David Morgan completes NYC Marathon for diabetes

The first New York City Marathon took place in 1970 and was held entirely in Central Park. There were just 127 entrants and only 55 of them finished.

Fast forward to 2019, and the TCS New York Marathon has grown to become the world’s largest, with more than 50,000 national and international participants, including David Morgan running for Diabetes Australia, taking part in the 42.2 kilometre-long course through the heart of the Big Apple.

November 2, 2019

I imagine there are thousands of people filled with excitement and anticipation, like me right now. Sleeping is near impossible, so rest will have to do.

It’s the eve of the New York Marathon, the world’s biggest marathon. If that’s not intimidating enough, the crowds should be, with more than 50,000 runners and tens of thousands of spectators expected.

A 42.2 kilometre (26.22 mile) course that demands respect is where I’ll pit my ambition, hopes and body against chasing what I’ve dubbed Mr Personal Best (Mr PB) While waiting, sleepless, for daybreak, I’m left with my thoughts after months of training, preparation and travel: Will I chase hard enough? Mr PB can be elusive, and demands any runners very best to be beaten. All the training, diet and travel has left me wondering...

November 3, 2019

It happens to be daylight saving too - as I watch the clock turn from 1:59 to 1:00.

Sleep I can’t, wait I must...

4:00am arrives, it’s time.

Within an hour I’m in a taxi, bag in hand, headed downtown for the ferry to Staten Island, the starting point of this world-renowned marathon.

The ferry terminal is buzzing with thousands of runners who have arrived en mass for the event. Crisp morning air and a glow of light across the horizon promises a relatively sunny day with a temperature around 12 degrees Celsius, ideal for running.

With first light, runners of every description – local, national, international, young and old, male and female – disembark the ferry and transfer to a fleet of buses waiting to convey them 22-kilometres to the start village at Fort Wadsworth, on the eastern shore of Staten Island.

A formidable military structure built on the Narrows of New York Harbour, Fort Wadsworth has guarded the entry to New York City for more than 200-years. In the crush I haven’t managed to find a seat, but a doorstep to sit on is more than some of my fellow runners find.

A gentleman joins me and shares his ambition as we’re tucked in side-by-side on the bus. This will be his second New York Marathon, he says, and he’ll be chasing Mr PB for the satisfaction of one-minute faster than last year.

People pouring from the buses converge into the staging area and three start villages – blue, orange and green. I’m in the blue village.

With a three-hour wait ahead, the well-prepared produce blankets, mats and blow-up mattresses. I settle in and sit on my poncho.

The cold air leaves me thankful it’s not raining as I ponder how much worse my preparation for this event could be.

Matt, a runner from Great Britain, joins me as I shiver on the poncho and tells me of his hopes for the race.

After training hard and travelling to the USA with extended family, the pressure of chasing Mr PB is weighing heavily on him, Matt says, and his family is there to track and watch his performance.

The nerves are looming large as we eventually move through the starting gates. It’s pandemonium as a sea of people proceed from their the blue, orange and green sections to the starting line: helicopters hover above, and the crowd cheers when a band plays the Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States.

I’ve never watched a New York Marathon before nor anticipated the scale of this event - it’s huge.

The starting cannon fires, bellowing smoke, yet nobody appears to move. Instead, weirdly, tens of thousands of relaxed-looking people start to stretch.

How does one run at pace amid such an enormous crowd, I wonder as I approach the starting line.

I quickly find out as I walk with the hordes of people flooding the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, a 1.3 kilometre-long suspension bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten Island: I can’t start at my expected pace because walls of people dictate how fast we can run.

The start is an incline up the bridge, and it’s difficult to navigate as so many runners bump, block and forge their way forward.

Luckily, by the time I reach the top of the top of the bridge – some 70-metres above water level - the waves of runners are clustered and running at a similar pace.

The running is easy, now at pace. Forty-two kilometres is long way so I settle in, though there’s nothing natural about running simultaneously with so many people. I concentrate on breathing.

As we exit the bridge it is to the sight of thousands of spectators: every available spectators space is full. The massive crowd roars and cheers, bands blast out music, people wave signs and car horns honk - I’ve never seen anything that compares to the scale of support for the New York Marathon.

The kilometres tick over; I’m doing okay, as I eye the halfway point I’m just a second off my goal average of 4:14 minutes per kilometre. Then, 23-kilometres in, the crowds thin out and we’re left at the base of Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge because its Manhattan end is located between 59th and 60th Streets.

Runners slow down for the long slog up the enormous 2.3 kilometre-long cantilevered bridge, which spans the East River. Quickly, I start weaving left and right amid hundreds of runners, willing my way to the top.

I’m confronted by this colossal error as I start the decline: a quick assessment, and it appears to be my quad (the quadriceps are the group of four muscles on the front of the thigh that act to straighten the leg at the knee).

All the speedy side-stepping around the human barriers on the incline wasn’t part of my training. I’ve never previously had a quad strain. I’ll push through it, it’ll release, and the pain will pass, I insist to myself.

Running off the bridge onto flat ground, I can’t get back to speed. The quad pain becomes my new companion along this course.

On a brighter note, the crowd reappears, encouraging runners every step of the way. While the cheering crowds bring inspiration, Mr PB is taunting me: my running plan has gone out the window and I don’t have a plan B.

Each and every kilometre is hard. The crowds have become abstract and fades into the background. I can still beat you Mr PB, I tell myself. No, I can’t. Yes, I can. I stop watching my watch and push myself forward. Unfortunately, the large frequent timing displays remind me I’ve got more than an hour to go.

Depressingly, people start to pass me. The pain must be across my face because a runner falls into step with me: “Stay strong, just keep going,” he says. It’s the nicest gesture of the day and, given the way I feel, certainly timely. I can only muster a muttered “thanks mate” in response.

Momentarily, as in his company I attempt to stay at his pace, I’m okay. Then he runs off ahead of me, which is somehow symbolic of my goal time, which has gone. All I can do now is dig deep, embrace the pain, and persevere.

Manhattan’s iconic Central Park is eventually in front of me, and nothing else matters. I take in the huge crowds once more as I continually calculate the minutes of suffering still ahead of me.

Inside the park I see a runner who has collapsed and, a few steps along, another runner on the ground; both are being treated by medics. As I slog along I notice that many runners have slowed to walking pace.

Reality hits home. I’m still running. I just need to finish, running. After chasing Mr PB through the entire New York Marathon course, which runs through all five of New York City’s boroughs - Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Central Park - I cross the finishing line to the cheers of onlookers. It’s a huge relief. Done.

Three hours, 12 minutes, 27 seconds - a Personal Best (PB), and just five-minutes behind my initial goal.

The finish requires all the strength and stamina I have left. The pain in the quad as I hobble away from the finish line reminds me that I have a lot more work to do in training. But for now I’m content with my effort.

The complex logistics around this huge and well-orchestrated event, and the celebrations it brings to the Big Apple, continues beyond the finish line; medics offer assistance, volunteers congratulate everyone, and the crowds continue to cheer. I join thousands of exhausted runners shuffling slowly away from the course, one foot in front of the other.

In this year’s marathon, 53,629 runners – 30,887 men and 22,742 women - crossed the finish line.

I pass a fellow runner who looks like he’s suffering too. “Are you okay?” I ask. “Not so good before, but now I am happy,” he replies with a grimace of pain.

I know how he feels.

Written by:

David Morgan