The Nicest Thing I Saw as a 2014 New York City Marathon Participant

It’s Friday, five days after I completed the 2014 New York City Marathon. I’m still physically broken. Stairs hurt. Getting out of bed hurts. Even taking a shower hurts. And yet, I’m as mentally invigorated as ever.

Why?

Yes, I’m flying high off of tackling a once unsurmountable goal. I’m also humbled by the tremendous outpouring of support for those who donated to the charity for which I was racing. Yet, the real reason why the experience was so rewarding is because my 26.2 mile journey through the streets of New York gave me a rare glimpse at humanity. I saw more random acts of kindness that day than I’ve seen in years of living in this great city.

Sure, I saw some not so kosher things (think, random acts of urination) but by and large I saw more than a million people come out to cheer on the 50,000+ runners. 10,000 volunteers nourished us with water, energy gels and snacks at each mile. Yours truly benefited from one volunteer’s graciousness in sharing a pack of hand warmers at 5:30am while we gutted out the brutal winds and cold for more than four hours before the start of the event. Fans doled out cheers, high-fives and even homemade goodies to participants who fueled their run with the love and support of those around them. At mile 20, I was saved by a man with a bucket of the most energizing and delicious M&M’s I had ever devoured. A young girl no more than five years old handed out orange slices and was the proud recipient of a hug and a kiss from the gracious marathoner. At the finish line, volunteers and fans alike ushered needful runners towards their loved ones and wrapped us in wind resistant jackets. And yes, someone actually vacated their subway seat for a nearby runner who eyed that seat with envy the likes of which I have never seen before.

Sunday’s marathon was a sharp departure from the rough and tumble rat race that is New York City.

That’s my story. What random acts of kindness did you see?

Ryan Frankel is CEO of VerbalizeIt. He’s a travel and endurance athletics enthusiast and a former investor on behalf of Goldman Sachs. He was recently named a Top 35 Under 35 entrepreneur by Inc. Magazine. He lives in New York City with his beautiful wife. Write to the author at ryan.frankel@verbalizeit.com.

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NYC Marathon Race Report!

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!

Here. We. Go!

Friends,

After 18 weeks of training that has taken place across 3 continents and at all hours of the day, race weekend is finally here!

I can’t tell you how excited I am to take part in this year’s New York City Marathon and how grateful I am for the love and encouragement I’ve received along the way and for the generous donations towards the prostate cancer charity for which I am racing. I’m pleased to let you know that as of today, I’m 97.5% of the way towards the fundraising goal. Anyone wishing to make a final contribution can do so by visiting: Ryan’s Road to the NYC Marathon Fundraising Page.

The “hay is in the barn” as they say. I’ve logged exactly 420 miles, swam countless miles to flush out sore muscles and made a few new friends along the way. All that’s left is to show up and get ‘er done on Sunday! And what a Sunday it’s shaping-up to be!

I’ll awake around 4:00am to have some coffee and breakfast and in time to board a 5:30am bus from Manhattan out to the start of the race on Staten Island. We’ll stand around for three or four hours in the cold and wind (I’m not one to worry about “the elements” but the forecasted 25 mile-per-hour winds coupled with 38-degree weather boggle my mind!) before the gun goes off for my race corral. Then it’s off to tackle the concrete streets of the five boroughs of New York City! I’m told there is great energy and support from fans throughout all five boroughs and I’m personally excited to high-five some fans and hopefully contribute to the energetic atmosphere and great spirit. Anyone wishing to track my run can do so by downloading the free TCS NYC Marathon app.

So without further ado, it’s time to go to work!

Tallying it Up!

With just over one week left, I thought it would be fun to take stock of the last four months of training for the NYC Marathon and raising financial support and awareness for ZERO: The End of Prostate Cancer.

Since July 7, 2014:

Distance run: 413 miles or 2,180,640 feet!

Donations Received for ZERO: The End of Prostate Cancer: $2,722 (91% of the way there!)

Pairs of shoes I’ve gone through: 2

Number of times I’ve been instructed to remove my dirty running clothing from the hallway: countless

Hours I’ve neglected my pillow to run instead: 80

Places where I’ve trained: New York, Baltimore, Ocean City, Maryland, New Hampshire, Paris, Cape Town, Seychelles

In-kind contributions to the local bagel shop: $120

Biggest High: My first and only 20-mile training run

Biggest Low: 12 hours after my first and only 20-mile training run. Ouch!

