Now that my NYC Marathon pre-game was over, it was time to get down to business and party like a rock star!
When the pre-game ended, I was counting down the seconds until the cannons would go off, signaling the start of my 10:40 group.
While counting down the seconds, I also tried to organize myself for the best run possible. Even though I had no intentions of using my iPod until the second half, I went ahead and put myYurbuds in my ears and looped the headphones through my Camel Bak straps. It was at this point that I also decided to run with my camera in my hand versus in my red wrist pouch. I knew I wanted to capture the race for readers and myself by taking a picture each mile. I also knew that holding this in my hand would keep me from clenching my wrists. Marathon Party Tip #1 Make sure you have all your outfit’s accessories in place before the race starts. The last thing you want is a fashion emergency!
Finally, the moment was here, I was heading for the starting line of the New York City Marathon! All the training culminated in this one moment when my Sauconys crossed the plastic strip, activating my tracking chip.
My first marathon was officially underway, along with my fellow green corral runners. We headed for the shadows of the Verrazano Bridge’s lower level. I knew this level would have incline than the upper level but also knew to stay towards the middle in fear of being sprinkled on by the men on the upper level!
The first 2 miles of the race, the bridge, were a wind tunnel. My toes were numb at this point, my fingers were wishing I still had my hand warmers, but luckily my legs felt great. I looked down at my Garmin and unfortunately saw 12:20. What? I was pacing a 12:20? I felt like I was racing along and my legs felt FREE! I did my best to run a bit faster as I wanted to start around an 11:50 mile. Unfortunately, my pace continued to creep up instead of decreasing. I was upset and annoyed at myself! Then, as we were coming down the bridge I saw the two mile marker and a guy next to me say great job team, that was a 9 minute mile. WHAT THE HECK?! Oops, turns out my brain was a bit focused on the race to realize that I’d been looking at the timer the whole time instead of the pace.
Mile 1: 9:55
Mile 2: 9:50
Once I saw these splits, I knew I needed to calm my legs down even though I was feeling good. I welcomed the sunlight and open road as we emerged from the bridge, heading into Brooklyn. As we came off the bridge, many men headed straight for the wall to relieve themselves. Thanks for waiting until you got off the bridge guys!
During mile 3 I slowed down, waved to people watching from above, and gave a few early high fives. I enjoyed this mile and focused on taking in my surroundings and orienting myself to Brooklyn.
I hit the 5k point in 32 minutes which was still too fast. This meant that my first 3 miles were around a 10:25 pace instead of my 11:20 pace. Oops. I figured that through Brooklyn I’d give as many high fives as possible and take in the signs and audience in hopes of slowing down my time.
It was right beyond the 5k point where the 3 color groups came together. Suddenly the course grew a bit more crowded but also more exciting. Everyone was full of smiles and happy!
BROOKLYN was absolutely amazing! The support level was more than I could have ever expected even though every book and course review said that Brooklyn was where the energy was strong and the people were spirited.
gave high fives to foam fingers, I heard strangers scream my name louder than ever before, and I got to know my race companions a little bit better by reading their shirts. My favorite philanthropy group was the one with the stomach/intestines on their shirt!
Unfortunately, Brooklyn’s spirit only made me go faster and my speed continued to increase.
Mile 4: 10:11
At this point, my legs felt amazing and I thought that all my speed training and hill training had paid off. Maybe I should give into the speed and see how it felt. My spirits were high, my legs felt great, and the crowds were providing more energy than any GU or Shotblock ever could. I chose to run and focus on breathing instead of my time. I read every sign, slapped every hand, and smiled at the children as I ran through Brooklyn’s crowded streets.
