“New York… Concrete jungle where dreams are made of”
NYC…one of my favourite cities, 26.2 number 7, Major number 4 and probably the one I have been most excited about… it’s time to run the 5 boroughs!
Tuesday 31st October 2017
I arrived in La Guardia Airport just after lunch time, catching a glimpse of the spectacular Manhattan skyline below. Being very lucky to have visited the city a few times before, I was excited to be back in ‘The Big Apple’. As I’d covered a lot of the typical ‘Touristy’ stuff in previous trips, I made a little plan for ticking some more things off that I hadn’t quite covered yet. It was going to be nice to just enjoy the city though without feeling like I had to be busy cramming lots in all the time. I mean not that it’s really a hardship in the slightest either, but this should help with the race prep too, especially since the weekend was already going to be jam packed with marathon related fun.
A short shuttle bus to Grand Central Terminal and as is becoming routine, time to kill before being able to check in to the hostel. Food at the Dining Concourse on the lower level of the station, that all important free WiFi and a rather worrying update from the news that there had been a terror attack in the lower part of the city, close to where the World Trade Site is. This was obviously not the best of starts or welcomes to the city and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t start to feel a little anxious, especially since I was probably over-reacting ever so slightly and beginning to think that at this moment in time the train station might not be the best of places to be. It really is awful that we have become programmed to automatically think in that way.
I was staying in the HI Hostel in Uptown close to Harlem for a few days before checking in to the hotel with the 2:09 group for the weekend so I took an Uber there as I thought this was probably going to be the most direct way even if it cost a few more pennies, this wasn’t really the time to be worrying about saving cash. Thankfully, I was too far Uptown to see any of the awful scenes but there were sirens galore around the city from all of the emergency services making their presence known. Thank you for all of the lovely messages from back home checking I was still alive!
Unfortunately, it is inevitable that these things will happen if you worry and happen if you don’t, so I was determined not to let it spoil my time here by worrying about getting around or enjoying one of the busiest cities in the world. A very reassuring email was sent from New York Road Runners (race organisers) explaining that they were looking into additional security measures for the weekend. Everyone’s safety remained the first priority, however, at this time all events would be going ahead as planned.
That said, I thought it sensible to have a quiet night and wait until the morning to go off exploring. So I managed to fit in my easy swim (about 40 minutes) for today’s training session and then just spent the rest of the evening at the hostel.
Wednesday 1st November 2017
The nearest Subway station was just a few blocks from 103rd, where I was staying. I got a week long pass for $35, which I thought would be especially handy over the next few days when I was a little further out.
Although I had seen Lady Liberty in all of her glory before, I have never actually taken the ferry to get off at Liberty or Ellis Island, so that was on today’s agenda. A quick stop at Broadway Bagels for a classic NY breakfast (never have I ever seen so many varieties of cream cheese) and then I took the subway to Chambers Street to get my ticket for the trip. As you’d expect, there were still lots of NYPD in the Downtown area and I had to walk a few blocks in the streets nearby to where the attack happened to get to the ferry. There were Counter Terrorisim Officers everywhere and lots of media and news presenters broadcasting the latest updates. With the extra security measures in place, you couldn’t visit the areas inside the statue, which although was slightly disappointing, (as this was really one of the only reasons I was making the effort to go to the islands) it was completely understandable. It was still really interesting to visit the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island and as my ticket took me to both islands, that was more or less where I spent the rest of the day.
In the evening I had a 40 minute threshold run (easy with 4×4 minutes @ 10K pace) in the one and only Central Park. At first I thought I had left it too late as it was starting to get dark but I realised a lot of New Yorkers were still out running inside the park as the main route was well lit. So although a night time run wasn’t ideal, it actually turned out great. I accidentally found the finish area where all of the flags were being set up ahead of the Opening Ceremony. Lots of running clubs seemed to be out in force as well as lots of solo runners and joggers. After coming out of the park, I continued down Madison Avenue then walked on to Times Square and treated myself to a little (or big!) Coldstones ice cream…the best! Not quite the most nutritious of Marathon week meals or even really a meal at all for that matter, but it was so delicious and is technically still part of the carb family I guess…just the wrong kind!
Thursday 2nd November 2017
This mornings pre-breakfast run in Central Park was simply glorious! Quite possibly one of the best parks in the world, especially for running, the view of the the skyline in the distance, the biz of all the runners, rollerbladers and dog walkers, how lucky was I?
