East Hanover Woman Embraces Life Changes to Finish NYC Marathon

By Jillian Risberg

People come from all over the world to run the New York City Marathon. For East Hanover’s Giana Vecchio that dream was close to home.

“I felt like I was on cloud nine for a while,” Vecchio says. “The comebacks are always greater than the setbacks and this was definitely one for the books. Reconnecting with this thing you’re so passionate about is like finding a part of your soul.”

Seeing your family on the course is such a pick-me-up. Her parents, stepparents, best friend Deanna, aunt and boyfriend met the runner on mile 18 (when the real race started) — and you dig deep to the pit of your core.

She finished in five hours and nine minutes, after pacing a 4:30 until the final stretch. That last 10K she had to take care of herself. 

“By the time we crossed the finish line we were hungry, depleted, tired, you want to find your family, get home and celebrate,” says the runner. “But the adrenaline rush is insane. When you turn the corner in Central Park it’s that true magical feeling of what everyone talks about; the moment you’ve envisioned for so long.”

It culminated six months of focused, structured training.

NYC RoadRunners hosts dozens of runs to prepare you for the marathon, one of the toughest courses in the world. Vecchio (and friend Jamie) picked specific spots throughout the boroughs to get a feel for what the actual course would be like.

She had such a sense of empowerment after this.

“Years ago you never saw female runners do this type of thing and it’s evolving into this powerhouse sport where all shapes and sizes are acceptable,” the runner says. “It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are; just the fact that you are moving.”  

And it’s about mental preparation.

“Training your mind to endure something for so long that becomes uncomfortable and you tell yourself that you can do it, you can go for miles,” says Vecchio. “The greatest gift I have been able to digest throughout this whole thing is if I’m able to move my body every day, that’s it for me (and to be in good health).”

It took some time for her to get used to that whole running process again and find the deeper love for it — you’re training your mind first before you’re training your body. 

“The million dollar question was, ‘when are you going to do it again?’”

According to Vecchio, she qualified for NYC September 2019, and was supposed to run the November 2020 marathon, which was scrapped.

She did her first World Majors Marathon in Chicago (2018). 

“Within that timespan I lost my grandma Fran to metastatic breast cancer; it was a whirlwind. So I took a step back and was trying to find what was going to make something in my inner heart tick again,” says the runner. “I couldn’t even walk for more than 20 minutes without feeling mentally distracted.”

Having a great support system gave her the mental strength to come back slowly.

Like when her dad asked if Vecchio was running and she said she hadn’t in weeks. He said she has to get back at it and stay focused – the marathon was coming up.

“There’s no me without them and I have such an interesting family dynamic (my parents; grandfather Jerry; my stepparents; twin sister, Gabrielle and boyfriend Paul, incredible friend group). I’ve got the village,” Vecchio says.

Runners just get it.

And they have the same purpose (NYC Roadrunners for the past eight years) that the runner is a part of, she calls the camaraderie unmatchable.

“I got into longer distance running post college.  When you find hobbies that eventually mold and shape who you are — you can’t imagine life without it,” says the runner. “At this point in my life it’s much deeper than that.”

In the past few years American women distance runners are having their moment — Vecchio cherishes being part of that sisterhood.

“It’s such a positive community among female runners,” she says. “The positive influences now of these female athletes who are winning and breaking incredible records, but even the encouragement is what I hope I am able to project to the young women in my family.”

According to Vecchio, she is able to explain to them what it takes to put yourself through the marathon.

“If it keeps you fired up everyday it’s doing its purpose,” says the runner. “That’s what I’ve learned over the past four years. You’re going to go through the rollercoaster of your life-ride more than once.” 

Vecchio’s parents always supported her hobbies, including traveling with her throughout the last eight years and attending all her races — and that meant everything.

“My mom and stepdad always say “you’ve got this“. It’s just a thing they do before every big race,” Vecchio says. 

She has also felt the love from her hometown of East Hanover. 

“In terms of waiting to hear the good news of how the marathon went,” the runner hopes it gives kids entering the sport a sense of direction. “In the end, that’s all I really want out of this whole thing. I’m not a pro or super fast runner, I’m just experienced.”

Running transformed her life. At age 12, Vecchio’s stepfather had her watch the NYC marathon and she told him she wanted to do that one day.

Three weeks later on Thanksgiving, he took her for a jog around town and that little girl never looked back. She joined the track team.

“We started doing local races and he would help me with this new hobby,” the runner says freshman year of high school things got “pretty intense.”

Vecchio did sprint and field events there and in college. 

When she graduated her stepfather suggested she sign up for a half marathon, since track and field had been such a significant part of her life. So she did in Morristown, fall 2015.  And the rest is history.

“I’ve been through all the leaps and valleys of loving it, hating it, loving it again, staying healthy is such a big part too because when you see female runners they’re super skinny, but that’s not normal anymore,” says Vecchio. “At such a young age that’s what you think you have to look like and it’s not. I hope my message reaches young runners who are hoping to love it.”

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