Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New York Marathon 2013, Unbelievable

Ft. Wadsworth, the Marathon Start Village.

My day started with a walk from our hotel to catch the 1 train from Penn Station. Penn Station is under the historic Madison Square Gardens Arena. All the runners had to get on the first 5 cars. For some reason, those are the only ones that will let you out at the south ferry. It was packed, wall to wall runners. At each stop, we'd see a frantic run to get in those first five cars. The dock is right at the top of the stairs, I was afraid that I'd have to walk some there too. But, that was not the case. I entered the building to see runners sitting everywhere.I just got in line. I didn't care whether I was on the 7:30 ferry, like I was scheduled. I just followed the rest. On the ferry I tried to find a seat quickly. I didn't want to have to stand for all three modes of travel. I found a seat inside, so I missed seeing the Statue of Liberty up close. I did find out we could stand on the back deck outside and I got some great views of Manhattan and the statue from afar. Next, I bought some food at the other dock and got in line for the buses to take us to Fort Wadsworth, the marathon start. First the bus made a big loop, after 5 minutes passed the place we loaded up and the went to the fort. Leaving the bus, we got into another line. The police check point. Every runner was 'wanded'. I got through and started walking to the Marathon start village at Fort Wadsworth.

The fort is a national park and was closed because of the government shut down. The New York Road Runners were making alternate plans until the government reopened just a week prior to the marathon. The village was set up into three groups. Green, the runners that would run on the lower level of the bridge. Orange and blue would be on the top.  I was in green, which meant I was running on the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows bridge. I found my way to the waiting area and looked for a tree I could lean against. There were four waves or start times for the runners. I was in the last. I was prepared for a 2+ hour wait. I brought extra clothing. I had a beanie cap, an Arizona baseball cap, 2 pairs of sweat pants on top of my running shorts and a sweat top on top of my running shirt. I had a pair of gloves and 2 hand warmers I bought at Dick's Sporting Goods. I, also, had a blow up cushion that I bought at the 99 cent store. It came in handy, I should have brought two.At the Au Bon Pain inside the Staten Island ferry building I bought some apple strudel and a steak and cheese sandwich. The sandwich wasn't very good. The strudel was great. I had about 3 hours until my wave/corral was to start at 10:55. I decided to see if I could start early. I snuck into line with the wave 3 people and started about 30 minutes early.

At the start I talked with a guy that lives in Westchester, north of the Bronx and a girl from San Francisco. Also, a few others. He asked for some marathon advice. I suggested to 'start slow and taper'. Several runners around us agreed.  I didn't take my own advice.

There was a guy leading cheers from the upper deck. The blue and orange folks up above would cheer, then we would. I said I wasn't going to cheer with the people who were going to pee on us.. The announcements kept warning people not to pee off the side of the bridge. They give these messages in multiple languages.  It's rumored that the pee gets blown back onto the runners on the lower deck.

They played 'God Bless America' and then shot the cannon to start the race. 'New York, New York' was song by Frank Sinatra. It was nice of him to attend.

The Race.

The first mile is uphill on the bridge. I planned on taking it slow, but everyone was running a 9 minute mile or faster. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement, run with the crowd and not know it or feel it at all. I did. I kept looking at my garmin and would slow down, but it wouldn't last long. I did stop and take pics of Manhattan from the bridge. It was a great view of the city.

The second mile was downhill off the VN. I took it easy, but it was still faster than I planned. My plan was to do all the miles between 11:45 and 12. I started out with an 11 minute mile and a 9:31 mile. It wasn't until mile 7 that I did a mile to plan.

Now in Brooklyn, the green runners had a separate route than the rest. Dictated by the off ramp of the bridge. We were running in the left lanes. This was the first time I realized it was cold. Strong winds on the bridge. I wasn't cold at all at the fort, but I was much more bundled up. I had left one pair of sweats behind at Fort Wadsworth. I would leave my outer top, gloves and beanie behind in Brooklyn around mile 4.

