After wanting to run the New York City Marathon for 20 years, it finally happened in 2021! After qualifying in 2019, I couldn’t believe I was actually going to run it. Of all the marathons I have run, the experience at Boston has been unmatched. I heard that New York was the same and I couldn’t wait. I love a fantastic race day experience! In early 2020, I committed to raise funds for Team Fox to help find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease in honor of my friend Dave Graves, his wife Wendy, and Richard Bibbey and his daughter Brenda Falkenstien. The race was going to have extra meaning and be even more special as I raced for a cure. Just like all of my races in 2020, the marathon was cancelled due to COVID. That did not stop the fundraising and as the triathlon calendar began to shape up for 2021, the New York City marathon was going to be the grand finale of the year.
As the triathlon season was winding down, I continued to assistant cross country coach for my daughter’s cross country team. On our team, the coaches run almost all of the runs with the kids. This was great for marathon training, giving me some 2 a day runs and often some faster than I might have planned, 5 days a week. On 9/21, we were doing our standard to the park and back run. I stepped in a hole during the section in the woods. I shook it off, and thought nothing of it until later that night when it started to hurt. I had my first ankle sprain – an injury I was not familiar with. I thought I could just keep running and it would take care of itself. Nope! After 4-5 days I began to realize I needed some advice and returned to Dr. Phil Kriss who had helped me with the hip issue earlier in the year. Between Dr. Phil and Dr. Tyler at Pearson Chiropractic, I had cold laser therapy, adjustments and Graston. I saw improvements, but was not 100%. I had stopped speed work and hills. I ran flat, every run at a slower pace. I reduced run miles and tapered early. I panicked! After waiting so long to race this marathon, I was nervous it would be an unhappy experience.
Races + Best Friends (Girl’s Trip!)
As we got closer to the race I was getting more anxious, but Rachel and Diane kept me afloat. Every day chatting with them reminded me how lucky I was to travel to New York with two of my best friends for a fun race weekend. Diane was also racing, and Rachel who ran New York in 2017 was going as support, to bring all her smiles and sparkles to the day. We got a fantastic 3 bedroom apartment (yes – a 3 bedroom!) within a 15 min walk to Central Park. Non-race day highlights included a shake out run in Central Park, Rachel and Diane running the United Nations 5k the day before the marathon, the 911 memorial, GF DF delicious cupcakes, and shopping at the expo and lululemon.
Once again, a HUGE thank you to everyone who donated in support of finding a cure for Parkinson’s. I am forever grateful for your generosity that makes research possible to help end this terrible disease. On Saturday, we went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation HQ, to check in, get cheering supplies and iron my name on my Team Fox singlet. As always, the Team Fox staff were amazing. Knowing they would be out there on the course cheering was awesome. Rachel and I purchased matching bright orange Team Fox Goodr sunglasses which I hoped to wear for the marathon if the near perfect weather forecast held for race day.
The night before a race you do all the usual things. Eat carefully, lay out your race day outfit & nutrition, and plan to go to bed early. After a great dinner, we snuggled into our apartment and did just that. But, with girlfriends you need to do a little more… like eye masks and battle braids! Rachel is a first class braider and she showed me how she could braid my hair for race day. She even agreed to get up before we left at 5:45am to do my first race day battle braids. I got my temporary tattoos with mantras applied. Ending the night with eye masks, we were ready for tomorrow. As luck would have it, daylight savings time was ending and we got an extra hour of sleep – priceless. Excited to race for cure with Team Fox, and to represent Team Zoot at a world major marathon.
Up at 4:40am
Whether it is a triathlon or marathon, there is no sleeping in on race day. Over the years I have learned to create a race morning plan, starting with the time I wake up to the time I start my race in a note on my phone. It keeps me calm and from forgetting something I need for the day. It’s a simple technique, but it make the morning go much more smoothly for me if I just follow my little timetable to get out the door.
