The Ice Bath Cometh: NYC Marathon 2016

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While this was only my third marathon, I have run many races and feel quite confident in saying that there is nothing like the NYC Marathon. It’s like being in the biggest block party or parade in the world. Well alright, it’s like being at the best party ever in your favorite heels and then you stay too long and have to limp your way home with your shoes in your hands. But the great parts are really awesome.

So this year’s marathon was supposed to be my do over of 2014. However, halfway through my training I realized that I wasn’t feeling as strong as in 2014. I was on a different schedule and wasn’t completing my prescribed strength training workouts like I was supposed to and missed a few training runs. But since my 2014 time was hampered by the weather and a stint in the medical tent I figured I could still beat my time if I ran a smart race.

Race Day

Another runner and I partnered to keep the shuttered Lynbrook Runner’s Stop marathon bus tradition going. Shout out to Tova. I love it when a plan comes together. Special thanks to Lynbrook Bagels that opened up at 4:30 A.M accommodate us with coffee, tea and bagels. Michael, you rock. Yes, we were turning heads and riding in style.

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Loaded up and ready to go in our posh bus.

Thanks to our bus driver, Drew, we made it over the Verrazano Bridge and into Staten Island before the bridge was shut down for the race.

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Tova, me & Drew

As is our tradition, we hung out at Mickey Ds before being transported to Fort Wadsworth to the infamous Slum Village. As we were going through security, I overheard one of the police officers say to her colleague, “Look at them … all smiling and $#@%.” As I looked around at the beaming faces of lambs knowingly marching to their slaughter, I was extremely tickled by the comment. I guess we did seem like a strange bunch.

Slum Village

I spent a little more time in Slum Village this time around. I didn’t mind because the weather was great. Shout out to my village partner, Cami. I had another bagel, used the facilities and dealt with some phantom chafing. There was no way the chafing could have been real but I was convinced that I felt it and dove behind a UPS truck to handle my business. A volunteer tried to convince me to try a new Gatorade Endurance Formula. I self righteously announced, “Nothing new on race day” and slipped the packet into my pocket. There was some awesome Slum Village scenery this year. I thought air mattress dude was great but the Black Lives Matter guy had him beat hands down. Where he was going to pin his bib might be one of life’s great mysteries.

The Race

Before too long I was nervously listening to a stirring rendition of God Bless America and then “BOOM” the cannon went off to signify the start of my wave. Off I went, running the Verrazano Bridge. I made sure I stayed in the middle of the bridge because I was on the lower level and rumor has it that runners relieve themselves on the top level and it blows onto  the runners on the pee pee level below. Since there was an announcement warning runners that they would be disqualified if they urinated on the bridge I doubted it would happen but decided to be cautious anyway. the-bridge-is-overI was grateful to get mile 1 done because it was all uphill. After mile two the bridge was over and because I was in the Green Wave we were directed onto a parkway.

 

Now, I have run the other other route and no one can tell me that the Green Wave route doesn’t have more inclines. My legs are super hill detectors. They cannot be fooled. Anyway, it was completely different running this route because you don’t get the full on hype of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn until Mile 3. There were people cheering but they were ALL cheering for Missy and Joey, a random couple with neon green shirts with their names in massive black print. I caught the eyes of a few runners and I could tell we were on one accord, we were not feeling Missy and Joey at all. I slowed down so M & J would run out of my range. Now there was a silver lining for me, which wasn’t the guy that I saw taking a whiz on the parkway (I’m not judging him … well maybe a little), it was that I picked up a running partner after Mile 2. I believed it happen just as we turned onto Bay Ridge Parkway. I met Houston. He was running next to me and looked at the happy and cheering spectators and said, “Wow, this is Brooklyn? I thought Brooklyn was rough.” I responded, “Try tomorrow.” We chuckled. Before you start sending the hate mail just know that Brooklyn is my favorite Borough. This man was in awe of the love we were getting in Brooklyn. I felt the need to warn him that he had seen nothing yet because Fourth Avenue is where the party really starts. We turned the corner onto Fourth and he was in awe. It was off the hook. The music was blaring, there was a choir on one side of the street and a preacher on the other. Strangers were screaming my name every few feet.  Houston seemed really amused by this. I bet he’ll wear his name on his shirt the next time. After a couple of miles Houston bid me farewell and took off to do his thing. It was cool though because I was having a blast. It was even better than I remembered. I was sooooooo happy.

