On my “Fuck Yeah!” Marathon

THIS, this is the story I so desperately wanted to share after I ran my first marathon last year. It may have taken me a little longer than I had hoped to get here, but all that matters is that I finally did! I ran a full marathon last week, I actually did it, and it was one of the best days of my life!

Before I get into it though, I wanted to start out this post with some big THANK YOUS because without acknowledging all the people who made my TCS NYC Marathon Journey what it was feels like a disservice to all of those who really got me there. Running can be a lonely, individual sport and yet nothing has ever made me feel LESS alone.

First and foremost, a huge thanks to the New York Road Runners for putting on such an incredible event, as well as the NYPD, the race volunteers, medics, and the People of New York City. I truly don’t think any other city in the world would be able to pull of such an incredible race.

A giant thank you is due to everyone who LITERALLY got me to the start line by donating to my Team for Kids fundraising, not only supporting an amazing cause but making my dream of running this race a reality. I was (and still am) absolutely floored by everyone’s love, generosity, support and willingness to raise money for Team for Kids. Team for Kids raised over 3 million dollars this year during their New York City marathon fundraising and all of that money is going into some incredible programs to keep kids active, which makes my heart sing! To anyone who is considering registering as a Team for Kids runner- DO IT. They made the whole experience so incredible, from posting weekly training plans, cross-training workouts, a very personal welcome at the expo to a tent in the start village, group warm-up stretching and a pre-race pep talk.

A huge thank you to my coach, Brittany Moran, who designed my training plan and always believed in me (especially when I didn’t believe in myself) and reminded me to keep my self-talk positive. I am so lucky to have such an incredible runner to look up to and guide me. I can’t lie, going into this was daunting, but Britt knows her stuff and never for a second doubted I could do the hard things.

My incredible New York friends who allowed me to stay with them all week; Lanie, who gave me her place in Queens, her cheering, and helped me take off my shoes at the end of race when I couldn’t bend (that’s true friendship). Sarah and her Husband Evan who let Zach and I crash on their couch for race weekend, knew the best place to order post-race pizza from, made cheer signs, and rewarded us with unreal cookie dough (from do…go there).

My physio for helping resolve all of my lingering issues from my Chicago training cycle/disaster and then anything else that popped up after that…and there were a few things. Sometimes I feel like I just have a body that isn’t meant to run, but she has never made me feel like that and only encouraged me that I could indeed do it!

My uncle Rob who was constantly checking in with me and encouraging me throughout my training, understanding my stubbornness and determination, it meant a lot!

Of course to Zach, who is my biggest supporter, fan, cheerleader and a badass 3:24 NYC Marathoner himself. Our lives literally revolved around training for this marathon all summer and I can’t imagine going through it all with anyone else. Thank you for taking the dog out literally every single morning so I could sleep a little longer (the man thrives after only 6 hours of sleep, I swear!) and cooking MORE than your fair share of our meals.

Annnnd to my colleagues who listened to me obsess over my training for the last 18 weeks and didn’t mind when I showed up to a meeting after a lunch run in sweaty clothes, usually eating.

I’m sure there are many people I’m forgetting, but THANK YOU in general to everyone who supported me in one way to get to the start line on Sunday. I just feel like the luckiest to know how many people have my back and believe in me!

Now…to the race report (apologies in advance for the novel that this will surely be):

Zach and I had a wedding to attend the Saturday before the race in Connecticut and after driving into New York City the Friday before the wedding, we met up with Jack Rabbit to participate in a 10 mile run in basically a monsoon early on Saturday October 27th. The run took us through the last 10 miles of the course which was exciting, because it not only helped affirm me that I was ready to tackle to course mentally, but it was also so fun to see the set-up of the finish line.

