More specifically for me, a run-walk to the park... First off I will apologize up front for some of the pictures (some are great - particularly a couple that L took, but):
A. I took a lot of them while actually running
B. I am living proof that a guy with a beer gut can run a marathon - maybe now I understand why people don't say hi to me much while I run...
In any case, the start was crazy. Frankly, I wasn't even sure when I crossed the start line - it was such a rush, and next thing I knew I was leaving borough #1 - Staten Island and on the Verrazano Narrows bridge over to Brooklyn. Running the bridge was amazing - it's a beautiful 2 mile structure - one of the prettiest bridges I've ever been on. I was a little (ok a lot) worried about the first mile - how would I feel, how would it go, it's supposed to be the biggest hill on the course - 150' over 1mile, so what would the first split be like. Lots of early anticipation, butterflies, the whole bit. And it went fine. I ran it in a 10:45 (goal pace for each mile is 10:00 btw) - which was easy to make up later. It was weird - there were so many people - I was basically dodging and weaving the whole way. Turns out that this would be the theme for the entire 26 miles. BTW - here is a link to the course map and elevation
There were so many people and characters it's tough to document it all. Noteworthy in this mile was the guy dressed as a light house, and the jingle bell runner. Yup - you heard me - a jingle bell runner. My god. I was really worried - if this guy was running around the same pace as me I was going to get to listen to his 4 sets of jingle bells for then 4 and a half hours. Fortunately, I lost him after a couple of miles. Before the race I had read something about running in the middle of the road to avoid the "spray" off the bridge - didn't really know what that meant, until I was out there. See people run on both the top span and the bottom span of the bridge (I was on the top). After 3 hours of waiting at the start line, there are a number of people "over hydrated" - when said people relieve themselves over the edge of the top span, well now you get the picture (I waited until I got to the bottom of the bridge at mile 2 where there was no bottom span any more).
The next 6 miles basically went up 4th avenue in Brooklyn. No pictures in this stretch, mostly just shaking out the legs, I felt pretty good - had a few sub 10 minute miles, which was key for my target. Here's some of the math. My training pace was aimed at a 10 minute mile. This would have resulted in an overall time of 4 hours, 22 minutes. Then I had two variations - variation 1, assuming everyone went basically OK, but if I had to stop to go to the bathroom, or deal with a blister or something, was to finish the race in under 4 hours 30 minutes - basically running at my pace, but some time built in for the unexpected. Anything under that and I was satisfied. Anything under 4:22 and I would be very happy. Then I had my "whisper" goal of 4:20 - it's just a round number, and I like round numbers. This was the target assuming everything went really well - good temperature, feeling strong, no issues etc. In order to hit that I needed to shave off about 5s per mile - which doesn't sound like much, but you'd be surprised. In any case, in order to do that I needed to run a few sub 10:00s to make up for the places where I would be over 10.
It was also through this section that I had to make my first adjustments. See, I use the Galloway method to run long distances. He is an advocate of the "run walk" system, where you run for a spell, and then take 1 min walk breaks to give your muscles a chance to do something different, and then you run again. Doing this will only add about 20s per mile to your time, but can keep you fresh much later in the race. In training I was religious about this - I would run to a mile mark, then walk for a minute while I drank/ate/gooed, and then run to the next mile. It was like clockwork. As I prepped for NY I did my research - there would be water stations every mile from mile 3 on. There would be Gatorade Endurance Formula every 2 miles from mile 4. So I had a plan - I would have my walkbreaks at the mile marks, take on water every other station, Gatorade every other station - all good. Well, reality is often different than the plan. They definitely had water at every station and Gatorade at every other, but they weren't actually at the mile marks. In fact I missed the first couple of stations because they were well before the mile marks and I wasn't prepared for that. See it's crazy out there, and you have to get to the side of the road to get to the drinks, which is no easy feat. And when they come up on you before you are expecting them, without any signs, it can be tricky. Add to that the fact that they only had Gatorade at the first 2 tables, and it was pretty easy to already be past the gatorade into the water before you knew it. It took me about 4 stations to get into the habit of looking for the water anywhere - sometimes up to a quarter mile short of the mile mark, and sometimes up to a quarter mile after (at one point there was about a mile and half between stations). This really screwed up my rhythm, and made my mile splits a little varied, but I dealt with it.
