Monday, November 26, 2007

No Wetsuit in Central Park

… not because there was a triathlon, but because No Wetsuit Girl hit NYC over the weekend. And coming off of her fine performance in that Thanksgiving Day race in Salem and sporting a fresh technical shirt for all the trouble, she managed a nice Central Park five miles on a crisp Saturday morning.

Meeting between the Apple Store on 59th and 5th and The Plaza Hotel, we made our way into the park, which was quieter than usual. It was under 30 degrees out there, and before I could make the comment that there were goofy runners wearing shorts out there, she beat me to it. I knew it was her, right then and there.

Well, the hills aren’t always easy, but I, Cranky talked and talked while we ran over all those nasty little inclines. Later, C. & C. got to hang with the Saturday morning Front Runners over coffee as the running club discussed recent race performances, which is SO ten minutes ago. And got to see Tim-the-runner-who-just-ran-a-60K-because-he’s-crazy, too.

So thank you, Femme Sans Wetsuit, for joining me on a fine run in the park and letting me play tourguide, and yap the whole time. If I do indeed sign up for that Patriot Triathlon in July (I guess that’s a newsflash that I actually just used the T-word), you’ll know, and you'll be partly responsible for another one of my insane life decisions. But we are ALL enablers, and that’s NOT a newsflash.

I hope you had a good time in the city. Come on back whenever you’re ready, and that goes for anybody else out there who’d like to run circles in the park and listen to me describe the frickin’ hills ahead…

- R.

P.S. Good luck with the move, so to speak, see you at the new digs tomorrow…

Friday, November 23, 2007

iPod Friday 22

Somehow I tripped over this rock band or something called ‘Baconflex’. They’re from Denmark, and of course, they have the obligatory MySpace page if you want to check them out, but they have this tune that’s all glam-rock synthpop, and called ‘Don’t Stop Running’. You could fill your hard drive up with tunes about or containing the word ‘run’ in it, but this one has lyrics that scream ‘ultramarathon’. Maybe it’s me, but all I hear is a fun little song about running for hours and hours. Oh well, you decide…

Baconflex – Don’t Stop Running

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Race Report: Knickerbocker 60K

I ended my last post discussing race performance, disappointment, and understanding how lucky we are just to be able to even be part of a race. With all that in mind, this week I registered for the annual November 60k in Central Park.

Yes, it’s somewhat insane to run a marathon and then turn around and run even more, but my insanity has become a tradition. I’ve done this the last two years and come out alive despite risking high mileage burnout. If you’re going to run an ultramarathon, you better like running an awful lot, and like being a glutton for more punishment than most races have to offer. And as ultramarathoners know, it’s a different kind of race, different than even a marathon. In some ways an ultra can be a better experience.

So after taking a little longer than normal to get over the NYC Marathon, I waited until mid-week to decide whether or not to go for the 60K. It’s usually held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, but this year it was moved up a week, so I had only two weeks to get over the last race, not three like the last few years. Long story short, I went for it despite concerns over my leg cramps in the marathon, and decided that I could just go out and try to run the distance on the assumption that I could drop out if things got really scary (such as an injury). Of course, anyone who knows me also knows I don’t normally enter races and not finish, but I won’t bore you with my personal mind games, I’ll just ignore them, right? Do the best I can and still kick myself when it goes south seems to be the norm, but this time the norm will not be in the program.

The 60K course is on the asphalt drives of Central Park. Starting on the east side, it runs north for a 1.4-mile loop followed by the central 4-mile loop of the park. And then… eight more of them. You try not to think about how the kilometers translate to miles, but I’ll tell you it’s 37.2 miles. Ultramarathons generally start off at 50K (a bit more than 31 miles) and move up in some sort of crazy round numbers from there. So this is one of the shorter distances, and with nine mind-bending loops in the park, I was happy it wasn’t any longer.

After I was reasonably sure I would be participating (if that’s what it’s called), I had written running pal Susie with an invitation to run or cheer us on, and she would indeed show up on the first lap. I also wrote another running friend, Tim, and let him know if he wanted to join me on a lap or two and watch me drift into an entertaining and amusing physical breakdown, he was welcome. He said ‘sure’ (he had just finished his first marathon in NYC two weeks before), and we decided to meet Saturday morning for a festival of masochism.

I couldn’t sleep much on Friday night, so I went in with only a few hours of sleep. However, I had slept just fine two nights before, and they say that counts most, so I decided not to worry. Saturday morning I went to get my t-shirt and number; I live two blocks from the start, and you can’t beat that commute, especially post-race.

