You Can Call Me Marathoner Mal!

Hello friends! Remember me? Remember how I ran a marathon almost over two months ago and it’s taken me this long to finally write about it? 2017 resolution: Stop procrastinating! But really, I did get pretty swamped at work and was studying for my personal trainer certification (which I got, yay!) and so wanted a break from reading and writing. Then came the holidays. Blah blah. Excuses, excuses.

Good thing I took notes so I wouldn’t miss a single detail to share with you, though! Get ready for the longest post ever.

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Kicking Off Marathon Weekend

Asics hosted a breakfast on Friday morning to talk about marathon day, do a little shake out run, eat some food and hear from some runners who already earned several marathon medals. We met at the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle and then headed out for maybe a half mile run, just up to the finish line in Central Park. It was so exciting to see all the international flags that lead up to the finish line and to be able to visualize being there on Sunday. Coach Kastor gave a little speech about race day, as did Deena (his wife and Olympic marathoner who’s featured in Spirit of the Marathon). We hung out there for a bit—Maggie, Laurel and I took some weird boomerang videos—and then headed back for breakfast.

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After we grabbed some food, Olympic marathoners Sarah and Ryan Hall, and Deena gave us advice leading into Sunday. Most of them talked about enjoying the experience of race day, of being out there and using the energy of the crowds to push through the miles. The advice that stuck with me the most: “Stay in the mile you’re in.” In other words, not letting your mind focus on how you’ll feel at mile 13 when you’re only at mile four, but to really enjoy that fourth mile and concentrate on how good you feel then. I honed in on those words a lot during race day, not letting myself worry about how tired I would be come mile 20, but concentrating how good I was feeling at 10.

After breakfast, we headed into Columbus Circle to support Asics’ Extra Mile campaign. They had treadmills set up outside and for every mile clocked, they’d donate a pair of shoes to Girls on the Run. Laurel and I tag teamed the mile because, tapering.

Of course I had head to work after that and make it through the day without reading about marathon Sunday or letting thoughts of running consume all of my brain power. But I did get to leave early to head to the marathon expo to pick up my number. I was so excited that the weekend was finally here that I basically raced out of the office. I had been preparing for this weekend for the past four months—well, technically a year prior when I signed up for the 9+1 program—so I was ready to get the party started and soak up every. single. second.

I took the subway all the way over to the west side to the Javits Convention Center, a huge event space in the Hudson Yards. (It’s also where Hillary Clinton set up shop on election night. But we’ll breeze right over that topic…) The place was obviously popping when I walked in, but it wasn’t as filled as I expected which was nice.

The actual picking up of my number was a smidge anti-climatic. It took me all of about 20 seconds. (I should have know this too, because I volunteered last year, working the number pick up, and lots of people had a “that’s it?!” reaction, like it should be as extravagant as a graduation ceremony or something.) But alas, I had my number and it was all really happening. I made sure to text a bunch of people to let them know it was official.

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After I got my T-shirt, I walked all around the expo, hitting every booth I could. I bought another Asics “Run NYC” shirt, even though they had sent me a ton of awesome apparel. (Can you really ever have enough?) After one lap around the place, I didn’t want to leave so I took another lap. I also made sure to get a picture with my number in front of the pretty background (see above) and I stopped by the booth that was putting runners’ photos on fake Runner’s World mag covers.

I did find myself wishing I had a PIC or my family there with me, but it was a great introduction to race weekend. I also realized how much I wanted to make sure I lived up this experience as much as I could. My goal was to look back and know I was present for every moment of the marathon, just in case I crossed the finish line and decided I never wanted to do it again ha. (After doing so, I’ll say I probably would do another one. I’d just like a training buddy.)

I headed back home, after spending probably close to two hours at the expo, to get some sleep before my family came the next day.

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The Day Before the Big Day

I got a great night’s rest on Friday night and woke up around 9am or so to do a little two mile jog around my Astoria neighborhood. It was slow and lovely.

