My First Marathon: TCS NYC Marathon 2014 Recap!

It’s hard to write a recap of my marathon experience because there were so many details and thoughts I don’t want to leave out, but here goes!

Let’s start at the very beginning.

THE EXPO

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My mom and I visited the TCS NYC Marathon expo on Friday morning, along with two friends from out-of-town, one of whom was running the Dash to the Finish 5K on Saturday. We really did want to get in and out quickly, but we ended up spending a few hours there.

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No, I didn’t buy this shirt, but if it had come in adult sizes, I might have!

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Meeting Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon

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As I mentioned before, I had a sore throat on Thursday that turned into a sinus cold on Friday. On Friday night, I took NyQuil to help me sleep (I knew I wouldn’t be able to take it on Saturday since it’s too dehydrating) and on Saturday I rested up and took it easy.

I carb-loaded on Saturday night with chicken noodle soup and a little later, some pasta and turkey meatballs. It only took about an hour of tossing and turning on Saturday night to get to sleep, and my congestion was starting to get better.

RACE MORNING

On Sunday morning, I woke up at 5:15, a half hour before my alarm (which was set for 5:45) but thanks to daylight savings time, I still got about 6.5-7 hours of sleep! More than I had hoped for. I stayed at my parents’ apartment the night before so that my mom and I could get ready and take the ferry together. My nose was still runny, but my congestion felt a lot better.

I ate a few bites of a ciabatta roll with my coffee, and packed a cinnamon raisin bagel (a gigantic New York-style bagel from Zabar’s) with flax-and-chia peanut butter (Trader Joe’s!) and a banana for the ferry ride. Several times before we left the apartment, I was so nervous that I got a wave of nausea and thought I was going to throw up. Luckily, that passed once I had some more food.

We bundled up with all of our many layers and headed to the subway. We got seats on the train, and I had a few bites of my bagel. We ended up on the 8am ferry and I booked it straight for the bathroom line. I didn’t really have to go, since I had only had a few sips of coffee and water so far that morning, but I knew it would be my last chance at an indoor bathroom before the portapotties. After that I found my mom who was holding down two seats on the ferry, and I ate the rest of my gigantic bagel.

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#ferryselfie

Once we got to Staten Island, we had to wait in a very long line to board a bus to the start village. This is when we started to really feel the wind. There were sustained winds at 25MPH, with gusts up to 40 MPH. Although the temperatures were in the mid-40s, the gusts made it feel like the low 30s. Brrrr!!!

We were all bundled up, and didn’t even need the mylar blankets from previous races that we had packed. We gave them away to some shivering strangers.

Eventually we made it onto a bus and got seats (3 for 3, subway, ferry, and bus!) I was starting to get nervous that we were running late, since I started in Wave 3 but most people on the bus, including my mom, started in Wave 4. NBC News had asked to interview us in Staten Island as a follow-up to our news piece from Thursday, and I was worried we wouldn’t have enough time.

Once we got off the bus at Fort Wadsworth, we went through metal detectors and into the start village. Eventually we found the media center, which was miraculously right by the entrance to my corral. Win! We did a quick interview (which we never did get to see on television, but my dad watching at home saw it). And then it was time to get in line for my corral!

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We were so bundled up that we weren’t even cold! I was wearing ski pants (brilliant idea from my coach, we bought cheap boys’ large pants), a cotton zip-up hoodie, that rockin’ pink 80s ski jacket (which I was sad to have to toss), a fleece neckwarmer/balaclava combo, fleece gloves, and a fleece earwarmer. We also had handwarmers, mylar blankets, and fleece blankets. We didn’t use any blankets because we didn’t even have enough time to sit down! It was timed perfectly. I know everyone says the buses to Staten Island are the way to go, but I’m all for a later ferry time!

I said goodbye to Mom and found the line to my corral. I ran into a friend of a friend who was also in my corral and that made the time go by quicker. Our corral was supposed to open at 9:40am but it didn’t open until 10:10am (the time it was supposed to close) because we had to wait until Wave 2 started. It was very confusing. Once the corral opened, I went straight to a portapotty and then joined the masses. I was in the first corral, which was great. I very reluctantly took off my ski pants in the corral and left them in a Goodwill donation box but I left everything else on. I ate a vanilla honey stinger waffle and had a few last sips of water from a bottle I had tucked into my pocket.