After finding Tim, we joined the hundred or so runners at the start. It was definitely a low-key affair, the race organizer had to shout instructions over early-morning traffic. Since the marathon had been anything but low-key, it was refreshing to be part of a race that wasn’t such a big deal. I don’t mind huge, adoring crowds, but it takes the pressure off when two million people aren’t watching you and screaming at you and expecting you to ‘do it’ for several hours. Then again, there were no real spectators on the course except other recreational runners giving us funny looks as we passed by. So off we went at 8:30. For a few hours….

Susie was cheering at mile 2.5, and provided the best laugh of the day. As a large group of racers (which in this case means about eight folks wearing a bib) passed by, she yelled out a heartfelt ‘you’re almost there!’, one of our favorite spectator comments. She got a nice response from the crowd, and that’s when you’re reminded that ultra racers seem to have a better, relaxed sense of humor than many runners do. They’re not obsessed with finish times or being overly competitive, or anything much beyond being part of the journey. And they compensate for the lack of crowd support by offering their own encouragement to fellow runners. At one point, I was lapped by one of the faster runners who still managed to be genuinely encouraging as he passed by. You don’t get that in a shorter race, that’s for sure.

So Tim and I begin the laps, one after another, hoping to run each at a bit over a half hour. It’s a lot easier to break a course into half-hour-plus chunks, so I remind him to do just that. The sun is out, but it’s a bit colder than normal (below forty degrees), so heat is not an issue. The laps start to tick off, but knowing there are plenty of them left is not always easy.

And Tim sticks with me, I fully expected him to peel off after a few laps, but his strong pace keeps me going, and I keep him going by talking him through hills and being mildly positive about what lays ahead. I suggest we break the run into three sets of three laps to make it slightly easier to wrap our heads around the distance.

Somehow it all seems to work. We have two water stations, two miles apart, and each water station becomes a goal in itself, and we reward ourselves with a brief stretch and break every so often. It works, because I feel slightly better after each walking stop. Of course, the legs start to get stiff about the halfway mark, but not like they did in the marathon two weeks ago. I suck it up, while Tim and I manage to keep each other’s mind off of the fatigue by chatting every so often.

And on the last couple of laps I realize I’m not substantially slowing down despite the leg pain. Tim is feeling the pain, too, but he’s a trooper, and I also realize that he may very well finish the distance, his first. Wow.

We pass people walking, but the crowd is very thin, and seeing people with numbers becomes even less frequent. But we’re on the last lap, and there’s nothing stopping us. An older guy not in the race starts running with us and chatting and asking lots of questions, which gets our mind off of the final few miles… and I just keep the slightly slower pace going and make it to the last water station for a final ‘victory walk’. As I finish the last two miles, I realize I’m doing a PR. Tim’s strong pace in the first half and my ability to keep a reasonable pace in the second has lopped off about 20 or 30 minutes from my last 60K time a year ago, and I finish at about 5:35. What a different experience from two weeks ago. See? Sometimes you just show up for a race and do it and end up finishing well anyway. Of course, my relatively high-mileage year has something to do with it, but I’m not complaining.

Not that I wasn’t finishing with some pain and discomfort, but it sure was nice to cross a finish line feeling positive and reasonably happy. And of course, I’m happy to be done with those damn laps. Three minutes later, Tim comes across the finish time, and I know we’ve done it. It’s a few minutes after 2PM and we’ve been running since 8:30. We’re REAL happy it’s done and finished.

We go to the New York Road Runners offices to pick up our finishers’ plaques (if I’m going to run 37 miles I better get a frickin’ trophy or plaque), and for a little post-race food. What a day. My fifth ultra, Tim’s first, and we do fine.

So, boys and girls, thus ended my fall marathon season. And for me, on a high note. Not just because you’d have to be high to run three marathons in six weeks, but because I managed to do it all and end well. As I’m typing this I’m feeling some mild knee and glute and quad pain, but if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be alive.

The stats go like this: 5 races (2 marathons, a half, a 5-miler and an ultra) in six weeks, along with a couple of long training runs that I probably shouldn’t have done. 107.7 miles of races. I’m going to take it easy, if you can believe it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The NYC Marathon: What Went Wrong and Why, and Getting the Hell Over It.

I apologize that my last post was a bit long, but I thought you folks who know all about self-induced pain and suffering might feel better being reminded it’s universal. As Michael Stipe once said, ‘Everybody Hurts’. It sure would be funny if someday they played that tune at a Mile 25 marathon marker.

