W-T-F.


Well, it’s been almost a month since I’m embarked on my Ironman journey, and what an educational few weeks it’s been. So let me take a few minutes to catch you up on what’s been going on. IN short, however, the past month can be summed up with three little letters: WTF. That’s right…

W – Water
I joined the Reebok Sports Club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, mainly because they offer all the tools for me to train throughout the year (an indoor pool, an outdoor track as well as tons of dreadmills, and virtual cycling machines that are fairly fancy). Each weekday morning I find myself in the pool somewhere around 5:15am, getting my laps in. The first few mornings were rather humbling, to be quite honest. Being born and raised on City Island (a little island in the Bronx of approximately 5,000 – 6,000 residents), I’ve spent a ton of time on and in the water. So I just figured that the swim portion of the Ironman would be the part of the race that would concern me the least. Now, after four weeks of swimming alongside a couple of Ironmen and Half-Ironmen, I realize that I may be able to swim well…but I am truly not efficient in the water. And as far as endurance is concerned, I have some serious work to do. I went into this endeavor thinking that I’d just need to work on cycling in order to be successful. I was about as wrong as a person can be.

In order to move on to the cycling portion of the Ironman, I must complete the 2.4 mile swim in less than 2 hours and 20 minutes. 140 minutes. That’s all the time I have. I’ve watched YouTube videos of people being informed by race officials that their Ironman day was done as they hopped out of water with an official time of 2 hours and twenty minutes…and 7 seconds. That’s the stuff that nightmares are made of, when you train for this event. Of course, The Tool has begun to show up poolside, busting out one of those really creepy speedo bathing suits and inflatable floaties, along with a neon pink swim cap. I picture the little 4cm tall schmuck sitting on the edge of the pool, laughing at me as everyone makes me eat their wake as I clip off my laps. Each time I touch the wall where he’s perched, he holds up a rude sign: “2 hours, 20 minutes and 2 seconds…hahahaha”, “you’re as buoyant as a rock”, etc.

I have some real work to do. And I need to get to a point where the 140 minute limit does not scare me. I am NOT there yet. Not by a long shot.

(I’ll re-blog my entry where I introduce The Tool as my main antagonist shortly…)

T – Tricycle.
I signed up for the 2014 Ironman Texas and I didn’t even own a bike. I believe the last bike I owned was actually a Mongoose. I used to love riding my dirt bike….when I was 12. So how much different could this be?

Well….I’ve found out that it really is different than riding my old Mongoose with the thick dirt tires and the plastic racing number on the handle bars (oh yeah – my old Mongoose was pimped out. Big time).

For the first two weeks of training, I hopped out of the pool in the mornings and transitioned immediately to a virtual cycling station where I logged anywhere between 5-11 miles. The amount of sweat that riding these virtual bikes drew from me was ridiculous. Since this is all new, however, this cross-training has been an amazingly positive influence on my running. I’ve noticed an improvement in endurance and speed. So – note to everyone reading this – cross-training is a GOOD idea. It DOES help.

About two weeks ago, I conducted my search for my first real adult grown-up mature bicycle. I went to the local bike store, checked out the whole gamut of selections available (aluminum and carbon) and decided on a Scott Speedster. They fitted the bike for my specifications in the store…and, of course, I almost fell on them as I sat in the saddle for the first time. Unreal. I wasn’t even out of the store yet with my new bike, and I already almost caused a casualty. I couldn’t help but overhear some jackass proclaim “that guy should have training wheels…or better yet, fit him for a tricycle”. Now – anyone who knows me also knows who one of my heroes is: Dr. House. Honor dictates that I had to respond, channeling the good doc…

“Hey dipshit – are you sure you are allowed to be outside unattended? Now go home and tell your Mommy and Daddy that you’ve been a very bad boy. Then go to your room and don’t come out until you’re sorry for what you said.”

The laughter from the other people in the store was enough to change the mood in the store. Ten minutes later, I walked out with a new bike and a free helmet (as a gift for the good belly laugh).

I’ve been steadily raising the daily mileage to a morning ride of 12-15 miles completed in approximately 45-48 minutes. In order to continue on to the marathon portion of the Ironman, participants must complete the 112 mile cycling course by 5pm local time. So if an athlete exits the swim portion of the event in 2 hours and 19 minutes, and the race begins promptly at 7am, the athlete has approximately 7 hours and 50 minutes to complete the distance. This means that I’ll need to average an approximate speed of 15.5 miles an hour throughout the cycling portion of the Ironman in order to ensure that I have enough of a time cushion to transition to the marathon.

So far it seems to me that one of the keys to a successful Ironman attempt resembles the key to comedy: TIMING.

F – Frackin’ Running
While I’ve been continuing to participate in races each weekend, my weekly mileage is now beginning to creep up the way I had hoped, as I’ve now begun the marathon training season with the New York Road Runners Team for Kids (running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays) and Team in Training (on Tuesdays). I have learned one fairly interesting concept: transitioning from a long bike ride to running in Central Park is REALLLLLLY hard. Your legs get into a rhythm while riding a bike at a fast, even pace. The lactic acid builds up in the thighs, and it’s got nowhere to go as you ride. Then, when you hop off the bike and transition quickly to running, it feels like hopping off a sailboat after being at sea for a month. You have to get your landlubber legs back in a hurry.

The first time I tried to transition quickly from the bike to running….I tripped and fell. Over my own two feet. In front of a bunch of people. Oh yeah – I’ve checked my pride at the front desk and I’m really being humbled by the effort that this undertaking requires.

I’m expecting the months of September through December to be loaded with running miles. Will I make the goal of 2,013 miles for the year? I will try my best. It has become increasingly tough because the physical toll that this effort exacts requires rest days each week – making my required running miles for my active days each week to consistently increase. My weight has begun its downward trend – so I’m close to beginning to post my weight lost and pounds to go. Close….but not quite there yet. Still embarrassed about the amount of pounds I need to lose and my lack of consistent effort to correct my crappy diet. I’m a work in progress, I guess.

I cannot lose focus now. I have to consistently remember the motto of the Ironman, which is simply “I can”……
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A Quick Statistical Snapshot of Where I Stand as of June 25th 2013:

Goal #1: Run at Least 2,013 Miles in 2013
Miles logged: 516.32
Miles to go: 1,497.68
In order to accomplish my goal, I need to average7.6 miles per day through December 31st, 2013. There are 189 days left.

Goal #2: Drop to 185 Pounds
Starting weight: way too embarrassed to admit right now
Weight lost thus far: not enough to even warrant mentioning at this point
In order to accomplish this goal, I need to lose more than 25 pounds by December 31st, 2013.

Goal #3: Run the Fifth Avenue Mile in Less than 7 Minutes
Quickest mile run: 7:05 (2011 NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile)
Quickest mile run in 2013 thus far: 8:03 (accomplished on May 22nd).
In order to accomplish this goal, I need to drop my speed for the 1 miler by 1:04.

Goal #4: Run a Sub 4 Hour Marathon
Fastest marathon run thus far: 5:07:36 (2011 ING New York City Marathon)
Fastest marathon pace maintained: 11:43 per mile
In order to accomplish this goal, I need to drop my average marathon pace per mile by 2:30 (shooting for a pace of 9:13 per mile) in order to drop 1:07:37 from my best marathon time.

Goal #5: Complete My First Ultra
Furthest I have ever run: 29.5 miles (not run during an official race)
Distance of my scheduled 2013 ultra: 37.28 miles
In order to accomplish this goal, I need to finish the NYRR 60k on November 16th 2013.

Goal #6: Complete My First Triathlon
Furthest swim distance: 1,500 meters (June 3rd )
Furthest cycling distance: 15 miles (June 22nd)
In order to accomplish this goal, I need to complete the 2013 New York City Triathlon, scheduled for July 18th. 1 mile (1600 meters) swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run.
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BY setting some pretty challenging goals for myself, I am trying to generate interest in / donations to The Dream Team Project. This charity’s mission is to raise 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 New York City 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.

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: http://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. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. Thanks!

…and if you’d like a bit more information on the WDW Radio Running Team, please check out the Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/WDW-Radio-Running-Team/163606410344409

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My Life With Chuckie D


So in yesterday’s episode, I took stock of my lack of progress and the possible rationale for my stagnancy.  I basically gave myself some tough love.  And that reeeeeeeally stunk.  Why?  Because I forced myself to look at the current state of “internal affairs” and concluded that enhancements needed to be made toot-sweet.  (I just used the phrase “toot-sweet” in a sentence – I should be given a time out for that moment of idiocy).  As a result of this analysis, one of the discoveries I made was that my diet was, in technical terms, well…….stupid.  Just dumb.  Moronic.  Here I am trying to stay healthy, injury-free and strong throughout what promises to be the most physically demanding year of my life (thus far), and I still take in enough Diet Coke a day to choke a horse.  Enough chocolate a day that I constantly walk around on a sugar kick.  And coffee?  Don’t even get me started!  If I had the medical credentials and the proper equipment, I’d simply mainline Dunkin Donuts French vanilla with cream & sugar. 

 

These harsh realizations resulted in what I am now defining as a self-intervention.  As my buddy Chuck once told me, “Joey my boy (he called me Joey and that pissed me off – but he was a bit smarter than me so I gave him a pass), for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  To which I, of course, retorted “Chuckie D (I called him Chuckie D just to exact my revenge on a rather kindergarten level – and because he secretly adored Run DMC), you must be high”.  Well I was wrong.  He wasn’t high.  Instead, he wrote a few laws and got famous in the halls of science while I rumbled through a remote college ingloriously.

