I spent the week leading up to the New York City Marathon thinking about many of my “worst case scenarios” for race day.
Ignore the fact that I hadn’t totally “properly trained” by most peoples’ standards — I did enough long runs and got enough miles in, but there was nothing that even slightly resembled speed work, hill training or anything other than “junk miles with tons of bathroom stops.” I was actually OK with that, and my concerns were never about whether I could finish the run.
My concerns were also, somehow, not pertaining to the fact that I had no pace plan, no fueling plan for race morning or during the race, and zero expectations for how this race would go.
My concerns were all 100% Crohn’s disease-related. Naturally.
In my worst case scenario visions, I was keeling over before even setting foot on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the start line or, even worse, squatting in front of 50,000 fellow runners on the Verrazano.
I took proper precautions: I ran with a handheld water bottle at the suggestion of a friend “who’s been there,” carried my own little stash of toilet paper and mentally prepared myself for a lot of stops and a little humiliation.
My nightmare situations were all graphic, embarrassing and terrifying for me.
And come race day, not a single one of them came true.
Running this year’s New York City Marathon was a truly magical experience for me.
If you’re here for the short version, here’s what you may want to know:
- I made it to the start line and, 3 hours 58 minutes 42 seconds later, made it to the finish line.
- I made three bathroom stops, all in the first half (at miles 8, 11 and 12). They were necessary but not tragic.
- I smiled every single step of the way. I also sang for a few steps, laughed for at least a dozen steps and teared up only two or three times.
If you’re able to stick around for a bit, there’s always more to the story. So here’s a bit more about my very special Sunday…
I spent Saturday doing the usual pre-race prep. I watched lots of “inspirational marathon videos,” only got off the couch to get more food, and Brian made me my favorite Marathon Meal with his one good arm (his left arm is in a cast and a sling, awww).
I didn’t sleep well at all Saturday night because I had all those “nightmare scenarios” dancing around in my head. But I woke up feeling finely rested and excited.
It was a beautiful morning to run a marathon.
The always-dramatic newscasters kept going on about the wind and the cold, but that never concerned or bothered me. As I got ready, I focused all my energy on staying positive, breathing and keeping a happy mindset.
…and made it to the start village a little after 8 AM. I was a little concerned about all the logistics required in getting to the start line. I don’t love crowds and I envisioned too-many-people-here-induced panic attacks. But everything went super smoothly, nothing was over-crowded and I didn’t have to sit around waiting on Staten Island forever. It all went perfectly well.
I ate half a salt bagel at home and a peanut butter Clif Bar in the corral, and soon we were moving up, stripping down and getting ready to run.
So then “New York, New York” started playing, and we all took off. I was on the lower level of the bridge, which I was fine with. Troll-style. I didn’t notice the incline, didn’t notice the wind and just took in the incredible views to my left. All the runners just seemed so happy and so grateful, and it set a wonderful tone for the entire day.
Eventually the bridge goes down which, again, I didn’t really notice (though according to my watch — which I ended up wearing for fear of going out too fast and not knowing it — I dropped an 8:19 second mile).
After the Verrazano, you wind into Brooklyn, and from my vantage point I could see the blue and orange waves coming off the bridge, led by the elite men. The race was major sensory overload from start to finish. There was always something to see and something to distract you from the fact that you’re running a marathon.
Around mile three, there were also a lot of people peeing on the side of the road. I liked that.
By mile four, you’re into Brooklyn and oh my god, Brooklyn!
Running through Brooklyn was the most insane party. The crowds are so excited and so loud and they love you. There were bands on every block, people out on their roofs and balconies and lots of little kids who just wanted a high five from a runner.
I noticed some rolling hills at some point in Brooklyn, but it was nothing that took extra energy from me. I was wearing mittens that covered my watch on purpose, because I didn’t want to focus on it, but every now and then I’d glance down and I’d mostly see 8:50-somethings, and that seemed good to me.
By mile six, my stomach felt like it needed to be emptied. I didn’t end up stopping until around mile 8, and it was frustrating having to wait for an open bathroom, but I just watched runners go by, smiled at them and didn’t let myself get frustrated by the loss in time.
During that first stop, I realized just how amazing it was to be kind of unprepared and entirely un-pressured (definitely not a word). The bathroom stops didn’t matter! I could stop all day, and it would be OK! I wasn’t gunning for a goal time and time lost wasn’t lost, it was just time spent not running.
Once I got in and out of the bathroom, I popped back onto the road and cruised. I saw my Team Challenge friend Betsy and she bellowed my name, which was a fun surprise.
Brooklyn is really cute, by the way. I should go there more.
Around mile nine I had a snack — a few Honey Stinger Chews. Fruit Smoothie flavor. I tell myself they’re “basically Starbursts.”
People always say the first 10 miles of a marathon should feel easy, and they did. I don’t even remember seeing the mile 10 marker. I remember getting to mile 11, because I needed to stop again, and then at mile 12 I stopped for the third and final time. This one cost me the most time because there was only one porta-potty, and the person in there before me seemed to be in rougher shape than I was.
