Sunday, November 1, 2009

RACE REPORT: The 2009 ING New York City Marathon


When I started running again in 2004 (oh no, this is going to be long, isn't it?), I always dreamed of being faster then when I was young. I knew this was not possible at the time. After all, who in their right mind thinks that they could be faster in their middle age then when they were an overactive teenager, right?

My goal was to run a marathon again. I signed up in late of 2003, and entered in the lottery in 2004, but was rejected. So I did what was expected and ran in 9 or more races to gain automatic acceptance to the following year's (2005) NYC Marathon.

I did not know what to expect other than hoping to finish. When I did finish my first marathon in 19 years, back in 2005, and did so in 4 hours and 34 minutes, I was amazed that I came so close to what I did in 1984 when I was 19.

So I trained extremely hard the next year, trying to make sure I wouldn't break my leg again. Everything was going great, until I overdid it with a month to go and tore my right calf muscle. It was devastating. The doctor strongly urged me not to run, but against sane advice, I ran anyway. Luckily enough I finished, but with my second worst time ever (second to 1986, when I even stopped for a slice of pizza on first avenue).

I learned from my mistakes as an "amateur", and went back for some more torture in 2007. However this time, I was smart. And despite the cramping that had me stop and go from the moment I crossed over the Queensboro Bridge, I hung in there and refused to quit. My 4:20 time was my second best time ever. And I was 42 years old by then.

Last year I was on a mission. Having twice broken my personal best at the half-marathon, and getting amazing results at the 5k, 5miler and 10k, I was primed and ready for an all out assault. And sure enough, I started off in a blaze. By the time I had finished my first 18 miles, I still had a full 77 minutes to do 8 miles.

Once I had believed that I would break 4 hours. I was 20 years old then and full of naivete. I had left behind those foolish thoughts when I started running again at the age of 39. But with all the continual improvements, here I was, within grasp of my dream to break the barrier that seemed impossible to reach.

And last year I was really smart. The salt packets helped. The Endurolyte pills helped too. And yet, it was not enough. At the 21 mile mark, my body completely broke down. My muscles were spasming involuntarily, locking up continuously. With each mile marker came a swiss quartz digital clock, showing me the elapsed time. And with each clock, the read-out became more and more dire. I had passed Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, but with less than 4 miles to go, the sub-4 barrier had slipped away from my grasp. So close, and so much effort, but no reward.

Last year's Marathon was bittersweet however. Bitter in that I did not achieve my much blog-hyped objective of breaking 4 hours, but sweet in that I still managed to break my personal record for a marathon of 4:09:47 with a 4:08:19. I was proud at my achievement, and even got my medal engraved.

Fast forward to this year. I wont go over every detail (as I usually do, and drive people to drink), but I got off to a slow start. I was living in Long Island, friendless, and without having too many fun places to run. Then along came Karen. My world changed and so did my geography. I was suddenly thrusted into the "Mecca" of running. Central Park. And Karen, a female equal of me. Competitive and dedicated. Running. Cycling. Swimming. And yet throughout it all, we kept saying to ourselves and each other, "We haven't trained enough!", "We're not going to do well in the race", and "Why are we having such a lousy run".

But we weren't of course. Since June of 2007, it wasn't really about the miles I logged, but how I logged them. 2 runs of 20 miles or more, and another 3 of 18 miles. 4 cycling rides of 30 miles or more, and a triathlon to top it off. Progression was no longer the recipe. It was a mandate.

The results of the prescription was obvious. Personal Record for the 1 mile race in September. Personal Record for the Half-Marathon in early October, and then Personal Record again for the Half-Marathon, in mid-October. The last 3 races? All Personal Bests.

pictures at the annual marathon expo at the Javits Center in NY.



