Welp, timewise, it’s not much of a secret that Sunday’s race was not the one I trained for. But time goals aside, New York City made sure it would be a day I won’t soon forget. Say what you will about rude New Yorkers, but let it be known that they absolutely become the best cheerleaders out there on the holiday that is Marathon Sunday. Lady Gaga’s “Applause” was one of my power songs in training; every time I listened to it I’d get pumped about the crowds I’d see on the first Sunday of November, so the title of this post is a nod to them. Let’s start from the beginning.
In the days leading up to this race several coworkers, friends, and fellow marathoners asked me if I was nervous about it. My honest answer was no, that I was a bit doubtful about whether I’d reach my time goal this time around, but regardless of whether it was going to happen I was more excited than anything. After all, it had been so long since I’d last run the race in 2009 and it’d been so long since there’d even been a New York City Marathon at all thanks to last year’s cancellation. I was also eager to experience running a marathon with my sister. Yesterday marked both mine and Emilia’s fourth marathons, but it was the first time we’d ever run the same one.
I was so happy to learn that my local bagel shop would be open at 5 a.m. on Sunday. We were able to get fresh bagels right before hopping in a cab to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, where we found Theodora and Fiona before boarding our ferry. Once it got moving, we had our first taste of post-Boston security when we noticed the Coast Guard escorting the ferry, complete with a huge machine gun.
Our second taste came after we exited the buses that brought us from the ferry terminal to Ford Wadsworth. Here, every runner was scanned, patted down, or sent through a metal detector. It seemed intense, but it moved pretty efficiently, and knowing everyone was being checked definitely made me feel more secure, especially after having been at Boston. A few minutes later, my former roommate, Amy, spotted me, and we briefly chatted as we continued on to the area for orange bibs.
After the mile-long walk to our start village, things started to feel a bit rushed and chaotic. Emilia and I originally thought that a 7:15 ferry for a 10:05 start would give us a comfortable window to take our time and get ready for the race, but as soon as we reached the orange village we heard announcements about baggage and corrals closing within minutes. What? They actually announced that corrals were closed while we were still in line to get in, but we were lucky enough to still make our way through. Like Chicago last year, I found myself shedding my throwaway layers just as the usual pre-race rituals began. To mix things up after a performance of the national anthem for Wave 1, our Wave 2 heard “America, the Beautiful,” and then, as per tradition, the cannons were fired and Frank Sinatra began serenading us with “New York, New York.” That was the first and only time I got butterflies and realized Oh my God, this is actually happening.
Emilia and I started very conservatively on the Verrazano Bridge and took in the sights, which included many helicopters (more security) and a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. This bridge is the highest elevation point of the entire course, and we started on the top level, so this part of the race made me truly feel on top of the world. We tried to keep the pace steady on the downhill descent into Brooklyn, where the never-ending crowds of spectators began. Everyone talks about the Wall of Sound on 1st Avenue, but 4th Avenue is really so much better. These are the miles where you still feel fresh and amazing, the kids are high-fiving you, and you just can’t stop smiling. Around Sunset Park a teammate of Emilia’s from her Houston running club caught up to us and then snapped some action shots while we were in Park Slope.
It was here that I spotted my roommate, Julie, who also saw me all the way across 4th Ave despite being my surrounded by other runners. A few blocks later, we were at my dad’s hotel, where he was waiting with his sign.
As much as I love 4th Avenue, it is kind of a drawback that the bib colors are still segregated during this stretch. As we made our way to North Slope I spotted both Rebecca and Cipriana on the right side, but they missed us all the way on the left side of such a wide street. Oh, well. Soon we were at BAM and the turn onto Lafayette, where the crowds really started to pick up. At mile 8 we spotted Kristi on the left and immediately started migrating to the right where we unexpectedly found Megan before seeing my friends and coworkers, Jamie and Kayley, at mile 9. I was so happy to have seen so many familiar faces in Brooklyn, but it was right around the uphill climb on Lafayette that I began to tune into how my body was feeling and realized that my knees were getting incredibly tight. Anxiety started to set in. I was no stranger to lower-body soreness at the end of my really long runs this training cycle, but I was totally unprepared to experience this kind of shutdown so early in the game. At this point I kept my negative thoughts to myself and continued trucking along with Emilia. We were still slightly behind on our goal pace, and as we made our way along Bedford to Greenpoint and the Pulaski Bridge the tightness crept into my quads, hips, and lower back, and I finally admitted that I was in pain. We hit the halfway point in 2:04, and Emilia said she was hurting too and knew a PR was out the window, but we weren’t injured, so we were going to finish together no matter how slowly that was going to be. That was the last time I let myself look at my watch until we reached the finish line.