I remember climbing the Pulaski Bridge at the halfway point. I still felt awesome, and the incline wasn’t bad.
People had warned me that Queens was “boring,” but I didn’t think that was the case. You make a lot of turns in Queens, so that keeps things interesting, plus there were still decent crowds out making things fun. At this point, I could see the Queensboro Bridge up ahead, and knew that was where things might take a turn.
Some of my worst case scenario situations also involved the QB.
Again, none of them came true.
As soon as I got onto the bridge, I put my headphones in. I didn’t want to notice the quiet or hear other runners breathing. I could hear the cars above, which was a little eerie, because I didn’t want them to fall on me. I listened to exactly one and a half songs before I turned the music off and ran down the bridge toward my borough. I’m sure my pace slowed here — my watch got spastic, said I was running a 14-minute pace and stayed at mile 15.5 for longer than I think it should have — but again, I didn’t notice the incline. I just kept feeling happy and looking around and basking in the energy from the runners around me.
I was so excited to get to First Avenue in Manhattan. I knew I’d have spectators out along the way, I knew the stretch would be downhill for a good while and I knew that people-watching would distract me from counting the street numbers all the way to the Bronx.
Things got really fun here. As you’ve surely read by now, or you’ve seen, the spectators in Manhattan are at least five people deep on each side. I stuck to the west side of the street, since that’s where I knew my people would be. I started seeing familiar faces at 89th Street — my old corner! Perfect.
Then I saw Brian right where he said he’d be, at 95th Street, going crazy with his arm in a sling and a cowbell in his bum hand, taking pictures with his left and screaming at me.
A little while later I saw Sara and Gregg, and then I saw Kristan, who made me get a little weepy. I was so happy I still felt good when I was Kristan. (The other tears came a bit at the start and then on First Avenue when a mom saw her husband and kids and stopped to hug them and the kids seemed so proud and in awe of their kickass mom. Precious.)
I expected to hate the later section of First Avenue. I didn’t, though. I was so in the zone and before long I was in the Bronx.
I ate a few more Honey Stinger Chews around mile 19. Champion marathon snacking right there.
I missed the 20-mile marker, and now that I realize how many mile markers I missed I’m starting to wonder, did I actually even run this race? I was oblivious to a lot of important signs, I think.
Finally, the home stretch. I very vividly remember winding back into Manhattan and not loving the bridge that takes you there. It wasn’t steep or long, I just remember thinking “I don’t particularly love this bridge.”
Then it was over, and then I was in Harlem.
Harlem was filled with cute kids who play awesome drums and love life.
At this point, I knew I was going to finish, and I knew my stomach was going to be OK. I punched all of the “Punch here for power!” signs and high fived the guy who yelled “Nice bum, where ya from?!” I also loved responding, “I’m from New York!” (Sorry, mom.)
Again, I expected to hate the Fifth Avenue incline you hear so much about, but I didn’t. My legs started to feel a little tired here, but I was running comfortably and was afraid to push the pace too soon.
I saw Brian again at 95th and Fifth, just before I took that oh-so-familiar turn into Central Park at my beloved Engineers’ Gate. I tossed my stupid SpiBelt to him (I hate that thing; why do I wear it?), shouted some nonsense and told myself I was free to kick it anytime.
Central Park was tough. I stopped looking at the crowds and focused on getting myself to the finish line.
I covered my watch, pumped my arms and smiled like a fool the entire way.
I don’t really remember exiting the park, but I remember Central Park South feeling endless. Columbus Circle looked so far away. So I tried to get there faster.
I wound into the park — the marathon broadcast coverage busted me checking my watch, naturally — and tried to pass people leading up to the finish.
They moved the finish line back, right? I swear, that thing was further away than it ever seemed.
I found an open window right through the middle of the finish line, looked up, smiled and I was done.
I got medal-ed, heat sheet-ed and, eventually, poncho-ed.
Brian met me with sweatpants and Oreos, and I came home to a fabulously festive apartment.
Three bathroom stops. 26.2 miles. A sub-4:00 finish time.
I don’t know how it happened, either.
By the numbers, if you’re into that sort of thing:
The New York City Marathon is something special, and even though I just managed to ramble on about nothing for a very long time (still with me?), I truly believe it’s something you need to experience in order to really experience it. The videos, the blogs, the recaps…they don’t do this race enough justice. The fans, the support, the camaraderie — it’s absolute magic.
I don’t think I’ll run this race again. It was so perfect to me, even with the stopping, and I don’t want anything to change this amazing image I have of the race.
It was a good day for New York, it was a good day for runners and it was the day I have needed and wanted all year.
From the bottom of my very happy heart, thank you for the love not just on Sunday, but all year getting to this point. It has not been easy, and I know things aren’t going to be easy going forward. Obviously. But the encouragement from loved ones and from total strangers has been tremendous.
New York, I love you. Forever and ever.