Monday, November 21, 2011

New York Marathon 2011 - Race Report

New York City
Standing with a crowd of thousands before the Verrazano Bridge in November is a sight that is difficult to forget. I was fortunate to have the privilege a couple weeks back, and it was fitting that I got to share it with my man Boots who has been on the line next to me in several hard to forget races over the years. The challenges of the marathon distance do become familiar over time but the charm and feeling of each race is usually quite different, and the 42nd running of the New York Marathon was a race we needed to see for ourselves.

The New York Marathon doesn't really begin in Staten Island, it begins with a 5am walk to the subway. You board a south-bound train downtown with lots of nodding half-asleep New Yorkers heading in to work, and a slowly growing crowd of jittery runners in all manner of boldly colored shoes, race bibs, goofy hats. We unload downtown and march up to the docks where we line up to board the Staten Island Ferry. Together we boat across the harbor and watch the sun rise behind the Brooklyn skyline and the span of the Verrazano Bridge. To the west we motor past Lady Liberty herself, pantomiming a super-big high five to all aboard. Having been to New York only once before, I found these iconic views quite memorable.

Bridge and cargo boat from the ferry
Arriving in Staten Island, we swarm off the boat and board lines of buses en masse. These will take us to the athlete's village near the starting line. We arrive and wait there for an hour and prepare our things. The coffee and donut lines looks tempting but also quite long. I pin a zia symbol to the sleeve of my race shirt and change into my racing flats. I chat with a couple of guys and take photos. We drop off our gear bags at one of dozens of UPS trucks who will kindly deliver it all to the finish in Central Park, and when the time finally arrives, we run off to our assigned corrals and are led up to our places on the bridge.

Athlete's Village
Penned up in the starting corrals
The race organizers announce the women elites, the National Anthem is played, and the runners are sent off (give 'em hell Caroline!). We wait 30min for the mass wave start, all the while witness to warmups and spare clothing come off, casually flung through the air toward the roadsides and in all directions. We've been up for nearly five hours, changed clothes more than once, and now stand with thousands of others in an area too small to properly warmup. While somewhat interesting, this is the downside to running a marathon major. But the upside begins moments later as the gun sounds, and we're off. 

The first mile is the steepest of the course as the field climbs the bow of the bridge toward Brooklyn. My first mile is always my slowest, so I had determined to press a bit this morning and knock out a 6min35 mile or so when the legs felt most fresh. This would set us up for an optimistic finish of around 2hrs54. The effort felt honest but our split was a lackluster 6min 50sec. We'll make it up on the downside I thought. Nope, another 6min50. The effort felt faster to me but we were just getting our legs under us perhaps. The third mile went by in 6min40 and then we settled in knocking out 6min36 for several clockings afterward. This is where I wanted to be but it felt pretty lousy. This pace was not going to be sustainable for me. Boots looked effortless and several times I had to put my head down and press a bit to close gaps that would open between him and I. Passing through an underpass at mile seven, I heard the familiar Rocky theme pumping out of a stereo set up for the runners. Apparently this was all that was needed because I loosened up quite a bit and started to feel more smooth and in control from that point on. You're my man Rock. It also reminded me that Apolo Anton Ono was somewhere back in the pack getting his ass kicked by yours truly. Life's filled with disappointment buddy. The Desert Babe seemed to think I'd have trouble with Ono, but c'mon, this was no ice rink. Have some faith woman.

Boots and I feeling fresh at 10K
Feeling myself again I had a blast rocketing through Brooklyn and Queens, gazing at all the folks watching the race through apartment windows, roadside bands, large crowds heavily favoring the Italian and Mexican runners. Mostly the Italians. Not a lot of New Mexican love through here but we're hard, and passing droves of Italian colored jerseys soothes the ego. The crowds were pretty enthusiastic, several times closing in on the street in a tight funnel. That will never get old, an effect that can really elevate the running and charge a guy up.

We clipped along, chatting a bit and grabbing water at the mile intervals. Passed a gospel choir nearly 100 strong singing under the eaves of a Church somewhere in Queens. Passed through the Hassidic neighborhood and wondered at the folks in traditional dress going about their morning errands. Almost like a foreign country for a mile or two there. Soon we hit the half way mark at 1hr27:35 - feeling, kind of not so good. Hard to guess with these things though. Soon after we're on the 59th St. Bridge, climbing the course's steepest incline and we notice most of the people up ahead moving backward, so we're not the only ones starting to feel the hurt. Boots and I have zero problems with the 'hills' and we move past dozens of runners. We pass a litter of discarded water bottles marked with colored tape and writing - they belonged to the world's finest marathoners that ran through here 25min before. Toward the end of the bridge, we run over 1st Ave. and hear a roar from the crowds below. Holy smokes that was loud, here we go!