 

Ah those words still bounce around in my rather dense cranium: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Chuck was right, and I can prove it without some fancy-shmancy scientific theorem (“toot-sweet”….”fancy-shmancy”…see what happens when you take a schmuck like me off of my magic elixirs?).  Based on the action of my “self-intervention”, the reaction was me publicly swearing off of Diet Coke AND chocolate.  Why did Chuck need to be so darn smart? 

 

Well I am happy to report that it’s been approximately 24 hours since I made that promise to myself….and thus far I’ve managed to stick to it.  However, it has NOT been easy.  The action of taking away my soda and chocolate is like taking away Dr. House’s bottle of vicodin: the reaction is probably going to be messy.

 

….24 hours……that’s all….and I’m already a complete grouch.  This does not bode well.  And I’m a sourpuss to begin with.

 

On a lighter note, last night I sat down and developed my running schedule for the next couple of months.  I’ve now provided myself with some structure.  Hopefully this will help me improve my speed and stamina.  Time will tell.

 

So there you have it, sports fans.  I have a bunch of marathons coming up along with some other races in New York City, I’m about to step up the structure and intensity of my workouts…and I’m doing it without my of my favorite food groups: chocolate and Diet Coke.  Make sure your seatbelts are fastened, your trays are locked and your seats are in the upright position, because I’m betting there will be some turbulence up ahead.

 

 

 

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!

 

…and if you’d like a bit more information on the WDW Radio Running Team, please check out the Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/WDW-Radio-Running-Team/163606410344409

Marathon Number 2 of 12 in ’12…..Part One


As I’ve mentioned in my past few blog entries, my goal for 2012 is to run a marathon during each calendar month of the year in order to generate awareness and donations for The Dream Team Project.  Well I am happy to report that I survived marathon number two on Sunday, February 12th.  I completed the “26.2 With Donna Marathon”, run in Jacksonville, Florida in a time of five hours and fourteen minutes.  I’d like to briefly share with you the day’s experience, because it truly was amazing.

First off: this marathon weekend offers runners the choice of running the full marathon, a half marathon, or participate in a marathon relay.  I chose the full marathon – but I can tell you that the half marathon distance was extremely popular!  So let’s dive right in!

On Saturday morning I took a taxi right from Jacksonville International Airport to the marathon expo held in a convention center downtown.  It was a very well organized, thorough event, as speaker such as Bart Yasso and Jeff Galloway graced the stage at different times during the day, spreading their running knowledge base among the masses.  Mr. Galloway was particularly exceptional during his discussion of “how to stay motivated during the run”.  That subject really made an impression on me, as I lose motivation early and often during a race.  I become distracted and, as a result, I lose my rhythm.  Then the wheels come off my tractor-trailer in a hurry, turning me into a sweaty mess in an awful hurry.  After he spoke, I got to chat with him for a few minutes!  That was pretty cool!!  This marathon offers the kind of expo where conversations like this become possible.  I left with a fantastic amount of “swag”, and a huge smile on my face.

 

As I walked out of the hotel on Sunday morning, which was wonderfully close to the start/finish line of the race alongside the Mayo Clinic campus, I realized that I may have bitten off a bit more than I could chew.  As the doors swooshed open, cold air blasted me right in the face. Should have looked at the temperature before getting dressed….it was 28 degrees.  With a strong wind.  Which was currently whacking me in the face.  I ran upstairs to my room and changed into long pants, 3 shirts and a sweatshirt (which represented approximately 85% of the clothes I brought on the trip).  I never ran 26.2 miles in long pants before….but there’s a first time for everything I guess….

This marathon has grown substantially since it’s inception five years ago, and it’s growth can be primarily evidenced in the quality of the Runner’s Village.  What a great setup.  I cannot recall another marathon offering oranges, bananas, and freshly-baked chocolate chip muffins that immediately reminded me of the Boardwalk Bakery in Walt Disney World (a personal favorite of mine whenever I’m hanging out in La Casa de Walt).  What a great way to kick off a really cold morning.  The chocolaty goodness took my mind off the freezing temperatures, that’s for sure!

After I dropped off my bag (along with my sweatshirt – hello wind chill) and headed to the starting line, a couple of people asked me about the WDW Radio Running Team.  So I gave them the quick explanation of The Dream Team Project, and why running for the team means so much to me.  They, in turn, shared their own experiences running for another cancer charity…and it was wonderful to listen to the passion in their voices as they were so grateful to get an opportunity to do something to help a cause that was close to their hearts.

Before you knew it, the gun sounded and off we went!

The course is very flat until the last mile…then you are exposed to Jacksonville’s version of Heartbreak Hill.  Since the hill is right near the end of the course, it truly is manageable.  You get to run along the beach, through the wonderful little towns, and experience small yet boisterous crowds all along the course.  It was an incredible feeling to have total strangers coming up to me as I waddled along the course, thanking ME for RUNNING.  Are you kidding????  It’s me that should be thanking YOU for YOUR SUPPORT!!!

In my next installment, I’ll provide a detailed description of the race experience!!  Tune in tomorrow!!!

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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!

My Sixth Post for Running Disney: Is There a Link Between Disney and the New York City Marathon?


My original blog post Running Disney: Is There a Link Between Disney and the New York City Marathon? can be found here on the WDW Radio Blog. Please check it out!!

Here in New York City the leaves on the trees have begun to change, the temperature has begun to slip into the high 50’s, and children are shopping for their Halloween costumes.  Some boys want to be Captain America this year.  Little girls walk out of the Disney Store in Times Square with Rapunzel costumes.  Children look forward to the end of October and I can relate to that; however, I look forward to what comes right after All Hallows Eve here in the Big Apple…..Marathon Week.

As I walk down Broadway near Lincoln Center, I notice the advertisements for the marathon near train stations and on the sides of our buses.  Banners line Central Park South.  Central Park itself has begun its annual transformation, as grandstands are being assembled near Tavern on the Green, and floods of runners can be seen basically all over the place (most of them passing me as if I’m standing still).  For a runner, this is a magical time to be in Manhattan.  It’s as if The Fairy Godmother waved her magic wand and cast a spell over midtown, spreading the anticipation and excitement.

As I’ve mentioned in prior blog entries, I pride myself on being a bit of a Disney Geek.  Well, truth be told, I’m a bit of a marathon geek as well.  I read the websites and the magazines.  I follow the sport the way that most people from my old neighborhood in the Bronx follow the Yankees.  I study the various books out there about the history of marathoning, as well as how a person can go about improving his/her time. (I keep re-reading those chapters of the books in my small library….but for some reason none of the authors’ brilliant points actually stick with me.  Concepts like “you need to cut down on chocolate or any other foods that might taste fantastic but do not offer optimal nutritional qualities” are lost on me.  Oreos + pop tarts + diet coke = breakfast of champions, as far as I’m concerned).  Well I am happy to say that I found a common link between my Disney Geekdom and my Marathon Nerdyness.  There is a link between the New York City Marathon and the Walt Disney World Marathon…and his name was Fred Lebow.

Now there is a ton of stuff out there on the internet and in books that tell the very interesting story of Fred Lebow – but I’ll quickly give you the crib notes version.  He survived World War II in Eastern Europe, came to New York from Europe, worked in Manhattan’s garment district, and began running with a group of seasoned runners near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.  Through leadership, creativity, and an almost Disney-like ability to see no limits to what he could achieve, Fred helped to put the New York Road Runners on the map.  He turned his unique vision of a marathon that “celebrates the masses” from a small gathering of 127 runners in Central Park to the wonderful race the 45,000 runners and 2.5 million fans experience the first Sunday of each November.

So I know what you’re thinking – great little story, Joe…but where’s the connection?

In the early 1990’s, Disney began to contemplate the possibility of creating a marathon to be held in Walt Disney World.  Fred Lebow, being the consummate cheerleader for the sport of distance running, thought that this was a wonderful idea.  Disney representatives picked Fred’s brain for several years and, in the spring of 1993, the company green-lit the project of a marathon for January 1994.  Fred flew down to WDW during the spring and summer of 1993, providing his advice and sharing his recommendations.  According to the books I’ve read, he added so much value to the development of the inaugural marathon that Disney named him the honorary chairman of the 1994 event.  Fred, battling cancer and in a weakened state, still toed the line alongside 8,200 of his fellow runners that January morning in 1994 and began to slowly jog with the masses that he felt so close to.  He couldn’t finish the race that morning – but he helped get the marathon off to a sound start.  The rest, as they say…is history.

What's up Fred?Fred Lebow passed away from cancer in October, 1994. I pass his statue almost every morning at about 5:30am.  The tall bronze statue stands at the Engineer’s Gate of Central Park, the entrance to the park that every runner of the New York City Marathon waddles through on their way to spectacular finish.  He’s dressed in his typical jogging suit and painter’s cap, and he is staring at his stopwatch.  A true innovator – I bet Walt would have gotten a real kick out of Fred.

On the first Sunday of November, if you have a few minutes to spare during the morning, I’d like to recommend checking out the New York City Marathon on T.V.  It truly is the best day of the year to be in the city, for it shows off some of the character of the five boroughs.  Thousands of volunteers and millions of spectators line the streets, yelling and screaming – doing whatever they can to help 45,000 people achieve a pretty cool goal.  Families wait at the finish line for loved ones to emerge from the mass of humanity – tired, sweaty and in pain….and with medals draped around their necks.  It truly is a sight to behold.

