Monday, November 29, 2010

Angels, Demons, and Europeans

The "BIG E" feeling the love in Brooklyn Heights!

Waiting for our Angel Cab to take us all home!

The "Big E" in Queens at mile 12.

In the Villages with me from the left ICE P, CZAR 2.0, and Buckeye Girl

Moment of Truth

Every race has a moment of truth and for me it has come to this. Central Park, Mile 24, chip time 3:35:49. Just over two miles to go and 24 minutes to get there sub 4 hours. Synonymous with the home stretch, the entrance to Central Park near the MoMA. At mile 24, a New York marathon runner should feels emotionally elated. Should be overwhelmed with joy with their pending achievement. Reveling in the moments that culminate from all the hard work and sacrifices made to be here on the pavement on this side of the park fences lined by crowds.

But, for runner number 17008, two miles and 385 yards cannot end soon enough. I leave 5th avenue at 81st street and enter the park. I am moving but each step is an effort. I am cold, wet, and beat up. The elephant that is my body commands me to stop. The rider that is my brain preaches “Rider up “not time to quit now Tim.”

Back story

“Wow! You haven’t run New York?” Ask anyone anything about running and the New York Marathon will enter the discussion. Boston may be hallowed ground, Chicago is faster, Grandma’s is friendlier, but the New York Marathon is the top dawg race, or better yet, “A running race festival”. And just like any festival, a great concept in theory but like that other famous New York festival upstate, overwhelmed by the crowds.

To accommodate the crowds, race organizers create three segregated “villages” that each send off three segregated “waves” of runners. In essence, the flow of runners is parsed into 9 waves of 5000 runners apiece. The course is designed for three separate flows of runners from each of the three village waves that then at mile 8 eventually meld into one rapidly running vein to course through the Brooklyn neighborhoods. In theory of course! Another unique aspect of New York is that the course hits all five boroughs of New York, but in doing so become a point to point race. Meaning 47,000 plus runners require transport to Staten Island for the start, only to finish in Central Park hours later.

Over the years, the race organizers also aimed to segregate runners by ability. Faster runners start in earlier waves and the slower or first time marathoners start in the later waves of each village. So, wave 1 with the Kenyans in front would go off at 9:40, followed by Wave 2 at 10:10 and Wave 3 at 10:40 from each of the Green, Orange and Blue villages.

In festivus spirit, three of my R2C crew are running the festival. To be honest, Ellen aka “Buckeye Girl”, who ran New York in 2000 and 2006, spearheads the effort, encouraging us to apply in November 2009. Running is Marguerite, (Ice P), who set a PR in 2009 at New York, and Jim aka Czar 2.0.

Taking advantage of my back in the day Baltimore Marathon PR time of 3:36, I secure a coveted Wave 1 Green starting wave. Buckeye and Czar 2.0 get Orange Corral Wave 2, but Ice P (Marguerite) is saddled with a Wave 3 green spot. ICE P being in marketing management at Sports Authority will have none of that. She works her “solutions” booth New York charm at the Javits Center expo to browbeat a hapless volunteer into upgrading her to a Green Wave 1 spot. Speaking of the expo, I am not sure if I am in New York or Paris. The crowd is dominated by non-English speakers. Unbeknownst to me European seemingly frown upon assigned wave starts times. Loosely translated, “I traveled across the pond, therefore, I will just push and shove my way into any wave I want and pretend not to understand English.”

Race Day in the Staten Island Village

Buckeye girl arranges car service, (black suburban) to escort the R2C crew to Staten Island. We arrive without incident and at 8am CZAR 2.0 and Buckeye girl say their goodbyes and head to the Orange Village, while ICE P and I hit the Port –o- Lets in the Green Village for our 9:40 start. Brrrr. . It is cold!! I brought an old Redskins hoodie and am thankful for it as Bruce Springsteen blares out of the speakers. The wind is howling, but the sun is shining. There are people (read Europeans) everywhere.

Bashing aside, I do notice that the Euros are an enthusiastic bunch, and are down with compression gear and kinsei tape performance enhancers. Fashion is less important than compression. AHA! but, little do they know that I hit up the Aussie 2XU booth at the expo to the extent, that the vendor shouted out” Now if I can just find 200 more like this guy!” I score white comp shorts, white long sleeve compression top, and black comp socks for another day.

