Friday, December 24, 2010

Placenta. (or) Not Quite Finished.

Remember when you were in 6th grade and it was time for the dreaded sex education segment of science and you were made to watch that very graphic, very shocking PBS video from 1983 entitled "The Miracle of Life"? I do. Boy do I.

After the horror of watching the birth (I was 12, after all, and their scare tactics worked), I was completely perplexed and troubled to learn that the woman has to then birth the placenta, or afterbirth.

That just seemed overwhelmingly insulting. Like, really? I just pushed this baby out and now I have to birth this blobular mass to which I have no seeming connection? Really?

This is kind of how I felt about the mile and a half shuffle out of Central Park after crossing the finish line. I knew it was necessary and had to be done, but really? I'd just run 26.2 miles, for the love of Pete. And now I have to walk a mile and a half before seeing anyone I know? Really?

Crossing the finish line in and of itself was an interesting experience. After miles and miles of crowd hysteria, music, and high fives, the finish line was surprisingly austere, almost a let-down. Since there are so many people in such a tight space, no spectators were allowed at the finish, and the party stopped once you ran over the last timing mat. Then a volunteer gave you your medal, a photographer took your finisher's photo, another volunteer wrapped you in mylar, another one taped it shut, and another one handed you a bag of food with an apple, gatorade, pretzels, protein supplements, and water, all within the span of about three minutes. All very perfunctory. Then you just kept on walking. And walking. And walking.
Photo courtesy of brightroom, in case you can't tell
I like my finisher's photo above, though much like the photos from Brooklyn when the surprise of Shannon and Heather's arrival is settling in, I think I look a little nuts. And despite the enormous sense of accomplishment I felt for having just completed my first marathon, I was about one step away from a complete breakdown. The runners around me weren't really helping the situation: one girl was vomiting in a trashcan, another was absolutely coming unglued on the phone talking about how she couldn't feel her legs, how she couldn't walk, and others just gave up the fight all together and were laid out on the ground, tongues hanging haphazardly out of their mouths.

For those of you non-running readers, I realize I'm not really doing a top-notch job of selling the sport.

I mentioned earlier that when I crossed the finish line, I thought to myself this will be the last time I'll ever do this! Watching runners fall apart confirmed this notion, and after being so deep in my head for 4 hours I needed to talk to someone, anyone, to help me move forward, to get me to the bag pick-up so I could put on dry clothes and warm up. After several failed attempts at conversation with the apparent non-English speakers around me, I finally stumbled upon an Australian woman who was clearly in the same boat as me, which is to say freezing, tired, close to vomiting, and trying to stay up off the ground.

This lady, I love her. She's a mother of four, never wanted to run a marathon and I daresay never will again, but she did it just to do it and brought several friends along with her from down under for the ride. And you know that accent-everything she said sounded like the most upbeat, pleasant thing you've ever heard. I'm pretty sure she said "I am just miserable right now!" but because of that accent she may as well have said "I feel like a million dollars! I could run another 26.2 right now!"

She saved me from myself, this nice Australian lady, and when it came time to part at our respective UPS trucks where our bags were being stored, I felt somewhat rejuvenated. Once I got on my warm clothes I felt better, knowing that I was one step closer to being out of the park and reunited with my people. It was then that I took the picture below I've posted before, the photo where I just needed to look at myself to make sure I was still of this world. I was in an alternate universe, a kind of bizarro reality show that I'd decided to participate in months ago but had, by now, forgotten why.
Since it's taken me almost 2 months to write about this experience, I've obviously had some time to think about the various components of the marathon. I've concluded that although the long walk out of Central Park was fairly miserable, it also gave me time to collect myself, to make sure I didn't totally fall apart when I did finally get to see Jay, the kids, Tommy and Maddy, Heather and Shannon, and Mandy and Amber. If I had seen this crowd right when I crossed the finish line, I no doubt would have completely surrendered to the overwhelming emotions I was feeling and would have most likely cried. And cried. And cried some more. As it was, I was able to come down off the emotional ledge I was perched on so precariously and get it together, somewhat at least, before I saw them outside of the park.

I've read a lot of reviews of this marathon and nearly every one mentions this last portion of the race, the long walk out of Central Park. Many refer to it as the "Death March" and though macabre and darkly humorous and accurate, the connotation of this reference is so deeply disturbing and rooted in our cultural psyche that I decided to make a motion to change it.

Due to my limited readership and influence, I doubt you'll hear people refer to the long walk after the New York marathon as "Placenta" from here on out. It's a strange simile, I know, but having 3 kids in 4 years will naturally orient one's mind to childbirth. And much like having a baby, a marathon too is hopefully a moment of self-definition, a worthwhile, meaningful, difficult, emotional, joyful, painful, crazy, life-altering experience.

