New York Marathon
It's the land that brought us supersize meals, Costco, and has a huge list of 'worlds largest' roadside attractions. New York Marathon is the biggest of the World Marathon Majors. I headed over there to be another finish line closer to being a Six Star Finisher.
There are six marathons which are considered the Majors: New York, Berlin, London, Chicago, Tokyo and Boston. At the last count only around 1000 people have finished all six and around 200 of these finishers are women.
Heading into New York it felt like I could be getting back on track and finishing with a time typical of most of my road marathons, around the 3.30 mark. Berlin Marathon the previous month saw me having a massive wobble in the middle, but I finished with my run buddy Sophie, feeling better than I did in the first few miles. For New York I decided to just run and see what happened if I headed out at a slightly quicker pace.
Then, as runners will know, the goal posts can shift a little in the lead up to a race. I contracted Norovirus 5 days before race day, and was terribly unwell. Feeling much better by race day, however, it was a struggle to eat anything in the days leading up. In the end, my nutrition days before the start consisted mainly of high calorie milkshakes.
The race was downgraded to "I have to get the medal." Reports of the course are that it’s not the flattest. You run through all 5 boroughs of New York City. Large bridges and long stretched out inclines can sap the speed out of your legs when trying to run an even pace. With all this in mind my expectations were managed. It was organised into waved starts, with me scheduled to set off at 9.50. It seemed quite hard to fathom the timing of the 6.30am ferry (the last one you can get) that takes you out to Staten Island. Previous runners had advised me of the cold wait. November in New York is usually freezing. Blessed with mild weather the start area (reached by ferry, then bus, then short walk) had a great atmosphere. Bagels, tea, coffee, hats, bananas were all liberally handed out to runners. The Verrazano Bridge loomed large over us as we sat in strips of early morning sun waiting for the start.
After a hair-tingling national anthem (Americans bellowing it out, hands on heart, facing their flag) the gun went and we were off! Due to waves and multiple starts areas we were over the line within seconds. I was looking forward to the first bridge crossing, which we reached immediately, but alas, my wave was on the lower deck. It was windy and strangely quiet as everyone pounded off at pace that felt too quick (Garmin went nuts in the bridge, no idea of my pace.) Helicopters were level with us as we descended into Brooklyn in to what would be the beginning of a wall of cheering.
As the race progressed the crowds got thicker and thicker. Each borough had its own feel. Each had its own entertainment. First Brooklyn (chirpy bands and pop music) then through Queens (loud guitar music, drummers) I felt quite good, it was not to last.
Queensborough Bridge at around mile 16 was a tough stretch, so relentlessly upwards I wondered if Manhattan was actually higher than Long Island. It was a slog and by now I was running on empty and struggling as my pace fell away.
You can hear the roar of the crowd approaching as you turn off in to First Avenue. When you turn the corner it’s unbelievable! People cheer and yell and congratulate you and you feel like a hero for making it this far. Onwards up the west side of Manhattan before going up to the Bronx (hip hop dancers, rappers) and then straight down Fifth Avenue. The thick cheering, the noise, pushes you forward as all you can see is a long straight road and hundreds of runners ahead of you and no finish line.
It feels like a very long way even though it’s only a few miles until you turn into the runners' Mecca of Central Park. I was by this point in bits and felt very empty. My pace had fallen dramatically, but turning in Central Park my spirits soared knowing I was so close and I tried with all my might in those last 2 miles to beat my Berlin time.
It wasn’t to be - I missed it by 1 minute - but still the finish line was so very sweet. The more it hurts the sweeter they are!
New York, New York. The race was special, it’s up there with Boston. Thanks no less to the 1 million people who came to cheer the runners. 1 million! Cheering, shouting encouragement, holding funny signs, playing loud music, dancing, offering refreshments, jubilantly telling us all that we could all do it. And do it we did. With over 51,000 finishers the 2016 New York Marathon officially became the biggest race in the world ever.
If you want to know what it feels like to be encouraged, championed and cheered and carried to the finish line by a million people, New York marathon is the one.
Thank you New York, I got the medal. Class Act.
Thank you to Caxton FX for sponsoring my trip & Sam Ridley, my fast running cousin for joining me & getting me there