Oh, what a feeling to cross that finish line!
Despite my wave starting at 10:40 AM (the elite, seeded runners, including wheelchair athletes started much earlier around 8:30), the day started well before sunrise with our Travelling Fit group buses departing the hotel at 6am. It was a very subdued one hour ride to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island with everyone deep in their own thoughts about what lay ahead. A few fellow runners munched quietly on bananas and bagels to cram in a few more carbs. After passing through heavy airport-like security with police and army personnel (some armed) all around us, we were directed to our respective blue, green or orange corrals. I was in the green corral – wave three of four in total. I actually spent the first half hour with fellow Canberran runners Deb and Gavin in their orange Coral.
For me, being the only one in the Travelling Fit group in my corral, it was a quiet and solitary wait. I had to pinch myself at times; here I was surrounded by an excited crowd of runners with a backdrop of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. I spent some time taping up my toes and feet for the second time (managed to smuggle some blunt ended scissors in), in an attempt to distract myself from worrying about my sore left hip. Some of you will know that my hip had been troubling me for several weeks. After some uncomfortable treadmill runs in Hawaii and our NYC hotel, I became secretly worried I had an undiagnosed stress fracture. The thought of coming so far only to withdraw at the last moment was (against my better judgement) out of the question. It wasn’t going to happen. I had made up my mind; it was far better to be carried off the course than to have not attempted it at all – a foolish attitude, I know! Would I have encouraged anyone else in my position to do the same? Absolutely not!
The pain at the front of my hip never felt deep, never troubled me at night and was worse after prolonged sitting. It felt uncomfortable and vulnerable running but much less so with short strides so I kept rationalising – it could not possibly be a stress fracture – surely it had to be an overuse hip flexor tendinopathy, bursitis or impingement. All of these were possible given the increased training load I had undertaken in the preceding few months. My recent bone density scan indicated my hip bone density had increased significantly in the past year so I hadn’t really considered the possibility of a stress fracture in this area until the few days leading up to the marathon.
As it happened, at the Parade of Nations ceremony on the Friday evening before the race, I sat next to a lady who had been diagnosed with a stress fracture of the femur just two weeks prior to the marathon. In her own words she was ‘gutted’. With some prompting she talked me through her symptoms and, apart from having no night pain, I imagined mine were similar – so while remaining outwardly calm, I started feeling even more concerned.
It was quite cool at times before the start, with patches of rain and some gusty winds. The wait was punctuated by cannons signalling the start of the first and second waves, followed by Frank Sinatra’s rendition of ‘New York, New York’ blaring from the loudspeakers. Of course, as one would anticipate, the National Anthem was also performed (not sure by whom) prior to the cannon firing.
At 10 AM my wave was siphoned into the wait area. I downed some paracetamol and anti-inflammatories with a swig of beetroot juice. The nervous tension, excitement, and the realisation that ‘this is really it’ was palpable – it was on the faces of the crowd of runners around me and I could feel it too.
After a brief count down the cannon fired and Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York’ started blaring – this time for us. We initially shuffled onto the entrance of the four mile long Verrazano Bridge. It was pretty quiet except for the pounding and echo of thousands of feet on the bridge. The first 2 miles was an incline to the peak before descending another 2 miles into the first borough of Brooklyn and our first taste of the chanting crowds. I felt an adrenaline rush like never before. There were over 1.2 million spectators lining the course, which was amazing considering the constant drizzle. R&B, jazz and rap bands played some great music along the way and there was lots of favourites such as the theme from Rocky, Thriller and even These Boots are Made for Walking.
I heard my name (on the front of my TF Tee) called out over and over with encouraging comments. The whole atmosphere was overwhelming and I couldn’t help but feel lifted by the spirit of the New Yorkers cheering us on and waving their homemade signs. Some I can remember;
You are running New York better than our government
You look terrible – you should stop right now and go home
Hurry up – I want to go have brunch
Remember you signed up for this
At least you didn’t wake up today to be mediocre
Tomorrow I’ll have toenails – you won’t
Run like Harvey Weinstein is chasing you!
