The Great New York Running Expedition

A few weekends ago, I had the honor of aiding runners completing the The Great New York 100 mile Running Expedition. “The Great New York 100 Mile/100KM Running Exposition is an informal, small, low-key event that nevertheless promises to be an unforgettable running experience. It is an urban adventure, a running tour of New York City, beginning and ending in Times Square.” The 100 miles takes runners from Times Square to the Bronx over to Queens down to Coney Island back up through Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan to finish where they started in Times Square. It is supported by volunteers every 5-10 miles and by the entire city as runners have access to many restaurants, retail stores, and bodegas along the way.

tgnymap

Back in January, I proposed to our local officers group for my trail running club, Trail WhippAss, that we sponsor one of the stations. The later stations tend to be harder to staff so we agreed to take mile 80 which wasn’t being staffed by it’s typical crew because one of them was running the race. I was super excited to contribute, but having never organized an aid station and never having run or even witnessed a 100 miler I was also little nervous. By the week of the race things started to fall into place and by Saturday I was confident that we were going to have the best aid station ever!

Mile 80 Stock List
Water
Gatorade
Coke
Flat Coke
Mountain Dew
Beer
Watermelon
Oranges
Potato chips
Boiled potatoes with salt
Pickles
Twizzlers
M&Ms
Salt tabs
Baby wipes
Paper towels
Sunscreen
Bug spray
Aquaphor
Tiger balm
Basic first aid supplies
The stick
Foam roller
Yoga mat
Foot roller
Tennis ball
Music (until 9:30pm)

The morning started out a little bumpy as my Zipcar was defective and most of the cars close to me weren’t available for the time I needed. It took almost 2 hours to get it sorted and skipping my run, but eventually I found a car and made my way to it then out to Kmart in Queens to pick up some supplies. Then it was down to Sheepshead Bay in crazy NYC traffic. Our station was to start at 4:20 and I got down there around 3:30, but didn’t find parking until just after 4pm. My two teammates that were meeting me had similar issues so I hung out on the sidewalk while they unloaded their cars then went off to park. We were soon joined by Mariele, Michael Wardian’s sister, who was going to be pacing him for the last 20 miles.

Wardian was blowing through the course at lightning speed and we were a little concerned about getting setup before he got to us. We also weren’t exactly sure where the RD wanted us to setup and I had been told he had a specific spot that he wanted us. As time ticked on, we got more and more nervous that we wouldn’t be ready. I sent a photo of the area to the RD and by 5pm we had received word on the spot and started to setup. The RD stopped by with water and gatorade and we fully were setup by 5:30pm with the help of Mariele. Around that time, some fellow teammates who were crewing Wardian showed up and gave us some information on how he and our other teammate, Otto, who was pacing him were doing. Soon after we saw them crossing the footbridge and heading right for us. Wardian was in and out pretty quickly about 10 minutes to 6pm.

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Setting up the Trail WhippAss mile 80 aid station. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Trail WhippAss ladies stocked and worked the mile 80 aid station. From left to right: me, Anna, and Helen. Wonderful ladies to spend a day with! Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Receiving water and Gatorade for our aid station from Byron and race director, Phil McCarthy. From left to right: me, Byron, Anna, Phil. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Me, Anna, and Mariele. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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Team mate Otto assisting Michael Wardian (TGNY100 winner) with his ice bandana. Otto paced Wardian to the mile 80 aid station where his sister, Mariele, then paced him the last 20 miles.
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Michael Wardian receiving aid from team mate Louisa as I (white singlet & TWA hat) and his sister, Mariele (left, in hat), watch. Wardian was blowing through the course so fast that we were concerned we wouldn’t be setup in time. Photo credit: Helen Clark.

After the excitement of Wardian, we settled in for a bit. We were expecting to see other runners soon, but as it turns out we had a couple hours to wait before that would happen. We enjoyed the sunset, took turns walking across the footbridge to Macy’s to use the ladies room, snacked, and talked about running. Around 7:45pm we were joined by some family/crew of the next runner who was in second place. He was through and out by 8:38 and right after we got our third place runner, the first female, who was out by 8:46. Another runner came through at 8:58. He was a little disoriented in regards to directions on his turnsheet and we were a little concerned with him finding his way to the next aid station. I was in contact with the aid station after us and let them know to look out for him. As the hour hit 9pm, our only known bathroom closed and it was starting to get dark. The area was still pretty populated by pedestrians, though.

