Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
Engines pumping and thumping in time.
The green light flashes, the flags go up…
We are dancing at the starting line to Cake’s “Going the Distance” which is being played over the loud speakers while we wait for our wave to start. “DANCE IT OUT, PEOPLE!” Elaine and I holler and the people surrounding us start bopping around. It’s 11am and we have been told that there is a “situation” on the bridge that they need a few minutes to clear. Nothing to be concerned about, the announcer assures us. A few minutes later at 11:03am, we get our “On your mark”, the cannon blasts, and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” starts playing as we cross the start line on the bridge. We are now running the 2015 NYC Marathon.
The first mile is a 145′ climb up the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. I was running the Blue route over the bridge which runs the normally west-bound lanes on the upper deck of the bridge. The Orange route runs the east-bound lanes and as we are running up the bridge Elaine noticed our teammate Ken across the lane barriers. We hollered back and forth with him and I ran over to high five him across the barrier. As we separated he wished me luck. I took the chance sighting as a good omen for the race. We bounded up the bridge and before I knew it, we were at the mile 1 marker. It was warmer than expected this morning and before we even hit the half mile mark I had shed my sheddable shell and by the mile 1 marker I was already sweating and ready to strip off my arm warmers. I was also getting a little frustrated by some of the runners around me who were practically pushing me out of the way to get close to Elaine who was an official pacer for a 4:30 finish. I tried not to stress too much about running directly next to my friends, but was also bummed that people were being so selfish.
Heading down the other side of the bridge during mile 2 I continued to try to stick with my friends in the sea of runners who just wanted to be with Elaine. Most of mile 2 was as quiet as mile 1. There are no cheerers on the bridge so it was just the sound of footsteps and breath. I was surprised at how winded some runners already sounded. Then right before we hit the mile 2 marker as we were on the off ramp for the bridge, we saw our first cheerers. Someone was holding a “Welcome to Brooklyn” sign and I shouted “BROOKLYN!” We all shouted “MILE 2!” and woo-ed as we passed the mile marker.
Mile 3 is a bit of a blur. There were some turns and intermittent places without cheerers. I remember at one point Orange route turned and we went straight. It felt like a weird maze game. About halfway through the mile we turned onto 4th Avenue which would be our route north through all of southern and central Brooklyn. We were reunited with the Orange runners and Green was added to the mix. The view up 4th Avenue was BONKERS. Just a sea of runners. So many runners. There were also more cheerers and I remember passing by a band playing classic rock. I was a little overwhelmed by it all.
Mile 4 is also a little foggy. I do remember finally hitting the first water stop just after the mile 3 marker. I was so happy to have a water stop even though it was crowded and crazy and a little nerve-wracking trying to reunite with my group. I didn’t recognize much the entire mile so like I said, most of the mile is pretty foggy. I think at some point during this mile is when we crossed under an aerial photographer. I thought to myself that there is no way you will even see me in the photo with everyone waving their arms in front of me. It hardly seemed important at that point either. I just wanted to run my race. Around the mile 4 marker we crossed over Shore Road which is one of my favorite places to run in New York City.
Miles 5 through 8 we worked our way north through Sunset Park and Park Slope. I was excited to get to Sunset Park which was my first neighborhood when I moved to New York. It is also the first place I ever watched and cheered the marathon. It was so awesome running through familiar territory. We passed by the spot where I watched the marathon for the first time and I smiled to myself. We also passed the street my old rock climbing gym is on. It was still crowded and Kim and I were struggling to stick with Elaine and Heather because of the pacer fans. At one point a woman behind me started to fall and grabbed on to me to break it. Luckily a runner behind her grabbed her and she didn’t fully fall and take me down with her.
I was in my head a lot during these miles. I was a little tired and had started with some tightness in a few spots. With it being my first marathon I wasn’t sure how hard I should be going and it still seemed like a long way to go. Hearing runners around me breathing was reassuring, though. I was still running very easy.
As we approached Atlantic Terminal around mile 8, I could see a large stage with screens. Elaine mentioned that the winner had already finished which I am guessing she gathered from the screens, but my brain wasn’t able to process anything I was seeing. It was at this point that I realized how in my head I was and that I needed to be present or this whole race was going to go by and I wouldn’t have really experienced it. As we turned on to Lafayette Avenue and the road narrowed considerably, I started to absorb the race and really enjoy the experience.
