Mind over matter...Never give up

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Free to Breathe 5K, Raleigh, NC, Nov 7, 2009

This race is part of the Second Empire series so I have to say I probably wouldn't have run one so soon after the NYC Marathon if it wasn't for that fact. I'd run 3 races in the series so far, and can only run two more so since they use your 6 best races to do the scoring, I needed to run this race to remain in the "running". The race raises money for lung cancer and I could definitely see the passion that the organizers, volunteers and runners who had loved ones that been impacted by this disease had. It was inspiring to hear the stories of the difference advances in cancer research have made. It made me glad I decided to do the race even thought I wasn't able to raise as much as I hoped, due to registering a bit later for this one.

I went into the race assuming it may not be a PR but was kind of hoping I'd be wrong...I wasn't. But it wasn't due to lack of trying or not being recovered enough from the marathon. It was due to all those darn hills! Those hills being mile one and mile 3. Yikes! That first mile was pretty tough. I didn't want to go out too fast and was going at a fairly speedy pace initially but once I hit the first hill in that first mile which was a really long one, I knew that mile would not be record breaking. It ended up being 6:49 so still not too shabby for the hilly course. Mile 2 was all down hill so I was able to pick up speed and pass at least 2 women (and maybe some men too but I don't recall) on this part of the course and managed to stay ahead of them for the rest of the race. That mile was 6:29 so pretty fast for me. If I could just do a similar pace in mile 3 it would be great. However since I hadn't looked at the course ahead of time I didn't realize that mile 3 was fairly hilly as well and while I continued to give it my best, there was no way that this was going to result in a PR. So I just kept the best pace I could.

Within mile 3, the course turns left at one point (you can see it on the map above, the weird little "tail" between mile 2 and 3) and then makes a u-turn and goes back straight (up a hill) so that it forms a T and you can therefore see all the runners that have already passed the u-turn. First of all, that is intimidating to see how many are in front of you, second because it curves around so much you can't see how much farther you have to go before you turn around and it seemed like that took forever and third, you can see that you have a hill coming once you turn around, before you even get there so that is also mentally challenging. The strangest part was that the u-turn goes right over a grass median. So you have to jump up on the curb to get over it (not fun for those with jogging strollers I'd guess!). And even stranger was that a few yards further down that street was a break in the median which is paved (so that cars can turn there). I wonder why they didn't just measure the course with that in mind and move the start/finish around a bit. Guess that would be more challenging to figure out, but I've never seen a race where you had to run up over the grass median.

Once I got past the u-turn point, I just kept plodding up the gradual hill. I was able to pass a few folks so I didn't give up by any means. But I was starting to feel that breathing was getting harder and I was feeling nauseous. I haven't really felt like that in a race in a while, not even in the marathon, so I knew I was pushing it pretty hard. I had my sights on a woman in front of me and kept gaining on her little by little up the hill. I saw the '1/2 mile to go" sign and then the "1/4 mile to go" sign (I was glad it was almost over!). I sped up but the finish was still all up hill. And she sped up too so she clearly wasn't out of steam. So I kept going as fast as I could but so did she so she finished 1 second ahead of me (gun time, 3 seconds chip time) but I was ok with that since I didn't give up and since I also found out she was 19. Mile 3 ended up being 6:51. The pace for the last 0.1 was 6:16. My chip time in the end was 21:05 (gun time 21:06).

I still felt a bit nauseous but stayed near the finish and saw Linda and Cindy finish. They did really well but also said it was a hilly course and not a PR. I think most runners who had run this one and the 5K 2 weeks before agreed that one was a much easier course to run. That one was hilly too but the hills were rolling and this was big long hills. I felt maybe the nauseousness meant I needed to eat so I saw they had some pizza and decided to have a slice which unfortunately only made things worse. So I went to the car to change and get the Yoo Hoo I had grabbed from the fridge this morning on the way out. Usually I'd have a Power Bar but was out of them and had kept reading that chocolate milk was the perfect recovery drink so that was a fast option (as long as the kids didn't see me stealing their Yoo Hoo, which they didn't). I changed and drank that and felt much better afterwards, so I think I found a new recovery drink, but now I just have to sneak it out of the house before races so the kids don't get mad at me for stealing their stuff!

My 12 yr old friend who I see at lots of races did really well. It wasn't a PR either but I could tell he was running strong and I never did catch up with him, he was about 8 second ahead of me. Whereas in the 5K 2 wks ago, I passed him after mile 2. So he ran a great race. He came first in his age group, as did Linda. I actually placed 2nd in mine, which is unusual. Usually I get third if I place. I think some of the top women overall who sometimes run these local races weren't there so that bumped up one of the 35-39 yr old women into the top 3 which bumped the rest of us up. Overall I was 52 of 335. I was 11 of the women (not sure how many, it wasn't posted and I didn't count them). I was 2 of 17 in my age group.

For this race they did a great job of getting the results up there and posted quickly which is great. Sometimes it takes forever and usually I just want to check it so I can see whether I should stick around or not in case I have someplace to be afterwards. They also got right on with the awards which was also great. No gift cards this time, but that was fine. I got a nice medal which my kids are usually more impressed with over gift cards. They took pictures of each award receipient which I am not sure if that was great or not, depends on how the picture comes out and where it gets posted I suppose!

While waiting for the awards ceremony I did get to meet a woman and her husband who also placed 2nd in their age groups (they were in their late 20's). They were very nice to talk with and it's always great to meet new people at the local races. I bet it's great for them to be able to run and race together and share that interest. I also got to meet Cindy's family which was nice.

So while not a PR and not the most fun course ever because of the hills, I did have a good time and a good first post-marathon race. I am kind of glad I didn't take much time off but after a 3mi easy run on Wed, the race on Sat and a 10.4 mile run on Sun, I am definitely looking forward to a rest day on Monday!

My next race is the Free K-Wayne 5K being held on Saturday, Nov 14, at the American Tobacco Trail. It's the first year for this race and it's being held by the family of a young man who lost his battle with depression. The race is free but donations are requested in his honor to raise money for mental health research. After that I may or may not do a turkey trot in Myrtle Beach while I am there visiting my inlaws for turkey day. I haven't registered yet because I am also considering taking that weekend off before jumping back into marathon training in December.

I have already registered for the remaining races in the Second Empire series, the Jingle Bell 5K and the St. Michael's Jolly Elf Trail Run. I did the Jingle Bell last year which raises money for arthritis research. I haven't done the Jolly Elf before, which is in Bond Park. I'm looking forward to those. I also registered for the Myrtle Beach half marathon (Feb 13) and the new Tobacco Road half marathon (Mar 21) which should be perfect tune ups for the Boston Marathon in April. Looks like some RTR and other running friends will be running one or both of these races so they should be lots of fun.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NYC Marathon 2009 - Part 3: Race day and beyond

NYC Marathon course and elevation

After the race

Marathon Monday at the finish line in Central Park

Statue of Fred Lebow in Central Park

Beautiful Central Park

Ice rink in Central Park

Rise and shine, it's race day!
I awoke actually prior to the alarm going off, which I often do. I think I have a pretty good internal clock. I got dressed, reorganized the stuff I packed and double checked everything (remember the shorts I forgot on Friday!). I ate breakfast, some cereal with milk and one of my coveted bananas, which we actually went back to Whole Foods for after dinner the night before and waited on a long but not crazy long line for. At the last minute, after doing some Facebooking to wish folks doing the City of Oaks Marathon and Half in Raleigh being held that same day and after checking the weather for the 100th time, I decided to go light and not bring my fuel belt. I agonized (yes, dumb I know) over that for the last few weeks because I did bring it for the NYC Half and while it was very annoying I was glad to have it because it was very warm and humid out. But since the weather today called for mid 50s and maybe some drizzle, I took the risk that I'd be ok with the water and gatorade provided and just packed 4 Hammer gels in a small ziplock and a few salt packets for emergencies. With that I gave Keith a kiss goodbye and headed for the subway.

