They say #itwillmoveyou, but you really don’t understand the magnitude of it all until you are part of it, breathing the same air as the other runners, riding on the subway, the ferry and then the bus as the sun peeks over the horizon to make your way to the Runners Village at the start line.
To say that running the #nycmarathon was an inspiring experience almost doesn’t do it justice as the words fail to describe all the feelings throughout. Nevertheless, I will do my best. First thing first, I want to say that I’m by no means a seasoned runner. As many of you know already, I entered the NYC Marathon lottery after a conversation I had with a runner friend from London, who told me we should run it together. This running together would have been impossible anyway as he’s one of those people who runs 3hr marathons, but it still sounded like a fun idea. Well, as it turned out, I got a spot in the marathon and he didn’t. So now I had to run it. Which meant, I had to embrace the training. I followed the Hal Higdon Novice 1 marathon training schedule and I just kept running, 4 times a week, every week.
Then the day of the marathon came. I woke up before the sun made its way over the horizon, put on my running gear, then another layer of clothing to keep me warm until I started running. Thankfully Goodwill had donation boxes at the start line so I didn’t feel like I was throwing away that outer layer of clothing, but more like someone would actually make good use out of my discarded clothes. The subway going to the Staten Island Ferry was full of runners, even the train conductor wished us good luck as we got to the Ferry terminal. Then we went through the first security checkpoints. The adorable looking, but fiercely protective bomb squad dogs were sniffing away, while the policemen were checking the bags of each and every person, bags that mostly contained bananas, protein bars, gels, Vaseline and water. On to the ferry, the sun decided to make its appearance to give us one of the most gorgeous views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Strangers were becoming friends, talking about previous races, best personal records, but also being extremely welcoming to newbies like me who just wanted to finish the marathon and have fun along the way.
Once we got into our corral and we were ready to go, we got another boost of energy from the DJ as we crossed the start line with the Verrazano bridge in front of us, Manhattan in the distance and Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York in our ears. Going over the bridge was uplifting, not only because of the uphill run but because there were literally thousands of us running in unison, with the New York Army Guard and the NYPD cheering us from the sidelines. There are no spectators on the bridge so the people who were actually there working took it upon themselves to cheer us on.
Coming down into Brooklyn is what I imagine rock stars feel when they come on stage in front of a stadium full of people. It felt like the entire Brooklyn was there, families with kids, dogs, local bands, Scottish artists with bagpipes, a church choir, everyone was there, putting on a show for the greatest parade of them all. Little kids were holding out orange slices for the runners and keeping their hands high for a fleeting high five from a runner passing by. It was early morning on a gorgeous sunny day and everyone seemed to just want us to succeed and make it to the finish like. I barely felt the first half of the marathon go by as the adrenaline was pumping as the cheering kept going.
Stepping into Queens got a little more quiet, especially with the upcoming Queensborough Bridge, but people were nevertheless excited. The Queensborough Bridge was a feat in itself. It was quiet, so quiet that you could not only hear yourself breaking, but also hear the other runners breathing heavily, while the cars are passing you on the upper deck.
Then comes the first taste of Manhattan and coming off the bridge, everyone seems to be throwing a parade in your name. The start contrast with the quiet bridge is everything you need at mile 16 when you’re starting to get a bit tired, but you know you’re more than halfway to the finish line. Running up First avenue towards The Bronx gives you a unique moment to just take it all in, especially at mile 18 where you can get a Gatorade Gel to propel you to the end of the race. For me it was mile 19 that gave me an extra boost because that’s when I spotted my family and my best friend on the side of the road, cheering on at random strangers and waiting for me to pass by.
The bridge into The Bronx is another moment of solitude. Looking at the elevation chart, its definitely not that steep, but somehow it feels like you’re climbing a mountain. The mountain it all worth it though because you get into The Bronx and, let me tell you, those people know how to party. You may only be running for about 2 miles in their borough, but they will make you feel like the ultimate rock star. Boomboxes, local bands, families, kids, dogs, everyone is out. The one person that drew my attention was this lady in her 60s sitting on a beach chair with a microphone and a speaker saying: Honey, its all a mind game now! You’ve already ran 20 miles, the hard part is over. Now you just gotta get to that finish line. And you know what? Shes right! The last 6 miles are hard, because you’re already tired and that last drop of energy is being used up, but they are also spectacular.
As you step foot back into Manhattan, you know you’re almost home. Running along Central Park on 5th avenue and later on in Central Park in the middle of the most beautiful fall trees makes it all the more amazing. There are no resources left in your body, but somehow you keep running through that dreadful mile 22-23 and through all the little rolling hills that seem like mountains, you just keep going. And then there’s the finish line. A sign before it tells you that you have 800m to go, which is only half a mile. You’ve actually made it, all you have to do it cross the finish line! And a few minutes later you do.
The moment when you cross the finish line is somehow out of this world. To some extent, you want to keep on running as your brain cannot process the fact that you’ve actually done it. The whole thing feels like you’re in a dream until one of the volunteers greets you with a huge smile, congratulating you and handing you a medal. You pick it up and your eye fill with tears. It’s not the medal, but what it represents. You’ve just ran the biggest marathon in the world. Months of training, or waking up at 5am to run 16 miles before work, mile after mile, putting one foot in front of the other and here you are at the finish line. There’s a high that’s hard to describe. Your body is broken and tired, but somehow elated, the adrenaline is pumping through your veins and everyone around you is celebrating. Its 45F outside and you’re wearing shorts and a tank top, but your body doesn’t even perceive the cold though the run and in the few minutes after you finish.
To the NYRR, the 12.000 volunteers, the police men and women, the K-9 Squad, the Coast Guard who escorted our ferry safely to Staten Island, the New York Army Guard, and the 1.5 million spectators who came out to cheer us, I thank you, I am grateful for you and I know this journey would have been a lot harder without you.