The Entire NYC Marathon Experience.
Part I: The Bus, The Wait, The Start
Ok, where to begin. I guess right at the start. The benefit of doing the marathon in your home court is that the familiarity of the city does not add any undue stress. A nice night sleep, crack o' eleven, resting the belly full of fusilli puttanesca, and gallons of H2O. Slept 'til I had to pee, and rose at 6 a.m.
Striving to stay the course, had my cereal with lots of skim, small glass o.j. and my coffee - lots of cream lots of sugar. Dressed in disposable sweatpants, disposable kangaroo jacket, disposable long sleeve, disposable short sleeve...you get the idea.
Caught a cab downtown to just outside the library ($5) thinking I'll just hop on a Marathon bus' (me, and the other 20,000 that do the same). Must say, talking to the elderly Canadian gent on the bus settled all the butterflies. He was on his 10th NYC marathon, 54th overall. He runs 3-4 a year in the four hour neighbourhood - I told him that was my goal as well - he's 64. His 70 year old wife was on marathon number eighteen.
First important thing this virgin marathoner learned (1st ITTVML):
1) While water loading is essential, doing so before the hour and a half bus ride is not such a good idea. I couldn't even wait to relieve myself at the so-proclaimed 'longest urinal in the world' (incidentally it's like the Great Wall of China - that is if the wall looked like a river of glowing urine (multivitamins, I guess?). Troubling, it looks not unlike a river of beer.
We'll get back to the art of peeing later.
The compound they deposit us 30,000++ marathoners is an old army base (with real army dudes too) it sort of had me thinking about Scout jamboree, for runners. The site is equipped with food (bagels, cereal, yogurt) so I grabbed a couple of each (no yogurt). There is an awful lot of time to kill. Arrival 8:30, cannon start 10:50.
Pre-Race Memory 1: At the compound - I was so close to mayor Rudy (Giuliani) on the Powerbar stage, that I could've gobbed on him.
Pre-Race Memory 2: In addition to the Knick City Dancers (the Knick's Basketball Cheerleaders) that adorned the PowerBar stage, there was a runner (a British dude) fully dressed in a Cheetos cheetah suit, complete with the enormous head. While the warmth from the suit might have been nice on the bridge, I had no doubt that the head might prove to be a tad bothersome a few miles in.
So I sat. I stretched. I watched others stretch in more x-otic ways than myself. I wandered. I listened to the D.J. spin tunes. I ate cereal. I drank gallons of water. I urinated. I drank gallons more water. My tummy was pleasantly tumescent.
We finally were loaded into our 'pens' like bulls. Apparently being honest about my predicted time gets you set back far (14000+ of the 'Greens'). There are three different colours: red (girls) blue and green (boys). At 14000, I'm pretty far back. I'll get back to that.
I'm ready to start. I'll get to it in part two. Keep reading.
Part II: The Anthem, The Cannon, Truckin' up the Verrazano Narrows
After they get us in the pen, they let us walk up to the start - the Verrazano Narrows bridge. This is where a lot of the x-perienced dudes start disrobing (I panicked and started disrobing when they let our pens go free - losing valuable start places). Apparently, you gotta, 'just let your nudity happen'. Oh well. I wasn't gonna win anyway. The disrobing has men flinging all sorts of clothing your way. I got aerial bombardment by flying sweatpants and a sweatshirt.
Cannon blows. (I learned later, they needed to fire the back-up cannon) The runners 'walk' to the start. On goes the race.
1:43. The time it takes to get to the start line. I'm ready. I'm pre-advilled. (my marathoning friend Joan, taught me this trick of pre-medication.) I'm looser and have stretched more than normal. I'm running in shorts and the long and short-sleeved shirt. Bib pinned to the shorts, in case of any more disrobing. It's #*#*#*# cold, (30F, much much colder on the bridge) I'm thinking I might not get too naked.
