Friday, November 21, 2014

Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you
It’s a new soundtrack, I could dance to this beat
The lights are so bright, but they never blind me.
 - Taylor Swift, Welcome to New York

Call it fate. Call it destiny. Call it coincidence. Call it whatever, but with this being the first song on Taylor Swift’s recently released album, it seemed as though my trip to New York City for the Marathon was meant to be. The stars truly aligned for this one, as just days before the race I was asked if I wanted to go up to Under Armour’s official launch of their new shoe, the Speedform Gemini, at their Brand House in Soho the Thursday before the race. Naturally, I said yes. Then they asked if I wanted to run the race. I initially declined, citing my lack of running due to my nagging Achilles injury.

“Don’t worry – you can just run with Chris McCormack.”

Exsqueeze me? Baking Powder?

Chris McCormack – as in one of the greatest triathletes of all time – and I get to run with him?

Without thinking, I said of course. I mean, I haven’t run longer than 14 miles in 3 months, but I could get through 26.2, right? If my Achilles wasn’t going to cooperate, I could always call it a day when I got back to Manhattan. I mean, the chance to hang out with one of my triathlon idols alone made the trip to NY more than worth it. And to get to line up with him at the start of the world’s greatest marathon? Psshh. To not do it would be like saying to Peyton Manning, no thanks, I can’t play catch, my shoulder hurts.

I made my way up to the city on Thursday, and found my hotel in Chelsea. It was insane. I definitely did not fit in – but I did my best. I dropped off my stuff and took the subway down to the Brand House for the shoe launch. The store was incredible, and I got to meet and chat with a few cool people – Team UA’s Nick Arciniaga, who I got to meet two weeks before at Baltimore, and Josh Cox. Josh was really cool and naturally (awkwardly) I mentioned I run the BMoreRunning Twitter account – he wasn’t creeped out and even paid me a nice compliment. We talked about Desi Linden’s chances for Sunday and as we did, who walks into the store: Kate Upton and Justin Verlander. Yeah, I know, I couldn’t believe it either.

After the event, I kicked it with UA’s own John Ealy, Sean Sharpe and Britany Williams as we cranked a few slices of pizza. And watched early Halloween revelers stumble up and down the street in front of the hotel. That was just Thursday.

Friday came and the nice weather had vanished. In its place was cold, grey and wind. I met John to go for a shakeout run – which ended up being 6 miles at an effort that felt faster than what I could run for a half marathon right now – and we finished at the expo. Since our entries had been sent in just a day or two prior, we weren’t even in the system. I was certain I was going to get stuck in the 4th wave, so I was pleasantly surprised to see I was in Wave 1, and in the first corral of the Green start. We ran back to the hotel, and then I headed back over to the expo because I wanted to meet a few people…

First up, the Oakley booth to meet the #1 ranked ITU triathlete in the world, Gwen Jorgensen. Gwen recently earned her first World Championship on the heels of one of the most impressive seasons in ITU history. And, as I later found out, former track club teammate of our own Amy Horst. Rather than ask nerdy questions, I asked more RM-like questions. She was a great sport and played along, as did her husband Pat. Like I did with Josh Cox, I made sure to let Gwen know that I run BMoreRunning, and she knew it too! As an added bonus, I also go to meet Ironman legend, Greg Welch. You cannot be serious.

I finally left them alone and snuck up to the Asics booth. Most people were waiting in line to get their personalized race split tattoo, and nobody was waiting in line to talk to Sara Hall. SARA HALL. I went up and, keeping with the trend, said I run BMoreRunning (in case you’re wondering, I run the very small time, modestly humorous BMoreRunning Twitter feed). Sara was exactly what I expected – an absolute stunner and beyond nice. If you haven’t been following, she’s raced really well this year.

On my way out of the expo I decided to head upstairs. That was new this year, and it was kind of strange – not really booths for selling, more of a small tour of the boroughs through which the marathon runs. But in the back I noticed the unmistakably effervescent voice of one Kathrine Switzer. Kathrine THE Great. After she finished her talk she welcomed people at her little booth. I went up to meet her – she hugged everyone – and she goes “you look familiar…” I said unless she remembered passing me at a race, probably not. She continued “you’re really fit – you must be a triathlete.” That’s when I was like “hey girl, I’m staying at the Dream Hotel…”

All this activity and it was only 3pm! I was hungry so I went to a Potbelly, then walked around Times Square. Yes, I realize how tacky it is, but I love it. I can’t remember the last time I was there so I enjoyed my little trip, and of course snapped a pic of New York’s best pizza. Then it was time to meet Brennan, so I walked back to the hotel.

I kept forgetting that it was Halloween. In the 10 years I’ve lived here, this was the first time I missed Halloween in Fell’s with Mike. Even the first year I ran NYC (2008) when Halloween was a Friday and the race was Sunday, I made it out for a bit. That year I was lucky to have a bunch of friends come up to watch me run, and of course they went out in the city for Halloween. I associate this race with Halloween. Naturally, I told Brennan we had to go out, costumes or not. After dinner we went back to the hotel, where they looked at us like “what are you doing here?” (there was an unreal Halloween party at each of the hotel’s 3 clubs that night)

We walked outside and around the corner saw a red carpet and some paparazzi. It was Heidi Klum’s Halloween Party. Crazy. Not too many “celebs” rolled through, but we did stick around for Heidi’s grand entrance. Then it was off in search of places we were more at home. We made it out pretty darn late. Good thing we didn’t have a race in two days...psyyyyyyche!

