Sunday, November 11, 2007

NYC Marathon 2007 Part Two (kind of long!)

11/4/07, 4:00am, didn't even need the alarm.

Checked and re-checked the bag, then headed to the Crowne Plaza (the Team meets for breakfast beforehand, takes the team photo in Times Square, then heads to Staten Island. After the race there's a Team dinner in the same spot.)

There was a breakfast buffet laid out in the ballroom, and the tables had markers and white-out for shirt decoration, plus nifty Fred's Team temporary tattoos. Choked down half a bowl of oatmeal and half a bagel with honey and banana (my usual pre-race meal) but I couldn't eat. Sipped Gatorade instead, and enjoyed my half cup of coffee. No more than that, I didn't want a repeat of last year having to use the bathroom during the race. I've been experimenting during our last early AM long runs with having only a little coffee, and it did help. I figured the adrenaline would make up for what the caffeine couldn't. Besides, my gels had caffeine in case I started jonesing.

I also had to show off my invention. The weather reports were so screwy, even the night before they were predicting anywhere from 40 to 60 degrees F. A bunch of us were completely baffled about what to wear. I knew that my base outfit would be the short-sleeve Team shirt and shorts, but I didn't want to wear another shirt on top. So on Saturday night I came up with a brilliant idea. I got a pair of diabetic socks from the Duane Reade and cut the toe box off. Instant arm warmers! Because they're diabetic socks the elastic isn't so tight, and they were Coolmax to boot! My elbow fit right in the heel pocket, and as long as I kept my arms bent they looked great. No, actually they looked like socks on my arms, but I didn't care. Besides, they're no worse than the gray and pink velour jumpsuit I bought for $20 to wear at Fort Wadsworth. I figure since the clothes are donated to the Salvation Army, might as well leave something that someone might actually want to wear. At least in Staten Island. Oh, snap!

Devastated to find out that coach Annie decided to bow out of the race that morning. She hadn't been feeling well -- cold and cough -- and knew that running the marathon wouldn't be a smart idea. I said it in the earlier post, Annie is one of the only people I know who listens to her own good advice, even if it's not what her heart may want to do. I would have chosen to run anyway and paid the price for it, as I'm sure many others would. That's one of the reasons Annie's such a good coach.

Breakfast, picture, on the bus. The elites take the first bus, but the "core" Team members, the ones who go to the workouts, also take the first bus. This year's police escort was a car, not motorcycles, so not as spectacular, but still -- a police escort to Fort Wadsworth is cool!

At the Fort, the Team spread out in the parking lot by the UPS trucks. Some napped, some stretched, some of us found the Brightroom folks and took our pre-race photos. There didn't appear to be anything majorly different about the set-up there, and yet everything seemed to be much easier to access than last year, from the food to the porta-potties.

Speaking of which -- twice at the hotel, twice on the bus. Total before 8:00am -- 4. Twice more once we arrived at the Fort makes 6. And it was confirmed at the post-race reception, there were indeed more porta-potties at the Fort. THANK YOU, NYRR!!!!!!! Average wait time at the Fort was 5 minutes, as opposed to 45 last year. Hey, it's the little things!

Time to line up. On my way to the green start, one more pit stop (7 -- tied last year's record!)

And I'm walking

and walking

and walking

and walking

Where the heck am I lining up, New Jersey?

I started to worry. I knew I was going to be super far back, but this was ridiculous.

In case you didn't read my earlier posts, there are three start corrals -- orange, blue and green. The green corral uses the lower roadway, the others use the upper. Each corral runs a slightly separate course for the first 8 miles, then all the corrals converge. There was construction on the lower roadway, so instead of ditching the green corral, NYRR decided to start the green corral in waves to compensate for there only being half a roadway. A good idea in theory, but as you will read, it didn't quite work.

We were so far back we had no loudspeakers to let us hear the opening ceremony, and we could barely hear the cannon. We DID have a nice view of the bridge, and we all started cheering as the runners started across.

And we didn't budge.

For 30 minutes.

And the upper roadway emptied out.

And we STILL didn't budge.

And another ten minutes went by. Workers came by and started cleaning up the discarded clothes.

And we STILL didn't budge.

Finally, at 10:45, we started moving towards the start line. 11:00am, and I'm off!!

They had already packed up the sound system and had started dismantling the starting line. Not the most inspiring way to begin the NYC Marathon! We had already gone past excitement into boredom and plain old resignation by the time we started moving, and this was just completely dispiriting. The guy starting the green corral did his best to make us feel special, and your time depends on when you cross the start mat, not when the cannon fires, but you know, I wanted to hear "New York, New York!"

