New York Marathon through the eyes of a slower runner

I can’t believe four weeks ago today I was running through the streets of New York.  The time has flown by.  Lots of people have asked me what it was like.  Normally I would jump at the chance of writing all my thoughts down and helping other runners, but for some reason I’ve struggled to find the desire to write this one until now.  I think it’s a good thing.  If I had have put pen to paper on the day of the marathon or in the following few days, it would have been filled with emotive words, which wouldn’t reflect the race fairly.

I had read several blogs before heading out to New York.  I thought I knew pretty much what to expect.  It was very different from my imaginary picture.  I have put this down to the fact I’m not a fast runner.

My first shock was when saw the thousands and thousands of people in slowly moving queues as we were walking towards the pick up points for the bus to the start village.  The sun was yet to rise.  It was cold.  I hadn’t eaten or had a cup of tea.  Keith was about to be told he couldn’t come with me any further and all I could think about was American movies of convicts being taken off to the penitentiaries.  Not really knowing what the place they were going to was like.  Not knowing anyone they were going with.  Not really knowing if they would come out alive.  I managed to put a brave face on and say goodbye without cracking up, but I have to say I was scared.  Every now and again a marshall would shout through their loudspeaker “make sure you have your number visible”, but there wasn’t much conversation or noise otherwise.

Catching the bus to the start of new york marathon

Looks beautiful now I know.

It seemed to take forever to get to the start village on the bus.  It was probably little over an hour in reality.  The village looks like backstage at a concert.  Really tight security.  Lots of coloured areas, tents and places to go for free tea, coffee and various types of food.

Starting village

A couple of tips regarding the start village.

You do not have to stay in your colour.  If you know someone else running and they are in a different coloured corral, you can stay together.  In fact they can even drop back to your wave so you can run together.

The water for filling up your porridge pot, tea and coffee tastes rancid.  My porridge was inedible, tea undrinkable and I even attempted a cup of dunkin donuts coffee, but could manage more than a mouthful.  Take your own.  There is lots of bottled water available.  Bananas are plentiful and so are bagels.

There is not any seating, so take something to sit on and warm clothing.  The bag drop is very strict.  I saw many people chasing after the UPS trucks trying to drop their bags.  They take no prisoners!  I took old clothes which I donated to one of the many clothing banks.  I was able to dump my clothes just before entering the starting corral, so didn’t really get cold.

Phone signal is very hit and miss, so don’t expect to be able to keep in touch with loved ones.  I managed to receive this photo from Little J, but couldn’t reply.

Little J

There are lots of toilets and the queues move very quickly.

toilet queues at new york marathon

Make sure you go to your starting corral when it opens.  There were many people who left it to the last minute and ended up having to run in the next wave.

I was in one of the last waves, starts and corrals.  As such, I didn’t really see or hear the start of our wave, as I was probably still walking out of the village.

starting corral

There isn’t the opportunity for people to wee off the top of the bridge, so don’t worry about being on the bottom either.  It’s very crowded.  People are jumping all over the place trying to take selfies and look at the views.  Personally, I wanted to get on with the job in hand.  I finally found the pacer and was anxious to start a conversation to get me through the next 26 miles…. it wasn’t very forthcoming 😦  They weren’t easy to follow either as they only have a little stick with a small label at the top.  Not easy to spot in a sea of 60,000 runners.  I know it’s for security reasons.  No one is allowed to carry anything on their backs – including camelbacks.  (I only discovered this the day before we flew out to New York, so had to buy a running belt at the expo – lesson: read the restricted items!).

There are water and Gatoraid stations every mile from mile 3, so if you train using Gatoraid, you really shouldn’t have to carry anything with you.  I trained with Tailwind, thinking I would wear my camelback!

You’re likely to read the statistics of the route too.  One of these stats stayed with me around the route.  The Verrazano bridge, at the start of the race, is the steepest and longest bridge of the marathon.    Verrazano bridge was no problem at all.

