Five whole months, I thought. No problem, I thought. It can’t be harder than running a marathon 13 weeks pregnant, I thought. That was me, a year ago, entering the NYC Marathon lottery for the fifth time. I probably won’t even get picked, I thought, reflecting on my previous unsuccessful attempts. But then I did get picked. And then, in June, I had a baby.
Race: The TCS New York City Marathon 2019
Location: All five boroughs, starting on Staten Island at Fort Wadsworth/the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and ending in Central Park, Manhattan.
Time of Year: The first weekend in November
Weather: Gloriously sunny. A little breeze. Low 40s at the start line and 50s during the race.
Logistics and Getting There: Any of the NYC airports or highways will get you in close proximity to this race. No car needed. We stayed with family in New Jersey, and I took the MetLife Stadium shuttle to the start line. It was an early morning (got on the bus at 5:45, arrived in Fort Wadsworth by 7 am, and started running at 11 am) but overall not terrible. Bring something to cover your eyes if you want to try to sleep on the bus (NOT a charter bus; very bright). Wear extra layers to donate (I brought and ultimately donated an old set of hat/gloves/scarf that someone had given me as a gift many years ago, some sweatpants that needed to be discarded anyway, and the jacket I’d gotten for free at the Route 66 Marathon).
Expo and Swag: Expo was as bonkers as you’d expect, but the packet pickup piece of it was very easy — probably easier than you’d expect. All participants got a pretty standard but nice long sleeved tech tee. The free plastic poncho that was in the race bag came in handy for blocking the wind at the start area. There were also free Dunkin Donuts branded beanies given out at the start area, along with bagels, Stinger Waffles, bananas, coffee, hot cocoa, tea, and water. I had two bagels and wish I’d had a third, because I ended up being really hungry on course (my husband ended up feeding me treats from Magnolia Bakery at mile 16 while I breastfed!). On-course there was plenty of water and Gatorade stops, plus a few Stinger Gel stops (no waffles, sorry). Post-race food was uneventful (Gatorade, protein shake, pretzels, apple, Stinger saltine cracker snack). Medal was a nice, big, and apple-shaped.
The Course: The course winds through all five boroughs of New York City, but most of the miles are in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Lots of on-course live music (to the point that I was not able to listen to anything from my own earbuds because the course was so loud). TONS of crowd support. Great energy. One suggestion, which applies to most races in cities — would be great to have signs that tell us what the heck we are looking at, or history of the neighborhoods or buildings we are passing. There were signs designating when we entered a new borough but not much more than that. Rolling hills, especially over bridges, but nothing crazy. Overall, a nice 26 mile route. But can we talk about the bathrooms? MORE BATHROOMS, PLEASE, especially in the first several miles. When I stopped at mile 5 or so — the first bathrooms I found — there was a decent line, which is so annoying on course. Also the bathrooms at this race were notably GROSS. I get that there were 50,000 runners but, like, GROSS.
How It Went: This was the slowest marathon I’ve ever run. And probably the most physically painful marathon I’ve run. Truth told, other than the Route 66 Marathon in mid-November last year, my longest run in the year before this race was 6 miles. I did that once. In August. More recently, I’d done a few runs in the 3-4 mile range and a decent amount of hiking. Here are my excuses. Having a baby does a number on your body (which maybe I’ll go into another day) and I wasn’t cleared to train until pretty close to this race, and at that point I just wasn’t particularly motivated. It’s also tough to train while breastfeeding — I trialed a bunch of bras that didn’t provide enough support and delayed running until I found one that finally worked (it’s from Brooks). Even then, I couldn’t spend more than 2-3 hours away from my baby because I needed to feed him. And then, you know, just having a baby is a lot of work. So long story short, I did this race on the least sleep, at the highest weight, and on the least training of any of my races, and I could tell! My strategy was just to go out at an easy pace and keep it for as long as I could, hoping to finish before the sweep bus caught me. I felt good jogging for the first 10 miles or so (just stopping once for a bathroom and once to feed the baby). Then I slowed down to a shuffle and got super super hungry. I texted my husband to bring me treats. In the middle section of the race, I ate a peanut butter chocolate bar and red velvet cupcake from Magnolia Bakery and fed the baby and kept shuffling and made sure I didn’t puke up my treats. Then I walked the final miles, wincing and ready to be done. Final time was 6 hrs 24 minutes, which honestly was better than I expected! And only one foot blister in shoes that I’d never run in!
