By Wayne McDonnell
November 12, 2013
Since its inception in 1970 as four loops around Central Park by 127 entrants, the New York City Marathon has become a world class sporting event that has attracted over 900,000 competitors from all corners of the globe and walks of life. It doesn’t matter if you’re an elite Kenyan marathoner or just a professor of sports management at New York University, the New York City Marathon consistently provides runners of all skill levels with an opportunity to achieve personal goals and to raise money for a wide array of noteworthy charities. Anyone that has participated in a marathon can attest to the hard work, personal sacrifices and time commitment that is required to train for a 26.2 mile race. However, many overlook the overwhelming support, encouragement and love that are also needed to endure several months of intense training.
Running is a solitary exercise that is defined by a firm commitment to physical fitness as well as tremendous mental discipline. It also requires a strong support network of family, friends and co-workers that fully understand one’s devotion to running. For as long as I can recall, I have always wanted to run the New York City Marathon. As a young child, I was introduced to running by my father as he would allow me to tag along with him as he ran laps around the Pelham Bay Park track in the Bronx. My love of running has grown exponentially throughout the years, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the true beauty of the sport.
After years of wrestling with the idea and weighing a variety of options, I decided that 2013 would be the year that I would embark upon the long and rewarding journey to running in the New York City Marathon. Once that decision was made, I immediately knew that it would involve many sacrifices and it would adversely affect my loved ones as well. For the past three summers, I have dedicated my leisure time to running in a wide array of competitive races throughout the five boroughs and Long Island. I have especially enjoyed the charity races that have raised funds for cancer research, cystic fibrosis and heart disease. While I always had my family’s love and support as I pursued my weekend races from the Rockaways and Staten Island to Nassau County and even Yankee Stadium, I knew that training for a marathon would be a vastly different experience for everyone.
Officially, my training for the 2013 ING New York City Marathon began well before I received my June 20th acceptance e-mail into the race. By April, I was laying the foundation for a summer that would be filled with races on a weekly basis as well as a significant amount of time away from home. By June, I was running at least five days a week and easily eclipsing 100 miles per month. As the summer turned to fall, I eventually eclipsed 160 miles per month.
One of the most rewarding experiences that I have enjoyed over the past six months was becoming a member of the New York Road Runners. Not only have I been introduced to a community of gifted people that have a genuine passion for running, but I have witnessed the true power of sports in ways that I have never seen before. The New York Road Runners has created a welcoming environment that encourages people from all walks of life to enjoy running. It doesn’t matter if you can run a mile in five minutes or fifteen minutes, the New York Road Runners has opened its arms to all that are looking for a place to enjoy running and to learn more about the sport.
Two days before the marathon, I had the distinct honor and privilege to volunteer six hours of my time at the ING New York City Marathon Health and Fitness Expo at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. During my brief time at the expo, I helped distribute bib numbers to the runners that were participating in the “Dash to the Finish Line 5K.” I was blown away by the positive energy and genuine sincerity emanating from all corners of the convention center. Runners from all over the world were descending upon New York City for three days and their palpable enthusiasm was on display for all to see.
The morning of the marathon was defined by an internal struggle of emotions ranging from excitement and anticipation to anxiety and fear. You start questioning your training, nutrition, the type of clothing that you are wearing, etc. You even get yourself to a point where you are constantly running to the bathroom. However, something magical happens just as you are about to enter into your corral. Instead of listening to the frantic voice inside of your head, you begin to listen to the people around you. Their stories and journeys to the marathon are so powerful and inspiring that you all but forget about your worries and concerns. At that moment, you realize the significance of the marathon. A 26.2 mile race actually acts as glue and brings our society together on a variety of levels.
As you are standing in the toll plaza at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge moments away from the start of the marathon, you begin to reflect on all of the people that helped you along the journey. I immediately thought about my wife and daughter and all of the sacrifices they had made over the past six months. Whether it was inadvertently waking them up as I went out for a 4:00 AM run before work or postponing family plans so that I can run a race to prepare for the marathon, they were there for me every step of the way.
Once the race begins, your competitive juices start flowing and you automatically transform into a different person. You become focused on your personal goals as well as the course map. You begin devising strategies on how you are going to handle running in a crowd, grabbing a cup of water and even how to cope with the wind. At a certain point, you begin to listen closely to your body as it tells you when it’s time for a sip of Gatorade or a PowerBar energy product. By the time you reach First Avenue in Manhattan, your body is slowly adjusting to a new type of discomfort that is settling in as you psychologically prepare for another ten miles. As you approach the end of Harlem and are about to cross into the Bronx over the Willis Avenue Bridge, your body informs you of a new type of pain and bluntly tells you the remainder of the race will be more of a test of mental endurance than physical.
Nothing can prepare you for the final 6.2 miles of a marathon. At this point, pain is radiating throughout your body and all you can think about is how you are going to finish the race on your terms. As you begin to approach Central Park, you find that last bit of energy and rely heavily on the crowd’s support. Mentally, you are fighting the voices in your head telling you to quit as you read the inspiring signs held by the spectators along Fifth Avenue.
An esteemed colleague of mine once told me that no one can ever take away from you the feeling that you have when you cross the finish line at a marathon. As I had crossed the finish line in Central Park, a profound sense of relief and accomplishment consumed me. However, those feelings were brief as tremendous pain eventually settled in and my two legs felt like rubber bands. My body was in a brief state of shock after constantly running for four hours. Over the course of 20 minutes, the pain started to subside and the reality of finishing a marathon began to settle in.
In the years ahead, people will look back on the 2013 ING New York City Marathon and will immediately gravitate towards winners Geoffrey Mutai and Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya. Some will never know the stories of more than 50,000 runners and their journeys to Ft. Wadsworth in Staten Island. If one were to take something away from this year’s marathon, I would hope that it would be how sports are an international language spoken with great love and admiration. Race, gender, religion or sexual orientation doesn’t matter as long as someone is willing to compete and does so with grace and humility. From my account, that’s what I saw with my own eyes throughout my marathon experience! To say that it was extraordinary would be a gross understatement. It was a life altering event in every positive sense!