November 6, 2022

“Where are you from?” I asked, while I played photographer for a few runners, as the orangish sun began waking up from its nap behind the Brooklyn skyline.

“Portland!” they exclaimed, their smiles as bright as their neon green shirts.

I made a few more friends in line as we climbed aboard the ferry, the sun now stretching lazily above the tall buildings across the river. Within minutes the boat was humming along the water lined by the shiny skyscrapers of Manhattan on one side and the low-rise brownstones of Brooklyn on the other.

I felt eerily calm, knowing that I had prepared for this moment, and that aside from the elite professional runners, everyone on the course, everyone in New York City, was on the same team that day. There were no seats left on the boat, but it was an unusually warm day for early November, so I used the sweatshirt I brought as a cushion and took a seat on the damp deck.


March 2022

For those who don’t know, I’ve been in therapy for about 2 years and it quite honestly has changed my life. Therapy was something I had never really considered before, in part because of the societal stigmas/misconceptions associated with depression, anxiety, and more broadly mental health (particularly among men). I discounted much of my own emotions, and at times didn’t necessarily know (or wasn’t able to name) what I was feeling. I’ve since learned that everyone is going through something and it can look a lot of different ways. Sometimes it doesn’t look like anything at all because some people are really good at concealing it.

During a particular session last spring, my therapist asked me, “What’s something you want to do for yourself this year?” 

“I’ve always wanted to run the New York City marathon,” I told him.

As it turned out, the registration deadline to run for Team for Kids (a non-profit organization that provides kids with free after school running programs; the same non-profit my mom ran for in 2008 and my friend Josh ran for in 2021) was the following day.

“Well, I guess I’m running a marathon,” I thought to myself, as I clicked the submit button.

About a month later, I had surgery to fix my deviated septum. The surgery went well, however, a week or two later, while I was laying in bed recovering, I felt this sharp pain in my abdomen. I yelped and reached for the excruciating pain pulsing through my midsection. 

“Is my appendix rupturing?” I thought to myself.

Google quickly disproved that theory. After a few evaluations, a referral to a specialist, and an ultrasound, it turns out that I had a inguinal (groin) hernia. Just what I needed. I opted to get it surgically repaired, which meant that once I finally started training in June, I would basically be starting from zero. 


September 2022

As I finished my second lap around Seward Park, I looked up at the dark blue water in front of me. I traced the rocky shores of Lake Washington Boulevard north past I-90 to the tallest building in Madison Park, some seven miles in the distance. I was halfway through an 18 mile training run in Seattle, but for a brief moment, I closed my eyes, outstretched my arms, and smiled, as I thought about what it might be like to run in the streets of New York City.

I can’t tell you how many times I visualized crossing the finish line over roughly five months of training. I did most of my running along Lake Washington and as I pushed further and further south each week, I started carrying water and energy gels, but I rarely listened to music. Instead of going to brunch in Chicago on a trip with friends, I ran 16 sweaty miles along Lake Michigan in sweltering heat. I ran along the beaches of Los Angeles. I traced the outskirts of apple orchards in Eastern Washington. I ran along the Charles River esplanade in Boston. I jogged up and down the westside of Manhattan, captivated by the glimmer of the city at dusk. I had good runs, and some bad ones. And each time, I wondered how I might feel on race day. Even when wildfire smoke forced me to run 20 miles on an elliptical machine in my parents’ basement, I thought about New York. Little did I know, no amount of imagination could have prepared me for that day in November.


November 6, 2022

As we approached Staten Island, I gazed at the pale silhouette of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance. The race starts on the bridge, and as I would learn on the bus ride from the ferry to the starting line, there are actually three separate routes (blue, green, and orange) that vary ever so slightly until mile 8.

My friends from the ferry (Tori, Jo, Enxhi) and I were all in the same corral/wave, so we stuck together in the Team for Kids tent. Over the course of the next hour, I stretched, ate some more food, drank plenty of water, and stretched some more.

Perhaps for the first time since I clicked that submit button, I felt nervous. The kind of nervousness I used to feel on the starting blocks at a swim meet; the kind that crescendoed until the moment I hit the water, or in this case started running.