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Anna hamming it up in her TGNY100 tee and newly purchased tights. Anna was our potato expert and pusher in the later hours.
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Anna aiding Ryan Thorpe, our second runner and the TGNY100 third place finisher. Photo credit: Helen Clark.
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First female, Charlotte Dequeker, smiling and looking strong at mile 80. She was our third runner through the station. Charlotte took fourth overall in the 100 mile race. Photo credit: Helen Clark.

As we went into the night hours, we were supposed to have a male join us at the aid station for us safety reasons. There was only one dude that volunteered and I had let him know that we needed him overnight. As we got close to end of shift, I let our other female teammate, Helen, know it was fine for her to go. I was confident that our teammate wouldn’t let us down. If he was running late, it was probably because he was looking for parking is what we figured. She headed off and it was just me and Anna left.

It was about an hour (10:15pm) before we got another runner and I still hadn’t heard from our missing teammate. I sent several messages and reached out to another officer who knows him and he messaged him, too. Nothing. The area was still pretty populated so we felt okay, but knew it would die down at some point and we were on the opposite side of the inlet from a nightlife area by a residential area so we knew we get some drunken partiers heading by is in the wee hours. I tried reaching out to other male teammates, but no one could join us. I didn’t want to bother the RD and volunteer coordinator unless I absolutely had to and since the area was still pretty busy I felt we had a little time. Around 11pm a guy showed up that was hoping to bump into some friends that were running. He had swung by this aid station last year and was familiar with the race. By 11:45pm when his friend came through, he had offered to stay with us as our overnight guy. Relieved, we got ready for the overnight hours which promised to be busy.

Between 11:45pm and 3:30pm we saw runners every 10-20 minutes in varying degrees of exhaustion and pain. Another teammate, Jürgen, came through around midnight and was happy to see we had stocked the beer he had asked for. He was looking strong and it felt great to be able to help a fellow WhippAss. As we got to the later hours runners were more deteriorated and our chairs started getting more use. The 3 of us turned into a sort of pit crew attending to runners in various regards. I was responsible for tracking and time and was also communicating with the aid stations before and after us. Additionally, I played the role of nurse/caretaker–offering recovery tools, salt, aquaphor, wet wipes, etc. Anna was our resident nutritionist and perfected the art of squishing and salting potatoes. She was also very good at talking the runners into eating. The three of us all chipped in on filling water bottles, serving soda and gatorade, and helping with runner morale. The road next to us had some pretty crazy drivers so we also took turns guiding the runners across the street. For the almost 4 hours in the overnight hours, we never really stopped moving because the runners were coming in so regularly. Between runners we restocked, tidied the area, and prepared for the next round. It was chilly and Anna and I had to pee for several hours. I eventually I ended up wandering off into the neighborhood to find a bush.

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Team mate Jürgen (yellow tank) checking out the spread while I (on right) track time of oncoming runners. Photo credit: Jürgen Englerth.

Around 2:30am we had a runner come in who none of us realized was a runner. He looked as though he was wearing street clothes and had no pack or bottles. He sat down and gave me his number and told us he was going to take a nap. We all laughed and thought he was joking, but it was no joke. He instructed us to wake him up at 3:30am, but our station was scheduled to close at 3am so we compromised. Anna happened to have a pillow which she gave him (it was cold and she had pulled some pillows and blankets from her truck earlier while we were waiting for runners) and he wandered over to a bench to sleep. At 3am, we delivered his wake up call and it was timely as our last group of runners, a fairly large group, had just arrived. They were all quite delighted to see him and they all took off together.

