Sunday, November 6th, 2016 was my first time ever running the TCS New York City Marathon. I had a phenomenal race; perfect weather, perfect pacing, and unparalleled cheering from family, friends, and strangers in all five boroughs. I was just riding this wave of incandescent happiness the whole time; I'm smiling in almost all my race pictures. I even ran my second half 2 minutes faster than my first! The NYC Marathon was the first time I've ever negative split ANYTHING. Moreover, I finally qualified for Boston, a golden snitch I’ve chased after for years. It wasn't my first marathon, but it was my first marathon in 3 years, and by far my best race to date, but the weekend didn't start out that way …
Race Weekend Woes
The Friday before NYCM, I still hadn't washed my singlet from the weekend before, could not for the life of me find my GPS watch charger, and hadn't made a race playlist. I know, I know, "run without music! listen to the crowds!" but I typically only run shorter races without music, and because no one is allowed to cheer on the bridges (where I thought I would need it most), I wanted to have it just in case. Did I mention I just recently moved apartments, and so things are in a state of disarray anyway? I was a little panicked. Night before? Spent almost an hour looking for my headphones. Realized I hadn't bought letters to spell out my name on my singlet, so I used the back of an old bib, wrote my name on it (twice actually, because the first time I wrote it, the ill-advised spacing made it look like my name was "MADE LINE"), and pinned it on top of my real bib as I had thrown away all my extra pins before moving apartments, à la KonMari. I couldn't find scissors, so I had to cut off the excess with one of my Ragnar Trail medals (definitely not approved, but definitely the most useful race medal ever; earlier that week I used it to open boxes). Also daylight savings time ended Sunday, which was all the more reason to be nervous. What if I didn't get up in time?! What if my watch didn't change automatically?! (Ref: the classic Seinfeld Marathon Runner episode -- every runner's worst nightmare!)
Thankfully, my amazing family came to NYC (from Germany and DC nonetheless!) to spend the weekend with me, cheer me on, help me walk after the race, and feed me ramen (and apparently help me find things in the abyss that is my room, as my mom was the one who finally found my watch charger, and washed my singlet for me). I don't think I would have found everything I needed in time, remembered to go grocery shopping so I wouldn't starve on race morning and the week following, or found my way home without them.
Getting to the start of the New York City Marathon is a production. Amazingly, my watch and phone changed automatically and I got up in time! As planned, I split an Uber with my friend and fellow North Brooklyn Runners teammate John, to Jackrabbit, to take the Prospect Park Track Club bus to the start village. We found our other NBR teammates and boarded the bus with them, chatting excitedly about our cute (everyone else) or jank (me) race swag. Literally everyone else had SOMETHING sparkly; John's race kit involved rhinestone hearts bearing the Seahawks logo and I ❤️ NYC respectively, Sophie wrote her name on her singlet in glitter glue, and Jen Herr’s singlet had chrome letters spelling her name and "Bedstuy or Die". I did not, but you can bet that next year I will be bedazzling my race singlet.
Upon arrival (sunrise), we were simultaneously so excited for the race and so scatterbrained as to take a selfie in front of some porta potties. After that, we had about 4 hours to chill, get sleepy, and eat specifically-timed snacks in the runner villages. Thank goodness I had these lovely people to hang out with in those hours before the race - we talked and drank the free Dunkin Donuts coffee almost the entire time, and I finally snagged one of the coveted orange and pink fleece hats that they give you in the runner village. How do I still have said hat, you wonder? I ended up running with it for the first 12 miles and handed it off to a friend, and yes, it's in many of my race pictures.
Finally, it was time for the start of Wave 1. We started walking over to our corrals around 9:00 AM. If you ran in Wave 1 and you're reading this, you're probably thinking, "but the corrals closed at 9:00 AM, what was she doing?!" and you would be correct. We had not double-checked the corral times, and we arrived 10 minutes after they closed. A brief panic ensued, during which I texted my family that I was starting late and updated my time grid spreadsheet of when I was going to be where so my family knew when to go to the next cheer spot, and so my friend who had volunteered to jump in and pace me knew exactly when to be at mile 12. The Wave 2 corral opened, and a few minutes later a volunteer mercifully let me crawl under the rope and scamper on ahead to join Wave 1. More texting and spreadsheet updating ensued at a furious pace, and because everyone was in the subway, my messages weren't getting delivered. I started taking off my many throw-away layers - items of clothing that did not bring me joy but that I had thankfully kept specifically for this purpose after my closet purge (*KonMari does not approve of this, but it was great warm, disposable clothing to have on race morning). Finally I got confirmation that my friend pacing me and my family knew the plan had changed back, and I finished re-tying my shoes, ate my first of 6 gels (I never want to eat a gel again now), and rubbed chapstick over my quivering lips.
