November 3, 2008
39th New York City Marathon race report
"What the hell was I thinking?"
This was what I was thinking during many miles of this race. "Race" I should say. From my point of view, way at the back of the pack, this looked a lot like the Bataan Death March, only a whole lot more fun. Oh, wait...it's the trudge to the baggage trucks AFTER the race that is deemed the "death march".
Okay, let me start over in a lighter vein.
I was ready, or at least I thought I was. I had some nervous moments heading into this race, but had managed to get those under control. Race morning presented no surprises and was exactly as I expected it to be: basically a commute to work. I got up at 5:30, took a shower, shaved, did some nebulized Albuterol and Aztreonam, sucked down a dose of Advair 250 (a mis-fill by the pharmacy and my secret weapon for a "good lungs day"), and headed out the door at 7. I got to the Staten Island ferry by 7:45 and took the 8:00 ferry over. The bus ride to the staging area was short and covered much of the Staten Island Half route. The walk to the orange athlete village was also short. I didn't actually find the main athlete village; I just kind of stopped in a large street near some non-smelly portajohns and camped out for 90 minutes. At about 45 minutes, the first wave was called and the guy next to me got up and left, leaving his sleeping bag behind, which I promptly took over, which was much easier on my butt. I had brought only items to eat, drink, and read before the race as well as items I'd be taking with me or planned to discard before the race. I had no desire to put a bag on the trucks and have to go find it after the race. This turned out to be a good call.
Wave 3 was finally asked to round themselves up and I joined several thousand other confused people crammed into an area almost at the orange balloons. I never actually saw a corral. At some point, we heard a cannon, and about ten minutes later, we started walking. We emerged into the toll plaza, rounded some buses, and started walking a little quicker. A minute later, we were crossing mats and we were off.
The Verazanno is really no big deal, as hills go. It is a mild slope, though long, and I trotted most of it, stopping to stretch about 2/3 of the way up. This should have been a clue that I had to stretch that early. Hm.
I'd worn some disposable outer clothes - a blue paper jacket I'd picked up from the start area two years ago from some other runner (recycling! yay!) and Tyvek pants I'd purchased at the expo. I got rid of the blue jacket pretty quick, and my own hoodie sweatshirt followed at 1.5 miles. Shortly after the 5K mark, my legs were warm enough and I ripped off the pants. Now I was in hat, gloves, shorts, two shirts, and a singlet. Felt pretty good and though my pace was slow, it was about what I held during my last two twenty milers.
at 5.5, I stopped at my house to rid myself of my cotton t-shirt (leaving only long-sleeve tech t and the singlet) and to pee, grab a full bottle of hydration, and my flask of power-snot. Turns out I forgot to grab my gloves again (having taken them off to pee) and cold hands were a problem through the rest of the race. But not so worrisome as to make me turn back.
I got going again and immediately saw my friend Jerry Cahill at 21st street cheering on the Team Boomer runners. The rest of Brooklyn was a nice jog, really, though I noticed I began struggling a bit at mile 8 - much earlier than I thought I would be. I enjoyed the last of Brooklyn, though I managed to douse the back of my shorts and legs with some of my gel when I didn't get my flask closed quite right, and eventually found myself in Greenpoint. My only thought was, "holy shit, I'm in Greenpoint. I've got get out of here!" I trotted to the Pulsaski bridge and walked to its crest.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself thinking, "holy shit, I'm in Queens; I've got to get out of here!" and did my best to make that 5k my shortest.
Finally came the 59th street bridge. This, too, I walked most of the way up, but had always figured I would. It really isn't the big deal I'd been afraid of, and had I had better training and more prepared to really RACE this thing, I think I would have tackled it with gusto. It felt very similar to the Manhattan bridge, frankly. Coming off the bridge was great - I really loved the downhill and put in a good mile of running, probably my only fully run mile of the race. However, this put me at mile 16 and here's where the problems began.
