I can point to the exact moment when I decided to run the NYC marathon. It was 2009 when Paula Radcliffe ran passed me near mile 8 of the NYC Marathon route. I came out early to watch the elites run, while gearing up to cheer a friend on, as she also ran the marathon later in the day. I held up a sign with the word “WINNER” as the elites ran by. I doubt any of them saw it, but it gave me a chuckle.
As Ms. Radcliffe and her rivals ran up 4th ave (there’s an incline on the way to the water station near mile 8), I was in awe of their elegance, their grace, their force, their power, and the determination on their faces. I was never an athlete, and my friends find it odd that I run marathons today, I was as prissy as they come and sweating was not something I wanted to do willingly. So it was the first time for me to witness such intensity, and it was alluring. I knew that I’d never be able to ever catch up with Ms Radcliffe (she ran a 10k in NYC while pregnant, I finished a good 20 minutes after her in that race). But the thought of running the same course, and reaching some level of intensity on the streets of New York as I saw that day, was something I was determined to do. Ms Radcliffe’s sprint up 4th ave remained an inspiration through the hot days and early morning training runs.
So let’s fast forward to 2013, when I got the chance to run that famous course. I was also scheduled to run in 2012 before it was canceled, so I felt as if I were training for this race for 2 years. The start was of course cold, the coffee, donuts and power bars were tempting, but I had the sense not try anything new-whew! Loading into my coral to start, I was still too numb with cold to feel anything. Walking on to the bridge I made the decision to just run by “feel” so you know how this ends. The canons go off, and I take off under the bridge, I’m in the equivalent of overflow room, the green wave and proud of it!
I take care to stay in the middle to avoid the mythical yellow rain from my thoughtful runners above, I jump over discarded clothes, come on people throw that stuff to the side! I waved at the police helicopter that kept a watchful eye over us. I tried to enjoy the rhythm of me and my fellow runners going up that 1 mile incline and enjoyed and lived in the moment. The first two miles felt like they were in slow motion, they were not, they were my fastest-oh no!
The crowds were thin, since we were running the first 4 miles on the annex route, but I appreciated the folks who did greet us as we came up from under the bridge, like trolls-just kidding. I also noted the number of male runners hosing down the first wall after the bridge-gross! I see the little kids smiling with their hands out and I cave in to the high fives and the hellos and the waves. So you can guess how I felt around mile 22. I couldn’t help it, they were all so cute and I felt so happy to be running, that I forgot the rule to conserve my energy.
By mile 5, I did realize that I needed to slow down a bit and I tried. The crowds in Brooklyn were amazing, they were the best and most supportive, ever! They really get into it. I put my name on my shirt so I heard my name for the entire route. People yelled my name with such conviction that I had to do a few double takes to make sure that I didn’t know them. They too were invested in me chasing Paula Radcliffe! The entire length of 4th ave was an emotional one for me, I kept thinking, “I’m really doing this” and it was awesome. I ignore the growing pain in my foot, said a little prayer that it will go away-it didn’t.
At the point where I’d watched Ms Radcliffe run pass me, my friend ran onto the course and I gave her a hug. It wasn’t planned and I only thought about it now, as I am writing this, wow! But she was at the same spot that I stood in 2009! I was glad to see her jumping up and down, after a blur of faces and cheers from hundreds of strangers. I gave her some of my unwanted layers (sorry but running clothes are expensive, I’m not throwing them away) and went on my way.
Brooklyn was the best, so many encouraging words, so many friendly and diverse faces all coming out to support what must be one of the craziest things to do on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a tradition for many-Marathon Sunday in NYC. Fort Greene was awesome and Williamsburg gave me one of my memorable chuckles. I heard my name and a loud cheer from a male voice. I don’t recognize the voice, but I look just to make sure, nope don’t know him, never saw him before in my life! But there he was yelling my name, giving me a thumbs up, smiling and winking. When we finally made eye contact, he said “you got this girl!” Ok, and I’m on my way again!
I start to feel fatigue near the Pulaski Bridge, and I knew that the Queensborough bridge was next. I checked in with the pain in my foot and it was getting worse. Apparently it started to rain, but I didn’t notice while I was running, I saw it as I watched the broadcast later that night. I run through Queens, a little tired but focused on getting past the Queensborough bridge and facing my nemesis- 1st ave.
I attended a Nike event a few days before the marathon and Joan Benoit was the guest speaker. She made the comment that the real race begins on the Queensborough bridge. She was right.
My two goals for the bridge, don’t stop and stay steady. It was on the Queensborough bridge that I felt alive. I felt every muscle working in unison to keep my body moving. I became aware of my breathing, my hair, my arms, my legs, my finger nails, my heart beat, my skin everything. I understood in that moment, the idea of the body as a machine. I also felt that any sudden change, even a slight turn of my head or a sneeze and my body would fall apart. I reached the ntensity that I was after on that bridge. It was also the most peaceful part of the course. I heard nothing but feet pounding the pavement and heavy breathing from my fellow marathoners, like a runners chorus.
Now to face my nemesis. 1st Ave. No matter the distance, staring down 1st ave where it looks like it will never end always messes with my head. I tried everything, looking at the crowds, looking down on my feet, even looking up. But it got the best of me around mile 19. I can’t recall, but it was right before entering the Bronx. A bio break, the long wait for a porta potty, and the intense pain in my feet, I HIT THE WALL!!
I made it over to the Bronx, and began to fall apart. I started to walk. At one point I did walk and I heard my name again. I looked to my right and there was a group of young girls encouraging me to start running again. As I did, they erupted in cheers, I ran until they were out of sight, then I started to walk again. Sorry girls but I didn’t have it in me.
The last 5 miles were painful and I saw my time goal slip through my feet and there was very little that I could do about it. I made it to the entrance of the park and I thought that entering the park would give me some renewed energy, but it didn’t. As I was negotiating with myself on the terms of my surrender, I heard the steady dribble from Dr Dribble, I passed him near 125th st and hoped that I wouldn’t see him again. But there he was bouncing two basketballs and full of energy. I had to give up that goal too. More people passed me, and I just resolved to finish the damn thing.
As I run/limp my way through the park, along 59th st and into the park again, I vow to never run a marathon again. I didn’t have the huge elation that people get at the end, I didn’t have that feeling of accomplishment immediately. I was drained and I could barely walk. I accepted my medal, and stayed on the dreadful march out of the park. I managed to take a few pictures, because I knew my feelings would change, and I wanted to have some pictures of my accomplishment. I tried to eat the apple from the recovery bag and I almost fainted, I tried drinking the gatorade, but almost threw up. I remember complaining to a friend that “we have been walking, like forever” and a woman next to us remarked that we had only gone 2 blocks. To me it felt like a million miles.
My mistakes, the first mile was my fastest 8:55-it should have been my slowest, so I was done before I started. My bio break, I should have been more aggressive with the line skippers and I need to figure out how to skip the bio break. What I thought was just pain from my sneakers was a fracture in my foot, that still hurts today. I didn’t get the NY TImes the next day and I really want it!!
I can laugh at it now, and I can say a few weeks later that I am proud of my accomplishment! I RAN (mostly) the friggin NYC Marathon! My time was 4:21, my goal time was 3:59:59. Since I am a girl who runs the world, I was on a plane the next day to Spain, my flight was filled with marathoners, they wore their medals for the entire flight, through baggage check and home I presume. I just wore my finishers sweatshirt, I left my medal behind.
OH AND I WILL RUN THE MARATHON AGAIN!! 2014, 3:59:59 or bust! Paula Radclffe, thank you for the inspiration.
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