To be perfectly honest, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever if any of my teammates from the New York Road Runners Team for Kids actually reads my periodic postings of gibberish – but on the odd chance that that one of them does, I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts on the upcoming race. I hope they find it helpful.
A wise man (I believe it was Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred) once said that “A hero is made in the moment”. That’s the way I see you guys – heroes. Each and every one of you. Now I know you might read this and say to yourself “God you are corny, Joe. Heroes? Come on. Please. I think you need to be electro shocked back into coherence”. Well regardless of how corny / cheesy / lame that opinion may sound it is, nonetheless, my heartfelt opinion on the matter. When you cross that starting line, you are a hero and this is your moment. A moment that each of you have earned through months of hard work and dedication. You’ve done all that you’ve needed to do – and much, much more – to earn the honor of toeing the line on Sunday.
Now let me clear one thing up before I go on waxing poetic: to me you are all heroes by crossing the starting line. Not the finish line. Ovid once said that “The ending crowns the work”. Well the race tomorrow is the crowning of all of your hard work. It’s the 26.2 mile block party in which you all are the honored guests. But do not let the race itself eclipse all of your efforts that got you there. Going to practice three times a week was…..and I cannot believe I’m saying this (mainly because I cannot stand the thought of hard work)….great fun. Building friendships while pounding out the training miles – that’s the unsung glory of running the New York City Marathon with what will be on Sunday, quite simply, the best team on the course.
The Pre-Race Gitters
If you are reading this on the day this entry has been posted to by blog (October 28th 2010, 9 days before race day), you probably aren’t feeling very nervous. I bet you’re excited – but the pre-race gitters haven’t sunk in yet. Well don’t worry – if you aren’t nervous now, you probably will be the night before the cannon goes off. And you know what….you should be nervous. Getting the pre-race gitters before running the New York City Marathon is completely natural. This will be my 11th marathon (my 6th New York City Marathon, my 4th with Team for Kids), and I have been nervous the night before each and every race. And let’s face it, folks: my only goal has been to finish what I’ve started. I’m not fast by any means – not nearly fast enough yet to shoot for qualifying for Boston – so the only thing that gets me nervous about the race is my fear of not finishing. There’s no internal pressure placed on myself to maintain a 7 minute pace or crack 3 hours 20 minutes. But I get the pre-race gitters anyway. Why? Because, as another quasi-smart dude once said, “If you can keep your wits about you whilst everyone around you is losing theirs….then you don’t understand the situation”. So don’t think that you shouldn’t feel as nervous as you will the night before the race – it just means you understand the situation. This is a big deal. It’s a life-changing event if you allow to be. Allow yourself to experience the full gamut of emotions that come with this level of event. And don’t worry – the nerves go away the moment you feel the incline on the Verrazano Bridge.
Bring These Things with You to the Marathon Village
- Body Glide
- Band Aids
- Wet Naps (think about it, people: port-o-potties…..)
- A jacket for after the race
- A heat sheet or a small blanket that you don’t care about / don’t want back
Some quick notes:
- 43,000 + people will be walking all over the grass for three hours prior to the race. The foot traffic turns the grass to mud. So keep warm and dry. Sit on something water-resistant.
- They have water and Gatorade in the TFK tent within the marathon village. You don’t need to lug 9 gallons of Chatteau Bloomberg with you to the marathon village.
- Don’t try anything new on race day. Go with what you know.
- Wear something as an outer layer that you can just chuck to the side of the road.
- Throw a jacket in your bag for the finish line. When you stop running, you’ll get the chills – trust me.
- Try not to listen to music while running. You worked 5 months for this – don’t block out the crowd noise.
- Oh – but one thing – don’t allow the crowds to get you too psyched up. You’ll tear up First Avenue or fly through Brooklyn, and that could turn the Bronx and Central Park into a death march for you. STAY STEADY.
So with that nonsense out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff: the course……………
Yes, you’ll be waiting in the marathon village for a while. But this is the last time we’ll be running as a team this year, so make the best of it and spend time talking with each other. Trust me: the time will fly. Those marathon reviews that you read on marathonguide.com mainly complain about the wait at the start. Well the starting area doesn’t have to be a snore-fest if you don’t want it to be. Contingents of people from all over the world are all in once place, sharing a common goal. It’s incredible. If you don’t want to hang out in the team tent for the whole time, take a walk and say hello to some of the people wearing orange from The Netherlands. Or groups of runners from France or Japan. Party with some of the German runners – they are really fun and are ALWAYS in great spirits. Check out the band that will be on stage prior to the gun going off. Or do what I do: go on a hunt to locate (and hopefully run with) Elvis. Take it all in. It’s the running world’s Woodstock.
