On November 3, 2013 I did the New York City Marathon for the IM ABLE Foundation.
I did it… because I can and to help others who can’t.
There were five of us doing the marathon for IM ABLE and together we raised around $12,000… because of that many people’s lives will be enriched. Thanks to each of you who encouraged and supported me with words, kindness and money.
Everything about the day—the weather, the organization, the race, the spectators, the other runners and how I felt— everything was far better than I thought it might be!
This recap is detailed, if you don’t have time for that… go here for the abbreviated version.
To enjoy the day.
And to finish! (I think I can, I think I can, I
sure as hell hope think I can…)
Quick memory: Very well organized sea of humanity
Feeling: Excited, but concerned about whether or not I could finish.
Details: It took a subway, ferry and bus ride to get me to the start. The subway ride was on my own from the upper west side where a friend of a friend had graciously offered to host us, to the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry ride was part of the race organization. The station was a mass of organized chaos. I met cool runners like:
And a super energetic and inspiring bathroom worker who entertained us as we waited in line with creative sayings like… “Let’s get the royal flush going!”
At my previously selected time (8am) I boarded the ferry with other runners.
Not having had time (or being too lazy) to go over all the race start details, I was winging the day… so as I got off the ferry, I wondered what’s next. But it wasn’t hard to figure out, I simply followed the sea of people to the waiting busses for a ride (part of the race organization) to the other side of Staten Island where the start village was.
Arriving at the start village, I was frisked with a metal wand (new procedure this year). I had a green bib, so I followed the large green signs and flags to my designated village. (There was security and people everywhere, but well organized.)
I walked around the village to stay warm, but wasn’t as cold as I thought I might be. There was complimentary food (bagels, bananas, bars) and water, tea and coffee. I had some Dunkin Donut’s coffee (a big sponsor of the race) and ate the oatmeal I had picked up at a Starbucks (adding the chia seeds I had stashed in my pocket—gotta have them!)
I was in Wave 4 (last wave) and at the posted time, I added my sweatshirt and sweatpants to the mounds of other discarded clothes (which were donated to homeless shelters) and joined others heading to our corral.
I noticed lines of people forming at gates. I didn’t know if I was supposed to be in a specific line, but I didn’t want to stand still and get too cold, so I wandered over to the other side of the corral. Doing that I noticed a range of numbers posted at each gate corresponding with bib numbers. After I saw some of the lines start slowly moving, I found my gate and got in line. The line snaked out through the gate to meet the other lines, which created a sea of humanity headed to the start line on the bridge.
The crowd walked slowly out of the corral and over to the start right beside the bridge. At one point, there was an endless row of porta-pots with no lines, so I made one last stop. I figured that was better than having a federal offense on my record.
Announcements were made frequently that it’s a federal offense to urinate off the side of the bridge. In the past, I’ve heard countless people talk about other runners urinating over the side of the bridge, but still others said that it was an urban myth, but since they kept making announcements about it, I assume it has happened.
During our slow walk to the start, I was thrilled to run into Sheryl, a friend I had met at a conference in the past year or so. It was her first marathon and she was dressed with her usual rocking style for the occasion. Read her excellent marathon recap here.
Near the start, everyone paused as the national anthem was sung, then the cannons fired and we were off right on time. (Totally impressive!)
Quick memory: Windy and uphill
Feeling: Glad to get started, wishing the wind would die down.
Details: The start is only a short distance (maybe 50 feet) from the bridge, so we were soon on it and headed up an incline. I was debating if I’m going to run the whole hill or give myself a walking break. I soon noticed some runners stopping to take pictures along the side, so I decided to do the same after about 5 minutes of uphill running. It was extremely windy to run near the side or stand there taking a picture. Made me glad I was on the lower level, I can only imagine how windy it was on the top level.
Quick memory: Falling. Yes, falling on the cold hard asphalt.
Feeling: Cold… and wondering why the hell I was doing this.
Details: There was a fair bit of lane-changing in the first few miles as people moved from the side to the middle of the bridge or vice-versa. At one time when I was running in the middle of the road (to avoid the wind along the side) someone moved over in front of me and tripped me. For a second I thought I would be able to recover, but then before I knew what happened, I was on the cold, hard asphalt. I didn’t fall hard, but both legs/knees hit and then my hands as I reached out to stop myself.
A few runners stopped and helped me get up (very kind) My thought was to get up and check out the stinging pain I was feeling on my legs, but as soon as I was up someone behind me pushed me in the center of my back (not so kind) and I had no choice but to run as soon as I stood up. I assume the push was to get me going again, so no one else would run into me.