Mile 5: 10:17
Mile 6: 10:30
As I passed the 10K point, I realized I was almost 7 minutes ahead of my predicted time. This meant that my friend Adrienne, who was meeting me at 4th Avenue and 3rd Street would easily miss me. I grabbed my Blackberry from my pouch and called her, screaming as loudly as I could “I’M GOING WAY TO FAST, LESS THAN A MILE FROM YOU. I NEED YOU TO SLOW ME DOWN. I’LL BE ON THE FAR RIGHT SIDE.”
Right as my Garmin beeped, letting me know I’d embarked upon mile 7, I saw Adrienne’s huge smile. An experienced marathoner, Adrienne couldn’t get over the crowd’s energy.
I quickly told her how amazing my legs felt, how fast I was pacing, and my plan to slow down. I figured that if I talked with her for the next two miles, while she ran with me, that I’d automatically slow down due to the stress it’d put on my lungs. She smiled and assured me she’d help slow me down. We enjoyed the flags and fans for the next two miles as we talked about her past marathon experiences.
Even though we were talking and laughing, my splits remained consistent.
Mile 7: 10:39
Mile 8: 10:42
My plan had not worked. Instead, Brooklyn’s amazing energy continued to propel us down the course as we listened to rappers, house parties, and cheering fans. I also noticed that many fans were giving out food. I avoided any free food and instead stuck to my shot blocks. I didn’t want to upset my happy stomach by adding strange food. Marathon Party Tip #2 Unless you have a strong stomach, don’t mix new foods during the party. No one wants to leave a party early because they are bowing to the porcelain throne.
As we came towards the end of Brooklyn’s brown stones, Adrienne asked for my camera so she could snap an action shot before we parted ways.
I’m sweaty, happy, and amazed that my legs know how to run this speed! Who said running a marathon was hard? This is SO MUCH FUN! I’m on pace to run a 4:45 marathon!!!
As we completed mile 9 I took a quick stretch break, and bid Adrienne goodbye. She gave me a huge hug good luck, told me to enjoy MY race, slow down, and run my heart out. I waved and ran on towards Queens.
Mile 9: 11:32 (Quick hug break)
After parting with Adrienne, I saw a few more house parties and also ran through the Orthodox Jewish area of Brooklyn. I had read about this area and knew they would rarely cheer as they are opposed to the course running through their neighborhood.
Mile 10: 10:44
Mile 11: 11:13
I knew the next few miles, heading towards Queens and Long Island City would be quiet. I decided to zone out by turning on my iPod. Instead of Lady Gaga, Kei$ha, or the Kings of Leon I chose a mellow Dave Matthews song, Lie In Our Graves. I figured the mellow tune would help slow down my pace while I enjoyed these quiet, solitary miles. By this point the crowds had thinned out and I felt like, for the first time, I was running by myself.
Mile 12: 11:06
Mile 12 took me through a few turns in Brooklyn towards the bridge to the Pulaski Bridge. I hit the half way point on this bridge while enjoying amazing views of Manhattan! I couldn’t get over the fact that I’d been in Brooklyn alone for 13 miles!
Mile 13: 11:23
I was pleased that my mellow music had helped calm my legs and slow my pace. As I crossed the halfway point and felt the bridges incline beneath me, my legs started to yell. The pace I had just kept was in line with my half marathon pace- NOT MY MARATHON PACE. I had gone against every piece of advice any book, marathoner, or brochure had said. I DID NOT START OUT SLOW. At this point, I took a minute as I jogged into Queens to check in with my body. My legs were not in pain but they were starting to grow tired. I took a few deep breaths, refocused, and remembered that in a half mile I’d be seeing Bo for the first time and in a mile I was meeting my dear friend and inspiration, Melissa ! I was also back in LIC, our home last year. I was very familiar with Vernon Blvd and this industrial area.
Mile 14: 12:43
Mile 14 was slower since I finally saw Bo. He was wearing his old North Face jacket which is bright red. We agreed ahead of time the exact corner and side of the street where he would meet me. Luckily, Adrienne had let him know I was running ahead so he was there waving when I turned the corner. My saving grace gave me 2 Tylenols and a huge swig of fresh Gatorade. One big hug, two “I’m so proud of you” later I was off and ready to keep on going.
