" Some have figuratively said it is like you are going off to fight a war…your own war against yourself and Mother Nature"
November , 2002
It is the eve of the marathon; I am cold, having waited an hour and a half in Central Park, in zero temperatures for the pasta dinner. I consumed it in no time flat so I would be able to get back to the hotel, and sleep. They say you can’t sleep before a marathon. I will. But not before I cry. What am I doing in New York City, I really do not need to run a marathon.
For the first time that I can remember, I do not want to do this. I am scared stiff of accomplishing my goal of running my first marathon. I am numb. I share my fears with my husband, which he is able to assuage, one by one. I fall asleep to the sound of the city that never sleeps without difficulty.
The wretched clock announces 5:45 AM. Time to rise, get dressed and catch the bus that will take me to Staten Island. It is zero Celsius and sunny. I layer my body with clothing I will undoubtedly discard before the race. I attach my number and I am ready. I am an official participant now.
The race will not start until sometime after 11AM. There are rows upon rows of buses, all waiting to take us to the Start line.
If someone had said to me, “Linda, one day, you will run the New York City Marathon”, I would said they had a simple case of mistaken identity. I can’t run around the block. I had the opportunity to visit twice and had turned 40 in this city, but run a marathon? That’s nuts.
Three years ago, I decided to get on a treadmill, 10 weeks later, on Mother’s Day, with the help of a 5K Learn to Run Clinic at the Running Room, I ran my first race. For some reason, still not quite clear to me, I just never stopped running. I still took running clinics, as I was a true neophyte, wanting to do things right, keep things injury free, and have fun!
In the fall of 2001, I ran my first 21K race and a month later, I had the privilege of running with John Stanton, the founder of the Running Room Stores. Inadvertently, he planted a seed, and I knew then that I would run the New York City Marathon the following year.
My daughter, months shy of her 7th birthday asked me what I was going to be when I grow up. She had decided at the tender age of four not only what career path she would endeavor, but whom she would marry. I never knew these things at her age. I looked at her and told her I really wanted to try and see if I could run a marathon. It was a very long distance, it would be very difficult, but if I was successful, I would know then, that I could do anything in life. She seemed to think it was a great idea.
Fast-forward to my training period, July 2nd, 2002. It is 30 degrees Celsius but this does not deter someone as committed as I, to becoming a marathon runner. My trainer, made me believe I would cross the finish line and I was all ears. Whatever he said, I would do. “Your bodies are Porsches” he would say, "so be careful what you put into them". I listened and listened some more.
Four months later, I kiss my husband good-bye, and get on the bus. This is my moment now, to go off and do the unbelievable, to accomplish the incredible feat of running a marathon. Some have figuratively said it is like you are going off to fight a war…your own war against yourself and Mother Nature. I am off to be a warrior. I am alone, yet surrounded by people who will do that which is done by only a small percentage of people. I am one of that small percentage.
On the bus, I decide to sit next to a woman who is pinning her name on her shirt. “Hi Melissa” I say to her. Melissa tells me that she is from Ottawa and that this is her first marathon. Later, we both learn that we live less than a mile from each other. We do indeed live on a small planet, even when in New York City.
It is now 7AM and we walk to stay warm, sometimes huddle in tents, surrounded by people from over 100 countries and from every American state. Time goes by very slowly, but I am meeting people who share interesting stories. People who have done marathons before and have dreamt of running New York for years. People who have done much less training than I have, who are hoping to wing it. People who are costumed and run to celebrate life, and accomplish goals in a way that only running a marathon can. People of elite, under three-hour marathon stature; and then the rest of us.
The rest of us comprise of everyday people, looking to do an incredible thing. Like the 92-year-old man and the 85-year-old woman. Like Melissa, who’s longest distance was 13 miles, but she had no choice in the matter, after telling me her long list of injuries; she shows me her blood stained running shoes. Cross training was her best friend; she was not going to let any of these issues stop her from crossing that finish line. And she did.