Unique to this race morning was the long trip to get to the race start, and the long wait once there for our corrals to start the marathon. Every thing went as planned in the morning, sweet Rachel got up and braided my hair, and Diane and I headed to our first mode of transportation, the bus across the street.
Bus + Ferry + Bus
In normal years, marathoners are provided bus transportation to the start, but with COVID restrictions we got to pick a path to get there, with a bus option or ferry to a bus option. For us, step 1 was getting to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Our local bus route was a 40 min ride, so at 5:40am, we hopped on that and I started eating my first breakfast – my start time was not until 10:40am. Rice, cinnamon, butter and half an RXbar, old faithful food. Thankful for the local at the bus stop, who assured us the bus would still come when it was late!
We arrived at the ferry terminal to an absolutely gorgeous morning with the sunrise in sight. Very brisk, but we were all bundled up in our throwaway clothes. The excitement began as all the marathoners headed to the ferry. On the ferry, we got to go out on the deck and see the sunrise on the city skyline, and then pass right by the Statue of Liberty – it was breathtaking! So happy we were able to choose this option. From the ferry we took another bus to the village and corrals. We arrived and it was 8:30.
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Just two hours to go! Luckily, there were sun spots in the villages. Diane and I were in separate villages and corrals, so we hung out for a bit then she was off. I grabbed a patch of ground in the sun, still bundled up and met my neighbors. A first time marathoner (Liz), a veteran marathoner (Maureen) both in my village but different corrals. Just like at Ironman events, I always seem to luck out with fun, interesting people to chat with before race time. My phone battery was getting low for some reason, and when one of my friends left for her corral, she left her charger with me. And when I left for my corral I left it with the other gal who still had to wait!
Blue Wave, Corral A
With COVID there were extra waves and corrals compared to normal years, even with a reduced field. I made my way to the A corral when it was time. Within a couple minutes, I was standing next to Andrea chatting. We were both first time NYC marathoners, and believe it or not, she was from Bellingham – just two hours form where I live! What are the odds? So we decided to run together. I could tell this was going to be a great day.
We shed our throwaway clothes and made it to the start line. Orange sunglasses on – sunshine yay! – we were ready. The Verrazano bridge was in clear sight and the excitement was building. After the National Anthem was beautifully sung, the countdown began and we headed to the bridge. And there it was, just how I imagined it would be. Sinatra singing New York New York, as we ran up and over the bridge such an amazing start!
The early miles were great, Andrea and I chatted and got to know each other. Energy was high, and our 3:55 pace group was cruising along. I hadn’t been running any hills due to my ankle, so on the hills – that were more gradual inclines – I paid attention to my ankle and came to the conclusion it felt a little tight but no big deal. Sticking with my hydration plan, right before mile 4 all the hydrating waiting to start hit me – I knew I was not taking many more steps without A) a porta stop or B) peeing my pants! Since this was not a triathlon where I’ve come to learn peeing your pants in one part or another is fairly common, and I was running with a new friend I decided to tell Andrea I had to go. Oh happy day, she did too! Mile 4, we hit the porta potties and in record time got out of there and caught back up with the pace group. Maybe a little too fast to catch up for me, but it felt okay.
The blue sky was out, we ran through the boroughs, happy with the different music playing everywhere we went. I continued to stick with hydration and nutrition plan, having a gel every 4 miles. We passed the overhead bridge with camera and got a great shot of us arms up! It was really fun running with Andrea. Around mile 10, I noticed there were two 3:55 pace groups. One was clearly going faster, so staying in the middle or not farther back than the second group seemed like a good plan to me. The road had been very wide, and all of a sudden it narrowed to about half the width, which made it feel crowded for the first time. I glanced down and saw some uneven spots and potholes and thought, Lisa let’s not roll that ankle! It had been feeling unbelievably good, and I chalked that up to an earlier taper, and my race shoes. For whatever reason, it was not bothering me as it had the days leading up to the race. That said, the extra concentration here to keep from stepping in a rough patch or hole made it a little harder enjoy the surroundings and I needed to drop the pace a few seconds per mile. Right before mile 15, Andrea seemed to want to run a bit faster so we said good-bye.
