Last Saturday night I went to bed in NY. I thought I was relaxed then I was up at 2am, then 4am, then finally at 5am to get ready for the marathon. I brushed my teeth with hair gel.
The night before the sky had been a grey dripping sponge. Great weather for albino, arctic ducks. Now it was just cold (around 5 degrees and very windy). The immense start area on Staten Island was like a refugee camp, as runners huddled in groups out of the wind or waiting in long snaking lines to use the loo.
For some reason I was put in the first section of the first wave, watching the other gazelle like athletes prancing up and down the corral warming up. This Sugar Plump Fairy just sat dejectedly on the curb. Was I going to be the only runner in costume?
With a few minutes to go thousands of runners surged into position at the foot of the Verazzano Narrows Bridge that connects, with a long graceful arc, Staten Island and Brooklyn. Then the gun went off and we were heading up the bridge. The icey wind was shrieking through the suspension wires, as if through the rigging of Shacketon’s Endurance. The fairy wings were working hard as the wind was strong enough to clip my ankles together and causing some people to stumble.
But then we dropped out of the sky, entered Brooklyn and the fun began. The roads were lined on both sides with people ringing cow bells and shouting. Every few hundred yards there were rock bands playing and many mittened hands stuck out hoping for a high five from the Big Pink.
People were holding signs like:
“May the course be with you”
“Smile you paid to do this!”
“They said ‘run’ not ‘rum’ you lushes!”
“You want to get to the finish line faster?- take the C train.”
“Hurry the Kenyans are drinking all the beer!”
“Don’t worry - all toenails go to heaven!”
“Why do all the good men run past?”
I was smiling so much my face was hurting. Or that might have been the cold wind. The adrenaline and excitement of the start had burned away and now my legs were starting to feel a little sore. It had been fantastic experience, and despite all the preparation and travel it was worth it. This could end now and I would be happy. Then I passed the first progress sign. I had done 5k. Damn. This was going to be a long day.
And it was … but never boring. The crowd radiated enthusiasm. Whenever I felt like the pain was winning I would step over to the side, give some high fives, see the smiles and listen to the shouts.
Go tooth fairy! Go tutu! Go princess! Go ballerina! Hey did you lose a bet?
As the miles flapped away I was starting to feel more and more sore. I began flipping from runner’s high to concern that I wouldn’t finish. Mile 10 was one of the toughest – here I was knackered and not even half way! I was stopping at most of the drink stations (every kilometer), some of the loo stations and also for selfies with the best placards, yet by the time I hit half way I seemed to be on track for at least 20 min under my 4 hour target.
It's just after half way, when you’re well and truly cooked, that you finally plod over the Queensboro bridge (blissfully quiet after the roar of the crowds) and land in Manhattan and the tunnel of noise that is First Avenue. Stretching ahead and behind, in an undulating conga line ahead, are thousands and thousands of runners. You are dropped into the Manhattan grid system at 59th St and you know you have to make your way up to 138th st before turning around, and those blocks tick over very slowly. It’s 30km in now and many runners are walking out of the drinks area. Some are limping, others are walking by the side of the road, hobbled by cramp.
My own legs are twitching like a wind up doll, the Skins™ (donated by the kind people from Brandex) on my calves are doing miracles but my hamstrings are getting tighter and tighter. That’s when I did think of all you who were supporting me and had given so generously for the cause of Beating Bowel Cancer. Time to dig deep.
I’m not the only one suffering, a runner comes up alongside me and says, “Fairy grant me a wish - make this mile 26!”
It’s only when I finally turned the corner and start heading south to Central Park just five miles away that I begin to feel confident I’m going to get to the end. With just over 3k to go the course enters Central Park, and running in the sunshine under all the trees in their autumn colours is just magical. The crowds are very deep now and willing you to the end. It is still a very long 3k! The marathon is 26 miles AND 385 yards, and those last 385 yards take several weeks. Then it’s over. Elapsed time 3:48.
Thank you all so much for all of the kind support and encouragement over the last month. I’ve been really humbled by your generosity. In the end we raised $7,724 for Beat Bowel Cancer! If that helps a few more people find out about the symptoms of bowel cancer, pays for some screening or bends a politicians ear to get a national screen program in place, then it has definitely, definitely been worth it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey. What’s next? Any ideas? What would you like to see the Scary Fairy take on?