Well, she did it. There was never any question in my mind wether she would. I’ll let her tell you about it. One word- riveting!
This. Is. It.
I’m standing in my corral at the base of the Verranzano-Narrows bridge, waiting for the cannon to blast that starts the third and final wave of the 2011 New York Marathon. Usually when I line up for a race, I think “forward”, meaning that I plan my strategy and picture myself crossing the finish line. This time, though, I think back: months of long runs, years of sticking to my goal weight, thousands of negative thoughts that Peter K has taught me to replace with positive ones. I think about how much stuff I’ve worked through to get myself to this very spot, while squashed up against thousands of other people waiting for our race to start. And the only new thought in my head is “I got this.”
The cannon finally blasts and we start our run. The first mile is slow, very slow. And no, it’s not because I’m pacing myself well and holding back for the final miles. It’s because it is so darned crowded that I can’t even run. Tons of people are already walking, and though I tell myself that it’s their race, too, and they should do it anyway they want, I am seriously annoyed that they are in my way. Finally, though, I see this tiny woman (shorter than me, and I’m 5’0” when I round up), with a sign that says “Greta From Ireland” on the back of her shirt. Clearly an NFL player in her former life, this woman is practically slicing the crowd and finding seams to wiggle through that I didn’t even see. I get on her tail and stick with her for the first two miles. During that time, I pass my friend, Karen. Karen and I trained a bit together and hung out before the race started. She was in the corral in front of me, so we parted company when it was time to line up. As I pass her I tap her shoulder and say, “Tag, you’re it!”
By mile 3 we’re somewhere in Brooklyn, and the street is wide enough that I don’t need Greta From Ireland to clear a path for me anymore, so I decide to stop running two steps behind her and instead start to chart my own course. I try to soak in every minute, every band playing, every person cheering. But, to be honest, I’ve kind of fallen into a good groove and I’m really not focusing on anything except myself.
The first 6 miles are an absolute breeze. I mentally pat myself on the back for having trained so well, even with an injured foot, injured neck, bronchitis, and all the other stuff that life has decided to throw at me for the last few months. The weather is perfect, and my feet are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.
By mile 10, I’m not feeling as confident anymore. My knee is SCREAMING in pain, and I do Peter K’s old “pull over and stretch” trick. I kind of jump into the crowds of Brooklyn so that I can hold onto a street sign while I stretch. When I’m done, I step back onto the course, and hear a spectator saying “Good job, Alison, keep going!!!” I had forgotten I had my name on my shirt, enabling total strangers to cheer for me, and I am now absolutely thrilled that I did that. I really needed that pick me up.
At mile 11, I get nervous. This mile is always my own personal Achilles heel. But, I had planned ahead. My brother and his wife and kids are waiting for me at about mile 11.5, and I start looking for them. I run a bit faster to get to the street where they are supposed to be – and there they are. My brother’s kids made a sign for me that’s bright pink with red letters that says, “We love you, Aunt Ali! You rock!” Let me tell you, a bright pink sign written in crooked kid writing was just the best thing I read all day. Seeing my brother and his family with a sign made just for me totally put the wind back in my sails. My sister-in-law even ran with me for a block or two, telling me how proud they all were of me. Forget energy gels and sports drinks; that was the perfect boost.
At mile 13 we FINALLY leave Brooklyn (nothing against any Brooklynites reading this, just half the damned marathon is in one borough!). On the Pulaski bridge heading into Queens, the organizers put up a sign that says, “13.1. Half way!” Let me tell you, this sign had none of the powers that my pink “We love you Aunt Ali” sign had. All this one did was make me think, “If I was running a half marathon, I’d be done now.” Not a helpful thought when I had 13.1 miles to go. But, I decide to turn a negative thought into a positive one, so once again, I think “I’ve got this.”
For two miles, we run through a very industrial part of Queens, winding our way around streets and lining up to run over the Queensborough bridge. Now, for a lot of my training runs I ran along the FDR drive, which takes a person UNDER the bridge. And on most of my runs I’ve looked up at the bridge and thought, “Wow, that bridge looks like it will be really hard to run,” and then I’ve just kind of dismissed that thought. Well, I should have thought about it a bit more. The short version of running over that bridge is that it completely sucked out my will to live. Seriously, I really think that I dropped my desire to live long and prosper somewhere on that bridge.
The bridge has about a 1/3 of a mile incline that I run up, but then I notice that I am the ONLY person I could see who is actually running it. Everyone else is walking, having clearly also been beaten up by the most hellish part of the course. After that, we run about a ½ mile on the flat part, but by then it was too late. I had already mentally given up. The next fan I was going to see was my husband’s sister on 83rd and 1st. She lives on 83rd and 2nd, so my plan was to just make it to her, ask her to take me to her apartment, and call Wil and ask him to pick me up and take me home.
The organizers had a sign on this bridge, too. This time, the sign said, “If you’re idea of ‘easy’ is 10 miles to go, then welcome to easy”. I think the sign was supposed to make us laugh, but all it did was beat me up even more. I can’t run 10 more miles. Forget it.
But, then I hear my name. There are no spectators on the Queensborough Bridge, so I can’t understand who is calling me. I turn my head and see my friend Karen, the same friend who I had tagged on the Verranzano-Narrows bridge as we left Staten Island. What a sight for sore eyes. She comes running up to me with a big grin on her face and says something like “We’re doing this. We’re amazing!” I think about it. She’s right. We are doing it, and we are amazing. I ditch my plan of dropping out on 83rd street and keep going. We make it down the very steep (read: exceptionally painful) downhill end of the bridge and spill out onto First Avenue in Manhattan.
