Thoughts on the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon


I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the first Sunday in November is the single greatest day of the year in New York City.  Period.

Marathon Week begins the prior Sunday, with the annual Poland Spring 5 miler held in Central Park.  This is followed up with a week’s worth of events for kids, spectators and runners alike.  Then the Expo opens up at the Javits Center the Thursday before the race…and there is no larger marathon expo in the world than the huge running party through on the west side of Manhattan over a four-day span.  50,000 runners swing by to pick up their bibs and swag.

The Friday before race day, the Parade of Nations is held along the west side drive near Tavern on the Green.  Over 100 nations are represented in the awesome 5 borough black party, and the festivities are capped off with a pretty impressive fireworks display at the finish line.  Once this parade is over, the New York Road Runners host their annual Night of Champions…and the guest list reads like a who’s who of runner.  From last year’s new York City Marathon winners, to Bill Rodgers, Shalane Flanagan, the one and only Meb, and a whole host of other running elites – they all show up to help raise money for the New York Road Runners kids running programs.  I was lucky enough to score a ticket to this shindig, and it did not disappoint.

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Saturday morning, the annual Dash to the Finish is held, where runners can start a 5k in front of the United Nations, held down 42nd Street to 6th Avenue, hang a right and head north to Central Park, where the race finishes across the marathon finish line.

Sunday morning begins rather early, as some of the runners’ transportation from Manhattan to the runners village in Staten Island begins at 5am.  So runners are up and out early, knowing that the first wave of the race goes off 4+ hours later.  (A quick note to anyone thinking about running this race: the city of New York is basically shutting down for this 26.2 mile block party.  So yes – you are asked to get up really early to start your trek to Staten Island. And yes – once you get to Staten Island there will be a rather vigorous security check before you are let in.  And yes-  once you are in, you’ll have to hunker down and wait a while before you get to run.  And yes – it’s windy and usually cold in the village as you wait.  So please – accept these things as part of the overall experience, because the juice is worth the squeeze.)

Race morning was a bit chilly and damp.  I was worried about the rain, as I never really had to run this race while having to deal with more than the two usual elements: wind and cold.  Those two are not a surprise – each year I show up to the starting line a bit more prepared for those challenges.  Rain, on the other hand, would make this race a bit more challenging for me.  I was running with Team for Kids, so the charity tent came in handy!

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I started with Wave 4, at around 10:55am.  The first mile is a 200 climb up the Varrazanno Bridge, and runners usually get to view the Manhattan skyline very clearly here.  This morning, however, the fog kept that view from us.  The first mile should be run easily and under complete control, as runners need to deal with the exposure to a pretty strong, cold cross-wind as they head to Brooklyn.  However, I watched as runners around me took off like jackrabbits.  As the saying goes: “Let the Kenyans go….we’ll meet again at mile 18….”.

Mile 2 rewards you for the climb with a nice downhill into Brooklyn.  (A quick note hear: run in the middle lanes of the bridge, if you start on its lower deck.  If you don’t know why, I’ve leave you a hint….it has something to do with full bladders and a lack of port-o-crappers on the span of the bridge, along with 35,000 runners directly above you…..I’ll wait for that to sink in a bit…….ok – you got it?  Good.  Moving on…)  By mile 3, runners are thrown on to 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.  Here is where the party starts.  Even with the mist / drizzle coming down, people came out to scream their lungs out.  Miles 3 through 13 are amazing.  These miles are some of my favorites on he course, because it is a perfect display of what makes this city so damn awesome:  every race, color and creed together, screaming as one for 50,000 strangers of all ability levels from over 100 countries.  At one point, I just had to stop for a moment to soak in the general splendor before waddling on.

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Greenpoint is the last neighborhood in Brooklyn before crossing the half way point and entering into Queens.  Queens has a few loud spots – but it’s mostly subdued from miles 13.1 to 14.5.  Then the noise picks up, as if the fans were trying to help you step on the gas to get over the 59th Street Bridge (otherwise known in my home as Mt. Sonofabitch).