The Queens part of the course is not my usual running route to the Queensboro Bridge, so I followed Emilia’s lead on these streets while she announced where we might see some personal spectators. At the base of the Queensboro we scoured the crowds for Emilia’s Astoria roommate, Mandi, and I thought I heard her call my name, but I couldn’t locate her. I later learned it was another coworker, Jhanteigh! Then it was time to head up the silent, steep, and seemingly endless bridge. Since I knew what was waiting on 1st Ave, the lack of spectators on the QB didn’t bother me. I just focused on reaching the top of the incline and the point where it would start to decline into Manhattan. Marathoners behind us began to yell things like “Runners, make some noise!” I couldn’t muster up any additional energy to reply, but I was grateful for the other runners around me who whistled and whooped in response. Finally, finally, we began to make our way down and around the underpass, where we were greeted by the roaring fans on 1st Avenue.
I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew for at least another mile or two, but not long after we came off the bridge, Emilia spotted another former roommate of hers, Amanda. I didn’t remember exactly where my other friends would be, but I knew everyone would be on the left, so we stuck to that side. The crowds were huge here, and I got a boost any time someone recognized my red singlet and yelled “PPTC!” or “Go, Prospect Park!” (Manhattan can’t get all the credit here, though. There were so many great PPTC supporters in all the boroughs!). Before this point, not that many people had noticed that Emilia and I were twins (maybe it was the lack of matching outfits?), but on 1st Ave we started hearing people cheering for us together or asking one another if we were twins. Whenever we overheard that, we turned and gave them a thumbs-up. As we hit mile 18, I was so excited to see Steph and Abby screaming their faces off, followed by another group of friends at the 30K mark. Then we were at the mile 19 water station being greeted by yet another past roommate of mine, Jenny!
Next up: the Bronx. Here’s where things got really tough. I took my first non-water-stop break on the Willis Avenue Bridge when the incline started to make all my tight muscles start screaming. After a minute or two of stretching, Emilia and I got moving again. The crowds were still wonderful here, and they pushed us through the mile to the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan. As we exited this bridge, Emilia heard “Go, Bentons!” and pointed out Coach Cane to me around mile 21. Then she said something about “only five miles left” and I grumbled something back about “more like 5 whole miles left.” But we knew Gabby and some more of Emilia’s Oiselle teammates would be at the mile 22 water station, so we focused on reaching that next. This checkpoint felt like it took so long to reach. I expected them to be right at mile 22 next to Marcus Gavey Park, but it was really more like 22.5. When we finally found them, Gabby gave me a hug and told me I looked great. I wondered if she knew she was lying. My stomach had started rejecting fuel at mile 16, and by 22 I couldn’t even handle a sip of Gatorade, so “great” is not how I imagined I was looking.
As Emilia and I headed down Harlem I noticed that we were getting closer to 110th Street. Instead of associating this with the dreaded 5th Avenue incline, I felt happy that we were almost on the last leg of this street. One more mile on 5th and then we’d be in Central Park. Then we could almost feel like we were almost done. 5th Ave along Central Park felt kind of lonely to me; there were still massive crowds cheering, but we didn’t see anyone we knew, and we missed our dad both here and on 1st Avenue earlier since the iPhone tracking app hadn’t worked for him. Thankfully, that lonely feeling didn’t last long. As soon as we entered the park at Engineers’ Gate I heard someone yell both of our names and turned to see Josie! That really raised my spirits since no one had told me to look out for them in CP. A few minutes later, I saw my college roommate Rachel, another great surprise in the park miles. I saw the mile 25 banner above us and tried to pick it up a little. Central Park South was coming, and when we hit it I finally started to believe the spectators yelling that we were almost there. The crowds were so enormous here, and I knew I probably wouldn’t see Jamie and Kayley again, but looking for them still distracted me from thinking Columbus Circle looked far away. Suddenly, we were there and turning back into the park. 400 meters to go. Check. Mile 26 banner. Check. 300 meters. Check. 200. Check. I don’t know if I’d call our pace at this point a kick, but I could definitely feel our speed picking up. We saw a sign that said 100 yards to go with the finish line not far beyond it. Emilia grabbed my hand and we started weaving through everyone around us to cross the finish line together. DONE.
As I mentioned, I didn’t look at my watch again after the halfway point, so I really didn’t know what to expect when I stopped it at the finish and looked down to see 4:49 and change. We could only laugh as Emilia pointed out that instead of new matching personal bests we now had matching personal worsts. On any other day I probably would have felt so crushed to be almost an hour slower than my goal, but all I could think about was how grateful I felt for having Emilia to run with me the whole time, for seeing so many friends along the way, and for all the strangers of New York who came out to scream encouragement at people they didn’t even know. The 2013 New York City Marathon was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I know it would have been so much harder to go it alone. I sort of hated this year’s slogan of “26.2 miles make it a race. YOU make it the marathon.” I thought it encouraged the misconception that “marathon” is a synonym for “race,” not a distance measured by 26.2 miles. (Come on, people. If you understand that 12 inches equal 1 foot, the fact that 26.2 miles equal 1 marathon should be a no brainer. There is no such thing as a “5K marathon.”) But as soon as I crossed that finish line I thought about how the “YOU” did not refer to the runners, it referred to all the New Yorkers out there, the ones who really make it Marathon Sunday. From the bottom of my heart, I am so thankful for each and every one of them.