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  • Writer's pictureMary Elizabeth Wieder

My NYC Marathon Journey: the pinnacle of a global career

Over the course of 42.192km (26.2 miles) through the five boroughs of New York City, my first full marathon was a testament to the impact of sports on my professional and personal life, on the streets where my global marketing career actually began.

For most of my life, I struggled to be recognized or identified as anything other than an athlete. As a child and into my teen years, I played every sport possible: from soccer to basketball to field hockey, to finally settling on softball as my sport of choice where I would dedicate endless hours, literal blood, sweat and many tears (both happy and sad).

While my parents saw sport as something that might open the door to a good college opportunity at minimal cost (via scholarship), I’ve come to understand that my athletic career has given me everything: a scholarship to a Division I softball program at Lehigh University, an opportunity to play softball in Italy where I met my future husband (a baseball player) and established a home and family and the people I’ve met in my sports family have helped me make important moves in my professional career.

When I hung up my cleats in 2013, I decided to try a half marathon in Verona, Italy. I still don’t know what drove me to run, I would image it was my body’s natural intuition to keep moving, to stay active and to compete. Mentally, I knew I had to reach for some kind of goal. Running became the combination of perseverance, discipline and competitiveness I knew all my life, and turns out, what I need to keep going in my professional career as well.

As I turned 39 and entered my 40th year around the sun, I pulled out the big guns and secured entry to the TCS New York City Marathon, the world’s largest marathon with over 50,000 annual participants.

Why a marathon and why New York City?

A marathon is much more than physical training. I followed a 4-month training plan to get ready for the grueling distance. It meant significantly increasing my mileage between long runs, interval training and hill runs. It meant “squeezing in” runs on lunch breaks or early mornings between a full-time work schedule as a Marketing Manager, Consultant and Professor and time for my two small children and family.

The truth is that less than 1% of the world population has completed a marathon, and I wanted to be part of that sliver of the pie. And I wanted to accomplish it in the city that I loved since a child, the city that launched my professional career as a 20-year-old, bright-eyed, ambitious marketing intern with her cubicle in an intimidating Park Avenue skyscraper.

Go big or go home. As the saying goes.

So I thought, bring it on New York.

It is near impossible to get into the New York City Marathon. There are between 50,000-55,000 spots for over 100,000 applications. As a first time marathoner, I certainly didn’t qualify in terms of time. The lottery guaranteed only 8% success, and I lost that. I couldn’t even find a spot on the charity teams. My last shot? Register as an Italian citizen through an International Tour Operator. Once again, my sports career that led to an Italian business career, led to Italian citizenship. Another win!

Bib #17582.

Orange Wave 2. Corral B. Start time 9:45.

The NYC Marathon is a perfect metaphor for the way my athletic and business career, as well as my personal life, have intertwined over the years. Here is my 42.192km journey and what each step has meant to me.

Alas, at 5:30 a.m. the next morning, I stood in line with thousands of runners wrapping around Bryant Park and the New York Public Library to board the bus to the Starting Village. The sky is pitch black, but the white and yellow lights from Times Square light up 42nd Street radiating immense energy.

For 90 minutes we make our way through Manhattan’s east side to pass through Brooklyn and eventually the starting point, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island, where the sunrise reflected light yellow and hazy pink across the Hudson River. For an hour and a half, I marveled at the monstrosity of this city and how I still believe it is the most beautiful, diverse and unique city in the world.

Once at the Starting Village, I had 2.5 hours until start time. I was surprisingly calm, no knots in my stomach, no real anxiety. I was ready to run.

Five minutes before start time, the race marshalls walked us up to the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. My wave was going to run up and over the bridge (the other waves ran the lower level). The National Anthem started and my heart skipped a beat. I had the Italian flag on my running jersey, but this was my home turf. Then with shots from the canon and the helicopters overhead, I was off.

KM 1-10 Pure adrenaline and taking it all in

The first kilometer was uphill, but I didn’t even notice. I positioned myself on the left side of the bridge and took in the city views. The city skyline looked surreal, like I was looking at a painting.

