I woke up shortly after 5 am and ate a little cereal for breakfast and then put on my race clothes. I opted to put the lambs wool and tape on my feet in the hotel because I figured it might be a little too cold to be taking my socks off once I got to Staten Island. I had a little walking to do to get to the bus so I could also make sure that I had taped them well. At about 5:45 am I headed to Hilton to catch the 6:30 am ING bus. The guy next to me on the bus, Dave, told me that with the Verrazano bridge being closed everyone else had to go through NJ to get to Staten Island, but that the ING bus got a special police escort and would take us directly over the bridge. Sweet! I think we arrived at the start area shortly after 7:30.
My first reaction upon getting off the bus was how warm it was. However, this didn't last more than about 5 minutes before the wind whipped up and it got very cold. I made my way into the 'athletes village' and found the Orange waiting area and the ING tent. I tried to co-ordinate with Frank and Emmy to chat and take pictures, but this didn't work out since their bus came in late and they were cutting it close to getting their bags checked in for the Wave 1 start. I wandered around a little, used the facilities and found out where the baggage buses were located for my start. I went back to the ING tent, ate part of a milky way and granola bar, put a little extra body glide on my feet and then went to check in my bag at UPS truck. The baggage deadline for my start was 9:30 and it was almost 9:15 at this point. Before you knew it it was time to go to the corrals to watch the 2nd wave start and to get in there for wave 3. I disposed of my sweat pants and sweat shirt and was happy that the wind had died down a little. I later heard stories about the strong winds that effected the elite runners and others that were in earlier waves, but I didn't notice the wind when I was running. The temperature was ideal for me the entire race.
My start time was at 10:20 and I was located towards the front of my group. We had to walk a little way to get to the start which would allow the group to slowly get into a jog and then be running by the time we hit the start mats. I was immediately chocked-up by the sight of all the runners heading up the bridge to the sound of Frank Sinatra's New York, New York. I could instantly feel the energy and the excitement from all the runners around me. All these months of waiting and anticipation and I was finally on my way. The pace was a little slow moving up the bridge, but I took Frank's advise and went with the flow instead of wasting energy trying to get around people. There was also some gaps to get through without too much effort so I did my best to pass some of the slower runners in front of me. I ran that first mile in 9:42, which is a nice easy pace to get warmed up.
After crossing the bridge is when the whole thing becomes totally overwhelming with all the support from the spectators. We hit section after section of yelling and screaming and bands playing. I don't know if I ever took much time to look up and around at the buildings since the mass of runners and spectators seemed to drown all that out. I continued to run with a huge smile on my face and at times a tear in my eye from the sheer amazement of it all. I ran the next 7 miles with at the following pace: 8:40, 9:07, 8:58, 9:01, 8:53, 8:52, and 9:14. Our Orange start group continued running on the left hand side of the road with other groups on the right until we came to the 8 mile mark. At that point we veered off to the left around a corner and then came out to join in with everyone else. I felt a kind of thrill to have us all come together, but at the same time this meant more crowding at the water stations and in general. I was very happy to be running pretty fast and to have no aches or pains to this point. I had a fear that I might be starting out too fast, but then dismissed that since it was better to go faster now before my hip and/or knee started to hurt. My pace continued to be pretty consistent throughout Brooklyn with me posting the following: 9:13, 9:05, 9:33, 9:20 and 9:29. I hit the half way mark at 2:00:09! I couldn't believe it! My best time in a marathon was 4:21 and I now had about 20 minutes in the bank for a second half, which I knew would be a little more difficult with the hills, fatigue and possible injury issues.
We crossed the Pulaski bridge into Queens and things continued to be a whirlwind for me. I kept thinking about how great it was to be running in the streets of New York with all these people cheering for us. I yelled enthusiastically every time we passed a band playing to let them now that they were appreciated. My legs were still feeling really good, with no aches and pains at all. I had hit a milestone with the halfway point and was now thinking about the next two significant parts of the course. I was excited and nervous about the uphill section on the 57th Street / Queensboro bridge and I was dying to get to the mile 17 Poland Spring hydration station to see my boyfriend, Tom, and his family. I ended up having no reason to fear the bridge at all - I even found that the runners ahead of me were going much too slow for my liking so I did a little bobbing and weaving to get around them. I think at this point I had the extra bounce in my step knowing that I'd be seeing Tom really soon. I came across my friend, Dawn, on the bridge and said hi to her and then continued on with my mission to get to mile 17 quickly. I wasn't sure how fast I was running over the bridge at the time because my Garmin watch had temporarily lost it's signal. I was then totally taken back by the huge crowds of spectators who welcomed us off the bridge. It had gone from the quiet of all the runners pounding lightly on the bridge to mobs of people yelling and cheering for us as we exited onto the street. Wow!!! Miles 14 thru 17 were 9:37, 9:35, 9:31, and 8:53. I finally came to the water station where I immediately saw Tom's dad and gave him a hug and a kiss. I then gave Tom and hug and kiss, gave him my ipod and took a fresh water bottle and Gu from him. I didn't see the rest of the family and was not thinking straight at this point. My times had been really fast and I didn't want to cramp up by stopping, but I really wanted to see Tom's mom, son and brother, Shawn. If I had seen them I would have stayed a few moments, but didn't so I just took off and continued running. My brother, Pete, and his wife, Sue, were cheering for me shortly after that on the other side of the road, but I didn't see or hear them either.