And, for the record, I'd do it again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Manhattan: Central Park

Crossing the Madison Avenue Bridge, the last bridge, was like a dream. It was happening, and I was vaguely aware of it, and I was watching myself do it, and I was there but I wasn't there, and I couldn't stop it, and there were stars everywhere, and it was twilighty and sunny and dark all at the same time. I do remember this bridge, however, primarily because it was registering as the final one I had to go up and over, and mile 21 was just on the other side.

The relativity of 5 miles after 21 miles is such a strange sensation. On the one hand, it's all "Big deal" and "Whateva! I just knocked out 21 miles, suckas!" and "After all this training I could run 5 miles backwards!" On the other hand, it's the trial of miles, it's 5 that feels like 50, it's still 5 miles. And it hurt.

I watched the Thunder Road marathon and half-marathon this past Saturday in Charlotte at mile 8. The first wave of runners that came through still looked fresh, strong. I stuck around for a while looking for a friend and a strange thing happened; the looks on people's faces all took on the same quality-bewilderment mingled with exhaustion mixed with a tiny bit of slack-jawed confusion. Or, me at mile 22. Please see below.
I've mentioned before that I rarely stop and walk, for fear I'll disappear. At mile 22, I stopped and walked. My quads seized up on me like never before, and I thought a good stretch would help work out the kinks. Problem was, when I tried to kick up my heel behind me into the palm of my hand, my hamstring revolted, leaving me frozen in a gnarled, awkward half-stretch.

No worries, I thought. I'll try the other leg. Predictably, the same thing happened.

At this point, I had no choice but to grit it out and keep running, to keep telling myself that I was going to love this last six miles, that I can handle a little discomfort. A few expletives may have crept their way into the Metaphorical Race Bag at this point too.

Despite the pain, running along Central Park East/5th Avenue really was lovely, and the energy that was moving me forward was tremendous, not only in terms of crowd support but from the legions of runners around me.
I knew my crowd was going to be at 95th and 5th and that Mandy and Amber were going to be a few blocks up from that on the opposite side of 5th Avenue, so I had a goal. The finish line, of course, was the ultimate goal, but at this point in the game I had to break it down into manageable increments, lest I got overwhelmed with the enormity of the proposition.
What makes this portion so brutal, aside from the obvious fact that you've just run 24 miles, is that you're running steadily uphill for a solid mile, as you can see above. Note the grimace on the man's face in front of me. I feel him. I really do.And what I love about the above photo is not the muffin top created by the aforementioned knee-length spandex, but rather the guy beside me, smiling. I love this. I hadn't noticed him until posting these photos. He looks like he is genuinely having a great time. Like Hey! This is fun! Or maybe he thought all the ladies in my crowd were cute, because they are. Or maybe he found Heather's decibel change charming rather than alarming. Who knows. At any rate, I like this guy. I wish I would have noticed him during the run. Or maybe I did. Maybe he talked to me. I really have no idea.
This guy apparently was a few paces in front of me and was a big hit with the kids, as was the fellow dressed as a hot dog. On the first bridge I passed a guy dressed as a big rhino in a homespun rhino costume. Whatever works, I suppose.

It was at 95th and 5th that Maddy so graciously jumped in to run with me and that I so ungraciously gave her the Heisman. I've thought a lot about that moment since then, wondering about the dichotomy of wanting so desperately to see my people but needing so vehemently to finish alone. I've concluded that at that point, I could only be accountable to myself. I didn't want to have to justify or explain to anyone that I needed to walk. I didn't want to throw up on someone I know. I didn't want to cry in front of someone who'd remember. A complete stranger, sure. But not someone I love.

So I kept going, solo, but surrounded. I saw Mandy and Amber shortly thereafter and at that point, I'd stopped to walk. I looked across 5th Avenue and saw two people that I've known for most of my life, and I threw up my hand, kissed it, and saluted them like I was P Diddy. Seriously. Where that came from I have no idea, but apparently seeing them made me feel famous, so I went for it.

After seeing them I turned into the park and the hills continued, winding through beautiful, crowded, tree-lined, twilighty miles 24 and 25. Then back out of the park and along Central Park South, then back into the park and through some really loud Bon Jovi which made me laugh, and then finally, jubilantly, the sign below came into view.
Jay took these photos on Saturday before the race while I was hanging out with my Tarheel girls. Please note Thomas and Cameron running UP towards the finish line.
I knew there were hills, and I knew the last 5 miles of the race in particular were hilly. But the last 400 yards up the hill to the finish line were unbelievable, enough to make you feel like you were moving backwards.

