I’ve started writing this a million times, and as I sit here now, I realize this is probably just one of those pieces of writing that will keep evolving with my stages of grief. If a reader were to ask me, "Can a cat affect your running?' my answer would be "Yes."
Many say Marathon Season in New York is like Christmas for runners. The park is decorated with banners of all our favorite heroes. Subways don motivational posters and the city feels like one giant inspirational running ad that we live and breathe in. Run through Central Park on any given morning leading up to race day, and you may brush elbows with Shalane, Emma, Meb, or another running favorite.
Two weeks before race day, my beloved Pineapple died quickly after being diagnosed with cancer. Pineapple, my confidante and biggest fan, would not be there at the end of the Marathon to lie on my belly or head butt her congratulations. This is not how I expected Pineapple to die; she was fierce and strong. She was persistent and pleasant, a fighter, and home security guard. When Pineapple was younger, she was hit by a car. After weeks in Kitty Physical Therapy, she was allowed walk freely again. She didn't just walk; she ran out of her cat carrier. Immediately, she was jumping onto the tallest places in the living room and in the backyard. She was back to exploring and living her fabulous cat life in Queens.
Pineapple was more than just a lazy furbaby. As my trainer and Head Coach, Pineapple has been with me after countless long runs, laying my quads or back, massaging sore muscles with her push-pawing to make sure that I took a long enough recovery. She was our in-house meteorologist, rubbing her wet nose in my face on rainy mornings to let me know what to expect. She'd ensure that I had enough protein by throwing a mouse on my bed or leaving a bird at the bottom of the steps for breakfast.
After having a piss-poor attitude during last year's race, I vowed to fall in love with the marathon again and enjoy myself--no matter what. I did, but it wasn't easy. I learn something valuable in each race, and this year was more about continuing, enduring under the worst circumstances (crampy tummy, crampy foot, broken heart.), and finding joy no matter the circumstances.
Running a marathon is something that takes both the legwork and more importantly, the brainwork. Your mind has to be ready for the task at hand. You have to have will and fight, and focus. Pineapple, my sports psychologist, was always there to help me with my will and mental game. She was beside me through countless times of "I'll never be fast enough to qualify for Boston", reassuring me with her headbutts that though I am a lousy hunter, I will always be good enough for her.
We lined up in front of the Verrazano Bridge, hearing the first chords of “New York, New York” blast through the speakers, a not so subtle reminder to take it all in. I headed out too quickly, but the pace seemed easy. At times it felt slow. I knew I was going out too fast, but I couldn't stop. I knew that physically, this would be a hard race.
My mind began to wander over to my sweet little kitty right around Mile 6, & I heard my name exactly when I needed to. Alanna, Libby, and Jeanette had caught me right in time, with the Daidone Sisters following shortly after with chapstick and a phone charger, I have the best pit crew.
In Long Island City, I spotted another bunch of friends. Greg, Karen, Kate, Mary Ann, Danielle, Vinny, and others, too. I needed it. It reminded me that she was with me on this day.
In the Bronx when I had already slowed my pace to a walk-run, I had an extra push from Elizabeth, "Everyone's cramping," she confirmed. I wasn't alone.
When I reached Harlem, I saw Zarina, who again confirmed that I was cramping along with everyone else. Looking back, the last six miles of the marathon I didn't quit, not only because I had done it so many times and knew I could finish, but also because the last days of my cat's life, she didn't quit on me, either. She still loved me. No matter how much pain she was in, she still looked at me with love.
I was in pain physically, but still taking in the scenes of the marathon. I saw Teri Hatcher from Desparate Housewives at mile 25 right after seeing my best friend Amy Blitz at her usual spot at mile 24. I saw this Ruth Badar Ginsburg sign (below). I took off my shoe and massaged my foot and kept on. I managed somehow to run the last mile straight through with no walk breaks.
I didn't PR. Far from it. But I made it across the finish line feeling all the love in my heart from my friends. I reunited with my run coach partner Shelly, and then Amy, Nick, and Brent--all good friends of mine.
I have thought about this race, and Pineapple's death, and it was almost the perfect metaphor for how she lived her kitty life. She fought to the end. She spotted the joy in living even when it was tough, and given the circumstances, I did, too. I ran the race she would have lived, no matter how difficult.
The Tuesday after, I needed to get my medal engraved.
"'Pineapple?' Is that all you want?", the woman at NYRR asked me.
"Does Pineapple have a time?"
"No," I choked back some tears.
"Well, how about 'Finisher' on the 2nd line, then?" she offered.
"Sure, that works."
Pineapple. Finisher. 2018 NYC Marathon