So I got all cranky about my marathon experience. I realize that I had expectations that were rather high, but this year I’ve managed to meet a few of them from time to time, and why not on a crisp fall day? So rather than write long, exhausting paragraphs about me, me, me and how I sucked, sucked, sucked, I’ll tell you in inter-office memo businessese:

Why my performance and finish time sucked in the NYC Marathon:

- I ran on hills that kicked my ass, hills I didn’t plan for but knew well despite previous experience.

- I didn’t carbo-load and hydrate as much as I should have during the days before the race.

- I had finished several speedy, shorter races over the summer that gave me over-confidence.

- I ran and survived the now-infamous ’07 Chicago Marathon with a 3:30 finish time, and thought I could do better in ‘good’ weather. And by doing better, I mean 10-15 minutes faster because it wasn’t 87 degrees in NYC. Is that too much to ask?

- I trained hard in the three months leading up to NYC, harder than ever.

Why I should get THE HELL over it:

- I ran Chicago four weeks before, f’Chrissakes!

- I NEVER finish NYC fast. It’s not a PR course.

- I didn’t take a break in the four weeks between the two marathons. I just rewound my training schedule to ‘four weeks out’ and re-started the tempo runs and long runs like I’d never come near Chicago. I had only two days off from running the entire month between marathons.

- I kept at my weight training workouts without taking any sort of break, either.

- Finishing in 3:35? What the hell is wrong with that? Get over yourself!

- And I’ll say it again, I already ran a marathon the month before!

So now I’m indeed pretty much over it. I ran NYC about five minutes slower than Chicago with all the heat, and in the end my legs had had enough of all the shit I was making them go through. I tried, as has been said by another scholar of the streets, to ‘Superman That Ho’. Like anyone else, my legs don’t like hearing the H word, so they waited until Mile 22 to turn on their Running Pimp. Yes, I’ve reduced myself to a Running Pimp.

I must be feeling better, because now I’m fantasizing about a whole line of running outfits based on pimp and ho archetypes. Running pal Mindy and I once jokingly discussed getting a ‘marathong’ in a race goody bag, so that would certainly fit, uh… nicely.

So what’s next? Well, some of us are truly insane, and by us I mean me. I am seriously contemplating showing up (and there’s really no better way to describe it) for this. If it happens, or doesn’t, who cares, I tried, right? That’s what I should always remember after every race. Learn this, my friends: disappointment may come your way, but in the end… you have to get over yourself. We’re all damn lucky to just be able to show up…

- Cranky

P.S. On behalf of all the folks who were out there running the NYC Marathon, I’d like to thank Mr. Lance Armstrong and Ms. Katie Holmes Cruise for not shoving their faces in front of cameras, hogging the limelight and generally making spectacles of themselves before the race. Lance did that last year and paid the price for all his hubris and lack of training. This year was a different story, and I’m happy that he ran much better this time around without creating a media circus. Long training runs help, too, don’t they, Lance?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Race Report: New York City Marathon

I haven’t written or posted much over the last week. For days after the marathon, I would wake up every morning re-living the race, for better or more likely, for worse. I can’t admit to obsessing about it, but it was on my mind so much I didn’t really feel like writing about it. I guess I’m over it.

Hmmm. This will probably be a long one.

The weather was pretty nice on race day, though it always seems a little colder than I’d like it; everybody else called it ‘perfect’. Which means I’m in the minority by liking warmer races, but that sometimes works to my advantage. Anyway, the sky was clear, there were a few breezes, and the temperatures ranged from the upper 40s through the mid-50s.

We had been warned well in advance that the primary transportation to the start would be delayed by construction on the lower level to the Verrazano Bridge. The organizers ‘strongly suggested’ that we find alternate transportation, more specifically the Staten Island Ferry. Every year, most runners go to midtown and the New York Public Library to catch one of the dozens and dozens of chartered buses available between 4:30 and 7AM. The buses drive through Manhattan, Brooklyn, and across the Verrazano to Staten Island, and the trip typically takes a half hour or so; they leave extra early to get the estimated 30,000 Manhattan-based runners to the 10:10AM start on time. With the construction on the bridge, everybody was heading to the ferry, but I decided to get to midtown early and take my chances with the buses. Plus we all pre-paid a non-refundable $20 for the bus ticket when we registered, and although I can handle losing twenty bucks, it’s annoying that the organizers ask you to pay in advance for transportation they can’t guarantee and later advise you not to use.