After seeing Tom and his dad there was a slight let down of knowing that I had quite a way to go before I would see family in the park and be close to reaching my goal of crossing the finish line. I left like my legs were getting a little tired and I was losing a little of my energy. However, I took a Gu gel and continued on with a hopes of seeing some friends from the Westport joggers club at mile 20 by the Willis Ave bridge. Again, I did not see them, but I was still enjoying the crowds. Upon crossing the bridge it was really cool to hear all the spectators yelling "Welcome to the Bronx".
The water stations were getting a little frustrating with people stopping right in the middle of them and having so many cups on the ground, but other than that I was still having a great time. For miles 18 thru 22 I ran 9:16, 9:29, 9:59, 9:53, and 9:51. Although I was slowing down I still did not have a mile that was as slow as my prior best average pace so I felt really good.
Being a spectator at the marathon for the past 4 or so years, I was pretty familiar with the big hill around mile 23 before you head into Central Park. I was dreading this hill and at this point my legs were tired, my right hip had now started to hurt and I had some twinges in my quads that felt like they might cramp up. Luckily the cramping never came about. Mile 23 ended up not being what I expected....which is good and bad. The good thing is that I thought the hill would be much steeper so I was very happy to find out that it wasn't that bad. I was very tempted to walk a little on this hill, but decided that I'd come this far with no walk breaks and that I should try to tough it out and keep running. The bad thing was that I thought the hill ended right around the 23 mile mark and then we would head into the park, but the park entrance was closer to the 24 mile mark. I spent most of this time muttering to myself "Where's the park?". Once I saw the entrance to the park I was elated. I knew that I was going to pull off a significant PR and that my family would be there cheering for me. I was warned about the rolling hills in the park, but thought that my emotions would get me through those without any troubles. I think at this point I was running with a huge grin on my face and a slight tear in my eye again. Pete and Sue were around mile 25 and I got to see them and grab their hands for a moment as I ran past. I did not see my parents and their friends who were visiting from England, but they told me afterwards that they could see the joy on my face as I ran by them close to the 26 mile mark. Throughout the few miles in the park I barely noticed the uphills, but did enjoy all the little downhill sections. The last little climb to the finish was tough on my tired legs, but I was overjoyed to see the finish line. My last splits were: 9:45, 10:17, 9:31, 9:10 and 1:54. I crossed the line in 4:05:48, which was 15 minutes faster than my previous best!
After crossing the line I was happy to know that my group had the shortest walk out of the park being that my bib number was so high. The walk was pretty slow, but I was happy to keep moving. I got to exit the park at 77th street and then I walked down to 65th street to meet up with Tom, James and my family. I had a big grin on my face when I approached them and they all gave me big hugs. We chatted for a while and then Tom, James and I headed back through the park to make our way down to pick up bags at the hotel on 45th street and then to Grand Central on 42nd street. On the way through the park a guy asked if he could take my photo as one of many that he was taking for his portfolio. I believe that all the walking after the race was good for me since I didn't feel much muscle tightness or pain the following two days.
This experience is one that I will never forget, although I'd like to look at more of the sights of the City next time around! ;o) I had the time of my life and still have tears in my eyes just thinking about it. I knew that running New York would be a great experience, but I never expected it to be that overwhelming. Back in 1997 when my brother, Pete, ran the New York City marathon as his first marathon. We came to the city to watch him run and I remember being so taken back by people running a full 26.2 miles and being so proud of Pete for his accomplishment. He ran it on a day that was pouring with rain throughout the entire race, which must have made it even more of a challenge. I could see by the look in his eyes that he was proud of his little sister. He ran it in 4:03 back in 1997 and is now running marathons in the 3:40s.
The few negatives were that the water stations and bridges were a little crowded, I was disappointment in myself for not spending a few moments with Tom's family, and at not seeing Pete and Sue at mile 17 and my parents at mile 26. I also wish that my brother, Richard, could have been there with us.
What a great ending to the year! I started the year with an ITB injury that had been an issue for almost a year. I got back into running mid-year and by September I had finally started to get back into the feel of things. I was thrilled to be able to run the Great North Run in England with my brother, Richard at the beginning of October. I posted a huge PR there and I felt like this could be a really good marathon for me. The ITB issue came back on my last long training run, but luckily it was not a factor at all for the race.
Thank you to everyone for your encouragement and support.
Now it's time to pull out the calendar and pick out my next marathon and ultra!