Sunday, November 17, 2019

You crowd, you cramp, you're still the champ, amen for NYC: NYC Marathon 2019 Race Report

[This took FOREVER to finish because I've had an insane couple of weeks since this race, but I'm so happy to say it's finally done and out in the world. Kind of hard to believe I've written 15 of these novel race reports now, but I'm so happy to have them to look back on!]

I fell in love with New York City the first time I ever set foot there.

I had just finished 6th grade, and I felt like the luckiest kid on the planet to get to travel to the big city for a national dance competition. As a young dancer, making it to Nationals for the first time felt like Making It. We stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria, which sounded fancy, and I will never forget stepping out of the taxi from the airport, into the lights, noise, smells of the city, and just feeling It was unlike anything I had ever felt before. And I knew, in my 11 year old heart, that I loved this place.

And so, NYC has continued to call me back as the years and decades have rolled by. Each time dance nationals roulette landed on New York, my heart soared - no offense to Vegas or Orlando (actually whatever I'll offend those cities happily), but neither could offer anything close to what NYC did. When I was about 14, I competed in a tap dance to a song entitled "NYC", from the musical Annie, at nationals in New York. I vividly recall the music swelling as we moved into our final kickline, feeling so full of happiness I thought I might burst. I lived in Manhattan during the summer of 2012 while completing my first physical therapy student rotation. As far as the clinical went, I struggled - turns out acute care PT was not the path for me. But as for the rest of the summer? Pure magic. Living alone in a one room studio on 103rd and Central Park West, knowing no one, I spent that summer exploring the city that I had come to know as mine, whether I lived there permanently or not. At that time, I was in an off phase from competitive running, but I still spent many miles looping through and exploring Central Park. I once sprinted from my apartment to Times Square after the shittiest day at work in an attempt to score tickets in the Book of Mormon lottery, grinning like a maniac all the while. When I was 29, my long term relationship crumbled, and with nowhere else to turn I impulsively booked a bus ticket to NYC, then spent essentially my entire life savings on a ticket to see the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. The relationship mended (heck, we're married now!) but that weekend remains one of my favorite gifts I've ever given myself. It doesn't matter why I'm there, who I'm with, or what else is going on in the world, when I step off a train or a bus or a taxi and into the whirlwind vortex that is New York City, I feel like I'm home.

So you would think, given my extremely strong feelings towards this place, that at some point in the past 10 years I would have contemplated running the massive marathon that's held there every year. I did enter the lottery a few years ago without success, and then just sort of gave up the idea. There were other races that didn't cost $300 or require running with 50,000 other people, and anyway, most of the race was outside of Manhattan proper anyway. For whatever reason, there was no strong allure. And then, I had a dream. Literally. I dreamed that I ran NYC in 3:05:26. As dreams go, the course was certainly much different than the real one, involving stairways and fire escapes and cutting through buildings, but I woke up with a smile as I remembered the time on the clock. A couple of hours later, that morning, I got an email from NYRR that registration was open for the marathon. Only then did it occur to me: I had an automatic time qualifier. And as they say, the rest is history.

I knew going into this marathon that my training would be...unconventional, to say the least. My fall season goal race wasn't actually a running race at all - after the disaster that was Boston, I sort of said to hell with the marathon and decided to become a triathlete, and as it turns out trying to train yourself from 0 to a decent 56 miles on a bicycle requires sacrificing some hours on the road. From June through September, I averaged between 32-38 miles per week, with a couple of outliers in the 40s but nothing over 45. Long runs were held to 10-11 miles with one accidental 15 miler in the mix, and generally as summer came into fall I felt extremely globally fit, but not particularly in great running fitness. I took 4 days off after the half ironman, promptly raced 21 miles over 24 hours at Reach the Beach, and then dove into my mini marathon cycle. I knew I didn't have the time to spend on attempting to bring up my top end speed, so track workouts were not a priority. Instead, I tried to build mileage and the long run as quickly and safely as I could while also maintaining my sanity. In the end, here's how the mini-cycle shook out:
Week 1: 40.3 miles, included a short tempo workout, long run 13.5 easy
Week 2: 46.9 miles, 11 mile MLR on Thurs, long run 20 miles with a 2/1 x 4 workout (this should have been a 50 mile week but my adductor was pissed after the long run that definitely was beyond my current fitness)
Week 3: 50.7 miles, no MLR because I had to do my long run on a Friday, long run 18 miles relaxed
Week 4: 55.3 miles, slow/terrible 10 mile MLR, long run was 21 total with a half marathon in 1:34 + some slower miles for cheering/pacing
Week 5: 52 miles, 10 mile MLR with 5 mile tempo (one of the best workouts I've ever done), long run 16 miles with 2/1 x 4 workout that felt great
Week 6: 44.2 miles, a not great tempo workout, and a 12 mile long run
And then a week of taper. So...not a lot of mileage, but I did the best I could with the tempos and long runs. I knew there was an off chance that I could run out of my mind and PR or something, but that seemed gut instinct was that on a perfect day something just under 3:20 was possible, and 3:20-3:25 seemed very doable. The fact that a PR was really never on the table was actually quite wonderful because it took ALL the pressure off. Still, I was nervous - would I even be able to run a reasonable time, or would this be an embarrassing outing? The thought of another 3:35 performance was almost too much to bear (not disparaging anyone who runs that time! But 25 minutes slower than your PR is...a lot). So I set my number 1 goal as having fun, and secondary to run a qualifying time that would put me in a relatively good position to return to Boston in 2021 (because I obviously hate myself, lol).