I had been told that the crowd support is unbelievable. With the exception of the bridges, they are
with you the whole way, sometimes 5 rows deep. It is awesome!
We start from Staten Island, cross over the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn, thru Queens, cross to Manhattan, and then cross over to the Bronx where some might meet that fabled wall, then back to Manhattan to end in Central Park.
Not only do the crowds cheer you on but they feed you, they hand you Kleenex, they tell you to keep running when you don’t want to and they high five you all the way to the end. They will move heaven & earth to get you thru this marathon. New Yorkers are like this. Anything is possible in New York. This mentality flows through their blood and you can’t help but feel it.
When I reached the halfway point I was disappointed by my time and also with the fact that I had not been able to see my husband yet. But heck, I am in New York City, "just enjoy this" I said to myself, and again, the positive energy flowed.
In my head, I could hear my father telling me to relax; I was going to cross that finish. He is with me, as always, understanding that this too, is my destiny.
By the 17th mile I became anxious about the fact that I was too tired. I needed to shut the crowd out; I needed to pretend that I was back in Ottawa, running along the canal on familiar territory. I had to relax my mind, so I could relax my body and work thru the fatigue. It was much too early to feel this tired. What was happening?
I forgot about ever being able to see Carl. It was at this point that I put my music on, and ran the marathon mentally. I had recently put a new song on my MP3 and found myself just listening to that particular song, over and over again. It relaxed me, it nourished me, and it surrounded me with an inner quietness that made me go on. Days later, I reflected on the fact that this song had actually saved me.
"Tout est OK, tout est correct. Y'a des choses qu'on comprendra jamais.
Tout est OK.Tout est correct.
J'ai une oasis derrière les yeux,Sous les cheveux, Entre les oreilles
J'entre en dedans, Trouver la beauté derrière les yeux,Sous les cheveux
Entre les oreilles J'entre en dedans.
Tout est OK, tout est lancé en l'air. Rien n'est determiné.
Tout est OK tout est a refaire
Je sais que tout est à réinventer. J'ai une oasis,derrière les yeux, sous les cheveux,
entre les oreilles, j'entre en dedans.....
Mais je veux croire, tellement croire, que c'est si près."
Creating an oasis in my mind was all that I needed to do. Understanding my journey might not be important at this time. In the streets of New York City, this song by Polly Esther, a group from Saskatchewan, now making their home in Montréal, saved me. They can know that on some level they made the big time, while I ran thru Manhattan.
"I saw you at the 24th mile" said my husband Carl. He said I was in my own world, zoned out, looking strong. “People were walking and limping; I knew you would make it to the finish”.
Not only did I not see him, I could not see anyone at that point. I remember running as quickly as I could whenever there was a downhill, surprised by the strength I had in my arms to propel me. I had promised myself not to stop during the last 5 K. I was worried that I might not be able to start again. There it was though, what would amount to the last water station. I stopped, took a few sips, and gave the back of my neck the rest.
What happened next was surprising to me. Mentally, I told myself to run, and physically I started. I had the feeling I was getting on a treadmill; it was like I had batteries in my legs that were actually doing the work for me. I kept running but I worried about a hill in Central Park I had been told about. Interestingly there were some rolling hills, but I was prone to attacking them on the way down. I never did see that hill. Then again, I was in a daze. I did however see a sign that said 500 yards. I was almost there. I remember seeing 26 next, and then of course there is that business of the marathon being 26.2 miles.
I had been told what to expect at the finish. First they put a medal on you, and they will cover you with an aluminum sheet to keep you warm. You have to just keep on walking though, quite a way.
This is such a well-orchestrated event. With over 32,000 marathon runners, it has to be. There are several people with medals, the first man I see is not actually putting them on the runners. He is simply giving them the medal. I knew I had to get my medal from someone who was going to put it on me. That should have been my first clue that something was wrong. I simply did not have the energy to put it on myself.
