By Nan Pang
July 23, 2012—that’s the oldest record that I can find in the running app on my phone. Distance: just under two miles. Back then, I could probably never have imagined that I would be running the 26.2 miles of the New York City Marathon three years later.
Running was never my strongest suit. In college, I only ran a few laps around where I lived because my primary care physician told me to. Usually after I hit two miles, I was quite exhausted. Running was nothing but a chore and losing motivation was the obvious consequence. So I had become accustomed to running two miles at a time and never thought about running more. One day, I noticed that somehow I managed to complete my chore run without losing my breath. “Oh, maybe I can run longer,” I thought.
From that day, three-mile runs became my routine. When I moved to New York after college, I started to run in Central Park. It was a rather eye-opening experience. Since then, running in Central Park has become my addiction. Things like the sunrises over the reservoir, the summer fireflies in the twilight, and countless other fellow runners have kept my motivation high. It did not take me long to feel that I wanted to do something more; so, that year, I signed up for a three-mile race for the first time.
Fast forward a year. I now had a bunch of 5-10K races and several half-marathons under my belt. I won a spot in the New York City Marathon, via the lottery. Entering the New York City Marathon was partially due to my sheer spontaneity and recklessness. Actually, I was not confident at all that I could run the entire 26.2 miles, but I thought why not give it a try. Perhaps I wanted to prove something to myself that I could. Because from what I heard, running through all the five boroughs of New York City was supposed to be an unforgettable experience; and it really was.
On marathon day, I left my apartment on the Upper East Side at 5:30AM, wrapped up in my friends’ warmest words of encouragement. Nobody was on the street, but from the moment I stepped inside the subway station, spotting my fellow marathoners was not too difficult. A guy who probably was coming back from his Halloween party asked me if all the express trains were running local. I said yes. Then he asked me if I were running a marathon. I said yes again with a nervous nod.
“I could never do that! Good luck!” he said. “Thank you, Mr. Indiana Jones,” I thought.
I was supposed to take the 6:15AM Staten Island Ferry. Obviously, the terminal was packed with hundreds of runners and I had to wait to take the next ferry. I had taken the ferry a few times before, so I decided to skip being a tourist and sat in the corner to catch up on some sleep.
“Hey, are there any outlets on your side? Need to charge my iPod.” the guy next to me asked. He was probably around my age. I couldn’t find any outlets, but then we started chatting. “I’m Garrett, by the way” he said.
Garrett and I had different start corrals but it was pretty comforting and relieving to have company. It was quite a wait from the time I entered the designated corral to the starting line, but the time eventually came.
“So it’s finally starting,” I thought.
While I walked to the starting line, I suddenly got somewhat nervous and overwhelmed by the number of runners, but my nerves quickly diffused as I discovered that I was filled with anticipation for what I would discover and experience for the next three hours.
The race started at a little after 10:15AM. When I was crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn, I could see the skyline of Manhattan. The wind was a little strong, but it did not bother me.
Running through Brooklyn and Queens was not too tough. The energy was great and I enjoyed the sideline performers at every mile. As I high-fived many kids and often received candies and chocolates from them, I thought I could run forever. But things changed a little when I was crossing the Queensboro Bridge. Suddenly all the cheers stopped, and the only things I could hear were the howling of the wind, the runners’ heavy breathing, and my rapid heartbeat. Under the shadows, the wind gradually took my body temperature away, and I was desperately trying to fight my way off of the gloomy everlasting bridge. Without a doubt, it was one of the toughest moments for me throughout the course.
As I kept running towards the end of the bridge, I saw a light at the entrance to 59th Street. It was small in the beginning, but the moment I stepped into Manhattan, the air of excitement from the spectators struck me one by one like continuous heat waves. I stored my energy and ran north along First Avenue. Some of my close friends told me to expect them around 96th Street. When I finally saw those familiar faces holding huge posters and cheering for me, I was pretty much speechless. We had a big hug and I quickly started to run again, onward to the Bronx. It had been about twenty miles from the starting line when I hit the Bronx, and I noticed that more and more people started to walk. Still, I tried not to focus on them and maintained my motivation.
By the time I arrived back in Manhattan again, I felt like I could easily stop at any time. Although there were just about five more miles to go, my lungs were in pain, my ankles were getting tight, and my toenails were probably bleeding. The last several miles along Central Park made me feel as though I was running the victory road to the greatest triumph in the world. Inside, I was having the most severe combat with my own willpower. “If I could keep running, I win; if I stop, I lose,” I thought.
Everything was pretty vague during the last few miles, but I do remember the last mile as if it just happened a minute ago. Multiple waves of goose bumps hit me when I began to see a series of flags waving in the air near the finish line: it was indeed a victorious moment. Those early morning runs, numerous struggles, and hectic trainings paid off. When I crossed the finish line, I thought I won: I proved something, not to anyone else but to myself. The entire race was a competition against myself after all, and I definitely felt that I had won.
I once thought running a marathon was something I would never do, if not impossible. Running a 3K race back then was quite a challenge; but then, there were those moments when I did my first 5K, 10K, and then a half marathon. After completing the 26.2-miles, I must say that the journey was not easy. Determination to challenge my limits, perseverance to endure the pain, and a little bit of courage and cheers from friends and family along my endeavor have made me run thus far.
New York City embraces the most incredible people and provides such an opportunity to encounter the richest cultural diversity. Running across the city reminded me of that once again. Every spectator and volunteer I met gave me the feeling of acceptance and benevolence. That is a feeling I want to hold onto and, for that reason, I will run the marathon again next year.
Several people have asked me why I ran the New York City Marathon. Why? Because I wanted to know my maximum potential. Because I wanted to feel the excitement. And most of all, because I love New York.