At 10:40 a.m. EST on Sunday, November 1st, she crosses the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, excited, eager and relaxed, her sister by her side, as they join close to 50,000 runners for the New York City Marathon. They are overjoyed to be on his journey together. They have trained together, planned together, traveled together. They’re doing this together. A light, comfortable breeze greets them on the bridge. It is a bit surreal—after months of envisioning and talking about— it’s finally here. They feel ready for what the day has in store.
As they head into Brooklyn, people line the streets clapping, cheering, waving, holding signs. It’s a sight to behold. The crowd gives off an exuberant energy. The enthusiasm is contagious—runners feed off the upbeat, positive vibe. Spectators see her sister’s Every Mother Counts singlet and respond, their personalities coming across with their changing inflections: “Every mom DOES count, Every Mother COUNTS, Go Moms!!!” The bystanders also provide comic relief by turning her tank top expression into a cheer, which —covered by the race bib— simply reads “She Will” (Endure All Things), happily shouting “Go She Will!” and “She Will…and She Does!”
Up and down the sidewalks, the mood is celebratory, party-like. Music blares from speakers, everything from Stayin’ Alive to Pour Some Sugar on Me to Another One Bites the Dust (which they feel is a questionable choice). Numerous bands rock out. A mini Donald Trump punching bag dangles in front of passersby. People dole out Halloween candy, oranges, pretzels. Kids stand with hands reaching out, ready to high-five anyone. Soaking in the festivities and the camaraderie, she and her sister do what they’ve come to do: run. As they take in their surroundings, they marvel at the people gathered to cheer. The feeling is almost blissful, like a wedding day you don’t want to come to an end. Mile by mile, crowds applaud strangers. It is said that one million spectators come out for this event. One MILLION.
At about mile 14 or 15 she feels something in her legs. A tightness, cramping. “What is this?” she wonders – it’s a discomfort she hasn’t felt before on a run. She keeps going. She guzzles Gatorade and tears into salt packets. It continues. Bible verses make their way into her head, almost random at first. She pieces them together, stringing the words together over and over, changing the pronouns. Focusing. Repeating. A mantra. A giant run-on sentence. A prayer. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…She Will run and not grow weary, She Will walk and not be faint.” Her quads continue to seize up. At about 18, she accepts “This is not going away.” Her legs feel awkward, unfamiliar, clunky, contorted. They’re not the legs that have carried her on miles of training runs. They have become like angry rebels, to be fought, conquered. She wonders for a moment if she’ll have to visit the Medical tent for the first time on the streets of New York City. She walks a few steps to gather her thoughts. Tears threaten, but only for a moment. They’re not welcome here. Tight hamstrings, sore glutes, lower back pain, funky big toe soreness, she would have expected any of the things she’d encountered while training. Not this. This is not how I was expecting my legs to feel. But she continues. She makes her legs run.
She spots a woman standing on a street corner holding a poster board sign. She makes a beeline for her, abandoning all running etiquette as she darts across the street, cutting in front of other runners to this woman. The woman’s sign, held high, reads, “He will run and not grow weary…” She grabs hold of the woman’s hand and squeezes it. She looks in the woman’s eyes and with all the gratitude she can muster says: “Thank you.” “God bless,” the woman answers.
And so she runs, a new resolve, increased power, an answered prayer. Off to find her Pennsylvanian Steelers fan cousin—who she has not seen for twelve years—holding a 12th Man flag somewhere along the street.
She and her sister are a few blocks from where they’ll turn into Central Park to finish. She looks up at the tall buildings, some of the statuesque ones that define the city. With blue sky as the backdrop, the late-afternoon sun glistens, bathing the buildings in a golden light. It suddenly hits her, like a bolt, all the emotion of the experience. The magnitude of it overwhelms her. She is in NEW YORK. She is running the Marathon. No hurricane. No cancellation. No Medical tent. She is here, running the New York City Marathon, with her sister.
With her sister.
With her mom and aunt waiting for them in the Grandstands. Tears come, and this time, they are welcome. They’re ones of joy and gratitude. Her sister sees the emotion, and they grasp each other’s hands.
Almost to the Finish Line.
Ready to finish it.
A few hours later she steps out of the elevator back at the hotel and rounds the corner to their room. As her family sits in the lobby with other hotel guests —ones who have roared and hollered when she and her sister returned from the race in their blue ponchos—she’s in awe at how it’s all come to be.
She feels deep gratitude for what the entire experience has held. A city that has welcomed, opened its arms and offered well wishes—everyone from the security guards at Jimmy Fallon to the sales associates in the stores to passengers on the subway and walkers on the streets to NYPD officers along the course. Strangers have become friends, newfound ones who will forever hold a special place in her memories of this trip: the Australian runners on the train ride, the trainer and his candy-eating girlfriend who talked last-minute details the night before, the Halloween partiers with their boisterous, good-natured laughter.
There’s also her family and friends: her cousin who drove from Pennsylvania with his daughter; the friends at home and beyond who have tracked them, sent text messages, commented on Facebook, and been so present across the miles; her husband who has stayed home with her boys this weekend —and for countless long runs — to make all this possible; her mother-in-law who will care for her boys as they return to school; her mom and aunt at the Finish Line.
All the people who’ve taken this dream and embraced it, who’ve shared in the excitement. All the strangers who looked her in the eye as she ran by, giving her strength, saying things like, “You can do it, looking strong, you’ve got this.” Who believed that for her. Who not only cheered for their friends and family, but her, too.
Again, she is overcome; emotion washes over her. It’s almost a physical reaction, the warmth she feels in her spirit. It’s complete and sheer joy. In that moment, she cannot seem to recall a time when she’s felt so grateful, so honored, so humbled, so utterly steeped in love — so small in its bigness. “That’s grace,” says a whisper in her ear.
And with that, she hurries to the room so she can get back to the celebration—including a Seahawks victory— downstairs.
She expects that it will be her last run through the five boroughs. That it will have the feel of a “Farewell Tour,” a saying goodbye to the New York City Marathon, a thanks for all the memories. Having run it in 1992 with college friends, to running in Central Park after the 2012 cancellation and finally, finishing it in 2015 with her sister.
But it doesn’t.
It doesn’t bring the closure she’d imagined. It doesn’t feel like goodbye. In fact, she feels spurred on. You see, she and her sister had a time goal. Maybe a loose one. But a goal nonetheless. The leg cramps messed with that. “I’m not sure I can live with that time,” she admits the day after the marathon.
Maybe one more shot at it, she thinks.
Maybe just one more.
New York City, and the Marathon, thank you for all the memories.
Perhaps She Will see you again.