Then I headed out to meet my parents, brother and niece in Manhattan. We had plans to get some food at Billy’s Bar and Burger and afterward took a little walk through Central Park to see the finish line again. (I wanted to visit the marathon pavilion, but apparently that only happened on Thursday and Friday. Whoops!) We also went to Jack Rabbit in the Time Warner Center to get some PowerGels and a potential fanny pack/belt to hold all my snacks.

Side note: I the Berry Blast gels (which contain caffeine) on my 20-miler and wanted to make sure I had them again. I had figured out a race-day fuel plan with a dietitian and we factored these into it. The plan: Three Glukos fruit punch gummies at mile three, another three gummies at mile six, a half of a gel at mile 10, the other half at mile 12, three gummies at mile 15, three more at 18 and my last full gel at mile 22. I followed that schedule almost exactly on Sunday.

After some shopping, we went back to the hotel to hang for a little and rest up a bit more. I ended up having Dig Inn for my pre-marathon dinner—not a meal I had had during training, but it seemed like a good idea to have rice, potatoes and meatballs. I will say, I don’t think it was the best choice. Probably too much fiber, but the damage was done.

I left my family’s hotel around 7pm so I could get back to my place, finalize everything I needed for race day and get to bed early. That’s when I freaked out a little, mostly because I could not decide what pants to wear. (ha!) I thought I was going to wear these Asics leggings (because hello, #TeamAsics), but I also needed an extra pocket for all my gummies and gels. I tried on my outfit about 10 times, swapping between the Asics tights and an Under Armour pair with an extra zip pocket, which I had worn during a half marathon. I eventually decided on the latter because it fit all of my belongings more comfortably. I also changed my hand band plan (to one that said “never give up”) and decided the Nathan’s belt I got at the store was comfy enough and definitely convenient so I’d go for it. So much for not trying anything new on race day!

It wasn’t until I posted the photo of my outfit on Instagram and the good luck messages started rolling in that I got truly excited! Then I had to go to bed.

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And So It Begins: Marathon Morning!

I set literally five alarms to get up on Sunday just to be safe, even though Laurel, Maggie and I vowed to call each other if someone didn’t respond to text. I ended up waking up at the sound of my first alarm at 4:45am. The day had come, people!

I put on some mascara—because lots of photos were about to be taken, of course—ate my bowl of plain oatmeal, did a quick foam roll, got dressed, braided my hair, put on my really sweet sweats (aka old ones I didn’t mind leaving at the start) and headed out the door at 5:45am. (For reference, I wasn’t scheduled to start running until 10:40am.)

While walking to the subway, I decided to hop in a cab, because fears of missing the bus began to settle in. I’m so glad I did. I basically had a marathon guardian angle as my driver. He was from Bangladesh with a sweet, calming accent and despite me telling him I wasn’t expecting to win, he reassured me that I totally could, if I just thought positively. What a sweet, clueless-about-the-marathon man. He also told me my name meant something sweet, like I had a warm soul or something? Ego, boosted. Ready to go after that ride!

I had signed up for a ferry to take me to Staten Island, but Asics was offering a bus and I could ride with Laurel and Maggie so I met them in Midtown West.

Not too long after we all met, we boarded the bus and headed to the starting line! Laurel, Maggie and I chatted about our nervousness and excitement for the day. Maggie had written down where everyone she knew was going to stand on the course, so she could review it in the start village. It was pretty cute. We also took a short little snoozer and watched the Alec Baldwin marathon video again to get ourselves even more pumped up.

It’s hard to describe how I felt when we got off the bus and into the crowd making their wait to the waiting areas. Excited, yes. A little nervous, totally. I think also privileged and already feeling kind of accomplished just for making it there. I also could relax a little, since at this point I was just waiting to take off. I didn’t have to worry about missing the bus or forgetting something. I was ready!

