Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NYC Marathon: A wonderful day of running watching

NYC Marathon: No, I didn’t run it.

Writers note: You have no idea what I went through to put this post together. I need to work on my photo adding abilities... or my laptop may pay the price. Is it better to write the post and then add photos or add photos and write around? 

One day. I ventured up to the bustling, busy, blissful concrete jungle that is New York City with a three-part mission: a) visit with high school bestie, Ayo; b) be not in Philadelphia, Bucks County, Princeton, or lost somewhere between them and c) watch the NYC Marathon with the hopes that it gets my running mojo flowing again and quells this fear I have of the full.

Missions accomplished! I’ll spare the details of the A and B aside from my first drag show, the Seinfeld restaurant and fancypants. When I originally mentioned to Ayo that the marathon was going on I’d like to get up early on Sunday to watch it, I was met with silence. I realized my error and corrected it to “I want to go to the Marathon by myself on Sunday morning while you sleep in and I’ll bring you back a Coke.”
I researched the marathon route and was happy to see that miles 22-26 where in Central Park and all I’d have to do is walk the half mile from Ayo’s Upper West Side apartment to the Upper East Side to watch some running magic. What I didn’t research, or consider, is that it takes a while to run a full marathon. It was like an algebra equation. If 40,000 runners start at 9 am and have to run 26.2miles and what time will the fastest ones be at mile 25? Ummmmm….. crap. Also, a factor to consider is the 30 minutes difference from the wheelchair start to the elites and the 20 minutes between elite women to elite men. And even if they’re super fast, it still takes a while. I ran through Central Park to arrive on 5th Ave and realize I was two hours early. The elite wheelchairs were just starting to zip through when I arrived.


Since no runners were on the course (yet) but everything was set up, I did a ‘test run’ and ran along the course from mile 23 through 25. I was just making sure it was safe! J I wasn’t the only over excited fan out there though.
The army of volunteers were ready and the water stations were stocked and I swear that even above the daily hum of the nation’s largest city, you could hear the pounding stampede of marathoners.
I took advantage of my mathematical mistake and got a good watching spot at mile 25. I figured this is where you have to truly gut it out and power through. The last mile is usually the best and the worst feelings in the world.

And so, we waited.
And waited. And waited. And finally….
RUNNERS! I cannot tell you how incredibly cool it was to see the elite women come zipping past. It was mile 25 and they still looked strong. I have video of the first and second finishers flying by, but I’m not that fancy yet.


These photos aren’t in order by finisher or anything. But they’re close. The group of elite women was much larger than I had expected. Second place went to an American, Shaylene Flanagan-- making her marathon debut. I overheard a group of people talking about a few of the elite American women as if they were all friends. So I was either standing next to American running royalty or really pretentious New Yorkers with subscriptions to Runner’s World and memberships to NYAC. They cheered loudly whenever anyone with NYAC shirts came by.
The men were close behind the women and also flew through mile 25 like it was a 5K.  Gebre Gebremariam, Ethiopia, the winner of the 2010 NYC Marathon had never run a marathon before.  He crossed the finish line at 2:08--which is my half marathon PR. Yeah. He average 4:53 minute pace for 26.2 miles.
Here is Meb Keflizighi, an American running hero. He won the 2009 NYC Marathon and was the first American male to win a marathon in 28 years. He came in sixth on Sunday.

I was expecting a great herd of runners led by the elites. But that wasn’t how it happened at all. The professional fasties went by one at a time. I guess that’s why it actually IS racing to them. One at a time soon became clusters of five or six and then a steady stream of speedsters. I called the first wave of non professional runners Bostoner’s because they were all qualifying for Boston Marathon in April. Slowly the steady stream turned into a flood I was expecting.


I watched and cheered and screamed my little runner’s heart out. I even flirted with a guy standing next to me. I yelled every cliché I knew! “You’re almost there!” “JUST ONE MORE MILE!” “LOOKING GOOD!”
If someone had their name on their shirt, I pointed and cheered specifically for them. If they were running for a cause, I yelled thank you. If they were walking, I said keep going! It was truly inspirational and amazing to see people reaching the end of a long journey and to have only a shred of understanding of what their going through. The journey to a marathon isn’t about the finish line. It’s the training runs, the dedication and the heart. I stood and cheered for about three or four hours.
I started to think that hey, everyone is looking so good and strong because they’re gutting it out and reaching deep down inside for mile 25. I needed to see some walls. I need to see a marathon be hard and see people hurting to know I can do it too. I don’t know if that makes sense but I don’t expect the smiles and pride at the end of the race to reflect the previous pain.
And…um…it got a little boring up there and people were getting pushy. I decided to see some deep marathon madness and walk back towards 96th street.
As I moseyed on back, I saw what I needed to see. I saw people walking. I saw tears. I saw limping. I saw that thing when a person puts their head down for a few seconds, takes a deep breath and then just powers forward. You know just from watching that they had said or thought or felt something deep down in order to move forward. It’s just there.

The wonderful thing about this sport is that everybody can do it, all shapes, all sizes, all nationalities, all economic levels, whatever. I saw a man with two prosthetic legs run through the 25 mile marker and I saw many a 70 year old zip past twentysomethings. A lot of the names I couldn’t yell because I couldn’t pronounce them. Signs in every language were being waved and I’m pretty sure I heard five different ways of saying “GO RUNNERS”!
It was along Fifth Ave, I realized I could do this and I can do this and very soon I will do this. Oh yes, I’m ready.

Because, if a Chilen miner who was trapped underground for 69 days with 32 other men can do this, I can do this. Yes, I saw him. Yes, here’s a photo.

I saw runners wrapped in blankets with their medals hanging from their necks as I made my way back to Ayo’s and on my way home. I had to hold myself back from giving them a hug or handshake. I wanted to ask everyone if it was their first marathon, how they did, and to thank them for the inspiration. I am motivated now simply out of out envy and awe. I want to limp my way down the 96th Street Subway stop, chilled to the bone, achy, anxious, hungry, and proud. I want to refuse to sit down because I won’t be sure I can get up.
It was an amazing day that really brought everything home for me. I remembered that crazy “I can’t believe I just did that!” pride and reveling in the tangible work you put in to get there. I know I can do half marathons, they’re almost easy at this point. I needed to see a marathon, not read about it or watch a documentary about it or have someone tell me about it. I had to see it to believe it. And now, I believe I can!

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