Last Friday, I had surgery to repair my foot. The surgeon smoothed out two spots on my bone, removed the compromised parts of my Achilles tendon, and fixed the tear. It was performed at the orthopedic’s facility, which made things more convenient as I avoided the hospital. After dealing with so much discomfort, I was almost eager for the eventual relief surgery promised.
It always amazes me to spend any amount of time in an operating area. For patients and their families, this is a life-changing experience remembered for the rest of their lives. For the staff, it is (usually) just another day at work. That being said, they were fantastic at making me feel safe and welcomed.
The process of getting checked in was easy enough. No one told me that I would be waiting for an operating room to open, so I stayed in the waiting area for over an hour and a half. This is my only complaint about the process; I wish someone had given me the head’s up as the anticipation almost brought me to a panic attack.
The surgery itself took less than an hour. I went into the operating room at 11 and was home before 1. I left groggy but eager to be heading home.
The next few days were a blur. I was beyond fortunate to receive a fantastic nerve block. I didn’t begin to feel any pain until the following evening. I spent the time with my “toes above the nose” (as the nurse instructed). Once the pain came, it came on hard. The first few days were spent napping and watching bad TV.
I have a sort of half-cast on that is wrapped in a bandage. I have no clue what my incision looks like. This is unsettling for someone like me, who hates surprises and not knowing as much as possible about something. The cast set my foot facing down, unable to put any weight on it. Currently, this is the most difficult challenge. I cannot do much. Mike bought me a travel coffee mug with a cover and a handle to make my coffee. I use my Hydroflask with a handle to get my water, but beyond yogurt and snacks, there isn’t much I can do to get myself food. Having your eleven-year-old pour milk into your Cheerios and bring it to you on the couch is pretty humbling. Note: Mike adds too much milk for my liking, but Michael’s milk to cereal ratio is important. No one discusses such things, but it is a huge deal.
Once I stopped napping all day, the next challenge involved staying sane during the heatwave. Temperatures reached 104 with the heat index, so sitting outside with a huge cast on was out of the question. Mike put the air conditioner into the living room window. We pulled the light-blocking curtains and sat in the dark, mostly on devices and watching reruns. By Friday, it was affecting Michael. Humans are not meant to live in caves, even ones with AC and Big Bang Theory reruns. Even though we had as many adventures as we could before my surgery, having to sit inside for four days was not at all enjoyable.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the past ten days:
Preparing was a huge help. Having a basket of clothes downstairs made things easier. I packed comfortable clothes but have found I have only wanted to wear cotton clothing, so the workout gear I packed has sat untouched. Also, these are my favorite hang-around shorts. They’re super soft and have pockets. I bought one pair, then ordered two more after they arrived.
Having snacks within made me feel more independent. Mike made me a snack center, which was a huge help.
I need to do as much as I can to ensure that I heal as quickly as possible because I cannot shower or prepare food for myself sticks.
I wish I had purchased shower wipes. I used a wet facecloth, but I wish I had bought actual shower wipes.
My husband is amazing. He’s been working all day and taking care of everything at home. This includes taking care of me, cleaning the house, taking Michael to baseball, taking care of Banjo, and a million other things that come up throughout the day. He hasn’t been sitting down before nine each night.
My friends are amazing. I haven’t talked to many people about getting this done, but those who know have been checking in and helping out more than I ever hoped. I am beyond grateful.
Banjo is beyond happy to have me home for a few more weeks. However, he is pretty confused regarding my refusal to play with him. After trying to engage, he took out all of his toys, made a huge mess, and played with his back to me for a little while.
The following steps involve a lot of feelings of hurry up and wait. I have my follow-up tomorrow and will hopefully exchange my cast for a boot. I will still not be able to do much walking and rely on my crutches; being able to carry my Cheerios to the couch is something I very much look forward to doing. I won’t begin walking or trying to strengthen the foot for another four weeks.
I know that the process will be long and filled with ups and downs. I know that there will be victories as well as setbacks. I’ve already been told that the earliest I can even think about running is next February. I also know that I will complete the goals I had to abandon this year (Boston Marathon and Marine Corps 50k). Most importantly, I know that this journey will be worth it.
After months of trying to fix my foot on my own, it became clear that surgery is the only option to return to regular activity. I still cannot walk normally, only walking with the injured foot out Fred Flintstone style to make it even slightly tolerable. I miss being active; even kayaking hurt because it required resting my heel on the boat’s floor, which caused aching. Being active is a big part of my life; being unable to do so is disheartening. My awkward gait is causing strain on other parts of my body.
