Even as a kid I suffered from impatience. My own impatience. My mother still talks about the excited, almost violent way I used to fly down and storm up the steep, long stairs in my childhood home.
Having passed 40 a while ago, I have felt more in control of life generally. Until my string of injuries struck I had learned to be more patient in my running, too. My best marathon was not my fastest, but it was the sole long-distance in which I ran a negative split. That 3:09 in New York City 2010 was my second marathon in 3 weeks, right after my PR in Amsterdam (3:03). I began easy, carefully, helping a friend in her race. Only at mile 17 did I take off and unleash my intent to always run fast and hard, to and beyond my imagined limits. I felt great doing 6:40s in mile 25 and 26 in Central Park. And I was so happy to be randomly interviewed on NBC with a fellow runner who had kept me company as we raced the final 5 miles together.
Sunday was my birthday, which I generally tend to keep small and intimate. (In my view it is my mother who deserves congratulations, not I.) I did promise myself a gift which makes many non-running friends simply shake their heads, not understanding: my first Half since May 2011. In the spring of that year I had set my PR at 1:23, did another marathon in 3:03, then enjoyed running a 1:26 in Brooklyn. So injury struck just as I was peaking and loving every moment of it.
The year in running I’d like to forget –since I didn’t run except for a few lame attempts in December– ended on June 24, 2012. I had been training and running, gently and slowly. The thought of 13.1 miles made me nervous and giddy. So after getting up at 5, leaving the house at 6 and getting to the start area at 7:45 I was jumpy and ready.
The first miles I held back. Easy, easy, I kept saying to myself, as if addressing and holding back a horse. The hills surprised me and the heat bothered me, but much greater was the joy of once again running with thousands of others who consider this the best way to spend their Sunday mornings. I took off at mile 4, warmed up and possibly a little cocky. I kept passing people, cruising at 6:45s. I caught up with a small, quiet pack of graceful runners, two men, two women. I followed and drafted for a mile, then took off.
Can I still learn from my mistakes, at this advanced age? I do hope so. Back in the day I was often able to lose competitors by digging deeper, pushing through the pain. I will never forget the way a pro marathoner once described the key difference between the winners (she herself) and the rest: the willingness to look like shit at the end, covered in spit and snot and sweat and sometimes puke. I was often willing. But Sunday? Shortly after leaving the pack, my back and right foot started to act up. My form slipped away. My pace dropped. I desperately looked for cups water and high-fives from kids. Attacking the hills and embracing gravity when going downhill, I could feel myself lose it. The pack caught up and passed quickly. The final 2 miles were a not-so-gentle reminder I was not ready, that I was ignoring the signals and my lack of endurance and training.
Seeing F after the finish took some of the frustration away. We drifted in the sea. I drank gallons of water and realized I did finish my first Half in more than a year. Fairfield, CT, was a nice town for a comeback. Then we sailed on the Bay south of Manhattan, a perfect way to forget any soreness and disappointment.
Now all I need is patience. I know how to do the work, accept the pain and build on my experience. But patience is still hard to find.