My first key checkpoint was just after 8 miles - this is where the race turns from 4th Ave to Lafayette, site of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower - the tallest building in Brooklyn. But the key point here is this is where I was hoping to see L and my parents. They were planning on being just past mile 8, so I was on the lookout for them. They say that it is harder for spectators to see their racers (ok runners, ok joggers) than vice versa, but frankly, it goes both ways. There are over 2 million spectators along the course, and for most of it they are shoulder-shoulder, 3-5 people deep. Add to that the fact that the runners are basically shoulder-shoulder along the road, and you can see the problem. We had done some serious planning ahead of time, so I knew what mile to look for them in, and which side of the road (a key point) - but I still almost missed them - we had talked about them moving up the road to where it was a little quieter, but there was no such section! In any case, I saw L out of the corner of my eye and managed to jet over to the side of the road (sorry to the other runners - rookie move) and give her a quick kiss, spinning me around before I kept out on my way. In the corner of my eye I saw that they had a sign held up, so I knew to look for that as a sign later.
The next 4-5 miles took me through the rest of Brooklyn, toward Queens. It was definitely cool running through all of the various neighborhoods. Lots of folks out watching, people throwing marathon parties out on their steps, blasting music for us. Bands along the way, everything from Korean bands, to classic rock to steel drums to keep us moving. I ran by a band playing Lord I Was Born a Rambling Man, as I was jockeying for position with a woman who had a shirt on that said Jesus Has Allowed Me To Run This Race. Seemed fitting. At one point there were a bunch of folks on the steps of a Funeral Home cheering us on - I couldn't help wonder if the undertakers were looking for a little more business... Just past the halfway point at 13.1 miles we crossed the Pulaski Bridge into Queens.
My halfway split was 2:10:43 - pretty much right on time for a 4:22, and some room left to get back to a sub 4:20 - all good. Queens was pretty quiet - and short - only a couple of miles. Everyone raved about the run over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan - how you could hear the crowds in Manhattan before you could see them, how historic it was - I have to admit, this part was the biggest letdown of the race. First off, we ran on the bottom span of the bridge, so we didn't get to see all the cool bridgework on the top span - it basically felt like we were running in a tunnel for 2 miles. Then it was actually a pretty tough mile - all uphill for a mile to the midspan of the bridge. Over a mile without any water And it was eerily quiet - you couldn't hear the fans - nothing. Then it was a downhill run off of the bridge, down to a sharp left hairpin turn at the bottom. The crowd was a little quiet, and my feet were pounding against the front of my shoes due to the downhill. Definitely overrated.
However, now I was in Manhattan, with a long straightaway up 1st Ave, through the Upper East Side and Harlem to Brooklyn. Now that was a fun stretch - miles 17-20. It was definitely straight - you could see runners miles ahead. It had a little undulation, but it wasn't too bad (or at least that's what I say now). This was one of the most crowded sections of the course so far - easily 5-8 people deep all the way up to Harlem. One thing that people do in this race is they run with their names on their shirts - it gets the crowd going, cheering on people they don't know. I had heard that it can be quite annoying for the runner itself so I didn't do it, but after the fact, I think I might have enjoyed it. It's hard to say. Although it was interesting for me, since I was mostly passing people for the duration of the race, I kept running near different people. So for one mile all I would hear was go Rob - you can do it Rob, don't give up Rob. And then the next mile would be go Kerry, you can do it Kerry - great job Kerry. Hard to say. Although I ended up turning it around and cheering for people's fans - yay fans of Jimmy - thanks for coming out!!!
