The New York City Marathon 2016

This blog post will be a little different than the others.  It might not end up as a coherent passage with one main theme.  More, it’s a stream-of-conscious recollection of my experiences at this year’s New York City Marathon.

As I am writing this passage a week after I ran, I’m sure some of the most poignant and special things that I wanted to remember have been lost among the crowds, thrills, and emotions of this wonderful and inspiring annual event.

A message to my dear readers – Getting through this will take a marathon effort.  It’s long. I probably told a little too much about myself here, but, since it is part of what my marathon experience was all about; it is what is is.  I hope you enjoy!

Background:

  • I ran my first New York City Marathon in 2002.  It was a life changing event. Absolutely.  I felt the love of New York City and it carried me over the 26.2 miles. That was my first marathon.  There are times when I still haven’t come off the highs I experienced that day.  It was all glory and wonder and joy.  I sometimes get teary eyed remembering that blistery cold and most wonderful day.
  • Since that first marathon in 2002, I have run 19 other marathons.  The race this year was my 20th marathon and my 6th in New York City.
  • I have enjoyed some wonderful marathons for many different reasons.  Chicago, in 2006, was one of the best experiences.  My wife and I traveled with our dear friends for a long weekend there.  We had the best time together.  I loved the city.  I ran my PR in Chicago (3:26:16).  I’ve run the Disney World Marathon twice, once as part of the Goofy Challenge. My children were much younger then… Still, I will always love using running as an excuse to visit Walt Disney World.
  • I now run marathons as “excuses” to travel to see my sons at their colleges.  I will always love using running as an excuse to see my sons.
  • As much as I have loved many of the race venues that I have experienced, inside of me nothing compares to New York.  I long to run this race every year.  A part of me absolutely lives each year for the New York City Marathon.  When I don’t get into the race (that darn lottery is tough), my heart sinks.

Race Day – PreRace:

  • For this race, it takes a marathon effort just to get to the marathon.  One reason it’s hard to set a PR in New York is the amount of time is takes just to travel to the start. The logistics are challenging to say the least.  This year, as we were car pooling, in order to get to the shuttle buses in the New Jersey Meadowlands in time, we left our home at 4:30 a.m. (My race start time was 10:40 a.m.)
  • I don’t particularly sleep well the night before a marathon.  That morning I was up at 2:15 a.m.  At 3:30 a.m., I went outside into the cool November air to soak in our hot tub and contemplate the day.  I thought, often, of the challenge ahead and looked forward to returning to that very spot many hours later to, literally, soak in the accomplishment of completing another marathon.  (In those early hours, the stars were beautiful twinkling in the sky.)
  • I was impressed with the logistics of the shuttle buses and at the start area.  In previous years, these processes were less organized and it all seemed more like hopeless confusion.  This year it all ran extremely smoothly.  Kudos to New York Road Runners (NYRR)!
  • I was surprised there was food at the starting area.  I had never before known food was available at Fort Wadsworth.  Previously, I just found a dry spot to hunker down and tried to stay warm (or I went to assist at the non-denominational worship tent).  This year, I was thrilled to get Gatorade, two Power Bars, a bagel, and a banana.  It was a regular feast!  The prized items at the start were the free Duncan Donuts knit hats. Everyone had to have one.  (Me, too, but I sent mine home with a friend who checked his bag.  I had already brought a knit hat with me.)
  • I was also thrilled to be a leader this year at the worship tent.  I find this to be an awe-inspiring, spiritual, and uplifting experience.  It is great to welcome God into the marathon experience and to share His love and spirit as part of the day.  This year I delivered two sermons (at two different services) and also helped with celebrating the Eucharist.  The feedback from the sermons (they were based, of course, on running) was very positive.
  • I was thrilled to meet a valued colleague from work at the service tent – and I was touched that he stayed with me (and my friends) to hear one of the sermons.  After the service, I enjoyed basking in his anticipation and excitement as this was his first marathon.  (We would meet again many hours later.)
  • One of my dearest friends is one of the leaders each year at the worship service.  I will always value and treasure the huge smiles he wore as he watched and listened to my (hopefully inspiring) words.  He would be running the race with his daughter (her first marathon) later that day.  That was a very special and wonderful experience for them.  I hope to one day guide my sons over the same 26.2 miles.
  • Soon it became time to depart to head for our own staring corrals.  I parted with my old friends, and newly made friends.  The start area of a marathon provides unbelievable opportunities for people to bond.  We all know what is ahead.  We’re all full of nervous anticipation.  We’re also filled with doubt and fear.  I think we appreciate the camaraderie and support.  Otherwise, the start of a marathon can be a very lonely experience.
  • Even with the friends, new and old, the start is, at times, a lonely place.
  • Before departing, I was asked by two friends to predict my finish time.  I said, “4:22:00.”  They laughed.  “Can you be more specific?” they asked.  I laughed too.  What a dumb answer!
  • I met an elderly couple on line for a port-a-john.  They were each well into their 60’s but found marathoning late in life and loved running together.  They used the marathon as a way to see the country.  This couple was from the State of Washington. They had traveled over 3,000 miles to run NYC.
  • And then I found myself, alone, amid thousands of others at my start corral waiting for the gates to open.
  • I was very happy this year that the weather was so warm.  Previous years my start experience consisted mainly of shivering.  Still, there comes a point when one has to start shedding layers.  This is always a challenge.  “Will I need these gloves” “Will I need this sweat shirt?”  “What about my hat?”  (I kept my gloves, knit hat, and a long sleeve technical shirt (which I tied around my waist).  I was glad for the gloves and hat on the course.  There were times when it was quite chilly.  The shirt just traveled the whole way with me, I didn’t untie it until the race was over and I was on my way home.  I guess I could have left it behind.

