I know that many (several?) of my friends will be asking what it was like in New York and in an attempt to give you all as clear and comprehensive a report as possible I decided to try to write down my memories before I begin to forget the little details leading up to the firing of the starting canon and until the drive home afterwards.
I will not deal with the months of training which preceded because the runners among you already know and you non-runners think we're all crazy anyway and the details would only confirm your doubts about our sanity.
As some will know this was to be my seventh marathon since beginning to run them, but my first in three years since running the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2000. The New York City Marathon has been marked, also, as my "third, final, last marathon". (We'll see what happens in the years to come. Maybe one of my daughters will decide to run a marathon, and thus I will just have to join them.)
Since the "authorities on running marathons" recommend traveling ahead of time when time zones are in question (one day for every hour difference) I left for the States ten days before the start of the race. This gave me enough time for my body clock to adjust and to acclimatize to the East Coast Autumn weather. This early arrival also provided me the opportunity to participate in a local 5 mile (8Km) race in Radnor, Pennsylvania, a week before the "Big Race". I used the "Radnor Run", a difficult (very hilly) course, as a tune-up for the marathon and as an opportunity to add a "foreign" T-shirt to my collection. The weather was almost typical autumn, if a bit too warm. Everyone who "knew" warned me of the difficulties of the course and I found it easier than expected, and so my finish time was a bit slower than it could have been because I kept "saving myself" for the hard part which just didn't really present it's self. (It must be the hilly training in and around Arad.)
ירמיש בחצי מרתון בית שאן
After this Sunday run, it started raining and continued until Wednesday when I went for a bike ride with my brother, Ira. He led us through the flatlands of South Jersey for about 74 kilometers (45 miles). The great part about cycling in this part of Jersey is that (besides the lack of real hills) there is no shortage of WAWA's & Dunkin Doughnuts along the way.
This being the final taper before the marathon I did little else physical, besides a little shopping before heading up to "The Big Apple" on Friday morning to visit with my daughter, Yonit. I checked into my hotel (conveniently located a couple blocks from the Central Park Finish line. Thank you, Ira.) I would be staying in an overpriced matchbox for the weekend. But for now it was "home".
Friday night being Halloween, Yonit & I met up with a few of her girlfriends in "The Village" with the purpose of watching some of the parade. (New York loves parades). The thing about New York on Halloween is that some of the people look the same all the time. In fact, with no thought or intention, the weather was perfect for my new brown leather bomber jacket and my old wide brim fedora, and as we were walking the streets someone called out, "Hey, Indiana Jones!". After a couple hours of that, we headed out in search of a late supper, New York style. We found A Good Restaurant (yes, that's the name of the place) which had some great food and an especially outrageous turkey club sandwich, which I highly recommend. Then, I left the girls – sorry, women, and headed off to my little room with a big bed.
Saturday morning I took a short walk into Central Park to watch the crews preparing for Sunday and watch the runners arriving at the finish of the International Friendship Run. It's sponsored by the UN and Continental Airlines each providing me a reason not to participate. (Details upon personal request.) Around noon, Ira showed up and we headed off to the Javits Convention Center for the Expo & number pick-up. It took over half an hour of standing in line to get in, but upon entry the entire registration process took about five minutes, total and then we just cruised the stalls. I was very disappointed because, unlike the Marine Corps Marathon Expo, there were no freebies or free food (except for some very good taco chips). After completing this part of the marathon "experience" we headed out for a very New York lunch, a Saberett's hotdog & Snapple Lemonade on a park bench under an autumn colored tree.
Saturday night meant pre-race dinner. We met up with one of Ira's running partners, her husband and other family and friends including Yonit. Pasta of one form or another was prevalent around the table and then it was off to bed.
