Saturday, November 10, 2007

Race Report from My First BQ
The 2007 New York City Marathon
Part 3 – The Final 10K

Most runners have very fond memories of their first marathon. For many, it was the satisfaction of achieving a lifelong goal. For others, it was the celebration afterwards with family and friends that they remembered best. I, on the other hand, remember my first marathon, NYCM in 2005, not by the 26 miles that I ran, but by the 0.2 miles that I crawled on my hands and feet, about 4 city blocks worth, between miles 22 and 23 on Fifth Avenue, until two medical volunteers noticed my discomfort, helped me to the side, and proceeded to massage my cramping quads and calves until they loosened up enough to allow me to finish the race. [Just an aside…To this day, I remain extremely grateful for their help and understanding. They could’ve just as easily pulled me off the course and sent me to the hospital. But in my hour of need, they gave me just what I needed and sent me on my way. If I could ever identify or find them, I’d send them both replicas of my finisher’s medal because without their healing hands or caring heart, I’d never have gotten mine…] So, I do not have wonderful memories of running gracefully during my first marathon; only painful ones of crawling on all fours and dragging my exhausted body on crampy and spasmic legs across the finish line. The only other important thing I remember succinctly about that race was that the cramps and spasms all started when I decided to take a walking break after the 20th mile marker on the Willis Avenue Bridge at the entrance to the Bronx…

So now, it’s been two years, and I find myself under almost exactly the same circumstances, at exactly the same location, as I was before. My leg was starting to tire, my stomach didn’t know what to do with itself, and my mind was trying to suppress the painful signals emanating from the rest of my body while struggling to find a happier place to be. I was in the Bronx again, the place I had dreaded and had the most nightmares about for the past couple of years. And even though the marathon course runs through here for less than a mile before making its return back to Manhattan, I knew, for me, how I run these streets would determine how my entire marathon would end. So, as I made my way through the 135th St, across Alexander Ave and over onto 138th St, I kept my legs churning, my eyes focused, and my mind occupied with reasons why I am not the same runner that broke down on these streets the last time I was there. I ran slowly but purposefully. And despite spotting an empty port-a-potty off to the side a few strides before the Madison Ave bridge, I declined the invitation, fearing that I’d lose valuable time, but more importantly, that my legs would cramp up if I stopped and I’d be forced to walk or crawl my way back to Manhattan again. When I finally took my first steps onto the bridge to the powerful drumming of Survivor’s “Eye of The Tiger” playing in the background, I knew I had somehow made it back alive out of my personal hell and vanquished the psychological demons that had been holding me back in the process. And although my pace had slowed to a crawl, 7:40 at Mile 21, I was still running and within reach of 3:10, and for now, that was enough.

Back in Manhattan, in the western section of East Harlem, I ran relaxed and determined; thrilled to have left my emotional baggage in the Bronx. Preparing for the home stretch, I make a quick inventory of my physical complaints. My quads are sore, and my calves are tight, that much I know. My heart and lungs were still pumping and functioning in perfect harmony, so that’s good. My bowels have quieted down some (maybe it finally got the message that port-a-potties are really supposed to be just part of the decoration at a marathon course!), and my stomach’s no longer cramping haphazardly. The new problem was my bladder feeling like it wants to file a grievance. Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, my mind was still in a trance-like state, fixating on inspirational thoughts, ideas, people and songs as I made my way back down to Fifth Avenue. At one point in the race, I remember thinking how absurd it was that the entire lower half of my body was complaining vehemently while the entire upper half was functioning effortlessly and efficiently like pieces of a symphony orchestra. If I had a saw, I’d chop off the annoying half and leave it to wither away on the street while I carried the good half over the finish line and all the way to Boston. It was, with these delirious thoughts in my head, that I managed to cross the Mile 22 marker at 7:44.

Suddenly, after a couple of innocuous turns, I found myself at the corner of Fifth Ave and 120th street, a mere 30 blocks away from the entrance to Central Park. Knowing that I was about to run over the same streets that I had crawled on two years ago made me petrified. The sight of runners shuffling, staggering, and walking all around me wasn’t helping either. I start to slow, and became acutely aware of the formation of a blister on the ball of my right big toe. As if on cue, the individual muscles on my leg also start to tighten. I can feel that if I slow down anymore, I would be done for. “No!” I shouted, almost loud enough to be audible. “I cannot go out like that…Not now!” I will myself back to a running pace, with tears of agony and defiance clouding my vision. I close my eyes intermittently to fight off the sting as I start to backward count the street signs before the park: 25 more blocks…20 more blocks…15 more blocks…c’mon c’mon…I cross 102nd St and the Mile 23 marker at 7:33.

I continued to run with my eyes closed all the way to the park, opening them up only every so often to avoid collision. In the darkness of my mind, I’m rediscovering my passion for running and reminding myself with each step why I run. In that make-believe world, there is no pain, no cramps, no bladder or bowel threatening to break free. There’s just miles and miles of open road and no other runner but me.

After what seemed like an eternity, I make the turn onto Central Park, and finally feel like I can relax. I see the giant crowds of people stacked up on both sides of the road and know that I am home. I take one last sip of Gatorade from the last water station, cross the 24th mile marker at 7:58, and prepare for my finishing drive. But as I was about to turn my speed back on, I notice something is wrong. My legs are numb, they’re gone. I can no longer feel them. They’re moving, but are no controlled by me. I want to, but didn’t dare slow down to see if they’re still mine. So I gritted my teeth, kept my speed and coasted all the way down Cat Hill, across the 72nd Transverse St and across the 25th mile marker at 7:33. Even as I can almost see my own space at the starting line of the Boston Marathon for the very first time, I was flailing. My body was starting to shut down, the first drops of excrement, both solid and liquid, were slowly oozing out of their respective orifices, and my legs and calves were starting to tightening like a mechanical vise, forcing me to alter my form for the last half mile. At the last 400 feet, I suddenly remembered that a couple of my friends might be at the finish, but I had no energy to look back. At 200 feet, I thought I should smile for the camera, but no, I wouldn’t have time to prepare. As I crossed the finish line and saw my marathon time for the first time (3:08:18), I cried (out of excruciating pain), gave a victory shout, and fell on top of two volunteers as I asked to be carried over to the nearest port-a-potty.

It would be a good 20 minutes before I was able to make my way back to claim my medal. So, that, my friends, is how I ended up celebrating my first BQ marathon in a port-a-potty!


Jamie said...

What a story... I am in awe that you continued to put up such great mile times after dealing with everything. It doesn't matter how (or where) you celebrated your first BQ. At least you have a good story!

JohnnyGo said...

Great story -- I enjoyed each of the 3 installments.
I look forward to part 4 - "How to Use a Porta-Potty While Your Legs are Cramping Up".
And congrats on the BQ!

Non-Runner Nancy said...

Well this makes me want to run right out and sign up for a marathon. :D

I've heard many a story of people stopping for the port a potty and not being able to stand up or get out it and still having race left to do. I'm glad you held out.

Great job getting through this. Congrats on a great race!!

mmtap said...

Well told in the epic style! Your account helps me to understand what I'm really in for if I push to BQ. Running a marathon for a competitive time is WAY different from running just to run. Hopefully, my colon will be nicer to me than yours was to you. Congratulations on your achievement. Hope you run past me in Boston one day.

Debbie said...

What an entertaining race report!! Congratulations on the BQ!!

In Ardua Tendit said...

Excellent report, excellent run, and an excellent result. It doesn't get much better than that - congratulations!

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