26.2 mi. My second time for this amazing event and it was nothing like the first visit! Today I am serving as a runner guide for Achilles International. My role and responsibility is to safely run with my friend, Julie, and help her become a TCS NYC Marathon finisher.
We woke up at 4:45am and had organized most of our things the night before. We knew we would have a few hours of down time getting to the start area and waiting for our 1st wave, so we brought some food and drink. Each of us drank Pedialyte the day before, topping off on the electrolytes as has been my habit the last few long races.
Our subway took us to Grand Central Station, then we walked to the bus area on 38th & 5th Ave. We saw athlete #225 next to us, Matthew Lauder. He had a Central Park Track Club jacket on, so I knew he was fast. (He finished in 2:30, yep, that group has plenty of local talent.) It was organized, but still we waited about 1/2 an hour to get on the bus and get seated. The ride, with police escort through traffic lights, took about 45 minutes. Then we waited an additional 45 minutes to unload. I had to hold in a men’s room break and dash to the porta-potty once they let us off! The start area for Achilles athletes was on the south side of the Verrazano Bridge. We were in the Green Wave. We were assigned to run the bottom level of the bridge…
The Achilles athletes and their guides are very impressive. Blind, para, handcycle and wheelchair competitors gather in a special area with a warm tent and our own food and drinks. To see and read the shirts and accomplishments of our fellow runners is awesome. One man had 37 consecutive NY marathon finishes. A blind athlete had four guides, all decorated with “Team Jessica” signs on their backs. So many countries are represented, and so many amazing conversations are overheard in the staging area. The prep for these people is impressive, tooling with the handcycles, body glide, special water bottles and hydration systems. The Achilles world is “gulp in the throat” impressive.
While waiting to begin, I shed my sweat pants and hoodie. We meet folks from NZ and Japan, they are the “Pikachu Team.” We don’t know it yet, but they will run near us for most of the race! We start at the back of Wave #1. It gets underway with a big cannon shot after the National Anthem and introduction of men and women elite runners. Soon, we are running on the windy lower level of the bridge heading to Brooklyn. How many times have I driven this myself, in the day and at night? How many times have I been driven across this by my parents to visit relatives, etc.? Now I’m running it with Julie, letting her decide the pace. Almost on the downside of the bridge, we see and I hear a close helicopter. It comes with a strong breeze that blows my tightly-pressed on visor right off my head! Thankfully, that’s the only gear related malfunction I have all day.
I kept the strategy of eating salt pills at 4 mi. intervals, and food or gels every 5 mi. I only drank water on the course. I was tempted to have some leftover Halloween candy that was offered on the course, but no. I took a pretzel rod that Julie got from a fan, yes, I could have eaten more of those! Most people shed any warmup clothes on the first 3 miles of our Green Course, which doesn’t get onto Brooklyn’s surface streets until mile 3.75. Then we encounter fans, signs, and neighborhoods.
Running through Brooklyn is fun, especially when all of our routes join up on 4th Ave. Half of the street is in the shade, the other half in the sun. Julie likes the cool, shady side so we stay there. She quickly learns how much fun and energy the crowd contributes. I point out who yells her name, then she waves or slaps hands with the many children that line the course. Music, crazy election-themed signs, and a breeze in the face allow us to keep a steady pace on a long straight road. We notice when new waves of runners catch up, as a few fast runners zip by, followed by larger groups, pacers, and then a big crowd!
I think we ran 10-11 miles before making a quick stop to chase a pebble from Julie’s shoe. Then we walked through a water stop and I did a quick sneaky pee break on the shielded side of a truck near an aid station. I kept looking for the well-lit casino like structure I saw in 2013 in the Williamsburg area, camera in hand, but no luck. We saw a few of the Hasidic families out, it was great weather for the fans, too!
It got a little warmer as we crossed into Queens. We saw a runner down and being attended to on the roadside, and minutes later, an ambulance coming to tend to him. Queens has a few turns and a creative way to get to the base of the Queensboro/59th St Bridge. You run up to it, under it, alongside it, then make one abrupt left turn and we start climbing. It’s not a steep climb, but it is quiet. We ran some, walked some, and stopped to take a good picture of Midtown Manhattan.
