As I’m on the flight back from New York to Geneva, I find myself reminiscing about the incredible adventure of the New York Marathon that unfolded just last Sunday. Let’s embark on an immediate journey back to the heart of the Big Apple.
The birth of the New York Marathon dream
On November 4, 2017, I took part in the 5-kilometer race, tracing the final kilometer of the iconic New York Marathon through Central Park. The typical yellow taxis of New York yielded to a sea of enthusiastic runners. Positioned at the forefront of this vibrant crowd, weaving through the towering buildings, I experienced a profound sense of connection—as if the entire city belonged solely to us, the runners.
The following day, from a rooftop overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge in Queens, I cheered on friends and countless strangers. The spectacle of tens of thousands of runners, adorned in various disguises or proudly displaying their country’s colors, left an indelible mark on me. With Malou, an expatriate friend in the Big Apple, we crossed the Queensboro Bridge back to Manhattan, immersing ourselves in the shoes of the participants. Despite the rainy weather, the phenomenal atmosphere planted a seed in my mind: one day, I would run the New York Marathon!
A year later, I tackled my inaugural marathon in Lausanne. The experience was unlike anything I’d felt before—legs seemingly made of lead, the infamous marathon wall. Immediately after crossing the finish line, a question lingered in my mind: “What’s next?” The answer was crystal clear—New York! At the end of January, I registered with Romain for the New York Marathon, setting the wheels in motion for a dream about to unfold.
Preparation for the New York City Marathon
In anticipation of the upcoming marathon, my summer training predominantly revolves around trail running, emphasizing a robust regimen for the MCC and the 40 kilometers of the Ultra Trail of Mont-Blanc. Integrating more cycling into the routine further bolsters endurance and elongated efforts. Come September, I initiate the training program offered by our RunMotion Coach application.
Fortunate to have the scenic cycle path between Chambéry and Aix-les-Bains, I transition seamlessly to running on asphalt against a backdrop of stunning landscapes. The preparation is promising, marked by victories in the Chambéry half-marathon and a personal best in the Lyon half-marathon at 1h08.
However, a twist of fate occurs a week before New York. During what should have been my final planned active outing, a sudden and intense allergic reaction unfolds as I pass by a patch of freshly cut grass and plants. Despite the discomfort, I limp my way home.
Yet, the essence of the American dream lies in self-belief. It’s about trusting your lucky star and defying limits. Excitement steadily builds throughout the week, and on Thursday evening, we set foot on American soil. Conveniently, we lodge on Staten Island just 3 kilometers from the starting line—an ideal location for race morning! Before the marathon, we explore Midtown Manhattan, utilizing a subway card to conserve energy. Our visit also includes attending the recording of the podcast “In the Head of a Runner” featuring Stéphane Plaza and Emmanuel Vidal, the founder of I-Run. Witnessing the diverse motivational approaches of each runner proves to be a fascinating experience.
New York Marathon: D-Day
With jet lag making waking up a breeze, it’s 6 am in New York and noon in France. We set out at 7:30 am, reaching the departure village at the foot of the Verrazzano bridge by 8 am. Here, we encounter Pierre-Louis Zajac, a local journalist for the Dauphiné Libéré with an impressive tally of 37 New York marathons under his belt!
While it’s a bit chilly at first, I came prepared with old clothes and a survival blanket. The radiant sun gradually warms us as we gear up for the ideal conditions for running a marathon today. The starting SAS opens an hour before, and we engage in light jogging and dynamic stretches as a concise warm-up. Fifteen minutes before departure, we’re ushered to the starting line, signaling the commencement of the show!
The loudspeakers pulsate with the latest hits, setting the perfect pre-race mood. The rendition of the American anthem is a poignant moment, a tradition observed in all races across the United States. The NYPD helicopters soaring over the Verrazzano bridge create a stunning spectacle, akin to the Patrouille de France in France.
And they’re off! Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” plays as the runners zigzag through the streets. An ingenious move by the organizers places around 200 runners, targeting times between 4 and 7 hours, between the twenty professional runners and those aiming for sub-3-hour marathons. Imagining the chaos and jostling in that mix is a spectacle in itself. Just 20 seconds after the starting shot, we cross the starting line. After 500 meters, I finally settle into a steady pace, finding the relaxation crucial for the marathon.
