For my entire life I've dreamed of going to New York so deciding to travel over 3000 miles for my tenth marathon was an easy decision. I've worked hard this year to achieve everything I have so having this trip to look forward to was a great way to keep me motivated. In the weeks leading up to our departure date I honestly thought Dan might decide not to come with me because of my uncontrollable levels of excitement.
We arrived at our hotel at around 2pm on the Thursday and immediately set out to explore. Diving in and out of shops, taking in the crowd and the lights; we spent a lot of the first few hours not saying a word to one another because we were just so mesmerised by our surroundings.
I'd developed a pain in the arch of my foot whilst stood in the crowd. I can only put it down to uncomfortable boots and an insane amount of walking - to emphasise how much we walked, my toe nail came off - before i'd even run! We met up with Richard and Holly for dinner, it was great to see another familiar face and Richard having a spectating plan put my mind at rest that I might just see them.
On Saturday we decided to take things a little bit easier, we went for a wander around the Natural History Museum which was pretty boring before visiting a cafe called 'The Little Owl' which is underneath the infamous FRIENDS flats! We had a few too many G&Ts for a pre-race day, topped off with an enormous serving of Ben & Jerries before going to the 'Top of the Rock' and having a beautiful rooftop dinner.
The trip was flying past, it felt like we hadn't sat down since we arrived so before I knew it, it was RACE DAY! At 4:45am I was awake, nervous but ready to run. Dan walked downstairs to the hotel lobby with me, I felt really grateful as he stood waiting for us to leave for the coaches to the start line as everyone else seemed to be alone. A quick cuddle and good luck and I was out on the freezing cold, and pitch black, streets of New York. It's odd being surrounded by so many people at 5:30am. The walk down 42nd street passed quickly, I'd started talking to a girl named Emma. We boarded the coaches outside the NYC Public Library and attempted to get a little bit more sleep. The race wasn't due to start until 10:30am so we had a while before we'd even get moving.
The sun came up quickly and whilst most people around me were in a light state of sleep, I was still mesmerised by the city, staring out the window at all the sights we passed. As we neared the start line area I started to realise how enormous this race is. Coaches upon coaches of people were lined up waiting, thousands of people were already queued up for security checks. We joined the queue and after getting through airport style security started wandering around looking for somewhere to get coffee. It was so cold my entire body was shaking. Half of the runners were wrapped in duvets or wearing ski suits, the other half, like me, had nothing but our running gear and an extra jacket on.
Sipping artificial tasting hot chocolate to try and keep warm, Emma and I sat against a fence, we made a make shift bed out of a blanket she had bought with her and wrapped ourselves in my spare coat. I looked at the time, 7:10am. We still had over 3 hours until we could line up to start. My phone buzzed, Dan checking that I was okay, I didn't want to tell him how cold I really was, my lips had started to go blue and I'd spent as long as I possibly could in the portable toilets because they were warmer than being outside. Disgusting but warm.
10am finally came round, I jumped out of my skin as two huge bangs went off behind me. Momentarily, I panicked but quickly realised it was just a start gun as a huge cheer washed over the crowd, the elite runners were crossing the bridge. Seeing the excitement in everyone around me made me even more desperate to start. Time seemed to stand still until finally my pen was called to the start line.
I want to be a part of it, New York, New York.
The double gun fire made me jump again, I took my headphones out and started to walk towards the start line. The police and security were the only people allowed near the start but their laughter and well-wishes really added to the atmosphere. The first three miles of the race are across the Verrazana-Narrows Bridge and with strong winds it wasn't going to be the easiest start. At times I thought my feet were going to be blown from underneath me. I was being knocked sideways, people's jackets were actually being blown off their backs. I had to really focus on my footing.
As I crossed the bridge in to Brooklyn. the atmosphere changed. The bridge was closed to the public, so you're very alone as every runner attempts to warm up and get in to a pace. The streets of Brooklyn, however, were crazy. Every inch of the streets were lined, the crowds were 10 people deep, locals hung off their porches and out of windows to cheer 'You're started now, you're going to finish! Good luck!' Everywhere you looked people had crazy home made signs, New Yorkers really love their marathon.
Stopping isn't an option in New York, especially when you drop $50!
