‘Three minutes. I can do anything for three minutes, I thought, as I walked through the sea of people shuffling their way to the starting line of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Layers of clothes were strewn across the cold cement as runners shed their final skin before the main event. Volunteers gathered the clothing as quickly as possible to donate, in 2017 totaling 86,000 pounds given by 55,000 runners of the NYC marathon. Today was the 50th anniversary of this epic running adventure. Although it was only half the size of previous years, the heartbeat of the runners and spectators filled the spaces between expansive buildings, long stretches of bridges, and ultimately ending amongst the trees in Central Park.
Three minutes. I can do anything for three minutes, I reminded myself as I took a selfie with the first of five unassuming bridges in the backdrop. Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge was the longest climb in elevation of the race, and I was grateful my lungs are used to the 4,500 elevation in Utah compared to 265 elevation in Manhattan. So I breathed easily and reminded myself, again, to pace my running. During my three months of training, I only ran a bit over a marathon distance and now I would be running 26.2 miles in one day! I knew I was challenging myself, but my goal and my why was bigger than my question mark about whether or not I could finish the race. I wasn’t trying to win any previous record or beat a personal time; my bar for success was measured by only a few things — I finished before the “sweepers” picked me up at the end of the race because I couldn’t finish, and two, that I didn’t hurt myself and cause long-term damage.
Three minutes. It was finally time to see what I was made of. I’d been planning to run in the NYC marathon for two years by this point. I knew I couldn’t qualify to enter a major race (or any race for that matter), but I also knew that I would do anything to help find a cure for Juvenile diabetes because I’ve watched my brother, Dave, battle it his entire life. So we decided on Team Joslin, a non-profit fundraising team in 2019. Early in 2020, it became clear that the race would not be happening, because like everything else in the world — Covid. So it was an easy excuse to forgo my training. As expected, the race was canceled, and I was off the hook. I determined that I would only run the 2021 marathon if first, It was still considered the “50th anniversary”; second, I would still be able to run with Dave on Team Joslin; and third, it would have to happen in 2021. I found at the end of May 2021 that I got all three.
The cannon went off for the 3rd wave. There was no turning back, now. We had all flown to New York, and our plans were in place. Dave’s whole family, my parents came along to support us and help manage the kids, my sister, Camille, also came to support and ended up documenting the event, and Dave’s friend, Todd, and his darling family. The only choice at this point was to put one foot in front of the other and prove to myself that even people who are sub-par runners can participate in monumental events that often seem out of reach. I don’t recommend that people run the NYC marathon without training, but it was my reality, and nothing else mattered. I hit and exceeded my fundraising goal in one day because of my amazingly supportive friends, and it was time to celebrate!
BOOM! Everyone began to run the expected 26.2 miles, except for me and a few others who were taking their time. I only ran for three minutes. I first tried the Galloway method over ten years ago when I ran with a neighbor of mine. The theory is that when you run and walk for a pre-set amount of time, the body has some time to recover and make it further without the muscles cramping up and becoming injured. Because it was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to run for a straight 26.2 miles, I decided to adopt this plan and I used it each time I ran. At the first bridge at the beginning of the race, it was harder to stop after only three minutes because the energy and excitement blew through the air infecting all who breathed it. I felt like a loser to walk initially, but I knew my adherence to my strict plan would contribute to my success or failure. Quickly, groups of people spread out at their own pace and left me behind. I immediately added a fourth goal of not being the last to cross the finish line along with 3,500 people in a typical year.
A lot can go through the mind in three minutes. Experts estimate that we think between 2,500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour, and I’d be running for about five hours, leaving me a lot of time to ponder everything under the sun. I was about to push my physical limits beyond anything I’d ever done. I chose my master’s program, Sport and Performance Psychology because I believe that a human mind is a powerful tool that can help achieve anything we set our minds to. It is either our biggest motivator or our strongest critique. I’ve researched for countless hours over the past few years about mental toughness and peak performance. I knew that my self-talk and mental control would be the most important variable in my performance. I understood that the real challenge at this point was not using too much energy, too soon. This seemed a simple task, but as I descended the bridge into Brooklyn and heard the crowd’s cheers and music like thunder, the energy drew me forward!
The people running in the race and the spectators were the most beautiful part of the marathon! Brooklyn welcomed us as we hit our 5k mark, and I could feel emotions busting through my body in every direction. People lined the streets with tissue, treats, hands to high-five, and the cheering was deafening. Kids were handing out orange slices, and music poured out of the homes on the street. booming, “No sleep til’ Brooklyn”, and people were dancing freely. At one point in the race, I was even offered weed in a ball cap, but I knew I’d never cross the finish line if I went there! So I grinned at the nice man and we laughed together as I ran by.