After our friend’s wedding, I was luckily able to stay in NYC to work remotely for a few days. I seriously love the City which is why I have always wanted to run this marathon. It was nice to stay in NYC and feel a part of it all for that week. During the week I met so many people who had run the marathon and told me how incredible it was. On the Wednesday before the marathon, I went for a pre-race massage at Finish Line Physical Therapy and the massage therapist, Amanda (who was amazing!) told me that it was going to be the best day of my life next to my wedding day. Even after having so many others affirm this- I was still skeptical.

Unfortunately, my right hip had started to bother me two weeks out from race day, and when I ran on the Tuesday before the marathon, it really didn’t feel good. In typical Ali fashion, I began to obsess over it, fearing the worst. After running through an injury in Chicago and not having the best experience, I was so fearful of the possibility that it could happen again, after everything I had worked for. I let this fear of the unknown, the shear possibility that it could all go hay wire, cloud my logical thoughts. After all, Chicago had been pretty miserable, and I am not naïve, marathons are painful. These negative memories really flooded my thoughts that week, and overshadowed the positive moments from my first marathon. I didn’t realize how much of an impact it still had on me- could I handle that pain again? Would I quit the race? I was so full of paralyzing doubt. Even if it all went right- could this really be one of the best days of my life?

As the week went on, I really tried to calm down and look forward to it but it wasn’t until the day before the race that I started to feel the smallest inclination of excitement. Zach flew back to the city late Friday night after work and at that moment, it did start to sink in that we were really doing this! We woke up pretty early on Saturday, grabbed bagels from Pick A Bagel (so good, and the biggest bagel I had ever seen!) and then headed to the #badassladygang meet up where I met the amazing running blogger, Kelly Roberts. Kelly has always been an incredible inspiration to me and while we didn’t have time to stick around the event I did get to give her a hug and give her a copy of the iRun magazine with the article I wrote about the #SportsBraSquad meet up I helped host in June.

After that, we headed downtown to do a short shake out run with Nike. The energy was INSANE and in true Nike fashion, the event did not disappoint. It was absolutely insane to run with hundreds of runners through the streets of downtown and it ended with free food, t-shirts, and a post run Q and A with some super badass runners. The whole thing definitely helped me get more excited- and I made note of the fact that my hip hardly bothered me, a good sign. After some much needed coffee we headed to the expo when by chance we shared an uber with a woman who had run the year before (she wasn’t running this year and was taking the uber elsewhere) and shared the same “this will be the best day of your life” kind of story with us. The expo was amazing, and one my favourite parts was the wall where you could leave a note for someone, and then take a note that someone else had left. I wrote on my note “you are so much stronger than you think you are” and then pulled a note that said “you are stronger than you know”. In the moment I thought this was some amazing fateful occurrence, but in retrospect, I bet probably 80% of those shared the same message haha. We had spent a lot of time on our feet by that point (my step count was at 15,000- yikes!) so we headed back to Sarah and Evans to put our feet up, prep our race kits and make dinner.

 

I hummed and hawed over what shoes to wear on race day, which I know, that’s not something you should decide the night before a race. I had been doing the majority of my long runs in a pair of Brooks Ghost 11s, which I really liked for a while, but had been wearing Nike Pegasus 35s as my other main alternate in my shoe rotation. I had stopped wearing the pegs for long runs by the end of July because in the heat they just felt SO narrow and tight. As the weather cooled though, the Brook almost felt a little too roomy on my long runs and I found my back aching a lot in them too. I had also developed mild plantar fasciitis since wearing the Brooks, and while I can’t say that they caused it, they just weren’t feeling great anymore. I switched back to my Pegasus for my final two long runs and loved them again. Still, I hadn’t run over 20k in them since July so I wasn’t sure how they would fare over the marathon distance. I went with my gut and chose the Pegs, a risky decision, but they ultimately just felt right. For a while, I also thought about wearing a thin long sleeve shirt under my singlet, but Zach talked me out of in on account that it was now looking like the temperature would reach a high of 13 degrees (celcius) and sunny. Before I knew it, it was 9:00 pm. We watched the Breaking 2 documentary for some inspiration and headed to bed just before 11:00, doubtful that a good sleep would occur.

