Cautiously Optimistic, Week 43 in the Time of Coronavirus

Is this really a Happy New Year?  Yes, we survived 2020.  And, yet, recalling how happy we were to be in a new decade just a year ago, we are constantly reminded of the unexpected turn of events in March.  

In this first weekend of the new year, we take stock of the meaning of “hindsight is 2020.” Relieved that 2020 is behind us, our memories are raw from all we witnessed, and all we faced personally.  I now know the impact of ongoing stress on my body and mind.  I am just beginning to understand what is required to sooth myself and support others going through the intensity of extreme tension.  Sometimes it means reaching out and caring for someone, taking the attention off myself.  Other times it means paying close attention to what I need, whether it be a nap, meditation, or another episode of Law & Order.  

I am appreciative of the laughter brought to me by New Yorker cartoons, silly memes, posts on social media, and absurd memories with my sister, Sharyn.  I have grown to love the color of the sky as I walk through the city streets and parks.  I am grateful to my grandfather, Sam, who watched nature shows like The Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  Though I was bored as a child who preferred to see The Jetsons in those early years, now that I’m his age from that time, I appreciate the pleasure of seeing animals in their natural habitats on the small screen.  

I have chosen not to make any resolutions.  I am not resolving to be better in any way.  Yes, I will work on bettering myself, but that remains a daily practice, one with many pitfalls, and flawed attempts.  And, this year, much like last year, I will pick myself up again, and again, dust myself off, and slowly move ahead.  If I remember I will look up at the sky in child-like wonderment.  A moment of awe whatever year it might be.  

Go gently into 2021, step by small step.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Alternate self-care behavior.  This way you find what works best, and what you need in different situations.
  • If and when you feel aches or pains, touch the area with care.  This is not a substitute for medical care, please attend to that.  This is a small gesture that affirms the healing power of touch.
  • Rather than thinking of all you will do in 2021, think of what you will no longer do.  Find the joy of saying no thank you to one or two “shoulds.”
  • Lower your expectations.  We’ve lived with a lot of disappointments this past year.  Lowering our expectations allows us to take in and act on what comes our way.  
  • Try something new, or try anything you’re not good at, like a new recipe, trying your hand at poetry, or learning a new language.  It helps us to develop humility.  

So Long 2020, Week 42 in the Time of Coronavirus

Before the end of this week we will welcome in a new year.  Never will there have been a greater collective sigh throughout the globe than at the rotating midnight hour of 1/1/2021.  We all faced many challenges throughout the year.  And we all learned essential truths about ourselves.  I learned that doing less was a relief.  I learned that patience is not an end point, but an ongoing process.  I learned to use my crankier tendences as a reflection on what vulnerabilities I am attempting to protect.  I learned that I still have a lot to learn in asking for help.  Plus, I learned that 2020 gave us endless opportunities to learn.  I also learned that even with the possibility of learning, sometimes learning to relax was the best option.   

            Having to slow down gave me a chance to see the best in others.  Family, friends and others shared their kindness and generosity of spirit again and again.  Courage rose exponentially as we faced multiple traumas.  There was the courage to get through a single day.  And there was the courage to recreate ourselves in the face of endless hardships.  

            I’m uncertain what the future brings.  I long to travel, but don’t want to go anywhere until we’re all safe.  I yearn live theater, however, I can’t say what that might look like post-pandemic.  January 1st will look pretty much the same as the other days these past months.  Nevertheless, I feel tremendous hope for our near future. Nature will continue to bring special moments, as long as we show respect to our natural world.  Thanks to acts of goodness and kindness, both apparent and unseen, we will continue to make it through this time of Coronavirus.  Personally, I thank you for reading these blog posts.  By giving your time and attention, you have been invaluable to me.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Rather than looking for happiness, try working on feeling deeply satisfied.
  • Instead of New Year’s resolutions, think of what you’d like to let go of at the end of this year.
  • Sleep, laugh and cry.  Not necessarily altogether, but each provides relief and release.  
  • Review this past year and acknowledge all you accomplished, both large and small wins.
  • Review this past year and celebrate the inner strengths you never knew you had.   