Our D-Tags.  How lovely.
Pasta Dinner - Friday Night - New York Athletic Club - 180 W. 59th St.
Friday night Karen and I attended a dinner event sponsored by the New York Athletic Club in their building on the corner of 59th street and 7th Avenue. What a prestigious building it was. Old School stuff. Everywhere. Dressed in a suit, I sat with my wonderful lady and watched as the committee rolled videos of this year's running highlights. Eamonn Coghlan, holder of the 2nd fastest mile ever, and only man over the age of 40 ever to do a sub-4 minute mile, graced us with a funny speech.

Then Meb Keflezighi took the stage and we were all ears. In 2007, Keflezighi suffered from dehydration and broke his hip during the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials in Central Park. He finished in eighth place and did not qualify for the team. During the race, his friend and training partner Ryan Shay died of a heart attack.

While at the podium he described how debilitating it was for him during his hip recovery process. "At one point, it took all I had just to crawl on all fours like an infant." Then later added with a tear in his eye about his friend Ryan, and how he didn't know what fate had in store for him this Sunday, but that he would do his best.

Personally, the night was a great success. Meb and Eamonn are two on my running hero list. The food was surprisingly top notch, and the videos about Meb and the NYAC was excellent. I even loved the speech given by a NYAC local; "What a cruel race the New York City Marathon is. You think the Queensboro Bridge is really tough, and you're right, because it's all uphill. But then you go up First Avenue, and say, 'Hey! This is my neighborhood. But it's uphill. And then after the bridges, you come back to Fifth Avenue, and it's uphill again!" At one point Karen wanted to ask Meb how much sleep he gets everynight, but we never got a chance to ask him the question. "Hey Meb? What time to do you go to Beb?" HAH!

All of that would be remembered and used wisely by me during race day Sunday.

Race Day.

Karen and I got up at 5am. Typically, I would get up by around 3am. Ahhh, the advantages of living in Manhattan. We had mostly everything taken care of the day before, so we had very little stress from wake-up time to leave time.
We got in a cab to Battery Park, and hopped onto the Staten Island Ferry. To be honest, I was initially nervous about this method to get to the starting line. However, Karen was right in that thousands of people go this way, mostly from Manhattan. I took a few pictures while on the ferry, and noticed that the rain had stopped. From the ferry port in Staten Island we hopped onto one of the many chartered buses headed for the starting line. Just like the buses that I so frequently took from Manhattan in years' past, the backlog of buses waiting to get to the park was a little unnerving. Karen and I met several others. One was a Swiss man who had been living in the United Arab Emirates selling insurance for the last 15 years. This was going to be his 9th New York City Marathon. Another, was a fella who lived out in Long Island near to where I work. He overheard me talk about the Long Island Marathon. He chimed in and told me how extremely boring it was to run it. That there were more runners than spectators, and that there are typically only 300 or so people who run the full 26.2It was a little after 7am, and we were now on this long line outside of the bus waiting to get into the park and into our village. In Fort Wadsworth, there are three villages for marathoners to group in; Blue, Orange, and Green. For years now, I have never been in the Blue village, or in wave 1. Blue is closest to the start, but I could care less about that. I was more excited to be placed into the sub-elite group of runners and start in the first wave at 9:40am. It meant I would be running with people a little bit faster and somewhat more knowledgeable about running. Even still, and without getting too ahead of myself, I had to do all I could not to trip over the myriad of discarded water bottles, sweat pants, and jackets that were all over the bridge.

My running number was 14325. As another measurement of achievement, I usually like to place better than my running number. Last year I placed, 15558th.

Karen stayed in my village since it was closest to the starting line. We got some free coffee at the Dunkin Donuts coffee trailer and even got some sportingly cool wool hats in hot pink and orange.

Karen helped me set up our area to lay down in using the same stuff from last year. Hefty lawn n' leaf trash bags that were taped together with blankets on top. Over the years, I've learned that the ground at Fort Wadsworth is rarely dry. Hence, the plastic bags make a nice vapor barrier between my ass and the wet ground beneath.