The crowds were large in Brooklyn. 2-3 people deep for long stretches at a time.  I spent time running near the edge so that I could give fist bumps to kids and lots of adults. (Note to kids: give fist bumps, not high fives. You don't want to touch the open hands of these runners) To honor my late father, Joe I had his name on my shirt. All day long people would yell out his name. "Go, Joe" , "You can do it, Joe", "Looking strong, Joe". I loved it.

I was looking forward to seeing what each borough looked like, but I realized I was more interested in the people.. I was still trying to get into my pace. The plan was to run for 4/10 of a mile then walk for 1/10, then repeat. I was to drink and eat my fruit chews each walk break. This was hard to do, I was running for longer stretches and forgetting to eat. I was doing good to stay hydrated. Most of the time I was drinking the Gatorade provided by the race.

People had tissues, candy, bananas , pretzels to offer us. Some people were having parties and BBQs on their front steps. I passed one and it smelled great. I asked if I could hang with them and they said yes. I kept running. Several bands were playing every mile. From choirs and school bands to bar bands to guys with boom boxes.

Williamsburg has a large Jewish community. Things were much more quiet there. Very little cheering. The girls had their school skirts on. Not sure why, since it was Sunday. The kids would watch us, but not cheer. The women would sit on their steps, but not act like they were paying attention. The men were always walking somewhere or would be at a street corner. No one showed any signs that we were running. The men had beards, long twisted hair and hats. I'd never seen anything like that. They didn't look like they wanted their pictures taken, I respected that.

The police were all over. Mostly keeping the crowds on the sidewalk behind the police tape. They were trying to keep people from crossing the street, but this was almost impossible. People would cross like it was a game of frogger. It was most interesting when it was a Jewish man crossing in his black suit and hat. It just seemed out of context.

My first signs of any discomfort came around mile 11. Too early, but my feet were starting to hurt. All week long I had issues with my left ankle/ heel hurting. This wasn't the same pain. My feet were just taking a pounding and I had not toughened them up enough. My knee bothered me a few weeks ago. That would rear its ugly head in Harlem.

The second bridge was the Pulaski bridge at the half way point. Not nearly as big as the VN. I walked the rising side, ran down the backside. It's the entry point to Queens.

This part of Queens is mostly industrial.  There were nice crowds here and they were appreciated because they had to travel a bit further to get to the race. I assume there not much housing in the area we were running in.

As soon as you enter Queens, you notice the 3rd bridge way overhead. The Queensboro bridge taking you into Manhattan. It's the second largest bridge we cross. It's the quiet before the storm. I walked up most of it trying to conserve my energy for 1st avenue. This is the portion of  the course that has traditionally had the largest and loudest crowds. It did not disappoint. 4-5 people deep. All yelling. You come off the bridge and then loop around and go under the span. There's people from the moment you hit the streets.

 Amy and Tyler were about a mile up waiting for me. They had some fruit chews and a candy bar for me. The lady next to them kept saying, 'Joe, you got to go'. She said it at least three times. I did stay their for at least 7-10 minutes. Finally, I got back to running.

1st avenue is downhill too. They say the pro runners can't win the marathon on 1st, but they can lose it. I was able to run that portion well. It was my the third favorite part of the course. The VN bridge was second. First favorite was yet to come.

Up 1st avenue you get into Harlem. I was starting to get sore at this point. More walking. Less talking. Less interaction with the crowds. I felt bad about this, since they were just as great as anyone. I don't remember much about this part of the course.  Around the 18 mile mark my garmin started to die. Low battery. I knew it wouldn't be long. I started to calculate the difference between what garmin said and what the official clocks said I thought it was an hours difference. But, with long races, my math skills suffer. I would go from thinking I had no chance of a PR, to thinking I had a great chance.

