My New York City Marathon

I’m not going to give a big “oh, hello world!” introduction explaining where I’ve been in the last year and a half while this blog has collected dust. I’m not going to pretend that after this post I’ll ever contribute another word to this site. But after this past weekend, and after wasting an entire work day NOT catching up from leaving early Friday and not returning until this lovely Tuesday morning due to reading recaps from the 2013 ING New York City Marathon, I just want to make sure I have MY race documented SOMEWHERE. And that where is here.

Unfortunately, because I want to document EVERYTHING, I need to back track a little. And because I stopped blogging so long ago, that backtrack requires rehashing a little bit of the feelings I never verbalized with the cancellation of the NYCM last year. So here we go.

I more or less am the runner I am today because of my overwhelming desire to run the New York City marathon.

After finishing my first half in November of 2010 (?) I swore I would never want to go further than 13.1. And I would never want to run a full marathon. But then The Bug set in. I was “coerced” into running my first Ragnar a few weeks later–a few too many hours into happy hour–and the more I ran and learned about running, the more intrigued I became with the ultimate run in a runner’s world: The New York City Marathon. I applied for the lottery for the first time after finishing 16.8 miles in Key West during my first Ragnar, and was (as expected) rejected. When I moved to NYC shortly afterwards and fell in love with Central Park, there was no stopping my getting into the marathon. I joined NYRR knowing I had a long road ahead of me before I ran the 5 boroughs and started training for my first marathon in Richmond.

Fear of a tough and crowded course in NY in 2012 led me to sign up for my second marathon in Buffalo that Spring. Somehow, I thought if I ran a relaxed, easy race after going sub-4 for the first time in Richmond, it would take all pressure off of me to perform well in New York: a course I was terrified of due to its history and celebrity appeal. Instead I ran a PR in Buffalo, and segued into what was the most in-shape, high-performing running summer of my life. I had high hopes for NYC in the fall. I felt like a “true” runner. And for the first time since catching the running bug, I thought I could kill it on the streets of New York.

Then everything hit the fan. A wide range of personal problems sprung up in early August. And while I spent many miles hitting the pavement to sort through my thoughts and carry myself away from the drama, I spent just as much time eating and drinking away my problems (they don’t call me marathonwiner for nothing!). As the marathon drew closer, my confidence fell. To the point where a few weeks out I confided to Leticia that I was seriously considering not running. I didn’t want to go through all of the trouble of making my way out to Staten Island at an ungodly hour when my heart and my training just didn’t seem up for it. I said if I made it through one last long run without quitting, I’d suck it up and run the marathon. Maybe not with the gusto I had felt a few weeks prior, but I’d finish it.

I made it through that run. And I inevitably started to get excited for race day.

Then, as we all know, more shit hit the fan.

Only for me…it was bad on top of bad. When talks about an “intense” hurricane really stared to circulate, I was in Richmond…dropping off my beloved cat before a major move: my departure from NYC. That, is an entirely different story that I’m not sure I can ever properly explain or vocalize, but the personal problems I was dealing with in August played a large role in the JD’s and I (oh lord, I can’t even talk in this blog language anymore. You all know his name is Pete. And you all probably know he also proposed that September. And even amongst a tumultuous time in my life, it was one of the happiest days of my life) life and we had made the ridiculously hard decision to leave NY and move to Virginia. So there I was, 6 days out of the biggest race of my running career, as Sandy swept the East Coast. Pete was still in Manhattan when it went dark and I was in Richmond, feeling useless.

I, like every other runner, battled back and forth about what running or not running meant. I didn’t ever know if I thought having the race or not having the race was the better option, I only knew it was out of my control. And as the days wore on and the race was still “a go” my trains continued to be delayed and delayed and delayed.

I made it back to Manhattan the Thursday night before Marathon Sunday. On Friday morning I went to the expo with Leticia, and while things felt a bit off, I prepared myself for the worst [read: I was honestly terrified that irate people would do malicious things come race day, but it was my one and only 9+1 and if the show was going to go on, I was going to be there]. We all know what came after that.

The race was canceled. Us runners drank a lot. Probably partially in grief, partially in relief. And before I knew it I was signed up to run Richmond a second year in a row, bringing a crowd of ten or so girls to my parents home with me.