So of course, I get up at 4AM (which is easier than normal since we gained an extra hour at the end of DST that night), out the door at 4:45, on the subway and at Grand Central by 5:10. And immediately on a bus. Warmly-padded, cozy, big-ass, tourist-on-the-way-to-see-‘Mamma-Mia’ type bus. I could’ve stayed there all day. Then a nice, quiet ride across the boroughs despite the loud, nervously chattering ladies sitting behind me. Of course, the bridge construction was one lane that barely caused a ripple in traffic, and we arrive by 6. Yes, that’s four hours of waiting (and camping) in Fort Wadsworth, and even with the end of Daylight Savings Time only 4 hours ago, it’s still dark out.

Ft. Wadsworth is a big, flat, fenced-in space with one and two-story military-style buildings dotted around it, and it sits right at the toll booth entrance to the Verrazano Bridge. The race organizers have used it as long as anyone can remember, and it gets the Staten Island portion of the day over and done with while everyone sits there or stands in bathroom lines for hours before the start. It’s usually chilly, and no matter how warmly you dress, you still end up getting cold because you’re not moving around much. But there’s lots of coffee and water and bagels, and they all that makes you end up in the port-at-johns, which sure is one way to kill time.

So I find a spot near my Blue Corral bag drop-off area, and I sit with my back against a street sign, watching enough Europeans to fill an airport, walk by. When they say that the NYC Marathon is international, they’re not lying. Out of the 40,000 that got in, nearly 21,000 are from outside the U.S., and most of those are from The Continent. So you hear French and Italian and Kazak all day, and you’d swear Borat himself was standing behind you, all ready for ‘high-five’. Which brings me to another little issue that bugs me, and sorry in advance if this is a bit non-PC.

Many Europeans have no sense of personal space. I didn’t say ‘all Europeans’, so give me a break, but I have to say when I’m in a race, or even in line somewhere where there are lots of my cousins from the Old World, there’s an in-your-faceness about it that can get a little too close for comfort. You can say that Americans have issues about not being too touchy-feely, or needing a personal space around them (because we have tons of space here that allows for that), and perhaps you’d be right. Myself included. But there’s a type of blissfully ignorant euro-pushiness and aggressiveness that I experience at some races, and I can see it coming from miles, or make that kilometers, away.

Case in point: I’ve run the Paris Marathon a few times, and every time I’m on the receiving end of more than the normal quota of elbowing and pushing. The start of the race is on the Champs Elysée, a six-lane avenue that’s converted into a crowded mass of sardines facing southeast into the center of town. There are no corrals, and it’s first-come, first-jammed into the crowd. First time I was there, I found myself being happily pushed by French guys who wanted me to move forward. Problem was, we were packed like Vienna sausages in a can, and there was nowhere to go since everyone was packed in for hundreds of feet ahead of us, too. Didn’t stop monsieur behind me from taking his entire forearm and pushing me to move up the only two inches of space available. I turned to give him a ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ look, and he barely responded with that patented French look that lies somewhere between distraction and personal misery. I realized then it wasn’t personal, he was just raging against the injustice of the tyranny of ‘the people’ trampling on his freedom, because, well, that’s part of his culture. This happened again and again, and continues to this day as I feel a French or Italian runner attempt to push me out of the way in search of greater glory. You can’t fight it any more than you can ask Americans to stop driving SUVs.

With this cultural awareness present in my mind, I continued to sit while trying to not shiver, waiting while the minutes ticked by, watching French and Italians bumping into me without a hint of self-awareness that they were walking over me. A nice-looking elderly Dutch couple decided to stake claim to the three square feet directly beside me on the grass, and after sitting, proceeded to converse as if I wasn’t there. Oh, I was there, I was about four inches away, but they didn’t seem to care, so why should I? So with my head (and ears) placed exactly between theirs, they discussed the day and everything else as if I were completely invisible. Again, no rudeness intended, just obliviousness.

After the unscheduled Dutch lesson, I was off to port-a-john visit #4, and then off to check my bag at the Blue Corral UPS trucks parked nearby. Unhappily, it was more like thunderdome; after reconfiguring the waiting area this year, the organizers had in their infinite wisdom created only one way in and one way out for the 20,000 or so runners checking blue or orange-marked bags, it was a fifteen-foot wide entrance for all traffic. The result was the worst logjam I’ve ever experienced before or during a race, thousands of runners unable to move in or out. It would take five minutes just to move five feet, and your UPS truck was waaaaaaay over there, if that was indeed the one you had to use (each runner had to go to a specific, numbered truck). So that ‘I’m not going to make it to the start on time’ sinking feeling starts to take over, even with an hour to go before the starting gun. I finally figure out that my own truck is about ten feet away and push myself (who’s being pushy now?) to freedom. I’m still amazed I made it out with under forty minutes to line up. But I know a lot of people were having nervous fits during that bag drop-off traffic jam, and I don’t blame them.

