Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New York City Marathon race report

I've been strangely, totally resistant to writing up this race report. Not sure why, maybe I just needed some distance. No pun intended. Hang in there for 26.2 miles and then some!

The ING New York City Marathon is one of the largest, if not THE largest, marathons today. According to their brochure they received 90,000 applications for 38,000 spots in the race. Their website is very complete, registration and the lottery fairly easy. Only the "last minute" snafu of construction on the starting bridge raised any fuss. They sent out an email a couple of days before the race warning people not to count on any transit the morning of the race (including their own buses) except for the Ferry.

We went to the expo on Saturday morning. It was great, easily the biggest I've been to. Not necessarily the most booths or the most vendors, but the classiest and most expensive merchandise around. As I mentioned before, the Javits Convention Center is huge and the expo took up a large part of it. Packet pickup was well organized and quick. I got my number and chip, and went to the shirt counter and got my very orange, very large tech shirt. I'll run in that one, no problem. But at night. Dang, it's probably fluorescent it's so bright. The goody bag had the usual tons of paper and ads and coupons and a few other things.
The branded merchandise for sale was abundant and not too overpriced. I got a running cap (don't I always?) in a steel blueish/dark grayish color and a pair of gloves with the name of a borough on each finger. I'll probably never wear them but they're pretty neat. They had shirts, jackets, shorts, pants, bags, everything you could possibly want. I didn't really want anything so I moved on.Every major athletic or running-related vendor was there, with large booths with lots of merchandise. I found a water resistant pouch to carry my camera while I was running, in pink to boot. I tried and tried and tried not to buy anything else but couldn't stop myself. As an impulse buy I got the Timex Ironman iControl for iPod system; wireless iControl watch for the iPod. Ok, it's not as if I need another Ironman watch, I already have them in more than 7 colors. And it's not as if I run with my iPod too often and when I do I have the Nike+ thingamabobby that I usually don't use, and I have my Garmin if I really need a toy while I run. A little buyer's remorse here.

But it was hecka fun buying it! We roamed booth to booth, and realized the one thing we didn't see was plain old Body Glide. The normal catch-all vendors, selling a little bit of everything, weren't there. Sucked for people trying to buy the simple stuff, like Bree who needed some BG for the race.

Bree and I spent a long time at the expo going up and down aisles, checking out the merchandise, but finally met up with the rest of the gang and caught a bus back to the hotel area.
Our group had a disagreement about what time we'd meet up in the morning and so we split into two groups. My experience (heh heh) has made me very cautious about arriving on time, but they were just going way too early. As it was, my alarm went off at 4:00 am after a restless night. The time changed with the end of Daylight Savings Time and for some reason I was worried that the supposedly automatic clock in the room and my phone wouldn't change. Big whoop, that would only mean I'd be an hour early for everything. But I couldn't convince my brain to ignore the issue. As it turned out my phone changed time but the clock didn't. I did my morning stuff, then I met Bree and Lindsay in the lobby and we headed out to catch a train.

After a couple of blocks Bree realized she didn't have her bottle and she ran back to her room. It wasn't a big deal, we were so early I had no doubt we'd get there on time. After she returned we followed the crowds in what they thought was the right direction. I had no idea, my normal directional dyslexia was acting up and I could have gone in circles without figuring where I was. We realized we were at the long long line of buses that we weren't taking - and couldn't take since we were meeting Monica at the Ferry Terminal. We turned ourselves around and found the right subway entrance and got on a train with a few other runners. Right train, wrong train; we weren't sure. A local finally convinced us that we weren't going to be able to get to the Ferry so all the marathoners disembarked and started waiting with a much bigger crowd at another station.We waited for about 10-15 minutes for the next train and then quickly got to the Ferry Terminal where we met up with Monica. It was full, but not horribly crowded. We sat down near the front so we'd get good seats and were among the first to board once the Ferry arrived. It was a fun ride, affording us a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in the sunrise. Too cool!
The ride took less time than we'd thought and all of a sudden we were trying to get out of the Terminal on Staten Island. We lost Linds and Monica while they got coffee and figured we'd meet up later. There was an orderly crowd piling up to get on one of a long line of buses; I wasn't in any hurry since I knew we'd just have more waiting ahead of us.

