Walking through the Sutphin Boulevard Metro station, it was apparent we were not in suburban Atlanta anymore. People moved rapidly. They were dressed in suits and jeans and everything in between. All ages. All races. Speaking a bevy of languages unless they had tuned out the noise with earbuds.
Adam and I waited as crowds dispersed from arriving trains. I wheeled the suitcase and carried the backpack, hauling it up stairs, and through each train transfer. When I found myself feeling burdened by the physical weight of our luggage and the mental weight of worrying Adam would fall or be too exhausted the rest of the weekend, I pushed the thoughts out of my head. I should be so fortunate to have the physical strength to handle the luggage and the endearing partner who treks all over the country to see me for 20 seconds doing the thing I love. I am LUCKY.
After a brief respite at Roger's hotel to drop off our luggage, the 3 of us hopped in a Lyft to travel to the expo. Approximately 3 blocks into the ride, our driver was pulled over by the police. Plainclothes officers appeared on both the right and left side of the vehicle. They instructed us, as passengers, that we were not being detained and that we had the right to leave the vehicle as long as we paid our fare for our travel thus far.
We opted to stay.
The driver got off with a warning after flashing a card that indicated his brother was in the police force. Apparently it is illegal to have an earbud in your ear as a taxi/Lyft/Uber driver in the state of New York.
Nearly 45 minutes and 1.7 miles later, we arrived at the expo. Roger and I picked up our bibs, bought some swag at the New Balance store, and the boys each bought a pillow from the official bedding sponsor. Roger and I picked up pace bands, found our names on the giant poster, and wrote our goals on a sticker wall.
As we were exiting the expo and attempting to take photos with the giant Shalane Flanigan poster, Roger spotted Jeannie Rice, the record holder for 70+ females. She ran Chicago a few weeks ago in 3:27!
After transferring our luggage to our Airbnb on 71st Street, the 3 of us sat down to a very nice Italian meal in the same neighborhood. It was a dreary November night and shared a warm meal in a tiny brick-walled room that oozed with history.
Leaving Adam to sleep for a bit longer, I headed out to Central Park for a short shakeout run. Our Airbnb was just 2 blocks from the park and I soon found myself running in one of the most iconic places in the world. The leaves were absolutely stunning and I was almost a bit disappointed that I only had 20 minutes worth of run. I ran into Ms. Ritz and wondered what kind of dumb luck I must have to find one of the few New Yorkers I know from the internet.
I grabbed coffee, roused Adam out of bed, and we headed downtown to meet with Roger and visit the World Trade Center Memorial.
To say it is moving is an understatement. The museum is located underground, between the two towers and was carefully thought out with each turn. I found myself choked up about things I hadn't thought of in many years and watched as Adam, who was in Manhattan on 9/11, recalled a day that will forever be scarred in his mind.
Saturday Afternoon & Evening
A group of Loopsters decided to meet at Parm, exactly 1 block from our Airbnb. We had lunch and introductions and talked nervously about the impending race in the morning. Our plan to meet up in the Athlete's Village was solidified. After lunch, we walked 1 more block to Magnolia Bakery and loaded up on sweets.
Everyone parted ways at this point. Adam and I took a brief nap and then watched football until it got dark. We ventured out to Broadway and 71st for counter pizza and brought it back to eat at our apartment.
I read a bit of Open by Andre Agassi (I know very little about tennis, picked this up after hearing it recommended on a podcast, and am really enjoying it!) and then went to sleep. I'm usually a good sleeper and marathon night is not much different. The nap meant it took me a bit longer to fall asleep and the strange rumbles from NYC woke me up a few times, but I felt reasonably rested when I woke up. The extra hour of sleep helped too as I don't normally get up at 4:50 a.m.
Race Day - Prerace
I planned to meet Roger at 42nd & Vanderbilt at 5:30 a.m. to take the bus to Staten Island together. I woke up, dressed, warmed up my coffee (that I bought at Starbucks the night before), and grabbed my prepacked race bag. I kissed Adam goodbye and headed to the train station. The 1 train was fast and I got on right away. I had a lovely chat with a woman in her 60s running her 44th marathon from Ottawa. Then I waited for the 7 train for at least 15 minutes in the Times Square station, knowing that it was getting closer and closer to the time Roger would no longer be waiting for me.
