“New York won’t let you fail,” I wrote on the bottom of my left running shoe. On the right, I scribbled “Listen.” On Marathon Sunday, I smiled at my perfect choice of words. The New York City Marathon — the largest in the world — is supported by sound. It also has one of the highest rates of finishers.
As a slow recreational runner, I was in the fourth and final wave, which started at 10:55 a.m. in Staten Island. Waiting near the Verrazano Bridge, I huddled against high winds with a Korean woman, who spoke a little English. She shared my yoga mat on the damp grass, while sweatshirts and coffee cups flew over our heads. Phew. Nearby, portable bathrooms opened and closed. Flack. Flack.
Each time the canon went off — the opening cue for earlier groups of runners — the Start Village screamed, waving to competitors on both levels of the bridge. “These canons remind me of the Hunger Games,” I said to my Korean friend. We were practically snuggling, close as siblings, but I knew she didn’t understand.
When it was our time to start, I was thrilled my group got the same treatment as other racers. We were treated to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And that real canon. Boom. And the song “New York, New York.” On the upward hump of the Verrazano, I heard nothing but wind. I caught up with my friend, Steve, who helped me navigate flying hats and pants. “Isn’t this great?” we yelled into the air.
When we got into Bay Ridge, I couldn’t stop smiling. Band after band along one solid line of cowbells and underground subways. “These people love us,” I told Steve. “Look at all those people hitting pots from their windows.” For these flat sections, where Steve ran ahead, I let my mantra shoes pull me along, all through Brooklyn and Queens.
On the 59th Street Bridge, I loved the abrupt change. Instead of human voices, we heard weird flute-like sounds, like the inside of a seashell. On the Manhattan side, we emerged to cheers and a band that helped me pick up my pace. “Music is exactly what I need,” said a fellow marathoner. In the Bronx, I made eye-contact with a band leader who yelled, “This is the Bronx!” I stopped to jam as empty Gatorade cups scuttled across pavement.
“Run Ann!” Bronx residents yelled over and over, referring to a puff paint slogan across my chest. I just grinned and began to run/walk with my head held high. By the time I got to Harlem, my feet were cramping. True, I had just crossed the 20-mile mark, but dancing to two Harlem bands couldn’t help. But residents were singing and chanting like it was their spiritual job. I had to do mine.
Back in Manhattan along uphill Fifth Avenue, I started to hit the wall; but I had prepared for this and referred to my shoes: “New York won’t let you fail” and “Listen, Listen.”
In Central Park, I picked up my pace and was able to finish with some dignity, my feet crossing the red and blue rubber line. Plunk. As I accepted my medal and my heat wrap — swish — I heard myself say a new mantra. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I did it. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I try to eliminate street noise, but for Marathon Sunday, the city clatter helped me thrive.