To my surprise, I did actually sleep okay, though I did wake up a few times. Since the clocks went back overnight, the extra hour from daylight savings time definitely helped and when I woke up at 4:30am I didn’t even feel THAT tired, but was an anxious ball of nerves. I truly couldn’t believe that the day to run the New York City marathon had arrived. How would I run a MARATHON in a few hours?!? My fears that it would all turn out like Chicago quickly came flooding back, even though I tried as hard as possible to keep those thoughts away as I got dressed, covered my body in body glide and foam rolled. I drank a cold brew coffee but couldn’t get anything in my nervous stomach just yet. However, as soon as we arrived at Bryant Park, which was flooded with thousands of other Staten Island bound runners, my doubt disappeared. This was happening.

I am still so amazed at the organization of it all. We filed into a line where we were all funneled on to coach buses; there must have been hundreds of buses, and they all took off in a mass caravan to Staten Island. The energy on the bus was buzzing and as we drove down the FDR looking out at a beautiful sunrise I felt so calm and ready. I tried to close my eyes a bit and do a quick body scan meditation, but I never got beyond my first foot before giving up. Instead,  I spent the ride chatting with Zach about our race plans and finally ate a boiled egg and a banana that I had brought. The ride was over 90 minutes, mainly because of the sheer amount of buses going into Fort Wadsworth (a former U.S. Military Installation and where the start village was set up) and the time it took to unload us all. As we drove up the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge (we would start the race on the Staten Island side of the Bridge and run up and over it into Brooklyn) I noticed how long and steep it was- anxious for the challenge of running up it in a few hours. Reaching Fort Wadsworth, we were greeted with cheerful “good mornings” by so many NYPD officers, all of whom were so incredibly warm, kind and affirming. There was one policewoman who was just standing there in the sea of sleepy runners filing into the security check point saying “you’re amazing. You’re going to do great things today. You are incredible, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”. I believed her.

The start village was a little overwhelming. It was HUGE and there were SO many people everywhere, but it was also exciting. NYPD choppers buzzed above us, music played on speakers, and there was food, coffee, water, and 100s of port-o-potties. Zach and I walked around for bit looking for coffee and water, and on our way I stopped and met a mounted NYPD officer who let me pet his horse, Kegan, an 18 year old gelding with the softest nose and most calming presence. We found coffee shortly after, Zach took one of the famous Dunkin Donuts hats they give out in the start village, and I suddenly realized I was starving. I grabbed a plain bagel and ate half of it, without thinking (this is not something I had been eating in training) and then hoped that it would sit okay. We then went on a mission to find the therapy dogs we had heard would be there. Once we found them, we happily spent a good 30 minutes with a lab mutt named Mack, and chatted to his owner, a lifelong New Yorker. Mack really did settle my nerves down and I was once again so amazed at everything NYRR had set up for the runners.

We had both worn sweats and a sweatshirt as throw aways to stay warm, and I had brought a toque, gloves and hand warmers. At this point the sun was so warm, I took off my sweatpants and was so grateful that I hadn’t worn the long sleeve I had contemplated the night before.