How to Run a Marathon While Breastfeeding and Pumping: My son was nearly 5 months old at the NYC Marathon. He is exclusively breastfed and eats every 2-3 hours on demand. How did I manage to get us both through the NYC Marathon?
(1) Read the Rules. A few weeks before the race, I reviewed the Code of Conduct, which said that I racers could not bring any hydration vests or backpacks to the start area or on course. And no one was allowed at the start area except for racers. How could I feed my child? Where could I put a breast pump? I reviewed the rest of the website, including the FAQs to determine whether there were exceptions, and to see whether they had any public information on how to feed or pump both at the start area and on course. They didn’t. So I went to Step 2…
(2) Contact the Race Organization.
Here is the email I sent: Hi there, my child will be 5 months old for the NYC Marathon. I expect it will be hard to coordinate meeting up with my husband and baby at various places on the course, in addition to the fact that they will not be able to come to the start area. I was planning to bring a small manual breast pump to express milk at the start area and along the course, but upon a close look at the Code of Conduct, it does not appear that hydration vests are allowed (I was planning to put the pump in a Nathan vest). I could bring the pump to the start area, pump, and check it in my clear bag, but after that I think I will be out of luck? Does NYRR have any advice for dealing with this situation? Ideally I’d pump and/or feed my child every 2-3 hours (which translates to 2-3 times during the race for me…). Thanks very much. I tried to keep it open-ended in case they had some good solutions based on past years.
Two days later they responded: Hope all is well. Normally when one brings a pump to the start they will be able to express their milk, however we do not store the milk or transport this. In the past the pump itself can be given to the main medical tent whom will transport this item to the finish. Please reach out to email@example.com.
Well, that seemed like an option but didn’t at all address what to do during the race and overall just didn’t feel satisfactory… so I sent this: Thanks. I just reached out to the medical team to figure out coordination. I’d kindly suggest that NYRR consider breastfeeding mothers in future races. For instance, having a pumping station along course, or even better, a spot where we can comfortably and safely feed our children during the race, would be of great service to us.
I also sent an email to the medical team, as instructed: Runner Services pointed me in your direction. I am the mother of a 4 month old breastfed infant. I am trying to figure out the best way to pump and/or feed him before and during the marathon this year. I was planning to pack a small manual pump to use before and during the race as needed and discard the milk. However, I am under the impression that I am not permitted to bring a hydration vest or fanny pack (which I was going to use to carry the pump), so I don’t think this is an option. It unfortunately is unlikely to fit in a Fuelbelt (which is expressly permitted in the Code of Conduct)… Runner Services said that I could pump before the start, and then give the pump to the medical team at the start line to transport it to the finish for me. Is this the best way to handle? As I said, I am just bringing a small manual pump, not my big electric one. But I cannot imagine not pumping between the time I need to catch the bus and the time I start running, let alone finish the race! For during the race, I think my only option is to try to find my husband and son along the course to feed my son and relieve my breasts. Am I correct in assuming that I cannot do this in a medical tent and instead will need to find them in the crowd and then stand on the side of the course and feed him? Would appreciate any guidance on this, and in particular, how to “check” my pump with medical if that is the best route.
And this was the response, which more helpful, and presented another option: As a pumping mother myself I completely understand! Since the manual pump is considered a medical device we allow you to have one on the race. There are two options. First one is that you pump at the start at our medical tents, drop off the pump with the medical staff and then pick up at the finish line and also pump there. We do not transport the milk. So this is a “pump and dump” scenario. Second is for the mothers who need to pump more frequently, you can run with a fannie pack that contains your manual pump. You will be able to pump and discard the milk at any of our medical tents. Just stop at the tent and let them know. We have a medical tent at every mile of the marathon.
