Monday, November 10, 2008

Rocking The Marathon, New York Style
Race Report from the 2008 New York City Marathon
Part IV – The “Heart” Miles


Mile 21 (Mile Time – 7:09; Total Time – 2:24:59; Average Pace – 6:54)

“Running in the Bronx was all you did when someone was chasing you for money,” Harrie (Bakst) recalled a few days before the marathon. He was mugged, he added, as a seventh grader.

In all the marathons I’ve run so far, I’ve found only one universal truth. Everyone dies a little at Mile 21. For most there isn’t a physical death per se, although some experts might argue that the instantaneous transition to alternate fuel sources once all glycogen stores have been depleted constitutes as metabolic death at the cellular level. Rather there is an emotional and sometimes spiritual fight that occurs in this mile that forces the marathoner to confront his or her own faults and weaknesses. Whatever the consequences of that battle are, afterwards, there is a portion of the former self that will forever be gone.

There was a part of me that wanted to just die in the Bronx so I wouldn’t have to contemplate how I’d ever make it back to Central Park. In the Jumbotron up ahead I watch the procession of limpers and walkers exiting over the Madison Avenue Bridge and am frightened by what I see. In my head, I’m trying to block out the memories of yesteryear when I used to be one of them, trudging slowly but defiantly back to Manhattan in a half-asleep half-awake zombie-like state, totally oblivious to the outside world. I sing songs that have stuck in my head, recite poems that I can’t understand, and hold imaginary conversations with loved ones in faraway places, all in an effort to not join in. I trick myself into believing that I’m a better runner now, even if my ever increasing pace would have had me convinced otherwise.

I eventually begin the climb over the bridge out of the Bronx and leave the shadows of my former self trickling in from behind.

Mile 22 (Mile Time – 7:06; Total Time – 2:32:05; Average Pace – 6:54)

The marathon distance is nothing if not merciless. Those 26.2 miles—especially the final six, where the real race begins—have the ability to expose even the slightest of injuries and create new ones.

I’m passing by West Harlem in a part of town that I’m very unfamiliar with. My legs are definitely complaining a little more now, but not so unlike what I’m used to after a weekend long run coming off a high mileage week. I’d already made the executive decision to acknowledge the pain but completely disassociate my mind from legitimizing it way back in mile 20, so there wasn’t a way out for me except to run fast, finish strong, and extricate myself from the situation as quickly as possible.

As a method of distraction, I chose to look around and soak in the sights. The crowd was dense and the mood festive in this corner of upper Manhattan. A school band was playing while an older generation watched and danced in rhythm to the marching beat. I had very little recollection of this mile in my previous marathons because in both instances, I was hurting so bad by this mile that my eyes were half-closed and my mind completely internally driven at this point. So this time, being able to see and fully appreciate the interactions between the marathoners and the Harlem crowd was a victory all onto itself.

Mile 23 (Mile Time – 7:02; Total Time – 2:39:07; Average Pace – 6:55)

“I am convinced that you can go through a lot more when you are physically fit,” Grete (Waitz) said. “It is both physical and mental. With the athletic background, you think more on the positive side—you can do this.”

After deriving pleasure from the cheers and good wishes offered all through Harlem, I find myself once again at the vaunted Fifth Avenue mile. Topographically, the degree of elevation gain in this stretch of road does not hold a light to the intermittent but hilly terrain of Central Park, where I’ve been consistently training over the past year. However, given its location on the course, the mild but steady one-and-a-half mile climb (encompassing most of this and some of the next mile) on Fifth Avenue has always been the most treacherous for me. Not only have they invariably been my slowest miles in the marathon, but some of my worst marathon experiences (crawling for two blocks in Marathon 1, and hurting so much I was inconsolably crying in Marathon 2) have occurred here as well. In fact, I’ve often felt that the story of my marathon can be summarized by my efforts in these 30 blocks.

But just as in other venues of athletic performance, from the depths of some horrific circumstances can sometimes be found the most beautiful of life experiences. For every year, at this time, in this mile, when I’ve gone too far to just drop out yet am still not close enough to visualize the finish line, when I have perhaps overextended myself and have questions and doubts as to whether I should even be here running this race, I turn to talk to the one person who’ve always been there for me, encouraging me, pushing me forward, through any and all of life’s toughest challenges, especially at mile 23. I’m speaking of course of my little sister. (For those who never had the pleasure of meeting her, I’m sorry you missed all would have really liked her…she passed away from a car accident when I was 10 and she was 8) I have extremely deep, personal, and emotional conversations with her every time out in mile 23 and she responds in kind by inspiring me, guiding me, and teaching me a few things I hadn’t yet learned about myself. So I know for a fact she’s listening. I only wish she were alive to see my run so well because of her, she would have been so proud.