Shortly after, it was time for Zach to get in his start corral so we said goodbye and good luck and then I headed into the Team for Kids Tent to wait for my wave. I sat down, reviewed my race plan, made a quick gratitude list to keep everything positive and then ate my waffles I brought (the same ones I ate all summer in training) and another banana. Since I was up so early and would not start until 10:40am, I was worried about fueling. I wanted to eat enough to keep me going until after 3:00pm but also didn’t want to overdo it. I made a mental note that if I ever had a late race start again, I should practice the timing of eating to better emulate the race morning. I met two other girls who were also there solo and chatted for a bit. During this time, I drank a whole water bottle, which I hadn’t planned on and then before I knew it, it was time to head to my start corral. I quickly ran to the bathroom and then one of the Team for Kids coaches led us in a stretch then we separated into three groups by the colour of our assigned corrals (in new York you either run in the green, blue or orange corral and start on a divided course for the first 8 miles to help everyone spread out and prevent bottlenecks). The coach who led us to the orange corral was so inspiring and gave us all a good pre-race pep talk once again mentioning how fun the race is, and how most people (especially New Yorkers) feel that you haven’t really run a marathon until you’ve run New York. He reminded us to start out SLOW, as the first mile is the steepest and longest incline on the course. This was part of my race plan, and figured it wouldn’t be too hard with the mile long climb up the bridge.

Immediately as I entered the corral my heart rate jumped up to 140! I also realized I had to go to the bathroom AGAIN and was relieved to see they had bathrooms in the start corrals (again, thank you NYRR!). I was completely overtaken with excitement. Luckily I was pretty close to the front of the corral, and it was so cool to look behind me and see the THOUSANDS of runners as we walked up to the start. We waited for a bit and the energy was unreal. People were singing along to the music playing overhead, and I couldn’t stand still.

After another runner in our start corral sang “God Bless America” over the speakers, the start cannon went off (very close to my ears causing me to jump), and we were OFF. As I had been told, “New York, New York” started playing overhead and I was very quickly overcome with emotion. I was choking back tears, not believing I was actually there. I didn’t even let the thought of how long the course was get in my thoughts- I was legitimately excited to run 26.2 miles. That first mile was amazing. I pulled myself together and reminded myself to STAY SLOW. I honestly thought I was going so slow. I felt calm, relaxed, and didn’t notice the climb. It was so cool to run across the Verrazono- Narrows Bridge, I could tell everyone was buzzing even though the only sounds were the pitter-patter of feet and breathing. People were stopping to take selfies with the skyline but I just chose to take it in and soak in the moment in real time. About halfway up the climb, a police officer was playing “we are the champions” over their microphone which was kind of a weird muffled sound that a lot of people cheered for. He was also there giving people high fives and wishing us all luck.

As we crested the bridge everyone around me broke out in cheers, and I checked my time of that first mile- just over 10 minutes, oops, way too fast. I ask all of those who have run this race before- HOW do you slow down on mile one? I feel like it was literally impossible with that energy, and I was consciously really trying to slow down.

As we entered Brooklyn, I realized why people call this race a 26.2 mile block party. The crowds were INSANE, with people holding “welcome to Brooklyn!” signs, dancing on their porches, families cheering and bands playing music. The first 5k flew by and even though I kept telling myself to slow down, I was still ahead of pace, hitting 5k about a minute ahead, which I didn’t think much of. The thing that surprised me most was how up and down the course was, but also how it didn’t phase me. I knew from running the second half the course in training when we had visited New York back in August that the bridges were hard, and about the uphill at mile 24 along with the rolling hills in central park from doing them the week before, but I didn’t realize Brooklyn was also full of hills. Don’t get me wrong, I slowed in those uphills, but I actually enjoyed the terrain- after all- what goes up, must come down. Before I knew it, I was at 10k, no longer ahead but right on time. My race strategy for this section was to stay on marathon pace, but not freak out if I was a few second off at each km. My watch was a little ahead but nothing too far off. My body felt strong, light and quick. I truly felt amazing and not even the slightest bit tired, out of breath or anxious about what was to come. My hip wasn’t an issue, and my feet, other than the one spot that blisters no mater what, still felt fresh. I don’t think I stopped smiling once in that first 10k.

