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.

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