Ed: in a follow-up to the piece Catherine wrote before heading off to the New York City marathon (which you can read here), she tells us about how the day unfolded and whether she attained her goals.
The day of the race
I was in the city that never sleeps and as I ventured out in the dark, shortly before 6am there was evidence that this was a city on the move. 47,000 people were making their way to Staten Island and far from being a lone runner on the streets of New York, I was met by others in old track pants, gloves and hats, all clutching their clear plastic bags packed with supplies. It was Sunday 6th November 2011: The New York City Marathon.
The perfect day for a marathon
It was going to be an incredible day with clear blue skies, glorious sunshine, cool temperatures and virtually no wind. It was a day of “no excuses” for marathon running.
I headed across Central Park on foot towards 6th Avenue and 54th Street to pick up the “Elite Runners” bus. I was privileged to have an elite starting place which included transport to the start with the professional athletes. The flashing lights of our Police Escort down 5th Avenue were the start of the excitement and the nerves.
Arriving on Staten Island, we were ushered into our heated tent to warm up and relax before the start. The girls shared tips on the course; discussed projected pace and split times and made frequent bathroom stops before being lead up to the start with just 20 minutes to go.
Standing on the start line of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with the iconic backdrop of the Manhattan skyline in the distance on a clear, cold day, one becomes acutely aware of how far 26.2 miles is. Manhattan, in all it’s breathtaking glory looks a long way away and if you’re running the marathon, it isn’t a straight route to get there. Once the canon fires the only means of transport to the finish is on foot.
It was 9.40am and the streets of New York were about to be electrified by the energy and excitement of thousands of runners all heading to Central Park. The enthusiasm of the residents of the five boroughs from Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan, cannot be contained in once sentence. From mile 2 when runners take the turn off the bridge and into Brooklyn, the party starts and it doesn’t stop for the next 24 miles. Bells, whistles, shouts, cheers, music and dancing from all ages and ethnicities, from the Italians in the Bay Ridge district of Brooklyn to the Orthodox Jews in Williamsburg – they all join in, and this is what makes New York, New York. And it’s what makes the New York Marathon with it’s bridges, hills, and concrete, pot-holed roads the greatest marathon in the world.
As I set off up the bridge for the first mile (one of the hardest on the course) the sound of footsteps, the cross-winds around my ears and the buzz of the helicopters over-head, focused my mind on what I was here to do. This year, I was running the New York City Marathon and my goal was to enjoy it; soak up the atmosphere; to listen to the shouts and the cheers; to notice the changing neighbourhoods; the signs, the sounds and the smells of New York City.
Whether to run
For weeks beforehand I had deliberated the wisdom of running a marathon despite many set-backs and a lack of training. I knew that I wasn’t fit enough to run a good time and that lead to much soul-searching and philosophical debate. Why do I run? It was a tough one to answer and threw out many interesting responses and further questions. The subject of the NYC Marathon provoked an emotional response. It wasn’t just about running, achieving and setting a new PB. The experience of running in New York – up 1st Avenue, down 5th Avenue and the undulations of Central Park, was something that I felt resonate in my heart. It was something I didn’t want to miss. I wasn’t injured and I reasoned that a marathon is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. So with just two weeks to go, I gave myself the challenge to get mentally strong enough to take on one of the biggest races.
I arrived in New York believing I could run a great time and shatter all previously held beliefs about marathon training. I was going to be the girl that believed so strongly that I made it happen. Being an experienced marathon runner, however, I knew that I was unlikely to be doing myself any favours by setting off at world record pace. So, I decided to run on how I felt and I quickly established a comfortable and conservative pace.
At the half way mark, I was able to make conversation with a guy I overheard proclaiming we were entering the Bronx. “You’re optimistic” I said, “we don’t hit the Bronx until mile 20….we’re only just entering Queens.” I was still running comfortably and was able to focus externally but I was starting to feel like I was working. I was sensible enough to know that being under-trained meant pacing myself for the last half which invariably is harder.
Around mile 14 in Queens someone held up a handmade sign which read “Caution, Kenyan Runners Ahead.” By this stage in the race, they were well ahead. So far ahead that Geoffrey Mutai was probably just about entering the park and well on his way to breaking the course record. He was to cross the finish line in 2.05.06. Exactly 1 hour and 2 minutes later, I was to follow him.
My official time: 3.07.06. It was going to be my slowest ever marathon but unlike the Mutai’s (Geoffery and Emmanuel) I wasn’t here to set a new course record or collect a prize. My prize was the sheer thrill, joy and exhilaration of running. No excuses.
I knew that the 20 mile marker would be the point at which I would know whether I had made the right decision to run a marathon. This is the point at which the mind takes over from the body and my mind told my body that it had been here before. As the 20 mile mark came in to view, I felt a wave of emotion, this was it: I was running the New York City Marathon and I only had another 10k to go.
As I ran through Marcus Garvey Park, I was able to admire the Brownstones in a way I hadn’t done before. My mind was focused but my eyes were open. I tried to ignore the fatigue setting in on the long climb up 5th Avenue between miles 22 and 23. I was nearing the turn into Central Park. The golden light streaming through the trees and the undeniable energy that is Central Park is what carries the runners those last few cruel and undulating miles. By mile 24 my quads were screaming at me to stop but my mind and my heart were not giving up. Not even on the climb up Central Park South towards Columbus Circle. With 800m to go and a final turn into the park, the crowds were deafening. I felt a surge of energy and I was still running strong, I wasn’t going to let go. I knew it was my slowest time recorded for the marathon and almost 20 minutes slower than my best, but it was still worth a sprint for the line with my arms in the air.
I had crossed the finish line of the New York City marathon. For myself and the other 47,000 runners who finished that day, we all know how that feels. It is a privilege to run in the greatest race on earth and it is something to be proud of.
Did I achieve my goal? I certainly did. My enthusiasm for running is unabated and I will be back next year with a new goal: to achieve my true potential.