The Aftermath


This will be a quick one…I promise to be a bit more creative during my next installment…

After I finished the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon I waddled very slowly back through Epcot, around the Boardwalk to my room at the Beach Club.  I was one gigantic ache.  Nothing – and I mean nothing – about me felt good physically.  There was one thing that offset the pain, and that was the mental victory I earned.  It wasn’t pretty, but I finished 26.2 miles with hardly any sleep, very little fuel in my tank and a complete lack of preparation.  I knew that my lack of careful planning was evidence of the clear fact that I have a ton to learn.

So here are some quick takeaways for those of you that are planning to run the Walt Disney World Marathon in the future:

  • Time your sleep properly.  I know that sounds simple….but with this marathon, it’s not.  And here’s why: buses begin to run from the Disney resorts at 3am to bring runners to the starting line.  This means that alarm clocks are ringing all over on-property resorts beginning at around 2am.  Nope- that’s not a typo.  2…a….m.  That means, in order to get a decent account of sleep, you need to hit the hay by 7pm.  At the latest.  AT WALT DISNEY WORLD.  How hard it THAT???  I mean COME ON!!  Extra magic hours, Illuminations, fireworks, Fantasmic – tons of reasons to stay up late and stay on your feet.  Somehow, you have to resist the temptation to ride Space Mountain at 10pm.
  • Time your meals properly.  I know – another easy thing to do…or so it seems.  Trying to get to bed by 7pm on a Saturday evening at Walt Disney World is difficult enough.  But try eating dinner at 4-5pm the evening (or late afternoon?) before race day.  Oy.  But 4-5pm for dinner is about the right timing to follow in order to be able to get a good night’s sleep and ready to go at 3am.  Oy.  I called Dominos at 8pm…and the rest is history.

  • Have an actual game plan for race day.  Let me clarify: have an actual game plan that is more than just “make sure my Iphone is fully charged so that I can take pictures all morning”.  Tried that game plan, and it – for a lack of a better term – stunk.  Review the course map before race day and picture yourself running it.  Establish goals or targets in your head that you will run to.  Prepare yourself mentally for the 26.2 mile stress test.

Have a game plan.  Get to sleep on time.  Time your meals properly.  Three tiny recommendations to help you succeed during your attempt at the most magical 26.2 you’ll ever run.   Until next time!  Make sure you double-knot your shoe laces, get out there and get moving!

T – Minus 10 and Counting…


So I made the decision to run a marathon a month in 2012 to raise awareness and funding for the Dream Team Project, and I went public with it on Lou Mongello’s podcast a couple of weeks ago…so there’s no backing out now!

My year of insanity begins a week from Sunday, down in Walt Disney World, where I am all set to run the marathon on January 8th.  This will be my 4th Walt Disney World Marathon, and it’s an event that I believe gets better each and every year.  Yes, my day will begin at 3am – and yes, a majority of the mileage I’ll log will be along WDW’s roadways with little overall ambiance – and yes, I’ll be really tired afterward…so much so that I’ll probably doze off while I ride Tower of Terror later on in the day.  HOWEVER, Walt Disney World is one of my favorite places to spend my time.  Being able to say that I visited – on foot – all four theme parks before lunchtime is a pretty cool statement! 

Training has been lackluster lately, to say the least.  A combination of travel for work and my usual bout with utter laziness has resulted in me feeling not quite 100% for the upcoming challenge.  Bottom line: I’m nervous.  I want to kick this year-long marathon of marathons with a really solid performance…I just hope that the work I’ve done up to this point is enough to get me through.

