the smell of my desperation has become a stench

How I survived the 2011 ING NYC Marathon, part three

(You can find part one here and part two here.)

I considered myself pretty lucky that I made it 14 miles without any of my injuries taking me out of the race. RELATED: I got a letter from my insurance provider telling me that they are pretty certain that all the injuries I’ve incurred in the last couple of months can be blamed on someone or something other than myself, because, come on. No one is this clumsy:


Has Eminem ever worked LUMBOSACRAL into a song? DIDN’T THINK SO. A med student could totally school his ass.

The insurance company is like, come on, Armstrong. You slipped in a retail store, didn’t you? Maybe someone strapped you to the back of their motorcycle and ran it into a billboard. YOU BOUGHT A DEFECTIVE POGO STICK. Out with it already.

Out with what? I had two months to train for a marathon. You don’t think I was tempted to walk back into that doctor’s office and say, dude, you’re not going to believe this, but Fonzie kidnapped me, tied me to the back of his motorcycle with a rope, and we jumped off the Hollywood sign into a billboard of Kim Kardashian’s face. That’s why my ankle hurts.

14 miles without any aches or pains, and then BOOM. My left knee filtered the impact of every step into millions of barking dogs, hungry German Shepherds who gripped the flesh on the side of my leg with their teeth. And we were just about to begin the unending climb up the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. LET ME TAKE JUST A MOMENT, PLEASE.

If you came here to make fun of my ALL CAPS USAGE, well then, aren’t you having a fucking great day.

I once wrote about how I tried to avoid steep hills during my training runs, and people lost their damn minds. Didn’t I know that the NYC Marathon is the hilliest of all the major marathons? The bridges, Heather, THE BRIDGES! Lions and tigers and BRIDGES! OH MY!

Give me a break. You call that a hill? Utah regularly has bouts of diarrhea that are steeper than those bridges. I was talking about actual HILLS, people, not a homemade ramp your four-year-old tries to jump with his big wheel.

Halfway up the Queensboro Bridge I almost stopped, climbed up onto the middle traffic barricade and yelled PUSSIES. THE LOT OF YOU.

But I was in too much pain. My knee was barking, and then in very quick succession every injury I’ve ever had started to manifest its presence: the toe I broke when I was pregnant with Marlo, the tailbone I cracked snowboarding, the neck muscles I pulled during a workout, my hip, my ankle, my groin. Every account I’ve read about this marathon says that the roar you hear when entering Manhattan off of the Queensboro bridge is louder than any concert or rally you’ve ever been to. But all I heard was eerie silence, and I don’t know if it was because people were just standing there boycotting me because I had thought about calling their fellow New Yorkers pussies (I’m lucky to be alive, really), or because all I could hear was my brain going OW, OW, OW, OW, STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP.

That was mile 16. Only 10 more to go. That’s only one, two, three, wait. I’m getting really tired counting that high. Maybe that’s why the thousands of bodies ahead of me on First Avenue looked like they were running back toward me. Was that an illusion? Was I really running in the wrong direction? Suddenly someone read the name on my shirt and yelled, “GO, HEATHER!” And I swear to God I yelled back, “YOU KNOW ME?! HOW DO I KNOW YOU? Small world!

I struggled to keep my body moving forward for the next two miles, and the only way I remained upright was the anticipation of seeing Jon. We had agreed that he’d meet me somewhere around 90th street, but the closer our group got to that spot, the thicker the crowds grew. I was the only one in our group who hadn’t seen Their Person yet, and I was starting to panic when suddenly Erin yanked me on the elbow, and pointed to the other side of the street. I looked over by the 91st street sign to see Kramer running and screaming my name.

Thank god for all those years I wasted playing Frogger, because HOO. The running field never thinned out. We were packed body to body, and I risked getting knocked over by a pack of barefoot Europeans just so I could say hi to my husband. What follows is his account:

I came running over, a giant grin on my face. He asked how it was going, and I answered, “This is kind of rough. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it’s so good to see you!”

Here is my account of what happened:

I hobbled over on the verge of tears. He started to ask me how it was going, but I interrupted him and shouted, “THIS SUCKS, THIS SUCKS, THIS SUCKS. THIS IS THE WORST THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. I WANT MY MOM.”

