Sunday, April 21, 2013

We Are All Americans

This is our fucking city. And we honor Big Papi's now. After all, We Are All Americans.

Today was my fifth New York Road Runners race of the year toward the 9+1 (9 races, 1 volunteer) needed for guaranteed entry into the 2014 ING New York City Marathon. This is an individual sport, and I run mainly for myself, for a long life, because it makes me feel good being a runner. But today was something more. Today was about the running community. Today was about running for Boston.

The annual City Parks Run for the Parks 4-Miler was once around the interior loop at Central Park. Runners wore "I run for...Boston" shirts, back bibs and black ribbons to honor and support our friends up the coast. Each shirt like the one I am wearing in this photo sent $20 to, to aid families impacted by the previous week's bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line. NYRR raised about $30,000 so far.

This was the first New York City race since the tragedy, and there were signs everywhere you looked on this beautiful but chilly Sunday morning. There were security checkpoints if you checked baggage. The NYPD had an eye in the sky at the start and finish lines (left). There was a fair NYPD presence around the course. And then there was the starting ceremonies of the race, which was pretty memorable.

With 6,227 finishers in this race, it was another giant crowd at the beginning. There was a long moment of silence to remember those who were lost in Boston. A woman from Hopkinton, Mass., home to the Boston Marathon start, sang the national anthem, as she had at so many Boston Marathons before. Her voice broke as she struggled to make it through the finish, and the crowd helped her with the last verses. Together we sang along with Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" over the loudspeakers, like at Fenway Park.

Most moving of all, to me, was reaching the start line (I get there seven minutes after the elites go off) and seeing a separate gun clock, this one frozen in memory with the time: 4:09:43 -- the time we all remember seeing when the bombs went off. Beside it was a flag at half-staff. A person from the NYC Mayor's office wore a Red Sox cap. "This is the first time I've ever worn a Red Sox cap," he said, "because I'm a Yankee fan. But today we are all Boston fans." NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg added that other cities had rallied around ours after 9/11, and now we rally around Boston."We are all Americans," she said.

This one was for you, Boston. We all spent a surreal week watching it, immersed in it, some of us submitting our photos and videos to help authorities. We saw a week begin with bombs and end on a Friday night watching a kid in a boat. We wait for what promises to be a long legal ordeal ahead, but we were able to exhale, to move on. The Red Sox played at home and Big Papi assured Bostonians that "this is our fucking city." The FCC even endorsed his quote, nuff said.

The race began at 68th Street on East Drive and the first mile includes the ascent of Cat Hill. Lisa and I started together, but I lost her on Cat Hill. I did that mile in 11 minutes, which I didn't mind given the congestion coming off the start and the incline. Then I did a negative split, finishing the second mile in about 10:20. With the Brooklyn Half coming up next month, my goal was to get a good workout out of this, one that can jack up my training a bit. I train best in races.

There were no trash cans on the course, which also was a bit freaky. Instead, you were asked to drop your empty water cups into one of the giant clear bags that volunteers were holding. Another security measure, just as you weren't allowed to check backpacks, only clear provided bags, which discouraged bag checks.

Mile 3 is always my hardest in these 4-milers, because after starting in the middle of the upper (102nd Street) transverse, it involves the gentle rolling hills, which always nag me at this time of the year, before I revv up training. I finished this mile in 11:30, better than I expected. Then it's a mostly downhill shot home on the West Drive, down past the Shakespeare outdoor theater, past The Lake, and then a left turn on the 72nd Street Transverse and across the finish line. My finish time was 44:34, which I was very happy about.

The finish chute was another sign of the times, highly congested, a long herd, unlike the usual procedure, hopefully not an indicator of future NYRR weekenders. Runners who finished and wanted to cheer for others had to go over to the sidewalk, away from the finishers. This is what I proceeded to do, as I planned to go find Lisa and cheer her crossing the finish line. Then, much to my amazement, I saw that she was already in the finish chute, too. She had finished in 47:30 -- very impressive for my wife!

We had parked for free (on Sundays) on Columbus at 69th, so we headed toward our car and stopped at Viva la crepes on Columbus.You can choose between savory or sweet crepes, and I got a savory featuring smoked salmon, cream cheese spinach and capers. It was amazing for postrace food.

On the way to our car, we also saw these azaleas in full bloom in a windowbox of a brownstone.

These azaleas reminded me of something I have been thinking lately. Life is so precious. Not only as we saw in Boston, but at this time of year, nature, our planet Earth in spring. Just think of the beauty of these azaleas, so ephemeral are they, so ephemeral is life. Embrace it, appreciate it. As Willie Cullen Bryant wrote in A Scene on the Banks of the Hudson:

Loveliest of lovely things are they
On earth that soonest pass away.
The rose that lives its little hour
Is prized beyond the sculptured flower.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Running for Boston - With Our New Security Measures

Lisa and I are registered for Sunday's annual Run for the Parks 4-Miler, a New York Road Runners race that always raises money for Central Park and others in NY. This time, however, it is also a Run for Boston. For an extra $20 per person, with all donations going to the local government's The One Fund Boston, you get a blue tech shirt that says "I run for...Boston" on it. In addition to the standard bib in front, there is also an "I run for...Boston" bib that we will affix to the back of our shirts.