I make an initial push and end up alongside a runner aiming for a 2h22 finish. I hydrate with 2 to 3 sips of water at each refueling station, spaced around 1 to 2 miles apart. In New York, there are no trash bins, so we toss the cardboard cups on the ground. I can’t help but wonder about the condition of the road after the passage of tens of thousands of runners.
The first kilometers fly by mentally; time seems to slip away. At the 10 km mark, I’m maintaining a pace indicative of a 2:20 finish, keeping stride with an Australian runner.
“You look strong! “
Amidst a Brooklyn ascent, around Mile 9, an exuberant crowd showers us with encouragement. “You look strong!” A smile breaks across my face as I pass a sign that reads “Damn you are sexy.” The creativity of the 2 million spectators is truly remarkable!
Around Mile 12 (km 19), I encounter my first challenge. Clocking 1h10’45 in the half-marathon, memories of the Sunday in 2017 when I cheered on my friends flood my mind. Physically feeling good, I consciously conserve energy for the climb over the Brooklyn Bridge in Queens. On the descent, a sudden sharp pain grips my belly. Unfazed, I make a swift stop at one of the portable toilets set up after a refueling. It’s my first experience with intestinal troubles while running, and it seems the marathon day is the chosen occasion. I lose no more than twenty seconds.
Approaching the Queensboro Bridge cautiously, with its 500-meter ascent and 40-meter drop, we enter Manhattan. The vibrancy of the crowd on First Avenue stands in stark contrast to the silence of the Queensboro Bridge. The seemingly endless stretch of this long avenue challenges my endurance. I make a second and final pit stop. As we cross the Bronx bridge into the fifth and final district of New York, it becomes physically demanding. However, time seems to fly, especially when I realize we’ve crossed the 2-hour mark.
On the iconic Fifth Avenue, a small group of 3 or 4 runners forms, and I spot Thierry Guibault in my stride. This inspires me to surge ahead, aiming to claim the honorary title of the first French finisher. Entering Central Park for the last 5 km, I feel an electric shock in my calf on a descent but grit my teeth to overcome it.
Thierry overtakes me 1 kilometer from the finish, and though I lose a few meters, I mentally convince myself that the effort is worthwhile. Summoning my strength, I finish strong with a pace of 3’12 for the last kilometer. Crossing the finish line brings both relief and immense joy—I’ve pushed my limits, securing the title of the first French finisher and beating my personal best by 2 minutes, finishing in 2h26’36!
Receiving my finisher medal, I eagerly ask a volunteer for Romain’s phone to check his position on the application. He arrives a few minutes later, completing the marathon in 2:39, having faced the infamous wall in Central Park!
The marathon proves to be an extraordinary adventure, a race against oneself. The New York myth, with its grandeur and exoticism, transforms the New York Marathon into an American dream within grasp. As the 50th edition approaches next year, the question lingers: What will you be doing on November 1, 2020? 😉
My tips for the New York City Marathon
- Savor the Experience: Embrace the moment, let the energy of the crowd carry you. You’re one of the fortunate 55,000 participants in the legendary New York Marathon—enjoy every step!
- Strategic Lodging: If possible, stay on Staten Island to be near the start and avoid the 5:30 am bus ride (for a race at 9:40 am). While the return after the race might be a bit lengthy, the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island is a magical experience, passing in front of the Statue of Liberty. This allows you to arrive “only” 1:30 to 2 hours before your race.
- Pre-Race Warm-Up: In the starting SAS before being led to the starting line, take advantage of the opportunity to trot a little. Run for 5 to 10 minutes and engage in dynamic stretches for a proper warm-up.
- Smart Clothing Strategy: Keep warm clothes until you’re taken to the starting line (15 minutes before departure). These items are then collected in bins to be donated to associations.
- Bag Deposit Option: You can deposit a bag 1h30 before departure to retrieve it at the finish. Alternatively, you can opt for a marathon-themed poncho at the finish line. Decide on your preference in the months leading up to the race.
- Color-Coded Refueling Stations: Pay attention to the color code at the refueling stations. Orange signifies energy drinks, while green indicates water. With supplies nearly every 2 kilometers, consider taking 2 to 3 sips at each station. Toilets are available almost after each refueling if needed.
- Queensboro Bridge Ascent: The climb of the Queensboro Bridge is long and relatively steep. Aim to stay as relaxed as possible and conserve your energy for the last 15 kilometers.