Good luck getting anywhere in life without women. Growing up in a family of women I learned that lesson early on. And it’s proven once more on November 7 in New York, when two women help me run an even race.
Alongside Chris and Vicky I don’t mind waiting at the start near the Verrazano Bridge this year. After a bagel and my traditional pre-race Hammer gel –try their tasty Montana Huckleberry flavor– we’re off. Slowly. The first mile always is: up the bridge with a forceful headwind.
I have promised Chris to pace her, as long as I can. My Amsterdam PR (3:03) is only three weeks old, so I’m not sure how long the legs will hold.
In Brooklyn I can tell this might be a good day. Things are clicking. The festive mood, the live music, the countless people cheering – it all lifts my spirits. We pass the halfway point at 1:33 and fight our way up the lonely Queensborough Bridge, a quiet world where no one speaks and everyone struggles.
Chris is not feeling so great as we get to 1st Avenue. The wild crowds make me want to surge. Thinking she will follow, I pick up the pace. Later I realize I have lost Chris. But I feel fresh, hungry, eager.
As I attack the Willis Avenue Bridge a strong woman passes me. We exchange a few words. ‘Nice pace.’ ‘You too.’ Her height, form, strength and speed remind me of my French friend Cécile, distance runner extraordinaire in Pennsylvania.
It’s only 10K to the finish at that point. I tell myself: I do that distance all the time, a quick run in 41, 42 minutes. Why not now? I smile and nod to myself, having read that simply doing so spurs chemical processes in the brain which make you feel better.
Another reason to laugh: my utter stupidity the day before. After picking up my bag at the expo, I immediately went through it, throwing out all the needless advertising and crap. I think I overdid it. At dinner with my friend Eddie’s family I discovered Saturday night that my race number and chip were gone.
I barely managed not to panic. Made some calls and picked up a new number at the New York Road Runners. Flowers and a hug for NYRRs Janet could not express how grateful I was for their quick and easy help in response to my embarrassing moment of cluelessness.
The Bronx has scared me before in this race. Raw, windy, and located at a tough point in any marathon. But today I feel strong. For the first time I notice the wildly cheering crowds. I take in the music and the screaming kids. Beside, my new running friend is still around. I later learn that her name is Karen. She, too, is from Pennsylvania.
We enter Harlem at a decent clip, side by side. Leave nothing in the tank, I tell myself over and over, like a mantra. We do not talk, until I once again spot the tough runner in a white tutu ahead of me. ‘Let’s go get that guy’, I suggest to Karen. ‘I won’t be beaten by a guy in a tutu.’
After keeping the pace on 5th Avenue we enter Central Park, whose hills are really my backyard. I find the shortest line and grab one more cup of water. We cruise down 59th Street and sprint to the finish. We exchange high-fives and introduce ourselves. She ran a 3:05. I started earlier and did 3:08.
An NBC reporter approaches Karen for a live interview. She kindly says: only if that guy can come. I accept. While we wait there is no water for us (come on, NBC!) But we hear about Haile Gebreselassie’s problems, about the winners and the strong showing of the American women and men.
Then we tell the reporter about meeting on the Willis Avenue Bridge. About a 45 minute, wordless friendship-slash-competition on a difficult race course, surrounded by countless cheering spectators. About supporting and pushing each other at a moment of vulnerability, as you push against the malleable boundaries of what’s possible.