My experience of the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon, (3 hours and 51 minutes), was a mix of emotional moments, physical and mental accomplishments, and defeats that tasted like victory. As a whole, it was a struggle to focus on a target that brought me closer to understand that not everything can be or should be planned ahead. Life and running are to be experienced as they come.
Here I share my story. If you are a runner, you may find a few tips of what to do and quite a few about what not to do pre-race, during the race and post-race. If you are not a regular runner, you may find inspiration or the confirmation of just how nuts marathoners can be.
My account of the day before the race is a bit long. If you don’t have time or you are simply interested about the race, scroll down to “RACE DAY.”
Enjoy, and remember that running is a lifestyle. Once you start training to run a marathon, and once you complete one, it’s pretty difficult to want to stop again.
October 30, 2015 (two days before the race)
A beautiful and clear Friday in New York. I woke up at my friends Lulu and Albert’s home in Cortlandt Manor. After touring a beautiful park and hiking trails full of colors from the fall leaves, and seeing a cross-country race that brought back many memories of my years in College, we headed toward the city that never sleeps. Traffic was getting heavier, but Albert’s company made the trip short and very pleasant.
I thought the hotel was on a strategic spot, 92nd and 1st Avenue. It would be perfect for my daughter and husband to simply come downstairs and watch me pass by during the race on Sunday.
October 31st (day before the race).
On Saturday, I woke up early for a light run. I met two of the men going specifically to run the marathon from Dominican Republic, Mario and Alexander. We jogged to Central Park and between selfies, pictures and laughter, we completed our half hour jog as programmed by our coach Raul Santillana.
That day was also Halloween Day. Maya, my 7-year-old daughter, was excited to dress up and learn about trick or treating. She had never before experienced it. So I promised I would take her do that. But first, I had to pass by the expo. We had brunch at a pretty nice and cozy Mexican Restaurant right on first and I asked for the spiciest salsa they had (mistake number one, keep it in mind). Then I took a cab to Javits Center.
Getting into the expo was the first moment when reality started to sink in. That was a big race. Really big. The biggest I had ever been in. The lines were huge and though it was really easy to get the kit because of the amazing organization, going through the items sold at the expo was a bit overwhelming for me. Our coach had warned us about trying to stay off our feet a day before the race if we were looking to do personal records or would be focused on time. I was, I wanted to finish the marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes max. But the expo deserved my attention, so I stayed around for hours just taking it all in.
It was wonderful to finally feel totally official. With all that excitement, I walked toward 34th and 5th Avenue holding my head up and my marathon kit really close to my chest. Just so that people saw it. I was totally showing-off. And I was also looking for a K-Mart to purchase cheap sweat pants that would keep me warm while waiting at the start line the next day.
After finding the pants and walking all the way to 2nd Avenue, reminiscing about my teenage years shopping along 34th street, passing the Graduate Center where I could have been the Provost’s Assistant and have my very own office, I headed toward the hotel. Maya was waiting anxiously for me to go trick or treating and it was already 4:00 pm.
Trick or treating was an experience in its own. Neither Henry nor Maya had ever done it in a big City. Henry was amazed at the fact that we simply walked into supermarkets, hotels, stores, laundry rooms, restaurants, and came out with candy. Maya had a great time and I enjoyed seeing all the kids dressed up and my daughter’s smiles. New York City Streets really become a spectacle on Halloween. So be ware of that. Partying the night before the race is quite tempting, specially to single runners I am sure.
As we decided we had got enough candy to last through the year, we spotted a Thai Restaurant. Henry and I absolutely love Thai and this is not the type of food we can often have on the North Coast of Dominican Republic. Without hesitation, we went in.
I knew I was supposed to load up on Carbs and be careful about what I was about to eat. But the green papaya salad was amazingly good looking and I couldn’t resist. It was delicious and super spicy. (That was mistake number 2.)
I didn’t think much harm would be done. I am Mexican after all, and I am used to eating spicy food. But this was beyond hot and beyond tasty.
