I don’t even know where to start telling the story of my fifth marathon- The New York City Marathon- because the entire experience was so amazing. It was the best race of my life so far and I have a feeling that it will be hard to beat in the future. I ran this race on November 7th, 2010, but the story of my NYC marathon actually began one year before, at the 2009 NYC marathon!
I was on the spectator side of the 2009 NYC Marathon. I had gone up to New York City with my friend Hani to see her dad and uncle run the marathon. It was a week after I had run the Marine Corps Marathon and I was already feeling the itch to run another one. I had heard that this race was amazing, but I had no idea just how BIG and awesome it was until I was there on the sidelines.
We waited around mile 18 and saw Hani’s uncle first. He is blind and runs with a team of trainers through the Achilles group (He is on the left in the picture below). He is attached to them with a rope for his safety. I can’t imagine running a marathon completely blind- but he has done MANY! He’s an inspiration!
Then we saw Hani’s dad! This was his third NYC marathon and he was looking great!
We raced over to mile 24 in Central Park to see her dad again. We were at the top of a huge hill but the energy was incredible. It was then that I completely fell in love with the New York City Marathon.
I knew that I HAD to run this race! Since it was my fifth marathon I decided it was time to run for a bigger cause. In January 2010 I signed up with Team For Kids, which is a charity organization that raises money to fight childhood obesity and promote physical activity and healthy living for kids. This is the same organization that Hani’s dad ran with in 2009, and it hit close to home since I am a teacher who sees the effects of childhood obesity every day at school.
Partnering with Team for Kids gave me an automatic entry into the marathon if I could raise the required amount of money – $2,620! Since the NYC Marathon uses a lottery system to select from literally hundreds of thousands of applicants, I was happy to know I had a spot. However, I was nervous about raising the money. It took a LOT of work and support over the next 9 months to raise the money. I asked for donations from family and friends and had an ‘activewear’ fundraising day at school where the teachers gave donations in order to wear their favorite active/sports wear. I had a fundraising night at Chili’s restaurant. I held a charity yard sale with a lot of things that were donated to me by family, friends, and co-workers. Finally, Kevin sold Power Balance bracelets and donated his profits to Team for Kids. It came down to the deadline date, but I was finally able to raise the full amount. Fundraising was very stressful at times but I was so glad that I did it. I was proud to support Team for Kids and run for them, and I felt like I was finally running a marathon for a reason bigger than myself.
For my training I tried the Run Less Run Faster approach again which had me running 3x a week and cross-training 2x a week. It was very challenging, but I found myself hitting my goal paces on almost every workout. Kevin even joined me on many of my runs because he was getting ready to run his first half marathon in September. I loved having him by my side.
I felt faster and stronger than ever, but I knew I had to be prepared to probably not PR in New York. I had heard the course is very tough with all the bridges and turns, and the late start time (my wave began at 10:40 am) made me nervous too. I ran 20 miles twice during training, and both times I practiced getting up super early, eating, waiting around for a few hours, eating again, then heading out to run around the same time that the marathon would start. This was very hard to get used to, but when race day came I was really glad I had done a couple practice rounds. It made me feel much more confident and comfortable.
Marathon weekend finally came and I could not be more excited. Kevin and I left for NYC early Saturday morning and began the five hour drive.
We got our first glimpse of the city and we saw the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, where I would start my marathon the next morning!
When we got into the city we immediately went to our hotel in Queens to park and then we hopped on the subway to go downtown. We got off at Times Square and walked to the expo a couple of blocks away.
The whole entire city was buzzing with marathon excitement! We got to the expo and I was really impressed with how smoothly everything went when I picked up my stuff and went through the whole expo experience. For being one of the biggest marathons in the world, everything was very under control and organized! It was definitely crowded though.
The most exciting part for me was meeting some people that I have idolized for a long time. First up was RYAN HALL!
He wasn’t running that year but he was going to be riding in the leading car at the race. He signed my bib and wished me good luck! Then I met one of my biggest running inspirations- Bart Yasso! Love him and his book, “My Life on the Run.”
He was at the Runner’s World Booth with another inspirational runner, Matt Long. Matt is a marathon runner who was hit by a bus in NYC a few years ago. He had to learn to walk all over again and now he runs marathons again. He also has a book, “The Long Run.” He is awesome!
After the expo excitement we went back to our hotel to officially check in. We rested for a bit then went back to Manhattan to go to our pre-marathon dinner in Central Park.
The special dinner was at Tavern on the Green, and it was filled with tons of runners and their families. As a vegetarian, I was very happy to see that I actually had options. I had rolls, salad, vegetarian lasagna, and roasted vegetables. It was delicious! The best part of dinner besides the food was getting to meet some other runners. It was amazing to meet people from all over the world who had come to run this race.
