Monday, November 29, 2010

New York City Marathon - Part 2

In my mind's soundtrack, Rocky's "Gonna fly now" was playing. I was running through Brooklyn's familiar streets buoyed by the masses of people who'd come out to cheer. The marathon route stretched ahead of me in the city's greatest tailgate party and I was ready to enjoy it. My feet were pounding the pavement and I was feeling lucky and honored to be there.

It wasn't so on the Verrazano. Two minutes past the starting line and I was already freaking out. I went from goosebumps and tears of joy to desperately wondering where the exit was as soon as the climb to the bridge started. My legs were aching and panic was bubbling right below the surface.

I had to remind myself that I'd trained for this and that I was ready. It's just that starting on an uphill with no warm-up is rough on the legs. I turned on my shuffle. Even though I'd been running without music, I'd taken it thinking I'd wear one bud if the going got rough. I thought music might help me until we got to Brooklyn, but I couldn't hear the music. I fumbled with it then decided it wasn't worth it - that I'd rather be in the moment. I had no idea if it was broken, out of power, or had decided to go on vacation. I didn't need it: there was a human stampede on the longest suspension bridge in the Americas and I was part of it.

It was better to focus on not going too fast and enjoying the view.

As we came off the quiet and relative solitude of the bridge, the Brooklyn crowds welcomed us with a roar. Bay Ridge was on its Sunday's best and though I'd been happily high-fiving little kids, it was even more exciting to high-five a familiar face: Craig, a former neighbor was waiting for me at 83rd Street. It was around there that Toomer passed me like a shadow and that's also when I noticed I was surrounded by people with 4:20 pinned on their backs.

The most optimistic estimates put my finishing time at 4:45, more realistic ones at 5:15, so I dialed it back a few notches and let the 4:20s go ahead. Running felt easy and though I did not feel I was running too fast I knew I was supposed to go a lot slower if I wanted to be able to make it to the finish line.

As that group passed me, a fellow PPTC teammate caught up with me. We ran side by side, in sync for the next few miles, occasionally commenting on the sights - 'Did you see that? Crazy!' - until she peeled away at mile 6 to grab water and I ran ahead to meet friends waiting for me at 22nd Street. There I stopped for a quick photo op, dropped the hat and the shuffle, and continued down 4th Avenue.

It's a well known fact that Brooklyn is the best Borough and it did not disappoint on marathon Sunday. Signs, music playing, little kids thrilled to be getting high-fives and people cheering enthusiastically - excited for the runners and in turn making the runners even more excited to be running. 4th Ave was a gone in a blink and then I hit Lafayette where the party was bigger and louder and where I had three different sets of friends waiting for me.

I almost missed the first two. They were swallowed by the crowd and I didn't see them until I'd almost passed them. I would've stopped, but my feet couldn't stop moving. I was in a stream of marathoners and I had too much forward momentum. I managed to see the third group a block away and was able to slow down and give them sweaty hugs and kisses. I was running and dancing my way through Brooklyn, whooping, clapping, and fist pumping on my merry way to Queens.

What was all the fuss about? This was easy! This was fun! I could do this forever, I thought.

Little did I know there'd be bridge heartbreak, port-a-potty drama, and curbside despair in my near future.

To be continued...

Previously, Part One.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

NYC Marathon - Race Report Part 1

After months of training and planning, it seemed like marathon day came all of sudden and I found myself madly stomping around my apartment on November 7th, 2010 at 4:30am, rummaging and making a huge mess trying to find my pacer bracelets. Since I didn't have any pacing device I'd picked up the free bracelets at the expo as insurance against the capital sin of marathoning and the most common rookie mistake: going out too fast.

At some point I gave up and left, preferring to go out without bracelets rather than risk missing the PPTC bus to Staten Island. I was still fuming clomping down the stairs when I got to the landing in front of my neighbors' apartment and my anxiety defused with a smile at the sign they'd left for me.

When I got to Jack Rabbit to board the PPTC bus, I bumped into Paul whom I had casually bullied/encouraged to sign up for NYRR the previous January 31st. A year and change later we'd both completed 9+1 and were ready to board. When we got to the starting village we settled in to wait in the cold. Over my running clothes I was wearing fleece pants, a cashmere sweater, a hoodie, and a down coat. This was topped with a wool blanket draped over my shoulders. The homeless bag lady look helped me fit in, but I was also freezing.

