If you’re going to do a marathon, it’s a really good idea to have an idea of why you are doing it. Because otherwise, the misery of the event is simply too much to bear.
For example, are you doing it because you’re really fast and think you can place well in your age group? Or because you want to prove (to yourself or others) you’re capable of going that distance? Or because you just really love to run?
Maybe because you want the t-shirt?
For me, the answer to all of these questions is “no.”
The reason I wanted to do the NYC marathon is because the idea of running through the streets of NYC, along with 40,000+ other people, with screaming crowds lining the streets for (nearly) the entirety of the event, sounded like an experience worth having, even if it hurt a lot.
Oh, and also because the Runner wanted to run it, and I didn’t want her to think I’m a sissy.
A Little Bit About My Pre-Race Training
The 2010 NYC Marathon marks the third marathon I’ve done (note my choice of the word “done,” as opposed to “run”) this year. It also marks the third marathon I’ve done this year without having successfully trained for that marathon. This time, I came to the race with a sore right knee and an aching left hip.
And in short, I was not able to run at all until about a month before the race, and then I worked up to a painful hobbling 14 miles maximum distance.
So what could go wrong?
Hanging Out With Team Fatty NYC
The day before the race, The Runner and I met with LiveStrong’s Colleen Legge and a few members of Team Fatty NYC at Nike Town, for a pre-race breakfast fuel-up. I’ve got to say, I loved talking with others from Team Fatty, especially because most of the other guys had similar aches and pains as mine. There’s no more sympathetic audience in the world than a group of people with matching excuses.
Weirdly, none of the women complained about running injuries. I’m sure that was just coincidence, though.
Then, later that evening, we all got together at a restaurant for dinner to continue our pre-race fueling. Here we are, modeling the Team Fatty NYC tech t’s Pearl Izumi provided for us:
And then the night after the race, we all got together at the LiveStrong party and ate again: post-race recovery fueling, you know.
Don’t you find it peculiar that Team Fatty always eats when we get together?
Nope, me neither.
And you’ll just have to trust me that it was the weird lighting in the room that resulted in everyone looking horribly sunburned in that last photo.
It’s probably a fair statement that neither The Runner nor I are experts at NYC public transportation. It is probably furthermore another fair statement that both of us have a terrible sense of direction.
So, to compensate, we spent a big chunk of Saturday afternoon trying to figure out what our route to the starting line of the race should be — how we should get to the subway, which subway to get on, which direction we should be going, and where we should get off.
And, I’m happy to say, it took us only about an hour to find the correct station. And a couple of wrong choices for which subway to take.
But by the end of the day, we were confident that we knew how to get to the ferry to Staten Island, in plenty of time for our assigned 5:45 ride.
By the end of that day — the day before the race — The Runner and I had walked eight miles, and my right knee was killing me. As in, stepping up onto a curb hurt.
I had grave concerns about whether I could possibly even walk a marathon the following day.
So, fast forward to 5:00AM on Sunday AM. We arrive at the subway station, ready for the R train to pick us up.
Unfortunately for us, we didn’t count on the fact that the R train schedule is a lot less frequent on Sunday at 5:00AM than it is on Saturday afternoons.
And so — along with several other runners — we waited for our train for 45 minutes, meaning that we had missed our ferry before we ever got on our subway.
And I had a feeling the ferry captain wouldn’t hold the boat for us.
As it turned out, though, everything was just fine. We arrived at the ferry just in time for the 6:15 departure. Meaning that we spent 45 minutes in the warm subway station standing and waiting that we would have otherwise spent outside in the cold.
And we still got to the starting area two hours before our wave of the race began.
The Runner and I were slotted to be in the second wave of runners, in the orange group. Which meant that we — along with untold thousands of other runners — had a couple of hours to wait outside until our 10:10 starting time.
And that two hours was an excellent period of time to consider exactly how well The Runner had prepared for this event.
The week before, she had gone to a used clothes store and bought us very warm clothes — heavy track pants, big thick ski coats — for us to wear. She then supplemented all this with heavy gloves, hats, and hand warmers. Look at how attractive we are in our finery:
As a result, we were comfortable and relaxed while others all around us shivered in whatever they could improvise.
Mostly variations of the “wear a trash bag and get into a fetal position” theme.
Eventually, it was our turn to get into the runners’ corrals. We shed our heavy coats and track pants, stuffing them into bags to be redistributed to people who need them. I’ve got to say, I’m going to miss that coat.
We shuffled off, slowly working our way to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Over and over, I kept thinking — and saying, probably to The Runner’s annoyance — the following two thoughts:
- I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that there were so many thousands of people all wanting to run a marathon. Sure, I had known before that there were 40,000 people doing this race, but until you’re actually in the sea of people, the hugeness of that number of people doesn’t really hit home.
- My knee hurt.
I held my phone up as high as I could, trying to get a picture of this endless sea of people:
Per tradition, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” was played on the PA, a cannon fired, and we began.
At that point, the difference between what the race looks like up close and what it looks like from above is really striking. The MTA captured a time-lapse video of the start of the race that really looks incredible:
From our perspective on the other hand, the first couple of miles is all about dodging the coats, hats, blankets and gloves people discard as they warm up.