Today outfit choice is critical to elicit fan support on the course. Drum roll please. . .. . “Starting in Wave 1, bib 17008, for your Washington Bullets, at forward, from the University of Houston, #11 in your program the Big E, Elvin Hayes!” Yes, I will sport a vintage Les Boulez jersey resplendent with white compression shorts, calf guards, matching ASICS Kayanos, and IM Visor. I anticipate lots of love from the 40s something set that recall the Knick Bullet rivalries of the 1970s.

ICE P and I fight the crowds to drop off our bags with the UPS truck to transport to the finish line. I fail to discern “the why” behind the mass exodus of runners walking against us heading to the corrals. There are still so many runners in the village (Wave 2’s probably) it fails to register that we should already be in our corrals by now though 90 minutes prior to gun time. I check my watch, 8:30, OK still an hour 10 until the start we are OK on time. (So I think)

I spot a fellow triathlete planning to toss out his Body Glide. Within the IRONMAN community, borrowing glide is not a big deal. Apparently in Staten Island among non triathletes, this is a HUMONGO Deal. ICE P is amazingly disgusted witnessing me borrow some sketchy glide from a stranger after he confessed to just using it "all over.” As I reach my hand in my pants to apply said glide, she cringes and takes a walk out of visual range.

One hour to go, and we hit the let one more time and then head to the corral entrance with plenty of time. There are runners everywhere and the line is not moving. It is now 8:45am and the gun is to go off in 55 minutes. OK, plenty of time, but I realize that the corrals have been closed. I peer over heads and see jam packed runners inside the fenced areas. WTF!! WTF!!

Cutthroat Corrals

The sheer size of the field dictates creative crowd control. The corrals themselves consist of 12 foot high fencing on one side, lines of port o lets on the other in front of buses parked bumper to bumper. Every 50ft there is a one person wide entry “gate” guarded by the corral “captains. Inside roped off 30 by 30 ft pen areas contain five or six port o lets and more guards making sure egress/regress is prohibited. Had I known of these “facilities” I would have entered the corral much early.

I see Wave 1 runners inside the fence heading to the start. There is plenty of room inside but no one allowed in. We are trapped below decks like Titanic passengers in steerage. Nowhere to go and the starting line lifeboats are being launched without us. THIS IS GREAT! Standing around for hours in the cold before running a marathon with thousands of smelly Europeans. I consider a new business venture, advertising the powers of Speedstick deodorant, a concept that apparently has not crossed the pond yet. Damn these Euros smell skunky!

From our Titanic pens, we watch the 9:40 wave go off 3 minutes late. We are finally permitted entry with Wave 2 at 10 am. I try to find the positive. Chatting up a couple of 3:30 hopeful finishers we conclude whereas we would have been the rearguard of 5000 Wave 1 runners, we are now the vanguard of Wave 2 starting within the first few 100.

Young rollie pollie black women act as the “corral captains”. They scream and threaten and command us all to back up away from the pen entry gates or they will call NYPD. There are hundreds behind us and none of us can even see our feet let alone move or fall. The chicks have no clue, and are verging on panic. I laugh thinking “Typical black chicks on a power trip.” A couple of the Euros look at me inquisitively. I attempt to translate in my broken Spanish. “Los dos son mujeres negros con poder.” I get a couple of smiles back. MAN, do I miss the simplicity of a trail race start right now!

According to Ice P, being in the corral waiting forever to start is frustrating but not as much as is “random guy”. In the middle of the crowd, Random Guy is just lounging on a bunch of discarded blankets and jackets like taking a nap in the park after the race. Not knowing what to make of this, I quickly bonded in the corral with all the other pissed off 3:30 folks who got boxed out of the 9:40 wave and mock random guy. I also just kind of pretended that I was actually "one of them" and could do a 3:30 race! As attested above the corral "captains" are power hungry and loved boxing us out!