I had finished my hand carry of electrolyte hydration, so I started taking water cups from aid stations. Body feeling great, so up over the long bridge I went. Not a hill by our PNW local standards, but definitely noticed the incline. Coming off the bridge about mile 16, the crowds reappeared. And then I heard “Lisa, Lisa, Lisa!” and there was Rachel all smiles and waving her arms – perfect timing! After saying good-bye to Andrea I needed that little boost. It wasn’t long after that I realized I was going to need to pee again – ugh. I tried to fight it off but felt like I wasn’t making it to Central Park without a stop. Mile 18, I pulled over and went.
The Last 10k
When I hit 20 miles, I was a bit disappointed since I knew my 3:55 time was now off. I had really wanted to get a 3:55 which would give me a 10 min cushion for Boston 2023. I wasn’t confident I could make up the porta potty minutes, although otherwise I was feeling great. So I started to really focus on hearing people call my name in the crowds, BIG SMILE. My Team Fox singlet had my name ironed on it, and I was glad it did! The weather was still perfect. Not hot, not cold, clear skys – how lucky was I – and to feel fresh at mile 20, 21 super happy.
Before I knew it, there was the sign “Welcome to Central Park”. Photo credit to Rachel, who besides the earlier photos, got a great shot of me entering the park! I knew these last 3 miles or so were going to be hilly, but I was so close. I gave it all I had, and started passing a few people here and there. My RPE was what felt like a faster pace, but I was at the end of a marathon. Now I was just wanting to see if I could push for anything under 4 hours. I tried to not look at my watch and just keep heading toward that finish line as fast as I could go. Somewhere in the park was the last Team Fox cheering section, and boy did I hear them calling my name! I took a minute to really focus on who I was running for besides myself that day. Dave, Wendy, Richard and Brenda. I had thought of them off and on after I left Andrea, but this was the time I really thought about my friends and how my bigger goal was to help find a cure for Parkinson’s.
Home stretch, I could see the flags, and knew the finish line was near. Uphill, I pushed for all I had. I felt good, and though maybe, maybe, 3:59. The grandstands, and there it was the finish! As it turned out, 4:00:58. But that big 50th anniversary medal was around my neck and I was headed to find Diane and Rachel. What a day!
Somehow, I was able to text Diane and find her, and walk the blocks to meet Rachel. She had an amazing race with a 3:25 finish, 15 min faster than expected! Hanging out in the med tent to change and get warm, we happily met up and walked in our NYC “smurf” hoodie jackets to our Starbucks meeting location.
Looking back at my data, it was clear I missed my goal time of 3:55 by the 2 porta potty stops. I thought about it quite a bit, and decided I made the right choice to stay hydrated (been down the not hydrated path before) and also to use the porta potties. It has always been a balance for me, hydration/nutrition and race goal times.
Still a BQ for 2023 in my new age group of 55-59, let’s hope the 4 min 2 sec is enough. With no marathon plans other than at the end of an Ironman in 2022, I am hopeful this will work to fulfill that big goal of 3 Bostons in my lifetime! I learned my time at this race qualified me for NYC 2022, so that was nice – but the triathlon calendar is full. I would love to do it again, so Lake Sammamish 2022 might be the ticket for a return in 2023.
We made it back to the apartment, and soon after Lola, my athlete that I run coach joined us. Such a treat to meet her in person finally since we connected in fall of 2020 as e-racism run challenge partners! She made the trip all the way from DE to cheer and connect. Perfect ending to the day, we all went to appetizers and drinks hosted by Team Fox, and walked that lactic acid out of the legs. So grateful for this opportunity, and the friendships!