I had to go to the bathroom. Bad. I waited behind 9 people. Here is a suggestion, however sexist it may be. If you ever have to race, and need to use a port-o-sans, and there are two lines with an equal number of people in each waiting to use the port-o-sans? Select the line with the least amount of women. For one, women are messier then men. They never plop their cheeks on the toilet because it skeeves them. However, by not sitting on the toilet they make a mess of things, and spray all over the place. Secondly, women take forever. How funny is this? Some club from Argentina was here to run the Marathon. The Brightroom photographer told them to all get together for a photo op. HAHA!!! Look at me! I crashed the shot! Lower right hand side. I stand out glaringly in my RED shirt. HAHAHA!!!

By the time I did my business, Karen who was minding our stuff, now had to go. The time was already 8:45 in the morning. I kissed her goodbye, and took my bag to get checked in.

Life without Karen.

Life with Karen.

Getting to my corral from the UPS bus, was as it is every year. Chaos. I wound up getting to the green corral first, then I had to back out of there, and run half way across to the other end of the park just to get to my corral. And I just made it in too by about a minute. The volunteer in my corral had started to unroll the mesh in her hand and was ready to close it up. So, I really just made it.

Once in the corral, it was almost scary seeing the reactions of those who did not make it. Many complained, and some were screaming to get in, nearly coming to blows with the volunteers. Of all the volunteer work, the corral volunteers have to have the most thankless job hands down. One guy, looked like he was in his late 40's, yelled over and over.

"Porque lo cerrastes? Why are they all closed? PENDEJO! PENDEJO-O-O-O!!!!"

You could see his spit flying through the gaps of his teeth, landing on the volunteer's orange jacket. I don't know about you, but in my eyes, and in the eyes of a New York City Police officer, that's assault. No?

As the corral started to move towards the bridge, people who did not make the corral were getting more and more desperate. By the time we passed by the last in-corral port-o-sans, I started noticing the seemingly impenetrable 7 foot high fences erected to keep those in the corrals from those who did not make the corrals. It looked like a scene right out of Stalag 17.

And then the jumpers came. The race featured runners from every country imaginable. The statistics were mindless. Runners from over 100 countries represented. The New York City Marathon is like no other. It has an olympic feel to it. Especially if you are into high-jumping....

Runners who were deeply upset by not making it into the corral on time, began scaling the 7 foot metal monstrosity and jumping over. "Thud", "Thud" and more "Thud", they kept jumping over. The volunteers did all they could to flag those who were crazy enough to put their health in danger just to take off with our wave (wave 1), and kick them back out. But by the time were were nearly at the end, there were at least 3 or 4 people that got away with it.

We got to the bridge and minutes away from the take off, Mike Bloomberg took the mic. "The world's greatest race, in the world's greatest city, with the best marathon weather possible. Could you ask for anything more?" Then Mary Wittenberg, President of the NYRR, took the mic herself; "Are you ready to run?"

And with that, the cannon went off. We were finally on our way...

Now why don't I get photos like these taken of me? Karen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! lol.

(and for my father who is reading this....hahaha...that's what you get for writing your comment to me about making sure this blog post would be short and keep reading!)

As the race was about to begin, the overwhelming feelings were all around me. Bill Rodgers, former champion said it best one time; "The starting line of the New York City Marathon is kind of like a giant time bomb behind you about to go off. It is the most spectacular start in all of sports." At the sound of the cannon, I turned on my Philips Go-Mix MP3 player and hit shuffle. The first song of the marathon to play was Rainbow's, "Street of Dreams". Indeed.

One of the most important items on me when I started running was a self-made mile/pace band (see left). I did this because the one that they give out at Marathon Expo on Friday is useless (see right). Every mile at exactly 9:09? It did not take into account variances based on elevation, or just the human body getting tired at the end of a race and running slower miles. Last year, I created one based on elevations, and realizing that I am human who will tire after 3 hours of running, I also took into account of running slower miles during the last 10K of the marathon.

This was by far my greatest running innovation yet. It helped me a lot last year, and was absolutely essential this year (along with my Garmin 310XT watch too, that is!)

