Monday, November 3, 2008



The 2008 ING New York City Marathon.

This, being my seventh marathon, and my fourth in as many years, would be a special one for me. It was going to be do or die. And while my right calf was still annoying me, I didn’t care anymore because I was going for broke. This enigmatic mountain of awe over this race has finally lost it’s luster of fear that it instilled in me. I no longer wanted to be cautious, no longer running slow in the beginning to have gas at the end. This year alone, I have logged over 1500 miles, competed in 21 events, have earned several personal records, club wins and even a 3rd place trophy in my age group. The fear that I had for this course was now officially gone.

The alarm clock woke the bedroom nighttable up at 4am. I was already awake and washing my face, getting ready for the fight of my life. The front cover of the New York Road Runner’s Marathon Guide states “What Does It Take?”. At this moment it took a bagel. But I had no time, and no bagel either. As I ate that along with the dish of Barilla large shell pasta I made last night.

Stepped on the scale. 167 pounds. Oh My! (please say with a George Takei accent…He’s the “closet gay” lieutenant navigator of the USS Starship Enterprise for those who are not as fossilized as I).

167 pounds! I gained 4 pounds in one day. I sure carbo-loaded alright. This would be my heaviest Marathon run ever.

In the darkness of night, the air was cold and damp. I could see my breath as I opened the door of the Civic. Thank God, for this bus ride I thought. The ride to Runner’s Edge was uneventful, though it reminded me of my “comeback” marathon in 2005. I will be blogging that soon too. Lots to blog with some weeks off now.

The chartered buses pulled around the back from the Runner’s Edge Athletic Store, which is where I re-parked my car after one of the employees there warned about cops possibly giving out tickets on the street, even on a Sunday.

The bus was a beautifuil charter bus, the kind you’d see whisking senior citizens to their hedonistic paradises….like Atlantic City (lol). Large comfy chairs, TV monitors and even a bathroom in the back. Way Cool. Additionally the buses, at least mine anyway, left half empty. So even more room, to put my bag next to me for some last minute sorting.

We left prompty at 5am. Someone up front offered us fresh, hot bagels from the bagel shop next door. I had one, and passed the bag back. It was delicious.

Shortly afterwards, my girlfriend called me. She told me that she was so excited for me that she could not sleep at all and was waiting for the right moment to call. It was 5:12am. For common folks out there, this IS a good time to call a Marathoner. Smile.

With much renewed enthusiasm from her call, I finished my organizing, of what to leave on the bus, and what to take with me to check on the UPS truck, and had contemplated taking a nap. The bus was sailing along, lights off, towards its destination, and it seemed like the right thing to do, but I just couldn’t. Too much excitement. And nervous. Over my right calf.

I can save everyone the trouble of reading this entire race report right now. By reading the next sentence. "YOU MUST TAPER BEFORE A MARATHON, OTHERWISE, YOU MAY HURT YOURSELF, AND WILL NOT HAVE NOT ENOUGH TIME TO HEAL."

Now for you out there daring to continue……well……let’s continue!

One of the senior folks riding the bus up front, was a Runner’s Edge member, and he was saying how the bus ride reminded him of like a scene from Normandy. Everyone is sitting around doing nothing, like the soldiers did on the patrol boats, until it was time when the bus was ready to unload, and then it was a charge off the bus, “Get off!! Get off!! Get off!!” he said it with a guttural-grunge sounding voice that made it pretty amusing as he said it too.

As the bus pulled into the end of the VZ bridge the hoardes of semi-sleepy runners walking towards the entrance was astounding. No different than any other year, but these are the “little” things that I always forget about when I think of previous Marathons in New York.

Getting off the bus was a smack in the face by Mother Nature.
Frigid. Windy. Thank God for my preparation of blankets.

(The line for coffee was outrageous. At least 200 people)

Fort Wadsworth was divided into three sectors for the Marathon. Blue, Orange and Green. I went to the Orange. A familiar spot for me as this is where I’ve been before, even when it was the Green in years past. Not familiar however, was the removal of the world’s longest urinal, which was replaced with ….. tents? Ooooh Boy! I get to go inside a tent and stay warm? YAY!

Of course, that idyllic dream would only last as long as it took to get to the tents. Once within eyesight, I noticed that inside was a SEA of people all huddled together. Barely room to squat, let alone layout. I didn’t want to be cold, but as they say in Brooklyn, “Fugghedaboutit!”

Instead, I made stakes just outside the tent. The sunrise was only beginning to creep up, and it was windy. Very windy. A husband and wife, who were from Germany, and were running together, were mildly impressed as I unrolled my concoction of hefty bags and blankets, all ready made to be snuggled into. Hey, when you’ve done this 6 times, like I told them, you know the ropes by now. What swagger! What bravado! Excuse me whilst I puke….lol.

That is me taking my own picture with the i-Phone. I was under all those blankets. Outisde my little self-made fifedom it was at least 20 degrees colder.

And just imagine. This (above) was my view when I pulled off the top blanket to see what was around me.

My right leg was complaining. And as my first fearful thoughts of how poorly I might do in this race began to finally wash over me, I get a text message from Sandra Jeet, fellow Forest Park Road Runner:

“I got food poisoning late in the night. Couldn’t make it. Good luck
and run 4 both of us.”

