Wave 3 | Blue Corral | 10:40 a.m.
They said it was the coldest New York Marathon in 20 years. I couldn’t agree more as I stood at the foot of the Verazanno-Narrows bridge dressed in a lowly black garbage bag shivering like a wet kitten. My lips were dry, my skin had goosebumps all over, and my legs were as heavy as ice blocks. But, with my husband and a thousand other giddy runners—27% of whom were running their first marathon—I felt like this bridge was the center of the world. At this moment, time stood still and nothing mattered more than making this dream of mine come true. As we made our way to the starting line, I told the hubby “Now it’s finally hitting me. We’re really doing this!”
– The first and only video I took during the race. I still get goosebumps every time I watch it –
RACE OR RELAX?
Months ago, I asked Leica Carpo, who ran NYC Marathon last year and qualified for Boston in the same race, how she managed to run fast in a race that’s best known for being, well, fun. Her reply surprised me. She said she did both.
Could I possibly do the same? Run at race pace while enjoying the sights, sounds, and spectators of the biggest marathon in the world?
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Running on the Verazzano bridge with Frank Sinatra singing “New York New York” in the background and the forceful wind propelling us on was an experience I cannot even put into words. I wasn’t sure what touched me the most: the breathtaking view of the city on both sides, the presence of such a large pool of runners around me, or the idea that I had finally gotten what I had wished so long for. It was probably all of the above.
By the time we rolled down the bridge, the cold had completely dissipated from my body. I felt warm enough to remove my long-sleeved top and gloves (but I didn’t) and, more importantly, to pick up my pace.
For the first 20k—except for a toilet break at Km 9 which felt like forever due to a line—I successfully ran at my goal pace of 5:45. I looked at my lap time bracelet and I was behind by around 2 to 3 minutes, which I instantly blamed on the toilet break. Nice. Still, I was doing well and I was enjoying every minute. Much like Leica, I managed to enjoy the non-stop, full-blast cheering from the crowd even as I focused on my performance.
THE SPIRIT OF THE NEW YORK MARATHON
How could one not be moved by the cheering from the crowd? This was, after all, the spirt of the New York Marathon.
2.6 million New Yorkers had stepped out of their homes that day and filled every empty space there was on the street to provide drinks, food, petroleum jelly, tissue, and last but not the least, cheer, for all of us runners. And, when I say, “cheer” I mean non-stop yelling, screaming, entertainment, and one-liner morale-boosting phrases from spectators. Strangers would yell: “You’re doing great!,” “Way to go!,” or “Looking good!” For runners who wrote their names on their shirts, positive support would even be personalized.
As we ran through each burrough of New York, crowd support would be unique expressing the culture and personality of its residents. As I ran past a church, a choir had come out to sing. Rabbis were giving high fives. Mexican kids handing out drinks. Black guys pulled out their speakers and played Neo’s The Dream. There was a Filipino family that waved the Philippine flag proudly (which I later on learned was the brother of Jun of The Solemates, hah!) Everywhere we went, there was entertainment of every kind.
Even fellow runners added to the colors of the race, I spotted Superman on the ferry and The Blues Brothers in our corral. Runners came in their group uniforms, wore notes on their backs proudly showing for whom they were dedicating their run for, or wore funny wigs and outfits. I ran alongside marathon mommies, sturdy senior runners, and foreign runners who, just like me, believed that flying a thousand miles and spending all this money to run 26.2 miles on a foreign road was worth every penny.
THE WIND CHANGES
When I hit 21k, I suddenly felt drained of all energy. This was a big surprise (and a frightening one at that) because, based on past marathon experiences, I usually tire out at around Km 30. This was way too early. I was just half way through the race! Even worse, goal pace for 2nd half was a faster 5:35/km (as ordered via email by my coach friend Alvin) and, at Km 21, my pace had suddenly slowed to 6:59. Not good.
