No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn
The 2019 TCS New York City Marathon had 53,627 finishers. I was one of them.
In what will likely be my most memorable ever running experience, I ran 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of the greatest city on the planet - and while everything didn't quite go as I'd planned, it is certainly an experience I'll never forget.
I applied for the 2019 NYC Marathon ballot on January 17th, without ever thinking I would actually get in. 41 days later, on February 27th, I received an email with the subject "Greg, Get Ready to Run the Streets of New York City!" Wait...what?! Fast forward a few hours later that day, and flights were booked (thanks Kerry!) We were actually going back to New York. I really was going to run the New York City Marathon!
As well as giving a race report of the run itself, I'll also use this post to talk about the marathon expo too, because it's a huge part of the overall race experience and really adds to the excitement of it all.
I spent the weeks and months in the run up to the race reading other peoples blogs, and watching vlogs all about the run, so I'm super excited to share this post with you all, and I hope that maybe in preparation for future NYC Marathons, someone somewhere will find this useful.
The Marathon Expo
The first thing I had to do was get along to the marathon expo and pick up my race number and shirt, so we headed to Manhattan on Friday morning and got along to stand in line before it opened at 10am. The expo takes place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (it is HUGE), which is in the Hudson Yards area of the city, so it's pretty easy to get to. We got there at around 9.30am and I'm so glad we did because the line just kept getting bigger by the minute.
When the doors eventually opened there was a huge cheer from the crowds and the volunteers and we (the runners) were clapped into the exhibition hall by the volunteers, which I thought was a real nice touch. We were quite near the front, so there was almost no line at all to pick up my number and shirt which was a relief as I'd read beforehand that the queues can get pretty crazy! With my number collected, we then had a wander around the rest of the convention and the first part you get to is the official New Balance marathon store that is absolutely huge, and filled with all sorts of official marathon gear. There is so much cool stuff in there and it would be easy to spend a fortune - but I knew what I wanted (new shorts) so we didn't spend too much time in there.
Once I'd paid for the shorts, we were then through into what could be described as the main expo hall - I guess if you're used to running these big marathons then you'd be used to this sort of stuff, but the only thing I could really relate it to is the Offshore Europe expo that happens here in Aberdeen every other year. There were a ton of different exhibitors each offering all sorts of different thing - you could literally come here and pick up your entire running kit; headphones, watch, sunglasses, underwear and shoes! Just as with the NB store, it would be so easy to spend so much money. So we had a wander round, stopped at a few different stalls and bought a few different bits and pieces as will as grabbing a bunch of samples. I'd definitely recommend picking up some Biofreeze samples - those little sachets can be invaluable when you're in a tough spot during a race!
One of the cool things about the marathon expo is the name wall. It's a huge wall displaying the names of the five boroughs of New York and also displays the name of every runner. It's all sorted alphabetically by surname, and it's easy enough to find your name, so it's a pretty cool photo to get! It really does make you realise the enormity of the whole thing, when you see all those other names surrounding yours. It was quite a humbling moment for me.
Another cool photo opportunity (you are running the NYC Marathon after all - you are entitled to millions of photos!) is getting your picture in front of the giant medal, whilst holding your race number. There was a short line here, but it was worth the wait because it is a really cool photo and absolutely one for your Instagram!
And with that, we were done and it was time to explore Manhattan. We made our way out of the expo hall and to our amazement, there was still a line of people waiting to get in! I really can't state how important it is to get there early to avoid these queues!
The one thing I have always been pretty nervous about with the NYC marathon is race morning. Everything I'd read made it seem like such a journey to get yourself on the starting line. I already knew that I had to get an Uber, to get on a ferry, to then get on a bus - it all seemed pretty overwhelming, coupled with the fact my alarm was set for 04.45!
However, by the time I'd made it to the ferry terminal, I definitely began to feel a lot less nervous. There were so many people there! I had around 40mins to kill before my ferry, so I grabbed some water, and took a seat to wait it out.
We then boarded the ferry and I grabbed a seat, and took in the incredible sunrise views of Manhattan as we made our way to Staten Island. The ferry only took around 25mins, and we were there in no time. From there, it was off the ferry, and a short 10min walk to make our way to queue for the busses. By the time I eventually got on a bus, there was no seats left, so I had so stand for the journey to the start village at Fort Wadsworth. I think the journey took around 30mins, but it felt like forever because I was standing, and it was super hot on the bus too!
