New York City Marathon 1997 and 1998

In the beginning:  Marathon 1997

The seeds for this quest were sown with my return to recreational running as part of a weight loss program in 1990 .  I started running at night and on weekends.  Soon after, my friend Steve told me that there was a locker room and showers at work, and asked me to run with him.  I humored him and brought my gear for a one-time, noontime run.   That went ok so I did it another time even though it meant packing running gear to bring to work. 

To my own surprise, over the next few months I became a nearly everyday  runner.  I kept a log of daily distances and times.   I ran when it was over 90 degrees and below 0.   I ran on the weekends with neighbor and friend Andy.  I ran with the locker room regulars so that even on the days that Steve and I didn't hook up to run there might be someone else to run with or to commiserate with over the conditions.

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Not My Dream:

  The goal of many runners is to someday graduate from local and short distance competition and do a marathon.  Not so for me.  I always thought that I couldn't pit myself against the marathon distance.  I was sure I couldn't run that far without getting injured or just worn down.  And why chance failure?  I didn't need that kind of crusade.   I enjoyed the running I did, and I was satisfied with that.

 

The change:

    But in the spring of 1997, with a some 10k races and maybe two half-marathons under my belt, Ray, a locker room acquaintance, suggests that we apply for the NYC Marathon, probably just as an idle topic to pass the time while running.  I'd already been a spectator there in the 80's and it is one of the biggest and most famous races in the world, and it's in my home town and I would be 50 that year.

    I'm thinking, "this is fun to talk about.  Its more than 6 months away and anyway, we're not going to get in."  Next thing I know, we're looking up how to enter and wondering what our chances are.  There are several entry pools; NY-NJ-Conn runners, the rest of the country, and international runners, and even the Central Park line-up option.  We apply by mail in April but find ourselves on the waiting list in June.  Again, we ponder our chances of getting in.  We experiment with some longer runs together on the weekends but there's only a slight chance of us making it into the race.

    In July, the day before my 50th birthday, he tells me that the NYC Road Runner web site now shows I'm in and he isn't.  I face the reality of attempting something I never thought I'd undertake, and without my training partner.   It's 3 months away and I have major doubts about what I've gotten into.  But I'm in it for real now, and, I am turning 50.

The training:   

     I do my regular 4 mile week-day runs with Ray or whomever I can find.    I extend the distances on weekends (as the training guides advise), with runs along the Mohawk River on the bike path towards Rotterdam Junction.  I run again at night if the noon run was too short.  I try to run instead of driving when visiting my wife's family across town or in Scotia and Glenville.  I stretch the weekend runs to an hour, then 1.5.  Then nearly 2.    But, I fade and have to cut runs short.   I have diarrhea in the bushes along the route.  A few times I call Barb to pick me up when I just can't go the longer distances.  I don't panic, but this is hanging over me like the upcoming date of the world's hardest test, and I know I haven't studied enough.

    I pull off a final 3 hr. run of about 19 miles 3 weeks before the race.   This distance is unknown territory for me.  The last time I did this was in 1979 and 1980 for the old Schenectady to Albany Bankathon (and I was nearly 20 years younger).  But I'm not broken down the next day.  Now it's taper off time.   No more serious punishment.  Just rest and stay loose and try to find the mental place to sustain me through this.

 

The Day Before:

    I'm in NYC on Sat. for the Sports expo at the old NY Coliseum.  Barb, Rachel and I get a ride there in the rain, jump the line to get in and get my race number and UPS bag (to get my extra gear back to the finish line).  It's crowded but exciting to see so many other healthy-looking marathoners and famous names in running.

   Back at my folks house we make my custom designed T-shirt with my 'Life Imitates Art' logo.  I also do the shirts for my support team; my folks and wife and daughter.  We plan for them to meet me at various points along the route where I figure I can find them and where I think I'll get a needed boost from their assistance.

