Fantastic. Epic. Amazing. My post run goodie bag is full of superlatives.
What a cool event. My other majors are Boston and Chicago, and this one may be tops. Boston to me celebrates the heralded act of racing marathons. It took me ten years to get there, and there was nothing like it. New York City Marathon, however, seemed to celebrate running marathons, and everyday humans doing so. It was such a melting pot of fans and runner types.
As with all big marathons, you feel like you are at the center of the universe over marathon weekend. The energy of the city was amazing, and had me so stoked to run. Waiting 2 years for it to happen certainly added to the usual trepidation and anticipation. Out my window, the Empire State Building was lit up in orange and blue. You could see the runner’s spirit in the eyes of people everywhere. The whole area thumped with the heartbeat of the marathon.
As jam-packed as it is to move around New York, getting 50,000 runners to the starting line on Staten Island is a logistical miracle. I took the ferry rather than bus, which has got to be the best way to go. Folks getting bussed to the start had to be there at the same time my alarm went off. The subway to the ferry to the bus all flowed so smooth, and was a nice build up. How often do you get to float by the Statue of Liberty on your way to a race?
The corral system worked great. Despite being in the largest marathon in the known universe, you are part of a much smaller group in your own corral. I had some good chats and what’s better is, you nearly have your own personal porta –potty. I mistakenly waited for 20 minute in line outside of the corral, but I went 2 times right before the start and waited zero… that’s right ‘zero’ wait at the porta-potties seconds before the start. Unheard of.
The start: Cannons booming. Helicopters hovering on the bridge with the pilot waving. The city spread out before you on the landscape. This is the only marathon I had tears at the start more than the finish. I had undertaken so much to get to that moment. Twice the number of long runs, two airplane rides, and it was all twice as nice.
I always feed off the energy of the crowd, but I still tend to make a marathon an introverted affair. I delve inward and let it explode outward. Not this one. This was an outside-in job. I ran on the sidelines and gave enthusiastic fist bumps to the spectators. They responded like I was the quarterback of the Jets. I don’t deserve this cheering, I wanted to say, but they made you believe you were a superhero.
I high-fived everyone under 5 feet tall I could. I slapped hands two in a row. I made it a point not to let anyone with a hand held out not to get a slap of my hand. Other runners were doing the same. It was a blast. What a diverse crowd. People were dancing in the streets. Imagine running through Disney's "It's a small world" ride and the kids all singing and cheering for you, and you give back high fives. It was like that.
And the miles flew by. Here comes another aide station I thought to myself at each mile point. I may anger some and please others with this comment, but my favorite part of the crowd was Brooklyn. They set the stage, and were an impossible act to follow.
I started with a barrage of mantras. Run as slow as you can. Sit on a bench if you have to. Walk randomly for no reason. Just go slow the first half. I knew I wouldn’t run any final time that would excite me, so tried to finish with the buzz of a progressively faster, negative split marathon. Of course I wanted to push myself and squeeze out my insides with as much effort as I could, but I knew there’d be time enough for that at the end.
I started slower than I ever ran in training. I applauded myself for running ridiculously slow miles, and as the race progressed I sped up a bit. I ran a 2:09 first half and 2:05 second. I was a Vampire at the end, feeding of the soul of the crowd, rather than a stiff-legged Zombie with decaying flesh. My last mile was the fastest of the course (which made it fun!) The final time of 4:14 was my personal worst marathon time ever. But, I DON"T CARE, I LOVE IT. I LOVE IT. If I had gone out faster, I may have finished quicker, but I could have wrecked what was an ecstatic run.
Even though I soaked up the crowd, I still resorted to my ipod from time to time. I sang “What Does the Fox Say” out loud down First Avenue, animal noises and all. I listened to “Empire State of Mind” more than once and felt like the love child of JAY Z and Alicia Keys. The Beastie Boys boomed in my head, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn.”
If you were running for time, the hilly bridges, the packed aid stations, and the 20 mile per hour winds in your face probably made it difficult. If you were running to eat bananas and chocolate on the side of the road and to make a memory burn that would last forever, this was the perfect day. This course is harder than Boston.
Periodically I would hear the crowd chanting “Go Home Team”. This was the name of the Covenant House charity group I raised funds for. It is an organization close to my family’s heart back at home. Last year I connected directly with the charity group, this year I was a bit more removed. Still, I saw other ‘Home Team’ runners and we didn’t have to speak, just made eye contact and pointed to our shirts. A secret society indeed. This was the shirt we wore:
When I approached Central Park, I was having a flash back to a year ago, when I ran 20 miles on the day of the canceled marathon with thousands of other runners. This was our dream deferred day. How bizarre that it took a year and 4 hours, 14 minutes to get to the finish.
Last year, my wife and daughter came with me, but it didn’t make sense to our bank account to do it again, so I took a solo trip. This had me talking to many more runners and taking up conversations randomly. I asked you where you were from. I listened to your training ailments. I eavesdropped and dipped in to your conversations. I stood in line for an hour to get my knee taped up by the KT tape group and didn’t look at my watch… I wandered the streets of Greenwich Village like an old, eccentric man with a hat on who may or may not be sleeping on the streets. Conversations with cab drivers ended too quickly.
Ironically, with the massive spectator crowd, and how in-depth the online runner tracking is (you could follow a runner through the whole course on satellite), my family was able to know what was going on more than if they had been in New York. I got a phone call moments after getting my medal that felt as good as the medal itself.
There were some downfalls to the event, but I was so drunk from the run I didn’t notice. Weekends like these are part of what help me stay sober, because you don’t’ find Gotham-sized highs like this very often. If you are looking for an event that’s worth the effort of raising funds for, I got to believe this would be your best pick. Count me in as a contributor.