I woke up this morning at 4am. Showered, ate breakfast, and walked a few blocks to the bus to the starting line. I arrived at the start village around 6:15am. I sat on a curb with my knees tucked into a fleece jacket in the cold wind along with 50,000 other shivering runners for over 3 hours until the race started. Brrr! The food supply at the start was a little less of a buffet than what I had hoped for. 5 hours separated my breakfast and race, with only a bagel, half of a power bar, and a few cups of hot water in between. Not exactly an ideal pre-game.
As the start time for the race approached, I did a 10-minute warmup jog in my corral. It felt great to move and get the blood flowing a little. We were moved to the starting line at the toll booths on the Verrazano Bridge. World champion runners like Meb Keflezighi, Wilson Kipsang, and Lelisa Desisa were announced and briefly interviewed 15 feet from where I stood. We were yelling within easy earshot, our individual cheers getting attention from the greats. Talk about inspiration for the start of a race! OMG. It was awesome.
The National Anthem played and the race started! I was caught up in a tight group of people for the first mile up the incline of the Verrazano bridge. The wind tore across the bridge nullifying gravity. By that I mean loogies, snot rockets, etc. whizzed horizontally through the air at face level until they either encountered an obstacle or flew off the edge of the bridge. I’d imagine like spitting in a crowded space shuttle.
Before long I started to feel a light sweat under my arms, so stripped down to a light t-shirt, shorts, gloves, and sandals. I prefer to feel the brisk air than to sweat. I’m happy as long as my hands, ears, and feet aren’t too cold.
I was optimistically running at a 6:15 pace without bothering to take the stiff headwind into account. By mile 4 I was already starting to feel the burn from running, not a good thing with 22 miles still to go. I felt no commitment to stay at that pace, but figured I would stick with it and see how it went.
For most of the early miles I constantly heard, “Go Superman!”. Apparently a costumed character was running nearby. One hilarious little kid didn’t seem to quite get it. He thought we all looked funny. He was yelling, “Go superheros!” to everybody.
I was eager to hit a new borough but it felt like I was stuck in Brooklyn limbo forever. The whole first half of the race is in Brooklyn. At around the halfway point I saw the back of a familiar-looking head in a purple singlet. I could have sworn it looked like B’s nephew S who ran in my van at the 2013 Adirondack Ragnar. I recalled that he lives in the area, ran the NYC marathon last year, runs at a similar pace as mine… It’s entirely possible it’s him. As I drew close, sure enough, it was S. We greeted each other and talked a bit as we ran together for several miles. What a lucky break, having someone to run with during the middle-mile doldrums.
Somewhere on the Queensboro Bridge we parted ways. The course is on the lower level under a steel ceiling and my GPS watch went wacky. I tried to take in the amazing view as we approached the giant wall of skyscrapers of Manhattan. I made sure to stake my territory by running in the center of the middle lane. It’s not very often foot traffic owns the bridge, but today, this bridge belongs to ME. Large plastic water bottles labelled with handwritten elite bib numbers sparsely littered the bridge. The elite runners get special water stations where they can deposit their drink of choice. The scavenger in me was tempted to grab a bottle with one of the top runners’ numbers on it to keep as a souvenir. Kinda gross though: “He DRANK out of this!” so I just kept running.
It was an incredible feeling descending into Manhattan. Nobody was on the lower level of the bridge to cheer so there is a moment when you go from dark, quiet, windy silence to roaring crowds cheering in the sun. I knew I could expect to see M in the upcoming crowd which put another huge spring in my step. Previously I had been focused on things like keeping pace and drafting, but at this point I was just running. The road was six lanes wide and Mindy could be on either side. At mile 18 I heard her yelling my name from the far side of the road so I made a sharp right to run perpendicular to the other runners to give her a big hug, much to the surprise of the Man in the Yellow Shirt.
I’m running into the wind behind two other guys. A woman on the side shouts, “way to work together!”. The guy in the Blacktoe shirt, leading the pack, looks back and freaks out. He yells to the guy behind him, “What the hell how about somebody else takes the lead? I had no idea there were 60 people drafting behind me!”
