I have now completed the New York Marathon, and I have the medal to show for it. After over 20 years of running, I think I finally feel justified in calling myself a real runner. Hot damn.
The marathon itself was an extraordinary experience, but one that ultimately turned out to involve very little fear. My biggest fear, of course, was that I wouldn’t finish, but I found out that when you’re running the race, quitting doesn’t really occur to you. Not only are you running alongside thousands of other runners, there are also a jaw-dropping number of people on the sidelines cheering you on throughout the entire course. Not to mention my beautiful and incredible wife and my awesome father-in-law (who drove all the way up from Kentucky to see me run) came out to watch and cheer for me at mile 16. With all that going on, you just get pushed along by sheer momentum.
But, ultimately, I think what quashed my fear was a lot of preparation. I trained for this baby for four months. I read books, consulted trainers, and, through trial and error, learned what to do and what not to do, so that by the time race day came around, I was certainly nervous, but I also felt ready.
In case you’re wondering, here, in no particular order, are some of the things I learned while marathon training:
1. Did you know that you shouldn’t drink a bunch of beer the night before you go on a long run? Of course you do, because you have common sense. Apart from the dehydrating aspect, beer has the delightful side effect of making you gassy the next day, and I can now tell you from first hand experience that running with a giant gut full of beer gas feels like you’re dribbling a basketball down there. Unpleasant.
2. I believe I mentioned this in a previous post, but you really, really don’t want to take Alieve or Advil before you run, as they leach the sodium out of your kidneys. Tylenol, while hard on a beer drinker’s liver, is a better bet, used in moderation. I took two before I started the race, and then popped an extra I thought to bring, around mile 18 when my inner right shin started to throb. (It’s still sore and a little swollen. Note to self: make appointment with sports doctor)
3. When you carry sport gel packets in your runners pouch thingy that’s right next to your abdomen, they heat up to, well, body temperature. And then they taste like warm, runny, vanilla frosting. Which takes a little getting used to.
4. Train on hills. Man, did this help. I wound up doing my long run each week on a very hilly stretch of Route 22 in Putnam County, and it really made the difference on race day. The hills on the marathon course were mild by comparison, and I found myself surprised that I was passing people.
5. Drink sports drinks before, during, and after. If you’re like me, you probably thought that good old water was sufficient and that the whole sports drink thing was a giant sham marketing campaign, but I stand corrected, especially when it comes to the long runs. I felt WAY better using the sports drinks. So, I guess, Be Like Mike.
And then, I of course learned quite a few things while running the actual marathon:
1. They make you get up crazy early. My wave (you get separated into three waves of runners) didn’t start until 10:10 AM, but I had to catch a bus at 6:30 AM that went from the Upper West Side to the staging area in Staten Island.
When I have to wake up early for something important, I tend not to sleep very well the night before. Here’s a brief snapshot:
8:30 PM – Proclaim out loud, “I am going to bed!” Intend to get a full night’s rest, despite the fact that you never fall asleep before midnight. Set and double-check the alarms on your phone and clock radio. Get in bed.
9:30 PM – Wide awake. Double-check the alarms on your phone and clock radio.
10:30 PM – Wide awake. Double-check the alarms on your phone and clock radio.
11:30 PM – Wide awake. Double-check the alarms on your phone and clock radio.
12:30 PM – Finally nod off into a half haze of fitful, nervous sleep.
1:30 AM – Bolt upright, certain that you’ve overslept.
2:30 AM – Bolt upright, certain that you’ve overslept.
3:30 AM – Bolt upright, certain that you’ve overslept.
4:30 AM – Have a fever dream that you’ve overslept. Wake up in a panic.
4:45 AM – Wide awake. Screw it. Get up.
So, anyway. At least I made it to the bus on time.
2. The staging area involves a lot of people milling about nervously. There’s nothing to do but stretch, eat bagels and drink Gatorade. They also serve coffee, which seems odd to me, but, hey, maybe you need to take care of a little business before you head out, lest you wind up like poor Paula Radcliffe (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “Paula Radcliffe,” “2005 London Marathon” and “bowel movement.” Or don’t. You get the idea.)
3. Right before the start, they tell you a bunch of stuff that sort of goes in one ear and out the other. Except this: They tell you not to pee off the bridges. The have an actual announcement about this. I am totally serious. I guess it was necessary, because I saw people watering just about everything else over the course of the run.
4. They make a big deal about how the marathon goes through each borough of NYC, and that’s cool and all (I had never, to the best of my recollection, set foot on Staten Island), but if you’re like me, what you wind up seeing most of the time is the stretch of pavement about three feet in front of you. This is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is:
5. At the water and Gatorade stations, there are about a billion empty cups on the ground, which you can easily trip over. I saw more than one person take a spill. Naturally, you stop and help your fellow runner up. Otherwise, you’re…
6. That Guy. Don’t be that guy. I’m talking about the guy who shoves and cuts through the crowd. You would think that a bunch of people running a marathon would not have enough breath to curse someone out. You would be wrong.
7. Don’t wear a goofy costume if you can’t run the entire race. There was a guy right in front of me wearing a pink gorilla costume, proclaiming he was going to run a “sub-4,” meaning he was going to finish under four hours. I passed him, hanging his pink gorilla head and walking, around mile 23. Speaking of which…
8. Mile 23. The last three miles TAKE FOREVER. Great holy Jeebus. The first 23 miles seemed to flash by in some sort of a dream state. I managed to find my pace within the first couple of miles and stuck with it. But when I hit mile 23, everything started to go in slow motion. Perhaps it was The Wall I hear other runners talking about, but it seemed to me that everyone was feeling how I was feeling. You’re just tired of running. And because, as a runner, you’ve run 3.1 miles (5K) a million times, you figure, “Hey, just 5K to go!” It was the longest 5K of my life.
9. There are people who are WAY braver than I’ll ever be. I saw blind people, people with prosthetic limbs, people in wheelchairs going the course. It put things in perspective.
The last thing I learned was that after running all that way, they don’t let you leave. They give you a medal and a mylar blanket and a bag with water and trail mix and stuff in it, but they make you walk. And walk. And walk. Seriously, it had to be at least a mile of trudging along with a million other cold, tired runners, each of us wearing our mylar superhero capes. I really just wanted to leave and cut across the park and go home for a hot shower, but try as I might, they would not let me. My father-in-law speculated that they do this so they can keep an eye on you and make sure you’re okay, and won’t sue, etc.
Finally, they let you out way up on the Upper West Side and then you have to hope and pray to get a cab. Which, miraculously, I did. The guy was off duty, but he saw I was exhausted and cold, to he took me home. I will always love that guy.
So that was it. It was an incredible experience all the way around. Thanks to all of your for your verbal and mental support. It’s meant everything. So much that, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I think I’m going to do it again. My father-in-law caught the marathon bug, and we agreed to find a marathon to do together next year. Sweet, right?
Oh, and my time was 4:02:37. I had secretly hoped to break four hours, but maybe next time. I’m incredibly happy with the entire experience. I’m giving myself an unreserved A.