It’s been said that in order for the human mind to conceptualize a gargantuan task as long and arduous as running a marathon, it is best to psychologically deconstruct the task into a collection of smaller tasks that are individually less daunting. As I began the monumental feat of running 26.2 miles from the depths of Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island to Tavern on the Green in Central Park, I employed this tactic to divide my journey into three sections – the first ten miles, which I planned to run with my head, the next ten miles, which I planned to run with my legs, and the last 10K or 6.2 miles, which I planned to run with my heart. What follows is the story of the 2008
(The quotes at the beginning of each mile/section are taken directly from Liz Robbin’s A Race Like No Other, the story of the 2007 New York City Marathon as told by the people who witnessed it first hand)
This is a day that ends with a celebration of individual achievement; the start recognizes those individuals with the courage to be here in the first place.
“What Does It Take?” My long sleeve technical shirt ponders as it stares back at me from within the confines of the clear marathon bag I had packed the night before. This was the official logo of the New York Marathon this year and all through the week I had been asking myself the same question each time I saw the marathon ad on the side of a city bus or on a public phone booth. I know what it takes to finish a marathon; I even know what it takes to B.Q. in one of these things, but to run it even faster, possibility sub-3:05, sub-3:03, or gasp, sub-3:00, with a body that’s less than 100% no less, I seriously haven’t got a clue. Still, as I grabbed my bag and headed over to the U.P.S. trucks that will deliver the shirt, my clothes and the rest of my things over to Central Park, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d done all I could in preparatory training for this marathon and will just run the race to the best of my ability or what my health will allow.
It was a cool and breezy 40 degrees when I arrived at my race corral in the Blue start of Wave 1. Because I had ridden a later ferry and had taken some time changing out of my fleece sweater and long johns at the baggage area, I had forgotten to take out the rest of my breakfast (a yogurt and orange) before I handed my bags to the U.P.S. man. What’s worse was that because I was hustling and bustling to make it into my starting corral before it closed, I underestimated how cold and breezy it was going to be standing around for the next 20 minutes or so, waiting for the race to start. Although the sun was bright and was ever so slowly starting to exert its radiance over the island, I was still subtly shivering, dressed in my thin throwaway cotton long sleeve over my sleeveless singlet and racing shorts. I look over the field of mostly foreign runners around me and couldn’t help but feel jealous of those that were better dressed for the weather than I was, at least for the beginning.
All of a sudden, I see the corral barriers get lifted and we’re running. No, it wasn’t the start of the race yet, mind you, but the obligatory jog to the starting line a few feet from the entrance to the
From where I finally stood when the pack around me came to a rest, I was still able to make out the starting line in front of me, so I knew I wasn’t so far back. As I waited, shivered, and took the last of my Gatorade, I wondered where all my friends who traveled over to the start with me that day were situated right at that moment in time. I also wondered whether all those who were coming out to cheer me on were in position yet. As the Star Bangled Banner played in the background, I suddenly realized that because I was leading so many friends into their first or second marathon today, and waiting to meet and greet so many others who’d come out to spectate, this marathon really wasn’t about me at all. It was about running and inspiring all those who have taken or will take up the sport because of my participation in this race and who themselves in their own respective way will convince and motivate others to likewise do the same. In essence, this was my campaign to “Pay It Forward”, and no matter how it turns out today, I would have succeeded because I started.
After listening attentively for final race instructions and customary send-off from David Bloomberg and Mary Wittenberg, I took off my long-sleeve cotton tee, toss it over to the side of the road, and started my race.
THE “HEAD” MILES
Mile 1 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – ; Average Pace – )
“If you do one marathon on earth, you do this one,” Peggy Sailler, of
The first mile of the New York City Marathon is a spectacle onto itself. There is the grand specter of the Verrazano, the longest suspension bridge in the country, bouncing like bed springs underneath the weight of 37,000 runners, professionals and amateurs alike, as they begin their multi-hour city tour across the five boroughs. In the background, Frank Sinatra is playing his best rendition of “
It would all make for a picture perfect postcard tale if it weren’t for the fact that not long after crossing the start, maybe a quarter-mile in, you’d usually see more than a few runners…specifically men runners…scoot off to the side of the bridge and send their liquid excrements into the jet stream below. I, being the sophisticated local that I am, have always frowned upon such practices. “Why, oh, why, do you have to contaminate our waters with your filthy remains?” I ask myself every year as I traverse this bridge. “Is this really the best way for you to leave your mark upon this great city of mine?”
