This post has been a long time coming, and is much later than I had hoped to get it out. But better late than never – we had a few things going on that prevented me from getting to this sooner. Ok, well, we bought a new house, and in the process sold our other one. Literally, we closed on one house and moved in the week before New York, and closed on the other a couple of weeks after. It was a complete whirlwind.
Thankfully, I felt pretty confident in my training to that point, and had used running as a way to manage the stress of everything going on around me. Sometimes things just work out perfectly and everything really did fall into place, though it was a lot to juggle at once. But now, I’m finally here to tell you about my New York Marathon experience.
If you followed along with my training on Instagram and various blog posts along the way, you saw that I was chipping away at my runs as prescribed by my coach, Jess from Pace of Me. I felt pretty good overall as I approached race week, though I had the usual taper apprehension. Jess and I met for lunch the day before I left for New York and she asked me how I was feeling and how I thought I would run on race day. I laughed and made a joke about what my Garmin and VDOT app thought my predicted race time would be, and she instantly called me out on it (in the friendliest way… have you met Jess??). ‘Wait, you just ran a half marathon in 2:11… what don’t you think you can run a full faster than 5 hours?’ was essentially her comment.
And I had to dig deep.
I was terrified.
My first full marathon was in 2016 and was 2:46. Since then, all of my marathons had been over 5 hours. I just got burned out and had a hard time channeling that drive when race day came. I was worried to put that pressure on myself, but deep down, I wanted to run faster than 5 hours. I knew I had it in me. I just didn’t want to commit or say it out loud. So we did. We said it out loud. I set an A goal of beating 2:46. I knew that was ambitious still, because I just hadn’t attempted a faster full and this course isn’t really known for PRs. My B goal was under 5 hours, and finally a C goal of under 5:15. Jess had full confidence in me which also gave me that needed boost.
I went home and finished packing… and then repacked it all again. I’ve been burned by race mornings before where the temperature had suddenly drastically changed from when I initially left for a runcation. I had learned my lesson and brought multiple options and many layers. The race day was forecasted to be the perfect marathon conditions: low 50s. I just needed it to stay that way!
I arrived in New York with my whole family in tow. We were excited to have a big family trip somewhere pretty new to all of us. I had been to New York a couple of times, but had never really embraced the full tourist experience. That was my goal this time, in addition to the race. Heck, I figured with the race alone I would see more of New York than I ever had. We came in Friday morning, checked in to our hotel room, and made our way straight to the expo. Everyone was feeling great and excited. We walked into the expo and immediately my mind was blown. MASSIVE. The biggest expo I had ever seen. Thousands of people were milling around and I heard every language being spoken around me. There were rows and rows of vendors with the coolest products. Elites like Meb just wandering around in between demos and speaking engagements.
We slowly made our way in and I reached out to Lauren from the North Carolina Oiselle team. I knew she was on her way to New York to spectate the race, but I didn’t know when she’d be arriving. She replied immediately to say that she was there and was in-fact, wandering the expo. We figured out our exact locations and quickly found each other in the huge space. It was so nice seeing a familiar face and a reminder that I would have some teammates in New York running and cheering along the course. After Lauren and I parted ways, I slowly made my way through the expo. The family stayed by my side for a bit and then found the kid zone where they were transfixed watching Meb on a treadmill challenge, and then discovered that there was a whole play area with obstacle courses and games. Entertainment for kids: check.
I proceeded to geek out over all of the running gear and ended up picking up a couple of recovery items that I had been drooling over. Race expos can have amazing deals on some of these unique items and the New York expo was no exception. I picked up a set of Air Relax Compression Sleeves and a Theragun. Pretty much birthday, Christmas, New Year, and every occasion in between was now covered for me. The family started to get antsy so we made our way back to the hotel to regroup before dinner.
We couldn’t have a New York experience without pizza, but I was worried about my stomach and eating anything funky before the race. Thankfully, we found a restaurant around the corner from our hotel that had a gluten free crust option. Boom! We made our way over and our kids slowly melted down over the course of dinner. It had been a long day. They loved the food but were exhausted, and my littlest started coughing as we ended our meal. I figured it was due to the fact that he had been up since 5am and we quickly got back to the hotel and prepped for bed. I’m pretty sure I was asleep by 8pm that first night. But sadly, we would be up many times after that.