Subways, ferries, and buses, oh my
Much like the trip to Oz, this was going to be a long and adventurous one. I waited for the subway with a few other runners but didn't make any conversation. That is until a rat ran right across the floor on the platform which started a bit of chatter. As time went on more runners came. We all waited and finally a train came, but it was the number 2. I didn't have my handy iPhone (no way I was bring that because it really was annoying to carry during the half and I wasn't planning to stop to take any pictures anyway since I was focused on achieving my time goal, though I almost brought it at the last minute for fear that I'd need it to find Keith), so I wasn't confident it was going where I needed to go. Some runners did get on it so likely they were locals who knew that it went to the ferry but just in case they were actually taking it someplace else to meet friends before taking another train to the ferry, I dared not get on. We waited quite a bit longer for the 1 train to come and everyone got on that one.

The 6am ferry which I was assigned to was just about to start loading so I was right on time. Turns out they don't even check to see you are on the ferry you are assigned. So lots of 5:30am folks got on this ferry. And in fact even spectators probably could have gotten on, since no one checked. I got on the ferry on the main deck but after that they announced all runners should go to the lower deck. Of course no one listened and since I already had a seat, I stayed put. For most of the ride I didn't chat with anyone. Not that I didn't want to be friendly, just no one else seemed interested. Then one woman I was sitting across from started chatting with me and the man sitting next to her. She was probably in her early fifties and lives in the northwest US and runs a marathon every month but this was her first NY. The man sitting next to her was from Pennsylvania and probably in his mid forties and had run NY a few times. He had recently injured his ankle and was clearly worried about this race so his goal was just to finish this year. I chatted with them on the ferry and then on the bus that took us from the ferry to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island where the race start was. They were in different start villages (I was blue, they were green I think) so I knew I would probably not see them again and wished them luck as I made my way over to the port a potties for my first stop. I never did get their names but it was nice to have people to talk to on the way there.

Fort Wadsworth - Welcome to Beautiful Staten Island
The line to get into Fort Wadsworth was long but moving as security checked numbers and bags for those who didn't follow directions and used a bag other than the clear bag provided to us at the expo. I chatted a bit with some folks in the line including a girl who had run the race a few times and an older gentleman who noted my race number and was aware I was in the wave 1 start so he commented I must be fast. I told them the story of the error made by the website staff where they put my half marathon time (1:36) as my time for a marathon and I was worried that if they didn't fix that in time it would be me and the Kenyans on the starting line and I'd either get trampled or carried away in the crowd to a good head start. I also spoke with a German woman who was running for the first time. But alas all these folks were in different villages too, so I was on my own again, heading to the blue start village. I was glad that Pauline and I, while in different waves, were in the same blue village. We agreed to try to meet if we could by the first aid tent in that village hoping that first aid would not be crowded, at least not prior to the race!

I can definitely say I was very confused on where to go, and so were other folks who wandered aimlessly. I had to ask several times after getting incorrect info and finally was pointed in the direction of the first aid area. As I was heading over there I heard someone shout my name, and it was Pauline. She was camped out on the ground and had already made some friends (she always does!) who she was chatting with. I can't believe in a sea of over 40000 people she spotted me! We weren't even by the first aid tent, which she had never found. We sat and chatted with a woman from Florida who had run the race before. Pauline took some pictures and Facebooked since she decided to bring her phone in the end. I headed to the port a potty a few more times and also got some hot water to make my instant oatmeal. I also had my second banana. It was so nice to pass the time chatting with Pauline and the woman from Florida (didn't get her name either). Before I knew it they were announcing the corrals were now open for the wave 1 start. I headed over there, saying goodbye and good luck to Pauline who was in wave 3 so she still had some time to wait.

The corrals
I got to my corral (corral E, so the 5th one back) and of course stopped at the port a potty again. Then I sat on the curb and organized my remaining supplies that I'd eventually be leaving behind. I put on some Biofreeze on my knee and calves that Pauline gave me since my Aspercreme had already worn off. And I took some extra strength Tylenol also preventative for the knee. I ate a Powerbar and finished my Gatorade. Then another potty stop (yes, I know, lots of potty stops, but I always get nervous) and removal of my first layer of clothing, an old LL Bean out of style men's fleece pullover. I've had it for years and it's very warm and cozy but not very cool and rides up when you run so it's not very practical for running either. I had an old mock turtleneck underneath. I was never cold at all while waiting for the race so I did a pretty good job of planning my wardrobe. I was really still uncomfortable with tossing the clothes and garbage aside but after being assured by the corral marshalls (now there is a tough job I'd never volunteer for!) that there were no receptacles but that it was fine to just leave things there and it would be picked up I did so. A guy who was sitting on the ground asked if he could have it to sit on and gave it to him and used the old out of style Old Navy jacket I had been carrying around to sit on myself. About 20 minutes before the start folks started to stand up, so at that time I removed my sweat pants (probably should have done that when I was sitting down in retrospect) and waited. I kept only my mock turtle neck and old fleece gloves on. I'd bought some at Walmart for $3 a few days before, but decided in the end they were better than the old gloves I had so kept them and used the old ones to eventually toss.

Wave 1 start
As wave 1 was called to begin moving up, the ropes separating the corrals were removed. There was lots of commotion outside the corrals as people who were late to arrive were now being kept out of the wave 1 start and told they had to wait for wave 2. As you can imagine they were really upset and some confused because they didn't speak English. I remember this poor guy just repeating over and over "wave 1! wave 1!" in a very thick French accent. There was a lot of pushing and shoving to get in, some hopped the fence, some went under. Others never did get in and just waited for wave 2. I really felt bad for the corral marshalls at that point, it was getting dangerous and they were just trying to do their jobs. But in a way I felt a bit bad for those trying to get in, because while they were late and I am guessing it was announced the corrals were closing that either they didn't hear or ignored (announcements were in all languages), that was probably a bad start to what was supposed to be an exciting day.

I took one more sip of water and asked someone next to me to pass the bottle over to the side so no one tripped on it. Of course others weren't always as concerned and there were clothes and water bottles everywhere in the road, so you had to be really careful moving towards the starting line. Two odd things happened at that point. A young guy saw me getting rid of the water and asked if he could have the rest because he was thirsty. Yuck! I am healthy but how does he know that. No way would I ever do that! And the second thing was a clown (yes, a clown) from France I think, asked if I'd hold his wig and hat while he took his sweatshirt off. Weird. I think it's funny that folks run dressed up (I saw Elvis at the start too) but I have no idea how you can run a marathon like that! At about 15 minutes to go we were starting to move toward the bridge. I was able to jog a bit despite the crowd which felt good. Once we were more out in the open beyond the protection of the corral it began to feel a bit chilly but I took my turtleneck off at this point and asked someone to pass it over to the side. Then all that remained was my gloves and my ziplock baggie with my gels and salt. I was glad to have lightened the load and not have brought my fuel belt.

