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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 4 April, 2020
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Column: Why I ran the New York City marathon

For marathoners, New York City is one of the most spectacular routes in the world. The finishing line is a sight that never ceases to amaze or bring a torrent of emotion to the surface, writes Jackie Cahill.

Jackie Cahill

THE OFFICIAL ING New York City marathon website (the event has a new sponsor from next year, by the way), will tell you that the 16th mile takes place almost entirely over the span of the Ed Koch Queensboro bridge.

This tortuous stretch brought over 50,000 participants across the East River from Queens into Manhattan.

The bridge is 3,274 feet in length – and boy, did I feel every one of them. I’d been clipping along quite nicely until then, clocking 1 hour and 57 minutes for the half marathon. I was well on course for another sub four-hour marathon (I ran 3:58 in the Big Apple three years ago) but Queensboro Bridge got the better of me.

Perhaps I’d gone out too quickly, pushed myself too hard. These are the questions that have been tumbling over and over through my brain since coming home. Because when you’ve set yourself a target time, and you don’t achieve it, you want to know why.

A world of pain

The bottom line is that due to time constraints (training for a marathon takes up a fair chunk of your life), in real terms, I didn’t train as hard as I had for the previous four marathons that I took part in.

And that was reflected in my slowest finishing time – 4 hours and 38 minutes.

But when I look back on it, this was the most satisfying of the five because I was in a whole world of pain from mile 16 on. Queensboro Bridge, God damn you!

But strip away the splits, the energy gels, water stations, the Asics runners and all of the other jargon that goes with running 26.2 miles, the main reason that we were there was to raise badly-needed funds for the Children’s Medical and Research Foundation (CMRF) at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin.

And so a group of 40 runners and walkers, along with supporters and representatives of CMRF, jetted out from Shannon and Dublin airports on Thursday morning, October 31, bound for Newark and JFK airports respectively.

The marathon itself was run on Sunday 3 November, and the few days after you arrive are tense, anxious and nervy. Your body knows what’s coming and it ain’t happy!

Race day

The race day itself is an incredible experience. A morning call at 4am, porridge at 5 before a bus transfer to Staten Island, where Hurricane Sandy struck with such devastating effect last year, rightly resulting in the postponement of the 2012 NYC marathon.

There was something special about getting to the start line 12 months on, with the memories of the 285 victims of Hurricane Sandy fresh in the mind. And, lest we forget, the five people killed (and many more injured) in the Boston marathon bombings earlier this year.

Consequently, security around the Expo event, on Staten Island and along the course as the marathon snaked through the five boroughs of New York City was tight.

On arrival to Staten Island, there were a number of security checks before gaining access to the massive outdoor site which would house runners for three-and-a-half to four hours.

Picture the campsite at Electric Picnic and that will give you a rough idea of the scene on marathon morning.

At 10.05 am, it was time to leave my designated corral and take my place at the start line. Very cold and breezy but not bad conditions. Ten minutes to complete the first mile and running steadily across the steep Verrazano-Narrows bridge; much quicker on mile 2 with that stunning view of the Lower Manhattan skyline to the left.

Very comfortable until half way and beyond until – boom – Queensboro bridge and that’s a wrap. With the sub four-hour time gone, it was now all about simply getting home, one foot in front of the other.

Onto First Avenue and the cacophony of noise was simply deafening and provided another energy burst. After all, an estimated 2 million spectators line the marathon route.

The final few miles, leading to the finish in Central Park, were excruciating but that finishing line is a sight that never ceases to amaze and a torrent of emotion came flooding to the surface. I’d made it and by God was I relieved.

Pre-race nerves are bad, getting down on one knee is another ball game

Will I be back? Who knows – I certainly wouldn’t rule it out because, for marathoners, this is one of the most spectacular routes in the world.

Upon returning to the Team Crumlin base, the impressive and welcoming Fitzpatrick Grand Central Hotel in Manhattan, it was brilliant to learn later that everybody who started had completed the event safe and sound. My fiancée Lisa did too. We were engaged in St Patrick’s Cathedral on the Friday before the marathon and if I thought pre-race nerves were bad, getting down on one knee to propose was a whole new ball game!

Lisa, who also ran the marathon, said yes and for that, I was truly happy. I guess in New York City, it’s difficult not to do things by half and this was certainly a weekend that we won’t forget in a hurry.

And to the good people at CMRF, our heartfelt thanks. You give so much and it’s just great to be able to give something back.

To get in touch with the good people at CMRF Crumlin, you can contact them via twitter: @CMRF_Crumlin

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About the author:

Jackie Cahill

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