I headed down to the city bright and early on Saturday with Joy, who joined me for the weekend to cheer (do I have the best friends or what?) The moment I emerged out of Penn Station and into the crisp light of a fall morning in New York, all of the feelings that I just described came rushing back. I did a dance like a 5 year old and was practically spinning in circles with glee.
Taking photos in a crosswalk because I'M HERE

The first order of business was to head to the expo, which was much less overwhelming than Boston's but still a project. Joy commented that she actually wished that she were running the marathon, which I found hilarious because I still couldn't quite wrap my brain around the fact that I was running a marathon the next day. Were we sure this was real life? I don't know if it was the extremely short nature of the training cycle or the fact that I had always viewed this race as more of a celebration but I definitely didn't feel like I had to cover 26.2 miles the following day. Still, I got some standard photos at the expo, purchased my Gu (yup, didn't even have Gu for the race, got my nuun bottle, and then pretty much got out of there. I didn't buy ANYTHING extraneous, which is shocking. But I honestly wasn't wowed by any of the official gear, and unlike Boston there wasn't any other race specific stuff. I did end up buying the race photos, as you'll see, which I do feel sort of makes up for my lack of spending at the expo.
 Please recall my tap dance background as you look at this picture lol

The old "find your name on the poster" shot

Giggling because at this point they were asking small children about their advice for the marathon and the girl's advice was "it will be over...eventually!"

We ended up going to Rattle & Hum for lunch, because I apparently gravitate towards that one place when I'm in the city and also because I didn't feel like wandering about looking for an appropriate lunch. I had a pretty great turkey club and some pretzel bites along with a couple of tasters of some interesting beers (a bahn mi inspired sour = fascinating). Then we hopped on the Q train to Brooklyn, where our Air BnB was located. It turned out to be a really interesting and eclectic apartment, with lots of unique artwork and an interesting layout. It was also in an EXCELLENT location, about 3 blocks from the subway I'd need to take in the morning (and also the course itself) and close to Prospect Park, which is where Joy and I headed for a little shakeout run.

A random guy jogging by saw us struggling to take a selfie and offered to take our photo, and I have to say he nailed it! Nice framing, guy! 

I definitely didn't feel awesome but when do you ever feel awesome the day before a marathon? Again, that specific situation hadn't fully sunk in. The rest of the afternoon we just kind of hung out at the apartment; I went to the grocery store that was a couple of blocks down to get some last minute items including tupperware and PLASTIC SPOONS for my oatmeal so that I wouldn't have to steal kitchen items from my Air BnB host and abandon them on Staten Finally remembered that you need silverware to eat oatmeal, which has only taken me like 2 years to figure out. We went out for dinner at a local Italian spot which was cozy and very nice, where I ate chicken parmesan which is apparently my new thing. We headed back to the apartment where I sorted out my last minute preparations (drink the traditional prerace beer, paint my nails, organize my stuff, set up my oatmeal...etc). Daylight savings time is a blessing, since my 4:27 wake up call would feel like 5:27, but still by 9:45 or so I felt like I should probably head to bed. Nothing left to do but get up in the morning and race!

Please note the AMAZING cheetah socks which I bought to match my Kinvaras (after much waffling back and forth I decided that I wanted to stick with what felt most comfortable and wear the Kinvaras vs. my Freedoms for this race. But then, the horror...I don't have socks that match! A frantic spree on my Tuesday morning commute solved that issue and quite frankly I think it was an excellent choice)

Race day! I got maybe the best night of sleep I ever have before a marathon, waking up only once (interestingly right at the time change at 2 am) and despite my ridiculous stress dream that my socks had transformed into slipper socks, I woke up feeling refreshed, 20 minutes before my alarm, at 4:07 am. I lay awake in the darkness, thinking, waiting for the first strains of Thunderstruck to come blasting through my phone and for race day to truly begin. It felt surreal. I still don't think I had wrapped my head around the fact that I was running a marathon, and truthfully I probably didn't until halfway through he race. I knew that my run volume was low and my marathon specific cycle was short, but that mindset actually allowed me a sense of relative calm as I went through my morning routine.  I wanted this day to be a celebration of all that I loved about the marathon before I took a break from it in 2020. A chance to wash the taste of Boston out of my mouth and maybe for the first time to truly enjoy the experience of a marathon, not just the time on the clock. Whatever I ran today, it would be enough. After a brief snafu with my food prep - our host did have a microwave, which I had pondered during my 2 am wakeup, but it wasn't functional! Luckily a teakettle + water = good enough oatmeal for me. I also forgot to buy brown sugar and so made do with some random agave syrup I found in the kitchen...again, seemed good enough! I walked to the subway in the dark and the quiet, briefly crossing the course I'd be running later on. In the R train station, an eclectic mix of runners in throwaway sweats and other humans of New York awaited the R train. It was silent as we rumbled underground; I sipped my can of coffee as men and women in Tyvek suits and worn sweatpants shifted in their seats awaiting the call for the Whitehall Station. We emerged from the subway to the glow of massive blue letters announcing the STATEN ISLAND FERRY, along with the most chipper volunteers who seemed to have no purpose other than to wish us a good morning, a good day, good luck. We were funneled into lines where our bags were sniffed by the goodest working doggos...heart! In the ferry terminal I encountered a highly unusual sight: a lengthy line for the men's bathroom, and NONE for the womens! I felt like I was in a parallel universe! I munched on a banana while waiting for the call for the 5:45 am ferry. As we walked down the gangplank, I remember just being absolutely delighted that I was taking a BOAT to my race! On boarding the boat, the first thing I saw was the glow of the Statue of Liberty in the distance, bright against the dawn light just starting to emerge. I'm not even going to lie, I got emotional! Again, I just love this place so much, and I just felt so completely grateful to have the opportunity to do what I was doing today.  (Something strange happened with the formatting here, and I dont know how to fix it!)<3 5:45="" a="" about="" absolute="" also="" am="" an="" and="" any="" around="" as="" ascended="" assume="" ate="" attempt.="" await="" baggage="" banana="" be="" because="" been="" beginning="" boat="" but="" call="" chaos="" comes="" darkness="" dawn.="" day:="" day="" delight="" does="" doing="" earlier="" early="" emerging="" end="" energy="" ever="" experience="" eyes="" felt.="" felt="" ferry.="" ferry="" first="" for="" fortunate="" from="" glanced="" good="" had="" halfway="" happen="" happiness.="" heard="" horror="" hundreds="" i="" in="" into="" island.="" it.="" it="" journey="" just="" let="" liberty="" line="" lines="" listening="" love="" loved="" low="" marathon="" me="" men="" mode="" moment="" morning="" most="" murmur="" my="" next="" no="" of.="" of="" often="" omen="" on="" once="" one="" our="" out="" p="" palpable="" part="" place="" pr="" quiet="" race="" regarding="" relaxed="" restroom="" right="" room...when="" room="" runners.="" s="" several="" she="" sign="" situations="" smooth="" snaked="" so="" staten="" statue="" stories="" taking="" tell="" terminal="" that="" the="" then="" there="" thing="" this="" times="" to="" towards="" transportation.="" transportation="" up="" ve="" waited="" wake="" walked="" was...the="" was="" we="" well="" welled="" which="" while="" window="" with="" without="" women="" worth="" you="">