When we finally got to the hotel, I was determined to just lay down and rest. It was only 7:50 pm. I showered and I went to bed, leaving my music player device charging so I could enjoy the play-list I had been preparing for months for the race.
About an hour later, I was in pain. I had a slight fever and yes, diarrhea. I started panicking. It didn’t stop until way past midnight. Henry suggested I didn’t run. But I was already there. Even if I crawled to the finish line, and I stopped to the bathroom 30 times, I would enjoy the streets of New York once again.
A couple of hours later, the time had come.
November 1st – RACE DAY
I left the hotel at 5:40 am. We were supposed to be at the New York City Library at 6:00 am to board the bus that would take us to Staten Island. Outside the hotel, volunteers and police officers were already barricading First Ave.
When I got to 42nd Street, I could see hundreds of runners walking toward the Public Library. The scenery was amazing and intimidating. The lines to board the buses were a few NY blocks long. The main line bended and the thousands of runners making the lines were holding pillows, blankets, cardboards, back packs and amazing smiles. The logistics to make this event happen are extra-ordinary, and all I could appreciate was exactly that, the organization level for the big run in the big apple.
Dozens of buses would load up at the same time and part together in batches. It was amazing.
I had my phone on me to take pictures, but I soon realized it wasn’t fully charged. So I had to be careful. I took some pictures and then decided to turn it off and have it ready for when I crossed the finish line.
Reaching Staten Island was piece of cake considering the usual traffic for NYC and coming out of the bus to find your wave was easy. Hundreds of officers, volunteers and organizers made everything run smooth there. The press was busy talking to runners and having them show off their flags, funny hats and costume t-shirts.
I felt strange. I was carrying the Dominican flag on my back, but I wanted a Mexican flag as well. I wanted a US flag too. It was an identity crisis moment there for a minute or two. Then, I realized, I was simply a citizen of the world and any flag would have been just fine for me. Still, every time a Mexican runner passed me by, displaying their patriotic symbols, I felt like snatching them.
Dunkin’ Donuts kept us warm with coffee, tea and hot chocolate, we had water and bagels too. But I felt cold, even if people around me continued saying how warm it was compared to other years. My body just didn’t seem to adjust well to cooler temperatures anymore. Plus, I still had a bit of a fever. I took a tylenol.
Two and half hours laters, and after five visits to the bathroom, I was already walking into my corral, wave blue F. I met two amazing girls. One from Michigan and Sarena from Wisconsin. They introduced me to heat packs, or HotHands Hand Warmers. Those little things worked wonders. I was amazed, I had never before seen then, nor felt them. But they saved my morning.
At 9:40 am, when we were already waiting for our turn to hit the start line and go, most people around me had stripped. Thousands of pants and sweaters were on the floor, in the bins and flying on the air to land on each corner. I had only taken off my sweat pants and wind breaker. But the other jacket, sweater style, capri tights, two t-shirts and a tink top were still on. Gloves on, ear warmers and the amazing hand packet warmers took me through the first bridge. My music device, was not working and that made me unhappy for about five minutes there. But soon enough, I realized I didn’t need it. There was music and noise throughout the entire 42.2 K.
The first couple of kilometers are a climb with thousands of people trying to take off at the same time. I felt ready and charged, even high. But, if you are a runner like me, who has to try to set a pace as soon as possible, and you start behind thousands of people, you will struggle zig-zagging, taking people’s shoes off or other people taking your shoes off, elbowing by mistake is common, and engaging in little chit chat with complete strangers is also easy to do.
I started with a huge group of police officers and firefighters that were competing against each other and the conversations were quite comical. The entire Verrazano Bridge is a sweet challenge that way. You are so excited, that you tend to take off energetically, but since it is a climb, you need to be ware of your energy consumption there. I happened to be assigned to the upper level, so in my mind, it was even a bit more challenging to go through those first two kilometers.
A kilometer or two after the bridge, I started to warm up a bit. The crowd was still overwhelming and though I had imagined I could have already set a pace I was already below my target. I crossed the 5K mark at a bit over 24 minutes. I was three minutes late.