I was determined to run the last part, and I did. Though I was moving forward, I felt like I was river dancing, my legs all jaunty and wompy and sideways as I tried to avoid an onslaught of cramps and willed my legs to get me to the finish.

They did.

I made it.

I crossed the finish line in 4:08, threw my arms up in the air, and then shuffled forward, alone, stunned, triumphant, and solemnly ecstatic.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Weekend Update.

It was a big weekend for my running friends.

There are two milestones that are particularly noteworthy and thus receive top billing here:

First, AK, the aforementioned Ambassador, qualified for Boston this past weekend with a 3:44:52 at the Kiawah marathon. After months of dedicated training, she laid it down on Saturday and finished strong and steady. Congratulations, AK!

Second, Len ran his first marathon in Kiawah, finishing in 4:38:24. After also training for months, he successfully completed his first 26.2. Congratulations, Len!

I've been so choked up about these two and their accomplishments. Before Len even left for Kiawah I was all verklempt, getting teary when I thought about him running his first marathon, getting misty when I was sending him Rocky-like texts to get him psyched. And then when AK crossed the finish line, I had the good fortune to be on the phone with Heather as she cheered excitedly, watching AK run through the finisher's chute. Every time I think about her qualifying and reaching her goal so soundly, I start crying.

Also of note, Denise ran a solid half in Kiawah, coming in at 1:53:17, as did Scott, who set a PR of 1:24:47. And I got to see my old roommate Ashley buzz by at the Charlotte half on Saturday morning. If I weren't wearing clogs, jeans, and holding a child, I would have run with her for longer than the 10 feet I "sprinted" trying to keep up with her! And though I didn't see him, Billy M rocked a 1:45:35 half in Charlotte, which I'm pretty sure is a PR as well.

Not to get all "triumph of the human spirit" on you, but races and qualifying and first-time marathons and PR's are paramount to runners. Everything is relative and everyone is a winner here, and when you do something you set out to do, when you achieve a goal that you've worked so hard to achieve, it's a reminder to never quit, to keep putting yourself out there, to keep striving for excellence in whatever form that may take.

So congratulations on a great race weekend, runners, and thanks for the inspiration and motivation!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Metaphorical Race Bag.

Unless I'm doing speedwork, I don't typically run with music. I'm no purist, mind you, but instead am a complete spaz. And I'm lazy too, so I haven't put together any awesome playlists where one song flows to another and my heart rate mirrors the beat of the music, where the tempo gradually increases or decreases in the right places. I'll go from the Boss to Justin Timberlake to Ce Lo to the Beatles, which means I'm inspired, then in love, then laughing, then crying, all within the span of 15 minutes.

Although I'd assigned a few miles here and there for friends to "run" with me and even though I knew many of you were thinking about me, I also wanted to cover all my bases, so I knew that I had something to think about when I felt the crazy closing in on me.

I solicited advice from other marathoners about what they think about when the miles get long, what mantras they use, what songs they like, etc. Having just completed her first marathon, Madeleine suggested two items for my race bag.

This Buddhist chant was taught to Tommy and Madeleine when they were training for the Charleston Half-Ironman and were riding a stationary bike for 2 hours (huh?) by another nutjob also riding a stationary bike for 2 hours. I love the idea of this centering chant, and I tried to look up a quick quip to distill the essence of its meaning; no such luck. Rest assured it keeps you focused and centered.

That being said, I couldn't use it. My feeble mind couldn't memorize the unfamiliar words. That and I already had Baraka za Mungu kweli ni za, Ni za ajabu in my race bag, a Swahili spiritual that often comes into my mind when I'm running.

2. Invictus by William Ernest Henley
You may be familiar with this poem from the movie Dead Poets' Society. Or maybe because you're a Mandela fan and thus know that this poem sustained him throughout his prolonged prison sentence. It's a powerful one, to be sure-the last two lines in particular: " I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."

Without getting into a full-on theological debate here, I'll just say that this one threw me for a loop. I don't think I'm the only one driving my ship, so to speak; I've got help from God and a few saints and most definitely some guardian angels, so to say that I'm the master of my fate really had me going down the free will versus determinism road, which is all just a little too heady for a first marathon Metaphorical Race Bag. And though I admire the strong sentiment of this piece and how those last two lines are almost like beating yourself on your chest with your fists in rapid succession and giving everyone the bird, I couldn't put this in my bag either.

