When Nothing Goes According To Plan

One major lesson I’ve learned this year is that no matter how hard you try — no matter how many pretty little To-Do lists you make — life doesn’t always follow your plan.

In fact, more often than not, live throws major curve balls your way. Sometimes those curve balls come in the form of an injury. Sometimes curve balls mean getting hospitalized after months of failing health. And in the worst case scenarios, curve balls mean unpreventable natural disasters blowing through your home town, ruining homes and, in the process, sending an entire 5-borough city and its surrounding regions into total upheaval.

As much as people have been comparing Hurricane Sandy’s arrival and devastation in the northeast to Hurricane Katrina and even to the events of 9/11, major events like these are unique and ultimately unprecedented.

People could tape their windows and surround their homes with sandbags, but I don’t think anyone could prepare for the physical, mental and emotional toll this storm took on the area.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned, I was incredibly lucky in this situation. I didn’t lose power and my home, my office and my loved ones are safe. I spent much of last week feeling guilty that I was so unharmed when people blocks away were out in the cold.

All the while, as much as people claimed to have all the right answers, the situation surrounding the New York City Marathon was also unprecedented. And with that came so many emotions.

Talk about ironic: At the time I took this photo, the city wasn’t supportive, it was practically at war.

I felt conflicted all week. The marathon was still set to happen, so I was planning to run it. But I was never excited about it. It wasn’t going to be the New York City Marathon we had all planned for. And by late Thursday, when preparations for the marathon were fully underway and bodies were still being pulled from the waters surrounding Staten Island, my heart hurt. I wanted to run, I had trained to run, and maybe the marathon would, after all, unite the city.

But it still felt so wrong.

I had taken Friday off from work to go to the Expo. So I did that, hoping it would boost my enthusiasm.

I got free cheese samples, I got my bib and I met Desiree Davila.

Desi, me and Josh Cox. I’d say we’re friends now, but they actually ignored me when I tried to talk to them. Boo.

I still didn’t want to run the race. It even became clear that running the race might be unsafe for the runners, and that terrified me.

I spent the rest of Friday cleaning the apartment before my weekend visitors arrived. Emily was coming up from D.C., Lauren and her husband were driving down from Vermont, and my best friend Becky and her husband were flying up from Charlotte, NC. All my favorite people were coming to town for a weekend that I had such mixed emotions toward.

Spoiler alert…

And then — finally — the race was canceled.

I was upset. I was relieved. I no longer had to make the decision about whether or not to run.

But I still wanted to run.

I didn’t want to run the NYC Marathon. But I wanted to run a marathon.

Twitter was overtaken by runners in support of the city’s decision to ultimately cancel the race — but those same runners, understandably, wanted to do something with their training. They made plans to go to Richmond or Rehoboth to run upcoming marathons.

I didn’t want to run those marathons. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.

So I just got drunk and decided I’d figure out the running stuff later. I didn’t have the amazing 16 weeks of training behind me. I knew my sub-4:00 time goal I’d set at the start of 2012 was far-reaching, and I knew traveling to Richmond, Rehoboth or somewhere else with a close-by marathon wasn’t feasible for me in the next few weeks.

All the while, I kept having those same feelings of guilt I’d felt all week: I was thinking about running while people in the city were suffering. Badly.

I woke up Saturday morning and knew I needed to run. That’s just what I do. It’s how I escape and it’s how I feel better.

The backlash toward runners online during the week really got to me. I think as runners, whether we were planning to run the marathon or not, we felt attacked. It was just…overwhelming.

And I don’t do so well with “overwhelming.”

So when my plans weren’t going to go as I’d expected, I made a new plan.

Because I can’t solve all the world’s great problems. I can’t go back in time and change Hurricane Sandy’s course. But I can plan stuff, and that’s what I needed to do this weekend.

I laid in bed Saturday morning with my friend Google.

I discovered the Manchester City Marathon.

You know who lives 25 minutes from Manchester, NH?

Oh right. My entire family.

When life hands you lemons, cuddle with a baby.

I could still run a marathon on November 4.

I threw the idea out there to Lauren and Evan and got Emily on GChat (though I knew convincing her would be easy).

Everyone was in.

I was excited. I was going to run a marathon! I was going to New Hampshire with my favorite people, to stay with my family and I was going to escape the nastiness that was polluting NYC. The nastiness, of course, being social media.

So we got in the car and we drove north.

