How do I even begin to explain the significance of this race?
10 years ago I was dared to run a marathon by the President of Rolex, Allen Brill (rest in peace). That single dare altered the course of my existence. I mean, I wasn’t stealing cars or on my way to prison, but this created new goals.
Running and triathlon have changed my life for the better. Thanks to running I have countless friends pushing their boundaries in the sport. I coach numerous athletes who continue to impress me. Running… who knew?
I’ve broken 3 hours three other times, but never in the four times I have ran the NYC Marathon.
Abbe’s folks arrived Thursday and so we did what any logical New Yorker would do, we went gallery hopping in Chelsea. It was great as usual although I didn’t run into any old college friends which was odd.
Friday after work we went to Reema’s birthday party in Cobble Hill at Black Forest. It was a great turn out finished with a pasta dinner (carb loading begins).
It was cool and misty rainy day on Saturday. Good! Get it out of your system and let us run rain free please.
Abbe and I made our way to Grand Army Plaza (in Manhattan) to cheer on our friends running in the Dash to the Finish 5K. I saw all of my friends and even got a high five from Bojana. Next up… bib pick up at the Javitz.
This would be marathon 19 and so I think Marathon Expos have gotten played out by now. I enter them as if it’s a Supermarket Sweep… “Where’s my Bib? Okay, got it. Next, the tee-shirt. Cool, thanks lady. Now get me the hell out of here!”
We had lunch with Abbe’s folks plus special guest star Brian H. at Randolph Beer off the Bowery. It was solid fuel. The rest of the afternoon was spent off our feet relaxing at the apartment before our 5:30PM dinner down the block at Paola’s. I opted for the bolognese which has been my pre-race go-to for like 3 years now. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. In bed by 10:30PM…
Why can’t all major races coincide with an event that gives you an extra hour of sleep? Thanks Daylight Savings! So we woke up at 5AM but it was really 6AM to our bodies… piece-o-cake. Abbe and I jetted out of the apartment at 5:45, caught a cab, picked up Meredith and were at the Staten Island Ferry by 6:15. We linked up with Brian and his friend from Germany, Jimmy. We were shooting for the 6:30 ferry but the 6:15 was loading and we had an opportunity to jump on so we did.
I remember gazing out as the sun was coming up and thinking to myself, ‘The Gods are with us today.’
It was a beautiful morning in the mid 40’s and sunny. The day was designed for running and we all felt it as the rising sun blasted into the ferry windows warming us like a beacon of hope.
Entering Fort Wadsworth we said goodbye to Brian and Jimmy as they were Blue Camp and we were Orange. Abbe and I applied sunscreen and ate our pre-race fuel. Mine consisted of 1 banana and some GENUCANN drink mix. I was ready to roll…
After a hug and a kiss Abbe and I parted ways and entered our respective corrals. We had 30 minutes until showtime and I felt great. In my corral I was sipping my GENUCANN and having a fun time people watching. Then the guy next to me started asking questions about the race and you guessed it, we became friends. His name was also Chris. New York Chris meet London Chris.
We had a gorgeous rendition of the National Anthem, I even said to London Chris “Wow, she is good.” Next, Peter Ciacia did his usual race instructions. I’d like to give a special shout out to Peter. Ever since I started racing in New York Peter has been the voice of the NYRR. Every race be it a 5K or a Marathon has been announced by him… “Lead vehicle, do I have clearance on the roadway?” We’re all gonna miss you Peter, happy retirement.
The canon sounded and ‘New York, New York’ started pumping through the speakers. Showtime.
Wow, the Verrazano’s Narrows Bridge is long. Like, 2 miles long. I enjoy it though as all the early explorers like Hank Hudson came right under us through ‘The Narrows’ to discover mighty Manhattan. I tried to take it easy on the uphill and was doing a 7:04 pace, fine. Mile 2 on the other hand I was rocking a 6:12 which was kinda dumb.
I hit Mile 3 in 6:31 which was also a bit too fast, but it felt fine on the legs. I had to pee so bad and in the past that it has destroyed my time so my mind was all over the place as on what to do. So I stopped, but it was gonna be quick, real quick! I was even counting out loud in the porto john… “29, 30, 31, fuck this is now too long.” 40 seconds and I was back on the streets, minor delay.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Brooklyn brings a solid cheer game to the marathon. The bands were totally killing it! I was looking at the bands, grooving and nodding to them in appreciation.
