Interludes 1.2 - NYC Marathon

Interludes 1.2 - NYC Marathon

(Audio: link) [audio:]

Link NYC.mp3


Act one – The Bridge

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – All in a Day 

Freezing and about half way across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the wind was blowing sideways at 20-30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph.  Physical shivers racked me in the Orange Staging Area on the island.  My giant trash bag cut the wind but did little to warm me.  

I was thankful to have the giant trash bag but would have rather had a full size wool blanket or poncho like Clint Eastwood wore in the spaghetti westerns.  Or a down jacket.  

The temperature was not that bad.  It was in the high 30’s Fahrenheit, but the cutting wind dropped the perceived temperature to single digits.  I was feeling it. 

We were ½ mile or so in, still on the upward slope of the bridge with a steady stream of runners.  I didn’t want to get in the way of anyone trying to race, but I recognized this as THAT iconic photo that everyone takes from this race and had to find a way to get it.  

I was not racing this race.  I had my iPhone with me to facilitate these sorts of moments. I felt compelled to fill the social media void with my fuzzy pictures of randomness to show my sponsors, the good people from ASICS America that, yeah, I do occasionally attempt some content of the typical race-blogger type.  

I saw my chance and jumped up onto the 2-3 foot wide barrier that separates inbound and outbound traffic on the top deck of the bridge.  Safely out of the flow I pulled off one glove with my teeth and took a few shots of the horizon, the cityscape beyond the river and the bridge. 

There’s a guy a few feet away on the median with me who has one of those giant cameras.  I don’t give him much thought.  There are camera-people all over the place on this course.  One guy is lying on his belly shooting the runners’ feet as they swarm across the bridge.  Who am I to get in the way of their art?  

Then I notice this guy is moving closer to me and it’s a bit creepy because when I glance his way he’s focusing on me, so I just try to ignore him and get my shots.  Turns out he’s the photographer for Rueters and he’s giving me the iconic ‘Seinfeld moment’ of the weekend. 

In the picture he takes I’m holding up my cell phone, yellow glove dangling from my teeth.  Desperately clutching last year’s orange parka, with the wind trying to blow it out of my hands.  I’ve got my gray ASICS beanie, a long sleeve ASICS plain red shirt (not anywhere thick enough for this wind assault on the bridge), ASICS Shorts, and my E33 race shoes with the green calf sleeves. 

The caption will read; “A runner takes a selfie on the Verrezano Bridge at the start of the NYC Marathon”.  It wasn’t a selfie, but who am I to argue with the media moguls of New York.  

Ironically those were the last pictures I took during the race because I realized my phone was going dead and I might need the GPS to get back to the hotel later at the finish.  I powered it down.  

I’m also wearing a scarf that I bought on the street corner in mid-town.  I would wear that scarf for the whole race.  Rakishly tied like the adornment of a WWI fighter pilot in an open canopy.  I fantasize about founding a whole line of racing scarves.  I will call this version “The Sopwith Camel”.  I can buy them on the corner for $5 and sell them to triathletes for $50 – (I’ll just tell them it takes 6 seconds off their run times – triathletes will buy anything). 

The last piece of clothing is an impromptu gator I’ve constructed by tearing the pompom off and gutting the Dunkin Donuts hat they gave us in the athletes’ village.  Ingenuity bred by desperation.  I would have gladly gutted a Tauntaun from the ice planet Hoth with a light saber and crawled into its bowels for the body heat if that was an option.  

I’m also holding a plastic shopping bag.  In that bag is 3 Hammer gels and an empty Gatorade bottle.  I held on to the Gatorade bottle thinking that I might need to refill it on the bridge given that I’d just finished drinking the contents.  If I have to relieve myself I want to be tidy about it.  

Every time anyone has ever talked about the NYC marathon to me, somehow the conversation always ends up at “If you’re on the lower deck of the bridge you get peed on by the guys on the upper deck.”  In fact there are signs along the start that threaten disqualification for anyone caught doing so.  But on this day I don’t see a single guy attempting the feat.  It would take a brave and talented man to relieve himself in this cross wind and temperature. 

The orange parka is from last year’s race.  I have upgraded from my plastic trash bag.  The trash bag was good, but this is warmer, and I need to get my core temp back up to normal. Ironically when I got my trash bag out I realized that it was slightly used.  At one point I think it had actual garbage in it.  I just grabbed it from my car. 

When I laid out the trash bag the night before I realized it wasn’t ‘fresh out of the box’ but, it is what it is, and I wiped it down with hotel face towels.  I used the bib safety pins to carefully scribe perforations for the head hole and the arm holes, like in old computer paper or junk mail, so I could easily push the patches out in the morning without having to chew out a gash with my teeth.  

When you exit the holding area from the staging area into the starting line on the bridge they have big boxes to donate your throw away clothes to the homeless.  I knew my core temperature was low from the bone rattling shaking and shivering and I looked for an opportunity to better my sartorial situation.  

