“Don’t just think, don’t just mark your calendar, don’t just post about it, don’t just dream, actually f**king do.”
These were the words that surged through my body as my feet began to do what I’d travelled 3,000+ miles for. As soon as we began I knew that one factor could massively obstruct my goal of going sub 4 hours 30 minutes; the rest of the 52,000 running the New York Marathon.
The sheer numbers meant that as we crested the first of the many, many bridges overtaking became nearly impossible. I had started with the 4:25 pacers but they immediately got stuck in the runners ahead who had started in a faster coral then they should have. The first mile was one of my slowest during the entire race but because of the British rage I felt at people not being able to queue properly I had even more fuel for my inner fire.
In the 12 attempts since I made going sub 4:30 my sole goal for marathon running I had come up with a lot of excuses and self-constructed obstructions. The New York Marathon felt completely different in that respect. An indescribable feeling of self-determination engulfed me as soon as we walked to the start and it hadn’t dispersed we passed the first mile marker. For someone who is constantly dredging through doubt this was new territory. As I reflect on this race while writing this I now know where it came from. The brutal 50 mile ultramarathon I took part in July had built within me a hardened core of self-belief that if I simply kept moving I could do anything. The Oxford Half Marathon showed that if I was willing to disregard doubt and go all out I could surprise myself. Those two things bonded together in the sweat of New York created a level within me I never thought existed until the meters turned into miles and the race began to unfurl itself before me.
With the first mile being one of my slowest of the race, inevitably the second mile was one of my fastest as we dropped down from the Verrazano Bridge and into Brooklyn. I knew I needed to settle my pace or I would blow out for sure. Unlike Moscow Marathon where I simply let my body find a rhythm it was happy with I decided on a 9:50/mile pace, it was faster than I needed to be going but with Snowdonia Marathon eight days before it I knew my legs would give out near the end if not earlier. Having a few extra minutes in the bank might be the last thread of hope to keep me motivated and moving forward.
Surprisingly my body settled into that pace comfortably and my mind drifted off into everything and nothing. In this peaceful state the miles tumbled effortlessly by. However, I was thrown from that serenity as soon as it came to the aid stations, where the manic movements of those searching for water made those moments less of a run and more of a slalom as you dodged and weaved to get your cup and try and get back to pace as quickly as possible. Of all the races I have done New York aid stations were by far the most chaotic, not down to the organisation or the awesome volunteers but because of the sheer number of runners. I became anxious as an aid station approached for the rest of the race, jarring my mental stability every time.
The incredible support along the course can only be described as a wall of woo; a constant, unending stream of people shouting and screaming you on. As we ran through Williamsburg I high-fived every out stretched hand fuelled by the almost tangible energy crackling in the air.
Passing halfway I still felt great. The fear that my strength would wilt in the torture of two marathons began to dissipate and I couldn’t help but smile. I had about five minutes in hand and my inner megaphone was still compelling me forward. Hope held on with tight grip.
After 12 missed opportunities I could finally conquer my goal today I whispered quietly to myself. But the marathon heard, it always hears…