Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Own Private Marathon

My Own Private Marathon
Martin Bodek

I wasn't going to let the mere cancellation of the 2012 NYC Marathon (for my opinion on the subject, see here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quora/what-were-the-arguments-a_b_2101149.html) keep me from completing the run I had signed up to do. Not only that, I would wear the exact gear I would have worn to the race, bib, nutrition and all. The only exception would be my headgear. I wear a kipah at the NYC Marathon (and will do so until I go completely bald), but I needed a cap this time so I could wear a headlamp and rear light for illumination in the darkness.

To allay end-of-race safety concerns, the course I plotted would take me ten miles out to West Orange, NJ, ten miles back, and 6 1.02 mile loops around our local park, just .2 miles from home.

I set out at 6:11 AM, into a world enveloped in darkness and cold. Those turned out to be the most accommodating conditions. Also thrown into the mix were wind, storm debris, hills and a very unfamiliar feeling of terrible loneliness.

The first in the list of these conditions were expected. I knew the weather conditions before heading out, knew the hills that were laid out before me, and expected debris everywhere in the aftermath of what Hurrican Sandy had wrought. What I did not expect was the utter isolation I felt almost immediately, during mile 1. The streets were barren of humans. It seemed everyone had squirreled away and tended to everything that was theirs. Home was safe at this time, at least for those who hadn't been turned out so horribly by the storm. There was no one to be seen. It was just me.

Just halfway through the first mile, I noticed a pile of logs at least one story high. The park I was running through was being used as temporary storage for all the fallen trees in my neighborhood. It reminded me of another run I had set out on following a storm where I witnessed much devastation (http://the-martin-chronicles.blogspot.com/2010/03/95-miles-through-apocalypse.html). What was beginning to unfold before me was much worse.

I saw no one for the first two miles. The only cars were just a few passing over me on Route 3 as I ran through the tunnel underneath. Finally in the distance, I saw lights. Ooh, human contact. Somebody I could say good morning to. It was a police car, manning a cordoned-off area surrounding a downed telephone pole that had squashed a car. Police tape everywhere, and right on my marathon route. Time to improvise. I took the first turn I could find, and uh oh, it was straight uphill.

Just after mile 3, the same exact thing happened again. Police tape over an expansive area in my path, detour, uphill. I did not like how this was going. There wasn't even a cop this time. I'd even buy one of them a doughnut and coffee just so I could say hello to somebody.

My route was as planned for the next few miles, but the cold and wind were relentless. The darkness would lift shortly, of course, but the other elements would remain to batter me. I was genuinely surprised at my emotions concerning my isolation. I wanted people. At mile 5, a runner darted past me, glanced at my bib, and carried on. He ran so fast, I didn't even have a chance to say good morning. Oh well.

At mile 5.5 I took my first planned water-fountain break (I had Powerade on my waist) in Edgemont Memorial park, admired the fog rising on the ballfield before me, and welcomed the first rays of the rising sun. It lifted my mood.

Just past mile 6 I encountered another human being, to whom I said good morning. He was drunk, so he responded by belching.

For the next few miles I kept a steady pace as the sun kept rising, but the cold, wind, tree debris, and police-taped zones would not relent. These conditions were dismal, but finally, as I reached West Orange, a man happening by said good morning to me. Ah, a human connection and a simple spark. I was buoyed. I hollered a very enthusiastic good morning in return, and continued on into the harsh elements.

It's the little things that can lift your spirits sometimes. My good morning exchange was followed a half mile later by discovery of another water fountain on my usual route. I was buoyed some more, but constantly teetering in the wind.

At this point, I began my usual marathon nutrition routine, beginning with a gel at mile 9, a salt packet at mile 10 (yes, I take down the whole thing, and yes it tastes horrible), and finally, at mile 11, some runners I could say hello to. The people had finally awoken to the day. Not so fast, though. It was just runners, really, for miles and miles and miles. The rest were still hunkered down.

