Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My 19th Marathon Run - and New PR!

My 19th Marathon Run – and New PR!
Martin Bodek

First, the numbers: it was my 15th NYC (guaranteed entry for life!), my 19th marathon (#20 coming up in Brooklyn!), my 180th footrace overall (I’m not even 40 yet!), my fastest marathon ever by 3:55 (but not sub-4. Hear that, Brooklyn?), and I swear, it may have been the most fun I’ve ever had at a race in my life.

Firstly, I was in a big, fat social mood, and the race fed that jones considerably. I have a reputation for being a social creature, but that trait was amplified on race day.

Secondly, I was surrounded by friends everywhere: at the expo, at the race minyan, all the way along the course, and after.

Thirdly, I was feeling the Facebook love. I busted my own “like” records for several posts, including the winner: my outfit getup (which I call my “golem”) with all its accoutrements prepared the night before the race. Every subsequent post and check-in got tons of attention as well.

Fourthly, I was prepared, healthy, and fit. I had a plan, and I had no concerns over its execution.

Fifthly, I was going to see several branches of my family on the course. I love them, and I love seeing them.

Sixthly, it was really good to be back after that wench Sandy brought her havoc and misery, and among her impacts was the cancellation of last year’s race.

Seventhly, as this was going to be my 15th NYC, it would mean, as mentioned, that I now had guaranteed entry for life. I had worked long and hard towards this goal. First, I subjected myself to the lottery, which didn’t work out every time. Then I ran 6 of their races annually for guaranteed entry, then I had to 9, then I had to 9 plus one day of volunteering. Now I need to do nothing but show up. Good thing too, because I wouldn’t be able to tolerate them moving the goalposts again.

For those with short attention spans, here is the basic summary: crowds great, family wonderful, friends everywhere, temperature excellent, wind bad, road surface horrible. Had time of my life.

But you know I have more to say about that, don’t you? I’m more than happy to oblige. We’ll begin with the lead-up to the race, then, to change things up a bit, I won’t report from every mile checkpoint, but rather, from interesting happenstances along the way. I mean, the running itself was kind of monotonous, as I ran a very evenly paced race. It’s the rest that will probably prove interesting, and I’ll probably have more than 26.2 check-ins in the narrative.

T minus 71 hours: I attend the expo, and meet my running idol, Dean Karnazes, and engage with him in a meaningful manner. He allows himself chocolate covered espresso beans as part of an otherwise strict diet, and I had prepared but forgotten them at home, intending to give some to him as a gift. My opener is an apology for leaving the kosher version on my kitchen counter. I have his attention. He asks if I could bring them tomorrow. He is amazed that this would be my 15th, we take some great photos, and I get his John Hancock.

T minus 46 hours: I return the next day as promised and gift Dean with a few versions of the beans. He is delighted. I also give him my JRunners Relay Race book, sign it for him, and invite him to run our relay solo. He asks me a million questions and seemed genuinely interested. I depart in as buoyant a mood as I’ve ever been running into a celebrity I admire.

T minus 14 hours: The golem is setup. 44 likes.

T minus 12 hours: My wife makes me my favorite carb dish. I eat nearly all of it, take a break, and then eat the rest.

3:30 AM: Wakey wakey!

4:47 AM: Outta here. I head out with an accented bunch: a South African lady, a South African gentleman, and a Russian gentleman, with the South African lady’s son serving as driver. I’m telling you, my Brooklyn accent might have been the most pronounced of the troupe.

