That damn alarm went off. Let's snooze it.
Second alarm this time. Fifteen minutes won't hurt.
Third alarm went off. It's 4AM. Perhaps I should take it serious this go round. It is race day for the NYC Marathon after all. But fuck, I'm tired.
I wobbled my 200 pounds to the bathroom, kicking over a few sneakers lined up in my hallway and Cupid shuffled my way to the toilet. The morning ritual has begun. Poop? Check. Checked my social media account? Check. Is my hair done? Nope. I touched my head and realized that my hair pins were still in from twisting my dreadlocks the night before. I had a mishap with my hair dye on Friday night so instead of the originally planned reddish orange center streak, I got honey blonde with mixtures of golden brown on the sides. Either way, I was starting to dig it. Even if I didn't, who gives a shit. Perhaps I should start caring about these things a bit more.
I took out these hair pins from my toilet bowl one handed, phone in the other scrolling through my feed. The excitement of the NYC Marathon lit up my phone screen but not on me. Although this is one of my favorite marathons, I was fucking tired. If I was lucky, I might have swung in 5 hours of sleep and who knows what the hell I had for dinner. I traveled to several states for almost two months, being this crazy weekend warrior. Please don't take my tone as being ungrateful but some days, you're over it. Doesn't mean I'm not passionate about the sport; it's just 4AM in the fucking morning for Christ sake.
Hair pins out. Bladder and booty empty. Hands washed (because that's important). I looked like bronze faced death. I glanced at the shower and decided to start running the water. If nothing wakes me up, hot water will make my soul catch the Holy Ghost or the Macarena. I'll settle for either one of them if I could get out of this piss poor zombie state. I glanced into the right corner and I thought it was a piece of black plastic stuck to my wall. Turns out it was a moth of all things. Strangely enough, this happened at every marathon except the Miami Marathon. I'm not superstitious or religious but it did give me a sense of deja vu. A part of me lied to myself and said it must be a passed on loved one who was wishing me luck on my special day but the NYC skeptic in me just said "it's just a goddamn moth."
After the shower, I greased up my body, particularly the underarms, boobs and my thighs. If you are a plus size athlete or chafing prone, you understand the necessity of this ritual. Once I put on my tutu, I started to feel the Marathon spirit and I no longer felt like the Grinch. It's the NYC Marathon baby!
]No spectacular breakfast this morning. I made two slices of toast with one fried egg. There was no more time for much if I wanted to make it to Bryant Park in time for the NYC Marathon shuttle bus. I harassed my husband for a few pictures. He looked happy for me and aggravated that he was waking up at my ungodly hour. He gave me a hug as he did the previous year, wished me well and zombie shuffled back to sleep.
I sped walked to the train station, asked the booth clerk if I missed the train. Obviously he was sleepy too. Turns out my 5:45AM train was slightly running behind but this is typical for the early morning hours when it comes to the MTA. Reasons like this is why you usually see an overwhelming amount of folks with signs on the course about marathoners running better than the MTA.
5:52AM: I walked into the middle train car and most of the people on the train looked miserable. As soon as the doors closed, I understood why. The train car smelled like brewing shit bombs and depression. What the hell did I walk into? Some folks just didn't care, as if they became immune to it after a few minutes. I tried to walk away from the scent but there was wall to wall homeless people at every section of the car. This is typical for the A train line on a Saturday night - wee hours of a Sunday morning, especially in the colder months. I reminded myself to not be an asshole, practiced breathing like most people do when you work in the morgue and kept my bitching to myself. If the rest of the folks on the train could walk the plank to their nostril's funeral, so could I.
On the ride, I met three other runners who were excited about doing their marathon today. One woman whispered to me that I would not be able to escape the smell. I nodded my head in agreement, took a seat not too far from a harmless elderly Asian homeless woman and started chatting with them. We exchanged stories about back to back runs for about ten minutes. I could tell that they were a bit concerned for me when they were leaving the train because the woman sitting next to me kept trying to touch my hair while we were talking. What alarms most people doesn't scare me much. Unfortunately, I'm not a stranger to people trying to touch my dreadlocks, which I usually shoo people away like a fly. It takes a lot to rattle my feathers a bit, especially when I noticed that she just wanted to have a conversation. Sometimes, I think people forget that the homeless population are humans too and it's not easy for them, nor do most take pride in being others' sideshow of disgust. Talking to her for a few minutes actually settled my nerves a bit.