I was 2 miles away from seeing Dan, Richard and Holly when the crowds started to really grow. One in every three people had a motivational poster with them, people dressed as bananas were dancing as they dished out wedges of banana, it's honestly like running through the world's biggest street party.
'Keep moving baby girl' (I've never been called that before) one lady cheered, 'Looking great honny!' another screamed, I couldn't help but laugh to myself. Taking a gel out of my pocket, I dropped the $50 note that I'd kept incase I needed to get a taxi back to the hotel. The wind caught it and it blew further down the street. Anyone who spotted me trying to catch it would have had a great laugh, about 3/4 of a mile up the road I finally managed to stamp on it. That was lucky.
I was amazed to spot Dan, Richard and Holly easily in the crowds at mile 10. I was still maintaining a perfect pace and a quick cuddle was exactly what I needed. As I started to run on Richard called out that they'd see me at mile 20. 10 more miles.
Approaching 19 miles I knew the worst parts were over, I'd flown through the half way mark in record time, battled the long, uphill climb across one of the connecting bridges and though I'd slowed a little bit my pace was still fairly consistent. At 20 miles my eyes were darting everywhere, I was desperate to spot Dan again. Around half a mile in I still hadn't seem them. Maybe they'd missed me, I was a lot quicker than normal today, or maybe I just hadn't spotted them amongst the crowds. I was feeling pretty gutted, all I wanted was a cuddle. As if by magic, stood under a bridge just before the 21st mile, I spotted Holly holding the camera up. Dan spotted me and cheered and after the little I needed, I had the confidence to finish this marathon the strongest I'd ever been. Just before I ran on, Richard said they'd see me at the 25th mile mark. 5 miles. I had this down.
I grabbed a slice of orange around the 23 mile to keep me moving. My legs were growing more and more tired but I was scared if I stopped to walk that I'd be picked up by four random spectators by each arm and leg and then beaten for giving up. I pushed as hard as I could, allowing myself a one minute walk up a steep hill in to central park, then it was time to give it all I had.
The final .2 miles of the race sometimes seem to go on forever. I had done so well, I was 35 minutes ahead of a personal best for the year and due to cross the finish line in around 2 minutes time. The cheers from everyone was incredible, people were starting to sprint, I was gearing myself up for my final stretch when I spotted a lady struggling. She was visibly shaking, couldn't walk in a straight line and looked as though she was going to burst in to tears. I remembered my experience in London when someone had stopped to help me at the 18th mile. I couldn't leave this lady behind.
I grabbed her hand, 'Come on' I told her, 'We've got this together'. She looked at me shocked, 'No, no, please keep going, don't ruin your race' she said to me. 'No, come on, we're finishing this'. She held my hand tighter than I can explain and somehow her legs started to work again. 'Don't give up, we're so close'. She smiled at me and I could see tears in her eyes. We crossed the finish line hand in hand, 'Congratulations, you've done it!' I told her, she asked my name as a volunteer approached to make sure she was ok. I walked away, relieved to have helped her and ECSTATIC to have finished my tenth marathon in 4:39:41 (by my watch).
Finish Line Thank Yous...
I waited for Dan, Richard and Holly on the steps of the Natural History Museum. Seeing Dan run towards me was the greatest feeling. I'll probably get told off for a public display of affection but thank you doesn't quite do justice when people are willing to fly across the world to support you. I couldn't ask for anyone more supportive, and determined to push me to succeed, than Dan. And really, I have him to thank for wiping those 20 minutes off my time as I've spent the last few weeks chasing him in training runs. Dan, thank you, for coming to New York, for supporting me with every crazy idea, for spoiling me rotten and for giving me a ray of light beyond this challenge. 2015 here we come :) x
Having Dan, Richard and Holly fly across the world to support me was such an honour and when I turned my phone on at the end to over 170 messages of support, I was just overwhelmed. If you sent me a good luck or a congratulations, thank you so much. I could not ask for more from everyone involved in this challenge; some people didn't believe I'd make it this far but failure was never an option.
Now the end is in sight, and the experience of a lifetime has been had, I'm starting to think beyond the final two marathons, in to 2015, what I'll do next and where I will be this time next year. Life is what you make it. I've made this year the best yet and I can only hope that some of you will have been inspired by what we've achieved this year. Aim to do more of what you love and do it only for you.
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