Sunday, November 2, 2008

New York City Marathon - 5:13.27 (PR)


I was coming off a three-month stretch out of a movie set, including a month at the Olympics where I trained in the streets of Beijing, even on the Great Wall, and a full month of October where I trained in such MLB postseason locations as Chicago's Lake Michigan shoreline, the beaches of L.A., St. Pete beach and on a Philly Airport Hilton treadmill. I did the best to make sure that no matter what, my marathon training would not suffer. I was not able to maintain my 16-week program by the book, just no way. But I did my best. The Phillies bailed me out by winning in five, and for a while it was honestly touch-and-go whether our 46-hour rain delay and a possible Saturday Game 7 back in Tampa Bay would wash me out.

I rode in the lead vehicle of the historic Phillies World Champions Parade on Friday (with the Phillie Phanatic and Clydesdales close behind), took an Amtrak train back to Penn Station late Friday night, and got to sleep around 1 a.m. on Saturday. I slept in as much as I could, then spent the day going to the Expo and getting everything in order. That night, Lisa and I went to the Barilla Marathon Eve Pasta Dinner at Tavern on the Green, and watched the fireworks there at Central Park. I maintained a tradition of walking over to the 26-mile sign and looked up at it under the bright-moon sky, and made a vow to myself of what I planned to do the next day.

Lisa helped me get everything straight that night, which was a big help. I had lost my Nike Sportband for my iPod somewhere in Philly, and a lot of little things were driving me crazy. At exactly 11:18 p.m., I set the alarm for 4:18 a.m. Then Lisa reminded me that I had to set the clock back. That was the best clock-changing I have ever experienced in my life. What a difference. I awoke at 3:45 a.m. and jumped out of bed and went right to it. Wash face, put on the Breathe Right Strip. Rub on the Body Glide. Put on the gear, and then sweatshirt and sweatpants. I boarded the bus at the Main Library at about 5:15. I was amazed at the long convoy of buses along Fifth Avenue in the pitch-dark, and the sight of marathoners everywhere with their clear goodie bags walking to the library.

The scene at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island is dramatic. A small area of land suddenly becomes a small city once each year. I brought a blanket with me, unlike most people, and was glad I did. It felt like 34 at 7 a.m. There was a stiff breeze much of the time. I slept a little, but mostly just relaxed. Then I found my awesome friend Dani, who was up from Florida to run the race, and we got coffee and then hung out for a while and talked karate, college football, running and parenting and stuff. I replaced my sweats with the two-piece ripaway windbreakers I had bought at the Expo. Soon it was time to check bags and get this party started, so at 9:20 I was checking my bag on the UPS truck and then made my way for the Green Corral, Third Wave. They did wave starts this year, and I was the third of three waves in the green group, which would start at 10:20 a.m. The waves eased the legendary congestion on the Verazzano Narrows Bridge.

PACE GROUP: I looked for the green balloons and "5:00" sign, and found it and got in close to them. The woman said they were going to walk at the fuel stations (each mile), no other stopping. I ripped off my white windbreaker gear and threw it on the piles of clothing that are left behind for charity. I picked up a pair of gloves someone else had abandoned and ran with them the first 2-3 miles. I listened to one song, the only song of the day that I specifically requested, on my iPod: WE READY by Archie Eversole. Youtube it. My son Josh gave me that download tip! With the pace group, we were soon running on the bridge, the bottom level this time, and as I looked out and saw the ship spraying the three plumes of water into the New York Harbor, with the green Statue of Liberty and the Big Apple off to my left, I knew I was off and running in a race like no other.


We had a lively pace group right from the start. I tried not to get too caught up in it, knowing that I wanted to conserve my energy. But it was clear that this would make it fun and that we would have a lot of togetherness.

Mile 3, I saw an English Bulldog. If you remember last year, I lost 5 minutes stopping at Mile 10 to pet an English Bulldog. This one cost me 2 or 3 minutes. I will always stop to get down on the ground and play with an English Bulldog. You know me. He was awesome.

Somewhere in Brooklyn, I again was blown away by the full-congregation gospel choir outside of the Apostolic Faith Church. That is my favorite of the 100 live musical performers along the course. There is everything from bluegrass/banjo to rap to gospel to R&B to acid rock and you name it.

The synagogues, the mosques, the churches, the Assidic Jews with their black clothes and tall hats and long beards and children who dressed alike, the blacks, the whites, the Latinos, the young tech crowd, the Asians...this is Brooklyn. You see all of that when you run through it, like traveling around the world. It is the melting pot.

I was in control. I did not spend my time on the sides, high-fiving all the spectators this year. I stayed mostly down the middle, conserving myself. For the first 8 miles, I also noticed that I was often well ahead of the 5:00 Pace Leaders. I would have to stop or slow to nearly a walk. I think it was a good thing, but not sure. Then at Mile 8, when I bolted into a corner market to get some salt, and came back out needing to make up some ground, I realized that was the last time I would have that luxury of always being out ahead of the 5:00 group. I stayed with them or behind them the rest of the way.