Wow. That sucks. She had trained real hard all year long too. She is a very good runner though, and has excellent drive and determination. Whenever we did our runs within Forest Park Road Runners, she usually led the pack. With a little rest, and the proper care, she will be back stronger and better than ever in 2009. I just know it.

Suddenly those washes of fear started to feel like tidal waves. How was I going to overcome this pain? Think, Alex, Think!

Apply the Ben Gay glue-on patches. So I did. And it helped. But it was 7am now, and the race was only 3 hours away. Visions of me going to a race director to see if I could bow out and be accepted for next year came before me.


It was too late to pull out. Just have fun. Do your best.
And then that’s when I read for the first time, of what would be endless amounts of time, my girlfriend’s emails of encouragement.


“Shit, I have an obligation here to perform to the best of my abilities, regardless of outcome, or even injury!” I thought.

And thus my decision to try and kick-ass became galvanized in my head.

I even put on black shadow wax under my eyes to block out the shade. I do have sunglasses, but wasn’t sure if I needed them. Plus, I did look cool, like NFL pro cool, so what the heck, right?

Mean Joe "Not-So-The-Plumber" Green.

Hey Scott, if you are reading, they had a band playing a cover version of Stronger by Kanye West at the bandshell. This was at 8am.

My 4 hours at the park flew by. By 9am I was rolling up my makeshift tent, and re-tying it with the shoelaces from the old sneakers I had saved for just this requirement.

Prepared though as I was, I accidentally left my booby bandaids in the other bag on the bus, but the Med tent took care of this. Foodwise, I had a coffee, a bagel, a powerbar, a G2 gatorade, and a sugar free redbull. God, did that bring me up to 168 pounds now?

“The Blue Corral is now closed. The Orange and Green corrals will be opening
shortly. UPS trucks will stop taking checked baggage at 9:30am”

And ‘Tokyo Rose’ said that over the powerful campsite megaphones in like 5 different languages too. And yet, while NYRR has done a much better job this year than last, they need to improve on the whole corral thing that they instituted this year.

The corral start needs to be better organized. I was in the Orange Corral, yet I wound up leaving with the Green corral because there were no clearly marked signs anywhere. More critical however was the Blue corral, because they all were supposed to take off in Wave 1 at 9:40am. There were some “bluers” who were unwittingly amongst us, and were pretty annoyed that the race directors would not let them pass through. They complained about the fact that by running with us slower runners, that their times would be bad. I totally understand, but man! You might just want to turn it down a notch, us 2nd Wavers might just get a little touchy about this, you know?! Another runner who was supposed to be in the blue wave, had a bib number of 500. Damn. He must have been good to have drawn that low number. My bib was 25092!!!!

For next year: NYRR needs to make more overhead announcements to include a countdown for when these corrals are going to close, so that people can judge whether they will have time for one last pee in the Port-O-Sans or not.

I mean, it still wont prevent us guys from pulling out our wankers and pissing in between the Academy busses on or over the soon-to-be-donated clothing, which (disgusting) is what they did, but at least it helps us to help the race marshalls succeed in the corral objective.

The cannon has exploded into New York Harbor.
The race is ON!

“It’s Up To You, New York, New York!”

The famous Frank Sinatra song, not famous because it’s his, but famous because that is what they play at the start of the race. And now, at each of the waves.

By my own paranoia of looking for the orange corral, I wound up near the front of the green corral. It did not take more than a minute to cross the starting line.

You can hear everyone starting their Garmins, Polars, and Timexes. That along with the chips registering on the pad beneath the starting line, and it felt like I was at a data center gone amok! (only fellow geeks will know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout here’, yo!)

For the first couple of miles, the Blue, Orange and Green runners have a different path on the bridge, and even off the bridge, as we all make our way north into Brooklyn. The Blue and Orange Corrals meet up along the way around the 2.5 mile mark, and by about the 3.5 mile mark all three corrals have merged into one blinding sea of humanity, which like I have mentioned in years passed, looks like a large scaled version of blood platelets moving along an artery. It’s pretty intense considering the density of runners.

So…..Howmidoin you ask?

I had a plan if you recall, that I was going to forego conventional wisdom, and just attack the course head on.

Mile 1 through 3 – Breakfast of Champions
For Mile 1, and with the highest of all elevations, I had anticipated a time of 09:30. However, being close to the front of the entire corral of 14,000 runners surely did help, as I did my first mile in 8:35. For an accumulated total of :55 seconds under pace.
1 mile down 25 to go. Heh.

In Mile 2, which was all downhill, I started feeling a little bit of tightness in my right calf. To be cautious, I shortened my stride. The head wind was a killer too, and thus my second mile was done in 8:51. That was :21 seconds slower than planned.

Now it’s time for Brooklyn, arguably one of the best places to run through. Crowds are rabidly vociferous. Full of energy. Perhaps this is why Mile 3 I did it in 7:35. That was not a typo folks. SEVEN minutes. I was now ahead of plan (that being 3 hours 59 minutes and 40 seconds) by 1 minute and 29 seconds.

Mile 4 – Hello Brooklyn. Here Comes Blogrunner!

As we approached the 4th mile marker, the sun was beginning to shine brightly, and though it was still nice and cool, I was so glad that I had not gone with the long-sleeved option. I love to run when it’s cold actually. There were throngs of people out at either side of the Avenue. Orange and Blueskis on the southbound side of the island, and us Greensters on the northbound side. Complete mayhem. I loved every minute.

