So my road to the 2021 NYC Marathon really started in 2019. I had done the marathon in 2018 and had no plans to do it again. But I was turning 50 in 2020.. and the marathon was going to be the 50th anniversary of the NYC marathon.. so I decided I would put my name in for the lottery and let fate decide.
The lottery happened in January 2020 and I did not get in. So I figured that was that. But then COVID happened and I was sitting at home while everything was closed and thought about the marathon again. I could sign up to do it with a charity and still make it happen for my 50th. The whole COVID thing was only going to last a month or so and I had nothing else to do while on lockdown, so it was a good time to train. I went ahead and signed up with Team in Training to do it.
Of course, COVID was not over in a month and the marathon was cancelled. We were told that IF it ran in 2021, it would most likely be with less runners so you could say you wanted 2021 but there was no guarantee. You may be offered 2022 or 2023. Again, I left it up to fate. I only wanted to do 2021 for the 50th so if I was offered a different year, I would decline.
Due to COVID, so many decisions were delayed so it wasn’t until June that I received an email offering me entry with Team in Training for 2021. I had just done the Dopey challenge virtually in May (which is a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon) so I had the miles in though I had only walked all of that. I decided to go for it!
Fast forward to Sept 2021 – Training was going well, fundraising was going well. Information was starting to come out about how the race would be different due to Covid protocols. There were already about half the number of runners. And then it was announced that there would 5 starting waves and that the last wave would start at noon. This was an initial blow to me. I knew I would be in the last wave, as I had been in 2018. As a slower runner / walker in 2018, I had trained to mostly walk the marathon at around a 20 min pace. I knew that I would lose course support and be off the official tracking system early in the race. I was fine with all of that and had a wonderful experience with New Yorkers who stuck around to cheer on the last of the runners. I had finished around 8 pm. Now I would be starting another hour later than last time. With fewer runners in the field, support may end even earlier, and it would be even later for my finish. But nothing I could do about it, so I had to just mentally plan for how it was going to be.
In late September, I was on vacation in Disney and saw an email from NYRR. It was just a basic “touching base” email that I read through and saw a paragraph about Mastercard offering an “Priceless” opportunity for 25 runners to start early. At the time that I read it, I thought it was a contest. If you won, you would pay $200 to Mastercard which went to a charity, and you would get to start early. I figured that was worth a shot, so I filled it out and really didn’t think much else about it.
After we were home from vacation a few days later, I was looking at my bills and saw that my card was charged for the $200. I thought “Did I win?” So I went back and looked at the original email again and saw that it said “first come, first serve.” And then it said it was “sold out.” I honestly couldn’t believe that I may have actually gotten it so I wouldn’t even let myself get excited about it.
In the beginning of October, I was still wondering about it, so I emailed Mastercard. I received a response that yes, I was on the list for the early start and more information would be coming. And in fact, a week later all the details arrived it was incredible. Of all the details, the most important was that I would be starting at 8:25 am. A little more than 3 ½ hours earlier than my official start time.
I will admit that I was still skeptical that it was for real. But the Friday before the race when I picked up my race bib, inside was a wristband that said “Mastercard Priceless Start.”
I had nervous energy the whole week before. I knew I had done my training and I wasn’t really worried about the race itself. There are many logistics and moving parts to getting to that start and I was so nervous about something going wrong that would make me miss that early start.
Race morning arrived and the first task was to get to the early VIP bus. It was about a ½ mile from our hotel. My instructions said it would board at 5:10 am and depart at 5:30 am. I ended up leaving my hotel early and I was glad that I did. The buses were for all runners that had VIP access for one reason or another. The street was full of buses and staff member checking to be sure you had VIP access.
I got on the second bus and then we waited. And waited. We didn’t start leaving until 5:45 am. We finally got moving and then it took an hour to get there. We had NYPD blocking roads for the buses, but it was still taking time to get that to happen ahead of the buses. So I was only stepping off the bus at 6:45 am in the start village area.
One of the staff people held up large signs with initials for the different VIP groups (mine was MC for Mastercard) and we followed him through security. The regular security line was paused for us to go through and then we made our way through the start village and then to a row of tents for each VIP area.
I got to the Mastercard tent around 7 am. There were staff people checking us in and then they said the early start people would gather at 7:45 am to go to the start area. So not much time! There were boxes that had a bagel with butter and cream cheese and a pastry as well as plenty of Gatorade and water. Plus two things that are gold to runners before a race – tables to sit at and our own port a potties.
I really didn’t have to much time to waste. I had my bagel, used the bathroom and then they were gathering us to go to the start area.
When we arrived, the handcycle athletes were in the starting chute and they had about 10 minutes until their start. We would be soon after them. The race announcer would give updates on starting times for different groups and we would all yell when he mentioned the Mastercard runners. He said, “Well the Mastercard group is here and they are excited.”
The handcycle athletes had their start and then we moved into the chute. They had us take this picture (plus we had a photographer and camera crew that was following us around since the tent). You can only see my hat in the back on the right.
The race announcer gave us a countdown, a starting gun and then “New York, New York” started playing as we were off!
It wasn’t long before the other 24 runners were out of my sight. My plan was to hope for a 20 min pace again (I had had some knee issues during the year so I didn’t even know if I could do that) and to do run / walk intervals for as long as could without aggravating my knee.
