The 2010 ING New York City Marathon is now another notch on my hydration belt. After months of agonizing, planning, plotting, scheming and dreaming, I ran the best race I could.
I sang. I ran. I conquered.
Sunday, Nov. 7 was that rare day of days when, Murphy’s law be darned, everything went right. Not only was it my fastest marathon to date, but it was also the most fun. I wasn’t just running; I was singing at the start of the wheelchair and professional women’s races.
The Pain Plan
I woke up at 3 a.m., an hour and a half ahead of my alarm. I was anxious—nervous about singing, worried about the run itself and excited about it all at the same time. Would my knee hold up? Would I hit the wall? Would the fact that my last long run was just 16 miles five weeks before the race totally derail me?
Having been banished to the elliptical trainer a month before the race pending a diagnosis for some mysterious knee pain, my last month of training was less than ideal. When arthritis turned out to be the culprit, I hatched a plan of attack to run the marathon and quell the pain.
1) I wore a Salonpas Pain Relief Patch on my knee for five hours before the race. Three test runs showed that these puppies are dynamite at stunting arthritis pain, but peel off with sweat.
2) I wore KT Tape—the full knee support application—during the race. My test runs also found it to be eerily effective. As another runner with arthritis told me, this stuff is like voodoo.
3) I took extended release acetaminophen an hour before the race.
I was fully prepared to walk off the course if the pain got the best of me or my body just said no. I decided to run the race for fun and see what happened.
After taking a 5:30 a.m. VIP bus from Manhattan to Staten Island, I arrived at the start with my boyfriend, who was also running. An exuberantly friendly volunteer named Ann helped me get through the sea of buses and runners to the Skybox tent on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
What a way to wait for the race! A full buffet breakfast, complete with an omelet chef, French toast and pastry spread awaited me in the heated oasis. I looked at all the food and sighed. There was no way I was going to chance eating anything other than my planned peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
But I had a nice cup of tea before heading to the start for a sound check. That helped me get over my nerves a bit. Having to sing outside on a cold morning at 7 a.m. is a vocal nightmare. The voice is like any other muscle—it likes to be warmed up.
When it came time for the real deal, a New York Road Runners employee escorted me from the tent to a heated double-decker bus where I waited for another NYRR staffer to take me to the stage just a few steps away. Singing a cappella, I made sure I had my starting note locked in my brain.
The wheelchair athletes were lined up, ready to go, and all I had to do was sing “America the Beautiful.” I stood on the starting line with a color guard of New York City servicemen behind me and Mayor Michael Bloomberg on my left.
I gave it my all, and cringed inwardly when I thought I heard my voice warble a bit. But when I finished, Bloomberg gave me a big smile, as did Deena Kastor who was on hand as a commentator for NBC.
My handler whisked me back into the tent to wait for the women’s professional start. There I saw Edison “The Runner” Peña, the miner who ran every day during his 69-day ordeal trapped a Chilean mine. He was running the marathon too.
After chatting with other folks in the tent—charity runners, Coast Guard servicemen and New York City police officers—it was time to sing again for the professional women.
I was less nervous this time around and thought I sang better. I couldn’t stop smiling, unable to believe where I was—singing at the start of the ING New York City Marathon. The smile stayed with me for the rest of the day.
A very sweet NYRR staffer escorted me from the starting line to the start village so I could drop off my bag and get into my corral for the Wave 2 start. I had a nice warm-up jog. The baggage trucks closed one minute after I got there and my corral literally closed behind me.
It was cold and windy on the bridge. I stood in my corral doing some stretches to keep warm. I turned around to take in the sea of 15,000 runners in Wave 2. Standing directly behind me was none other than my good friend, band mate and training partner.
“Cindy?” I asked, unable to believe my eyes.
“Oh, my God, Karla!”
We started hugging and jumping up and down. I almost started crying. We’d initially planned to run the race together, but she had a much faster goal and with me singing at the start, it just wasn’t possible. The day before we’d been bemoaning the fact that we weren’t doing it together.
I took it as a sign of good things to come—a sign that yes, today was going to be the rare day that everything went my way, right down to starting the race with the one person I’d really wanted beside me.
