Listen to the Ali on the Run Show!
- August 6, 2020 by AliAli on the Run Show Episode 269: Ali & the Experts with Laura Parrott, Career Coach
- August 5, 2020 by AliAli on the Run Show Episode 268: Jenny Simpson
- July 29, 2020 by AliAli on the Run Show Episode 267: Catching Up with Emily Halnon
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- July 22, 2020 by AliAli on the Run Show Episode 265: Catching Up with Chris Heuisler
“This Isn’t Steamtown”: My New York City Marathon 2014 Recap
After last year’s nearly perfect New York City Marathon, I said I didn’t need to run the race again. Despite being mid-Crohn’s flare and having to make three ugly bathroom stops along the way, I paced myself beautifully and enjoyed every step of the 26.2-mile trek from Staten Island to Central Park. I finally got to run my hometown marathon, and it was so much more than I ever could have dreamed it would be. So then it was out of my system. I was satisfied. Content. Fulfilled.
Then I started working for a running company, and I found out I would be able to run the race again this year if I was up for it. (I still had to pay for my entry. Apparently companies don’t just throw $266 at you to run a race and yes that’s what this marathon costs.)
I wavered for a few days, but ultimately I knew what I wanted to do.
I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be back on those streets, running without fear of bathroom breaks or urgent stops.
The New York City Marathon would be my Steamtown victory lap. I’d PR at Steamtown, and then cruise around the five New York City boroughs feeling happy and basking in my big running season glory.
Except we know how that went. There wasn’t much awesomeness coming out of my legs or my brain during the Steamtown Marathon. There was no PR, no huge victory. There was a heck of a celebration, because all marathon finishes deserve one, no? But it wasn’t the race I had hoped for, it wasn’t the performance I had trained for, and it wasn’t my day.
Maybe New York City could be my day?
With the exception of my weekend at the Runner’s World Festival, I spent the three weeks following the Steamtown Marathon recovering in a major way. I didn’t run much and basically taper-recovered. I took as many rest days as I did run days, and I felt decent in the days leading up to the NYC Marathon.
I did some cool stuff, too. I got to pretend I was a model for a Zelle/Runner’s World segment on FOX 5 about dressing warm for winter running, and the co-host, Greg Kelly told me I wouldn’t win the marathon, and told me not to carb-load too much because then I might “carb-unload.” Just a normal day.
I went to the marathon expo on Thursday in my usual speedy fashion — get bib, take picture with bib, say hi to one person, get out ASAP and don’t return to the Javits Center for at least another year.
Friday was spent running in a tiger suit through Central Park and to a November Project workout at Lincoln Center (I jogged two miles there and skipped the workout part of the workout, opting instead to man a “free high five” station)…
…doing some light manual labor at work (running company = so many marathon events)…
…and attending the Runner’s World New York City Marathon party with some cute familiar faces.
And Saturday was spent entirely on the couch with a few Pitch Perfect dance breaks and some quality FaceTiming with my favorite kids.
By Saturday night, I started to get nervous. Brian was at a wedding out on Long Island, and I called him and freaked out a little about the predicted wind, about “what if I’m not recovered?” and just general silly pre-race nonsense. After we hung up, he sent me one sentence, and it became my mantra for the race:
Then it was Sunday.
I woke up to an email from New York Road Runners alerting us about the high winds, blah blah blah. I wasn’t too worried, because it’s just wind and I can’t control it. At least it wasn’t raining or snowing or sleeting or Crohnsing from the sky, right?
So I suited up and stepped out…
…and got just about knocked over waiting for a cab.
Seriously. The wind was so intense.
I was happy to be on VIP bus to the start line, and joyfully freaked out when I got to the bus location and saw all my November Project friends waiting there. I was so happy to have familiar faces with me on the way to the start, and taking the bus is way better than the ferry.
We got to drive over the Verrazano Bridge and right up to our VIP tent at the start.
And then we waited. We snuggled under blankets, ate our breakfasts, and I took some Imodium.
We had our own row of Porta Potties and some baller security. VIP, man. Livin’ so large.
Soon it was time to get into my corral — orange corral E, first wave. And I made two friends! Alison (and she goes by Ali, same spelling, and we both went to Quinnipiac) and Jenna, who has really nice eyes. Having company made the time pass nicely, and then we were scooting forward onto the bridge. It was go time.
