November 15, 2013

Race Report: ING New York City Marathon (Part 3)

After crossing the halfway point of the NYC Marathon, I was still flying high and feeling good. The photographers kept capturing tons of pictures of me grinning like a banshee, and one thing I forgot to mention in part 2 of my recap was how I was tearing up at least once every single mile. I could not believe how unbelievably lucky I was to get to run my 100th marathon in my hometown, with thousands upon thousands of cheering fans every step of the way. Most were strangers, but every so often I’d see someone I knew in the crowd. After so many marathons in faraway places where I didn’t know a single person, it was just amazing to have so many people I actually knew there!

Mile 14 went by quickly and rather uneventfully, and then we took a left onto Queens Boulevard just before reaching mile 15. This was the mile that would take us over the Queensboro Bridge and into Manhattan, and to psych us up for it, some spectators had set up a huge music system and were blasting Katy Perry’s “Roar.” They could not have picked a better song to get me pumped! “Roar” made me think of Thomas and all the other wonderful instructors at Flywheel Dallas, and how I knew they were cheering me on from a thousand miles away. The music quickly died away in the distance and was replaced by the echo of thousands of pounding feet as we began our ascent of the bridge, but I kept singing it in my head and thinking about my friends in Texas, which kept me feeling strong despite the lack of actual fans at this point in the race.

The quiet mile on the Queensboro Bridge is often cited as spooky. After all those miles of cheering crowds, you get one very long mile of silence until you descend upon the chaos of First Ave in Manhattan. I listened to the engines and the rattle of the cars above me on the upper level on the bridge, and for some reason, I morbidly wondered what would happen if there was some kind of catastrophic bridge collapse or repeat of the Boston tragedy and this marathon was how I met my death. (I know, so super creepy and weird, and I don’t know how this popped into my head either – very sad that after Boston it’s now a reality.) But just as I was thinking this, some runners behind me apparently decided that they had had enough of the silence – and they started singing. Although I couldn’t quite place the tune (I later found out that amazingly, Theodora was on the bridge at the exact same time as me; she told me it was the intro to Seven Nation Army), I joined in singing anyway, and so did hundreds of other runners around me, until it seemed like the half the bridge was singing in unison. I decided that even if some awful person were out there planning something horrible, I didn’t care – I could think of no better way to go than doing what I love, in the city I love, surrounded by thousands of other runners fulfilling their dreams. (And yes, I cried a little more thinking about all this. I told you, tears at least once per mile!)

But now we had crossed mile 16 and descending into Manhattan… and I couldn’t wait. These miles on First Ave are usually among my favorite of the whole race! I grabbed a gel and then accelerated as we came down the final, steep, twisty part of the bridge, passing several runners as I did so. We turned off the bridge onto 59th Street for just one short block, and I prepared to be amazed by the crowds when we turned back under the bridge and began heading up 1st Avenue.

If I’m being really honest though? I just wasn’t feeling it that much this year. I usually find First Ave to be the most magical part of the race, and the crowds were just as big as ever, but I found myself actually preferring the Brooklyn crowds for some reason. I continued to stay on the left side of the road, as close to the crowds as possible, and lots of people were cheering me on (by name and by “100th marathon!”), but I just wasn’t quite as enthused as I had been expecting. Perhaps I hyped these miles up too much in my mind?

I did not, however, hype up how great it would be to see my friends and family. Despite not managing to see Jen at the mile 17 sponge station, I did manage to spot my mom at 86th Street, my friend Becca a little further beyond that, my book club friends a few blocks later, and a whole bunch of running blogger friends just after that. It seemed that First Ave between 86th and 110th Street was a popular place, and I was especially grateful for how so many people were up in that 96th Street to 125th Street range, where the crowds are quite a bit more sparse compared to the early miles on First Ave.

Mile 18 of 2013 NYC Marathon
Thanks to Ashley for snapping this pic as I ran by!

One thing that was kind of funny about wearing my name on my shirt was that so many strangers were screaming my name that I kind of became immune to it. I was still trying to look at and acknowledge everyone who was nice enough to cheer for me, but sometimes I would have friends screaming for me and I didn’t even see them or realize they were friends instead of strangers! It was up in this area that I totally missed my dad, brother, sister-in-law, and little sister who had come all the way down from Albany/Saratoga to cheer. (My brother gives me the benefit of the doubt and blames my Dad for positioning them in the middle of the street instead of on the sidelines with the other spectators… leave it up to Daddo to do something like that!)