I’m planning to put in some serious work over the weekend.  Of course, this is supposed to be the time where I tone down my workouts in preparation for the big day.  However, I am…..well…..not-very-smart.  I am looking at this weekend as me cramming for a final exam in high school.  (Crap – I was a solid D- student…so you can see just how well cramming worked out for me in the past…)

I feel the need to “cram” for this “running exam” because lately I’ve felt like The Tool has returned, and has perched himself once more on my left shoulder whispering sweet stupidity into my ear as I slog around the Central Park outer loop.  For those of you who don’t know who I am referring to when I mention “The Tool”, I’ll re-post my earlier writing later on today to provide the necessary detail.  Here’s the Crib Notes version: The Tool is the imaginary 3” tall little annoying, distracting, negative schmuck that reminds me of my weaknesses and lack of talent.  He’s the virtual embodiment of my self-doubt.  Only this time, he appears to have come out of hibernation stronger and more effective since my last encounter with the tiny turd.  It’s almost as if he visited Balco and started juicing negativity steroids.  (Oh yeah – I just made a Balco reference – never thought I’d get to do that….I feel somewhat cooler now…).  I think I’ll call this tiny putz “Tool 2.0”.

Something tells me this is going to be a loooooong 12 months……

A Back-of-the-Packer’s Attempt at “12 in ’12” to Benefit The Dream Team Project


The Dream Team Project, through its founder, Lou Mongello, and countless volunteers, is working to help make a child’s wish come true. With your help, we can send a seriously ill child and their family to Walt Disney World with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation

Today I would like to formally announce my 2012 goal of raising money for WDW Radio’s Dream Team Project by running one marathon per month throughout the upcoming year. My first marathon of the year will be the Walt Disney World Marathon on January 8th 2012.

Then, from February through December of 2012, I’ll run a marathon each month in order to raise money for The Dream Team. I’m calling this “A Back-of-the-Packer’s Attempt at 12 in ‘12”.

OK – right about now you might be thinking that attempting something like this is a pretty goofy thing to do. Well, Goofy is my all-time favorite Disney character, so I guess this fits for me. But now that I’ve put my goal out there and I cannot rescind it (insert large gulp! here), let me take a few moments to explain why this rather goofy idea makes so much sense.

When I became a dad in 1998, I realized how much happiness a child can bring into a person’s life. I became motivated to help causes that benefited children in my area (New York City). For a bit of time, I was a docent a few weekends per month at the Bronx Zoo, where I tried my best to teach kids simple things about the wildlife that was present. I enjoyed the experience….but I wasn’t able to stick with it. Life got in the way. Then I volunteered as a Wish Granter for the Make-a-Wish Foundation in New York City. This experience opened my eyes to children suffering from life-threatening illnesses within less-than-affluent areas of the five boroughs. This experience was deeply moving…but again I was not able to stick with it. Again, life got in the way. Then along came 2005…

2005 was a very rough year for both myself and my daughter. Fortunately for us, we found two things to bond over – two things to make us smile whenever things really took a turn for the ugly: Disney and running.

My daughter and I would spend hours together flipping through the travel guides and websites, planning out our next long weekend in WDW, and then circle the date on the calendar. Knowing that our trip was only 105…..81….54….30 days away helped us deal with the rocky road we were both traveling on. We would both be so pumped up about our trip that we would hardly sleep the night before our flight. Once we got on the plane, our smiles were ear to ear…and they’d stay that way until we boarded our flight back to New York City. Then the planning would begin for our next trip the moment the flight attendant closed the plane’s hatch. Some of my favorite moments with my daughter have been in WDW.

In between trips down to WDW, I trained myself to run a marathon during the summer of 2005. Even though I made every rookie mistake in the book, I still enjoyed every moment since my daughter acted as my “coach”. She’d motivate me to get out there and run – don’t skip a workout. She was 6 year-old female version of Lombardi. The moment I crossed the finish line and draped that medal around my daughter’s neck was the moment that things began to change for the positive in both our lives.

As we both maintained our upward, positive momentum, I found Team for Kids (“TFK”). This charity running team raises money to fight childhood obesity in New York City schools by providing running programs. On November 6th 2011, 1,500 TFK runners completed the ING New York City Marathon and raised over $4 million for this fantastic cause. I’ve seen the programs they provide. Every penny is put to good use, and the values the kids learn – to work hard, stay focused, try to be healthy, and exercise regularly – stays with them for a lifetime.