I initially hurt my foot in March. I wore a boot for two weeks and did everything I could to get better. I attended physical therapy. I carried a resistance band with me and used it during virtual classes and my preps. I even earned my yoga instructor certification! I worked on getting stronger but re-injured it anyway. The weekend before the second injury, I ran twelve slow miles, getting back on track for 50K training. I did everything I was supposed to, only to begin right back where I started. An X-ray confirmed that there was no improvement. An MRI confirmed an Achilles debridement was my only chance of getting back to normal. I have to accept that I will not not be completing the Marine Corps 50K or the Boston Marathon (both virtually) this year.
So my surgery is scheduled for this Friday. My orthopedic offered to follow probable timeline:
Two weeks: no walking/ weight
Six weeks: boot/ begin PT
Eight weeks: no driving (mid-October)
Ten weeks: maybe start riding a bike (early November)
It will be six to nine months before I can even consider running, which brings me to next spring.
I learned that I would need surgery ten days before it was scheduled, which was perfect. This gives me enough time to get stuff done as I won’t be able to drive for eight weeks but not enough time to get nervous and freak out truly. Honestly, it hurts so much that I would have had it done the following day if that were an option. Having ten days to prep gave me time to take care of things I wouldn’t be able to do after the surgery.
Take the car in for maintenance and a recall
Get Michael school shoes, which was so much fun as he hasn’t had to wear dress shoes since March 13, 2020
Get Michael the last of his school supplies
Stop into my school to put away my materials and belongings
Stock up on household goods since I am unable to drive. (I did this as if we live in a world without online shopping, and everything would fall apart if we ran low on dish soap, but it makes me feel like I’m helping during a time when I will feel useless.)
This also gave me time to plan out modifications to my life that will be required while I cannot put any weight on my foot. Because we live in a cape, we live between three floors. Mike and I were able to figure out how to make this work:
Contact school and make sure I was okay to take time off and had everything submitted for approval
I will take a downstairs bedroom
I made myself a laundry basket of clothes to live out of so I don’t have to go upstairs or rely on the boys to bring me clothes
We put a folding chair in the outdoor shower, so I don’t have to try to and stand in our slippery bathtub.
This timeline also allowed eight days to get in the last of the doable summer activities. They include:
Taking Michael to Salem to visit Fun Chicken, only to discover that Kiddie Land is closed on Mondays
Going to see the Lake Monsters one last time
Last pizza on the beach trip
Visiting observatory during the meteor shower.
The window of time when Michael wants to do cool stuff with his mom is closing, so we want to do as much as possible
The surgeon’s office called this morning as we were finishing breakfast at our favorite little diner- the one that still has RC Cola from the fountain. It’s pouring today, and Michael has baseball tryouts tonight, so this isn’t much more to do than wait around until things get hectic for a little while.
** I apologize in advance for this being one of the most long-winded stories to date**
When Mike and I were trying to conceive, I found the two-week wait- the time between when you ovulated and when you wait for your menstrual cycle to be an excruciating time. You analyze every out-of-the-ordinary feeling. We are very fortunate that it did not take us long to conceive, and my heart breaks for anyone who has to go through this process for an extended time. Recent experiences brought forth those memories.
I recently decided to follow up with genetic testing offered through my doctor and called the local Breast Health Center at the hospital. If I am honest, I had been keeping up with mammograms but have been sitting on this referral for two years. It was only my cousin’s diagnosis that made me take the time to call. The specialist explained that I am eligible for MRI screening, which I agreed to do, even though they often lead to suspicious findings.
I was able to schedule the MRI and a dentist appointment to get fitted for a crown on the same day and took the day off from work. I wasn’t nervous going into the appointment, and I felt like a champ for going face-first into the MRI machine and remaining there for the duration of the test. I left feeling fine and a little bad-ass.
That night, I registered for my first ultra-marathon, committing myself to get back into running and excited joining a friend on her goal to run fifty kilometers during the year she turns fifty. The following day, I went to school to prepare for my classroom to return to in-person learning. After a year of distance learning, I was excited to see my kids and wanted to be as ready as possible. That night, I joined our neighbors for pizza and a fire. We played kickball with the kids, kids versus adults. As they’re getting older, we actually have to try to win these days. I managed to run past Liam and get home, jumping on the plate. I felt something snap but didn’t think much of it. I’m in my mid-forties; things are always popping and snapping. The next morning, I could not put any weight on my foot. Once I realized something was wrong, I made an appointment at the local urgent care, where I realized I had no range of motion in my foot. An X-Ray confirmed I had chipped the heel and needed to follow up with my orthopedic Monday. Ortho confirmed the urgent care findings and told me no driving and minimum walking for two weeks. The best news was that it would heal without surgery.
