NYCM Recap: 26.2 Miles for the Birthday Runner

On Sunday, November 4th, Lauren Barth raced the NYC Marathon. It would be her fifth marathon, and first time running NYC. Below Lauren shares some of her pre-race thoughts she jotted down the night before the race, along with her post-race full recap. Grab a mug of coffee, sit back, and enjoy the journey!

Pre-NYC Feelings

It’s the night before NYC Marathon and I’m feeling a little conflicted about expectations.

I’m scared I’ll crash and burn at the end.

I’m scared I won’t run as fast as I want to.

I thought I was scared about more, but really it’s those ones. I know I have a huge PR in me. Sub-3 feels like a given, and I’m kind of sad about the fact that it doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment to me at this point – it seems like something I should be able to run. I’m shooting for faster, but I don’t want to let that diminish whatever accomplishments DO go down tomorrow. That would be a shame.

I’m definitely happy to be running ON my birthday, in one of the most incredible cities. I’m definitely a little freaked out about the IT band stuff that has been happening (though it hasn’t bothered me for twoish weeks). I definitely believe I can run 2:55, but I’m feeling more uncertain than I was in April about running closer to 2:50. I just really don’t know what to expect out there tomorrow, and that’s kinda scary. Idk!

The Race

I woke up around 4:50 with the intention of leaving at 6am. Our hotel room was pretty tiny so I spent a lot of time in the bathroom eating a sesame seed bagel with a packet of trail butter, which was totally cold and not appetizing. My stomach had been off with the super decreased mileage, just not hungry at all and shoving food down my throat was not the greatest, so I ate probably ⅔ of it (mistake). I was SO excited and had a good time making some last minute social media posts, checking in with my Houston running friend Whitney (who I was supposed to meet at the ferry) and getting ready. Having the unicorn onesie was actually the best thing ever, I’m so glad I bought it. It was really warm, and with a waffle shirt and a pair of sweatpants under was perfect for the mid 40s that the day started out in.

I got an uber a little before 6, but it turns out that when 50,000 people are trying to get to Staten Island, there’s more traffic than usual. I arrived at the ferry terminal 7 minutes late, and Whitney wasn’t in our meeting spot. I walked inside and ran into RCTC teammate Emmeline immediately! So fun. I met her brother-in-law and decided I’d go get in line to board the ferry because I assumed Whitney had done the same. It was a madhouse in there! I definitely couldn’t find her. Once we boarded the ferry I took a seat downstairs (plenty of space) and waited, and looked at the Statue of Liberty. It was a beautiful sunny morning. As the ferry started moving I decided I had to try to find her. In full unicorn getup, I went to the upper deck assuming she’d been among the first on and found a good seat. The light was so blinding from the sun angle that I couldn’t make out faces but I figured the giant pink unicorn would be hard to miss. Sure enough, I heard, “Lauren! Lauren!” and there was Whitney!!! It was so good to have a friend for that ride, we just chatted and caught up and were excited about everything that was about to happen.

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When the ferry unloaded we made sure to have some of the photographers get some pictures of us together, and made some friends as we walked to where the buses loaded to take us to the start line. We got on a bus no problem, spirits high, and took our seats. We talked about the race, our sisters, our jobs, etc. Everything was going fine until the bus stopped. What should have been a short drive ended up being an hour and a half. Whitney can get a little freaked out about these things and started stressing but I still felt ok about it all. Just more time to read my magazine! Then a few other guys on our bus started getting really anxious and trying to convince the bus driver to let us off the bus. It had been about 90 minutes and other buses around us were letting people off to walk the half mile to the start area. Instead, our bus driver kept us on and it took about another 20 minutes to unload. It really sucked! It was so stressful! I had to pee really badly! I had envisioned the ferry being way worse than it was, and didn’t even realize there was a bus. That dang thing took FOREVER and totally changed my plan pre-race.

When we were finally let off, Whitney and I jogged to the start area. We were in different corrals, so I gave her a hug and we went our separate ways. I immediately got in line for the port-a-potty, made some friends, and then continued to the main orange athlete village. I got a water, looked at the therapy dogs longingly (no time to play), and after a bit of wandering around the corrals opened. I went over to get in my spot. I accidentally went towards the wrong corral first, then went over to orange and got in the port-a-potty line again. Ain’t no time for peeing on course! Well, these lines moved about as fast as the bus. They were way shorter than most but were just SO SLOW. I couldn’t help but notice an obvious lack of females in my corral, admired some great mustaches, and counted the bright orange fly knit 4% miles around me (approx 33% of runners around me) while I waited. I wasn’t worried though because we had plenty of time. OR SO I THOUGHT!

