Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Race Report: The 2014 TCS New York City Marathon - Part 2

So there I was, borderline tearing up and crossing the start line of the marathon. I'd decided to set out with the 4:30 pace group because I was a little intimidated at the prospect of running with 4:15. I didn't feel that my training had been up to snuff and the idea of an overly ambitious start scared me a bit.

From the minute we started running the bridge, I could tell it would be a trying day for many people. The wind was much stronger than I remembered it in previous years. Abandoned clothing was whipping around on the ground and I saw multiple people trip and fall. Our pace leader apologized in advance and profusely, just in case she the wind blew the sign she was carrying into someone's face. As our small group made its way across the bridge, the pace group leader began chatting a bit. In my opinion, chat is a major benefit of running with pace groups. It makes the whole race seem like more of a team effort. Anyway, our pace group leader told us that NYC was her 124th marathon! And I thought I was getting up there in numbers.

I stuck with the group for about the length of the bridge before finding my own pace, which turned out to be a good bit faster. Somewhere between miles 2 and 3 in Bay Ridge, I started to get a little too warm and so abandoned my sweatshirt on a barricade. Hopefully, someone will make good use of it. Soon after that, we were on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, where I had my first on-course friend sighting at the 5k mile marker. It was Darian! He was helping on the course and I was able to wave to him as I ran by.

The next person I saw was my friend Emily, who had let me know a couple places where she'd be on the course. I got some high fives and was again on my way through downtown Brooklyn. My next friend target was Ali, with whom I used to play recreational basketball. I looked for her around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, but no dice. Onward!

Between miles 9 and 10 we entered Williamsburg, which is part of one of my favorite running routes. At some point, we turned onto Bedford Avenue and headed up toward Greenpoint, where I knew another friend, Tiffany, would be cheering at mile 12. As I approached, though, I realized I hadn't asked her which side she would be standing on. I took a gamble on the left side and found out five or ten minutes later that she had been on the other side. Alas!

The halfway point of the race came somewhere in the middle of the Pulaski Bridge. I checked my watch and saw that I was on pace for just about four hours, and so figured if I could at least mostly keep my pace up, I would finish just above that. I never have been a negative splitter.

The next person on my route was Tom and his fiancee, Carmen, who told me they would be cheering just before the Queensboro Bridge. Unfortunately, though, I missed them, too. No matter! I was feeling good as we made our way onto the Queensborough Bridge.

I think maybe 1 out of 10 people on the Queensborough were actually enjoying themselves at that point. I was one of those and I made every attempt to rally my fellow runners. At a few points, I tried the hoot and holler. For the most part, though, no one was having my crap. I think I might have gotten one enthusiastic response but otherwise my cheers were met with radio silence. Well, panting and heaving, if not silence. When we had almost reached the end of the bridge, I yelled "WOOOO! Manhattan!"

My words sat in the air for a bit and I tried running a little faster, figuring everyone around me had probably had enough. But finally, one girl turned to me and said, "this is my favorite part." I turned to her, incredulous, and said, "mine, too!" And it was glorious. Taking that turn is like running into New York City's open arms. The road exits the south end of the bridge and wraps around under a tunnel, leading runners north on First Avenue. For that entire portion and through the next five or ten blocks, spectators are four and five people deep and their energy and excitement is palpable. For however brief a moment, it's easy to forget that you're 16 miles into a marathon.

Ali had said she would be in that area as well, so I scanned the crowd as I ran by but didn't see her. The next people on my official list were Julia (92nd and 1st) and Monica and Helen (94th and 1st). As I passed 78th Street, I looked out for my friend Jorge, who had not explicitly said he'd be there but also lives in the area. No luck, though, so I continued on. In that stretch, we passed mile 18. I briefly considered taking a PowerGel that was being distributed, but decided against it, as I didn't actually feel like I needed it. Course volunteers were also handing out wet sponges, but it was way too cold for me to want any of that.

Finally, I reached the 90's. I missed Julia (my overall ratio of seen:missed friends was low) but saw Helen and Monica and came in for some high fives. The guy standing next to them even gave me a high five!

After that, the next two miles toward the Bronx was a bit of a slog. My hamstring was beginning to really bother me. It had started hurting earlier in the race, but I'd managed to put it away by telling myself that it was simply too early in the race (mile 6) to indulge it. 12-13 miles later, though, the tightness was back and it was much more difficult to ignore. I found myself having to stop and stretch it out at least once a mile starting at 19 or 20.

After an uneventful time in the Bronx, we entered Manhattan again on 5th Avenue and almost immediately saw the 21 mile marker. I knew my next stop would be my Hudson Duster friends just after mile 23. I could not have been happier to see all of them and ran down the line, giving high fives the whole time. I even got my own race beverage, which I very nearly coughed into someone's face. Ahhh…the marathon.

Soon after that stop, I saw Helen and Monica one more time. This time, I meant serious business and came in for a full-on hug. Helen was really thoughtful and brought me a banana. Unfortunately, eating a banana was not in the cards for me at that moment, so I had to refuse and I continued on my way. Next on my list was the Cornell water stop at mile 25. Honestly, I didn't even know anyone giving out water, but I still always look forward to that one.

Soon after that, I knew I only had a little over a mile left and decided to dig in and finish. To my surprise, Emily (whom I last saw around mile 7) was there right after the Mile 25 water stop for a last minute boost! I made the turn onto 59th Street and began the final stretch. I knew I had 3 more avenues and about two tenths of a mile to go after that, so I took it one at a time. 6th Avenue, then 7th (near where Monica, Jeremy and I used to live) and finally 8th. Somewhere between 7th and 8th I was pleasantly surprised by an 11th hour friend sighting when I saw Ali! I heard her cheer as I passed and saw her out of the corner of my eye and if I hadn't been so darn close to the finish, I would have swung around.

At that point, though, nothing was stopping me. I barreled on through Columbus Circle and into Central Park, knowing the finish was only a couple tenths of a mile away. At that point, I couldn't help but pick up the pace as I ran past burgeoning crowds and across the finish line.

5 down, hopefully at least a dozen more to go.
I know this post has already overstayed its welcome, but I want to emphasize how much I love this race and this day. This year and every year. It somehow manages to be both heavy with meaning and buoyant with hope and excitement. And people show themselves to be so, so good. All of the good adjectives you can use to describe people are applicable on this day. They are good, kind, true, generous, warm, gracious, brave and strong. And even if, in the grand scheme of things, it's just a foot race, it assures me that we can rise to even greater, more urgent occasions.

EDIT: After thinking about this a bit, I discovered the sentence in bold is probably a minor internalization of a Maya Angelou quote I love. It's not the same and doesn't explain the exact same sentiment, but it echoes her words and so I am including it here, primarily in the interest of transparency:

"One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest."

-Maya Angelou

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