26.2 A SERIES
Everyone has dreams. Since I was about 16 years old, one of mine has been to run a marathon. When I cross the finish line in NYC on November 5th, I’ll likely do so with a recorded time of between 4 and 5 hours. In reality though, it will have taken me much longer to get there. There are things inside and outside of us that bring us closer to our dreams. There are also things that delay us, that push us so far away from our goals they are sometimes out of sight. If we are lucky, little by little, we are often able to transform those stumbling blocks into building blocks–they become the foundation for our strength, resilience, and ultimate determination. This series aims to uncover my long journey. Each week, I’ll share the people, places, and things that have brought me to the place I am at today, and that I hope will carry me from the starting line in Staten Island, to the finish line in Central Park. Mile by mile–this, is my 26.2.
Miles 25 & 26-To My Life’s Partner, My Favorite Runner of All Time
About five years ago, on a Saturday in late summer, I stretched out my legs and sprang up off the sofa. I was feeling antsy, the lazy weekend of Netflix and noshing we had planned was not working for me. I had to get up and move my body, especially if I was going to eat the way I wanted to for the rest of that day. As I gallivanted around the apartment throwing on my sports bra and a pair of shorts, a brilliant idea came to me. I poked my head around the corner and smiled mischievously at my then boyfriend (now hubs). “Why don’t you come with me?!” I walked towards him, prepared for some resistance. At that point we had been together a little over a year, I had moved in with him just a few months before. He was not quite as active as I was, he was still struggling to find an exercise he really liked. There was one thing he was certain about though, running was not it.
Eventually I got him out the door by promising we wouldn’t go more than 2 miles. We’d run slow, and we ‘d walk whenever he wanted to. He really had only tried running on a treadmill before and had never experienced the freedom of getting out on the road. A bit less than forty minutes later we returned to our apartment after a glorious 2 1/2 miles where we chatted and laughed and took in the sights of the park. My guy was beaming. His pale skin glistened in a glow of earned perspiration. That was it. He had gotten the high. He was a runner.
All of the sudden, instead of sleeping in until I got home from my jog on Saturday mornings, he was up and at em’ with me. I couldn’t believe how quickly he took to the routine. Admittedly in the beginning, a side of me I don’t love creeped out; I’d get annoyed running with him. He ran so slow, I felt like I might be getting less of a workout plodding along at his pace. But then something quite humbling began to happen. Every couple of weeks, we’d go a little bit further than we did before. Sometimes we’d add a whole mile, sometimes just a half–but always, a bit more. It wasn’t long before we were staring down the longest distance I had ever run on my own–7 miles. We took it very slowly, and when it ended, I remember feeling like the whole world had just opened up to me. I was exhausted, but I knew I could run further. I’d never felt that way before–I’d never believed I could do more. Up until that point, I had dreamt of running a marathon for years but had come to the firm conclusion that my body had limits and was just not made for long distances. It wasn’t until I was “forced” to slow down with my novice running partner, that I realized I could put together the strength and endurance to go further. Although I had been the one running for years, I began feeling like the beginner on those Saturday mornings; there was still so much to learn.
Pretty quickly after we discovered our love for hitting the pavement as a couple, we set our sights on a pretty lofty goal–a half marathon in Central Park. I think the race was 6-7 weeks after we signed up. We didn’t have a training plan, we just did a couple of short runs during the week and then tried to up our long run on the weekend as much as we could. I think we got to 10 miles on our last try before the race. I struggled to keep it together while they played the national anthem before that first half marathon. I had never felt so close to my dream. I finished in 2:21:55. My guy finished a few seconds later, graciously accepting at the time that he had a partner that could not turn off her competitive drive and would rather sprint ahead to the finish than cross the line together, hand in hand. (I’ll be honest, I can’t say this has changed: below, me pushing to cross the finish line before him in a 5k)
After a couple of years of running half marathons and shorter distances, it was my hubs who decided he was finally ready to try for the big kahuna. I was still unsure, but I was able to borrow enough courage from him to sign up for the nine races and one volunteer gig in 2015, that we would need to gain automatic entry to the 2016 marathon. It was during the third qualifying race that I knew something was wrong with my knees. I’d find out later that it was tendinitis. It would keep me from running for four agonizing months, and from long distances for over a year. 2016 was out of reach for me, but my hubs kept on.
