“If you feel like letting go, when you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on.” As I made the turn from 5th avenue into the park, even with REM exhorting me over the headphones to continue, I knew I was in trouble. I had already taken a walk break of 50 yards or so uphill on 5th, and my legs were saying “f’ you – you can keep running if you want but we are done”. Blind guys were passing me, the guy in the pink tutu was passing me, Super Mario passed me, stopped to take pictures and then passed me again. My first marathon, the NYC Marathon for crying out loud, was not ending the way I had hoped.
How did this happen? I had followed the training program pretty faithfully; finished my last long run of 21 miles in 3 1/2 hours. I fueled as practiced, took it easy the day before, got to bed early (although still didn’t get more than a couple of hours sleep). I figured I was ready. But there I was at mile 23, already at my suggested 4 hour goal time with very little left in the tank.
The day started out optimistically enough. I quit my tossing and turning around 4AM to make some oatmeal and coffee, got dressed and made my way to the library to catch my bus. There were 3 other guys in the elevator dressed in marathon gear and I told them I was “just going out for a run” when they cheekily asked where I might be going. And that was one of the really fun aspects of the NYC Marathon – you meet people everywhere who are also running – on the airplane at the airport at the hotel – even in our Uber into the city. We shared a ride with a young woman who was running for charity in a pizza costume. Thankfully she did not pass me – I think that might have pushed me over the edge psychologically – getting beaten by people dressed as food!
The line for the bus ran down 5th, across 42nd to 6th and back again down 5th in front of the library. It looked daunting but I have to say having commuted in NYC for many years it was the most efficient mass transit operation I have ever witnessed in the Big Apple. Busses pulling up, loading and departing like clockwork. I finally got some sleep on the bus and another runner had to nudge me awake – “hey buddy, we’re here” – the bus was empty.
After I got a banana and a bagel I found a spot to sit on a curb in my Orange village where I wouldn’t be too far from the bathroom – since I was planning to visit often. I became an outhouse nomad, wandering from port-a-potty to port-a-potty making sure I was fully ready to run. It turned out to be a good way to kill time and before I knew it Wave 2 was in the corral.
The view from the Verrazano was stunning but I quickly learned that “clothing bombs” in my path were more important to be watching out for. I nearly tripped several times, and a runner I met at the airport afterwards had actually gotten tangled up in a discarded hoodie and fell. Meanwhile I was repeating my mantra of “not too fast, not too fast” and I traversed the bridge in 21 minutes, about 3 minutes slower than expected. I shook it off knowing there was plenty of time to make it up, and besides I had told myself I wouldn’t even be thinking about time until 13 miles went by.
Brooklyn went by in a blink to me. Passed my brother in laws’ band around mile 7, still happy and smiling as he said the runners typically still are at that point. Despite the noticeable headwind and the slow time I was feeling pretty good in the borough where my mother grew up and my grandfather was the Deputy Fire Chief many years ago. I chuckled thinking how different the neighborhoods were now compared to when they lived there.
I saw a lot of folks walking over Ed Koch’s Queensboro bridge, or the 59th street bridge as I will always think of it, and it was pretty quiet just as everyone said it would be. I ran the length of it comfortably but my pace was about 10:30 which was alarmingly slow. Everything I read before the race said to resist the urge to go too fast when you got to Manhattan and the cheering throng – but I had work to do so it was time to speed up.
At mile 16 a speedy young woman felt compelled to squeeze between me and another runner and in the process managed to yank the earbuds plug out of my I-phone and my running app paused there for good. I plugged back in on the run and was still able to listen to music but no more reports on my pace. I guessed I was running at my comfortable pace and based on my training figured I was at 9:30-10. Turns out I was more like 11-12 and waaaaay behind.
I was able to run over the Bronx bridges pretty comfortably, passing more and more walkers along the way. But by the time I got to 5th my alarms were going off too. It wasn’t that I felt I didn’t have the energy to continue but my legs were getting so heavy and sore. I went from fighting the overwhelming urge to walk to actually walking in no time at all. My biggest worry was that once I started walking I wouldn’t be able to get running again, but I did and trudged into the park.
The final 3 miles through the park and across 59th were a slow walk/run slog, but once we rounded the bend back into the park I committed myself to running the rest of the way no matter what and I did. I finished in 4 hours 51 minutes, 9 minutes short of a full hour off my projection.
Crossing the finish line felt more like liberation than celebration. I was desperate to sit down and after I got my medal and an angel of mercy wrapped me in a mylar blanket I staggered over to the side and slid down one of the barrier fences to the ground. A Red Cross volunteer quickly came over to check on me. “Are you ok?” “Yes of course I am, but I just ran 26 miles so I am a little tired” She warned me not to sit because I would cramp up and not be able to get back up and I could feel that she was right. She pointed out the medical tents and said I should go there if I needed to and for a little bit I thought it might be a good idea. I mean, I didn’t think I was going to die, but I wasn’t certain I could rule it out either.
I couldn’t believe how long I had to walk afterwards – it seemed to be as long as the race itself. Finally I met up with the family and they looked pretty concerned when they saw me. I assured them that “there ain’t gonna be no rematch” and we made our way to the subway. Within an hour I felt just about normal and pretty relieved, but also disappointed that I hadn’t been able to run the entire race non-stop. We all went out to dinner at Otto near my son’s place to celebrate, and there were several fellow marathoners like me wearing their medals in celebration.
For a few days I told folks that I was done with marathons, that half marathons are fine for me from now on. But by the end of the week my legs felt fine and I was analyzing my stats, wondering what I could have done differently, how I might be able to run it better now that I know what to expect. 2017? Everybody hurts, but that doesn’t stop us from trying does it?