This year’s New York City Marathon was a milestone as well as a day of reflection. 2 years ago, the 2008 NYCM marked my introduction into the world of running and later on, triathlons. At that time, my only intention was to run a marathon, little did I know it would change my life forever.
In the weeks prior to the marathon I kept being asked an interesting question. “How long have you been training for this?” Well, any of you who keep up with my blog know that I like to race every weekend if possible, therefore, I am in training year round. The only difference is that I up my weekend mileage 2 months before a marathon.
Friday after work Erika and I headed over to the Expo to get our numbers and meet up with some fellow runners to have dinner. Upon arrival we met up with Ronny, Hernan and Walter to get our race numbers. As always with NYRR, it was smooth sailing and I had everything in check within 10 minutes.
Wandering the Expo I made my way to the Zensah booth where Michelle, Mary, Jen, and Eva were already hanging. They initiated me into the Zensah Mafia and I walked away with both calf sleeves and arm sleeves. We were all slotted to have dinner together so we departed for 44th and 10th to eat.
On the way out I spotted Danny Abshire at the Newton booth and got caught up chatting with him. I had bought a pair of Distancias after doing a natural running clinic with him and now my mom is a Newton owner so we had a lot to discuss. I would be running the marathon in Newtons as well.
Dinner was great, all of us talking shop and getting excited for Sunday.
Saturday morning I went for a quick 4 mile run. I followed the course of the finish for Sunday but DID NOT go through the finish line. I’m superstitious and didn’t want to jinx myself.
Mid-day was spent making race preparations. I made 6 ‘Race Burritos’ and made a lethal Gatorade/Redbull/Emergen-C/Rock Salt blend (I cant believe I’m giving away all my secret formulas!) Pictured is the burrito process since so many people have expressed interest.
I spent the afternoon briefing my friend Ahern’s father Steve on the course and other FAQ’s he had. Although it wasn’t Steve’s first marathon by far, he wanted the scoop on NYCM since I had raced it before. I would have done the same if I were in his shoes.
For dinner Erika and I went up to Harlem to eat at her favorite Italian restaurant, Pisticci’s. It’s pretty amazing. I kept my beer consumption pretty low at 2 total. We watched a movie and were asleep by 10:30.
Up at 5:30AM (that’s 8 hours of sleep with the time change people, aka PLENTY) and got some Irish oatmeal going. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all these running adventures, its to eat a hearty breakfast! I also made a to go cup of oatmeal (which would come in handy later) and had a to go cup of Cafe Bustelo. Oh yeah, where’s my coffee sponsorship?
Jim met Erika and I in front of my building and we all split a cab down to the SI Ferry. We met Ronny, Hernan and Walter there as well and all of us jumped on the 6:45 to fulfill our destiny.
Ferry to the bus to the fort… it was pretty painless. I did have to pee like a race horse all morning though for some weird reason. I think I was over hydrated. Thank you Brooklyn Lager.
At the Blue area, or ‘Club Blue’ as I had dubbed it (Daniel and Alex, didn’t see you guys at the hot tub area?), I ate my second big cup of oatmeal and a banana. I was ready. One more pee stop then off to my corrals.
I was wearing my running shorts, a blue sleeveless race top, Zensah sleeves, Rudy Project ‘Gozen’ sunglasses, gloves and a winter hat. It was perfect and so were the conditions, sunny and 45 degrees.
In my corral everyone was totally amped and I made friends with a few of the guys around me. A few speeches, announcement of the leaders, national anthem (which was horrible this year) and then the cannon! Sinatra’s ‘New York New York’ was blasting as we began our assent onto the Verrazanos Bridge!
For starting in the top 1000-2000 people I kept running (literally) into slow runners with high bib numbers. Had they cheated their way to the front? Did they hop a fence? It was causing quite a bit of traffic problems as the swarms of faster runners would overtake them. This was of course forgotten by the time we were making our descent and everyone was peeing off the side of the bridge! I ran my first mile in 8:40.
At the bottom of the bridge I ran into (or next to) my friend Robert! We used to train together 2 years ago. We chatted a bit and would be running within a few minutes of each other all race, which I thought was awesome! He would overtake me towards the end though as he is a machine when it comes to the marathon distance.
The first 2-8 miles are pretty much a straight shot up 4th Avenue in Brooklyn and, in my opinion, it is the most fun part of the race. The cheering in non-stop, with all walks of life joining in! I was feeling pretty good and should have slowed down. I ran a 5:40 for mile 2 to which is just plain stupid, but I think I got too excited and lost myself. I also pulled over to the first rest area to pee again. I don’t know what was going on – I never have to go that many times before a race.