We walked up to the start line at the base of the Verrazzano Bridge, and I, again, very reluctantly tossed my 80s ski jacket to the side of the road. Now I was cold! I still had my cotton zip-up hoodie and hand-warmers inside my gloves. I nestled into the middle of the pack of runners to try to hide from the wind.

I ran with my phone inside a zippered pocket in my pants, and I had also tucked chapstick (because of the wind) and headphones in there. I really didn’t want to use the headphones at all and wanted to just take in the cheering crowds, but the headphones were sort of like a security blanket: I knew that if I got to a point where I was really struggling, I could listen to music for a boost. I even made a playlist, but never needed to use it!

THE RACE

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Someone sang God Bless America over the speakers, a cannon boomed, and we were off! Since I was close to the start line, I only heard a few lines of Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York before I was on the bridge and out of earshot.

The bridge was terrifyingly windy. I kept my zip-up hoodie, which flapped around all over. Even though I was on the bottom level of the bridge, the wind was very intense and kept knocking people into each other. The wind whipped sideways through our bibs and you could hear the paper flapping on everyone’s stomachs. At a few points I ran holding my hand on top of my bib because I was afraid it would be ripped off. I also started to get a bit of an earache on my left side from the wind. I had been warned about going out too fast on the Verrazzano Bridge because of all the excitement, but there was no chance of that. It was very hard to run uphill and into the wind!

One guy running next to me yelled, “You guys, we’re doing it! We’re running the NYC Marathon!” and a bunch of runners cheered (into the wind).

On the bridge I started to get a stomach cramp, and I cursed myself for eating the honey stinger waffle. I had eaten one during a long run before and had no problems, so I didn’t know why I was cramping up. In retrospect, it might have been the combination of the uphill start and race nerves. I panicked a little bit and thought, “No, this can’t be happening today, not this early.” At some point that thought changed to “No, this is NOT happening today,” and I tried to ease up on my pace and breathe through it. Luckily the cramp went away after the first two miles. Phew.

Brooklyn was just a blast. I tossed my hand-warmers and zip-up hoodie after we were off of the bridge, and I just kept telling myself to relax, enjoy the day, and not to run too fast. (In the beginning at least!) But even though we were off the bridge, the wind was so fierce that there wasn’t much of a chance of me running too fast. I tried to duck behind taller runners to block the wind when it was really bad, but that didn’t help much. I had planned to toss my fleece neck-warmer early on but wore it for most of Brooklyn. It was great when gusts of wind blew in my face and I could pull it up over my mouth. It did cover my name on my singlet a little bit, so when the wind wasn’t as bad I took it off and wrapped it around my wrist, but ended up putting it back on and taking it off several times before eventually tossing it around Mile 13.

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Before I knew it, it was time to fuel: 2 Clif shotbloks, Margarita flavor, at Mile 4. I took sips of water at every water station so I wouldn’t get dehydrated without realizing it. Brooklyn just felt like a big party!

Along the way Christine spotted me on 4th Avenue, and I was getting lots of cheers for my PPTC singlet. Finally I passed the Prospect Park Track Club cheering section! I felt like such a celebrity. Can you tell I was happy to see them?

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About my race outfit: I never got hot once. I understand how much faster runners were wearing shorts and singlets, but I don’t know how people at my pace were doing it. Everyone’s exposed skin looked red and raw. I had originally been planning to wear capris, my singlet and arm-warmers, but when the “real feel” temperature was predicted to be in the 30s all day long I added a long-sleeved shirt, compression socks, and the gloves and ear-warmer. I was worried that any exposed skin would get cold, and judging from how my face felt, I think I made the right decision.

Then it was time to fuel again: 2 more shotbloks at Mile 8. Once again, I was surprised at how soon I seemed to reach Mile 8 (I was just in a race fog, I guess!) and I didn’t feel like I needed anything but stuck firmly to my fueling plan that I’d decided on ahead of time.

