The Race of My Life.

Three days later, I am still in disbelief. I ran a marathon. Not “finished” a marathon. Not “ran-but bonked at the last 6 miles.” And not just any marathon. The marathon I grew up watching my dad run, in the city that I always dreamed of living in one day.

I think I have been preparing for this race since last year when I “finished” my first marathon. I was under-trained and injured, and my injured knee came back to haunt me at mile 8. It’s a long way to start hurting, believe me.  At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to run New York again – but when I was able to secure a spot, I knew I had to avenge myself on that course.

I started the weekend off with a bang at the Asics pre-marathon party at the Empire Hotel. I got to mingle with some super star marathoners…

Oh hello, Ryan Hall.
What’s up, Deena Kastor?!

I had actually met Deena at an Asics event last year, but more surprisingly, she had remembered me, too! She asked me about my training this year and my time goals, and told me I would totally rock it when I told her I had finished three 20 milers. So inspiring to hear that from such an accomplished athlete.

Friday morning I headed straight to the expo to pick up my number. I was worried about the crowds, but it was actually not terrible. I was able to walk right in and pick up my number, and, no problem snagging an xs shirt. I was even pleasantly surprised to find out that offered woman’s cut shirts this year. Three cheers for race shirts that actually fit!

Number pickup at the expo

I spent the rest of the weekend in the city since my parents had come into town.  The timing was brilliant – Saturday was my mom’s birthday, too!  Since my parents are in Miami and my sister’s job does not give her alot of time off, it was really great to have some quality family time.  It had been at least 6 months until we were all together.
But finally it was race day! My alarm was set for 6 am – but I woke up in the middle the night, grabbed my phone and saw “6:30” – and totally freaked. I rushed out of bed to brush my teeth and wash my face…only to have my boyfriend grunt at me that it was actually 5:30 am. Damn Daylights Saving!

A half hour later, I got up at 6 am (for real), got dressed, and headed out to stop at a very specific deli for breakfast.

Family tradition is a good luck charm, right?

What makes this deli so much more special than the rest of the delis? Both my parents always stopped here for their pre-marathon bagels over there, so it’s been a bit of a family tradition. And who am I to break tradition?

I hailed a cab and headed towards the ferry. The ferry terminal was incredibly packed, but since I was already there for the Staten Island Half Marathon a few weeks ago, I knew exactly where the doors opened, and was able to get on the 7:30 am ferry right away.

Chilling on the ferry

A quick ferry ride later, and I arrived on the island. Once we got out of the ferry, there was a huge line of buses waiting to take us to the start village. Very well organized.

As I walked to the start village, I started to get chills. This was finally it!  Last year I remember it being super freezing – but this year, the temperatures were fairly comfortable. Other than the fact I probably looked like a homeless person in xl pajama pants over my running shorts, fleece sweater, and hat covering most of my ears, but whatever.  Totally not a fashion show.

Walking into the start village

I dropped my bag off, went to the bathroom a million times, and headed to my corral assignment. I heard the cannon go off for wave 1 and got chills – soon it would be me running over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge starting my own marathon.

My corral

 And then before I knew it – I stripped out of my layers, marched off to the bridge…and off we went!

I started in the green section, so I was on the lower level of the bridge. While it was a little less scenic than the upper levels,  it didn’t really bother me.  I was more concerned with finding my pace.  My Garmin kept telling me I was at a 13 min/mile – but I knew it was just being finicky because of the bridge, and tried to have faith in my instincts. 

When we dumped out into Brooklyn, I finally caught a decent GPS signal, and phew! I was right on target with a 10 min/mile.  The course was crowded (but, it’s one of the largest marathoners, what do you expect?) and the roads were narrow and much hillier than I remembered, but I tried to focus on keeping my pace. The first 5k, and then 10k passed, and I was clipping along fairly easily, and took my first Cliff Shot Bloks in.

I spotted my friend Kathy cheering at around the 8.5 mile mark – and then passed the 15k point – and kinda really starting to need a bathroom. All the lines for the port-a-potties were ridiculously long, so I found a bakery and ran in. It ended up costing me around 5 minutes – which I knew would probably cost me a sub 4:30 marathon – but could you do?  I didn’t really have an alternative.

After climbing yet another hill (seriously, did not remember these!), I finally made my way to the  Pulaski Bridge, took in a few more Shot Bloks, hit the half marathon point, and landed into Queens. I was still averaging a 10 min/mile (if you took out my bathroom break) but I was starting to get nervous. My right knee was beginning to throb a bit, and I knew the Queensboro Bridge would be coming up any mile now.

