I knew it was coming. I trained hard for it. But nothing could prepare me for the overwhelming emotions that came with running the NYC Marathon in Isabella’s honor last weekend.
Thousands of us poured into Whitehall Station on the tip of Manhattan early Sunday morning to board the ferries that would take us to Staten Island. My nerves were a mess, the crowds were huge and the lines for the bathroom where 100 people long. All the runners were friendly, sharing marathon stories, cheering, singing songs from their home countries – terminal was bursting with excitement. I was so thankful that I was able to meet up with my teammate Brian and go thru the rest of the journey to the starting line with him. There was something so comforting about being with a friend when surrounded by 50,000 strangers.
On the Ferry, most runners were quiet, enjoying the time to sit and rest while looking out at the Hudson River and Lady Liberty waving us on. It was only when we arrived in Staten Island that the chaos ensued. The terminal was packed, the lines were insane and no one was moving! A shuttle transfer that should have taken 15 minutes ended up taking over an hour and a half. We finally arrived at the starting village, went thru security and headed to our corral only to find that it had already closed and we couldn’t run in our scheduled start time. Our start was delayed 20 minutes, just enough time for me to get my music and apps setup and send a quick text to friends and family so they knew I’d be starting late.
We moved to our start on the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge. The National Anthem echoed thru the crowd and the blast of the cannon signaled the start of our race. Our starting pace was slow because the crowds were so thick. I knew it was great to start conservative in order to finish strong, but it also gave me another advantage. I spent the first mile and a half of the race on the left side of the bridge, looking out at the New York City Skyline and the Freedom Tower welcoming us to the five boroughs.
I saw my best friend and her family in Brooklyn. They were standing out in the cold, wearing shirts that said “Team Juls”. I slowed down just enough to give them high fives and tell them that I loved them. Those 15 seconds with them carried me through Brooklyn.
There were street parties, crazy signs, marching bands and children lining the streets. Church choirs sang on the steps of cathedrals and reggae bands had the runners and spectators grooving. I got more high-fives that day than I had in my entire life. Each one have me a small burst of energy, each one made my heart grow a little more. What I wasn’t prepared for was that people would read my shirt and cheer for Isabella. Within the first 5 miles of the run, I heard of TWENTY people yell “Run for Isabella” or “Go Isabella’s Team” (after that I stopped counting, it was just too many!). They don’t know me. They don’t know the Santos family. But they sent such good vibes and energy. They cheered for the sweet girl I had pinned next to my heart.
Throughout the race, words of encouragement were not only found on the streets of New York, but they were ringing in my ear. Coach Tom had told us about an app that allows supporters to send messages along the route. I heard 28 messages that day. Some made me smile, some made me cry and some made me laugh so hard even New Yorkers looked at me like I was crazy!! Hearing from my friends and family on the journey made me feel like they were all there with me.
After 23 long but exciting miles, I made my way over the final bridge that took us from The Bronx into Manhattan. It’s usually by this mile of a marathon when I hit “The Wall”. This time, it didn’t happen. I felt powerful and invigorated by the crowds – I ran down 5th Avenue feeling strong. At one point we came to a fire station. They had taken their truck to the edge of the sidewalk, extended the ladder over 5th Avenue and hung American flags from it. The firefighters were lined up next to their truck cheering and giving encouragement. It was a powerful moment and just what everyone needed as we made our final turn into Central Park.
The park was lined with spectators and filled with hills. It was as if I didn’t feel the hills, all I heard were the cheers. As I rounded the corner and the finish line was in sight, a woman on the sidewalk yelled “Take Isabella to the Finish Line!” and I’m proud to say that’s just what I did.