T minus four days
4:30am: The journey that will take to me glory or despair starts with a simple, irritating buzzer from my alarm clock. I grab a few last-minute items and open the curtains, hoping that the blanket of white that unexpectedly descended last night has melted during my brief time asleep. My friend T pulls up, slightly late, scrubbing snow off his windscreen as I bundle my case in the boot.
Sunrise comes over the M25 and soon we reach Heathrow where I’m dropped off with a manly good luck ringing in my ears. I check in, wander round the terminal for a while and go through security with ease. The flight was overbooked and the plane had to be down-sized, so an offer was on the cards for a later flight. I decline, not wanting another complication to worry about. Boarding starts but pauses as the queue builds up and the stalling excuses pour out from the tannoys. Behind schedule, I finally get aboard and take my seat. Two Irish girls next to me take out some plans and discuss details – marathon runners too, and judging from the trainers of others, like many people on the flight. After a movie and some writing, we land.
Security takes ages, and when I finally get through, the carousel is empty. Panic begins to build. A porter points to a lone, sad case sitting a few yards away, apologising that it’s the last. No matter, it’s mine. I take it and eventually stumble my way to the monorail and trains to take me to Steve’s house in Long Island, my home whilst I’m here.
I see the kids and try to dig out my silly, playful side. It takes a while to get used to being in a world of Thomas the Tank Engine, Elmo and pirates, but I eventually adjust. Soon, I am as transfixed by Dora the Explorer as they are. Steve comes home and the talk of the marathon begins. After eating and sleeping it for months, communicating via email and phones it’s good to hear the hopes and fears in person. We’ll be fine, I’ll tell him, as we slope off for pizza.
T minus three days
The city awaits. The day is cool but clear; almost perfect Manhattan weather. I grab a train in, have lunch on the run and follow the instructions downtown to Steve’s offices. I go past the World Trade Centre site, and remember what was there, when I went up them in ‘98. Now, it’s just a big building site, but memories of that tragic day are everywhere. I meet with him and we buy some Gu – energy gels for the race. Could be our saviour. I do a bit more shopping and wander outside, hoping to get some photos. The Statue of Liberty greets me from afar, side on, and I walk along the riverside to get the best views. I set up various shots and have some pleasing results. This is nice, very relaxing, what I do best on my own on Manhattan. Thoughts of the marathon and how I might do fill my head. As often, my mind wanders to my future and what might become. As always, answers are never close to hand. A chill comes into the air as the sun threatens to invade New Jersey’s skyline for the umpteenth time. I cannot wait until sunset to capture its colours, so I head back to meet Steve.
We make our way to the Marathon Expo to pick up our numbers and check everything out. Organisation is near perfect, and after a few commemorative shots of us with our numbers we go to the travel section. Result! We get our buses changed to the seven o’ clock Staten Island ferry. Given that I was officially due to a) be somewhere different to Steve and b) be there at 4am – a full 6 hours before the race start – this is a major relief and maybe a significant factor tomorrow. More good news follows as Steve’s Team for Kids organisers sneak me in on their list. VIP all round it’s not, but I’m told in comparison to Ordinary Joe, this will help in my marathon experience.
We pick up the usual freebies, take some photos, buy some gear (not that we would be advised to wear anything new) and head off to a BBQ dinner place happy that everything is official.
T minus two days
You can’t go to New York without shopping, so I spend most of the day at the Mall. Easier than Manhattan, and with a good choice too, a few hours are spent on my feet. Is this good preparation? My legs and feet ache as I wonder how many miles I’ve covered today. I eat a Subway (why did I go for a spicy sauce?) and decide to kill a few hours at the cinema. I plump for something I assume to be brain-dead: Max Payne. I expect lots of action but instead get a crappy fantasy whodunnit. Two other people in the cinema witness this disaster. Lesson learned, (watch something you know should be good!) I trudge off and get picked up for home.
I come back to find that I missed the kids at Halloween trick-or-treating. Homeowners compete with each other with displays of ghosts and pumpkins. Orange and white fill the night.
The first part of our pasta-loading takes place in a local restaurant, so I eat plenty. More and more go in until I am full. And then I eat some ice cream. Still no beer; that will come in 48 hours!!!!
T minus one day
Things are bad. Things are extremely bad. I think I overloaded on the pasta last night, so by early hours I’m awake and in pain. My bowels are loosening and the bile keeps rising in my mouth as I fear the worst. I curse at being ill in someone’s house and wish I was back home, but it’s coming and I have no choice. A 2am trip to the bathroom leaves me feeling there’s more suffering to come. Will this jeopardise my run? Thoughts fly round my head of a recent conversation with Si’s dad who said he’d ended up in an ambulance after running a race soon after being ill. Months of preparation, of conquering injury, and now 35 hours before the race a dodgy piece of chicken or prawn was about to undo it all?!! 4am and 5am visits compounded the misery. I may have a decision to make.
Things improve slightly after taking some medicine and resting. We are booked to see an inspirational marathon movie and a pre-race pasta party in the city with Steve’s company. Great. I feel sick just thinking about it. However, I know to wallow in my own pity is to prolong the agony and delay the recovery, so I force myself to go. My fuel tank reads empty; I know I have no option but to fill up or ship out.
Popcorn layers my stomach and is added to with half a plate of plain pasta. I ignore incredulous noises from the chefs when declining the seemingly delicious pasta sauce, but safety is the word of the moment. I eat enough to hopefully keep it down but to get the needle back out of red. Is it enough, though?
The party is low-key but positive. The stories are flying, some promising, some worrying. We dash off home to go over the final few details. I realise my sickness has diverted my mind off of running and tomorrow, so maybe that wasn’t such a good thing. Plans finished, kit laid out, alarm clock set, I silently wish for an event-free night and a fresh start tomorrow. We’re suddenly into not months, not weeks, nor days but hours to go. Just need to turn up and start running.