Until next time!  Make sure you double-knot your shoe laces, get out there and get moving!  I’ll leave you with a quote from Fred Lebow.  While fighting cancer, he still managed to get out there and shuffle his feet around the park – but his friends noticed that he actually walked faster than he jogged.  So someone asked him why he chose to jog, since walking would get him where he was going quicker.  Fred’s response was really cool: “…my friend, jogging has a rhythm that walking doesn’t have”.  Get out there and move to your own beat.

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My Second Post For WDW Radio Running Disney: Ya Gotta Start Somewhere…


My original blog post Running Disney: Ya Gotta Start Somewhere on WDW Radio can be found here…please check it out!  I hope you like it!!!

In my first entry, I simply painted a brief picture of my rather pedestrian background, as well as providing you with a quick synopsis of what to expect from this blog.  In this second installment I’d like to do to turn my attention to you, the reader.

I’m figuring that, if you’ve read my first blog entry and made it this far into rant number two, you might have some interest in running a Disney race – or at least learning a bit about what Disney offers for runners, joggers, walkers….and waddlers like myself.

The great thing about Disney races is that is offers something for literally everyone.  For the serious runners (I’m talking about those runners out there that actually get to stand next to the starting line when the gun goes off, or those rabbits that weave around everyone on their way to a personal best time each time they race), Disney offers races that range from a 5K to a marathon in distance.  So whether you’re a shorter distance specialist or a true endurance athlete, there’s a race just waiting for you.  In addition, the courses are usually quite flat – so setting a personal best time is not out of the question.  Lastly, there is solid support throughout any Disney racing event –so there’s always enough water and available medical assistance on the course.   Quite simply, Disney knows how to organize a race – you won’t be disappointed.

For the casual joggers (and here I’m talking about those athletes that jog several times a week and run a few races a year, mainly for the fun, social aspect of it all), Disney races offer all the great qualities that I just mentioned as well as one other pretty interesting characteristic: a relaxed atmosphere.  Here in New York City, I consider myself very lucky to have Central Park as my backyard for running.  There are quite a number of races held in the park throughout the year, and the overall atmosphere on race day is intense.   Don’t get me wrong – I’ve come to LOVE that feeling.  But when I first started jogging, I felt as if I needed to “keep up with the pack”.  That feeling of competitiveness was a bit intimidating for me, since I constantly felt like I was running with a Steinway piano on my back.

I can assure you that the intimidating feeling I’m trying to describe does not exist in Disney races.   When I jog in a Disney race, I feel no pressure.  I feel like I can take in the sights and the energy around me, and simply enjoy the event.  That, combined with the feeling of accomplishment I get as I cross the finish line, is a combination that’s hard to beat.

For those of us that enjoy walking – or those that are thinking about trying something new or setting a new personal goal…something that would get them moving….something that they can build on….Disney races present an amazing opportunity.  Participating in a Disney running event provides you w

When I first began “jogging” (again – let’s throw that word in quotes for me, because what I look like while “jogging” can best be described as an excerpt from a reeeeeeally horrid 1950’s horror movie.  One guy from my old neighborhood actually told me I run like Herman Munster – not a good athletic role model), I couldn’t go 3-5 minutes without stopping and walking.  It took a lot of work to get myself to the point where I could jog a mile at a slow (and I do mean SLOOOW) pace.  I felt impatient – I wanted to be able to just throw on my sneakers and jog with everyone else I saw in the park, at their pace.  After a while, I felt like giving up.  Fortunately for me, I didn’t.  Instead, I picked a race 4-5 months away, and I used it to focus my efforts.

Each day I got just a little bit better.  Weeks went by, and my efforts began to very slowly show results.  On race day, it felt great to simply finish this small assignment I gave to myself.  Once I crossed the finish line of that first race, I picked another one.  Then another.  From there…I was literally off to the races!

If you’re a real DisneyGeek / DisneyNerd / Disney Enthusiast (I am all three, and proud of it), or even if you aren’t a huge fan of the House of Mouse, Disney races offer that carrot that you can hang in front of yourself, motivating you to get out there and get active.  At a Disney race, there is no feeling of judgment.  Instead, there’s a feeling of electricity.  Each time the gun goes off at a Disney race, it symbolizes a bunch of people taking strides to achieve their own personal goals.  I look to my left – then I look to my right – and I always wonder what motivates each runner to the starting line.  At any other race, I normally stand alone, waiting for the gun to go off and the masses to begin moving slowly forward.  At a Disney race, I don’t just look to my left and right – I actually strike up conversations with strangers.  I ask them what motivated them to run this race.  The stories I get to hear are amazing.  Next time – I hope to hear yours!

So there’s something for everyone at a Disney race.  It doesn’t matter how slow or fast you are.  It doesn’t matter if you run or walk.  All that matters is that you motivated yourself to the starting line.  Get yourself there, and let Disney take care of the rest, because each race they host is special.  In my next entry, I’ll briefly describe each of the Disney races for you, and I’ll discuss some of the really fun aspects of every one of them!

Until next time…throw on your sneakers, get out there and get moving!  And, as my coach constantly reminds everyone within earshot, double knot your shoelaces!!!

Now…Where Was I?


First off, my sincere apologies for allowing this blog to go unaddressed for more than four months.  A lot has happened since I crossed the finish line in front of Tavern On The Green on November 7th 2010.  As the medal was placed around my neck, I began to survey the damage.  The foot was a royal mess.  I was exhausted.  Dehydrated.  Sore.  In a level of pain that I have only felt in the most dire of moments.  As I limped home along the streets of the Upper West Side, the temperature began to drop.  A chill went up my spine: one part cold…two parts elation.  It’s this feeling – this feeling of absolute exhaustion which is the result of expending every last ounce of effort that I had within me to achieve a goal regardless of the discomfort that accompanies it – that I crave.

I know that sounds weird.  However, if you’ve read this blog thus far, you’ve deduced that I require a rather sizable carrot dangled consistently in front of me in order to accomplish anything.  Well a medal earned on the streets of New York on the first Sunday in November is about as big of a carrot as one can dangle in front of any distance runner.  And there it was: a simple gold medal with a blue ribbon.  It only weighs a couple of ounces, at most: but it’s what it symbolizes that matters to me.  It reminds me that I may not have been fast (oh pleeeeease – that’s an understatement) – but I did not quit.  The race brings me face to face with every bit of negativity that lies within me (otherwise known as The Tool, as you know).  It forces me to confront all of it within a five hour span.  And it gives me a forum to either succumb to my own weaknesses or dig deep and redefine my own possibilities.

I love what I do for a living – I believe I do it well and I do feel a level of pride in my deliverables.  However, my work doesn’t define who I am.  I have so many things that I want to accomplish…experience….achieve….see…..do….  It is that combination of thoughts and desires – that bushel of carrots dangled in front of me – that truly gets to the core of who I am as a man.  I get consumed by my weekday grind; working long hours to earn a paycheck in order to keep my daughter in a good school forces me to see the trees that make up my life…not the forest.  The marathon forces me to elevate my vision.  I see the forest clearly as the miles clip by.  I am alone with my thoughts and goals.  In order to distract myself from the mumblings of that tiny 4” schmuck within me, I develop a game plan in my mind as I am running, to achieve some of those goals that I want so desperately to chase after…just like I’m chasing after that marathon medal.

As I arrived home and plopped myself down into a cold tub of water, the game plan that kept my mind distracted from the pain was still fresh in my head.  I wrote down some of my goals, and my time frame and plans for achieving them.  They would take time and energy.  But so what?  I just ran a marathon, and I’m chock-full of adrenaline.  I can do anything.

First up: another marathon.  Then plan out the completion of my first novel, earn a professional certification, and begin writing for a magazine or two in my spare time.  Sprinkle in a whole bunch of races throughout the year.  There it was on paper.  Now all I needed to do was take those words and put them in to action.  It was just as I began this process that I was informed that I would need to look for a new job, quickly.  I performed compliance services on a contractual basis for a mutual fund company…and that company wanted to cut expenses and pull services all in-house.  So I found a great position at a huge firm, providing these exact same services for more assets and a much bigger audience.  Funny how things work out.  But: I lost sight of the forest through the tress of my daily work life once again.

The first Sunday in January arrived, and I ran another marathon: the 2011 Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Florida.  A full write-up on this one is coming this week, I promise.  And yes – it will be funny.

As January led in to February and then into March, I felt like I was beginning to lose sight of who I am once more. …..

And that about brings you, the reader, up to date.  So the plot thickens:

  • Will I be able to figure out who I am and finally begin taking decisive action to achieve some of the goals I have set out for myself?
  • Will the foot heal properly and allow me to pursue a much-improved marathon time this year?
  • Will I be able to get myself several steps closer to qualifying for Boston?
  • When with The Tool finally show is wretched face once more?

All of these rather trivial questions will be answered in the weeks and months that follow…..please stay tuned!

A final post script: each of us has passions in life.  Don’t make the same mistake I do – be better than me.  Spend some time game planning what your goals are.  Then take action – do not let life distract you from what truly matters.

One of the worst things in life is wasted talent.  Each of you has amazing talents and gifts.  Utilize them.  Focus on them.   Draw strength from them.  Embrace whatever those passions are, regardless of how much time they may require from you during the week or the weekends.  Don’t waste your talents – allow them to shine.  Polish them through practice, and when you rest your head on the pillow at night you’ll sleep just a bit easier.  The way I look at it: a person’s life is the sum of his/her deeds.  It’s what you do that matters.  My family motto is “facto non verba” – deeds, not words.  Lord knows I’m all words and a couple of trivial deeds thus far….but my story is nowhere near to being completed.

Thanks for reading.  Thus endeth the sermon.   And I promise: I’ll get back to venting the rather odd thoughts in my head that kept me out of the really good schools beginning with my next entry….