The ferry ride itself was uneventful, about half an hour of gazing out the window at the statue and the skyline beyond, finishing my coffee, and listening to the guys next to me talk about Maurten and how "I set a 6 minute PR in my half marathon, and it was totally because of this gel and my shoes. I mean, I trained a lot better too, but there's NO way it was all the training". LOL! Why not give your training some credit, man? As an aside, never will you ever see me in Nike's "magic" shoes. First of all because I don't believe in spending $250 on shoes that you can essentially race in once, but second of all because if I can't run a time without the help of a carbon plate, then maybe I just can't run that time! And that's OK with me. Anyway, we disembarked at Staten Island just as the sun was beginning to rise over the city. Again, I was just shocked by how few people there seemed to be - it was rather delightful for the biggest marathon in the world to feel so small! I used the restroom again (seriously, if you see a rest room with no line at ANY point in the morning before a marathon, you just take advantage of that shit, no questions asked) and then wandered out onto a promenade. There was 1 other person out there and I almost gasped at what everyone else was missing out on. The sun was rising on a clear, stunning day, light reflecting off the Freedom Tower, the skyline still aglow as night turned into day. I took a moment to just stand in the silence and look at it, and I smiled. There was no questioning it: today was going to be magic.

Back inside, people were hunkering down on the floor, I assume with the goal of waiting as long as possible to have to stand outside. I personally just wanted to get where I needed to be, and so I headed towards the buses - but not before stopping in a random souvenir shop and buying Chapstick! This was really the first weekend of truly fall weather with dry air, and my lips had been feeling terrible but I hadn't had the opportunity to locate any lip balm. What better place than on the way to a marathon? I sort of chuckled to myself at the silliness of it all but my lips were SO happy. On the way to the bus we passed by the happiest bunch of people trying to bring people to Jesus you ever did see, smiling and shouting "Run to WIN! Run to JESUS!" and while I won't be converting any time soon their energy was truly delightful. Got on a bus (literally New Jersey city buses) without really waiting at all and ended up in the far back corner. The bus ride seemed to take ages, as they always do. I drank some water, ate a couple of ginger clif chews since my stomach was feeling a little unsettled, and chatted with the guy next to me who had run several times. I told him a little bit about the Boston course ("Oh, is that race hilly?) and he told me about a nightmare morning he'd experienced in the past at NYC when he took a later ferry, waited for an hour for a bus, and then the bus ride to the start village took 90 minutes (it should/did take 30 minutes in my experience). NO THANKS. You can bet I'll be on the 5:45 ferry no matter how long I have to wait in the village if (when) I run this race in the future. 

We arrived at the fort around 7:15 and after a brief security checkpoint I was walking up into the fort. I wasn't really sure where anything was so just followed the signs to the blue village (there was a village for each start - green/orange/blue) where I AGAIN walked right into a porta potty with no line?! What parallel planet was this? I'm so used to spending like 17 hours at Boston waiting in line for the various porta potties along the way that this was just shocking. It actually felt pretty chilly at the village! Great vibes for racing, but it took a bit of effort to stay warm. I felt for the people who clearly hadn't thought this part through who were wandering around in shorts and these crappy plastic ponchos that they were giving out. I found a sunny spot and proceeded to eat my oatmeal, which was the least shitty 2 hours-cold oatmeal I've ever had! I actually didn't have trouble getting it down and was very happy about that. They were giving out handwarmers, so I stuck one in each glove (I somehow had the foresight to bright gloves for the village, which is very unlike me) and one at the back of my neck, which actually provided some really nice heat. Then I wrapped myself up in a mylar blanket from some long-forgotten Boston and I was perfectly cozy! I didn't bring any entertainment for the village, so just passed the time by scrolling through Instagram, people watching, and taking selfies. 

V. proud of remembering to bring a spoon, also please note my CLASSIC crushed velvet ensemble. Shoutout to the Davis Square Goodwill for that gem of a jacket.

Cold! Which when you know you're going to run a marathon = happy! 

I had heard that we would be called into corrals about an hour before the start (for me, 9:40) so I elected to return to the porta potty line at 8:20 to ensure I had enough time. Now there was actually a line, but it was maybe 10 minutes...again, no big deal when you've had the experience of waiting 50 in the the Boston village. I still had some time to kill which I spent in truly the best way the THERAPY DOG CORRAL!! Yes, they literally had a little pen with therapy dogs and their handlers, and I will never turn down the opportunity to snuggle with a dog at any point in my life, including before a race. They were adorable, and also total hams.
I cannot even.

His parka!!