Getting Into The Running Rhythm
By the four-mile mark, The Runner and I agreed: our hats, gloves, and long-sleeved jerseys were too warm; we were overheating. So we stopped, removed our gloves and hats (leaving them on the side of the road), and tied our long-sleeved jerseys around our waists.
We started running again, only to stop a moment later: with our Clif Shots (our gel of choice) in the jersey pockets, there was way too much bouncing around. So we took the gels out and went back to the run, just holding them. I had three in each hand, figuring I would start sucking one down every three miles, beginning at mile five. My gels would be my countdown mechanism. When I got down to the last gel, I’d be down to the last three miles.
The Runner ran ahead of me, usually about five feet in front, dodging and passing people — the crowd never ever thinned out during the day; there were always people close in front, behind and to the sides of us.
And it was then, at about mile five or six, as I ran behind The Runner, trying (successfully, at that point) to stay with her, that something occurred to me. Something so surprising that I ran to be alongside The Runner and blurted it out:
“My knee. It doesn’t hurt. At all.“
“Seriously?” She answered. “Well, I’d better get as many miles out of you as possible while it feels good, then.”
And — for whatever reason — my knee didn’t hurt for the whole run. Even as the rest of me discombobulated and I began to make whimpering noises, my knee felt fine.
I’m pretty sure I have — at least in part — Pearl Izumi and their awesome running shoes to thank for that.
Before long, we settled into our marathon routine: we would run to each aid station (which happened every mile), then walk through the aid station, drinking a cup of Gatorade.
Sights and Sounds
Honestly, I was feeling good. Around mile ten, The Runner said, “the miles are going by so fast!” And she was right. We were both overwhelmed by the surreal feel of the race — a constant, huge crowd cheering encouragement, a constant, huge crowd running alongside us, a city I have only ever seen choked with cars now filled with runners — that it often felt like we were just being carried along, witnessing something much, much too big to fit in our brains.
By mile fifteen, though, I was cooked. The Runner would get further and further ahead of me — not because she intentionally wanted to drop me, but because it’s just as hard to run below your natural pace as it is to run above it. Each time she slowed for me to catch up, I’d gasp my thanks.
“We’re here to see this together, not race it,” she replied. And besides, while she waited for me to catch up, she had time to take all the pictures I’m posting here today.
I’m a lucky guy to have her.
Musical groups — some rock bands, one gospel choir, one bagpipe band — were all over the place, performing both for the running and standing audiences.
Every mile, I’d look forward to my walking rest at the aid stations. But, as the race went on and more and more people were stopping at each aid station, the number of cups and spilled water / gatorade became comical — there were places where you were more wading than running.
Once bananas were added to this wet mix, things got really messy. And I found out — for the first time in my life — that a banana peel really can be dangerously slippery.
The night before the race, The Runner and I took a Sharpie and inked our names on the front and back of our running shirts. She wrote “Lisa” on front and back; I wrote “Fatty” on the front and “I am Fatty” on the back. You know, so people wouldn’t think I was calling them fatties.
As a result, throughout the day, people on the sidelines would yell, “Go Lisa! And…Fatty?”
Almost always followed by laughter.
What, you think my name is funny?
Team Fatty Gives Me a Boost
By the time I got to mile 15, I was slowing waaaay down. And by the time I got to mile 18, I started fixating on one thing: early in the morning, Philly Jen — co-captain of Team Fatty Philly (whose recently-biopsied tumor is not malignant — YAY) had texted me, saying that a group of them would be waiting at around 117th to cheer us on.
And there they were. With Reeses Peanut Butter cups and everything.
I was amazed at how re-energized seeing this awesome group of friends made me. I ran on behind The Runner with renewed energy and purpose.
For about another half mile anyway.
To the Finish Line . . .
By the time I hit mile 23, I was completely beat. I was taking much longer — and slower — walking breaks, and feeling embarrassed about how much I was slowing down The Runner, but not really able to do anything about it.
Also, by mile 23, I no longer had an appetite for my final Clif Shot. It remained uneaten.
But by mile 24, I knew we were close, and I put whatever little I had in reserve into trying to finish strong. I was so happy that the race organizers had been so thoughtful as to put in increasingly small landmarks: Final 3/4 mile, final 1/2 mile, 400, 300, 200, 100 yards to go.
The Runner slowed down, let me catch her, then took my hand and raised it high. We crossed the finish line that way, together.
Then we stood in front of a picturesque trailer and had our photo taken together.
4:37. A reasonable time — I guess — for someone who hadn’t been training at all until a month ago. And I’m happy to say that I was faster than both Jared the Subway Guy (5:13) and Al Roker (7:09). So take that, other people famous for being fat.
. . . And Beyond
But once you cross the NYC Marathon finish line, you’ve still got some serious work ahead of you. Namely, to get back to the hotel. And with 40,000 people racing and countless spectators, taxis, cars, and public transportation are all pretty much out.
So we walked back. Two miles. And change. And when you add in our walk to the after-race party and back and our walk to Chipotle’s to get enormous post-race burritos, that’s about 31 miles The Runner and I put into our feet that day.
Now it’s two days later. And getting up or down a set of stairs is still a big production.
Our next marathon? Ogden, this May. Maybe — just maybe — this time I’ll actually be able to train through and run the whole thing. That would be a nice change.
Regardless, though, The Runner has made it clear that this time, she is not waiting for me.
I suppose that’s fair.