Lil Bro, aka IK, ran the New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 1st, 2009. Without further ado, I pass the mike to him, as he tells you about his first experience tackling the distance. This is IK’s report of his New York City marathon………
The 2009 ING New York Marathon Official Program includes an article titled, “Final Thoughts: Last-minute marathon tips to get you to the finish line.” There is a section that reads: “Do not run if you are ill. If you’re feeling ill during race week and particularly on race morning, do not imperil your health. Running a marathon taxes your immune system…”
Yeah, well, fuck that. I’m just about better, I thought. Saturday’s 2-miler around Sunnyside was OK, one of those post-sick runs that tastes like snot. I was ignoring the cold that still made my head slow and the sore throat that prevented me from swallowing easily, but my body, the running parts of me, felt strong.
The race started out as I’d expected it would. The waiting around in the cold sucked. The music, cannon blast, and tears all showed up as I’d thought they would. I’m a social runner; I enjoy talking to friends to pass time. I met Steve and Alex from LA in the corrals and we talked and ran together for 10 miles. Somewhere along Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue, I heard someone screaming my name over and over again and looked to see Christmas bells and long brown hair thrashing about, framing a big, beautiful smile. My cousin DC came out to cheer, hoping to see me, not even sure when I’d show, just shouting my name, confident I’d hear her before I saw her (I did). A quick kiss, pat on the back and I was off, again in tears.
At about mile 10.5 I took stock and realized that I was too tired for mile 10.5, and that I was going to be hurting by the end of this thing. I wondered, not for the last time, how I was going to finish this. The doubts were beginning to creep in. Going through a gentle left hand turn, there was a woman with a microphone who called out, “Go Illya. You can do it!” Smiling, I thought, She believes in me. I should believe in me too. Running up the Pulaski Bridge and through the halfway point, I was hurting but feeling happier. As I came down the bridge and entered Long Island City, I heard it again – my name being screamed by familiar voices. This time it was mom and dad shouting and clapping and Big Sister (you know her as TK) pogo-sticking up and down with glee. I left them bolstered for another stretch.
Going up and down the interminable 59th Street Bridge was when the nausea started—a slight knot in the top of my stomach. It sat there right below my throat, letting me know that I was taking in too many calories – so I thought. I slowed down my fueling as I ran up First Avenue. This was easy to do, as First Avenue is one of the most joyous and distracting places I have ever been in my life. Fifty blocks of cheering people five and six deep. The layers of encouragement and support were spectacular, almost unbelievable. There were so many reasons for me to get all teary. Every time I got choked up I checked my heart rate to see if it was spiking. I thought that it was overwhelming, that I couldn’t take it all in, but my senses were beginning to shut down.
I kept drinking water at every water station. I wasn’t winded, but my legs were tired. At 95th Street I checked the list of places my family was going to be. I needed something to look forward to. This time, at 117th street, TK was going to jump in and run with me. Oh the delight of that, to have someone there to talk to. I saw them again: my parents and sister, jumping up and down, waving, urging me on. By the time Big Sister joined me, I needed to be distracted from it all, and who better to do that than a marathon-crazed woman who knows and loves every inch of these next 3.5 miles. She did things like tell me about the New Yorker’s typical response when tripped up by another at Mile 19: “Come back here and I’ll slap you in the face!” She prepping me for the upcoming carpeted bridge, described the best sign she saw (“The 2800 calories you’re burning equals 17 beers”), started chanting, “Let’s go Phillies” as soon as we crossed the bridge into the Bronx and yelled at the crowd to “Cheer for Illya!” Being my older sister, she reminded me that running with her was an exercise in humiliation. I honestly told her that I was too tired to be humiliated, too tired to even find myself on the 20-foot video screen they had in the Bronx. By the time we made it back into the city, I was all but shot. I ran to Marcus Garvey Park, noticing but not really hearing the gospel singers, and had to start walking. I put my arm around TK and she started to gush again about how proud she was of me and all that. I couldn’t look at her because a new round of tears came up, so I cleared my throat and started running again. As we approached my parents for the last time, TK gave me a course reminder: the false flat and the long climb towards the park. She said that there were going to be a lot of people walking and that I was going to eat them up. Those last few words, combined with my dad’s slap on my back were all I needed to make it all the way up to the park. Tons of people were calling my name, telling me I looked great. I felt great, too. I was almost done.
Though, as I ran into the park, things started to deteriorate quickly. I had to walk twice during mile 24 and just as I arrived at mile 25 my body told me to stop running altogether. As I came to a halt, a spectator to my left called out, “Go Illya, you look…OK…” OK. Not good, strong, great, or fast. OK. Yeah, I fucking know. Thank you. I started walking and looked down at the curb. I honestly thought, That looks really comfortable. I could lay down right there and go to sleep and that would be wonderful. I wanted to stop. I really wanted to stop.
My first race was a triathlon. Four laps into a ten-lap swim I was panicked, hyperventilating, and seeing DNF in my mind. Had I trained for six weeks so it could end in five minutes? I pushed off from the wall, reverting to a feeble elementary backstroke, and saw my 18 month-old daughter, Miss T, standing on the deck, smiling and blowing me a huge kiss. I started crying, pulled it together and finished the swim and subsequent race. That’s where I go now when it gets really hard. I’ve found inspiration through lots of stories: Harriet Anderson, Rudy Garcia-Tolson, Team Hoyt, my swim coach’s resilience through disaster at Kona this year, that woman with the microphone, my training friends, my kids, my wife. I wanted to honor all of that, to not give up. I kept playing those scenes back through my mind and I said to myself, I’ll be god-damned if I’m not gonna finish this.
So I kept walking. I had to look straight ahead to keep from losing balance. My fingertips were starting to get tingly. Turning right at The Plaza Hotel, I knew there was only one more right turn to go, but I couldn’t see it. There were a few medical personnel lining the road, and I was afraid they would pull me off the course because I looked so bad. They asked if I was OK, and when I told them I was fighting a cold, they let me go on. At one point on Central Park South I kicked a barrier and almost fell over. Then the right turn, the 26-mile marker and the finish line. I did run through the finish line with my arms overhead. I was not going to walk across the line. Before the medal and mylar, I walked up to he first person I saw in a medical vest and said, I need help.
Medical tent, pretzels, doctor, blood pressure 100/70. Dehydrated–two liters low! Six glasses of Gatorade. Five minutes later I was back to normal.
Except for the fact that I would never be back to “normal.” Because you see, I’m a marathoner now.