Saturday, November 8, 2014

New York City Marathon 2014

New York New York New York. Ever since I got bit by this marathon bug that’s been the ultimate race for me. I love New York City and I'd heard so much about this marathon; running through all 5 boroughs, 50,000 people, the crowds, the music, ending in Central Park. If I was going to keep doing this marathon thing I wanted to run New York!

But, that’s easier said than done. EVERYBODY that runs marathons wants to run New York. There are several different ways to get in. You can qualify, with a certain time in a prior marathon or half marathon. Nope, not me. The qualification times for New York are even more stringent that Boston. You can have run 15 prior New York City marathons. Too late for that! You can run 9 New York Road Runner Races in the previous year, and volunteer for at least one of their races. Well that would be a great way to do it, if I lived there! You can run it for a charity. Well, if I ever run it again that’s what I'll probably do. Or, you can apply to the lottery. So that what I did. The problem is, only 8% of the people that apply get in through the lottery. I applied 3 times, losing out each time. But there is  (or was, they've discontinued it) one other way to get in: apply for the lottery 3 times and then if you don't get in you have a guaranteed entry for the following year.

Last year The Philadelphia Marathon was a great experience. I did well (for me), improved my time by over 7 minutes and grew more confident. But New York is harder than Philly. More hills, and more hills late in the race when a hilly course can be torture. I just didn't know what to expect.

My training went well, and as the months sped by I started to think “maybe I can do as well as I did at Philly. Heck, maybe I can do better!” I knew it was foolish to get overconfident and I was determined to follow the rules of marathon running; go out slow, pace yourself, eat and drink appropriately during the race, and have fun!

On Friday October 31st we drove down to New York City, my trusty support team, aka Lee, driving. I had hotel reservations at a funky little hotel, The Yotel Hotel. It was fairly reasonably priced and the reviews online were good, for the most part at least. The one complaint was the beds were sort of hard. The room was TINY, humorously so. The bed actually retreated into a 3/4th length day bed so that you could walk around during the day. But everything was clean, and quiet and there was coffee available 24 hours on every floor. AND it was relatively close to the finish line. We were set.

We had planned to go to the NoMad Bar for drinks and their famous chicken pot pies before taking in a Broadway show. But it was Halloween, and they were closed for a private party. Oh well. It was early so Lee got on Yelp and searched for something with fairly good reviews close by. We walked past the L&W Oyster Company on 5th Avenue. It looked decent so in we went.

We had $2 happy hour oysters, kobi sliders and pork tacos. I had a Manhattan; my last night of drinking before Sunday. It was all good, including the homemade happy hour goldfish crackers!

Next up, Kinky Boots. Sigh. We enjoyed the music and the dancing but the story is so stupid that it left me cold. I love musicals, but they've got to have either witty satire or meaning behind the songs, and it was hard to care about a guy saving his shoe factory by making boots for drag queens. The head drag queen was great, however.

Saturday my goal was to go to the race expo, and then be as lazy as possible. I apologized to Lee for my boriness, but he graciously said he didn't mind.

The expo was good, efficiently run. It wasn't as big as I thought it would be. The Asics Store was huge, but I have so many running outfits nowadays I wasn't in the mood for clothes shopping. I bought some cheap running sunglasses since I couldn't find my good ones, sampled various running snack foods, including some really gross tasting things with chia seeds in them. I sampled Nuun…it IS delicious, but it comes in a tablet form so it is a little difficult to use during a race if you don't want to carry your own water. I would have to practice that. Also, I just take a couple of sips of water at a time during a race unless it is really hot because I have such a problem with needing to pee during a race. So I'm not sure how I would use it.

I went to Zensah because I had a coupon for a free shirt if I bought $40 worth of stuff. I bought some compression socks and received a cute running shirt with the NYC skyline on it. I decided to buy compression socks from CEP too. I think they might be a good deal for me. I wore the CEP ones during the race and my big toes didn't hurt at all, which is pretty wonderful!

I went up to the second floor where they had speakers before I left the exhibit. A pleasant looking woman was signing books, taking pictures with people and giving out hugs. Katherine Switzer! Do you know who she is? She was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, back in 1967! She’s an amazing trailblazer, and the thousands and thousands of women that take the joy of running for granted owe her a huge debt of gratitude!

I bought her book, got in line, and almost burst into tears at meeting her. She is a little older than me, and a lot faster, but I felt a real connection with her. What a great woman!

We had sushi for lunch and then lay around the hotel all afternoon.
Saturday evening we took a taxi to Trattoria Dell'arte so that I could do my final carb loading meal. Well, me and a whole bunch of other runners. It was a huge busy restaurant. The food was great, and the owner was running tomorrow too! He was excited to know that I was running. I had salad, a pasta dish and cannoli’s with blueberry sauce for dessert.  No alcohol, sigh.
Did I sleep Saturday night? Well yes, I did. I woke up a lot, but went right back to sleep. Mostly I woke up because I was worried about daylight savings time. The clocks were  “falling back” so there really wasn't any danger, but it still made me nervous. And of course, as usual before a big race, I was up and ready to go before the alarm ever went off.

5 AM. I went and got some coffee, and sat on the bathroom floor eating a baguette and a banana and my vitamins. I had made a list the night before of every little thing I needed to do so all I had to do was look at my list and do the next thing on it. I mean I had “brush my teeth” on that list! Believe me, if I didn't do that, I would have been up all night worrying that I was going to forget something!

By a little after 6 I was really to head out the door. I had originally signed up to take the midtown bus to the starting line on Staten Island, but after reading more about it I decided to take the Staten Island ferry instead. It supposedly was faster and sometimes the buses got stuck in traffic. I had plenty of time but I was worried about being on a bus for two hours and needing to pee!

I slowly walked the 4 blocks or so to the subway entrance. The streets were still deserted. I felt a little silly and at the same time strangely proud, wearing my fluffy white bathrobe down the streets of New York, with my race bib carefully pinned to it. I might have looked odd, but I was toasty warm, and a good thing, because the wind was really howling. 20-30 mph winds were predicted for the day. I just couldn't imagine what that was going to be like. I had certainly run in wind before, but never in a marathon. There was nothing I could do about though so I tried not to think about it.

From the subway entrance I walked to the Number 1 train to the ferry. The trains were packed but we didn’t let that stop us; the marathoners crammed right in:

On the subway everyone talked and laughed nervously. The woman next to me kept telling us how it was her first marathon and her doctor said she shouldn’t run because she had a condition that prevented her from sweating. She started making ME nervous, or more nervous than I already was! I hope she was okay during the race.

From the subway it was another short walk to the ferry terminal. I had so much time, and the ferry terminal was warm, so I decided to hang out there for a while. I found a seat against a railing and people watched for a bit.

Streams of runners headed toward the ferries as they arrived every few minutes. Others stood around, waiting for friends, eating breakfast, staring into space. After about 20 minutes I just couldn’t stand it anymore and decided I was ready to get on the ferry. Besides, I was actually getting hot, and I didn’t want to take off my robe.

When the next ferry came I was on it. I thought this would be a good time to pee so I got in a relatively short line. The only problem was the toilets weren’t flushing; it was pretty disgusting!

I was getting more and more excited. I tried to calm down; after all I still had quite a wait before it was time for me to start. But we could see the Verrazano Narrows Bridge off in the distance. It looked very high, and very long, and very thrilling.

From the ferry we marched off the boat and into another line, this one for buses to take us to Fort Wadsworth, the staging area for the race. Right outside the ferry terminal another set of porta-potties with relatively short lines beckoned me. Once again I got in line. Never met a porta-potty before a race I didn’t like! I live in hope of not having to pee during a race….

The line for the buses was very long, and once on the bus, it moved very slowly.

Once again I really had nothing to worry about. It was around 9:30 by then and my wave didn’t start until 10:55. But there were some people on that bus that were supposed to be in the first wave, which started at 9:40, and they were going to miss it, including the guy sitting next to me. I tried to reassure him that starting in the next wave wouldn’t be a problem but he was worried about being surrounded by slower runners. I really couldn’t relate, ha!