What excites me most: Crossing the finish line, proving to myself that I can do this, and seeing all of the generous donations put towards ending prostate cancer.

Let’s do this.

Top 10 Training Memories with Two Weeks Left!

Boom! This morning, I completed a 14-mile run which was my final long run before commencing a two week taper – a period of decreased mileage in order to recover properly for race day. I’ll still be training hard, but the focus will be on intensity and quality instead of pure volume.
This morning’s run was tough. Since beginning training almost four months ago, I’ve run approximately 400 miles and my body and mind are both starting to feel the impact. To divert my attention away from some of the pain in the final miles of this morning’s sunrise run, I attempted to create a list of my top 10 most memorable training moments. Some are serious, most I hope are funny and light, but they all stick out as top memories from my training experience:
  1. Deciding to race on behalf of ZERO: The End of Prostate Cancer and sharing the news with my family and friends, some of whom have been directly impacted by this terrible disease. I remember getting the chills when I pressed the “submit” button on my online registration!
  2. Receiving the first batch of generous donations from friends and family and feeling genuinely blown away by the outpouring of love and support. I have received donations ranging from $25 to $500 and each one makes me so proud and honored to have such amazing supporters
  3. Going on my first outdoor training run for this race – a ten minute jog on the morning of my wedding. I remember returning winded and thinking, “how am I ever going to run 25 miles more than that distance in four months?!”
  4. Going on my longest outdoor training run of 20 miles last Friday. When I finished, I was still thinking, “how am I ever going to run another 6.2 miles on top of that!”. I’ll figure it out and get it done!
  5. My regular Tuesday morning runs with Erika followed by coffee dates at Starbucks.
  6. Visiting Erika’s family in New Hampshire and attempting to go for a run, only to feel winded after four minutes and then resting for nearly four weeks while I overcame some nasty virus that put me on my behind
  7. Waking up at 6:30am on my honeymoon to run through the wine country of Franschhoek, South Africa. Simply beautiful.
  8. Returning from my honeymoon and waking up the next day at 5:30am to run six miles (on a treadmill) and thinking, “this jet-lag thing is a piece of cake” only to want to crawl into bed by the early afternoon
  9. Exchanging business emails and making “stuff” happen with my business partner and close friend Kunal at 5:00am on the Friday morning of my longest training run. I love my job and knowing that my partner in crime loves it as much as I do makes it all that more rewarding
  10. Waking up in darkness, exhausted from work and longing to stay in my warm bed, only to tough it out, go for a run and feel proud of myself for doing so. I’m racing for a charity whose cause touches me closely and I’m also running to prove something to myself about what I’m made of. Both invigorate me day-in and day-out
Two. Weeks. Left!

Got ‘er Done: 20-Miler in the Books!

This morning, I completed the longest training run of my life: a 20-miler that took me two hours and fifty minutes to complete. I won’t lie – today’s run, which began with a rude 4:45am alarm wake-up, was mentally and physically challenging. I’ve run a lot in the last few weeks (55 miles over the last 8 days, to be exact) and I’m a bit tired, but I was excited to power through the longest run until the marathon in just three short weeks.
I’m notoriously bad about taking a step back from the moment to appreciate even the smallest accomplishments in life but when I got into the office today, I had to stop and reflect on this small milestone. As a former college baseball player who ran a total of two miles over those four years (and I nearly passed out!), I never once thought I’d be training for a marathon and, dare I say it . . . actually enjoy (sort of) doing so!
I have about 100 miles left that separate me from the finish line and no shortage of aches, pains, and other more important priorities, but consider this me taking a step back to appreciate the small wins in life!

18 Miles in the Bank!

This morning I completed my longest run to-date, an 18-mile run that began in the darkness of NYC at 5:45am and finished two and a half hours later – in time for a quick business call, a protein shake, stretch, and shower. The run itself was definitely tough and a bit lonely (compared to the more team-oriented activities of my past in baseball and triathlon), but I had a big smile (okay, maybe it was a grimace!) on my face as I neared the end. I brought my iPod for some company but only switched it on 17 miles into the run just for the final kick.
The morning began at 5:00am with coffee, an energy bar and a banana while answering some emails. I mistakenly neglected to leave enough time for digestion and not long into the run I found myself burping up these items and the Clif Energy Blocks I dutifully chewed along the way. Delicious.
I tried to go out a little slower than usual but the extra strong coffee tricked me into thinking I was invincible and I paid the price for my early enthusiasm later on the run. I still managed to garner a negative split and I finished the run with five consecutive sub 8-minute miles which surprised me. Right around mile 17, I ran around a pair of mounted police horses on the West Side Highway and fortunately dodged a timely dump from the leftmost horse.
Today’s run was a good confidence boost but I know I’ve certainly got my work cut out in the weeks ahead. At current time of writing, I’m definitely pooped, but I remain invigorated and excited to tackle the next training run!