I pretty much had an idea I wouldn’t hit my ambitious sub-4 target. So, I downgraded to realistic 4:30. Yeah, I could definitely do a 4:30.
I ran at a slower, steady pace and decided to enjoy the crowd support more. I even made a conscious effort to smile more and draw energy from the people around me. Perhaps this would provide me with my much needed second wind? Not.
Things got a bit worse. Suddenly, my inner thighs went numb. My hips felt frozen stiff. It wasn’t cramps and it wasn’t painful. But, it required extra effort from me for each and every step. Aaack! So much for the idea of running faster in the cold. This was definitely a myth when it came to my legs.
I had worried about Queensboro bridge the day I listened to Bobby Flay announce at the expo that this was his greatest fear. He said it was a dark and lonely ascent, no spectators around and little runners around, and it broke him.
When I got to the bridge, it was not as daunting as I had envisioned it to be. The tunnels and bridges of HK Marathon were far more terrifying. The Queensboro bridge was a long uphill, but not very different from the challenging hill near IS in Bonifacio Global City. I thought I would have to walk this, but I focused and forced myself to climb slowly but surely.
All of us runners climbed this in silence and with full concentration, but we all cheered when, as we successfully started the descent, a fellow runner yelled “It’s all downhill from here guys! We did it!”
By the way, this was the bridge where my idol (and I’m sure yours too) Haile Gebresselasie dropped out of the race. Sob sob.
FIRST AVENUE FUN
Despite my worries, I was enjoying every minute. It would’ve been a grave sin to complain, get angry, or even show frustration amidst a crowd of such positive and supportive spectators! I continued to run slow and steady. And, I was doing fine, thank you.
Soon, we made our way to First Avenue. What greeted us was a scene straight out of a Pacquiao knock out celebration. There was a thick crowd of spectators from start to finish. They held banners, flags, food, drinks, and everything else they thought we would need (I got a bar, bananas, and tissue). They made each one of us—all 45,000 of us runners!—feel like we were winners.
Ironically, it was at First Avenue when I bumped into my worst enemy: ITBS. My ITB problem, which had remained dormant for about a year now, started rearing its ugly head. There was no sharp, sudden pain, but with every step, I could feel him threatening to lock up my knee again, just like the way it did at Km 19 in Singapore Half Marathon 2008.
SLOW TO THE FINISH
The last 7 km felt like the slowest race I had ever run, if I ran at all! Every single time I attempted to run, I would feel slight pain on my outer left knee due to the ITB pulling on it. I walked briskly instead and watched time tic away. Everyone was running past me. Gone was my 4:30 finish. I would be lucky to finish sub-5 at this rate, I thought.
As we entered Central Park, I was enamored with its beauty, but all I could think of was the finish line. Everything was a blur when I crossed the finish line at 4 hours 57 minutes. Behind me, a female runner was crying with joy. Ahead of me, runners were hugging.
4:57. This was the slowest, hardest, longest, and coldest marathon of my life. Such a slow time for a marathon I had worked so hard for. I changed my diet, ramped up mileage, and spent a considerable amount of money to run this. And all I got was this time.
All I got was THIS time.
ALL I got was THE time of my life.
CONQUERING THE DREAM
I got my medal. Smiled for my post-race photo. Picked up my kit. Trudged along with the rest of the runners in the horrifyingly slow post-marathon walk off to the exit. Thankfully, I bumped into a fellow Pinoy runner, Mike, who was welcome company at such a momentous occasion.
I was exhausted. I was cold. And, I failed in my attempt. But, I didn’t feel an ounce of disappointment. I felt blessed to have experienced such a celebration of running and the human spirit. I felt proud for conquering my dream. I truly felt like a winner!
PREVIOUS POST: Part 1: Getting to the Starting Line
NEXT POST: Part 3: Post-New York Marathon
* Note: All photo courtesy of Brightroom. I’ve been trying to purchase my photos but had problems with their site. This will have to do for now.