"So is it true? Does running the marathon really make you fall in love with New York?" asked a guy in the elevator yesterday as I entered still wrapped in foil. "I've had friends who were planning on moving out of New York, ran the marathon, fell in love all over again, and ended up staying," he said.
"Absolutely," I replied with conviction.
New Yorkers are commonly stereotyped as an irate, impolite bunch. But nothing disproves this notion like marathon day. The support runners get from the people on the streets from Staten Island all the way to Manhattan is overwhelming and absolutely motivating. Little kids line the streets to give high fives and sit on their dad's shoulders in costume to share leftover Halloween candy. People brave the cold outside their homes to hand passing runners paper towels, tissues, candy and bottled water. All that and the indescribable feeling of running through avenue after avenue filled with people cheering you on and sincerely pulling for you to achieve your goal is nothing short of amazing.
Before I go into the blow by blow account, I'll get to the important thing first: I DID IT!!! I ran in my very first marathon and finished—not just hobbling on two feet but running like a bat out of hell. I'm a little disappointed that I missed my goal of finishing in under 5 hours. But finding out that I have quite a kick left in me even after 20+ miles of running is encouraging and gives me enough incentive to give marathons another go. So here are my official stats according to NYRR.
I wasn't able to stick to the 11-mile pace I had aimed for, but finding out that I have it in me to push for a 10:30 pace in the end just makes me want to train more and run a marathon better next time.
Thank you Bong and Bads for tracking our progress!
Now that I've gotten that out of the way for readers with short attention spans, I'll get down to the full account.
Despite waking up every hour on the hour from sheer nerves, I felt fresh when I finally got up at 6am, grateful for the extra hour of sleep via daylight savings time. I immediately had coffee and a Power Bar for breakfast, willing my digestive system to get going since I wanted to avoid a dreaded Porta-Potty situation—or worse (I actually saw a runner who had an "accident" during the race, so my paranoia was warranted)! As I got dressed, I watched the marathon coverage on TV. It was surreal to think that I was getting ready for that very same race and felt like I was living a dream while watching the marathon coverage. I could hardly believe that in just a few hours I was going to be running in that very race!
I have the good fortune of living within 8 minutes walking distance to the Staten Island Ferry, so getting to the race was stress-free for me. It didn't take too long before the ferry pulled into Staten Island and Verrazano Bridge came into view, sending a ripple of excitement through the ferry packed with marathon runners. We filed into buses and were deposited to the "villages" where we were to wait a good two hours before our scheduled start. Between chatting with my friend Jet, eating half a bagel, getting my pre-race photo taken, taking stops at the porta potty, and warming up, those two hours just flew by. Before I knew it, I was listening to the final strains of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," the gun for wave 3 had gone off, and our corral was trotting to the bridge. It all happened so quickly that I completely forgot to set my watch! Thankfully, Garmin's satellites seemed to be set to New York yesterday and found me in a couple of minutes. Just as I'd been told by those who'd run the NY marathons before, I didn't feel the uphill climb on the Verrazano from being so fired up with the crowd. I did make a conscious effort to stick to the pace I'd projected and not get carried away. Two memories stand out for me for this stretch: 1) the row of men peeing on the side of the bridge immediately at the end, and 2) a runner's t-shirt that said, "Why couldn't Philippides have died at mile 20?" A very funny thought indeed when you still have 25.2 miles of running ahead of you.
When we entered Brooklyn, I made sure I had on one of my favorite running songs: Jay-Z's "Brooklyn We Go Hard." And boy, do they. Brooklyn was an absolutely phenomenal stretch to run. Practically all of the streets were lined with spectators handing out everything from bananas to popsicle sticks slathered with Vaseline. I got my first big high on 4th Ave. nearing Atlantic Ave. when I suddenly heard my name being screamed on my left. It was my cousin Melissa and her boyfriend Ben, so I stopped to give them a quick (and sweaty) hug before running off. I remember being told once that little things like a sign or simply showing up to cheer makes such a big difference to someone running a marathon, and I couldn't fathom how that could be when the runner really only sees it for a second. But it is definitely true. The sight of loved ones and funny signs made just for me stayed in my mind for most of the run and made me smile when my body was doing its darndest to make me cry.
From Atlantic Avenue, we turned into Lafayette, which stood out in my mind as a really beautiful section of the run. This tree-lined avenue with its lovely brownstones and even lovelier crowds making a ruckus on the streets was absolutely amazing. There was even a school band at some point! From Lafayette, we went into Bedford Ave., where even the hipsters got in on the action. Another memorable moment for me was seeing a girl holding a sign that said "Fist Pump All the Way to the End" meet a runner wearing a shirt that said "It's T-shirt Time!" I was laughing for a good quarter of a mile after that.