The threesome left the train to transfer onto another for the ferry, an option that I refused to take. Most people think that the ferry is a better deal because it shows you the views of the Statue of Liberty while cruising our polluted waters. I happily skipped this option thanks to being warned by a fellow Black Girls Run member after she elaborated about waiting for hours for the ferry despite being assigned a certain time. In turn, I opted for the bus option that departs from 42nd Street-Bryant Park. I knew that I'd be able to catch a few snooze points while on the 90 minute bus ride.
Alas, I made it to 42nd Street-Times Square. It was eerily quiet. I promptly made my way over to the 6:30AM Midtown bus and stood in line with other anxious runners. Once on, I took the back end seat on the right side, listened to my music and calmed my nerves. I am no stranger to this ride and my nerves are not as heightened as it was in 2015. I used this time to get some sleep, as I knew I'd be hanging around for a few more hours before my wave.
We reached Staten Island's Fort Wadsworth shortly after 8AM. People scurried like rodents into past security to go nowhere. Unlike the Chicago Marathon, there was more than two waves. Being a slow runner in Wave 4, I had almost 3 hours to kill. I allowed all of the frantic first timers and Wave One folks push their way past others in the crowd as I walked slowly off to the side, searching for the Green Zone.
When you are assigned your bib number for the NYC Marathon, your method of transportation is listed on the bottom left hand corner. The bib also list what group you should stay with according to the color. Green indicated that I would be running on the lower level of the bridge versus the top of the bridge as I did in 2015. The wave number told me what time I'd be running. As a person who is a distance runner who averages at 11:15/mi for shorter runs and 13 - 15/mi for marathons, I was placed in the 11AM start. Elites are usually in wave 1, leaving somewhere around 9AM.
Thankfully NYRR gave us some basic essentials for the course. I was able to grab some hot chocolate, as I knew coffee would have me jittery. Volunteers and handed out plain bagels and Gatorade pouches to drink a hour prior to running. Personally, I don't recommend for people to try anything different than they're used to on race day. If you never took energy gels or gummies before, test driving this theory on a major race is not the time. Nothing like being exceptionally drained or like the Energizer Bunny on steroids on the course.
Around 9AM, I stopped walking around and located a semi clear area on the ground and sat down on the pavement. The NYC Marathon is one of those seldom times that I try to forget that dogs and humans piss and shit on the sidewalks. Disturbing thought? I know it is but it's true. Around 10AM, two people who sat in front of me went to join waves 2 and 3 so I "borrowed" the gentleman's cardboard box, pulled out my bluetooth speaker and jammed to Marilyn Manson from my phone to occupy time.
Around 10:30AM, group organizer of Runners United NYC, Alexie Bailey, saw me lounging on the pavement. He was joined by a pink braided beard gentleman who sported the most awesome vibrant pink tutu and a few other members. We all decided to take turns doing bathroom runs before heading to our prospective corrals. Most of the Runners United NYC crew were doing the run in the Orange section while I was on the lower level. I took advantage of this opportunity to gather my thoughts for a few minutes before talking to my friends, family and loved ones on Facebook Live. I know there's so many people who wonder what the Verrazano Bridge looks like for Marathon day so I took advantage of the moment.
As the time inched closer to 11AM, my nerves finally started to kick in and although speaking with everyone on Facebook, I told myself to have a carefree, fun and injury free race. The National Anthem played as a few of the military personnel wished us luck. I tried my best to not get choked up on the idea that I was about to embark on another 26.2 mile journey. I am a person who was told I wouldn't be able to run years ago. To reflect on how far I came means a lot to me. The countdown kicked in: 3, 2, 1...BOOM. Frank Sinatra's New York played as it does every year. I ended the Facebook Live feed, teared up and started my race.
You can feel the surge of energy bouncing off of every runner on the course. The Verrazano Bridge on the lower level felt much easier to me than last year. The incline wasn't too terrible and I reminded myself to maintain a steady, light pace. I could see a lot of runners going for 8 to 9 minute paces and while that may not be such a terrible thing, considering that we were all in Wave 4, I knew that plenty of people were exhausting their energy at the start. People like me were cruising on the course to take in the entire experience. it's 26.2 miles. I'm not doing this for money or time. It was just another experience and another run in the exceptionally long park.