I'm running on the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows, the suspension bridge (the one from Saturday Night Fever) that links the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn. To your left you can see the city way, way in the distance (the same view as from the Ferry) and had me thinking what a silly prospect it is to be running a distance which is much more accessible by car.
Up the bridge and down the bridge, and mile 1 is, like, done before I can blink. 7:35. Racy.
As you descend the ramp of the bridge, the wall of the Thruway is used as the second longest urinal in the world. And brings me to the 2nd ITTVML: as a marathoner, the course is your urinal.
Mile 2 Memory: Down from the bridge, the guy in front and to my immediate right, loses his balance and in the process clocks me with a stiff left hand. Not the way I wanted to start, (he draws blood from my lip and doesn't apologize profusely enough for my liking) but suffices as my wake-up call.
I'm in Brooklyn. The first crowds are forming. I'm a high-five addict (this wanes) but the energy is like crack cocaine. Addict. I can run all day. Miles three through seven is a straight stretch through Brooklyn. Low townhouses, nothing over a few stories high, wide streets (streets seem so much wider without cars, me thinks). I learned later that the majority of the marathon is through Brooklyn (12 miles).
I'm on autopilot. I feel great. I can breathe through both nostrils, the cold that has threatened to surface is buried somewhere beneath. The legs feel great. And I'm just warming up.
Mile 2. 8:43 (first water stop, a little slow on the lap button).
Mile 3. 8:02
Mile 4. 8:21
Mile 5. 8:23 est. (due to the panic of the water station, I am late with my 'Lap' time.)
Mile 6. 8:23 est. (16:46 collectively for miles 5 and 6)
10K time: 52:27 (care of Championchip)
Mile 7. 7:35
Mile 8. 8:12
Total so far: 1:07:01
Mile 8 Memory: As I pass by the school band, 'Eye of the Tiger' is blaring. Other Mile 8 memory, I drop my 3/4 of a carrot cake Clif bar. Again, in a panic at getting water (I get better at this system of water retrieval). Incidentally I am down now to one Clif bar, two PowerGels, five Advil (I started with eight - two pre-race, and enough left for one (I hope) per 45 mins. Or as needed by the body.)
Miles 9-13, I really can't believe how good I feel. I'm loose, it's cool, there's so many people around me all the time that I think you feel compelled to run. The breathing is even, I'm taking in water and Gatorade at every stop. I can't believe I'm coming up to the halfway mark. I'm not x-actly sure when I leave Brooklyn and enter Queens, but it is between these miles.
Brooklyn is pretty diverse; Spanish, Asian, Black, Whitey. The whole gamut. The rainbow. Here I was offered the most diverse range of amenities: paper towels, orange slices, wrapped candies, a sucker. Queens is decidedly more...brown. Brown and lively. I could be in east L.A. - a Los Lobos-esque band is rocking. I can't help but smile and bob.
My shirt's slogan 'David's Virgin Marathon' is greeted with a 'David, You're Not a Virgin Anymore' somewhere here in Queens. I do not feel like a virgin anymore. I smile. I pump my fist. (There's more of this).
Mile 9. 8:24
Mile 10. 8:12
Mile 11. 8:18
Mile 12. 8:23
I feel really in my element once I get past mile four (notice the consistent times). My stride feels true (or at least as true as it gets when you have no arches). No knee knocking or calf knocking (with my shoes). Mile 5 through 12 are a dream, and I'm totally aware that I'm continually knocking down sub eight and a halfs. At this point I think the four hour goal should be attainable. Here I am mid-race and I am re-assessing my goals&ldots;
Mile 13 feels straight uphill. We're at the Pulaski Bridge. This mile is taking forever. I dread the open areas unprotected by my cheering fans. It is eerily quiet on the bridge, the runners seem focussed on their uphill task. I must be stronger than I think. Mile 13. 8:04. Am I superman?
Half marathon time: 1:49:24.