Just as I completed my puppy time, we were called to the corrals. I got rid of some aspects of my throwaways but was still pretty chilly so hung onto my crushed velvet jacket and pants. I thought the way the corrals were was so great - basically you went into your corral "box" (still in the start village) which was essentially just another waiting space - there were porta potties, etc. I got in the porta potty line (AGAIN) because you just literally can never be too sure. Then I stood around for about 15 minutes trying to decide when was the right time to get rid of the rest of my throwaways. In the end, I took off my pants and gloves but hung onto my jacket and headband right up until the bridge. Finally at around 9:20, we were released onto the bridge. As per usual, I suddenly was struck with a dramatic urge to is where the corral system is amazing: as you walk towards the start, you walk through all of the other corrals...which are all lined with porta potties! I popped in and out of one in the B corral and was finally really ready to go. I took my lemon lime Gu with 15 minutes to go and then just let the energy of the crowd flow through me. 

As we approached the ramp, music was BLASTING, the sun was brilliant, and the bridge loomed ahead with 26.2 miles of running to follow it. The energy was absolutely electric, and when I first stepped out onto the ramp and the bridge came into view ahead, let's just say I'm glad I was wearing sunglasses because I again teared up with happiness. It was so BEAUTIFUL! The bridge and the people, the police blasting the music, the city beyond, the fact that we were basically standing on a freeway on ramp...all of it was glorious. I started a tradition a few years ago of writing a word on my arm, just above my watch, that I want the race I'm about to run to be about. It took me awhile to think of what the perfect word was for this race, and I ended up with "delight" - because I wanted to delight in every moment and every piece of this experience. Standing on the ramp waiting for the start, delight and joy were coursing through me. I kind of felt like I was going to a carnival or something, not running a marathon! I've been trying to put my finger on what made this marathon so spectacular and one of the things I've landed on is that the energy is just SO different from, for example, Boston. At Boston, people are excited to be there, but in general they are also quite serious about the endeavor. At New York, sure, people were serious - and I was far enough up in the corrals that I knew that everyone surrounding me was a solid marathoner - but there was this energy of just pure joy that had a different feel to it. Like even though I assume many of us had done multiple marathons, there was this aura of "Hey, guys, can you believe it? We're running a MARATHON. How cool is that?" And you could hardly turn your head without hearing a new language being spoken - in the village, announcements were made in I think 4 different languages? - and I saw runners from Sweden, Germany, France, Australia, Mexico...the list goes on. It was an incredibly cool international vibe. A Broadway actress sung the national anthem (of course!), announcements were made, and then there was the cannon and "New York New York", just like I knew that there would be, and we were moving off towards the start.

The start

The Bridge
According to my watch it took 4 minutes from the time the cannon sounded for me to cross the start line - a start line which, I have to add, was almost comically small for the pomp of the event, nothing more than a timing strip and a small arch on the right hand side announcing "Start". In keeping with my plans to make this race all about the party, I had decided to listen to music. This is a VERY divisive topic and I read so many reports that strongly recommended not doing it "because the crowds are so great!" As we'll get to later, I was more than capable of enjoying/hearing the crowds while ALSO enjoying the best playlist I've ever made in my life, so to those who judge me for my headphones I say...pshaw. I waited until the last strains of Sinatra's voice were echoing into the distance, then pressed play on the song I had selected to start my race. It's a song they play during the Gameday show on college football Saturdays, which I only recently discovered is an actual song (it's called Silver Scrapes if you want to hear what it sounds like). As I ran up that bridge with thousands of people around me, this song blasting in my ears, the city skyline ahead, I burst into a smile that did not leave my face for the next hour and a half. The sunlight, the skyline in the distance, helicopters flying alongside the bridge, the energy of thousands of people starting out on a journey. I wanted to reach out my arms and just capture the feeling. 

The first mile of the race has the largest elevation gain of the entire race, but there was so much happiness coursing through me I felt like I could have been running downhill. I purposefully relaxed the first mile, easing in and soaking in the moment. I took to the right hand side of the bridge since Joy had told me she'd be on the right in Brooklyn, hurdling abandoned Biofreeze ponchos and feeling a sense of mild anxiety about the guy in front of me running in a bathrobe, belt flapping in the breeze and threatening to trip him. I hit the mile marker in 7:45 - perfect! Up ahead, I noticed a woman in a shirt with the New York Times logo on it and the name "Tali" taped across the back. Wait a second...I ran in college with a girl named Tali, who now works at the New York Times! I pulled up along side her and kind of awkwardly looked sideways before turning off my music and incredulously shouting "Tali?!!" "AUDREY?!!" Seriously, what are the odds of running (literally!) into someone you haven't seen in 10 years during the first mile of the world's largest marathon? We briefly chatted - she had just run a PR at Chicago and so was running for fun, and I mentioned that I had the same goal. "Just wait until Brooklyn", she said "It's unbelievable!" Meanwhile, a random guy running near us was loving this event, and literally said something like "That was AWESOME!" as we bid our farewells and I pulled ahead. Thanks to adrenaline, downhill, excitement, and serendipity, mile 2 was a 7:00...which is in fact the fastest mile I've ever run in a marathon. WHOOPS! But my thoughts about it could be described the same way I'd describe the 10 miles that followed: I knew it was a bad idea, but I was having too much damn fun to care. 