The first mile on the Verrazano bridge is uphill. I had ran a little bit at the start but then walked the rest. I was basically all by myself on the Verrazano bridge. When does anyone get that opportunity? So I took some pictures and took it all in.
Because I was alone, the race photographers took A LOT of pictures of me too!
I was just about past mile 1 and I heard the start happen again. I knew that was the professional women starting and I did not want to be in there way at all! I was hugging the center barrier. At first a vehicle came through that said “Women Lead” with a time clock. Then a TV crew vehicle came through. Both were in the center of the road so I figured the runners would be in the center and I would be well out of their way.
I actually heard them and felt them before I saw them. They came blazing by me so close that they could almost have brushed my sleeve. If that moment happened to be on television, my facial expression must have been hysterical.
I knew the men would be next but I wasn’t sure when, so I went back to doing my thing on my private marathon course.
For the next 2+ miles, I had the entire course to myself. Spectators were out and cheering so I had my own private cheering squad. It was actually pretty funny as I am sure they had to wondering who the heck I was and why was out there alone.
Just passed the 5K mark, I went through an aid station and heard a staff person say that the men were coming. I looked ahead and saw about 4 tables set up with the fuel for the professional men. I knew I did not want to be in the way and a staff person saw me and motioned for me to stay off to the side. I went off the side and behind the tables when the lead men came through. I don’t know how they grab their bottles so fast and keep moving.
They were gone in a blur and once again I had my private course back. I knew it wouldn’t last as the first waves would be starting after the lead men. I actually had one spectator ask me when everyone else would be coming.
I was at around mile 4 when the rest of the runners started coming through. I was not alone again for the rest of the race and it was actually fine with me.
As for my race, I was doing well. I was feeling good and running intervals. I was averaging around an 18 / 18:30 mile. I was really happy with that but also being careful not to use too much energy because there was a long way to go.
I had friends meeting me around mile 8 with some fuel and a refresher for my electrolyte drink. When I did the marathon in 2018, the on course Gatorade did not sit well on my stomach so I had planned to only use my own electrolyte drink and just take water from the on course aid stations.
I took a minute or so to stop with them and refuel and then I was back off again.
At that point, the course was full but never felt overcrowded. The spectators were out in full force. The cheering was so loud that I often couldn’t hear the music in my headphones.
I kept watching the time because I wanted to see how far I was by noon when I would have officially started. I was just past mile 12 by the time that I would have only started the race.
I passed the halfway point and felt good and really optimistic. Half done, half to go. Another friend texted that she would be at the end of the Pulaski bridge. I was even still running intervals at that time and feeling good. I found my friend cheering in the crowd and kept going.
Then I came to the Queensboro bridge. I remembered it from last time and knew that it is a long uphill climb. In my mind, I thought No problem. I will just walk it all and it will be fine. Well it was really really tough. It seemed to go on forever and it started to bother my back. On top of that, I was halfway when my headphones died.
I knew that my husband was waiting about ½ a mile after I got off the bridge so I tried to just focus on that and get to that point.
As I came off the bridge, the sound of the crowd cheering was tremendous. Definitely gave me a boost as I moved forward to meet up with my husband next. I found him, refueled, refreshed my drink and was off again.
I really thought that crowd support would be enough to see me through the next 9 miles without my headphones. I was wrong. By mile 18, I was over the race. I was bored. I was tired. My body hurt. A team in training coach spotted me and walked along for a bit. He was encouraging and helped move a long a little.
It was really long trek up to where the course goes into the Bronx. I was only walking at this point and slowing down. I knew that the Bronx part had some turns instead of long straightaways, so I was looking forward to some different scenery.
I was in the Bronx and all of sudden I heard someone yelling my name. I looked over and saw a woman pointing to her child and yelling her name. It was a student that I had worked with years ago! I went over to say a quick hi and take a picture. That was so awesome and unexpected.
We came back into Manhattan and all I saw was a long stretch again with no end in sight. Another Team in Training coach came along side and walked with me for a bit. It was around mile 23. He asked how I was and if I needed anything. It was great to have the coaches around for a little check in on the course.
Then another surprise came as my friends that met me at mile 8 texted that they were going to see me again as I came into Central Park. This was a total surprise, and I was happy to see familiar faces again. They were so excited and walked with me a little bit as well.
Then it was just two miles to go. It was long and I really just wanted to be done. I knew I would finish but it was going to be a long two miles.
When I came out of the park for a little stretch before you go back into the park for the finish, I saw Chris again and gave a quick wave.
There are 3 tenths of a mile in the park until the finish. I could see it ahead and just keep moving along to get there. I actually love my finish pictures which I am surprised about. I did not have much energy left and really didn’t feel like turning on a smile for the finish.
Then the moment comes that makes you forget everything you went through for the last 26.2 miles. They gave me my medal.
I ended up finishing with almost the same time as in 2018. I had a faster first half but a slower second half. It is all good to me. I don’t worry about the time. A finish is a finish.
I can’t say enough about how amazing and “priceless” the early start was. I had course support and crowds cheering for the entire race. I also was on the official tracking app the whole time so I didn’t have to worry about updating friends / family on my location.
In the end, despite the challenges, it was a great day. And an amazing experience to end my marathon career – and I mean it this time.
I have been a huge Disney and travel fan since childhood. I love going to new places and, of course, heading to Disney as often as I can.