My Marathon Experience

It’s weird to think that this time last week, I was still running. Well I’ll go back to the beginning…

It took me a while to fall asleep Saturday night but after about an hour I fell asleep. I woke up promptly at 5am though my alarm was set for 5:30 (it was nice and convenient that the clocks changed that night as we all got an extra hour’s sleep). The night before I had readied everything I needed for the morning and put it in a corner. Check me out in my gear. I loved those arm warmers. Even when I no longer needed them to keep warm, it was great having them on. There was something cozy and comfy about having them on. It felt like a hug the whole time.

My mother nicely drove me to the Staten Island Ferry which I would take over to the start line; ferry left at 7:30. Once we arrived in Staten Island, there were these buses waiting for us to take us to the village until the race where we would hang out until the race start. I was in the 3rd wave which didn’t start until 10:20 so there was a lot of waiting around to do.

Luckily, I was meeting up with a friend there. I actually ran my first half-marathon with her on the Isle of Wight in 2004, we were housemates back then (living in London). She’s an American who was living in London and now lives in Geneva. At the marathon expo, we were both asked where we were from as I guess we have a British overtone to our American accents. It’s a bit funny.

That’s the two of us. I wore a million layers and my Arsenal FC scarf. All clothes that you leave behind is picked up and given to charity so I went through my mother’s pile of clothes to give away and found some things to wear. Susan wasn’t as well prepared but luckily she had a big garbage bag which was the uber fashion of the day and Dunkin Donuts was giving out free hats to the runners so she was set.

Also check out suitman in his Dunkin Donuts hat. He goes around running marathons wearing his powder blue polyester suit. I hope he never runs wearing that in summer. Ouch!

Finally around 10 or so, we went to our corral. Though, just prior to that, this guy had missed getting into the corral for his wave so decided to jump the fence. Anyhow, some NYPD SWAT guy goes running after him and yelling at him. The guy explained that his race was about to start and the SWAT guy was having none of it. He tore off the guy’s number and we all gasped as we thought he wasn’t going to be able to run. It was so OTT and sad because the guy had on his vest showing that he was running for autism and all he did was jump over the fence to try to get to the race. He wasn’t a threat to security or anything. It also freaked everyone out as by this time around 4 other SWAT members had shown up. I mean, really?!? I guess they were desperate for some action but it was too much. They finally let the guy go to the race, he was visibly shaken though, and they didn’t let him have his number back. When you think of how far and wide people travel for the race and the training necessary, it was pretty sad behavior on the part of the SWAT guys.

Blurry photo of the incident (runner in trouble is in blue):

We managed to put the incident behind us and get ready to start. The start was amazing! They had Frank Sinatra on the speakers blaring New York, New York and it was just a blast. I was so excited!!! Susan was pretty stoked too. Best start to a race I’ve ever had. Then slow jog to start line and then off we went. As you can see, we didn’t start until around 43 minutes after the first wave had gone.

Crossing the Verazano Bridge was not fun. One of my many quirks is that I love walking across bridges. But with London bridges, a quick skip and hop and you’re on the other side. Not so with NYC bridges. They are long! And also, the designers were concerned with function and function only. No pretty bridges here. And finally, the wind. Oh the wind was terrible. It was freezing across that and every other bridge we had to cross.

Once over the bridge, we were in Brooklyn and the spectators and support were amazing. I wasn’t out to break any time records so I high-fived every young child, I even hugged this guy who had a sign saying he was giving hugs to the runners. It was great, and I thought, this is going to be easy. I was lovin’ it.

Then mile 8 hit. Every single race I’ve ever done has been hilly. But big steep hills. You see it ahead, you run up and you run down and it’s over. Not so in NYC. Here it’s the gradual incline that goes on for over a mile. I was halfway through mile 8 and I was just like, this is going slowly. Then I realized that I was running up a gradual incline the whole way. But with every incline comes a decline? dis-incline? Usually with steep hills you have to be really careful not to do in your knees going down but here with such a gradual decline(?) I could run happily.

And so the race progressed well. I reached the halfway point and things were still OK.

Here I have to make a confession. I trained quite poorly for this marathon and so reaching the halfway point for me was huge as I’d never run longer than that before. During the summer with Ghana, moving around, planning to move back to NYC (lots of excuses I know), etc, my training suffered and during training my longest run was 12 miles. I’d done a couple of half-marathons in the past so I knew I could run 13.1 miles but could I run 26.2? One thing I knew with running is that it is 90% mental and I knew I was strong enough mentally, but physically?

I kept going. At this point I had to run/walk. Running to the water stations, then walking to the next mile marker. Running again until next water station and so on. I was doing fine until mile 15-16. The whole time we were on the Queensboro bridge. No spectators and it’s one of those bridges where the cars are below and the trains run above. We were below and it felt cramped and dark, horrible and never-ending with trains going overhead every once in a while. It was probably my worst mile.

But after that I was OK again. I had this thing about getting to mile 18. I felt that if I made it to mile 18, everything would be OK. Mile 18 to 19 was fairly jubilant. The only bad thing about mile 18 is that they hand out the energy gels there. OMG how horrible are those!!! Taking it down wasn’t horrible but the aftertaste! I’d brought Clif Shot Bloks with me and those were yummy. Very tasty stuff and I’d recommend it for all future long runs. Gels – yuck!

Then I got to mile 20 and I thought, now this will be cake. I’m nearly there. And I was WRONG! The last 6 miles were horrible! At one point I thought I was nearly to mile 24 only to see it was mile 23. That really took the stuffing out of me and I could no longer run. I just kept thinking that I had nothing left. I kept walking though. By this time, my legs were killing me. Around mile 10 the toes on my right foot had started hurting. I think my shoes were a tad small on the right foot and with the swelling that occurs from all the running, there wasn’t enough toe space and two of my toes seemed to be falling asleep/becoming paralyzed or some such (not fun!). Then around mile 15 my knees started to ache a bit. Luckily that went away. At no time was I out of breath but I could feel my body abandoning me a bit.

I made it through mile 23 and then mile 24. At this point, there weren’t too many spectators but there were still people cheering us on; telling us we’re nearly there. At mile 25, I got about my 5th wind and started running again. Then I saw the sign saying 1/2 mile and mentally I just told myself, this is 2 laps around a track, you can do it. Then a sign saying 400 yards, and I was like one lap left. Then I saw 200 yards and I was like, I used to sprint this in high school. I was surprised with my finishing group that many were content to walk across the finish line. I decided I’d power through and I sprint that last 100-200 yards. And then, yay!, I’d done it. I’d crossed the finish line. 6 hours, 15 min and 11 sec later. I almost burst into tears. I couldn’t believe I’d actually done it.

Here’s a fuzzy finish line photo. I was too tired to be able to hold my phone still (remember I started around 43 minutes late).

Now I’m pretty excited at the prospect of running another marathon but this time I’ll train properly. It was an amazing experience and all the support you get from people. I don’t know what inspires so many people to stand out in the cold just to cheer us on but it’s so amazing and it’s true, during those points when there were lots of people cheering you on, you forget that you’re running and you just run on the force of the applause and the cheers. 🙂

One really cool thing was that my friends could track my run the entire time online because of this cool orange thingy on my shoes called a D-tag.

Every time I ran through a mile marker it would record where I was. It was awesome to go on ravelry the next day and see that I had an online cheering squad on one of the forums. A couple of people kept track of my movements and shared it with the group and everyone said the loveliest things. It was cool having my phone on me as well. As it was a blackberry, whenever I was in a really bad spot, I would open it up and there would be a few emails or facebook messages with people cheering me on. Isn’t technology just amazing sometimes?!?

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