Brooklyn. I could attempt to write thousands of words to describe how much fun I had running through Brooklyn, and it would never be enough to describe the feeling. I have run so many races in my life, and I have NEVER had as much fun in any one of them as I did during the 10 miles I spent in Brooklyn. After the stupid second mile, knowing I was making bad choices but not caring, and without the weight of time goals or expectations, I felt utterly and totally free. In the notes I wrote the day after the race, the first line is: BROOKLYN. FUCK YES. PARTY!! High fived EVERYONE! This is not an exaggeration. I've definitely had my share of high fiving kids at Boston and whatnot, but at the end of the day my focus has always been on racing and the minute that hamming for the spectators becomes tiresome, I stop. In Brooklyn, I was on some other level all together. I ran my way down the right hand side of the course, literally finding every opportunity I could to high five, yell, fist pump, whatever, with an enormous smile on my face all the while. Hard as I tried, I could NOT stop smiling, nor could I stop running at a pace that I knew was well beyond my capabilities. I was doing the exact opposite of what I had said I would do (be patient!) and doing exactly what everyone says not to do (get sucked in to the crowds and the flatness of Brooklyn!). I knew that, 100%. And I didn't care. I said after the race that I probably added 5 minutes to my time with my silliness in the first half of the race, and I wouldn't trade the experience for all the minutes in the world. I was so, so happy and it was bursting out of my heart and my face and my legs to the point where I couldn't slow down even if I tried. Miles 3-5 were all around 7:25, "that's too fast, you said 7:40s", I thought. My attempt to slow down resulted in a 7:15 mile 5. That was the point where I completely gave up on running any sort of smart race and just gave myself over to the fun of it all. All I could think was this, this is why I run, this is why I do all this stupid shit, because THIS is amazing, THIS is so fucking fun, THIS is being present and alive. Brooklyn is a blur of hands held out to high five; tiny sweaty palms of 5 year olds, gloved hands of elderly men, signs saying "touch here for power". Cowbells and bands with drums, a saxophone playing somewhere, the occasional shout you could hear within the roar: let's go BOSTON! YEAH BOSTON! FUCK YEAH BOSTON! And on for miles and miles. I felt like I had finally been invited to some kind of party that I hadn't known how to get to. 15 marathons and I finally realized that at the end of the day, I do this because I love it and because it's FUN. 
Brooklyn, a summary. 

I somehow had the wherewithal to remember to take my first Gu at 5 (Triberry) At mile 7, I saw Joy and Allison cheering and I literally threw my arms up and SCREAMED at them "THIS IS SO FUCKING FUN!!" At this point I was still cruising pretty comfortably in the 7:20s-30s, although there was starting to be a little flicker of I Notice This Is Effortful somewhere in the background. This didn't bode particularly well for 90 minutes down the road, but that was a problem for future me to deal with. Right now, I was still in the midst of the Brooklyn party. Random things stand out in my memory: A guy with an inflatable Trump doll and a sign with instructions to "Punch The Trump for Power!"...if ONLY I'd been closer to that side of the road! A building called The Audrey. Someone quoting Lizzo with a sign that said "You're 100% that bitch" and I was like YES I AM! Somewhere in here I took my second Gu (Lemonade Roctane) and was taking some water, really just a sip or so every station. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of difficulty I had getting into/out of water stops, as this is always something that seems to be a massive pain at Boston and I assumed that this being a bigger race that the situation would be worse. But really, I had no problem getting what I wanted and getting out of there!  At one point we were running down a shady, tree lined street full of brownstones - maybe around mile 10? - and I was decidedly starting to feel like my legs were headed into a less pleasant place than the one I'd been living in. Right around that point, I saw a man standing relatively quietly, with a relatively small sign compared to the other spectators, that said: "You are beautiful and free". And I almost started crying! And then, a few moments later, the song "YALA" by MIA came on my playlist. That song is a jam, and is one of only a couple of songs on the playlist that wasn't just a techno/EDM song. It fit SO perfectly with my Brooklyn party mood and it instantly picked me back up as I had myself a little jam session at mile 12 of the marathon, to the tune of a 7:24 mile! Unfortunately, like any party, this one was going to have to end at some point, and the point was coming up rapidly as we began to approach Queens. 

The half marathon mark of the race is on the second bridge of the race, between Brooklyn and Queens, and I don't know if it was realizing the Brooklyn party was over or just the fact that I had run 13 miles at a good clip, expending a ton of extra energy with my party time, but it was just about exactly at the half marathon mark when I realized the good times were over. Just very abruptly on the uphill heading onto the bridge my legs lost all the spring that they'd had for the previous 13 miles in what felt like an instant. I came through the half marathon split at just under 1:39 and one thing was very clear: my plan to negative split was NOT going to be a possibility. In that moment I thought OK, we're shooting for a 3:25 and that's just fine. And I continued onward. I don't have a whole lot to say about Queens itself. You aren't there very long, and I think I mostly was just trying to manage the rapid downturn my legs had taken and readjust for the second half. At some point in here I also took a cup of what I thought was water but turned out to be Gatorade, and it didn't go down super well. Oh well, no matter. I ran a couple of 7:45s, and that was fine. I took a Gu at 14 (espresso love). And then we hit the Queensboro Bridge.

Queensboro Bridge is the one everyone talks about. I basically dismissed it all. I didn't even know what the bridge looked like until I was on it but all I had heard was that it was quiet, and that it was a nasty hill at a bad time. The first part I wasn't concerned about as I had my bangers playlist going for me. The second? I had looked at the elevation profile and thought, a gradual uphill, mile 16, come on, how bad can it really be? Well, as it turns out, when you went out too fast for your fitness...pretty freaking bad! Almost immediately as we started heading onto the bridge I started to think uh oh. Far too many people were moving past me like I was standing still (people who, I assume, are smarter than me but probably ALSO had way less fun in Brooklyn, so who's the real winner here?) The bridge that you run on is under another section of the bridge, so you're kind of in this cave and it felt like a sadness cave to me. I tried to look around and grab some happiness where I could find it: a subway train clattering across the other side of the bridge on the right, the full glory of the NYC skyline on the left. A couple of people were pulling off on the skyline side of the bridge to take selfies - just a bridge too far for me (heh!). Hitting mile 16 at 8:21 was a pleasant surprise in some ways (I literally felt like I was running 10 minute miles) but a major gut check in others. If I had already crashed so much with 10 miles to go, what was the rest of the race going to be like? My state of mind wasn't so much upset at my current state as concerned about my future. Reaching the crest of the bridge was a blessed relief, and while I still didn't feel amazing heading down the other side it was certainly an improvement from the ascent. And now it was time to enter Manhattan, to make the fabled turn onto 1st Avenue which I had read about as a "deafening roar". I turned off my headphones, for some reason had a very clear image of Des Linden making this same turn an hour earlier pop into my head, and prepared to be deafened.

