The New York City Marathon was on the top of my bucket list, and since I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to continue running marathons, I decided I’d rather run it sooner than wait and run the risk of not being able to run it at all. I knew I would regret that. Thus, when I didn’t get in through the ballot I decided to go via a tour operator, Marathons International.
I got to New York on Wednesday evening and went to the expo on Thursday. On Friday evening there was the opening ceremony in Central Park. Yes, the New York City Marathon has an actual opening ceremony as if it were the Olympics. A few runners from each country represented at the NYC Marathon get to parade around their flag close to the finish line of the marathon and it’s all one big party with runners trying to represent their country the best they can (sometimes this even included local music and dancing). After all countries are announced the opening ceremony ends with fireworks over Central Park.
The bus of the tour operator left at 5.30 AM on race day, so I got up at 4.30 AM to get ready. I had already put out my clothes on the bed and mixed my bottles of Tailwind the night before. We drove through Manhattan towards Staten Island. As soon as you get on the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge it’s just basically one big traffic jam of busses dropping runners off and returning to Manhattan to pick up even more runners. 52,000 runners making their way to Staten Island for the start. It’s quite the operation.
I get off the bus at 6.15 AM and get through security quickly and walk to my race village. The starting waves at the NYC Marathon are divided into colors, waves and pens. Each color runs over a different part of the bridge and has its own starting village where you can wait until it’s your turn to go to your starting pen. I’m slow, so I’m Green and in Wave 4. In the starting village you can get water and Gatorade, bananas, bagels and coffee. And there are plenty of portaloos. Dunkin Donuts was handing out hats to keep you warm. Pretty cute souvenirs, but orange and pink just aren’t my colors.
When I got there it was still pretty quiet in the race village, but it slowly filled up with people. My start wasn’t until 11 AM, so I had a long wait ahead of me. I was wearing three extra layers of clothes that I could take off before the start and throw in the bins. These blue bins are located all over the starting area and all clothes in them will be donated to charity. I had chosen for the poncho option, thus I couldn’t drop anything off at the bag drop and either had to throw it away or donate it in the clothing bins.
I spent my time listening to music, scrolling through social media, calling my mum back home and getting ready for the race. I heard the wheelchair runners, the elite runners and the first starting waves go over the bridge. I heard all the other starting waves being announced and then finally it was my turn to get in the starting pen. Before you start, you walk up to the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. Someone sings the US National Anthem, they blast a cannon to signal the start and they play Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York (they do this for every starting wave) when you cross the starting line. And then it all begins.
Everyone was holding back a bit that first mile on the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, because that first mile is just uphill. This made the first mile quite busy and a bit difficult to navigate. But the view was absolutely amazing, one my favorite parts of the course! You can see Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan in the distance and you know that’s where you’ll eventually finish this race, in Central Park.
The second mile you go down the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge and you can make up a bit of time you lost on the uphill. I had thrown two of my three extra layers away in the starting pen, but was still wearing a wind jacket on the bridge, because it can be very windy on the bridge. Although, today it wasn’t that windy. It was around 10 degrees Celsius when I started the race at 11 AM and it was very sunny with not a lot of wind. Perfect running conditions. Probably as good as it gets in November in New York City. After coming off the bridge I also threw my wind jacket away.
Coming off the bridge you run over the highway, or at least the Green runners do, because the three colors are still separated at this point. They don’t fully join until 8 miles in although you do already run side by side for quite a bit of that. But around mile 3 it is still clearly separated and it actually looks a bit surreal seeing al these other runners everywhere around you running on different streets and following a different route.
In the beginning it’s still a bit quiet when you come off the bridge and there are very few people cheering along the highway. One guy shouted: “These are the famous New York crowds you’ve been hearing about!” Which was pretty funny. But as you get further into Brooklyn, running along Fourth Avenue, the crowds grow bigger and louder and at some point almost deafening. Since the roads are so wide you can decide whether or not you want to run along the outside and thus next to the crowds or more to the inside a bit away from the crowds. I changed it up a bit throughout the course. If the crowds became a bit too much for me I would move towards the inside and if I’d needed some more cheering on I would move to the outside.
