November 7, 2018
Oooooohhhh New York.
Concrete Jungle where dreams are made of right?
I can’t remember exactly when I decided I want to run the New York City Marathon, I actually think it was before I figured I might like to run London more than 10 years ago, and I’m not even sure why, because back then not only could I not even run for a bus, but I wasn’t much of a traveler either?
Maybe it’s because Central Park has been romanticised as one of the best places in the world to run…I figured it would be an exciting place to do something of epic proportions.
Running the New York Marathon was one of those dreams, those pie in the sky things I’d mention when talking to friends about things we’d like to do in our life time….but it was never something I actually thought I’d ever do.
But after running London a couple of times, and traveling more and more to race and to speak…last year I was like
Yeah, I really do want to try and make this happen
And so I entered the ballot, and low and behold I got a place.
I remember reading the confirmation email 3 or 4 times just to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake. I was in.
I started looking at flights, created my training plan…but still it didn’t feel real.
I had pulled out of the last two marathons I signed up to, London this year due to a foot problem, and Beachy Head last year due to fatigue.
Surely something THIS exciting couldn’t happen to someone like me.
It didn’t feel real at all.
Until that was about 5pm on Sunday evening, sitting on a park bench in Central Park wrapped in a poncho eating a packet of pretzels…well trying to eat them, the lump in my throat and the attempts to fight back the tears were making it kind of difficult.
Literally, until that moment…I still wasn’t sure if I could do it…and here’s why. (You might want to grab a cuppa, as this is kinda long…and broke down into 3 parts)
My last full marathon was London back in 2015. Yes, I have trained for half marathons, tough mudders, an olympic distance triathlon and even an ultramarathon, but somehow marathon training is different.
Fitting in 6 solid months of run training is difficult when you are trying to manage being a single parent, running a business, traveling for work and all manner of other things. It is difficult, but not impossible. I made a plan, and on the most part I stuck to it. My training didn’t involve as much actual running as it has in the past, but that is because I love doing CrossFit these days, and was worried about getting injured through lots of lots of long runs. So I was trying something new.
I steadily felt my cardio fitness and endurance getting better. The Paris Triathlon in July was evidence that I could exercise for 4 hours straight and still get up the next day with little to no pain to take Rose to school, so I scheduled 3-4 sessions per week of exercise and increased my distance steadily over the summer.
Could I have run more?
My longest run was due to happen 4 weeks out, but I got scheduled to speak at a conference so I moved it to the following week. That week I wasn’t feeling great and on the weekend in question it rained solidly, and I couldn’t risk getting ill…so I waited for the weather to improve and then literally couldn’t find the time for a 5 hour run in my schedule.
So I headed out to New York with a 16 miler being my longest training run.
This made me super anxious. It is not the advice I would give to my coaching clients, nor to anyone reading this. For my long run I normally go up to 18 or 19 miles, or 5 hours on my feet whichever is longest…but ultimately I knew I had the fitness and mental toughness to just fight it out in the last few miles.
But as I said I was anxious.
A few months after securing my place the PR team from New York Road Runners the folks who run the event contacted me to ask if I would like to be included in a team of runners they would be featuring in their publicity, team MovedMe…of course I did right? A diverse group of runners all with inspirational stories. I will write another post later this week about some of the coll things I got involved in while in New York, including the launch party for JayBirds Tarah headphones (which I can tell you are pretty awesome)
What this meant in terms of race preparation was that throughout my 5 day trip to the Big Apple, I took part in photo shoots, the athletes parade, gave a talk at NYRR HQ, and generally just got involved in lots of cool media opportunities, including a run in Central Park a few days before. This was super exciting and a real honor to be involved…but it also meant I did a lot of trapsing around the city when really I could have done with the rest.
My story went viral, with articles with me being featured all across the world, from the Daily Mail Online, to News Asia, with coverage in Borneo, France, Germany, Australia, Namibia and many more places around the world, it was all quite overwhelming. It was great that so much of the comments were positive, but there are always a few idiots who use stories like this as a way to bash fat people. One comment on Twitter read,
Stop lying Julie Creffield, if you run that much you wouldn’t be fat
Now I am lucky that by and large, I don’t get a lot of trolls, but I am not going to lie comments like this do make you doubt yourself especially as this race was completely out of my comfort zone,
- Different country
- Different timezone
- Slightly undertrained
- Tired (averaging 25K steps per day even when trying not to)
- And to top things off I manage to pick up a urinary tract infection
I woke up at 3am, after tossing and turning since 10pm the previous night. I was sharing a room with one of my coaching clients and her friend, and I didn’t want to disturb them. So I moved into the bathroom and started to get ready.