My favourite one – it made me smile for a good few km’s;
Don’t trust a fart after mile 10
The whole way through the remaining boroughs of Queens, The Bronx, Harlem and Manhattan, amidst the excitement and cheering, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking; ‘will my hip hold out?’ – ‘will I cross that finish line?’. I was relieved to pass the 14 mile mark where John and some of the Travelling fit team were amongst the crowd. By mile 16, well over half way, I knew I would finish no matter what. I knew that, even walking from this point, I could do it within the cut off time of seven hours. I was actually surprised that I managed the first half in just over two hours. My left thigh and groin area felt a bit heavy and stiff – but no real pain.
I stopped thinking about my hip and started wondering about this ‘thing’ called ‘hitting the wall’. De Castella had said a few days earlier during a pep talk, that everyone ‘feels it’ around the 32 km or 20 mile mark. With this in mind, I accepted two handouts of half bananas from random spectators and every 45-50 minutes had a swig of my own concoction of peanut paste, endura gels and water. I was a little overwhelmed and a bit emotional when a homeless man, with all his possessions in a cart beside him, offered me a gel attached to the end of a long stick. I didn’t need it but thanked him anyway, hoping it helped someone who did need it. There were plenty of water and Gatorade stations along the way. Thanks to my home made blend, I only ever needed the water. I never felt ‘depleted’ but that was possibly because I wasn’t running much more than a slow training pace; so more reliant on fat rather than carbohydrate as an energy source.
At mile 23, while running along fifth avenue, I realised with a certain glee that I might be able to reach the finish line – I had nothing to lose. My hip had held up to this point so I picked up my pace. I couldn’t stop smiling by this stage. Yes! I was going to complete the NYC Marathon, and in a reasonable time considering it was my first and I was injured.
Crossing that finish line and receiving my medal was so sweet. I couldn’t stop smiling and I was never so happy to be wet and cold. I noticed a young girl beside me trying to take a selfie with her medal – and wanting to capture this moment myself – I offered to take her photo and she took mine.
Shortly after this an official photographer took my photo but all I could think was, ‘where’s my free poncho?!’ To my great disappointment – instead of a poncho a foil thermal sheet was thrown over me. When I asked “what about the poncho I was promised?” I was told it would be 30 to 40 minutes away and this flimsy foil sheet was to keep me warm in the meantime.
It was indeed a long slow crowded crawl out of Central Park to where we were finally wrapped up in our official race ponchos. Receiving the fully lined, waterproof, windproof poncho was almost as exciting as receiving my medal. I was also very grateful to be warm for the 40 minute walk, amidst a tide of other finishers, to the friends and relative waiting area.
It was during this walk I realised all of the roads around the finish line were blocked by huge trucks which, I found out later, contained 10 tons of dirt. This made the vehicles heavy enough to deter any would-be terrorists in vehicles. A very sobering thought!
What I hadn’t realised is that, amidst all this security, I would be unable to meet John at our pre-designated meeting point. I then spent several hours wandering the streets in search of him, including a few check-in stops at our hotel (where we should have agreed to meet). At the same time, John was wandering the streets of NYC looking for me and was about to report me as a missing person when the staff at the front desk of the hotel connected we were looking for each other and helped us find each other.
The upside to all this post marathon meandering was that I didn’t really suffer too much delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS). With the aid of paracetamol and ibuprofen for my hip, which I must say was excruciating on rising, I was able to manage a nine hour tour of New York with John the following day. It wasn’t exactly comfortable on my thighs walking up 179 steps inside Lady Liberty (I took the lift down) but I think it would have been a lot worse if I had not walked around so much after the run. By day two – no DOMS just the usual hip pain.
A few days later we headed back to Hawaii to join our kids for a wonderful week of fun in the sun. We snorkeled, swam, lazed on the beach, climbed some trails, and, to top it off, flew over Oahu in a helicopter.
During the week in Hawaii I was fairly pain free as long as I took some anti-inflammatories each morning. I am almost certain the pain I have experienced is due to impingement. I have been home a few days now and am no longer taking any medication and I feel my symptoms have reduced considerably – here’s hoping! I will have an MRI if I am unable to return to running in the next week.
All going well – my next goal is the 28km Bay2Bay Mornington Peninsula trail run on 14 January and then – Paris Marathon on 8 April!!