There were marching bands bands playing everywhere, and company ladder firehouses with their men in red waving at us to Go Go Go. It seemed that everyone had a sign written up for some dear loved one. I don’t know anyone in Brooklyn, but I did create my own sign (below). It was very effective. Strangers were cheering my name, some even giving me high-fives…..and a banana? Yep, sure, what the heck. They must have realized that I suffer from Potassium deficiencies. Funny thing though, there was a man dressed in a banana costume nearby. That means that person got her banana for free to give to me. Hey! That’s not right! I wanted a store bought--- oh forget it. *hee*
Unfortunately the personalized name cheering only lasted for so long. The water, gatorade, etc, doused onto my name tag, and caused the colors to run enough that people would look and say, uh, that is Alex….I think?

There was a headwind all along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.
Mile 4 complete. My objective was to do this flat fast mile in 8:30. My time? 8:11
So, the butt-kicking part of this contest continues. Head-wind be damned!

Miles 5 to 8 – Homey, Please!

I am Kicking Righteous Ass!!

Miles 5, 6 and 7 through Sunset Park and Park Slope were just as uneventful.
Except for one little thing. I was supposed to do those miles in 8:30 each. Well instead, I did 8:23, 7:58, and 8:14, respectfully. I was firing on all cylinders, and feeling great. Even the gatorade stops, where I had been practicing taking cups, knocking them back, and dropping the cups without having to ever stop, went excellent. I was now 2 minutes and 42 seconds ahead of pace. I was easily in a territory I have never been before in ANY marathon and it felt great. I hydrated continuously, and was spacing out my gel packs perfectly.

Oh and yes, I took half a banana from a stranger around mile 7. And would repeat this process in Manhattan. Yo Bronx and Queens, where be my banana, yo?

Mile 8 to 9 – The Williamsburgh Savings……..BANG!

Rush – Distant Early Warning
"An ill wind comes arising
Across the cities of the plain
There's no swimming in the heavy water
No singing in the acid rain
Red alert
Red alert ..."

I had just finished the 8th mile and at 8:25, it meant that I was now over 3 minutes ahead of pace. I would have felt that this was well ahead of schedule, but I was feeling incredible great.

We ran around the Williamsburg Savings Bank, where all three colors finally merge completely ( no longer just side by side ). Up on Lafayette Avenue, I passed by Bishop Loughlin school, where the band was playing “Gonna Fly Now”. It is said that they play this about 45 times or more during the race non-stop.







And then it happened.

Zzzzzzrrrrrrrinnnnnnnnnnnnnngllll !!!

Gonna Cry Now.

If there was a sound effect thay my right calf could have made, it might have looked something like the nonsense I just typed above. As every part of my body was cruising full speed ahead, my right calf did to me, what every part of my legs to do to me during a marathon. Cramp up.

However, it has never happened before the 18th mile, and we were only 8 miles done.

Uh oh.

The pain was sudden and for a short period of time, but it was thunderous and it came from the ground zero of my calf problem that I created earlier on in the week.

I already had a mental game plan to deal with this, though I had hoped it would not be until the later rounds, you know? Later rounds, like when boxers are swingly madly into the air because they can’t tell the opponents face from that of a turnbuckle?

8 miles down. 18 to go. Uh oh.

Without even thinking twice, I immediately took a salt packet from my pouch, and at the next hydration stop, flung it back into my mouth with Gatorade.

Up ahead was Emmanuel Baptist Church. Predominately an African–American gospel church choir singing from their church steps and all dressed in exotic African clothes. It was loud, it was beautiful, but the quelling that it did to stop the soreness from the last cramp, which I was able to get rid of by thinking of palm trees in a desert oasis (to calm down) did not last for very long and the cramps came back. This time, I decided to go to plan B, which was to favor my right leg, by putting more stress on my left leg. Fortunately, it helped and I did this mile in 8:39, some 21 seconds ahead of pace. I was in some pain, but I was very strong and was able to handle it.

But the Titanic ship didn’t sink right away either…..

Mile 9 to 10. Have A Tequila!

I was really kicking ass. I finished my 10th mile in 8:30 flat, another :15 seconds under pace, and now I was 3:38 under pace for the whole race. Insane! I had even passed the 3:50 Pace Runner. My lungs felt better than ever before, and I was thoroughly enyoing the fans and the weather in NYC.

The majority of this mile went through the hasidm area of Brooklyn. Hava Nagila. However, no cramps, feeling great. So…Have a Tequila. I know. I apologize. I get my corny humor from Darth Vader, what can I say?

Mile 10 to 11 - Williamburg and that inspiring man with the megaphone. Someone with a megaphone yelled “All of you are winners today! It doesn’t matter whether you come in first or last! You are all winners!!” Very inspiring. And as I turned the corner, near division avenue, I started to feel the soreness of the calf subside. I completed my 11th mile in 8:48. It was slightly uphill and I had allotted 9:10. I was now a full 4 minutes under pace. Perhaps the calf problem was like a one-time issue. I hoped that it was.

It was not.

Mile 11 to 12 - Here we go…..AGAIN.

