What Does It Take?

If you ride the subway or take city buses, you may have seen posters of athletes crossing the finish line or celebrating near the finish line, with our ad campaign in all caps, boldly asking, “What Does It Take?”

I’ve pondered this question for weeks, as my handbook duties remain dormant until next April, and I’ve been managing the content of the WDIT portion of the marathon website. The motives of marathoners vary, but determination, a love for the sport, habit, and testing limits stood out as common themes.

But it wasn’t until I started my third marathon—the Chicago Marathon on October 12—that I had the type of “what does it take” epiphany that this campaign tries to inspire. Another unseasonably warm marathon Sunday in Chicago, I tried to remind myself how much more humid and hot it was the previous year (I remember sweating just standing in my start corral) as we descended upon the Loop. Despite the horrific, record-breaking conditions last year, I remember feeling good for the majority of the race and, despite stopping a couple of times at fluid stations to ensure that I was drinking enough, I achieved a 17-minute personal record.

This year was drastically different.

I suffered abdominal cramps pretty early on—at mile 8, I started to slow my pace and breathe deeply to get them to pass. By mile 9, I’d fallen off what was supposed to be an “easy” pace for the first half, and, despite my stubborn attempt at self-denial, I started to feel the throbbing of my plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendon (injuries that nagged me all summer). When I reached the halfway point, I finally accepted that it just wasn’t my day. I stepped off the course and onto the sidewalk, took some Tylenol at a nearby medical tent, and decided to hobble the mile to the finish area.

Not more than 20 feet from the medical tent, I spotted my boyfriend’s mom. I tapped her on the shoulder and the look of surprise on her face was quickly replaced by empathy. She immediately pulled me into an embrace and said, “You’ve done this before and you have nothing to prove. We’re all so proud of you.” As luck would have it, my boyfriend’s dad and brother were on the other side of the street, so I would have seen them if I had been on that side. My boyfriend had already run past, and they were lingering to watch me follow.

When I returned to NYC on Monday, it was a long, pride-swallowing day of rehashing the story to coworkers (it’s tough to avoid post-race questions when you work for a running organization). The inquiries were good-natured (several peers gave me a good luck card before I left) and were asked out of surprise and concern, but it was hard to talk about nonetheless. It took about a week for me to figure out that this year’s experience was perhaps more valuable than the past year’s.

This year, I learned that what it takes is gratitude.

I am grateful for the wonderful support system I have—people who inspire me to be better. I am thankful that, at the conclusion of my past two marathons, I’ve been hugged immediately. Last year, Mary Wittenberg (president and CEO of NYRR) threw her arms around my sweaty, salty shoulders just after I crossed the finish line; I remember her proclaiming, “You ran great! You don’t look like you just ran a marathon!” I am grateful for the example my boyfriend—a tough but level-headed runner—and good friend, Liz—the epitome of grace and calm—set by listening to their bodies and slowing down to reach the finish line safely. I am grateful for finally understanding when to call it quits, and am grateful that this lesson will end up making me a better runner in the future.

-Handbook Maven

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