Once I was past my final friends after mile 19, though, it was on to the part of the race I like the least – the Willis Ave Bridge to the Bronx and silly mile 20 before we finally turn back down to Manhattan and start heading home. When the NYC Marathon was first changed from loops in Central Park to a tour of the boroughs, my understanding is that the part of the course that was in the Bronx was literally just crossing the bridge to go one block in and then turning around and heading right back the way you came. I understand that Bronx residents might feel slighted by the short time devoted to our borough – though Staten Islanders have it worse in that we don’t even really run in their borough; we just run out of it! But the current course honestly doesn’t really help runners to give any more love to the Bronx – it’s a series of twists and turns that all are very clearly just meant to add extra distance while not really taking you any further into the borough. There is usually a pretty nice crowd right at mile 20 (where the Robin Hood Foundation sets up shop, including a giant projector screen showing live footage of the runners), but otherwise, this area is boring. Fortunately, this year I was really excited to see some friends from the Dashing Whippets running team just as I approached the bridge – and they cheered me up to get me across the Madison Ave Bridge and onto mile 21.

Although I hadn’t been able to remember everyone that I had planned to dedicate a mile to, I remembered mile 21 very clearly – with about 45 minutes left in the race for me, this one was for my Flywheel friends deep in the heart of Texas. My favorite instructors are incredible at pushing me to go harder than I ever thought possible, and at this point of the race, I was honestly getting pretty tired and really needed a boost.

Throughout the race, my mom was doing the heroic job of traipsing all over the course to see me wherever possible. But she had forgotten one critical instruction I had put on her directions/planning sheet: “text me when you get to each location and tell me where you are as well as which side of the road you are on, from the perspective of the runners” My mom remembered that last part and had texted me “I’m on the left side,” but I had no idea what her cross streets were, and couldn’t even really remember the general area to which I had sent her, so I replied “What cross streets???” A minute or two later, I saw her on the left – face down in her phone and trying to figure out how to send a text back to me. Oh, Mom! I didn’t want to slow my pace, but instead started screaming as I ran: “Mom! Mom! Hi! It’s Laura! Mom! Sue! Look over here!” until the guy in front of her tapped her on the shoulder and pointed me out. By then I was almost past her, so a look of complete frustration was on my face – but she excitedly yelled for me as I finally got to wave. Ten steps further down the road, I felt terrible for not stopping and for being so rude – she had been out there doing an amazing job cheering! I texted her a quick “I LOVE YOU” to make amends, hoping she’d realize how much I sincerely love it anytime she’s able to come to one of my races. (And let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be a true mom-at-the-marathon experience if she didn’t miss me at least once due to texting or making friends with the spectators around her! I love you, Mommy.)

I cruised around Marcus Garvey Park, dancing a little bit to the DJ in this area, until we turned back onto Fifth Ave. This was it – the long, steady uphill on Fifth Ave until we’d turn into the park with only two miles to go. The incline didn’t feel too bad at first, but I could definitely tell that my legs were tired, and I knew that it was going to take a lot of mental strength to get through these last few miles. Unfortunately, my attitude was becoming even more negative as I started to get really frustrated with the spectators in this area, many of whom were going way past the barriers on the sidewalk to stand halfway out in the road cheering – forcing the runners into a narrow chute where it was very hard to get your own space or pass anyone else. Despite my exhaustion, I was still passing some people around me (though there were of course others much faster who were in turn passing me), and it was frustrating not to have adequate room to do so.

We hit 110th Street and Central Park appeared on my right, and the road seemed to open up a bit more from here on, since the crowds were mainly on the left and not the right. Having run the full loop of Central Park so many times, just seeing it there made me feel like home – and I knew exactly how far I had to go. The crowds on our left were still screaming in full force, and I started to recognize some groups who must have walked west from their cheering spots on First Ave. Some of them remembered me, too, and it was fun to have some familiar faces.

But then I saw a very familiar face. In a particularly rowdy part of the crowd, I spied my best friend Mat along with a whole group of co-conspirators: his girlfriend, his other best friend Jon, Jon’s girlfriend, and a whole bunch of their friends that I hadn’t yet met (but who I met later at my after-party and were awesome). A lot of joking signs get made about spectators getting tired from cheering or pre-gaming, but I will be the first to admit that I love having spectators who have gotten into the spirit of the day by having a few celebratory drinks before going out to cheer. Mat and Jon’s group was one of the loudest of all, and it was great to get to run by them!

I realized that I definitely needed a boost. My feet and legs weren’t really hurting, but I was feeling tired and worn down – and the race was starting to be a lot less fun than it had been in the early miles. In retrospect, I think part of that is that as I began to approach the end of the race, I also began to realize that it would all be over. I had been so excited about NYC Marathon being my 100th marathon for so long, and it had been a wonderful first 22 miles… but now it was almost over. Honestly, sometimes I get a little freaked out when I’m about to reach a big goal, in part because I then get so many people asking me “so what’s next?!” I didn’t know what was going to be next after I finished these 26.2 miles.