After hitting mile 8 and running 9, was Lafayette Ave and the famous high school band that plays the rocky theme song over and over, and over again. There was a nice uphill at this point and I started to notice that it was a bit harder. My strategy for the hills was to maintain my effort, but not the pace, and make up for it on the downhills. However, even though I did start to notice the uphills more and dialed it back, the crowds became INSANE at this point. I honestly felt like a celebrity and was grinning ear to ear. The people of Brooklyn are absolutely amazing, and the energy and enthusiasm of the crowds was something that I can’t even find the words for. I had screen printed “Ali” on my shirt and everyone was yelling “Toronto Ali!” which I thought was pretty funny. I also got a lot of “YA CANADA!” and even a few “go leafs go!” (those people must have been from Toronto because I don’t know who else would cheer for the Leafs).

After running mile 9 the crowds thinned a bit, and there was a noticeable change in my energy. I had put my phone and headphones in my spie belt, and at this point I considered pulling them out for some music, but I didn’t want to rely on music to get me through it, plus I told myself “you’re not even at half way, just push on to the next mile and you’ll be okay”, and, I was. I was also pretty HOT at this point in the race. While the weather was about 13 degrees and I was in shorts and singlet, the sun was bright, and it was much warmer than I had anticipated. The crowds picked up again and as I saw the Williamsburg Bridge I knew we were getting closer to the half way mark. I had spent some time in this neighbourhood of Brooklyn the week before and had run through it in August, and the familiarity of it put me at ease. One foot in front of the other, the race hadn’t even truly begun. Next thing I knew, I was at the Pulaski Bridge crossing into Queens, and at the half way mark. It was quiet over the bridge and a bit of a challenge, but I still felt strong.

Hitting the halfway mark felt great, and while I noticed I was now just over a minute behind pace, I was confident I could pick it up again and make up for it in the 5k downhill stretch along First Avenue in Manhattan. Running through Queens was a blur, the crowds were great and while I was starting to tire a bit, I reminded myself once again that the race had truly not yet begun and I had much more work to do. These reminders didn’t intimidate me, but just helped me focus, and not get too caught up on my pace or anything that had already happened. In my mind, I had broken the race into two sections, everything up until the beginning of the Queensboro Bridge was the first “half” and everything after was the second. I knew once I was up and over Queensboro, the energy and downhill stretch along 1st ave would push me forward until I really had to dig in and work at mile 20 into the Bronx.

Right before we began to climb the Queensboro Bridge, one of the girls I had met in the start village tapped me on the back and said “you’re doing great! You look so strong!” I asked her how she felt and she said “really tired” to which I reminded her that she was so strong and could conquer this. At the start she had told me her goal was 4:20 so I knew that she was pretty far behind pace and I really hoped that it wasn’t going to ruin her marathon experience and would still get to the finish feeling strong and accomplished. I left her at that point, but am still wondering and hoping that she had a good race.

Anyone who has run the NYC marathon before knows that the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan is no easy feat. I am, once again, so glad that I had run it in August to get a feel for it. While I had run it in August after maybe 10 miles, I told myself that even after 15 miles, this was no different. Maintain effort, not pace. My goal on the bridges was to pass people, and not in a sense that I was reeling people in and rushing past them, but just maintaining a consistent pace, feeling strong and passing people naturally as a way to boost my confidence. There were a few moments where I really felt the climb in my legs but I repeated to myself “this is nothing, you have done this before” and even found myself at one point saying “this bridge is my bitch!” It was pretty neat to run in silence, just listening to everyone’s foot falls and breathing. It was a nice stretch to focus without the crowds and dial in on the work to come. As we approached the top of the climb, there were three ladies running together, one was a runner with a visual impairment and the other two were her guides, and they were all singing “respect” which was just such a fun and tender moment amongst all the silence. Here they were, working together, struggling through a tough part, but keeping it fun. As we crested over the top, runners around me burst into cheers just like they had over the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge. I calmed my breathing and relaxed into the downhill, waiting for the legendary “wall of sound” that supposedly hits you on First Avenue. As I neared the end of the bridge, I could hear a buzzing, and once I was off the bridge, I wasn’t truly prepared for how wild the crowds would be. As it turns out, mile 16 was actually my fastest, which is partly due to the downhill on the bridge but I am surprised at how much I was able to push up that bridge when it really only felt like I was maintaining my effort.