I Went All the Way

 

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Sometimes something so simple can be hard.  I had the idea of riding my bike on the last Summer Streets on Park Avenue down to the Brooklyn Bridge.  I keep my bike in my office.  It’s a short folding bike, allowing for both my feet to touch the ground when I stop. It’s in my office so I can get out when the impulse strikes.  It rarely strikes.  I call myself a wimpy rider since I want to easily touch the ground, and I am not skilled enough to weave in and out of traffic.    I will only face the streets to get into Central Park or ride on the East River promenade to Randall’s Island where there are few if any cars.  Sometimes I lack the gumption.  I have to fill the tires with air days before a ride since I’m not even sure what to do should I find myself with a flat.

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I was out of town the first Summer Street week, and last week I thought I might, but my timing was off. The trick is to go early before the crowds.  It’s not so bad riding on Park Avenue, which is wide and has separate sides going in either direction.  But once we head around Grand Central Terminal and pass Union Square, we squeeze together on Lafayette Street, unable to pass slow cyclists, and the inevitable joggers in the wrong lane.  (It is also true that certain cyclists ride on the jogging side.)

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There was one cyclist on a Citibike chatting with her friend.  I was on her left, when she veered to her left almost hitting me, and I yelled “On Your Left!” She was startled.  I couldn’t believe that I reacted with such verve.  Sometimes I think I’m fine only to have an innocuous moment force me to see how stressed I am.  That was such a moment.  It was contrasted by a lovely biker passing me on my way uptown simply stating in a warm, soothing voice, “ On your left.”  I could move incrementally to my right to let her pass.  It was an easy moment that juxtaposed my rash reaction.

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I was excited and scared to take my bike on the ride.  I liked the idea of being able to move easily through the streets of Manhattan.  I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I love this city, and taking part in something like this elicits an inner thrill.  But I am not great in terms of being part of a crowd. I’m a defensive rider, with a bit of anxiety thrown in to make it interesting, well, more like marginally stressful.   I’m better off on an empty path speeding up and slowing down based on my own estimations, not on the precarious bicycling of strangers.

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I didn’t wake up early enough to leave at 7 AM when the streets were wide open.  Instead I ventured to Park Avenue at 10:30 AM, with all those tourists and New Yorkers on a pre-bunch ride. Nonetheless, I was set to go down to the Brooklyn Bridge and back again to Yorkville.  I’m proud I made the ride, but I went for a slow jog today. I had enough of my bike for the weekend. If I can, perhaps I’ll make it to Central Park during a break this week.  After all, my tires are filled with air.

 

All images were stock from the internet

No, Thank You

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The New Year’s Eve race in Central Park is an iconic run given by New York Roadrunners.  It features fireworks at midnight, just as the run begins. I had great plans to participate in the Midnight Run tonight. It started in 1978, but I didn’t hear about until the mid-80’s, when my roommate, Astrid ran it.  I thought it was amazing.  I wasn’t a runner, so it never occurred to me that I would ever spend my New Year’s eve in the park running.  And, yet, a few years ago I did my first run.  I ran two more times, starting with my cousin Zena, and then with a friend the next year.  Two years ago I was on my own.

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It’s an exciting event with dancing prior to the run, and a buzz in the air with runners from all over the city, the country, and the world.  And, if that’s not enough, tell anyone what I did on New Years and I’d receive kudos.  Needless to say, I thought it would be a terrific way to start my year.  I started running with caution the last couple of months. Thinking I was ready for this, I purchased my spot, and took a run last week to pick up my number and shirt.  At 11PM  I dressed for the run, including the requisite knee supports.   Lucy, our dog, requested to go out, shortly after, and I accommodated her.  While we were walking, I realized that it would not be fun at all for me to go around the park in the rain.  I’m a slow runner so it would take me about an hour to do the four miles.  And, it takes awhile to get to the starting line due to the amazing crowd that shows up for this iconic run.  I’d be soaked.  Plus, racing on a slippery road, adds a stress of falling that takes away from the pure joy of it.