As I ran again, I carefully made my way over to the side, where I could stop and check out the damage. Thankfully there was no blood, only light surface abrasions. The cold, stinging pain died down after walking a minute or so, then I started running again.
Mile 3 and 4
Quick memory: People peeing and discarding clothes.
Feeling: Fascinated… and happy to have a few miles behind me.
Details: Coming off the bridge, I noticed a few people who must not have made use of the empty porta-pots right before the start head to a large bush off the side of the road. (Does that give new meaning to the phrase “community watering hole”?)
I tend to stay at the edge of the crowd along the side of the road, so my walking breaks don’t interfere with anyone. Apparently many runners warmed up on the bridge and needed to shed clothes. For the first 1/2 mile off the bridge, I had to be careful not to trip on sweatshirts, beanies, gloves, etc. discarded by earlier runners. I was still comfortable in my capris, a long sleeve and a short sleeve shirt, along with gloves and a headband over my ears.
As we came off the lower level of the bridge, the runners from the top level divided and half came down the ramp on the left of us and half on the right. It was so cool to see runners everywhere. At that time the groups didn’t combine, each group stayed on their own road.
Shortly after the bridge, we came to the first water stop and were greeted not only with gatorade and water, but with cheers and encouragement. I was feeling great, so it was fun to chat briefly with other runners, especially others that were taking walking breaks also.
Somewhere in mile 4, we made a right turn until 4th Avenue, and joined the other two streams of runners (the orange and blue bibs) that were already running on it, though we were divided by the low concrete barrier in the center of the road.
Mile 5 and 6
Quick memory: Celebrity time!
Feeling: Great and loving everything about the NYC marathon!
Details: Everyone had encouraged me to write my name on my shirt, which I had done with fabric paint. (Thanks Bev!) I soon realized why. In many races while running through residential areas, there’s an occasional spectator, but in NYC, there’s spectators everywhere!
They watched the runners and as soon so they saw a name on someone’s shirt, the personalized cheering started. “Go Janet, you can do this!” “Looking good, Janet!” “Janet, you got this.” “Janet, you trained, now enjoy the race.” And on and on and on…
Sometimes the cheers were from one person at a time, but others times when the spectator’s friends heard him or her use a name, they also added personal cheers, so suddenly you had a crowd of people chanting your name.
Seriously, one starts feeling like a celebrity.
The NYC marathon spectators deserve a trophy for their cheering. Seriously!
My arm got a workout also, because I must have high-fived 10,000 spectators as I ran.
I loved it all!
Mile 7 and 8
Quick memory: Feeling great!
Feeling: Good and making sure I wasn’t running too fast.
Details: I wore a run/walk/run timer which I turned on soon after the bridge (I planned to run 2 minutes/walk 1 minute) But sometime in the first few miles, it quit working, so I gauged my walking breaks on the water stops, inclines and how I felt.
My left thigh had been tight and complaining from the cold before the start and during the first few miles. Massaging it during my walking breaks helped and it slowly warmed and loosen up.
Other than the first incline on the bridge, the route was relatively flat through this residential area, and I was feeling good, so these miles went by fast. With the sporadic training I had, I knew I couldn’t maintain anything faster than 13 or 14 minute miles for 26.2 miles. So even though I could have run faster at this time, I made sure to stay in that range, so I wouldn’t die during the last miles.
Mile 9 and 10
Quick memory: More runners and mountains of cups
Feeling: Super happy with how good I felt.
Details: The first few miles had been crowded… I couldn’t move more than a few inches left or right without checking to see if someone was there. And at times I even had to be careful that I didn’t elbow the person beside me.
Then it had thinned somewhat, but at the start of mile 9, we turned off 4th Avenue until Lafayette Ave where everyone combined on one road and for a short time, the road felt somewhat crowded again.
During the first 8 miles there were lots of cups on the road right after the water stations, but once all the runners combined, there were mountains of cups! But I was totally impressed, not only with the number of water stops and aid stations along the course, but with the amount of volunteers at each one. At each one, several people were continually raking (with yard rakes) cups off the road so they weren’t in the runner’s way.
I was careful with my footing at the stations, because the asphalt was not only wet, it was also sticky/slippery from spilled gatorade. Somewhere in this section, I warmed up and peeled off my long sleeve shirt (amazing endeavor since it was under my short sleeve shirt, because I wanted my IM ABLE shirt on the outside all the time)
Mile 11 to 12
Quick memory: Getting smiles from solemn Jewish men.
Feeling: Physically, on top of the world. Mentally, sad.