At 9:30 am in the Orange village, Buckeye girl Ellen contemplates her own corral crisis surrounded by smelly compression bound European males. “I was just trying to stay warm, and failed to notice that one of my many power gel goo strapped to my fuel belt under my over shirt burst and oozed. Finally, in the crowd of Euro men, I finally look down on my leg, “What is that white sticky stuff?! What is it? Where did it come from? OMG, gross! No! OMG!! .It’s not . . . I signal to Jim on my other flank. Wait, oh, OK, one of my double latte gels blew open in my tights. Thanks god! Fortunately for Buckeye girl Race Captain extraordinaire Jim helps clean it up! Hmmn, tastes like café latte!

RACE START – Tim Chip Time (TA 0.00), Jim Chip Time 0.00

The gun for Wave 1 goes off at 9:43; 3 minutes late. We look up and see runners pouring onto the Verrazano. The power generated by the collective mass moving above our heads onto the span is empowering. Within minutes the “corral captains” open the ropes in front of us and we are herded out through another gate to the toll booths. Our green wave is channeled onto a roadway to the lower left bridge span. Greyhound buses block our views of the Orange and Blue waves that are to start on the upper levels of the bridge. CZAR and Buckeye girl are both in the Orange wave and I have no idea where they are. ICE P is most likely in the throng behind me somewhere. She is undertrained for this race, and I assume she will have to walk bits of it but will no doubt finish, because she is a Jersey girl rock star. However, she will most likely be disappointed not to better her 4:24 PR she set here last year. As I wait to start, I am surprisingly relaxed and don a Dunkin Donuts ski hat to stay warm while we wait. Score!

At 10:10 am the gun goes off and so do we. We have been warned not to pee off the bridge or be banned from any and all future New York Marathons. SO, dramatic pause. Several of us guys stop and pee on the cement bridge support prior to the bridge, take that Corral Biatches! We are quickly back and running onto the bridge.

Angels Spanning the Verrazano

The wind is fierce but the mood is festive and indescribable. All around it is quiet and not due to IPODs or exertion. Each individual is grappling with the powerful mental force that crossing the Verrazano generates. The views of the harbor, Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan are awesome. For most, if not all, the visual omission of the Twin Towers is noticeable and generates unique memories and emotions. I shiver but do not feel the cold. I am hauling ass, but do not feel the bridge pavement. I am on the verge of crying, but not due to a close family person lost. I cry due to the immensity of the collective emotions that I feel. I harbor no special story of heroism, no someone close to me perished. I cry due to the presence of the angels that lift me on and carry me with their wings.

I am finally processing the fact I am alive and running the New York City Marathon! For the five week period of 8/1/2001 to 9/8/2001 I was assigned to work at a client site at WFC 1. The week of 9/11, I then was transferred to a client in New Brunswick, NJ. Would I have been OK? Most likely, but I owe all the angels that looked over me on that tragic day where so many hard working family people were not so fortunate.

As we crest the hill at the center of the span at mile 1, I redirect this spiritual power into physical. I am sprinting down the span at a ridiculously fast pace for a 5K let alone a 26 mile five borough journey. I cross mile 3 at 24 flat which included a pee stop and an uphill mile. The roadway is littered with disposed sweatshirts and jackets. Less fortunate people are rummaging through the picks of the litter; I pray that the angels will care after their lives like they have for my own.

Brooklyn Heights 5K time (3.1 miles) Tim 25:10 Jim 26:50

The fans are lining the streets now as we enter Brooklyn Heights. The neighborhood is Latin, and then quickly morphs to Jewish synagogues, then back to Latin again. Regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs, the crowd is universally enthusiastic and seeks to be involved in their own ways. Some have signs, some have bananas. Some have tissues; some have gummy bears, some yell, and some high five. The melting pot crowds are what truly make the New York Marathon the special running festival that it is billed to be. For the next 23 miles these New Yorkers and guests will line the roads braving the cold, and even venture out onto the 59th St Bridge as far as permissible.

Grabbing a tissue to wipe my brow, I hug the right edge of the street. I am close to these New Yorkers in order to pass slower runners in the center, but also to be close to the crowds to soak in their energy and enthusiasm. Running New York is about interacting with the people. I once again thank the angels that are carrying me on their wings flying by at right on 8 minute mile, 3:30 pace.