The 12 mile mark in Brooklyn (first spot for Barb and my folks).  Just before the Queensborough Bridge for my sister, Marsha (number 2).   First Ave. above 72nd St. for Barb again (#3).  Harlem at 130th St. and Madison for Barb's friend Teresa (#4).  And back in Central Park at the final 2 mile point for my family (#5).  It's a good plan.

 

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The Race: (This is based on a post I wrote on Nov. 9th 1997 to a runners' Mailing List)

I did my first marathon in NY last Sun. First... It was a totally great experience. As much as you've all heard about how great the cheering crowds are, it's even better than that.  Now as a first-time marathoner, and a Clydesdale [heavyweight runner], I was cautious and intimidated by what I had gotten myself into. But, turning 50 this year, and growing up in the Big Apple, I was not going to turn down the opportunity of running once I found out I had gotten in.

So, I have my wife drop me off at 6:45 Sun. morning at 42nd and 5th.  The runners are converging at the Library from every direction carrying their UPS drop bags (to take unneeded gear to the finish). The runners are visible from a half mile away walking the gray streets in heavy overcast (but very mild temps).  Immediately, I surrender to the crowd. There's a complete loss of personal discretion.  I go where the crowd goes. I shuffle along in the lines along 42nd street leading to the hundreds of buses that are arriving, 10 at a time, to pick us up at the front of the twin library lions on 5th Ave. I talk to a few others and get a taste of who the other participants are.

The bus ride to Staten Island was slowed by traffic being blocked from crossing the Verrazano Bridge.  I talked to a Brit living in NY running his first marathon. (Statistics for NYCM: 33% are first time marathoners, 33% are foreigners, 30% are women).

The crowds make the simplest things impossible. I spend 15 minutes just inching along to get into the staging area at Ft. Wadsworth. There are impossible lines for all of the food.  There is, as advertised, the "World's Longest Urinal".  300 feet of trough hanging from a fence with guys lined up 3 deep.  There are puddles and wet grass and all of the tents are packed.  There's no place to sit under cover from the threatening rain and not even a clear spot near a fence to get out of the way and take a nap or change clothes or keep from getting too wired.  I consider crawling under a vehicle or a stage but there are others there already.  I do manage to find a place to sit and and lay out my stuff.  I eat a bialy, lube my thighs, and pull my hat over my face for a few minutes.

I give up on getting my extra gear to the UPS trucks because the crowd moving that way is a frozen river of runners.  Finally, the crowd going that way thins, but it's now just 5 minutes to start time.  I merge with the crowd and shuffle towards the start, heading to my appointed corral. I should be in the 2nd men's corral (bib number X1403) just behind all of the women starters in the Red start area. This never happens. I'm in a solid crush of runners. The gun goes off. Cheers and whoops and no movement. Clothes, garbage bags, hats, gloves, and all other detritus worn in case of rain at the start get thrown around and become obstacles to feet for the first mile up the bridge. There's a strong tail wind and low clouds and I can see helicopters buzzing over the water of the narrows.

5 minutes of walking to get over the start line and 2 more of shuffling after that until the first real running stride, but I'm nearly overcome with emotion from being there.  I realize that I'm doing something I never thought would happen, but it is happening and I just swell with joy.

As I reach the first bridge towers, I see dozens of men urinating off on the side, their outlines silhouetted against the giant gray-green steel.   There are, bizarrely, some people I take to be, not runners, but foreign (Italian ?) tourists, walking over the bridge quite nonchalantly.  They're wearing matching nylon jackets and seem to be part of some kind of tour group.  I also talk to an older guy (60-ish) who is faster than I and claims to have marathon experience as well.

