As those of you on Facebook know, I successfully finished the NYC Marathon last Sunday. It was a long journey from my no-running months last winter, due to a sore knee, through physical therapy, 18 weeks of training and then the long trip on Sunday morning, starting with a 5:55 am train into Manhattan, a subway ride to the South Ferry station, and a ferry trip across the Hudson River with the many runners from other states and countries snapping shots of the Manhattan skyline as it receded behind us and the Statue of Liberty as we slapped through the wind-whipped water to Staten Island.
There I got in a long line of people slowly making their way to a long line of buses, waiting to take runners to the start village. Once there I wandered through the tented areas offering coffee and Gatorade, Power Bars and bagels, waiting until the last minute before getting in my starting corral to shed the extra layers I’d worn to say warm in the early morning chill, made much chillier by a hard, cold wind.
At 10:55 the gun for Wave 4 boomed and the last group of starters shuffled in a mass towards the starting line. By the time I stepped over the line the mass of runners had thinned out enough that I could actually start running across the Verrazano Bridge. In spite of the pre-race instructions to leave extra warming clothes in the start village to be donated to charity (or have them transported to the finish line, an option no one seemed to be using) and not to drop them on the bridge, I was dodging sweaters and sweatshirts, hats and gloves, coats and scarves for the first several miles of the course. In fact, there never stopped being discarded clothing for the entire race. Why would someone drop gloves 24 miles into a marathon and not just carry them the last 2 miles?
After the fierce wind on the Verrazano Bridge, the sun came out and the buildings of New York did a good job of blocking the wind for much of the course. I churned along, listening to podcasts and then switched to a running playlist Adrienne had made, and which I added to, at mile 13, in order to pump myself up for the second half of the race. The music helped a lot as I finished the long run through Brooklyn, a corner of Queens, and powered up the incline of the Queensboro bridge, then let myself cruise down to the turn up First Avenue in Manhattan.
First Avenue was the highlight for me. As I started to head north, I looked up at the sea of runners before me, stretching for miles, and the crowds of people along the sides, cheering and shouting and holding signs. Through the music I could hear “Way to go, Grace,” “Go Grace,” “You can do it, Grace.” It was definitely a good move to write my name on duct tape across the front of my shirt so I could get personal encouragement.
Knowing I’d see David at miles 8, 16 and 24 helped too. “Just another mile and David will be on the sidelines,” I would tell myself, and when I turned south on Fifth Avenue at 138th street I started counting the streets in my head, “Just 46 more streets until I see David at 92nd, just 20 more streets, just 5 . . . .” and there he was, smiling and cheering and holding out a PowerBar in case I needed more to eat (which I didn’t).
As I neared the finish line in Central Park I realized I was really going to make it. I’d thought all along I was going to be able to finish this marathon, that I’d prepared myself and trained for it. In the last six miles of running I understood why the training program peaked at a 20 mile run. The last six miles are pure will and grit — once at 20, I kept going by locking in the one-foot-then-the-next rhythm, focused on the music blasting in my ears, and just kept moving. Now I could see the finish line and all I had to do was make sure I didn’t stop.
I didn’t. But now I have. The Hal Higdon training program that served me so well in preparing for the race has a post-marathon recovery program, and I’m now in Zero Week of that program. As in Zero running. The first three days say “No running!” On Thursday and Saturday you can do a gentle jog if you really need to, but the advice is to take the week off. Rest! I’m not good at that but I’m doing it. My toes are still too sore to do much moving yet anyway.
Going in to this marathon I told everyone, and myself, I was just doing this one because I’d decided doing a marathon was on my bucket list. Now I’m not sure I’m going to stop at one. Running 26.2 miles seems like a good deal for an endorphin high that lasts this long.