And as we drove, I read Twitter.

I was escaping the city to run a marathon, and now runners were organizing charitable ways to help, like running through Staten Island with bags full of supplies and food.

The guilt and conflicting emotions wouldn’t go away. I felt guilty because I was excited to see my family and to get to run a marathon after all. I felt guilty because runners were staying behind to help while I was, literally, running away.

But then I realized: Staten Island doesn’t just need help on what happened to be marathon day. I could still help. I could still donate the three bags of clothes I pulled together during the week, and I could still donate monetarily. And this week, I can continue to help. (This is me continuing to feel slightly guilty for missing out on the specific efforts made yesterday.)

In the end, though, I got the weekend I’ve been needing for a long time.

Hey, brother. You’re the best.

I turned off Twitter while I was gone, and by “turned off Twitter” I mean “I don’t get service at my mom and dad’s house in New Hampshire.”

My mom was thrilled to take us in, and I was happy to sleep in my childhood bed for a night.

And then, as planned, I woke up Sunday morning (much later than planned) and I ran a marathon.


And, as planned, I PR’d.

Official time 3:51:20

More on that tomorrow.



126 Responses

  1. Oh, this post made me cry…for so many reasons! I read your race post first and then this one…so I already knew the awesomeness of the PR. I loved reading and hearing your heart as you discovered the runners staying behind to help. You are what will still be needed…someone still around to help once all those runners have gone back home. I am from FL and was in NY for the marathon this weekend. It was going to be marathon #2 for me. I have trained for months and was on a charity team raising funds for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer. Some of our group backed out….some decided to still go when we heard the race was “on”. We were a block from the Javits center when we found out they canceled it. I was disappointed ONLY because I spent money I probably shouldn’t have to come to NYC for a race that would not take place. I wish the decision to cancel had been made earlier in the week. But my mindset quickly changed to “I’m obviously here for another purpose”. I spent all day Saturday and Sunday in Staten Island at New Dorp Beach….devastating and I did what I could, but I kept thinking about how much more would still be needed beyond this weekend. I’m glad you had such an amazing race/family weekend and so glad you can still help! Loved your race recap….I am such a sap and of course cried! I read Emily’s blog too so I loved the whole thing! Congrats!

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this has got to be one of your best posts yet. Congratulations!

    P.S. So jealous of your muscles!

  3. CONGRATULATIONS ALI!!!! I am just now catching on my blog reader so I apologize for this being late.

    I am so excited for your PR!! That is amazing – and really goes to show that you can make a bad situation good at (literally) the drop of a moment.

    Congratulations again! (As I am sure everyone as already said – this post is a huge inspiration to me)

  4. Way to go Ali!!!! What a huge victory for you!!! Enjoy it, and remember there is plenty of time for you to continue to help those in need….look forward to reading the race report 🙂

  5. I have been following your blog over the past year, witnessing the ups and downs that you have experienced in running and life. Reading this post genuinely made me smile big for your new marathon PR…with all your difficulties this training cycle and the horrible catastrophe of Sandy, you did it. There will always be time for you to give of yourself and your time to help with the volunteering and clean-up efforts. Enjoy this one, you’ve earned it. Also, pretty sure no one in the world ever has been so excited to see their overall time flash at the finish line.

  6. You rock!! Congratulations! Don’t feel guilty, be proud of yourself on your awesome achievement! After the year you’ve been through, I think you deserve this. Whether we ran a marathon on Sunday or volunteered or lazed around (me), I think we all feel a little guilty that we can’t help the people suffering more. All we can do is what we can do..
    Congrats again!!!

  7. SO COOL! And congrats on such an amazing time!!! DId you meet other displaced NYC Marathoners there?

    I felt SO SIMILAR to you but was scared/ unavailable to do other Marathons in the upcoming weeks. So I’m doing Miami in January! Wahoo!

  8. What an amazing accomplishment and in a funny way, it all worked out so that your family could be there for you afterwards. I’m sure you experienced plenty of lows this week but what a terrific high to end it on! Can’t wait to read the recap tomorrow! Congrats!

  9. Ahhh!!! HOORAY! Congratulations! I’m SO INCREDIBLY happy for you Ali! YOU BEYOND DESERVED THIS WEEKEND! You’ve had so much thrown at you this year and you still managed to shine! Way to go friend. I’m so proud of you and your (not surprising) FREAKIN AWESOME PR! I never had ANY doubts. You amaze me every day!!!

