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New York City Marathon 2016 Recap
Yesterday was the best day ever.
The past two and a half months have included many not-so-best days ever. So I just wanted a day. I wanted one day to run the New York City Marathon, because I knew that one day would have the power to overshadow all the dark days I’ve seen lately.
And I got exactly what I needed and wanted.
I made it to the start, I made it to the finish — and I didn’t make a single bathroom stop along the way.
I don’t even know how that’s possible. Lately it’s been a struggle to walk across the street without having to bolt for a bathroom (if you’re new around here, that’s thanks to an ongoing Crohn’s disease flare-up that won’t quit). So the fact that I was able to run (and walk!) for nearly five hours yesterday without a single stomach issue seems impossible — but that’s the magic of the marathon, isn’t it?
By the clock, yesterday marked a personal worst marathon time for me. My finish time was more than 30 minutes slower than my previous slowest time, and more than an hour slower than the time I was training for before I got sick.
But by all other accounts? It was undoubtedly a personal best.
Stick around. I have a lot to say about this race…
All week, I went through the motions like I was running the marathon. I wanted to run it and, in spite of my body not totally cooperating, I was willing myself to be a part of it. I got my gels, picked up my bib, and attended a flurry of pre-marathon events.
I don’t normally run the day before a marathon, but on Saturday, I decided to go for a 3.1-mile test run to gauge how my body was feeling. I went out and, 3.1 miles later, I was home — without having made a single bathroom stop.
It was my first zero-stop run in more than two months. It felt miraculous. It was a very good sign, and gave me so much hope that I’d be on a bus to Staten Island 24 hours later. I spent the day resting, relaxing, and thinking happy thoughts. I went to bed around 9:00 resolved to run the New York City Marathon.
Somehow I got around 8 hours of solid sleep, and when I woke up at 4 AM Sunday — my half-birthday, NBD — I was excited. It was going to happen, I could feel it.
I did my usual pre-race routine: bathroom bathroom, hot shower, shave legs, braid hair, bathroom bathroom bathroom, suit up, bathroom bathroom, triple-check list of necessities, kiss puppy. Brian and Ellie drove me to MetLife Stadium, which is only 15 minutes away, so I could catch one of the billion buses to the start.
(Tip: If you’re ever taking the buses from NJ, there aren’t bathrooms on the buses, but there are tons of porta-potties in the parking lots, and no one was using them. Except me!)
The bus ride to Staten Island took a little over an hour, and you could feel the nerves and excitement on board. I made some friends (hi to my new BFF in the onesie who also loves Entenmann’s Multi Grain bars!), then got through security quickly once we got to Fort Wadsworth.
A quick timeline: I woke up at 4 AM, left the house at 5:15, was at MetLife Stadium by 5:35, and got to Fort Wadsworth shortly after 7. My race didn’t start until 10:15.
I was very fortunate to have access to a VIP Tent at the start area. I got completely lost finding it and basically went on a personal grand tour of the start village, but once I found it, it was remarkable. The tent was heated, had a ridiculous spread of food, had private porta-potties, and had fresh flowers and copies of The New York Times on every table. I loved it.
I had lots of friends in the tent with me, which helped pass the time. At 9 AM, it was time to head to my corral. I was in the second wave, which started at 10:15, but we needed time to walk to our corral and then actually get into it. It’s all a crazy process, but a surprisingly organized one considering there were 55,000 runners this year!
The plan was to run the race with my dear friend Sara Beaney. (Everyone just calls her Beaney.) I run regularly with Beaney — she’s a November Project-er (one of the very first ones here in NYC!), and we did intervals together in Central Park before I moved to New Jersey. I look up to her so much. She’s a badass runner, has a kickass job, is a super talented photographer, is a loving mom of two boys, and is a wonderful friend. So when she reached out to me a few weeks ago saying that although she, too, had ceased training for the marathon for a while, she’d run it with me. She was planning to defer her entry, but then she threw out the idea of doing it together, without any time goals or pressure — just the two of us, as a team, getting from Staten Island to Central Park.
So…hell yeah, Beaney.
I told her I might have to make a million bathroom stops, and she said that was fine. I told her I’d probably have to walk — a lot — and she said that was cool, too. We weren’t setting out to suffer or to prove anything — we were doing this to have fun, to enjoy the experience, and to spend the day doing something special.
After spending what felt like forever in our corral, someone sang “America the Beautiful,” and then the cannons blew as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” started to play. And I started to cry. Ugh. Every time.
Then it was happening! Months of uncertainty were behind me — we were running the New York City Marathon!
The first mile of the race is uphill, but everyone will tell you that you don’t notice it. That’s true, I promise! You’re heading straight up the Verrazano Bridge, but between the views and the music and the energy, it’s just so much fun. (Though it was a bit of a shitshow, too — if you’re going to take a selfie, for the love of god and your fellow runners, move to the side. This was all too frequent throughout the race. Be considerate of your fellow runners, especially on such a crowded course, please!)
Once we got to the top of the Verrazano, we cruised down it, and then we were in Brooklyn. I didn’t want to focus on or obsess over my stomach, but I was aware that it felt pretty good.
We wound through Brooklyn, and the crowds, as always, were unreal. We were running a happy, comfortable pace, and Beaney and I were staying side by side, making sure not to lose each other in the sea of 50,000+ runners. We ran the first eight miles and both felt great. We started to see friends along the way, and were looking forward to Mile 10, where the November Project cheer and water stations would be.
