Life in New York: Hot in the city

It was spring in New York, and I was walking down the street, iced coffee in hand, with the jaunty step of someone who had finished work two hours early. Three months after I got my initial job offer, I started my new job, after initially telling the company the visa process would take “2-3 weeks”.

It was the most exhilarating thing to finally begin working after several months of visa paperwork stress, and also exciting to be in a new workplace after so many months of idling around. Michael and I were also in a happy place, and aside from my occasional moodiness at being homesick, things were going well.

It was then that I reflected with some pride (and smugness!) that I eventually got everything that I wanted, though it took longer than I initially expected.

Meanwhile, I walked down the street, thinking to myself, ‘How long before you get to call yourself an expat?’ Reflecting on my life in the US, I thought that things had drastically improved compared to the first couple of months of my move. It was true, the vicious odor of urine that permeated every street corner still assaulted me at every turn, but I learned to bear it.

With work and my romantic life now seemingly in a good place, other parts of my life, like my social life began to come together, and I took solace in the fact that slowly but surely, everything was coming together just like I’d envisioned.




Life in New York: The coldest winter I ever knew

Every night I fell asleep to the sound of the sirens. New York was sometimes still an eyesore to me.

It was during these cold holiday winter months that I felt the most homesick. It was jarring for me to be separated from the people I loved the most, especially at a time of year when I wanted to be closest to them.

During the end of autumn and beginning of December, I had a short lived stint at a startup, which proved to be the closest I ever came to having a nightmare job. Frustrated with the disconnect between my ideal work life, and my actual work life, I decided to keep looking for something more in line with my initial pursuits, and went back to trophy girlfriend life.

The new year rolled around, and it was a contemplative time, as it generally always is for me. I felt more homesick than ever around this time, and I longed to be with my family, while looking forward to my brother’s upcoming visit over February and March 2018.

My brother’s trip to New York was an idyllic one, the meeting of familiarity and adventure, as we explored New York together. When he went home after 2 weeks, I was sad, to say the least. It was then that I learned that the cost of adventure comes at the high price of living apart from the people you love the most.

During this time, I accepted a promising job offer, and looked forward to the completion of pending paperwork for my new visa. Despite what I’d heard about the visa though, and my friends’ seamless experiences with the visa, I had a nerve-wracking couple of months, fraught with setbacks. Finally, two months after I received the job offer, my preliminary paperwork was approved, and Michael and I were able to book a trip back to Sydney in order to do my visa appointment.

After so many weeks spent dreaming of coming home, the trip back home was surreal. Coming home this time was almost as difficult as leaving in 2017, because I knew I would be gone for another year, and perhaps for the foreseeable future. I felt like I’d left something good in pursuit of adventure and excitement in an unstable political climate, which perhaps wouldn’t be the best for me in the long term. A part of me looked forward to going back to New York, and there was a part of me that clung to my life in Sydney.

Nevertheless, there was an unshakeable determination and desire to see how far I could go. So I brushed my feelings aside, and prepared for the reality of another few years in New York.

I thought about how this time, two years ago, I’d just started my first adult job, and had been on the fence about moving to New York. It was ironic how fast things could change.

The Great American Road Adventure: Kansas

The drive from Denver to Topeka, Kansas was supposed to take us 7-8 hours on the I-70 East. Still suffering from the dreadful after-effects of the edibles in Denver, the 5 hour nap refreshed me completely. After I woke up, it was about 2pm, and Michael and I decided that we’d stop somewhere for lunch in the next hour. After looking up some places on Yelp, we decided to stop for a late lunch at a place called Al’s Chickenette, in Hays, Kansas.


We didn’t have much choice in stopping for lunch at Al’s. It was the best reviewed place on Yelp within 50 miles, that was on the way to Topeka. It took us one hour to get there, and we arrived around 3:30pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Much of the ride had been spent gazing out of the window to stare at cornfields.

We parked in the small car-park outside the restaurant, and proceeded in. Due to the unusual hour for lunch, we were the only customers in the restaurant when we came in. The servers in the restaurant all looked to be about high school or college aged, and were milling about chatting to one another when we came in.

