My First Marathon

Warning: Long. Sorry I just had to get it all down, scintillating or not!

The marathon weekend started with rest ... lots of rest. I slept in Saturday morning, thanks to M, and took the day really easy. We did the Farmer's Market, took the kids to the park, and all napped in the afternoon. Then M/W came over to watch the boys and Michael and I went to our Team World Vision dinner. It was a pizza/pasta place in Manhattan, and we took the subway, ending up at a station with 4 looong flights of stairs to get out, plus 10 blocks to get there. Not a bad commute really, but my legs felt those stairs and it got me a bit worried.

It was one of those awkward affairs where no one knows anyone else, you've got something in common but when that topic is run dry you often wonder where to go next. People were focused on the next day really, and so there wasn't much real conversation. I did get to meet Ryan and Sarah Hall (the 2 on the left above) who were the team captains for Team World Vision. (Ryan is the only person ever to break the one-hour mark for a half marathon, among other accomplishments). They came and chatted a bit to everyone, and it was nice to meet them ... they seemed super down-to-earth as far as celebrity runners go, not that I've met any others. There wasn't a hint of celebrity-itis though. Then home, putting out my things for the next day, getting the boys to bed (M again) and trying to get to sleep. I actually did sleep a lot more than I expected, and got about 6 hours thanks to the time change.

Up early, chip clipped on, all my 'favorite' running gear plus throw-away clothes for the start. It was in the high 30's when I left the house, and gradually warmed up but never above high 40's I don't think.
Herm? Yes, HerM. Short for Her Majesty, and a nickname I adopted aeons ago but haven't used much in recent years. Somehow it seemed appropriate for the race, especially as one of my friends who uses it the most was the first one to get me running after I got out of college. Not that I kept it up, but the memories are all good. Thanks S :).

I shared a car with a friend from the 'hood who was also running, as we had the same transportation assignment: 7am at the Staten Island Ferry. The NYC marathon is the largest in the world, with 38000+ starters this year. That means logistics that verge on the insane. Getting 40000 people to an island, instructing thousands of newbie volunteers, feeding a crowd from many countries, lining them up by corrals, abilities, and start village and start waves. Green, Blue, and Orange start villages, each one starting on a different portion of the Verrazano Bridge. Three waves for each, starting 20 minutes apart. 6 corrals for each wave to further subdivide by expected speed, and you have mayhem. Announcements in multiple languages, acres of port-a-potties, chattering teeth, cold wind, surprisingly calm nerves on my part, and people of all countries and speeds and ages hunting for patches of sun, stretching, eating, and killing time. I had to wait 2.5 hours from the time I arrived on Staten Island to crossing the starting line, and it's a long time to wait in the cold and try to stay limber and calm.

I'd decided a week ago that a 4:15 marathon was a realistic challenge for me. I trained for a 4 hour one until 6 weeks ago, got tendinitis and had to slow down, so didn't feel ready to run 26.2 at a 9 minute pace. They had pace teams for many goal times, and I went the join a 4:15 one but there weren't any starting with my Orange start group. All three groups merge at mile 8 but I figured the chances of finding the group at the merge, marked only by balloons on a stick, were in the 'none' category. I'd given up and was heading to my starting corral when I spotted a 4:15 pace group sign in a woman's hand, along with green balloons. I made a beeline, asked if I could start with her Green pace group despite my Orange bib, and she thought it was fine. I determined to glue myself to her side for the entire race. That meant wandering with her thru the crowds, picking up other bewildered wanna-be-4:15's, going to wrong entrances and being redirected, and walking an extra mile or more just to get to the starting line.

My biggest fear of the whole deal, aside from finishing with my desired time (which everyone says is a bad idea for your first marathon, esp in NY, just aim to finish!) was to finish without stopping to use the bathroom. I'd never done a run over 12 miles without having to stop, and I knew I'd lose the team if I did in the race, let alone shooting holes in my time. I went once in the start village, and never looked back, even bypassing my last shot at it alongside the start corrals. I made it to the end, and an hour past that, without ever needing the bathroom! I was as pleased with that as almost anything.

