New York City Marathon 2016 Race Recap

11.08.2016


This past weekend I ran the NYC Marathon.

It's weird to type that or say it or think it right now. Growing up in Connecticut, I thought that NYC was the only marathon. I didn't even realize that other marathons existed until I was a teenager. And even then, I kind of felt like other marathons didn't really matter.

I entertained the idea of running it off and on throughout my high school cross country years and into my early 20s and then almost-seriously considered it when I lived in Manhattan. But I never thought I could or would actually ever really do it. When I left New York and moved to San Diego in 2010, I left any notions of running New York behind too.

Then, earlier this year, I entered the lottery on a whim. I had a lot of different reasons for doing so, but I still don't think I really expected to get in. After all, over 85,000 people entered the lottery and they offer spots to less than 20% of entries. Plus, it was my very first time entering the lottery! Deep down I figured that if I didn't get in and found myself bummed out about it, that I would keep entering and shoot to get a guaranteed entry after getting rejected three years in a row. But on March 8th, I received a charge on my credit card for $255.

I had been accepted into the NYC Marathon.

Since then, it's been a long road to New York: five months of training, over 350 training miles logged and 20+ Saturday mornings spent sweating in the summer sun all over San Diego.

And it was all completely, absolutely worth it.

New York City is the best marathon in the world.

The Day Before
At 5:29am PDT, my phone rang. It was my dad, letting me know that he was outside and ready to take Ryan and I to the airport for our 7am flight to New York. His phone call could only mean one thing: it was time to wake up and pack.

Yes, I am the idiot who wakes up and packs for a NYC Marathon weekend 90 minutes before her flight takes off.

One panicked, disorganized "I don't even know what I threw in there but I know I have my sneakers" packing session and one fridge cleaning later (it's almost impossible for me to leave home for several days without doing a quick sweep of the fridge) and we were on the road. We boarded our plane, I ate a whole bag of gummy bears for breakfast and more or less slept for the entire five hour flight to New York.

Fall foliage!

As we started to descend, I started to feel the adrenaline rush of anxiety kick in: we were landing at JFK at 3:30pm EST and I had to get to the Javits Center to pick up my bib by 5pm. This is what I believe they call, "cutting it close."

Since we didn't (I almost never) check bags, we power-walked off the plane and headed straight for a taxi. Luckily there was no taxi line and we hopped right into a cab. And then we sat in traffic for an hour and ten minutes.

So close, yet so far

Here's the thing: it's not like missing bib pickup would have prevented me from running the race. But it would mean that people likely wouldn't be able to track me and that it may be harder to get my official time and photos, etc. afterward. It was just a shitty inconvenience that I was really hoping to avoid and not have kickoff my marathon weekend. 

As luck (which seems to be a theme) would have it, I got to the Expo with about 10 minutes to spare. I marched up, got my bib, and instantly felt the knots in my stomach untangle. 




Bib procured, we breezed through the rest of the Expo, then headed across town to our strategically selected Kips Bay AirBnB, all the while enjoying watching the sun set against the buildings. 




Our home for the weekend

Once we set our bags down, it was late and time to hit the hay.

Just kidding! This is the city that never sleeps and besides, I was on Pacific time. So we immediately Ubered to Astoria to meet my brother and Claire and his friends for dinner, then cabbed over to Flushing to stop by a party my cousin Chris and his wife were hosting. We got home around midnight and I don't think I've ever slept so well the night before a race.

The Morning Of
After reading a number of race recaps last year, I knew that there was no need to rush to the starting village only to sit around in the cold. So when it came time to pick my transportation options way back when, I selected the 8am Staten Island ferry option to the starting line. Waking up on Sunday morning I could not have been any happier with my decision.

Not only was I jetlagged, but it was also Daylight Savings Time, so we'd fallen behind an hour. Meaning that I had no idea who I was, where I was or what time it was when I woke up in Manhattan on Sunday morning.

But I was me, I was in my old New York City neighborhood, about to run the f#$%ing New York City Marathon and it was 6:30am EST. Time to do the damn thing.

I showered, was pleasantly surprised that I managed to pack everything I needed (go me!), got dressed, kissed Ryan goodbye and headed outside. Race day was finally here!



As soon as I stepped outside I knew that the luck that had been with me ever since getting in during my very first NYC entry lottery had persisted. It was the most perfect fall running day a girl could ask for. Crisp, cool and gorgeously sunny.

Because I was getting close to my designated ferry departure time, I decided to pass on waiting for a subway and instead flagged down a taxi and headed to the Whitehall Ferry terminal. I had the cab let me out right outside of a Starbucks and I ran inside for a cold brew coffee and a pop tart before joining the hundreds of runners heading for their ferry.





