Paulette Holomis’ dream of running the New York City Marathon was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy

Paulette Holomis’ dream of running the New York City Marathon was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy

Marathon quest takes unexpected turn

Paulette Holomis shares her journey to the New York City Marathon, which was interrupted by the arrival of Hurricane Sandy

About five years ago, I had this brilliant idea that I wanted to run a marathon but not just any marathon…it was going to be the New York City Marathon and I was going to coordinate this great feat so I could run it to celebrate my 50th birthday. The New York Marathon is the largest marathon in North America. This year’s marathon consisted of 47,000 runners (20,000 of whom are international runners), along with 8,000 volunteers and a route that runs through the city’s five boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and finishes in Central Park. There are several ways in which you can qualify to run: by a qualifying time (determined by your age group at a minimum qualifying time); run for a charity and have at least $1,500 or more collected for the charity of your choice; or the old lucky lottery draw where they draw your name.

I have been running for several years, and have managed a number of five km and 10 km runs and in the last few years several 1/2 marathons. I know my capability so I knew if I was going to be able to ever run the New York marathon, it would be through the lottery. Just up to this year, the lottery system worked so that every year you could enter your name in hopes that it would be drawn. If your name was not drawn after three consecutive years, on the fourth year you are an automatic entry. I had started this process in 2008 so that if by chance, I was not chosen in the first three years, I would be an automatic entry in the fourth year which would coincide with the year I turned 50. This was also a gamble because I was really intent in running the New York marathon on my 50th birthday and they could have drawn it any time in those three previous years but as luck would have it, right after the 2010 New York Marathon was complete, I was sent an e-mail confirmation that I had been accepted to run the 2011 Marathon…all I had to do was pay the entry fee of $255 and I was on my way.

My plan had paid off, I would run the 2011 New York Marathon shortly after my 50th and would have ample time to train. During that time, my husband and I were building our house and in July, 2010 had celebrated our son’s wedding. The year 2011 looked like a promising one for me to train and dedicate the necessary time to run the marathon until our daughter announced her engagement and plans to get married in August 2011 and to add to the stress had asked if the wedding could be at our new, yet not completed home. I was excited for her and wanted to be present for all the activities and knew that if we were going to be able to host the wedding at our home, we would have a ton of things to do to make it happen which would not consist of marathon training. It was a harsh reality to let go of my dream but I also knew that this was a special time in our daughter’s life and that the lottery system would indeed allow me to postpone my run to the following year so without hesitation, I cancelled my entry to run in 2011. The decision to do so paid off as the house was ready for the wedding and it was a beautiful ceremony in August 2011.

So now it is November, 2011 and I am reminded that I have an entry to the 2012 New York Marathon. I know that this will be my one and only marathon and the thought of running 42.2 km is daunting but I have waited nearly five years for this and I am ready. I set my sights on more focused training in May, plan to run the lululemon 1/2 marathon in August and be in prime shape to run the full marathon on Nov. 4 in New York.

As most runners will confess, we mostly only like to run; we aren’t much for the gym and we aren’t much for organized fitness classes, we just like to put on our running shoes and run, but as most trainers will tell you, even runners need balance and we need to keep a strong core and strong upper body to prevent injuries, and ignoring that will be a cause for injuries.

So come the latter part of May, I start a more focused training program which consists of speedwork, interval running, hills and long runs. What I decide not to do is a balance of upper body strength training and core work outs and as I start to pile on the mileage, often without proper stretching methods, I soon develop a posterior shin issue and now it won’t go away. Off to physio I go and am told to lay off running for at least two weeks in order to let the injured area heal and then start slowly getting back into the running. With the upcoming 1/2 marathon on Aug. 11, I know that I have to train for at least that timeframe before I can give it a two-week rest and so I prevail to complete the 1/2 marathon but then I pay for it with a really injured shin. More physio, and then off to get my gait analyzed and then off to see a personal trainer to get some core work outs developed to try and strengthen the core I should have been working on to prevent all these problems, then off to meet a marathon trainer for proper techniques and proper nutrition and then off to investigating the shoe issue, as the gait analysis has confirmed that I run with a midfoot strike not a heel strike and that running on the shoes I have and the orthotics I have, have not served me well or helped. It’s confusing at best and I spend countless hours Googling information about shoes and going to try shoes and running in them, and finally towards the beginning of October I think I have found them. I also find the greatest chiropractor who does amazing things with my posterior shin.

When you are training for a marathon, you have lots of ups and downs. Aside from the injuries, you endure doubts about having the mental capability to go all the way. About a month before the marathon, I came home and sat on the couch and remained silent. My husband had heard me whining about sore shins, purple toenails, bleeding blisters and the normal sound of my cursing the fact that I had to get in a workout somehow. He had been patient and had tolerated it all. On this particular Sunday evening, he walked into the room and asked me what was wrong and with a lump in my throat, I shared with him my fear that this was all too overwhelming. By this time our apartment in New York had been booked, our flights booked and our daughter was coming to cheer on her mom. I am sure by this time he had had enough of this craze about the marathon and let me know that this was completely unacceptable and that I needed to get over this negativity. He knew my injury was still bothering me and that I was still struggling with doing the long runs, so he told me “you will run, you will walk or you will hobble the marathon but be assured you will finish the marathon, so get over it,” and he left the room.