T minus 5 hours: We arrive at the Meadowlands, where, for the umpteenth year in a row, there is no signage on the highway showing you where the buses are, and but a single sign inside the complex pointing you in the right direction. I’ll have to send another e-mail to NYRR. However, I sit next to Mrs. South Africa and chat at length. It seems she and her family are passionately involved in noble causes, to a man – and woman. Bless them all! It was a pleasure to converse with her

T minus 3 hours: We arrive at Ford Wadsworth. Yes, it took us two hours to get there. We hit the first layer of the new security. Two police cars open like sliding doors to allow our bus entry. When I disembark, I get wanded, because of my Road ID dog tags. After that interlude, I head straight to the marathon minyan, which my JRunners club now stages in partnership with the founder, Peter Berkowsky, US Army Chaplain, ret. This is the minyan’s 30th year. It’s Rosh Chodesh, and we have three minyanim, plus our own dedicated security, and bagels, and coffee, and a porta-potty bank 20 feet away. What more could we ask for? I have no reason to wander anywhere else. Here’s good. I’m staying. Aharon Karov is in attendance. He survived horrors during Operation Cast Lead and has returned five years later to run for Team One Family. I want to give him a hug, but I’m even too awed to approach, feeling insecure about fumbling with my corrosive Hebrew. Standing in his presence is good enough, basking in his positive energy and light.

T minus 2 hours: We take our class photo, and I spend the next two hours schmoozing with my buddies, visiting the porta-potty, gobbling bagels, and relaxing, to the best degree possible. We all then escape to our respective corrals. I’m at mine on time, they admit us a bit late, we all do the slow walk into our positions, and then, on the dot, at:

10:05 AM: P’toom! And we’re off!

Mile -.02: It takes 2:56 to get to the start. My game plan: run down the middle of the course, at a 9:00 minute per mile pace, look forward and down, ignore the urge to survey the creative signs, forget running on the sidelines. All of this is to keep me focused on the task at hand, and to keep to the designated pace.

Mile 0.2: The choppers are behaving differently this year. Usually they’re overhead, but this year they’re on the sides of the bridge, at the same level as the runners. This is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time. I can’t tell if the winds we’re experiencing are of the natural or chopper-driven variety. I spot a man with a t-shirt that says “25 NYC marathons in a row.” I hope to get there one day, even if I have some catching up to do. There are lots of t-shirts concerning cancer; many are Boston Strong; many are running in memory of someone. Did I mention the wind? It’s windy.

Mile 1.0: I complete it in 8:36, and I have to chide myself to go slower! I am not here to run fast, I am here to run steady. I am here to run 9:00s until the end.

Mile 1.2: The sign on my back is starting to get a lot of attention. I have a quote from Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I find it inspiring. For years I wore a sign that said, “If I’m walking, pat my back. Thanks.” But that was a way for others to motivate me in case I was flagging, but I was infinitely more fit this year, and there would be no such thing. This time, I wanted to motivate others, so I found this quote apropos.

Mile 2.0: Ah yes, the pee-ers. Many warnings were issued for people on the lower deck to beware the stream from above. You’d think people would pee a little further down, no?

Mile 3.7: David, my man! I ask how he’s doing. He’s doing great. He asks how I’m doing. I say I’m completely unstressed at this point, and I intend to be this way until the finish. We’re both after our first sub-4:00s.

Mile 3.8: My right hammy gives me a slight twinge. What’s that about? My muscles are fine and my hammy gave me no problems all year! I immediately unwrap a Balance Bar just in case I’m missing a nutrient whose trace absence may have caused that.

Mile 4.2: For some reason, I can’t stomach the whole bar. It is not wise to disagree with one’s tummy on race day, so I toss the remainder over the sidewalk crowd directly into a garbage can, with a perfect “plink-clunk” for effect. A runner behind me says, “Nice shot!” I give her a thumbs up.

Mile 4.7: It’s my very own cheering zone! My mom, aba, sister, niece, and fellow runner Yossi show up for a quick photo op (18 seconds), swig of Powerade (1 second), and half a salt bagel (1 second, grab and go). Thanks, everyone!

Mile 5.2: I spot a cool t-shirt on a girl’s back: “I run because I am awesome.” That’s a pretty neat response to the age-old question.

Mile 6.0: I finally take water, because that’s exactly how I train. Mile 6 is usually my first swig in average-heat conditions. I’m running a perfect race so far, and am actually already two minutes ahead of schedule.