I don’t recall where this occurred, but at some point my tightness re-surfaced in my right calf again. I was doing all I could with the left side of my body, but despite the best efforts, this mother fucking pain decided to come back again. Unlike the first zinger, this one just felt tight, like it could have either fire upon me again, or just subside. Well, it fired upon me. Several times too. Shields Up! Shields Up!!!
At this point, I not only took salt again, but also took 2 Tylenol for fear that the worst was definitely coming. It was the first mile where I did not meet my objective. I had alloted 8:45 but I completed it in 8:58. No biggie. But how much longer could I last before problems start to get really bad? I am still in Brooklyn, and have to go through three more boroughs, one of them twice. All I kept thinking was, “Don’t think about it, you are still almost 4 minutes ahead of pace!”

Mile 12 to 13 – It’s Nothing….OUCH…..Really….
Going north on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, I started feeling my calf go again. I saw the 20K sign up ahead, and was thinking, “Dude, you are almost half-way home”.

No sooner I thought that, my leg fired off another salvo at me, this one went even further up my calf almost to behind my knee. It jarred me, but I corrected in time to cross the 20K sign. However, right after I passed it, it decided to go for a second-helping of pain. If you are amazed by how much I remember all this, it really isn’t that hard when you think about it. I was so hard pressed and prepared to exact revenge on this course, so my brain was fully focused on achieving my objective at any cost..

Anyway, the second shot, actually forced me to stop for a brief, but noticeable second, I cursed under my breath, “Come On Already!” and moved along. As I started up again, my left hip felt a little sore, and that was from the weight displacement, that I was doing by favoring my right, and definitely injured leg. Although I finished this mile in 8:48, I had originally allotted 9:10, due to the fact that the last 1/10th mile or so is going up over a small bridge into Queens.

One interesting side note: There was a family was outside barbecuing in front of their townhouse. Damn, that smelled so good. What torture!

Halfway Point. & Mile 13-14 – A Personal Victory!
Historically, I have never even come close to breaking the 2 hour mark here. I even remembered that in 1985, when I did the race in my record time, that I had crossed over in 2 hours and like 5 seconds. So imagine to my surprise, that today I had a time of 1:50:57. Last year, it was 2:01:01. I was 10 minutes ahead of my Marathon Record. That mental boost meant so much too me, that I roared down that McGuinness boulevard overpass and vowed to make my hometown of Queens proud of me. I had sized up this mile for 9:20 and I did it in 9:12, so I actually shaved off 8 more seconds. I had my best lead ever as I was 4 minutes and 12 seconds under plan. Incredible. I had been running in and out of some bad moment of pain for almost half the race and I actually improved. I threw my hands up in the air as the camera on the forklift overhead in the distance took pictures. A very immodest moment!

Mile 14 to 15 – Donde Esta Forest Park Road Runners?

I looked around for John, Bonnie, and Barbara, all of whom said would be out there rooting. Did not see any of them, but there were scores of people, especially near the Queens Plaza as I made my way to the bridge. I am sure they were there rooting us all on including Bonnie, who probably had something to say of it all. I can almost hear Bonnie now, “Well he should have worn his Forest Park shirt!” I would have contemplated it, Bonnie, except that I only have FPRR tanks and not T’s. I like the cold, but I just don’t like it that much. I may consider investing in getting a T though. Perhaps in the Spring, when the weather starts to warm up again.

In the meantime, I had some serious cramping again, and it did not want to go away. As such it took me 9:30 to finish what was originally planned at 9:10. However, I was 15 miles done, with only 11.2 to go,

But how long was my will going to survive this?

Mile 15 to 16 – Queensboro Bridge Tactics, Version 7 Last year, everyone ran a part of the Queensboro Bridge in complete darkness. Thank you, NYC, for not having the foresight to remove the drop cloths along the bridge. This year however, they were gone, and the sun-rays between the steel girders basked over us nicely.

My right leg was going. And not in a good way either. I needed to focus on not lifting it too high, despite the steep climb. Normally, that's what you do when your quadricep is sore. But, the calf has some involvement in lifting for me as well too. I started to employing another tactic, which was to shorten my stride and take more steps per minute. It worked. The pain never went away, but I had no new cramping attacks. And as I ran down the bridge heading smack dab into the heart of Manhattan, I did this mile in 9:31, which was incredibly 9 seconds faster than plan. Way to Go!!!

Mile 16 to 17 – Time To Be A Star Or A Stare?

Last year, First Avenue was a breeze, whereas the two years before that, it was agony.
Training had a lot do to with it. Unfortunately, this year was like 2006. The mental mistake of overtraining and not tapering really took hold.

As we started coming down off the bridge I yelled to my fellow runners “Here it comes! Here it comes!”

And sure enough it came.

The roar of the crowd was deafening. No matter how many times I run this event, I can never acclimate myself to the thunderous ovation for which my fellow New Yorkers give the world running class on this beloved day of days.

Something else came too. Another cramp. And as I made my way to 1st avenue, I was pissed off. "Please. Not here." I begged to myself. "Do not let me suffer a humiliating walk stage right here in the Big Apple. No!"

I was supposed to have done that mile in 8:40. I fell off, doing it in 9:21. I was still 3:20 ahead of pace (3:40 ahead of the 4 hour barrier). More fun to come.

Mile 17 to 18 – What Positivity Giveth, Cramp Taketh Away.

