This was the 2nd time I put my name in the ballot for the New York City Marathon and I was lucky enough to have been drawn out of the hat back in March 2022. When I applied, I was feeling good and relatively healthy and gave myself a challenging finish time of a sub 4-hour marathon, but things don’t always go according to plan.
In February I got Covid and while I had 2-3 days of being stuck in bed and feeling rough, it wasn’t as bad as some people’s symptoms. I didn’t do any training after having Covid as was just feeling tired and no motivation, so decided to start in the March.
Started with some easy runs just to get into a routine of exercising again. What a shock to the system, as soon as I started running after about 50 metres, I had to slow down to almost a walking pace to catch my breath. I did this for the rest of the short 1 mile loop around Singleton park.
Had a couple of rest days and tried again. Same outcome just had to walk it. The next 2 weeks I continued to try this and just couldn’t maintain a jog. So decided to stop with the running and look at walking instead. This was the training I’d follow for the next 2 months.
This is when my frustration started, from where I’d been – a marathon PB at Snowdonia 4:25hrs, several ultra-distance events and other endurance events to now, struggling with jogging and getting breathless, this just made me depressed and this is when I noticed a change in my mood. I started getting anxious about things and would wake up in the mornings with a tightness in the chest, I could feel my health deteriorating.
A visit to the doctors and I’m referred to the councils National Exercise Referral Scheme. This gives me access to Freedom Leisure facilities and started in the gym with some strength work and a weekly Tai Chi session. These sessions really helped me, not just with the physical side of lifting weights and exercising, but for my mental health too. Having worked from home for the last 2 years mainly in isolation this was a breath of fresh air, and I should have done it sooner!
After a few weeks I started to feel better about myself, my mood lifted and using the treadmill I could manage a jog for 5 minutes and walk for 5 minutes, this was going to be my strategy for the NYC Marathon.
3 weeks before the Marathon I got a cold, felt rough and started coughing constantly. Did a few covid tests but all came back negative. After 10 days of coughing, I went to the doctors, the good news was, it wasn’t a chest infection. Just rest, eat well and drink fluids was the advice.
Got to NY on Tuesday 1st November. As I had limited training and had only managed about 50miles of jogging since January the plan was simple, just enjoy this time away as a family holiday with a sightseeing tour on the Sunday of the 5 boroughs of NY and just soak up the atmosphere on race day.
I had to pre-booked registration for the marathon, and on the Thursday. We attended the expo. Considering the thousands of runners there we got through very quickly. Registered, picked up the goody bag and spent a few quid in the expo on tops and other merchandise.
The next couple of days we spent sightseeing, and on the Saturday we just chilled out in Central Park.
Forecast for today, 24 degrees and 70% humidity, the highest on record!!
I had booked the Staten Island ferry for 7:30am to get to the start of the race which is on Staten Island. A quick subway ride from Times Square to South Ferry port and it was on the Ferry for a 30 min ride. The atmosphere on the subway and ferry was electric. Many runners around me had done this event several times before and just listening to their stories and advice about the course, was a perfect build up to what will be an amazing experience.
Once at Staten Island, it’s a short walk to jump on a bus to take you to the start which is about 4 miles away. This was absolute carnage. The was not really much organisation here and you were just ushered to keep walking down the road until you found a gap in the crowds for a bus bay. After about an hour and a half we finally got on the bus with lots of pushing and shouting about the people jumping the queues. This was the first year that they were back to full capacity of 50,000 runners and possibly a little under prepared for it.
After nearly 3 hours of travelling and waiting I finally made it to the start area, I went over to my pen with 30 minutes to spare. Thought I’d do some stretches and get the rest of my nutrition in me and had 10 minutes outside the pen on the grass area. Went over just after 10am and they had shut the pen, gutted! I did argue with them as there was no announcement but was told I’d be in the next wave 20 minutes later.
So here we go 10 minutes to the 10:55 start and we walk along for about 200m to the start line with the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge in front of us.