Mile 6.1: At this point, because I have nothing to report for the next two miles, I should mention the signs I’m seeing, though I’m only gazing to the sidelines fleetingly to maintain focus. All of them are either poop jokes, the superfluity of toenails, and commentary about how aspects of the race are better than, um, human relations,. Uninspired nonsense. Back to focusing on the road and the run.

Mile 8.2: We head into the fun, rousing big-band-booming, church-choir gospeling section of Clinton Hill. Earth’s loudest boom box is pumping out “Gangnam Style” at decibel levels that can shatter your eye contacts. People try to do the dance while running. It doesn’t work. I’m one of those people. I have a gel.

Mile 9.7: In Williamsburg, a staff member of mine has positioned himself on the sidewalk with his adorable little daughter parked on a stool. I can spot my guy squinting over me while looking for me. I am actually already shaking his hand furiously when he realizes what’s going on. Too funny. I get a Gatorade swig and ask the little Ms. If she’s a “voile maidele.” Aw, she’s so shy. Cute. As I peel away, my man Eli zips past me. He’s running a carefully paced race as well, and we run together for a bit.

Mile 10.3: At Rutledge and Bedford, I stop to scan for my father, who said he’d be here. After wasting a considerable amount of time not finding him, I remember that he’d be at the Central Park location with my wife and kids. Oops. The bit with Eli lasts till here, because he’s not hanging with me for this unnecessary interlude.

Mile 10.8: Some Hasidic cousins of mine have promised to be here. Ya know, the ones who offered me seltzer and kokosh cake a few years back, God love ‘em? I don’t see them, but that’s because one of ‘em is a girl, who is dolled up today for the occasion, and at the RPM at which I’m currently functioning; I simply cannot recognize her in her unfamiliar state. Her husband is next to her, and if people have trouble divining a specific Hasid in a police-lineup, then how am I supposed to do that while running a marathon? He, in turn, is obscuring my cousin, who I’d recognize no matter what, but my view of her is blocked off. Unfortunate, but interesting. As proof that my cousin was where she was supposed to be, she sent me a twitter pic of her that someone had taken from an apartment across the street. That’s how I have all the information above.

Mile 11.2: As I march through young, loud, BAC. 08 hipster Williamsburg, I begin looking for the Twizzlers guy. Sometimes I find him, sometimes I don’t. As I’m scanning, I bump into another buddy! Aaron! And his merry band of Lubabuddies! I don’t even, at first, exchange pleasantries. I launch right into “Where’s the Twizzlers guy?” before I come to my social senses. We hang for a bit before we hit the water stop at McCarren Park. I’m not stopping this year at water stops. I’m doing the cup-crunch thing. I must maintain the pace, which I’m still doing at this point, three full minutes ahead of schedule.

Mile 13.1: I hit the halfway point on the Pulaski Bridge at 1:54, still three minutes ahead of schedule. I notice a very funny, albeit quite chauvinistic sign: “Hurry home, I’m hungry.” Certainly different!

Mile 14.2: I pass the spot where Chabad of Long Island City usually has a Powerade stop. They don’t this year; instead, they’re fronting a band. That’s nice, but I need my fix. Ah well. I’ll continue having the kosher-this-year-but-watered-down-to-bleh Gatorade on the course.

Mile 14.7: On the approach to the Queensboro Bridge, I spot the drill sergeant who shows up at all NYRR races in Central Park, who runs counter to the runners to cheer them on. I pat him on the shoulder and holler, “Semper Fi!” He yells back, “Awright! Do or die!” That’s exactly what I’m about to do.

