05 November 2006

26.2 Miles, 74,000+ Feet, 1 Finish Line

It was a beautiful day for the New York City Marathon, now in its 37th year. 26.2 miles, 37,000 pair of feet, but I used 74,000+ feet in the title because some of the runners have only one real leg or some none at all, but they all have the one goal of reaching finish line. For runners/joggers fast or slow, a marathon is the ultimate challenge. The Joy of Victory, the Agony of De Feet. I'm currently in no shape to run the marathon, but twelve years ago I actually finished not one, but two, the 1994 and 1995 races.

Back in those years, the surest way to be in the NYC Marathon was to spend a day in Central Park, some day of the year I cannot remember, waiting in line for an application. After those x thousands of guaranteed runners, the remaining people would have to go through a lottery process. If you don't get picked by the lottery, you go on a waiting list and would be considered when someone cancelled their entries. For the 25th anniversary race, 1994, I was picked via the lottery process. For the training, I got up not too early, definitely not 6 a.m. like I've been doing lately, and jogged to Astoria Park to do laps. I never quite reached the recommended training distance as recommended by the New York Roadrunners Club. I think the longest distance I ever covered during the preparation was ten miles. The toughest part of the race was actually the long wait before the race. I do recall getting up before sunrise to get on the bus outside the New York Public Library's Research Center, for the long ride to Staten Island's Fort Totten (?). The 2006 Marathon's staging area is Fort Wadsworth, but the name sounds very weird to me. Perhaps twelve years ago the fort was called Totten? Anyway, once at the staging area, we had plenty of time to do stretches. There were many people so no number of portable johns would do - instead they had long troughs, similar to those horses drink from, for use as urinals. I think I read somewhere those urinals held the world record for being the longest. One year, it rained the night before the race so the grounds at the fort was mostly muddy. Still, I found some patch that wasn't too wet and took a nap during the wait. There was only so much stretching I could do and I did get up way too early.

Eventually, the time came for the race to start. Slowpokes like me were queued up way behind while pro runners were up in the front. By the time we crossed the Verazano Bridge into Brooklyn's Fourth Avenue, it would be like an hour after the race started. In one race, I needed to relieve myself while crossing the Verazano and just joined the other men right on the bridge. A gust of wind blew our "stuff" all over ourselves!... The run along Fourth Avenue is probably the best part as far as audience was concerned. There were bands playing music, people giving out drinks and food, in addition to the official stands. By the time I got into Queens, the runners have thinned out much. Somewhere on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, some Jewish girls even made fun of me for being so slow. The Pulaski Bridge was known as The Wall, as it was the 13.1-mile marker, where some people simply couldn't go on anymore. From Queens the runners would cross the Queensborough Bridge's southern walkway to get into Manhattan. During my 1995 run, my late father, then a taxi driver, saw me crossing the Queensborough Bridge and we exchanged greetings. The joke of the next few days was that he gave me a lift to the finish line. To make the Bronx happy, because the race was supposed to be a five-borough challenge, after getting into Manhattan we would run uptown to cross the Third Avenue Bridge to get into the Bronx. One year, I got locked in a portable john by some kids. Luckily, other runners heard my banging and opened the door for me. If I hadn't stopped running and started walking before, the second time into Manhattan was definitely the time to walk. The 20-mile mark had been reached, but those last 6.2 miles seemed like forever. Finally, the finish line was in sight but even after we got the medals and blankets, it was another long walk, in the dark, to get out of Central Park. Walking downstairs to the subway station, the pain was excruciating. In five days, I was all good again.

In 1995, I was downsized from my first job out of college and supposedly had more time to prepare for the marathon. I didn't get picked during the first lottery process, but then was selected from the waiting list, so I had to run. Sadly, my time was a bit longer than the first run. Well, there isn't that much of a difference between six hours and 6:32. As long as I finished the race and earn a medal, my goal is reached.

I've been running more regularly, starting from 2K and slowly working up to 2.5K or 3K per run. That translates to a measly 1.5-mile, so I have a long way to go to be in shape for the 26.2 miles of the Marathon, but I'm seriously considering it. I'll join the New York Road Runners Club early next year and participate in the various weekend races, just to keep myself in shape and to be out of the house. I sort of miss working in Manhattan and can use the excuse to walk around the city every now and then. Hopefully this time next year I'll add a third NYC Marathon medal to my collection. Third time's a charm!

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