I say this not to diss Madeleine's suggestions, but merely to point out that everyone's race bag is going to be different, just like whether or not it works for you to run with music, or with a partner, or in the morning, or at night (or in a box with a fox). Obviously they sustained Maddy through her 26.2. And we know that running is 99% mental, so you've got to find what works to keep your sanity.

I also tell you this because it illuminates, at least in part, my complete and total obsession with all things marathon in the weeks before the race. If I had a conversation with you sometime within the vicinity of November 7th, chances are it went something like this:

Me: How did your grandmother's surgery go?
You: Great! She's doing well and is in recovery, and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
Me, upon hearing "Great", "well" and "recovery", thinking: I wonder if her grandma ever ran the New York marathon? Did she break 4 hours?

You get the idea. And you also know that I do genuinely care about your grandmother. I just had absolutely no focus. Unless it was about running, or getting ready for the trip, or the race bag, I just had trouble keeping it together.

Back to the race bag and its contents so you're not up all night reading this post:

1. The Rising by the Boss
Though I know almost all of the lyrics, what I primarily fall back on is the "La, la, la la la la, la la" after the chorus.

2. An email from my friend, Ben
The part that stuck with me said "Because you're Kelley Barnhardt. You like challenges. You're not scared of a little discomfort." And boy was there ever discomfort.

3. Badlands by the Boss
I know this one by heart too, but it's really the opening chords that get me. That and when he says "For those who have a notion, a notion deep inside/That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.

4. Peter Sagal's essay "The End" in the November 2010 Runner's World
This whole piece is awesome, but I memorized the final paragraph for the race bag: "What I have found is that the last six miles separate distance runners from those who are merely obsessive or have a high tolerance for boredom. They are the crucible from which come molten, freshly recast marathoners, and each one of those miles is a distinct trial to conquer, and reason to train, and reason to boast, and as such, in truth, I love them, because though you'll never know exactly why you do them, it's over those last six miles that you finally find out if you can." Boom.

5. Tommy's claim that I was going to love the last six miles. I held on to that assertion like it was the gospel truth, and hoped to all hopes that it was.

6. Baraka za Mungu kweli ni za, Ni za ajabu
I find myself going back to this song any time my mind is blank, so I knew it would be in the bag.

The great thing about a Metaphorical Race Bag is you can stuff it with as much or as little as you like; it all depends on how much you want to carry with you. It weighs nothing except what weight you give it, and it's really easy to store. You can throw it away any time you want or just keep it tucked in your metaphorical back pocket (no pockets on that knee-length spandex).

I called on a few of these items at mile 20 in particular, and again as I crossed that final bridge into Central Park.

Disclaimer: I realize this race bag would be more aptly named a Theoretical Race Bag, or perhaps a Hypothetical Race Bag, or even Imaginary Race Bag. But when Tommy and I were texting one day before the race, I mentioned that I was "tucking something into my Metaphorical Race Bag", so there it is. This bag is not a comparison to something else, but it is what it is-a group of "things" I carried with me through the race to help me through the tough miles. But in a temporary lapse of literary reason, I called it a metaphor, so there you have it. Metaphorical Race Bag.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bronx: Twilight.

Are you tired of this chronicle yet? It's mirroring the marathon itself in the time it's taking me to get it out there.

I just googled "Willis Avenue Bridge" to get a visual of the 4th bridge I went up and over, this time from Manhattan to the Bronx.

I don't remember it at all.

Or maybe I do? But only after seeing the picture. It's a little bit like your earliest memory-do you remember it because you remember the sounds, smells, and feelings surrounding it? Or do you remember it because you've seen a picture of yourself in it, heard about it, and have therefore created the memory?
For example, will they remember the sound of the xylophone, the kindness of the street performer, the smell of the air in Central Park? Or will they only be reminded, vaguely, when they see this picture years down the road?

That's kind of how I feel about the Bronx; I was there for less than a mile. I remember loud music, crossing the 20 mile marker, turning, turning again, seeing myself run on a huge screen scaffolded over the street, and being a part of a particular fluidity, an energy that seemed to be moving the crowd forward, regardless of pain, motive, or desire. The race was just happening to me at this point.

I tried to reach into my metaphorical race bag, but only fragments of thought were coming to the surface. I knew that just over the next bridge was the final 5 mile stretch to Manhattan, to Central Park, to a finish line that seemed both near and ridiculously, heinously far away.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Manhattan: Take One.

Mile 15 was bleak. Bleaker than bleak. As in in the bleak midwinter, a hard rain's gonna fall, mama said there'd be days like this, the woods are snowy, dark and deep, and I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.