The following Friday, while working from home, I received a letter informing me that my MRI findings required further viewings. I’d been through this before and honestly didn’t worry at all. I’d make an appointment for additional views and be on my way. Me, the one who always worries, was not worried. During my prep, I left a message with the breast health center and went back to teaching. During lunch, the doctor called me back, letting me know that the MRI had found a lump, and she wanted me to schedule a biopsy. “Do not worry about this right now,” she assured me. “I just want to make sure everything is okay.” When I asked if the results could have been affected by my first Covid vaccine, which I had received four days prior, she assured me that only the second vaccine was affecting results and they were affecting readings in the lymph nodes, mine of which were clear- more good news for me.
See what happened?! As an extreme worrier, the one time I didn’t worry about something, it was something I needed to worry about. This is part of my worrying ritual- convincing myself that things will be okay simply because I put in the effort to worry. (Am I the only person who does this?)
Since I could not drive, Mike took me to my hair appointment. While my roots were cooking, I went to work searching through Dr. Google
“MRI false positive”
I wrote down some notes and, for what might be the first time in history, Dr. Google actually made me feel better. According to my searches, while MRIs provide a false positive 10% of the time, my lump, if malignant, was small enough that it would be easily treated. An appointment a few days later with my OB confirmed that even my worst-case scenario was not a worst-case scenario.
I dedicated a little bit of time each day, learning that I did not know a lot about breast cancer and hoping that I wouldn’t have to. I did learn that my lump was very small, too small to feel. I looked at the beads on the bracelet I wear daily. A quick search of the Tiffany website revealed them to be 10mm beads- a little less than half the size of my lump.
A Google search suggested I add “forum” after the searched terms, which lead me to lots of people sharing their own experiences and asking for advice. This catapulted my Googling to an entirely new level.
Through all of this worry, I kept waiting for a sign from my mom. Whenever there is trauma happening in my life, I usually get some sort of sign from my mom that things will be okay. My next-door neighbors, who are family to us, sent Liam home with a bag of my mom’s favorite Brach’s jellybeans. There was my sign!
Keeping my mind busy has been excruciating. Worrying about everything what the “what ifs” to how much it will hurt laying face-down in the MRI tube while nursing a fractured foot.
Mike and my sister both offered to drive me to the biopsy. Since they cannot come and would have to wait in the parking lot, I’ve declined the offer. I planned to ask where the lump is, partially because it never crossed my mind to ask but also so I know exactly where and how deep the biopsy will dig.
When the date came, I tried my best to hold it together. I went through motions similar to my first MRI. Because I’d been told that the test would take between forty-five minutes and an hour and a half, I didn’t drink any water due to fear of needing to pee during the test. Because I didn’t drink water, it took four attempts to get the IV. The nurses felt terrible and offered me a pillow so that laying face down while sporting a fractured heel would be less excruciating. I accepted headphones, partly to drown the noise but mostly so I could count songs that passed and have some sense of time.
After five songs, the nurses stopped the machine and let me out of the tube.
“You’re all set. The lump didn’t show enhancement this time, which happens occasionally but not very often.”
I worried for two weeks that I might have breast cancer. While I tried my hardest not to go down the rabbit hole of “what ifs” and remind myself that my worst-case scenario offered a 99% ten-year survival rate, it was still an emotional stretch of time.
As I wandered through life with this constantly on my mind, I was reminded that other people are going through similar situations. It was one more reminder of the importance of sympathy and kindness.
We are all, to some extent, always in constant battle. We are all facing obstacles and worries. These concerns are not always front and center for everyone to see.
Last month, I had my final wisdom tooth removed. The procedure also included a bone graph and an abutment. During the consultation, the oral surgeon offered me the option of getting knocked out, but I chose to not only remain awake but only to receive Novocaine so I could drive myself back and forth. That afternoon, while trying my best to get through the discomfort, I explained to Mike that doing this made me feel pretty badass.
This part of the quarantine seems more challenging than the original round. Liam has no interest in going for walks. When cases were declining, he was able to play baseball and tennis. His school is trying its best to remain in-person, but positive cases in his class have him quarantining, which removes the routine he needs to thrive.
He’s done with this but trying his best. He’s putting so much pressure on himself to get perfect grades. In trying to wrap my finger around why this is his new obsession, it reminds me of my go-to method of dealing with stress: cleaning. Both are ways of controlling our environment. Despite always telling him that we want him to try his best, he has been putting so much pressure on himself, asking multiple times if we are disappointed if he earns below an “A.” I keep reminding him that his goal for this year is to get through it.