With about 20 min to start, an official came by and said “you’ve gotta go that way [pointing to bridge], we’re lining up and you’re going to get stuck!” meaning B, C, D, and E corrals were going to be let through and if we were still waiting it was going to be a problem. I kind of freaked out but peeing is important. So I stuck it out, got out of my unicorn costume as I waited, brushed my teeth (pro move, it was heavenly to start with a fresh mouth), and peed real fast. I threw my unicorn into the donation bin as I left and jogged to pass as many people as I could on the way to the start line. Eventually it was just people stacked up standing around and I “excuse me!”’d my way back into A corral, with just a couple people giving me attitude “We are running too you know!” Clearly I was aware of that, and nobody in their right mind would scoot forward just for funsies, this isn’t a Taylor Swift concert! There’s a reason for the corral system and just not enough porta potties. It was kind of like when someone honks at you in traffic for changing lanes even though you had plenty of space and your blinker was on FOREVER – you still feel kind of bad even though you know you don’t need to. Anyway, I eventually got to a good spot and made friends with some guys, chatted a bit and kept it light. It was super sunny and I felt a little warm, but I felt good. Excited. It was happening! There was a man in a full leopard unitard near us, tail and all, and another guy in full snowboard gear behind us. There was also a man wearing flat front khakis, belted, with a button down plaid shirt. It wasn’t until my friend sent me a news story hours later that I realized I was lined up by Forrest Gump! People are strange, y’all but then again I was wearing a party hat and runderwear. So there’s that.

The race started and I was really mindful of not trying to do anything stupid up the Verrazano bridge. It was really pretty up there!! I kept wanting to take down all the girls I saw near me but I knew it wouldn’t be helpful. I hit the mile right around 7:00 which was probably even a little fast for that uphill. I tried not to run too fast on the downhill, just stay smooth and be smart. I had just run by a group of girls that wished me a happy birthday (who would end up whooping me in the end) when I heard “Miss Ross, you run fast!!” and my friend Eric Grissom from Kung Fu Running Club in Houston was there! He had been a few rows behind me to start and immediately spotted the hat on the uphill. Hilarious. We ran together down the bridge and for the first few turns in Brooklyn. The first house that was really partying was blasting Springsteen, which was #inspiring. I want to say I wasn’t really feeling physical sensation at this point, probably not until mile 6ish or something. I couldn’t really tell my pace, and didn’t really feel good or bad. Was just kind of going for it and taking it all in.

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At some point a guy came up behind me (who would later become my friend Josh!) and said happy birthday and started chatting with me a bit about my plans for the race, and told me he had the best race ever last year on his birthday at MCM. He had a red t shirt with “MY DOC RUNS” for SteadyMD, an online primary care practice and told me about a foot pod he uses that gives him wattage instead of pace. Interesting. He was definitely not working as much as I was (not that I felt like I was working hard at this point), and would go and hype the crowds, which was really fun. Shoutout to DR JOSH for bringing the PARTY! The crowds started to get pretty consistent and thick here and I got a ton of HAPPY BIRTHDAY shoutouts, and that was SO much fun. I definitely got into it, and probably spent a little too much energy waving and gesturing at the spectators (see below). I was trying to be mindful of slowing down up hills to keep a constant effort rather than pace, and noticed a lot of people were not doing that. I went back and forth with several girls who honestly probably beat me in the end, but I was feeling good here. I also saw Sal, my friend from Houston, on the other half of the street before all the corrals met up! I was just having fun and trying to be responsible with my pacing, though there were some miles that were bordering upon too quick.

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Around mile 9, I totally missed my mile pace because I knew mom and dad would be there so I lapped it and scanned the crowd intensely. I was able to pick them out and wave hard so they could see me! They were in a section where crowds were pretty thick and entertaining. Marching bands, singing church choirs, and people who were just STOKED to be there. It was great to see all the different signs and bigheads that people made, including one of someone’s dog which I saw at least twice. People really loved the birthday hat and got super into it. It was so awesome. I knew my sister Justine and my husband Brooks would be pretty close by too, so I spent a lot of my focus scanning the crowds. I’m pretty sure I was right on pace but I actually have no idea and would have to go back to look. Eventually I spotted my head and the DBAP sign, and Justine squinting at all the runners but I got her attention and she and her crew (all festooned with bday hats, of course) were jumping up and down with excitement! If people were this pumped to see me every day, I’d be the happiest person alive. Then from there it was just a mile or two to when I passed a DJ bumping some very serious jams and saw an orange blur with a beer in the middle of the street and got a full high five tunnel from Brooks and my friends Ryan, Patsy, and Justin. They were having so much fun it was hilarious. I’d later come to learn that they’d found themselves at a crazy ripper and had the best time. So great.

