I had big plans going into this weekend’s race. I felt a cool confidence growing inside of me as the big day approached. I’ve never been one to get ‘nervous’ per say like others voice that they do prior to a race, but I do feel immense pressure sometimes. But no pressure from others, I experience self-inflicted pressure to perform up to my own standards. And my husband thinks I’m wound too tight, I have no idea where he gets such an idea! But something was so different this time around. I felt light as a feather and so calm and relaxed in the days and hours leading up to the race. For once in my life I even enjoyed the marathon expo. This is a SERIOUS declaration as I hate large crowds for any reason whatsoever. But for some reason I chose to race the largest marathon in the world, hmmmm, makes perfect sense.
On Saturday evening we attended a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral which has been deemed the ‘Runner’s Mass’ for some years now. I would have attended a mass the night before the race regardless, as I would be missing church the following day while out pounding the pavement, but to know this Mass was chosen especially for those in town for the marathon was extra special and I couldn’t miss the opportunity. We arrived at the Cathedral about fifteen minutes before it started and were greeted by an usher who escorted us to the front row of pews. Hmmm. Pretty sweet if I do say so myself. The Mass was so amazing, and the way Father intertwined running the marathon with the day’s sermon was phenomenal. He brought up the topic of why he runs and why he runs the NYC Marathon in particular, and it all came down to HOPE. We race participants have a duty whether we realize it or not on race day, as we are out chasing down our own goals, we are providing hope for others who are standing on the sidelines or are at home watching the race on television. It could be someone who is injured, going through a tough time in life, another who may have a chronic illness or ailment, and the list goes on and on. Each one of us out there on race day has the power to inspire others in our own lives and to be living testaments that we can push the human body to and through limits that seem maddening. I really can not do this Mass and sermon justice through the written word, you just have to trust me that it was sheer perfection. And to top it all off, I really loved that Father asked all who were in attendance who were supporting the marathoners as spectators to stand up, and receive a special round of applause. Seriously, where would we runners be without our constant support crews and fans? He spoke about how the spectators have a very important job on race day too, as their words of encouragement are immensly important for the race participants, and they would be filling all of us with hope at the various points of the race. Their cheers, smiles, high-fives and orange slices were paramount in getting some of us to and across that finish line in moments of doubt and pain.
At the conclusion of the Mass Father invited all marathon participants onto the altar to receive a special blessing. I literally shed a few tears of joy standing up there looking at the masses walking towards the front of the church, there were hundreds of us and from all over the world!
That night I went to bed knowing that Sunday was going to be a very special day indeed.
Sunday morning rolled around and I awoke from the most restful pre-marathon sleep I have ever known. Took a shower, ate a banana, layered on all my clothing and rolled outta the apartment by 4:45am.
Mommaberries walked with me for about twenty feet and I was able to quickly hail a taxi. I got my good luck kiss and hug and off I went! The cab ride took literally five minutes and then I was dropped off at the NYC Public Library to load the bus to the start line in Staten Island. I was greeted by the most-chipper volunteers, especially with it being before 5am! And they seriously made me feel like a world-class athlete. I had to flash my bib a million times and then was able to board a bus immediately. As the bus filled up I offered the seat next to me to a man who ended up being from Michigan and we got a few laughs about how we were natural enemies with me being an Ohio girl. We chatted the entire bus ride about various races we had done, ate our breakfast and before we knew it we had arrived to the start village. Time seriously seemed to be on fast forward, which would end up being a recurring theme for the day.
Once you exit the bus you flash your race bib a million more times and then are directed to either the blue, orange or green village, depending on what color your race bib was. I was in the blue start, which meant I would be starting the race on top of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
I was able to easily find the Blue Bib village and was one of the first people to arrive in the tent area and found myself a nice little spot in the center of one of the tents and I decided to just lay down for a bit because I didn’t really have anything better to do until Heather arrived, who was a Blue Bib too! We had been texting each other all morning and before I knew it she was there and shortly after she huddled in the tent the rest of our Blue Bib friends arrived!
