I did it.
I finished (One of 51,000+!) And I can still walk.
After the rollercoaster of a month that was October, an extended taper and lots of training plan adjustments, I RAN the New York City Marathon and surprised myself with how great I felt. (Warning: this post contains a large amount of pride. Read with caution)
OK – it might be a little bit easier for me to say that now, as I’m sitting at home two days later, but really – heading into race day I had been preparing myself for the worst. True to form, my last shakeout run –just 15 minutes of jogging around Central Park on Saturday before the race — had me worrying about my knee of all things. My knee has not bothered me once this entire training session and it chooses the day before the race to start giving me pains? My ankle was a little whiney too. The excitement of the weekend started to give way to nerves as the sun set on Saturday and the reality that the next time I’d see my parents would be mid-way through my 26.2 mile trek around Manhattan. Nowhere to go but forward.
Thankfully, I had swiped a few samples of KT tape from the Action for Healthy Kids fundraisers lunch on Saturday and looked up a video for how to apply it for Posterior Tibial Tendonitis. Even though my ankle didn’t necessarily hurt, I was down to support it as much as possible (compression socks, arch-supporting insoles…) and the miraculous tape made me feel so much better instantly. Never will I ever scoff at another runner wearing tape in weird places – that stuff WORKS and thank the Lord for whoever invented it.
So I ran. I ran the whole damn thing and stopped once to stretch out the backs of my knees (forgive me for not knowing the anatomical term here) that were really tightening up around mile 22 (the worst). Besides that, I kept pushing forward. I took a swig from my bottle at every water station and ate a little bit of fuel every 30-or-so minutes (closer to every 20 minutes towards the end) and never hit the wall. It HURT to keep going, especially after mile 23 when the finish line felt so close, but with every additional pounding stride, so very far. But finishing that race was the most rewarding thing I think I’ve ever done and it definitely won’t be my last.
Without further ado – on to the official
The Taper (October 23 – November 5th)
My “official” taper week was really the peak of a month-long taper, full of alternative workouts that avoided putting any strain on my ankle, like water jogging (actually not that bad after the first few tries) and PT-style hip and core work. After the disaster that was the Boston Half Marathon in the beginning of the month, I had tried some shorter runs that felt OK but still pretty uncomfortable and made me question whether or not I could actually run 26 miles when running 3 miles made me want to ice my foot. After failing to finish one of my last longer runs, making it 10 of my planned 13 or so miles before calling it quits because I was afraid I’d really screw myself over if I kept going, Heather suggested I see an MD and get a lowdown and an expert opinion about how to move forward. His opinion: a diagnosis of Posterior Tibial Tendonitis and a prognosis of “you can run the marathon but you better get yourself some arch support and make anti-inflammation the name of your game” (not a direct quote). The minute I put those arch supports in my shoes (not even exaggerating here) I felt a wave of relief. Whatever pain I experienced just walking or twisting my foot went away. I did some internal cartwheels and walked out of the store happy as a clam and so happy I would actually be running this race.
So my real taper happened after I broke in the inserts – literally wore them every day in whatever shoe I had on – and had a breakthrough 30 minute run that was entirely painless, save for a few protesting stomach cramps that I always get whenever I try to run late in the day. I interspersed a few short runs between cross-training and a few rest days tried my hardest to actually get sleep and keep stress at bay. Unfortunately, the timing of my peak taper week also happened to be when I had a major assignment due and not very much time to work on it so I was low on sleep and high on stress and feeling notsogreat about my tapering status. I wanted to go in to race weekend feeling refreshed as clean laundry and was feeling more like a crumpled up sock than anything. My last “long” run did feel great, though, and soon enough I found myself boarding the bus to NY and confirming my lodging arrangements with my friend Tori who was such a peach to let me crash on an air mattress in her studio for the weekend.
Friday and Saturday I happily chowed down on allthecarbs but made an effort to make most of them plant-based and high (but not too high) in fiber since that’s what my body was used to eating. Definitely had to get a bagel for breakfast in New York though – that was a must, no grain shame whatsoever. The Action for Healthy Kids luncheon was held at Nanoosh, a mediterranean sandwich shop, where they had soooo many delicious things to eat: falafel wraps, build-your-own kale salads, tzatziki sauce, to-die-for hummus and fluffy pita, pickles and more. The hardest part of Saturday was watching the Badgers football game at Mad River, a Wisconsin bar in the Upper East Side, not drinking beers with my fellow Sconnies. Definitely a good thing I got to sip on all that water for a few hours, though. #hydration.