I saw another friend who was cheering for me around Mile 9.5 in Bed-Stuy, but sadly missed three friends who were waiting for me in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. We hadn’t picked a specific location and the crowds were intense. I had been warned about the quiet section of Brooklyn, a Hassidic Jewish neighborhood right before you hit hipster Williamsburg and the crowds pick up again. I was glad I had been prepared for this and the silence didn’t bother me much.

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Fort Greene, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint were just one big party. There were so many spectators, and many of them were handing out food (which I didn’t take) and holding out tissue boxes and paper towels (which I did take for my runny nose!) I warmed up a bit and tucked my gloves into my belt. I fueled again at Mile 12 with a Salted Caramel Gu.

Over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens I finally tossed my fleece neck-warmer but put my gloves back on. Halfway through and I was still feeling great. I passed the November Project water station at Mile 14 but missed seeing my friend Emily who organized it. I even asked someone where she was, but it was just too crowded!

Running through Queens, I saw my favorite sign of the whole race: “The Cold Never Bothered You Anyway!” That made me laugh and put a spring in my step.

In Astoria, I ran past Kristin, who I didn’t even know would be there. She had a megaphone and was calling out runners’ names as they passed and she yelled “Go Gabby – OH MY GOD GABBY!!!!” into the megaphone as she recognized me and everyone around her started laughing. Definitely gave me another boost!

At the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge I was keeping an eye out for two friends from college, who spotted me and took these two photos. Again, I was clearly very happy to see them!

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The Queensboro Bridge was the worst part of the race for me – and it had nothing to do with the incline. The road narrowed and many people stopped to walk, and others got annoyed at them and tried to push through. I had been trying to stay ahead of the 4:30 pacer for a few miles, and on the bridge she realized she was losing time (which she huffed and puffed about on the descent) and kept sticking her pacing stick in between peoples’ heads to try to weave in between them. It was extremely obnoxious and really annoying. One girl running next to me even swatted it away when it got too close to her face.

Someone from PPTC called out from behind me to say hi (I still don’t know who it was!) and in turning back to answer, someone trying to pass me knocked into me and got annoyed. And did I mention it was still really windy? Not my favorite part of the race, to say the least.

I had been waiting for the “wall of sound” that would hit me at the exit from the Queensboro Bridge. I had heard so much about this incredible moment when you come off the silence of the bridge and hit a wall of spectators cheering in Manhattan. But there was no wall of sound. There were a lot of spectators but they didn’t seem to be cheering much. Maybe it was the wind, maybe it was the cold, maybe they were just looking for their runners…but I was disappointed!

At that point, the 4:30 pacer passed me once and for all and I made peace with it. First of all, she was annoying the hell out of me by sticking her stick in between peoples’ heads and announcing that she’d lost a minute on the bridge, and I didn’t want to be around her anymore. And I decided I didn’t want to spend the next 10 miles stressing out about finishing under 4:30. On a normal day (without 25-40 MPH winds) I’m sure I could have finished under 4:30, but it wasn’t in the cards for Sunday, and I wanted to enjoy the rest of the race rather than push myself too hard and crash. There were still 10 miles to go, and 10 difficult miles at that.

First Avenue was packed with spectators. I ran along the left side of the street, looking at every spectator as I passed, since I was looking for 3 different friends along that stretch. I ran into a girl that I had met at the NYRR Long Training Run in August who wanted to run the rest of the race together, but we lost each other when we went through a water stop. To be honest, I was kind of relieved; I had so many spectators waiting for me in Manhattan and wanted to see them on my own. Besides that, I wanted to run my own race and not adjust to someone else’s pace, either faster or slower!

I fueled again at Mile 17, 2 more shotbloks. At 85th Street I saw my Swedish friend who just happened to be in town for the race and said a quick hello. Someone else yelled out to me, “Yeah Gabby, you look fabby!” I also passed Beth, Steph, and Abby, who spotted me and cheered, giving me another boost!

