The 2017 TCS New York City Marathon



by Marie-Laurence Stopford

Staten Island, Nov 5, 2017, 10:45am. 

Wave 4 runners are finally called to the start corrals. This is the last wave and I have been sitting in the green start village for over an hour now. For the first time since I started running four years ago, I had trained consistently, I had practiced nutrition, I was ready. One last call to my friend back in our hotel to check on the kids, and I made my way to the start line.

What a difference a year makes! When I spoke to coach Aleks a year ago about training with her, I had just finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 6 hrs 48 min, and in a lot of pain. I was in my first year of grief and I was a mess, physically and mentally. I honestly thought she would tell me to stick to 5Ks. But that didn’t put her off and I am glad it didn’t.

We started by setting realistic objectives and she designed a progressive running plan over several months. Each week, she would adjust the weekly plan to accommodate schedule changes (and frequent lack of childcare), and health issues from my autoimmune problems and injuries, all based on the feedback, comments and questions I would log after each workout and run. Very patiently, she walked me through the various workouts and why they were designed in this way, made sense of my aches and pains, listened (daily) to my worries and doubts, provided support and advice, which helped me get my health and confidence back.

Standing on the Verrazano Bridge, I understand now that she knew all along what I was capable of, even when I had doubts.

It was raining, I was cold and I had forgotten my headphones at the hotel, but I wasn’t freaking out.  I was stronger than last year. Training is a process and it had changed me, for the better.

I started behind the 5:45 pacer but kept to my 4:1 run/walk intervals. I had trained this way and it helped keep my mind focused on these 4 + 1 minute segments rather than the miles ran or how long I had left to run.

We had just passed mile 1 and my right hamstring started to bother me. This hamstring had been tight over the past 2 weeks and Aleks had told me to stop running this past week to give it a rest before the marathon. The pain eased off at mile 3. At mile 5, I caught up with the 5:30 pacer but my hamstring was bothering me again so I stopped and stretched and the pacer continued on. The crowds in Brooklyn were amazing and so encouraging. So many things to see, so many posters to read, so many people to high five.

I started receiving texts and screenshots of the live tracker map from friends back home and I was now using my walk intervals to read them all. I was so grateful for their support throughout the race. It was like having posters with your name on it on the side of the course every 0.5 mile.

Last bridge before 1st Ave and the pain was now stronger, so I took a longer walk break to mix up my starch drink before running again. I received a text from Aleks telling me that I was doing just fine (I had no idea of pace, my watch lost signal on the lower deck of the Verrazano bridge and the mileage was off at every single mile marker) and I immediately started complaining about my hamstring.  She was factual, encouraging and practical. Which is exactly what I needed at that moment to remain focused. She also reminded me that 1st Avenue was coming up. I finally exited the bridge and immediately hit the sound wall that was the cheering on 1st Avenue. I had heard about how incredible running on 1st Avenue was and it was truly the best feeling. Ever. Just unbelievable.

I was expecting to hit my wall soon (it happened at mile 21 in Portland and 18 for MCM) but I kept chatting to my friends and Aleks during my walk intervals and didn’t pay attention to the miles (only to the banana peels and mushed up paper cups on the ground) until I saw the mile 23 marker. I was expecting to desperately want to sit down on the sidewalk while talking myself into walking the rest of the way at that point. But, strangely, I was feeling ok.

As we entered Central Park, the 5:30 pacer passed me. I thought she had been ahead of me since mile 6. So I decided to drop my run/walk intervals, I put the phone on airplane mode and I ran the last miles straight. I had stayed ahead of that pacer for too long to finish behind now.

Last mile.

It was getting dark but I could see the final turns. The sound from the finish area was growing louder. I was almost there.

There is something to be said for running at the back of the pack: you hear other people’s stories, you make friends, we are on our feet for a ridiculous amount of time but we are all determined to cross that line, no matter how long it will take.


And I did it!

 A hair under 5:30 too, which was such a nice surprise.  Thank you Coach!

I had said that New York would be my third and last marathon… So maybe not the last one then, one more -- then I’ll stop. ☺

Note from Aleks: One of my favorite parts of being a coach is watching my runners gain confidence over time and slowly begin to believe in themselves, what they deserve and what they can achieve. Just like training for a marathon, it's a process. For many, it happens at the finish line of their goal race, when they realize they feel stronger than they expected. They are surprised, even, at their result and how it felt to achieve it. Marie is one of the strongest people I have met. She overcomes obstacles and grief with grace and grit. So while Marie was surprised to run a marathon a good hour and 15 minutes faster than her previous two, her coach was not. I knew you would do it all along, Marie. Don't stop running :) 

Coach Aleks