Monday, November 9, 2015

My 2015 NYC Marathon Race Recap

In case you missed my pre-marathon activities post, including the expo, Team For Kids breakfast, and how I tried to stay off my feet you can find that HERE.

Okay, let's get to the big day now. Just a heads up, this is VERY long. 

So, I ended up falling asleep around 9:30 Saturday night, so when I woke up at 3:45 am Sunday morning I was pleasantly surprised how well I had slept. I had woken up a few quick times throughout the night but mostly just because I was coughing and I needed to have a drink of water.  I was hoping my cold symptoms would be gone but my throat still hurt, I still had the same dry cough and my head was pounding. I took two Advil and drank some water before I started getting ready. I wasn't going to let it ruin my day and I was going to cross that finish line no matter what. My family, friends, and co-workers, had surprised me with a card filled with kind and supportive words that I read before I headed out.
I got my race clothes on, put my throw-away layers on, and was off to the Subway. I only had about 12 blocks to where the buses were meeting but I wanted to save my legs. It was quite funny to be on the subway with everyone who was clearly coming home from their Halloween festivities. I felt like I fit in in my bathrobe.

I found my bus and was in my seat by 5 o'clock. They weren't leaving until 5:45 but I wanted to be early. I wasn't very nervous but I was emotional. I exchanged nervous smiles, and chatter, with those around me as we waited to take off. The TFK coach, accompanying us, told us it would be about a 90 minute bus ride and I noticed there wasn't a bathroom on the bus so I probably didn't drink as much water as I should have. I must admit, as someone with Crohn's disease, I get nervous when there isn't bathroom-access available. This was going to be the first time EVER I didn't take an Immodium before a race. I tried not to let it get to me and just thought about the day ahead. As we pulled out and made our way, through Times Square, tears began flowing. This was it!! I had worked so hard to be here and it was finally happening. I was going to be a marathoner!!! 

We were supposed to watch an inspirational DVD on the way there but the bus wasn't equipped to play it. Instead, a man named Martin spoke to us. This was his 37th NYC Marathon and he gave us some great insights, and tips about what the expect, for the day. 

So, the trip to Staten Island took about 80 minutes but, once we got there, we got stuck in horrible traffic. We were at a stand-still for a long time and some guys ended up having to jump off to pee. It was almost 7:30 and I decided it was probably a good idea to eat my breakfast since I like to eat three hours before race time. Luckily, I had packed a jar of PB (I brought from home) and a bagel but forgot a knife! I ended up breaking off pieces of the bagel and dipping it in the jar. The bagel was a bit stale but did the job! I ate about 3/4 of it while we waited and sipped on some water (even though I had to pee now!)

We were still on the bus at 8 (three hours after I had first got on) and we weren't near our parking spots. That's when they decided to just let us off and we would walk to the security entrance. It wasn't that far and it felt good to stretch my legs. Along the way I ended up running into Drew Swiss. Drew is a big fundraiser for Team For Kids. He's raised over 500,000 dollars in the past few years (including 100,000 this year alone!) What an inspiration!

I found my way to the security line (it wasn't hard considering I was following hundreds of other runners.) The security line was moving very slowly so hopped in a porta potty to pee. By the time I came out it was flying and I couldn't find the girls I had been standing with. Luckily, this lady with a team for kids shirt grabbed me and pulled me in beside her. She was the sweetest!!  That was just one of the many things I loved about this race. You form immediate bonds with someone; whether it be because it's your first marathon, you're running for charity, you have kids, or you just need someone to talk to.

Just after 8:30 I made it to the Team For Kids tent (another perk running for the charity!) It was very warm and I didn't need the bathrobe I had packed but used it to sit on the grass. 

I actually ended up sharing it with a girl name Alexis I had met on the bus. She had traveled from Malaysia and had only trained up to 7 miles. She planned to DNF at mile 15 but I tried hard to convince her to finish even if she just walked. We exchanged FB info so we could chat after. (Spoiler, she finished!!!) 

I sat down, had some water and organized my stuff. I brought a lot of extras to the start of the race (magazines, sunscreen, phone battery boost) which I didn't need. I went to the bathroom after 15 minutes (thank you body for cooperating) and then went back to the tent for maybe 10 minutes before my wave got called outside to stretch and warmup! 

Before I knew it we were heading to our corrals! 

The nice thing about the corrals was there were lots of porta potties. 

I stood in line, went to the bathroom, and then quickly Face-timed with London. 

