Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New York City Marathon 2009

I'm truly embarrassed at how long it has taken me to sit down and write this. One would think that for a race which I deemed "the best ever" I would have been more prompt in producing my race report. I am sad to say that the details of the day are growing hazy, their clarity obscured by the passage of weeks. I am writing this more for me so I do not forget the events of the weekend than I am for you, my approximately 130 faithful subscribers. (I apologize for being so selfish.)

Nevertheless, here it is, my New York City Marathon experience. And what an experience it was.

The beginning: June 11, 2009. First day of group training in Dexter. (Yes, it was mid-June and I'm wearing one of my winter jackets. So?)

The end: November 2, 2009. In Central Park the day after the race.

In between these two dates were 20 weeks and three days of training. I ran 529 miles, burned 58,285 calories, ran in eight races (setting two new PRs), went to Vermont for a weekend relay, went to California for the best vacation ever, and made four new and excellent friends (hi ladies!)

The day before I left: Darwin and Boo helped me pack. "Helping" when cats are involved is entirely subjective.

As I stated shortly before heading to the city, my only goal for the race was to relax and enjoy myself. I embarked on this quest the night before I departed, sharing a send-off dinner with one of my favorite running buddies. Said dinner also included one of the best beers I've ever tasted.

Beervana: Bell's Oracle Double IPA. If you're a hophead and you ever see this available anywhere, you must get it. Do not argue. You. MUST. GET. IT. Then, get ready to swoon.

Once I arrived in New York on Friday, October 30th, I went out with my hostess and BFF Sara to her favorite after-work watering hole for my last (yes, I swear) beer before the race.

At the Gin Mill on the Upper West Side. Clearly I'm not taking this very seriously if I'm having pints two days before the marathon. Sara also made me flex my arm. Want tickets to the tiny gun show?

The next morning I was up bright and early to meet my Green Mountain Relay teammate Eric for breakfast and go to the race expo.

The promised land! The Javits Center was the most enormous building I've ever been inside. It was so vast and cavernous that looking up at the roof made me dizzy after a while. Of course my nerd brain said, "I wonder what kind of engineering went into keeping this structure aloft?"

My prize possession, my coveted golden ticket to the NYC Marathon.

Eric and I cruised around the expo for a long time. It was immense and there was so much to see (but no Bondi Band booth, what gives?). I was thrilled when I found a clothing booth, tucked into the farthest corner of the giant hall, which was selling everything for 50% off. Not just run-of-the-mill clothes, either...but official Asics marathon gear which was selling for full price near the expo entrance! Finding the official race jacket for $60 (regular price $120) was a triumph only slightly overshadowed by my running of the race the following day. Of course my efforts at frugality were eclipsed by my purchase of not only one official jacket for $60...but another for $43...and another piece of marathon gear for $30...

And then there was the special promotional Asics booth...which resulted in this:

Yes, that's me on the billboard in the background. In Times Square. I was on a billboard in Times Square. It says: "Hello New York. Goodbye Couch of Doom." This was extremely exciting, no matter what Sara thinks. ;P What can I say, I'm just a country bumpkin from the Midwest.

The marathon was everywhere. This was on my way back to the Upper West Side after having lunch with Eric and visiting my cousin.

Saturday afternoon I headed back to Sara's apartment to begin serious energy conservation in the form of sitting on the sofa watching TV and moving as little as possible. I made a dinner of pasta with sauteed vegetables (enough for everyone) and went to bed--or tried to go to bed--around 9:30. I was finally getting nervous and excited. In approximately 12 hours I was going to be a participant in one of the world's biggest marathons.

4:45 am arrived too quickly.

Looking a wee bit bleary-eyed but otherwise race ready. 5:20 am, Sunday, November 1.

I headed out into the cool early morning. There had been some rain overnight, and the air smelled sharp and clean. The streets were empty and quiet. Workers were unloading boxes of produce at the grocery store around the corner. I got on the subway at 72nd and Broadway. The only other people on the train at that hour were other runners...and a lot of dazed-looking late-night revelers in costumes staggering home from Halloween parties. They had been out all night partying...I had been in bed since 9:30. The dichotomy of the scene was remarkable.

Once at the South Ferry terminal, I entered the building with hordes of runners and sat down to wait for the ferry to Staten Island.

Waiting, waiting, and more waiting. It was about 6:10 am and I had almost four hours yet to wait until the race.