There is nothing like the start. It is, quite simply, incredible. The elite runners are announced. Then the Anthem. Then the cannon. Then Sinatra. Just remember to stay under control early – the first mile is an incline, but you are too juiced to notice it. Stay focused. Take in the skyline. Don’t go out too fast. (And if you are on the lower level of the bridge, stay toward the center. Trust me on this one). Mile two is a decline as you are heading to Brooklyn. Listen for the crowd. Brooklyn is AMAZING on Marathon Sunday. As you turn off the bridge and enter into the borough, look up at some of the windows…some people bang pots and pans as we all waddle by.
By the time you hit mile 4, you’ll be on the main drag in Brooklyn. Now it’s time to take in all of the different neighborhoods. Watch one melt into another. Each ethnicity represented brings color and life to the race that goes unmatched globally. If you are a New Yorker, try to notice how much enthusiasm each neighborhood shows. It renews my pride in my city each and every year, without fail.
Brooklyn is flat. Stay steady and remember that by the time you leave this borough, you’re half way home. Don’t let the loud fans fire you up too much here. Take the energy they give you and store it away somewhere….you’re gonna need it. Each mile marker you pass, ask yourself whether the pace feels fast or just right. STAY UNDER CONTROL. I’m no coach – but I am speaking from experience here: I let the energy of Brooklyn get to me and I ran too fast too early in prior years. The end result was…..well……ugly.
The Half Marathon point is at the crest of the bridge that spills you in to Queens. Here the dynamic of the course changes for a couple of miles. Fans are more subdued. There could be small stretches where there is no crowd support. No worries – the race makes up for it soon enough. Here is a great point in the race to evaluate how you are feeling, since the lack of crowd noise makes it easier to turn yourself inward. As you twist and turn through Queens, begin prepping your mind for the 59th Street Bridge. One final sharp left turn, and you’re face to face with it. God I hate this bridge. Somewhere on the incline or near the crest between Queens and Manhattan, you’ll hit mile 16. Ten miles to go. As you begin to descend, just listen for the crowd. It will give you goose bumps. Read the signs hanging from banners as you take your final steps on the Bridge – they are pretty cool.
Everything you’ve heard and read about this part of the marathon course is 100% dead-on accurate. It…is…incredible. You hang a left off of the bridge and onto 60th Street, where you are greeted by…..NOISE. LOUD, LOUD NOISE. Another left turn puts you under the bridge, briefly in the shade. Then, as you pass under the bridge and into the sun again, you are greeted with a corridor of noise. The fans are 7 deep on either side of the avenue, for miles. The buildings cause the yelling and screaming to hover in the air, which adds to the moment. You will be tempted to slam on the gas here. And knowing the training we’ve been through this year, you’ll have the gas in your tank between miles 16 & 17 to do it. BUT REFRAIN. Hold back. STAY FOCUSED and under control. Resist the urge to release your inner Kenyan here. Enjoy the moment. Savor it.
Watch your footing at miles 18 & 19, because that’s where they hand out the sponges and the gels. I’ve seen a few five car pileups here.
As you pass mile 18 and work on mile 19, the crowds thin out again. Here is a chance to mentally prepare yourself for the last 10 kilometers. While the crowds are thin and you can concentrate on what you are doing without distraction, think about the task at hand. The Wall could show itself soon. Your body has gotten you to this point of the course. You’ve gotten this far on sheer strength, training, discipline and consistency. To all of this, you must now add resolve. As you hit the Willis Avenue Bridge and say hello to the Bronx, my hometown, you are at mile 20.
You are only in the Bronx for a mile and a half. Its quiet – not what you are probably expecting to hear. Nothing real impressive to ogle, unfortunately. Just get through the Bronx and re-enter Manhattan via the Madison Avenue Bridge. Make the turn for home – that’s all that matters.