It was now time to cautiously pick it up, and my plan for this stretch was to push ahead a bit faster than goal pace. Nothing about this stretch felt like work. I was once again grinning ear to ear, completely high off the energy of the crowds. I knew my camp friend Rachel would be cheering on my left side around east 82nd so when I saw that we were at 61st, I was excited to realize I just had to run 20 short blocks until I saw her. I was SO excited when I finally did. There is nothing like seeing someone you know amongst the crowds that are already going NUTS for you. At this time, my watch was definitely off (I wasn’t ware of it though), and my splits were pretty fast- they felt fast though, even though I didn’t feel like I was working, and for a few moments I even thought I may have a chance of negative splitting the race if I could keep it up (when you run the second half faster than the first half). I had stopped paying attention to the mile markers- which was probably a good thing- I was so present in the moment, just focusing on what I was doing and each step. I didn’t even feel tired when we crossed the 19 mile mark and were in to mile 20. It was here that I noticed just how far ahead my watch had jumped- which now I realize was a silly mistake to think I was actually where my watch said because I was familiar with the course and knew better. To my surprise, while I had picked it up a little bit, I realized I hadn’t actually increased my pace all that much, as was my plan. I knew then that I was still a bit behind, but I was able to shake it off and keep on going without too much thought and calculating. My race plan was definitely not happening as I intended it to and I was pretty sure now that I wouldn’t make my goal time. While I tried to continue on with my plan, I knew now to focus more on finishing strong, doing my best, and enjoying it than to stress too much about hitting my planned paces.

Now, I’m not totally crazy, and I can’t lie to you- it’s not like I was running along in no pain happy as can be. At mile 20 I was tired physically, but was still feeling great mentally. You can tell this when you look at my splits at this point. I had slowed down a fair amount as the crowds thinned out again and we climbed up the Willis Avenue Bridge. However, while I felt the fatigue in my legs, I simply chose not to think about it or engage with thoughts about being tired. I am SO proud of myself for this because this is something I struggled with all summer long on hot training runs, and especially something I struggled with on my last LONG long run of 33km. Reading Deena Kastor’s book “Let your Mind Run” and all of the pep talks from my coach must have actually had an impact on me, because I was able to re-frame this part into positive thoughts like “look how well you’re still doing even though you’re at mile 20” and “you are so strong, you just passed so many people on the bridge!” “you are such a badass still running strong at this point in the race”. Many people will say that a marathon truly begins at mile 20, and also that this is the point when you really can hit a wall. As I mentioned, my splits slowed here, but I don’t really ever feel like I hit any walls. “The wall” is really just a mental state of being, and something I refused to hit. On the other side of the bridge my hamstring started to cramp in a way I had never felt before. It was like sharp twitching pains, almost like someone was poking it and pinching it really hard every few seconds. But, I didn’t panic. Instead, I actually said out loud “not now hamstring. We are not doing this today” and hit it a few times. Luckily, I was able to grab some salt from the medics on course a few steps later and then just a minute later there was a biofreeze station. I slathered biofreeze all over my fatigued legs, allowing myself to stop for the first time in the race, but quickly getting right back out there. It definitely helped and I vowed to drink more Gatorade at every station after that, hoping it would help ward off any further cramping. (Note to runners: if you are ever slathering yourself with biofreeze in a race, take the wipe they offer you after- I didn’t do this in an attempt to get back out faster, and thus, burned my eyes a few minutes later when I wiped my face with my hand…ouch!).

