Not caught up? Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.
As we emerge at the top of the hill, volunteers direct us to run through a small tunnel. “Look out for dabodder!” they shout. “Dabodder! Watch your step?” The what? I wonder, trying to jostle my way between the shoulders of two middle-aged women wearing entirely pink outfits. What am I looking fo—Oh! My right foot sinks into a puddle almost ankle-deep. The water. Shoot! Now my shoe will be squishy for the rest of the race.
Out on the street, there they are: my own personal cheering section. I actually hear them before I see them: my mom’s operatic hoot combined with R___’s lower pitched holler, and my dad’s shouts mixed in between. When I do finally find them in the crowd, they are holding silly signs on sticks, hoisting them up and down and waving their free hands in excitement.
As I stride past my R___ and my family down the street, I hear B___’s voice in my head, warning me, Don’t waste all of your energy on 72nd street. You won’t be even a mile into the run and you’ll have shot your legs. Still, stretching out after being hunched over on the bike and running through all of these cheers feels so good! I could do 13 miles, I thought to myself. A half Ironman wouldn’t be that bad.
But then I hit the park. We haven’t even covered 2 miles of the 6.2-mile course when the muscles in my legs start screaming. You’re not even halfway through, I try to reassure myself. You’re still warming up. You must just be tight, still, from the bike. I choose a woman in front of me wearing a neon yellow vest that reads “Cheer for Alex!” and make my first goal to pick her off. Here we go, Alex.
I had intended to pick up my pace at mile 4, but when I finally see the mile marker sign at the side of the road, I feel as though I can barely keep moving my legs, never mind start moving them faster. Then I see J___, a man I had recently met through B___’s triathlon group, walking ahead of me on the inside curb.
“Come on, J___!” I shout as I jog past. “Come on!” He keeps staring on the road straight ahead of him and shakes his head stiffly. Okay, I console myself, I am not as bad off as him. I have to keep going.
As we approach mile 5, all of the volunteers and spectators start yelling encouragement. “Keep going!” some of them shout. “You’re almost there! Just a mile left!” I am not almost there, I would have shouted if I had been able to catch my breath. I haven’t even seen the mile 5 sign yet, and a mile away is not ‘almost there.’ The more people who shout it, though, the more I start to second-guess myself. Had I missed the sign? I am consciously reserving the last of my energy for the final mile-long stretch, and if I somehow missed the sign, I know I’ll be kicking myself at the end for not giving it my all. To be safe, I kick my pace up a notch. Now I am running at a pace that I can confidently sustain for half a mile, or maybe a mile, but definitely no more than that. My legs are shrieking in protest. One more mile I tell them. Just one more.
“Smile wide for mile five!” a man running the opposite direction shouts, and I give him a lackluster grin. Even the muscles in my face feel tired.
Relax, I tell myself as we approach a downhill. Relax. This part is easy. The downhill is easy. Save it for the end. And then I see it: the mile 5 sign. That means that I now have 1.2 miles to go. How will I ever sustain this pace for another entire mile and then some? Not that I have any alternative. My body is in its top gear, so my options are now to either run it out to the end as hard as I can or to stop completely—and no way am I stopping unless my legs collapsed under me.
Run. Breathe. Relax. Re-laaaax. It feels like a joke to tell myself to relax when my body is in panic I-need-to-stop mode, but it is the only thought I can get to stick in my head. That and, Just run your race. The rest of the girls are gravy. If you beat them, fine. If you don’t, fine. Just keep running.
There are the gates. I saw them yesterday, when I was showing my family the finish area. Now I just have to go around the loop by the fountain and . . . where? I come careening around the fountain and hear my name shouted from somewhere in the crowd. My head feels cemented in place, so I toss my hand out in what I hope looks like a wave as I barrel across the street. Perpendicular fences create a sharp left-hand turn, followed by a turn to the right, around a street corner. And then, there is the finish line: a mass of navy blue banners and silver chain-link fences and eyes staring through and over and above.
“And here comes Allison Goldstein,” comes a voice over the loudspeaker, “making her way to the finish line.” Allison Goldstein. That’s me! Pumping my legs as hard as they will go, I raise my arms. Maybe it’s my imagination, but maybe the crowd really does let out a cheer.
At 9:43a.m. I cross the finish line.