Final Finisher Janelle is Running to Greet Peter One Last Time at Her First Marathon as a Runner
For the past five years, I have volunteered at the finish line of the TCS New York City Marathon. And I have loved every minute.
There is nothing like greeting all the runners as they make that final journey to get to their bags or post-race ponchos. Among the thousands of finishers, I often scan the sea of faces for my friends who have finished, excited to hug them, help them out if needed, and take a photo of them with their medal. For me, that excitement is contagious. The best day of the year: marathon day in New York City.
The marathon is not the only place I show up. I’ve been running and volunteering at many NYRR races throughout the years. As a result, I have qualified for the marathon through the 9+1 program every year, but I’ve never activated the entry—I always sign up to volunteer.
Many, many times, I would let the idea of running the marathon creep into my mind—for about 30 seconds, but then I would quickly dismiss it as a crazy thought. Somewhere, somehow, I got the courage to say “this is the year.”
The Finish Line Stays Alive
Last year, a couple of hours after my volunteer shift had officially end, I waited for my favorite part of the race, which is when the final finishers come into the park and push their way toward the finish line.
As daylight fades into dark and the park empties out, the finish line stays alive. I had several friends toward the back of the pack last year, so I waited, tracking them on the mobile app, looking for them to come up that last hill to 67th Street. Tears, cheers, and hugs. A celebration of the warriors who made it through 26.2 miles, and for some, many miles in the dark. My people, the final finishers.
I caught the bug. I knew I needed to make 2018 my year to run. I wasn’t getting any younger. I will be 56 when I run the TCS New York City Marathon on November 4. I have completed more than 100 road races, but never in my life did I think I could or would complete a marathon. I started running at the age of 49, but I knew I wasn’t getting any younger. I am not going to get much faster, either.
Some Final Inspiration
Then, in May, when I was in the early stages of my marathon training, something happened. Peter Ciaccia, NYRR’s president, events, and race director of the TCS New York City Marathon, announced he was retiring after this year’s marathon. Well, if that wasn’t a sign I had to run, I don’t know what was!
You see, when you are a back-of-the-pack runner like me, you get to see a whole other side of running. You get to know the staff on bicycles, who check in to make sure you are OK. I have one who I call my “guardian angel,” as they always take care of me. I’ve even nicknamed myself as “the human sweep,” letting staff and volunteers know along the way that they will get to go home soon—once I make it over that finish line. You make friends with people who join you for those miles. It’s a different race experience—and I keep coming back!
When I am standing in a corral and hear someone who is running their first race say, “I don’t know if I can do this” or “I am going be the last person to finish today,” I tend to laugh. I tell them not to worry as I got that last spot. You are going to do fine. Go out and do your best is what I advise them.
Running With Peter
Since I am at the back of the pack for many NYRR races, I’ve developed a unique relationship with Peter, who has been running with me to the finish line for a few years now. Just recently, he climbed the hill near the finish line in the Bronx to greet me and my running partner as we finished the New Balance Bronx 10 Mile.
When you run slow, you can have a nice chat with the race director on your way to the finish. It’s a perk that many people don’t know about. Sometimes, he will ask me about how my week was, or he would apologize if he wasn’t at my last race to run to the finish with me.
It’s surreal that this is my first marathon—as a runner—and it will be Peter’s last New York City Marathon. It’s a long day for him, too, but I hope he saves up some strength to run with me to my first marathon finish line. On behalf of all the NYRR runners, we’re going to miss Peter. That, and so much more, make me excited to be representing the final finisher class of 2018 at the TCS New York City Marathon. Roll on November 4!