SO. MUCH. NOISE. Not today though. Today in Central Park, New York, the roar has gone and there is just the low rumble of distance traffic, a city ambiance punctuated by the low ‘whoop, whoop’ of emergency vehicles – NYC emergency vehicles don’t make a ‘nee naw’ sound like they do in the UK but anyway I digress. Let me take you back 48 hours to the NYC Marathon.
I hadn’t slept well since arriving in NYC on Thursday, the cacophony of noise from irritating garbage, emergency vehicle sirens, and construction noise coming in through the open window meant for a restless night’s sleep, of course, we could have shut the window but then the room would get too hot, or we could have put the air con on, but even that was loud.
But in most ways it didn’t matter, today was about completing the journey I started in March when in the space of a week I was diagnosed with a liver illness and found out I got a place in the NYC Marathon. It’s about finish lines, not finish times – perhaps something we occasionally need to remember. And I’m determined to take it all in, which means this is rather a long race report.
It was an early start to catch a 5:30am bus from outside NYC City Library with my friends Abi Gooch, Julie Martin and Jennifer Sangster. After three hours of hanging around in the start village we headed off to our start zones, Julie and Jen going in one direction and Abi and I going in the other direction.
New York’s Mayor started proceedings by making a speech about the tragic events that had unfolded in the days before. He dedicated the race to NYC’s spirit and pride and then Frank Sinatra’s New York played out loud on the sound system. I admit it brought a tear to my eye.
The race starts on Staten Island and you’re on it for all of two minutes before you make your way up the Verrazano Bridge. I was on the top deck and it’s a long hill, but there’s also the chance to take in the NYC skyline, the helicopters buzzing around you, and the NYFD Fire Boat with water cannons going full blast saluting the start of my epic journey. Down the bridge I come, significantly faster than I went up and I’m in Brooklyn.
You run up Fourth Avenue for from about mile four to mile eight, and it’s easy to get carried away. The plan was simple, run to marathon effort and let the pace be what it will be. The aim was to still feel strong in the last five miles and if I can push on once I get into Central Park then I go for it then.
In reality, running to effort and not getting carried away when it feels like you’ve got the entire world cheering you on from the sidewalk isn’t that simple. And in Brooklyn, I had to give myself a good talking to and ease off the effort/pace, which I mainly achieved by high-fiving a lot of the kids on the course.
I encounter an irritating woman around miles 6-7, it’s not exactly crowded at this point but she seems determined to invade/run in my personal space. Thankfully, after a bit of her passing me, me passing her and then her passing me again she disappears quite quickly into the distance.
You stay in Brooklyn until halfway point of the marathon, and it is at this point two major things happened in my race. Firstly, it was announced over the tannoy that Shalane Flanagan had won the women’s race, and the second place women hadn’t finished yet which meant she had won by over a minute. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any louder, the crowds went even more wild, and created even more noise. And secondly, as I crossed halfway I looked at my watch for the first time and realised if things went well I could be on for a finish time of 3:47-3:48 which would mean getting my VLM Good for Age back. Game on, race-head on.
At halfway you go over the Pulaski Bridge, the second of five bridges in the NYC Marathon, and then go into Queens. This was a tough bit with the course undulating, apart from the Verrazano Bridge it’s felt pretty flat until now. But I keep the effort consistent, and apart from a slight mishap with a gel (I squeezed it a little too hard and created a fountain of gel that mostly ended up on the road) I’m quickly on the approach to the 59th Street Bridge and I heard some shout out, “Next stop Manhattan!” So far, so good.
15 miles in and this is where it can get tough. There are no spectators allowed on the bridge so it’s eerily quiet apart from the sound of feet pounding the road surface and heavy breathing. It would be easy to get psyched out with it being such a long hill, but I’m maintaining the same effort level and I’m passing people, I’m passing a lot of people.
As you come down off the bridge, you start to hear a low rumble that gets louder and louder, it’s the wall of sound from First Avenue, Manhattan.
OMG! I’ve never heard anything like this, if you think running along the Embankment at the London Marathon is loud then this is off the scale, and it just doesn’t stop. I’d been warned that First Avenue is the hill that you’ll never feel but your pace can suffer, but I was feeling strong so I applied a little extra effort and maintained the pace, carried along by the crowds.
Rob, my friend’s Abi’s husband, was somewhere in the crowd at the start of First Avenue but to be honest, because I was wearing my LBAC vest with my name on there were so many people shouting, “Go Kas!”, “Looking strong Kas,” etc, I would never have known it was him unless he called me something else (this was true for the whole race).
Then it’s time for the fourth bridge, the Willis Avenue Bridge, it’s a chore to get over it but a massive sign saying ‘Welcome to The Bronx!’ greets you.
It’s almost like the spectators in The Bronx know we could be about to hit the wall, they are so enthusiastic, and thankfully here the course is a little flatter. I run past a multitude of musical entertainment including street bands, choirs, and giant video screens, passing more and more people.
I pass 21 miles, it was here I needed to decide whether to push on or not (I know there is a big hill coming), but there is no decision to make about pushing on. I’m feeling strong and I’m going it. I cross the fifth and final bridge, Madison Avenue Bridge, and I’m back in Manhattan.
The Home Stretch
It’s a long home stretch down Fifth Avenue and into Central Park. The hill is a gentle incline but it goes on for over a mile, starting at 110th Street and going on to 90th, I focus on maintaining the new effort level and counting down the street names until I hit 90th. The crowds are so loud you can’t hear anything, not even your own thoughts. I pass my friend Julie just after 23 miles, I shout some encouragement but I’m being selfish and I’m not slowing down.
At 90th Street you hit the top of the hill and enter Central Park for the first time. The route through Central Park meanders and is undulating, never a great combination at the end of a marathon but I’m using the downhill bits to pick up the pace and I’m keeping my head up to see where I’m going – I just kept thinking, ‘racing line, shortest route’.
I shoot out of Central Park and see the irritating women from miles 6-7, and I know I’ve got her. She’s about 50 metres ahead but I’m running stronger and I pass her as we enter Central Park by Columbus Circle.
I know this bit to the finish is uphill, but I’m now running as fast as I can (about 10k pace looking back at my watch). The route is still meandering so I’m picking the shortest route to get the finish line as fast as possible.
I finish in 3:46:33 with a 29-second negative split. I’ve done it! I’ve completed the NYC Marathon. I manage to hold it together until another runner asks me if I’m OK, and at that point I dissolve into a flood of happy tears and I share a group hug with a few other finishers around me.
I mooch my way slowly out of the park to collect my NYC Marathon poncho. I go to grab one and the volunteer calmly says, “Please let me put it on for you”, it’s soft, it’s warm and considering it’s been raining since mile 7 this is a very good thing – I don’t think I ever want to take it off. I find out that Julie is finished, so I wait for her and we walk back to the hotel together.
Noise is a performance-enhancing drug
I can vouch for that, the noise is so loud around the NYC Marathon course there’s no opportunity to get lost inside your own head if things aren’t going right – the noise keeps you going, it gets the adrenaline pumping, and you feed off it. New Yorkers are addicted to noise, and the NYC Marathon wouldn’t be what it is without it.
And as Lewis Black, a comedian, notes, “The reason I live in New York City is because it’s the loudest city on the planet Earth. It’s so loud I never have to listen to any of the shit that’s going on in my own head.”
I can truly say the NYC Marathon is my favourite of the World Marathon Majors so far. Thank you NYC, it’s been a blast!