This was supposed to be another 8:40 mile on the plan. And hey, why not? It is flat, and full of crowds cheering for you. Perhaps the greatest crowd moment of this year’s race came in this mile, when I started hearing a trumpet blast off three notes, followed by the ENTIRE block on the West side of 1st Avenue, emphatically roaring, “GO!!!!!!”, then it was a trumpet on the East side of the block, doing the same thing, and then that ENTIRE side of the block yelling “GO!!!!!!” Oh My God! That might have been the most insanely fantastic Marathon moment of all time! I did also improve somewhat, as know I felt myself running with a gimp. The right leg cramp did not stop anymore. I felt like I had to drag my leg in front of the other. Not good at all.

Also not good, was that I spilled most of my Gatorade all over myself and down my shirt, rolling over my name tag, and causing the colors of my name to bleed off. Man I was pissed. This happened when I was trying to get a salt packet from my ziploc baggy. Then, and when I opened the salt packet, nothing came out. Apparently the moisture had it stuck inside. I got so angry, that at this point I put the whole salt package, paper and all, right in my mouth, and with a swig of Gatorade, just swallowed. And this is what I would do every mile till the finish. Pop my mouth open, and drop another salt packet in. Pop and Drop. Meantime, I wondered if I would poop and droop once I got back down 5th avenue. I did this mile in 9:13, which now put me only 3:07 under the sub-4 barrier. I needed to do something desperately not to let this goal get away. And unlike other years where I felt like I was physically dying, I still had plenty of fight in me. In my mind, this race was officially over. In other words, the gloves are off and the war was now on.

Mile 18 to 19 – Curling Versus Hurling. Take Your Pick.

As I shuffled my feet along, I began to feel the toes in my right leg, curl uncontrollably inward. And for all of you reading and thinking that I was not properly hydrated? Forget it. I had not missed one hydration stop at all. I took both Gatorade and water at every stop, salt packets since passing the bank in Brooklyn, and potassium pills at every other mile since the bank as well.

It was a horrible feeling that would only get worse. It was as if my toes wanted to curl right under the balls of my feet. Then, came wave of terror #2. This curling motion began to extend it's was as a cramp that moved all the way up to my upper right calf. Seconds later and I was getting slammed with a loud muscular jolt of pain.....Then another massive cramp. And another. And another....Oh, Shit.

I didn’t even see the Dunkin’ Donuts Kissing Booth on First Avenue. Jennifer had joked that she did not want to be there because we would enlock for much longer than needed, thus ruining my bid for the "Gonzalez-Holy-Grail-of-Sub-4-Hour-Marathoning". And yet, I saw a female runner, heaving her guts out, which made me feel sorry for her, and making me realize, that I am not the only one hurting here. A little bit later on, I accepted a Chocolate gel pack from the PowerGel booth, and a short while later, towards the end of the mile, I nearly lost my glove as I had been trying to get at another potassium pill in my zippy. Ugh.

Still lucid, I employed two new tactics to battle the fatigue to my right leg that was bought on by the onset of premature cramping. The physical aspect was a new one. It was to keep my strides not only short, but keep the feet low to the ground and shuffle forward trying to use my quads as often as possible, leaving my calves completely out of this. It was impossible to do with one leg, so I applied this rule to my entire gait.

The Mental technique, until now was to think about Jennifer and of Palm trees swaying in a breezy wind on a hot and sunny tropical island. It was the only way I could relax enough, to get my involuntarily clenched muscles to unclench. Whenever I had a cramp the first thing I said out loud was “Palm Trees, Palm Trees”. Hah! People must have thought I was from Miami. I also thought of Jennifer and how much she believed in me. Well, to add to this, I started to read my email that I had clutched in the spare key pocket of my Hi-Tech Nike runner’s glove (see below). PHOTO REMOVED.

Since the email was partially inside the glove, all I could see was “You could never fail me”, and “You have already won in my eyes”. Between this and all the other beautiful emails and phone calls and visits and everything else, it did give me the strength that no other woman could have ever given me. Most people would have quit by now, stop and walk, or just say “I’m outta here” and take a cab to Lincoln Center, which is where my Coach bus was waiting for me. But not me. I don’t give up that easily. In fact, I am only relishing the fight now more than ever.

Still, this Penguin was not fast enough. I did Mile 19 in 9:32, another :32 seconds slowed than needed. Still, I am 2:35 under the sub-4, and I was closing in on the end of Phase 2 of this race, as German Silva, mentioned at the Expo on Friday.

Mile 19 to 20 –

What’chu Talkin’ Bout’ Willis?

"Willis" is in reference not only to the TV show "Different Strokes" but also to the Willis Avenue Bridge that you see above. It is the dead zone of NYC Marathon running as I see it. Dead because there are no cheer zones, no musicians, zero. It is void of life, and at twenty miles, you are void of life. So heck, maybe it's a good fit?

The "dead zone" used to be the Hasidm area of Brooklyn (Mile 10), but with all the fuss, NYRR had implemented several cheering sections there to make sure it would be lively. Boy, I bet the Orthodox Jews are really happy about that.