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After that I didn’t really know where anyone would be and I remember thinking “well, I guess you have to think about running now!” There were some long steady uphills that I took really well, and I still felt great for the first of the other bridges at mile 13. It got quiet here but there were some people on a roof who yelled “GO BIRTHDAY GIRL!!!” and that gave me a boost. I definitely felt this  bridge taking some energy out of me, but focused on a steady effort. There were some steady uphills on the other side and I missed a couple of my laps but tried to get back into a good pace. We made some turns and all of a sudden I heard my name – it was my friend from Houston and owner of Race Pace treadmill fitness studio Jeff Douse! I didn’t even know he was going to be there!!

I was still wrapping my head around that when we approached the Queensboro bridge. Oh man, that was quite the bridge. Since we still had a bunch to go, I tried to conserve on the uphill but I definitely felt myself slow down a LOT and started to feel it in my quads. Also, the footing sucks in there because how do you repave a bridge?? I took another gel here, which would be my last of the day (stupid, should have had at least two more). The downhill on this bridge felt like a miracle and felt really good. There were some big turns and big crowds coming off it! I was aware that people often go too fast in this section, and could see why since the crowds were so loud. I tried to be cognizant of my speed and get back to a good spot without going irresponsibly fast. Honestly I couldn’t tell you how fast I was going at that point. About a mile later I saw Amanda Laverne from the Balega team. She picked me out straight away and had her whole group yell as loud as they could – it was awesome! I was still smiling and waving through this section, which I definitely stopped doing at some point – probably over the bridge into the Bronx. On this section I also randomly saw fellow Portlander and JBACer Olivia Enright’s sister, Kara, who lives in the city. So weird.

Then the bridge to the Bronx came, and it seemed to go up but didn’t really go down. I remember thinking “just give me some downhill to recover” and instead it just flattened out. This is where I started to lose my mojo. I wasn’t as cheery. You’re only in the Bronx for a hot second. You get off this bridge with no downhill then you run around a single block while thinking “this is so stupid why are we running around a block”. Probably my knee hurt and the turns didn’t feel so hot, and definitely my quads were starting to feel it. THEN you go over ANOTHER bridge approximately two seconds after getting off the first one and think “great, give me some downhill!” and you know what you get? A GIANT FREAKING HILL TO THE PARK. Seriously.

I think fifth ave is all a steady incline, and it broke me. At this point my quads were really hurting – it felt like each bridge after the half way point tightened them up and this long steady climb was pushing me over the edge. And then I did the thing you’re not supposed to do when you’re going for big audacious goals: I walked. Just a couple steps here and there, but it didn’t help my legs and didn’t get me to the finish any quicker. I wonder whether my quads would have felt better if I never stopped running, but it seemed like it might be a good idea (every time) and it honestly never actually helped.

Somewhere in here I decided to go for sub-3 and toss my other goals, which felt ok. The final 4-5 miles just really sucked, my legs hurt really bad and while people were still cheering for me and wishing me happy birthday I wasn’t smiling much and not waving much either. I did see Whitney’s husband Mike, her sister Cheryl, and Cheryl’s man along 5th ave while I was feeling like death, and that was great but also didn’t exactly give me a boost. I was unboostable.

When we finally got into the park there were some downhills and I made sure to run the downhills hard as I could and tried to trudge up the uphills as consistently as possible. Turning right onto the south side of the park, it was dark from the buildings and I put my glasses up for a second but then thought “actually I kind of want to cry” and put them back on. Looking back now this cracks me up every time. Turns out the Barths were along here but they said I was moving well when I passed them (lolololololol) so that’s great. We finally turned back into the park towards the finish line and I swear to you not even the “800 meters to go!” “400 meters to go!” “200 meters to go!” signs felt like a relief because I could not fathom moving anymore. My quads hurt SO BADLY.

When I finally did approach the finish they actually called out my name and wished me happy birthday over the loudspeakers! I can die happy. And as soon as I had no more miles to run, the smile came right back. All the volunteers wished me a happy birthday as I very slowly made my way through, all the photographers wanted to take pictures, and I got a couple. As I kept moving towards the ponchos I met a friend (sensing a theme here??) who was from CT, living in the city, moving to Seattle and we talked about the PNW a while. He did bag check though so we split up and I kept moving to the ponchos, got one, and made my way south on Columbus Ave as I had suggested to my family for meet up. Some lady said “Congratulations and happy birthday! Your family is looking for you!” – she must have chatted with them because they were all wearing hats, and she told me they were on a different street! I borrowed a phone from the wife of another runner who was hobbling around, and called them and dropped a pin. This family was so sweet, they were from LA and he had just run a 2:56. Everyone in the city was so excited for the runners! I then stayed put while the fam located me and it was just so great. It sounded like they had a really fun day too! Such a beautiful one for spectating, and everybody was proud. We took a taxi to a bar to meet the Barths and Ryan, and all had a beer and told stories of the day and were all happy together. It was so good.

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Lauren finished the 2018 NYC Marathon in 2:58:12, a personal record by seven minutes, and placed 68th out of 22,123 female runners. Follow her latest adventures in all things running, nutrition, and her doggos on Instagram!

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