New York City Marathon!
So it’s been 2 weeks since I returned from New York, the fatigue of the marathon becoming a distant memory and my head whirring with what to do next. I can’t believe I had that experience, that I got to run my first marathon in a city I love so much, celebrating something I love so much, giving everything I had in 3 short hours on a journey through I place that showed me how to grow up and love myself and surrounded by the community that made me fall in love with distance running.
We arrived in NY from Seattle on Friday evening after a long flight and a delay because we had snow! A mad dash to get my bib caused some stress but pizza with friends in Astoria made me relax again. It felt like we’d never left. I had everything planned - I wanted to be on my feet for the bare minimum the day before - basically NO EXPO!
After a nice sleep and lazy morning watching the Abbot dash to the finish it was time to make my final preparations. My shake out run the day before was nice and easy with a few strides thrown in around Astoria Park running track. A carefully planned route that ended with a bagel on 30th ave! I really miss NYC bagels, I haven’t even looked at one since moving to Kirkland! 2 strides at sub 5min pace gave a sign that the taper had gone well - I hadn’t managed 2 strides at that pace in training. Legs were rested and ready to work.
I spent the morning with a close friend, got my nails done (I miss my NY mani pedis too), the required plate of pasta - this had to be before 3pm so my body had time to convert it to glycogen - and then back to hibernate in the hotel with my juiced beets for race morning and knitting.
I woke early and showered, dressed in all my throw away layers and headed out with my measured instant oatmeal and a breakfast cookie from run fast eat slow! Powered by oats and inspired by Shalane! I’d been thinking what this moment would feel like. I felt calm in the Taxi ride on the way to the Ferry, working with my coach and gearing training towards specific races has really helped with my pre race nerves.
I arrived at the Ferry Terminal without drama, phew, step 1 was complete. Race day was also my first ride on the Staten Island Ferry!! I got the 5:30am boat…..perhaps a little early but I didn’t want any extra stress. I was lucky enough to be entered as a local competitor for my running club Hellgate Road Runners so made my way to the designated pre race area. One of the amazing things I found about the running community in New York was the number of running clubs. I was surprised when I first moved to Astoria there was one meeting in a park less than a mile away from where I lived. This group taught me so much about running; I was introduced to track workouts, racing, racing as a team member and surrounded by a community full of experience and inspiration. I met up with Justin, one of the first people I met at the club! He chatted with me which made me feel relaxed and excited. I met Coach Medina of QDR, another inspiring bunch of Queens based runners (wished his wife luck - she was with the pros!) and also Evan who won the 5 borough challenge the previous year. As a consequence he was in all the marathon posters so it was like hanging around a celebrity.
Before I knew it we were there waiting on the Bridge. The green corral was on the lower level with the local competitors right at the front. I was still sticking to Justin and now Evan and oh my goodness there we were at the start! It was right there. We were waiting around 45 minutes but it flew by. There were a few starts before us but then we had the fly by helicopters, singing of the national anthem, some words from Peter Caccia…..the cannon sounded boom and we were off. It was happening.
I tried to find someone to run with, someone who wouldn’t be going out like a rocket but in the corrals I ended around a bunch of men all going for sub 3 and all going to take advantage or ‘flat Brooklyn’. This wasn’t really what I’d planned and not inline with my training so just decided to run my own race, remember what Coach Neely said - get the rhythm and go off feel. First mile I felt awful, I couldn’t believe it! My watch was showing a pace of 12min/mile and people were shooting off all around me on that first long climb. I didn’t know what to do, I guess it must have been the adrenaline. Justin came passing by informing me I was definitely running under 7min/mile - way faster than what I wanted. Ugh!
After what seemed like an eternity there was a small hill which slowed my down and I began to find my rhythm and feel a bit more comfortable. 5K came and went - still too fast, SLOW DOWN I kept thinking. By now the crowds were thickening up, the atmosphere was growing, there were 1000’s of us running right past people's front doors! It was awesome! I gave a few kids a high five then found the blue line and stuck to it.
I was still going a bit too fast but I finally felt good and easy and I found Evan! We both acknowledged how good we felt, but we knew we were way ahead of goal. Unbeknown to me he had his name on his shirt so people were calling ‘Go Evan’, I was like ‘wow, I’m actually running with a famous person!’ We couldn’t believe we were at mile 7 already but around that point I did let him go as I didn’t want to push too hard.
The energy in Brooklyn was something incredible, it just kept giving and giving. People hanging out of windows, setting up make-shift aid stations, just crowds and crowds of people. Soon I was at the halfway, there was a hill which made my heart sink a bit, a nasty habit of mine when it comes to hills! I have ran quite a few in training and I always take them better than I think I will. I took this moment to try and focus on form and again that effort, I was feeling ok but still going too fast. 1:28 and change for the first half.
By now I was coming into Queens, my borough. Everyone talks about the Queensborough bridge, I got anxious. We navigated some twists and turns, a few more than I’d anticipated and headed towards it! I knew the Hellgate crew would be in Long Island City and eventually I saw the sign! Run Like Hellgate! I saw Sue my fellow running Brit, gave a wave and blew kisses - that's right people, I blew kisses. I have to say Sue deserves them - her cheers through Time Square in the NYC half got me my fastest mile in that race!