The problem with Mile 19 into 20, is that this is where most brains start to go to waste. There are no distractions, just peace and quiet. And to some this is nice, if you are looking to cuddle up in an easy chair and read a book about Fall Foliage in New England. Otherwise, all you are thinking about, especially if you are hurting, is “How Much Longer”. How much longer before my right leg falls off, how much longer before my left leg goes with it, how much longer before I just say I QUIT and just walk away. Oh, but no, I did not do this. I was too busy of thinking of all the little tactics I could to save my sub-4 dream. I was in complete denial. I had a plan of doing a 9:20 in this mile, but instead it got done in 9:53. Not terrible. I have 2 minutes of slack with a full 10k to go, but at this point the scoreboard read 2 hours 57 minutes and 55 seconds. All I had to do was a 10k in 1 hour 2 minutes and 5 seconds. Easy shit for a guy that does 7 minute miles in 10k contests…..Right?

Mile 20 to 21 – Killer Diller In The State of Bronxilla.

Yes the Bronx is always a killer-diller. Though the climb is not sustained, it is very sharp for a person about to enter the last 10k of their run. Some one had a T-shirt that read “Dead Stop.”. That’s pretty messed up. What were they looking to do? Get me to comply?

Crossing into the Bronx has always been an issue for me. You’ve read it in my previous blogs. I hate the Bronx. No offense, people, but with all due respect, my experience with my first wife, was a nightmare. Her nickname is Bronxilla. She was from the Bronx. Her family? Bronx. Yankees? Bronx. Of course, the Bronx is really nothing more for me than a metaphor for all of my youthful stupidities and failed expectations. It is also where I had STOPPED running back in 1986 too. Hence the stigma.

Yet, I surprisingly held my own. I was actually thinking if Jennifer had been able to come and cheer me on that she would have, in her infinite wisdom done so right in the Bronx, because that's where she knew I would have needed her the most. She is great this way. As for the physical aspect of this run, I was pleasantly suprised that I had no knew cramp attacks while in the Bronx. I saw the Med Tent, and remembered how I wiped out last year over there, smashing almost over a table, and at any chance of a PR then. That’s why I carry my own salt packets……Don’t leave home without them.

But I was feeling so well that I was even beginning to fool myself into thinking that I can drag this sinking carcass of a ship into my favorite port of call...The finish line at Tavern on The Green in less than 4 hours. Boy, that sun must have been frying my brain.

There was also a bandshell in the Bronx along the race path, and the performers onstage were singing. Best of all what they were singing was “Sympathy for the Devil”. however, and on this day, the Devil was not Lorraine. It was the Pain.
Mile 20 – Planned for: 11:00 minutes, and guess what? I did it in 10:31!!!! This was the first positive comparison mile since Mile 14 in Queens!

Mile 21 to 22 – Horror In Harlem.
Sounds like your typical front page of any newspaper perhaps? Perhaps. Funny thing about the brain is how it reconciles to what you need regardless of what you want. For all of the suprisingly positive vibes that I got from my first good time in the "nightmare zone" (Da Bronx), the brain made sure to give me back a fat payback in order to draw everything back to a net-zero. In other words, time for more cramps and more pain.

My body could not handle it anymore. I had made a valiant effort to go this far without really having to walk for any extended period of time. But the will was nearly on "E", or at least I thought it was. And by this, I just will bluntly say…I FLAT-OUT DIED.

By death, I mean this in the spiritual sense. My body had long been dying, but I refused to give in. My spirit wanted to finish in less than 4, but my mind only cared about finishing in 1. Piece that is. The brain said, “Hey Alex. Had enough fun yet, have you?” I never wanted to answer that question. And so, the warranty on my fun had expired, and the brain’s protective coating took over. BASTARD!

It started with massive cramping as I approached Marcus Garvey on the north end. I did all my little tricks. The low-stepping, the Jennifer, the Palm Trees, reading of the email, salt, glucose, you name it. It worked but only for a few seconds at best. I started to realize that I was already walking on and off. This is what happens when you carrying a bum leg for 14 miles. Still, I had expected that this would be a rough go, which explains why I had this mile planned out to be an 11 minute mile. So for the 11:44 that I did this mile in, it was only :44 seconds over the time I alloted for it.

Mile 22 to 23 – Duke Ellington Is Not Smiling At Me.
R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts
Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes. So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts. You are not alone

In fact Duke, he is probably shaking his head, and saying “Alex, please stop. You are going to kill yourself, dude.” By the way, I mention Duke, not only for my love of Jazz, but because Duke Ellington Way is the name of the street on the north end of Central Park. I would never have noticed this had I been running, but because I was walking in tremendous pain, I had a lot of time to see that street sign.

A mother tried crossing the runpath towards the end of mile 23rd. She was pushing a baby stroller with her left hand, and holding a kid with her right hand. She missed me, but the fella to my right might have gotten tagged. Let me put it to you this way, I never saw him, he never passed me, and I wasn’t exactly doing any sprint work from this point onward neither.

I was supposed to have done that mile in 9:30 and instead I mathematically died. 11:38 was my time on this somber realization moment. And there was more misery to come, I felt.

The dream of hoping to break 4 hours was gone.

There are only so many miles a person can do at 11+ per clip, and I knew there would be many more of these atrocious efforts. You can only be so bad for so long without finally succumbing to humble pie.

Mile 23 to 24 – A New Goal. A New Opportunity.

The tease of knowing that I can still do a sub-4 by doing just 3.2 miles over the last 30 minutes was brutal. Normally, I could do that in my sleep.
Yet, I knew I was in no physical condition to do that anymore. My brain took over and locked me out from physically achieving my dream anymore.