I'm right on pace. I was hoping for a half-marathon time of 1:50 - two sub- 1:50's is 3:40 (we'll get back to that).
Part III: The Glorious Finish and the Second (consecutive) Half-Marathon
Thirteen is a nice distance for me. Not too strenuous. Not too much time consumed. It's this second thirteen I'm a little concerned about. I'm hoping that the two days rest I have allowed myself before this Sunday's, Day of Judgment is rewarded. I figure all the insufficiencies of my abbreviated three month 'rigorous-ish' training program are going to be fully x-posed here.
Mile 13 Memory: I pass one of those guys with a flex-leg (prosthetic). It's only because he's taking a bathroom break. I am truly in awe. So is the guy running beside me. 'man, ya gotta love that' is his response. I can't think of the proper words. I just know I won't complain about my fully calciumed joints and bones. I am not worthy to.
Mile 14. Still in Queens. Manhattan is just around the corner. I'm getting pumped. My peeps are situated there. My support group. So too is Tom. Tom the savior. We'll get back to that later. Mile fourteen is twisty. There's even a right angled turn. I negotiate the curve x-pertly. Between fourteen and fifteen is a twilight zone for refreshments, what with the upcoming bridge (the Queensboro) and the twistiness. I don't refuel enough at mile thirteen. It probably costs me a little. I'm huffing up the bridge. Mile 15 historically is not a good one for me (at least, the two times I have been there). Right now, I feel fine.
Mile 14 Memory: Nirvana-esque band, playing for probably the biggest crowd (albeit a mobile one) in their careers. Didn't catch their name. A good ol' fashioned hair band, vintage ca. 1994. I give a few of my best air-bass moves. I remember I have no hair. I keep moving.
It's tres solemn on the bridge. No crowd. No refreshments. And it's #*#*#*# cold. I don't think I've mentioned the #*#*#*# cold enough. I'm in a T-shirt and shorts on a day I would generally be wearing long pants, a jacket, a toque. The sun is out, it's low in the 40's. Apparently as a runner, I am supposed to like it this way. Apparently I am not elite enough to appreciate it. I am glad that I picked up a discarded pair of gloves prior to the start of the race.
Mile 14. 9:03 (it's twisty remember)
Mile 15. 8:50 (uphill to the bridge, and downhill too - I just don't gain that back, I don't think).
Off the Queensboro Bridge, and it's BAM! BAM! Right into the crowds. A cheery mega-phoned girl is welcoming us to Manhattan. It's two hours into the race and they're waiting, they're waiting here for us. Here we are. They're at least ten deep, kept back by the pigs (the filth, the bacon, the NYPD) behind metal gates. They want to rush us. They want to kiss us like sailors (or sailor moon) returning from the war.
Mile 16 Memory: During my training program I thought it essential for the poorest of excuses - Vanity, that I look good at mile 16. As my friends were to be situated there I thought it of vital importance that I, at the bare minimum, feign strength and casualness together for this moment. Believing truly, that if I looked pained, they would be sure to tell me the same with their collective expressions. Unfortunately, mile 16 in my training run, occurs the third time you snake up the toughest hill in Central Park, the Upper West Side in the low 100's. At the time of my 20 mile training run, I warned myself 'not to look the way you feel now', when I run the marathon.
Mile 16. And I'm home. The intersection at 1st Avenue and 65th Street is less than a hundred yards from our apartment door. I know this area so well. My peeps are waiting! My peeps are waiting.
Hey, where are my peeps?
I catch everybody by surprise (I'm too damn fast). I reach my sister and the gang at 2:11. She's not ready with the camera. I don't think to stop. I smile. I keep running. As I run past, I mouth, 'TOM?'. I don't see him. I don't know how I feel about that.
I figure I'm on my own. I don't know how I feel about this.
At about 16 and a half an ice cold Tom catches my short haired, 120 pound (and decreasing) frame. A little trivia here: over the last decade the average height/weight of the elite marathoners of the world has decreased from 5'9", 130 pounds in the late 70's to 5'6", 120 pounds in the 90's. At 5'8", 120 I'd be a giant.
