Life is Not a Sprint.  Life is a Marathon.

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Marlon Rice

This past Sunday, over 50,000 runners took to the streets of New York to run the TCS New York Marathon. New Yorkers lined the streets throughout all five boroughs to cheer for the runners as they traveled the epic journey from the Verrazano Bridge to Central Park. I was one of those runners. This was my second marathon, and the one thing that I’ve learned over the last two years is that a marathon is so much more than a race. There are few things that are as excruciating as running a marathon, and there are few things that are as fulfilling. I want to use this week’s column to depict my experience running this marathon last weekend. The process of training and then running a race such as this is a life-affirming challenge, and my hope is that through my story you will come to understand that we learn more about ourselves as we overcome our fears and our trepidations than we could ever learn from just staying in our comfort zone. Here is my 2018 TCS Marathon Story.

[308 Miles] From July 1st to November 1st, I ran a total of 308 miles. I had a pretty good training session for this marathon, given the fact that I took two trips in July and was hampered by an upper respiratory infection for almost the entire month of August. By the time Marathon Week arrived, I felt confident about my abilities and I was chomping at the bit to get to race day. The Saturday before the race I hosted a pasta dinner at my house for some of my running friends. We had spaghetti with meat sauce, Caesar salad with anchovies and garlic bread. I ate until I was full, and by 9pm, I was in bed. Rest is very important leading up to the race. The fact that the race is run on the same day that we turn the clocks back for Daylight Savings Time helps.

Marathon morning, my alarm went off at 4am. I showered, put my running gear on and made breakfast: Maple and Brown Sugar oatmeal with Orange Juice. My phone, my headphones, 8 Motrin tablets, 2 Gu packets, a pack of Bloks and a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich; it all gets stuffed into my fanny pack for use on the road. I’m out of the house by 5am. A friend always drives my running team to the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Bridge. We get over there by 5:45am. The game at the Runner’s Village is hurry up and wait. Thank you to UPS for providing me with access to their tent. Being in the tents is definitely the way to wait for the race. The race actually begins when you arrive at the Runner’s Village; anything you eat or drink, the energy you spend, whether you are relaxed while waiting or uncomfortable, it will all affect your race.

Runners leave in waves. There are 4 waves, each leaving around 25-30 after the last. This year, I was in Wave 2. So was my running mentor Pat. This was Pat’s 13th NY Marathon. We were elated to be in the same wave because it meant we could run together. My training was sound, my preparation solid, and now I was able to run with Pat. This race was shaping up to be perfect.

It is a special feeling, standing at the base of the Verrazano Bridge with the other 15,000 runners in your wave, listening to final instructions before your race begins. It’s exciting. You’re at the beginning of an amazing journey. Some of us are faster than others, we come from different places, some even speak different languages, but at the base of the Verrazano Bridge we are all feeling the same way, headed into the same experience and that’s a good feeling.

The anthem is sung and the gun goes off.

Over the bridge and into Bay Ridge, onto 4th Avenue. The first couple of miles of the race is all about finding your spot on the road and finding your pace. You have thousands of people running all around you, some are pushing and shoving for position, others are standing in the crowd taking selfies. You have to find your space and your pace and work from there. Pat and I hit 4th Avenue in our comfort zone, pushing towards Downtown Brooklyn with confidence. It was a beautiful day, so the crowds were larger than normal. I struggle with focusing on my run versus focusing on who I know in the crowd. This is especially true once we turn onto Lafayette Avenue. Any marathoner will tell you that the stretch from BAM until you turn off onto Bedford Avenue is the most electric stretch of the race. That’s right, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill do the marathon better than anyone else! Pat and I hit Lafayette and my pace slows to a trot so that I can acknowledge everyone who came out to see me. All the way up Lafayette, friends give me the love and positive energy that I need to tackle what’s ahead. My family sets up on Lafayette and Grand. I kiss my mom, my wife and my kids. My sisters have made sweatshirts with my name on them.  Even my father has one on. The feeling can be overwhelming. Andre Parker, another friend who’s completed multiple marathons, hands me some coconut water. I say good-bye and start up again, off to finish what I’ve started.

My race was going great. I was on pace to finish in 4:30. But at Mile 11, things went wrong. I felt a pop in my groin area. I stopped and tried to stretch. I tried to start running again and couldn’t. It was all I could do to begin a walk. I was on Bedford, not too far from Broadway. I still had to run through three boroughs, including the Bronx. I had to make a decision. Do I continue this race, injured and unsure of what was wrong? Or do I call an Uber and go home? Life is about questions like this and how you answer them will define who you are. I’m a marathoner. So, I walked, and I hobbled, and I continued to move.

Have you ever walked from Williamsburg to the Bronx? I did, and I did it with a pulled groin. Over the Pulaski Skyway, through Long Island City and over the Queensboro Bridge onto 1st Avenue in Manhattan. Always moving, knowing that moving is the only thing that gets you closer to the goal. Friends ran past me. After a while, I stopped seeing familiar faces in the crowd. Amongst 50,000 runners and 1 million spectators, I was alone.

Somehow, I made it to the Bronx. About a block from the Willis Avenue Bridge was a biofreeze station. I lathered that stuff all on my groin and legs. Now my walk became a jog again. At Mile 20, I found new life. I reentered Manhattan, ready to take the last six miles. Harlem was welcoming. More friends, more music and life, more biofreeze–courtesy of another running partner who was out there as a spectator. I didn’t feel alone anymore. I moved down 5th Avenue thinking only about finishing. I had seen the bottom and my determination bought me through. As we entered the park at 90th Street, I could taste victory. I was going to win the race. No, not the race against the other runners, but the race against my own self. That’s what a marathon is. It is a race against your own limitations. Can you push yourself past your comfort zone? Can you push past the pain and the doubt? Being in that park proved to me that I could. I crossed the finish line at 5:42:40. The time mattered not, what mattered was that it was over and I had finished.

Have you ever had a cousin come visit you as a kid and the two of you spend the whole time arguing and fighting with one another but as soon as they have to leave to go back home you cry because you’re going to miss them? That’s how the marathon feels to me. You spend four months fighting through training and then you spend the entire race fighting through adversity, but when it’s over you’re sad because you don’t want that feeling to leave.

Until next year New York. I’ll be back to tackle the city in the next marathon, and the one after that, and all the ones after that until I can’t anymore.