Saturday was the best day I’ve had in months. In fact, it may have been the best day I’ve had since this same weekend last year.
I’d been enjoying a pretty good two-week stretch. Before that, things had been rough. This Crohn’s flare had proven more than just unrelenting — it was turning out to be pretty life-ruining. It was affecting my work, my ability to take care of my dog, my relationships, and obviously my mental health.
After hitting the proverbial rock bottom — again — I knew I needed to make a change. So I started by changing my diet. I committed to 90 days without added sugar, gluten, dairy, or alcohol. I also started on a doctor-prescribed 30-day dose of Uceris, which is a steroid that directly targets the colon, and that I’ve tried in the past without much success.
Then I went to Texas for a family wedding, and I strayed a little. I did my best to stick to my new “lifestyle,” but I’m pretty sure BBQ ribs and brisket — and, yes, a few glasses of wine — aren’t quite beat-Crohn’s-approved. So how do I make sense of the fact that I flew back to Texas on a Sunday night, and I swear, I woke up Monday feeling sort of like a new person?
The bathroom urgency had slowed way down, and when I did use the bathroom, the consistency was less Crohn’s-like and more sort-of-normal-person-like. I found that I’d still go to the bathroom a handful of times in the morning, but then I could enjoy entire bathroom-free afternoons. It was an intestinal miracle!
So I can’t explain it. I have a spreadsheet documenting every single thing I’ve eaten since October 2, and I keep track of how I feel every hour of every day. Managing my health had become a full-time job.
Until these past two weeks.
Since returning from Texas, I’ve gone to Orangetheory a handful of times, and made it through multiple classes without having to jump off the treadmill to bolt to the bathroom. I even completed my first-ever “Hell Week” and earned a T-shirt to wear for bragging rights. During one class, I hit 12 mph on the treadmill — a new personal record by a lot.
I didn’t have a single urgency-induced panic attack while walking Ellie, and even walked to pick her up from school one night instead of driving, which is what I do when I’m sick (and/or lazy, or in case of inclement weather).
I made trips into Manhattan. I felt the urge to run again. And then, when I knew I could handle it, I did run. I ran 6.2 stop-and-go miles on the New Jersey waterfront, and even though that run included four bathroom stops, I loved it.
So I was feeling good. I was feeling healthy. I was feeling like Ali again.
And so with the New York City Marathon on the horizon, I decided I’d attempt to get in on some of the action.
Every year on the day before the marathon, the New York Road Runners hosts the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5K. The race starts at the United Nations, runs across a closed-to-cars 42nd Street, then up Sixth Avenue, and finally into Central Park, finishing across the same finish line the marathoners cross the following day.
I had never run the race because I was often running the marathon the next day. But this year, I signed up on a bit of a whim (just hours before it sold out, actually!). I figured if I felt OK enough to run, I would! And if I woke up that morning and couldn’t hack it, I’d probably be disappointed (and out $45), but I’ve pushed past plenty of disappointments this year and am still alive.
You see where this is going, right?
I went to the Expo to get my bib on Thursday.
That night, I had the privilege of attending Meb Keflezighi’s retirement party, and got to spend some decent amount of time actually with Meb. He’s silly and goofy and funny, and he agreed to come on the Ali on the Run Show. So stay tuned for that.
Needless to say, I went into the good weekend basking in good vibes.
I woke up Saturday morning, and I felt amazing. I was calm and happy, and my stomach felt great. I went to the bathroom three times, but all three were non-urgent and, well, kind of pleasant, considering how bathroom visits have felt for a long time!
I got dressed, I got an Uber, and I made my way into Manhattan. I had only told three people I was heading into the city to run the race: my friends Laura, Feeney, and Jackie. Before I hopped in the Uber, I snapped a quick selfie to show them that I was doing it! Jackie responded saying, “Feller! You look so happy!” And then I cried. Because I couldn’t remember the last time I had smiled in a way that reflected how I was actually feeling.