  10. I can’t wait to hear the whole recap tomorrow! I’m so glad you got your PR and a sub 4. And that your family and friends were there to support you.

  11. Wow! I’m so so so happy you were still able to find a race and PR, even if it was with mixed emotions! Can’t wait for the recap!

  12. Ali! Your post brought happy tears to my eyes!! I am SOO fricken proud of you and excited for you!!! You are amazing!!!! I’ll eat some Tim-Tams and cookie dough to celebrate your PR down unda.:)

  13. AGH!! Huge congrats to you!! I was not even remotely expecting the ending to this post when I started reading this. I’m so excited for you!! And you are right. “marathon day” wasn’t anything special to help- they need help just as much today…

  14. Long time reader, first time poster – I love this story, and your attitude about everything given the circumstances of this past week is wonderful. You deserve every bit of that PR!

  15. Ali, I have been reading your blog for a few months and I think what keeps drawing me back is everything that this post encompasses. You have an incredible sense of determination and spirit that shines through your posts. I am happy to see that you made the best of an unpredictable and unfortunate situation, not just for yourself but for others. I know sometimes it is hard to understand why things happen the way they do, but you were meant to run your PR marathon surrounded by your family 🙂 Congrats!

  16. Awesome! I’ve been thinking of you guys (planning to run the marathon) this week. Tough call. I hope it was a triumphant run!

  17. I think I’ve commented on your site once before? (Been reading for probably a year or so.)

    I just have to say, as a fellow blogger and fellow runner, I think you nailed this one.

    You nailed it in your decision to do what was right for you when faced with so many difficult options; and you absolutely nailed it with the way you wrote about it.

    Your PR was so well deserved. Congratulations, Ali.

  18. love love love love love love love. I have nothing else to say…so very inspired by you, for so many more reasons that A HUGE PR. Can’t wait to hear more 🙂 CONGRATS!!

  19. “Holy shit!” was what I said to myself out loud when I got to the last sentence of this post. A marathon! And a massive PR! Congratulations! What an amazing way to top off a really tough few months.

  20. congratulations ali! so proud of you for getting that PR and what a great way to cap off a very difficult, stressful week. love what you wrote about the hurricane as well, well said.

  21. Awesome Ali! Glad you got to run a marathon and as a bonus you got to see your family. Don’t feel bad about it. Great job getting a PR.

  22. I was so worried about the runners under the circumstances. It was definitely not a safe environment with all the backlash and hate talk. So glad you found another marathon to run. Congrats on the big PR!! I only dream of getting under 4 hours…

  23. CONGRATULATIONS! I am so excited for you! I was there cheering and saw you guys run by…I was too chicken to yell out I <3 sweat! But I'm very happy to have watched a part of your story…you inspire me.

  24. Congratulations, Ali!!! What a HUGE accomplishment – you must be so proud! I know your training wasn’t exactly what you envisioned it to be, but I knew you had it in you to pull off a great time despite it all. Perhaps a warm fudgy brownie & some 16 Handles to celebrate? 🙂

  25. Your legs are AMAZING! Look at the second to last picture — the one where you’re on the left and Sweaty Emily is on the right. Girl you’re rockin!

    Good job on the determination to find and finish and PR another marathon. YOU ROCK!

  26. WOW! Was the first word out of my mouth when I read that you PRed. Literally, I said aloud “wow’. I have been following your blog for some time now, and I can’t recall if I have commented before, but please don’t hold that against me. Your positive outlook towards running/life is contagious, and completely inspiring. You earned this great race. Congrats on this amazing achievement, enjoy that “I just kicked butt in this race” high!

  27. Congratulations Ali! I’m so glad that it worked out for you this way and you realized that you can help people and that it didn’t have to be on marathon day. And wow! Sub 4! Awesome.

  28. I am super stoked for you! Congrats on the PR! You’re such a great runner with an amazing heart. There is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself first. I know that you’ll help with relief efforts where you can! Can’t wait to read the Race Recap!

  29. Congrats on your PR, and on finding a way to ease your conflicted heart and the suffering of your neighbors. You’re right – a steady stream of help will still be needed for quite some time!

  30. Oh my goodness!!!! Congratulations on the PR.

    I cannot wait to read all about it.