On Tom. I can't say how glad I am to see him. He says I look great. I still feel great (this changes eventually). I tell him so. I hope it's not a little white lie.
I'm running down First Avenue and realize, even though this is or was my neighbourhood, I have quickly just left it. The sun is at my back as I'm running north with my pack mule/sherpa guide, the trusty Dane, Tom. He gets my water/oranges/bananas/Gatorade/PowerGel for the duration of the final 9 miles. Having Tom around has occupied my mind enough that I hardly notice that my legs are assuming the consistency and elasticity of heavy wooden logs. Whatever muscles are responsible for doing the upward lifting of my thighs (the ones around my pelvis) are no longer happy dutiful workers. I do not want to think about the possibility of a strike. At mile 17, I tell Tom, 'I don't even want to think about the next six miles'.
Mile 17 Memory: The Polish Spring Rainforest is a bust. The supposed 'block and a half spray' is eliminated, I'm guessing because of the cold. Total wet T-shirt contest it would have become, I figure. Incidentally, my mantra of 'Just Nine More Miles' that I have been repeating to myself since mile 12 has finally come true. Incidentally, Nine Miles is the comfortable distance of thrice around my Monday through Thursday training loop at Rockland Lake Park. Just for kicks I use my mantra at miles 18 and 19. My body does not appreciate. I need a new mantra.
Mile 18 Memory: While my energy source of choice is the Carrot Cake Clif Bar, I find them simply delish. To supplement, I carry the Double Caffeinated Tangerine PowerGel even though I find it thoroughly disgusting. I have found for my 3rd ITTVML that the high-fiving of intermittent children is at least equivalent to the PowerGel rush.
Mile 16. 9:08.
Mile 17. 8:33.
Mile 18. 8:56.
Mile 19. 9:17.
A little inconsistent here. I think it's because I've only been to this distance only ONCE. The Wall is coming. The Wall is coming. Be prepared for the wall. I'll be OK. I've got a Danish pack mule. I've got a Danish sherpa. He's a strong dude. I weigh practically nothing, now. He'd carry me to the Everest summit in his carry-on, I'm sure of it.
Hey, where's The Wall?
Mile 20. I'm square in the Bronx. The crowds have thinned. There's a banner advertising both 'The Wall' and 'The Bronx'. It must exist, there's even advertising. This is the first time along the course I notice a considerable amount of people walking, stretching, not looking all that enthused about the final 10K. The straining faces are a pained mural for The Wall that I've heard so much about. I have to say I'm a little worried. At twenty miles, the last time (the first time?) running with my slow and weenie strides, I felt like crap. Like crap. Now the legs are heavy, the crowds are thin and I feel, not bad. The Dane is not so much offering mothering support, but dictating a more fatherly 'Keep Running' command (he sounds like Schwarzenegger, he sounds like you should listen).
I tell him repeatedly to 'pull me through here' and silly things like, 'Twenty, is usually where I make my move.', and when the girls call my name, 'Oh, that's the girl I #*#* when I'm uptown' or 'I've got a lot of my fans situated up here in the Bronx'. The Wall is not really a Wall. More like a translucent barricade. I can see through it. If I squint I can see the finish line (I can't). I'm hallucinating. I'm still hydrating, I'm still running. A little laboured. Nothing serious.
Tom, get me through the wall.
He's very good at giving my remaining distances to me. 6 left, 5 left, 4 left...my brain is not able to process too much complex mathematics. I'm glad he's there.
He would have made a great running partner if he didn't live in Jersey.
Through the wall.
Mile 20. 9:05 (in and out of the Bronx) 2:51:03. 19 mins faster than my first (only) twenty.
Mile 21. 8:57 (crossing the Madison Ave Bridge - has the texture of a Texas Cattle grate). Be careful. Careful steppin'.
