What an amazing place to run a marathon. What a wonderful race to mark the end of my 2016 world marathon majors challenge. What a brilliant experience to share with my family; the conclusion of the Timmyslam.
Unlike many marathons, which find you hanging on grimly to the end, the last two miles in New York are, literally, a
walk run in the park. I had just seen Liz and the girls at mile 24, and so, with a big smile on my face, I relaxed into the final run-in through a gloriously autumnal Central Park, cheered on by thousands of spectators. And as I did I was able to reflect on the achievement, not just of this race, but of a running year that has seen me clock up over 35,000 miles of travel, and compete in some of the most iconic marathon races in the world (it’s not a bad medal collection either). It was with an enormous sense of satisfaction and pride that I crossed the finish line: “job done”.
The day hadn’t started that well. A key feature of the New York City marathon is that you run through all five of the city’s boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan. However, that does mean a very early start in order to make the journey out to Staten Island. Travelling to a race on a ferry that takes you past the Statue of Liberty just as dawn is breaking is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The transport from the ferry terminal to the start area, however, was nothing short of horrific, with hundreds of runners missing their allocated start times (although I have some sympathy with the race organisers who have to get over 50,000 runners into a single start area – not an easy job). Fortunately, a sympathetic steward took pity on a small group of us and allowed us to join the back of our wave just ten minutes before the start. So, despite the rush and lack of preparation time, I made it onto the start line on the Verrazano Bridge physically ready, if not quite in the right frame-of-mind for the race ahead.
The sense of disappointment and anxiety soon disappeared as we crossed the bridge and passed through the music, bands and cheering crowds that lined the streets of Brooklyn and Queens. At mile eight a quick kiss and hug with the girls drew big cheers from the crowd, as did a cheeky high-five with one of NYPD’s finest. The long drag across the Queensboro Bridge at mile fifteen marks the quietest and toughest part of the course and by now my legs were starting to feel heavy and sluggish, with still a significant distance to go.
However, as you head down onto Manhattan you are greeted with a wall of sound and an inspiring view of thousands of other runners as you head up First Avenue. You just can’t help relaxing, smiling and speeding up! The distinctive musical sounds of The Bronx helped keep me motivated through the difficult latter miles before the final run down Fifth Avenue and into Central Park, where the crowds are dominated by friends and family, giving it that extra-special atmosphere.
The special atmosphere continued over the next few days as runners could be seen proudly displaying their medals and having celebratory photos taken at the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. My Abbott Six Star medal, awarded at the finish line for having completed all six majors, drew quite a bit of attention with admiring and envious runners taking inspiration from my achievement and perhaps beginning to plan their own world majors journey. The looks from their partners suggested something more akin to “please don’t put any ideas into his/her head”. I think the girls quite enjoyed my temporary running celebrity status, although their reference to me as “the sixth best in the world” wasn’t entirely accurate!
We made the most of our family time in New York (especially as two excited girls only found out about the trip the night before!), taking in all the sights and sounds the city has to offer, including the singing waitresses, the hot-dog vendors and a hockey game. They even put the spectacle of an election on for us. I also got a first taste of spectating at a race when Liz and Phoebe ran in the 5k held the day before the marathon. They both did amazingly well, but I’m afraid I let the side down by failing to spot them on the route. This supporting runners business is perhaps not as easy as it looks…
But I suspect it will always be remembered as the place where a running dream was fulfilled. I had completed the Timmyslam.