New York City Marathon 2016 Recap

Yesterday was the best day ever.

The past two and a half months have included many not-so-best days ever. So I just wanted a day. I wanted one day to run the New York City Marathon, because I knew that one day would have the power to overshadow all the dark days I’ve seen lately.

And I got exactly what I needed and wanted.

New York City Marathon

I made it to the start, I made it to the finish — and I didn’t make a single bathroom stop along the way.

I don’t even know how that’s possible. Lately it’s been a struggle to walk across the street without having to bolt for a bathroom (if you’re new around here, that’s thanks to an ongoing Crohn’s disease flare-up that won’t quit). So the fact that I was able to run (and walk!) for nearly five hours yesterday without a single stomach issue seems impossible — but that’s the magic of the marathon, isn’t it?

By the clock, yesterday marked a personal worst marathon time for me. My finish time was more than 30 minutes slower than my previous slowest time, and more than an hour slower than the time I was training for before I got sick.

But by all other accounts? It was undoubtedly a personal best.

New York City Marathon
Love from the November Project water station crew! They made personalized card for every single runner on the team — and we had more than 100 runners!

Stick around. I have a lot to say about this race…

All week, I went through the motions like I was running the marathon. I wanted to run it and, in spite of my body not totally cooperating, I was willing myself to be a part of it. I got my gels, picked up my bib, and attended a flurry of pre-marathon events.

New York City Marathon
Step 1: Get outfitted by Lululemon! Thanks, Lulu!
New York City Marathon
Step 2: Appear on FOX5 for a segment about Project Start!
New York City Marathon
Step 3: Go to expo, pick up bib.
New York City Marathon
Step 4: Attend the New York Road Runners Night of Champions. Meet Desi, Amy, and Shalane…
New York City Marathon
…and Paula Radcliffe!
New York City Marathon
Step 5: Check out the finish line one last time before the big day.

I don’t normally run the day before a marathon, but on Saturday, I decided to go for a 3.1-mile test run to gauge how my body was feeling. I went out and, 3.1 miles later, I was home — without having made a single bathroom stop.

It was my first zero-stop run in more than two months. It felt miraculous. It was a very good sign, and gave me so much hope that I’d be on a bus to Staten Island 24 hours later. I spent the day resting, relaxing, and thinking happy thoughts. I went to bed around 9:00 resolved to run the New York City Marathon.

New York City Marathon
Post-run, just chillin’ in the grass…where Ellie often pees.

Somehow I got around 8 hours of solid sleep, and when I woke up at 4 AM Sunday — my half-birthday, NBD — I was excited. It was going to happen, I could feel it.

I did my usual pre-race routine: bathroom bathroom, hot shower, shave legs, braid hair, bathroom bathroom bathroom, suit up, bathroom bathroom, triple-check list of necessities, kiss puppy. Brian and Ellie drove me to MetLife Stadium, which is only 15 minutes away, so I could catch one of the billion buses to the start.

(Tip: If you’re ever taking the buses from NJ, there aren’t bathrooms on the buses, but there are tons of porta-potties in the parking lots, and no one was using them. Except me!)

New York City Marathon
I passed the time by writing this on my hand. It took 30 seconds.

The bus ride to Staten Island took a little over an hour, and you could feel the nerves and excitement on board. I made some friends (hi to my new BFF in the onesie who also loves Entenmann’s Multi Grain bars!), then got through security quickly once we got to Fort Wadsworth.

A quick timeline: I woke up at 4 AM, left the house at 5:15, was at MetLife Stadium by 5:35, and got to Fort Wadsworth shortly after 7. My race didn’t start until 10:15.

I was very fortunate to have access to a VIP Tent at the start area. I got completely lost finding it and basically went on a personal grand tour of the start village, but once I found it, it was remarkable. The tent was heated, had a ridiculous spread of food, had private porta-potties, and had fresh flowers and copies of The New York Times on every table. I loved it.

New York City Marathon
My people!

