New York City Marathon Recap

Today I present the longest thing I've ever typed with 7 fingers.

Let's rewind:

Friday & Saturday

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I arrived in New York early Friday morning feeling kind of ambivalent, sick-ish, and behind on sleep.I was also really indecisive about what to wear and worried about the weather.

After the expo, I headed back to Stefanie's for a long nap and a quick run in the neighborhood.

Afterward, while waiting for Stef to wrap up at work, I went on a quiet walk by myself to chill. It was peak foliage in NYC and gorgeous out. I had a big mug of coffee and a lemon poppy cake and thought about all my worries, then released them one by one. I was mostly nervous about the weather and going into the race with no real "goal time" or race strategy (I work in statistics and unquantified things make me uneasy) but as I sipped my coffee and looked out the window I grew lighter and more relaxed. I practiced mindfulness and agreed to accept whatever the day brought, good and bad. I walked back to Stefanie's feeling free and joyful! I picked up beer and we stayed up late cooking, drinking, and hanging out.

The next day, everyone slept in and we had a huge brunch. By this point, I was so tired of carbs but determined to stuff myself with them. I had tried to minimize carbs through Tuesday, eat normally on Wednesday, then emphasize carbs from Thursday on, and by Saturday I was just sick of them. My stomach was upset and I still felt nervous, but I just accepted those feelings and didn't argue with them or try to push them out. 

Hangin' in beautiful Crown Heights

Hangin' in beautiful Crown Heights

I wanted to stay off my feet so after our long brunch, we sat in a park and watched some kids skateboard while we hung out. Later, I packed up my things and relocated to Manhattan, where James (who came in on a bus from Philadelphia) and I were staying with our friend Matt who lives .06 miles from the Staten Island Ferry. We had dinner at an Italian place near his apartment and they mapped out their spectating plan. It was so nice of them to take such care in planning out when and where they'd see me. I still felt a creeping dread and anxiety for Marathon Day (why? no idea), so this was a great distraction. I felt so supported and their excitement was contagious. Thanks guys!

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Later that night, we google street view-verified the selected spectating spots and wrote down key landmarks. To help me easily spot them in the spectating crowds, they were going to wear matching lime green shirts. In total, James planned to see me four times -- in Bay Ridge, Gowanus, on 81st and 1st, and 96th and 5th. Matt and Stefanie both planned to see me in Bay Ridge and/or Gowanus. 

James creeped on me in the bathroom and documented my getting-ready routine.

James creeped on me in the bathroom and documented my getting-ready routine.

Race morning

On race morning, I awoke in denial about running. It felt unreal. I ate a bowl of dry SmartStart and I threw a banana in my bag. (On the way home we stopped at a bodega for breakfast things. They were completely sold out of bananas, but I found one stashed and forgotten on the top of a display case.) I knew it wasn't enough food but I thought I'd just wing it... (Hi, I'm Outside Time, and I am a chronic self-saboteur.)

I wore: Adidas tank, a Moving Comfort bra (the only sportsbra I own that won't chafe me), Under Armour shorts, SmartWool socks, and my Brooks Adrenalines with about 150 miles on them. I cut up an old pair of over-the-knee socks to wear as armwarmers. I had one gel in my bra, and pinned four to my shorts. The plan was to take 1 gel every 45 minutes, rotating between Honey Stingers and PowerGels. I thought I might need as many as six, but figured I would grab another at the PowerGel station at mile 18.

I spent like half my getting-ready time pinning my bangs in place.

I spent like half my getting-ready time pinning my bangs in place.

Over all of this, I wore a throwaway half-zip fleece and this pink jacket that claimed to be waterproof, but isn't. 

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The walk from Matt's apartment was cold. The wind was whipping around the buildings and I decided I could keep the fleece on, or wrap it around my neck somehow if I got desperate out there. I couldn't imagine being this cold until the end of the race. I saw many people in tights and long sleeves. But as soon as the big "Staten Island Ferry" sign came into view, my attitude changed. This is it!

....Kind of!

I won't bore you with the details, but the logistics are just facts of life at NYCM. It's all part of the experience. Later, I joked that it felt like I went to the DMV all day, and ran a marathon in between. This isn't a knock on NYRR -- I seriously doubt it's possible to transport 50,000 runners to Ft. Wadsworth with more efficiency. But still, I wasn't exactly having fun for the first four hours of Sunday morning.