The 2010 ING New York City Marathon – Part 2


“Anyone can run 20 miles.  It’s the next 6 that count.”  – Barry McGee, winner of the bronze medal in the 1960 Olympics

As my teammates and I crossed the halfway point of the marathon on the Pulaski Bridge (the bridge that takes us from out of Brooklyn and in to Queens), and I recorded a personal best time for the half marathon distance, The Tool decided that it was time to fire the first volley and throw his soldiers of self doubt into the fray.  I accepted the internal challenge and maintained my pace alongside my two TFK buddies.  But just the simple act of firing that first volley caught me by surprise.  His initial plan must have worked – I had forgotten that he even existed.  And then I realized: that was the key to running a great marathon – never letting your self-doubt catch you by surprise or gain control over any portion of your mind while you’re in motion.  The Tool had drawn up an effective battle plan.  He made himself known as a legitimate threat and I paid heed.

His initial volley scored a direct hit on my focus.  Instead of thinking about the crowds, my pace, or talking to my teammates, my attention turned to my foot.  It didn’t hurt yet – but I was already thinking about how I’d handle it if the pain began to show itself.  Worrying about an injury makes running a race like this more difficult than it needs to be.  This distraction knocked me for a mental loop, like being sucker punched by Lennox Lewis.  And then, as I waddled forward in the daze that immediately follows a shot to the mental jaw like this, something wonderfully unexpected happened.  It wasn’t in my race strategy.  The Tool never accounted for it.  And I was thankful for it: I got some help.  Perfect timing.

As we came off of the bridge and were about to be greeted by the Queens faithful, I looked ahead and saw a large video screen.  Surrounding the video screen was the Asics logo – now it made sense.  This year, Asics sponsored three large video screens that would post pictures and comments from anyone that wanted to support a marathoner on the course.  Friends and family could sign onto a website, enter the runner’s name, and then send them a picture and/or text message that would be flashed onto these large screens each time the corresponding marathoner passed over a covered marker on the racecourse.  There was no guarantee that any one person’s message would be selected for viewing – I’m sure there were tons of submissions to the site to begin with.  But as I passed over the covered marker, the screen changed and I received a message of encouragement that came as complete surprise.  To me, it was getting a shot of pure adrenaline.  To The Tool, it was like a smart bomb.  Suddenly, the fog lifted.

Technology is truly incredible.  In a race like this, the GPS watches a lot of us wear allows our progress to be tracked via a satellite, thereby providing accurate split times, distance covered, and overall race time.  The tabs that we wear on our shoes electronically track where we are on the course and how we are doing. The applications available on smart phones and through the internet allow family and friends to track their runners for the duration of the race from any computer or smart phone in the world.  And technology allowed me to receive a jolt of motivation just when I needed it the most.  At that moment I also realized that people are following me….friends and family that love me are checking on my progress.  So…….I better get moving.

Now it was The Tool’s turn to deal with the dull haze that comes with a harsh and surprising counter attack.  I felt like I dodged a bullet.  A big smile came across my face as I made the left hand turn and began listening to the Queens crowd.  The noise only lasted a few minutes – this part of the course was mostly made up of office / industrial space, so residents are sparse but enthusiastic.  As I ran through the quiet Queens streets on my way to the 59th Street Bridge, I took stock of how my body felt, staying with my race plan.  So I took a roll call:

Me: “Feet?”

Left Foot: “Not sure, chief.  I’ll get back to you.”

Right Foot: “Hey – I’m fine!”

Left Foot: “you are such a brown nose.”

Nose: “I heard that!!!  Take that back.”

Me: “Enough – I’m busy here.  Ankles?”

Ankles (in two part harmony): “We’re fine.”

Me: “Calves?”

Calves: “MOOOOO!!!!  ……just kidding.  We’re fine, chief.”

Me: “Well that was stupid.  Moving on – knees?”

Knees: “A-OK..”

Me: “Nice.  Hamstrings?”

Hamstrings: “We’re good to go, boss.”

Me: “Back?”

Back: “Yo Yo Yo!!! Baby got BACK!!!  …….sorry.  That got away from me for a moment. I’m fine.”

Me: “Everyone’s a comedian.  Abs?  Abs?”

Abs: “OK dude – we’ve been listening to the stomach whine and cry all morning.  Are you kidding???  A bacon & egg on a roll – and that’s it?”

Me: “I know, I know.  A mistake.  But let’s get through it.”

Abs: “Fine – but you owe us a week without any plank exercises.  Got it, bucko?”

Me: “Fine.  Deal.  Just shut up.  Arms?”

Arms: “All we can do is swing like this?  Can’t we do something more….fun?  We can wave our hands in the air…..We can do the YMCA without music….we can even flip off random spectators!!”

Hands: “YES!!! We LOVE THAT!!!  Please please please!!  Please let us give the finger to that dude eating the hero sandwich as we pass by!!”

Me: “Arms – keep swinging.  Hands – SHUT UP.  Thank God I don’t know sign language.”

So aside from my left foot, everything appeared to be going as planned.  But as is the case with most feature films nowadays….isn’t that when things begin to get FUBAR?  (for the uninitiated: if you don’t know what FUBAR is – google is your buddy).  Some twists and turns through Queens, and then my teammates and I began to close in on the 59th Street Bridge.  15 miles into the race.  I’ve averaged approximately a 10 minute per mile pace.  My progress was faster than I ever had expected from myself.  But The Tool was right. I went out too fast.  12 miles into the race, the 10 minute pace felt fantastic.  Three miles later…the pain began.

As I passed from mile 14 to mile 15, The Tool unleashed hell.  First, my left heel began to hurt.  The pain came suddenly, and it surprised me even though I had been worried about it for weeks.  Things were going so well – I just figured that I was going to get lucky and the injury would not show its face all day.  No one is that lucky.

And then – like a general sending his reserves into the field of battle for the purpose of making the enemy retreat, I come face to face with the 59th Street Bridge.  If you’ve read this blog to this point, you know that this bridge has been my nemesis for the past 6 years.  Each time I’ve arrived at the base of this transverse, I became intimidated and had to walk to Manhattan.  I vowed that this would be the year that I conquered this bridge.  I looked inside myself and I found the will to keep running – but the pain in my foot quickly escalated as I began the climb.  I told my team mates that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them – that they should carry on and I’d try to catch up with them.

The Tool sensed victory.  He pressed the attack.  The pain was felt in my heel and my ankle.  How quickly it spread again caught me by surprise.

The incline was a steep.  And if I tried to run this hill, I’d have nothing left and there’s still 10 miles to go.  My pace got slower.  11 minutes….12 minutes per mile.  My feet were shuffling now, and every time I landed on my left foot, it hurt.

I was now alone.  I thought of using my Ipod for motivation – an obvious move of sheer desperation.  My team mates were no longer beside me – I felt no peer pressure to maintain the 10 minute per mile pace.

…13 minutes per mile pace now.  About halfway up the span of the bridge.  The wind off the water gave me goose bumps.  Around me, several runners began walking.  The foot hurt.  I was getting hungry.  I wish I didn’t forget those pop tarts.  And I was never able to maintain a 10 minute pace for 26 miles before – what made me think I could do it now?  Maybe if I just walked for a minute of two I could gather myself….

….The Tool claimed victory.  He was king of the moment.  He had a plan and he executed it to perfection.  My strategy for the course was left on the span of that bridge.  The next 10 miles would now be about simply finishing.  Any chance at finishing with a personal best time in a full marathon was set adrift on my ocean of daydreams.  I began to walk.  The Tool raised his boney arms over that bulbous head and exclaimed “Victory!”  As I began to walk the remainder of the incline and crossed the mile 16 marker, I looked out at the Manhattan skyline.  The United Nations.  The Empire State.  The Chrysler Building.  I drempt of hitting 60th street feeling fantastic.  I wanted to be able to high-five strangers as they leaned over the barricade.  I wanted to bask in the feeling of the sunlight on my face as I glided up first avenue.  With my foot in this condition, however, any dreams of that glorious gallop would have to wait until 2011.  Now, instead of entering the borough feeling like a champion, I felt like Leonidis and his 300 Spartans when confronted by a million Persians.  If I wanted victory, I would have to think of a quick response to dealing with the pain.  As I began the descent into Manhattan I realized…I better think quickly.

The grin on The Tool’s face was broad.  He felt that all he’d need to do was tighten the screws a bit, and I would fold.  I’ve felt horrible during marathons – I once ran 3 in a month (which qualified me to join the Marathon Maniacs), and in the middle of this 3-race ordeal was the 2009 Marine Corps. Marathon – which felt like an 8 mile run immediately followed by an 18 mile death march.  I was sick to my stomach that day, constantly having to throw up on the side of the road before continuing on.  The Tool knew I had a high threshold for pain – but this was different.  I was never truly injured before.  This was uncharted waters for me – and he was trying to steer me right into the rocks.

As I continued the descent toward the loving arms of the crazed fans in Manhattan, I had to quickly develop a plan to deal with what existing circumstances.  If I fight the pain, it will only get worse.  If I try to tell myself that the pain doesn’t exist, the rest of my body will openly rebel against me.  I have to contain the issue.  I have to accept it.  Then I remembered how U.S. Special Forces deal with moments of pain: they try to embrace it.  Feeling pain is better than dying.  Feeling pain motivates them to finish the task at hand.  Pain can keep a person aware and alert. Embrace the pain.  Easier said than done, because I am the very definition of a pansy.