Verrazano Narrows Bridge
I don't recall the order but brief words were said by Mayor Bloomberg, Mary Wittenberg President of the NYRR, and one of the elite men (Abdi I think). I couldn't see from where I was but could hear well. The elite men were led out by some local kids. The national anthem was sung by a female fire fighter and with that the cannon sounded. During all this an older guy with an NYPD single on asked me what my goal was and I conservatively said minimum 4 hrs but I wanted to BQ and needed 3:50. He mentioned I think somewhere around 3:10 or so and I got the feeling he thought I was too slow to be starting at the same spot as him. Hmmm!

It took only about 2 minutes or so to reach the starting line, so not bad at all. And once there I really was able to get moving right away. I had heard the bridge was uphill for the first mile so I planned to start slow, say around 8:30. I stuck near the right side of the bridge, but was careful to stay clear of the peeing guys and the picture takers near the sidewalk. I kind of had to go to the bathroom and that didn't help. I was jealous of the men at that point but I'd suspect I'd have some stage fright even if I were a guy and able to pee standing up. Bottom line, I'd have to be very desperate to take a potty break at this point so I tried not to think about it and figured I'd try to wait until the race was over knowing usually the feeling would pass after a while.

There were people everywhere but I was still able to move along at the pace I wanted to run without much weaving. Helicopters were flying by likely taking video footage and pictures. The first mile was much easier than I thought and I didn't feel it was a hill at all. I ran it in 8:08 so faster than planned but not too fast since I felt it was a very comfortable pace. Same with mile 2, it was downhill and my second fastest mile, but again I didn't feel like I was pushing it, it just felt natural. At this point I was over the bridge (the first right of passage into the NYC Maraton) and into Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is the longest leg as far as the boroughs go. I'd be in Brooklyn until the half way mark. The crowds were amazing! Of course it was early in the race and I was in wave 1 which included the elite men, so the crowd was still fresh and excited. Still I was amazed at how loud and continuous the cheering was. They were cheering for everyone, not just their friends and family. Kids were putting their hands out for high fives, bands were playing, it was really inspiring. I spent a lot of time trying to soak it all in and keep an even pace, just trying to settle into one that was comfortable. I turned out that just under 8 min miles was that comfort zone and remained so for much of the race. I didn't plan on that at all. I expected 8:15 maybe 8:20 and then slower on the hills or near the end. But I felt good and comfortable, not like I was pushing too hard at all. If the weather was different or maybe if I'd done something different that morning, it may have turned out different, but it seemed this was the pace I was destined to run. So I just kept saying, with all the other mantras I'd planned and then didn't really use, "run the mile you're in". I'd heard that from someone and for some reason that was what worked. That and "pace, pace, pace" to remind myself to stay where I was and not speed up. I also did use "enjoy the experience" to remind myself to absorb this all because this was what I'd been waiting for.

While I am not familiar at all with Brooklyn you could definitely see the variety in the neighborhoods, but the support was there no matter which neighborhood you were in. At a point, the area became less big city street like, as the neighborhoods before had been, and more brownstone small neighborhood like. I sort of felt like I was on Sesame Street and expected to see Big Bird, Maria, Luis or Oscar cheering us on. :-) The crowd noticeably thinned as we entered the Hasidic community of Williamsburg. There were a few younger folks on the street watching and moms with their kids either on the street or watching from their apartment windows. But many of the older or middle aged men seemed to just be going about their business, as if this whole marathon wasn't actually happening. They only noticed it when they needed to cross the street which they did by darting in and out of the running crowd (which while it wasn't hard to run in, it was pretty well packed where darting into it was not easy). I nearly got run into by one such gentleman, and I commented on his speed in navigating the crowd. It was also shortly after this that someone was handing out tongue depressors with vaseline on them which I took and was happy to have as I was starting to have some chafing on my thighs, despite the vaseline I applied before the race. I really need to look into that body glide!

The next big milestone was on the bridge from Brooklyn into Queens, where the half way point marked a huge milestone in the race. It was the halfway point as well as the end of the 2nd and longest borough. I had only felt tired once during the Brooklyn part of the race and that was between mile 8 and 9 which worried me until I remembered that this was one of the hilly parts of the course so it made sense. Still the average for that mile was just over 8 minutes so I was still keeping a good pace. I put all thoughts of calculating a potential finish time out of my head, and instead just focused on "running the mile I was in" and enjoying it. On the Pulaski Bridge over to Queens I passed some people who had slowed down since I was pretty excited to be moving onto the next chapter of the race.

Queens and the 59th St. Bridge
Since only about 2 miles of the race is actually in Queens I don't recall as many details except that we were back to wider city streets and great cheering crowds. I believe this is where there was a helicopter hovering over the middle of the road. Many runners, including me, waved, in case it was a new helicopter. Maybe it was a news copter because my friend Catherine who lives in NJ later posted on my FB page to ask if I was wearing a red shirt and black shorts, which I was but hadn't posted any pre-race pictures of. She said she thought she saw me on a news clip on channel 7. I have since tried to find that clip online without success, so if anyone has it taped, let me know! I also recall in Queens that you could see some of the taller buildings in the distance in Manhattan, a reminder that we were almost to the next phase of the race.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but all along the course the water stops were amazing. So many volunteers handing out Gatorade and water, which were clearly marked and easy to get to. I was definitely at peace with my decision not to bring my fuel belt after the first stop. And they were all just as good as the first one, perfect! I took Gatorade at every stop, only switching to water at those where I'd use my gels (every 5 miles). Then there was one stop that I saw stuff floating in the Gatorade, which of course can't be helped since it's poured so early to be ready for the thousands of runners. But I couldn't bring myself to drink it so I tossed it and had to grab water since I was already past the Gatorade tables and didn't want to back track.

The next milestone on the run, and perhaps the most challenging was the Queensborough Bridge (aka 59th Street Bridge). Now that was a hill. And there were of course no crowds for support on the bridge. Just lots of runners focusing, slowing down and breathing loudly. It was a very serious part of an otherwise fun race. I passed a few runners on that bridge because even thought I went a bit slower I didn't want to lose too much ground. It felt as if it lasted forever, but before the end of the bridge, before rounding the curve to the left onto First Ave in Manhattan (you actually enter Manhattan 2x during the race, once at mile 16 and again after the Bronx) you could hear the roar of the crowd. It was unbelieveable.

Manhattan First Ave
I was excited, but also nervous, to leave the bridge and turn onto First Ave. Keith and his friend Paul were going to try to watch from here so I wondered how I'd ever find them in that crowd. It was the largest crowd yet, several rows deep on both sides of the road (yep, we really should have picked a spot that they'd be in advance or at least a side of the road!). I was nervous about finding them, them finding me and about remembering not to go too fast on First Ave, which was the advice from Bart Yasso. As I rounded the curve and could now actually see the crowd I was shocked and knew there was a good chance I wouldn't see Keith and Paul. I kept running and looking on both sides of the street, for the next 2 miles, but really couldn't do both well so I pretty much stopped looking around mile 18 and returned my focus to running. Again I started to remind myself to run the mile I was in and to not look too far ahead.

