This is an interview in a series about different fitness events around the world and the people who traveled to compete in them. I hope these stories of destination races inspire you by their perseverance and excitement for fitness and travel, as well as push you to plan your next vacation around a fitness event!
This month’s interview is with…myself! I wanted to kick off this series with my personal story about my most recent destination race: running the 2016 NYC marathon.
If you ever want to experience every emotion you capable of feeling. Run a marathon.
From happy to sad to frustrated to proud, your body pushes itself mentally, physically, and emotionally during a marathon. Here is my story:
Tears streamed down my face as the sound of the National Anthem filled the air. Thousands of people – big, small, old, young, every nationality, race, and religion – were about to embark on one of the most physically challenging things you can do: run a marathon.
I pushed myself through 20 weeks of preparation. Ran through four countries and nine states. And got psyched about returning to my favorite city, New York, for this special event.
Running the marathon was not without it’s setbacks. I nearly quit a few times, though the energy and beauty of the New York City streets definitely helped push me along.
The NYC Marathon is a race most people know about, what made you decide to run the race in 2016?
Running a marathon is a goal I’ve always had for myself. I actually attempted a marathon 5 years ago, but failed ¾ of the way through because of a back injury (and way less self motivation than I have now).
Last January, I was reading a post on Fit Travels, about her sister completing the NYC Marathon in 2015. And I thought, ‘Yes! NYC is my favorite city on earth. That is the marathon I want to run!”. So, I signed up for a chance at running through their lottery (not everyone gets in, they pull names), with the hopes that maybe I would be accepted.
Then, in March, I landed in NYC (after being away for 1.5 years) and checked my email once I got to the airport. I was accepted! It was perfect timing. Two hundred and fifty (un-refundable) dollars were also immediately deducted from my bank account, so there was no backing out!
How were you able to fit training in with traveling?
This was tricky for sure, as the 20-week training schedule I followed took place while I was almost entirely nomadic. I traveled through South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the whole eastern coast of the US. Luckily, running can be done anywhere. I used running as an opportunity to see things and get a feel for where I was. For example, I had a 10 mile run down the Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul. I had an 18 mile run along Lake Champlain in Vermont. And a 5-mile taper run over the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston.
I got to see some places I wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t training: a super old cemetery in Queens, the Augusta rail trail in Georgia, and a seaside neighborhood in Okinawa.
The hardest thing was definitely motivating myself during some travel days. I just made sure to listen to my body and knew that if I missed a training day, it was okay!
This was a destination fitness event, so how were you able to combine racing/preparing with exploring and sightseeing?
I planned four nights and four days in NYC so that I would be able to do and see and eat everything I wanted, as well as be ready to go for the race. The two days before the race, I walked around a lot and did your typical sightseeing. Then, of course, one day was fully taken up by the race. My last day (I was quite sore), I did a lot of eating and ubered around the city.
I would say, if you can, don’t plan on arriving the night before the race or leaving the same day as the race. Especially if it is a new destination, you will want to feel settled and ready. If you are planning a vacation around the event, try and plan the bulk of the vacation for after the event.
Race day! Take us through what it was like that day: the build – up, running the race, finishing.
What an overhaul of emotions. Really. I’ve never been so happy, so sad, so frustrated, and so overwhelmed all at the same time.
The build up to the race was quite exciting. My starting time wasn’t until 10:50, but my day began at around 5:30am. I took the subway from Queens to the Staten Island Ferry and every stop along the subway more and more marathoners got on. By the time we reached the stop for the ferry, the entire subway was filled with people running the marathon. Everyone was cheering and giddy and ready to go.
The start of the marathon was probably the most emotional for me. I was squished, shoulder to shoulder, with thousands of other people. The MC counted down, Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ played on the speakers, and I was bawling. Ha!
Once I crossed the start line, the first 5 miles or so were pure elation. I was so happy. The streets of NYC were pulsing with energy, and I was amped.
