Are we ever where we thought we’d be at a certain point in time?
20 years ago, I never thought I’d be living in the US.
15 years ago, I never thought I’d be at home caring for my children and extended family for a decade and a half.
6 years ago, I never thought I’d be calling myself a runner, marathoner and triathlete.
3 weeks ago, I never thought I’d be writing what I’m writing now.
Life is a road that twists and turns, and deposits us at rest stops along the way that we enjoy, that we fear, that we regret and that we love. The road is rarely easy, but it is always changing, and we never really know where we are going to end up.
Little did I know, almost 6 years ago as I took my first steps as a runner, that I would find myself standing under a banner, cheering runners as they neared the finish of the New York City Marathon, full of emotion, knowing that I had found my place, my tribe and my long-searched-for path forward.
Two weeks ago, I boarded a bus with a bag full of running clothes, a pink yoga mat strapped to my suitcase, and headed to New York City for 6 days of training, fun, adventure and friendship.
As an Ambassador for Kathrine Switzer’s 261 Fearless movement – a global community of women spreading the empowerment and joy of running – I had the opportunity to attend a Train the Trainer workshop in NYC, an event that brought together women from around the world to teach us how to establish running clubs under the 261 Fearless umbrella.
What I experienced there was more than just training. More than just running. I found my direction. I found my passion. I found my reason. I found my tribe.
We were an eclectic group: women from Malaysia, Austria, Australia, Iceland and around the US; women who ran fast, slow, and in between; business women, entrepreneurs, personal trainers, teachers, mothers. But we all had two things in common…a love of running, and the desire to spread the empowerment, confidence and joy that comes from running. We were all different, but running made us all the same.
And run we did. We ran almost wherever we went. From our rented townhouse on East 81st Street, down to the Today Show, through Central Park, along the streets and avenues of New York City. In the rain, in the sunshine, in the dark. We ran. We learned about team building, physiology, issues specific to women runners. We shared our stories, meals and bottles of wine. We shared our hopes, goals, frustrations and our fears. And our journeys of becoming Fearless women.
And what fun we had! We did not make it onto The Today Show, but we did photobomb Al Roker at the NYC Marathon Expo.
We saw Deena Kastor and Ryan Hall running in Central Park. We met Italian Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist Stefano Baldini, also running in Central Park.
We drank martinis (of course!) and flights of whiskey. We did a beer run – a new experience for me, thanks to my Louisiana friend! We walked and ran miles. According to my Garmin, I covered 65 miles in 6 days.
We ran through Central Park the day before the marathon, when preparations were well underway for the 50,000 runners that would cross the finish line in New York’s iconic green space.
We found Kathrine Switzer’s banner near the finish line. She made it possible for women to run races like this. I still can’t believe that during my lifetime, women were barred from long distance running as it was thought we’d grow mustaches and our uteruses would fall out. Standing beneath that banner at the finish line of the world’s biggest marathon with strong, dedicated women runners, I felt a connection to every woman who has ever laced up her shoes and run, no matter what the distance or pace or nationality.
I’ve run the New York City Marathon twice, in 2011 and 2014, but this was my first time spectating. We started off early via the subway and headed to Brooklyn to see the elite runners, both men and women, and then headed back to Manhattan to see them enter the park on 5th Avenue. We were just feet away from these amazing athletes, in awe of their grace, guts and endurance over 26.2 miles.
Then it was time to cheer on everyone else! We split our time between 1st Ave and 5th Ave, running up and down the streets in between, trying to catch all the runners we knew. It is a daunting task trying to find someone you know out of 50,000 runners that just keep coming and coming and coming. I will never forget that sight, standing on 1st Ave at 85th St, looking down towards the Queensboro Bridge and just seeing thousands and thousands – and thousands – of runners.
We went back up to Central Park to cheer at Mile 24, and then moved to Mile 26 to cheer along the last few yards. Runners were elated to see the finish, but exhausted. Pain on their faces, some limping, some finishing strong. Many crying. Flags lined the route, representing countries around the world. Banners celebrated past winners, including our own Fearless Kathrine from 1974.
I understood those faces – runners within sight of the finish line. Every single one of them had a story. Every single one of them had a reason for running. Fund raising, commemoration, personal goals, conquering fear, a bucket list item. Every foot fall, every step, every wince of pain, blister, aching muscle…all part of each individual runner’s story.
I sobbed at that finish line. I thought of all those thousands of runners and their reasons for being there. And I thought of the women. Of the history of women’s running. Of how we were denied for so long the chance to run the race of a lifetime. The chance to pursue dreams of long distance Olympic medals. Of World Championships. Of simply the right to run. Rights that came to male runners without thought. The right to run for women had to be fought for. Fought for by women like Kathrine Switzer, wearing Bib Number 261 in the Boston Marathon in 1967, accosted on the course, for simply being a female runner. And who now champions the cause of women to run fearless around the world.
At that moment, cheering on all those who ran past me to the finish, looking up at the banners of women who had won, and looking into the eyes of women who were running because they could, I found my reason and direction I’ve been without for years. Not knowing where I was going, lost and overwhelmed with family duties and responsibilities. Feeling my professional life slipping away, year by year.
My week in New York, with runners from around the world, dedicated to empowering women through running…those days reawakened my sense of commitment to my own dreams, and gave me a vision of where I am going.
Women. Running. Empowerment.
That is where I am going and where I am meant to be. I found that under those banners in New York. Looking into the tired, pained but elated faces of women running. Running because they could.
I found my Fearless tribe.