This recap begins months ago, when I entered my name in the lottery for the 2019 New York City Marathon. I don’t remember specifically doing it, because it’s the third time I’ve thrown my name in this hat, and I assumed it would be the third time I’d be rejected. In the interim, I signed up for another fall marathon (the Via) assuming there was no way I’d get in.
Then, a few months ago, on the day the lottery confirmations were sent out, I remember being in a boardroom giving a presentation at work. I knew one of the first signs of getting in was being charged the (outrageous) entry fees, so as soon as my presentation was over, I checked my bank app.
I did a double-take. I had gotten in!
I hadn’t gotten my confirmation email yet, so I was still skeptical, but I was so elated! I texted everyone I could think to text with the amazing news. I was going to be running the 49th New York City Marathon on November 3rd, 2019.
I went into this World Marathon Major race knowing I didn’t want it to be my BQ race. There’s no guarantee I’ll ever run it again, so I figured making it a rough day with all of that pressure wasn’t going to make the experience what I wanted it to be. I decided the Via Marathon would be the goal race, and was hoping New York would be my victory lap.
Things didn’t go as planned at Via, so this went from a “victory lap”/non-serious race to something a little different. I wanted to just see what my body would allow me to do on this course. I only had 7 weeks from the marathon that I raced, so I didn’t have super-high expectations, but I wanted to give it my all.
My coach, Matt, and I worked out how we would structure my shortened recovery, build-up, and taper. We realized there was only time for a 2-week taper, and typically, I do 3 weeks. It was going to be a gamble, but I wanted more time to build up and it was the best course of action to take at the time.
I set my race goals with him as such:
- Have fun
- Run smart
- See what my legs could do
We decided I could go out with the 3:40 pacer (8:23 pace) and continue to edge up to 8:10s. If I was feeling good at mile 18, I’d really start my race. Based on my training, it seemed doable if I had a good day.
I spent more time cross-training, doing shorter runs, and yoga in this shortened training cycle. My legs felt good, but they didn’t quite have the speed in them they did this summer (even with the cool fall temps!) I was also having some digestive issues on and off, so everything didn’t go perfectly. Matt is so optimistic and inspiring as a coach, so he still believed I could do such great things. I believed right along with him that there was a chance this could go extremely well.
THE WEEK BEFORE
The week before, I was feeling better than I had throughout the last few. My legs were starting to feel lighter, I was feeling confident, and I had ZERO race nerves. I loved going in to this race just knowing whatever will be will be. I was just excited for whatever was ahead.
I did have one, small meltdown a few days prior to race day (I mean, it is still a taper after all 🙂 ). I was feeling like I was getting ready for this huge experience that everyone was supporting me on, yet I felt so alone. It was the furthest thing from the truth, and deep down I knew that, but my emotions were high that week and the negative emotions got elevated. Luckily, that dissipated SO quickly, and I was back on my high and ready for the wonderful experience ahead.
THE DAY BEFORE
I didn’t sleep very well on Friday night. I was a little anxious about the travel to New York, so I was up for a few hours in the middle of the night. I fell back asleep and woke up around 6:30 AM. I slowly grabbed coffee, dragged myself out of bed, and got out for 2-ish mile jog. I took a few walk breaks to make sure I wasn’t pushing it. I knew I’d have a lot of walking ahead of me once I got to NYC.
We got to the train station with my mom, dad, husband, and mother-in-law. Luckily we’re only about 90 mins away from the city, so it wasn’t too long of a trip. We chatted, I did my race nails, and we anticipated how the rest of the weekend would go.
As soon as we got off the train, our parents grabbed our luggage for us and Kyle and I walked to the expo. Boy was it packed! I knew it would be, but wow. As always, it was a quick process to get the race bib and tee shirt. The shopping area, however, was a madhouse! I knew I wanted a finisher jacket, so I grabbed one and got in the long line to pay for it. From there, they had several photo stations set up to get your picture at the expo. My husband did his duty as the photographer and we waited in line. After that, we wanted to get the heck out of there! We didn’t hit up any other booths — I get so claustrophobic at big expos like that, and couldn’t wait to leave.