And as always, the NP squad didn’t disappoint. Their energy was super, and I made eye contact with lots of friends, including my Tiger BFF Lucy — the #1 person I wanted to see at that point in the race.
But by mile 10, I was also starting to feel the whole “I didn’t train for this” thing. And truthfully, if I weren’t with Beaney, I may have said “f it” and stopped at mile 10. She kept me moving, though.
At mile 12, Beaney needed to pee, and my legs started to tense up a bit. This is also when I got hit with a stupid side-stitch that never fully went away. So we agreed that we’d start taking walk breaks as needed.
We took a walk break at the halfway point, as we climbed the Pulaski Bridge, and I remember crossing the half and telling Beaney, “I honestly don’t know if I can do this…” She told me that yes, we could, and that we’d do it together.
We ran down the bridge and into Queens, but my legs were hurting and my side-stitch was annoying. My brain and heart were happy, but my legs weren’t psyched. (You should always train for a marathon!) We took another walk break around mile 14, and just then I heard my college roommate and bridesmaid and marathon spectating superstar L-One screaming her pretty little face off (with a sign for me, too!). I went over and said hi, and that’s when I realized that yes, we were going to finish this race, and we would keep enjoying it. In the past, I have never stopped during a race to hug and say hi to a friend, but without caring about our time, we could do these things! That felt kind of liberating.
Beaney and I walked the Queensboro Bridge, which was way better than running up it, TBH. We cheered for runners as they passed us, we took in the views, and we just kept saying, “This is so fun!”
And that was the point: Neither of us wanted to be miserable. When we were walking, we loved life. When we tried to run, our legs were kind of unhappy. (Which, I know, is normal during a marathon. But we were untrained, so no need to be heroes here.) So to get to the finish, we ran when we could and walked when we wanted. We were determined to stay happy and keep it fun. No misery necessary.
I’ll admit, it was tough walking parts of First Avenue, where the crowds are so intense and they really want you to be running! People kept telling us, “Start running again, you can do it!” And we were like, “We’re fine! We’re just doing it our way right now!”
Meanwhile, I wasn’t expecting to see Brian until the finish. He was going to be in the grandstands, so imagine my excitement and surprise when I got to mile 17 and saw Brian, Ellie, BFF Michael, and Michael’s daughters all screaming for me. It was awesome.
I ran over to them and I was so surprised and so happy and I gave Michael’s oldest daughter sweaty kisses and gave Ellie some kisses, too.
My body hurt, but I was so happy. I was doing it. Brian looked so proud — and so did Ellie! — and everything in the world felt perfect.
We walked quite a bit over the next few miles. First Avenue sure is long! We picked it up at times through the Bronx — people think the Bronx is boring, but it’s short and I really like it! — but my cramp wouldn’t let up, and it was too debilitating to run through. I wanted to run! But ouch! We stopped at almost every water station, which I never do, but I was thirsty and salty.
Then we were in Harlem, another super fun part of the course, and then we had hit the long, steady climb along Fifth Avenue. We were walking it for a while, then I saw the team from Finish Line Physical Therapy going crazy so we started running again just in time to see Brian and Ellie again!
Ellie gave me a million kisses, and I realized they were standing right in front of the spot where Brian and I got married! Awwww!
We saw many more friends along Fifth Avenue, then made that familiar right turn into Central Park, where I gave my nod to Bernie’s Bench aaaaand then had to take another walk break.
I wanted to be able to run the whole way through Central Park, but nope. We ran the straightaway on East Drive and ran down Cat Hill, then walked a bit more. We ran again exiting the park, and walked the stretch of Central Park South. Then Beaney grabbed my hand and said, “We’re finishing this running!”
We ran into Central Park, and ran up that little hill toward the finish.
All the while, we kept looking at each other and saying, “We did it! We did it!”
We crossed the finish line holding hands, and I immediately burst into tears.
I have never cried at a finish line, but I was a total blubbering mess at this one.
My friend Erin, who works for New York Road Runners, appeared and gave me the best, biggest hug, and then Steve — who finished the NYC Marathon with me two years ago — appeared out of nowhere and gave one of those hugs that actually lifts you off your feet. Erin gave us our medals, and I just kept crying.
I was so happy.
This race felt so wonderfully victorious, and I couldn’t believe I didn’t need a single bathroom stop along the way. That’s that marathon magic people talk about.
I’m so grateful for Beaney, without whom I never would’ve finished the race. I would have stopped at mile 10, but she kept me in a constant forward motion.
To everyone who screamed “Ali On The Run!” — even when I was actually Ali On The Walk — thank you so much. I felt so loved, so supported, and so blissfully psyched the entire day.
I thought a part of me might be disappointed in my finish time (4:49:58), or in the fact that I had to walk so much, but I’m completely unfazed by those details. I hoped for a good day, and I got a great day.
So thank you, New York. Thank you NYRR staff and volunteers. Thank you, Beaney. Thank you, friends, family, and strangers along the way. Thank you, Brian, for picking me up in a car after the race and driving me home. Thank you to everyone whose sign didn’t say “If Trump can run, so can you.” (We must have seen 3829 of those signs.)
I love everything, and am so grateful for what my body let me do yesterday.
Now can someone please bring me a pizza?
Actually two pizzas. Put broccoli on one.
PLEASE RSVP IF YOU WANT TO COME TO MY APPLE CIDER MIMOSA PARTY. It starts now and ends never.