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Brooklyn, what’s not to love

I saw one of my running partners at the Mile 7 water stop. What a great surprise. Thanks for volunteering Launette. At Mile 8 I saw my former tri-coach hanging from a scaffolding looking like Dr. Suess. Cheers Coach Jackie. Then I ran into a bunch of BGR! ladies. I stopped for a moment for hugs. Thanks V, Katrina and crew. I was having a blast. And just when I thought the spectator support couldn’t get any better, I turned on to Lafayette Avenue. Words cannot explain the hype of Lafayette. Since it is a narrower street than Fourth Avenue, the spectators flank the runners on each side of the street and the Lafayette folk came to cheer. They were calling my name like we were long lost buddies. The businesses were blasting music. Most notably there was a huge group outside of a restaurant wearing costumes doing the YMCA dance. I was hard to leave Lafayette after Mile 9. I decided to make a pit stop at the porta potty at Mile 10. The line wasn’t very long but unfortunately a few of the runners decided to take mini vacations in the facilities. I was stopped for five minutes. I had to get my legs going again after that and was moving right along until after Mile 14 when I felt the twinge. My left quad started to spasm. I pulled over to the side and retrieved a salt packet from my belt. After I popped the salt, I realized that I had no water. My face must have been puckered really badly because some spectators started to yell, “You can do it.” puckered-faceSuddenly I remembered the packet of Gatorade Endurance Formula that I picked up from the Slum Village. I washed down the salt and got going. Hallelujah, I was healed and just in time for me to begin the dastardly incline of the Queensboro Bridge. I ran off the bridge excited to hit First Avenue and the wild Manhattan crowd. I ran towards the Mile 16 water stop screaming BGR! It took me a few moments but I found my long Island ladies. There were hugs and encouragement. I asked for Gatorade and realized I was at the water table. No worries, someone brought me Gatorade. I soooo love my BGR! sisters. They sent me on my way and I did a mental check of how I was feeling and realized that I felt better at this point than I did in 2014. I was encouraged. I was doing my thing and moving up First Avenue and then, WHAM, a massive cramp developed in my right quad. I pulled all the way over to the railing and took the remainder of my salt. It wasn’t doing anything for me. My leg was killing me. I looked at my watch. I was only at Mile 17.5. I figured I’d push my way to the Mile 18 medical tent. So now I’m limping but still trying to run. I must have looked pretty bad. I could hear spectators screaming my name (I later realized they were my BGR! sisters who were right next to me, trying to check on me). I was in a fog and focused only on getting to Mile 18. I made it to the medical tent, asked for salt and told them that I have a cramp. They made me lay down on a gurney while the medic guy massaged my quad. They brought me salt and Gatorade. They told me they would look for Tylenol but they aren’t sure that they have any. WHAAAAT? YOU ARE THE MEDICAL TENT! I am silent and smile politely. I’m feeling better and they start to help me up off the gurney which triggers the cramp. I scream and fall back onto the gurney. This happens a couple of times. The last time it happened a cramp seized my left quad too and another person in the tent had to rush over to assist because both legs were gone and I was going DOWN. Now I’m worried. I asked them to massage me standing up. After awhile I was able to stand and they found me a Tylenol. I announced that I was leaving and one of the medical volunteers looked at me wide eyed and said, “You have eight miles to go.” I’LL SHOW HER!!! I thanked them and hobbled away. This is where I began my run walk journey. It was probably more walk than run but every time I would feel the slightest twinge I would switch from run to walk or from walk to run.

The Bronx is Bananas

Like Literally, they were handing out banana pieces.