Here is where the real race begins. You’ll begin to feel the effects of the mileage by now. Things may hurt. You may ache. You may feel stiff. Your body, at some point either in the Bronx or in Harlem, will begin to ask your brain to stop. When you begin getting these messages, your heart and your mind must take control of the situation. Try to think about what motivated you to run this race. Each of us has real personal reasons for doing this. Channel those reasons now and push through the wall.
As you return to Manhattan, you are greeted by a great DJ. He’s funny – listen for him. He’ll put a smile on your face when you didn’t think you’d be in a laughing mood.
Harlem is one of my favorite places along the course. The fans here want to help you along. Keep you moving. Motivate you. They all know you are hurting – but you have a goal and they want to be a part of getting you to achieve it. You’ll hear some people yell “don’t you dare stop!”, or “I didn’t come here to watch a bunch of walkers! Get movin’!” Trust me: some tough love at this point is a Godsend. And then….the gospel singers. Listen for them. Trust me, it’ll stir something deep within you.
Around Marcus Garvey Park. On to the incline that is Fifth Avenue. Another amazing part of the race. You’ll run down Fifth Avenue through a corridor of fans. They like getting up close and personal to the runners, and any enthusiasm offered up here will help. Your goal is to get to 90th Street and the Engineer’s Gate. You can do it. 22 miles in. The Wall has been hit. Your determination, focus and resolve have gotten you through it. The pain persists, but now you can taste the finish line.
To us TFKers, we are home. A quick left onto the east side drive. Here come some rolling hills. 23 miles in, these hills will suck – but you know them all well by now. No surprises. It will feel good to be on your home turf. A little home field advantage will work wonders. Your head should clear by now. Your goal is within reach. The fans begin to yell and scream for you – the hills hurt, but the support helps.
As you head south, your nose will tell you how close you are. When you smell the horse crap, you’re close to Central Park South.
As you get to Mile 25’s marker, listen for some of the veteran marathoners yell “God f&^k the Queen!!!” The race would have been over by now – but you have the Queen of England to thank for these last 1.2 miles.
A mile to go. Hello Central Park South.
With less than a mile to go, the fans here yell their lungs out for you. The cops cheer you on. There’s one NYPD captain with a bullhorn that will make you smile. At this point, if I have anything left in the tank (and that’s a HUGE “if”), I begin to open it up. Motion will create emotion on this part of the course. As people see you leaving whatever you’ve got left on the pavement, they simply yell louder. They will push you along like a wave pushes you to shore. Just aim for the Columbus Circle Statue and keep moving.
Columbus Circle. The turn into the Park. Less than a half a mile to go.
Now the noise really begins to build. The first grandstand is at the turn in to the Park. They’ll let you know – loudly – just how well you’re doing. Down a narrow path that spills you out on to the west side drive. There is one word to describe what you’ll see before you:
You’ll be greeted by a corridor of fans, cheering loudly for you. Flags of every country adorn the fencing on either sides of the drive. Ahead of you, the Mile 26 marker. Ahead you see the grandstands. Now the juices are REALLY flowing. If you haven’t dropped the hammer down at this point, DO IT. Leave it all on the course. Up that last little incline and soak in the roar of the crowd. There’s the finish line. 26.2 miles, in the books. Do not look at your watch as you hit the finish line – trust me, it looks odd in a picture.
Teammates, it has been an honor running with you this year. All of the hard work will pay off in a memorable Sunday that you will cherish forever. When you hit the finish line, you’ll be a slightly different person. The definition of the word “impossible” will be altered a bit. You ran and finished one of the greatest marathons on the planet, whilst helping to raise over $4 million to help over 150,000 New York City kids fight childhood obesity. Someone once said that “deeds in themselves are meaningless unless they are for some higher purpose” – well your great accomplishment also serves a wonderful purpose.
I remember reading this one quote, and I have no idea who to credit for it: “trying to explain the pain of running a marathon is like trying to describe color to someone born blind”. This effort will hurt. But you CAN DO IT. ALL GO – NO QUIT. The pain comes with the territory. You signed up for the pain five months ago – it’s a shock to no one. This race is hard…but it is the hard that makes it great.
And thank you so much to the coaches and the staff of TFK that stood by us during this journey – we could not have done it without you. Your leadership and dedication is incredible.
If you want to run a marathon – run New York City. And if you’re going to run the ING New York City Marathon, running with The New York Road Runners Team for Kids is the best way to do it.
Godspeed, TFK. Go Green.
“In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.”