I thought a nice hooded sweatshirt, or knit pullover would be the perfect upgrade to run the first couple miles in until my core temp came back up.  At the homeless boxes I tore off my plastic bag and grabbed that thick, quilted, finisher’s poncho from the 2013 race.  They don’t have arm holes but they are giant and you can wrap them around you like your grandmother’s cardigan. 

I made a joke that I hoped the guy who tossed it didn’t have Ebola or bed bugs.  

I had a politically incorrect but amusing mental picture that they should bus the homeless out to the start and have them set up on the bridge so people could pick the homeless person they wanted to give their old sweatshirt to.  It would be a nice way to mainstream the disadvantaged of the city.  They could hand out cups of fortified wine, like Thunderbird or Mogan David to warm the aspirants at the start. 

In the starting coral I had a couple guys from Indiana take my photo.  America the beautiful played and I reluctantly took off my hat.  They played New York, New York, which was awesome, and then, without further fanfare, we bent our thousands of feet into the wind of the narrows.  Plastic bags and clothing of all sort blew sideways through the crowd and wrapped around people like suicidal jelly fish.  

We were off.

Frank Sinatra – New York, New York

Act two – The elites and the bloggerati 

I walked into the lobby groggy from my flight and a bit lost in time and space.  I had been battling the cold that tore through North America the previous week and trying to get enough sleep to beat it back.  I was coming off a short week and had run the Marine Corps Marathon 5 days earlier.  

ASICS had asked me to fly Thursday night to be there in time for the Friday morning warm up run.  I was taking a rare day off on Friday to accommodate.  They flew me down on the short hop shuttle into Kennedy from Boston and had a limo waiting to take me to the hotel.  I definitely felt like a poser, but did my best to roll with it. 

When confronted by these situations where you feel the imposter syndrome creeping into the back of your lizard brain I’ve found it best to have a sense of humor.  Smile and enjoy yourself.  Try not to talk too much and try to inquire and understand the new people you meet. 

ASICS was putting me up at The New York Palace Hotel, a five-star joint on Madison Ave in midtown across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  It was a beautiful hotel with spacious rooms – definitely not the Spartan accommodation of a journeyman marathoner. 

The travel part didn’t bother me.  I spend most of my time in hotels and airplanes.  I’m a hearty and hale adventurer.  But, I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a bit different, a bit fish out of water to be part of an industry sponsored junket of sorts.  Not icky per se, but more like the guy without a cool costume at a costume party. 

In the Lobby Noelle, our ASICS Liaison, was chatting with a couple guys. She noticed me lurking about in my head to toe ASCIS gear and introduced herself.  I could have sworn one of the guys was Ryan Hall but I’m such a meathead with the social graces I didn’t want to make a faux pas. 

Eventually Noelle introduced me them and the young blond guy leans in, shakes my hand and says, ‘Hi, I’m Ryan.’  The other guy introduced himself as Andy. I would soon learn this was Andy Potts the Ironman Champ.  It cracked me up that Ryan had the humility to assume I didn’t know who he was. 

Moving to the bar with Noelle we ordered drinks and waited for the other out-of-towners. 

“Mini-Marathoners” – that’s what they called them.  They were 5 inch tall statuettes of us.  They had taken photos of us and rendered them, with the latest computer aided design, into mini 3D renditions of us in full stride.  Noelle passed them out while we – the ASCICS Blogger team - were having drinks.  They were a big hit. 

I met two of the other bloggers, Megan ‘Irun4Wine’ from Florida and Brian ‘PavementRunner’ from the Bay Area.  Brian’s mini marathoner had a hilarious beer belly, which Brian does not possess in real life.  Megan’s mini marathoner had brilliant red hair, which she does not possess in real life.  

Megan Wood (Copello) - @Irun4Wine

Megan Lee - @RunLikeAGrl -

Brian Kelly - @PavementRunner –

Gregg Bard – NYCGregg –

My mini marathoner was excellent.  They gave me back a full head of hair, made me skinny, took at least 10 years off me and made me look vaguely like Will Wheaton.  I’ll take it.  Of course the jokes flowed in.  Does it have kung fu grip?  Is it a bobble head? Yeah, you know you’ve made it when they are making action figures of you…

New York City is a funny, kinetic and desperate place.  I walked the streets of midtown doing some people watching.  Beat down, bowlegged men in suits trucking down the sidewalk.  The street vendors.  The tourists, always looking up in awe.  The many languages and all the smokers!  It was like being in Paris in 1970 with all the cigarette smoke being exhaled into my personal space.  

I circled the hotel, over to Park Ave and 1st and 48th and 54th, getting the lay of the land, taking mental notes of restaurants and stores and milestones.  The Helmsley, Grand Central, the ebb and flow and surge of pedestrians.  