1st Avenue
...but I wasn't deafened! What the heck! I don't know, I think the reviews of the crowds at this section really overstated things a bit. People were cheering, and maybe we were in a weird lull or something, but it just really wasn't that loud! I'm starting to think that all of the race reports I read in the week prior to the race were sitting on a throne of lies, because the other thing I swore I read was that 1st Ave was a slight uphill all the way. JK! It's slightly downhill! In this particular moment this was probably a great deception, because I started to feel better on what I assumed was an uphill, but it would come back to bite me later on. But either way, as we hit the long straight stretch of 1st Ave, I was starting to hurt. I knew that I needed to dig in here because if I continued on with 8:20s and higher, I risked the chance of my BQ time, my one moral victory goal, slipping away. So I told myself to woman up and tried to put my head down and groove. I'm really proud of my mental toughness in this stretch - it would have been easy to lie down and die after that mile on the bridge, and I was definitely hurting enough to do so. But I knew I had more than that and I owed it to myself to hang on as best I could, even if it wasn't perfect. Having been unimpressed by the crowds, I found myself more in the middle of the road and just tried to put my head down, listen to my music, and grind. I definitely went weaving all over the place from this point forward; the roads were super wide and really not that crowded, and my brain sometimes decides that maybe I'll feel better if I just go run over there instead!  Happily, whether it was the downhill, the mental toughness, or the fact that I kept trying to fake it til I made it and smile at the crowds whenever I felt my worst, I did manage to find some sort of rhythm for the 3 miles on 1st Ave, hitting in the vicinity of 7:50 for the stretch. Seeing 7's appear on my Garmin gave me a boost - as I like to say about the runs where you know you're running too fast but you want to see if you can keep running fast, "speed begets speed".  I thought perhaps that I could hang on to this rhythm and wind up with something in the low 3:20s, but all that mattered was continuing to move forward. As best I could, I kept trying to look around and soak it all in. The buildings. Billboards. The blue of the sky. Sunlight shifting through the buildings and across the street. Somewhere on this stretch people were drumming, and a Strava "Kudos" station included a line of people with orange foam "thumbs up". I kept telling myself that I was still having fun. Cardio wise, I felt totally fine, but my legs, which I knew would be the limiting reagent given my limited mileage, were getting ready to give up the ghost.

1st Ave Instagram vs. Reality or, how I'm trying to pretend I feel vs. how I really feel lol

The Bronx
Oh boy. The Willis Street Bridge, I think it's called? SUCKED. This was 100% the point in the race where my legs were just like "you're done, son" and I knew the remaining 10K was going to be a battle of will. I don't know why the uphill onto the bridge just felt so very, very uphill, but it did. The way I would describe the Bronx is as follows: 2 minutes of awesome followed by 5 minutes of suck. The crowds in the Bronx were WONDERFUL and dynamic and exciting - I think there was a marching band? Drums of all sorts! Blasting music with the base pumping! And from time to time during this stretch of just over 2 miles, I would feel GREAT. Like when I ran past a group with an enormous banner that said "RUN HIM OUT OF OFFICE" and I decided to jump on that hype train and yelled and gave a fist pump, and in return got an absolute ROAR of approval (more deafening than 1st Ave if I do say so myself, go Bronx). Then there was a tight corner that I ran around where I high fived like 7 people and that just lifted me back up. But then 5 seconds later I would be back in the pits of despair because my legs were just not want. DO NOT WANT. My muscles were balking at even the slightest hint of an uphill and I could tell that the final push into the park were going to be rough. Now let me just say: having your legs crash out in a sort of normal way in a marathon? Still 8000X BETTER than the way it feels heat stroking in a marathon!! Like, I'm not going to pretend it was all sunshine and roses, but at least I felt like I was sort of in control of the situation. I could lean into the pain to a degree and could keep running, at least, although I did slow to a walk for a few moments at one of the water stops because I started feeling really lightheaded and dizzy. I think I was dealing with some kind of minor electrolyte imbalance - per usual, my salty sweating always gets me, and the air was so dry that I think I may have actually been drinking more than was strictly necessary because I felt like my mouth was full of cotton. I actually wished that I had taken some salt that spectators were handing out earlier on the course (literally like restaurant salt packets) but I ended up just taking my last Gu a little early instead (cold brew Roctane) which definitely seemed to help the lightheaded feeling. By this point I had completely stopped looking at my watch all together, but knew I had slowed after the 1st Ave resurgence. In fact, aside from the awful mile up the bridge, I would end up running exactly 8:14s with one exception all the way into the finish...when I looked at my splits later, I almost laughed at the consistency. Hey, at least when I fell off, I didn't KEEP falling off the cliff...I was just clinging on to a lower ledge somewhere by my fingertips, hoping the grip would hold until the finish line. The last bridge from the Bronx to Manhattan was by far the least momentous of the 5, but was made memorable by 2 factors: a random woman sitting by herself with a megaphone yelling "you've reached THE LAST BRIDGE OF THE NEW YORK CITY MARATHON! I've been sitting here all morning just to tell you that!" to which I again waved my arms in the air and gave a yelp of happiness, and a confetti cannon?! The confetti cannon, in my current mental state, was more confusing than anything else. It was almost like a mirage. Is that confetti? Where is the confetti coming from? Lol.

