First Marathon at Age 50 by Audrey Ashkin

December 31, 2016 8:30 AM | Mike Beigay
Running my first marathon at 50, the 2016 NYC marathon, was one of the most amazing, challenging and memorable events of my life (right up there with childbirth and marriage), neither of which I plan to do again. 

Marathon weekend was filled with excitement beyond the rush of just being in NYC.  From meeting Michael J. Fox at the pre-race dinner (I ran for a cause close to my heart, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research) to walking into Meb Keflezighi giving a live interview mid-day in Central Park.  If that wasn’t enough thrill, I also received a panic call from my sister, Wendy, that she might miss her train into NYC from DC.  After she arrived, I knew everything was going to be ok.  She had a fat head made of me and was ready, along with my husband, Ken, to cheer me on through all 5 boroughs and over all 5 bridges. 

On marathon morning, my team bus left promptly at 5:30am for Start Village in Staten Island.  Start Village was divided by colors then corrals and waves.  My wave didn’t start until 11:00am so I had enough free time to burn through all my adrenaline before the race began.  Fortunately, I met up with some NYC marathon experienced Team Fox members and we slumbered in the runner’s tent eating (wanted DD donuts) nutrition bars, drinking water and Gatorade and waiting.  We had so much fun talking for hours and getting to know one another, I almost forgot why I was sitting bundled up on blankets outside (45 degrees) in my pajamas (over my running clothes) surrounded by 1000s of people from all over the world. 

Finally, it was time for me to visit the port-a-potty one last time, donate my non-running layers and line up like cattle.  The cannon went off and I slowly made my way to the start.  The climb up the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was breathtaking as the magnificent view of the Manhattan skyline was waiting at the top…… was then I realized this was what I was waiting for and mentally prepared for what lay ahead.  The weather was perfect, I trained hard since July and felt ready to face my marathon fears and take on Manhattan, until mile 4.  My left calf tightened; like a ball formed inside.  Just before taper time during training, I developed and was getting PT for shin splints and hadn’t run more than 6 miles in one run since.  My worries going into the marathon were related to my shins, not my calves.  While running, I tried to stretch my calf.  It felt better for a few strides then balled up again.  I didn’t know if this would progressively get worse and ultimately stop me in my tracks.  Despite being surrounded by 1,000s, I didn’t have anyone to ask what to do, so I did what I knew.  Stop periodically to stretch it out.  It helped but I was stretching intermittently for all 26.2.  Despite hitting most of my ambitious training pace targets for a 4:30 finish, I knew after mile 4, this goal needed to be tweaked. 

After crossing the Verrazano Bridge, I was in Brooklyn.  The crowd support was amazing and before I knew it, I would see Ken, my sister and fat head at the well-organized orange Team Fox cheering section at mile 7 (on the left).  I was running on the right and no one was crossing over to the left side of the road.  It was as if there was a wall instead of a median.  Perhaps, it was because the NYPD officers were standing on the median for these miles.  I knew if I didn’t cross I would miss seeing Ken and Wendy but this was not the time to break the law (not that there is ever a right time), so I asked if I could cross the median.  They waved me over.  I did this at mile 6 in preparation for seeing my family and the Team Fox cheering section.  The Team Fox cheering section was alive with bells ringing, high 5’s and personal cheers for me passing by.  No sign of Ken or Wendy.  This was the fuel I needed to forget about my calf and run harder.  Where the hell were they?  My sister used to live in Brooklyn and I met Ken living in Manhattan, they knew their way around.  They were only planning to cheer from 2 stations (mile 7 and 18) and they didn’t even make it to the first.  I could not wait to hear their side of the story and I couldn’t wait to tell them mine.  I later found out, they were on the wrong side of the road at first then joined the cheering station but I had already passed.  They blamed the tracking device too.  We are still trying to figure out what happened.