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Accordingly, I took a pass. Normally, having said that I would go, would be reason enough to show up.  It can seem like a strong statement to start one’s year this way.  How could I change my mind?  How could I make a choice in the moment that’s better for me? I knew I would be proud once I had finished the run, but, as it turns out,  I am more proud for not going.

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Not running is freedom. I have choices I didn’t have earlier in my life.  I used to feel obligated by what I imagined others would think.  But tonight it was what I thought that mattered most.  Saying no to the run was saying yes to me. Missing this one run feels like a big win.

 

A Trip to Africa

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What can I say about a dream come true?  Shall I say that I spent most of my life believing my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled?  I lived much of my early years longing for the things that others had.  The thing about my longings is that it kept me out of the loop. There’s an unspoken presumption that it was beyond my reach. Growing up I heard about the trips to Florida my classmates took.  I longed to audition for a traveling high school production of Godspell, but had to work, and couldn’t afford to take time off, let alone pay for a ticket to California.  I felt left out.  Moving to New York in the early 80’s, there were apartments for sale at accessible prices. But for me, getting my hands on $200 was as elusive as paying for a $20,000 apartment.   It took years to learn that there were ways to have what I once thought as impossible.  I learned that by working hard in psychotherapy. And, throughout the years I’ve realized a few of my dreams, my own private practice, running the NYC Marathon at 56, and most recently, going on Safari in Africa.

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It was a month ago Larry and I were in East Africa.  It truly was a dream come true.  I first had the idea when my mother mentioned wanting to go to Africa when I was a child. In my mind, we would go together. But through the years it became apparent she was not one who could travel easily.  I, on the other hand, started traveling in college. First studying art history in Paris, and visiting a few other European cities.  Then doing what I could to go on local road trips, and visit other countries.  But one of my bucket list trips had yet to be realized.

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A little over ten years ago I created the Africa fund.  This was separate from a vacation fund, or any other savings account I had.  I had thought I’d go for my 50th birthday, but I hadn’t saved enough to do anything but backpack, and I’m really no camper.  So, I aimed for my 60thbirthday.  When my mother died this year, I thought, “Why wait? We only live once. ”   And, so, I started planning the trip.  We chose Micato Safaris, which turned out to provide an amazing adventure.  They designed special experiences throughout.  Elephants are my favorite animal, and they made sure my time with Elephants surpassed any and all expectations.

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We started out in Kenya. We went to the Nairobi National Park. It was our first safari experience. There is a unique energy trying to visually locate animals in their natural habitat.  Giraffes can be easier to spot based on their height, but most of the animals blend in so beautifully that it was not as easy to spot them as I would have imagined.  Later we went to a Giraffe sanctuary.  They save endangered giraffes, and raise them until they can go back into the wild.  We got to feed these beautiful creatures with their purple, foot long tongues, and expressive eyes.  Later we visited the  Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants.  They ran past us in the sweet line as they made their way into their nightly beds.  They are rescued elephants, who are raised for their first few years, then introduced back into the wild, with their dedicated foster parents.

 

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The next day we flew to Tanzania for the Tanzania Spectacular tour.  It is aptly named.  We visited Tarangire, where we stayed in luxurious treetop cabins.  From there we went to the Ngorongoro Crater. It is like nothing else in that it attracts all the wildlife since there is a good supply of water.  From there we drove to the Serengeti.  The Serengeti is vast and varied.  There we were able to see so much.  And, though I was enamored by all the animals we saw, I have to say, I loved meeting and speaking to everyone we encountered.  When our tour ended in Tanzania Larry and I went to Zambia to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Victoria Falls.  While there, we went on a motor boat on the Zambezi to The Elephant Cafe, a restaurant that serves local cuisine after feeding and petting the rescued elephants they care for. It was an outstanding experience, from the crocodiles and hippos by the river, to a five star meal after communing with the gentle giants.

