Sunday, I broke four hours and ran my fourth marathon.
Spoiler alert 1: it was not easy.
Spoiler alert 2: it was worth it.
I began the morning in a slightly dazed panic, attempting to gather everything I’d need to sit out in the cold in Staten Island and then run 26.2 miles back to Manhattan.
I woke just before 6, made my mom watch the Alec Baldwin video with me and jumped out of bed. Other marathons, I’ve tried to extend the warm time under the covers, but this time, I was ready.
I was on a 7:15 ferry and took a cab at 6:50 down to the terminal, making it there in an impressive 8 minutes from Chelsea. I walked in alone and completely overwhelmed. I walked upstairs and hoped I’d run into someone I knew. Sure enough, I found Carla and Emilia! We boarded the ferry and Fiona, Steph and their friend Russell found us. I was so happy to see my RBs, as we’d discussed maybe starting together
The bus line took much longer than it had last time, as the cops were checking each bus one by one. Annoying, sure, but I’m glad they were taking every precaution after Boston. By the time we boarded and took a little trip around Staten Island, it was 8:30 when we got off.
I’d decided to eat my breakfast in shifts so that I never felt too hungry or too full. I had a banana on the ferry, a Picky Bar on the bus and half a Luna bar in the start village. I also had a water bottle of Nuun that I probably had about 8-10 ounces of. Jess and I had discussed fueling and my concern was that I didn’t want to have to stop to pee during the race.
We got off the bus and walked to the village with a million other runners. Steph wins Throwaway Clothes of the Year award for her Christmas flannel jammies. She was always easy to spot if the group got separated. We grabbed fleece Dunkin’ hats and hot water and sat down to finish breakfasts. I tried not to drink all of the hot water, because I really didn’t want to have too much water pre-race, but I wanted to warm up. The time went by really quickly as we nervously chatted. We hit the bathrooms, and while we were inside, we heard that our corrals were now open. WHOA, OKAY.
We went to line up. We were all in different corrals, but we decided to jump back to Russ’s corral, orange 34, so that we could all start together…on top of the bridge, not underneath it (like a troll, as my mom said the night before.) I remember in 2011, that they actually checked your corral number; this year, they just checked your color. We said we were jumping back to go with Russ and they let us go ahead. We hit the port-a-pottys in the corrals and joined a huge mass of people. If you’re trying to visualize this: you don’t really line up by corral. You join a mass of people in bib numbers from, say, 30,000 – 39,000. It was here that we began shedding layers to prepare. I took off the pajama pants I was wearing, and left on a sweatshirt.
We lined up in view of the bridge..and it was real. We were going to run over that thing, and then run for a few more hours after that. The starting gun went off, and it was REALLY LOUD. And scary, given all the coverage we’d all watched of Boston. They started playing New York, New York, and I started crying, and we all started singing along…and we were off!
Mile 1: The bridge was harder than I remembered from last time, and more crowded. As we started, Fiona said “you need to go do your own thing.” Or something like that. I’d been planning on doing that, but then I thought maybe I could run the first 10 with them and then take off. We all hit the first mile at 9:24, and I decided I definitely had to do my own thing. The pacing plan Jess gave me was: run the first 10 at 8:56-9:16, the second 10 at 8:36-8:56, 20-23 with whatever I had, and turning it up from 23 to the finish. I love my friend, but 9:24 was not part of my plan, and I was going to stick to that plan like white on rice.
Miles 2-4: I remember a small incline at mile 2 that seemed kind of hard, and I got really nervous about all of the upcoming hills. Every time I looked down at my watch, I saw numbers that were faster than they should have been, and I began a fierce internal dialogue. “I feel great! I can keep this up!” “Um, of course you feel great. You’ve run 3 miles. Slow your roll.” Splits from this section: 8:24, 8:46, 8:41. Oops. I knew I’d be seeing my book club around mile 3.5, and I focused my gaze to the left to look for them. I saw them and smiled and waved happily.