At mile 4 one of the guys I was chatting with in the corrals earlier came up along side of me. He had arm sleeve tattoos, was from Great Britain, and this was his first time in New York City! “Wow.” I told him “You are going to see every part of town and have a blast!” His name was Kev and he was pretty cool. He got a big kick out of my ‘Race Burritos.’ I invited him and his girlfriend back to our after party before loosing him in the masses.
As we hit downtown Brooklyn ( mile 8 ) we veered right into Fort Green. In my head I had broken up the course into ‘Sectors’ and we had just cleared ‘Sector 1.’ Sweet! Fort Green might get the best cheer zone award. I mean, REALLY! It was like Tour De France (no I have never raced the TdF) with all the people out in the streets yelling! Strictly amazing!
Worst cheering goes to Williamsburg this year (and not just because I hate hipsters so much I made a shirt expressing it) but because there was a lull in the energy.
At mile 11 I said aloud “It’s lunchtime.” I proceeded to chomp away at the ‘Race Burrito’ I was carrying. Some of my friends wanted me to get some photos while I ate, so I waited till I saw the Brightroom gang and made some funny faces. In the photo above you can see me prepping to eat it.
As mile 13 came around I saw the Pulaski Bridge (separating Brooklyn and Queens) and thought, “Holy cow, when did that get so steep?” Fighting over it I thought ‘Sector 2, clear.’
Cruising through Queens I was excited as I knew I had a few sets of friends cheering people on. First up was TK on the right! 100 Meters down the road on the left were Josh and Susan (plus a few more I couldn’t make out). It lifted my spirits which was exactly what I needed because the dreaded Queensboro Bridge lay directly ahead. (Cue Darth Vader theme from Star Wars please.)
2 years ago the Queensboro kicked my ass. I walked a bit and may have even cried. This year, this race, things were going to be different. I steadied my pace and started pumping my arms in rhythm, leaning into the hill. I was taking quick, small strides and if I felt myself slowing, I would pick up my turnover rate. Looking into the distance I kept wondering when we would hit the apex. I managed to get in a 8:05 mile for the ‘painful’ part of the bridge. As we hit the descent I felt like a kid running down a hill, all my weight behind me, legs and arms relaxed, it was awesome!
Nearing the end of the bridge, I knew what lay in store from last time and was getting choked up and energized at the same time. I cued up ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ (Erika’s idea) and picked up my pace as I turned down the off ramp. Deafening crowds 8 deep all along the bridge exit greeted us! I threw my hands up and egged the crowd on, their volume increasing! Looping under the bridge and coming out onto 1st Avenue is overwhelming. Crowds that would rival any parade line the avenue as far as the eye can see and the noise is so great that even a runner’s headphones are drowned out. This is the time to soak it all in, this is the time to celebrate, because in a few more miles things get rough.
Running by 83rd Street (my street) I saw Ed (from ‘Dad Posse’) and his son Ben cheering me on. Ed yelling, “Kick ass Baker! Go!” Approaching 87th Street I started to put on the brakes and look for my pit crew. I saw Robin, Jeff and Allison among many others and stopped for a few high fives and for my Gatorade High Octane Blend. Off again, I tried to keep my spirits up and my pace steady. I had just under an hour to run 8 miles.
At the Mile 18 Aid Station I heard “Hi Chris Baker!” It was Jess! I was past the station by the time I realized who it was and didn’t have a chance to stop and say hello.
Nearing the Bronx, I noticed a guy to my right who people were cheering on as ‘Paddy.’ Then I saw his shirt ‘Paddy Runs for Haiti’ and I thought “Hey, Ila has a cousin that runs for that team! We are friends on Facebook!” I approached and said “Hey! You run for Team Paddy!” to which he responded “It’s not a team, I AM Paddy.” Too wild! As I was explaining that I knew Ila he stopped me and said “Wait, you’re Baker! No way!” We had a pretty good laugh about the whole thing. He and I had never met but were planning on meeting to talk shop at happy hour one night, but what are the odds of meeting during a 45,000 person marathon?! We ran together for awhile before loosing each other in the mayhem that is miles 20-23 aka PAIN.
The Bronx wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered it, as far as crowd support goes. I knew we were only there for a hot second so I tried to take in as much of the course as I could. Looping around to the 5th Avenue bridge we were now back on the island and entering my least favorite part of the course.