Around Mile 18 or 18.5 I started to feel a drop in energy. I tried walking through a water station but that only made my legs feel worse, so I kept running. The intense crowds of the early part of First Avenue had started to thin out, and I thought I had missed a group of friends that had said they’d be cheering around Mile 18. I knew I just had to make it to 120th Street where I would see my coach.

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Coach Jess spotted me and snapped a few photos, then ran alongside me for a block to check in. It was so helpful to have her running with me, even for a tiny bit! I told her I was feeling fine, that I’d been feeling awesome up until about a mile ago but was starting to feel tired. I also told her that I felt good physically and nothing hurt, and that I was going slowly (which seemed important to note at the time). She told me I looked great and that I should remember I would feel better at Mile 24 than at Mile 17. My fuzzy runner’s brain couldn’t comprehend that at the time, but I repeated it to myself over the next few miles and somehow it was true. She also told me there would be a tailwind on Fifth Avenue. I gave Jess a quick hug and she sent me on my way.

Not even half a block later, I passed that group of cheering friends I thought I’d missed! That definitely put a spring back in my step.

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At this point, it really made a difference that I had run the last 10 miles of the marathon just the week before. I knew what was coming and I felt confident I could tackle it.

I crossed the Willis Ave Bridge into the Bronx, and decided it was finally time to dig out the chapstick in my back pocket. I really didn’t want to go through the trouble of getting it out, but my lips were sandpaper, despite having put it on at the start of the race. Then I was in the Bronx, and there were about 3 DJs in less than a mile. It was a party!

We crossed over the Madison Avenue Bridge at Mile 21 and I fueled for a final time, another Salted Caramel Gu. All of the fuel I used had extra sodium, and the gu’s had caffeine, so that really helped. It was such a rush to be back in Manhattan and I told myself that this was it, last borough and only 5 miles to go!

Less than 10 blocks away, a group of friends were cheering for me at 126th Street so I counted down the streets until I got to them. They’re all friends from Italy who are doing PhD programs in NYC, so they made me a sign in Italian and English!

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I don’t love my face in this photo, but I do love the juxtaposition between my expression and the faces of the runners around me. Mile 21.5 baby!

After that, we ran around the edge of Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem and there was a surprise waiting for me – two teammates from PPTC with very loud voices screaming and cheering. It turned out they had woken up too late to cheer in Brooklyn, and Mile 22 was just where I needed them!

I powered through and counted down the blocks until 111th Street, where I knew I would see my dad cheering with several family friends. It was a crowded area but I had given them very specific instructions about where to wait, and they were there with signs and cowbells.

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I gave my dad my fleece ear-warmer and gloves, gave him a quick hug, waved to everyone else and headed onto the Fifth Avenue hill.

I know this seems crazy, but this part of Fifth Avenue was such a rush. It’s a mile uphill, and can really hit you when you’re down if you’re not prepared for it. Since I had run it the week before, I knew what was waiting for me, and I just leaned into the hill and kept running. At one point that elusive tailwind came along and pushed us from behind – just briefly, but it felt great. I was passing people left and right which gave me an extra boost. Somewhere along this stretch, Beth, Abby, and Steph spotted me again, along with Brittany and Leticia. Such an awesome cheering squad!

I had placed my final spectators, two friends from high school, at Mile 24, just at the entrance to Central Park. I put my head down and made it up the Fifth Avenue Hill and there they were! I was so happy to see them that I ran over and hugged them (I had tried to save my energy and not give too many hugs up until this point but I couldn’t help it) and then pushed on through Central Park.

Central Park was gorgeous and it felt like home. I teared up a little bit when I thought about how close I was to the finish line. Only two miles to go and I still had energy left in the tank. I couldn’t believe it but tried not to think too much about it. I hadn’t hit a wall yet, so surely I wouldn’t hit one in the last few miles, right?

Around this point I calculated that I wouldn’t break 4:30 but I didn’t care anymore. I was passing so many people in Central Park, and felt like I could go even faster, but the road was so crowded and many people had slowed or stopped to walk. I wanted to plow through and yell “Get outta my way!!!!” But I resisted. I tried not to weave too much but still picked up my pace to sub-10 minute miles for the first time all day.

