Her hamstrings ached, she had been treated at medical tents twice and wasÂ runningÂ an hour longer than she had planned. At mile 23 of the 41st annualÂ ING New York City marathon, Tami Mask would later say that she had the thought, â€œWhat if I just stopped?â€ But with little over three miles left in her first marathon she knew she couldnâ€™t stop. She pushed on and maintained a smile.
â€œI have only been running for about two years, so I am definitely not fast or competitive,â€ said Tami Mask, 36, A travel nurse from San Francisco, California. What she have may lacked in speed or experience however she made up several times over in determination.
Running the New York City marathon was more than an athletic goalÂ for Mask. She decided to run for Fredâ€™s Team, a charity group set up to raise funds for research done at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City where Mask once worked as a nurse.
With a family history of cancer Mask has been passionate about her cause for a long time, but running was still new. By the time Mask got to New York, she had already gone beyond the expectations of her friends, family and herself. â€œConsidering I couldn’t run one mile two years ago without stopping, this is beyond their expectations, and mine.â€
Ten years ago Mask was working as a nurse in Toronto, Canada when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mask took a leave from her job to move home and care for her, seeing her through to recovery. It was then that Mask realized she needed to reassess her priorities. â€œA close friend of mine was also a nurse, and had started doing this thing called travel nursing. And so, I prioritized my life, putting family first and knowing that I can be a nurse anywhere, decided to try something different.â€
Since that decision Mask has been no stranger to pointing her own compass and has lived in a several cities, including Philadelphia, Burlington, two stints in Boston, New York City and now San Francisco. since August Mask has worked for UCSF Medical Center on the Oncology, Bone Marrow Transplant unit.
Four days before the marathon Mask was still debating about which pair of shoes she was going to wear to run while she ate ham and gruyere perogi at a Ukrainian restaurantÂ in Greenwich Village. Though she had trained thoroughly, it was still her first marathon, â€œI really have no idea what itâ€™s going to be like,â€ said Mask.
Her training was put to the test when the canon went off at the Staten Island marathon tent – Mask was off and running. And it was at mile 19 where was things started to get difficult. The wind picked up going over the bridges and Maskâ€™s legs began to seize from the chill. In the medics tent her quads and hamstrings were massaged but they still ached. A bit later, back on her feet, Maskâ€™s stomach was suddenly roaring its discontent and her energy gel came back up and ran down her jersey. Cold and tired, she knew that she would have to find something within herself to get her through to the finish line, â€œI needed to dig deep,â€ she said after the race.
And then Mask thought about her uncle who was going through chemotherapy, â€œAnd nothing could compare to what heâ€™s going through,â€ Mask said later. This revelation goaded her on and Mask was suddenly flying past the crowds and over the finish line, making her last mile the fastest she had run in the marathon at a surprising seven and a half minutes. It had taken five hours and 45 minutes, but Mask felt like a rock-star.
The high of the finish line and the cheering crowds carried Mask above her body for just a little while before she realized that she could not stop shivering. She was taken to the medics tent again and treated for hypothermia for the next hourÂ with clean warm clothes, warm blanket, warm broth. â€œEven with all the training I did, it didnâ€™t prepare me for that,â€ said Mask.
The day after the marathon Mask was happy to be able to walk, however slow and awkward. Going up the out-of-service escalator at a Whole Foods near Central Park she had to grip the railing and pull herself up sideways, â€œWhat a cruel joke!â€ she said, laughing at herself. After all the unexpected trials of the previous day Mask was adamant that for anyone thinking of running a first marathon, â€œThatâ€™s the one,â€ she said. It was the crowd and the energy of the city that Mask couldnâ€™t get off of her mind.
What Mask was most concerned with at that moment was the problem she was having uploading a picture to the ING marathon Facebook page from her BlackBerry – the picture would enter her into next yearâ€™s marathon lottery and she wanted to make sure she was on that list.
* Photo credit: Â 41st Annual NYC Marathon