Michael and I were served by a couple of the young servers, neither of whom were from Kansas, but told us they had moved there for college.



We continued driving to Topeka after our meal, arriving around 7-8pm.

Topeka continued to be stiflingly hot even in the evening, and we were sweating as soon as we set foot outside the car. For dinner, we had Indian, while making small talk with the restaurant owners who’d sat next to us by chance. Michael was fascinated by the seeming randomness of international immigrants who’d come to America 20 years ago, and settled in a place like Topeka.

The people of Kansas spoke with accents that were almost Southern, with a bit of something else thrown in. During dinner, we listened bemusedly to the conversation of diners next to us, who were discussing something at the intersection of religion and extramarital affairs.


After dinner, we checked in to the Ramada Inn, part of a motel chain. The motel was one of the more unusual and lackluster that we’d stayed in on the trip. At the time of the road trip, I was making efforts to train for my first marathon, and having a gym at the hotel was crucial in making selections for where we’d stay. Though it is the capital of Kansas, Topeka had a surprising lack of hotels with gyms, which is how we ended up at the Ramada.

Some parts of the interior looked like they hadn’t been updated since the 70s, and also could have formed the backdrop for the hotel in The Shining.

The next morning, we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel. This comprised of a heavy assortment that you would expect to find in a place like Kansas: hotcakes, bacon, biscuits and gravy, sausages, and eggs. After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, and drove to a nearby attraction known as ‘Truckhenge’.

I discovered Truckhenge on the website Roadside America, which lists bizarre national attractions optimal for travelers making their way by road. Truckhenge, rated as ‘Major Fun’ on the website, can be described as an unusual art installation created solely by one man, Ron Lessman. The website advised calling the phone number listed to see if the farm would be open to visitors on days people intended to visit.

After Michael called, we drove there with some trepidation, noting that our surrounds looked like a place ideal to commit homicide.

Within 10 minutes’ drive, we’d reached our destination. The gate was closed to us though, and we wondered if it was open. We got out of the car after stopping on a grass mound across from the farm, and walked into the front yard, where we saw a man with grizzled hair doing something in the yard. After getting closer to him, we excused ourselves, and asked if we might be permitted to take a look around.

On turning around, he looked startled, but not hostile, and asked if we were the ones who’d called that morning. We identified the man as Ron Lessman, the resident, owner and creator of Truckhenge. Mr Lessman had a thick sort of accent that wasn’t quite a Southern accent, and nor did it seem like it was a typical Kansas accent. While enthusiastic to speak with us, we had some difficulty in understanding him.

Mr Lessman told us it would be $8 to see his property. Michael handed over $20, but noted later that he never received any change. Mr Lessman seemed to welcome the idea of visitors that day, and asked us if we’d like a tour. Though we said no, he proceeded to walk and talk with us about his creations, telling us anecdotes about some of the creations along the way.

In front of the Lessman farm

He had a section of the farm that was dedicated to stumps of trees that had faces etched into them using a saw.


Mr Lessman seemed especially pleased with these, and proceeded to tell us stories about each tree carving. He was also fond of making gestures, which Michael and I mostly didn’t understand.

Around where the trucks were, Mr Lessman left us to our devices. We leisurely strolled about his farm, admiring his creations.


What we understood of the story behind Truckhenge, was that the local council had advised Mr Lessman to get rid of his trucks- the phrase they’d used, according to Mr Lessman, was “pick up the trucks”, which resulted in him “picking them up” according to his words, and a gesture with his arm. The art that came after, like the tree stumps, were a result of the initial trucks.


The trucks were the last creations on the farm, before we were about to turn around and head back to the house. Then, we heard a humming, vibrational sound, and turned the corner around a bush, to see Mr Lessman doing something on a tractor. When he saw us, he hopped off the tractor, and started talking and walking with us back in the direction of the house.

Michael mostly asked Mr Lessman questions about his pieces, while Mr Lessman told us about how some high school kids would come there to take photos before going to the prom. As we neared the house, Mr Lessman suddenly turned to us expectantly and asked us if we’d like to see the inside of his house.

