Sunday, November 6, 2011

Watching the Marathon from Another Perspective

Wow. What a weekend. I don’t even know where to begin. Since moving to New York in June, marathon weekend has been circled on my calendar in red ink (proverbially speaking. I use a Google Calendar). I anticipated its awesomeness, but even I could not prepare for how incredibly cool it was.

THE EXPO: I was fortunate that Thursday and Friday were my days off this week. They were also the first two days of the expo which was a quick walk from my apartment. Trekkies have Star Trek conventions. Runner nerds have race expos. Along with Boston, this is Nerd Nirvana. Even though I was not running in the marathon, I went both days. The first day, I went to pick up my packet for the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K. There is nothing more humbling for a runner than going to a marathon expo and picking up a 5k packet. Volunteers say well-intentioned, but infuriating things like, “maybe next year you’ll want to try the marathon.” I made this a quick transaction. After picking up my packet from the small corner of the convention center designated for the 5K runners, I went sight-seeing. Expos have the coolest running gear. Of course, I couldn't purchase many of the items for sale since they said “ING New York Marathon” on them (Running rule: don’t wear gear for a race you didn't run), but there was plenty of other neat things to look at. Kelly, a Charlotte friend, who was working the Timex booth, talked me into buying a brand new watch. I didn't need one, but I couldn’t resist an orange model they had for sale. Kelly’s a pretty stellar triathlete, so she was asked to pace Olympic softball pitcher Jennie Finch, who was running for charity. I got to meet Jennie and tell her about how steep the Queensboro Bridge is. I also got to meet my favorite running blogger Lauren Fleshman, who was preparing for her marathon debut.

The Race (Mine, not the real one): For a number of reasons, I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to run the New York Marathon. But, the 5k the NYRR was putting on the day before seemed like it would be fun and pretty low-key. I expected some sort of “fun run” where people brought their pets and most walked at a brisk pace. My prediction was a little off. NYRR assembled a massive elite field for the race and 10,000 people signed up. Feeling pretty good about my fitness, I thought this might be a good chance to finally have a respectable go at this distance in 2011. When the gun went off, I was just in front of the elite women. I have to admit, looking around and seeing runners like Deena Kastor, Sara Hall and Sally Kipyego running inches from me was pretty cool. I briefly tried to set off on my own, but following a slow first mile (5:24), the pack of fast women quickly reeled me back in. Seeing an opportunity to mooch off their speed, I settled into their groove. It must have been a hilarious sight as we entered Central Park. Spectators got to see a group of some of America’s best female distance runners, NCAA champions, at least one Olympic medalist and me, an idiot with a red sweatband. The pack remained tight through mile 2, a blistering 4:47 through the park. Heading into mile three, Sara Hall and NYAC runner Julie Culley made a move and opened up a gap. I was running stride-for-stride with Lisa Koll, the NCAA record holder in the 10,000 and Shalane Flannagan’s training partner and Kipyego, the Olympic Silver Medalist in the 10,000. With 400 to go, I was able to pull away from Koll and Kipyego away from me. 5:01 for mile 3. I threw I down and just headed for the finish line as fast as I could. My Garmin clicked 15:37 and 3.1, but the official time was 16:07. We must have run terrible tangents. No sub-16 for me this year, but I still had a big smile on my face. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to run in a race of that caliber, with runners of that stature. Following the finish, I spotted Paula Radcliffe and gave an “I’m a huge fan” wave, and chatted with Olympian Lopez Lamong about our shared Syracuse connection. I doubt any of those runners will remember that race as fondly as I will, and I am sure this recap makes me sound like a huge dork, but oh well. When I got home, I was dejected to learn that once again, I had been left out of the race results. I can only assume I have some sort of magnetism that erases chip timers. I’m upset about it, but I am trying not to dwell on it. I have contacted the Road Runners. Maybe they will fix it. In the meantime, Asics posted this video that confirms my story.

The Race (The real one): I have run in four marathons, three of them major, but I have never been a spectator. Working out the logistics of cheering on the runners of the New York Marathon is no easy task. My goal was to kill two birds with one stone. I wanted to get in a long run and see the leaders, then make it back to the grandstand in Central Park for the finish. I measured distances, calculated paces and plotted a route. At 7:45 Sunday morning, I met Meagan and Jordan (in town for official running-related business) and Heidi and we headed toward Brooklyn. We got in a solid 15 miles, running over the Manhattan Bridge to Prospect park and back to mile eight of the course in downtown Brooklyn. There, we saw the lead men and women go by, some of our friends from Charlotte and some of my Urban Athletics teammates. Then, we all hopped the train for Manhattan where we would go our separate ways. I met Lauren outside the park and we made our way to the grandstand where I had managed to land media passes. From there, we watched the top woman, Firehiwat Dado motor across the line in 2:23:15. We saw Geoffrey Mutai smash the course record. We watched wheelchair athletes give it their all as they crested the final hill before the finish line. We saw runners set new PRs, conquer life-long goals, and pour their hearts and souls into those last two-tenths of a mile. It was beautiful and inspiring and after a year away from the event, I couldn’t be more excited to tackle it again.

The Friends: The highlight of this weekend was getting to see so many good friends who were in town to race or cheer. From catching up with Kelly at the expo, to welcoming Theoden to stay at our apartment, to running with Meagan and Jordan, brunching with Katie and Ben, dining with Scott, Meredith, Bob and Allejandro and screaming until my throat hurt for Stephen, Meghan, Mo and Kevin, it’s good to see familiar faces. Everyone raves about Christmastime in New York, but it’s going to have be pretty spectacular to top marathon time in New York.


  1. Love your recap - wish I had made it out to see that crazy 5k! How hilarious it is to picture you with that red headband! Thank you so much for cheering for me - next time I'm in NY we've all got to get together!

  2. As usual...great recap! What a great 5k experience for you...