Little Fig started puking. Finally, at some point in the night he stopped and was able to get some rest, but we were drained. He had no other symptoms throughout the day or even week before, so we still attributed it to the long day and possibly germs on the plane. The next morning, he seemed back to normal, so we tentatively planned out our day and meeting up with family from the area (we gave the disclaimer about the previous events). We had a fun morning running around Central Park which was conveniently located by our hotel, grabbed some lunch at the Shake Shack, and met up with family to head over to the history museum in the park. The kids had a blast and ended the day similar to how they had started it: playing non-stop and running around the park. We headed back to the hotel and went to bed with another early night. But once again, the symptoms came back at night and he was up again, but this time worse. Maybe we had run him too ragged? What was going on? Well, the next morning was the race day so James was going to be flying solo. We made tentative plans to see each other along some stops, but figured he may be caring for a sick kiddo.
I was up bright and early on Sunday morning and threw on my gear that I had laid out the night before. I had some apprehension about race day from a fueling perspective as I always train with a hydration vest. They aren’t allowed in the marathon so I had to rely on a belt instead. I had tried practicing with it during training but had never found one that I liked. At the expo, I found one that seemed to fit a little better without moving around, so I decided to just go for it. Not ideal, but I needed comfort in knowing I could have my phone and fluids with me. Side note: I saw a handful of people with hydration vests during the race and I was both envious and irritated… should I have just worn mine and broken the rules? But could I risk being pulled from the course or having it confiscated? Ugh.
I left the hotel and walked the short distance (less than a mile) to New York Public Library. You couldn’t miss it. Hundreds of people were lined up weaving around the building. I felt like I was at the Disney marathon where I was getting in miles and miles of steps before I even started running. But it was a smooth process and I started chatting with a lady by me in the line. This was her second New York Marathon and she was much faster than me, but a local so just excited to experience it again. We talked the whole bus ride which was a nice distraction to my nerves, and were in the same wave (blue) in the runners village. As we approached the village from the Verazzano Bridge, I was once again blown away by the sheer number of people. Swarms were milling around the various color coordinated waves, and we exited the bus and immediately made our way into a giant security line. We walked through metal detectors, had wands waved over us and our bags, and then were spit out into a large courtyard and directed towards the various color coded villages. We made our way to the blue village and found the United ‘lounge’ hundreds of porta-potties, a Honey Stinger booth, Dunkin Donuts coffee, and even a therapy dog tent. I was overwhelmed with the options and also by the fact that it wasn’t even 9am but that I would now be hanging out until my start time of 11am. Not ideal, but my goal was to keep warm, hydrated, and try not to freak out.
I wandered around the village for a bit, taking it all in, then made my way to the United ‘lounge’ where I pulled up a yoga mat, a giant foam block to lean against, and a silver heat blanket to stay warm and relaxed, and just chugged a few bottles of water. I was still nervous about my hydration during the race so wanted to get as much in beforehand as I could. Finally, the 11am start time crept closer so I made my way to the starting corrals, with a last stop at the therapy dog tent. They calmed my nerves before I jumped into the chaos.
The crowd surging to the start corrals was ready to party. Everyone was so excited and a group in front of me were cheering, dancing, and taking ALL the selfies. It was such a great atmosphere and we were all anxious to get started on our race. We slowly trudged towards the start line; the blue wave would be starting from the top of the Verrazano bridge!
By the time we finally rounded the corner to the start line, I had probably walked at least 4 miles since leaving my hotel. It wasn’t too chilly so I was able to ditch my ‘throwaway’ long sleeve shirt in one of the donation bins before we kicked off. But as I crossed the timing mat, all I could feel was a surge of energy and excitement. The bridge flew past me (don’t worry coach, I kept it easy!) and I was so excited when I saw the Statue of Liberty from the bridge. It was my first time seeing it in all of the times that I had been to New York and I actually let out a little scream, garnering some odd looks from other runners. By that point though, we were almost off the bridge and heading into Brooklyn. I could hear the crowds cheering and I knew we were just getting started!
As soon as we crossed off of the bridge and into Brooklyn, there were hordes of people crowding the sidewalk. It was incredible how many people were out there cheering and their excitement gave me so much energy. Seriously, the first few miles ticked away so fast. It wasn’t until around mile 5 or 6 when we met up with the other runners who started at the bottom of the bridge where reality of the miles ahead of me really kicked in. One thing that was constant from the start through was crowds. Crowds on the street running with me, crowds on the sides. It was relentless and difficult to up my speed much less maintain my current speed without dodging through people or finding that the person in front of me decided to suddenly stop and walk. I tried my best of weave around and find ‘my space’ but it was draining. I had felt great about my pace and generally my effort wasn’t too hard, but it was getting harder to maintain it with all of the little bursts I had to keep doing as I tried to dodge around people.