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 This is my “Grrrrr I’m running a marathon and I’m comin’ for you!” face.

In Central Park, so many spectators yelled, “Go Gabby! You look great!” and it really made me believe it. I think I even managed to smile at them!

Central Park South was annoying because the road was a little uneven (and is almost definitely a small incline), but more frustratingly, it was very hard to pass people. I had something left in the tank and wanted to run faster! It was probably a good thing that I wasn’t able to though, because there was still a hill or two on the way to the finish.

I passed the “800 Meters to Go” sign on Central Park South and felt a little sad. I wanted to be done running, but I didn’t want the experience to be over already!

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URGH ALMOST THERE…

As I made my way up the last hill and saw the finish line, I started crying. Then I couldn’t breathe because I was still running, so I choked a few times and had to force myself to keep it in check in order to finish.

I didn’t even feel the hill leading up to the finish, and I teared up as I crossed the finish line.

Marathon Gabby

As someone placed a medal around my neck, I started sobbing. I just kept looking down at it and crying. I don’t usually cry easily (at things like movies or weddings) but I was a wreck. I couldn’t believe I had finished a marathon!

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Even splits! Hooray!

Not only had I finished a marathon, but I never hit a wall, never stopped to pee (yay!), ran the second half only 12 seconds slower than the first, and my last mile was my fastest. Most importantly, I was smiling the entire time! (Queensboro Bridge not included.)

I had been warned that the post-finish area took forever to get out of, and that a “walk from hell” was awaiting me. I took a photo with my medal, got my heat sheet, and grabbed a recovery bag. I was starting to get very cold, and forced myself to eat most of the PowerBar and drink the Gatorade in the recovery bag. Then I just took out my phone and looked at my text messages from friends congratulating me, and that distracted me enough to get me through the walk.

Since I selected the “no-baggage” option, I exited the park at 77th Street and got a big blue fleece-lined poncho. It was so windy that the poncho kept blowing off me, but it was very warm and cozy and I was grateful for it. We had to walk a few more blocks down Central Park West before we were finally able to exit at 74th Street.

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Prospect Park Track Club rents the cafeteria of an elementary school on West 77th Street as a family meet-up area, so I shuffled over there to refuel and meet up with my friends, who were meeting me with my post-marathon bag. A teammate handed me a cup of hot cocoa when I walked in and it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. I continued to snack a bit (they had a wide array of food, everything from bagels to oranges to cookies to peanut butter pretzels) even though I didn’t really feel hungry. I congratulated teammates who had also run; it was great to have a central (indoor) meeting location!

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My cheering squad from Mile 24, that brought me my post-marathon bag and even got me a ham-and-cheese scone from Alice’s Teacup per my request!

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MARATHONER!

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In a little while we were joined by my dad, who had stayed at Mile 22.5 until my mom passed and then headed to the school. He waited there for my mom to finish, but I made my way downtown with the assistance of my two friends; we had a party to get to!

By the way, packing sweatpants and Ugg boots was the best idea ever. I thankfully didn’t get any blisters on my feet (and I miraculously didn’t chafe anywhere – since I put Vaseline EVERYWHERE before the race) but Uggs with no socks felt like heaven.

Side note: my only battle scars were wind-induced. My face burned when I put on lotion after my shower and later that night, and my lips were chapped for four days! Still better than chafing in weird places though, if I had to choose…

The subway wasn’t as bad as I was expecting (I took the elevator down when I had the option) and I even had time for a quick shower before heading to the restaurant I had picked for our post-marathon party. I ordered a gigantic cheeseburger and fries and a pumpkin beer; the first few bites of the burger tasted AMAZING but after that I had a hard time finishing it. I didn’t know why I wasn’t hungry! Throughout the course of the evening, I did manage to finish it but I think I was still riding an adrenaline high and was distracted.