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The three ladies in the pic above and myself took a seat in the grass, wrapped in towels and blankets. But really, we hardly needed them. We seriously lucked out with a beautiful day. It was sunny and probably close to 50 degrees, if not higher, even in the morning.

We had about an hour to hang. I ate the peanut butter sandwich I brought, a banana and a Clif Shot Block that Maggie gave me because I panicked I needed more salt. Laurel also gave me a salt table to have on the course, just in case I felt like I needed it. (I did suck on it from miles say, 18 to 20ish, when I started to get tired. It tasted a little weird though.) I also finished a water bottle about an hour before my start time. I read that was a good rule of thumb, so I wouldn’t have to stop on the route. It worked.

I tried to sneak into Maggie’s 10:15 start time, but they wouldn’t let me. Totally understandable, but I did get sad for a second. I gave myself a quick pep talk, though, not letting that ruin my positive mindset for the morning. This was marathon day and it was damn exciting! So instead, I sat on a kind stranger’s blanker and counted down the half hour until my corral got called.

I walked through the gate. Hit the porter potty one last time. Then started walking up to the start line. (Just a two minute walk up a little hill.) I could not believe I was at about to star the NYC Marathon!

We got a little pep talk from the announcer. I did a bit of stretching, a lot of dancing (swaying?) around and then “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra started playing over the loudspeaker. I smiled, danced some more, and clapped and snapped a few pics. I reminded myself that this was the last time I’d start my first marathon. Weird maybe, but kept me in that moment. Then the cannon went off and away we went… slowly.

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Running the Streets of NYC

I was on the bottom level of the Verrazano, so the views weren’t as great as you might expect, but I still tried to take in as much of waterfront landscapes as I could. I planned to go up the bridge pretty slow, so I tried not to check my watch (another last minute addition to my race day wardrobe). It seemed like most people were moving fairly slowly, but lots of people passed me. Soon enough, we were at the top and already at mile marker number one, before we started coming back down the other side of the bridge.

When we exited the bridge I saw lots of people taking a little bathroom break under the bridge in a not-so-secluded area. I had been warned by a few people that runners peed off the side of the bridge on the upper level, so I was to stay toward the center to avoid it. I followed that advice, but I didn’t see any streams anyway. I guess people waited until they came off the bridge. (There was also a sign at the start clearly stating you wouldn’t be able to finish if you didn’t relieve yourself in the designated bathrooms.)

There weren’t many spectators when we hit the bottom of the bridge in Brooklyn. But because people follow different paths for this beginning portion of the race, there were runners coming from several different directions. It was a pretty awesome sight to see so many people working toward the same goal, and to be a part of that. Official feel-good moment number one…check.

I also had my first batch of gummies soon after getting off the bridge. I wasn’t feeling like I needed it yet, but the dietitian I spoke too mentioned it was better to fill up before you felt like you needed it, so I stayed on schedule.

I’m not very familiar with Brooklyn neighborhoods so I was kinda lost going through the first half of the race, at least in terms of recognizing where I was. Hitting the first popping neighborhood was definitely uplifting and exciting. People were out cheering and some were playing music. I first heard my name called during this stretch. And by name I mean, “Mai Pai.” See, I decided to put “Mal Pal” on my shirt. Every marathoner I talked to mentioned putting your name on your shirt, because getting cheers from the crowd during the race was a serious motivator and another feel-good moment. But because the L’s looked a little too much like I’s, I think people got confused. Ok, I don’t think, I know. It was probably 50/50 in how many times I got Mal Pal versus Mai Pai. But it certainly made me chuckle every time.

I remember around mile four or so, I started thinking about whether I should stop to go to the bathroom now or later in the race. (I wish I could say my stomach was 100%, but I was definitely feeling a little uneasy. That fiber, you know?) That’s when I reminded myself to stay in the mile I was in, to just go with how I was feeling in that moment instead of thinking about what could go wrong later.

