Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New York Marathon Blog

So I have had a couple of days to digest everything that occured Sunday and will try to give a decent replay of how it all went down. I will preface this by saying it was everything I would have possibly imagined and so much more. Hope you enjoy reading....

The dinner the night before was cool. I did not really enjoy the food, but the company and the atmosphere really made it feel like a party. It was really needed the day before a marathon. I had come down with something a few days before, and took it really easy on Saturday. With my tour guide (hey Ria!) I went to the expo (which I could write an entire blog on...so much awesome runner gear and amazing people), grabbed some hot dogs and chilled until the dinner. Afterwords, I went back to my room and was treated to a really spectacular fireworks display that was viewed perfectly from the 15th floor window. What a great way to get mentally ready.

I knew I was not going to sleep much. I doubt many people do the night before a marathon. There was also a time change so I was even more concerned about getting up on time. I set my phone, my watch, and the room clock. I woke up before they went off, but it helped me get a little piece of mind.

My departure was from the Statten Island ferry side.  I had some issues getting there, but it was all minor (overall, I give the public transportation in New York City a B+). Once I was on the ferry headed towards Staten Island, the nerves really started to hit. We went right by the Statue of Liberty and it really started hitting home as I looked back and saw just how far away Manhattan was. This was really going to happen.

Ft. Wadsworth on the Island was a little difficult to navigate. I spent a lot of time wandering around trying to figure out where to go. I probably ended up walking a couple of miles before the start of the marathon getting to where I needed to be. The weather was cooler than I thought it would be, but I knew by the time the first couple of miles had gone by, I would be feeling temperature perfect.

The line-up for the third wave was interesting. They had us all corraled according to our projected finish times and I was near the end. In hindsight, it worked out well with having the dodge fewer people at the beginning, than the other waves. We all ended up below the top tier and running under a roof over a body of water is kind of eerie. More on that in a second. As we made it to the start, there was a little confusion about where the line was. It took care of itself in a hurry, and off I went.

The incline was pretty solid for the first several hundred yards. The mixture of people and tempos was hard to comprehend. Things spread out pretty quick, and even though I was constanly dodging and avoiding people, I was able to get up to speed relatively quickly.

After about the first 3/4 of a mile, I really started to feel the solitude that comes from the distance. I looked at the water down below and could feel the bite of the cold wind coming off the water. The thought actually went through my head 'what the hell have I gotten into?'. The feeling would quickly fade though as I made my way off the bridge into Brooklyn.

I have always been a pretty big fan of NYC. Everytime I have ever visited, I have been intoxicated by the energy and the vast array ethinicities. I was reminded of this in a hurry as soon as I headed into the first residential section. The Brownstones that lined the roads where as picturesque as any photos I have ever seen. So many people just sitting out on their stoops. Cheering, waving, and yelling for people as they went by. Little kids holding their hands out to high five. The occasional person handing out paper towels to the runners so we could wipe off our faces and bodies from the accumulated perspiration. It really took me awhile to take in all the wonderful things that were happening.

I believe it was around mile 4 the the other lane of runners joined up with ours. So the later runners of the 2nd wave were on one side, and the third wavers were on the others. We headed down a street lined with many places to eat and watering holes. Their were people cheering  pretty much from one side to the other. There were the first of many bands. I could smell all the wondeful food and the first pangs of hunger really started to echo in my stomach. I wished I had had more than half a bagel with peanut butter....

At the 4 or 5 mile marker, I took some water and tried the Gatorade Endourance (I tried some at the expo and like it a lot, so I took a chance. It is has now earned its way into my training plan). It didn't do much for my hunger, but taste great all the same. I ways down the road I saw a guy running with a huge eiffel tower model on his upper body. I actually took out my camera phone and took a picture while I ran (sorry Jon....how often to do you see a guy running with an eiffel tower). The picture is bad, but I will try to post it later.