I line up in the Blues (how appropriate), and actually make it up a little further in the numbers because I’m planning to run with, and wearing a bib that says I’m with, the 3:15 pace group. No, I hadn’t lost my mind. I ran with the 3:20 pace group in Chicago before Dante’s inferno kicked in, and I’d been training to run a 3:10-3:20 most of the summer. Fast for me, and for some, I know, but I can try. Especially after running a 1:30 half a couple of months ago. Plus it’s my eighth NYC Marathon, and I know what’s ahead. No surprises for me on this course.

We head off onto the bridge for the final line-up, and I meet a guy from San Francisco running his first NYC. He’s really excited, and I can’t help but tell him about all the great neighborhoods ahead, and when to hold back and where the hills are. He has a map (!), and after I tell him that the Queensboro Bridge comes out on 59th St, and that by mile 25 you’ve returned to 59th St., he jokingly suggests we just keep going on 59th St. once we get off the bridge and get rid of those nasty miles 16-25. Later on, that would sound like a great idea.

So then President Mary W. from the NY Road Runners speaks and requests a moment of silence for Ryan Shay, putting things in perspective for at least a little while. After a Mariah Carey-influenced version of The National Anthem from 90s popstar Tevin Campbell, the cannon goes off, followed by the Sinatra recording of ‘New York, New York’. OK, I get it, it’s a classic, and nothing else will do, but it sure would be refreshing to hear one of those other oldie New York tunes instead (Grandmaster Flash, Nina Hagen, the Rolling Stones ‘Shattered’, for example).

Into the fray we go. The blue corral is lucky enough to be running on the top level of the bridge, so we get the best view. On our far, far left is lower Manhattan, and it looks like it’s ten miles away; maybe it is, but I learned long ago not to look into that light. ‘We’re running all the way to THAT?’ is about all you can think of while going uphill on the Verrazano.

Arriving in Brooklyn, the street party begins, and it’s vaguely insane. Residents have come out with signs, food, costumes, boomboxes, anything to celebrate with us as we move forward with the French and Italians and Kazaks. It’s so international you wouldn’t be surprised to see Klingons running. I won’t go into too much detail about the course itself, I certainly discussed it a previous post, but I’ll just say the New York City Marathon gets more ‘New York City Marathon-y’ every year. Make of that what you will.

So the minutes and the miles tick by slowly, and no sign of the pace team, they’d taken off like bats out of Hell’s Kitchen at the start. So I’m wearing my cheap orange-lensed sunglasses they handed out at the expo, and I don’t care, because everything looks kind of bright and happy like I’m on some gel-induced acid trip. My brain is saying: ‘Man, this shit is GOOD, where’d you get this shit, man? Shit’s good, man.’ Or something like that.

And before I know it, I catch up to the 3:15 pace team at mile 8, less than an hour into the race. There are about 20 runners in the pack, staying slightly under a 7:30 mile per minute pace like good boys and girls. I keep running with them, then I lose them again at a water station near the halfway mark. A mile or so later, I’m onto the Queensboro Bridge and still feeling, well, OK. I pass the 15 mile marker comfortably under two hours, and I’m ready for my close-up in Manhattan.

And I when I arrive on 1st Avenue, I find all the other runners are clinging to the left side of the course while thousands of spectators on the right are straining to see who’s coming through. My inner, European ham shoves his way through and lunges over to the empty center of the course, and I’m smiling and prancing and sharing stores of unknown carb-fueled love to all the spectators. In hindsight, it really was an embarrassing spectacle of self-promotion, but I gotta say too, when the crowd loves you, they let you know it. And I’m soaking it up like the running whore I am.

I rein it in after the hubris subsides, and make my way up 1st Avenue, all alone on the right hand side except for the adoring crowds. I knew it wouldn’t last, and I was depressingly correct. As I reached miles 17 and 18 I began to feel the fatigue, and experienced the creeping sensation of the 3:15 pace buffalo passing me. I knew the ‘digging deep’ portion of the day was coming up along with the Bronx. That’s OK, I’d already figured I could run the second half about ten minutes slower than the first and I’d still be happy.