Mile 24 (Mile Time – 7:22; Total Time – 2:46:29; Average Pace – 6:56)

If you allow yourself to say that maybe you’re working too hard, a lot of the times you’ll say that over and over again and then you’re not going to work hard enough. – Stephen Shay (brother of Ryan Shay)

After recovering from the emotional catharsis of the last mile, I finally reach Engineer’s Gate and make the turn at 90th into Central Park. Once I reach these familiar grounds, I know for a fact I’m going to make it to the finish for the third straight time.

If ever there was a place I’d call my running home, this would most definitely be the place. For it is within these hallowed training grounds, once roamed by legendary and current greats like Alberto Salazar and Anthony Famiglietti, that I learn, practice, and display my sport almost invariably each and everyday. And although some may find it a bit dangerous and congested with cars, bikes, runners and pedestrians all fighting for the same two lane road, it has always suited my purposes just fine.

But even for someone who is as familiar with the park as I am, I can’t help but be shocked and a bit overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds of spectators packed like sardines behind barricades cheering me on while watching me run. I hear my name being called out and am startled. I look to my left and see my dear friend D.S. off to the side waving her arms and yelling my name. I wasn’t expecting to find her out here today, so to have spotted her right in the Park was definitely a huge surprise. For a moment, I remembered back to a summer ago when she told me I inspired her to pick out new running shoes after a long time off from the sport. At the time, that was a turning point for me for that was when I really understood how this simple little exercise can have far reaching benefits way beyond my own.

Towards the end of the mile, as I reached the back side of the Met, I find my cousin J.K. and her boyfriend stationed on the grass off to the left. She had made a sign for me with my name in giant block letters for all to see. It felt just a little embarrassing but so exhilarating at the same time.

Mile 25 (Mile Time – 7:09; Total Time – 2:53:38; Average Pace – 6:56)

“It’s about going father than you ever thought you would have to go. You have to go way beyond, to a point where you are uncomfortable.” – Rich Bakst (2007 NYCM finisher)

Someone’s holding up a sign that reads “Pain is temporary, glory lasts forever.”

I’m flying down Cat Hill and running towards the lower east end of the park. I knew I was in store for a big P.R. but just didn’t know by how much. I’m extremely sore, but otherwise surprisingly strong. I continue to pass by hordes and hordes of walkers and joggers who are fighting to finish what they’ve started. Some are hanging on to the metal side barriers for support. Others are stretching out different body parts with the help of loved ones and strangers out on the curb. I stare at the ESSEX sign towering straight ahead and keep moving on.

In my mind, I was perplexed by how even among this pact of faster runners, all moving at better than B.Q. marathon pace, there’d still be so much bonking, walking, cramping, and limping. Hadn’t they practiced this distance before? Didn’t they have a contingency plan for if something goes wrong? What’s the point of starting so fast if all you’re going to do is limp to the finish? I felt somewhat sorry for them as I calmly glided by, like a race car speeding past the competition to take the checked flag.

Mile 26 and The Last 0.2 (Last 1.2 Miles – 8:42; Final Time – 3:02:20; Average Pace – 6:57)

I am trained for this. In my mind I am going to fight to the finish. – Henrik Ramaala

I exit the park and take the right onto Central Park South. By the time I get here, I’m physically and emotionally spent. There are markers counting down the distance now; one mile to go, then 0.5 miles to go, then 800 meters, then 400 meters. I know they were meant to be informative for the greater running community, but when I saw them so straight forward and blunt, I couldn’t help but feel as if they were directly speaking to me, poking, taunting and pleading with me to sprint the remaining distance.

I passed by the spot whether a past champion once took an early turn off course, had to be redirected back and still had enough to recapture the lead and win the crown. At that moment, given my level of exhaustion, I thought about how likely I would’ve made the same mistake if a barricade wasn’t already set up there to obstruct the way.