It was at this point that my nerves started to set in. What if I’d gone out too fast? What if my legs started to get tired.
Luckily, a minute later I felt a huge shove and turned around to see Melissa. Evidently I’d been so preoccupied with my thoughts that I ran past our meeting area. She heard a group of people screaming Ashley, looked up and saw a pink flash fun by her. One mad dash later she had caught up to me and was running by my side. I was so happy to see her.
We only had a few blocks before a turn signaled the Queensborough Bridge. I wasn’t sure how to handle the bridge. I wasn’t intimidated as I ran this bridge almost weekly last year when we lived on Long Island City. I enjoyed it’s long, gradual climb and then sharp downward slope. I asked Melissa what to do and she suggested a slow and steady approach. Walking would mean a new motion for my legs to handle which could be more stressful than helpful.
Halfway over the bridge my left quad started to feel tight and send pains up my leg. At the same time my body was starting to register the mileage and impact. Since I knew First Avenue would have very little room I made an executive decision to stretch on the bridge. We enjoyed the beautiful views and did a few long, deep stretches. Looking back, this break is probably what made me miss my 5:00 hour goal time. But, it could also be what helped me finish the race.
My splits on the bridge were definitely slower due to the incline and stretch break. However, my legs welcomed both.
Mile 15: 13:10
Mile 16: 13:43
As we headed down towards First Avenue I started to get excited about the infamous Wall of Sound. Supposedly, the fans on First Avenue are so loud and deep that its like running through a tunnel. Melissa warned me that this would also be a tough avenue as it is a gentle incline.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed by First Avenue. Due to the fact that I started so late, many areas had already thinned and fans were growing tired. Don’t get me wrong, they were still awesome and screamed my name the whole way. But, I never felt like I hit this awesome Wall of Sound. I did however get to see my training buddy, Theodora , who captured this picture as I ran by her. I gave Theodora a HUGE hug when I spotted her, screamed how excited I was that I was past the half way point, and thanked her for cheering.
Mile 17 13:19
Once we passed mile 17 my legs started to feel normal again. I took a few of the Shotblocks Melissa had, enjoyed more water and Gatorade from my Camelbak and kept talking.
Melissa did a great job keeping my mind occupied. We talked about boys, travel, blogging, and her marathon experience, We laughed at the innocent bystanders, watched the shirts run by, and made fun of the sticky mess we avoided in the streets.
The cups were definitely worse on First Avenue than anywhere else in the race. I avoided the water stations and saved time and energy by sipping my own mix from my CamelBak. However, looking back, I probably didn’t drink enough early in the race for this reason.
Miles 18 and 19 passed quickly as we ran up towards The Bronx. The scenery and fans changed in this area which meant I was far more attentive.
Mile 18 11:35
Mile 19 12:52
As we crossed into The Bronx I felt the need for another stretch break and more fuel. I stretched my tired quads on the side while eating half a banana a fan handed me. Melissa encouraged me by saying that the last 6 miles, while tough, were also easier since I knew I could reach the finish. The goal was in sight and I was like a horse going to the stable. At this point though, my legs were yelling at me for going out so quickly and my heart started to grow heavy. My hopes of a 4:45 were quickly leaving and I instead started to think about the 5 hour mark.
I embarked over another bridge, The Willis Avenue Bridge, which at this point seemed difficult even though it wasn’t a steep incline. I leaned forward, focused on swinging my arms, and powered through. Even with a stretch break, this mile was still a good pace and my legs were starting to feel loose again. I also received inspiration from the marathon runner who was wearing a full fireman’s uniform!
