Dedicated Gunnedah runners Sarah-Jane Williscroft, Dan Williscroft, Ellen Howland and Ashley Howland, have taken on the challenge of the New York Marathon for the first time.

As the sun rose over the iconic Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the bus drove the four competitors from Gunnedah across to Staten Island to the starting line of the race, where thousands of runners from around the world gathered to embark on a 26.2-mile journey (42.195km) through the streets of the Big Apple, weaving through the five boroughs in the world-renowned New York City Marathon.

“Looking out back over to the Manhatten skyline, we remarked how far it looked to get back there – and we had to run it,” Ellen Howland recalled.

“The energy at the starting line was electrifying and the anticipation and excitement among the participants was palpable, creating an atmosphere that fuelled our determination for the marathon ahead.

“It was different to the start of any other race we had competed in – this one had more than 50,000 runners registered, and the start times were so staggered that it meant a much later start than any of us were used to.

“That affects your nutrition and how you fuel and hydrate before a run, there was a lot of time sitting around waiting before the start, but we weren’t about to let that stop us.”

The course, carefully curated to showcase the diversity and vibrancy of New York City, took runners through the five boroughs – Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan. Each neighbourhood offered a different flavour of support, from the rhythmic beats of live bands in Brooklyn to the soulful cheers echoing through the Bronx.

“One of the most memorable moments was running through Central Park. The Autumn foliage, combined with the cheers of the crowd and the realisation that the finish line was within reach, created an emotional surge,” Ellen said.

“Pair that with the sight of our children on the sideline cheering among the crowd brought me to tears.”

Ellen said the New York Marathon is not merely a physical challenge; it is a celebration of diversity and unity, where runners from all walks of life, representing various cultures and backgrounds, come together for a common purpose – to push their limits and embrace the shared experience of endurance.

“The diversity of participants was incredible,” Ellen said.

“It felt like a global celebration of human resilience. Regardless of our differences, we were all united by the pursuit of a common goal – to conquer the marathon and cross that finish line.”

Ashley Howland said the spectators were incredible.

“An entire city coming to a stand-still to cheer on random strangers really was overwhelming,” Ashley said.

“This was not an easy run – each of us have all run further distances with greater elevation in trail running events, but the road marathon challenges you in a different way. You have to dig deep to conquer this distance.”

The marathon was described by Dan Williscroft as “unrelenting” and he is really looking forward to returning to trails as he takes on his first 100 Mile Ultra event in Tarawera, New Zealand in February 2024.

As the sun set over the city, the New York Marathon concluded with the iconic finish line in Central Park. Sarah-Jane, Dan, Ellen and Ashley, along with thousands of other runners, celebrated their achievements, forming a mosaic of stories and experiences that make the New York Marathon an unparalleled event in the world of long-distance running and becoming part of history.

In the words of Ellen: “The New York Marathon is not just a race; it’s a journey of self-discovery, resilience, camaraderie, and the triumph of the human spirit. I will forever cherish the memories and the sense of accomplishment that come with crossing that finish line in the city that never sleeps.”

For Sarah-Jane Williscroft the appeal of the Abbott World Marathon Majors is even stronger and she is preparing for her next major in 2024, this time, Chicago – leaving her with four majors remaining to achieve the Six Star.

The four runners are part of a local group of social runners, The Gunnedah Trail and Road Runners, which is open to anyone who runs or wants to start running.

“It is a supportive group with regular social events designed to meet the needs of runners of all levels of experience and ability, Ellen said.

“So, reach out to find out more or to join us on a run.”

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