November 11th, 2010

Running the NYC Marathon

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Map of the NYC Marathon, which starts in Staten Island, continues north through Brooklyn, then Queens, through Manhattan, the Bronx, and finishes back in Manhattan
“I think I bit off more than I could chew, I thought the marathon would be easier. For the level of condition that I have now, that was without a doubt the hardest physical thing I have ever done.”
-Lance Armstrong, after finishing the New York City Marathon

After training for the last four months, on November 7th 2010, I finished the NYC marathon with a final time of 4:04:46. This was my first time to run a marathon. I had a modest goal of finishing in under four hours, and I consider this time close enough. Running the NYC marathon was one of the most unique and rewarding experiences I have had in my life.

The Pre-Marathon Marathon

From the start, the pre-marathon is a marathon within itself. I leave my Upper East Side Manhattan apartment at 4:45 AM to make my scheduled ferry to Staten Island, although my race does not start until 10:10 AM. I spend the morning with a couple of other local NYC runners. They had both ran the marathon previously, and provide friendly company and race tips. It is much colder than expected, and I should have dressed warmer. Luckily, there is live music and excitement in the air, keeping us warm as we wait for our scheduled race waves to be called.

The enormity of this event cannot be expressed in words, it’s one of those things you need to experience for yourself. There are 45,000 participants split into three starting waves, and two million spectators to cheer us on. While there are hundreds of porta potties in the race waiting area on Staten Island, the wait is still long to use the bathroom. It probably doesn’t help that Dunkin Donuts is offering all 45,000 of us free coffee as we wait!

The Marathon Start

2010 ING NYC MarathonAt 10:10 AM, my wave begins. Although I start the marathon on Staten Island, just minutes after, I cross the bridge to Brooklyn. Heading towards the streets of Brooklyn, I start to hear a low, muffled roaring sound, which gets louder and more distinguishable as I continue on. This is the sound of the energetic crowds cheering us on, at either side of the road, sometimes 10-deep.

After the first water stop, I see the marathon’s first casualty. A runner trying to drink his water and run full-speed at the same time stumbles, and it looks to be a bad fall. Another runner helps him back up, and he continues moving at full pace. Apparently his fall wasn’t as bad as it looked, or he is so high on adrenaline that he does not feel any pain.

Running close to the crowd on the right side of the road, I notice they reach out to high-five the runners. I high-five with about 10 of them, and feel pretty good about myself… I never got this kind of treatment during my long-runs through Central Park during training! But I start to realize that being so close to the crowd is a little overwhelming, and decide to limit myself to a couple high-fives in each burrow. The crowd will cheer you on by your first name if it’s written on your running shirt, but being the marathon novice that I am, mine is not. My shirt does say “NF”, which is the charity organization I am running for, so some crowd members cheer me on as “NF.”

Half Way Point

I continue north through the streets of Brooklyn for the first half (~13 miles) of the race. At the half way point, I am at 1:55, so five minutes ahead of my final goal time. But my senses are too overwhelmed to focus much on my time. There is an eclectic mix of bands playing all along the way. Some play the theme from “Rocky”, others play covers of old rock and roll tunes, others rap, and a few even play bagpipes. I see some of the marathoners running with headphones on and wonder “Why?!”… The variety of live music and crowd cheering along the run is more than enough to keep me pumped up through the first half of the race.

After Brooklyn, I cross the bridge into Queens, racing there for two miles. There are a total of five bridges to cross during the marathon. Crossing bridges is the loneliest part of the race, but also provides the most beautiful views of the city. There are no spectators or bands playing, just hundreds of determined runners. At one point, a marathoner starts cheering, as a way to replace the cheers of the spectators. This causes a sort of echo from other marathoners, but it only lasts a few seconds.

Finishing Queens, I make my way to Manhattan, and head north for the Bronx. At mile 17, there is a water stop handing out wet sponges. I take one and wipe off the salt and sweat that has accumulated on my face. By mile 20, I am in the Bronx, and my stomach is churning. The mixture of Gatorade, Power Gel, and Dunkin Donuts coffee is not sitting too well in there.

The stretch through the Bronx only lasts for a mile, and we are back in Manhattan for the last five miles of the race. My stomach churns and gets worse, and I need to use the bathroom badly, but there is nothing to do at this point. There are no porta potties until the end of the race. I also start to feel very weak, but don’t dare add more Power Gel or Gatorade to the mix in my stomach at this point.

New york city marathon 2010My pace slows down as we enter Central Park at mile 23, and I start to get passed. I have a couple of second-wind moments, but these don’t last long. After what seems like eons later, I cross the finish line. While I lost my five minute lead from the halfway point, and added four minutes to my goal time, at this point I am just happy to have completed the marathon.

The Post-Marathon Marathon

After finishing, I begin to realize I am in for a post-marathon marathon. They give us a medal and goody bag, and herd us along a path for half a mile, which seems like an eternity. I feel like I am going to die. I spot a porta potty along the way, but it is blockaded behind the first aid station, and they don’t allow me to use it. Luckily, towards the Central Park exit, I finally find a porta potty. Afterwards, I make my way from the Upper West Side back down to public transportation which will get me back to my Upper East Side apartment while bypassing the marathon path and crowds in Central Park.

After letting my body heal up for a couple days, I feel like I am ready to run again. Most running books recommend to not run for 1-2 weeks, and instead do cross-training, so I will try to abide. The NYC marathon was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget. Will I run a marathon again? It’s to early for me to say at this point. But no matter what, I will definitely keep running.

Creative Commons License photo credit: eviltomthai
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rambling Traveler

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