We went to a little irish pub for lunch (I had packed my own after my digestive issues after my meal before my last marathon), but my family ate and drank and enjoyed themselves.
We then went to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. And all I can say is WOW. If you get a chance to get tickets and go there someday, do it. It was emotional and powerful, and a humbling experience. Fortunately and unfortunately, it was a bigger museum than I expected, and my steps were racking up that day. Luckily I was wearing some compression socks, but my legs were started to get pretty tired. We took a lot of stairs and walked around a lot that day and I was ready to relax a bit.
As it turned out, there wasn’t much time to relax. We headed back to our Airbnb and it was time for our (early) dinner reservations. I knew I’d eat a really small, simple meal there, so I wasn’t too considered about bringing my own food, so I started to relax a little knowing that there wasn’t much I could do to prepare for the race. My amazing friends just so happened to be in New York that weekend and swung by the restaurant for a drink and to wish me luck (they’re the best!). We were there until around 7:30pm and it was finally time to head back to the AirBNB and wind down.
I prepped everything for the next morning and was still trying to wind down from the exciting day. I finally got tired around 9PM and tried to get some sleep.
I woke up at 1AM full of excitement. Ugh, wrong time for that, Ally!! I just couldn’t fall back sleep, just like the night before. I saw 1 AM on the clock twice (thanks daylight savings!) and finally fell asleep again around 2:30AM. My alarm went off around 4AM and it was time for race day!
I ate breakfast, bundled up, and got out the door pretty quickly. I had to be at the bus to the start village at 5:30AM and got there a little early. I met some great people on the way to the start and chatted to keep myself busy. We got to the start village by 6:15AM and through security. I laid down and listened to a little bit of Meb’s new book to keep my mind occupied. I had a lot of time to kill, but also didn’t want to kill my battery, so it was a balancing act.
After a little while, I got up to grab some of the Dunkin’ coffee that was available. I went to another area of the start village and heard people debating over North Jersey vs. South Jersey terms. I fought for “Wooder Ice” over Italian Ice, of course! I chatted with that group of runners for a little while before heading into the endless port-o-potty lines for the next hour. I know I have to go approximately 90 times before a race, so I tend to get in a line, and then back in the long line because I know I’ll have to go again by the time I get back to the front of the line. I did this 4x in a row!
Finally it was time to get into the Wave 2 Corral (and pee one more time!). I met more great folks on the walk to the bridge. Everyone at the marathon was so friendly and just happy to be there and it kept me calm throughout the whole morning. It felt like we were there forever, but I couldn’t believe it was go-time either!
The gun had finally gone off and it was a while before I crossed the start line — this race was CROWDED. I tucked in behind the 3:40 pacer, which is exactly where I wanted to be. The crowds made it tough for him to be steady, and for me to follow him, but I felt okay on that long uphill. I ditched my gloves and arm sleeves almost immediately because it was getting so warm! I was starting to get into a rhythm and was happy the downhill was coming soon.
We finally got to flat land in Brooklyn and the streets were packed. I couldn’t believe the crowds! The race was still packed, too, so it was hard to see the spectators. I very much had to pay attention to what was right in front of me so I didn’t get elbowed or tripped. This went on for the first 5-ish miles pretty badly. I stuck right by that 3:40 pacer and was feeling really comfortable. I could breathe in and out deeply for 3-4 breaths at a time. My legs felt a little heavy, but solid. I had tried to turn on my headphones, but they didn’t seem to be working at the time. I don’t think it would have mattered anyway — the crowds would have been too loud for me to hear it, I think!
I got to mile 5 and almost forgot it was time to take in fuel. The race was ticking along so smoothly. I ate my UCAN slowly and it felt good going down. I decided to take a little less than I did at Via after feeling so full and uncomfortable, and I had hoped that decision would work.
