11.10.2009

The Race of Races, Part I of V

This is a long one; so long that I had to break it into five parts. Granted, only two parts are actually about running the race, but there is so much involved in the before and after of the NYCM that I couldn’t just skip it. As always, this report is more a reference for myself--a rehashing of the 1,000 fragment memories I collected that day--than a critque of the race.

Fantastic Voyage

The journey of four and a half months had led me to a stranger’s garbage bag in the middle of a muddy field at the base of the Verrazano Bridge. I laid there in old track pants and a sweater two sizes too large keeping my eyes closed trying to make up for the lack of sleep the previous night.

I could hear the couple next to me speaking some language I didn’t recognize. The group on my other side was American, but their conversations were hushed by the covers of their sleeping bags. The lone man off to my left was quietly getting ready applying generous amounts of Vaseline to all parts of his body.

I opened my eyes and saw a helicopter flying low, hovering under the overcast like sting ray in a shallow pool. The field, still damp from the rain the night before, had become a muddy mess thanks to the flood of 43,000 runners, untold numbers of volunteers, UPS trucks, food and water stations, and perhaps the largest collection of port-o-potties ever. The announcements cycling over the PA system in six different languages had just notified the close of the first wave corrals and the quickly approaching opening of the second wave corrals.

I had woken up at 5:10 that morning. After taking care of business in the bathroom, drinking water, and getting into my race clothes, I woke up Wifey to pin on my race number. Then I quickly slipped into my track pants and sweater, grabbed my bags (one bag to check-in, one bag filled with breakfast), and kissed Wifey, Mom, and Mom’s Best Friend (MBF) goodbye—it would be about seven hours before I would see them again at the half-way point.

On the stoop of my building I was happy to find that the rain had subsided overnight and it wasn’t too hot or too cold. Once the door behind me closed and locked I realized that was it, I had no key to the building and there was no turning back: I was going to run the NYC Marathon. I put on a goofy smile, let out an eager “hello” to my deserted block, and headed off to the subway.

I got to the subway at 5:40 for the 5:50 departure out of my station—I didn’t even think the subway ran on a schedule until I had to plan this early morning trip. I saw a couple of stragglers from Halloween just coming home, one of them too drunk to avoid bumping into the poles on subway platform. I settled into my seat, fruitlessly trying to recoup some sleep, but at each new station I would open my eyes looking for Marathoners boarding the subway.

While on the subway I made my only mistake of the whole trip to Staten Island. Instead of transferring trains where I was going to I stayed on the subway and kept going south on the N. Little did I know that the N was under construction that weekend and was being rerouted into Brooklyn before reaching South Ferry. Fantastic. At Canal Street I had to wait 20 minutes with a growing group of runners waiting at the platform for the train that seemed to never come.
Finally, the train did come--and it was filled with other runners, which must have really thrown off the people in Halloween costumes just wrapping up their night out.

Even though I had lost time waiting for the subway I still managed to get to South Ferry as they opened the doors for the 7am ferry—so I was still on schedule. I made my way onboard and found a good spot away from the cold breeze toward the far end of the boat, not too far from the Jamaican contingency which seemed to be having a party all the way to the starting line.

I struck up a conversation with the pair of runners who sat next to me. We shared notes on this race and others and a happiness that the weather was turning for the best. At one point, the whole boat broke out into “Happy Birthday” for one runner—the amazing part was that the song instantly spanned countless cultures and languages in the matter of a couple of bars of music.
Once docked at Staten Island I shuffled along with the crowd to get to the shuttle buses and suddenly found myself right next to The Laminator! We knew we were both shooting for the 7am ferry, but without cell phones we had no way of meeting up. It was a relief to bump into someone I knew to share this surreal experience.

On the shuttle I talked with The Laminator and his friends, some of which were seasoned Marathoners, some were doing this for the first time (how spoiled to have NYCM be your first Marathon!). We arrived at the village at roughly 7:45am and faced yet another mob of runners (this one about a quarter mile long) waiting to be checked into the starting area at Ft. Wadsworth.

Once inside the security checkpoint we disbanded into our respective bib colors to parted ways to find our start areas. I went off with The Laminator and his friend J to the blue start, which was adjacent to the checkpoint we had just cleared. We found a patch of dry grass and spread out J’s garbage bag to cover the area.

After a quick bathroom break (during which I learned most of the port-o-potties were out of TP) I sat down on the garbage bag and took in a deep breath and began to wait. J soon went on a long mission to find coffee and then The Laminator hurried off to his wave one start, leaving me alone on the garbage bag eating the peanut butter sandwiches Wifey had prepared.It was amazing to just sit there and watch the swelling crowds—it really was a non-stop flow of people entering the fort. Eventually, I laid back and tried to calm myself down. I would need my energy for all the challenges in getting to Central Park. But, fortunately, I already had successfully cleared the first challenge of the NYCM: getting to the start.

5 comments:

Irish Cream said...

LOVE. This was so poetic and beautiful! I really loved it! Can't believe you ran into Lam in all the craziness of getting to the start. How cool is that? Oh man, I am already getting SO excited to run NYCM next year after reading all of the wonderful race reports as of late.

Can't wait for part II of yours!! :)

Jess said...

Sounds like an exciting beginning!

CyclingDivas said...

Running into the Laminator must have been such a relief....a familiar face...good job steve-o!

Adam said...

FYI, I'm going to read all of these, but I am going to wait until they all come out. I don't want to be held in suspense! I'm a dork like that.

sRod said...

Adam: they are all up! Read away!