Pure Awesomeness! New York 2010: A Marathon Like No Other – by Hari Garimella
Along with several of my friends in the Sixx AM group, I was fortunate to run the 2010 ING New York City Marathon on Sunday 11/07/2010. It will be an experience that I will cherish forever. This was my 8th Full marathon (my first was in Dec 2007). If you ever had to run one marathon in your entire life, I say —–bite the bullet, spend the money, do what it takes, and run New York!
The NYC marathon’s 45,000 runners start in Staten Island. There was a large contingent of international runners from Italy, France, Sweden, and Holland, in addition to other countries and the USA. There were also many famous people running NYC (Jared “Subway” Fogle, Al Roker, Bobby Flay, Ed Norton, etc). Truly a diverse cast! Runners cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn. The first 13 miles of the course are through Brooklyn, at which point you enter into Queens, and then cross the Queensboro bridge into Manhattan. After a few miles through Manhattan, you then enter the Bronx (which accounted for only 2 miles of the course) and enter into Harlem. After crossing through Harlem, you finally arrive at Central Park (finish line). This marathon is so full of energy and life, and there was not a moment I was bored (I was smiling all 26.2 miles).
My goals for this marathon were as follows:
1) I was going to have fun! What other way could one see all 5 boroughs of New York and run on the bridges of NY City?
2) I was not going to get the irritating and debilitating calf cramps in this marathon. I had them in all 7 previous marathons. Based on my training records, I decided to focus on a goal of finishing the marathon in 4 hours and 20 mins. I had attempted to finish my previous marathon in 4 hours in Eugene, Oregon, but had the dreaded cramping at mile 17. I was determined to not let this happen again.
3) I wanted my name to be in the NY Times the following morning. You had to get a time of 4 hrs and 30 mins or better to get your name printed.
To begin with, I had an awesome group of friends that I trained with in the Sixx AM group. Thank heaven for the Crazy 8’s hill workouts, ladders, tempo, and long runs on hilly roads. That laid the foundation for our race and helped me through the difficult portions on race day.
Friday afternoon, Nirisha and I arrived in NYC. After checking into our hotel, we headed to the Expo. NYC is truly an international marathon. We saw so many runners from Italy, France, and Sweden (the Swedish contingency had 70 rooms booked in our hotel). This was probably one of the best expos I have ever been to. We spent about 2 hours at the Expo and headed back to our room.
Saturday morning, Nirisha and I went to Central Park to take a look at the finish line of the course. Nirisha had reserved a seat in the finish line bleachers so that she could get to see the elite athletes (and later on me) finish. Saturday evening, we met Heather and Marc for dinner at Serafina’s (Italian restaurant close to Times Square) to carbo-load on pasta and pizza. We said goodnight and went back to the room to get some rest.
I laid out my running gear, which included my full length lime green CEP compression socks which I trained with prior to the marathon. I also decided that I was not going to carry any water bottles in this race. I also planned to only consume water and gel throughout the entire race. I had grown to detest Gatorade. As a new strategy, I also made the choice to drink water only when I was thirsty on the course (instead of pounding water like in my previous races). As I had mentioned before, I was targeting a 4:20 finish. All of these were my “tools” to avoid the dreaded calf cramping.
I woke up at 4AM on race morning and started getting ready. I did 20 mins of dynamic stretching and ate 6 mini-Fig Newtons for breakfast. I said goodbye to Nirisha and headed to the subway to catch a ride to the Staten Island Ferry. I arrived at the Ferry at 6:30AM and climbed aboard for the exciting ride to Staten Island. We passed by the Statue of Liberty and several other landmarks before arriving at Staten Island. At that point, we then boarded buses which took us 3 miles to the start line.
It was a very cold morning, and the wind was blowing quite a bit. I wished I had worn a pair of pants. I only had my shorts, CEP socks, full length technical shirt (with my name stitched on it, thanks to Nirisha), and a throwaway cotton shirt. A lot of people came prepared with sleeping bags, tents, jackets, and blankets. Luckily, the organizers of the marathon put up tents for runners to wait in. I immediately headed to one of these tents and patiently waited in there. I had two hours to wait since I was designated to start in the last wave at 10:40 (there was a 9:40, 10:10 and 10:40 wave starts).