I passed a fruit vendor and decided to take the plunge.  I was quite proud of myself having procured some bananas and plums and pears.  It was later that I discovered the vendor had put the fruit stickers over the moldy spots.  Ahh…New York, a kinetic and desperate place. 

Friday morning dawned gray but I was up before the sun.  I went to the Starbucks next door and treated myself to a coffee and oatmeal, not knowing what the day might have in store nutritionally.  We had a rendezvous with the cars to shuttle us over to the park for our ‘warm up run’ event.  Noelle was the leader like a tour guide with her charges in tow we all boarded limos for the ride over and gathered in a restaurant for coffee and sundries.  

Among the assembled crowd was a throng of actual journalists from places like Rodale and USAToday.  Nice, literate and sporty journalists, guests of ASICS all assembling for coffee and bagels and selfies with the elites. 

Coach Kastor was there holding court and he was in charge of the morning exercise.  Andy Potts was there as was Ryan and some other elite athletes from the ASICS stable.  My new friend Grace ‘LeanGirlsClub’ was there and I gave her a big hug.  As was the other Megan, ‘RunLikeAGirl’ and Greg, ‘NYCSweat’.  The blogger team was complete.   

And then we went for a run.

Up until this point it was just super surreal for me.  All this attention for a journeyman marathoner of little account.  I won’t lie.  It felt a little icky.  I love running.  I love talking about, writing about and rolling around in the smell of running.  But, it’s my hobby, not my job.  All these industry folks and media people subconsciously gave me the heebee-jeebees and I consciously determined to smile and be humble and ask people about themselves.  

Coach Kastor led us around the park and out to the finish line.  

This is where it all got normal for me again.  As soon as I felt the kinetic relief of feet hitting pavement my whole world resolved back to that happy place.  The veil dropped and I was out for a run with some new friends.  

We were all taking pictures and chatting as we jogged around the park.  I told Coach Kastor how perfect his form was.  I chatted with Ryan and Andy and Coach about races and shoes and injuries and all those things that we default to like old men in a café over coffee.  

This is the human and democratic sinew of our sport.  It is the most human of endeavors.  To run . 

We paused for team pictures.  I look lean and happy in my short shorts.  Noelle told me that the only other person she knew who wore short shorts was Ryan.  That’s good enough for me! 

Back in the restaurant for coffee and schmoozing.  I had a chance to chat with Andy Potts about his Kona race.  I asked what I thought was an interesting and erudite question about how he resolves the challenge of dropping into a flow state during the grueling endurance intensity of an ironman with having to stay aware of the immediate tactics of the race? 

Up until this point it had been all small talk and banter but when we started talking about racing his inner competitor came out.  He got serious and intense.  I saw the character of the Ironman champion emerge from the shadows.  He told me about how when someone makes a move, “You don’t let them go, they take it, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’re going to let them take it.” 

I chatted with Ryan Hall too.  It was just small talk.  With the intent of small talk I asked him what he had coming up next.  He got a bit dark, dropping the California persona.  I realized that I unintentionally had asked a question that he got asked often with different intent by reporters.  A question they asked that really was “When are you going to live up to the expectations that the world has burdened you with.” 

Here’s a man that can crank out 26.2 sub-5 minute miles.  He’s got nothing to prove to me.  I just wanted to talk about running and racing and geek out about the sport we love. 

There were some speeches as the elites all gave us their tips on running our marathons.  At some point Deena Kastor came in and she gave us a talk as well.  She filled a plate at the buffet and sat at a table to pick at it.  I saw that the other bloggers were sort of hovering behind her chair so I took the initiative and asked Noelle to ask her to chat with us a bit. 

Deena was a sweetheart and immediately acquiesced.  She told a story about the Philadelphia ½ marathon that I had read somewhere before.  She told Megan that she loved the “Irun4Wine” blog name because she ran for wine too! 

The Clash – City of the Dead

Act three – the first half

There is a strange dynamic between New York City and Boston.  It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship.  Like sisters that were born too close together and forced to share the same room.  The typical exchange I had while in the city follows: 

New Yorker: “So…Where are you from?” 

Me: “Boston”

Them: “I’m sorry”

Me: “That’s quite alright.” 

Them: “You know what I like about Boston?” 

Me: “No, What?” 

Them: “The ride to the airport when I know I’m getting the hell out of there!” 

You think I’m joking.  I had this exact conversation with more than one person.  They weren’t being mean. In the zeitgeist of the New Yorker anyone living anywhere else is only doing so until they can figure out how to move to the Big Apple.  I won’t bother telling them it isn’t so.  They wouldn’t hear me anyhow. 

Another conversation I had was this one:

“How many times have you run the New York City Marathon?” 

“This is my first.” 

Why haven’t you run it before?” 

“Because it’s a giant pain in the ass.  It’s expensive, hard to get into and hard to get to.”

“Well, you must be excited about running the best marathon in the world!?” 