I also learned that morning that while the blue and orange corrals run on top of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the green route runs on the lower lanes of the bridge. As we exited our corral and rounded a corner onto the bridge, I noticed that our lane started sloping downward, and that everyone around us had green bibs, while ours were orange.

We were in the wrong corral. 

Not only did we want the experience of running on top of the bridge, but Jo had friends and family who were watching on the orange route, so without hesitation we started weaving backwards through the crowd and proceeded to climb over the highway barrier to the correct corral. My heart was racing, but I was ready.

Jo, Tori, me, and Enxhi after we found the correct corral

As the crowd inched slowly to the starting line, I wished my new friends good luck, took a deep breath, and started the longest run of my life.

Most people don’t realize that the first two miles of the race are entirely on the bridge, and that it’s also the biggest climb of the race. So I followed the advice I had received, and trotted up and down the bridge at a consistent, but relaxed pace.

As I neared the end of the bridge, and entered Brooklyn, I saw the first handful of spectators. Several blocks later, the sidewalks were packed with people cheering. There were people from all over the world singing, dancing, chanting, cooking, and holding up different flags and hand drawn signs.

“Holy shit,” I thought to myself, “I’m running the New York City marathon.”

There were live bands and stereo systems on nearly every block, blasting a variety of music—everything from Led Zeppelin to Bad Bunny. I had just settled in with a small contingent of runners following one of the pacers, when all of the music and commotion began to fade away, and we entered an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. The sidewalks were mostly quiet, albeit from a few folks who were trying to figure out how to cross the street currently filled with 50,000 marathon runners.

Leading up to the marathon, whenever people asked me if I had a goal for the race, I told them I just wanted to finish. Secretly, I wanted to finish in under 4 hours, and after nearly 8 miles, I was making good time. The energy of the crowd had picked back up, and as I rounded a big sweeping corner in Downtown Brooklyn, I spotted my friend Rhylie waving and cheering me on.

Approximately 2.5 million people line the streets of New York City to watch the marathon each year, and yet I saw a dozen or more friends and family along the course that day. Each time it gave me that extra boost I needed to keep going. By the time I entered Williamsburg, the atmosphere was electric. It felt like one big block party, as all three routes had merged. At several points, the course was so narrow it felt like the crowd was right on top of me.

I looked up and saw my brother jumping up and down, holding the sign that he made in our hotel room the day before the race. As I passed him, he started running and jogged down the block with me, all the while shouting words of encouragement.

I remember in the moment, I could barely get any words out. I just remember smiling and saying, “This is for you.”

As I passed the half marathon point, I felt great and proceeded to make my way into Queens. The closer I got to the infamous Queensboro Bridge, the quieter things got. Once I was on the bridge, all I could hear were footsteps and the heavy breathing of the runners around me.

Everyone in the running community had warned me about this bridge—it’s steep and arguably the most brutal part of the course. As I ascended the first half of the bridge, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, while Nas and his songs about Queensbridge were running through my mind. As I reached the crest of the bridge and felt a sense of relief, I began to let gravity guide me down the second half toward the “wall of sound” that awaited me on First Ave.

I had nearly reached the base when I felt some tightness in my quad, so I pulled over to the side and reached for my ankle to stretch. Before I had even gotten my ankle high enough for my hand to hold it, my entire left leg cramped up. I screamed out in pain and grabbed onto a hay bale to hold myself up. The cramp subsided with a bit of stretching and after a short walk, I pushed on.

As I jogged through the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I saw my brother again, this time accompanied by my parents and my godmother Claudette. In the joy of that moment, I seemingly had overcome the leg cramps and picked up steam. I think I felt a little delirious at this point because when my friend Annie reached out of the crowd to get my attention, I simply smiled and yelled, “I’m fucking cramping!” and just kept on running.

As I approached Mile 18, I ate some more electrolyte gels, and slowed down to drink some water and gatorade. Just past the gatorade coolers, there were a few people holding popsicle sticks with what looked like some sort of gel on the end.

“What is it?” I asked, as I grabbed one of the sticks and began trotting off. 

