November 5th, 2017 6pm(ish): I meet my final “client.” He’s a 79 year old male with stiff knees and a flip phone. “Here,” he says, “you’re a nurse; talk to my daughter.” I spoke to her for a few minutes. We acknowledged that regardless of what was said, her father would be too stubborn to not drive home to Boston that night. He doesn’t know this, but his stubbornness bore a dream in my heart to follow his footsteps. I, too, would run the New York City marathon.
I had foot surgery for a painful bunion a month later. And then another for the other foot two weeks after that. When my first foot wasn’t healing well, I had a revision in late February. And then, nearly three weeks ago, I crossed the finish line after slogging through all 26.2 miles of New York City. Even typing that number feels surreal. I have never considered myself a runner. I was a swimmer and water polo goalie in high school and had successfully avoided running for the most part since the eight minute mile in 11th grade. Running is not fun.
This is a lesson I was reminded of time and time again that Sunday. But that reminder served as only a sliver of the day. That gorgeous Sunday, I learned what it felt like to have hundreds, if not thousands, of people cheer for you. I learned what it felt like to run all five of New York’s boroughs and bridges and what it felt like to cross the 59th Street/Queensboro Bridge (why u so long, Bridge?!). I was gifted an oyster while running through Brooklyn by a subsection of the cheering crowd. They asked if I wanted vinegar or cocktail sauce? Vinegar was the obvious choice. As I was saying “yes” to eating a stranger’s oyster, for some reason, it was moments later that I worried about the consequences of eating an oyster from a cooler with more that 18 miles to go. It was also in Brooklyn that I realized my ibuprofen had slipped from my pocket, and I stopped at an on-course bodega for a few packs of Advil (only New York, I thought, especially when no one in line let me skip their beer purchases).
I took my Advil and kept running through miles and miles of high fiving children, older people, and tipsy people in their twenties. They had been out there for hours. Many people shouted my name in encouragement as I passed them; it was written in sparkle letters on my singlet. One of my favorite joys was watching groups question the pronunciation of my name after they had said it…it is pronounced phonetically “Deseret,” but I was cheered on as “Desiree” hundreds of times and embraced it by shouting back “thank you” when energy allowed. People offered the runners bananas and orange slices, candy, hugs, Aleve, beer at one point (too early, but thank you, again, Brooklyn).
My charity run coaches shared some key marathon advice that morning on the way over to the start line: run for completion, not for competition. And walk when you have to, not when you need to. While I was only ever running for completion, that second tidbit saved my legs. It reminded me that the race isn’t about the end, it’s about the experience leading up to the end. And as I cursed myself for signing up while going across that near silent, shockingly long and uphill Queensboro Bridge, I contemplated the similarities of marathon running and life: rough experiences can feel long and difficult until you complete them and the thing that really matters is that you finish. And,listen to the crowds that support you through every step of the way.