Everything they say about the NYC Marathon is true. It’s massive. It’s loud. It’s one of the toughest marathon courses. And it’s truly amazing. It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had and a top highlight of my distance running career, but it also came close to breaking me. Here’s what went down.
We arrived in the city Saturday morning after a quick train ride from CT where we stopped Friday to visit with family. It was a gorgeous day and New York was extra busy with thousands of runners from all over the planet getting ready for the biggest road race in the world. After dropping our bags at the hotel we headed to the Javits Center for the marathon expo. The line was already long for the ID check/ bib pick up but we moved quickly and I was very proud of myself for thinking ahead and not bring a purse that would have to be inspected. It was clear right away that security was extra tight for all of the weekend’s activities.
Walking up to the booth to get my bib packet, I got a little emotional. It’s been a while since I’ve been a part of a big marathon like this and after last year’s cancellation and the events in Boston this spring I was simply overwhelmed to finally be in NY for the race and hold my bib number.
I was able to go to sleep early on Saturday night after dinner with friends and with the time change I could have easily slept a full 8 hours but excitement and anxiety kept me up a good part of the night. Around 4:30 I gave up and began my morning by trying to get down some food. We were scheduled for the 7:00 am ferry to Staten Island and wanted to leave the hotel by 6:15 but had plenty of time to make sure all the bags were packed and gear was in place. I did have a quick freak out when I put on my watch and it said 6:20. I looked at Jared and yelled, ‘OH MY GOD, we’ve got to get go….Oh right, the time changed’. A while later we arrived at the ferry terminal with plenty of time. There was a quick moving line for security and the officer checking everyone’s bags had a good sense of humor. He was making comments like ‘you need more powerade’, ‘Go get some more food’ and when he saw the blanket I packed to sit on in the village he said ‘Are you here to run or to sleep?!’ It was some very well timed comic relief.
Before I knew it we were on the ferry on our way to Staten Island. About half way there I got up to see the view. I turned to my right and there she was, The Statue of Liberty, welcoming us on our way to the start. It suddenly hit me that the day had finally arrived and in just a few hours I would be running the NYC Marathon. After the boat docked we walked a ways to some shuttle buses that would take us to the athlete’s village. The buses drove through Staten Island and I while I looked around I thought about how the people in the neighborhoods we were driving by may have been affected by Sandy just a year before.
The travel time from when we left the hotel to when we arrived in the village was a lot longer than I expected but it cut down on the time we spent just sitting outside in the village so I didn’t mind at all. We found a place to set up camp for an hour or so and did a lot of people watching. We were bundled up well with our throwaway clothes but everyone seemed to have hats that were being given out by Dunkin’ Donuts. How everyone in the village but Jared and I received a hat I’ll never know but we had some pretty severe hat envy.
Jared and I wanted to at least try to run the beginning of the race together but he was in the first wave so he decided to start in the second wave with me (the cut off for wave 1 was bib 18999 and I was 19003). We found our way to the right coral and started shedding our throwaway layers. It wasn’t nearly as cold as I thought it might be so taking off the layers wasn’t as painful as it sometimes can be. At the start Miss New York sang God Bless America and the canon went off to mark the start of the second wave. Frank Sinatra’s New York New York played as we began our run and I couldn’t help but dance a little. Jared and I were both a little giddy and he mentioned that we should remember this feeling in a few hours when we might possibly begin falling apart.
The race begins on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in country and a 2 mile climb into Brooklyn. We were lucky enough to start on the top of the bridge with an incredibly view of the city. Helicopters hovered at the bridge and I saw people stopping on the bridge divider taking photos of the incredible scene of the sea of runners. We were running about an 8:40 pace and I was a little concerned that this might be too fast to start but I wanted to stay with Jared as long as I could and this was my final race of the year so I was free to push myself.
We came off the bridge and were greeted by Brooklyn. Possibly everyone in Brooklyn. I had heard that the crowds along this course would be intense but nothing could have prepared me for what it would actually look like. The streets were packed with people cheering on the runners and there was music in the form of live bands and DJ’s at least every mile. Before leaving for the race I had thought about bringing my ipod just in case I needed music along the way but I decided to leave it behind knowing there would be plenty of entertainment on the course. It kept me motivated and I was able to stay on a very consistent pace of about 8:43. There were several times I was thankful I wasn’t wearing headphones like at mile 8 when I heard someone call out LAURA and when I turned around it was my friend Laurie. It was the first familiar face I saw on the course and it felt great to have her cheering for me. Around mile 10 the course quieted down a bit since we were entering the Hasidic Jewish Community but not long after we entered Williamstown and the crowd was louder than ever. I specifically remember a DJ playing Poker Face (still my favorite song of the 21st century so far) but you could barely hear it over the crowd cheering. The race seemed to be going by so quickly and every time I looked down at my watch we were at least another half mile in. I was working hard and thought about slowing down but kept pushing myself. This was the NYC Marathon and the race I had been looking forward to for almost two years. It wasn’t going to be easy but I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I gave this race everything I had. I kept pushing and focused on keeping up with Jared.