Another great innovation was an algorithm I invented for my running on Microsoft Excel. Have you ever run a race using a Garmin and realized at the finish line that the distance the watch had calculated was longer than the actual race course? It is perfectly natural. I am sure that no one has ever run a just 26.21 miles in a Marathon. With all the zig-zagging involved, missing turns or taking them too widely, there is no way that anyone could ever run the course minimum. And this is true of any race, unless you are talking about a 1 mile race going in a straight line.

The problem with the mile splits that Garmin gives then, is that it's based on true distance and not marker distance. So, with that said, my Garmin alerted me that I had just finished a mile...about 80 feet from the actual 1 mile marker. A difference of about 5 seconds. Now this might not mean a big deal, but do this over 26 miles and the difference becomes very noticeable. And race directors don't care if you finished 26.2 miles somewhere on the East Side of Central Park. The finish line is wherever the finish line is (deep).

To combat this issue, I devised a program in Excel that takes all of the Mile split times from the Garmin and breaks them up into chunks. Let's say you ran 26.5 miles in 26.2 mile race. That means you ran .3 over the distance. Your first mile may have been done in 8 minutes flat, but did you really do 1 mile? No! The program will take the overage, divide it into the interval (miles) and assess the pace from the proceeding mile split to tack on to the previous mile that is lacking. If you don't understand any of this, don't worry. In fact, I'm not even going to tell you anymore, because you may fall asleep on the keyboard and if you drool, you may electrocute yourself, and I don't want to personally be responsible for your untimely death due to my breakthrough on measuring splits accurately. I will just tell you that it works and that's all!

As we all began to run, I noticed that I was only about 100 rows deep from the starting line. And that's in the 1st wave!

I completed my first mile in 8:35 seconds. It was the first time I ever ran on the top level of the bridge. So cool. Also, it was really interesting hearing the thunderous slapping of sneakers on the wood planks that protected the runners from stepping on metal bridge seams. It's these little odd things (along with the bouncing up and down of the bridge) that you never forget. Something else from this year that I will never forget...This tall lanky fella, looked like he was European. The guy fell flat on his face. Either he was stepping off the raised curb on the left hand side or getting on it, but either way....PLAPH!!! I don't think I've ever seen a person land on his face first. The surrounding crowd went "Ohh" and "Noo!" and a couple of people near him stopped for a moment to help him.

What goes up must come down. I went up the VZ bridge in 8:35, and wailed going down it in 7:39. By the time you hit land, you've already finished 2 miles. Into Brooklyn we go, and I'm completely shutting out the crowd. I realize that I can't even put my heart into the crowd for at least another 20 miles or so. Imagine that.I completed my first 5K (3.1 miles) in 25:15. Whoa. Last year I did the same thing in 25:42. Will the trend continue? I learned from last year, that I am not the type of runner accustomed to staying at the same pace all the way through. Call it inconsistent, or whatever you wish, but in order for me to have a shot at getting a PR, I do need to go out fast. Not too fast that I burn out, but fast enough to give me a fighting chance later on, when I'm weary from the race.
I took my first GU-Roctane gel pack at approximately 30 minutes. I had a chock full of goodies in the belt bag too. Ummm..let's see....7 GU gel packs, 2 Advils, 15 Endurolyte capsules, and about 20 packets of salt (like the kind you see at a McDonald's).
I also checked my right sneaker to make sure the laces were double knotted. It seemed snug enough, but the lace was flip flopping a lot. They were okay as it turned out. I lost maybe 3-5 seconds at worst. Regarding my footwear, I had purchased a pair of Adrenaline's by Brooks, but opted instead to go with my Brooks Infinity 2 shoes instead. Why? I wasn't convinced that the Adrenaline's were broken in enough, and the Infiniti's were responsible for giving me a personal record in my last 3 races. Nuff said.

The weather was beautiful. No sun. Little wind, and low in the 50's. There was a lot of commotion along 4th Avenue, but I kept pace with myself.Perhaps hard to see, but I'm in the middle of the photo up above. 1 in a sea of 44000 runners.