The Verrazano Bridge is a bit over two miles long, taking you from Staten Island into the start of Brooklyn. Once you hit Brooklyn, you automatically know that you're there because the cheering and support never ends. I found myself running faster on the course, more than I desired to move. My steady 13 minute mile started shifting into a 9 to 10 minute mile pace. I could feel myself making rookie mistakes and allowing the crowd to keep me overly entertained. It is exceptionally hard to mentally stop sometimes. For one day, most people don't care what you are wearing, where you are from or what brought you to the course: They're there for you. Children who stood outside with adults or in groups awaiting to get high fives in the crowd keeps your spirits high. It's times like these that reminds me of how much I love NY. Other days of the week, I question living here.
Miles 3 through 6 went by faster than I expected. Before I knew it, I was already at the 10K marker, essentially 6.2 miles. I could feel my bluetooth speaker shaking from my breast after each foot landing to the ground and my neon green tutu flapping in the wind. I heard people call me in different ways: "Go Ballerina!" "Run Shauntay" or even "Run Shauna" because people couldn't see the entire name or pronounce it. There were a few people who shouted out my bib numbers on the course, which always make me feel weird because I never remember the numbers. My hands got red and sore at times from holding it out for pedestrians. Every other block had booming sounds from people or their music.
Someone must have sent out a memo this year because there was a lot of spectators who had chocolate candy, chips and pretzels on the course, which was a life saver. Energy gels and gummies start to taste horrible after a few servings. Every mile has water and a Gatorade station. I tend to pass up Gatorade every two miles but I never decline water. It is easy for your mouth to feel dry, in which some people feel the sensation to spit or feel congested. I drink water every time, even if it's only a few sips. Drinking cups of water on the run is like an art form of its own, as my technique is to create a spout while I sip it and sometimes squishing it into the corners of my mouth.
The neighborhoods passed me quickly and I found myself sometimes slowing down intentionally. I took an enormous amount of selfies on the road and even tried to let one of the drummers teach me how to twerk. For the record, it was a very sad attempt because these hips serve no purpose. I looked up and there goes mile 8. I could see Atlantic Avenue Mall and Barclay Center where my mother and sister once stood last year. I even saw a few familiar faces who recognized me from Instagram and this blog. Cheers went on for miles and I started to exit out of the heart of downtown Brooklyn. My legs felt incredibly strong, breathing steady and my mind exceptionally clear. My apps were continuously running and my music was a good buddy. I felt exceptionally alive.
I ran past a section of my neighborhood and kept going. We hit sections of Williamsburg, which was probably the most quiet of all Brooklyn and gradually made our way over to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I stopped for a bathroom break once my stomach started beat boxing a bit. The stop made me see a fellow classmate from the ShapeUp NYC program that I didn't complete last year due to all of my races. I greeted him as he asked me if I was okay. Turns out he was volunteering at the medical station on the course. Once we said our goodbyes, I headed back onto the course.
I could hear my messenger going off but as I warned my Facebook friends and family, I would most likely not check it until a rough point, in which I did. Miles passed, feet and body still feeling strong and then I saw the Pulaski Bridge. The half marathon section was ahead of me and this is the start of Queens.
Three minutes later, I saw Long Island City and was on the top of the Pulaski Bridge. Welcome to Queens! I have a love/hate relationship with Queens for multiple reasons. The cheer section tends to not be as loud as the other boroughs and the half marathon section wreaks havoc on my brain. Over three years of running and I still have problems mentally getting past the notion that my race isn't done at 13.1 miles.
I did my best to get the terrible thoughts out of my head, turned my music up louder and focused on every song that played. Although I have been doing my marathon training without music, it certainly did a great job helping me in Queens. You may think with my description that Queens was a lot of miles but realistically, it's only three. Those three miles are the worst part of the course for me and I could feel my feet ache on the sides. Most of it was just mental fatigue honestly but 14.5 miles welcomed me into the start of the Queensborough Bridge.