The Start:

  • The corrals opened and I found a nice curb to sit on for about 20 minutes before the area got too crowded to allow for such comfort.  I stood up knowing that the next time I’d sit would be many hours and many miles later.
  • Soon we were walking to the start.  A woman named Renee talked nervously to me.  She was from Canada.  People were excited.  Many were jumping up and down as we made our way to the start lines.  We were actually  close to front of this mass of people.  I could see the starting line.  I knew my chip time wouldn’t be that different than the clock time.  It’s not always that way when one runs New York.
  • Some people were already beginning to smell badly.  It’s a hazzard of the sport.  I hoped I wasn’t one of them.  But, what do you expect when you cram 50,000 people together for a running event?
  • I was in the “Green” corral.  This staring area would run on the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge.  I had never started on the lower half of the bridge.
  • “God Bless America” was sung beautifully.  The throngs stood at reverent attention.  That was great to see.
  • Soon a cannon blasted and we were off.  “New York, New York” blared over the speakers.  That song always hits me right in the heart.  I love New York City!

The Race:

  • Like all huge races, the start was slow.  The climb up the Verranazo Bridge wasn’t too tough.  I felt good.  I was able to scoot around slower runners, but didn’t do much of that.  The runners were orderly and calm.  The atmosphere was positive.
  • Having been a veteran of five previous New York’s, my excitement built as we started to descend the bridge.  I relish the wall of people, the cheering, and the euphoria that first greets runners as they charge into Brooklyn.
  • What a let down!  Runners coming off the lower Verrazano do not experience the first initial crowds in Brooklyn.  It’s a quiet entrance on empty lonely roads to begin the trek into this great borough.  At one point, as I was descending the bridge, I heard the familiar roar of the crowds off in the distance.  I was reminded of that sound as I pushed ever forward waiting for this course to merge with the other runners around Mile 3.
  • I felt absolutely great the first few miles.  The chill in the air on the bridge, and after, made me glad I kept the knit hat on my head.
  • Mile 3 (or so) came, and with it the crowds.  Euphoria!  This is what I love!
  • I was wearing a Superman shirt.  I did not wear my name on my shirt front as in other years, it was just the Superman shirt.  But, it began almost immediately – the cheers for Superman; the cheers for me.
  • I’ll never be able to explain how wonderful it is to see and hear people, thousands and thousands of people, looking at me and yelling “Go Superman,”  “Yeah Superman,” “You are Superman.”  I’m a far cry from Superman, a far cry, but…one tends to believe the hype after hearing it over and over.
  • I WAS SUPERMAN!
  • One might think that interacting with the crowds would slow down the runner’s time, and maybe it does, but the New York crowds fuel me.  I ran right next to them (as I always do) and gave high fives, hand slaps, and felt enveloped by their love.  When I felt particularly energetic, I’d yell to the crowds, “Yeah Brooklyn!” “I love Brooklyn,” “Brooklyn Rules,” or, simply, as loud as I could “BROOKLYN!!!!”  The responses I’d get gave me extra energy to keep moving forward.  I just love the crowds, the people, and the unique character of New York.
  • I love the grimy, gritty, edgy, streets.  I love the tough aspect of New York.  It’s a hard city – a tough city.  I’m anything but tough, but I embrace all of this on Marathon Day.
  • The miles seemed to pass quicker than they should have.  It seemed every few minutes I’d pass through water stations and mile markers.  I wasn’t running particularly fast, but the race was flying by!
  • In my training, I developed a plan where I ate from a Clif Builder Bar every odd numbered mile (1, 3 5, etc.), and drink Gatorade or water every even numbered mile (2, 4, 6, etc.).  It helped pass the time and it gave me just the right energy.  I brought two Clif Builder bars with me to eat this during the marathon.  I realized at Mile 7 that I hadn’t consumed anything except Gatorade at a few of the water stations.  (I won’t call them water stops because I grabbed the water and just kept going.)  Realizing that I hadn’t eaten, I pulled a partially melted bar out of one of my arm pockets, and took a huge bite.
  • I was taking Gatorade or water at most stations.  I always try to thank the volunteers there and at the aid stations.  They have a huge job…and their day lasts longer than the runners’.