A lot of friends showed up to congratulate us, and eventually my mom shuffled in with my dad, straight from the race. I still had lots of energy, but standing up and moving around was getting more and more difficult!

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My friends Kelsey and Tommy also ran NYC as their first marathon. We all ran our first half marathon together in September 2012, so it was great to celebrate our first marathon together on Sunday!


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Mom also ran a great race – she finished in 6:08:14. Go Mom!

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Would I run another marathon? Well yes, of course. But maybe not for a while, and almost definitely not next year.

The marathon itself was awesome. I was on an adrenaline high the whole time and my body cooperated with me throughout the whole journey. I never got to a place where I even really needed my mantras. At several places I told myself that I was awesome, that I was strong and could do this, and that was all I needed.

The hardest part of this whole experience for me was the training. Devoting yourself to anything for 16 weeks is difficult, and I really made marathon training my priority throughout the summer and fall. Powering through points where I lost motivation and staying dedicated to all of my long runs, tempo runs, intervals, and foam rolling obligations was not easy. It was hard to say no to going out on a weekend night because I’d have to get up really early and run the next morning.

But boy did it ever pay off.

I really believe that the reason I felt so awesome throughout the whole race was not my personality, or my innate athletic ability (ha!), and it certainly wasn’t the weather. It was maybe a teensy bit my attitude and my race strategy (don’t go out too fast) but it was 95% my training. You guys, I ran so many bridges this summer and fall. My coach gave me an awesome plan and I stuck with it, even when I really didn’t want to anymore.

And that is why I’m pretty sure I don’t want to run a marathon again next year. I don’t think I want to devote myself wholeheartedly to marathon training again, for the same marathon, next summer. If anything, I would run a different marathon rather than run NYC in consecutive years. At this point, it seems so perfect an experience that I want to let it stand alone!

I actually have guaranteed entry into the 2015 NYC Marathon because I did the NYRR 9+1 program again. It was hard not to since the marathon counted as one of my nine races, and I was already planning on doing a few other NYRR races, so I figured I would just do nine to have the option. And I would hate for my guaranteed entry to go to waste. But right now I’m thinking of registering for the 2015 race and deferring my entry to 2016…if I can swallow paying for it twice.

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These of course are all thoughts I’m writing now, not even a week after the marathon, when my legs are still a little sore and I haven’t run since. Ask me again in a few months…

IMG_1581Thank you for all your support and encouragement and congratulations! It has meant so much to me and I am still riding the marathon high.

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And now I’ve been telling everyone who asks that YES, they can run a marathon too.

Take it from a girl who didn’t run farther than 3 miles before 2012…anything is possible!

~~~~~

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32 thoughts on “My First Marathon: TCS NYC Marathon 2014 Recap!

  1. What an incredible experience!! And it’s so awesome you had so many friends cheering you on at different points along the course. I can only hope that my first marathon is as great as yours sounds! Congrats!

  2. CONGRATS AGAIN. Your finish picture brought actual tears to my eyes. Man, this is what marathoning is all about! The love of it. Congratulations again, I’m SO happy that I saw you! I was not a master tracker this year and you were one of the few friends I saw!

  3. Congrats! You are such an inspiration. I just started running a year ago and am working on 5-6 miles and hoping to do my first half soon. Glad to see what you accomplished in two years!

  4. Great recap!! I am so excited that you had such an awesome race! We were pretty close the entire time except i started about 5 minutes after you! It is funny i had a similar race as yours except you had a ton of spectators to see!! I thought the worst part would be trying to get through people the first couple of miles and as you i was able to speed up the last 5 miles and it was annoying trying to weave around people! Congrats again! A marathon is a huge accomplishment and the NYC marathon is probably the best in the world!!! :)

  5. Congratulations! I’ve enjoyed reading about your journey to NY – this recap was great! The pictures that were captured were all nice – I have closed eyes in so many of my shots haha. Again, congrats to both you and your mom!

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  9. Congrats to you and your mom! I love that you both ran! What an awesome marathon to be your first. OMG my lips were SO chapped too from that darn wind. Hilarious how close together we finished. What are the chances? Rest up and recover well!

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