New York Marathon 2018

ProSport Runner Wendy Wood relives the adventure…

Living in New York for 12 months in 1985, I would almost daily head to Central Park - it was my oasis. The thought of entering the park again 33 years later to finish a marathon was so exciting. 

Joining the ProSport New York Marathon group was a perfect way for me to train for the event with likeminded, positive people. I loved being part of this new community. The 5:30 am Wednesday run sessions were my favourite and the varied routes for the Saturday long runs were awesome. I had never caught a train and then run home and doing that with the Tasmania group for the 36km run was actually fun! I was always jealous of Tim Hazell’s NYC marathon arm warmers on those cold early morning runs.

We had all made our own way to New York and collected our race packs from the convention centre. I was certainly not confident enough to buy a finishers top.

It was great to meet up with the ProSport gang on the Saturday to have a penultimate jog along 6th Avenue and into Central Park to check out the finish line. The carb loading dinner that night was a perfect chance to ask random questions and Strappy tried to come up with all the answers!

Race day arrived and I had been advised by a friend to appreciate every moment. As we were making our way to the buses, I looked up and saw the moon shining brightly. That was pretty special amongst all the city lights. I found the lengthy ride to Staten Island calming. Cass and I didn’t discuss race plans or what we wished we had done. The phrase ‘you’ll be fine’ is one I try not to use ‘just do stuff and have fun’ works better for me. Injuries had prevented Cass from doing much running in the last couple of months, but she was going to be a starter in the 2018 NYC marathon! 

We finally got off the bus and I was reminded of the general state of alert around major events. Army personnel in helmets with machine guns, bag checks and security gates only allowing runners to enter.

The queues for the toilet were a great chance to chat. One couple in front of me gave me a few tips (which I can’t remember) and told me how awesome all the American marathons are. Next stop was to head to my designated area. I was allocated to the second wave in the Orange group and due to start at 10:15. I found a small grassy patch in the sun, sat down and observed the people around me. Some lying peacefully, some chatting nervously, others giving advice to anyone that wanted to listen, but most just looked super excited to be so close to the start line. I was one of them.

The first deafening cannon blast went off at 9:15 for the wheelchair athletes, the professional males and females were the next to start. I had a nervous moment when I heard the 9:45 cannon as that was when most of the ProSport runners were heading off and I knew I was next. My corral opened up and before long I was shredding off my extra layers and dumping them into big charity bins. My name was now exposed on my shirt and several volunteers were already yelling ‘Wendy, you are awesome’ before I had even reached the start line. It was a perfect day for running. Cloudless skies, barely any wind and cool temperatures - we were lucky! Star-Spangled Banner was proudly sung, the cannon was fired and we were off. ‘New York, New York’ was being played as I crossed the start line at the bottom of the Verrazano Bridge. My journey through the five boroughs of Manhattan with 53,000 other runners had begun. The view of Manhattan from the top of that first bridge was superb. As I headed down I realised that I had tied my shoelaces way too tight. I was a bit concerned but didn’t want to stop. The hydration stations were frequent and I tried to consume at least a mouthful of water at most of them. I carried three gels and planned to take one after each 10km. Running through Brooklyn was awesome. The crowd support was incredible and the highlight for me was a group of gospel singers, probably five rows deep, passionately singing on the steps of their church. The cheering from the spectators was so uplifting - it was estimated that there were more than a million spectators along the route. I loved it when I heard one of the many bands playing an AC/DC song. At the halfway point I was feeling ok. It was probably at about the 25 km mark my mind started to worry about how far I still had to go. I had been told on numerous occasions how tough the second half would be, so I had to focus on the good things ahead of me. That was easy as I knew that Strappy and my family were planning on being along First Avenue at 102nd Street. Strappy was easy to recognise in his Big Freeze beanie and I am so thankful to him for standing there all morning supporting the ProSport runners. It gave me a much needed lift at the 30km mark. A little bit further along I was cheered on by family and friends. That was fantastic and I really loved their support.

Another 12 km to go and now my mind was thinking about whether I could actually break 4 hours. The rolling bridges into and out of the Bronx were challenging but again the support of the crowd really helped me. Heading back downtown along tree lined 5th Avenue was tough. I was looking out for my support crew again at 102nd Street. So funny that they missed me, although I had spotted them. There was no way I was going to run back and get high 5’s. That made me laugh.

Another couple of kms and I was entering Central Park. I was hurting but reminded myself how lucky I was to be back in my oasis. The crowd was incredible. It was the best part of the race. I barely recall crossing the finish line. My body had given everything, I felt nauseous and a bit wobbly, but I had done it.

It was a long walk through the finishers chute where we were given our medals, had thermal blankets wrapped around us, smiled bravely for the finishers photo and collected show bags. I was freezing and so grateful for the warm fleece lined poncho that I was eventually given. Finally heading out of the park and hobbling through the crowds I went to meet the others. I think my family were surprised when I met them with tears of emotion rather than a great big smile. The marathon had hurt.

Strappy was there giving out hugs of congratulations. The ProSport runners had done their absolute best to get round the course and he seemed so proud. And wow, Cass had made it - an incredible example of the guts and determination needed to complete a marathon.

I caught a taxi back to where I was staying as there was no way I was going to make it down and up the steps of the subway.

Monday night we all met up again for a superb dinner at Buddakan. I was told about the scene from ‘Sex and the City’ where they had a dinner at this very restaurant. We had a couple of big tables and it was a great chance to discuss our big day out on the streets of New York. It was such a fun dinner - thanks for organising Strappy. The food was amazing!

When our dinner had finished, many headed off to a nearby Aussie Bar to watch ‘the race that stops a nation’. Funny, that 24 hours earlier we had run in a race that stopped New York City.

My one regret is that my body was way too sore to have another run in Central Park before we left.

I loved my experience at the NYC marathon and am grateful for all the training I completed with the ProSport group back in Melbourne. Special thanks to Tim H, Carly and Strappy for all the advice, training plans and words of motivation. Bring on the next ProSport adventure!