I struck up a conversation with a lady from Costa Rica. I was fascinated to hear about how she trained for NYC (this was her first marathon). She mentioned how tough it was to train in Costa Rica, given that they do not have special areas designated for exercise. They would run very early in the morning. For her long run, she ran an 18 mile race (which was part of a 13.1/18/26.2 mile race in Costa Rica). She did not have any other opportunities to do any other long runs. It is at times like these I realize how fortunate we are in the US, with so much space to be able to run in. During the conversation, she also told me that she paid $400 for the entry fee for the NYC marathon (I was shocked, since I paid $185). The conversation helped speed up the waiting process. At 10:00AM, we said goodbye to each other and headed to the start line.
At this point, I really started getting excited that I was finally going to run the marathon and not think about the cold weather. We started to line up at the start line in front of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. To begin the opening ceremonies, someone from the New York Philharmonic sang a great rendition of “God Bless America.” This was followed by Frank Sinatra singing “New York New York.” What an amazing way to start the race! The race had begun!
We all started running on the one mile long Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn. This is the only time people can run on the bridge. The bridge and huge vastness of the bay were a sight to behold. Also, this was one hilly bridge (I later found out that all the bridges were hilly on this course). Many runners were taking pictures as we ran across the bridge. I wished I had brought a camera with me. This was a slow first mile. I ran close to an 11 min pace for my first mile.
We then got into Brooklyn, and this is where the excitement started. I have never run in a marathon where there are miles and miles of spectators cheering the runners on either side of the road. This was just great. It was at this time that I was glad that Nirisha had stitched my name on my shirt. I lost count of how many high fives I got, and also how many people cheered me. I always used to think that New Yorkers were a surly bunch. Now I know that I was completely wrong. New Yorkers are the most amazing and welcoming people in this country! There were so many kids cheering. I even got a bunch of comments commending me (and also making fun of) on my lime green CEP compression socks (these were a godsend). I took everything in good spirits, smiled, and continued to run.
At around mile 3 we had the first water stop. Sticking with my pre-race strategy, I just sipped about two ounces of water (in prior marathons I would pound two full cups of Gatorade at each stop). I did this at each stop until mile 26. At around mile 5 I took my first sip of gel (EFS) and again sipped some water. Everything was going perfectly according to plan. I continued running and felt like the crowd was only cheering for me (I am sure other runners felt the same, too). Around mile 10 I took another sip of EFS gel.
With all this cheering the first 11 miles seemed effortless!! It was at this time that we entered into the township of Williamsburg, where the majority of the population were orthodox. There was a sudden silence (it felt more like I hit a brick wall) after all of the initial cheering in Brooklyn. I guess the people of Williamsburg were not too excited about us running through their neighborhood. The men were so silent. The women seemed to be looking at us with strange looks. I remember reading a previous blog by our buddy Danny where he mentioned that he was afraid to even spit in this neighborhood. I felt the same way. I think this was my fastest two miles. I had to get out fast and get some crowd support again. It was at this point that we entered into Queens, where the crowd support started again.
I continued to keep an even pace through Queens, with no aches or pains. I took the next sip of gel at 15 miles right before the Queensboro Bridge (entrance into Manhattan). It was at this time that the course was starting to get hilly. I felt strong and confident (partly due to running crazy 8s during training). I was also glad that I did not start out fast in the race, because I was starting to overtake a lot of people at this point. Many of the runners were walking on the Queensboro Bridge. It was a hilly bridge indeed. We then entered into the first phase of Manhattan (1st Ave).
This was such a morale booster. The crowds were going strong again. I felt so energetic, and again giving and getting high fives. I could have sworn that, at times, a group of at least 30 people cheered for me. I am sure every runner got the same great New York welcome from the crowd. This crowd simply knew how to make every runner feel special.
At mile 17, I did a pain threshold check (this was where I cramped at the Eugene, Oregon marathon). I was doing great and feeling great with no pain or discomfort. At mile 18, I had some more water and gel, and kept on running, overtaking all the runners who started out too fast.
At mile 19 I hit the next hilly bridge called the Wills Ave Bridge (okay, now I am starting to think every bridge in New York is hilly). I was still feeling strong. This was where the borough of Bronx began. The crowd support was okay here for the 2 miles that I was in the Bronx. Next I entered into Harlem.