The 59th Street Bridge rears its annoying head near mile 15.  This is a tough climb, and it takes a lot out of the runners.  I’ve seen the upward climb here turn into something resembling a zombie movie over the years.  if you are running this race, train with this hill in mind – don’t let it beat you.  If you aren’t prepared for it, it will kick you square in the teeth and set you up for a rough last 10 miles.

As you come down the span of the Bridge, you make the signature turn of the race: a 270 degree left hand turn that throws you onto First Avenue.  The party rolls on here – loudly – for the next couple of miles.  The noise bounces off the buildings and turns the course into a corridor of sound.  It’s one of those spans of the course where you are given a jolt of energy.  However, if you are running this race, do NOT let the fans motivate you to kick up your pace and release your inner Alberto Salazar. You still have work to do.  Stay under control and just enjoy the experience as you work your way north to The Bronx (the only borough of the city so darn awesome that it’s very name contains a “The” in front of it).

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Runners cross over into The Bronx via the Willis Avenue Bridge.  The Bronx has a few small twists and turns, but they bring the noise when you enter my hometown.  With the noise comes the attitude that makes this borough so special.  For instance: The DJ playing music right near the mile 20 marker will call you out if he sees you struggling a bit.  “…I see you, number 45867….in that red shirt… YOU GOT THIS!  NOW LETS CRANK THIS UUUUUUPPPP!!!!!!” He would say versions of this over..and over…again.  And trust me: I watched as that runner in that red shirt went from walking to jogging.  Grab some water at the water stop just past Mile 20, and you’ll be greeted with messages like “man, you’ve got this.  Kick this race’s ass.” Wall?  What Wall.  There may be a Wall on this course, but fans in The Bronx want you to knock that thing down.  I left The Bronx feeling better than when I arrived.

When runners leave The Bronx, they cross the mile 22 marker and enter into Harlem.  This section of the course is my absolute favorite.  They take the attitude that just embraced you in The Bronx, and they turn that up another 3 notches.  Runners have just four miles.  Harlem’s fans do not let you forget why you are here.  Time to go to work and get this job done.  The crowds, at points, push onto the course and basically will you around Marcus Garvey Park.  One highlight: the gospel choir.  THAT is an emotional part of the course, and it helps crank you up a bit.  Once the runners hit mile 22.5, a long steady climb begins up 5th Avenue to Engineer’s Gate: the entrance into Central Park.  Rain or shine, cold or windy, the enthusiastic fans come out in droves from here to the finish line.

Rolling hills bring you from the entrance into Central Park to the right hand turn that carries the runners onto Central park South.  Another brief incline at Mile 25.3 gets you to Columbus Circle.  Here, runners re-enter Central Park and head up the west side drive to the finish.  One last hill at mile 26.1 to conquer before you earn your medal.

The rain made this race a bit more difficult, because my gear (including my shoes and socks) were soaked about half way  through the effort.  I could feel the blisters starting by the time I entered The Bronx, which resulted in a slight change in my stride.  That may not sound like a big deal, but a change in the way you run due to discomfort midway through a marathon makes the rest of the race much more challenging, and the added distraction messes with your head a bit.

I elected to receive a runner’s poncho instead of checking a bag this year – and this allowed me to exit the park and head home much quicker.  I think I’ll elect not to check a bag every year from now on.

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This was my 12th New York City Marathon in a row.  I haven’t missed one since 2005 (knock on wood).  Each year, the course is the same.  The hills are in the exact same places.  The wind is still there to smack you in the face at the start.  The pain still shows up.  At mile 15 I always zone out as I climb Mt. Sonofabitch.  When it’s all over, I’m sore everywhere.  All of these things occur annually, and they aren’t so warm & fuzzy.  But you know what else hasn’t changed?  The fans.  New Yorkers spill out onto the streets, rain or shine, every year to the tune of 1-2 million just to yell for shlubs like me.  Brooklyn is still….Brooklyn (and that’s a compliment).  First Avenue is still loud.  The Bronx gets better every single year.  Harlem is still marathon holy ground to me.  Spilling into the park is still glorious.  The final 3/10 of a mile is still the greatest 3/10’s of a mile in the sport of running.  And there is always that moment of two after the medal is hung around your neck where you stop and look around at the people that you ran alongside – complete strangers hours ago, now all carrying that glow that comes from not giving up, embracing the suck, seeing a goal through…and standing in the park, quiet and victorious.