In terms of fueling, I had been taking an Endurance Tap gel every 7km, and I sipped water at every station in the first half, being careful to stay hydrated but not overdo it. In the second half, I alternated between Gatorade and water at every station and was trying to take in more than just sips. After mile 20, I took Gatorade at every station, then washed it down with some water and poured the rest of the water down the back of my neck. This definitely worked very well for me and as someone who often suffers from side stitches, I was overjoyed that I didn’t get any during the entire race!

The Bronx was not the most exciting part of the race, and my pace shows that, but I still felt very much in a “flow” state and was happy when we crossed the bridge out and headed back into Manhattan. Once at this point, I knew I was going to finish soon enough, and I was flooded with happiness at how well it had all gone. Before I ran the race, I had made a list in my head of 10 things to think about when I needed to draw on some inspiration and push through tough parts. I realized now that I hadn’t needed them, but a few steps later I felt a bit tired and started thinking about one of them- my friends brand new baby and how excited and hopeful I was for her future. That was all it took to pick it up again. I had once again lost track as to where I was, and when I saw the next mile marker I knew that I was not going to make my goal time. The thing is though, I just didn’t care. I was still enjoying myself. I think if I had been disappointed in myself at that point, it could have ruined my race, or made it more miserable than it was, so I am happy I didn’t let the thought of missing my  goal deter me from working hard and enjoying every step. Now my only goal was to get to my friends at 109th street and then run it home to the finish. I had written mantras on my arm; “breathe, believe” “you trained for this”, “forward, not fast” (this one actually came from a note that another friend wrote for the leave a note take a note wall at the expo) and “you’ve done this before” to get through the tough parts. I thought that I would have needed to rely on these as well, but as I crossed the 35k mark, I realized I hadn’t needed them at all – or maybe I was thinking about them all along subconsciously.

As I approached 109th st., I was SO EXCITED to reach my friends and I picked up my pace again. Seeing them was honestly the best feeling and to my surprise, Zach had actually already finished and joined them, just in time to see me run by! I stopped for a mid-run hug and kiss from all of them and almost cried out of love I felt. It was all I needed to carry me to the end. See below to photographic evidence. I happily left them with some extra pep in my step ready to tackle the last 3 miles.

Right after seeing them, the last hill after the mile 23 mark began. Mile 24 is pretty tough because it is basically a straight uphill climb. I knew this, as I had run it the week before, and while it actually is not that steep, it felt very difficult after running 23 miles. At one point I remember thinking to myself “fuck this hill, fuck this hill” and my aggression seemed to help me tackle it. Mile 24 was slow when I look back on it, but I’m just so proud that I ran that hill and didn’t let it win. I knew once I got to the top I would enter central park and be on the true home stretch, coasting through those last two miles to the end. Making it to the top was incredible, and I was feeling so proud, confident and strong. Strong enough to pick it up and get my butt across that finish line. The crowds were once again insane in the park and I hardly felt any pain at this point. To my left I noticed a girl struggling pretty badly who had two friends in street clothes running next to her screaming encouragement. One of the girls kept saying “you are so amazing!! You are ALL so amazing” and it brought a few tears to my eyes to see how much they supported her, it really helped me feel amazing too!

I attacked on the up hills and found people to reel in and pass over the last two miles. I successfully reeled in every single person I chose and felt like I was FLYING. At one point after a small hill, my legs felt like jello but I once again said out loud “not now. You’re almost there.” When I had run some of the course in August I told my coach after I was so nervous about those central park hills, while small, and was scared that they would be really tough at the end of a marathon because they had felt tough after only 12 miles. Well, my adrenaline was so high, I hardly felt them. I don’t remember seeing the mile 25 sign but I figured I was close to the last mile and tried to pick it up again. I was again smiling ear to ear and trying to hold back happy tears. There have been a lot of studies about how smiling can actually lessen the physical sensation of pain and this is something I had practiced in training all summer, however, my training smiles this summer were definitely forced as a way to help diminish pain (if you ever saw me making weird grimacing grins along MGT this summer I am sorry for the nightmares that may have caused you), but nothing about my smiling in this race was forced. I wonder now if my constant true joy I felt is what helped me feel minimal pain the entire race and NO pain in that last 2 mile stretch. The crowds along the end of the park on 59th were so encouraging and excited I felt like I was winning the Olympics or something. I remember seeing the “800m to go” sign and thinking “alright, that’s just two laps of the track, you can do 800m very quickly, time to sprint”, and I did! As I turned back into the park I channeled my inner Shalane and pushed up that last 200m hill chanting “fuck yeah, fuck yeah” in my head. Before I knew it, I had finished. I had just run the New York City marathon in 4 hours, 40 minutes and 24 seconds. I was elated. I immediately started to sob, only I had like no water in me to cry, so it was instead some sort of weird dry sobbing.