Ah, Manhattan. My home. I was born here. I was raised here. And for a brief moment I think I’m going to die here on this very spot. But Karen is keeping me going, talking to me about how great we’re both doing. Karen has a system where she runs for a few minutes, then walks for one, then runs again, etc. This ends up working perfectly, because when she runs she’s faster than me. So, we run together and she pushes me to go just a bit faster, then she takes her walk break and I continue shuffling along.
At about 67th Street we see Karen’s husband, Joe, and her two daughters. Joe gives us each a hug and tells both of how great we’re doing. At 83rd Street we see my sister-in-law Tracy and her daughter. Tracy hands me a granola bar that I practically eat out of her hand. We keep going, and at 91st Street, my mom is standing there with my kids, Ben and Olivia. They are jumping up and down and screaming for Karen and me. I hug each kid, and my mom fiddles with her camera to take my picture as my legs start to cramp up from crouching down to be the same height as Ben and Olivia. I want to linger with my family, but Olivia brings me back to reality when she shouts, “Go, Mom. Go!” So, I take off again.
At 125th Street and First Avenue, my husband, Wil is waiting for me. He gives me a hug and a kiss, and doesn’t even complain about how gross and sweaty I am at that point. He asks, “How are you doing?” and I reply, “Better, now.” He pumps me up with a few quick words, gives Karen a hug and sends us both off to the Bronx and the dreaded mile 20.
The Willis Avenue bridge will take us to the Bronx, but this time I think “Nope, not again.” Everyone gets a medal for finishing, but they don’t give you anything extra for running up the incline of every bridge and letting it completely kick your ass. So, I tell Karen I’m walking up the bridge, and she happily slows to a walk herself.
Everyone says that mile 20 is where you “hit the wall”. I have to be honest; I’m not quite sure what that means. Allegedly, that’s where you slow down and think you can’t take another step. So, umm, didn’t that happen at the Queensboro bitch – er, bridge? Can you “hit the wall” at mile 16? We get over the incline of the bridge, and I start “running” again, and by that I mean that I’m shuffling like a 90 year old man recovering from a stroke.
We make it into the Bronx and run around a few different streets to get over to the Madison Avenue bridge to get back into Manhattan. This bridge doesn’t have such a sharp incline, so I “run” up and over it. I am elated to be back in Manhattan and at mile 21.
At 125th Street and Fifth Avenue, I see Wil again. Karen and I hug him again, and this time I know I hold on for an extra second or two. I really don’t think I can finish. Wil has known me for 16 years. He knows when I’m about to quit. He also knows my favorite mantra, so he bends down and whispers to me, “Honey, you got this.” I smile and know there is no way he’ll let me step off the race course, so I keep going.
At about 120th Street, Karen sees her husband on the left, and I see my friend, Stephanie, on the right, so we split up for the first time in 7 miles. Stephanie jumps into the street and starts running with me. She’s cheering, laughing, making me laugh. Her husband Alex is taking pictures of us while we run, and I remark to Stephanie that I’m going so slowly that Alex is walking and taking pictures and is easily keeping up with us. Stephanie ends up running almost an entire mile with me, which wouldn’t be such a big deal – except that she’s almost 7 months pregnant. I think to myself that if she can run almost a mile while pregnant and just in street clothes, then I can finish this up. Stephanie gets me to mile 24, gives me a fist pound and leaves me to finish on my own.
I look for Karen and actually see her ahead of me, but I have no energy to sprint and catch her. I decide I need to do this on my own, so I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. At 90th Street we turn into Central Park, and for this first time since that damned bridge at mile 16 I think that I’m actually going to make it.
In the park, the fans are screaming. Everyone is calling me by name, and I try to give a thumbs up as I pass them, but I can’t remember how to activate my own thumbs at that point. At one point we hit a big downhill and it just hurts too much so I slow to a walk. Then a total stranger with a think British accent calls out: “Hey, Alison! You’re almost done! Don’t give up now!” I turn to him and do manage to smile and pump my fist (what can I say; I’ve always been a sucker for a British accent), and actually pick up my pace a bit.
At 59th Street we leave the park and run west along Central Park South. At one point I hear my name and turn to see Susan, Peter K’s other guest blogger, calling and cheering me on. I smile and wave, and pick up the pace some more.
At the beginning of the day I told myself I wanted to finish in under 5 hours, 15 minutes. I had been on pace for that until the Queensboro bridge tried to kill me. Now I’m well past mile 25, but I’m at 5 hours and 22 minutes. “OK,” I think. “5:30 is good, too.” As I turn back into the park at Columbus Circle, for the first time in hours, I think “I’ve got this.” Now signs that the race folks put up are far more helpful: “400 yards to go,”, “300 yards to go,” etc. Finally, I see what is currently my favorite word in the English language: “Finish”. I throw my arms up in the air, and almost start to cry. I did it, with an official time of 5:28:11.
After the race I’m wrapped in my mylar blanket (which if you’re curious, keeps you warm for about 42 seconds), handed a bag of “recovery” food which I barely have the strength to carry, and am herded along with other finishers towards the baggage pickup. As I shuffle along and listen to all of my leg muscles tell me what they thought about me running 26.2 miles, and how they will not allow me to walk in a straight line for the next couple of days, all I can think is: “The 2011 New York City Marathon. Been there, ran that.” ☺