The water stops along the way have tables along both sides of the route. For fast runners, say the first couple thousand, this isn't a problem; but by the time the back of the pack gets there, it's a block-long minefield of waxed paper on wet asphalt - as tricky and dangerous to navigate as a Baghdad road. Those little discarded cups seem to WANT to get underfoot. If that weren't enough, the drying Gatorade and smooshed-out gel packets turn the last 40 yards of these water stations into a rat-trap like surface intent on grabbing a runner's feet and holding them fast to the blacktop. To the 34,000 runners in front of me responsible for this mess: thanks, assholes. (kidding, kidding ; i keed because i love :D )
Actually...by the time I got back to Manhattan, the volunteers had raked most of the cups up and were breaking down water stop tables - *sob* am I really that slow??
But wait..I'm skipping the Bronx. Now, to be honest, I thought I'd run the entire Bronx mile because, let's face it, it's the Bronx. But I had a pleasant surprise. The Bronx greets you with carpeted running surface over the Willis Avenue bridge, then a huge giant jumbotron with a live shot of you entering the Bronx. And the crowd support in the bronx, even this late in the race, was really very good, especially compared to northern Manhattan crowd support. (The "wall of sound" that the 16th mile is legendary for is, for us at the back of the pack, more like a low, neighborly "fence" of sound, similar to the finishing chute at any major race.)
Coming back into Manhattan was nice - I've never explored the neighborhoods up there and I was impressed with the nice houses and plenty of trees. It was also a pleasant surprise to see how quickly we got to the park - or maybe it just seemed quick, as my sense of time was clearly dilated. The splits tell one story, but I swear I thought I was turning faster miles than that.
I had some phone calls to make at this point in the race, coordinating with some people and those calls got made. I loaned my phone to some girl around 105th street. She'd been walking for half the race and was sure her mother was frantic. So it was nice to be able to help someone out. I met up with my people coming into the park at Engineer's Gate, trotting in and looking good (I think) and then proceeded to pick up my overall pace for the rest of the race. I walked a little in the park, but not much. I REALLY took advantage of going DOWN Cat Hill for once and started passing a lot of people. It was at this point that I saw Larry the Lighthouse ahead of me. I've already posted about that, so I'll not belabor the point, but will include this email exchange from last night:
Me to Larry:
Good job today Larry! I sometimes consider you my arch-nemesis,
seeing as how you've managed to beat me in so many half-marathons in
central park, but today, you helped pull me along in the last few
miles and spurred me to a strong finish. Thank you!
Larry to me:
That is awesome Chris! Your email made my day. I am really happy that I helped you finish strong.
I hope your recovery is going well. I am sure I will see you soon.
Yes. Yes you will, Larry. Hopefully at the Manhattan Half.
Anyway, I got in touch with my people again, sucked it up and ran the last half mile in, passing Larry at the turn into the park and, believe it or not, making it up the hill to the finish line, picking up my pace to pass some people and turn in a strong finish for a 5:50:12.
The finishing chute is about what I expected. I got my medal and race blanket, picked up a bag of food and water and Gatorade, and ended up jumping a fence to get out of the park the shortest way. Caught the E train and went home, where I took the most hideous ice bath of my life and reveled in the miracle of hot water. I note I wasn't as SALTY as I've been in training runs.
Okay, here's the basic thoughts on this race. 1) I didn't train as hard or as well as for my first marathon, though I did put in a LONGER training schedule and two 20-milers, whereas I had only one 18-miler under my belt for my first marathon. I gained endurance, but lost speed, in general. This was clear by how I felt DURING the marathon and AFTER. When I began the race Sunday, I very early made the decision not to listen to the podcasts I'd been accustomed to. Rather, I decided to try to enjoy the race the same way I'd enjoyed the NYC Half: don't worry about time, just have a GOOD time. I listened to the spectators and runners around me, chatted with people, and, as always, ran what I could, walked what I had to. So, in general, I enjoyed this race a lot more. And the upshot is that I am nowhere near as sore today as I was after Cincinatti.
I didn't get a PR out of this - far from it - but I got a lot of great memories and new friends around the world, which I'll come back to in a minute.
