I’ve always said I would never do a half marathon (and I can rant on how it’s bad for one’s body), but when my pal Juno suggested I do the More/Fitness Half last year, she caught me in a weak moment. I was web-surfing from my Brooklyn couch while our son A.A. was sleeping. I had just finished with maternity leave after adopting our five-year-old son from Ethiopia. So there I was returning to the office and learning, along with my husband, how to raise a child, to make him feel safe and secure with his forever family, and to teach him English — while working full time. Why not add a half-marathon (13.1 miles) to my docket?
But I needed to do something. I had just turned 51, and I had let exercise get away from me, particularly after the holidays and the excitement (and busy-ness) of our expanded family. So I persuaded a few other women to join me on the newly formed “Team Juno,” but our idea to train together was just a pipe dream.
I’m a half-a#sed runner. When not in training — and I’m usually not in training — I run (jog, really) perhaps two times a week (30 minutes max), do a couple of short sessions of free weights, and walk up a lot of mountain roads with my family. So I followed a beginner training schedule to the T, doing every suggested cross-training and weight-strengthening exercise in addition to the grueling four-times-per-week running schedule. Come a beautiful race day in New York’s Central Park in 2013, I was happy to average 12-minute miles. It was no runner’s high, mind you. I was beat, but I didn’t feel too bad physically and I was ecstatic I finished.
This year, as expected, most of Team Juno dropped out, but two co-workers and I signed up anyway. Then my husband threw down the gauntlet: “It’s not in the cards for you this year,” he said. What? Why not? I needed his support, not his doubts. Matter-of-factly he listed his reservations: I had an early morning work schedule (8 a.m.), he worked on Sundays, and our first grader wanted us home more. All true, but his challenge was the last thing I needed to keep going. In particular, I wasn’t just doing this for myself, I needed for A.A. to see his 50-something mom tackle something big. After every run, he guessed how many miles I had run. Two? Three? Eight? Any number above six and I’d get a “Sweet, wow!” look. Anything below five and he’d say, “That’s all? I did that in gym class.”
I started the 12-week training schedule in January, and I had to admit my husband might be right. I was a little heavier (just 5 pounds but still), and the elements were against me. The long brutal winter forced me to run 10 excruciatingly boring laps per mile at the Y gym (fortunately a high school track team was inspiring and entertaining as I endlessly circled). And in the Catskills, where we spend time on the weekends, the icy temperatures numbed whatever enjoyment I might have mustered from the great outdoors. To throw in yet another obstacle, I had to cut short an eight-mile run halfway because a German Shepherd bit me in the a#s! Not a terrible wound, but a small puncture wound, a huge bruise on my butt and to my ego — and I was traumatized. Besides the idiocy of a neighbor letting a known biting dog off his leash, I was angry my training was interrupted. I needed every single session. I wasn’t doing all the cross training and the free weights this time around, and I was nervous as race day approached.
I felt okay, not great, but okay, after the last long run, a 12-mile session. I was slow, but it was on the mountain roads, I told myself. The last week before the race, I felt sluggish during shorter three-mile training runs, and I was constantly ravenous (don’t run a half-marathon to lose weight, it won’t work) and craved chocolate.
And then the half-marathon gods tossed another obstacle my way. It’s funny really. The queens of menopause and kings of hot flashes decided to take a break and bring on PMS and then my monthly bill (which had become bi-annual) the day before.
But I made it to the race, blood and all. They say you don’t sleep before a race and it’s true. I got about five hours of sleep, but once I arrived for my two-plus loops around Central Park, the flowers of spring and the other runners, perked me up. I put on my headphones and did it. All by myself. With 8,000 other runners. My husband J.R. and A.A. were at mile seven with a sweet sign, “Go Mary,” adorned with butterflies and flowers. I was slightly slower than last year but my last mile was my fastest and I happily waved to hubby and son as I zoomed into the finish line. Afterwards I gave A.A. my medal. I had already gotten my gold — showing them and myself what a 52-year-old working mom can do.