Back to the hostel for breakfast and a cold shower, thanks to there being no hot water…I feel this might actually be more of an accurate reflection of what backpacking is supposed to be like, in comparison to what I’ve been lucky enough to experience so far! I wasn’t just as keen on this hostel as some of the others. It was really busy (as with all things in NYC- I mean, what was I really expecting?) and the other people in my room weren’t really up for any blethers. Still in the few days I was here, I was only really using it as somewhere to sleep and the location was grand so I couldn’t really complain.
In the afternoon it was Expo time! Today was the opening day and it would then run for the next three days ahead as people continued to arrive in the city from around the globe. It was being held in the Jacob Javits Convention Centre on 34th Street and 11th Ave, just a short walk from the nearest subway stop and I was there. You learn to look out for fellow runners proudly carrying their bags, a little signal you are heading in the right direction, some already modelling their finishers t-shirts! This I’m afraid I have a bit of an issue with. I am always a little afraid of jinxing anything so I don’t feel you can’t possibly wear your finishers tee until that medal is in your hand…then you’ve earned it. I know it’s the done thing at the Majors but I just prefer to wait until I can actually call myself a finisher. Official merchandise is obviously different and when you wear your race gear, it is easy to spot all of the other tourists who are in that same club as you…a little acknowledgement that you are about to take on the same feat.
Today was for sure the best day to go, especially in the afternoon when all of the New Yorkers were still working. No queues, no major biz and it was a pleasure to wander around all of the stalls to see what goodies were on offer to entice you to spend money on things you really didn’t need. I’ve learned to justify this with the thought of “what if I never do it again?”…so some race goodies have become an unnecessary yet essential part of my budget.
Race packs collected for both the Marathon and the 5K, the usual photo opportunities (though perhaps a slight lack of cool back drops compared to some of the other expos… though now I’m being reaaaallllyyy picky!) and a little wander round the stalls. I feel like I am almost getting this Expo malarkey down to a fine art.
As well as being super excited for all of the marathon fun that the weekend would bring, there was one more thing that made my time in NYC extra special and that was meeting up with my very dear friend, Melissa that I met doing Camp America all those Summers ago. We worked out that it would have been 9 years since we worked together as lifeguards at Surprise Lake Camp but it felt like no time had passed at all. We chatted non-stop about everything and anything and how life and ‘adulting’ had been treating us these past few years over a lovely meal… perfect timing seeing as today also marked the official start of ‘carb loading’. Thank you Melissa for a very special evening. I’ll stick to my promise of it being ‘my treat’ next time. Let’s just make sure it’s not quite so long until we do it again.
Friday 3rd November 2017
Today I had the luxury of moving from the Hostel to the Doubletree Hilton Hotel just off Times Square…a Hilton…sheer luxury! I was feeling very spoiled. Taking a shower without flip flops for a few nights…it’s the little things!
Actually getting to the Hilton was a little less of a luxury however…just you try navigating Times Square with your backpack in tow! Still, although it was busy, it wasn’t actually that far to walk. I went for a pasta lunch while I was waiting to check in and then it was time to get the Scottish attire looked out for the Opening Ceremony where I was flying the flags for Bonnie Scotland and Great Britain as a delegate in the procession.
Instructions were to wear your country colours or national dress. Kilt, check… Saltire, check… just missing a set of bagpipes. Could I be wearing any more blue?!
I took a taxi to the security check in area seeing as I felt I was, one, quite high risk of looking like a complete plonker (not quite your typical trendy fashion statement to be seen walking through the streets of Manhattan…spot the tourist alert) and two, I didn’t really want to risk getting there late. On approaching the park, the atmosphere was amazing. Runners proudly carrying their flags as we patiently queued up for security checks to get entry to the holding areas. Organisers directed you to wait with your fellow delegates and we had around an hour to get to know each other before the ceremony started. It was really interesting to hear everyone’s reason for running 26.2, each one unique, each one special. It was also really cool to see everyone else arriving and lining up, the outfits from some of the countries were so impressive, really grand and beautiful.
Countries were lined up in alphabetical order so as Great Britain we were quite near the beginning. I cannot quite describe the atmosphere and do it justice. There are just not enough words. The excitement was brilliant, walking around the route alongside all of your fellow runners, proudly representing your home country was an experience I think I’ll never ever forget. After all of the countries had their own little time in the lime light, we walked back towards the start area where there was an incredible firework display, with the accompaniment of the classic hit from Mr Sinatra himself, ‘New York, New York’. There are just no words I can use to describe this goosebump feeling!