By the time I got to Grand Central, it was nearly 5:45 a.m. and Roger was long gone. I followed the huge crowd of runners around the library, covering nearly a mile in line before I got on an actual bus. I sat next to a guy from England and we chatted the first hour to pass the time. I ate my pseudo overnight oats (the ones I brought dumped all over the suitcase so I bought muesli at the corner store instead).
The bus stopped on the Verrazano Bridge and we waited. And waited. And waited. The last 2 miles of the bus ride took about an hour. It was well after 8:00 a.m. by the time we pulled up to the Athlete's Village and everyone rushed off the bus to get through security and finally(!!) pee.
I found the blue village and looked around for our pre-determined meetup spot without any success. I wandered around the whole village once, grabbing a bagel, and then decided to just save my legs. Not 10 minutes after sitting, the first wave was called.
I was really thirsty by this point. I had just had the cup of coffee and couldn't find a place giving out water. It looked like there might be some near or in the corral, so I headed that way. Unfortunately there was not any to be found. I took one more chance to pee and then sat in the corral in my jammies until it was about 20 minutes to gun time.
Already too warm in my arm warmers, I wrapped them around my waist. So now I had 6 gels in my sports bra, arm warmers around my waist, and I was thirsty. Oh, and I forgot anti-chafing stuff!
Our wave started walking towards the bridge, climbing over the street we had just been parked on during the bus ride. The day is picture perfect. A few wispy clouds hang in the sky, but it is blue and crisp and there is hardly any wind. I feel a sense of patriotism as I walk up to the iconic start.
The pro men's group is announced and it occurs to me that I've never been this close to the elites before! They are only about 2 minutes ahead of me and while I don't see them from where I'm standing, there is something very special about racing right behind the world's best. After a short speech from the race director, the cannon is fired, and we are off!
The first mile is up, up, up. As we climb to the top of the bridge, we are offered an incredible view of the Manhattan skyline and the water below. Runners leap on top of the median to take photos of themselves and of each other all along the bridge. 8:29
After the up, up, up of the first mile, the second mile is an exhilarating down, down, down. With fresh legs and a warmed up heart, we hit the descent hard and fast and it is fun! 7:09
As the course enters Brooklyn, crowds begin to swell along the street and I fall into a more normal pace. I am working at a 70% effort. The foot is on the gas, but I'm conscious of how much further we have to go. I finally get a chance to get Gatorade and water and chug both down, ready to get to the next hydration stop for me. 7:30
Mentally, I'm in a weird place. My body seems to be working okay, but I'm not soaking in the energy of the crowds as I thought I would. I have my music blasting in my ears and maybe that is to blame for not feeling as jazzed by their presence. I'm latching onto other runners to stay with their pace, but everyone is still kind of sorting things out and the self-seeding is evident early. 7:30
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice someone getting close to me. Like, really close. And then I realize it is Stephen! We chat for a quarter mile, keeping our words clipped at short sentences, and ask each other how it's going, despite knowing it is far too early to make predictions. 7:35
I let Stephen slip away, focusing on my own race and look down at my watch only when it chirps off the mile splits. Considering I want to be at a 7:49 pace to hit a 3:25, I realize I am running pretty stupid. I start looking for the intersection that Adam said he used to live at in Brooklyn. 4th & 9th. When I get there, I imagine it is so much is the same and so much has changed from when he lived there. 7:36
I try to relax a bit. Drop my shoulders. Shorten my stride. Pull the reigns a little tighter. 7:22
Well, that didn't work. Soon thereafter, I find myself on the heels of the 3:25 group and happily fall into the giant bunch surrounding the guy with the foam Statue of Liberty hat. 7:32
I let the pacer do the work and find myself relaxing a bit, putting the mental work in his hands. I am finally feeling a bit better hydration-wise and am remembering to take my gels as planned. 8:03
Into the double digits, I was more relaxed as I tucked into the pace group. I started to take in the crowds a bit more as I released the mental work of pacing. Bands played music, spectators spilled into the streets, and our pacer riled up groups along the way. 7:44
I noticed views of the skyline as we wound around Bedford. The skyscrapers jutted out into the clear blue sky and the East River seemed to glitter. 7:48, 7:52
The course take a couple of sharp turns in the 13th mile and the crowds lining the streets box in the runners. There was something magical about trusting your fellow competitor to keep up the pace while running within inches of each other. 7:59