Miles 5-8: That fierce inner dialogue continued, and I wanted to keep my pace between 8:58-9:09 in that range. An average 8:58 pace would be 3:55 (my secret goal, to give me a buffer to hit 4), and a 9:09 pace would be 3:59 and change. Any time I looked at my watch and saw 9:0x, I think I actually gave my watch a thumbs-up. I knew I’d see my mom and maybe my boss at mile 8, so that was what I next focused on getting to. I’d decided to fuel around every five miles, so I took a few Shot Bloks at mile 5, and then I saw my high school buddy Sara and her sister Ali just after mile 5. At some point in this stretch, Russ caught up to me, and we ran together for a bit. My efforts to slow down a bit here actually worked pretty well: 8:54, 9:00, 9:03, 9:13. I saw my mom and friends at mile 8 and high-fived them.
Miles 9-13: I didn’t think I would see anyone I knew in this section, so I focused on just enjoying it, since I’d really liked this part of the course last time. I focused on keeping within my pace range until getting to 10. 9:13, 9:17…and then it was time to turn it up. I, honestly, was really nervous about this. 16 was still a long way to go. I remember at mile 10 last year, Ericka saying “it’s just like a 16-mile training run from here!”…and wanting to kill her. 16 miles is still really far. I knew anything could happen from 20-26.2, and I was really nervous about turning up my pace in this section even a bit, but since my goal was to leave it all out there, I embraced it. Uh, or tried to: 9:05, 8:51, 8:53. I was internally motivated to meet my goal, so I hadn’t thought until the half point what people tracking me at home might be seeing, but just before the half point, I decided I wanted to log a solid first half, so people at home would know I was doing well. Although, again, anything could still happen. I hit the half at 1:56:55, and smiled a smile that must have been a mile wide. Two years ago, I struggled to break 2:00 in a half; I’d just broken 2:00 in the first half of a marathon. We ran over the Pulaski, and memories came flooding back: running over this with Tina two years ago in the marathon with some knee pain after a bathroom stop, running over it a few weeks ago with my friends.
Miles 14-16: Probably the most boring part of the course, running through Long Island City. All I remember about this part is smelling McDonald’s french fries and them smelling REALLY GOOD. I focused on staying strong and mentally preparing myself for the Queensboro. A long bridge with no spectators, it can be a difficult part of the course. I prepared myself for that possibility, and ran strong over it. I took more ShotBloks at just before mile 15 in preparation for the bridge. I channeled the strength I’d had running over it in 2011 with Tina and a few weeks ago with my friends. I’d told them stories running over the bridge those times, and while I couldn’t do that this time, or talk to myself, I channeled that strong feeling and powered over the bridge. It’s here that my watch got messed up. I knew I might have slowed down a bit, but I was certainly not running a 16:00 mile. When we hit 16, my watch said we were at mile 15.5. Awesome. From here on out, I relied on my watch for my overall time and for my current pace and ignored the mileage. I’ll stop sharing splits here because they don’t match up to the actual mileage.
Miles 16-20: Good god, I love this part of the course. I’m pretty sure I saw everyone I’ve ever met on First Ave. I saw my mom and Lacey, Lauren, a high school friend, the NYJL sponge station at mile 17. I’m pretty sure I smiled all the way up First Ave. I felt strong, and I was back in Manhattan. I was happy. It’s here where it hit me that I was really racing a marathon. (Against myself and the clock, not anyone else.) I tried to keep my pace between 8:40 – 8:50 here, and more importantly, I tried to not let that psyche me out. That is a big, fast scary number for a marathon for me. I thought of strong runners I admired like Michelle, Michele, Janae and Jocelyn and thought about recent speed increases for all of them and how they just kept pushing, and used that to motivate me. WWM(orJ)D? I hit mile 18.9 (30K) at 2:46, and this is the first time when I had a strong feeling I’d sub-4. (Well, when I hit 19.) I’d wanted to hit 20 just under 3:00, to give myself a little cushion for those last 6.2
THIS IS WHEN THINGS GOT REAL. They say that it’s a 20-mile warmup with a 10K at the end, and, yup. Mentally, the last 6.2 was harder than the first 20 by leaps and bounds.
20: That damn bridge going into the Bronx. In my pacing strategy, Jess had said to prepare myself for hitting the wall around 20-22, and I steeled myself for this. Mile 20 was okay, but slightly more difficult, and I just kept reminding myself to stay strong, that I’d come so far and was so close. I’d taken half a banana from someone on the course handing them out around mile 19 (my mom never said not to take bananas from strangers), and I think I took 1-2 Shot Bloks at this point. I knew I needed to fuel up for this last tough stretch.
