Drawing (and Running) The NYC Marathon

The day I slapped a thousand hands, or how can I love NYC even more?

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I never expected to run a marathon, but I did, and in my favorite city in the world, New York City. It was not a decision that came easily; I have been a runner on and off for years, and it was only this year that I began to increase my distance. What motivated me was that I wanted to raise money for cancer research; our daughter just recently successfully battled thyroid cancer and I wanted to help. I discovered a group that assists athletes in both fundraising and training. The coach at Team in Training, a part of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, convinced me that I could do it. I signed on.

Soon, I decided that I would draw the marathon as I ran it. In one of my half marathons earlier in the year, I had drawn a few images of runners and scenes on my iPhone with my finger. I thought this would be great to do during the marathon as well. For this, however, I chose to use a mini iPad so that I could draw more complete images — the size of my iPhone was limiting and was the use of my finger instead of a stylus. For the run, I bought a protective case and strap, and it ended up being perfect.

Training was tough, but I enjoyed the challenge, and I am grateful to my body for cooperating. Even still, I knew the marathon would be really hard and a big stress on my system. I went into this with eyes wide open: I might not complete it, but that’s okay.

November 3, 2019, my day began at 4:15 am, rising for coffee and a bagel — and a bit of terror that I managed to quiet — before heading out to meet the bus to Staten Island where the New York City Marathon begins.

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All of us on the bus were aware that even though the ride was long, it was better to be on the warm bus than in the cold air outside.

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The scene at the starting point when we arrived was quite an odd mixture of people – all ages, races, sizes – full of energy and anticipation. I grabbed some free coffee and found a place to sit on the ground – -which was not easy, there were tons of people milling about, many wearing an bizarre assortment of running clothes and used clothing to keep warm. Around 8:30, there was a very shocking booming sound of the canon going off, and many of us jumped. It was the sound that the first wave of runners had taken off. We saw them happily jogging en masse upwards on the Verrazano Bridge.

My wave wasn’t set to depart until 11:00 am, so I had a good bit of people watching to do. I sat next to this woman who had an hysterical laugh; she was clearly having a good time. I thanked her for her upbeat attitude, it kept my nerves down.

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All announcements were made in several languages — French, Italian and German I think I heard. At one point, I was surrounded by Italian runners. As I waited 25 minutes for my turn at the Porta-Potty, I passed the time chatting with two women from Holland. At the start of the race, I was happily surrounded by very spunky Italians, and I heard French nearby.

Before my wave took off, we were all should-to-shoulder waiting with nervous energy — it was an amazing feeling. Suddenly, the canned music stopped, and we (most of us) stood at attention for the national anthem; THEN they blasted Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York,” and I got chills. Chills from pride towards my city and that I was actually doing this.

The first view you are treated to is of Manhattan from the Verrazano Bridge — it was stunning and many were pausing to take selfies with the Big Apple. Who cares if it increases your finish time!

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After Staten Island, the first borough we ran in was Brooklyn, and we stayed in Brooklyn for a very long time, around 11 miles! But it was absolutely wonderful, with so many characters and people holding “welcome to Brooklyn” signs. Within that one borough, we ran through many different neighborhoods, and the diverse crowds cheered us on. People seemed to be having parties in our honor, and stood by the street to cheer us on. Strangers shouting encouragement and telling us how great we are. I was advised before the race to put my name on my shirt so that observers could shout out my name, and they did! One of my favorite parts was slapping the outstretched hands of onlookers, cheering me on. Young people, old people, of every color and ethnicity: These people did not know me, but they were telling me they were proud of me, that I was the best, that I was inspiring, that I looked great. Their hands were outstretched for mine. I must have slapped a thousand hands that day.

We then went through Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and back to Manhattan. Each borough had its own feel, its own music. DJ’s chanted to us as they played songs, bands serenaded us. After mile 15, when your brain starts to malfunction, I danced to some of the songs as I ran, which only increased the delight of onlookers.

My plan for drawing was that I would draw during my walk breaks. Sometimes I drew what I saw if it was right in front of me for a while — one of my fellow runners, or a view. Or, I would see something that I wanted to capture, I committed it to memory and drew it soon thereafter because it passed me by fairly quickly. There was so much to draw — mostly it was the onlookers I wanted to sketch. They touched my heart.

New Yorkers are a tough bunch, to put it mildly, but they are not afraid to show how they feel. The day of the marathon felt like one big huge block party, a day where New Yorkers show how proud they are of their city and of each other. For that one day, marathoners and street-side supporters together joined to celebrate life.

I crossed the finish line with more faith in people than ever before.

Below and above are my drawings done during the day.

To donate to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and learn more about why I did this, you can visit my fundraising page here. With a donation of $50 or more, you will be entered into a lottery to win a signed print(s) of my drawings.

Runners’ World nicely did a story on me and the cause.

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Visual journalist/writer for New Yorker, New York Times, CBS News, CNN. TED, SXSW speaker. Looking to change world w humor. lizadonnelly.com

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