I’m back in San Diego after a great time at the New York City Marathon! What a great experience. I’m one of those purist runners who doesn’t bring a camera or a phone with him when he runs, so I don’t have any pictures during the race, but I do have words, so I’m going to use them here.
I also met Olympic gold medal swimmer Summer Sanders, who was there to run the marathon. I’ve been talking to her for the last couple of months about coaching her for the Boston Marathon in April. It was great to finally meet her in person. She’s a cutie!
Sunday, November 3rd started with an alarm at 4:00 am. Even with the extra hour of sleep because of Daylight Savings Time, I’m still not a morning person. Even though the marathon didn’t start until 9:40 am, I had to get up very early to get a taxi from Brooklyn where I was staying with my twin brother to take me to the American Cancer Society bus in Manhattan, which was going to take me and the other members of the charity group to the start village at Fort Wadsworth on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Bridge.
It was a chilly morning, in the 40s, but by the time the race started, it was a marathon perfect day, with a high temperature of 50 degrees. I wore a black dri-fit T-shirt with a picture of my book cover for Running a Marathon For Dummies on the back that the publisher had sent me and I pinned a pink breast cancer ribbon on the shirt over my left breast to remember my mom, who lost her left breast to a mastectomy.
The start village was very exciting. People from all over the world full of anticipation. It was cold and windy and I overheard conversations in lots of languages. I found my way to the American Cancer Society charity tent, which kept me warm until it was time to line up in my corral. I was very impressed with the entire start area process and organization. Kudos to race director Mary Wittenberg and the New York Road Runners. They really know how to manage 50,000 runners at the start line. Everything worked like clockwork. There were so many Porta-Potties at different parts of the start village that I didn’t have to wait at all to poop. That’s huge for a runner!
Once we made our way to the start line, I was so close to the front that I could see the Kenyans and other elite runners warming up and being called by name to the start line. It was very exciting. As soon as the cannon sounded, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blasted on the sound system, and I gave a nod to my mom, who skipped school as a kid to see Sinatra perform. He was her favorite singer.
The first mile of the course goes up the Verrazano Bridge, with the second mile going down the other side before we exit into Brooklyn. I reminded myself of what I tell every runner I come into contact with: The best way to run your best race on a given day is to start at the pace you know you can maintain the entire way. So I took in the scenery, including seeing some guys peeing off the side of the bridge, but kept myself under control so I wouldn’t go out too fast. First mile: a very comfortable 8:30, which felt like I was walking, even up the bridge incline. That was actually much slower than the pace I was hoping to run the marathon at, but I attributed it to the bridge’s incline and didn’t panic. I kept the same effort going down the other side. Second mile: 7:27. When I saw that, I knew it was just the bridge. The next 11 miles were very flat through Brooklyn, which gave me the chance to run pretty even splits: 7:43, 7:49, 7:51, 7:53, 7:53, 7:45, 7:47, 7:46, 8:01, 7:45, 7:50. The crowd support at the New York Marathon in absolutely unbelievable. When I was running through my hometown of Brooklyn, I actually thought that there was too much noise, too much excitement for this early in the race. It was too much stimulation, especially since I’m used to training by myself. But I tried to keep things under control and spent some time looking around and taking in the spectacle of it all.
Before I knew it, I was halfway done. I felt so good at the halfway point that I thought I would negative split the race. Then I realized that we had gone over just one bridge and there are five bridges on the course, so four of the five bridges are in the second half. But I was confident. Right after the halfway mark, some guy pulled up on my side and said, “You’re halfway done with the book on your back.” I replied, “That’s my book!”
Running on the Queensboro Bridge, it was quiet except for the sound of the runners. Once you get off the bridge, you run onto First Avenue, which has a reputation for being one of the most exciting streets to run on in the world. It was where I used to stand with my cross country teammates in high school when we’d go into the city from New Jersey to watch the marathon. So as we got close to the end of the bridge, I said to myself, “You’re going to hear a lot of noise soon. Get excited, but stay within yourself.” We tuned on to First Avenue in Manhattan and the booming sound of the spectators on both sides of the street was more than enough to send a chill down my spine. It was pretty cool. As much as I tried to contain myself, I ran mile 17 on First Avenue in 7:39, my fastest mile since the downhill mile 2 on the Verrazano Bridge. But it was late enough in the race that I figured I’d still be okay.
It wasn’t until miles 19 and 20 that I started to feel fatigue, mostly in my quads and hip flexors. Mile 19: 7:58. Mile 20: 8:28. When I saw that 8:28, I thought, “I’m not going to let this get away from me.” I’ve run only one other marathon — San Francisco in 2001 — and I ran the second half of that marathon 9 minutes slower than my first half. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I turned inward and focused on the next mile. 8:05. I was back in the ballpark of what I had been running. When we entered the Bronx, I heard a woman on the left side of the street yell, “Welcome to the Bronx!” I got a little emotional since my mother was from the Bronx. The Bronx is known for tough people. My mom was one of the toughest.
The next few miles hovered right around 8:00 each. As I entered Central Park for the last couple of miles, I was looking forward to seeing my twin brother near the finish. He saw me and I saw him and that was the final piece I needed for the day.
My twin brother and I after the finish.
Overall, it seemed like the whole marathon went by pretty quickly, even the last few miles when it was getting tough. I expected the first hour or so to go by fast, but the entire marathon went by fast. I didn’t negative split like I thought I was going to at the halfway point, but I still ran much more even than my last marathon 12 years ago. First half: 1:43:04. Second half: 1:45:12. Final result: 3:28:16. It was 18 minutes slower than my last marathon of 3:10 and much slower than what would be predicted for someone who can run near 5 minutes for one mile, but I’ll take it. This wasn’t about the time on the clock (although I did beat Pamela Anderson, who ran 5:41). For one of the few races of my running life, it wasn’t even about me. It was about wanting to do something in memory of my mom and my dad, both of whom left this world much too early. Since my family is from New York and running is such a big part of my identity, running the New York City Marathon seemed like the most fitting thing to do. And for a few days and 3 1/2 hours of running, it brought me home.
After the marathon, I had a celebratory dinner with some friends and family in Manhattan’s East Village at The Smith, which was my mom’s maiden name.
My legs are still completely trashed 48 hours after the race, but when I look back on this day, I’ll remember that this day, these moments, could not have been more perfect. I had a very strong feeling over the last few months that God was watching over me and was going to get me to the start line healthy and everything was going to fall into place. And it did.
Now it’s time to recover. I’m done with marathons. Next year’s running goal is to return to my roots in this sport, train like a speed-type runner, and run a sub 5-minute mile again now that I’m 40.