5th Avenue
Back in Manhattan, here we are, with 5 miles to go. I had been checking my overall time and starting to get a little bit concerned that, with the combination of how bad my legs were feeling and the number of minutes I'd already let slip away, I could be at risk of losing the sub 3:30 that was LITERALLY my only goal for this race. I consoled myself with my usual sloppy mental math of "you could run 9:30 miles from here on out and still go sub 3:30" and soldiered on. My notes from the day after the race say "5th Avenue: good for 9 seconds and then WOOF". You see, based on my understanding that 1st Ave was a gradual uphill, my mental logic dictated that "if we were running uphill going uptown, we must be running downhill going downtown!" Alas, said mental math relied on 1st Avenue actually BEING uphill, which, as I have mentioned, it was not. Now, the first couple of miles on 5th Avenue were relatively flat. I felt in a rhythm at what ever pace I had found my way into, and I was banging out my 8:14s as best I could. Harlem was a lot of fun with more loud music that I could hear even over my playlist (I don't care what anyone says, I really enjoyed having my playlist and could totally still tune into the crowds. They were loud. I could hear them. It was great.) I had somehow found my way to the left side of the road (like honestly, how/why do I need to wander around the road so much in these big races) and was hunting down the mile markers like they were my only hope in the universe. By this point, both of my calves were starting to cramp pretty unpleasantly, and I mentally patted myself on the back thanking myself for choosing to run in my Kinvaras instead of my Freedoms which are hard on my calves on the best of days. Honestly, I think wearing the Freedoms could have ruined me those last 5 miles and I'm so glad I let my brain win out over my ego/feeling like I need to wear "racing flats" for the marathon. Plus, I got to buy my new favorite socks! 

Anyway, back to the situation at hand: it was rough, and getting rougher by the second. It's been a minute since I ran a marathon where it was just regular old legs giving out that got me (vs. getting heat stroke or just having the race of my life) and I kind of forgot how unpleasant it is! Yet somehow, at the same time, I was happy about it. I didn't come to New York to have the best race of my life, I came to have the best race I could have under the circumstances. All I wanted was to have a blast and leave everything I had on the course. And despite the fact that pain was seizing through my calves and threatening to stop me cold in the middle of the road, I wasn't giving in to it. I was moving slower than I'd like, sure, but I was moving as fast as I could. Every time I thought about how nice it would be to walk I shut myself up and tried to find a spectator to latch onto, or a street sign, or a damn pigeon...anything to convince myself, just a little more. 

At some point I glanced off to my right and saw trees, and I was honestly so out of it that I was confused for a second before it dawned on me that the trees to my right were, in fact, Central Park, and that we were within 5K of the finish line. So close, and yet so far, as mile 24 would prove. Mile 24 is one of those things that people don't talk about like the Queensboro Bridge, but they allude to it like an elephant in the room that you just don't want to discuss. "Oh, 5th Avenue". 100 ft of elevation gain over a mile doesn't seem like a lot but when you're running this long, straight stretch at mile 24 of a marathon, wondering when in God's name you're actually going to get to enter the damn park, it feels like Mount Everest and a lifetime. This uphill was the point where my legs just decided they couldn't hang anymore. I don't know if it's because my last several marathons have either been perfection or such disasters that I spent the better part of the second half walking, but I truly had forgotten how BAD mile 24 can feel. My calves were seizing to the point where I felt like one questionable step was going to send me falling to the pavement, and my quads, calves, back, everything else felt like joining the party. I was riding the pain train and I was trying, desperately, to love every minute of it, but the hill just seemed to keep going on, and on, and on, eternally. We were back in Manhattan now, my happy place, but all I wanted to see was Columbus Circle.  My mental math kept up - 30 minutes to run a 5K - but the window seemed like it was getting shorter and shorter. Was I really going to be happy if I ran a 3:29? Finally, somewhere in the middle of the mile, I couldn't do it anymore - my left calf seized and I was reduced to a walk. Randomly, there was someone with an inflatable Pikachu up ahead on the left maybe 50 meters ahead. I told myself, you can walk to the Pikachu and then you HAVE to run. But not 10 seconds into walking, a guy in a Tracksmith kit tapped me on the back as he ran by. "Come ON, Boston, let's GO!" he shouted. For a split second I thought, no. I can't. And then: God damnit, yes. Yes I can. And I was running again, the Tracksmith sash fading into the distance. To that random guy, whoever he was: thank you.

Not totally sure where on the course this photo was taken but I think it's somewhere around 22-23 based on the orientation of the buildings and the look of desperation on my face. Of note, this is the first time I've ever raced a marathon in sunglasses and I LOVED it. I felt so protected lol. 

I continued on, step by step, each landing more and more careful as I knew if I stepped the wrong way my calf was going to cramp up completely and I would be done for. Past Pikachu, past more signs, past the mile 24 marker, and finally, finally, turning right into Central Park. Finally, I've made it home.

The Park
As soon as I entered the park I tried to orient myself to where I was, how many hills remained, anything to make this part of the course that I know and love so much an advantage. Unfortunately, I almost always ran the park counter clockwise (and this was also 7 years ago), but it was a pleasant mental diversion thinking "OK, now at some point you're going to run down Cat Hill...but was there an uphill or downhill prior to that?" The fact that we actually got to run down some REAL downhills in the park was glorious, and in my mind I picked up the pace in majestic fashion. In reality....I ran more 8:14s! Hahahaha. Truly, though, I was riding the pain train in every way possible and I just kept praying that my calves in particular would hold out for another 2 miles. After the incident on 5th Ave, I was done walking. It was everything I had from here on out.
STRUGGLE BUS. I actually remember seeing this photographer at the same time as I was sticking out my tongue in struggle and thinking "lol, there's gonna be a photo of that". And lo and behold...

Somewhere in the park, I almost started laughing because the one extremely random song I had added to my playlist (a death metal song that one of the Milwaukee Brewers used as their walkup this year) came on and it was just SO perfect for mile 24.5. Everything was awful but also beautiful. I was dying but also so alive. I was in so much pain but it was perfection. As I kept glancing at my watch I knew that all I had to do was hold on, and I wouldn't run a 3:25 but I would be damn close. And I kept on. Where the FUCK was the turn out of the park, where was Columbus Circle? The miles had now stretched into what felt like eons. Somewhere around mile 25, Joy SOMEHOW managed to lock eyes with me from the sidelines, screaming, and I gave her what I thought was a smile or perhaps a grimace, but apparently looked like a death glare! I think I gave a similar look when I crossed the photo op mat at mile 25...


