Best. Race. Ever.
The ING New York City Marathon, is at once my fastest (4:20:16), hardest, most painful, most anxiety-inducing, amazing, glorious, beautiful, energizing, draining, overwhelming, emotional marathon to date.
First, training for this race was like no other experience I have ever had. When I trained for my first marathon (San Diego in 2008) Lucy and I ran with a group in Chino, CA. That was an awesome experience, and it solidified for me that I could be a runner, and I could accomplish the distance with confidence. This season, however, brought so many new friends, and taught me how strong I could be, and that I will always have support in the running community.
Shout out here to RUNNYC and all the homies that have pushed and supported Lucy and I this Spring/Fall. We couldn’t have done it without you, and I am truly grateful for everything you have done for us!
On, then, to the marathon. Step-by-step, mile-by-mile. Hold on, folks. Marathons (and blogs about them) are long…
Getting to the Start:
The day started early. Around 5am… Out of bed and making PB&J’s for the morning. One right away, and one (each) to take with us to the start line. I thought it best to treat this race like any other race, and since most of our races are out of town, we have everything laid out, and in bags the night before. We had already packed a bag to take to the start line the night before, so all we had to do was throw the sandwiches in and hit the road.
We layered up in thrift-store sweats and giveaway hats from the NYRR Scotland Run. These clothes would be ditched before the start of the race. (The marathon donates clothes discarded at the start to charity). We also had a plentiful supply of garbage bags to be used as weather insulation, seating, and anything else that could come up.
In the start-line race bag: Waist packs for both of us, disposable bottle of water, sandwiches, trash bags, 1/8 roll toilet paper.
So, then out of the apartment and to the #1 train down to South Ferry. We would be meeting our friend Lesley on the train, and Andrew and Elizabeth at the Ferry.
We met at the Ferry a little before 7:00am, and moved toward the door for the 7:15 Ferry. Having done the Staten Island half-marathon, this was a pretty familiar scene, and anyone who has done that race can accurately describe how it would feel. Quite crowded, and it is really incredible how many people that boat will hold. (I think it is somewhere around 3,500).
On the Island (Start Village):
Once on the Island (Staten, that is), we depart the Ferry for buses that will take us to the start line. I don’t know who mentioned that it “wasn’t very far” from the the terminal to the start line, but either our bus took the long way, or they are full of shit. Or both. Either way, I don’t know how long it took to travel the distance, but it was quite a long ride standing in a stuffy and crowded NJ Transit bus.
We arrived at the start area and went through several moderate levels of security making sure everyone had the proper bags and was wearing a bib. It is a short walk from the buses to the start village, which is organized by color. The race is broken up into three start waves, and within each start wave, there are three colors, which start on three different sides of the bridge. That’s how huge this race is.
We quickly found a spot and set up base camp before exploring our options for bathrooms and tried to locate bag-check for those that were checking bags (Lucy and I weren’t) and which way to head to the start. Once we sat down, we got word that some friends were hanging out in a tent that had breakfast, food, separate clean toilets. Warm, space, and chairs. What else could we possibly need? So we packed up our stuff and headed a short distance to meet our anonymous friend at the unnamed organization’s tent.
It was now around 9:00am. Runners in Wave #1 were heading to their start. We had a bit of time before we had to head out, so there was a few moments to relax before the race. So, naturally, I did not relax at all. Anxiety set in. I was antsy. And I wanted to start running. And it was warm in the tent, but a little chilly outside still. Or was it? I had better check. Yes, definitely warming up outside. I can go inside and relax. But I have to pee. So I should go out and use the toilet. Now I can relax. Wait, was it still chilly outside, or am I going to want arm warmers? Or gloves? I can’t decide. So this is how I passed about 30 minutes of time.