Mile 9 was definitely one of my favorite parts of the race. The road was narrow and the cheerers were awesome. I got to high five someone in an inflatable T-Rex costume, I saw a high school band, and it seemed like those annoying pacer fans were gone and I was surrounded by friends. This part of the race was so good that I can still feel what it was like and have very clear images of it in my mind. That whole mile was great. And we were getting closer to my family!
By Mile 10 the bladder was becoming an issue, but there were only 4 portalets that I was seeing at each aid station and there was always a line. Heather asked me if I wanted to stop. Her and Kim needed to go, too. I told them that I was waiting until mile 16, under the bridge. I had seen photos of a long line of potties under the bridge and read that they are typically open because people are so exciting coming onto First Avenue, that they skip them. Convinced by my plan, we skipped the portalets, turned onto Bedford Avenue and headed into South Williamsburg.
We were getting closer and closer to my family and I was starting to get really excited. Would I see them? Would they see me? Would I see my friend, Penny? Would she be with them? As we run through the Hasidic area of South Williamsburg, the cheers become more sparse and I started to question my bathroom plan. I told myself that if it was bad enough when I got to my family, I would hop in the coffee shop by them.
As we worked our way to the mile 11 marker, the Williamsburg Bridge came into a view and we were running on familiar ground again. As we ran under the Billyburg, I hollered, “WELCOME TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD!” and Heather cheered. Her boyfriend was waiting for her on the left side of North 8th and my family was on the right side of North 11th so I unfortunately missed Matt. I got over to the right side of the road around North 7th and started looking in case they decided not to walk the few blocks from the subway. As I got closer and closer to North 11th, I started getting really excited. Then all of the sudden, I saw my friend Michele. She was holding a sign, but I didn’t get a chance to read it. I ran up and hugged her and then proceeded to hug everyone. My sister was behind everyone so I crawled through the crowd to her then darted off to catch Elaine and Heather. I ran between two runners who stepped closer together as I passed and I got trapped between them. I wiggled loose and felt badly, but there wasn’t much I could do, but keep going. Within a few seconds I was reunited with my friends.
I was really looking forward to the mile 12 water stop. It is supported by my running team, North Brooklyn Runners, and I hear every year how it is such an awesome water stop. As we ran through, I hollered “NBR!” and recognized exactly no one. Not surprising since I actually know only a handful of members and have only been to a couple of group runs because the team is so speedy. (And the runs I can join tend to fall on days/times that I can join, unfortunately.) Through the water stop then we crossed mile marker 12 and turned onto Manhattan Avenue to run through Greenpoint. There was a band playing a song that Tom recognized and he started singing along. “SING IT TOM!” I hollered. It wasn’t long after that I saw our turn onto Greenpoint Avenue. It felt great running through my neighborhood and knowing exactly where there turns and hills were. Just a short jaunt on Greenpoint Ave and we were turning onto McGuinness to climb our second bridge, the Pulaski. As we passed under the mile 13 marker the halfway point was visible and on the bridge. I told my friends that this bridge was for my Grandmommies and told them a little about her. They hollered, “FOR GRANDMA!” as we headed towards the half marathon marker. We hollered as we made it passed the halfway point and continuing pushing up the bridge. Elaine was fully of energy and positivity and shouting encouragement. We made it up the bridge then down the other side easily. But then we noticed… Where is Kim? We looked around and shouted her name, but she was nowhere to be found.
Coming off the Pulaski bridge, just before a turn there were more portalets. Heather asked if we should just stop and I told her I was holding tight. I was positive my plan would work out for us. I posed a strategy. We would run up the Queensboro with Elaine, then pick up the pace on the way down the other side to get ahead of her to give us buffer for the bathroom break. Then we would pace ourselves to hit the 17 mile marker at the same time she was scheduled to cross so we could reunite. Heather thought it was a good plan so we pressed on. As we turned the corner and passed another band we hollered and waved at them. It was around this time that it sunk in that I was actually running a marathon. I exclaimed “WE ARE RUNNING A MARATHON!” to Heather and she laughed and hollered it back. Holy crap.
