The theme of the New York City Marathon this year was "I'M IN. WE'RE IN." I wasn't sure what it meant when I first saw this message on a subway ad on my way to work. I didn't know what it mean when I saw it on the back cover of my registration packet. It wasn't until I heard it from Mary Wittenberg in an interview for the marathon on a local news program a few days before November 7th that the simple message hit home for me. As a runner in the NYC Marathon, no one ever runs alone. Besides the 50,000+ who will be joining me in the annual exodus from Staten Island to Central Park, there will be countless thousands of volunteers, police officers, medical personnel, sanitation workers, and of course the 2,000,000+ who will be watching from the sidelines, cheering the runners on. So no matter where you are a runner, a volunteer, a officer, a spectator, or just someone watching the 5 hour marathon coverage on NBC, everyone in town is involved on some level with the race. Everyone for that one day is a part of the NYC marathon experience.
In many ways, the goal of NYRR to create an interactive communal marathon experience between runners, neighbors, friends and spectators mirrors my own objectives for this race. In each of the previous 3 years, NYCM has always been a target race for me. Whether the goal was to BQ, PR, or run sub-3, I've always been concerned with time, speed, and pace while running this marathon. Each time I ran I would see many fellow runners, especially the European contingent, purposely run along the sidelines to give everyone hi-fives. Some runners would even peel off mid-race just to have a beer or jump into a crowd of friends for a quick picture or two. They all seem to have so much fun! I'd be lying if I didn't admit to a twinge of envy every time I saw these events as I ran by. I wondered many times whether I'd ever allow myself to not race this marathon all-out but run a little slower just to enjoy the festivities and have a little fun. This year, after finally reaching my sub-3 goal in Chicago, and given that I will likely have many friends and family out cheering for me, I figured that I'd use this opportunity to interact with the crowds and run this marathon as a homecoming race. What follows then is the story of my interactive fun run through 26.2 miles (and 26.2 hi-fives) in the five boroughs of New York City.
Thoughts at The Start
Even as I huddled with a handful of others about an hour before the start in a makeshift tent at the Local Competitive Start on Fort Wadsworth, quietly reviewing the list of friends and family I was expecting to see and where they'd be out on the course that day, I felt utterly out of place and unprepared for the task at hand. For one thing, this was my first time starting off the marathon from the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge in the Green Start (I had always been Blue up at the top in years past), and second of all, I wasn't sure I belong in this elite field since I wasn't planning on racing this marathon (I was urged by my running group and NYRR friends not to sacrifice my spot since it's considered an honor to be there, even though for many reasons, I'd preferred my previously assigned Orange Start). Add to it the fact that it was bitterly cold and windy at the start and I had forgotten to pack breakfast for the hour-and-half trek over to Staten Island from Queens, I was afraid to consider the natural progression of this day that was already off to such an inauspicious start.
I felt considerably better a short while later when I began to see more friends and teammates trickling into the corral. I left my spot in the secluded tent which wasn't offering much protection from the cold anyway and went over to hang with the others members of my running club, the New York Flyers. We all complained about the wind and the cold but similarly agreed that the weather conditions were pretty ideal for a great race. After experimenting with a different assortment of clothing options the night before, I finally settled on my Saucony singlet, shorts with gloves, armsleeves and black bandana to run with for the day. I debated whether a long-sleeve tech would have been more appropriate for the frigid conditions, but given that I tend to get more hot than cold in the middle of long runs and I was unfamiliar with running with long sleeves during a marathon, I went with the "less is more" clothing option thinking I could always shed my sleeves mid-race once they are no longer needed.
Finally, the call to start came and everyone shuffled off to the on-ramp of the lower deck of the Verrazono to await the beginning of the race. Clothes and plastic bottles began flying toward the air as everyone collectively prepared for the race ahead. I tried to listen to the introduction of the elites and the festivities on the upper deck but the sounds were barely perceptible amidst the chatter around me. It barely annoyed me though. Staring at the bare road just beyond the start, in the middle of a sea of humanity all speaking in different languages, I felt as if I was at the precipice of an epic adventure about to take place. As the clock right above the start counted down the minutes and seconds to the start of the race, I couldn't have imagined a better place to be on a Sunday morning in NYC.
Touring Through Brooklyn
Having survived the wind tunnel that was the Verrazano and the solitude that was the first few miles of this race, I found myself running down the mean streets of Brooklyn trying to find friends as well as my rhythm and pace. I was loosely checking my pace at the mile markers but knew that they would lose significance the further along I ran. Still, I was surprised that my first three mile splits (7:18, 6:22, 6:48) were exactly how I'd plan them to be even if I were racing. I was running very comfortably at this point, acquiescing at every encounter to those around me who wanted to take it out hard.
At mile 4.5, I saw my first friend CD way on the left side of the course. Because I was running on the right and there was a barrier separating us, I couldn't run over to greet him like I wanted. Instead I found a younger guy, looking way too enthusiastic and yelling too vociferously for 10AM on a Sunday and slapped his hand instead. He gave me a loud cheer as I ran by.
Miles 4, 5, 6, and 7 were fun for me as I ran in and out of the side lanes, trying to find the perfect balance between keeping a good pace and finding funny/interesting people to hi-five. I gave hand slaps to a young lady who said via poster that "All Runners are Sexy", a co-worker and her friend who I found coming out of a water stop (with Gatorade pouring out of my nose) and a funny guy with 26.2 painted on his forehead who looked like someone I knew, but wasn't (oh well). My greatest find though was a little girl who couldn't have been taller than my knees clapping her hands and dancing on the side. I gave her a hand slap figuring since she's about 20% of my height, she'll count as .2 of a full high five. My pace for these miles hardly reflected the fun I was having (6:42, 6:48, 6:43, 6:48)
Having seen or passed everyone I was expected to see in Brooklyn (some were missing in action or on the wrong side of the street, Boo!), I concentrated my energy back on my own race and focused on maintaining a good rhythm and form for the rest of this borough. Unfortunately, as soon as I made the conscious decision to pay attention to me, there was a turn in the road followed by a sudden gradual uphill climb and I felt a twinge in the back of my right knee. It was not serious or debilitating, but it did concern me and made me aware that I have to temper my expectations and not push pace.
I eased my foot off the gas pedal gradually, running 6:50s for miles 8-10 (6:52, 6:54, 6:51) and 7:00s for miles 11-12 (7:01, 7:04). Although the crowds were boisterous and supportive here, I lost a little interest in my own race during these miles once I realized I had no shot at sub-3 or a course PR. I was eager to just get them done and find what awaits me in my home borough of Queens. My enthusiasm for escaping Brooklyn was reflected in my pace for mile 13 (6:56). I crossed the half in 1:29:56, more than a minute behind where I was at this point in Chicago but cautiously optimistic that the best parts of this race were still to come.
Hi-Five Tally for Brooklyn - 5.2