My mom would have been disappointed in me because I spoke to strangers in NYC at 5:30am. I’d been unsuccessfully trying to hail a taxi to take me to the New York Public Library so I could get on a bus to Staten Island.  While waiting, two pedestrians asked me if I was heading to the buses, and I said yes. They told me to follow them to the subway, which I blindly did because a nervous runner is not always a smart runner. Fortunately, these were fellow racers and good people who even paid my subway fare. Yes, that is the truth.

I got to know them (a father and daughter) a bit while waiting in the bus line. The father was running his 25th NYC Marathon, and the daughter was running her 3rd overall marathon. She was fighting off a nasty cough. As we patiently waited to board the bus, they unknowingly calmed me down ahead of the trek to the start. “There are good people in this world,” I thought to myself.

The bus ride was long and quiet until the person sitting next to me made a deep, nervous exhale. I said something like “Yup, I know what you mean.”  Her name was Nelly, all 4’10” of her. She ran NYC last year in the crazy wind, and was thankful for better weather this year. As we exited the bus, we talked more about the race course and other marathons we’d run; however, in the chaos of the Staten Island security entry, we got separated. I hope Nelly had a good race.

The Staten Island staging area looks like what I can only imagine an internment camp might look like.  It is located at Fort Wadsworth, so it as a very cold feel to it. Fortunately, I only had to
spend just under two hours there. It is a makeshift city with a Blue, Green and Orange “Village,” more or less.  It is quite an impressive operation; however, it is very difficult to stay low key before a race in such a setting.

By 9am, I was in my corral…Wave 1, Corral 1…It was a good feeling to know I’d be one of the first people over the Verrazano Bridge. When the gate slid open to the side to let us out of our corral to head to the start, I felt like I was in a scene from Gladiator…entering the Colosseum for battle.  Double decker buses were lined up on both sides of us as we walked to the start. Tourists cheered for us from atop of these buses as we took our designated spot.

When the canon went off at 9:50am, it was on. I was thankful to be able to run the upper deck of the bridge. When I ran NYC in 2006, I was on the lower deck. This felt less claustrophobic.  Because of the crowded start and the incline, Mile 1, as expected was slower (7:34); however, coming down the other side of the bridge, Mile 2 was blistering fast (5:59). Oops.

The Highlights and Lowlights

1)    Brooklyn – The crowds and enthusiasm in Brooklyn were unmatched by any other borough. Perhaps it was because the Brooklyn miles are early. If Staten Island made us feel like Gladiators, Brooklyn made us feel like rock stars. The energy from spectators was contagious, so I had to keep my pace under control.

Most of the first half of the race is in Brooklyn. The music and crowds really lifted us as we made our way through. I will never forget a group of drummers that had spectators and runners
chanting as they played. Unforgettable.  I hit the Half on the bridge from Brooklyn to Queens in 1:26 exactly.  I was literally right on pace for my race goal (2:52). I felt good.

2)    Queens – The marathon doesn’t spend more than two miles in Queens so I didn’t really get a feel for the borough. The Queensboro Bridge was in sight, and this was uplifting. Yes, the 59th Street Bridge had me “feeling groovy.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  The bridge is long and eerily quiet. It is a good time to check in with your head during the race…a time to ready yourself for the upcoming difficult miles.

3)    Coming off the 59th Street Bridge – The feeling you get from the crowds as you come off the bridge into Manhattan is hard to describe in words. The only way I could ever do it justice is to suggest you run the race yourself. Then you’ll know…you’ll get goosebumps from the wall of noise.  The crowds on 1st Avenue will blow you away.  I mean, there is a “Holland Tunnel” of crowd support for the Dutch runners alone!

Just passed mile 16, I saw the big yellow “G” down the street, so I knew where my wife would be. Before the race, I told her I’d wave if a PR was still in play, but I’d stop if it wasn’t. I did neither. I
simply pointed to her and did a fist pump to let her know all was good.  Adrenaline was firing with the Bronx looming.

4)    Stomach Cramps – Literally minutes after the fist pump, the stomach cramps abruptly showed up.  I wasn’t sure if it was from my wardrobe malfunction early in the race when two energy gels fell out of my shorts in Brooklyn, leaving me with only two gels for the first 18 miles.  When it happened, I tried not to let it worry me. I even said something arrogant to myself like: “Alberto Salazar didn’t take ANYTHING during his ‘Duel In The Sun.’” I’m no Alberto Salazar. Maybe it was the borderline warm temperatures. Maybe it was the later start time. I won’t ever
know for sure, but the pain was intense. I knew I was sufficiently hydrated though. Yet, the pain could not be ignored.

I still managed a 6:30 for Mile 17, and a 6:47 at Mile 18, but the pace slowed substantially after that.  Mile 18 was probably my last Sub 7 mile, and part of it was thanks to my friend Jen, whom I know via social media. She was cheering just before Mile 18. Jen even made a sign for me. Again, the thought hit me: “There are good people in this world.”

5)    The Bronx: As I entered the Bronx, the wheels were sharply coming off the wagon. Not only
were the stomach cramps an issue, but I was starting to lose my legs now. There is nothing worse than the brain wanting to go while the body will not allow it to go.  It is a disheartening feeling. So, my goal of 2:52 slowly became my goal of a Sub 3 hour marathon, and eventually became a goal of survival. The miles in the Bronx were desolate and not so pretty.

6)    Mile 24 – After gutting my way down from Harlem into Central Park, I saw my wife for the
2nd time.  This time, I stopped to give her a hug and kiss since the PR was no longer in play. Also, I wanted to let her know I was fine. I didn’t want her worrying. She is a worrier.

Once I got further into Central Park, my pace picked up again. I felt like I was on my home turf. Plus, I knew the end was near. I knew that Sub 3:04 was still a possibility so I used that as my final motivation. Somehow, I picked up the pace enough to barely make it: 3:03:59.

Normally, a “Positive Split” of +11(1:26 / 1:37) would have been very upsetting to me, but I left nothing out on that course. I truly went for it, and fell short. I’m thankful for the miles and the finish. I’m thankful for the fellow runners and race volunteers. The volunteers for this race are second to none…they are the best. They are out there for hours, and are so upbeat and supportive.  I do love New York and New Yorkers.

There are good people in this world.

 

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The rush of coming off the 59th Street Bridge

 

 

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My cheering section (with the sign from the 2006 NYC Marathon!) 

 

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I have no recollection of this photo being taken

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