The sweeper was running a little behind and let us know that there were still 2 guys out on the course. We started to clean and pack up anything superfluous. The next to last runner arrived as we were starting to clean up and looked a little rough. We attended to him as we loaded our cars and the sweep arrived. Next thing I know, the poor guy was emptying his stomach all over the ground. He was so apologetic and I felt so badly for him. We poured extra soda and water for him and the sweep grabbed the quarter of watermelon that was left and tried to get him to eat. The sweep had let us know that the last runner was still quite a ways back and that we should go. He was going to be circling back to him with supplies as long as he stayed on course so he wouldn’t need our aid. As our last runner (next to last on course) headed off, the sweep walked with him. He wandered off with that entire quarter watermelon–a piece as big as his head–into the night. I was very excited to check the results on Monday and see that he made it to the finish. At 3:30am we signed off our aid station.

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Mile 80 signing off at 3:30am. So many thanks to the dude in the middle for sticking around to help us out in the overnight the hours!

Exhausted from almost 12 hours of volunteering, I hopped in my rental for the 30 minute drive home. I had my rental until 10am so I decided that in honor of these amazing runners, I would test my own abilities in the morning. I’m not adapted to functioning on little sleep and will typically put off a run if I haven’t gotten enough. But the next morning, on 4.5 hours of sleep, I returned my rental car and ran 6 miles in warmer weather than I typical venture out in (mid-80s). It was nothing compared to what the runners I had seen the night before had done, but it was my own little tribute to them. (And a good confidence builder for Hood to Coast.)

Later that afternoon as I rested, I reflected on the night before and how much the experience changed me. I felt sad that I would have to wait another year to do it all again. If you ever get the chance to work a late aid station for a long race, I highly recommend it. It’s such a rewarding experience. I’ve already spoken to the volunteer coordinator about coming back next year and he is happy to have us back at mile 80 again. Though, I may have to find a few more races to volunteer at in the meantime because a year is just too far away!

2015 New York City Marathon, Part 2: Race morning

4:00 am. That’s what the clock says. And I have to pee. “Don’t start thinking about the race. Just go to the bathroom and get back to sleep. Two more hours for sleep. Oh no, now I’m doing math. Just go back to sleep.”

5:30 am. I’m still not asleep. “Maybe I should just get up? I’ll just lay here for a few more minutes and see if I can’t get back to sleep for another half hour. But if I get up now, I could get to the ferry sooner. What time was everyone taking the ferry? Let me check my phone. NO. Go back to sleep!”

6:00 am. “Okay, time to get up. Check your phone. Everyone is meeting at 7:15? No way that is happening with a 45 minute commute. We’ll shoot for 7:30. Let’s go make some food.”

Once I was up and moving, I warmed up some day old GF pancakes and had some breakfast. It wasn’t a breakfast choice that I had trained with, but I thought it was mild enough to be okay. Besides, the bagel with nutella had seemed to have upset my stomach on my last long run. The pancakes yesterday morning did not. Got breakfast down then started to get dressed. It seemed to take forever to get everything on, my hair braided, shoes on, and pre-race bag packed. I did manage to TCB before heading out. I made it out of the house by 6:48 — 3 minutes off schedule.

The subway

Got to the subway and there were other marathon runners. Chatted with a girl who didn’t get hardly any sleep the night before. The train came pretty quickly and I was off to Union Square for my transfer. I attached my bibs on my way there. There were a couple of people that were still in costume and obviously heading home from partying. A guy dressed up as what I can only imagine was supposed to be a hipster rabbit almost stepped on me. I moved to the end of the train and for a moment thought how different my life is now than it was 10 years ago. At Union Square we waited forever for the train and I realized that I was going to miss everyone at the ferry. The train took so long that I started to get nervous. By the time I was on the train, my tummy was flip flopping a bit. I tried to calm myself, but knew that wouldn’t happen until we got the ferry terminal.

The ferry

7:40 am. Finally at the ferry terminal and I am the first up the stairs and rush through the turnstiles. I burst out of the subway ready to dash to the ferry and notice some people behind barricades on either side of the subway entrance. I think to myself how odd it is that people would come to watch runners get on the ferry. About a second later, NYPD stops me and asks me to move to the side where I notice just how many people are waiting. And that they are runners. I ask someone what is going on and they tell me that they aren’t letting anyone into the ferry terminal until the next ferry leaves. I hear a woman say, “I’m not running this marathon. I’m just trying to get home.” NYPD has us move down the barricades then eventually behind them. I tuck in to the side of the crowd, hoping to skip a long wait. I’ve now made friends with a runner next to me and chatting with him calms my nerves. Before I know it we are moving. Everyone is pushing, though, and at one point a man full on elbows his way passed me. I get stopped a few people short of making it into the terminal and packed in like a sardine. A runner asks me how long it will take to get to the start from here and I tell him my friends inside who arrived at 7:15 are still waiting for a ferry. His start time is 10:15. I reassure him that he will make it on time based on my knowledge of how long the ferry and bus ride are.  After a minute or two, NYPD lets more of us go. As I am heading into the terminal I hear someone shout my name and look over to see my friend, Hayley. She is over to the side and there are a bunch of runners ahead of her waiting to be let in.