Queensborough Bridge was probably only 20 minutes max but it felt long as well. I switched over my Pandora play list to Michael Jackson. It was probably the best and worst thing that could have happened. As much as I'm sure that there were runners who wanted to slit my throat and throw me into the water, it helped me not think about the incline of the bridge. Unlike last year, I didn't feel like I wanted to cry. I glanced at my Facebook account, one that I asked my followers to send me good juju and vibes on, and read their messages as I was belting out lyrics to Liberian Girl and The Girl is Mine. The decline of the bridge started to settle in. The music wasn't echoing as loud as it once did. My feet started to shift faster. Mile 16 was here. Welcome to Manhattan!
Mile 16 is the notoriously known as the mile of cheers. Historically, it has the loudest cheering section on the course and it is also the mile that Black Girls Run notoriously fight to have each year to volunteer to thousands of runners on the course. Once there, I saw familiar faces who gave me warm embraces. While running, I saw Stephen Jackson, Running Coach of Run2Live, who gave me a hug while volunteering. He asked me if I felt strong and okay. I assured him that I felt great. Between the familiar faces, reading the Facebook and Instagram messages in conjunction with a great crowd, I felt my second wind kick in fairly early. The runner's wall did not get me here. I could feel my stride open up more as I tried to keep up with a juggling jogger dressed up as Forrest Gump.
The transition of Spanish Harlem to the heart of 125th Street inspired me to listen to Stevie Wonder and John Coltrane. Typically people would listen to certain types of music because of the beats per minute but I could care less by this point. I only wanted to enjoy the afternoon air, singing tone deaf with thousands of other like minded weirdos who now started to join in singing tone deaf with me to the songs that they pretended to know.
Rayne, my best friend contacted me around 127th Street to ask me where I was located. I told him that I wasn't too far off from the Willis Avenue Bridge, essentially the start of the Bronx. At the peak of the bridge, I noticed a runner who started cramping. I offered him an energy gel that I wasn't using and he continued along the course. I took a pack of Gatorade chews out of the sides of my Hylete shorts pocket to eat. Thanks to so much chocolate and pretzels on the course, I realized that barely touched any of my fuel for the day.
In the Bronx, runners were greeted to DJs playing 70s and 80s tunes, cheers and Afro-Cuban music. Although I spent a short time here, I loved the Bronx just as much as I did last year. You will probably never hear me say that any other day of the year because the Bronx scares the living shit out of me most days. I hit Grand Concourse and I saw two familiar faces. Rayne and his son Noah were there to greet me bearing the gifts of water and chocolate. I slowed down my pace at the start of the Bronx and gave them hugs.
Initially, Rayne asked me how was I feeling and if I was up for company. Well, it wasn't like I was going anywhere other than the finish line so I told him that it would be great for him to join along. Noah rode alongside us speed walking on the course on his scooter, taking advantage of the cleared streets as other cyclists did on the left hand side of the city blocks.
They were only going to join me for a few miles and head back home but this is my best friend that we're talking about. As many of my friends and followers on Instagram know us during our partner workouts, we have a ridiculous way of supporting each other, essentially why we called our Spartan name Team No Chill during the Spartan Super Weekend. Instead of two miles, Rayne and Noah joined me until the mid part of mile 25.
As he has done in previous races, he heckled me with dozens of douche bag jokes while making sure that I was okay mentally and physically. I was polite enough to stop tone deaf singing after two miles with him because I'm sure I sounded like I was mangling cats by the dozen. Around Mile 24, I saw some fellow Black Girl Run sisters who were either equipped with bullhorns supporting runners on the course or handing out hugs. In turn, I saw one of my favorite Black Girl Run friends and Albany ambassador, Olivia Frempong. By this point, we were both ready for it to be over. She completed the Chicago Marathon with me a few weeks ago and my lower back pain started to say hello around mile 25.
At the cusp of Mile 26, you can hear the cheers starting to pick back up. Rayne and Noah followed me as long as they could. They hugged me and wished me luck before they departed. My sciatica and lower back started to inflame. A headache started to build up but I knew the finish line was nearby. No need to stop now.
