Running "with body and mind." - The Magic and Drama of the New York City Marathon

10 years ago

I have just returned from my third trip to the New York City Marathon. I am passionately in love with this event, the biggest marathon anywhere. And, in the most badass city on the planet.

The first time I watched the race was in 1985. I was only running the occasional 10K in the 80s and spent most of my time skiing and wind surfing. After having my daughter, I became interested in running distances and had the great fortune of having my application picked for the 2003 New York City Marathon entrant lottery. Last year I participated as a runner-guide for a disabled athlete. Unfortunately, a tweaky knee curtailed my training this summer and I had to cancel this year's entry that I won once again in the lottery.

However, my brother, who just turned 50, won a place in this year's race. He trotted with style into middle age by running the course as his very first marathon. I joined my family members and an estimated two million spectators to cheer on my brother and the rest of the 38,000 athletes through the five boroughs of New York City. The marathon is also a grand excuse for a street party. Combine that festive atmosphere with the upbeat sensibility of a motivational workshop, add the 'Rocky' theme song blaring as background music and you just may begin to tear up while you're smiling your face off. It's thrilling, inspiring stuff, witnessing a chunk of humanity sprint/jog/slog past you, all those sweating and earnest faces, all that heart and sole, and yes, that pun is intended.

Blogging women covered the event from both sides of the course barricades -

The very charming magickat, a "not-so-starving-anymore actress and magician's assistant living her crazy dreams in New York," watched the race while handing out swag goodies for Dunkin Donuts. She captures the sweetness of the race in this post:

It was herds of people. So many people it was almost overwhelming. There were people running for themselves and people running in memory of other people. There was a blind man running. There was a man with metal posts for legs running. It was amazing...I would yell out names (if people had them written on their shirts) as they were running past us. When they would hear their names they would look over and smile or raise their arms triumphantly. It was great.

There was a woman running. She was dressed like an angel. She had a t-shirt on with a photograph of someone. I imagine that person is no longer alive.

A man ran past with scars all up and down his thighs. Same scars on both legs. I don't even want to think about what surgery he had or why he had to have it. But he was running. I know that for sure. He was running and he was determined.

This one group of people were standing near the route. They were waiting for someone they knew in the marathon to run by. In a sea of 38,000 + people, this group was waiting. They saw the person they were waiting for and went nuts, screaming and yelling, and cheering. And she saw them and you could see she was so moved. So charged up from that. After she went past, the group all stood there and talked about how good she was doing, how strong she looked. And then they went underground into the subway, to go further up the route, to find her again, and cheer her on again.

...It was truly inspiring. Not only the runners, but also the people in support. Being there for them. Waiting on the sidelines for them. Searching the sea of people for them. Just to be there and shout their name and give them some love power to make them feel good and proud and alive. It was just beautiful.

Marathoner Natalie Wolf, aka, I Am The Big Bad Wolf was in the sea of athletes and posted a wonderful race report complete with a certain little song from a guy named Sinatra. Some excerpts:

If you are going to run the New York City Marathon, you've got to wear an "I Love NY" t-shirt. The spectators in Brooklyn were amazing -- they LOVE New York! Instead of screaming my name they screamed "We love you too!" or (the best one) "I love you too, Babe!" I wore my Girls on the Run tiara which I had decorated with my name and heard "Go Natalie" and "Go Natalia!" I high-fived kids. I love Brooklyn!

...As I started up the long, incline that was 1st Avenue, I looked ahead and all I could see was thousands of runners ahead of me and the streets lined with thousands of cheering people. For the second time, I thought about what I was doing, here in New York, running a marathon right through the streets of Manhattan and my eyes welled up with tears.

...When I saw the 24 mile sign, my body was ready to quit, but my brain was actually saying, "slow down -- you don't want it to end." Fortunately, I listened to the other part of my brain that said don't slow down -- finish strong. So I told myself (outloud) to dig harder. With 800 meters to go, a young guy passed me and shouted "C'mon Wolf, let's go!" (back of my shirt said "I Am The Big Bad Wolf"), but I couldn't quite keep up with him. A quick jaunt onto Central Park South, then back in the Park and uphill to the finish!

...I gave the NYCM everything I had. I ran with my body and my mind. I crossed the finish line with nothing left over...I must have looked scary, because no less than half a dozen medics asked me if I was ok. I could barely walk, my lips were blue, and I was crying. My fingers turned white from the cold and I stopped in the medical tent for a pair of surgical gloves. I don't know why I was so emotional. When I finally got out of the park and saw (her husband) Scott on Central Park West, the tears really came. I can only speculate that I have been so focused on this race, that when I realized that it was over, I was completely overcome with emotion.

Also in the race was Lisa Prosser who documented her workouts and races at Lisa's Marathon Training. She "woke up with a sore throat, stuffy nose and bad headache," but was determined not to let that stop her from running her first marathon in New York. But, the cold symptoms were nothing compared to some tough moments in the race:

Mile 19 hit my lower body like a sledgehammer. My back had been hurting since early on, but it was bearable. At mile 19 though, it turned into the worst pain I'd ever experienced. So in my infinite genius I decided to stop just before the bridge to the Bronx and stretch for a minute. As I bent over to stretch my back, every single muscle in my legs seized into the most unbelievable muscle cramp. I didn't even know it was possible for all your muscles to cramp at the same time, but guess what, it is! So I let out this little squeal, I didn't mean to, it just hurt so bad. And the medic came over to me to ask if I was okay. I was so scared that he'd try to stop me from running further that I ran away from him. Well, okay it was more of a hobble, but either way, no one was stopping me.

