Well here I am the day after the 2011 NYC marathon and I decided that it’s time to take a break from feeding my face to put some of my thoughts down about the weekend. As many of you know, I once again raced with Ethan Zohn and his charity Grassroot Soccer, raising money for HIV/AIDS education and awareness in Africa. This was the third year that GRS has done the marathon, and my third year of participation.
“Participate” is exactly what I did this year. I went into the race very undertrained, with only one “long” run under my belt. The problem is that “long” training run was only 14 miles. So as expected, and as planned, the second half of my race became even more social with lots of walking breaks. And I swear, running a marathon that way can be so rewarding because you don’t miss a thing. You don’t miss a single sight, smell, or sound along the way. I think I high-fived two million people along the side of the road yesterday.
Once again we stayed with my wife’s sister and her family. Although they live about 25 miles north of the race festivities, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see family while being a part of such a great race. I wouldn’t exchange the great company, great home cooking, and the comforts of home and family for the convenience of staying in NYC. We arrived at their home in West Harrison late Friday and settled in for the weekend ahead. And I do have to say that my wife, MG, was and is a complete saint for shuttling me back and forth all weekend to make sure all of my connections were made. I thanked her a dozen times if not more over the weekend. Support like that is just incredible.
Saturday mid-day we cruised into the city to take care of my registration details and the expo (and spent a few dollars on some things I NEEDED). From there it was off to the Remi restaurant to meet Ethan and the crew for our GRS marathon team pre race dinner and gathering. The dinner really set the tempo for what would be a great weekend. There are a number of athletes who have done this race before and we have all developed a nice friendship so it was good to see everyone and get caught up. It was great to see guys like Paul, Sully, Craig, Angela, Becky, and many others as well as the many new comers to the group. This is a GOOD group of human beings and I am honored to call them friends.
We added about 20 more runners this year over last, including Ironman 70.3 World Champion triathlete Aaron Scheidies from Seattle. Aaron is a visually impaired athlete who I also knew from the triathlon world. I might add, he is also one of the nicest guys I have ever met and is a complete character who can eat anyone I know under the table.
After a great dinner and many laughs we started to wrap things up and head our separate ways to get things in order for race morning. But not before I was tapped on the shoulder by the film crew of Everyday Health and asked to do a short interview about the race, and my relationship with Ethan. Hopefully that comes out well, we shall see. Shortly after that we headed back to get organized.
This weekend we changed the clocks BACK an hour so I was a little nervous about my wake up, but all went very smoothly and we left to head back into the city at about 4:45 AM on Sunday morning. We all gathered at the race’s host hotel and took care of some last minute preparation before boarding the team bus to the start. Ethan also reached into his bag and said “I have something special for you” as he handed me a Stand Up 2 Cancer / SURVIVOR bandana. That was much appreciated and actually turned out to be a great distraction during the race because I played with it and kept moving it around between my head…. My neck…. My wrist …… it kept my mind off of running 26.2 miles.
While we waited, I had a nice conversation with a guy in our group named Adam. This was Adam’s first marathon and he was pretty nervous. We had a nice chat and I assured him that he had already put in the hard work and there was no doubt he would have a good day. I reminded him to start off slow and to also savor the day and drink it all in. I also told him to enjoy the crowd, engage the kids when possible and high-five anyone who sticks their hand in the road. More on Adam later.
We boarded the bus and made our way to the start. At dinner I had recommended to Ethan that we write the letters F C on the soles of our running shoes. “FC” has taken on a couple of translations over the years with this group. “Fight Cancer” is one of them. The other, is not quite so G rated. On the bus ride, we broke out the Sharpies and marked up the soles of our shoes. Ethan took my idea one step further and suggested we stomp through dog sh*t to REALLY drive the point home to cancer. Not sure how he made out with that one! Luckily I didn’t encounter any of that during the race.
Unfortunately our arrival at the start was a little rushed because the bus hit a lot of traffic delays so we actually had to exit early and walk the rest of the way to the start. Once that happened, people scattered and some of the people that I had hoped to at least start out running with all ended up in different places. No worries. I made my way to my designated start coral and waited for our start.
At 10:10 the cannon fired to signal the start of our wave. The start of the NYC marathon is actually about a one mile climb up the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. It feels steep and it’s a little chilly between the shade and the breeze from the river. But before you know it, you hit the crest and begin the descent back down the other side.
As I mentioned earlier, I was a little under prepared for this race. But I was healthy and injury free so I knew I could fake or muscle my way through it without any problems as long as I didn’t set the bar too high. I ran the first half at pretty consistent 10 minute miles. At around 14 miles, the walking breaks kicked in and became longer in duration as the race went on. Other than feeling like I had steak knives sticking out of my quads, I felt OK. Nutritionally, I felt great. Things went relatively according to plan.
I also did get the chance to connect with a few GRS runners on the road, including Sully, and Angela. And remember Adam, who I gave advice to in the hotel? He passed me somewhere around mile 15 and gave me a thumbs up and a smile and asked how I felt. And THEN, Adam weaved his way over to the curbside so he could high five a row of kids. He listened to what I had told him and during that simple little exchange I had an emotional moment.
There were other moments as well, especially as I reflected on the fact my wife and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage. She has been such a catalyst in allowing me to achieve and realize so much in this life.
Of course, runners cannot turn onto First Avenue without being overcome with emotions. I feel like the heart of the entire race sits right there waiting for you to come off of the quiet of the bridge and erupt into a hero’s welcome.
In keeping with a little tradition that I started, I did have a couple of Philly pride moments. Most notably came along First Ave at about 79th. A group of guys were tossing a football on the sidewalk, tossing it into the crowd of runners anytime a runner gave them a nod and a “hey, I’m open” sign. So of course I did, and the guy hit me in stride with a perfect strike. But before I tossed it back, I broke into an “E-A-G-L-E-S” cheer and fired it back to them. I thought the whole corner was going to come after me. Good thing for cops and barricades. I did the same thing to a spectator wearing a Giants Lawrence Taylor jersey. That guy just yelled back and said “I’ll remember your face”. Too funny.
So eventually, after over five hours of five borough therapy, I made my way into Central Park and across the finish line of marathon number…. perhaps 20. I am not 100% sure. I met up with MG who SOMEHOW had secured street parking just a few blocks from the finish. (a saint, I’m telling you). From there we actually went back north for a great dinner, shower, and to pack up and say goodbye to our family.
And so ends another chapter of the ING NYC Marathon.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who played a part in this awesome adventure. From my wife and family, to my warrior cancer brother Ethan Zohn and his GRS team, to each and every spectator and volunteer along the way. You all rock and I will see you next year.
Side note – please don’t forget my committment to donate all proceeds from my book “In Search of Center” to two of Ethan’s favorite charities. Details can be found HERE.