If you missed the build up to the New York marathon click here to read about the pre race fun!
The start line: feeling excited!
The 10:30am corral had just been called. After shedding my extra layers of clothes I meandered out of the corral area and left the starting village behind. The wave 3 runners entered onto the turnpike at the entrance to the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and, being in the blue start, I was on the upper level of the bridge with great views of Manhattan.
The iconic Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was standing right in front of me. I was ready to run the 2013 New York City Marathon!
I assembled at the start line with the thousands of other runners and we were treated to a few motivational speeches. Then it was a quick countdown and the starting cannon was fired (yep an actual cannon! It was loud and took everyone by surprise!). Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ boomed out over the speakers and the sea of runners surged slowly forward to the start line.
Runners, runners everywhere:
The boredom of the race village gave way to the fear and excitement of the 26.2 miles that lay ahead. The 2013 ING NYC marathon was on for Wave 3! I was on my way!
I had set my sights on a 4 hour target for my first marathon. Having not trained for anything like this before (and by not training I mean I had never run in an actual race before 2012), I didn’t know if I could maintain the elusive 9.07 minute miles needed to break the magic 4 hour mark.
After completing some of the longer training runs I thought I had a good chance of maintaining this pace. I was cautiously optimistic but very aware that anything could happen over the last few miles. Only time would tell!
Miles 1 – 2 The Verrazano : feeling confident!
Once I crossed the start line (remembering to start my watch!) I began the 1 mile climb to the crest of the Verrazano Bridge which links Staten Island and Brooklyn. The 1 mile point marks the highest elevation of the entire race. I tried not to get completely caught up in the moment and take off too fast but the adrenaline took over and I had a first mile split of 9:27, slightly faster than I had planned for the uphill climb.
The first few miles of the marathon were actually my favourite part of the run: the thousands of runners, the Verrazano and the view were all amazing. There were no sounds other than the whistling of the wind and the pounding of runners feet hitting the pavement. It was totally surreal being a part of the mass of runners moving across the bridge, with the ominous steel cables looming overhead and the view of Brooklyn and Manhattan in the distance.
Miles 3-15 Brooklyn & Queens: having fun!
Mile 3 brought Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and the first taste of the phenomenal support the NYC marathon is famous for. After the exhilarating but exposed 2 miles of the bridge it was great to hear the first cheering crowds. As soon as we left the bridge the road was lined with people and banners.
The sheer volume of people who were cheering at this early stage in the race was unbelievable. Bearing in mind it was freezing cold and still relatively early on a Sunday morning, it was incredible that every house lining the route had people outside them cheering on the steps and the streets were lined with crowds and banners.
I wasn’t expecting the number of bands playing music in Brooklyn, they were set up at every mile and it was great for morale. Every time we passed a band or DJ the field sped up for a block or two and then slowed down again!
After taking the first three miles a little ahead of pace and feeling pretty comfortable, I decided to try and build up some buffer in the first 13 miles in case I ran into trouble later on. I was still feeling fresh after the first 4 or 5 miles so I thought what the heck, let’s just see what happens! Of course, this goes against any advice a marathon runner will give but I was really enjoying it so I threw caution to the wind! My heart rate was stable and where it should have been and so I assumed I would be able to suck up the pain down the road!
My time in Brooklyn flew past in a flurry of crowds and bands and DJs and before I knew it the dreaded Queensboro bridge was looming in front of me.
Miles 16-20 Manhattan & First Avenue: feeling the pressure!
The Queensboro bridge instils fear in most New York marathon runners. The runners hit the bridge at around mile 15, and although it looks like a horizontal bridge from afar, trust me, it’s a long, hard climb to the middle! It’s an exposed and windy part of the course and this, coupled with the fact that there are no supporters, makes the bridge a pretty miserable and solitary 2 miles.
During training I’d made sure to do a lot of hill running for this very reason but, despite my best preparations, I really struggled on the first half of the bridge. Everyone was very focused and there was almost complete silence as the runners surrounding me panted up the incline. At this stage a lot of runners started walking. However the climb was totally worth it when I got to see this view of Manhattan!
Turning the sharp bend at the end of the Queensboro bridge led to the long 1st Avenue stretch of the marathon….and the crowds. I could hear the din of the crowds before actually seeing them. Immediately after leaving the bridge the road was flanked by crowds, probably 5 and 6 deep on each side, and I was met with a wall of cheers as I came off the bridge. Amazing!