Micheal, ever cautious, said we had to get going shortly, but thanked Mr Lessman. A blank look came over Mr Lessman’s face, perhaps surprised at the unexpected denial. He then asked us, “Do you want a peacock feather?”

We’d seen peacocks strutting around his farm as we walked, and excitedly, I said yes, not knowing what the offer entailed. We walked back and reached the house, and horrifically, I realized that Mr Lessman meant for us to go inside the house with him to get the peacock feather.

He opened the door, and we both stepped through. Michael kept one foot nearly in the door, while I stood nearby. We watched as Mr Lessman stepped off to the side and retrieved a sole peacock feather from a nearby desk. The interior of the house had dark gray walls with high ceilings, and giant pieces of furniture or other objects that loomed over us and cast long shadows.

He handed me the peacock feather, and then said he could show us around the house. I thanked him, and Michael said we had to get going. It looked like disappointment crossed Mr Lessman’s face for a second, but he walked us out, and we thanked him for the tour and the feather. He shook our hands in goodbye, and we got in the car quickly, and began the drive to Kansas City.

It took us about an houralso to drive to Kansas City from Topeka. The temperature in Kansas City again, wasn’t much kinder to us, and we were dripping with sweat as soon as stepped out of the car.

We entered the restaurant I had chosen, Hayward’s Pit BBQ, to have eyes fall on us, and mouths hang agape. The restaurant had the largest and whitest customers I’d ever seen in one place at a time, and was also heavily male. We had plates of very heavy meat set before us, while Michael chatted to the male server about our road travels.


I noticed that the waitresses here, even despite being middle aged and above, wore full faces of makeup, looking like the picture of traditional femininity. Michael remarked later that people in more conservative communities tended to conform to traditional gender roles compared to people in more liberal places. He also noted later that Kansas is a red state, and I thought that there must have been at least several people in the restaurant that day, that voted for Trump.

We finished our meal, paid the bill and left to drive north, to Minneapolis.


The Great American Road Adventure: Colorado

After about 5 hours on the road, we reached Denver around 6 or 7pm on a Monday evening. As we didn’t have a clear plan laid out, we’d been using the app HotelTonight for bookings, and used this for the entirety of the trip. We checked into Courtyard by Marriott upon arriving in Denver, which was at that point, the most comfortable stay of the trip.

The hotel was located right in the heart of the city, so we had no issues with finding restaurants to eat at, or things to do. As we checked into the hotel that evening, the receptionist recommended certain areas to dine in, and alluded to Denver’s ‘recreational activities’, advising us to partake if we pleased.

At this time, I wasn’t aware that marijuana is legal in Colorado. After learning this, I suggested to Michael that we should get some edibles the following night. After checking in to the hotel, we dropped off our things and freshened up, then walked to a nearby restaurant, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, for dinner.

We were seated immediately at the restaurant. Ophelia’s had a modern, trendy ambience, and was located across two floors, with a giant projector screen on the upper level. The seats faced the screen, which was playing something in black and white, made to look like it was from the 40s or 50s. We each had burgers there, which were superb, before heading out to stroll the city center.



It was the first time in a couple of days that we’d been in a large city. We both felt comfortable and at ease in Denver at once, and decided that this would be the place to spend two nights. The streets of Denver were clean and beautiful, and the belief that the air was fresh also pervaded due to the knowledge that we were surrounded by mountains on all sides.

That night, we decided to go to a cinema nearby to see ‘It’, until late that night.

The next morning, we got up and walked to a nearby cafe, The Pig and Sprout, for brunch.

Dip sandwich at The Pig and Sprout

After finishing brunch, we went for a stroll in the heat, before getting an iced tea, and an Uber to the Molly Brown House Museum. The Molly Brown House Museum is a real house that Titanic survivor Margaret Brown lived in at one point in time. The museum entrance fees cost $15 or less per person, and entrance fee includes a mandatory tour. The house museum was more interesting to me as a place preserving its Victorian heritage and furniture, and less so because of who Margaret Brown was.