I took a deep breath, muttered to myself “this is gonna hurt”, and then slowly began to jog off of the ramp of the bridge and onto 60th Street.  Half a block of screaming fans, four rows deep, yelling and screaming in the shade of the bridge.  Immediately you can hear people yelling “Joe!! Looking good!!  Keep going!!”, “Go Team for Kids!!”….that helped me.

I had taken The Tool’s first assault.  Some casualties were assumed.  But I kept moving.  It was a mental smack in the face to The Tool.  And that pissed him off.  Now the battle would only grow more intense.

As I slowly jogged down First Avenue, the only word that accurately describe the scene is…NOISE.  LOUD, LOUD NOISE.  As I passed under the bridge and into the sun, I was greeted with a corridor of noise.  The fans were at least 5 deep on both sides of the avenue, for three miles.  The buildings caused the yelling and screaming to hover in the air, which added to the moment.  As I made my way down the avenue on my way to the Willis Avenue Bridge and the brief dip into the Bronx, I originally thought I’d feel the strength to release my inner Kenyan and take off at a 9:30 per mile pace.  But the foot injury negated that possibility all together.  I mixed jogging and walking through miles 18 and 19.  They handed out sponges and a horrible-tasting gel to take in that give runners a quick energy burst.  (It’s not made by Godiva, so I politely decline).  At Mile 19, The Tool snapped out of his fog and began to execute the next wave of his onslaught.  All the way up First Avenue the only words I could mutter to myself over and over again was “pain is my friend”.  Yeah….what a buddy.  A real pal.

As I slowly worked my way through Spanish Harlem and onto the Willis Avenue Bridge, I remembered my game plan.  This was my chance to mentally prepare myself for the last 10 kilometers.  While the crowds are thin, I could concentrate on what I am doing without distraction and think about the task at hand.  The Wall was a minor concern at this point.  The pain, however…that was another issue altogether.  It was becoming unbearable.  I could hardly put weight on my left heel without yelping like a puppy that just caught his tail under a rocking chair.  The pain traveled to my ankle.  I also felt the back of my left knee tighten up, caused by overcompensating for my heel.  “Pain is my friend….pain is my friend”….

The Tool: “Joe – shut this down.  Quit.  Your leg is killing you.  Just stop.  All of my pieces are on the playing board.  I cannot turn up the pain dial any higher – it’s pegged at 10.  You have nothing left.  You are done.  Beaten.  Just shut it down.  Surrender.  Quit.  This isn’t that important.”

This was it.  The Wall.  The Tool waited until this moment to unleash every weapon in his arsenal.  As I wound my way past the Mile 20 marker and closed in on mile 21, my body had run out of fuel to burn to keep me going.  Marathoners call this feeling “The Wall”.  We all go through it.  We all deal with it.  I believe that breaking through The Wall is one of the reasons we actually enjoy running this distance, and why so many people come out and support the runners on Marathon Sunday.  If this were a 20 mile race, The Wall wouldn’t be an issue.  It’s the last 6.2 miles that make this race special.  It’s THE TEST.  Pass or fail – break through or quit.  This is the moment that every marathoner can look back at after the medal is placed around his/her neck and say “there was a point where I felt like I couldn’t go on – then I found something inside of me that made me keep going”.  The Wall allows the marathoner to find out what his/her limits are…and then redefine them.

My moment had come.  Time to make a decision.  Quit or finish the race.  My thought process began with one simple concept: well, it’s only another 10 kilometers.  Then out came my inner drill sergeant….You already banked 20 miles.  You’re going to let this little 4” prick make you quit after logging 20 damn miles?  Joe, you’ve gotten this far on the basis of your training, discipline and consistency.  To all of this, you must now have to add resolve.  There is no victory without sacrifice.  Now stop complaining.  Take whatever this little schmuck can throw at you, and then spit it right back in his face by NOT STOPPING.  All go – no quit.  Now move!  I promised my friends and family that I wouldn’t quit.  I promised myself I would finish.  This injury is nothing compared to what others deal with.

As this inner pep rally was going on, The Tool tried to distract me.  The heel.  The ankle.  Now the damn knee.  I was a little dizzy.  I started to develop a headache.  The Tool was making a last ditch push to claim victory.  He was so close he could taste it.

With The Tool yelling in one ear and my inner drill sergeant basically yelling in the other, my mind was in utter chaos.  But in that chaos, I found a moment of clear perspective.  I touched my left shoulder.  Then my right.  I remembered that I wasn’t alone in this.  Now let me clear this up: I am not a huge religious guy.  I’m not.  But I guess I really like the idea of my deceased family members that I knew and loved, if only for a small amount of time, sitting in box seats right outside the pearly gates while Saint Peter hands out popcorn and diet coke, cheering me on as I compete against my own limitations and inner demons.  Between my heavenly fan club (I sort of picture them as the angel-equivalents of bleacher creatures), and my friends and family rooting for me to succeed and following me electronically as well as on the course, I realized that I had the support I needed to withstand anything The Tool had left.

I slowly mixed jogging and walking until I hit the Madison Avenue Bridge, which spills the runners back into Manhattan, through Harlem.  It was on this bridge, in front of the Mile 21 marker, that I confronted The Tool for the last time during this race.

Me: “OK.  You tried.  You failed.  Whatever you do from this point on will not break me.”

The Tool: “Six more mil….”

Me: “Just shut up.  SHUT UP.  I am in control.  You said you were the game?  I played you.  I won.  You said you were the pain, and I couldn’t take you?  Well I have.  5 miles, you little prick.  5 miles.  You won’t break me.  I am unbreakable today.  You failed.  Now sit down, shut up, and let me deal with the mess you made.”

The Tool: “But you aren’t even close to….”

Me: “STAI ZITO.”  (again – for the uninitiated – google is your pal)

It was as if someone came along and unplugged the speakers at a heavy metal concert.  Silence…in my head.  Now all that remained was to focus and finish.

The last five miles passed by in a complete haze of pain and determination.  I mixed slow jogging and walking through Harlem.  A children’s gospel choir lifted my spirits.  I hit Mile 22…and there was the Asics sign again.  There was that message again.  That lit the fire inside of me.  Around Marcus Garvey Park I waddled.  Onto Fifth Avenue.  Up the steady incline.  23 miles logged.  I made it to Central Park.

The fans were loud.  Really loud.  Louder than I had remembered in my other races here.  I was now in my back yard.  Today – Central Park was Team for Kids’ home field.  The pain was miserable, but I was now close.  I took the rolling hills of the park between miles 23 and 25 easy.  Mixing a very slow jog and walking, I made it to Mile 25.  I was very happy to exclaim “God fuck the Queen!”

1.2 miles to go.  Out of the park I waddled, and onto Central Park South.  The noise was music to my ears.  Fans line the streets and really get enthusiastic, willing the runners forward for one final push to the tape.  I began to slowly jog…and not walk.  Leave it all on the street – that’s what I wanted to do.  That’s what I would do.

Half a mile to go.  The pain was there…but it took a back seat to the moment.  The turn at Columbus Circle.  Re-entering the park, only one word could describe the scene in front of me: Glorious.

As I passed under the mile 26 marker, I decided to look at my watch for the first time in 13 miles: 5 hours, 20 minutes!  My God.  I could do it – I could set a personal best time in a marathon for myself.  I went to my arms and began to sprint.  God it hurt – but the fans yelled and screamed as they saw me trying hard.  I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 22 minutes.

As they placed the medal around my neck and wrapped me in a heat sheet, the emotion of the moment overwhelmed me. I began to tear up a bit, I’ll admit it.  I’ve run this race 5 years in a row prior to this, and I’ve now run 11 marathons overall.  This is really the first race where the event got the better or me.  As I made my way to the Team for Kids area of the park to collect my bag and get some warm clothes, the one thought that kept repeating in my mind was “you never quit”.  I could barely put any weight on my left leg as I hobbled slowly home in the cold…but the feeling of accomplishment – that feeling that comes with being pitted against your own limitations and then claiming victory over them through hard work – that’s the feeling that I crave.  That keeps me coming back.  That…..and being a hero to my daughter.

…and as I waddled home to get something to eat, a small voice whispered in my ear… “well done.  You beat me – today.  Enjoy your victory, because in two months you have the Goofy’s Race & a Half in Walt Disney World.  And I promise you…..I….will…be….there.”

….eight weeks.  Eight weeks to heal myself and prep for a 39.3 mile weekend.  I’m running the Race & a Half to benefit the Make a Wish Foundation.  Then it’s on to Miami, where I’ll run to raise money for MS research.  Then Ft. Lauderdale a month later to run in the A1A Marathon (simply because I want an excuse to get some sun). Then it’s on to Napa and Los Angeles in March.

…eight weeks.  I better get to work.

__________________________________

“Get going.  Get up and walk if you have to, but finish the damned race.”  – Ron Hill to Jerome Drayton during the 1970 Boston Marathon

The 2010 ING New York City Marathon – PART 1


“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.”   – Jerome Drayton

I figured I’d begin this blog entry with that famous quote (well, famous at least in the marathoning community) by Jerome Drayton, because I felt the term “agony” would be quite appropriate for today.  Jerome is the Canadian record holder in the marathon (2:10 time set in 1975 – which, by the way, is hellishly fast – especially in cold of Canada, where the average temperature is -120 and penguins are in a constant search for parkas), and he obviously understood very well the ordeal that a marathoner goes through from the moment he toes the line to the moment he breaks the tape.  As my alarm began to blare at 4:15am (“The Game” by Motorhead), even the words of the song rang menacingly in my ears:

“It’s all about the game and how you play it.
All about control and if you can take it.
All about your debt and if you can pay it.
It’s all about pain and who’s gonna make it.”

