For Mariana Fernandez, the third time was the charm at least when it came to running the New York City Marathon.
The Peloton instructor ran the iconic race for the third time this year and secured the PR she’s been eyeing for years: a sub-4 hour finish. That’s impressive in itself, but what makes it even sweeter is the fact that she walked away with this result despite taking almost all of August off from regular running when her preparations for the New York Marathon begin to get serious to freeze her balls. The timing of the procedure threw a wrench in her training, she says, and left her bedridden for 10 days.
Still, she came out the other side to run the Chicago and New York marathons back-to-back, secure that PR, and run her most joyful races yet. Ahead of the New York City Marathon, Fernandez opened up to POPSUGAR about the journey she’s been on over the past few months, and it’s as inspiring as anything you’ll hear her say in class.
Fernandez worked hard all year with this PR in mind; she ran half marathons every month during the winter and had a great summer training. Then everything fell into place to pursue another personal goal: egg freezing.
“I was talking about infertility treatments and I finally found a doctor that I really liked, we found a time frame, my 38th birthday was coming up and everything kind of aligned,” she tells POPSUGAR. “This is something I wanted to make a priority and do for myself. August was committed to doing it, but it took me about three and a half weeks because my recovery was pretty painful as well.”
Egg freezing usually involves about two weeks of hormone injections and a retrieval procedure performed under general anesthesia. Recovery experience may vary; Ferndez says her friend hiked for two days after removing the egg, while she herself was stuck in bed 10. And during the process itself, many doctors recommend that patients refrain from exercise altogether or stick to low-intensity, low-impact methods so that any risk of interfering with the effectiveness of the procedure.
For someone whose life is teaching fitness classes, that’s tricky. But perhaps even more difficult for Ferndez was the inability to use exercise as a mental health tool, especially in relation to such an important and emotionally charged procedure.
“It’s a very emotionally draining and demanding process, and the fact that you can’t have some of your outlets available … it was really hard for me,” Fernandez says. You don’t know how you will react or how your body will handle different parts of the process, and sitting and waiting for it to play out can be challenging. Fernandez drew on her personal meditation practice and found comfort in talking with fellow Peloton instructors who have also been through difficult fertility journeys, including Jess King and Robin Arzn.
Although her recovery was “rough,” Fernandez pulled through. “As much as you can have these big goals and this training plan, life happens and you have to pivot and adjust,” she says. “That was a big reminder for me this year.”
Finding joy in running again
Fernandez was signed up to run the Chicago Marathon on October 8, shortly after undergoing the egg freezing process, and a month before the New York race. She originally planned to PR her first race, but life demanded a U-turn.
“Women are really as resilient as anything… in the marathon it almost felt like my body could do it all? I’ve got this.”
So instead of going for the time she’d been training for, she ran the race “like I did my first marathon: just for fun,” she says. “I ended up getting dressed up and wearing a tutu and a Mexican flower crown, and I did it as a walk plus a run to get through and used it as a long run to New York.” And I just had the best time. I was laughing the whole way through. It wasn’t painful, and I couldn’t stand it. Even though it wasn’t my fastest run, in fact it was probably my slowest marathon time, it was my smartest run.”
That joy was much more than crossing the finish line: it was also about going through the egg freezing process. “At the end of the day, the empowerment I got from the process is something I wish more women would talk about because it’s very personal.” And it’s very much a solo trip, whether you have a partner or not,” Fernandez says. “I’ve talked to other women who have gone through this treatment and how empowering it is, how you do it for yourself. And that really fueled me when I came back and went from one mile and then five miles and even through the marathon, it was something I kept reminding myself of. It was like a mantra.”
Finishing Chicago feeling strong, capable and most of all happy left Fernandez in awe. “Women are really as resilient as anything… in the marathon it almost felt like my body could do it all? I’ve got this,” she says.
Return to New York
Fernandez felt good after Chicago, and when November rolled around, she returned to her original training plan, but “with a new perspective, for sure,” she says. She was talking to fellow Peloton instructor Rad Lopez, who also ran Chicago and New York, and he asked, “What do you want from this?”
Fernandez realized that she “really took it for granted that this could be fun.” And after such a great time during Chicago, it became her MO for New York. “Is that PR in the back of my mind? Yeah… but if I can keep that sense of fun, that’s my goal. And I know, if I’m smiling in all of Chicago, it will be from ear to ear in New York. This is my hometown. It’s the best day in New York.” Of course, she did, and she got that PR, too.
“I just wanted to come back and feel strong,” she told POPSUGAR after the race. “The energy of the city carried me for 26.2 miles and as excited as I was, I wanted to have an imaginary [race]. I saw my finish time after seven marathons and a sprint to the finish line, I hit a PR and for the first time in my life, I broke four hours. I loved every minute of it.”
The secret to her success? Giving her body grace, listening to him and believing that everything is temporary. All those lessons, plus remembering that you can always surprise yourself with something she often says in her Peloton classes. “Even my fertility treatment, I kept putting it off and putting it off because I thought I couldn’t do it and I didn’t want to do it alone. And then after, it’s like, oh, I did it,” Fernandez says “And I always say it in class: s, se puede. Yes, you can. Yes, you can, and yes, you are.”
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