So as I sat on a bench in Central Park one Saturday morning a month or so ago, I began to think of an idea that would allow me to incorporate many of the things that mean a lot to me. The result was this “12 in ‘12” concept. Personally, this year-long effort allows me to use something I love – distance running – to help children suffering from life-threatening illnesses through a charity that is wrapped around a passion for all things Disney. I’m also hoping that this effort will show people that you can do anything that you set your mind to, regardless of the difficulty. All you need to do is pick a goal, work toward it, and don’t ever give up.

As the New Year approaches, I will finalize my race schedule. As of right now, the preliminary list includes:
• January 2012: Walt Disney World Marathon (FL)
• February 2012: Surf City Marathon (CA)
• March 2012: Ocean Drive Marathon (NJ)
• April 2012: Gettysburg North-South Marathon (PA)
• May 2012: New Jersey Marathon (NJ)
• June 2012: Rock n Roll Seattle Marathon (WA)
• July 2012: San Francisco Marathon (CA)
• August 2012: Self-Transcendence Marathon (NY)
• September 2012: Disneyland Half Marathon (I’ll run 13.1 miles before the start of the race)
• October 2012: ING Hartford Marathon (CT)
• November 2012: Philadelphia Marathon (PA)
• December 2012: Las Vegas Marathon (NV)

This list may need to be altered at some point, for logistical purposes – but let’s hope not.

I plan to provide weekly updates on the “12 in ‘12” progress on the WDW Radio blog. In addition, you will be able to follow my tri-weekly updates on my own personal blog,  The Back of the Packer. Subscribe so you don’t miss a moment of the adventure! I promise that these updates will provide you with plenty of opportunities to laugh with me and at me! Since I’m not a professional runner by any stretch of the imagination (I love Diet Coke, pizza and Oreos waaaaay too much to be confused with some elite runner), comments and feedback from all of you would really help keep me motivated!!!

Any donation to The Dream Team Project, regardless of the monetary value, will make a difference in a child’s life….and I cannot think of a better way to spend a dollar.

Until next time, make sure you double-know your shoe laces, pick a goal and stay focused!

WDW Radio Running Blog Entry #7: Time to be Thankful!


I love this time of year. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays (mainly because the turkey gives me an excuse to be lazy…..kidding!) – the air is crisp, the park is a rainbow of color, and people just seem to be in a great mood within the city. It’s a day where you simply get to spend time with family and friends, and thoroughly enjoy their company. The only present given or received is time.

As Thursday quickly approaches, I begin something that I call my own personal Annual Assessment Process. I take stock of the things I wanted to accomplish this year (usually a long list) and the corresponding number of things that I actually got done (not surprisingly a much SHORTER list). Then I literally sit down, grab a pen and a piece of paper, and list out my goals for the upcoming new year. Sounds oddly thorough, I know – but that’s the way my brain works. I then use the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to finalize my Top Ten list for the upcoming year. The week between Christmas and new Year’s is spent bracing myself for the drastic changes that I normally enforce on January 1st…and disappear from memory by Superbowl Sunday.

So what does this have to do with Disney and running? Bare with me, because it takes me a while to get to the point…and I’m as sharp as a bowling ball….

For the past several years, I’ve placed some goals on my Top Ten List that have proven to be challenging, yet very fun. They’ve involved running some Disney races, including:
• The Expedition Everest Challenge (the medal you are awarded is extremely cool!)
• The Wine & Dine Half Marathon (do the mental math with me: 13.1 miles waddled + 2,000 calories burned + ending at Epcot’s World Showcase = absolutely NO GUILT while ordering funnel cake from the American pavilion, pizza from Via Napoli and nachos from La Hacienda de San Angel…in that exact order
• The Disneyland Half Marathon (Grand Californian – I looooooove that place!)
• The Walt Disney World Marathon (I can actually say that I was in all four parks in one day before 12pm, and I scored a picture with Abbey Mallard)

