The 49th annual New York City Marathon took place yesterday, November 3, 2019, and I was one of 54,000+ participants. After months of preparation, training, and fundraising, I could hardly believe it when the date actually arrived. Now that it's over, whatever will I obsess about?! I'm sure I'll find something...
Thursday, I went into the city to attend the Expo, get my bib, and of course, take lots of pictures. I was tempted to purchase "finisher" shirts, but didn't want to jinx myself. I ate an apple while posing in front of the medal and found my name.
On Saturday, I went to my church bazaar for a little while (I'm a co-chair of the book room) and picked up another jacket to wear Sunday morning. I didn't think anyone would want Mindy #9 of the undefeated Schnecksville Banshees, but I put it to good use! I had already purchased some sweatpants, a hoodie, gloves, and a hat to donate to the good people of New York.
I caught the bus into Manhattan and met Lili Schroppe, a friend from college, at the Autism Speaks pasta party near Times Square. Lili was originally going to run with me but sadly had to drop out due to an injury. She already has a spot in next year's event, if she's able to do it! Anne Alexander, another UVa friend, joined us and we learned some last-minute team logistics before heading to the hotel. This was the first time in years we three had been together and it was great to see them!
We watched a beautiful sunrise over the water and arrived on Staten Island after an hour or so on the bus. The staging area was impressive! Autism Speaks had a tent in the Charity Village, where I posed with our wonderful coordinator Jennifer, and I ventured out (with my new friend Sally from Arizona, who had just run Chicago a few weeks ago!) in search of hot water for my tea and checked out some of the other areas. Since my start time was 11, I had lots of time to explore. There were screens to watch the runners already on the course, therapy dogs, Dunkin' Donuts trucks, and runners everywhere, speaking many different languages. I learned later that 141 countries and all 50 states (plus D.C.) were represented in the race!
These pictures don't really do the area justice. It felt like a convention of homeless people, since runners were dressed in random clothing that they would later discard. There were charity bins all around the different "villages" and they were overflowing by the time I got into my corral to start. According to the NYRR website (linked at the bottom), "Goodwill NYNJ collected 122,760 pounds of clothing, bringing the total amount collected over the 7-year partnership between New York Department of Sanitation, Goodwill NYNJ, and NYRR to a total of 1,004,303 pounds." That's a lot of old sweatshirts, pants, hats, etc! It's encouraging to know that it's reused and recycled instead of going into landfills.
Each runner is assigned a start time, color, and letter, which correspond to when and where you begin. The blue and orange waves started on the top of the Verrazano Bridge and the green ran underneath. There were huge walls corresponding to the colors with doors leading runners into their specific areas. I was # 64120, wave 4, orange corral D. The top seeded man had bib #1, which illustrates where I ranked. There were, however, numbers higher than mine.
We listened to a lovely rendition of the national anthem, the cannons boomed, and we were off! I met two women, Michelle and Elaine, who were in my start time and section, and we ran together for about the first half. They are fellow autism moms and are fabulous! While chatting with them and people and sign-watching, the first few miles flew by! (One of my favorites was "Michelle Obama is proud of you!") We took our time crossing the first (of five) bridges, heading into Brooklyn. Meanwhile, Anne and Lili headed down to have brunch and watch me. We intersected around mile 11 or so and I was so happy to see them!
Michelle, Elaine, and I took a selfie when we arrived in Queens (you can see how bad I am at them) and separated shortly before the Queensboro Bridge. [Note to future runners: there are lots of porta-potties right before the bridge with no lines!] I was really hoping to break 5 hours, and I was proud of myself for running the entire bridge. I saw lots of runners with special needs from the Achilles Foundation and their guides. They were very inspiring!
I took another running selfie in the Bronx and also snuck a picture of this woman, who was running barefoot! (She finished - I looked her up!) The Bronx was loud and animated, which continued as we reentered Manhattan in Harlem. There was a lot of music and dancing throughout the course (like the drummers below) and especially there!
At this point in the race, I was still hoping to break 5 hours, but I knew I had to make up some time. I had a wristband with splits (indicating what time you should be at each mile for a certain time at the end) on it, which was very helpful. Once we got onto Fifth Avenue, I was really just concentrating on the time and the road and not paying as much attention to the signs and spectators. I did notice some shirts and remember "Du kannst - Ende der Geschichte" (You can. End of story) and a family whose bright red shirts read something like "Wish Grandpa Daniel a happy 70th birthday," along with the one that said "I'm Daniel & I'm 70 today."
Those miles were long and I kept repeating to myself, "You're strong and trained hard." I had read to focus on a mantra and it really did help -- especially when my feet were complaining. I never doubted that I would finish (I wasn't so sure in my first -- and only other -- marathon), but I didn't think it would come soon enough. But then, we entered Central Park around mile 24! I knew Lili, Anne, my son Dan, and my mom were waiting for me at mile 25 and I couldn't wait to see them. At that point, I was really close to getting the time I had set out to do, but I didn't have time to hug or chat. I threw my hat to them and kept going!
We exited the park and ran along the road for what seemed like forever, but was probably less than a half mile. The last two miles were my fastest and I was focusing on the time ... and the photographers. I knew they were along the route and I wanted to make sure I was smiling! Coming back into the park, I didn't even notice the huge statue at the entrance. I was surprised to see it the next day. I passed the pacer with the 5 hour sign, so I thought I would be able to sneak in under the wire, but then with about 200 meters to go, my calves started to cramp! I was starting to cry, but ran across the finish line with 17 seconds to spare. My official time was 4:59:43 and my second half was faster than my first by about 12 minutes. I missed the course record of 2:22:31 by only 2 hours, 37 minutes, and 12 seconds. Maybe next year. (Ha!)
The moments after I finished were what I had visualized and thought about so often on my training runs and when I couldn't sleep at night: getting my medal and poncho! I don't know why I was so fixated about the poncho in particular, but I was a little weepy when the volunteer fastened it around me.
I felt really cold & shaky, so I ducked into the medic tent to warm up for a few minutes (and have a cup of hot broth) before meeting everyone on Columbus and 71st. I piled on all the clothes that Dan had carried and had another cup of soup in a cafe before heading to the hotel and a SHOWER! It felt so good! We had dinner in the hotel which I didn't really eat, and then beers at the bar next door, which I did drink. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but after a race, it tastes delicious!
Overall, there were 54,205 starters and 53,627 finishers, breaking last year's record for the largest marathon ever. Doing the math, 98.9% of the people who started finished and only 578 were not able to complete the distance, for whatever reason. That's pretty incredible! There were 22,741 women (42.4%) and 30,886 men (57.6%) who crossed the finish line.
More than 9,000 participants raised money for over 400 charities, including $376,144 for Autism Speaks, surpassing the goal of $375,000. Charity fundraising minimums start at $2,500 (Autism Speaks was $3,500) so I figure at least $22,500,000 was raised for many worthwhile causes. Personally, I raised $7,650. Thank you so much to all who donated!
Kenya swept the top of the podium, with Joyciline Jepksogei winning for the women in 2:22:38 and Geoffrey Kamworor finishing first amongst the men at 2:08:13. Kamworor has won previously, but this was Jepksogei's first race at this distance. What a way to debut! I don't know the breakdown for participation by ages, but four women over 40 finished in the top 15! The wheelchair division for men was won by Daniel Romanchuk of the US at a time of 1:37:24 and for women, Manuela Schar of Switzerland clocked in at 1:44:20. I noticed some hay bales along some sharp turns and I'm sure it was for the safety of wheelchair racers.
The next day after Anne and Lili left early for their planes and trains respectively, I wandered back down to the park to check out the post-race activities. I wanted to get my medal engraved with my name and time and a finisher shirt was calling my name. It was really cool to see people wearing their medals and taking pictures. One guy was really noisy -- he had run all 6 major marathons and was wearing those medals plus another with 6 circles to celebrate that achievement. Wow!
I saw the 2 hour + line for engraving and decided I could get it done later. I bought a few things and -- no surprise -- took a few pictures. [edit: I did get my medal engraved at home a few weeks later and was proud of myself all over again.]
What a weekend! We were so lucky with the weather -- it was a perfect fall day. People were so friendly and supportive and it was an amazing experience! Thank you to everyone who helped me by donating and in so many other ways as well! It was fun seeing FaceBook posts of people following my progress and I loved reading all the comments. Special thanks to Anne, Lili, my mom Nancy, and most of all Daniel, who has heard more about this event than any teenager ever. And my twins, Thomas and James, for being the reason I ran. I love you all!
Sheri Miltenberger, November 2019
Click "Read More" for resources, recommendations, and the 2019 Course Map.
The stats mentioned on this post came from the New York Road Runners Official Program 2019 and their press release "By the Numbers," which can be found here:
For anyone who (like me) who wants to (over) prepare for the race as much as possible, check out this excellent website: www.dirtyoldsneakers.com for tips and strategies for the Expo, pre-race, the course, and more. I listened to many podcasts about running, including Runner's World, The Marathon Academy, and more. Unrelated but very interesting are the podcasts Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell, and the Happiness Lab, by Dr. Laurie Santos, which I enjoyed tremendously!
Years ago, I was a librarian, so I must also recommend books! A Race Like No Other (Liz Robbins New York: Harper-Collins, 2008) follows the 2007 race and is very interesting. First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles of the Rebels, Rule Breakers, and Visionaries Who Changed the Sport Forever (Ambry Burfoot, New York: Rodale, 2016) is also excellent.
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