…..Now you’re in New York. Catherine Wilding’s race

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.

The start

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.

This is Catherine flying along in the 2010 New York marathon

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.

Results

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.

 

 

 

There’s nothing you can’t do…..

Ed: This piece by Catherine Wilding is the first guest post on this site and I’m really delighted to have her on board. If you’d like to contribute please contact me.

I’ve noted that other runners write about pace, split times, race conditions and how their training has been erratic / hardcore / blighted by work commitments (delete as appropriate.) As my blog is about running, I may come on to that but it was the crunch of golden leaves under my Nike Structure-Triax this morning that compelled me to write.  It has to be one of my favourite sounds.  It reminds me why I love running and particularly so when the low Autumnal sunlight is streaming through the trees in Hyde Park.

As the trees turn, my thoughts are firmly fixed on an important event in my yearly calendar.  It is the New York City Marathon. For the past two years I have lined up as a professional athlete in New York, and on both occasions I’ve failed to achieve my goal.   The streets of New York City are both exciting and intimidating, running in the women’s professional field – which means mostly running alone.

New York City Marathon

This year, I am heading out to New York to run the marathon again, only this time I’ll be in the main field.  Like many people who have trained for a marathon my training has been upset by injury, illness and a stressful new job.  It’s hard to train like a professional athlete when you aren’t one.  Everyone who has trained for a marathon knows that the physical training is both hard and time consuming.  But equally important for any athlete and any runner – no matter how serious or good they consider themselves – is the mental preparation.  If you are reasonably fit and mentally strong, you will run a good race.  If you are incredibly fit and mentally weak, you are unlikely to achieve your goal.

Mental preparedness

And this is what has been worrying me the most.  Whilst my training hasn’t been quite what I’d like this year, it is the lack of mental preparation which has affected me the most.  The race has been on and then off.  Then on again after my achilles tendonitis cleared, then off when I got ill, then on again, and off when it all felt too overwhelming and I didn’t feel fit.

As an athlete, I didn’t want to run another disappointing marathon. As a runner, I couldn’t bear to give up my goal.  I sought advice from runners and non-runners but it was the wisdom of a Mr Simon Freeman [ed: gulp!] that impacted me the most:

“I know you have very high standards and I suspect that whilst you think that you are not in great shape, you are probably in better shape than you think. Still, I know how it is to feel below par and not at your best. However a good strong run in a city you love, at an event that I think could be the greatest marathon in the world, might just be great fun and I know there are many examples of runners being forced to take time off who end up having really great races because the intrinsic fitness is there and whilst the sharpness might be missing, the joy of running makes up for that.”

Why I run

His advice resonated loudly.  It reminded me why I run.  It’s because I enjoy it.  With one week to go, I am now able to mentally prepare myself for a race I’m going to enjoy.  With my goal fixed, I’m able to focus on the mental strength I need.

So, on Sunday November 6th, I will line up on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge as someone who just loves running and when I enter Central Park, just past mile 23, I will notice the sunlight through the trees and listen to the crunch of the leaves under my running shoes.  When I cross the finish line I will know I’ve achieved my goal.  The time on the clock will be an indication of whether the physical preparation outweighs the mental preparation, but that remains to be seen.

Ed: Catherine goes off to New York with all my best wishes and I have no doubt she will have a great race and learn a lot from the experience. She has promised to write a review of the event on her return that I will post here.