Passing into the 20-mile markers I felt a bit more tired, but not horribly so. Just that ‘here we go again’ feeling that many of you out there know so well.

And then sometime after mile 22, my inner quad muscles turned to granite. Both of them. I couldn’t tell if it was an actual injury. But they forced me to stop at a water station and rub or even pound them; it started to look a lot more like my hands were defibrillators and I was yelling ‘clear’ before jump-starting. So there’s Mr. Look-at-Me, bent over slightly, trying to revive my upper thigh muscles while hundreds of runners pass by. And medical personnel hovering over, checking and suggesting I hit that station’s medical tent. More than once I replied that ‘I’m not that sick, I just need to get my quads back to normal’, and would continue to run in pain. Until the next water station/medical tent, where the routine would start all over. I was not happy.

And then there was that damn hill on Fifth Avenue. Even a cop asked me if I was OK, and I had to reply yes, because just by slowing down my fatigue began to subside, it was just my frickin’ quads (don’t worry, I’ll use ‘fuck’ later).

Into the park, finally. Mile 24 water station is up ahead, and I know people there. I finally hobble up and start telling anyone who’ll listen why I’m so slow and why my finish time is going to be embarrassing. Someone should’ve slapped me, it would’ve taken my mind off of my quads at least. And there I pull over, and rub and hit my legs and scream up to the sky like that scene in The Shawshank Redemption’. And then I continue on just as a passing Italian runner pushes me.

It’s a downhill from there, and my usual pre-finish smiles have given way to frowns and steely determination. I make it another five minutes and stop to let another hundred runners fly by. I’m finally on 59th St. and halfway to Columbus Circle with less than a mile to go and I see a medical tent on the right and pull over like a fucking Nascar driver (see? I told you) with a flat tire. Slightly-bored looking young ladies are the medical personnel, and they’re concerned and peppering me with questions. I’m ready for them to adopt me, but until then, I explain the situation and one of them decides the best thing I can do with less than a mile to go is drink some Gatorade. I say ‘fine’, and Sister Christian whips out the biggest big-ass gallon bottle of unopened red punch Gatorade anyone laid eyes on. This thing is so big that Sam’s Club wouldn’t stock it for fear of breaking the forklift. I let out an ear-splitting ‘HOLY SHIT!’ and the crowd erupts in laughter. In pain, pissed off, and looking like crap on a ritz, I still have them rolling in the aisles. I guess I can make it.

And you know I did. I didn’t stop, though I wanted to, dearly. I crossed the finish line a full twenty minutes later than my pace had predicted, my legs had just had it with me and all my ego/superego head games. They’re still pissed off, though we’ve started speaking since.

I shuffle to get my medal (Volunteer: ‘Congratulations! You did it’; Me: ‘S-T-F-U’). After you cross the finish line, they have us walk up the drives in Central Park to the UPS trucks parked one after another. There are 73 trucks. My stuff is in Truck 71. You guessed it, the first one is ‘Truck #1’.

I’m looking sad and dejected, head bent over, ‘life sucks, I suck, life sucks, I suck…’ is my mantra, and I’m clutching my mylar (security) blanket just like everybody else. I’m still getting pushed from behind by my European brothers, but I don’t care. Medical personnel are still asking me if I’m OK, and I say yes, I am, there are people out there probably worse off than I am right now. Until I encounter a hill midway through my walk, when a young lady asks me if I’d like some help walking a bit. After an intentional double-take, I find myself saying yes, and she’s got her arm around me and helping me walk up the hill. I know I could’ve done it without her, but she asked, and I think I just wanted to talk to somebody or anybody who would understand. And she listened as I told her how mean my legs had been today.

To make a long story longer, I finally got my bag after the 20-minute shuffle north and quickly discovered that it was very stupid to pack running tights instead of loose sweat pants. Yet another medical person watched me writhe on the ground as I slowly pulled the tights up over my evil legs. The caring medical person tried to stop me from scaring small children, but I was already cold and ready for another layer. I wanted to get the hell home.

Caught the bus, got a seat, and was home soon. All I could think was ‘today sucked!’, but my legs still hurt and that kept my mind off of the experience. Of course, I felt better later, but it was days before I was even close to normal, taking a lot longer than the last marathon. Wait, that was four weeks ago…

Next up: What Went Wrong With Brother Cranky. And Why He Should Get The Hell Over It.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

New York City Marathon: The Course

Before I get into some unjustifiably testy post/discussion about how last Sunday went, or more accurately, didn’t, I’ll let you know a little about what this race is all about. It’s really more of an event than a race, but who knows, someday you may want to join nearly forty thousand people running this crazy, well, event. And a little course knowledge can help you decide if you want to make the trip to old NYC for a little afternoon pain and dehydration. Is it worth it? I think so, but it’s not for rabbits desperate for a PR. As the local cliché goes, and yes, it's embarrasing to type, fuhgeddaboutit.

