Monday, November 4, 2013

The Finale… NYC Marathon

The first time I cried was at the starting line.  No, maybe it was in the starting corrals….wait, I think I teared up on the Staten Island Ferry ride…oh yeah, I think I shed a tear picking up my bib.  Whenever it was, running my first marathon was a happy emotional journey.  I went on my first jog in August 2011.  At that point I was NOT a runner.  I'm a very active individual, but would never have used the word "runner" to describe myself.  That run ended up being life changing.  It was a beautiful day and since I'm a dreamer, I came up with this random idea:  I wondered if I went a different route each time I went running, if I could run every street in NYC.  In that moment it was a crazy idea, a bit ridiculous and definitely a day dream.  For some strange, unknown reason, I decided to actually give it a try, not knowing if it was possible, or if I would even follow through and especially if I could run that far.  As some of you know, I started a blog to track my progress.  I started with short, slow jogs, but as time went on, the distances got longer and the pace speed up.

I had only been running a dozen times over the the course of a month when I caught wind of a race called the Urbanathlon.  I had heard of other obstacle course races and they had always intrigued me. This one was NYC themed and since I had just started my blog about running in NYC, it seemed I was destined to do it.  The race was over 9 miles long and I had never run more than 5 miles.  Nervously, I pulled the trigger and signed up for the race.  I still had a month left before the race to start running longer distances.  The morning of the race came, and it was cold and rainy.   I didn't know what to eat, I didn't know what to wear, I didn't know how fast to run, but the start gun fired and off I went.  I started slow and cautious.  It was a rush to run with/against other people.  My competitive side didn't take long to surface.  I loved passing people and hated being passed.  Each section of the race, I improved.  I was easily able to finish the race and at the end wished I had started faster.  I knew this was not going to be my last race.  

Over the next year, I continued to run and blog. Slowly but surely I was covering a lot of NYC.  I started running more races as well, and began to realize that I was turning into a decent runner.  I was much faster than I ever assumed I would be.  I started to finish in the top 10% of the races I was running.  But the bigger shock was all of the sudden I looked at my map and realized that this pipe dream of running every street in Manhattan was going to actually come true.  When I was about 2/3 of the way done another crazy idea came into my head.  I decided there was no better way to finish a blog about running in NYC than to run the NYC Marathon! I entered the entrance lottery, knowing destiny would help me win.  Sadly I did not get drawn, but the idea of running was already ingrained in my head.  So thanks to my kind hearted friends and family, I join a charity team and raised money for my entrance into the race.  I really had to pick up the pace and run a lot more to finish the streets in time for the marathon, but I was able to do it, just in time.  Sadly, as my blog followers already know, the marathon ended up being canceled because of Hurricane Sandy.  I then had to wait and train again to run the following year.  

So back to the big day: after completing my blog, becoming a runner and 2 years of marathon training it was finally time to run a marathon.  The excitement starts a few days before the race when you go to the marathon expo to pick up your bib.  Like I mentioned earlier, this really was the first place I got emotional.  It's exciting mainly because of the shear number of people, runners, that are there.  It's your first glimpse at how massive this event is going to be.  The next time I welled up was on the Staten Island Ferry.  On this ride to the starting line, you turn around and see the NYC skyline.  It may not have had the same effect on everyone, but I was surely reminded of what I had gone through to get there.  The famous panorama of NYC, MY NYC, the city that I intimately know because I ran every street in Manhattan to get to this point.  

At the start village a nervous but excited energy was in the air.  We lined up in our corrals and shuffled through a maze of runners and discarded warm clothes.  It took a while to get in place, to get right up to the start line.  There were thousands of people around me with the same goal and desire.  We were all strangers, but there's a huge blanket of camaraderie.  I was in wave three and the National Anthem was already sung, but before my wave started someone sang America the Beautiful, and of course I cried.  After it was over the starting gun was fired and Frank Sinatra's song "New York, New York" came on as we started our race. 
"These Vagabond shoes, they are longing to stray, right through the very heart of it, New York, New York". 
Practically every runner is singing along as we make our way to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  I couldn't really sing, I was too busy crying.  

One of the most common pieces of advice I heard was "Don't start too fast!" The excitement that is in the air causes people to go faster than they should.  Luckily my body has a pretty good internal instinct.  Although I was cautious, there was nothing I could do but start passing people.  Running that bridge, in a crowd of 50,000 people, with fire boats spraying below, helicopters above and photographers on every side, is almost indescribable, but a moment that I'll never forget.  At the end of the bridge is where the spectators start.  The NYC marathon is one of the few routes that has spectators lining practically the whole route.  Another piece of advice I got was, "Write your name on your shirt."  I had a custom jersey made.  It said BRIAN in big red letters a crossed my chest.  It had the names of everyone who donated to my charity at the bottom below my bib and had my blog address across the back.  The entire race I had people yelling words of encouragement directly to me.  
"Keep it up Brian!!" "Go Brian! You got this!" "Looking good Brian" 
It was like I had millions of friends there supporting me.  It keep me going when I wanted to slow down. 

The first half of the race went really well.  13 miles is my favorite race length.  At that point I still had a smile on my face.  I was taking in the crowd and the sights.  I would give high fives to the kids along the edges. I would cheer on other runners. I would thank people who were yelling out my name. This race was going to be a piece of cake.  

Okay, maybe not a piece of cake.  The second half proved to be a little harder.  I hung in there for the next 6 or 7 miles, but around mile 20 is when everything started to hurt.    My pace slowed down a little.  I stopped giving high fives. The people yelling my name no longer got a thank you.  They possibly got a head nod, but more likely they got a glare.  Somehow this was their fault. If they weren't screaming at me, I could just sneak off the course and crawl into a little ball and take a nap. 

Although it was tough, overall I was still doing well.  I was just repeating in my head to "keep it up, keep going."  If I could just hang in there a little longer it would be all over.  When I finally reached the corner of Central Park, I was so relived that I was there, but agonizing that there was still over 3 miles left.  I kept trucking. Turning the last corner was overwhelming.  If this was a movie, this is where it would go into slow motion.  The crowd gets louder and you can see the finish line.  I was overcome with emotion.  All kinds of emotion.  I couldn't help but cry.  I'm not sure if I was crying in pain or if I was crying with joy and accomplishment.  It was probably both, which is a very unusual experience.  My body was seconds away from revolting against this torture but my mind was thinking of the past two and half years of preparation to get to this point.  I DID IT!! 

I crossed the finish line at 3:17:19.  It was a proud moment.  As I got my medal and was walking away, I thought about that first run on a sunny August afternoon, when I came up with a crazy idea, "I wonder if I could run all of NYC?" Through the tears a small smirk-like smile appeared....      
Photo: Associated Press