There’s an old adage made popular by both Woody Allen and my father that if you want to make God laugh, you tell him your plans.
I’m a strong believer that the big guy is also a fan of low-grade puns – “How does Moses make his coffee? Hebrews it.” – but I digress.
It’s true though: You can plan, prime and plot all you want, but when it comes time to put said preparations into practice (Editor’s Note: This sentence brought to you by the letter P), the outcome is often out of our hands. A few examples:
You plan to run a sub-4:00 marathon, but race day leaves you winded and you end up crossing the finish line at 4:15 instead.
You plan to order the fall beet salad, but when everyone around you orders the burger, you cave – and add bacon to boot.
You plan to spend the afternoon of your 30th birthday relaxing at home writing a blog post about how transformative your 20s were, but it turns out your boyfriend* had his own plans to get down on one knee in the Garden Court at the Frick, ask you to marry him, and spend the next two hours driving around town in a limousine drinking champagne and calling your friends and family to tell them the big news.
I’m usually the kind of person who lives and breathes by my google calendar, and a disruption of my well-planned out day was once enough to throw me into a tizzy. But if Wednesday taught me anything, it’s that stepping out of preparation mode and letting someone else do the planning is not only freeing – it can be downright magical.
Of course, while I wasn’t involved in the planning of Wednesday’s surprise engagement, that doesn’t mean I’m off off the hook when it comes to the next stage of planning, i.e. the wedding. We have an awful lot to figure out — venue, date, whether gathering all 25 of my first cousins in one room will make it explode with Irishness — but we’re not worried about it all yet. We’ve decided to enjoy the holiday season and not begin wedding planning in earnest until the New Year. With so many other things on the calendar in the weeks ahead — a celebration of my grandfather’s very long life, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years — waiting until January to think about colors and flowers is a plan I can get behind.
Human beings are hardwired to respond to each other using the same tone and emotion as the other person in the conversation. Think about it: You speak softly to a colleague, and she’ll lower her voice when replying to you, whether or not she even realizes it. Shout at a sales clerk and he’s going to want to take it up a notch, too. Enthusiastically exclaim that you finally achieved your lifelong goal of taking a 14-person selfie? Your listener will probably exude excitement right back at you (unless your listener happened to have his head cut off in said photo because even your impressively long arms weren’t sufficient to capture all 16 houseguests in the frame. I’m sorry, Ben & Tom. I really am.)
Mirroring each other’s behavior is a subconscious trait of humankind that helps us build empathy, community and rapport. It’s fascinating stuff, but – you may be asking yourself – what, exactly, does this have to do with running?
I’ll tell you what. In the 13 days since I finished the New York City Marathon, I’ve spoken to a lot of people about how my race went. Some days, I responded negatively, lamenting that I bombed my goal by nearly half an hour and never wanted to do a marathon again. Other days, I was more neutral in my response, saying while it was tough, I finished, and that’s what really counts. And even once or twice, I replied with the excitement I wish I’d felt all along: “I ran it, the crowds were amazing and someday, I hope to do it all again.”
And what do you know? Even though every single friend or colleague I talked to heard essentially the same baseline story – I ran a 4:15 NYC marathon – depending whether they heard me tell it with an upbeat tone or a self-deprecating one strongly influenced what kind of response I got in return. Case in point:
Q: Hey Anne! How’d the marathon go?
A: Ugh. I ran a 4:15 and I never want to set foot on the streets of NYC again.
Q: Sorry to hear that. At least you finished. What do you think went wrong out there?
Q: Hey Anne! How’d the marathon go?
A: I ran a 4:15 and I finished and then I ate the most delicious grilled cheese of my life.
Q: And you deserved it! Grilled cheese is amazing and so are you.
Both responses are totally valid – you ask for sympathy and you’re going to get it – but the more times I had this conversation, the more I realized I preferred hearing the second response better. I mean, what millennial doesn’t like to hear that they’ve done a good job? Especially because, despite my lingering disappointment, I know deep down inside that running a 26.2 mile feat is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself, clock-time be damned.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting everyone whitewash their negative race experiences and go all Mary-Sunshine every time someone asks about something that was a real let down. It can be cathartic to talk about difficult situations, and reflecting on and processing a tough day of running is an important way to improve your strategy next time around. But at the same time, I’ve learned these last two weeks that when it comes to excitement level, you really reap what you sow. If you want to hear back from others what a good job you did, you need to start pretending that you think so, too.
Who knows: you might even come to believe it. I finally did.
Now that I’ve finished mourning my race, tell me: How did yours go?
In case you happened to be one of the people who saw me sobbing at the finish line of the NYC marathon yesterday in waves of disappointment (I’m talking to you, concerned German finisher with the judgy eyes), you should know upfront that the day wasn’t all bad. Yes, I failed to match my marathon PR by more than 25 minutes. Yes, I had to walk during a race for the first time in my life. Yes, I spent the final miles of the course humming the tune to Adam Sandler’s Cure-inspired love song from 1998 comedy the Wedding Singer: “Oh somebody kill me please/somebody kill me please/ I’m on my knees/pretty, pretty please/kill me.” What can I say? I’m a romantic.