They’ve also included some easier, more relaxed goals, such as:
• Figure out whether there’s a jogging path from the Grand Floridian to the Magic Kingdom (answer: not unless you also feel like swimming)
• Enjoy a jog from the Polynesian to the Grand Floridian (I HIGHLY recommend this one to all my fellow Disney Geeks that are thinking of taking up jogging…)
• Run the paths around Saratoga Springs and the Port Orleans resorts (sooooooo enjoyable)

Why not find a quiet spot, grab a pen and a piece of paper, and begin thinking about your goals for the upcoming year, and put ideas to ink? For those of you thinking about trying jogging / running (or waddling like me!), pick a goal or two. Make one of these goals a really fun, shorter distance run – like a Disney race. Put the idea to paper. Do the research, grab your sneakers, get out there and enjoy in 2012!

Part of the fun is in the preparation – the journey is just as important as arriving at the destination. So look at this time of year as an opportunity to check your compass and see which way your winds will take you. In my next blog entry, I’ll share with you my own goals for the upcoming year, which shockingly include time spent waddling through the Disney parks and resorts, and WDW Radio Running Team! Until then, make sure to double-knot your shoe laces, get out there and get moving!

My original blog post Running Disney: Time to be Thankful! can be found hereon the WDW Radio Blog. Please check it out!!

The Run Disney Calendar, Take Two


Here’s my fourth blog entry, Running Disney: Run the Disney Calendar, Continued! for WDW Radio. To read my original post visit here:

As mentioned in my previous blog entry, the crown jewel of Run Disney’s calendar is its first race of the year, WDW Marathon Weekend.  However, there are other races throughout the year that really are special and deserve the consideration of my fellow DisneyGeeks that either currently enjoy running…or are looking for a reason to purchase their really cool first pair of gel-infused Nike’s.  So I’ll paint a quick picture of each race, hoping that some of you might be motivated to earn a run Disney medal in the near future.

The newest race on the run Disney calendar is the Tinkerbell Half Marathon, scheduled for its inaugural running during the weekend of January 27th-29th 2012.  This race goes off three weeks after the WDW Marathon, in Disneyland.  No other real details are available as of yet – but I’ll keep you posted on any details I may hear.

Walt Disney World’s Princess Half Marathon occurs annually in late February (the next run is scheduled for the weekend of February 24th – 26th 2012).  I’ve heard nothing but great things about this race!  It’s slated as a women’s half marathon, although approximately 300-400 men ran it last year, I believe.  As a father of a 12 year-old daughter that’s just dipping her toe into running, I think this race is absolutely fantastic.  It’s a true celebration of women’s’ strength.

The first weekend in March brings us to the Champion 5k race, run as part of ESPN the Weekend in Walt Disney World.  March is a great time to run in WDW – the humidity is low, the temperature is just right, and a 5k distance is a wonderful entry race for any new runner.  If you’ve never run before (or haven’t run in quite a while), and you are looking for a manageable distance with a fun atmosphere, put this one on your calendar!

In early May, the Everest Challenge is run in Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.  This race is….well…unique.  I just ran it about 3 months ago, and had a really fun time.  It’s run in the evening, and it is more than just a 5k jog past the home of the Yeti.  The race begins in the parking lot of the park, sends you through the front gates, and winds you past the Tree of Life.  At several points along the next three miles, you have the added challenge of maneuvering up, over, and around various obstacles in addition to your evening jog.  Once you cross the finish line, the challenge is only half complete!  You are then handed a tiny flashlight, a pen and a map, and sent back into the park on a scavenger hunt!  The prize?  An extremely cool medal that doubles as a compass!

The Run Disney race series takes a bit of a break from mid May through the end of August as school’s out for the summer and, let’s face it, it’s more fun to work on our tans than train for a race!