“Yes, I’ve run it 16 times, but I hear this one is pretty good too…” 

After we got off the windy chaos of the bridge and into the protecting streets of Brooklyn it warmed right up.  We were moving.  Everyone was happy, happy, happy with the early race excitement of finally being out there after much anticipation and wait. 

I tossed my sundry items of extra clothing away as we exited the bridge, taking care to place them downwind and out of the way.  The first few miles as athletes discarded clothing you had to watch your step.  The wind was swirling items around.  Bags and shirts and blankets were doing mad dances in the street.  

The sun was peeking through and the building blocked the wind intermittently, changing it from a sideways bluster to an occasional vortex as you crossed side street gaps.  They had removed much of the tenting and the mile markers due to the wind.  I heard they also had to change the wheelchair start at the last minute as well to get them off the bridge. 

As is always the case in the first few miles of a marathon I was running easy and in my element.  The pack was thick, but not as thick as you’d expect with a record 56,000 plus participants.  You could find a line and run free without side-stepping or pulling into the gutters.  

The crowds were consistent and vigorous, lining the course.  I was my usual chatty self and talked to a couple people with Boston Marathon shirts on.  I had forgotten to bring my Garmin so I had no idea on pace or hear rate.  I just ran.  You should try that sometime.  It’s quite liberating.  At my age the heart rate data just scares me anyhow.  

Without the mile marks I had to ask runners where we were and back into the pace.  My plan was a bit muddy and half-hearted.  I figured I could run 5 minutes and walk one minute and that would be a nice easy 4-hour-ish marathon.  Having run Marine Corps seven days previously I knew I wasn’t in a position to jump on this race with any enthusiasm.  With the combination of no mile marks and feeling fine I forgot my plan to take walk breaks and just ran.  

I stuffed three gels down the back of my glove and carried the sleeping phone in the other hand.  I had a baggie of Endurolytes in the shorts pocket.  I had my room key in an interesting key-card size back pocket I had discovered in these ASCIS shorts, (that I was wearing for the first time). 

 I had to add the extra security of a bib-pin to hold this mystery pocket closed because it had no zipper.  Thank heavens I had ignored my impish impulse to wear the short shorts.  The extra 4 inches of tech fabric might have kept me out of a hospital trip for hypothermia. 

I kept the scarf. 

Whereas I had no need to pee off the bridge I did start assessing the porta-john distribution patterns with some interest.  They seemed to show up every few K.  The first few had long lines.  I saw an opportunity around 10K and took care of my Gatorade recycling problem without a wait.  

This first stretch through Brooklyn was wonderful.  Everyone on the course was happy to be running.  The folks in the crowd were abundant and enthusiastic.  

There were several road-side bands, mostly playing classic-rock genre music, which I thought was great, but it reminded me of how old I’m getting that 80% of the people in the race had no idea what I meant by statements like “This was from their Fillmore East Live album!”  I would rather have a less-than-fully talented live rock band than someone blaring the Rocky theme song out a window. 

I pulled up beside a young woman with a giant smile on her face.  

Me, smiling and pulling up alongside; “Hi, how you doing?”

Her, gushing; “This is Great!, Isn’t this Great!?”

“Yeah, it’s something.  Where are you from?” 

“Oh, I live here.  Isn’t this Great?” 

“Sure, why is this so great?” 

“The People! They’re just great!” 

“What do you mean? They’re acting nice for a change?”

Her, scowling, and turning to look at me. “Where are you from?” 


“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Have you run this before?”

“No it’s my first time.” 

“Do you have some sort of time goal?” 

“No, I’m just enjoying myself.” 

“Well, I would recommend saving some of this enthusiasm for the last 10k, you may need it.” 

I had three goals for this race My A goal was don’t die, my B goal was don’t die and my C goal was don’t die.  I’m proud to say I met all my goals.  Additional bonuses were that I squeaked under 4 hours and had a blast.  

Act four – the Village

“My doctor told me I’d never run again.” Was one of the interesting snippets from conversations I had while waiting in the cold.  

The New York City Marathon, like many big city races has a substantially large block of waiting.  For those who are not sponsored athletes it start at 3 or 4 in the morning getting to and waiting on the ferry to Staten Island.  For me it meant a leisurely walk, once more led by our ASICS tour director Noelle down to the Sheraton to board the chartered busses that would drive us to the start. 

Early marathon start time tip:  Go to Starbucks the night before and order a nice high-quality coffee.  This way when you wake up in your hotel room you have coffee ready for your breakfast no muss, no fuss. OK, it’s cold, but it’s better than messing with the hotel coffee maker for some weak-ass crap that won’t get your pipes moving. 

We had to get up early, but the ‘Fall back’ time change mitigated that and it wasn’t a hassle at all.  It was still a long, stop and go ride out to Staten Island.  As we sat on the bridge in traffic the bus rocked from side to side in the wind.  