On the ferry, I was looking out the window at the nice view of the Statue of Liberty when all of a sudden my Green Mountain Relay teammate Thomas was in front of me! Of 43,000 people heading to Staten Island that morning, we crossed paths on the boat...what are the odds?

On the ferry. Love that fluorescent lighting!

However, that's not all. After disembarking from the ferry, we were herded like cattle to a line of waiting buses that would carry us to the final staging area at Fort Wadsworth. I got on a bus and had just seated myself when I heard someone squeal, "OhmygodSARAH!" I looked up and it was another one of my GMR teammates, Maria! I immediately jumped up and went to sit with her. We talked all the way to the fort and I only lost her in the crowd when I stopped to take advantage of a port-a-potty.

Speaking of that crowd, the sea of humanity inching towards the fort entrance was endless. It was one of the biggest crowds I've ever been in. FINALLY after shuffling along for what felt like forever, I reached the athletes' village area, found where my bib color (blue) comrades were, unfurled my plastic bag, and sat down. The ground was not yet a quagmire (remember the overnight rain) but I could tell by the disheveled grass that certain areas were going to get ugly. I chose a spot on an incline, well away from the heavily trafficked zones, and didn't move an inch for an hour and a half. I watched as people's shoes became covered in mud and the ground disintegrated. I had two plastic shopping bags which I tied around my feet to keep them dry and clean. My body was similarly warm and dry; I had on several layers of throwaway clothing and the ambient air temperature was only about 50 degrees.

In the athletes' village: More waiting.

I ate a Clif bar, drank some water, laid back on my plastic and stared up at the sky, watched my fellow runners, and simply relaxed and bided my time. Around 9:15 I decided it was time to mobilize to my starting corral. I attached my Gu packets to my running skirt, clipped my bib number belt and iFitness small item holder (on loan from a running buddy and truly fabulous) around my waist, made sure I had my RoadID and Garmy, packed up my gear bag and turned it in to one of the phalanx of UPS trucks lined up by the edge of the grass. I briefly talked to my parents, and when I hung up I realized I had left my RF501 team hat in the bag (bad) but also my royal blue Bondi Band which I had selected specifically because it matched my RF501 team singlet (DISASTER). People, do you know the last time I ran without a Bondi Band, or anything on my head? That just does not happen. Ever. Panic-stricken, I raced back to the UPS truck in a futile attempt to retrieve my bag, but it had disappeared into a heaving, endless mountain of other clear plastic bags. I sighed and told myself, "This is not the end of the world." I did a quick check to see if I had left anything else important in the bag. Gu, iPhone, camera, RoadID, Garmy, bib, D-Tag timing chip, heart rate monitor. All was well. Bare headed or not, it was time to go.

The corral entry area was, to put it mildly, a complete and total clusterfuck. Everyone was standing jammed shoulder to shoulder, bunched up at the single Corral C entry point, most of us with Blue Wave 2 bibs, and no one was being allowed into the corral. I heard the same bland female voice I'd been listening to on the PA system all morning announce, "Corrals for Wave 2 are now closed." I looked around in horror: Closed? What the fuck? What about the hundreds of people who were supposed to be in Wave 2 who were now shut out of their corrals? An uneasy murmur swept through the crowd. With another surge of panic welling inside me, I said to some random woman in front of me, "Wait a minute...what's going on? How can the corrals be closed already? No one ever went in after Wave 1 left!" People at the blocked Corral C entry point were beginning to get agitated. There was some yelling. People were awkwardly climbing the fence and dropping down into the corral. Another young woman next to me said, "What are we supposed to do now?" Someone else said, "Down there--next corral down--there's a guy who's still letting people in." I looked at the other woman and we both began shoving our way to Corral D. It was the same scene: mobs of people pressed against the fence, prevented from entering the corral. I whispered a plea to no one: "I hope this works." I showed the race worker my blue bib with the yellow background and he gave me the briefest of nods before lifting the mesh barrier, allowing me and the other woman to slip underneath. Once inside the corral, my breath exploded in a sigh of relief. I quickly disrobed, leaving my throwaway clothing in a heap at the side of the corral with the multitude of other discarded items. The cool morning air washed over my bare skin for the first time that morning. I don't know if I had goosebumps because of the sudden chill or because I was finally, utterly, outrageously excited. I fired up Garmy, adjusted my bib holder and iFitness belts, fussed with my hair (mourned my lack of Bondi Band for a moment), and then waited, calmly, for the next stage of the journey.

It didn't take long; a few minutes passed and suddenly everyone was moving. The tide of humanity streamed down a long, narrow chute formed by lines of buses parked nose to tail. Someone was hollering encouraging words over the PA system, a cannon was fired, and then Frank Sinatra came on the PA, singing "New York, New York."

The starting area. I was in the crowd in the foreground which ran on the upper right of the bridge.

Mere minutes before the start.

And we're off! "If I can make it there, I'll make's up to you, NEW YORK, NEW YORK!"

Isn't this a thrilling sight? The Verazzano Narrows Bridge in all its glory.

I felt so relaxed when I started running it was almost ridiculous. I wasn't nervous at all, just excited. I felt my left hamstring twinge around mile 1 and I immediately thought, "Not today, you son of a bitch," altered my stride slightly, and it never bothered me again. The trek across the bridge felt like a party. People were yelling back and forth across the divide in the middle of the bridge, waving to the helicopter hovering over the water (hence the great aerial pictures which I clearly did not take myself), and the overall mood of the crowd was one of sheer joy and exuberance. A big goofy smile spread across my face and it stayed there until mile 24.

At mile 2 I came off the bridge into Brooklyn, where I would be until mile 13. I was running smoothly and easily, totally unconcerned about how fast I was going, or, in this case, how slowly. I was drinking in every sound and sight which came my way.

Heading north on Fourth Ave. in Brooklyn.

Aerial view of Fourth Ave., looking south to the Verazzano Bridge.

Early in the race, somewhere in Brooklyn, and ridiculously happy.

Front and center (I used this one for my new blog banner).

Find me! (click to enlarge)

I stopped to use a port-a-potty around mile 5 and even though it took five minutes, I didn't care. I took the opportunity to quickly text Sara to find out where I would see her later in the race. Not long after my port-a-potty stop, I snapped this picture, which is one of my favorites from the entire day:

Yes, this is a bunch of dudes peeing on a fence. Not just any fence, a cemetery fence. Have some respect, for pete's sake!

The miles slipped away effortlessly. I was so entranced by everything I was seeing, the distance I was running barely registered. I hit the halfway point in 2:02 on the Pulaski Bridge as I crossed into Queens. Queens was a blur; a couple of miles and I was on the Queensboro Bridge heading into Manhattan.

On the Queensboro Bridge.

This is my GMR teammate TK's home turf. She runs this bridge all the time. I was honored to follow in her footsteps. Eric told me that coming off the bridge onto 1st Ave, you are confronted by a wall of sound. Any spectator noise and density you have experienced thus far would be blown away by the sonic force of the mobs lining 1st Ave in Manhattan.

That's when I hit "record" on my iPhone and made the audio clip I posted here. It really was just as he described. A canyon of noise, endless screaming, such a raucous exuberance shimmering in the air that my goofball grin got even bigger. It was mile 16 and I was in love with this race.

Heading north on 1st Ave. in Manhattan. A river of runners as far as the eye can see. It was the sight of a lifetime.

I have no idea where this was in the race but I still look stupidly excited, don't I?

I saw Sara in the crowd at 116th St., gave her a big happy sweaty hug, and continued chugging north towards the Bronx. I crossed the Willis Ave. Bridge into the Bronx at mile 19.5 still feeling relaxed and energetic. I crossed the Madison Ave. Bridge back into Manhattan at mile 21 feeling achy, tired, and disgruntled. It's amazing how quickly things can fall apart in a marathon. My feet were beginning to hurt. Someone yelled from the sidelines as I reached the bridge, "Only 5 miles to go!" Gee, thanks, buddy. I decided to slow down a little bit. There was no need to kill myself in these final miles as I had done in Cleveland, scraping up every last shred of will and stamina. I wasn't going for a BQ time. I wasn't going for any time at all. Even though I was at the stage where I was thinking, God, I just want this to be over with, I was still having fun.

5th Ave loomed and I began the long straight shot which would take me to the park entrance. I texted Sara on the fly to find out where she would be in the park, and there she was, just before mile 24. I ran over and gave her another sweaty hug, and when she asked how I was doing I rolled my eyes and yelled, "IT'S ALMOST OVER!" She screamed, "I'll see you at the finish!" and I launched myself back into the field for the final 2.2 mile slog.

We're in death march mode now: 2K to go. My smile finally disappeared.

On Central Park South less than a mile from the finish.


And done!

My official finish picture. I'm quite sweaty, but very happy.

My feet were crying in agony, I was exhausted, but I was overjoyed. I had finished my third marathon, the New York City Marathon! (Official finish time: 4:16:56, a 9:49/mile average). After a long, painful shuffle north through the park, I retrieved my gear bag(training team hat and Bondi Band safely stowed within) and slowly made my way out to Central Park West where I found Sara waiting for me.