After dinner we walked around Central Park a little bit. A guy was giving free soft pretzels out to the runners. Soft pretzels are my favorite so I HAD to have one.
We visited some special places, including the finish line, the famous Fred Lebow statue (he founded the NYC marathon), and the “100 yards to go” point.
Then we went back to our hotel. I put on my race pace tattoo and we passed out shortly after. We were exhausted and I had a 4:30 am wake up call ahead of me!
I didn’t sleep very well because I was full of nerves and excitement. I jumped out of bed when my alarm went off and began the process of getting ready. I got dressed in my race outfit, including my special Team for Kids singlet.
I wrote my name on the front and MACHINE on the back, because during my training I loved to repeat “I’m a machine” to myself as my mantra when things were tough. I got ready to say goodbye to Kevin and head out to catch my bus. He would be meeting me at mile 18 with Hani and her family.
But before I left I bundled up in old warm clothes. It was cold outside and I knew I would be waiting around for a while!
I left the hotel around 5:30 and got the subway to Times Square. Then I walked a few blocks to catch the Team for Kids bus to Staten Island. While I was walking I had my first breakfast, a cinnamon raisin bagel with almond butter and banana. I got the bus right before it was scheduled to leave at 6 a.m. It was awesome to be on the bus surrounded by other people who had partnered with the same charity and raised money for them.
The ride to Staten Island took longer than I had expected it to. We got there a little after 7:15 a.m. We got off the bus and started walking to the Team for Kids start village, where they had a special tent with food, coffee, and bathrooms for us. I got right into the bathroom line and went through about three times after that. I get bad nerves before a race and it really affects my belly!
Waiting around was really hard. I had about three hours to kill before it was time to line up in my corral. I passed the time by people watching, making friends, going to the bathroom, and eventually eating my second breakfast around 9:30, a clif bar.
FINALLY it was time to line up! I was so excited that I was shaking. I took off my extra clothes and joined the masses. I felt like a bunch of cattle being moved along. I was still so far back from the start line that I didn’t hear the gun go off, and it took a good 7 minutes or so to reach the line. But as soon as I crossed it I was overwhelmed with emotions. I couldn’t believe I was running the NYC MARATHON!
It was very, very crowded and stayed that way almost the whole race. But the energy of the runners and spectators was amazing right from the beginning. We began the race by crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. It was steep but I didn’t notice much because I was on such a high. I was able to snap this quick photo with my cell phone as I climbed the bridge.
I posted the picture on Facebook and one of my friends immediately responded, “Ummm how about you stop taking pictures and RUN!” So I listened.
How amazing are those pictures? They are a few of the photos that were on the CD I bought after the race that contained all my race pictures. There will be many more in this post.
I ran pretty fast at first. I tried to hold myself back but it was so hard because the energy was so amazing. The first miles were a blur, to be honest. I was just so happy to be running and taking in my surroundings. I had read A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York before the race, so I had an idea about what the course would be like. We ran through Brooklyn first, and then around mile 8 the blue, orange, and green groups finally met up again which made the roads much more crowded. All along the course there were spectators lining the streets. There was never a time where the road was filled with only runners. People were there were signs, music, noisemakers, and yelling words of encouragement. It was amazing 🙂
We crossed the halfway point and my pace was right on track. I loved having my pace tattoo on my arm. I was running almost exact splits and I was feeling good. But I knew that the course was hard and the toughest parts were yet to come as we entered into Queens.
I was comforted by knowing that my cheerleaders were at mile 18 waiting for me.
Kevin was waiting at mile 18 with Hani and her family, including her dad who we watched last year. Her uncle was running the race again this year, but he had started in an earlier wave.
On the Queensboro Bridge right before mile 16 is where I lost all momentum. My speed and the excitement from the first 16 miles caught up with me and the bridge was KILLER. A lot of people struggled on it. In fact, I later found out that earlier that morning, famous elite runner Haile Gebrselassie decided to drop out of the race on this bridge. I slowed way down and was starting to feel very fatigued. Kevin had 2 of my Gus and I couldn’t wait to see him so I could get one.
Coming off the bridge I had a little burst of energy because we entered into Manhattan on First Avenue. I also knew that my friend from college, Jared, would be waiting to see me there! He lives in NYC and we had planned for him to be on the left right at the beginning of First Avenue. I was SO excited to see a familiar face. It made me forget the terribleness of the bridge.
First avenue was loooong. The runners are on it for almost 4 miles, which felt like forever! I couldn’t wait to see Kevin at mile 18. I stared at my Garmin and watched the miles slowly creep by, and then finally, I saw them!