When you get past the 10 mile mark and into Williamsburg there are a few miles where it’s pretty quiet again all of a sudden. That part of the course goes through an orthodox Jewish neighborhood and apparently they’re not supposed to be cheering people on or something. Don’t entirely understand why not and it was a bit of a strange part of the course (Don’t get me wrong, everyone has the right to believe whatever they want. But religious customs sometimes baffle and fascinate me all at the same time). I saw some men and women on the streets there, but none of them were cheering us on, and I saw a lot of girls (apparently on their way to school). They also looked as if they were instructed not to cheer us on, but some did stop and watch us for a while. The thing that surprised me most was that I didn’t see any boys on those streets. Not one. So I basically spent those two miles of the course wondering what orthodox Jewish boys do on a Sunday.
I wasn’t sure how well this race would go. I did train for it well enough, but my body never reacts well to long flights (long in this case being over 5 hours). I had felt good on Thursday and Friday, but on Saturday the jet leg had apparently caught up with me and I wasn’t feeling well. I tried to rest and carbload as much as I could on Saturday and hope that I would be feeling better on race day. On race day morning I was feeling a bit better, but still not sure how the race would go.
The first 10k of the race went pretty well for me. But after that I noticed it wasn’t feeling so smoothly anymore and the miles didn’t seem to fly by anymore. I sometimes have runs that feel the same way as they are going pace wise, it all lines up. I also have runs where I’m feeling like it’s all going very smoothly and without much effect, I’m enjoying the run, but for some reason my splits aren’t as fast as I’d like them to be. And there are runs where I’m running a decent pace, but it’s all just a struggle and there just isn’t anything I can do about it. Out of those last two, I’d rather feel like it’s effortless, but the pace isn’t that fast, rather than a fast pace but it’s all just feeling like a big effort. Because if it feels effortless, I can enjoy the run a lot more and then it doesn’t bother me that much that it’s not such a fast run.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t checked my resting heart rate that morning, not that I could have done anything about it at that point anyway, but the run just felt like my resting heart rate was too high and therefore it felt like such an effort. Probably because the jet leg and the traveling had caught up with me and perhaps waiting for 4.5 hours outside sitting on the ground might not have helped either. When I did check my Garmin watch after the race to check my resting heart rate it displayed 81. Now, I always have a high heart rate, but 81 as a RHR is high, even for me. If I’ve recovered enough it should be around 70 and if I need more rest it would be around 75. So yeah, 81 is not an ideal RHR to run a marathon on.
From mile 3 onwards there are aid stations every mile with water and Gatorade being handed out. I do have a bottle of Tailwind with me, but I still need extra water and once in a while a bit of Gatorade to keep going. I end up drinking a bit every mile. I normally don’t drink that much and I remember thinking that it would become an issue later on, but somehow I always felt the need to drink every time an aid station came up.
The last mile through Brooklyn was packed with people again. Some were even handing out water or sandwiches to the runners. A lot a people holding signs as well. About half of them having to do with the midterm elections that would be in two days time. One of the signs I liked was held up by and older woman and said: “I’ve been training all week to hold up this sign”.
The halfway point of the race is on the Pulaski Bridge, which also gives you a nice view of Manhattan. It’s quite a steep bridge, but it isn’t very long. After that you enter into Queens. I found it hard to believe that I still needed to through 3 more boroughs in another 13.1 miles. I cross the halfway point at 2:54:52. That’s an ok time for me. It’s not super fast, but this is a marathon. I’m not trying to run a half marathon PB.
While running through Queens you are basically making your way to the Queensboro Bridge at mile 15. So, you don’t spend a lot of time in Queens. It is a few streets and a few views of Manhattan in the distance and then you get to the Queensboro Bridge.
While in Queens it is starting to bother me that running is such an effort today. I’ve been waiting for this day for months. I’ve trained for months and this marathon has been on my bucket list from quite some time. And here I am and it’s not going the way I wanted it to. My only goal for this race was to enjoy every second of it; my time didn’t matter to me. And here I was and I wasn’t so sure I was enjoying every second of it and that frustrated me. That frustration grew while in Queens and got to me on the Queensboro Bridge. There are no crowds on the bridge, and although there are other runners around you, it gives you a bit of time to yourself. And that’s the point where I cried a little.
