On Sunday, November 2, 2014, I ran my first New York City Marathon.
I arrived at the starting point in Staten Island, New York near 7AM after having little to no sleep the night prior. The nerves and anxiety kept me awake from 4AM on. I headed to the subway from my sister’s apartment at 4:45AM. It was still pitch black outside and there wasn’t a soul was to be found anywhere on the streets. Thoughts kept circling in my head to convince myself that I was actually running this race and that there was no backing out now. I arrived at the Sheraton Hotel on 53rd and 7th avenue around 6AM and there was an ocean of runners flooding in and out of the hotel lobby. Right then and there, I finally knew that this was all real.
I met with my former co-workers from Runner’s World and was filled with joy to be on a bus with people I knew. As we were seated to depart for the starting point, I couldn’t stop mentally rehearsing how I wanted to run this marathon. In previous races, I’ve never had an issue with turning my thoughts into actions. However, this race was different. I knew I wasn’t physically prepared, so I had to try to put mind over matter. I was hoping that some spontaneous burst of energy that was stored somewhere in my body would arise and make me run the best race of my life (that was not the case)
My wave was scheduled to start at 10:05AM. It was still only 7:30AM as I was walking around looking for a bathroom to use. I kept thinking to myself, “I wonder how many times I can use the bathroom before I actually start running”
I was under-dressed and freezing cold as I wandered the parking lot near my corral. I was with my former co-worker from Runner’s World as we both searched for the best place to hide from the wind while we were waiting. We found a safe haven inside of a Poland Spring truck and sat on pieces of cardboard boxes with strangers who were also trying to keep themselves warm. It was approaching 9AM when I couldn’t handle waiting anymore. I headed to my corral and waited with the other runners who were just as impatient as me. I’ve never wanted to start running so badly in my life.
As the officials started letting us through the gates of our corrals, all I could think about was how cold my toes were and how I wished I brought gloves or a hat.
We slowly started jogging to the bridge where the race was to begin. My body started warming up from excitement. When the alarm went off for us to start, my mind went blank.
As we ran over the bridge, the wind was blowing so hard that I almost tripped over my own two feet. I tried to remain focused and find my balance. When we entered Brooklyn, I started hearing the distant cheers of neighbors who were all lined up on the sidewalk along the blue tape that created a barrier between the runners and them. As the crowds grew larger and the noise grew louder, I couldn’t help but smile. This was really happening. With each passing mile, I kept looking forward to mile 11 where my sister and best friend were waiting for me. My legs felt great and I was at a perfect pace to run a 4-hour marathon.
When I finally arrived at mile 11, I saw the bright, yellow Powerbar poster that my sister’s roommate made for me. I couldn’t be more ecstatic to see them. I stopped and gave them each a hug and finally felt that spontaneous burst of energy overcome me. From there, I thought “This is cake. I have this in the bag”
Once I hit mile 13, the tables started turning. Sharp pains were running up and down from my feet to my shins to my quads. By mile 14, I felt everything. My legs felt like giant cinder-blocks and the pain became more intense. I wasn’t familiar with this feeling and I didn’t know what to do. Every step was more difficult than the last. I kept telling myself, “DO NOT WALK. WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT WALK”
I walked almost every mile from 14 through 26 and I couldn’t be more disappointed. I’ve never walked a race in my life and I couldn’t understand how this happened to me. I began ignoring the cheers of the crowds as I ran through the Bronx and Manhattan. All I wanted was to finish with this race. At one point, I even considered just completely being taken out by a medic. I’ve never felt this amount of pain before.
Then, I thought about how much more disappointed I would be if I didn’t finish the marathon. After such a difficult year, I owed it to myself to earn that medal. Once we finally entered Central Park, less than 2 miles left from the finish line, I saw my sister and best friend at mile 25 and they were still cheering.
I cried to them, “I’ve got nothing left.”
“Yes, you do!” screamed a stranger in the crowd.
In my head, I just thought, “No. I don’t.”
I mustered up every bit of energy I had left to run the remainder of mile 26. As we approached the grandstand, I saw the finish line in sight and tried to speed up the snail-like pace that I was running at. When I crossed the finish line, I felt everything- All of the emotions, physical pain, memories, everything. But, I finished. I didn’t even care about my time. It seems impossible to really describe how difficult this race was for me. All I can offer now is advice for those who plan to run New York City Marathon or any marathon for that matter.
1.) Use a training plan
Train. Stick to a plan and don’t skip out on long runs. I was no where near the mileage that I should have reached for this race. My legs gave out because they were not used to running further than 10 miles. I now understand that wishful thinking DOES NOT carry you the entire way. Being unprepared for a race is the same as being unprepared for a test in school. The information doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Be prepared.
2.) Bring MANY layers
Whatever the weather is predicted to be, bring more layers than you think you need – A hat, gloves, a sweatshirt, sweatpants, a blanket, a sleeping bag, anything. You can always get rid of it before the race. It’s better to have more clothes than less. Bring things that you don’t mind getting rid of. This gives you an excuse to do some spring cleaning.
3.) Get enough sleep
I may have slept a total of 1.5 hours the night before, but thankfully got 10+ hours two nights before. (And I’m pretty sure that I was half-asleep from miles 16-20) Get in bed an hour or two before the time that you actually want to sleep. Trust me, you won’t fall asleep that easily. The nerves are real.
4.) Write your name somewhere, anywhere, on your clothing
The crowds helped A LOT. During the miles when I was walking, it felt amazing to hear someone still cheering for you even if you’re walking. Feed off of their kind words. It will carry you.
5.) Take the food that they give you at the finish line
All I can say is that if I didn’t eat or drink something afterwards, I probably would have passed out. You need to eat or drink something after your race. Your stomach will be crying for it and you need the sugar and protein to help your muscles recover immediately.
6.) Understand that anything can happen
Running a marathon is extremely hard. Running in general is hard. Despite your level of athleticism, you never know what could happen in 26.2 miles. Don’t get discouraged by pain. It happens to everyone. We’re only human.
7.) Don’t give up
When you want to give up, try your best not to. I was in an extreme amount of pain and was convinced that I was going to quit, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. The medal that you will get to wear around your neck will make you more proud than you’ve ever been in your life.