Running the virtual NYC Marathon provided a frontline worker a sense of certainty in a very uncertain world

Angela Wint ran the virtual New York City Marathon in Brooklyn on Sunday with two friends. After finishing last in the 2017 NYC Marathon, Wint wanted to prove to herself that she could complete the 26.2 miles again. NYRR

Angela Wint, 47, is a frontline worker. The Brooklyn resident is a medical assistant in the pediatric cardiology unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. In 2017, Wint completed her first marathon with the Black Girls Run club at the TCS New York City Marathon. She was the final recorded finisher, coming in after 7:30 p.m. This year, the NYC Marathon canceled its in-person marathon due to the COVID-19 pandemic but facilitated a virtual race from Oct. 17 through Nov. 1. Wint ran her second marathon on Sunday, the initially scheduled date of the in-person marathon. In her own words, she explains why this year's race was about more than improving on her finish time.

There was the first raindrop. Then another. And another. Just 5 miles away from finishing my second New York City Marathon, this time running the virtual race in Brooklyn, I looked up at the stormy sky and said to myself, "OK, here we go. Just like 2017. What are you going to do now? You just got to go, girl."

It had been three years since I ran my first marathon. I came in last place at the 2017 NYC Marathon out of 50,643 participants. For almost nine hours, I struggled throughout the five boroughs. I hurt. I cried. I prayed. I dug deep. It rained the entire race. But honestly, that was the least of my worries. I just wanted to cross the finish line in one piece -- even if that meant being the final recorded finisher.

I started running in 2015 with the Black Girls Run club, and for the most part, I barely ran. After nearly two years of building up my endurance and strength, I finally felt like a runner. And I finally entertained the idea that I too was an athlete. And that's when I decided to enter myself into my first marathon.

It took everything within me to get to the finish line. My body shut down about halfway through the race. It was all mind over matter -- but honestly, my mind was barely there. By the time I got to the 21-mile mark, I felt delirious. It was dark. No one was around because the majority of marathon runners had finished hours earlier. I had no idea where I was, but I knew I was still in the race.

When I had about half a mile left, it felt like I still had the entire 26.2 miles left to run. In Central Park leading to the finish line, it was nearly empty. The once-crowded pathways we saw at the start of the race in Staten Island, then through Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, were now deserted as we reached the last stretch in Manhattan. There were only a few people lined up at the finish line, which felt like miles ahead. One of the bystanders, who had already completed the race hours earlier, walked next to me and encouraged me not to give up. He said he would be by my side until the finish line.

As I approached the finish line, this bystander looked at me while we were walking and said, "You know you have to run now, right?" In a complete haze, I responded, "I don't know. Do I really have to?" He said, "Yes." I mustered up all the energy I had left and started to pick up my pace.

Within minutes, I ran through the finish line. Once the medal touched my beating chest, I knew I had done it. At that moment, I was a marathoner. All I could say was, "Oh my baby Jesus, oh my baby Jesus." Everything hurt, and nothing hurt. I felt everything, and I felt nothing.

A few days after completing my first marathon, I knew I wanted to run another marathon. I wasn't sure how or when I would do it. In 2018 and 2019, I decided to volunteer at the NYC Marathon. But as I stood there handing out watered-down sports drinks to the runners and enthusiastically cheering, I wanted to be out there again. That's when I decided that I would run again in 2020.

With my friend and fellow Black Girls Run member Maria Gerena, who also completed her first marathon in 2017, we decided that 2020 would be our year. It was supposed to be the 50th anniversary of the NYC Marathon, and we couldn't think of a better time to rerun the streets of NYC at the largest marathon in the world. We even called it our comeback year.

Since last year, we have been preparing for 2020. We did our 9+1: a program for New York Road Runner members that guarantees automatic entry into the marathon. Running nine races and volunteering for one, we felt ready to train and conquer our second marathon.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And everything changed.

For nearly 13 years, I've worked at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. Over the past two years, I've worked as a medical assistant in the pediatric cardiology unit at the hospital. My day-to-day duties entail assisting in triaging patients, performing EKGs, assisting doctors with minor procedures, obtaining pre-authorizations and referrals, making appointments, and maintaining the office's overall flow. And one of the most important duties is connecting with my patients and their guardians -- and just being there for them emotionally and physically.