First mile in 15 minutes, and the 2nd in 25 and I'm off the bridge. There are runners in odd costumes (32 lb. rhinoceros suits, and Men In Black garb) and they're ahead of me.   And the spectators are everywhere, cheering, encouraging, wanting to make eye contact and have me acknowledge their support.  Kids stick out their hands just so you can touch their fingertips.  One snatches the damp gloves that I'm carrying.   Bands are playing on the sidewalk and under sheltered overpasses.  Water stops are a morass of slippery mashed cups for 2 blocks. Toilets have 3 deep waiting lines. But the crowds never stop cheering.

I designed my shirt to say "Life Imitates ART" in 2 colors which I thought was funny and clever and I figure will get the spectators to yell "Go Art" when they read it.  Doesn't work... They read the first two lines, ignore the 3rd and yell "Go Life Imitates" or "Go Life". The joke's on me!

Meet my folks at 11.75 feeling great.  Stop for pictures, drink some warm tea, and back into the fray. These neighborhoods of Brooklyn are unknown to me.   I see my sister at 14 before the approach to the 59th St. bridge for some vaseline re-application, and more tea.  (Water and Gatorade I can get anywhere).  Still feel fine but it's starting to rain now.  Cross the bridge doing better than some on the uphill side and actually suffer more on the downside.   Entering Manhattan and making the turn onto First Ave. is an experience that I had anticipated to be the high point of the race. The crowd is solid.  Faces blurring in the rain.  The noise a constant roar.  They're cheering for me and all the other back of the pack runners more than 2 hrs. behind the leaders.  (Their race was over before I crossed into Queens at the half marathon mark).

I see my wife, brother and mother (they were a great team) at 83rd St. just as we planned (a few blocks north of the biggest crowds). Just beyond, at 96th St. the deluge begins. It's warm so I'm comfortable, though drenched.  The crowds thin as I head up First Ave. and straight across the Willis Ave. bridge to the short zig-zig through the Bronx. The road has rivulets of water that I can't avoid.   Even in the hardest rains, the spectators (now fewer) are cheering and screaming excitedly to keep spirits up.  And it absolutely works.

I cross back into Manhattan and just before mile 21 get the support of more friends where I need it the most.  Just a mile more to the north end of Central Park.  But I'm starting to fear a leg cramp coming on so I slow to a walk.  I can walk fine but cannot run steadily more than a few hundred yards at a time.  As I get to the park, there's a steady building excitement as the crowd is saying "Just 2 miles to go". "You're almost there".

I'm walking the uphills, running the flats and downhills winding south.  Still feel great.  I just can't RUN.  I now know I'm going to finish but can figure that I won't break 5 hours. The crowd is determined to help me finish and encourages me to run when they see me walking.   A man gives me candy.  A women offers a banana.  I take half and tell her to give the rest to someone else.   I see my relatives at 24.5 and arrange to meet in the family reunion area whenever I get there.

I walk the uphill across 59th street but run the last half mile or so to the finish at 5:09 (5:04 my time).  I'm not cold or drained.  Just very pleased and calm.  Get my drop bag at the UPS trucks which line the roadway after the finish line for hundreds of yards. Other runners are taking off their wet gear and struggling to change.  I walk slowly north what seems a long way, unable to get free of the crowd of runners or out of the roadway since it's fenced in.  Then I have to walk part way around the big meadow to find my fans.  I change into dry gear under a tree and am quite comfortable, not chilled.

We walk cross town together to take the bus at Second Ave. I'm very up.  Free rides for marathoners.  No pain, no stiffness and not much speed either, but I'm in no rush now.  I relish every stare, talk too loud on the ride home and have the best time showing off my finisher's medal.

I'm so high from the race that I run my regular route (4 mi.) Mon. Tues. and Weds. at work just to be able to talk to my running buddies about the marathon.

A week later I'm still buzzing.  Ran a 15k race just for fun! (79 min.).  Seemed easy.

So, despite what you hear about marathons, slow pace, good hydration and relaxed attitude really paid off for me.

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As you can see, I finished.  I finished smiling and intact, and totally pumped up.

Go to Marathon 1998

Page Last Updated Dec. 2, 2001