Interior of the living room

As we moved through the house museum, the tour guide gave us insights about upper class Victorian living customs, and about Margaret Brown and her family. It took us around 30 minutes to get through the entire house. After the tour, we walked to a nearby cafe for coffee, and then went to the hotel to rest before dinner.

That night, we’d decided to partake in Denver’s recreational delights, so I spent the afternoon looking up places nearby to get edibles. Michael and I left the hotel early in the evening that night, and went to a place called ‘Sweet Leaf’ in a different neighborhood of Denver.



Unfortunately, I had brought only a copy of my Australian drivers licence, which the staff told me wasn’t sufficient as a form of ID for entry. They said I could enter with my passport (which I hadn’t brought), so only Michael was permitted to enter, and purchased a few items.

List of edibles for purchase at Sweet Leaf

He told me that the staff inside had informed him that he wasn’t “allowed to buy anything to supply to me”, which I thought was unusual, considering that I had a valid license stating that I was well over the age of 21. We got an Uber to a restaurant in another neighborhood of Denver, featuring Asian and Cajun fusion cusine.

Purchase from Sweet Leaf
Deep fried alligator

After having dinner, we went back to the hotel and I had half of one of the truffle brownies that Michael purchased from Sweet Leaf. The container consisted of three brownie bites, which were small mouthfuls, enough for 2 bites. Each brownie bite had 10 milligrams of THC. However, after an hour, I failed to feel anything, so I finished the brownie.

I felt exceedingly tired soon after this, and retired to bed. The night that passed was not a pleasant one. I woke up every 2 hour, with a constant need to drink water. My mouth felt parched, and my head heavy.

In the morning, my alarm went off at 8am to wake me up for a Pilates class nearby. I got out of bed groggily, and stumbled into the bathroom. My pupils were dilated, and I felt like my vision was blurred. My head felt so heavy, I went back to bed for 2 hours, and skipped Pilates.

At 11am, it was checkout time, and despite the extra 2 hours of sleep, I still felt dreadful. This would be my first and last experience with edibles. We departed for Kansas with my head a mess.



The Great American Road Adventure: New Mexico

Michael and I set out for New Mexico late on a Saturday afternoon. Our intended destination in New Mexico was Santa Fe, but there was no possibility of reaching Santa Fe at a comfortable hour that night.

We were glad to get out of the stifling Arizona heat, but found that the temperature in New Mexico was much the same. The highway we traversed was one of the more bizarre ones that we came across while on our road trip. We passed multiple trucks that seemed to have the contents of the drivers’ entire lives compartmentalized in the backseats. When we got deep into the heart of New Mexico, we were often the only car in sight for a long way.

There were no sights to see along the New Mexico highway. Michael decided that we’d stop in a town called Las Cruces that night. It was still humid when we got out of the car at 8pm. Despite being a Saturday night, many of the town’s restaurants were closed by 8pm, which left us with only a couple of choices. The town could have been a setting for  a horror movie.

We opted to have dinner at an Italian restaurant called Forghedaboutit! and hoped that the food wouldn’t be entirely forgettable.

I had no idea what to expect when we walked inside. The servers at the restaurant were pleasant. A lot of the people in the restaurant were older than us. There were a couple of people inside wearing cowboy hats. The food, though edible, was by no means very good, and therefore lived up to its namesake.

Las Cruces, New Mexico
Italian food in New Mexico

After finishing dinner, we drove an additional 30 minutes and checked in at our hotel, La Quinta, which is part of a national hotel chain.

The next morning, we woke up and drove for a couple of hours to White Sands National Monument. Again, it was a terribly humid day, and we began sweating profusely as soon as we got out of the car.


There was a $5 admission fee per vehicle into the area, which granted access for the day. White Sands National Monument was a vast, rolling expanse of white sand that stretched into the distance. There were many others in addition to us who’d ventured out to brave the heat, and were happily strolling in the surrounds. A woman passing by advised us to take our shoes off to walk on the sand, assuring us that it wasn’t hot at all.

We then abandoned our shoes on a sand mound, before traversing the sandy hills.