To bolster my mood and my exploratory appetite, I ran along the route extension I have been planning for my 2013 ultramarathon (For my first, see here:
http://the-martin-chronicles.blogspot.com/2012/10/my-first-ultramarathon-run.html) and found it to be a lovely new stretch (with wide shoulders that my runningmates prefer) that hopefully will not have as much storm debris as I was encountering now. I hit the 13.1 mile mark at 1:52 and was surprised at my relatively good speed. My goal for the NYC Marathon was 1:50 at this point. I wasn't far off at all.

After mile 14, I was faced with a fateful decision: I was now entering Yantacaw Brook Park, a Y-shaped park. The entrance was at the bottom of the Y. At the forking junction was a water fountain. To the left was a downhill portion that led out of the park, which would lead to a slight uphill to enter the next park in the chain. To the right of the fountain was an uphill portion that led directly to that next park. I took a drink at the fountain and decided to go right.

Bad decision.

After so many uphill reroutes, my body had finally had enough of it and didn't want anymore. It objected to my actions and impaired me almost immediately. It may as well have been the cruelly-located Queensboro Bridge. I had a fine first half of a race, but I had taken too much pounding. From here on in it would be maintenance and the going would be even tougher.

I did refresh myself at several water fountains in Brookdale Park, but encountered further uphill reroutes over the next few miles after exiting. Enough already.

At mile 18, exhausted, wind-battered, chilled to the bone and down in the dumps, I pulled in to Nichols Park for a mental and physical break. I found a text from my wife asking me how I was doing. Her question uplifted my spirits. She couldn't have asked at a better time. She's like that. I responded with the following:

"Good, 18 down, phone 32%, 3rd ward loops start in 20 mins, taking 5 min break in Nichols Park."

I refilled my water bottle, breathed deeply, said hello to a fellow walking his dog, and was on my way. By "way" I mean stopping and starting, trying to get going, suffering unbelievable mental fatigue, attempting to re-energize by chomping on my nutrition and just giving it my best despite the conditions.

I hit the park after mile 20 and began my loops. Just before mile 21 I fired off another text to my wife:

"Battery 17%, 5.5 to go."

Round and round I went, walking, running, walking, running, despondent, tired and very, very lonely.

At mile 22.5, after the foot-shuffling began, I sent this text to my wife:

"Walking now, bit beat up, conditions tough, cold, windy, debris everywhere, 3.7 left, phone 7%."

I put my phone on my waist and left it to die. My arms didn't even feel strong enough to lift it up again in case I needed it. There was so little left to go, but it felt like an uncrossable distance because of my fatigue. I put my head down and plowed ahead.

Suddenly in the distance, I heard a familiar noise. Thundersticks? Was that the sound of Thundersticks? Who's doing that at this time? Wait, are those my children? Is that my wife? Oh my gosh, it's them! It's them! They'd come out to cheer me on! Ahaha! I immediately began running again. I was so delirious at their appearance that I yelled to my wife asking if I should stop and say hi to everyone or keep going. She said keep going. Okay, I'll keep going.

Once I was past my family and they were out of view, I resorted to walking again. Once they appeared on the horizon, I began running again. I couldn't not run when they saw me. I would let them down. I couldn't run when I parted with them. It was just impossible. So I did a bit of both when appropriate.

At the second family pass, I gave everyone cheek-pinches.

At the third family pass, my girl and eldest son (my younger son is still stroller-eligibile) ran a short distance with me.

At the fourth and final family pass, my kids joined me to my pretend finish line.

What a thrill to finish with them. The race went from my most brutal marathon ever to absolutely my most thrilling finish. What a joy to be surrounded by my loving family.

My wife then revealed to me that before I spotted them for the first time, I was commencing with my original lonely loops when they approached the park and saw me with my head down. They wanted to be in a better position to surprise me, so they hid behind a large tree as I passed, then hurried into their positions once I was out of view. Too cute.

Incidentally, I was one of thousands of would-be NYC Marathoners who went ahead with their own Run Anyway Marathon, Alternative Marathon and others. I didn't know what to call mine until my wife coined it perfectly: The Makeshift Marathon.

The day after, I lobbied NYRR politely for my marathon medal. Looks like I asked nicely enough, because I now have it in my possession. I earned it.


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