I eventually do make the final turn back into the park. At 800m left, I decide to bear down and take off towards the finish. I close my eyes for one final time. In my mind, I am Paul Tergat running the final 0.2 miles with Henrik Ramaala in the form of two nearby Russian runners hot on my heels. I start to make out 3:02:XX on the clock above the finish line and make it my goal to finish before 3:03. I speed up some more, clearing out whatever reserved energy I had left. I count off the final steps as I cross the finish line under 3:03….officially, 3:02:20…capping the epic journey and my 3rd NYCM with a 6 minute P.R.!


ALam said...

ownage dude. good work!

Andrew is getting fit said...

I salute you Lam!

C said...

Truly epic. Congrats again, Lam.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy reading your marathon posts! Great quotes for each mile too. I have conversations in my head too. You need to keep the mind going.

Awesome job again.

joyRuN said...

Thank you for sharing your conversation with your sister.

And thanks for an excellent read.


Anonymous said...

This is so impressive. I can only hope one day I can have such a positive (albeit much slower) experience. Congrats!

Laura said...

Congratulations, Lam!

Also, I too am very surprised at how many people in your vicinity were limping/slow at the end. If you're going to do crazy positive splits, it seems like your time would be slow enough to have started much further back in the corrals and therefore not be in your way.

Jeff Tse said...

Hey Leslie, Great epic tale of triumph over agony. I am sorry to hear about your sister.

Julianne said...

You ran an amazing race Lam! And at such a great pace. I loved reading your race report. From mile 1 to mile 26.2, it was awesome. Every mile, had your heart and sould written all over it! I felt like I was there. Now I know what to expect next year when I run the NYCM! And you MAKE ME WANT TO RUN THE NYCM. SO BADLY! Omg, I want to be there!!! (Can you tell I'm a little emotional after reading your race report????)

Oh and I'm so sorry about your little sister. She left us way too young... (Although, I think you do a great job or keeping her alive in your heart!)

Aron said...

wow lam... such an amazing report. thank you for sharing your incredible marathon story with us!!! i loved every single word. congrats again on such an amazing achievement!!! you are such an inspiration to all of us :)

Run For Life said...

What a fantastic finish! You did the distance justice, that's for sure. Congrats again on pushing through and summoning that inner strength throughout the race. Thank you for sharing the journey with us.

Anonymous said...

Great finish to a great race!

M*J*C said...

You are a TOTAL ROCK STAR!!! Your report was amazing, full of emotion and inspiration, absolutely beautiful. You must be so proud of yourself, for so many reasons. Congratulations!!!!

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

I've never run a marathon, but I have had conversations with lost loved ones while running. Something about the physical strain seems to make the emotional channels dilate, too. I am sorry to hear about your sister. I am glad you keep her memory alive the way you do. You are right. I would have liked her. I already do.

It seems almost anti-climactic or maybe beside the point to say "Great race!" after all that. But great race, brother. I was led here by your friend, Nic, and, after reading this post, I'm glad I was.

Best of luck to you, Brother.

B. Kramer said...

Totally rocked. I'm coming to terms with a six-minute PR, but I still can't figure out how you actually remember all this from your race. Amazing race! Not the TV show ...

Bill Carter said...

Great report!!

Honestly, I am so happy for you and so impressed by the absolute humility and respect you have toward the marathon. I have read so many unique marathon race reports since I have been blogging, but I will never forget this one.

Best of luck with your well deserved recovery.

Cindy said...

I So enjoyed reading your marathon post (i'll be going back to read the earlier ones). I came over from Marcy's link to your post btw. That was fantastic. I had tears in my eyes, which is somewhat embarrassing because I am at work. anyway, fantastic race!

Reluctant Runner said...

What an amazing report ... thank you and congratulations on running such a marvellous race.

Felice Devine said...

Fantastic! Wow. I really, really enjoyed reading your race reports and love how you broke them up. Thanks for taking the time to recount your experience and congratulations on doing running so well! You're very inspirational.

sRod said...

Fantastic. Epic. Inspiring.

I only wish I had gotten to see you at the finish line.

Well done friend.

J said...

Very well always! Sorry for being so late on reading this...I wanted to wait till you posted all of it but then didnt have the time to sit down and read it all till today.

I can't even imagine what it must have been like to run the marathon especially with all those spectators! Congrats once again on a job well done!

Irish Cream said...

I FINALLY just found enough time to sit down and read your report(s), Lam. And? Simply amazing. And inspiring. And beautiful. And brilliant.

I am always very impressed with your reports, but this one . . . WOW. I was just really moved by this one.

Way to go, Lam. You are unstoppable!! :)

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