I was dropped off a few minutes before 5 am on 7 Th. Ave. to find the media bus and ride to Staten Island. The previous plans of riding with friends to the start fell by the wayside as my conversations with a media agency became more frequent during the tapering weeks prior the marathon. I had submitted my story to NYRR, a 500 word or less story describing my motivation. I can barely say hello to someone in less than 500 words, and my story and its content can well-fill at least a dozen books. I wrote some bullet points, forced myself to dust off my story telling brain after a long week of waitressing, single motherhood, and training. I have always known that I need to write this story down, I need to expose more than bullet points. I need to provide the sometimes harrowing details that led me to today. To remind others that no matter how many bridges you burn, one can always be built again. What I hadn’t realized until the morning of the marathon, is that I was trying to start my story from a line that had long since past. I needed to look forward, to the start line that was glaring ahead of me.
I was looking for a man who called himself “John Smith” I was shunned and asked for credentials by bus after bus. My credentials were a cell phone number that was not being answered and my CT drivers license I had tossed in a Ziploc bag. My self doubt crept in every minute that past..At 5:28 the buses started to pull away, tears in my eyes, but falling back to Plan B in my head my friends will be here in an hour, I will board another bus . My survival skills and my unwillingness to quit slowly boiled up as they always have. When a tall attractive woman, Jackie, hovered over me in the street lights and the idling of engines and said
"Are you Heather?" I looked to her and nodded. She said “Hi, come with me...”
I then met John Smith, briefly. He placed a yellow rubber wrist band on me and said " keep this on VIP" I thought, this is very exciting, and John Smith REALLY does exist. I made my first of many friends that morning. Kristen, a blonde with piercing blue eyes, looked over the back of my seat and said, “Hi, I think we should be friends.” We chatted and quickly bonded only as woman can, getting right to the core of things, personal issues, fears and of course, running. As we arrived in Staten Island and the light appearing from the sky uncovered the sheer magnitude of the NYC marathon we, as a bus load of runners, interviewers, behind the scene people, crossed the gates into the running village and made our way to various tents until settling in one. We shared line free portolets with the celebs and were warm in heated tents unlike the over 40,000 other runners. As we stood Kristen knew several of the folks there, she introduced me as her “new dear friend” from the previous 45 minutes, it made sense ...The often accelerated bonding process many runners share, pre-race, during race, post-race.
The time went fast, I found myself with five other woman and our fearless leaders Brian and Jackie. We made our way to the UPS trucks. We all felt the pressure of time closing in, the race start in a mere hour. We agreed at that moment to strengthen our bond by sticking together... Crossing the field covered in hay and runners in sleeping bags seemed daunting and our presence in the first wave somewhat tentative, I looked back at the woman behind me, I took Duffy's (another pretty blonde runner from Fairfield CT) hand and said to her, “Look, I have been to many Grateful Dead shows, I can weave through crowds like you would not believe. Follow me and no one will get lost.” So on I weaved with Duffy, Kristen, another Heather, Tara and Jenny..Heather suffered from tourette syndrome which was intensified by being in crowds was running to conquer her fear and to raise money for the disease..We all succeeded checking our bags and met back up with Brian and Jackie to lead us through the gate for wave one and to the start. During this time I met David. He looked so familiar to me, he looked like a runner / a reporter, a handsome man with chiseled features. I would not realize until the day after the marathon who he was. When I opened my issue of Runner's World and read the editorial, realizing David was editor in chief at the magazine. David was genuine and warm, he instantly made me feel important and validated my presence not only at the marathon but with the group.
Only a couple of hours had past but that accelerated bonding process of runners had taken hold. We stood together in a circle, waiting. Energy levels high, full of excitement and pre race anxiety. Our words and spirits bounced off of each other, chatting about race times, hometowns and calming Heathers growing fear of the crowd. We gently poked fun of each other's neurotic running habits...OK maybe it was only mine, but we accepted each other. The national anthem played followed by goodbyes and encouragement. We all hugged validating what a memorable marathon morning it already had become, validating the community we have. "New York, New York" then played. This may have been one of my highlights of the marathon, clothes flying in the air like a runners' striptease. Then, the cannon echoed in the air… The race began. As we all separated across the Verrazano Bridge, putting one foot in front of the other, no finish in sight, just the start...Moving forward with thousands of other souls.Knowing something new was beginning.
Heather and David Willys, Editor in Chief/ Runners world