The whole family were blown away when I registered for the run - I have registered for a lot of runs now, but the NYC Marathon was by far and away the most efficient and impressive expo I have ever seen. The t shirt was awesome, and then some retail therapy - mainly for me (unlike the rest of the trip when the girls gave the Amex a decent hammering) which saw me get some runners, gloves and socks with NYC Marathon branding, and a jacket for Mrs R. A new custom pair of Oakleys also found their way into my bag complete with engraved "Pussy Footing" on the lens! Awesome. The amount of volunteers was staggering - I am always amazed that so many people are prepared to give up their time so selflessly so that I can go out and pursue my hobby.
I was blessed with an extra hour's sleep due to the clocks going back, on race day, although the alarm was still painful at 4.30am. Having eaten and drunk my tea, I jog/walked the 12 blocks or so to the bus stop. I have never seen so many buses in one place. There must have been over 200 up every street for 10 blocks and lining both sides of 5th Avenue. It was quite a sight - this army of buses ready to take a steady stream of wrapped up runners out to the start. I started chatting to a guy as I walked - Kevin the Geordie; it was his first marathon and was running it solo for a kids hospice charity. The organisers had warned us it would be cold and windy, and I had prepared with 3 jumpers, a beanie, some gloves and a plastic bag to sit on. Due to security we really weren't allowed to take much in with us. The bus to Staten Island went smoothly and quickly. As we got off the bus the cold wind (I later found out up to 45 mph) went right through us, and I swiftly put on my 3rd and final top but within seconds was shivering uncontrollably. We queued for the airport like security checks, with "counter terrorism" Police everywhere. Dunkin Donuts, a race sponsor, gave me another beanie which I put on and actually kept on through the whole race!
I grabbed a Dunkin Donuts coffee and bagel, and then just chilled out - literally. The start was an example of logistics management. We had different colour bibs on - either green, blue or orange. There was a "village" allocated to each colour. Each colour village would have 4 waves of runners according to time, and corrals A through to F. I had been allocated to the Green village, Wave 1, Corral F, but Kevin was in the Blue Village so I went with him for the company and hung out for a bit chatting away to him and some other runners. NYC Marathon veterans were seated on cardboard or even better in sleeping bags or trash bags - something I wish I had brought to keep out the cold. I alternately walked, ate a bagel, took a coffee to warm up and did some star jumps. I was covered in goose bumps and shivering the whole time. After a bit I went to the green village, and tried to keep warm which was impossible as it was even more exposed to the wind, being right under the bridge. I ran about and did star jumps but was still shivering uncontrollably, so I queued up for some hot water to warm me up, and kept sitting in the portaloo to keep the wind out. It was horrendous.
I was with the 1st wave of runners but because of the wind we were a bit late setting off. I later found out the delay was to allow the wheel chair runners to start on the opposite side of the bridge as it was deemed too dangerous for them on the exposed bridge. It was nice to be in a group of other tightly herded runners though, as we were able to use body heat to keep warm! Time passed quickly as we prayed the multiple helicopters flying overhead would not crash into each other as they bobbed and weaved in the high blustery winds. After a bit we moved up to the start just before the Verrazzano bridge. A few seagulls flew backwards overhead and then we were off to multiple shotgun blasts. I was peeling off layers as I queued to cross the start line, but kept my beanie, gloves and a sweatshirt on as my feet were still numb! Some of the volunteers were shivering as I started my run, and it struck me that even though they had dressed appropriately they were the unsung heroes of the event.
We crossed the start line a few minutes after the delayed gun, and started to head up over the bridge. It was so windy my left foot (upwind) kept hitting my right, and I was actually a little scared, dizzy and disorientated by it all. I tried to focus on the race, not tripping over anyone else and my own feet, and not to get blown off the bridge. Not to mention the discarded clothing. After 10 minutes or so I discarded my sweatshirt and was down to race gear of t shirt, shorts, beanie and handwarmers still in my gloves (they did not go until about 30 mins into the race)!