Mile 14.8: We turn left, and hit the ramp onto the Queensboro Bridge. We head upwards into the gaping, enveloping, merciless maw of hell. I maintain the same pace; at least I think I’m maintaining the same pace. My GPS watch says otherwise. It says I’m crawling. I don’t want to accelerate because I don’t want to blow up. I don’t want to slow down, because I’ll give away the time I’ve banked. I have no choice but to endure the mile at a snail’s pace. I spot Eli again, muscling and grimacing up the incline, but holding steady. When I finally reach the apex of the bridge, I’ve given back nearly all the time I’ve banked. All because of that damn bridge. I hate this bridge. Even when I run it well, I run it slowly. Feh. It saps my positive energy. When I reach the apex, I want to get off it as fast as possible, but I must maintain pace, must. It’s my mission today. I’m forced to spend another mile going downhill, applying the brakes that I don’t want to. Uch, I hate this bridge. Have I said that?

Mile 16.2: We’re off the bridge. Yay.

Mile 16.3: I thought 1st Avenue was freshly repaved. I was informed incorrectly. It is the gravel-pit it’s always been, and my Vibram Flows are taking more kindly to it than the KSOs that are disastrous on this terrain, but I keep the pace, gingerly. I should mention that this version is also working out at the water stops. My feet are dry even though I’m forced to slosh through reams of discarded cups, rivers of water, and rivulets of Gatorade.

Mile 16.5: I swallow a salt packet, pretty much whole. Yum.

Mile 17.0: I’m slowing down. The bridge did a number on me. It sucked out my life force during the first mile, and then forced me to put on the brakes for a whole mile. I’m not in any pain, but I don’t have the energy I did. Okay, refueling time. A whole cup of Gatorade, another gel, and…

Mile 17.7: …some Powerade and a half bagel from my brother-in-law and cute nephew. My BIL tells me I’m looking good. I might be, I tell him, but I’ve begun slowing down and keeping the pace is a bit harder. I’m still ever-so-slightly ahead of schedule, but I have no room for error, at this point. I then bid them both adieu and I’m on my way.

Mile 17.9: David again! Hayadoin’ again! Same as me! Looks like we’re having the same exact experience. He did excellently until the bridge, and then faltered. Gee, sounds familiar. He pushes ahead; I falter, but enjoy some music from my favorite-named-band on the course: Squirrels from Hell.

Mile 19.0: David again! Same deal again. We’re holding the pace towards our exact-same goal and begin a stretch of hanging with each other to keep ourselves motivated. He mentions all the uphills, which I didn’t notice until this year. It’s true, I realize. When you run an even pace, you get a fuller view of the course, and yes, the uphills are many. Urmf.

Mile 19.4: I spot the “I run because I am awesome” girl. She still is because she still is.

Mile 19.6: We’re on the Willis Avenue Bridge, and four bagpipers, of all people, cross hurriedly in front of us. Of all the Frogger players along the course (there are many today, more than usual), I didn’t expect them.

Mile 20.0: After running nearly a full mile with David, he pulls ahead. I don’t have the energy to keep up. I won’t see him again until the finish, but it was nice running with him at various points.

Mile 20.2: Banana handouts! Yum! This is the spot where I actually slipped on one three years ago and fell. No such mistakes this year. I run gingerly and actually slide a bit on one, but recover quickly. Something needs to be done here. Bananas end up wall-to-wall for a considerable stretch. You can’t escape them. Unmindful runners can end up like I once did, chewing on a faceful of asphalt.

Mile 20.5: An Aussie pats me on the back and says, “Great quote, mate!” Didn’t I say no pats this year? Hm?

Mile 21.2: After the Madison Avenue Bridge takes us into Manhattan, I begin looking for the beer man that has come through for me in the past. I don’t find him where he’s supposed to be, but a fellow runner, Chaim, in possession of the World’s Most Accurate Beer-dar (he can smell a drop of beer in a million drops of water), would find him at mile 23. Ah, shucks.

Mile 21.3: Funny sign: “Take candy! (from a stranger).”

Mile 21.9: I experience my first actual pain of the race, a minor muscle pull across my right thigh. I know its provenance is the forced braking on the Queensboro Bridge, which led to me slowing down, which led to overcompensating, which led me to being off balance, which led me to this. I hate that bridge. It’s all its fault. All of it. No fair. Next year I’m swimming the Hudson under the bridge, and I’ll make NYRR accept my time.