Details: The marathon course goes through a number of different NYC neighborhoods. Mile 11 is through one of the largest Hasidic Jewish community in America. The only cheering spectators for this mile were folks who had wandered down the street from nearby communities, because the Jewish folks consider the marathon an annoyance and most ignore it.
They go about their own business and give limited attention to the runners. In their defense, Sunday is a normal work and school day for them, because their holy day is on Saturday (the Sabbath), so having the marathon go through their neighborhood is an inconvenience to them.
They all appeared to be dressed in mostly black and they were all very solemn, especially the men. While I’m sure the details of their lifestyle and their dress are different, they reminded me of the Amish and strict Mennonites I grew up with.
I only saw a few Jewish women out and about and most were slowly pushing strollers. Whereas the men hurried down the sidewalk (often talking on their cellphones) intentionally avoiding eye contact with the runners.
After repeatedly seeing their solemn faces and their refusal to acknowledge the world around them, I was both annoyed and sad. So I started saying to them, “You should smile, it’s a beautiful day!” This usually made them look my way and offer me a small smile before quickly glancing away. (Why would anyone go through life avoiding the world/people round them?)
Groups of Jewish children (also dressed in dark clothes) were walking down the sideway (maybe going home from school?) They would cautiously glance at the runners, but they didn’t easily smile or wave. I ran/walked near the side of the road, so I could smile, say hi and throw wristbands at some of them. (I started the race with both arms full of BECAUSE I CAN wristbands and finished with two left). This usually generated some smiles and waves. But it made me sad to think that those children will grow up with such a limited worldview. (I dream of a day when all children are raised with a balanced worldview.)
For a few miles, I kept thinking about the fact that their religion (and most other religions) is based on texts from long ago, so they focus on the past and try to maintain a way of life that was normal in the past, but isn’t anymore. I’ve fine with anyone keeping any traditions they want… but what makes the past more holy than the present? (there’s lots of time to think during 26.2 miles)
Soon my wandering thoughts about religion were overtaken by a more urgent-present-moment thought. Time for a bathroom break! I had passed numerous porta-pots (there were some every few miles) but each time there was a long line and I didn’t feel like standing in line.
Thankfully around mile 12, I spied at least 6 porta-pots near the water station and with only about 10 people in line, I knew the wait wouldn’t be too long. Standing in line, I texted Bev with my progress, because in about 6 miles she was joining me!
I’ve been in many porta-pots at races, and I must say these were about the worse I’ve been in… but then again, I was probably in the last 5,000 people of a 50,000+ person race, so what did I expect?
Quick memory – Still in Brooklyn? Almost halfway!
Feeling: First thoughts of “when will this be over?”
Details: I had checked the course map before, but I hadn’t taken note how many miles we’d actually be in Brooklyn. Nothing wrong with Brooklyn, but knowing we were going to run in all 5 boroughs, I started wondering when we would leave Brooklyn.
So I was happy to see the Pulaski Bridge which divides Brooklyn from Queens. The half marathon mark is right on the bridge, so as I walked up the bridge incline, I took a second to tweet/facebook an update and a picture of a donut hole to my amazing supporters online.
Mile 14 to 17
Quick memory – Getting tired… running for others.
Feeling: Annoyed that I wasn’t done yet, but determined
Details: It’s exciting to reach the halfway point of a marathon, but it’s also one of the most difficult times, especially if you let yourself focus on the fact that you have as many miles to cover as you just did!
So instead I thought about the days/weeks/months/years when I thought I could never run again. I thought about the first time I did try to run post-accident. I thought about the many, like my sister Rosene, who never could run. I thought about many, like Chris Kaag, who used to run, but who can’t run anymore.
And I thought about my son and his friends who recently lost a friend to suicide. During a walking break, I posted an update dedicating some miles to them. Doing that gave me motivation/energy to keep putting one step in front of the other, even when I didn’t feel like it… just like they will need to do as they adjust to life without Jeremy.
I was carrying my homemade sports drink with my fuel belt and had a Chia Bar and some Shaklee Energy Chews. I nibbled on the bar and took bites from the chews before some water stations, then washed them down with a small cup of water. I sipped on my sports drink occasionally, but I had forgotten to add salt to it (and I sweat a lot) so I looked for some salty snacks at an aid station. Thankfully I found some pretzels, but looking back now I know that I needed more salt. (was nauseated after I finished).
As for the scenery along the course, I took note of some of the beautiful fall trees and of the city, but for the most part, I focused on the spectators. I get energy from people! During this section, I didn’t have quite the energy to give high-fives anymore, but I still enjoyed the cheers and encouragement along the route. (more than once I was tempted to grab one of the beers I saw spectators drinking)
Mile 18 to 23
Quick memory – Seeing an angel – Beverly!!