I had been being a proper dick for the last couple days making fun of the other runners who were super-concerned about the cold weather forecast.  

“40 degrees? Are you kidding? Up where I’m from that’s shorts weather!”

Turns out the joke was on me.  When we offloaded and made our way to the staging areas the wind gusts tore through me.  My thin tech-shirt, shorts and snarky Boston attitude were no match for the wind-chill.  

By the time we had taken some more group photos before breaking up for our respective staging areas my teeth were chattering.  It wasn’t that cold, but it was overcast and the wind was ripping through us.  I got into my slightly used giant trash bag, to find my staging area, but by that point it was too late and I chilled to my core, and a couple millimeters of black plastic wasn’t going to help. 

The starting area of the New York City Marathon is the most giant, complex operation I’ve ever seen at a race.  First the buses disgorge you into a triage area where a gaggle of friendly NYC police officers filters you through metal detectors and pat downs.  Then you disperse off into the color coded ‘villages’.

Once in the village you watch the giant screen for your start wave to be called.  When your wave is called you make your way to one of several coded exits.  When the wave in front of you moves to the start line, you progress through your exit to the holding pen.  Then you get released to the starting area on the bridge for your start wave.  

All of this is coded onto your bib.  For example I was Orange, B3.  This meant I went to the Orange village and moved to exit B when my wave, wave 3, was called.  In reality what it meant was me wandering around showing my bib and asking people where I should be.  

I didn’t check a bag, so I didn’t have to deal with the bag check at the start or the bag retrieval at the end.  Which meant a couple lines I didn’t have to stand in, but also the risk of hypothermia at the start and at the finish if I got the clothing thing wrong.  I didn’t die, but I sure would have loved to have had a throw-away sweat shirt!

As I made my way through this hyper-organized, on a grand scale machine I thought about What 56,000 people all in one place looks and sounds and feels like.  This is the size of one of Caesar’s armies, with which was conquered Gaul and Britania.  Imagine all these people carrying swords and running at another similar, bristling force?  The scale of it is moving and thought provoking.  

In the Orange village I found my free Dunkin Donuts hat and got some coffee.  I heard my name called and got to spend some time with a couple of RunRunLive friends, Krista Carl, shivering on a piece of grass with them, taking selfies and waiting for our waves to be called. 

One thing I have to give the race organization credit for is access to porta-johns.  I think these folks had procured every porta-john in the free world.  They were in the village and more importantly in the various queuing areas at the exits and start.  There’s no way you could have that many people waiting around for that long without access.  No one was denied their personal respite.  

Dust Rhinos – New York Girls

Act five – the Expo

After the warm up run with the rest of the team and the elites I was riding the elevator back up to the room.  I was chatting with Jason Saltmarsh from and another young woman got in the elevator.  We small talked up a couple floors Jason got off leaving just the young woman and me.  I asked her “So what do you do for ASICS?” 

She looked a bit befuddled and responded, “I’m Sarah Hall…”  

It was a bit awkward for both of us but I smiled my way through it, saying, “Oh, I just ran with your husband…” 

After geeking out with the elites I was all fired up and feeling very grateful for having been given the opportunity and invitation.  When I got back to the room I sat down recorded a YouTube video to publicly thank ASICS and muse on the unifying force that running and our community is. Had to get that off my chest. 

Apparently the fact that I was taking the day off didn’t register with anyone at work because the emails and phones calls were dogging me all day too.  Isn’t that one of the truisms of life?  Nothing going on all week and then when you take a day off all hell breaks loose? 

I beat back some emails and started putting together some material for a podcast. 

I had nothing else to do and it was still early in the day on Friday so I figured I’d go down to the expo and pick up my number, and beat the rush.  I was still smarting from the previous week when I had wasted 3 hours standing in line on Saturday trying to pick up my Marine Corps bib. 

Cell phone to ear I set off to find the Javits Center and the Expo.  Outside the hotel the well-dressed bellmen ushered me into a waiting cab for the quick ride.  The cabby, as is usual, was from some non-English speaking part of the African subcontinent but was able to make it clear to me that the Javits Center wasn’t a good enough fare for him and tossed me out of the cab at the end of the block.  

Ahhh New York, funny, kinetic and desperate place.  And they wonder why Uber is so popular…

Being a marathoner, with time heavy on his hands, and nothing better to do I decided to hoof it the 2 miles or so over to the Expo.  Along the way I could get some work done, take some pictures and really just relax and enjoy the day.  As I drew nearer I picked up a few other strays from various parts of the world all questing in the same direction.  

The triage at the expo wasn’t bad and I got through to pick up my bib and shirt fairly quickly, but I may have accidentally cut the line.  The ASICS store in the Expo with the race specific gear was GIANT.  I would have bought a hat but I already had so much gear form ASICS and I didn’t feel like fighting the line that snaked all around the store.  

