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Reference Number CHY 18363



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New York City Marathon
Barbara Heffernan

Sat 1st November 2008
Got up early with the help of the jet lag! Our hotel was on 7th Avenue between Times Square and Central park, this meant it was only a short walk to central park for a jog. There were a lot of people out warming up there legs for tomorrow’s big event, this is where the marathon will finish up and great preparations were under way.

Sunday 2nd November 2008

Everything I had worked for, this was the day. De-day had finally arrived, nerves woke me just after 3am, I found it very hard to get back to sleep… a lot more excitement than fear I thought. I think I was looking forward to getting it going. I made sure I had my porridge and banana then we were all set to go. We got ourselves into a yellow cab and made our way to Battery Park, usually the ferry terminal to Staten Island, this morning it was taking approx. 40,000 people to the start line. It was a cold winter morning in NYC and there were people waiting anxiously everywhere.


I found a seat and got talking to a girl named Elizabeth, we instantly hit it off and ended up staying with each other until the start, Elizabeth would eventually come in 2 seconds ahead of me on the timesheet! We eventually headed out on the ferry across the Hudson river and went by the statue of liberty before getting to Staten Island. Myself and Elizabeth had a lot to talk about, we kept each other calm, she was a lovely person and I hope we can keep in touch.
As the ferry docked, there were buses ready to take us to the start villages!! at Fort Wadsworth. There were 3 slightly separate start points, each one had its own village. The atmosphere was tense on the bus and facial expressions said it all… fear of the unknown.
We got off the bus and started to follow the crowd into the baggage drop off area. It was like a scene from a music festival (without the alcohol) There were people everywhere, the 40,000 congregated in this one spot dressed in all sorts of ways to keep warm, old pyjamas, all-in-one painter suits, some in fancy dress… Astronauts heading to space!  Tea, bagels & bananas were served for breakfast, the atmosphere was electric, people trying to keep warm… that cup of tea was very welcome.
There was a strong smell of ‘deep heat’ in the air, some people had really set up camp that morning and there were bodies wrapped up in sleeping bags all over the place. The streets of NYC had been closed from 7am that morning. People arrived in their droves. Then came the announcements for people to make their way to the start line. This is where I said my goodbyes to my new marathoner friend Elizabeth. We gave each other a big hug and wished each other all the best for what was going to be the biggest sporting event of our lives.
My adrenaline was pumping now, the air was cold, people started to strip off in to their running gear, you could smell the fear!  All the discarded clothing would be gathered up and donated to charities.
I started talking to a guy from New Jersey, he was clearly very nervous, he asked me about my tee-shirt and I told him about Cyril. He wished me all the best for it and was off. This happened quite a bit. 


After a 10 minute wait, we walked slowly to the start line. I kept focused and told myself that this was what I had worked for…. I just wanted to get going and warm up. A wave of emotion passed through me as Frank Sinatra’s New York New York was blasted through the speakers. It echoed through the crowd the stood on the Verranazo-Narrows Bridge, this bridge would be the first two miles of the marathon and lead us into Brooklyn.
And then we were off…..


There was a cold sharp breeze as I ran across the bridge but the views looking in on New York City distracted me from most of it. The views were amazing.
I kept on telling myself “I’m in New York” All my thoughts, fears and dreams had finally turned to reality as we approached the end of the bridge there were steams of people coming off from three different directions. I had never in my life seen so many people running together in the same direction.
 There was a great sense of camaraderie.        

Two miles down and 24.2 to go….. I entered Brooklyn. I had just started to get into some sort of rhythm but my legs were still cold. Unfortunately this would not change much for the whole race! The onlookers and support out on the streets was amazing. People cheered out my name everywhere (I had it printed on the back of my shirt)
I noticed a lot of Thai onlookers and they were noticing my shirt too.