In the meantime, I feel like I am barely treading water. My knee is progressing, but I keep having moments of overdoing it and not doing enough. When I can practice yoga and go for two-mile walks a few times a week, it feels almost fine. Being up five to eight pounds- a result of not running juxtaposed with being on a soft-food diet while my mouth heals- is not helping my knee. After weeks of ten to twelve-hour days, I’ve made myself back away from school and search for a sense of balance between home and work. The afternoon of my appointment with the oral surgeon, Liam brought me a small Post-It note. AS he handed it to me, he explained, “I know I’m not supposed to say it, but I think you are.” This is the note he gave me:
When I feel like I’m failing at everything, I think about the fact that Liam believes I’m doing okay. When Liam feels like he is failing, I remind him that our current goal is to get through. I may not feel like a “Bad Ass Brave Mom.” I’ve been up since 2:30 am. I couldn’t tell you the last time that I did my hair. I never made it to the grocery store last week, which led to us eating chicken nuggets, ramen, and cereal more times than I would normally admit. But we finally finished The Good Place, I ran for the first time in ten weeks, and I played catch with Liam every afternoon this week. To Liam, that is pretty badass.
Last year at this time, I was training for my first marathon and completing twenty-mile runs. Now, I can’t even walk around the block.
I have one half remaining to complete this year’s Rhode Masters series. I know that I couldn’t even walk it.
I need to accept that the New York City Marathon is not going to happen. They’re (maybe) going to send a medal I never got close to earning. And that sucks.
Remember that time in 1998 when you tried to go tanning in a tanning bed, freaked out, and pulled the emergency stop after three minutes? Yeah, you can’t do that this time.
How can I possibly stay still for thirty minutes?
Will I have to take out my nose ring? I hope I don’t have to take out my nose ring. I can’t get it back in by myself.
What if my running and November Project friends forget about me?
What if they find something terrible?
What if they can’t find anything wrong with my knee and cannot find a reason why my kneecap moves in all directions, and I can barely walk Banjo around the block?
My knee has popped every time I’ve bent it for the past two weeks; why did it stop popping the day of my MRI?
What if I can’t work out for months, and I gain weight?
If I need to have surgery, Mike will have to do so much around the house, and he already does so much. This is going to suck for him.
Will I ever be able to run again?
Will I ever be able to work out again?
At least I have an excuse to skip PR day when November Project resumes.
If I need surgery, I hope I can get it done soon. I know Covid is backing up non-emergency procedures.
At least this is happening during Covid, so I can teach from home and not have to worry about being out of work for four-twelve weeks. There’s no way I could trek up and down three flights of stairs multiple times a day!
Poor Liam already does so much; he’s going to have to do even more.
Poor Banjo misses long walks. I miss long walks, too.
It is the first full week of summer, which is usually filled with all sorts of excitement and possibility. Boundless possibilities and talk of adventure often fill this week, discussion of new places to visit and promises to improve our running and maybe plant some vegetables. This year is so different.
Distance Learning was challenging, but it may have been one of the best things for you. While I jokingly call you Old Man Liam, distance learning afforded you opportunities to become much more independent and self-reliant. You had to check in to Google Classroom each morning, making a list of assignments before joining three Google Hangouts. You learned how to cook a bunch of meals, informing me at the end of some days that you made your own breakfast, lunch and dinner. You learned that you had to ask for help and find answers when things were confusing, relying on teacher emails and Google Hangout office hours, group class chats, and even YouTube for clarification.
While you were doing this, I was in the midst of my own distance learning experience. While parents applauded me, I realized how easy I had it, spending my days wearing sweats and talking to kids about The Outsiders, relating the problems of Johnny and PonyBoy to current events in attempts to make sense of both COVID and civil unrest affecting our country. I had it much more comfortable than most.
Although you excelled at distance learning, you also counted down to the last day of school. An hour after school ended, your eyes filled with tears. “This isn’t how I wanted my year to end! I love my teacher and I wish I had more time with her. It isn’t fair.” You wanted the hugs and high fives that usually accompany the last day of school.
We did this in our house that is small yet big enough to take breaks from each other. Sometimes, we did our distance learning in our backyard, enjoying the sunshine and warm spring air. Banjo thought this was the greatest thing to ever happen to him- his people were home all day!
Two days later, I suggested driving to Newport and walking the Cliff Walk. You asked if we could instead walk Thames Street and downtown. It was the first time we had to wear our masks for any length of time, which was horrible and leaves me so concerned for the fall when I will wear one all day at school. We bought cookies, watched the water, and browsed the stores a bit. It was time to go home, and as we drove over the Newport Bridge, talking about the time we ran over it and wondering if life will be normal enough to do so this October, you burst into tears, the feelings you had been suppressing coming up and out.
Too many times during this breakdown, I heard you apologize. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry. I know that other people have it so much worse than we do.” We talked about summer, how it usually means endless possibilities and new adventures. “But this summer will be different. I’m tired of walks and bike rides. And hikes are nothing more than walks in the woods.” (Dammit, you figured that out!)