The American National Anthem is sung and then the cannon goes off to indicate the start of 26.2 miles of who knows what!
The marathon starts on Staten Island and is uphill from the go. The Verrazzano-Narrows bridge is the steepest part of the course and it’s just under a mile of uphill. There are no supporters on the bridges and it’s just you and thousands of other runners.
I had all good intentions of jogging this part and managed about 400metres before I need to stop to get my breath back and then started walking to the top of the bridge. Once at the top it was a nice downhill and I started to jog again. Really thought I’d manage the downhills better but had similar issues about breathing and struggled back to a walk.
This was going to be the theme for this marathon. My original plan of jog and walk went out of the window. The heat and humidity didn’t help and at the water stations I got into a routine of a cup of water for pouring over my head and 2 cups to drink. I was struggling already.
In my head I started to break the marathon down into manageable distances and the first target was the 5km marker. This first 5km was a struggle, but the supporters were amazing and really help you get around. Physically my legs felt good, just let down by my breathing.
Next up was the 10km. I’d stated to feel better knowing that Jo and William would be out on the course somewhere and was looking forward to seeing them. Jo as going to message me where they would be.
By now I was counting the steps between blocks. There are 88 paces from inter-section to intersection. So decided to walk a block, jog a block. This helped, and decided to jog 2 blocks and walk a block, great stuff its working managed this for about 10 minutes then it was back to walking and shuffling. I’m still in Brooklyn and the atmosphere here is amazing. There are bands outside funeral homes, DJ’s on street corners and supporters are everywhere shouting your name out, holding signs of encouragement and fellow runners giving you a come on ‘Celtic’ as they run past me. This is one a par with Tenby on the Ironman run course around town, but bigger!
I’ve made it to mile 10 now and Jo has messaged me to say they are around mile 16. This came at just the right time. There’s my next target, I’ve got this, I can’t let them down. I’ve got something to focus on now.
Around mile 11 there’s something different about the course and it all goes quiet, no crowds or supporters. There’s no music playing or party atmosphere, it’s just the noise of runners next to me. I found out later that this is the Hassidic Jewish community and the community observes a number of religious commandments regarding physical modesty for both genders, and recreational sport is often forbidden for adults.
There were people just going about their business, children walking from home from school, no one stopping to watch us run by a very strange atmosphere for a couple of miles.
I’m halfway there. Mile 13.1 and I’m getting closer to Manhattan and Jo and William. By now there are a lot more runners walking the route. It’s still very warm and humid. A few of the water stations run out of cups so it was cupping your hands to get a drink or pick up a cup from the road and use that. Start to take on some salt tablets at this point from the many first aid stations around the course.
Crossing Queensboro Bridge we arrive in Manhattan and turn north onto 1st Avenue; I’ve been told to look out on the left hand side for my 2 greatest supporters. I really want to run this section, so they don’t see me walking. I start shuffling again. I’m looking out for them but nothing. Had I missed them, with the 1000s of supporters out on the course, I hope not. I hear ‘MARK being shouted but it’s not for me, then I hear a ‘GO CELTIC TRI’ I look and see them both with the Welsh Flag about 50m to my left. I start crying, emotions take over and I’m so glad to see them. Had some salted pretzels which were much needed and some words of encouragement from Jo, it was time to continue.
Only 10 miles to go! C’mon Evans you’ve got this, 2 and a bit hours head down and you’ll be at the finish.
If you know NYC, it made up of streets and avenues. I was on 1st Avenue heading north to the Bronx. Nearly 3 miles of straight road lay ahead before I get to the Bronx and this was tough. Just seeing thousands of other runners heading off into the distance and I was walking the NYC marathon. I wanted to run it, the supporters wanted you to run, they were amazing. I picked the pace up and shuffled my was up 1st Avenue.
My body was still going strong, legs didn’t feel tired, my mind was telling me to jog but my lungs and breathing had other ideas and it was back to walking again, so frustrating.