We went over the bridge from Brooklyn to Queens, and I saw a lot of people walking, and one year earlier that was me. Not this time. I would run except for water breaks until Mile 19.

Thank you to whoever was handing out bananas -- I ate a chunk of one and tossed the rest.

I was able to really enjoy Queens for the first time. I had doubled over in pain here a year earlier. This time I looked at all of the buildings and the people. I appreciated the live bands. We chanted yells and sang a little in my pace group. We were going strong. We had to, because coming up was...

The Queensboro Bridge.

It can be a lonely place. It climbs uphill, it is long, hard footing, covered and an echo chamber. That's where the male pace leader was really vocal, pumping us up. He told this really long, motivational story, shouting it at the top of his lungs for hundreds to hear, and I can't even remember it now but it helped. He also told us that we were all going to finish in UNDER five hours. I believed him. We were. Then I just suddenly started singing a song they were playing at the pasta dinner the night before:


I think one other person was singing with me. Ha!!! At least I motivated myself.


Before you know it, we had passed the 16-mile sign, we were going downhill on the other half of the bridge, and the most amazing scene was about to unfold. The pace-leader guy told all of us that when we come around the turn and see the massive crowds along First Avenue for the first time, we would all yell on the count of three: NEW YORK CITY WE LOVE YOU!!!

We did. It rocked. The crowds were awesome, 20-deep, almost like the parade I just rode in.

Mile 17: It went on like that a long time. Then at 73rd Street and First Avenue, I went to the left and saw Lisa right where I told her to be, so that I could find her! I gave her a sweaty hug and then was on my way, and someone gave me an orange slice and that made a huge difference. I was pounding GU and water and Gatorade by then. So far so good.

At this point, I was going over a chip mat every mile. It was unbelievable. Everyone who tracked me got their money's worth. Besides all the 5K splits, the Athlete Alerts showed every mile after Mile 16. Unbelievable. Leave it to the NYC Marathon! They are planning to make it a "complete scorecard" of all 26.2 miles in the future -- how awesome is that. Chip mat city.

Mile 18 came and went, I was still with the green balloons. Then, nearly a mile later...

They disappeared. I lost my name in the NY Times at that very moment.

After TWO CONSECUTIVE NEGATIVE SPLITS (which you can see on the chart below), I lost the pace group because of two things at Mile 19:

1. Nausea. I moved to the right side and tried to throw up but I couldn't. It was horrible. Maybe too much GU. Maybe too much Gatorade. I don't know. I waited 2-3 minutes for it to go away, and it didn't, so I just ran through it.

2. Left leg stopped working. I looked down at the inside of my left knee, and the anterior cruciate ligament muscle area was just twitching with a life of its own, and I'm watching it go in and out without my brain controlling it whatsoever. It was almost funny. I'm like: The hell? Again I moved off to the right side. I tried to massage it out, rubbing in circles. Stretching. Rubbing. Then I started running again.


Mile 20 came and went, and I was again going strong. Well, pretty strong. I was running through anything at this point, determined to catch a glimpse of the green balloons. They had to be visible somewhere because they stopped at water stops. I never saw them again, but the search for them kept me going.

I needed something for my stomach.

Let me repeat something I said here the last two marathon blog posts: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A WALL!!!!! I know my friend Runner disagrees with me on this but we all discover our own things about this running life and that is my own discovery. Whatever you have read or heard about "The Wall" is all wrong and a falsehood. There was no mental barrier, no time whatsoever that I played a mental game with myself about whether I could get through all of this like I hear about so much in other blogs. I was going through a physical difficulty relating to a lack of training or improper nutrition/intake. It had nothing to do with a wall or mental warfare. Sorry, but I am out there with too many wheelchair participants or amputees or cancer survivors to have any notion of not finishing.

The Bronx goes by so is the smallest borough involvement, other than Staten Island only being the start. It was time to go over the Madison Avenue Bridge, taking you into Harlem and back into Manhattan.


For a few miles, I was on a quest to find someone, anyone, who had some kind of sustenance other than a GU. I don't even know what I was looking for. Someone to tell me: Here's something that will help your stomach. One med tent guy had no clue. He should not have been volunteering. Finally, a woman in Harlem offered me pretzels. That's all I needed. Hello. Didn't bring the pretzels this time, and I paid for it. I ate a few, and crushed the rest into my pocket for the road. Case solved. Onward and upward. Never nauseous after that.

The scene around Marcus Garvey Park is so cool. The crowds again are incredible. They make you love running amongst them. I hot dog cuz I can I got the cheese and mustard. (Nelly/Heart of a Champion.) Speaking of music, I have gone almost the whole race without listening to my iPod. It's in my pocket with earbuds wrapped around it. There is too much music. There were pace leaders to communicate with. I was enjoying it more this time.

