Sunday, December 20, 2015

Race Report: 2015 TCS New York City Marathon

The NYC Marathon Expo.  And this
year, I'm actually running it.
The New York City Marathon.

The race that many dream of doing, and roughly 50,000 people from around the globe are afforded the opportunity.  As a member of New York Road Runners, I ran nine races and volunteered at one event during 2014 in order to automatically qualify to run the 2015 race.  I ran it with the intention of it being my one full marathon that I would do in 2015.  (Little would I know, this race would plant a bug in me to do a couple more marathons before year's end)

New York City is already a bustling place because of the sheer amount of people who live and work here, but also because of tourists who come to the city.  NYC Marathon week is already a busy time, with travelers doing in for the race and participating in the many events in the lead up to the race, not only sponsored by NYRR and it's own sponsors, but also by running stores, running clubs and other sports companies, cashing in on the giant that is the NYC Marathon.  My running club, Front Runners New York, holds a pasta dinner on Friday night and a pancake breakfast on Saturday morning, both of which I attended.  The expo at the Javits Center is a MASSIVE three day event that not only brings tons of runners to the west side of town (thank the Lord the 7 train extension was complete before the marathon!) but also the general public.

With US Ambassador to the UN,
Samantha Power
The expo gets more and more crowed each day that it's held, until Saturday, when it's attended by an incredible amount of people.  That morning, a 5k is held that begins at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on the east side of Manhattan, facing the United Nations building, runs down 42nd Street, turns onto 6th Avenue and Central Park South, then proceeds into Central Park from its southeast corner, following the marathon's final miles to the finish line near Tavern on the Green.  I was given the chance to sing the national anthem at that morning's 5k in front of 10,000 people from around the world, including the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.  Now THAT was a blast.

My race kit, ready to go!
A few months before the race, I was also requested to sing at the start of the marathon itself for one of the several waves that move thousands of runners across the startline in Staten Island onto the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  I got my assignment to sing "God Bless America" for the start of Wave 2, which would head off at 10:15, prior to the start of my race with Wave 3.  I thought, ok - I'll leave at 7am from Queens, will give me plenty of time to take the subway, ferry, and shuttle bus to the start area at Fort Wadsworth.  The subway took about 45-50 minutes, which was no surprise, but there was literally a mob scene of folks trying to get onto the ferries, which were running late (again, no surprise).  I was close to the front of the "line" when the police who were monitoring numbers going into the ferry terminal when they closed it, and I pleaded with the officers that I was needing to be on the island immediately to perform for the second wave... so they graciously allowed me into the terminal.  The ferry took it's normal 30 minutes across the harbor and then - again, another line.  This one to get to the various shuttle buses lined up along Richmond Terrace to get people down to Fort Wadsworth.  What I didn't know was that the route for the shuttle buses went along the northwestern shore of Staten Island before cutting across to get to Fort Wadsworth - in total, another 40 minute trip, beleaguered by even more delays the closer we got to the fort.

Stressing about getting to Staten
Island on time...
Immediately upon arrival, as we exited the bus was where police officers efficiently screened runners.  Then it was a short walk (in my case, run) to the start village just beyond the gates of Fort Wadsworth. Except, when I got to the front gates, park police were not allowing people in because the UPS trucks for gear-check runners were just leaving, and the street they were crossing was right in the way.  By that time, it was 9:50 am, and as we were waiting, we heard the howitzer go off for Wave 1 and saw those runners (which included the elite men) headed up the ramp to the bridge in the distance.  After about five minutes, they finally let us through, and I scrambled to find the start area, going to many different volunteers who didn't know where I was supposed to go.  I finally found a NYRR staffer, who accompanied me to the grandstand alongside the runners in Wave 1 who had yet to even cross the startline.  I managed to get to the grandstand with SEVEN minutes to spare before I sang at 10:10.  Literally, the trip took me over THREE HOURS.  According to some regulars who have run multiple NYC marathons, getting to the start this year seemed to have taken much longer than in previous years.  I took a swig of water, and then went up on stage, and sang my heart out to thousands of people from all over the world, ready to run the legendary NYC Marathon.

