On November 6th, I‘ll be running the New York Marathon with Every Mother Counts, Christy Turlington Burns’ advocacy and mobilization campaign dedicated to increasing education and support for maternal and child health. While this will be my fifth marathon (Chicago 2001 and 2002, London 2002 and Madison 2003), it will be my first one since becoming a mother, and I can’t imagine a better charity to support or help raise funds and awareness for. As you may know from my past blogs, I spent part of my summer vacation with Every Mother Counts in Bangladesh, so when Christy emailed me with the question, “Want to run the New York Marathon with me?” I instantly and eagerly replied “YES!” I have always wanted to run the coveted New York Marathon and had actually been training for the Chicago Marathon when the invitation to travel to Bangladesh arrived. Going for a run in Dhaka proved to be pretty difficult for a variety of reasons (running the streets covered head to toe in 100 degree weather would have been too dangerous). But I never actually thought that after having two little girls, Leah and Misha, I’d ever be running another marathon. And yet, my youngest just turned one this summer…and here I am just finishing up the Chicago Half Marathon.
I never thought of myself as a runner. As a matter of fact, I vividly recall walking “The Mile” in high school during Presidential Physical Fitness Testing, and finding every excuse in the book not to break a sweat. Finally, after about four attempts to get me to run, my gym teacher threatened to flunk me if I kept walking. And so, kicking and screaming, I picked up the pace. It’s not that I wasn’t athletic – I figure skated for 15 years, played tennis, rode horses and was even an aerobics instructor in college. I simply hated running.
After college, I became a gym rat, addicted to cardio kickboxing and Jane Fonda aerobics. Meanwhile, Lifeway was sponsoring the Chicago Marathon and other races. I saw all sorts of folks, young and old, with all different body shapes, saying “I do” to 26.2 miles…and a seed was planted. If they could do it, so could I. I think the real kicker was when I got stuck in Chicago traffic during the marathon and watched as an older man - he had to be 70 plus - making his way through the streets of Lincoln Park. Now the seed was watered.
In 2001, I found myself in NY for work for what seemed like a month. All of the local aerobics classes seem to be at lunch time, which didn’t work with my schedule, and I began to fret about my workouts. Kicking and screaming again, putting one foot in front of the other I “ran” to Central Park. These first days of running were really more run/walk/run/hobble/walk/hobble stints. But I absolutely loved Central Park. It was that magical, sprawling park that got me through those first weeks of becoming a “runner.” By the end of the month, I could run for two hours without stopping and was so proud of myself. I had no idea the distance I was doing - it could have been three miles for all I knew – but it felt great. When I returned to Chicago, I went for another two-hour run and figured out I had gone about 12 miles. That’s practically a half-marathon! I was ecstatic – that was a large enough distance to push me to sign up for the 2001 Chicago Marathon. It was official…a runner was born.
During those months of training, I learned about energy gels, wicking clothes, Body Glide, and chafing on areas of my body I never dreamed could chafe. I experienced the ever-famous runners high, as well as hitting “the wall”, when the high wears off and the crash rains down. I could eat what seemed like unlimited amounts of chocolate chip cookies and still lose weight. My favorite place to shop was my local running store, where I stocked up on fun running gear and became a total running nerd. More importantly, I always finished my run with a glass of Lifeway Kefir and a banana. Kefir is actually great for distance runners because the protein helps with muscle repair and the immune boosting elements were helpful because distance runners really put their body through torture at times. (Hey, I have to sell a little ,too )
And then came that gut-wrenching day, September 11th. I continued on with my training that night, but this time with no music. Five miles with nothing but my own thoughts, grief and sadness. I bowed my head to other runners on the trail. The sky was still, planes grounded, streets quiet. Shortly thereafter, my 20-miler came up and all I could think of was the thousands of people who woke up to go to work on 9/11 and some never came home. Some ran for their lives, 25+ miles in work clothes, heels, under intense fear and stress. Here I was, prepared for 20 miles, wearing comfortable running gear, under the sunny, still, quiet sky of Chicago. I don’t want to say my first 20 miles was easy, but I guess I don’t think it was that hard, either. The streets of Chicago were still under heavy patrol by Chicago Police and I felt tremendous gratitude for their presence along the path. And, as I learned in Bangladesh, the freedom to practice sport out in public wearing shorts and a tank top is not a freedom all women in the world have.
My running life started in Central Park and I couldn’t be more thrilled to pay tribute to the great city of New York on the 10th year anniversary of 9/11 by giving it my first 26.2 miles as a mom. Here’s to you, New York. And here's the part where I ask you to open your heart and your wallet for maternal health. Please visit my Crowdrise page and help make every mother count.