Awakening in a dark, cool NYC Hotel room under half a mile from the TCS NYC Marathon finish line, I shot out of bed. Maybe it just felt like I did. My heart was racing, my mind was scattered, and all of my required race gear was already laid out for me.
Before I could do anything else, I had to take care of the most important part of my marathon morning preparation ceremony: The Mohawk. Making sure it was top notch was key, everything else was just minutia before the race.
Dressed in my running gear, old shoes in my feet, thrift store sweats over top of everything, and my clear bag with my race shoes, chips, and a few other essentials in my hand, I was ready. Kissing my wife farewell, leaving the room & stepping into the cool New York City morning, my legs carried me toward the subway station. A couple blocks up, I ran into a pair of ladies doing the same thing. Only, they were a little lost, and weren’t sure where the station was. We walked together, descending onto a nearly empty subway platform.
Those poor souls awake this early on a Sunday morning, waiting on the platform all shared something with the others. All of us were wearing running gear. All of us were heading to Staten Island, and Fort Wadsworth.
The ladies I met on the walk were joking with me about my choice of pre-race fuel: French Onion flavored Sun Chips. It was an easy thing to pick up at a store, carry on the way to the race, and hopefully fuel me, without stomach issues. That whole, “don’t try anything new on race day” – well sometimes, I like to live dangerous.
After what seemed like an eternity, our train arrived! Many of us were discussing which means of travel we had selected, which stop to take, and wishing those exiting the train a great race. Pouring over MTA maps, and such, I decided which stop I had planned to take, hoping not to get lost once I went topside once again.
Turns out, I planned it perfectly; climbing out from the station, I was greeted with the entrance to the bus corral. It was almost like the organizers watched Pimp My Ride, as they heard I liked corrals, and gave me a corral to corral in, before I corralled in a corral.
We did not have to stand in the cool air for too long, before bus doors opened & we were invited in. So warm, it was a comfortable tour bus type bus, rather than school buses that I normally get transported in. Leg room, and warmth, could we just sit on the bus until our start time?
It took mere moments to fill the bus with anxious runners, and we were off. Leg three of the relay to the start was underway. Trying to enjoy the sights, conversation, some quiet time, and the sunrise, runners filled the ride in their own ways. I tried a mix of all four.
Just outside of Fort Wadsworth, droves of runners poured out of buses, stretched a bit, then headed toward the security check points to enter Athlete Village. This is where the rules got very strict, and I was a little sad. Their “all items must be in a clear plastic bag” rule was strictly enforced. Even my 2/3 eaten bag of Sun Chips had to be thrown away. Oh well, I hopefully had enough of them consumed for the race that awaited me, and 49,999 of my new closest friends.
Making it beyond the metal detectors, and visual inspections, the size of Athlete Village was awe inspiring. I grew up in a town of around 50,000 people. This start line area had more than that!
Not having to yet, but knowing I would, I headed for a porta potty line, as the urge to pee hadn’t hit already – it would by the time I got to the front of the line. This is where some comedy happens. Photographers go through the lines of people waiting to relieve themselves, getting pre-race photos. Some were more effective than others, with a comedic approach, others were more demure, hoping for a chance to shoot a photo or two through the crowd.
A few texts & selfies were taken and sent, before I found a section of grass to lie down on, and rest a bit. Joking with other runners in the area kept me awake. Wandering around some, I debated getting a limited edition Dunkin Donuts hat (I’m a sucker for limited edition) – decided against it, as I did not want to carry it all race.
Finding a different, more quiet area to swap out my shoes, put on the HR strap, and warm my legs up, I was able to watch the wheel chair athletes head to their start. Some looked like extremely fit athletes, others were ordinary people, who wanted to achieve something most people do not get a chance to: Complete a marathon!
Getting anxious, I wandered closer to the appropriate corral for my bib. In that line, I started talking to a local, and a fellow traveler. The local is a member of the New York City Whippets running group, who was told she could change corrals at the start, following certain rules. She seemed to follow the rules, however the start line volunteers didn’t know that was a possibility. Following a brief, but seemingly eternity long, exchange, another volunteer cleared up the bottle neck, and let her through.
I thought I was getting myself to the back of the wave, to help pace myself. Turns out, I was at the front. The gathered masses heard the canon blast & saw elites take off for their 26.2 mile journey, shortly before we were to chase them.
Other waves were lining up on the upper level of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, showering us with their discarded clothes. A slightly dangerous mine field of many layers of clothes littered the ground as we slowly marched toward the start line.
I don’t even recall hearing a canon this time, just feeling the surge of energy as our corral began running. We had the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge all to ourselves. Above the silence, it seemed like the only thing that was heard were our foot falls on the bridge. Taking in the views toward the city, I tried to control my adrenaline, and desire to RUN.
Another runner asked my goal time, and asked if I minded if he ran with me. By all means, as I had no clue where the pacer for a 4 hour marathon was supposed to be. It was perhaps a mile or two into the race before I lost my new friend.
Coming down off the bridge, road crews were picking up more discarded clothing & as the course went under a minor bridge, a NYC local woman was cheering on everybody with such passion and enthusiasm. Her message resonates just as strongly today, as it did on November 1st, “Welcome to New York! Today you are ALL New Yorkers, an New Yorkers DON’T QUIT!”
Without realizing it, we were already at the first aid station. Now, the running crowds weren’t so bad, as the Green runners were all by ourselves, however, the aid station was still massive! Running through a road lightly coated with crushed paper cups, we entered the first neighborhood setting.
From here on, it seemed like the walls of spectators were endless. Picture every movie based in NYC neighborhoods, and that is what we were experiencing. Green had not yet rejoined the Blue and Orange runners, allowing us some room, and a bit of serenity.