Inside, it quickly became evident that your assigned ferry time didn't seem to matter much. They were just shepherding hundreds of runners onto whichever ferry came next and no one was checking assigned times. In conclusion, I had cabbed over for nothing. Ugh.

It took me about 15 minutes from the moment I got to the outside of the terminal to get through the lines, buy a Clif bar for breakfast, and get onto my ferry. I immediately headed for the right side of the upper deck, since I knew that would offer the best photo ops for the skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

Unfortunately, about 500 other people had the same idea, so I couldn't get  very close. I snapped a few shots that I was happy with and then posted up inside and started sipping my coffee.





After we docked, runners flooded the terminal as we all tried to merge up the stairs and into the Runners Only bus lines for the busses that would take us to the Starting Village. All in all, it was probably about 15-20 minutes between getting off the ferry and getting onto a bus. And in that time, I stood shivering in the cold Staten Island wind.


The line for the busses

Once I got on the bus though, I was in heaven. I had a comfy window seat on a warm bus, coffee  in hand and my breakfast. I settled in for what I thought would be a brief 15 minute ride through the borough and then watched the anxiety of other runners around me ratchet up as we crept through the streets of Staten Island for over an hour.

Because I was in the last wave of the last start time, I wasn't worried at all. But I felt bad for the people who had to use the bathroom and for the runners who hadn't gotten a seat and had to stand the whole time. Head's up: if a bus is full, don't opt to stand, just wait for a seat on the next one. These runners definitely regretted tiring out their legs on the hour-long journey.

Eventually we made it to the Starting Village and piled out of the bus, went through security and made the half mile walk towards our corrals. I stopped for one final PortaPotty break and then made it into my corral 15 minutes before it closed. All in all, the timeline worked out like this: I left the apartment at 7:40am and didn't make it into my corral until 10:30am... almost three whole hours to get from Midtown to the starting line. Take note, future runners!






Over the next half hour, I inched my way towards the lower deck starting line on the Verrazano Bridge, chatted with a nice first time marathoner named Cory and fought back tears as one of our fellow marathoners sang God Bless America over the speaker system. The canons fired, Sinatra came over the loudspeaker and off we went... I was officially running the New York City Marathon.




The First 10 Miles
At this point, I should mention that right before the race started, during the announcer's pre-race banter he referred to the first mile of the course, the incline on the Verrazano Bridge, as the toughest hill of the race. That is when I lamented for the 90th time that morning that I had done zero hills training in over a month.



As I stepped over the starting line and into my marathon, I braced myself for what I've heard many refer to as a tough hill and thus, a really tough start to the race. I started running and I waited and waited and waited for the hill to begin. And suddenly, I noticed that I was going downhill and it was almost the end of the bridge.

That's when I remembered: New York City has no "hills."

Not to be a jerk about it, but a "hill" in New York City is laughable to someone who trained in San Diego. It's barely an incline! This was the point that I knew I was going to have the best marathon experience ever. Spoiler alert: I wasn't wrong.

With two miles under my belt as I exited the bridge, my immediate priorities were to find a bathroom and to take my long sleeve shirt off and reattach my bib to my tank top. I had to pee so bad that I considered ducking to the sides of the highway with all the dude runners. Somehow I managed to hold it until I found the PortaPotties just before the 3-mile marker. I also got my clothing situation taken care of and, finally comfortable, I headed into Brooklyn where I got my first taste of the support experience that makes New York City the best marathon in the world.


For the first six miles, I was averaging about a 11'40" mile, which was much slower than my training times. I attribute this to the sheer number of fellow runners around me... it would have been exhausting and endless to try and bob and weave through the hundreds of runners in my immediate vicinity, so I didn't even bother... I just kept pace with the crowd.

Honestly though? I didn't really mind. It was a gorgeous day, I had so much energy and I was content just to soak it all in. By about Mile 7 or 8, I felt so good that I was almost certain I would be able to pick it up once the crowd thinned out and PR for the day. I was invincible!

Meanwhile, the crowd support was just insane: choirs, bands, rappers, cheering from every angle, from both the streets and the windows above... I made the decision right then and there that NYC may be the only marathon worth running.


The Next 10 Miles
Unfortunately, that feeling of invincibility didn't last forever. Whether it was the 238539 political themed signs draining my energy or simply the fact that I was undertrained, I started to feel the first pangs of discomfort and doubt around Mile 11. Too tired to fight against the wall of runners who immediately stopped to walk the Pulaski Bridge at the half marathon mark, I walked with them into Queens.