A short ride, a short walk, and we found Sandy who led us to the rest of the group, all of them wrapped up in blankets and extra clothes. It was chilly, bordering on cold. There were stands with coffee, tea, hot water, bagels, cold water, bananas. Lots of banks of porta potties with lines starting to form in front. The areas were marked with colors and corral numbers and it seemed to be clearly marked for the start.We sat and lay around for a couple of hours wrapped in our throw-away blankets and sweats and gloves and chemical hand warmers, then finally decided to check our sweats. Bad idea to wait that long. There was a very narrow road, blocked with a fence on one side and a drop-off on another, leading to the UPS trucks. People were trying to go in both directions and it was total gridlock. It was horrible, we were literally stuck in one place for over 20 minutes without being able to move a muscle. People were getting very nasty and pushing and crowding. We made our way to the edge and worked our way up to the trucks. I couldn't see mine so I stuck my bag into Bree's and she tossed hers up. One more stop at the porta potties and we walked over to our corral in the orange start.The kid manning the line between our corral and the ones in front was relentless; nobody was getting by this little self-important nitwit. Even once we started compacting and walking forward he wouldn't let anyone by. Geez, lighten up! I was with Bree and Sandy and we could see the others in front of us, but couldn't get their attention and the little git wouldn't let us by.

We kept walking, then went through a gap in a fence. Was that the start? There were clothes and plastic bags everywhere. Most people started running, past the elite waiting areas, unsure whether we had officially started. We went a little farther, then way ahead on the Verazanno Narrows Bridge we saw the real start. The crowd had surprisingly thinned out by then although there were oodles of people everywhere. We finally crossed the mats and it was on!Bree and I planned on running 4:1, going easily and taking pictures along the way. We were both secretly (or maybe not so secretly) hoping for sub-6, but would take what we got. This was my first race with a camera and I wasn't sure how it would go. As it turned out, pretty well! We ran along the bridge, watching people (male and female) off to the side peeing. Nice. Way down in the water was a fire boat shooting out streams of water in the race colors. All we could see in front and in back and to the side of us were more people, running and walking along.
That bridge lasted forever. Really, we're still there. No, it finally peaked and after a mile we started downhill toward the end of it into Brooklyn. We ran through Brooklyn for a long time, the different color starts running on different sides of the street. Lots of people, lots of cheering crowds. Just before the 8 mile mark there was a jog to the left for the orange runners; lots of people obviously skipped it since we were just about the only ones there. We felt very righteous going the extra way. After that we shared the street with faster runners and it suddenly got very crowded with lots of people trying to pass us.

There were abundant water stops with boisterous support crews handing out water and gatorade (or some facsimile). By the time we got to them the ground was covered with pulped, slippery cups so we walked or ran very carefully through each of them.
After a couple of hours my breathing was getting ragged, my asthma acting up. Going slower helped so we slowed down a little. We passed the 13.1 marker, in the middle of the bridge between Brooklyn and Queens, in good time and feeling ok. At every 5k and at the half were timing mats; you could have your times texted to anyone you wanted. As we headed into Queens Bree got a text from a friend congratulating her on being headed toward a sub-6 hour finish. I asked if she could text and run at the same time and told her to text back "bite me!" She did, and Karma decided to bite back.

We turned a corner, went around a bend, and I found myself going airborne. It felt like slow motion as I went down, thinking "oh CRAP not AGAIN!" as I ended up lying flat out. I knocked off my glasses and hat and took the brunt of the fall on my right side; hand, elbow, shoulder, hip, thigh, knee. I scrambled up as quickly as I could considering my brain felt scrambled too. I was just a little loopy, adrenaline shooting throughout my body. I wanted to get out of the way of the pace group bearing down upon us and wanted to pretend it hadn't happened and wanted the embarrassment of lacking any balance or grace to go away. I was hurt and horrified and determined to ignore what had happened.

