It began in the dark. At 5:30 AM, Lil Brother slipped out to Queens Boulevard to hail a cab which would take him to the bus which would take him to the runners’ village in Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island. I gave him a hug and a kiss and sent him off with one final reminder to keep hydrating. Then I went back to bed for another three hours.
At 9:15 I was out the door myself–it was time to make my way to Vernon Boulevard to catch the elites just before the Mile 14 mark. I was carrying by BlackBerry, a cowbell, my camera, the course map, house keys, my credit card, MetroCard, and about $15 in cash. All these things fit in the pockets of the snazzy lime green running jacket EN got me for my birthday last year. I was happy; I was heading off to cheer for my people. Mom and Dad were set to meet me at a predetermined corner in Queens around noon, a little before we expected to see IK come trundling by, but until then it was just me and the early runners. Communion.
I stood here for two and a half hours, but it felt like 10 minutes. I was so excited to see Paula, Magda, Ludmila Petrova and Salina Kosgei I thought I’d jump out of my skin. I knew that as soon as they were here they’d be gone; I had my cheers prepared ahead of time. The lead vehicles came by, first Mayor Mike, then Mary with (I learned later) Sammy Wanjiru, Shalane Flanagan (who later said on national TV she’d be running NYC in 2010) and Amy Yoder Begley. And then here was the lead pack of women and all my cheers flew out of my head as I stood there in awe, shouting something like “oh my god” or somesuch starstruck nonsense. Paula is just. so. tall. Then here was Magdalena Lewy Boulet pulling up about 10 seconds behind in very cool orangey arm warmers. I pulled myself together enough to shout, “We love you Magda!” (The people around me had begun to back away by this point, clearly thinking, “Speak for yourself, lady.”) Then I cheered for the locally-ranked runners, those zooming by in Central Park Track Club, WXC, New York Athletic Club, etc singlets.
Before I knew it, the media truck for the elite men was coming around the corner from Pulaski Bridge and I was freaking out again. Abdi Abderahman was leading when I saw them, but they were all so closely strung I couldn’t read their singlets. Whoosh they were gone–wait there’s Ryan, eesh he’s lagging!–and then here came Brian Sell, oh Brian I love you for dreaming (2008 Olympics) and then for turning to practical matters (dental school). They were gone before I could think where was Torres, where was Meb, where was Cheruiyot, where was Gharib? Thank goodness for Twitter; all my faithful tweople (@runblogrun being the most reliable) were tweeting the proceedings so I could keep up with the action from the curb.
I beckon thee, oh mass of citizenry, run to me! Run through Brooklyn, run through Queens! Be the rushing river of humanity through the streets of this great city. Be greater than Manhattan, be swifter than a crosstown bus, be stronger than the Chrysler Building, be tougher than the Bronx, be your own legend. I promise I will stand here and tell you want you need to hear to get the job done. I will shout and cheer because what you are doing is amazing, it’s crazy and mythical. For a few hours the entire population of New York City hovers a millimeter above the earth as we are caught up in your tailwind. When you cross that finish line with a grunt and a cry, with a raised arm or a hung head, we will marvel, and bow.
The locally-ranked guys came by in loose bunches, I cheered for the clubs as I recognized their singlets. They mesmerize me, these powerful yet light men, barreling forwards. Some looked so young; most looked “my age,” which very generously indicates anyone within a ten-year window on either side of 36. I love how it plays out; next come the speediest “regular” women, the ones who are used to running shoulder-to-shoulder with the dudes. Before I knew it, Vernon Blvd was a mass of people running for the hills; specifically, the hills of the Queensboro Bridge and First Avenue. Mom and Dad showed up, and we began scanning the crowd for my brother. Dad’s a great guy to have on the curb as he is so tall he’s easy to spot, and around 12:19 IK came trotting up. He didn’t see us at first, I saw him first and started screaming his name and waving my arms like mad. He saw us and came over, we all hugged him, I knocked him in the chin with my shoulder because I couldn’t stop jumping up and down. Then he ran off and that’s when I saw he was wearing compression shorts–essentially, tights that stop at the knees. Oooh I couldn’t resist, he’s my brother of course I’m going to embarrass him, so I shouted after him as loud as I could, “NICE ASS!”
[50 tense minutes ensue as we get the subway to 117th Street and First Avenue hoping not to miss him.] I sent Mom and Dad ahead to the corner as I stripped off my jeans–I was going to jump in and pace Lil Bro from Mile 19 to 22, and had on running shorts beneath my jeans & jacket. Here he came, a bit later than I’d anticipated (he was slowing down from the 10-minute miles I’d counted earlier), but glad to see us. And we were off. I drilled him with questions (his stomach was queasy and his legs were tired–oh no!) and chattered on to distract him. As we ran, I roused the spectators to cheer for him, and tried to keep the patter up but eventually he just wanted me to hush. As we came around Marcus Garvey Park, I told him that once I left him at Mile 22, it was going to start to feel like he was running up a hill. That’s because it is a hill, I said, but don’t worry because you will pass a lot of people on it. He snorted. Mom and Dad were waiting for us just past the water station, and I nearly hip-checked Lil Bro into the sidewalk as I craned around looking for him. Oh yeah I got some shit for that! So then he was off and we cheered him away. I was still excited for him, but I was a little worried. He looked tired, and I just didn’t want him to hurt; I wanted him to whoop it up through the streets of New York City.
The three of us had a long time to wait for him now–indeed, longer than we thought. I was texting with friends at home on their computers and found out that Brother definitely crossed the finish line in 4:44:16, so we knew it would take him a while more before he trudged through baggage check, etc. But as soon as we caught up with Husband in the runner’s reunion area on Central Park West, we got a call from IK that he got very dehydrated and went to the medical tent right at the finish line. Oh the poor kid! What a trooper. We all waited him out in a diner on Broadway, and then finally finally got him home to Sunnyside (taking advantage of his “runners ride free” subway discount, of course!) around 6 PM. Our newly-minted marathon stretched and showered after he cutely admitted he wanted Chinese for dinner. It was a long day for him, layered with anticipation, struggle, pain, inspiration and ultimate success. I am so proud of him for taking on the 26.2-mile challenge, for completing the training, for persevering through the last 10k when he was debilitated from the aftereffects of his cold.
Four days later, after the Yankees won the World Series, I was finally able to sit and watch the elite race. (Missing the coverage on TV last year is what convinced me to get us a DVR cable box). Even though I already knew the outcome, I was on pins and needles watching the moves and progress of the runners through the miles. I loved seeing them rush through my city’s streets, streets I know so well as a resident and as a marathoner. I shouted when Kosgei took a terrible tumble, I mourned when Magda, then Salina, then Paula all dropped off the lead pack. I exulted for Tulu, I felt Petrova’s bitter disappointment, and I could feel Dauney’s joy at third radiating off her. And Meb! Meb! I cried as he ran through Central Park, shivering with the excitement of an American champion, with the elation of his comeback–what an amazing career he’s already had and now this. Look at Robert Cheruiyot, crushed; and Gharib, also laid low despite his podium finish. It was wonderful the way Ryan Hall crossed the finish line, clutching his back (oh no!) but happy for his teammate’s glory; six male Americans in the top ten! What an amazing day for American distance running–with tens of thousands of epic performances, starting with Meb and scrolling all the way down, flitting upon IK and continuing past, a ribbon of effort and culmination and triumph over the competition and over ourselves.