So, the start ... if you've read this far you're doing well! It really did take forever to get there in real life, so bear with me :). I was bunched up in the starting corrals with about 12,000 other runners, shed my sweats and fleece jacket (adding to the mountains along the side of the lane), and stood there shivering and hopping up and down in my shorts, t-shirt, and a tyvek disposable jacket I'd bought at the expo. I planned to shed it as soon as I warmed up, but never did enough to shed it completely. Thankfully it weighed nothing! So we finally hear the gun for our wave go off (the 2nd group) and the cheering began. Then the shuffle ... the agonizing 5 minutes of shuffling up the lane, around the turn, onto the actual bridge, and then a thinning out and slow trot to cross the starting line 7 minutes after the gun! They play Sinatra's New York New York nice and loudly, and you really have to watch your feet for the first several miles as there's a gradually thinning mess of discarded jackets, hats, gloves, pants, and wraps littering the roadway that you have to weave around. A big, anticlimactic relief to finally be underway. Finally! After 23 months of running, 4 months of intense training, and 6 hours since I'd woken up.

The first few miles were a blur. Finding the pace, feeling my muscles loosen up and settle in, matching my strides to the pace leaders, and relaxing into it all. The joy of actually running! I've found that joy a lot in the last 6 months, the training had become hugely enjoyable in it's own right, apart from the goal. It's like I can finally relax when I run in a way I can't anywhere else. I love it :). We came off the bridge and started through Brooklyn, and the fan-factor kicked in. The crowds gradually grew, until 4th avenue became a solid wall of spectators, bands, enthusiasm, and reaching out of hands for miles. I had 3 people to look for along that chunk, and alas didn't see any of them :(. I was on the opposite side of the street than what I'd told them due to my last minute defection from Orange, and we just didn't connect. Those miles made me realize how much I love Brooklyn. The diversity, exhuberance, reality, and joy coming out to share in the race, cheering on everyone equally, and I enjoyed it more than any other part.

Then came Lafayette Ave, and my home turf. Oh the joy of running up the street, knowing you'll see your kids in a few blocks, knowing the terrain by heart, and just plain feeling at home! M and the boys, and another family we're friends with, were waiting for me at the agreed-upon corner. I'd run a bit ahead of my pace group to give myself an extra 3 seconds (literally) to stop and kiss the boys. That I did, said Hi to M and was gone again in a blur, ending up right next to my group again. The thought of seeing them and the initial euphoria of the race kept me super-energized up till then, even though the effect of the pace (9:45mm) on my legs was registering in a dim part of my brain. It honestly registered in the first 2 miles, but I decided to ignore it and hold out as long as I possibly could.

After passing them, we turned left on Bedford, I missed another 2 groups who had signs out for me :(, and we headed towards Williamsburg. The bands were great, with more sparse crowds but never a lack, and I started to realllly feel the pace. My left ankle started to protest, and I wondered at that point how I could possibly keep it up at that rate for another 16 miles. I prayed, started mind games for distraction, and somewhere in there started comparing the pain of it all to giving birth. It became a great game, as I kept telling myself that running for another 2.5 hours in increasing pain had nothing on the pain I felt giving birth to Douglas. No comparison. After mile 13 we started over the Pulaski bridge, and I picked up a bit with the change of scenery. A few fans were camped out on the struts of the bridge, one complete with radio, chair, and snacks. I also passed a port-a-potty there, perched up on the side supports where you'd have to climb about 2.5 feet up to get to it. I doubted I could hop up that high at that point!

The fans in Queens, all 2 miles of it, were great. The area was a bit more 'gritty' than Williamsburg that we'd just left, and the crowds more sparse but loud and friendly. I was starting to get lost in a fog, and don't remember much else about Queens to be honest. I remember thinking I like the vibe of this place, but don't want to live here.