I would like to write here, "Dawn broke on Sunday…", but, being November in New York, it would be a while between awaking at "Oh five hundred", leaving the hotel and dawn, so…
Since I had "arranged" for the late check-out Ira brought his stuff to my room a 05:45 and we headed out into the cool, dark streets of New York. The streets are quiet and lifeless except for the thousands of marathoners on their way to the Public Library to catch one of the hundreds of busses waiting to carry us to the Staten Island staging area at the foot of the Verazano Narrows Bridge. Again, the logistical organization was amazing. For the length of two city blocks, the sidewalk was cordoned off with openings for the doors of the busses. About ten busses would simultaneously pull up to the "stops", open their doors and volunteers would count off the proper number of runners. All the busses would close their doors and pull off heading for the 45 minute ride to the start. And a whole line of empty busses would pull up taking their place. This process continued, non-stop from five am to seven thirty, somehow getting every runner to the start in time, without any pushing, shoving or shouting. For me, dawn broke somewhere on the Brooklyn Beltway while sharing running experiences and advice with runners from all over the country and of varying ages and abilities.
Arriving at the staging area we were greeted with booths offering fresh, hot coffee, bagels, yogurts, PowerBars, Gatorade & bottled water (As much a you wanted) and a stage offering some name and not-so-name rock bands to entertain us until the 10:10 start. Now we're going to be here for a couple hours so you might want to know how they plan to get that sweat suit and reading glasses and hotel key to the finish line without me (or the other 35,104 runners joining me) having to carry it with us. Well, there was about 100 brown UPS trucks color coded & numbered (Every runner was giving a special plastic "stuff bag" and assigned a specific truck.) The driver of my truck told me that she and all the other drivers were volunteers for this assignment. I know what Brown did for me this Sunday.
Along with over a hundred portable toilets, for us guys there was the "world's longest urinal" built especially for us. This consisted of 12" plastic pipe, split in half and glued together end to end for a distance of about 150 meters down a hill along the border fence. (It worked pretty well as long as one made sure not to stand too close to a joint.)
All 35,104 starters were divided into three color coded groups, Red, Blue & Green, and the start staging area was then divided by number and roped off. I was in the RED start and for some reason I found myself amongst a very "international" group. In the minutes before we start towards the bridge I heard about five or six different languages spoken. As the group begins to move forward, people start shedding that last unneeded layer and tossing the sweat shirt or pants off to the side waiting to be collected and donated to the needy of New York. I brought a rather old but still very usable sweat shirt just for this moment. Again, without any pushing or shoving we all slowly moved on to the bridge to the final strains of "The Star Spangle Banner", and like at a Phillies/Yankees/Cubs (circle your preference) game the final line brought on the cheers of the crowd and the loud report of the canon starting the 2003 ING New York City Marathon. It took me only 3 and a half minutes from the sound of the canon to reach the actual start line. Intentionally and very poignantly the start was accompanied by the sounds of Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York". And, "hey look at the barrier in the middle of the bridge, isn't that Superman try to take off and fly?!"
The Verrazano Bridge, for those who may not know, is a two level bridge with eight lanes on each level. The entire bridge is closed to traffic for the start. The RED & BLUE groups are on the top and the GREENs get the shade of the lower level. In spite of the sun I wouldn't trade being on top, this morning. What a sight. Tens of thousands of runners cover the road from side to side, a cloudless blue sky, hovering helicopters above and the river below. Simply unbelievable.
And, now that "rumor" about the bridge shaking. Well, with all those people running at the same time, yes the great expanse of bridge starts vibrating. You cannot see it, but you feel in your step. The roadbed starts going up and down in a wave like action. If it's going down when your foot goes down, it feels like the road is falling away from you, and the next step, its there before "it should be". Again, a totally new experience for all us "first timers" at New York.
At this point I don't plan to write about every one of the 42.2 Kilometers or the 26.2 miles. I just want to highlight some of the experiences. Overall, the course is not easy. First, because New York City and all five of the boroughs are hilly and we have to cross five different bridges in our quest for a finishers medal in Central Park and the organizers quest to include every borough. And second, most of New York's streets are of concrete and not asphalt, which really wears the knees, ankles and hips. All along the route there is music of all kinds. There were high school marching bands and local rock bands. There was a jazz band somewhere around mile 3 or 4. There were pipers (bagpipes) and church gospel choirs. And, of course, somewhere in Queens there was a loudspeaker blaring the inevitable Theme from Rocky (I). And the crowds. 42.2 kilometers of non-stop spectators to cheer us on. Even in the places where I was warned there wouldn't be anybody, there were crowds. I guess after years of running "alone" at races in Israel, more than a dozen people in one place is already a "crowd". And the signs. Everywhere signs, either cheering on a particular family member/friend or a message to all of us. Besides the signs cheering, "Go Dad" or "Go Eric" and the like, this year the course was lined with signs like, "Don't give up Diddy", in honor of Sean (P.Diddy) Connors, the Rap singer who raised 2 million dollars for charity while running his first marathon. (He was a few minutes ahead of me.) The "runners" that I found along the way included an elderly man on crutches, several blind runners with their guides and an amputee. In Brooklyn and Queens the fire department was present blocking cross traffic with their ladder trucks. The fireman extending the ladders out over the middle of the road to get a bird's eye view of the race. And the runners cheered the firemen as we passed below.
