Hooray! With your support, I finished the New York Marathon yesterday, with a time of 5:06:19. This was definitely a race of a lifetime, and wonderful in so many ways. It was a glorious fall day, with bright sunny skies and the perfect temperature for running in the David Bowie powder blue suit from the Life on Mars video. Not too hot, not too cold. I was awe-struck and inspired, looking ahead at the thousands of runners on the road before me, displaying a rainbow of colours in their sports gear. What a glorious sight!
And then there were the crowds lining the road. I was in the fourth wave, which started at 11:00 a.m., though it was actually 11:19 by the time I crossed the start line, due to the thousands of runners ahead of me. So by this time in the day, the crowds may have thinned a little. But there were people all along the way, the entire 26.2 miles, and often crowded on both sides of the road, up to four people deep, cheering on the runners continuously with greetings, signs, and noisemakers. There were also musical bands of every genre all along the route, adding vibrancy and energizing the runners. And then there was the city of New York itself, all five beautiful boroughs. It was such a thrill to set foot on each one, with its own unique flavor and character, beginning with Staten Island and moving through Brooklyn, including historic Williamsburg where Hasidic Jews dressed in traditional garb went about their business, then into Queens, and Manhattan, up to the Bronx, and then back into Manhattan to finish at Central Park. I felt tremendous joy, excitement, and love for the city, with its satisfying, soul-pleasing mixture of old and new architecture. This is what inspired me to run the race in the beginning—a desire to see the city from this vantage point, roads cleared, running on an endorphin high. And now that I am planning to move to New York, it was especially symbolic to trod on every borough, and pledge myself to the city.
The physical aspect of the race was much different than I expected, though. In my training, I used the mantra “effortless and injury free,” from the book Chirunning by Danny Dreyer. And I did return to this refrain over and over again during the race. But I guess injury free and pain free are two different things! Due to a snafu in the transportation, thousands of us were delayed in the hall at the Staten Island Ferry terminal on the way to the race, crammed together like sardines, hardly able to move for over an hour. I was carrying a very heavy wool coat—my throw-away coat to wear while waiting outdoors in the cold—and my checked bag with warm clothing to put on at the finish. It turned out I didn’t need either of these things, as there was very little time once I got to the start, and I had to actually dash for half a mile or so to get my bag to the bag check before it closed. Yikes! There was no time to warm up or stretch. So this meant that by the time the race started, I was already in pain, feeling a weird strain in my quads and a familiar old pain in my right knee.
But I just figured, “What the hell, this is the price for doing something extraordinary.” I decided to focus on all the positive aspects of the race, and do the best I could to relieve the pain with the Chirunning focuses, some Motrin I had taped to my bib (a great tip from Danny!), and later, a Tylenol from one of the medical tents along the way. Starting out in pain that way, I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it, but it was the thought of my 47 donors, and my pledge to Harlem United, that made me try. So I really have you to thank!
I also reminded myself of my wish to run in tribute to David Bowie, and contemplated my admiration of his work and my sadness at his death during the few quiet times for reflection that occurred during the run. These quiet times were a nice change of pace from the crowd-lined streets, and occurred while running over the bridges. I have heard people moaning about those bridges, but they were a piece of cake to me after training in the mountains of North Vancouver. Easy peasy! A time to sail along, passing hundreds of runners on both the uphill and downhill stretches. I often put my music on for a few minutes during these sections, and thought about why I was running the race. (Of course one thought that popped up from time to time during the five hours of the race was that it was a very stupid thing to be doing!!)
Six friends had planned ahead of time to cheer me on, and had told me which section of the race they planned to be on. This was a tremendous support, and really helped me to feel a part of the city and a community of great people. Julie in Brooklyn had a sign that said Karen, but I don’t know if she saw me because she didn’t know I was running as David! But I saw her, and the sign. Once I crossed the Queensboro bridge from Queens into Manhattan, Sally and Bill were standing by the road on First Avenue, and I was so happy to see them. A block or two further on was my friend Mike. I put on my best Jersey accent to say “See you laytah for dinna!” And then another few dozen blocks up the avenue, I got a hug from DB. This was such a wide, graceful boulevard, with beautiful old brick buildings and masonry; I got a hit again of the wonder “I am really in New York! This is New York!” Once I’d gone through the Bronx and headed back down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, my fantastic hairdresser Saori (who gave me the Bowie haircut to begin with, and is standing with me in the photo above) was there with her husband, and gave me another wonderful hug. It was very special to me to have these friends turn up to cheer me on.