Next up was the Willis bridge into The Bronx. The Bronx must sit up higher than Manhattan. We went up and then we we got to the top, it leveled off and the went up again.

On this bridge I got to talk with a very positive lady with one leg. She had one of those cheetah legs on her left. I would learn later that it was Sarah Reinertsen (Ironman) from "The Amazing Race". That's her 2 pictures below. I entered the Bronx and got to listen to rappers and some hip hop. There was a large video board showing us running. Then we got to the final bridge.

 Back to Manhattan.  My garmin battery had died. I couldn't check my pace. Losing track of which mile I was on. My legs were tired. Very tired. I kept checking my right knee. It felt bad. I thought it must be the size of a softball. I could run short distances and then have to walk. I tried running for 50 steps and then walk for 25. That didn't work. I tried running for two stop lights and walking for one. That didn't work.

It was at this point I decided to take my long sweats off and run in my shorts. It was cool. Amy said "very cold". She and Tyler bought $1 beanies from a street vendor and they told me later how cold they were waiting for me.

 Running in just shorts must have helped. I still walked a lot on 5th avenue, but that would change. I did enjoy walking as the leaves were falling. It was beautiful. I wished i was running. I was still being given lots of encouragement from the crowds. 'You can do it, Joe'. With each shout out I got a boost of confidence and a reminder of my dad.

Finally, I made it to Central Park. I tested my legs again and I felt much better. Maybe they just froze numb. I, also, calculated my time and thought I could finish in record time. I needed to get in under the 5:42 mark that I set at the Twin Cities Marathon in 2009. Could I do it? Of course not. My math was askew. But, at the time I didn't know it.

I was motivated. My legs felt better and I was going to PR. . Amy and Tyler were waiting for me around mile 24. I looked for them. I wanted my jacket, that Tyler carried around all day. It was getting cold. I couldn't find them and ran by.  I was passing runners a dozen at a time. I felt great. I knew I'd still have some walk breaks, but I felt they would be few at this time. I would hear fans yell, 'way to go Joe'.

 I turned onto Central Park South and thought it was Columbus Circle. I was confused by all the tall buildings to my left. But, it was almost a magical place to run. It was my favorite part of the marathon from that circle until the finish. I ran most of it. Took 2 or 3 walk breaks (5-10 secs) to snap a few pics and get a breather. I then was running.I figured I was doing about an 11 minute pace, just as fast as I was at the start of the race. This, after I was down for the count back in Harlem.

The last 386 yards is uphill. Didn't matter to me. I was passing people and trying to get a PR that was lost 8 minutes prior. I finished with a huge smile, grasping for air. I was 'hands on my knees' when a medical volunteer asked me if I was okay. 'Yes, I just finished the best marathon on the planet', I told him.


Getting to and leaving a 50,000 runner marathon is a logistical nightmare. I left my hotel 5 hours before I was scheduled to run. Had to take a train, boat and bus to get to the start line. Leaving the finish was difficult too. It involved a mile long walk. It felt much further. First, we got our medals and a big congratulations. Then we got our mylar blankets to keep us warm. They were needed, since it was cold. Then we walked further to get our snack packs. I was too tired to reach in it. There was no place to sit, I marched on. All I wanted was a bench. A Siamese standpipe would have worked. Finally, I spotted a curb that was higher than normal. I sat by myself and watched as runner after runner slowly and silently paraded past me. We were all hurting. Some were be assisted and turning into the med tent. I wanted to stop in for some aspirin or ibuprofen. But, the line was too long. I called Amy. Instead of meeting near the finish, we decided to meet back near our hotel at the Port Authority. Then we could find a restaurant. I still had to get standing and finish getting to the subway. This was uphill. I finally made it to Central Park west and being in the 'no baggage, early exit' group I was going to get a free fleece lined orange cape. It was heaven. Free subway rides for marathoners and I was back to the PA.

I got a dozen congrats from total strangers, not counting the dozens of congrats from the medical and finish line volunteers.

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