During this past month, we’ve had other stuff going on. Banjo got hurt and required two surgeries. While we tried not to talk about it within your earshot, we whispered about how much pet insurance would cover and where that left us. You toured the new school you’ll be attending in the fall because your school eliminated morning care. You helped me honor my mom on the tenth anniversary of her passing, making you realize that you do not know this woman everyone says loved you so much. We’ve somehow managed to fit years of terrible events into a very short amount of time. And while you are the kindest, most compassionate kid I have ever met, you have not had to experience any real trauma, so this is new to you.
So here’s what you need to know:
It is okay to be sad about the summer. You’re right- it won’t be as much fun as it usually is for us.
You are learning about social justice, reading New Kid and They Called Us Enemy and learning about Pride and Black Lives Matter. We are teaching you that the world you have experienced is not the same world everyone experiences. You have been so open to learning about injustice, and discussing what we can do to be a part of the solution, which is a lot of new information. While it is tough to hear, you need to learn things that other mothers do have the luxury of deciding when and what life lessons they teach their children.
So while we keep teaching you that other people are affected by COVID by a much higher extent than you are, you are still allowed to be sad. We can play in our yard with our friends, take Banjo for walks, and feel safe and without fear of paying bills on time. We will not visit the Baseball Hall of Fame as we talked about after watching A League of Their Own. Nor will we take the train to New York City, visit the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, or sing “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway. But we will read books and go for bike rides. We not take random trips to the zoo, but we will eat ice cream and Del’s lemonade. You and Dad will relearn how to play Magic the Gathering. We are going to master making friendship bracelets. We will complete socially distanced November Project workouts stay active at home.
It may not be the summer we usually have, but I promise it to be great as it safely and possibly can be, and we will count our blessings.
When teaching The Catcher in the Rye, I ask my students to write an essay about explaining that Holden was either psychologically damaged or just a kid going through a tough time. While debating the character, a student, one who suffered from bouts of mania, said one of the most profound observations:
“Everyone is psychologically damaged. What makes some people seem insane is their inability to hide it.”
I’ve carried his words with me for over a decade, reminding myself to “hide my insanity” when it might be showing.
I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I remember creating escape plans to get out of my classroom if various catastrophes arose. It has taken me over forty years, but I have learned to live with and manage my anxiety. I do not talk about it; talking about it makes it available to creep into my head. I greatly admire people who are open with their struggles, but my journey just isn’t something I am comfortable sharing with the world.
The silver lining to managing my own anxiety is that I am equipped to help Liam manage his anxiety. He’s learned breathing and grounding techniques and I encourage him to talk about things that worry him. We create plans to help him cope and discuss strategies to keep his anxiety from taking over his mind.
For the past few weeks, my anxiety has been creeping back onto the scene. We’ve had a bunch of small, first-world type issues come up that have required hours of attention at a time. It started around Christmas, when my car broke down, forcing me to purchase a new one on Christmas Eve. This spiraled into me not being at all ready for the holiday, a holiday I wanted to be as great as possible since it was most likely the last Christmas that Liam will believe.
Those few days reminded me of my need to be a “precrastinator,” or someone who gets things done early. Interestingly, Liam follows this trait, getting his homework done immediately after school. I have suggested that he spend time at afterschool care playing with his friends. He explains that his brain won’t let him do that; he cannot relax and play until he knows his homework is completed. Since his mom has lesson plans done at least six weeks ahead of time, I totally understand where that comes from. If skipping an after school round of four square is what he needs, then I support that.
I’ve been focusing on helping Liam learn to live in his head.
I try to pretend that my head is perfectly fine. I try to pretend I have it all together. My need to keep everything organized and orderly may seem like my perfectionism at play, but it is something my mind needs to stay calm.
Yesterday, after a few weeks of first-world problems eating a lot of my energy, I felt a panic attack coming on. It has been years since one managed to surface. I was supposed to stay after school for curriculum building, but I canceled, explaining that I needed to leave for my own well-being. (I am beyond blessed to work with people who understand this is important.)
Here’s what I did to get myself back on track:
Picked Liam up earlier than usual from afterschool care
Played with he and Banjo until Banjo was too tired to chase the ball
Made dinner with Liam- and let him make garlic bread
Went for a run while listening to Mumford and Sons
Put together my new lid organizer, which will help me avoid frustration every time I go into that cabinet
Checked to see how many animal crackers Banjo could catch in a row
Watched the latest Young Sheldon with Liam
After he went to bed, Banjo and I watched This is Us
Tried to put my thoughts into words
I’ve worked so hard to manage it, but my anxiety is not something I should feel I have to hide. As someone who tries to look like I have everything together, this is sometimes hard to accept. The truth is, my need to have everything organized and prepared is a small part of my plan to keep my mind at bay. Running and staying active is another piece of the puzzle. The best I can do is try to better myself, allow myself to struggle and do things that scare me, continue the quirky habits that keep my mind calm, and try to make others feel loved and supported.
