Since I started running, I tried to choose races which gave me goose bumps. The reasons may vary – the city, the course, the history. Dozen of races in Stockholm because it’s the best city in the whole world for me; my first marathon in Lisbon because it’s course goes all the way along the ocean; marathon in Athens because that’s the place there the marathon was born, and so on.
But New York Marathon chose me. My husband said that it was a wonderful occasion to show me the city, that’s why we entered a drawing for two years in a row. For some reason last year I was completely sure that I would win, but it didn’t happen, so we ran California International Marathon in Sacramento instead. I did not expect any miracles this year, and the message that I got the slot was like a bolt from the blue.
Over the past months I surely have been making the decision to condition my body according to the scale of the event, but everyone knows the proverb about God and plans – at the beginning of the journey I was so NOT OK that I could hardly stay on my feet. For the same health issues I missed marathon in Stockholm in June and Lidingöloppet in September and only had one race which could be considered a long training run – American River Parkway Half in Sacramento in May. I would be upset if “not ready” and “not too healthy” weren’t my usual pre-start conditions.
Thanks to my doctor, I went to the airport tightly holding a pack of mild sedatives. These pills allowed me to fly to the USA without migraine for the first time in my transatlantic flight history, to relax and to refeed before the race, – half of my problems was gone. Actually, if you take a look at all the smiles on the race photos, you can easily assume that this was not at all a marathon, but an easy walk in a park!
I don’t remember why we decided that I should take a ferry to the start. Probably, it was closer to our AirBnB home in Brooklyn. It was a big mistake, but the only one, fortunately. Despite the fact that I arrived just in time for my 8AM ferry, the dense mass of runners flowing from the ferry to the bus was so huge that by the time I reached my green village and took off warm up clothes, the entrance to the third wave corals was closed. I was a bit upset – it has been several hours since I had my breakfast, and I seriously counted on a sip of coffee and a piece of bagel before the start, but had to eat Gatorade energy chews instead.
Green coral’s start was located on the lower floor of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, not the most picturesque one, but visibility was low anyway and it was probably warmer “inside” the bridge (although I did’t dare to take off my raincoat and ran across the bridge wrapped in a saving plastic).
I was touched by the fact that each wave was supposed to have a separate performance of the anthem and a separate starting shot – I usually can’t hear it from my snail’s starting position 🙂 Runners around me took off their caps, sang, wiped away tears and broadcasted live to Instagram stories.
Borough #1 ended just as soon as it began – the last wave of runners climbed onto the bridge and left the sleepy Staten Island. Actually, I did not notice that freaking elevation gain I’ve seen on the course map before the race. I suppose, cold weather and adrenaline helped a lot.
Borough #2, Brooklyn, met runners with the crowds of fans. My husband promised to meet me in Brooklyn as well, “in an hour and a half running.” Starting from the 10 km mark I began to carefully examine the crowds on the right side of the road. By that time I was already beginning to suffer (as you remember, my knees were not ready for a big adventure) and I desperately wanted to see husband’s face.
Ivan and Mr.Carrot waited at 15 km mark. Well, Mr.Carrot was sitting right on it actually!
Long-awaited half of the distance mark loomed on Pulaski bridge leading to borough #3, Queens. This was the moment when I started to make 30 sec walk breaks to unload my knees, decrease excessive psychological stress and drink water instead of choking on it.
Unlike the previous ones, the Queensboro bridge seemed like hell. I had a feeling that it was going uphill constantly and there would be no downhill part, and I was a fool trying to climb up a descending escalator. My Garmin was absolutely lost under iron constructions of the bridge and made a dubious statement that I spent the whole eleven minutes for the kilometre (definitely not true!). But this bridge led to Manhattan, borough #4, and it was such happiness, such an eye candy! Finally, I got the opportunity to look at the beautiful city around and distract myself from suffering.
Near the 19 mi mark my brain already completely refused to understand what evil genius decided it was necessary to send marathoners off to the Bronx, borough #5, condemning them to cross two more bridges. I wanted to hug a man with a poster “THIS IS THE LAST BRIDGE” on the 138th St. bridge! Afterwards I do only remember how I looked through the running crowd waiting for the Central Park to come in sight. Wished to see the cutest cheer card husband made for me on the mile 23 big screen, but runners passed faster than pictures.
Last hills, cheering crowds and finish line awaited in the park. I managed to put the last bits of energy together to finish strong and even got a photo worth buying.
But at the finish line I did not know about the wonderful photo yet, I just wanted to cry because it was finally over. Someone put a medal around my neck, wrapped me in a foil blanket, secured it with a sticker (this was the moment I wanted to cry even more ’cause I’ve never seen such a touching care of the finishers before). Another volunteer gave me an apple and a recovery bag and sent me for a long and slow journey to exit.
I had just enough time and energy to make a selfie for my mother, who had already found my results online, and to eat a pack of salty pretzels when the crowd in front started to turn blue.
Each owner of the orange band was carefully with kind words and congratulations wrapped in a poncho. There were fifty steps left to the exit on 73rd street. On the 72nd, in the Box Kite coffee house, Ivan picked me up, gave me a cup of tasty coffee, took me home to freshen up and then to Chipotle to eat and drink Margarita. Margarita, by the way, was awesome! (However, no one knows how good it really was – when you eat breakfast at 5AM then run a marathon and then you get dinner at 7PM, any food is incredibly delicious.)
The next morning all my muscles ached and I was SO HUNGRY that we arrived to Ihop five minutes before opening and hypnotized the door. By the time the breakfast was consumed and we got to marathon pavilion in Central Park, a huge line for medal engraving was already there. Luckily, we found separate entrance for those who do not want engraving, and quickly slipped inside. Right at the entrance stood a tray with New York Times special issue which includes the list of finishers who met 4 hours 59 minutes limit. The word “FINISHER” appeared on New Balance merchandise, happy runners searched for their names on a huge blue wall (mine was so high that I could not even reach it with my finger, and someone had to literally crawl on the floor to find theirs 🙂 ).
There was only one thing left to complete a set of marathon celebrations – a visit to Tiffany’s. We had lots of time before the opening, so we grabbed a cup of coffee from the same Box Kite and strolled through the park appreciating every single squirrel and sea lions at the zoo. The crowd waiting for Tiffany’s opening was visible from afar. Inside, runners were sent to the third floor – that’s the place where marathon charms are kept, a precious mini-medals that can be worn every day.
Ribbons were tied, rustling papers were laid, and the rest of this day was filled with smiles, greetings and wonderful food, but that’s another story.