Yesterday, I completed the NYC Marathon on behalf of ZERO: The End of Prostate Cancer. With your support, we raised $3,200! The race was my first NYC Marathon, the second solely running marathon (Providence, 2012) and the third marathon ever (if you count the Ironman triathlon on Louisville, KY). I always enjoy doing a brief race writeup to provide an inside glimpse of the event. If you’re interested in the details, read on – otherwise please know how grateful I am for the support of friends, family, the 10,000 volunteers and the amazing city that is New York.
3:47am: First and second alarms don’t have a chance of going off. I’m up. In fact, I’ve been up for hours, energized and excited to take on the day. I set multiple alarms unsure of which devices would update for Daylight Savings. Erika came out to snap a few photos of me before she went back to rest before her own morning workout. After throwing on my racing gear and covering myself with a sweatshirt and sweatpants to keep warm before the race (note: the NYC Marathon does a nice job of donating these garments which runners shed moments before the race), I headed out to the bus pickup zone at the NY Public Library to be shuttled to the start line at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island.
5:05am: Darn. I arrived too early. Buses departed between 5:00am and 6:30am and I was registered for the 5:30am bus. I have a habit in life of arriving early – what can I say? For today’s event, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing given the pre–race wait time and weather conditions, but alas, I was there and ready to go. I took the second bus departing at 5:10am and arrived in Staten Island less than thirty minutes later.
5:40am: I have over four hours until the start of the race. I’m freezing. Even runners who took the last bus will have more than three hours to sit around outside. It’s also windy. Really windy (26 MPH!) So windy that officials have already proclaimed this the worst weather in recent NYC Marathon history. I make friends. There’s four of us huddled up against a shed that is partially blocking the wind. We’re sitting on the ground which is wet and we’re trying to make conversation but talk is limited so as to conserve energy lost through shaking and teeth chattering. I noticed some extra cardboard boxes from the first batch of bagels that had been doled out and I scoop them up, break them down and create a mat for myself and my newfound friends to sit on.
6:40am: Suns out, funs out! Finally a bit of sunshine to accompany some cold coffee and a delectable Chocolate Peanut Butter PowerBars being doled out nearby. The same kind volunteer working the PowerBar station who amused us for an hour trying to get runners to eat the flavor for which she was responsible instead of those of her counterparts, comes up to us and hands us hand warmers. I love her instantly. Sorry Erika.
I try reading a few articles from Fast Company magazine but I honestly can’t tell you what I read. My friends and I take turns watching our invaluable cardboard mats which received some enviable looks from other runners while we each visited the nearby Porta Potty bathrooms. For the next two hours we just sat there killing time while dutifully eating as much as we could to top off our glycogen stores for the day ahead. One of the guys I sat with must have robbed a Trick or Treater earlier in the weekend as I saw him eat Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, a Pay Day, and a Snickers, in addition to the normal bagels and bananas that we had on-hand. I wonder what kind of man steals candy from a Trick or Treater! Another runner named Mike had flown in from Houston and spent Saturday waiting in line to by Kronut’s which he brought to the start line (note: he did not offer me any, thanks Mike). By 9:40am when I was finally lined up to begin the race, I had spent more than four hours awaiting the start of the event which was longer than the event itself. Going into the event, I was more nervous for how to kill 4 hours of time before the race without burning up my energy trying to stay warm and I was thrilled to start running. The hard part was over, it’s race time!
9:40am: I was in the first corral, just behind the professional runners. Why, I don’t know, but I’m near the front of the pack. After New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was introduced and subsequently booed to no end, the gun went off. The first two miles across the Verazano Bridge were . . . absurd. I’ve never before experienced winds like that and runners were literally being blown around. I clung onto my race bib which was attached to my chest for fear of it being ripped off by the winds and I saw two runners lose their bibs. The give-away Dunkin Donuts winter hats were flying around and everyone just decided to run as fast we could to get back to level ground. Wind-aisde, we were in good spirits and most importantly, we were actually moving! Goodbye, Staten Island. Hello Brooklyn!