And then it was my turn.  After a few minutes of celebration having just did what I just did (who can say they SANG at the start of the New York City Marathon?!!), I had to get myself ready to run the 26.2 miles myself.  There was no way I was going to get back to the corral to which I was assigned (the green group), as it was across the way, and I'd literally be going up stream from people, so as wave 3 began to descend upon the startline, I jumped into the closest area I could get to, which happened to be the blue group.  These colors only matter as they split up the runners on separate paths as they run either on the top or bottom level (ideally, the top is nicer, as you get the views - and the bottom -- well, rumor has it you could get peed on if you run on the bottom level, but honestly, it's just a rumor!), and then the routes also split as you get off the bridge for a couple miles in south Brooklyn before recombining at a certain point just past the 5k mark in Bay Ridge.

The startline of the
2015 NYC Marathon!
I got into my spot in Wave 3, and ran into Alexi, a friend of FRNY who many in my club met at last year's Gay Games and I had met two nights before at the Pasta Dinner, and was running in his first ever marathon.  We pumped each other up (thanks, I think, for the 5 hour energy! LOL) and then soon, we were off!  We sped off onto the Verrazano Narrows and clocked a very conservative first mile, at an expected 10:00 mile pace.  The second mile was nearly a minute and a half faster, as we went downhill and into south Brooklyn, as we were greeted by a makeshift "Yo! Welcome to Brooklyn, U.S.A." sign.  We turned onto 92nd Street, and then again onto 4th Avenue, where we joined up with runners in the orange group, and then continued along 4th Avenue all along the length of Brooklyn for the next six miles.  I did not realize how electric this part of the run would be - there were so many spectators cheering on runners on both sides of the road!

Heading onto the Verrazano Narrows Bridge
Entering Brooklyn!

Found Kendra at Mile 7!
We headed up from Bay Ridge up through Sunset Park, hit the 10k mark, then ran up a stretch of 4th Avenue that bounded Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill on the west and Park Slope and Prospect Heights on the east.  At mile 7, I knew to find my friend Kendra who was volunteering at a water station, who I was able to find and take a quick picture with before I continued on, slugging through past Atlantic Terminal and then along Lafayette Avenue as we crossed into Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, and even past the first apartment I lived in at Classon and Lafayette Avenues during the summer between my third and fourth years at Michigan.  We made the turn onto Bedford Avenue, and into the quieter section of south Williamsburg, dominated by Hasidic Jews cautiously veering past runners as they crossed the street and going about their business on a regular Sunday morning for them, and then eventually the busier section of Williamsburg through McCarren Park, and then into Greenpoint as we went along Manhattan Avenue, turning onto Greenpoint Avenue, and then onto McGuinness Boulevard before hitting the halfway point of the race along the Pulaski Bridge.

Metropolitan Ave and Bedford Ave

The halfway point!
By this point, I was able to run my first 13.1 miles in 2:10, almost exactly the same time it had taken me to run the first half of the Chicago Marathon in 2014.  We finally were in Queens, my home borough, and a very short section of the race that we would see for roughly two miles.  I continued to chug along and check for friends that may be cheering alongside the course and managed to see a few Front Runners, including my friend JJ, who was cheering with his boyfriend Michael at the 15 mile mark just before getting onto the Queensboro Bridge.  I stopped for a picture, and a quick sip of prosecco (as one would do at mile 15 of a marathon!) and then eased on down to the Queensboro Bridge.  I managed to miss my friend Alexis who was cheering at roughly the same point, unfortunately, but she was kind enough to post a picture of her sign on Facebook.

Prosecco stop...