About this time, I started experimenting with turning the Ipod off and just trying to enjoy the support. It worked fairly well....maybe a little too well. It became hard to not push. There are all these people out on a Sunday cheering on a bunch of people that can't win and that they don't know. Yet there are out there giving you this warm aura. It became really hard not to give what I could. Whenever I had the chance I would high-five a child or adult of they stuck their hands out. It was like a drug....I just wanted to do it more and more. The other problem that comes from this, is the topography of the streets. They tended to incline towards the outside edge and so it felt pretty uneven.

I kept making my way and was feeling good about my tempo, thought I was a little slower than a 10 minute mile, and I was, but the pace felt ok (I never really felt "in a groove" the whole marathon....just too many people). I was really quite pleased up until around mile 10. That is where the level of exertion really started to grind me down.

I am sorry...but I have been writing for a long time, and I can barely keep my eyes open. I will finish tomorrow morning....


As I stated last night, around mile 10, I could really start to the feel the burn and the energy leaving my body. I was a little too excuberant with the crowd interaction (which I wouldn't take back for anything) and the weaving to avoid people started to take its toll. I actually turned on the Ipod so I could try to conserve as much energy as possible. Things get keep getting slower and taking longer. The seconds soon started to feel like minutes and the minutes were beginning to feel like hours. It seemed the water/Gatorade stations were the big things that I was trying to look forward to for motivation. The crowd still helped, but it was getting more and more difficult to keep pushing.

One of the interesting things about the marathon is the timing system. They have timing sensors every 5K and then at the half-way mark. Then I believe they go every mile starting later in the race. It has the added benefit and stress of allowing those that want to follow you online to see your progress (and by mile 13 the slow down of progress) so I had that going in the back of my head. It seemed although my brain wanted to keep my tempo, my legs really did not want to oblige. I knew the Queensboro Bridge was in my future...and it was not going to be pretty.

Most people you talk to about the marathon have the bridge in mind when you are talking about details. I had had many people warn me about the perils of the bridge and I really tried to take it all in stride, but I am here to tell you that it was even more daunting than anything I had heard. You come around a corner and there it is...you are at the base and you can't even get a great sense of how high and long it is going to be. The pace of the entire group slowed rapidly. I tried to dodge and shift the hordes that had slowed down to a walk but after about a minute I just couldn't do it anymore. There was a searing pain in my left quad close to my knee. I don't think it could possibly be the IT Band, but wow was it excruciatating. I mixed in a good amount of walking and slow jogging to get to the crest of the bridge, but even when I was at the top, I couldn't get the pain to subside and ended up walking a good chunk of the level part. After a few minutes I gradually was able to work my pace up to a respectable clip, but the damage had been done.

After the curve to leave the bridge, the crowd noise was not quite what I had hoped, considering that the spectators were now more packed in. But no matter. I was now in Manhattan for the first time...

The streets were quite a bit wider so there wasn't quite that feeling of one that I had felt through most of Brooklyn and Queens. I kept chugging along, knowing that the pain in my leg was not getting better...but to be honest...it wasn't getting worse....just had to keep going....

There was this one porta-potty station after just leaving the bridge and I thought it would be a good time to stop. I was hoping it was the only stop I would need to make. Without being too graphic, the bathrooms definitely left something to be desired and I just gave up. This ended up being a great development, because starting after a bathroom stop is something that I am not good at. Although at the end of the run I would feel not so great about it, it really was a stroke of luck...

I got back into my little rythm and although it was slower than I wanted, and it hurt, I was able to make some peace with it. I had to mix in some walking here and there just to keep my legs going and at the water stations in order to get in all down. I had one of my gels and I was so hungry it was quite good.

I ended up drinkin way too much water and Gatorade throughout...but I think it helped me get to the end. All of the volunteers were so friendly and cheerful at each stop. One of my favorites, which was in the teen mileage I think, had sponges with soapy water. It was nice to clean my hands and just feel a little fresher. Way to go Poland Springs Water. You guys rock.