“Potassium,” I thought I heard the guy say.

I was thrilled. Potassium is exactly what I needed right then. I had never seen it in this form, but in that state of exhaustion, I wasn’t thinking twice. So I put the popsicle stick in my mouth, scraped the gel off with my teeth, and ate it. The gel tasted kind of funny, but I was just relieved that it would help with my leg cramps. Or so I thought.

When I stopped for water at Mile 19, I asked the people with the popsicle sticks about the gel again. “Hey what is that stuff on the stick?” I asked, hoping to confirm what my ears thought they heard a mile ago.

“Vaseline,” the man said with a smile, “Would you like some?” 

I graciously took another stick and applied some underneath my spandex, while I processed the fact that I had eaten a spoonful of vaseline no more than a mile earlier.

I wish that it had been potassium because just before Mile 20, as I came down the hill into the Bronx, my leg totally cramped up again. And this time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to keep going.

As I hobbled down the ramp, contemplating how I was going to run 6 more miles, I noticed a man in the middle of the street. Despite the hot weather, he was wearing a big puffy down jacket, baggy jeans, and Timberland boots. His arm was fully extended and his hand clutched his phone, while he slowly spun in circles filming himself on Instagram Live, as runners maneuvered around him.

I probably made a cameo on his live stream, as he shouted, “Welcome to the Bronx baby! If I was you, avoid eye contact, and just keep on moving!”

As I limped through the street with tears in my eyes, I heard another voice. “Hey! Are you ok?”

I turned to see a different guy, about my age, wearing a bright green Team for Kids singlet.

“Honestly, no,” I replied with a hint of acceptance of my current state.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Wil,” I replied in agony.

“Nice to meet you, Wil. I’m Matt. And I’m going to make sure you finish this race,” he said with a smile.

From there we started jogging, until my leg cramped up again, causing me to teeter as I regained balance. Once I walked it off, we started jogging again and talking about life.

On my training route along Lake Washington, there’s a big hill from Madrona up to Washington Park, which on my longest runs sat right around Mile 16. On one of those particularly long runs, I was struggling up that hill when another runner passed me and shouted, “That backpack is slowing you down!”

“Nah, I’m on mile 17. That’s what’s slowing me down,” I chuckled back at him.

I think humans spend too much time worrying about how fast other people are supposed to be running this marathon called life, instead of just asking them how their run is going. You never know what “mile” somebody is on, or what it took to get there.

Matt, for example, started his own fitness journey a few years ago. He’s since run 4 major marathons with no plans of stopping anytime soon. Running literally saved his life. And today, he was helping me live mine.

“Keep moving,” Matt said, “I’ll be right back.”

So I did just that, moving at a steady pace down Fifth Avenue. A few minutes later, Matt showed up with an ice cold coca-cola, gatorade, and an aerosol can of bio-freeze. He apologized because he couldn’t find any bananas, but I knew where I could find one.

I’ve always been too hard on myself. It’s something that I’m still working on to this very day. In that moment, as I started crying, out of pain, shame, disappointment, and more emotions than even Brené Brown could name, it was the crowd that kept me out of my head and on my feet.

My mom ran the New York City marathon in 2008, and when I asked her for advice she told me to write my name on my shirt (though I wish she would have told me not to eat the vaseline). So the night before the race, Sam helped me write my name across my shirt. Every time I looked down I could see his handwriting, but no matter where I was looking, amidst all of the boomboxes, live bands, and roaring crowds, all I could hear was thousands of strangers shouting my name.

Each time I started walking, and/or crying, some random human would start cheering for me. Those kind words gave me strength. I mean, so did the bio-freeze, but there is something special about groups of random people on every block becoming your biggest fans for a few seconds.

As we approached East 122nd street, I saw my friend Reilly in the middle of the road with her arms extended into the air, clutching half of a banana in one hand. Reilly had purchased over 50 lbs of bananas and handed all but that very last one to runners as they passed through Harlem.