Motorhead….those heavy metal dudes must have run a marathon.  Maybe that’s why they sound so darn angry all the time – they must write all their lyrics after hitting the wall at mile 20.  I listened to the words as my head remained on the pillow.  I knew how to play the game – this will by my sixth ING New York City Marathon.  I know the course.  I know what to expect.  I have a strategy.  The question that remains is whether I will be able to follow my strategy for the entire race.  My ability to take control of the situation today, regardless of how my foot held up was an open question as well.  I believe I paid my debts up to this point – I worked hard, lost weight, consistently went to practice and completed the necessary long runs each weekend.  It all comes down to the pain – how much could I take and whether my foot will hold up for the entire race.  The Game – what began simply as my alarm for marathon morning turned into my theme song for the day.

I slid my legs out from under the covers, and gently rested my feet on the floor.  The moment of truth – I stood up.  There was a slight ache – but nothing hobbling.  Just minor discomfort.  I quickly convinced myself that the lack of true pain at this point in the day was a sign of great things to come.  I walked to the bathroom without a hint of a limp, and took a long hot shower.  I then got dressed – which, for the New York City Marathon, is a procedure:

  • Generous portions of body glide to sensitive areas
  • My favorite pair of Team for Kids running socks
  • My most comfortable pair of spandex compression shorts
  • My Marathon Maniacs bright yellow team singlet (I wear this singlet under any shirt I choose to race in, because it reminds me of the other team I am associated with – a group of running lunatics that make my addiction to this sport look rather….well….tame.  My Maniac team mates are incredible – some run a marathon A WEEK.  Others run two IN A WEEKEND.  They are a group of people that have taken the term impossible and performed the Irish gig all over it.  Suddenly I appear….well…..subdued.  As I said to my buddy Al a long time ago: “Al, everything’s relative”.  On the left shoulder I wrote the word “Bobby”.  On the right: “Johnny”.  On the back near the neckline: the initials “RVE”.  Bobby and Johnny were my brothers – they never got a chance to run.  I run for them and they run with me.  Every mile.  My angels on my shoulders. RVE is my grandfather’s initials – I wear them on my back because he ALWAYS had my back, without fail.  I surrounded myself with angels; if you believe in that sort of stuff.  I had a feeling I might need them today.  There’s an old saying from World War II: there are no atheists in foxholes…..well I’ll be taking my share of enemy ordinance today.
  • My most comfortable pair of Nike running shorts
  • My Team for Kids lime green (radioactive green would be a better description) singlet
  • A pair of old black running pants that I didn’t really care too much about
  • My Saucony running shoes
  • An old long sleeve shirt that I would leave at the starting line
  • My horrendously ugly lime green running jacket from the 2008 NYC Marathon.

Layers are the key for dressing for this marathon.  The wind off of the water makes waiting three hours at the marathon village on Staten Island extremely rough.  Staying warm is incredibly important.

After I finished dressing, I grabbed my bottle of Gatorade and my Iphone (which is basically an additional appendage at this point), and headed out the door.  As I walked out into the cold, I realized two things: It was about 38 degrees outside…and I’m not near the water, and I forgot my pop tarts.  Now I know I ate a good dinner, but the rule is that runners should top off their energy tanks with approximately 800 calories of high-carbohydrate food in the morning.  And I LOOOOVE pop tarts.  I decided to not return to the apartment, and head to the starting line.

I made a stop at a local diner for my traditional bacon & egg on a roll – that helped me feel a bit better.  I continued to walk to our team buses on 7th Avenue in the 50’s in Manhattan.  I arrived cold and nervous at 5:55am…5 minutes before our scheduled departure.

As I sat in the bus, I realized that I was more prepared than ever to run 26.2 miles.  I never trained so hard for any one day in my life.  Football….rowing….ten other marathons and a decent number of half marathons…nothing came close.  I pushed myself this year.  I remained focused on the goal and stayed dedicated to practice.  There was nothing more I could do.  So as the bus rolled down Broadway on the way to the Battery Tunnel, I closed my eyes and made a promise to myself: that whatever happens, I would see this through to the finish.  Just surrender myself to the moment.  That I would not fail.  I would not quit.  After making that silent vow to myself, I opened my eyes, took a deep breath, and reached in my bag for……my Sony PSP.

That’s right, lab rats: I have a Sony PSP.  A great little gadget.  I watched the movie Hancock as we passed through Queens and Brooklyn.

As we closed in on the Verrazano Bridge, I turned off the movie and began keeping my eyes peeled for Team Achilles.  This is a team made up of runners with disabilities.  They get to start earlier than the rest of us, because their day will be longer than ours, in most cases.  Each Achilles athlete is paired with a guide that will help them through the course.  Each blind runner holds a small rope that connects them to his/her personal guide.  Athletes in old fashioned wheel chairs (like the ones that you get rolled around in whilst in a hospital) are escorted by a guide to help them with whatever they may need.  Athletes on crutches are assigned guides for assistance and safety.  They all wear their traditional team red t shirts – and I personally think that a big S should be attached to each of their chests, for they are superpeople, in my opinion.  To watch them begin their race while I am still in my warm bus fills me with a sense of pride to simply be in the same race as these heroic athletes.

There’s one Achilles athlete – an African American gentleman whose name I do not know because we haven’t formally introduced ourselves – that absolutely blows me away.  I see him every year at the marathon, as well as most every New York Road Runner’s Race I participate in.  In order to log his miles, he turns his wheelchair backwards and shuffles his feet the best he can, slowly propelling him around whatever course we are running.  He constantly has to look over his shoulders to see where he’s going, and he consistently talks to his guide for his/her thoughts and reassurance.  His pace is very slow – but he always finishes.  Every time I pass him, I yell “Go Achilles!!!”…and in return I get a thumb’s up.  The image of him pushing himself like this over bridges and through crowded streets is engrained in my brain – It’s one of those lasting memories that has attached itself to my mental recording of this incredible day.

The buses dropped my teammates and I off at the front of Fort Wadsworth at approximately 7:30am.  My wave was scheduled to start at 10:40am.  Three hours in the cold.  No big surprise.

I spent my time talking with my teammates.  Most were first timers.  I reassured them the best I could.  Tried to fire a few of them up.  Did my best to make them relax through laughter.  Before I knew it, it was time to stretch.  Then some final words from the coach.  Then….head to the corrals to start our wave of the race.

After a five minute walk to the corral, I waited alongside several hundred other runners to enter the starting area.  Runners are herded into large corrals just like cattle, left to wait for upwards of 45 minutes before the singing of the Starred Spangled Banner…and then the cannon.

Once the cannon’s blast echoes in the air, the mass of humanity inches its way forward through the front gates of Fort Wadsworth (lovingly referred to as “the World’s Largest Urinal”), I finally reach the starting line after almost ten minutes of this snail’s pace.  I cross the starting line, and I start my running watch.  The GPS in my Garmin running watch calculates pace per mile, total time elapsed, and approximate distance covered – it will be my lifeline for the next five hours.

Since I wore a green-numbered bib, I began the race on the lower deck of the bridge.  The lack of sunlight, the cold temperatures, and the strong winds off of the water made for a frigid first two miles.  I was lucky to run into a TFK teammate as I traversed the bridge, and our light banter took my mind off of the fact that I was freezing my dimpled Irish ass off.

As we passed the two mile mark, we left the bridge behind and entered Brooklyn.  Feeling the sun on my face and the softening of the wind as we made our way off of the highway and on to the streets of this amazing borough, I looked down at my watch: 20 minutes down.  10 minute per mile pace.  Perfect.

Onto the streets of Brooklyn we spilled.  Thousands of runners of all shapes and sizes, wearing every color of the rainbow.  As all of us shuffled through the side streets, the crowds along the sidewalks began to grow.  As a runner who’s experienced this marathon before, I knew what was coming: 4th Avenue.  These side streets in Bay Ridge was a first glimpse of what was in store for all of us.  Children handing out paper towels to wipe the sweat from our faces.  Families that set up makeshift water stations.  Grandparents banging pots and pans out second story windows.  And then…..the right turn is made, and onto 4th Avenue we go.  HELLO BROOKLYN.

To try to describe the ethnic diversity of miles 3 through 13 in this blog would do the experience a severe injustice.  From the moment the runners step foot into Brooklyn, the thick crowds of loud, adoring fans yell and scream their lungs out for complete strangers.  As I made my way through mile 3, I literally bumped into two other teammates that I consistently ran with for months during practice.  They were like oasis in a large desert – a most welcome sight.  They helped me maintain my pace as the miles ticked away.  4 miles – 40 minutes. 6 miles – one hour down.  10 miles in – one hour and forty minutes in the books.  We averaged a nice, easy 10 minute per mile pace, and I felt strong.  We high-fived kids as we jogged along.  We cheered for Team Achilles as we passed them by.  We cheered on our teammates whenever we saw another lime green jersey, regardless of whether we knew them.  The first two hours of this race was a constant block party.  To look at everyone lining the streets – every color and creed represented – all yelling as one to spur the runners on – it restores my faith and my love for this city on an annual basis.  As we hit the Pulaski bridge and left Brooklyn, I checked our time: 2 hours, 12 minutes. That was a personal best for me in the half marathon distance.  I’ve never covered 13.1 miles in less than 2 hours and 20 minutes before.  As I looked at my teammates, I mentioned: “2 hours 20 in, and we are halfway there.  We are cruising!”

…..and as the three of us yelled “HELLO QUEENS!!!”, a small, all-too familiar voice responded:

The Tool: “Hello Joe.  Remember me?”

Me: “Yup.  I figured you’d show that sour puss of your’s at some point.”

