Walking the New York Marathon

The New York City Marathon

“Oh, you ran a marathon? How heavy was the sled?” Hillary may not have been dragging a sled but she sure completed a marathon …I think after reading her story you’ll forgive her for leaving the sled behind.

1. intro

I met Hillary almost ten years ago while working in the disability sector and she was the then CEO of the Western Cape Cerebral Palsy Association … this is her story…

Hillary and I at Hillary's 50th

Hillary and I at Hillary’s 50th

I was approached to participate in the 2011 New York City Marathon as they were looking for people with disabilities who would like to run the New York City Marathon. My reply was, ‘Hell, No!” I have a disability sticker on my car so that I can park nearest to the entrance to where I need to go, and left it at that!! However it got me thinking…

What would it take to do a marathon?  Could I do it?  Did I want to do it?? Would such an undertaking be a good or bad thing to the overall welfare of my body especially as I was growing older?

I had very little to go on. The goal was completing the New York City Marathon, in November, and it was now February!   So before I signed anything I need to explore the physical and mental possibilities of such an undertaking. I went through all the tests and was cleared. However, the one question I kept asking, to which there was no clear answer, was: Could someone with Cerebral Palsy undertake this type of venture?  I decided to find the answer and began this journey with the support of experts, professionals (both medical and sport) and my family.

Christopher, my husband, came out with me in the evenings. On one of the first occasions, I could hardly complete one kilometre, and whatever distance I did cover I developed a crippling stitch.  So the first few sorties were not very encouraging and got me quite worried.  What had I let myself in for? Perhaps it was being too foolhardy, and dare I say, perhaps a bit stupid even to think that I could achieve this.

But it was up to me. It was my own self determination and self-motivation to get out and do the walking. I had no one checking up on me and it was up to me to get my shoes on and to get out and walk.  My weeks at work can be very taxing and I did not always want to go out in the evenings, but as the time for the marathon approached I took myself out every other day.  Right from the beginning though Sunday mornings were always for a long walk.  First it was the Pavilion on the Sea Point sea front and then it was the broad walk from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay and back, with lunch at Kalkies.  There after Christopher, Tallulah (my dog and training partner) – and I would go down to Sea Point Pavilion on a Sunday morning and walk on the beach front.  Each week we would walk a little bit further.  In the initial stages of the training I tried “running” first between two lamp posts and then walk between the next two, but I soon decided that actually I would be better off if I just concentrated on setting a good walking pace.

As my training progressed, so too did the distances that I was able to cover. Christopher and I went up to Bainskloof in July and we decided to walk down to where the road crosses the river.  We discover afterwards that it was a distance of 14 km!  Early on in my training Christopher had bought me – a step counter, which we call the ‘red dot’ and  which counts the number of steps I take, the distance I cover and the time it takes, which proved to be very useful. On this first long walk I was so tempted to turn back after 5km, but Christopher patiently got me to go on to the bridge, and when we got back felt very happy at having not given up and for doing the whole distance.  Most surprisingly though, after that walk, was that I was not exhausted!

Thereafter it was sheer determination and self-discipline!  The fun part for me was planning the walk. Lying in bed and designing which route I was going to follow.  The first big walk I did from the house was another 15 km round trip with Tallulah and when it was not a long walk together with her it was with her and Christopher either along the Sea Point promenade or from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay, for lunch and back again, or from Kalk Bay to Simons Town.  During the week I would try and go out two or three times and walk between 4 & 5 km.

Eventually in September I realised that I had to step up the pace, so one Sunday I decided that I had to see how far I could walk in one go and how long it would take and how I would feel afterwards.  So we set off one Sunday morning in September, which turned out to be one of the hottest days that month, 30°C, and my aim was Muizenberg!  That I think would have been nearly 30km away, but in the end I made it to Lakeside which was 21km away!  I had completed half a marathon! I now knew that I could do a whole marathon. I felt fine. My body was tired but it did not ache.  It had taken me just over 4 hours so I now had some idea as to how long a full marathon might take.  I now just had to get out on a regular basis and get the kilometres on my shoes!

3. registration

Hillary at registration

Marathon day arrived. It was now or never! As we waited for the gun to send us on our way, I admit that there was a tear in my eye and Matthew (my son who had agreed to walk with me as my guide) gave me a hug. One of the things I was most nervous about was the fact that I had never participated in an event like this before and so was not aware of how to run with other runners, and so when we got to about the 5 mile mark the rest of the field had started and were catching up with us.  Fortunately the roads were wide and for the most part people just ran past. However there were a number of other runners who were not pleased to have a ‘walker’ on the course and were rude with remarks or pushing.  But they were just a few people. The other disabled runners and their guides all wore luminous green tops, so there was no mistaking who we were. What was also very heart warming and exceedingly encouraging was how many of the fellow runners who passed gave words of encouragement.

Another aspect of the encouragement came with spectators shouting words of encouragement to us as we passed; I had printed my name on my shirt so there was no mistaking who I was, though there were times when I was sorry that I had put my name on it because so many people were shouting out my name, and I did not know how to respond.

Matthew and I had agreed that should he at any point along  the way feel the need to point out that my walking was not what it should be he could say ‘ladders’ which would be a reminder to me, to pick my feet up.  I must say that I do not remember him saying that, however, there was one point, and this was the point of my whole undertaking of this venture –  to see if this sort of activity would improve my walking – was when I became very aware that my body was very tired and that my walking was laboured. So what I did was; I mentally went through my body, starting at my head, using my mind’s eye, to see what was happening to my body.  When I got to my hips, what I saw was that I was not swinging my legs from my hips but instead I was somehow propelling my body forwards. Now knowing this to be the case, I then started to use my hips and my walking became easier.  I felt very satisfied that when the sweeper van came through at about 4 pm there was no inclination to get on to it.  At about 5pm the roads were being reopened and we then had to walk on the pavements.  We could always see other people in front of us and were aware of people still walking behind us.  However we knew that so long as we were still walking there would be someone waiting at the finishing line.

At last I could see the finishing line, and Matthew  and I held hands and crossed the line together, 10 hours and seven seconds after we started! I had, with the help of many achieved what I had set out to do!  I was so tired but the sense of pride and achievement and having my son doing it with me, was a very very special moment in my life!!

7. finishing

Finish line