Mary Wittenberg, and the NYRR, promised a marathon that would be bigger, better, and safer than ever. They delivered from beginning to end! With over 50,000 finishers and thousands (millions) of spectators, that is no small feat.
I took a red eye and arrived in the city early Friday morning. I was at the expo shortly after it opened and encountered a short wait in line as security checked larger bags. Volunteers were friendly, knowledgeable, and supportive making bib and t-shirt pick-up a breeze. I spent another hour or so wandering through the expo and then headed to my hotel to take a nap.
Ken and I both participated in the Dash to the Finish Line 5k on Saturday morning. My plan was to remain as calm as I could at the start and jog just enough to feel confident for the next day. I planned my race and raced my plan for the first time ever and left the finish area feeling good about race day.
I reserved a spot on the 7:00 am shuttle that took runners from midtown to Staten Island. There was no time to sit around and get nervous as the bus took off before I even sat down. The ride itself took about 45 minutes and then we sat in traffic for another hour. It was cold (low 40’s) and breezy outside, so I was perfectly content to stay on the bus as long as the driver would let us. We finally exited and walked towards the start village. NYPD had a security area set up and all runners either walked through metal detector gates or were screened with hand held wands. The officers were friendly, efficient, very supportive of the runners, and appreciative of my gratitude. The start village was well marked, tables were set up with water, and there were plenty of porta-potties in the village and the corrals. NYPD had established a presence that left me feeling reassured and encouraged by their genuine support. There were officers on foot, others on rooftops, and others patrolling with bomb sniffing dogs. Most runners reached out to say thank you to individuals and groups of officers.
My wave was set to start at 10:30. As that time approached, we made our way over to the start line. With nine minutes to go, my Garmin decided it was the perfect time not to find a satellite. I struggled with it for a few minutes before it decided to cooperate. The gun went off and a sea of humanity took off across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I took in the whole scene and was so grateful to be there, doing what I love. At the top of the bridge, NYPD had helicopters hovering on either side of the bridge. This was both super cool and very reassuring. I looked at my Garmin and saw that I had managed to keep my first mile semi relaxed and did my best to coast down the bridge’s decline expending as little effort as possible.
The race enters Brooklyn on the other side of the bridge. Spectators in Brooklyn brought it! I’m not talking about the usual, half-hearted “Woo, go runners” that you hear at most races. They came out to cheer as though they knew every runner that passed them by. Many called out to runners, by name, yelling encouragement. One woman looked me right in the eye and cheered “Si se puede!” “You know I can” I thought, then smiled, and had to high five her. The miles were passing relatively easily and the crowds kept me in a great frame of mind.
The street grew much more narrow as we headed into Williamsburg, yet crowds remained excited. I felt like the riders on the Tour de France where there’s barely enough room to get through, but it’s almost as if the crowd is carrying you so it doesn’t matter.
Somewhere along the way, a DJ was blasting My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark by Fall Out Boy. I.LOVE.THAT.SONG! I literally laughed out loud as I remembered telling my kids that if that song was on my ipod, I wouldn’t be able to control myself and would probably sing out in my best (er, worst) ‘80’s hair band voice “I’m on fire!” as I fist-pumped my way down the street. For the record, I managed to control myself. A little bit.
Before I knew it, I was nearing the halfway point and realizing that I could break two hours. Not sure why I chose this day to end a 5 year slump, but I wasn’t going to fight it. Instead, I gained confidence knowing that I could go well under two in future half marathons.
One of the bits of advice I had received was to be prepared for the Queensboro Bridge to be eerily quiet and to use this time to regroup as it’s the calm before the storm that is 1st Avenue in Manhattan. This was great advice and I did my best to heed it. 1st Avenue was insane. People were packed 10 deep on either side of the road for what seemed like forever. I had asked Ken to bring a bottle of electrolytes to 1st Avenue somewhere after 72nd Street. I thought the crowds would wane by then. Ha, rookie maneuver. He was there, somewhere, holding up my bottle of water like the Statue of Liberty. I just didn’t manage to see him.
At mile 18, I noticed a volunteer refilling a runner’s water bottle, and got her to refill mine. Not quite the same, but it would have to do. As I neared the Willis Avenue Bridge leading into the Bronx, I hit a low and walked across. I mindlessly pushed forward through the Bronx, until another runner came up on my right loudly cheering, “Everyone clear the Bronx. That’s it we’re getting out of the Bronx.” That was just random enough to get my head back into it.
The hills begin as the course approaches Central Park. My mental toughness had vacated the premises and I was back to walking short stretches. Then a guy in a Boston Red Sox hat started
heckling encouraging me. “You’re not Boston Strong. You’ve gotta do this for Boston. You show them Boston Strong!” I was not thinking nice thoughts towards him at that point, but he was absolutely right. I started running and caught a second wind.
I passed the 25 mile banner, exited the park onto 59th St/Central Park South, turned the corner, and locked eyes on Ken. “There you are! There you are! There you are!” I pointed and screamed like a maniac. I was super excited to see him. He grabbed my hand, yelled something I couldn’t hear, and off I went. The last stretch before the finish is uphill. I pushed with everything I had left, raised my arms, and crossed the line. Someone put a medal around my neck and I immediately threw up. A medical volunteer was on me in a heartbeat. She put her hand on my back, provided some comfort, and checked to see if I needed more help. “One more,” I told her, “and I’ll be good.” Done. (Note to self: I need to get that under control before the next ‘thon.) She gave me some advice as to how best to navigate the finish area as quickly as possible. Next up were the mylar blanket and recovery bag, which was a thick plastic (reusable) draw string back pack with water, Gatorade, a power bar, an apple, and some pretzels. Nicely done!
Prior to the race, I selected the “No Baggage” option, which meant that I would not be able to check a bag at the start, but I would be able to exit the park early and would be given a poncho to keep me warm. The poncho was AMAZING! It was orange nylon on the outside and navy blue fleece on the inside. It was warm and cozy and exactly what I needed. Although, watching the slow parade of runners slowly and gingerly limp their way down Central Park West in those orange ponchos was sort of like watching an orange zombie apocalypse.
We were diverted around Columbus Square because of all the congestion. An older guy bumped into a cop and started to push and shove. The cop asked him what he thought he was doing and managed to calm him down without any further incident. Whew, I was not up for what could have transpired.
I met Ken at a bar near our hotel. When I entered, EVERYONE stopped what they were doing to clap and cheer for me. I completely lost it. I mean my head was in Ken’s shoulders and I was crying like an idiot. Who are these people and what did they do with the New Yorkers? They did this every time a finisher entered or left the bar. Love them!
The slogan for this year’s marathon was: 26.2 miles makes it a race, YOU make it the marathon! I wish I could go back and personally thank all of the YOU’s that made it such a great experience for me. Thank you guy from England for chatting me up on the bus. Thank you to the guy from Philly that gave me a hand warmer when I was shivering at the start village. (I hope you re-qualified!) Thank you Si Se Puede lady (Yes, I did!). Thank you DJ spinning Fall Out Boy. (You’re.On.Fire!!) Thank you water stop lady. (You really were a lifesaver.) Thank you Boston Strong guy. Thank you Ken!! Thank you to everyone at the bar. Thank you to Megan for comp-ing my beer. Thank you to the NYPD and FDNY for coming out in force to ensure my safety. Thank you to the city of New York for rolling out the red carpet and making me feel awesome!