I took Endurolytes with me as well as Tylenol. I took an Endurolyte every five miles, which I'm sure kept the cramps at bay - total success on that point. I took two Tylenol before the race began, I don't know that they had any real effect.
At mile 16 or 17..remember those treacherous water stops? Well, guess what? I didn't watch close enough and was trotting right on through and zip, I slipped on a cup. I didn't think much about it at first, but by 18 my right knee was killing me and I was thinking not only, "what the hell was I thinking signing up for this race?" but also, "I may not be able to finish this one. If I see a med tent I'm stopping and having them look at it." Well...I took my last two Tylenol and by mile 20, entering the Bronx, my knee was feeling better, as were my right hip flexor and left whatchamacallit (a tendon at the top of the foot), which had both been bothering me from mile seven or eight. And so things went. Pharmaceutically, I think I nailed it. Hydration was also good, as was fueling; no problems on those counts and I didn't really hit a wall. I was as tired by the tenth mile as I was at the 25th. Ridiculous, yes, I know, but there you have it.
Pretty, huh? Several blisters, one separating toenail. Not too bad, as these things go.
Here's the important part: TEAM BOOMER ROCKS!!! Really, no shit, we rock.
Pre-race: I manned the Team Boomer table at the expo on Thursday, which was great fun and I was glad we were finally representin'. After all, I've been seeing those Cystic Fibrosis Trust singlets for so many years - and now we've got our own American CF team doing their thang. Woot! I also ran into NYFlyGirl - third year in a row - who by the way ran an amazing 3:44:14, a 14-minute PR and, I believe, a BQ. Way to go!!!
Friday, a little more with Team Boomer. Also met up with some other people who listen to Phedipidations podcast. Very cool meet-n-greet. After that, I wandered around and picked up my Tyvek pants, some new running gloves (the ones I'd forget at my house), and got my running watch fixed. At this spot, I ran into Beast, and though I'm unsure how he did, I'm sure he pounded out a 4-hr or so marathon.
Saturday night: joined a pre-race dinner exclusively for Team Boomer runners. I didn't stay long, as I wanted to eat my own food before the race, but it was nice to meet some of the other runners and Boomer Esiason himself.
POST-Race: Great after-party for Team Boomer, had my second Guinness of the night (got started on that at home!) and met a very amazing woman, Monica Hendrix, who had just run her 6th NYC Marathon. She is an EMT for FDNY and happened to be mere steps behind a man who collapsed on the 59th street bridge. She began CPR and SAVED HIS LIFE. I mean, I'm sure that's a daily event for her, but the coincidence that she just happened to be right there when she was needed most just boggles my mind. And she's a runner for MY TEAM.
We also have many other amazing runners on Team Boomer, including Gerard Perlberg, a coach and author.
I want to wrap up with the real highlight of my entire marathon experience: meeting all the great runners from two other Cystic Fibrosis-fighting teams during the race. I met several runners from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust (United Kingdom) before, during, and after the event, and a couple of members of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland. And both teams had at least one runner WITH CYSTIC FIBROSIS out there on that course, whom I met. I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE!
The last member I met was early this morning, as I was leaving Tavern on the Green, having purchased a little finisher's gear. This man was accompanied by his wife and kids and as we chatted he asked who I was running for. I smiled and said myself; I have CF. He then introduced me to his little girl - I hadn't even noticed her at first. She looked the very picture of health - I would never have guessed she's got CF. I was amazed. As we parted, I said congratulations to him and to her, I asked her to take care of herself. I hope ... well, I hope I could be seen as a good example there. Hey, kid...I'm 37 and I have cystic fibrosis. And yesterday I finished a really good long run. Please take care of yourself.
I ran with this singlet on:
I ran so many of those miles in memory of people who have died of this stupid disease and some of those miles I ran for myself. But I realized as I left that CF Team runner and his little girl behind and headed for the gym that I really ran all that for her - for the future of CF - so that maybe her life is a little better and a little longer than anyone's expecting. Good luck, kid.