My New York City Marathon
I’ve run the New York City Marathon, and more than that I did it in a time I can be proud of and I managed to enjoy myself for about 90% of the time. So let’s get the time out of the way, final official time was 04:30:22. We ran a very even race up to around 30km or where admittedly we “crashed and burned”. I’m just glad for all the moments I had along the way, the sights, the shouts, the words of encouragement and countless high fives.
So, what was it like? I can safely say it was one of the best experiences of my life. It’s a magic mix, the perfect race cocktail. You have the backdrop of one of the most famous skylines in the western world coupled with amazing fans, who don’t just stand there, but shout, encourage call your name (even if they can’t say it right) and finally it’s hard, as cocktails go New York is a stiff one, the course sneaky, it’s up and down but not in not great steep slopes but gently drags up so by the time you’re halfway up you’re thinking,”oh crap this is a hill and we’ve been running up it too fast for a while now”.
We started off from Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, after a very early rise of 5am. I wasn’t tired, the adrenaline was already pumping. The rain held off and I enjoyed just sitting at the start area in my pre-race warm clothes and watching everyone getting ready. The area had a strange atmosphere, grown men looking very nervous, people alone, others in groups. The air was cold and now and then I caught a whiff of things that smelled like Vapo rub and Deep Heat, people rubbing potions vigorously into still sleeping muscles. I’d never seen so many men rub all kinds of things into all kinds of places in all my life. I ended up looking at my shoes. A man sat next to me and he had printed all his (ambitious) split times on a strip of paper which he planned to put around his wrist. The funny thing was he was so nervous and cold his hands were shaking and he couldn’t manage to get the ends of the strip to meet so he could tape them. I helped him out and he managed a “thank you” and” good luck” in very broken English. That made me feel much better, in a strange way this encounter was enough to signal that the day would be a good one.
Finally, after an eternity of waiting,we made our way to our corral at 10am. Full of adrenaline, people were inpatient to get into the start, feeling that they would be late, they became frustrated and more aggressive. A man controlling entry into our corral was shouting “stand back” and I got a whole Titanic feeling, expecting that we be called dogs at any moment. He needed to be like this though, it seemed people who are so wound up are really difficult to control and this firmness was just another aspect of how wonderfully prepared and organised the whole race was. I hadn’t queued at a toilet for more than five minutes and each question asked was answered in a polite way. Thanks to the volunteers and great race direction we managed to get to the start safely and on time.
Americans are unafraid to embrace the moment and indulge in the cliche, I was happy to have stood at the start and heard Sinatra’s “New York” blasted out over the speakers. This was followed by the Star Spangled Banner, and with another blast we were off. At last the towering Verrazano Narrows bridge was bearing down over us, thousands of heads bobbing, a sea of color stretching out ahead of us into a grey New York morning, a helicopter hovering snapping shots. For once, I thought I’m in the photo of something great, not looking at it from the outside. Crossing that bridge is a moment which much is made of but, take my word, this one is all that they say it is. I snapped this image with my phone, all I can think when I see it is how poorly pictures communicate the experience. If you stood still, you could feel the bridge bounce under the weight of thousands of runners passing over it.
We kept a steady pace, around 5:30 and as we crossed from Staten Island, dodging the discarded jackets strewn along the way, we were welcomed by a crowd much bigger than I expected. The shouts and cheers were loud, and I thought, they must have been shouting for a while already-nice that they keep at it for us. For the entire course, the support along the sides of the route was staggering. People clapped, shouted and encouraged. In Europe we often complain that Americans are loud, but I wouldn’t have them any other way for this day. They are the best running supporters I’ve ever seen.
I cannot recollect all the faces, scenes and moment I had. I can only think that I liked the children along the way, who saw our race as a big game for them to get high fives, even the five Jewish girls dressed in matching navy coats and black ribbons in their hair, who we passed as we ran through the Orthodox Jewish part of Brooklyn. They were the only real supporters in that area, though I noticed they had drawn their sleeves over their hands so as to touch and not be touched.
I also have the distinct memory of a very old man playing Sinne Fianna Fáil (the national anthem of Ireland) on the accordion as we passed through Queens. At once he represented the old Irish of New York, the emigrants of the 50′s and indeed the many generations before, whose old territories are now filled with Spanish and Irish accents are few and far between. He was alone, faltering on his instrument and though I was at the other side of the road, and his song drifted away as I ran on, I was touched and sad for him. But everything passes in running.
