My 25th Anniversary New York City Marathon

My 25th Anniversary New York City Marathon

It’s been three weeks, so here’s my overdue reflection on the 2022 New York City Marathon.

November 2, 1997. That was the day I crossed my first marathon finish line. It was a cool and rainy day in New York City. My family – Chris, his mom, my parents, my boss, and my friend Kevin – out on First Avenue. On the west side of the street, just above 66th Street. Wet and cold, jockeying for position at the barricade in order to have a front row seat for the 30 seconds or so it would take me to pass by.

This year it was overcast, humid, and unseasonably warm. When there were a few rain drops, I longed for the heavy downpours we experienced in ‘97. Although I knew that would not be good – especially for spectators. In ‘97 my dad had worn a brand new red corduroy shirt and when he got back to his hotel room and took it off, his white undershirt was pink.

This year’s cheer squad consisted of my 22 year old daughter with friends at around mile 11 in Brooklyn and Kurt on First Avenue at 77th Street (mile 17) and again in Central Park (40k mark, close to the conclusion of mile 25).

So much has changed in 25 years besides the make-up of my crew…

  • Marathon Expo at Jacob Javitz rather than the Coliseum (now the location of “The Shops at Columbus Circle”)
  • Chip timing!
  • “The TCS New York City Marathon App”
  • Better clothing, GSP watch, and “fast” shoes
  • Fueling with Maurten’s gels rather than Chuckles
  • Running with a phone/camera…and not a disposable camera with actual film
  • Texting my family afterwards to regroup (how the heck did anyone find each other before texting?)
  • Following it all up with pictures, stories, and reels on social media and a blog post!

I’ve learned to have throwaway clothing I can discard when I get warm; rather than tying a jacket and a long sleeve cotton (cotton?!?) tee tied around my waist for miles. I’m also quite certain no one had a big Sony Walkman – complete with wired headphones – at this years marathon, and I’ve learned to run without music, taking in what the course has to offer.

The last time I ran New York – 2005 – I was overwhelmed with sadness when I passed 66th Street on First Avenue and thought about my parents having been there for my first, and yet at the time they were still very much alive, although it was age that kept them home and I guess I sensed what was to come. But this year, long since my parents passed, I was filled with nothing but gratitude for lives well lived including my own. It’s also been more than 8 years since I sat in that church on First Avenue and 66th Street when I was early for an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering. And the Fred’s Team cheer zone on the course on that block, I took in as my own.

This marathon wasn’t my fastest, actually it was my slowest. Even slower than last year’s muddy marathon on the Delaware Canal Towpath, but there are a number of things for which I am very proud. My miles had meaning by doing a small fundraiser for Mercy Home, an organization with whom I am now employed after 25 years of trying to combine running and fundraising. I also gained my entry to this marathon with a qualifying time – a World Major at that! And in spite of the warm weather, my lack of consistent training, and advancing age, I still finished comfortably and got to both the start and finish healthy. Finally, and maybe what I am most proud of, is who I have become as a runner and marathoner in the past 25 years.

A first marathon is magical because for us non-elite athletes is about personal achievement, sticking with the training, perseverance, endurance, and victory in simply making it to the finish line. Your time doesn’t – or shouldn’t – matter. It’s about proving to yourself that you can cover the distance, and maybe setting a benchmark for the future.

Since ‘97 my mantras have change. “You got this.” “Keep moving.” “Trust your training.” “You are strong.” “You are fast.” To this year’s, “No one cares.”

Not that I believe for an instant that no one cares about what I am doing – judging from responses to my social media posts , greetings on the course, and donations to my fundraiser – clearly all the right people cared that I was running a marathon. What they didn’t care about truly was my time. They wanted my time to be whatever I wanted it to be. For marathon number 12 – a victory lap of sorts, in New York City, celebrating 25 years where it all began – I simply wanted my time to be fun.

And it was. I high-fived kids in Brooklyn, was shot by a confetti gun, read the funny signs, stopped for photos, saw a guy running while balancing a pineapple on his head, was overcome with emotion coming off the 59th Street Bridge into the roaring crowds on 1st Avenue, got some “ridiculous support” from my New Jersey running crew staffing a hydration station in Harlem, and ran, walked, jogged, and shuffled my way through a 26.2 mile party.

I don’t recall exactly when it was, but I remember telling Kurt that if it ever took me longer than 5 hours to complete a marathon I was done. That maybe that would signal my marathoning days we’re done. Of course there was also that time after my 2nd marathon which took me 2 minutes longer than my first that I thought I was done… and that time at the 2018 New Jersey Marathon when I called Kurt from mile 19 to say I was done right there and then!

