26.2: NYC MarathonSummer Sanders
I am not gonna lie, I was nervous — or maybe it was more like anxious — about the 26.2 miles in front of me. Either way, I was losing sleep leading up to the ING NYC Marathon. Mostly I was hoping that everything felt right, that I didn’t get sick, and that I would run it smart. I wanted to feel as great as one can at the end.
The day started when it was still dark out, with only a few people walking along the midtown streets of NY. All these people had one thing in common: they were all carrying a bib and a plastic bag heading toward their transportation to Staten Island. I just kept to myself on the street until I met up with my Runner’s World crew. And what an amazing group! If you’ve ever had the good fortune to be in the company of Bart Yasso, then you know the amazing energy he gives off. We all woke up a bit when Bart walked in, and that is when it hit me: I am really doing this. This event that I last experienced 11 years ago was about to happen.
The ride to staging was warm… we didn’t really want to get off of our bus into the chilly morning. On the way over, I was reading my friends’ tweets. One in particular from Michelle Beadle made me laugh: “So much for waking up with two broken legs. #INGNYCM” No matter how prepared you are, or aren’t, you have the same wonder…What will the day bring? How painful will it be? Because a marathon always comes with pain.
When we were dropped off, everything happened so fast. Before I knew it I was rushing to goop up my feet with Aquaphor and run to the potty one last time. I had my arm sleeves on and leg compressions up (both of which I had never worn before), my gloves were ready, and I borrowed a hat from my friend/coach John for New York Road Runners. It was cold, but I knew I would warm up. We watched the elite women head out and I got a rush of adrenaline accompanied by those beginning butterflies. This is why I love to run races. The start is magical and there is only one other line that beats it, and it lay 26.2 miles and several hours away.
We were sent on our merry way with Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York, and I continued singing the lyrics for the first mile. The bridge was cold, but I didn’t notice it too much. What I did notice were the 6-8 helicopters hovering over and at the sides protecting us. It was both eerie and comforting at the same time. They were so close at times that you couldn’t hear the person next to you. Some people were stopping to get their picture taken with everyone behind them…I thought about it for a second, that would have been an awesome shot to have, but I had a goal and wanted to get in a groove.
I listened to my coach, and we started off easy and smooth. We were chatting and taking it all in. “Welcome to Brooklyn” appeared very quickly, and they welcomed us with open arms. When I run, I like to look at everyone. Not just the people cheering but my fellow runners as well. I take time to notice their shirts and the names of loved ones they are dedicating their run to, those whom I assumed inspired them that day. I would often acknowledge the name(s) they had written and let them know I thought they were amazing. Each story was touching. The marathon is about so much more than the pounding of the pavement or the time on the clock. It has true, personal meaning for many that goes deep.
The best part of the NYC course by far, besides my beloved finish line, is the entrance into Manhattan from the Queensboro Bridge. It’s a wide turn with so many people cheering all around, cheer for each of us, strangers running their streets. I felt so incredibly thankful for them that I started cheering back, clapping for them. And that is when I started to cry. It’s amazing how emotion can take over when you witness something so magical and beautiful. You have no other choice but to let it out.
Around mile 18 is when I said, “I can’t believe we are already here. I feel great!” I must have jinxed myself because when miles 19-20 came, basically a hill going up 5th Ave. and into the park, the pounding hit me. I remembered this pain. It wasn’t as extreme as I recalled from the past, but it made me think and question, “Will more be coming?” And the answer was, of course, YES. But how much and when? With every step from mile 23 until the finish, my legs were sort of out of my control. They weren’t necessarily on autopilot, more like a drunk autopilot. They were a bit wobbly and if there had been a change in the surface, I am not sure they could have corrected themselves. So I started to pump my arms. Coach John kept saying, “Go back to your form” and I knew just what that meant… it was exactly what I did during the last 25 meters of my gold medal 200 butterfly in Barcelona. Be efficient. Go back to the basics.
The day before the marathon, I had gone for a 3-mile loosen-up run in the park. I made sure to run through the last mile of the course, while envisioning feeling smooth, strong, and happy. When I actually reached that point in the race, I felt elated. I was thrilled I was finally there and so excited to cross that finish line and “Get MY FINISH” (something I have told so many people in past runs). I found myself full of emotion as the line came into view. I started pumping my fist and screaming with joy all the way until those wobbling legs of mine made the final steps over the happiest line of all…the FINISH LINE. With tears glistening, I made it. And then I found out my time, and I was so very thankful to John for helping me run a 3:24! It was a Decade PR for me, well below the sub 3:30 I was hoping to achieve.
It was a great day. It was a perfect day. A marathon is never easy…in fact it is damn hard. But Sunday couldn’t have been any more perfect for me or the 50,000 strong in the field. We were all safe and well taken care of by so many volunteers, policemen, firefighters and others. New York was my first marathon, and this third time was no different. It will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you NYRR and NYC from all of us running 26.2 on Nov 3, 2013.