Let’s play put yourself in somebody else’s shoes for a second. Put yourself in Melanie’s shoes.
You ran the New York City Marathon, your first, last year in 4:03. You can’t wait to get back there—you’re from New Jersey—to see your family and friends and see if you can go sub-4 hours. You don’t get in via the lottery, so you decide to start raising funds for Sharsheret, Jewish non-profit focused on young women who have breast cancer or are at risk of contracting it, to get an entry. You’ve had enough friends and family be touched by the disease, so this is a perfect opportunity.
You’re training and you’re training—and occasionally, you whiz by recovering-from-injury Dimity on a run. She asks how it’s going, and it’s all going so well. You’re feeling strong, raising money and thinking about the Big Apple.
Until August 22, when you find a lump in your breast. About 10 days later, it’s confirmed as breast cancer.
You go look into all the options, have tough discussions with your family of five, ask your team of doctors so many questions, your head is spinning. And while you’re focused on this relatively tiny lump that has taken a huge bite out of your life and spirit, you can’t stop running. And a small part of you can’t stop thinking about New York City. Maybe you’ll run 26.2, then deal with the lump.
So you keep training. Training with your new mother runner friend Laurel, who you randomly friended one day, pre-diagnosis, while running in Denver. Laurel was shut out of the 2012 New York City Marathon becuase of Hurricane Sandy, but she happened to be wearing her 2012 NYC shirt one morning while you were both out for a run. At a stoplight, you stepped out of your comfort zone, introduced yourself, found out she was also training for 2015 NYC and ta-da: an awesome BRF relationship was born.
You run together on Wednesdays for a bit, then switch gears and run long every Sunday. The way those runs are going, you’re bound to definitely go under 4 hours when you trade the thin air of Colorado for the sea level of First Avenue.
It’s all good, except that breast cancer. The small lump is barking in your brain.
You decide on a double mastectomy, and get a date. October 20. Less than two weeks before the New York City Marathon, which you definitely won’t run.
You look for other local marathons, but they don’t feel right. You’ve been training since June, though, and you feel primed. You need to get this 26.2 out of your system before you undergo surgery and all the recovery it demands. You want to spend time with friends and your community, doing what you love. And you want to be distracted by all the details of what lies ahead: no driving, reconstruction, more screening, to name a few.
So you decided to create your own marathon. Melanie’s Marathon. And run it two days before you undergo your double mastectomy.
You pull out Map My Run and combine some of your favorite training routes to total 26.2 miles, with a not-insignificant 800 feet of climbing. You rally your village: girlfriends, previous and present coworkers, acquaintances from your Temple, mom friends with similarly aged kids, and random mother runners you picked up on the street. You send out an email, asking them to cheer, manage an aid station, or run.”I’m planning to keep a 9-10 minute pace,” you advise people so they make the right choice on how to support you, “This is not a walk, stroll, or a bike ride.” As the pieces fall into place, you create a mighty Google doc that would make spreadsheet nerds beam.
You have Sharsheret overnight your race shirt. You get profiled on the 10 p.m. news.
And then it’s 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, and a small posse of people are there to send you off and to run with you. It’s dark and a little chilly, but within a few miles, the sunrise hits deep orange, rich pink, beyond blue and you’re warming up, like the day. Mile 5, Mile 8, Mile 14. They tick by, almost like you’re floating. It almost feels too soon to hit the aid station at mile 18, where it’s a serious party, rivaling most aid stations at organized races. Nuun, GU, water, orange slices. Plus, good signs and high fives and hugs.
So much positive energy, you want to cry, overwhelmed by the physical effort and the outpouring of love. But you don’t. You tell your co-runners what you’ve often tell yourself on solo runs. I can cry or I can breathe, you tell them, and I think, I choose to live.
Between 20 and 21, you’re running with two mother runners who are huffing and puffing to keep up with your low 9-minute miles. You guys are rockstars, you tell them, Thanks for doing this. One mother runner—not naming names, but she’s kinda tall—keeps thinking, you are the rockstar. In fact, a few miles before, she said, before considering her language, “I hope you know what a fuc***g awesome force you are, Melanie.” (She apologizes if it was a bit abrupt, but she was in her uncensored running state and, quite frankly, in total awe.)
Mile 22, there’s another aid station party, but you have a few blisters forming and you’re feeling the miles. (You ran 20 miles last week with Laurel, her last long run before NYC, so your taper has been minimal.) You’ve spent all week making the spreadsheet, driving the route, organizing the troops. You’re ready to be done. You cast back to that day you were diagnosed, then forward to all the miles still to come as you recover, heal, return to running, worry about breast cancer through months, years, your daughter.
Then you think, 4.2 miles? I’ve so got this. And you, surrounded by loved ones, continue to run.
If you want to donate to Melanie’s fund, you can do so here. (At first she wanted to raise $10,000, but then she saw that others had passed that mark. She wants to lead the pack and get to $18,000. “I’m a little bit competitive,” she says.)