I went into the race with several playlists made by my children, and I was glad I chose to leave one earphone in so I could hear the people motivating celebrations. I loved the funny signs that made me laugh: “Welcome to the last damn bridge!” and the meaningful signs that helped me keep moving: “Someday you will not be able to run 26.2 miles, but today is not that day!”
The volunteers along the way were positioned perfectly, and a welcome relief and reminder to breathe and power up! I forced myself to stop and drink the Gatorade and water at every stop, drink the goos they offered twice along the way, and eat another one of my power chews. I said countless ‘thank yous’ to the people as I grabbed their offering, and I waved and gave so many high fives along the way. I am sure it took additional effort, but I was so grateful for each of them to show up and cheer! It didn’t matter whether they knew me or not; the amount of support was overwhelming!
Bridge number two was the Pulaski Bridge that led into Queens. I didn’t know this when I was running it, but the middle of the bridge brings the 13.1-mile mark. Pacing myself and watching the time was the highest focus in my mind, and I didn’t know the route well enough to comprehend where I was until the race ended. Each borough offered a unique character and charm, and everyone was so proud of their spot in the world. The bottom of the bridge brought another burst of party-time cheering in Queens. At times, I wanted to stop and cheer the runners on instead of being a runner — and I committed that I would be the support system someday for other runners when I couldn’t run anymore. I really didn’t know how important that role is until I attempted my first marathon!
And now, it was time to cross into Queensboro Bridge, known as the ever-popular 59th Street Bridge in the song by Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel. At this point, I’d run roughly fifteen miles, which is further than I’d ever run before. I could tell that the few times I let myself walk longer than one minute, the muscles in my legs began to tighten. To my surprise, though, none of my muscles had cramped yet other than the muscle on the left side of my right knee. I found that if I kept moving, it worked itself out, and I continued remaining vigilant in taking my chews and stopping for every liquid available.
There were times on the bridge when all I could hear were the swooshing of people’s clothing and the footsteps as they pounded the assault. We were all together and very alone in the quiet of the race, simultaneously. The bridges were challenging because of the incline, but I appreciated being alone amongst the runners to regroup. Even though I’d spent hours trying to figure out my Garmin watch to help me with my three to one split times, I started the race sooner than I expected, and I couldn’t get it to work in the very end.
It was about this point when I descended the bridge and ran another few hundred yards that Jon, my parents, and Camille were waiting to see me. It is honestly hard to hear when people cheer for you because people are cheering the entire race. Jon had texted me a bit earlier to tell me where they were, and I was so excited to find them. My pace began to decline because I was afraid I might pass them. When I finally saw my family on my right side like friendly cattle barred behind a gate, so I darted toward the edge and threw my arms around Jon. I began to cry, and emotion washed over me like a cool hand towel on my forehead when I have a fever.
It’s a good thing the divider between the runners and the crowds was tall enough because, at that point, it would have been really easy to jump it! By this point, I had run more than a half marathon, and I was tired — but I had already made up my mind. There was no turning back or stopping. I hugged my parents and Camille as tears welled up again when I saw the tears in my parents’ eyes. Jon was so proud and mostly concerned I would hurt myself, because, “who runs the NYC marathon without training, Janae? Only you!” I couldn’t blame him. It’s just how I roll. And then there was Camille, who was lovingly taking video and forever supportive of this experience. She also wanted to support Dave and raise awareness about Juvenile Diabetes in her way by sharing the journey as an influencer.
When I turned to leave my family and begin running again, I knew I’d have to pick up the pace a bit. People were hanging off the fire escapes on first avenue, music was treating us from big speakers on the flats in East Harlem. Once again, the energy of the people fueled me, and I realized that I could not do anything in this life alone. Even when I don’t know the people around me, their influence and decisions impact my own. Connection is everything. I learned again that the invisible threads that bind us all together are more powerful than we could ever comprehend.
Eventually, I made it to the Bronx, where the bridges were low and short. The people were full of energy and excitement. Hip-hop and salsa were playing for their visitors, and the whole experience was done in about a mile and a half. Soon I was back in Harlem and coming into Central Park. The trees were a welcome sight after miles of tall buildings. I am used to running in the mountains, and I felt right at home as the bright green leaves blew in the breeze. One thing that shocked me about the NYC course was the number of uphill climbs. It seemed like by the end of the race, we would arrive at Mt. Everest, but we didn’t, so we must have had a decline somewhere along the way. I think the long stretches uphill are more noticeable, even though they aren’t as steep or high of elevation as Utah because I am not used to running 26.2. My step tracker on my watch hit 5,000 steps that day before we even started the race, and the estimated amount of total steps for the race is about 50,000.