The miles ticked along in Brooklyn and the race was still pretty cramped. The pacer was going on pretty aggressively, so I decided to just run my own race at that point. My mantra at that point was “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”, so I went at a steady pace that I felt like I could hold for a while.
I took my next round of fuel around mile 10.5. This one sat in my stomach a little heavier, but I still felt okay at this time. My new mantra was to “run within myself” as I felt myself trying to catch back up to the 3:40 pacer. He was still in my sights, but I knew catching up would burn too much energy.
We got to mile 15 and some of my miles were a little slower, but my legs felt good. My stomach, however, wasn’t feeling great. It felt a little crampy, but in a weird way. I was supposed to fuel again but I wanted to wait until I felt a little better. I really regret this decision, because the Queensboro Bridge was coming up and I wish I had fueled before that long, slow uphill battle.
My splits up that hill was 10:26 — it was pretty brutal. I knew I’d see my cheer squad right after the bridge, so that kept me going, and the downhills gave me a little more pep in my step. My stomach still felt full and I knew fueling would just be a struggle, so I kept pushing on. I saw my family and that gave a pretty good boost. Miles 17 and 18 down 1st avenue still felt okay, but things were getting rough.
I was also lucky enough to run in to my SAVIOR from the Via marathon, Abbe! We’ve kept in touch and she told me where she’d be, so I looked for her on 1st avenue. I screamed her name, attempted another epic high five with her (and missed) and kept running. That was another good boost of energy for me, but unfortunately it didn’t last long.
As I had said, I missed a crucial moment of fueling. The wall came around mile 19. My tank was empty, but my stomach still felt a weird, crampy feeling (spoiler alert: I got my period the next day. Also, I am not sorry if that was TMI for you). I didn’t want to take anything else in, but I forced myself to take a Maurten gel at mile 20, just to give me some quick sugar. I hoped that that would make up for lost fuel (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
My legs felt like bricks and my hips and back were cramping up (I blame mother nature, partially, for this one). I stopped to walk through an aid station and it felt so damn good. I thought back to my goals: having fun and feeling good. As much as I wanted to fight it, I knew then that walking would be a big part of my race from here on out.
I threw myself a mini pity party. I texted my husband, upset that I’d be walking. He texted back and told me to do what I needed to do, and that’s exactly what I needed to hear. I began to smile and look around at the amazing energy and soak it all in. I pushed on and ran when I could, and walked when it felt too bad to take another running step. At some points it was my cramping stomach, and others it was my aching back. I stopped in a bathroom at one point to see if I could get any relief from my stomach pain — nothing happened in there, so I kept going. There were plenty of other walkers by this point, so it helped me feel less alone.
Every time I walked, spectators would yell that I was looking great, to keep going, to keep pushing. I smiled and thanked them. I high-fived them. I gave them fist-pumps when they gave me the energy to run again. It was great. I tried to take another Maurten gel at mile 23 — I got about half of it down before wanting to spit it back up. It was brutal.
By this point, I knew my friend Bruce would be there on the streets to cheer me on. He told me he made me a sign that would make me laugh, so I kept an eye out for it.
Finally, I saw two signs that said “Ally”, and figured that might be Bruce and his husband. As I got closer, I saw the sign said “Ally, will you marry me?” And it was, indeed, my friend Bruce! It was obviously a joke, since he and I are both already married (his husband was right next to him, holding another hilarious sign). I ran up and hugged him when I saw him. He got down on his knee, took his wedding ring off his finger, and placed it on mine. I said “yes!” and everything around cheered and clapped and took pictures. We, unfortunately had to tell them it was a joke, but Bruce had to deal with that after I literally ran away 🙂 He then held up a sign that said “She said yes! Bruce ❤ Ally”. It was amazing and absolutely MADE my race.
My fake marriage proposal brought a little life back in to me and a huge smile on my face. Not to mention, Kyle had said he’d be up at mile 25. I had just another mile or so to run before I saw them, and then just another mile or so more after that. Then I actually got a little sad that this big day would be all over soon. I slowed down my running pace (So I could run longer and still soak it all in). I ran through the crowds in the park and enjoyed it as much as I could through the pain.