The Pulaski Bridge is open and exposed. The sun beats down as we near midday and I feel a sticking sensation on my left foot. A large stick with “Andrea” written on it is stuck to the bottom of my shoe. There is no way to grab is mid-stride so I veer to the left and rip it off. 7:53
Climbing towards the Queensboro Bridge and onto the bridge is unsettling. The pacer has backed way off the pace to allow for the climb and I’m raring to just get it over with. But I know there is still more than 10 miles to go and I’m not willing to risk going ahead yet. 8:26, 8:34
The pack reaches the highest point of the bridge and then we are flying! Bounding down the backside of the bridge rattles my quads and I’m loving every second of the sweet downhill. 6:38
As we hit the streets of Manhattan for the first time, the roar of the crowd is deafening. We fly down the street and while I’m working, I’m also feeling reasonably okay considering I’m reaching the point where it can start to get tough. 7:05
I stay with the pace group for another mile and a half, but the fast miles have me jazzed and I break ahead on the Willis Avenue Bridge. It feels bold and decisive, but I’m suddenly feeling free to push the pedal a bit harder. 7:27, 7:35
The next two miles takes us around two blocks where we can see competitors ahead. I’m beginning to pass more and more people. All the gels have caught up with my stomach and while I feel nauseous, I repeat to myself to “stay strong between the ears”. 7:51
Somehow I remember to take a gel at mile 22 even though I’m in the mode of just-get-to-finish. It may have zero effect on my final miles, but all I think about is looking strong if I can spot Adam near the finish. 7:25
Fifth Avenue is PACKED with people and I am grabbing high fives from little kids and pumping my fists at spectators who catch my big grin. I know it is cheesy to be racing at mile 23 with a big grin on my face, but I can’t hide the fact that I’m excited to be in line for meeting my goal. 7:19
There is a steady incline at mile before entering the park and while I feel my stride shortening and my heart pumping faster, I know to save the real work for that final mile. 7:55
Entering Central Park is everything and nothing as I imagined it. The crowds are thick under the yellow-leaved trees and loved ones busily scan the runners, looking for their person. The downhill feels good after the last slog on Fifth and even though I know it is early, I start looking for Adam to my left. 7:35
When I finally see the mile 25 sign, I am on the verge of being frantic. I want so badly to see Adam that I can’t conjure up the course map in my head and panic a bit when I don’t see him after taking the first right.
It isn’t until I see the turn at Columbus Circle that I remember he said he would try to be closer to the grandstands and I crane my neck, hoping he sees me. The sea of people seem so vast. But then suddenly I hear him calling my name and I’m practically leaping as I make my way over to him. I give him (and the people around him) a high-five and I’m so, so happy! 7:42
Coming into the finish line stretch, I am just simply happy. The grandstands are roaring, the flags of the nations are lining the streets, the competitors are giving it their final push to the finish, and it is a stunningly beautiful fall day in New York. Last 0.6 in 7:30
I knew there was no way I was going to be in PR shape, but I did know that I was prepared to potentially have a BQ. I put a lot of thought and effort into my workouts and strength-training going into the race to get me to the start (and finish!) line uninjured. To finish with 3:24:19 was a perfect day at the races.
As I was smiling like the biggest goober, overwhelmed with the sense of completion after collecting my medal and heatsheet, someone appeared close to me again. Stephen! How on earth we ran into each twice in an event of 50,000+ people is beyond me. It was perfect to walk through the finish chute together, decompressing the race.
I honestly don’t remember what we even discussed in our post-race euphoria (delirium?), but I felt this sense of completion as we collected our too-heavy-for-post-race food bags and made our way to the ponchos. Maybe it was because I had great company or maybe because I had a great race, but I thought the poncho/exit walk was not as long as I had heard. I was almost a little sad when it was time to leave and make my way back to the apartment - which was delightfully 2.5 blocks from the poncho exit!
I immediately jumped into the shower at the Airbnb and heard voices while in the tiny bathroom. I thought they were coming from one of the nearby apartments, but then realized that Adam must have made it back with someone in tow. Brad’s wife Nancy had found the apartment!
I got dressed, sat down for a bit, and then felt a bit nauseous. The water and chocolately Gatorade protein drink I had just consumed came right back up. Luckily, not only did I make it to the bathroom, but I felt 1,000 times better afterwards.
Soon Gwen and Brad were there and we lazed around for a short while, waiting for Roger to arrive. The group then went in search of food and wound up at a classic NY diner. Scott joined us soon thereafter and then we squeezed in Liz and one of her local friends. Everyone was in good spirits, chatting and enjoying the post-race glow.