Sunday, November 27, 2016

NEW YORK CITY MARATHON RECAP | MAC2NYC LAST CHAPTER

Let’s file running the NYCM in the professional field is an item I didn’t even know I could add to my bucket list and now it’s there with a big checkmark. It was an incomparable experience, and in many ways felt more exclusive than the Olympic Trials. No one takes care of elite athletes like New York. Every race (I’m looking at you OT) should take a page out of their playbook. It was on another level.

I’ve never stayed in the official race hotel, it was like in Almost Famous where all the greats are jamming in that one room, and that kid is tripping out because Robert Plant signed his shirt. You’re in the lobby and there’s Paula Radcliff, and Frank Shorter, Shalane, Amy and Desi, Molly Huddle and Kim Conley…

I tried so hard to play it cool, but it’s truly surreal to be eating oatmeal in the same room as the future winners of the NYC Marathon. Or sit behind Sara Hall in our mandatory clean sport meeting. Or to ride the bus to Staten Island chatting with Neely Spence Gracey. Or to be walking behind Amy Hastings Craigg and accidently give her a flat tire. Because I am tall and awkward!

The technical meeting is when my fresh, faux pro status shows the most. Everything they announce feels like a game show, where they are telling you what you won. There will be port-a-potties at the start! And you can keep your sweats on until the last minute! You’ll warm up in an indoor track training facilities with heat and real toilets! There will be chiropractors on site for final adjustments! I have to hold back from jumping up and down like a contestant on the Price is Right.

Like I said… I TRIED to play it cool. This means I didn’t ask anyone for an autograph or selfie until the third day. I cracked. I had Gwen Jorgensen sign my bib. I couldn’t help it! I’d been so good and she seemed even cooler in person. And I had to!! Dammit! I had to. And at the post-race celebration dinner all bets were off and my bib was like a yearbook by the end of it. 




The weekend was both packed with a whole lot of nothing, and a whole lot of everything. I stayed a block away from Times Square for four nights and never stepped foot inside it. Coming off the marathon, it’s so easy to look back and see how chill those days were, but in the moments before a key race I’m so hopped up everything has an edge of panic to it. Like I didn’t get my uniform checked in until 3 minutes before the deadline. How? I don’t even know.

My family was there, including Owen and PJ. They stayed in a hotel a few blocks away. And despite everyone telling me to not worry about it, I wanted to see my family all the time. I was pushing back guilty feelings about how much time I’d stolen from my own family for this race, for this sport. And after missing my goal by so much, I am still trying to come to peace with how I feel about what this sport asks of those around me. Or am I shouldering a guilt that doesn’t need to exist? I may never settle it. 





I also had a roommate, this was my first experience sharing my crazy with a stranger before a race. We didn’t speak the same language, and had one small misunderstanding the first day which gave me extreme social anxiety for the remainder of our time together. It was a good exercise for me in general, like okay you did your best to communicate, you were misunderstood, you made it right, move on. 


We got cards from local NYC classes. So cute.
I spent those lead up days in a low panic, at best feeling like an animal caged and ready to fight and at worst, like an imposter who should apologize at every turn. I couldn’t wait for the race to begin, for the chapter to find an ending or, even better, a resolution.


NYCM RACE TIME
The pros all eat together in a huge ballroom. It’s the last stoic meal, the last meal before the race. The tension is always so weird. I am misplaced, I have no agent or coach to sit with. I slide into an open seat and nervously eat oatmeal. I brought my own maple syrup, a couple coaches laugh with me (at me)? Then it’s back to the room to grab my bag. All the pro women are on one bus, we filed on in the dark, our names checked off the list. I’m on first because I am a freak about being punctual. Neely sits next to me, saying she was hoping for someone to talk to. She likes to keep it chill until the gun, her mind off the race for the most part.

The sun rises as our bus rolls onto the streets of Manhattan. We have a police escort to the front and side of the bus. It’s silent, just the red lights flashing as we make our way out to the starting line. It takes over an hour. There’s a bathroom on the bus luckily, because we are all nervous and hydrated. 




The bus pulls to a stop in front of Ocean Breeze facility where we are to warm up until we reload and go to the start. I have no idea what to do, as per usual. I need my hamstring and abdominal muscles taped, so I get in the chiro line. Molly Huddle is getting adjusted. I get taped and have very little time. I jog a tiny bit, do my activation drills and it’s back on the bus.

The bus parks at the end of a residential street, we walk to the next staging area past quiet houses, and picket fences. There are port-a-potties and small area to warm up. I jog back and forth. Throw most of my sweats in the van, pee one more time and then we are called to the bridge. 




