Sunday, November 6, 2011

ING New York City Marathon 2011: Cheering in support

The night before, Irene and I laid out our running gear for the 2011 ING New York City Marathon like we have done for the past three years.  As we adjusted our clock radios for Day Light Savings, both of us had butterflies bouncing around our bellies as they always seem to do before a race.  The only difference, we were not going to run 26.2 miles.

This year, we decided to do other races and revisit the 5 borough course in 2012.  Each race that I signed up for was to qualify for the Legendary Boston Marathon.  It started with the Disney Marathon and Irene did the Half Marathon.  No BQ at this race.  Then we celebrated our wedding anniversary up in Burlington where I did the Vermont City Marathon, and Irene volunteered at the food tent.  Another lame performance, with the sun and humidity coming out after a drizzly morning, and the hills did not help either.

After Vermont and filled with disappointing race times, I decided to just run and do my best.  As I tell my kids all the time to practice, practice and practice.  I put qualifying for Boston on the backburner and to get better and better with each race.  After doing some research, Irene signed up for the Wineglass Marathon for the awesome and unique glass medallion at the end of the race. 

Rather than stand on the sidelines and wait for my beautiful wife during this race, I decided to surprise her by running the entire marathon side by side.  The race director got me into the race even though it was closed, and he allowed me to surprise her.  Knowing that she would be taking it easy, I kind of scheduled this 26.2 mile run as my last long run before I do Steamtown.  While my ankle is now paying for my double marathon week, the Brightroom photographers took some great pics.

It looks like it’s going to be something that we will be doing more often as she signed us up for the 2012 Country Music Marathon for our 15th Wedding Anniversary.  Who would have thought that doing a marathon for our anniversary might be the new tradition to go along with a tasting menu at a French restaurant?  By the way, can anyone recommend a French restaurant in Nashville? 

Anyway, we got to sleep in that first Sunday in November, and we took mass transit into the city.  The Long Island Rail Road whisked us into Pennsylvania Train Station in about an hour, and we were happy that we did not have to deal with the traffic or the expensive parking fees.  At the massive underground depot, we took advantage of what I think is the best breakfast deal around.  You can’t beat $1.99 for 2 eggs, home fries and toast.  Since it’s such a good deal, I double up the egg count and make it egg whites!

Rather than taking a cab up to our designated cheering section, we decided to take the subway.  As we waited on the platform, a few people stared at me since I was all decked out in my running gear.  I started to jog in place as we waited for the train to pull into the station.  The train was full and we finally were able to squeeze our way onto the E train.   I thought to myself, thank God I took a shower.  Unfortunately, some other guy was leaning next to Irene instead of me, and I was left wishing the person with the elbow in my rib at least would have used deodorant. 

It was a quick hop to the Lexington Ave Train #6, where more spectators pushed their way on to the busy train car.  Not sure how their big poster board signs would not get crushed, but the boards made it safely to the 86th Street stop.

We walked up to sunlight and headed towards the trees of Central Park.  As we turned towards 90th Street, I realized that we just missed some of the elite woman runners that we wanted to cheer.  Another time to watch the elite, I thought.  We finally arrived at the Fifth Avenue and 90th Street entrance into Central Park. An Emerald Nuts Display blocked all traffic north of 90th Street.   Surprisingly, the congestion of the crowd did not choke the little path to get into the park.  

We walked south along Central Park’s East Dr, and found a gap in the crowd to cheer on the runners.  A few police officers waved us back on occasion, as more and more supporters stepped on to the course to get a better view.  Seemed like a calm crowd of spectators.  Am I in New York?

After watching the elite male runners saunter by at a heart attack pace of sub 5 minute per mile.  Note that I currently could not even drive a car that fast, but they make it look so easy.  We showed our laminated badges that Team for Kids provided us to the police officers and moved to the opposite side of the course and away from the crowd.  The credentials allowed us access to be physically on the course without being harassed by the race officials and NYPD.  It felt cool the flash the badge, and in addition I am certified as a first responder and in CPR!  I know that TFK trusts Irene, but for me, I am surprised that they trusted me not to have a Cosmo Kramer moment and run along the 2009 champion Meb Keflezighi.

For about a half an hour, we spotted names on shirts and yell out their names, “Way to go, Emily!” “You’re doing awesome, John!” or “Looking good, Katie!”  Some people had just a flag of their country, so we just said “Way to go, France!” or Way to go, Italy!”  It was so exciting to see so many people running, plodding, jogging, limping, pushing, rolling, and walking.

Surprisingly, many runners stopped and asked us to stretch them out.  We did our best to accommodate them.  I think it was more important to reassure them that they would finish, and they only had a little more than 2 miles to go.  I think by this mile marker, everyone loses track of the mileage, since almost everyone asked what mile it was.  It’s probably the longest 2 miles they will have to endure.

Finally the runners were slowing down enough for me to run beside them.  I started scanning the crowd for the Green Team for Kids Singlet’s.  I saw someone slow down to a walk.  After dodging the other runners, I eventually merge along side of him.  Surprisingly, he put his arm around me as if I was going to be a crutch support for him.  I would have done it, but I think it wasn’t part of the rules.  He immediately thanked me for coming out and just being there to support Team for Kids.  I really was touched by his words, because I was suppose to give him some motivational support.  “You’re looking great!  Just keep your head up because there are camera guys up ahead.  Keep smiling!”  The sentence seemed like a great pattern interrupt from the usual, “You’re almost there!” It’s just enough to keep them distracted for the next 2 miles.

Eventually, my brother-in-law, Ray, was hobbling towards me and Irene.  I said to myself, “Oh boy, he’s not looking good.”  Like most runners, he headed out too fast at the start, only to get bitten towards the end.  His legs were cramped up as I jogged next to him.  We actually talked about running a couple 30 mile training runs for next year’s race.  Did I say 30 miles?   My friend Lanie greeted me because I would have totally missed her.  She actually finished with a 4:04, a new personal best for her!

We also cheered on the wheelchair competitors, the visually impaired, and runners with no legs.  Yes, no legs!  Most appreciated our positive support when we thought they were in trouble.  We even watched someone throw up to feel better. There were some celebrity runners, but I only got the see Olympian Apolo Ohono.  He gave me a thumbs up and I shouted, “You’re looking good, Apolo!”.  

Before the day was over, I saw Team for Kids Coaches Vinny, Glen and Brian (who happened to be Captain America for the Day run past. Can you believe they ran the entire race and still had enough in the tank to go back for more in support of the other Team for Kids members!

As the day went on, many of the runners pushed through their pain to finish the race.  Many of them mentioned that they had to finish for the Kids.  Others thought about their families.  Others felt proud of their accomplishment.  We were really proud to support them.  With all the excitement Irene lost her voice and had bloody palms from all the clapping.

The day started to get chilly as the sun began drop behind the skyscrapers and blinded us as we looked southward.  We had to unfortunately leave the few TFKer’s who were still on the course.  As I understand, most of the team completed the race.  However some did pull out due to injury, but we are very proud of each one!  We raised over $4.26 million to give kids a running start to health and fitness, and stop childhood obesity.

Congratulations to all the finishers, and for all you first timers, I hope to run with you again! 
If you are interested in running the 2012 New York City Marathon with Irene and me, please visit NYC Marathon 2012 Entry to be notified as soon as the lottery opens.  Also, make your race more special by joining Team for Kids in stopping childhood obesity.


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