This may have been the first marathon I've run in where I had no obvious injuries. Amazing. As I got to the church on 4th Avenue, I would hear what is perennially the loudest crowd anywhere on the course. I told my co-worker Bobby, that the people in his neighborhood are so loud, that it almost sounded like someone being murdered.
"What makes you think they weren't? was his response.

One of the most amazing things about this particular race is that you don't even feel like you are running. You feel like you are in a parade, and everyone is cheering you on. I can't tell you how many strangers were so graceful enough to cheer my name out. You kinda don't want to get lost in those positive emotions so early on in the race, but you kinda do too. It's hard to explain. Karen at around Mile 7. She started in the last corral, but is looking as fresh as a daisy here.
As always, the gospel choir was out in full force at the church just north of the Williamsburg Savings Bank:

I took my first 3 Endurolyte capsules. Endurlyte is a specially-blended formula consisting of Sodium, Chloride, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Vitamin B-6, Manganese, L-Tyrosine, and Anabolic Steroids. Just joking about the steroids. Wanted to see if you actually read the whole thing, haha!

Ten miles down. Still on pace for 3 1/2 hours. Unbelievable. Nearly broke 8 minutes on this mile alone.Mile 11 was the only stop where I didn't plan well enough in advance to make it over to the side on time and get Gatorade. That's another thing I did well this year. I stopped at EVERY hydration station to get gatorade (well, except this one) and water. I sweat far more than normal people, so I needed to ensure I stay dehydrated and make sure I had enough electrolytes (sodium, potassium, etc) necessary to keep my muscular function working properly and not involuntarily (cramping, spasming, etc.)Lovely Manhattan Avenue as we just made a left onto it from Bedford Avenue. If you look straight ahead you can see the old Citicorp skyscraper in Manhattan. It was right around here last year where I got my second major cramp (first one being by the Williamsburg Savings bank). Yet no cramps to speak of today. At the 20K mark (12.4 miles), I looked at my Garmin. 1:42:03. I was still ahead of last year's pace by nearly 3 minutes. That meant that even if I cramped up just as badly in the second half of the race as I did last year, that i should finish right around 4:05, 4:06. This would not be good enough for me, but I felt very confident that my body would not do this to me. I kept thinking about everything I did this year in preparation for this race, the bike tours, the triathlon, etc. This couldn't happen again, no? For the first half of the race, I was on a complete tear. I completed ever mile under 8:30 until the 13th mile (and that was because of the bridge). As I crossed the Pulaski bridge, I was on pace for a 3:36 marathon. At 1:48:03, I was still nearly a full 3 minutes ahead of last year's PR pace.

I had managed to do such a good job at shutting out the crowds that I probably missed a lot of photo opportunities, as I rarely held my head up to look around for much other than the water stations.

As I approached the 59th Street (Queensboro Bridge), I took a look around to see if Bonnie or anybody else from Forest Park Road Runners was there cheering us on. I saw Carmen from the College Point Track Club just past the 14th Mile Marker. Unfortunately, I guess the FPRR'ers were not to be found. Perhaps though a good thing, as I was focusing on running and not getting emotional support, which I felt was totally unecessary.At the base of the bridge, I played it smart and took my first salt packet. This year I kept the salt packets in a small plastic container I got for free at Runner's Edge out in Farmingdale. I know. Shameless plug. But they did give me good advice on using it, so I wanted to thank them here. As I made my way east on 44th Drive, I could smell fried chicken. Mmmm. It was good. Wafting through the air and into my nose. Tempting me. Telling me, "Fuck the Marathon Alex, and go for the Colonel's recipe!" When it comes to food, my willpower is very weak indeed. But, I was not going to stop, like I did in 1986, when on 1st avenue, I jumped into a pizzeria for two slices. I ate on in the restaurant, and came out running with the other slice in my hand. You should have seen the expression on the volunteer's faces when they were about to give me water and I had a gooey, cheesy slice in my hand and tomato sauce all over my face!