Suddenly, this is it. We are all on the Verrazano Bridge striding and shaking out. There are cameras everywhere. Circling Kim Conley as she stands, hands on hips. Following Sara Hall on her strides. Zooming in on Gwen Jorgenson shaking her quads out. Finally the last call. We are called to the line where we stand for another 10  or so minutes. It feels like time is stopped.




The music is blaring. I’m in a dream. Florence and the Machine Dog Days is filling my body. I’m somewhere outside my body, calm but detached. I know whatever happens today, the race is my celebration and tribute to the magic of this sport. To what it has taught me, what it’s shown me, the way it’s expanded my understanding of what is possible.

They count us down and the air horn sounds. We run. The crowd of the start is behind us. The music and announcer fades. It’s nothing but the flapping of our numbers in the wind, my own breathing and footfalls. Helicopters circle overhead. My hair comes unbraided immediately in the fierce wind and I have no other hair tie, rookie! So I ask the girls around me if any has a hair tie, just as I had planned in my race strategy. Har, har. No one does, so I attempt to make this one dinky little hair tie go around a ponytail, and figure if it breaks I can put all my hair in my hat.





Okay hair crisis over, bridge over. The chase group is scattered by mile 2 (or 3?) and for a mile or two it’s just me and this woman from Argentina. We don’t speak each other’s language at all, and she’s super aggressive in her communication yelling and pointing to the space beside her. Maybe she’s trying to pump me up? Maybe she thinks talking louder will help the blonde American? Either way, we manage to help each draft the wind at intervals.

Then my side stitch, which was there from the first step, is cranking hard. I already need to slow down. And my bottles somehow went Gatorade, Gatorade instead of Gatorade, water/gel and I’m throwing up acidic Gatorade into my mouth. Awesome. I say to Argentina, go. Go on without me.

I run alone. Between small groups. I see my sister in Brooklyn. I’m feeling better and so happy to see her face shoving through the crowd to yell. I am settling in, and adjusting my plans to the wind and the way my body is feeling. Beat up already.

I catch back up to Argentina in Williamsburg (?) and before we go under the bridge. But the wind isn’t as bad and she isn’t interested in helping each other. Then we head up the ramp to the bridge, she makes an UUUuuuuuugh noise, but the Spanish version and I drift away reluctantly. Silence. It’s strange after all the noise! A time to think, get calm (and apparently run as slow as molasses).

Then boom I’m on 1st Ave. It’s a party! It’s the best I feel the entire race despite the wind which is getting stronger (or I’m getting more tired). The Grand Marshall truck pulls along side me. Keeps stopping and starting. So I’m just cruising 1st Ave with Amy, Shalane and Desi cheering me on. Then there are trucks and motorcycles all around,  I realize the men must already be passing me. I try not to be disheartened. And also try not to get run over. Zoom - they blow past me. The trucks all follow and I’m alone again. And the high slowly leaves my body as I settle in to run the rest of the race alone. 






Although alone isn’t really alone with crowds like New York. I’ve never felt anything like the way NYC celebrates their marathon. As times I had to laugh, it was so surreal how pumped up people were! Screaming GO ROBINSON!!! Like I was their own favorite friend. And yes, I heard three solos of ‘here’s to you Mrs Robinson…’. Solid stuff New York. 


 



I am in the pain tunnel, testing the gas and tapping the breaks, figuring out how much to put out there and when. The city moving past in a blur. Through the haze, as I crossed into the Bronx a woman was there on the bridge alone, yelling in her big voice, “Welcome to the Bronx BAYBAY!” The wind whipping sideways, into her face.

Then finally the wind was behind me as I started toward the park. Some men were falling back to me and slower elite men were finally passing me. One kept grabbing his hamstring and screaming. I’d pass him, then he’d pass me. It was that stage of the marathon that just looks like a battlefield. I passed women and men who’d dropped out and were waiting for the sweep truck.

Then I was on 5th avenue hating life. I felt like someone was increasing the hill with every step I took, I’d look up and it was seem steeper then a second ago. The last 2 or 3 miles of New York were the longest miles I’ve ever run. I mean I hit a water stop at mile 25, that’s never a good sign. 



 


Every toddler on 5th Avenue I thought was PJ. PJ? PJ? They were in the park. I saw her and Owen! I yelled out, see you in a minute baby! I pushed down the sobs I wanted to let out and got down to finishing that race. I had started feeling very floaty, out of body, faint. I looked at my watch and was sad. But my focus was to finish, to be part of what I was doing. I didn’t want to slow a single step, I was afraid of any heart rate change would bring on the faint. 




