The New York City marathon brings me joy every year, wherever I am in the world. Last year was particularly special, of course - on the ten-year anniversary of my running New York City (2007), Shalane Flanagan pulled ahead of Mary Keitany, the three-time defending champion, and she took first place, something virtually no one expected to happen. I refreshed Twitter, my heart racing, as she blazed through Central Park, alone and on her way to a huge victory.
We civilians run a completely different race from the pros, and yet we also run exactly the same race. As I follow the commentary on the elite field each year, I relive each part of the marathon course for myself. As the lead pack makes its way through Brooklyn, Queens, and finally over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, I can feel the thundering of the crowd on first avenue as runners emerge from the bridge. If you’ve never run New York, this probably all means nothing to you, but if you have, even if it was more than ten years ago, I bet you remember First Avenue. The runners hit the Queensboro Bridge shortly before the 16-mile mark. I remember things all of a sudden got quiet and dark, The sounds of feet and the strain of the sudden incline drew focus to the effort and the hard work. And we were not almost there. Then, I remember someone let out a whoop, and it reverberated through the whole pocket of people I was running with. And then the 16-mile mark came, and we saw the first of a series of signs. “If 10 miles to go is easy” read the first sign, “then welcome to easy” said another, and then the third proclaimed, “welcome to Manhattan.” Just as those words came into focus, the screaming of the First-Avenue crowds began to break through the heavy silence of the bridge, and then there we were, ejected onto the street, propelled forward by the glorious downhill we had all been waiting for.
Eleven years later, I still get tears in my eyes and shivers down my spine when I think about entering Manhattan at the 16-mile mark. That was the moment where I realized “THIS IS HAPPENING.” I had come to the start line that morning truly uncertain of whether I was ready to run a marathon. I was undertrained because I had burned myself out trying to break four hours at the Vermont City marathon a few months earlier. I hadn’t done it, and it had left me worn out and bummed. I had felt like maybe it was time to take a break from marathons for a while. But then. as luck would have it, I got into New York City through the lottery, which I had entered months prior under the assumption that I wouldn’t get in but might get myself a better shot at a future admission. Nope, 2007 was going to be my year, and so of course I said yes. I said yes, but I didn’t really believe I was capable. When I started the race, all I wanted was to finish. I hadn’t yet run a marathon scared I wouldn’t finish, but this time I genuinely felt that it was a possibility. It wasn’t until First Avenue greeted me that I started to believe. Maybe “10 miles to go” really did seem easy at that point; maybe I just needed thousands of people loudly believing in me for a few minutes. Either way, all I remember from that point on in the marathon is that I knew I was really doing it.
Congratulations to all the runners who ran yesterday, those who got what they wanted and those who had a hard day: you did an amazing thing, and I hope First Avenue made you feel like the rockstars you are.