MARATHON MIRACLE

Louise Avidon

 

In January 2004 I joined the Mercury Masters for women 50+. When it was time for pre-marathon training, I opted out of the Thursday night coaching sessions. My reasoning was that, since I’m a morning runner and accustomed to running alone, how could I manage this extra workout?  Well, not only did I train alone, but I experienced the whole marathon alone, from start to DNF (did not finish).

The start time is 10:10; I crossed the start line at 10:34. According to your estimated finish time, you are told where to wait in line. However, the real reason for my late start is that I was in the porta-potty. After having waited half an hour for this opportunity, I was not about to pass it up. So, imagine me flying out of the porta-potty to catch up with 37,000 runners already heading for the start.

Well, from the start I was totally stressed out. I had told my family when to expect me at Mile 18.5, but I had started nearly 20 minutes late, the weather was warm and my right big toe was starting to swell. I compensated for the late start by increasing my speed. That first, uphill mile on the Verrazano Bridge immediately wore me out. There was no rush of humanity as I had expected crossing the bridge, only stragglers like me. Then there were more hills, and more porta-potties. I ran the first half in 2:50 and then just died. I had to get to Mile 18.5, where Sam, my grandson came running out to meet me. But I was walking, and walked until about Mile 22 before giving up.

2005: I train with my team. I even put in one respectable twenty-mile training run, run the last 10 miles on another training run, and do it again with my teammates. I’m ready!

And this year I’m doing the Marathon in style. First, my son, David, and I go to the Saturday night, pre-Marathon, pasta dinner at Tavern on the Green, after getting an extra ticket from teammate Pat. The dinner is an international affair. We sit at a table with Germans and Japanese and I get to practice my Japanese: “Konnichi-wa” (hello) and “Ichi-ban” (#1 son). The Japanese couple has their Ichi-ban in a stroller. We soak in the lights and atmosphere of Tavern on the Green and enjoy an excellent dinner.

Sunday: Rather than take (a really early) marathon bus to the start, I arrange to have a Carmel car pick me up at 6:30 AM. (The bridge closes at 7:30.) At 6:30 the doorman buzzes and awakens David, who wakes me. Can you believe my alarm didn’t go off????? I throw on my clothes, review my check list, forget to eat, and dash to the waiting car.

The ride to the start in Staten Island is smooth. I’m dropped off about a half mile from the entrance, where my marathon number is checked and re-checked. I immediately go get a bagel, coffee, water and Gatorade. I don’t see my teammates anywhere so I sit down to eat. Two men wearing signs that say “Psyching Team” pass by. So of course I ask “What’s a psyching team?” Well, they’re there to offer support and encouragement to anyone who needs it, and I think, what kind of New Yorker would I be if I passed up free therapy? So we chat, and one of them attaches a little orange ribbon to my singlet, “a

piece of the finish line”, he says, which I can stroke for magical effect whenever I am tempted to ask myself what the hell I’m doing out there.

I still can’t find my teammates, but muscle my way up to the front of the crowd that is lining up. I finally spot some teammates, give a hoot, and we cross the start line at 10:11. I have already decided to conquer that first, steep uphill mile by walking big chunks of it. The weather is warm and humid, but marathon training teaches you, if nothing else, not to complain. Thousands of runners are now on the bridge and it starts to sway. I get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Soon the swaying stops and I break into my 4:1 run/walk pace. I remind myself of my first two goals: one, to reach mile 14 without being tired (to save my energy for later), and two, to run my slowest half-marathon ever and enjoy every minute of it.

And enjoy it I do. David duct-taped onto my singlet “I’m a LULU.” Well, for 26.2 miles people are calling out “Go, Lulu”. When I walk, and they say “Pick it up, Lulu” I just smile and say, “I do it my way”.

Now, you know how all the kids have their hands outstretched hoping to be touched by a marathoner? I stop only once, and am rewarded by having the sweetest little girl say, “Thank you, Lulu”.

At approximately Mile 7.5 in Brooklyn I am greeted by friends Mike and Jean who hand me 2 flasks of fuel for my fuel belt. This fuel is an easily digestible soy protein-carbohydrate mix that I have practiced using on my long runs, to see how we get along. The mixture loses its effectiveness after 3-4 unrefrigerated hours, so I have brought only one (frozen) flask with me to the start, and Mike has mixed up a batch to hand me in Brooklyn. This fuel delivery plus Mike’s prior advice to remember Psalm 26 (‘Tis better to walk than to fold) keep me shipshape over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens. Later when I reach Mile 15, I actually think, “Already?”

I am still on course although behind schedule (but who cares? I only want to finish.) coming over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, Mile 16. It’s now two and half miles to the meeting with my family: David, daughter Naomi with husband David Kirkman, Sam (7 ¾) and Nicholas (4 ½). I recite my marathon mantra: shoulders back look forward, breathe. I’m determined to greet my family running this year, and I do. Naomi is whooping and hollering and dancing in the street. Having had my approach videotaped by David K., we now all congregate for a photo op. (OK, so I’m not going to break any speed records.)

I’m off again, but at Mile 19 (my wall?) I’m feeling really tired. Doing lots more walking, and stretching on the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx. I make it back over the Madison Avenue Bridge into Manhattan at Mile 21.

I’m ready to walk the rest of the way, which is actually in my game plan, but then I get the idea to run every other minute. I have totally forgotten the plan I had to run each of the last ten miles for each of my children and grandchildren, memorized in alphabetical order. (Fortunately there are exactly 10 of them.)* The next few miles pass by comfortably in this manner, and there are still spectators calling my name and plenty of other runners/walkers on the course. David S., Naomi, and Sam spontaneously and totally unexpectedly jump in at Mile 23 and run the next uphill mile with me! This “every other minute” thing suits all of just fine. My coach spots us and yells my name. Then we enter Central Park, where the next mile is mostly downhill. We agree to meet up with Naomi and Sam later, and David continues running with me.

We approach Mile 26.2 . . . David veers off to the side; I cross the finish line in 6 hrs. 34 minutes, smiling, with my arms raised for the finish-line photo. I forget that I have finished, and keep on running!

Now comes the real, and unexpected part of the marathon . . . about a one mile walk through and out of Central Park while your chip gets cut off your shoe, you are wrapped in a heat blanket, given water, Gatorade and inedible white-bread bagels and protein bars which you MUST eat during this golden window of opportunity to absorb the most nutrients possible.

And then, if you can believe it, David, Naomi, Sam and I go to a post-marathon party hosted by Pat and her husband. Pat is not the least bit fazed by having just run a marathon (her tenth and last) and looks fresh as a daisy directing everyone to sandwiches, pizza, wine and beer. Naomi and Sam had already gone to MacDonald’s (somewhere between our first and second meeting areas), but Sam still downed a slice of pizza. He evidently worked up an appetite running the marathon with Grandma.

Soon I’m ready to leave, but must stay for the group photos and the champagne toasts. David is among the toasters (?) and says how inspired he is by the Mercury Masters.

Me, too. I couldn’a done it without ‘em.

 Oh, and did I mention the medal?

 *Credits (if not during the last ten miles) to all the children and grandchildren: Andy, Benny, Daniel, David, Jordan, Julie, Miriam, Naomi, Nicholas and Sam.

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