About 10 minutes later we were off on our walk to the starting line. Along the way, I stripped off my throw-away pants and hoodie but kept my Mizuno zip-up I had decided to bring along last minute. As we stood in line waiting for the canyon that would signal our start I couldn't help but notice all the helicopters flying overhead taking our photo. We would all cheer and wave and jump up and down every time they came close. I ended up taking a Periscope video right before the start where I talked about how excited I was and even got a bit emotional. It was one of many times I teared up that morning.

I was surprisingly calm as we waited to start. I actually didn't have any nerves that day. I just felt excited and ready.

As Frank Sinatra blasted over the speakers I took a deep breath and started running. This was it!

Running along the Verazzno Narrows bridge was crazy. It was packed and lots of people were taking photos and videos and not really paying attention. My coach had said not to weave, or pass, and to focus on holding back for the first six miles. It was tough as, because of my cold, I hadn't run in six days and my legs were wanting to fly! I had to tell myself a dozen times in the first hour to slow down. Thinking back, I prefer to keep a steady pace throughout a run. I wish I would have stuck with what has worked for me in the past.

Anyway, the first mile on the bridge, is all up hill. I was sweating buckets within the first few minutes so I stripped off my jacket and tossed it to the side. There was some great cloud-cover but it was still quite warm out. I was carrying my water so I took little sips every 10, or so, minutes. By the way, I didn't see anyone peeing off the bridge (as I had heard happened) but did see a big line of guys peeling on the street once we got off the bridge. 

By the time I got into Brooklyn (mile 3) I was thrilled to finally see some crowds. The people there were seriously amazing. I decided to high-five every child I could. I kept thinking about how London would feel to be there, holding his hand out for people to touch, and how excited he would be. People were screaming my name and I could not stop smiling. I felt amazing! I took in my first Salted Caramel GU just after mile 4.

Can you find me?

The miles in Brooklyn FLEW BY! I was counting down to Mile 8 because I know I would be seeing my friend Kim there. She had tweeted me, the night before, with a copy of the sign she would be holding so I could find her. 

The next thing I knew is I heard someone screaming me name and veered off to the left side of the course to give her the BIGGEST hug!! Although this was the first time we had met, in person, I felt like we'd been friends for ages. Seeing her there gave me the biggest boost. Plus, her boyfriend was adorable and telling me I looked like I was having fun and doing great! LOVE THEM!! I only stopped for a few seconds (totally forgot to grab a photo) before taking off.

Every time I would hit a mile marker, or tracking point (5K, 10K, 15K) I would smile to myself and think about my family, and friends, back home who I knew were tracking my progress. It made me feel so proud. I was actually doing this!

At Mile 10 one of the TFK coaches jumped in to join me for a bit. I hadn't met him before but he told me he loved how I was smiling. He said something I will never forget "Kaella, you're going to be a marathoner today." I said "Hell yeah I am!" Even now, thinking back on that moment, I'm tearing up. It was that moment I think it really hit me. I was going to finish. I was going to make my dreams come true!

We hit the half way point and, until now, my splits had been really consistent around 9:45/mile.  It was slower than I would have liked to be (2:09:37) but I wasn't going let that get to me. I knew, at that point, my dream sub-four goal wasn't going to be happen but I was okay with that. I was focused on finishing under 4:18 (my goal) and having a negative-split. I ended up tossing my water bottle at this point (it was empty) and committed to alternating water and Gatorade every mile.

The next part of the course I was looking forward to was hitting 1st Avenue. As I crossed the bridge, before it, I was feeling awesome. 

I took a run-fie and Facebooked how great I was feeling. I had heard 1st Avenue was deafening and it didn't disappoint. It was five-six people deep on either side of the road as people screamed, rang bells, and cheered your name. I felt like a rock-star!  

I could write a separate post on the spectators. They were amazing! I loved all the signs I saw. Some of my favourites included one with Taylor Swift's head and "I don't know about you but I'm feeling 26.2."  There was a "If Donald Trump can run, you can too." Oh, and "Beer and Sex at the Finish!" There were also lots of good looking guys holding up "free hugs and kisses" signs. A lot of ladies were stopping for those, haha!

This course was tough and the spectators helped with that. There wasn't a lot of flat stretches and there were a lot of hills. My quads are still sore! 

As I was running, a few people commented on my shirt. I had London's favourite quote from Buzz Lightyear on the back "To Infinity And Beyond." I loved being able to explain what that was all about because that meant I got to think about London and that made me smile.

When I hit Mile 20 I remember thinking that this was the furthest I'd ever run before but I was feeling good. Sure, I was running much slower than I would have liked but, considering I wasn't at my best, I was actually okay with that. I was running a marathon and I was having a blast.

