In 2016 I got to experience my first New York Marathon. It was a huge accomplishment for me and I immediately knew I'd do it again. I just didn't know how different it would be the second time around. Longer runs, more mileage right? I was prepared. Right?
A few weeks after finishing, my wife and I found out that she was pregnant and I was excited. I would be running the NYC Marathon and my son would be there to witness me cross the finish line. Who wouldn't be excited? While I could envision that, at the time I couldn't imagine how it would impact - and change - my training for the 2017 Marathon. Becoming the father of a newborn baby only 4 months before Marathon Day was both a great motivation and challenge to making it to race day.
Being a father is an amazing experience. Like running, you can prepare for parenthood as much as possible but you still don't know what it will be once the day arrives. My son, Noble, has endless energy and joy that makes fatherhood fun but also exhausting. And it's those sleepless nights that made my 2017 training the toughest it's ever been. It was one of the hardest things that I've had to do mentally.
My son came at the very beginning of marathon training. That meant getting up two to three times a night to support my wife with breast feeding and adjusting to this new life in our home. The first couple of days were great - the excitement of the baby had us going but when it came time for me to start my training runs, my body was not happy. My legs were sluggish and heavy at times.
What I quickly learned was that training was not going to go the way I had planned. Instead of running out to train while my son slept, I sometimes needed sleep myself. My legs felt "out of practice" and more importantly my mind was in a completely different place trying to find my way as a dad. In a weird way the marathon felt both super important and also secondary to my larger life. The stakes were higher in so many ways and I knew I'd have to take a different physical and mental approach to the marathon this year.
To start, I had to learn to run on my son's schedule, not my own. It wasn't always easy. For the first few runs my legs didn't even feel like my own. My pacing was all over the place and it almost felt like I was starting from scratch.
Another side effect of new fatherhood were the bad eating habits. When you're exhausted you eat what you can, when you can. I wasn't eating unhealthy things but I wasn't eating regularly and my meal sizes varied, drastically, depending on how much time I had to eat. This definitely added another layer of difficulty to my training.
I knew that I wasn't training in the most optimal way but I also knew that I didn't have very many alternatives considering my priority had to be my son. There were times when I had to consider that I wouldn't be running this year's marathon and even thought about deferring until 2018. However, there were also times when I remembered how important it would be for me to complete it another year and have that medal to share with my son. So I pushed through.
I did shorter training runs and signed up for races that could count as my long runs. It took a lot of my mental and physical effort to push through each of those runs and races, especially when my body and brain were not fully cooperating. Overall, the process took a toll on my confidence and my ability to run at a pace that I was normally accustomed. It also didn't help that I was hoping to PR this year. Sometimes that goal felt like a complete fantasy. Soon, just finishing became the only goal I could envision.
Throughout my training I had good runs and bad runs and races that left me feeling strong and others that filled me with doubt but through them all I kept my son and wife in mind and used them as motivation to finish.
That same motivation held true for race day. I knew they were sitting in the grandstand waiting to see me and I couldn't let them down. On marathon day I started out strong and felt good all the way through Brooklyn but was hit with terrible legs cramps going up 1st avenue and hit a mental wall where I was questioning whether I'd make it to the finish line.
In the moment, I can honestly say that the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I didn't want to let my son down. No, he didn't know what was going on or even know what a Marathon is but it was important to me that he see me cross - and that I get to see him. So I ran, and walked sometimes, but kept going. I can't describe how it felt to see my son as I approached the finish and see him smiling at all of the excitement around him. It felt so good to finish and be able to put that medal around his neck. The 4 Minute PR didn't hurt either!
While being a new father made this year's marathon tougher than ever, having my son also made it super rewarding and gave me something to share with him for a lifetime.