I remember hearing so many nightmare stories of the hours waiting for the start of the race… Cold, wet, crowded. To be honest, we experienced none of this. Perhaps we were lucky with timing, weather, etc. But I can honestly say that it was perfect. It was A LONG TIME, but we felt comfortable, and relaxed (even if we didn’t sit much, or rest). There was plenty of time to get our things in order, but I didn’t feel like we were there for TOO LONG. Next year, I would do everything exactly the same way.
On Our Way (Cattle Herding):
In short time, (let’s say around 9:20) we were on our way to the corrals. It was indeed warming up, and I ditched the layers and went for just a trash bag over the short-sleeve. We walked around and found the right direction to the Orange corrals, and moved into position. A bit of shoving and pushing, and we were in. This put us in the holding area for our wave/corral, which is quite a distance from where the actual start chute is. Not much room here to do much of anything, but some of us were able to find toilets and we got to hear the cannon go off for Wave #1. Once that happened, we started moving forward, as our wave was next up into the chute.
Finally, the line came to a stop, and we heard the announcer getting ready to announce the start. Let’s say the time was 10:00. We were in the sun, and it was now quite warm. For a moment I thought that I may be in trouble with the heat, and wished I had worn a singlet instead of a short sleeve. But I knew I would be fine, and the weather couldn’t get much hotter than it was. Lucy, on the other hand was wearing tights. TIGHTS! She had thought it was going to be rather chilly. In hindsight, she probably would have worn capris or something, but I decided not to really mention any of this. When you are in that situation, it’s best not to make a big deal of things, and just go with it. What else can you do?!
America the Beautiful was sung… and then BOOM! The starting cannon went off. HERE. WE. GO. Oh, Shit. This is actually happening! And out comes, “Theme from New York, New York.” Oh, Sinatra. You bring us to the brink of tears before the race even starts. Let’s Do It!
Miles 1 +2: SKYLINE
The first two miles of the race are almost entirely on the Varrazano-Narrows Bridge. For the Orange Wave, Mile 1 ticks off right around the middle of the bridge, and Mile 2 comes just as you are turning down what would be the On-Ramp for Staten Island-bound traffic.
The view is INCREDIBLE. I didn’t make a big deal about wanting to be on top of the bridge, but I have to say that I would do whatever it takes to make this happen in the future. It is totally worth it. Helicopters hovering overhead, and the Manhattan skyline to the left. It really was a perfect day for running. Clear skies, sunny, but not TOO hot. WOW. Just, wow. And we were barely getting started. I was quite thirsty, though, by the time we hit Mile 2. The first aid station, however, doesn’t come until Mile 3, so we had to soldier on for another few minutes. There is such a rush for the first couple of miles that it didn’t feel like we had run two miles at all. It was SO FAST. We did keep things under control. Right on target for a great warm-up at 9:30/mile pace. Now if we can just do this for 24 more miles…
Miles 3—7 (4th Ave.): ¡VIVA MEXICO!
The long 4th Ave. stretch of Brooklyn is the longest single stretch of the race. The people of this neighborhood, however, leave nothing to be desired in spirit. My favorites were the masses of people with huge Mexico flags, and tons of kids giving out High-Fives. I tried to stick to the center of the road, because there is a slant here, and slants always make my ankles hurt. Andrew, however, was not going to let an offer for a free High-Five go to waste. Lesley was the clear winner here in the getting-your-name-called-out contest. Shirt color? Can’t say for sure, but next year I am wearing yellow!
Guys were yelling, “WELCOME TO BROOKLYN!!!” and I thought, “This is New York!” It was a good stretch, and it was still hard to believe just how many people were running. Even crazier when you think that this is one of three waves. Wow.
Mile 8 (Lafayette Ave.): “NEW YORK!!!!!!!”
Mile 8 felt like the most raucous mile of the race. The street narrows in here, and all three colors of the Wave are merging together. The crowd was at least 3-deep in most places. Stoops became grandstands. It was LOUD. I let myself go a little bit. A little bit too much. High-fiving. Screaming, “NEW YORK!!” at large crowds. I knew better, but I didn’t care. I told myself, “you are going to regret that later, but will totally have been worth it,” and I still feel that way. Thanks, Clinton Hill.