First Avenue was a tough spot in the race for me, partly because I was searching through the endless crowd, but also because the soreness in my legs was becoming more obvious, yet not quite painful. Actually my ankles, calves and thighs were kind of sore from the start but that may have been due to not being able to warm up and also pounding only pavement with no dirt which I am used to having for part of my long runs. My mind was also starting to think about the rest of the race ahead. The distance left and the pace I'd need to meet 3:40 or faster. I tried to block that out for as long as I could. It was at mile 18 to 19 that I first looked at my 3:40 pace wristband. I just quickly compared it to the clock time, which I knew was a few minutes off from my chip time. I saw that I had wiggle room by at least a mile, but also knew that anything could happen in those last miles, so tried to return my focus to the pace, to that mile, and to getting to mile 20. Mile 19 goes through Harlem. I recall the crowd was a bit thinner than mile 16 to 18 but there were still folks cheering and waving. Between mile 19 and 20 is the next to last bridge, the Willis Ave Bridge. I honest can't recall if it was this one or the next one that had open lattice work that was covered by brightly colors mats so you wouldn't have to look down into the water below. While the mats helped that, the lattice work still felt like a big steel waffle under my shoes and I was glad to be done with that bridge (whichever one it was) and into the Bronx, the second to last stop on this tour of NYC.

The Bronx
Even less time is spent in the Bronx than was spent in Queens. This part has a lot of twists and turns, which I have to say I kind of liked because it was some variety compared to the long stretch of First Ave that was so challenging for me. Mostly I recall the loud music (something my Eminem may have been playing as we got off the bridge, the people shouting, and I think there was a large video screen somewhere along the way. It is in the Bronx that mile 20 is passed, which is a significant milestone. For most runners it marks the farthest they've run in training. For me, I had done only one run longer, 22 miles, quite some time ago. I had run 20 miles 3 times. I was really excited to reach 20 miles, but still decided maybe I should continue to focus on pace instead of race for a little longer.

I guess I didn't convince myself very well to not speed up, because mile 21 was my fourth fastest mile of the race at 7:38. I recall passing runners at this point because some were hitting the wall and I was speeding up a bit. I caught myself though and slowed down a bit the next mile and also slowed because I was now weaving around those who were walking or had slowed down. I sped up again at mile 23, clocking a 7:31 pace, my third fastest mile. I may not have gone that fast in reality thought since around mile 21 to 23 I noticed my Garmin autopaused for a few seconds here and there, not sure why, maybe the buildings and tree coverage.

Central Park
It was somewhere around mile 22 or 23, just before or shortly after entering Central Park, that I allowed myself to begin calculating potential finish time and realized that not only was 3:50 and a BQ a high probability, as long as nothing catastrophic occurred, but 3:40 was more than reasonable and 3:30 was possible if I could just keep an 8 minute mile pace. I was truly not thinking 3:30 for the entire race since that was my "fast" pace that I didn't expect to achieve. Secretly I had hoped for 3:35 maybe on a really good day, but I'd be happy with 3:40 (I had a dream about 3:42 something a few weeks ago). But I had been doing just under 8 minute miles all along with the exception of the Queensborough Bridge so I set my sights on a 3:30 at that point. I was feeling sore and kind of tired of running but thought there is only a 5K left, I can do a 5K no problem! And then...

Mile 23 to 24...aka THE WALL
I am thankful that this happened much later in the race this time compared to Marine Corp where I'd estimate I got severe leg cramps (quads) around mile 18 to 20. This time it was somewhere between mile 23 and 24 and while my quads hurt it was actually my right calf that started to spasm. It was sudden and painful enough that I acutally stopped short for a brief moment to grab it and actually saw it still moving on its own. All I could think was "oh no, I'd come this far only for things to unravel in the last 2 miles!". And they I thought "no way is that happening, push through it!". It was very painful and I wasn't sure I could even walk much less run but I started talking to myself saying "push through it" and later once it wasn't as painful I kept saying "you got, 3:30 baby". Wonder if any runners or spectators heard and thought I was losing it! At that point I didn't care, I just focused on getting through the last painful miles. This year I have really become a firm believer in mind over matter. I've seen it over and over that when I limited myself to thinking no way could someone like me break a 7 min mile for a 5K, I was holding myself back. Now I am realistic and don't expect to be doing a 6 minute mile 5K but I found that not only was 7 achieveable if I had a good strategy and believed it was possible but sub 6:45 was doable too. So this was no different. I was just going to push through and try to keep as close as possible to that 8 min pace.

The finish
Passing mile 24 was encouraging, but when I got to mile 25 it was even better. I got my pace back close to the 8 min mile goal. Then I knew I could at least make it another mile. Between 24 and 25 I passed one of the Maasai warriors who had been running on the team with Edward Norton. He was walking when I passed but he was almost there so I didn't say anything because every runner knows his or her own body and I was still using all my energy to focus on getting ot the finish. I never did see any of the celebrities on the course. I found out later that they'd finished behind me with Ed Norton being the closest around 20 minutes after me, followed by Anthony Edwards another 20 minutes or so later.

I recall passing each sign near the finish, first the 26 mile mark, which I'd taken a picture at the night before, joking it was just in case I didn't make it back there the next day at the race. Then the 400, 300, 200 and 100 yard signs which were a great help in the uphill finish. I ran as fast as I could and my Garmin showed a 7:09 pace, the fastest pace in the entire race. I was just trying to get done and trying to beat the clock to 3:30 since I wasn't sure how accurate my Garmin was due to it autopausing twice and I wasn't sure exactly how far I was between chip and clock time. So I thought if the clock still said 3:30 when I passed the finish, then the chip would certainly be under 3:30. When I crossed the finish, the clock read 3:30 and change and my Garmin was 3:27 something (just short of 3:28 actually once I looked at the details later). So I was confident I'd met the 3:30 goal I'd set back at mile 22/23. The official time turned out to be 3:28:25. And it was kind of ironic that right as I was crossing they were announcing that the 3:30 pace leader was just crossing the line too (I didn't see him, since the finish line was pretty long across), so my thoughts immediately turned to the 3:50 pace leader who a few days prior had urged me to aim for 3:50. While I wasn't cocky enough to have grabbed a 3:30 pace band, I was glad that I had taken the 3:40 one instead and aimed higher and then adjusted the goal once I saw how I felt.

I do need to mention that I also heard being announced right before I finished that Elvis was crossing the finish line. And later I found out that I was also beaten by Winnie the Pooh. That right there is enough to keep you from getting too proud! :-/

Getting out of the park
I was feeling pretty sore and tired after the finish. All the runners where funneled up the West side of the park past the finish near Tavern on the Green, which I had expected and knew would be a slow trek. I hobbled along, got my medal (which has a big 4-0 on it for the 40th running of the race, but maybe I'll wear it on my next birthday too!), took my official race photo, got my heat sheet (space blanket) and goodie bag. I was feeling slightly nauseous but not too bad. I chewed slowly on my bagel and drank my Gatorade which was grape flavor. I notice everyone got a different one so I was just happy not to have orange or lemon-lime! As I continued to walk I kind of wished I had checked a bag with some dry clothes and socks, since my toes were feeling pretty sore and I was kind of cold and soggy. But I knew Keith had my stuff and I'd get to our meeting spot soon so I kept moving. I saw several runners who were ill, couldn't walk, etc. Volunteers were helping them while continuing to congratulate all of us. It was pretty cool. I finally reached a break where there was a park exit and asked a volunteer what street it was and as luck would have it, it was 81st, so I exited.

