Where to start?
After I took up running “seriously” about year ago, I realized that I wasn’t the type of guy that would be able to just run for the fun of it. I needed to have goals, enter races and challenge myself. I guess it’s just my personality.
Well, I quickly decided to go right for the top of the heap — the NYC Marathon, one of the greatest marathons in the world.
The journey was SO worth it. The weekend in New York, which I was fortunate enough to spend with my family and friends, was everything I had hoped it would be. The only thing I was disappointed with was my time of 3:46:26.
Then again, I did manage to beat Edward Norton, Alanis Morissette and Anthony Edwards!
After suffering some training setbacks in the months leading up to the race, I had clearly set my goals too high for my first marathon. I never had much of a chance of beating 3:30, but after reading a few things after the race — especially this article — I was able to be more realistic about my time.
Perhaps the best way to recap the weekend is to do it in pictures and videos, so here goes:
First, we arrived at my wife’s sister’s place in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Thursday night.
It’s a really cool Brownstone less than a block from the park, where we took our kids to play on the swings…
Feed the ducks…
and pet the dogs…
We also spent some time at Aunt Melanie’s office in the Flatiron Building, an iconic New York building.
and fed some squirrels in the park across the street from her office…
Because it was Halloween Weekend, the kids were also able to take part in Trick or Treating at various locations around the city… like the 4th Avenue parade in Park Slope. The Marathon would go down the very same street the following morning.
Earlier, on Friday I went to the Marathon Expo in the Jacob Javitz Convention Center to pickup my race packet and a few other items I needed…
On Saturday night, we all went to dinner with some friends and determined that it would be easiest if I stayed at his place in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, which is literally in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge. I am grateful for his hospitality.
Because I am taking a public bus, I have to be across the bridge before 7 am, which is when it closes to public traffic. My race time isn’t until 9:40. I leave his place at 5:20 a.m. and walk to the bus stop.
Once I get over to Fort Wadsworth, I make a short walk up to the entrance area. There’s a steady stream of shuttle buses making their way through the toll booths. The buses are coming from various ferry pick-up areas and the NJ Meadowlands Sports Complex. It might be early, but there’s plenty of excitement in the air… along with lots of exhaust fumes!
For the next three hours, there’s not much to do other than stretch, listen to the various bands playing on a nearby stage, stretch some more, eat some peanut butter wraps I made, stretch, eat some almonds, walk around to find the UPS trucks where I will drop off my race bag, stretch, eat some dried apricots, try to take a nap on the damp grass, go to the bathroom and stretch. Here are a couple clips of the scene under the Verrazano Bridge…
First, the husband of a friend of mine from high school tracks me down. (BTW, this is the VERY first time I used my iPod Nano video camera, so I apologize for the shaky videos)
Some of the first arrivals, like myself, are treated to some early-morning jazz.
While others take shelter under a crowded tent…
Before we can make our way to the starting line, all runners are broken up into various groups and have to make their way into their designated “corrals.” This is easier said than done. The corrals, surprisingly, weren’t all that easy to locate, especially for a first-timer like myself. I managed to make my way into my designated corral. Others had to jump fences to get into them. It was kind of a crazy scene, even though this video makes it look kind of calm.
Once in the corral, we are led onto the bridge. As we walk slowly along, runners shed various outer layers, tossing their old sweatshirts and sweatpants off to the side. When the race is over, all of the discarded clothing is donated to various organizations, such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. I wore a large garbage bag, with a hole cut out of the top, before the race. It’s a cheap and effective way to keep body heat in while protecting you from the wind and cold outside.
On the bridge, buses are arranged bumper to bumper to control the crowds and make sure everybody stays where they belong. Standing on the bridge, I am surrounded by runners from all over the world. It’s truly amazing.
They then play the Star-Spangled Banner, fire off the starting gun, and blast Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” from the loudspeakers. It’s right at that moment, as I start slowly moving forward, that realize I’m about to run in the New York FREAKIN’ Marathon! I’ve got to admit it… I’m a pretty jaded guy… but this was just flat-out cool.
The funniest part comes soon after we begin running. For one day a year, the Verrazano becomes the world’s largest outdoor urinal. Thankfully, I wasn’t on the lower deck of the bridge!
