The Yonkers Marathon is well-known for being the second oldest marathon in the U.S. (after the Boston Marathon) and for being very hilly. Much as I would love to, I don't want to spend money flying to different cities to run marathons. I make an exception if it involves visiting family. With the City of Yonkers just north of New York City, or its borough The Bronx, to be exact, running the Yonkers Marathon is a natural choice for me. And it was so affordable, too, just a mere $40 with early registration (I signed up in October 2011 for the Sept 16, 2012 race!)
During the weeks leading to the event, I read some blog posts about the race and got worried about its 5-hour limit. Will there be no official listing for the 5+ runners? Even no medals!? Will I have to fight traffic to cross the streets? A few days before the race, I checked the course and got worried that maybe I will run the wrong way at some point. I sweat so much so I cannot run with my near-sighted glasses so I cannot see far that well. I am already a slow runner, losing time by going off course won't help. A DailyMile friend dispelled my fear when he told me that the police department does a good job of directing traffic and guiding runners. It was also comforting to know that the marathon course is a double-loop, i.e. the same loop to be run twice. Chances are by the second time around I won't have other runners ahead of me to follow, but by then I would know the route to follow.
The day of the race, I got up early at 4:30 and left the house by 5. Got to the free parking lot just after 6. I took a nap in the car until 7:30 then lined up for the toilet. The race started shortly after the 8 AM scheduled time, with only a short speeches by the race director Steve Lastoe and Governor Mike Spano. With only one thousand people, I was able to join the crowd and crossed the starting mat as soon as my Garmin picked up satellite signal. Just in case I don't get official recognition, my Garmin will tell me the distance, time, and pace for the race, kilometer for kilometer.
Somewhere at the beginning, my speedy DailyMile friend Louis greeted me from behind. He should be at the front with other faster runners, so I was surprised that he came from behind me. He had to have a toilet, it turned out. We chatted a bit but I asked him to go ahead. The marathon was no time for me to start running at a faster pace from my usual runs.
At Mile #1, I remarked loudly that there were only 25 more miles to go and got a few chuckles out of nearby runners. The crowd got thinner quickly and we started to pass by a wooded area on the right, with the Metro North track and the Hudson River on the left. Some runners chose then to take another toilet break, in the wood, like how some people undoubtedly did on the Verrazano Bridge during the NYC Marathon. There were water stations at every mile, a short distance before the actual mile marker, which was both on the street and on telephone posts. All the volunteers and police officers were nice and helpful but some were different than others and came to mind more easily. Like the one guy who did not have anyone to help him, or the Boy Scouts troop, both somewhere on Warburton Avenue. I also appreciate the man on the bridge with the 2-liter Coke bottles, a tad before the right turn from Warburton into Main Street. The first time around I skipped the Coke but by the second loop I was so tired I figured I needed a sugary drink. He had no more cups and suggested pouring the Coke into my palms. I picked up some cup off the ground and drank from there instead. I am not a picky person!
The hill connecting Main Street to Broadway is the worst of them all, I think. The first time I hit it, I jogged slowly up but during the second pass I walked up. The few people in the cheering section at Warburton and Main got me resume running a bit, but by the time I reached the foot of the hill I was out of energy again. Pass the top of the hill was Mile #5. The water station was out in the sun and by the second loop it was already closed. Also on the second loop I saw a man taking a break to massage his legs. I asked if he was OK then went on. I was tired and had to convince myself to go forward one traffic cone at a time. Finally I reached the intersection of Tomkins and Broadway. I told the cross-guard there that it was good to see him, that it was so lonely back there, just me and the traffic cones. It was a good time to take a toilet break. After so much running, it felt weird to stand in one place. Just a short distance into Tomkins was the water station before Mile #6. I used one cup of water to wash my hands and took another for drinking as well as a cup of Gatorade. Before Mile #6 was the cemetery and the steep down-hill. Normally I like to use the descent to pick up some speed but this descent was too steep, I worried that I may not be able to keep up so I trotted down slowly. At the foot of the hill was the right turn into Nepperhan. The first time there was a time mat to mark the 10K point. Second time around there was just some crossing guards.
Nepperhan started out with some homes but eventually we ran into some industrial zone. When I got out of the toilets, some people passed by me and I followed along, able to exchanged a few encouraging words with them. When I slowed down for the down-hill, the others went further and I never caught up. In the industrial zone, I finally caught up to a runner but then I noticed the medal around his neck. I struck up a conversation with him and learned that he did indeed finished the half-mary but was going for the full too. "Galvin" and I pretty much stayed together from Mile #20 (?) to Mile 23. We walked together at water stations and then ran together afterward. Without Galvin I think I would have walked more often. Thanks for pacing me, Galvin! After Mile 23, I ran across the footbridge and Galvin was no longer by my side. I still hoped to make the marathon under 5 hours so I continued running. Those last few miles seemed to go forever though. I recognized South Broadway from the time when I ran the Holiday Marathons on Christmas Day 2011 in Tibbetts Park. I was really lost in Yonkers at that time. I could have gotten onto the Saw Mill Parkway easily from Tibbetts but I went the wrong way to South Broadway and made a U-turn. This time I was on foot and South Broadway seemed so long. After the right turn into Valentin I recognize a man-and-woman couple, the woman with blond hair, from the time I got out of the toilet back near Mile #6. I really wanted to pass at least these two people and they indeed stopped but before I could catch up they resumed running. Luckily, the stopped again shortly afterward and I did pass them. From then on, I only stopped for water one more time. I caught up with a runner and asked him if ahead was the turn from Warburton into Main Street for the final stretch. He thought it was, but it turned out to be another block. I called up some reserve energy and kept going, made the left turn at Main and shouted "I love Yonkers!" Up ahead I saw two runners walking so I shouted to them that if they did not start to run I would pass them. I did pass them and finally reached Mile 21, just a square card rested against a traffic cone. The 0.2 Mile is the distance from there to just before the parking lot, then a U-turn to the train station, under the train track to the water, then a left, then a right onto the pier. Just around the corner on the pier was the glorious finish line. I made it in 5:10:33, not sub-5 as I wished but it was good to have the official time and a medal.
More than 15 years ago I ran the NYC Marathon, twice, in 1994 and 1995, without much training. I ran maybe 5 miles a day and knew nothing about the recommended 20-mile run, on-course nutrition, etc. I still managed to finish, with the lousy time of 6:30 or worse. Last year (2011) my older self ran the inaugural Brooklyn Marathon in 5:08, a victory with the younger self from 15+ years ago. However, as the Brooklyn Marathon consisted of 2 small loops and 6 big loops of Prospect Park. I did not have a GPS watch with me and somehow thought I may have missed a loop. The Yonkers Marathon confirmed for me that a tad over 5 hours is indeed my marathon time. I did not train as much this year and the Yonkers Marathon is probably tougher than Brooklyn, so the two extra minutes is not a big deal.
One down, two to go! NYRR NYC Marathon and the second Brooklyn Marathon are coming in November, just 2 weeks apart! In the mean time, thank you Yonkers, NYC Runs, volunteers, police officers, and everyone who supported the race!