A Race for Women's Wellness

by Erica Silbiger

As mentioned in several prior blog posts, I was training to run the Vermont 50 miler last September. My training was going relatively well but early in the summer I started to feel a weird pain down my left leg. Thinking it was just because I run so much and that I had started training for the ultra so soon after running the Paris Marathon, I thought I was fine. By mid-August the pain was so unbearable that I went to an orthopedic surgeon and he confirmed what I already knew: Vermont wasn’t happening.

We switched up my exercises at Finish Line Physical Therapy and I did strength training almost everyday. I was definitely getting better but then I started to plateau and could barely get past 2 miles without the pain coming back and then having a hard time walking the rest of the day. I was scheduled for a hip procedure and had all of these big dreams of how I was going to come back in a few short weeks with a bang. Everyone around me seemed really hopeful, which was helpful but part of me really didn’t think this was going to get better.   Anyone who would ask I would tell them “I have complete faith that I’ll be back to normal in just a few short weeks.” Unfortunately I think I was just saying that because I was hoping that if I said it out loud so many times I would eventually believe it.

The day before New Year’s Eve I had the hip procedure done and I was so excited because I knew that after only 10 more days of rest and recovery I was going to be back to normal. No more major FOMO watching my friends post about their long runs, missing out on opportunities to rep NBR at races, or not fully being able to do the workouts with November Project. Right before the procedure started the radiologist told me that it was a waste of time as this wasn’t going to help. In addition to that there were a few complications and it set me back at least another 4 weeks.

I used to think that taking two rest days in a row was too much rest. I went crazy by the second day. But now I was approaching four months and I couldn’t even wrap my head around another 4 weeks.

It was really hard being sidelined for so long. I hated that I couldn’t run with my team and was already starting to feel left out of so much just because I couldn’t go to the runs with NBR. I’ve always loved going to FLPT every week but I loved going now more than ever because I could walk in there with no judgements and be treated like family. To still be treated like an athlete on days when I truly doubted if I still was. Even on the days where I had the least amount of hope, just a simple hug or a coffee made by the bossman himself was enough to turn my mood around.

I started going to November Project more often because they never made me feel pressured to do any of the running or any exercises that my doctor said I shouldn’t do. I was progressing so fast that my doctor practically begged me to keep going to November Project. But mostly because of how it kept me sane during those soon to be five months of not running. Because of NP, I am able to train with NBR again. Because of NP, I never felt alone during my work trips that sometimes last for weeks since they now have tribes in 30 cities around the country (#talk30tome). Because of NP, I was able to keep relatively sane while not being able to do the one thing I consider defines me the most for five months.

Because of November Project, the support of my family, friends, and NBR teammates, and most importantly, because of Finish Line Physical Therapy and the Hospital for Special Surgery I am able to write this race report.

This morning I ran a half marathon in my hometown of Coral Springs called the Race for Women’s Wellness that benefits breast cancer research. I believe everything happens for a reason but it was a very interesting coincidence that this specific race happened to be the first test of whether I can truly get back to running again.

I was dead set on running it this year after running it last year and having an absolute blast. I put it on my calendar and booked my flight once my travel schedule for work was set, but didn’t register for the race because at that point I was now injured and it seemed highly unlikely I would be able to run a half marathon. It’s been six years since I’ve said something like that and it broke my heart. I struggled for awhile on whether I was trying to come back too soon just for the nostalgia I’d have running past my old house and high school.

I kept going to the website to register and then logging out. That happened a few times and I knew there was another reason I felt so determined to run this year whether I was ready or not. Unfortunately that reason presented itself a few weeks ago.

My first marathon was dedicated to my grandfather who we had just lost under two years prior from kidney cancer and to my dad who had non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma as I was specifically running with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I feel my grandfather with me at every single race I run and I especially know he’s with me when I’m heading out of the Bronx towards mile 21 of the NYC Marathon every year.

While on a ski trip with some friends a few weeks ago I found out my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remembered this half marathon was a fundraiser for breast cancer research and immediately got on my phone and registered for the race without hesitation. This race was no longer about me, it was about her. I got back to NYC and heard the surgery was scheduled for three days before the race. I threw out all my anxieties about whether on not I could do this. It no longer had anything to do with whether I could do it. I had to do it. And it might not be pretty and it might not be a PR, but I was going to show up to the start line at 6am and find a way to make it to the finish line.

