Pain of the Five Boroughs, my NYC Marathon
It was late one evening, I can’t even pinpoint an exact day, but a friend of mine was taunting me to enter the lottery for the NYC Marathon. Being somewhat of a country bumpkin, New York City has never been high on my priorities as either a place to visit, let alone a city to run a marathon through. However, the taunting was relentless. So, in the most satirical fashion I registered for this race in the lottery. “I’ve been wanting to run this race for years, but I’ve never gotten in”; “NYC is a chance of a lifetime”; these are the repetitive comments I heard leading up to the day the lottery winners were announced.
Turns out, the only thing bigger than the Marathon itself is the day they notify who got in. I am not joking; my social media feed wouldn’t shut up about it. Being a bit of a pessimist, since I am about as lucky as a three-legged dog in a dog pound, I had no excitement nor anticipation of being drawn. So, when the day came, and everyone was checking their email for notifications I simply brushed it off as another day. Later that afternoon however, I happened to open my email and I had this strange message “congratulating” me. At first, still bathed in absolute pessimism, I was convinced I just got phished by some scam, baiting me into some kind of false flag operation. So, I took a screen shot of the email and sent it to a couple friends, and one of them said “check your bank account”. For those who don’t know, when you register for the lottery there is a little bit of fine print: as soon as your name is drawn, they charge your credit card for the race entry. Mind you, I completely disregarded this warning because what are the odds, right?
Well there it was, a $300 debit on my account. I don’t know if I was more excited that I got drawn, angry, or just sick to my stomach that I just spent $300 on a marathon. In either case, I was in and I thought I would try and make the best of it. As it turns out, 2019 was shaping up to be quite an amazing year. I had a sponsor taking me to Ironman Placid in New York, so it was only fitting that I come back that fall and run New York City. Early in the year, even my training numbers looked amazing. I really had high hopes for the season, and it sure looked like it was going to be one hell of a year.
One hell of a year indeed, everything that could have gone wrong seemed to do so. I went into the season injured but fought through the pain, with so many opportunities hanging in the balance. Early on, despite my injuries, the data looked good and it even looked like I might have a chance at a personal best in my Marathon, then all hell broke loose. I have never been more stressed during a training cycle and it showed. Injury took its toll on me, mentally. Financial stress was also eating me alive. Just the logistics involved of even planning two large races at the opposite end of the country than me, seemed daunting. Plus, as it turns out my home life was dismal at best. It was a perfect storm that defeated me physically, but more so mentally.
Somewhere around summertime, I began adding weight despite some pretty impressive training routines and running data. As the months wore on, the pounds kept packing on. Ironman Placid was a disaster, but I brushed it off as quite an “experience”. Because after all, it was an amazing trip to and from the race, but we will talk more about that later.
Unfortunately, whether physically or mentally, my injuries took their toll about four weeks before the race. Ultimately, I think it was just burnout, but my body basically just shut off during one of my last long runs in my training cycle. I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it home that day; my body was struggling so hard to keep going. As an endurance athlete, this is a concerning moment. I basically had two options as I saw them: 1. Keep training and risk not being able to even show up to the race due to fatigue and or injury or 2: stop training, rest, and hope I could pull a miracle out of my ass on race day. I opted for option two, so I showed up to New York City on what I thought were going to be “fresh legs”.
When I got into town, I was mesmerized by the density of population and the sheer magnitude of the surrounding area. I thought for sure I was going to despise my time there, and I was really beginning to regret having five days to kill during my trip. I was staying at a small Airbnb in Brooklyn that, as it turns out, was a nice location and had somewhat of a small town feel to it.
The subway was super accessible, and I thought I would venture into the city. Having only seen depictions from movies and horror stories from the news, I had no idea what to expect on the subway nor from the City itself. I was shocked to find myself comforted by this odd feeling. I find it hard to describe, but there was this sense of ambiguity of my own existence that would normally make me want to scream. However, in this setting it was oddly comforting to be present, but so invisible at the same time. It intrigued the hell out of me, to be honest. The city was busy, and never seemed to stop, and that was in stark contrast to the sleepy little town that shuts down at 4:30pm most days, that I came from.
Before I knew it, race day was here. I had a blast the first few days, and I had met some surprisingly amazing New Yorkers. I believe that I was most likely the first athlete to show up, out of 50,000 plus runners. I took the NYPD by surprise when I showed up; half of them didn’t know where to send me.
I finally made it to the corral area where volunteers were just setting up a reception area for my category/ heat of runners. Most of them were in shock also, that I showed up at 4:30am to a run a race at 9:40. Again, I found myself having these wonderful and meaningful conversations with strangers of the city. I was quite perplexed by the stigma of New York stereotypes that, at this point, I had yet to see or experience. I simply kept running into these interesting and polite New Yorkers. After hours of conversation and race anticipation it was finally time to run.
“Chance of a lifetime” everyone said to me before the race. If you’ve ever wanted to experience New York City, there is no better way than running the marathon. The entire city shuts down just for you (and the 50,000 plus other athletes), and the city comes to life just to cheer you on. It was a humbling and magnificent experience. I have never seen a race with so many spectators willing and eager to support this mass of strangers that cause a massive inconvenience to all five boroughs. At any given moment I was intoxicated by the City but coming into Central Park was absolutely surreal. A place so well known, as portrayed in literature and Hollywood. Here I was just nonchalantly strolling through it. What a great experience, despite having an absolutely devastating performance. My legs blew up ten miles into the race and I knew I was going to be in for a tough, long day. Fortunately for me though, I met tons of athletes and spectators that kept me moving towards the finish line.
Perhaps the best part of the race, was finding my way home. Which in the planning phase seemed like a logistical nightmare: being stranded in Manhattan during the New York City Marathon. As it turns out, the way home was just as enchanting as the race.
As tired and sore as I was, I wasn’t in the best spirits for sightseeing, but I made a last second decision that would end up being the best part of my trip. I had made a friend the day before the race who lived in Staten Island. I called them and they agreed to pick me up from the ferry. So, all I had to do was find my way via subway to the ferry substation and ride the boat over.
The kindness I experience on that train ride was nothing short of miraculous. If you want to feel like a hero, walk through New York City with your finisher medal. As I stumbled down the stairs a woman, without hesitation, swiped her metro card for me to enter free of charge. I was shocked. I boarded the train and everyone around me was delighted to hear about my experience. It was baffling. I hobbled my way to the ferry, and even met another athlete that was making his way across as well. We delighted in sharing our experience and remaining plans. I wish I could remember his name, but I was fully into post marathon delirium at this point. We both ventured out to the back of the ferry as we set across the water.
I was astonished once again. As the sun set, it lit the city on fire with a kind of wild vibrance that I fail to describe, and my pictures fail to do it justice. As we slowly drifted away from the big city, we crept closer to the statue of liberty, which was now illuminated by spotlight: an image that I will never forget. With the city in a fiery glow, and Liberty standing tall and defiant . . . what an experience, and one hell of a way to end my NYC journey. It was a race of epic proportions and I do have to say that it certainly lived up to the hype. It was, after all, the chance of a lifetime and I enjoyed every minute of the journey. If you have the opportunity to race the New York City Marathon, whether through lottery or qualification, I highly recommend it.