Atlantic Avenue 10K (6.2 miles) time Tim 49:47 Jim 52:18

I am running too fast, but the Angels make me do it. They are everywhere in the crowds out in force. With my Washington Bullets #11 Elvin Hays jersey I am also a force and gets lots of attention. I wolf a gel with water at the one hour mark and dodge Dan Brown Eurotourista runners. Meaning, by mile 7, I have made up the 30 minute buffer from the slower Wave 1 runners. Many of these Europeans are not only walking, but stopping in the middle of the street to snap pictures of each other, and every church along the way.

Further annoying is that many of them sport Wave 2 numbers indicating to me that they ignored the wave rules. Being a tourist is fine; being a guest runner is fine. But start with your wave or in the back, and not impede others who came to “run” New York. Case in point, an older French couple radically swerves from the center lane right in front of me resplendent in full red white and blue afros, and red white and blue flag outfits with magic hands. Friggin frogs! What is this “Le Bay to Breaker?” Je née se pais doucebags in Francais? Like a NBA point guard, I push mademoiselle to my right, split the double team with Frog homme on my left, give him a WTF glare, and motor through and past.

At mile 8, the three wave courses merge into one. In order to make any progress on the throng of slow Wave 1 runners, I am virtually running alongside the curb and the crowd. Think driving the shoulder of the Belt, the BQE or whatever local tri state road you prefer. As I speed down the breakdown lane, the crowds edge farther into the street for viewing. This reduces the space for the flow of runners, like a mountaintop finish in the Tour de France. Time and again slower runners swerve out of the center of the jam to try and high five or take a picture from the crowd edge. I constantly scan the jammed crowd of runners and keep up my pace. Pop, WTF! There go the IPOD headphones as they catch on a young onlooker.

Lafayette Street – 15K (9.3 miles) time Tim 1:14:58 Jim 1:18:35

This is the yuppie zone of Park Slope. Tailgates, U2, and bloody marys are the flavor in front of the brownstones. I am moving along, but still cold when the wind blows but in the zone. I am staying right, passing Euro tourists, high fiving Bullets fans, and even get one “Bullets” how politically incorrect is that” comment. In my best Brooklyn tough guy impression, I yell out, I got you political correct right here. F U asshole, how’s that for PC! Hater Douche bag! I channel the negative into physical energy and keep my legs moving. Mile 10 flies by at 1:20:32 right on 8 minute per mile 3:30 pace.

Queens –- 13.1 Half Marathon time Tim 1:47:42, Jim 1:51:09

Hey there is Jay Song from the FED, out representing! Yay, I have fans on the course! At the half I intentionally slow my pace to 8:30s. The Verrazano angels are long gone, and I am tiring. I want to conserve and hope it is not too late to rein in my inner Wildebeest. Halfway is the long approach to the uphill onramp to the 59th street Bridge. The Manhattan skyline looms ahead. I Galloway walk several 30 second chunks on the uphill bridge as a preventative measure. Right at 2 hours in I wolf my second gel, but have no water to chase it with. Mistake! The gel will absorb water forcing my body to seek hydration elsewhere, like from my muscles already starving for fluids!

59th Street Bridge - 25K (15.5 mile) time Tim 2:11:16 Jim 2:13:37

I catch my breath and regroup here. I want to rock 1st avenue when I get there. The crowd has thinned out as many of the slower Wave 1 runners are behind me now and the speedy runners are still well ahead. With plenty of room to run, the bridge is endlessly cruel and no bridge angels anywhere! For others in my R2c crew the narrow bridge is even crueler. Czar walks a bit here and there and ICE P is submersed under a zone of Euro walker photogs and Euro pushers. She is tripped, toppled, and trampled. Quite the welcome to Manhattan, Marguerite!

Descending the bridge the first twinge of the left hammy flares. No!! No friggin way! With no angels around, the rapid descent after the climb is hadistic and those old marathon demons are ready to pounce. I turn onto 1st avenue and 50 yards ahead is a phalanx of motorcycle and cameras block my way. Why? There is only a trickle of runners but WTF? As I gain, I angle myself for full frontal camera love. I swing by and look back to see what the fuss is about. It is the Chilean miner, in full blown walk. Damn, even the miner got a Wave 1 starting time!

My demons scatter scared off by the presence of so many angels. I dwell a minute on the fact that he is here running. Say what you want, but no one can take away the fact the guy was contemplating death and dying for weeks and months and is here in New York. Awesome!