It was about mile 25 when I saw Jon, Camille, my parents, Dave, who had already finished the race in about four hours (!), and Emmy, my sister-in-law, and all of their kids. I almost passed them without hearing them yelling, and Jon yells loud. I hadn’t seen the text he sent to watch for them, and I was utterly shocked when I saw them again. I was so grateful for their support, and I knew I couldn’t have made it there without all of them along the way. I greatly missed my children more than anything, but their influence and support were in my thoughts the entire race. I replayed conversations I’d had with each of them and what advice I thought they’d give me if they were running beside me.
I believed that Sydney would tell me that “at least I was running the race because she wouldn’t want to and do not worry about what people thought when I was walking instead of running.” Kinley would tell me to take up my space, remember to breathe, and to run the race for myself.” Whitney would tell me that she has done hard things that she thought she couldn’t do, and I could do the same. Brighton would tell me that she didn’t feel ready when she tried out for competitive soccer the first time, but she jumped in and made it happen and that she believed in me. Ella would tell me to be proud of whatever was my best effort and not to beat myself up. Halle would tell me to celebrate because I was doing such a good job. And Jordan would tell me I was doing “gouda cheese!” (he loves smoked gouda cheese and always makes this joke!). Indeed, they were all with me in spirit, and I always want to be there for them.
When I turned to leave my family the second time, I struggled to breathe for the first time because I was tearing up. I called out to my family, “where is the finish line?!” and they pointed and said,” around the bend”, so I knew I was so close! I wanted to finish strong, even though I knew I still needed to run and walk, so I didn’t injure myself at the very end. So I stopped paying as much attention to counting down three, two, one minutes and just absorbed the passionate supporters!
On the side of the road, everyone was yelling how close we were — (but they didn’t have to run other two-plus miles after running 24). The cool air was refreshing, and the weather during the race was absolute perfection. The people running beside me throughout the race motivated me as much or more than the spectators. I saw people in wheelchairs going backward, people who were so old they were barely moving but kept moving, friends holding one another up as they moved along, all running gaits, sizes, and ages you could imagine. People were wearing fundraising shirts for cancer, ALS, Diabetes, for the Kids, and more. Everyone had a passion and mission to finish this race, and every runner brought along a team of people in their hearts that weren’t seen on the run.
As if a joke, the last 50 years of the marathon is uphill, but at this point, it’s like giving birth — you’ll do anything to be done. It doesn’t matter how impossible it seems. ‘This thing is happening!’ And just like that, I crossed the finish line and tried to pump my arms for the camera and a picture I knew I’d treasure forever.
It was never about the accolades of saying, ‘I finished a marathon. The decision to run was born of a deep love of my brother and his fight with diabetes. It was about doing something that seemed impossible because I don’t believe in the impossible. It was about putting my mental strength schooling into practice because the human spirit is epic, and I knew if I wanted to encourage others to dig deep into their dreams, I needed to dig into mine. It was about showing my kids that they can do anything they put their mind to, and there was some stubborn determination to show Jon that I could do it!
All of these reasons (and more) pushed me through to the end, but what I received from the people of NYC and the experience overall was far greater than I could ever imagine. I saw humanity come together and LOVE bigger than I had ever seen on such a massive scale. I felt healing from the camaraderie instead of determination to destroy connection. We are all more alike than we are different, and when we learn to focus on that, anything is possible! All colors, races, backgrounds, cultures, ages were creating magic together on November 7th, 2021, because they chose to! One man from NYC told me there were two most important marathons that have happened in NYC over the years. The first one was after 9/11, and the second was after Covid-19 on November 7th, 2021. Everyone felt the power. It was undeniable.
Three minutes can change your life. Regardless of the big thing, you need to accomplish, breaking it up into small pieces and focusing on three to one can get you through anything. I learned this on my race, but I have seen it repeatedly play throughout my life. Every day, I try to remember three things I’ve done well and one thing I want to work on. I break down my goals with my family members into smaller parts as I work on our relationships. I try and look at food in a more manageable way instead of the “all or nothing” approach. I work on remembering that instead of beating up my beautiful body, that’s carried me through every day, to remember three successes and one thing to focus on whether that be water, sleep, or eating a more balanced diet.
I use this concept as I’ve finished my bachelor’s degree and now almost my master’s in my forties. I’ve used this same concept as Jon, and I have built companies and supported non-profits. All of it has been based on the concept that massive goals are not going to happen unless it is taken one step at a time, one goal at a time until you reach 50,000 steps and cross the finish line. And remembering, always, that it is impossible to take those steps on your own.
A few times when I was running, I spoke out loud to myself, saying, “Janae, in the end, this run is for YOU. Enjoy every minute and give yourself the gift of finishing” And that is exactly what I did.