Keise Laymon said it best in his memoir Heavy:
“Some broken folk do whatever they can to break other folk. If we’re gon be broken, I wonder if we can be those other kind of broken folk from now on. I think it’s possible to be broken and ask for help without breaking other people.”
While training for my first half, I wrote weekly updates, reveling in my progress as I ran further than I previously had. I had every intention of doing the same thing while training for the marathon. However, the work/home/training routine only had so much give and it just didn’t happen. Before I forget the little details, I need to recap the first (and possibly only) time I ran a marathon.
When Mike and I did our last run Friday night, I was surprisingly fast. After weeks of running for distance, running faster felt good. We headed down to Philadelphia the next morning, arriving a little after one. Whenever the option allows, we stay at a Holiday Inn Express so we can eat our weight in cinnamon rolls each morning. After checking in, I watched Liam get so excited about the printed card listing all of the channels, forgetting that our digital age never requires them for him. “Look, we’re at a fancy hotel that gives us the list of channels!” We have really raised the bar when it comes to lodging.
We headed to the expo, but it was close to the end by the time we arrived. I picked up my packet, feeling self-conscious that there was a long line for the small shirts but walked right up to the people manning the large shirt line. I had wanted to pick up a shirt at the expo, but almost everything was picked over. It was still fun to walk around and explore. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a holiday area downtown. Mike and Liam rode the Ferris Wheel and Liam and I rode a merry-go-round. It was a nice distraction. I tried my best to hide the fact that I was really starting to get nervous. Throughout the training, I had been much calmer than expected; going to the expo made everything real!
After going back to the hotel to drop off my stuff, we met a few of the elite runners. They were heading out for a run; we were heading out to dinner. We chatted in the elevator; they laughed at my joke about us obviously being in different starting corrals as Mike, Liam, and I made our way to Shake Shack for burgers, shakes, and fries.
In spite of my nerves, I managed to fall asleep fairly early only to wake up at 3:15 to the sounds of the fire alarm and an announcement to evacuate. I contemplated getting my race clothes on in case we couldn’t get back into the hotel, but left the building in my flannel llama PJs and hoodie. We all stood in the stairwell, me trying not to cry. Twenty weeks of training only to not be able to make it to the starting line. As the alarm went off and on a few times, we were unsure whether we could get back into the hotel or if we had to go out into the cold, rainy street. After walking back up to the tenth floor, we discovered that the fire exits were locked. Someone called the front desk, asking if they could send someone around to open the doors. They refused, forcing us to walk down the ten flights of stairs again, into the street to the lobby, and wait with all the other guests for the three elevators.
I got back to my room five minutes before my alarms were supposed to go off. I took a quick shower and got ready. Liam was tossing in his bed. Mike joked that he would rather run twenty-six miles than deal with Liam if he didn’t go back to sleep. Knowing he’d never go back to sleep while I was moving around, I left at 5, just in time to catch the first shuttle to the race.
I was one of the first people to arrive at the race, going immediately to the tents set up to keep us dry. To avoid small talk, I went to the back and sat at a table by myself, putting my head down to rest and resist the urge to mindlessly surf my phone, not wanting to drain my phone’s battery. As the tent filled, two other first time marathoners sat with me. I was actually happy to chat with them a few minutes before heading to the porta-potties about 6:10.
This was my only complaint about the race: since it started at 7, 6:10 should have allowed plenty of time to do my business and get to the starting line. NOPE. I didn’t finish until 7:05, leaving my discombobulated and struggling to get to the line as the third wave of runners took off. I was disorientated and panicked. Philadelphia Marathon officials, we need more porta-potties!
I stood in line by myself, having missed the chance to meet up with friends due to a fifty-five-minute potty break. I snapped a quick selfie and posted it to Facebook. It was time for the very last leg to begin. I looked for people I knew at the starting line, unable to find a familiar, friendly face.
We were off! I was fully aware that I was running way too fast, ignoring my plan to do walk/run intervals. I ran the first three miles before I made myself walk for a minute. As I passed long lines at the porta-potties along the course, I was thankful I waited an hour to go before the start. At mile four, I passed my first beer station.
A friend told me that Philly is his “second favorite marathon.” I can totally understand why. There were so many people cheering us on. I passed a church that set up a tent so their choir could perform as racers ran by. There was a line of people cheering and handing out bracelets. It was one of my favorite moments of the race! As I ran much faster than I planned, I got nervous about Mike, who agreed to meet me at mile six before taking Liam to the Linc to see the Eagles’ stadium. However, I didn’t know if they fell back to sleep. If they did, I was afraid of waking them up and making Liam miserable. I wasn’t sure whether to text him and let him know I was ahead of schedule and risk waking them up. My worries were unnecessary; Mike and Liam were right where they said they would be. I hugged Liam so hard, trying not to cry. Mike scolded me, “Slow down!” and I was off.