After what seemed like an eternity, I made my way over another much shorter bridge into the Bronx. It seems like they really get the short end of the stick when it comes to being represented, but no matter. At the base of the bridge there was a huge monitor showing runners themselves if they taped messages at the expo. I kept reading over and over again trying to figure out why everyone said the same thing....yeah they didn't...it was just different faces....but I was so far gone I didn't notice. Coming off this bridge were some nice people handing out chocolate. By the time I realized what it was, I was already to far to grab some. It would have been tasty.

There were some little rollers that didn't seem to last too long and it was over one more bridge (Madison Ave.) back into Manhattan. This bridge took a little toll out of me. And if memory serves, at the base of this one was a video showing use coming at the screen. I looked up....and that really did not help my sense of balance, so I didn't bother trying to wave and find myself. It was a neat idea though....

Back in Manhattan, the pain really started to sink in. I walked through the water station and took two cups of the Gatorade and just tried to get my stride right will walking. It was very difficult and I gave up after a few minutes and went back to my hobbled jog. I figured things couldn't look much worse and I was moving a bit faster with the jog.  The crowds seemed bigger, but a little less vocal than those in Brooklyn, but it still helped tremendously.

I never really hit the wall...it was more just a gradual decline in my speed and form although in hindsight, I did ok. Most of my miles were fairly even in between 20 and 23. I just could not seem to get momentum going. At no point did I feel like I couldn't push through....I just could go fast enough...which for me...is an important distinction.

After what felt like a week, I could see Central Park again. I did not have anyone with me on the trip, but my new friend Ria's children were hoping to park it at mile 23 and so I looked for them from 22 on to about 24. (There were some issues with the tracking system that notified people my text where the runners were so we never did meet up). It was probably good so have something so mundane to obsess about. I ended up taking an orange wedge from someone handing them out...it was quite delicious.

Around mile 23.5 I was really having a hard time not focusing on the searing pain coming from my left leg. I crested a small hill and decided to walk it out a little more when I heard a New Yorker say something to the affect: "Don't walk....get running!" and because I am a people person I did...probably saved me 2 minutes off my time. I love this city.

Once I was a bit after 24, I knew this was it. My journey was almost over. The crowds were now three to five rows deep and there was a nice decline so I new if I was going to finish strong, I had to nut up and just go. It took a long time to get pushing, there was a deep decline that really started me going, I pushed harder and harder and finally hit what felt like my peak. I put the Ipod on a tune from the Spirit of the Marathon that always gets me. Seeing all the people and the rush of what was about to be over, I admit...I welled up a little bit....it is hard to describe the emotions mixed in with the pain and the exhaustion. It all just gets to be overwhelming, when you think of all the hundreds of thousands of people pulling for you and wanting you to finish this journey. I found I was going faster and faster, by the time I hit mile 25 I was at my fastest pace of the marathon. It felt like I was flying my the crowds and really many of my fellow marathoners that were laboring to finish. I moved to the left, back to the right, in order to give people as much room as possible. I tired to stay as far left as I could and that seemed to be the best path. As I was nearing 25 and a half I heard a man shout: "Way to finish strong!" and it pushed me more. They tease you with markers baring 25 then 25 and a half and 26. A ways after the half, when I was almost completely gone I made the final turn back into Central Park. The small incline I had mocked the night before that takes you past a bunch of flags and to the finish felt like climbing Everest and my pace slowed even though I was pushing for all I was worth. This was my time, my life, my run....just kept on swinging the arms and pushing until finally I ran under the finish clock and into the chute. The most incredible experience of my life had concluded.....4 hours 55 minutes and 05 seconds.

I had set a goal for myself to finish between 4:25 and 4:45. I had missed my mark. I can make all the excuses in the world, but I didn't hit my target. I do take comfort in the fact that I took over 2 minutes a mile off my time from my first marathon which was 6 months ago. So, I can't say my work wasn't rewarded. It will just be something else that continues to push me...and that is a good thing.