Then the longer Queensboro bridge, and it's lovely incline. More watching the pounding calves of the pace leaders, looking down and not up, and becoming aware of muscles I didn't know I had.
We rounded the curve at the bottom of the bridge and were in Manhattan. I'd been told about the great cheering hordes, and the energy boost that came with them. There were a few screaming happy fans at the bottom of the bridge, but a most of them were virtually silent. Waiting for "their" runners I suppose? Lots of signs, some cheering, but nothing like what I'd expected. At a few points along First Avenue, UP first Avenue ... the LONG FOUR MILES OF FIRST AVENUE, there was lots of energy, but I didn't think it was there for most of the way. Perhaps part of that was hitting my own personal wall around mile 18, thinking I couldn't possibly run OUT of Manhattan at that point and then back in and down again, and wishing I were back in Brooklyn and feeling a bit more at home. I really felt a bit alien there.

Watching for my cousin at mile 17 was a good distraction, but in the hordes of same-color-ponchoed volunteers I never did find her. Water stations were on both sides of the street, I couldn't watch both at once, and it's a wide enough avenue that it's hard. Not to mention the incredible litter of cups, the 1/4 mile of sticky pavement after every Gatorade station, and trying to grab water without slowing down. Not to mention drinking it :). I went really easy on water, having drunk a lot the day before and a good bit early in the morning. I skipped at least every other water station, sometimes two.

Relief finally came with the sight of the Willis Ave bridge, and another change of scenery. I was honestly glad to leave manhattan at that point, having not felt connected to it at all. My joints were in agony, and my lower body was starting to go numb, but the numbers playing in my head were starting to tip in my favor. 19 down meant 7 to go, and 7 was a tolerable number. Hitting mile 20 in the Bronx, and knowing I had only an hour to go? The balance really started to shift. I can tolerate an hour of anything, right? Some mind game like that. Mentally, the end was in sight.

The big distraction in the Bronx was the green thong. I was coming up the Willis Ave bridge and saw a large expanse of bare white backside to my right, and blinked in shock. I thought I'd seen it all ... bras and undies, costumes, suits, headgear, you name it. Nope, this guy took the award for most disturbing look of the day. Tall, not particularly sculpted, with lanky hair spiked up in the middle ... ALL he was wearing was a lime green thong type thing that barely covered anything, and stretched up over his shoulders. More disturbing that way than even a normal thong. And to be honest he didn't look at all like he was running to a model shoot anywhere either. Shiver. It helped me speed up just to get past him! (Update: did a google search and discovered he was wearing a wig, and dressed as the character Borat. Click here at your own risk!)

Coming off the bridge my pacer (the one of the 3 I'd stayed glued to) was tripped accidentally by another runner, and went down hard. I stopped and turned around, made sure she was up and relatively ok, and went on at her behest. She caught right up with me and kept the pace for another 1.5 miles before disappearing behind me. I felt badly, but nothing you can do really!

The fans in the Bronx were great. Gummy-bear-hander-outers, bananas, orange slices, enthusiasm, more loud bands and a great group of drummers, and a joie-de-marathon day that was like a breath of warm air. I wanted one about then, the cold was still cold, and my body starting to really feel it. Thankfully I'd never ditched the jacket, and shrugged it back on again.

After losing my pacer I spotted the other two not more than 100 yards ahead of me, but it took almost 2 miles for me to catch them. It felt even more like chasing those mechanical rabbits at the greyhound track, at least as I imagine it. Weaving, bobbing, gauging how fast to get there with the least amount of energy ... it distracted me all the way back into Manhattan and almost to Central Park. I caught the next group there, and discovered that all the ones that she'd had with her had dropped back in the last 2 miles. She was glad to have someone join in again, and I was glad of the distraction and her oh-so-easy looking running. It was something like her 20th marathon. The one that fell? It was her 94th! She runs about 12 a year. She did finish btw, just a couple minutes off her pace.

Seeing Central park on my right was a big boost, and it was just a matter of finishing from there. I'd lost almost all feeling in my joints, was running on empty, and getting really really excited. I could taste it :). Counting down the minutes on my watch, knowing in half an hour it would all be over. Coming into the park at mile 24, I heard a "HEY B. R. !!" shouted out from my right and turned to see my cousin S cheering me on from the sidelines. SO nice!