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It was brown where they cut it but I was in no shape to be picky

My piece of banana was in bad shape but I peeled it and gobbled it down praying that the potassium would go straight to my quads. The energy was great in the Bronx too. Despite my discomfort, I had a good laugh when I saw a woman holding a sign that said, “Smile If You Peed A Little.” There were a few DJs there. One was playing the Wobble, I love the Wobble but this big girl was not trying to back it up. Forward Please!!!! After turning a corner I believe I saw DJ Kool Herc playing Shake What Your Mama Gave Ya. I considered getting a pic with him but I would have had to run a few extra feet out of my way and I just didn’t have it in me. I just wanted to get to Fifth Avenue. I kept telling myself, “It’s a straight shot from 5th.” I don’t recall there being so many turns, curves and bridges (maybe it was just one) before I got to Fifth.

Manhattan Part Deux

I was so relieved to finally hit Fifth Avenue but then realized that I still had four miles to go. The Fifth Avenue stretch is difficult. There is no other way to put it. The crowds are starting to tire and dwindle and the old legs feel heavy. As I was contemplating the drudgery of the stretch, I heard my name. Shout out to Candice, who was at 135th with her brilliant smile. You have no idea how much it meant to see you at that point. Syracuse University love in the house!!! As I continued on I tried not to look at the street numbers as I passed them. At mile 23, I thought about my 2014 experience there and reaffirmed that I would finish this race. TCS New York City Marathon 2014 Recap I was going to show the doubting volunteer at the Mile 18 medical tent. Yes I was!!! Before, I knew it I was turning into Central Park. A little over two miles to go. I looked around at the growing number of spectators and felt like they were all just staring at me. I’m not sure what came over me but I started screaming, “Cheer the runners, Cheer the runners.” I was waving my arms frantically like a Hip Hop hype man. flavA fellow runner next to me was encouraging me in this craziness. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he yelled. But for all of our efforts all we got were a few lackluster “WOOOS.” The poor spectators were beat but reinforcements were on the way. At Mile 24, there was a BGR contingency screaming for me. Thanks Tonja and company. I waved and in retrospect I should have stopped but I was in one of my run modes. Then at the water stop I saw another friendly face. Shout out to Tamika. Gatorade never tasted so good. I soldiered on with my run/walk. Now people were screaming, “You’re almost there.” The Mile 26 sign was in sight but it was still a tease because … well … that .2. Then I saw two guys holding up another runner. To me this signified that the finish line was right ahead. For some reason, I only ever see those sights at the finish. I looked for it and I thought i could see it. There were bright neon lights ahead of me. It was starting to get dark and I ran to the light. Please let me not be dying. Nope, it was the finish. As I crossed it, the NYRR President congratulated me. I thought, you sir have had a long day. I thanked God that I safely completed another race. I looked to my right and there was a runner crying like a baby. For a second I wondered if she was hurt then it dawned on me, we just completed the New York City Marathon.

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In Closing

It was the best race that I have ever run. My slowest time but the best nonetheless. I crawled in at 5:51:06. I was so happy to just be a part of it. I even suspended my Reasons Why I Hate NYC posts for a week (even though someone was tossed in front of a train). The TCS Marathon App was great. My friends and family were able to get a good read on how I was doing at all times. The medal was bigger and the weather beautiful. This race deserves all the hype and more.

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TCS New York City Marathon 2014 Recap

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WARNING: This is an extremely long and self-indulgent post. Okay, carry on at your own risk.

On November 2, 2014, I completed the five borough, five bridge trek to Central Park. It was the largest marathon the world has ever seen with 50,875 participants. I am excited to be a part of history, until next year when I’m sure there will be even more runners.

The week leading up to the marathon was a little overwhelming. There were the logistics: getting to the expo for bib pick up; navigating the huge expo; pre-race hydrating and fueling; race fueling; resting; laying out appropriate race clothing; transportation to the race; and organizing throwaway clothing to wear in the the slum village (I’ll explain later). I had my race clothes prepared two weeks in advance but had to change them the day before due to cold and windy weather that was being forecast a couple of days out from the race. And by Thursday night I was suffering with a head cold. Seriously??!!! A full blown cold, just three days before the race.

