Saturday, November 8, 2014

Marathon Madness: Chapter 2

The better start to the second part of this story (read part 1 here) would be for me to tell you that I woke before my alarms, refreshed, ready to rock.  In reality, the hotel alarm, set for 6 am by the previous tenant pierced through the room's silence at 5 am (daylight savings, remember?).  Whelp, now we were up.  I laid there for a few messaging my crazies, planning my next move.  To my dismay, the in-room coffee pot only supplied ONE SUGAR PACKET for my hot tea.  I dumped the steaming beverage into the sink having already decided that a trip to the lobby's Starbucks would remedy this situation.  No line and a speedy barista got me back to the room within ten minutes.  I massaged my calves prior to pulling on my compression sleeves.  In between bites of my nut bar swirled in sips of chai tea, I put on another piece of my outfit.  The dressing process was so drawn out, but taking my time helped me remain focused and relaxed.  At 6:30 am, after a giant hug, kiss and well wishes from the hubbs, I walked out the door in my super sexy, yet warm, layers and my items for the bag check.

On my way
I pushed through the lobby's revolving doors onto West Avenue.  I took a deep breath, allowing the cold to settle into my lungs.  I noticed that the temperature didn't seem as cold as what was being reported and the wind certainly didn't whip as much as I was led to believe.  Maybe this wouldn't be a uphill battle.  The streets were virtually empty aside from the occasional pedestrian.  It wasn't until I turned the corner onto Broadway, headed south, that I encountered a developing sea of people all headed towards the Staten Island Ferry.

Manhattan side of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal
At first, I felt like a dork snapping pictures, but I settled into the fact that I just didn't care. Today would be mine.

The terminal held hundreds of runners, and maybe two sorry souls who never ran a mile in their lives.    (not that there's anything wrong with that).  I shuffled over to the far wall parking my butt on the floor .

Keeping to myself, I scanned the crowd making little observations.  The excitement and tension of the upcoming race filled the spaces between people like applying caulk to a window seam.  I just kept breathing.  A petite, blond runner hustled over to the empty spot next to me and plopped down.  Without exchanging introductions, we conversed about the race, our training and our home towns (she was from Texas - traveled alone, but stayed in Manhattan with friends of a friend).  The 7:15 ferry group lined up at five after the hour.  We wished each other well assuming our paths would never cross again.  Years have passed since I hopped the ferry, but I quickly reeducated myself on the nuances of funneling through the slip.  Although there were available seats inside the boat I chose to sit outside on the upper deck for a few reasons: 1). I wanted to acclimate myself to the crisp air.  2). I needed to experience everything awesome about the ride across NY Bay.

Upper Left: Manhattan Skyline; Upper Right: One Excited Girl;
Lower Right: Lady Liberty; Lower Left: Coast Guard Escort
I absorbed the sights for the duration of the trip, again, maintaining my silence.  I still had a long way to go until my start time (Wave 2 - 10:10 am); energy conservation was the top priority.  As the boat approached the Staten Island side, I walked inside towards the exit.  Ten or so minutes later the boat docked and the mob poured into the terminal.

Good thing I'm okay with crowds
Like throwing water onto a Gremlin, the crowd multiplied.  We moved like molasses through the concourse.  The smells of coffee and breakfast pastries filled the air, teasing the runners.  Before long we spilled out on to the streets to wait for our next mode of transportation.

Busses lining Bay Street
Dozens of busses lined Bay Street, warm and ready to take us to the staging area in Fort Wadsworth.  The wind whipped through the crowd sending plastic bags flying.  My nervousness fired up while a shiver shuddered my body.  I tucked my chin into my chest and hugged my hands under my arms to conserve my heat.  Feeling like a cow in line to slaughter, I pressed forward following the runner ahead of me.  I watched my steps up into the bus and found a soft seat near the back.  Before we pulled away from the curb I started to sweat.  The bus got hot with the volume of people crammed in the seats and aisles.  I began to feel uncomfortable, but soon found peace knowing my future would be cold and windy.  As fast as a bus can barrel down a street in a caravan, we cruised down Bay Street.  My eyes glued to the scenery, I scoped the area for the bars in Stapleton I used to frequent in college.  I snapped a few photos, not worth sharing, that triggered a flood of memories.  Can't believe I'm still alive today.