As if. I think I scared the crap out of Bree who probably thought I'd be like the poor woman we'd seen back in mile one, convulsing and bleeding on the pavement. No, I was up and trying to run. Ow. As we moved along, slowly, I took stock. Nothing bleeding, nothing broken, just scrapes and strains and deep bruises. At the next first aid station I got a big bag of ice and ran on with it pressed between my sore palm and my thigh. I think that may be what enabled me to finish the race.

We continued on and I wasn't having much fun anymore, it was just a race to get it done and over with before I stiffened up. We made it to the Queensboro Bridge and found it another bridge that went on forever. At least we knew there'd be crowds and noise when we finally finished it and we were right. Wow, the crowds were incredible. Some people cheering for their friends or family, but most just strangers cheering the crowds. In front of bars they were lined up 10-20 deep, sharing their parties with the runners.

I was stiffening up and what sounded good to me was the idea of sitting down on a curb and sobbing for an hour. I knew it would be an ugly cry, never-ending, and decided it was probably a bad idea and I should just suck it up and keep going.

We continued along, sometimes running uphill, sometimes running downhill. At some point we switched to a 2:2 run:walk and tried to stay with it, unless it was a big hill or a messy water station. We saw Jeanette and Olivia and passed them a few times, they passed us a few times. Finally, up and over the Willis Avenue Bridge, into the Bronx. A few corners, another mile, then up and across our final bridge, the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan.
The crowds thinned through Harlem but it was getting late. The people along the street were more likely to be watching the entertainment than the runners. We realized at that time that we could pretty much count down the streets to know where we were, but I didn't want to know and didn't look at the signs.We ran and ran, the park on one side and very nice houses on the other. There were still people cheering but most seemed to be out for an early evening stroll, or leaving the race. It was getting later, the sun getting lower, getting cooler. We trudged on and on, finally entering the park.
On and on, through the park, reading the signs, not wanting to talk or do anything except move forward. We saw Rocky and Phil, then saw Petra cheering us on. Another turn, another, a big screen with hey-it's-us-there! and uphill a little more, signs counting down the distance, and there was the finish.

We crossed the line together and had our medals placed around our necks. I got a space blanket wrapped around my shoulders and was handed a bottle of water. I had to hand it back and ask the man to open it because my hand had stiffened up so much. I was handed a prewrapped bagel, not at all appetizing. The post-race food and beverage bags that we had been promised were all gone. We had our picture taken and then started the long trek to our sweats.
Uh oh, the trucks were parked head to tail in order, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Our truck was number 70. We shuffled forward figuring we had a long walk ahead. Uphill. In the dark and cold. After more than a dozen trucks we saw the chip removers. We had the option to keep the commemorative timing chip and be charged $35 or to have it removed. I had thought to keep it but I was discouraged and unhappy and had it cut off. It took FOREVER to get to our truck (it was at least 20 blocks) and by then they were putting the bags on tables in preparation for moving the trucks out. We wrapped ourselves in our warmer clothes and then started another long trek to a street where we might find a taxi.

We lucked out. After about 10 minutes of flagging anything that looked like it might be a taxi, one stopped in front of us and disgorged a couple of people. We jumped in before anyone else could and made our way, slowly through traffic and the jammed streets back to the hotel

It was a well organized, well planned race. Except for the ABSURD problems with baggage and lack of edible food at the end and the last-minute transit fiasco it was maybe one of the best organized races I've done. And well it should be for what they charge. The amenities were above average, the course support was excellent, we had fully closed roads and no cross traffic, the route was varied and interesting and scenic and showed the City to it's finest. I'd highly recommend that anyone who runs marathons run this some day. Save up your money though, it's very costly!

Strangely enough this wasn't my worst race, even though it was my PW at 6:24:35. When I wasn't aching and wanting to cry I actually enjoyed the whole carnival atmosphere of the thing. My biggest worry, about horrid crowds on the road and poor mannered runners, never really materialized. I was grateful that Bree stuck with me through my bad times and we actually had some fun along the way. I'm still bruised and sore and probably will remain so for about another week. I'm looking ahead to my next race though!

After all that I found the perfect bear. She's a little replica Statue of Liberty with her torch, book and new medal!

1 comment:

  1. Love the report!

    I still have nightmares about baggage drop off and pick up.

    - Dean