Fifth AVenue, 108th Street. The good news is that we have just passed the start of Central Park. My home turf is here, and at that point you know the end is in sight. The bad news: To my left, on the sidewalk, four paramedics are kneeling around a man laying on his back on the sidewalk with a distended/exposed stomach, evidently heart attack. The next day's paper would confirm that: Three heart problems, one runner died, one in serious condition, one (this one) in stable condition. They gave him defib and restored pulse at hospital. Earlier on the course, I had seen another man probably in his late 60s or 70s trip and fall face-first. I helped him up. He was shaken and didn't speak English, but he kept running. Heaven help us. We just want to run and finish something big.

We entered Central Park at the 90th Street "Runner's Gate" and the crowds were phenomenal. They are so thick and supportive, holding signs. When we got down by the Boathouse, I saw a large floral wreath on the left side. It was in tribute of Ryan Shea, who had died there after 5.5 miles of the U.S. Olympic Trials the day before the 2007 NYC Marathon. He had an enlarged heart. The paper said that many runners ran this marathon as a tribute to him.

I was struggling after I got to the bottom of Cat Hill, my familiar course that I'm on most days. My legs were buckling a little. Then we exited the park, made the sharp turn right to follow Central Park South, and the crowds again are beautiful, shouting encouragement. At that point, I am constantly rubbing my face, as I was occasionally light-headed and was trying to stay alert and focused. I got a lift when I heard the live band coming up at Columbus Circle, and that's when I re-entered Central Park for the last time and headed for the homestretch.

The 26-mile sign was suddenly over my head as I looked up at the sky at my Dad.

Then I looked into the face of every spectator the rest of the way. Every face. I saw all kinds of New York faces, international faces. Boys, girls, men, women. Young, old, all ethnicities. I didn't miss a single face. These were the people who came out to cheer on someone who is close to them, someone who is a marathoner. In that moment I loved them like they were my own. I was thanking everyone:

Thank you to everyone who came out. Thank you to everyone who gave me comments along the way, on my blogs, in person. Thank you to the two security guards at the Olympic Wukesong Baseball Complex in Beijing, who smiled and brought water as I trained by myself on the warning track for a half-marathon and a 10-miler before games. Thank you to the couple at the end of the Navy Pier in Chicago who smiled as I stopped halfway on my run and did crunches on a bench by them. Thank you to Bob, Jenn, Troy, Michele, Shayna and Lexi for meeting for for a Big Cats Running Team reunion/meeting while I was in LA for Dodgers-Cubs. Thank you to my colleagues who gave me encouragement at a time when we work our butts off and sometimes work all-nighters in October. Thank you to my sons who inspire me to be a great Dad and a marathon runner. Thank you to my girlfriend Lisa who is always there for me and walked her own marathon around Central Park trying to get from Mile 17 back to the finish. Thank you to my parents who instilled in me that I can do anything -- and never questioned it. Thank you to my brother Tim who's always behind me (and vice-versa) -- we are making it back and stronger. Thanks to all my family and friends, and to complete strangers who helped along the way.

As I was thinking those thoughts, the finish line came up.

I danced. I danced to "Celebrate Good Times" by Kool and the Gang. I have danced across the finish line at all three of my marathons. It is my own tradition, something no one else does. I will always dance across finish lines. It will be the title of my memoir.

2007 NYC Marathon: 6:08
2008 St. Louis Marathon: 5:21
2008 NYC Marathon: 5:13.27

This is real. I am 49 and I am getting faster. I am getting better. I am stronger.


My treat was Dallas BBQ. Spare ribs, chili, cornbread, beer, cake. I rented videos. Taking a couple of days off. Until we run again...thanks.


CTBamaFan said...

Congrats on a new PR, especially coming on the heels of your crazy baseball schedule. You are an inspiration to your family, friends and the many readers that follow your blog (and some day read your novel).

Seriously, you should consider joining Gerri and I at the Shamrock Marathon in March. You,Gerri and I can all break 5:00 for the 1st time!

Enjoy some time off, but not too much. You need that next goal to keep you going.

Anonymous said...

Congrats. I had a blast as well. Nothing in the world like it...

Eileen said...

Congratulations Mark! Seems like yesterday you were running with the Statues.


Jordan said...

Congrats Mark! Shaving more than an hour off your first marathon is quite impressive. I'm hoping for a 3:45 finish or so at the Walt Disney Marathon in January -- Beck and I will be running that one. I'm also planning on running NYC next year. Sounds like quite the experience. I'd definitely recommend doing Chicago someday. 1.5 million spectators and deep crowds that spill into the streets for almost the entire 26.2! Who needs an ipod when you have that kind of support.


nyflygirl said...

Congrats on the PR!! Sounds like the perfect ending to an exciting week for you. You'll so get the sub-5 next time!!