• Brooke’s Marathon Journey: Starting miles

    The marathon was two days after Josh’s birthday and one week before the anniversary of his death. I’d packed Lara bars, sports beans, and a bag of toasted white sesame seeds, which Josh put on everything and now I do, too.

    It was a stunning day of sunny blue skies–no garbage bag poncho needed.

    As Sebastian and I ran across the freshly paved Verrazano Bridge, sunlight glinted off of the Narrows and we had a pristine view of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. A fireboat shot off celebratory arcs of water, a rainbow hanging in their mist. We were part of an ecstatic mass of over 50,000 runners from around the world. “This is so cool, Sebastian,” I kept saying. “This is just so cool!   

    I usually run with headphones, but there was such wonderful people watching, music, and fanfare that I didn’t miss my music at all for the first half of the marathon. The first stop was at 4th Avenue and 8th Street, where my friends Mackenzie and Jared had come out to cheer with the two little boys they were babysitting. All four of them were holding signs. I hugged them all, including the two little boys, who were not so into hugging a sweaty stranger, but my enthusiasm could not be contained. I met Mackenzie at my first race, the freezing Joe Kleinerman 10K in January 2012, riding the subway up from Crown Heights to Central Park. We’d stayed close even after an injury prevented her from running. In the 4 years since, I’d seen her marry Jared, and now, five months pregnant, she’d stood out in the cold to cheer for me.

    Stephanie and Erwin were at Lafayette and Claremont, Erwin holding up a massive blackboard sign. Right after Josh died, a friend from London, the wonderful Brenda Lyons, connected me to Stephanie, who’d recently moved here from London. Brenda thought we’d make good cycling partners and, likely, that it would be good for me to get out on some rides. While Stephanie’s a far more serious cyclist than I am, we rode to Nyack together. I told her about Josh and she told me that her boyfriend Erwin, an even more serious cyclist and tri-athlete, had been recently diagnosed with PSC. Given the rarity of PSC, it was a startling connection. Even more impressive was Stephanie’s story of how Erwin’s diagnosis had inspired them to uproot their lives and take huge career risks to move to New York. We’ve had wonderful adventures and conversations ever since. We were so worried about not finding each other that when we did, we went in for a double hug. Stephanie and Erwin not only cheered me on, but took me out for a celebratory dinner. Stephanie and I laughed about how our hug felt like we’d crossed an ocean to find each other. All of my marathon hugs felt like that. There was–again–that heightened sense of connection that I felt in the wake of Josh’s death.

    The awesome CHRC cheering squad was at Mile 9.

    They speed-inked personalized signs when they saw Sebastian and I approaching on their marathon apps, showered us with cheers and high-fives, and captured our dorky euphoria on film.

    Jason, Josh’s best friend, whom I’d cried with when Josh was dying and stayed close to after he was gone, popped up out of nowhere on Bedford Avenue. Jason hadn’t told me he was coming and it was a miracle that he found me. Especially, he pointed out later, as I was wearing “all black with a strip of masking tape.” An artist good at making things, he said, “Next year, I’m making your name tag.” I hugged Jason, the best surprise and Where’s Waldo Winner of the marathon, and then Sebastian and I were off.

    My mom, stepdad, and sister were at Mile 12.

    My mom and stepdad flew in from South Texas, my sister from London, to spend the weekend carb-loading with me and to embarrass me with signs like, “Run Brookster the Hipster”. Sebastian and I posed holding a poster that read, “Brooke is leaving Trump behind and going NASTY!” Sebastian, in his saintliness, waited for probably 5 minutes while my mom got a stranger to take multiple mother-daughter pictures. My sister, who’d sailed through last year’s marathon, guided my parents around Brooklyn and Manhattan, to meet me at Miles 12 and 25. My stepdad has Alzheimer’s and it was a lot for him to run around the city like that. My sister took a red-eye back to London that night and had to work the next morning.

