New York Marathon – where do I start?
The short version
In short it was the most incredible day. A HUUUUUUGE event, incredibly well organized, perfect running weather, the start line spectacular, the route was great, and the crowd was full and noisy all the way. I loved almost every minute, even the tougher moments and better still, I had no 19 mile melt down or doubts about finishing. All in all, a perfect day and a great way to celebrate my birthday. I am massively grateful to my friends and family that came out to support and all of you that supported me from afar. Thank you so much. Reading your race transcript moved me to tears. .
The most difficult part of this marathon is the “getting to the start logistics”. You are encouraged to not to check bags in but somehow you need to keep warm. You need to be there on Staten island by 7.30/ 8 ish but the race doesn’t start till 10.30. If I eat breakfast at 5am I will be starved again by the time I start? What about jet lag? All of these things bothered me on the lead up to the day, but on race day somehow everything just worked out perfectly. Maybe the marathon gods were smiling.
Finish time 4hrs 35 mins - i am very happy with that. 4.30 would have been nice, but more than happy with a good steady run.
Overall place 27,685 out of 52,697
Overall place for being old and a girl 758 out of 2,188
I crossed the line 3mins 30 after Gary, and in this time 1,300 crossed the line before me!
1812 British runners
Number of jelly babies? None. Not a single spectator accept for my family had jelly babies or other treats for runners. Is that just a British tradition?
The Longer Version - Warning ! it is long!!
We arrived in New York on Friday, the expo to pick up our running numbers was on Saturday and the run itself on Sunday. We were feeling loved as my daughters, and my sister and her husband flew out with us. Garys sister and her husband and two other sets of best friends all then met us in NY.
We booked our places in the marathon through Sports Tours and I have to say they did a fantastic job. Most of the hotel was occupied with their runners and they oversaw all our check-in, early morning marathon day breakfast, organized trips to the expo (if you wanted) and walked you to the bus pick up points on marathon day. There reps were all experienced marathon runners that could talk you through the course and I am sure they would have held your hand all the way to the start line if you wanted. Thank you Sports Tours.
The expo and the picking up of the running numbers, like all of the event was fantastically well organized. They even had an expo team holding out trial t-shirts in all sizes for you to try on, so that the finishers t-shirt you picked up would definitely fit ( and a very nice finishers t shirt it is). We listen to a few talks, found our names on the wall of competitors, and the girls collected a plethora of free stuff including sun glasses, cow bells and statue of Liberty hats. A quick sight seeing trip to the Empire State Building and then we went back to the hotel to rest.
An early pasta dinner with our friends and supporters and then it was home to bed – and the tricky part – setting an alarm for the morning….. I was already jet lagged having only got back from a work trip to San Diego and onto New Orleans a couple of days before, so I am really not sure what time zone my body was on? We knew the clocks changed in NY overnight on the Saturday to give an extra hour in bed, but would our phones / alarms change automatically or not? We couldn’t decide, and so ended up setting a timer for 6 hours instead – and still got it wrong.
Getting to the start – if Carlsberg did buses
It was a 4.30 am wake call for us on race day as we had to leave the hotel to get a bus to the start line at 5.30am before the bridge to Staten island closed at 8 am. No time for birthday celebrations! The hotel laid on a lovely carb loading breakfast for us all and offered packed treats to take to the start – so nice. The sports tour team walked us in pre dawn darkness to the buses. Again, this whole exercise blew me away. Literally 10’s of 1000’s of people where neatly funneled along and onto an enormous fleet of buses in a military like exercise. Bus after bus was neatly filled and whisked its occupants away to the start, no jostling, no impatience, no confusion, no real perception of queuing, just precision organization. I tried to just chill out on the bus, snooze a bit and conserve my energy, Snacking on my Jam sandwiches.
We arrived looking like “down an outs” at our race village wearing old track suits and jackets that could be left in the charity bins. It was about 7.30 am by now, the skies were blue and cloudless and again the plan was to sit quietly, continue to munch on the breakfasts provided there and stay warm. For me the phenomenally high level of security was incredibly sad. What does it say about the world we live in that runners have to go through airport like security metal detectors to enter a race village?
But Time flew surprising quickly ( helped by the reassuringly long toilet queues- good to know all events have the same issues) and soon our start wave was called to the start corals.
Nothing to my mind can beat the atmosphere at the start of the London Marathon, but this came a close 2nd. Just like London a huge sea of runners, lining up at the base of the enormous double decked Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that crosses from Staten Island into Brooklyn. I was so so so excited and so happy to have Gary there with me.
The American national anthem was sung, followed by frank Sinatra’s New York, and Alicia keys York, the Rocky theme tune to build the mood and then we were off. Again the marathon gods were shinning on me as our particular start line took us up and over the upper deck of the bridge with incredible views of the city and the statue of Liberty. Definitely up there in terms of spectacular marathon start line views. We smiled and waved and even stopped for a selfie on the long climb up and over the bridge which takes most of the first mile or so.
