Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Streak Is Broken, A Sub-3 Not To Be
Race Report from the 2009 New York City Marathon
Part III – The Better Miles 11-20

Mile 11 – 6:55; Mile 12 – 6:47; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:46
Having conquered the first ten miles with prime efficiency and dead-on consistency as orchestrated by the head (Nice job Head!), I turn the task of managing the next ten miles over to the legs. We are pushing onward on Bedford Ave which used to be notoriously known as the quietest mile in Brooklyn to all the runners who’s ever come through here. This is due to the fact that this road runs right through the heart of the Orthodox Jewish community where runners were once looked upon as objects of disdain rather than subjects of admiration. Back in the days of Fred Lebow, who organized the first five-borough version of this race, running was frowned upon in this sector of town and he really had to use his political and religious connections to negotiate and get special permission from all the rabbis of the synagogues just to run the marathon course through here. We were clearly not welcomed back then and it’s debatable whether this race, in the public spectacle it has become, is any more tolerable to the locals now. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how scary it must have been to be one of those first marathoners who raced through these streets. I probably would have picked up my pace significantly for these two miles fearing for my life! Luckily, nothing did happen to them and I can pass by these streets with nothing to worry about except for my pace, which has become slightly erratic since I released the mental reins early in the tenth mile.
At some point during the 11th mile, someone taps me on the shoulder. It’s J, the boyfriend of one of my good friends who I’d been coaching to run this race. He says hi. I say hi. He tells me he’s trying to break 3 and sprints ahead. I wish him good luck and slide back. I pondered for a second whether to use him as my rabbit but after a quick consultation with the Garmin decide that I’m doing quite all right running to the rhythm of my own two feet.

Mile 13 – 6:46; Mile 14 – 6:51; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:47
For most people, the sight of the Pulaski Bridge brings them joy because it means half the marathon is now over. (As an aside, I passed 13.1 in 1:28:41, which is exactly where I wanted to be. Success!) For me, this architectural benchmark has special significance because it signals a return home to Queens. Even before I moved here in early July, I have always identified myself as a native of this borough because this is where I spent nearly all of my childhood and teenage years. It is unfortunate that the marathon course winds through arguably the most deserted and unattractive parts of town because the rest of the borough is really ethnic, festive and scenic. Although an official marathon cheering zone and countless neighbors and spectators are out today doing the best they can to generate as much applause and cheers for us runners, I could never quite identify with the facetious sideline gestures running through these vacant alleyways and uninspiring streets. Instead, my mind was totally entrenched in a conversation my younger brother and I shared the night before. “So you think you’re ready? You ready for sub-3?” “I don’t know. I thought I knew six months ago. I thought in Boston…” “Forget Boston. This is New York. We don’t talk about Boston when we’re in New York. Just like Johnny Damon.“ (My brother is a big Yankee fan if you can’t tell…Yeah, major life FAIL on my part!) “JD?” “Look, you’re gonna do your thing and the Yankees are going to do theirs. This is the year!” “I hope so…” “You’re ready Bro! You’re ready to be elite…” I pondered what exactly he meant by elite as I ran through the final little stretch of Queens and prepared myself mentally for my grand entrance into the abyss.

Mile 15 – 6:48; Mile 16 – 6:53; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:47
On one level, the Queensboro Bridge can be merely thought of as the conduit by which the marathon course finds its way back to Manhattan after a scenic tour through the best parts of Brooklyn and the worse parts of Queens. But on a deeper and more personal level, running this bridge is a little like suffering through hell on earth and anticipating a figurative and spiritual redemption on the other side. During the long climb up, there are no smiles, there is no talk. Lights are turned dim. Breaths and footfalls, our only companion. This is the place where I usually say a quick eulogy to my pace as it slips effortlessly into the 7 minute range with no chance of recovery. But today I find my legs not following the script. I’m moving with the same consistent effort I was moving before but somehow I’m moving faster. I can tell this because I’m passing through the crowd in waves. First I pass by J who didn’t have the energy to reciprocate my friendly wave (He eventually finished in 3:14). Then I pass by Italian guy who almost ran me over to get his water at Mile 10.5. It was a bit exhilarating as I silently claimed victory over this bridge that had given me trouble for so many times years before. Pretty soon, almost as quickly as it had started, it was over, I was done. I had crested the bridge and was now on my way down. As I feel my legs increase their turnover and stride, my body is shaking and I am overcome by giddiness for the welcome that awaits me in Manhattan.