After that, some of the positive energy started wearing off. I could feel The Wall approaching. The cure was in my shorts: a caffeinated gel packet, but I made the decision to hold off until mile 20 before playing that card, which meant a mile or so of perseverance. At mile 20, as soon as that mocha flavored energy hit my tongue, I felt ready to take on the final 6.2 miles.
The crowds really picked up at this point. Runners had spread out, so I was enjoying some individual attention from the people yelling from the sides. At one point I watched as a woman from the sidelines yelled in slow motion, “Hey guy in flip floooooops… I thiiiink thaaat iiiis awwwwsommme!!”. I was super psyched to hear M calling my name again at mile 23 for another much needed hug and boost of support.
For the last several miles I picked up the pace a little. Or to be more realistic, I slowed less than most other runners. It felt great. I was smiling, enjoying the cheers, and picking off runners. Meanwhile, photographers from Marathonfoto were everywhere. I couldn’t resist trying to get captured in some goofy poses. As I came into view of one photographer, I was all set to present my ultimate pose but she actually put down the camera to point at me and yell something about the flip flops. Lol.
Another woman was standing on the sidelines. Her hand was outstretched. I’m pretty sure it was there for high-fiving. However, she was talking to a friend, her face pointed away from the runners, having long since forgotten about her outstretched hand. I ran past and at the last second my hand shot out to give her an unannounced high-five. I wish I could tell you her reaction, but there was no looking back. Laughter? Anger? The world will never know.
We ran around the southern end of Central Park and took a right turn. Mile marker 26 let us know we were on the very final stretch, just 0.2 miles to go. I picked up my pace, enjoying the guilty pleasure of passing people. Suddenly in front of me a runner seized up, grabbed his quad, and limped to the sidelines. I thought to myself, “don’t be that guy” and slowed back down a little.
I cross the finish line. Smiling from ear-to-ear I collect my finisher’s medal. Someone wraps a tiny thin space blanket around me and tries to tape it on with a flimsy piece of NYC-marathon branded tape. Meanwhile another volunteer hands me a 10-pound ball and chain to carry for the next few hours. It is a bag with 3 large drink bottles, an apple, power bars, and god knows what else. All I know is that I needed 3 hands to hold the space blanket, another two to hold the sack of crap, and some new legs to carry me out of here. As thirsty and starving as I am I don’t have the hands or the time to ingest anything in the bag. I still have my wits about me at this point. I need to get to Family Reunion Area S where M would be waiting with warm clothes. As I am now, I’m very nearly naked in a howling winter wind so the sooner the better.
I walk forever through a gauntlet of thousands of volunteers. At first it’s nice, they say, “congratulations you did awesome, how do you feel?” And I respond with a hearty smile and “thank you I feel great!”. By the 100th conversation like this every half second, my responses get slightly less enthusiastic at which point their true raison d’être is revealed. Now they grab my elbow and say, “are you all right? Do you need the medical tent”? I give a big fake smile and “no thank you, feel awesome!”. I want to say, “I just ran a f’ing marathon I’m f’ing freezing I need to get to my f’ing wife with my warm clothes as quickly as possible. Do you have a teleporter to teleport me to Family Reunion Area S? If so great, otherwise get out my face”. But I am well aware that the punishment for any kind of backtalk will mean getting dragged kicking and screaming to the dreaded medical tent where I will freeze to death all the while getting interrogated, poked by needles, signing papers, anything but warm clothes and a shortcut home.