Heather and I sat and talked about all sorts of things, mostly the race and then we were joined by a chatty gentleman from Newfoundland I believe. The morning involved more talking, laughing, stretching, staying warm, multiple stops in the porta pots and texting friends and family. Then out of no where the announcements started for the opening of Wave 1. I got up, said my good lucks and good byes to Heather and our new friend. I checked my gear bag and headed over to corral #9.
The next hour flew by as I sat, stretched, hit up the porta johns a couple more times (okay, maybe I get a LITTLE nervous – I have to pee a million times before every race!). And then the race volunteers took down the ropes that separated the various waves and we began the short walk to the start line! I met another Michigander while waiting for the race to start and we engaged in small talk about the race, both of us being first-timers in NYC, and about how perfect the weather was and how excited we both were to run!
About 5 minutes before the National Anthem started I had to pee AGAIN! I knew I had a choice of holding it and finding a porta pot on the course, peeing myself, or I had one final chance to duck behind a bus and do my thang. I chose option three. I am really skilled at pulling my shorts to the side and doing my business without getting any urine on me or giving anyone a free show, I totally recommend adopting this strategy for any lady runners out there, since we don’t have the advantage of being able to pee into Gatorade bottles like our male counterparts at the Start Line.
I quickly jumped back into the crowd and elbowed my way to approximately where I was before and ended up standing next to a total hoot named Benji. He was from Canada and was completely cracking me up, he was PUMPED for this race! He wanted to go 3:15 and was just SO happy to be at the race.
The energy of the morning was then quieted as we were treated to a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, sung by a female police officer, and it literally gave me chills. While she was singing I was reminded of how lucky I was to be standing there, at that very moment about to tackle one of the greatest marathons in the world in one of my favorite cities. I was surrounded by thousands of people from all over the world and we were all brought together, in the same venue, wanting to accomplish the same thing, and there was only love, support and respect in the air. The rest of the world really could learn a few things from us marathon runners.
I didn’t think it was possible but the National Anthem pumped up everyone even more! Immediately following that the Elite Men were introduced, the start gun was raised and fired and a gentleman began crooning Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’. I almost got choked up running across the start line, but instead decided to sing along with the Sinatra wannabee and may have even given a few fist pumps.
And so began the journey.
The first mile I knew would be slow, it needed to be for me as I sometimes tend to start out a little too fast. Also, the start was congested and we were running up an incline. I decided not even to pay attention to my watch and enjoy the fresh air and the sights as running across bridges will allow for some pretty stellar views of the city! Seriously out of no where I was snapped out of my touristy state of mind and realized we were crossing the first mile marker: 9:00 flat. Hmm, a tad slower than I had hoped but I was presented with a decline in the second mile that I knew I could use to my advantage and I could easily make up some of those precious seconds later on in the race. I unfortunately missed the second mile marker completely but the split for the 3rd mile marker was 14:37 – an average pace of 7:18ish. We were back in business.
The rest of the first 13.1 miles I had the following splits:
mile 4: 7:41
mile 5: 7:22
mile 6: 7:34
mile 7: 7:22
mile 8: 7:35
mile 9: 7:44
mile 10: 7:20
mile 11: 7:36
mile 12: 7:31
mile 13: 7:27
13.1 split: 1:39:50
I am not kidding when I say the entire race felt like a complete blur. I’m sure if I got in a car and drove the course, nothing would look familiar. I didn’t dwell on my splits the entire first half of the race, I just ran at a comfortable pace, took Gatorade at every stop, took water at a few others and took a Gu at mile 6 and mile 13 and I high-fived as many kiddos as I could. I realized that if I could lock into this same pace, and maybe a bit faster, and everything went my way, sub-3:20 was in the bag, but I knew that anything had the potential of happening and I was prepared for the worse. I kept cruising along and then I was faced with the Queensboro Bridge at around mile 14.5. I felt I managed it well, but it did take some wind out of my sails.