Mile 17 – 6:52; Mile 18 – 6:44; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:47
I reach a new state of running nirvana whenever I emerge through the shadows of the Queensboro bridge onto the east side of Manhattan in the New York City Marathon, and today is no exception. Thousands of friends and fans piled ten deep populate the slidelines and yell like hell upon my arrival. I pump my fist and wave to the crowd to show my appreciation. I don’t know if any of them was cheering specifically for me but I felt loved as a New Yorker anyway.
I make the turn onto First Avenue and focus my thoughts on who I was supposed to see. Although this particular race lacked the fanfare of yesteryear, I was excited to see my friend EW stationed at 68th St on the east side of First Avenue. Although he is not a marathoner himself (yet?), he has never failed to make an appearance to cheer me on at every single NYC marathon I’ve done. I point to him, give a big wave and thumbs up and he starts jumping up and down. What a swell guy! I only wish I will get to be there when he finally decides to run his first. I thank him profusely for coming (even though he’s post-call from an overnight hospital ER shift!) and continue on my way.
At Mile 18, I pass by the Powergel station manned by all the Flyers who weren’t running this race. This was without a doubt my favorite part of the course. I’d been waiting and anticipating this moment ever since crossing the bridge. I see runner26, nyflygirl, and jb24 and couldn’t help but give them all big hi-fives in rapid succession as I did a fly-by with my hand. I also waved, smiled and say hi to all those who recognized me (or my Flyers shirt). Although I didn’t take any Powergels from them (I was operating on my own GU schedule at miles 10,16 & 22), all the Flyers gave me such a psychological boost heading into the last 8 miles that I found myself questioning if I had inadvertently fueled myself. My quickened pace in Mile 18 is a reflection of how I felt during that mile.

Mile 19 – 6:54; Mile 20 – 7:02; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:48
After the exhilaration of the previous miles, reality sets in at Mile 19. You’re still in Manhattan; there’s still 2 more bridges and 1 more borough to go, but somehow your body knows that the fun is over. There is minimal to no crowds here, and cheering from the singular spectators is miniscule at best. Physically, you convince yourself that you still feel fine, but mentally, you brace yourself knowing that the last 10K is going to be a drag. The crampers and walkers (those damn walkers) make their first appearance here at this stretch and you do your best to ignore them, avoid them, pretend they don’t exist. You let your legs dictate the pace but they are growing wearier with each passing step. You get nervous but try hard to calm your nerves. All you can see, all you want to see, is the Willis Ave Bridge. Just make it there, make it over, and then you’re there. So you climb, with a deliberate pace you climb. You allow the pace to slip. It feels like it’s taking forever. Eventually though, you’re there. Where? In the Bronx. Da Bronx, like the sign says. Might as well say Welcome to Hell, you tell yourself.

22 comments:

B.o.B. said...

LOL @ Welcome to hell! Glad the back miles were better for you. I am enjoying this report for sure. It's nice to see the race from this perspective as I hope to do it one day. Thanks Lam!

Irish Cream said...

Ha, I've thought that very same thing about "Da Bronx", only it wasn't even during a marathon . . . Ha, I kid, I kid.

But wow, I loved this segment too . . . especially the explanation about Bedford Ave. I had no idea that the community was so against the running of the marathon way back in the day. Craziness. Thanks for the history lesson--I feel like that is something I should know!

As always, can't wait to see what comes next :)

lindsay said...

your writing always paints grand pictures in my mind, thoroughly enjoying your recap as always.

you nailed the qboro bridge - the silence of voices, dimmer lighting, the battle within.

marathonmaiden said...

"welcome to hell" hahaha. love your writing. makes me feel like i was there and running it too. can't wait to read more!

