Hey there my loyal marathon supporters!
It has been awhile since I last posted but for those who have tracked me this year know I was training for the 2011 NYC Marathon. This would be my second time and both with Team for Kids. As many of you know, this race day would bring a whole slew of new challenges I would have to face and conquer including a distance I had not covered since 2009, the feeling of being under-trained and various other elements that would show their ugly face.
Enjoy the journey I am about to take you on which is the NYC Marathon!
The usual wake up time as I had only slept a few hours due to pure nerves. The days leading up to race time brought on so many emotions I had no idea how to sort out. Feelings of nervousness, excitement, guilt (that I hadn’t trained hard enough) and pure disbelief this was going to happen in less then 6 hours. I had done a decent job in the planning phase of gathering throw away clothes for the morning of, getting my bib and race clothes ready and tying up any loose ends. At this point it was just a matter of getting to the start line and begin the mental ritual.
One of the greatest moments of this year’s marathon was that I volunteered to be a Team for Kids mentor. My two mentees, Cat and Maren both trained very hard for their big day and I was just as excited for them. I suggested to Maren that we take a car service over to midtown where we would meet our team and be police escorted to Fort Wadsworth. My morning began with picking Maren up, exchanging race strategies and just catching up. It really helped to ease nerves as both of us were on edge about the extreme event that would happen in only a couple of hours.
Our bus ride over to Fort Wadsworth was pretty uneventful and quiet. There was a bit of allure heading over as the city that is normally bustling, was at a stand still as if time stopped to await the 47,000+ runners about to overtake it’s streets.
Upon our arrival, all the memories continued to flood my mind. We entered the village area (where some would wait for as long as 2-3 hours before actually running) and had to show our bib’s to gain access. It was a beautiful morning and we had to find the TFK tent and get settled in before being called for our baggage drop off, then soon after we would be called to head to the corrals.
My girlfriend’s co-worker Aly was running with TFK and we decided ahead of time to meet up and hang out until we were called. We actually only said hello, talked for a little and I was called to drop off my baggage. As I made my way back it was time for my wave to stretch then we were off to our corrals.
The wait was short lived, as we began our travel to the start corrals. The group that I believed I was going with actually was going to an entirely different color bib corral which meant if I missed my corral entrance time I would have to wait an entire hour before starting the race. I was with a fellow TFK’er who was from Washington State and both of us were heading in the complete opposite direction of where our start corrals were. Fortunately, we figured it out quickly and started our “warm up” run to our correct corrals. When I got to mine (number 13) I barely JUST made it.
Our wait began with our comrades beginning at 9:40AM.
For the SECOND time in my life the race of a lifetime has begun! The NYC Marathon!
For this years race I knew going in that I was a bit undertrained and that I would need to accept a slower finish time than I had achieved in 2009. I did believe with the race, other runners, and crowds that I could possibly come close to the former time and possibly do a little better.
Coming out of the gate, the sheer excitement of doing this again hit me and being in with much faster runners helped keep me motivated. Unlike 2009, I was right in the thick of the pack of runners (ya know, all those little specs speeding on the bridge!) which brought a new level of excitement. I looked over to Manhattan and thought about my family, friends and girlfriend Jean waiting for me as I made my way through all 5 boros of NYC.
My pace was decent (found out later I was in the high 7 min mile pace) for the first few miles. I knew and accepted if I came out a little too fast to make sure to hold back on 4th Ave in Brooklyn. Since it was a little earlier than the other waves, the beginning portion of 4th Ave was a little less crowded than I had remembered but that quickly changed as we reached mile 4 and 5.
I had a few special people out in Brooklyn that would be meeting me. My friend CJ and Leighann (just like in 2009) and my girlfriend’s co-worker Dana. I would not see them until about miles 8-9 so I made sure to enjoy Brooklyn, the crowds, the kids and everything that would make that day so special. As I ran I wanted to control my pace and make sure I got into a comfortable rhythm. The comfortable rhythm never quite happened even though the music, bands and crowds would make for a great stretch of electric energy.
A few times, I would have to stop to stretch the hamstrings and calves. The calves were very very tight and never really got loose which I felt affected my stride and would show it’s colors on the latter part of the race.
As I approached the mayhem that would be Clinton Hill, I started to seek out CJ and Leighann to stumble upon…. DANA!!! She was holding a sign with my name on it and I saw it at the last moment (or what felt was the last moment). I stopped, hugged her and thanked her for coming out. It gave me a burst of energy to continue on to my next stop, Leighann and CJ.
The crowds continued and the only thing you can do is embrace it. You are the runner star, the professional athlete. Everyone out there is cheering for you as if you are their hero. It is such a great feeling and if you allow that feeling to infuse you, the race becomes even better.
I had to work my way around a couple of runners to make sure I was on the right hand side to keep looking for the bright green sign with my name on it. The special sign they both took time to make and display only so I can spot them. Through the heads of runners in front of me I kept seeing hint of bright green until I saw this.
