Home > Running > 26.2.

26.2.

“This is a lot of effort to go through just to go through a lot of effort,” a lady said as we got off the Staten Island Ferry.

I wasn’t used to getting up this early, and I’d never been to Staten Island before. It was about 38 degrees, and we were all bundled up. The ferry was full of runners who would then be shuttled to the marathon’s start. I was texting my friend, Joshunda, who was also running.

“I’ll be under a tree in the Green area across from the Port-a-Pottys wearing a maroon shirt,” she typed.

“I’ll be the black guy,” I responded.

When we arrived to get to the race’s start, I had so little time to check my bag before my running group’s corral closed at the start that I couldn’t meet Joshunda, and in my scamble forgot to grab my Gu packets. I was worried I’d be spent by mile 7 with no fuel. I got in line to use the bathroom, and the dude next to me had a grip of them.

“Um, could borrow one of your gels?” He looked like Pete Campbell from Mad Men, only with blond hair. He seemed reluctant at first, since he’d planned out his refueling strategy and only brought enough to get him through that, but then handed one over.

“I’m going to meet up with my friends along the way who should have some, so here you go.” Pound-hug. Then I ran into Jason, who was also running with Groundwork, the non-profit for which I was running, and he had a grip of gels. “Take as many as you need!” But as I was packing my gels and fixing my clothes, I lost my left glove. Shit. It was brand new, black knit, with the name of each of NYC’s borough’s on each of the five fingers.

We started lining up for the race to start, and I fiddled  with my lone glove and chatted with this cat named Mark.  New Hampshire. Mid-30’s. Worked at an environmental consulting company cleaning up superfund sites. We were trying to run about the same time. He said he started running when he had kids. “I want to be around for them as long as possible.” Word. There were people disrobing and tossing all their hoodies and extra layers onto the ground as we got closer to our 9:40 start time. He pointed to the ground.

“Hey, is that a left glove?” It was gray and blue, and  didn’t match the other one. But I ain’t even care.

“This?” I said to Mark. “This is a good sign.”

When you cross the Verrazano Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn, it’s you and thousands of other runners, so there’s no sound but the whooshing of the wind over the Narrows and a thousand footfalls. If you you look out to your left you can see pretty much all of NYC, and to your right is South Brooklyn and open ocean. You don’t really mind the wind because of all the adrenaline and  and layers. We’d been given strict orders not to pee on the bridge, or risk disqualification; when I got down off the bridge on the Brooklyn side, there was a row of folks just peeing on walls. (The Port-a-potty lines at the start were mad deep.)

You come off the bridge at about Mile 2. There were smatterings of spectators on the overpasses, yelling “Welcome to Brooklyn! Go! Go! Go! Go!” Once you get on the expressway, there are some on-ramps before you’re actually on real streets in Bay Ridge. The route takes you right by folks’ homes, and some of them are outside on their stoops cheering you on.

Then you turn onto 4th Avenue.

There were literally thousands of spectators on either side of the street, yelling and cheering and chanting. If your name or country or cause was on your bib or shirt, the polyglot crowd would shout you out and cheer you on.

“Let’s go Emily!”

“Let’s go, Chile!”

There was a soca band playing on a corner in Sunset Park. There were little kids all along the route with their hands out, waiting for you to give them a five. (“Can I have your hat?” one of them asked.) There were people handing out orange slices, water bottles and paper towels. (My friend Kellie told me it’d be like a grocery store out on the course.) A little bit later there were some dudes wearing fitted baseball caps and gloves,  playing in a brass ensemble.  By the time you get to Park Slope, my old neighborhood, at around mile 6 or so, the crowd is like 8 deep. People were rooting on their friends. One runner a little ahead of me stopped, picked up his girlfriend who was standing on the sidelines, twirled her around for a few seconds, and kissed her after he put her back down.

I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!” she yelled. And he waved back to her, and he started running again, but this time much much faster.

We made the turn of Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene, which I’d been worried about, since it’s part of my normal run, and I know it’s a slow but steady incline. But by this point, I was sort of floating. This is the heart of my neighborhood, and everyone was out showing love. I raised my finger in the air.

“WHERE WE AT, BROOOOOOOKLYN?????”