The route through Queens is pretty much all turns. There are like 6 of them in the mile and half stretch. As we made the turn onto 44th Drive and headed toward my rock climbing gym and the Queensboro, I saw an LGBT Marching Band. I ran over and waved and hollered and they all hollered back. Heather had run over to join me so we partnered up and were a little ahead of Elaine and the others. We passed by 4 Non-Blondes playing and Heather shouted back to Elaine and I smiled to myself thinking of one of my high school besties, Sharla. We passed my climbing gym then heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I asked Heather if we had time traveled back to high school. We were both pleased with the music and started chatting about Porno for Pyros. As we passed the band playing Nirvana, we realized that the singer was a woman and got really excited. We both waved and screamed and she waved back as she sung, “Hello, hello, hello…” A minute later we were making another turn and a minute after that another turn onto the Queensboro.
“This bridge is for my great grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw Wayne” is all shared about my dedication for the Queensboro. I thought to myself how proud my Mamaw would be of me. Then I noticed how much the crowd had changed. It was like we had run into a zombie herd on Walking Dead. People were slow and cranky and bunched up and Elaine couldn’t let her pace slow because of being a pacer. So we were weaving around people any way we could while trying to stick together. Elaine again was shouting encouragement. The zombies seemed unaffected.
The incline on the bridge seemed to go on forever. It didn’t seem too tough at our pace, but the people dodging was crazy. As we were dodging, we passed an Achilles (blind) athlete and her guides. Elaine recognized one of them–it was Sally! Sally picked up her pace to run with us for a bit. I was so excited to see her that I ran up next to her and grabbed her and yelled, “I’M RUNNING MY FIRST MARATHON! RIGHT NOW!” She couldn’t get too far from her Achilles athlete so she fell back. I was so sad she couldn’t run with us.
We finally hit the top of the bridge and Heather and I engaged our plan. We started to pick up the pace. We weren’t on a descent yet, but once we hit it we started to fly. It was a little tough with all the people so I told Heather to not worry about staying together that we could regroup at the portalets. I managed to keep up with her until turning off the bridge when it seemed like every single runner had their phone out and over their heads taking photos. UGH. Move, people! We are running a race! I made a wide turn off the bridge and through the mile 16 marker to avoid the phone zombies and was surprised at the crowd cheering at the bottom of the bridge. They had to be 10 deep! We spotted the portalets and true to plan, there was no line and we both ran directly up to one and hopped in. I had to have been in there for a full minute. It seemed to take forever. I popped out as Heather was calling my name and we were off as quickly as we had arrived.
1st Avenue, Manhattan
First Avenue was everything it was promised to be. It was a wall of sound and the amount of cheerers was just insanity. I felt like a celebrity. It was intense the amount of attention. I had a pace band so I knew what time Elaine was going to cross the next mile marker, but my watch started going crazy and was no longer registering pace. When it did, it told me I was running a 3:35 mile. Um, no way. Heather mentions that our pottie plan worked perfectly and thanks me for my “stratergery.” For the next mile I have “stratergery” stuck in my head. As we were trying to pace ourselves correctly, Heather says, “Is that Ken Tom’s face?” I look over and it is indeed our friend Ken’s face blown up into poster size and I recognize his wife, Christine, holding it. I holler at her and it takes her a second, but she finally sees us and waves. I think to myself how crazy it is seeing random people that you know in a race this big. I take my second Ken sighting as another good omen.
We cross the mile 17 marker right on time. But where is Elaine? We run a bit further and Heather spots a pacer sign low on the horizon. We speed up a bit to figure out if it is Elaine. How did she get ahead of us? After a minute, we realize it is her. And my family is waiting for me in less than a mile. I start to sprint off, but Heather stops me. “We’ll catch her” she says to me and I am reminded that a surge like that can be costly later in the race. That Heather is a smartie! Heather does finally catch Elaine in the middle of the course, but I have positioned myself to the left to see my family. I see them, but they are hollering to Heather and Elaine. “HEY!!!!!!!!!” I shout. AH! My family is going to miss me! I start clapping and hollering and finally get their attention as I blow by. No time to slow down, I keep running and catch up to Heather and Elaine.
