This is an attempt to capture even a fraction of the true magic that is the New York City Marathon and my love affair for New York City.
I never planned to run a full marathon, a year ago was my first half marathon and that was an accomplishment for me alone. *If* I ever ran a full marathon, there was never any question which one it would be. Circumstances made choosing to run NYC this year a no brainer.
Even when I lived in NYC, the taxi from the airport into the City was always something. Seeing the skyline again even after just a weekend away was exhilarating. The power of the City moves me, it never intimidates me. The strong hustle of the City brings me peace. The idea that something magical was happening many times over at any given point somewhere in the City excites me. It was no different when we drove into the City on Saturday. I tear up in an overwhelming love for it. Many people would never get this, nor would I expect them to. It isn’t for everyone, and I’m glad. We’ve managed to make it to NYC at least once a year since we’ve left it and I’m so thankful.
I was full of nerves due to the race obviously, but mostly the weather forecast. It was beyond ugly. Running doesn’t come easy for me and I mostly train and race in the ideal conditions. Flat and mild weather. With the wind symbol on Sunday’s forecast for a whole week I was becoming petrified. I spent so much time training, I had hoped for perfect conditions to really show myself what I had. Little did I know that running in the very weather I feared, was what was going to show me what I had.
I woke up on Sunday (race day) hoping for a miracle. No such luck. Television footage of the start line looked rough. Emails from race organizers arrived stating that mile markers and other signage would not be erected due to the wind. More news saying that the Wheelchair division would not be starting at the official start line but 2 miles in due to danger of high winds on the Verrazano Bridge made me realize how windy it was. More posts regarding winds bringing temps below freezing with clothing suggestions. Enough to make an already anxious person really anxious. But at some point it was what it was and I was less worried.
We made our way to the Staten Island Ferry and that was the moment that I was pumped. On the ferry which was 99.9% runners, it was quiet. People were in their zone, they had their necessities to get them through the wait and the race in their laps. We were able to hang out in the Ferry Terminal for a bit before boarding a bus to the start. So far so good. I worried that I’d be standing in the cold for hours and would be a mess before the race even started. I used the bathroom one time before we boarded the bus, it was outside and I thought it may blow over. The winds were about 25 mph with gusts of around 40 mph. They made walking difficult. We hopped on the bus which took us to a short walk from the starting line. Despite this weather, being around all these runners made me so excited. I felt calm knowing we were all doing it together.
We had just enough time to sort ourselves out, toss our throwaways, hit up the bathroom and walk to the start. No time to freeze. Volunteers and police lined our walk with well wishes and claps. As we made it onto the bridge I knew I was going to have the time of my life. People were screaming out in excitement, New York New York started to play, I was screaming as we stood at the top of the Verrazano looking at its beauty before me. Just like that the gun (cannon) went off and we were running. The wind was pushing, pulling and shoving. It was a slow start, especially in my wave but I was happy to not go out too quickly and just ease in. The first mile is uphill but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. People’s hats and visors were blowing off their heads, some would be running toward us trying to retrieve them. The 2nd mile was a nice downhill and I couldn’t wait to get off the bridge into Brooklyn. Crowds were lining the streets, I worried people would just be too cold to stand out there, but New Yorkers and the wonderful supporters of other runners would never let us down. I wasn’t feeling cold, the wind didn’t even feel that bad. I was feeling great actually. The miles seemed to be coming quickly. We made a plan for me to stop every 5 miles to use the bathroom as I have some issues that motherhood has given me. Yes, I keep it real folks. I was feeling so great that I didn’t want to stop because I know when I do it’s so hard to get back. I actually didn’t use the bathroom for the first time until Mile 10. I was the perfect mix of ‘hurry hurry, the clock is ticking’ as I waited in line, to ‘oh please stay in there all day, this break is lovely.’
The crowds were out of control, I had a running scarf on that often covered my name on my shirt. Yes I wore a scarf the entire time. And a hat, 2 shirts, my sports bra, tights and fingerless gloves and never felt the need to remove them. Anyway, when I tucked my scarf in for people to see my name it was so insane. A non-stop round of ‘Go Nicole’, ‘Looking Good Nicole’, ‘Keep it up Nicole’ and on and on. I would acknowledge as many as I could with a small arm wave and smile. I found I smiled for the majority of the race. Brian high-fived dozens of people along the way, in New York they are all willing to give you the power that you need. The crowd not only gives you encouragement but also the much needed distraction of what you are actually doing. They were shivering. They were out there for hours and I’ll be the first to tell you, yelling for all the strangers as you wait for your runner is very tiring. I am so thankful for these people.
Heading to the half way point of the race was nice but it was here that I started feeling how much more we still had left. We approached another bridge, though much smaller, it still meant an uphill. Even though I wasn’t letting the wind get to me, I know my body was working much harder to keep a reasonable pace for the first half. It was around this time that I started walking more, often apologizing to Brian for some reason, who didn’t care in the slightest. As we left Brooklyn a man said, ‘Next stop is Queens, just keep running, nothing to see there.’ We had a good laugh. Every borough is very proud and sometimes there is rivalry between them. But at the end of the day, they are all New Yorkers and that is where their true pride lies.
I was very nervous for the Queensboro Bridge as I know it’s long and again with the hill up. It is also 15 miles in when a person may be getting tired. It was interesting on the bridge. Quiet, as there are no spectators allowed on it - but I liked the quiet for a bit. At this point, especially in my wave, runners are walking, stretching, pulling over to get fantastic photos of themselves with the beautiful Manhattan skyline and of course running. We walked up the hill. I was a little disappointed in myself, and in hindsight, now that it’s over and I’m not tired at this very moment, I wonder if I needed to walk. My take was if I run, which would’ve been VERY slowly as it was a very long uphill, my legs possibly wouldn’t have held up in the end. It was a way to conserve and yes, I was tired.
