While I would love to run a marathon in every U.S. state, I don't have the money for the plane tickets and hotel stays. Luckily I live in New York City and there are a few marathons in the city and nearby. Yesterday I was able to take the Long Island Marathon off my wish-list.
Back on the last day of the year 2014, before registration price go up, I signed up for the race, for $65.35. It's relatively inexpensive compared to other big-name marathons. The one hassle is that packet pickup had to be done on the Friday or Saturday before race day, out in Nassau County. I have a car so it was not too bad, even though I did have trouble finding the place, Mitchel Athletic Field. It was not listed in iOS Google Maps as such, I happened to find it by taking some guesses. The place can be reached by LIRR but it probably would take some extra time. I encountered two small issues at packet pickup. Once you are past security check, on the right there were two separate lanes, one for Walk-In Registration, and the other, by process of elimination, Packet Pickup. If you are not careful, you may miss the two lanes altogether and end up in the expo area. I think it would be nice if there was a staff right at the entrance directing traffic. Packets are sorted by bib numbers, which was sent out late in the week of the marathon, if you don't have it there are computers for you to use to look things up. Again, I think it would be nicer if there was a staff by the machine to tell people what to do. I was going to use the machine, just because I didn't know what they were for, but then I realized they were for looking up bib numbers, so I skipped the line and went to get my bib.
The expo was conveniently located right outside packet pickup. I was tempted to sign up with the inaugural Suffolk Marathon to take advantage of the current price but I held back. Let's finish the Long Island Marathon first. I was good at not buying or even asking for free stuff as I strolled through the expo. After a while there are just so many running accessories I can use. I could have picked up some Gu gel or equivalent but a few days earlier I already got a box from the local Jack Rabbit Sports. Almost by the exit of the expo area that runners get their bling bag. While the bag content was nice, again no one was on the floor directing traffic. I could have easily walked out of the expo without picking up my bag, which includes a medium towel, race shirt (black, not a good choice for the sun), lanyard, and some promotional literature. I think bling bag's table should be immediately near the bib table.
On race day, I got to the parking lot near the Ice Rink of Eisenhower Park early. The walk to the start area was a little over a mile. I got there just in time to meet a few members from Prospect Park Track Club. After a short wait, we went to our separate pace groups. I had to step aside from the start line to have my Garmin GPS pick up satellite signal. At least I remembered to charge it the night before and brought it with me. At a previous race, I was so out of organized racing that I totally forgot about my Garmin. For all its old technologies, my Garmin is still the best I have for recording time for a marathon. No way the iPhone battery would last long enough.
For once, I didn't think to myself, "Why am I running this?" or something along that line. Even though I knew I didn't train enough for it, I just ran at my best, one mile at a time. I started slow, there were many half-marathoners, in the thousands, running along with the 600+ full-marathoners, so I was ready to wait for the split where the Half runners leave me. I skipped the first few water stations but had my first Gu gel with water etc one hour in. I had a long-sleeve tech shirt on the inside, with my track club singlet on the outside, but soon enough it got pretty hot. To avoid losing time to wardrobe change, I waited until the HM split before removing the inner layer and ran with just the singlet. By the half-way point, 13.1 mile, I was exactly 2:30 on the race clock. Considering I crossed the start mat 2 minutes after gun time, I couldn't help wishfully thinking that I would have the race done under 5 hours.
Some time ago someone told me that the worst stretch of the Long Island Marathon is the highway portion. They meant the Wantagh Parkway. Once the half-marathoners went their separate way, there were just a handful of marathoners on the long stretch down the Parkway. I studied the course map briefly before the race and knew that at some point there would be a U-turn on the Wantagh for the marathoners to head back to Eisenhower Park. It shouldn't matter which mile mark that is but I asked an official-looking guy anyway. He said Mile 14 or 15, but it turned out to more like Mile 16.5. Whatever, it was still x miles to go no matter where the turnaround is. It just felt better that a milestone is reached.
Things got really lonely on the highway so I struck conversation with other runners as I tried to pass them. Or crack jokes with the volunteers at water stations, as well as thanking them. After the U-turn, the sun really beat down on the runners and there was no shade to run in. There was a breeze here and there but it was mostly sun. I continued to follow my one-Gu-every-hour schedule, walked briefly through water stations, at which I usually took a cup of water and one of Gatorade. Luckily, other than a brief time when I felt some pain in the knees, there was no major ache anywhere. I just had to keep pressing on and I did. When I ran, I really ran, for at least a mile or more. Shortly after exiting the Wantagh, around Mile 23, I passed all runners within my myopic sight and made the wrong turn at Carman Avenue. I didn't know that I was supposed to turn left and instead turned right. The road on the right was half closed off with traffic cones so I figured that was where I should run, i.e. the other side was where normal traffic would be, road not closed. The policewoman in the cruiser at the junction came out to holler at me and the few runners who followed me and we had to make a U-turn to get back on track. It was nice to see that I was cruising at a good speed and was able to pass the same Asian couple I just passed earlier after getting off the highway.
At one intersection on Carman Avenue, cross traffic resumed but thanks to the policemen there, I was able to cross the intersection without slowing at all. A little further on, before Mile 24, club member Nick spotted me and graciously ran with me. He gave all kinds of compliments that helped boost my morale a lot. I fear making another wrong turn during the last 2 miles but Nick knew the way and kept me on track. Mile 25 was where runners turn off Carman Avenue to meander through the golf course. Normally by this time I would half-run and half-walk, only to sprint when the finish line was in sight. With Nick and his words of encouragement by my side, I was able to run all the way after Mile 24. The golf course, pass a few slower runners, around some building, then the finish chute, then the finish line, it was incredible! I remembered to take off my cap for the photographers as I ran over the finish mat. 5:09:37 was my time, which is better than last year's 5:13:xx and Yonker's 5:10:xx in 2012. I have 5:08:xx for the inaugural Brooklyn Marathon, but since I ran it without a GPS watch and the course consisted of a few loops of Prospect Park I cannot help wondering if maybe I missed a loop. I guess I just have to beat 5:08:xx some day then it won't matter any more.