We cross mile 18 marker and Heather is ready to go. We had discussed the possibility of peeling off from Elaine and finishing the race at a faster pace, but I am not ready. I decide I want to be conservative and wait until 20 or maybe even 23 to push it. I don’t want to risk burning out too quickly and I want to look strong when I pass my family during mile 24. It’s tough though because I feel great and feel like I’m not going to hit the wall. I stick to my guns though and encourage Heather to leave us. She does and now it is just me and Elaine. We tick off mile 19 easily and start heading towards the third bridge and our path into the Bronx, the Willis Avenue Bridge. A runner joins us, drawn by Elaine’s pacer sign. It’s his first marathon, too, and he is sure he is going to struggle at mile 20. Elaine and I shower him with positivity. I tell him he has to run with us because it is my first marathon too and we can support each other. But somewhere as we are heading up the incline on the bridge and are shouting support, we lose him. Perhaps it was an exchange because as we are heading up the bridge, Heather reappears! She has decided not to take off just yet. I’m so happy to see her, but worried about her race. I don’t want her to regret not pushing. We pass a pastor on the bridge who is shouting encouragement and Heather runs over to high five him. I love this race!
The Boogie Down Bronx
We turn off the bridge into the Bronx and we are in semi-familiar territory. I ran this course just a week ago. As we approach the 20 mile mark, I realize that we are over 2 miles passed my longest run and I am entering the 20s! I get a little misty-eyed as we pass the mile marker. I turn to Elaine and tell her that I definitely think I am going to cry going through the finish. She tells me I probably will and snaps one of her behind the back photos of me, misty-eyed and smiling.
I knew I should have two people in the Bronx–my dear friend Enid and a teammate Rigo. I wasn’t sure exactly where they would be though. As we wind through our mile in the Bronx which amazingly has more turns than Queens, I have my eyes peeled. Somehow I miss the VCTC cheer spot, but I am soon distracted by BANANAS! We have made it to the aid stations with food! I grab 2 small pieces of banana and head off happy as a clam. As we run over the slippery banana peels I laugh to myself at the comedy of it. So not safe, but so amusing. I get my first banana piece peeled and it immediately falls to the ground. CRAP! I peel my second and realize I am going to have use my grubby hands directly on the banana. Oh well. Nom nom nom. Down the hatch it goes. Finally we make our last turn in the Bronx and our last bridge is in sight. I’m bummed that I missed my friends in the Bronx, but ready for the last leg of this race.
“BRANDI!!!!” I hear as I run under the overpass and up to the bridge. I look over and it is my friend Enid! I run over and see she has multiple bananas and some coconut water for me. “DO YOU WANT THESE?!” I shake my head no and head off. I’m so glad that I didn’t miss her! A minute later we are on the bridge and I am thinking about my friends Bobby and Noel. As we come down the other side, Elaine and I realize that Heather has disappeared. She finally decided to head off to run her own race and we are so happy. It’s just Elaine and I again for the final push.
5th Avenue, Manhattan
I feel good as we cross the 21 mile marker and head into mile 22. I am confident that everything is going to be okay for the rest of the race. I tell Elaine about my horrible 10K at Runner’s World Fest and that even if it does start to get tough, it couldn’t be as horrible as that race. Besides, it is less than a 10K left now. It is just a short 5 miles. I can totally do that. I am still feeling good and am confident. As we head towards Marcus Garvey Memorial Park, my legs start to get a little heavy. As we pass 125th Street, the DJ is playing Rihanna and I gain a little strength. I am still in good spirits. We head around the park and I am holding on to Elaine pretty well. We head through the mile 22 marker and I smile at the number. As we head out the other side of the park, I realize that my legs have gotten heavier and it is starting to be a struggle.
Mile 23. Elaine keeps saying things to me and all I can say is okay. She is encouraging me, but I can’t recall what she was saying. It was all very logical, though, and I had no reason to disagree. I think maybe she was worried that I was going to give up. I tell her that there is no way I am losing her now. I will push through whatever it takes to stick with her. I’m not giving up my NY Times spot (sub 4:30) in the last 3-4 miles. The crowd has become zombie-like again and Elaine is weaving and I am struggling a little to keep up with her. We are on a slight, but steady incline and I feel like we are running faster. I ask Elaine if we are running faster. My legs feel really heavy. I tell Elaine that I feel okay except for my legs and that I am not sure what to do to fix it. She tells me to take a salt tab and I obey. We make it to the mile 23 marker and I have less than a quarter mile to my family. Time to suck it up, Princess!