Then we were in Brooklyn.  You spend a large proportion of the race in Brooklyn.  By the time our wave reached Brooklyn the crowds were much thinner than I expected from my research.  I don’t really blame the spectators.  The race starts at 8:30am, my wave didn’t start until 11am.  That is some hanging around.  What I really didn’t like was them crossing the road in front of me.  The barriers are there for a reason.  Pushchairs, people and animals should not be allowed to cross in front of unsuspecting runners.

The only way to get from Queens across to Manhatten is by crossing Queensborough bridge.  You’re not allowed to swim, cycle or call a taxi.  Believe me you will consider all of these.  The bridge is a mile up and a mile down.  Starting at around mile 15, your legs will be tackling this feeling rather tired.  My goodness me, this bridge did me in.  Verrazano bridge does not feel like the steepest and longest bridge of the race.  Queensborough does!  Even on the mile down, my legs would not recover.  I lost the pacer and felt completely broken.  I really needed to see Keith, but didn’t have a clue where he was.  Thankfully I was able to send him a message and he let me know he was at 40k point.  “OK that’s just over an hour away.”  “I’ve got to keep going.” “You’ve only got 10 miles left, you love 10 miles.”  No matter how hard I tried.  I couldn’t find the ability to carry on running.  So I walked and started running again, then needed to walk again.  It was in this time I decided I needed to set myself little goals.  I decided I would walk every incline and water stop and try and run the rest.  (To be honest, the water stops by this point were dangerous to try and run through.  There was a sea of paper cups half full of water and Gatoraid.)  When this wasn’t working, I decided to set the goal to run two traffic lights and walk two.  I had to find a way to get to Keith. At every checkpoint, I knew my friends back home would be tracking me and cheering me on.  I cannot begin to tell you how much help this was.  I couldn’t let them down.

I had completely stopped to take in the sights, smells, sounds.  I went in to survival mode.  Turning left at the top of Harlem, was my signal that we were really close to Central Park.  I thought that might help, but no.  My Garmin flashed up 40k a lot sooner than the 40k marker.  I was worried I had missed it, missed Keith.  Mentally I was in trouble.  When I turned the corner and saw him, I was so happy.  It probably didn’t seem that way to Keith.  I threw my hat and water belt at him and carried on.  2k left.  2k.  Less than 15 minutes.  Not even that spurred me on to run the rest.  I had to continue my run walk.  Even with the amazing crowds calling out my name saying “you’ve got this”  “You’re amazing”.  I thanked them, but deep down still didn’t know if I would actually make it across the line.

That last 400 meters felt so long.  With yet another incline to run up, the finish line took so long to come in to view.

But I did it.  This is proof.

Finish Line

And the medal


I’m not sure how I managed a smile.

Finisher photo with medal

It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done.  I’m still struggling with feeling proud about it.  I had a fair amount of time to think about how I felt walking the very long walk to collect my poncho and then on to meet Keith.  The sun was going down rapidly, as was the temperature.  I was absolutely freezing.  When the angel wrapped my poncho around my shoulders and did the velcro up, I could have kissed her.  It felt like heaven.  Holding Keith felt even better.  I was expecting to be so much more emotional, but felt nothing.  I have little moments where I feel proud and overwhelmed, but I thought I would feel very different.

Either way I’ve done it.  I’ve completely New York marathon.

I’ll leave you with my top tips.

  1. The buses do take you to the start – so don’t worry
  2. Take a flask of water or pre-fill your porridge pot from your hotel
  3. Take old clothes which you don’t mind donating to charity for the waiting at the start village
  4. Take an old space blanket from another race to sit on.  The ground is cold
  5. Train with Gatoraid and water.  It will save you carrying anything
  6. Don’t expect the crowds to be noisy until you reach Manhatten
  7. Make sure your trainers are at least a size bigger than your normal shoes and..
  8. Have a gel polish painted on your toe nails – it will save them
  9. Finish every one of your runs with a hill.  I wish I had done more hill training on tired legs.
  10. Be prepared for a long walk after you finish to pick up your poncho (if you haven’t done bag drop – that’s an even longer walk) and a while longer before you reach your loved ones.

Will I ever run another marathon?  Never say never, but I would like NY to be my one and only.  I quite fancy Race to the Stones – a 100k run across the Ridgeway 🙂  Watch this space xx


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