Traveling to the start of the NYC Marathon last Sunday morning, I cringed at the thought of what was to come. The blustery winds roared and the temperatures were just above 40º F. As the long caravan of busses slowly made its forward way over the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, the mood was somber and the runners fidgeted nervously.
After four months of dedicated training under the tutelage of ASICS running coach Andrew Kastor, I was laser-focused on qualifying for the 2016 Boston Marathon. But, this was not a day for personal records, fast times, or dreams. The weather conditions were daunting.
I joined 50,000 other runners in the corrals and began to mentally prepare for my race. As the wind howled and sound of helicopters thumped all around me, I covered my ears with my misshapen hand-knit mittens and thought about my training. Weather be damned, I was sticking to my plan.
The cannons boomed and sent the first wave of runners hurdling forward over the bridge. The cross-wind was so severe that I found myself taking one step forward and two steps to the right to regain my balance in several spots. But, I felt like I was on top of the world. If I didn’t already have goosebumps from the frigid temperatures, the stunning view of Manhattan would have done it.
As we entered Brooklyn, the crowds greeted us with a concussive wave of sound and positive energy. I printed my first name in bold letters across the front of my shirt, and the fervent spectators screamed “Go Jason!” as I ran past them. I felt like a rock star and I was running effortlessly. This is the 26.2 miles of race magic that you can only find in New York City.
You realize how loud and passionate the race fans are once you begin your climb over the Queensboro Bridge. The music, clapping, and screams fade as the measured sounds of footsteps and breathing take center stage. The pace slows and runners come to terms with the full measure of the race.
After crossing the bridge, the reception on First Avenue is sensational. The momentum carries runners through Queens and all the way to the Bronx where ‘the wall’ awaits. At mile 20, many runners have run out of fuel. The carbs from the spaghetti dinners are spent, and the wheels fall off. This is the point in the race that truly tests the will of every NYC Marathon participant.
As the father of a teenage girl, I’m familiar with the music of Taylor Swift. I never thought her music would help me qualify for Boston, but it did. As I turned left off the Willis Avenue Bridge determined to run strong, the lyrics of Shake It Off connected with me. I felt a rush of energy and pumped my fist in the air as I surged toward Harlem and Manhattan.
The last few miles through Central Park were a struggle. The legs were done, but the spirit prevailed. What was literally “a walk in the park” just days before, had turned into a very challenging climb to the finish. Moments later, I crossed the line with arms raised in victory. And, as Dr. George Sheehan would say, I had collected another rocking chair memory.
I ran a personal best and qualified for Boston on a cold and windy day thanks to the support and enthusiasm of two million New Yorkers. Thank you all. And thank you to the New York Road Runners, the race sponsors, and the thousands of volunteers for a glorious experience.