Everyone started cheering louder. I was feeling no pain. We got to Emmanuel Baptist, the church on the corner of St. James and Lafayette, and their choir was out on the steps, singing as  runners went by. My barber, who I told I was running, was on the sidewalk waiting for me. I was completely surprised, but amped to see him there. He pointed his camera at me. I threw a finger into the air. And I noticed that almost against my will, i was running faster, too.

The crowds thin out a little when you get to Bed-Stuy, before you start working your way north again. The route takes you through Williamsburg, which is home to a large Hasidic community. The folks who there just kind of stood on the side, looking mildly  annoyed. Monica was going to meet me around this point to jump in for a mile — apparently lots of people’s friends do this to support — but we couldn’t find each other. I did see the folks from Groundwork, who staked out a spot on Bedford Avenue to root for their runners. I slowed down a second for hugs and cheers.

There’s a long climb from there into Hipster Williamsburg, which was again, packed with people. There were rock bands on the corners, mad people with pom-poms in front of bars, and they were practically on the course because the sidewalks were so narrow. There was a man dressed like a giant banana, handing out bananas to runners as they went by. I’m pretty sure I’d been smiling for the first 10 miles.

From there you head over the Pulaski Bridge from Greenpoint and then to Long Island City in Queens. These are industrial neighborhoods, and while there are people cheering, it’s a little more sparse. I didn’t realize until then that i’d turned off my iPod hours ago to take in everything. I put on my Welcome-to-Queens song and we kept up on quieter streets for a few miles. It was around here that things got kind of eerie. There are no spectators on the bridges, and since they necessarily have climbs, everyone sort of digs in and concentrates on their strides and their pace.  After the short jaunt through L.I.C., you turn onto the Queensboro Bridge. It’s a long, long, long climb, and it was the first juncture at which I saw people begin completely walking or stopping to stretch. It’s dark and windy, and it’s just the sound of the torrent of footfalls again. No one was really floating any more.

But when you get off the Queensboro, you’re on Manhattan’s East Side, on First Avenue,  which is jarring. This is the widest boulevard of the whole course, and we were  spit out of the dark, ugly bridge into the wide open sunlight, into what felt like the middle of a Yankees’ championship parade. It seemed like the whole city had funneled to the marathon course.

Go Bruce!”

Go Italy!”

You almost don’t notice that you’re on a hill from the mid-60s all the way up into East Harlem.

From Harlem we cross into the Bronx real quick, and there’s a band playing merengue.

“Welcome to the Bronx!” the MC yells. “Vamanos!”

This is The Wall. Those 8:30’s i was bustin’ out at Mile 10 are a thing of the past, and even though we’re heading back downtown into Manhattan on a much-needed down slope for a few miles, no one seems to be using it to make up for any lost time. We’re all starting to look, well, like we’re running a marathon.

When we get back into Harlem again, I put my head on a swivel looking for Cindy and Sean. I see them between 126th and 127th, and Cindy’s holding up a big sign. Sean is holding up his fancy camera. I run over and hug them both. “What’s up, dog?” Sean asks. I can’t remember if I responded.  I was elated, although I think I was sort of subverbal at that point. Maybe I grunted. I was just trying to keep from stopping. A little while down from where Sean and Cindy were, there was a bandstand with a funk band playing, fronted by a lady with dope hair. But I couldn’t even focus at that point.

This? This was the hard part. In my years of running, I’ve never had a tougher run than here, at Mile 23. It’s Museum Mile, and it’s absolutely gorgeous: the street is covered by a canopy of trees, and the leaves are falling ahead of you. But it’s a mile — maybe more — uphill. And those beautiful old trees obstruct your view of what’s ahead, so you can’t see where the runners drop off the horizon, where the hill might suddenly, mercifully end. “Go! Go!” The crowd is shouting. “You’re almost there! It’s not far!” I wanted to be like, then motherfucker, why don’t YOU come out here and do it??? But that would have required energy.