I ran up to them, saw CJ, Skyler (CJ’s son), Leighann, and Leighann’s father. I hugged each one of them and told them this marathon was going to kick my butt! And that I was so thankful for them for coming out and cheering. I then looked at CJ and jokingly asked him if he was going to run a few miles with him, smiled and continued on.
As I made my way through the last part of Brooklyn, I made sure I was keeping on pace. I had gotten a pace band at the expo and to be safe, got the 3:50 hr finish time. I was about 6-7 mins faster than what I should have been at that point in the race for a 3:50 finish so I knew if I could hold things together, I would have a great chance at matching my former time. This is all assuming I would continue to feel good, if not I would still have those minutes in the bank to retrieve and boy would I need them.
As we made our final turn to exit Brooklyn I wanted to thank every single person out there cheering us on. We began the ascend up our second bridge of the day, the Pulaski. This was surely the middle bridge between the Verrazano Narrows and the Queensboro that would make her appearance soon.
I was feeling OK at this point (13.1 miles) and recall having to stop right after the photographers to walk a little. The fatigue would set in earlier this year since my conditioning was not up to par but I kept walking and regained my momentum. As we headed into our 3rd boro of the day, I wanted to be more involved with the crowds and really immerse myself. So, as we ran past the crowds I would go up and high five anyone I saw who had their hand out cheering.
A freelance design friend of mine had said she would be out with her son, so I wanted to make sure to keep an eye out for them. They had said they would be between miles 14-15 and since I have NO IDEA the streets in Queens, I only hoped for the best in seeing them.
For some reason (just like 2009) the people you want to be there and see, all of a sudden show up out of nowhere! This is how Meg and her son Sam appeared to me. They just caught my eye and I stopped to say hello, meet Sam, snap a picture and continue on. I really appreciated them coming out as I heard Meg yelling, GO MARK, GO MARK!
The next two boros I knew would be the hardest. The “fun”part of the race was out of the way and now it was time to get serious. The Queensboro bridge was in the distance and I knew I had to reserve some in the tank to handle this bridge. The legs started to feel tired to this point, even though I was STILL managing to keep consistent splits.
We were wished farewell from the spectators as even they knew this would be one of the most difficult portions of the race.
The Queensboro Bridge had always inspired and interested me. In the first portion of the training season I would do hill repeats and the short runs would include this bridge. In my mind, this would be even better than training in the park with Harlem Hill. As the season went on, the bridge and I lost contact until today. It would be a reunion of sorts and I would not let her win.
The Queensboro Bridge is a cantilever bridge over the East River and was completed in 1909. It connects the neighborhood of Long Island City in the borough of Queens with Manhattan, passing over Roosevelt Island. The upper level of the bridge has four lanes of automobile traffic and provides an excellent view of the bridge’s cantilever truss structure and the New York skyline. The lower level has six lanes, the inner four for automobile traffic and the outer two for either automobile traffic or pedestrians and bicycles.
As all of the runners in all directions battled and willed their way to crest this massive bridge we banded together and kept each other motivated and going. I would have to stop right about where the bridge comes to it’s peak as my legs were getting pretty tired. Other runners around me would be stopping as well but we all would prevail.
Coming down and around the bridge to enter “home” or Manhattan, spectators lined the top portion of the bridge to welcome us with loving arms. This was quite exciting as you come around and see all the people out cheering on First Ave. As I have experienced this in 2009, it still blew my mind just how many people were out cheering. First Ave is great but (as elite runners have said), it will not win the race but it surely will lose the race if you immerse yourself too much in the loud cheering that is First Ave. It is a straight shot up to the Bronx (our Fifth Boro) and I had my good friend Sean waiting for me at 90th and First which was about 1.5 miles away. I had learned right before the start that my other friend Emily (who I had met way back in my original pursuit of running) would be out at (where I thought) was 65th and First, Southeast side. I made my way to the East side of First Ave up to 65th and started to scan the crowds but did not see her. It was a hopeful search but distracted me until I got to 90th and First.
I started to look for Sean and saw a glimpse of him and he popped out. I was starting to get tired and my right foot began to hurt with each step. Even today the only way I can describe it, is as if you first wake up and your feet are getting warmed up for the day. They were tight and painful. I had told Sean I would probably start going downhill at this point and that I would need to walk and run, walk and run. My body did not feel good anymore and I knew the worse was yet to come.
EMBRACING THE STORM
I knew this moment would come, however I had no true idea of how bad it would be. Similar to Hurricane Irene that hit NYC (and the east coast for that matter) this past summer, you prepare to reign in the storm and weather it until the sunshine of the finish is in sight. I was not prepared for this injury which would put my splits from a consistent 8’s to 10, 11 and 12 min miles. We were at about mile 18 or so when the pain started to increase and I would just shutter with every step. I have never felt that much isolated pain in my foot ever. This was not something that had happened in the past and I could make some minor adjustments. I knew as it was happening, I would have to roll up my sleeves and find a way to get through. I was sad it was so early in the latter miles but there isn’t ever a good time for something like this to occur.
