Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Running the City of Dreams

Brace yourself. If you don't want read me gushing about my wonderful time running the New York City Marathon, my fantastic culinary/cocktail pillage of the city and my incredible spectating crew, just stop reading. This weekend was infallibly awesome.

I've been stressed about running New York. I did not train properly. My longest training run was 15 miles. I promised myself I'd just relish the city and enjoy a child-free weekend with my husband and two of our closest friends. I had high expectations for a fun weekend, and this weekend vastly exceeded those expectations.

The hubs and I arrived mid-day on Thursday. Simply seeing the city from the plane is enough to get my heart racing. We checked into our hotel in Midtown (a great location on East 51st Street) and headed out to find food. We stumbled into The Smith around the corner from our hotel. The weather was beautiful, and we were able to sit near the open doors to people watch. I devoured a pot of mussels and fries along with a few cocktails. My husband ordered the best gnocchi ever cooked, and I indulged in some even though I'm trying to avoid wheat (so boring). 

After our late lunch we walked through Central Park. The fall colors were stunning. As usual there were people everywhere. The ice rink was already up; an interesting addition to a nearly 70 degree day in the City. We walked to the marathon finish line, and my nerves were already in high gear. We walked through the pavilion near the finish, and excitement started competing with my nerves. 
Autumn in the park with my biggest fan
Lounging at the finish

My Mountaineers were playing TCU that night, and we found a West Virginia bar in the Garment District (Jack Doyle's) a few miles from Central Park. I did all the things you're not supposed to do before a race: walked way too much, drank too much, ate way too much food. It was all 100% worth it. Once things started going poorly for my team we decided to walk back to the hotel. As usual New York was still packed with people on the walk back. It's just so alive.

WVU flags at Jack Doyle's
Macy's after dark
On Friday morning I decided to go for a quick 3-mile run to shakeout my legs. I ran to the Columbus Circle entrance to the park, and there were runners everywhere. It was a perfect morning - around 50 degrees. Apparently Michigan has made me hardy because I was wearing shorts compared to most people wearing tights/hats/gloves/jackets. It was kind of amusing. The run started sluggishly, but then I hit my stride. 

Following the run (and coffee!) we hit one of my must see NYC destinations - The High Line.  This beautiful park is a perfect retrofit of existing infrastructure. The former raised rail lines are now a tree-lined walkway with stunning views of the city. I was worried that I'd find the park overrated because I was so excited to see it, but I absolutely loved it. After walking most of the trail we hopped off for brunch at Bubby's High Line. The coffee and brunch was delicious and fueled our continued walk to the financial district.

The High Line

We hit our second touristy stop at the World Trade Center reflecting pools. It is a solemn memorial, but it was such a beautiful fall day. The day reminded me a lot of September 11 itself, and we found ourselves talking about how crazy it must have been that day in such a dense space. I've had a healthy dose of perspective lately, and visiting that spot contributed to it.

World Trade Center Memorial
One World Trade Center
The race expo was on the way back toward midtown, so we stopped to pick up my race packet. The expo was both overwhelmingly large and extremely organized. We seamlessly picked up my bib, shirt and race info. The Asics store was another story. My husband immediately jumped in the absurdly long line while I went shopping. I joined him in line and we waited about an hour. I appreciate there are 50,000 people running the race, but it took a very long time. By the time I bought my race swag I was ready to leave and didn't really get into the rest of the expo. 

All smiles at the expo

We met our friends at an Irish bar around the corner from our hotels for a few delicious Manhattans and snacks before changing for dinner. It was that evening that our real New York culinary excursion began. I love the Food Network show Chopped. The judges are all celebrity chefs with distinctive restaurants mostly in New York. This summer I began my tour of Chopped judges' restaurants by visiting Landmarc in Tribeca. Restaurant number two on the tour was Butter where Alex Guarnaschelli is the executive chef. Butter has been on the top of my list of New York restaurants for a long time.    

Butter was delightful. From the dark paneled rooms and beautiful atmosphere to the delicious pinot noir and oysters, everything was perfect. I had a steak and grits, and again - perfect. Our service was impeccable, and Butter was everything I expected it to be and more. I could barely move when we left.