In retrospect, they should have halved the size of the green corral -- split the last two waves between the orange and blue corrals. Hindsight's always 20/20, of course, and I know that NYRR had no way of knowing that it would take as long as it did to move the green corral out. I spoke to Mary Wittenberg -- president of NYRR -- a little at the Fred's Team post-marathon reception and when I mentioned that I didn't even cross the start mat until 11am she got visibly upset. I wasn't mean about it or anything, I just said that I didn't cross until 11 and it was kind of sad, but it was what it was.

(small tangent: I did get nervous about saying anything negative to Mary at the reception, because the paranoid part of me thinks that I got hosed number-wise because I had complained earlier in the year about disruptive behavior at a couple of the races. I don't want to get myself, or the Team, in trouble with NYRR. I mentioned this to Jeff, told him that when she asked me how my experience was and I told her about the problems I had and was that the wrong thing to do, he said no, she asked because she wanted to hear. I do believe that NYRR is very willing to listen and make improvements to the marathon. Even with my limited experience I could see how much better organized things were in general this year, which I did mention as well. )

Back to the race!

Let's break it down by borough:

No worries about getting "rained on" on the Verrazano, as there was nobody above us. Over the bridge, and then instead of getting right into the street, the green corral continues on the roadway (the BQE?) for about another half a mile before heading up the exit ramp and onto the street. I was amazed that there were still people there, we took so long to arrive!

Now, there was a good side to the wave start -- the first 8 miles were relatively clear sailing. I was able to hang back for the first 5 or 6, then I started moving up with not too much traffic to contend with. The first half of the race is Brooklyn, and it's flat.

The unforeseen problem with the wave start occured at mile 8, when the 3 corrals converge. I had moved up and found a group of people who were running at about the pace I wanted to be at for a while, and then the faster part of the green corral ran into the slower part of the orange and blue corrals. Suddenly the 4:30 greens were battling the 5:30 and 6:00 oranges. I don't think anyone figured this was going to happen -- again, I don't think NYRR realized how long it would take to get the greens across the bridge -- but when it did, MAN, did it suck. The next 4 miles (actually the next 18 miles) were spent trying to push past the 5:30 pace groups who were walking 10 abreast, packs of slower runners who would stop dead right in front of me, and people who were MAKING AND RECEIVING CELL PHONE CALLS. More on that in a second. I didn't want to waste a lot of effort trying to get around everyone, but I didn't have a choice. I compensated by holding back a little and not trying to push.

Mile 13.1 -- 2:06. About 5 minutes faster than I thought. I remember thinking wow, does that mean I'm going to run the second half in 2 hours? Hmmm....(well, we all know I didn't, so no surprise there)

About those cell phones...there was an article a couple of weeks prior to the marathon, saying the USATF was working to ban headphones and MP3 players from major road races, and the article mentioned that for the NYC Marathon, NYRR knew that it would be fruitless to police 39,000 runners, so they weren't going to try, but they always strongly suggest that you don't wear any -- and really, why would you want to cover up the sound of a half a million people cheering for you? But you know, the real problem is not headphones, it's cell phones. In general I hate them, and in specific I hate seeing people on the phone either at the gym, on the run, or most of all in the car. I mean, how important is that call? From the ones I have had to listen to, not important at all. There were so many people on the phone DURING THE MARATHON that I almost starting yelling at them, but I didn't want to waste the energy. Now, I don't mean those who call ahead to the people waiting for them to alert them, "I'm three blocks away!" That's cool. I'm talking about -- I kid you not -- "Hello? Oh, hi! How are you? What's up? Good. Oh, really? Wow. No, I'm running the marathon now. Marathon. The marathon. 26 miles. Yeah, I'm running it right now. So, what's new?" Weaving all over the place, paying no attention to people like me trying to get around them. Idiot. And it's 26 POINT TWO, you moron.

There was a moment in Brooklyn that does stand out. Somewhere around Mile 10 I remember thinking -- for the first time in years I am running with no foot pain and no back pain. My tendonitis isn't flaring up. I'm breathing fine, I'm in the best shape of my life. I am the luckiest person alive. And a feeling of happiness washed over me so strongly that I almost started to cry.

Leaving Fourth Avenue for the couple of turns that take us to the Pulaski, I passed my first "core" Teammate, Natalie. She's running her first marathon in 15 years. How cool is she?

