs of New York City. Maybe it was about the glorious sunrises in the early morning hours of the summer. Or the mist that hung over the trail and stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away. Or the quiet time out on the deck, talking with God, listening to the birds, reading His word. Training for the Marathon has gotten me out of bed. It’s given me hope. It’s helped me heal.
At the expo the day before the Marathon, a woman pointed out that we were a part of history as it was the first time the NYC Marathon has been cancelled. I feel a deep sense of gratitude that in Central Park on Sunday, November 4, I had the opportunity to gather with runners from across the country and around the world who let the human spirit shine—the one that shows that you never give up, you never quit, you keep on going. Despite storms. Despite changes in plans. Despite cancellations. You keep on running.