Mile 8 changed everything! Green, Orange, and Blue corral runners all converged at this point, creating a sea of runners heading through another of NYC’s famous boroughs. The aid stations felt like they were a block long, 5 stories tall of pre-filled drink cups, and hordes of awesome volunteers festooned in gloves and ponchos. Bands played on side walks, stoops, balconies, and wherever else they could set up.
This was an odd race for me, as I normally had a chance to strike up conversations, and kill time that way. No conversations were had, and no time needed to be killed. With sights, sounds, and the pure energy of NYC’s famed marathon, distractions were unnecessary.
My eyes may have been deceiving me, it seemed though, that I kept catching up to the 3:45 pacer. Not wanting to ruin my first sub-4 hour effort with too much ambition, I let off the throttle a little, and tried to maintain my 9:09 pace. Trouble with that was, the lower level of Verrazano Narrows blocked the GPS signal on my watch, I forgot exactly how far behind the race clock we started, so I was running on hope. Hope that I was on pace, not pushing it too hard, and would be able to hit my goal.
I tried to take in as many of the sights as I could, the buildings, art, people, so much to take in, very understandable why Burt Yasso’s NYC Marathon narration on Runner’s World’s video said not to PR here, and enjoy the run. I have never been one to take advice of those with more experience than myself.
Throughout the run, we would run past Team Achilles runners, another group of inspiring athletes. One of these days, I will be a guide for Team Achilles, as they help those who are disabled compete in events around the globe.
Then, it was as if someone hit the mute button. We entered the Hasidic Jewish community. Sunday is still a normal workday, and the residents seemed to barely tolerate our presence. Some Israeli runners in this area tried to get a positive reaction, singing a song in Hebrew, still nothing from the residents.
And… mute was turned off.
Crowd support started back just outside of the silent community, sparsely at first, before regaining its width and breadth we had become accustomed to.
As we were coming off the Queensboro Bridge, I spotted a runner stretching on the left side, against the guard rail. Passing her, I spotted the name on her shirt: Helli. What are the odds (aside from 1:49,999) that I would run past, and have a chance to yell hello to, one of the runners I follow on Instagram?!
Leading up to the race, I had heard so much about the cacophony of sound exiting the bridge, and hitting a Wall of Sound on First Ave. I must have been distracted, as I don’t recall that either. I do, however, remember seeing former NFL Star Tiki Barber at that point, and running straight past him.
New York City’s architects did not disappoint, I kept finding new buildings to look at, and admire. Each neighborhood’s people were so amazing, the crowd was handing out bananas, paper towels, and other treats. Aid stations had sponges, and drinks a-plenty.
Climbing the final bridge, the overcast skies opened up, with some beautiful blue above our heads, the crowds were chanting, “last damn bridge! Last damn bridge!” My legs were still churning well, many runners around me were battling their own demons, and fatigue, as we ascended one final bridge.
Dropping down onto Fifth Avenue, we approached Central Park, tantalizing us with the knowledge that the Finish Line is not that far away from us, yet we still have a few miles to go. Entering the park at mile 24, I wanted to stop & enjoy the moment. Fighting that urge, I kept running, exiting the park, rounding the second to last 90 degree turn, and enjoying all the crowd’s energy.
Making the final 90 degree turn, my will wavered. I slowed to a walk. Trying to calculate my finish time in my head, I was getting myself down, thinking I was missing my time goal. A memory surfaced, from an article I read about the Boston Marathon. A runner slowed to walk during that race, and a spectator yelled out, “You didn’t come to Bah-stin to WALK!” Nor, did I come all the way across the country to walk in New York City. This was the first marathon I actually trained for. I wasn’t that tired, I wasn’t struggling, I was just being lazy!
Kicking myself back into gear, I pushed myself up that last quarter mile, the last hill. My head was trying to motivate my heart, or perhaps it was the other way around, that I gave it one heck of a shot, and no matter what, this was my fastest marathon yet.
Then, it happened.
Approaching the finish line, multiple race clocks were visible. From right to left, they appeared from behind some bare tree branches. Spotting my clock, I realized my math had been wrong all race. I thought we started 15 minutes off the race clock, not the 23 minutes we actually started behind it!!!
I watched the clock turn from 3:58:59 to 3:59:00; sprinting, I did three things I had never done before: 1) raise my arms in triumph at a finish line; 2) cross a marathon finish line in under 4 hours; 3) The elation, and emotions made me stumble, and nearly let loose a flood of tears that I had met my goal.
It was such a surreal feeling to have met that goal. Walking along with so many other ecstatic runners, I savored the moment of a hefty finisher’s medal being placed around my neck. Some post-race selfies, and finish photos were taken. My heat sheet was a welcome addition to the experience. Never having used one before, I became a believer in them.
A short walk later, I had my bag of finish line goodies, snacks, and my very own blue TSC NYC Marathon Finisher’s Poncho.
The main disappointing feeling I had was the spring in my step at the end, which was tied with a nagging doubt that I didn’t push it hard enough. Those thoughts were quickly pushed aside, as I realized, once again, I JUST FINISHED NEW YORK IN UNDER FOUR HOURS!!
Some friends, and my wife met me back at the hotel, told me of their adventures trying to (unsuccessfully) catch me on course, I showered, and off to replenish my energy stores we went.
Competitors all wore their NYC Marathon Finisher’s Medals in the days following the race. Spectators, volunteers, and fellow runners all cheered us on, despite the race being well behind us.
This truly is a World Class Marathon, with great organization, amazing volunteers, a one-of-a-kind course, and phenomenal spectators.