Over the Pulaski and into Queens

QUEENS, miles 14-16
The best part of Queens is that my family was waiting for me in LIC. Not just my parents, but my brother and sister-in-law and their three little girls! A lot of the Fred's Team runners saw them as they passed, they were psyched to have a cheering section in Queens! My brother told me later that some TV cameras shot footage of the girls when they first got there. It was great to see them, and I was amazed that the kids were still there, me being about 45 minutes later than I estimated I'd be (I thought I'd start at 10:30) and the girls being 4, 2 and 6 months. But both my brother and my parents said the girls had a good time and were very well-behaved. One quibble -- mom, open the water bottle beforehand, will ya, and take it from me when I'm done? That's okay, I know you're not sports-oriented, hee hee! Like I said, she was just trying to stall me to get me to finish in 4:12:12 so she could win the contest. Sorry, family members are not eligible to participate (!)

Started passing Teammates I knew, which made me feel a little better about starting so late, but I couldn't help wondering where I would've been had I started closer to the cannon. I knew it wouldn't affect my time, but it was a psychological thing. Before the marathon I was hoping to cross under the clock at 4:30 (the time on the clock, not the actual time of day,) now I was thinking I'd cross over 5:00. And I really wanted to make it to MSKCC and see the kids before they had to get back upstairs!

I am told that the Queensboro Bridge is the hardest hill in the marathon, but we were trained so well I barely felt it. Same as last year -- thanks to all the hellacious hill training, they were a real non-issue.

On the bridge itself, it's quiet. There are sections where it's pitch black (it's fun, everybody goes "oooooooh!" and makes ghosty noises, but of course you can't see your feet, so a little scary.) A nice place to gather yourself for the final 10. Towards the end of the ramp Asics had put up some signs, like a Burma Shave thing, one sign every 20 feet or so, I wish I could remember exactly what they said, but I do remember they really psyched me up. They were something like, "If you've never been psyched / About running 10 miles / Now's your chance / Final ten miles / start / NOW"

MANHATTAN part 1, miles 16-20
Oh, and PS: I stink at numbers. I've been saying all year that LIC is at mile 15 -- it's 14 -- and that MSKCC is at mile 18 -- it's mile 17. So the miles, I'm pretty sure I'm within, oh, a mile of accuracy!

First Avenue, what can I say? I'm a rock star!

Fred's Team runners start moving to the right, that's where the cheering section is.

And just before I got to MSKCC, I spotted my roomate, Laura, who snapped this picture of me:

What, can't you spot me? Look to the far right:

There I am!

(those are my gray gloves pinned to my shorts. I thought my hands might be cold later on, and I didn't want to throw them away.)

Jill, the other Team runner in the picture, is the head of the pediatrics unit at MSKCC, and it was so great to be with her when we got there. The cheering section went up like a house on fire, and I pretended some of it was for me, too. Okay, I didn't pretend, I know some was for me, too! For years Jill was the one who coordinated getting the kids downstairs to cheer. At last year's reception, she gave an amazing speech about knowing how much the Team meant to them, and wanting to be a part of it. Last year was Jill's first marathon.

I was so happy to be there and see the Fred's Team crowd!!

Slapped hands with everyone on the line, and I was off, with renewed energy!

Jeff always warns us not to sprint up First Avenue with the extra adrenaline from seeing the kids, so I paced myself. Wasn't difficult -- it was super-crowded again, and folks were starting to flag. Not me, although I was really looking forward to the Power Gel station at mile 18. I had gels with me, so it wasn't the issue of needing a gel, just the timing.

Fuel-wise I was doing really well. I stopped at all the water stations except one for water and/or Gatorade. I was relying more on the Gatorade than on the gels, as I had done during training. I took a Succeed salt tablet at miles 6 and 15, and my AirAides at the start and at mile 7 (they take about 90 minutes to work) AirAide is an herbal supplement I heard about this year that is supposed to increase lung capacity and aid stamina. Does it work for real? I don't know, but I will tell you this -- once I started using them, I had no trouble running in high-pollen areas. I also took a gel at 7 and 13. At this point I felt terrific, no cramps, no strain, running well, just getting a little tired.

I realized this year that I wasn't slapping hands as much this year, but what I was doing was saying "Thank you!" and waving at anyone who acknowledged me. I think it was because I was spending way too much time trying to get around people, I needed to keep my eyes on the road.

Over the Willis Ave Bridge. This is the narrowest bridge. There were so many people walking up the bridge that those of us trying to run up it got stuck, with no way to maneuver around them. One guy bellowed, "WALKERS, MOVE TO YOUR RIGHT!" and only one person moved. "WALKERS TO THE RIGHT, PLEASE!!" Nothing. And then it dawned on both of us -- nobody spoke English! The perils of an international field. So I'm sitting there trying to remember, gauche or droit -- which is "right?" Before I could really ponder it, the bellowing guy started shoving people out of the way, and I followed in his wake.