The Disneyland Half Marathon is run each Labor Day Weekend.  I ran the inaugural race in 2006, and it was an absolute blast.  Through the streets of Anaheim, around the warning track of the Anaheim Angels’ baseball stadium, and through Disneyland itself, the sites and sounds of this race were a joy to experience.  I’m sure that, 5 years later, this race has consistently improved.  If you’re thinking of a first half marathon, this could be the one for you.  It’s flat and fast, and the finisher’s medal rocks!

The Wine and Dine Half Marathon is run in early October (the next one is scheduled for the weekend of September 30th – October 1st 2011).  While I don’t want to end this blog entry on a sour note, I do need to be honest about this race: I ran the inaugural one last year, and was quite disappointed by the lack of proper lighting on parts of the course (it’s another night time race), as well as the lack of organization within the finishers area and the afterparty in Epcot’s World Showcase.  That being said, I am sure that Disney received a ton of feedback on how to improve this race…and I look forward to seeing the positive changes in less than 2 months.

So there you have it – the Run Disney calendar at a glance.  In my next entry, I’ll begin to share some ideas on how to pick the right race for you, as well as how to get started on your trek toward finishing your first Disney race.  Until then, make sure to double-knot your shoe laces!  And if you have any feedback, comments, etc., please feel free to email me at joseph_kolinsky@yahoo.com

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.            

____________________________________ 

 “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.”

Let’s Get This Up to Date…


Saturday, September 25th – Thursday, October 14th……With the decision made to skip Hartford on October 9th, I began to feel truly disappointed in myself.  I needed to clear my head – but in order to do that, I needed to run.  Enter the dilemma.  I needed to think outside the box for a moment – come up with an idea that would replace the cardiovascular workout that I sorely miss; which would help keep my endurance up, burn the calories normally gobbled up along the bridal path, and let my foot heal. 

Now for anyone that hasn’t heard the term “thinking outside the box”, that just means that I need to become creative with my ideas. I need to brainstorm.  Now I’m pretty solid in the creativity department (let’s face it: if you’ve read my blog thus far I think you’ve noticed that my way of thinking is slightly….well….askew.  I plainly appear to be “not quite right in the head”.) – so it didn’t take me long to find an answer to my issue.  And where did I find it?  In of all places, my college year book.

During my college years, I rowed for the Iona College Crew Team.  Each morning I’d wake up at 5:30am, drive to our boathouse on Glen Island in Pelham Manor, New York, and spend 1-2 hours on the water with my teammates.  We’d row in the rain.  The cold.  The heat.  We even rowed while it was snowing a few times.  Regardless of how well each of us performed, the team developed an almost family-like attitude toward one another.  Those were great times.  During the off season, the team would train on equipment called ergometers (“ergs” for short).  Maybe your gym has one or two: it’s a rowing machine that consists of a sliding seat, support for the rower’s feet, a handle attached to a chain which winds its way inside of the front of the machine, where a metal wheel embedded with wind-resistant folds is encased in a metal shell.  The older model ergs make a ton of noise when the rower gets the momentum going…which pisses other people nearby off royally….which is why not many people actually USE the erg….which is why they usually have layers of dust on them whenever I hit the gym.  When you sit on the sliding erg seat, facing you is the handle that you’ll be tugging on, as well as a small computer screen.  You can follow your strokes per minute and your average pace per 2,500 meters (which is the normal length of a crew race). 

I used to hate the erg workouts.  I used to hate the erg altogether.  Local off-season rowing competitions used to held at several teams’ boathouses, and we used to participate in them – one of which was referred to as The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Winning times for heavyweight men’s rowers (any man weighing over 160 pounds was a heavyweight rower) used to clock in at 7 – 7:30 for a 2,500 meter erg race.  My best time was 8:10 in college.  So yes – I’ve always been a turtle, on and off the water.  It seems like the only place where I evolve from turtle to fish is when I actually enter the water and swim.  The water is my natural element….but I digress…..Fortunately for me, my small company gym has a brand new erg sitting in the cardio room, begging to be used.  Who says my college years weren’t good for anything?

