Posts Tagged 'new york city'

Passport to Race: ING NYC Marathon

by D0nnaTr0y

New York City.

For many artists and intellectuals, the Holy Grail of Cities.

For many runners, NYC’s marathon is no different. Especially to back-of-the-packers like myself who will only see Boston as a spectator or bandit.

For Races in Places, the ING NYC Marathon was not just a Holy Grail, it was our Nemesis. One that has finally been conquered.

We have been trying to run this race for 4 years now. After many mishaps and failed lotteries, 2008 was our year. With much excitement and anticipation we prepared for the race, logging mile after mile and planning with precision the details of our long awaited NYC race weekend. Unfortunately, research of the logistics of the race went undone and we suffered the worse for it.

I realized with this race that I have fallen into a complete state of trust in race directors. I assume everything will be taken care of and I will be entertained for those unaccounted hours between arriving at and starting the race. With races so trendy and big these days, they tend to be spectacles within themselves with bands, fund-raising, even weddings before and after the race. It is quite easy to arrive and be herded around cattle style until the very end when you finally meet, tired but triumphant, with your family and friends. It has gotten to the point that everything is so organized and clearly marked, you really don’t have to think about anything other than your pace, and even then you can opt to just follow a pacer.

While I found the ING NYC Marathon to follow suit, there were some noticeable holes in it’s organization both in the start and finish of the race. Holes that wouldn’t have been a big deal had I done some race research or even used my brain ahead of time.

Fortune seemed in our favor as race morning followed the end of daylight time, granting us an extra hour of sleep. That combined with the late start of the marathon made this race seem immediately more casual and sleep friendly than so many races with start times of 7 AM (or 5 AM in Honolulu). But after a brief discussion with the transportation people at the expo, we were told we were required to take the 6 AM ferry to Staten Island.

That seemed incredibly early considering we were part of the third start wave and weren’t designated to cross the start line until 10:20. Plus, as the Staten Island Ferry is a free service, it didn’t seem necessary for us to ride at a specified time (it wasn’t as if we had to take one of the buses that had a limited number of seats and small window of time to get onto the island before the roads would close). But we complied with the request and drowsily awoke at 4:00 AM in order to get dressed, eat and make our way to the 1 train in order to get to South Ferry in time for the 6 AM ferry ride.

This was fine; our excitement kept us awake for the hour and half commute to the starting area. But our enthusiasm was quickly extinguished as we found ourselves at 7 AM hydrated, fed, and raring to go with more than 3 hours before our start time. I had already been to the bathroom twice but there weren’t even any port-a-potty lines to pass the time in as is my usual pre-race ritual.

And it was cold. COLD. Lower 40s and windy. Thank goodness for the sun that was slowly rising. We had thought ourselves ahead of the game for bringing throw-away sweatshirts so that we would not have to check a bag. But this was certainly folly as my capri-length running pants were no match against the chill and my hands and ears craved gloves and a hat.

We certainly felt foolish as we huddled together on the cold pavement with our luke warm Dunkin‘ Donuts coffee staring at those who were the wiser in heavy coats, pants, even sleeping bags. Idle and bored, I mused on the race hubris that allowed me to believe that after running 5 marathons (NYC was my 6th) I “knew how things worked” and did not put 2 and 2 together that a 6 AM ferry and a 10:20 start time would result in a lot of dead time in between. How foolish of me to not consider that when the weather read 39 degrees as I walked out the door that morning, that I might possibly be cold for all that downtime.

I guess I had assumed it would be taken care of. I’m not sure what I expected but sitting there shivering at 8 AM, I would have given anything for a heat lamp, a tent, and an amateur band covering “Brown Eyed Girl” to help pass the time. I was, however, impressed by the free breakfast of bagels, PowerBars, and coffee or tea. Chalk one up for the race organizers for the food, but minus 10 for no gentle reminder of the downtime and cold to be expected while waiting to run. Though of course, had I exercised some brainpower, I could have come to that conclusion myself.

After many grumbles and walks around the green start to regain feeling in my feet, the announcement finally came that the green start corrals were open. The announcements at the race were pretty cool. They were loud, clear, and in many, many languages.