Around mile 8 or 9 and there was finally silence around us. We were in one of the neighborhoods that didn’t have tons of crowds and I was able to soak it in a bit more. My pace was decent, and I was feeling good. Then, we turned into Williamsburg (I only know where I was because suddenly the crowds reappeared and a DJ screamed ‘Welcome to WILLIAMSBURG, runners!’) and it was all in once again. There were a couple of challenging spots where the crowds were unbearable. I literally ran into people as runners became compressed on narrow streets and pedestrians darted across. The latter was not something I had planned on and a couple of times someone would suddenly be smack in front of me like a fish swimming in the wrong direction. I started to wear down on me and by the time mile 15 hit, I was feeling low. I was on a crowded bridge and dealing with constant start and stop of people around me. I would build up my speed to pass a group and they would close in making a wall I couldn’t get through. I had to shout to get around or run sideways to get past them. Once we entered mile 16, I was emotional, knowing I wouldn’t make my A goal and feeling drained from all of the wasted energy. A large drum crops was to the side and I choked up from the emotion of knowing my A goal was going down the drain but also that I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy the race at that point. There are highs and lows in the marathon and this was definitely a low.
Then suddenly, I heard a ‘CHRISTINE!’ bellowed out from behind me. I turned and saw my husband with my two kids in the crowd. The boys looked miserable but my happiness at seeing familiar faces was indescribable. I then felt intense guilt as I with every step I took separating myself from them and the dozens of people between us made me realize there was no way I could turn around and then fight through that crowd. I’d already dealt with people crashing into me, I couldn’t then do that myself. I pushed on through and used them as my boost. Also around that point, I was dealing with stomach troubles. I saw a cluster of portages-potties on the side and made a quick detour to get in the line. Sadly, the line was long enough and half full of spectators (c’mon, man!!), but the 5 minutes I waited wouldn’t kill me, right? Ugh, fast forward to my finish time.
So, bathroom break and seeing family; well once again, I was feeling rejuvenated and knew I was in the single digits to the finish. The next few miles were a blur but I made it to the entrance to Central Park. As I climbed that hill I was once again feeling down, knowing I was awfully close to my B goal and wondering if I could make it. I knew there were going to be some cheering squads on the course for Oiselle and BibRave on the course but at mile 22, I was worried I had missed them all. Suddenly, I see a banana running towards me. No, I wasn’t hallucinating, but it was Lauren from the Oiselle Volee and the rest of the birds cheering on the course! I immediately choked up with emotion as she did a little jog with me up the hill. She told me I was doing great, gave me that little boost, and I took that with me as I entered Central Park. I was now 3 miles away from the finish line… and also about 30 minutes from my sub 5. I had to do this.
Everyone had warned me that Central Park was probably the hilliest part of the course. The path was narrower than the streets I had just left, but I felt that I had a little more space to make my way through the finish. As other runners stopped to walk or do their intervals, I pushed to the end. I just wanted to be done and I saw the clock ticking away and limiting my room for error between me and the 5 hour finish time. Finally, I saw the signs for the last 800M, then 400M, and then it was in my sight. I crossed that finish line at 4:57:59. I had done it! I hadn’t run a marathon even close to that time since my first and this race was far hillier. But I went into it with a strategy thanks to my coach, and was able to adjust my expectations as I made my way along the course. Sure, it was emotional, and I am bummed that I had to take that stop around mile 18 and lose that valuable 5 minutes… but New York made me realize that my goals are attainable. I want to get faster at the marathon and I think this was a good indication of my ability to do so. I’ve run the last few marathons over 5 hours, and with some focus and the right training, I was able to get it back down under 5 hours.
After crossing the finish line, I trudged through the long finishers corral with hundreds of other runners as we made our way to the poncho pickup and then family meeting place. My legs protested the long walk, but you couldn’t pry that poncho off of my shoulders once they placed it there. A few shuffling steps past it, and my tired family was waiting for me. My youngest still wasn’t feeling his best, but I was thankful to have them all there for me. We made our way the few short blocks to our hotel and basically collapsed in a heap once there. James ran out to get us takeout and we had a nice, low-key evening with early bed times for all.
After the race, we stayed one additional day in New York just to have some downtime before getting back to reality and to check out the city a bit more. My husband and I took turns getting out with my eldest as we let our little one rest. I slowly made my way to Rockefeller Center and Central Park, doing site seeing and some shopping. My legs were so stiff in the morning but by the end of the day, they felt almost normal again. We made our way home on Tuesday and back to reality. Thankfully the flight was uneventful, and we were all excited to be back in our new home.