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I was kept entertained by my I-pod and scanning different peoples shirts, everyone had there own story to tell, who or why they were running
There was a long stretch of road in between mile 8 & 9 I started to feel a slight twinge into my lower back on the right side. I was a bit concerned about this because in all the months of training I had gotten calf strain and cramps but never anything to do with my back. I hoped that it would pass and tried to direct my thoughts to something else. I thought immediately about my our son, Dylan, back home and how he brings so much love in our lives, I thought about my great husband Niall,  my family mum , dad my brother Dao and two sisters Lisa and Clare,  and friends and how they had all influenced me through life. Part of that family is now Garmon (my brother in law) and all the Duncan family and I hoped that they are able to find the strength to get through this really difficult time. I thought about my granny, Kay, and her bad legs…. And how fortunate I, like everyone else, was to be here today using mine and to be in good health.

There was also a lot of time that I thought about absolutely nothing. I just kept moving forward. At 13 miles I entered Queens. This was very much an ethnic community and was alive with community spirit. There was a very large church choir, all very young, singing and cheering in a formation. You could feel and absorb the energy from the support. On the next street there was another band with huge drums and  a man with an Indian headdress on singing Y-M-C-A in the crowd of runners… most would join in for a few seconds and then get back to the business at hand!!

Mile 15 and I was going over Queensborough Bridge back into Manhattan. This was an experience that will live with me for the rest of my life. The bridge itself was just under a mile long, I took an energy gel and as I came on. About half way across there was a slowing of the crowd ahead, people were all moving to the left to avoid something, I knew before I could see it that it was probably an injury but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. A young man was laid down on the ground with a medical team around him. His Tee-shirt was ripped off and they were administering CPR. It was frightening to watch, I let out a scream “Oh Jesus Christ”. It had upset me.  I then suddenly thought of my grand dad, Frankie, and Cyril. I muttered a little prayer as best I could and asked them to get me through the rest of the marathon.
I felt their presence, I really felt like they were with me at that moment and no word of a lie, this was the turning point in my marathon.


I felt alive, I picked up the pace and all of a sudden there was no stopping me. I approached the descent of the bridge and could hear the huge crowd that congregates there. This was the start of 1st Avenue and a 4 mile straight road! I was welcomed around the bend by a Dublin flag. This gave me a high. I could see that people were starting to feel the pain and fade at this point but I felt the opposite, I started to pass people regularly now and it made me feel even better. (There was advice from Sonia O’Sullivan on the subject of marathons: She said that people will pass you at the start but just keep to your own pace and you will eventually be passing those same people)
Mile 20 and I was entering the Bronx. It was interesting to see the differences in the different Boroughs; we didn’t spend much time here though…
Mile 21 crossing another bridge, Madison Ave Bridge, to bring us back into Manhattan island. I knew now that I hadn’t far to go. My legs were still feeling strong but I was beginning to get tired. The crowd though lifted you all the way.
Mile 23 and I turned into Central Park, 3.2 miles to go. People were stopping for water/fluids breaks and a few who need to stretch out cramps and pains but I told myself that I wasn’t stopping, not till I crossed that finish line.
I passed a wheelchair athlete at this point, he was just stopped in the middle of the road, you could see the pain all over his face.
I was getting emotional at this stage, I couldn’t believe that it was coming to an end. I had been so worried about the final few miles and in reality it wasn’t so bad.
 People were still calling out ‘Cyril Duncan’, as I ran by the last 2 mile marker, was really great to be carried along by so many people.
Mile 25, ‘This last one is for you Cyril, I said to myself as I started it, I don’t remember much of the last mile, the crowds were huge, left into central park again and….
Crossed the finish line in 5 hours

I was smiling from ear to ear, I had completed it, an achievement never to be forgotten. The 2nd November 2008 will be a day that will live on in my mind forever.

I have learned so much from this experience. Time is precious, People are even more precious, Don’t give up, Don’t give up hope, Face your fears, Life is for living.

The man I had seen lying on the bridge died in hospital on the 14th November, he was 41 years old.  I don’t know his name. As sad as this was, I’d like to think that he died after doing something that he loved.

I dedicate my NYC marathon to Cyril Duncan, may your spirit live on.









Barbara Heffernan.

The Cyril Duncan Siam Children's Foundation is a Registered Charity in Ireland
Reference Number: CHY 18363
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