I anticipated a 20 minute bus ride which turned into a near 60 minute crawl.  We finally reached our drop off - a mini-corral surrounded by fencing and officers.  Each bus had their own corral.  I walked up to the next available officer, stood like a star fish for the security wand and had my bag searched.  I was given 'the nod' and followed the crowd.

If all these people jumped off a bridge I'd be right behind them.
Instantly, an overwhelming sensation came over me.  This was it.  I was walking to the start of the NYC Marathon.  The wind picked up, so I walked faster trying to find my way to the Orange Start Village.  Clearly, not following the signage, I found myself waiting in line before 50 or so port-a-potty's located in the Blue Start Village.  I shivered, then realized that I was absolutely in control of my day.  I stood taller, refocused my shallow breathing and stretched my legs.  I reassured myself that the weather was colder and windier before the Tough Mudder.  The icing on this cake?  I wouldn't be getting wet.  And with that thought, everything turned around.  I successfully peed, when my turn was up, without touching ANYTHING.  With purpose, I marched myself over to the Orange Start Village to grab a cup of coffee.

View of Verrazano on the way to the Orange Start Village

Apparently, Dunkin' Donuts was handing out these cute hats.  Two warm hats are better than one, right?  As I approached the Dunkin' area a boisterous voice came over the PA system informing runners that the bag check would close at 9:25.  Holy shit!  It was 9:18.  All of a sudden, the time I had banked earlier in the day disappeared.  I now believe that this lapse in time was divine intervention - I don't EVER drink coffee before a run.  That could have been a grave mistake.  I made it to the UPS bag check (hell of an operation) with 2 minutes to spare.  Handsfree, I had no objective than to walk to my starting corral which would be closing in 5 minutes.

Wave 2 Runners in the Orange Start Village waiting at Corral C
I met two lovely women, again without exchanging introductions.  We gabbed about our hideous layers and the hot topic for the day, the weather.  BANG!  We all jumped for a moment thinking the worst.  I failed to remember that with each wave cannons are fired.  Wave 1 runners and the elite men were off.  Within ten minutes, we'd be going too.

Volunteers removed the gate holding us back at the threshold of Corral C.  I pulled off my lilac pants and threw them goodbye.  The gates opened while I pulled off my equally fashionable sweatshirt and tossed it into the clothing bin.  This was it.  I lined up next to a woman from Manhattan.  Same deal — we chatted like old girlfriends not knowing each other's name.  Oh well.  Must have been nerves.  She prepped me for the next milestones.  We'd be moving to our final staging area (I walked forward),
the national anthem would be sung (an audibly cold woman belted out the tune), and the Wave 2 cannons would fire (BANG!).  We were off and running.

Walking with Corral C to the final staging area
Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" vibrated through my ears as I passed the sound system.  Born ready, I started my watch in synch with my feet crossing the start line.  As I always dreamed, I ran on the upper level of the Verrazano.  To set the tone, I glanced at my watch and made a mental note of my pace.  The wind blew from all sides, ripping off people's hats and fluttering bibs.  I held onto my hat, with alternating hands, praying I wouldn't lose it to Mother Nature.  The climb to the center of the bridge seemed to take forever, but not necessarily in a bad way.  I looked all around me to take in the sights of the other runners, the hovering choppers, the Bay and most importantly, the skyline.  Today would be a great day.  I hoped for a PR (breaking 4 hours), but I knew, as I was often reminded, that NYC — my goal — needed to be enjoyed, not rushed (I had received a text the night before with the following advice: "Make sure you take a minute to enjoy it and not just worry about time.  Once in a lifetime.").  Carry on.