Finally our bus arrived at Fort Wadsworth. I had studied the map of the staging area and had a vague idea where the green group was supposed to be. Because of the high winds the race organizers had removed some of the signage, but they had volunteers everywhere making sure we knew where to go. I found the green area easily, and then sat down on a sand bag to get organized and wait.

It was time to put on my fuel belt, charge my phone, rest. Time was marching on. I really only had about 30 minutes until my corral opened at 10:15, so I decided to pee one more time. If you think this blog post is going to be almost all about my bladditory habits, well, what can I say? That’s what happens when you run a marathon….

When my corral opened I headed for our starting gate. There were 4 waves (starting times) and each wave had 6 corrals I think, A-F. I was in the 4th wave, corral D, so a lot of runners had already started by the time it was my turn. There were Goodwill barrels near the entrance to the corrals. I started to take off my robe, but when I did the wind really hit me so I decided to wait. I wondered if I was going to run across the bridge in my bathrobe! The thought was tempting, but eventually I did take off my robe, sweatshirt and sweatpants before the start of my wave.

Once inside the corral it was only a short time before the gun went off for our wave. I REALLY appreciated that every single wave, all four of them, got their own gun start AND Frank Sinatra singing New York! It was absolutely joyous and inspiring. I really really was running the New York City Marathon!

But oh that bridge. In some ways that was the worst part of the entire race. In a way that was a good thing, because normally there is such a danger of adrenaline causing runners to start too fast, which you pay for in the later stages of the race. But the wind, and the crowds, and the piles of abandoned clothing, made that impossible.

My wave started on the lower deck so we were a little protected from the wind, but it was still bad, buffeting us from the front and the side. And that is a long, long bridge, over a mile, and most of it is uphill. Someone next to me said “wow you don’t start a race with that kind of view every day” and I’m glad he did, because I glanced over to my left and saw the statue of liberty and the New York skyline. Otherwise I just mainly concentrated on not tripping over clothing or falling over when a gust of wind hit me.

I couldn’t wait to get to Brooklyn. I was optimistic that the wind wouldn’t be as bad once there were some buildings protecting us, and I was right.

Brooklyn is BIG! There are so many neighborhoods, and the crowds were great. All the usual marathon fun; great signs, wonderful music. I got into my groove and started enjoying things. I felt good, if a little cold. Normally in a marathon no matter how cold it is eventually you get warm, even hot. I had on a hat, gloves and detachable arm sleeves. I did lose the hat and gloves after awhile. I stuffed them into my shorts, thinking I might want them later. Periodically I would push down the arm sleeves, but it didn’t take long for the wind to make me feel cold again, and up they would go.

Most of the Brooklyn neighborhoods kind of blended one into the other, except the Hassidic Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg. No crowds lined the streets there cheering for the runners. Little girls in long pleated skirts were getting out of school, looking a bit annoyed at having to wait to cross the street. Men in long black coats, tall black hats and side curls walked on the sidewalks. At one kosher restaurant a couple of men banged pots and cheered but that was it. It was pretty strange, like all of a sudden being in a different world. I wondered what they thought of someone like me, a non-observant Jewish woman running down the streets of New York in shorts and tall pink compression stockings? I couldn't imagine.

I kept wondering when we would get to Queens. I was anxious to enter the third borough of the day! We crossed a little bridge with a very nice view at the halfway point in the race, and on the other side, that was Queens.

By Queens, yes you guessed it; I needed to pee, badly. But I refuse to wait in a line during a race. I hoped I wouldn't wet myself, and I hoped eventually there would be a porta-potty without a line, but where?

Next up, the Queensboro Bridge. It comes at what can be a difficult time in a marathon, around miles 15 and 16 of the race. You’re starting to get a little tired, and you know you still have a long way to go. And a bridge is a hill, and Queensboro is a long hill. But, this is the cool thing about New York. You know on the other side of that bridge is Manhattan and some big, big cheering crowds.

The Queensboro Bridge ends in a nice big hill and I let myself run it as much as felt okay, not speeding, just relaxing down it and getting back some time. You make a left turn off the bridge and a wave of sound hits you. I was so touched that even for us 5 and ½ hour marathoners, the crowds were still huge, loud, and enthusiastic. The crowds of New York really do carry the runners through the last part of the race.

