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By Helen Thomsit

 From a flight full of excited runners out from Heathrow on 4th November, through to coming home a week later, the New York City Marathon was one huge big celebration. I thought London was an experience, but NYC was already bigger and better by the time we'd picked up our race numbers and bought far too much merchandise at the expo. 

The whole city seems to embrace runners and the event, from the volunteers cheering and chanting your name when they hand over your race pack and ring their bell when they find out you're an NY first timer, to shop assistants, taxi drivers, hotel staff and random people in the street days after the big day.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the pandemic had meant I'd experienced a lot of cancellations and disappointment, so I was trying really hard to not look forward to this trip too much but I failed miserably - this was largely due to the fact that I was lucky enough to be out there with family and a group of friends, all of whom had been geared up to run in the city since 2020 and a very close one who I used to train with almost daily so we'd decided to run the whole thing together. 

NYC is a very early start. On Sunday morning we were up by 4am and heading to the buses in Midtown by 5.30 to drive the hour to Staten Island. Unseasonably warm weather meant the atmosphere was even more chirpy that it might've been if it had been a typical November day, and by the time we got to the start village all additional layers had been discarded without being used at all. The free Dunkin' Donuts hats were ignored too! 

We'd heard about the startline but, again, nothing can prepare you for it. As with all the WMMs, the elite racers start first in their various waves, followed by the general participants. Unlike the other events, NYC begins with a cannon, the national anthem and Frank Sinatra's 'New York, New York' - I was in tears before we'd even got to our start pen!

The first mile is a steady steep incline up the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with views across to Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. I can't explain how surreal it all was, to see these world famous sites with Frank ringing in our ears. All advice we'd been given was DO NOT race the first miles and we stuck to it as best we could in the rising temperatures and as we headed into Brooklyn. The first 10k flew by and we were completely distracted by the roaring crowds - I've never heard anything like it, they were so loud and they didn't stop! 

Our support crew managed to get to mile 9 which was a huge help because we were both starting to flag by that point in the 80% humidity, although neither of us had dared mention it so early on. The crowds continued to carry us on to our next supporter point at mile 12, by which point I'd started petting as many dogs as possible and laughed at some ridiculous signs (Smile If You've Peed A Little; You're Running Faster Than Brands Run Away From Kanye/The Rats Don't Run This City, You Do!). Coming out of the silence of the Queensboro Bridge at 16 miles, where there's no support, I thought the distant noise was a train coming but no, more loud crowds! 1st Avenue towards Queens was never-ending but, again, they and the thousands of volunteers carried all of us for some tough humid miles. 

With a final 10k to go, our legs had seized up and we had to adopt a run/walk strategy. We'd also seen a number of people who had collapsed at various points and were receiving medical treatment which shocked us into being sensible and making the most of the rest of the run. The noise in the Bronx was INSANE - we danced, cheered, waved our arms around, pointed at people in the crowd and had the best time. And then we had just 5k left. Our supporters had beetled around the course to spot us for a very much appreciated fourth time, and we were nearly done. As the trees of Central Park came into view, the tears started which is never ideal when you're an asthmatic running in humid conditions. We were both a bit gutted that walking had to happen (and that we were way off the pace we'd hoped before the weather went a bit mad), but it meant we were able to really take in our surroundings and soak up every single minute. The park is hilly and hard, I had a mini temper tantrum with a mile to go but my friend forced me to run, hard, to get to that finish line in under 4 hours and I'm very glad she did! The course turns left, right, again and again, up and down, out on to the street and then with half a mile to go, you're back in the park. We pushed so hard to get to the end, still with the crowds cheering us all on and the noise ringing in our ears. And then we were done. Staggering across the finish line, lots of tears and hugs, straight into the legend that is Meb Keflezighi who was kind enough to give us our medals and pose for a photo (we still had energy to do that!).

Another star and my second marathon in five weeks, NYC is hands down the hardest but best race I've been lucky enough to take part in. I have so many memories and could talk about it for hours so apologies if you have to endure that in the near future!