We left Butter to meet friends of our friends at Monkey Bar, a New York institution. It was there that Manhattans and Scotch flowed freely. Again not the best pre-marathon training plan, but it was the most fun. 

Saturday morning threatened to be sluggish, but I popped a few Motrin, drank some water and powered through. We had a quick breakfast and then shopped (okay mostly drooled/gawked) at Bergdorf Goodman. I did buy a Christmas ornament and felt very fancy carrying my Bergdorf bag around Manhattan. Next stop was hair of the dog Bloody Marys at the St. Regis, the bar that perfected the modern Bloody.   We learned that the name was deemed too racy when the cocktail was invented in 1934, so it was renamed the "Red Snapper" and has that name to this day.
Enjoying cocktails at the St. Regis with my dear friend Tonia

Cocktails and Bergdorf Goodman? Yes please!
We went from the St. Regis to Harlem for the second Chopped judge's restaurant: Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster. It is so different than Butter that it's hard to compare. The casual atmosphere felt festive, and the food was exquisite. The corn bread and mac 'n cheese were incredible. They were also worth thwarting my attempt to limit wheat. So worth it. 

Red Rooster - delicious!

Following brunch/cocktails I hit my pre-marathon wall. I headed back to the hotel for a nap while the rest of my crew rallied. We met up later for dinner. We were looking for a place in our neighborhood and ended up back at The Smith because it was less crowded. My husband and I lamented eating at the same restaurant twice in a city with thousands of restaurants, but it was really good. The food was again incredible, and our service was great. I had a flavorful paella whose rice was the perfect pre-marathon carb source. The oysters at The Smith were also delicious. I certainly got my shellfish fix this weekend.

I went to sleep early in anticipation of the 5 am wake-up call. The daylight savings time change helped, although I felt sad to miss Halloween in NYC. I slept remarkably well and was out the door by 5:30 am to Whitehall Terminal to catch the Staten Island Ferry. 

The ferry was packed, and interestingly very few people around me spoke English. It was like running a race in a foreign country (more than 170 countries are represented in the race), and I loved listening to everyone around me and feeling like I was in my own little bubble.

Once I arrived in my starting village on Staten Island I had about three hours to kill. I don't usually run with my phone, but I knew I'd be bored if I was stuck there for hours with nothing to do. I walked around the area, ate some snacks, went to the bathroom 742 times, and just waited. Finally around 10 am I headed toward the start. 
The bridge from the green village on Staten Island

I worked hard to keep my nerves in check. By the time I was at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge hearing Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York" I was ready. The crowd was excited and packed. I was on the lower deck of the bridge, and we took off right on time. The bridge was oddly quiet, but the view of Manhattan was spectacular. I kept one eye ahead hurdling clothing shed by runners and one eye on the country's most notorious skyline. 

When we got into Brooklyn the crowds were killing it. As advertised there were people everywhere. I tried to soak in everything. I high-fived every outstretched hand. I sang to songs that were playing. I read signs. I looked around. I tried in vain to remember all of it, but I'm sure I missed valuable moments.       

My husband and our friends were at mile eight. Despite the crowds I spotted them easily. I ran up and said hi and gave them my phone. Running with a phone is the worst. Seeing them gave me a boost of energy to propel me on for a few miles. 

All smiles at mile 8!
Around mile 10 I needed a bathroom stop, and it was rough because there were lines at every one. I realized I would just have to lose the time, and I made a (relatively) quick stop. By the halfway point I was starting to struggle. It was starting to feel hard. I hadn't walked except through water stations for 15-25 seconds, and my pace was steady. Despite that it was getting difficult. I made myself promise to hold on until I saw my peops at mile 18, and then I would reevaluate how I felt. 

I was sluggish for the few miles in Queens, but I pushed it out. Crossing the Queensboro Bridge was challenging because it was long and quiet, but the reward was First Avenue. First Avenue is infamous for being the biggest spectator point in the marathon. After the quiet of the bridge, First Avenue is where you regain your mojo. I have to admit I was a little disappointed at first. The crowds were large, but it felt like they weren't really cheering. I heard people cheering for their own runners, but they weren't cheering for the whole fleet of us. I get it - we were a few hours in at this point, but I was a little surprised by it. There was a water stop not too far into that part of the course, and after that the crowds seemed more lively.