But instead of just giving up completely, I started to think along a new path. And just like a little flower growing from the rubble of a burnt out foundation, I too had a new hope now....

In 1985, I was 20 years old. And I did the New York City Marathon in 4 hours 9 minutes 47 seconds. That was my PR then, and for 23 years, is still my PR now. The question is....Could I finish 3.2 miles in 40:22?
In order to do this, I would have to average no more than 12:37 per mile.

Hey, I could do that couldn’t I?

And just as the hope within me began to rise, so did the cramp on my LEFT leg now rose.

Suddenly, the negativity wheels of paranoia began rotating gingerly in my brain. Did I come this far, to not only fail at breaking 4 hours, but fail at even getting a new PR? The PR was not the objective, but now it seemed logical, and the only thing left. What was the sense to even finish this race anymore without at least this victory? I had to do this. I just had to!!!

Both legs were shot, at one point, and forgive me for saying this, but to give you an accurate visual….I looked like one of Jerry’s kids. My legs were swinging on the outside as I lumbered, crawled, and cursed up Fifth Avenue ( and it is up because it is an upgrade on this mile too). People all around me looked wounded, yet all I cared about were all the people just passing my sorry ass. I kept thinking, these people are going to break 4 hours and I wont. But enough with that! I needed to do a PR here! I’m ovah heah!!!!
When I got ovah theah, Mile 24 marker, I was at 3 hours 39 minutes and 45 seconds. I did that mile in 12:13, 24 seconds faster than required. Of course, I didn’t know that then, I could barely look up let alone do math at this point. Thank God for my Garmin 305, keeping score though.

Mile 24 to 25 – I Got Booed.

With all that I wrote, it’s amazing how powerful just three words can be isn’t it? And yet, I did get booed. It happened at the end of mile 25. Now I know why this race is sponsored by the ING Bank. That’s because they’re relatives where running with me all throughout Central Park. Let’s see, there was, oh yes, LimpING, CrampING, StoppINGg, GrabbING, and CursING. The 5 ING brothers.

This was my entire mile. I don’t think I ever ran for more than a block. Fortunately, I never walked for more than half a block, either. I was determined, obsessed with disregarding my brain. It was trying to shut me down, telling me to kiss off, like it does every year. It wanted me to fail, by offering me an easy way out, but my spirit demanded more. All I kept thinking of was Jennifer, and her faith in me. Her faith. She believed I could do it. So why can’t I do this? Why must I always suck at this race?

For the first time ever, my right arm actually cramped up. What???? What did my poor arm have to do with this? Probably the fact that I was overpumping or something to propel myself along? Not sure. But whatever it was, I just had to stop and look at it. My muscles were convulsing on their own. I felt like a freak. It was between my upper forearm, to up past my elbow a little. Amazing.

My teeth clenched, I made another concerted effort towards getting to the “25” banner.
And a few yards from it, my hamstring in my right leg went. When that happened, I jolted upright and grabbed it with my forearm. I was totally locked, and could no longer move. It felt like a horror movie, where the person screams but nothing comes out, nothing audible that is. Here I was, only 1.2 miles from the finish, and close to 3 hours and 54 minutes through.

And then, I got booed.

A group of punks, I don’t know them, and they certainly didn’t know me either, booed me for stopping short of the mark. I actually took a snarling look at them (oh yes, Snarling, that’s ING’s 6th and black sheep of the family brother). I put my face back down and motored up. I started to lift my legs now. Something I hadn’t done since the ice age it seemed. And hey it wasn’t that bad. But at this point it didn’t matter. I was even saying to myself but aloud, “Go ahead idiot, go and rip your muscles to shreds, I don’t fucking care anymore.” Mile 25 was completed in 11:39, but it seemed like an eternity.

Mile 25 to 26 –


This was the best sign anyone had, and it took 25 and a quarter miles to find it. Thank you whoever you are. I needed a dose of comedy in what was an exasperating day.

I was down to 2 salt packs and 1 pack of aspirin.

Then I saw the last downhill, which was the exit from the park. At that point my mind transported me back to when I did the Blue Line run. Sondra and Cheddy had made it, but Cheddy had dropped out. Sandra was supposed to run this race, so I was coaching her. I remembered telling her how this was the time to let it all go. Just burn baby burn!
And as I was thinking this, an elderly asian couple passed me on the right, the man was so jubilant too, and he held his arms up and began to growl in ectasy it seemed. Hysterical yet provocative. Because I needed some of that energy and magic too.

At that point I lifted my legs to what felt like two redwood tree trunks and tried to run. It just would not go. I tried again and again. And as I came out of the park and onto 5th Avenue, right by Central Park South, the roar of the crowd again made it’s presence known. This gave me a boost of adrenaline, but it also sent new blades of pain up and down both legs. I fought with myself endlessly the whole way down Central Park South. Everytime I got a new spike of pain on either leg, all I could hear myself yell to myself was “Low! Low! Low! Low!”. That was in reference to what I was reminding myself to do with my legs. With all muscular capabilities shot to hell, lifting my leg was pure hell. If I was going to have any chance to continue moving faster than a walk but not too fast, I had to become a fast, waddling penguin again. I did this mile in 11:47.

As I crossed the 26 mile marker (OMG), the clock read 4 hours 5 minutes and 46 seconds. The balance of this extraordinary experience today was reduced to this.
I needed to go 385 yards (approximately the length of 4 football fields) in less than 4 minutes and 1 second.