Mile 22.6: Why 22.6? Why not 22.5 as usual for my family stop? Well, you see, I overshoot them completely, and I have to double back. I whip out my phone when I realize my error and call my wife. Spectators don’t like this. They feel you’re ignoring them, so I mumble, “Where’s my family? Where’s my family?” so they’d know what’s going on and not be so peeved at me. A cop standing there says, “Look at this guy.” when I walk past. I also annoy several runners as I walk up the sideline, interfering with their high-fives to the crowd. I find my family though, and am just overjoyed to see them. My wife, three wonderful kids, and my dad are there. Hugs and kisses are distributed with abandon. A professional photographer takes a beautiful, enduring pic of us (I just made it my profile pic on Facebook), and an amateur photographer hits close, instead of the snap button, on my wife’s iPhone. I get a Powerade swig, and another half bagel, and I’m back on the course, energized, and back to my starting pace, which I now hold firmly, to my great pleasure. That’s what my family does for me.

Mile 22.8: Funny sign: “Smile if you peed a little.” It makes me smile. Um, not because I peed a little, but because it’s better than all the poop jokes. The signs are much funnier and more original here than in Brooklyn.

Mile 23.0: Uphill again, and fighting to maintain pace (succeeding!), and never stopping. Even at the water stops. Full steam ahead.

Mile 23.7: Into the park! Reflexively I look for the statue of Fred Lebow. Oh yeah, he’s at the finish line (where they move him annually, then put him back in his spot for the other 364 days of the year).

Mile 25.4: Central Park South. Oh, glory be, the yelling and the screaming is just amazing.

Mile 25.5: Sign: “The end is near.” Ha!

Mile 25.6: Sign: “Go SuperGirl!” I run over and ask if I still qualify for a high five. Yes, I do!

Mile 25.7: Someone screams, “You only have a mile left!” No, doofusbrain, a half mile. Either get the measurement right or walk a half mile down the course to where you can scream the same thing and be right.

Mile 25.8: Into the park again, enervated and energized. Oh gosh, the crowd is awesome here.They must either pay people to scream this way, or the yellingest people in the city make it their business to be here. I hear about 12,000 “Go SuperJew”s (I traditionally wear a magen-davided Superman t-shirt, as if you didn’t know that about me by now) down this small home-stretch. And I. Am. Run-nin’!

Mile 25.9: Go SuperRabbi? Ha! Yeah, I’ve heard that before.

Mile 26.0: Hands up! Woohoo!

Mile 26.1: Smile for the cameras! Woohoo!

Mile 26.2: Finished! PR! I text my wife the news, and boom, there’s my man Elik’s text telling me my official time. 4:04:41, my third straight year of PRing the marathon distance. I actually ran a total of 26.47 miles due to the run-up to the start and overshooting, and doubling back, to my family. No regrets. I’ve gotten better, and when I toe the line at the Brooklyn Marathon, I’ll have had a marathon as a training run two weeks prior. I’m in perfect position.

Mile 26.21: I get a tap on my shoulder. It’s David! I’m shocked to see him! How did I get past him? He’s not perfectly coherent, and he’s in pain. I can see that. He officially finished about a minute behind me. Later, we’d make up to pace each other in Brooklyn, and have friends join us for the last stretch. We’re hoping for sub-4:00 success.

Mile 26.23: I get my medal from the 800-year old lady volunteer I see at all races. I give her the big hug I wanted to give Aharon Karov.

Mile 26.28: People are dropping everywhere like flies. I’m stiff and wobbly, but some people are in mortal agony. Yowtch!

Mile 37.63: They finally let me out of the park. Some “Early Exit” this is! I find my family, distribute further hugs and kisses, escape the city, and I eat a veritable mountain of food until I’m bursting. What a great day, no matter how badly the Queensboro Bridge tried to derail it. #15, #19, #180, PR, in the books. Do or die? Do. Semper do.


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