Then it was upon us…...there she was that b***h of a bridge. It’s quiet and people at this point are starting to struggle. I was going up…..here was Evan again! We were climbing, my hips and butt were beginning to bite. He asked me how I felt - “not as good as I did 5mins ago” I replied! It seemed like it wouldn’t end. They have numbers hanging on the bridge…..I don’t know what for. Evan informed the runners around us were were about to be in for a treat. Manhattan. Borough number three. Down the ramp with the crowds cheering and onto 1st avenue. It felt surreal, I felt my legs recover from the bridge (to my amazement) and I found my rhythm again.
As I turned onto First Ave the screen showed Shalane breaking away, heading towards her triumph! Wow, I scream out “she’s gonna do it” and got a few funny looks from the runners. I knew she would do it. The streets were flying by…..65th…..then into the 70’s which is so familiar! My NY journey began on 78th and York. I knew hubby Jose and friends Rachel and Chris were close but I couldn’t remember exactly where they would be….BUT they’d made a sign!!! A massive sign with my face on it! Suddenly it appeared…...I tried to focus and saw Jose….more kisses blown and a hi 5!!
Now it was getting serious, the wind and rain were in my face and I felt wet from rain not sweat - gross but I still felt determined and strong. I was heading to the Bronx...unknown territory and I knew this section would be tough. The legs were feeling tight but I could maintain the rhythm. Final gel went in and the mile markers were becoming blurry, I didn’t want to focus on where I was, I just wanted to focus on the finish. The finish in that park.
As we headed towards another bridge I saw Phong and Naveed around 125th st and little baby Kaia who was definitely waving at me. That was a real boost. Phong, a work colleague of Jose, somehow got me to sign up for Brooklyn Half in 2016, my first NYRR race, the race that started all of this. It was awesome to have seen so many friends!
It then started to get tough, my legs were getting sore. I knew 5th avenue was approaching and that was a tough hill so stuck with that feel of effort - around 75%. Then out of nowhere in the Bronx appears Aurelio - another Hellgate team member - with half a banana in each hand! AURELIO I cried! He was always just ahead of me in track workouts, I could never catch him. He tried to offer the banana but didn’t stand a chance. All I wanted was a hug. Poor guy was nearly coming along with me! He always gets surprise hugs from me; I think back to the finish of the Staten Island half 2016 where he came in just ahead of me (naturally) but I’d just qualified for this race - again I needed a hug and poor Aurelio was my victim.
By now I was craving Central Park - I wanted to be close so I could pour out everything I’d been saving for my finish. I could write a whole other post on what running in Central Park means to me.
5th avenue. Gosh it was awful and seemed never ending. I wasn’t sure when we would turn into the park but eventually we did, again another surreal experience. I’d done this part at the end of a long run earlier in the year. Down a straight from Engineers gate, some undulations and down Cat hill which I really took advantage of. The turnover in my legs was back and I pushed the pace, this was it. We went down the hill and around the corner and then…..where were we? Out on the street?
When I’d ran the Abbot Dash to the finish the prior year I’d taken it a bit to literally. Suddenly I was in unexpected territory. What was going on? I didn’t realise we were on 59th st, I thought I was running up the West side of the park and the finish line had moved! What??? I thought there was maybe a security issue. Huh??? Just. Keep. Going.
Then I heard a voice! It was Jose again and I saw the 800m sign. This is it. This is it. I laid it down, there was still something left, I gave it everything I had. I looked up to find the clock, for some reason I read right to left so saw wave 4 clock first……. I gave up, I just focused on pushing. Someone called out go 702! As I neared the finish I heard the announcer “if you hear my voice you are breaking 3 hours”. It was done.
I exited the park pretty quickly, the mile walk out to collect my poncho was welcome, it really helped ease up my legs. I chatted with a fellow finisher who hadn’t been expecting all those hills! They kept coming at you, but that’s our New York, it’s not a run in New York without a hill or a bridge of sorts. I got my nice warm poncho and received way too many congratulations from the amazing volunteers - there hadn’t been many women through.
Nothing really seemed to sink in for the rest of the day. I felt so happy and relaxed - which hadn’t happened in a long time. Since then it has been tough. I know the importance of down time to let my body heal and it will ultimately allow me to come back stronger but boy is this part hard! So much feels jumbled up in my life right now and things have been pretty tough since I returned from New York - but writing this has helped.
I hope you like this little account of how I took on my 26.2; if you’re thinking of running a marathon please give it a go, you won’t regret it. I’ve loved the focus my training gave me, the consistency and structure it provided in this messed up world. I had so much support along the way from Jose, my Coach and friends and family. I couldn't have done it without them and they made my race weekend so special. A big thank you and hug goes out to all of them and of course NYRR the slickest race organizers I’ve experienced and the team of fantastic volunteers that gave up their Sunday. Hope this motivated you to get out to run, just lace up, open that door and out you trot. I promise when you return you’ll be smiling.