The Race of Races, Part IV of V

Manhattan/the Bronx/Manhattan

Mile 15: 8:26
Mile 16: 8:34
Mile 17: 8:47
Mile 18: 8:41
Mile 19: 8:36
Mile 20: 9:02
Mile 21: 9:00
Mile 22&23: 17:28 (8:38 pace)
Mile 24: 9:30
Mile 25: 9:36
Mile 26: 9:04
Mile .2: 1:42 (7:45 pace)

The Queensboro Bridge was not that bad. Actually, after running on mostly flat land in Brooklyn and Queens, the long climb was a welcomed change. Also, I was extremely confident going in because—as I told someone else while going up the bridge—this was my bridge. I did long runs on this bridge. I did hill repeats on this bridge. If there was anything I was ready to handle, it was this bridge.

Unfortunately, the stitches kicked in again and I had to hold back my pace. So while I was passing people left and right, I knew I wasn’t going at my best speed.

Then I heard it: the wall of sound. You hear about it in Marathon lore: the silence of the Queensboro Bridge (no spectators allowed) is followed by the Marathon’s first pass at Manhattan. It started as a distant hum until I came into the hairpin turn off the bridge where I met it face on. The crowds greeting me out of the bridge were easily six people deep. I turned again, this time onto First Avenue, and the noise filled up everything.

While the crowds were loud and fierce I realized this was the first time since Mile 1 that I felt breathing room on the course—so the crowds were a sharp contrast to the relief I suddenly felt.

Once I got into a comfortable pace I started pushing the speed. But stuff was starting to feel funny. I could feel that my IT bands were not happy and extremely tight. I also got a weird feeling in my left calf/shin. It was something I had never felt before and it most definitely was not a shin split—I’ve had those before and this felt very different. It was as if the outside muscles of my left lower leg were wound up tight and each step tightened them more. It wasn’t bad enough to stop, but enough to make me worry for a while and prevent any speeding on the last flat section of the course.

Holding true to what many others have said leaving Manhattan and entering The Bronx is hard. First, the bridge is full of pot holes and only two lanes wide. Second, I was just in Manhattan, within a mile of the finishing line, and even though I had run three miles away from the finish already, it didn’t hit me until I had to cross a river and enter an entirely different borough that I still had a long way to go. The worst though was that upon entering The Bronx I got the feeling like I was not welcome (at least contrast to the rest of the course). There were sparse crowds and the people just look at the runners. There was very little clapping and lots of WTF facial expressions. Let me tell you, I was very happy to leave The Bronx as quickly as I entered it.

Once back in Manhattan—in the heart of Harlem—the crowds were strong and lively. The course flattened out again and I tried to just focus on the last couple of miles to the finish. I was frustrated because I couldn’t get up to speed without sparking a stitch or bumping into somebody (yes, it was still crowded at Mile 21). I could feel the wear on my legs; by now the pain from my IT bands had become numb and my calves were starting to complain—and my calves do not complain until it gets bad. But while I was physically tired, my mind was still throwing logs on the fire.

Then came the last three miles. The dreaded Fifth Avenue Mile started at his point, the sneaky incline that has claimed many a Marathoner before entering hilly Central Park. I felt the drain instantly. After 110th Street I don’t remember seeing or hearing things as much as sensing them. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and lit up the stern Fifth Avenue facades and golden leaves dangling overhead. It was a flurry of colors mixing together.

The crowds were deafening and so swollen they were spilling onto the street. They were shouting any name they could get a hold of—and of course I didn’t have my name anywhere, so I imagined that someone in the crowd was calling out “gray shirt!” because that’s what I was wearing and someone out there knew that I needed a shout out too.

The turn into Central Park was brief and abrupt. I had to slow down because of stitches, but I was constantly talking myself out of stopping. I cannot tell you what was driving me, because I wanted to stop and I almost did stop a dozen times, but something kept me going. I guess most people would call this heart, but I don’t like that word. The feeling is too complex to be bottled into one word that reminds me of Valentine’s Day. So it will go unnamed for now—which, quite frankly, only makes it feel more special.

Exiting onto Central Park South I stayed toward the left side of the course. Mindy, Mom, and MBF would be there at Central Park South and Seventh Avenue. I held on for them: I couldn’t bear to see anything but joy and cheers from them. Sure enough I spotted the bright yellow signs from half a block away and they did not fail:

They were all so happy. I let out a little sob of pain/happiness and plodded away from them. I couldn’t fail now.

The 800m mark passed and then the 400m mark. I know there was a hill before the finish line, but I don’t remember climbing it. The finish line was a sea of colors and sounds and seeing it unlocked that last reserve of energy—the one that is tucked away so deep inside of you that you have to run 26 miles to find it. My plodding became running, then my running became sprinting, and my sprinting gave way to catharsis as I crossed the finish line.

3:50:23 according to my watch. Within four seconds of my PR and 13 minutes better than The Flying Pig.


Irish Cream said...

Awesome. I LOVED all of the parts of your race report thus far, sRod!Seriously . . . I don't know how you hung in there, dude. Crowded races are like 5 billion times more exhausting than smaller races. I can't even believe how crowded it was in the video. Way to gut it out and finish in an AMAZING time despite all that was working against you. You are a rockstar!! I am so proud of you, buddy!! :)

Jess said...

Inspiring report! Congrats on the finish!

The Laminator said...

Loved the video clip...Nice report! If only I had your whatchamacallit feeling in the last 4 miles...

Congrats on rocking the course!

Adam said...

NICE! Still a great time given the course. I'm told it is a lot harder than you are giving it credit for!