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NYC Marathon and Cancer

The smell of bagels and coffee made me want to go back to bed - my own bed - back home. I had been up since 5:45, walked to the subway, taken the Staten Island Ferry and been bused to the athletes village.

It was now 10:45.

I stood amongst 50,000 runners and I felt alone. The call came to enter the corrals.  Over the nervous chatter of my corral-mates, I could hear the roar of the NYC Police helicopters overhead. It was a little windy, warm and overcast.

I closed my eyes and breathed gratitude to my Savior.

I had beat heart disease. I had beaten three types of cancer. I could still run with my prostate tumor. One of my runner buddies lay sick in bed from chemo treatments to treat stage 4 brain cancer. She ran a marathon last month with her tumors too.

I'm OK.

In the cool distance I could see the towers of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I remember crossing it as a kid. My siblings and I could see Lady Liberty from our mobile vantage point. It was our first visit.

Then the call came to head to the starting line.

I chatted briefly with a gal supporting a kid’s cancer charity. I thanked her for running. Then she told me her daughter was 8 years cancer free! I confess, I tried to act excited, but inside I wasn't. I was a little jealous, a little tired, a little hungry, and for a moment, I dreaded the fact that hours of running lay before me.

The runners were amped up for their big day!

I moved towards the start and thought about my six other marathon starts. The tiny, in comparison, Cape Cod Marathon where it was cool and sunny. My longtime friend Tom wished me well after the cannon boomed. Then there was my first Boston. I had so many hopes for that one. It was so exciting, it was so hot, and it ended in near disaster with a tibial fracture. In Chicago I stood with my Hope for Young Adults with Cancer teammates including my MFP buddy Dan E. I remember having to pee that cool and sunny morning, but there was no place to go.  And there was the Zydeco Marathon with another MFP buddy, Bobby D. We took off in the warm twilight of the Cajun spring. I got a personal record that day. Another Boston in the cool rain last April, and then my last in the desert heat of San Diego with a few Elvis impersonators.

This is NY, I said to myself.

The National Anthem began. I bowed my head and placed my hand over my heart. The cool harbor breeze against my face felt good. The clapping and cheering segued into the boom of a 19th century Howitzer.

The crowd of neon inched closer to the starting mat.

We were off and running. Well, walking. Before me a sea of runners and the towers of the bridge stood sentry not far in the distance. It took a mile to get on pace. My plan: take it easy for six miles, run my pace for fifteen miles and see what I had left for the last five or so.

Marathons are about strategy and mental toughness as much as they are about running.

It was 11:15, five and half hours since I had crawled out of bed. It would be three miles until the first of 22 aid stations. I was looking forward to a cup of Gatorade. It was then I realized I forget to take my electrolytes. I had only downed a small coffee and no water.

Bad planning.

What you do in the early stages of a marathon can greatly effect what happens in the end. I was already at a food, water and an electrolyte deficit. It's hard to make this up while you are running. Down into Brooklyn we went.

The crowds were thick and loud.

Running along Atlantic Avenue, the edge of Bedford Sty, I thought about the movie, The Cross and the Switchblade. This is where Teen Challenge began.

Finally there was an aid station. I got water, Gatorade, took my Endurolytes but I skipped a GU gel which I should have had right before the race.

The course was crowded, but there was enough room to run.

Blocks and blocks of spectators blew whistles and shouted out to the marathoners. This was unlike Boston where they clang cowbells and San Diego where they have cheerleaders with pom-poms.

There were great bands all along the course playing every style of music from Folk Rock to Gospel, and Heavy Metal to Classic Rock. The miles disappeared behind me. I was on pace, on plan and starting to feel pretty good about my marathon which was already a third over.

As I came up on the aid station at mile 13 I felt a familiar twinge in my right calf.

Leg cramps are a brutal adversary. I had them in three out of the previous six marathons. I learned my lesson in San Diego. I started ingesting salt packs which I brought. Cramps are still a mystery, but they seem to be related to one or more of the following: electrolytes, dehydration, lack of training, lack of sleep and specifically, a sodium deficiency.

Whatever it was, the precursor of doom was present.