Spike said...

wow, your race recap is sooo good, I can totally understand how you are feeling and how the race is developing. plus, I feel like I’m there.

I also love the "welcome to hell!" sigh.

Stacy said...

Great post today! I felt your various emotions as I read and read and read. Was hoping there will be another rabbit story when your friend passed you.

Marathon Maritza said...

I remember very clearly hating Da Bronx. It's true, it all felt exhilirating until this point, when your body remembers, "oh yeah, this is a marathon...this is gonna hurt."

Gaaaahhhh please finish this! I'm hanging on pins and needles! I seriously feel like I'm running right next to you here! (except I couldn't for the life of me run anything with a 6 or 7 at the start of the pace number.)

aron said...

i can't get enough of your race reports, but i am DYING to know what happens the last 6. another epic part of your nyc marathon report. anxiously awaiting the rest :)

Morgan said...

I love all the back story you give for the different boroughs! I didn't know about any of these things nor the history surrounding the marathon itself. I loved your enthusiasm and renewed excitement in Mile 18, I felt that way myself when I saw B.o.B at 22! You always create a painting on the canvas that is the race... Anxiously awaiting the final 10k...

Running and living said...

Your report makes me want to run NYC SO BAD! I can't wait for the next part!

bill carter said...

Hi LL

Just getting caught up with ya and sorry to hear that NYC did not go as you hoped. Never forget that you are a truly talented runner and doing a sub 3 hour marathon is truly that difficult. It takes a perfectly positive storm of good weather, body having one of those great days, and the mental fortitude to fend off the pain. Like you, I have done so many great training runs and had just a couple of race days where everything fell into place. They are just that few and far between. That being said, your day will come.

Can't wait to read about the last 10k although I know the outcome already and will feel for you.

Love your blog Lam!

JohnnyGo said...

MORE MORE!!!
I am totally wrapped up in the story. It feels like it's happening right now.

I think that you really DID run sub-3, and the title of the post is just to mislead us! How could it be otherwise?!

runner26 said...

what a cool flashback of all those miles! i've done nyc twice, so i can totally picture all of this again! loved it when you passed the p-gels!!

btw, i'm not freaking out. but you can freak out for me if you want. i might freak out next week--i'll let you know. glad you're going to be there though--we can freak out together ;)

EZEthan said...

My dad actually grew up in those Orthodox neighborhoods... I don't think that the runners back then would have anything to worry about besides some really really really dirty looks... He's actually a multiple marathoner now (I think he peaked at 3:02 something back when he was in his early 50's - never did break that 3 hour mark) but he still hasn't dug up the courage to go run the NYC marathon... I'm pretty sure it's because my Orthodox grandparents are still pretty skeptical about this whole marathon thing.

sRod said...

I was stoked for Queens too--my adopted borough! I did wish it went through nicer parts, but such is the price for visiting all five boroughs.

I see that our race stories are taking a similar turn in the later miles. Let's see what happens!

The Happy Runner said...

I feel like I was there! Looking forward to the last 10K.

NY Wolve said...

Great description, Lam. I also saw the Orthodox community and I think it was more bewilderment than hostility. And there was a great reggae band with a horn section somewhere along in there.

As to Queens, I agree, kind of desolate. I remember when I ran through the Atlantic Avenue section, I remember thinking, wow, so this is where they are going to put the new basketball arena (I think that is Queens anyway.)

But now for the hard part...the ride home...

Marty said...

Wow, love your recall; empathy abounds! Your race closely resembled mine, pace and all! I felt amazing until crossing into the Bronx, when I knew something was wrong...I turned into one of the "crampers".

I'm interested in reading about what happened to you in that last 10K.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
X-Country2 said...

I've never been to the Da Bronx, but it's pretty much the same way up in my head. :o)

Chic Runner said...

Welcome to HELL!!! seriously Lam, love it. Sorry i'm like 200 years behind but that is very interesting about the people who rebelled against the marathon!

Great recap and hopefully soon I can finish it! :)

Alan said...

though (obviously) i do not live in da bronx, as a yankee fan, i take offense, =]

 
Clicky Web Analytics