After my last little shakeout around Central Park that afternoon, I felt OK (see phantom pains above) but ready to really rest. I knew I wasn’t supposed to walk a whole bunch the day before the race, but between the expo, the lunch, the game, and my lil run, I hit my 15,000 steps and my legs were feeling a little too heavy for comfort. We headed back to my parents’ hotel where I taped up my foot, iced it and elevated it one last time, and got my last meal at a delicious new place Fresh&Co –> I went with the Wild Ginger brown rice bowl with Tofu and had a few bites of my mom’s vegan poke bowl (made with tomato sushi!). Finished off the night with a half pint of raspberries, organized everything I’d need in the morning, and went to bed.
Sunday — Race Day (November 6th)
I set my alarm for 6:10 but ended up waking up at 5:50. Thanks to great luck (not sure if it’s like this every year..) Sunday was also daylight savings and afforded me an extra hour of much needed sleep. I woke up feeling quite refreshed for sleeping on an air mattress (it was actually super comfortable Tori!!) and had a game-on attitude as soon as I pulled on my capris. I double checked that I had everything I needed and that everything was fully charged, put together my breakfast — this time using two HUGE slices of bread from Paris Baguette (they had the perfect little loaves available at a store close to my parents’ hotel) with a packet of Justin’s honey peanut butter and a perfectly ripe whole foods bananas (they have the best bananas IMO). To tide me over until I would eat my breakfast sandwich on the Ferry (3 hours before my start time of 10:40) I took a big bite out of a pumpkin spice RX bar I had packed and a few last swigs from my water bottle, said goodbye to Tori and told her I’d text her when I finished!
The Starting Village
I had chosen to take a Ferry to Staten Island back in July but only because all of the busses were sold out. This ended up being a pretty solid option anyway, because the Ferry was a straight shot on the Subway from the Upper East Side and I was able to hop right on a ferry even though I was a half hour early. I ate my breakfast and soaked up the distant view of the Verrazano Bridge – the first mile of the race. The easy ferry ended up being a blessing, since the busses from the ferry drop site to the starting village took what felt like forever and a day. First we shuffled through the ferry station, herded ourselves into a slowly moving line and finally on to full busses driving back-to-back in stop and go traffic for just about an hour before we reached the village. Some first-wave people around me on the bus actually ended up convincing the driver to let them off because their corrals had supposedly already closed and we were still half a mile away moving at a snails pace. I chatted with someone next to me from Brooklyn who was running the race for the second time and tried to remind myself I had plenty of time before my 10:15 corral closing time. It was 9:00 when I finally got to the starting village.
The village was fairly easy to navigate, and happily had PLENTY of porta-potties. I visited them three times and never waited more than 5 minutes in line. I had been regretting my decision to wait for coffee since the commute was much longer than I anticipated and was beginning to feel headachy, but quickly bee-lined for the free dunkin’ once I checked my bag. I also drank two little 8-oz bottles of water because I was also regretting not bringing along any plain water with me – all I had was my pre-mixed skratch water that I wanted to save for the race.
Anyway, the amount of time I had between arriving at the village and getting to my corral was actually great. I never felt like I was sitting around or too cold – the weather was PERFECT. I wore a throwaway sweatshirt and pajama bottoms over my race outfit and tossed them in donation bins before doing a quick 10-minute run around whatever open space I could find. Stretched out a bit, and finally made my way over to corral A – happy to discover I was in the front of my wave with a perfect view of the starting line and the bridge. I hadn’t had success on Saturday finding crafty materials to write my name on my shirt as had been so frequently suggested by anyone who ever mentioned running this race, but fabulously ended up talking with someone who had extra KT tape and a sharpie that I was able to fashion a “nametag” out of. Actually better, since I didn’t end up ruining my shirt and still got to hear personal cheers of encouragement throughout the course (ended up being a major key).
I knew I had to run slow. Slow and steady, nice and easy, like I could have a conversation and run forever. The first mile runs at an incline over the Verrazano so slow was easily achieved. I let people pass by me and saw a weird array of dropped goods – hats, gloves, clif bars, empty energy gels already – people stopping to take pictures of the crazy views of the New York skyline. I just let it all soak in and kept moving forward. I was really doing this. The first mile buzzed on my watch and told me I was running a 10:56 pace. OK – that was slow, but I knew I could crank it up a little bit. So far all systems were go – my ankle pain was virtually a thing of the past.