When I was 20, I had my first real marketing internship with RRDonnelley, a marketing and advertising global firm. I worked on Park Avenue just two blocks from Grand Central Station. One of my softball teammates’ father arranged the opportunity for me. Every morning I took the bus into Manhattan and practically floated on a cloud of excitement to my office.

The first 10 kilometers of the marathon are exactly how I would describe the beginning of my career. It is pure ambition and adrenaline as you put in the initial groundwork for something bigger. I told myself to go slower, my breakout goal was 4:25-30 per kilometer, but I was powering ahead at 4:15/km. But I felt great, my legs were flying and the crowds in Brooklyn were unbelievable.

My career had the same initial fate. I took off from New York, graduated and landed a management job at 22 in my hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania. But I was pushing too hard, too fast. Plus, I knew something bigger was ahead. But I just couldn’t slow down. I knew what it meant to go out to hard and pay for it later.

KM 11-21 Gaining confidence

Still in Brooklyn, I passed the 10KM mark and still felt good at a quarter of the way done. At the halfway point we crossed the Pulaski Bridge from Brooklyn into Queens. The bridge had a slight uphill, but I dug deep thinking of every hill run I did and pushed through. I knew I often excelled uphill taking easy strides.

It brings me to my next career steps.

At 24, I enrolled in a Master’s Degree program at the American University of Paris because I knew if I wanted an international business career, I needed to go international. A year and a half in Paris opened my eyes to the world and enlarged my global perspective. I was no longer just an American girl. I interned and consulted for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization that fosters an environment of economic progress and world trade.

I was still on an uphill trajectory in my career, but I was gaining confidence and learning what I was good at. It led me to my first important career role in global marketing, with a group of companies in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector, where I would grow from an associate to a manager to a global director and embark on global travel in my professional role.

It was also the stretch of my career that gave me the confidence to start consulting, and M7 Social Project for strategic and growth marketing consultancy was born.

During these pivotal years, I also received an offer to join the faculty of USAC Verona as an International Marketing professor. It seemed things were moving along at warp speed!

So far, so good. The hard work was paying off.

KM 22-30 Buckle down, things are getting harder

As I crossed into Queens, the streets narrowed and I could reach out and touch the crowds. My pace was still strong clocking in a few consecutive 4:22/km. But then, the infamous Queensboro Bridge emerged. I heard it was a difficult part of the race, uphill and one of the only stretches with no crowds, but I thought how hard could it be?

It was 2 kilometers of pure hell.

My legs started to feel heavy and my left foot began to go numb. My pace started to slow. It was time to buckle down, this race was about to become a mental game.

I remember my first career roadblock. After almost 10 years in my marketing role in healthcare, I reached a dead end. There was nowhere to grow, I was struggling to meet the demands of my employer as a working mother with a 2-year-old and to be honest, I was worried about getting stuck in one sector. I faced a daunting two-month period where I weighed my options, and every day felt like torture showing up for work.

I buckled down. I made a risky decision to leave my job after 9.5 years and 4 months pregnant with my second son, to take on a new professional adventure. What drove me then was thinking about what story I wanted to tell my kids about this moment: did I settle or was I brave enough to take a risk. I had the same thought halfway over the Queensboro Bridge: my family is watching and waiting. Keep pushing.

I made it into Manhattan on First Avenue. My pace was around 4:30/35 now, but I was pushing through. My mind told me to stay competitive. I noticed two guys with Italia on their shirt that I was running with in Brooklyn, so I must still be doing ok. Don’t lose them.

It was going to get tougher, we weren’t even in The Bronx yet and I knew the notorious hills of Central Park were waiting. 12 kilometers to go.

KM 31-36 When you hit a wall, find a way to go around it or through it.

As I barreled down First Avenue, the crowd was intense. But my legs were getting tired. I was getting discouraged that my pace was slowing down, but I kept pushing.

Another bridge: this time the Willis Ave Bridge took us into The Bronx and Mile 20, where many runners hit “the wall”. I knew my pace was fading, but I hadn’t hit that wall yet. But I hit an important point in the race, less than 10 kilometers to go.