We headed onto the Queensboro Bridge and for the first time in the race I could hear footsteps. There were no crowds and no cheering, just the runners and the bridge. The bridge is less than 1.5 miles but it seemed to take forever. I was struggling with a bit of knee pain and starting to lose Jared in the crowd. I figured this might be the time when I just let him go and I start to fall back but I could still see his bright green shirt and toward the end of the bridge I caught him again. He asked if I was ready for the ‘wall of sound’ that we were about to hear as we got ready to run into Manhattan and I told him ‘Yes, I need some love’.
Racing onto 1st avenue the sound of the crowd was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. I knew among the cheering spectators would be our family and friends and I couldn’t wait to see them. Somewhere along mile 17 and 18 we found Jared’s family, and our friends Lisa and Marcus and then Chrissy and Brian and then down a few more blocks my Mom and Dad. I was hoping that seeing all of them would give me the burst of energy I needed to stay strong the next 8 miles but shortly after Jared had to ask me if I was okay and the only true response I could come up with was ‘well, I’m going to finish’. He disappeared into the crowd of runners ahead and by the time I reached mile 19 I couldn’t see his green shirt anymore. These last 7 miles I would be on my own.
My pace was now dropping every mile and while I had hopes of keeping my average at 9:00 to finish in under 4 hours, that was becoming more and more difficult. The next several miles were somewhat of a blur but I distinctly remember coming close to being hit by a shopping cart in Harlem. This woman did have the patience for the marathon to go by and she had a cart of groceries that simply could not wait. I put my hand out (literally grabbing her package of toilet paper) to stop her from crossing in front of me and tried to get out of her way as fast as I could. At mile 22 I would take my 4th and last Gu of the race, signifying that I was almost there and hoping that a bit of nutrition would give me the energy I needed to finish strong. My pace per mile was now dropping to 9+ and I knew a finish line time under 4 hours was slipping away. At mile 23 I desperately searched the crowd for my father’s ‘Run for Research’ hat – its bright orange and usually easy to spot. I finally caught sight of them and asked for a hug. It felt so good to have them embrace me, both emotionally and physically since a little bit of pressure felt amazing on my aching back. I told them I loved them and thanked them for coming. It was time to press on into Central Park and finish this race.
In previous marathons I have felt a bit of relief in the last couple of miles. The finish is almost in sight and I just have to find the strength to run for another 20 minutes or so. I searched deep for the last bit of energy to finish NY and found next to nothing. Out of nowhere I felt someone touch my shoulder at mile 24 “Oh my God – Laura”, it was my friend Amie. She too had run a marathon earlier this season and had hoped to finish NY in under 4. We tried to run the rest of the race together but my legs were finished and I had nothing left but a shuffle.
I crossed the finish line of the 2013 NYC Marathon in 4:01:47. It wasn’t the finish I had imaged but the truth is I had not recovered quite enough from Smuttynose and I probably went out too fast. I could give a million reasons why I didn’t finish under four hours but at the end of the day, its just not the race I ran. I can’t pretend that a part of me isn’t disappointed but I also can’t deny that I gave this race everything I had.
After crossing the finish line and getting wrapped in my space blanket I navigated the crowd as best I could. Approaching the medical tent I thought about going in for fluids but wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to hanging out there for too long. I opted to sit down on bench with several runners in the same boat as me – not bad enough to go to medical but not okay enough to keep walking. I ate some pretzels and decided to press on. The walk seemed to take forever, partly because it was long way and partly because I could barely move my legs. Eventually I made it out to wear they were distributing the much anticipated NYC Marathon Parka to those of us who chose the no baggage option. The parka was FREAKIN’ AMAZING. The fleece lined magic coat felt so good and kept me warm as I walked the last 8 blocks or so to where I would be meeting my friends.
The rest of the day was a struggle. I tried to eat some food, hydrate and enjoy a beer while we celebrated but my legs were too achy to sit or stand for too long. When it was time to go I did my best to keep up with my friends heading back to the hotel. I
almost totally might have cried a little in the subway trying to get down the stairs. Back at the hotel I was able to relax a little bit and take a nice hot shower before heading out again for some dinner and to enjoy New York. I thought for sure that I would have to leave my friends early because I was so tired and achy but a couple of glasses of wine and a lot of laughing took the edge off.
Monday morning I woke up early and could barely walk to the bathroom. My whole body hurt as I tried to make my way around the hotel room to pack up my things. We met friends for lunch at a favorite hot dog joint in Alphabet City and wore our new medals all over town – not just to brag but as an excuse for hobbling at an excruciating pace in a city that likes to move quickly. We got some great looks from non-runners watching us walk around. They all gave that sympathetic pouty smile and congratulated us (I assume for finishing the marathon but it might have been for making it across the street before the light changed).
Days later I could still barely walk and my body felt like I had fallen down a flight of stairs or some other kind of trauma. It was awesome. With every achy step I knew that the soreness is from giving every ounce of strength and effort to this race. It was ambitious to take on two marathons in 4 weeks and I’m not sure I knew what I was getting myself into. I did my very best with what I had on race day. Mission Accomplished.
On the Monday morning after race day, a New York Times headline appropriately read ‘Off Without A Hitch’. The 2013 NYC Marathon was an enormous event with 50,740 starters making it the largest marathon field ever. The security was extra tight after the events in Boston in April and an estimated 2 million spectators lined the course to help us reach the finish line. This wasn’t my best race but it might be my new favorite and its definitely one I am most proud of.
Thank you New York City – I couldn’t have done it without you!