Thoughts on NYC

First, I’ve got to admit I love going to New York. The energy is intoxicating. I’m not the best traveled person around, but having been to at least Paris and Amsterdam outside the US, I’m pretty sure that New York is, indeed, the center of the Universe. It’s got a history as long and colorful as, say, Boston, but, unlike great historic cities, New York continues to evolve, paving over the past in favor of the future. Amazing.

OK – here’s the scoop:

Saturday – Drove to New Haven. Parking lot at the station was full; closest alternative was about a half-mile away. Did the risk assessment – no way was I going to survive a half-mile walk Sunday night. Keep heading west, young man. Parked at Milford, which was a much better idea – tons of parking literally right next to the platform. Good stuff.

Meandered down to the Javitz center to grab my packet about 4:15; tons of time left before it closed at five:) If I were a running gear guy, I’d have been in heaven. Supposedly Deena Kastor was there, but I couldn’t find the booth to get an autograph for Jon. Runner’s World was there with iMacs to sync their podcasts. Not so much free stuff; but lots of cheap stuff.

Headed to the Upper West to check into the hotel. It was cheap, it was a place to sleep, and it was about three blocks from a friend’s apartment. Went out with a couple of fraternity brothers for a good, Mediterranean-style italian meal – tasty. Sign we’re all getting old is that by 10:30, everyone had headed home, instead of staying up ’til dawn.

Didn’t sleep well at all.

Five AM came soon enough. Woke up, packed up the bag that UPS would carry to the finish, and headed over to the subway to head to the Public Library for the shuttle to the start. There’s the usual mix of homeless, party people on their way home, and general drunks. Chuckle to myself when I realize I’m going to be, by far, the stinkiest person on the train later on Sunday. Got off at Times Square, saw a dude in a blue tux on his way to run. Realized as I stepped on the bus that I’d completely forgotten coffee, and began to have huge fears for the day.

On the bus, down the east side, tunnel to Brooklyn, over the Verazzano Narrows (completely forgot to make the “Saturday Night Fever” reference to my seatmate, darnit) and dropped off at the Staten Island Coast Guard post to wait for the start. Where the busses were letting off there were cheering volunteers. In the “green” area, there was a stage and bands. I was in the “blue” area, where there were bagels, gatorade, powerbars, and, PTL, coffee. Cuppa and a bagel, and I’m a happy guy.

Well, I was until I realized it was still ten minutes until seven, and that the race wasn’t going to start for another three hours plus.

Ah, well, life could be worse – I pulled on the pajama pants and sweater I’d brought to cut the chill, and spent the next three hours with the following routine:

– lay down, head on clothing bag.
– Read on the Iliad.
– get sleepy, stop reading, try to sleep
– get chilly
– not be able to sleep
– decide I need to pee
– get up to pee and circulate to warm up
– pee; get more to drink
– find empty spot in fall leaves
– repeat

There were a ton of international types there. While I dozed, I tried to play “decode a given language.”

It got chilly as fog rolled in between seven and eight.

9:10, dropped the bag off at the UPS truck. Grabbed tape from the medical tent for the nipples. Last swig of Gatorade.

Milled around for another hour. About 10, the line started inching forward. Talked with some guys from DC. Noticed that there was TONS of great running gear left behind at the start; briefly considered ditching the race to kit myself out for the next decade or so.

Meandered around to the start. Stared up the bridge to Brooklyn, dialed up the Beasties on the iPod (Foot on the pedal made of Air Force metal, engines running hotter than a boiling kettle) and started running.

Wow.

What a vibe. Happy, happy runners as far as the eye could see. Suspension bridge, views out of a foggy Atlantic and a glassy harbor. Tried to advance through traffic; gave up and went with the flow. Great stuff.

First 10 miles were a breeze. Brooklyn was great. There was the band in front of a Korean church playing “America the Beautiful.” A preacher at an AME (I think) preaching about the importance of running the race. Local bands every couple of blocks. An actual mosque with an elegant minaret. What a riot.

Stopped to pee about mile 13. One of my takeaways was “Man, I’d hate to be running this as a woman”. There were tons of portapotties at the start, but not so many actually on the course. Followed a woman who was about 4’6″ with a sign on her back that said “It’s my birthday” for a couple miles, but never caught up enough to tell her happy birthday. Which is sad, since she was taking about three steps to my one. Good on her.

