November 2nd 2018 – I am sitting on the plane from Shannon to JFK on route to run the New York City marathon and I am wondering how and why?
Let’s turn the clock back to the winter of 2012, I sat on our couch watching “Operation Transformation” while my wife was out running with the local fit for life group and I thought to myself I need to get fit, loose a few pounds and become active as I hadn’t exercised for years using an excuse of a bad ankle that wouldn’t allow me.
TIME FOR CHANGE
My wife Katie who had taken up running some years earlier and having completed a couple of marathons persuaded me to buy a pair of runners and some running gear. I had no excuse now but I remember worrying about people/neighbours/friends looking at me running on the road and what would they think? – How stupid of me!!
It all started with a one mile run from my house and slowly built up to 3kms run until one day I was ready for a 5km run – I parked the car up the village and did a route consisting of 5km, I don’t remember how long it took me but it was a major milestone, 5km ran, I was now a runner!! Better still at this stage I didn’t care about who was looking at me or what they were saying, the fear was gone. Slowly but surely I built up the running distance by adding small amounts each week. I also now appreciated and understood the need to accommodate Katie with her requests to mind our boys or be at home while she was running or exercising something I didn’t get before I became active myself, so it was a win-win scenario for both of us.
I never joined fit for life or a running group when I started and looking back it was a mistake as I did all my running on my own probably related to my earlier fear of “what would people think”. I now know the benefits of joining a group and running in company as it is a great way of making new friends and enjoying the social aspect of running and meeting people.
My first race I entered was the “Craughwell 10mile” in March of 2013. A local race organised by our local running club. I knew it was a big jump starting off with a 10 miler but was focused on the task in hand, I also knew a lot of locals who had done it previously and spoke highly of the race, the atmosphere, the “feed” afterwards and most importantly the Medal and T-shirt for completing same. The thought of a medal – I couldn’t remember when I last received a medal probably back in secondary school!!
The last week in March approached and I was on the starting line with Katie beside me – I completed it in a time of 1.27, Katie stayed with me for most of the race until the last hill she took off like a hare and finished a few minutes ahead of me, I know she could have finished a lot quicker that day but chose to stay with me encouraging along the route. It was a proud day my first running medal on home turf, I could now run 10 mile without stopping,
progress was been made, I was feeling fitter, losing weight and felt good in myself, the benefits of running were beginning to show.
Having completed the 10 mile race I then set my sights on a half marathon in Limerick on the May Bank holiday weekend. I completed this race in 2.00 hrs and picked up my second medal. The limerick half was a different experience as it was part of a marathon and 10K race also which gave me my first taste of participating in a big race event. On the way home Katie announced “If you can do a half marathon you can do a full marathon”. Those words rang in my head for weeks afterwards “If you can do a half you can do a full”
Katie had completed two Dublin Marathons at this stage and knew what was involved so after some discussion I was signed up to do the Dublin City Marathon in October 2013 – A year after I had got up off the couch – was I mad?
Marathon training is tough and Katie knew I needed someone to train with but I had no one, again if I had joined our Athletic club this would not be the case but anyway Katie had heard of a guy in the village who was training for the marathon and was going to find out who he was, His name was John Ward so one day at a 5k run in the village introductions were made by Katie. “Are you John Ward?” Yes was the reply – well this is my husband and he is looking for someone to train with for DCM are you doing it? Yes was the reply again- well off ye go together and train.
Well that’s exactly what we did we trained and ran the roads around Craughwell that summer and into the Autumn, without getting into the finer detail we completed our 1st Marathon in October – what an experience I completed in a time of 4.03 collected my first marathon medal which to this day is my favourite because it symbolised the road I had just taken – from 1 mile runs from my house to running 26.2 miles around Dublin City in the space of a year – I was so proud.
So sitting on the plane to JFK, I was now heading to participate in my 25th marathon – Yes, 25 marathons!! Which consisted of the following,
Dublin x 6 times, London x1, Longford canal x 3, Portumna 26.2 x1, Portumna 31 miles x2, Clonakilty x2, Ballina x 1, Craughwell x 1, Clarinbridge x1, Longwood Co Meath x 1, Berlin x 1, Amsterdam x 1, Budapest x 1, Limerick x 1, Galway Bay x 1.