Mile 9—12 (Bedford Ave.): The Many Faces of Brooklyn
Mile 9 begins the long stretch on the many iterations of Bedford Ave. Bedford starts quiet, with few spectators in the Hasidic neighborhoods. There were, however, a few enthusiastic fans here waiting for their friends presumably running in long skirts or pants.
As the race winds further north up the Ave., the crowd fills in with curious hipsters spilling out of El Beit and the various brunch spots. Hey, I could go for a mimosa right now… We soldier on toward the Pulaski, with crowds pretty thin until bridge hits, as we approach mile 13.
Mile 13—15 (L.I.C. Queens): The Elephant in the Room
LIC has a decent turnout, but is calm compared to the crowds in Clinton Hill and upper parts of Bedford Ave., but to be honest it’s a welcome break from scanning the crowds and acknowledging the cheers and shouts directed at you. There are quite a few people lined up on 44th Dr. going into Crescent, and they were loud, for sure. Could it be all the actors and dancers that have invaded East LIC and Astoria? Probably. I was looking for my friend Melissa somewhere here, but she didn’t say where she would be, so I wasn’t really looking all that hard. Where there are a hundred people on a block, one can only stand to look so hard for so long…
The short run in Queens is really just a buildup. A tease, really. Because we all know what is waiting for us at mile 15. You can see it from the Pulaski bridge… the dreaded Queensboro. And it was getting closer.
Mile 15—16: The Silent Killer
And so up we went. We had prepared for this. Long training runs often involved bridge repeats, so we knew what to expect. It was, nonetheless, a daunting task. My legs were not working as I would have liked them t0, and I was feeling the effects of having run another marathon just a month earlier. I never had any doubts that I would finish, but this was around the time I had thrown out the idea of running a negative split. We wouldn’t be picking up the pace in the last half. I would just be trying to hang on at this pace, if that was even possible.
The downhill section of the Queensboro is steep, and then gets even steeper as we hit what would be the on-ramp for Queens-bound traffic to the lower-level from 59th St. The stories are true. You can literally hear the 1st Ave. crowd from the bridge, even before you round the corner and hit the wall of sound from the crowd. It’s coming, but we can’t quite see it yet.
Mile 16—19.5 (First Ave.): This is Awesome… But long.
And then it hits you. Apparently you aren’t a true East-sider if you don’t cheer for the Marathon. From the bar-hoppers crawling out of Sutton Place, to the Yorkville crowd, it is packed. Mixed in to the Yorkville fray was the Nike Cheer zone. We almost completely missed them, which would have been a shame since they are great friends. Fortunately I spotted a sign, and a familiar face at just the right time. It was a huge boost to see Barbara, and Jen, and Val. We also got some pictures from Troy, who we didn’t see at the time, but I appreciate every single person that was there to support the runners.
From that point on, First Ave. droned. This is like New York’s Vuvuzuela. Incessant, draining more than inspiring, but amazing if only in scale. It is an ocean of people. The runners, the crowd. And this is what the NY Marathon is about. The city comes together. They enjoy the freak show. They admire, support, and endorse the freak show.
And then they are gone. It’s as if they sense that we are going to need some time alone for the next few miles. Maybe they think they’d better let us work some stuff out and do some soul searching before we come back to Manhattan.
Mile 19.5—21: Da Bronx, Son.
The Willis Ave. bridge is best described as insult to injury. And this is the time when my quads were starting to twitch. It was the first threats of cramping. I had been battling some abdominal cramps since the beginning of the race. Judicious nutrition had kept my muscles at bay, but there was a delicate balancing act going on for much of the race. I was hanging by a thread, really.
I felt that I might be in trouble, and I knew that I needed to get some fuel as soon as possible. With no water stop in sight and only gels at my disposal, I decided to take a risk. I started taking little squeezes of gel while hoping that a water stop would come up soon. I figured the risk of getting an upset stomach from the undiluted gel was probably less than my quads seizing up from lack of sugar. My gamble paid off, and there was a water stop close by.
