NEW YORK MARATHON - RACE WEEK (Part 1)
“I-I-I-I want to be a part of it - New York, N-e-e-e-e-w York”
Frank Sinatra’s voice boomed through a large speaker to my left, nearly blowing over the athletes passing by. Elzy Wellings, Japanese athlete Mao Uesugi and I threw our hands to our ears in shock and then shared a giggle. At times during the previous 24 hours I had felt like I was living in a dream. Sinatra's famous lyrics woke me up to reality - in ten minutes the starter’s canon for the 2022 New York City Marathon elite women’s race would fire.
Walking towards the start line was as wonderfully surreal yet familiar, as outwardly intense yet peaceful and as magical as I had imagined.
At 6.45pm on Sunday October 30th I touched down in Dulles airport, Washington – the same date on which I had departed Australia twenty seven hours earlier. The idea behind arriving in the U.S one week prior to the Marathon was to give my body the opportunity to adjust to the 14.5 hour time difference, get over the heavy-legged feeling that can follow long-haul flights and to fuel + hydrate appropriately for the race. My cousin’s husband Lucas greeted me at the luggage carousel and generously drove me to their home in the beautiful Bethesda, Maryland. I had managed to clock up about six hours of sleep, read a few chapters of ‘Ikigai’ and watch the new Elvis movie among others across my three flights. To my relief I had no trouble falling to sleep on night one. The following two and half days were spent crunching through colourful Autumn leaves on my training runs along the Potomac River and Capital Crescent trail, catching up with my cousin and her family, admiring the colossal buildings in Washington D.C and testing out the best bagels in town. My legs felt surprisingly fresh during my first run so I kept an eye on heart rate to avoid overdoing it – aware that my excitement may be skewing perception of effort. I was also fortunate to attend an ice hockey match between the Washington Capitals and Las Vegas Knights and was blown away by the crowds, pre-game entertainment, athleticism and physicality.
FINDING MY FEET IN NEW YORK
On Wednesday I made the three-hour journey by train to New York. I stepped out of Penn station in the heart of New York city and felt as though I had landed on a movie set. I didn’t have enough eyes to take in my surroundings during the stroll to my hotel on the corner of 6th and 53rd in midtown. I had never seen so many tall buildings. Times Square was decorated with bright, flashing billboards and food trucks. A guitarist wearing nothing but cowboy boots, underwear and a hat casually roamed between frantic pedestrians. I was intrigued by the steam rising up from manholes on some of the roads. At around 3pm I arrived at the Race hotel and caught up with Elzy at the elite Hospitality Suite on level 41 of our hotel. The view over Central park and the city was breathtaking. I quickly realised why, year after year, New York Marathon attracts some of the World’s best athletes. Tables lined with snacks, a craft table for kids, complimentary merchandise and warm welcomes from the event staff made for a very inviting experience.
The following morning I met my coach Adam, Elzy and her husband Jono in the lobby for a fifty minute jog through Central Park - known as the lungs of New York for good reason. Adam and Jono paid an exorbitant amount of money for a couple of Citi bikes and followed us along the busy loop around the park. It was a chaotic adventure featuring packs of excited runners from all over the world, dog walkers, playful squirrels, the occasional disgruntled comment to “stay right” from locals, wafts of sweet nuts from vendors and colourful trees with their leaves spread like confetti along the road. Our next mission was to find good coffee with the recognition that Australia’s standard would be hard to match. The four of us made ourselves at home in at a café called For Five where we chatted lightheartedly, momentarily distracted from the imminent race. We perused sports merch shops in search of souvenirs for our kids and scanned the aisles at Wholefoods for rice crackers, rice cakes and Rice Krispies. That night in bed, I watched a replay of the 2019 New York Marathon to get a feel for the course. I was inspired by the strength of our two Australian women in the race – Sinead Diver and Ellie Pashley.
THE FINAL TOUCHES
On Friday morning, Adam and I arranged to meet fellow Australian Kane Cornes for a light session. The extra hours that I had been spending on foot had left my calves feeling a bit tight so Adam suggested I cut some of the intensity planned for my session. I ended up doing a forty-five minute jog + six thirty-second efforts within the run. Adam provided positive feedback on my rhythm and stride, which was encouraging.
My brother Jack and sister-in-law Sarah touched down early that morning and made their way to our hotel for a catch up. It was exciting to see them! Jack was preparing for his first ever Marathon and whilst he had only completed six weeks of proper training following his football season, I was confident that he would not only complete the distance but would love it. We waited in front of the elevator and when the doors slid open, couldn’t help but notice a tall masked figure standing in the back corner. He was dressed in all black and had a strong presence. As people stepped out, my eyes scanned down the man beside this large figure who was easily half his size. It was Eliud Kipchoge. As the men moved towards the hotel entrance, Sarah looked at us and remarked, my New York trip is complete. She had only been on U.S soil for a few hours : ).
Early on Saturday morning Adam and I arranged to meet Jack, Sarah a friend from Adelaide for a very light thirty minute jog. Hospitality wasn’t open and I didn’t have access to milk in my room so I decided to pour blue Gatorade on my Rice Krispies instead. It looked hideous but was edible. I always find the last run before a race awkward. It’s a battle between wanting my legs to feel fresh and the pace to feel easy but also wanting to keep the run slow. With the rolling hills, people-dodging and chatter amongst our group, we ended up keeping the pace modest. Whilst watching the American 5000m national road championships in Central Park, we racked our brains to try and work out whether Daylight Savings ending in NY that night would result in an earlier or later Marathon-viewing time for family members at home. We got there eventually.
After the run, we met with Rob De Castella and the squad of eight Indigenous Marathon Project members. It was incredibly inspiring to hear what had motivated each of the members to run the NY Marathon. Adam and I caught up for lunch (I had pad thai) to discuss my race strategy for the following day. As always, I was impressed by the depth of Adam’s research into the course and competition. He started by asking what I thought I needed to do to get the best result and from there we consolidated our plan. Atypical warm and humid conditions for New York were predicted. Consequently, pre-race and in-race hydration was a strong focus. We set pace parameters for the early stages of the race to allow for the conditions but also the known hilly-nature of the course. I had been warned that it is easy to get carried away during the straight section along First Avenue from 26-33km, where the crowds of Manhattan erupt with excitement. Runners who managed their effort appropriately could make up a lot of ground during the final undulating miles through Central Park. With the plan in my head and a few nerves in my stomach, we headed back to the hotel to prepare my drink bottles for the race. Personal drinks would be available for the elite runners at every five kilometre mark and it was our responsibility to hand these over to event staff before 3pm. Following a race technical meeting in the late afternoon, Elzy, Jono, Adam and I had dinner at the hotel. With piles of steamed rice, a drizzle of soy sauce and a couple of bread rolls on our plates, we laughed about what we would do if we won the U.S 1.2 billion dollar Power Ball that night…. There were many options!
After a FaceTime chat with my husband Dylan and toddler Billy, I crawled into bed at 8pm feeling antsy but eager for race day to arrive!!! (SEE PART 2)