24 marathons under my belt and on my way to try my hand at number 25 in the biggest marathon in the world with 60,000 participants registered for the event, one week after I just did the Dublin Marathon – it was going to be a challenge but one I had planned out that way – Budapest with Katie on October 7th followed by Dublin three weeks later and New York one week after Dublin. Yes I needed company at the start line for my 25th in New York of course it had to be John Ward –How fitting this would be as it was John’s 10th marathon and our third overseas one together having done London and Berlin previously.
We had two other club mates joining us also Tom Tuohy and Declan O Leary. Tom collected John and I and we travelled together to Shannon Airport all of us proudly wearing our Craughwell A.C gear – A club we are all proud of as we see the benefits of what the club provides to its members and visa-versa. So through Airport checks, immigration etc. and we
are on our way to the “Big Apple”. It is a 7.5 hr flight to JFK from Shannon – something I didn’t realise when booking!! However the flight passed relatively quick as there was a sense of excitement about the trip with plenty of other marathon hopefuls on board where stories and banter were exchanged about different marathons and races.
When we landed in JFK to our surprise New York was under a cover of fog and mist. We got through the arrivals area quickly and a small wait for our transfer to our hotel – The Westin Grand Central in Midtown Manhattan. The driver took the scenic route to the hotel avoiding rush hour traffic on the highway passing some iconic buildings and areas.
When we arrived at our hotel the most striking feature of Manhattan is the shear height of the buildings, there are skyscrapers everywhere – our hotel had 38 floors!!
After a quick shower and a change of clothes we were ready to hit Manhattan however we only got one block from our hotel to Muldoon’s Irish Bar – Typical Irish!! We had a bit to eat and washed the food down with a couple of drinks! We then decided to search out Times Square in the mist and fog. After walking a mile or so we were in the middle of Times Sq. admiring the neon lights, yellow taxis everywhere with the constant rush of pedestrians everywhere, we were dodging everyone –we later found out when walking in New York you always keep to the right – no one told da two paddies!!
Later on after more sightseeing we made our way to Connolly’s Irish bar where an old school friend of Johns is the Bar /restaurant manager however she wasn’t working but the Bar man stood us a drink – we said we would return again. We retired to our hotel around 10.30 pm which was 2.30 a.m. Irish time – time for some sleep.
8.00 a.m. next morning, reception called our room explaining that a Mr Gorman was in reception to see us – half asleep and confused I said send him up, To my surprise my brother John had travelled through the night on a flight from San Francisco to be with me for the weekend – what a nice surprise and a nice gesture. We had breakfast together the three of us and then we let John off to bed for some needed sleep as we made our way to the Expo to pick up our race numbers. After a short trip on the subway we arrived at the Expo centre and collected our numbers, we did a bit of shopping and as we were leaving we bumped into Tom Tuohy walking down the street – Small world or what!! What really struck us at the Expo was the amount of NYPD cars, trucks, and heavily armed officers everywhere. Unfortunately this is the reality in the world we live in today and particularly after the Boston Marathon bombing organisers aren’t going to leave anything to chance in the U.S.
We spent the evening around Manhattan sightseeing taking in some landmark buildings such as the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Trump Tower, St Patricks Cathedral, Carnegie Hall, Times SQ, Grand Central Station etc. etc. the list goes on – it really is such a great city. True to our word we returned to Connolly’s for some Carb loading and had the Runners Pasta dinner, John Ward met his friend Orla and had a great chat not having seen her since Secondary school, As we left and went to pay, dinner was looked after by Orla a nice touch and also told us she would shout us on around mile 13 tomorrow, hard to beat the Clifden folk!! We stuck our heads into the bar next to Connolly’s called Lunney’s the barman was very chatty and said he once did the NY marathon by running six miles catching
a bus to central park and completing the last three miles unnoticed to the officials – didn’t think we would get away with that one!! I’d say he had the same story for every marathon runner he talked to that night whether it was true or not!! We didn’t stay out late as we knew we had an early start next morning. I booked a morning call for 4.45 a.m. the call never came and wasn’t needed as getting sleep the night before a marathon is hard at the best of times, but in the middle of Manhattan where fire engines, cop cars and traffic are 24 seven it’s very hard to sleep properly.