    Sebastian doing all of the pacing while I rode in the sidecar, blowing kisses at the crowds, worked out great for me until Mile 18 when a bathroom stop became immediately mandatory. Having PSC means having stomach problems. It can mean a lot more debilitating things, but I’ve been very lucky. “Keep going–good luck!” I called to Sebastian as I frantically climbed over the barricade and ran into Le Pain Quotidien. My legs were shaky, but spectators helped me over the fence. A policeman waiting in line for the bathroom let me go first. Until this point, Sebastian and I had smoothly hit or beat our goal of a 10-minute mile. Even with all of my hugging delays, Sebastian would continue on to a brilliant finish, beating his previous year’s time and his goal for  this year. I was so proud of him.

    Written by Brooke Shaffner – one of our dear members of Running Royalty and former Marathon Water Wench.

    **Read parts 1 and 2 of Brooke’s Marathon Journey HERE and HERE. Come back and read how Brooke finishes her first marathon tomorrow in the last chapter.**

  • Brooke’s Marathon Journey: Training

    Though my marathon training didn’t officially begin until the Fourth of July, it began for me three days after Josh died, when CHRC Cardinal of Community Connection, Aliza got me out for a morning run. We ran through Prospect Park and light poured through the trees, which hadn’t yet shed their leaves. That beauty felt profound.

    Then an older man biking in front of us fell. He wasn’t badly hurt, just shaken and bruised. Aliza and I held his hands, helped him up, and waited with him for an ambulance. His name was Ted Erhardt, a dance therapist who worked with psychiatric patients. He described how movement can shift things locked inside these patients when language fails.

    When I got home, I watched this lecture he gave.

    In it, he talks about a young woman so depressed that she would reach for something and fall into a catatonic state, frozen for a half hour in that bent position. They did a group therapy session where other patients mirrored her frozen state until she felt held and could shift out of it. Then Ted asked, “What are we reaching for?” One patient said, “Home.” The young woman shifted out of her frozen state and reached for the hands of the patients beside her. 

    That story is emblematic of what training for and running the marathon with the Crown Heights Running Club meant to me. Being a writer means liking the company of your own mind. But in the weeks after Josh died, I wasn’t able to work on my novel and I wasn’t doing well alone. Mine wasn’t a flat-line grieving: I had a heightened sense of the connective threads between all human beings, an awareness which Josh created, even in his dying days, that our lives are most beautiful  in relation to one another. While I wasn’t yet comfortable with solitude, connections to friends, family, strangers, and the singular CHRC Royals felt incredibly healing.

    CHRC was a community that was exceptionally present for me in those days.

    Not just on runs; there were friendsgivings, birthdays, ice skating ventures, royal courts, holiday parties, calls, texts, brunches, and dinners. I’ve never been in another running club, so I have no means of comparison. But I’ve found the Royals to be people uniquely reflective about not just how to move forward as individuals, but how to carry the people around them forward.

    Liz and Nate, two Royals dear to my heart, have poked gentle fun at me for managing to get into a “deep conversation” with someone on every single long run. That’s true, but in my defense, it doesn’t take much to get these conversations rolling. A few questions. A curious ear. When you ask a Royal a question, they answer thoughtfully and openly. They listen with that same openness and reflection. So I’d find myself in conversations about job, relationship, and geographic changes; art, politics, religion, and love. Punctuated by lots of laughter. That’s how I worked my way up not just to 22 miles, but to publishing an essay about Josh, finishing a draft of my novel, dating again, and running toward a future as large as what I had run through: In the “caboose group”, at a comfortable conversational pace, covering miles physical and metaphysical.

    When not doing CHRC runs, I run when I’m done working on my novel, as a palate cleanser before I switch over to work-work. Sometimes I write in my head as I run. Or daydream. Or work through emotions. I slip back into my body and the world. Or into a meditative state where I’m largely unconscious of time, landscape, or the whereabouts of my mind. That happens in the latter half of races. Because I work from home and tutor students long-distance by phone, running races answers some primal need. What I like most about races is the sense of oneness–descent into a massive swish of legs and ponytails. In that zoned out state, my strides feel smoothest, but Royals have told me I’ve failed to notice them running beside me. Between them, CHRC-mates Danielle and Dave have crept up beside me on the Prospect Park jogging path and nudged into my shoulder at least 5 times. Every single time, I think, “Who is this Creeper running me off the path?”