I stopped for a second to say hi to Hani and her family then Kevin jumped on the course and ran with me for a few minutes. He told me I looked good, and I immediately asked for a Gu. I was almost at mile 19 and I had already taken 3 Gus, but I needed it bad! He gave me a kiss and told me he would see me again at mile 23, only 4 more miles. He left and I was smiling again 🙂
Next I crossed the bridge and headed into the Bronx. I knew from reading the book that this area was different from the rest of the course. It was much quieter with less spectators. This was also when I hit mile 20. This was a big deal to me!
We were only in the Bronx for about a mile and before I knew it we were headed over another bridge and back into Manhattan down Fifth Ave.
Mile 21 came, then Mile 22… I was really starting to feel the effects of the race on my body. My feet were hurting and I regretted not getting new shoes earlier. The shoes I was wearing had too many miles on them but I hadn’t had time to get new ones. A Team for Kids coach saw my bright green TFK shirt and jumped in to run with me. She asked me how I was feeling and I told her I felt good but I had foot pain. She told me to swing my arms forward as I ran to take my mind off the feeling in my feet. It worked and I did that for the rest of the race. I was very thankful for her help!
Right before mile 23 we started running alongside Central Park. I knew that the end was near! I saw Kevin and Hani earlier than I expected to see them and again, I was SO HAPPY. I nearly cried when Kevin jumped in with me. I was in a great mood and feeling better than I ever have at this point in a marathon. Usually mile 22-23 is where I break down and lose it, but I was holding strong even despite the hills of Central Park. The tough course had taken its toll on me, but I was right on schedule to finish the race in about 4 hours and 15 minutes.
Kevin ran with me for a little over 2 miles, from mile 23 to just past 25. I got some cramps in my leg and found it difficult to talk much, but I was still in good spirits (despite what I look like in the picture below!)
He left me when the barriers started coming up along the sides of the course, which meant the end was near! I started seeing the familiar signs that I had seen the night before at our pre-race dinner. I got a little choked up as I saw the finish line ahead. I couldn’t believe how good I felt at the end of a marathon. I gave it everything I had and sprinted (as best as I could) to the end. I checked my watch and I had finished in 4:12:08. My second fastest time. I was ecstatic!
I stopped running and immediately stiffened up. I had not really walked at all during this race so it was a shock to my body to stop all of a sudden. All the blood rushed to my legs and I felt instant pain and a strong urge to sit down, but there was nowhere to sit! The finish chute had us walking like a half mile (!!) to the runner area and the Team for Kids tent where my dry clothes were. I started walking very, very slowly, and I was feeling a little sick and freezing cold. A wonderful volunteer saw I was having trouble and she helped me. She let me lean on her all the way to the TFK finish tent, then she got my things and let me use her cell phone to call Kevin (mine was dead). He hadn’t been able to make it to the finish in time to see me and he was making his way to where I was. The volunteer even helped me change clothes and shoes! She was amazing.
I finally met up with Kevin and gave him a huge hug. By this time it was almost 4 p.m. and I was exhausted! We figured out how to exit the park and tried to get to the subway (very slowly!) but we ended up walking a long time in the WRONG direction! I was annoyed at first because I was so tired and stiff. Eventually we found our way and got on the subway. It was packed and I felt bad because I didn’t smell very good 🙂 Oh well!
We made it back to our hotel in Queens (that I had run by earlier in the day!) and took a shower. It felt soooooooooooo good. Then we ordered veggie pizza that I promptly devoured, and then passed out.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and went downtown to Times Square. My legs didn’t feel too terrible (probably because of all the extra walking after the race), so we wanted to explore a bit. I also knew it would be good for me to get my legs moving, even if it was a dark and gray morning!
We walked around Times Square and picked up a copy of the NY Times because we knew they had a special marathon section with the names and times of the finishers! I’m in there, I promise! Middle column, somewhere in the middle of the list. It says Allen, C – 4:12:08!
Then we went to our true destination: The Today Show! I was SO EXCITED for this! We got there early and got a great spot outside. I knew that Al and Meredith had also run the race the day before so they would be talking about it. There were a lot of other runners there sporting their medals.
Al came around and shook everyone’s hands. Then he stopped right in front of where we were standing to do the weather report, so we were able to get on TV for a few seconds! Luckily, we knew we were planning to go to the Today Show so we had set our DVR at home. When we got back to Virginia we were able to see ourselves and take a picture of the TV.
Do you see us on the right next to Al’s head??? We had so much fun!
The New York City Marathon was the most perfect race experience. Everything from the organization of the race, to the volunteers, the course, the runners from around the country and the world, and the spectators… it was all well done and just amazing.
Kevin also said he loved experiencing the race as a spectator. He was able to see awesome things during the race, including the Chilean miner, the elite runners, and people in crazy costumes.
I loved, loved, loved this race. It will be hard to beat. I wish I could run it every year!