Somewhere between mile 21 and mile 22 something changed. I felt like my legs were so heavy. My pace had slowed dramatically and I couldn't will myself to move any faster. I was fueling properly (every 4-4.5 miles) and taking in what I thought was enough water and Gatorade. I just couldn't get myself to move. It was almost like I was running in slow motion (in reality I was at about a 10-10:30 mile pace.) 

I was just focused on getting to mile 23, as I knew Kim and her boyfriend would be there, and then after that to the finish line. Somehow, I was still smiling. I knew that I was giving it all that I had in that moment. 

Seeing a lady holding a sign in the Bronx that read "Last Damn Bridge" made me laugh out loud! After 5 Bridges I was over them. 

Little did I know 5th Avenue would be the biggest test of all. It's a very long gradual incline as you make your way into Central Park. Towards the end, that's when I heard a familiar voice shouting my name. It was KIM!! I ran over and gave her another sweaty hug. I told her I was struggling and she said "this is the furthest you've ever ran. Good job!" Her boyfriend said I was still looking great. At that moment, it was exactly what I needed to hear. I said a quick goodbye and thank you and kept running knowing the finish line was close.

When I imagined the last few miles of the marathon I thought I would dedicate a mile to those I loved to help get me there. Instead, I couldn't think of anyone or anything, but getting to the finish line. I kept picturing myself running over those "FINISH" words and throwing my hands up in the air. Even though I was struggling, and running my slowest pace yet, I just kept going. 
I saw mile 24 and thought, 2 more miles, yeah I can do that. Shortly after, I realized that 20 more minutes of running seemed like an eternity.

At one point, around mile 25, I ended up texting my mom (I had put my phone away for the majority of the race) and said "Holy crap this is hard." She sent back "Almost there. You've got this. Hang in there. I will see you finish so will Ry (my brother)... love you." It was all I needed to keep going.

Before I knew it, it was mile 26. I felt like my heart was going to burst I was so excited.

I threw my hands up in the air and I crossed the finish line with the biggest smile on my face...before promptly bursting into tears.  

I had done it. I had ran a marathon. Three years, almost to the day, after I started running I had conquered my fears, made dozens of sacrifices and worked my butt off to become a marathoner.

The funny thing is, no matter how hard it was and how much I was hurting I never once thought "I'm never doing that again." Instead, as I saw my finish time being tweeted by a friend (4:27:05) I thought to myself "I can't wait to do that again!"

I made my way to get a heat sheet and then a medal. That's when I spotted my friend who was volunteering. I wanted her to give her my medal so I walked over to surprise her! It was an amazing feeling to see a familiar face. I immediately burst into tears (again) as she put it around my neck. We posed for a quick photo before I kept walking towards the exit.

Since I was running for TFK I was allowed an early exit from the park (most runners have a long walk and take about 30-45 minutes to get out) into their charity tent. 

I got my super warm poncho, sat down (probably not the best idea) and grabbed a handful of animal crackers and some twizzlers before heading back outside to take a few photos. 

As I was exiting the park I heard my phone ringing and was surprised to see it was London (he usually naps around that time.) Right away, he asked to see my medal. He said he ran a marathon too. It made me laugh. It was so awesome to see his face.

The NYC Marathon is the biggest race in the world. I'm so glad I chose it for my first marathon. It's a tough course but the spectators make it worth it. It's also extremely well organized with lots of events leading up to, and after, the race. 

I will be back to do it again someday. 

Final Thoughts:

I didn't run with music the entire time. I would maybe consider throwing something on in the later part of the race as it gets harder.

I can't believe I ran for 4.5 hours. Besides the two very quick stops to say hi to Kim I didn't stop, or walk, the entire time. I was scared it would be hard to get moving again.

I didn't have to use the bathroom! This was a huge relief and I'm super proud of my stomach for cooperating!!

I'm still not sure if I ate or drank enough or drank too much. I've heard that every water station can sometimes be too much, for some, so this is something I'll have to work on in training.

Moving forward, I need to do more speed work in training. My paces were always around 8:30-8:45 but, after some recent race times, I know that I'm capable of much faster. I need to start pushing myself in training as well. 

I ran a steady pace in training, on my long runs, and I wish I would have stuck to this strategy in the race instead of starting out slow and holding back and then trying to speed up towards the last half. As I found out, that doesn't work for me.

And finally....

I'm so unbelievably thankful for every single tweet, message, call etc that I got from everyone. I haven't had a chance to respond yet but please know how much that meant to me. I have the greatest support system. I hope I inspired you to dream big.

This experience changed my life. 

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