I’m deeply inhaling and exhaling as I begin to write this. I have so many conflicting emotions as the pictures from my 26.2 mile journey flash though my head. Marathons are unpredictable animals and this marathon had it’s share of surprises, setbacks and obstacles. Bear with me as I take you though the rabbit hole/roller coaster that is my body, mind and heart, one day after running the New York City marathon.
Since I feel like there is a monkey running around in my brain scattering my thoughts, it may be best to take this as a timeline, to help keep it on track and understandable. I’m not making any promises but here goes…
Early Morning – Transportation to the Race
Of course I couldn’t sleep. I usually sleep pretty well prior to a big race but not this race. I was worried about logistics, my kids and the stupid clocks changing. Yes, I know it was an hour back so the worst that would happen is me being early but…
3:22am – I needed to wake up at 4:30 to give me enough time to shower, dress, eat and catch a cab to the bus pick-up. I woke up several times during the night and finally at 3:22am. I laid awake in bed, trying to visualize a perfect race.
4:10am – I finally gave up and just got out of bed.
5:00am – I gave my sleeping kids one last glance, made a silent promise to make them proud, then slipped out with just my approved, clear plastic race bag that held food, water, extra gloves and a hat. Being without my cellphone made me feel very strange but I did not want to carry it though the race. So many missed photo ops!
5:30am – I was searched and let onto the bus to Staten Island.
6:00am – Arrival at the starting village. Remember how I was supposed to get on the bus at 6:00? Well, here I was already in the village and my race start time was 9:50am. Yep. My designated bus time was 6:00am and it said to allow 90 minutes to get to the village and make it though security. It took about 2 minutes after arrival. And it was still dark. Thank God the weather was amazing and I wasn’t even wearing gloves – just my throw away sweats. The bridge was all lit up and just gorgeous. I remember taking it all in and feeling in awe of being at the start line.
Pre-Dawn in Athlete’s Village
The entire race from start to finish was incredibly well organized. The village was separated into corrals and waves by number and color. There were complimentary bagels, water, Dunkin Donuts coffee, tea, hot chocolate and Gatorade gels, mixes, and drinks.
There was also plenty of port-o-potties with plenty of toilet paper and they remained relatively clean. That in and of itself was a phenomenon I have never before experienced.
6:00am – 8:30am – I met some very friendly runners (one even gave me an extra blanket to sit on), and I drank about 20 oz of water, ate an everything bagel, banana and two chia bars over the course of two and half hours. I felt just right and was able to use the bathrooms several times with zero lines.
8:40am – They moved us into the corrals. I was talking with another guy from South Africa and I started to feel a little light headed but I chalked it up to lack of good sleep, sitting around the village for the last three hours, and demanded I not freak out even one little bit.
Hind sight – That “dizziness” was a huge warning sign I should have recognized.
9:50AM – After the National Anthem, and a speech by the Mayor, we were finally on our way!
It was super crowded going over the bridge and we even stopped at one point! I stayed clam and kept reminding myself that I had a long way to go and the timing of the first mile (8:47) meant almost nothing. I rolled with it, tried to take it all in and realized…I was freaking HOT!
I had to take off my arm sleeves almost immediately. I decided to do it sooner rather then later, when I would probably be delirious. This meant taking off my watch, which was kind of tricky. In doing so, I must have hit something on the watch which caused it to go into “lap mode” so I could only see the current mile I was in and get my split. I had no clue of my overall time, which, by the end, was a very good thing. I also did not realize this until about mile seven because I was not looking at my watch but running by feel.
Right away I felt a little off. I still had that kind of dizzy feeling, but “dizzy” is too strong of a word. I was just off. Again, I didn’t panic but thought maybe I should just start fueling a little. So, about 20 minutes in, I took my first chomp. I usually start fueling about 45 minutes in, so this was very early. I also took Gatorade and water at each aid station from mile three.
I cruised along, really enjoying my pace, keeping my head and looking around smiling at all that is the NYC marathon. I was enjoying myself and started to think big thoughts.
Hind sight – taking in chomps early caused my body to work overtime from the start.
MILE 16 – WTF IS HAPPENING?
There is really no other way to put it. Around mile 16 my stomach starting cramping. I have never in my life experienced that – not in training, not in a race, not freaking ever. Still I did not panic. The marathon is so very long that I always remind myself things come and go. I thought this too shall pass…until my quads started cramping.
My family was going to be at mile 18 so I stayed strong. I was uncomfortable and nervous about what the hell was happening but I didn’t want my family to know anything was wrong and worry. I’m an excellent actress. I was also trying to convince myself that this would pass, even though I knew it wouldn’t.
I almost missed my family because they were tucked right underneath the ‘Mile 18’ marker and even kind of behind the time clock. If I had been on my goal time, I would have missed them as I cruised by, but since I was hurting I actually stopped and went back when I heard my husband’s shout. I have also never done that in a race! I gave the boys each a quick kiss and was off again.
By Mile 20, I wanted to curl into the fetal position against a dirty curb, and gently rock my aching muscles away. I was scared because I thought my legs were going to completely cramp and not work. I didn’t know what was happening or how to fix it. Instead, I slowed my pace and my mantra became “nice and easy.”
I wanted to cry and feel sorry for myself.
I willed my body to be strong, but it was failing me.
I thought of all the people tracking my time and the collective “ut oh!” when they realized my pace had slowed by more then 1 minute per mile.
I basically did everything you’re not supposed to do, but I did not give even one shit.
DARK MILES 20-24
It seemed like all of a sudden this race became everything I never thought it would be – a disappointment, a failure, a complete and total suffer fest.
I knew I had to get my head right.