Inside the ferry terminal, I rush passed the meandering runners directly to the restroom. There is a line, but it isn’t too bad and I am in and out within about 5 minutes. As luck would have it, a ferry is boarding right next to the bathroom and I scoot into the crowd and a few minutes later I am on a boat full of runners about to head to Staten Island.

On the boat, I wander trying to find a spot to settle. Everywhere that I pause, someone tells me they are saving a spot for someone. What is this middle school? I decide to pop out on the west facing deck to get a view of the city as we are leaving. That spot is soon overwhelmed by people pushing and sticking their arms and cameras in front of my face to take pictures of the view. I pop off a quick shot and head downstairs which is filled with runners. I decide to position myself as close to the exit as possible despite the chilly breeze coming in from the open doors.

New York Harbor
View from the Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island Ferry
Bottom of deck of the Staten Island Ferry. Packed with runners.

I start to notice more and more runners coming downstairs so I get up to see how close we are to the Staten Island terminal. Just a little bit to go so I head for the doors. We dock, the doors open, and I am off the boat in less than a minute and heading to the buses. Runners are jogging through the crowd to the buses and there are volunteers yelling to walk. It’s a freaking zoo. I get outside expecting to see a few buses and to board immediately. Instead, I am greeted by a mass of people wrapped around the street. There is a long line of buses that takes off about a minute later. I text my friends that met at the ferry terminal at 7:15 that were inside waiting for a ferry while I was waiting outside. They are still waiting for a bus. Excellent. It’s 8:34 am.

Marathon buses
Line of buses outside the Staten Island Ferry Terminal
Bus line
Massive line for the buses.

The bus

The line for the buses moves faster than expected despite the many runners who aren’t listening to directions and slowing things down. I can hear runners chatting with their friends about being nervous about making it to the start on time. A girl in a Wonder Woman outfit is convinced she and her friend aren’t going to make it on a bus despite a bus being right in front of us and about to open it’s doors. I reassure her that we will all get on a bus and to the start. A few seconds later, the bus doors open and she pushes passed me. I get on the bus and head back to the first available seat by the back doors. There is a woman in the window seat who seems to know a few rows of runners. I pull my Larabar out of my bag and eat it. The bus starts moving.

As far as I understood, the bus ride from the terminal to Fort Wadsworth is 20-30 minutes. We were on the bus for much longer. It seemed to take forever. I started talking to the woman next to me. This is her third marathon. She did NYC as her first two. She assures me that I am going to have a blast. We start talking about training and one point she informs me that regardless of my training, at some point I will feel like I am going to die. Great. I can’t stop looking at her eyelashes. They are really nice and she obviously used good mascara. Then I wonder why she would put on mascara. I immediately start to doubt our similarities and reassure myself that I am not going to feel like I am dying. Can’t let a losing mentality creep in.

The start village

We finally get to Fort Wadsworth and soon as the back doors open, I am off the bus. There are NYPD everywhere yelling that we have to take off our watches and belts and put them into our bags. I remove my watch while walking towards the metal detectors and am through them within a minute. An officer passes my bag back and another runner grabs it and starts to dart off. An officer stops her and corrects her mistake. I think to myself that all these people are crazy and need to calm down. It’s 9:27 am. I’ve been commuting for almost 3 hours now.