mile 14: 7:40
mile 15: 7:58
mile 16: 7:51
mile 17: 7:34
mile 18: 7:32
mile 19: 7:37
After recovering from the aforementioned bridge I locked back into a quicker pace and was feeling pretty great, smiling, laughing, high-fiving more people. At some point during these miles we ran past someone blaring One Republic’s song ‘Good Life’ and it the point in the song where the chorus is repeating ‘Oh this has gotta be the good life’, and I know this may sound so lame and cheese ball, but it almost brought tears to my eyes. I never cared much for the song prior to that moment but my goodness it really was the perfect lyric for that moment in the race. I thought about how lucky I was and how GOOD life really is. It got me thinking about all the tough things I have faced in my life, and looking back at how strong I have become after conquering them. I immediately began reflecting on my father and I sent some prayers up to him and to God, and began asking them to watch over everyone that was racing, and everyone out there in the world struggling through something in their lives, that they too may overcome what strife comes their way and that they could have a moment like I was having that day to celebrate life through something they love to do. It truly was one of my most favorite moments of the race, it was beyond beautiful.
Then out of no where I began to feel a tad light-headed around mile 18. I realized I needed to take some Gu now or shit was about to hit the fan. Shortly after taking my Gu I felt better and continued trucking.
In high school my coach always talked about the ‘Monkey Jumping on Your Back’ – basically hitting the wall. Well the monkey chosen to follow me on race day decided to climb up my right leg during mile 20 and take a huge bite out of my IT Band. Like the snap of a finger I felt some intense pain from that region and it totally freaked me out. It freaked me out to the point that I let up on my pace a bit, I had 6.2 miles left to go and I was not about to have a repeat of the DNF in the 2008 Columbus Marathon due to some pesky IT Band issues.
mile 20: 8:06
mile 21: 8:07
mile 22: 8:01
mile 23: 7:56
During mile 23 I regained some confidence as the pain in my IT Band subsided and started to pick up the pace a bit again. Then BAM! The monkey climbed up my left side and took a huge bite out of me directly below my rib cage. Cramping. The most intense side cramp I ever endured decided to show up when I was running my best marathon of all time. Awesome. I did everything I could think of: putting pressure on the area, taking deeper, slower breaths, etc. But nothing worked. The faster I tried to run it felt like what I would imagine a knife going into your side would feel like. All thoughts of sub-3:20 and shiny new PRs went out the window and my sole focus was on survival and getting my tush to that finish line.
mile 24: 8:33
mile 25: 8:20
mile 26: 8:48
Total finish time: 3:24:55
I crossed the finish line and was overwhelmed with emotion. On one hand I had just set a new marathon PR on not the easiest of courses by 4 minutes and 20 seconds! On the other hand, I ran the entire race SO smart, I fueled and hydrated perfectly – so I thought, I didn’t stop to walk once. I smiled, I cheered on others, I high-fived hundreds of people, and it all felt so perfect and effortless until those last six miles, but the last three being the absolute worst. I was so looking forward to soaking up every second in Central Park, it was the part of the course I thought would be my favorite, but I didn’t get much of a chance to because all my thoughts were consumed by the blinding pain I had in my side.
I alternated between smiles and almost tears during the walk to get my medal, space blanket, bag of food and then eventually my bag at the gear check. I talked myself out of crying and had a mega-watt moment of clarity. Aside from my IT Band issue, my legs felt like gold during that race. In all previous marathons at some point the hip flexors start to scream, sometimes my lower back, in Boston my quads were torn to shreds. But not in NYC. I had SO much more left in the legs, it was the side cramp that got me in the end. This race gave me the final confidence boost that I needed to believe in myself that I do indeed have a sub-3:20 in me, and I will conquer that goal one day.
Then I got really excited, felt incredibly blessed and proud of my accomplishment for the day. I was able to walk back to the apartment we were staying for the weekend, just a few blocks from the exit of the finish and found my mom and gave her the biggest, sweatiest hug yet and she told me she loved me and was proud of me. Which really, in the end is all that matters.