Sure enough – there was that bridge. My nemesis. Last year this was when I first starting walking and the race started to get very difficult for me.  I took a deep breath, ignored the pain in my knee, and kept marching on.  “No walking,” I kept telling myself. Surprisingly, the uphill actually helped the pain in my knee disappear, temporarily at least. I hit mile 15, and then a few minutes (which felt like ages), hit the downhill of the bridge, and eventually mile 16.  A sign read “if 10 miles left is easier, welcome to easier.” At this point I lost my Garmin signal again, so I was running by feel again – and using the clocks at the mile markers as a rough estimate.

Running up First Ave in Manhattan is one of the highlights of the New York Marathon – you can hear the roar of the crowds from almost a mile away and they are at least 5 rows deep. Last year I was so miserable I could barely appreciate it, so this year I was determined to enjoy it.  Plus I knew all I had to do as to hang on to my pace for two more miles, and I would get to spot my mom and sister! The problem was, my Garmin was just as useless in Manhattan as it was on the Queensboro Bridge.

I definitely felt the incline up First Ave, but I let the energy of the crowd take my mind off of it. I took in my third helping of Shot Bloks and watched the numbers on the street signs climb higher . “All you have to do is make it to the 90s,” I told myself, “And you’ll have your family.”  And sure enough…I finally made it! I gave them a huge smile and passed by them.  I tried to ask them what my time was since I knew they were tracking me via the mobile app – but they said they didn’t know. “Fabulous,” I thought, “the tracking on the app wasn’t working, either.”

I made my way through Harlem, and then over the Willis Ave Bridge – and then I was in the Bronx, and mile 20.  Finally, my signal on my Garmin worked again – and it said I was around a 10:20 min/mile pace. “Hang on,” I told myself. “Yes, you hurt, but this is what you trained for. Don’t. Give. Up.”

I tried to keep an even pace as I passed mile 21 and then up over Madison Ave Bridge and back into Manhattan (and, a failed GPS signal, of course) I heard a cop yell out “Last bridge! home stretch to Manhattan!” and I thought to myself, “thank the lord.” But I was also smiling pretty broadly – I was still running, and I knew I could make it.

I passed mile 22, and knew after the next mile, I would be entering Central Park soon.  The incline up Fifth Ave was pretty brutal. It was all uphill, and so many people were bonking and walking, but I was determined to keep on going.  Right after I passed mile 23, I spotted my mom again and knew I was getting so close. Only 5k to go! And really, how many times have I run a 5k? I got this!

I entered the park again, and welcomed the downhill relief – except the downhill started to really bug my knee. But it did it matter? NO! Just keep on trucking.

I had a bunch of friends volunteering or watching at/around the mile 24 water station – but pretty much missed everyone.  I grabbed water and heard a “Rachel?!” from my friend Gary, but I was so out of it, I barely recognized him.

The signal on my Garmin picked up again, and I briefly saw I was at a 10:20-10:30ish mile. I was kind of confused because I thought I was running much harder, but after so many miles on my legs, I guess every stride seemed like double the effort.

Mile 24 seemed to take forever, but I finally made it through to mile 25. “Just exit the park, whip across Central Park South, and you’re practically home,” I told myself. At this point my right knee, and well pretty much everything else, was killing me, but I didn’t care. I could see the buildings in Columbus Circle in my distance, and I just focused making it there.

And then finally – I saw the bleachers, the jumbotron, green, and then I was in the park….and at mile 26! So close!

I starting seeing the railings for the chute – but could not see the actual finish line for the life of me. I knew my dad and my boyfriend would be in the bleachers close to the finish line, so I started looking for them.  When I saw them – I knew how close I was, and I was home free.

I finally spotted the finish line – and I was ran through it, I started tearing up a bit.  I actually did it!!

I made my way through the infamous “death march” until I found my medal, food, bag check, and park exit.  My boyfriend and dad were waiting for me, and they helped me get back to the hotel, where we could start the post-race festivities.

My final time was 4:33:47, and I could not be happier. I ran the whole thing, I did not bonk out, and best of all….

Making the Times!

I made the New York Times!!!

I know I am not the fastest marathoner by any stretch of the imagination – but I proved to myself that I could run a marathon, and that means more to me than anything else.

And the best part of all? As soon as I crossed the finish line I finished my 9th qualifying race….so New York Marathon 2012, here I come!!

Is it bad that I’m already setting tentative time goals already?

14 thoughts on “The Race of My Life.

  1. Congratulations – there is nothing better than seeing your name in the NY Times! Even bett that you already qualified for 2012!

    How did you get so lucky to attend the Asics pre-marathon party?


  2. Awesome!! Proud of your accomplishment!! Looking forward running in 2012. I've been running on and off for 9 years. This year I started participating in races and am so addicted now. Really intimidated by 26 miles but looking forward to training hard for it! Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂


  3. Thanks all for the congrats and kind words!

    I was able to attend the Asics party because once upon a time I was lucky enough to work in media…and the PR girl was kind enough to invite me this year.


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