Through Queens, and onto the Queensboro Bridge at mile 15.

This was the first time I really knew that the race was not going to end well. Stopped for my walk break at mile 15 while heading up the east side of the bridge, and seriously wondered if I’d ever get going again. I did, obviously, about halfway up the bridge, and resolved to run until mile 16, then walk a bit more.

Mile 16 was right before the end of the bridge. I could hear the crowd at the bottom. And no way in heck was I going to come off the bridge walking, not with thousands of screaming fans waiting.

Wow.

My heart was pounding.

(Duh, I’d just run 16 miles)

No, seriously – even if I’d have been sitting on top of a couch, my heart would have been pounding. Absolutely amazing. I think I understood the whole “Gladiator” thing right then and there – no way was I going to stop.

Rounding the corner onto First Ave was even better. I swear, my feet didn’t touch the ground until mile 17. Mile 17, stopped to grab a banana out of the crowd (Thanks, whoever). Wolfed it down, chased it with some gatorade, and ran, ran, ran.

Mile 18 – Woo Hoo! I think as I approach the mile sign, they’ve got PowerGels! Hot diggity. I start taking a walk break, look to see what favor gels are available, but somehow get stuck with another vanilla. Figure “Hey, at least I won’t get nausea with vanilla”, and suck it down. Walk through the water stop, drink a mouthful, pour a bunch into my cap and pour it over my head, taste the salt washing out of my hair, and think “Yeah, buddy, here we go” and start running.

‘Cept my legs don’t turn over; they just keep walking.

Hmm, that’s curious.

I let them do their thing for a little while, listening to my tendons. Don’t feel anything unusually painful, just the same nagging tension as the last race. Definitely not the cramping or pain I had during the 20 miler.

There is, however, severe discomfort on the top of my foot. Can’t quite figure it out.

Walk through Harlem. There’s a couple of guys with a turntable and a microphone on the sidewalk. The guy comes out and slaps my hand. I smile and keep walking. Take off the iPod, stuff it into my fanny pack. Enough tunes. Must focus what little brain I have left on keeping left foot, right foot, left foot turning over. Quite literally ten thousand other runners pass me by.

Finally see the bridge over to the Bronx. I think to myself at this point: “OK, Billy, here’s the deal. There’s no shame in quitting – after all, running two marathons two weeks apart is an idiotic thing to do. If you want to quit, there’s a subway two blocks over (or at least I think there is). BUT, if you cross the bridge into Brooklyn, you need to start running at the 20 mile mark, and keep running.”

I cross the bridge.

The bridge is cool. It’s a steel grate bridge. Half is covered with rubber decking for the race. I walk on the uncovered section. The studs and grate feel good through my sneakers. The bridge is a marvel – a rotating bridge to let ship traffic through. I can look down at the ancient turntable gears. I wonder if the thing still works.

On the other side of the bridge, I see the 20 mile marker and timing pad. Deep breath, and start running again.

The legs turn over this time, and I’m running. Somehow, running feels better than walking did. Round the corner into the Bronx, and there’s a car stereo belting out U2’s Vertigo – “You’re feeling so much older than you thought (watermelon, watermelon) and your mind you wander…” Around that corner, still running.

Through the Bronx with a brief thought about hating the Yankees, and back into Harlem. Mile 21. Almost make it to mile 22, but the discomfort on the top of my foot has blossomed into almost full-blown throbbing pain. I stop to walk, and shift a small portion of my brain over to figuring out why my foot hurts.

Ah – I don’t usually have a chip tied to the top of my shoe.

Look down, and realize that I’ve tied the chip such that the flex of my toes has been bouncing the chip off of the top of my foot. Didn’t matter before, but I don’t usually do 26.2. Conveniently, there’s a section of sidewalk without shoulder-to-shoulder spectators, and, even better, an actual chair.

I sit down, take off my left shoe, and unlace it. Relace it with the chip further up the foot, where it should have been, and put the shoe back on. Decide to sit for a couple more minutes. Have a conversation with random guy walking by. He says “Hey, Central Park’s just down the road. Are you going to finish this thing?” “Heck, yeah”, I say.

If I were still running, the hill between miles 22 and 23 up Fifth Ave past the Guggenheim and the Met would have killed me. Since I’m in trudge mode, I try to stay out of the way of folks with gas in the tank.

Into the park, past mile 24. I think “Two miles. I can run two miles”. The legs take about 4 steps and say “Nuh-nuh.” Back into trudge.

I get passed by a spectator.

The park is spectacular. Grass is green, leaves are golden and blowing gently in the breeze, and the air is brilliantly clean. Someone should be getting this on film, preferably with some witty dialogue, and marketing it as a hit romantic comedy.

Mile 24.5, there’s a camera. Can’t be on camera walking – start running. Run a quarter mile, under the camera, and walk again.

Mile 25. Screw it. I’m finishing this thing, and I’m running across the finish line.

So I do. Again, running is an improvement. Kind of wish I’d stuck it out more.

Finish. Grab the medal, put it on, get my picture taken. Get a shiny blanket, Shuffle with the crowd. Get some food. Eat the apple. Shuffle some more

[Before it was a bad movie, Bright Lights, Big City was a pretty decent book. The last scene in the book has the protagonist coming down off a bad high and drunk at a bakery on the east side. One of the delivery guys gives the protagonist a loaf of bread and the guy starts crying. There was a bad, packaged bagel in the bag. If it would have been fresh, I would have cried.]

Grab the bag and head west to Broadway. Find a train, head up a couple stops, and wobble to my friend’s apartment. To the wonderful French woman I was talking to in the subway station – Sorry, I wasn’t feeling talkative. Run the race. It’s a blast.

Shower, get the rundown on the AMAZING finish for the elite men. Wow. Hugs, congrats, see you soons, and I’m back to the subway to get to Grand Central.

The 1 train is packed on Sunday afternoon. I make it as far as the seventy-somethingith street station (two stops) standing up, and have to get off to sit down. I find a bench in the subway station. Two trains later, there’s a car with seats on it. Make it down to Times Square station, shuttle over to Grand Central just in time for supper and the 6:36 train to New Haven. Grab red beans and rice from the cajun restaurant in the basement. No better food ever.

Home in bed by 10.

Other tips:

1. Buy a cheap fleece blanket or sleeping bag to take to the start, and a space blanket. Sleeping on the grass would have been much better with covers. Or someone with whom to snuggle (note to self: convince wife to run next marathon).

2. Poop before applying BodyGlide.

3. New batteries in the camera before the race. Sorry, no pictures.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on NYC

  1. WHAAAAT?!?! Did I miss this? You ran NYC AND Mystic places? Did I know about this? OMG. Jank you are my total friggin’ hero, Man, I don’t care what the RBF says about you. :)

    You are amazing!

  2. Dude, you are amazing for hanging in there, I really am in awe! Jon has it right, you are a superhero! But please don’t run any more marathons this month ;-)

  3. lol at your tips and at Jack’s comment. You are amazing. No way I could run 2 marathons so close together. Not sure I could do 2 in the same year. Way to go . Really enjoyed your write up.

  4. Congrats on running NYC! You be a crazy man!

    BTW, the steel grate bridge linking Manhattan to the Bronx does work. It’s also part of Bike New York, though they don’t go to the effort of putting anything over the grates for the cyclists. You can imagine what riding on said grate on 700x23c tires is like (it ain’t pretty!).

    So next year: just NYC? Or perhaps one in June, then NYC?

  5. Also, with regard to the “Again, running is an improvement. Kind of wish I’d stuck it out more” comment: I saw a story on “CBS Sunday Morning” about a female amputee (left leg, just below the hip) who competed in her second Ironman Kona this year. Unlike 2004, where she missed the cutoff for the bike-run transition by 15 minutes, she finished. Best quote: “I learned early on that walking and running [with a prosthesis] hurt the sam amount – so I run.” Lessons for next year, perhaps?

  6. Billy, this is by far the BEST race report I have ever read. You rock in the writing department. And though I am sure this was one of the hardest races you’ve ever run, your sense of humor and eye for details remain intact! Thanks for taking us along:)Again, congratulations.

  7. Again congratulations, great job and a great report. I am looking forward to do NY. And thank you for the tips.

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