I'm now back at home and had a chance to get my life back into work mode today. If anyone knows how to replicate last week over and over and over again and still make money, please tell me. I had an absolutely amazing time in NYC and the marathon was the best out of the three I have ran so far. It was my worst time on the clock, but the best experience hands down. I went in with no time expectations and the mentality I was just going to have fun, enjoy the ride, and soak it all in. NYC didn't disappoint.
First off, I have to say that organization of this race was top notch. They made it seem easy to get 45,000 people from Manhattan and surrounding areas over to Staten Island. My ferry was supposed to leave at 7:15 AM, but when I got to the South Ferry area it was apparent there was going to be a delay. There weren't any ferries present, but everyone was just hanging out and enjoying the shelter from the cold. About 7:30 or so, two ferries showed up and we made our way through the crowd to get on a ferry. I say we, because on the subway ride to the station, I met a woman from Sweden and we stuck together until we got to Staten Island. Along the way, we also ran into a Brooklyn native who was also running the Chicago/NYC double, so we all hung out on the ferry. The ferry provides a great view of the Manhattan skyline and takes you very near the Statue of Liberty. It's a great opportunity to snap a few photos and relax with new friends. After the ferry, the race organizers had lines of buses waiting to take us to the start corral. The lines for buses were painless, quick, and organized. It was about a 10 minute ride to the start area so it gave me a chance to eat my 2nd breakfast in the warmth of the bus. After arriving at the start area, there were lines and lines of porta-potties everywhere so the wait for the bathroom was very painless and I found a spot on the ground and sat down for about 30 minutes. I actually took my iPhone with me on this trip too because I was expecting a lot of downtime waiting on the start. This happened to not be the case. I did snap some pictures and post to Facebook/Twitter, but really I didn't even need my phone for entertainment purposes. About 30 minutes before my wave started at 10:10, I made my way to the start corrals and found a spot on the ground there to wait out the remaining time. All in all, a very painless, organized start to the world's largest marathon. Kudos to the New York Road Runners and volunteers for making it so easy.
A little before 10:10, they started walking us to the base of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge where they did the usual announcements, hoopla, and singing of the national anthem. After the national anthem, they fired the starting gun and immediately started blaring Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York". It was awesome seeing everyone smiling, singing, and enjoying themselves before setting off on a 26.2 mile journey together. It only took me 4 or 5 minutes to cross the start, and then it was straight up the V-N bridge for the first mile. The immediate hill was a little unnerving because it was hard to tell how fast I should be running, how much effort I was putting forth, and just the overall state of my legs. I hadn't ran since Chicago, so it was a leap of faith that everything was going to work correctly in the first place. I had concerns about my knee and my right foot that had developed arch pain the last week leading up to the race. I used KT Tape on both areas and crossed my fingers that all was going to go smoothly. The bridge didn't do me any favors, especially the long downhill portion, but I left Staten Island fairly happy with the first couple of miles.
The first part of Brooklyn was not overly packed with spectators, but there was support throughout the course except on the bridges. The good thing about NYC, compared to Chicago is that all 3 waves also had 3 corral colors. The first 8 miles of the course had all 3 colors separated onto their own course before all joining together at mile 8 near the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). This provided a little breathing room and I didn't feel like I was dodging people the entire run like I was in Chicago. Nothing really special to note on the course at this point, but the spectator participation and water stops were all huge pluses throughout the course.
After BAM, the course took a turn into a fairly lengthy hill that was packed with runners as far as the eye could see. The noise level and spectator involvement on this section was very uplifting. There was music blasting, cow bells ringing, fans cheering, and runners interacting with everyone along the way. At this point I also ran into two fellow Oklahomans who were wearing their OKC Running Club t-shirts. I didn't know them, but introduced myself and made sure to catch their name so next time I saw them in OKC I could strike up a conversation. After the noise zone, we made our way into an area of Brooklyn that was a little rundown and the crowds thinned out a bit. There were several makeshift music stations set up by local artists ranging from hip-hop, folk, bluegrass, and rock on this stretch. The ethnic and cultural diversity you encounter along this course makes this marathon a very special journey. You see people from all walks of life and they all put their special mark on this marathon.
I made a pit-stop about mile 12 and burned about 5 minutes waiting in line for the bathroom. As a tip for future runners, if you can hold it until mile 16 when you enter Manhattan, there is a line of about 20-30 porta-potties under the Queensboro bridge that had no one waiting in line at them. The nature of the start of this race requires you to hydrate quite a bit beforehand, due to the time between waking up and actually starting. This required more porta-potty adventures than usual, but I was definitely much better hydrated for this race compared to Chicago, although the weather was nearly perfect in NYC - 40s, sunny, and only windy in certain sections.
After Brooklyn, we made our way into Queens following another bridge that was much less painful, but still one of those many hills thrown into this course. The nature of this course is a constant undulating course. It was never really flat. I had heard many people compare it to a cross-country type course as I was reading up on it beforehand and I would say that is a pretty accurate description. There weren't any really killer hills, but when you combine them into a 26.2 mile journey you could definitely feel it in your legs. Queens was pretty uneventful as we were only there for a couple of miles.
