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The 2012 ING New York Marathon that never was

by Editor
Monday 19th November 2012
 
 

Race report: Sandra Bowers had been invited to New York as a pacemaker for the marathon and when the mayor confirmed that the race would go ahead, decided to travel to do her job

Landing in Newark airport, very tired after a late night flight, we were greeted with the news... Ian answered his cell phone as I jabbered exciting thoughts about our upcoming New York Marathon adventure. From the look on Ian’s face I could tell that the call brought bad news. My heart sunk and I felt physically sick. I immediately assumed that one of my worst ever fears had been realised.

Going back 13 hours in time, as we left for our house to begin our journey to America, I had been in floods of tears. Leaving the huskies behind had ripped at my heart. Kez and Kroi had sensed my apprehension all morning as I packed. They had followed me all around the house with questions in their eyes. Very tuned into my emotional well-being, they sensed that something was “not right”.

We were scheduled to be away for six days - I have never previously left them for this long. In fact you have to go back 19 years to find a time when I left home for more than a few days. It was a very long time since I had experienced a “holiday”.

We were also leaving our new foster husky Lara in the care of our boy huskies and humans that she did not know. A little girl only just adjusting to family life and learning about the rules of the pack and the house...

Kroft just slept as we packed. I know that it is actually him that suffers most when we are not all together as a human/dog pack. We have shared our lives for over 11 years and I know him very well. He silently deals with the stress and does not openly welcome our return in the way that the younger dogs do, in fact we have to go to him and request his permission to be a happy pack again!

The dogs’ care in our absence is entrusted to a fabulous lady. I still miss them and fear what could happen if I am not there with them. They will have six days of exceptionally good care and lots of attention, but they will not run for six days. I know the impact that this has on them, Kez in particular – it is not dissimilar to how I react to not being able to run.

Knowing this I have entered Kez and I into an ultra-race the day after we return from New York. An ultra that just happens to cover the first 33 miles of The Ridgeway.

Back to Newark airport and the news that Ian was receiving on his cell phone, I assumed that something very bad had happened to one of the huskies. Bad enough that an emergency call was required.

When Ian then shared the news of the New York Marathon being cancelled, I actually felt relieved. Huge immense relief – my “boys” were safe, that was all that mattered...

My feeling of disbelief soon took over. It had been a very hard decision for us to come to New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Our original flights had been cancelled and we knew that we would arrive in a city hugely affected by a natural tragedy. Earlier in the week when the marathon was in doubt, we came close to cancelling our trip, but confirmation that it was definitely going ahead left us in no doubt as to what decision to make. We had been invited to New York as pacemakers for the marathon, we had a job to do and if the city was able to host the marathon, then we would be there to support our pace team leaders.

Hearing of the cancelled marathon, my first thought was to return home on the first available flight. Ian managed to persuade me otherwise and we began our onward journey to Manhattan from the airport. The train line was operational, albeit with a very limited service and after a very apprehensive wait we managed to get a train into New York City.

While some areas of New York were still without power, our hotel was fine, as were all the areas we walked through between station and hotel. I was surprised at how busy the streets were – 10:30pm local time, we had quite a battle trying to negotiate the crowds with two trailing suitcases….

Arriving at the Sheraton, to be greeted by Star was when the tears finally started flowing. They were tears of relief at arriving safely; tears of sadness at the devastation of Storm Sandy; and tears of frustration at how the decision to cancel the marathon was made.

The infrastructure was firmly in place to ensure that the relief effort to cope with the aftermath of Sandy would be unaffected by the marathon taking place. The decision to run the marathon and show the world the fighting and determined spirit of the city was overturned as a result of some mindless individuals.

Some people, unhappy with the decision to hold the marathon had made threats towards any runners that took part. Threats of serious violence were impossible to disregard by officials and the safety of any runner taking part was in serious jeopardy. This is the reason why the marathon was cancelled and that in many ways I find very hard to accept. A storm does not have a soul or have a conscious mind to decide whether to attack or not.

Ian, forever the resourceful and intrepid entrepreneur, ably assisted by his “friend” Google went on a search for an alternative marathon as Star and I discussed Western States 100 and other 100 mile races for 2013 and 2014….

Ian was successful in his mission, by 5am (UK time) and after nearly 24 hours of travel and stress we fell into bed with a marathon in North Carolina to get to later in the day (cityofoaksmarathon.com).

En route to North Carolina we visited the New York Marathon Expo in lower Manhattan to collect our “souvenir” marathon number and t-shirt. I also purchased a yellow running top with a design that foretold of how we could describe our “holiday” to New York – if Ian and I were negative minded people.