The last time I ran on Pulaski Bridge, I must have been in severe pain because I don't recall being amazed by the view. This time though, I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful view of Midtown Manhattan—the sun glinting off the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, and the rows of skyscrapers set against a bright blue sky. As we got off Pulaski Bridge, I started to look out for friends who were supposed to be spectating. The first people I found were Tricia and Michele, who had these signs that just totally cracked me up:
Next were Alida and Buck, who ended up running with me for part of the way because I just ran past them. As we ran together, Buck said, "So how's it going? What have you been up to today?" To which I answered, "Oh not much, just running about two to three hours nonstop." The runner in front of me took a quick look back at us and got a big smile on her face from that conversation.
It was great to get that big boost from seeing my friends right then because we were heading towards one big hill that breaks many a marathoner: Queensboro Bridge. I wasn't too intimidated with it because I had a pretty strong run on the bridge during our 20-mile training run. But even though I didn't really suffer through it, I have to say damn, that bridge was long! I popped a gummy power gel, pumped up the volume on "Like a G6" on my iPod (awesome running song, by the way), and pounded on that hill, and soon enough I found myself in Manhattan.
Having lived on 62nd St and 1st Avenue for two years, I know what crazy energy this place has on marathon day. So I was particularly excited to finally be running on this road. For years I stood on that apartment's balcony and watched runners go by. But this year, my friends Tanya and Laudine stood there with signs and looked out for me in the sea of runners passing by.
I spotted them immediately, of course, since I knew where to look. But it took them awhile to register the tiny girl in all black waving her arms like mad from the middle of the street to catch their attention. When I finally did and they screamed, waved and showed their sign, I took off with another big boost of energy. Elsewhere on First Avenue, Diane and Ria looked out for Diane's hubby, Dwayne (who was one of my training buddies this season). What is it with us friends and all these signs about beer?
I was looking forward to seeing Adobo Club
's marathon-running chicken but somehow missed him. I must have hit the proverbial marathon "wall" at around this point because how in the world can anyone with 20-20 vision miss this?
By the time we reached Willis Avenue Bridge, I started to fade. This must have been the point where I hit the wall. "The Wall" is what runners call that point when the body uses up all the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles, and thereafter has to start digging into fat supplies. Since the body is less efficient at metabolizing fat than glycogen, it slows down and fatigue sets in. I didn't experience anything dramatic—no part of me went numb, cramps never set in, nor did I ever feel an overwhelming urge to just stop and sit down. My mind did, however, start to turn against me. Why the hell are you doing this? it asked. The only response I could muster was to continue putting one foot in front of the other. My legs felt heavier with every step. I wasn't just out of steam; it seemed I'd just lost all my joy, too. I ran at least 15 miles with a big smile on my face but by this time, I was over it all. I'm never doing this again, I thought bitterly.
And then a thought occurred to me. These thoughts used to come to me at mile 10 during my half marathons. Now they're hitting me at mile 20. I had gone so far, and if I push through I'll only come out stronger. If there's anything I've learned from these last few months it's this: Every time it seems that I've given all I've got, I've always found that I have more to give.
It started with a firm conviction to just keep on going. I just kept running, telling myself I only had 6 more miles to go. I'd gone into regular runs feeling more exhausted than I did now. I was certain I had it in me to get through 6 more miles.
So I ran. And before I knew it, I was crossing the 23-mile mark. I felt that familiar old gear kick in and I knew that I could now run my heart out. Somehow I just knew that I had enough energy stored up to keep going until I crossed the finish line. I learned later that I unknowingly zipped past several groups of friends who were waiting on Central Park South. I had my iPod turned up high, I was loaded up on energy gels, and I was downright determined to just finish.
As I crossed the finish line, I realized what song was blasting on the speakers: "Empire State of Mind." I could not have picked a more appropriate song to run to end this amazing journey to. Less than a year ago, running in and completing the New York City Marathon seemed to be the most unattainable goal. But there is just something about this city that makes you believe and feel in your bones that anything is possible, so you go for what once seemed unfathomable. You dare to dream. And just as liberally as it dispenses dreams, New York also gives us all these amazing opportunities to prove to ourselves what strong stuff we're made of.
Again, thank you so much to all our friends who came out in full force to support us and celebrate with us. We couldn't have done it without all of you!