DA BRONX, mile 21
Can I just say the Bronx was HAPPENING! The biggest problem with this stretch is that it's mostly an industrial zone, and I remember last year it was dead. This year it was the best borough! There were 2 DJ booths, and people lining the entire mile! That was so cool that everyone made the effort. It was really appreciated. There was a small Fred's Team section right by the Madison Avenue Bridge.

Starting to get tired again, but no cramps, no leg pains.

MANHATTAN, part 2, miles 22-26
Almost home! And yet, I have to say that I really hate it when spectators say "Almost home!" I would prefer "Looking good!" and "Good job!" but you know, I'll take anything!! I tried to pick up the pace, but it was just too crowded. I would speed up to pass people, but as soon as I could start opening up, another logjam, and I'd have to slow down, try to get around them, etc. etc. It was getting frustrating. I ran a really smart race and had my big finish in the tank, and now I couldn't let it out.

From 110th to 90th, the entrance to Central Park, is uphill. I remember having a lot of trouble here last year, and I did slow down a bit when we ran the final 10 miles a few weeks earlier. So I put my head down and charged -- as best I could. I kept knocking into people as I tried to push past them -- not nastily, accidentally, but it was getting ridiculous. There were so many more walkers than runners there was no clear path.

90th Street, the entrance to the Park. Shoved my way inside and tried again to pour on the sauce, but again, too crowded. Someone took pictures of various team runners at the entrance, including our Team. Here's the proof photo of what I looked like -- a hot mess!

Some people did get cold during the race, I was broiling. As you can see! At this point I looked at the clock and realized that I could make it to the finish line under 5:00 (again, not the actual time, but the time from the opening cannon)

Down the stretch of the East Drive, and blessedly down Cat Hill. How could people be WALKING DOWN CAT HILL? It's practically MADE for running down! I flew down the hill as best as I was able. Up and over the nasty little hill just beyond the transverse, and BAM, there's a press truck taking up half the roadway. Maneuvered around it (maybe I was caught on camera?) and down the winding exit towards 59th and 5th.

My feet felt like lead, although my legs still felt great. I stopped at the mile 25 water station to get one last hit of fuel, then out of the Park and up Central Park South. Again, an uphill, I put my head down and charged again, weaving as best I could through the throngs. As I neared Columbus Circle I heard someone say "You're an inspiration!" That made me happy.

At the entrance to Columbus Circle I crashed into the guy who stands at the entrance saying "Good job runners, watch your step" because you have to step up onto the sidewalk. Hee hee!

Continue running uphill...still passing people...

I don't feel my legs...

400 yards to go...300...200...

My sweatband is so wet it's dripping into my eyes, I take it off but there's nowhere to throw it so I just hang onto it...I stop my watch so my finish line photo will be heads up...

And DONE!!!

I crossed the finish line in 4:52:40, which -- believe it or not -- is the time I crossed under the clock LAST YEAR!

I literally yelped with joy, and let out a big sob. I high-fived the race volunteer at the finish line moving the runners through and screamed "YEAH! THAT WAS GREAT!!" I got to the medal guys and as he handed me one I said "Hell no, put it on me!" And he did! Got my heat shield, my baggie with Water and Gatorade, and headed towards Cherry Hill.

At the transverse a Fred's Team volunteer saw the "honored guest" sticker on my bib, pulled me out of the crowd and walked me up to Cherry Hill. We stopped to clip my chip, and he went to get my bag for me. I thought about keeping the chip, but I've got enough souvenirs from this race -- tendonitis, shin splints...

Jeff, Annie, Karen and Erica were waiting there. They were stunned when they heard my time -- I was arriving so late they assumed I was in the 4:40s. There were so much good news! A lot of people made, or beat their goal times. More than a few BQed! Unfortunately, we did have at least 1 casualty. David, the one who impersonated Bono in my earlier post, hadn't recovered as fully as he had hoped from a knee injury he suffered during Grete's Gallop, and it went out on him at the halfway point. Injured, he still managed to pull a 3:19, although he had been hoping for an under-3:00 (last year he did 3:13.)

All of the finishers are amazing regardless of their times, but here are two extra-special ones: Matt Farver, two years after treatment for cancer at MSKCC, finished his second NYC Marathon in an astounding 2:52. And Harrie Bakst, who finished treatment at MSKCC in June, finished his first NYC Marathon four months later in an incredible 4:52, with older brother Rich by his side.

We are all so lucky to live at a time when such stories are possible, and luckier still to be able to give back to the place that makes these stories possible.

Next up -- my trip to MSKCC!

1 comment:

The Laminator said...

Hi Marci...been reading your stories over the past month or so. Very inspiring. Great race report by the way. Thank you for sharing the story with the rest of us. Sorry the green wave start was so rough for you. Best of luck and continued success in your running.