כרזת מרתון ניו יורק
Back to "racing". As I mentioned earlier, this is not a race for Personal Records. This is a race to "enjoy", if one can really enjoy running for such a distance. But, it still is a race and while I decided to enjoy it as much as possible I was still trying to do my very best. There was "high fives" for little kids when I was near them. In Williamsburg I warned a group religious men in their twenties about looking at the scantily clan women runners. I caught their laughter behind me. The road is crowded with runners when you run the 10-11 minute/mile pace. Passing a runner usually means going around him/her and at the same time dodging other runners. This year the weather was in favor of the spectators, sunny and about 60-65 degrees F. Not real good marathon weather. So hydrating was an important activity and I was having a problem. Between mile four and mile nine I could not keep any liquid down. Every cup of water or Gatorade was "given back to the streets" a few meters after being consumed. This worried me because, if this didn't improve very quickly, completing the race would be downright dangerous. So I made the tactical decision to walk through the water stations which were placed at every mile on both sides of the road. And continue walking a few meters after drinking. This seemed to work fine and I continued the practice until the final water station at mile 25. This practice of walking let me drink more water/Gatorade and swallowing less air which was probably the cause of the nausea.
By mile 20 I was beat. I had hit "The Wall" but my own stubbornness and the crowds pulled me along. "Hell, I can't stop now, maybe somebody who knows me is watching?" Shit, nobody in New York knows me. But it worked, and as the final miles ticked off the strength in my legs returned and the pace picked up without any effort. And now the turn back into Central Park and the finish line and now the signs mark 800 yards to go, and 500. Then 300 hundred yards. And the thousands of spectators lining the road are cheering me on as if I was about to win the $100,000 first place prize, and my stride lengthens a bit and my back straightens and my head lifts and the finish is now in sight and only yards away. A little faster now, and its done. I hit the stop button on my watch and while still walking off the effects of 26.2 miles/42.2 Km I see my time. 4 hours, 35 minutes and 10 seconds. The very worst marathon I have every run, time wise. But, the greatest marathon I have every experienced. Now, a volunteer places a space blanket around my shoulders, another tapes it closed. A volunteer hands me a bottle of water and another, a bag of food (banana, apple, raisins and the ever important Tylenol). And what about the stuff I left with UPS earlier this morning? There's my Red #32 truck waiting on the side of the road for me and just as I reach the bench the same woman who collected it from me, hands it back with a big smile and a hearty "Congratulations". And now I head for the exit towards my hotel room and the shower. I'm stopped for the final time to return the computer chip that recorded my progress all day. Even now, they are organized, because, instead of lacing the chip to the shoe which takes time and effort the organizers included a couple little cable ties so that all the volunteer had to do was snip off the ties and I was on my way.
Now back in the room I'm in the shower when my brother arrives. We both figured on his finishing 30-45 minutes ahead of me, but he injured his knee at mile 18 and had to slow down to finish. Marathon runners are not always "smart" we're "tough". Besides like he said, "…at mile 18 I had to get back to the hotel and the finish line was on the way anyway so why not do the best I could." We shower and dress and head out to the restaurant where Yonit works. (For those who are going to New York, it's Dougies on West 72nd & Broadway-Glat Kosher, meat.) Ira and I eat great, kissed Yonit good bye and limped to our respective cars for the trip home.
The months of training are behind me now. The sacrifices and planning are in the past. All that remains is the finisher's medal and memories. No, I don't plan to "do" New York, again. And yes, this was my last marathon. (Yonit and Michal, don't you even think about running a marathon.)