Once we get clear of the start line and the music fades, the sounds of pounding feet make for a loud asphalt chorus unlike anything I’ve ever heard before.
For me, one of the best parts of the race was knowing that I would have some friends and family along the route. I had run in many races before the marathon, but I never had anybody there to greet me as I ran. I was looking forward to the various run-ins. The first one happened as I came off the bridge and entered Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. That’s where my friend Larry and his daughter, Julianna, were waiting.
Larry would later tell me that his low-key “what’s up bud?” greeting was necessary because his daughter wasn’t happy with him when he yelled at previous runners as they passed.
The next run-in came at the 6.8 mile mark, where my wife and children were waiting in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I only have still photos that my wife took of that moment. the funny part of it was that I thought they were going to be on the left side of the street. When I failed to find them, I had to circle back, cross over four lanes PACKED with runners, and meet them on the other side of the street. When I finally found them, I stopped for some QUICK hugs and kisses, leading my son to say to me: “Dad, why are you stopping? RUN! RUN!” So I did…
At this point, I’m a pretty happy camper. Things are going fairly smoothly, although for some reason, my legs aren’t feeling nearly as fresh as I had hoped. I don’t know what it is, but I’m just not feeling 100%.
Somewhere along this early stretch of the run, I came across a guy from Sweden. Now, I know we all have our own personal grooming styles. However, some people clearly don’t place as much importance on keeping their body hair under control as others do. I tend to lean more towards the “less hair is better” motto, in case you cared. But not this guy! (Hit pause to get the full impact of his Sasquatch-esque qualities. This is how I kept myself amused over 26.2 miles.)
At Mile 8, it occurs to me that it feels like we just began the race. It honestly seemed like the fastest 8 miles I had ever run. Then we quickly turn a corner off of Flatbush Ave. onto Lafayette Ave. This is where all three groups merge. It gets kind of crowded on a narrow street. But we get to enjoy the sounds of “Rocky” played by this high school band.
If that doesn’t pump you up, I don’t know what will. As the kids say…. “mad props” to the band!
As we cross the halfway mark (13.1 miles), I’m at 1:43:25, which actually puts me slightly ahead of my intended 3:30 pace. Sweet! But, again, I still don’t feel that great.
Two miles later, I would begin to experience the start of my decline on the desolate stretch of road known as the Queensboro Bridge. This was EASILY the worst part of the entire race for me. It’s windy, cold and quiet on the bridge. But worst of all, it’s a LONG, LONG uphill section. It’s not that steep, but it just seems to go on and on forever, especially if you aren’t prepared for it, which I certainly wasn’t. Lesson learned!
Over a 1/4 mile stretch, you climb 156 feet, as you can see on this course elevation chart.
The good new is, when you come off the bridge, there are LOTS of people gathered around to greet you! I have “Mike” written on the front of my shirt, so I feel as if I have my own welcoming party!
Then it happens. At Mile 19, my right hamstring basically tells me that I can forget about 3:30. I nearly drop to the ground with one step. Yowzah! I don’t know what happened, but the back of my leg feels like I got stabbed with a knife!
I reluctantly stop, step off the side of the course, and rub my hamstring repeatedly to loosen it up. It occurs to me that this might be IT! I might be done. NO WAY! Can’t be.
I had never had this problem ever before, so I didn’t know if it was a strain, a torn muscle or a cramp. I didn’t know what to think, so I just kept rubbing it for about a minute. There were dozens and dozens of people standing nearby. I could feel them looking at me. There was pain and disappointment on my face. For some reason though, I couldn’t look at them. I was in a “zone” and perhaps I felt that if I looked at them, I would be acknowledging the fact that I was just one of them — just a spectator standing there, bundled in a sweatshirt, holding a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that on a normal day. But today wasn’t a normal day. Not by any means.) Occasionally, I would hear somebody, almost in a whisper, say “work it out” or “shake it off” or “you can do it.”
Finally, I started running again. But I was very cautious. I could feel the muscle twitching with each stride. I was afraid to lengthen my gate. Damn! I’ve got 7 more miles, I thought.