Saturday we woke up to rain. And it was cold. If the race had been that morning, there was no way I would have made it. I had intended on going up to Central Park to watch the NYRR 5k, but with the weather and 3 miles away, I opted to sit in the hotel room and follow on Twitter. Gwen Jorgensen won in 16:03 – the day before she said she didn’t think she’d run faster than 17 minutes. Must have been my pep talk. It rained all day, and we didn’t have much to do, so we just waited out the rain before getting a (very) late dinner at Chelsea Markets. Back in the hotel, the party was bumping again. I told Brennan we should just hang out in the lobby all night until it was time to go to the race.

My departure time with the UA Team was 5am. Way, way too early. Fortunately we got an hour back from DST, but it still meant a 4:30 wakeup. Went downstairs, lobby still jumping. Man, what was I doing running a marathon? After a few days mostly kicking around the city, it was time to get down to business. It was also time to get to meet Macca. He’s a larger-than-life character, and his excitement was contagious. We get on the bus just after 5 and we’re across the bridge and in Staten Island before 6. Yikes. It was so cold and windy, we had no option but to sit on the bus for as long as we could. All Macca wanted to hear was Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” so we blasted that and a few other pump-up jams on the warm bus. We finally headed out to the start line around 7:45, the whole UA squad.

I’ve raced New York on 3 occasions. The first year the conditions weren’t that bad – temp was upper 40s, maybe high around 50, a little overcast with glimpses of sun. But the past 3 years, weather has been the main storyline at NYC. 2012 canceled by the hurricane. 2013 temps in the mid 40s and strong headwind for most of the day. 2014 even colder and windier. For me, an annoyance but not a big deal. Up front, though, a game changer. One of the most stacked fields in race history saw the slowest winning time in 20 years, and America’s great, Meb Keflezighi, validated his Boston win with a 4th place performance. UA’s Nick Arciniaga finished 10th. On the women’s side, a great battle as Mary Keitany, who hasn’t raced in 2 years after giving birth, roared back with an impressive win.

For me, I knew based on my fitness that I had 16 miles in me, tops. I navigated Chris McCormack successfully to the start line, where we bumped into his buddy Tim Van Berkel (7th at Kona this year). We all started together, but after a mile those two were having too much fun weaving in and out of people and I backed off. The wind on the bridge was next level. So bad they had to move the wheelchair start to the other side of it. Once off the bridge it wasn’t as bad, and I hit mile 3 in 21:44 – not bad! As I turned right and the courses merged I hear “DDUUUDDEEEE!” Look behind me, it’s BRENNAN. Amidst all those people and starting in different corrals (he was on the top level of the bridge, I was on the lower deck) we bump into each other. Crazy!

We ran together for miles, ticking off 7:15 after 7:15. Around mile 5 I spotted the maroon hue of the Falls Road singlet – it was Meg McNew. Only 3 of us running New York this year and somehow we all converge on the course. It was a thing of beauty. I was running with my phone (note: I would never do that in my own race, but this opportunity was too awesome) so I grabbed a shot of Brennan and Meg. B and I stopped at mile 10 for a quick bathroom break, and got back. Around 13 (1:38, with the 2 minute stop) is when I started not feeling as comfortable, and by 14 Brennan took off to see what he could do. That took the wind out of my sails, and I struggled to climb up the Queensboro Bridge, and coming down the other side was even tougher. I hit 16 and made it onto 1st Ave but was slowing fast. Sara Spears said she was going to be at 82nd so that was my goal, get there. I made it there, didn’t see her or any of her friends, and then I took a little break.

The wind was really strong on 1st Ave, and I knew I was in for a long 10 miles. I climbed the bridge into the Bronx around mile 20, and as I turned the corner I saw it: a Dunkin Donuts. I was really, really hungry and knew I needed some sustenance. I had money on me, so I darted in real quick. People in line couldn’t believe I was still in the race and let me cut. The DD employees gave me my donuts for free. I ate one, then walked back out on the course with the other. People around me were cracking up. It was a funny moment, but 100% necessary. It brought me back to life.

Normally you’d think “just a 10k left, I can suffer through that” but man, was I moving slow. No 8 or 9 minute miles for me, we’re talking 12s. I didn’t care, I had enjoyed my day. The tailwind push was the only thing that got me up the incline at Central Park. I turned into the park, shuffled the last 2/10th and crossed the line in my slowest open marathon ever: 4:12:46. Ouch.

I kept shuffling to get through the line faster, and ran into the CFO of my company. Completely random. Walked out of the park with her and then went to find my brother and Brennan. Brennan had gone onto negative split to a 3:11. That kid is incredible. A half ironman and two marathons in the course of 4 weeks. We also heard that Michaela Courtney ran 3:12, and Meg McNew, who was sidelined most of the year as she came back from surgery, held on for a 3:38. The Under Armour guys ran well, but I did laugh when I saw that Macca and Tim went out in 1:29 and finished at 3:44. Had I know that I would have just kept running with them! Me, my brother and Brennan walked 30 blocks to his car, then swung by the hotel to get our stuff before heading back to NJ. Leaving the city after a weekend like that was a little sad, but boy was the view sweet – the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty never looked so good. Fueled up with some pizza and headed back to Baltimore. It was quite possibly the greatest running experience of my life.

Rather than post pics throughout the blog (it was long enough), here's a link to my NYC Marathon Weekend pics on Flickr.

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