I was a minute or two late and missed my ferry time. I realized it was no big deal to just get on another ferry, so I waited for the next one...then the next one...then the next one. I didn't get on the ferry until after 7, and then I realized I could linger in the ferry station in Staten Island before getting on the buses and going out to the corrals. I sat on the floor, made a bunch of friends, and was gifted a muffin and half a banana by a stranger-friend (thanks!) Partly, I was trying to avoid the cold, but I was also in a weird denial about what I was about to do. I wasn't afraid, just not ready, yet.

I went on a little walk around the ferry station and tried to process my feelings. I thought at the time that it looked like a refugee camp in there -- human bodies huddled together, sharing food with one another. It was such a mass of people, and the energy inside the station was unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I took it all in for a while, until all of the sudden my nerves dissipated and I started having fun. I was going to run a marathon! I beelined it back to my group of stranger-friends, told them I had to go because I was in Wave 1 (which was met with a chorus of "WHAAT?? GO!! HURRY & good luck!"). I crossed my fingers that I hadn't missed the Wave 1 corral closure. 

Unsurprisingly, I did. I borrowed someone's phone to text James my new ETA, stood in another line for a few minutes, then shuffled into the Wave 2 start. 

At the start, I met Gabriela from Canada and Courtney from Maryland. We discovered we're all vegetarians and aiming for a finish time of "low 4 something." We fidgeted with our throwaway layers and chatted while we waited. It was so great to share that start line energy with them while we waited for the gun to go off. We quieted during "God Bless America," and then it happened just as I had imagined it: the cannon fired and the speakers played New York, New York, and we all started moving.

It was after 10am. I'd been awake for 5 hours and traveled half a dozen different ways to get to this point. The whole process: the idea that had rooted in my brain, the qualifying through 9+1, the registering, the training, the travel -- it was all over. I was here now. This was my race, my marathon. I got a little choked up, but swallowed it back. Crying and feelings time was over. It was race time.

Staten Island (Miles 1-2)

Since I was in the green start village, I was on the lower level of the Verrazano. To my knowledge, no one peed on me, which was my fear. My plan was to go out "stupid slow" and Courtney and Gabriela had the same idea. The pace felt relaxed and easy so we went with it. Someone pointed out a helicopter hovering next to us (generating a ton of icy wind) and I was like "Oh, yeah," thinking it was a news helicopter -- but no, it was an NYPD helicopter. Past the helicopter was a view of Manhattan I'd never seen before (no bikes or pedestrians are allowed on the Verrazano). It was all very surreal.

The satellites were having trouble finding me, so my Staten Island miles look like this:

Mile 1 - "12:06"

Mile 2: "7:09"

Brooklyn (Miles 3-13)

The first time we crossed a timing mat everyone seemed to get very excited.

The first time we crossed a timing mat everyone seemed to get very excited.

Coming off the Verrazano, everyone started taking off more throwaway layers and pulling over to the side to pee against some wall. I laughed and said I felt like I was in a men's locker room. I still had my fleece on and decided I wanted to hold on to it until I could hand it to James so I'd have something to put on after the race (not knowing about the glorious fleece-lined poncho that was awaiting me at the finish).

It sounds silly, but I completely forgot about the spectators. The bridge had been so quiet.

Bay Ridge was the bomb. There were so many people and we (the runners) were all so excited to see them. Runners were slapping high-fives and waving and taking water from the little kids who set up their own water stations.

We passed the first official water station and I started following my plan to take water at every aid station (no Gatorade).

Mile 3 - 9:34

5k - 30:32 (average pace: 9:49)

My green wave combined with orange and blue, and we were headed straight on 4th Avenue for a long time. It was so fun to see the neighborhoods and spectators change, like looking out the window of a (slow-moving) train. I was still running with my stranger-friends and I noticed we had dropped the pace a little bit, but it felt extremely comfortable. We were quiet, except for a few stray observations here and there. I was having a great time and took in the sights. 

I knew James and Matt would be waiting for me in Bay Ridge, so I stuck to the right so I'd be sure to see them. 