1st Avenue Freezeout

Despite the Angels and crowds 1st avenue is so wide, I run alone. I grab a Gatorade at the next water stop and bang, there goes the left hammy freezes up into a spasm lock.

“Well I was stranded in the jungle

Trying to take in all the heat they was giving

The night is dark but the sidewalk's bright

And lined with the light of the living
From a tenement window a transistor blasts

Turn around the corner things got real quiet real fast
I walked into a Tenth Avenue freeze-out"

I latch onto a water volunteer and he helps me prop my leg up on the water table. I massage and loosen up the muscle. I tentatively set out.

"Well everybody better move over, that's all
'Cause I'm running on the bad side

And I got my back to the wall
Tenth Avenue freeze-out"

Walk, good, walk faster, good, jog, good, run, OK! The next ten miles will define this marathon experience. Bruce has my back, and I chug up a virtually empty 1st avenue and think about the randomness of life and death. The miner, my own 2003 snowmachine crash, Heather’s 2000 double truck Somerville Circle closing accident. Life can be taken away so quickly. Running a marathon is so here and now forcing you to live in the moment;

For now, for you. For the person and body you had when younger. For the body you are trying to recapture now. For raising you middle finger and showing those death demons who you are!

I laugh and smile, and think to a truly special being that has been facing down these death demons for the last six months, John.

Those who have read my New Jersey Marathon report will recall that John is a family man, a player in the Morristown political scene, and a friend and philanthropist. John is at work at his financial services desk on just another day in April 2010. He is feeling a little bit down, but no doubt is contemplating his next long bike ride.

A week later he is diagnosed with Acute Myopic Leukemia or (AML), one of the more aggressive forms of leukemia. No rhyme or reason, or genetic history. No poor diet or smoking, in fact John is a 7 time Ironman, including Kona. Why? Who knows? Instead of dwelling on the fairness or lack of John focuses on winning at recovering his life. As of December 2010, he is doing just that, winning!

Channeling my thoughts of John, I vow to go as fast as I can as long as I can. I pick up my pace again and run strong all the way up 1st avenue into the wind toward the Bronx.

Bronx 30K (18.6 mile) time Tim 2:42:00 Jim 2:43:23
Crossing the Willets Bridge, I am still focused and determined. I slow to 9 minute pace but have not walked since the Freezeout at mile 16. I appreciate t cheering crowd and pass several runners from local NJ races. One is a Clifton Roadrunner I have seen before, who is walking. I slow down and encourage him, to keep moving. He looks up smiles and starts a jog. Awesome!

Bronx 20 Mile time Tim 2:55:57 Jim 2:57:13

The finish line itself notwithstanding, the 20 mile mark is the most important place within a marathon. 20 miles in means only 6.2 miles to go. A 10K. At sub 3 hours in, even non-runners can discern that to run a 10K in one hour is easily achievable. Both Jim and I are sub 3 hours here, so a sub 4 hour finish is within our sights. Right? Of course, we have been in the cold for six hours, standing for three of those, and are 20 miles in. My body is ready for a bath and a beer, not another 6.2.

Illustrating the point further, let’s compare pacing of ICE P and Buckeye Girl.

Half Marathon 15 mile 18 mile 20 mile Finish ICE P 2 hours 2:18 2:45 3:07 4:24:17
Buckeye Girl 2:08 2:28 3:00 3:22 4:26:55

Ice P does gut it out and set a PR by over 2 minutes. However, Buckeye Girl covers the last 10K in just over an hour picking up over 13 minutes or two minutes per mile on ICE P. Her pacing allow her to run an even split race and make up 13 minutes in just over six miles!

5th Avenue 35K (21.7 miles) time Tim 3:12:57 Jim 3:14:56

The warehouses are behind me and I am back into Manhattan in Harlem. I chug along and am mentally strong, but feel weaker and weaker. I pop a gel at the 3 hour mark hoping for a boost. The crowd is running but more walkers are impeding the narrowing roadway. I hug the shoulder again passing as I can. The crowd wills on the Big E but my body is weak. I resort to endorphin producing tricks;
“This is your NYC experience. Don’t ruin it”
“Do it for John.”,
"Do it for sub 4,”
“Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.”
"Think of the Tour de France breakaway rider, fighting off the charging peloton.”
My body is failing me. I am slowing down but still run on. I walk only to grab water, and trudge on. The legs are rippling and I am praying the cramps hold off for 30 more minutes.