While I was definitely really exhausted, I wished that I had pushed it a little harder in the early miles. My watch had showed me that I was on track for a PR when I was at the halfway point, but later in the race, I realized that was only because I had started my watch late – and so I actually didn’t know exactly what my real chip time was going to be (though I did know it was going to be under four hours). But now I was a little disappointed, because my finish time wasn’t going to meet my secret A goal (to break my current 3:48 PR), B goal (to break my NYCM PR of 3:56), but was definitely going to break my C goal (finish under 4:00) with room to spare. I had long said that a time goal wasn’t important to me for NYCM, and it truly wasn’t – but not having a time goal can make it a lot harder to push yourself in the final miles. The last few miles of a marathon are always tough, and it’s so easy to go slower than what you’re really capable of if you’re not striving for something. My B goal was done for, but my C goal was almost certainly going to happen, so that left me in the middle without anything to force me to hurry it up.

And then I hit 103rd Street and came upon mile 23 – which meant not only did I have just a little over 5K left in the race, but it was a mile that I got to spend thinking about one of my other best friends, Blake. While I had mostly only been looking at my phone on the bridges (where there were no spectators to focus on instead), I knew from glancing at Twitter that she was avidly tracking me from Dallas, and I really wanted to do her proud in this mile. As I mentioned, I was really worn out and kind of wishing that the race would just be over already, but thinking about Blake reminded me that sometimes you just have to keep pushing forward even when you’re not feeling it – and with such a short distance left, I knew I could do it.

The spectators got more and more dense as I approached  89th Street, and I took a really wide turn into the park entrance – maybe not so great for taking the tangents, but definitely awesome for soaking up more energy from the spectators. And it worked! I felt really good about being on this home stretch of the road that I had run so many times before, and I thought about all the great memories I had of this little bit of road. It was the starting line of my very first half marathon back in 2008, and also the starting line of my longest distance ever, the 60K, last year. It was where I had led many an Athleta running group as we trained for the More Half Marathon, and it was where I had bumped into many a running friend while we were out on our own training runs. Today, the crowds lined the park in a way I had never seen before (how did all those people jump the fencing to stand in the foliage without the police caring?), and I was so thrilled for their support.

The stretch of the inside park loop from 89th to 86th is one of the only straightaways in Central Park – but just beyond it, on the very first turn of the rest of that curvy loop, I spied some very familiar faces in the crowd – my Dad, brother, sister-in-law, and little sister! Although I later found out that they had seen me back at mile 18, this was the first time I saw them, and I was beyond thrilled that they had made it down to NYC and found me on the course. It’s not easy to spot your runner in the crowd of 50,000 others, and I was so psyched that they had staked out a spot and managed to see me – particularly where I needed them most. I hit mile 24 just after seeing them, and it gave me just the energy boost I needed to pick it up through the rest of the park.

Throughout the race, I had no idea how my other friends running it were doing, but in this area, I thought of my friend Theodora. This little stretch of the park makes me think of her almost every time I run through it, since it reminds me of a fateful afternoon where we agreed to meet for a run on our way to 16 Handles (Theodora shares my joy of running in order to then indulge on delicious post-run treats). I had no idea where she was on the course, but as my own watch started ticking closer and closer to four hours (which was her time goal), I hoped that she was as happy as I was right now. I later found out that she was somewhere near me in the crowd, just a little bit in front of me – to the point where Blake and Ashley thought we might have been running together! I’m a little sad that we had been so close together and yet not running side by side, gossiping and keeping each other going, but at the same time, I think it’s really fitting that we both went out there to run our own race and see what we could do on our own. Friends are the best thing in the world, but it’s also really rewarding to test your own mettle and see where you stand.

As far as testing my own mettle went, it was in these two miles that I really started tearing up even more than before. Was I really about to complete my 100th marathon? I honestly could not believe it, but spectators continued to call it out to me, reminding me that it was, in fact, true. Grinning crazily as tears streamed down my face (partially because of my excitement and partially because of the wind), I picked up the pace to fly down Cat Hill. I knew this section of the park very well, and I knew that I had an uphill coming once I hit 72nd Street – but I was not going to give up on it here. I had said in my dedication post that I would be dedicating mile 25 to my mom, who has been my biggest supporter in everything that I do, and I wanted to run this mile strong for her. Just as I had promised, I bypassed the mile 25 water station in favor of just continuing to run fast. I had less than ten minutes left in this race; I could definitely wait that long for a drink!

Half a mile later, we shot out onto Central Park South – and it was here that I really started to love every second of the race again. The crowds on my left were five deep against the barriers, and were deafening in their cheers. Plus, I knew that I had less than a mile of running left in the race. I wanted to capture this feeling of alm0st-there achievement and bottle it forever – I felt fantastic!

