Race Recap: New York City Marathon
To say that I was excited to run the New York City Marathon was an understatement. This was my number one bucket list race. Maybe second, if I am ever fast enough to qualify for Boston, but I’ve got some serious work to do before that’s more than a wishful thinking goal. I flew into the area Thursday evening, and spent some time in the city on Friday. I went to Central Park and saw the finish line area, and shed a couple tears.
At the race expo, I teared up again when I got my race bib. After a couple tries at the lottery, I finally had the chance to run this legendary course. Yet, I spent a good chunk of the last six months battling injury and illness. As much as I desperately wanted to cross the finish line, deep down I knew it was a long shot, given the limited training I’d been able to accomplish. But, I was going to give the race my everything and see what I had in me.
My dear friend Sara was running the race as well (her first 26.2!) and we were out the door by 6:30am. We walked to the PATH station, took the train to Manhattan, made a crucial pit stop at Starbucks for caffeine, and hopped on another train down to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. From there, we took the ferry to Staten Island and a bus to Fort Wadsworth, home of the starting villages for the race. We went through the security checkpoints, took a couple pictures, and parted ways to our respective starting areas. All in all, it ended up being almost a four-hour journey simply to get to the starting line. The New York City Marathon might be legendary, but the logistics of getting 50,000 people to the starting line are a bit of a nightmare.
Once I made it into my corral, the emotions really kicked into high gear. I was fighting back tears with a huge smile on my face. There was a palpable energy in the air that was unlike anything I’ve felt at a race start before. As we made our way to the starting line, I heard Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” blasting over the loudspeakers, which really put me over the edge. I was singing along and I didn’t care what anyone around me thought. This was my jam, in my beloved city. Before long, someone was singing the National Anthem, the starting gun (or, perhaps, cannon. That thing was deafening.) blasted, and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” ushered us over the starting line and onto the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge, taking runners from Staten Island into Brooklyn.
The bridge was a surreal experience. It covers the first two miles of the race, with a mile uphill climb. With the sheer number of runners packed into such a small space, it was hard to really get moving, for which I was thankful. It made it easy to not start out too fast when I’d jog a few feet then walk because we were moving that slow. I was more concerned than anything else about not tripping because of all the discarded clothes cluttering the street. It’s a truly special moment, surrounded only by fellow runners, with a very special view of New York City, Brooklyn straight ahead and Manhattan in the distance. Before I knew it, we were off the bridge and onto the streets of Brooklyn.
One thing I knew about this course going into it, is that the crowd support was unlike anything I’ll experience at another race. I’ve read numbers in the 2-3 million range in terms of spectators lining the 26.2 mile course. Add that to the 50,000 runners and it’s simply just a sea of people all around. Brooklyn, by and large, did not disappoint as spectators. It was one of the most overwhelming experiences, with so many people cheering and out there giving their support. I gave more high-fives than I’ve given in the whole rest of my life combined. Although I had a playlist ready to go, I hardly used it. There was so much energy and sound from the crowds and the bands lining the streets that wasn’t necessary, except for a few brief stretches here and there. I was having a blast, soaking in everything I could.
The weather felt considerably warm and humid for November 1, particularly when you consider the fact that I had already seen snow flakes in Michigan a couple weeks prior. I almost immediately regretted the short sleeve shirt I was wearing, wishing I had opted for the tank top that sat, unused, in my backpack back in New Jersey. As the situation was what it was, I just tried to stay smart about hydration, alternating between water and Gatorade at each aid station, often times dumping a little water down my back in attempts to cool off. Early on, I was a sweaty, salty mess, so I didn’t dare dump any water near the front of my face, lest I face the sting of salt dripping into my eyes. It only takes once (okay, twice) to learn that lesson, my friends.
The miles passed by in a blur. I couldn’t believe how comfortable running felt, how easy it felt to hit each mile marker. At mile 10, I grabbed Gatorade and almost immediately had a wave of nausea pass over me. That’s the first, and hopefully last, time I’ve ever felt the need to throw up during a race. Although I spent the majority of the next mile fighting against my stomach, a little water at the next stop seemed to balance things out.