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Each moment of each day was full and satisfying.  I felt transformed.  Not only was I able to go somewhere I had only dreamed of, but I was able to enjoy all the trip had to offer.  I don’t know how it’s changed me.  Only time will tell.

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Running Again

 

IMG_1337.JPGI ran my first race in over a year.  It was slow process, both recovering from benign injuries, as well as running 15-minute miles this morning.  In the past months I went through acupuncture, medical massage and physical therapy putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. So, tentatively, step by step I took on Central Park’s Drive.

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What I noticed right away was the throngs who passed me as I inched my way forward.  I am no stranger to being left behind.  In elementary school I often was picked last in kickball, more for my lack of popularity than for any inability to kick and catch the ball. In junior high school I was not asked to parties.  I awkwardly went to school dances, uncertain how to pretend I was fine while swaying my hips to The Captain and Tennille.  Then, in my early adult years, I didn’t know how to negotiate apartment hunting, and ended up subletting again and again to keep a roof over my head.  I am still learning how to navigate the world.

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But today, I knew where I needed to be for start  of the event. I showed up along with a few thousand New York Road Runner members. Each one of us running for our own reasons.  This run helped me appreciate what I’ve learned over the years.  Some things are easier for some and not others.  We all have our own journey.  And, having others pass me can distinguish my particular trek through life.  A perfect spring day in Central Park making for an invaluable run.

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What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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Taking a Break

 

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I took an unintended break from my blog. Every weekend I thought of writing something but I felt distracted, uninspired. This weekend is no different except I’m going to post this. Breaks are important. We could all use a vacation from time to time. But discipline is important, too. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what’s most important at any given time.  It’s like when I need to rest, and I also know it will feel good to workout. What do I choose?

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In the past few weeks I defaulted to taking it easy. Or, more accurately I took it easy on writing while celebrating the holidays and catching up on daytime tasks. I just didn’t feel like writing. In life there seems to be so much I don’t want to do that has to get done like paperwork or washing dishes. So when I set a task for myself because I think I should, I can rebel then criticize myself for not doing whatever it is I think I should be doing. Not a great set-up, but one that’s oh so familiar.

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How many times throughout my life have I had a bad case of the shoulds? There was a time I had been even harder on myself. Ironically being hard on myself didn’t necessarily make me more productive. Often it prevented me from doing what I needed to get done. My inner meanness shut me down to a mentally warring state.

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In general I’m more motivated now. And, yet there are times, like this past month when I hit a wall. For now I’m going to respect that wall. Maybe it stopped me for some unknown reason. If I take it easy I may just find out why I needed to slow down to a halt.

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Perhaps what’s next in 2016 will be revealed. I’m counting on peace and kindness being in the mix.   I’m happy to break for that.

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The Last Word on The Marathon

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So, I’ve been writing a lot about planning on running the marathon, training for the marathon and running the NY Marathon. Not only was the run a personal endeavor, but having written about it, it became a shared event. I secretly think it was self-centered of me to do this, and perhaps even more so in writing about it, but it’s a risk I’m taking. That said, I do want to complete this cycle, so I’m writing what I believe will be my final chapter on this subject. As selfish as I was in working towards and running the marathon, I have been acutely aware of how kind-hearted and generous my friends and family have been.

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In fact, more than anything else I’ve gained from my experience running the TCS 2015 New York City Marathon is that I’ve gained an appreciation for all the good will out there. Even though I trained for the marathon, I’m not a serious runner. I started running five years ago, treading lightly to avoid extra knee pain. I’ve always loved walking but never in my dreams did I think I could run. Nonetheless going at my very slow pace, I could maintain a runners gait. After a couple of years running from time to time for a couple of miles or so, I thought I’d enter a race. I didn’t care about my time, and resented those who kept encouraging me to pick up my pace. I am usually a private person, so I was uncertain about the yelling that took place. “You can do this!” “Go, go go!”