OK, one of the goals of the marathon here is to get you to race throughout the five boroughs (Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Manhattan, in that order). So you start off for a few minutes in Staten Island and head across the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn. The steepest hill on the course is the incline up to the top of the bridge, but you never really notice it because the crowds slow you down and it’s too early to really feel a hill anyway.

Runners are divided into three corrals and are directed onto either the top part of the bridge, which is more scenic, or the bottom level, which is somewhat less so. And oddly dangerous, because men on the top section stop to relieve themselves over the side of the bridge once the race gets going, and the resulting rainfall from above makes for panicked mayhem below. Imagine lots of runners near the sides of the lower level seeing windborne drops of mystery liquid heading towards them. Getting wet this way is not a pleasant way to start off your race, so most runners run in and away from the sides to avoid unplanned golden showers.

After a mile and a half you’re in Brooklyn, and you’re there for quite a while. The crowd support is unbelievable, and you see quaint ethnic neighborhoods that just fly by, one after another. From Hispanic to Hasidic, Brooklyn has it all. And 4th Avenue is the main drag of the race, it goes on and on in the direction of Manhattan for miles. It’s flat and wonderful and filled with rock bands, DJs, gospel choirs and everyone and evrything else you can shoehorn into one gigantic twelve-mile street party.

So your eardrums take a brief rest leaving Brooklyn, and you take a small bridge into Queens and Long Island City. At this point, it’s halfway, and like most folks, you’re starting to feel it. After a few minutes of hearing the self-evident ‘Welcome to Queens!’ you’re zigzagging through warehouse terrain towards the first big hill of the second half, the Queensboro/59th St Bridge. With no crowd support on the lower level, you find yourself running in dim light and on a somewhat steep uphill past mile 16. The bridge goes on for a mile and a half, it seems to never end… until you start to hear something, and that something is the roar of midtown Manhattanites waiting for you. They say that 2 million people show up to cheer on the marathoners, and suddenly it feels like at least 1 million of that is waiting at the bottom of the bridge and 1st Avenue. It’s the cinematic marathon lump-in-your-throat moment of your marathon life, and nothing can compare to seeing thousands and thousands of people, ten deep behind baricades, cheering like they’ve lost their goddamn minds.

And 1st Avenue opens up to six lanes wide, and you can see three miles straight ahead of you. Like Nebraska, but with asphalt and concrete and skyscrapers… Well, maybe Nebraska isn’t a good analogy, let’s just say it’s cavernous, and with an incredible number of people facing you. Making your way north through the Upper East Side, the avenue rolls a bit, and miles 17 and 18 and 19 tick off, but a lot slowly than before. So you head through the 60s, the 70s, 80s and 90s until you start to hit Spanish Harlem around 96th St. and not much later, Harlem. It looks better than ever, though the crowds get a little sparser the farther you get from midtown.

After a tiresome uphill across the Willis Avenue Bridge you’re in the Bronx, wending your way around blocks of low buildings and brownstones for about a mile or so before crossing back into Manhattan in the 130s. It’s a U-turn, and now you’re heading directly south back through Harlem. It’s Fifth Avenue, and it’s miles 21 and 22, and if you’re going to start struggling today, now’s the time.

The crowds are still there to cheer you on as you sidestep Marcus Garvey Park in the middle of the road and continue on towards Central Park a mile ahead. The early November sun is shining directly in your face now, and if it’s warmer than usual, it’s not a good thing, but the park trees are coming up soon to provide shelter. But wait… it’s getting harder as you pass the northeast corner of Central Park. You already know you’re getting tired, it’s mile 23 after all, but… it’s… A Hill, and it’s the second really unpleasant incline of the afternoon. It goes on gradually for what seems like an eternity; you begin to look for street signs, they’re getting lower… 104th St., 103rd St., 102nd St., and it never seems to get better. All you see are upper east siders cheering you on both sides of Fifth Avenue (narrowed to two lanes now) and row after row of hanging traffic lights ahead, taunting green one minute, red the next.