Before I realized it, I had crossed another bridge and was in Queens.  Still running slower than my goal pace but enjoying the cheering crowds, getting high 5’s, jamming with live music and reading funny signs.  I ironed my name on the front of my Team Fox singlet and my grandma’s and father-in-law’s name on the back as I was running in memory of them.  Crowds cheered my name and it really helped me when the going got tough.  My legs were tiring near mile 15 as I approached the 59th street bridge (3rd out of 5 bridges and my first wall).  I thought I was running up the bridge but was going so slow I was keeping pace with walkers next to me.  Therefore, I stopped to walk up the rest of the bridge and jogged down.  I thought I could buy some time on the declines but they hurt my legs too.  At some point, I had caught up with the 5-hour pace group and thought for a brief second that they must be running slow too but then remembered that I never saw my 4:30 pacer and I was the one crawling.  I did not have someone to run with but did find some runner dude that I was keeping pace with on and off for at least ½ the marathon.  He was nice on the eyes and helped me stay “pace” focused. 

I was now in Manhattan, the same borough as the finish, which was a tease as I still needed to run over two more bridges, one to the Bronx and then another back to Manhattan for the finish.  I was also trying not to get my hopes up that my hubby, Wendy and fat head were going to be waiting with open arms at mile 18.  I cried when I saw them, so relieved and stopped for hugs and pictures.  Their support (literally holding me up for a few seconds) and amazing words of encouragement gave me strength to push forward. 

I read about hitting the wall at mile 20 and I did but it was my second wall.  I slowed further and adjusted towards a realistic finish time.  Time in the Bronx was brief as I approached my final bridge into Manhattan.  In Manhattan, I loved running down 5th avenue (really up) heading towards where I used to live, shop and the finish in Central Park.  At mile 24, I just wanted to be done.  I saw the light at the end of the tunnel (it was not the sun as it had started to set), was shivering with chills but picked up my speed and kept this pace until I crossed the finish.  I finished in 5 hours, 14 minutes at a 11:57 pace.  I have never averaged a pace this slow in training or run this far but never felt as accomplished as I did when I crossed the finish line.  Goal met! 

Walking to the exit needed a training plan of its own.  I could hardly walk and had no idea it would be this difficult despite being warned.  My body has never endured anything like this before. I received my finisher medal with pride, my swag bag filled with nutrition then had to walk for what felt like another mile.  I was in the exit lines to receive my luxury flannel lined poncho then meet Ken and Wendy at our previously arranged meeting spot hoping they did not give up on me.  The meeting spot was further than I wanted to walk so I reached for my phone to text them and meet ½ way (it’s the least they can do).  It was dead (I didn’t even realize the music had stopped), I had no money and it was getting darker.  I just wanted to cry.  Within seconds, I pulled myself together and trudged toward our meeting spot.  He was there with open arms but no sight of my sister.  I finished too late, the exit took too long and she had to catch her train home.  Boy, was I ready to catch a cab back to the hotel!  Ken helped me come to my senses that there were no cabs (what? No cabs in NYC?) Nope, not after the marathon.  We headed to the subway and I could barely walk up a curb let alone the 100 stairs to the turnstile.  Everyone else had the same idea and it was packed.  I must have looked like I was going to fall over so someone offered me a seat on the train.  Thank-you stranger! 

Ken and I stayed one extra day.  We went back to Central Park to walk the finish and Runner’s Pavillion taking pictures along the way.  It was during this stroll that we bumped into Meb Keflezighi giving a live interview. We stood within feet of him.  Only in Manhattan!  He was sharing advice when running a first marathon.  He said not to have a goal time; that your first is just a baseline.  My running friends have told me the same thing but it didn’t make sense until I heard it from Meb.  I can’t imagine my next marathon weekend anywhere else exceeding my “baseline” experience.  NYC marathon, I’ll be back.  Until then, I’m getting ready for the CRC Winter Classic! 

Thank-you CRC for giving me an opportunity to share my life changing experience.  Never say never!  If you made it this far, thank you for reading this “recap” and to all members that supported me along the way! 

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