It’s not long before the Bronx becomes a distant memory and we are homeward bound at last back into Manhattan. For the first time in the day. This came as a small relief. For the first time all day we were actually headed mostly toward the finish.
Mile 21—23.75 (5th Ave.): Are We There Yet?
There was a distant idea, long discarded, that this would be the marathon for me to go sub 4. That obviously wasn’t going to happen. But despite all the aches, and the twitching quads in the Bronx, things were working well. Or about as well as I would expect them to work after running for going-on twenty-one miles. If I’m honest, at this point I just really wanted to stop running. Not like, I want to quit stop… Just, I want to be done with this thing stop. I knew we were over the hill. We had reached the point at which I say to myself, “Well, you’ve come this far… you might as well just finish.” It’s not so much determination as it is fortunate quitting. I’ll set a goal to stop running immediately, and then I give up on that goal and just keep going. This way I can have my cake and eat it too. I get to quit at something, and I’ll keep running and finish the race.
We all longed for the comfort of Central Park. Meanwhile I thought I had developed a blister on my small toe. I NEVER get blisters, so this was extremely frustrating. I thought, “this doesn’t happen to me! This isn’t my issue!” I dare not take my shoe off, because I feared the worst… Around that time, we were rescued by a running friend who offered us some glucose tablets. Lucy grabbed a few and implored that I take one. By this time, I didn’t want anything. I just wanted to be done, and I was quite cranky. “I don’t want that shit,” I snapped. Lucy barked back at me, “GET IT TOGETHER, SCOTT!” Well, that was exactly what I needed. I did need to get it together. I needed to embrace the pain for a few more minutes. I started sucking on the tablet, and put my head down. One last push to the finish.
Soon, we came up on Paul, who was shouting out to me from the sideline. Turbo boost! His cheers propelled us into the park, I knew we had made it. This was it. I had better enjoy this last bit of the best race of my life.
Mile 23.75—26 (Central Park): PR or Bust.
I have to admit, that while the park was a relief, and I was happy to be surrounded by spectators and trees the only thing that kept me going at this point was one simple fact: If I kept running, I would PR quite comfortably. I couldn’t just let an opportunity like that pass my by. Were it not for that, I think I would have walked it in. This was really the hardest race I had ever done. It felt harder than the 60k I did a year ago.
The crowds were deep in the park, and it was incredible how loud and encouraging they were. It was seriously overwhelming. I am used to running in the park in the early evening, or on Saturday morning, so this was quite the contrast. We kept saying to each other, “this is crazy!!!” And it was. I didn’t really expect Central Park to be this packed. This insane and energetic crowd propelled us down to 59th St. A final energy boost was provided by our friend Taegin as we rounded Grand Army Plaza and into the thick of the chute heading across town toward Columbus Circle. And that was it.
Lucy attempted one final surge, and I begged her to stop. All I could manage was, “Please…… Please….. Please Don’t.” I just needed her to hold off for another 1/4 of a mile, and then I could hold on. But not quite yet!
Mile 26—26.2: I LOVE THIS CITY.
That was all I could think as we turned into Central Park for the second time and headed up West Drive. I LOVE THIS CITY. The flags of all the countries, the crowds, and the biggest finish line I have ever seen. It was incredible. We finished the race holding hands, arms up.
Lucy and I hugged, and I said, “This was amazing. I love it here. This is New York.” We hobbled forward to receive our medals.
The line to get out of the park was lengthy, and it takes a while to weave out from the finish line to the streets. This was definitely hard, and all I wanted to do was sit down! When we were finally out of the park, I sat by a UPS truck. “FINALLY!” I exclaimed. I only sat for a minute, but it was all I needed. Rest taken, we dragged to our apartment and ordered food… We had to refuel. After all, we have a 60k in two weeks!
Tags: Lucy, running, Scott