Back on familiar terra firma. Back in Manhattan. Hi, old girl, miss me?
In the 120's, down 5th Avenue. I guess it's the home stretch. Legs better than at mile 19. I know I'm almost home. I see the park on my right. I'm......like......soooo...close.
Points of recognition trigger the brain, slightly. Hey, I know that! I've been there! Down the Museum Mile (the 90's to the 70's). It's the park! It's the park!
Mile 21 Memory: For the first time I notice one of the tables serving up paper cup servings of Coca-Cola. Have they always been along the route? Is that the true beverage of champions?
I've blanked the crowd for the most part. I'm pretty numb. I go to the sides only when I want to hear my name called (there's more of this later). They tell me I look great. I see through their lies. After all, I know it's just the great haircut (sorry Mirch, Kev's right you're wrong - the hair is gone, speed has no price). At twenty three I'm waiting for twenty four and at this moment in the race I have the remarkable insight that if I just run faster, I'll get there faster. I can feel myself running slower. There is not too much jolly banter between myself and my sherpa, Tenzing Norgay.
Mile 22. 9:11
Mile 23. 9:10
A confession. I lied about my inability to process complex mathematics. I have known since mile thirteen that I could break 3:45. 3:45! 3:45! Could I? Could I? I know now that anything over a 9 min/mile jeopardizes 3:45. 3:45 is not important, but when I was telling everyone 4 hours, I secretly was coveting 3:45. Yah, 4. 4. 4. 4. Four hours.
That's my goal.
But wouldn't 3:45 be nice?
Mile 24 and I'm back in the park. Hey, this is Central Park. This is My Park. I've been around here in the counter clockwise direction a hundred times. Ok, ok, not a hundred. Not fifty. But I bet at least twenty? Hey, I'm cooking, this downhill thing feels good. I'm stretching out. Hey, I'm a god. She even said so. The final three I have run pretty much exclusively on the right side of the road.
Mile 24 Memory: This mile in particular I have become a little bit of a 'Go David' slut. I need to feed off the energy of the crowd. Down the sides you are considerably more intimate and accessible to the crowd, and if you have written your name a little bit too small - the people on the sides of the road can still read the fine print and cheer you on.
GO DAVID! YOU LOOK GREAT DAVID! ALMOST DONE DAVID!
I know now I will finish. It has taken to this point to know with that fact with certainty. I will finish under four. And the rest is cake.
All along the Park Home Stretch is littered with achey runners. Many line the sides now, arms down, resting on ailing body parts: quads, ribs, thighs. One man on my running line is down. Down for the count. Hey, where'd that hill come from? The slight decline that I have normally descended in my counter clockwise training, has become a K2 like monstrosity. I believe they call this a gradual incline. I don't believe there is such a thing at 24 miles.
Mile 24. 8:49. Oooh, I'm moving. I clock my fastest mile in the last half dozen. Hey mister, what kind of gas in your tank? Baby, that'd be premium.
Not thinking. Running. Don't think. Run. No mantra. Mantra requires thinking. Kick it out. Kick it Home. Kick it Home. Kick It Home. KICK IT HOME. KICK IT HOME. KICK IT HOME.
I guess I did have a mantra.
One more mile and change.
Mile 25. I let loose. I turn on the afterburners. I want to know x-actly to the milliliter what I have left. I want to hit the finish out of breath. I hit the middle of the street. More room. More room to unleash the speed and show off my crowd pleasing moves to no one. I am flying. Not thinking. Flying. I swear I pass a thousand people. I don't recall a single person running by me. I have no time/energy for encouragement (the road is scoured with runners in very bad shape). Samaratanical confession, I am a gracious runner, anyone I passed for the first twenty working out cramps or stretching out sore legs elicited a 'You look great' or a 'Work it out, man', 'You'll do it' or an encouraging back-pat for one of those wheelchairs working up an incline. I have the guilty pleasure in knowing that Mile 25 is mine. I see the 26 marker. I can see the finish. I can smell the finish. I can't think. I passed 25 at 3:36:15. 3:45 is outta the question but I'm gonna give it the ol' college try.