My marathon PR is a slow and steady 5:51:10 at the Bayshore Marathon. I knew it was a long shot, but I grabbed a 5:50 pace band at the expo. Go big or go home, right? After all, the whole day felt like one big long shot. Imagine my surprise when, as the miles creeped by, I was buying myself time. By the half marathon mark, I was almost 10 minutes ahead of where I needed to be for a PR. I have no idea how it was happening, but I was feeling great and having the most fun I’ve ever had during a race.
Unfortunately, it’s also around the time the wheels started to fall off. I had a triple punch of hip/IT band/knee pain starting to flare up on my left side. It’s possible I started out too fast, I honestly don’t think that was the case. It felt like a very comfortable pace, as though I was out for an easy run. I think it was just sheer lack of training that took a toll on my body.
Once we hit the half marathon mark, I was overjoyed to be past the halfway point while equally dreading the fact that I had to cover that distance again. Marathoners truly are a crazy bunch. One thing I knew from Bayshore was that the Gu/Gatorade combination simply isn’t enough for my body to hold up for 26.2 miles. Perhaps if I were faster, it would be sufficient, but I’m not. I knew I needed something more to carry me through 6+ hours on my feet. This time, I opted to add a Clif bar to my fueling methods. I had my first two Gu (salted caramel and vanilla bean) around the 4.5 and 9 mile markers. I started munching on the Clif bar at the halfway point, eating a bite or two about every half mile.
One of the best things about the New York Road Runners, the group that puts on the NYC Marathon, is that they know how to organize a race. Starting at the 3 mile mark, there were water stations, a medical tent, and Porta Potties right around each mile, and PowerBar gels at mile 18. The course amenities are top-notch, without a doubt.
I stopped at the medical tent just before mile 15 and one of the wonderful volunteers stretched out my leg. I had stopped to stretch on my own a few times, but I needed something that would get a little deeper. It was a “hurts so good” kind of stretch as he worked out my muscles, and I knew it would be enough for the time being. But, as I stood up, I immediately felt a little dizzy. Nothing too worrisome, as I think it was really just a result of stopping so suddenly. Still, it was enough that I opted to lie back down for a few minutes. I ate a couple salt packets, sipped some water, and let them check my vitals. All checked out and soon enough, I was feeling ready to go.
It took about half a mile before my legs really started to feel loose. Once they did, I quickly fell back into a comfortable pace as we ventured into Manhattan. The Queensboro Bridge is a God-awful stretch of the race. The wind was whipping through, so it felt really cold compared to the somewhat muggy air I’d experienced for the last few hours. Spectators aren’t allowed on the bridges, so it was quiet and lonely. Thankfully, there were some great views of the city. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be in the midst of this experience.
Finally, we were off the bridge and into Manhattan. There’s a legendary “wall of sound” as you hit First Avenue which for us back-of-the-pack runners felt a bit underwhelming. The masses had already run by and the crowds started to disperse. It was a bit of a disappointment, as it was a part of the course everyone talks up. I was thankful for those that were still out there cheering for us slower runners. Just before mile 18, I started tightening up again and this time, things were extraordinarily painful. The tears of joy and excitement from the start had turned to tears of pain and frustration. I did my best to push through and stopped every few blocks to try and stretch, to no avail.
Almost 19 miles under my belt and I called it. I stopped at two med tents to have my IT band and hip stretched out. It was at the second one, the pain was unbearable. As in, I cringed when the poor medical student volunteering his time even touched my knee. Not a great sign, and by this point, my stops added so much time that NYPD was reopening the streets. “The New York City Marathon is now over.” Those are perhaps some of the most heartbreaking words, as the sweep vehicles made their way towards me.
The finish line would remain open, unlike the city streets and more importantly, the aid stations and med tents. If I chose to continue at that point, there would be nobody official along the course to help me. With 7 miles to go, that left me incredibly apprehensive considering how much I was already hurting. More importantly, I wasn’t willing to risk long -erm or even permanent damage just to finish a dream race. I wanted to run this day, but I wanted to run for years to come even more. So, after a few gut-wrenching minutes of internal debate, I admitted my day was over.
While not the race I was hoping for, I am proud of myself for attempting something so few do. 19 miles is a huge accomplishment, particularly considering the circumstances of the weeks and months leading up to race day.
Thanks for an amazing experience, New York. I’ll be back for you one day.