Wandering around with glazed over look I felt a tap on my shoulder.  “Are you Chris from RunRunLive?”  It was Brandon Wood, not the Brandon Wood the opera singer ironman, but another Brandon Wood @IrunAlaska who was in from said northern territory for the race.  We had a nice chat.  

Later in the day I had another one of those Seinfeld moments when I cracked open the race magazine that they were handing out and saw Brandon’s mug staring out at me as one of the featured runners.  I sent him a tweet and it turns out nobody told him about it and he was thrilled to get his 15 minutes.  

I wandered around and noted Ryan and Sarah signing autographs, but didn’t stand in that line either.  I’m not much for lines.  The Kenyans were there on display as well including Wilson Kipsang the eventual winner and Geoffrey Mutai, last year’s winner.  I went by the Garmin booth and tried to make them talk me into buying a new watch but they couldn’t close.

I got bored and wandered off to find the buses back to midtown.  Apparently these buses were running from Grand Central and back to the Javits but it was a bit of a madhouse.  It was easier to take the bus back than to locate the right bus in traffic on the streets outside Grand Central. 

Back at the hotel I beat back the tide of emails and I met Megan @Irun4Wine and her newly minted hubby for a few drinks, grabbed some Chipolte for Dinner and went back to the room to write and work on the podcast. 

Reel Big Fish - Beer

Act Six – the race

Even though there were 56,000 runners in this race I never felt crowded or restricted.  As we rolled through Harlem with its gospel choirs and on into Queens the roads were wide and free flowing.  There were a couple times where the roads pinched in for some reason but I never felt like I was having to side step or trip.  The pack was dense, but you could get through it. 

As we got into the middle miles I started to work in some one minute walk breaks every ten minutes or so whenever convenient water stops appeared.  With this cadence I would pass and repass the same people several times.  There were a bunch of people with orange shirts that said “Imagine a world without Cancer” and I had that thought running through my head, thinking about my Dad and Coach and all the other people I know that end up on the losing end of this disease. 

Another stand out attribute of this race versus any other is the number of international participants.  I must have missed the memo but apparently you were supposed to run in the standard uniform of your country.  In my wave there were Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, France, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Australia, South Africa, and tens of other uniforms with flags that I couldn’t decipher. 

It was almost like the Olympics in a way because all the French wore the same uniform and all the Swiss wore the same red uniform and all the Aussies wore the same green uniform.  It made it easy for me to know whether an ‘Allee Allee’ or Aussie Aussie Aussie! Was appropriate.  

It also made it hard for me because no one was responding to the constant stream of humorous comments that stream from me during a marathon.  I’s say something funny or ask a question only to be rejoined with a blank stare and a shrug.  Compounding this was the high percentage of ‘double-budders’ who had an ear-bud on both ears and were unaware and unresponsive to the other 56,000 runners. 

Seems a bit of a waste to me.  To be out on this course in this city with all these people and these big crowds and then seal yourself off into your own little world.  

Not being able to communicate with people I amused myself with riling up the crowds and high fiving the little kids along the course.  I would run along the curb yelling “Who’s gonna give me some sugar?!”  

After the first hour, at one of my walk breaks I swallowed an Endurolyte and ate the Espresso Love Gu I was carrying.  I had already carried that gel through 2-3 entire marathons without eating it and I figured its time had come.  My body felt fine.  I wasn’t paying attention to splits or pace.  It was just another Sunday long run with a few tens of thousands of friends. 

Through these middle miles the course reminded me somewhat of the Chicago marathon as we passed through neighborhoods, each with its own character.  Except, unlike Chicago, on the NYC course there are some hills.  Nothing steep or horrible but some long gradual pulls nonetheless.  I wouldn’t call it a ‘hard course’, but it’s not pancake flat either. 

The other interesting topographical elements were the bridges.  There are five bridges, including the one you start on.  When I’m not racing I don’t bother looking at the course map.  Part of it is I’m just not compulsive that way and part if it is the extra element of adventure this provides me as the course rolls itself out in front of me real-time.  

The Queensboro Bridge was one of these adventurous surprises.  This comes right after the 15 mile mark and, including the approach and decent is over a ½ mile long.  This means you’ve got this 500-600 meter hill that just seems to keep going up and up.  

The strangest thing was this was the first quiet place on the course.  We were on the lower deck, the inside of the bridge and the wind was blocked by the superstructure for the most part.  After all the screaming and noise and wind we were suddenly confronted with silence and the sounds of our own striving.  It was a bit eerie.  Not the silence per se, but the absence of noise in the heart of this race in the heart of this city.  

This is where people were starting to show signs of tiring.  I had to side step some walkers and pay attention to the holes, lumps and buckles in the road that were common more or less across the course.  A not small group of runners congregated at the ‘overlook’ gaps in the bridge to take pictures.  I trudged on up the hill in the eerie quiet to the soft sounds of treads and breathing and the rustling of clothing broken occasionally by the wheel noise of traffic on the upper deck above our heads.  