Then just a matter of getting around the corner, vaguely hearing the screaming masses on Central Park South (very different from 1st Ave!) and watching the 400 yards to go, 300 yards to go count down. I left the pace lady for the last half mile just to push it as hard as I could, and couldn't believe the finish was actually there. I managed to see the eternal grin on the face of the woman directing people to split to the right or the left right before the line (what a great job!), crossed the finish with my hands in the air (for the photos of course ;), checked my watch and was thrilled with it's 4:14 time, and then tried to walk. I was a bit emotionally overcome, shaky, and the Gatorade i'd snitched a couple miles back for a wee bit of energy was wreaking havoc on my stomach, I can't stand the stuff when I'm exercising! I had a medal put over my head, a heatsheet taped around me, and I kept shuffling. I found my pace ladies on the sidelines, thanked them effusively and made sure they knew I would NEVER have made 4:14 without them. Then I hyperventilated for almost 10 minutes as you're forced to crawl along this narrow road to get to your UPS baggage truck, and I felt awful, claustrophobic, and wanted to sob. I eventually evened out, nibbled on an apple from my food bag, huddled in my heatsheet, and chatted a bit with my fellow exhausted and salt-crusted finishers.

I retrieved my baggage, put on an extra layer, called M who was across the street at the Natural History Museum, and made my way over to where he was waiting. See the look in my eyes? Douglas too the pic, and it's a pretty fair assessment. A most wonderful day.

I think I'll do it again sometime :). Must be like giving birth, you forget the pain and want to do it all over again. Perhaps not 94 times, but maybe a couple more? We'll see. For now I'm thrilled,
Home again. Stinky, medaled, happy, and so very relieved. All the stats can be found here, just do a search on my name.

My first marathon :)


To all those who have already donated, I'm so very very thankful. Once I finally worked up the courage to send the emails, you all have responded and amazed me. I'm halfway to my goal of $3000 already, and in just 2 days :). Thank you and thank God. Have a great weekend!

a new milestone ...

Well, I've upped my distances yet again, and can now say I've run 12 miles at a stretch! And for the record, 4 of those miles were hills. We spent last week in the Berkshires while my husband worked there, and the hill running was easier than I expected, and the payoffs huge! My thighs and calves are definitely bigger. I did a 9 mile last sunday that was all hills, and just a couple short ones this week as I rest up for my first Half Marathon this Saturday! I'm excited, nervous, and can't wait. My friend P is coming to watch the kids while I run, as DH is gone for a month as of this morning. I do hate the solo parenting and begging for childcare, but life goes on. I'll report in afterwards!

best ever

ran 9.5 miles last sunday, whew! then walked for another mile, then walked 2.5 more later (much later!) that night. never knew it would take 2 miles of manhattan hunting for crab rangoon at midnight, and still not find it. sigh.

felt wonderful. makes the marathon seem that much closer!

i hope to run another 4 miler tomorrow, though the crappy weather means it won't be scored. it will still count as one of my 9 though for guaranteed entry next year (just in case)

joined the Y too and did my first workout there yesterday, weights and biking. the variety is great and will really help my endurance i think.

amazing how much it really is about mind games when the mileage starts to creep up. just getting out the door, convincing myself to do another lap. fighting negative self-talk. then getting close to a new record and feeling amazing and flying right on by my original goal and doing extra.

High Points

Broke the 5-mile barrier finally, though not since then ... been depressed about not getting in, and the weather is horribly hot and muggy. Forced myself to run this AM and was so glad I did! Felt great afterwards, as I always do ...


Next Goal is to run a 10K on July 14th in Central Park. I have to find a sitter as Michael is working that day (and every other day between now and August 30th except for Sundays ...) but that's doable. I will have to run at least 6-8 times between now and then to get in shape. I don't have a time I'm aiming for, but 1:10 would be wonderful for me.