After my bathroom stop my paces started falling into place. I started to hover in the 6:45-6:50 range, which was what I needed to hit for my sub 3 hour race. I normally go out way hard knowing that I will fade out anyway, but my amazing wife Abbe convinced me otherwise.
At Mile 6 I heard, “GO BAKER!!!!!” and as I look across 4th Ave I see Steph and Matt6 cheering! (Great to see you both.)
I was rotating between Gatorade and water every other aid station. I’ve done this many times and it reduces the possibility of getting cramps from ‘course Gatorade’ which can be too concentrated at times.
At Atlantic Avenue I was watching for a bunch of my cousins who live nearby, but that area is so chaotic I knew it might not happen. Blasting right onto Lafayette headed into Fort Greene I checked off ‘Sector One’ which to me is the 4th Avenue stretch.
Miles 8-13 are pretty tight as you wind from Fort Greene to Williamsburg to Greenpoint. I was still somehow holding onto my 6:45ish pace and feeling peppy. I was, however, starting to have those beginning doubts of making my sub3 time. I was having so much fun yelling at the cheering crowds that I told myself I would be okay with an over 3 hour finish, which was partially true.
To take my mind off things, like running, I waited until I saw a super lame quiet cheer squad and I would start this ‘underhand pitch’ move with my arms and yell, “BROOKLYN MAKE SOME NOISE!” After the initial reaction, which was fabulous, I started doing this a lot. In fact so much I was wondering if my fellow runners were getting annoyed with me. Like, ‘Who’s this guy, Mister Cheery McCheererson?’
The stupid Pulaski Bridge reared it’s ugly head at Mile 13. It’s so bland. I knew I had cheer squad in Long Island City though so I kept things moving. Up ahead I noticed a familiar shirtless figure… it was my buddy Rowland! For those new to my really long and drawn out race reports, Rowland is a friend and a training partner. We run the same pace and often find ourselves side by side during marathons.
I approached him and tried to be funny, just hanging to his left for a second, but he knew it was me. We chatted for a bit and he noted that he didn’t think he was going to break 3 at this point. In my head I was kind of thinking the same thing. My legs were starting to hurt (at Mile 13?) and I was doubting myself. I figured I would hang with Rowland and run with him, giving up on my sub3 attempt.
Then, Long Island City happened. As we hit 48th Avenue or Street or whatever, LIC is confusing still, I saw Stephan, Amanda, Vivian, Silas, Leonora and Brad! Amanda was holding out a Redbull which I had requested and so I sped up and grabbed it, sloppily popping it open and chugging a few ounces. As I was rounding the corner I saw Carlos and Heath cheering me on as well! With this added cheer support I lunged ahead and was back on track. Mentally I was like ‘F-Yea, if I’m gonna go for this, let’s push it.’ And so I did.
Miles 15 and 16 were a 7:01 and an 8:04 as it was the notorious Queensboro Bridge, which is a steady incline. This was not my first time dealing with this cold, gothic, lonely place… I knew exactly what to expect and how to deal with her. With my head looking into the distance I plugged along, slowing my heart-rate and pace so I didn’t blow up. I was amping myself up for the descent into mighty Manhattan, one of the pinnacle moments in the race. At the apex of the bridge I let out a yell of triumph, hoping to inspire some fellow runners, but all I received was silence. Was it something I said?
The sound of Manhattan hits you as you are on the bridge making your way down. It’s like the roar of a football stadium, the sound of deafening white noise just waiting for you to arrive. It’s something so epic I will take it with me to the grave.
Welcome to Manhattan.
You are in the center of 1st Avenue, the Mayor of your own Parade and you can lose the run right here in this moment. Get too caught up in all of the excitement and you blow up, leaving nothing for Miles 20-26. And yet… you really need to soak this in and enjoy it as it’s one of the coolest experiences. I took my time and reeled it in a bit (I’ve blown up here in the past). My pace was still holding steady, and it surprised me.
At 93rd Street I saw my Battalion cheer squad… Bobby C, Jill, Jon, Jenn, Kerryn, Cat, Morgan, Gillian, Phil, Bojana and Brian. Next, only a few blocks up I saw Kelly and Beth. Then, it was Bardy and Dana followed by Elizabeth and Juan! Go Upper East Side cheer squad! Great to see all of you.
I really only had half a mile until I hit the Bronx after my last cheer patrol, not bad. Entering I knew Noah would be stalking me somewhere in the hood. Sure enough I saw him at like Mile 21. He chased after me insisting that I break 3 hours. Another huge boost and I was still in the 6:50 pace range.
