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RADJournals: Kelly Blavatt’s first marathon was alone looping in her neighborhood during COVID. Her second was the NYC Marathon. Two opposite experiences recapped.

As I approached 40 I caught the marathon bug.  2020 was the year that I was going to run the NYC Marathon.  The biggest, greatest, marathon of all marathons. A classic if you will. March 8th, 2020 I registered to run as part of the Alzheimer’s Association team, in honor of my Dad who was suffering from Alzheimer’s.  Two short weeks later COVID-19 began to impact the United States and the world more profoundly.  Everyday life as we knew it had changed.  Slowly but surely all races were beginning to be canceled- by June the 2020 the NYC Marathon was like all others, and it canceled.

As was the case with many runners, I grieved the lack of racing opportunities, but this one hit hard.  For a variety of reasons, I was determined to run a marathon in 2020- big birthday around the corner, the 50th running of the marathon and I wasn’t sure my Dad would live to see November 2021 and wanted him to know that I had accomplished this bucket list item in his honor.  I had two choices: pout that I wasn’t going to be running five bridges and boroughs in 2020 or do something about it.  Despite the marathon being canceled I continued my fundraising and I decided to start my training cycle with the goal of running the Virtual NYC Marathon. 

I knew that with every training cycle I learned something new, so having a dress rehearsal before the “real deal” seemed like a reasonable backup plan.  Everyone say to be sure to carefully select that first marathon experience.  Look for great crowd support and a course that will help you to go the distance.  My first marathon was anything but that as I ran in loops from my house.  My crowd support consisted of some deer, squirrels and the guys taking down trees in my yard, until mile 20 or so when my family/friends came out to give me the final push to go the distance.  While this was far from the NYC experience of running a marathon, I controlled a lot of the factors that you don’t get to control when running a major marathon. 

I slept in my own bed the night before. I was able to get up when I wanted and eat my normal breakfast.  I listened to NY, NY by Frank Sinatra with my boys and hit the road.  I didn’t listen to music.  I didn’t have loud crowds cheering me on.  Instead, I listened to an audio book and ran my solo 26.2.  For what will likely be the only time, I broke the tape that my then 5 and 7 year old children created as I crossed the home-made finish line completing my first marathon.  While I was initially disappointed that NYC didn’t happen, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about this first marathon experience.  Not many people can say they finished their first marathon in front of their home with their family and friends around them.   

Like many others, when given the choice of my future guaranteed entry I selected 2021 as my first choice.  Truth be told, I didn't really think there was a chance of the marathon going off in 2021.  So much felt unsettled at the time of making my election.  However, I knew that I wanted the chance to run the 50th NYC marathon.  I would still have the chance to do it during my 40th birthday year.  But, as I suspected, I lost my dad a few months before the marathon and instead of running in his honor, I ran in his memory.  This added to the meaning of the run.   

As the date got closer, I was cautiously optimistic that the marathon would happen.  For a long time, I was afraid to get my hopes up because I didn’t want to be disappointed by another canceled race.  But this was the real deal and it was going to happen!!  In contrast to my solo run, I spent the days leading up to the marathon taking in the sights with my family.  We had a perfect few days of enjoying great meals, seeing the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and the Central Park Zoo.  The weather was perfect.  I was so distracted by making sure everyone had what they needed for the morning of the race- proper layers, snacks, and knowing how to get to the grandstand, that I lost track of the fact that I was about to run the biggest race of my life.  I started the day by walking down Fifth Avenue to the bus to Staten Island. 

It was truly surreal.  Crisp.  Quiet for NY but not truly silent.  As the city never really sleeps.   Busses were lined up for blocks to take the runners to the base of the Verrazano Bridge.  Fortunately, I made friends waiting in line who helped to pass the several hours we waited before our start time.  While it was cold waiting in the start village (I knew that would make for the best running weather)- the time passed quickly sitting along the Verrazano Bridge, taking in the people, the sights and trying to settle my nerves.  The energy was high and before I knew it, I was making my way to the starting corral.  On the top level of the Verrazano Bridge, I stood in awe- thinking of all the times I had driven over the bridge, never once thinking that I would run across it. 

How would I describe the experience?? Intense. There is such a buzz at the start of the marathon where there are no spectators, but all the runners are so excited.  Once we crossed the bridge there were spectators, music and excitement for miles.  The only other really quiet stretch was the Queensboro Bridge.  But then you have the spectators waiting on First Avenue to cheer you on.  I’m still amazed at how many volunteers and spectators gave of their time that day to make the race possible.  I wore a bib with my name on it and it was as though the spectators knew when I needed a boost and would call out my name.   

I like to think of my two marathon experiences as my first marathon and my first “real” marathon.  Trust me, anyone knows that 26.2 whether you do it alone or with 30,000 people is a marathon.  But there is no describing the energy felt for the 26.2 in NY. In NY I was running as part of a community.  When I ran my first marathon alone, it was a very personal experience.  It was something I had to do for me.  In NY it’s as though the entire city was cheering me to the finish.  The sense of community with the runners, many of whom had been waiting two years like me to run in NYC was profound.  But one thing remained the same- my husband and boys were there at the end.  No, we weren’t in front of our house, and they didn’t get to squirt me with water guns like in 2020, but when we called out to each other and locked eyes it was like no one else was there as I crossed the finish line of my first “real” marathon in the greatest city in the world! 


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