Persevere: to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly.
Even more than I had imagined, race day proved to be a true test of perseverance. Because running is much more than physical strength, I am going to attempt to lead you through race day by describing where I was both physically and mentally throughout the day. I apologize for the length, but hey, a marathon isn’t short 🙂
I woke up at 4:35 AM, prepared and headed to the subway station by 5:45 in order to have time to take the train to lower Manhattan and catch the Staten Island Ferry before 7:00. As I was waiting to board the Ferry, I put my hand in my pocket and randomly pulled out an old fortune cookie fortune that was in my pocket, which stated: you have the ability to touch the lives of many people. This set the stage for the day – I was ready for this race that I was meant to run. I boarded the ferry a little before 7:00 AM and, to my surprise, as I was walking onto the Ferry with people from every country imaginable surrounding me, the first tears of the day welled up in my eyes – I was really going to run the New York City Marathon.
I made it to the race area with just enough time to eat my second breakfast, stretch, wait in line for a porta-potty, check my bag and head to my starting corral at 9:20 where I would see my first teammate of the day, Ben Ward. We had to wait in this area for about 30 minutes before we headed to the starting line and I was so thankful Ben was there to chat with me so that I could forget how nervous I was. Instead, the excitement continued to build as we talked about the unbelievable experience we were about to embark upon.
The stage was set and the gun fired – off we went across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The helicopters hovered at eye-level, filming the race and water was shot up all around us from below: it was surreal. The first several miles felt great, but then I felt my first toe pain 3.5 miles into the race. Knowing I had no choice but to push through it, I continued running and the pain in my foot became more intense than I had ever experienced throughout the training. I began zealously praying for it to ease and eventually the pain subsided.
Brooklyn was amazing – the crowds roared wildly and at some points it was even hard to hear. I spent a lot of time thinking about the sponsored children and it brought a constant smile to my face. By mile 6, I realized I had to pee but, at this point, I was still “hoping” for a finishing goal of about 4 hours and I didn’t want to spend much time stopping at a porta-potty. Because I already had to pee, I drank less and less water. I saw Tyler for the first time at mile 8 and he was glowing with excitement for me! He would snap a photo as I ran passed him and then sprint up about 50 yards to catch another one; I felt so blessed to have such dedicated support!
After seeing Tyler, I knew it was time to locate a bathroom – I already was feeling dehydrated. However, every bathroom had several people in line, so I continued to pass more and more bathrooms and drink less and less. The need to pee began to consume my mind and I literally contemplated peeing my pants or sneaking around a building – yeah, crazy, right!?! Marathons will do crazy things to your mind. Don’t worry, I didn’t. Finally, I stopped to pee around mile 11 but the lines weren’t budging. I felt as though I was merely wasting time, became frustrated and jumped back in to continue running. My toe pain came and went and I began to feel a slight pain in my left ankle, which also came and went.
We entered Queens around mile 13 and I knew I was going to have a long journey ahead of me. I now knew I had become very dehydrated – my lips were dry and crusty from the lack of water in my body. However, I had made it halfway and was still within reach of my finishing time goal, so it was hard to stop at the bathrooms and wait. As we ran across the dreaded Queensboro Bridge, which includes a full half-mile uphill before you descend into Manhattan, my left ankle pain increased from an annoying pain to an intense pain. With every step, I had to fight back tears and, with my ankle feeling like it was literally breaking with each step, thoughts of not being able to finish began rushing through my head. Naturally, I changed my stride to put more pressure on my right foot to alleviate the pain in my left; however, by the end of the long bridge, the severe pain was in both ankles. At the bottom of the bridge at mile 16, I quickly stopped at the bathroom and headed back out on the course.
With the pain in my ankles slowing me down, my new goal was to get to mile 18 where Tyler said he would meet me again. At this point the race became almost entirely a mental race for me: I knew I had to take my mental state to a much deeper level. Could I actually persevere through this? Could I really endure this excruciating pain for over 12 miles?
Two nights before the race at the Team World Vision dinner Jerry, a local pastor and seasoned marathoner, told me to think of the cross if the pain comes during the race. I began to take myself to this state of mind knowing my pain did not compare to the pain Christ endured nor the pain that so many people go through daily just to survive in oppressed and developing countries. I also spent time praying for different children who have been sponsored.
I finally arrived to mile 18 and Tyler jumped out to run with me. All he did was look in my eyes and the tears began flowing. He gave me a lot of encouraging words and kept me distracted for about a half-mile before he jumped back into the huge crowd of people. Now, I had to make it to mile 23.5, the Team World Vision cheering station.
As I headed up First Avenue in Manhattan towards the Bronx, I realized my ankles might be hurting because of my stride. I had switched to heal striking late in the training to avoid the toe pain even though I had been running on my forefoot for years which has minimal ankle joint impact. I slowly switched my stride to land on my forefoot and the ankle pain subsided within minutes. However, when I changed my stride, my toe pain quickly returned. So I now had a new battle: toe pain vs. ankle pain. I would run the rest of the race switching between a forefoot strike and a heal strike and alternating between toe pain and ankle pain.
I entered the Bronx at mile 20 and realized if I looked down at Fritznel’s (our sponsored child) photo on my jersey it looked like his piercing eyes were staring up at me. It was such a powerful image and it sent chills throughout my body reminding me, on an even deeper level, why this pain was worth it. The rest of the miles are somewhat of a blur. I no longer knew if I was running up or downhill – all I was paying attention to was the next step. The crowd was mumbling roar of mixed voices and I heard no one’s voice in particular except the children’s voices along the route – each time I heard a child tell me “You can do it” a smile would resurface. I would run a few blocks and then look down at Fritznel’s picture for more encouragement to continue running.
At mile 23.5, I ran past the warm smiling faces at the Team World Vision Cheer Station it was a perfect boost before entering the final miles through Central Park. As I ran through the park, I was able to step back and realize how amazing it was to be a part of this race. As I crossed the finish line with a finishing time of 4:18:13, the emotions that had built up over the day overcame me – I began to shake and my entire body filled with pain, but it was such a sweet pain because it was endured to change children’s lives around the globe.
As I reflect on race day, it has become so clear that perseverance is the best word to describe the day. (Funny how that worked out.)
To persevere is to persist in anything undertaken – I took on this race and sponsorship goal.
To persevere is to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement –I endured struggles of dehydration, toe and joint pain.
And to persevere is to continue without stopping – I did not walk once; I told myself this was not an option, despite the pain.
I finished. I persevered. I proved to myself it was possible. And, in doing so, I learned so much about myself, my relationship with God and my relationship with this struggling world in which we all live. Will you do the same? I believe you can. Step outside your comfort zone, challenge yourself and dare to learn more about your inner strength – it will change your life.
Thank you all for your support throughout my journey. You have all made a difference in the lives of many children and communities around the world. My journey would not have been the same without all of your support and encouragement.