Passions and Obsessions

I finished the New York Marathon—thanks to the humans of NY

'If you think this is hard, try dating in NYC,' 'Who needs toenails?'— with signs like those, I found it next to impossible not to run

New York Marathon
The final mile - not quite running on empty

“It Will Move You.” This has been the bold promise of the New York City Marathon organizers since the launch of their impressive multi-platform campaign in 2017. In early November, 51,402 runners from different parts of the globe excitedly looked forward to the many ways that this emotive tagline could be experienced.

Alas, despite the fact that I’ve been dreaming of running the world’s biggest marathon since 2015 (see my article for, I was not among the starry-eyed runners who confidently looked forward to such a promise. In my mind, I would already be grateful if I don’t end up riding the sweeper bus that would “collect” those who cannot meet its generous eight-hour cut-off.

New York Marathon

Finishing what he started in 2015

You see, I was supposed to run the New York City Marathon in 2020, but because of the global lockdown, I ended up postponing my run, not just once but twice. Worse, as a result of the various permutations of the ECQ—remember those?—my running fitness suffered. In lieu of regularly running 10k and 21k, there were months when the restrictions left me with no other choice but to stay indoors. Looking back, I suspect that this, with stress eating, was how my health scare came about.

Thankfully, that health scare happened in the hospital as I completed what I thought would be an uneventful treadmill test. The attending doctors instead sent me back to the nurse’s station in a wheelchair! As I was wheeled from the third floor, my head bowed, stunned that this could happen to me, a marathoner, I wondered if this would be the end of my marathon dreams.

By the time I got the doctor’s green light to resume training, I was in catch-up mode and worried sick that I would not be able to negotiate the five daunting bridges of New York. The cramming that ensued is likely to blame for the return of an old foot injury that I thought I had overcome for good.

Fast forward to November 5. You would understand why, when I woke up at 4 am to head for the ferry en route to Staten Island, I honestly thought I might not make it out alive. Just in case, I asked my wife Elaine, my number one cheerer, to record my farewell message to our four kids, Hannah, Colin, Liam, and Diego. In that recording, I exhorted them to find and pursue their own personal marathons in life. It did not literally have to be an actual marathon. All it had to be was a personal project that would engage them to the core.

The author with wife Elaine, his number 1 cheerer

View from Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, as the author awaits the start

To my big surprise, I not only finished the NYC marathon with energy to spare. I also beat my Berlin finish time despite my running injury.

More impressive—at least to me—was that none of the cramping episodes I endured in Chicago in 2018 and Berlin in 2019 plagued my run in New York.

They held up signs that read, ‘If you think this is hard, try dating in NYC,’ ‘The rats don’t run this city, you do!,’ and even ‘Who needs toenails?’

How in the world did this happen?

I can think of over a dozen success factors, starting with valiantly sticking to my training plan and leveling up my nutrition strategy. But the number one differentiator, bar none, is something I did not factor in during my race preparations.

For the longest time, my go-to strategy as an alumnus of the The Bull Runner Dream Marathon was the Galloway Run-Walk Method. Not being a Meb or a Coach Rio, I could not, for the life of me, continuously run the entire 42.096-km course. But I sure could run-walk it based on my past marathon experience. So when the starting cannon was fired at 11:30 a.m., I was pretty dead set on once again executing this tried-and-tested strategy.

New York Marathon

The starting line

Thanks to the thousands of New Yorkers who lined the streets of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan to cheer us on, I actually ran more than I walked.  Did I say thousands of New Yorkers cheered us on? I even spotted a group of fellow Filipinos proudly waving the Philippine flag as they shouted “Go, go, go!” at me. “Mabuhay, kabayan!” I shot back in return.

New York Marathon

Chanced upon our flag as he did an ocular of the finish line

Indeed, the crowds’ enthusiastic roar of support was so pervasive, and at times deafening, throughout the race that I found it next to impossible not to run even during my one-minute walk breaks.  As I told my siblings post-race, “Mahihiya kang hindi tumakbo (You’d be too ashamed not to run).” Perhaps this was why, except for the expected heaviness in my calves in the last 10 km, the fatigue I experienced during my practice long runs in the Philippines was strangely nowhere in sight.

New York Marathon

The walk break that kept getting put off by the roar of the crowd

The live bands, the DJs, the dance troupes, and the drumlines on practically on every street corner also helped. Brimming with so much energy and zest, they either sang or played a repertoire of songs guaranteed to give our tired legs an extra power boost—from Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York to Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York, from Aerosmith’s Walk this Way to Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, from the Black Eyed Peas’ Let’s Get It Started to JayZ’s Empire State of Mind.

Not used to running in temperatures ranging from 11 to 16 degrees Celsius, I realized the small hankie I brought with me was no match for my sniffling nose. Thankfully, every 5 km or so I was greeted by New Yorkers holding the sweetest sign a runner from these parts could ever ask for: “Tissue? I don’t even know you,” their signs read. They were kidding, of course, since they happily handed me fresh tissue every time.

Amazingly, there’s more where that sign came from—all of them guaranteed to make you chuckle, as if to remind us runners to have fun and not take things seriously: “Run like a monster is chasing you,” “If you think this is hard, try dating in NYC,” “The rats don’t run this city, you do!,” “I’m sure it seemed like a good idea four months ago,” and “Who needs toenails?”

Not to forget, there’s the young army of smiling volunteers under the auspices of the New York Road Runners (NYRR) at practically every mile of the race course, ready to provide each runner with that much needed cup of water or Gatorade. Near the end of the race course, their offerings, instead of dwindling, significantly increased to include energy gels, Vaseline, cut bananas, pretzels, and energy bars. No runner could have asked for more support.

And so as I entered Central Park and neared the finish line, I found myself silently giving thanks to God for this Empire State kind of surprise, grateful for being proven wrong thinking I was not going to be among those who would be moved by the New York City Marathon. How apt that the mantra I kept repeating to myself when the race started at the Verrazzano–Narrows Bridge was this passage from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It’s been weeks since I finally ran the New York City Marathon, and I now realize my mantra was incomplete. It should have read, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”by way of the kind and generous humans of New York City.

About author


Von Katindoy is a graduate student and a learning and development professional.

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