I was totally feeling like this guy
I was totally feeling like this guy

But the show had to go on. I tried to get as much rest as I could and drank a ton of hot drinks. By race morning I was feeling a lot better and was too excited to think about my congestion. I left the house while it was still dark out, which was really unfortunate since my wave (the we’re just happy to be here wave) wasn’t starting the race until 10:55 a.m. I headed to Lynbrook Runner’s Stop to take their bus to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. We had to cross the Verrazano by 7:00 a.m. before it got shut down for the marathon. The idea was to get to Fort Wadsworth and then wait in Marathon Start Villages aka Slum Village for your wave to begin. Because runners had to wait for hours in the Villages, it was necessary to bring warm clothing and/or blankets that you could leave behind. So it looked like a small town of panhandlers.

start village

slum villageI actually saw some people in footie pajamas. Mercifully, our bus arranged for warm accommodations for as long as possible. So by the time I arrived at Fort Wadsworth, it was time to check my bag and line up at my corral. Just in case I forget to say this later, do not check baggage for this race. You will be penalized. More on this later.

STATEN ISLAND (Miles 1-2)

The Staten Island portion of the race was basically the Verrazano Bridge. It would be easy they said. Don’t go out too fast they said. It will be over before you know it they said. Now I had read that you would know if you were in trouble at around Mile 15 (the Queensboro Horror) but I could tell that trouble was afoot in Mile 1. The wind was blowing so hard that NYRR started the wheelchair division on the other side of the bridge in Brooklyn. There were sustained winds at 35 mph and wind gusts up to 45 mph with a wind chill of 32 degrees. Awesomeness!!! The Throwaway clothing was being picked up by the wind and was flying through the air. I couldn’t wait to get off the wretched bridge but it just seemed to go on forever.

BROOKLYN (Miles 2-13)

What a sweet reprieve. As soon as we got off the bridge, the party started. Brooklyn was off the chain. The crowd support was amazing. The first group that I saw were police officers, cheering for us as we ran off the bridge. I put my headphones away and let the crowd carry me. However, it didn’t escape me that there was a band playing “Another One Bites The Dust” in Bay Ridge. We were only at mile 3, it was a little early for all of that. “We Are The Champions” might have been a more appropriate Queen selection. Not nice. I have my eye on you Bay Ridge. As my running buddy Sharon and I got to the right-hand side mile 4 water station on our side of the street, there was a little confusion as the water was not ready. We had to wait for a volunteer to pour it. It was a small but unexpected glitch in the matrix. The party continued down Fourth Avenue. The 4:45 pacer passed us. I was cool with that. I was enjoying the party. The music genres would change every couple of blocks but it was high energy the whole way. I may have seen my favorite sign in Brooklyn, it said, “Timmy Don’t Trust Your Farts.” Wise word, but probably more fitting at mile 18. By the time we got to Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, Sharon was twirling and running backwards while jamming to the music. She must have had Energizer batteries for breakfast because I was trying to conserve what little wind stomped energy that I had left. The only time things got quiet was while we ran through the Hasidic community in Williamsburg. It’s just as well there was no music because you needed to concentrate on not running over pedestrians. People would casually stroll across the street in front of you just when you were feeling like Meb or Deba.Williamsburg

Then we crossed an intersection and as if on cue, the intro to Jay-Z’s New York State of Mind came blaring through a DJ’s speakers. As the beat dropped the runners erupted into a huge cheer and the party recommenced. Hercules, Hercules!!! At mile 13 it was time to leave Brooklyn by way of little spoken of Pulaski Bridge.

QUEENS (Miles 13-16)

So now I’m on the Pulaski Bridge and I’m not thrilled because it looks like this:

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Okay so maybe it didn’t really look exactly like that but it felt that way. Our saving grace was that it wasn’t that long. Queens had a lot of good music and great spectators. At one point, a couple of runners behind me were complaining about the awful mysterious smell in the air. I figured if they didn’t know what weed smelled like at this point in their life, I was not going to be the one to break it to them. Party on Queens!!! Energizer had made a pit stop earlier but I didn’t trust myself to stop at that particular point so I continued on alone. Now as I ran onto the Queensboro Bridge I was prepared for the worst. It’s a pretty tough incline at mile 15 and there is no crowd support on the bridge. Most of the runners began walking. I reconnected my iPod and ran as much of the one mile dragon as I could. I was excited as I ran off the bridge, not only because I was entering Manhattan but because I was approaching the BGR! Mile 16 water station.