 

 

BEAST of the Week


Those of you who’ve read my blog before know that the highest compliment I can pay to anyone is referring to him or her as a BEAST.  Think about it for a moment: if you want to go further than you’ve ever gone before…if you want to go faster than you’ve ever gone before…if you want to see something through that you’ve never done before…then you need to push yourself harder than you’ve ever pushed before.  You need to work your butt off.  You need to be willing to put in the hours and the sweat.  You need to have a fierce dedication to a cause, and you need to be disciplined enough to stick to a tough routine – even when you’re sore and every fiber is telling you to take it easy.  In short: you gotta be a BEAST.  So when I refer to someone as a BEAST, it’s like giving that quiet nod to a fellow runner coming at you in the opposite direction in the park, wearing a race shirt from an event that you aspire to – it’s a big-time sign of respect.   (For example: a dude ran toward me on Monday evening in Central Park rocking a Western States long sleeve.  To me – that race is one of my unicorns.  I gave him the nod.  He smiled and nodded back.  The silent message: “dude, you are a BEAST.”)

On Sunday morning, I ran the New York Road Runners (“NYRR”) Gridiron 4 Miler in Central Park.  Within half a mile of the start, I bumped into some teammates from the NYRR Team for Kids.  It was fantastic to see them, and we spent the next half hour chatting as we cruised through the course.  Shortly after finishing, we ran into several more of our teammates.  They too had finished the race, and were preparing to tack on 12-16 additional miles as part of their weekly long run in preparation for toeing the line in this year’s Tokyo Marathon.  One of those fine people is a runner that most (if not all) of Team for Kids knows – and his name is Ira.

I’ve known Ira for several years now, and I can say without a moment’s hesitation that he is one of the most positive people I have ever met.  Always greeting you with a warm smile and a soft-spoken demeanor, I look at him as a gentle giant.  However, Ira is also a fierce competitor and marathoner.  Nothing stops Ira from getting the work in.  Oh it’s raining?  So what – get out there.  Oh it’s a bit cold?  Well put an extra layer on and get out there.  Oh it’s too warm?  Well drink more water and keep working.  I’ve watched him evolve from first-time marathoner to running role model.  His efforts have raised thousands of dollars in donations for charity – so every mile has a deeper meaning.

So – my first ever BEAST of the Week goes out to Ira.  Dude, you are awesome, your dedication is incredible, your positive attitude is infectious, and you just continue to rock race after race.  And that’s what a BEAST does.

Ira, along with a contingent of NYRR Team for Kids marathoners, are running the Tokyo Marathon on February 28th.  All I can say is: hard work pays off, dedication makes the difference, and you’re going to fly through the streets of that awesome city.  Keep charging forward, Ira – you’re an inspiration.  You…are…a….BEAST.

 

June 29th – What Have We Learned?


So what did I learn today?

1) If you are suffering from Plantar Fasciitis, using an invention called the Strassberg Sock actually does work. However, it really is a fashion risk when worn to a multiplex.

2) sometimes it’s fun embarrassing your daughter by busting out your dance moves while waiting in line for popcorn. The embarrassment is, of course, enhanced by the fact that the only music playing at the time was in my head…..and it was Eminem. But being able to do The Robot is a rare talent indeed…

3) Listen to what your body is telling you. If your injury starts barking at you in the middle of a workout, that’s your cue to take your foot off the accelerator and hit the brakes for the day.

4) there is nothing medium about a medium sized drink at a movie theater.

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Turtle 2.0


After taking two straight days off from running in preparation for this weekend, I was up and out of the apartment early this morning to join my team for its weekly long run.  I know I have 26.2 coming up tomorrow morning – but I also realize that it’s early in the marathon preparation season, and beginner who never ran more than 5-6 miles in their lives might get a little discouraged as the mileage increases.  So I don’t want to miss the weekly long runs, because I just want to do my part to help these nuggets complete the goal in November.

