By Rita Dottor
The beginning of autumn in New York for me is always marked by the TCS New York City Marathon flags going up in Central Park marking the finish line. I have run this marathon twice in my 15 years of living here and each time I cross that finish line I feel, for a few moments, like I have accomplished everything.
Last year’s race was especially poignant. Not only did I get to run the world’s largest race and experience the intensity and spirit of the New York crowd, but I also sang the anthem for the elite women’s and wheelchair start! My idols! And only a few months before taking the oath as an American!
I thought the singing would take the pressure off of my goal to qualify for the Boston. So I said yes please.
The morning of the race I traveled to the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island with my training team the New York Flyers. I was taken to the skybox at the start line where I got to meet the mayor and the police commissioner of New York City. The best thing about that skybox was the heater. It was a very cold morning and before long I would find out it was also the windiest.
Setting off on the Verrazano runners were met with a 55-mph headwind. Runners were falling into each other getting blown over but you could hear them chuckling and saying, “We’ve got this!” and “One step at a time!” I was thinking, “I did this to myself! This is voluntary!! Ok Rita don’t blow it all in the first mile!” After I singing I was so energized, and inspired that I got to serenade my running idols as they were embarking on the biggest race of their lives. And I was feeling proud of myself that I was able to remember all my words, not trip on the way to the mic and then run the race myself.
I had a hefty goal still to accomplish: That Boston qualifying time was going to be mine.
I always found training for marathons to be such a similar discipline to being a musician, singer and actor. If you want to accomplish a goal you have to put in the work. If you want to run a marathon you have to run the training miles, you have to train your legs with speed work and you have to prepare your mind and thoughts on race day. Just as I would prepare for a concert or show. I would have to practice the notes, be prepared for grueling rehearsals and clear my mind of negative thoughts on show day.
A very special moment in this Marathon was near my neighbourhood around Marcus Garvey park in Harlem on 120th nearing 5th Avenue. This was the first time I saw some friends on the sidewalk. As I approached them, I could hear them say, “You’re going to do it! You’re going to qualify for the Boston!” At that moment, I looked down at my watch and I saw that they were right. I knew I had been running consistently in the wind but I was trying to just hold onto my pace. I knew I was going slower than I expected to but in that moment I calculated with only 2.2 miles left, finally I could achieve this goal. So I high fived my friends and I held on to the pace. I can’t remember if I could feel my legs at that point but I was fighting tears of happiness knowing that it was a possibility and I was fighting fatigue knowing that I still had the 5th Avenue incline to conquer.
When I finally reached Central Park, with about a mile to go, I put all my energy into concentrating on the rhythm of my steps. By the time I reached Central Park South I was met by a dear friend with the most hilarious sign that gave me enough pep and excitement to take me to the finish line only 800m ahead. “I got this. I got this.” I chanted to myself. Sure enough, with two minutes and two seconds to spare, I qualified for my first Boston Marathon. In less than four hours that morning, I had achieved two of the biggest dreams of my life. Singing for the biggest race in the world and running a BQ in New York City!
This Sunday, I’ll run this race for a third time, marking my 5th marathon. Although my goal has changed, it is no less important to me, as I’ve dealt with surgery and health issues, but it’s not stopping me from experiencing, the best and biggest race in the world!
#DreamBig. #TrainHard. #SingOut and #RunOn!