It's Not About the Marathon
In 2007, when I turned 40, I ran the New York City marathon as a celebration of my life in sport. I had been racing since I was sixteen, and I felt that I was ready to step back from high performance. I had two small children and had started coaching and my priorities had shifted. It was one of my last big pro races. I was so fortunate to receive an invite to run in the elite female master’s field, which meant we were given a thirty minute head start on the men’s field. It also meant that, after about twelve miles in, the women had spread out, and I ran a large part of the race solo. This was simply extraordinary, to be running through the empty streets of New York City in the early morning.
Unequivocally, running that race was one of the highlights of my career. Not only because it is really one of the most iconic and famous marathons, but because of a collection of memories I took home. I met and spoke with Paula Radcliffe, for starters. The marathon world record holder (until 2019), she came with her tiny baby, and her husband. She went on to win, placing 17th overall, in 2:23.
On the morning of the race, we were bussed out to Staten Island, where the elites were held in another location than the rest of the runners. About half an hour before my start, a black Suburban with tinted windows pulled into the warm up zone. I thought it was a security vehicle and I was right. After a few minutes quite a few young male athletes started to emerge from the car; it was like a whole track team of distance runners had arrived. I didn’t see him, but this was Lance Armstrong’s pace group. He had won his 7th Tour de France in 2005, had retired from cycling, and had decided to give marathons a try. He ran 2:59 in 2006, so I guess he was there to improve on that. I never did see Armstrong, as my race was about to start and he had to wait in his car, for obvious reasons, for the men’s start.
We were lined up on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and then we were off, I was off, on an adventure in a lifetime of running adventures, to run through five boroughs of New York City.
Somewhere in the late stages of the race, the elite men caught me. I knew they were coming as I could hear vehicles approaching from behind and the crowds cheering as well. The overtake was impressive, and I’ll never forget it. First a lead car with marathon officials hanging out of windows, then another press car, and then a police escort motorcade, at least five motorcycles in a ‘V’ formation, and then the lead male sprinted past and was gone. After that several of the pro men ran by, silently, serious, all focused on a finish line that probably couldn’t come soon enough.
During the last two miles, which wound through Central Park, I was overcome with an intense feeling of joy and gratitude for what my body had done, and for the path I had passionately followed for over 20 years. I had completed many of my previous marathons in an uncomfortable exhausted struggle, both spent and cramping, having blown up at twenty odd miles. They were grim finishes, full of the desire to be done with it all, for the pain to be over, willing my aching body to the line. It was a different story at this race. I was tired but still doing ok. Maybe I had finally nailed my nutrition, or maybe I had simply started slower and paced it better, but I spent the last ten minutes of the race smiling inside, to no one but myself. Those minutes remain some of the happiest moments of my running story.
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Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.