My 14 New York Lives, the NYC Marathon and Becoming a New Yorker

Since I came to NYC in January 2012 with just two bags, I've moved 14 times in the concrete jungle. I was about to close the final chapter on my NYC life and all its chaos when I began training for the NYC Marathon. It was 2014 and I was accepted into my first - and biggest -marathon - the NYC Marathon. I was ecstatic. I'd run cross country, track and road races all my life but had never run a marathon.

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So I set out, despite once again needing a place to live, plunging into my training. I began my training in humid August heat, running around downtown Brooklyn. I had an unstable ex stalking me, had lost my job because of him, and was scrambling to find a place to live. But despite the chaos, or perhaps because of it, I kept running. The running - something I'd done since I was a kid - kept me grounded. And each long run was a testament to my own strength. I needed to rebuild mentally more than anything and running helped me, each step inching me a little closer to that happy, adventurous kid running around my neighborhood. 

I was exhausted with no permanent home but marathon training kept me focused. 

I was exhausted with no permanent home but marathon training kept me focused. 

I remember one night, after I'd found a shortterm place to live in Chinatown/LES, I had been writing freelance articles at the coffee shop all day because my tenement had no Internet, and my ex pulled up outside in a large SUV. He often rented different cars so I never knew what to expect. He begged and pleaded with me to talk, saying he would end his life, so I agreed to go to a public place to try to help. The night ended with me running from the pub and him yelling and pinning me against a wall in a busy area of Soho. I screamed to let me go (while people kept walking by) and he spat at me and told me I was nothing, holding my wrists against the wall. He told me that he (a finance guy) could buy off the police and there was nothing I could do and no restraining order that would keep him away. I managed to squirm out of his grip and get in a kick before running down the street, my big black bookbag bouncing against my sweaty back. I ran all the way to my street, Eldridge, shaking. 

2014 was a tumultuous year for me, but running the NYC Marathon helped me come out of it.

2014 was a tumultuous year for me, but running the NYC Marathon helped me come out of it.

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I remember calling my best friend in California, hysterical, cursing, embarrassed and angry that I had ended up in such a terrible situation. I was too embarrassed and ashamed to tell my family, and what could they do from thousands of miles away? I knew I was not worthless but I was so angry and shook up about what happened. No one had ever said I was worthless before, and it kept echoing in my head. 

I continued my training, running around the Lower East Side, over the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn, my favorite place. I ran all over the city, wherever I landed. I moved out of what I quickly found to be a rat-infested apartment, and moved into Airbnbs all over Brooklyn, finding lots of street art to keep me going on my runs, exploring new neighborhoods. I had no luck finding a place to live though and was running out of cash. 

Until I finally found a room for rent in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Desolate and beautiful, with lots of art and quite a few tattered remnants of Hurricane Sandy's wrath, Red Hook suited me. I felt like I was moving to the edge of the world to get away from my ex but was happy to find a low-profile area. The catch was the room wouldn't be ready for a month. I could move in the day before the NYC Marathon.

So I went to St. Louis to stay with my family for the month. I continued my training, saw my family, ate thick crust pizza, ran through the city's parks and trails for my long runs, and rested. I was having trouble sleeping, plagued by nightmares, and still receiving electronic attempts to communicate from my ex. But the marathon kept me pushing onward, even on days when I didn't want to get out of bed. My parents were so supportive, my dad driving me around the city for my long runs and Yasso 800 track workouts, often reading while he waited. I ran a lot and meditated. It was hard not to think about my life and how everything went so wrong. 

Each cheer washing over that inner echo “You’re nothing.” Each step getting me farther from that voice and closer to the truth. I was doing it, and the whole city of New York was behind me.

Running helped me to focus on something positive when it felt like my life was crumbling. My dream of living in NYC and the tenuous foothold I'd made there seemed to be stomped out by a downward spiral with my ex. He had seemed so charming and persistent about dating when we met. And persistent after we broke up. He tried contacting me in St. Louis, creating different Google Voice numbers to reach me when I blocked him, and even flew out to find me.

I remember as I sat on my parents' couch, icing my legs after an 18-mile run, I told them more about the situation, and they said I could always stay there as long as I needed. My mom, whose sister committed suicide while in an abusive marriage, told me to ignore my ex at all costs, even if he said he was going to kill himself.

I began to wonder if it was worth returning to New York. I had no job to go back to, had lost most of my friends there from this isolating relationship and was completely embarrassed about the whole situation. I felt like I had worked so hard to make it in New York and my relationships had ruined it. After all, two of my big moves had been due to breakups, one ending with my ex throwing my stuff out on the street, and the other with being stalked. I was questioning my judgment and myself about everything. Everything, that is, except the NYC Marathon. 

The NYC Marathon was my guiding light in a foggy time of tears, paralysis, self-doubt and confusion. I told my parents no matter what I was returning to run the NYC Marathon. And after that I would know what was right. I just knew that if I ran the marathon and returned to New York, a lot would be answered and I would know where I was meant to be.

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So I packed up my stuff and said goodbye to my family. My dad gave me a parting gift of an armband to hold my phone during the marathon because he knew I loved running with music. 

A friend helped me move to Red Hook on Halloween, and I focused on the NYC Marathon. I was mentally and physically exhausted by that point but determined. No crazy ex or living obstacles could keep me from running it. Going to the convention center to pick up my NYC Marathon bib, I remember being floored by the energy and the realization hit me that this year I was not just cheering but actually running the New York City Marathon.

And before the marathon, I already made new friends and had a running buddy on marathon day, Erin. Erin was a marathon veteran and one of the most positive and supportive people I've met. If my ex was about being at the wrong place at the wrong time, she was the right person at the right time. We ran together for a lot of the race but both struggled with our own injuries in the second half. 

I remember people screaming my name, saying "Go Marnie!" and "You can do it, Marnie" and "you rock!" My parents could not make it up for the race but I felt like the city was full of supporters. Each cheer washing over that inner echo "You're nothing." Each step getting me farther from that voice and closer to the truth. I was doing it, and the whole city of New York was behind me.

Running over the Queensborough Bridge, I remember looking out over the city, my city. I knew I was home. This was where I was meant to be. Hills, pain and all, it was worth it. I knew if I could finish the toughest race of my life, despite all the pain and all the exhaustion, I could do anything.

When I flew into the finish the last mile, not even feeling my knotted calves or aching hip anymore, everything was a blur. I was on a high. My spirit felt free. The negative echo in my mind was obliterated. Meeting Erin after the race, I remember thinking, "I did it. I can do anything." 

I went home, to Brooklyn, officially a New Yorker, all questions answered.