Glitter and Grit: The Trials and Tribulations of a First Time Marathoner in NYC
Dedicated to my husband Charlie for agreeing to go on this crazy journey with me and for continually pushing me. To my wonderful coach, Coach Suzy Cerra, who made the perfect plan for me to be able to run confidently and succeed in my first marathon. To my Mom for her unwavering love and support. And to two special friends – Elizabeth Gerlach for always being there for me (including physically in NYC!) and Kim Boschee for being my virtual sounding board through this whole process. I love you all so much and could not have done this without you!
Expectations. They can make or break how you feel at the end of an event. In my case, perhaps I OVER-prepared; I read too many blogs about how NYC Marathon is life-changing. I read too many blogs about overwhelming emotions, surreal moments, and the jaw-dropping moments that are symbolic of the NYC Marathon.
My career is in program/project management; as such I just can’t help but try to plan and control as much as possible. But anyone who has done a marathon will tell you, there is a great deal that just can’t be planned for. I tried my hardest to plan every minute of my marathon day, starting with “shirt preparation”….
The few people I know who have run the NYC marathon before me all told me to be sure I had my name on my shirt; that the strangers of New York would cheer for me and the adrenaline rush I would receive from that would carry me effortlessly through the streets of New York. (OK maybe not effortlessly…) So, with great excitement, I found a store on Etsy who made gorgeous iron-on names in glitter. I was going to SPARKLE as I ran!
While I waited for my iron-on to arrive, I broached the name on the shirt subject with my husband Charlie. Charlie was running the NYC marathon with me. Well, we have very different personalities; Charlie is much more introverted, and doesn’t typically like attention drawn to him. He thought the idea of having his name on his shirt was the most ridiculous thing ever and couldn’t believe I would suggest such a thing. I told him he had no choice, I was putting his name on his shirt, that he would be thankful to have the support from the crowd come race day. (I had no idea at the time what an understatement this was) I found some “manly” letters on Amazon – black block letters with a white outline, and managed to successfully iron on both of our names onto our race day shirts. Here they are:
Fast forward to race day. I felt pretty prepared the morning of (thanks Coach Suzy!). Got up early, ate my standard pre-run breakfast, and was donning my glitter-shirt with pride. I felt ready. Off we went to the Team for Kids (TFK) bus, where we had a police escort to the starting area. We had 3 hours to wait, but it wasn’t too bad, as we were in a heated TFK tent, with food and drinks, and our very own TFK porta-potties. I was even happier to see they had separate pink porta-potties for the ladies, which (no offense men) tend to be in better shape than the ones men have been in… The TFK coaches and mentors were phenomenal, giving tips and advice while we waited. My favorite was Coach Sid, who gave Charlie strict instructions to let me run my race and that he should follow whatever I did. Charlie followed Coach Sid’s instructions, which I definitely appreciated! Here are some before pictures….waiting for our Uber to the TFK busses, and me and Charlie in the TFK tent!
Before we knew it, we were lining up in our Corral….Wave 4, Orange, Corral A. So. Many. People. While I felt pretty calm in the tent, now I was starting to feel a little anxious, but in a positive way. I just didn’t really know what to expect, and hoped that I had trained enough. All of a sudden, national anthem, then BOOM! The cannon went off and there we were on the Verrazano Bridge, with “New York, New York” playing loudly. I have to say, the first two miles over that bridge were super cool. It was a surreal experience just thinking WOW, I am in NYC, running the NYC marathon, and this is AMAZING! Once I got over that initial feeling of awe and disbelief, I realized I was a little short on breath. Everyone claimed you don’t feel the first hill (which is the steepest on the course and lasts an entire mile), but oh did we feel it. I had promised Coach Suzy that I wouldn’t go out too fast. I asked Charlie to slow down, and he complied.
We settled into a 9:30 – 10:00 pace, which was right where we wanted to be. In hindsight, I probably should have slowed down a bit more in the early miles, I may have been a bit faster at the end had I done that. (Yes, Coach Suzy, you told me so…) J It is really hard with the adrenaline and the crowds to pull it back as much as you should.