But dramatic end aside, the day also had its high points, and I’m not just talking about the elevation. From the unbridled enthusiasm of the Brooklyn spectators to the roar of the crowd as we pulled into Manhattan to the thousands of moments of encouragement from volunteers, police officers and bystanders alike, Nov. 1 was full of extraordinary moments. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the words of Maria von Trapp: Let’s start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start.)
6:00 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.: The morning began on a real positive note. Unlike on marathon mornings past, I woke up well rested and ready to take on the day. I got dressed, ate my customary peanut butter and banana sandwich and felt mentally and physically ready for the course ahead. I was confident as I walked to the subway, practically fist pumping with each step like I was in the final scene of a John Hughes movie. Nothing was going to stand in my way.
7:30-9:30 a.m.: … Except for public transit, that is. I arrived at the Staten Island ferry terminal at 7:15 a.m., and the doors were locked as they waited for the building to clear out the earlier runners. When they finally let us in, only a fraction of us made it onto the 7:45 a.m. ferry, and I was not one of them. Doing the math, I realized it was going to be tight making it into my corral before it closed at 9:40 a.m., so I made friends with another runner and we elbowed our way onto the 8 a.m. ferry, which, with bus delays, got me to the race start at 9:32 a.m. I literally hopped off the bus and ran to my corral with minutes to spare. Nothing like sprinting a mile right before starting a 26.2-mile road race to blow your confidence.
10:15 a.m.- 11:30 a.m.: Shortly after my transportation-induced anxiety subsided, Wave 2 began, and me with it. We climbed the always breathtaking Verrazano Bridge, and my pace felt good and steady. We entered Brooklyn, and the crowds were absolutely invigorating. Kids were high-fiving us, church ladies were waving their hats and spectators of all ages called out my name as I raced by. It was so exciting, I looked down at my watch and realized I was briefly running at a 6:30 pace. Whoops. In fact, I felt so good between miles 1 and 8 that I secretly decided to register for the Philly marathon in three weeks and see if I could successfully run it without telling anyone, just for fun. I felt on top of the world.
11:30-1 p.m.: Unfortunately, things started to go downhill shortly after that, and I’m not talking about the race course. As I exited Fort Greene, I found myself unable to catch a deep breath, and that frightening feeling of breathlessness stayed with me through the remainder of the course. I started shuffling before I even reached the Pulaski Bridge – the same spot where two years ago I felt so alive – and I knew the rest of the race wasn’t going to be pretty.
1 p.m.-1:15 p.m.: I did a lot of practice runs on the 59th Street Bridge this year, and unlike during my last race, it didn’t shatter me. I kept a steady (albeit slower than expected pace), entered Manhattan on a high note, and enjoyed barreling up First Avenue to a sea of familiar faces. After hours of suffering, seeing my friends and family was a welcome reprieve.
1:15 p.m. -2:30 p.m.: Have you ever seen the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs? That’s how I felt during the last 10 miles of my race. I hit the Willis Avenue Bridge and was so out of breath that I had to stop and walk. And once I let myself walk once, it was hard to talk myself out of doing it again and again throughout the Bronx and into Harlem. At this point, I knew there was no way I’d finish in under 4:00 hours, and every time a spectator called out my name, I felt embarrassed and ashamed at how despondent I’d become. Fortunately, my runner friend Leigh-Ann passed me right before we started the cruel 5th Ave incline, and we were able to commiserate together how tough the day had been. We stuck together for a mile or two, then she pulled ahead while I shuffled forward and into the final stretch.
2:36 p.m.: I crossed the finish line at 4:15:53, and – you guessed it – burst into tears. It wasn’t all sadness – some of it was relief, some of it was joy, some of it was my exhausted body no longer behaving in ways my brain had approved. I was proud of myself for finishing – there were a few moments there when I thought I might not – but I also felt so disappointed in myself for failing to hit my target time by such a wide margin. I collected my medal and snack bag and poncho, and then hightailed it out of the park so I could meet my family. What’s interesting is while all the other runners were hobbling along, I was walking more or less fine. My limiting factor during the race had been my lungs, not my legs, which felt like they still had some juice in them even after crossing the finish line. I sped-walked down to the Time Warner Center, where I met my people and, yet again, burst into tears. You know, because my dehydrated body wanted to be sure to use up EVERY LAST DROP. My family and I then made it back to the Upper East Side, where I put on a dry shirt, we ate greasy diner food, and I crawled into bed before 7:30 p.m.
So between all those ups and downs, was it ultimately a good day or a bad day? If I hear only the disappointed voice in my head, it was a bad day, but if I choose to listen to the hundreds of friends e-mailing and texting me their congratulations, I know that finishing a marathon at any pace is an accomplishment worth celebrating. And while I didn’t get the time goal I wanted, if I think about the day in a different light, I technically did achieve a new personal record in a sense: yesterday, I did my longest run EVER. Never before in my life have I run for 4 hours and 15 minutes straight, and while I hope to never do it again, you can’t say that isn’t a PR of sorts.
So there we have it, folks. I PRed yesterday in the NYC marathon, and I have the sore quads today to prove it. Yesterday, I also achieved something else very important to me: the clear affirmation that I will not be running a marathon in the 2016 calendar year. From the horse’s mouth: I am taking a season off this distance. See you all in the half marathon circuit!