Mile 4 - 9:07

Hello!!!!

Hello!!!!

Hi!

Hi!

I was so excited to see James and Matt, stopped to kiss James for just a second, then kept running. I hurried to catch up to my little gang.

Mile 5 - 9:12

Mile 6 - 9:06

10k - 59:16 (9:32)

At the 10k, I was still not paying attention to my watch. Every few miles or so, I'd glance at it and see we were still doing low-9s, which was cool with me.

Heading into Gowanus, where James used to live, I started seeing familiar streets and getting excited. We'd come so far already!

Mile 7 - 9:05

 

High five for Matt!

High five for Matt!

I gave Stefanie a huge bear hug and then kept going, looking around for my little group. Were they ahead of me, or behind me? I scanned the crowd ahead of me and didn't see them anywhere, so I assumed they were behind me. I felt a pang of loss, and considered slowing down to wait for them. Instead, I kept going, hoping they'd catch up with me over the next mile or so. (This never happened, and I ran the rest of the race alone!)

It would be ten miles until I saw James again, so I went on autopilot through the rest of Brooklyn. From here we there was a gradual climb up to Prospect Heights and Park Slope. The spectators were great, but by this point I had heard that awful Robin Thicke song like three times.

Mile 8 - 9:11

Mile 9 - 9:08

I was thinking of memories I have from each of these neighborhoods, the people who live there, and all of the good and happy times I'd had there. Meanwhile, the spectators were going bananas for us. I was in a happy fog.

15k - 1:27:50 (9:25)

Mile 10 - 9:01

Mile 11 - 9:11

At some point, it started drizzling, but nothing awful. However, my knees were really starting to hurt. This is an ongoing issue that I thought I had quashed, but I guess it decided to come back for the marathon. Fortunately, I had brought some ibuprofin along just in case, and took two somewhere at mile 11.

Mile 12 - 8:58

20k - 1:56:22 (9:21)

 

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Mile 13 - 8:58

Half - 2:02:37 (9:21)

This was my decision moment: My watch beeped for mile 13 in the middle of the Pulaski bridge. I watched the miles tick to 13.1. "2:02?" I don't even think I made the decision -- I just knew I would go for it ("IT" being a sub-4 marathon). I wanted to be in the Times! (I understood that to be in the Times, you had to finish in under 4 hours. However...I bought a paper the next day and saw that they printed everyone up to 4:45ish!)

While waiting for the start I had changed the screens around on my Garmin to show "Average Pace" (which I normally don't use). I wanted to see that number drop below 9:09 (a four-hour marathon, if I ran tangents perfectly). I planned to just take it mostly easy until mile 20, then drop the hammer.

Queens (Miles 14-16)

After the Pulaski, we were in Queens! In Queens, as in Brooklyn, there was a big sign that welcomed us to the borough. It seemed like all of Queens was packed into these two miles. Queens was bumping and someone was playing "Empire State of Mind" under the Long Island Expressway, which echoed and reverbed like crazy.

I could see the Queensboro bridge peeking through the buildings and I was getting so amped about running it. This is supposedly the toughest part of the race, but IDGAF. I wanted to run that bridge.

Mile 14 - 9:10

The bridge was kind of looming ahead of us. When we started climbing, I was surprised to realize the top level was open to cars. It reminded me of the time Stefanie and I stopped on the Marine Parkway bridge to listen to the way they made eerie, insect-like sounds.

All around me, people started walking, which was causing some congestion, so I just focused on finding holes and running through them.

The view from the Queensboro is one of my favorites. Everyone's gaze was fixed to the skyline, and a ton of people got up on the curb to by the bike lane to take pictures and gawk at the view. I know I keep saying it, but I was so happy.

Mile 15 - 9:12

25k - 2:25:10 (9:20)

When people crested the bridge, they'd let out whoops or cheers, and others in front of and behind them would echo them. The Manhattan views gave way to First Avenue views, and I caught glimpses of what looked like a wall of spectators below us. Their cheers were a low rumbling that got louder as we descended on the island.