As I made my way to the start, I was in a sea of 11,000 runners (wowza!), and I just sort of stood there and basked in the good energy. I made my way to the porta-potties, assuming I would need one, but by the time I got to the front of the line (next to Paula Radcliffe), I was fine! My stomach felt so good, and instead of waiting for it to turn on me or questioning it, I just went with it and hoped it would stay that way for 3.1 miles.
The race was supposed to start at 8:30 AM, but since this race also served as the USATF 5K Championships (hell yes, Molly Huddle FTW!), we had to wait for the pro men to start. And the pro women. And then the four corrals in front of mine, Corral D. I don’t think I started running until close to 8:50, which would have been fine if it hadn’t been so chilly (that sneaky sun was hiding behind the UN building) and I hadn’t been close to naked. (Most runners around me were in long sleeves and pants. I wore a tank top and shorts, because I don’t remember how to dress for outdoor running.)
I made a friend in my corral — hi Kaitlin! — who awesomely recognized Ellie on my phone background. That helped pass the time, and then we were off!
And I just ran. I didn’t notice a race clock when we started, but I know that when we hit the first mile mark, it said 25 minutes. I wasn’t wearing a watch and had no idea how fast I was running, but I knew I wasn’t pulling a 25-minute mile. So I just kept running, clueless and happy.
I smiled every single step of this race. I loved running across 42nd Street, even though the first mile was super crowded. I loved turning onto Sixth Avenue. I thought I would love running past Radio City Music Hall, but I actually don’t remember noticing it.
I felt like I was running hard, but since it’s been a little while, I didn’t know if hard equated to a 7:45 pace, an 8:30 pace, or a 9:45 pace. I powered up the slight incline into Central Park (the same one the marathoners run down to exit the park before turning onto Central Park West), and then I told myself to just keep moving, and to maybe even let it hurt a little!
I’ve run that lower loop of the park countless times in my life, but it had been months since my last visit, so I loved being there. Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” came on my playlist — the song that kicks off the New York City Marathon — and I got a bit teary because I knew it was going to happen. I was going to run the entire race without any Crohn’s issues.
As I made that right turn around the southwest bend of the park and headed up the final climb toward the finish, I felt so calm. I don’t think I ever feel calm during races. I popped my earbuds out so I could hear the excitement, and I tried my hardest to pass a few people in that finishing stretch.
And then that was it. I DID IT! I ran a 5K and I felt amazing, and, just like after last year’s marathon, I got that finish line hug from my friend Feeney.
Turns out, Feeney wasn’t the only one there. Laura was there, too, along with a bunch of November Project friends who matched my level of excitement. I was so happy to be surrounded by great people on such a great day.
It wasn’t until an hour or so later at breakfast that I asked my friend Paul to look up the results. I wanted to see where my effort left me. He found the results, and asked us all to guess my finish time. (What a sneaky game!)
I guessed 24-something. Laura guessed something in the 23-minute range. And Myles, our November Project team captain (and Laura’s boyfriendroommate) also went with something around the high 23s.
“It ends in 59,” Paul said.
“23:59?!” I asked, feeling pretty pumped about a very respectable time.
“Nope,” he said.
I ran a freaking 22:59. I broke 23 minutes, and snagged a new personal best. That’s a 7:24/mile pace. What?!
Running a 5K PR was one of the New Year’s Resolutions I abandoned back in May when I first got sick. So to have that happen — after showing up at the start on a whim, and only running outside a handful of times since the Brooklyn Half in May — it seemed unreal. It still does. (I’m seriously waiting for New York Road Runners to email me saying my results were a fluke, sorry.)
I had the best day on Saturday. I know that sometimes, thanks to this disease, my “best days” are few and far between, and I can never really plan for them. I don’t know if I’m truly working my way out of this flare, or if I’ve just had a lucky two weeks, so I am planning to bask in this forever, and I’m not sorry. I am just so happy. (And major shout-out to Orangetheory, man. I may not have been running outside, but I’ve been going to classes when I can, and I’m thinking that stuff works!)
And then Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon. The end!
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF THIS WEEKEND’S INDOMITABLE RUNNERS AND RACERS, AND THANK YOU FOR ALL OF THE KIND WORDS, SUPPORT, AND LOVE. I. AM. SO. HAPPY.