MANHATTAN (Miles 16-19)

Mile 16 Water Station
Mile 16 Water Station

And there it is, the Mile 16 water station that is (wo)manned by Black Girls Run! It didn’t quite look so virginal by the time I got there but you can imagine how excited I was to see familiar faces. I entered First Avenue on the left and but was looking to my right to see if I could spot BGR! Long Island because the left side seemed to be mostly NYC ladies (I love them too). By the time I got three quarters of the way through I saw Shari and Mama Rose. I love me some Mama Rose, she might be the most happy and positive person I know. It was then that I reached for a cup of water from Lisa, an inspirational member of BGR! NYC. It turns out that Long Island was on the right. Regardless, I was feeling tremendous love from all the BGR ladies. It was awesome. However, by the time I got to Mile 17, I was feeling really tired. Sharon the dancing Energizer Bunny had caught up to me and was going strong. A pacer was passing me. Wait just one minute, that’s the 5:15 pacer!!! For a fleeting moment I flirted with the idea of running with the pacer. That lasted less than half a second. Instead, I took a walk break and had a few bites of a peanut butter sandwich that I had stashed in my Spi Belt. I heard someone yell, “You can do it Jennean!!!” I looked towards the voice and saw a random stranger looking at me encouragingly. I kept forgetting that I had my name sewn onto my hat. I waved at him and started running. It was at this point that they started to move the mile markers further away. What gives NYRR, TCS, whoever? During mile 18 I decided to investigate the shenanigans and realized that the markers were fine and just maybe they seemed further away because I had resorted to running a 15 minute mile pace. Yikes!!! I plodded along to the Willis Avenue bridge and entered what I expected to be the marathon dead zone … the Bronx.

The Bronx (Miles 20-21)

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Boy, was I wrong!!! I turned the corner after the bridge there was a man with a microphone standing in the middle of the street yelling, “Welcome to the Bronx!” Old school hip hop was blaring and the spectators were on level 10. The Bronx was the place to be. I decided to use the mile 20 porta-potty because the line was short and it was a good time to regroup for the journey ahead. Problem was, it seemed I hit “the wall” in the porta-john.

I mean seriously. As much as I hate the porta potties (and believe you me, this one had been used and abused) I was more than happy to hang out in there for the rest of the day. There was no wind blowing on me and no running. I don’t even know how long I stayed before I started wondering what would happen if the wind blew it over with me in it. News Report: Missing marathon runner found in overturned Bronx porta potty. It appears that she has been in said porta potty for 10 hours. She is now recovering at a nearby psychiatric facility.

porta potty (2)

So I reluctantly left the porta potty and began running again. I looked to my right and there was a spectator who looked right at me and held up six fingers. Yeah, I can do this. I only have a 10K left. I picked up the pace a little and journeyed on to the Third Avenue bridge.

MORE MANHATTAN (21-26.2)

At the tail end of the bridge, I distinctly remember thinking that no one had better be playing Jay-Z’s “New York State of Mind” when I re-entered Manhattan. I was officially cranky. Thankfully, the DJ was playing gospel music when I entered Harlem U.S.A., specifically Fred Hammond’s “Lord Your Grace.” I mouthed the lyrics, “Your favor is just what I needed.” I felt a little better but my thighs were feeling heavy and tight as I approached mile 22. That’s when I saw the BGR cheer squad. They were yelling “BGR, BGR” and had lots of signs. One said, “All Toenails Go to Heaven.” I waved frantically. As I ran down Fifth Avenue I heard more spectators yelling, “BGR.” I was hurting at this point and was just focusing on trying to keep running. I gave deep nods and kept going.

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Me at Mile 22                   Photo by Brian Augustine