I noticed right away the crowd of family/friends was pretty thin so I could have had Keith meet me a lot closer than having to now trek all the way to Columbus Ave but as a rookie I didn't know that. But 81st and Columbus was the plan so I continue on, and realized I still hadn't used the bathroom so made a pitstop at a port a potty along 81st. As I exited and turned left to continue towards Columbus I heard my name and turned around. Keith and Paul had just made their way out of the park too, after having watched me go by the 25.5 mile mark. I was glad they didn't pass by me when I was in the potty! I hadn't seen them there cheering for me at mile 25.5 and also never saw them at mile 16 but they said they easily spotted me both times. Must have been that red t-shirt! They congratulated me and we stopped for a few minutes so I could change my shirt and socks and put my sweat pants on and we headed to the subway to get back to Columbus Circle and the hotel.

Dinner at Il Melograno...again
Keith was supposed to fly out that evening so he was going to leave for the airport around 3:30. However he decided to stay (I'd like to think it was because he wanted to hang with me but the promise of good sake and another fine meal in the city with friends may have also played a small role!). I showered, snacked on some tempura in the sushi bar at the hotel and tried to take a short nap which really turned into me Facebooking instead. Then Keith, Paul, Paul's wife Christy and I headed to Il Melograno for some post race carb reloading. We actually walked because getting a cab proved challenging. And walking was probably the best thing for me anyway, so that things just didn't stiffen up. I was sore but felt ok. We had another fine meal and returned to the hotel for an early bedtime. Even the Yankees game didn't encourage us to stay awake.

Marathon Monday
I woke up between 6:30 and 7 and couldn't get back to sleep. I checked email and FB to see how everyone did in the City of Oaks races in Raleigh. I also went on the Boston Marathon website on my iPhone just to check it out since other than checking the qualifying times I hadn't really looked into it since I wasn't sure I'd make it in. I was scared into applying right then and there because there was a warning on the homepage stating that the race was filling fast and I could picture how I'd feel if I did all this only to be turned away from Boston because it was filled.

Keith left around 8:30 am to catch his 11:30 flight. I got up and started packing and getting dressed and then called to see if I could get an earlier flight as well since mine was 7:30pm. I wanted still some time to check out the Marathon Monday store at Tavern on the Green but wanted to get home at a decent hour. I was able to get a 2:45 flight, which was perfect. I got to chat with Pauline finally and heard about how she did (4:24 for her first marathon, wah hoo!) and also heard that she spotted "that bald dude from ER" eating breakfast and reading the NY Times at her hotel. Too funny!

I left the hotel and walked up to the finish line area in the park. They were disassembling the finish line area and bleachers and the 26 mile banner was take down just as I was passing by. I also got to see some kids from a local elementary school having their own "marathon" in the park. It was so cute, they had official t-shirts and race bibs and the teachers and parents were there to cheer them on. I also cheered for them as they passed. Once I got to Tavern on the Green I decided the lines were WAY too long to get into the store and just not worth it. I had a few marathon logo things by now and I figured I could buy more online if I wanted. So I kept going and found a Starbucks to get breakfast and to try to find a NY Times since they were to print the names of all who finished under 4:30. The paper at Starbucks didn't have the marathon insert though so I walked back to the park area and decided to keep walking around the park since I'd never done that. I didn't feel like taking the subway anywhere in particular so just strolled the park, saw the skating rink, carousel, playground, and made a second attempt at the marathon store but the line was still long. So I was off to search for a NY Times when a guy with a bunch of them was standing right outside the park selling them. I verified that it had the marathon section and bought it and headed back to the hotel to check out.

This time I braved the subway and took it to the NJ transit train to the Air Train. I was sore and moved slow with my luggage but was kind of proud of myself to get from the hotel to the airport without any help. I began reading my new book, My Life on the Run, by Bart Yasso, who had signed it for me a few days earlier. I though about this great experience as I was at the airport and was so glad that my journey to start running again this year ended here and ended with an outcome better than I could have imagined. I was happy to be going home to see Owen and Grace and settled on the plane to read my book. It was so good so far that I didn't even notice we had taken off and landed! I hope to continue reading it this weekend.

The results are in
The unofficial results (not sure what will make them official by mid Nov but that's what the website says) according to the website are:
  • 3:28:26 (I received an email from NYC Marathon saying my official time is 3:28:25)
  • 7:58 average pace
  • 4781 of 43475 finishers overall
  • 586 of 15121 women (still can't believe there are so few women compared to men!)
  • 107 of 2509 women 35 to 39
Splits from the website:
  • 5 km 24:17
  • 10 km 48:39
  • 15 km 1:13:22
  • 20 km 1:37:59
  • 13.1 mi 1:43:26
  • 25 km 2:03:13
  • 30 km 2:27:55
  • 35 km 2:52:41
  • 40 km 3:17:38
Oh and some other important stats:
  • Avg temp was 54 F, wind at 5 mph, overcast.
  • Meb Keflezighi won the men's race with Ryan Hall coming 4th, and Derartu Tulu won the women's race with Paula coming in 4th. Meb is the first American man to win since 1982 and Derartu is the first Ethopian woman. If you haven't checked it out on youtube yet, Meb was on David Letterman and did the top 10 things that go through your head while running the NYC Marathon. It's very funny!
  • I think it's also cool that both winners were in their 30s, so there is hope for us old folks!
  • This was the 40th running of the NYC Marathon, which started in 1970, the year I was born, so we are both 40 (almost).
  • Also cool Joan Benoit Samuelson, the winner of the first ever woman's Olympic Marathon in 1984, ran under 2:50 and nearly broke her old record for 50+ year olds (missed by 1 second!).
  • And finally this year's NYC Marathon now holds the record for the most finishers of any marathon ever!
Boston and the future
So I qualifed for Boston, which is what I'd hoped to do. And even better, I qualified even in the 18 to 34 yr old category, so I beat the the fastest female cutoff for the race by over 10 minutes. I was pretty pleased with that. Looking back to January when this all started, I'd never imagined I'd find myself here! So I am now registered and looking into hotels and such. I am looking forward to it and will soon put together my training plan for Boston much like I did for NYC. I have been considering working with a coach once the NYC marathon was over, since I know a few other local runners who are, but I kind of like to do my own thing and running is the one area of live that I can make my own rules, which I kind of like. So maybe I'll look into that after Boston, when I will focus on increasing speed and running shorter races and maybe even some much needed cross training, weight training, and nutrition. I keep wondering how my running might improve if I actually focused on any of that because right now I don't at all (example: I had Halloween candy for lunch the other day!). For right now, the focus in my running life is on Boston and putting together a plan for that, which will include a few upcoming half marathons (Myrtle Beach, Tobacco Road). And then maybe I can take a bit of a break in April before I am onto the next running goals!

