I wrote my last post on Thursday Nov 1 determined to run the NYC Marathon because I thought it was the right thing to do. I wanted to be part of the honored tradition of the race and ideally be part of something that would bring the city some hope and economic assistance. Unfortunately, New Yorkers did not share my positive outlook and let everyone know it in a way only New Yorkers can. So on Friday Nov 2 when we arrived in CT, the power came back on in Jared’s Mom’s house and we hooked the television up just in the nick of time to learn that the NYC Marathon was cancelled. At that point, I was somewhat relieved. My heart was no longer 100% in the race after hearing how the city was so opposed to it and threatening to physically harm the runners – yikes. Still, I was disappointed. I had my heart and mind set on racing NYC and it was officially not going to happen, at least not this year.
On our way to my parent’s house in Shelton we decided to look for an alternative. I knew some friends had opted for the Manchester City Marathon after deferring their NYC entry so we pulled out the iPad to see if it was even a possibility. Online registration had closed thirty minutes before but on their Facebook page it looked as though we could register at the expo on Saturday morning. I emailed the race director to ask about registering ahead of time and spent the next hour refreshing email and the Facebook page praying for an answer. Finally we got the good news that online registration was open again until 9:00 PM. Jared and I both registered for our new marathon and went to dinner with my family. We did our best to find the humor and excitement in all the last minute changes but it was definitely stressful and disappointing, especially for Jared. He has been a New Yorker himself and was looking forward to running this race in a city he loves. Since he has transitioned to triathlons he thought this might be his last marathon and now either has to plan to run it next year or sacrifice it all together. The emotions were conflicting since we couldn’t truly feel sorry for ourselves with so many people in the NY area still in severe distress.
We woke up early Saturday morning with a new plan. Brittany would stay in CT with my family and we would head straight to NH to pick up our race numbers and figure out where and when our new race was. We were almost on our way when we realized my car had a flat tire due to me totally ignoring alignment issues. It was as if the universe was throwing me another obstacle to try and prevent me from running my 12th marathon. Well, screw you universe! I had come this far and was more determined than ever. My VERY accommodating parents agreed to swap cars and my father would take my car to have everything fixed while we are gone. I endured a well deserved chastising for not taking better care of my car and finally… we were off. Three hours later we arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire and I was able to pick up the race bibs for both of us. I was nervous when I realized that Jared had a half marathon bib but was told that they ran out of full marathon bibs so it simply didn’t matter anymore, we were both registered for the full marathon. I spent $11.00 at the expo on a new ’26.2’ car magnet (I lost my old one in a car wash) and two key chains. I can’t imagine what insane amount of money I would have spent at the NYC expo.
We came back to Boston and got take out from one of our favorite North End restaurants, Giacomos, and each had a glass of wine to help us sleep – not that we needed much help after all the traveling. I was asleep by 10:00 pm and with the time change I easily got 8 hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 5:00 am. We were on the road a little over an hour later and in Manchester around 7:00. We spent some time trying to take in some more food and arranging our bags to have everything we needed right before the race and then went into the host hotel, The Radisson, to stretch and prepare. I quickly realized that stretching and doing yoga in a warm hotel lobby was certainly not a luxury I would have enjoyed in NY, not to mention the indoor bathrooms with no line. What a treat! We met some friends and I learned that it wasn’t just a challenging course; this was rumored to be one of the most difficult marathons in the area. Suddenly, I became anxious but still excited get started. It was just a few minutes before the race started that we left to check our bags on a truck and lineup just in time for the gun to go off.
I felt great the first few miles, the hills felt manageable and my legs felt strong. I was excited how fast the miles were going by and how great my pace was. Every time I looked at my watch it seemed as though my average was going down. Around mile 6 we turned off the pavement and suddenly it became a trail race. Jared and I both laughed out loud at the obvious reality that we were most definitely not in New York City. The temperature was ideal in the mid 40’s and I decided to shed my arm warmers when I saw Kate at mile 8. Around mile 10 everything started to feel heavier, my legs were getting tired from tackling the hills at such an ambitious pace and I couldn’t help but feel nervous that they would not be able to last this course if I didn’t let up a bit. Somewhere between 12 and 13 I told Jared how I was feeling and I encouraged him to take off. A few miles later a strange knee pain showed up and gave me a scare for a while. It was a manageable discomfort but if it got worse this was going to be a very unpleasant second half.