Finally, we made to Fort Wadsworth, and after a quick security check, we were finally in the start village, which was already absolutely packed with people. I was assigned Orange Wave 2, with a 10.10 start time, so I made my way to the orange area in search of some hot coffee, something to eat, and a seat. Thankfully, in the start village, there is plenty going on; Dunkin' Donuts are there providing coffee, bagels (and hats - make sure to grab one as they are super warm!), Honey Stinger were handing out crackers, you could also get bananas water & Gatorade.
With coffee and a bagel firmly in my grasp, I took a seat on the ground and took some time to relax - it was still around 1.5 hours away from start time. I got chatting to some of the people around me, which definitely helped not only pass the time, but it was good to talk to someone who had some experience of this race. There was still so much time to kill, but that was easily sorted by standing in line to use the toilet. There was hundreds of them, but the lines were still so long! I’ve come to accept that it seems to be pretty standard at every race on the planet now…
Eventually, the time came to make my way to the starting corrals. After so long waiting around in the cold, it was good to get up and around and get the legs moving! It was a short 10min walk over a field where it splits everyone up by their assigned coral. There was also another opportunity to grab a cool photo, so of course, I took it.
I arrived at the corral, and after waiting around for another 10mins or so, it was soon time to walk to the starting line. There was music playing over the speakers, the sun was shining, everyone was buzzing – the atmosphere was electric! After a short walk, here we were at the start line on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge - after months of excitement, I was finally here! I was BUZZING!
There was a DJ getting everyone pumped up, playing tunes to get us in the mood, before it was then time for the national anthem. The American runners all joined in with the singing, whilst I just looked around and took it all in. The girl who sang the anthem was also due to take part in the race itself, starting in a later wave, which I thought was pretty cool.
Then the countdown started...10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
BOOM! The cannon fired, and we were off. I hit play on my headphones and that ever familiar drum solo that kicks off Born To Run by The Boss, Bruce Springsteen filled my ears, with his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey only a stone throw away.
"...In the day, we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream..."
I knew it was going to be a long, slow climb at the start as we made our way over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which was around 2 miles, so I tried my best to take my time. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't get caught up in it all - the atmosphere was electric, and it was hard not to get a little boost from the energy of it all. I couldn't stop smiling. I'd only been running for about 2mins and already couldn't believe how amazing it was!
For it being a steady incline over around 2 miles, I really didn’t notice it at all, and before I knew it, we had arrived in Brooklyn – and the crowds started to appear. As we made our way into the area of Bay Ridge, and 4th Avenue, which would be our home for the next 5 miles or so – the noise from the crowds became electric.
These crowds were unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a run before. For the first couple of miles, it was just incredible; people lining every single inch of both sides of the street, bands playing loud on every other street corner, and people holding up some of the most hilarious, and inspiring signs I’ve ever seen! For this stretch of the run, I really didn't need my music, so I had it turned down pretty low, only ever turning it back up when one of those songs would come on. These crowds would continue to be as crazy right through until around mile 10, where we entered the more traditional Jewish area of South Williamsburg, where it got a little quieter for a couple miles.
I was still feeling good at this point too - my legs were feeling strong, I was making good pace, and I wasn't getting too tired either. I'd be lying if I said the crowd didn't have some sort of effect on me though, it really did make those 10 miles fly by. There is also an abundance of water stations on the route, with water & Gatorade available near enough every mile. Honestly, this race had everything - during this stretch of the run, I punched an inflatable Donald Trump, rattled a tambourine, hit a Super Mario mushroom power up, all on top of countless high fives. The was even a guy with "Springsteen" on the back of his shirt, so naturally, I gave him a "BRRUUUUUCCCCEEEEE" as I ran past.
Somewhere between miles 11 & 12, I managed to spot Kerry, who had been waiting for me at the side of the street. It was a much needed boost for me at this time in the run, as my legs had actually began to tire, and I had started to feel some pain in my feet. So I grabbed a quick hug, and I was on my way again, heading for the halfway mark.
Here's where the problems started...
Much like the Cyprus Marathon earlier this year, as I approached the half way mark, my feet began to hurt like hell. The soles of my feet were seriously sore, and it started slowing me down significantly. I went from running between 8/9 min miles over the first 12 miles to somewhere between 10/12 min miles - which was not ideal, but it couldn't be helped as every step was pretty much hurting. I trained for a sub-4 hour marathon, I set off with a sub-4 hour finish in mind, but now I knew that was out the window. It was incredibly frustrating as nothing like this had happened over the course of my training, but I just tried to put it out my mind and push myself on, albeit at a much slower pace.