If there's one thing you gotta know about this bridge it is that it is uphill 4/5ths of the way up, followed by a steep decline onto 59th street between 1st & 2nd Aves. Your best bet? Don't look at the bridge ahead, but rather keep looking down at the road, and be careful of potholes, etc. Don't try to overstride, or you're finished.So now, I am off the bridge and into Manhattan. No offense to the half a million spectators that cheered for us in Brooklyn and in Queens, but this is where the race (and strategy) really begins.
With 10 miles to go, I'm going up 1st Avenue. Before long I am on 77th and I've just passed the 17 mile mark. All is going well thus far. I've been taking a salt packet here, and an Endurolyte there. I also took my Advil, to alleviate any possible inflammation.
Karen taking advantage of an energy gel pack at the Powerbar Gel station on 1st avenue.
Unlike the photo below which was taking during the 2004 Marathon, it was beautifully overcast today with no sun glare to speak of.Everything was going well. Until I got to 95th Street. Without warning, a thunderbolt raced up from my left achilles straight up to my ass. It was so bad, that I had no choice but to stop and work it out. I was so far ahead (5 minutes ahead of last year's pace now - I was actually increasing my lead) that I took extra seconds to make sure I was back to normal before taking off again.
I had hoped this would not be the beginning of the same usual shit I have to deal with every year.Mile 20 was at the Willis Avenue bridge, and as always, the customary thin orange rug was laid out over the metal grating of the bridge. Hardly enough but at least it helped a little. My legs was getting a little bit stiff, and I did have one or two cramps that I had to work through but nothing too crazy.And now, we are in the garden of Eden. Bronx. Yah, right. New to this year's course was a an extra block or two in the Bronx. If it were up to me, i would have eliminated the Bronx altogether, but I figured to just have an open mind and see what this extra block had to offer:

You're kidding me, right???
I ran back onto 138th Street and saw a medical tent there. It was the same that made me wipe out a couple of years back when I tried to jump the curb but was too tired and landed on a slippery spot. I yelled "salt" several times, and the lady finally walked me into the med tent.
She could not find salt! Finally she did, but I must have wasted like 30 seconds. I did get about 10 packs, perfect to compliment the few I had left. I left the tent and continued onward towards the Madison Avenue Bridge.