After frolicking in the unearthly white sand, we continued driving to our destination, Santa Fe.

We stopped for lunch at a diner in Carrizozo, New Mexico, called Abuelita’s. Again, this looked like a place that didn’t see foreigners much. As we continued our foray deep into the heart of America, it started to become more and more clear to me that people here were unacquainted with cooking vegetables. It was becoming exceedingly difficult to find vegetarian options on restaurant menus, let alone a vegan option that wasn’t a poorly made salad.


The waitress at Abuelita’s seemed unusually baffled when I ordered and said I wanted a vegetarian chili.

“Just beans?” She asked quizzically, perhaps wondering why anyone in the world would want to eat vegetarian chili.


After our meal, Michael and I left Carrizozo to continue driving to Santa Fe. I spent the drive sleeping intermittently, and feeding Michael protein bars while he drove. We arrived in Santa Fe around 3pm on a Sunday, and were able to check into Eldorado Hotel immediately.

Eldorado was a noticeable upgrade from the La Quinta of the previous evening. Michael and I were both satisfied and relieved by this. After dropping our bags off and freshening up, we left the hotel in the late afternoon to explore.

My first impressions of Santa Fe were that it was a tiny city, made up of two main streets. The architecture consisted primarily of earthy tones, with a focus on clay being the main material. It was very befitting for a city in a state named ‘New Mexico’.



The weather that afternoon was slightly more mild than in the lower part of New Mexico. It was still hot, but bearable enough to walk around outside for at least an hour. After walking around a little and viewing the city, we decided to have dinner at a rooftop lounge called Coyote Cafe & Cantina, which was a recommendation from our hotel receptionist.

The rooftop bar was slightly busy when we came up. It was a marked change from the roadside stops we had made in small towns.

View from the top of Coyote Cantina

The food here was also a marked improvement from that of Las Cruces, and Carrizozo.

Corn cakes with grilled prawns in tangy gravy

I’d even go so far as to recommend visiting Coyote Cantina, if you ever find yourself in Santa Fe. After finishing our meal, Michael and I walked the streets a little more, and took a look at an art market that was just wrapping up in the late afternoon. In recent years, Santa Fe has become a hub for artists that are priced out of more historically art focused cities like New York, so art is plentiful here.

We had an early night after the long drive, but woke up early the next day to go to Meow Wolf, an interactive art exhibition that came as a recommendation from our hotel receptionist.

From Eldorado Hotel, it was about a 15 minute to Meow Wolf. In the building’s carpark, was this art installation, which Michael said was largely similar to an installation from Burning Man. We purchased tickets in the building and proceeded inside. The space where Meow Wolf is, was renovated from a former bowling alley with support from George R.R. Martin.


I can only describe Meow Wolf as a playground for adults. We followed a long passageway, with abstract scribblings on the wall, and found ourselves in a dark room, with a house inside.



We entered the house through the front door, and found many oddities within, reminiscent of an 80s sci-fi or fantasy movie.



From the house, there were inconspicuous ways to get into another large room that was larger than the house, and more colorfully decorated. In short, exiting the house was akin to leaving reality for a fantasy come to life.



There were several outer rooms with different themes in each section. One of the sections contained white, textured walls that resembled an ice cave. Not wanting to miss anything, we navigated each doorway and hidden exit, making sure we had covered all of them before leaving. One of my favorites was going through the small, circular hole in the washing machine, to come out in the more eclectically themed room.


As we explored the labyrinthine fun house, visitors were able to experiment with displays and games within the house, which resulted in sounds, music and lights emitting from the sensory play areas.


Some of the rooms in the house had a 1980s feel, with retro posters plastered on the walls, and 80s music playing in the background.

We spent at least an hour and a half going around the house. Setting foot inside was like entering a fantasy playhouse, not unlike something you would find in Stranger Things.




We left Meow Wolf feeling content with our day, and proceeded to Las Vegas, a small town in New Mexico, for lunch, before crossing the state line into Colorado.



When my first dog died, my grandfather bought me another one the week after. He taught me that things you loved could be replaced.