NYC Marathon 2009 - Part 2: The day before the race

Staten Island Ferry

Ground Zero

Bart Yasso at the NYC Marathon Expo

Marathon eve fireworks

Mile 26 on marathon eve

Trial run to Staten Island
On Saturday AM, I got up earlier than necessary since I am kind of used to getting up pretty early and don't seem to be able to sleep late very often. I'd usually rather get up and going and then take a nap later in the day. I headed down to the Starbucks next door and the Duane Read to get my chai latte, coffee for Keith, breakfast for me, and some water and gatorade for the race the next day. If you've not been to NY, you really can't go very far without seeing a Starbucks or Duane Read (their version of Walgreens/Rite Aid/CVS). After having our tea and coffee, we headed out for the first stop of the day, our trial run to the Staten Island ferry where I needed to be at 6am on race day. It took a few tries to get the right subway station. We had the W line planned but realized after waiting a bit that was only a weekday stop so switched to the 1 which was the one everyone would probably take on Sunday AM. The station was right across the street from the hotel so that was perfect. We rode to the ferry terminal stop wondering if we'd find the ferry easily. As we emerged from the subway entrance, the huge 5 foot tall letters spelling "Staten Island Ferry" were a tip off that perhaps the trial run wasn't really needed after all! We walked in, stood there for 5 seconds and said, yep, this is the right place, and then went to get back on the subway. Still I did feel better knowing I'd know where to go the next morning.

Ground Zero
We decided to stop at the World Trade Center site since it was close by. Keith had not been there post 9/11. It was wonderful to see the progress being made there but still such a sad reminder of that September day that started out like any other September day but ended so tragically. So many out of towners, particularly from other countries, were in the city for the race that it was a big tourist spot that day. We walked over to the WTC PATH station where you can get a good view between the fence of the enormous hole that was the footprint of the Twin Towers (as I'd always known them) that is still visible despite all the ongoing construction.

Lunch at Jane
We decided to head into the Village for lunch and using his handy dandy Urbanspoon app Keith found a great place called Jane. Despite the line outside and a crowd inside, we were seated right away since it was easy to squeeze in a table for 2. We started with an appetizer of goat cheese and carmelized onion on flatbread, which was yummy. Again I opted for a pasta entree, this time a pumpkin ravioli with sage sauce which was awesome and not all sweet and nutmegy like many places do their pumpkin ravioli. After lunch I convinced Keith to pop over to the expo again so we took a cab to the Jacob Javitz center since I wanted to get some of those arm warmers in case it was chilly the next day.

Expo, Day 2
I fully expected the crowd today to be even worse than Friday but to my surprise it was noticeably thinner. I guess most folks had already picked up their numbers and certainly had done a lot of shopping prior to us getting there because the once crowded Asics store was now pretty well picked over. In fact they only had bright blue arm warmers left, no black. Keith asked if I wanted to be warm or fashionable? Well, fashionable of course. I was wearing black shorts and a red shirt tomorrow so no way was I wearing blue arm warmers! Plus I wasn't fully sold on them anyway so wanted some cheaper black ones and while they had other brands that would have matched, I was not willing to pay $25 or more for them. So I dismissed that idea but did get the cool gloves I saw that had one borough on each finger. Of course now I am thinking as I write this, I wonder which borough got the middle one! I'd have to guess the Bronx because they had the more colorful signs during the race (quitting is not an "f'ing" option said one sign along the course...they do know how to cheer you on!) but likely it's Queens since they are the 3rd borough you go through. I didn't wear these gloves for the race since I was aiming for more disposable stuff, but kept them for my cold weather runs coming up all too soon in Raleigh.

Famous running folks
We walked around the expo a bit, still searching for cheap arm warmers that I never found. But I did spot Bart Yasso, Grete Waitz, and Deena Kastor, all signing books and/or giving autographs. The line for seeing Grete was closed since she had to leave and I felt guilty getting on line to speak to Deena since I really was more of a Paula Radcliffe fan. But when I saw Bart Yasso, I had to stop by. He was at the Runner's World booth since he is their "Chief Running Officer". I had seen a few video clips earlier in the week on the Runner's World website where he offered tips for packing for a race, calming pre-race nerves and tips for the NYC Marathon. The one I recalled most was "don't get so excited after leaving the bridge onto First Ave that you start going too fast, because you still have 10 miles to go". I asked Keith to take my picture with Bart and told him I appreciated his video tips. And in the end I definitely remembered that one during the race. I also purchased his book for $15 because I am always up for a good running book and also felt cheesy for taking a picture and then not buying it. I am glad I did because it's very entertaining so far. After this we left the expo, feeling that a nap was in order. On the way back we stopped over on Columbus Ave and 81st (one block over from where I expected to exit the park after the race) to choose an EXACT spot we should meet after the race. I learned from the Marine Corp Marathon that it's frustrating wandering around for a long time searching after you've just run a marathon, so you can't be too specific. We picked a bike shop near the corner of 81st and Columbus, right by the Specialized sign (the brand of bike Keith favors). Then we headed back to the hotel so we could rest a bit before dinner.

My kingdom for a banana
Before going up to the room, we decided to stop to try to get the last remaining thing needed for the race...bananas. My god, how many stores and lines do we need to navigate to get a darn banana in the city! I bet going to the Central Park zoo and wrestling one from a monkey would have been faster and easier (ok, actually I don't know if they even have monkeys there but still!). We made the classic rookie mistake of thinking going to Whole Foods (or any food store for that matter) just before dinner time just to buy a few bananas for pre-race breakfast would be a quick stop. Oatmeal and bananas have been a standard for race days for me for a few months after hearing they worked for some running friends. So I had to get bananas. We ran into Whole Foods (in the basement level of a shopping mall in Columbus Circle) and got them and proceeded to check out. To our amazement we realized that the line snaked around the entire store! We promptly put the bananas back and decided to try someplace else after dinner.

Dinner at Topaz
After literally 3 straight days of pasta for lunch and dinner I felt I needed some variety and a bit of protein. There was a nice sushi place in the lobby of our hotel but I was not about to risk potential bad raw fish on race eve! Also needed to avoid something too spicy, but ultimately I agreed to the thai place that Keith found on Urbanspoon called Topaz. We ordered some satay for an appetizer and I didn't get any wine but took a few small sips of Keith's beer. I ordered a noodle dish with chicken so while it was still pasta-like it was at least some variety. I ordered it not spicy and it was actually a bit spicy but really tasted great. We had this along with some sticky rice. It really hit the spot. This was another not fancy local place with great cheap food. I was amused however at the bartender and chef doing shots behind the bar and the waiter sipping beer from a glass he had stashed on a shelf behind a small curtain. Glad we ate early because I wonder what the impact of that drinking was on the quality of the food and service for those dining later in the evening.