We got up and togged out for the big day with the usual application of band aids, Vaseline, race number etc. Breakfast comprised of a small bowl of porridge, toast and scramble eggs, we were conscious that the race would not start for another five hours so eat a bit extra than what we would normally eat before a marathon, I still remember the advice from a fellow runner in London – eat only half of what you think you want marathon morning however this rule did not apply in NY.
We gathered in the hotel lobby at 6.15 a.m. where hundreds of hopefuls were anxiously awaiting their transfers to the start line. Our transfer came at 6.30 and we were on our way. Incidentally we got some advice the night before not to bother with the bag drop as it was about one mile after the finish line and would take a long time to retrieve our bags. We decided we would try and get a poncho instead even though we had not opted for same when applying. We nominated PJ Carnew’s pub off Central Park as our meeting up point after the race and John my brother would have a change of clothes there for us.
The morning was quite cold but dry, so we wrapped up well and would throw away unwanted clothes at the start line. The bus transfer was supposed to be one hour but with traffic and road closures it took about 1¾ hours, we didn’t mind as we had loads of time to spare plus the journey was another great way to see parts of NY and take in the majestic buildings as they protrude the clouds. On route we could see the statue of Liberty as she waved us on wishing us the best of luck!! Actually the statue was smaller than I had imagined. As the bus made its way slowly through New Jersey and approached the start line in Staten Island again there was a large security operation in place. Roads were blocked with refuse trucks with their big metal rears facing oncoming traffic. In each truck there sat a heavily armed NYPD officer but no driver!! We disembarked the bus at approx. 8.30 and had to walk about half a mile to the screening area. All runners were screened and bags checked again no chances taken, I can say the officers were all in jovial spirits and exchanged chat with the runners which was nice – in actual fact it was good to see such security in place.
The starting location is based in a military camp which had loads of space, green areas for runners to sit and wait and TG it was dry. The start is spilt into zones – we were in the orange one so we duly made our way there. Hot drinks and snacks were available and availed of, other tents had donuts, pretzels, water juice etc. in fact one tent had a therapy dog – a black Labrador again the Americans don’t do things by half. The UPS trucks were also lined up and ready to take the drop off bags back to the finish line for those wishing to avail of the service. There were also large blue bins for the unwanted clothing which is distributed to the homeless. We gladly placed our coats and fleeces into same and off we proceeded to Coral D in the orange zone. We entered our “Pin” – the whole area was
covered in straw probably used to protect the grass but was nice and soft underfoot while waiting around. We were dwarfed by the Verrazano Bridge in the distance which was the starting point for the race. As we waited we were warned not to be alarmed by the noise of the starting canon. Not before long we were starting to move towards the bridge – yes we were about to start, the national anthem was sung amid high fives and plenty of runners talking selfies of the large Verrazano Bridge in the background. As we waited next second a large blast went off which frightened the daylights out of me!! It was the starting canon and we were on our way all fifty three thousand runners. I will be honest up on the bridge and surrounded by such a large crowd was a bit daunting, however it was head down chat to John and dodge around runners for most of the two miles across the bridge, the first mile on an incline what a nice way to start 26.2 miles!! As we came off the bridge the runners were separated into different routes to help with the congestion, we would later join up around mile six. As we left Staten Island we entered Brookyln – a lovely part of the course with beautiful houses and neighbourhoods. The support at this stage set the scene for what was to come it was incredible with music and drums etc. beating out some familiar songs such as “born to Run” or Queens “I want to break free” yes there is always the temptation at the start of a race to get sucked in by the crowd and run too fast as if to break free. We kept it steady along mile five and onto mile six but I knew the previous marathon in Dublin a week before was still stuck in the legs. I wasn’t moving as easily as I would have liked but it was a case of take in the atmosphere and keep moving. At one stage I said to John “do you realise we are running the New York Marathon?” we were waiting over a year for this race and now it was a reality
At this stage all the runners had now come together and the race was congested in parts one having to be wary of the accidental heel clip or the odd elbow into your arm. Water and Gatorade were in plenty of supply nearly every mile, the only downside that they were supplied in paper cups whereby you have to nearly stop to take liquid on board which breaks your momentum starting and stopping. We opted to take water only at the early stages and forget about the Gatorade as we had our own gels for fuel. At mile seven we bumped into a familiar face wearing the Green and White of Craughwell AC none other than Declan O Leary, what were the chances of that among the 53,000 odd runners – small world again!! We exchanged a bit of banter and words of encouragement. At mile 10 to 12 we entered streets of total silence, a religious area that doesn’t approve of the marathon and don’t support same – they were busy attending church and going about their daily routine which you have to respect also. We had now entered the third borough of New York – Queens. At mile 13&14 the support was back with plenty of music to keep us going as well. All along the route NYPD officers were present and to their credit encouraged runners as they passed. Our next large bridge appeared in the distance, it was the Queenborro Bridge which brings you from Queens into Manhattan. We were on the lower deck of the bridge with the usual incline for the first half of a mile, at this stage it was quiet once again and all you could hear was feet pounding the tar. It was at this stage the going started to get tough and the legs were getting heavier – too soon for this to be happening so had a quick chat with myself – # I can I will a couple of times to myself, the slogan used by Dublin City Marathon 2018.