A picture is taken. “Show your number”, I do so. I walk a bit, and a weightless blanket is given to me. I ask if they could put it on me, they readily do so. The next item is a sticker, to keep the blanket tied together so you don’t have to hold on to it. Again, I ask that they do this. All I can really do is walk.
And then it hit me, I needed medical attention. I know these people must be nearby. You see, I have seen them, all along the route. Volunteers are everywhere. A woman with a medical tag on approaches me. She has seen I am crying. I tell her I am in pain, and I need Advil. She asks me where it hurts. “I don’t have an injury” I tell her, “I just ache all over, and I feel like a wall of bricks has hit me. I ache to the bone”. She tells me to walk, keep walking until you see the medical tent. At the time, the thing that went thru my mind was that this lady really should carry Advil.
I keep walking, someone offers me water, I don't need water. I have been drinking water all along the race, like all good marathoners. Just yesterday, I consumed a small lake. I keep walking, I take a banana and eat it. My pain goes away during this time, only to return. On my right is a white tent. I enter the tent crying.
“I need Advil” I tell them. “Here”, they say, “Lie down on this cot. Where does it hurt” they want to know. Again, I repeat that I am ok, I am not injured, and I am crying because the pain is so bad, I just need Advil. I sit down on the cot. “Of course you are sore” they tell me, “you just ran a marathon!”
I finally get 2 of those Advil’s.
“Could you call my husband.?”
They do, he is waiting patiently, five blocks away under the "W" tent.
“You can’t just call a cab, we have to walk some more” Carl informs me.
“Ok, just hold on to me, just not hard, I ache all over.”
I want to call Sophie, this will take my mind off the pain. Carl dials Katharine's house.
“How are you Linda”, she asks.
“I did it, but I am a little sore. Can I speak to Sophie?”
“Sophie, I realized my dream”, I tell her.
She says “you ran 42K.! Can I see your medal?”
“I will put it on you tomorrow!” I reply.
“Can I speak to your brother?”
Sophie comes back to the phone only to say he is too tired. Like mother, like son.
“Hug him for me, and I will see you both tomorrow”.
I had really planned to go dancing tonight, I guess those plans are out.
That hot shower feels great. I ask Carl to tell me when 10 minutes is up. You see, I am about to take a 10-minute cold shower. I think it is suppose to be 20, but I am doing 10. After you have run a marathon, this is highly recommended. I always said I would never do this......never say never.
We went out to a fine restaurant a few blocks from the hotel. I was in the mood for steak, and what a fine one it was! The martini and wine go down beautifully. We must have fallen asleep by 11PM. By 2AM, I am awake. The pain is back, and it will remind me, for the next 24 hours, that I just ran a marathon.
I think I will wear this medal all week!
Three days after the marathon, I woke up feeling like I actually had the energy to do a yoga class. All that stretching would be good. And it was. "You don't look like you just ran a marathon" said my instructor. I tell her I think it’s the cold-water trick.
I have learned that if I surround myself with people who will teach, encourage, motivate, inspire, and have the right running shoes, I can run a marathon. It took a village to have me cross that Finish. I have learned that if I surround myself with people who will make me laugh and cry I can conquer hills, wind chills, heat, humidity, and even torrential rain.
To answer my daughter’s question more succinctly, I think that what I’d like to do when I grow up is to gather stories about running a marathon , and ask Canadians to write their marathon stories.
“I have an idea!” Sophie said when I told her. “You could have a whole library of Canadian Marathon Stories! Maybe when I am older, I can borrow one of them.” What on earth have I done to deserve this child.
So this is what I am doing. I will collect stories written by Canadian Marathon Runners. Selected stories will be published in a book that will undoubtedly inspire people from all walks of life to run. The proceeds will be donated to charity.
Linda Wagar, Ottawa, Ontario, March 2003
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