And as I turned around the statue on Columbus Circle, thinking that this can happen, another jolt on my hamstring happened. This was on my right leg again. I stopped, grabbed, and I think, for the first time in New York City history, just howled up at the Time Warner building. Would have made great TV.

Another 100 yards almost completed as another shocker of pain coursed through my LEFT hamstring this time. All I could do is laugh. “What the fuck else is going to happen next, I thought?”

Once that pain subsided, I just blasted though uphill as hard as I could. If anything was going to break than good. I don’t care anymore. My brain can go to hell, or just dwell it in like the rest of my body has for over 3 hours now. What started out as an amazing adventure ended almost tragic….


I ran. And I thought of Jennifer. And then I thought of me. And of all that I did to get to this stage in my life. And all that I had to be grateful for, my health, my children, my everything that was positive. New York City never looked so beautiful in my life. There were so many on hand cheering me on, and making me feel like a superhero. And here I was…. FINISHED. And with having done the last 2/10th s of a mile in 2:33 (pace of nearly 13 minutes) I set a new personal record in the marathon of 4 hours 8 minutes and 19 seconds.And as I crossed that finish line, I threw my arms up a-la Rod Dixon (1983 NYC marathon champ), and I screamed and yelled. And once that ended, I cried. Almost uncontrollably too. Haven’t done that since my 19-year comeback in 2005. But I cried even harder today. And not because I failed to break 4. Or even because I broke my PR, but because of all the pain I had to endure to do this. As marathons go, this was by far the hardest marathon I have ever done. And as a result, it was the most satisfying one ever too.

Amazingly when I finished, my lungs felt fresh, and I was pretty alert. I don’t think I ever actually hit the proverbial “wall”. I can only imagine what I could have done, had I not been injured. I am so incensed to re-do another marathon to prove myself , that I may not even want to wait for NYC, and do something in the springtime. We’ll see.

Going from 167 to 163 and would have lost even more had it not been for all the salt and electrolyte formula that I consumed at every mile. My blue nike hat is permanently stained with white salt deposits that came from out of my head. Isn’t that pretty amazing?

The guy at the UPS truck, matched my bib number to my humongously stuffed bag, and plopped it on the table. Looking at this heavy hunk of stuff and knowing that I had at least a mile and a half walk, I jokingly said,

“This is my 2nd Marathon”.

To which he looked to me and said “Congratulations”.

“No I don’t think you know what I mean. This bag that I have to carry is going to be like my 2nd Marathon!”.

He laughed and congratulated me anyway. Truthfully, I was a lot better off than some of the people that I saw laying on their backs along side the walk path being administered by ambulette volunteers, and race staff. One person was throwing up into one of the cans. Again folks, this is not an undertaking for the feint of heart. In fact, this could happen to anyone, even WITH the proper training.

Taking the chip off after leaving the park was a great idea in avoiding congestion. However, if I hadn’t remembered it, I would have forgotten all about it. They need someone with a megaphone at the park exit to announce runners to go to the chip removal area.

NYRR did a much better job at handling crowd control this year after the finish line.
The NYPD seemed a bit more reserved too. They actually even did corralling to make sure that not too many people bunched up either. The photographers at the end of the race were quick and efficient. The goody bag was good. But that bagel from Neri Bakery was atrocious. It was even worse than the bagel that they served at the LI Half 2 years ago.

Later on, on the way back, the “Normandy” dude from this morning offered me and some of the guys behind me beers. Too easily, I accepted two of them and fiercely knocked them back like water. Well, then again it was Coors Lite. That Rocky Mountain water……from Virginia? Mmmm… Beer………Doh!.

This year I have set personal bests at the 3 mile, 3.5 mile, 4 mile, 5 mile, 10km, and Half Marathon. And yet if I put them all together, nothing quite is as sweet as this one.

Final Stats are on their way, with a major slew of photos. Will advise all.
PS. The pictures will include everything except of Jennifer. She feels insulted that my father thought of her as imaginary! She is just kidding of course. When the time is right everything will be known. But for now....Blogrunner Out!

(please note: pictures you see throughout this course was actually that of 2004 taken by Dan O'Brien. They are picture-weather-wise, very close to the actual weather we had yesterday. Thank you, Dan!

1 comment:

DGA said...

What can I say? AMAZNG! SUPERB! CRAZY! No matter what I may positively comment here it will never equal your suffering for 18 miles, although totally the opposite. I read your entire 2-hour blog with intervals for getting up to go to the bathroom and have a snack. I also deserve some praise because notwithstanding the length of your blog, I too had a goal: FINISH READING IT! And I do not regret it. It was descriptive, interesting,suspensful,comedic,horrific and 4 1/2 stars out of 5. I never give 5 stars to anything or anyone, including Generals. So you got my most favorable opinion in two fronts: The Race, and the Blog.
Now, let's move to an even more important issue: YOUR LEG. I don't remember ever reading about a wooden leg Marathoner breaking any records, so stop running for a while, go get a physical, make sure your leg is totally back in your body and that you are completely pain-free and more important, injury-free. You can achieve that by staying away from running or heavy exercise/training for a period of time, until you get a full clean bill of health.
Again, CONGRATULATIONS and don't let it get to your head. Humility enriches Victory.You showed that in your blog. WELL DONE!