As we came off the bridge John’s friend true to her word was there shouting on the Craughwell lads!! We now entered 1st avenue in Manhattan and all you could see ahead was a straight stretch for about three miles with thousands of runners, all running their own race, fighting on at this stage. It was head down and notch up those three miles take in the crowd and atmosphere which was electric and get to mile 19. At this stage the Craughwell lads had parted and each one of us knew we had to run our own race and get to the finish line by hook or by crook. At mile 19 another bridge “the Willis Ave. Bridge – a fairly steep one which I walked up the last few hundred yards or so, we were now in the Bronx and my pace had slowed but I wasn’t too bothered as I had come to NY with the attitude to enjoy the race and experience. However at this stage not too sure about the enjoyment!! Never the less it was a case of keep moving through the runners (which now had a lot of walkers) at a slower pace probably around 9min/mile. My calves were tight also at this stage at mile 20 and in the middle of the Bronx up ahead was a bio freeze Station so I stopped up gave the calves a good rub of bio freeze and off again. In hindsight the bio freeze did work!!
As we left the Bronx a sign in the crowd said “ last bridge up ahead” as we approached the metal structure I was glad it was the last one – now at mile 22 and another long stretch of about a mile with the crowd in overdrive. At this stage I started drinking some Gatorade, some water, and one cup of water thrown over the head to cool down, this was going to be the routine for the last four miles clocking down mile by mile. The amount of chants from the crowd of “up Ireland” was really encouraging and gave some indication of the amount of Irish that are in New York. Entering Central Park with three miles to go another incline!! Once I got to the end of this with about two miles to go the adrenaline kicked in and I started to run faster, I was on the home stretch, as I rounded the last half a mile I knew I would finish around the 4.00 hr mark giving it my best sprint finish to the line I crossed it in 4.00.23 seconds – the time didn’t matter, World Major Marathon No 3 completed and Marathon 25 in total.
A heat wrap and a medal was placed over my head, mission accomplished. I was soon joined by Declan and John at the finish line as we proceeded to get a group photo taken- our other club mate Tom had finished earlier in a fantastic time of 3.23. We proceeded to leave the finish area and decided to chance our luck at getting a finishers Poncho – John and Declan were been robed up however my lady told me “ You not getting one” So I went back to the Guy who robbed up John – He very gracefully placed the poncho around me and said Congratulations. What a sight the three of us walking down Central Park in our full length ponchos. It took us about one hour to get back to our meeting point PJ Carnew’s Pub, As we entered the Pub the place erupted with clapping and cheering, what an Irish welcome we thought however we soon realised that every runner that came into the pub got the same treatment. We took a club photo outside the Pub and then retreated inside for a couple of well-deserved drinks along with some salty chips.
That night we savoured a night out on the town with our finishers T shirts and Medal proudly on display as did every other runner around New York that night.
The friends we made and the memories of New York 2018 will never be forgotten for a number of reasons but for me it was something that I never dreamt or thought might
happen some five years earlier. The friends I have made through running, the experiences good and bad along the way, the trips away, It has been worth it all and it has been some “trip” Would I do it all over again ? A big yes!!
Finally without the support from my wonderful wife Katie and my two boys the “25 marathon trip” would never have happened so a very special thank you. That’s it Zero to 25 marathons and New York 2018, who knows will there be another 25 and few trips along the way???
PS just entered the Ballot for Chicago 2019 – Don’t tell Katie!!
New York marathon 2018 (L-R) Tom Touhy, John Ward, Brian Gorman & Declan O Leary