After the Queensboro Bridge you turn onto First Avenue in Manhattan. That’s the point where I decided to pick myself up and enjoy the rest of the run as much as I could. I was running through Manhattan after all! This part of the course is famous for it’s crowds, because it’s quiet on the bridge and when you turn onto First Ave there are all of a sudden a lot of people cheering you on again. But to be honest, I wasn’t as impressed by these crowds as I was by the ones in Brooklyn. Probably because I’m more towards the back of the pack, and some of the crowds must have already left by the time I got to First Ave. There were still definitely a lot of people, but it wasn’t as overwhelming as before.
And then the long stretch of First Avenue is ahead of you. Almost 4 miles of just straight road ahead. I never really like long straight roads, because it always seems to take longer to run those. I managed to pick up the pace a little bit though. Trying to focus on what was ahead instead of the run not going great.
At the end of First Avenue you get to the Willis Avenue Bridge, which means you are entering the fifth borough of the day, the Bronx. The route only goes through the Bronx for about a mile before you go back to Manhattan. There aren’t that many people cheering you on in the Bronx as there were on First Avenue. From the Bronx onwards some of the aid stations have bananas. Only you need to be careful not to slip on any of the peels, which I nearly did. After which I got passed by the 6 hour pacer. I was a bit surprised it had taken him until the Bronx to pass me by since my run wasn’t going so well.
The Bronx is also where you reach the 20 mile mark and always a point in the race where it definitely gets a bit harder. My legs didn’t hurt that much this time around, but I was running low on energy. So I was grateful for the bananas. Although I don’t understand why they waited until mile 21 to start handing them out at aid stations. Why not offer it every other aid station or every third aid station instead? My pace did drop from 30 km onwards as I struggled my way back into Manhattan over the Madison Avenue Bridge. On the bridge there was a woman with a sign that said: “This is the last damn bridge”. She also had a megaphone and she was hilarious. Shouting things as: “You look as if you can’t wait to get out of the Bronx!”
We made our way onto Fifth Avenue, another long stretch ahead. You do have to go around Marcus Garvey Park. Quite a few photographers around the park, but I seemed to miss them every time. After you go around the park you get back onto Fifth Avenue and you get rewarded with yet another great view, because in the distance you can see the Empire State Building.
I was still struggling and eventually I decided that I needed a boost. I had my Aftershokz headphones around my neck the whole time. I hadn’t put them on yet, because I wanted to be able to hear the crowds and I didn’t want to miss anything, but I decided to put them on for the last 5k of the race. I started listening to the playlist I made, listening to Ed Sheeran, Hamilton and Lukas Graham.
Eventually, the buildings on your right hand side make way for trees and you know you’re running along Central Park and you can feel the excitement building. The crowds are slowly growing again. And this is where I encountered my favorite sign of the race. A woman was holding up a sign that read: “Humpty Dumpty had a wall issue too”. This included a drawing of Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall. Genius.
At mile 24 you enter central park and you know you are on the final stretch of the race. You pass the Metropolitan Museum and go up Cat Hill (I love that statue). From there the course starts to go more downhill. My watch beeped to tell me I was at 40k and that’s when I looked at my time and realized that if I hurried up a little, I could maybe still get a PB. I hadn’t considered a PB at all up until this point. New York is a difficult course and compared to some of the other World Marathon Majors, not very fast due to the hills in the course. My goal for the race was just to enjoy it. The point was that while my watch had measured 40k, I wasn’t yet at the 40k mark on the course (you’ll always run a bit extra during a marathon, since it just isn’t possible for all 52,000 runners to follow the blue line). It was slowly getting dark and I was trying to hurry my way to the 40k point on the course. But at this point in the race all runners around you are tired and can significantly slow down from one moment to the next, right in the middle of the course. Thus, there was quite a bit of zigzagging involved in those last few kilometers.
When I got to the actual 40k point, I realized that I did indeed still have a chance of a PB, but it wouldn’t be by a lot and there was also a good chance I wouldn’t be able to do it. I ran the downhill parts as fast as I could and walked up the next hill and then ran downhill again. When you get to the south-east corner of Central Park there is a big screen where messages for the runners were being displayed. Then you rounded the corner onto 59th and the crowds grew bigger again. More lights, more photographers, more people cheering you on.