I felt incredibly lucky to have been chosen to take part and if the rest of the weekend is half as special as tonight was, then I will be in for the best of times.
All of the delegates were presented with a special keepsake pin as official duties came to an end and a bit like sometimes happens at football matches with shirts, as I walked up the hill to leave the park, a lovely Brazilian girl wanted to swap flags which was a really nice touch to end the evening.
Saturday 4th November 2017
This morning was the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5K starting from the iconic United Nations Building just off 1st Avenue. A short walk from the Hotel to get there and a little meet up with my bestie, Paula (yes, she was here…again. 3 out of 4 majors together so far may I add!) as she was being inducted in to the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame. On the way to the starting Corrals, I met the lovely, Charley, from Twickenham who was also running as part of the 2:09 group.
The run itself was great fun. A nice route past Grand Central with the last mile then taking in a little of the route to the marathon finish line. My only slight grumble was that there was no medal at the finish line! No medal! The first race I have run with no bling at the end. Come on guys, really? I mean I love the finishers tee, but who doesn’t want some new silverware to add to the collection?
Afterwards, back to get breakfast ala Starbucks; oats, fruit, water, coffee. Job done. Back to the hotel, showered and freshened up and the aim for the rest of the day other than carb loading, hydrating and finding a cheap throw away jacket to keep warm in the morning was spend as little time on my feet as possible.
I took the subway to Little Italy for the final pre-marathon carb feast…kind of guaranteed a wee Penne Arabiata there right? It was perfect…choose your pasta, choose your ingredients, choose your sauce. And a free side of garlic bread! Yum! Water and electrolytes galore and a little stop off at Canal Street (China Town) to find a cheep hoody. The cheapskate in me was grudging buying something to just throw away the next day but I’d used up my throw away clothes in Chicago, there only being so many things in my bag I could actually chuck away. I managed to haggle a $30 zippy down to $10…that will do nicely!
Back to the hotel, kit check, slight paranoia about the clocks changing (still at least I could only be an hour early and not late if I got it wrong) and some cheesy American movies in bed made for a good early night. I couldn’t be more excited!
Sunday 5th November 2017
Today is the day! I am going to run the New York Marathon…thee New York Marathon…The largest marathon in the world! 50,000 runners! Me! Kimberley King is going to be a part of it. You get the idea, I was buzzing!
Marathon number 7 and Major number 4….bring it on!
Getting to the start…
It was the biggest adventure I’ve ever had getting to the start line of a race. A very early start to catch the 6am Staten Island ferry. 2:09 had laid on buses to take us down to the terminal but seeing as my wave of the race wasn’t starting until 10.15am it was still way too early to eat breakfast to tie in with the old rehearsed nutrition plan of eating 2 hours before the off.
As expected, security was super tight. There were NYPD galore who checked your bags before, during and after entering the ferry terminal. They also had lots of sniffer dogs giving you the once over as you walked past. Then on board the ferry, it all got very serious, not quite the party atmosphere I was expecting. Volunteers efforts of trying to cajole all the runners and gee everyone up were being dismissed by nervous and quiet participants, trying to get in to their ‘zone’. I was actually feeling really relaxed though, which I hoped to be a good thing. Wasting valuable energy on nerves is not at all helpful at this stage. More groups of Police Officers doing laps of the ferry as we sailed across to Staten Island. Then at the other end… a very long wait to take yet another bus (all methods of transport covered today) to the start areas…time to eat my oats on the bus.
As we got off at the runners villages, there was more airport style security scanners which some people we starting to complain about. Personally, I was just happy to take the extra time and know that everyone was safe so I didn’t really see what the problem was to wait a little longer. It’s not as if the race was starting any time soon. There were strict restrictions as to what you could take in with you. No bin bags of any kind, no blankets etc and some people who tried to sneak some ‘contraband’ through had it quickly confiscated.
The whole start area literally resembled a refugee camp, the only way I can describe it. 50,000 people in pyjamas and their oldest clothes, makeshift cardboard box seats everywhere. As we wandered round, they were handing out lots of freebies in the way of nutrition which I politely declined experimenting with (other than half a dry bagel)… nothing new on race day!
And only in America…Therapy Dogs! A little stall with cute woofers that you could stand in line to have a little time clapping and stealing a few cuddles with before the race, presumably to help calm your nerves a little.
Although you run the five boroughs, you are only in Staten Island for a very short time at the beginning. The Mayor of NY started proceedings with a touching speech about attack earlier in the week and dedicated the race to the spirit and pride of NYC and it’s people. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite prepared for what came next.
