I still can’t believe I ran a freaking MARATHON. I was extremely nervous on Saturday. Knowing I was supposed to load up on carbs, I had two eggs, toast, potatoes, and french toast for breakfast. Here’s a photo of my pre-race day lunch:
Baked potato AND pasta. It was yummy, and normally I would love to indulge in this sort of carb fest, but it made me want to barf. I packed up the kids, took the dog to the doggie hotel, and headed into the city for a dinner of…. PASTA. I bought a bagel with peanut butter and jelly for the morning. Still freaking out I had a vodka grapefruit to calm down, took a shower and went to sleep. I woke up at about 3, which was really 4 because of Daylight Savings, then I just stared at the back of my eyelids for two hours until I decided to get up and make a cup of coffee, pull on my running pants, get all my gear together, which I had carefully packed and repacked five times to make sure I had everything, kiss the kids and Frank goodbye and head over to meet my friend Vanessa and the team she runs with, for the 7 am Staten Island Ferry.
When you pick up your marathon bib, they give you all kinds of stuff like a shirt, a clear plastic bag, and some information that I probably should have looked at. I didn’t know that the clear plastic bag I had been provided would be the ONLY bag allowed into the village (which is what they call the area where you wait for the marathon to start). There was a moment of panic when I had to clear out all of the stuff I had been told to bring – bananas, toilet paper, water, bagel, wipes – and put it into another friend’s bag. Then we all piled on to a bus for an interminable ride to the base of the Verrazano Bridge, where the race begins.
Luckily when we got to the entrance to the village, a nice police officer gave me a plastic bag, so Denise didn’t have to carry around my toilet paper. I brought the whole roll by the way, not knowing how much I would need. I didn’t need the whole roll. Then we walked around for a bit, got free coffee and more bagels from Dunkin Donuts. Pretty much everyone had bananas. I would not have been at all surprised to see a sign reading, “Welcome to the 2013 NYC Marathon, brought to you by BANANAS.” Finally we sat down and listened to the announcements about baggage, and start times being read in seven different languages. Runners from all over the world come to NYC for the marathon. It’s really the biggest marathon, and I felt like I had cheated a bit by doing it first. Not really, because I will always be a New Yorker, and that’s where I became a runner, logging miles along the river and through the park.
Amazingly in that crowd of 50,000 I bumped into my friend Jessica, who was really inspiring when I first started running. She was running her first full marathon, too. We had a good hug, then went to find the entrances to our corrals. I lined up behind a man who was in his late sixties, wearing a long fur coat. I told him I was nervous. He said, “What’s there to be nervous about? Get nervous for a 5K, not for this. This is going to a parade, and the parade is the crowd. It’s the best way to see the city, so enjoy it.” I tried to calm myself down and breathe. They started herding us to the bridge. At this point, runners shed the throwaway clothes brought to keep them warm while they wait for the start. Mine were a lovely extra-large pair of sweats, and a jacket from Sears.
Walking up to the bridge I took a moment to realize what I was about to do. It’s monumental, the NYC Marathon. Even now when I think about it I get teary. I looked around at the other runners in my wave – many of us running for the first time, and we gave each other nervous looks and wondered what the hell we were doing. I felt a bit like I was in the wrong place. They say that running a marathon is 40% training, 40% mental, 20% nutrition. I hoped I had the mental fortitude to override my body when it told me to stop. I also really hoped it wouldn’t hurt till after mile 13.
The announcer told us that in our wave was Bill Rancic, who won Celebrity Apprentice (yay?) who was running to raise money for cancer research. He would start last, and earn a dollar for every person he passed. Also in my wave was Pamela Anderson. I never saw her. Then he said, “On your marks” and the cannons fired. We were off.
I was trying not to run too fast. A lot of runners start out too fast and then can’t finish the race, having spent all their energy at the start. I shed my hat somewhere, looked around and tried to enjoy the view. Manhattan seemed really far away, and that’s where we were going. Here’s something I didn’t know – runners travel across the bridge on both the upper and lower decks. Apparently many of them stop on the upper deck to pee off the bridge, which ends up showering those on the lower level with urine. Luckily I was on the upper level because that would be a really terrible way to begin the race. Another terrible way to begin the race is with a cramp, and I got one pretty much right away. I tried to blow it out, exhaling all my breath, and just calm down. After a while it went away.
I can’t imagine there is anything in the world like running the NYC Marathon. Crowds line the streets the entire way, and complete strangers scream your name. “Way to go Heather!” “Heather you got this!” “Go Heather!” It seems kind of dorky, but I can tell you it is awesome, and I ran most of the way with only one earbud in so that I could hear the crowd. I saw my friend Maria Ramroop which was AMAZING. Then I saw my husband and kids in Brooklyn at mile 8. I stopped to give them kisses, burst into tears, and asked my husband for some Chapstick. Then I was on my way again.