I spent the rest of 2015 figuring out what type of partner I wanted to be to my husband. I felt ashamed of a lot of the feelings I was having and it took some time to work through them. After all, running a marathon was MY dream. He hated running when I first met him. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to share the glory of my first marathon with him–now he was set to have it all without me, and before me? At first selfish glance I thought no, it’s not supposed to happen this way–it cannot happen this way. I was sick with envy and I was angry with the Universe–nothing was how I imagined it would be. I hated how I felt. I had had these types of jealous feelings about girls I went to high school with and even random strangers on Instagram. These bouts were nauseating enough. But now that the resentment inside of me was pointed at the person I loved most in the world, I could barely live with myself. I knew I had to turn things around. I began to ask the Universe to relieve me of these toxic feelings and I began to focus on how I could help my hubs get across that finish line. We don’t hide things from each other and all this was no exception. Being the patient and understanding man that he is, he did not chide me for the feelings I was having. I could sense his relief when he could see that I had landed at a place where I could support and be happy for him.
Before my own journey this year, I think watching my husband go through training was one of the biggest growth experiences of my life. I was constantly in awe of him. As his work ethic grew, so did mine. He works at 7am everyday so training in the morning was next to impossible. This meant that he did all of his weekday mileage after a full day at his job. This is something I could never do and I have mad respect for anyone that can. I’ve got to get those miles in first thing in the morning–there are just too many good excuses that come up for me by the end of the day.
It’s funny to think now how I thought the Universe was getting it all wrong. The truth is, everything has happened in the right time, and in the right way, all without my stranglehold. I watched in disbelief as my husband hit each and every milestone. I cooked his meals and packed his lunches– I was always concerned about him getting enough of the right food. I sat with him and listened as he’d come home and report what running 14 miles was like–and then 16, and then 18. When he texted me his insanely handsome and sweaty face after he finished 20 miles, I wept. I was so inspired by how far he had come. I was so proud.
When I met my husband, he was working as a doorman and had a small number of college courses under his belt. Next year, he will earn his Masters in Labor Studies and is already taking the New York City Labor movement by storm. He is a real champion of unions and a passionate organizer who believes in preserving and broadening the rights of workers. Witnessing his discovery of who and what he wants to be has been one of the great thrills of my life. I think part of the secret to his success is that he knows how often people have underestimated him. I’ve watched him step forward, struggle, and get bumped back, only to then put his head down and push forward again. I see this now with his work and education. I saw it a few years ago when we lost his Mom. And I witnessed it yet again last year as he took on 26.2 miles.
I’ll never forget November 6, 2016. That morning he grabbed the silly pair of beachy sunglasses we got from a friend’s wedding and tossed them on before he left for the race. He had never run with sunglasses before, but he told me he needed something to remind him to have fun. He wanted to take in each moment and not take himself so seriously. He was still wearing them along with a smile from ear to ear when we saw him at mile 8.
As my husband made his way through all five boroughs of our city that day, any remnants of jealousy were long gone. I had wanted to be with him so badly, but as I saw him on the course and tracked him through the app, I realized, I was. I could feel when he was feeling like a million bucks–I watched the dot move steadily across the map. I knew when he was struggling as well. At mile 19 I stared at the slowing circle, held my phone close to me, and whispered, “Come on baby, push through, push through, you got this, I know you got this.”
I think it’s fair to say that watching my hubs cross the finish line is the greatest moment of pride and joy that I have ever experienced. I’d never seen him look so free. He was no longer carrying everyone who had ever doubted him or put him down–he had left them behind, lightening his load, mile by mile. As he pumped his fists and raised his arms as he floated across the finish line, I suddenly felt like I could believe in everything. I believed in our dreams. I believed in him. I believed in me. I believed in us.
If you know me at all, you knew that Miles 25 and 26 could only go to one person. For the past six years he has gently pushed me to every starting line, pulled me through every finish line, and carried me every mile in between that I couldn’t run myself. Thank you my love, for all of our sweet life together so far, but especially for the past 4 months, where you have carried my load along with your own. Thank you for doing the wash, and cleaning the bathroom, and smiling as we ordered takeout a gazillion times so I didn’t have to cook. But most of all, thank you for not giving up on your dream. Cause in doing so, you kept mine alive as well.
Sinatra said it. We believe it. The Best is Yet to Come.
Mikey. I love you.
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