Soon, I realized that my right hand was turning black from an opening in the hand warmer packets I was holding. The charcoal in the packet started leaking and the first thing that came to mind was: if a police officer sees this and doesn’t know what it is, he may think I have an explosive, I have to let it go! But I didn’t for a while, I didn’t want to just drop it. Eventually, as the charcoal or carbon continued to leak I had no choice but to leave it behind with my sweater.
When I reached the 10K mark at 48 minutes and 18 seconds, I realized that my pace was set. I was able to keep my speed steady, my heart rate was comfortable and I was feeling just fine. But the fun had just begun.
I really think I suffer from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I get bored easily with everything and while doing anything. And the TCS NYC Marathon has 1000s of distractions. So concentration can slip easily.
I noticed by km 15, that I was already losing focus when I clocked 1:13:43. I wanted to try to go faster, but I was fearful to feel the urge to go to the bathroom if I decided to speed up a bit right there and then, given my diarrhea episode of the night before. So I stayed on that pace. and I reached the half marathon mark in 1:46:48. I knew I was getting a little too comfortable and time was slipping, but I still thought I could finish in 3 hours and 30 minutes as I had planned for, if I worked my last 10K.
Yet, the next kilometers seem to bring in more challenges, more distractions, and tons of fun.
I lost focus: Just passing the 1/2 marathon mark, in the hydration point, and finally leaving Brooklyn, this guy slipped with a cup on the floor, and he elbowed my right rib to the point of taking all my air out. In the process of avoiding landing on my face and licking gatorade from the floor, I hit my left knee and I got a couple of kicks on my legs. I am not sure exactly how it all even happened, but I was bruised for weeks to come. It took me a couple of minutes to catch my breath again and from that moment on, my left knee decided not to cooperate as it should have. I lost focus and I decided I would enjoy the rest of the race instead of becoming frustrated with time targets, since I couldn’t shake off the pain on the knee. I gave in to the fun distractions and surrendered to my ADD.
Distraction Number 1: The supper creative and funny signs held by the spectators took me to the finish line. Those are really worth looking at and I don’t regret any of the extra seconds I took to read as many as possible. Just imagine, signs that read “If you can read this sing, you are not running fast enough,” “Free Beer and Sex after Finish.” “John, You are a Cheating Bastard!!!” That sign was held by a woman who looked just as serious as a heart attack and in a mission to destroy John’s reputation.
Several signs with Trump’s picture or his name that read, “ If he can run, so can you!” Another one, held by a cheerful chubby guy: “You are all crazy,” another: “Remember, you paid to do this,” or “Run fast, I just farted,” “Hurry up so we can drink, “If you are still in a relationship, you don’t train hard enough,” “Get that Kenyan,” and endless signs reading “No pain, no gain,” “Touch Here for Power, “Beer at the end,” “You can do it,” “Beyonce has never run a marathon,” etc, etc, etc… Sorry, but I had to take it all in and just like that, I forgot about the chronometer. I am sorry I have no images of these, but I am sure they have been posted. Just google them if you want to see them.
Distraction Number 2: All the kids and fun spectators who want to shake your hand. I high-fived at least 23. I was counting at first for purposes of documenting it. It felt good to do it. I was really grateful they were there and it was the least I could have done to express it.
Distraction Number 3: The volunteers or police officers who happen to recognize you from thousands and thousands of runners. I knew some of my friends would be working the race as volunteers, but we didn’t make plans to meet, because we knew it would be a busy uncertain day. But literally running into one or two of them deserved a cheer, a handshake or a little victory salsa dance. Thanks Arnold, Leila, Maria O., Javier, Jason and Marc for helping hydrate and maintain order in such an event. Without you and all the other volunteers and police officers, we wouldn’t have had such an amazing race.
When I got to the Queensboro Bridge, or KM 25 or so, I had been running for a little over 2 hours. I felt ok. But, crossing that bridge was difficult. I was getting cold again and things were quiet. I could hear every step, even my heart and I didn’t like that.
