New York City, NY
November 2, 2014
2:43:42, 26.2 miles
164th (out of 50,564)
As a firm believer in breaching my comfort zone, I hold myself accountable for running one road marathon per year. It’s an opportunity to explore a new city and be reminded of what asphalt-induced leg trauma feels like. This year I had the privilege of joining 50,000 others in running the world’s largest marathon, the New York City Marathon.
Two years ago I threw my name into the NYC Marathon lottery but came up empty-handed. Later that year, presumably to avenge my misfortune, hurricane Sandy devastated the mid-Atlantic coast forcing organizers to cancel the race. Then last year I somehow managed a speedy personal best time (2:34:50) at the Eugene Marathon which, to my delight, qualified me for New York (i.e. allowing me to bypass the lottery). Since the qualification lasts only a year, to the Big Apple I went.
Though I tend toward trails, mountains and solitude, New York City offers none of these. And with a steep $260 entry fee (ten bucks per mile!) plus travel and other costs, I felt conflicted about the price tag. That said, I can now attest that a foot tour of NYC’s five boroughs through a more than a million screaming, cheering spectators while chasing the world’s fastest marathoners is an incredibly unique experience and, quite frankly, ought to be up there on any runner’s bucket list.
Coming off a hundred miler just seven weeks prior, I knew my NYC Marathon training would be less than ideal. A personal best would be out of reach no matter how great a day I had. So to make the trip more meaningful, I raised funds for the Ocular Melanoma Foundation, a cause close to my heart ever since my mom passed away from the disease a decade ago. Ocular melanoma is relatively uncommon (6 people per million) but no more understood and certainly no less deadly than the many forms of cancer that kill half a million Americans each year.
An accomplished runner in her own right, my mom ran without vision in her right eye; surgeons had removed it when she was first diagnosed at age 27. Thus I vowed to run the race “half blind” (with a patch over my right eye) if enough donors chipped in. My uncle Glenn, who had also registered for the marathon, agreed to do the same. Ultimately we raised over $2700 and easily surpassed my goal. Needless to say, I’d be half blind on race day. See the fundraiser here: https://www.crowdrise.com/halfblind
I stayed at Glenn’s house in Jersey the night before the race due to his convenient proximity to the city. On race day, a bus departing at 5:30 am drove us to the staging area on Staten Island. There we were briskly ushered from the warm bus out into the frigid, blustery November morning. Our next challenge was to figure out how to kill three hours until race start while trying to stay warm.
My qualifying time seeded me in the front-most corral, something I wasn’t exactly stoked about for fear of busting off the start line too fast and running the first half at an unsustainable pace. Having run a hundred-miler just seven weeks prior, I knew my inadequate marathon training wouldn’t favor my best performance. Windy conditions and the eye patch further reduced any pressure to “go for it,” so I set my sights on a 2:45—well off my personal best, but still a solid marathon time.
As we lined up in our corrals, an announcer introduced the elites who were standing just meters ahead of me: Gregory Mutai, Wilson Kipsang, Meb Keflezighi and others. These guys consider a 2:15 marathon to be a bad day. Then promptly at 9:40 am the blast of a howitzer signaled the start, sending us up the iconic Verrazano Bridge, a moment I’ll never forget.
The true ferocity of the wind became painfully evident as we crossed the bridge. Sporadic gusts exceeding 40 mph nearly knocked me off my feet while I dodged discarded hats and ponchos. I even spotted an unfortunate runner’s bib number as it whipped past me, destined for the ocean waters far below. Despite the elements, I think I enjoyed these conditions more than those around me, perhaps due to my time spent in the mountains or lack of lofty race day goals.
As I reached firm ground at the far end of the bridge, thousands of Brooklynites greeted me with wild cheers. Gusts continued to knock me around throughout the morning, so I simply kept my head down, eye to my feet, and hurtled through Brooklyn and Queens fueled by the unbridled energy only a fervent mass of New Yorkers could deliver.
At mile fifteen, the course bears west over the Queensboro Bridge where neither spectators nor cars are permitted. Runners plunge into eerie silence when they arrive, a stark contrast to earlier miles. For two miles I found myself alone with my thoughts. Naught but the rhythmic echo of shoes on pavement could be heard above the dull hum of omnipresent city noise. Suddenly a low roar welled from, quite literally, the light at the end of the tunnel. I made a hairpin turn and met head-on with a wall of wild cheers—cheers twice as loud as anything I’d heard in the first three boroughs. Welcome to Manhattan!
The last nine miles of the race were, quite frankly, a blur. With tiring legs and (still) half blind, I mollified my fear of a careless misstep by directing my full focus to the ten feet of asphalt in front of me. I held the steady 6:15 per mile pace I’d maintained thus far, a feat that propelled me past dozens of fading runners who’d gone out too hard and hit the wall. One hard right, then another, then I finished—quite simply as that—in a satisfying (and palindromic) time of 2:43:42.
That night over a pint of Yuengling, Glenn and I recapped our experience. As far as road marathons go, New York City is hard to beat. Nowhere else will you find an event put on at that magnitude. Everything is immense: the number of runners, the size of the crowd, the city itself. Would I do it again? Absolutely, but I probably won’t. There are simply too many other events I’d like to run before I consider repeating one. But I encourage you—even the snootiest trail runners or apathetic non-runners among you—to partake in a big city marathon sometime in your life. And if you get into NYC, you won’t regret it.