Of course I did have to think about my pace so I would make it to the end. I had planned to start the first six miles at a 10:15 per mile pace, but I was making a conscious effort to go slow and I was at 9:45, so I just went with it. (Looking back, pretty happy with that decision.) I also tried to really look at the crowd and jam along with any music I heard. I was going to make it to the end, no matter what happened or how much I had to struggle, so I wanted to really enjoy my surroundings. (There was one time that I saw a much older man speed by me. That’s when I picked it up a bit. At least for a few minutes.)

One of my favorite BK neighborhoods was definitely the Park Slope area. (At least that’s the neighborhood I assume it was.) There were tons of pretty brownstones to look at and even better, the streets were jam-packed with people. They didn’t regulate the crowds on the course as much here, so the screams were louder, the energy felt a bit more turns up and everyone just seemed to be having a blast. Williamsburg was also bumping and fun to cruise through. (Full discloser, I totally thought Williamsburg was one of the first places we hit in BK, but in looking at the course map, it’s one of the last. Either way, it was fun.)

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I knew the first sighting of my family would be at mile eight, right around the Barclays Center area. So I kept my eyes peeled right after I saw the seven mile marker. I spotted them right as I was rounding a corner. I think I heard my dad or my friend’s boyfriend yell my name first and I immediately started jumping and waving. I was on a pretty solid stretch of adrenaline, so I decided not to slow down and go over to them—also because I was a little nervous about making my way over to them and back. But I vowed to make sure I’d give them hugs next time.

The miles between eight and 13 were kind of a blur. I’d turn my music up when the crowd thinned out and back down when lots of people flooded the streets. I knew I was almost at the halfway point when i saw the Pulaski Bridge. I remembered the stretch leading up to it from my 20-mile training run and I knew the bridge was steep, but quick. NYRR also set up a marker for the halfway point, which was cool and some people cheered when we got there—myself included. I took a pic to remember it, too (see below). I thought I’d take more pics while running, but this was the only one I managed.

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I actually couldn’t believe I had made it to the halfway point already. Those 13 previous miles definitely felt shorter and quicker than they ever had in the past. For a second, I thought about how I’d have to repeat what I just did, though, and how that didn’t sound that fun. But I quickly switched my thinking back to how good I was feeling and ready to take on Queens, my ‘hood!

I loved breezing through the Queens streets. You don’t spend much time there on the course (only about a mile or two), but the energy definitely perked me up. I knew my friend Joanna would be at mile 14, so I kept my eyes peeled for her on the right side. I also saw my co-worker, Caitlin, soon before I reached Joanna. It was so nice to see how excited she was when we spotted each other!

I saw Joanna’s husband, Ariel with his unicorn sign that read “tap for magic,” gave him a hug and then ran up to Jo for one, too.

Before I knew it, I was heading up onto the Queensboro bridge that leads to Manhattan. To be honest, I was kind of looking forward to tackling this part of the race, notoriously known as the toughest part. I had done many training runs (including runs to work) over this and I loved the views of the water. I had also come to appreciate how darn good it felt to reach the top. However, during the marathon, you’re running on the lower level and I was toward the middle, so the views weren’t as great. Also, lots of people walk, which is totally cool, but makes it a little tricky to weave in and out when you’re trying to stick to your goal of only walking through water stations. It was a bit more of a struggle than expected, but still not as bad as some people had warned.

Heading back down the other side of the bridge, my excitement level skyrocketed. I had been pumped about hitting First Ave, probably the most insane part (energy wise) of the race, before I even got my bib. I had even heard that people drop their pace by minutes during this stretch of a few miles. I obviously turned my music wayyy down in prep for the screams.

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I rounded the corner off the bridge, went down 59th street to First Ave and felt like a celebrity as people yelled my name (and this time, by name I mean “runners”). The crowd was just amazing at this point. So many people. So much screaming.