My "Superwoman" pose, with mylar cape.

Right after taking this picture, Sara and I started to walk back to her place when I heard somone yell, "Sarah, oh my GOD!" It was my GMR teammate and fellow run-blogger TK! Just standing there on the sidewalk! I knew she was going to be spectating at the race, but I thought I was going to see her at the bar afterward. In one day I randomly bumped into three of my relay teammates in a city of millions of people and a race field of 43,000. What are the odds of that?!

Somehow I managed to walk/stagger back to Sara's apartment where I washed off the grime and put on clean clothes. I was ready to party! I met Eric at a place nearby and savored my post-marathon beer.

Ah, delicious reward for a job well done. And why yes, I am wearing my $43 half-price official marathon jacket!

My second-favorite picture of the day. Believe it or not, I saw a guy holding this sign in Brooklyn and it made me laugh. Imagine my delight when I saw the same sign again at the bar afterward! I had to get my picture taken with it.

Eric and I at the post-marathon party.

I made it all the way to 8:30 before I crashed like a ton of bricks. One minute I was sitting up watching the Yankees in the World Series and the next I had literally toppled over so my head was resting against the arm of the sofa and my eyelids had slammed shut. I was so tired my head was buzzing. When I finally laid down on the unfolded sofa bed it felt so good I groaned. I fell asleep almost instantly and didn't wake up for hours. The next morning every muscle fiber in my body was howling in pain. Everything hurt. Determined to make the best of it, I went for the slowest walk in history through Central Park and down to TK's midtown office building to meet her for coffee. The park was absolutely gorgeous, in full, bursting fall colors (I wish I had taken a picture). It took me almost an hour to walk the two-ish miles from the UWS to my destination. The motion loosened my legs and I felt better. On the way back north to Sara's place I walked the marathon route through the park. I wanted to see it again, slowly, to savor it as I had not the previous day. Work crews were busily and noisily dismantling the barricades, banners, bleachers, packing everything away for another year. People who had clearly run the race were milling around the finish line area. And so, I too posed for one last picture, the picture I placed at the very beginning of this post. I have come full circle, then, to the end of that epic race, that epic day, that once in a lifetime experience: my first New York City Marathon (but hopefully not my last!).


Jon (was) in Michigan said...

Great race and fabulous report!

You got some great pictures in there. Gotta love the guy in the tutu in one of them. :D

Congrats on a job well done. :)

Running Diva Mom said...

What an awesome race report and you have some great photos, to treasure forever. Congrats on finishing another 26.2 mile journey, Sara!!

Zoomy said...

Great report! Wow, you really had a fabulous day...and to have run into 3 people you know...guess NYC is really a small world.

girlrunningaround said...

Awesome report. The pics are great! Congrats again!

Carolina John said...

wow, and i thought i was lazy. posting a race report a month after the race? you're establishing new standards here. and i like it.

Good job on the race! those pictures are awesome, and it seems like you had a ton of fun. congrats!

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

You did a great job preserving those memories! I felt like I was right there with you. The pictures are great, too.

Congrats on the third marathon.

Jen Feeny said...

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THE RECAP! And well worth the wait! I totally got goosebumps and a big goofy smile for you! :) Congrats again lady, it sounds like a story book marathon! :)

Payam Eric Nili said...

How could you forget the 'America's Got Talent" tryouts? We could have stars.

joyRuN said...

You on the billboard - AWESOME!

You running into 3 of your relay peeps randomly in such a sea of people THEN finding that sign you liked in the bar - creepy lucky! You should've bought lottery tix or something.


Robert said...

This was a great report, definitely worth the wait. It's so much fun to see NYC and the marathon from non-New Yorker eyes.

You (and others who ran this year and wrote about it) have me worried about the corrals and start for 2010 already...

Maggs said...

I love the calorie to beer calculation. I'm going to search out that beer too.

Christina said...

That is a wonderful race report. I love the pictures you took throughout. Great job with an awesome race.

jen said...


I read your report several days ago but apparently didn't comment. I love this race report! And the photos. You really represented your experience well. I would love to do NYC someday. If I have half as good a time as you, it would be a sucess!

Happy Holidays! :)

mr loser said...

Congrats on a successful clump. Dig the pics, especially your billboard and guys urinating on the graveyard fence, which would have been a great sleeve photo for the Smith's Cemetery Gates.