Growing up, I applied this concept to all the things I lost or broke- it didn’t matter if it was a camera, a sweater, or a boy. I treated my possessions carelessly; I wore things out, I lost them, I broke them. I knew there would always be new ones.

Sometimes, the replacements weren’t as good as the originals. I told myself it didn’t matter, as long as there was one, as long as there would be a shiny, new thing to take its place.

And so I went through life, loving things, losing them, replacing them. I began to think there was nothing in life that was irreplaceable. Then, something happened that surprised me.

Someone did to me what I’d been doing to everyone else. He was the first person in a long time who took me by surprise, who’d thrilled me,. I spent a long time trying to fill the gap he left. I looked for him in everyone I met. On and on the carousel of replacements kept turning.

There were others that seemed just like him on the surface. Equally intelligent, well-travelled, successful. For the first time though, the replacements couldn’t come anywhere near to being as good as the original. No one fit me as well as he did. That one didn’t smile the right way. There was just something about them that didn’t feel right, the way it did with him.

I treated people like they were interchangeable, and this way of thinking was destructive because I didn’t value anybody for their unique self. I didn’t know then, that each person is made up of tiny, intricate details that are meaningful to some and worthless to others. I came to realize that no one is really replaceable– but still on and on the carousel of replacements keeps turning.

How it felt running my first marathon

A couple of months after I’d started running regularly, I casually remarked to my mother that I was thinking of running a marathon. She turned around, and flatly remarked to me, “You can’t run a marathon”.

So I did.

I can now call myself a marathon runner, after running Philadelphia Marathon in November 2017. It was the hardest physical feat I’d done until that point, and taught me what it really meant to feel pain.

I first started running regularly in April 2016, after I got my first adult job. A bunch of people in the office used to go on lunch runs, and I said I’d join. Up until that point, I’d only jogged on and off, with half serious efforts, alternating walking with a slow run, stopping every time I got tired. That first day, as we were walking to the change rooms, one of the girls, Z, informed me that they usually ran at a pace of 6 minutes per km. Overly confident, I said I would be able to run at that pace.

Contrary to my beliefs, I was only okay for the first 10 minutes of the run. After that, I turned into a sweating, panting, red-faced mess. Most of the others soon outran me, while one of my coworkers, S, walked back to the office with me out of politeness. I had never felt so out of breath in my life. There was one last hill to overcome before getting back to the office, and S encouraged me to start running again and climb that last hurdle.

That was the beginning of my foray into running, and ultimately, physical exercise. I was the most unfit one in the group, but I persisted with weekly runs with the group a couple of times a week. Gradually, I was even running on my own, and slowly, I got better at running. Over several months, I developed the discipline to steadily run on my own without stopping every time I got tired.

After a couple of months of running, my friend J and I signed up for City 2 Surf in Sydney, an annual race spanning 14km from the city to Bondi Beach. We were very much beginners at this stage, and even with months of running training, I still felt anxious that I wouldn’t be able to perform as I wanted to. In the end though, we both came out fine. However, there was always another hurdle to overcome, and they kept getting bigger. From 14km, I planned to do a half marathon in early 2017. And when that was done, the only thing left to complete was a marathon.

I signed up for Philadelphia Marathon around May 2017, after not getting into New York Marathon. I figured that I’d been running for over a year at this point, and with dedicated training over the next couple of months, I would be fine running my first marathon.

My initial theory for training over the next couple of months proved wrong though. With several deterring factors at hand, including weather (it’s almost unbearable running outside in New York during summer) and joint problems, I realized how stressful training for a marathon actually was. In addition to that, I realized that running with strategic purpose and intent can take a lot of the fun out of it. Having to make sure I went on a certain number of runs per week, with certain distances targeted was more challenging to do than I previously thought. I began to dread going running each week. However, I persisted with training. In early September, I did a 22 mile run alone around Golden Gate Park. After 2 hours of running, you begin moving mechanically, kind of like mindless dancing at a festival when the sun is about to come up.