Miles 21-23 follow 5th Avenue from the north all the way south to 90th Street, where we enter the Park. At this point in the day, the sun reflects off the street and all of the people cheering are silhouettes. It’s pretty weird and very ‘dreamlike.’
Marcus Garvey Park is straight up annoying because its like someone just dropped a plot of land right on top of 5th, blocking you so you have to run around it. Hello? I just lost 3 minutes Mr. Garvey.
Once I rounded Garvey’s ‘in-the-way’ park, I was confronted with the mighty uphill stretch leading to the Park. It’s a pretty heavy incline and at mile 23 it’s not exactly something you’re looking forward to. I looked at the ground and dug in. I also reached into my pocket and ate my last Honey Stinger. It was so good. I felt a little bit like a bear. I’m not going to lie, I wanted to quit on that hill. Throw in the towel, call it a day, hit the showers. Looking at my Garmin I was filled with a bit of hope as I saw my time, 2:45.
I had 15 minutes and just about 2 1/2 miles to cover. On any given day PRIOR to running 23 1/2 miles of a marathon I would have no problem pulling this off, but could I do it now while my calves burned like the devil?
Entering the Park was like stepping into my backyard. In the last 10 years I have run, biked and walked this Park thousands of times and knew its intricacies well. I picked up my pace and started feeling really good, all of my pain washing away as I knew the end lay near.
At Mile 24 I saw Sam and Erica and WOW did they ever give me a loud cheer! Cruising down ‘Cat Hill’ I was grateful we weren’t having to run up it. I was clocking 6:50 miles now and was on target for my goal, but it was going to be close, like Death Star close.
Right after that cheer squad I heard my name again, and up on an outcropping of rocks was Annie and Moses with their awesome dog Guapo. They might have had the best seats in the house. It was getting hard to cheer back at people by this point, but I made the best effort I could.
Mile 25 hit and I heard (yet again!) “Baker! Yea man!” It was Robin’s brother Nick B. and his crew! I saluted and barreled forward. One factor I didn’t calculate was that we didn’t go around the bottom of the Park, we went out onto 59th Street to cut across. Making the westward turn I was once again surprised at the incline we were climbing. It hurt bad and slowed me down tremendously.
As we turned into the Park at Columbus Circle I had 1 minute to get to the Finish Line. I knew this couldn’t be obtained but was still excited at being so close.
For me the Finish Line at NYC Marathon is always the most non-memorable part. I think it’s because all other parts of the course are run on legitimate city streets, neighborhoods where people had just walked out their door to cheer. Here, in the Park, was a fabricated gate system and banner that (although very cool) is very unremarkable looking back at the race as a whole.
I crossed at 3:01:59 with a 12 minute PR and my first ever Boston Qualifier!
Walking to get my baggage I ran into Antonio and Robert. We chatted about the race and had a few laughs before parting ways.
At 86th Street I took the X86 across the Park with no problem. Well, when I was getting on the bus I said to the driver “Hi! I get to ride free right because I ran the marathon!” She casually glanced up at me and said “Um, no you don’t.” Feeling like a child who was just told Christmas was canceled I paid my fare and sat down. A few of the riders said congratulations to me.
I exited the bus and was walking down 87th Street heading to the bar where all of my friends and family were hanging. It was now 1:00 PM, I cued up “Babba Riley” by the Who while walking and kinda had a ‘moment.’ For the first time all day I felt proud of my accomplishment and my new PR. A few spectators here and there saluted me and were thrilled about my time, lifting my spirits even more.
Entering the insanely crowded bar, I made my way straight back to the tables. I heard a loud cheer from my brother Jeff and was then bombarded with high fives from the whole gang. A few in attendance were… ROLE CALL: Jeff, Allison, Robin, Stephanie, Billy, Shamin, Peate, Cousin Phyllis, John, Cousin Cat, Jonboy, and many more. We stayed till 3 or so before heading out to Stag’s Head Tavern on 51st Street.
We had the entire outside area to ourselves. What a great time it was. Erika showed up after rocking a 4:28 finish. Some other marathon finisher friends showed up too like, Mr. Ahern, Sharon and Ilka! It was a glorious day for all! Stag’s Head ROLE CALL: Allen, Casey, Nick, Rayna, Eric, Asher, Todd, Ila, Andy, Michael, Tim, The Ahern Family, and probably a lot more I missed. We stayed there till 8PM before finally calling the night.
I finally get to race in Boston.