As we approached the Willis Avenue Bridge, I looked at Sean and told him, you gotta be kidding me. My foot was hurting so much that just the sight of another bridge (and knowing we would have Madison Ave Bridge) made me want to just quit and go home. But, as Sean is he kept pushing me as best as he could. I knew in my head I had to JUST DO IT.
Our new method of running was to run for as long as my foot could take, then stop and walk to give it a break and repeat. The Gatorade stands would be my salvation as it gave me the opportunity to replenish and give my foot a rest. I was afraid had I kept going on it that perhaps something would tear, or break and I would have no way of getting to the finish. As time was ticking, my pursuit of matching my former time vanished and as we approached the 4 hour mark, I looked at Sean and told him, there goes my sub 4 hour finish. In a way I did care about breaking 4 hours again but once I accepted any finish time, I was inspired to just do that, FINISH.
The trip back into Manhattan is good and bad. It’s great because you know you are heading home, heading to the finish, all the hard work has been done. It is not so good because you realize you JUST did this on the other side coming up on First Ave and have to do it all over again! We were at about 125th Street and had to make our way down to 90th and Fifth to reach the entrance of the park and it would take everything I had. Sean kept telling me to keep going, to the next Gatorade station, to the next street sign. He was helping me in breaking up the last 6 miles to smaller and smaller pieces.
Along the way I saw coach Asteria who gave me her infamous sugar tablets and Sid who told me to keep pushing, to keep seeing that finish line in sight. Both of them are true inspirations and helped enormously.
We had to make our way around Marcus Garvey park, then we would be back on Fifth and it would be a straight shot to 90th street. At one point I had decided to take my sock off thinking it might have been the tightness of my socks that could be causing such strain on my foot. It would only help with the pain temporarily.
This would continue on until we hit the park and the crowds became increasingly louder and more intense. I knew as much as they knew, that the finish, the light was right around the corner. They could feel your pain and taste the sweat as you battled against your own mind and body to overcome whatever stress you were dealing with at that very moment that would prevent you from finishing. Mine was my foot. My mechanics were thrown out the window and I felt like I was limping to get to the next target. We made our way to the left side of the park, as my sister, my friend Tae, Leila and my awesome girlfriend Jean would be awaiting me. I kept asking Sean how much further to the next mile. He would tell me it’s a little further, everyone is waiting to see you. I had a small idea but could not calculate it in my head since I was so fatigued at that point.
We past mile 24.
We past 40k
I saw the banner, 25 Mile and started looking for the Korean flag. I did everything I could to get to THAT one point as fast as I could to be reunited with my sister, my two friends and my girlfriend. I saw Mary first and she asked me how I was doing. I told her I had hurt my foot and was in a lot of pain. I hugged Tae and Leila and finally saw Jean. I hugged and kissed her as we ran together. We made our way down towards 59th street and the previous week we had done a “dry run” of it to make sure we knew the plan.
As we got on 59th street I was reminded of the numerous times I had run this exact strip so it would become second nature. Both sides of the street were filled with people yelling and cheering. A police officer even gave some words of encouragement as he saw my look of exhaustion and agony.
Jean kept pushing me, telling me about her day with my sister and two friends and how proud she was. I was taking everything in but was mentally, physically and emotionally drained. I was running on fumes, everything I had left in the tank was for this one moment. As we started to approach the entrance into the park, two NYRR volunteer officials told her she has to show her bib. I told Jean to just keep running. A man came barreling out blocking Jean from moving any further and at that point her and I would separate.
With 800 meters to go, I wanted to find my parents in the stands as they have been waiting to see me finish the entire day. I knew they were tracking me and would be waiting at ground level to see me. I kept shuffling, jogging, walking and repeating for the next 300 meters or so until I saw my mom frantically waving her TFK Green bam bams yelling for me. I came limping over to her, gave her a hug and told her I had hurt my foot. She looked at me and told me to GO FINISH!
As I turned the finish line was in sight. The small hill you have to climb right before you are on straight away to the finish was a distant memory as my focus readjusted to the finish line.
I shuffled and jogged my way to the point I felt comfortable at and once I felt OK I told myself; this is it, give it all you got. Whatever pain you feel is only temporary but finish with pride and integrity.
I approached the finish, threw my hands in the air looked up the crystal blue sky and thanked God for getting me to the FINISH!
4 hrs 09 mins 18 secs
After a little over a week since running my second marathon this year has brought on a whole new lessons to the table. 2009 was filled with training and completing my first marathon. This year’s marathon was really about the courage to keep going when things REALLY got tough and to accept the fact that I still ran 26.2 miles even though I didn’t reach my goal of sub 4 hours. I still enjoyed every moment of the race and I remain a firm believer in the NYC Marathon, the spectators and the self belief that is instilled or is regenerated in a new form on that First Sunday in November.
For all of you have continued to follow this blog for this long, I hope I have inspired you to go out and run just a mile. That final mile in my race will be unforgettable. I spent it with the one person I love the most besides my family, and taught me about what truly matters in life.
Running is for most, a solitary sport but for myself it has become a reflection of a new life I am embarking on that will take as much will, patience and courage as the epic 26.2 mile distance.
HAPPY RUNNING and THANK YOU for all of your support!