November 2nd, 2014. Race day had arrived.
I couldn’t sleep the night before. My lights went off at around 10:30p but I tossed and turned as I pictured the race course in my mind. I’d be running 26.2 miles through New York City’s 5 boroughs. I was nervous. My last long training run of 20 miles had been 4 weeks before. I had caught bronchitis almost immediately after that run and had been unable to run for almost 2 weeks. It felt like too much time had passed. My lungs had just cleared up that week.
The first thing I looked at when my alarm went off at 5am was the weather on my phone. The story it told was not one I was excited to hear. Gusting winds up to 40 miles per hour. Wind chill hovering just above freezing. The fact that it wasn’t going to rain was the only thing that cheered me up.
I had packed the night before so all I had to do was grab my start line bag and get to the buses waiting to Staten Island on 59th Street in Manhattan.
My start time wasn’t until 10:55a. Together with my teammates from our 11 Alive Marathon team, we waited 3 hours in the charity village our heat.
We jogged to the starting line. Frank Sinatra was singing “New York, New York”. The energy of the runners was amazing! And so was the wind. Picking up your feet to start running, your elevated leg would actually be blown sideways. A very odd feeling.
I ran my second best half marathon time ever. The spectators in Brooklyn and Queens rooted us on. Bands played on the side of the route. It really was a party. I ran past my apartment in Clinton Hill. My family was there to cheer me on! It’s a high unlike any I’d ever experienced before!
Fast-forward to mile 15.
In the waiting area before the start, I made a series of mistakes that would cost me the second half of the race.
During all of my training, I never ate more than a gel before starting to run. When I began my training, I found out relatively quickly that I have a sensitive stomach when I run. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to here, just google “Runners Tummy” and you’ll find out.) 30-90% of runners experience some form of gastrointestinal distress when they run. The percentage increases with the longer distances. It’s really, really, really unpleasant.
In the waiting area, I ate a bagel, had a cup of coffee, a power bar….just generally grazed the available food and drinks while huddling together with my team trying to stay warm. And I paid for it 10x over.
Mile 15 – 18 were agony. I slowed down, had to walk, had to stop, my muscles cooled down. All I could do was survive. I kept repeating in my mind. “Shauna, you will not quit. You will finish this race if you have to crawl across that finish line.” I hated what Manhattan was doing to me. Running up First Avenue all I wanted to see was the Bronx.
My stomach started to finally behave itself after a purge at mile 18. From miles 18 to 23 running was mind-bendingly painful. My muscles were filled with lactic acid. They had cooled down and did not want to start back up again. But I knew my family and friends were waiting for me at mile 23. I just had to get there.
When I saw my family and friends right before the entrance to the park, I had to hold back tears. I had done it. I had made it. I hugged and kissed everyone, deliriously happy that they were sharing this moment with me.
Now it was just 3 miles to the finish line. By now, my body had taken a beating like none I had ever experienced before. I had been on my feet for over 5 and a half hours. My longest training run had only been 3 and a half. Every step was agony, particulary on my right side. My right hip flexor and my right knee were screaming. As I reached the end of the park and came out on 59th Street, I had to make a decision. How was I going to finish this race? Limping across the finish line or running like I had originally trained to do.
There was no option.
I told my legs “Let’s move!” but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
Spectators lined the left side of the route, still bravely cheering on runners in the whipping wind and cold. Most runners at this point were not even running, they were walking, shuffling…just trying to get across that mythical finish line. But I saw a hand raised, ready to give a high-five of encouragement.
I made a beeline for that hand. And then the next hand. And the next hand. Their enthausiam and excitment for me pulled me forward. My steps got faster and faster. I started high-fiving anyone who would put their hands up.
“Thank you! Thank you!” I repeated over and over again.
“Go Shauna! You can do it” they responded.
Hand to hand I continued. “Keep me running. Keep me running!”
I got a few laughs and a lot of smiles with my question,”Where’s the finish line?!!!”
As I re-entered the park, I could see the now empty grandstand and the lighted finish line banner ahead. This was it. The end. And I was going to finish strong. I broke into a sprint. I felt like I was flying. I passed runners left and right. I took that final step, and I was there. The finish.
“Yes!!!!! I did it!!!!”
Someone put a medal over my head, a blanket over my shoulders. I stopped for a picture with my medal by the official race photographers. The grin on my face said it all.
After 5 months of training, I was now a finisher of the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon.