Saturday, dark clouds drift over the city. Sweet Julie and I walk back to our apartment, discussing what we'll wear for the marathon. Snow flakes start to fall. Is this really the first weekend in November? At my estimated pace and with the weather conditions, I could be lost in a snow drift before I complete the marathon!
Sunday dawns, cold and clear. No, it won't snow and it won't rain. We dress and pack. I remember years ago and am pleasantly surprised at my relaxed and comfortable attitude. I got a good night's sleep and didn't fret over what to wear and what to pack. 30 minutes later I was ready.
I hadn't trained for this marathon. I haven't really trained for a marathon a years. My weekly mileage was in the single digits and the one long run was the Liberty Waterfront Half Marathon on September 29th. In past years I would be running 60 to 80 miles per week and doing 6 or more long runs. I also ran up to 5 marathons per year. But, those years are history.
It's interesting, I've run NYC 11 times and although there are minor changes to the course, I know every mile intimately. There are no surprises. I've also learned my body and my mind and this marathon running. I've learned to expect the bad patches and I've learned how to deal with them. More importantly I've learned about the good patches and how to deal with them.
We head towards the bus that will take us to Staten Island and the start. I get a couple of bagels from the best bagel shop in NYC and Sweet Julie gets some coffee from Starbucks. We board her club's bus with the rest and head to the start. I'm drinking some energy drink and relaxing. Just another marathon. Some people sitting near us ask questions. I remember how nervous I was the first few times. The fear and anticipation were almost overwhelming. I also had set very high expectations of myself. In fact, after my first marathon I was very disappointed - I hadn't broken 3 hours. I was determined to run sub 3 hours, but only managed a 3:08. I returned to the distance 5 months later to get under 3 hours.
That was years ago. I was a lot younger and running fast was the only thing that mattered.
We get to the fort and head up the hill to look for some friends. Eric calls out my name and we settle down for about an hours wait. Stephen arrives and we chat about expectations, future races, and Sweet Julie and my commitment to Ironman USA next July.
I think about my goals - finish and start the year with a marathon under my belt. Use the marathon as my first long training run on the road to Lake Placid. I also wanted to complete this marathon so that I'd have my 9th NYRR scored race for the year and gain automatic entry into next year's marathon. If I finish this marathon, I'd also have 12 NYC Marathons towards the 15 I need for permanent entry to the NYC Marathon.
I make a few trips to the "World's Longest Urinal." I'm well hydrated. But, not at all trained. Sweet Julie's been running great all year, but she also hasn't done any long runs. Our plan is to run easy and take regular walking breaks. If necessary we'll walk to the finish.
We head up to the start. When we get to the bridge, we're surprised at how far back we are. I start making my way further towards the front, and Sweet Julie follows me. We stop when we think we're fairly close. The cannon goes off and we slow walk forward. It turns out we're a lot further back than we thought. No problem, we're taking it easy anyway. We see people we know as we're heading up the bridge. We make our way to the left side of the bridge and catch a view of NYC Harbor, the Fireboat and the forever changed skyline. I quickly turn back and focus on the roadway.
Last year's marathon was about the firemen. This year's race is about making it to the finish line. Sweet Julie is full of energy! I can feel our pace is too fast for me. As we set foot on Brooklyn soil I mention that we need to slow down a bit. She agrees and we continue at the same pace! The crowds and the bands are better than ever. Last year there weren't as many people along the course and the tone was different from all other years. This year, it seems people are making up for last year. The noise is louder and more consistent. Bay Ridge is out in force!
We run along Fourth Avenue - through Borough Park. Mexican flags line the sidewalks. The music is loud. The streets are crowded. The course is packed. Our pace is faster than I'd like to be going. We slow down by walking through the water stops and then pick it up again. We arrive in Park Slope. The noise, the crowds and the bands continue. The course is still packed.
I notice a gas station on the Blue side and remember my race in 1983. The road was empty, I was 2 minutes ahead of pace and running strong. I went through the 5 mile mark in close to 30 minutes! This year we're significantly slower. But, I'm thinking "slow down!"
I look at the skyline ahead of us. Where's the Flatbush Savings Bank tower? We pass a NYPD Bagpipe band, and many fire truck - their ladders extended over the course. There it is - the tallest building in Brooklyn and the 8 mile mark. We make a pit stop and turn the corner. BAM - the Brooklyn Academy of Music! My first trips through this neighborhood were very different. The crowds were sparse and the brownstones in need of repair. This year the crowds are big, the brownstones are beautiful and the music is great!