It was also really windy. It wasn’t too bad in the corral, but once we got onto the bridge, it was downright blustery. Most people weren’t taking off their throwaway clothes, and I kept my hoodie, hat, arm warmers, and gloves on for as long as possible.
There was a National Anthem, a cannon blast, and then…no “New York, New York?!” I watched the television coverage and it came on for the later waves, but they didn’t play it for my wave and I was so so sad. That’s one of the best parts of the race!
No matter: The race had begun.
My plan was to try and run an 8:45 pace. I actually don’t/didn’t know where exactly that would put my final time. I did hope to PR, or come in just under 3:50 (my PR is 3:51:20), and figured 8:45s would get me there. I also hoped not to have to make any bathroom stops. (Spoiler: No bathroom stops!!!)
The wind on the Verrazano was so crazy — just as blustery as it had been reported. I had to hold my koala hat on my head as I ran, and people were crisscrossing themselves and running all over the place. It was comical, really. I figured the wind would be worst on the bridge, and once we got up and over, it would be smooth sailing.
Maybe not. But the bridge was so fun! So fun, in fact, that I ran down it a touch too quickly. Oh well. I couldn’t hold back: I was running the New York City Marathon!
I knew I would have spectators all along the way, so my main goals were to be happy when I saw them, and to stay in a positive mental state. The anti-Steamtown, essentially.
My legs felt springy and nice as I descended the bridge, and as we wove into Brooklyn, I was pumped because Brooklyn is my favorite borough during the marathon. It’s a nonstop party and the spectators cheer for everyone. (In the past two years I’ve found that the spectators on First Avenue in Manhattan are looking for their runners and don’t necessarily scream for the masses because they’re so focused.)
My friend and coworker, Karen, passed me around the mile six mark, which was awesome, because she was on her way to a BQ! “You shouldn’t be anywhere near me!” I told her. “Go get your BQ!” And she did. In those conditions.
I loved the area near the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and that’s where I believe I saw Leticia and Brittany screaming like happy crazy girls. This is one of the best places on the course because the spectators are five rows deep and there’s a killer band and a big screen TV (maybe? did I dream that?). I took my first gel around here, too (Hammer Gel, chocolate).
Then, I approached mile 8.5, which is where I saw all my JackRabbits at their cheer station! I felt great — the opposite of how I felt when I saw them during Steamtown.
I powered forward, trying to take it all in and not focus too much on my watch.
At mile 12, I passed the porta-potty I remember so clearly from last year. It was my third and final bathroom stop, and I was in there for a while. This year, I ran right past it without a thought of actually needing it. That felt incredible.
At the halfway point, we ran up whichever bridge that is (Willis Avenue?) and I hated it just like I disliked it last year. It was just annoying enough to slow me a bit, but it didn’t last too long.
All month, I’ve been excited for mile 14 of the marathon. That’s where my November Project friends were manning a massive water station, and I knew it would be insane.
And it was. I got the biggest boost when I saw the sea of neon NP hats. I remember throwing my hands up in the air and feeling the happiest I’ve felt in, I don’t know, years? Pretty cool. Pretty special.
I took a second Hammer Gel, got my headphones geared up, and then we were onto the Queensboro Bridge. This is where things can get tough. And for me, this is where things started to hurt.
I slowed down bigtime heading up the bridge, which I was OK with, figuring I’d make up for it on the other side and up First Avenue. And just as it started to ache a bit, I saw a familiar figure up ahead: Matt Powers.
My most amazing Matt Powers. The guy who pushes me during every single NP workout. Out of 50,000 runners, I saw him. He had jumped in after mile 14 to run a mile or so with his friend, and then he ran next to me for a few steps. He said a few wonderful things and then sent me on my way. It was everything I didn’t even know I needed at that moment, and I got myself over the bridge feeling ready to conquer the long straightaway ahead.
On the Queensboro descent, though, I didn’t feel amazing. My legs started to feel a little heavy, a little marathon-y.
And I couldn’t really pick up my pace on First Avenue like I had hoped. Those miles felt hard, though they did pass fairly quickly. The crowds are great, if a bit overwhelming, but I was working hard to maintain a 9-minute-mile-ish pace.
Meanwhile, my face was the saltiest it’s ever been. I looked like a soft pretzel.