I was so relieved to be over the bridge although I had enjoyed the view of Manhattan and the skyline from a great vantage point. From the minute we hit Brooklyn the atmosphere was amazing. People lined both sides of the street 5 deep. Bands were competing against each other every 50 or 100 metres. The noise was so loudyou couldn't have even heard an iPod if you had one on! I started high fiving people and didn't stop for the whole race. It took me a lot longer to settle in and slow down than normal - whether it was the weather, excitement, or whatever, but my breathing and heart rate were - I know - too high for quite a while. I was relieved to fall into a rhythm long after I would normally, and concentrated on enjoying the day. There were Gator-Aid stands every 2 or 3km, with water too, and people giving out tissues for my runny nose which was awesome. The hand warmers went, as did the km's. I was wearing a Diabetes UK top and I got a lot of cheers and support for that. A fellow runner came up to me and shook my hand to say thanks for the support - he was Type 1 and had been for 38 years. It was his 14th marathon. I found him a huge inspiration - here was he thanking me and I did not have the condition but he did. He was "fighting lows" all day and soon dropped back, but I remained humbled by his battle. I chatted with another UK ex pat runner for a bit, but he was too quick for me and I let him go.
Half way came and went - generally I was pleased with how things were going, with negative splits for the 1st and 2nd 10km. I sped up a tiny bit as we left Brooklyn for the 3rd 10km and was going ok, still engaging with the crowd, although the wind was starting to annoy me. One thing I had not bargained for were the relentless undulations of the run. I had for some reason assumed it was all pretty flat, but the bridges and just undulating straight roads were a bit of a surprise. However, I went slow up and quick down as per training, and habit ingrained from years on the Mad Dog team (5 years this year I believe!).
At around 31km we went up another bridge - maybe into Queens? and it was then that I started to struggle. I was trying to play the nibbling game, and would often find someone that I could eat into their lead for a little bit, but they would then stop and walk. I was also hoping to see Mrs R and the kids but they had evidently found it too hard to get to the part of the course they had planned to, and I was a little disappointed and let my head go down. I gave myself a stiff talking to, and concentrated on nibbling with limited success. The wind and relentless undulations took their toll as we hit the top end of Central Park, although this was familiar to me having run round it on business trips. I kept my chin up and tried to ignore the zombie apocalypse around me, and when I could I ditched the nibbling game to try and tuck into the wake of someone bigger than me to shelter from the wind! It was just a question of ticking off the km's to the finish!
Eventually of course, I did finish, although my last 12km had been a little slower than the previous which was annoying. My finish time was 4.08, easily my slowest in years. For some reason it had taken everything from me, and as I was taken to one side by a photographer to record my finish with my very nice and hefty medal for posterity, I could summon nothing more than a grimace. I won't be buying that photo!
Very quickly I was freezing, and I got a heat poncho which was given to me on the exit from the Park. I was also given a protein bar and shake which I quickly devoured. I had ticked the speedy exit box so had no drop bag, so there was nothing for it but to hobble the 27 blocks back to the apartment where I grabbed a very quick shower, change and literally headed straight to the airport. We pretty much got straight on the plane for the 8 hour flight back.
I am really pleased to have ticked off NYC from my bucket list, but a little disappointed in my time. The atmosphere was incredible, but I didn't race the best race - a veritable "tough day at the office!". I have been shooting 3hr40's for a few years now, and therefore expected at the very least a sub 4. I have been given an important lesson - humbled in fact, by the distance. Not to mention humbled also by the tens of thousands of inspirational participants, organisers, volunteers, public servants, and especially the crowds. What a day.
This sunday I will be in more familiar territory - the Nice to Cannes marathon. I have no idea how I will get on, given the fact I have a marathon in my legs already, jet lag and a clear lack of form. A finish is a finish, though, and that remains the goal.