Today I’ll unpack my recent race. It was my 12th marathon and 3rd time running NY and let me tell you, the Big Apple did not disappoint!
When you toe up to the starting line for a race, especially anything over the 10K distance, you’ve spend the past 12, 16 or even 20 weeks training for it and have logged hundreds and hundreds of miles. One runner my friend chatted with on the plane shared that he ran 200 miles in October alone. (Which, I guess may not have been such a bad idea in hindsight. But I’ll get to that. ) My point is that by the time race day rolls around you have done the work and say a little prayer to the Marathon Gods that you have minimal bathroom requirements and that you keep putting one foot in front of the other. Better runners than I also wish for negative splits and a PR. And that’s ok too.
The NYC Marathon is AMAZING. First off, you have the energy of New York City which is electric. Then add in the tens of thousands of runners, pre-race hype and excitement, the crowds, the cheering, the literal ROAR of the crowd along 1st Avenue as you come around the Queensborough Bridge and the spectators 7 deep along the final stretch before you cut into Central Park and the finish line.
There are kids holding signs that say “Touch the button for extra power”. Block parties with music blasting out of their systems, people shouting into megaphones encouraging the crowds, countless throngs of people with solo-cups drinking…whatever…. (Hello, Boozy Brunch), people holding out bottled water from their porch, church choirs singing, flags of all nationalities being waved and bands playing almost at every mile. Then you have kind souls holding boxes of Kleenex (because noses run too people), kids handing out leftover Halloween candy and more plates of cut bananas and oranges than I’ve ever seen on a race course.
My training pal Barbara ran all of our long runs together and stay pretty tight in the pace department so our plan was to stay together as long as we could. We wrote our names on our bibs (because when you’re at Mile 21 and someone says “Way to go Keli, keep it up” you kind of want to kiss them). We ran in honor of Barb’s sister Susan who is suffering from a platelet disorder and was in the hospital. We wrote her name in Sharpie on our legs and wore purple and maroon ribbons on our shoes. And we wore the shirts that I found for us online (www.constantlyvariedgear.com) and thought were funny. Black tanks with ‘Not Today Satan’ on the front. Little did we know how the crowd would react to those shirts.
Our day started at 6:30am when we met in the lobby and walked to the subway. The subway took us to the Port Authority where we boarded the ferry to Staten Island. Can I just say that it was the best way to get to a race. Ever. It was cold and clear. A perfect start to a gorgeous fall day.
Form the ferry we were herded to the buses and then bused (bussed? neither look right) to the runner’s village, right next to the on-ramp to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge; the starting line of the race. We found our way to the Orange section, got in a bathroom line then plopped down with our stuff and hung out. We ate, stretched, went to the bathroom again and then BOOM, the canon went off indicating the first runners were off. From the village we could see them going across the bridge.
Our wave was last so we dropped off our gear bags, hit the bathroom again (it’s a race thing and we hit the bathrooms 3 more times before we got to the starting line). Then we made our way to the starting line. We knew we’d be in the chill for a while so we had on a baggy sweatshirts and men’s flannel pj bottoms . As we got closer to the entry to the bridge we shed the layers (which are collected and donated to the Goodwill).
The national anthem was sung and the canon for our group went off.
The first mile is uphill, fyi. Now being from the Bay Area, I know from hills so it wasn’t a big deal. But still. A hill at the beginning is a rough entry to a race. We crested then made our way down another mile or so and landed in Brooklyn, the longest stretch of the race, at over 8 miles.
We started hitting spectators at about 2 1/1 miles. And thus began what would become the rally cry of the TCS NYC Marathon.
“Way to go, good job, Not Today Satan, that’s funny”
“NOT TODAY SATAN – great shirt.”
“That’s right ladies, not today Satan- give me a high five”.
And we’d yell back, “That’s right, not today. Maybe tomorrow”
Now add in more high fives. Countless high fives all along a row of spectators. Groups of people coordinating their “Not Today Satan” as we ran by. “Not Today Satan” being shouted out by people with megaphones, microphones, thumbs-ups, fists raised, fingers waggling at us.
(There were many times that people in front of us would look around when the rally cry was shouted. A few looked behind and realized we were the reason for the “Not Today Satan” chants and not some weird cult thing.)
We ran through Brooklyn, (with huge crowds and they clearly enjoyed our shirts) and through many different neighborhoods. From a downtown area to tree-lined streets and people partying on stoops.
In Brooklyn we saw Brad, Jack, Barb’s husband Paul and her sister and niece. They were Subway Ninjas, plotting out the best places to see us and figuring out what Subway line and stop they needed to get to. We saw them three times in Brooklyn alone. They cheered, took extra clothes and at one point I got rid of my phone and headphones. Kisses, high fives and we were off. At the last stop in Brooklyn we put in a request for a hot pretzel with salt for Mile 18. From Brooklyn we popped into Queens for a bit and then climbed up to the Queensborough Bridge.
At this point we were at around Mile 14. And I was tight. My glutes and low back had been giving me lots of problems for about a month so when stretching and the like wasn’t helping. So 10 days out, I texted Ron (my chiro/sports med guru) and he adjusted, massaged, stretched and gave me my protocol. I was feeling better before the race but the tightness came on quickly.
Here’s where mental toughness comes in. When you’re in an endurance event and things aren’t going as planned you have to adapt your race strategy and also your expectations. In my case, at mile 14 I knew a 4:45 finish time was out the window but hoped I could salvage a 5:00. And I also knew that if I was in discomfort at 14, it would make the remaining 11.2 miles a bit more challenging but knew I could do it. It might not be pretty, Barb and I laughed at one point, but it would get done.
But that’s the reason I LOVE setting physical goals. There’s that point when things get really hard but you keep plugging away and then, it’s done. You triumphed. You won.
Sorry, I digress. Back to the race.
When we exit the bridge and plop onto 1st Avenue, it’s a wall of sound and of people. People on the streets. People hanging out of windows banging pots with wooden spoons and people spilling out of bars. It’s 4 miles of slightly rolling hills. I needed a break at that point but you know, I’m wearing a “Not Today Satan” shirt and I felt that if I walked I’d look like Satan won. 🙂
At certain points along the race you see the same spectators because they too, are Subway Ninjas. I hit that kid’s sign for a power surge like 3 times. I saw gaggles of girls with their solo cups yelling “Still Not Today Satan” and people holding out their hands for more high-fives.
Soon enough we were on the bridge into the Bronx. A quick in and out and we were coming back into Manhattan. We caught up with Brad and the posse right after that and even though they didn’t have pretzels, they had hot and salty fries that were amazing and just what was needed.
The last 4 miles or so are kind of a weird blur. The street into Central Park is a nice long incline. And many, many people were walking. Not power walking or moving with purpose, but that hitching walk where you know they are spent and hurting. Like extras from the Walking Dead. My strategy at that point was to run to the water stops, walk to the end of the table and run to the next and once I hit the last water stop, no walking because I was damned if I’d walk across the finish line.
“Not Today Satan”
“Hey I saw you earlier, great job”
“Way to go, Satan” Um, no but ok thanks.
The crowd was still with us. And that helped propel me to the end. It’s funny but when I look at my splits, those last miles were almost the fastest of the race. Go figure.
I crossed the finish line in 5 :13. Admittedly I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t have a better time. That’s the runner and competitor in me and looking back I know my training could have had more depth.
But with that said, I’m super proud of myself and Barb. Also grateful to our family for sharing this experience.
So yeah, not today Satan, not today.
Now go run!