I began my ascension up the bridge with these similar thoughts. However this year, as soon as I started to watch the annual pilgrimage of runners toward the side of the bridge, I started to get a burning sensation in the bladder region. At first, this was interesting to me, as I had never learned the urinary urge to be a contagious phenomenon, in contrast to other body functions like the urge to yawn or to smile. But as I continued the long climb up to the bridge, the urge grew stronger and stronger. Given that I was on the first mile of a three hour journey, it became clear that I needed to make a quick decision or risk jeopardizing the rest of my race. I finally rescinded and cursed myself as I raced over the side of the bridge to do my business. Luckily, there was a small gutter running underneath where I was standing so I was spared the moral humiliation of having directly defiled the waters down below.
As soon as I was done, I scooted back into the middle of the pack. I tried hard to forget what had just happened and refocus myself back into the race. But as I slowly eased back into a running pace, my right foot, which had been achy and sore the last two weeks due to a flare-up of plantar fasciitis, became somewhat uncomfortable to run on. I wasn’t sure whether I was sore from the inflammation or whether there was discomfort because my insoles were positioned incorrectly. I didn’t want to incur any additional damage to my foot this early on in this race so I hopped onto the curbed and stopped for a few seconds to re-examine my shoes. After I’d sufficiently realigned the parts, repositioned the tongue and adjusted the laces, I was finally back on track. I quickened the pace just a tad to finishing my mile at the exact time I did last year, despite the detours.
Mile 2 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – ; Average Pace – )
"I am still afraid of the marathon,”
Coming off the bridge, this mile is the biggest downhill portion of the race. As such it is also known for being a very fast mile. In both of my previous NYCMs, this stretch was by far and away the speediest for me. But hidden within the depths of this downturning straightaway is an eclectic message decipherable to only those who’ve frequented this road more than once before. The writing is clear: Do not lust after the velocity gained on this road that you expend valuable energy that will prove more useful later on in the course.
Today, I see many people ignoring this principle as I see streams and streams of people huffing and puffing their way past me as I glide effortlessly down the bridge. In the past, I might have been enticed to follow their pace, or as I’ve done in some recent races, purposefully slow down. Luckily for me though, I had just finished reading a Times article addressing this exact strategic question a few days ago. In it, Alberto Salazar, an elite marathoner in his own right and coach to one Kara Goucher, stated that the most energy-efficient way of traveling down hills is to allow gravity to do as much of the work as possible. By running faster or slower than the decline of the road is to utilize additional energy expenditure that may become critical at the later portions of the race.
I repeat his mantra several times and thank him under my breath as I make my way down the exit ramp and onto the streets of downtown
Mile 3 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – ; Average Pace – )
God is everywhere on Fourth Avenue…Churches and synagogues, and mosques line both sides of the broad island-divide street, from Pentecostal storefronts to Roman Catholic towers, their names written in Spanish, English and Arabic. This four-mile stretch becomes a stirring advertisement for the unity of faith.
Once I reach
Although the spectators were all bundled up, most of us runners were still in the thawing stages. Most of the foreigners were running in tech sweaters and tights and some even had on wool hats and mittens. I was running only in a sleeveless singlet and shorts, with only a bandana and cheap gloves to protect me against the elements. And even though I was running comfortably in my attire, I couldn’t agree more with the first funny sign I saw that morning held up by a small child and his dad that read “If you want your clothes back, hurry up and run!”
Mile 4 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – 27:19; Average Pace – )
“The fans, they don’t just come out and cheer the leader, they just hang out. They’re there all day, cheering everybody,” (Lance) Armstrong says, shaking his head in amazement. “Somebody who’s not from here, you never know these boroughs, these neighborhoods exist.”
I settle in to my race pace and become completely comfortable in my surroundings. I was running well, running warm, and more importantly, running without pain. My right foot, which started to tingle and twitch over the bridge, has settled into a dull, numbing soreness that probably would not be perceptible if I wasn’t paying it so much attention. I focused my attention on guessing the names and countries of the runners around me in order to distract myself.
