Today is the one-week anniversary of my inaugural NYC Marathon, and I have spent the better part of my time since trying to summon the ability to describe the race in a way that does the experience justice. Going into the race, I clearly recognized that it would be big. I watched race videos, I read the runners blogs, I visited New York in the spring and ran Central Park. But still nothing – nothing – prepared me for the tidal wave of emotion and energy that surrounded this marathon.
A sampling of what made this day so incredibly great:
1) That Moment When I Realized I Was Actually Running the NYC Marathon
The pre-dawn hours before the race were quiet. New York was asleep (or as asleep as the City ever really gets), when we loaded onto our buses for our race day commute to Staten Island. The start village was full of runners and volunteers, but for the most part it was calm. There were muted excited-nervous conversations between runners, and people quietly passing time doing what you do before a race: stretching, hydrating, fueling, checking your gear, waiting and, in my case, reading (without really reading) the NY Times. It was a strangely quiet experience, as we all focused ahead on what we were set to do.
Once we were ushered to our corrals and started our pilgrimage to the start line, our collective excitement started to grow … the national anthem, the cannon exploding, the helicopters overhead, New York New York blaring over the speakers, spontaneous cheers from athletes as we started to run en masse up the Verrazano Bridge. This was it – time to settle in for the duration. I was running a marathon.
But the full force and magnitude of the fact that this was not just a marathon, it was the NYC Marathon, honestly did not hit me until I exited that first bridge and plunged into massive, cheering crowds in Brooklyn. New York City showed up – I mean the City really SHOWED UP. People were there in force, with signs and noisemakers and instruments, greeting us with shouts and smiles and cheers … and it did not end. Block after block, mile after mile, they were there for us. THIS is the NYC Marathon, and THIS is why you need to be there.
2) The World Around Me Was My Playlist
This is the part where I grudgingly admit that my brother was right. He spent the better part of the two weeks before the race begging me to leave my earbuds and electronic devices at home. During the same time, I was busy fine-tuning the Perfect Race Playlist. If I was to survive the 26.2 miles, it was going to be to tunes from my vetted and road-tested, hand-selected, soundtrack.
I need not have bothered.
The only times I actually could hear my music were 1) while running the Queensboro Bridge, and then I physically took out my earbuds to listen to the silence and 2) a quiet stretch around mile 21 when the industrial void took over and my son’s contribution to my playlist (the musical score for the superhero movie The Incredibles) pushed me forward and brought a smile to my lips and a little extra energy to my legs.
In short, if you run this race, be prepared for 26.2 miles of sensory overload. Do not worry about the playlist. Just embrace the noise and the chaos and the enthusiasm around you.
3) For 26.2 Miles I Was Both a Rock Star and a Superhero
One of the better pieces of pre-marathon advice I was given was to put my name on my shirt. And so I did – orange shirt, black letters, slightly reminiscent of my Dad’s favorite baseball team (Go Giants)! And that was all it took to supersize the awesomeness of this race.
For 26.2 miles I was treated to the cheers and applause of 1,000,000 fans, with SO many calling out my name and shouting words of praise and encouragement. I do not know what it says about my ego or my insecurities, but when you have that many people cheering you on, you start to actually believe that you can rock the race.
I was solidly in the middle of the pack. To be precise, I finished 25,498 out of a field of over 50,000 runners. But it did not matter. For the whole of the race, I was cheered on with rock-concert enthusiasm. Phenomenal experience!
4) The Race Represented the Best that We Are as People
Everyone was represented along the race course - Muslims, Hasidic Jews, Christian gospel choirs, the young, the old, from every country and every ethnicity imaginable. They stood shoulder to shoulder, united in celebration of the race and all that it embodies: life, community, charity, perseverance, joy.
At a time when politics, religion, and race are too often employed like iron wedges to drive us apart, it was refreshing and heartening to see, instead, this huge and diverse community pull together in common celebration. If we could only harness a small percentage of what I witnessed and apply it to our everyday lives, we would be a different nation. We would be one.
5) That Swagger As We Walked Out of the Park with Our Finishers Medals
Okay, I’ll admit, “limping” and “hobbling” probably better describe the sight of the 50,000 of us exiting the park, but “swagger” really feels like the right word to describe our strut after the finish line. We did it! We accomplished what we set out to do in the biggest venue possible. And we had our medals, hanging heavily around our necks, to prove it. It was the culmination of so much … and nothing, ever, can erase the feeling of accomplishment and memories of the sights and sounds of race day.
It was the NYC Marathon. It was the best of the best.
Thank you New York. I'll be back.