Central Park Mile 24 time Tim 3:35:49 Jim 3:39:06

I leave 5th avenue at 81st street and enter the park. I am moving but each step is an effort. I am cold, wet, and beat up. “Not time to quit now Tim.” I could be poor ICE P, who gets Eurowhacked a second time while entering the park. This time is assisted by an angel of her own an older running gentleman helps her up. “Chivalry in not dead! Buckeye Girl notes that by now the throng is mostly walking, Everyone on cell phones at the end slowing the crowd more. Texting. Not walking. Maddening Europeans! ICE P is also bitter by mile 24 and dropping a lot of F- bombs trying to get to the end.

I walk for 20 seconds run for 2 minutes, I repeat, the demon cramps are boiling up and during each walk I jam my fingers into the left hammy to release the spasming exhausted muscle. The end cannot come soon enough!

Central Park Mile 25 time Tim 3:47:15 Jim 3:49:47

If you do the math Mile 24 takes me 12 minutes to complete. Ok, one more of these and I am in sub 4. I struggle through the park and around the Plaza onto 59th street. My brain is detached from my body and the angry elephant that is my body is ready to lay down right here right now. The hamstring freezes again. I scream and pull up to the side. I loosen it, and set off.

There is the half mile to go sign. My rider tells me to take a breath and relax. My elephant has other ideas as now the calf, the hammy, the right hammy all seize up. The expression on my face must be of horror as I walk on stilts toward several spectators who cringe and move away from the rail. I try and lift my leg to prop up but I nearly fall over. A race medic comes over. Seconds, and then minutes tick by. My rider commands my body to walk. My elephant bellows “NO!” I jam my left hand into my left hammy and my right hand into my right hammy. The medic is talking to me. The demons chortle and commence their celebratory chants. I do not listen. I do not look up at the medic. I simply say “I will finish.” With hands jammed in my hammys, the calves stay knotted up too. Too fucking bad. I stagger off and make the turn at Columbus Circle back into the park.

Mile 26 time Tim 3:59:39 Jim 3:59:43

385 yards to go. I have 21 seconds for sub 4. Even Sea Biscuit cannot cover a quarter mile in 21 seconds. I shuffle along. 300, 200, 100 yards. Just keep it together, Tim. I cross one step over the line. I stop. I breathe. I look to the skies. I pray to the running gods and angels. My body tells me that I have pushed it to the limit. I am cold, tired, and beaten, but I am happy. I have run New York and given the race my soul today.

Post Race Angels

With the Demons and Europeans vanquished back to their respective hells, the R2C crew convenes at the Amsterdam Ale House for post race beverages. Three of us walk/hobble over there. Buckeye Girl’s husband, Scott also is there with the Mercedes wagon. After beers, we all pile in and she pours champagne from the kiddie hatch as Scott expertly battles the NYC cabbies and Jerseyites for Lincoln Tunnel lane superiority. A true angel! We are exhausted but elated. All four of us with solid races and all sub 4:30! Elephant Riders up! WOOP WOOP! What a great day.

We arrive to our respective homes, Buckeye girl to her Angel, Scott, CZAR to his cheering wife and daughters, me to not interested boys, but a wife making homemade turkey chili cornbread and football on TV, and ICE P to a bag of frozen broccoli .florets on her knee while passing out in a hot bath.

Post Race Craziness!

Opening the Star Ledger newspaper Monday is the topper, Buckeye girl sees my official chip time 4:01:39. Ok, now what about CZAR, (Jim) OK, 4:01:39. Let me check again. WOW! So, starting in different chutes, crossing the starting mats at different start times, circumnavigating all five boroughs, European run tourists, both passing the Orange Hot Dog man on 1st avenue, and then finishing in exactly same time to the second. Craziness!

What could be crazier than that? How about ICE P on minimal training, and a year older, betters her marathon PR by two minutes to come in at 4:24. Did she leave anything in the tank? Hell no! She is so beat up at the end of the race she cannot walk the 5 blocks to the Amsterdam Ale House having to take a Pedi-cab for $20! Riders up!