In the days leading up to the New York City Marathon, two family members asked me the same question: “Why do you feel the need to run 26.2 miles?”
I struggled to find an answer for them, but as I pounded the pavement Sunday through each of New York’s five boroughs (with a GoPro camera strapped to my chest) the reasons revealed themselves.
Waking up at 4 a.m. to catch a bus from Lynbrook to Staten Island and then, freezing for hours inside the start villages at Fort Hamilton was as miserable as it sounds. Hearing the boom of the cannon signaling the start of your wave followed by Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York,” makes you quickly forget about all that though. I realized to experience moments like this, you need to put yourself in the race.
I had been warned not to let the excitement of the start get to me, to take it slow out of the gate, but I couldn’t help myself. With the winds whipping around us, my brother and I charged across the top level of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to clock in our first mile in just under 8 minutes, much faster than our usual pace.
On the other side, we were greeted warmly by spectators hoisting “Welcome to Brooklyn” signs. From Dyker Heights to Greenpoint, the fans in Brooklyn kept us entertained and inspired with their enthusiastic cheers, witty signs and musical performances. Where else, but in a marathon, will you have thousands of complete strangers pulling for you to succeed.
While the first 13.1 miles were joyous, the second half of the race felt more like torture. Entering Queens, my legs felt really tight and my brother, who was running injured, said his pain level had escalated to an “8.” We kept up a solid pace throughout Long Island City, but the Queensboro Bridge stopped us in our tracks.
As the incline on the bridge kept rising, our hopes of finishing this race in under 4 hours kept sinking. We knew our family and friends were waiting for us on the other side of the bridge, on First Avenue, and we wanted to give them a good show, so we stopped in the center of the bridge, stretched our legs on the divider and conserved our energy until we hit Manhattan.
Seeing the pride on our loved ones’ faces helped us power through the first half of First Avenue, but around Mile 18 we hit the proverbial “wall.” Cursing ourselves for not training harder, we got through the next three miles by doing a combination of walking, whining, running and limping. We also ate some rotten bananas in the Bronx, hoping the potassium would cure our aches and pains.
Fighting the urge to walk, I forced myself to run the last five miles, knowing I’d regret not finishing strong. I ended up crossing the finish line at 4 hours 32 minutes and 37 seconds, beating my last marathon time, but only by three seconds.
“Did you have fun?” one man asked me while I waited to receive my medal.
I don’t know if “fun” was the word I’d use to describe the experience, but in that moment, it became clear why I wanted to run the marathon and why it won’t be my last. I realized that I was not the same person that I was at the starting line or even at Mile 19, when I doubted whether I could complete 26.2 again.
The confidence gained through confronting and conquering my inner demons, defying my own expectations and proving myself wrong will linger long after the pain in my legs has subsided.
Long Island native Tara Conry is newsday.com's Nassau community journalist.