It was the perfect fall morning. I had only gotten four hours of sleep, despite daylight savings. But that’s to be expected. It’s rare to get a good night’s sleep the night before a big race. With marathons, you typically focus on getting a lot of sleep the week leading up to the race. I hadn’t managed that either, but I knew I’d survive.
I was supposed to be on the 5:45am ferry to Staten Island. Yeah, okay. There was no way I was going to be on that ferry. I had no intention of spending multiple hours hanging out in Staten Island before a 9:10 start. However, I did not mean to run that late. I ended up taking the 7:15 ferry. I hate showing up anywhere too early, but an hour and a half late is ballsy, even for me. Thankfully, it all ended up working out.
I met my best friend from work, and we rode the bus that NYRR sets up between the ferry and the start. We had not seen each other in over a week and were talking about the multiple crises we had experienced in the ICU since we had last seen each other – a great distraction and therapeutic for us, but possibly mildly traumatizing for everyone else nervously listening on the bus. We arrived at the starting village, Fort Wadsworth, which was wonderfully organized by NYRR. We got some coffee (thank you Dunkin’ for sponsoring!), and I got into my corral.
Mind the humblebrag, but I was starting at the front of the first wave. I was momentously proud of myself, looking around at a group who were a majority male around, knowing that I had just finished an intense week of work and midterms, and would, hopefully, be keeping up with them. After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by a fellow runner (it’s nerve-racking enough to run a marathon but to sing and then run is absolutely mind-blowing), the gun goes off.
The Verrazano Bridge is long but with fresh legs, it’s not too stressful. We flew into Brooklyn. I was curious as to what the crowds would be like intra-pandemic, but boy, did they not disappoint. The NYC Marathon is notoriously known for the best spectatorship, and this year was no different. It was a screaming hall for about 20 of the 26.2 miles.
We were cruising through Brooklyn and Queens. The Queensboro Bridge is always tough because it is radio silence. All you can hear are runners’ footsteps and deep breathing. It is eerie but also weirdly sublime. I always get a wave of excitement because I know what is to come and love knowing that many of my fellow runners don’t …1st Avenue.
There is nothing in life that I can compare to coming off the Queensboro Bridge and turning the corner onto 1st Avenue. I usually stop my music to take it all in. It starts with a sad silence of just us runners on the bridge: the sound of our footsteps and heavy breathing. Slowly, we start to hear the echo of cheers. We descend off the bridge, and the noise gets louder and louder until we are fully emerged into absolute screaming. 1st Avenue is always beautifully chaotic and my favorite part of the NYC Marathon. The hospital I work in is on 1st. The joy I feel running by it and seeing patients and staff cheering us on is incomparable to anything else.
However, marathons suck. They do. I won’t lie. I’m pretty positive that humans are not supposed to run 26.2 miles. The fact that we do this as a sport or hobby is pretty insane. I know I’ve drank the Kool-Aid but regardless, around mile 18, in every single marathon, I hit the wall and question my lack of sanity for signing up for this marathon in the first place. At that point, every mile feels like an insurmountable milestone. By mile 23, every step feels like torture. Your whole body is aching, and your mind is screaming “Just STOP already, you do not have to do this.”
There is a little part of you – I truly don’t know where it comes from – that won’t let you give in to your physical pain or common sense yelling at you to stop. Everyone accesses this part of themselves differently. I pray. I know it sounds strange, but I always turn to prayer in hard times, and a marathon is no different. I hold on to that inspiration/divine intervention/coincidence…whatever you want to call it, and it carries me to the finish.
But you know what else carried me? The support of my friends. I saw six Sternies cheering me on during the race and then we went out that afternoon and night with them. I don’t think that is the intention of Stern networking, but those are the type of friends that I am thrilled to have from my b-school experience.