In just four days, I’ll be staring at the starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon on November 18, 2012. It will be my fifth marathon in five years.
To honor the occasion, I thought I’d take a look back at my very first marathon and first stab at a race recap of the 2007 ING New York City Marathon. I finished the race in 5:54. I aim to finish Philly in 4:15. I’ve come a long way in the last five years. Little did I know how right I was when I proclaimed, “I think I may have a new addiction.”
This race report was first published on TheSportsBank.net in November 2007, but I thought I’d finally put it up here at RunKarlaRun.com too. After all, it’s the marathon that started it all. You can read about what brought me to tackle my first marathon in Because You Only Get One First Marathon.
Don’t Stop Believing
First published November 2007
My first marathon: 26.2 miles, 5 boroughs, 5 bridges, 39,000 runners, and more than 2 million spectators on the mean streets of New York.
I did it. I ran the 2007 ING New York City Marathon. And I did it in a tiara. It was the brainchild of two friends who jokingly—I thought—floated the idea past me and then provided the crown. How could I not wear it? Seriously, my roommate bought it off of a drag queen in Manhattan’s East Village. Come Sunday morning, after six months of training and anticipation, there was only one thing to do: put the tiara on my head, shoes on my feet and run like I’ve never run before.
I had three distinct goals: 1) Finish. 2) Finish under 6 hours. 3) Finish in 5:30. I was ready and fantastically excited.
The NYC Marathon Start
Heading to the start in Staten Island, I sat on the ferry and watched Manhattan fade into the distance. Then it hit me: Oh my God. I have to run back there?! 26.2 miles is impressive when you see it stretched out. I suddenly couldn’t believe I signed myself up to run home from Staten Island, detouring through Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. I gulped.
Amidst the runner’s village chaos, I bumped into an old college friend who was also running. He laughed at the tiara on my head.
“It was sort of a dare,” I said.
He shook his head skeptically, “I would have taken the physical challenge.”
“But I already am, right?” I laughed.
I worked my way into my starting corral. The mass of people slowly inched forward. The temperature was in the low 50s with blue skies, perfect for a little long-distance running. When the troop finally stopped moving, I was on a ramp heading to the upper level of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the start of the NYC marathon. I looked over the edge of the ramp and could see the elite men in another corral below lined up for the start. In the next few moments, the cannon boomed and they were off. I was startled. I didn’t expect the race to start so suddenly. But soon my cluster was walking forward. I started my timer. Then I was up and over the starting pad. The race clock read 5-something. This was the moment of truth.
The feeling in the air was pure euphoria, but I tried not to let it carry me away as Frank Sinatra crooned “New York, New York” over the loud speakers. Runners were pausing to take photos from the bridge. Everyone, and I mean everyone, seemed giddy. The first mile was an uphill climb to the top of the bridge, and I jogged slowly, trying to take in the experience. I looked over the left side of the bridge and could see the whole course, the whole city at my feet. I crossed the mile mark and began to wonder, “Can I really do this? Can I really run 26 miles?”
As I descended into Brooklyn after 2 miles on the bridge, I could hear a roaring rumble, distinct from the sound of pounding feet. A massive crowd appeared around the bend—cheering, shouting, yelling, playing music, beating drums, clanging cymbals and every other noisy method of merry making. I broke out into a smile.
“You’re looking great, Karla!”
“Karla, keep it up!”
“You’re a running Princess!”
“Mommy, she’s wearing a crown!”
I was suddenly very glad I’d listened to my veteran marathoner friends and put my name on my shirt. Huge help. Tiara? Well, it was certainly good for a laugh.
The next few miles went by in a blur as I tried to reign in my pace, stay loose and save some energy for later. Almost 6 miles in, I heard a voice over my right shoulder, “Hey Karla, how’s it going?”
It was the old college friend I’d bumped into earlier. We ran together for a little stretch, talking about our goals. We wished each other good luck and he forged ahead.
After mile 8, I knew my first cheering team would be nearby. I started methodically scanning the crowd for my friends. Then I heard them frantically screaming my name. I’ve never been so happy to see anyone in my life. Seriously. I bounded over to them and threw my sweaty, smelly arms around each of them in a big hug. I paused only a few moments. I was so excited after seeing them that I picked up the pace—too much and started to feel it.
Just then I looked at someone else cheering my name and amazingly, it was another old college friend I hadn’t seen in years. “Oh my God, Karla!” he yelled.
“Hey!” I yelled, unable to believe it. I gave him a two-handed high 5 and kept on running.
I reached the halfway mark at the second bridge. In the NYC marathon, the word bridge is code for “giant hill.” The entire course is laden with gentle rollers, but the bridges are whoppers. I started jogging up the incline and looked at my clock. I was about 2 minutes ahead of pace to make my hardest goal of 5:30, so I walked up the bridge—my first real walk of the race. When I hit the crest, I trotted slowly down into Queens. I knew I had at least one friend waiting there, so I started furiously searching the crowd again. I turned a sharp corner at mile 15 and boom, there he was. It made me feel as if I wasn’t running alone.
