|View from the Ferry. Verrazano Narrows bridge in the distant.|
At the corral, security was tight. You couldn't jump gates to an earlier start if you wanted to or risk being DQed. Still there were people who feigned ignorance and were denied entrance. My bib number was checked and I was free to walk to the start. The feeling was electrifying. My butterflies started fluttering. The sun warmed up and I questioned wearing my long sleeve shirt. Runners started shedding their throw-away sweats on the side of the bridge. Clothes were flying everywhere. After a few welcome words from the race director, Sinatra's signature song came on the loudspeaker, “Start spreading the news..." I almost cried. The countdown began, I had my fingers ready to press on the start button of my Garmin and we were off!
The start from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was uphill for one mile, but I hardly felt it. Running among a sea of runners forced me to slow down. As if on cue, the sun came out and the magnificent arches of the suspension bridge was a sight to behold. I tried to look for the Statue of Liberty but couldn't quite focus. I didn't attempt to weave my way out of the thick crowd until after mile 3. I took this as a welcome sign to ease into my marathon pace, after all I have 25 more miles to go. I soaked it all in.
The second mile off the bridge was a fast downhill where we move on to the second Borough. We would be Brooklyn for the next 12 miles. Mile 5 snuck up on me, I thought, “Whoa, we're here already?” I thought the race was happening too fast. The sights and sounds of people everywhere and the cheering made time pass quickly. I didn't want it to end.
The Brooklyn crowd got thicker especially at mile 8 where the blue, orange and green runners merged together. Up until this point, we were all following our designated paths. I was yelling and high-fiving kids as friendly faces of New Yorkers lined up the streets of Fourth Avenue. Everyone was cheering us runners. After a while, I felt my throat felt hoarse, then I realized I better channel the rest of my energy into more running. At mile 10, something caught my eye. I arrived at the community which I thought was Amish. It wasn't until after the race that I found out that we passed through the community of Hasidic Jews. I was so enlightened to see the many diverse communities of Brooklyn. There were Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, Middle Eastern, Italians, Polish, etc. It was beautiful to see this at the core of the Big Apple—what is New York.
After crossing the Pulaski Bridge we entered the third Borough which is Queens. We were only in Queens for 3 miles then on to the steep and long Queensboro bridge. The climb was sometimes short and sometimes it was as long as 1/2 mile. At the bottom of the bridge marked mile 16 where world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie dropped out. The downhill was a welcome change but it was not for long. At this point, we entered Manhattan, the fourth Borough. As we turned to 1st avenue, I remembered this was where Meb Keflizighi (2009 NYC winner) said last year in an interview, to be patient, as the stretch is long and rolling. From miles 16 to 19 was where I noticed runners start to slow down, I included. I thought I can charge the gradual hill, but it took its toll. The cost was 5 seconds off my pace.
1st Avenue had the biggest crowd support. The tall apartment towers lined the streets at both sides, and even at their balconies people were pumping runners. People clapping loudly, yelling out runners' names and nationalities. They were loud and energizing. Even with fatigue settling in, you can hardly feel it because of the energy you can draw from the spectators. What I also remember from this stretch was the sea of green sponges on the ground. That was something new—I've never been handed one to keep me cool. Speaking of which, after passing through the water/Gatorade aide stations, we ran through wet slick ground, littered with flattened paper cups. It was amazing to think about the thousands of paper cups used for this race, gallons of water, the manpower, and the volunteers, what an incredible undertaking...but I digressed.
|Look at those cups. I took this shot right after the crew of a blind marathoner told me to get out of his way.|
After the arduous climb on 1st Ave we enter the Bronx which we run for only 1 mile! Sad to say, this stretch was a blur to me. I was still recovering from the punishment on 1st Avenue that I didn't get to savor the beauty of the Bronx. All I was thinking was to keep it together, don't slow down, maintain the pace. The two bridges, Willis Ave Bridge and Madison Ave Bridge, were thankfully flat and short. I grabbed a banana from a volunteer, made eye contact, and thanked her. Then we entered Manhattan for a second time, but this one is to the finish. I hung on to my hat, and took a deep breath, ”Here we go, time to put it on!” I felt good at this point. So good that I even missed seeing Harlem. There was no soreness that I couldn't handle, nothing ached, just the usual late stage fatigue. I was glad I have something left in the tank that 1st Avenue didn't completely drain through. I listened to the voice inside me, “Keep running, one step at a time.” The Upper East side crowd by now is incredibly thick and loud. I try to draw more energy from them. Some more high-fives, I heard my name called out. It was akin to an adrenaline shot. It was electrifying.
I knew the end was close as we entered the Park. At mile 23, I kept an eye out for the first turn into Central Park. Then the second turn on 86th Street seemed forever. I reminded myself to run the tangents. I ran the fastest splits of the day. I passed lots of tired folks, nicely, telling them “Good job.” That was a confidence builder. I stopped looking at my watch. The familiar mile 24 banner hung from the autumn trees. Heidi and I ran this same stretch the day before the race as a 3 mile warm up. It was easier running it with fresh legs compared to running it in the late race miles. The slight uphill felt like Mount Everest. The urge to walk was strong but I resisted. Then I saw the 40K banner. Oh geez, now I have to do math in my head, “what's that converted in miles?” Why can't they stick to statutes? I guess that stood to reason, since half the entrants were international runners and metric is widely used in places other then the U.S. The final turn into Central Park at Columbus Circle, near mile 26 had a jumbo-tron where you can see yourself on the huge screen. The crowds got louder and their cheering sent shock waves into my body. My legs had a renewed stride and I found a second gear. Then at the slope of the last few hundred meters, the blue and orange finish banner came into view—a sight for sore eyes! I tried to fly, I felt I was running fast, but I was probably running in slow motion. Finally, there it was, I stepped on the final timing mat. Done in 4 hours 12 minutes and 25 seconds, a five-minute PR!
At the finish line, there were runners who were clearly overwhelmed by their accomplishments. A few hobbled at the side and cried. Others immediately called their loved ones soon after crossing the finish line. People hugged each other. Fatigue and relief were written all over their faces. Medals hung around our necks, gimpy, cold, exhausted and wrapped in Mylar blankets, we were all drunken with happiness. It was a moment to behold. I saw a woman trying to snap a photo of herself w/ her i-phone. I offered to take her picture. She mumbled something which I thought sounded like she PR'd. So I said, “Me too!” Then she grabbed my bib number pointing to my date of birth and said “No.” Then she pointed to her birthday on her bib and said, “Today is my birthday,” in a heavy German accent. I said, “Congratulations! What a huge birthday gift this is.”
It wasn't my birthday, but this was a fabulous present indeed. NY I will be back, in fact, my name is in the hat for 2011!
|Aren't we colorful? Julie, me and &Heidi with our medals.|