As we came off the Bridge, we found ourselves in Brooklyn. I just loved this part of the race! Maybe that is because I still felt fresh, but mostly it was the people. There were so many live bands, and throngs of fans cheering for the runners. It was here that I experienced the first of hundreds (thousands) of chants of my name. It was incredible, just like everyone said it would be! Oh wait, that wasn’t me. That was CHARLIE! It was drizzling and cloudy, and the light blue glitter did not pop at all on my shirt. No one could read it. But CHARLIE, oh his name was visible to every spectator. I was surrounded by chants of “CHARLIE! CHARLIE! CHARLIE! Come on Charlie! You can do it Charlie!” For four hours and thirty-five minutes and fifty-six seconds. Non-stop. This included a group of students chanting into a megaphone, and yes, an actual gospel choir singing his name. It was truly ridiculous. Other than from my own mother and friends, I literally heard my name ONE TIME. I know this shouldn’t be a big deal, but knowing someone is specifically watching and cheering for me does give me an adrenaline boost. Instead of an adrenaline boost, I found myself getting immensely frustrated. I mean…he didn’t even want his name on his shirt! Meanwhile, Charlie was grinning ear to ear and high fiving people, surging ahead with each cheer, then looking back to make sure he didn’t lose me…
There were only 2 times I ran in front of Charlie, and that is when we got to our agreed upon cheer points where I knew my Mom and my friend Elizabeth would be. Much to Charlie’s dismay, I had giant Fatheads made of our kids. While they look a little creepy, they sure did the trick. I could see the blue Cubs hat on Nathan’s giant head from 2 blocks away! And when I saw it, off I went. Here are my Mom and E with N&N’s giant heads:
I told Charlie I would be stopping for hugs, and I did at the first stop, mile 8 in Brooklyn. My Mom and Elizabeth executed my cheer plan to a tee. I had given them details including satellite images of where to stand and how to get there, and they made sure they were there. The three times I saw them were definitely three of the best moments of the marathon. I will NEVER forget the feeling of seeing them and knowing that they were there supporting me. And while Charlie didn’t understand why we would need support crew there cheering, in the end he admitted it was really nice and a big help. I had them at Mile 8, 17.5, and in the Grandstands at the finish (east side, by the letter “G” haha). It really broke the race down into nice chunks for me mentally. When we were at Mile 15, Charlie turned to me and said “Let’s go find your Mom,” and that propelled me forward. 🙂
A couple of other course highlights…first, the Queensborough Bridge. After 15 fairly pleasant miles comes “The Evil Queen” as many runners call the famous bridge. I thought it was going to be just terrible, but honestly other than dodging sudden walkers it was no big deal. I think the incline must be the same as the incline from the Fox River back up to my house, a route we ran more than any other during training. My body quickly adjusted to the grade and it went well. When you come down off of the Queensborough is another iconic section of the NYC Marathon. People talk about the “Wave of Sound” from the cheering as you come off the silence of the bridge and enter Manhattan. Well that didn’t happen. I think by the time the Wave 4 people were coming through the cheerers at the bottom of the bridge must have been worn out. There go those expectations getting in the way again….
The good news is, not far down 1st avenue I had a pleasant surprise. Tina, one of my sorority sisters from college, works right on the course and tracked me. She came down to 1st Avenue to watch, and managed to spot us. It was super cool to see her, and it gave me a boost right when I needed it. I was so happy to have her support! Tina took this picture on 1st Avenue in Manhattan…Hi Tina!
Around Mile 18, things started to get tough. My legs started cramping for one. Another issue I was having was around nutrition. I had some unfortunate incidents with gels and gu’s during training, let’s just say this sign resonated with me:
Because of previous “challenges” I consulted with Experience Triathlon Nutritionist Laurie Shubert and came up with a plan. I opted to drink only water, and eat Bonk Breaker protein bars broken into chunks. I had successfully completed a 14-mile run with that method with no issues. Unfortunately because of a sprained ankle (4 weeks before the marathon running in the moonlight at 4:30 AM, sprained my ankle on a walnut…), I couldn’t do an appropriate job testing out better nutrition options. By Mile 18, the thought of chewing up any more of those bars made me feel like I was going to hurl. I actually started with nutrition issues right out of the gate. At Mile 4 I tried to eat my first baggie, which was 2/3 of a bar. I could only eat 1/3 of the bag. It just took so darn long to chew! I was supposed to do 2/3 of a bar every 3 miles. I made a quick adjustment and decided I would just eat every mile, but do 1/3 of a baggie each mile. Well that meant I was almost always chewing, which was sending my heart rate up. And then there were the miles where I started to get in a zone and forgot to eat them. That happened 2 or 3 times.
