Alicia Keys Spills On The Hardest & Most Incredible Moments Of The NYC Marathon

Refinery29 is ridiculously excited to present our very own TCS New York City Marathon blogger: the one and only Alicia Keys. She’s a multiple Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, an actress (she’ll be a guest star on season 2 of Empire), a mom, an activist, and a proud NYC native. Follow along on Alicia’s journey to race day and get a taste of her training routine, her biggest challenges, and Keep A Child Alive, the amazing cause she’ll be running to support on Sunday, November 1.

It's 7 a.m. on marathon day! We walked into the marathon village — the “staging area” on Staten Island where runners wait for their pre-assigned start time — and, as if it were planned, my piano version of "Empire State of Mind" came on over the sound system. I cannot tell you what that did to me! I cannot even properly describe the feeling.

At 9:20 a.m. they called us to the starting point. The energy was unreal. You could feel a mixture of nerves, excitement, uncertainty, confidence, and hopeful enjoyment in the crowd. The lady next to me had obviously read my Refinery29 blogs — she recited word-for-word what I'd been talking about in them. I was glad it got to her!

I was so ready to start; it was such a crazy feeling. You get up so early to get to the starting village, and you wait so long. I was just bursting to begin. Then, the countdown happened: "On your mark, get set, "BANG!" It began. I was buzzing, my heart was pumping... It was finally real.
A funny thing happened as we were crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn: There was so much excitement and such an incline that I had massive trouble breathing — it seemingly came out of nowhere. And, for one split second, I thought that maybe this was going to be too much. But I pushed through, and it subsided. Phew!

Running in the middle of the Verrazano was so freeing. The city was totally shut down, and it felt so good. I took in the structure of the bridge, the water all around us, the helicopters in the sky capturing it all... I was surprised by how many people fell in the beginning. Everyone was so eager to be in front and get their best time. There was a lot of pushing and squeezing going on. Luckily, they didn't push me!

The Verrazano is one mile long, and when I got to the other side, I said, "See, only 25.2 miles left." LOL. I felt really good all the way through Brooklyn. It was a really long part of the course; about 16 miles of the marathon are in Brooklyn. It was dope to see all the different styles of the neighborhoods we went through — different people, different backgrounds, different buildings. That's one of my favorite things about NYC. And all before me was just a sea of colors and runners as far as the eye could see.

Around mile 11, I started to notice a pretty strong, uncomfortable sensation in my lower back. I stopped to stretch a little bit and told myself I was strong. I realized then that it's best not to stop so much, because starting up again was one of the most difficult parts.

I was searching and searching for mile 13, because at that point, we would be halfway through, and I could start counting down. But about that time is when my feet started to get that achy, numb feeling I remember from the last marathon I ran. My Keep A Child Alive teammates and I started to strategize about walking the bridges to take little breaks and recuperate. Another funny thing was that every time I started to walk, people in the crowd would say, "Don't give up, Alicia!" I appreciated that, and giving up never crossed my mind once.

I loved the signs the crowds along the route were holding. Some of my favorites said, "Free beer at finish line." One took it a step further with "Free beer and sex at the finish line!" There were signs where people would draw a beautiful circle and write, "Touch here for power!” We needed that. Signs that said "Just keep going" seemed to appear right on time. One of the funniest was a Donald Trump punching bag, LOL — NYC has so much character.
I really appreciated all the people who took their Sunday and decided to come out and support the runners. The yells of encouragement and claps and good energy really made a difference — not to mention all the bands playing on the sidewalks, and the DJs set up with their booths along the course. It was so needed. I can still feel the thump of drums and bass to match the rhythm of our feet. Somewhere in Brooklyn, someone was playing the song "Hit the Road, Jack." It was perfect.

That energy took us all the way up Manhattan, over the bridge to the Bronx, and then back into Manhattan — in Harlem, down Fifth Avenue. Everybody who came out to support me and support all the runners were heroes to us. That's what I think I will remember the most: the love of the city. I felt it like crazy!

Somehow, we even managed to take some running pictures. Someone from Italy, or Australia, or Texas would tell me they loved my music, or that my songs were getting them through this marathon, and without stopping, we took a picture while running. That was fresh! I've never taken a running selfie before — people are talented!

At mile 20, I said, "Only six miles left! How bad can it be?" But that's when it got the most difficult. My hips were super sore, my feet were numb, this pain in my lower back was real. And it felt like forever to get to the next mile marker. But what got me through was seeing incredible runners with prosthetic legs, or a man leading a blind runner, or an older woman walking with a cane to make it. These were the surges of strength that I needed. And the reminder that my mind is strong, even stronger than my body — the most intimate example of mind over matter.

I started thinking about my family and seeing them on the other side. I remember specifically counting the steps I took between mile 23 and 24. It was 2,500 steps. At mile 25, I started screaming at mile 26, "Where are you?" This is where my team really got me through. We said, "We're going to cross the finish line together! It's right there. We can do it!" You can't believe how far half a mile feels at the end of this run. Finally, there was mile 26, and right beyond it, the words "Finish Line." We grabbed each other's hands and half-walked/shuffled/jogged/ran as strong as we could and brought our hands up in victory as we crossed the threshold. The finish line! We did it, and there was my family — all I needed!

I could barely stand; I was all stumbly and euphoric. I had done it for Keep A Child Alive and for my own mental strength.

Afterward, we had a Colombian feast, relayed our best and worst moments, and hugged each other a million times with the pride of a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment. And boy, are we sore. Happy, but sore!

Click here to support Alicia's Keep A Child Alive/NYC Marathon fundraiser.


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