The miles went by. I went between taking my throwaway hoodie off and on. I took in the scenery while listening to my super guilty pleasure running playlist. As I reached mile fourteen, I received a text from Mike letting me know that he passed the elite runners back at the hotel. Around mile sixteen, the weather changed. I’d stalked the weather all week as it varied between scattered showers, partly cloudy, and downpours. At 6:00 that morning, it was supposed to be clear until 10:00 before a chance of showers and 43 degrees. As I started to get hit by pieces of ice, it became very clear that the forecast changed. As I tried to confirm that it was, in fact, hail, I received a text from Katie about the “f**king hail.”
The last ten miles sucked! It was cold. Hail slapped me in the face thanks to heavy winds. Due to the weather, the crowds thinned out- who could blame them? Running in this was terrible; standing around in it sounds even worse! Whenever I passed a cheer or water station, I made sure to thank everyone there. My favorite was at mile eighteen, people were dressed up in funny onesies and handing out beer. I took a beer from a girl dressed as a turkey, instantly regretting not getting a selfie. The beer was amazing! At mile nineteen, I made my up a hill that leads to the turnaround to the finish. A man looked at me, stepped towards me, and yelled, “Today’s the day you’re going to become a marathoner!” I was ready to start sobbing until I realized that it was painfully clear I’d never done this before. But I didn’t work this hard to only run twenty miles- I had to keep going! I switched from my music to my current audiobook, The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, read by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which seems fitting since Hamilton has been a huge part of my running journey.
Around mile twenty-one, it was clear that I had been weaving to avoid puddles as my GPS was almost a half-mile off. At mile twenty-five, I finally dropped my hoodie. It served me well and kept me warm and dry.
I know the goal of the marathon is supposed to be to complete it. However, my first goal was 5:45 but I really wanted to finish by 6:00. My best half was 2:40; I’m not a fast runner! I took a picture of the Garmin at 26.2 miles- only six minutes off from my goal. Considering the weather, I’ll take it! By the time I finished the race, I’d run 26.92 miles!
My friends surprised me at the finish line. It felt so good to hear people screaming my name!
Here’s where it became a blur. When I signed up for the race, Mike and I discussed the logistics, trying to decide if we should stay one or two days. I said that I wanted to stay the second night because I wanted my moment after the race. I wanted to stay and enjoy myself after the finish; I had worked hard, dammit! However, after crossing the finish line, the temperature dropped and I wanted to get out of there! After quick hugs, I immediately wanted to go back to the hotel and take the longest shower ever! I did not walk through the race area or take my picture with the Rocky statue- nothing. I just wanted to warm up!
The next morning, I was amazed as I looked at my body in the unforgiving hotel bathroom light. While I hoped to lose a few pounds through training, I’d read a few blogs in which people admitted they gained weight during training due to excessive hunger. I was more concerned with building strength than losing weight. As I looked at myself, I admired my curves and muscles for the first time in a while. I’ve always struggled with weight and body image. Because I have a lot of muscle, the number on the scale often seems higher than I think I look, although maybe this is something I tell myself to feel better. I made myself take a few pictures to remember the body that ran a marathon the previous day. I told Mike I was going to try on my wedding dress when I got home. He laughed, thinking I was kidding. I was not!
I asked Mike to drive me to the race start the next morning. I wanted to see the race area and build a sense of the starting line. On the way home, we stopped three times to stretch. It took three days before I could walk without feeling any soreness.
I don’t know if I would do this again. If I do, it will not be until Liam is a lot older. While the runs themselves were not terrible, it took a lot of time, eating large chunks of our weekends. Mike was amazing through training, taking care of Liam and the house for hours each weekend. I am incredibly thankful to him; I would never have been able to accomplish this without him.
It is amazing to think that I only had to run a marathon one time to bask in the glory forever! For a nerdy, overweight child, the word “marathoner” never seemed in the realm of possibility. But here we are, with the sticker on the car to prove it!
I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped me through this journey. I received so much support and guidance through this. I am beyond thankful to be surrounded by people who are rooting for me, who want to me succeed.
Last year, when I signed up for my first half marathons, I didn’t really tell anyone outside of my running friends. Mike made sure everyone knew, bringing it up in conversations with friends. “Guess what Kerri’s doing?” It made me nervous to have so many people know about my plan. What if I was the last one to cross the finish line? What if I failed? As the weeks of training passed, I became more confident in my ability, trusting that I would definitely finish. As I am less than a month away from my third half, it is time to find that faith in myself again.
A friend and I applied for the New York Marathon Lottery. The odds of getting in were slim, but it seemed like a good chance to let fate decide if we were ready to run a full marathon.
“Do you think you’ll get in?” Mike asked before the drawing.