I lie through my chattering teeth to another hundred volunteers and tell them how great I feel. I get to a fork in the road. To the right is baggage pickup, the long walk in the wrong direction for people who dropped off warm clothes at the starting line. For people who did not drop off warm clothes, there is a shortcut to the left. I notice signs saying, “You must have a NO BAGGAGE bracelet to take the shortcut”. Bracelet? WTF? I got no baggage to pick up. I’m TAKING the SHORTCUT. I walk to the left. Volunteers surround me. “Do you have a bracelet?” Yes I have a bracelet. It’s right here. You don’t see it? Hm, it must be under one of my gloves. Or maybe the other glove. That’s funny I HAD a bracelet. It must be here somewhere. This guy does not give up. He escorts me to the baggage lane. On the other side of the fence I see other runners getting repeatedly harassed for their bracelet and I realize there’s no point in fighting it I’m taking the long way home.
I walk past van after van containing peoples’ drop bags starting with van 50,000-49,000. Followed by 49,000-48,000. And so forth down to 1,000. I watch shivering as countless prepared runners collect their drop bags and change into warm clothes. I occasionally try to jog but realize I will definitely hurt myself trying to run carrying this giant grocery bag so I just keep moving. It feels like hours before I get to exit central park. Of course now I’m way far north of where I need to be. I head south in a tightly caged in area. Nobody is here, I am very alone. I walk and walk. After forever I get to the area where “NO BAGGAGE” bracelet people took the shortcut. On the other side of the fence, volunteers are wrapping those people in giant wind proof fleece blanket ponchos. OMG this sucks. Not only did I have to take the long walk of shame without the benefit of collecting warm clothes, but I’m also going to miss out on the warm blanket. I hold back my tears. Eventually the two paths merge. I put on my best “sneaking into a concert” face and make my way backwards to the shortcut lane. I pass a few blanket volunteers, turn around, and act like I have a bracelet. I target a vulnerable youth volunteer, less likely to be adamant with the bracelet check, who thankfully wraps me in happy stolen warmth.
Signs point the way to “Family Reunion”. They have been swirling around in the wind for hours and are now pointed every which-way. I ask a volunteer where the reunion area is. She says ask someone else. I work my way along, asking volunteers who keep pointing me south and naming different street intersections 12 blocks south, plus a few blocks west. I finally reach the street where my reunion area is! All I have to do now is work my way west and I am there! I start to walk but a wall of cops stops me. “You can’t enter here. You can only exit via 64th street or 58th street”. My jaw drops, are you kidding me? These guys are serious so I head back north and exit there. I walk along a quiet street. I’m hugging the poncho hood to my face for warmth. I am marching and not paying attention. I walk blindly onto Broadway as a Taxi honks and yells. That was a close call. As I turn around and head south, the cabbie screams at a NYPD traffic officer for letting me wander into the street. Like it was his fault.
Oh the suffering. This is the worst. I make my way to the intersection where I’m told I will find Family Reunion area S. I finally get there. It is a line of hundreds of normal people as they wait to get scanned by cops before entering the Reunion Area. I skip my way to the front and look to see that the reunion area is the place I was trying to exit from half an hour ago when they told me I wasn’t allowed to exit there. There is no sign that I can see saying, “S”, it’s just a place like any other. I asked to get through, they told me to get on the end of the line. I look around for M, maybe she’s over there. I don’t see her so I hang my head and drag my feet to the end of the line. I stand there for 30 seconds when M comes running over. She had just arrived and had gotten on line only minutes before! We did it!
I put on warm clothes and we skedaddle. As it turns out even if I had gotten to the meeting place sooner, I would still be standing there in the cold waiting so maybe things worked out for the best.
Things to keep in mind if I ever do this again:
* Eat a good breakfast and bag a good lunch for the start
* Bring lots of disposable warm clothes to the start, to be donated in the corral
* Think about doing a drop bag. Warm clothes at the finish are a good thing to have. Or if not, be sure to wear the special ‘no drop bag’ bracelet or else you get stuck with a very long cold walk and no warm cape to wear.
* Arrange transportation ahead of time as soon as possible – I mean MONTHS before the race. I’ve heard advice recommending the ferry. Because the roads close early and the buses need to guarantee your safe arrival, they get you to the start way early which means sitting around in the cold. The ferry is more flexible. It would have been great to arrive at 7:30 or 8am instead of 6:15.