    And I totally understand the guilt and conflicting emotions. I came to Miami to run a half marathon and 5k last weekend and 10 days later am still here since I didn’t want to go home to Hoboken to no power still. I feel so guilty and have contributed monetarily but can’t wait to donate time or anything needed.

  31. Congratulations! I’m so happy for you that you were able to run this weekend. I think your point about people continuing to need help this week and beyond is a good one. There will be plenty of need for donations and volunteers in the weeks ahead.

  32. Congrats!!!!! So amazing! Can’t wait to hear more tomorrow! I went running yesterday in the park with the ‘run anyway’ marathoners, and I have to say it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. Whether or not you agree with the NYC Marathon being cancelled, I thought it was important to head out for solidarity, and to acknowledge all the hours, days, months that people put into training and fundraising for their charities. There is still much to be done in this area, but I for one know that most of those dedicated runners will be the first people to volunteer and go the extra mile (pun intended). Let me know if you organize anything for this weekend; some friends and I are either headed to SI or the Rockaways. xo

  33. Congrats on your PR!! That’s so crappy that there was so much nastiness toward runners, yet what did they do – turn out on “marathon” day and volunteered. Good for them! And you’re right, you can still help out even if you can’t help out on marathon day. Actually, they probably need even more help now that all the marathoners have gone back home.

  34. Congratulations!! So happy for your PR and that after the mess with NYCM you were still able to run and hit your 2012 goal! I live in Texas, so I’ve dealt with hurricanes before, but donating your time and any clothes/goods to those affected helps. Everything helps!

    And of course looking forward to reading your full race recap! Hope you’re not too sore today!

  35. So, so happy for you Ali! A big congratulations to you!!! The Manchester Marathon was my very first marathon and it will always hold a special place in my heart 🙂 Can’t wait to read your recap!

  36. Wow, Ali that is so so awesome! Congrats on the PR! Can’t wait to hear more about the race and I’m so glad you used your training and still did a marathon!

  37. Still so proud of you, my friend. I’m seriously smiling ear to ear telling everyone I can about your 20+ minute PR! So happy I could be there to share in the moment.

    When’s our next one? 🙂

  38. Congratulations! I love that picture, I love that you two ran together, I love that you ran, and I hope to have an equally large smile in 2 weeks when I hopefully PR in Philly!

  39. Awesome job and glad I saw the comment about the clothes above — I will definitely look to donate other things!

    Glad Tyler has also started early in marathon cheering. Good habits start young.

  40. You got the weekend you needed. Helping your community isn’t just a one day event, they will appreciate your efforts. Congratulations on the PR!

  41. Wow wow wow, congratulations. SO excited for you!!!

    I understand the mixed emotions about running this weekend. Some people will damn you for it, some will support you. I totally support you. And you made a really important point – the need to volunteer will still be here in this coming week when the high profile volunteers have gone home.

    But wow wow wow, what an amazing result for you! Congratulations!!!!

  42. You go girl! I admire your whole attitude about the NY Marathon. It really was a lose-lose situation. I’m glad you got your PR anyway!

  43. I love your volunteer spirit, but please, please do not donate clothes, unless they are winter coats, hats or (non-high heeled) winter boots. I was out in the Rockaways yesterday and other members of my running club were in Staten Island, and all locations are overwhelmed with clothes. Additionally, places like Housing Works and Salvation Army that are in fact equipped to receive clothes have been receiving so many donations of non-essential items that they too cannot handle the volume. The best thing you can do right now – other than physically volunteering somewhere that is desperately in need – is purchase and donate things like shovels, bleach, masks and work gloves to sites that will then distribute them to those in need. If you could help spread the word and let people know NOT to donate clothes, that would be a very positive thing.

    1. Thanks, Jane! That’s very good to know. I actually have a few winter coats, tons of hats and scarves and three pairs of boots, and I got some cleaning supplies to donate because they said on the news that was in high demand. Thank you for chiming in — and I’ll pass that along about the clothes!

    2. Wow donation police! Once they can figure out how to efficiently sort out the clothing situation, I’m sure people will be very happy to have clothing in their repaired (or new) homes. In terms of purchasing items:

      RT @nycoem: Cash is the most helpful form of donation. Your dollars can be more effective than the value of goods. http://nyc.gov/fund

      This is because the New York City Office of Emergency Management can purchase supplies at a much lower cost in bulk than an individual.