Within a few minutes, my legs began to feel better. Every mile I took another packet of salt with water. I ate my GU energy gels and my Endurolytes too.

I also slowed down.

Finishing was more important than not finishing. I decided to do my best to enjoy the city. Through Queens and up onto the Queensboro Bridge. To my left was a magnificent view of Lower Manhattan. The Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and off on the horizon was the new World Trade center; all standing at allegiance. There was a man on the bridge blessing us in Jesus' name. It felt good to hear his voice. I thanked him.

It was a steady grind and my legs were acting up a little. I decided to walk for a bit.

At the apex of the bridge I started running again. It was a great downhill and I made my fastest mile there. I took three more salt packs at the next aid station. I had a 1/4 of a banana and kept moving.

At mile 19 I had my slowest mile. I was just tired. My legs hurt. I pulled over to stretch out. My mind was telling me stories about how awful all the other marathons were at this point. I began to get discouraged. I even cried a little.

What the hell am I doing out here?

I had nothing to prove. Not to me, not to anyone. I couldn't think of one good reason to be on the course. I didn't know anyone. I thought about the 2 gals that had given me a hug. I could have used one then.

I had acquired a friend somewhere along the course, but I didn't know if I would see her again. I was running along in the Bronx and the guy next to me locked up and hit the pavement. Me and couple of others helped him to the sidewalk. Leg cramps suck.

Mile 20 turned into 21.

I checked my phone and had a couple of texts from family and friends. It was my only connection. I felt a little better.

Mile 22 was a blur and so was mile 23. I just put one foot in front of the other.

At mile 24 some guy yelled out, "Hey Zero, you're my hero." (I ran with a ZERO Cancer shirt) A woman I knew appeared out of the sea of faces and gave me a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. I ran by the Plaza where Home Alone II was filmed. My kids loved that film.

"What kind of idiots work here?"

"The finest in NY, m'am."

Finally, there it was. Mile 25! I stopped for a quick drink and took a picture of the banner across the road. There was a guy walking and he was in pain. I grabbed his arm. "Dude, let's go get a medal. I know where they keep them."

He laughed. "My knee is shot. Have a good race"

I started running again. I didn't care if I locked up, but I was going to finish.

Central Park was a filled with shouting spectators. I was almost done. For whatever reason, now I was excited about New York. I picked up my pace and raced towards the finish.

Mile 26 seemed to take forever!

I rounded the corner and there was the finish line. I poured it on. I just wanted to be done. To drink. To relax. They hung a medal on my neck and wrapped a space blanket around me. I drank chocolate milk, ate an apple and walked the 6 or so blocks to my hotel.

I plopped in a chair in the lobby and thanked God for allowing me to finish. Finish with cancer. Again.

47 votes + -


jmnicholas wrote 80 months ago:
A race for the finish and receive the reward, even though the going was tough...some lessons in preparation there which I wish I had learned before my first half-marathon. I think I'll be re-reading your book again to see which pearls of wisdom I missed before. God bless.
Dootzy1 wrote 80 months ago:
This is a reminder of how precious life is, and how hard it is, and how resilient human beings can be. Thanks heaps for sharing.
celticlass69 wrote 80 months ago:
Words sometimes don't do justice to what I'd like to say. Thank you for sharing with us your experiences. :)
Anonymous wrote 80 months ago:
Amazing race! Makes me want to run a marathon and at the same time makes me not want to run a marathon. You are truly an inspiration.
beckydragonpoet wrote 80 months ago:
Thank you. This reminds me of why I run.
Hearts_2015 wrote 79 months ago:
You're a very visual writer..I love to read your blogs!

You add so much to others lives just by simply being...
TBeverly49 wrote 79 months ago:
Amazing, simply amazing rendition of your race, I felt like I was actually there running with you. You reminded me of the time I was doing the Seattle to Portland Bicycle ride when I hit about 90 miles into the 200 mile ride. I sat on some concrete barriers, thinking as tears fell, "What am I doing here" What was my purpose for doing this agonizing ride?" I went on to finish, I certainly was not the last one in, but there were just a few behind me. A personal accomplishment, no one can ever take away. That is how I felt you run as I ran along side of you in your story. Congrats and best wishes in all your challenges! Beverly

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