Instead I put on my head phones and finished the race noticing people 10 years older pass me by. I didn’t check my time, and was happy to have done it on my own terms. From there I entered other races. I still had a “leave me alone” attitude, but I was proud to be in the races, increasing my distances. For my first half marathon, which was the More Half, I liked that there was a mix of women all ages, shapes, ethnicities and sizes. I felt like my unique running style was perfectly suited for me and for the event.

A friend said if I could do a half marathon I could do a whole marathon. But I thought getting through half a marathon was all I would ever be able to do. I loved going to First Avenue year after year to cheer the runners on the first Sunday of November. I always cried because I was moved by their determination and stamina. But they were runners. I was not. I contemplated walking the marathon. And when I thought of that it seemed doable. At some point I decided I will try to run the marathon. Maybe not completely, but as best as I can. My friend Jeannette was very encouraging. She had gotten into the marathon and was committed to her training. Zena, another friend who lived in Chicago until recently, was a complete champion of my running. She gave me a half-marathon necklace to commemorate my first half. She gave me advice about running. And when she was in New York she ran a race at my pace even though she is twice as fast.

Then there were my friends who would compliment me. I didn’t always take in the comments, replying, “Well, I’m really slow.” But people were kind. When I did announce that I was going to do the marathon, I got so many encouraging and enthusiastic comments. In the past I might have felt that I was now obligated to run because I said I would. And, what would people think? But instead I felt grateful. I was happy reading comments from friends and family. I felt supported.

And, as I thought about it, I knew if I showed up I would complete the marathon. I just had to show up. So, Sunday morning I got up early, got dressed took the subway to the Staten Island Ferry, took the Ferry and a bus to the Verrazano Bridge, where I would start the race. It was unseasonably warm. For me the weather was perfect. I prefer to be warm rather than cold. As a slow runner I don’t get as sweaty as those at faster paces.

I was in the last group of runners. Many were running for the first time, so there was a friendly yet nervous energy in the air. I had my playlist on. Fabulous music for 10 hours created by Larry. The gun went off and I started at the pace I kept throughout the race. When I was in pain I walked. I only stopped to use the porta-potties. I drank the Gatorade. I like luxury bathrooms and I don’t like energy drinks, but that was a small price to pay to do this race.

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What was most amazing to me were the crowds of onlookers. I painted my name on my shirt. I knew I needed encouragement to do this run. Partyers would chant, “JANET, JANET.” I would hear my name from balconies, from strangers, from tourists and cops. It kept me going step after step. At mile 15 I was sure it was mile 16, and felt deflated for that mile. But then came mile 16 and I knew I could do 10 more. After 16 I was met by friends, first Zena and Seth, with an awesome sign as I entered Manhattan from the Queensboro Bridge, one of five. Then later Larry and Emma with our dog Lucy. They were with our other friends we met through Lucy, Just down the street stood more friends with another sign and a banana. From there I was met by many strangers wishing me and the other runners well. It was amazing energy.

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In some ways the psychological training was more significant than the physical training. I had to get out of my own way. I had to learn to be less judgmental, at least for the duration of the race. I had to let in others’ enthusiasm. I had to appreciate the love shared. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments. At two separate times I thought, “Fuck You,” when marathoners who wore tee shirts stating all the marathons they had run were condescending to me, a mere novice. They were nice in that fake way that lets me know they have “Experience.” But those moments were fleeting. Mostly I felt and continue to feel grateful.

Even though I ran this race for me because I wanted to do it, a bucket list item, everyone was so amazing. And that is what kept me going. I am surprised at myself for enjoying such a positive experience. I can latch onto the gaps in life complaining about what I don’t like. Yet for one day, one very long race from morning until night, I was smiling. A true reflection of all that was given with love and generosity. It brought out the best of New York City and the best in me. So thank you. I am now a proud New York Marathoner.

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