Into Brooklyn, Mile 2- 13
Once we came down off the bridge we met the spectators for the first time and boy were they loud and colourful. Banners, bells, loud fun bands. Shouting and cheering in the slightly too warm sunshine, it was a fantastic atmosphere. The roads are wide and huge but even so we were engulfed in a sea of runners almost all of the way. Gary and I settled into a nice 10 min mile rhythm and the miles clocked up and the timing mats were ticked off. I love crossing each of this mats, it gives me an extra spring in my step as I cross, knowing that everyone at home will know that we are doing ok, making our way around safely .The water stations were nicely spaced and organized with a galteraid and water in paper cups. Again, I thought this would be difficult and I thought I would miss plastic bottles, but it worked well for me. A mouth full of fuel and a mouthful of water as I ran through every station seemed do the trick.
Our distinctive Union Jack vest worked well here too. They made it easy for our family and friends to find us, but they unexpectedly also gave us an identity. Many other brits taking parts chatted to us about where we were from and the crowd shouted enthusiastically too. Lots of come on you brits, you UK, you English and even you French??(I do worry sometimes about the American’s knowledge of Europe)
Hugs all round at mile 8 and 10 from our supporters and before we knew it we were at half way. 2hrs 12 !! on plan.
Into Queens, Mile 13 – 16
The half way point is on the road bridge between Brooklyn and Queens. These bridges I had vastly underestimated both in terms of their steepness and length. My pace dropped a bit to march up the bridge but other than that I felt good for the 3 mile stretch to the next bridge. Somewhere around here I lost Gary, although It was always planned that he would gradually start to up his pace we didn’t consciously say goodbye, we just lost each other in the crowd of runners. It was his first ever marathon and he was anxious about not starting too fast but equally unsure about when to up the pace.
Queensboro Bridge 16
This has to be the most miserable part of the course. Another huge road bridge crossing from Queens into Manhattan. Half a mile long, steep both on the up and the down and no spectators allowed. I was on the lower level and all I could hear is the pounding of runners feet on the metal road surface as I marched up the never ending bridge. My watch lost proper signal and suggested I was doing 11.30 min km ?? Definitely a low point.
Manhattan Mile, 16-20
If going up the bridge was a low point that coming off the bridge was a huge high. Suddenly you hit a huge wall of noise from the spectators frustrated from not being allowed on the bridge. It was deafening and a real boost again to see my family there waving their banners. More hugs and again I was on my way. I was worried about this section. Mile 19 and I have always had issue. Maybe it was the way the course was sectioned?, maybe it was the support from all of you at home?, who knows but in NY this section was a breeze. You run pretty much the length of 1st avenue, one long straight road, no twists, no turns ,all you can see is a sea of runners stretching to the horizon. My pace picked up a bit as I aimed for the horizon and counted down towards the 20-mile mark and the bridges in and out of The Bronx. All the way I had been keeping an eye on the time and I passed the 30km mark in about 3hrs 10, it struck me then than a sub 4hr 30 finish was possible if it could keep the same pace going.
Just a mile or so here before we crossed back into Manhatten. Coming off the 1st bridge I spotted Gary up ahead and gradually caught him up so that we left the borough together, he had had a tough 16-20 mile section. Lots of good hearted banners and shouts to the runners “ get back to Manhatten where you came from!”. I was very happy to do so, starting to tire but knowing we had just 5 miles to go and about 50 mins to do it in.
Back in Manhattan and aiming for Central Park
Again I wish now I had paid, more attention when people suggested it was a tough technical course. How could that be? I have tackled Snowdonia! This looked pancake flat on paper in comparison, other than the bridges any hills looked very small. All I can say is that its deceiving, has an overall elevation of about 220 m (in comparison to Manchester that has 40 m). As we came back into Manhatten the next 3 miles along 5th Avenue we gently but relentlessly uphill. Gary and I plodded along but it was hard going. No stopping for hugs with the family this time as I wasn’t sure I would get going again. Finally we were in Central park with 2 miles to go. It was late afternoon by this point and winter sun sitting low in the sky shone in my eyes through the trees. Spectacularly beautiful but hard on the eyes!
I was tired and starting to struggle and once again lost Gary who was now having a good patch. The roads were much narrower and i was almost weaving through the walking wounded. Finally a down hill section,I can fly down to the finish I remember thinking. But no, New York had one last trick to throw. That down hill section is actually a rolling down hill, up and down and up and down and finally up to the finish – Who designs a course with an up hill finish? I struggled with these miles and the time slid away from me.
I had been counting down the miles on my watch, knowing it was a little out on distance all the way. But I hadn’t noticed quite how much it was out. I guess with all the sky scrappers in Manhatten it couldnt get a good signal . My closely watched watch finally showed 26.2 miles ( hurray!) and I expected the finish to be just around the bend, what a blow it was to round the bend to see a sign saying 800 m to the finish!! More and more up hill, until finally the spectators stands lined the route and the finish came into sight. Finally finally I crossed the line, New York dream ticked off the bucket list and Gary waiting so we could collect our medals together.
Back last November I had asked Gary, then a non runner if he would come with me to NY for this marathon. I was surprised then when he said he would do better than that, he would run it with me. I am impressed ( and if honest slightly miffed :-) ) with what he has achieved in a year, and its certainly sealed our relationship, experiencing this togther.
A truely fantastic day and a huge birthday celebration afterwards.
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