Part of me still can't believe that I did it--I mean, I couldn't really believe I was doing it while I was doing it. And it was especially amazing because as of about a month ago, I wasn't at all sure it was going to happen.
After my trip to Peru I had developed some patellar tendinitis in my left knee (more on this when I finally post about Peru, but basically the Inca Trail includes miles and miles of stone steps both up and down that were pretty hard on our knees). I discovered this after an attempt to run resulted in wrenching pain in my knee. Not really ideal when I was supposed to be hitting my highest training mileage. After a couple weeks of physical therapy I still couldn't get farther than a quarter mile or so without the pain coming back. I did some workouts on the elliptical trainer but I knew it wasn't enough, and I was starting to worry. After another week of no improvement, I almost had a heart attack when the doctor wondered aloud if I could have a torn ACL, but thankfully she was able to rule that out. She referred me to an orthopedist who prescribed me an anti-inflammatory. That weekend I went for a short jog/elliptical workout and the running was still fairly painful. I called Sarah, who was coming to New York to cheer me on, and tearfully told her I didn't know if I was going to be able to do it. I was heartbroken that after working for a year to get into the marathon and then going through months of training, I might have to defer it for another year.
On Monday the following week I went to the gym and tried a slow jog on the treadmill. My knee still felt a little sore but it was so much better than the pain I'd been experiencing for weeks. I nearly cried with joy at my ability to jog a 12-minute mile. Over the next couple of weeks I was able to work up to a few high-mileage runs, with 20 miles being my longest before I started tapering. Side note: any time you think that 12 miles seems like a short run, you know something is wrong with you. I felt ready, all things considered.
Sarah had an awesome jersey made for me. I knew from watching past marathons that it was essential to put my name on my shirt to maximize crowd support, so it was perfect.
On the ferry to Staten Island.
The New York City marathon is the largest in the world, with over 47,000 runners this year. They split the runners into three waves, and each wave has three start groups. I was in the Green start of Wave 2, which started on the lower deck of the Verrazano bridge connecting Staten Island to Brooklyn. We got into our corrals and moved toward the base of the bridge to await out turn. Then the start gun went off and huge speakers blared Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York," and the crowd of runners began singing along as they surged forward. It was a moment I will never forget.
For the first 10-15 miles I had a huge grin plastered on my face. The crowds in Brooklyn were great, and it didn't hurt that I had several hundred people wish me a happy birthday. Even knowing that none of these people had any idea who I was, the psychological boost of hearing people cheer your name is amazing. I was smiling, high-fiving children, shouting back at people, and generally having the time of my life. I didn't even listen to music for most of the time, just coasting by on the crowd's enthusiasm.
I knew that the Queensboro bridge at mile 16 or so (connecting Queens to Manhattan) was one of the toughest parts of the race. It's a pretty serious incline, and no spectators are allowed on the bridge so you don't have that support. I took a minute to stop and stretch my legs, which were starting to feel a little tight, put "Party Rock Anthem" on my iPod and kept going with the Manhattan skyline in front of me.
Exiting the bridge onto First Avenue was nuts. The crowds were several people deep and everyone was just going bananas. I was also excited because I knew I'd be seeing Sarah and lots of my friends in just a couple miles, so I had that to keep me going. My lovely friends were there with signs, costumes, and huge cheers. Around mile 19 I spotted Sarah and she started shrieking and jumped out of the crowd to run along next to me, clutching band-aids, chapstick, sport beans, and an array of other supplies. She ran with me for a few miles--through the Bronx and back down onto Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Many people asked me when I "hit the wall." I honestly don't think that I did, and it's because I had Sarah there next to me as my own personal pit crew at probably the toughest part of the race. It made all the difference, and I'm so glad she was there. I stopped to stretch again and then we kept going--thankfully she has a gift for chatting while running so I could just listen and have her distract me. Around mile 21 she did as, "So, do you think you'll do this again?" NOT THE TIME, Sarah.
Taken by Sarah as we ran.
As we came down Fifth Avenue I said goodbye to Sarah around mile 23. At that point I was incredibly tired, and the long hill on Fifth Avenue was pretty brutal. I saw more friends (and some of the same ones who had also been on First), and I wanted to be able to run over and give them hugs and high fives, but at that point I just had to keep moving straight ahead. But having them there helped me keep putting one foot in front of the other. Also helpful was the random dude who shouted, "Laura, you are looking DEAD SEXY!" The course veered into the park for the final couple of miles, and I think it was at that point that I finally realized, "Hey, I'm running a marathon right now and I might actually finish it!" Those last miles felt incredibly long, but soon the finish line came into view. I don't think I had the energy left to cry, but I let out something between a laugh and a sob after I crossed that line. It was a surreal and pretty incredible moment.
To be honest, the worst part of the marathon was probably just after finishing. I got my heat sheet and my medal and a bag of food and drinks, and then began the long, slow walk to pick up my bag. They make you walk almost a mile to keep the flow of traffic moving and to prevent people from just sitting down and passing out. I was cold and exhausted and emotional, and all I wanted was to get out of the park, see Sarah and stretch (although I have to say, I am amazed at how well organized this race is--I can't even imagine the magnitude of planning that must go into it). I finally got my bag and made it to the steps of the Natural History Museum and put on my sweats, and immediately felt a lot better.
Please excuse my giant head and tiny tyrannosaurus arms.
I had originally planned to go home and shower and then get some dinner afterward, but I realized I was ravenous and that if I went home I probably wouldn't want to leave again. I had already selected Shake Shack as my post-marathon meal, so we headed there and gorged ourselves on burgers, cheese fries and ice cream. There were lots of other runners there and the employees were giving out free hot chocolate. After dinne, we came home and crashed on my couch and watched X-Men: First Class, because I had definitely earned some quality time with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.
Anyway, I really don't think I could have asked for a better day. The weather was perfect, I had fantastic cheerleaders, I didn't have any pain beyond what was to be expected, my knee felt fine, I didn't feel like puking, and all of my toenails are still intact. Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to top it for next year's birthday.