Monday, November 06, 2006

New York you make it happen

Saturday Night

Freaking out about my chip situation, I decide to head back to the Expo at the Javits Center. After waiting over a half hour for the shuttle in front of the Hyatt, a guy from Chicago named Joe and I jump a cab and get to the Expo. They are tearing everything down around when we arrive; compared to the excitement of the day before it's weird, it's like something is over, not beginning.

As it turns out, now both chips are registered, I could use either. I decide to use theirs, I don't know why.

That night I have dinner with two old college friends, Andrew F. and Missy H. Andrew buys me a pasta dinner at this great Italian place across the street froom where he works. Andrew designs props for the American Airlines Theater, after dinner he gave us a brief tour of the set of Heartbreak House.

I stop off at a market for extra food; a banana, pretzels, the odd energy bar, and a way too big bottle of water. Back to Coop's place, I lay out my gear, pack my bag and get in bed around 9.30.

Race Day

I don't sleep much at all, I wake up every twenty minutes. At 3.50, ten minutes before my alarm goes off, I get out of bed, clean up and suit up. I hate to consume anything when I first wake up, but force myself to drink a pint of water and eat a banana. I kiss my wife good-bye, say I'll see her on First Avenue, and head for the subway.

I chew a bagel on the way to the subway station. As I wait for the 6, other guys show up in running gear and their "official" bags. We were each given a clear plastic bag, the only bag, we are told, we can take to the starting area. No bags inside of bags either, it's obviously a security thing. We're all like, hey, and hi, and have a great run. But not very loudly.

By 5 am there's a line up us walking up 42nd street towards the library, and there are at least twenty busses waiting for us. After all that fretting about my bus pass, they never even check. They just want to see that we have numbers, there's no way they could see the small lettering on them that says if we have a pass or if this is the right pick up area. Whatever.

I have a great conversation with a guy from Toronto (sorry, I forgot your name) who ran the Cleveland Marathon last May. He kept saying really sweet things about our city and I kept biting my tongue from running the place down because we all do that.

Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island

I am there before dawn, maybe the sceond bus there. Looks like a refugee camp. There's even experienced runners who have brought sleeping bags so they can just crash until start time. The only thing I missed was a scarf, otherwise I was relatively warm. I spent four hours pacing, having two small cups of coffee, eating another bagel, and another banana, trying to read the Sunday Times with gloves on, going to rest room as strenuously as possible. When I tried sitting to read my body temperature dropped rapidly and so I got up again and just kept moving.

I even got in line for a massage. I didn't really need one, but it was something to do. She worked my back, I get tense in my shoulders a lot and my lower back hurt from all the pacing. By now the sun was up and I sat and worked on my red shirt. I wrote PENGO in block letters on the front. On the back I wrote:


with a heart and a star. They got me to this place, I wanted to take them with me.

The people from different countries amazed me. Close to the start I met a young man named Matt from London. This was his first marathon, too - and he came from London. For his first marathon. So did I. Cool.

In my corral (the 20000 - 20999 corral) I found the 4:00 pace guy. I was going to follow the 4:15 pace team, but I'd already met this Londoner so I stayed there. Regardless, maybe I could pull off something like four hours, and maybe this was a big mistake, but whatever, I'd just let some people pass me first.

We began to move, and I took off the black sweats I'd gotten at Unique Thrift. I would be wearing my Asics all-weather black cap, glasses with a strap (not sunglasses) Lands Ends black long-sleeve tee, red Under Armour shirt, black Under Armour shorts, black running shocks and my Asics gels. I had gloves I planned on ditching. One last pee and we headed for the start. I was also wearing my iPod, had two GUs pinned to my shorts, and a tube of Carmex tucked into my waistband.

All my gear choices turned out to be perfect.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

I reach the start line roughly six minutes after the gun goes off. My headphones are off, I am saving that for later. Just the thrill of, well, finally being here. I was nervous for a fraction of a second back on the bus, now, after hours of waiting, I am just happy to be moving. The sky is cloudless, the weather is mild, it is going to be a beautiful day for running.

Already there are men relieving themselves, over the edge of the Verranano-Narrows Bridge. I just don't think that's right. Over the next four plus hours, I will see guys just letting it go over bridges, through chain link fences, anywhere really. I also seeing amused photographers taking pictures of small groups of guys, pissing into parking lots.

Good-bye Staten Island.


Brooklyn was amazing. And very, very long. After a two-mile bridgem we would be in the Borough of Kings until the race was half-over. Shortly after we arrived, we were greeted by large, large crowds of cheering locals. When I saw a guy holding a sign reading FINISHING IS YOUR ONLY F*CKING OPTION I knew it was going to be a good day.

There were Irish runners wearing big green hats, a guy dressed as a rhino. a surprising number of Norwegians in the pack, Dutch runners with matching orange jerseys sporting questionable cartoons of Africans with big lips, a guy dressed like the Statue of Liberty, and, so they tell me, Bobby Flay.

For most of Brooklyn I enjoyed the ambient sound, the bands playing every couple of miles. I drank at maybe every other station, sometimes water, sometimes Gatorade. I forced myself to drink even when I didn't want to, necessarily, though I found as I was drinking, that I really did.

Whenever I took long runs during my training, I would feel terribly drained after a while. I attributed this to a lack of something in my system. At five miles, I took my first GU, right before a water station to wash it down.