As we continue up the hill to my family I tell Elaine that I am not going to run over to them. I just don’t have the energy to sprint over and back. She tells me that is fine and they will understand. I’m looking and looking, but don’t see them. Finally, I see them and am so relieved. I can’t even muster a wave. Wait, what are they pointing at? What? OMG. MY FRIEND FRANK FLEW IN FROM CHICAGO TO SURPRISE ME!!! I squeal and instinctively sprint towards him. I grab his hands and scream in his face as I run by. WHAT?! OMG! I run back to Elaine and excitedly tell her what just happened. She asks if that is who I went to visit in Chicago recently and I confirm. I am on cloud nine as we turn into the park and I am now ready to finish this race so strong!!!
Central Park, Manhattan
As soon as we turn into the park, I start having a hard time staying with Elaine because I want to run faster. I keep turning back to see where she is and slowing down. At some point, Elaine tells me to just go. So I take off and as I start to run down Cat Hill, I spot the cat. Finally. I have never seen the cat! I take it as a good omen. About a second later, I start to feel it. It’s my right knee. ITBS. It hurts and I feel like my knee might go out. I start to change my gait to try to compensate and insulate it a bit. I’m nervous and I don’t want to have to walk the end of this race. I back off the pace a bit and Elaine catches up to me. I tell her about my knee. She tells me I have to push through. I tell her I am scared that it might go out. She tells me to just stick with her. And again we are weaving through people. We hit the mile 25 marker and aerial photographer and again I am uninterested in posing for a photo. I just want my knee to feel better. It’s now mile 26. We hit another downhill and my knee gets really angry. We are weaving through people and a man yells at me for passing him. Really?! While all of this has been going on, I have also been looking for my teammates Daphne and Helen who I know will be in the park. As we head out of the park, I realize I have missed them.
We turn onto 59th Street and I start looking for Hayley’s parents, but don’t see them. For some reason, my knee is now feeling much better. A friend of Elaine’s has joined us and she wants to push the pace. Elaine encourages us to help each other as we take off. We get to 7th Avenue and my stride widens and I am feeling strong. Elaine’s friend is no longer strong, though, and she slows. I try to get her to go with me, but she refuses and insists I leave her. So I’m on the final stretch and running my little heart out solo. There are so many cheerers and I recognize my name several times. Holy crap, I’m almost there! I think to myself. YOU’VE GOT THIS!!!
I turn into the park and am easily passing people on the far left side of the course. All of the cheerers are silent for some reason, though, and runners are obviously struggling. So I holler “COME ON! COME ON!” to the cheerers as I raise my arms a few times to signal to them to bring on the volume! The cheerers oblige. I pass the mile 26 marker and I smile. A sign says “400 meters to the finish” and I kick it into a higher gear. “200 meters to the finish” and I can see the grand stands and the hill we are climbing. Don’t push too hard, you want to kick in the end, I think to myself. As I turn the corner and see the finish line, I realize a kick isn’t going to be possible with the crowds unless I bring it in the far left side so that is just what I do. I run through the far left side and think to myself that I probably won’t have a finish photo. I don’t care though. I just finished my marathon strong and I feel great.
I walk to the side of the finish to wait for Elaine. A man walks over and folds over the barricade. I rub his back and tell him, “You did it. You just finished the NYC Marathon. Congratulations!” He turns to me and has tears in his eyes. I can’t tell if he is emotional or sick. I ask if he needs to squat down. He tells me he is okay, just emotional. I rub his arm and congratulate him on his race again then walk off a bit to give him some space. Within a minute, Elaine has crossed the finish line and is heading towards me. WE DID IT! There are several post-race selfies taken and one taken by an EMT for us. We do the slow march through the park to get our medals, mylar blankets, and refreshments. People are once again being ridiculous and are pushing and one guy even fully steps on my foot. We walk for what seems like forever. I wait to turn on my phone. I want to be present. As we head into the poncho area (or what we thought was poncho area) I check my phone and realize that Hayley and Heather crossed just a couple of minutes before us. We turn out onto Central Park West and I mention to Elaine how beautiful and majestic all the buildings look–more so than usual–and I snap shot. Oh, race brain. We finally get to the ponchos and I start singing, “Ponnnnchhhooooo!!!” and realize that I have no filter. I also have no idea how to put this thing on. A kind volunteer wraps it around me and fastens it then congratulates me on my race and tells me I am awesome. No you, kind stranger, are the awesome one!
