Thursday, November 8, 2007

Race Report from My First BQ
The 2007 New York City Marathon
Part 2 – The First 20 Miles

Even before I got to the starting line, I was already suffering from stomach issues. My exploits in the bathroom and port-a-potties earlier in the day bore more of a resemblance to gunfire on a battlefield than an exercise in digestive excretion. In addition, I had compounded the problem by guzzling more Gatorade and water prior to the start than I'd care to remember, and was feeling quite bloated even while waiting to race. I thought about making a dash for the bushes at the far end of the starting chute, but by the time I realized what I should have done ten minutes ago, I knew I no longer had enough time. So, suffice it to say, I started NYCM thinking I'd have to incorporate the Clark Kent to Superman port-a-potty dash routine at some point during the course.

My bathroom anxieties coupled with the lack of time for an adequate warmup (thanks to the debacle at baggage check) led me to start the race at a conservative pace. I ran the first mile up to the crest of the Verrazono-Narrows Bridge in 7:30, which was the slowest first mile I'd ever run in any race up to this point. Given my health concerns and the unavoidable congestion at the start, I was actually quite satisfied with that time. So far so good.

Mile 2 was a fast and straight downward descent into Brooklyn. I felt it was right to extend my stride and increase my speed to reclaim some of the time I had lost at the start. I knew going in that this was the biggest downhill and my fastest mile, but checking in at 6:26 at the end of that stretch surprised even me. After making a sharp left turn at the end of Mile 2 and finding myself in the heart of Brooklyn, I began to get dialed in for the long run. For those who have never run New York, Brooklyn is the longest portion of the race, covering 11+ miles. Basically, by the time you're out of Brooklyn, you would've completed half the marathon. It is also the most enjoyable part of the course in my opinion because you run through so many diverse neighborhoods, each with their own unique ways to cheer on the runners. From the Hispanic kids handing out homemade lemonade, to the Jewish observants distributing kosher foods; From the Slovakians playing folk music on their banjo (or something that resembles a banjo) to the hometown Brooklynites pumping hip hop for all to hear, they were all out there to celebrate not just a marathon but the multicentricity that makes the city so great.

Last time I ran here two years ago, I ran along the side of 4th ave, interacting with the crowd, grabbing whatever free food or drink they were offering. This time, I purposely ran in the middle of the road and concentrated on 3:10. Through all of Brooklyn, I ran cautiously fast, averaging between 6:49-6:57 min/mile for the entire stretch of road. Although my stomach and bladder began to spasm intermittently by the time we turned off 4th Avenue, the rest of my body were functioning quite nicely without complaints. I was even able to carry on a small conversation with an Italian runner next to me at Mile 12 who asked if the guy in the yellow jersey a few paces ahead of us was Lance Armstrong (No it was not!), and if he should run ahead to find out (I wouldn't but be my guest). All in all, I was pretty excited to finish Brooklyn unscathed, crossing the half-marathon marker at a cool 1:30:37.

From there, it was a quick hop over the Pulaski bridge, and a short 2 mile run through Queens to the 59th Street bridge for the trip back to Manhattan. The crowd was thinner in this part of town, and that enabled me to think over my strategy for the next part of the race. My bladder had quiet down a bit, but my stomach was still revolting against me from time to time, but since I did not think I was in imminent danger of soiling myself, I decided to run through these stomach spasms until after the bridge and reassess at that point. As for my pace, I knew I was ahead of 3:10 pace by quite a bit. I also knew that the toughest part of the course was in the home stretch. Instead of fighting against the inevitable to maintain my first half pace over the Queensboro bridge and through the streets of Manhattan, only to burn down at Mile 20 from fatigue and exhaustion like I had in the previous 2 marathons, I'd be smart and use all that extra time to slow down and conserve my energies for the battle in the Bronx. After I made that mental switch in my head as I made my way up the bridge, I felt much calmer and more relaxed than I remember ever being during the marathon. Mile 14 and Mile 15 checked in at 7:04 and 7:08 respectively, while Mile 16 went down at 7:22, my slowest mile yet.

I wasn't too bothered by this latest development, because by the time I saw the Mile 16 marker, I was on the downhill portion of the bridge, on my way to Manhattan, and my fans, woohoo! If only to curb my enthusiasm, there were a series of signs at Mile 16 which read "Some say that the last 10 miles of a marathon is like running through hell…" "…if that's the case…" "…then welcome to hell!" I'm not exactly sure why NYRR place though signs right before the turn off the bridge, but in any case, it served its purpose, as I made sure to check my speed entering Manhattan, even through the thunderous roars of the 59th Street crowd. The trip up First Avenue was really fun. My friends had arranged a big crowd to gather at the Mile 17 marker and they gave me a big cheer as I made my way across. There was another impromptu ovation waiting for me at Mile 19 that was not expected but was very nice and much needed at that point. In general, people were lined up 4 to 5 rows deep in all the streets, screaming, clapping, and cheering for runners they knew, and more for runners they didn't know. It was so much fun to see friends and neighbors coming out and joining the city in celebration. At one point, I even got to cross my own street corner, which was quite exhiliarating, and blew kisses to neighbors who I recognized but didn't even know by name.

Emotionally, I was on cloud 9. Physically, though, by miles 18 and 19, I was started to wear down. My legs were starting to grow heavy, my back was sore, and my bowels, which had stayed relatively quiet over the bridge and first part of First Avenue, was in active revolt against my body now. It was giving me signals that I'd better find a port-a-potty ASAP or risk the consequences of losing the battle. I slowed myself down even more than I had been before, and made a compromise that I'd pull the Superman maneuver as soon I find an appropriate place in the Bronx. Mile 18 and Mile 19 tolled through at 7:07 and 7:15.

Mile 20 begins where the crowd ends, on the streets of East Harlem. Aside from a few dedicated spectators and volunteers peppered here and there, you're pretty much left to your own devices as you contemplate your fatigue and anticipate the Wall and the inevitable exhaustion that awaits on the other side. No one talks during this miserable mile. All you hear amongst the runners are the heavy breathing and the rhythmic pounding of feet against pavement. You can see it on the faces too. Smiles and puckered lips have given way to gritting teeth and groans of defiance. These expressions would become commonplace as we move closer to the finish, but let it be known that the origins of this transformation actually takes place during this miserable mile. Like the rest of the runners, I was tired, nauseous, and not quite sure why I'd trained so hard to willingly endure this pain again right at this point. Yet, I knew I had to press on, but slowly and calmly. It's too soon for a burnout, I told myself as I began the ascent up the Willis Avenue bridge. End of mile 20 mercifully came in the middle of the bridge at a time of 7:30. Officially, I had run 2:20 for the first 20 miles; 10K left, in less than 50 minutes to qualify for Boston.

There's a sign at the foot of the Willis Ave bridge that reads "Welcome to the Bronx. Enjoy Your Run." What it should have said was "Welcome, Laminator, To Your Personal Run Through Hell!"


Ted said...

and what happened? You sure know how to make a good cliff hanger here! I am eager to find out. How soon will your third report come out?

Non-Runner Nancy said...

You sound amazingly strong during all this. I can't believe you were having so many spasms but didn't stop. That is really something. Can't wait to read the rest.

nwgdc said...

you're killing me! come on!

Jamie said...

I don't know how you kept the pace feeling like you did.

now I need to read part 3 - hurry up and post already!

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