Brooklyn and Queens: I’m running. Fast. Way too fast. Even running into the winds, I’ve just clipped off nine consecutive sub 8-minute miles. For me, that’s going out too hard. And yet I feel good. I make a point to high-five fans in each of the five boroughs. The fans were amazing. It’s 10:00am and over one-million people are on the streets of New York cheering us on. Beers are everywhere. Homemade pastries are being passed out to runners. People are yelling and pushing us on. Awesome. I finish the first half of the race in 1 hour an 42 minutes, my fastest half marathon ever and much faster than I had planned for. I hope to myself that I haven’t left myself on empty for the final half.
Manhattan!: I’m cruising. I’ve got my headphones on but I haven’t turned on the music yet, hoping to save some good tunes to energize me through the final miles. Mile 15 rolls around and my average pace is 7:50 per mile. Boom. I cross the Queensboro Bridge – the first half of which was uphill and I’m feeling it. I lose the signal on my GPS watch which doesn’t matter anymore. I start to feel a little tired and I know that I’m starting to bear the consequences of my early enthusiasm. Around mile 16, I step awkwardly on a small pothole and feet a nice sharp pain in my already sore left hip. Awesome. Miles 17 and 18 are hard but I’m rejuvenated by seeing my friends Rob and Christine who were an unexpected and unbelievably welcome surprise. Thanks guys!
Upper Manhattan: I start to bonk – a term used for when your body has depleted its glycogen stores and is now attempting to convert protein and fat into energy, a more difficult process for the body to accomplish (hence the importance of carbohydrates). All of a sudden, I realize that I’ve done a bad job of nutrition during the race. When you run distance events, normal body signals like hunger and thirst are delayed and by the time I realized that I needed some nutrition, it was too late. I gulped down a Chocolate Gu which Katie had sent to me in a marathon care package days before (note: this is an awesome gift and I will be copying her idea for friends in the future!) and a bunch of energy blocks, but by mile 20, it was clear that I was slowing down. S
The next six miles and 385 yards were hard. I implemented a run/walk strategy and took in as much gatorade as I could at each aid station, hoping that the sugar would carry me through. The best surprise of all came from the fans on the streets who had baskets of food. Giving up any concern about how many goobery hands had infiltrated his bucket, I dutifully scooped up as many Peanut Butter M&M’s as I could. Next were pretzels, then bananas, and then an orange slice from a little child who was just about the cutest thing I had seen that day. Like I said, fans were amazing and out in full force. More gatorade. I paid for such sugar-induced gluttony by mile 24 when my stomach started to hate me. I did what I could to keep on keeping on as my old (as in former, not elderly, Neil!) triathlon coach used to say. I’m finally running down Cat Hill in Central Park, passing by the same landmarks I had spent so many hours running and biking by in years past. 800 yards to go. 400 yards to go. 200 yards to go. With one final burst, I cross the finish line in under four hours, thrilled that I accomplished my goal!
Post-Race: 45-minutes later, I’m layered in a warmth jacket and wind-hood, carrying nutrition handed out at the finish line and walking slowly down Columbus Avenue to meet Erika at the Starbucks that was well-clear of the race day congestion. She sees me walk in. She’s smiling and she’s as prepared as always with a hot cup of coffee and some warm pants. We took the subway home (walking down the subway stairs will never have the same meaning for me again! See this hilarious video from the NYTimes which is remarkably spot-on) and relived the day. I couldn’t be luckier to have such an amazing supporter. I show her my toenail which is elevated and nearly jet black. I think she contemplates a divorce. We change the subject and decide where we’ll both celebrate the occasion this upcoming weekend.
Closing Thoughts: Years ago, fresh off of a collegiate baseball career, I wanted to find a new athletic passion and my good friend Sean introduced me to the sport of triathlon. I became an endurance athletics enthusiast with his help, some hard work and the encouragement of friends and family. I had always wanted to take part in the New York City Marathon since my amazing wife told me how rewarding the experience was. At the same time, prostate cancer inflicted my family several years ago. When I had an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for a charity dedicated towards eradicating this disease while also taking part in this bucket-list event, I couldn’t say no. The experience taught me a lot about the love of family, the support of friends and about myself and the inner strength required to tackle a goal in the midst of a life full of rewarding professional and personal activities. I remain forever grateful to my family, friends and supporters for helping me make a difference in the world and in my own life. Thank you for all that you do.
Here’s to the next one!