  44. Congratulations ! I knew you would PR on “this” marathon (I mean at this time). Even if the training wasn’t ideal, your state of mind was there 🙂 I can’t wait to read your race recap as I feel like I was “there” along the way for your training through your blog.
    To come back on the NYCM subject, as you said, I wouldn’t have liked being the ones to take the decision. One way or another, people would have been judgmental and unhappy. I am sure they didn’t want to be unsensitive. It’s difficult to set the limit on what you can or can’t do on a situation like this one. But still, I want to say that taking the final decision so late was, in my opinion, a really bad move. You are from NYC but I understand that people coming from all over the world for this marathon can be upset. I am pretty sure that for the majority of them it’s not a question of running the marathon. They could have made plans just like you did, still help in a way or another but they didn’t really get the choice. I don’t know how things are presented in the US, but in France, runners are described like “spoiled kids” who didn’t get what they wanted.
    I can imagine myself in their shoes and, honestly, I would have been upset.

  45. Congratulations! I was thinking of you all weekend, wondering what you’d chosen to do. One of my friends from Chicago was on his way to the airport when Bloomberg cancelled it. He ran Indianapolis instead. I’m glad that there were other races that were able to accommodate runners who still wanted to run. And you’re right; there will still be opportunities to help beyond race day. Can’t wait to read your race recap!

  46. As a fellow New Yorker who kept power here on the UES, I can really relate to a lot of the feelings you mentioned here. IT was such a sensitive week here in terms of what you felt like you could say or even FEEL. Everyone was affected so differently and I wrote this morning in a post about how hard it is to even know what to do or say at a time like this. I think its great that you went away and ran your marathon– you’re right that you can help out in your own way at your own time. Way to stick with what you wanted to do.

  47. Congrats on the race! I did Manchester yesterday as well as a plan B after NYC got cancelled. I completely agree with your sentiments on feeling relieved that NYC got cancelled but still wanting to run. You should be thrilled with you PR because as someone who also ran Manchester that course was BRUTAL. My favorite sign was the “Run fast random strangers!” around mile 15.

  48. Ali I am so happy for you! YOu make me want to run faster and longer and you make me happy to be able to run! You are such an inspiration. Looking forward to heading the rest!

  49. Eek! Super awesome time! I love when I get this freaking excited for strangers. I just hate that you are making me wait until tomorrow to hear all about it.

    What the heck are you doing for cross training? Not to be a creeper, but your legs/arms look good! 😐 Yea, that totally sounded creepy.

  50. Congrats! That is awesome and I agree you did what was best for you and you’ll be able to continue to help with the recovery in the weeks ahead.
    I was in a similar situation with NYC and at the last minute found the D&L Heritage marathon to run yesterday for a PR. I hadn’t yet gotten to NY by the time the marathon was cancelled, so I made a donation and spent the weekend with my family staying at my house since they still do not have power in NJ.

  51. A HUGE congrats! You have been through the wringer this round of training and have handled all of this with such grace. I’m so, so happy for you!

  52. Congrats!! As a longtime reader, I’m super excited for you that the race went so well. Can’t wait to read about it!

  53. shut up, cliff hanger. and by that I of course mean “CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” but really, spill the details. i need happy things you read, you have happy things to write.

  54. AAHHHH! I suspected you were doing this after seeing one of your tweets and I am SO happy for you. Can’t wait to hear all the details.

  55. Congratulations!! <3 this! Can't wait to read more about the race! You did the right thing and I hope you don't feel guilty anymore about anything!

  56. CONGRATS on the HUGE PR…. I am running the Richmond Marathon this Saturday for my first marathon… I would have peed my pants if I had seen you two out there!!!

  57. CONGRATULATIONS ON THE PR! I was there and watching my best friend run (another NYCM drifter) and I saw you guys around mile 19. I was the weirdo who screamed “Ali and Emily!” once I realized that those two girls running by were my favorite running bloggers. I then saw you guys run by while waiting for my friend and I knew you PR’ed, Ali! Congrats again – ps: my friend PR’ed as well. Broke 4 hours in her FIRST marathon ever. There was some good mojo going on in Manchester yesterday

  58. Congrats on your PR Ali! You deserved it. And you do have plenty of time to help out in the city. It will definitely take more than a day to rebuild your city.

  59. Oh My Goodness! Amazing! This is so amazing! I’m just in awe, and yes, you shouldn’t feel guilty – you can still help others and have this race for yourself as well!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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