I started setting short milestones for myself. Once I got passed mile 16 I would have less than 10 to go – I can always find 10 miles in me. At mile 17 I would be taking my second ‘Gu’ which would hopefully give me some more energy. Kate would be on the course again at 18.5 and by then the knee pain had subsided. She cheered and told me Jared wasn’t too far ahead. Around mile 19 there was a split for runners on the Half Marathon course and the full. A few feet later I was approaching the hand off for the relay and the announcer yelled my name. I heard him say “Here comes Laura Dempsey of Watertown heading to the finish line”. I just about had a heart attack. I was sure that I had gone the wrong way and ended up on the wrong course. It was probably another quarter mile before I found more full marathon runners and knew I was okay.
I was looking ahead to mile 21 where I would only have 5 more to go but a very steep hill at mile 20 set me back a bit. I wasn’t sure how much more incline I could take but just focused on putting one foot in front of another.
It’s commonly said that a marathon has two halves – the first 21 and the last 5. The final miles in a 26.2 mile race test not only a physically exhausted body, but the mind and spirit as well. You have to find a way to draw strength from anywhere you can. I counted down the miles with every step and thought about nothing but getting to the next mile marker. I felt defeated at every hill (and they kept. on. coming.) as I watched my pace get slower and slower. The wind kicked in and made it even more difficult to push through.
Finally I made my way to the sign that said ‘25’ and I knew I was going to make it. There was a section that forced us on and off a curb and I cried out with each painful step. We came back out to the road on another incline and I could hear myself whimpering. That last full mile was my slowest at a 10:00 minute mile pace. It was as fast as my tired legs could take me. I finally approached mile 26 and saw Kate again. Her cheers and excitement let me know this was it…finally the end. I sprinted to the finish line and caught site of Jared screaming for me wearing his finisher’s medal and space blanket. Crossing the mats I victoriously raised my arms as the announcer congratulated me (this time for real). I hobbled over to the volunteers who wrapped me up and placed my medal around my neck. I was elated to finish the race and so were my poor legs. Jared helped me to the bag truck and we put some layers on while we debriefed on our races. He PR’d with a 3:47:36 the hills were tough for him too but staying injury free this season and training for three triathlons over the summer kept him in strong shape. I finished in 3:54:47 and very satisfied with the time on such a challenging course.
We changed out of our wet clothes and found a warm restaurant to begin refueling. I even had a beer which somehow always helps in the recovery process. Jared and I then set out for Portsmouth New Hampshire to visit our friend Becca. She graciously invited us to shower and clean up at her apartment and joined us for dinner at a great restaurant near Market Square in Portsmouth. Wearing my new accessory – the Manchester City Marathon Finisher’s Medal – we enjoyed a delicious meal at Jumpin Jay’s Fish Café and celebrated our race. Walking around the restaurant I tried my very best to do an impression of a normal person walking but failed miserably. This wasn’t Boston on the night of Patriot’s Day. No one in Portsmouth knew (or cared) that there was a marathon that morning so everyone just looked at me funny.
On Monday afternoon, over 24 hours after crossing the finish line, I could still barely move. Everything hurt: my hamstrings, my quads, my knees, my Achilles tendons and my ankles too. My shoulders were pretty sore as well. The pain is proof that I gave the race everything that I had. I took on the distance, the wind, the hills and the challenge without ever looking back.
This was a marathon weekend like no other. It certainly did not end up as planned but sometimes that is the way things go. By staying calm and optimistic when everything seemed to go wrong (cancelled race, broken car, completely insane hilly alternative marathon course) we set a positive tone for when we finally made it to the starting line Sunday morning. We were ready for anything.
I am incredibly impressed with the Manchester City Marathon. They allowed NYC runners to register up until 7:00 PM Saturday night to make sure everyone could get there to race. They doubled their race field but showed no sign of being overwhelmed. The race was well organized with awesome support from volunteers and police. I hear they ran out of medals but have ordered more so every finisher will be awarded one. The crowd support was impressive too. For a small race (or anticipated to be a small race) the crowd was terrific. It seemed like every citizen of Manchester was outside with their family and dog ringing a cow bell and cheering on the runners.
It was the right decision for Mayor Bloomberg to cancel the marathon. I will be there next fall and it’s certain to be a memorable experience to be a part of the Return of the NYC Marathon. I will receive a guaranteed entry to the race next year since I fulfilled my commitment to the American Liver Foundation. The Greater New York Division of ALF was affected by Hurricane Sandy and so they need support now more than ever so they can focus on their important work promoting liver health and disease prevention. If you have not already done so, please consider making a contribution to my fundraising efforts.
Thank you everyone for your support this training season. It’s been a joy to document the experience and I will continue the blog to share more running adventures… hopefully not quite as exciting as this weekend but just as special.