I started out too fast, as per usual, until I reminded myself that there is no reason to push it too hard and that it didn’t even take until mile 3 to realize that it was nasty hot out with 95% humidity. Running 7-somethings would not be sustainable if my goal was to finish and without re-injuring myself. The annoying part was that my leg was feeling pretty good minus some twinges here and there but that I was so nauseous the whole time and my legs felt like lead. Part of it was the heat and humidity, part of it was reacquainting myself with long distance, but a lot of it was from the muscle relaxers I had taken the day before for a different procedure I had to have done at the hospital. Not smart.

Even though I felt like crap, my left leg felt good so I slowed it down a tad more and decided to channel an NBR teammate of mine who likes to tell you what USED to be on that street instead of the street name while giving the run route directions. He grew up in Greenpoint so it’s always fun hearing him describe the run route and learning about the old moovie theatah that yousta be a laundromat before it turnt into ah macdahnald’s…on llama street. We love you, Slaski!! (The best direction giver ever).

So I ran past the house I grew up in, I passed the shopping center that used to be a dollar theater where I had my first date with David Levinson, which was across the street from some spa that used to be a Kinkos that was next to a Verizon store that used to be a Little Caesar’s pizza where my parents and I would walk to for $5 pizzas that we would eat while they made us watch X-files and Star Trek. Then turning right onto the street that has a Mexican restaurant that used to be RJ Gators where I had pie thrown in my face on my 10th birthday and sang Celine Dion karaoke with my dad. I passed the running park where I first started running, which was behind the physical therapy office I went to after my first injury in high school where my doctor told me I would never run again. It’s no coincidence my PT’s name was Angel and I’ll never forget him.

A few miles down that street until we passed the dermatology office that used to be a Miami Subs which was where my friends and I went after every football game in high school. Across the street from the surgical center where I had my four impacted wisdom teeth removed. Passed the shopping center that used to have a Blockbuster where we would rent all our movies on family night (or later date night…the original Netflix and chill!). Passed Bru’s Room where my friend Amy used to work which was the block before the Arby’s where my friend Mike worked. Then we turned onto the street where I used to do my six mile loop on Thursdays for track practice on recovery days. Farther down until we ran right into the parking lot of my alma mater, JP Taravella! Where the P stands for Pride!!

Oh and by the way JPTers… They repainted the new (now very old) building to blue and silver which is what it should have been in the first place instead of looking like MSD…weird. Oh and to all my track sisters, STILL NO RUBBER TRACK. STILL. COME ON.

I mentally pointed out all the houses my friends used to live in and thought about all of the fun times we had there. Also at some point got to see and wave to the parents of one of my best friends. Totally wasn’t expecting to see them! So it was a nice surprise to see some friendly faces considering I was really struggling at that point.

After JPT we headed back to the sports complex where I used to swim with my mom after school that is now the finish line. I have a love-hate relationship with miles 11 and 12 of a half marathon. You’re almost done…but still feels like it will never end. But meanwhile, that’s also when you realize that endurance running isn’t always an individualized sport. That’s when it becomes a team sport. Everyone is pushing each other to the finish. Since I was repping my NBR singlet I got a nice little “Come on, Brooklyn!” and I paid it forward with a few “you got it, girl!” Some high fives here and there and then a kick to the finish.

As soon as I rounded the corner for the last .1 to the finish line, I saw my grandma standing right in front of the final sensors, camera in hand, only three days after her surgery. I blew her a kiss and crossed the finish line with all the feels.

After chugging an entire bottle of water and some cold compresses from the fantastic volunteers, I went to go find her. When I crossed the finish line and one of the volunteers gave me the medal, I just couldn’t put it on. I knew it really wasn’t for me. When I found my grandma and she came up to me with the biggest, proudest smile on her face, I knew it was for her. I put the medal around her neck and told her that her race is much harder than mine and she deserves it more than me.

The Race for Women’s Wellness started out as a test of my own wellness, but turned into something so much more. Thinking back on how much pain I was in last August and how much doubt I had about being able to really run again, I can’t tell you the feeling I had crossing that finish line six months later without leg pain. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a tiny bit sore in the area and I am absolutely nowhere near done with my workouts at Finish Line PT (THEY CAN’T GET RID OF ME THAT FAST!), but I will say that my patience and good faith (although sometimes faked) paid off. Thank you, Finish Line, for getting me back on my feet in time to honor my grandmother in the only way I know how.