The next few miles were pretty challenging, as I made my way towards the 14/15 mile mark, and the dreaded Queensborough Bridge - a section of the race that I knew was already going to be tough. My legs were already incredibly heavy, and a long, slow climb was the last thing I needed - but alas, you just have to get on with it, and of course, what goes up, must come down! I can't tell you how relieved I was when I reached the peak of that bridge, and was on my way downhill, and touch down in Manhattan.
For the next 4 miles I'd be running up First Avenue, towards The Bronx, and another incredibly challenging section of the course. Again, it was another slow, gradual climb, but mentally, it was just a case of taking it mile by mile and water stop by water stop - and I knew I'd get through it. It wasn't just my feet that were hurting now either, pretty much every muscle in my legs were taking it in turns to hurt! It was manageable though, and the crowds absolutely buzzing again, which was a welcome relief, after a rather eery, silent spell on the bridge. Honestly, the energy and support from the crowds really can dig you out from some dark places and get you going again - I swear, at the right moment, a high five from a little kid can be as effective as a week in the hospital!
First Avenue came to an end, and it was then time for two bridges in quick succession. First up was the Willis Avenue Bridge, before being followed by the Madison Avenue Bridge, which took us over mile 20 & 21 and into Harlem. Thankfully, neither of these bridges were anywhere near as challenging as the last and just as I touched down in Harlem, and the Biofreeze relief zone was in sight! I took the opportunity to get my quads, thighs and calves absolutely lathered in Biofreeze for the final 5 mile stretch. The cooling sensation was an unbelievable relief!
I was now on Fifth Avenue, and well and truly on the home straight! It wasn't long before I was running parallel to central park, and the excitement and relief were both starting to ramp up. I was basically running on empty over these last few miles, and if not for the crowds, I really think it would have been much, much, more of a struggle.
Mile 24 took us into Central Park itself, and at this point I got a second wind - I forgot about the pain in my legs, and just tried my best to enjoy the crowds, and run these last couple of miles with a smile on my face... plus, I was running downhill again! To make things even better, I spotted Kerry again just after the mile 25 marker! I was delighted to know that she's made it from Brooklyn to Central Park. With one mile to go, this was exactly what I needed.
The end was in sight, and it was time for one last push. It must have been a combination of the adrenaline and the buzz from the crowd, but over the final mile, I actually recorded my fastest split since mile 11! I passed through the grandstand area, and gave one final push to get myself across the finish line - I DID IT! There was such a mixture of emotions when I crossed the like - sheer joy, utter relief and pure amazement... I'd just completed the New York City Marathon! I stepped over the finish line with a time of 04:30:22 - not quite what I was hoping for, but it was a new PB by 22 seconds, and at the end of the day, a PB is a PB.
After running 26.2 miles, you'd think it would be nice to be able to, you know, grab a seat, and rest for a minute... but that wasn't to be the case! Once we crossed the finish like, we had to walk a bit further to pick up our medal, then we had to walk a bit more to get our heat sheet, then walk just a bit more to get our recovery bags, at that point the line split into two depending on the finishing option you selected, where I then had to walk even further to pick up my post race poncho. All in all, we probably had to walk over a mile after finishing the race, which wasn't very fun - I found it a little ridiculous and probably was my only gripe with the whole experience. One thing I would say about the post race is experience is that almost everyone is super friendly - just about every single person I walked past would congratulate me in some sort of way, which is awesome, and really helped hit home what I'd just achieved.
The post race poncho is a pretty cool souvenir, and it does a great job of keeping you warm. I would definitely recommend going for this option if you don't really need a bag of stuff at the end. Eventually, probably around 30mins after finishing, I was finally able to meet up with Kerry and get a much needed hug! I know it's probably needed for security, etc in these big races, but waiting so long to see someone you actually know after you finish can be quite draining! It was then time to make our way back to Brooklyn, which was a whole adventure in itself - the last thing you need after finishing a marathon is to wander around from subway stop to subway stop because the one you need is closed!
After arriving back at the hotel, and collapsing in a heap on the bed, I quickly came to the realisation that I was in no fit state to go anywhere that evening. So it was time for takeaway from Joe's Pizza and a much needed beer!
I'm gonna finish this post here - I apologise for the length of this post, but I had a lot to cover! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it. Before I go, I'd like to finish this post with some important thank you's:
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