After speeding through the second mile a little faster than planned at 9:20/mile I found my stride and kept the next six miles steady around 9:55. The people of Brooklyn were wonderful – full of life and humor and encouragement. It was SUNNY and I realized I might actually be hot during the race even though I was wearing a tank top (really glad I didn’t end up wearing a layer underneath). I didn’t wear my headphones and let the crowds and the music on the sidelines carry me on. Over the first few miles I saw the 4:30 pace group pass me, then forgot about it and later saw the 4:15 pace group within reach. Keeping those groups in mind helped me control my pace and slow down when necessary. There were so many runners. For the most part I didn’t need to dodge or weave through too many people and really tried to keep my pace consistent even though many continued to pass me. I thought my parents had told me they would be somewhere between mile 4-6 and so I kept my eyes to the sides in case I saw their allegedly “bright green signs” but to no avail.
Since I naturally ended up passing the 3 mile mark around 30 minutes in, my first planned fueling time, I decided I would divide the race up into 3-mile chunks. Every 3 miles I would make sure I had something to eat, and knock another section of the race off of my mental checklist. I started with 4 honey stinger chews and did a quick mental check that I would have enough to eat if I fueled every 3 miles – about 8 times. Each mile marker had its own hydration station, so I reminded myself to take a swig of my bottle as I ran through each one even though I wasn’t necessarily thirsty. Throughout the summer training, I had learned that keeping ahead of signs of hunger/thirst was key for maintaining energy. Once you get those signs from your body in the middle of a long run, it’s hardly possible to keep running with the same effort and overcome whatever deficit you’re facing.
Reaching mile 6, I was still feeling pretty good though my back was tense for some reason. It felt like I needed a massage. I had never felt that on a run before, and figured I just needed to relax a bit, and tried to focus on easing up on swinging my arms and channeled the yoga poses that had me dropping my shoulders and lengthening my neck. Could have killed for a foam roller, but kept going.
These miles ran me through shade and sun as I made my way further north through Brooklyn and finally Queens. Apparently my parents were actually positioned right around mile 10, what I remember as one of my favorite lengths of the course. It was shady and the crowds were great. I’m not super familiar with that part of Brooklyn, but it seemed to be a more youthful area, with lots of twenty-somethings screaming out at all of us passing by. I started to feel my left leg getting a little tight and my pace slowed down from the high 9’s to the low 10’s. I kept up my fueling/hydration strategy and dipped into my first larabar, eating about 1/3 of it at each 30-minute interval.
I had planned on not using my headphones until at least reaching the half way point, but with my increasingly heavy legs and thinning crowds, I needed a little extra somethin’ right around mile 12. The music did help push me through and kept me going up and through the sunny roads of Queens. This part of the race is really a blur now, but I think I was just in the zone – thinking about all the training I had done over the summer and how it had just become routine – get up, go run/workout/do whatever I needed to do to get to where I was at that moment. And I reveled in the fact that it was working. During these miles, I thought about all I had learned about working through the toughest parts of my training runs and prepared for the inevitably harder miles ahead of me.
This was a weird interval. I was anxious to run over the infamously quiet Queensboro bridge and fly into the wall of sound as we entered Manhattan. I wasn’t even really aware that the bridge was a hill (THANK YOU Boston for training my legs on bridges!) but my right leg kept doing a weird snapping thing every now and then that wasn’t painful, but just made me perk up a little like, “woah what was that, that’s weird”. Thankfully, it never turned into anything. I chomped a little bit more on some chews, soaked in the lyrics of the music in my headphones, and dodged around the runners that chose to take the bridge to walk. I considered walking a bit, but decided that no – I was running. I felt good (relatively speaking) and like my legs could keep moving. I was going to keep running.
The “wall of cheers” was a bit underwhelming running in to Manhattan (thanks to my high expectations), but still fired me up anyway. The next straight shot up 1st ave was the most energizing part of the course for me. From mile 16-18 I took out my headphones and soaked in all of the people on the sidelines shouting out to me that I looked strong and to keep it up. I’m pretty sure the photo at the top of the post was taken right around this time. I couldn’t help from smiling. It felt so amazing.