I wasn’t feeling great.
I did wonder if I should pull out all together.
A bus was driving the Team MovedMe athletes from Uptown Manhatten to Staten Island where the race start was at 5am…I know right, proper early. Once safely on the bus I tried to sleep for the hour or so’s drive. I woke up to scenes which pretty much reminded me of a Hollywood Movie.
We were on the Varrazzano Bridge, along with like 100 other coaches full of athletes.
As we disembarked and followed the staff member to security it seriously felt like I was in some kind of end of the earth movie, there were police and army personnel everywhere, and a tannoy barking instructions, as thousands of people went through stringent security measures. I was actually quite scared, I think no sleep, nerves and feeling cold just made me feel super vulnerable.
Once in the VIP tent with breakfast and a cup of tea I did start to feel a bit better.
The organisation was incredible.
Shortly before 9am we moved to the holding pens. I was in the blue start wave one. I would be starting with faster runners than me and that worried me. I have a tendancy to go off to fast at the start of big races and then pay for it later. I knew I couldn’t do that for this race. I wasn’t feeling 100% and couldn’t work out if this was bad health or just nerves. I made a deal with myself that if at any point I felt unwell I would come of the course. If I am being honest I pretty much imagined this would be the case at some point, and I made peace with that.
The atmosphere was incredible. I have never done a race like this anywhere in the world. The patriotism was infectious, despite it being a truly international field. The race was started by Peter Ciaccia, New York Road Runner’s President and the TCS New York City Marathon Race Director, who has been a key player for over 17 years…this would be his last year in charge as he was stepping down.
There was an incredible amount of love for him in the crowds.
What a long day it must have been for him, as he went on to welcome the last runners at the event (David Fraser, Jannelle Hartman and Ruth Miller) more than 12 hours after the official start time.
Check out this awesome video of these guys crossing the line (lots of lessons to be learned by other races around the world in my view)
So back to me (ha ha)
The gun went off, and I started moving. There was an eery quiet as we made our way across the 3km bridge. It was the most beautiful of mornings, blue skys, sunshine, and not too cold. Perfect running conditions. I started off steady…my watch was frustratingly set to kms so I couldn’t do the maths to work out my pace, but I knew it was slower than normal and was good with that.
There were no crowds at all until we came into Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, but boy was it worth the wait. They were incredible…I’ve never experienced crowds like it. It was constant…like seriously, it was only the bridges that didn’t have anyone but otherwise it was 2 to 6 people deep across the whole route.
The signs, the cheers, the music, the diversity…it was spectacular.
My face was hurting from smiling so much, and I know I was using lots of energy thanking people, laughing at signs and high fiving kids but I wanted to enjoy it.
I was super aware though of what was going on with my body.
My tummy felt tender, and I kept an eye on my heart rate to make sure that I didn’t push too hard. But there were moments along the course where I did speed up because the energy was so great.
The thing with this race route is that it is basically one big long road for like 24K, then a hop across a bridge and an up and back route, so very few twists and turns. This took some serious mindset work to not think about it in that way, and just to focus on the next few blocks ahead of you at a time.
I was running 13-15 minute miles, where normally I would run 11-12 minute miles at the start of a marathon, but the pace felt right given the circumstances. I ran the first 9 miles with no stopping, other than walking through the water stations. I stopped for the loo at mile 7 too. I was taking tablets to ease the pain of my bladder infection and it had said to pee as frequently as you could, so in all I made 6 toilet breaks…almost one an hour.
At this point, I still wasn’t convinced I would run the whole race, I was just super grateful that I had experienced some of it.
Running through Queens was fun, the crowds were epic.
“You got this Julie” being the most popular shout out, with the occasional “You are not too fat to run”
I loved the signs, so much more creative than ones I have seen before.