I went to bed feeling worse then ever. By morning, I decided that my husband was right and that I had waited too long, trained too hard and had put in way too much time to give up and I was going to do everything in my power to have the best run possible and no matter my time, I would cross the finish line. Fast forward to Oct. 28 and we are only a few day from departure to New York. Hurricane Sandy is on the horizon and they are announcing that this will be one of the worse storms to hit the New York area. We are glued to the television to hear and see what has happened after the storm and it’s not good. New Jersey has taken the brunt of it as well as Staten Island and parts of New York. The airports are all closed, as well as Wall Street, which has only been closed once before back in 1888 so we know that the conditions are not good. I am sad that running the New York marathon will be out of the question but more concerned for the devastation in New York. We can only wait. For now, all the airports are closed and LaGuardia has taken in the most water.

The talk about the marathon is a hot topic. We are sure it will be canceled. The city is a mess, with power outages in several parts of New York, and New Jersey, not to mention confirmed deaths, missing people, destroyed homes, cars submerged in water and subways closed. On Oct. 30 Mayor Bloomberg announces that the New York City Marathon will carry on and if you can get there, you will run. The marathon Facebook page is a bustle with international runners who have canceled flights, flooded hotels with no power or water. Many of them are not able to reschedule their flights to make the Nov. 4 run, while others are still diligently working to make arrangements to get there: elite Olympic athletes, hand cyclists, teams of people running for charities, countless others who have overcome illnesses to run the marathon and still others afflicted with cancer or other diseases who continued to train, even during their treatment, to run this crazy marathon. Everyone has a story and everyone wants to be there.

We check on our flights and they have not been canceled but unless LaGuardia opens we will not be able to fly into New York. We have decided that if LaGuardia is closed on our Nov. 1 flight that we will not make other arrangements to fly into New York, that this will be a sign that we stay home. The morning of the flight, we check the airlines again. All the airports are now open. We have been in touch with our apartment landlord and he keeps us posted on the situation but our rental unit in Manhattan is free of flooding and we have power. We arrive safe and sound at 10:30 EST and settle into our little brownstone apartment ready to experience New York and ready to run the marathon.

The next day, my daughter and I head out to board the Marathon Motorcoach to go through the route. As we drive through the five boroughs, we don’t see much of the devastation. We can only see several long line-ups of people trying to get gas for either their cars or their generators but other then that, these parts of New York are in good shape. Once the tour is complete, we head into the convention center where I go and pick up my bib number along with a bright orange New York Marathon running shirt. We meet so many people from all over the world, who have against all odds made it to New York to run this amazing race and I feel so fortunate to be here. Forgotten are the days of feeling like I couldn’t do this: the new attitude is when do we start, let’s go!

But that joy and enthusiasm would be short-lived. Around 2:30, we headed back to our apartment, where we turned on our cell phones to find a text message from a friend of my daughter’s, saying she felt so sorry for me; we thought it was because she was sympathetic to my long journey ahead. Then we got another text, this time from my husband’s sister and then from my sister, expressing how sorry they were that the marathon was canceled. I was in shock, but we turned on CNN and there it was all over the news: the marathon had been cancelled, and I would not be running New York, not this time and probably never. I was so disappointed and couldn’t understand but found out later that even though the marathon would not have taken away resources from the people in New York, so many people that had been devastated by the storm had made it very clear that having this marathon was disrespectful to those who had lost loved ones, homes, everything they had, a reality that should have been realized when Bloomberg had declared the marathon would proceed.

The marathon Facebook page was filled with angry comments mostly at Bloomberg and the CEO of the New York City marathon; you could only imagine the expenses that so many people had gone through just to find out that it was canceled. I was pretty upset but there was nothing I could do about it — it was not meant to be.

So on the morning of Nov. 4, I got up, had my intended breakfast which consisted of fuel for the run, strapped on my running shoes, my fuel belt with as much water and gels that I could carry (with no fuel stations, I was on my own) and headed to Central Park where later I would see a convoy of runners unite everywhere in the park. I had decided to do at least a couple of loops of the park just to be able to say I did run in New York City. But two and-a-half loops later, 25 km, I could no longer ignore Mother Nature and ran back to our apartment 1/2 mile away, ran up the stairs and with my iPod playing my favourite tunes, I knew that all had not been lost and that my run in Central Park was amazing and that even though we think we can control everything in our lives, sometimes we can’t, sometimes a bigger force intervenes and reminds us that it is not always the getting there that matters, but the moment we took to appreciate the people around us, what we have and where we live that counts. Vernon is an amazing place to live, we are so lucky.

My quest to run a marathon continues, just maybe not in New York.