The best part about crossing the Mile 21 marker is that it means I have crossed south on the Madison Avenue Bridge and have left the Bronx. Wahhhoooooo!!!
An hour to finish 5.2 miles. All I had to do now was to average slightly less than 12 minutes a mile. Seems easy right? Yet I had a similar situation last year, where after Mile 21 everything went to hell. "Take nothing for granted. This isn't over yet.", I kept telling myself.
As we came down to the end of 5th Avenue, to the north side of Marcus Garvey Park (pic below), another cramp set in. Followed by another. I took in two more packets of salt, and marched on.
Fortunately, no cramps on the calves. This has to have something to do with the Zensah calf compression sleeves that I was wearing. Finally. Clothing to help keep my muscles under control.Last year, I had a major cramp as I turned around MG park (pic below). Not this year.
The last major obstacle involving pain was soon approaching. And that was the uphill on 5th Avenue down to 90th street.Perhaps the reason why it's suprising that there is an uphill may be simply because it is so subtle. In fact, you can't even tell on this Google map photo I took above at 102nd Street, but it is there. You can see it in the distance. It chews you up around 100th and spits you back out at 90th where we enter the park. On my pace band I was counting on 11 minute miles in this neighborhood. Fortunately, that never happened. I was running hard and strong, and doing everything right. I gave myself 43 minutes to do Miles 21-24 and instead I did them in less than 39 minutes. As a result, I actually started to distance myself from the 4 hour pace. I was increasing my probability of breaking the 4 hour barrier with fewer miles to go. I passed 96th Street where Karen lives, and I could see the stream of runners turning right into the park.
Soon enough, there I was passing Fred Lebow's statue on my left, with the Guggenheim Museum just a little bit further down and behind me. A few hundred yards later I cross the 24th mile marker. At this point, there would no longer be any question as to whether or not I would break the 4 hour barrier that has eluded me since 1984. I had nearly a half-hour to do 2.2 miles. A 14 minute per mile pace would achieve that, and I can just about walk that speed.Look below. I'm in the middle. Red shirt, white hat, blue shorts.
If anyone ever asked me, "Alex, when is it safe to really start interacting with the crowd, and really get passionate?" The answer would be, "When you see the '1 MILE TO GO' sign." After 25.2 miles, your body is in tatters, regardless of the shape you are in. Seeing that sign you can't help but to smile. It's comical almost. Best of all you are running out of the fan-lined Central Park and into the massive hoards of 59th street and Central Park South. It's an amazing feeling.
As I exited the park and back into the thongs of humanity on Central Park south, I kept saying. "Here we are again. Chapter 8." My heart, lungs and legs were going strong, as was the music on my MP3 player.Turning back into Central Park from Columbus Circle, I totally forgot about the large HDTV screen showing us going back in. This was preceeded by a sign that read "800 Meters to Go!" I can now see the finish line in the distance. Did I ever tell you that the last two-tenths of the New York City Marathon is all uphill as well? I blazed across the finish with my arms held up in a victory position. I wanted to make sure no one was around me as I did this, to get the best possible picture taken of me. We'll see. I looked at my watch. 3:51:45. A colossal feat in what is one of the most grueling activities that a human being can put themself through. Thank you, Brooks Inifiniti's. Thank you, Zensah's. Thank you, self made pace band. Thank you, Garmin 310XT. Thank you, Philips MP3 player. Thank you, all the supplements I took with me. Thank you NYRR, for giving me a wave 1 start. Thank you Arrow, for being flexible with me at work to help me achieve my goal. Thank you Karen. Thank you God.
Weather: 50-57 degrees. Overcast. 70% humidity.
OVERALL: 11493 out of 43475 - top 26.4% - Best overall finish for a marathon ever.
GENDER: 9394 out of 28178 - top 33.3% - Best overall gender finish for a marathon ever.
AGE GROUP: 2037 out of 5522 - top 36.9% - Best overall age group finish for a marathon ever.
TIME: 3 hours, 51 minutes, 45 seconds. - Best Marathon Time ever (beat previous record by 16 minutes & 33 seconds)
PACE: 8:50

After I got my medal I began my journey up to the UPS truck to get my stuff, and then out onto 85th street and Central Park West...

It was a great race and I can't wait until next year's run.
But wait! Whatever happened to Karen?
Here she comes-a-charging down Central Park Drive East.
Make no mistake about it, she's driven to finish!

Is This....

