Thank you to so many people who have reminded me the past two weeks that I have not posted the final update on my NYC marathon experience – and I apologize! I have just been crazy busy the last couple of weeks and, to be honest, I was still incubating the experience.
I also promise to those who are bored of reading about this topic, that this will be my last post on the matter…
Firstly, I am pleased to announce I did finish. You can see a video of my victory here (at about 5:29 – actual time 5:05 for wave 2). I also pulled up fine the next day with nothing more required in the pain relief department than a bit of ibuprofen to ease my throbbing quads. I am happy that there does not seem to be any lasting damage at all and I started running again this week. My knees felt fine during the run (to my amazement) and my back was completely pain free. I should note from the outset that this would not have been possible whatsoever without the training and advice I received from the fabulous, lovely and very supportive Tarryn Bennett. When I started training back in January, I couldn’t run for more than 2kms without severe back pain – Taz, you’re a miracle worker!
Of course, I hardly pounded the course – I finished in 5:05. Fast enough to say that I “ran” the course (i.e. there was no walking) but slow enough to take it easy and not injure myself. Personally, I thought it was a great effort and I was particularly chuffed with my negative 11min/mile splits the last 5-6 miles (maybe 10kms), where I really got a burst of energy as I could feel the end in sight. No records were hit – but at least I beat Pamela Anderson (which is just as well because apparently she didn’t even train for it).
The day itself started off a bit cold. We had to catch a 6am bus to get across the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island before the bridge was closed out to traffic (at 7am). I didn’t run until ~10:30am (second wave) and so I spent 3+ hours trying to say warm and positive. As you will know from my prior blogs, I was jetlagged (only arrived the night before due to transit delays in LA due to the shootings), and had a wicked head cold and sinus infection. I was massively dosed on Sudafed – not an ideal pharmacologic state for a marathon.
To be honest, the day before, I really lacked the mojo for the run and felt very deflated. Even after eating two plates of pasta at 4pm and 8pm, I still felt less than cheery – so I stopped by a barber to shave my head and make myself feel a bit tougher. I know – a bit juvenile – but it was something I used to do before endurance events in my younger days and it definitely perked me up. I’m not sure it worked on the day, but at least I didn’t have any sweaty cowlicks flopping around in my face the next day.
I also made several very amateur mistakes during the race:
1) Too much adrenaline at the start of the race – by the time I got to the top of Verrazano Bridge (where you can already see the skyscapers of Manhattan in the distance) my legs were already tired. I think this is a common rookie mistake and one that I will not make again. But it’s tough because the crowd is really surging along and it’s a buzz!
2) I ate too much beforehand – too many bananas and energy foods while I was trying to keep warm. As such, I lost almost 15 minutes queuing for a mid-race poop. Never been so grateful to see a porta-loo in my entire life (ironically, on the corner of “Flushing Ave” in Brooklyn) and I can completely understand why sometimes runners crap themselves. Too much info, I know…
3) I took a running belt and rehydration with me. Not necessary. Something I will avoid next time as it was a bit of a hassle. A few energy gels in the pocket are enough. In fact, because of the constant adjusting of my running belt I accidently popped my iPod shuffle off my waistband it ended up in a sewer system somewhere in Queens. Now somewhere in the Hudson.
4) Leave the music at home. Great for training, don’t need it on run day. It’s so much more fun to hear people shouting out and encouraging you. There was a band – literally on every street corner, especially through Brooklyn. Plenty of music! “Eye of the Tiger” on tap. Actually losing my iPod was a small gift from the universe and made me tune in, be present.
But I have to tell you, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. New York positively oozed with love. There was not a single metre of the race where there wasn’t someone cheering on and sometimes the crowds were 20 people deep, kids waving flags and rattling cowbells, hilarious signs galore. It was pure entertainment but also just incredibly motivating.
The other thing that was truly touching was the range of causes that people were carrying with them while they ran. There were the usual charities and foundations – everything from cancer and heart disease to autism and HIV. There were the war veterans and victims of family violence. There were those who lost people to natural disasters – or people raising money for post-hurricane Sandy rebuilding. There was a lot of “Boston Strong”, which was great to see.
There were also a lot of Aussies in the race. I saw several of my fellow Heart Foundation runners, but was also really proud to see the team from the Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP). They looked in great form, but also I really loved their running outfits and the way they represented their cause. I was incredibly touched to see so many Aussie and NZ runners stop to take photos with them. I am pretty sure I saw Charmaine Patrick (who is a little tiny thing…) zipping past me at one point.
Putting me in my place…
Many people just ran for those that they loved. A simple message pinned to their shirt, perhaps in memory of someone that was supposed to run with them. I saw one woman running with an epitaph of her husband who was killed in Iraq – “My love, you were supposed to run with me, but now I run for both of us.” With the emotion of the whole experience, the crowd, the physical pain, seeing something like that raised tears on more than one occasion. It was really 5 hours of pure emotion.
… And to have it offset by all the crazy signs:
I felt amazing at the end of the run. I could hardly believe I had made it and the sense of accomplishment was something so rare for me (I have previously written about how I struggle to enjoy success). I felt cleansed and pure, and free. My endorphins were going crazy and I could hardly stop smiling. You wanted to reach out and touch people and hug someone. As I wandered out of central park, I felt dazed and overwhelmed by what had happened.
The marathon is mostly staffed by volunteers – literally thousands of people. The kindness and gentleness of these volunteers was truly humbling. When you finish running, you are given a kind of foil thermal poncho to keep your body heat in, and some food/water. Every single one of those 51,000 runners had their poncho put on them by a volunteer. Later as you leave central park, you get an additional layer of a kind of wearable blanket. I remember when this guy put my blanket around my shoulders, he did so with such kindness and deliberation. I felt he wanted me to feel warmth, not just stay warm.
Anyhow, I don’t have much more to say except that it was an incredible experience – and probably one of the top 5 things I have ever done in my life (ignoring events like wedding days or childbirth). I also feel that between the jetlag/’flu and first-timer errors, I can do better. I’d like to run a marathon more like around 4:20 or 4:30. I’ll never do a 2:08 like Geoffrey Mutai did, but that’s ok. I learnt that I probably don’t need to train as hard as I did but I liked having a training goal as a way of trying to improve my health.
I’m definitely signing up for another one next year. Next time closer to home so that Zhenya and Max can be there at the end, though they ran with me every step of the way in my mind, and helped me to make it to the end. I kept thinking about how if I didn’t finish, one day Max would find out and think I was a wimp. That’s pretty motivating.
Lastly, I just want to thank the Heart Foundation for the opportunity to be part of the team. Through your generosity and support, I raised just over $14,000 for this very worthwhile cause. My fundraising page is still open and if you haven’t yet dropped a few bucks into the tin, it’s not too late! I know a couple of people were going to wait to see if I actually finished (gee… thanks for the vote of confidence) and a couple promised to double-donate if I did (you know who you are). Also a special thanks to Sarah Hytner at the Heart Foundation who really kept her running team motivated, informed and enthusiastic about being part of the event. As a team we raised about $210,000!
B r a v o!