Manhattan, Again (Miles 21 to 26.2)
I remembered this part down Fifth Avenue clearly from my training run–lots of scenery, and freaking interminable. This was the tract where I was grateful for all the familiar faces–crafty PS with her smile; TNT coach LW pointing right at me (she helped me with race day strategy–thanks Coach!); and TNT coach CL, out there with her baby bump (and completely surprised to see me), she told me “one mile at a time,” which proved invaluable advice for the last three. As we rounded Marcus Garvey Park, I shouted back to EN, who was right on my heels, with Josh, You stayin’ with me? “I’m gonna try!” came back at me.
That’s all I needed to hear. Jets: On! 114th Street was the final location I was expecting my folks, and they came strolling up at the exact moment I was running by. Once again, my father shouting my name was the only thing I heard, surely everyone on the course now knew who I was. I was so elated at this point, completely juiced with endorphins, that I took two steps BACK and jumped right into my dad’s arms. He lifted me off the ground and held me tight for a brief moment, then just as quickly I said OK, and I zoomed off to return to my great race. Love ya, Dad.
After that, I never looked back (and I lost EN* somewhere behind me). I ran as hard as I thought I could sustain for however many miles were left–3, 2, 1. That gradual, mile-long hill up Fifth Avenue is a subtle, potentially demoralizing challenge–runners were dropping off to my left and right, I could feel the inertia building around me, and it took all I had to tuck my chin, pump my arms, and turn on the tunnel vision. Once I finally hit the top (nota bene: I passed a slew of other competitors on that hill), my determination sharpened even more, if such a thing was possible. I felt a gritty toughness, an isolation, a sense that the race had only just begun for me. I took my final Clif Shot, this time with caffeine. Giving in even a little to the way my legs were starting to tire wasn’t an option.
The crowds at the entrances to, and throughout, Central Park were a single solid, wall of noise. I registered them in a blur, knowing I was running the most historic miles of the race, the miles where champions had surged to triumph or fell back in the shadow of another’s glory. I passed The Plaza Hotel, Columbus Circle, and my first-season TNT mentor KW screaming out my name so loud she actually shook me out of my zone. It was cold; these last few miles I wore my gloves, and it was the first time since Staten Island I wished I had something more on besides my thin singlet. I was breathing so hard, pumping my arms, remembering DRC Matt’s evergreen advice for a strong finish: stay relaxed and maintain form to conserve energy. Along Central Park South I saw a sign that said “Pain Is Temporary.” A perfectly-timed reminder: none of it mattered, the cold, my tiring legs, my maxed-out lungs and pounding heart. It would all be over in less than 18 minutes, and then I’d know, you’d know, if I could bring all my months of training, dieting, and planning to come to balance on the head of a pin.
At the “One Mile to Go” sign, I glanced at little G and actually gritted my teeth. I wished someone would cheer me on, but instead I turned on my mantra, and let it repeat: Strong. Beautiful. From all of the Media Challenge events I’d run this summer, and last week’s Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff, I was very familiar with the terrain leading up to the Tavern on the Green. I saw the “400 Meters to Go” sign and thought, just one more lap around the track. Strong. Beautiful. Arms helping as much as they could, breathing as hard as I ever have during a race, and now here’s the Hill of Spite we must climb before we can cross the finish line. I can see the finish line… back straight, collar bone up, shoulders down. I’m running, Strong I’m moving right towards exactly where I want to be, Beautiful little G tells me I’ve got it, my sub-3:55 but there’s no way I’m not still charging towards that finish line Strong with every single shred of energy, spirit, Beautiful and heave of emotion I have left. And then, in a final flash of speed and heat I was across, I could stop, I could walk, I could look around. Breathe.
A race official in an orange jacket took me by the arm, asked me if I was fine, and walked with me a few yards until I answered him (I was a little lightheaded). Finally, I turned to him, looked him right in the eye and said, Yes, I’m fine. Meaning, I am fucking amazing. He gently released me, sending me into the river of finishers, to get my medal, my food, my mylar, and my baggage. It was then that I gave in to my traditional post-marathon weepies, impressed and in awe of myself, grateful, overcome. Soon I pulled myself together, and marched right up to a smiling woman to have her drape my finisher’s medal around my neck. My medal, I love my medal. The circular gold medallion is embossed with the image of the great Grete Waitz, breaking the tape. It means a lot to me to have a woman on the medal for this race, my first New York City Marathon, with my new PR time affixed to it forever. Also, Grete is a favorite because when she raced, her hair was always tied back in two pigtails, and you can see them clearly on the medal. I like having this in common with her.
You already know it. And I’ve got it memorized. But I’d be happy to tell you all again. I ran the 39th ING New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 54 minutes and 41 seconds, meeting my A Goal with 19 seconds to spare and running a negative split, with my last 13.1 miles 2 minutes and 35 seconds faster than my first. I improved my time for the distance by 42 minutes and 12 seconds.
Reuniting with my family on Central Park West was just as I’d hoped. Big, long hug and kisses from Husband, a whispered “I’m very proud of you, sweetie.” My mom, beaming. My dad, rowdy but also still touched by my leap into his arms at Mile 22+. And surprise, here were SS and DS, older relatives of mine who on the spur of the moment hopped on the train from Long Island and stood at Columbus Circle to cheer. (When told how the whole timing chip & mat system tracks the runners, an astounded SS said, “And they can’t find Bin Laden?”)
We filed into the subway (marathoners ride free!), and I relished this, too. Ever since I moved into my first NYC home (Avenue C and 14th Street) in September of 1996, each Marathon Sunday I’d consider the mylar-clad runners on the subway with admiration and jealousy. I wish I could do that. It’s one of those quixotically New York things–the racers, patiently standing on the subway to get home just like every other citizen in the city. So, part of the enjoyment of my marathon day was taking the subway home (the 7 line, at which I’d waved just hours before), nodding at my comrades in solidarity and respect. My mom said to me later, “Everyone was looking and smiling at you.” I think she loved escorting a mylar-clad one as much as I loved being one.
Once we were back in Sunnyside, Dad treated us all to a pub lunch at P.J. Horgan’s Tavern around the corner from my apartment on Queens Boulevard. I had a cheeseburger, fries, and a Yuengling draft (I’d begun fantasizing about this meal at Mile 16). Husband sat next to me in the booth, and I kept gratefully slumping against him, tired and happy. I didn’t tumble into bed until nearly 11 PM–I just didn’t want the day to end. It was magical and perfect, like Christmas and my wedding day, all wrapped into one.
*This race report wouldn’t be complete without a Thank You and a Congratulations to EN, for hedging my excitement so I could blast the final miles, and for setting your own PR during this race. Well done, on both counts, friend.