My family was going to be at Mile 24 so I focused on getting there. It was no easy task. My quads and stomach ached. I felt like I was shuffling along but I tried to focus on my form and staying tall. I pumped my arms and willed my legs to follow. I continued my “nice and easy” mantra although there was nothing nice or easy about what I was doing.
I also thought I needed to continue to take in fuel and I was so, so thirsty. I would choke down a Chomp right before the water stations, then – thank God they were filling huge cups to the very top with water – I would down the entire cup. I continued this agonizing cycle for the next three miles. My stomach would cramp and then it would pass. My legs cramped the entire time and I was just begging them for one more step…one more step…one more step – all the way to Mile 24.
I also walked through the water stations at Mile 22 and 23. Another first time event for this runner. I seriously could not believe I was walking in a marathon. But, I had no choice. I had to make decisions based only on me finishing the race.
Hind sight – I should have been only taking in Gatorade. My stomach was cramping because it couldn’t digest the chomps since it was too busy trying to cool my body. I was making myself worse without knowing it.
I somehow made it to Mile 24, and I saw my family, as I was walking though the water station. My dad knew something was really wrong when he saw me walking, but he just smiled and whistled. I walked toward my boys, and bent down to kiss them. They looked me right in the eyes and said “Don’t stop!!!! Keep running mommy!!!!” I picked my head up, and that was it. I did as I was told.
I started taking in the crowds (they were just as amazing as everyone says!) and I started thinking about my mom and what she was doing at my age. She was in a hospital bed enduring chemotherapy and dying of cancer. What the hell did I have to complain about? A missed goal? I was running the NYC Marathon and was two miles away from the finish!
Then I saw a woman wearing a shirt that read “Run for Those Who Can’t” and it was just another sign.
I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and to stop robbing myself of the joy of this race. I made a conscious decision to run happy to the finish.
As I was coming down the final 400m to the finish line I saw Natalie (Nat Runs Far) in the stands. Her and her husband, who I have never even seen or met before in my life, were cheering so loudly and smiling so big, and it lifted me up. I saw in their faces that my time didn’t mean a thing, I was about to finish something amazing and if they were that happy and excited for me, what the hell was my problem?
I finished in 3:31:00 happy and proud.
We walked for what seemed like forever though the finishers chute. I finally made it to the beloved race poncho and an angel wrapped me in it, told me I was beautiful, wished me congratulations and sent me to find my family.
It was a little tricky and I had to borrow a stranger’s cell phone but, I finally met up with my husband.
We grabbed the very fist thing with wheels to get us back to our hotel…
It was a sweet ride and our driver/rider even played Frank Sinatra and took this picture of us. Then, in classic NYC fashion, he robbed us blind. Our 19 minute ride from Central Park on 61st, to 54th and 6th, cost $120.00. It was worth every penny.
I had the best, hottest shower ever (no chafing!) and promptly went out for beers and a bacon cheeseburger.
THE MORNING AFTER AND WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO MY BODY
I was genuinely happy after the race. Of course I was disappointed that I missed my goal but I still had no idea why my body was cramping so badly. I was still on a high from finishing and my family was proud of me. That was all that seemed to matter.
I read all the Facebook posts and comments and congratulations and I felt a swell of pride, with a twinge of guilt. I definitely had feelings of letting people down, of not accomplishing a goal and the “f” word kept creeping in on me – failure.
By Monday morning, I was feeling all the emotions. I was crying into my coffee, texting my bestie with all my sorrows and emailing my coach asking for a call so we could figure out what happened.
This is what happened:
- I drank way too much water and zero electrolytes, in the 48 hours leading up to the race. Yes, zero. I was focused on hydrating all day on Saturday and then I had about 20 oz of more water the morning of the race. That dizziness I felt was my blood being diluted with water.
- I didn’t drink a sports drink prior to the race because I never have! I get easily overwhelmed with sweetness and I have never had any electrolytes before a marathon, half marathon, or long training run. I usually only drink supplements DURING the run or race and nothing new on race day so…
- The issue was that I never drink that much water either. I had way too much in my system and, when I started taking fuel in early, my body couldn’t digest the Chomps AND work overtime to cool my body with zero electrolytes.
- I feel like a moron. I actually did this to myself and then made it worse by forcing Chomps down my throat and only drinking more water in the later miles.
My coach was pretty astonished that I started the race already depleted and still managed to finish in the time I did. At one point in the conversation she said “My God Allie you are SO tough!” but what I think she meant was, “you’re so dumb!”
She texted me this on my ride home Sunday night:
As I sat here feeling sorry for myself and crying over what I thought was a failure, I was reminded of so many things from my wonderful friends and family:
No one seemed to know or care that I was gunning for a 3:15 and failed miserably. My social media feed was filled with “You are amazing!,” “You are inspiring!,” “You killed it!,” without one single “Sorry you didn’t reach your goal. Maybe next time.”
My bestie reminded me that I run because I love it and not to lose sight of that. She said she was following me mile by mile on the app with her son and he was amazed by what I was doing, never noticing a change in pace, just a huge finish in a fast time.
Another friend texted me that I’m way too hard on myself and reminded me that I did something that only a very few can say they did. < – – I tend to always lose sight of this, which is easy to do when running with 50,000 others!
All I can say is THANK YOU. I am so very grateful for all of you who motivate and inspire ME. Each time I was starting to spiral back downward, I would re-read your words and your cheers. You have no idea how very much I appreciate all of it.
NEW YORK CITY MARATHON FINISHER!
And now, I get to drown my sorrows and myself in sunshine and cocktails, as I head to Miami at the end of the week for a family wedding.
I can’t wait to run in the sun by the ocean!
What are your final thoughts?
Have you ever experienced muscle cramping in a race?
How do you turn your mind around when things are going badly?