“You have endured Trump for 2 years, this should be easy”
“Wish my husband had as much stamina as you”
“Hot (tick), Sweaty (tick), Sexy (tick) you should try sleeping with a Latino”
“You are running better than the C train at least”
The signs really kept me going, and the music. There were some great live bands around the course, and some great DJs.
The half way point came and went without much funfair at all, blink and you would have missed it.
The Queensborough Bridge was pretty tough…it was spectacular in terms of its views, but there were heaps of walkers by this point, and I must admit I walked most of this 2 mile section of the route, using the opportunity to refuel and check on my social media. I knew the ladies in The Clubhouse were live tracking me, as were hundreds of my pals from all over the world.
Marathon running can actually be a little lonely when you travel and then run by yourself. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone in the crowds either, so it was nice to check in and let folks know how I was doing. Fuelling wise, I was drinking Gatorade at every other fuel station, and I had some jelly things from Decathlon which were a nice alternative to gels.
Running along 1st avenue in Manhatten was where the real magic happened though, it was teaming with people. Just a wall of noise. By this point I wanted to walk, but the encouragement made me run. Sure, I took some short walking breaks but I was surprised at how much I was able to run at this point, seeing as my training hadn’t taken me this far.
I could feel myself getting emotional now and was fighting back tears, I was actually doing it, running my dream race, and enjoying every moment of it.
1st avenue seemed to go on for miles, well it did 4 miles in fact…through Harlem into The Bronx.
Running across the Willis Avenue Bridge I decided to play some music to give me a bit of a boost. A few evenings earlier I had been to the launch night of Jaybirds Tarah bluetooth headphones, headphones with get this….14 hours of battery power. Well luckily I didn’t quite need that much for this race…but I decided during this quiet bridge I would listen to some music and do a little test. (I will do a proper one, on a recovery run later this week)
Anyway, they were great and a bit of music was exactly what I needed to lift my spirits. I listened to about 30 minutes of the soundtrack from A Star is Born…and that was it, the crying started again…but they were tears of joy, tears of “wow I’m fucking doing this”, if you haven’t seen this film yet, go see it. And even though the film is a love story between two musicians, it actually made me think about the love I have for the sport of endurance running.
Wowsers. The emotion.
My pace had slowed even more by now, and there was much more walking…but still some sections of running where I could, where random folks from the crowd made me ha ha, or the music from the streets caught my soul and I couldn’t help myself.
I was hurting now. My calves were tight. My hips were sore. My knees were good though…they had been giving me grief the last few weeks as the cold weather set in back in the UK, but on race day they felt fine, and do now too.
By now I was like 21-22 miles in and I knew there was a good chance of me finishing, even if I had to walk the rest.
But I didn’t want to walk, I wanted to run and when I looked at my watch, I realised if I could run the final 4ish miles in an hour, I could get close to 7 hours. My previous times for marathons have been 5.50, 5.56 and 6.54…and that’s when my competitive side took over. My body felt OK, my fuelling seemed to be working, my legs were not too sore…I could do this.
So where there had been some 17 or 18 minutes miles in the middle of the race, my pace was consistently under 15 minutes for those last 4…helped by some lovely down hill sections through Central Park.
Just before I entered the park though I spotted a bright pink sign with Julie Creffield on it, and I ran over to the lady holding it, a lovely lady called Catherine who is in my online running club. I can’t tell you how delighted I was to see her, meeting her for the first time in the flesh. How lovely of her for coming out to cheer me on like that. It absolutely made my day. But after a few moments of taking photos, hugging and chatting, I was off again.
It was now approaching 5pm in Central Park, and the light was starting to fade. The crowds were still out in force, willing the runners to make it to the finish line which was “just round the next bend” for about two miles ha ha
Manhattan looked epic in the twilight, and I could hear the music from the finishing area.
But the last mile went on for EVER!!!
I was so close to the 7 hour mark too…would I make it?
I don’t know how I run those last sections, but I did.
And I crossed the line in 6.56.10
I RAN THE NEW YORK MARATHON….my ultimate bucket list race!!!!!
I’d like to say I was overcome with emotions at the finish line, and got an epic photo of me finishing but that’s not the case. Yes, I was happy to finish. But I think I’d had my big moments earlier on in the race. I was just relieved it was over, and was back to being super aware of how my body was doing. At the Brighton Marathon in 2014 I almost collapsed a few minutes after the race.
