RACE RECAP FOR NYC MARATHON SUNDAY 2 NOVEMBER 2014
I finally get to sleep around midnight. Then the phone rings. It’s the automated wake-up call. Checks clock radio: 3:00AM. Obviously hotel staff haven’t set their clocks back. Time for a bit more sleep. Awake again at 3:20. Skypes wife. What time is it? 3:22. “No it’s 4:22.” I’ve stuffed up the time on all my backup devices too. Not a good start, plus I’m due to meet a fellow runner in the lobby at 4:45 for an early breakfast two blocks away. Scoffs down coffee and a peanut butter bagel. Rushes back to hotel, puts on enough layers to rival Scott’s expedition then joins the rest of the Travelling Fit runners in the lobby. Endures two hours of road closures and traffic jams and finally dumped off the bus at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. It’s 8:00AM. My wave starts at 10:55. Woodstock meets outdoor homeless shelter. People in dressing gowns, doonas, carpets, garbage bags, onesies…you name it, anything to keep out the icy cold winds coming down from Canada.
A canon goes off. Everyone cr@ps themselves. It’s the start of the elite women’s race. Then the elite and serious men. Then wave after wave until Orange D Wave 4 approaches the starting line. Sinatra starts spreading the news. Tears start to well up. “And it’s AUSTRALIA in the house!” I lose it. Air horn goes off. Our race has started! But not me. I’m petrified that I haven’t warmed up properly and that my calf will tear again as soon as I start. Wave 4 heads for the bridge while I’m still stretching against one of the 700 buses. I figure I’m in the last 50-100 to start the race.
The Michelin Man starts walking. Just do everything you’ve done in training. Train for the conditions, same clothing, hydration and nutrition. OK let’s see…I’ve trained for only six weeks, on the Gold Coast in 20-25 degrees wearing a singlet and shorts, with no hill work, using my own water and gels, on the same flat course with little or no wind. I’m now on the other side of the world, on my own, facing the ascent of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which is “affected by weather more than any other bridge in the city because of its size and isolated location close to the open ocean. It is occasionally closed (either partially or entirely) during strong wind and snow storms.” It’s now 3deg with expected wind gusts of 75kph. Nice.
In my mind I quickly devise an (untested) run /walk strategy. Walk up all the bridges, run down the other side, walk through the water stations, and run when I can, but walk when I’m tired. Run by feel, not by the clock.
So I set off. I’m dressed in 3 layers of technical tops, with arm sleeves, a full jacket, beanie and gloves. Shorts, calf sleeves, toe sox and Ghost 7s. My race bib is attached to my Spibelt by only two cords (again untested in training). This proves to be major distraction. My greatest fear on the bridge is not being picked up by a sudden gust of hurricane speed wind and swept away to a certain ice cold watery death. It’s that my race bib could fly away and they won’t give me a medal at the finish.
I start walking up the bridge. Luckily I’m at the back of the 50,564 runner field. I say luckily because I can now enjoy watching a couple of thousand tops, caps, beanies and gloves swirling towards my head as other runners are being swept across two lanes by the driving wind. I’m passed by an ancient Japanese walker who I later learn finished in the top two in the 80+ category (in a quicker time than me). Right now I’m thinking “WTF am I doing in this race?” I’m taking up the space of a real runner like Dean O’Neill who trained so hard for this race only to be struck down by injury at the last minute. I start searching for the button that will turn off these negative thoughts. I quickly find it.
I tough it out on the bridge and start running near the 2K mark. This has cost me time wise but the extra time warming up and the energy conserved will be needed later. Keeping in the left lanes, I come around a long sweeping curve and start to hear the crowds. Then I see them. Three, four and five deep, Mom, Dad and the kids, with the family dog and Grandma in tow. All rugged up and dressed up with horns and clackers and posters. And the first of 120 bands fires up. This is not a race, it’s a parade. And it’s time to party. My spirits are lifted. I’m getting in the groove. Then someone shouts out “Go Ossie!” Then another and another. I look around. They’re cheering for me. Then someone calls out my name. “Go Endre!” Every “Go Ossie” and “Go Endre” spurs me on.
I start to show off. I’m crisscrossing the road to high five Mom & Dad, low five the kids and the dog and give Grandma a big hug. I see a sign up ahead saying “Wanna dance?” I’m there. I’m busting my best moves (about as uncooly as a nearly 60yo gets). But in my mind I’m on fire here. How long can I keep this up? Another one yells “Go Endre. We love Ossies!” I give him my jacket. The next one gets my beanie, then my gloves go to the next encourager. Just as I’m thinking maybe I should leave some clothes on here, we turn a corner straight into the northwester which continues all the way down Third and into Fourth Avenue. It’s going to be a long day.