Finally, finally, the hill gradually flattens as you descend into the mid-90s, and then before you can actually have time to enjoy a flat Fifth, you’re swept right into the park. Where thousands and thousands, now five or six deep behind barricades are cheering you on, NYPD cops, bunched in twos, watching you go by. Mile 24 and a water station are around the bend (thank God) before you head down Cat Hill (thank God, again) towards the bottom of the park. The hills start to roll, though some are heading down, and it’s now when most runners are digging deep.

After a short trip to the southeastern corner (Grand Army Plaza, where you find the Plaza Hotel, the Apple Store Cube, FAO Schwartz, etc.), it’s a quick right turn along 59th Street/Central Park South. You’ve already passed the ‘1 Mile To Go’ marker, and the running effort and crowd support is getting vaguely hysterical. Heading directly west, you pass by Columbus Circle back into the park, and you see ‘800 Meters to Go’. Sheer willpower and concentration pushes everyone forward as one huge mass of runners moves forward up one final, damn hill. At last, the finish line is there, and there’s no stopping now, and the crowd is so nuts it won’t let you stop even if you wanted to. By that point, 300 runners a minute are crossing the finish line., and it’s just impossible to not be swept away by the tide through the huge FINISH arch and the beeping chip mats.

(P.S. This morning I saw on the news the last person to make it across the finish line, a lady with MS who was walking to raise awareness about her disease. Though it took her 28 hours to complete the course, it took me about 1 second after I saw her to know she was my favorite runner out there… She and Paula Radclifffe really should meet for lunch to swap race stories…

Monday, November 5, 2007

NYC Marathon Weekend: Saturday

More pictures from the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials/Men’s Marathon…

5-minute mile 'blurs' at about mile 5.

You need a really fast shutter speed on the old camera to even think about catching up with these guys. Or maybe a car.

Ryan Hall and pals after running up Harlem Hill for the first of five times. I get tired just looking at this image, much less running up Harlem Hill once.

Khalid Khannouchi, behind the pack at the front, but still kicking it ‘like he just don’t care’. Eventually, he came in fourth, just missing the chance to qualify for the U.S. men’s Olympic team. I hate when that happens.

As close as I could get to the finish line. Everybody’s watching winner Ryan Hall coming through up ahead…

Meb Keflezhigi at chip removal after finishing, certainly looking better than I do after a marathon, or anything else, for that matter.

Jumbotron action at the finish line, everybody’s watching TV instead of watching runners. Welcome to the U. S. of A.!

So after checking the final results, about 34 of the approximately 140 entrants ‘DNF’ed. That includes speedy folks like Alan Culpepper. On some marathon days it’s not happening, and it must’ve been tough to work hard and train and go out there and still have to drop out. But it makes me feel better about my own races that turn bad, and that it can happen to anyone, even to guys far faster than I’ll ever be.

New York City Marathon

Yesterday I ran the marathon here in NYC, and managed to finish yet another 26.2 miles of awful-tasting gels, elbowing Europeans, sneaky hills, and wonderful crowds. I survived, but finished in a disappointing time for me. I’ll write much more later, but I just wanted to confirm in case there was any doubt out there that I’m a little nuts for running two marathons four weeks apart. I’ve done it before, but I’m starting to think I’m too old for this crap. Especially after my bad experience in the last 4 miles yesterday, when my quads joined the Hollywood writers and went on strike for the duration. There’s nothing like standing on the side of a marathon course and pounding the front of your legs to stop the pain while surrounded by medical personnel. Well, maybe there is, but I don’t want to know what that is.

As I said, I’ll write lots more later once I get the plastic, sickly-sweet taste of strawberry/banana Power Gel out of my mouth.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Men’s Olympic Trials in Central Park

It was cold out there, but I got to see much of it. I’ll probably post more photos later.

When I first got out there, I stood right between mile 5 and 6, across from a water station at The Loeb Boathouse. I saw some of the fastest men in the country go by. After a handful went past, I noticed one fall down by the water station and get back up. Like the rest, he was a blur in my camera. I didn’t gawk, I knew it was embarrassing for a runner to slip; I just went on my way after most of the runners passed by, and didn’t notice anyone leaving the course.

I hope it wasn’t Ryan Shay. Ryan died today while running in this race, at mile 5.5. 28 years old. Goddamn it.

I took a photo of some of the runners (above), and the guy who fell is the ‘blur’ by the water station. I guess it doesn’t really matter whether that’s Ryan or not, it just makes you feel so incredibly sad that this can happen during something we all do, and love, every day.

It’s indeed a sad day for Ryan’s family, friends, New York, and the running community.