Richmond last year was not what it was my first year (but really, can anything compare to a first marathon?) and it was certainly no New York (again, can anything compare to that?). I ran with the friends that I had trained hard with, been let down in New York with and made the trek to Virginia with, and thought that maybe it would be a sort of redemption race. But my stomach retaliated at mile 20 and I bonked…coming in at 4:13, 21 minutes slower than my Buffalo PR.

Fast forward through a year of drama: for NYRR, for me, for Boston and the running community worldwide.

I reluctantly clicked on the “2013” option from NYRR to run. Part of me thought I was too far gone to run a good race. Part of me was bitter about what had happened in all of 2012. But the rest of me wanted to be with the amazing runners I had met in my time in New York when they toed the start line in 2013.

Fast forward many months, many miles (not nearly as strong or as fast as they had been in the past) and many changes (hello again, Virginia and HELLO married life) and I found myself, just a week ago, prepping to run NY for the second time.

Somehow, after Sandy, after Boston, after everything…a week ago, I felt good.

I didn’t know what would happen in New York. Honestly, NYRR had left me off of so many emails I wasn’t even sure I knew where I was going to wind up on the morning of November 3rd, but somehow, after so much trouble and so many twisted winding roads, I felt physically and mentally ready to tackle New York this year. It most likely was due to the fact that after everything that had happened over the past couple of years, my only goal for the race was to 100% enjoy it, and bask in the glory of The Marathon; but I was ready for it.

HOLY BOOK OF AN IN INTRO

On Friday afternoon, Pete and I headed to the Big Apple. We landed in LGA and (by another turn of events) grabbed a Brooklyn-bound cab to Leticia’s. After a few hugs and catching up, we called it a night, so Pete and I could wake up for a short run around Prospect Park (a place I hadn’t visited since my days with the summer speed series). Afterwards, we grabbed a carb-heavy breakfast at the best little diner in Brooklyn before heading to the expo.

Maybe it was because I had spent the previous two years visiting at the NYCM expo and NOT running, but this year, the expo seemed quasi disappointing. I think maybe part of me thought that everything NYCM-related was going to have a couple extra UMPHs to it this year, but the expo did not seem to share that feeling. We picked up my bib, some Boston ribbons and some yummy treats (no orange wristbands representing last year’s race-that-wasn’t because NYRR failed to email me that I was privy to one) and spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with friends and walking through Central Park.

Later, I had another delicious carb-heavy meal at Bella Via in LIC to celebrate my Uncle’s birthday…NEVER realizing that the restaurant was set RIGHT on the race course!

We got back to Leticia’s apartment in Brooklyn a little later than I had planned for, but thanks to the time change, had just enough time to prep the next morning’s outfit, get ready for bed, and watch a vimeo of the race course/day to get us pumped.

Surprisingly, I slept well that night.

Leticia and I woke up at 5:45 and silently went through our individual “get-ready” routines, before leaving the apartment at 6:35 to catch the subway. The express that we planned on taking was running local, and we realized early on that we were not going to make our 7:15 ferry out of Staten Island.

Not that being there at 7:15 would have helped!

When we finally got to Staten Island it was PACKED with runners, and the nerves finally started to set in. I didn’t feel awake enough. I didn’t feel ready enough. I was dreading the fact that I had let myself do a 3 week taper (vs 2) and I was seriously questioning my last-minute decision to run in an older pair of shoes (because the newer ones had bothered my foot on the short run through Prospect Park the morning before). Leticia IMMEDIATELY was able to spot a few friendly faces, and before we knew it, our group of two had grown into a pack of six. It definitely helped to have a group of smiling and excited faces nearby while shuffling our way toward the start line!

And shuffle, we did!

I had heard about the crowds at the start for ages, but I could never fully explain to someone what it was like waiting to get on a ferry–ANY ferry–out of Manhattan on Sunday morning. We had already missed the 7:15 and due to the massive crowds of runners at the terminal, we missed the 7:30 as well. We finally we able to squeeze our way on to the 7:45, hobbling our way aboard like a bunch of herded penguins (no really, you couldn’t take a “normal” step, you had to waddle).