I had lots of friends in the tent with me, which helped pass the time. At 9 AM, it was time to head to my corral. I was in the second wave, which started at 10:15, but we needed time to walk to our corral and then actually get into it. It’s all a crazy process, but a surprisingly organized one considering there were 55,000 runners this year!

The plan was to run the race with my dear friend Sara Beaney. (Everyone just calls her Beaney.) I run regularly with Beaney — she’s a November Project-er (one of the very first ones here in NYC!), and we did intervals together in Central Park before I moved to New Jersey. I look up to her so much. She’s a badass runner, has a kickass job, is a super talented photographer, is a loving mom of two boys, and is a wonderful friend. So when she reached out to me a few weeks ago saying that although she, too, had ceased training for the marathon for a while, she’d run it with me. She was planning to defer her entry, but then she threw out the idea of doing it together, without any time goals or pressure — just the two of us, as a team, getting from Staten Island to Central Park.

So…hell yeah, Beaney.

New York City Marathon
We found our friend Brian on the way to the start! He ran a 100-miler last weekend. NBD.

I told her I might have to make a million bathroom stops, and she said that was fine. I told her I’d probably have to walk — a lot — and she said that was cool, too. We weren’t setting out to suffer or to prove anything — we were doing this to have fun, to enjoy the experience, and to spend the day doing something special.

After spending what felt like forever in our corral, someone sang “America the Beautiful,” and then the cannons blew as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” started to play. And I started to cry. Ugh. Every time.

Then it was happening! Months of uncertainty were behind me — we were running the New York City Marathon!

New York City Marathon

The first mile of the race is uphill, but everyone will tell you that you don’t notice it. That’s true, I promise! You’re heading straight up the Verrazano Bridge, but between the views and the music and the energy, it’s just so much fun. (Though it was a bit of a shitshow, too — if you’re going to take a selfie, for the love of god and your fellow runners, move to the side. This was all too frequent throughout the race. Be considerate of your fellow runners, especially on such a crowded course, please!)

Once we got to the top of the Verrazano, we cruised down it, and then we were in Brooklyn. I didn’t want to focus on or obsess over my stomach, but I was aware that it felt pretty good.

New York City Marathon

We wound through Brooklyn, and the crowds, as always, were unreal. We were running a happy, comfortable pace, and Beaney and I were staying side by side, making sure not to lose each other in the sea of 50,000+ runners. We ran the first eight miles and both felt great. We started to see friends along the way, and were looking forward to Mile 10, where the November Project cheer and water stations would be.

New York City Marathon
Mile 10, getting ambushed by our roving reporter, Matt Powers (who did all the Project Start videos).

And as always, the NP squad didn’t disappoint. Their energy was super, and I made eye contact with lots of friends, including my Tiger BFF Lucy — the #1 person I wanted to see at that point in the race.

But by mile 10, I was also starting to feel the whole “I didn’t train for this” thing. And truthfully, if I weren’t with Beaney, I may have said “f it” and stopped at mile 10. She kept me moving, though.

At mile 12, Beaney needed to pee, and my legs started to tense up a bit. This is also when I got hit with a stupid side-stitch that never fully went away. So we agreed that we’d start taking walk breaks as needed.

We took a walk break at the halfway point, as we climbed the Pulaski Bridge, and I remember crossing the half and telling Beaney, “I honestly don’t know if I can do this…” She told me that yes, we could, and that we’d do it together.

We ran down the bridge and into Queens, but my legs were hurting and my side-stitch was annoying. My brain and heart were happy, but my legs weren’t psyched. (You should always train for a marathon!) We took another walk break around mile 14, and just then I heard my college roommate and bridesmaid and marathon spectating superstar L-One screaming her pretty little face off (with a sign for me, too!). I went over and said hi, and that’s when I realized that yes, we were going to finish this race, and we would keep enjoying it. In the past, I have never stopped during a race to hug and say hi to a friend, but without caring about our time, we could do these things! That felt kind of liberating.

New York City Marathon
Meanwhile, in Manhattan…

Beaney and I walked the Queensboro Bridge, which was way better than running up it, TBH. We cheered for runners as they passed us, we took in the views, and we just kept saying, “This is so fun!”

