After having had to cancel my spot in 2010, in February 2011 I claimed my guaranteed registration in the 2011 NYC marathon. Training began soon afterwards. Well, it began in a fashion. My husband, my brother, and I all signed up to run in the Ottawa Half Marathon that May, so the Half was my initial training goal, my “getting back into it after my overuse recovery” training. Full marathon training would start right after that.
There was a slight logistical issue: we were on a cruise ship for the first 4 weeks of this training period, travelling from Santiago, Chile to Fort Lauderdale. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! But getting back in shape, practicing my new gait, and strengthening my gluts on a cruise ship was “different”. There were a few of us running the promenade deck on a regular basis – maybe 6. That’s out of 2600 passengers. The walkers, who were usually out in healthy numbers, weren’t completely tuned in to dealing with a runner, so worrying about speed would have been a waste of mental energy. Speed wasn’t going to happen. The alternative of claiming one of the 8-10 treadmills in the ship gym was a challenge. Claiming it for more than 30 minutes was another challenge. And running on a treadmill on a deck high over the ocean, with the ship pitching forwards and backwards, was a strange sensation. The treadmill seemed to rise up to reach your foot! But this was certainly a fun way to start training.
One of the wonderful things that happened to make the prospect of the NYC marathon even more special was when, in late April, my brother told me that he had signed up too, through the international partners program available (at a premium) to small numbers of non-US residents. We would be running together in New York on November 6, our first marathon ever, at ages 61 and 65. OMG.
A disappointing finish in the Ottawa Half at the end of May made it clear that I had some major work ahead. I had really flagged in the Ottawa race. Typical story: nice comfortable first half of race, then ran out of juice. Also, my left foot started hurting badly at about mile 9. I had lots to attend to before November. The foot issue I gradually but successfully attended to (see posts fussy feet, happy feet and here an orthotic, there an orthotic). Learning to pace myself was another challenge altogether. But I did eventually learn tricks that worked for me to keep from running out of juice on very long training runs:
- Find the best run/walk pattern that works for you. For me, I eventually settled on .5 mile run/.05 mile walk for longer than 13 miles; .75 mile run/.05 mile walk for 6-13 miles. It helps my breathing and helps keep my foot from hurting.
- I try to breathe in through my nose instead of my mouth. It forces me to keep from going too fast. This is more difficult to do in hot weather, but then again, I find everything harder to do in hot weather.
- I know this sounds weird, but for very long runs I often start by going up a hill because it keeps me from starting too fast!!
My husband and I did 4 half marathons last summer and fall, and I considered each of them as part of my training, taking different lessons away from each one.
Finally the time for the great adventure arrived. The weather for the NYC Marathon this past November was spectacular. Sunny, crisp, no wind to speak of; one couldn’t have asked for a better day for the race. And what does one say about running in one of the greatest cities in the world on a beautiful day, with more than 47,000 runners of all ages, from every state and representing 145 countries. Not to mention the estimated 2.5 million magnificent spectators lining the route for many, many hours. It was a party that just never stopped.
Our personal support group – my husband – joined my brother and me in the hotel lobby at 5:30 a.m. to record our departure. Then we walked with a group to the busses that would take us across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the holding area on Staten Island and the starting line – the Staten Island end of the Bridge. The logistics are amazing, considering that 47,000 runners plus countless organizers need to be across the bridge before the race can start. When you are a novice runner, and an old one at that, you aren’t at the front of the pack. We left the hotel at 5:30 a.m. and our “wave” of runners didn’t start until 10:40 a.m. That’s lots of time to soak in the atmosphere and lots of time for anticipation to build.
Eventually our turn came. Even though several waves had preceded us, several thousand of us poured onto the bridge – both levels of the double-decker bridge – singing along to Frank Sinatra’s version of New York, New York as we made our start. Running as part of this mass of excited runners, wearing flags, signs, and face decals indicating pride in their countries, gazing at the NYC skyline across the harbour, was an absolute thrill. It’s impossible to put into words.
My brother had had the foresight to bring some Canadian flag decals as souvenirs to hand out to kids along the route. It was a terrific idea and helped connect us with the crowd. We became more focused on the crowds and less focused on the fact that we were running that far. Mind you, it would be hard to run in New York and not be focused on the crowds. They were wonderful. New York is a city of communities of many ethnic groups, and each neighbourhood had rolled out its welcome mat. Bands, cheering people and encouraging signs lined the route, followed by more bands and cheering people.
The day of the marathon was the day the clock “fell back”, changing to Standard Time. The good thing about that was that we got an extra hour of sleep before getting up for our 5:30 a.m. start. However, it also got dark earlier, with the sun starting to go down sooner in the late afternoon. So as I made the turn into Central Park from 5th Avenue, the sun was starting to descend behind the beautiful residences on the west side of the park. I will never forget making that turn. I had seen the runners turning into the park on TV for so many years. Now it was my turn. And I even felt great, so I was ready to finish strong (for me). The path in the park was still lined with spectators, even though the race had been going on for many hours by now. It was an incredible feeling. Wow.
My brother and I ran together for the first 18 miles. What a wonderful shared experience. We finished within 5 minutes of each other and met up at the front steps of the Museum of Natural History. By then it was dark and cold. Eventually we found our “support group”, found ourselves a cab, and made our way back to our hotel, to a soak, a bed, and room service. It sounds a bit like an anti-climactic ending, doesn’t it? Of course, it was anything but. When the finish line came, we sure were ready to stop moving. And when the crowd of finishers finally worked their way out of the park, in an unavoidable bottleneck, everyone was ready to get off their feet. But the euphoria of the experience lingered for weeks. I can’t say (yet) if this sense of elation was the result of having completed the marathon or the glow of having been part of this extraordinary New York experience. Maybe a little of both, although I’d put most of my money on the NYC experience. Unbelievable!!
My main take-aways from running the NYC marathon:
- Training really works (if you can stay injury-free).
- Paying careful attention to all the preliminary information posted by the organizers and on their Facebook page is hugely helpful for being prepared.
- Being part of a public event where the participants, the spectators, and the entire city are celebrating together is very special.
- If you can’t participate in a NYC marathon yourself, you should consider being there as a spectator!
Next marathon challenge: Chicago 2012!