We finished the race at 67th Street in the park, walked up to 77th then turned out of the park, and now we have a long walk back down to 59th Street via Central Park West. And it is packed with little blue poncho penguins waddling in a daze. With my filter gone and my spirits high, I am a jokester through the whole journey. Elaine probably thought I was a crazy person. I was just sooooo happy.
At some point I realize that my family is probably already at our meetup spot and wondering where I am so I text them. I still have a mile to walk to get to them. I tell them to enjoy the shops. We continue to walk and by a mile into our 1.5 mile post-race jaunt, I start to feel a little sick and I need to use a bathroom. Luckily a line of portalets appear and I say goodbye to Elaine and make a pit stop. Then it’s maneuvering through the crowd, the exit, more crowd, some bike cabs, and into the Time Warner Center I go. I head to the escalators and sneak up to Frank and say, “You sneaky pants!” Everyone is excited to see me and me them. Frank has gotten me a decaf coffee which tastes like heaven. I pull my nutella packet from my bag and suck it down. Let’s head to the party!
We head to the subway and hop on an escalator. I look around and I am surrounded by many of my favorite people. I am so happy. A marathon photographer spots us and snaps a shot. We get to the turnstiles and head through then it is time for the big test–STAIRS. Surprisingly, I am able to take them well and we wait for the train. A little sick on the train then off the train I am ready to just be somewhere I can sit. We get to Stout and it is PACKED, but luckily they decide to seat us. Hayley shows up while we are waiting. We get sat upstairs. The universe has a sick sense of humor sometimes. I ask my family to order us some fries and a shot of whiskey and head off to the bathroom to change with Hayley. For the rest of the evening, runner friends and their families trickle in and out of the bar. It feels like a birthday party. You know how at a birthday party you want to spend time with everyone, but it means you don’t get a lot of time with anyone? I’m just so happy looking around the room and seeing everyone. We get some photos, I get to check out everyone’s signs finally, and I have 2 dozen long stem roses given to me. Before I know it, it is time to head home. I’m exhausted, but I don’t want to leave. I don’t want this day to end.
My amazing cheer squad
My cheer squad was absolutely amazing and such troopers. They did their own mini marathon that day and I am just so grateful. The made it to 3 cheer stops along the course and saw me at every single one. They only had about an hour between each and at least 20-30 minute commute via subway to each then met me after the race and commuted with me the post-race celebration. They are amazing and my race wouldn’t have been the same without them.
My post-race letter to my cheer squad (in-person and digital trackers):
Words can not accurately express my appreciation for everything y’all did this weekend. And that includes those of you who weren’t able to come out in person. I’m not sure if you understand how rare it is for a runner to have a cheer group this large, that is able to make it to multiple spots on a course, and see their runner at all spots, especially in city like NYC. I am truly blessed. And y’all are troopers!
Knowing that you were tracking me and that I would see some of you at certain spots along the course kept me pushing when the going went tough. It kept me mentally strong and positive knowing I would see you. I wanted to make you proud. During the darkest miles (22-24) it was knowing that you were waiting for me that pushed me through. And the surprise of seeing Frank just sent me over the top. It was an added boost that lightened my darkening spirits during the toughest part of my race.
I know I didn’t get a lot of quality time with everyone at the post-race celebration and that it was a bit crazy, loud, and disorganized. Thank you for sticking around. Just being able to look around and see you there, meant the world to me. I loved all of the signs, they were so sweet. And the flowers are beautiful and continue to bring a smile to my face as the excitement of the weekend starts to fade and I drift back to reality.
This weekend is one that I will never forget and it wouldn’t have been the same without you. You made this weekend more special than I could have ever imagined. Thank you a million times and more! ❤
You can read about the adventure to the start line in Part 2, Race Morning.