And that was the point: Neither of us wanted to be miserable. When we were walking, we loved life. When we tried to run, our legs were kind of unhappy. (Which, I know, is normal during a marathon. But we were untrained, so no need to be heroes here.) So to get to the finish, we ran when we could and walked when we wanted. We were determined to stay happy and keep it fun. No misery necessary.

I’ll admit, it was tough walking parts of First Avenue, where the crowds are so intense and they really want you to be running! People kept telling us, “Start running again, you can do it!” And we were like, “We’re fine! We’re just doing it our way right now!”

Meanwhile, I wasn’t expecting to see Brian until the finish. He was going to be in the grandstands, so imagine my excitement and surprise when I got to mile 17 and saw Brian, Ellie, BFF Michael, and Michael’s daughters all screaming for me. It was awesome.

New York City Marathon
Playing it VERY COOL upon seeing my favorite people [and dog].
I ran over to them and I was so surprised and so happy and I gave Michael’s oldest daughter sweaty kisses and gave Ellie some kisses, too.

New York City Marathon
Well this is adorable.

My body hurt, but I was so happy. I was doing it. Brian looked so proud — and so did Ellie! — and everything in the world felt perfect.

New York City Marathon
Kisses for everyone!

We walked quite a bit over the next few miles. First Avenue sure is long! We picked it up at times through the Bronx — people think the Bronx is boring, but it’s short and I really like it! — but my cramp wouldn’t let up, and it was too debilitating to run through. I wanted to run! But ouch! We stopped at almost every water station, which I never do, but I was thirsty and salty.

New York City Marathon
The old neighborhood!

Then we were in Harlem, another super fun part of the course, and then we had hit the long, steady climb along Fifth Avenue. We were walking it for a while, then I saw the team from Finish Line Physical Therapy going crazy so we started running again just in time to see Brian and Ellie again!

New York City Marathon
VERY SURPRISED to see my family again!
New York City Marathon
Mid-race Ellie kisses!

Ellie gave me a million kisses, and I realized they were standing right in front of the spot where Brian and I got married! Awwww!

New York City Marathon
MY PUPPY!!! And husband. But my puppy!!!

New York City Marathon
Me: That’s where we got married!!!
Brian: I know! That’s why we’re standing here!
Me: [Silently weeping.]
We saw many more friends along Fifth Avenue, then made that familiar right turn into Central Park, where I gave my nod to Bernie’s Bench aaaaand then had to take another walk break.

New York City Marathon
Friends, friends everywhere!

I wanted to be able to run the whole way through Central Park, but nope. We ran the straightaway on East Drive and ran down Cat Hill, then walked a bit more. We ran again exiting the park, and walked the stretch of Central Park South. Then Beaney grabbed my hand and said, “We’re finishing this running!”

We ran into Central Park, and ran up that little hill toward the finish.

All the while, we kept looking at each other and saying, “We did it! We did it!”

We crossed the finish line holding hands, and I immediately burst into tears.

New York City Marathon
BEING VERY EMOTIONAL. And look what it says behind us!

I have never cried at a finish line, but I was a total blubbering mess at this one.

My friend Erin, who works for New York Road Runners, appeared and gave me the best, biggest hug, and then Steve — who finished the NYC Marathon with me two years ago — appeared out of nowhere and gave one of those hugs that actually lifts you off your feet. Erin gave us our medals, and I just kept crying.

New York City Marathon
Erin told me today that the first thing I said to her when I crossed the finish line was, “Ellie’s here!” WTF?

I was so happy.

This race felt so wonderfully victorious, and I couldn’t believe I didn’t need a single bathroom stop along the way. That’s that marathon magic people talk about.

New York City Marathon
Unable to pull it together for a photo…

I’m so grateful for Beaney, without whom I never would’ve finished the race. I would have stopped at mile 10, but she kept me in a constant forward motion.

New York City Marathon
Side by side, from start to finish.

To everyone who screamed “Ali On The Run!” — even when I was actually Ali On The Walk — thank you so much. I felt so loved, so supported, and so blissfully psyched the entire day.

