Over the bridge, through the fog.
Watching the buildings emerge -- one at a time, and never ending.
When we cross the bridge we see the others
joined in a common task, united in purpose
and then we're met by the full, warm, and raucous embrace of the city
When I got into running back in 2012, I had a list of races I wanted to do. Over time, I've plugged away at them, bit by bit. I've run Big Sur, and I've run Marine Corps. I've run in Leadville (at the 10k) and I've felt the joy of running (albeit only the half) in Boston, and on Heartbreak hill in a whole festival of races.
I'm not saying this as bragging, I'm just saying. I had a wellspring of motivation back then, and I have no idea why it started to dissipate, and I had no idea, really, what to do about that. I've had less time to sleep? But I was only sleeping five or six hours a night when I trained for my first marathon, so that was an excuse, anyway. I knew it.
Approaching NYC I had some of the usual drag I see when I taper. I don't taper well. Rest days are bad for me, and I just become lazy. I got really sick in September, and I knew I wasn't going to PR NYC. I started talking to my wife, and I started changing how I approached the race. I have wanted to run NYC for a few years, and I've entered the lottery three or four times. When it finally came through in February this year that I'd gotten in, I knew I was in some trouble as my inexplicable malaise was going to headbutt right into my marathon joy.
"Have fun with the race. Let go of the other stuff," came the advice from my wife. She was right, of course.
The morning of the race I headed down to the shuttles, which took awhile to get to. I had gone a block over, but figured it wouldn't matter because I was navigating to the library. When I arrived, I found that the que actually extended around an additional two blocks. That was frustrating, but the line moved, we put our stuff into clear bags, and got onto the buses. At this point I really had to use the bathroom, and that wasn't helped by the person in front of me exclaiming, "Is it really going to take 90 minutes to get to the fort?" Fortunately, it only took about forty minutes.
By the time we got to the fort, I was managing to put the race out of my mind and distract myself with other stuff. Food, making sure my gear was straight, that stuff. Fun free hats from a sponsor. I saved that one in my fuel belt to give to my daughter as a gift. I took a picture for some French runners, and people-watched most of the time.
After the three hours, I shucked my throw away clothes into the donation bins, and headed to the corral. I talked with some folks in the corral, I hung out. We spent awhile there. When the race started, it was obviously going to rain. It was windy and cold. I knew I wasn't in shape to run a PR in those conditions. I've never run a marathon in less than ideal conditions, to be honest. Still, I was committed to have a good time at the race I'd been dreaming of giving myself as a birthday present for four years. The race director amped us up, and the second wave started after a blast from a howitzer cannon.
We ran over the Staten Island bridge, and in the distance I could just make out the outlines of buildings in the fog. They seemed to emerge as we got closer, and I was reminded of the Pell Bridge back home -- although this bridge dwarfed that one in a very dramatic way. It was a huge bridge with two levels.
I cooked the first five kilometers, which was a mistake maybe, but I was just too exuberant. I knew at that point I was going to need to walk later on, and I accepted that. I was committed to enjoy the race, love the crowds, and drink in my surroundings.
That attitude got me to mile 11 or so, and I was tired. I started mixing in little bits of walking, talking to volunteers at aid stations, and talking to the other runners. By the time I got to mile twenty, I knew I was really cooked. I just kept on chatting with folks, inter mixing that with some running. I have never felt so embraced by a crowd. I've never seen such boundless enthusiasm, and such friendly runners. In New England (or maybe just further up in the pack) people can be pretty cold. That wasn't my experience in NYC. Volunteers told me how inspired they were to see the runners. There were bands. There were Taiko drummers, and I was reminded of Big Sur.
Big Sur stood out and made me emotional to see the landscapes I'd been dreaming of for countless miles of training, but New York City had a different thing to offer. It had the most incredible spectators, cheering, singing, blowing horns. They came onto the course, looked me straight in the eye and said, "Today is YOUR day. This belongs TO YOU. And you are going to DO this." It was an extremely emotional thing. I'm a people person, ultimately, and to feel the affection of so many people, so explosive a thing, it's almost impossible to describe.
Central Park was a bastard. I had walked it the day before, so I knew the hills. But I was not ready to be that dead in the legs by the time I got there. Still, every time I saw a "TAP FOR POWER" sign I'd give the person a, "This working today?" and tap it, jog a bit to the cheers of the crowd.
As I came through the finish chute I saw the time of 4:39 (my slowest marathon ever) and proceeded through the chute. I was tired -- but elated, and continued chatting. My wife called me, and as I wrapped myself in a thermal sheet it started to rain. A volunteer handed me a bag of food. "I have to be honest with you, I'm having a romantic relationship with this apple. I've never loved an apple this much in my life." I said, to the delight of some other runners.
Through the finish chute we walked, slowly, and in a massive crowd. I sang along with the music on the speakers (and in my head...?) I met a runner from Mexico who complimented my sandals. I proceeded on and got the medal, and the finisher poncho (which is heavy duty, fleece lined, and extremely nice.) And felt that I had gotten much more than I paid for.
I felt better at the end of that marathon than I have at the end of any other race. I'm more physically exhausted today, but I am in such a positive state of mind.
I know this won't be my last marathon. This won't be an end note on my life in distance running. I'm a new person, I'm born again with purpose and drive and a love unending.
There are many more things in store for me and endurance sport, I know that. Life has some more in store for me, too, but that will come later.