Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Sunday in the Park...Eventually.

A few final thoughts from Yours truly regarding the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon.  First, it is an extraordinarily difficult race, run over a challenging (and for runners of my skill level, one more than one occasion, daunting) course.  I managed to complete it in 5:17:26, which works out to a "robust" (if you view that term through the broadest prism possible) 12:07 per mile pace.  I had hoped to complete it in five hours or less.  It was a goal that I failed to attain. Next year, perhaps. 

My sister, Jill, is an extraordinary woman.  My brother-in-law, Russ, is an extraordinary man.  Each of them is extraordinary for any number of reasons, which reasons include that each of them (I am younger than both) has completed this race in a time that is significantly better than the result I achieved on Sunday.  I am awed by their ability.  I am humbled by the amount of good counsel that I have received from each of them since I took up running as my principal recreational and exercise activity approximately six years ago and the support I receive for my efforts  which, to be blunt, pale in comparison to their own.  

Second, the Marathon is a singularly extraordinary event.  Usually, I run accompanied by music.  On Sunday morning I began my ascent of the Verrazano Bridge with my iPod fastened to the waist of my shorts and headphones implanted in my ears.  I had pre-loaded five and one-half hours of music onto my iPod for the Marathon.  My goal may very well have been to complete the course in five hours but being Irish, my preference for realism over optimism is deeply ingrained.  It is in my DNA.  

A funny thing happened on the way to Central Park.  I listened to not more than four or five songs on my iPod.  On the Verrazano, I was too busy enjoying the chatter of all of the runners around me to turn on the music.  I did not start listening until we were working our way north through Brooklyn, first on Third Avenue and thereafter on Fourth Avenue.   Almost as soon as I started to listen to music, I regretted my decision to do so.  It isolated me.  It removed the sounds of the City from my Marathon experience.  I quickly grew tired of my not-so-splendid isolation.  I turned off my iPod, unplugged my headphones, and after rolling them up I placed them in the right front pocket of my shorts.  They remained there for the rest of the day.  I did not miss them.  Not even a little bit. 

My goal in every race of this distance in which I have participated is to make it from the starting line to Margaret.  Every family member and friend who kept a watchful eye on my progress via the Internet aided me in realization of that goal, which I appreciate more than I can adequately express.  I shall be forever grateful to Gidg, Jeff, and Lynne for accompanying the Missus and me on our adventure in NYC this past weekend.  Without them, Margaret would not have been able to have had the day that she enjoyed.  Jeff, who works in the City, knows his way around town like a native.  He led my four-member Fan Club on an excursion that began in Lower Manhattan (where we were all staying) to Midtown (where the quartet used his office as a temporary holding area for their weekend luggage) and then out onto the Marathon course.    

Prior to Sunday, I had completed three other marathons.  At each of them, I only saw Margaret for the first time at the finish line.  Not this Sunday.  

As the group of people with whom I was running powered our way up Bedford Avenue, which is (according to the Course Map) located in the northern part of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, my Gang O' Four was there, cheering and yelling for me.  Although I was running up the left side of the street and they were standing at the rope line on its right side, I heard them and I saw them.  It was a simply terrific feeling.  

I under-trained for the Marathon.  It was not my intention to do so.  Intentions matter not in such an instance.  I tend to cramp when I run distances of longer than 13.1 miles.  My less-than-ideal training coupled with my cramping history almost proved disastrous on the long, torturous slog from Queens into Manhattan, which was made on the Queensboro Bridge, an example of infrastructure as sadism if ever one has been erected.  By the time I had completed a river crossing that made me understand much better why George Washington preferred to use a canoe for such journeys, my left leg was cramping so terribly that I questioned - and not merely for a second - whether I could complete the final ten miles of the race.  

I battled self-doubt as we began our journey north through Manhattan and into the Bronx.  In the Marathon, you enter First Avenue in Manhattan at 59th Street and you remain on it - always running north - past 125th Street until (using yet another of New York City's bridges - the Willis Avenue Bridge) you cross into the Bronx.  It is a long straightaway of more than three and one-half miles. 

I love seeing my wife every day.  However, in close to a quarter-century together, I am unaware of any time when I have been happier to see her than I was on Sunday afternoon as she manned a post on First Avenue, alongside Gidg, Jeff, and Lynne.  I did not know until the moment I laid eyes upon Margaret how I would react to seeing her.  

In retrospect, I should have lied when she asked me how I was doing.  In a moment of regrettable candor, I responded, "not well".   As I continued onward, my words resonated with her.  She told me after the race that as Jeff led them to their final post of the day, which was in the Finish Line Grandstand, she was genuinely concerned about my well-being. 

The cramping in my legs continued rather mercilessly for most of the trek up First Avenue.  I never stopped moving forward but I covered those three and one-half miles in a combination stride that was partially a fast walk and partially a run.  As seems to happen to me though when I undertake a marathon, I found a fellow traveler who was struggling with the same issue.  Ernie and I kept each other company for most of the trip up North up First Avenue, feeding off of the energy of the crowds that lined the street on both sides and laughing at our own middle-aged infirmity.  We lost sight of each other in the Bronx but, amazingly, reconnected just past the finish line.  

The Marathon spends scant little time in the Bronx but for the brief period of time that I was there, I enjoyed the hell out of myself.  The street was full of spectators and there was a steel drum band on one block, a DJ on another, and a four-member band of young musicians (each of whom was young enough to be my son) playing on a third.  The energy level in the Bronx - as it was everywhere on the course - was palpable.  

It is in the Bronx that the Marathon reaches its northernmost point, at Mile 21.  As the course turned south, back into Manhattan, my leg cramps became controllable and my own energy level surged.  Harlem was a festival of sound, with music blaring and people cheering.  The crowd support for those of us on the course is remarkable, especially when one considers that the wave in which I ran, Wave 4, did not begin our race until shortly after 11:00 am.  The first runners onto the course on Sunday morning began their race at 9:00 am.  As I ran south through Manhattan, I had been on the course for at least four hours, which meant that it was already later than 3:00 pm.  Yet, thousands of people remained on the street, cheering for ham and eggers such as Yours truly to finish what we had started.  

Five hours, seventeen minutes, and twenty-six seconds (or roughly two and one-half times longer than it took the first-place finisher), I did.   

And yesterday morning, while reading some news articles on-line, I came across this piece on the Brothers Pease.  It is too beautiful to not share.  A story of a Sunday in the City.  

Well, maybe not just any Sunday...


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