Let’s see, that was mile 19? I think? I don’t remember much, only that I kept repeating, “Worst thing ever, worst thing ever, worst thing ever” in my head. What I do remember is the roller coaster ride of emotions, a bout of rapid cycling bipolar disorder:

Oh, this isn’t so bad.


I’m fine! Wow. Made it another mile and I’m not dead. Hooray for not dead!


Oooh! A water station! A palace to quench my thirst!


I appreciated the crowds along the last few miles of the race, but wait. No I didn’t. That’s a total lie. I desperately wished I had a gun so I could just stand there and randomly shoot at all those loud, cheery strangers. The noise was so obnoxious, especially since I was trying to concentrate on putting one foot forward, and what? What was that you just yelled at me? “Don’t quit now?” LISTEN, YOU SCROTAL FUNGUS. HOW ABOUT YOU— and Erin would pull me away so that I didn’t start a bar fight.

Erin hasn’t ever experienced labor pains, so when we passed the mile 23 marker I told her that what we were feeling was the baby’s head crowning, a very large, hairy head. And then at mile 24 I told her that the head was so big that it had torn the perineum. At least we hadn’t pooped on the table!

Hey, you. You 19-yr-old frat boy. You read a mommyblog. You think I’m going to make Star Wars comparisons? Wipe the puke off of your chin and finish this post.

That’s when Erin turned to me, her hair and face mapped with sweat, and said, “Let’s do this.”

Let’s do what? Smoke a joint? Yes, please.

Stop, walk over and steal someone’s beer? Follow me.

Lie down and die? I’m in.

But she meant none of those things. In fact, she meant the one thing in the world that I most certainly did not want to do: SPRINT.

I don’t have any material data to prove this, and as far as I know I’m not a paranoid schizophrenic, yet, but I think the organizers of the marathon wanted to screw with me. Me specifically. Those last 2.2 miles were at least 10.2 miles. THEY WOULD NOT END. I was moving my legs as fast as I could against the barrage of messages in my brain demanding that I stop this right now, but what could I do? It was time to push. No going back. Also, HEATHER. This is New York. You’re familiar with James Gandolfini’s work. You might want to check that urge to yell SHUT UP to everyone who came out on a Sunday to cheer for you.

I sprinted and sprinted and sprinted. I could type that word a million times and it would still not convey just how endless that last mile was. It stretched and expanded, twisting and hiding around trees and spectators. Excruciating pain erupted in violent, volcanic bursts every time I flexed a muscle. Pain, more pain, even more pain. And then… and then… IT’S A GIRL!

Time: 4 hours, 48 minutes, 40 seconds.

The jubilation would happen much later, but when I finished the race I started to moan involuntarily. Awful sounds spewed from my face. I thought I had crossed the finish line as poised as I could in the condition I was in, but when the organizers sent me the actual video footage you see me stop suddenly, look around like a lost baby and stumble around drunkenly. No one will ever get their hands on that video SO HELP ME GOD.

Would I ever do it again? Absolutely, but only if I had the time to train properly. Many of you asked me what was more painful: a marathon or an unmedicated birth. Both are agonizing psychological journeys, but if I want to be honest I’d have to say… the marathon. That medal is very cute, but it doesn’t have a dimple.

  • relativevirtues

    2011/11/29 at 1:38 pm

    Amazing, inspiring, hysterical…

    Congrats again for doing something that most people would consider impossible.

  • JessicaM

    2011/11/29 at 5:48 pm

    I still can’t believe you gutted that one out, Heather. I think if I had been you, when I hit the Queensboro bridge, I would have been like “hey, look…there’s the subway. I’ll be taking that two stops to Fifth Avenue and meeting everyone at the end.”

    Please train properly for the next one. I haven’t birthed a baby (so I can’t vouch for the comparison), but I can assure you that a properly trained for marathon feels AWESOME (and not just because you stop moving at the end). It feels like you conquered the race, instead of surviving it.

  • tokenblogger

    2011/11/29 at 1:48 pm


    You did it for yourself and to promote a charity.

    I’d a done it just for the medal.

  • LyzL

    2011/11/29 at 1:55 pm


    Now I want to do one. Dammit.

  • Jamie Elizabeth

    2011/11/29 at 1:55 pm

    You know, I have birthed a baby unmedicated (a 9.6lb baby!) and I would rather do that 5 more times than run a damn marathon.
    I’m in awe of you for getting through it.