Once on the ferry though, the crowd thinned out and the six of us had our own little nook of seats where we spent the ride chatting about nerves, excitement, food, pace–all things running. Before we knew it, we were at the other end of the line, unloading on to Staten Island and getting in yet another line…this time to board the buses that would take us to Fort Wadsworth.

The lines were long but moved quickly, and despite the fact that it was SO early in the morning still and tiny drops of rain were starting to fall, we all kept our spirits up talking about how the sun would come out and it really wasn’t THAT cold (never mind the fact that we were DESPERATE for a portapotty).

Even though we had been up and on the move since 5:45 a.m. and my start wave was not until 10:05, the longer we sat on he bus, the more worried I got about missing my wave.

When we finally got to Fort Wadsworth we were again slowed by metal detectors and police dogs, checking every bag and sniffing every runner. Many people complained that this was an added inconvenience after previous years, but I hardly noticed it as an “inconvenience” (this day in age it seems status quo) and appreciated it in light of Boston.

Once through security, and after a quick bathroom stop, flags paved the way for different start times and our group of six was forced to split. I gave Leticia a big hug and a “good luck!” and moved into the orange wave with Brittany and Beth. As soon as we arrived there though, I started hearing announcements that wave two was about to close, and runners needed to make their way to their respective corrals. I gave Brittany and Beth more hugs and cheers of good luck, and finally ventured off on my own*.

*Had it not been for Leticia and the other girls I traveled to the start with, I would have been a lost little puppy and probably never started, less finished, the NYCM.

The corrals were CROWDED! While there were plenty of portapottys for those that needed them, there was little else to be desired. I knew I had a good half hour before our start, yet there was NO room to stretch, or do much else.  Cell phone service was a wreck from the massive amount of people, and I just idled the time listening to all the different languages around me and tried to soak everything in.

We slowly started moving toward the base of the Verrazano and I spent the last few minutes before gun time figuring out my clothing options–what to discard and what to hold on to in light of the low temperatures and the wind on the bridge. I wound up gearing up at the start line having shed my sweatshirt and makeshift scarf, but keeping the gloves and beanie to keep me warm for the bridge wind (all this, while holding my trusty visor and a packet of honey stingers in hand).

The cannon shot (and scared the CRAP out of me) and before I knew it, I was listening to the sound of Frank singing New York New York as I shuffled my way toward the Verrazano Bridge. This was it.

The bridge was AMAZING.

The sights of Lady Liberty and the New York Skyline were out of this world! I kept a moderate pace the entire time, reminding myself to just enjoy the views, enjoy the run and remember that this was the ONLY time pedestrians were EVER allowed to cross this particular bridge (in my time in NY i had run nearly every other bridge around the island).

I was shocked, even though alumni and legend had prepared me, at the number of people who needed to stop and pee in the first 1-2 miles over that bridge, but I tried not to dwell on it too long– the views were too showstopping to allow that.

As we got off the bridge and headed into Brooklyn I got the first taste of what the NYCM is all about–the crowds. From that first moment in Brooklyn, and for most of the next 10 miles, the support almost never faded.

We could have traveled the world as we traversed those neighborhoods in Brooklyn! Everyone, EVERYONE, was out with a cowbell, a horn, a poster, or just a wave and a smile from their window or balcony, welcoming all of the runners to their neck of the woods.

After a morning of cold clouds and spitting rain, the sun started to come out in full force around the 5k mark, but I knew the forecast was calling for colder temps and heavy winds, so decided to hold on to my beanie and gloves for as long as possible. But the longer the sun stayed out, the more I needed a shade. I tossed my hat and donned my visor around mile 4, holding on to the gloves.

I had worried that the long stretch up fourth would become grueling, and it almost did, but every time I thought I was “over Brooklyn”, I would turn a corner and a new crowd would greet us with so much enthusiasm and so much vibrancy that it was just contagious. For the first time in my [very short] running career, I found myself high-fiving EVERY kid that crossed my path with their palm out. If they were going to spend their day pushing us through this course, I was sure going to give them the gratification of a high-five for it!