I had read a lot of things about this marathon and one of the tips was that the porta-potties under the Queensboro bridge usually didn’t have lines, and so it was. I was SO happy to see those potties! In I popped…what a relief. Waiting until mile 16 for me to pee is a LONG wait.

I took the hat and gloves I had stuffed into my shorts out when I peed, and here was where my marathon brain made a mistake. I looked at those clothing items and it just seemed like too much work to stuff them back into my shorts, so I left them behind. I would regret this later, as I found out.

My hands were cold, and basically became nonfunctional as the race went on. I've had this problem while running before. In fact in very cold weather I wear ski gloves on training runs. The beeper I use to tell me when to run and when to walk has up to 99 intervals on it and then you have to press a button to reset it. Well, I couldn't press the button any more, so I would go up to someone in the crowd and say “do you see that little blue button? Would you press it for me please? Thank you!” I had to do that a couple of times!

Up First Avenue in Manhattan we went, on our way to the Bronx. Lee and I had been texting. He said he would be at mile 17 and so he was, and with a sign! I was so happy to see him! I gave him a big kiss and continued on my way.

I had been eating my GU gels on schedule, and had even eaten a bit of a Clif bar I had in my fuel belt, but now I started looking for goodies along the side of the road. A woman offered me a banana and I took it, but it wasn't ripe so I only took one bite and then tossed it aside. A lot of people had Halloween candy; that was great! I ate a Reese’s peanut butter cup, and later a peanut M&M. I missed those brownie bites from Philly last year, and there wasn't any beer either. Boo!

The crowds in the Bronx were thin but the music was great. There were some drummers that gave me chills! Back into Manhattan along Fifth Avenue. Mile 20, 21, 22. I was definitely tired, much more tired than last year at Philly. The wind and cold took it out of me, and those late hills are hard. But no wall, no boinking. I still had something left.

I was supposed to meet Lee around mile 23. He told me exactly where he would be standing but I never saw him. This happens sometimes, so I was disappointed but fairly philosophical about it. I knew I would see him after the race.

After mile 23 we entered Central Park. I knew there were some late hills here, but I was going to try to pick up my pace a little if I could. I had run 30 seconds, walked 30 seconds for the entire race, but now I started counting to 20 when my beeper went off before I would walk. And whenever I went downhill I would just run, not particularly fast, but as fast as momentum would take me.

Mile 24, and then, mile 25. Out of the park, around Columbus Circle and up Central Park West. Crowds, BIG crowds, screaming for us runners as the sun was setting, hours and hours after the elites had crossed the finish line. I actually had the energy to high five some people and there were tears in my eyes. I felt a wave of love for this city, their brashness and enthusiasm, their pride.

And then suddenly “Lynn! LYNN!!!!” I glanced to my left and there was Lee! After missing me at mile 23 he jumped in a taxi, which took him around to the other side of the park. He got out of the taxi and saw me almost right away but it took him like four times of yelling for me and then sprinting ahead of me again before I heard him. Good thing I wasn't going very fast by then!

Mile 26. A quarter of a mile to go! Could I run it all out? You bet! My time for that quarter mile was around 11:45 mpm. That tells you how tired I was and how much more difficult this race was than Philly last year where I ran the last quarter mile in 9:45.

I crossed the finish line feeling downright triumphant. Instead of looking at my watch I raised my hands in the air and cheered. Yes! I had run New York! Yes!

A few feet later I had my medal, and not long after that I had a heat blanket. In every other marathon I've run the heat blanket really warms you up, and fast, but here, with temps still in the 40s and the wind still blowing, the heat blankets didn't do much at all.

I knew what was coming, the long, long trudge through Central Park until we could exit. I had signed up for the no baggage option because that meant I could exit the park sooner, and they would provide a fleece-lined parka, but it was still a long walk.

I picked up my goodie bag which contained water, Gatorade, a protein bar, some pretzels and an apple, among other things. In one of the guides to the race I had read people recommended eating the apple, said it would taste great, and it did! The rest of it didn't appeal to me except for the pretzels, but opening that bag seemed like too much work.