  • Steph Bachman

    2011/11/29 at 1:57 pm

    : ) So happy for you.

    And, I think a marathon always hurts at some point (hopefully way later than mile 14!), but in the way that you know childbirth will hurt and are ready for it instead of being assaulted by it and thinking you are about to die.

  • santa barbara

    2011/11/29 at 1:59 pm

    You’re ready to go running after antelope with Scott Carrier!

  • mybottlesup

    2011/11/29 at 2:05 pm

    “Wipe the puke off of your chin and finish this post.”

    Can I request a print of this to hang over my desk for when I’m blogging?

    (Congratulations. Ya done good.)

  • dooce

    2011/11/29 at 2:06 pm

    @santa barbara, I just read about him! Antelope chasing is next!

  • MyNameIsRyan

    2011/11/29 at 2:06 pm

    I woke up this morning and ran around the neighborhood. Im trying to convince myself to go after my life long dream of becoming an underwear model. That was a joke, really I’m just in terrible shape and feel like crap. Amazing how terrible a person can be at the first day of running, but I promise you this, every single time I wanted to quit, I kept saying: Heather ran a marathon on a collapsing ankle after like 4 months of training– keep going you wimp. It really helped.

    Crazy inspirational, thank you.

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/11/29 at 2:06 pm

    I’m not gonna lie, I actually laughed out loud (not just typed it with a smile on my face) at the second to last paragraph about when you crossed the finish line. I SO want to see that video.

    Also, I SO never want to run a marathon. Mad props to you!

  • JaimeBlogers

    2011/11/29 at 2:08 pm

    Best thing I’ve read in a LOONG time. THANK YOU!

  • Pixie

    2011/11/29 at 2:08 pm

    You are one hell of a woman Heather. So, when are you starting to train for the 2012’s NYC Marathon?

  • Missybeme

    2011/11/29 at 2:10 pm

    Way to go Heather!

    I’m almost sorry I read this…I’ve signed up for a 60 mile three day walk next October to benefit breast cancer. I’m imagining the last day to have the same conversation in my head! All for a good cause!

  • slappyintheface

    2011/11/29 at 2:17 pm

    I completely understand why you did it. Personally I would only run if being chased by zombie clown bears, but I do understand why people run marathons.

  • haynic

    2011/11/29 at 2:21 pm

    Found it. 🙂

    Am I smited now?

    I ran my first half-marathon in April. (The Nashville RnR is awesome, btw, if you’re looking for a new one.) In my finish line video (which I wasn’t aware of until after doing something dumb), I’m doing a stupid jig and the girl on the other side of the finish line literally collapses (as medics rush to help her) at the same time I’m dancing like a boneless idiot. Your drunken stumble’s not so bad.

    Congrats. 13.1 is plenty for me; dunno how anyone goes 13.1 more.

  • anya

    2011/11/29 at 2:27 pm

    You did something I would never in a million years even think of doing. You RAN. A lot. And here I am sitting reading this (2 babies pushed with the help of that sweet, sweet epidural) saying: Good on ya! You should be proud of yourself. You are crazy for doing this, but hey – I bet you already knew this. Pretty much nothing you can’t do, is there? It’s not a challenge, by the way. Get some rest 🙂

  • yoheathero

    2011/11/29 at 2:30 pm

    This is, by far, one of your funniest posts to date, and I think I have read them all. Good for you, girlfriend!

  • sweetpotatopie

    2011/11/29 at 3:30 pm

    I’m so impressed that you did it after training for only two months. That is inSANE.

    But isn’t it the most incredible, empowering experience ever?? I assure you that after natural childbirth I did NOT yell “I can’t wait to do this again!!” like I did after crossing that finish line.

    Good job, Heather. So proud of you!

  • luv and kiwi

    2011/11/29 at 3:41 pm

    You need to pimp that medal like a rapper would.

  • MadelaK

    2011/11/29 at 3:45 pm

    Heather, you’re amazing! You have truly inspired me…to run the 3 mile loop by my house.