There’s something that happens when you’re a regular runner that’s hard to explain to folks who don’t: you’re never out of wind. You’re never out of breath, you’re never sucking in air, unless you’re coming down from a sprint, and even then, you can get your rhythm back pretty quickly. No, the big problem at mile 23.5, part-way up an interminable hill, with the sunlight glaring off the street, is the crushing fatigue. Every step is feels heavier, slower. There’s no reservoir of energy left to tap into, and you’re not even thirsty, really. You just want to stop. It’s at this point that a para-athlete, a dude with giant prosthetic running legs, bounds by me. Fine, universe. I get it. And then you’re up the hill. It doesn’t feel good really. It just feels over.

You turn into Central Park, which is hilly and a great run on most days — I’ve run it with Cindy and Kellie — but at this point, you’re counting down. I  only have a mile and a half left. The crowds are improbably even more dense. We  leave the park once more, and exit at Central Park South. There’s only a half mile left at this point, and I have about 5 minutes to finish under my goal of four hours. I sort of imagined I’d be all emotional and lachrymal at this point, but in the moment, I really just wanted it to be done. I think back to all the times during training when I banged out a half-mile in a little over 3:15, and they seem like a long time ago, like someone else’s effort. I have no meaningful relation to that ability at 25.7 miles. I turn on my power song , but can coax no extra strength from my legs. I was kicking and kicking and kicking and if I had to guess, I’m sure I wasn’t breaking 6 mph, and I couldn’t even hold that for long.

Then up on my right comes Pete Campbell. Pound-hug. Big smiles.

“Did you make out OK with the Gu?” I asked. “Yeah, I ran into my people. You?”

“Yeah, me too!”

And then we turn back to running. It’s 3:58 on my watch when we enter Central Park for the last time,  at mile 26. I have 2 minutes to do two-tenths of a mile. It’s not happening. I’m pushing and pushing, but cruelly, the finish line is at the top of a small hill. There are cameras with high-powered lenses pointing at all of us as we cross. I look down at my watch.

4:01:51.

You don’t really get just how spent you are until you stop.  I felt so dizzy that I had to grab a wall. After a minute or so, I walked over to get my finisher’s medal, and to the row of people handing out those foil blanket things, which are completely implausible. “Congratulations!” the marathon volunteers say, cheerily. Then I went to the food and fuel station, where they were handing out bags filled with fruit and pretzels and recovery drinks. I sat down, gingerly, on a curb under a tree and tore into an apple so perfect and delicious that it must have been snatched from the Tree of Knowledge itself.

It was still chilly out.

Advertisements
Categories: Running Tags:
  1. November 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Congrats, man. You’re really inspiring. Between you and Cindy, you’ve got me checking out marathon training plans and what-not

    • November 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

      you should do it. you should absolutely do it. and when you do, i’ll be there with a sign.

  2. November 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Wow! That is amazing and inspirational. Amazingly inspirational! Well done! As someone that is currently very proud of having finished my first 5K, a marathon is only something I dream about. But the one you just described sounds like one worth working towards. Impressive!

    • November 9, 2010 at 3:23 am

      Thank you! How long have you been running?

      • February 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm

        Hi, omg I’m only 3 months late with the reply, didn’t realise how comments work on here. I’ve been running outdoors since March ’10, so still pretty much a beginner. But I do get lost in it everyonce in a while and that I what I imagine a really long run is like. Well, just signed up for my first 10K so maybe that marathon isn’t so impossible?

  3. Setta
    November 9, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Had no idea you were running! I’m so out of the loop. Well, congratulations!!!

  4. Marc
    November 22, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Who would think that there were only a handfull of guys named Gene Running the Marathon? I took a Shot and looked up your time by first name- Tracked you down, Wanted to say Congratulations! and thanks for the chat prior to the race it calmed my nerves to talk with someone who was in a similar place. Glad we found the glove- some serious good Karma at the right time. Take Care!

    Marc (Kat from New Hampshire) 🙂

    • November 22, 2010 at 11:08 am

      !

      this comment just made my day!

      it’s great to hear from you, man! Congrats to you as well!

  5. November 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    So enjoyed this post! I learned about it thru Syreeta McFadden who is in a ebook The Audacity of Humanity http://bit.ly/d1M0JS

  1. November 8, 2010 at 4:29 pm
  2. November 8, 2010 at 7:01 pm
  3. November 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: