Friday, August 10, 2018

Race Report: 2017 TCS New York City Marathon

My custom back bib!
NYC Marathon race week is always a hectic, but fun time for me since I started participating in distance races in 2014 - and actually paying attention to the huge event happening on the first Sunday of November in New York City.  The 2017 edition of the race would be my 54th lifetime marathon, and my second NYC Marathon. Thursday is the first day of the expo, held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan, and is always the least crowded day to visit the race expo, one of the largest of its kind in the world.  Back in 2015, when I ran my first NYC Marathon (and only my 2nd lifetime marathon at the time), Asics announced it was ending its sponsorship as the official footwear and apparel partner of the New York City Marathon after 25 years at the 2016 edition of the race, and in 2017, New Balance would take over.  This came as great news to me, as my running shoe of choice is the New Balance Zante, so this would mean some special edition shoes specifically for the NYC Marathon.  This year's race expo, much like previous years, was massive, and the New Balance merchandise section was IMMENSE; if 1/3 of the expo was bib and t-shirt pickup and another 1/3 was all of the other vendor booths, the last 1/3 was JUST the New Balance section alone.  I met my friend Sacha on the subway train in Queensboro Plaza before taking the 7 into the city to the Hudson Yards station to walk to the convention center; we spent nearly two hours traversing the space to take in as much of the expo as we could.

At the screening of "Boston"
At 8pm, I left the Javits Center to go to the Marathon Pavilion, a tent erected adjacent to Tavern on the Green Restaurant in Central Park, serving as the onsite "headquarters" for the race, just steps from the marathon finish line.  At 8:30, there was a screening of the ~2 hour feature film documentary, "Boston," a comprehensive history of the 120+ year history of the race.  It was quite good, capturing the audience with a series of stories introducing the different eras of the race, and some of the unique quirks about its runners since the beginning of the 20th Century, even showing the early shoe types that were used. One of the standout moments was being able to watch the video footage of Kathrine Switzer's then-boyfriend shoulder checking former race director Jock Semple as he attempted to remove her numbers during the race -- most have seen the photos, but this was the first time I had ever seen video!  After the film, four-time champion Bill Rodgers held a Q&A session sharing stories of his times racing on the course and running races the world over.

It's official, here's my NYCM bib!
The following day after work, I headed into town meeting up again with Sacha at the marathon pavilion to watch the tail end of the opening ceremonies, an Olympic-style parade of nations down the finish line which ended with a spectacular fireworks show!  We then headed to Rutgers Presbyterian Church to attend Front Runners' annual pasta dinner, where we got to chow down on pasta and also chat with friends from my run club in anticipation for the race.

Starbucks stop before the 5K
(Photo by Aidin Esparza)
I headed home that night to get some sleep as I had an early wake up call to head to JFK Airport to retrieve my friend Aidin, who was arriving in NYC from San Diego via Phoenix just for marathon weekend.  Her flight arrived at 5:30am, so I got to the AirTrain station in Jamaica in time to meet with her; I was picking her up to then take her to my apartment to drop off her bags, allow her to change into some running clothes, and then head into town, as we had both signed up for the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5K, a huge 5k race that starts in front of the United Nations on 1st Avenue.  On our way in, we still had enough time to make a stop at a nearby Starbucks, for me to grab a venti mint tea with honey, as needed, since my throat had been bothering me since Thursday - and not only did I have to run a 5K and a marathon, I had to sing at both, too!  We filtered in over to 1st Avenue, where some 11,000 people were congregating to begin the 5K.  I headed over to the start area, The highlight of the morning before the race had to be meeting legendary American marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson, who was the first ever women's Olympic marathon champion when she won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the year that the women's marathon was introduced.
With legendary marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson
A bearhug from Peter Ciaccia!
On a beautiful morning right in front of the imposing UN Secretariat Building, I sang the national anthem at the start, my second time for this particular race.  After I finished, NYC Marathon race director and president Peter Ciaccia gave me a huge unexpected bearhug that got captured in a photo! I then rushed back into the corrals with Aidin, waiting awhile before it was our turn to cross the start mat.  We ended up meeting a German tourist named Elisa, who would be running her first marathon the next day.  As per usual, the route is pretty impressive - after running south along 1st Avenue, we turn right onto 42nd Street past Grand Central Station, before turning right again onto 6th Avenue, running past Radio City Music Hall and all the way up to Central Park South. Again, we turned right to the southeast corner of the park, followed by a turn into Central Park before following the main road in the park to the finish line (the same finish line as the NYC Marathon) at 67th Street, next to the Marathon Pavilion. I took it easy, managing to complete the 3.1 miles in 30 minutes, and finishing right alongside Elisa.

Enjoying some AirRelax boots!
(Photo by Pete Krogulski)
Afterward, I waited around to find my friends Donna, Dana, and Julie, with their friends after the race - after a short photoshoot, Aidin and I then beelined our way over to Rutgers Church at 73rd and Broadway to attend the annual Front Runners New York (my run club) pancake breakfast! The place was packed, as usual, and I got to introduce Aidin to many of my friends who would be running the race as well.  After the breakfast, Aidin and I headed down to the Javits Center and to the marathon expo (once again for me)  for her to pick up her bib, and also buy any race related merchandise (which she did quite a bit of!)  We spent WAY too much time at the expo again, but I ended up getting to see my friend Arland, who was selling shirts he had made at a booth, as well as use the AirRelax compression boots that he was also touting, just as we ran into a Black Sheep Run friend, Pete.  I ended up buying a set, which would be delivered to me a few weeks later!  I also ran into my friend Kevin Rutherford, CEO of Nuun Hydration, who introduced me to Michael Wardian, who I have actually been running at similar races at - the only difference was, he was winning them.

At the NYC Marathon expo with elite marathoner Michael Wardian and Nuun Hydration CEO Kevin Rutherford
Pre-race dinner
(Photo by Donna Dullys)
After the expo, we head back to my apartment to rest for a little bit, while Aidin fixed up her bags; this would be a VERY quick trip for her, as she was going to rush out of Manhattan to make a 6:30pm flight out of JFK after the race on Sunday!  We had organized some unique logistics, thanks to Donna (who was able to set up a bag drop for her at her workplace right near the finish line), for her to be able to retrieve her bags quickly and be on her way as soon as she finished.  That night, we headed back into city for a pre-race dinner with many of my friends at Polpette on the Upper West Side, hosted by Donna.  It was a whirlwind of a day, and we were both wiped out by the end of it, so we were very eager to get to bed and rest up since the race was the next morning; and despite the later start, we had a very early wake up call in order to get ourselves from Queens all the way to the start on Staten Island!
In my kit ready to go for my second NYC Marathon!
With Sydney FR and new friend Cyril!
After a far too short night's sleep, we woke up to a 5:30am alarm.  Thank God, though, for Daylight Savings Time ending that night... because of "fall back," we were able to fit in an extra hour of sleep!  We left my apartment at approximately 6:15, getting on the subway into Manhattan, then getting to the Whitehall Terminal at the southern tip of the island by 7:30 for the Staten Island Ferry. "So far so good," I thought.  This trip to the marathon startline was going WAY better than the 3 hours it took for me in 2015. We were on a ferry boat pretty quickly, and while waiting ended up meeting Cyril, originally from France but wearing a Sydney Frontrunners jersey! After the 25 minute trip across the harbor, we arrived at St. George Ferry Terminal, where we were met with long lines to get to the shuttle buses along Richmond Terrace.  Luckily, the buses constantly kept driving up around the corner, quickly filling up with runners to take them to Fort Wadsworth.

With Almi and Aidin in Ft. Wadsworth
(Photo by Almi del Villar)
We finally got into the athlete's village at 9:00 am, which made me far more comfortable, because getting there in 2015 was such a harried mess. In the meantime, Aidin and I randomly ran into our friend Almi as we entered the village, surprising considering the sheer amount of people milling about.  I had roughly 45 minutes before getting to the start area/grandstand alongside the runners in Wave 1, which I knew was not the easiest to get to, having to get past a few barricades, and then literally having to go through the bridge ramp's substructure to get to the other side of the runners.  Nearly 40 minutes went by, trying to figure out how to get to the start area while I struggled to get in touch with a NYRR staff person (once again, like 2015) to accompany me to the start area, but eventually I arrived there at around 10am, but at least the staffers knew I was in close proximity! As I waited, the cloudy skies gave way to the forecasted drizzle that would affect the race for the rest of the day.  I was given about 15 minutes of time to prep before going out there and singing God Bless America at the start of wave 2, singing with lots of fervor, before waiting for Wave 3's corrals to come into the start area and jumping in line with all of them!


Waiting to cross the start mat!
With the boom of the howitzer, we were off to run 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York City, starting off under a light drizzle.  So far, the wind wasn't too bad, especially in the first 1.5 miles, making a tough climb as we cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn. I moved into the "orange" side of the bridge, on the top level, and followed their route as we headed into Brooklyn. The downhill off the bridge into Brooklyn was nice.  Within each wave start, runners are grouped into three different color categories - orange, green, and blue - where some will run on the lower level of the bridge, some on the upper level; and then upon arrival into Brooklyn, some runners take a slightly different route, taking into account the narrower streets.  Eventually, all three color routes began to run together as we began to run up 4th Avenue, watching the numbered streets get lower as we progressed through various neighborhoods - from Bay Ridge into Sunset Park, and up to Park Slope, eventually reaching the 8 mile mark.  All the while, the drizzle continued, but so many spectators were along the route cheering us on!
Crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge!
Continuing up 4th Avenue
While in Park Slope, I found a spectator holding their deliciously cute corgi, which of course, I stopped to take a selfie with... while he licked my sweaty face!  We turned right onto Lafayette Avenue, running into Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Bed Stuy - and suddenly, I end up running into my friend, Broadway actress Jaygee Macapugay, on the right side of the course! Of course, I stop for a picture with her... and then lo and behold, I find YET another corgi - who knew I'd locate two corgis on the New York City Marathon course within three miles of each other! 
Love Jaygee!
As we continued along Lafayette Avenue eastward, we wandered into Clinton Hill, a neighborhood with a special place in my heart, as my very first New York City apartment was located here, when I came to live in NYC for the summer of 2005, between my junior and senior years of college.  We would end up passing right by the intersection of Classon and Lafayette Avenues, where my apartment was located, stirring up so many old memories from over twelve years ago... of course I had to document it, but in my runners' haze, I blurted out the wrong year.. LOL.  The crowds, despite the rain were still thick with people cheering us on... truly the most amazing part of this race is having SO many people out there for us, regardless of how the weather was!

Running through Greenpoint
Eventually, we turned left onto Bedford Avenue, as it curves its way northward. As per usual, one of the quietest section of the course, other than crossing the bridges, was through South Williamsburg, a largely Hasidic Jewish part of Brooklyn.  As we continued north, it got nice and rowdy as we ran through trendy Williamsburg, and quite exciting as we turned onto Manhattan Avenue and the uphill trek into the neighborhood of Greenpoint.  After turning onto Greenpoint Avenue for a block, we emerged onto the open road of McGuinness Boulevard, with another upward trek as we crossed the Pulaski Bridge into Queens.  We'd encounter perhaps the windiest part of the race, so far - definitely chilly with no buildings blocking us.  And all the while, still a misty rain.  I'd hit the halfway point of my race in about 2:18 and change.
A very good pop-culture reference sign, a la Stranger Things, at mile 11 in Williamsburg
Reaching the halfway point...
...and moments later, entering Queens!
We only ran a couple of miles in Queens, as we wound our way through Long Island City.  All of a sudden, we had our first moment of dryness, with no drizzle for us, but it only lasted about five minutes.  We weaved through the largely industrial area of Long Island City, passing by a station where the LGBT Big Apple Corps was playing.  Eventually, we hit mile 15, and I took my first GU of the race.  We turned left onto the ramp onto the south lanes of the Queensboro Bridge, another very quiet section of the course.  Somehow, I started to feel really dizzy - perhaps it was a mix of GU and Gatorade that messed with my head - so I ended up walking nearly the entire bridge, clocking in a painfully slow 16 minute mile in the process. I definitely felt like I really needed toe at something.

The deafening roar of spectators!
As I did two years ago, I sped up a tiny bit as we took the downhill ramp onto the raucous 59th Street, which curves around to 1st Avenue. I immediately head straight to the onslaught of spectators, begging anyone for a little bit of food to help settle my stomach - luckily, someone hands over to me a small bag of pretzels, which moments after ingesting, reinvigorates me.  Seems that was all I needed! I made my way under the overpass, quickly stopping to adjust my shoes, using a bar to keep myself steady, but not realizing its covered in black dirt, muddying up my hands.  Oh, the joys of living in NYC.

An amazing sign along 1st Avenue
I start making my way up the long, long run along 1st Avenue, absolutely loving the sheer amount of people cheering us on. As soon as I could, I got to the first hydration station I could find to wash the grime off of my dirty hands.  Knowing that it's a straight shot north with no end in sight, I play a game of counting down all the streets as I head uptown, and thankfully, the miles seem to go by much quicker.  I joke around with other runners, including a few Aussies along the way, yelling out "Aussie Aussie Aussie," as the joined me in responding: "oi oi oi!"

We reached East Harlem, just past 96th Street, at the mile 18 mark, roughly 3 hours and 21 minutes into the race. Suddenly, runners are being forced to move clear to the left of wide 1st Avenue, as a fire broke out in what looked like a public housing building alongside the course.  Firetrucks respond to the scene, and runners could easily smell the putrid smoke permeating the air.  It makes me feel a bit nauseous, but dissipates not long after, as I continue northward.  I'd end up seeing my good friend, and avid marathoner Ken pass me by right around this point of the race.  It turns out I had quite a few friends cheering up in the Upper East Side/East Harlem section of the course, yet didn't spot them... totally missing my cousins Jonday and Pia, and my college friend Sumana; but I did spot my friend Lynn at 125th Street!

"Welcome to the Bronx"
Eventually, our first run through Manhattan ended, as we continued northward across the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, curving our way for about 1.5 miles through the borough.  We'd eventually hit mile 20, the infamous wall!  The Bronx was quite exciting, as lots of folks were cheering us on along 138th Street, as we made a short turn around along Morris and Rider Avenues, before continuing through to the last bridge of the race - the Madison Avenue Bridge. At mile 21, we crossed the bridge back into Manhattan, which was probably the easiest of all five bridges to cross (as the uphill section was much shorter), then turned left onto 5th Avenue.

Finding my cousins at
Marcus Garvey Park!
I knew very well how hard the last six miles of this course would be... 5th Avenue was going to be elusively uphill, and we would be faked out of thinking we were close to Central Park, as we still had to trace the perimeter of Marcus Garvey Park at 125th and 120th Streets. I hoped to spot friends who were at the Harlem Chamber of Commerce tents in the park, but they had already left, however I did know that my cousin Rafael and his wife would be at the bottom of the park at 120th Street!  Seeing them was a good bump to help me before I began one of the hardest parts of the course - the 1.5 mile uphill slog along 5th Avenue from 120th Street to 90th Street.  I decided to play a little five block/one block run/walk for those 30 blocks, and the uphill definitely didn't feel as awful as I thought it would be, as I watched the blocks tick down.  Along the way, I ended up finding Aidin, who was struggling in the last four miles of the race. Another friend, pacer Julia, would pass me by with her 4:40 crew.

Eventually, 90th Street came into view, and the turn into Central Park at Engineer's Gate was finally in reach. Thankfully the first quarter mile in the park is relatively flat, and once I reached mile 24, I reached my running club's water station.  After getting cheers from many of them along seeing me as I passed, I soldiered on, struggling through the veritable hills of Central Park, knowing I would be very close to finishing the race near the 5 hour mark, but it could still be possible for me to run under 5.  I hit the 40K mark with just over a mile left to go in 4:47:15.

At the southeast corner of the park, we exited onto 59th Street, also known as Central Park South, where we ran westward along the park's southern border.  This was another tough section because of how tired I already was, despite the flatness of the street. But I knew it was the last stretch before getting into Central Park, and wow, the amount of spectators out there cheering us on!  Just before turning back into the park at Columbus Circle, I saw the jumbotron displayed on the right, and was thrilled to see the results of the elite's races, realizing that American Shalane Flanagan had won the women's race, the first to do so in forty years!

Victory Headstand!
We had 0.4 of a mile left in the race as we re-entered Central Park, with an uphill as we made our way past the 65th Street transverse to the finish line.  I wasn't able to run under 5 hours, as I hoped -- but managed a 5:02:16.  As expected, it got crowded past the finish line, as all of us finishers slowed to a walk as we progressed about another half mile along West Drive in order to get to 77th Street where those of us who didn't check a bag would get our post race ponchos.

We trickled out of the park and onto Central Park West, and I headed south, with the objective to get to the Time Warner Center to do my obligatory Victory Headstand photo.  There was quite a bit of pedestrian traffic in the area as with most big city finish lines, high security was in place -- Columbus Circle, in particular, had enormous trucks filled with sand deployed throughout the plaza. Eventually, I found a stranger to help me with taking the photo for my headstand.

NYCM finishers!
With comfort knowing Aidin was off to the airport, I headed back home to Queens to shower; a few hours later, I headed back into the city for a much needed dinner, arranged by my friends at Keen's Steakhouse at Herald's Square.  I enjoyed a delicious steak meal in the upstairs seating area with my friends Pretty and Sandra and all of their friends, most of whom came to the race all the way from California.  The dinner also doubled as a birthday celebration for fellow runner Katrina!  Almi had come to the restaurant, dining separately with her family downstairs.  I headed home that night exhausted after a very long day, but thrilled to have been able to accomplish yet another New York City marathon!
A delicious steak to celebrate another NYCM finish!
At work on Monday morning, displaying my hard-earned bling!

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