6:00 AM – Waking Up
I wake up feeling well-rested for the first time in my life. And that’s a good thing since I will be running 26.2 miles in the next three hours. I made sure I loaded myself up with lots of pasta the night before. It’s something us runners call ‘carbo-loading’, for carbohydrate-laden foods like pasta burns slowly in the body, which is the kind of gas us runners need to go the distance. I do the Bathroom Thing, have breakfast then go through my race-day checklist making sure I have everything I need for a great race-day experience. Everything seems to be in check. My friend Bob comes to pick me up in his car. And we’re off!
7:55 AM – Arrival
We arrive at Fort Wadsworth to a literal City of Runners. As soon as we enter this city through the portal at Bay Street and School Road, I immediately have to pee. This will be the theme of my visit to this Runners City for the next 60 minutes, for I will have to visit the throne several more times due to equal doses of over-hydration and race-day jitters. I am not alone; there are hundreds of portable urinals scattered throughout this Runners City and every single runner of the 42,000+ runners who will run this race today are experiencing the same thing as me. In fact, the NYC Marathon is touted as having the longest urinal in the World, which is at least 100 yards long (see http://www.urinal.net). Now that’s a lot of pee!
8:30 AM – Corral Time (aka The Long Wait)
In other situations in one’s life, it would be okay to arrive late. However, being that this is the NYC Marathon, everything at this event is done in a very methodical, organized and planned way. Nobody wants any hitches to happen on this day; it is the Wedding Day for us Marathoners. Part of this planning is having all the runners line up in their respective corrals WAY in advance of the actual start time of our race. This entails each of us to enter these special fenced-in holding areas that correspond to the colors of our race numbers. There are three race starts: the Orange Group, The Blue Group, and the Green Group. Each group MUST stay in their respective corrals; it is THE LAW! There are security people to remind you of this.
Additionally, to safely cater to a start of over 42,000 runners and stagger the start times, there are three separate waves: 9:40 AM, 10:00 AM, and 10:20 AM. Each start time consists of roughly 1/3 the runners, or 14,000 runners. Luckily, I am in Wave 1, so my start time is 9:40 AM. Better to get this race over with sooner rather than later, I thought.
8:40 AM – Avoiding FMAO (Freezing My Ass Off)
While waiting in my fenced-in corral, my sole goal at this time was to avoid freezing my ass off. There was still another hour until the race start and at this time, the temperature was in the low 40s. This is where listening to someone’s good advice really came into play. My friend Bob used his previous marathon experience to suggest that I bring a big plastic leaf bag to keep myself warm and dry in. Thank God I listened to him! I had my precious leaf bag with me to use and use it I did! I enveloped much of my body in this Plastic Palace, which prevented FMAO big time. I ripped a hole in the top of this bag and every once in a while, I’d pop my head out like a prairie dog just to see what was going on around me.
9:15 AM – Escape Artists
Access to my corral was now closed and we started to slowly move towards the start line. A number of runners who did not heed the incessant warnings blaring out from all the loudspeakers to enter their corrals early were now denied entry and were desperately watching us from the other side of the fence. Many tried and succeeded to escape from No-Man’s Land by dangerously scaling the fence onto our side. There wasn’t enough security and the one security guy who was in charge tried in vain to deny their tumultuous leaps. Hey, this race cost each of us $149 and many runners came here from thousands of miles away with Marathon Dreams. Nothing was going to stop them from achieving their dream.
9:25 AM – Adrenaline Time
To illustrate how one feels at this moment, think about the most important event you had in your life such as getting married or having a baby. Now go back in time by about 15 minutes; this is how I felt. We all were now lined up behind the start line with one of the biggest bridges in the World with its arms stretched out ready to welcome us across. However, there were still 15 minutes to go. The waiting. The thinking. The nervousness. The excitement. You want to start already and focus on running your race, but those 15 minutes…. damn!
There was a young runner next to me dressed from head-to-toe in military clothing, boots and all. I’m sure he’s a military guy; maybe a veteran of the Iraqi War. On his back was a military backpack loaded with 50 pounds of stuff. I thought to myself, “If this guy can go this distance dressed like that, then boy, I have no excuse”.
9:46 AM – Crossing The Start Line
Finally the cannon goes off and the race has officially started. I am somewhere in the back with a few thousand runners in front of me. Waiting for all these runners to leave, It will take about another six minutes before I actually cross the start line. Finally, runners around me are beginning to pump their legs up and down the way you see pistons in a car engine start moving. I am now moving! Six minutes later, I run across the start line sensor. The D-Tag antenna tied to my sneaker laces immediately triggers my personal start time with this sensor. My race has officially started and I just began my participation of the 40th running of the New York City Marathon!
9:46:05 AM – The Watch Situation (aka: WTF?!)
As soon as I cross the start line, I start my pacer watch. This watch is intended to pace me throughout the course, for pacing is everything when running a marathon. If you go out too fast, you are doomed to burn out during the second half because a Marathon literally drains the energy out of you. Keeping a steady pace that your body is accustomed to will ensure that you will finish strong without burning out.