From miles 5 to 10 it kicked in that I was going to be running for a long time, but I was still in good spirits. I high-fived kids, read all of the funny signs, rocked out to the bands playing, and generally enjoyed myself.
My friend Bonnie was waiting to support me at mile 12 with snacks and water, and it was really fun to see someone I knew along the route (I also started crying then, but think I hid it well!).
Miles 16 to 21 were the worst. That was when the pain in my legs kicked in. I had no idea that my legs would hurt like that! I also felt slightly better knowing that I wasn’t the only one, as many (many) people were stopped on the side of the road stretching and massaging their legs!
This 5 mile stretch was when I thought I was going to quit. I just could not see myself running, 7,8,9,10 more miles- ah! But a nice combo of running and walking eventually got me through.
Once I hit mile 21, I knew that I was going to finish. No chance in hell was I quitting with only five miles to go. This was also when I got to the Bronx, and the mood shifted. It was by far the most lively borough with bands, dancing and very excited spectators. I got a one minute leg massage + icy hot from some kind helpers which definitely propelled me for at least a mile!
When I got into Central Park and saw the sign marking one mile to go, I picked it up (as much as I could). This is when the tears came again (seriously, what is wrong with me?!). Everyone was yelling and cheering about how close we were to the finish. That last 800 meters was brutal – I could see the end, but it didn’t seem like it was getting closer!
When I stepped across the finish line, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and of course…started crying. This time it was full blown, deep sobs. I was so thankful it was over, so proud of myself, and so happy that I accomplished a goal like running a marathon.
What motivated you to keep going during the race when you felt like giving up?
Different things at different points kept me going. For awhile, it was the crowds and energy of the city.
When I was at my lowest at around mile 20, I thought about all of my friends and family who were following along with me. I kept getting texts from people saying things like, “you only have 5 miles to go…keep it up!”. I knew so many people were proud of what I was doing and I didn’t want to let them down as much as I didn’t want to let myself down!
What made this race special? Any moments throughout the race that made you smile?
The energy of NYC made this one of the most amazing races I’ve ran. Every single mile of the race there was someone there cheering me on. The city truly comes out to support the 50,000+ runners, and it makes all the difference. There were so many moments where a tiny toddler was giving high fives; a happy grandma was handing out oranges; or a family was cheering for their loved one…I couldn’t help but smile.
The best moments for me were when I was running behind someone who saw their family/friends on the side of the road. The excitement and cheering at seeing their supporters made me so happy (and of course, emotional).
What were your thoughts at the end?
#1 Holy shit, thank God it is over
#2 Heavy Crying. Like uncontrollable sobbing.
#3 Text my dad and tell him how bad I am hurting in this moment and how horrible parts of the race were to remind me the next time I say I want to run a marathon.
What was the most surprising thing about the marathon?
How many people there were.
I knew there were going to be 50,000 or so runners. But I didn’t realize how many other people it took for the marathon to function. Every water station had at least 100 volunteers. There were medical stations, police officers, sanitation workers, bus drivers — all working together to make this event run smoothly. Then of course the amount of spectators…it was incredible!
This race had every kind of person (race, nationality, age, gender, orientation) co-mingling in a safe and friendly environment. It really made me think about how good people are in this world.
What did you like about the NYC marathon, and would you do it again?
So, one of my immediate thoughts when finishing was, “I will never run a marathon again.” But after finishing and reflecting, I will definitely run a marathon again. I would do the NYC marathon again, but also want to experience other cities around the world and see how those marathon experiences compare.
What destination fitness event do you have planned next?
I’m running a 10k in Seoul, South Korea in March.
What top tip would you give someone who is traveling to compete in a marathon?
- Give yourself enough time before AND after the marathon to do all of the things you want to do in the city you are visiting.
- Look up and around. Use the marathon as a time to see some new (or old) sights. Let the scenery motivate you to keep going!
- Don’t forget to bring your body glide…you can never have enough!
Have you ever traveled for a race? What was it and what was it like?!
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