 

I remember how I felt in 2007.  It was the first time I ever ran with a team, and I was even slower than I currently am (which is extremely difficult to believe, yet true nonetheless).  When I began running with the group, I realized that almost all of them were faster than me.  They could run longer and harder.  When they stretched, they could actually touch their toes, while I simply had to wave hello to mine from an embarrassing distance.  I felt discouraged.  I didn’t feel ready.  I didn’t feel like a true part of the team because I felt like I held the team back in some odd way.  So….I stopped showing up.  I didn’t quit – I just stopped showing up.  By the time Marathon Week arrived, I was not physically or mentally prepared for the challenge ahead, and I suffered all day long.  Fifth Avenue felt like a death march.  The 59th Street Bridge looked like Everest.  It was a wonderful experience from a macro perspective; however, it was my third ING New York City Marathon and I was still making DUMB mistakes.  Things had to change.

 

So here I am, five years later.  My sixth year with this Team For Kids and my second with The WDW Radio Running Team.  I have qualified to be a Marathon Maniac, and I’m almost half way there to running a dozen marathons in a year.  All of this would not have been possible if I gave up completely in 2007.

 

And – like I said – I was REEEEEEALLY close.

 

Heaven knows I am NOT a talented runner.  Someday, when I grow up, I aspire to be.  However, presently I remain a work in progress.  If my running life were a technology company, I’d be spending a ton of money on research and development in an aggressive attempt to develop Turtle 2.0.  The battery life would be MUCH improved.  Response times would be much faster. And…yes…the product would weigh less and be a bit easier on the eyes.

 

I know how important this aspiration for personal evolution is to me.  And, for me, running is at the core of this process.  If I had quit in 2007 – this evolution would not even be a consideration.  I’d still be running Turtle 1.0…and trust me: that would NOT be a product that many people would find much use with.

 

Maybe there are other runners that just joined Team For Kids this year.  Maybe they are already feeling like I did in 2007.  Maybe they are looking at this marathon training process as the challenge that kickstarts their evolution into Marathoner 2.0.  And maybe…just maybe…this might be the practice where one of them decides to quit.  Well – I don’t want that to happen.  I want to make sure that I do my part to help these nuggets to stay motivated and positively focused on the challenges ahead.  MAYBE – just maybe – I’ll make them laugh a few times and they leave practice feeling in a slightly better mood than when they began their 5 miler.  That could make the difference between them showing up next week – or not.

 

That’s why I run.  That’s why I love being a mentor.  Sure, I enjoy getting in shape and helping my own evolution along.  But the feeling of getting someone through a long run that they never thought they could handle – yet they did – is the good stuff.

 

So today’s 5 miler was fun.  I got a couple of beginners around the 5 mile loop of the park, and we had a few laughs all along the way.  A good way to start the day.

 

Now that that’s over, I need to focus on tomorrow.  26.2 alone, around Manhattan.  I’ve decided to risk it and use the hydration pack – chaffing be damned (my skin wasn’t silky smooth to begin with).  I figured I’d head out my door at 5am, and start near 72nd and the west side drive.  I’ll take pictures throughout the run, and share them with you tomorrow evening.  My time won’t be great because I’ll be left standing at MANY a red light in the morning, that’s for sure.  But I won’t shut down until I hit my goal.

 

Tomorrow will be interesting.  Yet another step toward a turtle upgrade.

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If you’d like some information on The Dream Team Project or would like to make a donation to their amazing cause, please stop by the website:  www.wdwradio.com/the-dream-team-project  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really believe in what The Dream Team Project stands for.  It raises money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, helping to grant the wishes of children suffering from life-threatening illnesses.  Being s former wish-granter for the NYC Chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, I can tell you first-hand just how much of an impact this organization makes in the lives of children.  Please consider donating to this worthy cause.  Thanks!

 

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

Double Duty


Wednesday morning began with a relaxing five mile run that doubled as a test run for my newest running gadget, the Salomon hydration pack. As I mentioned in my prior blog post, I was thrilled at the outcome.

Wednesday evening found me back in Central Park, mentoring marathon hopefuls for the New York Road Runners’ Team For Kids. A relaxed four miler around the bridal path with the beginner’s group was a fantastic way to end my day.

Each time I run with this group of soon-to-be first time marathoners, I get to hear more of their reasons for taking on this challenge. To one runner, it’s a goal that she had set for herself that meant a lot to her. Another runner was so motivated by the scene on Fifth Avenue last year, watching marathoners fight their way through the last ten kilometers of the race, that he resigned himself to stepping off of the sidelines and putting himself through the hazard the following year. Yet another runner wanted to help New York City children live a healthier lifestyle.

Everyone has a story. And that’s what motivates me to keep coming to each practice. It’s feels great to get a moment to ask each nugget (ok – truth be told I’m a Battlestar Galactica nerd – and, for the uninitiated, on the show they use the term “nugget” to represent new fighter pilots. It’s not a derogatory term – it’s just a real nerdy way of saying “rookie”) (doesn’t it sound cool? Say it with me – using a slight Bronx accent – NUGGET. Now remember to curl your top lip juuuust a bit like Elvis whenever he said “The King luvs ya, baby”. Perfect. OK – let’s move on…) “so tell me – what motivated you to take on the New York City Marathon?” I watch their eyes get a bit wider. A smile cracks each newbie’s face as they eagerly share their motivation for this tough endeavor. I get to see how fired up each of them are to attempt this. It’s fantastic to witness.

BUT, even better than witnessing their excitement throughout this training program is the feeling of satisfaction I get as a Team For Kids mentor. Being able to tell them all about my dumb mistakes made during prior marathons in the hopes that they’ll learn from my errors provides me with a true feeling of satisfaction. There’s nothing better than helping someone else achieve a true life goal.

Some days don’t suck at all.

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If you’d like some information on The Dream Team Project or would like to make a donation to their amazing cause, please stop by the website: www.wdwradio.com/the-dream-team-project I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really believe in what The Dream Team Project stands for. It raises money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, helping to grant the wishes of children suffering from life-threatening illnesses. Being s former wish-granter for the NYC Chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, I can tell you first-hand just how much of an impact this organization makes in the lives of children. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. Thanks!

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

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We’re Off And Running….


Well, my friends, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I am sorry, but life has been a bit curious as of late.  I’ve missed sharing my lunacy with you all – I’ve kept it all for myself over the past few months, and for this duration of silence, I do apologize.

That being said – things have begun to kick into high gear.

First up: 26.2 in Hartford, CT coming up on October 15th.  Fun, flat, and fast.  A good tune-up for my annual Superbowl, the ING New York City Marathon on November 6th.

That’s a good, quick segway into my 20 second pitch: I’m running for the 5th year in a row for the New York Road Runners’ Team for Kids.  Any donation, even $1, helps over 100,000 NYC children.  It’s a worthy cause – one that I’m willing to put myself through the hazard for.  Here’s the link, in case you are interested.

After NYC comes Philly on November 20th.  Flat, fast, and FUN!!!

I’ll rest from Thanksgiving through New Year’s…….AND THEN…..WELL……..

………..

…..I cannot give away the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT just yet.  But I’m planning something special to try to benefit the other charity that I strongly believe in, The Dream Team Project.  If you’ve never heard of it, please check out WDW Radio’s website.  The Dream Team Project is the host of WDW Radio’s – Lou Mongello – creation.  It’s a charity that rasises money for the Make a Wish Foundation.  Make a Wish is a charity that does amazing things on a daily basis to help children with life threatening illnesses.  How do I know?  Well…..when I had the time, I was a Make a Wish volunteer.  I was a Wish Granter.  I got to see these kids.  Their families.  Their stress and strain.  And their reaction of pure joy when Make a Wish does something incredible to make a sick child’s like just a little better.  I want to do something special for Make a Wish….and I’ll share the details soon.

We’ll talk soon, at greater legnth.  Until then, please consider helping the Team for Kids. THANKS!!!!!

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.

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“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