My posse was in full cheering force at mile 18. I slowed to tell them I was struggling and get some much needed encouragement. In the course of 26.2 miles six doesn't seem like a lot, but it's still a long time. Luckily I had Queens coming up.

We crossed into Queens just at mile 20, and the atmosphere was electric. There was music playing and a woman shouting "Welcome to Queens!" over and over again. As I rounded the corner at mile 20 Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" was playing. I know it's cliche, but I love that song. Playing it at mile 20 in a marathon is always a good idea. I started singing along and rounded the corner to see a group of college aged kids all wearing green t-shirts and dancing. I decided it would be super fun to stop for a minute and dance with them. It was so fun. It gave me the second wind I needed.

I ran into Harlem to the tune of Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire" which I assumed they were playing just for me. Right before mile 22 a guy with a microphone announced, "Miss Alicia Keys ladies and gentlemen!" I looked to my right, and it was Alicia Freaking Keys right there. I had a total fan girl moment. I knew my crew was going to be at mile 22 or 23, so I decided I needed to run really hard and announce to them that Alicia Keys was nearby. 

I ran hard until I saw my crew between miles 23 and 24. I ran up gushing about seeing Alicia Keys and feeling so excited. I still had so much energy, but I was about to hit the dreaded wall.

Mile 18: "Oh my God I saw Alicia f-ing Keys!"
I headed into the Park, and when I hit mile 24 I was struggling. Hard. My quad muscles felt like they were barely working, and it was taking 100% of my energy to finish the race. At mile 25 I started repeating "you're almost there; nice and steady" over and over again in my head. The end of that race was all mental. The funny thing about a marathon is you'd think mile 26 feels like a victory; instead it's when you realize how far .2 miles is at the end of 26. With 200 meters to go I reached deep and sprinted (at least I intended to sprint; it probably wasn't the fastest) to the finish. I passed several people and felt great. I had no idea what my time was. Clocks on the course said 5 hours and 20ish minutes, and that seemed slow. I didn't care though. I had finished the New York Marathon.

I hobbled to get my medal and snacks/water before heading off to get my poncho. It was probably 45 minutes or so before I met my cheering section at the reunion area. My husband ran toward me gleefully and hugged me shouting, "You did so great!" I looked at him and asked what my time was. I honestly had no idea. I finished in 4:44:01. Way faster than my sort of goal of breaking 5 hours and more than 30 minutes faster than my marathon PR. It hurt so good.
Love this candid moment!
Tears when I found out my time

We stopped at a street vendor for a hot dog and full calorie Coca-Cola before walking back to the hotel (about a mile). I took the world's longest shower and relaxed for a few minutes before we headed off to dinner.

Dinner at Geoffrey Zakarian's The Lambs Club rounded out our trifecta of Chopped judges' restaurants. I love duck in an obsessive way, and the duck was superb. We shared delicious sides of brussel sprouts, turnips, gnocchi and chickpea frites. It was the perfect way to end our culinary adventure.

The apex of the weekend was drinks at The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station. This place is straight out of an episode of MadMen with dark paneled walls, plush furniture, and impeccable cocktails. We could have been having drinks in New York in the 1930s. It was chic and classic. Unfortunately the day began taking its toll, and I headed back to the hotel after one drink there as our group enjoyed the last night in New York.

In heels heading out for post-race dinner
Grand Central at night
The Campbell Apartment
This weekend, like the City of New York itself, was irreproachable. The food, the drinks, the race, my husband and our friends...I wouldn't change a thing about its greatness. I am so grateful to have the ability to run and travel to vibrant places to do it. Thank you, New York, for being such a consummate host for this event. Thank you Chris, Tonia and Bob for your support and love. It is what made the weekend the best. I'm not planning to run another marathon any time soon, and I will ride this high for a while. I love New York!   


  1. OMG! So jealous of your trip! This is my dream marathon...well Napa is high on my list as well! Congrats on your PR! You rock lady. HEELS POST MARATHON?! SHIT! I have big (high) shoes to fill next weekend!!

    1. It was amazing. I imagine the Napa Marathon is pretty fantastic too. They were the only shoes that matched my outfits. What's a girl to do?