It’s autumn, which means it’s time for the New York Marathon again. I always smile when the promotion hits for this race because I ran it a few years back, and it taught me a lot about life and work.
I trained with a book my HGTV colleague Jim Clayton let me borrow, and its philosophy for training was to only run 15 miles, not the full 26.2 miles you run when you’re competing. The logic was that you want to save some of the experience for the real race. If you go the distance before you run in the actual race, you might as well give yourself a medal and be done with it. OK, I could buy into that. I gradually trained over six months, adding miles to my run as the book prescribed, stopping at the 15-mile mark.
My husband Bill joined me in NY for the big weekend, not to run but to the cheerleader I needed. I was really nervous, but it was gorgeous fall weather to be out in, crisp and sunny. Before I knew it all of us were all off and running.
The miles flew by, just like in practice. NY locals flanked the streets yelling out encouragement. “Hey 41 (my number) you’re looking great! Keep it going 41! We’re with you!” They’ll never know how inspiring those words were, especially as I rounded the bend to press on beyond mile marker 15. Would my body hold out for the last 11 miles? It’s really no different than when you face any new skill or challenge you haven’t mastered yet. I felt anxious, but exhilarated too.
Bill and I’d made a plan that he’d been standing on mile marker 19. From the map it looked like a place where I could see him in the crowd, and it also was a point in the race where I’d need the reinforcement of having him there. I turned the corner to mile 19 and there he was, a tall guy with long arms waving madly at me. I started crying. And stopped running.
I was spent. My pace had gotten so slow that I was in a cluster of elderly runners. He saw my face and barged right into the race. (NY is a pretty loosely-regulated marathon). “What are you doing?” he asked me. “I’m done,” I explained. “I’ve run 19 miles, it’s further than I’ve ever run in my life. I’m done.”
Bill was quiet as we slowed to walk and finally he said, “OK, but I know you. I think tomorrow you’ll be sad you didn’t try to finish.” “Please help me finish!” I then cried in anguish. So he did. As he accelerated his stride, he told me stories and jokes to take my mind off the pain, and I began a slow jog. For the last mile he was just by my side, breathing with me, a trusted companion in those challenging final moments, and yep, I finished.
When we built HGTV we kept telling ourselves this was a marathon, not a sprint. The six guys and I were inseparable those first few years, celebrating as we passed the business mile markers we’d set, and sharing the failures too. In one nasty setback, we sat in a room together, quiet, before we dissected the mistake. We had a mourning moment before starting the race again. Like Bill, these trusted companions were at my side both in the most exciting, and most challenging of times. None of us could have done it alone. We ran the distance together to build a lasting business.