The parade continues along Fourth Ave in Brooklyn. As I attempt to cross the 10K checkpoint I’m blocked by a glass wall. I try and find the outline of the door then the door handle. I turn it and walk through, pausing briefly on the other side as if I’ve forgotten something. I then close the door behind me. The crowd goes nuts. I then go off in search of green and gold. One by one I pick up other Travelling Fit runners. “HI Endre, how’s your calf muscle holding up.” Facebook names becoming faces. I start to get some consistency in my running. When I’m tired I walk, when I fuel I walk, when I get bored I run. Just past the Nine Mile mark there’s a sweeping left-hander. Of course I turn right. “Which way to Dodgers Stadium?” “Just turn left and keep running…all the way to California!” I love this town. (Incidentally, on the flight home I watched a movie called “42” featuring Jackie Robinson the first Afro-American to play Major League Baseball. He played his whole career for the Brooklyn Dodgers whose stadium is a stone’s throw from where we are now.)
We press on to South Williamsburg and its large Orthodox Jewish community. The crowds have been thinning out up to this point but now they are non-existent. Everyone is going about their business. The runners are a slight distraction but not enough to stop for, when crossing the road. No hijinks here. Brooklyn becomes Queens without much fanfare and the crowds start to pick up again. We approach the halfway point of the race and everyone around me is walking. I’m thinking if they’re walking now, what are they going to be like at the finish? I do a quick stocktake. Four gels left. Breathing is good. Legs starting to tire but calf muscle is still attached. I head for the Queensboro Bridge and the lowest point of my race. Kilometres 20-26 are tough. My pace chart shows I lose a lot of time here. The Queensboro Bridge is cold, lonely and very windy. At the 25K mark in the middle of the bridge, I’m getting p!ssed off. So what else to do but take a selfie. My mind turns into a calculator. At this rate I’ll be lucky to finish in six and half hours. I can’t be bothered with that. Time to pull my finger out and turn this back into a race. I put in a 6:30min/km leg (my second fastest of the run) and come off the bridge to be hit by a deafening roar.
The Bronx and Manhattan
We run off the Queensboro (aka 59th St Bridge). “Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last.” I’m feeling anything but f*cking groovy at this point. 26 kilometres into the race and I’m doing it tough. I pick up the pace just in time to hear a sound I’ve only heard twice before, when Paartalu equalised at Suncorp and when Timmy scored in K-Town. The noise from the spectators on First Avenue is amazing, like I’m running through a wall of sound. Straight away my spirits are lifted. I’m back in race mode and knock off a 6:30 km. As if on cue, the band breaks into “I’m back, back in the New York groove”. I need to fuel and approach the drinks station at Mile 17. I quickly scoff down another gel and I need water. A friendly voice yells out: “Gatorade!” They’ve switched the order of drinks service. Not a big deal normally but with a mouthful of raspberry flavoured snot I need water and I need it now. I take a water from the next section, stopping and thanking the server as always. “No, thank YOU for coming to our city.” I’m touched by this. Leaving enough liquid in the bottom of the cup to get a nice arc on my throw, I press forward and get a good tempo going as First Avenue is all downhill. Up into Harlem and into The Bronx, the crowds are starting to thin out again. At mile 21 we turn into the wind on 5th Avenue and begin the long journey home.
Oh Goody! It’s all uphill now. I pass the 34K mark. I’m waiting to hit the wall. Nothing. Maybe I don’t understand what the wall is. Instead of a specific point in time, it feels like someone has put an empty backpack on my back at the 25K mark and is slowly filling it with weights every few kilometres. Hey I can live with this. It sure beats the pain of tearing your calf muscle in two. Back in Harlem at the 35K mark I’m thinking there’s only 7Ks to go. Someone yells out “You can do this!” I look at the back of my hand which reads: “Finish what you started.” What does it mean? Where did it start? At the Verrazano? In August 2013 when I registered for this race? Or was it on the 1st Sept 2011 when I first walked through that door at Weight Watchers? Either way I’ve got a job to do here. Yes I can do this. I’ve got petrol in the tank, the sun’s coming out and there’s only 7Ks to go. I can do 7Ks standing on my head.