At about the half way point of this mile, I began searching the crowd for a familiar face. My friend who I had coached to run this race had his family stationed here so I was eager to see if I can spot the entourage out in full force. As I scanned for faces left and right along this block, I reflect a bit on my own family, wondering aloud how I’d react if I’d ever saw one of them cheering me on from the sidelines…
I never could find my friend’s entourage in this mile. What I did find was a few old workmates of mine who had come out to support the race. From the looks of surprise on their faces, I could tell they hadn’t been following any of my exploits of late.
Mile 5 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – 34:08; Average Pace – )
As much as the
I am submerged further into the culture of
I force myself to stop the conversation in my head. I’m getting emotional and can feel my heart rate jump ever so slightly. “It’s too early…too soon.” I tell myself. I relax and find my good running pace all over again.
Mile 6 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – 41:01; Average Pace – )
Said Haye (the pastor of music and arts at
I’m almost at the midpoint of
Towards the end of this mile, I saw a sign that read “Of course your feet hurt when you’re kicking so much ass!” and started to laugh.
Mile 7 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – 47:44; Average Pace – )
If you are ready, you have to grab that opportunity. Don’t wait. Because the next year may not be your time. When it’s the marathon, I have to try everything to be first. Because it might be my last. – Henrik Ramaala.
I was slightly annoyed that I lost concentration for a bit in the last mile and allowed my pace to creep up a bit pass the mark. Since I was still feeling strong, and breathing as comfortably as I usually am on a long training run, I sped up a bit in order to regain the form and speed that I had lost in the preceding mile. As I did, I passed by Flyer J.D. who waved at me as I was foraging by. Honestly, I was somewhat surprised and perplexed to see him there. Here was someone who I’ve raced with on several occasions and each time would leave me breathing his dust by the end of the first mile. Suddenly, I’m leading him almost a third of the way into a marathon. What’s going on here? Am I running well, or just well enough to completely bonk in the end? I didn’t dare answer my own question as I used a slight downhill to speed up every so slightly even more.
As I did, I thought about some of my other Flyers friends who weren’t running this race for one reason or another. There was BH who is sitting this one out to rest his injuries; BS who is diligently running his miles and getting for Philly in a few weeks. Then they was SH who is recovering after B.Q.-ing at
Mile 8 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – 54:33; Average Pace – )
“The essence of real athletes is that you’re always competing against yourself,” (Mike) Richter said. “With running, it’s just a different arena. That feeling I had when playing hockey, it’s still there. You play with as much excellence as you can.”
I reached the end of
I thought a bit about my brother during this mile. Before the race, I had promised I’d dedicate a mile to him during the course and for some reason, watching kids and their parents on windows and doorsteps clapping and cheering us on, made me especially think of him during this stretch. Although he’s thirteen years my younger and up to now has only mustered enough strength and stamina to last him for a 5K run, it hasn’t stopped me from imagining the possibility that one day he and I could be out there together, running these streets. I wonder if my knees will hold up ‘til that day.
Mile 9 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – ; Average Pace – )
I make the turn onto
More important than just the difference in distance per se, the fact that my marathon was almost one-third over signals a chance in racing philosophy as well. As per my pre-race strategy, after the next mile, my “head miles” will turn into the “leg miles”, which means that my legs will soon take over the pacing responsibilities for next ten miles of the race.
I, for one, couldn’t wait.
Mile 10 (Mile Time – ; Total Time – ; Average Pace – )
“To be happy,” Jelena (Prokopcuka) concludes with a knowing smile, “is when you have enough.”
After battling through the last uphill mile, most of this stretch was downhill. This allowed me the luxury of recapturing a speedy pace. But even though I ran this stretch as comfortably as I had without surging or slowing down, the arch of my left foot started to sting and burn at the completion of this section. This, to me, was odd since it was my right foot and not my left who had given me trouble in the recent past. I thought about my fellow injury pal, runner26, and wondered if she was having as much fun tempering the naughty pain signals as I am. I quickly decided not to think too specifically about the pain. Since there was nothing I could do about it anyways, I felt it was best to ignore the sensory signals for now and continue running as strong a pace as my body will allow.
I end my head miles feeling as strong as I did when I started this race. This in itself was no small feet. I turn over the monumental task of leading the next ten miles to my less-than-perfect legs as I reach and cross over the Mile 10 marker.