Catharsis

At mile 23, I rounded the corner and heard a familiar voice yell, “Adam!” I turned to see my stepbrother and two of our friends, and I pointed at them like an archer drawing an arrow. The sun was shining, and I was feeling pretty damn good despite how long I had been running. My stomach wasn’t upset, and I was still able to take in fluids every single mile. I ran into the park for the home stretch as the crowds thickened.

At mile 24, I knew that I was golden, that no matter what happened from this moment on, that even if my legs fell off mid-stride, that I would crawl to the finish line. The entire marathon had been fraught with decisions: I chucked my baseball cap before mile 10 because my head was too hot, I made sure to grab two cups of sports drink at every refueling station (although I was supposed to drink water when sucking down a gel), and I even grabbed a pretzel from someone in the crowd, hoping that the salt would help to replenish whatever I had lost.

The mobile chess match was over, and it was time to bask in my achievement, to relax. The sun was beginning to set, painting the park in beautiful autumn colors, and a woman at the refueling station told me to keep going because I was almost there. I high-fived as many kids as I could find by the guard rail, swinging my arm like a windmill afterwards to give myself a little more momentum. I thought that this moment might never come, and I didn’t realize until then just how much it meant.

—-

When I was 19, I saw a sign in Boston that read something like, “My legs were screaming, but the crowd was roaring.” I was hooked. I knew that at some point in my life, I would have to run a marathon. The runner in the poster looked tired but somehow exhilarated. “Running a marathon” became a bucket list item.

At age 25, I signed up for the Hyannis marathon. I was in the middle of a 16 mile run when I felt something pop in the vicinity of my ankle/shin. I remained optimistic that it was only a minor setback, but my ankle swelled whenever I was on it for too long, and after attempting my 17-mile run the following week, I knew that I was done.

At 27, I signed up for a marathon in Wyoming. I didn’t get very far in my training before experiencing a twinge of pain in my knee that lasted for over a month, maybe two. Descending the subway steps was shear agony, and I knew there was no way I was going to make it to Casper, Wyoming to tackle 26.2. I was less devastated this time around, but still disappointed. My mind was ready, but my body had betrayed me once again.

At 29, I won the lottery for the New York City Marathon, and it felt like I had won the actual lottery. I was ready to begin again, but the training made me nervous. Although the program started out at low mileage, eventually I’d be running 50+ miles per week. I remember thinking that there was no way I could run 6 days a week and not get injured. Get real. There was one major difference: I’d be training during the summer rather than the winter.

Training began on July 7th, and as the weeks started to tick by, something strange happened; I didn’t get hurt. The speed/strength, marathon pace, and long runs all became part of my weekly routine, and although I was sore, my body was responding to the added difficulty. Could I actually make it? I wasn’t sure, but as October rolled around and I changed living situations, there was only one month left until the big day. If I got hurt now, I was going to have a mental breakdown. All I could do was hope and pray that the training would be enough to get me through.

—-

November 6th was a whirlwind. The day was long before we even made it to base camp, but I was thrilled to have made it this far. The temperature rose as we made our way to the stable, and eventually to the Verrazano Bridge. As people crossed the starting line, I saw a long line of people turn from walker to runner in what can only be described as a surging mass of humanity, as if someone had flipped a switch. I was really here, and ready to get started.

Crowd size started to increase on an exponential level, and I couldn’t help but appreciate how many Nmomew Yorkers came out to cheer us on, even those of us who would never in a million years run a qualifying time or garner a shoe deal. It took me four and a half hours to complete the race, but it went by so fast.

As the marathon came to its close, I realized that I had been coping with disappointment by not acknowledging it; by pretending that it didn’t exist. I let myself want those final moments, want all of what was about to happen. I’ve never wanted anything that badly before, and it may have killed me had I gotten this far and not achieved it. People are taught or encouraged to show restraint, to be reserved, to not show how much we really want something. For those final miles, I felt so relaxed. I let the moment wash over me.

As I rounded another corner and headed for the finish, I felt the tears well up in my eyes but they never fell. I felt like my father was watching over me, and that he was proud in that moment. I crossed the finish line and pumped my arm, screaming, “Yes!” through gritted teeth. All the frustration was gone in that moment, and I realized how heavy this had been weighing on me. I tend to disconnect the wires when something unpleasant comes my way, to minimize the damage that negative events can inflict. I’m not sure if it’s a healthy coping mechanism, but it’s how I’ve learned to deal.

I’ve never wanted anything that badly in my life, and to have finally achieved my goal was incredibly cathartic. Even if I never ran another one, I knew that I had gotten one under the belt. I had proved to myself that I could do it, and nothing could erase that. I walked out of Central Park that day, feeling like a new person. My calves tightened anytime I sat down, but in that moment, I felt like I could accomplish anything, well, anything aside from running another marathon.

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