Before you finish your time on the Queensboro Bridge you can hear the roar of the spectators waiting on 59th Street and 1st Avenue. It was unreal. We were back to running and I know my pace increased after hearing the screams. I kid you not, this corner exiting the bridge was 6-7 people deep for the entire way to 1st Avenue. Then 1st Avenue was before us and that was the same. I had fond memories of watching Brian right in this area in 2008 and other friends in years prior. My scarf was nice and tucked in and I heard my name and ‘Go Fred’s Team’ for blocks. The wind was still at it. Most of the time it was headwind but it would swirl too. This meant that once in a blue moon you’d actually get a good shove from behind. It was fun to imagine that tailwind staying like that for the duration rather than just the 4 times I may have felt it all day. You would also get shoved from side to side. Brian and I often knocked into each other and when you felt the 40 mph gusts, we’d almost lose footing. Brian’s foot would blow into his opposite leg many times that day. Our bibs fluttered hard at times, I imagined taking off in the wind. We ran from 59th Street toward the Bronx to cross yet another bridge. I can’t even say I remember it. I just know we were around 130th Street. Exiting the last bridge we were at 59th. The finish line is further west but at 59th Street. This is when I started mentally thinking we had so much more to cover. Forget that we already covered so much to get here.
People have said that the Bronx isn’t as easy to run through due to quieter crowds. I would say, yes the crowds are not near as large but the streets were still populated with people cheering us on. I enjoyed our time in the Bronx. We heard great music and energetic volunteers dancing for us as they handed us our water. The entire course was full of music. Every kind of music you can imagine from Native American Drums, children playing horns, country, rap, gospel, DJs, you name it.
One more Bridge and we were turning back toward Manhattan. This meant we would be heading South, opposite of the wind for once. We made that turn and we are hit with WIND. What in THE crap!!!!?? Somehow we never got a break. It was just after this that I ate the BEST banana in the history of all bananas. 1/4 pieces were being handed out and as with every water/fuel stop, Brian would run ahead and grab what I needed for me. This banana was super cold. Probably because it was super cold out. It was so refreshing and amazing and I could have eaten 64,000 more pieces of it. I got a second piece. Heaven. We were heading to Central Park. Nearing the finish. I knew I would finish. I was saying to Brian, ‘I’m going to finish this. I’m really going to finish this.’ His reply, ‘Of course you are finishing.’ I was wondering what could possibly happen to me at this point that would prevent it, I mean, what?? Just 3-4 miles away, nothing could happen. Plus, I was running for people, not just for myself. I was running for my cancer affected friends and for all the generous people that donated. I knew my little wish for a sub 5:00 was gone. I was ok with it. I knew I had many areas to improve upon in training and that wind was just making me work harder than I had energy for.
We made it into the park and started rounding the corner to 59th Street. This was always my second spot to cheer the race on and I remember seeing the runners at this point, never having fully understood what they had just been through until this very moment. I wanted to finish strong. When I saw Columbus Circle before me, I don’t know what happened but something kicked. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t even say anything to Brian. I just took off. I felt like I was flying, I wasn’t. My pace teetered around 9-10min/miles here but I was weaving and I was feeling on top of the world. Brian said it took him a few seconds to catch me as he was so surprised. We rounded that final corner and I knew the last .25 mile was uphill. I could see the grandstands, I could see the finish, my head felt like a balloon, I worried I’d pass out right before the finish and they’d take me off the course. I knew it wouldn’t happen but I thought it. Brian grabbed my hand and we made it across that line all smiles. And? I beat his ass by 1 second according to official results. 5:26:38
Running for Fred’s Team was amazing. I am so proud to have raised over $4,000 for a top notch organization. They took care of their runners from start to finish and throughout training. I had special access to the Fred’s tent after the race and they kindly let Brian accompany me. When we arrived we entered a heated tent with a variety of snacks available, given to me by the kindest of volunteers. Brian politely declined any of their handouts knowing he was not officially supposed to be in the area. I chose a cup full of salty potato chips and Gatorade. I cannot express to you the sheer happiness I felt at this time. The Fred’s area also had the amazing blue capes that runners who opted not to check baggage received. Brian notified a volunteer that I needed one and this caring woman approached me, gently wrapped my original space blanket around me and then tucked me into my cape. This cape is so thick and fleece lined and as she laid the hood over my head and snuggly secured it around me, I considered sucking my thumb and moving into the park for good. Ironically, our engagement spot was just across the way from this area.
We wanted to get Brian his cape as the poor thing was freezing. We did the Zombie Apocalypse shuffle through the finisher chute which is a good 20 blocks to the capes. We then shuffled our way to the local bar where we’ve been celebrating NYC Marathon completions for years to meet friends.
Brian is the kind of guy that would go from planning to run this course for time, knowing he probably won’t have the opportunity to run it again to joining me in my wave to happily finish over 2 hours later than he normally would have. We had one of our best days ever that day and his kind words and encouragement were bar none. I will never ever forget this experience.
I have had multiple people ask if I’d do another full marathon. As proof to how incredibly deranged the human brain can be, my answer is officially YES. Mostly because I always have a strong need to improve. I know I can do much better with more practice, a less challenging course and more favorable conditions. I can’t say when this will happen but I have a hunch it will.