My 19th marathon was a tremendous treat as it was the largest US marathon - the ING New York City Marathon. It took me four years to make it to New York because I chose the lottery route and was a three-time loser. You see to get into NY you have to either qualify - it's harder than Boston; join a charity team; or win a spot in the lottery. It was a serious challenge qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which I did at Cal International Marathon in 2007 with a time of 3:19 (1 minute to spare) but my NY qualifying time was 7 minutes faster. Yikes.
I could have raised money to get in but I am devoted to helping the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and they weren't an official charity for NYM so my best route was the lottery. NYM's lottery favors people from NYC and the state of NY so my chances of getting in as Californian weren't so great. But they have a great policy that if you don't get in through the lottery three years in a row, you are automatic the fourth year. Hello 2009.
I travel a lot for work so we were able to use Hilton Honor points to secure free nights at the Waldorf-Astoria for the weekend and were off to Manhattan.
The weekend started with a trip to the Marathon Expo at the Javits Center, a massive convention center on the East side. Here I learned that more runners from outside the US participate in this event than those from within our own borders. This was very apparent as the corrals for international participants were packed and a million different languages could be heard. It was quite an experience.
Once inside the expo the Asics NYM official merchandise area was enormous and flooded with athletes wielding credit cards like ninja throwing stars.
I quickly made my way to the Competitor.com booth to officially sign up for the 2010 Rock and Roll Endurance Series - the whole series. As you can imagine, the folks working the booth were a bit surprised at my request but quickly pulled out the form and off I went checking off every single box. Yep, it's official. No backing out now!
The Competitor crew were great. They showered me with 2010 event t-shirts and wished me well. See y'all in Arizona in January!
There was an extra special treat in the Competitor booth - super star triathlete Sarah Reinertsen. She's an amazing challenged athlete who completed the Ironman Championships in Hawaii and was later a contestant on the CBS reality show, The Amazing Race. I so admire, Sarah, as she lets nothing get her down and proves every day that we can overcome any adversity through perseverance and heart. She was a delight to talk to and I picked up a signed copy of her autobiography. What a story.
Next up with saying hello to the PowerBar crew, especially the Team Elite managers. I'm very proud to support this organization who has been such a big supporter of Team in Training. They invited me to a victory party the night after the race. Sweet!
Next up was a quick visit to Runnerworld.com's booth where actor Anthony Edwards was spreading the word about Shoe4Africa, a great charity to help the youth of Africa.
It was a real thrill for my wife to meet him and he couldn't have been more humble and personable. Chatting with him was more like sharing experiences with another runner rather than being in the presence of an Emmy winning actor with an incredible resume. What a guy!
We took the next two days to see Manhattan and rest up for the race.
Race day started with a subway ride followed by the Staten Island ferry. It was pitch black out and as we crossed the water, the Statue of Liberty stood out from the darkness in majestic blue and white.
I think the ferry listed a little to the side and everyone rushed out to take a picture of Lady Liberty. Wish I had my real camera that day. The Blackberry camera just didn't do it justice.
After we docked we all made our way to warm buses that took us to the runner's village to await the start. It was drizzling a bit as the sun rose and Dunkin Donuts served as savior for us all by providing lots of warm coffee and pink and orange knit caps that were just the trick to keep the cold out.
The wait wasn't too long before we were in our corrals and listening to the national anthem.
NYM did a fantastic job with the start line. There were 42,000 runners this year and they split us into three waves of 15,000 each (that's the entire San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon per corral). These waves were further split into three color groups who each took off down a separate path for the first 8 or so miles. This start really kept the crowding to a manageable level and allowed us in Wave 1 to start running within the first 100 yards.
We crossed into Brooklyn which I didn't know from Newark until I got a patented experience. About half way through town out of the throngs of cheering supporters came a man with classically Italian looks and a cross expression who barked, "Hey, look what you're doin' to our streets. Get outtaheah!" He said it in jest (I think).
The crowds kept coming through Queens, over into the upper west side and on through to Harlem. Huge kudos to the Harlem crowd who provided the best music of the day (of course). It started with a killer gospel choir who were belting out inspirationals and ended with classic funk tunes from The Gap Band and Kool in the Gang. I think I logged my fastest miles in Harlem. Thanks, all!
We only got a brief encounter with The Bronx as took a quick left turn going from one bridge to the next and back into Harlem. Would have liked to see more but had a date with Central Park ahead.
As I waited in the corral for the start, I met a fellow Texan who was running his third marathon and first NYM, a woman from Anchorage running NY as her first marathon and a veteran NYMer from Connecticut named Amy who was hoping for a personal best. As the gun went off we all separated but weren't far apart most of the way. At about mile 17 I caught back up with Amy and we fueled each other for the remaining 9 miles. We were stride for stride through manhattan as we ran along the west side and into Central Park.
It helped a lot to have someone to pace with as we both held faster and stronger paces than we would have alone.
We turned the corner at the south end of Central Park as the crowds grew thicker and just as my energy was running low, there way my lovely wife leaning over the railings cheering for me. That was the boost I needed at mile 25.
Like most marathoners I am usually just holding on at mile 25 but Reesa gave me the lift I needed to pick up the pace and with Amy shortly ahead I was able to catch her with 0.2 to go as wel crossed the line under 3:30 - a PR for Amy, a third best for me.
Heat sheets and bottles of water were my usual solace as we worked our way up the long finisher's shoot and out. It was a fantastic run. The weather was ideal - in the low 50s all day an overcast.
To top off the experience, I popped over to the PowerBar party that night, after dinner with friends and got the rare opportunity to congratulate NYM winner Meb Keflezighi who finally returned a NYM victory to a US runner. I'm definitely patriotic about this but this win was all Meb.
He is an incredible runner, inspiration and role model for many of us runners. He was very gracious in his victory and even mentioned how those of us who run for Team in Training - beating up our bodies to help fight blood cancers -- are an inspiration to him. What a guy.
Run the ING New York City Marathon next year by entering the lottery today!