    Given that Type A attention to details has never been my strong-suit, all of the CHRC marathon-prep sessions were helpful.

    Still, I left the final prep session feeling a little overwhelmed by all of the information. I devoted a day to ticking things off a marathon To Do list. There was a good chance it would rain and my greatest fear was being cold and wet. Royals in the know recommended wearing a garbage bag that you could throw away before the race started. In the midst of my To Do List multitasking the Friday before the marathon, I tried on a kitchen-size garbage bag over my sweatshirt to see whether it would suffice or whether I needed to buy the 33-gallon size. It was so comfortable that I forgot I was wearing it. I checked my mail and took my trash out in this garbage-bag poncho. After sorting the recycling, I discovered that the door of the recycling room, through some malfunction, had locked.

    There I was, midday in my building, locked in the recycling room, wearing a garbage bag. I didn’t have my phone with me, so I banged on the door and shouted, “Help!” until the only neighbor not at work came to my rescue. She found the super, who unlocked the door. Thankfully, I enjoyed enough solitary time in the recycling room to remember to take my garbage bag poncho off before I was rescued. Liz and I had a good laugh over this. Being a master of all the details that I am not, Liz also figured out that my best running buddy pace-wise and start-time-wise for the marathon was the brilliantly steady pacer Sebastian.   


    Written by Brooke Shaffner – one of our dear members of Running Royalty and former Marathon Water Wench.

    **Read the beginning of Brooke’s Marathon Journey starting with her commitment to run. Come back and read the rest of Brooke’s Marathon story this week!**

  • Guest Post: Marathon Water Wench

    This Guest Post comes from Brooke, our favorite Marathon Water Wench, who courageously gathered the CHRC Volunteer forces for action at this year’s NYC Marathon. Thank you to all our volunteers and to Brooke for heading this up!


    4 Weeks Ago, Eighteen Noble Knights showed up at 6:30 am on November 1st to represent the CHRC by volunteering at the 2015 New York City Marathon. It was a momentous day. The majority of CHRC was stationed at the Mile 8 Barclays Center Hydration Station, looking HOT HOT HOT in our uniforms of voluminous green ponchos and itchy wool hats, handing out water and Gatorade until 2:30 pm.

    Mile 8 was a great place to be stationed as the happy endorphins were kicking in and most of the runners who passed us were smiling, swept up in marathon euphoria.

    We were a mere 2 knights shy of earning a guaranteed marathon entry for 2016, so we have a goal to aim for next year. Goals aside, it was a day of so much connection and jubilation. We Noble Knights spread the Good Word about CHRC, chatting it up with lots of runner volunteers who’d never heard of us before. The fun continued later that afternoon, with Good Lady Yael Elmatad hosting a potluck feast at her lovely manor house for all the volunteers and runners. Who knew a tofu-based chocolate mousse could be so scrumptious?! Thank you, Lady Yael, for that recipe, and for your warmth and hospitality.

    Just days before I led CHRC’s group at Mile 8 as Ye Olde Marathon Water Wench, my boyfriend, who had cancer, told me that he was entering hospice care with his family in California.CHRC Brooke In the midst of so much sadness, it felt profound to have so much life–in all shapes, sizes, and paces–rushing toward me. It was wonderful to look all those lives in the eyes and smile. “Great smile!” one lovely 60-something woman called out. (She was clearly hitting on me.) The marathon seemed a metaphor for this big, beautiful, heartbreaking life we inhabit, and all the ways we find our way through it. I’d never had any desire to run a marathon before, but after volunteering, I did.

    I’m cramming in the 3 races I need to make 9, and looking forward to training for those 26 miles with the CHRC community. Thanks to all you Noble Knights who volunteered and all the people who made the marathon possible and all the runners running toward me. You helped me to remember what it is to be alive.



    Here’s to nabbing that guaranteed entry next year, and to 26 euphoric, grueling miles of life!

    Volunteer Opportunities for the 2016 NYC Marathon are already accepting applications. Sign up today —>www.tcsnycmarathon.org/volunteers-for-2015/opportunities