Oh, and did I mention how crowded it was on the course? For those of you who think Green Lake is busy, it was basic training compared to the advanced ops of this course. It was crazy - I was constantly dodging people for the entire 26.2 miles. A lot of people have commented on how consistent my split times were - it's funny, given how inconsistently I was running. You would get behind a group of people running together with nowhere to go, and you'd naturally just slow down to their pace. If you weren't focused, you could easily lose 30s on a mile just in a lull. So there was a lot of side stepping, accelerating through spaces, slowing down again etc. It probably ended up being good for me in terms of not using the exact same muscles in the same stride all the time, but it definitely affected the overall race. At the end of it I ran at least .3 miles more just because of all of the side-side - another 3 minutes on my time.
In any case, that continued up 1st Avenue, which not only had the traditional water stations, but also a powerbar gel station, a Poland Springs misting station, a Sponge Bob Square Pants cooling sponge station, and a banana station. So any time there was water it was slippery - thousands of waxed paper cups on the road with the excess water, but I took my walk breaks there, so it wasn't very risky. Although it was chaos trying to stay out of the way - I was surprised that it seemed like very few people were doing the run walk thing - which is really popular at the races I've done in Seattle and Vancouver. But back to the bananas. I won't set up the punchline any more - yes, I slipped on a banana peel. Seriously. I didn't fall down or anything, but it definitely kicked my leg out. With all the potholes, people's ankles, water stations etc, and I slipped on a banana peel. Never believed that that stuff actually happened. That said, maybe the marathon folks should reconsider what midrace snack they hand out. (Although come to think of it, it might have been private citizens that were giving it away, since that happened a lot, there were kids handing out candy, cheerleaders handing out home made brownies, families handing out orange slices and small water bottles).
Somewhere between mile 18 and mile 19 is where I was supposed to meet my family next. It was an interesting race to see which one of us would get there first - me running 10 miles, them having to deal with negotiating the crowds and taking a couple of subways, not to mention some walks between the course and the subways. Starting at 92nd avenue I was scouring the crowd, and sure enough, somewhere around 93rd I saw my last name on a sign. Yup - there was L and crew. It was really nice to see some familiar faces as I made the transition into the toughest part of the run.
Just before the 20 mile mark you cross a bridge into the Bronx. The course outline says that this is one of the toughest miles, devoid of fans, and pretty run down, but that you get to see Yankee stadium. Once again, the course outline was a little off. First off I never saw Yankee stadium. Secondly, the fans were out in force. Certainly not as crowded as 1st Ave, but still, a good number of people out there, welcoming us to the Bronx - a couple of bands - people blasting music from boom boxes - it was as great as anywhere on the course. It was a couple of up and down miles, so I lost some time through here, but no matter, I was still convinced I could do 4:22. One mile in the Bronx and it was back over the Willis Ave Bridge to return to Manhattan/Harlem. This was the 22nd mile, and in some ways for me, the hardest mile of the course. I had run 22 in training but you know, it's hard. It wasn't helped by the guy with the microphone talking about how he'd been standing out there all day just to cheer us on. Frankly I didn't care - I'd been running all day just to get there - top that!
Lost a little more time there, but I knew it was going to be OK. I was supposed to see the family again at Mile 23. I had run 5 miles out and back to get there, and they had walked about 6 blocks crosstown to see me. It worked out really well. I saw the sign, and L took some of these pictures of me. You can see that somehow seeing my family helped to jazz me up - at least to smile/grimace through the pain (unlike some of the other runners..). At this point I was still a half hour from the finish, but things were looking up. I knew I was going to make it, at least close to the time goal, so all I had to do was power through. Just before the 24 mile mark we make the right hand turn into Central Park. That was really cool. At least it was supposedly pretty cool.