The interaction with the crowds was the most unexpected aspect of the race, and truly magical. Dozens of times I heard people calling out “It’s David Bowie,” cheering to see the Ziggy Stardust reincarnation on the streets of New York. These were clearly Bowie fans who were happy to remember Bowie and his music. At one music station, I heard “Dancing in the Street,” a Mick Jagger and David Bowie collaboration, so I really played it up, dancing as I went past the crowd. They loved it, and I noticed I wasn’t in pain when I was dancing. So from then on, I danced almost every time I passed a band, whether it was country, rock, marching band, reggae, or heavy metal! I do have a fondness for the metal years of the late eighties, and really got into the headbanging, though it made me feel dizzy, probably due to low blood sugar, and also winded me more than any other form of dancing. Those times of dancing and celebrating the joy of the day and the race really stand out as highlights of the day for me. Meeting people’s eyes, sharing the excitement, connecting through high five trains, where a dozen people would be lined up ready to slap hands as I went past—and all the signs they made, expressing encouragement, humor, and empowerment. “If Trump can run, so can you!”
Politics was definitely in the air… Another surprise was that the people who didn’t recognize the Bowie reference thought I was running dressed as Hillary Clinton! Lots of people shouted out “The Pant Suit!!” due to a recent YouTube video of Hillary supporters dressed in pant suits and singing in Union Square. So they thought I was showing support for Hillary. An unexpected boon of being the only runner in my wave wearing a suit!
The race was so much fun, with lots of short conversations with other runners from all over the world. And whenever I was feeling low energy or too much pain, the crowd was there to help me along. So I must say, “New Yorkers are awesome!!” And after the first 10 miles or so, I started shouting this out to the crowd. “You guys are awesome! Queens is awesome! The Bronx is awesome!” (With their super-friendly police officers and fire fighters all along the way as well, welcoming us to each new borough.) “You guys are awesome! Thanks for coming out! Woohoo!” It got to be a habit, and I shouted almost continuously for the last two hours of the race. I can hardly speak today, and I can’t speak in the high register (the Woohoo register) at all.
The final stretch was through Central Park, and then along Central Park South and up into the park again for the final .2 miles. Central Park South was packed with spectators, and the last little bit leading up to it was downhill, so I really put on the speed at this point, running the last mile as my fastest of the race. I was definitely in an altered state of looniness, and I waved and shouted to the crowd, and they cheered me on as if I was a real celebrity. It was one of the most surreal and wonderful moments of my life. Who was that pant suited woman/Ziggy Stardust man? As I passed the finish line the announcer said “And it appears we have David Bowie with us today.” This makes me cry as I remember it. If only it were true.
In the corralled area after the finish, I met another woman who had run in tribute to David Bowie and to her brother who died this year as well. We mourned together as we limped along, clinging to our medals. I went home on a subway packed like sardines (again) with runners, had a quick shower, and then met some friends for a celebration dinner at a hidden Italian restaurant on my block. The perfect end to a perfect day.
This morning I had the task of packing up for the return to Vancouver, and schlepping three very heavy suitcases down four flights of stairs. I could barely walk when I got out of bed, and I simply could not support my weight on the steps using my right leg, so I had to do an elderly shuffle, left foot step, right foot on same step, left foot step, right foot on same step, etc., all the way down. Four trips! But it all worked out, and I have a new respect for people who get around and deal with arthritis or other types of pain when they walk.
The final glory of the race was seeing a bunch of people at La Guardia airport proudly wearing their medals. I followed suit, taking mine out of my carry-on bag and displaying the mark of completion to the world. What a trip! I still can’t quite believe it really happened. I did it! We did it!
Thank you all for your tremendous support. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the race—I’ve certainly enjoyed reliving it as I shared some of the details with you. As a final note, people running for charities in the New York Marathon raised over 19 MILLION DOLLARS! That really deserves a big Woohoo, but you’re going to have to do it for me. Let me hear you, now. All together. Woohoo!