'Run a marathon' was on my bucket list for a long time, and when I finally decided to tick it off, I chose one of the world's big five, namely the New York City Marathon. The year I took part (2015) race day fell on Halloween; this year runners are gearing up to take the challenge on November 6. But you need to plan way ahead to secure your place. You get in by taking part in the New York City Marathon lottery, through its charity programme or by purchasing a guaranteed entry. Enrolling from Hong Kong I did the latter, and I'd suggest you look into doing this now, to avoid disappointment.
With your race entry confirmed, training can begin in earnest. I'd taken part in half marathons and long trail runs before, but New York was my first full marathon. To train for the event, I ran, hiked and slogged it out at bootcamp and yoga class.
Ready to run
I flew to New York a few days before the race to get over the jet lag. And my advice is to save sightseeing until after the run. New York is definitely a city that you want to walk around and it's better to conserve your energy beforehand.
Staying at the W New York – Times Square, I immediately got a feel for Manhattan. But most importantly, this property is only a five-minute walk from the location of the bus transfers, which take you to Staten Island, where the race starts.
The day before the race is a busy one as it's time to collect your timing chip, bib and souvenir t-shirt. You'll also want to get hold of some of the all-important, limited-edition, branded race gear – a must when doing a race of this magnitude.
Race day dawns with a 5am wake-up call, and the bus trip to Staten Island. As there is only one set of bus transfers and several waves of start times, there is plenty of time to grab coffee and energy drinks before your wave is due to start.
New York in November is very cold, so I'd advise you to take lots of throwaway layers to wear during the wait. There are plenty of clothes bins near the start line, where you can shed your spare layers. All the clothes collected here (and along the course) are donated to charity.
Staten Island to Manhattan
Although hard going, the race was everything I had anticipated and more. Running over the famous bridges of New York and seeing the Manhattan skyline in the distance, as the crowds cheer, is an amazing experience. The race takes you through all five New York districts. From Staten Island, you run across Verrazano Narrows Bridge to Brooklyn, where the crowds are out in force. From Brooklyn, you head over to Queens, and then Manhattan, with a detour through the Bronx on the way.
The New York City Marathon is tough because it's a very hilly course. Each bridge seems steeper (and windier) than the last. I injured my knee at the 18-kilometre mark, and wanted to quit at 30 kilometres but my pride – and my running buddy Amanda Hageman – kept me going.
In the final stretch, up Fifth Avenue and through Central Park, the crowds absolutely outdid themselves, and when I look back I'm not sure I could have completed the race without their encouragement. Amanda and I reached the finish line in 5 hours, 40 minutes with a sense of relief – and pure exhilaration.
Something to celebrate
At the end of the race you have two options, which you decide upon when completing your registration. You can either arrange to pick up a checked bag of clothes at the finish line, or you can elect to receive a post-race poncho, and head back to your hotel straightaway. I went for the poncho option and I was relieved I had when I saw the distance to the checked baggage area. Having just run 42.2 kilometres, I didn't want to be on my feet for much longer.
Back at the hotel, the runners got together for well-deserved celebratory drinks. This was a great opportunity to swap race stories and share the highs and lows of the event. Everyone agreed it had been incredibly well organised – no easy feat when you consider that it's one of the world's biggest marathons, with 50,000 participants. There was no shortage of drinks stops, first-aid tents and extremely helpful volunteers along the way.
This was an adventure I will never forget, as not only did I realise a long-cherished (42.2-kilometre) dream, but during the race, I got the chance to see all the New York neighbourhoods for myself, and interact with an enthusiastic horde of Manhattanites, Bronxites, Brooklynites, Queensites and [Staten] Islanders. Run the New York City Marathon and you experience the Big Apple in such a unique way – a way most visitors can't.
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By Kathryn Gardner