Having studied the course somewhat obsessively beforehand, I knew that mile 15 was up and over the bottom part of the Queensboro Bridge, and was thus uphill, dark(ish) and quiet, without any crowd support.

Before the race, Tommy told me to expect to have several points during the run where I would find myself wondering why in the world I ever decided to do this. I have moments of doubt in the minute and 4o seconds it takes me to run a 400 during speedwork; it stands to reason I'd have them at several points during 26.2 miles. However, all the training, anticipation, fundraising, writing and tapering had me so excited I'd forgotten to consider the likelihood of dark moments.

I was deep in my head at mile 15; the strain from the uphill and the lack of crowd support left the reverberating sound of thousands of footsteps beating the pavement the only noise that made its way down the wormhole into my brain. I kept looking left per Scott B's advice, taking in the Manhattan skyline, reminding myself that I was on my way to 1st Avenue where a thunderous crowd was waiting for me. I put one foot in front of the other and made my way up the hill.

When I finally crested the bridge and headed down the other side, I started to listen for the crush of Manhattan. I listened and listened and listened. And I didn't hear anything.

Don't get me wrong-it was exciting coming onto 1st Avenue, for no other reason than I'd put that bridge behind me and was on borough #4. But further reflection on the lack of noise revealed one key point: I am not Ryan Hall, or Kara Goucher, or Shalane Flannigan. I am not in the lead pack and thus am not the first person that the crowd sees coming off the bridge, so I don't experience the roar of excitement and enthusiasm that the elites receive, and they're the ones who've written about this awesome experience. Alas.

Once I got a little further up 1st, the crowds really were overwhelming. Bands played, people partied, kids gave high fives. I knew, too, that I was going to see my crowd at mile 19. I'm grateful for these photos because truthfully, I don't really remember much about this mile, and these prove that I was actually there. Despite diligently searching for my peeps, I think I kind of checked out after mile 18.

It's strange; whenever I'm running, I rarely think about stopping, or quitting, or really even walking. It's more like I may just disappear, like running somehow keeps me connected to the ground, keeps me around. If it weren't for these photos, I may have thought I'd disappeared.
Aside: I gave up fanny packs back in '84, but had to carry my Gu in something. Thus I look like a complete tool. And let's not even go into the knee-length spandex-my sincere apologies. The shorts stopped working long ago.
I look happy though, don't I? I was so excited to see everyone and knew that it was only four short (hahahahahahaha) miles until I got to see them again.

Another aside: note the red bracelet on my right wrist. It's my One Good Thing bracelet, worn in memory of my dear friend Mandy's daughter Hudson, and in honor of Mandy, who you'll hear more about later. Today is Hudson's birthday, and Mandy's written about it here, beautifully, poignantly, painfully. Do one good thing today in honor of Hudson-you'll be glad you did.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Queens: Highway to Hell.

Yesterday morning Jay and I and the kids, Kathryn and her son James and Aunt Tiz all headed out to Barclay Downs to cheer for the runners in the Turkey Trot. We tried to register but were too late, much to Cameron's chagrin, so decided to have our own "Tot Trot" out to the race.

The runners in this Thanksgiving Day 8k were such a happy bunch and really seemed to appreciate our cheering; many people thanked us, many gave the kids high fives, and many yelled back at us. I love supporting folks during a race, and I specifically remember thinking somewhere around mile 14 in Queens how much I would love to be a spectator in the race that I was currently running. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves on the sidewalk, holding up signs, ringing cowbells, not running. This thought occured to me later as well on 1st Avenue, as bands lined the streets and people poured out of bars and restaurants.

Queens provided a nice, short 2 mile interlude between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and what kept me moving was looking for Brandon, an old friend from my days at Clemson who now lives in Queens. And whereas Brooklyn primarily followed a straight course up 4th Avenue, the course through Queens saw more turns, and though this offered a nice change mentally, it was starting to wear on the legs.

After thankfully seeing Brandon on Vernon, I moved more to the middle of the course to stay on the blue line; the race at this point, mile 14, was still crammed runner to runner, and I was still elbowing people as I passed them. I did this for what seemed like the hundredth time, said sorry-again-and heard someone say "Kelley!"

I had literally run into my neighbor, Carrie. Out of 45,000 other runners, what are the odds? She started explaining who I was to her running partner, and as much as I would have loved to have stayed and talked, I was in the middle of a fierce mind/body conflict. My mind was saying Stay focused. Relax. My body was saying WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING HERE? I gave her a thumbs up and moved on.

Shortly thereafter I saw a kid with a sign that read "You're almost there!" I think I yelled at him. Again...right on the edge.