The Tool: “Know that, for what I am about to do, I am NOT sorry.”

Me: “Well whatever you have planned, know that I have a counter-attack prepared.”

The Tool: “You know….that was the fastest half marathon you’ve ever run.”

Me: “Yup. I’m cruising.”

The Tool: “Well I take great joy in telling you that you came out too fast.  And the damage is done.”

Me: “No it isn’t.  I can handle whatever you throw at me.”

The Tool: “I know you.  I AM YOU.  I AM YOUR SELF-DOUBT.  While you rested and watched episodes of House on TV, I built up my troops.  Every time you hobbled to the fridge for a diet coke…..every time you had to ice your foot….every time you felt that question in your head of ‘gee, I wonder if I’ll be OK on race day’…..every time you skipped a practice because you needed to give your heel time to mend…..THAT….WAS….ME.  You have no answer for me.  This asphalt you’re running on – that’s just the road.  I…..AM….THE…..GAME.  And Joe, you cannot play me.  I AM THE PAIN – AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO TAKE ME.”

Me: “You talk too much, you little 4 inch prick.  Now shut up and just bring it.”

……and with that, the battle was joined.

_________________________________

“Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” – Steve Prefontaine

Marathon Week


October 15th – November 6thThe final three weeks leading up to Halloween were nerve-wracking for me.  The foot injury was healing, albeit VERY slowly, the amount of road work I was able to complete leading up to Marathon Week was minimal and other cardiovascular workouts needed to be supplemented.  As I worked on the rowing machine or pedaled the upright bike, I knew I was putting in the effort – the last time I felt this physically fit was 1991…my junior year in college rowing on the varsity crew team.  Yet with all the effort I exerted whilst attempting to permit my heel to heal, my self confidence began oozing out of me as if my heart were a sink and someone left the water slightly on….if you listened closely, you could hear the drip, drip, drip of my assuredness wash down the emotional drain. 

…and while that sound of consistent, relentless dripping is considered to be a form of pure torture to most people on this planet, it sounded like The Temptations to a certain 4” schmuck.  The sound that my self confidence made as it steadily circled the emotional drain was music to The Tool’s ears.  The grin only broadened on his miserable little face as Marathon Week drew closer.  While I prepared my body for my annual battle against the streets of New York City as well as my own inner demons, The Tool had been hard at work preparing his final siege.  He prepared his battle strategy with a growing sense of pending victory circling over his bulbous head.

The battle would be fought in several stages.  First, the final weekend team practice scheduled for Halloween morning which officially kicks off my Marathon Week.  An easy five mile run – a rather routine test of my physical well-being that would either prove to be a boost of confidence that I sorely needed (hopefully my heel would hold up and I would not feel any pain afterward – an indication that the rest I gave it paid off)…or an incredibly solid first attack executed by The Tool which would give him a tactical advantage for the rest of this campaign.  The second test would come on Wednesday evening, only three nights before Marathon Sunday – the final team workout in Central Park.  At this point in the week, the tactical advantage could either be strengthened by either side, or a stalemate could be claimed going into the Big Day.  The third skirmish between my soldiers of self confidence and these mighty minions of the Terrible Tool (this little 4” moron decided to alter his name, supposedly for marketing purposes.  Marketing research apparently concluded that this enhanced name would look better on advertisements brain-wide.  This schmuck was feeling like a rock star) would take place during the 48 hours leading up to Sunday morning.  With all the work completed, there was nothing more I could do to help me heal the injury.  There was nothing more I could do to strengthen my endurance.  All that remained was to eat and sleep properly.  The battle lines had been drawn.  All that remained was for the first shot to be fired and for the armies to be turned loose on one another.

Regardless of the outcome of these three stages, victory would only be claimed on Marathon Sunday.  But the strategic advantage going into the Big Day was now the prize being fought over within my mind and heart…and body.

Halloween morning, I slowly slid out of bed and placed my feet on the floor.  I took a deep breath, and stood up and felt…nothing.  A smile crossed my face.  The Tool scowled.  I walked to the bathroom, showered, changed and got ready to head over to Central Park…and the foot cooperated completely.  As I strolled to the team’s meeting location, the music blasting through my earphones sounded fantastic.  The Tool, in the manner of a cranky octogenarian, mentally yelled at me to “keep that damn racket down!!” ….and I ignored the little schmuck.  We stretched.  We loosened up.  And then with took off up the West Side Drive.  No pain thus far.  The group I was running with pushed a pace of 9:15 per mile through miles 2….3….4.  No pain.  My arms swung as I stayed with the group across the transverse and down the east side drive.  I looked at my watch four miles into the workout: a pace of 8:40 per mile.  Way too fast.  I backed off and let the group finish as I worked on finding my race pace for the Big Day.  There it was: victory in the first battle could be claimed by the soldiers of my self confidence.  A battle well fought.  As I slowed down and came to a halt in front of my team, who stood along the sidelines of the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff 5 mile run cheering on the various runners that were finishing their workout, I must have been beaming.  I needed the burst of confidence…and I got it.  I walked home with a quiet swagger that I had lacked for basically this entire month.

To be on the safe side, I took Monday and Tuesday off from workouts.  No running – just some time in the gym lifting weights and working on core strength.  Nothing too demanding at all.  I knew that taking two days off from running after a very positive five miler was beneficial for my body.  The Tool used these 48 hours to his advantage, quietly redeploying his soldiers of self-doubt along strategic areas.  As I sat in my office that Tuesday afternoon, I felt my foot bother me just a bit.  For a moment.  Nothing horrible.  Just a tweak.  Right?  I loosened my shoe in the hope that this simple action would make that slight twinge go away….and it did.

As I walked around the city later that evening, there it was again.  That little tweak at the bottom of my foot.  Must have been due to the amount of walking I did in a pair of Kenneth Coles. Right?

As I went to bed Tuesday night, I kept moving my left foot around under the covers.  I could feel that slight – almost insignificant – pain near my ankle. But it wasn’t throbbing.  It wasn’t annoying.  But it was just enough to cost me a few hours of sleep…and allow The Tool to gain back the ground he had lost during the initial skirmish between the forces of cool (that would be me and my soldiers of self-confidence, for all those playing the home game) and uncool (namely the Tool and his moronic minions).  Wednesday, the battle would be joined once more.

The final team practice on Wednesday was a lighthearted affair.  Adorned with glow sticks (yes, I ran with an orange glow stick around my neck – not the first time I’ve been decorated in neon…but that’s another story for another blog…..OR NOT), the team ran 1-2 laps around the reservoir as a final tune up for the Big Day.  The pace started slowly…but the team appeared anxious and maintained pace times much quicker than anticipated.  What was supposed to be a slow, relaxed run felt like a pit crew at Daytona tuning up their engines and giving their vehicles a once-over before parking them in the garage to await the drop of the flag.  Fearing that going out too fast on my foot would result in the pain returning, I began slowly.  However, like a racehorse (oh come on – I’m the author here – I can stretch the boundaries of believability just a tad, so work with me) stuck in the middle of a large pack coming around to the turn, my instinct to stay with the pack silently turned up my pace and before I knew it I was clocking in with a 9:05 pace.  As I finished the first loop, there was one of the team’s coaches snapping pictures (as usual).  The following conversation took place.  It was brief.  It was funny.

Coach:  “ummm….Joe…where are you going?”

Me:  “I thought we were supposed to do 2 loops.”

Coach: “the head coach said that if you felt fantastic after one loop, shut it down, right?”

Me: “Yeah…but almost everyone is heading out for lap number 2….”

Coach:  “yup – but you aren’t.”

Me: “Oh come on….”

Coach: “Dude, on that foot?  No.  Head back to the gym.”

Me: “…but coach….”

Coach: “head back.  God, you whine like a tool.”

…and inside me a little voice chuckled.  Shit.  …..so I headed back.

As I gathered my belongings at a local school gym prior to heading to the team’s final social event of the training year, I felt that subtle twinge again.  It wasn’t uncomfortable.  It was not painful.  It was simply….there.  My heel was letting me know that the issue had not disappeared, and yet it appeared that I could run on it for shorter distances without any hindrance of performance.  Feelings of excitement (for the pace I had been able to maintain recently) were offset with nervousness (the distances were short – and the marathon is 26.2 miles….not 5).  The battle had been fought, and a stalemate had been reached.

Thursday was difficult at work – I found it very hard to focus on my tasks while this internal battle was being fought.  Fortunately, for the first time in my running history, I took the business day prior to Race Day off to enjoy the Expo.

The ING New York City Marathon Expo is a sight to behold.  Filled with runners from all over the globe speaking countless different languages, vendors selling their running-focused wares, motivational speakers to gear up those that might need that last minute pep talk, and eager volunteers basking in the joy that comes with the responsibility of handing each marathoner his/her bib number and race packet.  I watched as volunteers reached into cardboard boxes and extracted these small plastic packets, compared the name on the packet to the name on a valid form of personal identification, and then presented each marathoner with their bib number.  The huge smile that came across each runner’s face was reflected in the smiles of the volunteers.  As I meandered through the various exhibits within the conference center, I couldn’t help but begin to feel a sense of pride to be a part of such a global event.

I stopped by the Team for Kids booth, got myself squared away, and then participated in a thirty minute presentation at one of the larger marathon booths.  I was asked to discuss why I began running with the team, and also describe my strategy for the course.  Since this would be my sixth time running this race, I know where the rough patches are, and I did develop what I considered to be a real solid game plan for the upcoming marathon.  And….since I use 100 words when 10 will do….and I looooove the sound of my own voice…..I was more than happy to flap my gums in front of a microphone.  I left the Expo Friday afternoon filled with excitement.