I walk down a long walkway to the entrance of Fort Wadsworth. It’s a crazy mess of runners. There are announcements in multiple languages. There are volunteers yelling things to the runners. There are people jogging through the crowd, people rushing about, almost bumping into me or stepping on my feet. I just need to find the orange corrals. Elaine, Heather, and Kim are in the orange corrals. The signs help to get me to the orange village and the map I downloaded to my phone the night before gets me to the corrals. Heather has sent me several messages with details about where they are, but I can’t seem to find them. It’s a bit like a scavenger hunt. “Hmmmm… there’s the ‘dispose clothes here’ sign… where is the guy holding the Team for Kids sign? Oh, there he is… wait, where are they again? Corral F. In the corral? That doesn’t make sense. Okay, let’s text Heather. She’s not answering. What do I do? There is the pacer tent! Let’s go see if Elaine is there!” I get to the pacer tent and see Elaine. I holler for her a few times and she doesn’t hear me. She finally sees me and waves me in. Apprehensively, I head into the pacer area and notice that Heather is there with her, too. I FOUND THEM! It’s 10:00 am. We have 15 minutes before we have to head to the corrals. And I feel like I need to TCB.

Fort Wadsworth
The entrance to Fort Wadsworth.
Pacer tent
Hanging out in the pacer tent before the race.

The pacer tent is warm and I need to get organized. So I spend the next few minutes shedding layers, putting on my belt, organizing my stuff, and eating my banana. I pull out my two pre-race Honey Stingers and ask if there is any water. No water. Dang it. I use the portalets 3 times in 15 minutes trying to TCB before we head to the corrals. No dice. It’s 10:15 and we need to head to the corrals.

The corrals

We head out and within a couple of seconds it is apparent that known of us know where we are going. Where are the blue corrals? I thought I passed them on the way in, but the signs seem to say otherwise. As we wander, I notice a water stand. WATER! Grab 2 waters and after a few minutes of wandering, I try to direct us back to where I think the blue corrals are again. At some point, someone gives us directions. They are where I thought they were! We start heading that way. So many people keep stopping Elaine on the way there. She seems to know everyone running. I down my Stingers and drink some water while we walk. We get to the area just outside corral A and Elaine escorts us to the front of the crowd. We wait a few minutes and during that time I realize I have to pee again. So does Heather and Kim. There are portalets in the corral. They let us in the corral and Elaine starts scurrying to the front. We scurry right passed the portalets. We get to the front of the corral and it fills up behind us. We question whether we could make it back to the portalets and back through the crowd. One of the volunteers tells us it will be 15-20 minutes until we walk to the bridge, but doesn’t think we could push back through to the front. We decide to hold it. About 10 minutes later after joking with volunteers, taking photos, and joking about our bladders, some military walk over and link arms with the volunteers. We are about to get walked to the bridge.

Corral A
Corral A waiting to get walked to start line on the bridge.

The walk to the bridge is a slow march behind the military people and volunteers. We make jokes along the way. We stop every so often when we have to turn a corner and they have to maneuver our front line escort. We wander through a route created by lining buses end to end. Finally we snake our way around a final corner and we can see the entrance to the bridge and the start line. There will be no one starting in front us today. We are the elites of Wave 4.

The start

We stop in front of a stage with more military, lots of flags, and a really excited guy talking into a microphone about the greatest city and race in the world. The national anthem is sung by a guy who is wearing a shirt that says something like “The internet eats brains.” He is also running the race this morning and will hop into our corral after he finishes singing. The announcer comes back and gives us our “On your mark” then the cannons fire and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” starts playing. We cross the start line with no one in front of us. It’s 11:03 am.

Starting line stage.
Stage by the starting line.
Start line
The Blue start line for the 2015 NYC Marathon. Starting like elites.

The story continues in Part 3, The Race Report.

2015 New York City Marathon, Part 1: The lead up

Well, I did it. I finished. I am a marathoner. I finished in… wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We should probably start at the beginning. Actually, it would probably be helpful to know what happened in the last weeks of training. Set time machine to Friday, October 2nd, 2015.

Hitting the wayback button

It’s my last month of training and I am about to do my longest run to date the next morning: 17 miles. That day also happens to be my birthday. And I have a baby shower the following day. It’s going to be a busy weekend. The weather decides that I need an added challenge that day so it’s raining with blustery wind and mid-50s. The wind at times is strong enough that it is pushing us around. I planned a challenging course with 3 bridges and a finish that traces the last two miles of the course through Central Park. One of the women I am running with tells me the route is tougher than her longer runs. The run ends up being slower than I had hoped, but I feel great at the end and the last two miles are my fastest. I’m tired for the rest of the weekend as I celebrate my birthday that evening with friends and my friend’s new addition to the family the next day.