I thought a part of me might be disappointed in my finish time (4:49:58), or in the fact that I had to walk so much, but I’m completely unfazed by those details. I hoped for a good day, and I got a great day.

New York City Marathon
Obligatory medal shot!

So thank you, New York. Thank you NYRR staff and volunteers. Thank you, Beaney. Thank you, friends, family, and strangers along the way. Thank you, Brian, for picking me up in a car after the race and driving me home. Thank you to everyone whose sign didn’t say “If Trump can run, so can you.” (We must have seen 3829 of those signs.)

New York City Marathon
Curious puppy!

I love everything, and am so grateful for what my body let me do yesterday.

Now can someone please bring me a pizza?

Actually two pizzas. Put broccoli on one.

New York City Marathon
Post-marathon dinner of champions: apple cider mimo and chips and French onion dip. Also smiling so hard it looks kind of painful… Yikes, Ali.




59 Responses

  1. Hi Ali! Apologies for commenting so late…just got home from NY last week. Yup, I ran the race too (unfortunately, it wasn’t a great outcome…story for another day). Anyway, just wanted to give you a hug and double thumbs up for your grit, determination and spirit in finishing the race.

  2. Fantastic post about a fantastic race! well done to you! I also ran NY this year as my first marathon ever and it could not have been more magical.

  3. Hi Ali!
    This made me cry happy tears for you! I needed this so much with all the negativity that’s out there in the news right now, and I’m so impressed and thrilled you managed this, and had such a great time doing it. Yay you!

  4. CONGRATULATIONS!!!! This post brought me to tears. After reading about your flare keeping you out of the roads for awhile I am so happy you got to have this amazing day because you deserved it! No bathroom stops must be marathon magic! You’re giving me hope that I’ll be able to get back out there one day soon too and kick this colitis sh*t to the curb. Enjoy this and remember this day!!

  5. YAYAYAYAY!! You finished the NYC Marathon in spite of a ton of obstacles…congratulations Ali, and you’ve earned all those smiles! 🙂

  6. I don’t even know you, yet I was so happy for you that I cried. I am so happy for you and the GREAT day that you had!!

    Can you tell us more about the women’s running thing you are a part of? Is it to get people started running? I have attempted running a couple times before, but have never been consistent. I had a baby 8 weeks ago and want to get started and keep it up this time… in fact I am signed up for a half marathon in Nashville at the end of April. I don’t care what my time is, but I just want to train consistently for it! Any tips you can give would be awesome!

  7. Congrats, Ali! I’m so happy for you! I’ve been following your blog and was so stressed for you about not being able to train the way you wanted. I’m so glad you had a great day! By the way, I was the crazy course volunteer that screamed “Go Ali on the run” at the entrance to Central Park at 90th Street. You looked so surprised!

  8. So wonderfully awesome Ali! I love your blog! I was on pins and needles wondering if everything would work out for u. I am so happy it did! I was tracking my brother the whole time as he ran the nyc marathon too. I wanted to track u too, but for the life of me c/d not find the correct spelling of your last name.

    Anyway, so so awesome and so happy for u! U rock girl! Such an inspiration!

  9. YAY!!! I am so happy to read this, I did a long run on Sunday before the race so I could watch, I thought of you often. I kept checking here yesterday to see if you were going to say what you did. I was beginning to worry you weren’t feeling up to it.
    I am so happy for you!!!

  10. Ali – I am a runner in Northern New York (like way North .. Think Canada) I have done 3 half marathons now and tons of 5 and 10 K’s. I have been reading your blog for quite some time, having found you quite by accident. However your story struck me personally as I have seen my Mom battle Crohn’s my entire life. Sometimes she ran, sometimes she walked, and sometimes she crawled… But she never gave in and has been a true inspiration to me! I am so happy you were able to have your day in NYC! You are an inspiration to all runners… So keep running and being honest about what you face each day with both your running and your battle with Crohn’s. I’ll be sure to tell my Mom you made it! Congrats!

  11. So proud of you, Ali! That is a tough course and you finished EXACTLY one minute faster than I did when I ran the race and I was fully trained!

