It was more than a year in the making, but the 2013 ING NYC Marathon, my hometown race and the largest marathon in the world went off without a hitch on Sunday.
There’s so much to talk about, I’m not even sure where to start. Do I talk about the expo? How crazy packed it was to pick up your bib and goodie bag, with a line snaking through the lobby of the Jacob Javits Convention Center and out the door to the corner of 34th Street?
Or the vending area where runners were shoulder to shoulder with each other as we jostled to see the latest in GPS-enable watches, hydration drinks or compression gear or maybe just to purchase a few last minute gels for the race? Or even meet running legend Bart Yasso or Matt Long?
Maybe it was just the general excitement and buzz in the air in NYC from Thursday through Sunday where it felt like everyone was here for one event? Whether to cheer, run, report on or coordinate, the marathon was, at least in my world, all-encompassing for those four days.
No, I think I’ll just talk about race day.
It’s like Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and Diwali all wrapped up in one day. And the gifts you get are endorphins, fitness and camaraderie. And if you put your name on your shirt – the bonus gift is millions of people screaming your name and cheering you on for almost the entirety of the 26.2 mile course.
Cue the alarm at 4:30 to choke down a small breakfast and drink one last mug of tea before you head out the door and into the subway to make your way down to the Staten Island Ferry. Here’s the one bad thing about the ING NYC Marathon. The starting line for the largest marathon in the world is in a little pocket of the city that’s not so easy to get to. There’s no waking up, having a leisurely breakfast and meandering to the start. Sure, the Staten Island Ferry is a great boat ride (and always free), but the starting line is at Fort Wadsworth, a solid three miles from the Ferry. Not exactly walking distance.
One thing that was different this year – and a palpable difference – was the security. I guess this is the world we live in now. As we got on the Staten Island Ferry, we handed over our bags for inspection by a counter-terrorism specialist with the NYPD or a bomb sniffing dog. Entering the start village we either walked through a metal detector or were “wanded” like we were at the airport. Anyway, the coordination was flawless. This was my 5th official NYC Marathon and 10th overall (I did run 26.2 the day it was cancelled last year but I can’t count that) and the start has gotten better each year. Getting 50,000 people (yeah, I said 50,000) to the start takes some coordination. And the New York Road Runners know how to do it. There are busses that leave from the NYC Library on 42nd Street but I have no idea why anyone would want to take them. Why wouldn’t you want to hop on a boat with thousands of other runners and stare at the Statue of Liberty for a while?
From the start village we’re corralled to the start line. I was lucky enough to be in the first wave so I was there for all the pomp and circumstance. The introduction of the pro men’s field, Mayor Bloomberg making his annual speech, NYRR president and CEO Mary Wittenberg giving us all a last minute pep talk – all while the Verrazano Bridge beckons in the background.
So the cannon goes off at 9:40 sharp (no little starting pistol at this race) and we head out and across the first of five bridges to Frank Sinatra serenading us to New York, New York. And while it may sound hokey, it’s really kind of inspiring. My buddy and I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Anne Marie and Margaret from the Santa Clarita Running Club, they were here to run their first NYC Marathon. We met on the bus to the start village from the ferry and were in same corral. They were lots of fun and as it turns out fast. These women had qualified to be at the NY Marathon, which means they qualify for Boston as well. Needless to say, once the gun went off, that was the end of that. We barley saw then bobbing and weaving through the crowd.
But then we got on the bridge. The predicted weather was a high of 50 with winds of up to 15 MPH. I was cool with the temp, but the winds were freaking me out from the get go. And they didn’t disappoint on the bridge. I literally had to hang on to my hat a few times for fear that it would blow off my head and right into New York Harbor – it was blowing quite a bit faster than 15 MPH. The bridge was also louder this year. Usually all you can hear is scattered talk in many different languages and the pounding of thousands of feet as we start our 26.2 mile journey. This year all I could hear were helicopters. There were at least three flying back and forth the length of the bridge, at times hovering, what felt like, right next to me. While I did feel pretty safe, it was a little annoying.
Once we got to Brooklyn things settled down. There were cops on almost every corner and I saw a ton of cyclists riding on the course who were wearing official jackets and radio headsets, so you knew security was tight and they seemed to be on top of everything.
I love running through all of the boroughs. There really isn’t one that is more excited than another to host us but Brooklyn is where we spend most of the race, and there are so many different neighborhoods with a varieties of people cheering. Bay Ridge, Park Slope, Greenpoint, Fort Green, Clinton Hill, Bed-Sty, Williamsburg, etc. Each come with a different flavor, but one thing they have in common is a passion for runners on the first Sunday in November.
Out of Brooklyn and over the Pulaski Bridge (the half way point) and into Queens is the gentrified neighborhood of Long Island City. We wind our way through the borough for a few miles and make our way over the Ed Koch Memorial Bridge (which will always be the 59th Street Bridge for me).
The third bridge of the course is a trudge on a good day. Add in the headwind and a little spitting rain, and let’s just say it wasn’t my favorite part of the race. What made it worse is that my Garmin decided to stop reading the satellite signal. I was keeping the same cadence and virtually the same speed yet my watch starting telling me I was running a 15 minute mile. I knew there was no way that could be true but I pushed myself a little bit just to be sure (your mind can start playing weird tricks on you when you’re 16 miles into a marathon).
After getting off the bridge and relishing in the wall of sound that the crowd generates I noticed my watch was reading the satellites again so I calmed down a little.
Of course, this is where I started to ache. I started feeling my hips hurt and then I got a twinge in the back of my right knee. I had to remind myself to ignore the pain which is not always an easy thing to do. If you’re a runner you know what I mean when I say that getting stuck in your head is one of the worst things you can do in any race. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, running is 30% physical and 90% mental.
What made this race harder for me is that I didn’t have my iPod. Usually I will carry it just in case I get into a place where I can’t stop myself from the downward spiral. For some reason, I didn’t bring it with me to this race. And I’m still not sure why. The only way I was able to get out of my head was to think about when I was going to see my friends on the course. I was super lucky in that a bunch of people had contacted me in the days leading to the race to tell me where and when they were going to be out cheering. Every time after I saw someone I knew, I noticed that my pace was faster. I was able to get out of my head and concentrate on something other than the constant pain! Never underestimate the power of someone you know coming out to cheer for you.
In the end it’s always spectacular to cross the finish line (and finally stop running) and it’s awesome to receive a medal and the Mylar blanket, but one of the best things that happened to me after the race is another story.
The NYRR encouraged people not to check a bag this year and as incentive they were offering early exit from Central Park and free ponchos to keep warm.
Since I’m a local and live less than two miles from the finish line, it was a no brainer to take this option. So, we’re all trudging along, limping out of the park and make it up to Central Park West where they are handing out the ponchos. I reach the area and go to grab one from one of the many volunteers handing them out but she ever so gently pushes my hand away.
In a very soothing voice she says, “please, let me put this on your shoulders.” After she draped it on me and secured the velcro, she asked if I wanted the hood up. It was all I could do to nod my head. I was mesmerized by this angel who was taking care of me like I was her child. I half expected her to kiss my forehead as she sent me on my way. There were literally thousands that opted for the ponchos and I only hope they were as well taken care of as I was. Whoever you were, thank you from the bottom of my still-sore toes.
I love my hometown race and can’t wait for the 2014 edition!!