Once I crossed the finish line in Chicago, my thoughts immediately went to November 4th. The 2012 ING New York City Marathon. My Superbowl. The best day of the year to be in the Big Apple.
The Saturday morning after the Chicago Marathon, I mentored the Team For Kids 20 mile run. This is the longest run that the soon-to-be marathoners will complete prior to commencing the tapering process (the steady decrease in weekly mileage during the three weeks leading up to race day). First timers are usually nervous before the run starts, as this is the run that could very well introduce them to The Wall.
For those of you playing the home game, let me give you an extremely high-level description of The Wall. The night before a marathon, runners usually each a generous portion of carbo-loaded goodness (i.e., pasta pasta pasta!!!). This builds up their glycogen stores and prepares them for the huge calorie burning endeavor coming up the following morning. Marathon morning arrives, and the runner will have some additional carbohydrates (Pop Tarts are my favorite choice), to basically top off the gas tank before the gun goes off. The gas tank of a marathoner can hold approximately 2,000 calories of energy. Now the runner takes off on his 26.2 mile quest. With each mile that he/she runs, approximately 100 calories are burned. So somewhere around mile 20, the gas tank becomes bone dry. It is at this point in the race where the mind insists that the body continue on its present course, and the body responds by searching for an alternative source of fuel. Fortunately, we do have one – our body fat. But here’s the problem with switching to fat as the body’s primary fuel source: it sucks. From all I’ve read in books and magazines, it sounds like fat is much less efficient. So when this internal switch is “flipped” and the body transitions from burning a good fuel source to a lousy one, the runner’s energy level crashes. Stuff like energy gels and gummy-chewy energy blocks help the runner if taken in time…but personally I find them to be the equivalent of trying to hold back a train with duct tape.
Before I go on, I have to share my favorite quote regarding the feeling of hitting The Wall:
“It felt like an elephant had jumped out of a tree onto my shoulders and was making me carry it the rest of the way in.”—Dick Beardsley, speaking of hitting “The Wall” at the second marathon of his career, the 1977 City of Lakes Marathon.
Personally, The Wall is one of the main reasons I run. (I just re-read that brief sentence and I agree – that does indeed sound stupid…but it’s true). I like going past 20 miles because I know that is supposed to be my physical limitation. When you push past something that is supposed to be your limitation, you extend your own possibilities.
(I read a pretty solid article about The Wall, and I’d like to share it with you: http://www.marathonandbeyond.com/choices/latta.htm)
We met in Central Park before 7am, broke up into pace groups, and took off around Manhattan. Down the east side, around Battery Park, up the west side to almost 125th street, and then back down into Central Park to wrap it up. I enjoy running with the beginner group because it’s made up of just that – almost all of the runners in the group had never run 20 miles before that day. And one of the things I love the most about this sport is being able to help others achieve something that they never thought they could. It’s incredible to watch someone wrap up their first 20 mile long training run, and realize that they are now really ready to tackle the marathon. They leave practice exhausted…yet pumped up.
One week later, Team For Kids ran its annual Last Ten Miler, where we run the last ten miles of the marathon course. I mentored again, simply because I get fired up being around such positive people. It makes me a better runner…and a better person, I think. Once more we broke up into pace groups and set out along the southern drive of the park. We exited from the southeast corner of the park, and hung a left on 60th street, heading east to First Avenue. Once we arrived at First Avenue, we were on the course and the fun began.
Up First Avenue. Over the Willis Avenue Bridge. Down 138th street in the Bronx. Back into Manhattan via the Madison Avenue Bridge. Southbound to Marcus Garvey Park. Hung a right onto Fifth Avenue and up the long incline to Engineer’;s Gate. Into Central Park on 90th Street and Fifth Avenue. Exit the park and make a right on Central Park South. Up the incline to Columbus Circle. Back into the park. Hello finish line. While I know this description doesn’t paint a vivid picture of the course AT ALL, I don’t really think that any amount of colorful verbiage coming from my dense cranium would be adequate to illustrate the magic of that extended patch of asphalt.
Running the last 10 miles of the course allows me to visualize myself on race day. Positive visualization is extremely important in marathon running, because those last miles are all about mentally being able to stay focus as the wheels are coming off. This is not an easy task. So let me quickly share with you what I visualize during that last 10 miler….
- Running up First Avenue while fans 5 deep line the road on either side, screaming for a bunch of complete strangers in shorts is a site that stays with a marathoner long after the first Sunday in November. I’ll have gas still in the tank at this point and I’ll want to drop the hammer when I turn onto First Avenue off of the 59th Street Bridge. I need to resist the urge. Hold back. Stay steady.
- Then there is this quiet patch that sits between 96th Street and the Willis Avenue Bridge – miles 19 and 20. I need to actually back off the throttle here. Conserve my energy a bit. Get over the bridge and into the Bronx in one piece.
- Once in the Bronx, enjoy the attitude. Listen for the Japanese drummers – if I can hear them, I’m close to the Madison Avenue Bridge. Get past that mile 22 marker and get myself into Harlem.
- Make a left off of the Madison Avenue Bridge, and I’ll be greeted by a funny DJ and fans that give me what I need when I need it – attitude. I LOVE HARLEM. Embrace the attitude – take it in and let it fuel the moment. Fans will yell things like “don’t you walk here! We didn’t come out to see you stop now! Get moving!” Take it in. Take it all in. Look for the Team For Kids support area and high-five as many youngsters as you can.
- It gets quiet as I crawl around Marcus Garvey Park. Mentally gather myself here. Prepare for that right-hand turn onto Fifth Avenue. Take deep breaths. This is the point in the race where the wheels could really come off if I allow it to.
- Fifth Avenue. First get myself to the Northeast corner of Central Park, where those amazing gospel singers will lift my spirits. Use that as motivation to get up the incline to the entrance to Central Park. GET TO THE PARK. That is all I can think about here. This incline can break a runner. It’s not a hard incline to run – it just comes at a rough point in the race, and it doesn’t seem to end! The fans stand in the street; close enough to pat the runners on the back.
- Make that left onto Central Park’s east side drive, and I am basically home free. This is my home turf – my back yard. I’ve run hundreds of miles in this park, and there are no surprises here. The fans are loud – USE THEM. First get to Cat Hill, and I’m rewarded with an awesome downhill stretch to 72nd street. Then tough it out and get to Central Park South. Use my nose here – if I can smell the horse crap from all of those horse-drawn carriages, I am almost there.
- The right onto Central Park South. Showtime. Another incline – just get myself to 7th Avenue and I’m home free. LOUD fans here. Cops yelling on bullhorns. Here is where the run becomes emotional. I’ll see runners wanting to quit here – urge them on and I’ll be urging myself on too.
- The turn into Central Park. Drop the hammer. Time to really pick up the pace and finish strong. Just deal with that small hill with approximately 200 yards to go. Whatever gas is left in the tank – expend it here. Cross the finish line with absolutely nothing left to give.
Running the last 10 miles of the course with TFK was a wonderful experience. And so the excitement builds for Marathon Week……
If you’d like some information on The Dream Team Project or would like to make a donation to their amazing cause, please stop by the website: www.wdwradio.com/the-dream-team-project I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really believe in what The Dream Team Project stands for. It raises money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, helping to grant the wishes of children suffering from life-threatening illnesses. Being s former wish-granter for the NYC Chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, I can tell you first-hand just how much of an impact this organization makes in the lives of children. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. Thanks!
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