Last Sunday I finished a little run around the five boroughs, aka the NYC Marathon, my fourth time through. This is not so much a race report as a psychological profile, and I apologize for its mega-length, but I'll do my best to at least be entertaining.
I had a rough training season, as you all know. Between starting a new career and starting, um, a new phase in my female life (how's that for euphemism?) I was putting in the miles, and putting in the effort, but seeing little result. In fact, I was getting slower and slower with each run, and the miles were getting harder and harder to complete. It was devastating, as I was really hoping to break four hours this year, and as the months ticked by, it was becoming less and less of a possibility. I was beginning to wondering if I even had it in me to complete the distance.
Coaches Ann and Jeff were amazing, offering lots of support and advice -- not just about running, but how to mentally approach the race and deal with the difficulties I've been having. I also saw a hypnotist -- don't laugh! -- to help me change my attitude about the race and reinforce what my coaches were saying. (more on this in a minute.) As race day approached, I wasn't nervous, or upset, or anything. I was strangely at peace. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen.
After a Team breakfast and a picture in Duffy Square, we arrived to a muddy Staten Island. This was the first year NYRR offered a charity village for all the charity teams, and Fred's Team scored a tent! Of course, it was just as muddy inside the tent as outside, despite the bunches of hay that had been thrown in there, so we put garbage bags down and laid in our muddy manger for a while. The temps were in the low 50s, warm enough not to really need a heavy throwaway outfit, so I wore the clothes I intended to wear post-race and tried not to get them too dirty. Fortunately, I had worn a second pair of shoes and socks, which were quickly ruined in the mud. Most people tied bags around their feet. (Note to Caroline -- don't bring scented gargabe bags next year!!)
Time to line up. Once again, I'm in the green corral (NY has three corrals. The green corral runs on the lower roadway of the Verrazano, orange and blue run on top) and once again, the green corral was all f-ed up. There are three wave start times for the runners -- 9:40, 10:00 and 10:20. I was in wave 2. I was in the second-to-last corral of the second wave of the green start. I actually entered the corral at 9:30am for a 10:00am start. 9:40, the cannons boom and the runners are off! You can see them from the green corral, and we all cheered and waved. 10:00, the cannons boom, runners are off -- and we don't move. Not again!! This happened to me two years ago, and I didn't cross the start line until after 11:00, over an hour late. They only let the first half of the green corral go out with the second wave, and our part of the corral didn't get to go until the third wave. Time-wise, it doesn't matter, since you're timed when you cross the start line, but I had people waiting for me, and I really wanted to get to MSKCC to see the kids, even though Liam wasn't going to be among them.
Finally -- cannons, "New York, New York," and we're off!
There were already people walking as we started up the Verazzano, which is Mile 1. Not people on the Galloway program -- walkers. Not that I'm much faster, but I do run the whole thing. Our coach always advises us not to try to pass people in the first few miles, so that we don't add more distance to the race or burn out too early. Tuck behind someone slow and get yourself warmed up. But if that someone is walking, I do need to step around them. The bridge was also super-windy. People who were still wearing plastic bags and coats were getting blown all over the roadway.
The green start follows a different course for the first three miles, off the bridge and onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway exit ramp, until we rejoin the blue corral on 4th Avenue. Some folks manage to get down to the BQE to cheer, as they do every year, and I'll never figure out how they managed to do that! But the general lack of spectators gave me a chance to find my groove.
The first few miles ticked off pretty fast, and I felt great. My times, however, not so much. I quickly realized that not only was I not going to break four hours, 4:30 was probably not too likely, either. And my PR on the course is 4:12. So somewhere around mile 6 or 7, I just said to myself, "It's not worth it to get upset. Let's just run it and have a good time." And I stopped checking the mile splits and just ran. (It was also helpful that, as the third wave, the timing clocks at each mile marker were completely off. I mean, I know I'm slow, but it didn't take me 58 minutes to cross the Verazzano!)
Now, this is something that even three weeks ago, I wouldn't be able to do. Not reaching my time goal would have sent me into a tailspin and ruined the day. I would have felt every ache and pain, and spent the next four hours feeling sorry for myself. Granted, as a charity runner, I always have the cause I run for as a source of inspiration, and even at the lowest point of my training, I would think about my buddy Liam, and pull myself together. This time, I wasn't going to that "bad" place. I was happy where I was at that moment. I wasn't there to break a time goal or to win -- although I'm still figuring out a way to disqualify the 28,000 or so people who finished ahead of me -- I was there to run.
So, attitude adjusted, it was on through the non-stop party known as Brooklyn.
The first half of the marathon is run in Brooklyn. It's very flat, and very boisterous, and the half is done almost before you know it. There are two spots in Brooklyn I especially love -- there's a church choir that comes out and sings (it's my understanding that they used to get peeved at how the marathon disrupted things, then they decided to embrace it) and it's always just thrilling to hear them. There's also a student marching band that plays nothing but the "Rocky" theme over and over, and I think this year they actually sounded good.
Over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens. There were some minor course changes in Brooklyn and Queens, and I realized as we came off the Pulaski that the spot my parents normally stake out wasn't part of the route any more. There used to be a hairpin off the Pulaski, and then again onto Vernon, and my parents set themselves up at the hay bales by Vernon. They eliminated the hairpin turns, I guess to make it safer for the wheelchairs and handcyclists, and had us coming down a different street. I figured that if I stayed to the left, they'd be there somewhere, and I was right. My parents, brother, and his three little girls were there to cheer Tante Marci on. The oldest had even printed a "Go, Marci go!" sign all by herself. A few kisses, a few sweaty hugs, and on we go!