Walking round the stalls in the expo I was overcome with emotion. Overwhelming sadness at what was happening around us, lost lives, people without homes and the huge clean-up operation. This sadness was intertwined with intense guilt at the fact that we were abandoning this city to run another marathon in another state. While others suffered without their basic needs, we would selfishly satisfy our luxurious “need” to run.

I fought the conflict in my mind for several hours and by the time we arrived in North Carolina I was excited about our little adventure. This was only my second ever visit to the US and never before had I travelled outside of New York. The area is surrounded by trees, quite beautiful and I also heard a rumour that there were some hills.

We reached the City of Oaks Marathon expo with an hour before closing. The doors had a big sign saying “marathon closed”. Slightly concerned we walked inside and asked to speak with the Race Director, whom Ian had emailed the day before.

We were introduced to the RD and advised that the race had been flooded by people that had entered New York Marathon and their maximum limit for entries had already been exceeded.

I do not like saying negative things about others, and I do not like to judge people on first appearances. However I was slightly surprised by the RD’s strange behaviour when we spoke to him and also how he interacted with others around him.

Apparently our email had not been read, and probably no one’s email sent that week, the same goes for any enquiries via the website. Not because of Hurricane Sandy, but because the IT person involved in organising the race was on holiday.

We could not get an entry into the marathon, but we could enter the half marathon. I told the race director that I was happy to enter the half marathon, but I would also like to run the full marathon distance. I was not interested in an official time or any recognition for running the race. I just wanted the emotional experience of a long training run in a city that I have never visited. He did not tell me that I could not do that.

After we signed up for the half marathon, we spoke to the Race Director of the Tobacco Road Marathon (tobaccoroadmarathon.com) who had a stall at the Expo. Brilliant guy called Kaz and he soon had us wanting to run his marathon in 2013 – yes it is a trail marathon! Ian, the Kent Roadrunner Marathon Race Director and Kaz, the Tobacco Road Marathon Race Director, were soon deep in discussion about organising events. By the time we begrudgingly walked away from this fabulous guy, we had discovered that Kaz was the original RD for City of Oaks Marathon. He also offered us his hospitality if we chose to enter his race next year and was interested in running the Kent RR marathon – email and phone numbers were exchanged.

We headed away from the centre of Raleigh towards our hotel for the night, but not before I had my first experience of a Kmart store – so many choices of non-healthy food, I am so glad that I have strong will power!

Race morning and a very early race start of 7am for all distances – 10k, half marathon & full marathon. Still dark as we approached the start line, the atmosphere was fantastic, 80’s music playing, lots of happy people and then the traditional singing rendition of the American National Anthem. I love this part of American sports culture, to play “Star Spangled Banner” before all sporting events.

I bade farewell to Ian as he shot of in pursuit of his half marathon goal and I began my journey round the City of Oaks.

I had no time goal in my mind, but happened to be alongside the 3:30 pace team for the first few miles as I jogged along. It was nice to have a chat with them, reminiscing about my pacing job at last year’s New York Marathon. Running at a comfortable pace gives one a chance to really absorb the surroundings. American streets and buildings, roads closed to traffic, strange high pitched whining coming from the traffic lights….? People cheering us on from the sidewalk, people with cell phones taking photographs….

There was talk of suburban raccoons raiding bins in the area – I went on a racoon spotting mission, which sadly was unsuccessful, although I did spot some squirrels that looked like they were on steroids!

“Don’t drink the Gatorade” were the parting words from Ian as we left the start line – he had experience of what happens when you drink it and you are not used to it….. Guess what Sandra did at the first two feeding stations… in my defence, I thought that it was water.

As I exited from my own little private cubicle as provided by the race organisers, a voice beside me enquired as to what “Centurion Running” was. I remembered that I was wearing my hard earned Thames Path 100 t-shirt, which happens to have Centurion Running written in large letters on the back. I explained the brilliant race events that Centurion Running in the UK (www.centurionrunning.com) offer and before long I was deep in conversation with a fellow ultra-runner called Will that hailed from only a few miles down the road from Raleigh.

We ran together for nearly 16 miles, sharing stories of UK and American running. Rather unusual for me to run with another person, I felt myself struggling as we jogged along. Perhaps talking and breathing is more difficult than I thought, or perhaps I was just in unfamiliar territory as someone was inside my “special running place”.

From the centre of the city we entered suburbia where all around us we were reminded of the Presidential Election due to happen in two days’ time. Judging by the number of banners and campaign placards with Obama’s picture, I think there is a clear favourite in the Raleigh area of North Carolina.

