By the lovely guest writer, Libby. You should remember our contributing writer Libby who covers our Runcation series. Whether you are reading her for the first time or here for another adventure, we love hearing about how we can use our time off for double-duty travel and fitness. So here we go:
Thanks to runcations (running + vacations), I’ve been able to travel to New York three times in the last two years. I ran the New York City half marathon in March of both 2015 and 2016, and I ran the New York City Marathon in 2015.
There are so many parts of being a runner that I absolutely love, but one of my favorites is the excuse it has given me to travel. Prior to being a runner, I had always wanted to visit New York City but never had the courage to spend the money and time to fly there. However, once two close friends of mine moved there and I started running, I knew I finally found enough of an incentive to go over there.
While in New York I’ve done a lot of the tourist-y stuff: Central Park, seeing two shows on Broadway (Mama Mia & The Lion King); Times Square; Rockefeller Center; Top of the Rock; Statue of Liberty; Grand Central Station; The MET; and the 9-11 Memorial.
But my favorite thing I’ve done in New York is run the marathon.
Running the NYC Marathon has been the single greatest experience of my life thus far. I was able to gain entry into the race by running with the charity group, Fred’s Team, which raises money to help create a world without cancer. I raised $6000 for ovarian cancer research and care – to honor my friend Christy who passed away from that – and this is the main reason why this race will always hold a special place in my heart.
Now let me tell you all about the race. It starts on Staten Island, and, even though it’s early in the morning and it’s cold, there’s this energy and excitement you can feel in the air as you sit around waiting for the race to start. You get into your starting corral and you walk towards the start line. The energy is now palatable. You finally get to the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and, before you know it, the National Anthem is sung. Then a large BOOM goes off and it’s time to run.
The first two miles are spent on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It is so crammed with runners that you aren’t really able to run at any kind of speed. I didn’t mind this because it ensured that I didn’t start too quickly and burn out, and it allowed me to check out the views. The NYC marathon is the only day of the year people are allowed to run on this bridge, so I wanted to make sure to take in everything while I had the chance. To the left, I could see the Manhattan skyline and I remember thinking “I’ll see you in a few hours.” My view to the right was mostly blocked by runners, but I was able to catch glimpses of Coney Island.
Miles 2.5 to 13 are spent in Brooklyn.
The second you begin to exit the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge you can start to hear the cheering of the spectators lining the streets. It is from this point in the race that you have the energy of the crowd to help carry you through. Around mile three, I veered off to the left side of the street so I could high five as many spectators as possible. Not only were members of the crowd yearning for a high five, they also were cheering my name (which was written on the front of my shirt). It honestly made me feel a celebrity. I then started to play the song “New York” in my head by Alicia Keys. The lyrics from the refrain kept playing on a loop in my mind:
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of. There’s nothing you can’t do. Now you’re in New York. These streets will make you feel brand new, Big lights will inspire you, Hear it from New York, New York, New York!”
~New York, Alicia Keys
I continued to think about this song as I raced along (perhaps I thought of it because Alicia Keys was running the marathon that day so I was keeping an eye out for her).
At mile 13, I hit the Pulaski Bridge, which connect Brooklyn and Queens. At this point in the race, I pulled my phone out to take a Snapchat video of me singing “Living on a Prayer.”
“OOOOOHHHHHH WE’RE HALF WAY THERE….OOOHHHHWOOAAHH LIVING ON A PRAYYERR.”
What I didn’t notice was the photographer standing on the bridge. I had told myself prior to the race to try to pose for every photographer but I missed this one.
It was also at this point that I checked my text messages and saw that my brother told me that he was waiting for me around mile 17 of the race. I had to hold back tears when I read that. My brother is my best friend on the entire planet and he’s in the military, so I don’t get to see him very often. So to see that he went out of his way to attend the biggest race of my life made me emotional. Still, I took a deep breath and kept moving along.
Only a couple of miles are spent in Queens and I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about it. The only things I remember are seeing a guy holding a “Free Kisses” sign and the dread that filled me as I approached the Queensboro Bridge.
There is a pretty big climb I had to face, and, at this point in the race, I’m already 16 miles in so some fatigue is starting to creep in. In addition, you run through the bottom level of the bridge, which feels very dark, crammed, and quiet (since there are no spectators). All I could think is: “Hurry up and get out of this dark and hilly bridge so you can make it to Manhattan.” I finally made it to the other side of the bridge and the volume grew from a faint roar to an explosion of noise and cheering.
The source of all the noise is Manhattan.
I felt overwhelmed coming off of the bridge into this massive agglomerate of cheering. I had to keep checking the pace on my watch to make sure that the adrenaline forming from this wasn’t making me run too fast on the downhill portion. After a turn or two, I found myself in the Upper East Side, which felt like a parade or a massive block party. I don’t think I can fully express in words how electric the cheering was. It definitely helped carry me through the race as I was slowing down.
Miles 16 through 19 are spent running down First Avenue and I don’t think I’ve ever given so many high fives in my entire life. I especially gave a whole row of high fives to the Fred’s Team cheering section at mile 17. Shortly after passing the cheering section, I spotted my brother and his fiancé who were waiting for me. As soon as I saw my brother I broke down into tears and hugged him for what felt like forever (I just remember saying over and over again: “You came! You came!”). I couldn’t believe that my brother joined 2 million other spectators just to watch me pass him. After that emotional moment, I took a deep breath and continued on my journey where the next stop was The Bronx.
I’ll be honest with you here: After the electric block party in Manhattan, the Bronx was a bit anticlimactic. I found myself thinking: “I can’t wait to get back to Manhattan,” so I spent the next two miles or so pushing myself through. Don’t get me wrong, there was still great crowd support there but there was just a whole different vibe. After many zig-zags and turns, I found myself back on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan – the final borough of the race.
There were some nice sights along mile 22, including the Harlem Meer, El Museo del Barrio and the Museum of the City of New York and, by mile 23, I thought to myself: “Only a 5k remains between me and the finish line.” Despite the short distance, I did walk a bit during these miles – there were quite a few hills on that stretch. Nothing too steep, but, when you have already run 20+ miles, they seem like a mountain climb. Before I knew it, I found myself at the MET and then in Central Park.
Once I entered Central Park, I knew I had hit the final stretch of the race. There were only 2.2 miles to go, but instead of trying to go fast, I took it pretty easy so I could take in the scenery of Central Park in the Fall. You run along the east side of the park, before turning right at the bottom of the park and you find yourself passing through Columbus Circle. At this point in the race, the crowd’s cheering is practically deafening (in a good way). They know you only have about a mile left, so they cheer with everything they got.
Before I knew it, I was running back in Central Park and I spotted the finish line off in the distance. I will never forget what it felt like to see the finish line. I immediately began to tear up, so I then had to spend the last 0.2 miles trying to hold back tears. Then, I finally crossed the finish line and I burst out into tears.
I had just finished one of the biggest races in the world to honor my best friend that had passed away from cancer. As you may recall, it was her death that pushed me into running, so finishing the race made my whole running journey feel like it had come full circle. I had never felt so proud of myself in my entire life.
I hope you all felt like you were running the race with me as you read this. And I hope this inspires you to enter the NYC Marathon Lottery coming up in January. Trust me, there is NO better way to experience New York.
This is Libby writing for Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.