The New York Marathon produces amazing stories. Like this one: NY had its oldest female finisher ever this year. She died the next day. This is completely true, I’m not just quoting an Alanis Morrisette song. But even before this story, with the bombings at the Boston Marathon this past Spring and the cancellation of last year’s marathon due to Hurricane Sandy, all eyes were on New York on November 3rd. And me? I was queued up with thousands of other runners, ready to take on the 26.2 miles and all 5 boroughs. While this wasn’t my first marathon, or my fastest, it was definitely my favorite.
I’m no super runner, but it has always a dream of mine to run New York and experience on the road what I’d only experienced as a spectator. This year, I was lucky enough to secure a spot in the race by running with Team Animal League to raise money for North Shore Animal League, the largest no-kill animal shelter in the world. I have two cats that I am obsessed with, so this was a cause I could get behind. I hit the pavement, did my training, raised my money and on November 3rd, I got on the Staten Island Ferry, where all the fun begins.
Running a marathon sounds crazy to most people. It’s a lot of miles. But what some people don’t realize is that a marathon is the culmination of months of training. It’s weekends devoted to long runs and it’s pre-dawn laps around the neighborhood before work. As I lined up near the start line on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with my husband, I looked around me at all of the people who spent so much time and dedication to get to this point. There were friends, running groups, siblings. There were people who traveled thousands of miles from too many countries to name. There were several who sported the 2012 Marathon shirt – letting the rest of us know they came back after being thwarted last year. Different stories all, but with one thing in common. We were excited and we were ready to run.
When the cannons fired and “New York, New York” came blaring from the speakers, our journey began. As we crossed the bridge from Staten Island, we got an amazing view of the city. Brooklyn spread out before us, and in the distance, Manhattan. It was a bit daunting, knowing we had to get to the top of that island, but it was also really beautiful. And really windy, but I’ll try to focus on the positive.
Which brings me to: the crowds. That’s usually the first thing people mention when bringing up the New York Marathon and this year did not disappoint. First of all, NYC had a record number of runners. Actually, it was a record for all marathons with over 50,000 participants. The spectators were supposedly around 2 million. I did something I rarely do and didn’t turn on any music. I kept my ears open and took in the sights and sounds of all the neighborhoods, from an aging rock band playing “Enter Sandman” in Bay Ridge, to jamming out to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in Bed Stuy. Save a lonely stretch on the Queensboro bridge, there were people along every section of the course cheering us on with whoops and signs (my fave: run faster, I just farted,) and music. It was only made more awesome by the fact that I had my own set of cheerleaders sprinkled throughout the course. Seeing my friends and family, even for a second, helped those miles fly by.
The runners who surrounded me were equally incredible. To highlight a few, there were blind marathoners tethered to their volunteer guides. There were people in wheelchairs being pushed by family members. There was a daughter running her first race, and her father running his last. There were people running for causes and those running in honor of loved ones lost. There were wounded warriors. As my husband and I made our way over the Madison Avenue bridge from the Bronx into Manhattan, we passed an older gentleman in a wheelchair. He was struggling to get himself up the hill, and while it wasn’t a huge hill, we’d already gone 21 miles so it felt like Everest. Every runner who passed him leaned down to offer their words of encouragement. He would nod politely and then keep on pushing. He was just one example of how inspiring this human race can be.
We crossed the finish line in Central Park with smiles on our faces. Maybe it was because I was so exhausted and was feeling emotional, but I got choked up thinking of not only what I’d just accomplished, but what the people around me did, too. From the blind runners to the man running in memory of his mother, they overcame obstacles and pushed themselves to the limit. My heart was swelling with pride and love and camaraderie. I felt so incredibly lucky. Lucky that I was able to have this experience, especially with my partner. Lucky that I’m able to run, even if really slowly. And lucky to be reminded of the good in so many people, which was on display for approximately 26.2 miles and through one incredible city.
Featured image via ShutterStock