Serious and working harder by this point
A broad roadway and pandemonium up 1st Ave. People are spilling out of bars and restaurants making all kinds of noise. The road is dead straight so you can see all the way to the Bronx just about, and it looks pretty far. Boots and I had run the length of the race together but began to separate a bit through here. After mile seventeen, I could feel that rather than face the horror show that I was somewhat expecting, I felt to be getting stronger. This is a fine, fine feeling in a 26mi race. It was time to get to work and bury some fools, so that's what I did for the next hour or so. I just moved to the center of the road and locked into a 6min40 turnover like I was on the track back home. You could look way up the road to a fellow in blue (lot of italians were wearing blue), and just reel the guy in over the next half mile or so and then start again.

When we hit the bridge into the Bronx, the incline really hurt some people. A lone bagpiper on the span piped a funeral dirge as the group I was with sailed by. The numbers of people walking to the side were growing now, fried from leg cramps or rotten pacing. It was nothing like the walking dead we saw in Boston - that was dreadful - but folks were definitely beginning to crack with yet another 10K left before the finish in Central Park. The short section through the Bronx came and went in a flash. I remember a Korean youth group pounding on massive drums, urging us on our way. I looked around for a glimpse of Yankee Stadium a few blocks to the north, and then we were over the water once again on the course's final bridge.
Classic pain cave shot near the Park
Heading toward the Park I began to zone out. This is the beginning of shutdown for me. Still feeling steady I downed water at each mile and tried to take in some of the sights and sounds but my focus was blurring. At mile 24 my left calf started cramping which was alarming. I could tolerate a slow fade but not some sudden stop just because a leg stops cooperating. Three cups of water and a slower mile pace through this section loosened the leg some. I know there are hills as we enter Central Park but I don't remember them at all. My brain clicks back on when we make the right hand turn at Central Park South. I knew this was almost-home, so I revved it back up to red-line and made it my job to pass every runner I could see. People cheered for some guy in a Yale singlet, so long pal. Some guy staggers just in front of me as he weaves a line through the potholes, so long pal. I pass the first woman I've seen in a while, she looks tough as nails, it takes a prolonged effort but I finally get by her too. 

After turning north we arrive at the last stretch. Signs on the roadside mark 400m to go, 300m, 200m… made me think of Dixon and Salazar and Radcliffe. At Boston last year a few guys got past me over the last quarter mile so I tried to minimize a recurrence of that here. I count each runner as I go by, one guy has me count backward as he huffs by on my right, but he soon stalls out and I overtake him again. I count fourteen runners and then just before the line a guy dressed as Superman slows and I take him with two steps left. Can't tell you how satisfying that was. 

At the line - kryptonite sucka!
A fine run finished. I feel fantastic. A strong run all the way through, limits stretched, effort maximized, mental battles fought and parried, crowd energy absorbed and rekindled on countless ocassions. A fully realized run, nothing is finer. I receive a finishers medal then walk the mile long exit chute chatting with a few other tired guys. We are trying to predict who won the men's race an hour beforehand (a nice recap of the elite races here). Boots rolls up on me at the bag check station. I nicked a 2hr56 finish, Boots ran 3hrs flat. We high five and discuss the race as we change into street clothes, then amble off to the nearest bar. As the waitress arrives with two cold pints, one of the four televisions near us begins to broadcast the highlights of the elite races. A fitting end to one helluva day.

Related Posts:
  - New York Marathon 2013
I heard this song being played by a DJ somewhere in Queens and had the beat in my head the rest of the race. Sweet running beat. Estelle and Kayne

Other cool stuff not along the course
A movie shoot down off Wall Street, see if you can guess the movie...
What I thought was a sweet mural, doubles as history
One World Trade Center climbing out of dark memory
Silk screening a shirt in Zucotti Park, Occupy Wall St.
The Brooklyn Bridge and moon - under repair
A clipper ship and Manhattan skyline at the South St Seaport

Related NYC Marathon Posts
  - Fall Marathon Training II, (Aug 15th)
  - Building the Base for a Fall Marathon, (July 19th)



  1. Thank you sir. The running out east is quite nice if you can survive the airports and fly-time getting out that way. It's a damn long way from the hills here, that's for sure.



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