Then standing slightly away from the crowd, was my very first friend, Shannon and her little boy. We’d met when I was in preschool, we were always in trouble together in ballet. She was my first best friend, and there she was yelling GO SARAH!! I couldn’t hold back my tears, I started crying and then forced myself to stop. Just finish this! Then I could cry all I wanted to. Race day rewards…

Out of the park, back into the park. I had no idea where the finish was. How was this still going? At this point in my haze, I kept thinking just break 3:00 for the love of all that is holy. Then I saw the finish line and sobbed with happiness. My time was 2:51:50, but I didn’t stop by watch until I could see again. 






The women were being awarded (flashback to Olympic Trials) as I crossed the line. Immediately I put my hands to my knees, head low. Trying not to black out. I walked that way to the tent, begging to lay down. Finally I was laid down in the med tent. My sister was with me. My lips purple, my face white as a ghost. I couldn’t sit up for awhile, I got calories in, I drank down two Gatorades. Finally I could sit up, I took off all my wet clothes and got into dry layers. 









PJ couldn’t wait to see me and we ate bananas together while I got my feet under me. I shuffled over to Whole Foods ate lunch with my family. Real life settled back in around me. No one was screaming GO ROBINSON!!! PJ was crawling all over me, and refusing to give Rebekah a kiss. I couldn’t lift with my hip flexors at all, but I made it to my hotel very slowly and laid down too tired to shower.

My roommate returned, explaining to me in the English she knew that she’d qualified for Worlds… and that not to worry I could also improve. She took a cold bath and encouraged me to do the same. But couldn’t summon the resolve to do cold therapy and took a steaming hot shower. 



My roommate Kellys Arias
My sister and mom attended the celebratory dinner with me. We had a great time, I was so happy to bring my mom there. I felt like it was the best thank you I could offer after all her years of cheering on my dreams. But nothing will ever be quite enough. Though watching her chat it up with Desi, I’m pretty sure I came close. 



Let your awkwardness shine at all times is my motto
The only thing I had planned aside from running the race was going to see comedy with my little sister. After dinner we headed to the Comedy Cellar, but were too late for the show we’d reserved. We ended up sitting front row in some other club and getting heckled by every single one of the 10 comedians while I tried not to fall asleep in my “nachos”. Never has fake orange squeeze-cheese and stale corn chips ever tasted so good.

I rolled into bed at 1am, with the skyline of New York twinkling below. Chapter over. I thought I’d be satisfied in some way after that finish line, but I wasn’t. Not in some sad, desperate way, just that even in my exhaustion I couldn’t wait to feel the pavement under my feet again. And even if 2:42 is the fastest I’ll ever run 26.2, I still want to keep racing the marathon because I have to know… what is possible?


*** 

Did you make it this far? Are you my mother? Sorry about all the TV screen shots! And if you took one of the pics, please let me know I'll shout you out. I couldn't back track all shots.

THANK YOU:

NYRR
David Monti
New York City Marathon
Oiselle
Jasyoga 
My wonderful family
New York City
Stephanie Bruce
NW Sports Rehab
Foundation Performance + Mike Silva
Stance Run Socks
Addaday 
Nuun

... 

I am one lucky runner! xo

  
   

8 comments:

  1. Sarah!!! I was one of your screaming weirdos on 1st and 5th ave!! I was so proud of you, watching you work so hard and gut it out! Congrats on an amazing experience and thank you for sharing it with all of us! ❤️ Charlotte

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  2. I love this entire race report. I love how real you are - thanks for ththe write up and letting us share your experience just a little. ❤️ Jen

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  3. Great post! Even though your race didn't go as planned, you're still so inspiring! I'll think about this post while I run CIM next week. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Bless your heart. Keep going Sarah. There's more for you. Head up. Wings out. Xo Tiffany

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  5. Loved this post! Thank you for sharing your incredible experience. You are an inspiration to me and so many others. Keep up the hard work! Head up, wings out!!

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  6. This was so much fun to read and I'm glad they treat their athletes so well. I can't imagine running New York alone (minus the crowds...ha). You have many great races ahead.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your story - excellent writing as always! Was rooting you on on TV/Twitter! See you on the roads sometime soon :)

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  8. I'm actually weirdly surprised that there's a mandatory clean sport meeting before the race. The horse is out of the barn by that point. Though I suppose there's no other time when everyone is together.

    Let me just say OMG, I'm so completely delighted that you had the opportunity to do this. There's hardly ever a perfect race, but it sounds like this was an absolutely awesome experience. Thanks for sharing!

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