Coming down the long down-slope of the Queensboro Bridge I find myself runner just behind an Amazon.  This young woman is tall, muscular and blonde like something out of a cheerleading movie.  My old heart and mind swoons.  I lose my train of thought and stumble into a collision with one of my international friends. 

I smile at him apologetically, shrug my shoulders in the direction of the Amazon and sheepishly say “Sorry, I was distracted.”  His broad grin tells me that some things are the same in any language. 

A couple characters I keep passing due to my walk break rhythm is a pair of Irish guys in their Green national uniforms.  One of them has, I’m guessing his name, Cleary, on the back.  Knowing that they speak a related version of my native tongue I make a comment on one of my passes, “Tough day, huh fellahs?” 

Mr. Cleary looks at me and rejoins without missing a beat in his best and lovely brogue, “Fucking Brilliant!”  You know what they say?  ‘If it wasn’t for whiskey and beer the Irish would rule the world.’

I believe that to be true, and a fine lot of mad, philosopher, poet kings they would make. 

As we crossed Manhattan for the first time I was starting to get a little tired.  I ate another gel at two hours and another Endurolyte.  I wasn’t crashing or bonking or hitting the wall or any of that other poetic nonsense, I was just getting tire.  It had been a long week.  Someone said we’d be coming back this way and I quipped, “If we’ve got to come back, why don’t we just stay here?”

As we cruised down the broad reaches of First Avenue I was trying to apply my drafting skills to stay out of the wind.  I’m very good at drafting.  You need to find someone about your height who is running a nice even pace and you snuggle up into their wind shadow.  

Drafting works even better in a big race because you can sometimes find two or three runners in a group creating a nice big pocket.  In big races you can draft a ‘double-budder’ for miles and they won’t even know you’re there. You just have to not bump them or step on them.  

But, running down First Avenue I couldn’t figure the wind out.  As you went by the cross streets it would start as a head wind then shift around and end up as a tail wind.  It was a constant swirl that made it hard to find a good pocket to run in.  The sun was out now.  It was after noon and warm.  I was wishing I had worn sunglasses. 

Act seven – Saturday

Saturday morning before the race Brian the PavementRunner has organized a tweet up on the steps of the Library in Midtown.  The idea was we’d all promote it, get a big group of people, take some pictures and head for some coffee, then drop by the ASICS Times Square Store.

It was a good plan but we woke up to a dreary cold drizzle.  We went anyhow and had some fun with the people that did show up.  We took some pictures, had some coffee and made our way over to the Big ASICS store.  

The ASICS store near Times Square is a showplace store.  It has an old New York Subway car in it that is really cool.  This is where we took a couple more pictures that ended up making the rounds.  @RunMikeRun from Twitter took one of all of us in the subway car with his GoPro on a pole rig and that shot ended up being picked up by Runner’s World.   

Greg, Megan, Megan, Brian, Noelle and I all climbed up into the window display and took some great goofy shots with the manikins that made the rounds too.  We ended up having a nice lunch over near Rockefeller Center and then drifting off in different directions.  Some of these folks were understandably worried about having to run a marathon the next day.  I wasn’t.  My goals were simple. Don’t die. 

Back at the hotel I used the afternoon to finish up the podcast and get some other stuff done.  Having no plans for the evening I wandered about Midtown, got some sundries and ended up getting a plate of pasta and a beer at TGI Fridays.  I picked up my Starbucks for the next morning and settled in. 

I wasn’t sure I knew how to set my iPhone alarm for the time change so I called the hotel operator and asked for a 4:45 wake up call, which was really a 5:45 wakeup call…I guessed. I laid all my race kit out in ‘Empty’ runner format on the floor.  Tried to wipe the garbage off of my garbage bag and commenced to watch a little TV. 

There was some really stupid zombie movie on that I started watching but reconsidered whether that was such a good idea the night before a race.  I fell asleep.  I slept fine, like a man with no secrets and many friends, and my eyes popped open at 4:30 (really 5:30) fifteen minutes before my wakeup call, like they usually do.  

Act eight – the finish

All the walking around the city, fighting the cold and wind all morning, and having run a marathon 7 days earlier started to wear on me as we crossed over into the Bronx by Mile 20.  I wasn’t bonking.  I was really tired.  I skipped the three hour gel and Endurolyte and started taking a minute walk every 5 minutes.  

Looking at my watch and backing into the pace I was on a 3:40 to 3:50 finish schedule if I kept the fire stoked.  I was tired though and I only had the one goal, which could be accomplished with any finishing time.  

Coming down the bridge into the Bronx there was a larger woman running a bit loosely in front of me.  There was also one of those giant orange traffic cones in the middle of the road.  I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she caught her toe on the cone and started to flail.  