I woke up early Saturday morning and was part of an interview on WFUV radio in my hometown of the Bronx, New York.  Again the questions were asked: why do you run?  How many marathons have you run?  How does New York compare to marathons in other cities?  What’s your favorite parts of the course?  What part of the course do you dislike – if any?  It was a great experience – I never was part of a radio show before.  Definitely something I want to do again!! 

After the radio show, I went to the team’s annual breakfast which was held near Times Square.  Sitting with my teammates and laughing over coffee and runny eggs was just the elixir I needed.  We listened to speeches by a handicapped triathlete, two youngsters that represented one of the programs that my team’s charity funds, several of our coaches, and Mary Wittenberg – President of the New York Road Runners.  By the time I left this wonderful event, I truly felt that tomorrow morning – Marathon Sunday – would be a day to remember.

While my soldiers of self confidence received motivation speeches that revved them up for the final conflict, The Tool was had at work, frantically preparing his final race strategy.  This little 4” sourpuss crossed his chubby, hairy-knuckled fingers and hoped for rain and freezing temperatures.  He planned to sabotage my heel and make it hurt.  He pounded my self confidence with fears of my foot giving out half way through the race.  He tried to keep me from sleeping.  His battle plan was clear.  The only question that remained: could he carry it out?

As I changed for bed Saturday night after carefully preparing my bag and clothing for the morning, I reviewed the map once more and went over my course strategy:

My New York City Marathon Course Strategy

Early Morning / Pre-Race

  • A long hot shower, first thing in the morning.
  • Grab a bacon & egg on a roll on the walk to the team buses.
  • Pass by Columbus Circle on the walk to the bus – keep the goal fresh in my head
  • Before the race, stay WARM.  Stay in the team’s tent. 
  • No caffeine.  It’s a diaretic, and there’s no way I’m winding up as one of those disgusting youtube videos.
  • Use the port-o-potty right before heading to the corrals.
  • Drink enough…but don’t get crazy and guzzle a gallon of Chatteau Bloomberg.
  • Stretch with the team
  • Nothing but positive thoughts
  • Remember my mantra for the day: I am unbreakable. 

 The Start

  • The first mile is uphill, over water.  Cold winds.  Start slow.  Don’t get caught up in passing people.
  • Watch my footing – people throw clothing on the floor.
  • Right from the start, focus on my breathing.  In the nose, out the mouth.  Keep my heart rate down.
  • Ignore the cold – think about getting off of the bridge and into Brooklyn.
  • I’m starting on the lower level, so stay away from the edge of the bridge.  Men piss over the side of the top level of the bridge, and between that…..and the wind….yuck.
  • Mile 2 is downhill.  Stay under control.  I’ll want to push things a bit here – but refrain.

 Brooklyn

  • Miles 3-13 are basically flat and fast.  The crowds will push me along.
  • STEADY PACE.  Run with even effort.
  • I know the pace that I am comfortable with – so run it.  Don’t get caught running someone else’s race.  Find a TFKer from the pack of runners I usually train with and coast along.
  • Average 10:30 – 10:50 a mile here.  That will give me enough gas in the tank for what’s ahead.
  • Hit the half way point in 2 hours 10 minutes – 2 hours 20 minutes and I am golden.
  • Drink water more than Gatorade.
  • Remember: these miles are FUN.  The hard work comes later.
  • ENJOY BROOKLYN.  HIGH FIVE some kids.  Get the crowd going.  Have FUN.

 Queens

  • At mile 14, begin to evaluate how things are going.  Go through the physical checklist:
    • Feet ok?
    • Legs ok?
    • Knees ok?
    • Hips ok?
    • Lower back ok?
    • Chest ok?
    • Arms ok?
    • Neck ok?
    • Breathing deep and slow?
  • Then recite the game plan to yourself for the second half of the race.
  • Slow and steady to the 59th Street Bridge….and then don’t let that bridge beat you.

 Manhattan

  • Take 1st Avenue easy.  Enjoy it.  Soak it in.  Store up the energy the crowd gives you.
  • Still average 10:35 – 10:50 pace. 
  • Eat at mile 17.5.  It’s pop-tart time.
  • Watch the footing at mile 18 – sponges + gu = a royal pain in the dimpled Irish arse.

 Bronx

  • Mile 20.  The Wall.  If I do this right, I’ll break it down.
  • Go through the physical checklist again.
  • The race begins here, and you know it.  Focus on getting around those apartment buildings and turning southbound.  THAT is your signal that you’re heading home.
  • DO NOT WALK here if you don’t have to.  Motion creates emotion.  You stop here and the body will not want to start back up.

 Manhattan

  • Laugh at the rappers coming off the Madison Ave. Bridge.
  • High five some kids – get the positive juices flowing
  • First water stop after the bridge: 2 gatorades, 1 water and the sports beans. 
  • Gospel Choir between miles 21 and 22 – take in their energy.
  • TFK at mile 22!!!!!!!!
  • Look for the coaches now – focus on getting from one coach to the next.
  • Around Marcus Garvey Park – take some deep breaths, because here comes 5th Avenue.
  • Right turn onto Fifth at around 122nd street: do NOT focus on the steady 1 ½ mile incline.  Instead, focus on the 10 feet in front of you.
  • Go to your mantra: I am unbreakable. 
  • You’ve felt this pain 5 times already – this is nothing new
  • Get to the Engineer’s Gate at 90th Street.  GET TO THE PARK.

 Central Park

  • This is your back yard.  Home field advantage.  This is Team for Kids’ house.
  • Rolling hills between miles 23 and 24 are to my advantage.  Use Cat Hill for momentum around 80th Street.  Allow the legs to stretch out and let the pace quicken
  • At Mile 25, yell “God F&^K the Queen!”
  • Make the right onto Central Park South and maintain the momentum.  Drop the split time from the 10:30 – 10:50 range to at least 10 minutes flat
  • Wait for the ½ Mile To Go marker, then drop the split to a 9:40 pace.
  • When you get to the turn at Columbus Circle….DROP THE HAMMER.  Go to your arms.  Drop the split down.  Shoot for sub 8:30 and HOLD IT through the finish.
  • The final mile will HURT – but you know that already.  The goal is to leave a piece of yourself on the road.  DO IT HERE.
  • DO NOT QUIT.  DO NOT SLOW DOWN.  DO NOT LET THE PAIN BREAK YOU.

 Before heading to bed, I read my favorite poem, which was written by Rudyard Kipling, entitled simply “If”:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

 

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

 

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

 

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

 

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

….I think Rudyard Kipling was a marathoner.  “…and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them hold on” ….. “if you can fill the unforigiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run”  ……..oh yeah – my buddy Ruddy was a marathoner. Too bad he never got to gallop up the Varrazanno and take in the New York City skyline.  Or be embraced by the people of Brooklyn.  Or thank a child for a cup of water in Queens.  Or be hit with the wall of noise that is First Avenue.  Or come face to face with your own limitations in the Bronx, only to find out that who you are is much more than what you were.  Or be soothed by the sounds of a gospel choir in Harlem.  Or high-five the children supported by the charity you wear on your chest near Marcus Garvey Park.  Or be willed along by the crowds on Fifth Avenue as you struggle to find the strength to go on.  Or enter Central Park battered and bruised, yet tasting victory.  Or surrendering to the moment and expending every last ounce of yourself in a final sprint beginning on Central Park South.  Or watch as a fellow runner falls to a knee with 200 yards to go, his body forcing him to stop – yet watch him rise and will himself to the finish with sheer passion and an unbridled determination.  Or feel the self-evolution that occurs as you sprint across that finish line, forever altering your definition of the term “impossible”.  To me, THAT is the New York City Marathon.  I think Ruddy would have loved it. 

 I think about what this race means to me.  I think about how much I love my city.  I think about how proud I feel of my neighbors as I waddle along from Bay Ridge to the Upper West Side.  This race is more than just a bunch of people running from point A to point B.  This race is much, much more.  I welcome the pain – the pain is fare you pay to ride this train.    

 ….so with a thorough game plan in place and feeling incredibly motivated by my buddy Ruddy, I placed my head on the pillow to attempt a final night’s sleep before Race Day.  Once I closed my eyes, I sent one of my soldiers of self-confidence into enemy territory on a recon mission.  I wanted to know The Tool’s strategy.  The data came back almost immediately…and it was not nearly as detailed as my race course plan.  The Tool’s strategy looked like this:

  • Make sure the foot hurts early.
  • Let it get worse as soon as possible.
  • Make him doubt himself
  • Make him question his ability to take pain
  • BRING HIM HELL and MAKE HIM QUIT

 …short and ugly.

 As I drifted off to sleep, I felt like I was in a foxhole, about to take enemy fire.  Since there are no atheists in foxholes, I muttered a little prayer to myself.  Short and sweet:

 “Hey Big Guy.  I know, I know – we haven’t chatted in a bit.  Well listen – tomorrow’s pretty big for me.  My daughter will be watching.  I need to show her that she cannot quit when things get rough.  I’m not asking for help, because you’ve got bigger fish to fry.  Whatever happens tomorrow, just let me be courageous through it all.  Gotta go.  Great talking to you.  I promise I’ll pick up the phone more often.”  

My eyes closed.  Race Day comes with the morning light.

_______________________________________________ 

“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.” – T. Alan Armstrong

A Note to My Teammates


 Introduction

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……………

 The Start

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. 

Queens

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.

First Avenue

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.

The Bronx

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.

Fifth Avenue

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.

Central Park

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:

Glorious.

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.

In Conclusion….

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.            

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 “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.”