Details: Bev had done both the marathons I did last year with me, but her work/life schedule didn’t allow her time to train this year, so she came to NYC as my support crew. I had no idea how tight security would be, so I didn’t know if she could jump in for a few miles, but we talked to a running friend the day before who has done NYC many times and she said it can be done.
So around mile 18, she joined me and I’m not sure I could have done these miles without her. She was feeling fresh and could probably have run at twice the speed I could, but she held herself back and we ran/walked and talked our way through the 5 miles and before I knew it, she had to leave me.
But not before a quick picture with the family (a friend of a friend) who had graciously offered us a place to stay. It had never dawned on me the day before why Ellie was asking me what my favorite kind of candy is… but here she presented me with a York peppermint patty! So thoughtful of her!
Their condo was only about a mile from this section of the course, so here’s where Bev rejoined them and I was on my own again. (I was tempted to walk back to our condo with Bev from here… after all, who needs to do the last few miles of a marathon?)
Mile 23 to 26
Quick memory – This is freaking doable!
Feeling: Missing Beverly, but rejuvenated.
Details: I knew running without Bev again would be hard, so I had decided I would dedicate the final miles to IM ABLE, Chris and Russell and others they helped in the past and to the folks they will help in the future.
Thinking of the adjustments many of them have to make to a life with physical challenges and of the determination and hard work each of them puts into living life well fed my determination and helped these miles go by.
I loved when we turned from 5th Avenue into Central Park. I still had over 2 miles to go, but the grass, the trees, the leaves… it was all beautiful!
And being in the park meant the end was coming! And my whole body was tired and aching… I had no major pain. And none of the nemesis that had bothered me during long runs/races in the past were bothering me. No blisters, no tightness behind my knee, no lower back pain, nothing!
I credit a lot of that to my Altra shoes! (With Ortholite insoles because I do most of my training on trails, so I knew my feet would appreciate more cushioning on asphalt) Between the two of them, my feet/legs/hips were as happy as they could be doing 26.2 miles.
Coming up the final stretch, the crowds of spectators were huge again. This was around 5pm and temps were dropping. I tell you NYC spectators deserve their own medals!
While their energy did help me finish… it’s not like I floated in. It was still a matter of making it happen by putting one foot in front of the other again and again and again…
And that final .2 of a mile… that felt super long!
And then there it was…
Quick memory – I want a taxi!!
Feelings: It was great to finish… but dang when can I sit down?!
Details: The superb organization continued… as soon as I crossed the finish line, I was given a medal and then a foil sheet. The sheet kept sliding off, so one volunteer firmly wrapped it around me and made sure I was holding two corners with my hand at my neck before I walked on. Which was extremely thoughtful of him, because the sun and the temps were dropping fast and it wasn’t long before I was shivering.
Soon I was also handed a clear backpack with water, drink, fruit, a bar and more. The backpack is a great idea because then my hands were free to hold my foil sheet… because then the walking starts…
The race ends on a path in Central Park and when you finish you have to keep walking on the path (security fences on each side) for at least
20 miles 1/2 mile until you are out of the park. It would be so nice if they could avoid this… but with the mass of people and the layout of Central Park, omitting this would probably be impossible.
As I walked out of the park, everything hurt and I wanted to cry, but suddenly I started laughing. I was surrounded by lots of others runners and we all walked/shuffled slowly with foil sheets wrapped around us… and though I’m not really into zombies, I’m sure we looked like an exhausted group of zombies on our way home from an invasion gone wrong.
As I exited the park, I expected to be able to flag down a taxi and get back to the condo. But instead we had to walk along the street for another
50 miles 1/4 mile and then we were handed fleece-lined hooded poncho. Putting that on felt like I was being wrapped in a warm blanket.
After that, I headed to a street corner to flag down a taxi, but there was none to be found. I chatted with another orange zombie also looking for a taxi and we decided there weren’t enough taxis in the city for all the runners. Thankfully he knew where the closest subway station was, so we trudged over to that. Thankfully arriving right on time for my train. After a short ride north, I had a final 1/4 mile walk to our condo.
For the next hour or so, I was nauseated and weak. Our original plan had been to go out to dinner, but I felt too lousy to do that. Beverly catered to my every whim by going to a market down the street for food and drink. I thought I’d be starving, but I felt too lousy to eat or drink much, yet I forced myself to eat a little soup, crackers, nuts, etc.
At some point in the next hour or two, I fell asleep… totally exhausted, but extremely happy with three things!
~ I finished!
~ I helped others while doing it.
~ I enjoyed it and even felt better than I thought I might.