The day before the race Dougie Dee was texting me some positive vibes and he said something that stuck with me. ‘Coming back over the Madison Avenue Bridge I expect you to be on fire bro.’ Hell yea. I was on fire and I used my Brooklyn tactics to get Manhattan pumped. “Manhattan make some noise!” as I was bombing down the bridge. It felt great! 4 miles to go.
Rounding Marcus Garvey Park I got a huge salute from TMIRCE led by Chris Ho! Then, right after, I see the Gotham City Runners crew cheering me on as well! My pace was in check, but I was still uncertain about my final outcome.
As we neared The Park I knew I had the ever challenging 5th Ave to deal with. It’s a steady incline for around 1.5 miles, yeah it’s a delight. Just like the Queensboro the strategy is to slow down and keep it together. I was running on the far left ‘shaded’ side of 5th and everyone else was on the sunny side. Why?
As we were hitting the top of the hill I saw Uncle Billy, all my cousins, Bojana, Brian, Jenn and many more high fiving me! It pushed my energy as I hit 90th Street and made my way into The Central Park.
Entering The Park truly is like entering my backyard, I know every twist and turn, every landmark. It felt good is my point and I knew I had a few miles to go. As I rounded the turn by the Met hitting the Mile 24 marker with roughly 15 minutes to go I had a freak out moment. 6:50 pace doubled plus 0.2 miles (which is always annoying) would leave no room for error. I needed to dial it up.
I made the decision to drop the hammer and set the course on fire. The sun was blinding and there were people cheering me on, but I don’t remember who as I was so laser focused. Mile 25 was a 6:43, not amazing, but also not slower than my overall pace. Right around Mile 25 I saw my friend Paddy (a fellow runner and theater actor) who jumped out at me on the course making sure I saw him.
As I descended toward Central Park South I really pushed it. I’ve given a lot during a race before, but never at the end of a marathon, so this was new pain territory. I was on overdrive and passing runners left and right, I wanted this sub3, it was attainable, and I wasn’t going to let it slip away. I kept looking at my watch and as I crested 59th Street and turned into Central Park. I had just over 2 minutes to get to the Finish Line. I think the clock said 2:57:55… not a great time.
With the flags of every international runner surrounding me, pushing me on, inspiring me, I ran so hard. I mean, I turned on some kind of fire that I had never tapped into before. I was totally having an out of body experience too, if that makes any sense. My legs were in such pain but my head and heart were fine and I had an amazing amount of energy. As I turned the bend coming in towards Tavern on the Green I couldn’t make out the clock time. I was confused but didn’t care, I pushed harder and harder and as I neared the Finish and the clock read 2:59:16… I had done it, sub3 in NYC. My final mile’s pace was a 6:15 and I was holding back tears. I laughed, “Ha! Yes!” as I kind of looked through everything happening around me and into some blurred reality.
I walked on in a daze and then saw my other friends and training partners D and Brad! We took a few photos after high fiving and hugging, of course.
After the Party it’s the Afterparty
I walked the entire way back to The District on the Upper East. It’s a long story, my plan got sidetracked and I’ll tell you in person one day. I will say this though, I led a number of lost cheer squads over to the course to route on wives, moms and loved ones, so not all was lost.
As I entered The District I was met with a roar of applause from the restaurant, led by my crew already present. I was home. There were so many friends and family there I can’t begin to name them all!
I felt amazing, which isn’t always the case after a marathon. Trevor showed up followed by Abbe and Brian H. Then Brianna and Meredith arrived. Every time a runner entered we erupted in cheer! Man I love this day! Positivity gets injected into you from the time you wake up. We even have a few friends that are signing up to run the race for the first time… Mike! Christophe?
Epic doesn’t even begin to describe the day. All of my friends had amazing races. Abbe ran her second fastest marathon! I’m personally still wrapping my head around everything that transpired.
Thank you so much to all of my friends out there cheering. I relied on you this time and you came through like shining rays of light. This emphasizes what running is, we are one big family out to help push and support each other through our own goals and achievements. You make me proud.
And finally, on a personal note. I’ve been chasing the unobtainable sub3 in New York since I started running in 2008. I can tell you that I gave everything I had in this race, I wanted this so bad and pushed myself to pain thresholds I hadn’t experienced before. Our bodies can do so much more than we know, but our mind stops that from happening. Free your mind, make the impossible possible. I’ll be the first one on the sidelines cheering you on. – Baker out