Walking to the start, waiting, looking ahead towards Verrazano Bridge in the distance, runners lined up in their thousands, me one of them, the bang of the canyon to signify the start and Frank Sinatra’s New York blasting from the sound system as I crossed the start line. Happy tears are pretty much always guaranteed at the end of the race but this is the first time I have had tears as I’ve crossed the start line. Such a surreal and overwhelming moment, I just couldn’t believe I was getting to do this.
And we’re off! The long hill up and over the bridge, around a mile incline to start you off, helicopters overhead and the NYFD boats saluting you from the water to mark the start of this epic adventure. The good thing, what goes up must come down, and before I know it, I’ve made it to the other side and I’m in Brooklyn. It would have been so, so easy to get carried away with pace here, especially given the noise of the crowds. My strategy was to run to effort. Given the bridges and route in general, it is harder to run to a specific steady pace over this course so the plan was to relax in to the first few miles and hope that my endurance had built enough over the past two races to sustain it for longer in the second half.
The people of Brooklyn were amazing and out for the biggest Street party ever! As with Chicago, New Yorkers sure do get behind you. Brooklyn takes you up to the half way mark in the race, where I take my second gel and first cup of water. As the race went on, I realised I’d nailed my fuelling and hydration strategy. It wasn’t that warm so there wasn’t the need to take on so much water and I only hope I can replicate it successfully when Tokyo comes round.
It’s hard to explain what it feels like to have two million spectators cheering you on (across the entire course, not just in Brooklyn, even though it sounded like it!) the noise was positively deafening. The first ten miles went by in a flash. I was feeling great, one of those amazing days where you just feel like you could run forever and ‘easy’ was feeling really easy. Here’s hoping it would last. Adding to the party atmosphere, there were lots of performers singing running related tunes as well, a couple of favourites being ‘running on sunshine’ and ‘ little runaway’…can’t beat a golden oldie!
Up and over the Pulaski Bridge, second one of the five and in to the Borough of Queens. The next couple of miles were fairly undulating and the legs are gradually starting to fatigue, but for some reason instead of feeling tired as I usually do at this point, I just felt stronger as time went on. This I like!
What was really special about running in each of the boroughs was that you really got sense of the people that lived there. We went from the biggest party ever in Brooklyn with people yelling your name galore, “Kim, you go girl, you got this”, to the Amish community who were offering just as much support but in their own way by standing and clapping politely.
15 mile marker and here comes the third bridge. Running over the bridges was so different to the rest of the course. There are no spectators so the volume turns from max to mute in a matter of seconds as you leave the sound of the crowd behind and suddenly all you can hear is the sound of pounding footsteps and the heavy breathing of your fellow runners. This is where you need to have your mental game on point…just keep going. I just kept trying to visualise the feeling of flying down the other side and of course, the closer you get to the end of the bridge, the more you can hear the noise of the crowds building in the distance. There were also NYPD cycling the bridges with us as an extra security measure in addition to the hundred of uniformed and plain clothed officers along the route.
Wow! Just wow! I have never seen or heard anything like this in my life. The incredible noise from First Avenue, Manhattan. Take Embankment at VLM and multiply it by infinity. First Avenue is one of those sneaky hills, a very steady incline but it’s long, so here can be where your pace starts to slow. Come on Kim…less than double digits to go…time to use those little mantras to keep going. The surprise though, I was feeling strong, and my pace actually improved rather than slowed.
Next up, the Willis Avenue Bridge and in to the Bronx we go! The course becomes a little flatter here (temporarily) and the spectators are just incredible. They must know the wall is close and it’s as if they are literally pushing you over it with their noise alone. Amazing bands, choirs, entertainment and I am feeling so, so good. What is going on? Easily the best and strongest I’ve ever felt at this stage in a marathon. If I keep this up, not only am I going to be on for a PB but I could be joining the sub 4:30 club too…just keep running!
21 miles and I start passing people…a lot of people. It is honestly the best feeling when you still have something left in the tank to pass so many people at this stage who have usually passed you in the early stages of the race, quite empowering. But there is a big hill ahead, focus, just focus, don’t get too excited just yet.
The Final Countdown…
Madison Avenue Bridge… the fifth and final bridge leading to Manhattan. The finish is so close. Less than an hour of running to go. We are on the home stretch. But Fifth Avenue…bloody Fifth Avenue!