My friend Gabby said she’d be hanging out somewhere after mile 8, and after the 5k, I focused solely on finding her. I knew she’d be on the left side of the street, so hugged it as best I could,even to a detrimental point where the course took an unexpected sharp turn at mile 8 and I made a major fail at running the tangents. But it was worth it when I saw her at Lafayette. She had her eyes peeled on the course and I screamed and waved my hands, ran up to give her a high-five and kept on going.

The crowd of runners had grown tight due to the immense hoards of cheerers, and I told myself it was a blessing in disguise. Rather than grow angry with a slowdown, I tried to appreciate and welcome a little reprieve in pace, and reset my mind for the next lookout: my family waiting in Queens.

I had not studied the course well, and when my aunt said they’d be across the street from the restaurant we had eaten at just the night before, around mile 12, I again planned my course around those plans. I hung to the right side this time, knowing Bella Via had been on the left hand side of Vernon Ave.

What I didn’t know, was the course shot across 48th from 11th, before turning on to Vernon. But as luck would have it, my uncle was standing on the right side of 48th, acting as the “spotter” for the rest of the fam. I had spent my short time in Queens desperately searching for my family, and when I hadn’t seen them for what seemed like forever, I decided I was just going to go tell the guy holding the “GO KATIE” sign that my name was Katie and hope he gave me an enthusiastic response. As I headed towards him, I realized he was my uncle mark and I inflated with joy! He sent me across the street to see the rest of my family and I basically kissed and hugged them all to pieces–I was so grateful to have happy faces waiting on the other end of the “tiny” Pulaski Bridge, and I held on to that high to carry me over the Queensboro.

As luck would have it, my FAVORITE song (of the last few months), Katie Perry’s ROAR was roaring out of some spectators speakers just as I started the climb on to the Queensboro Bridge. I considered it a very happy sign, and said at the very least, I’d have that song stuck in my head as I made my way over to Manhattan.

The Queensboro bridge has never frightened me. I ran it many times while I lived in New York, and every time I ran it I said “you can do this at mile 15…sure, it’s an incline, but it’s also a LOVELY decline!”

I told myself the same thing on Sunday, only it wasn’t SO easy.

As a pedestrian, on the pedestrian pathway, you can see the curve of the bridge as you cross it.

As a marathon, running across the car lanes on the bridge, you can’t see anything.

The Queensboro was almost as eerily silent as people report it to be (minus the fact that I was apparently running near the notorious “Dr. Dribble” as I crossed it and multiple runners started conversations with him about his basketballs and his skills), but it really didn’t bother me. I knew I was running up a grade, but I also knew–even though I couldn’t see it–that there was a downhill waiting for me. So I pushed through.

Coming off the bridge was everything it’s reported to be AND MORE. As we rounded the corner on to 59th there was so much relief in the downhill, met with the roar of the crowd waiting around the next bend.

First Ave was a wall of cheers, tears and everything a marathon is made of.

We crossed on to 59th, and I was finally starting to feel tired, but I knew more family and friends were waiting here and didn’t want to give them a bad show, so I sucked it up and smiled as I approached 66th st–the first chance there was at seeing my parents and Pete.

Right around mile 17 I saw, out of 89043 people, my mom’s beautiful smile popping through the crowd and I could have cried with delight! I approached her and my aunt Doreen (the first two faces I saw at my first marathon in Richmond, also close, at mile 16) and covered them with hugs and kisses. They said Pete and my dad were nearby, but not sure where, but they assured my I was looking good and gave me squeals of delight as I moved on.

A few blocks north I also found Tara and Meredith (long time spectator and runner, respectively) near 79th street, and again stopped for hugs and a quick chat about how I was doing and how Meredith’s husband was doing (in hindsight, I’d like to think all of the “family and friend stops” can shave some time off my overall finish time?). They too, lied, and said I looked great, and so I kept on trucking!

When I got to 85th street the course turned into an extremely noticeable downhill, and though I had heard it so many times before, I only just realized I had been running up an incline for all of first ave, and likely way too fast due to wanting to look decent for my spectators!