My new found female friend hung with me for a little.  She informed me after the crest of the bridge, that we'd be met shortly by a wall of sound upon entering Brooklyn.  I got excited and then sensed doom.  With all due respect, I had to shake this girl.  I didn't want to chat like a bunch of bitches.  I needed to be alone among 50,000 runners and 1 million spectators.  Soon enough I forgot that thought when we hit the bridge's exit ramp.  Hellllloooo, Brooklyn!!!

I lost chickie at the second water stop.

I believe I had a smile on my face with each step forward.  I enjoyed the crowds and bands, but didn't allow them to get in my head.  I kept focus on my breathing, deep diaphragmatic inhale through the nose for 2 counts and one short, yet forceful exhale through my mouth.  Occasionally, the cheers would distract me throwing off my breath, but I quickly regained control.  I glanced at my watch as I crossed the 10K checkpoint.  Pace good, nice and steady.  At each checkpoint, my thoughts shifted to my crazies, my family, my friends and all the other wackos tracking me on this blustery Sunday morning.  I threw my hands towards the mat before sending them back up in the air.  I envisioned sending them my energy while receiving theirs.

Damn.  We covered a lot of miles in Brooklyn making Queens feel like a blip on the radar.  It wasn't until we crawled across the Queensboro Bridge (also known as the 59th Street Bridge) into Manhattan that shit got real crazy.  THE.SPECTATORS.WERE.CRAZY.  I read many things about this section of the race - First Avenue.  The near deafening sounds of this 3 1/2 mile slight climb into the Bronx could break a runner.  The excitement of the fans has the potential to distract a runner enough that they pick up their pace just before crashing into a wall.  I pulled back, keeping myself in check.  I glanced at my watch.  Pace steady; I was on target to break four hours.  I began to strategize the rest of the course.  I planned to increase my pace with 10K left, only to kick it up once more for the final 5K.  If I was going to really shoot for this, I didn't want to get by.  I would have liked a few extra minutes to play with.

I felt awesome at mile 20, just over the Willis Avenue Bridge entering the Bronx.  The course rounded a corner occupied by a live band performing Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone".  For most people this song doesn't mean much; but it meant the world to me.  I thought of my Dad when I set foot in the Bronx.  He attended Fordham.  I also know him as the biggest Dylan fan.  Everything was aligning.  With a little over 4 miles to go, I reentered Manhattan via the Madison Avenue Bridge.  I broke through that wall of sound while choking back the smell of vomit.  The slight downhill of the road allowed me to see the tops of thousands of bobbing heads in front of me.  The view worried me, as it appeared I had more miles to go.

We ran south on Fifth Avenue, parallel to Central Park for over a mile until we hung a right into the park.  The crowds at least 10 people deep on each side went nuts.  The end was near, but the park felt hilly.  I glanced at my watch.  I successfully maintained a steady pace; I could feel a PR in my future, but I couldn't lose it now.  I picked up the pace pressing on towards the finish.  After mile 25, we exited the park onto Central Park South only to swing around back into the park.  Leading up to mile 26 the edges of the course were lined with international flags.  I noticed the whipping wind waving the flags furiously.  I thought that the remaining point two was uphill but nothing mattered.  I mustered up enough kick to cross the finish line in 3:56:51.  I did it.


For the sake of the audience, I'll refrain from sharing the post finish details like walking a mile to get my checked bag, asking a volunteer to bend down and tie my shoes, or even the story of meeting a guy from D.C. (I actually got his name - Matt) who does long form improv.  I won't share the emotionally torturous 1 mile walk south to meet up with the hubbs at the family reunion area.

What mattered is that I was able to accomplish a six year dream by working hard and getting all the support from you, my biggest fans.  Thank you.

For the record, I loved it all.  And I will do it again.
Oh, and I never did remove the thermal shirt.