This is where the fun ended for me. It was simply survival at this point. As I ran, my mind was racing. “Why did this happen? I’ve stuck to my schedule, I ate enough before the start, I took a GU pack every 6 miles. What’s up?” The only thing I can think of is that I didn’t take on enough fluids over the first half of the race. Over the first 8 miles, I barely drank anything. It was a chilly morning, so I wasn’t sweating much at all. I didn’t like the crowded water stations, so I would often skip one and then grab a small cup at the next one. This, I determined, was my undoing. Even though I wasn’t losing much fluid through sweat, my muscles were still being depleted and I wasn’t giving them what they needed.
Now, I grabbed a cup at every water station. I even grabbed a banana at one point. Still, about once every mile, It would happen again. At one point, a shooting pain went up the back of my right leg so badly that I was forced to hop to the side of the course clutching my hamstring. As I stood there with my right leg slightly off the ground, rubbing the back of my leg, my left hamstring seized up on me. WOW! I nearly fell to the ground.
This one was the worst. As I prepared to get back out on the course, I heard a spectator say to his friend. “Man, he’s hurtin!” Not exactly what I needed to hear. As I started to run again I turned and said to him “not anymore.” With that, I got a “Yeah! Go get ’em!” out of the guy. That’s more like it, I thought.
It was at this same point of the course where a friend of mine would later tell me that he saw a woman on the side of the road in the fetal position shaking so badly from cramps that she looked like she was in a freezer. I also would read that a 52-year-old man from Texas suffered a heart attack in this same area of the course and had to be revived by some nearby firefighters. I feel fortunate.
As we make our way around Manhattan, I spot a guy with a pink and green sign which I first saw in Brooklyn. It kind of summed up my feelings at the moment. It read: “NO REALLY? WTF?” My thoughts exactly! There was also a sign that said “Warning: Kanye near finish.” At least I got one last laugh.
As I reached Mile 23, for some reason I thought I was running Mile 24. This is an uphill section in which you climb 170 feet over a 3/4 mile. It might not seem like much, but when you are running it, trust me, it is. When I saw the next mile marker sign and it read Mile 24, I was expecting Mile 25. MAJOR BUMMER!
Anyways, I get over the disappointment of my mile marker miscue and carry on. I am now in and around Central Park. It’s just an amazing scene. Throngs of people, bands playing in Columbus Circle, sheer energy everywhere.
I get so excited I forget about my hamstring issue and decide that I am going to finish strong. 1/4 mile to go… 300 yards… 200 yards… 100 yards! Now I’m ready to sprint. I take off (at least it seemed that way to me), lengthening my stride as I near the finish line. Then it happens AGAIN!
(Listen carefully at the end of the video right before I shut it off. It’s classic stuff. BTW, I’m so delirious at this point I hold the camera sideways!)
A few seconds later, I get going again and run across the finish line. Victory is mine! Apparently, victory also belongs to another guy with a really hairy back.
After I finish, I wander through a seemingly endless maze of people trying to get to the UPS trucks to pick up their race bags from the starting line. There are several people on the ground getting medical attention. There’s a woman complaining of chest pains. There’s a guy shaking so badly he’s in tears. I hear him say to a medic “I’m just so COLD!” Crazy stuff is happening all around.
I get my gear, then I hear my dad in the crowd call my name! What a feeling. I feel bad for anybody who runs a marathon and doesn’t have family or friends to greet them at the finish. They were such a welcome sight!
I find my wife and nearly breakdown in her arms. I don’t know why, but it was just and emotional day. It had been a LONG time since I had set a goal for myself, trained for it and then actually achieved it. But my absolute favorite parts where when my 6-year-old daughter said: “Daddy, you won a gold medal!?” And then my 9-year-old son said: “Dad, want to play football in the park now?” When I told him that I was a little tired and maybe we would play tomorrow, his response: “Yeah, I’m kind of tired, too. We’ve been walking a LOT today.” I hear ya man, I hear ya…
After making my way to my sis-in-law’s friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side for a quick shower, I walk with my wife and sis-in-law to meet my family at a pizza place. I think I ate 9 pieces! They were cold, but I didn’t really care.
If you want to run a marathon, there’s only one thing stopping you: YOU! Live now, sleep when you’re dead.