I stayed to the left of the road, because I knew everyone would be on that side and I wanted to make sure I caught everyone. (Again, I was surprised how much room I had on the course here. I thought it would be way more crowded.)

My friends from ‘Cuse weren’t too far up on First Ave. I spotted them around 64th street and I jumped around because I was SO pumped to see everyone. I gave some high fives, did my little enthusiastic dance and went on my merry way.

I spotted a few more people I knew—an old co-worker, my Shape mag work BFF, who gave me a tissue and some chapstick, and some other NYC friends. Even though I don’t think I could have been keeping an eye out any more than I had without falling face first, I definitely missed some people here. I even remember seeing a sign that said “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 26.2,” which I loved. Turns out, my friend Jenna made it. Obviously I wasn’t paying as close of attention as I thought. I’m going to chalk that up to being overwhelmed with joy and excitement.

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I saw my family again around mile 18. I gave them hugs, kissed my niece and took a sip of water before I moved on this time.

Not too long after seeing the fam, the crowds starting thinning out and my energy definitely took a little turn for the slow. I remember when I practiced the last 10 or so miles of the race, though, that the strip leading up to the Willis Ave bridge felt terribly long. It actually didn’t on race day. I got there before I even realized it. But by that point, even though the bridge is pretty short, it felt like more of an incline than I would have liked. I was a bit of a struggle. I made it over a-okay, but the man puking off to the side was definitely having a rough time.

Then came the Bronx, hello! In talking with a Nike run coach, he specifically said, “don’t let the Bronx break you.” Because apparently it does break some people. I was so pleasantly surprised at how awesome it was up there. There were lots more people than I expected and it felt a lot shorter than the day we met running angel Nigel who led us through the course.

I saw one of my co-workers who had a sign for me, which really made me happy. And I saw a friend of a friend right before I got on the last bridge of the route.( I could not tell you the name of it, but Google could.) Seeing people I knew gave me the burst of energy and drive I really needed at this point of the race.

On a scale of one to 10 in terms of tough, the next little stretch was about a six, just in terms of how I felt, not the course itself. There weren’t as many people and the energy was lacking a bit. My former boss said she’d be around Fifth Ave and 120, though, so I tried to spot her. Unfortunately, I didn’t, but it was a nice little distraction trying to do so. I did see one of my other current co-workers, Joanna, at mile 21 and she definitely lifted my spirits. I was still feeling okay at this point, but definitely not great, and she ran a few feet with me. She was so pepped up, complimenting me on how happy I seemed, and it was awesome.

But then shit got real. I had definitely mentally prepared for the next stretch. You’d never really notice this just walking down Fifth Ave, but around mile 22.5 at 110th Street, there’s an incline that lasts for a solid mile. I had run this three times. It was hard every time, but nothing compared to this go. I had to give myself a little pep talk: “Mal, you prepared for this. You knew this part would be somewhat terrible, but if you walk, you’re gonna be real pissed at the end.” I didn’t walk until I hit the water station and let’s just say I took some realllll slow sips. I also saw my roommates on this stretch and my ‘Cuse friends again, so that definitely helped pull me through, even if I looked a lot less perky than I did at mile 17.

I knew entering Central Park would be a nice portion of the race, because most of it spans downhill, minus a few tiny hills so that was a relief. It also felt a little more like home, considering I had run around this area many a times for many a years.

I had been looking for my fam on the uphill battle from 110 to 90th st, so when I didn’t see them I thought I must have missed them. But as I was rounding a corner in Central Park, I heard them call my name again and found them waiting for me in the park. That was the last time I’d see them before the end so it was great to wave to them.

Soon after that, I reached Cat Hill, which I knew would be a nice breather because it’s a steep decline. Then the rest of the park felt pretty speedy.