J and I trudged our way through the crowds to the start passing a stage (was there live music that we missed?) along the way. We prematurely shed our throw-away sweatshirts, which we regretted as soon as we stepped foot on the Verrazano Bridge. The bridge was another unexpected disappointment; while the blue and orange starts ran on top of the bridge, the green starters were forced onto the lower part of the bridge, which was drafty, cold, and completely non picturesque. However, I was so grateful to finally be running that I didn’t care. A mile and some change later we descended the bridge into Bay Bridge, Brooklyn, warmed-up and excited to finally be running the marathon.

The NYC Marathon would be more appropriately titled the Brooklyn and Other Boroughs Marathon; literally half of the course cuts through Brooklyn, and the fans seemed to know it. The first 13 miles by far had the most spectators and cheering spots out of the entire race. The course also passed through vastly different neighborhoods giving out-of-towners a pretty good cross section of the city, including the more suburban Bay Ridge, the grittier Sunset Park, trendy Park Slope and hipster Williamsburg. My favorite part was the mile or so on Lafayette Avenue between beautiful Boerum Hill and Clinton Hill.

We entered Queens in mile 13 and I was starting to feel the dreaded marathon fatigue. There were many spirited spectators in Long Island before we crossed the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan.

Once on 1st Avenue, the energy increased by the sheer number of people that could crowd the sidewalks. Police had to guard the taped off street and the road widened allowing more breathing room. Personally, I was a bit defeated noticing that we were arriving on 59th Street, but had to travel above 125th Street before we could cross into the Bronx. But with the loud, supportive cheering and unending water stops, the blocks flew by and we were soon crossing into the Bronx.

Just like Queens, we were only in the Bronx for about a mile before we we curved back around and headed back into Manhattan, passing through Harlem to get to the park.

Again my lack of research snuck up on me. Throughout my training I had it in my mind that we would run south through Harlem and into Central Park from 110th Street in order to run up the big hill that sits at the top of the park next to Lasker Rink. I then assumed the rest of the race would follow the big loop through the park before ending at Tavern on the Green.

While I was happy not to face a big hill at that point in the race, I was disappointed not to be in the park. But at 90th Street, just one block shy of the famous Guggenheim Museum, my desires were granted as we entered the park and were able to bask in the beauty of New York City in the fall.

The course twisted and turned back out of the park where we returned to 59th Street and approached Columbus Circle before finally heading back into the park and up a slight hill to the finish line.

We gratefully crossed the finish line with the clock over 45 minutes off our chip time, tears in our eyes, muscles praying that this was not just another 1 minute walk break. The entire course was well marked, and the last few miles heavily guarded against non-runners intruding upon the finishers, so I was quite surprised when upon crossing the finish line I had to dodge men with cameras and other random people who cut across the way of the finishers. Any runner knows that when you cross the finish line it is important not to stop right away, but with all the people in the way, I was jerked side to side as if in Times Square on a weekend. Finally I made my way to the volunteers passing out heat blankets and medals, where I had to interrupt a conversation in order to ask for my medal. Tired, hungry and delirious, I was then unsure of where to go next. The road was no longer taped off and in many of NYRR’s races the finisher’s food is further down in the park.

I eventually found the volunteers who where giving out bags full of water, gatorade and food. This was great, but I then found myself again in an inescapable herd of people. Forced to pass by the baggage trucks (guess not checking a bag was not going to save me time in getting out of the crowd), we were then herded about a half a mile through the park before we were able to exit at 77th Street. Half a mile is not at all a long distance to marathoners, except for when you have just finished a marathon! Having to walk that unending distance before finally being able to cross Central Park West and sit down on a bench was almost as much torture as having to wait 3 hours in the cold before being able to run!

While the start and finish of the race lacked the finesse of other races, particularly the Rock-N-Roll Half Marathon at Virginia Beach who has it’s finish down to a convenient science, I found this race to be overall well planned and enjoyable. The course is for the most part flat and affords the runner many different views of the city. There’s plenty of entertainment along the way from school bands, to rock bands, to rappers, to cute old men playing accordion. The hydration stops were plentiful and they served Gatorade which is my preferred running drink. The weather was great, and the runners were polite.

I am happy to have finally run my current home town’s marathon and while I have never repeated a marathon, I have already entertained thoughts of doing this one again now that I have an insider’s knowledge of the ING NYC Marathon.

Do you have a race you’d like to review? Email us at racesinplaces@gmail.com
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