21-23: This is easily the hardest part of the course. You’re past 20 but not into the park. You’re starting to question EVERYTHING (literally, all life decisions leading me to this point were questioned here), and it’s a long gradual uphill. I remember seeing Laura’s mom and the Lulu cheer station, and I remember wanting nothing more but to walk. But, I wanted sub-4 more than I wanted comfort here. I didn’t want to miss my goal again. I didn’t want to go out and try to do this again. I didn’t want to ever run another marathon again at this point. My watch kept saying 9:4x-9:5x at this point, and I told myself that was okay, so long as I didn’t walk. I told myself a little negotiating with myself was okay, but I would not shortchange my goals here. I was uncomfortable but not in pain, so I kept soldiering on. It’s supposed to hurt at this point. Jess had said to turn it up at mile 23, but I wasn’t yet in the park, and I didn’t have the strength to turn it up yet.
Then we hit the park, and it was a total different story.
I hit mile 24 just around 3:40, and I knew at this point that sub-4 was mine! I knew that I’d be able to turn it up in the park, so I would be just fine. I grinned entering the park, and I remember spectators cheering my name and telling me how strong and happy I looked in the park. I remember being so happy I’d trained more in the park this year, that I knew the ups and downs so well. I COULD NOT wait until the downhill that would take me out of the park and onto Central Park South, where I knew I’d see Anne and hopefully my mom and Lacey and hit mile 25.
And I saw Anne!!! She said when she first saw me, before I saw her, I was grimacing, but that my face lit up when I saw her and I had more pep in my step. I even managed to high-five her and Matt. However, all I could think at this point was “was this this hard last time?” And then I remembered I wasn’t trying to sub-4 last time. That I was running nearly a minute per mile faster than I was last time. I saw Shannon and her mom at the very end of Central Park South, and thought they had the best spectating spot ever, and it gave me a great last-minute boost.
I re-entered the park, and WAS SO HAPPY. I WAS ALMOST THERE. I was about to meet my goal. I’d run from Columbus Circle to the Tavern on the Green so many times, and I channeled that and the finish line intervals I’d done with Jess here and just turned it up. Things were so uncomfortable here, but I told myself I could certainly be uncomfortable for a few more minutes. When the finish line was close, I saw I was at 3:56:xx, and zeroed in on that. I would finish in 3:56-something. I would leave everything out there.
I thought I’d be so emotional at this point that I met my goal, but I had expended literally all of my energy.
I crossed the finish line, and I immediately felt woozy. I thought I was going to pass out, and I grabbed onto a barrier. The volunteers were wonderful, and came right over to see if I was okay. “I think so?” I told them. “I just feel kinda woozy.” A wonderful volunteer named Andrea grabbed my hand, elevated it, and made me keep walking to get my medal and heat blanket. As we got to the medical tent, she asked if I wanted to go in. “No, not really,” I told her. She told me it wouldn’t hurt, and I agreed and went in. I started seeing a bit of a halo around the tent as I walked in, and realized that going in was the right decision.
They gave me some diluted Gatorade, salt under my tongue, and pretzels, and I felt better quickly. I’d guess I spent no more than 10-15 minutes in there, and they sent me on my way.
I’d done no baggage, but it still seemed like an interminable walk out of the park. We exited at 77th, and then they sent us walking back down Central Park West to 72nd.
They gave us these orange fleece-lined ponchos, which were pretty awesome.
I walked over to Cafe Tallulah, where I had the best burger and bubbly of my life (what? They totally go together) and did some celebrating with my NYJL ladies, Lacey, Shannon and my mom, before heading back to my apartment to see my dad, who couldn’t come watch because of a bad knee. He’d watched on TV and with Bailey and wanted to congratulate me.
I can’t believe I finally met this goal, and that I took off more than an hour from my first marathon! I am so, so, so happy and so thankful for all of the support from my friends, family, coworkers and YOU!
They print the finish times (I think up to 4:30?) in the New York Times, and I checked it obsessively yesterday to make sure my time was real.
I DID IT! I am a part of the sub-4 club. Meghann promised to teach me the handshake the next time I see her.
What’s next, you ask? I have no idea. Maybe some tris next year? I actually sort of miss swimming. For now, I definitely want to focus on some strength and lifting things heavier than a fork or a wine glass.