I rested the entire weekend of September 25th and 26th.  No long run.  All I needed to do was to focus on healing.  All the long runs in the world wouldn’t do me any good if I show up to the starting line on November 7th with a foot that will only carry me through 11-12 miles.  I need to finish what I start.  In my head, all I could think about was developing a weekly plan that keeps the cardio up and also allows me to work on my core.  Come to think of it, I should have been using this erg all along!

Early the next week, I had to travel for work, so my workouts only consisted of whatever abdominal work and stretching I could get done in a Marriott hotel room.  While I was away, The Tool basked the glory of assumed victory.  My workouts had dwindled.  My confidence had been beaten up.  My apparent dedication to attaining my goals appeared to be flushed right down the ol’ gabinetto (if you’ve read my blog thus far you know this word, lab rats.  If you haven’t, then google is your friend…).  So as I returned to my office on Thursday, September 30th, I pictured The Tool lounging back in an old recliner, smoking a stogy, watching reruns of F-Troop while slugging a pint of Shlitz.  Well the cigar fell out of his mouth and he spilled his lousy beer all over his cheap poly-blend track suit the moment he heard the wheel of the erg howl as I pulled the handle back for the first time.

The first few strokes felt….weird. Stiff.  Over the past few years I have conditioned my body to enjoy the feeling of running on the open road.  In the elements.  The feeling of stretching my legs and pumping my arms in steady motion alongside my teammates or just simply other New Yorkers was what my muscles craved.  They craved what they knew – what was at the forefront of their muscle memory.  It took about 250 meters to remind them all of my college years.  Some of my muscle groups (like my back and my abs) needed to dust off the instruction manuals for this exercise.  Sure, they were mad at me at the outset for throwing them a curveball – but everything fell into place at I hit the 500 meter mark of the exercise.  I gradually raised my stroke rate to 34 strokes per minute.  I remembered all of the coaches’ words of advice: control the slide of the seat…..slide forward slowly – let the boat run under you and listen for the bubbles; if you can hear bubbles running under the boat, you’re motoring along…push your hands low and away as your body begins to slide forward, popping the blade out of the water…raise your hands at the top of the slide, and then drive back first using all legs, then finish with the back…control is key.  The last 500 meters I pushed my pace to 38 strokes a minute.  Then 40.  As I finished 2,500 meters, I realized that I had clocked a time of 8:24.  Not bad for a guy that had not rowed in 19 years!  As I rose from the erg, I realized that I was stronger than I gave myself credit for.  The time off hadn’t hurt my endurance.  This realization was exactly what I needed.  I finished my workout by hitting the weights and working on my core over the next half hour.  The erg….my new friend.  The Tool’s new nightmare.  There’s nothing quite like a dose of renewed confidence to stoke the motivational fires. 

That weekend (October 2nd and 3rd), I found myself in Orlando, Florida.  I had signed up for a half marathon in Walt Disney World.  I decided to tempt fate and see how the foot responded to the rest.  While the course was not exactly hilly, the 13.1 miles took the 7,000 – 8,000 runners through Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios theme parks late at night.  Called the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon, the race began at 10pm.  Two hours and 24 minutes after crossing the starting line, I had a medal draped over my head and was on my way back to my hotel.  The foot was bothering me – but it wasn’t unbearable.  I knew I’d pay for this the next morning…but I really didn’t care.  The Tool enjoyed bothering me the last 3 miles of the race, reminding me of the pain (and how hungry I was!)…but for the first time in quite a while, I put him in his place.  The only other distraction was my Garmin watch.  It decided to flake out on me 11 miles into the race.  It suddenly decided to shut off. For no reason.  While the battery was at 60% power remaining.  THAT ticked me off.  Cannot let that happen on Marathon Sunday…so I’m going to buy myself a new watch. 