Dropping down from the bridge into Manhattan is great! so many people, the street is very wide, we are all smiles here. I use my phone to update Marni and Nina as to where we are so we can meet them on the course in another 1.5 miles. I find out they are on the east side of the road, less crowded they say. I keep popping quick updates as we pass 66th St, 73rd St, 82nd St. This meetup is a big energy boost for Julie, she gets plenty of attention and Nina does a video or a Facebook Live session for others to share the moment. We gather up and begin a quicker pace now that Julie is energized. We are closing in on Mile 18. I see a lady running with a “Flight Centre” shirt on, yellow and green and I asked her where she lived. Her name is Maggie. She said Gold Coast, Australia, so that gets us chatting. I introduce Julie and explain what we are doing. Maggie was going to walk, but we have encouraged her to trot along with us. I talk and talk to distract her and keep her in the conversation, hopefully keeping her away from any thoughts of breaking stride. Julie talks with her also, and gains ownership of helping her get to the finish with us. Sometimes Maggie fades back, Julie makes sure to have me tow her back to us. I take a quick few steps to the west side of 1st Avenue to get a picture in front of the only White Castle I know of in Manhattan. Not even my brother has stopped at one of those mid-race. Not for me this time, either.
We run together for the remaining miles in Manhattan to the bridge over into the Bronx. Julie’s choice of grabbing a strawberry/vanilla Power Gel backfires, she does not like the taste at all and within a quarter mile it comes back up. We are near a water stop, but this is not a good time to add anything to the mix, even though Julie’s stomach is now empty of fluids as well. We stay together and build up a good pace again. The Bronx is loud and boisterous, but the mood in our group is slient as Julie recovers and Maggie hangs on to our pace. She still wants to walk, but we keep her with us into upper Manhattan and Harlem. The view up the long road ahead is amazing! So many people, so many spectators, it’s terrific. So much energy and great interaction among strangers. I get just a smile, some chatter, a few laughs from fans and runners near us. We reach Central Park North as a group of three. We know Marni has made her way across to 5th Ave and is meeting us at 93rd St. Julie is in pain at this point, Maggie is sliding back. We visit briefly with Marni, who picks up and runs alongside Julie into Central Park. We did this segment of the race as practice on Saturday. Now we’re in that struggle familiar to all marathoners, the last 3 miles. Marni breaks off and arranges to meet us at the AWD special family meeting spot. Julie and I continue through the park, mixing runs with short walk breaks. I’m not saying too much, Julie is in her own head pushing through pain on the bottoms of her feet. She asks me where the rocks are that we took pictures of Saturday morning, I know they are only a mile away at 25, I say they are close and we are moveing well. There are many people walking now, we have to weave through runners and fans that are cheering on both sides. I don’t remember this many spectators in Central Park when I ran it last time. When we pass the rocks near the Wolman Rink, Julie knows we are close. She asks about the finish, but we still have about a mile left – I report that we are right near the Plaza Hotel, where we had a good breakfast and dinner. We turn onto 59th street in the final mile, I remind Julie that all we have to do is get to a far-off traffic light, make a right and then trace our parade route from Friday night. We arrange to hold hands and cross the finish line together. It is taking a big push for Julie to stay moving on tender feet, but she does it! No walking at all from Mile 25 on – we line up to finish on the right side. There are so many people still cheering runners, the big screens show our approach, it is an incredible sensation to make these next few steps.
Once over the line, Julie relaxes and takes inventory of her sore feet. We snap a few photos and hope like crazy that we get the nice blue fleece ponchos for the finishers that opt not to transport gear from the start line. We get medals, food bags, and a ride in a golf cart to the 72nd St exit to the park. We meet Marni and go to the Achilles area, but it’s mostly empty. No soup, food, or ponchos. I jog up 8th Ave and get two ponchos which were very necessary! I am cold now as well! It’s getting dark but we made it – and now plenty of texts and phone action so we can arrange where to meet friends. Julie has plenty of congratulatory messages and wishes from friends… It was a run like no other!