Caught on camera @ the TCS NYC Marathon finish line
It will be some time before I can talk about the TCS NYC marathon 2015 without some disappointment and frustration. It can’t help that I have immediate proof of its passing in a pronounced hobble that passes for walking and the accompanying pain it produces. This is by no means a pity party as I was fully aware of what I was facing on Sunday gone, but I am one wont to hope and in this instance it didn’t seem to pay off so well.
Armed with pain meds, a good breakfast, a night of semi-sleep, my eternal optimism and beautiful weather, I felt I was in a more-than-less good place at 9:50 on Sunday morning. My plan had always been to start with the 3:30 pace group and so I did. We took off amid much fanfare to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s New York, over the Verazzano bridge in Staten Island, a beautiful view for those who took the time to enjoy the magic up there. Thousands of us in wave one ran into Brooklyn, the elite and wheelchair participants some distance ahead. It would be fool-hardy to imagine a seamless take-off, even though that was only a fraction of the race at that time. Inevitably what happened was a persistent dodging and weaving among those of us who were trying to keep pace for about 4 miles while pushing harder to make up for lost time. Around mile 6, I figured to slow down the blistering and unsustainable 7:42 p/mile pace and take the chance of losing the pace team, which I did, and realized I should have done it a whole lot sooner to save myself the angst and energy of weaving through hundreds of runners. For about 10-12 miles of the race we were in Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York and home to the most amazingly diverse mix of people you will ever find anywhere. Brooklynites were on point with their support for every nationality under the marathon sun, they cheered, sang, danced and urged runners on and up 4th Avenue to Atlantic Avenue to Bedford Avenue all the way into Queens. Here we were met by a much smaller crowd but they were by no means any less supportive and did Queens runners proud with their unwavering support and encouragement for all runners. We headed over the Pulaski bridge at around mile 13, the second of the five bridges that make this a tough but essentially scenic, interesting and culturally unique marathon experience that highlights the unique aspects of each of the five boroughs.
Mile 16 presented one of the most challenging aspects of this marathon, the ascent of the Queensboro bridge with no end in sight and also no crowds. It turned out to be the longest, lonliest, most silent segment of the entire 26.2 miles. My knees took such a pounding, I honestly did not recall such an experience the first time around, that they almost seized right up when I greeted some friends a couple miles later on first avenue. On the bright side, it is the most thrilling experience to come out of isolation and be greeted with the roars of applause and chorus of cheers that overtook us as we came off the bridge and entered Manhattan’s first avenue. I greedily sucked it in as I’m sure did the other runners, happy to see the crowds but happier still that we were about 8 miles away from the finish. The support and encouragement in Manhattan is an experience you run for; the endless cheers and giving you are showered with along the way from both the crowds handing out everything from candy to paper towels and volunteers with fuel, sponges, fruit and gels. Losing yourself in the crowd is easy here and for a few I forget my quads that feel like they’re in a vice grip and my ankle that has begun to throb like nobody’s business.
At any other time I would be happy to cross this “little” bridge but on Sunday the Willis Avenue bridge that took us into the Bronx felt more like the hill from hell and I could feel a steady decline in my pace from there on. Up to that point, except for the Queensboro bridge, I had been keeping a steady 8:10/min mile pace and was only slightly removed from my goal but suddenly it was all about not stopping. The goal shifted from finish time 3:30 to just keep moving as the words “Welcome to the Bronx” was sung to us from a jazz player on the bridge. If the Bronx is known for anything, it is for being the birthplace of Hip Hop, so ideally I would have loved to be jiving along to the music and sounds that we were treated to as we ran along, except that I was totally tuned in to my pain by then and all I could manage was a few grimaces and thanks. And, as if I hadn’t been punished enough, there was a final hill – the Madison Avenue bridge – I sincerely hated all bridges at this point and crawled on; my deternination stronger than ever that I would not stop, not even at the water stations. The cheers continued and carried us back to Manhattan and onto the famed Fifth Avenue, which is a key indicator that there was just about four miles to go. Ordinarily, I would be exuberant at being so close but I was too busy trying to connect with the crowd, anything to not think about my ankle, that I almost missed the turn into Central Park for about a mile. My family perked me up a bit coming out of the park and then it was the final stretch of 59th Street, into the park again, and a sudden burst of energy as I touched Trinidad and Tobago’s national flag on my way to the finish line. I made it in just behind James Blake from the Cancer Research Foundation and was totally humbled to share his struggle if only for a moment.
Looking up and seeing the clock somewhere in the vicinity of 1:50 left me feeling mildly surprised as I was convinced I had toiled up 5th Avenue for the better part of one hour; a dead watch and phone did not help. There were numerous thoughts running around in my mind then but more than anything, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment for having run those 26.2 miles, not for myself, but for the children – the cause I ran for. It was that, coupled with the crowds’ encouragement that kept me going when the going was tough. As it is, I do not as yet feel like I have conquered this course; it is for this reason I pledge to do it again. Plus, they say three time’s a charm. I’m counting on it!