When I crossed my latest marathon finish line in 5 hours, 42 minutes and 11 seconds, the furthest thing from my mind was that I was done. Although admittedly I need a break. I want to get rid of the Covid weight, get strong again, and recommit to training. But I’m not done. Next marathon: BQ in my next age group. After all, I get another 15 minutes!

The most important thing that I’ve learned in 25 years of marathoning is that the marathon is whatever YOU want it to be. While the definition of success varies for each individual, it also varies from one year, one race, to the next. Goals are personal. What remains the same is the distance. It’s 26.2 miles. There are no shortcuts.

Victory lap. Central Park, New York City. November 2022.
On the road to New York

On the road to New York

It’s a long way to Tipperary, or so the song goes. During this past weekend’s Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle however, I was thinking, “it’s a long way to New York.”

I “shuffled” to the finish of Chicago running’s opening day at an 11:21 average pace and my slowest 8k finish ever. Although I had only run a total of 58 miles since the Bucks County Marathon on November 15 so the time was to be expected. Still it left me wondering how I get from here to there

2022 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle. Chicago, Illinois. March 2022. Photo credit: Micaela Bernal.

“There” being the 2022 New York City Marathon on November 6. I claimed a guaranteed entry twelve days ago thanks to a qualifying time I achieved at the Surf City Marathon just before the pandemic in early 2020 – when I was really shooting for a Boston Qualifying Time. While I fell about 2.5 minutes short of that goal, I made the New York cutoff with about 2.5 minutes to spare!

This is pretty incredible because, first, I have had my sights on the 2022 New York City Marathon for a few years. I have only run New York twice and not since 2005. It was my first marathon in 1997. This year will be the 25th Anniversary of that feat! Second, I had a qualifying time which is almost 35 minutes faster than what I did at age 32. Not bad for an old runner. And when you factor in age grade time. Well, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

I still need to get from where I was this past weekend to the strong, endurance athlete I’d like to be toeing the starting line at the foot of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on Staten Island come the first Sunday of November.  Today I sat down to map out a progression to get back up to 20 mile training weeks before formal marathon training will need to begin the week of June 27. Easy peasy, right?

In doing so, I thought back to where I was as a runner at this time in 1997. I was new to my job at United Way which was my first position in the non-profit sector. I was learning that running was also fueling my career in a positive way. I had gotten the bug to run a marathon in early 1995 over a year before I actually began running consistently.  I had watched the 1996 NYC Marathon thinking to myself, “Next year that will be me.” It honestly never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get in.

Not getting in didn’t occur to me this year either. This year, I knew if I had to I could run for charity, although I really wanted to run this marathon on my terms. I will still raise money for charity as I did for my first marathon, but again on my terms without the pressure of a minimum goal. 

In 1997, I had no running friends. All that I knew and was learning about running the NYC Marathon came from The New York Road Runner’s Complete Guide to Running, and mailings (yes, snail mail) from New York Road Runners. At least I had sense to join NYRR.  The process to apply for the marathon back then seems so archaic compared to the current process. 

One Saturday in the middle of May I stood in line in Central Park to receive a paper application (yes, paper!) which needed to be completed and mailed back with payment – and not postmarked before the following Monday. To increase my chances, I drove to the main branch of the post office on 8th Avenue to mail it at exactly midnight! I received a letter in the mail (I’m not sure how long after) notifying me that I had gotten in through the lottery.

Online registration for the 2022 NYC Marathon opened at noon on March 9th. For those with a guaranteed entry (qualifying time, legacy, 9+1, deferral, etc) satisfaction was immediate while the rest are waiting for the lottery drawing later this month (lottery entry closes tomorrow at 11:59pm by the way). One exception was those whose qualifying time was from a non-NYRR race – like mine. Our entries would be a on a first-come first served basis and would be delayed a bit while the qualifying time was verified. Thankfully, I was into the site and registered within a couple of minutes.

For the next 32 hours I checked my email for something from NYRR, my credit card app for the entry fee charge, and my NYRR membership profile for a a change in registration status from “pending” to “accepted.” Then at 8:06pm EST on March 10, I received an email from NYRR with the subject line ”You’ve been accepted to 2022 TCS New York City Marathon!”

My credit card was charged the $216 NYRR member rate for the entry fee. I don’t recall what it was in 1997, but was probably A LOT less while I remember thinking at that time it was a lot. I look forward to sharing another marathon journey with you and looking for all the things that have changed – and haven’t – in 25 years. 

Earlier today, I got the full-time job offer I had been waiting on (more on the specifics of that to come). I will be using this marathon to kick-off my fundraising for this “new” organization. I’m coming full circle…from my humble beginnings at Mercy Convent in Ballinasloe, County Galway, through my non-profit career and 25-years running marathons and fundraising.

1997 New York City Marathon. That’s me: F5056 with the big-ass walkman!