“Probably not. There are a lot of names in the lottery.”
Prim said the same thing,” he reminded me.
On the day of the drawing, I left the NYRR site open on my computer, checking it every so often. By the end of the day, we were officially told that we were not among the nine percent of entrants who won a spot in the marathon. We both thought we would be relieved. Instead, we were both disappointed and began looking at other marathons, deciding on Philadelphia. It’s flat and is known for a fun atmosphere. After texting about it for a day, we decided to register. We decided to be geeks and also order marathon training shirts.
We researched training plans, deciding on a twenty-week plan the seemed quite manageable. Perfect timing aligns the training of the half and full marathons; the day we complete the half begins the training for the full.
Even though I have a training plan, paid for the race, and booked a hotel, it still does not seem real. Based on my half marathon times, I should be able to complete the full in six and a half hours. However, my goal is simply to finish. Registration requests a six-teen minute mile pace, but people went over that in last year’s results. I know I can do that.
I am still wondering why I thought this was a good idea. Here are my best thoughts:
To prove to myself that I can. Each time I do something out of my comfort zone, the feeling of accomplishment makes me want more experiences.
Never did I envision me as a runner. As a chubby kid who preferred sitting and reading books, I had panic attacks over gym class, especially when the Presidential Physical Fitness testing time rolled around. To make matters worse, my maiden name began with an A, making me the first kid to have to attempt each activity. The class stood around watching me try to complete sit-ups or pull-ups. It was humiliating and stress-inducing.
I want to prove to myself that I can set and meet seemingly impossible goals.
I want Liam to see that I can reach difficult goals. He is my cheerleader. He writes me notes of encouragement, offers encouragement, and celebrates successes with me. I want him to see the value of setting goals and working to reach them.
Today, we took Liam to the Boston Museum of Science, his reward for a stellar report card. Because the Boston Marathon is next week, they were offering a bunch of marathon-related activities. Liam was able to learn how bib chips work. I was excited to see a presentation called “How to Train for a Marathon.” When we went back to the area for the session, the gentleman leading the session, Rick Murh, was there and came over the chat.
“What made you decide to go for the full marathon?” he asked me.
“I signed up for the New York City Marathon lottery. I thought I would be relieved when I didn’t make it in, but instead, I was sad.”
“That’s how you know you’re ready.”
Murh explained that he has trained over 20,000 people to run marathons. When people ask if they are ready, he explains, “You’ve got everything it takes but it will take everything you’ve got.”
After explaining about proper form, cadence, negative splits, he shared a secret he tells all first-time marathon runners. When people ask “What was your time?” he tells people to say, “The time of my life.” His goal is for runners to have the time of their lives.
As I transition from half marathon to marathon training, I need to remember those two pieces of perspective.
When I was pregnant, someone told me that every age would be my favorite. Once I survived the infant stage, I have to say this person was correct. (I did not love having a baby. Every time someone told me, “Enjoy every moment; you’ll miss this when they’re old,” I felt like a terrible mother. I didn’t love every moment of having a baby; it was difficult and lonely.
I loved four, five, six, and seven. Eight was my favorite. There are many reasons I wish I could stop time and keep Liam eight forever. These are the strongest reasons I love having an eight-year-old:
He can express his feelings. He can tell me what’s wrong and whether he wants an apple or a yogurt. During our twice daily walks with Banjo, he tells me about his days, things he does with his friends at school, how he feels about his teachers, and asks questions about just about anything. He is getting really good at keeping a conversation going, which is a skill I know will take him far in life.
He can do things on his own. He gets his clothes ready and gets himself dressed. He can make an English muffin, pancakes, or a PB&J. He showers completely on his own and brushes his own teeth. The fact that he is more independent is a huge help, especially in the morning. Last week, he cooked the family French toast for breakfast. He even set and cleared the table! I love seeing how proud he is of himself when he is able to do things on his own.
He has a good heart. I hope this one doesn’t change. Liam loves knowing that others are okay and takes care of people. If a classmate is out of school, he wants to know they’re okay. When his godmother gave him money for Christmas, the only thing he wanted to do with it was to donate it to the Food Bank. He realizes he is fortunate in a lot of ways and wants to help those who aren’t as lucky.
He believes the world is good. I know this will falter at times, but he still believes that everyone is a friend who deserves a chance. He assumes best intentions in everyone he meets.
His problems are still pretty easy to fix. He’s really good about telling us things that are going on in his life. Most of his worries and concerns are pretty easy to address. When something is bothering him, we can usually talk through it in a short amount of time. I know that, as he gets older, his worries will not be so easily squished.
Yesterday, Liam turned nine. As we let him plan his day, we started at IHOP. In the parking lot, he began to cry because he did not want to turn nine. I hope that he is always so happy with his life that he doesn’t want anything to change.