Fireworks and nighty night
After dinner we headed over to Central Park as it started to drizzle to watch the fireworks display which was party of the marathon eve celebration. They were pretty cool and we could see them from around the mile 26 mark so didn't need to go all the way over to the finish line where the crowds were. We got back to the hotel pretty early and I spent lots of time laying out my clothes and stuff to bring to the race and for Keith to bring with him in my backpack for post-race. This included pinning my race number on, putting my timing device on my shoe, making the final call on clothes to wear and clothes I'd use to keep warm until the race started and then would toss (they collect them and give them to the needy), packing the clothes and other stuff Keith would bring, and figuring out the food I'd bring for the morning and what I'd eat before leaving. I was still undecided about the fuel belt so I put that in my bag thinking I'd bring it. After a lot of time spent doing this pre-race packing ritual that was more extreme for this race due to the fact that I'd be spending 3.5 hrs waiting around before the start, I took a shower and got ready for bed. We called Gran and Pop Pop, who were taking care of the kids at our place, to see how trick or treating went and they said it went well and the kids were already in bed. We had already talked to the kids earlier in the day and Owen wished me luck and said "I hope you win!". The Yankees game was on and I read a bit of my new Bart Yasso book, but decided to put that down for fear I'd stay up too late reading. Keith stayed up watching the game a bit and I turned over and tried to get to sleep around 9pm (after turning the clock back!), knowing I'd have trouble doing that and that the alarm would go off at 4am.

I can say that while I did sleep it wasn't a very sound sleep and I vividly recall dreaming that I missed the wave 1 start and then was about to also be late for the wave 2 start when I woke up and realized it was just a dream!

Stay tuned for the next blog post titled NYC Marathon 2009 - Part 3: Race day and beyond.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NYC Marathon 2009 - Part 1: The history and arrival in NYC

Anthony Edwards at the NYC Marathon Expo

Columbus Circle

This is it!
Not to steal the title of the new Michael Jackson film, but all I could think about when arriving in NYC was "This is it!". This is the goal I set for myself early this year and now the big day is here. I originally was thinking, as I sat at my laptop on a cold January 1st, that this year I'd get back to running, and this year maybe I'd even run a half marathon by the end of the year. Then somewhere along the way, I can't remember exactly the date, I decided since I'd be turning 40 next year and since it had been 10 yrs since I had run my last (and only) marathon and since I didn't break 4 hrs in that one like I'd hoped and since I may not have this chance again, perhaps I should aim higher and do a marathon. I joined the Raleigh Trail Runners in February, which I am very thankful for since I couldn't have gotten so far without them, so I am sure it was shortly after that when I decided to finally register for a marathon. I considered OBX, Raleigh, Richmond and the NYC Marathon but ultimately decided if I was going to do it and may only do it once more, I should do NYC since I really love NY and it's one I've always wanted to do ever since I went to watch a friend of a friend run it in 1993.

My history with the NYC Marathon
I had actually entered the NYC Marathon lottery in 2000, the year after I ran Marine Corp, and got in right away, but postponed my entry to the next year since Keith and I were getting married that fall. Then in 2001 I took a new job and was unable to put the training time in, as was obvious by a pretty poor and painful performance in the Manhattan Half Marathon, which I was at least smart enough to pay attention to, so I dropped out from running the marathon that year too. After that I ran only one local race in 2002 and then we bought a house in early 2003, had Owen in 2004, moved to North Carolina and took a new job in 2005, had Grace in 2006, and took another new job in 2007. You get the idea. So I hadn't run a race at all, let alone a marathon, since 2002. In 2008, with little training but a bit of running on weekends with Owen or Grace in the jogging stroller and a few times a week at lunch time, I decided to run a local race. The first was the Second Empire 5K, selected because it was sponsored by a nice restaurant, and then later the Jingle Bell 5K, because I got to run with bells on my shoes and a Santa hat! I did respectable in both so this got me thinking about getting back to running more seriously now that the kids were a bit older. So that is what brought me to that January 1st where I planned out several races and a training schedule which I then modified after deciding to enter the NYC Marathon.

Leading up to the race
In the weeks leading up to the race, my knee (classic textbook case of runners knee) was starting to bother me again. But as usual it didn't seem to impact me in races. Not sure if that is due to the adrenline or extra strength tylenol or luck or a combination. But I could only hope that the same would hold true for the marathon. I really cut back on the miles and days I was running, much sooner and more drastically than planned because I was afraid of not being able to run the race if I didn't. But doing that really impacted my confidence at times since I feared I cut back to much too soon and would not be ready. Time would tell, either I was ready or I wasn't, too late now!

Hopes and mantras
In my last blog post, for the Run for Healthier Babies, I ended that post with some hopes for the upcoming marathon. I also wrote down some mantras, since I read that that is what the pros do to get them through and I needed all the help I could get. Some of those were:

  • 22 pace, 4.2 race (I know that should be 20 race, 6.2 pace, but I was being conservative!)
  • Inspired, no fear
  • Respect the distance
  • Enjoy the experience
  • Feel good!
  • This is it!
  • Owen and Gracie (Paula uses her daughters name so thought that may work for me!)
  • You've already done this 4 times (ok well not really, the training was 3 20 milers and 1 22 miler, but close)
  • BQ!

I tried to repeat these to myself even leading up to the race and also reminded myself of what my hopes were by re-reading them in the days leading up to the race. I mainly thought about just keeping the negative and doubtful thoughts out and keeping my thoughts on just enjoying this experience and enjoying the sights at every mile.

Arriving in NYC
I arrived in Newark NJ early on Friday. I was able to figure out the Air Train and NJ Transit to successfully get into NYC, but then chickened out of taking the subway with my luggage for fear I'd end up in the wrong place. I walked a few blocks and then was able to get a cab. I just LOVE that you can look at a GPS map in the back seat these days and also that you can just swipe your card in that same contraption in the back seat and just pick a 15, 20 or 25% tip. How awesome is that, so easy. I got to the hotel pretty early so they didn't yet have a room ready. So after some quick (too quick as you'll read shortly) moving around of stuff from my luggage to my backpack I stored my larger bag at the hotel and headed out with my backpack with some essentials to find the official bus to the expo at the Jacob Javitz center. I found it pretty easily and there was a bus right there waiting that I was able to get on. Good thing it was one of the first buses heading over that day and the first stop, since it got very crowded as we moved along the hotel pick up route and others were turned away to wait for the next buses. I was surprised at the variety of languages being spoken on the bus, this was truly an international event!

The Expo
I texted and called Pauline to determine when/where to meet up at the expo. Her bus from her hotel was stuck in traffic so I navigated the expo alone for a bit before she arrived. I was able to pretty quickly get my number (9258), goody bag, and t-shirt (runs big but it's very cool). Then I entered the Asics Marathon store, which you have to pass through (conveniently) to get into the rest of the expo. It was pretty overwhelming. All the merchandise and people, mostly all speaking foreign languages which I was still amazed at (had heard it was an international event but didn't realize how much), combined with it being pretty warm in there and my backpack getting heavy, made me feel a bit like perhaps I should have skipped the expo on this first day.

Pauline arrives!
I wandered a bit looking at clothing until Pauline arrived. She is a bundle of energy so I felt less stressed when she got there (thanks Pauline!). She got her number, shirt, etc and we walked around. She found a few things she wanted to buy and I decided to get a pricey but very soft hoody with the NYC Marathon logo on it. Then we entered the rest of the expo. We talked to folks hosting other marathons (Edinburgh - guy in a kilt, Comrades - 56 mile race...no way!, and the Disney Princess - got a free crown which Pauline wore for the rest of the expo trip and even forgot she had on when we had lunch at a local diner...luckily Halloween was just around the corner and it's NYC so no one thought it was strange at all!).