We're running on Lafayette Avenue. We're running in shade now, the big trees cover the street and keep us in shade. I notice the cold. I notice I've been sweating for the first 8 miles. We're heading into Bedford Stuyvesant. This is one of the poorest neighborhood along the course. In the early years of the NYC Marathon these were deserted miles. No spectators, and most of the buildings were boarded up. But now, people are along the course, the music is loud and is a combination of rap and salsa. We turn onto Bedford Avenue. The slight down hill increases our pace.
We are headed for Williamsburg - a community of Hasidic Jews and Hispanics. Little girls, dressed in identical school uniforms line the sidewalks, school books under their arms.
Under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Williamsburg Bridge and we enter a new neighborhood in Williamsburg. A younger, hip crowd lines the streets and lean out of windows. The narrow streets are packed and noisy. And my quads are beginning to complain.
We enter the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. The last community we'll run through before entering Queens. As we approach Manhattan Avenue the usual crowd is hanging out of the windows on the corner - complete with their beers! We run right through the main section of Greenpoint, and are offered left over Halloween candy. I get some chocolate and decide that the running part of this marathon is about to come to an end. A right and then a left onto McGuinness Boulevard and the halfway point is in view.
We walk up the bridge, one of the women I coach goes by and complains about her feet hurting. We make it across the span into Queens - running down the bridge. Onto Vernon Boulevard we're heading into Long Island City. We're walking now.
Up to the Queensboro Bridge - Simon & Garfunkle feeling groovy. The Manhattan skyline is in view, our apartment is also in view! There are puzzling signs on the bridge. Large white signs with just a single number - 1, 2, 3, . up to 10. We can't figure out what that's all about. But, the down hill on the Manhattan side of the bridge hurts!
Around the corner, under the bridge an onto First Avenue. This year there are metal barricades set-up on both sides of First Avenue. The crowds are kept on the sidewalk, and we have the entire roadway to run on. You can see for 2 or 3 miles up First Avenue, from 16 miles to 19 or 20 miles. It's a frightening sight. As far as you can see, the street is full of runners. When racing the NYC Marathon, this is the point the race usually gets serious. Billy Rogers would either break the race open along First Avenue or on the 59th Street Bridge. Alberto Salazar ran a 4:20 something mile along here to establish his lead. We just walk quickly up First Avenue.
This is called the Upper East Side. Sometimes also the Silk Stocking District. Today it could be called Marathon Central. The noise is numbing, the bands are every block and the crowds are huge.
We stop briefly on our corner when a neighbor and woman I coach calls to us. We get an update on the winners, the rest of the women's team I coach and continue on to the Power Gel station. We both can use a boost of energy.
Through Spanish Harlem and into The Bronx. Another pit stop and we head out of The Bronx. The first five borough marathon just ran across the Willis Avenue bridge and turned around. We now run a mile in The Bronx. As we cross the Madison Avenue bridge and arrive on Fifth Avenue in the heart of Harlem, we realize we are truly heading towards the finish line.
We walk down Fifth Avenue, around Marcus Garvey Park and towards Central Park. The long hill from 110th Street to 90th Street doesn't cause us to slow - we're still walking. Sweet Julie and I agree we preferred the old course - where we went into Central Park at 102nd Street. Yes, there's a short steep hill there, but being in the park was much better than this long up grade on Fifth Avenue.
We enter the park at 90th Street and there's the banner - with Fred Lebow's picture.
Less than three miles to go. I start to calculate our finish time. We push on. We pass the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cat Hill (downhill), the Loeb Boathouse and the 40 Km mark. We exit the park next to the Plaza Hotel and climb the hill from Fifth Avenue to Columbus Circle on Central Park South. The sun has disappeared behind the buildings. Sweet Julie wonders if we'll finish before it sets.
At Columbus Circle . it doesn't look like we will. Back in Central Park the crowds have thinned, the lights are on and it's dark. We walk on. Up the last two hills and under the finish line banner. I get a couple of bottles of water, a banana. Sweet Julie gets a bagel. We get our bags, put on warm clothes and head home.
It's been a long day. I accomplished my goals. I'm extremely sore.
This morning the soreness is gone. Number 33 goes into the record book. The finishers medal goes on the wall, the number goes into the box with all the others.
Another one bites the dust!