At Runner’s World, we report stories on professional athletes, provide training tips, and recommend the best running shoes. But it’s first-timer stories, like Leslie Gregory’s, that are my favorite. As a veteran ’thoner, I forgot about the thrill, anxiety, and elation of running your first marathon. Gregory, founder of the small jewelry line TwentySixDiamond, creates wearable mementos to remind marathoners—one-and-doners, streakers, goal setters—just how awesome they are for completing a race.
The finisher medal symbolizes all the early nights and before-sunrise mornings, all the hard-won miles and pasta dinners. But wearing clunky race bling everywhere for days after is impractical (and kinda weird). TwentySixDiamond allows you to celebrate long after your race.
“Everybody’s like, Medal Monday, and I was like, ‘No! Medal Everyday!’” Gregory told RW on a video call. “You ran a marathon. You should be screaming this on the rooftops. Everybody should know. It’s such a big deal.”
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Winning the Marathon Lottery
Leslie Gregory was living on New York City’s 60th and First Avenue when she ventured out of her apartment overlooking the Queensboro Bridge. A transplant from a small town in Michigan, she was enthralled by the vision she saw below: runners en masse participating in the New York City Marathon.
Over the span of a decade, Gregory emerged from her home to cheer marathoners on. After her move to Greenwich, Connecticut, she applied to the marathon’s lottery six years in a row. Then, during a milestone year, she finally gained entry.
“In my 40th year I finally got in and I was like, ‘Oh, I have to run a marathon now.’ I better get serious about this,” said Gregory, who is mother to a twin boy and girl.
Never having run 26.2 miles before, Gregory approached training for 2022’s NYC Marathon with wet feet.
“I had no idea what went into this,” she said. “I didn’t realize the amount of time I would spend away from my family, the time that I had to commit to myself. It gave me boundaries.”
Nothing Else Like It
Run thoughts are like shower thoughts, and on one of Gregory’s long runs she conceived the idea of TwentySixDiamond. It came mid-training program, when she wanted to reward herself—albeit, prematurely, she admitted—for running the race.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to buy myself something to commemorate the marathon I had not done yet,’” she said, laughing. “And I’m jogging, scrolling on my phone, like, what am I gonna get? I wanted something I could wear every day because I believe that this is such a big deal.”
The image in her head—a bracelet with the “26.2” charm composed of 26 diamonds—was nowhere to be found. Similar products encrusted with rhinestones didn’t match the caliber of the jewelry in Gregory’s mind. The bracelet had to be both authentic and resilient, it had to be a piece you’d wear all-day, every day. Ethically-sourced diamonds, the weight of the piece, its clasp being unable to snag on clothes or your wristwatch—all of these factors were considered by Gregory and eventually tested by fellow runners. The pricing would be high. But unlike a pair of running shoes, the jewelry would last for a lifetime.
“We went through a bunch of iterations where we were having problems with the chain, problems with the weight,” she said. “I believe in a real quality product. It had to be exactly what it is now. It had to be 14-karat gold. It had to be VVS diamonds. It had to sparkle. When I’m 80 years old, I want to be able to give it to my daughter.”
TwentySixDiamond offers 14-karat gold and white gold earrings ($350) and bracelets ($450), and a 14-karat gold necklace ($600) with a “26.2” or “42.2” charm for our metric runners (42.2 is the equivalent to 26.2 miles in kilometers). Both charms are composed of exactly 26 diamonds. All pieces are available to order at twentysixdiamond.com.
I tested the 14-karat solid yellow gold 26.2 bracelet all weekend leading up to my half marathon race in Miami. I wore it out to brunch, on fun runs, while showering. I never took it off. The piece is so dainty but hardy. And it didn’t distract me during the half. In fact, the coolness of the bracelet against my wrist was my only respite racing in the Miami heat—besides splashing water in my face at every aid station.
Under Queensboro Bridge
It’s hard not to get swept up in Gregory’s retelling of running her first marathon. A 20-and-counting marathoner myself, I was taken back to that first-race feeling of disbelief, high highs, low lows, and triumph.
She recalled having a rough go at mile 23, until a runner she had met waiting in the port-a-potty line prerace caught up with her.
“I’m really in pain right now,” Gregory said. “She comes up from behind and she’s like, ‘Hey girl from the port-a-potty! Come on, run! Finish this with me.’ And I swear to God, if not for her, I would not have finished.”
Gregory also had a full circle moment when she passed her family cheering her on above the Queensboro Bridge.
“It was my first apartment in New York City and it was a fifth floor walkup, and I would sit out on the fire escape smoking cigarettes and watch First Avenue,” she said. “[While racing] I was like, I love New York so much. Then my family was underneath my old apartment, and I have this picture of my kids. I also stopped and I hugged all the people. I cried a bunch of times and I drank a lot of water and it was a mess. I was a mess. It was the best mess I’ve ever been.”
Gregory crossed the finish line with a time of 4:25:10. She was wearing bracelets on each wrist from her collection, which had officially launched a week before the race. The plan was to gift one of the bracelets to a fellow runner during race weekend.
Walking home with her family that night, Gregory was stopped by a woman who asked if she ran the marathon. The woman, whose name was Kathleen, was a 15-time marathoner but was unable to run NYC that year.
Said Gregory, “Fifteen marathons—I was like, what!? I could barely walk down the street after running just my one. And I gave her my first bracelet.”
A Life-Changing Experience
Gregory is still wearing the bracelet she kept on race day. This November she’s back to cheerleading but knows another NYC Marathon will be in her future. For now, the piece she wears on her wrist is a reminder of her own amazing feat. She hopes runners have the same experience wearing—and running in—her jewelry.
“This experience was profoundly life-changing in so many ways,” said Gregory, who still calls herself a jogger. “If that day comes when someone can’t marathon anymore, or they just don’t have the same capacity to run like they used to, I hope [this jewelry] will remind them of how incredible they are.”
Amanda is a test editor at Runner’s World who has run the Boston Marathon every year since 2013; she's a former professional baker with a master’s in gastronomy and she carb-loads on snickerdoodles.