The crowds in Queens, though exuberant, weren't quite as thick as elsewhere, and for this reason the flavor of this burrough was more evident, much like the miles in Brooklyn that went through neighborhoods. The Hassidic Jews here acted as if nothing was happening, as though it were any other day, and the sweaty mass of humanity rolling through their streets was completely normal. Two men tried to cross the street with difficulty right in front of me, nearly getting crushed. Others stood quietly on the sidewalk, chatting with each other, watching idly.

I envied them and their nonchalance as I turned onto Queens Boulevard, crossed over mile 15, and saw the Queensboro Bridge looming in the very, very near future.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Brooklyn:Vision Quest.

Miles 2-13 go through Brooklyn, and until mile 8 where we all merge together, runners are still separated on either side of 4th Avenue. Coming into Brooklyn marked the beginning of the throngs of spectators, and though they were scattered at first, I was touched by the folks standing out in their yards with cowbells and signs saying "Brooklyn welcomes you!"

I've mentioned the beginning of runs before, when you're still working out the kinks, figuring out how you feel, getting accustomed to the weather, regulating your breath, adjusting to the idea that you're going to be running for a long time-and today was no different. Despite months and months of training and knowing that you're physically ready, the mind games start as early as the start line, though for me they started in Brooklyn for no apparent reason, really, except for the fact that this experience, as awe-inspiring and noteworthy as it was, was totally and completely overwhelming physically, mentally, and emotionally. I found myself thinking about mile 26 waaaay to early, and worked hard to reign it in, to enjoy myself, to take in the experience.

A week or so before the race my friend Heather had suggested that she "run" a portion of the race with me, that we find a part of the race where she would be with me since she couldn't actually be there. She considered 5th Avenue, but when she realized that was miles 22-25 and hilly, she thought twice. After some course consideration we ultimately decided on miles 5-8 in Brooklyn because the crowds here are awesome, it's relatively flat, everyone's still fresh, and at this point you're still thinking it was a good idea to run a marathon.

I mentally picked up Heather at mile 5. If this sounds a little crazy, let me say this; one thing I realized while running this race amidst 45,000 other runners and upwards of 2 million spectators is how completely isolated I felt, how totally alone some of those miles became. It was literally body to body the whole time, but somewhere around mile 10 of this Brooklyn stretch I realized that, ironically, nobody but me was running this race, that only I could finish it. Knowing that certain friends were thinking of me during certain miles-I'd assigned a few other portions too-was reassuring. I also knew that Jay, the kids, Jimmy and Dottie, and Tommy and Madeleine were at mile 8, and that kept me going. Dan and Krydo were around mile 8 as well, but on the opposite side of 4th, which was nearly impossible to cross with so many runners, unfortunately.

I kept seeing things Heather would find funny during this portion of the run--one spectator, for example, held up a sign that said "To me, you are all Kenyans!" I passed a Dunkin Donuts, which I know she loves. I passed another spectator with a sign that said "You're cute! Call me!"

Around mile 7 I started to stick to the left side of the street, knowing that's where my crowd was going to be. In this race, you have to know exactly where to look for people; otherwise there's no way you'll see them. I also realized I'd be dropping Heather off mentally and picking up Katie, who would run with me through mile 13.

As I approached mile 8, I kept looking left and I'll be darned if I didn't see Heather standing there on the sidewalk. I thought well, that's a mirage, there she is where I'm going to leave her.
Running long distances puts me just this side of crazy, and when you're out on the road for a while the insanity is always there, lurking around the edges, hovering nearby, not unlike the cloudy edges of an old black and white photograph threatening to take over the image.

Let's just say the crazy took over for a moment.

You can see me realizing I'm not totally nuts below, as the complete and total shock of actually seeing not only Heather- but Shannon too- started to sink in.
I do look a titch insane here, and it's clear I'm not really processing the enormity of this surprise. After Tommy and Madeleine, and Ashley (who may have tipped me off by posting "NYC!" as her facebook status update), and now these two showed up in New York, I started to think post mile 8 that whoah, this thing must be A Really Big Deal. Either that or folks just wanted to come to New York, which is probably the case too.
Seeing Heather and Shannon and the rest of my fan club, pictured above, sustained me through the remainder of Brooklyn. The miles afterwards saw a lovely tree-lined neighborhood chockablock full of brownstones and spectators. After that, truth be told, I don't really remember much except the aforementioned realization of loneliness. I'd stopped looking at my watch at this point, and just kept repeating Reign it in. Stay controlled. Reign it in. Stay controlled. I just kept running, and running, and thinking Am I still in Brooklyn? Really? Am I going to be running for the rest of my life?