Paul and I sat down for a bit thinking it would be good to rest, but we were both too antsy and too cold to stay still, so we walked around trying to find a warm beverage. The starting village was a scene of high energy organized chaos. There were forty five thousand runners milling about waiting to run the biggest race in the world, trying to stay calm and warm as instructions in multiple languages piped through speakers and a rock band played live to an indifferent audience. This crowd was much more interested in the Dunkin Donuts truck which is where we headed.

By the time we were done with the coffee and had found a spot to camp out in the sun, it was time for Paul to head to his corral: he was starting with the sub-elites in the first wave and was going to try to qualify for Boston on his first marathon. I wished him luck and touched base with fellow Ragnar teammate Andrea. We were planning on starting together in her corral even though we wouldn't be running together because of our different paces.

We were in the last wave and the atmosphere had turned frantic: after hours of waiting, whoever did not make it into a corral would not be running. We got stuck in a crowd and couldn't see the signs ahead of us and we barely made it into the corral right before it closed.

After that it was a slow moving herd until suddently space opened up before us and we were right there! The start line was within sight, double decker buses with people cheering lined the side, the toll road that would lead us to the Verrazano and into Brooklyn was ahead. Someone gave a brief speech, there was some cheering, and then Frank Sinatra went "Start spreading the news..."

I gripped Andrea's arm and started shaking it "We're running the marathon! We're running the marathon!" and started crying and hugging her. I think I started making a weird high pitch wheezing sound and Andrea shot me a concerned look. I told her I'd be fine in a minute. I was just taking in the grandeur of the Verrazano spread before us and thinking of the all the steps that had had led me to be standing there. Already thousands had stood there before that day and I was about to run in the steps of Olympians, behind thousands of amazing people that had struggled through sweat and blood to follow their dreams. I was about to pursue one of my own and run my first marathon.

My arms and legs were still covered in sesame seed sized goosebumps and I was trying to calm down and stop crying when the gun went off and we started running.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Response to An Open Letter for a Fall Marathoner

This a response to An Open Letter for a Fall Marathoner

Dear Marathoner,

It’s been a long road. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared. I am. It wasn’t so long ago that running a 5k was big deal for me. But I’m also excited, thrilled, and grateful to be about to join the ranks of marathoners.

Training was hard. For a while I didn’t really think I would make it, but I listened when you said I just had to follow the plan. It seemed impossible! Me, run so many miles at a time? I thought I’d surely break - some body part would give up - but I thought I’d keep going until that happened.

Through the miles, the heat, the early mornings, the sweat and the exhaustion, you believed in me. You encouraged me to keep going, to continue the slow buildup that would lead me here.

Taking it one day at a time, run per run, I saw my body change. I ran until my racer back top was tattooed in sun onto my skin. Clothes started fitting differently; the waist was loser, while my thighs were straining at the fabric. One rainy day I realized I’d outgrown my rain boots: my calves had gotten too big for them. It was part of the process of getting legs that would take me across a finish line 26.2 miles away from the start.

I can do this. I can run 26.2 miles. I can run through five boroughs. I can run five bridges. I can run New York.

The race is just days away and I’m swinging from elation to panic. Little aches are popping up everywhere and I have to remind myself you told me this was normal. Though I start tearing up when I see the posters, banners, and flags all over the city, part of me just can’t believe this is happening and that I’m about to run a marathon.

I couldn’t have gotten here it without you. Thank you for leading the way. Your advice and your kind words have helped me and now it’s time for me to trust you again. It’s time for me to believe I can do this.

You’ve reminded me I’ve put in the training and I’m ready. Now it’s time to eat, rest, and stay calm in the knowledge that I am ready. I’m going to honor you by doing my best to stay calm in the days and hours leading up to the start line and by running and enjoying my first marathon.

I will run 26.2 miles. I will run through five boroughs. I will run five bridges. I will run the ING New York City Marathon.

Thank you for running with me, thank you for cheering for me.