It is a loooonnng way… and it’s all uphill, an incline of over a mile but I wasn’t going to let this slow me down….in fact, again I seemed to be building in pace. This made me think, could I have picked it up the pace even earlier and maybe pushed a bit harder? Again, I cannot explain just how noisy it was and for every supporter that cheered my name on Fifth, I thank you. There was no way I was now going to let this tricky part of the course stop me.
At 90th Street, you finally reach the top of the hill and run in to Central Park for the first time. It has a few turns and is undulating…not quite what we require at the end of a marathon but I couldn’t believe how strong I was feeling. I looked at my watch and it was showing another increase in pace. How can this be?! In and then out of the park again, it’s like they’re teasing you with the finish being so close. I now believe this is actually going to happen. Today I am going to run sub 4:30!
I know the last part to the finish is uphill but I don’t care. Now running as fast as my fatigued legs will carry me, with mile 25 being my quickest of the entire race! (Whaaaat?) Sticking to the racing line, shortest route….finish line I’m coming for you.
To quote Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it!”
I finish in 4:27:10, a PB of 10 minutes with a negative split (running the second half quicker than the first) and my last 5K being the quickest of the race! I had just run the New York City Marathon, probably my toughest course yet and I couldn’t stop smiling, after the happy tears had stopped of course.
Lucky number 7 right enough!
Apparently, if you run 3 marathons in 90 days or less, you can officially call yourself a ‘Marathon Maniac’. Membership to the sub 4:30 club, a little step closer to sub 4, a new PB and officially a maniac. Three in six weeks…job done!
It felt like we had to walk forever (approximately another mile to be exact) to collect our finishers bags and ponchos, saving all the hassle of doing a bag drop again, it is definitely the way forward. The only downside, it had been raining from around mile 7, which although was definitely more my kind of weather, it meant you started to cool down really quickly post-run, shivers galore. At last, poncho collected and I couldn’t help but laugh at all us little blue cones walking along the road.
I had brought my subway ticket as I knew there was one nearby that would get me back to the hotel and save a rather long walk. The only thing, as you’d expect, the subways were packed and I had to let a couple go before I could finally get on. I was feeling just a little light headed by this time… breakfast had been forever ago but after demolishing the contents of my finishers bag (pretzels, fruit, protein shake and water) I was right as reign.
Catching up with a few messages back at the hotel was lovey. Thank you so much for all of the support and good wishes, it honestly means the world. Im just surprised you’re not all fed up hearing about it yet. I don’t check my phone at all when I’m running but I loved looking back at messages from throughout the race. Some post-run blethers and food in the form of the biggest chicken wrap I have ever seen afterwards with Charley. There was no doubt I was getting enough protein to refuel and recover, probably a weeks recommended allowance in one meal…perfect.
Then, trying to stick with my little of celebrating by eating or drinking something traditional from where ever I am, the only thing I could possibly eat in Manhattan? Thee biggest slice of New York cheesecake. Mmm mmm mmm! Oh and a little glass of something to wash it down!
Monday 6th November 2017
The usual post race insomnia as seems to becoming normal meant I didn’t sleep very well and was up at silly o’clock…starving! And probably still buzzing from my overdose of adrenaline from all of the weekends adventures. Coffee stop, picking up breakfast and a copy of the New York Time on the way, (the pull out section includes the name of every runner who completed the race in five hours or less…it’s not every day your name is printed in the Times!) and then to One World Observatory…all by 9am!
It wasn’t finished last time I visited the city and I was heading to the airport just after lunch time so I wanted to try and squeeze it in this morning before leaving. Lots of other runners had the same idea, maybe looking for that nice photo opportunity with their medal, the skyscrapers of Manhattan in the background. The lady selling tickets said there was zero visibility at the top because of the weather…really?! Was there going to be any point in paying the small fortune for a ticket to go up there? I checked with some people who had just come back down and said it was grand so I decided to take the gamble. Although just a little cloudy, it was actually great, I could see all of the Boroughs perfectly and it was actually really cool to trace back the marathon route and see all the bridges from afar that we had just run the day before.
I wasn’t quite ready to leave, but just after lunch time I got the shuttle from Port Authority Bus Terminal to JFK airport, ready to head across for some adventures on the West Coast.
New York, I cannot thank you enough for this truly amazing experience…unforgettable. The runners, the spectators, the supporters, the NYPD, this incredible city that NEVER sleeps…Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I will without a doubt be back again, and soon!
Until we meet again…
I will forever ❤️ NY.