“Go boogie” was the best advice I got for the New York City Marathon (more on that later). Go out and soak up the energy of running in the world’s largest marathon. I can honestly say, it’s one the best things I’ve ever done. The adrenaline buzz is like no other sport or event I’ve ever done.
Over 47,000 runners took part in the ING New York City Marathon 2011, with over 2.5 million people lining the route through NYC’s five boroughs to cheer on the runners, walkers, wheelchair athletes and handcycle athletes.
Earlier this year, I had no intention of running a marathon until I was older. I wrote a blog on this very topic, and since it’s a democratic blog, I took your poll results which strongly said “Yes, chance of a lifetime.” So I signed up with Team Crumlin and began my fundraising and training. This is my 3rd year fundraising for The Children’s Medical Research Foundation at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin. Thanks to everyone who has supported CMRF! I’ve raised over €5,000 this year which will be used for great projects at the hospital and in paediatric research. (If you’d like to donate, please click here or else I have raffle tickets for €5 – you can win a trip for 2 to Nashville and Memphis).
We had a great team of over 30 runners and walkers from all over Ireland who have raised over €150,000 for CMRF this year. We flew into Newark and stayed in a great location at Fitzpatricks Grand Central. There were some great movies on the flight – check out Horrible Bosses (comedy) and Cadencia (Brazilian football). My bad luck on travel dramas nearly had a new chapter when I forgot to renew my ESTA for US Immigration. Luckily I was able to do it on my phone at 1am the night before flying.
Our first stop was the Race Expo where we registered (quick and easy) and bought some stuff at the expo stalls (I bought runners and The Stick, self-titled “a toothbrush for muscles” J). All the major marathons had stalls recruiting – but I liked the offbeat races like the Reggae Marathon in Jamaica or the Midnight Sun Marathon which happens at 70 degrees north in the Arctic Circle – in freezing weather in January!!
No trip to NYC is complete without some serious retail therapy, but how many people buy a sleeping bag and pillows? Well, they were top of our list to keep us warm for the early start on Staten Island on Sunday. We also bought hoodies, gloves and pants to complete the insulation shopping (all the gear is donated to homeless charities after the race, so it goes to a good cause).
On Saturday I bought my favourite item in Harlem. It’s a belt buckle. Not an ordinary buckle, but from a man who’s made buckles for 3 US Presidents along with rap stars and basketball players. “Harley the Buckleman” is inscribed on my buckle and his little store in a market in Harlem is worth a visit. Earl Harley is the proprietor and is more than happy to tell you the story behind all his buckles. He’s also ran 8 NYC Marathons and he’s the guy who gave me the advice to go out there and BOOGIE.
DASH TO THE FINISH LINE 5KM RUN
The day before the race I got a chance to run the streets along with 20,000 others in the Dash to the Finish Line Run. This 5km run gave us a chance to run from the UN building up to Central Park. It was so cool running down closed streets, past Grand Central Station, NYC Public Library, 5th Avenue, Radio City, Trump Tower and the Marathon finish line. I took my camera so check out some pictures and video below.
The legendary Eamonn Coghlan was around to calm the nerves of Team Crumlin on Saturday at our Irish breakfast (yes, full Irish pre-marathon!). He gave some great tips about a wealth of topics: being patient, nutrition and hydration, positive mental attitude, kicking a cramp, recovery in an ice bath and most of all about going out to ENJOY the experience. By the way, his PB in the marathon is 2:25 and he’d a great story about his first NYC Marathon in 1991 when he used Liz McColgan as his pace maker. There’s also rumours he’ll be back in 2012 to run his 20th NYC Marathon…
Alarm clocks were set for 4.30am, so after a quick breakfast we headed by bus to Staten Island for 6am. We had 3-4 hours to chill, literally, at the race start. There was live music at such an hour, but we just wrapped up in our sleeping bags and waited. The atmosphere was good and the sun was shining, so nerves were calm. I was off in the first wave at 9.40am, so began congregating behind the start after 9am. Helicopters buzzed around the sky and the excitement was building.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened proceedings, followed by a NY Fire Department member signing the “Star Spangled Banner”. That was emotional, such a strong song unaccompanied. Then the best bit – the cannon fired from Fort Wadsworth to indicate the race was on. As we started running over the Verrazano Straits Bridge we could hear Sinatra’s “New York New York” by a local singer. Wow, that blew me away!
Video from Verrazano Straits Bridge
Video of US National Anthem at race start
We then hit Brooklyn and for the next 10 miles I didn’t even realise I was running – my feet just carried me. The buzz was electric with crowds lining both sides of the street, shouting and cheering us all on. It was like being in a parade or the Tour de France! There was so much live music as well – over 130 bands lined the route. We got to high-five little kids and had to take a break from running down the side as people called your name so much (tip: have your name written on your shirt).
