Finding GRIT in the NYC Marathon and Beyond

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The marathon is a cruel event. Maybe the cruelest. But that’s why I keep coming back. For the chance. The chance to feel alive. There is nothing more alive than feeling every part of your body working and then struggle to work as the race goes on. The last 400m of the NYC Marathon I was yelling at my body to kick. My mind wanted to go. But the body had no response. It’s like living outside your body where you are watching what’s happening and you can’t do anything about it. As another athlete passed me to what would push me from 10th to 11th place I was in slow motion. I had run to my limit. I barely got to the line, and went down after I crossed. Peter Ciaccia was there to grab me. If I was in a more humorous mood I would have whispered to Peter I just wanted to give you a little drama as your last time as race director. I didn’t have much to say or much energy to take another step.

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What did I do wrong?, That was my initial stream of consciousness. Note to future self and to others who have just finished a marathon. Disregard anything that comes out of your mouth within the 1-8 hours following your race. Emotions are high and doing all the illogical thinking. Regret. Defeat. Embarrassment. Those were my initial reactions. I wanted more, I trained for more. The results stood. 2:30:59, 11th place and 5th American. Reflecting now, there is far more hidden within results if we are willing to look.

Coach Ben and I discussed race plans earlier in the week before we left for NY. He thought I could run 5:35s all day, or at least that effort on the course. We went over scenarios that could happen and how I should handle them. I’ll be honest in saying I was 99% sure the race would not go out tactical and conservative like it did last year. Well, cue me leading on the Verrazano bridge at mile 1. Over the next 5k, I exchanged a laugh with Des about how slow we were running (for us) and then she busted a move. The rest of the race was a mixture of checking in with how I was feeling and wondering when the big move would be made. We’d surge into a fluid station and then the pack of 20 or so women would string out and pack up like an accordion. Through Brooklyn and Queens I heard the crowds on every corner, but pushed their energy into a quiet place until it was time to use it, later in the race. The pack splits around mile 12 and I know this is the move. I cover it, but only half. It is not my race to go with mile splits under 5:20. That’s not my forte. Our pack has 4-5 women in it and we charge up the 59th St. Bridge, in eery silence. I know what’s coming. Thousands of people waiting on 1st Ave. to inject adrenaline into our bodies. We fly off the bridge and one of the women in our pack Allie, starts charging. I forget the watch and commit. 5:28. 5:27. 5:24. 5:31. 5:34. These are my splits from miles 17-21. They are the fastest I’ve ever run in a marathon. I went for it, hard. As I’m now alone battling up 5th Ave. towards mile 23, I’m in a lot of pain. I anticipated this pain, but it’s coming sooner and faster than I envisioned. The fast splits I ran are catching up to me and I’m hanging on. Pushing gravity forward with every stride and looking ahead. People are yelling and willing you to dig deeper, and I’m at the bottom of the well.

My mind wandered back to Flagstaff. Back to Lake Mary Rd, to Camp Verde, to coach Ben’s voice, to Kellyn pushing alongside me, to Wes adding more weight to my squats, to painfully productive massages, to delicious dinners cooked by Ben, to 5:45 am wake ups and to my boys hugs. These are the reasons, the people that I want to make proud. Then I ask myself. You know what proud is? Proud is knowing you gave everything you had, made all the right decisions you believed in the moment, and finished with no regrets. If I do that, and come out the other side, I can live with that result.

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This fall transcended much higher than the actual 26.2 miles that I ran in NYC. I found a change in myself as runner, as a mom, as a human. I had some days I questioned my sanity a little, some days I felt I couldn’t fulfill my role as a decent mom because I was so fatigued from training, but most days I felt alive. Waking up with such purpose to knock out 12 x a mile with 1 minute rest, begging the question of how tough would I be today. What would I tell myself when the little voice started creeping in to slow down or stop. I found inspiration everywhere I looked. I rode on the pain train that Kellyn was the conductor of. I travelled to the UK with the Scotts and learned from their humor and their simplicity. I watched their different style of how they approach training this fall and how success can show up differently on paper. I had friends give birth to their first babies. I had friends desperately trying to have babies. My brother Jamie is alive and voluntarily in a drug rehab facility. I met strangers who had such an impact on me. I witnessed coach Ben and my Ben’s belief in me grow. We made hard decisions together that got me to the starting line healthy. I found GRIT. When I crossed the finish line and made it to the post race tent, Ben brought Riley and Hudson in. Riley’s first question was “did you winned mom?” No Riley I came in 11th, but I ran the hardest I absolutely could and that’s what counts.” As I heard myself explaining this to my 4 year old, my chest clamped up a little because I realized that is what I need to live by. Goals are goals and I’ll keep setting them high, not out of my mind high, but high enough to resist complacency. I’ll remind myself that even if I don’t achieve what I envision I probably loved the shit out of the process. And so I’ll keep lining up, keep doing hard things, and writing my story. For you are the only one that can define what it means to you and that is powerful stuff.

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Dream Big

Steph