As I had over the Harlem River into the Bronx we are welcomed by two supporters holding a sign ‘Welcome to the Bronx’ I stop to chat to them for a few minutes. It was a welcome break chatting with them and they wished me well. Only 6 miles to go!
There’s only 2km of the marathon that goes through the Bronx but what an amazing 2km. DJ’s, bands, the smell of weed (its legal in NY) and the biggest party of the day going on around you.
Back into Manhattan now and heading down 5th Avenue. The suns starting to go down, mile 23, the northern most part of Central Park. Only 3.2 miles to go. That’s a bloody parkrun, I can do this. Jo has message me to say they are in Central Park; I keep a look out for her.
I see William running towards me, I’m broke, emotions run high again, I know there’s not that far to go and they both jog alongside me to the bottom of the park. We make arrangements for the finish and where we are going to meet. Jo gives me the Welsh flag for my finish line photo. I know I’ve done it. I’m nearly there. By now there’s loads of runners walking the final mile. The event organisers are starting to dismantle the course, removing branding from the crowd control barriers. I just hoped that the finish line was still in place!
As I head along W59 street, turn into Central Park and it’s the last 800metres. I drape myself in the Welsh Flag, walk to the start of the Flags of nations then start my shuffle. I can hear the finish line commentators, I’m back to a walk, round the bend and see the finish line. Right strong finish, almost hitting 11min/mile pace, arms aloft, Welsh Flag waving behind me, and I cross the line of the 51st New York City Marathon in a time of 6:52.19. I did it. I finished it and that was my goal.
Picked up the medal, goody bag and ponco. Did the finish line photos and went back to Columbus circle to meet up with Jo and William. Went for food in McDonalds, and walked the 9 streets back to our hotel.
The day after and reflection
My nutrition for the day was spot on, hydrated well before and during and only had gels from mile 18, which was part of the nutrition plan.
What didn’t go to plan was my running strategy. I tried several strategies while out on the course and nothing really worked. That’s all I could do was keep moving forwards.
I had told Jo not to worry about trying to see me out on the course and I’d see her at the finish. I’m so glad she ignored me and popped up when she did. While the body is an amazing machine, it survived the day and got me around in one piece, but the mind had different ideas. I wanted to sack it off at 5km, but knew I had to keep going as they would be waiting for me and a couldn’t let them down.
Stairs were not my friend the day after. I had shin splints, weak quads and my legs would buckle under neath me when walking. I wasn’t as fatigued as I thought I would be, so this was a positive.
I proudly wore my medal and finishers top around the city on the Monday, as did the 1000s of other runners. We headed back into central park to the recovery tent for form rolling and stretching and then for food. Beer, pasta and cake.
I loved the experience, the city, and the people. I’ve been asked, ‘why didn’t I defer till next year’. The simple answer, I’d booked everything once I got the marathon place and I honestly don’t know where I’ll be fitness wise in a year’s time.
Having been diagnosed with having Long Covid back in May and the loads of different symptoms that comes with it, it’s been a struggle. Everyone is different, but for me its fatigue, breathlessness, low mood, anxiety, weight gain and loss of muscle strength.
I’ve made small improvements since June and I’m slowly starting to feel my old self again. Just need to manage my weight, build up some strength and work on my breathlessness. I still struggle with walking upstairs or hills and must take a breather at times. This I find the most frustrating as it’s not as bad when on the WattBike or riding outdoors.
2 years of lockdown hasn’t helped anyone, and I know I’ve had some mental health struggles because of it. Returning to exercise has really helped and getting the marathon ticked off now I can put it to bed and concentrate on myself and fully recovering. I’ve got plans for next year but will see how I am in February.
I’ve mentioned about my 2 greatest supporters Jo and William, but I’d like to thank all Celtic Tri especially the guys from my TnT swim group that I coach on a Tuesday and Thursday morning, because you have got me out of the house and doing the one thing that keeps me going. Thank you.