* The Capital Area Greenway System is a network of public open spaces and recreational trails which provides for activities such as walking, jogging, hiking, bird watching, nature study, fishing, picnicking and outdoor fun. The trails connect many of Raleigh's parks and in many cases provide a complement to the recreational activities at the parks. Many of the city's major ecological features can be experienced in their natural state along the Greenway. A major goal of the Greenway Program is to establish a closed network of interconnected trails. (An extract from www.raleighnc.gov)

As we reached 8.5 miles, the route split – the half marathon returned to the City, the full marathon headed away from the city and along the *Greenway.

As I headed down the Greenway, with 18 miles of running ahead, I wondered if Ian was nearly at the finish of his race.

The Greenway was a delightful discovery. There were hills, streams, lovely wooden bridges and lots of trees! The ground upon which I ran was still paved with asphalt, but hey I cannot have everything!

And then the most delightful sight at 11.5 miles was a feeding station offering beer! Disguised as an official station, I later discovered that it was in actual fact just some very well meaning fellow runners. It would have been rude to refuse. I wasn’t too greedy and was still clear headed enough to register that I passed half way in 1:45:48.

Another amazing discovery was the feeding station about 5 miles later. Bananas, pretzels, chocolate, doughnuts, chocolate energy gels... and M&Ms! Brown bag M&Ms, i.e. the chocolate ones and my long term favourite. There were hundreds of little bags sitting quietly in a massive cardboard box. I am a hunter, gatherer type person and the temptation was too much. First time I have finished a marathon carrying more in my “pouch” than what I started with!

17 (and a bit) miles marked the further “out” point, where we turned around and headed back along the Greenway, retracing our steps along the same path. I sensed my new running friend was having a bad patch as he had stopped talking, his breathing had become more laboured and we had slowed considerably in the past few miles. He stopped just before the M&M station and sadly I never saw him again.

I picked up the pace as I left the M&M station, now in the part of a marathon where I am glad that I am an ultra-runner. As people slowed, even resorted to walking I felt strong knowing that I had loads of running still within me. I was now faced with a decision, which caused some turmoil in my mind:

If I slowed down, I could finish in 3:50 which was my allocated pace time for the New York Marathon that did not happen. Or I could speed up and aim for 3:30, which was the time Ian and I had discussed when we flew from New York to Raleigh with plans to run the City of Oaks marathon together…

I opted for the faster time. The faster the time, the harder the effort and therefore the greater the reward – more M&Ms at the finish without fear of needing a bigger size of jeans…

I pushed on and soon spotted the 3:30 pacers way in the distance, a target for me to chase. As I caught up with them at 24.5 miles I had a little chat with them, they were both in top form and still had a few runners beside them. I recognised several from the start of the marathon – the pacers had done their job and helped them all the way round the course.

I picked up the pace a little for no other reason than I could and it felt good! Wide open roads and city surroundings, not normally within my comfort zone, plus the missing huskies would normally bring gloom to my mind. But not this day, I had a spring in my step as I headed towards the finish.

I was rewarded as I crossed the finish line with the presentation of a marathon medal (this size of a small dinner plate!) and beaming smiles from the lovely volunteers at the finish line.

Meeting up with Ian, we headed to the beer and pizza tents – oh yes, you also get free beer, pizza, fruit smoothies and cake once you finish. Plus Ian was presented with a very special prize for finishing 2nd Male 40 in the half marathon race. And he was interviewed by WRAL5 for a TV broadcast later in the day. They had heard that he had come all the way from Ireland to run the NYC marathon and when it was cancelled had travelled to North Caroline to fulfil his dream to run a marathon in America… not quite sure why they though he was Irish, to be sure!

City of Oaks marathon was won by Tim Surface in a time of 2:33, the half was won by Bobby Mack in 1:04.

A potentially disastrous trip, turned out to be a very enjoyable adventure in the end. We drove from the City of Raleigh back to the airport, pleased that we had taken the risk to travel outside of New York. As we passed Umstead State Park, thoughts of 100 mile races suddenly appeared in my mind, as if “by magic”.

At airport security I carefully placed my medal, belt, money etc. safely into the box to go through the security scanner as I confidently walked through the new deluxe airport scanner.

Alarm bells went off as the Security Guards carefully led me aside to ask me to explain why I was displaying “areas of concern” on my neck, wrists and ankle.

Moments later we realised that the on screen image was highlighting all my magnetic Trion:z sports bands, not areas of concern, but the reasons for my “magic powers”...

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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