If you look closely, you can see the additional piece of paper in our registration packet. It is the first evidence of how the tragedy at the Boston Marathon has touched routine racing at Central Park. At least for this race, we received these clear bags that we label if we want to check them, as we are not allowed to bring backpacks into the park for this race. Whether it will be a standard policy going forward I can't say. The bottom line is that we run in support of our friends up north, we are here for you. Here is a closer look:

In addition, I just received this email from NYRR with further details:

Sunday, April 21 | 8:00 a.m. | 4-Mile Race in Central Park

As part of our ongoing focus on the safety of our runners, and in partnership with the NYPD, we have implemented enhanced security measures, detailed below, for this Sunday’s race. We ask that you arrive early on race day, and we appreciate your full cooperation with these procedures in order to avoid any interruption to the day’s events.
Race-day registration, T-shirt pickup, and baggage drop-off will be located inside Rumsey Playfield. Everyone who enters Rumsey Playfield will be subject to a security screening.
We strongly encourage you not to bring a bag to Central Park. However, if you’re registering or picking up your race materials on race day and bring a bag, you will be given a clear bag at the entrance to Rumsey Playfield. You must transfer the contents of your own bag into the clear bag before you proceed to the registration tent. Any unattended bags will be confiscated by NYPD and could cause an interruption to the day’s events.
There will be no trash cans in the race vicinity this weekend. We encourage you to hand your trash to our volunteers and staff members.
Toilets along the course will be located only at mile 2.
Kids’ Races will start on West Drive (running east on the 72nd Street Transverse) and end at the same finish line as the adult race. Due to these changes, Kids’ Races will now start a half-hour later at 9:30 a.m.
NYRR and the NYPD reserve the right to search any bag at any time, both within and outside the baggage area.
Visit the race page for more information.

Thank you for your cooperation with our efforts to ensure a safe and fun event for all participants, spectators, volunteers, and staff. We look forward to seeing you on Sunday in Central Park!

Monday, April 15, 2013

What A Marathon Finish Line Means To Me

The Marathon Finish Line Is...

...sacred space to me.

...where I looked up at the sky in tears, thanking the greatest father who I had lost a year earlier, as I crossed my first one in New York City.

...where I proposed at New Jersey to Lisa, who said yes.

...where I danced over 11 timing mats.

...where you discover who you are inside.

...where all my boys were waiting for me at St. Louis.

...where I set a PR in 2008.

...where the purest emotional release in life happens.

...where I last went in February, as a giant seahorse sand sculpture awaited me on the sunny Fort Lauderdale beach.

...where I will be again this fall.

...worth reaching no matter what it takes.

...where you muster a smile somehow.

...where someone much faster breaks the tape.

...where a volunteer waits to hang a medal around your neck.

...what I think about for most of 26.2 miles or more, and really all year long.

...where the Central Park bench plaque across from Tavern on the Green reads: "Races are run with the legs, but marathons are run with the heart."

...where families and friends wave flags as supporters who mean everything to you, many of them complete strangers but kindred spirits that day.

...a spiritual place.

...the sum of all those calculations you did for miles and miles, anticipating what it would take to somehow get there at a desired time.

...proof that you are someone who finishes what s/he starts and can do anything.

...your chance to finally walk, stop, exhale and take pride. You ran your heart out and have nothing left.

...where I ran on cobblestones of Paris in the shadow of Arc de Triomphe, the most perfect name for a structure that could sit beside a finish line, and where I tried to french kiss my wife.

...that digital readout up ahead with the loud music, getting closer and closer and finally all yours.


...something you never imagined you could do.

...where I finished an Oklahoma City Half six years ago right beside the memorial to a bombing incident, and where I looked at those who had just run the full and imagined what it would be to go that far.

...where joy abounds and life is celebrated.

...not where life ends and nightmares begin.

...a metaphor for our real lives, where one day I will cross, arms raised, having made the best effort I can make over a lifetime to be a good person, as heaven awaits.

...where a live video cam can be on and I will sometimes sit at my computer for an hour just watching the triumph of runner after runner crossing in her or his own style, each with their own story of accomplishment and conquest.

That is why I created along the way -- because the finish line is a place you always want to be, an honorable destination, a sacred space.

Today I am crushed and saddened beyond words at what happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I can't even read any more. My hearts go out to the runners and spectators and all affected by the tragedy there, and I am thankful to all of my fellow marathoners there who are OK. These were people who just wanted to enjoy the best time of life and smile as they crossed the mat and families and friends sharing that priceless moment, and that gift of life that no one has a right to take away.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Century Mark In Sight

The 2014 ING New York City Marathon just became a lot bigger for me. It is where I will celebrate my 100th race since I traded running for smoking.

Saturday's Scotland Run 10K at Central Park was my 80th overall race.

In 2013, I have run four New York Road Runners races: Joe Kleinerman 10K, Manhattan Half, Gridiron Classic 4M and Scotland Run 10K. I also ran the Publix Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon in February.

I am signed up for four more NYRR races: Run for the Parks 4M, Japan Day 4M, Brooklyn Half and Wall Street Run 3M. Later this month, I register as a guaranteed entrant for the 2013 NYC Marathon. So that will put me at 85 overall races, and I will sign up for the two NYCM Long Training Runs and the NYCM Tuneup 18M, so that puts me at 88.

And I have now basically qualified for the 2014 NYC Marathon as well, so that's 89 locked in. I just need to come up with another 11 races before that one, and then I will be on track to celebrate my 100th race finish at the finish line of the greatest marathon of them all, the New York City Marathon. That one will be cause for one very large party, so save the date...