By the time I hit the Willis Ave bridge going into the Bronx I very seriously wanted to quit. Things had been amazing up to that point, but my feet HURT, my chest was being difficult, I didn’t’ know if i was eating or drinking too much or too little and I just did NOT want to run up another hill.

I contemplated walking for the first half, and by that point, I told myself I was already half way up and walking would be stupid.

Once I made it across the bridge and into the Bronx I got a second wind–I was so proud of myself for not giving up earlier, even though I had repeatedly told myself there were no time goals associated with this race.

I battled with myself in the Bronx, but overall, and in the end, I consider it the strongest portion of the race, and the part I am most thankful for. I wanted to quit a few times, but having powered through that little Willis Bridge, I gave myself confidence, and with each crowd I met in the Bronx, that confidence was renewed. I loved each and every person and instrument i met in my small trek there, because they gave me a second wind I didn’t know i had.

As we crossed the final bridge into Manhattan I was at the point where I was willing to give up every water station to a walk. But the energy I picked up in the Bronx and moving into Harlem said otherwise. There were SO many times where I told myself “ok, next mile marker” or “ok, next water station, you can walk” and I’d approach that mile marker or water station and keep on going, thanks to the amazing energy that was in Harlem and paving the way toward fifth avenue,

But fifth avenue.

Oh, how I hated it.

I didn’t realize until later, after reading the NY Times and other accounts how hard it was, how HILLY it was, I just knew, that I as I was running it, i DESPISED it. I so badly wanted to just stop and saunter off into Central Park and lay down and enjoy the foliage.

At that point, everything hurt and I was having terrible indigestion that I didn’t know if it was caused by too much fuel and water, not enough, I had no idea, and therefore had no way of fixing it. But somehow, i didn’t quit. I told myself if I could just make it to the reservoir, if I could just make it to my happy place (central park), I’d be fine.

I made it to the reservoir in Central Park. And I’m sad to report I was not fine.

I wanted to LOVE coasting down Cat Hill and being in “my happy place”, but I was spent. I wanted water. I wanted to walk. I wanted to be done. In hindsight, I wish I could have felt stronger in the park, but as it is, I did what I could. I did notice the crowds there, that I was not expecting. I didn’t realize that they could creep up and around the finish and come cheer for us on east drive, and while they were few compared to the crowds on first ave or fifth ave, I was grateful for everyone there.

I walked one of the last water stops before mile 25 and told myself that was it–no more water til the finish, and no more cringing about pain. I was planning on seeing my family at Central Park South and I wanted to look and feel strong when I saw them.

As I exited the park I did not look or feel strong. I felt defeated. I felt like mile 26 was so far away. But then I heard Pete screaming his brains out–just at the south-east corner of the park where I did not expect to see anyone–and saw him, and our two friends with their signs screaming and waving. I smiled and waved and none of it was fake–I was so happy to have seen them. I did not see my parents, and kept a sharp eye out for them the entire time I chugged down CPS, willing myself to look strong while they watched. I never saw them (they were actually just a few feet away from Pete when I saw him, but not knowing that had kept me pushing).

As I approached the mini hill that is the finish line of the ING NYC marathon I actually thought, “it’s really happening?” So many parts went by in such a blur and so many parts dragged on for what seems like forever. But i put both hands up, stretched a smile across my face, and crossed the finish line. And i can honestly say that i felt the smile that i put on. After feeling like i was in pain for those last few miles, i was in pure joy as i crossed that finish line.

From there, I wanted nothing more than water and warmth and pushed my way through the hobbling crowd of marathoners until I could finally escape the park–“recovery bag” and poncho in tote–and make my way toward where my family and friends were waiting in midtown.

I know, without a doubt, that had it not been for my friend in Brooklyn, my family in Queens, and my family and friends waiting in Manhattan, that I could not have performed as well as I did this past Sunday. They, on top of the other thousands of spectators, are what powered me through this race.

And the thousands of volunteers.

I have never felt more humbled to cross a finish line, or more honored.

The New York City Marathon is truly The Marathon. In light of all of the wrong the people in this world are capable of, this single event, in a single part of New York, shows what happens when athletes, volunteers, citizens and so many others come together to support a single thing. It is breathtaking. It is beautiful. And it was hands-down one of the best days of my life.

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