Wright Out of the Blocks: Here comes the Marathon

The Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on Sept. 17. (Gianna Vadino / Staff Photographer )

By Jennifer Wright, Science Leadership Academy

Since there are still few weeks until the Nov. 20 Philadelphia Marathon, I have time to add about 10 miles to my weekly runs. Every Saturday, I add two to three miles to my “long runs.”
I ran 13.1 miles for the first time in a half marathon on Sept. 17. It was easily the most difficult thing I have ever done but one the biggest accomplishments of my 16 years so far.

I am no stranger to waking up at 6 a.m. I do it every morning. So this day, Sept. 17, was no different except for the fact that I was (a.) running 13.1 miles and (b.) it was a race.
It began on the steps of the Art Museum. I never ran on the west side of the Schuykill River before, such a simple thing to put me off my game. Once the Speedy Gonzales of the group passed me, I was in my zone. Nothing can stop you on your first mile. You are fresh, not sweaty and raring to get going.

Surprisingly, the first four miles was like that for me. The weather was perfect, a balmy 60 degrees, and the sun wasn’t quite out yet. The long-sleeved shirt did not last long. On mile four, stripping off both of my shirts without shame, I felt fresh again.

I hadn’t once complained or commented on my list of running issues: my new shoes, my form, my old fractured ankle, the temperature or the annoying people in front of me. I breezed through five miles like it was my day job. I was smiling and laughing. I had never felt so at ease. I hear horror stories of races, the pain, the pressure. I was wondering when and where that would begin.

I reached the Wissahickon Transfer Center. I’m half way done. Here we go. I ate my first GU supplement of the race, drank some water and began my recovery breaths. I told myself I had at least 2 more miles before I could start complaining.

Telling myself not to complain audibly had zero effect on the pain in my feet. My thighs and calves felt like cinder blocks. Starting to run after a short walk is torture. Which is the lesser of two evils, stoping and having to start again painfully or not stoping and having to take a longer break later?

On the familiar turf of Kelly Drive I knew all the mile markers. Each time I would set a goal. “To that bridge. Four more light posts” and so on to keep myself going. At this point, my running partner pulled out his phone and began playing songs from Disney’s Aladdin. I sang Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and told myself I’m fine. That’s really all you can do.
On of the most difficult parts was coming to my normal ending point and knowing I still had 1.2 miles ahead of me. I was whining then. I couldn’t see the finish, but all the volunteers were saying “You’re almost there!” No, I wasn’t having that. I had a downhill and small uphill then a straight path to the finish.

Problem was, I didn’t know the exact point of the finish line. Running is mostly mental, and lacking the mental landmark was hindering my progress. Here comes the kicker. I was hurting and making “running complaints,” but so far my mental outlook looked good. I charged up the uphill like normal, and I was shown a sign. The universe getting a good stab at me. A woman walked very slowly down the hill with a walking boot on, my emotional downfall.

I suffered a fractured fibula near my ankle seven months ago. I trudged to and from school on SEPTA with a boot. I watched my team leave for practice all in perfect condition. All I wanted to do was run, and the only thing I couldn’t do was run — or avoid torment from my friends about my funny walk. I just began running when it happened. I trained for two months for the Broad Street Run. Instead, you can see me in the background of runners’ action shots handing them water in front of The Inquirer and Daily News building.

To say I started crying is an understatement. I made a scene, my partner going, “Come on. Less than a mile.” And I ran, as I always do. Barely taking full breaths and making garbled noises in an attempt to not cry/sob, I made it. That lady, unbeknown to her, made me finish that race as fast as I could. I saw the finish line and ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. That sign the universe sent me saying either, “This could be you” or “This was you” motivated me to tell it different. That indirect opposition made me want it more. That lady has no clue.

In the midst of my explosion of tears at the finish line my thought had been, “Am I ready to do that all over again for 26.2 in November?”

Contact Jennifer Wright at jwright@scienceleadership.org