Pace group guy pisses me off
We also got some information on other things we were interested in. Pauline checked out the finishers plaques while I asked about how the pace groups worked. I went up to the guys at the pace booth to ask about it. I told one of the guys what my half marathon time was (1:36), what I put on the application for my predicted time (3:40) and what I needed to BQ (3:50). I said that I was not too sure what pace group I should aim for but I didn't specify which ones I was trying to decide between. Immediately without hesitation he told me this was a tough course and that he recommended I start out with the 3:50 group which was the one he was leading. I am not sure if it was his tone or if I was just reading too much into it, but I was annoyed right away since I wasn't really aiming for 3:50 but instead was hoping for 3:4o so I had some wiggle room to BQ. I walked away, bitched to Pauline about it, and then went back over to the other side of the pace group table to put back the 3:50 pace group band and bib and took one for the 3:40 group. Hmmm, I'll show him! Maybe...

Turned out that in wave 1, blue start to which I was assigned (there are 3 waves starting 20 minutes apart and 3 different color starts in each wave, and I think 7 or 9 corrals in each start in each wave to reduce crowding...sounds complicated but it works!) there were no pace group leaders anyway, at any pace. So I would have had to change colors or waves to run with a pace group from the start or try to find them later. I decided to abandon that idea early on and go it alone, but still took the pace wrist band to wear as a reminder of the goal and also in case I wanted to double check if I was on track (it's like one of those bands they put on you to get into a club or amusement park). I had my Garmin so doubted I'd really need it but took it anyway as a reminder.

My brush with fame
We wandered around a bit more and Pauline bought some of those racing sleeves to cover your arms from the cold for the race. We also took some pictures of each other. I had heard earlier before Pauline arrived an announcement about Runner's World booth and Anthony Edwards but didn't hear the details. So I assumed maybe they were playing a recent spoof video clip that he had done that I had seen online earlier in the week or that they were collecting money for Shoes4Africa, the charity he was running for that is raising money to build a children's hospital in Kenya. I had kept tabs on a few celebs that were running in case I saw any of them. Ed Norton, Alanis Morrisette, and David Blaine were a few others. For those who don't know, Anthony Edwards (aka: that bald dude, as Pauline now fondly refers to him) was on ER (Mark Green) and also in Top Gun (Goose). So maybe not the biggest star around today, but a famous face and all around nice guy none the less, since he was raising money for charity. So I told Pauline that I wanted to check out the Runner's World booth before we left. We finally found it in the middle of the expo and as we approach I saw him, Dr. Mark Green (aka Anthony Edwards, aka that bald dude) standing right there, with few people around! I was so excited not really because he was on ER but moreso because I'd seen his spoof video (pretty funny, all about pretending training for the marathon was really just an acting gig) and knew he'd be running the race and now to actually get to meet him was pretty cool. I asked Pauline to take a picture with my iPhone if he let us. He agreed (poor guy, bet he was hating life after a few hours of that at the expo) and was very nice. He asked if we'd donate to Shoes4Africa, which we did. And we signed the notebook they had because the promise is that anyone who donates, no matter how much or how little, will have their name somewhere on the building. Pretty neat. As we walked away I was really excited and immediately posted the picture to my Facebook page and as we walked away Pauline said "who was that guy, he just looks like some regular bald dude"! Pauline you are so funny!

Lunch and the Ann Taylor/Gap fiasco
We decided to leave the expo (it was getting crazy crowded and we were starving) and take a cab to the house of a friend of Pauline's sister who said she could use her place to get changed. We ate lunch at a diner nearby and carb loaded. Then we went to change and I discovered the reason why it's not good to move clothes around last minute from one bag to another. I had all my stuff except for my running shorts! Thus began the desperate search for a place nearby to purchase some so we could go on our short jog around Central Park. First I though maybe I'd head back to my hotel to grab my shorts but then thought that would take too much time so we went on a quest to buy some. Afterall how hard could it be in NYC to find shorts. HA! We stopped at the closest clothing store, Ann Taylor. Yes, a long shot but thought they'd at least have some PJ type shorts or tights I could get by with. And they did have tights but they were too big so we asked the girl to look for a smaller size in the back. 15 minutes, and I kid you not at least literally 15 minutes, and she never returned, so we left. Then we trekked farther down the street and found a Gap. They did have some stretch capri workout pants, which were $40! But I was desperate so after waiting on a crazy long line (forgot about those long lines for everything in the NY area!) I got my pants, changed and we were off.

Central Park
We jogged slowly over to the park and ran over to see where the finish line would be and then ran the last mile or so of the marathon course in the opposite direction, along 7th Ave and along the East side of the park up to 5th Ave. We turned around there and ran back to get changed. My knee was feeling sore as we were doing that run, which made me nervous. Still it was pretty cool to see everyone preparing for the race, setting up the finish line area with all the flags of all the participants. After we changed I left Pauline so she could shower and I could go back to check into my hotel. I walked a bit and then took a cab the rest of the way (which turned out to only be a few more blocks left, I felt kind of stupid!).

6 Columbus
The hotel I booked was called 6 Columbus. It wasn't one of the official hotels but like I usually do, I spent a tremendous amount of time mapping out and researching hotels in the area near the finish line because I knew if this was going to be a once in a lifetime experience I wanted to stay near the action and also be closeby in case I didn't feel well after the race. So after hours and probably days of comparing I decided on 6 Columbus which I booked back in early June. The room was small as expected (we booked the cheapest one called a Pod room, so you know going in it won't be spacious) but was actually larger than the rooms in the boutique hotel we'd stayed in on our honey moon in San Francisco, so we were pleased. And best of all, the bathroom floor had heated tile, very cool! I changed, unpacked and just relaxed while I waited for Keith to arrive.

Dinner at Il Melograno
After Keith arrived at the hotel, we headed out pretty quickly to dinner. I usually plan stuff like crazy but actually didn't plan any of the meals for this trip in advance. So Keith went to work on his iPhone using Urbanspoon (I recommend it if you haven't used it). He looked for Italian so I could carb load. He found a small local midtown mom and pop looking place called Il Melograno. My first impression was perhaps it was a bit too mom and pop. We were seated along a bar by the window until a table was ready. It was hot in the restaurant and we were in a tight spot where all the dirty dishes needed to come past us to get to the small back room where they were to be cleaned. The kitchen was all open to the restaurant and there were a few guys working very hard back there but I had some doubts. Of course I forgot that NYC midtown mom and pop is a bit different than Raleigh mom and pop. Not to knock Raleigh because there are a load of great restaurants in Raleigh, but in Manhattan a bad restaurant couldn't survive in this location whereas in Raleigh it may for a while.

We ordered appetizers (mushroom polenta for Keith, salad for me) and fresh pasta entrees (veal ravioli with sage butter cream sauce for Keith, parpadelle with sausage for me). While this isn't a food blog, I can say that everything was amazing! And cheap! I couldn't believe we got a bill for about $90 which included appetizers, dinner, dessert (one for each of us!) and 2 glasses of wine each). Wow!

After dinner we headed back to the hotel since we were pretty tired and rented an in-room movie, Angels and Demons. I read the book and loved it so was looking forward to seeing it. I heard from Keith it was pretty good...I wouldn't know, I fell asleep in the first 15 minutes of the movie!

Stay tuned for the next post, NYC Marathon 2009 - Part 2: The day before the race