January 1, 2018[Editor’s Note: Our guest writer this month is Wester S. Wuori of Rockford, Illinois]
Randomness from the Streets of the New York City Marathon
"Think of all the roads,
think of all their crossings.
Taking steps is easy,
standing still is hard" ---Regina Spektor
As I’ve gotten a touch older, I’ve realized, as Regina sang, that I do have a hard time standing still. I suppose that was part of the reason I ended my eight-year hiatus from running marathons when I snagged a lottery spot back in March for November’s New York City Marathon.
Everything is bigger in New York and the NYC Marathon is the largest in the world, with more than 50,000 finishers each year. Having run four Chicago Marathons, an incredible race in and of itself, NY was out there in the category of “I’d run that one if I could ever get a spot.”
What follows is some randomness from an amazing day running the five boroughs of New York City on Sunday, November 5, 2017:
My wife, an accomplished athlete herself with five marathons and countless other races under her belt, entered the drawing with me but wasn’t chosen. Her initial frustration with that was abated with knowing she’d be able to visit the Big Apple for the first time.
And, on race day, she was incredible. She crisscrossed the course on the subway and met me six times, in Brooklyn, Queens, twice in the Bronx and on Fifth Avenue right before I entered Central Park. She's fierce, even when she's not competing.
Really appreciated the support of our extended family as well, who watched our littles while we were away and provided moral support during the training. My sister and her husband provided a great staging house for three long runs up in Madison, Wis., helping break the monotony of my weekend long runs. It truly takes a village, err, borough?
While I would have expected it even without the terror attack that had taken place in NYC a week prior to the race, there were police EVERYWHERE, including from the NYPD's counter terrorism unit. Big guys with big guns. Three PD choppers flew by in formation before our start. And every cross street was blocked off with a police car. The NYPD does not mess around.
I smelled pot around mile 9 in Brooklyn. I didn't like it. So I didn't inhale.
The weather was running perfect: 50s and drizzle. Thankfully, I was outfitted correctly (which can be tough sometimes) and was never too hot and or too cold. Pro tip: cut off the tips of long athletic socks and use 'em as sleeves. Perfect. [Editor: See photo above.]
The weather made the water stops an adventure. As the race went on, the drizzle and the runners turned the tossed cups into a sticky and slippery mess.
Chafing, raw nipples and blackened toe nails? Yup, it's a real thing and all part of the experience. I should lose two toe nails by about early 2018—yes, it’s takes that long once they turn black.
Developed some serious hip pain about 10 weeks before the race. Went to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed me with severe inflammation and most likely a hip pointer. I did two weeks of physical therapy with a PT who specializes in runners and he purposely helped me change my stride and gait a bit during the course of the therapy. The pain abated but I couldn't run for five weeks--relegated to biking and elliptical--and considered myself undertrained. Lots of mental stress leading to the race. Lots.
Marathons are about being alone with your thoughts for 26.2 miles of running hell. It's about 30 percent physical and 70 percent mental, in my opinion. I’m going to write that again: 30 percent physical and 70 percent mental. It’s hard to explain the challenge until you’ve lived it.
The first five miles, you’re feeling good, pumped up by the energy of the early crowds, the chit chat among the runners. Miles five to 10 you’re starting to feel it a bit in your legs and you’re working to push out the thoughts that you’re not even halfway to the finish, let alone a third.
You celebrate the halfway line at 13.1, feeling like you’ve accomplished something. Sadly, you still have another 13.1 to go and that’s when reality strikes. You push through 15-20, working really hard to keep out thoughts of “f**! I still have 11, 10, 9, miles to go.”
Hitting the wall at 20 really does happen. Your body is begging for some rest while your mind is telling you that you still have, in my case, about an hour to run. What??
The last mile of a marathon tastes sweetest. The pain is real. The exhaustion has set in. However, it’s tempered by the fact that every step forward is truly, finally, one step closer to the finish.
Tactically, this was my best, though not the fastest, marathon of the five I've done. With the lack of miles in my legs, I stuck to my plan of just wanting to finish and missed breaking 5 hours by only about 80 secs.
The women's winner, Shalane Flanagan, the first U.S. woman to win NYC in 40 years, won the race in 2:26:53. She ran the whole race as fast as I ran my first HALF and averaged 5:35/mile. Ponder that kind of talent. And then ponder it again.
On Friday morning of race weekend, my wife and I had a “there is no way this just happened” experience. We were heading back down toward Columbus Circle from a run in Central Park and we saw this man stretching by himself. I said to her as we passed “No way."
However, it was, indeed, Meb Keflezighi, the US Olympic silver medalist in the 2004 Athens Games, former Boston and NYC Marathon winner and America’s greatest marathoner.
We stopped and turned back, chatted with him for a sec and wished each other luck. I asked if he’d mind taking a quick photo. He said “of course.” I set up for a selfie and he instead suggested that we ask a nearby woman to take a better photo. He’s truly a class act and retired after finishing 11th in the race this year. The odds of that encounter happening were staggering and I took that positive mojo with me throughout the race.
A few more random thoughts —
I've done four Chicago Marathons--the most recent in 2009, when I was younger and smarter apparently—and Chicago is a great race for sure. NYC topped it. As Frank sang, "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere."
NYC is not flat. At all. The bridges were tough and there were numerous false flats in the boroughs that lull you into complacency while doing their damage.
I heard so many languages and saw so many amazing people on the course, runners and spectators alike, all inspiring in their own way.
New York City thin-crust pizza is heaven. The two slices I had that night after the race were the best I’ve ever tasted.
Training for and running a marathon is crazy tough, no doubt. And the race is a contradiction. You’re alone in a crowd. You’re surrounded by thousands of runners and spectators who can’t help you. You know, deep down, that it’s up to you, and only you, to put one foot in front of the other until you feel that finishers’ medal finally—finally!—weighing down your neck.
The NYC Marathon was always where I hoped to end my marathon career, if I could just grab a spot. I finished with tears in my eyes. Relief, I suppose. Months of stress and worry overcome. Self-doubt because of injuries and undertraining defeated. And the gentle feeling that comes with getting a touch older and wondering if the mind may be willing but the body may not.
All that was gone, erased by the exhilaration and release of crossing that finish line. Never again? Most likely. But you never know. . .
G.K. Wuori © 2018
Photoillustration by G.K.Wuori from a Jennifer Wuori photo