Queens was next up and the crowds just got bigger and louder. There weren’t as many Irish flags as I expected, the crowd was dominated by Hispanics and Italians, but you could see flags from every corner of the world. The only quiet area was Williamsburg, where the orthodox Jews were very reserved in their support and probably wondered what all these runners were doing on a Sunday. We reached halfway, 13.1 miles and I felt good. I was 40 seconds down on my 3:00 hour pace, but wasn’t too worried as wanted to be patient and avoid burning out too early. My plan was to chip away at that deficit by 2-3 seconds per kilometre and see how I felt near Central Park.
The expectation crossing the Queensboro Bridge to bring us into Manhattan was huge, as everyone talks about the crowds on 59th Street and 1st Avenue. It was a cauldron of noise and had the atmosphere of a tense football stadium. It was LOUD! The Team Crumlin supporters were there cheering everyone on, although I missed them when I turned the corner. What a sight in front of us – an avenue as wide as a runway with thousands of runners and millions of supporters. Five miles ahead until we passed through Harlem and into the Bronx. The music kept me entertained – it was great to hear a U2 song “Magnificent” by mile 18.
Sidenote: there were so many great posters that people had on display along the route. Some of my favourites were:
- · “I didn’t wake up this early to watch you walk”
- · “Worst parade ever”
- · “Make this race your bitch”
- · “Quitting hurts longer”
- · “Do you suck at everything or just running?”
The Bronx had a different vibe, even if we only spent 2 miles there. There was RnB and salsa music and loads of signs saying “Run in the Hood”. Then it was back into Harlem and down 5th Avenue. We’d hit 20 miles and I was about 20 seconds behind 3:00 pace. Where was the WALL everyone talks about? I was feeling good, but it took more effort to keep the pace up. I was eating isotonic gels and took water every 2 miles. Harlem again had great music and fanatical support. The miles seemed longer now and the drag up to Central Park was hitting people.
Finally we got to 96th street and turned into Central Park. Only 3 miles to go. I knew I was still behind 3:00h pace, so said to myself, “let’s do this, even if it hurts.” I didn’t want to finish with any regrets of having done everything to break my target. The crowd does help, although you don’t have time to smile or high-five by now. I was thinking of John and what he’d be telling me, or how he’d keep running.
My legs kept turning over, and I ran faster, under 4:00m/km pace. I knew I was just on 3:00h pace so kept pushing. I got to mile 25 and though “I’m nearly there, keep going.” That mile was the longest ever. We ran along 59th street and it was only when I got to mile 26 and looked at the watch, I knew, “YES I’ve made it”. So I could enjoy the last 400m through the Park up to the finish line. That was amazing, with grandstands either side and flags everywhere. I punched the air and tried to jump over the line and that was it. Broke the 3:00h barrier with 20 seconds to spare.
We got our medals and then started walking. Then the pain started hitting my body. Ouch said my calves and feet. It was such a long walk back to collect our bags, I would have paid for a taxi or rickshaw! Eventually I took the subway back to the hotel and after a chilly ice bath, I headed back out with my medal to watch the rest of Team Crumlin complete the race. It was great seeing the thousands of people run/jog/walk through Central Park. There were people in costumes (Nacho Libre, Sumo wrestlers) and a guy who juggled for 26 miles.
CELEBRATING AND RECOVERING
That night we celebrated in Fitzpatricks although the big celebrations were saved for Monday night in Rosie O’Grady’s. We also found out that a couple in our team had got engaged during the race. John ran over to his fiancé at mile 16 in Manhattan and got down on one knee. Not due to injury but to propose. What a place to do it!
Walking around Manhattan on Monday, it was amazing to see people going to work with medals around their necks. Everyone was so proud and we got so many people passing us saying “Congratulations”. One woman in Starbucks came over and said “I saw you guys yesterday! Well done.”
Training has been a challenge but I’ve run over 1,000 kilometres this year. I increased in distance running over the past 4 months and while I couldn’t follow a 16 week plan rigidly due to injury and triathlons, I was happy with my performance. Here are some of my stats from www.dailymile.com: totals for running/swimming/cycling this year. I like the fact that I’ve burned enough calories to eat 882 donuts. That would get me 1/10th of the way around the world J
This year has been my best ever – I’ll write more about it soon, but I won two 10km road races, I represented Ireland in Duathlon, I completed lots of triathlons and I finished my first marathon. Not bad for a goalkeeper.
My calendar is blank now, so I’m going to rest for a few weeks and then make a plan of attack for 2012. I’d love to do NYC Marathon again. I’ve also qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2013, so will add that to the list. Onwards and upwards…
SOME VIDEOS AND PHOTOS