Despite two weeks of taper freak out, stress out and insecurity, I awoke on race day in a buoyant mood: happy, relaxed, and excited. Also, for the first time ever the night before a marathon, I got solid, uninterrupted sleep.
Everything, down to defrosting my breakfast berries, had been laid out in procedure order the night before, so all I had to do was follow the yellow brick road. The Plan. I take great comfort in The Plan, and I followed it to the letter. Luckily, even things I had to leave to chance, like the weather, or the cab driver who took me to the NY Public Library to catch my official race bus to Staten Island, were fantastic. As I rode over the Queensborough Bridge, my excitement bubbled over as I thought I’ll be racing across this bridge later today!
Compliments to NYRR’s, as all the tricky bits of logistics–getting runners onto the busses, shortening the lines at the port-a-johns, the new wave start–went off so smoothly. I was impressed and grateful, and it definitely helped me stay calm in the final hours before my race. Love ya and thank you, Mary & Corps!
All the volunteers were cheerful and helpful, even the ones there at 5 AM, ushering us onto busses, directing us through the dark to our color-coded staging areas within Fort Wadsworth Park. I found a spot beneath a lamppost, laid out my trash bag, pulled on my third layer of warm-ups, and settled in with my 4 bottles of water, thermos of coffee, iPod and book (an early galley of Tim Dorsey’s Nuclear Jellyfish–hilarious stuff) to wait. I had four hours until I needed to start checking my bag and finding my corral (wave 2, corral D).
Staten Island (Miles 1 to 2)
It felt a little bit like a refugee camp, all of us huddled together, in the elements, wearing throw-away clothes and trash bags, hunched over steaming mini-cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I was shivering involuntarily by 7 AM, despite the many layers of clothes I had on. Finally, finally EN called and insisted I sit with him and some TNTers in the blue area (I was in orange) so we could cluster together for warmth. This ended up being a good plan: even though it entailed more pre-race walking than I’d have liked, it kept me relaxed.
EN decided he wanted to start with me, even though he was scheduled for the first wave, because our time goals for the race were very similar. Once again, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with a friend moments before a big race, and I felt grateful at the thought that my passion, this sport, has brought such quality people into my life. As I bent over to stretch my hamstrings, I saw a forest of running shoes around me, and grinned at the beautiful sight. I reflected on the years I’ve dreamed and planned for this race (since December 2006), all the training I’ve put in since July, all the spectating I’ve done (I’m not above banking on good karma), and the fact that I really had to pee! More props to the NYRR’s–there was a port-a-john IN the corral!! Brilliant.
Then everything happened in a rush. The corrals merged, we walked to the starting line, some guy sang “God Bless America,” the cannon boomed, we shrieked, and Ole Blue Eyes started crooning “New York, New York.” I’d never before thought of this as a fight song, but man oh man was it ever in that moment. Grr, watch out New York because–as my best friend CB told me I would–I was gonna own the road today.
It’s surreal, running over the Verranzano Bridge. Are those minty-hued arches really spread for me to pass beneath? Although, it could be argued that I wasn’t exactly running over the bridge. My first 5K was so slow (29:20) that even my mom told me, after the race, that she was concerned when she saw my split come through over Athlete Alert. (Bless her!) EN reminded me that we had 25 miles to make up our horrifying pace for Mile 1. The thing was, I was so chilled, my muscles were so cold from shivering and being still for five hours, that I simply couldn’t run any faster. I had to warm up and loosen up and get my engine humming. Before we even got off the bridge, EN and I had both gleefully stripped off at least one piece of clothing (he pretended to be the Incredible Hulk; I pretended to be Dita Von Teese). Bye bye ugly green pants; have a nice life striped hoodie; it’s been swell old race tee.
Brooklyn (Miles 2 to 13)
My calves and shins were painful these first few miles me, but thankfully it was as I suspected: once they were properly warmed up & loosened up, they gave me no problems. (I still did pop two Tylenol, though, at Mile 3). First impressions of Brooklyn: a woman saying “Go!” from her driveway in her bathrobe and slippers, a hungover-looking dude banging a pot with a wooden spoon from his fire escape. And then, barely 3 miles in, there was JB from the Green Mountain Relay hashers team, coolly greeting me by name. These first miles, all I wanted to do was get my pace back on track, closer to 9:09’s. I had now chucked all my layers, except my gloves, in which I love running because my hands do get cold even when everything else is warm; plus, the gloves can be used to sop up splashed Gatorade, to make sure I have no chocolate Gu on my chin, and to deal with a runny nose (yes, even my nose was running this marathon).
Then there was KP, my friend from publishing, chasing me down to cheer me on along Fourth Avenue in his green scarf and silvery sideburns, as I ate my first gel of the day (Clif Shot Apple Pie). Gatorade. Then there’s my crazy-enthusiastic cousin DC shouting at me “Go! Run!”–she cheered for me in the Brooklyn Half, too. I missed my dearests, CB and JW, but as I suspected they were on the right side of the avenue, while I was on the left. I knew we switched neighborhoods when a middle-aged, potbellied Hassidic man almost got knocked on his tuchus trying to cross through the runners. Still trying to moderate my pace, keep it at 9:09’s but it was hard–stretches of the course really narrowed as spectators pushed towards us. I hit to 10K mark in 57:32 (improving my pace by 11 seconds per mile, but still not close to 9:09’s). Hardly anyone knew how to run through the water stations, and I began to regard them as treacherous, since other runners’ attention lagged, the road became sticky, and crushed cups were like fallen foliage in Vermont–proliferous, and blanketing.
The crowds were so loud in Williamsburg, wow, can those hipsters cheer (they all were holding beers). This is when I started to feel contrary. Everyone talks about how the crowd support is so key, how it sweeps them along, how it’s such a notable aspect of the race experience. But for me, the noise, the crush, and the way it distracted and slowed down my competitors made me somewhat anxious. I didn’t want to knock into anyone, or stumble, or have to pull up or turn sharply. And I sure as hell didn’t want to have to run slower because Pierre and Lotchen wanted to sightsee as they ran through the colorful neighborhoods of my city.
So, as we moved through the dregs of Brooklyn (sorry, Greenpoint), and came through Mile 13 in our approach to the Pulaski Bridge, my emotions started to ease up. I was running towards familiar turf, my breathing was comfortable, my form was strong, and I was on pace to complete the first half in under 2 hours (1:59:08), which was the first major marker of my race plan. I knew if I didn’t hit 13.1 in under 2 hours, it would be that much harder for me to reach my ultimate, A Goal – finishing in under 3:55.