I have never been to Harlem before, and I would have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The crowds here were enthusiastic and I felt rejuvenated. All of Harlem was cheering the runners. I knew that the finish line was now less than an hour away. I realized at this time that I had not looked at my Garmin during the first 21 miles of the race. I ran based on how comfortable I felt. I was still on track for a 4:20 finish. This was also my undoing, because now I started looking at my Garmin every two minutes until I finished the race. I was also beginning to feel tired at this point.
The 21st mile was over. Now came the “fun” part of the course (miles 22 through 24). According to the map, this was a hilly portion of the course. And my friends, yes, it was hilly. I took my last sip of gel and water, and struggled all the way up. The crowds continued to cheer the runners, and this got me through this part of the course. I was so thankful when I made it to the top, and we came around to the entrance of Central Park at mile 25. At this time I started feeling my quads and calves getting sore. I started praying that I wouldn’t start cramping, and was thankful for the little downhill that followed.
The downhill was followed by some uphills, at which point I started to silently curse. My quads and calves began to throb. I started to say a prayer begging the running gods to not let my cramps begin. Every time I have had my cramps, I have collapsed on the pavement screaming in pain. Thankfully, the muscles were just throbbing. The climax of the muscle throbbing peaked at 25.5 miles, at which point I chose to walk for 2 mins, so that I could allow for the muscle throbbing to subside. I checked my watch, and saw that I had 7 mins left to make it to the 4 hours and 30 min mark (to get my name printed in the New York Times). At this point I decided that I was going to run and push the pace, cramps or no cramps, and if I was going to collapse, I would do it at the finish line in style.
I entered into the final phase of the race in Central Park and saw a downhill (thank heavens) towards the Mile 26 marker. I was so happy, and then as I crossed the 26 mile mark, I saw that the last 0.2 miles was uphill. I was mad at this point, and my calf and quad muscles were starting to seize up. I did not stop. I kept going with determination to finish and finally crossed the finish line at 4 hours 27 mins and 34 secs. I was done!! And then, all of a sudden, my muscles stopped throbbing! My prayers must have been answered! I was so happy!
The first person I recognized at the finish line was the Costa Rican lady I talked to before the race at Staten Island. We were so happy and surprised to see each other and we hugged. I was so happy for her that she did fantastic on her first marathon. We said goodbye, and I proceeded to get (ahem…demand would be a better word) my finisher’s medal. All runners then received an apple (fruit, not the computer) and a goody bag with Gatorade. I also got a Mylar blanket (which I still have no idea what purpose it serves, other than being a cosmetic item that really does not warm you up).
I started to look for Nirisha at the finish line, but could not find her. We had decided earlier to meet outside Central Park at 77th and Columbus, since it was impossible to hook up at Central Park. There were so many people that it took 45 mins to get out of the park. It was starting to get cold when I got to the corner of 77th and Columbus. I waited another 45 mins for Nirisha to show up (luckily Mike hooked up with me while I was waiting, and I had company). Nirisha and I then went back to the hotel, freshened up, and met Heather and Marc for dinner. I later heard that everyone from the Sixx AM group did great in the marathon. I was happy to hear that. We had all trained very hard and it paid off!
Coming back to my goals for this marathon, and whether I achieved them:
1) I was going to have fun! What other way could one see all 5 boroughs of New York and run on the bridges on NY City? Yes, I had a lot of fun. In fact, this was the most fun marathon of all 8 that I have run.
2) I was not going to get the irritating and debilitating calf cramps in this marathon. I had them in all 7 previous marathons. I succeeded in keeping the cramps at bay for the entire marathon, except for a time period of 2 mins towards the end of the race. I credit it to proper training and running based on how well conditioned I was. I was 7 mins off my goal (4:27 vs 4:20), but no big deal.
3) I wanted my name to be in the NY Times the following morning. You had to get a time of 4hrs and 30mins or better to get your name printed. Yes, my name was in the NY Times. They actually printed the names of all the finishers up to 4 hrs, 45 mins.
I had a successful and happy time in New York. I was happy that my wife came with me and help me prepare for this exciting weekend. I was happy that our friend Heather got engaged to Marc on this weekend. I was also happy that all my friends did well in the NYC marathon! I hope you all will get to run it someday!