No. Not the end. Where most runner's blog about the marathon would end here. I have (potentially-depending on your point of view) a bigger piece of news.
About a month ago, I decided that I was going to propose to Karen. We love each other, and after you reach a certain age, it really doesn't take all that long to know if you can see yourself with a person for the rest of your life or not. Cynics most certainly say things like "If you're not going to have kids, why even marry?" or "Even if you did want kids, what's the point? You've been married twice already? What makes you think this one's going to be right?"
There are so many other things that people say to one another along this topic, that I could be here forever (even longer than this blog, if you could believe it). Bottom line is that I love Karen, just like her and I have a love for the sport of running.
It occurred to me awhile ago that if things stayed on course, then why not propose to her at the finish line of the NYC marathon. The wheels were turning. First thing I did, was to shoot off an email to none other than Mary Wittenberg, the CEO/President of the New York Road Runner's Club, the same club that founded and organizes the NYC Marathon. Surprisingly, I received a warm and prompt response from her acknowledging my desires, and pledging her team's support to help me achieve this dream.
I'd been back 'n' forth with NYRR for about a month. The logistics to propose at the finish line was a nightmare. Karen and I left in different waves, and we both had different times to finish. How then, was I going to find her at the finish line? How was I supposed to ensure that I could even stay by the finish line? I could have taken my iPhone with the Athlete Alert app to inform me about her location, but that was not reliable enough. How was I going to run 26.2 miles with a diamond ring in my shorts? I tried many things, but it all added up to anxiety & uncertainty. And those are the two LAST emotions you ever want while running a marathon.
To elevate this further; IMG Media contacted me. They are the production crew responsible for bringing the race to NBC television. I was advised that we were going to be placed on a VIP bus, and taken to the VIP tent, and assure that both Karen and I were going to start from the same corral. However, the idea fell flat, when they realized that Karen was not going to be able to finish the race before the media coverage ended. Oh, well. Not a biggie.
So. What did I do then?
The day before the race, and on Halloween, Karen and I went for one last training run prior to the marathon together. We were going to enter the park, as we usually do - from 96th and the East Side, but this time run in a clockwise fashion. And in the spirit of the Marathon, we even exited the park, to run along Central Park South, before re-entering in Columbus Circle.
As soon as we entered the park, I had realized that I had left my viking hat at home. I had wanted to wear this since it was Halloween. No big deal though, right? Then Karen had asked me if I had put money in the meter. That was a big deal.
I ran as fast as I could out of the park, and back to her apartment. But by the time I could see the car in sight, I already saw a ticket. Damn! My first one since dating Karen. I went upstairs got money anyway (and my viking helmet) and back out to feed the meter for an hour, enough to run to Tavern On The Green and back again.
Karen was back at the car and felt bad for me. We went back into the park, and started running.
The run was great. Mostly everybody was running in the opposite direction. They were looking, smiling and laughing at me. At one point, Karen had to go to the bathroom at the "Boathouse". As I waited for her, several tourist snapped up pictures of me. I was a sensation!
Karen came back out and we progressed to the finish line. As we got close, she took my hand and we both crossed it (sort of) with our hands clasped together, held high over our heads.
Then as she was beginning to pull away, I held onto it. She looked at me kind of odd, and then I began telling her how lucky I was that when I had that bike accident a few months back, that I only mangled one knee. When she asked why I said that, I told her "So that I can get down on the other knee." And from there I pulled out the wedding ring that I spent many agonizing hours trying to get, and proposed to her.
"Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" was her response, followed by "a thousand times Yes!"

She looked as if she was going to cry in delight, and she loved the ring that she had just put on. A lady passerby took notice and had asked if she could take pictures with her Blackberry camera, and that she would send them to us. She did, and then I realized, "Duh! I have my iPhone too."
We haven't set a wedding date yet. That will probably come after we move into the 2 bedroom apartment together.
Okay. Now this blogpost is officially done. :-)


DGA said...

This was your best blog ever!
Just kidding. Waiting for it soon, without too many details, but a lot of meat without fat.

Jamie Pang said...

Whoa Alex! What an awesome result! Can't wait to read all about it. Do post some photos too!

BTW, I've moved my blog to

DGA said...

Very long but very interesting! You are forgiven because the way you described the race put me in it too, although I ran it in probably 10 hours. The proposal part very touchy...I used about two boxes of Kleenex.Seriously, very sweet in contrast with all the salt I had to ingest too in order to avoid cramps in my eyes.
Congratulations, and although you are an old man now (couldn't resist)I am still proud of your feat (To read feat not feet!). Well done, but mainly great preparation and perseverence. It says a lot about your will power, (just like your father, of course.
OK. I have to close now, the ambulance is waiting outside to treat me from reading exhaustion. Next time I will probably plan this better and book a trip to Bahamas, right after your blog.
C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S!!!!!

Jamie Pang said...

Now that's what I call a REPORT!

Your photos bring back many wonderful memories.

Well done again Alex and many congratulations to you and Karen!

Anonymous said...

Yay!! Congratulations on your time AND......congrats to you and Karen on your engagement!!!!! Now it's party time!! whoooo hoooo!!

Progman2000 said...

wow great race report