Luckily, I had some motivation to start running again before Mile 14: Ryan, my brother Mike, his girlfriend Claire and their friends Daryn and Lara were waiting for me somewhere on Mile 14 and I didn't want them to catch me walking. And then, just before the dreaded Queensboro bridge, I saw them giving me all the support I needed to head into the back half of the marathon.

Waving to my crew!

Despite the high I got from seeing Ryan, Mike and Claire, I couldn't help but give in to walking on the Queensboro along with almost everyone else. I stopped to snap a pic of the skyline from the bridge and walked almost all of Mile 15, the pain in my legs and feet getting worse with almost every step. I watched as a runner collapsed and was carried away by an emergency vehicle and I realized that we were all really in the thick of it now. The next 11 miles would be something!


But I did have one thing in my favor: the deafening support from the insane crowd as I rounded off the bridge and into Manhattan and Mile 16. Supporters had packed the sidewalks five or six people deep and were screaming their lungs out. It gave me the energy I needed to make it to the med tent at Mile 18 where I finally caved and asked for aspirin. I got the last packet they had at that station, took them and then sat to stretch for about five minutes or so.


Around this time, the sun started setting and it started getting a little cold again, so I pulled on my long sleeve shirt over my arms only and proceeded to walk and run interchangeably over the next two miles until I reached the Bronx.

And then, miraculously, the aspirin kicked in, I got my second wind and I decided to attempt to run all the way to the finish line.

The Last 6.2 Miles
Even though they were starting to peter out with the sun, the crowd in the Bronx and in Uptown Harlem were amazing. I almost cried tears of joy when I ran past all of the "Last Damn Bridge!" signs as I made my final trip back into Manhattan and I wanted to stop and dance with the incredible block party going on in Harlem. But I pressed on down Fifth Ave and into the final stretch in Central Park.

All around me everyone was walking and I watched as two more runners were carted off the course after collapsing. I felt horrible for them, getting so close and not being able to finish. It's moments like those that make you grateful for the pain you feel because it means your body is still working... you're still standing.

I knew I would see Ryan, Mike, Claire and my mom at some point in Central Park, so the promise of seeing them made it easier to keep my promise to myself to not walk again until the end. And then, a little over half a mile from the Finish Line, I saw them and got the boost I needed to finish strong.



As I came down the final stretch, I was pretty overwhelmed. I felt great, I felt emotional and I felt relieved. And then I felt overjoyed. I did it, with an unofficial time of 5:48:04!

Sure, I averaged 13 minute miles for the last six miles and ok, yeah, I finished this race 11 minutes slower than my first marathon, but you know what? I don't really care. I had an amazing day, I still had a lot of energy left and I was about to use it to celebrate with some of the people I love the most.


One last selfie!

Taking a bite out of the Big Apple!

The Last 1.5 Miles
Wait, what? 

If you're confused, think about how I felt. Moments after finishing the race and getting my medal, I was informed that we'd be walking for about a mile to get out of Central Park and then who knows how long to meet up with our supporters. Seriously?

There wasn't much to be done about this fact so I zombie-walked in my heat blanket with the rest of my fellow finishers and started systematically consuming everything in the recovery bag they'd handed me. 


It took forever to get out of the park and past the crowds down Columbus to find Ryan and my family, but eventually we found each other outside of Lincoln Center, where they were waiting with hugs and flowers and smartphones to help us find the nearest place where I could consume pizza and beer. 



The rest of the night was an incredible celebration. New Yorkers congratulated me when I walked past them, the restaurant applauded when I walked in, I ate my weight in bread, pizza and Peroni and then hugged my family goodbye before Ryan and I headed to Brooklyn for the night.

After dinner, Ryan and I went to meet up with two of my favorite New Yorkers: my Hunter classmates, Bill and Kaitlyn. Seeing them was a highlight in of itself. Then we made one final journey to see my friend Marty play some music in a jam session at Bar Chord. I ate second dinner at a diner at 2am, had one too many GNT's and fell asleep on the cab ride home. It was just like old times... AKA the only way to close out a New York City weekend. 


Words (even this many) can't really express what an amazing experience this marathon was though, so I may need to dedicate a second post to the magic of the New York City marathon and some of my more cohesive thoughts about it.

But I will repeat this: in my opinion, the New York City Marathon is the only marathon worth running. I may still not love New York, but I can say without a doubt that the New York City Marathon has won my heart. 
FitnessFatale said...

Congrats!!! It was an amazing race - tough but amazing! I agree the hills are nothing compared to San Diego but those crowds are an obstacle on their own!

I envy your fly by the seat of your pants pre- race style!

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