I finally saw Kyle and my parents and ran up and hugged them. I didn’t do that at mile 16 because at that point, I still didn’t want to stop at all. By this point, I had stopped a bunch, so I took time to kiss and high five them. I was so grateful they were there, and they deserved a few moments of me running over there to see them!
The energy was palpable as I neared the finish line. The countdown was on and I could hear the announcers just up ahead. I high-fived as many people as I could and thanked people for their energy and cheers. Everyone that I passed, I gave a word of encouragement to. I smiled so big the whole rest of the way. As I crossed the finish line, I channeled my inner-Shalane and screamed “Fuck Yeah!”
I got emotional as I ran over the line. My finish time was 4:07:51. Not my best time, and but also not my worst!
The crowds of people around me were overwhelming. I started to hyperventilate. (This happened right after MCM, too — I pulled myself together quickly at that race, but not here in NYC). I used my heat sheet like a brown paper bag and tried to calm down and move forward as quickly as possible. It was so crowded, and I just wanted to get out of there. My emotions were really high, and I think my adrenaline was still rushing through me. I cried, on and off, but not because I was happy or sad. It was just what my body wanted to do that in that moment.
At one point, I moved off to the side and leaned down to grab the water out of the “recovery bag” I was given. A medic saw me struggling and heard me hyperventilating and asked if I was okay. It took me a second or two to answer, because I wasn’t sure. I figured there was nothing he could do to help me and what I wanted most was to get out of there, so I said I was fine. He stood with me for a while anyway just in case. (PS: A huge shout out to all of those medics at the finisher chute! There were so many of them and they were so helpful. I saw people much worse off than me and I’m sure they really helped a lot of folks out there that day!)
The rest of the finisher chute felt like another marathon. They kept saying the exit was just ahead and to the left, but I walked at least a mile to get out of there. I kept thinking I missed getting my poncho, and somehow missed the family reunion area. I kept walking and walking as Kyle called me to see where I was. It was making me upset that I didn’t know when it would end and I continued to cry. I was all of a sudden a mess. I questioned if it was because I was sad because of how the race turned out, or happy that I had finished, but it was neither. My body was just trying to release everything that had happened that day the only it knew how.
After what felt like hours, I finally reunited with Kyle, and the tears flowed again. He asked if I was ok, or if I was upset. I said I was fine, and just cried. Once all the tears came out a few minutes later, I was smiling, happy, and ready to meet back up with the rest of my family. The roller coaster of emotions continued, because once I saw my family again, I was filled with so much joy. I realized I had just finished the freakin’ New York City Marathon! My fifth full marathon. And it was amazing. And my heart was so full.
But then, it was time to walk again. This time, down stairs, to the subway. I was afraid I was going to pull a Barney Stinson, but luckily my legs worked okay. We eventually made it to a small Irish pub called Molly Wee’s. I grabbed a beer and finally relaxed. It was time to celebrate!
After a long, hot shower, we went to Il Mulino, and old Italian restaurant that is a staple in New York City. We ordered whatever we wanted, the drinks were flowing, and the laughter never ended. It was one of the greatest dinners of my life. I, of course, wore my finisher jacket and medal and was congratulated by so many people. I still couldn’t believe I had run a marathon that day!
Finally we made it home and went to bed. I slept poorly, but that as no surprise. We went to brunch the next day at a little spot called Friedman’s, which had amazing coffee, a great brunch burger and delicious sweet potato fries. We walked around a bit and I made my way to the Medal Engraving back at Central Park. They were all set up with shopping, medal engraving, and more photo opportunities. I saw crews tearing down the Finish Line and it made me sad. I couldn’t believe this thing I had been anticipating for months was over. It was an experience I could have never even dreamed of. And finally it was time to go home.
And that’s it for this recap, for now! I’m going to write a Part 2 soon for this blog post – I have a lot more words to say about this race experience and what’s to come. Stay tuned, friends! 🙂