It’s gestures like these that make the New York City Marathon unlike any other event I’ve experienced. The energy is unmatched, the enthusiasm is genuine, and the kindness of random strangers is truly touching. It’s this beautiful celebration of humanity that is encouraging, painful, amazing, hard, and triumphant. As women’s marathoning pioneer Katherine Switzer once said, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

At some point, Matt and I bumped into another Team for Kids runner named Muhammed, who had his kids’ names written on the back of his racing bib. Like so many runners that day, the conditions had gotten the best of him. They had gotten the best of us. However, it turns out the “magic spray” they use on soccer players really does work. In no time, we were all full of electrolytes, our calves/quads were basically numb from the bio-freeze, and those tears had faded into a pleasant grimace as we entered Central Park.

Matt, me, and Muhammed jogging down Fifth Avenue

A few weeks after the race, a friend asked me how I managed to smile in nearly all of the photos from the race. My answer is simple. I was doing something that I had always wanted to do. And I was doing it for me.

To have so many people that I know show up to support me doing something for myself meant so damn much to me. Despite the pain, I was so grateful to have some of my people in my corner that day. That’s why at mile 24, when I heard my friends and family screaming my name, I turned and smiled. I was almost there.

As we neared the base of the park, Matt and I picked up the pace a bit. “Ok, when we get near the finish line, throw that water bottle (the one I had been clutching ever since some lady handed it to me while I was limping through the Bronx by myself) on the ground and stay left,” Matt said confidently, “I’m going to stay right so you can finish strong on your own. I’ll find you as soon as we cross the finish line.”

As we wheeled around the corner onto 59th street, the crowd seemed to erupt. I could see the final turn. All of those training miles had surmounted to this. I pushed my legs harder into the pavement, as I breathed deeply through my nose (shoutout Dr. Chu and my deviated septum surgery) and pumped my arms swiftly back and forth.

As I rounded that final corner, I spotted my friend Erin holding a sign that said, “Run, Wil, Run.” So I ran, as hard as I could. I could see the finish line. I put everything I had into that last quarter mile. And then, just like that, it was over.

I crossed the finish line with my arms outstretched. Soaking in the roar of the crowd. I bent over, propping my hands up on my knees, finally giving myself the grace I deserved. 

I had imagined this moment so many times that it almost felt familiar, like I had just finished another run along the lake. Yet no amount of running could have prepared me for what I had just endured.

“Congrats dude! You’re a marathoner,” Matt said, as he gave me a hug.

“Thank you,” I said, “I couldn’t have done that without you.”

Crossing the finish line of the 2022 New York City Marathon

We got our medals and made our way to the Team for Kids tent, where I inhaled snacks and gatorade until Muhammed showed up. We took a few photos, biting our medals like we had just won gold at the Olympics. And then I wandered out of the course onto the streets and into a nearby restaurant where my family and a large basket of sweet potato fries were waiting for me.

The next day, my friend Leah and I walked proudly down the street with our medals on, only to be immediately humbled by the stairs down into the subway. The New York City Marathon was one of the hardest, most beautiful, most surreal experiences of my life. It challenged me in many ways, perhaps none more important than reminding me to love myself as deeply as I love others and to give myself grace. It also absolutely kicked my ass.

And that’s why I’m doing it again.

New York, I’ll see you in November.


I want to thank each and every single person who donated on my behalf to Team for Kids, cheered me on in New York, followed me from afar on race day, those who went on training runs with me, and supported me throughout every step of this process. Shoutout to my fitness coach Micaela, my (unofficial) physical therapist Nika, my (official) therapist Noah, and my friends and family for encouraging me to chase my dreams. Muhammed—it was a privilege to share the course and run a few miles with you. And Matt—thank you for believing in me and helping me do the impossible that day. Looking forward to sharing the course again with you this year.

When I originally decided to run again in 2023, I wanted to beat my time from last year. Upon a lot of self-reflection, I’ve since realized that I want to run again without feeling ashamed of my time last year (or whatever might happen this year). I just want to run and soak up every moment of the experience.


UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who has donated. I have surpassed my fundraising goal! If you are interested in giving, please consider donating on my brother's behalf so that he and I can run the 2023 New York City Marathon together. Visit Sam's Team for Kids donation page