    I am so happy that you had such a magical day and that Brian and Ellie were able to surprise you along the course – so sweet! Congratulations and ride that high. It was well-deserved 🙂

  12. I love the strength of will and enthusiasm that shines through in your race recap! Congrats! I feel uplifted just reading this 🙂

  13. So happy for you!! Love this post so much. You’re such an inspiration. Your positivity and lust for life and running and all things NYC is just incredible. Thanks for sharing this amazing day in your life!

  14. Smiles & smiles. And tears and smiles. That’s all I had reading this.

    You are totally deserving of finishing without ‘the runs’ (see what i did there). Thrilled you and Beaney are sisters for life now. You both are phenomenal!

    Glad you ‘just showed up’ at the mara! 🙂 XOXO Love you!

  15. Amazing! I love everything about this report from start to finish. Your gratitude is infectious! Here’s to many happy miles ahead!

    I was 35 minutes slower than my fastest NYC and only 5 minutes faster than my slowest (when I was injured). I knew it would be tough based on a terrible summer of running. Still, it was the 20th anniversary of my 1st NYC and my 17th running. I decided my A goal was to smile from start to finish. With that amazing crowd, how could I lose! (I had a long bathroom/shoe fix stop too! One more than you!!)

  16. you did great. i was tracking you all the way from Germany – and my running friends too. great Job, feller 🙂 and thx for sharing

  17. This is the best!! I saw you at mile 7 and was so excited I screamed your name and you definitely don’t know me but you waved and looked so super happy!!! I got injured and couldn’t run this year but super pumped and motivated for next year. Congrats!!!! So glad you had so much fun!!!!

  18. Oh my days you met Paula!!!!!! Growing up in the UK she was basically (and still is) my idol. I’m so so happy you had such a good race day, it makes such a difference! Weirdly things sometimes come together when you’re least expecting it. I’m so so glad things went well 🙂

  19. I am so happy for you! I ran my first half marathon the same day and was thinking of you. I am glad your day was as awesome as mine!!!

  20. Ysy!!! This makes me so happy for you. It also makes me want to run a marathon, visit New York and drink mimosas. Well done.

  21. I only can say CONGRATULATIONS!

    I am from Spain and i love all around running.

    For me it will be a dream to do what you did last sunday.

    Lot of kiss for a simple running girl.

  22. Congratulations Ali! You are amazing, and such an inspiration! My new motto is ‘If Ali can run a marathon, I can do (insert any hard thing here)’ 🙂

  23. LOVE THIS! Congratulations on a great race. The first picture was sheer awesomeness and I’m totally digging your mentality!

  24. Amazing! Congratulations! Brian and Ellie must be so proud! And so are all your internet strangers/friends! So happy for you!

  25. Ali, this post made me cry. You are a brave and beautiful woman. I read your posts often but have only commented once before. Thank you for your honesty. And thank you for reminding people like me how to allow yourself to be happy in the happy moments, even when the overall picture isn’t always happy. It’s the only way to live.

  26. Congratulations! Your readers are proud of you 🙂 Keep writing and running, I always look forward to your posts.
    Reading your blog years ago inspired me to run a my first full marathon. You’re awesome.

  27. Holy crap I loved every single part of this!!! This is the best marathon recap I have ever read—HOW DID YOU HAVE SO MUCH FUN, congrats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. I cried through this entire recap. You are an amazing, wonderful person who kicks assume, even when it’s hard. You are awe inspiring! You earned the right to feel ecstatic, from now until forever!

  29. Congratulations to you!! I’m sooo happy you got to run NYC! I ran too and it was my first full marathon. It was so hard and my legs are dead today but I finished! Hope you continue to feel better!

  30. I love love love this recap! You earned that awesome day. As crappy as the last couple months have been, it makes my heart smile reading this. ❤ from Va.

  31. Congratulations!!! Your mind and the marathon energy were much bigger than any health issues, and I am truly one happy stranger for you! I did feel much happiness and joy with your recap, sounds like it was an amazing day!!!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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