I wasn't sure I'd ever make it to Queens.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Staten Island.

Getting 45,000 runners to the start line is no easy feat, which is why I boarded a bus with TNT Virtual and the New York chapter at 6 am sharp, despite my start time of 10:10. The Verrazano-Narrows bridge closes promptly at 7 am, and runners board buses as early as 5 am in order to get there on time.

At one point during the bus ride, I realized that our trip was taking longer than the driver's projected 30 minutes. When we did a wiiiiide U-turn at a stoplight somewhere in New Jersey, I felt the first flickers of panic creeping in, thinking that I'd spent 5 months of my life preparing for this moment only to have it ruined because some guy couldn't find his way-with 500 other buses, mind you-to Staten Island. Apparently I wasn't alone.

Two girls dressed identically in all black with long pigtails and black bandannas on were sitting close to the front. These 2 New Yorkers looked at each other, a look of disgust mingled with incredulity on their faces when one of them stood up and said, "Um, do you need us to like, Mapquest it or something?"

We finally made it there around 7, got off the bus, and started walking towards Fort Wadsworth where we'd spend the next 3 hours waiting. I spent some time in Charity Village in the Team in Training tent, trying to stay out of the wind and the chilly 38 degree weather.

After checking my bag at the UPS truck at 8:45 in my assigned start village, I sat some more on the orange hunting chair I'd brought with me. Then I walked to my corral around 9:15 and sat around some more. All of this sitting around was not in the least bit relaxing; I watched people sprinting to get their bags checked before the cut-off time. I watched people sprinting to their corrals before they closed. I watched people dart out of one of the 1500 port-a-potties and sprint to the start, hoping not to miss their assigned wave.

I tried to choke down the bagel and peanut butter and banana I'd brought with me, coupled with the Gatorade and CarboPro. I could hear a band playing in the distance and was vaguely aware that there were people enjoying themselves somewhere, and as much as I was trying to do the same, the waiting game was starting to wear on me.

When I finally got through the partition and into my corral, I was sandwiched elbow to elbow with the other runners as we slowly, slowly, slowly herded towards the bridge. As we crept forward, I heard the cannon blast and the start of Sinatra's "New York, New York", signaling the beginning of Wave 2 of the three waves of runners. I wanted to cry, scream, and throw up all at once, but considering there were so many people touching me, that seemed ill-advised.

I crossed the start line about 5 minutes later, just as Ryan Adams' "New York, New York" was playing, and began the mile ascent up the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, looking out over the water at the harbor ships and up in the air at the helicopters.
The New York marathon is a point to point, meaning that we start in Staten Island, head through the other four boroughs, and end in Manhattan's Central Park. Mile one was up the bridge, mile two was down and out of Staten Island and into Brooklyn, where the majority of the race is run.
I-and 45,000 people-were ready to get this party started and get on into Brooklyn. You gotta get up to get down, after all.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Why: Tarheels.

After the expo, I had planned to meet some girlfriends from college for lunch on the Upper West Side near the Museum of Natural History, where Jay was taking the kids. Not that I was trying to win the darn race or anything, but we thought it might be best for me to rest my legs rather than walk around all afternoon. If dining with a group of the smartest, funniest ladies around and (watching them) drink wine was what I absolutely had to do, then so be it. I could live with that. Laura picked Isabella's, which was the perfect place to catch up with four of my beloved UNC girls.

Laura's lived in New York for the past 12 years and knows the city like the local she's become, and the success of both this weekend and Jay's marathon weekend I owe largely in part to her. She guided my family and me in 2008 and Jay and his small traveling carnival successfully to Brooklyn to mile 8 and back to the other marathon viewing points this year. And though I haven't written about it, it's listed in the sidebar of this blog that I'm running for Davis Taylor and also in memory of Mary Claire, Laura's younger sister.

I never knew MC; we didn't overlap at UNC. But I know Laura and her family, and they are remarkable people. When they lost MC suddenly to leukemia in 2008, the way they reflected on her life with such joy and gratitude spoke volumes about the way they live their lives, about what they value. While hundreds of people sat heart-broken and searching for peace in the sanctuary, these three siblings courageously stood in front of all of us, each in turn and in birth order, rejoicing in the spirit of their youngest sister. And anyone who knows this smart, successful, kind family will know that talking-and talking fast- is certainly counted as one of their many gifts. Even as their hearts were irrevocably broken, they showered us with words of love and reminded us of the joy to be found in the celebration of MC's life.

