By Sondra Berger
As the wind blew me over, I grabbed on to my BRF’s (Best Runner Friend’s) hand, looked her straight in the eye and said, “I am NEVER doing this again!” Kirsten had joined me at mile 26 of the 2011 Hartford Marathon to support me through the finish. Less than two years before that, we had our daughters (2nd child for both of us) three days apart and became fast friends. We went out to breakfast with our newborns, shared our life stories, and learned that we both aspired to run a full marathon. Finishing the last bites of our carb-heavy meals, we vowed to get in shape together and run 26.2 (with no firm date). We went from post-partum couch to 5ks, 10ks, and even half marathons within six months while nursing and balancing motherhood and other commitments. When our daughters were 4 months old, I had returned to work full-time. As my responsibilities both on the job and at home were increasing, I felt like I had to capitalize on my running momentum and targeted the 2011 Hartford Marathon to meet my goal. It was now or never, even though Kirsten only committed to running the half that year. I lined up for the race fighting a knee injury and a virus, after having skimped on much of the training. When Kirsten surprised me just before the finish, I was in pain, physically with blisters the size of golf balls on my feet and I was mentally fatigued. I underestimated how hard it would be, and once I crossed the finish line, I had no desire to do it again! Kirsten would be on her own (with my support of course) when she was ready to go the distance…or so I thought.
After a little time had passed, I started to forget about the pain. Kirsten eventually convinced me to enter the lottery for the New York City Marathon (truly bucket list worthy in her mind). If you don’t qualify based on time or sign-up through a charity to run NYC, you must have applied and been denied 3 years in a row to be guaranteed for the 4th year. Only 10% of applicants are selected in the lottery each year so I figured if I am up for doing the NYC marathon in 4 years, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. I put my name in for 2012.
“WTF??!!” is what my email said to Kirsten when I found out that I was one of the “lucky” few who had been selected from the lottery on my first try. Kirsten was not so lucky. I really didn’t think that I would claim my entry, but I reserved a transportation option to the race just in case. When Kirsten decided to run NYC that year through the Boston Children’s Hospital charity, I decided that I would take it one week at a time with training, but I wasn’t making any commitments yet. As we consistently increased our long runs week after week and were climbing in double digit mileage, I decided that I’ve put in the work and come this far so I might as well go all the way.
“Super Storm Sandy” had other plans. Amidst great controversy and devastation from the hurricane’s aftermath, the 2012 NYC was cancelled the night before Kirsten and I were to head to the city. Kirsten was especially upset since this was her first chance to tackle 26.2. What were we to do? It just so happens that Manchester City, New Hampshire was holding a marathon the same day as the now cancelled NYC race. I had to bombard Kirsten with motivational mantras such as “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it” . . . “I never regret when I do it, I always regret when I don’t “ . . .“pain is temporary, pride forever” but I was able to convince her to go to New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire experience was a bit different from what we were expecting in NYC. For starters, the race was much smaller. Whereas we would have raced among 40,000+ runners in NYC, there were only 126 originally signed up for New Hampshire (before a couple hundred other NYC marathon hopefuls had the same idea as us!). While we anticipated lots of crowd support in NYC, we ran much of the Manchester City course alone. We had trained for 3 hills on the bridges in New York, yet the New Hampshire marathon course was extremely hilly with a 606 foot total ascent. I injured my IT band less than half way through the race and had to significantly slow down, but still managed to finish faster than my Hartford Marathon. After I stopped, I couldn’t walk back at our hotel. Kirsten had to wheel me to the bathroom in an office chair! Nonetheless, the monkey was off Kirsten’s back and although we had planned for a much faster pace on the NYC course, we both felt a sense of achievement.
Due to the NYC Marathon cancellation, we were given the choice to get a full refund for the race or have a guaranteed entry in 2013, 2014, or 2015. A sane person would have gotten the refund, but not me. I figured that I may have a third child in 2013 (it was now or never). If that happened, I would need 2014 to nurse and get back in shape (did not happen!). If I wanted to run the NYC marathon in 2015, I would cross that bridge when the time came. Kirsten chose 2015 along with me.
Fast forward to 2015. So much had changed. I was now a full-time working mother of three. Kirsten had moved to Florida and started a new chapter in her life. Yet we both managed to train for the race and when we met up in New York City, so much had stayed the same.
We started complaining of sore throats and tweaky knees – our usual pre-race self-handicapping. We laughed hysterically about the time she had to wheel me around the hotel in an office chair after running a marathon. Once again, we were ready to get it done!
*Read all about Sondra and Kirsten’s NYC Marathon experience in her next guest post on December 3, 2015.