That has always been difficult for me to do as a runner. That is why I rather listen to music. I like to get lost in the moment and forget about everyone and everything, including myself. I like to only feel the air on my face and my legs move on their own.
But the moment I come back to awareness of my physical body or those around me, I start doubting my body’s abilities and I could even panic. First Avenue seemed never ending.
When I got to Km. 30 and my watch red 2:37, I was happy. I figured if I tried hard enough, I could come close to my target. But I was also about to face “THE WALL.” My left knee was hurting, my legs were feeling heavy, I was thinking I could be at my favorite spa in Las Terrenas instead. I was getting colder. I started wondering why had I done that to myself. I couldn’t spot my family on 1st and 92nd as we had said we would, I felt neglected and betrayed. I started feeling over dramatic. And for whatever reason, I had spotted a lady in her late 50s (my guess) wearing a pair of running shoes with wings. Those wings may have been cute. But for someone approaching “THE WALL,” those wings became annoying and ridiculous. I wanted to pass her and for the life of me, I couldn’t. She was still in front of me. I hated her wings, and still no sign of my daughter and husband. I wanted to quit.
When i reached the Bronx, I heard Alicia’s Key’s NY song and I came back alive. I felt an amazing energy rushing through. I loved NY, the Bronx, and even the lady’s wings on her shoes. I run happy again. And at a corner, I spotted Juan who had come out to support us all with Coca Cola! We danced a little salsa and I had two or three sips of delicious Coca Cola. It tasted like heaven and I needed a sugar rush.
When I got to the woman holding that amazing sign reading “Last Damn Bridge” I wanted to jump the fence and kiss her. My knee pain was getting to the point of numbness. But my sugar rush was about to fade away.
Reaching Km. 35 at 3:06 made me realize how far I was going to be of my target of 3:30. The pain stroke again and no matter how hard I was trying to picture Maya’s face and Henry’s blue eyes to ignore the suffering, the pain on the left knee seemed to take over.
By Kilometer 40, I felt like I had no left knee at all. My watch said 3:37. I had officially left my target time behind. I was already late 7 minutes. But that didn’t matter anymore. I just had to finish. Someone asked me how I felt with a video camera in front of my face. I still can’t believe that i answered “Muerta.” But I did. I hope that part of the video is never shared in public. I can only imagine my expression while saying it.
I saw the Mexican flags again almost every 200 meters, and I felt again like snatching one from anyone who was close enough. But the knee didn’t help. I was trying to strategize to give the least amount of steps further. So I kept on going and when I thought I couldn’t go any more I saw the turn and I heard my name: “Maria, Maria, Maria… It was my friend Rawing holding the Dominican flag. I charged and I crossed the finish line at an official time of 3:51:01.
I felt accomplished and happy. It was below 4 hours. I had enjoyed almost every kilometer, I had learned so much. My first official marathon was done. According to the official results, I was runner 9,100 to reach the finish line. The 1,991st woman and in my age group I ended in 339th place. For a race with 50,000 runners, several elevation points, and a guy who almost broke my right rib, and made me hit my knee on the floor, I did wonderful!
Medal on hand, big smile and keeping warm with my pancho and isothermal blanket, the next challenge begun. Getting back to the hotel on 92nd and first.
No taxi could cross town. We had a long walk ahead just to find an exit from Central Park. My legs were about to give up. Once outside Central Park, I started walking South rather than North. By the time I realized it, I had already walked to the fifties.
I ended up walking for three hours more to reach the hotel. It was amazing to see that when I reached first Avenue again, there were still runners heading toward the Bronx. I felt sorry for them. I just wanted a shower and a bed.
When I got to the hotel room, my daughter’s and husband’s smiles made me recover immediately. That moment was priceless. A few hours later, Lourdes, my best friend made things even more special. She picked us up from the hotel and took us to her house to celebrate. Her gift will always be close to my heart. Thanks for being my friend Lulu!
Next week: Miami Marathon!