6 Weeks to Go!

With six weeks to go, I’m both excited and nervous!
The last six weeks have not unfolded as I had hoped, but then again, there are always going to be bumps in the road that must be surmounted. Here’s a brief snapshot of the good, the bad and the ugly!
The Good! I just returned from an amazing honeymoon where I was lucky to travel to Paris, South Africa and Seychelles for an amazingly busy but illuminating trip with my wife. I visited sites that I never once thought I’d see and I took part in experiences that I had only ever dreamed about. We took in historical sites, survived close encounters with animals on our safaris and Great White Sharks in South Africa and we relaxed on the pristine beaches of Seychelles. Most importantly, Erika and I made incredible memories that we’ll carry with us forever.
The Bad! Taking a two week honeymoon during the heart of training for the marathon was never ideal but I had at least scoped out which hotels had access to fitness facilities or a running path to at least maintain some semblance of conditioning while abroad.
  • Paris training was minimal, but it happened! We were jet lagged beyond belief but I managed to run for one hour on a treadmill while staring at a wall. Trying to convert my pace and distance from kilometers to miles kept my mind active
  • Kruger National Park: Recognizing that running in the jungle was a recipe for disaster, I planned to run in between the twice-daily game drives at the lodge’s fitness facility. After our first game drive, I mustered the energy to head to the gym only to find that the treadmill had been removed months earlier and that it would take months to replace the broken part. I asked why it would take months and I was told simply, “This is Africa”. Fair enough!
  • Cape Town / Franschhoek: I had a beautiful run one morning throughout the downtown area of Franschhoek (images below). It was one of the most beautiful runs I’ve ever completed and was worth the pain of running back up the cliff to our hotel
  • Seychelles: Success! After having run only twice in the last four weeks, I managed to squeeze in six runs on the treadmills that overlooked the Indian Ocean. Running for hours on a treadmill is boring, but having a view like that made it worthwhile. It didn’t hurt that the chef of our hotel prepared homemade granola bars which I dutifully devoured daily
The Ugly! I’m well-behind on my training plan. My body aches. My muscles and joints are sore. In short, running, walking, sitting and sleeping just plain hurts!
While I certainly have my work cut out over the next six weeks, I’m physically and mentally invigorated and I’m ready for the challenge that is November 2nd.
For those who have already given their support, I am truly grateful. For anyone wishing to support my efforts to raise financial support for ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer, please consider doing so by visiting my Road to the 2014 NYC Marathon fundraising page.
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A Lost Week

On Tuesday morning, I woke up groggy – feeling like I had a ten pound dumbbell attached to the back of my head. I shrugged it off and went for a quick morning run as I do most Tuesday mornings. I felt awful after the first few steps but gave myself a pat on the back for accomplishing the planned five mile run. With 5 full days left in the week to accomplish the weekly mileage target of 23 miles, I had some cushion. Wednesday, I woke up feeling less than my spry self and I decided to hop in the swimming pool at 5:30am for a quick swim before heading into the office – surely a low-impact swim would loosen me up and the cold water was sure to invigorate me for the day ahead, right? Not so much. Around 3:00pm, I started to get the shakes and by 8pm that evening, I was curled up in a ball praying for sleep to take over. Thursday I could hardly move but made it into the office until mid-day before heading home to work where I wouldn’t risk getting anyone else sick. Friday, worse, Saturday even more frustrating and again today, I’m still down for the count. 7 days, 1 run and only 5 miles. Ooof.
They say you should listen to your body. They say that you should build in lower-volume recovery weeks every three weeks to allow your body to recover. Both are true. What they don’t always say is that it’s mentally tough – even challenging, to sit there and trust that you will have done enough in your training to cross the finish line on race day. I have that trust. I knew going into this that work, a honeymoon and other endeavors would result in expected and unexpected periods of less-than-ideal training volume, intensity and conditions. It still remains a tough pill to swallow and I’m daunted by the idea that in just 11 weeks from today I’ll go from ghostly sick to toeing the line at the world’s most renowned marathon on behalf of a beautiful charity. 391.2 miles left. Stay the course.