The deal was simple – if I would run the New York City Marathon, my dad would pay for it. The idea of spending time in New York, visiting all the places I knew from the movies and running my first marathon -all paid for by my father- was the best motivation for a 22-year-old. So this is my story on running the New York City Marathon. 

My first marathon

It was 2003 and I am not even sure when, why or how it came up. But before I knew it, I was training for the New York City Marathon. My dad and I had made the deal. We would both participate, he would pay for the trip, but only if I would make it. 

As the New York City marathon was my very first marathon (with others, including the Athens Marathon, the Eindhoven, Berlin and Rotterdam marathons following later).

The New York City Marathon experience

The New York City Marathon, like every marathon, starts in the kilometers and kilometers you spend training at home. The hours and hours of training, exploring cities running, getting ready, finding the best routes, mental preparation, food tests. 

And then the trip. The hours on the plane with nothing to do, contemplating on the challenge ahead. The days before the marathon limiting the time and distance strolling through vast New York

The first true realisation with me came two days before the marathon when we were picking up our start numbers for the marathon. The immense scale of the venue, the hyper professional and efficient way thousands and thousands of other runners were given their numbers and prepared for their special runs.

It is hard to beat the New York City Marathon experience. 

And then the marathon didn’t even start.

The super-early morning bus polonaise to the start. The waiting game before the start. The longest urinior of the world. Gathering for the start. The national anthem. And then, the start. 

The first moments over Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge before heading into the other distinct and different boroughs. Hipsters, Jews, Tourists … The New York City Marathon course runs through all five of New York City’s boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan’s iconic Central Park.

The most impressive was without a doubt crossing the East River via the Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge into Manhattan. The only sound is the rhythmic steps of the other runners before an ever louder roar approaches you … Manhattan. The moment of leaving the bridge and turning onto the main road was emotional, I completely teared up. 

Some 20 miles in, and still on schedule for a 3h30-3h40 finish, I passed a sponsored stand with power gels. At that time that looked like an amazing idea and I took a gel for the last few kilometers. What I didn’t know then and was just about to learn is that because a marathon is such a strain on your body, it literally starts to shut down specific body functions to be able to focus on. One of the first functions to shut down is your stomach. After a while, it won’t process new food.

And if your stomach won’t process food it only has one way out … back the way it came in. So one of my first encounters with Central Park during the New York City Marathon was one of my having a face-to-face encounter with a tree and some leaves. 

To even more credit of the hyper-professional organisation, within seconds a steward was standing next to me checking on me. After a brief stop I actually felt totally fine and was able to continue my marathon.

I had lost some time, but was finally able to finish within 4h00.

The finish is surreal. The emotions of finishing, the professionalism of the volunteers that check if you’re ok, give you some water and a blanket to keep you warm. Amazing.

New York city marathon 2004
New York city marathon 2004

After the run, for days, people will walk the streets with their New York City Marathon medal as a badge of honour.

Some learnings

  • When running the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge (the first bridge you will cross), run on the ‘inside’ of the bridge when you’re running on the bottom deck as runners on the upper deck will sometimes take a bathroom break. The wind will often do a great job in baptising the runners on the lower deck.
  • Train with gels and stick with the same gels. I got into trouble because I didn’t train with any. 

Looking back at my New York City Marathon experience

Don’t expect to run your best time ever. Don’t expect everything to go perfect, but you’ll love your New York City Marathon run.

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