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.
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.