I ran off to the third bridge that leads to midtown Manhattan. At the top, I gathered my nerve and felt a rush as I ran into my home territory. I passed the 16-mile mark and was met by an overwhelming crowd that was screaming my name. But this time, the “Go Karla” and “Keep it up, Karla” sounded more pleading than congratulatory. My fatigue must have been showing. Now, I really was glad for the tiara. Hearing “Nice tiara! You’re totally going to win!” from a stranger actually helped, even though we both knew it wasn’t true.
I trudged up First Avenue and started scouring the crowd for my next cheerleading squad. Before long, I spotted them and ran over, beaming. They yelled and gave me a few much-needed hugs. Their toothy grins provided another jolt of energy. A half-mile up the course I saw more of my super fans waving electric colored signs. I ran over to them, paused for a few pictures, got more hugs and ran away waving. The high of seeing my pit crew carried me through the next mile, but by mile 19, I was beat.
I looked at my clock and couldn’t believe it. I had been running for four hours. Four hours! It was a blur. As my body labored, my mind floated in a sensory overload, but I still had another seven miles to go. The road sloped once again uphill and I thought, “Screw it.” I’d been trailing the 5:30 pace team, and as I slowed, I let them drift away into the distance. I could have kept running. I could have pushed myself. But I thought, “Why?” I had hit the dreaded wall. So I walked a little bit of the next few miles. After crossing the final two bridges through the Bronx and barreling down Harlem in Manhattan, I finally reached Central Park, my home court.
I knew those hills. I’d run them countless times in training, and for the first time, they were no longer intimidating. Suddenly two of my friends startled me and jogged with me for a little stretch. I was chatting away when I realized that I wasn’t even remotely out of breath. On the contrary, my lungs felt great. But my legs didn’t have anything resembling high gear left. Bidding me luck, they cut across the park to meet me at the finish.
The NYC marathon finish is notoriously uphill. I’d run it in training, always dreading that last climb. But that day I didn’t even notice the incline. With 1/2 mile to go, I could hear my cell phone buzzing on my arm—my super fans calling and texting. I picked up the pace and stopped noticing the ground beneath my feet. I saw friends waving from the bleachers. I waved, grinning as the crowd cheered me across the finish. I raised my arms and smiled pretty. Someone handed me a medal and I looked at my watch one last time: I clocked in at 5:54:25, but it still wasn’t over.
Here was the hardest part of the day: not sitting down. It was all I wanted to do, but I had to walk another 10 blocks to get out of the park. After running 26.2 miles, I walked at least another 1.5 before finding sanctuary in the seat of a New York City bus. I was so hungry, so tired, so weak in the knees, but so incredibly happy. I did it. I actually ran a marathon. I simply couldn’t believe it.
A few days later, I’m still in an ecstatic stupor. My medal and the “Go Karla” posters are prominently displayed in my apartment. (I’m secretly tempted to wear the medal everywhere I go.) My loved ones really made the day for me. The outposts of familiar faces and messages of good cheer from near and far carried me through. It was a phenomenal experience and having people to share it with, more than anything else, made it worthwhile. Well, that and my bling—the silly crown on my head; it said I was a winner before I even started.
I was one of 5,000 runners who helped raise $13 million for charity. I brought in $2,735 for Team Continuum, a cancer patient care non-profit that had 400 marathoners on the course. That feels pretty good too.
My legs were super sore for a few days, and I managed to escape with only 3 blisters on my feet. But my knee, once plagued by a bone tumor, feels great. Not just great—fantastic. Once more, I still can’t believe it. And I can’t believe that the gal who once hated running now loves it.
There was one point when the whole thing sort of overwhelmed me for a minute. I don’t remember where, but I got a little verklempt and had to suck in some tears. I was so inspired by the other runners and the New Yorkers who were so willing to shout themselves hoarse for total strangers, that I nearly started crying right then and there. And as I raced into Manhattan, I felt so happy to be a New Yorker, so lucky that this is my town, my home, the place that’s been incredibly kind to me for a good many years.
I thought of a documentary called The Cruise, about a New York City tour guide who likened the Big Apple to a jealous lover. To me, she has been more of a BFF. And this was one more day when the city had my back. I’ll never have another first marathon, so I’m thankful that it happened here and now. Sure, there were moments when it felt really difficult, moments when I wondered why I had really set out to do this. But a few days later, I’m already thinking ahead to next year and possibly breaking 5 hours in the NYC Marathon. In the words of the immortal Steve Perry, “Don’t stop believin’! Hold on to that feelin’…” I think I may have a new addiction.
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runner’s weekly lifestyle web show about running. She has completed four marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.