Mile 16 - "11:44" (satellite issues)

Manhattan (Miles 17-19)

First Avenue is as great as they say it is. I don't know where all these people came from -- are there really this many people who live on the East side? -- but it was awesome. The street is wide and the spectators are pressed against the blue NYPD barricades, half a dozen or more deep. People are waving signs wildly and screaming. I kept losing myself in the crowds -- I loved running through these endless people-lined streets, all smiling widely and being cheered for. When else does a person have this experience?

I think this was on First.

I think this was on First.

 

I wanted to pick it up here, but I had read enough NYCM recaps to know this is a common temptation that usually ends in disaster. Instead I grabbed a sponge at the sponge station (favorite aid station), wiped the salt from my face, and felt like a brand new woman. I grabbed a Dixie cup from a woman in the crowd. "Pepsi!" she yelled as I took it. "THANK YOU!" I yelled back. It was fantastic. My knee pain was still there. It wasn't bad enough to be a problem, but enough to remind me that they were unhappy, so I took another two ibuprofin.

Mile 17 - 8:56

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Immediately after was the PowerGel station, but I didn't take any because by now I was positive I wouldn't be running long enough to take six gels. (The five I had were perfect.)

Mile 18 - 8:49

30k - 2:53:11 (9:17)

Mile 19 - 8:59

Bronx (Miles 20-21)

Rolling into the Bronx across Willis Bridge, I was still feeling great. I definitely didn't feel like I had just run 19 miles, nor did it feel like over three hours had passed since I started running.

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Mile 20 - 9:06

Finally, mile 20 beeped and I shifted into another gear. I really liked the Bronx -- the turns kept things interesting and I lost my orientation, so I couldn't really tell which direction I was headed. The Robin Hood Foundation was playing good music and I started looking for the turn back to Manhattan.

Mile 21 - 8:45

35k - 3:21:11 (9:15)

Manhattan (Miles 21-26.2)

I guess we went over a bridge to get back, but I didn't notice it. Suddenly, the streets became familiar. This was Harlem! I was home!

I was so pumped to see my old spectating spot, which was exactly as I remembered it: the gospel music, the firefighters on top of their trucks. The water station was right there, too. All around me, people were starting to walk, but I was drawing so much strength from these streets. I knew at this point I had underestimated myself. I knew I would finish strong and I had a good chance to sub-4. Suddenly my desire for a sub-4 was overwhelming and I remembered the lung-bursting 10ks I'd run this year. I wanted this more than any 10k PR, and I had less than a 10k to go.

Mile 22 - 8:27

Mile 23 - 8:21

Mile 23 is the long "hill" down Fifth Avenue. It's just a long gradual incline. It doesn't feel like a climb, but it does add a level of effort. More people started walking and I began to have a problem navigating the congestion. I saw James and waved, yelling "SUB 4! SUB 4!" I hoped he would understand why I didn't want to expend the extra effort to zoom over to the side to say hi.

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Mile 24 - 8:34

40k - 3:47:27 (9:09)

I was thrilled to turn into Engineer's Gate. I was looking forward to the rolling hills and cruised down the first downhill, catching my breath for a moment. By now the road had narrowed significantly and I had a major congestion problem on my hands. I was trying to pass without being a jerk, but I needed walkers to move to the side so I could get through!

There was a water station at mile 25 which was a complete mess! Suddenly I saw a wall of walkers in front of me which was so stressful. I've got places to go, guys! This was the only water station I skipped. There was no time!

I stopped paying attention to everything except finding holes I could run through to pass people.

Mile 25 - 8:06

Soon we were rounding Central Park South and I lost all sense of what was happening. I remember this part was crazy -- the tall buildings, and my congestion problem, made it feel a bit claustrophobic. I was touching people on the shoulder as I passed and trying to blaze a path ahead of me. When we made a right through Columbus Circle, re-entered Central Park, and I kicked with everything I had.

Move please, dude blocking me with your arms.

Move please, dude blocking me with your arms.

I remember seeing the grandstands first, then somehow the finish was right in front of me.  I headed straight through the middle part of the finish line and crossed. I was done. I had done it.

Mile 26 - 7:57

0.2 - 2:42 (7:49)

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FINISH: 3:58:36 (9:07)

Thanks so much, everyone, for all the cheers and good luck wishes! I can't wait to do it again!