It’s the race that started it all. 4 years ago, I remember watching the elites on TV and feeling inspired to run my farthest during that time; a 10K. I couldn’t imagine running 4 times farther than that. That’s just crazy. 4 years later, I would have to agree that it is kinda crazy. And it’s even crazier to run the NYC marathon after already running a marathon 3 weeks prior… while gaining 15 pounds since last year and with a shin splint. Also, it was colder than usual (upper 30s and into the 40s) and winds were 30 mph from the north (the direction to run for most of the race). Some say it was the worst weather in 20 years for the NYC marathon. My story is less of a success story and more of a survival story and a lesson learned. Just look at that route, how could anyone resist trying it out at least once?
Most runners start their day at 4AM. Getting 50,000+ runners to the start line is a complicated process. Transportation involves car/taxi rides, buses, trains, and/or the ferry. Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island is where all the runners gather and it resembles a concentration camp somewhat with everyone sitting/laying on the grass or in tents with police and armed soldiers walking around. I luckily was in Wave 1 this time and started the race with the first group at 9:40AM. I found some fellow runners to stretch with and exchange a final “good luck everyone, see you at the finish, this is it” chit-chat. After a long and cold wait at the start, the cannon finally fired. Boom! This is the point of no return. Running on the Verrazano bridge is my favorite part of the race. What an epic way to start a marathon. But that wind tho…
There were some strong wind gusts on the bridge which had us all holding on to our bibs. It would be tragic if the wind blew your bib away. Several runners wore plastic bags over themselves prior to the race as a wind breaker only to be thrown away at mile 1. I recall looking up watching all the plastic bags spiraling in the air above us. Several runners were tripping over unwanted clothing which wasn’t thrown to the sides properly. Prior to the race, they were giving out free Dunkin Donuts winter hats. I wore mine and was quite happy with it, but then it blew off my head just like several others, meh. As epic as the bridge start is, the weather conditions kind of dampened the mood a bit. It was like, oh man, is the wind going to blow me around like this during the entire race? Should I have postponed to next year? What have I gotten myself into? I tried taking photos but they all came out awful, so here are a few aerial shots from the Espn and TCS NYC marathon sites.
First of all, I was kind of beat up after the Chicago marathon. Within the 3 week window, I only ran 3 times (21 miles total); barely a taper. Why? Shin splint. But I thought to myself, if I didn’t run too much than the splint would fade away and I’d be all set for the NYC marathon. Little did I know. The shin splint returned as I started descending the Verrazano bridge (mile 2). I’ve run with this sort of thing before, but I’ve never run a marathon with one. This was going to be painful indeed. It was only a matter of time before the limping starts. But let’s see how long I last.
Although the weather wasn’t the best, this could not stop the infamous NYC crowds from being on the sides of the course. It was nice running through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn again (Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint). As expected, it was one long street parade. Brooklyn is everybody’s favorite borough to run in because most of the course is flat and the crowds bring it. I actually forgot about the shin splint for a while as I gave some high fives and smacked those “touch here for power” posters. After 2 hours or so, I reached the halfway point at the Pulaski bridge into Queens and felt a sharp pain which made me walk for a bit. Oh no, not now. I was already running slower than usual and had to take it even slower to prevent putting any unnecessary pressure on the right leg. I’ve gotten this far, and can’t stop now. Running through Long Island City, Queens isn’t the Queens that I usually run in and not scenic at all. Foreigners will never know how pretty Queens is, but oh well. And after 2 more miles, the big one approaches; the Queensboro bridge. I don’t know anyone who enjoys this part; it really sucks at mile 15. Actually, the only thing to look forward to on this bridge is that moment when all of the runners spill into 1st Avenue in Manhattan where a stadium worth of people await.
My leg was taking a beating all of the way up 1st Avenue to the Bronx. But shin splint aside, I was feeling quite exhausted at miles 18-19 anyway. Marathons never get easy do they? All I have to say is, I’m glad that I ran successfully at the Chicago marathon because this one was a fail. Can’t win them all I suppose. Many runners usually hit some sort of wall in the Bronx at mile 20, but I hit a wall and then fell off of a cliff. I recall walking for a few minutes and hating myself for deciding to run this day. Even walking hurt like hell. Since quitting is never an option, I had to limp-run or gallop all the way to the finish line. From South Bronx into Harlem and all the way up 5th Avenue into Central Park. The crowds were always cheering and were very supportive. I may have to be a spectator next year because it would seem that they were having much more fun than the runners. Perhaps my lowest moment was when runners were passing me by the hundreds during the last few miles. Several runners were still full of energy while interacting with the crowds like champions. There was even a moment where someone power-walked passed me (huh). The clock was already passed my finish time from last year and I had 2 miles left. Something that should’ve taken 30 minutes went on for an hour. I eventually reached the finish line under 5 hours. This was the hardest marathon of my life. It took 2 weeks just to have the strength to write this post and relive the traumatizing day again. Every medal given out that day was certainly well-earned and fought for. And let’s not forget the 30 minute Central-Park-Exit march of 10,000 zombies wearing blue marathon ponchos and marathon medals. All I have to say is, never ever run a marathon if you don’t feel at least 95% at the start. Lesson learned.
Regardless of how it turned out, the NYC marathon is still the king of marathons. For many people, it’s a life changing experience. For me, it was the “path to the marathon” which changed my life. It led me to a life of site-seeing NYC via running (and blogging about it), whether it was alone or with other runners that I’ve met throughout the years. And as for vacation trips, being able to run for at least 2 hours enabled the possibility of unique experiences which would not have been possible otherwise. From a few blocks to a marathon, it is one the greatest “challenge accepted” decisions to take.
In conclusion, it has been one crazy year. 3 marathons (Disney, Chicago, and NYC) (and even a Mt. Rainier summit). My best time was 4:19 at Chicago and I’m content with that even though 4 hours was my original goal. For the first time, I intend to take a really long break from running and most likely run half-marathon distances at a maximum in 2015. So what’s next? I’m not sure, but after years of working on my legs, it’s about time I build up the upper half. There are other countries to see (and run through) and there are other mountains to summit. Let’s see what 2015 has to offer.