The funny thing about a marathon is how after running such a far distance, the second you cross the finish line and know you are done, your legs just don’t seem to work anymore. I very, very, very slowly shuffled along with hundreds of other tired runners, happy that it was not too cold and in awe of what had just happened. Again, I noticed how amazing the volunteers were, putting heat sheets on all of us, looking out for anyone who seemed off and making sure we all got food. I stopped to take a photo with my medal and when I went to walk again I nearly fell over, immediately I had three volunteers ask me if I needed help. It seemed to take FOREVER to get out of the park and I could not stop giggling once we all received our ponchos and walked along like hooded zombies.

The streets just west of the park were all shut off so only runners were allowed in and when we excited the barricades along Columbus Ave, I once again felt like a celebrity! Every single person who walked by me said congratulations! Zach and Lanie had subwayed back to meet me and together the three of us very slowly made our way back to Sarah and Evan’s, hearing more congrats the whole way back.

Once we had showered off we celebrated with pizza, champagne, beer (and lots of water) and then headed out to have MORE beer (beer is a carb okay, and carbs are crucial to replenishing glycogen after a marathon). This felt so much different than after Chicago because while I was exhausted and my body was destroyed, I just felt SO GOOD. Nothing could have ruined my runner’s high.

I could not fall asleep that night, thinking to myself “this may have actually been the best day of my life next to my wedding day”. I lay there thinking about everything that had happened and how grateful I felt to witness everything I did; The girls in central park cheering on their friend as they ran with her, the runners I passed who were struggling, everyone giving them pats of encouragement on their back, filling me with love for everyone who did the same for me in Chicago. The girl who ran by a cramping man on the course, stopped, turned around, and went back to him to offer salt pills. The two guide runners signing “respect” on the Queensboro Bridge, seeing my friends out there cheering for me, the families lining the streets cheering for strangers, the live music, the funny political signs, the whole city turning into a big party- just all of it.

In a way, I feel like this race was my true marathon debut, since I was actually able to run the whole thing with no walk breaks (minus the biofreeze stop) and hit a finishing time that I knew I was capable of. This has given me such a confidence boost and ignited my passion to keep going and working on myself, making my next impossible possible. If I was able to run such a hard course in such high spirits, I know I am capable of doing so much more, and I can’t wait to see what that more will be. In a strange way, I finally feel like I can now call myself a true runner. It’s an amazing thing to see what can happen when you actually show up for yourself and put in the work. There were so many days where I almost let my fear of failing get in the way, and yet here I am on the other side of it all, after one “failure”, so glad that I kept trying anyway, despite the unknown, because I let go of that fear.

Here I am a week later, STILL riding my runner’s high. Every time I see a friend and tell them about it I get comments like “You are glowing”, “something about you just seems different” or (the best one) “you are such an inspiration”. My heart is just so full. New York was truly everything I had hoped it would be and so much more. While the race was incredible, the lessons I learned in my training are arguably the most important part of this whole experience. Mainly, to dream the big dreams and get back up if you are knocked down. I urge you, if you ever have the slightest inclination to run a marathon, try and make New York the one you run, it may just be the best day of your life!

 

 

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