Longest long run
17-ish miles in the books! That’s the longest one!

The next weekend I took on the Rock n Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon as a training run and nabbed a PR running easy for the first 30 minutes then running the rest at marathon pace. I decide my marathon outfit which worked okay for the previous week’s long run is not going to be okay for the marathon. Only a few runs left to get that figured out.

RnR BK
Rock and Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon start. Ready to get moving!

The following weekend (10/16-10/18) I head to Runner’s World Festival in Bethlehem, PA. I shared my experience there in a couple of blog posts, but to recap I raced the trail race on Friday and had a great time. Was bummed the shorts I was testing out for the marathon weren’t successful. The next morning I woke up feeling a little sick and raced the 5K and 10K. The 10K was absolutely miserable. I spent the rest of the day in my hotel room sick as a dog. That night I got food poisoning and was sick all that night and next morning. The drive back to NYC was a bit of a challenge.

RWF 10K
Runner’s World Festival 10K. Struggling to the finish.

The weekend before the marathon, it was more travel. I headed to Baltimore on Thursday afternoon and had dinner with good friends. The next day I attended a wedding of one of my oldest friends. On Saturday morning, it was back to NYC. I got in 7 miles that evening and then ran the last 10 miles of the course the next morning. The weather once again decided that I needed an added challenge so it rained on us. I also almost got hit by car–full screeching tires and all. Yikes. I was super happy that I had finally settled on a race day outfit, though. That afternoon I got a 90 minute sports massage and felt great.

Wedding
A rare opportunity to dress up and witness one of my oldest friend’s embark on a new journey.
Last 10 miles run
A stop on the Madison Avenue Bridge for a quick shot of the crew during our last long run which followed the last 10 miles of the marathon course.

The last week

The massage left me more sore than expected on Monday and Tuesday.  And in the following days leading up to the marathon I had little nags here and there. Most concerning was that my right piriformis started acting again and I had thought it was okay. I had some pretty severe race anxiety on Sunday and Monday after using the NYRR race predictor in their NYCM app. I got in my last threshold workout on Tuesday and that workout felt good and was a confidence builder. That evening, a friend and I went to the New York City Marathon: The Great Race exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. It was a wonderful exhibit and great to spend time with my friend, Heather, who I planned to run the race with. After the exhibit we grabbed some Mexican food and I broke my stay dry for the week rule with a margarita. My other rule “Margs always win” won.

Race prediction
NYRR New York City Marathon app race predictor.
Museum of the City of New York
The exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York was a great tribute to the New York City Marathon.

On Thursday, I went for an easy 3 miler and felt a little tired. I think the cleaning the day before and wandering around the exhibit didn’t give my legs enough rest. Later that afternoon, I had lunch and a cocktail with my parents and then they joined me at the expo where I picked up my bib, shirt, a few NYCM souvenirs, and a sheddable shell since the forecast was now predicting a chance of rain. The expo seemed a little anti-climatic for some reason, but I was happy to pick up some cute stuff and be with my family. We had dinner at a cute Italian restaurant that night where I had chicken and a glass of wine then I got a good night’s rest.

At the marathon expo
At the marathon expo

On Friday, I woke up with some calf pain that had me worried so I opted out of fun in the city. I spent the day watching running movies, stretching and rolling my calf, and got my race day stuff together. I got a good night’s rest and felt ready for a relaxing Saturday to rest before the race. Saturday morning I got in 20 minutes of easy running, big GF pancake breakfast, and took some time to record my pre-race thoughts. My sister flew on Saturday afternoon and we got brunch then hung out at the apartment. My parents drove over from Jersey and we were going to go dinner, but I had crammed so much food in me earlier that day, I wasn’t hungry. They left around 6pm and I was left by myself. I tried not to be anxious, but there were was little else to focus on. I finally got in my GF pasta dinner around 7pm then some light stretching and Sienfeld before hitting the hay around 10pm. I needed to be up at 6am the next morning to get ready for the race.