Marathon training and running has given me so much already. New friends, a fitter body, a sense of purpose, and a ton of other things. The New York Marathon, gave me the most amazing event that I have been a part of. The people were so warm and supportive. The expo, the dinner, the fireworks, and the volunteers. Everything was top notch. The route was difficult, but felt like a celebration of life and diversity. I would do this marathon again...hell...I would do this marathon again this weekend (I wouldn't finish...but I would love to go through it again). I wanted to use marathons as a way to see the world and feel like I earned it, but I will put in for this one every single year, and on the years I am lucky enough to get in, I will run it. For my friends that are runners....go do it....whenever you can...I know the lottery is rough....but it is something you will never forget. For my friends that aren't runner...take up running....train...then run this! You won't regret it.

As for me, I am already chomping to get back out on the roads. I am going to take it easy and maybe take a small light job Saturday to do an inventory of my legs and feet to see what comes next. I want to do the Windsor Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving so we will see how that goes. I am hoping to find a Spring marathon, but not sure if it will be Colorado or something else (Jon, with Boston, have you completely ruled this one out? It will probably sway me if you are or aren't there). So check back from time to time to see a new marathon and a new blog!

It seems so foreign to be at the end already. I have so many people to thank that I am going to leave some out and for that I am sorry...but here goes....

Jon. Besides for all of the amazing advice and support, you truly inspire me to be the best I can be with whatever ability I have developed. Thank you for keeping on me and helping push me to reach my dreams.

Beth. I know we aren't together anymore, but you still choose to support me even from afar. Thank you for all the encouragement and faith in me.

Jessica. I am so glad we reconnected. You always have a way of making feel good about even the tiniest accomplishment. Many days, it really helped keep me going.

Jenny. The fact that you trained and did a marathon inspires me more than you will ever know. Your words always make me feel good and you make me want to get better at this...

My folks. Not sure you read this...that is why you are down a few. I know this is all I talk about...and it can be very boring, but you always ask anyway, just so I can talk about it. Thank you for believing and keeping me positive even when I didn't want to be.

Mary Beth, Troy, Brea, and Ben. Besides for always letting me crash at your place when I need to. Like mom and dad, you always let me blather on and on about this thing that has become my obsession. Your support means more than I can express in words. Thank you!

Karen. You are such an amazing runner. Having someone like you check on me from time to time really helps. Like Jon, you inspire me tremendously. Good luck at Boston!

Ria. Thanks for showing me New York, and all of the amazing encouragement before, during, and now after the marathon. You and your kids are good people (even if your daughters aren't runners!).

And everyone else that has ever asked me about running or congratulated me. Many days I am not sure if people read this thing or not. Whenever any of you post on my wall or leave me a message it really makes my day. I could not have made it this far without all of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!


  1. Good start. Looking forward to the good stuff (later miles -- what we train for). I don't blame you for taking a picture of the Eiffel Tower dude. I may have done the same -- if I ever carried a camera in a race!!

  2. What an amazing journey, Sean -- thanks for taking the time to write it all up. It was cool to imagine the people, the energy, your perseverance. Awesome! I really loved your post from the night before the race. It was really honest and got at the "why" and that's the part I love. It makes it so real. Great, great job!

  3. Wow, Sean! Great race, great report. Your journey, progress and success are very inspirational. I'm happy to have been a small part of it. Though I've never had NY on my "to do" list, your comments have me re-thinking that. Hopefully, as I'll be turning 40 this year, I can actually qualify as opposed to going through the lottery (1:30 half or 3:10 full will qualify).

    I am likely out for Colorado. I think it is two weeks after boston, maybe 3. I will consider doing the half, though! I have decided to Tucson on December 13th with my buddy trying to BQ. Then the focus is on 16-week schedule leading up to Boston.

    Keep in touch Sean. I look forward to hearing about your next goal and witnessing your growth and progress...