One Saturday last summer, I had a stretch of Fifth Avenue in New York City all to myself. It was the day of my favorite race, the Fifth Avenue Mile, where runners sprint from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Grand Army Plaza.
Since I was training for a marathon and had to run 12 more miles that day, I decided to go easy. I wasn’t going to race. I positioned myself at the very back of the field, knowing that everyone else was going to go out hard. After a block, I was completely by myself.
As I ran, I watched all of the other runners get farther and farther away. I wondered, what did the spectators and other runners think of me, falling back so quickly, going so slowly? Did anyone think that I simply wasn’t capable of running faster? Did I look fat? Were people wondering why I signed up for this race at all?
Then I noticed another runner on the west side of Fifth Avenue. He ran slowly, hunched over, using a walker to help him balance. A woman was walking alongside him, talking, but he was completely ignoring anything she was saying. I recognized the hard, stubborn look on his face. Focused, determined, fully concentrated on each step toward the finish line. I recognized it as the same look I have in all of my marathon photos.
I began to cry.
I remembered how I felt finishing my first mile back in 2010. It was something I didn’t think I could do—until I gave in to the repetitive footfalls. I keep moving forward, one foot after the other until the app on my phone signaled I had run a mile. I remember it took thirteen minutes and eleven seconds. I felt like I could keep going forever. I had the same feeling during the New York City Marathon in 2013—that I could just go and go and go, fueled by sheer determination and faith. I knew exactly what that stranger on Fifth Avenue was thinking, even though our lives seemed very different.
In these moments (and so many others), I’m reminded why I run. No matter how many races you finish or how fast you are, all runners share common ground. My husband and I recently moved to San Francisco, where we don’t know many people. As adults, it’s been slow and awkward making friends. But I’ve made a few, mostly through running groups. Yesterday, I participated in a group track workout with a new friend who just started running. After a tough sprint she said, “I’m not sure I’m ever going to love this, but I’m trying.”
I recognized myself instantly. I didn’t know how to tell her about the feeling I have when the footfalls take over and running isn’t difficult anymore. I didn’t know how to describe the sense of love and unity that comes from a pack of people you don’t know providing encouragement at the exact moment you need it to finish your first marathon. I didn’t know how to tell her about what happened to me on Fifth Avenue, when I suddenly recognized myself in someone else so clearly that it brought me to tears.
And I really didn’t want to seem weird. So I found myself instead saying words that had been said to me when I first began. “Just wait. You’ll find it.”I want to give a special shoutout, thanking the San Francisco Road Runners and Run 365 for being so friendly and open to a newcomer.
San Francisco, CA