Mile 23 – This One Gets It’s Own Section

As I approached the mile 23 hydration station, my quadriceps were cramping and so I moved over to the side to a police barricade and tried to stretch them out but the cramping got worse. So I hobbled on over to the hydration station and grabbed some Gatorade but suddenly the cramp in my right leg got so bad I couldn’t even drink it. One of the volunteers told me to go to the medical tent and pointed it out. It was just a few feet away and by the time I got there I could barely speak due to the pain. A volunteer took my Gatorade and I managed to tell them that I was having cramps in my legs in between my cries of pain. There were two volunteers massaging my legs to no avail. One of them asked me if I wanted salt. I really had no idea what I needed I just wanted the pain to stop. So I screamed, “Yes.” I took the salt and … nothing. I was still in pain. Now I’m freaking out because I don’t think I’m going to be able to finish the race because I couldn’t even walk. Then it was “Tylenol?” Of course the response was, “Yes, Yes.” Then, “Gatorade?” Here’s where things got dodgy. I told them, “I have Gatorade, I have Gatorade.” They looked at me like I was crazy. So I clarified, “I gave it to the lady.” Suddenly everything stops and they look at the volunteer who led me into the tent. With wide eyes she says, “Oh, I threw it away.” I must have looked like I was going to kill her and she got the side eye from one of the other volunteers, who was probably afraid for his life. Next thing I know, one of them hands me a 24 oz bottle of Gatorade. I take a couple of sips and after a few minutes the pain starts to subside. I thank the volunteers, who I’m sure were glad to see the back of the screaming mad woman, and start walking. I only have 3.2 miles to go. I am finishing this race.

The Finish 

So now I’m walking and sipping on my massive bottle of Gatorade. The 5:30 pacer passed me but I couldn’t have cared less about my finish time. I’m just happy that I can walk. But after a while I just wanted the thing to be over, so I start running again and I’m cradling my Gatorade bottle like a newborn. At mile 24 we enter Central Park. As much as I despise Central Park this is exciting because the race ends in the park. I ditch my Gatorade bottle and start moving. Then, hold up!!! Suddenly, we are no longer in the park. It is mile 25 and we are back on the street. For some reason I didn’t like this turn of events. My aching body couldn’t take the psychological warfare. We eventually wound up back in the park and I was too happy to see the 26 mile marker but braced myself for the .2. I was actually surprised when I saw the finish line appear so quickly. I couldn’t believe I was about to be a marathoner. It took me 5 hours, 37 minutes and 34 seconds to cross that line but I did it. As the volunteer placed my medal around my neck, he looked me in the eye and said, “Black girls do run.” It was an awesome moment.

BUT WAIT WE’RE NOT REALLY FINISHED

So after running yourself into the ground you now have to walk another 14 blocks to get out of the Park if you checked a bag, which I did. If you did not check a bag you had to walk five blocks to exit the Park to pick up your marathon poncho. I only checked my bag to get access to warm, dry clothes and my mandatory chocolate milk recovery drink as soon as possible. Turns out the ponchos were fleece lined and very nice and chocolate milk was provided in the recovery bag provided at the finish. So I would recommend that future NYC Marathoners check the no baggage designation prior to the NYRR deadline. Thankfully, the Lynbrook Runner’s Stop bus waited for all of its runners to return a few blocks away from the exit.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS

Although my recap sounds like I had a miserable time. It was an awesome experience that will stay with me forever. I have dreamed about running the New York City Marathon for over ten years but never really thought it would actually happen. Sometimes dreams do come true. If I’m honest, I will say that I was a little disappointed with my time as I wanted to finish in under five hours. But as we runners say, it was enough to just finish my first marathon. The other thing all decent runners firmly believe is that unless you are an elite professional, we do not compete against others, only ourselves. Now with that said, I will compare my time with some members of the 1 percent marathon club with whom you might be familiar.

Oprah Winfrey (4:29:15 – 1994 Marine Corp Marathon) – She schooled me.

Sean (P. Diddy Combs)  (4:14:54 – 2004 NYC Marathon) – Beat by Puffy.

Angie Martinez (7:45:57 – 2014 NYC Marathon) – I beat her, handsomely.

Tiki Barber (5:14:37 – 2014 NYC Marathon) – Yup, he beat me.

Pamela Anderson (5:41:03 – 2013 NYC Marathon) – Ha ha, so what if you can run on a beach?

Caroline Wozniacki (3:26:33 – 2014 NYC Marathon) – Whatevs, she beat most people.

Terri Hatcher (5:06:42 – 2014 NYC Marathon) – Not bad for a desperate housewife.

Mya (6:59:39 – 2011 NYC Marathon) – I beat her, I beat her.

Me sporting my finisher's shirt and medal
Me sporting my finisher’s shirt and medal