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"What Was I Thinking?!" Tales From my First Marathon... (Plus a Giveaway!)

And we're off! NYC Marathon 2011 begins on the Verrazano Bridge. (Photo coutesy of NYRR & ING NYC Marathon)

Sunday's ING New York City Marathon—was it a one-and-done thing or will I do this crazy 26.2 mile race again? Crossing that finish line I told whoever would listen, “Never again! I’m sticking with triathlons!” but, now a few days later, as my sore legs are starting to feel normal again, I find myself thinking, well maybe I’ll do it just one more time. As my editor in chief told me, “If only one percent of the population have done just one marathon, imagine doing two? That means you’re a fraction of the population—how inspiring!” Before the race, I laughed at this thought (being just one person of that one percent is pretty damn good!), but now I’m thinking, is a marathoner a marathoner after doing just one, or do you need to rack up more to give yourself this esteemed title? This entire marathon experience has been an incredible journey from the start. Since day one four months ago pounding the pavement trying to get mileage up, to the moment I stepped over that finish line, has been a roller coaster of emotions and a lifetime of memories that I’ll always cherish. Having watched my first NYC Marathon just a year ago, I never thought I’d be one of those 47,000-plus runners out there. Only a few years ago, I had never run more than six miles, and my first half-marathon was a spontaneous thing. But marathons were for everybody else, not me, so I always told myself. Maybe NYC is a place that makes you want do extraordinary things, but watching people put their bodies through this mental and physical challenge made me want to feel what they were experiencing. And as I watched the runners in 2010 finish their feat, I knew that 2011 was my year to tackle this goal. I had a year to mentally prepare and tell myself that I was doing this and I had four months of intense running—not to mention incredible time management to fit in all the training—to get through everything I needed to do to be prepared. I was fortunate enough to run on the Asics team with my friends in the fitness magazine industry (yes, although some of us work for competing magazines, we’re still friends!) and have Andrew Kastor (husband of Olympic marathoner, Deena Kastor) as my coach.

The night before the race, I was all ready to go.

As the days to the marathon quickly approached, I was more than ready to finally do this. As Coach Kastor said, “You’re halfway there.” The day of the marathon would be the rest of the journey. And luckily, Sunday was an unbelievably beautiful day here in New York City and we had perfect 60-degree weather. All 47,000-plus runners left their homes before the sun was even up and we huddled together on Staten Island as we geared up for the start of the race. Although starting the race more than four hours after I’d woken up isn’t ideal, it was definitely nice to have some bonding time with the people I’d be running alongside with. The race is only beginning! Keep reading to hear about Jenna's seven favorite things about the marathon. Bonus: One reader will win a prize in honor of her big race!

Mile 17 on First Avenue and very excited to see my family and friends!

The first three minutes of the start of my wave of the race you couldn’t manage more than a speed walk—if you think Manhattan is a crowded place, why would a marathon here be any different? But once we hit the Verrazano Bridge, the vibe was amazing. This has been the start of the marathon since 1970 and you really felt like you were becoming part of history. As we ran through the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, I just kept up with my pace and used the crowds for inspiration—and fellow runners in front of me and behind me carried me through. Running down these streets almost felt like being on a conveyor belt, the long path of runners just pull you along, never stopping until you get to the end. Besides my numb toes since the first few miles, overall I had a great run! The "wall" crept up during the hardest part, miles 22 through 24, but I made it through.

My favorite things about running the NYC Marathon:

After the race, proud as can be!

  1. The crowds were so spectacular and helpful, I couldn’t have done it without their cheers, words of encouragement and big smiles. (FYI, make sure you put your name on the front of your shirt, you’ll feel more personally connected to the fans!)
  2. I didn’t need my iPod/music the entire race: It was nice to listen to the cheers and laughter of those who are watching and take everything in as you were going through the boroughs.
  3. This marathon is a huge international race. I’m not surprised by how awesome the five boroughs of Manhattan are, but it was nice to see the city through the eyes of those who aren’t from here. It was definitely a cultural experience for me too. Every borough brought out the best of its community.
  4. I loved reading all the posters and signs. Not only did it keep me occupied and maybe help me ignore some pain, but everything seemed extra funny out there. Some of my favorite slogans: 26.2 because 26.3 is just plain crazy!; That man stole my bag, keeping run after him!; Worst parade ever.; and, Stop reading this sign, you should be running!. A few inspirational ones that pushed me after a few hours of running: Walking hurts just as bad, so keep going.; There’s no wall here!; and simply, You are amazing., really spoke to me when I was feeling discouraged.
  5. You get to bond with your fellow runners while crossing bridges. Especially on the 59th Street Bridge, there’s a bigger-than-expected uphill and you’re on the below deck of the bridge where it’s a bit cold, dark and there are absolutely no spectators around to cheer you on. Not to mention, you’re on your 15th mile and the pain is starting to hit big time. The earlier miles your running buddies were all smiles, full of laughs and enjoying themselves, but at this point everyone is focused and zones in to make it over this bridge and into Manhattan. It was an almost eerie feeling because the absolute silence of the group made you feel connected like a team. I got really emotional here. Coming off the bridge I felt like I had finally "arrived" and had made it home (my apartment was also only a few blocks away too!). If I had made it this far, I was definitely going to make it all the way, I told myself.
  6. Asics did an amazing job with their “Support Your Marthoner” program—at two points during the race, mile 14 and mile 21, Jumbotrons showed messages that family or friends had written for you leading up to the day of the race. I saw inspirational messages from co-workers of mine (thanks Karla and Marla!) and it was the boost I needed at these miles.
  7. Knowing I was going to see my family, husband and friends (best cheer group ever!), made my day. I kept pushing through even when I was hurting so bad because I wanted to be strong for them. Although running past people you know goes by in a flash (literally), it gave me something to look forward to as the miles felt longer and longer.

    My fantastic cheer squad. (My husband Dino, best friend Emily & my mom!)

My badge of honor! (Photo courtesy of Erica Sara Designs)

                  Running the ING NYC Marathon just might be the second best day of my life, next to my wedding day, and it’s something I’ll always cherish. The experience is a lot different than that of a triathlon, but both are amazing in different ways. You only run your first marathon once and I feel so honored to be part of something so big in my very own hometown. Running a marathon is definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was worth those grueling 4 hours and 38 minutes that I was out there. And, I can’t wait to do it again! ATTENTION RUNNERS! I'm a huge fan of Erica Sara Designs, a designer who makes crafty and unique fitness inspired jewelry. I scooped up her limited edition "26.2 Skyline Necklace" to honor this year's NYC Marathon. I even got it engraved with my time and my favorite saying, "You did it!" to always remember this race. I'm giving away one of these to one very lucky reader. To enter, click HERE by 11:59 p.m. EST tomorrow, November 10! A few last fun facts about the race, courtesy of Asics:

1970 year of the first New York City Marathon 127 starters 55 finishers $1 entry fee 142,903 applicants to the ING New York City Marathon 2011 47,438 participants in 2011 8,000+ event volunteers 2 million spectators along the course 150+ NYRR staff working year-round on the marathon 74 UPS trucks transporting participants’ bags from start-finish 608 media credentials issued 4.4 million readers of the results section of the NY Times 62,370 gallons of Poland Spring® Water 32,040 gallons Gatorade G Series Pro Endurance Formula 2,300,000 paper cups 57,600 PowerBar Energy Gels at Mile 18 368 portable toilets, at more than 35 locations (every mile) 54,000 finisher medals 60,000 Heat Sheets™ 54,000 finisher recovery bags

Now tell us: Did you run in Sunday's marathon here in New York City? If so, I'd love to hear about your experience!