I had read many things about Queensboro bridge prior to the race so I knew it was coming. Mile 15 to 16 was a very lonely stretch of the race because no spectators are allowed on the bridge. Basically you run on the lower portion of the bridge and all you hear are the moans, grunts, and heavy breathing of those around you. No words are being spoken, no cheering, just the focused effort of runners trying to shove past the constant uphill battle of the bridge. The uphill wasn't too bad for me, it just seemed like it took forever to get to the crest of the hill. The downhill portion was definitely a sharper grade and this caused my knee to scream in agony. I actually came off mile 16 into Manhattan limping. My knee was throbbing with pain. It was interesting to find out this was exactly when Haile Gebrselassie withdrew from the race because of knee pain. I know exactly what he was filling. That portion of the course tore up my knee. I was really concerned at that point that the last 10 miles was going to be a complete sufferefest. Luckily enough, 1st Avenue in Manhattan can make you forget all of your pain and struggles. The course is lined 4-5 deep with spectators and it's your first taste of Manhattan. I also found my cousin around mile 17 and stopped for a photo-op and a quick hug. First Avenue was a long, slow climb which helped break up the downward pressure on my knee so I think it was a blessing in disguise. By the time I reached mile 18 or so, I started to feel better and began to soak in my surroundings. It was at this point, that I also passed the Chilean miner. He was in pretty bad shape when I saw him. He had ice on both knees and was at a slow walk at that point. Everyone was giving him encouragement though and trying to push him forward.
Between mile 19 and 20, we headed into a more desolate area of Manhattan, but there were several bands along the way and I saw several people holding up "Beer Ahead" signs. I made sure to engage everyone who held one of those signs and I got several smiles and laughs along the way. I really was craving a beer, and although I have never drank one on a course, I would have taken one at this point if it was offered up. I was having such a good time out there. Bronx was next on our list and they provided another shift in demographic and motivation. At around mile 20, there was a big cheer zone and they were blasting Alicia Key's "Empire State of Mind". I really like this song anyway, but now I will forever have that section of the course etched in my memory when I hear that song. I danced and sang my way through the block with all of the spectators and left energized, smiling, and happy. At mile 20 of the marathon, I was smiling, having fun, and loving life. That should give you a pretty good indication of this whole journey for me.
After leaving the Bronx, we entered Harlem on the north side of Manhattan and got another taste of life in NYC. It was such an interesting contrast of lifestyles. Young, old, black, white, and everything in between. After Harlem, we made our way down 5th Avenue bordering Central Park. This portion was all uphill and it felt like it. Again, it wasn't killer, it just seemed like it took forever to get to the turn into Central Park. The crowd support along this section was again overwhelming. I can't even begin to explain the masses of people shoving onto the street to see runners. Cops were having to push people back because the spectators were overflowing into the race route. It was also shaded and cool, which was nice after running 23 miles.
Just before mile 24, we made a right turn into Central Park. Oddly enough this was my first time ever in Central Park. I never got the chance in college to visit Central Park because I was there as a part of a college course and our free time was limited. It was worth the wait. Running through a crowded street in Central Park was the perfect cap to an incredible race. The rolling hills of Central Park provided a challenge, but we were so close that you could taste it. As we made our turn out of Central Park onto the last stretch before heading to Tavern on the Green, I was all smiles. Ear-to-ear. I made sure to make eye contact with every spectator I could along the way to share my joy and excitement. I was handing out high-fives to anyone who offered up a hand and thanked everyone for coming out. The people of NYC made my 3rd marathon very special. I had never let myself just soak in the experience and just roll with the punches at a race. I didn't sprint to the finish. I made sure I slapped the hand of the kid reaching through the security barrier, smiled at all those cheering, and casually made my way across the finishline in 4:22:47. It may have been my slowest time, but definitely the most enjoyable of the three. The only thing that could have made it better was having my parents there again. I'm not sure they fully realize how special it is for me to see them on the course and to have their support. They have become so actively involved in my endurance sports life. They are always asking about my training, inquiring about future races, planning trips around my schedule, and always making me feel like I'm doing something they are incredibly proud of all the time. It would have been nice to share this moment with them in person, but I know it's not possible to have them at all of my races.
After finishing, I felt great. I didn't want to die like I did in Chicago. I was tired. My legs were heavy, but I was smiling, walking fairly normal, and talking with everyone around me. After grabbing my goodie bag from the volunteers, I made my way through the finishing chute with all the others. I actually ran into my new OKC friends and we shared stories and our backgrounds. It turned out that both of them were very experienced marathoners and were pretty actively involved with the club. I look forward to running into them again. I called my mom and dad as soon as I got cell phone reception and was beaming with excitement. I then called up my coach and shared my results. He said I sounded extremely happy and commended me for another marathon finish on my limited running schedule and short span of time between Chicago and NYC. He then granted me the rest of November off to do whatever I wanted before we shift our focus to the triathlon. I have definitely followed through on that end of the deal by indulging in lots of bad food and beer. I'm sure I have gained some weight, but it's nice to relax for a bit. I already do miss training, but I know the rest is good for me. I'm a little sad the marathon will not be on my schedule for next year, but I know the next time I tackle another one, I will have learned a lot, appreciated the distance, and can give it my best effort. I feel like I have come full circle in a year. Three full marathons in 11 months. I still haven't broken 4 hours, but I know it will come with time. I learned to appreciate endurance sports for something other than constantly chasing PRs. NYC Marathon was an amazing experience. I will be returning. It had the feel of a big-time athletic event. It didn't disappoint either. I still haven't watched the NBC broadcast, but I have it DVR'ed and can't wait to relive the journey.