  • I purchased a Flip Belt at the NYC Marathon Expo the day before and this item worked extremely well.  I highly recommend the Flip Belt.
  • I had hoped to see a teacher from my school who was spectating at Mile 3 (or was it Mile 4?).  I didn’t see her.  I tried to see another employee from work at Mile 9, I looked with every step beginning late in Mile 7 and continued through Mile 10, or so, but never found him in the crowds. (In the past I was much more able to find people I was looking for.)
  • I love the motivational signs held up by the spectators.  This year there seemed to be a lot of “Touch Here to Power-Up” signs.  I touched a few.
  • The political signs, though, were tired and distracting.  The NYC Marathon is a time for the city to come together not be separated by politics.
  • I high-fived so often with my right arm that it was starting to get tired and sore.  My shoulder too.  I ran of the left side of the road for a while, but it wasn’t quite the same for whatever reason.
  • When I needed to “gather” myself, I ran in the center of the road, but soon found myself drifting back to the right side…and the crowds.
  • One little boy saw me and said, with reverence and awe, “Superman.”  His father was about to take his picture.  I stopped, bent down to his level, put my arm around him, and took a photo with him.  The parent thanked me.  It was awesome!
  • I just love New York.  I love Brooklyn.  The NYC Marathon is a part of me.
  • I usually don’t take free items from spectators, but… One man had his son on his shoulders holding a sign that read in big letters “Candy Corn.”  I cut way back on sweets because of some high blood sugar numbers, so I missed the joys of candy corn this autumn.  I couldn’t resist this offer.  I stuck my hand (still in a glove) into the huge bowl that many other runners had already thrust their own hands into, grabbed, and then delightfully ate, the most delicious candy I had tasted in a long (long) time.
  • More cheering.  More love.  More adulation.  I probably loved the crowds more than they loved me, but it didn’t matter.  Their passion fueled me.  It always does.
  • Every person should experience the joy of being celebrated and encouraged and supported for hours upon hours by people they don’t know and will never see again.  This is one of the joys of the New York City Marathon.  THANK YOU NEW YORK.  I love you!
  • The bands along the course were particularly great.  Their energy also pushed me.
  • I try to thank all the police and fire department members lining the course.  I wish I did that even more.  They deserve our appreciation.  They are New York’s Finest!
  • Brooklyn went by too quickly.  I was soon at Mile 12.  I saw the Pulaski Bridge ahead.  That bridge would take me to Queens.  And then…NO! – My left foot started to hurt, badly.  The last time I ran New York, I ran with a stress fracture in my right foot.  (I wasn’t about to stop, of course.)(Marathoners are crazy.)(It takes more than a stress fracture to stop me.)  I began to wonder if I had done it again.  Did I hurt myself again?  I told myself that I had “only” 14 mores to cover, that I could do it, and I’d deal with the consequences (like last time) after the race.
  • I haven’t run a sub-four hour marathon in many years, but I was under two hours at the half-way point (1:55:58).  I was in pain, but I was darn proud of myself.  It was at this point, up the incline on the Pulaski Bridge that I walked for the first time.  I didn’t want to waste my strength and energy on the uphill.
  • I don’t remember much about Queen this time.  In past years, cheers like “Queens Rules” and “QUEENS!” never got enthusiastic responses.  I also needed to stay within myself.  At this point, as my strides went as such: right foot (ok), left foot (PAIN), right foot (ok), left foot (PAIN), I just needed to stay focused.  Still, I drifted ever right…to the crowds and their love, support, encouragement, and never dying optimism.
  • The Queensboro Bridge came quicker than I could have hoped.  I usually don’t “feel groovy” here.  This incline, to me, is the hardest of the race.  Two things happened as I made way way up.  First, I determined to walk again, just a little.  I wanted to conserve some energy.  I still had more than ten miles to go.  Second, and more importantly, my left foot stopped hurting as much (it was sometime in Manhattan, on the other side of the bridge, that I forgot all about the pain in my quest to finish).
  • I ran the downhill of the bridge knowing that would help me get back some time and also because I knew, and savored, the special burst of euphoria that Manhattan brings.