At long last, like the light at the end of the tunnel, the turn out of the park approached. Past mile 25, a mile to go. A mile that felt like an eternity, but also felt like home. Central Park South, now known as the longest street of my life. I have never wanted to stop, walk, lay down, anything as badly as I did on that stretch. But there were people screaming BOSTON, and I was running in the shadows of skyscrapers in this city, my favorite city, "the greatest city in the world" as they say in Hamilton, and I would NOT give in. This was for me. It wouldn't be my fastest marathon but it was mine - on my own terms with no weight of expectation, no goals, no pressure, only freedom and joy. And despite the pain I FELT it. I already knew as my calves screamed that one more step and I'd be locked in plantarflexion forever and my quads threatened to lay me out on the ground that this one was special, that I wanted to do it again and again and again.

In a tunnel of sound and shadow, I rounded the corner, the skyscrapers and silver globe of Columbus Circle rising above me, and I smiled. I was there. It wasn't perfect, but damn it, it was enough. Eyes up. Rise up. Finish it. Turning back into the park, where you know it's over, and I've run these roads enough times to know exactly where I am. I ran them as a college student jumping in a random 10K while my sister danced at nationals because why not, as a PT student during the summer where I learned who I was, as a 20 something wondering if who I thought I was with someone was still who I'd be without them, and as a 30 something knowing that I was. And now, here I was, running them again, this same loop through Central Park. No matter how old I am, what distance I'm running, what stage of my life, I know this: when I'm in this city, I'm home. 

And it's one last push through the park, one last beep of my Garmin that comes well before one last mile marker, and when I look at my watch I know that I've done everything I can and that it's going to be enough for now. I put everything I have left into that last 0.2 miles, 7:29 pace and it feels like a full on sprint, willing my calves to give me 30 more seconds, now 10, now 5, and finally, I cross the line with relief, with pain, with joy, with delight. And literally the INSTANT I cross the finish line, the final song on my playlist ends. That final song (The Hum by Dmitri Vegas) also happened to be the FIRST song I played on the first real long run of this cycle, when I was like, OK, we're doing this.  Seriously, was this meant to be or what??

3:26:26. I may not have run the exact time I dreamed, but I did run the perfect number of seconds

I can't remember ever feeling so elated about running a time that was 15+ minutes off my PR. As I made my way through the (eternal, neverending, 9th circle of hell) finish chute, there were so many ways I could have felt if I had been basing my life only on the time on the clock. Disappointed, meh, accepting, whatever. Somehow, and perfectly, I was just delighted. I had done this thing! It had been messy and painful and with a training cycle I knew didn't quite add up to greatness, and yet I had hung in there, had a BLAST, stayed mentally tough, and gotten my damn moral victory of a BQ that, in all likelihood, will get me into the 2021 race (because...I hate myself lol). And I had done it all in this place that just means so much to me, always has, always will. It was, in a word, magical.

Approximately 9 hours later, I finally made my way out of the park (seriously, people are NOT exaggerating when they say the post race process of NYC takes almost as long as the race itself). At one point I attempted to sit down on a curb because I was just so sick of walking but immediately was stricken with an INSANE calf cramp and had to work a little of my PT tone management magic to avoid having someone call for a wheelchair. After that, I found I was just extremely nauseous and only just managed to avoid puking in a planter by sitting down on a random sidewalk for a few minutes while I attempted to figure out where Joy was. 

In the midst of my nausea I took this photo, which I really like!

Eventually I made my way back to Columbus Circle, where I met Joy by the large globe. She, as well as my family, were a little tentative in asking how I felt about my race - probably because it was clearly so far off my PR, and I don't think anyone believed me when I said my goal was just to have fun. So everyone was pleasantly surprised by my happiness and delight - in fact, I was downright giddy. We made our way to a local pub where I downed a couple of beers but couldn't handle food yet. In the midst of this, I had an idea: one of my former patients was running the marathon in an incredible comeback story. I had secretly hoped I could cheer for him but knew it would be along shot, but I also love cheering with an insane passion, and was still riding some kind of life high. And that's how I wound up back in Central Park at 4 pm, cheering like a MANIAC for the marathoners still racing. 

Literally an insane person

If there was anything that could have made my day even better than it already was, this was it. Joy and I literally lost our voices going absolutely INSANE for the hundreds of people still finishing. Once in awhile someone would be walking, and we would go nuts for them and they would start running again, and it would almost make me cry every single time. People kept looking at me with my medal like WTF, this girl already ran the race and she has the energy to be out here cheering?? It was just so magical. I literally could have stayed out there all day. And THEN, I actually saw my former patient!! I am not sure I've ever felt so proud of and lucky to be in the career that I'm in. Getting to witness someone who built themselves back up from something devastating and came so far in the 6 months we worked together finish a freaking marathon was unlike anything I've ever experienced - I was SO proud and inspired and overjoyed that the universe aligned to let me actually be present for a small part of that moment. 

Finally, with an overflowing heart, no voice, and legs that felt like logs, I headed back to Brooklyn. Joy and I ended up wandering to a local pub, where the owners of the pub bought us a round, and then to a great little brewery (Strong Rope Brewery) where a random Brooklynite bought me another round! How nice is that? All in all, I ended the day aglow in a feeling of joy, contentment, and pure happiness. This was everything I could ever hope for from a marathon day. And maybe this was the day I finally realized that PRs are wonderful, and training to run fast is a lot of fun, but there is glory in the non PR days too, and sometimes the best days are defined by more than just the time on the clock.

I said when I signed up for New York that it was a one and done situation, and let me tell you, now having done the race, that is NOT a true statement. Not only do I feel like I could really run a PR on this course if I was in great shape, but I truly think the magic of the city gives me something extra special, something that even a place like Boston, my real adult home, can't give. I don't know how to explain it except in the immortal words of NYC from "Annie":
You're standing room only
You crowd, you cramp
You're still the champ
Amen for NYC

New York, I freaking love you. Boston, I GUESS I'll see if I can find something similar on your course in 2021...

NYC Marathon 2019
5271/53515 OA, 851/22716 women, 179/3449 F30-34