New York City Marathon 2008

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Lacing my running shoes, deep in thought, it dawned on me that the day I had been thinking and talking about for a long time had finally arrived. It had been a journey that had taken me across a continent, provided opportunities to run in amazing places, and most importantly highlight the amazing network of family and friends I am blessed with. There had been moments of self questioning and doubt, but looking out onto a crisp New York morning, it had all been worthwhile.

statue-of-libertyI had signed up for the 4.30am bus from mid-town Manhattan, but wisely opted for the public transport option, meaning a couple more hours of sleep and less waiting time at the starting area. On arrival at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and following the masses onto the train, I was soon disembarking the metro and boarding the Staten Island Ferry. On the trip across to the island, I had my first view of the Statue of Liberty, a beacon of dreams and opportunities – quite appropriate for the occasion, I thought.

staten-islandFor the first time, in an attempt to get all 39 000 runners onto the course safely, race organisers scheduled three separate wave starts. Along with being allocated a starting colour (blue, green or orange), which represented a different starting area, runners were also allocated into corrals from A-F. So, I headed to the blue start area where I was in wave 1, corral F and would be starting at 0940.

Like many other virgin NY marathon runners, I underestimated how cold the morning could get and regretted not heeding Tanya’s advice and taking more warm clothes. Seeing people wrapped up in sleeping bags and plenty of clothes made me very envious. The runners who took the early buses (including some mates of mine) had arrived there hours before me, so I was one of the lucky ones.

About 1½ hours before the start, the first call came over the loudspeaker for all runners in the first wave to head to their allocated corral. The recorded announcement stressed this was the final call, so being ever punctual I checked in my drop bag and headed straight to the pen. In hindsight, on hearing this same announcement for the next ½ hour, there was probably no need to rush! Once in the corral the only warm clothes you could wear were ones you were willing to discard (to be collected by local charities) and the small brown fleece I had didn’t really cut the mustard.

Having lost the feeling in my hands and experiencing uncontrollable shakes, the gates were finally drawn back and the masses headed towards the starting line at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. There was an amazing feeling of nervous excitement and anticipation at what lay ahead. We were addressed by Mayor Bloomberg who reminded us that NY had come in their thousands to support the marathon and we were part of a very special race. The American National Anthem played and I couldn’t help holding my hand over my heart, then finally, the starter’s gun sounded.

I had mentally prepared myself that the start would be slow due to the number of runners, but surprisingly I had a pretty clear run. The wind was whipping over the bridge, so I was still cold and worried that I was expending a lot of unnecessary energy getting my body temperature back to normal.

leaving-verrazano-narrows-bridge1Leaving the bridge and wind chill, we entered into Brooklyn, the borough we would spend the most time in. This was my first real experience of the hype and excitement the marathon generated in New York and how people from all walks of life came out in their thousands to support the race. I ran for a while with a guy who was celebrating his 40th birthday, which he had advertised on his shirt. I am sure he got more birthday wishes in that one day than he would in a lifetime.

I ran through the halfway mark in 1hr40, which was on pace for my gold goal time of a 3hr20 marathon. My heart rate though had not been below 160bpm since the start of the race and I was struggling to find my stride, which was a worry entering into the 2nd half of the race.

Leaving Brooklyn, we ran through the borough of Queens and soon were crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. Leaving the bridge we rounded a sweeping corner onto 1st Avenue to be greeted by thousands of cheering spectators, a welcome sight and pick-up for tiring runners.

manhattenI knew Tanya was going to be around the 17 mile mark, but didn’t realise just how many thousands of other spectators would be there as well. I ran down the middle of the road scanning both sides of the street, very keen to see a familiar face. I was starting to give up on seeing her when somehow, above all the crowd noise, I heard her call out my name (all those years of nagging). I picked her out in the crowd and made a b-line straight to her, planted a kiss and was on my way again. It was just what I needed and it carried me through the next couple of miles and into the borough of the Bronx.

It was in the Bronx that I started to struggle, big time. I was dropping way back off the pace I needed to break 3hr20 and was even starting to doubt I could reach my silver goal, which was to break 3hr30 (something I hadn’t done before). I had not hydrated well and my glycogen stores were running low, things I should know how to manage better. I could not fault the supporters in the Bronx though, they were awesome and doing everything in their power to encourage the runners on, especially as so many were hurting, me being no exception.

Around the 20 mile mark I justified to myself to take a walking break and was not in a good state mentally or physically. A South African guy ran past at that moment and made a comment “come on Kiwi” – just what I needed to run again, can’t be shown up by a South African!

near-the-endAt the 22 mile mark, a mate who was in town to watch the marathon emerged from the crowd in his running gear and his timing was impeccable. I was starting to really doubt my ability to break the 3hr30 mark and having him to pace off was exactly what I needed. I latched on and with my focus back, was more determined than ever that I would not let this marathon slip through my fingers.

I could hear and see the spectators as we entered Central Park, but was so focused on finishing it was all quite a surreal experience. I was hurting but starting to believe I could break 3hr30 and just kept following my mate, zigzagging through the runners. He jumped out with about a mile to go (before he got taken out by security) and I powered on towards the finish line.

finishThe last mile is all a bit of a blur, all I really remember clearly is getting my first glimpse of the timer and realising I was going to break 3hr30. My hands went up as I crossed the line and I was not the only one to be over the moon at breaking the barrier, there were cheers, tears and celebrations all around me. After the initial rush of finishing, the realisation of how shattered I was hit me. I just wanted to lie down on the spot, but there was no way this was going to happen with a herd of volunteers ensuring runners kept moving up the finishing shoot. I received my heat blanket and headed very slowly up the shoot.

My number, 10 333, meant that I had to walk about 20 blocks before I could exit the park – it was the tunnel of torture. I sat down for one brief moment and was told by a volunteer (in a friendly way) not to be there when they came back in a couple of minutes. About a quarter of the way up, a wave of emotion hit me and just at that minute Tanya appeared and was lucky enough to receive a long sweaty hug. After what seemed like an eternity, I made my way out of the park and headed to the hotel for a shower and beer!

On reflection, it was a tough day at the office and another steep learning curve in how hard it can get out on the road. I was a little disappointed in how sections of the race unfolded for me, but to take part in such an amazing race and break the 3hr30 mark well and truly overshadows that.

shatteredThe whole build up to the marathon and the way it is embraced in New York has left an everlasting impression on me and my mates that came over from Oz. We were made to feel very welcome and received so many well wishes before and congratulations after the race. Being part of the Lance Armstrong Foundation team and raising money for such a worthy cause also provided me with a sense that I had, in a small way, made a difference.

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