Thursday, November 18, 2010

The 2010 New York Marathon

Last week, I ran the New York Marathon.  I’d like to say I did it specifically for this blog, but really, I did it just for me.  But, I’ll blog about it anyway.  After winning a lottery to enter and training for 14 weeks, I ran 26.2 miles in 4 ½ hours through 5 boroughs and over 5 bridges to complete the most famous marathon in the world.  I was (and still am) pride incarnate.

Here’s the funny thing about pride.  Most times, it is off-putting, unflattering, and more often than not, covers up an innate lack of confidence (ironically enough).  On a more rare occasion, though, one runs across a true reason to possess what I’d like to call justified pride; a self-gratification that is usually a long time coming that results from determination, hard work, focus, or some combination of the three that can be shared unabashedly with others.  This is the pride of which I speak. Of course I am proud of many things, but this accomplishment has been the only one (that I know of, anyway) to date that has been solely up to me, myself, and my dedication.  Yes, I’m proud (amongst other things) that I’ve performed on Broadway.  But, ever how hard I worked in voice lessons and dance classes, it was ultimately up to someone else to hire me for the job.  In a world and a business that is more than largely subjective, I guess I have officially found deep satisfaction in the precise and ancient art of healthy competition.

But, I digress.  The New York Marathon is, in a word, HUGE.  Every year, approximately 45,000 runners participate in a race of endurance through Manhattan streets past over two million cheering fans in hopes of snatching a bit of the $500,000 of prize money, raising money for charity, or fulfilling a personal goal.  It has been an annual occurrence since 1970 and is now the United States’ most watched one-day sporting event (according to  Seeing that it was my first marathon and I’m by far not remotely Kenyan, my goals for the run were trifold.

1) No matter what, keep running the entire 26.2 miles (no walking)
2) Crush Katie Holmes’ time of 5:29:58 (a joke amongst myself and a few buddies)
3) Don’t die or pass out while doing 1 and 2.

To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I had trained, but running in a race through Manhattan with 45,000 people from around the world is very different than cranking out 20 lonely miles in Jersey.  So, I nervously boarded the Staten Island Ferry at 8am on Sunday to get to the starting line by my 10:40am start time (I was wave 3 – because of the number of runners, they have to space out start times).  I immediately made two new friends.  One thing about running – it brings folks together.  All you need to ask is, “Where did you do your last 18 miles?” and you automatically have something to talk about.  My two friends were a British Alzheimers nurse in her 50’s and a sarcastic 28-year-old white-collar crime investigator (no, she did not know Bernie Madoff – I asked).  We stuck together through the two hours of transportation, number-showing, teeth-chattering, and bagel-eating before the run and then parted to be (literally) corralled into our numbered starting corrals.  I figured I’d never see them again, but it’s always nice to have company when you’re nervous.

There are a few odd things that happen during a marathon that I had never known.  One, people wear warm clothes to the start line and when the race starts, strip down to practically nothing and literally throw their hoodies and pants on the side of the road.  New York Road Runners donates the clothes that are discarded to a good cause, but seriously, the image of the Verrazano Bridge covered in a sea of clothes was one of the more odd things I had encountered.  Odd thing number two – people have no qualms about relieving themselves along the race course.  And nobody seems to care.  Men literally sidle up to a wall and whip it out and the more competitive women don’t even bother to stop.  They just go as they run.  Seriously.  (I refused to do that and made a quick stop at a port-a-potty at mile 7 – I’m not that hardcore).  Odd thing number three – people chat as they run.

Which leads me to the continuation of my story.  After discarding my sweatshirt and crossing the start line, I heard a deep voice next to me:

“So, this is going to be a long run, Let’s do some introductions, folks.  What’s your name?  Where are ya from?”

Really?  My initial reaction was to run faster and clear this crazy man.  But then, I thought, he actually seemed entertaining and 26 miles can get pretty lonely.  I settled into the stride of the little clump and introduced myself to the group who, lucky for me, was right on my intended ten minute fifteen second mile pace.  I met a fresh-faced hardcore runner named Lori and a boisterous lawyer (the aforementioned deep voice) named Tony.  And so we went.  And chatted.  Five miles in, we lost Lori who was determined (wisely) to stay with her pacing watch.  Tony and I were too excited and ran ahead.  We swapped stories, pointed out interesting signs and groups of spectators, and searched for our friends at our predetermined “cheering sites”.  Tony was the perfect running partner.  He was contagiously enthusiastic (sometimes a little too much – I had to tell him a few times that it was the crowd’s job to cheer him and not his to rile them up – energy lost over a 4-5 hour run is very precious).  We would come upon a mile marker and he inevitably had something to say:

“Woo!  You know what’s ahead?  Mile 12, baby.  Dude, we’re so crushing this marathon.  Yeah! (fist pump in the air and a little Rocky-esque shake of the shoulders)”.

And so we ran.  The most amazing thing about the New York Marathon is most definitely the people that cheer alongside it.  There were encouraging New Yorkers lining every block of every borough of the entire race.  We passed the fire department of Bay Ridge with banners strung along their fire truck.  “Welcome to Bay Ridge, runners!”.  A family passed out bananas in Park Slope while a rock band blasted a cover of “Hard to Handle”.  Stylish young adults in Williamsburg held up signs reading, “Toenails are for sissies” and “There’s a beer waiting for you in Central Park”.  Volunteers on the East side gave free back massages with rolling pins to runners that stopped.  A salsa band on 125th prompted one runner to stop, shake a tail feather for a few minutes, and move on.  A fully costumed African drum ensemble in the Bronx played and danced us through mile 21.  And on and on.  The entire 26.2 mile course was a cultural panorama of the passion and exuberance of the people of New York.  These amazing people more than once brought tears to my eyes, pride that this melting pot of life, this greatest city on earth, is my town.

Tony and I ran through mile 22 together.  He had a bit of a setback, decided to walk for a bit, and told me that I could run ahead.  I thought of sticking with my new friend, but I reminded myself why I had done this marathon in the first place.  I wanted to accomplish something on my own.  I wished him luck and ran ahead.  And when I say ran . . . I ran.  On mile 22 and coming on hour 4 of running, I was miraculously no longer tired.  I actually felt free.  I had never run this far in my life and, yet, I was doing it.  The wind blew through my disheveled hair as I passed runner after runner and garnered the attention of the growing crowd of fans on my way toward the finish line.  Then, I passed a time clock.  Four hours and five minutes.  I vaguely remembered someone saying that the New York Times prints the names of the runners who finish in under 4 ½ hours.  I looked ahead toward the Central Park finish line.  Yep.  I could do that.  It would be close, but I could make it.  Then, something clicked.  I WOULD do that.  I picked up my pace again and looked for the next clock.  I can genuinely say that I more or less sprinted the last three miles of my first marathon.  Looking back on my stats, I ran about a nine-minute mile for the last three miles.  Toward the last mile, I felt my lungs start to close up (asthma), my knee pain started to shoot up my leg (tendonitis), and my calves started to cramp.  I didn’t care.  I was making the New York Times.  I turned the corner and saw the finish line.  Almost there.  I approached and watched 4:30:00 come and go.  I sprinted through anyway.  4:31:12 was my finish time.  Wait!  My clouded brain grasped for something on its periphery.  That’s not my time.  I thought of the start line and it came back to me.  It had taken me over two minutes to cross the START line.  I had made it!!!  I had made the New York Times.  I walked ahead and received my medal with tears running down my face.  I’m a sappy dork and I didn’t care.  I had just run a marathon.

A short summation of things I learned from the New York Marathon:

1) I am way stronger and more determined than I ever thought I was.  (And I thought I was pretty strong and determined to start.)

2) The human body is a really amazing machine and on the whole, we humans do not even scratch the surface of its capabilities.

3) Justified pride is not a bad thing.  In fact, it's the cherry on top.

4) Distraction is not always a bad thing and good company is always the best way to go.

5) We (not just me, we people) can pretty much do anything.  If we want to bad enough, somehow, we make it happen.


Kimberly said...

I'm borrowing the things you learned in the marathon as commandments.

Anonymous said...

Wow! That's incredible! And I'm nervous about doing a dinky 4-mile run on New Year's Eve in Central Park. My husband signed me up. Ahhh!

andrea said...

Love the pic of the Chrysler building behind you!

Tracy said...

Awesome Michelle, just awesome!!!