Mile 25 of NYC Marathon 2013

We turned from Central Park South into Columbus Circle, and then back into the park. But suddenly, my mood sobered – there was a runner a little bit down the road who was not doing so well. Staggering back and forth across the course like he was drunk, it was clear that he was on the verge of collapse. Thankfully, there were volunteers swarming him seconds later, and the crowd grew silent as they grabbed him and helped him to lie down before he fell. It seemed like he would be all right with some rest/fluids (at least he hadn’t actually fallen and hit his head!), but I said a little prayer for him as I exited the sidewalk and headed back out for the final stretch of Central Park Loop. The marathon isn’t easy, and that poor runner was unfortunately the epitome of training and doing everything right but then having your body betray you on race day.

I don’t know if it was seeing that runner, or just all the emotions of the day catching up to me, but when I saw the 26 mile marker looming in front of me, I started crying – for real. Was I really about to do this? It didn’t seem possible to me that my plan to have NYC Marathon as my 100th had actually succeeded. When I did my first marathon, I was pretty sure that I was going to stop somewhere and get picked up by the sag wagon, since I didn’t think my body was capable of actually running 26.2 miles. And when I picked NYC Marathon as my 100th, I guess I kind of thought somewhere in the back of my mind that surely something was going to go wrong and keep me from achieving it. 100 marathons? To paraphrase the rude woman on the course, “that’s just crazy.” And yet, I was about to do it.

Mile 26 of NYC Marathon 2013
This is an insanely unflattering picture of me crying as I finish that final 0.2 mile stretch, but I love it.

The last two tenths of a mile of the race were the ones that were supposed to be just for me – I remembered that much from my pre-race dedications. But while running, I didn’t remember that I had predicted I would be crying as I approached the finish (I didn’t do that when I broke the record with my 50th state) – and yet  picture above shows you that it was indeed what happened. That last quarter mile was a complete blur – I just remember trying to give it everything I had, and hearing the lucky crowd in the bleachers screaming on the left, while the blue skies and colorful fall foliage graced the atmosphere overhead and the giant finish line loomed in front of me. I had done it! My 100th marathon was complete in under four hours, and I had the time of my life running it.

Finish line of 2013 NYC Marathon

Just after crossing the finish line in an exhilarated rush, I ran into Mary Wittenberg – the president of the NYRR, which puts on the race. She had stopped to talk to a volunteer, and, high on endorphins, I stopped too, reaching her just as she turned away to go do something else. “Mary, Mary!” I gasped. “I just want to tell you how much I love this race. You put on such an amazing race. Like, incredible. This is my 100th marathon today and I’m so happy and so lucky that I was able to do that here. Thank you, thank you, seriously, this is amazing!” (Okay, so maybe I’m not at my most coherent after crying 1/4 mile up the road.) Mary simply replied, “Oh, thank you!” – and headed off, presumably to deal with some Kenyan winners far faster than me. But I was so excited that I had gotten to see the famous race director right at the finish line – it seemed like the perfect cap to the perfect race.

Finish Line NYC Marathon 2013
Thank you to the volunteer who took this pic for me right at the finish line!

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 3:57:46
Pace: 9:14/mile
Overall place: 14,559/50,062
Gender place: 3,135/19,526
Age group place: 598/2974
Personal marathon rank: 15th fastest out of 100 run




7 thoughts on “Race Report: ING New York City Marathon (Part 3)”

  1. LAURA! I teared up reading this entire post. I’m so incredibly proud of you and what you’ve accomplished, What a dream come true. 100 marathons! Wow! Well, actually 101 and another ultra at this point. I’m so grateful to have met you last year. I’m so happy that I got to see you the morning of the marathon. You were so incredibly happy and excited and it was infectious. HUGE congratulations on a seriously OUTSTANDING achievement. You are absolutely amazing and such an inspiration to me, friend. I can’t wait to see which record you break next!!!!

    1. Aww Beth you are so sweet! I was SO excited to see you at the start with Brittany – I felt like that really pumped me up to see you as first timers and so excited. I can’t wait to read your race report soon (and totally get why it takes a while when you have so much to say)!

  2. Hey bunny, You DID it up right! I’m so very proud of your dedication to be the best that you can be in pursuing your goals! Your exhileration and spirit in this post is heartwarming and beautifully drives home the idea that people never know what significant achievements lie beneath the surface if they simply put one foot in front of the other and give it their best. So happy to have shared some of that excitement along the way! Mom

  3. Woohoo!! What an amazing recap! I’m so excited for you. It’s making me feel excited about running another marathon! (After Chicago, I’ve been struggling with my training and injury.) Shortly after the the NYCM, I read several recaps that were just heart breaking, making me dread the Dallas Marathon coming up, but your post definitely invigorated me (although, I’m still caught between dropping down to the half or staying with the full since Houston is right around the corner… don’t want to do any more damage to my healing foot, but would love to run the full for where it all started for me)!

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