Mile 26. 8:12.
And the final 0.2: 1:52. The ear to ear grin, and the arms up for the final 100 yards I'm sure slow me down. I can't stop grinning. I feel like I accomplished something big this Sunday. Me and 30,000 of my friends.
I cross the mat. Past the invisible ribbon they're holding out for me to bust through. My arms triumphal, just like I've been practicing every time I have run the loop in practice through this x-act same spot.
I can finally stop running. Baby, it's over. I'm still grinning.
Official time: 3:46:19 (8:38 pace). Net time: 3:44:36 (8:34).
Other Data and Championchip splits:
½ Marathon: 1:49:24
20 mile: 2:51:03
Overall Place: 6436
Gender Place: 5731
Age Place: 895
The Downward Spiral, Frankenstein, And So Much For the Afterglow.
They hand me a medal. I think for the most part the runners do not feel the strength to bow their heads to receive the medal. My body has shut down. The immense strength and push to the finish left along the 26th mile has subsequently shut down my body. My legs are not so much wobbly as they are wooden. They no longer bend at the knees. The pain in my pelvis is real. That's the only real pain I feel. But I know if I concentrate hard enough, the mess that was once my toes, are too screaming. I don't know that any joint in my body could properly bend in the way it had been accustomed to in the recent past.
I place the medal around my neck and wander past the various stations: the ChampionChip cutter-off'ers, the New York State Apple givers, the PowerBar guys, the UPS baggage handlers. I snag a water en route to receiving around my cowered shoulders the magical thermal silver foil blanket emblazoned with the NYC Marathon logos. It is now about 2 p.m., the sun has gone down, my body has cooled off.
Post-Race Memory 1: I remember the year before when I watched for the first time from the streets the NYC Marathon. Getting caught up in the action and activity at the 24th mile, handing out PowerGel and bananas to the appreciative runners, I knew then that I wanted to run this race. After the race, while wandering in the park I had seen the silver-foiled streams of runners slowly sauntering with their heads bowed down the path toward the reunion area - that feeling more than any is the one I wanted to x-perience.
I feel sad. I don't know why. I want to cry. I drink sips of my water.
I saunter along like Frankenstein. Heads bowed trailing one another we're really just lemmings. We've really just been lemmings for the last four hours, it would be silly to be something different now. A Spanish guy walking beside me, walking with a similar gait (flat-footed, little knee-flex) gives me a universal nod of commiseration and a gentle pat on the back. We saunter along together silently at about 15 min/mile pace.
It takes about fifteen minutes to get to the reunion area along Central Park West, I meet up with my posse right outside the American Museum of Natural History. My sad turns to glad, my frown upside down. And as glad as I am to seeing them, my overwhelming desire right at this moment is to be in front of a roasting fire somewhere in Western Canada with my feet propped up in a La-Z-Boy, in a pair of those puffy bear claw slippers. That to me is the absolute ideal in comfort.
4th ITTVML: Have your posse bring to you as many articles of clothing made out of fleece that you own. The toque is essential. Mittens are heaven.
That could be my new mantra: mittens are heaven.
Monday morning and I am awakened by the thudding of the NY Times at the front door. I shuffle around, take my shower, start the coffee, eat my cereal. The body is sore, the feet feel neglected. I jump to the Marathon section, I flip to the second page of results (my new NYC marathon goal is established then and there - get to the first page of results - that'll require a 3:30, to be safe) and see my name beneath the headline of 'They Came, They Ran, They Conquered'. Beaming I am, it has all fully sunken in, and the tiny printed by-line: 6443 How, D, 29M&ldots;&ldots;.3:46:19 by its lonesome speaks volumes.
- David, unvirgin marathoner.
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