I was in a lot of pain, and I was really cold, and getting colder. My hip hurt and I could hardly walk. I was miserable and happy at the same time. I had no idea what my time was like, even though I had an approximate time from my watch. My Garmin didn’t worked very well on the bridges so I knew it wasn't very accurate for this race.

After about 20 minutes of walking the pain in my hip eased and I started to feel a little better. Maybe the apple helped, I don't know! I was still really, really cold. There were several medical tents along the way but honestly I was afraid that if I went into one to warm up I wouldn't be able to leave. I wanted to find Lee, go back to the hotel and take the hottest shower I possibly could.

After leaving the park we finally got to the place where we could get our parkas. At first I was worried about how I would possibly figure out how to put it on, but as it turned out they just manhandle you into it. They turn you around, drape it over your shoulders, turn you around again and fasten the Velcro closures. What warmth! What heaven! Suddenly I felt much, much better.

There was more walking before I finally found Lee under the “N” in the family meeting area. Now to try to get back to the hotel. The traffic was terrible and there was no easy access to the subway from where we were. Lee suggested that we walk west a block and see if we could pick up a taxi there. I think it was 9th Avenue. I stuck out my hand and a pedicab stopped! I looked at Lee and he said sure, why not, so in we went. The driver warned us “$4 a minute”. Wow. I told Lee, lets stay in this as long as you can stand it and then we can walk the rest of the way.

Well my sweetheart of a husband stayed in that pedicab for $60 worth of a bumpy traffic-dodging ride! He got us within 2 blocks of our hotel.

We were meeting Chris and Adrian, our Hong Kong friends, for dinner that night, but not until 8 pm, so I had plenty of time for a hot, hot shower and that bag of pretzels! You are supposed to soak in an ice tub after a marathon, but no, that wasn't happening this time. I was on the edge of hypothermia and I didn't care if my muscles took longer to recover because I needed to get warm! 

We were having dinner at Minetta Tavern, one of my favorite restaurants in New York. Of course I wore my medal that night, and the maître d’ noticed it right away. Everyone congratulated me, and I felt like the queen of the world in that restaurant. I ordered a glass of wine, but the owner showed up with a bottle of a sparkling rose and said I had to have this instead. My drinks were on the house that night, including a very nice cab franc later with my meal.

The next day I dropped Lee off at Penn Station because he was on his way back to Asia for a business trip, and drove back to New Hampshire by myself. Every day I would marvel at how different I felt after this race. The camaraderie of marathoners is legendary, but New York City marathoners are in a class by themselves. I went to a new dentist on Thursday and he, a marathoner himself, high-fived me when he found out I ran New York on Sunday! I have been a little bit giddy all week, and I'm only now, almost a week later, starting to come back to reality.

Now here at home in New Hampshire, almost a week after the race, I'm almost completely recovered physically. I'm not running very much yet, but I'll do an easy 4 miles tomorrow, and I've signed up for a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, and a Santa Shuffle the following week in Manchester.

But I'm not sure if I'll ever really be the same. I found out my official time, 5:32.15, a minute and a half better than Philly last year.  I came in 207th out of 401 runners in the women’s 60-64 year old age group.  I'm a middle of the pack runner; not very good, but not terrible either, and I take good care of myself so I think I have plenty of marathons left in my future.

I want to run Boston next. For a long time Boston wasn't even on my list. I can't qualify for Boston; I'm way too slow, and running for a charity is pretty intimidating. It’s a lot of money to raise; over $7,000 in some cases, and finding a charity bib isn't easy either. And then there is the race itself…all those big hills so late in the race.

But now, after New York, I KNOW I can run Boston! I can handle those late hills. I hate the fact that it will be almost a year and a half before I run another marathon, but that’s okay. I'll run a couple halfs and maybe do more smaller races than I usually do during the year, just shake things up a little.

And I will take a charity bib from whoever will let me have one, and do my best to raise the money. And if I can’t raise all of it, well, maybe that’s something I can use part of my mother’s inheritance for. She would like that!

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