10K split: 0:57:33

By seven miles, I began to wonder if we were in Queens yet, and had to remind myself that that wouldn't come until mile 13. I tried keeping the bouncing balloons held by the 4:00 pace captain in sight, but needed to take a leak (at an actual port-o-john) and spent a few miles trying to catch up. I was going much faster than I should have. By the time we reached Queens, I lost them for the rest of the run.

I began getting that drained feeling before the Half-Marathon, and worried I hadn't packed enough to eat. They warn you not to pick up anything not at an official table, which is a shame, because there were kids with small water bottles, old ladies with orange slices, guys with bananas. I took a Twizzler at one point, because I thought that was good luck, until I remembered I never chew Twizzlers thoroughly enough. I had my second GU, this one with caffeine in it. I knew there would be a PowerBar Gel station at mile 18, and hoped I would last until then.

I had read on some message board that you shouldn't put your name on your shirt, that it gets annoying after a while. Everyone else said to do it. Well, I didn't write my name, I wrote my nickname. And I gotta tell you, I never got sick of perfect strangers yelling "Pengo!" at me. That was a big boost, and whenever I needed it, I moved from the center of the street to one of the curbs.

Queensboro Bridge

A steep incline, luckily I read in one of the magazines that there is a stunning view of Manhattan if you look to your left. I did, and it was. It was breathtaking. It was one of several moments during the run I almost, but didn't, burst into tears. God, I love that city.

Choice track: Such Great Heights - The Postal Service

Earlier in the run I was concerned I was dressed just a little too heavily. Maybe I didn't need to his thermal undershirt, at least not in the bright sunlight and 50ยบ weather of Brroklyn. But the two miles on the lower level of the Queensboro Bridge made me grateful I had it on, that was brisk.

Choice track: Winners - 7 Seconds of Love

As we headed down the bridge descending into Manhattan, I said possibly the only thing out loud I had said to that point. I said, "That's a lot of people."

Half-marathon split: 2:00:17

First Avenue

Outstanding. First Avenue, deep with people, for miles. Bright and sunny again, heading uptown. My family was supposed to be waiting for me at 81st Street, but I started looking for them much earlier, on the west side of the street, looking for the SpongeBob Squarepants sign I got them from the expo. I missed the "official" banana station looking for my wife, but - I kid you not - I almost slipped on a banana peel.

Choice track: Future Sightings - I Am the World Trade Center

They were right where they said they'd be, Coop was holding the sign, which read "Go Go Pengo!" or I never would have seen them. I leaned over to kiss my wife and little girl, and headed off again. And then I got really, really tired. It was only mile 17.

I had used the iPod intermittently, but relied on it more heavily to keep my spirits up. I snagged a PowerBar Gel, and then a second one for later.

Choice track: A Little Less Conversation - Elvis Presley

I have no idea whether it is a boon or a curse to be familiar with the geography and relative distances of Manhattan in this situation. I knew I was racing into the hundreds, and that after a brief swing through the Bronx, it would still be a long way back to Central Park.

The Bronx

On the Willis Avenue Bridge we were greeted by a Scots drum and pipes band. Not as many people to see us at the Bronx, maybe the feel slighted being such a short part of the route. I was feeling distress in my abdomen, couldn't tell if it was just all of the synthetic protein and carbs or all the fluid I had been taking in, or just gas. I stopped at another port-o-john, which was a big risk. I tried keeping my legs moving as I pee'ed - that was a very good idea - and then got back on the road.

I applied lip balm ever few miles, I never lost the lip balm. I still had the gloves I'd tucked in my waistband.

And then we were back in Manhattan.

Fifth Avenue

I mostly listened to the iPod through Harlem and on toward the Park. The family was going to cross over and meet me there - at first my wife had said she would see me on the avenue, and then she changed that so I wasn't sure where I would see her. So I began looking well up the street. It was a good thing, too, another distraction.

Remember; I had never even run 20 miles before. The one time I tried it I fell slightly short, going from Cleveland Heights to Lakewood. Once I did hit 20, in the Bronx, I thought, well, from here on out I have no idea what I am capable of. I tried to drive any notion of what it was going to feel like stopping, of finishing, of having the medal, of seeing my kids again, out of my head.

Choice track: Put Your Records On - Corinne Bailey Rae

We crossed into Central Park. After another half mile or so, I found my family again. I wasn't stopping this time, I was just happy to see them. The last two miles were ridiculous. I can't say they were impossible, I didn't slow down any more than I already had (LOTS of people passed me on Fifth Avenue) I just kept going, not too slowly, either, it just didn't seem like it was ever going to end.

Final track: It's My Life (Vocal Mix) - Liquid People vs. Talk Talk

Remember, these tracks are at random, and this one was next. I listened to it a lot during my training, one of those songs from my teenage yeras that was playe so much it lost meaning at the time, but has creepingly gained meaning in the time since. And the artist who was Talk Talk now goes under the name Liquid People and "remixed" this track, which means he mostly put a thudding beat under it that makes it incredible to work out to. It was exactly what I needed at that point in time, reminding me of all the work I'd put into this. I just shut everyone out except for the deafening cheering that came through.

Out to south end of the park, and then back in, I headed to the finish line. There was no feeling of overwhelming exhilaration then, just relief.

Finish time: 4:15:28
Overall place: 16,838 (out of 38,368)
Average pace: 9:45

1 comment:

justinian said...


Congrats on accomplishing your goal... I'm quite impressed.