I knew I had to keep moving, and get warm, and take on some fuel.
I collected my medal, my poncho (which was so warm) and my goody bag and then followed the crowds out of the park.
I was a little disorientated and needed to find my bearings so I sat on a bench for a while, searching my bag for something salty…pretzels hurrah.
And now the mammoth task of getting back to my hotel.
The subway was packed, and I waited twenty minutes for the right train to come, in the end I walked back hoping I could hail a cab…stupid me, of course I wouldn’t be able to, there were like 50,000 runners trying to get home, along with all of their spectators, so I walked for 40 minutes back to my hotel on Madison Avenue and 45th Street.
All I wanted was something hot to eat, and to get off my feet.
I’d covered 65,000 steps.
When I eventually got back to my hotel room I ran a cold bath and made two trips to the ice machine. I have never had an ice bath after a race before, but I figured this was a good opportunity to try it. It wasn’t so bad…and I sat in there while sipping a celebratory brandy and coke which my roomie had brought me up from the bar.
40 minutes later I had had a warm bath, got dressed and was downstairs ready for something to eat.
Although 5 minutes after that all I needed to do was sleep….like seriously, I almost fell asleep on the oak bar ha ha
So by 8pm I was tucked up in bed asleep ha ha.
What an experience?
I’m now back at my desk in East London with a billion things to do, wondering did that even happen?
Too much to sum up in a blog post that’s for sure, no matter its length.
Later this week I will write another post about some of the things I learned about myself and the power of running while in New York, but for today I will finish this blog with some advice about going for your BIG FAT STUPID GOALS.
People, if your goals are not big enough to scare you, chances are they won’t change you.
So what scares you?
Plus…when you set yourself a big goal, you don’t need to know HOW it’s going to happen, just WHY it must. The details kind of sort themselves out as you go.
So don’t start talking yourself out of things by stressing about the logistics.
You can make it happen, once you have committed.
It’s never about the running.
I don’t cry because I am running a marathon. I cry because I continue to be amazed by humans. By the human spirit. By our capacity to overcome and endure, to inspire and to love complete strangers like they are our closest friends?
Marathons unite people, and the world needs more of that now right?
We need more examples of normal people doing extrordinary things, just because they can.
We grow up in life feeling like we have to be the best at everything, and if we can’t be the best then its not worth doing.
We can’t all be the best.
I am wonderfully rubbish at running, and yet still it has changed my life. It has changed the lives of thousands of people I will never even meet.
All it takes to be great is to do great things, to be courageous and willing to fail.
Dream big folks.
It’s all there for the taking.
Just take the leap.
And now….for some sleep ha ha
I’d like to say a massive thank you to a few people who helped make my New York Trip A) Possible and B) EPIC.
NYRRs, thank you for including me in your Team MovedMe, it felt wonderful to be featured and to meet so many other inspiring runners. Having my story in the official magazine is the stuff that dreams are made of for a blogger like me. A massive thank you to Martinus Evans who invited me to an impromptu blogger meet up (more about this in the next blog) and to Freekstack and Jaybird for my invite to the launch party in Brooklyn.
A big thank you to Becky Slack my PR gal, who set up interviews and put me on the radar of folks in NY I might never have made contact with otherwise. To Nikki, who kindly let me share her hotel bedroom after having to pull out of the marathon herself, and her friend Caps who had to put up with me too. Thank you to my friend Chantelle, and my daughters Dad who helped with the logistics of me being away for 5 days, and to all of my friends, family, and clients who cheered me on from start to finish, who celebrated me achieving this lifetime goal. I am a very lucky girl.
If you have a BIG, FAT, STUPID GOAL you would like to work on in 2019 and would like the support and structure of having an unorthodox life coach and a bunch of the best cheerleaders in the world on your team, check out Living a Bigger Life Mastermind my 6 month programme which starts in January. If you are on my email list, I will be sending out some information about an extended payment plan and bonus offer later this week. You can also email me for further details firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have been inspired by my marathon journey and would like to give it a go yourself, check out my book The Fat Girls Guide to Marathon Running, or if you have a spring 2019 marathon place and would like some coaching support, check out my training programme for marathon runners.