When the pandemic truly hit New York City in March, it felt like my career and life were being flipped upside down. As a frontline worker, part of my job shifted to making special accommodations for the patients' transportation to and from the hospital so that they didn't have to take public transportation. Ultimately, I try to ensure that the patients and their guardians aren't more stressed over an already stressful situation.

This whole thing has been stressful for me. It's been stressful for my patients. And it's heartbreaking.

Normally, pre-pandemic, I would interact with my patients on really personal levels. I work with little kids, most of whom are very sick. And I try to bring happiness into the hospital. Most days, I would be singing and dancing with the patients -- doing whatever I could to brighten their days and ease anxiety. And even with the parents and guardians, a hug and a touch on the shoulder goes a long way.

The pandemic has taken all of that away from us. For months, the hospital has been a place of fear and discomfort, especially in New York City. Everything I want to do to help alleviate my patients' anxiety and discomfort has been taken away. With all of my PPE on, the patients can't even see my smile. I can't hug a parent when they are worried about their child. It's so hard.

And instead of living in this constant place of heartbreak, I needed to escape. And running has become that escape for me. It was always more than physical exercise. Putting on my running shoes and just letting loose and going outside -- it's freeing, especially in the city.

But now, running has taken on a new meaning for me.

The only certainties that I know from my day-to-day since the start of the pandemic are that I'm going to go home. I'm going to change my clothes. And I'm going to run. Every day, I am feeling the effects of the pandemic as a frontline worker. You come into uncertainty. You leave in uncertainty. And I didn't want my patients to see how deeply it was affecting me. I needed to maintain my bright light. And the only way to do that was to lace up, put on my headphones and get outside.

The streets of New York City were empty at the start of the pandemic. It was eerie. The silence of the streets. No hustle and bustle. No cars honking. It was just me and the road most days after work. I had to let it go and lean into it. Every day, I would leave it all out there on my run. Whether I ran for 30 minutes or three hours, I would let it all go.

Even when the in-person 2020 NYC Marathon was canceled and a virtual marathon was scheduled in its place, I knew that it was just another moment of certainty for me among the uncertainties. It didn't matter to me if I was running with 50,000 people or two. I wanted to run the marathon this year for me.

During the virtual marathon, I was reminded of those final miles of the 2017 race. But this year something felt different. I still had to dig deep to finish. I experienced pain. But I knew I could do it. There was never a question in my mind that I would finish the race. For the first time in a long time, I didn't feel any uncertainties.

Training allowed me to feel confident and prepared for the 26.2 miles. But it was the pandemic that allowed me to embrace training and running in a new way. Training for the marathon provided me a sense of freedom. It was an escape from the realities of the world. And I needed that.

On the first Sunday in November, on what would have been the in-person race, I met Maria and Ethel K. Wilson-Diallo from the Black Girls Run club at 4:30 a.m. to embark on the 26.2-mile journey throughout Brooklyn. Choosing our own route, it was up to us to map out everything. For weeks, we had been planning and coordinating. And we felt ready for whatever would be thrown at us on race day -- including a quick change of running shoes for me at the halfway point because my new shoes weren't broken in enough (rookie move on my part).

Three years ago, during the last few miles, I felt torn down. I was alone, tired and defeated. This year, it wasn't until the last quarter mile that I felt excruciating dread and pain. My feet and ankles felt like they were on fire. But even in that dread, I knew I could do it.

With minutes to go before crossing our imaginary finish line, I turned to Maria and said precisely what that bystander said to me three years ago: "You know we have to run now, right?" Maria looked at me and said, "I don't know."

We were so close to being finished. I told Maria, "Go, girl, just go. We've got this. Let's go."

After nine hours, we completed our second marathon. In 2017, I had no cognizance of where I was and how I got to the finish line. This year, I was fully present. I felt like an athlete who had grown in her sport.

I started the race wanting to beat my time from 2017. But once I began to run, I realized it wasn't about my time at all. It didn't matter if I finished first or last. It didn't matter if it took me six hours or 10 hours. It just mattered that I did it. After this year, I needed this for myself. For my patients. For my coworkers and all of the frontline workers like me.