My last four weeks training were a bit of a blur. My physiotherapist was happy with me, I was not happy with myself as I’d lost important training sessions by working long and hard hours. I’d managed my two 20miles and a 22 mile run, but still felt underprepared for what was ahead. This is a typical mental game of marathon runners. They don’t say 30% body and 70% mind for nothing.
3rd November and we arrive in New York. It’s late and Adam and I collapse to jet-lagged sleep in our rented apartment.
The next couple of days we head out exploring the city. We got to Hard Rock café and drink strong cocktails (only one for me!), see Times Square (can’t miss it), Chinatown (crazy shouty little women everywhere), Little Italy (crazy shouty big fellas everywhere!), Union Sq green market (drank hot cider and eat fresh bread), flatiron building (got in lots of other people’s photos), Brooklyn Bridge (don’t like the wooden planks and shaking as the traffic passes, walked it, but don’t like), Macy’s (got lost – twice)…
We went to the marathon expo to collect my race number. I tried to stay calm as not waste energy but wow! Runners heaven! Freebies and tasters and all things running. Running can be a lonely world, out there on the road 5 hours a week with only yourself for company. Suddenly a thousand like-minded people in one room.
I had my silent video taken by the Asics stand. It asked ‘why are you running new york?’, I wrote ‘because I love my best friend, she’s awesome’. Later that day, we sat with coffee watching the Times Square lights, and there, smack bang in the centre of Time Sq, Asics were showing the videos… I was on the big, no HUGE, screen in Times Sq. I watched the videos and felt tearful as I read all the messages from other runners and their reasons for running. I thought of all the hours we’d all put in, the funds we’d all raised, the pain we were about to endure for it all!
‘M’ minus 24hours and we head to central park to see the finish line. There is a complete chaos of runners and photos and excitement. I try not to get wound up but can’t feel but help completely out-of-place in my combats and boots rather than lycras and trainers. It’s too late and a wave of pessimism has me. I haven’t trained enough, I’m out of place, I should be out with them jogging, I don’t feel strong enough… I ask Adam if we can leave sharpish so I can clear my head.
We head home early and I start my pre-race rituals. Write up my running top ‘ For Megz. Epilepsy Foundation, Run Caz Run’. Eat pasta. Chill out in the bath. Drink copious amounts of water, layout all my gear for the following morning. Pack my bag. Check my travel plans A and B. Set two alarms. Watch rubbish television. Sleep.
The next morning I’m up at 5am. Porridge, dress, photo, go. I walk to the metro, it’s dark and still way before 6. As I emerge from Times Square station I see runners everywhere, all meeting groups and rushing to their arranged transport. As I approach a crossing, a runner in front of me sparks up a cigarette. I’m confused and I am sure she will regret that in a few hours.
I hop on the coach, still calm, the boy next to me is fidgeting, I chose not to talk to him as he will make me nervous and I’m busy calming myself. Instead I listen to a guy chatting about how he is dressing as a rhino. This is his umpteenth marathon as a rhino over 15 or so years. He’s run New York three times. I should probably add he runs for the charity ‘Save the Rhino’, the costume has purpose beyond stupidity! He is on the same wave start as me, but has run marathons much faster. He says he hopes it doesn’t rain as the costume is made of foam and absorbs water. I know we marathon runners are a bit crazy but it is safe to say, some of us are more crazy than others. Much more crazy!
The coach drops us by Fort Wandsworth on Staten Island about an hour later. Runners are cattle herded into the Fort, through security and bib checks. I head straight for my starting area. I’m on a mission and focused. Must stay calm. Not a time to waste energy bouncing around. I weave through the thousands and get coffee, bagel, water and find a spot to sit for the next hour or so. I open my sleeping bag and crawl in to keep warm. The sun is warm, but the wind bitterly cold. I had been warned of this so knew the sleeping bag would be worthwhile. I curl up on the grass, sip my coffee and people watch.
Some Chinese runners look like the expo running merchandise spit-up on them. They have marathon branded socks, joggers, coats, gloves, scarves, hats, belts, bags… the works. All 8 of them in a crowd chatting away excitedly like an Asics/NYCM 2010 advert.
Two people crouch next to me and comment how they don’t want to change yet as it’s too cold. They look at me, at my sleeping bag, smile and nod ‘you’ve done this before!’. They are both debut marathon runners. He looks ready, young, slim, lanky, athletic. She does not, curvy and broad she almost topples trying to take her joggers off.
A professional looking Italian runner sits in front of me. He starts unpacking his bag and running his own ritual. He’s done this before! Change shoes, lube, laces, running number, headband, timing chip, more lube, banana, sports drinks… he looks focused and well-practiced.
I watch as others come and go. 9.20am and I decide it’s time. I crawl out from my cosy bag and begin my own routine. Bib, sports drink, timing chip, watch… I drop off my bag and head to the main staging area. I find another settling spot and watch the main race begin in the first wave. It’s 9.40am and to my left in the big screen showing me the professional miles line-up. As I hear the gun echo around me, I look up and to my left. I can see the bobbing heads of the lead runners starting across the bridge. The crowds wave, cheer and clap.
Finally, it’s my time to line up. I take a toilet stop (we do some disgusting things as runners – lube, snot rockets, sweat buckets, but nothing tops portaloos before a race – trick is to take toilet roll, hold your nose and be quick). I giggle as I watch a french man get to the front of the queue, open the door, turn-up his nose up and reel off a mumble of rude words. He turns away and goes to find a bush.
I head to my starting corral and join another cattle herded crowd of runners shuffle to the start line. People cheer and shout. I take my last layer of clothing off to reveal my graffitied running T. I bounce, set my headphones up, set my watch to pick up satellites to track me and try to look around. I say try – I’m 5”2 so don’t see much or far.
The gun goes suddenly, we walk a few paces to the start following other runners. Before I know it I am passing the start. We’re on the bridge and crossing the water. The crowds are mixing paces, some overtake, some drop behind. The bridge is a good couple of miles and I try to keep far left to take in the view of lower Manhattan. I think to myself – I’ll be over there soon enough…
Part Two coming soon…