Three seconds after starting my pacer watch, I notice that the pacer screen is reading “00:00”… I forgot to calibrate the damn watch with the satellites in the sky! I had to make a split decision: to run blindly the entire race without knowing my pace, or to stop for a minute and calibrate the watch. Luckily my logical mind took over and I decided to calibrate. This required me to stop running entirely, pull over to the concrete median of the Bridge, place my watch on the median, and reboot the watch while it calibrated itself. Unfortunately, this requires the watch to be PERFECTLY STILL, so that is why I couldn’t do this while running. While it was calibrating, I briefly glanced at the 500+ runners passing me by while the Bridge was shaking from their collective weight. Some of them were probably thinking, “What’s wrong with this guy just standing there after the start line?”
As soon as pacer screen turned back on, I knew that the watch was now ready for business. While I probably lost about 1 minute from my race time, I knew that this was a worthy sacrifice for I now can see my pace for the remainder of the race.
Mile 2 – Disrespecting the Great Italian Explorer Giovanni da Verrazano
After passing Mile 1 in the middle of the Verrazano Bridge, which is THE highest point in the entire Marathon, I felt like I was on top of the World. Thank God that I made that decision about my pacer watch early on because I ended up consulting my watch 1,000 more times throughout the race.
After I pass Mile 1, which is the top of the bridge parabola, I start experiencing the downhill, which is a great feeling. After passing the second span of the Bridge, I notice a whole bunch of runners peeing off the side of the roadway. I’m saying to myself this derogatory thought, “Look at those guys just peeing in front of everyone! What’s their problem?!”. With all apologies to the great Italian explorer with whom this great bridge is named for, Giovanni da Verrazano, I feel the urge myself and end up participating in this pee-fest. Luckily, that will be the first and last time that I pee DURING the Marathon. After that, I will learn that my body needs every drop of liquid that it can get.
Going across the Bridge, it is very quiet; only a few thousand runners all focused on their pace. As soon as I enter the off ramp onto 92nd Street, there’s a sea of humanity just looking at all the runners in awe. Passing this humanity, I suddenly hear loud cheering combined with hand clapping. There are many runners around me, but I feel that everyone is cheering only for me and I’m sure every runner feels the same way. The excitement gets overwhelming for me; my pace just dropped down from a 9:00 to 8:20. I must keep to my pace, which is 9:00. I quickly put the brakes on and slow myself down closer to a 9:00 pace. This will happen to me dozens of more times until Mile 21.
Miles 3 – 7 High Five Time
After making a few twists and turns after leaving the Verrazano, I finally find myself on 4th Avenue staring at thousands of cheering spectators on both sides of the street. “Boy, they certainly make it hard for a serious runner to focus on this race”, I said to myself. It was impossible for me to entirely focus, so I did what a number of other runners were doing: which is to have fun. Once in Sunset Park, the streets were lined with miles of little Hispanic kids with their hands up in the air waiting for runners to “high five” them. There was a German runner near me slapping every single little hand, so I decided to join in. Every time I high-fived a kid, it was as if some super hero touched them with their powers. This was a great feeling, but I realized that if I continued doing this, I would be wasting my energy, so no more high-fiving for me!
Mile 8 – Angels from Above
After running on the straightaway of 4th Avenue for several miles, I started to get a little bored and lonely, which is ironic since I was running amongst thousands of runners. As soon as I reached Mile 8, the point where runners from the Orange, Blue and Green Groups merge in front of the famous Williamsburg Saving Bank building in Fort Greene, I heard people screaming out my name from behind. I turn around to see my running pals Alan and Jerry frantically jumping up and down shouting out my name. They were spectators and they were doing a very good job motivating me. This was just the boost I needed to help me get through the rest of Brooklyn and Queens.
Mile 9 – A Gorilla in my Mist
While running through Fort Greene, a gorilla passes me. No, not a real gorilla, but a runner dressed from head to toes in a gorilla costume. Besides this gorilla, there will be a series of runners dressed as clowns, an eiffel tower, a waiter carrying a bottle of wine on a tray, and other interesting assortment of characters. Hey, we’re in New York, what do you expect?
Mile 15 – The 59th Street Bridge
After running in Brooklyn up Bedford Avenue, Greenpoint Avenue, then crossing the halfway point across a little bridge into Queens, it was only a matter of time before I entered the 59th Street Bridge (aka: The Queensboro Bridge). If there’s any other part of the NYC Marathon that tests one’s mettle, THIS IS IT! Boys enter this bridge on one end and get spat out as men on the other. The bridge is only a mile long, but that 1/2 mile incline on the Queens side tests you. Runners all around me were desperately trying to scale that incline while keeping their pace intact, a feat that became obviously unreachable to the majority of runners around me since they were slowing down or just walking it. Don’t forget, we already have 15 miles under our belts and now we are forced to deal with this cruel and relentless man-made mountain called the 59th Street Bridge.
Mile 19 – It’s Bob!
After the 59th Street Bridge, the next major challenge was 1st Avenue. This is now Mile 16 and with some fatigue starting to set in, this avenue seems to go on forever! The one redeeming quality of this part of the race are the hundreds of thousands of exhilarated race fans lining the entire length of this 4-mile corridor and the non-stop cheering one hears throughout.