Then September came, and my boyfriend and I departed San Francisco for our 10 day road trip. A few days after the trip, I flew to Canada and spent 2 weeks with my best friend in the Rocky Mountains. This entire month was spent loafing around, barely running. The whole time, I felt guilty and stressed about my lack of dedication. However, I told myself that I’d be fine doing the 26.2 miles since I’d already covered 22 miles on one training day.

I got back to New York in October and promptly commenced training again. After all those months of dedicated running though, it felt like I had lost momentum. I began to hate running. I dreaded the marathon, and for the thousandth time, I wondered why I’d had the foolishness to sign up.

Race weekend finally came. The day before, Michael and I set out from New York to Philadelphia on a Bolt bus. By that time, the nerves had mostly dissipated, and I was happy and excited to be completing the 26.2 miles.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:40am. I stuffed myself with peanut butter and a cinnamon raisin muffin, put on my marathon clothes, and booked an Uber to the marathon starting spot. I was waiting in the hotel lobby, and it looked like the middle of the night. As I waited, I saw other runners filtering in and out of the lobby in running gear and ponchos, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.

My Uber pulled up shortly, and as I got in, the driver asked if I was going to the marathon as well. When I said yes, she asked how many miles it was. I replied, “26.2”. She replied in a tone of bewilderment as she asked, “What do you get out of running 26.2 miles?”

My first reaction to this was speechlessness. I replied that I enjoyed the physical challenge of doing something I’d trained so long for. We chatted a little bit more about the difficulty of doing a marathon, before she dropped me off at the drop off spot.

It was still dark, cold and wet out, but the sun was rising. I followed the trail of other runners to the starting spot and weaved through the chaos and testosterone. As I was walking up to the starting spot, a woman offered me her spare pair of hand warmers. This was one of the first of many random acts of kindness that day.

While looking for my race corral, an older woman approached me and asked if I knew where the silver corral was, where we were both supposed to be starting. As I’d been walking around for about 15  minutes trying to find my corral, I felt a lot better looking with a companion. We found the corral quickly, and stood in place. It was hard to feel alone standing in the giant crowd, though my nerves had gathered again. Energy was high during this point, and people were chattering all around me. A woman standing next to me randomly gave me a hug before yelling to the crowd that she needed to pee.

Despite the designated starting time being at 7am, with so many people to get across the starting line, my corral didn’t pass the starting line until nearly 8am. If keeping the same running pace throughout the entire marathon, I should have finished the race within 5 hours with my corral pacer. The weather that day was windy, and it wasn’t ideal at all for running a marathon. Around the 8 mile mark, a tree branch fell down and nearly hit someone running in front of me.

There were many spectators that day, which helped to stay motivated. About every 2 miles, there were water stations with portable toilets. After stopping at the second one, I lost my 5 hour pace group. I continued running at my own pace without worrying about catching up. Things were going fine until about the 2.5 hour mark. Everything went downhill from there.

When I reached the 18 mile mark, it began to get extremely painful. My ankles were on fire. My left hip felt like it was going to bust. I slowed down considerably after this, and cursed myself for having the audacity to think I could run a marathon. But the shame of walking kept me going. I persisted with energy packs, a brownie and a slice of orange that a spectator stuffed into my hand as I was running.

The feeling of relief as I reached the 20 mile mark was palpable. At this point, it was nearly unbearable to continue running, and I began walking and half jogging intermittently. As I neared the 24 mile mark, a man who was running behind me overtook me and said, “Keep going, you’re doing so well”. Little things like this were what kept me going that day.

Finally, I passed the 25 mile mark and started running to the finish line. Crossing the finish line was the biggest relief that I’d experienced in a long time. I stopped running immediately after crossing, and turned around to see Michael waiting for me.

The hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the Philadelphia Marathon finish line, but the walk back was agonizing. I never endured a more difficult walk in my life. Once we got back, we quickly packed our things and headed back to New York on a bus.

I had a tremendous feeling of achievement after finishing, but also an incredible sense of physical pain that didn’t dissipate for a couple of days. Even turning in bed resulted in a sharp stabbing sensation in my joints. One of my coworkers, S, who I used to run with, used to say that running is just the ability to tolerate pain. After running the marathon, I finally understood what he meant.