Soon enough I was on Central Park South, probably the second hardest part of the race, streaming from mile 25 to 26. Almost every every run I go on, the last mile feels pretty darn long. Add in a slight incline after 25 miles, and snap…is what it felt like my legs might do. Again, you’d never notice this tiny hill just walking, but this time I did. Thankfully, the crowds were pretty thick and loud here too and I knew I only had ten minutes left of this several-hour journey.

Then I reached the edge of the park and all was good in the world again. My legs felt strong and I knew the finish line was just up the hill. The days prior to race day, I had pictured how good I would feel at this point of the race and honestly, it was even better than that. People were cheering all along the sides, my energy was on full blast, and when I got to the top of the hill, I could see the finish line. I obviously couldn’t stop smiling. I was hoping I would have some energy to pick it up a bit at this point and though it wasn’t much, I did. I think it’s hard not to get a boost of adrenaline when you’re about to get a 26.2 medal!

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I didn’t want to forget the incredible feeling of making it up to that finish line and finally stepping on the plastic. In fact, I almost didn’t want it to be over. (Crazy, I know!) I just loved the entire race—seeing people cheering, realizing I was really making it happen, that I was succeeding in all the hard work I put in. With each mile I was one step closer to this goal I worked so hard on for months and planned for years and soon, it was going to be over. Before I knew, it was. I had cross the finish line of my first marathon, feeling so great and so happy.

Laurel told me to look back after crossing in the finish line to really look at what was happening and take in the moment. So I definitely did that and stood there for a little while admiring that I got to participate in one of the greatest days of the year in the city. And then I got a medal to prove it.

I obviously tried to take a selfie at the finish line, but failed, so I got someone to take a better photo for me. Then I waited in line to get an official pic, because I wasn’t going to miss that opportunity. I immediately posted a pic to Instagram, because of course I spent some time on the course planing what my caption would read.

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The Aftermath of 26.2

I walked (exceptionally slowly!) out of the park and down to meet my parents and family on the west side. It was so awesome to finally see them and give them a hug and thank them for being there. We stood and took some more pics before we figured out a way to get over to the east side to meet my friends and CELEBRATE!!

I had told basically everyone I knew to meet me at a place called Treadwell after the race. But because there weren’t many tables and my family had trekked all over the city, my roommates grabbed us a table at a bar nearby called Honky Tonk a block or two away. We walked passed Treadwell before we got to Honky so I could pop in and say hi to everyone before meeting the rest of the crew at Honky.

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When I walked in, my college friends were all there with their signs, as well as Laurel and Maggie (and Laurel’s bf’s sign with my face on it ha!), as well as some of my NYC friends. As soon as I walked in, they started chanting Mal Pal and it might have been one of the most touching moments of my life. (Also, my mom said she could hear this from the street. She loves telling people this was her favorite part of the day. It melts my heart and I’m so thankful for my friends for that.)

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I chatted with everyone at Treadwell for awhile, gave lots of hugs and made the rounds, and again, couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy and excited to see everyone and talk about the race it was such an exciting time. Then, I made my way over to Honky to meet back up with the fam and my roomies.

We had a great table in the back where I walked into more cheers. I then grabbed a beer, took a shot with my dad—the first drink I had in a month—gave more hugs, checked out everyone’s signed and said how much I didn’t want the day to end.

Now here I am, still wishing I could go back and relive that day. From waking up at 4:45, right on through. It was one of the best, happiness days of my life.

I mentioned this in my Instagram caption (ha!) but it really is true… So many people told me how awesome I would feel when I crossed the finish line. Jared Ward (he’s an Olympic marathoner) said he wished everyone could feel what it’s like to earn that medal. (I agree!) But even more than that, the ups and downs of training, receiving tons of good luck texts and comments on photos, getting cheers from your best friends and strangers and see other people out on the course who worked toward the same goal, who are trying to make it to that finish line and are giving it all they’ve got—that’s the beauty of signing up for a marathon. It makes it so worth every ache, pain, Friday night in and super early morning run. The journey to the finish line is what made my entire year. Ok, and the celebrations after.

 

 

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