At mile 18, I saw my two favorite people: Brian and my BFF Michael, together, cheering, with a sign (plus Brian’s mom and sister and Michael’s mom and baby). Seeing all of them together was incredible. I think I was able to kick it a bit here, and I cheesily felt really overcome with love and support. Lucky me.
The Bronx was more quiet than I remember, but I recall looking up and seeing a giant TV screen showing the race coverage, and seeing that Kara Goucher had run a 2:37. I didn’t know what her goal time was, but I knew it wasn’t a 2:37. I had slowed considerably by this point, and seeing that made me feel better. It was a tough day. The wind was taking a lot out of me — it was a swirling wind on First Avenue, and it was blowing water cups all around the runners’ feet!
As I exited the Bronx and returned to my home borough, I knew a PR was slipping away from me. It was surprisingly OK, though. My legs were tired and my knees started to hurt (running is bad for your knees, pshhhhhh). I was doing my best to stay positive and repeated “This is not Steamtown” over and over and over. I took my third and final gel and got chocolate mess all over my cheeks. Damn wind.
Right around mile 21, something magical happened: My friend Steve, another dear November Project friend, came running up beside me. Steve just ran a ballsy 3:03 (or was it 3:02?) at the Wineglass Marathon the weekend before Steamtown, and I definitely didn’t expect to see him near me. So when he approached, I half-smiled, told him I was hurting, and encouraged him to go on.
“What hurts?” Steve asked, and I said, “My legs.” He responded: “Well, you’re running a marathon.” That was all I needed to hear. I had been ready to start taking walk breaks at this point, but Steve kept me running. I tried hard to get him to run his own race, but he was selfless and determined to stay with me. “We started this together, we’ll finish it together.”
And we did.
We crawled down Fifth Avenue, eventually getting a little boost from Brian, Michael, & Co. around mile 23.5. I faked a smile for them, and then gave a mental nod to Bernie as we entered Central Park.
Last year, Central Park was where I pushed it. This year, Central Park was where I said, “Just get to that line without walking. You’ve got this.” There were times when I doubted whether I was even moving forward, but Steve and I marched on together in silence, with him on my left the whole time because I am a control freak in that way and don’t like having people on my right ever.
We didn’t pass many people, though we did see Brogan Graham, co-founder of NP, with his wife before exiting Central Park. I gave him a pat on the arm, he said, “Yeah NP,” and then we were through the 25th mile marker.
Just like last year, Central Park South felt never-ending and I swear that street is uphill, is it not?
We saw yet another awesome NP-er, Chris Mosier, screaming for us, and then we were at the real final stretch. We re-entered the park and the finish line was in sight.
I had no kick left in me, and I watched my PR time pass on my watch. I knew I would still come in under four hours, though, and fresh off another marathon, half-marathon, 10K, and 5K, I was daaaaaang happy about that.
Steve and I may have only passed two people in the final 200 meters, but we got ourselves to the line, and we did it together. I am so eternally grateful for his help, his selflessness, and his unrelenting good spirit. Without him, that sub-4:00 may not have happened.
So while I may not have PR’d or hit my sub-3:50 goal, I crossed the line in 3:53:56 with an exhausted smile.
At the end of the day, Brian was right: It really wasn’t Steamtown.
I experienced no cramping.
I made no bathroom stops.
I never had a hyper-negative attitude, even when my legs felt like they may have been filled with lead and the “cool breeze” was moving me sideways.
I wasn’t nauseated at any point.
I had no fueling problems. I took in all three of my gels and walked through lots of water stops to make sure I actually swallowed the water instead of just spaz-splashing it all over my face and moving on. (I was unbelievably salt-faced, though. Help?)
I had no leg pain.
And I made no excuses.
In a way, it was like Steamtown: After getting heat sheeted, medal-ed, and poncho-ed, I took a really long, hot shower, put on sweatpants, and drank wine.
It’s now Wednesday after the race. I’ve used my mango soap four times.
A final italicized note of love and appreciation: The New York City Marathon course can be tough. The hills can hurt, even though they’re not really that bad, and the crawl along Fifth Avenue can feel like a death march. But the people. My god, the people. The people make this race what it is. It’s the most special parade in all the world, and it feels so incredible to have been a part of it again this year. I am so deeply grateful for the spectators, volunteers, and fellow good-spirited runners who make this race what it is year after year. Thank you for the love, the support, the motivating Instagram likes, and the sideline cheers.
New York, I love you. Forever and ever.