The way out of Queens is the Queensboro bridge, it is something I had read about it, a place where marathons went to die. I thought of it as a danger point, something to be treated with respect and approached with a plan. It has a slope up into it that you have to take your time at and this whole challenge comes at a part of the race where the body starts to tire.
In fact what made the Queensboro bridge so hard was not the incline, the concrete surface, length or closed in feeling created by the low celing- but it’s silence. At this point we had been lavished with support through Queens and Brooklyn and suddenly I had the feeling that we, all of us runners, were alone. With no crowds to shout, cheer and distract us, the Queensboro bridge allowed us all to look inward, to feel our legs, to note our fatigue to think and worst of all, to doubt ourselves. Many walked this section, and though the Man mentioned discomfort in his calves here I knew we could run it, I felt the bridge would have won if we walked. I guess I was just stubborn. The surface of the bridge is concrete and running it was draining. It seemed like the ground just absorbed our energy like a sponge taking everything out of us and giving nothing back. We were relieved to reach the steep decline at the end of it and run into the what only can be called a festival. First Avenue, was filled with cheering and sound all the way up to it’s sky ceiling.
It was tempting here to speed up, to be carried away on a tide of cheers, but I kept an eye on the watch and we kept pace. We had taken two gels already water at every second station. I felt happy here, not as fresh as in Queens and Brooklyn but good, strong enough to tell myself I was going to finish this race. But again, the crowds thinned and we made our way off the island of Manhattan by way of the Williams Avenue Bridge. The Bronx, a place famous for being bad was welcoming. The people were bemused and yet supportive, and I had the chance to steady myself, to ready myself. It was quieter here, and it was good because I wanted to get my mind in order, that I still had a long way to go, and there was no stopping.
For that time in the Bronx I want to thank whoever put on that Jay Z / Alicia Keyes song Empire State of Mind at a tight corner, just before we made our way out. It lifted me so much I couldn’t believe it. At that moment it was the best thing for me. I was back running on air. I think it will be my marathon song…
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There’s nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York!!!
These streets will make you feel brand new,
the lights will inspire you,
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York
From the leaving of the Bronx I cannot really remember alot of details, I know there were crowds but I all can remember is that supporter at the side of the road near the rail said “I can’t believe how many are walking” we kept running. I was afraid at this point if I changed anything, if I didn’t just keep running I would just drop. Finally we made it to the entrance of Central Park and I strangely thought, we are nearly there. That road to the line, seemed to go on forever. Slight inclines and declines, crowds, bends, I just kept looking for a finish line, the Man asked how I was and I honestly could not muster the energy to answer. My stomach wretched, either from having too much or too little of something and I didn’t care anymore what it wanted. I was aware that I was cold and that my lips felt hard. We kept seeing signs saying miles, and I wanted to argue with someone every time I saw one-how can it still be that far? Finally a sign saying 800 meters, and I thought oh god, twice around a track. So I tried to imagine being back at the track in the club I used to go to and to run it twice. To not be in New York , to just run around the track twice.
The finish came, and my tired hand found the Man’s as we passed over the line in 04:30:23. I was so tired. I felt so sick but strangely my legs didn’t burn like the times they had when I trained with 30km. I had felt worse after training than I did after the marathon. I was sad that the woman at the end matter-of-factly handed me my medal. I wanted her to put it on me. I took it and held it like nobody would get it out of my hand again. After a while I put it on- I ran it myself, I gave myself my own medal.
A wave of emotion and nausea came and went. We eventually left the park to search for a cab home- we never found one. Having walked for over an hour, we got a subway back to our friends’ place. The walk had done us good and loosened our legs. As we sat on the subway on the way home, people stared at us, probably wondering what madness we suffered from to make us run that far, and I wished each one of them could know that feeling- to have worked so hard so long for something and for it all to come right on the day. To have a dream come true.
For days afterwards, a slow motion to sit down, a grandma pace down the subway stairs or a need to grab the handrail to stand up, marked out the marathoners from the common folk. I exchanged a knowing smile with many, we only looked broken, inside we knew we were stronger.
The cherry on the cake was seeing my name listed in the New York Times November 2nd, if you finish within a certain time they print your name and finishing time. I bought two copies and boy, that was nice to see.
Running Stats: New York City Marathon
Shoes: GEL-KAYANO 15, ASICS short sleeve t-shirt and 3/4 tight and invaluable KAYANO socks. (My feet finished perfectly intact)
3.5 Power gel packets and lots of water. Should have had more water I think.
Avg Pace: 6:05
Calories Burned: 4,850
Location: 5 Kilometers
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