I think one of my biggest mistakes was not making a secondary adjustment. I should have just tried the Gatorade or accepted a banana at the banana stations. I was so scared of “don’t try anything new on race day” that I think it ended up hurting me. Instead, I ended up with not enough fuel. I will definitely be reviewing my experience with Laurie so we can learn from this race and tweak for next time!
By mile 20-21-22 I was really starting to feel it. The worst bridge of all was around Mile 20 as we headed into the Bronx. And then one last bridge back out. That one had one of my favorite signs: Last. Damn. Bridge:
Once we got over the Willis Avenue Bridge (which for future reference for those running NYC has TWO inclines inexplicably), the energy in the Bronx was pretty awesome. I really enjoyed that section. Just past the Bronx, somewhere around Mile 20-21, Charlie turned to me and told me our current cumulative time of 3:13 and declared that we could still beat Oprah! I glared at him, told him not to talk to me, and trudged on at my now significantly slower pace.
Those last miles were excruciating, I’m not going to sugar coat it. My brain was telling my legs to go faster, but they were not complying. I was mentally trying to get to Mile 22, where we expected to see a particularly motivating TFK coach. Unfortunately, he must have been off motivating another team member because he wasn’t there. I trudged on, trying to make it to Mile 24, where one of the TFK cheer crew was supposed to be with pretzel rods. I briefly thought I might try one of those, but I think I was on the wrong side, and never saw the pretzel rod spot. Both “misses” were little blows to my overall psyche. But at this point, I had only a couple of miles to go. I could feel myself mentally turning inward, it was a really strange sensation. Then I began my little pep talks to myself. It went something like this:
“Imagine yourself breaking through the wall Amy…there is a brick wall, and you are like Mario, busting through the wall! Break through the damn wall!” I actually envisioned the wall crumbling.
“Great you are through the Wall. Now imagine you are running like an elite Kenyan! Run like a Kenyan Amy! Sh!t, I am NOT running like an elite Kenyan…”
“OK, not an elite Kenyan….float like a butterfly. Imagine Grandma is here with you. Butterflies! Butterflies! Float like a butterfly! Not working…”
Then I started mumbling to myself out loud:
“One step at a time”
“You will not walk”
“You can do this!”
“Come on, a little faster, almost there”
“Why do I do this? I run because I can…”
“I run because I can”
“I run because I can”
“I run because I can”
Suddenly the beginning of the finish shoot was there. The Grandstand lettering started. I was at C! C is pretty close to G (where Mom and E were)! Only C wasn’t close to G. That stretch of C to G, probably no more than 200 yards, seemed like F-O-R-E-V-E-R.
A few more slow steps and we were…done. 4:35:56. We didn’t beat Oprah, but we didn’t walk other than grabbing water, and we made it through. I thought I would be over the moon elated and have this big moment. Shockingly, I didn’t. I felt kind of empty, it was super weird. I think I was so mentally and emotionally drained from the whole experience I had nothing left with which to feel. I gladly accepted my medal and made Charlie take a picture.
The most elation I felt was when Terrence, our TFK “catcher” put on my poncho, opened a protein drink for me, and guided us carefully to the TFK tent. Then I was sick. For 5 hours. Am I making you want to run a marathon?
I posted on Facebook that night (when still feeling poorly) that I wasn’t sure if I would ever do another marathon. By the next morning I was saying I am absolutely going to do another marathon. I am proud of my accomplishment of going from non-runner to NYC marathon finisher in a little over a year. I am proud of hitting my goal of not giving in and walking. I am proud to set an example for my kids of working hard, never giving up, and valuing fitness. I am proud of making it 20 miles with pretty even pacing. And despite the painful last miles, all in all it was a super cool experience!
By Day 3 post-marathon, I had signed up to run with TFK for Chicago Marathon in 2018. Why? Simple: I run because I can. And I can do better. Who is in for Chicago? All you need is a little grit and some (red, bold font, no calligraphy) glitter! 🙂