  • MANHATTAN!!!!!  I love you Manhattan!!!
  • This time I was on the left side of the road.  Initially the crowds seemed less interested in the nameless runners and instead were looking for their own familiar faces.  After a few minutes of a little let-down, I found the energy to embrace the throngs.  The reaction was as I hoped.  They returned my love.  I began to just say to all the spectators, “We love you!!!” They loved me back.
  • “Go Superman!”
  • By Mile 18, I knew I was tiring.  I pushed as hard and as far as I could, but, I came to the realization that the rest of this marathon experience would be a combination of walking and running – sometimes more of the former, sometimes more of the latter – but moving, always, ever forward.
  • A parent of children in my school saw me and called my name.  I stopped for her to take a photo.
  • When I needed to walk, I determined to walk as fast as I could.  These physical and mental breaks weren’t leisurely strolls.
  • Soon I was on the Willis Street Bridge and heading into the Bronx.
  • As I walked the incline, a spectator said, “Come on Superman.”  I replied, “Bridges are kryptonite.”  This soon became a stupid theme of mine.  “High miles are kryptonite,” “I left my cape at home,” “Next time I’m flying,” and such.  The laughter and smiles from the crowd though were necessary and much appreciated.
  • But, still I pushed my tired body.  I ran more slowly than before, but the miles kept passing.
  • At this point, the race is as much mental as physical.  I had good spirits and knew I’d finish.
  • I wanted the hell to end, but I wanted to embrace New York just as much.  No, I wanted it to end more.
  • I also care too much about my time.  I wanted to finish as fast as I could.. Pride plays a role in all of this.
  • Back in Manhattan, Fifth Avenue is nothing short of torture.  I’d run, and walk, and push more.  Maybe I was shuffling more than running now.  But I was heading in the right direction.
  • Why is this incline so long?
  • “Go Superman!” “You got this!”  (“I know.”)
  • Where is Central Park?  When will this end?  I love New York?  I do, I do, I love New York!
  • When will this end?
  • Soon we were in the park.  This is where the crowds might be their most loud, if that is possible.  A runner sees a different look in the eyes of the spectators in Central Park.  There is respect.  Previously there may have been some reluctant admiration, but there is some doubt, if not in the spectators’ eyes, at least in the runner’s head. In Central Park it is different.  There is no doubt that we’ll finish.  Those are three long final miles, but there is no doubt we’ll finish.
  • I stayed to the right side of the road in the park.  I remember more spectators there in past years.  The throngs were on the left side of the road with big groups on the right side only gathered sporadically.  Yet, when they came, or, more accurately, I arrived upon them, they were enthusiastic and helped me along.
  • I couldn’t wait to find the summit of Cat Hill.  The downward trajectory after that summit was greatly appreciated.
  • And then there was Mile 25.  It comes all too soon, and not soon enough.  I love Mile 25 and I hate it.  Another 1.2 miles is too far, and I want the experience to be over, yet…yet, I know soon, hopefully in less than ten minutes, it’ll be done…and I’ll want to be back, right here again, feeling these same conflicting emotions and desires.
  • No, right now I just want it over.
  • Central Park South brings more enthusiastic crowds.  “YOU GOT THIS THING.”  They know it and I know it.  Those last few steps when I had to gather myself to walk were even okay.  I knew I’d run through to the finish once I started again.
  • Columbus Circle was ahead, I was running, and I was on my way for this last final push.  It was soon back into the park for the final count down. I love this.  I love all of it.  I love seeing the finish, up ahead, another small incline.  As it got closer, I raised my hands.
  • I was watching the clock as I approached.  4:21:45, 4:21:46, 4:21:47.  I told myself to push.  I remember crossing the line, and doing so type of dumb spastic celebratory dance and fist pump, at exactly 4:22:00.  What were the odds of that?
  • It was over.  I did it again.  Every time is a struggle.  Every time there are periods, sometimes long periods, of doubt.  But, I did it again.  A young woman put the finisher’s medal around my neck.  I thanked her.  It was all glory.  It was loud.  And there was honor in finishing.
  • My chip time was 4:19:59.  I couldn’t have been happier!
  • I won the New York City Marathon for the Sixth Time!