As we crossed Madison Ave. Bridge back into Manhattan someone held a sign that read “Last Damn Bridge”. My brain said keep going, but physically, I was starting to struggle.

Recalling that crucial decision to change jobs, it proved to be a critical moment. It was December 2019 and I was pregnant. But I felt on top of the world. Then less than 2 months later the Covid pandemic hit, and I was forced to work remotely and carry out the final months of my pregnancy isolated. 2020 was tough for most people, professionally and personally. While I welcomed my second son, I didn’t see my family across the Atlantic for over a year, and the strains of Covid derailed the plans of my new company. I was in a difficult spot, but I didn’t give up. I scouted other opportunities and landed a new director role in a financial services company. I was hurting, but I had confidence. One mantra they always taught me in sports: nothing beats hard work.

KM 37-42 It’s all mental from here. You’ve trained for this.

I am in the home stretch heading down Fifth Avenue through Harlem. It’s officially the longest run of my life. But I am feeling it now. My legs feel like they are on fire.

Harlem. I’m struggling physically with the sun glaring in my face, and I can’t even enjoy the neighborhood. Part of my early career took me to Harlem. Before moving to Europe to study, I worked for a few months at Harlem RBI (now DREAM Charter School East Harlem), a non-profit that looked to keep at-risk kids of Harlem out of trouble by engaging them in baseball and softball programs. Not only did I get to work in marketing and fundraising, I also coached teenage girl softball one night a week.

But as I ran the streets of Harlem down Fifth Avenue approaching Central Park and the infamous hills, my legs were no longer with me. From here on out, it would be a battle of the mind and how much further I could push myself. I had fallen to 5:00/km or even slower at times, but the finish was within reach. The Central Park entrance was just ahead.

The toughest part of my career came in early 2022. After struggling during the Covid years and trying to tackle motherhood as well, I made a decision to leave my current position after months of unhappiness and a work environment that left me feeling not only demotivated, but insulted. I knew it was the right decision, but had lost self-confidence and felt like a failure. But at the same time, I started running more competitively through a running team and the drive to improve my performance was also motivating me in the professional realm. I built up my consulting business in the following months and eventually accepted a position with a global. telecommunications company.

As I made the turn onto Central Park South, the last kilometer in the race, I felt a tap on my shoulder. My teammate from Italy was right behind me. Little did I know, my mom and son were in the corner crowd cheering me on. My legs all of a sudden had a little extra kick. Around Columbus Circle and 400 meters to go, my teammate and I picked up the pace and crossed the finish line. Physically I could barely lift my arms to celebrate, but emotionally I was exhilarated.

I made my way through the crowd to get my medal.

My legs were in so much pain, but I grabbed my phone out of my running belt to text my mom and I was greeted with so many messages: “You finished!” and “Congratulations”. Messages sent within seconds of finishing as I realized family, friends and co-workers were tracking me every step of the way.

I did it.

I became a marathoner.

As I looked down at my bib, it read TATA Group, who coincidentally became my new employer this October when they acquired Kaleyra, where I joined the Product Marketing team in 2022. In this moment, I saw everything come together. A lifetime athletic career that led me to one of the world’s top competitions and taught me the three most important things that got me up the career ladder and through every roadblock: perseverance, discipline and confidence in my talent.

More importantly, sports have taught me a lot about teamwork and the power of a community. This milestone wouldn’t have been possible without the people that supported me along the way: my running teammates that made me run harder and faster when I was tired, my colleagues and boss that didn’t see my dedication to running as an obstacle, but a strength, to my family that never questioned my, at times selfish, obsession to reach this goal.

To (literally) the hundreds of people that sent me messages of congratulations, simply thank you! Sports wouldn’t be sports without fans.

It was a 42.192KM stretch of over 40,000 steps in the world’s most iconic city, but a professional, personal and athletic journey I’ve been on my entire life.

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” - Muhammad Ali

P.S. for those wondering

Final time: 3:18:27 (4:39/km or 7:35/mile pace)

Place 3,556 out of 51,316 runners

9th overall Italian female

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