The wifey had planned to spend the day at a marathon party hosted at our friend’s apartment and so we arranged for her to track me every mile and meet me at 68th street as I passed by. It was great to have something to aim for once I left the bridge and headed up 1st. I’ve never been happier to see her (seriously, I was beat), and I did stop for a sneaky break to have a chat with her and the gang. I have to admit, I needed a few words of encouragement to get going again! The wheels hadn’t come off but they were definitely wobbling!
After saying a sad goodbye to the wifey, she left me with the parting words ‘Run like the wind, babe!’ and the hard slog up first avenue towards the Bronx continued!
Miles 20-23 The Bronx and Manhattan again: are we there yet?!
After leaving the 1st Avenue straight the route turned into the Bronx for a few miles before entering Manhattan for the second time. I was really starting to feel the pain at this stage and began to regret the faster pace of the first 13 miles. Signs like this certainly helped!
Miles 20-23 were basically about hanging on for me. I knew I was starting to slow down and given that my longest training run was 20 miles I didn’t really know how my body was going to hold out over the last few miles. A surprise friend met me at around mile 22 and, although I could barely string a few words together, it gave me a boost.
Miles 23 – 26.2 Central Park: feeling like a superstar!
I had finally made it to Central Park. After training in the park for the 2012 NYC marathon it was great to be back on familiar ground even if I was feeling worse for wear. I was in a pretty bad way as I entered the park and without a water station in sight I knocked back an energy gel. For anyone who hasn’t had to do this in the past… it tastes awful!
With a little over 3 miles to go, my pace had slowed and I knew I needed to pick it up to break the 4 hour target. This led to me doing what only can be described as the granddad shuffle for a few miles. It wasn’t pretty but it did work and my pace improved to closer to my target of 9 minute miles.
As I exited the park and turned the corner onto 59th street towards Columbus Circle the energy gel kicked in and I had a new lease of life. Well that or the prospect of the finish line being so close! I started to kick-on and, before I knew it, I was turning back into the park to the strains of Livin’ on a Prayer which the band was crunching out in the grandstands.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the last 400 yards of the marathon. The crowds and the end being in sight gave me the boost I needed to cross the beautiful finish line! Pardon the shaky video and occasional panting but it had been 26 miles!
Crossing the line was a very surreal experience. On the one hand I was so happy to be finished running and just standing still was heaven! On the other hand the relief and elation at having completed one of my most amazing runs of my life was a little overwhelming. Breaking my target 4 hours felt amazing!
Where to stay for the New York marathon, the hotels we love:
We’ve stayed all over the city during our trips to NYC. Here’s some of our faves:
- the Courtyard Soho for its downtown location and price
- SIXTY Lower East Side when we want explore downtown with a bonus rooftop pool!
- Pod 51 is an awesome and funky option close to the Rockefeller Center
- Hi NYC on the Upper West Side is a great hostel option.
- the Knickerbocker and the Greenwich for unrivalled luxury
- the Renaissance Times Square for its Times Square location
- We use booking.com as it usually has awesome prices and flash sales on NYC hotels!
The march out of the park: feeling Pain!
I received my medal and the coveted wind breaker to keep warm and headed down what can only be described as a Walk of Pain to the exit of the park. The amazing feeling of finishing the marathon gave way to the pain of the slow walk out of the park among a sea of tired but happy runners.
I had opted for the No Baggage option which meant I could exit the park earlier at 72nd Street and get a snazzy, warm poncho en route. It still took around 30 minutes to exit the park and then another 40 minutes to get back to our midtown hotel. The organisers do their best to disperse the crowds of runners but it’s a trying experience when you’ve just run 26.2 miles and are aching all over. I think the walk home took more determination than the marathon itself!!
When I finally got back to our hotel in Times Square I collapsed on the bed, struggled for the phone and ordered a celebratory cocktail to the room! I deserved it!
A quick shower and change of clothes later, I was a new man in a cab heading over to meet the gang for some post marathon celebrations. An amazing end to a fantastic day!
Overall I was delighted with the whole marathon experience and I was incredibly pleased with my time. The 4 hour target was smashed!
It was amazing to see New York from a completely new perspective and experience the immense crowd support during the marathon. A marathon has always been on my bucket list and the sense of achievement is massive! 26.2 miles is a huge test, I’ll definitely be back training for half marathons but we’ll have to see about the full!!
I think this video (from Buzzfeed) accurately captures the various stages of a marathon. Pretty much sums up my day, except I managed to keep all my toe-nails!