Mile 20: 13:02
At this point, as we crossed into the Bronx, I truly felt like I was getting a second wind. Melissa was still by my side as she realized she needed a Manhattan subway stop in order to go home, and we were heading into some major fan areas due to the philanthropy cheering sections. My friend Becca had promised me Gatorade and fresh shot blocks when I made it to the American Cancer Society. I was never happier to see a sea of red!
In addition, the Bronx fans had spirit! They were screaming my name louder than anyone in Manhattan!
Mile 21: 13:14
As we crossed the 21 mile marker and the Madison Avenue Bridge, I crossed into PDR territory. I was overcome with emotions. I hugged Becca and Melissa, suddenly realizing that I was in fact going to finish this race. I had five miles to go and was ready to make this my race. I bid them both goodbye with quick pauses for hugs before hauling it back into Manhattan. This is when the emotions and tears started.
I ran through the small parks lined streets realizing that I was about to accomplish something I never thought possible. I thought about each person I dedicated my final miles to, realizing how they helped me through the process of training and motivated me. Mile 21 through 26.2 were my favorite miles of the race because they were my miles.
I moved through Harlem and mile 22 quickly, enjoying the people but really looking forward to hitting the Upper West Side and gaining my first views of Central Park.
Mile 22: 11:57
Mile 23 also meant my first glimpe of Central Park. My legs wanted to sprint by every person lining the streets screaming my name. The crowds weren’t thick on Fifth Avenue but they had spirit and passion. “Ashley, only 3 more miles, you’ve got this!” “The entrance to the park is only feet away!”
Mile 23: 11:48
At mile 24, I finally made the epic turn into the park.
This was my path. I’d run this path almost every weekend during training. I knew that my legs would enjoy a quick downhill before a slight but tedious up hill towards the Art Museum. This was also where I was hoping to see Bo. I started to focus on every cheering fan. I wanted to bottle these last few miles and remember them forever. I mouthed thank you to every cheering fan who was still out watching the marathon even four hours after the elites finished.
Mile 24: 12:19
As I ran up the hill, giving it every bit of energy left in me, I saw it. A huge white sign, with pink letters was raised above the crowd. It simply read, ASHLEY. Surrounding it, I saw Bo and five of my best friends. They were waving, cheering their heads off, screaming my name. I started waving wildly, blowing kisses, and sprinting towards them!
I sprinted past them all smiles. This was my marathon. I was going to finish it and successfully come in close to my five hour goal time. As I came down the hill I suddenly saw two other familiar faces, Geoff and Elizabeth, waving wildly. They thought they had missed me but then saw a burst of pink sprinting by them. I ran too quickly (believe it or not) for them to snap a good picture. Instead of giving up, they sprinted next to me snapping pictures and screaming kind thoughts!
Needless to say, I was all smiles at this point.
Mile 25: 12:01
Only one more mile left to enjoy. Only a few more faces to pass. Only a few more footsteps until I would officially become a marathoner. I would join the ranks of Meghann , Bobbi , Leslie , and the others who had inspired me each day. I would make my parents, husband, friends, and most importantly myself proud. I would accomplish a goal I had set one year prior!
The last mile was and is still a blur. I remember looping out of the park towards Columbus Circle, past the empty grand stands, back into the park. I remember seeing the flags and cheering crowds. I remember the tears, starting to flow freely, as I saw the finish line for the first time. My quads were tired and cramping at this point. They resented the hill in front of them, but instead of quitting they sprinted. My legs sprinted across that line as if they’d barely run a mile. I felt no pain but instead only an amazing rush of emotions and joy.
Mile 26.2 11:30
I am so proud and excited in this picture. Its a horrible picture but for now, until official race photos come out, its the closest I have to a finish line photo, In this photo I am pointing to the finish clock time, 5:06:40, while crying and smiling with joy. I am a marathoner. I have gone from the girl who avoided the mile run to the girl who conquered the marathon and LOVED every minute of it. Sure, it was humbling, parts of it were harder than I ever expected, but at the end of those five hours, I had grown and learned from the process and event.