  • Moomser

    2011/11/29 at 4:00 pm

    I am equal parts in awe of you and appalled that anyone would do something as painful as childbirth without the baby at the end. Although, my husband, who’s recovering from two bone marrow transplants (leukemia) wants to run the NYC marathon as soon as he’s been cancer free for two years. I may have to do it with him… if I’m not pregnant… and you know I’ll try and be pregnant.
    Good job! (though I still think you’re a bit crazy, tenacious, but crazy) 😉

  • JessicaM

    2011/11/29 at 5:45 pm

    You know, @Moomser, being pregnant isn’t (necessarily) a deterrent from running a marathon. I know several women who ran marathons well into their second trimester (with doctor approval, of course. They had been running regularly for years and were in great shape, low-risk, etc.).

    Then there’s the woman who ran the Chicago Marathon this year THIRTY NINE weeks along, and went into labor after she finished:

  • kdw

    2011/11/29 at 4:22 pm

    Your body prepared for 10 months to deliver the bambino… as you mentioned, you didn’t have enough training for your marathon. It sounds like it was extremely painful, but better preparation would have helped you avoid the race trauma.
    Hope you can still enjoy running as it is a mystical experience when you propel down the road…and sometimes FUN!

  • Cinnamongrl

    2011/11/29 at 4:28 pm

    This took me back to last year, when I ran my first marathon. Injuries took me out of the race every year, until I finally said, “To hell with it.” and decided to run in spite of things not being 100%.

    My hip clicked for weeks after that race (I was only 32), and I pretty much wanted to die at mile 18, but damn dude. I did it. Then I did it again, last month with no injuries with a 32 minute PR. You’ll do it again, haha… can’t wait to hear about it!

    Congratulations. 🙂

  • zeegirl602

    2011/11/29 at 11:30 pm

    OMG, Heather, your description of the last couple miles and wanting to punch every spectator that yelled “keep going!” and “You can do it!” SO brought me right back to my first (and last) marathon! I wanted to smack everyone cheering in the crowd and tell them to just SHUT IT ALREADY, I’M GOING AS FAST AS I CAN!!

    Sigh. 🙂

    It’s so funny how the brain works (or, uh, doesn’t work) when you’ve been running for that far and that long.

    Congrats on your accomplishment!

  • lynndog

    2011/11/30 at 10:56 am

    Congratulations! I finished my first one last spring and definitely thought I was either going to Ugly Cry after the finish line, or vomit. Groaning is totally allowed 🙂

  • JetLime

    2011/11/30 at 3:28 pm

    Wow, amazing, hilarious and full of (very painful) feeling account of something that sounds rather impossible to me but you’ve done it and I am truly impressed! And let’s not forget the great cause!
    Congratulations, I hope you have fully recovered by now. If I were you I’d be mad to run another step in my life but knowing you I am really looking forward to reading about your next marathon 😉

  • bawb23

    2011/11/30 at 7:08 pm

    Does it bother anyone else that the 2011 on that medal is off center? Did I miss a graphic design meme?

  • Cera

    2011/11/30 at 11:15 pm

    I honestly cannot believe your grit. I have run several marathons (including NYC) AND had two unmedicated births in the last two years.

    I sorta laugh/roll my eyes every time you bring up the “unmedicated birth” thing again because you’ve gotten so much mileage out of it — and because it was your second birth, which is generally vastly easier and faster than an unmedicated birth with a first child.

    But you really showed me with your marathon success. Great result, great time, crazy spirit. I hope your body recovers quickly. Congrats on such a huge accomplishment.

  • Indigo

    2011/12/01 at 2:41 am

    Heather, congrats again on running the marathon! You beat my boyfriend’s finish time by one minute and I’ve explained to him repeatedly that this means he is NOT the valedictorian of marathons.

    In other news, I’m having an epic meltdown today, which leaves me in the unique position to confirm that the bodyboarding video is AWESOME even when obscured by tears 🙂

  • Buddahkat

    2011/12/01 at 2:22 pm

    In the last 4-5 years, everytime I have a running injury the insurance company sends me a letter “hearing” that it was related to an accident. Yeah, no accident. Just crazy. We are awesome there.


  • shan.h

    2011/12/02 at 2:41 pm

    I for one love all of the caps..lots of heart.
    I am also going to add scrotal fungus to my everyday speech.

  • LASingleGirl

    2011/12/03 at 5:43 pm

    It really is a huge accomplishment. I’ve always admired runners and their runner’s bodies but for some reason just never could become one. And I can’t believe you prepared in such a relatively short time! And with so much of everything else going on!!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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