I have to admit that at this point I kind of went into some kind of zone. I wasn't looking for my family any more, and I had nothing left to do but get across the finish line. I know that it was a beautiful day in Central Park. I know that I passed a guy running in an Elvis costume (I could hear the people cheering for him before I saw him). I know that I took shorter walk breaks. But other than that I basically just put my head down and powered through. Mile 24, 2.2 miles to go - now is the time that I normally speed up. (Yeah, something I've always tried to do - run a negative split - i.e. have the second half faster than the first, and finish strong). Back when I lost all the weight I had a personal trainer who always pushed me beyond my limits. Time to put that into practice. Mile 25 - 1.2 miles left - only about 12 minutes - I can do anything for 12 minutes. Dig deep. Big Turn at Columbus Circle - I know there is a last hill coming. Big TV screen showing the runners - hmm - can't find myself. Can I go a little faster? Push it - gotta get between those two guys. Oops, kinda bumped them, but they pushed me on my way. Wait a minute, that guy just flew past me - and that girl - they're turning like 8 minute miles. Whoa - but that's it, no-one else is getting past me. 800m to go. I can't believe it, I'm about to finish the NY Marathon. 400m - they say there is a 50' hill at the end - but I'm feeling nothing now. There it is - the finish line - I can see the time - wait a minute, if I get there in under 30s I should be able to break 4:20 after all - one last push - and there it is - crossing the finish line. Oh My God. What a rush.
The finish was nuts - you actually couldn't really run across it - it was so jammed up - probably added another 5s to the time overall (just for reference, around my finish time about 6 people cross the line every second). And I made the classic marathon rookie move, looking at my watch as I crossed the line, rather than up at the camera, so the official photographers have about 20 pictures of me looking down as I cross the line. But then I was done. And walking. Slowly. What an incredible, exhausting experience. First stop, they give you a medal. Then you walk some more. Then they give you a space blanket to keep you warm. Then you walk some more. Then you get some water. Then you walk some more. Then they cut off your chips (I kept mine though). Then you walk some more. Then you get to your UPS truck. Then you wait in line. Then you walk some more. Fortunately I had put some amazing salami in my bag, so the walking wasn't so bad at this point. Another walk and I made it to the family reunion area, where I was reunioned with my family! All in all it took over half an hour from the time I crossed the line to getting to the family. (Unfortunately, L's CF card got corrupted - we managed to recover it, but we lost the picture of L and I, and the one with all 4 of us:-(
If you add in the time at the start, plus the time to get to the reunion, plus the time trying to get a cab I was on my feet for the better part of 5.5 hours, and it was all worth it. I know that a lot of you think it's crazy. And there are a couple of you who could run it even faster than I did. But at the end of the day this was for me. I really wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and I did. I wanted to prove that I could train by myself (I'm not always so good at doing things alone) and I did. And I wanted to do it in a way that didn't ruin every weekend all summer, and I did. I raced the way I trained, I gave it my all, and I hit my goal. Would I do it again - sure. Would I do it the same way - probably not. I'd run one for charity. I'd run if some friends wanted to do one. But I wouldn't run with a time goal again. It would take some serious training to reach "the next level" e.g. qualifying for Boston which means running over an hour faster - not going to happen. I'd love to do NY again and not care when I crossed the line. Take the time to take more pictures on the Verrazano Narrows. Take the time to stop and thank the kids. Take the time to talk to my family. Take the time to dance with the bands. Just take the time to really see it. But no rush. If something comes along great. If not, I'll still keep running, at least to keep the weight off (in fact I'm heading to Road Runner today to donate my marathon shoes to charity and buy a new pair).
One last note, and she knows this already and hates to be called out publicly, but I do need to explicitly thank L for all of her support. While the training didn't kill our weekends (I tended to run in the morning while she was still in bed/getting going) it had it's moments - Friday nights chilling so that I wasn't too whacked the next day to run, picking me up in Woodinville after my first 20 mile run and dealing with me all sweaty in the car, dealing with my food cravings after I ran, listening to me talking about running, going to NY (OK, she really likes NY), dealing with my last minute neuroses through the final week, playing tour guide for my parents - it was all amazing. I've read about runners who manage to run without the support of their families, but I couldn't imagine it. Thanks for everything, I truly appreciate it.