(3) Make a Plan. OK, so I had my two options. At first I was leaning towards Option 2 — carrying a pump with me. But when I tried on my fanny pack, I decided running with it would be super awkward. Notably, the email from NYRR didn’t indicate that I could wear a hydration vest or backpack, but maybe I should have followed up to clarify, as I subsequently read an article about a pumping mom who carried a backpack with her. (NYRR, if you are reading this, please think about clarifying this! I assumed I wasn’t allowed to carry anything more than a fanny pack based on the email I received…) In addition, the manual pump isn’t super efficient and I was worried that trying to pump on course with it would take a long time. So ultimately I decided to take advantage of the check-a-pump option. This meant I’d also have to carefully coordinate with my husband so that I could feed my son along the course and not end up super uncomfortable and engorged. We took a look at the course map and decided that my husband could meet me with the baby (he had him in an Ergo carrier) at miles 8, 16, and 23. He would text me his precise location when he was in place. He would also need some expressed milk to feed the baby between 5 am, when I left the house to go to the race, and around 1 pm when I would pass through mile 8. We also wanted him to have some extra in case I missed them for whatever reason. Because we were traveling, I didn’t want to bring frozen milk so I pumped some extra milk for the 4 nights before the race and stored it in the fridge (we ended up with 15-20 oz for my husband to use – he didn’t end up needing all of that). I also bought a small freezable insulated storage zipper bag on Amazon so that he could keep the milk cold while galavanting through New York City. The night before the race, I packed a clear ziplock bag with my Medela manual pump to take with me to the start. We were ready!
(4) Find a Place to Pump Before the Race and Figure Out Where to Check the Pump. At about 7:45 am I decided to go check out the breast pumping scene at the NYC Marathon start village. It had been about 2.5 hours since I’d last fed my baby. I went to the small medical tent in my designated ‘orange’ village and explained the situation. Two issues immediately arose. First, the medical tent workers knew nothing about the process for me checking my pump with them for pickup at the finish line. More on that in a moment. But more pressingly, they also didn’t have a great spot for me to pump. The medical tent was small and completely open on one side. It was about 40 degrees outside, and the tent didn’t appear to be heated. The medical team offered to let me sit on a chair towards the back of the tent (literally about 6 feet from the opening of the tent) to pump. But it would be cold and awkward and not at all private because it was seriously just this little fold up chair. I’d have to take off all my layers and sit there, topless and cold, milking myself in front of everyone… The medical folks were very kind and understood that this was not ideal, so they took me on a walk to try to get more info and find me a better place to pump. (Incidentally, there was another woman there also trying to pump and she said that had been promised an outlet for her electrical pump — but there was none at the Orange Village medical tent.) I was shuffled around a few times but finally got to the head information person for Orange Village. She confirmed that the medical tent should take the pump for pickup at the finish, and she went to explain that to them. However, I also heard her tell the medical team at the Orange tent that NYRR does not promise any better spot for moms to pump, so moms should pump in the little tent. Yikes. Fortunately, another NYRR volunteer said she thought there was a better place to pump so we went for a walk. (I think she was going to try to get me into the volunteer tent, which would have been so kind of her given the situation.) On our way, I saw what appeared to be a larger medical tent and suggested we try there. This was the “main” medical tent in Green Village. Note: nothing in the materials I saw designated this or any other tent as a main medical tent, and I’d never been instructed to seek out the “main” medical tent. But this was the place! They had a large heated space with rooms separated by curtains. In each room had a cot to sit on and outlets to plug in pump or other devices. It was a great spot to pump — I only wish this had all been better communicated! It makes me sad to think someone might have been trying to pump out in the cold/open of the Orange Village medical tent. The workers at this medical tent were also prepared to store medical devices during the race and to transport them to the finish. They provided me with a bag that we labeled with my race number. I ended up pumping twice here during my time in the start village (at about 8 am and at about 9:45 am). I only other complaint about this process: there were two portapotties set up at the main medical tent. I assumed that if I was pumping at the tent, they would let me use the restrooms afterward, and I timed my pumping accordingly. But they refused. I finished pumping at around 10 am, ready to pee!, and was told that I would need to go wait in the normal bathroom lines. I waited for 45 minutes before finally reaching the front of the bathroom lines. Bonkers, and not a great accommodation for pumping moms, since pumping and peeing are both things best done right before the start of the race.
(5) Find Baby Among the Crowds and Have Husband Hand You the Baby Over the Police Tape. Feed. This one is pretty self-explanatory. We found some spots that were accessible for my husband using public transit and also timed well with when I would need some relief and the baby would need some food. I ended up feeding my baby at miles 7.75ish (sitting on a curb at a cross street, so just a few steps off the course) and 16.25ish (literally standing on the course because there was a barrier up that I could not cross, so my husband lifted the baby over it to me). We also met up at mile 23 just before heading into the park, but the baby was asleep and my husband had enough spare milk on hand if needed, so we decided I should just keep going to the finish. That worked out, and I fed him after the race at Penn Station while we waited for a train.
Overall, pumping beforehand and feeding him during the race worked much better than expected. But would a protected spot to feed with a spot to sit have been nice? Yup.
Overall Impression: Like It.