When I took a nasty fall two weeks before the New York City Marathon, I was certainly less than happy. I was supposed to run 20 miles that day, but when you’re bloody and battered by mile 1.5, that’s not the ideal time to keep running another 18.5 miles. Fortunately that was a Saturday, which meant I could attempt it the next day, bleeding knees included.
I ran those 20 miles, feeling the pain in my knees every step of the way. I came home and wrote, “I overcame yesterday’s fall. I pushed through the pain. I reminded myself that Chrissie Wellington crashed on her bike and then won the Kona Ironman World Championships two weeks later.” The rest of my week was very rough. My knees got worse, despite prescription ointment. The pain brought me to tears more than once (the one advantage was that the arm pain from the tetanus shot was minor in comparison). My running gait suffered, which gave me shin splints, and I wondered what would happen in New York. I accepted that my dream of beating my own time was not realistic.
One week later, I again thought of Chrissie Wellington while I ran four miles on Saturday. Earlier that month, I got to be there in person to see her win the Kona Ironman World Championships. The day before the race, I was driving along Ali’i Drive and passed her as she was out for a run. She’s famous for her smile, but she wasn’t smiling at that point. She looked like she was focused and determined. During the race, I saw her start the run and she wasn’t smiling then, either. She needed to make up a lot of ground, and she knew it.
Chrissie did it. Two weeks after a bad fall on her bike, she won the most prestigious triathlon in the world. I didn’t know the extent of her injuries until this week, when I read her blog post about winning. She was in pain all day, but she pushed through it. She hadn’t been able to compete last year, and she was hell-bent on doing it this year.
I was supposed to run the New York City Marathon last year. I’d gotten into the lottery and was beyond excited. Then I suffered a stress fracture, and I entered a world of gloom, canceled races and doom. I was able to defer New York, so this year I was cautious but more determined than ever to make it to the starting line. I suffered a brief setback in September when a knee went nuts, but I rebounded. Then I went to Hawaii, where 11 days of running, relaxing and going to the beach seemed to work wonders. I returned home to find myself running fast and strong.
Then came the fall. The agony. The second-guessing. The memories of last year’s New-York-that-wasn’t. And then I thought of Chrissie.
If you don’t know who she is, Chrissie Wellington is arguably one of the fittest women in the world. Triathletes don’t get as much recognition as most sports, though they work out harder than just about any other athletes. Chrissie can swim 2.4 miles in an hour, hop on a bike and ride 112 miles in less than five hours, then go run 26.2 miles at a pace of 6:35 per mile — and that’s in Hawaii with temperatures of at least 90 degrees.
On that Sunday in October, she never gave up. As she wrote on her blog, “So yes, life threw me curve ball. I could either be crushed by that ball or I could throw it right back.” And she did throw it back. Her blog has photos of her amazingly muscled body, of her joyous victory. Those photos also show her injuries. She had open wounds down her left leg, and her elbow must have hurt. She also told of the internal pain. I now have a greater appreciation of what she went through — and I know her wounds were worse than mine. It’s probably been a blessing that both of my knees took a beating, or I’d be favoring one side, which would really affect my gait. Chrissie experienced that.
Chrissie Wellington is an amazing athlete and a sweet, sincere person. She fought with every fiber in her being, and she conquered the demons. I don’t know what New York holds for me, but when things get tough, I will think of her. I will remember the look of raw determination I saw as she ran past me. I will remember seeing her tears of joy at the finish line.
In her blog post, Chrissie said she always writes a couple words on her wristband and water bottles. One is “smile” and the other was “never ever give up.” I’d planned to carry my water bottle in New York, and now it actually has a message on it: The lid is scuffed where it hit the pavement that Saturday morning, but it’s none the worse for the wear. At some point Sunday, things will get rough in New York — I know they will, because it’s not an easy course. But things were so much rougher for Chrissie, and she never gave up.
It’s taken me a long time to get here. Next month will mark three years since my first marathon. On Sunday, I will set out to conquer my fifth marathon. I’m running through all five boroughs of New York City — one for each marathon. That last borough, Manhattan, will be the toughest. My knees may or may not be feeling bruised by then, as they were during last weekend’s mellow 12-miler. But if Chrissie Wellington can push through the pain and finish with a smile, I can do my best, too.