Half Marathon Race Report. For My Sister.


Finally- my race report for the Allstate Life Insurace NY 13.1 that took place on March 24, 2012.  For runners who are reading, I will say the course was beautiful, flat, and scenic.  Hydration stations were adequately stocked.  Medals were awesome.  Post race food was amazing and live music was incredible.  There is no way I could pour this experience out into words without addressing the whole thing to my sister.  We last saw this park together in 1984.  I know she will read this, and she will understand why I thought of her for the entire 13.1 miles.

I had every intention of working for a personal best.  I loved the idea of having a personal best in a race that was also a homecoming of sorts to me.  How amazing would that be?  How sweet would the story be to tell my grandbabies someday?  I felt like I HAD TO run my best half marathon on this day.  No question about it.  I hoped that the emotion running through me would fuel me and pull me through the course.  I knew that the thoughts of my past- bittersweet childhood moments with you- coupled with thoughts of my own children and their presence in the place where I grew up would be enough to make me soar through this course.  What a beautiful, healing sight it was to see them here.

They all climbed up and didn't want to come down!


I had to achieve a personal best.  It was happening.  I was going to will it to.

But right around the third mile I saw this:


And I did the most annoying thing a runner could do in a race:  I stopped.

When I realized that I was stopped, I started to walk.  Kinda slowly.  And I pulled my phone out from my pocket.  I fought back tears as I took this picture.  This carousel was the highlight of every trip to Flushing Meadows Park when I was a little girl.  I remembered the music and the horses and different animals you could ride.  I remembered how I always wanted to be on a horse right next to you.  When it was crowded and we had to separate, I pouted for the seconds before the ride started.  Over the past few months while I was anticipating this race, I didn't even think about the carousel, in fact, I thought we only rode a carousel in Central Park.  And even though it wasn't open, the soothing nostalgia of this sight was a precious surprise.  How I wished you were with me.  I could have stood there for a long time, but the energy of the race called me and I savored this moment for just long enough.  I took this photo so you could see and remember too.

I started to run again, and I was smiling so much, that I noticed that I was smiling.  (It's not my usual expression while running.)  I thought about how we, in our matching short sets, came alive in this park.  I realized that even though these memories are so faint and seldom remembered, they are a big part of who I am.  Even though there were so many days that I would love to forget, and quite a few that I wish never happened, I did experience joy as a child.  As I ran, I could not stop smiling because if I did, I knew I might start crying.

I ran further from the carousel and I became content with the fact that this was not simply a race- not for me.  It was a 13.1 mile journey home.  Where is home to someone like me?  Since I left Queens NY at age nine, I have never lived in any one place (structure I mean, like a house or apartment) for more than four years.  From fourth grade on, we moved to different schools every two to three years.  Sure, I've stayed in the same areas and towns for longer than that, but I never made "home" of where I lived until recently.  (I will be in this home for five years this October.)  As a result, I have always felt that home is not where one resides, but where one can truly set all fears and guards and hesitations and facades aside and just simply be.  I had forgotten that so much of home was built here in this park with you when I was a little girl.

I deliberately slowed my pace and breathed this place in.  I thought of the short subway ride that brought us here.  I remembered the excitement that would build up in me when I would see the most prominent structure in this park.

Often our dad carried his guitar case and mom walked with us on each side of her and held our hands.  Sometimes there was a cooler for a picnic that she had to carry so we held each others hand and ran as far as we could before she yelled for us to stop and wait for her.  This sight of the Unisphere meant freedom.  We could run, play, imagine, dream, without worry.  We could be little girls here.  I know it is the same for you.  Every time I look back on the past, there is not one happy memory that you are absent from.  Not one.  Who would I be without you?  My name was rarely called by our mother without yours in front of it.  My days began and ended with you.  My nights, awake and afraid, were spent next to you, always near you.  The gloom and helplessness of our upbringing is much more prominent in our minds, but there I was running in a crowd and seeing the proof that there were times when we were so happy.  How I wish you were there with me to behold this day and to run through this park and remember our happiness.

The course took a turn and I was so close to another sweet memory that I could have jumped right in.

...except there was no water.  We waded in this fountain.  On unbearably hot days, it was so crowded.  The water was dirty sometimes, but we were too enthralled to care.  As I walked and did my best to savor this sight and the comfort it brought to me, I remembered that I was in a race.  I realized that seconds and minutes were ticking by as I slowed to take these photos and take in my childhood.  Did I really allow 27 years go by since the last time I was in this park?  I thought about what it might feel like to come away from this race with my slowest half marathon time ever.  I wondered if I would regret slowing down to dwell in my memories.  It became clear that no other race would compare to this one.  That just as some things are so precious that assigning a monetary value is nothing short of an insult, assigning a desired "finish time" to this incredible journey would be unthinkable.  And what if we never come here together again?  I had to take these photos for you.

I wonder who in this herd of people thought I was strange for stopping to take a picture of the public bathrooms.

I remember how dirty these bathrooms were.  I bet you do too.  A trip to this bathroom usually signified the end of our day at the park.  I remember the gloomy feeling of leaving the bathroom, knowing that the subway home would be next.

There are other pictures that I took for you.  I know you remember the playground.

The rows of benches.  We would watch people walk and ride bikes and roller skate by on these benches.

Do you remember this stream?  This railing?

Do you remember the dinosaurs on this fence?  What is that all about?

And these things.  These are for aliens, right?

They have to be, because there are rockets here too.  The aliens parked their rockets here.

For the first time EVER in a race, I passed the more-than-half-way point and was disappointed.  As I approached mile seven, I wished that there were more miles to run.  I wasn't ready to be so close to the end of this experience.  I needed  more photos.  I needed to savor this day and make this a clear, distinct memory of coming home.  And so there I was with wide open eyes and heart embracing every moment and every long lost memory.  It is not the sorrow and trauma of our brief youth that brought me here, it is because of these buried memories of the happy simple days with you that I can stand, run, soar.  Long before I understood what love really is, before I believed our parents (who did the best they could, yes, I know) ever truly loved me, long before I found faith, believed in myself or embraced the comfort of salvation, I had all of these things with you.  You loved me.  You believed in me.  You, by your mere presence, comforted and saved me.  And you still do.  When I try and imagine my life without you, I cannot even finish the thought.  Often I boast that our closeness is such that we need not speak out affectionate or affirming words to one another- that anything said is already known so undoubtedly.  Speaking out what you mean to me would be like pointing out which direction one needs to go to find the sky.  But just in case you ever need a reminder, I am typing this out for you.

This race was run for you.  So many years have gone by since we last played in this park.  And even though our hearts have been hardened by hardships, challenges and loss, for the two hours and fourteen minutes that I ran through Flushing Meadows, (and stopped and took photos and walked my slowest 13.1 to date)in my heart, I was a little girl again.  I was holding your hand.  Laughing, running, dreaming and hoping that the day would never end.  Thank you.  Without you, I know I would barely stand in this life.  But because of you, I'm running.


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