Last run before the marathon
Last run before the marathon. 20 minutes easy. Feeling ready.

Follow my adventure on race morning in Part 2, Race Morning or read the race report in Part 3, The Race Report.

The day before

This time tomorrow I will be at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island trying to stay warm and calm before I take on my biggest race to date, the New York City Marathon. If you had told me 2 years ago that this was going to happen, I would have thought you were crazy. Go back even further in my history and well, it would just seem like a complete impossibility. As the fog clears from my taper crazies though, I am left feeling ready and surprisingly calm. I’ve been preparing for this for over a year now. I’ve put in the work and now it is just a matter of getting it done.

Of course, anything could happen tomorrow morning. Any number of nags that have popped up this week could turn into a full blown injury, I could hit the wall and not be able to push through it, I could trip, fall, throw up, poop myself… all of these are possibilities. But for the first time that I can remember ever, I am able to tune all of that out. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, be it a great run or a miserable one, it will be one of the biggest challenges and accomplishments in my life. It’s one that I will get to share with dear friends and family who are cheering in person or digitally and some that I will be running with. It’s one that will change me even more than it already has through it’s preparation. It’s one that I will be proud of for the rest of my life.

I could go into all the reasons why this race means so much to me, but I don’t want for my personal reasons to be made generic by not being able to give them justice in this blog. What I will share is that I will be running each of the five bridges for a different person that left us too soon. My high school best friend, Jean, will be my motivation on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Love you, Pooh Bear. I’ll run the Pulaski Bridge for my Grandmommies who passed two years ago on Christmas. She was a pint-sized firecracker and the Pulaski seems perfect to honor her. I’ll be running the Queensboro for my great grandparents who were taken from us when I was little. During my toughest times, my Mamaw has been a beacon of light even after she passed. And their loss had such a profound effect on my life that it only seems deserving that I honor them with this bridge that is such a critical point of this course. (And the only one without cheerers.) The Willis Avenue Bridge will be run for my Uncle Buck who left us on my birthday eight years ago. I can hear him making jokes about the bridge name in my head. Miss you, Uncle Buck! The last bridge–Madison Ave Bridge–will be run for my friend, Bobby, who died while night spearfishing in Hawaii a little over a year ago. This last bridge will also be run for other friends who left us too soon.

So what are the lessons learned from the marathon so far? I’ve learned that I am much stronger and more determined than I thought. That my body can endure things that I thought I was too old or weak for and that my mind can will my body through when it is suffering. That my mind and body have an amazing ability to find strength in adversity. I learned that my support network is broader and stronger than I ever realized. And that support can come from unlikely places — people you have just met, your laundromat attendant, colleagues you have never worked with, random runners on the subway, and so many puppies that just want to run with me so badly when I pass by. I’ve learned that running can literally be a pain the ass. (Come on, Piriformis, calm down already.) That it is possible to run so much that you can’t sleep and aren’t hungry. That it is possible to strap a pack to your back with a change of clothes (or swimsuit) and run anywhere to hang out–or brunch. ALL THE BRUNCH. And for the first time I since I started running, I am finding running with friends more enjoyable than running solo.

I was really lucky to have a friend set up a Facebook group for friends who were training for Fall marathons. Through the group, I met new friends and deepened my friendships with others. We trained almost every weekend together and then, of course, brunched after. These women are so special to me and I am almost more excited about them running this thing than me! They are my running family and I am so excited to take on this challenge with them and celebrate our accomplishment together after the race. And who knows what we will all take on next. Let’s hit those trails, ladies!

It hardly seems real that this is happening. All my preparation is done excluding a short 20 minute run today to shakeout my legs. My pre-race layers, race outfit, fuel, post-race outfit/bag are already planned and set out. So I have all day for it to set in that this is real and it is happening. In about 30 hours, if it goes to plan, I will be a marathoner. NYC, I here I come.


If you want to track me tomorrow, you my Facebook and Twitter will be auto-updating as I run the course. You can also download the iOS/Android app or use NYRR’s web-based tracking.

Name: Donna Cole
Bib: 51257

Flat Brandi
Flat Brandi: NYC (first!) Marathon edition

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