I had pre-arranged to meet my parents in between mile 17 and 18 at a specific intersection that served as my mantra as I flew through the city blocks. We had arranged to swap water bottles – my empty one for a full one they would have pre-mixed with a packet of skratch. Once the golden intersection was one block away, I edged to the left of the road and loosened my water bottle. I slowed down a bit and scanned the crowd but did not see them. I pointed my arm up to see if anyone would should my name, but nope. I moved on. Since it wasn’t very hot, I hadn’t even needed to finish my bottle at that point and figured I would be able to stay hydrated with straight water for the rest of the race. I had a volunteer fill up the rest of my bottle with water at the next water station and finally realized that I had less than 10 miles left. I could SO do this.
But as we reached the north of Manhattan and ran over a bridge into the Bronx, I entered into the lowest part of the race for me. The bridge was steep and sunny and felt so long. I put my headphones back in and hunkered down into my head, and tried to harness the energy of the race to keep my motivation up.
Definitely the hardest part of the race. Mile 20 wasn’t even so bad. It was mile 22-24 that got me. Once I realized I had the last 10k left, I knew I would finish and that I would run to the finish. I could handle another 10k. I knew I had it in the tank, thanks to starting slow and fueling regularly. But mile 22 was still so far from 26, even though I had less than 5 miles left. Mile 23 was worse. A 5k, that’s all I had left. But it was still another 30+ minutes of running I had in front of me and my legs were begging me to stop. Just when I wanted to start walking, someone would call my name from the sideline, or I would see a funny sign, and I would WAKE UP and realize I was running the NYC marathon and why not just keep running? I was this close anyway, I had come this far, I was going to run even if it hurt. Everyone was hurting at that point. It was time to join the club.
Between mile 23 and 24, just as we turned into Central Park, I saw my parents. I saw their green signs first, and then waved and decided to run over and say hi. I gave them a quick hug and shrugged off the water bottle since I was set with my water. Seeing them was the perfect jolt of energy I needed running into the last leg in Central Park. I decided to kick it up. Why not? I was almost done. I had more fuel if I needed it. I wanted to finish strong and this was my chance.
The Central Park hills were real, though. Going down was worse than going up. I like going up-hill – I practiced with up-hill. Going downhill was pounding and hard on my knees and the backs of my knees that I could tell would be very sore when I stopped moving. FINALLY I reached mile 25. 1.2 miles left. 1.2 MILES. SO CLOSE. I took the last of my energy chews and drank more water and kept a steady pace until I saw the 26 mile mark, where I decided that I would finally push it to the end. Mile 26 wrapped us around the bottom of Central Park and some absolutely wonderful spectators – I can’t imagine what we must all have looked like at that point – in so much pain but so excited to be close to the finish line. I finally got my adrenaline rush to the end, amped up by the live music and increasing crowds, and picked up to as much of a sprint as I could manage to finish (with a smile!) in 4 hours, 29 minutes and 10 seconds.
Though I didn’t go into it with any sort of time goal whatsoever (basically because I didn’t feel like doing all those pace calculations), I was so proud of myself for finishing in under 4 and a half hours (just barely!). I was so proud of my pacing, of my fueling, and never hitting the wall. I was proud that I didn’t stop running, and didn’t need to make any pit-stops, and so overwhelmingly thankful for my coach and the training plan she set up for me. IT WORKED LIKE A CHARM. Despite the ankle hiccup, following the plan got me to that finish line feeling awesome. I walked to get my medal, gave a woman who I heard on the verge of tears a big hug and almost started crying with her, and pulled out my remaining larabar and basically ate it in 30 seconds. I did the damn thing. THANK YOU HEATHER.
Of course, once I met up with my family what seemed like hours later, I had one thing on my mind: shower. Then ice. Then pizza. In that order. I had talked about getting a beer for so long but when the time came, I really just wanted a cider. So I got one and savored it, and savored the pizza. And then I ate a pint of ice cream. Hey, I just ran a marathon, give me a break.
2 days out and I actually feel pretty much back to normal. My legs are still a little tight, but I can walk-even trot-down stairs without much fighting back. The 5-hour bus ride back was not ideal, but led me back to my foam roller that I immediately put to use. I slept, I took two days off of work, I walked around and did a quick 20 minutes on the elliptical. I ate lots of carbs and then lots of protein and BOOM. I feel great. I’m ready to train for the next one… someday.