You know most of the story by now, the Hyner challenge, the 13.1mi qualifier in central park amongst 10,000 women, the Hamptons Half marathon blazing race this September, and the final push, the 20 weeks of training, the build over the hot summer with four 18 mile runs, three 20 milers, and one twenty-three miler to Montauk Point. The End. Little did I know it almost was the end of my marathon year, that sunny dawn over the ocean last month. A three week taper to my virgin marathon, NYC 26.2, was working as planned. I felt slow, under exercised and antsy. Jen would remind me that this was how I was meant to feel, ready to bolt out of the stable. “The hay is in the barn” my old running coach reminded.
Then Hurricane Sandy hit. Sag Harbor was under water. My physical therapy office was out of electricity, internet, phones, the ocean beaches were thrown up hundreds of feet inland, boats sank. My cousins in Staten Island, NJ and NYC braved the ravages of the storm, my college room mate lost her Breezy point house. My heart was low all week, as the thought of running through the 5 boroughs was not realistic, rational, ethical, wise or fair. The training, the build up, the camaraderie was so strong, but the desire to race had faded.
There was speculation all day Friday that the race was going to happen but my bag was packed, and I was climbing on board the bus to the city. Then the final call came, as I was standing in the aisle on the Jitney, the driver giving me the hairy eyeball, as seconds before departure, I checked the screaming texts, twitter and facebook messages. The race was off. And so was I. I handed my bus ticket to the confused woman on the sidewalk, drove home, and uncorked a bottle of wine.
Rarely given to self-pity, I initiated a fundraising campaign for the recovery effort on Staten Island, scoured the web for another nearby marathon, and sank a couple of glasses of a very good Bordeaux. Harrisburg, PA would be the final port of call for these sneakers in 2012. A run to recover. Plan B.
This past Saturday, the Irish Brigade of Fiachra, Tom and myself headed to PA with their kids in tow. On a spectacular sunny race day, we crossed bridge after bridge over the Susquehanna river, through the trails of local parks, along the banks of the beautiful river and all around the welcoming town. The race directors had made special efforts to accommodate the 1500 extra runners displaced from the NYC marathon , and ensured not just t-shirts and medals for all participants, but more importantly, extra coffee and porta-potties. Signs throughout town welcomed NY runners. A home away from home..I ran my heart out, not paying (much) heed to my numb right foot, that from mile 14 was giving me some jip. “Steady as she goes” was the motto, watching the miles tick away, heeding my many experienced marathon friends as I held the reins back from going out too fast. While it wasn’t all perfect, the pace held more–or-less and I sprung (!) over the last bridge to the finish in 3:15:45. Delighted to score an AG win, I was more delighted to have completed the 26.2 and not blown the plan. One quick “athlete bath” later (i.e. baby wipes, jeans and a clean t-shirt) and I was on the road.
Next stop, my cousin Eileen’s house on Staten Island. I hadn’t seen her in years, and had never met her wonderful kids, my extended American family. Her parents, husband, sisters and their kids, dogs, and spouses all gabbed, yakked, and roared laughing as dinner sprung to life and drinks were poured. I had made it onto the fridge (#5), a badge of honour in my family.Five or six conversations went on simultaneously over the table, yelps of laughter, tears of remembrance as stories recounted loss and survival from 9.11.01 and now Hurricane Sandy. The Staten Island-Irish-American bagpipe playing-fireman-tight-family world. Great stuff on so many levels. If you come from it, you know what I mean.
After a huge feed, extra brownies (for the road) and warm hugs from all, I drove over the Verrazano bridge in the dark. I paused in traffic, looking up at the lights, imagining the non-start of the marathon, and was so glad that it hadn’t happened.
Instead of the weight of this event, I feel several different emotions. I have heartache for the survivors of this terrible flooding, the people displaced for the foreseeable future. But I drove east suffused with a warmth for my family, my American family, my cousins. They look like me, they sound like me, they laugh and talk over each other like me, they tear up as I do. In these times, we come closer, the tribe pulls together.. thanks to Sandy, the NYC non-marathon and Harrisburg.