They played the Star-Spangled Banner and BOOM! I felt the start gun go off and reverberate through my chest like a cannon, the same thud when you're watching fireworks from a dangerously close distance. (Later I found out, yes, the start gun was in fact a cannon.) Since I'd had to sneak in the back of Wave 1, I'd lost my C corral position, but instead of pushing to the front, I decided to wait where I was so I wouldn't be tempted to start out too fast. I could see the third of the three 3:30 pace groups, and it was so tempting, but I held back. I had been so careful to plan out my race pacing, following the 10/10/10 rule, I was going to run 8:10 minutes miles for the first 10 miles, closer to 8:00's for the second 10 miles, and the last 10k try to go 7:50's or as close to that as possible. It helped that I had scheduled everything around those times, what time of day I should be at what mile so my family could cheer for me in multiple locations, and when exactly my pacer should jump in, and going too fast at the beginning would ruin everything. "New York, New York" played in the background as I approached the start line, and I teared up. Super cheesy, but a year ago I never thought I would have the opportunity to run this race so soon, and I have never trained harder for a running race in my life. The start was symbolic for me; I've been in New York for about a year and a half now, and I've grown so much as a person (and as an athlete!) since then. I was never one of those people who always dreamed of living in this city, but now I love New York more than I ever, ever thought I would.
Running over the Verrazano was amazing; beautiful views on a beautiful day, and of course everyone feels great at the start of a marathon.
As soon as we hit the ground in Brooklyn, there were crowds of people on either side of the course screaming and cheering. All through Brooklyn. I have never seen so many people cheering during a race, nor have I ever smiled so much during a race. Looking at my watch, I noticed I was going just a hair faster than I should be, so I pulled back. Through mile 12, I made sure to walk through all the water stations. Around mile 7 I saw two of my tri team teammates, and waved wildly. I look insane in this picture they took of me, but it's hilarious, so here you go. Notice the orange Dunkin Donuts hat I'm carrying and my SPIbelt bouncing under the weight of 5 gels, plus I'm next to a giant of a man. My family was cheering for me at mile 8, by Barclays, exactly as planned, and I probably looked just as crazy waving to them. I couldn't help thinking all through Brooklyn, this is where I live, this is my home, and all of these people are here watching me run after all the hard work I've put in; it was an amazing feeling. Just before mile 12, where I was to meet Carlos (my pacer), I caught up with the third 3:30 pace group. Somehow I hardly saw or recognized anyone, even though it was the NBR water table, and didn't see Carlos, but he found me a few minutes later and I made him carry the hat I'd been running with for 12 miles.
Up, up, and over the Pulaski Bridge we went! I'd run this part several times with our run club and knew what to expect, so I just tried to stay relaxed, and stick with Carlos and the 3:30 group and enjoy the crowds.
Manhattan, Part 1
Anyone who's run with me in NYC knows I hate the Queensboro bridge, but somehow it was fine; Carlos whistled a song (maybe an NSYNC song? It's a blur now) until we got to the downhill section, and then you could hear people screaming and cheering on 1st Ave - it was like being at a rowdy rugby game, and I felt like I was in the Olympics. Somehow we passed the third 3:30 group running up 1st Ave …
I honestly don't remember very much of the Bronx, only that I took a gel somewhere in there and that there were yet again, tons of people there cheering. By the time we left the Bronx I was starting to feel tired, but waterboarded myself (by accident) and kept going.
Manhattan, Part 2
Home stretch! Sort of! I don't remember it specifically, but somewhere in upper Manhattan we passed the second 3:30 group and went to chase down the first. Somehow. we finally made it to Central Park, and Carlos hopped off the course, leaving me the first 3:30 pace group and only a little more than a 5k to go. Immediately I felt a shooting pain in my left knee and thought it was all going to be over, and then miraculously, I was totally fine, and continued running hard and smiling for about 3k. I saw more of our teammates in Central Park, and my parents at mile 25, and many strangers yelling "Go Madeline!" No matter how jank your name looks on your bib, people will yell it, so do it if you run this race even if it looks bad.
There were so many times in the last 2k that I wanted to start crying. If I just stayed with that 3:30 group, because I had started behind them, I was not only going to qualify for Boston (3:35 for women in my age group), I was going to smash my time goal of 3:32 and break 3:30. In a weird way, I went back and forth between not wanting the race to end during those last kilometers, and being so ready to lay down and cry. I crossed the finish line, FINALLY, with the first 3:30 group, making my time a 3:29:09 (and a BQ!), and saw my friend who works at NYRR waiting to hug me at the end. Somehow I held it together and didn't cry, so we took a selfie, and I started the very slow medal, snack bag and poncho walk over to PS 87 to meet my family. Overall it was the best I have ever felt during a race. Thanks to Tuesday Night Tempo, Thursday Night Track (shout out to Jose for helping me make the 10/10/10 plan and suggesting a pacer!), and Narwhals, I even ran my second half faster than my first, just as planned!