Post Race

  • The post-race long march out of Central Park is one of the least enjoyable parts of the experience.  I think they have us walk for 53 miles.  I’m not sure exactly.  It’s at least that, probably longer.  We get a heavy goody bag (“How can I even carry this?”), a heat blanket, and we just keep walking and walking endlessly.  A death march.
  • I did get a few finisher’s photos taken.  I was too happy to be too upset about the long endless march out of the park
  • I actually ran into the teacher from my school with whom I talked at the start and who attended my sermon and motivational message.  He had finished his first marathon!  He was joyful.  I was thrilled to see him.
  • I love the free ponchos that NYRR gives out at the end (if you don’t send a bag of items to the finish).  That poncho is one of the greatest things ever.
  • I still had to walk about twenty blocks south to pick-up a shuttle bus to the New York Waterway Ferry to take me back to New Jersey.  This was amid all of the people now looking for their family member finishers.  It’s less than a happy place.  People just want to leave – spectators and finishers alike.  Evening starts creeping in.  With evening comes of a chill.  Now there is no glory, just a sludge trudge to get out.
  • As I finally approached 57th Street, where I would pick up the shuttle bus, I saw it turning, ahead of me, but I was too far away.  Arms full, poncho on, legs tired, I couldn’t run to catch it.  Darn… I was minutes away!  As I didn’t want to wait on the corner for another thirty minutes, or however long it would take for the next bus to get there, I tracked the bus I missed on my phone (Thank goodness for the Flip Belt) and saw it would come back to 8th Avenue (where I was) on 49th Street.  I started rushing farther downtown as best as I could.  I silently cursed the red lights.  Then, as I reached 51st Street, I saw the next Ferry Shuttle heading toward me.  It would take me over the roads I just traveled, but I didn’t care.  I waved my hands, the bus pulled over. I boarded the bus a champion.
  • I flopped into the front seat, drew a huge breath, and called my wonderful wife.  She was enthusiastic and happy for me.
  • A long bus ride through the crowded streets of New York later, followed by an always enjoyable ferry ride across the Hudson River to Weehawken, and it was over.  My wife stood outside the car, with a “GO PAUL” sign and a bigger smile.  She’s the best!  A hug, a kiss, and open door…and it was all over.  Much too quickly.  I love Marathon Day.  I love running.  I love New York.  I love this race.

I Cannot Wait Until Next Year!

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