Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Race Report from My First BQ
The 2007 New York City Marathon
Part I – The Start

Marathon morning began at 5:10AM when I somehow managed to wake up five minutes before my alarm clock was scheduled to go off. As I got up to initiate preparations for the big day, I felt unusually well-rested for the marathon. Maybe it was the extra hour of sleep I had gotten because of the time switch. Or maybe it was the culmination of getting good rest for the few days prior. Whatever it was, I felt energized and ready for a historic race.

Breakfast for me consisted of a hot bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, two bananas and a bottle of 50% Gatorade, 50% water mixture I had prepared the night before. It’s kind of a strange combination for a pre-race meal I realize, but this particular concoction has worked well for me in the past, and I was not about to change what didn’t need changing, especially on marathon day.

After eating my food, checking the weather to make sure it was still going to be in the 40s-50s with no threat of precipitation (which luckily it was!), getting dressed in my Laminator running gear which I had laid out in order of assembly the night before, and releasing whatever bodily solids and liquids leftover from the previous day, I was ready to depart the comforts of my Upper East side abode and begin the journey to the starting line.

My first impression when I hit the street was that the air was dry and a bit warmer than what I had expected. I had buried my running gear underneath heavy sweatshirt and sweatpants anticipating bitter temperatures and biting winds which I had grown accustomed to from my previous fall marathons. I was a little relieved once I felt the mild morning air because although I’d never race in more than a single layer of clothing, I’m also a wimp when it comes to running in cold climes. Fortunately for me, the idea of running in more than a short sleeve and shorts never re-entered my mind again after that initial contemplation.

After hailing a cab, and picking up one of my training buddies, MA, at his Murray Hill brownstone, I was on my way to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The plan called for my other training buddy, RB, and a friend to meet each other at the terminal for the 7AM ferry. Only problem was that no one carried their cell phone with them and there was practically half of the city population waiting to take the ferry as well. RB was nowhere to be found when MA and I made our first sweep of the premises at 6:45AM. Scores of people were entering the waiting area, making the job more difficult the second time around. I started to panic and my stomach started to growl. “What if I missed them”, I thought as I ran back toward the entrance to see if RB had slipped by in between our searches. “Should we wait and take the next ferry, or just bite the bullet and hope that he would catch up with us at the start.” To spare any more anxiety on my part, RB and our running friend popped in and recognized me just in time for the ferry. As we made our way to seats, he was beaming with confidence which was a sight for these sour eyes because the last time we spoke, he hadn’t run in 2 weeks and was continuing to complain of intermittent knee pain whenever he attempted to run. I sat down, breathed a sigh of relief that everyone made it in time and reviewed some basic marathoning tips for my newbie friends who were all running in their first marathon.

The trip to Staten Island and the ensuring bus ride to the starting area operated very smoothly and were all well-organized. Upon our landing, we were escorted directly to the 6 to 8 buses that were conveniently stationed right outside the terminal. After the bus filled and left the premises, it took us to the Fort Wadsworth starting region within 15-20 minutes. For future reference, if any of you should partake in the New York Marathon experience, I highly recommend this transportation option.

From 8AM, which was about the time we arrived at the start, to 9AM when we were told to begin moving to our respective corrals, I sat on a curb, waited, and thoroughly enjoyed the sun, the colors, and the overall frenzy that surrounds this place very year. RB and MA were similarly in their own little world, eating, drinking, and making repeated trips to the porta-potties more often than I’d seen them at the beginning of other races. I could tell that they both were enjoying the experience of their first marathon: showing each other the shirts they had designed the night before, and commenting on the idiosyncracies of the many international runners who came from all over to run this race. At I watched and listened off to the side, I felt really proud that I decided to motivate and coerce, I mean, coach these two to run this race with me.

At 9AM, I said my final instructions to my marathon newbies (“Aim to run your last mile faster than your first”), wished them well on their journey and left them to claim my starting corral in blue. Before I was able to head to my corral, I had to leave my drop-off bag at the baggage area. That’s when I ran into my first and only frustration with the race organization. Somehow, someone forgot to label the entrance and exit to the baggage area where the UPS trucks were all stationed, so a massive mob of people congregated at both ends of the line, obstructing anyone from getting in or out. It was very frustrating because it took nearly 30 minutes for me to claw my way in, hand in my bag to the UPS volunteers, and claw my way back out. I made it to the starting corrals in time, but didn’t have any extra to stretch or run any warm-ups. I managed to do some mini-stretches against a metal fence before the line started moving and I ran to catch up.

The procession to the foot of the bridge was pretty exciting for all involved. People were hollering and screaming and runners were throwing their cold weather gear to the groups of people standing on top of the double-decker buses lined up along the side of the road. Along the way, I made conversation with a runner from Indonesia who flew in yesterday to run the marathon and flying home tonight right. When I asked him what made him come all this way to run this race, he smiled and said, “This, to me, is the best marathon in the world, and to me, is worth it!” I couldn’t agree with him more.

After we reached the foot of the Verrazano, we paused for silence in mourning of the death of Ryan Shay in the Olympic Trials the previous day, listened to a beautiful rendition of the national anthem by a Broadway singer and was introduced to the elite men who were running in the event. As I passively listened to all these introductory gestures, I was constantly reminding myself to stay focused on running my own race. My pacing strategy, which I had developed the previous day, was simple enough: Run the first few miles cautiously to establish a fast but comfortable pace. Carry that pace for as long as it was comfortable. When facing hills, maintain the effort but lower the pace. Eventually, if all goes well, I should reach mile 20 with some time to spare. After that, it becomes a matter of will and determination to push hard against The Wall until the finish. In my mind, I had memorized the quote on my blog a couple of weeks back from T. Alan Armstrong which read that I had already become a champion through the diligence of my training and that this performance was about displaying my championship character for the rest of the world to see. After adjusting my bandana knot and shoe laces for a final time, I was ready for a race.

A few seconds later, with the firing of a cannon that was loud enough to scare the living daylights out of anyone who wasn’t paying attention, we unleashed ourselves onto the streets of New York City…


nwgdc said...

i hate those pre-race jitters...where you feel like you're going to miss out on something and it's all going to be RUINED!

Debbie said...

Can't wait for Part II.

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