I was singing along to my music and trying to get to that finish line. By this point it had gotten dark. You round the corner again and go back into Central Park, the final stretch towards the finish. You pass the flags from all participating countries, you pass the grand stands that are put there for the race so friends and family could see you finish and then there it is, the finish line. As soon as I crossed the finish line I walked a few steps, got my medal and then got out my phone to check the New York Marathon app. And there is was: 6:04:37. A new PB! 42 Seconds faster than Paris Marathon.
After the race
I looked at it in surprise for a little while and then decided to walk on. They tape a heat sheet around you first. Then you get to pick up a finisher bag with some drinks and food in it and then you have to find the right exit out of Central Park. Which exit you get to take depends on which option you’ve chosen. People who’ve chosen the poncho get to exit first. If you’ve chosen the bag drop you have to walk further up Central Park before you can pick up your bag and exit the park.
I got a poncho, so I got to exit the park via the first exit. This was still a bit of a walk however, especially since you’re not moving so fast anymore after you’ve stopped running and a slowly cramping up. After you exit the park they put a poncho around you. Luckily the volunteers are really nice and make sure the poncho is properly around you without you having to move too much. And it’s not one of those thin plastic ponchos. No, this is a really nice poncho with fleece lining and it does warm you up.
And then you have to get back to your hotel, but the street next to central park is still closed off, so you have to walk back to the corner of Central Park again, but that’s still quite a few blocks away when you exit around 75th and you need to get to 59th. So I’m pretty sure it took me a good 30 minutes to actually exit the finish area. But it’s a fun sight to see a bunch of runners all dressed in blue ponchos trying to waddle their way to the subway.
Getting down the stairs of the subway and back up again on the other side was a bit of a challenge, but as long as I kept moving slowly it was doable. On the subway a man offered me his seat when he saw my poncho, but I told him no thanks. Wasn’t sure if I could get back up again if I would have sat down. Meanwhile he was explaining to his young son that I’d just run the marathon. On my way back to the hotel I got some sushi so I wouldn’t have to leave the hotel room anymore that evening and headed back to my hotel. Once in a while I could spot another blue poncho also making it’s way back. When crossing the street near my hotel I actually crossed paths with another woman also wearing a poncho and we congratulated each other while passing.
The days after
The muscle soreness wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Although walking stairs still wasn’t that pleasant. I went to the pavilion in Central Park on Monday and had planned to get my medal engraved (normally I hardly ever do this, but I did run a PB after all). But the line for medal engraving was very long and it was raining and you had to stand in line outside. So I decided not to and only went in to look at the finisher gear. While I was doing that I bumped into @Cazza7.
Later I found out that you could also get your medal engraved at the New York Road Runners HQ on Tuesday. So I managed to get there on Tuesday morning at 9 AM, and there was already a line as well, but this time I could wait inside (because it was still raining) and just wait until my number was called instead of having to stand in line. Which gave me the opportunity to pick up one of the last shirts in my size and then get my medal engraved after all.
My flight left on Tuesday evening and I had booked an airport shuttle back to the airport. I get in the van and I notice the guy already in the van has a marathon jacket on, so I’m about to ask him about his run, when he turns to his wife next to him and says: “I know her from Twitter”. Turns out @barneschris3 and his wife were also on their way back to the airport. What a small world we live in!
Would I run the New York Marathon again? Yes, I would. It’s an amazing experience from beginning till end. The atmosphere in the city before the race, the amount of runners, the fantastic views and the crowds. It is truly a unique experience and I wouldn’t mind experiencing it again. Even though there are 52,000 runners participating, the waves are divided in such a way that it’s never super busy on the course. Yes, there are people running around you, but there is still enough space for you to run.
Are there things I would do differently next time? Yes, maybe bring something to eat with me as well for during the race. I did have my Tailwind with me, but at some point your stomach also wants to have some food in it and not only fluids. And I should have put my headphones on sooner. Because I could still hear the crowds just fine with my Aftershokz on, since they don’t block your ears. I hadn’t because I was afraid I would get too distracted by the music and not notice the crowds as much and I didn’t want to miss that. But in the end I realized they went well together, I could focus on the music if I needed to and hear the crowds if I needed to.