Suddenly, every training run, every bike run, every swim, and every rowing machine session makes sense. They all lead to this point. This is where the training kicks in. While everyone around me is flagging now, I’m finding strength in my legs. I hear my coach’s voice “Every plank and push-up you complete will help you stay upright while others start to droop.” I quickly straighten up in case she’s looking. I’m cruising down 5th Avenue now. Not quite in window-shopping mode but well in control. Into Central Park at the 24 mile mark and lining up for the long finish.
Central Park and the Finish
“Undulating” they said. What does that mean? After 37kms a rise seems like a hill, a hill seems like a mountain. I’m now in Central Park. The road starts to narrow to pathways. I’m following a pair of feet. Not legs, just feet. We’re weaving through traffic. When the feet in front are too slow, I follow another pair of feet, then another. I’m making up good time here. The crowds start to thicken. It’s a knowledgeable crowd. Most of these people run in the Park regularly. They know what’s needed to push to the finish and they know what to say. Up ahead I see a large Australian flag. As I pass it, the voice holding the flag says quietly: “Carn mate, you can do it!” A familiar accent and the power of the flag spur me on.
I’m feeling refreshed now. I knock off the final 4Ks in 27:33, my fastest of the race. I’m looking now for the 400 yards to go sign. This is the one I have visualised in all my training runs. The final 400 yards of the New York City Marathon. Hundreds of people cheering me on to the finish. Fantasy becoming reality. I’m thinking of all the people who helped me get here. I wish they were here enjoying this with me. I have a brainwave. I try to unzip my iPhone from my Spibelt. The zip jams. “Fork, fork, fork!” Of course I’m too stupid to actually stop and take time to do this. Finally the zip yields and I turn the phone on and switch to video. I’m not confident here. A couple of days earlier I had stuffed up a video of the Batmobile. I hit record and hope for the best. The Last 400 Yards is now on YouTube here:http://youtu.be/HwF-2jIjqQo I’m not sure how I was able to provide a running commentary, keep my weary legs pumping forward and breathe all at the same time. But I managed to. What will it feel like crossing the finish line? Will all the emotion of the past 14 months finally come out? Will I burst into tears?
And suddenly I’m there. I hear the race announcer’s voice: “Just a few more steps and YOU are a finisher of the TCS New York City Marathon!”
Too busy concentrating on trying to keep the iPhone still, I almost miss being in the moment of crossing the finish line. And then it’s all over. I’ve done it! 42.2 kilometres. 26 miles and 385 yards. I’m not a pretend runner any more. I’m a real runner. I’m a marathoner. Actually, right now I’m a confused marathoner. What to do next? I keep moving forward and see a tall black lady giving out medals. I think she’s famous, but I don’t recognise her. “Congratulations!” The medal is now around my neck. It’s big and it feels heavy. I keep walking forward and join a line up for the finisher photo. It’s getting dark and I’m really cold now. Someone wraps some tin foil around me, barely enough to cover a chicken. Someone else stuffs a goodie bag in my hand. Among other things it’s got an apple. Go figure. Then I remember I have visit Kenny urgently. I open the first door to find someone has cr@apped on the seat. The next one is on a 20deg lean but I don’t care, it’s got loo paper. I pull everything up and everything else down. But there’s no running water. Silly me. They cr@p on toilet seats here…why on earth would they want to wash their hands afterwards? I frantically search my goodie bag and find a small bottle of water to wash my hands with. We’re moving forward again, shortly to split into two lines. They’re now directing me to keep left. It seems like we’ve been walking for ages. We’re now running the gauntlet of family members who are separated from us by security fencing. I have to walk right to the end of this fencing to then walk all the way back and then start my journey back to the hotel.
At some point a volunteer asks to see my wristband. It reads “No Baggage.” He then drapes a blue cape over my shoulders. It feels warm. “Can I keep this?” “Sure.” I find out later that it’s my reward for not having any baggage to collect at the finish.
The blue hobbit continues his walk back to the hotel. I crossed the finish line at 4:34 and it’s now getting on for 6:30. All I want right now is get back to my room into a hot bath. I walk into the lobby, trying to look invisible. The well-dressed group of strangers meeting for dinner breaks into applause. Of course they all want to see the medal. I do the rounds then head for the lift. I run a hot bath and pour in a whole packet of Epsom Salts. It feels good. But the water cools quickly so I quickly have a hot shower. Then it’s straight to bed and oblivion.