One foot made it front of the other and I could see the 800 meter sign ahead of me. I tried to pick up pace but my headache wouldn't allow it. Typically people try to sprint during this section but this wasn't the case today. Nonetheless, it wasn't going to take away from a glorious moment. I'm about to be a marathoner again and my weekend warrior journey since September is about to come to an end in a matter of minutes.
400 meter mark started to come into my vision and on my right, I heard a few people scream out "Congrats Latoya." A few more of my Black Girls Run team mates were on the side lines. I moved faster on my feet, threw up my hands filled with joy and two steps put me at the finish line. It was done. 7 hours even. I was done. It's about 30 minutes more than Chicago but I wasn't complaining. The medal that awaited me could care less. My feet didn't tell me to do better. My mind was at rest. I turned off all of my apps, used my phone to take a few selfies and a few smiling faces wished me the best as they told me congratulations.
I was handed a backpack filled with water and Gatorade gear to refuel and then I took a picture with one of the hired photographers assigned on the course. I contacted my husband who wasn't too far off. Unfortunately an incident on the train delayed him but I knew the unofficial 27th Mile would have us meet up right on time.
One of the volunteers draped a NYC Marathon space blanket over me and taped it. My body temperature was going down but not too terribly. I walked the unofficial 27th Mile, which is the pathway that leads you out of Central Park, towards the medical tent. They scanned my bib to check me in. I asked for two Tylenol tablets to hold me over to reduce the inflammation in my back and the growing headache. Once they checked me out, I could feel the drop in temperature heavily taking over my body.
Since I elected the poncho option versus doing the check in with the NYC Marathon, I received it on my way out of the park at 80th Street. Another female volunteer draped it over me and I could feel the warmth doing its magic. My legs finally started to feel heavy and in those moments, it hit me. I am a marathoner again. It took more time than usual to walk to the 72nd Street train station. My lower back was slightly inflamed and legs were tired, thankfully not sore. Eric, my husband, calls me once more to tell me he's at the station and headed down the stairs. Eric and my son EJ greeted me as I came down the steps. A MTA employee let me through the gate and informed me that marathoners ride free. I had no idea about this cool incentive last year but was humbly thankful for it this year.
My family gave me a hug and I walked down the steps using predominately my right side. I stood with the rest of eskimos, sporting our golden medals that was shinier than the year before on the C platform. Eric, Sr. took my backpack and assisted me on the train. We switched over at another stop to give us a straight ride back home. As we all talked about the experience, I took in every ounce of what these last two months have given me. I am truly blessed. Personally, I don't know many people who would have done what I did. I know it is certainly possible, attainable and done before me. I know this because anything is possible with the tenacity and strength of the human spirit. Regardless of how many times the human body will try to fail you, there's something about being passionate enough in your mind that it can push your body beyond its limits. I tested this theory over and over again.
When we reached home, I turned on the shower and allowed the bathroom to steam. I ordered food through my Seamless app. You had a better chance of a cold day in hell if you thought that I was in such pristine condition to cook anything. I ordered every possible thing off the menu in my exhaustion. The heat filled my lungs, smelly clothes leaving my body and the hot water felt like silk against my skin. Alas, I find myself here, basking in the heat, injury free, not a shit meme on the Internet and for once, no scars or bruises on my body. I really did it. I'm a marathoner again and even with this not being my first time, it feels so surreal to talk about.
I headed up the stairs, barely seeing my dinner and chewed a few bites. The real marathon was happening with my mouth. Felt like it took me forever to get through dinner and quite honestly, I fell asleep three quarters of the way through. The next morning, I took my son to school despite the sore muscles and headed over to the Dollar Tree. I bought every ounce of junk food known to man. The cashier at the register watched wobble over to the counter like Golum, hoarding 21.00 dollars worth of junk food and asked if everything was okay.
"Lady, I just finished a marathon yesterday and did eight events in the last two months. I just want my food."
The person behind me stared at me like I was going to eat her children. To the dear stranger who shot me a look of disgust, in all due respect: Fuck off bitch. I earned this. I know that she may never read this blog and if she does, I half way apologize because you don't deserve that much but I put my body through the fire and back. When I made it back home, I kicked my feet up, reclined and stared at my junk food pile, only touching the cookies. This has been an epic two months. With that said, I won't complain. I can only remain humble and thank all of the people who stayed with me along the crazy ride.