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As a blogger (did I just call myself that? Really? I’m a blogger?), ahem, as a blogger, I often find myself writing posts in my head long before I can get to my laptop. Sometimes it is right after an event, sometimes it’s even during an event; heck, sometimes, in anticipation of how things might go, I start to write a post about something before it even happens.
A couple of Sunday mornings ago, as I got myself ready to catch the bus to Staten Island for the start of the 2011 New York City Marathon, I tried to imagine what this post would look like. It is part of my typical pre-race routine. For every other marathon that I’ve run, there have been two possible outcomes in my imagined posts – either a.) I would achieve my goal in some sort of dramatic fashion or b.) I would NOT achieve my goal, still in some sort of dramatic fashion. The dramatic part was (is?) important to me. It’s what makes something worthy of YOUR time. Who wants to read boring, technical details? Without fail, good (Smuttynose) or bad (Around the Lake), there has always been some sort of dramatic moment in my marathons.
And that was my problem as I made my way to the bus that Sunday morning. What possible drama could I expect from a race I was planning on simply having fun at? True, my plan was similar at the Vermont 50 and that was filled with drama – but on that day I was going 24 miles farther that I had ever gone before. There was the drama of the unknown. There was really no unknown in New Yorkk. Even taking into account that I would be running 26.2 miles, running back to mile 23 and then running my friend Jersey in for a total of 32.6 miles, I didn’t foresee any surprises…
The ride to the start was nice and easy. A young kid named Robert, running his first marathon, sat down next to me and we spent the whole time chatting. We talked about the how’s and the why’s we were for running with Autism Speaks. He was nervous, I was not. I reminded him that on this day, his job was simply to finish and enjoy. He would struggle late in the race but finished with a respectable 5:13 first marathon.
Once in the Village I found the two friends I most wanted to find – Jersey, whom I would go back and run in from 23, and Maddy, whom I once thought I was an equal runner to (she would finish the day with a 3:12 marathon – this just one week after pacing her sister to a 3:32 in the Marine Corp Marathon in DC. Yeah, she’s a superstar, no question.). After some love and hugs, it was time to head to my corral. Jersey and I peeled off toward our respective waiting areas, but before I left her, I reminded her that today, her first marathon, was about finishing and enjoying the day.
Checking into my corral, I ran into a runner I had met on the walk to the Expo the day before. Tim was running his first marathon. He was a bundle of nervous energy. In his own words he described himself as a guy who simply liked to go full throttle. Knowing himself didn’t seem to ease his nervousness however, so I spent the 20 – 30 minutes we waited in the corral just talking. I gave him a few pointers, and as I did with Robert and Jersey, reminded him to just finish and enjoy. He would pass me somewhere on First Avenue around mile 18 and finish with a very impressive first marathon of 3:56. He later thanked me via text for keeping him calm in the corral.
Maybe I have a new calling at marathons? Pre-Marathon Whisperer…
Somewhere around 9 miles my twitter friend Robin tracked me down – the advantage of having blue hair I guess. I got to try out my on the run interviewing skill.
At that point I was still full of energy and probably running way too fast for someone who hadn’t trained a lick for the marathon. I was on pace for a 3:30-ish marathon, but, like Boston this year, as I passed the 17-mile mark, my lungs began to squeeze. My first thought was “not again” but that was quickly followed by the realization that I wasn’t running for time. It didn’t matter how fast or slow I went. Even if I had a complete physical breakdown, I could simply stop at mile 23 and wait for my friend Jersey. That thought put a little pep back in my step and I was able to maintain a pace that was in the mid-9’s pretty much for the rest of the way.
The fact that I was running just for fun allowed me to really focus on the crowds. In 2010 I was so focused on trying to hit 3:15 that I completely tuned out the City, the spectators, the experience. This time around, with no pressure to even finish, I soaked in everything. Going into my first big turn on the course, I realized that there were whole swatches of fans who were completely getting ignored. Runners learn early to take the inside track on a turn and keep it tight. Even with 47,000 running on marathon day, every single one of them was trying to follow the shortest lines possible. Starting with my next turn, I decided that I would make the widest turns possible and high five the ignored spectators. The reactions ranged from total surprise to unbridled enthusiasm. It was probably the second best decision I made all day.
So what was the best decision I made? That’s easy. As we made our way back into Manhattan after a brief detour through the Bronx, I saw a guy holding out a bottle of beer. The Willis Avenue Bridge had just about killed me and I was physically struggling – more and more I was entertaining the thought of simply waiting for my girl Jersey at 23. Running a marathon on no training is hard.
Dumb and hard.
But then there was this guy, holding out a Corona. It glistened in the sunlight like an oasis in the desert. I thought to myself, why the heck not??? So I stopped and took the beer.
His friend laughed and insisted on taking a picture. The beer went down quite nicely. Halfway through, I realized I should probably get back to running. I didn’t want my legs stiffening up. As I turned to get back to it, the guy reached for my half-full bottle. I looked at him and told him thank you but there was no way he was getting it back. He laughed and sent me on my way. It was a lot of fun to see the reaction of spectators as I ran down Fifth Avenue with a beer in hand.
And believe it or not, that beer re-energized me and carried me into the Park. Adult-carbs – who knew?
The last three miles of the marathon take you through and around Central Park. From about 23.5 to 25.5 it’s rolling hills that simply beat up on already tired legs. I caught a fellow Autism Speaks runner around 24. We gave each other words of encouragement and then carried on. In the end, I quietly crossed the finish line in 4:02 –
– by far my slowest marathon ever, but quite honestly, aside from my BQ at Smuttynose, my most enjoyable. I looked at my watch. I had what I thought was maybe an hour to an hour and a half to get back to mile 23. That wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that, for as great as the New York City Marathon is, the bag pick up/exit process has got to be the absolutely worst designed set up I have ever seen. It took nearly 45 minutes to get out to a street so that I could “race” back to 23. As I jogged as fast as my tired legs would take me, I tweeted to Jersey’s followers asking for updates. As it turned out, I had a little more time than I had expected, but I hustled nonetheless.
I eventually found the Autism Speaks cheering section near 23 and waited patiently, trying to keep my legs loose. I saw Tara, a fellow blue haired Autism Speaks runner but did not have the foresight to snap a picture. Not too long and Jersey showed up. She was struggling, which is to be expected during this final stretch. We took a quick picture –
– and we were off. We alternately chatted and ran in silence. I let her set the pace.
Finally, as we crossed mile 24, I pulled out my phone and shot a quick video. It was well timed as we found Jersey’s family seconds later.
A few hugs and kisses and we were off again.
She was on a mission. With less than a 1/2 mile to the finish, Jersey found one last gear and kicked it to the finish. She would tell me later that she just wanted to get it done. As she crossed the finish line just ahead of me, I could not hide my joy in seeing my friend finish her first marathon and join one of the more exclusive clubs in the world.
Don’t be fooled by the clock. She started in the 3rd Wave, so her time was a sub-6:00 marathon! So proud of you Jersey!
So what did I learn in this race that was just for fun? Beer is good! No, seriously, the lesson I took from New York is that whether you are running for fun or for time, training is important. I was wrecked between 17 and 19, seriously wrecked. Were it not for the fact that I knew I needed to get to at least 23, I might have dropped out. That knowledge and the beer at 20 saved my day. But, I walked away knowing that I would prefer not to run another marathon without at least some lip service toward training.
Thank you Lara for allowing me to join the team so late.
I had a total blast and I plan to be back next year. Though I probably won’t be gunning for a PR, I may well look to beat my course record of 3:27…of course, after having so much fun taking pictures and videos on the course, I may just look to just have fun again!
Now…who’s gonna have a beer waiting for me at mile 20 next year?