Running through Brooklyn was the best. The bars were all open to the street, and people were screaming, dancing. There are bands that play at every mile along the route. I think that Williamsburg was the most fun probably because on Sunday afternoon in Williamsburg everyone is drunk. I saw my friend Kelly McCann who took a picture of me just as I had put a glucose gummy thing in my mouth. Yay! It was AWESOME to see her. She ran the marathon a few years back and has been super supportive. Also Kelly and I swam together when we were growing up, for an Olympic training team. It was absurdly hard training, so I’m no stranger to people puking or collapsing during a workout. That’s what makes you stronger. It’s also probably what made me think I could actually do this thing. Thanks Kelly!
I stopped at the first port-a-potties that didn’t have too long a line. It added three minutes to my time, but I didn’t think about that. I wasn’t going to pee off any bridge.
After Brooklyn came Queens, and then we crossed the Queensborough Bridge between miles 15 and 16. This is when a lot of people started walking. I was feeling good, hamstrings tired, but I wasn’t about to walk. All those hills I complained about during training prepared me for this. Then, as we sloped down off of the bridge there were three signs reading:
If having only 10 miles left is easier
Life just got easier.
Welcome to Manhattan.
What is wrong with me that I’m crying as I type this?! Anyway, I was really happy to see those signs, but was picturing how far those ten miles were. From 59th Street, all they way up to the Willis Avenue Bridge, into the Bronx, then back into Manhattan, 79 blocks downtown, across Central Park South, then up to the finish. It was starting to really hurt. I was dragging. I just wanted to get to 89th Street where I was supposed to meet my family again. But when I got there I couldn’t find them, so I just kept going. I ate two strawberry banana gels they were handing out, which I usually hate, but it’s so much easier to swallow the gel when you’re running than it is to chew the gummies. Must remember that for next time (next time?!?). On the Willis Avenue Bridge, people were stopping right and left. I thought I must really be slow. I didn’t really have a goal time for the race, my only goal was to finish without pooping in my pants (it happens to marathon runners – OFTEN). But I though it would be nice to finish in under five hours. Ideally, at 4:45. I figured I was at the back of the pack, the way everyone around me seemed to be dropping out. A pain like I had torn something had appeared on the outside of my right knee. My hip flexors were so tight, my hamstrings were angry. Then, the most amazing thing happened. I’m not a religious person, but something appeared to me like a vision, a beacon, a guardian angel, fairy whatever you want to call it. A runner in purple pigtails, with a little flag sticking up from her back reading “4:30.” She was the pace runner for people who want to finish in four hours and thirty minutes. I was kicking ass. I kept up with her for several miles – the miles that are the hardest, 18-22. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was divine intervention. Then at mile 23 I needed water, and I lost her to the crowd of runners before me.
I couldn’t actually stop for water at that point – it is so hard to start once you’ve stopped, I had to keep running and try to toss the water into my mouth. When your legs and knees are that exhausted it’s even hard to move right or left, so when pedestrians tried to sneak across the marathon route that close to the finish, it was VERY ANNOYING. I approached Central Park calculating in my mind that I had fifty blocks to run until I got to Central Park South. Fifty blocks. How was I going to make it? How was I going to run these last three miles? My right knee was screaming at me again. How on earth was I going to do this? And then I realized, I was already doing it. I wasn’t stopping. I wasn’t going to stop. I hadn’t even walked. I was doing it. I was running the NYC Marathon. I just kept repeating that over and over to myself. I entered the park, Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side came on my headphones and I kept right on going, thinking about the finish line rather than what I was doing at that moment. That was the last song I listened to before turning off the music. I let the spectators carry me through to the end. It is not sentiment to say that the absolute best people in the world live in New York City. I love each and every person who encouraged me those last few miles.
Between miles 25 and 26 two people stopped right next to me. They just stopped running and stood. “Don’t stop NOW!” I told them, but the man just screamed in agony. I passed a runner carrying his friend on his back. At mile 26 I tried to go faster, I could see the finish line. As I crossed the line I said, out loud to myself, “I did it.” A woman placed the medal over my head, and again I burst into tears. I wasn’t the only one. People all around me were crying, and I high fived the stranger next to me. I was freezing. Teeth chattering, feet unable to move. I could barely lift my legs to walk and it took me half an hour to walk the two blocks to meet my family, but I was done. I did it. My time was 4:40:20. If I hadn’t asked Frank for the Chapstick, it would have been 4:39. If I hadn’t gone to the bathroom it would have been 4:37. Aaaargh.
I hung my medal over the corner of my mirror in my closet, so that I look at it every morning. I’m still tired, feel nauseous and achy, but today I signed up for the Manhattan Half Marathon which is in January.
Oh, I beat both Bill Rancic and Pamela Anderson by an hour.
Thank you a million times to everyone who donated to my run for Story Pirates. And a HUGE thank you to the Story Pirates themselves, for giving me this opportunity. THANK YOU.
I assume the desire to get a 26.2 tattoo will go away eventually. Right?
My sister, her husband and his parents watching me finish on Track My Runner: