After an incredible year winning both Two Oceans and Comrades I received an unexpected and exciting gift – an opportunity to start with the elite women at the New York City Marathon. I was rather petrified at the idea! Racing against the best in the world! I felt completely out of place. Simultaneously, I was honoured to receive such an opportunity and knew that letting my fears prevent me from being at the start line would be ridiculous.
Coach Lindsey and I sat down to consider a program for the New York Marathon. We knew it was a lot to ask of my body after training so hard during the year. We also knew that if we could pull off another great performance I could qualify for the Olympics and potentially make the South African team. Imagine being able to represent my country at the Olympics. The thought pushed me to take on the challenge of some more heavy training on my exhausted body.
The build up to New York wasn’t great but I wasn’t expecting it to be after such a big year. I went from niggle to niggle and was thankful that I had escaped all these niggles during my Comrades buildup. I was still hanging onto the hope that a breakthrough would occur and I would have a fabulous race in New York.
Just as I thought this breakthrough was happening, about two weeks before New York Marathon, injury struck. I had my last tough track set in the morning and had managed to hit my splits for the first time in the New York build up. The afternoon only required a slow jog to loosen up but that’s when disaster hit. I felt a sharp pain in my plantar fascia and instantly knew something was seriously wrong.
Doctors, physio and rehab followed for the next couple of days and then off to New York we went. I was still excited about the opportunity and the experience but deep down I knew that the foot was not going to heal in time and I would just have to “vasbyt” and finish the race. (The doctor had assured me that I could do no permanent damage with this type of injury but that the pain would most likely become so intense that I would need to drop out).
New York New York
After a very long flight Haiko and I landed at JFK and took a cab to the Hilton hotel which was hosting the Elite athletes. After arriving at the hotel we met David Monti and his team. An incredible group of people. They made us feel so welcome and we, together with the other elites, received 5 star treatment throughout our stay.
I managed to do a couple of runs through central park which were amazing despite my foot constantly reminding me that race day was going to be no walk in the park!
Finally race day arrived and we were police escorted to the start. The excitement was building as we ran up and down doing strides and drills as part of our warm up. The weather was perfect and the atmosphere electric. I was on the start line with 25 women as the national anthem was sung. I turned to one of the elites next to me and said “ This is pretty awesome” and she nodded in agreement. And suddenly we were off, a tiny group of women moving along a large bridge towards the city of a thousands dreams and hopes. A journey that would test the courage of 50 000 on the day but led by a few passionate and determined souls all acutely aware of what was lying ahead and the bravery it would take.
I have a little confession to make… I knew I could never keep up with the lead pack. The pace they run at is currently way out of my league. I also knew that an aerial view of the race would be a part of the live coverage during the first few km’s. Despite the blistering pace I hung in with the lead group through mile 1. At the mile 2 mark I was still with the pack. We were flying at around 3:20 a km and it was exhilarating. A concerned sideways glance from one of the elites suddenly made me acutely aware of the sounds of my panting whilst the rest of the group remained cool and composed. It was then that I decided to end my brief moment of glory and drop off the pack.
The rest of the race was a lonely one. My foot became increasingly sore and my motivation dwindled. I considered dropping out. The voices of reason coaxed me into giving up. “You are injured” they claimed. “You have had a great year, no-one will judge you for quitting one race.” My heart responded with the determination that drives me to break boundaries and answered, “If you collapse from the pain then you can’t finish, otherwise you don’t quit, you finish”. And so I soldiered on in what many would call stupidity but for me completing a race that doesn’t feel easy or reap the results I wanted is often the most rewarding. When I go through dark patches in other races I can reach to these memories and remember how I battled through my own self doubt and draw strength from these moments. I find it is often my poor performances that give me the most drive towards future successes.
And so when I crossed the finish line and received my NYC Marathon medal I felt incredibly proud and, despite not being able to walk for a few days after the race due to the swelling in my foot, I would do the same thing again.
The next few days were limited to discovering New York on a bus tour as my mobility was restricted but as soon as I could hobble around again we visited tons of tourists sites.
My highlights of New York were:
- The World Trade Centre memorial museum. I remember the TV coverage and the shock on that fatal day in 2001 but visiting the museum was incredibly moving. The actual museum showing the timeline of events is a must see to anyone visiting New York.
- The Empire State building: What a view – need I say more
- Broadway – We went to see two shows which were both amazing. I think just the experience is incredible regardless of what you see.
After New York we went past Washington DC before returning home to South Africa and my highlights in Washington were:
- The White House visitors center. I found the history of the American presidents and the white house fascinating.
- The Air and Space museum – this was brilliant– I could have spent a few days in this museum if I had the time.
- Getting a photo outside the FBI headquarters – lame I know, but still kind of cool!
So that was my New York experience. A reminder to always make good memories even when things don’t go the way you wanted them to and that life’s most valuable lessons most often come from our toughest challenges.