So on I went, convincing myself that if I could just put one foot in front of the other that was all I needed to do. By mile 21 I felt like the pain had again become somewhat bearable, actually I think it was hurting more but that I'd become delusional. Crossing back into Manhattan was great, knowing I was so close to finishing my goal! But at mile 23, I couldn't believe I still had 3.2 miles left, it seemed so far! I tried walking for a minute, but that seemed to hurt worse. And I realized that if I walked it would take me twice as long, so I decided the best thing to do was (in the words of my highschool basketball coach) "suck it up"!!

Mile 25, almost done! I had this burst, this completely insane, sudden burst where I could taste the finish. I was sprinting past everyone in front of me, I could see their glares. I don't know what it was, I was in more pain and more exhausted than I have ever been in my entire life, but the thought of that finish line was so sweet. My eyes welled up with tears and I will always remember the feeling of crossing that finish line.

A new blogger, Sarah of Sarah Writes, a runner who was not in the race, spoke of her pride as a runner and as a New Yorker:

The scale of the New York Marathon is a delight. All along its route and all around Central Park, the city is given over for a day to running (though, as one woman remarked to me as I was trying to find my way into the park in a vain attempt to run my usual route, it’s actually not a good day to be a non-marathon runner). So what if the blue and gold nylon banners flapping in the wind are corporately sponsored? If that’s what it takes to put on such a party, so be it.

...the marathon, in all its corporate-sponsored pomp, is wonderful. It finishes on the same Central Park drives that hundreds and probably thousands of us walk or run every day. For a weekend, our sport is the star of the city and the city and its runners are the star of the sports world. It’s a sport few can excel at but anyone can do, and so anyone can taste its wonder. Without fail, I find myself crying as the lead runners come into the final stretch.

Certainly, one of the most amazing of all the New York City Marathon stories is the return of British Olympian Paula Radcliffe, an international star athlete who has won the Chicago, London and New York City marathons and is the holder of the current world record in the women's marathon. Radcliffe won New York on Sunday with a finishing time of 2:23.

This January, Radcliffe became a mother with her first child, Isla. She trained through her pregnancy and resumed her workouts directly after Isla's birth. Mommy, pregnancy and fitness blogs are a-buzz with Radcliffe's accomplishment -

From The Baby Bump Project, a blog by pregnancy body image researcher, Meredith Nash of Australia:

New mum Paula Radcliffe won the NYC marathon for the second time yesterday...She led for the entire race and says her daughter was her source of inspiration:

"I just kept repeating to myself 'I love you Isla' to keep my rhythm going."

Paula ran throughout her pregnancy last year, right up until the day Isla was born. She resumed training 12 days after the birth. Paula is one of the first elite athletes to train seriously through pregnancy. For the first five months, she ran twice a day, 75 minutes in the morning and 30 to 45 minutes in the evening. Then she cut back, running an hour in the morning and riding a stationary bike at night. She even did training regimens like hill repeats — repeatedly running up hills to build strength and endurance. She was closely monitored by her doctor.

Rachel Sarah at Johnson and Johnson's parenting blog,
The Baby Center
, delighted in Radcliffe's achievement and reported some of the media's response:

Women like Paula Radcliffe simply blow me away. Just nine months after giving birth, 33-year-old Radcliffe won the New York City Marathon yesterday.

Radcliffe became pregnant in 2006, but that didn’t stop her training, according to CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano.

“She ran the entire time, at least an hour a day, up until the day before she gave birth,” according to CBS News. “And just 12 days after having her daughter, Isla, Radcliffe was back out running again.”

“She crossed the finish line in 2:23:09 and then held one thing that made the win even more impressive,” writes Solorzano. “No, not that trophy - her baby.”

In the New York Times, James Pivarnik — director of the Human Energy Research Laboratory at Michigan State University and one of the few scientists who have studied athletes during and after pregnancy — said that her “experience is a rare one.”

“As far as I know, no one has ever done what she’s done,” Pivarnik said.

Martha Edwards at That's Fit praises Radcliffe for "not letting pregnancy get in the way of her fitness goals" and picking up her training even after a long and difficult delivery:

(Radcliffe's) 27-hour labor even lead to a stress fracture in her sacrum. Wow. That is one fit mama.

Of her win so soon after giving birth, Radcliffe says, Generally, the happier I am, the better I run. Certainly I'm a lot happier with Isla in our lives. I think your body is just a little bit stronger after pregnancy."

Interested in running? Thinking you'd like to race in a 10K, half-marathon or the mighty marathon? Here are some resources to get started:

Venerable running magazine, Runner's World, has one of the best websites for beginning and elite runners alike. Excellent section for issues related to women's training.

A wealth of information on the sport can be found on runner's training blogs. The Running Blog Family Directory lists many women's blogs on its extensive roster of sites. provides information and runners' reviews on every single marathon offered on the planet, like the Antarctica Marathon.

Contributing Editor Grace Davis is no Paula Radcliffe, but she is a two time marathoner who also blogs at State of Grace

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