Over the Queensborough Bridge, and this year was the first time I thought the bridge was brighter than usual. I remember the bridge to be dark, almost indoors. I don't know why. Not this year. It was, however, as quiet as usual as we went up the one-mile incline. And then we begin our initial descent into Manhattan, to the roar of the crowd.
Onto First Avenue and the best part of the race, running past MSKCC! The photographers was there, and all the volunteers, and when they see a Fred's Team runner they go wild!! One of the volunteers grabbed me as I hit 67th Street and said "Come meet the children!" and ran me over to where two of the kids were sitting and watching. They were no bigger than peanuts, sitting on their parents laps, all bundled up and attached to various machines and gizmos, yet they had little cheer sticks and big smiles. I said hello to them, and said how glad I was that they could come out to cheer, thank you so much!! Slapped hands with everyone there, and on my way, heart full and feet newly light.
The only problem with MSKCC being at Mile 17 is that you feel so good after seeing everyone there, you almost forget you've got nine more miles to go. Almost. Up past the wet sponge stop (aka the Slip and Slide) and the Power Bar stop, and it's over the Willis Avenue Bridge into Da Bronx.
As usual, the Bronx is hopping. Two DJ booths and a Japanese drum group in just a one-mile stretch. The bridge is Mile 20, but for me, there was no wall. Just an acceptance of soreness and the desire to move forward.
Over the Madison Avenue Bridge (barely a speed bump) and back into Manhattan. Up Fifth Avenue to Mount Morris Park, and wouldn't you know it, I again miss the choir. I always arrive too late to hear the choir!! There was some nice jazz singing on the north side of the park, though.
The stretch between 125th and 89th, the entrance into Central Park, is notorious, especially between 110th and 90th, because it's uphill. Not a huge incline, but just enough that you feel it. Lots of walkers at that point. My strategy for the past few years has been to keep my eyes focused on the people in front of me, so I don't see the grade. After all, if I don't see the hill, it doesn't exist. Right? Get to the Park entrance and see the second Fred's Team cheering section there. Just the boost I need to get me the last two and a half miles.
At this point, I was on auto-pilot. Just kept chugging away. Stayed close to the crowds and visualized the rest of the course: Down, up, down, around, up, in, up, and done. Down Cat Hill (a relief, but it's really hard to go downhill at the tail end of a marathon,) up the little speed bump at 72nd Street, down the exit ramp to 5th Avenue (stopping at Mile 25 for water, because I was so dehydrated at that point, even after stopping to drink at all but one water station,) across 5th to Central Park South, up Central Park South, which in years past I dreaded, it being both uphill and somehow stretching to three times its normal length (remember that scene in "Poltergeist," where the mom is getting ready to run down the hall, and the hall suddenly elongates? That's what Central Park South feels like.) This year, just pushed ahead. Didn't even hear the crowd.
Back up onto Columbus Circle and back into Central Park, making sure my bib number was clearly visible -- that's where the bandits get yanked -- up that last little hill as the crowds cheered, and...
Harrie finished right around the same time as me, and we hugged and made our way past the medal station, the photo station, the heat shield station, the heat shield sticker station, and the food bag station. It was so much more crowded than in years past as we shuffled to the Cherry Hill turn-off (charity runners are taken to the center of the Park, to be reunited with our teams and our baggage.)
There were a number of Teammates who didn't run NY this year, either due to injury, or because they ran Chicago, or just 'cause. But they are Teammates, and they all volunteered to be at Cherry Hill to help the runners. Nicole got me and walked me up the hill. She said, "Do you need me to carry your bag?" meaning my food bag. I held it out mutely and stared at it. Did she need to carry it? "I'll take that," she said, and did. I told her I needed to go to the bathroom. She asked me if I wanted to get my clothes first. Did I? I didn't know. I wouldn't have known my name if it wasn't written on my shirt. So I stood there. Nicole said, "Go to the bathroom, I'll get your stuff." Done. She walked me over to where some of the Team was sitting. "Do you want me to get you a chair?" Did I? Did I need one? Nicole didn't even wait for me to think about this one, and quickly added, "I'll get you a chair." What a mess I was!! It took me 20 minutes to get my pants on (apparently I beat Jill -- Karen had to pool her pants on the ground, put Jill's feet in them, and pulled them up for her!)
The hardest thing about running NY, as I've said in years past, is not the marathon itself, it's getting out of Central Park once it's over. In order to leave the Park, we have to get around the runners exiting beyond the finish line. So they construct a pedestrian bridge over the roadway so the charity runners can cross OVER the runners and exit the park. That bridge is going to get its own little corner of h-e-double hockey sticks. It's like scaling Mount Everest on the ascent, and like you're a two-year-old on the descent, hanging onto the railings and taking each step two feet at a time. Though I live half a mile from the finish line, it takes me an hour to get home each year.
Ice bath (THANK YOU, Bill, my faithful ice bitch, who came back into the city just to get me two bags of ice) and then back to the hotel for a delicious dinner!
If you've stuck with me so far, thanks. I leave you with this: I ran my fourth NYC Marathon in 4:39 and change. Not my worst time, but close to it. But I am really not upset about it. A little disappointed, yes, but not upset. Here's why. In my zeal to conquer the mythic four-hour time goal, I forgot the real reason I run -- I love it. And while I don't really love running marathons, I do love the cause I run marathons for. Fortunately, I remembered that love just in time. Knowing that I was going to conquer the distance even after such a questionable training season, and seeing the faces of the kids at MSKCC light up when I came by -- well, who cares about the time? And while I will most likely keep trying to break four hours, because I am a glutton for punishment, it will no longer be the be-all and end-all of my running existence. I want to be a better runner, but I want to be a better person more. And that's what I'm going to work towards.
PS: I did break one record -- I managed to go to the bathroom eight times between waking up and starting the marathon!