As for a quick review of the race itself, here’s the fairly good, the bad, and the REALLY ugly:

  • Transportation: I stayed at a WDW on-property resort.  However, it wasn’t a “host resort”…so since I was reliant on Disney transportation to get me around the property, I had to take a bus from my resort to one of the four theme parks, then transfer to a bus that takes me to a “host resort”, and then transfer again to a bus that takes me to the Expo & and the Starting Line located at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.  REALLY UGLY.
  • The Expo: in a word – thin.  Not much to see.  I was there for approximately 15 minutes.  Nothing there motivated me to spend any additional time.  BAD.
  • The Start: pre-race provided ample space and port-o-potties (also known as mobile poop houses).  Water was available – but no Gatorade.  The pre-race entertainment was easily ignored…which worked for me.  The walk from the pre-race area to the corrals was short.  The Start itself was nicely executed.  FAIRLY GOOD, overall.
  • The Course: brought the runners through the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios after closing time.  Nice.  But hardly any characters were out, and it simply felt like the race didn’t have enough creative effort put into it.  Roughly 7.5 of the 13.1 miles was run along quiet highways.  Entertainment was weak.  I expect top shelf stuff from Disney.  They let me down.  BAD.
  • The Fans: Hardly any were allowed on the course until the final stretch that took the runners from Hollywood Studios to the back of Epcot, through the Boardwalk area.  It’s a HALF MARATHON!  13.1 miles isn’t exactly easy.  Fans HELP.  BAD.
  • The Volunteers: one word.  AWESOME.  THANK YOU ALL!!!!   GOOD.
  • The Medal: one word. COOL.  GOOD.
  • Baggage Claim / Post Race: Completely unorganized, very un-Disney.  Shockingly messy.  This was FUBAR, big time.  REALLY UGLY.      

Bottom line: I won’t run this one until the kinks get worked out.  My overall rating: UGLY

Over the next two weeks, I’ve focused on my time in the gym.  Each day I take my time, focusing on specific body parts as I left weights.  As I go through the motions, I think of why the muscle group I am currently working is important to achieving my long-term goals.  The shoulders.  Back.  Chest.  Arms.  Core.  All important muscle groups.  All will be called upon on marathon Sunday.  All will pay a price.  So I am trying to build them up so that I don’t break down when it matters the most.  Thrown in to this routine now is time on the erg.  The steady rhythm of the sliding seat does not clear my head in the same way that running always has.  I miss the road…but the erg is helping my foot heal, and that’s the most important thing right now.

As of this morning, only 24 days until the New York City Marathon.  The air is changing – getting more crisp.  The advertisements are beginning to show up on trains and buses.  People are beginning to talk about the race in the office.  Three weeks to go, and the excitement is already building.  I hope I am healed by then.

I have one trip to take before race day, and that will bring me to a couple of cities north of the boarder.  Toronto and Calgary are two interesting cities, both with sites to see and fun places to visit.  (Too bad that, as far as Canadian hockey teams are concerned, I’m an Oiler fan..unless they are playing my beloved Broadway Blueshirts – I bleed NY Ranger blue).  I’m looking at the trip as my calm before the storm, because once I return to New York City, I’m all business for the next few months.  So a trip up north could be exactly what the doctor ordered.  I am betting that it will spark my creative juices.  One thing is for sure – Canadians are awesome.  Especially a few in Alberta that I know.  Now let’s see if they lose my luggage in Calgary’s airport as I step off the plane wearing a jersey that reads “Messier” on the back….. 

When I woke up this morning, I felt like I was firing on all cylinders.  I feel like I’m peaking at just the right time.  And when my feet touched the floor whilst getting out of bed, I walked – not hobbled – to the bathroom. 

 …and somewhere in the recesses of my pea-sized brain, The Tool extinguished his stogy, took a long slug of his cheap beer, went to his file cabinet where he stores all of his negative mental ammo, and began preparation for a 26.2 mile blitzkrieg. 

Three weeks.  24 days.  Me vs. The Tool.  Not exactly Tyson / Holyfield or Rangers / Devils, but it’ll do for now…