At Mile 19, I pass by a runner who I think I know. It’s Bob! He’s the guy I trained with this whole year. We were supposed to run this race together from the start and pace each other, but since we started this race in separate groups, that wasn’t going to be possible. I now wanted to run the remainder of this race with Bob, but he told me to go ahead of him. I found out later that he was injured with a stress fracture in his foot, but he still valiantly pushed on to the end of the race. You go Bob!
Mile 20 – The South Bronx
I run across a small bridge into the South Bronx. As I cross the bridge, I see bagpipe players playing traditional Irish music. Yes, only in New York would you hear live bagpipe music playing in the South Bronx!
Mile 21 – Kicking it up a Notch
I am now at Mile 21. I’ve been a good boy so far and listened to advice given to me by my Jedi Master Mario who stressed that I do “9-Minute Miles”. Now that I am finished running 75% of this race with a lot of energy still in me, I decide to kick it up a notch and pick up my speed. My pacer watch drops down to an 8:35 pace and I plan on making this my new pace for the remainder of the race.
Mile 22 – The Return of the Angels
As I pass Mile 22 and approach Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, I see my friends Alan and Jerry again. This time it seems that they are screaming my name even louder than before. I take a few seconds out of my run to give them each a big hearty high-five as I excitedly shout out to them in the most manly way possible. This refuels my emotional battery and I possess this attitude, “Nothing can stop me now!”
Miles 23 – 26 – Cramping my Style
I’m at Mile 23 and I’m running parallel to Central Park. Soon I’ll be entering the Park itself. I’m maintaining that 8:35 pace as I had started two miles earlier. The prospect of me finishing this endeavor in three more miles at such a fast pace excites me to no end. Many runners burn out by now. This has so far been a textbook race for me. The runners have thinned out, the street is narrower and the fans seem to be even more fervent than before. What could go wrong?
I spoke too soon. Like a race car blowing its tire during the final stretch of the Indianapolis 500, I blew my own tire. More specifically, I developed an excruciatingly painful cramp in my lower right calf, so painful that I had to stop my running entirely. I remained frozen like a statue for a few seconds and waited for the pain to subside. As I did this, I tried to start running again while shaking out the pain. I so desperately wanted to maintain my great pace, but this cramp thing got in the way.
For the next three miles, this cramp routine repeated itself several more times and of course without warning. I was now at Mile 26. I just entered the Southwest corner of Central Park with only 2/10 of a mile to go. The finish line is only moments away…
Mile 26.1 – God Help Me
I’m at my 8:35 pace again for the eighth time and I can actually see the precious finish line only 100-some-odd yards away. Just when I’m savoring the thought of completing my Marathon Destiny, one more leg cramp rears its ugly head. I’m limping again and holding my hand on the bad leg while reaching out towards the finish line with my other hand. I quickly shake out the cramp and pick up my speed determined to cross the finish with a newly-found fury.
Mile 26.2 – The Finish Line
I was so excited at the prospect of breaking my goal of four hours that as I passed the finish line, I held my hands up high with an animalistic look in my face, the look of a hungry carnivore that had just eaten a 26.2-mile race.
I found out later that day that I had achieved my goal of finishing in under four hours by completing it in 3:56:58. A personal best!
Mile 26.2+ – The Death March
After passing the finish line and catching my breath from running for four hours, a finisher’s medal was immediately placed around my neck, then a silver mylar blanket was wrapped around my body to keep whatever body heat was left from escaping. A post-race photo was taken of me, then a goody bag full of fruit, nuts, snacks and water was placed in my hand.
Just when I thought that the Marathon was over, it wasn’t. For the next mile or so, temporary fences were placed after the finish line that forced all of the finishers to continue walking another mile or so. This walk is known as the Death March, for immediately after finishing the Marathon, all finishers are required to walk that extra mile in order to escape the confines of the fences. Just looking at the hundreds of runners slowly limping along this route all wrapped up in their heat-saving mylar blankets, you can see the word ‘pain’ etched on their faces.
5:15 PM – Ice Bath Time
As soon as I got home, there was just one more torturous activity that I needed my body to undergo: It was ice bath time! No, I wasn’t filling my bathtub full of ice to keep cans of Budweiser cold for a party; I was doing it to keep my legs cold. Submerging one’s legs under ice cold water and ice cubes for 20 minutes helps lessen the effects of post-race swelling. As soon as I submerged my legs under this ice-cold water, a shock of pain bolted up through my body. From talking to my friend Gus, I knew that this ice bath was a necessary evil that would help with a good post-race recovery.
It took me an entire week for me to fully recuperate and run again. While I was running with my friends from the Staten Island Athletic Club (SIAC), I talked about the idea of someday doing this Marathon Thing again.
Special Thanks to Mario and Gus for giving me the right advice for my Marathon training.
Bob for picking me up in the morning.
Alan and Jerry for cheering me on at Miles 8 and 22.
Uncle Richard for taking my picture at Mile 7.
Maria for holding onto the sweatshirt I threw at her at Mile 5.