On the Queensboro Bridge
The Queensboro Bridge was tough.  Not only is it just at a hard point in the race, it's an uphill climb to get over the crest of the bridge, and it's one of the quietest points in the race due to it being devoid of spectators.  This was where I walked for a bit for the first time in the race.  As we crossed the East River and neared Manhattan, one could hear the deafening crowd of cheers coming from 1st Avenue as runners come off of the bridge.  We began our descent at mile 16, and then headed northward on 1st Avenue, where the crowds were literally six or seven deep for MILES.  Even into Harlem.  It's a picture in my mind I won't ever forget, as it made such an impression on me.  I felt like I got a second wind as I travelled uptown through the canyonlike avenue with huge buildings on both sides of the wide street.  My pace wasn't nearly as good as it was at the beginning of the race, but I really was just trying to take in the awesomeness of the experience running up 1st Avenue.

The impressive crowds lining 1st Ave
The crowd thinned out as we got to East Harlem, and then crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, where we were greeted by some amazing music!  While on the bridge, I ran into a fellow FRNY member who was struggling, but gave him a little pep talk and pumped him up for the rest of the race.  The Bronx was alive and with lots of people lining the route and cheering us on! Another wind (a third wind) got me through the borough that I had initially thought would be devoid of people - but no, there were tons of people there!  Soon, we were crossing the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan.

Heading into the Bronx on the Willis Ave Bridge
Our short foray into the Bronx
Headed back into Manhattan

Finding Mimi at Mile 25
As we curved through the upper reaches of East Harlem and onto Fifth Avenue, we reached Marcus Garvey Park, which we would run around its northern, western, and southern boundaries, before running up Fifth Avenue to 90th Street at the Engineer's Gate where we run into Central Park.  At Marcus Garvey, I ran into another FRNY member, as well as my a cappella friend and fellow runner Sara, cheering for folks along the route.  After a little motivation from them (I was starting to slow a bit by this time, anticipating that the gradual Fifth Avenue climb was about to happen...), I made my way for the last long stretch of route.  Because my pace had slowed, this felt like it went on forever.  But still, tons of people cheering us on as the street numbers began to decrease.  I finally made my way to the Engineer's Gate and into Central Park, where we had our last three miles of the race.  I knew mile 24 was going to be the Front Runners station, so I had that going for me as I trudged on through, and then spotted Tara, the first of the Fronties on the left side of the street.  I managed to grab hugs from several of them, yet completely missed a whole section of FRNY folks cheering on the right side!  Sorry guys :(  A little while later, I spotted a former coworker, Mimi, and took a quick photo with her.  I continued on to the section where we exited the park and ran down Central Park South.

The last stretch on Central Park South
This part of the course felt like running through a New York City parade, with literally THOUSANDS of people lining the street.  So much motivation here as we ran down a relatively short section of street that just seemed to take FOREVER (seemingly these last few miles always do feel like they take forever!)  At last, we made our turn back into Central Park, and then it was only a matter of time with the last little climb before we could see the finish line in sight.

I made it across the finish mat in 4:57:21.  Not bad for my return to the marathon distance, as well as a race where I stopped quite a bit to see friends who were cheering from the sidelines.  Like Chicago last year, I teared up as I made it through the finish chute, and managed to find my friend Dave, who was handing out heatsheets to runners.  As expected, the finish chute was a long trudge, as we felt like cattle making our way to the exit along Central Park West.  Here was where we received our fleece-lined parkas, and it was quite a sight, seeing hundreds of runners all around me slowly making our way south down Central Park West to the closest exit/family reunions.  I decided to take my headstand photo here, as this seemed like an iconic enough location with the parade of blue ponchos walking behind me :)  I made my way to my friend Zander's who lived nearby and kindly opened up his home to runners for bag check, hot shower, and good food.  After some celebrating with my friends, I headed back home to Queens, and slept for a good long while before... you guessed it... waking up for a full day back to work on Monday morning.  LOL!

Victory Headstand!

Moments after finishing my first NYC Marathon!

Made it into the New York Times!!

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