Soon after they started The Mary Claire Satterly Foundation, which "would provide support for charitable organizations and individuals with a focus on finding a cure for leukemia and improving the quality of life for patients and their families. The Foundation would promote Mary Claire's passion for the arts and scholarship in the field of journalism and advertising. And, most important, the Foundation would continue to share Mary Claire's story, her zest for life, her love for others, and her innate goodness."

The third annual gala and silent auction in New York is coming up this weekend and I'm disappointed I can't be there. I know it's an incredible event where not only does MC's spirit shine, but so does the motto of the foundation-"Spirited living, inspired giving."

MC was a Tarheel both by birth and by right of attending UNC, and though I didn't know her, we share the bond of both being members of this fine community. When I looked around the table at Molly, Sandra, Laura, and Ashley, I felt grateful for them, for my time there, for lasting friendships forged out of four intense years that went by too quickly, much like MC's 27 years.

I ran to honor her, her family, her friends, and my friend, her sister, Laura.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Several of you have asked recently, so there it is--I didn't mean to withhold important information! My finishing time, 8 minutes off my goal of 4 hours, which I never revealed here because quite frankly it's not important.

I realized this truth first at mile six when I had TWENTY MORE MILES to go and it became clear that it was crazy to try to reach this goal when I'd never run a marathon before, much less one with 45,000 other people in New York city.

I realized it again at mile 24 when I saw one of the 4 hour pace groups pass by. I've told several people that the Kelley Barnhardt I know would have chased that guy down without thought or question. But she was nowhere to be found, lost somewhere in the twilight zone.
I was still kind of in the twilight zone when I took this self-portrait during the long shuffle out of Central Park. If my face looks pixelated and grainy that's not only because I took the photo with my phone, but primarily because I'm covered in salt. I was hanging on by a thread at this point, but I can't tell you why because that's for a later post.

So 4:08 it is. A long time to be running, no doubt. Hopefully the next one will be quicker.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Expo(nentially larger than any other expo).

In 2008 when Jay ran the New York marathon, we arrived in the city on Saturday, 5 hours later than expected. Our original flight had been canceled and the airline called and left a message on our home phone while we were in the hospital having Patrick. I'm pretty sure at some point I heard and disregarded this important detail, as all other things paled in comparison to the overwhelming fatigue and surprise I was feeling at the fact that I now had three children under the age of four.

In arriving late, we knew we had to get to the expo at the Javits Center before it closed, or there would be no marathon for Jay. The New York Road Runners are very specific about this detail; if you don't pick up your packet by five on Saturday, no marathon for you.

Let me take a moment and commend my husband here. He was calm, collected, and contained all day, as we waited for a connecting flight to Atlanta(we originally had a direct flight), then waited more for a flight to New York that arrived at 3:30. At no point did he blame me for dismissing the phone call. At no point did he throw a hissy fit. At no point did he break down in complete panic at the fact that we were going to literally be getting there at the last possible moment.

I wish I were more like him. Seriously. I would have done all of these things.

Long story longer, we got there at 4:30 as they were breaking down the expo, in just enough time for Jay to retrieve his packet. He got what he needed and got out of there, just as the whole place was coming down.

This time, we were both looking forward to spending some time at the expo, and so headed over after my TNT run.

The expo is just like any other pre-race packet pickup, except that the Javits Center takes up 5 city blocks, there are 45,000 runners picking up race bags, Ryan Hall, Bart Yasso, Deena Kastor, Matt Long, and Joan Benoit Samuelson are there, among other running celebrities, and nearly every running vendor and/or energy bar/drink and/or technical gear and/or charity team has a booth there.

Like everything else relative to New York and
its marathon (minus the bathrooms and our hotel room), it's epic in scope.

Epic, too, was the surprise I felt when these two materialized out of the crowd at the expo.
There had been a noticeable dearth of texts from Tommy the week prior to the race, and I chalked it up to him having a busy week at work. The night before the expo at dinner, however, Jay was tap tap tapping away on his phone, breaking one of our family rules of no talking on the phone or texting during dinner. I informed him that Tommy could wait until after our meal(and why isn't he texting me, the one who's running??) thank you very much, and you're setting a bad example for the kids, blah blah blah.

Alas. Plans had to be made, schedules coordinated.

After recovering from the shock of seeing Tommy and Madeleine, I headed in to pick up my race number.
Sidenote: If I'd known I was going to be so heavily photographed today, I wouldn't have worn a horizontally striped sweater.
At the Asics booth, they asked us to list why we were running the marathon and then filmed us holding our sign, running back and forth in front of the camera. Later they aired it in Times Square, pictured below. For the record, I did not "beat this guy." So of course I'll run another marathon.
My two best fans, sticking to their word.

Stay tuned for more pre-race coverage.