by Alyssa Bove
This time last year, I was fresh off a disappointing DNF at the Suffolk County Marathon due to a chronic illness. I spent a lot of time being hard on myself and in the process developed some pretty serious race anxiety. One more DNF at last spring’s Helderberg to Hudson half marathon was even harder on me mentally. With both my physical and mental health at an all time low, there was a part of me that wondered when and if I would ever be able to finish a long distance race again. Part of me didn’t know if I even wanted to try - if I could handle the heartbreak of another season’s work gone to waste. But I signed up for the 2022 Philadelphia Marathon and decided to put my heart on the line once more.
Between the almost two years of not finishing 26.2 miles, I had forgotten how it felt to run that long. I was terrified of the distance and of how bad it would hurt. My long runs all season were clumsy, like I was grasping for something out of my reach; but week after week I showed up and did what I could. My coach stayed patient with me as I regained my footing. We both knew some magic needed to happen this season so I could get my swagger back and eventually, things clicked. The training was showing some promise. I stuck my nose to the grindstone and relied heavily on my teammates and the people around me to get me through each day of training.
There have been countless hours in the gym and plenty of quality time running around Schenectady with my boyfriend and best friends. I was also fighting an internal battle- an undiagnosed chronic illness that is both intense and persistent. One of the most difficult realizations was that the pain might take the joy out of running. My teammates continued to remind me that losing my love of running just wasn’t possible.
Along with it being a great act of self-love to train for this race, someone I love received some bad news at the beginning of my training cycle back in August. I dedicated my training and race to my Uncle John and together we raised over $3,200 for the American Association for Cancer Research*, which meant the absolute world to me. So many people donated to our cause and for that, I am so thankful.
On race day I looked around and felt immensely grateful for having made it to that special moment- at the start line with dear friends about to run a marathon through the sunrise in Philly. I had teammates beside me physically and mentally- I thought of the many things each of them have taught me and I channeled their strength. I thought of my family members who have cancer and the money we raised for the AACR. I thought of my training and the energy I gave to each session over the last 4 months. And then by some miracle of nature- I had the first pain-free run I’ve had in over a year.
I needed this year’s Philly Marathon more than I knew. From the very first steps of the race, I had a smile on my face that never wavered or faded across all 26 miles. I felt my gratitude growing with every mile marker and used the incredible energy from the crowd to keep going. I interacted with spectators like never before and stopped to hug my parents when I saw them at mile 6. I hesitate to say it was the "best day ever," but it may have been exactly that. The wind was at my back for the last 10K and it felt like flying. I ran some of the fastest long run miles I ever have at the end of this race. Tears streamed down my face and the finish line was like magic.
I am so thankful for the work I put in to get here, for the love from the people around me, and for my coach believing in me when I didn't. I'm thankful for the unorthodox season of training that led to the perfect, chilly day in Philadelphia. This race proved that I am stronger than the disease that threatened to keep me down and that anything is possible with hard work and support from loved ones. To say that I feel transformed would be an understatement. Before, there was someone who was uncertain of herself- depressed, in pain, and scared to try again. A completely different woman stands in her place now, ready to do what it takes and hungry for more.
* American Association for Cancer Research has the highest rating of 100% from Charity Navigator