It was one of those slow motion moments for me.  She was in that state where she was off balance and wind-milling her arms for purchase on that razors edge between falling and not falling.  She was right in front of me.  I reached out and grabbed her as best I could until she regained her heading and rejoined the flow. 

Coming back into Manhattan was a bit rough as I was super tired and not having much fun anymore.  I just wanted to get it done.  The race finished in Central Park but to get there you have to climb a long, long hill that just seems to go on forever.  I was passing the walking wounded and the walking dead but I was still on plan to attain my primary goal of cheating the grim reaper once more. 

Once you get into the park it’s another mile-plus of rolling hills to the finish.  When you make that turn into the park it’s still a long way to the finish if you’re hurting but at that point you know you’ve got it.  Along that long climb up Fifth Avenue and through the Park the crowds become loud and roaring.  It’s a constant assault of praise and exhortation as the runners struggle through to the finish.  

I crossed the line and had enough brain power left to stop my watch.  It said 4:00:03.  I turned on my IPhone to get a finish line photo and felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was Brian the @PavementRunner who had finished a couple steps behind me.  He had carried a GoPro and taken video of the race for ASICS.  Later I would learn that my actual time was 3:59:52.  That’s nice.  And, I didn’t die. 

I was glad to see PavementRunner.  First because he’s a nice guy and a familiar face, and second because I was clueless as to what we were supposed to do next and where we were supposed to go after the finish.  I didn’t check a bag so getting one of those quilted race parkas was high on my priority list as the sun was starting to get low in the New York skyline.  

Brian and I found the special, VIP exit that we were supposed to use and the volunteers were fantastic.  They were like hotel concierges telling us in great detail where we needed to go and how to get there. We found the parkas and the food and even the warming tent where we sat for a while to get some energy back for the walk to the hotel.  

In another helping of irony, the woman sitting next to us in the warming tent was from the next town over from where I live. 

Brian and I set out to find the hotel and joined the long stream of thousands of trudging warriors in blue parkas like Napoleon’s Grand Army retreating from Russia. 

Brian seemed to think he knew where we were going so I followed his lead until I saw water in front of us and intoned that even with my limited geographical knowledge of the city I didn’t think there was a river between Central Park and Midtown.  

We turned around and did some more walking.  My legs felt great.  I felt great.  This was an easy one that hadn’t left a mark on me other than the tiredness of doing it. We stopped to take some tourist pictures in front of Radio City and the Tonight Show banner.  

The people passing us in the streets of the City were very nice to us.  They were friendly and congratulatory.  It was a nice, warm and welcoming vibe that I’ve got to give the natives credit for.  They like their race. 

Brian asked me what I wanted to eat and I didn’t have to think about it.  God help me, and apologies to the planet, I wanted a big, juicy cheeseburger with bacon, fries and a beer.  Brian concurred.  After we washed up at the hotel that’s just what we did.  

After Brian walked us three blocks in the wrong direction which was beginning to become one of our running gags of the weekend we settled into Bill’s Burgers and consummated our burgers and fries.  The waitress, seeing our medals, refused to let us pay for our beers.  I was starting to like these people. 

On the walk back to the hotel I led Brian into St. Patrick’s Cathedral where a late mass was being held.  I crossed myself with holy water and genuflected to the altar and it somehow felt as if we had God’s blessing on this day.  I was grateful. 

Act nine – the selfie that wasn’t a selfie

Monday morning as I flew back to Boston for a full day of work the tweets and emails started to come in.  “Were you standing in the middle of the Verrazano Bridge wearing an orange parka taking pictures?”  

“Yeah, I was.” 

“You’re on the cover of the Wall Street Journal!”

“No Kidding? Can you scan that and send it to me?” 

And there I was in full freezing to death glory perched on the median taking pictures.  A final Seinfeld moment and another great Irony that this Boston boy was gracing the cover of their Newspaper.  The caption said “A runner takes a selfie on the Verrazano Bridge at the start of the NYC Marathon.”  

It wasn’t a selfie, but I guess I don’t have a say in that.  Then it got picked up by CNN as one of their “Selfies of the Week” and somehow I’m in the same gallery as Madonna and Barack Obama.  

Act ten – the end

At the end of the day when I met all my new blogger friends for celebratory drinks at pub. (my kind of place).  Grace’s boyfriend said “So, I guess you won the editor’s challenge, then?”  Honestly, it was the first time the thought had entered my mind that there was any contest involving finish time, especially between me and these social media friends. 

A bit jolly from the beer, my windburn subsiding into the cheery glow of my cheeks I turned to my new friends and said; “If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all the marathons and all the years is that you have to celebrate every one.  You don’t know what’s’ coming next.  Celebrate today and now and every race because this could very well be as good as it gets.” 

Skankin Pickle – Thick Ass Stout


Direct download: NYC.mp3
Category:Running -- posted at: 1:39pm EDT





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