We wished each other luck, crossed the start together and then I let her drift off as she chased a sub-four hour goal.
As I trudged up the bridge, I looked out at Manhattan on my left. I remembered the day I’d sailed to this bridge from lower Manhattan and marveled at how daunting the course looked in one big eyeful, as I wrote about in my very first marathon training post.
Across the bridge in Brooklyn, the city was out in force. I couldn’t get over how many more people seemed to be cheering than the last time I ran in 2008. Even the previously deserted neighborhoods were packed with fans, including my friends among them. My sister and nephew even flew in for the occasion. My first cheering squad was at Mile 8 in Fort Greene followed by another friend at Mile 11 in Williamsburg. As I ran, I focused on my next cheering station.
“Okay, only four more miles to Karen, Kira and Rebecca,” I told myself at each marker. Then, “Just one more mile until Tania.”
I ran really relaxed. I was on pace for a 4:30 finish, my initial lofty goal, until the 11-mile mark when my knee started to pinch a bit. So I dropped the pace and gave myself permission to let that goal go. I was having too much fun riding the euphoria of the morning to care about time. I was here to have fun.
At the halfway point on the Pulaski Bridge from Brooklyn to Queens, I felt great, and focused on defeating my nemesis: the Queensboro Bridge from Queens into Manhattan. At Mile 15, it has always been the toughest part of the race for me.
“Just make it up the bridge,” I told myself in preparation. “ Anne, Kathleen, Stephanie, Mo, Christina, Christy, Neil and Natalie are waiting on the other side.”
But this year, the climb felt like nothing. All that hill work I did in preparation for the Montreal Half-Marathon in September paid off, as did hanging back at an easy pace for the first half of the race.
As I came down the bridge, the swell of the Manhattan crowds carried me forward. I had no less than four groups of friends lining First Avenue. As a result, Mile 18 was one of my fastest. I was so excited from seeing everyone, my legs felt like feathers.
But I heard my coach’s voice warning not to get carried away, to save some juice for the Bronx. So I reigned it in, amazed at how great I felt.
“Can it really be this easy?” I thought. “I’m not going to hit the wall!”
And I didn’t. The Bronx came and went. I was running easy and, amazingly, still on pace for a PR.
There was just one obstacle left between the finish line and me: the mile-long climb up Fifth Avenue from Mile 23 to Mile 24. One of my friends and teammates called it a “death march.” She wasn’t kidding. My quads burned as I willed them to keep turning over. It was my slowest mile of the race by a half minute.
But at the top of the hill was Central Park.
“Olly olly oxen free,” I whispered out loud. This was my home turf. I knew every dip, every curve of those Central Park hills.
“I know this hill. I own this hill,” I whispered at one spot that usually trips me up in training runs.
Then I let it rip. Mile 25 was 41 seconds faster than the mile before. And Mile 26? It was my fastest mile in the second half of the race.
I cruised across the finish line flashing the biggest smile.
Nerves? What nerves? Arthritis? What arthritis? Wall? What wall? I ran exactly the race I wanted to run—relaxed, easy and in tune with my body. I forgot about my goal and I just ran. I ran for fun. I smiled at spectators who called out my name. I high-fived little kids on the course. I stopped to hug all my friends and family who came out to see me. And then I just ran some more. Dare I say it? It felt easy. As easy as I imagine running a marathon can feel.
And I managed to finish in a personal best time of 4:44:27.
I’ve got to credit the three run per week FIRST training program that I followed. It seems that less really is more.
I also owe endless gratitude to my coach, training partner and all the other New York Harriers who suffered through weekly speed workouts with me. They paid off! I never dreamed I could PR without having to push myself to the brink.
Thank you to New York Road Runners for inviting me to be a part of the world’s biggest marathon in a way I’ll never forget—singing at the start. I think the excitement of the morning and the early starts helped me in my own race.
Of course, I couldn’t have done it without my friends and my family who encouraged me along the way, on the course and off, especially my boyfriend who trained with me.
And finally, many thanks to you, all of my readers, who let me know I’m not struggling alone through this crazy thing we do.
It’s true what they say about New York; if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.
Congrats to everyone who ran. We did it!