Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?
I last posted a blog on this site exactly one month ago. Wouldn’t you know that was also the last time I put on my running shoes and hit the pavement. Awful, isn’t it?
I have no acceptable excuses. I was perfectly healthy this last month, certainly capable of running. The weather was mild and runnable. The only thing lacking was my motivation. Having a half marathon looming on my calendar didn’t motivate me anymore. Instead, with being back at work and all the effort that goes into that, I found myself looking at running as a chore. And so, instead of running, I sat. That I was running purely for training purposes thoroughly sapped any momentum and joy I may have previously enjoyed. Days turned into weeks, which turned into a full month off from running.
Every now and then, I told myself I was setting myself up for an issue. I’d still be doing the half, sure, but what right did I have? My rationalization became this: My longest run in this training was 10 miles. Never mind that it was five weeks ago. I could manage another three for the half.
So today, that fateful date with my first half marathon arrived. I finished it all right. The day was not without significant folly, worry, sadness, and joy.
Here’s a three-part recap.
Part One: Getting to the Half is Half the Battle
There’s no convenient way to get from my home to Staten Island. You’re either shlepping over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge via the BQE or Belt Parkway, or you’re taking a train, subway, and ferry.
The parking situation sounds bleak, so the decision is made to go via public transportation. I’m up at 4:45 and my running partner arrives before 5:30 am so we can walk the mile to catch the 5:56 train. The ride will be followed by a half-hour subway ride to the ferry for a 25-minute ride across New York Harbor to the starting line.
It’s a comfortable early morning walk, sure. But 5:56 comes and goes, and the train doesn’t. The tickets are already purchased, and our research on the smartphone indicates the only trains around 5:56 either already came through at 5:26 or won’t return until 6:26. We won’t be able to make a ferry in time to get to the start, so we’re kind of screwed.
After a few minutes of discussing options – a taxi, chancing a late arrival, saying “Screw it” – we decide to hightail it back to my car. Of course, my car keys are upstairs, so I have to run the last of the distance to get upstairs and back down so we can go. Waze says it will take 40 minutes, which will leave us plenty of time to look for parking that NYRR warned us doesn’t exist.
Once in the vicinity of the race, it’s about 7:15, and I find an absolutely perfect spot with the packet pickup within spitting distance. “Huh,” I wonder, “Why wouldn’t anyone grab this spot?” Plenty of cars are parked on this street, which turns out to be part of the course. I exit the vehicle, and a cop pulls up and says I might want to move the car or I will be towed. I opt to move it.
Now the fun starts: there’s not a spot to be had. Of course, on every side street, spots are disappearing just as I get onto the blocks. One of the lots promoted by NYRR is already full, so we’re stuck sitting with no place to go. Finally, we get ourselves (after many wrong turns) to a parking garage. The $8 it will cost is worth the peace of mind, but it’s already 7:47.
One of us needs the bathroom and the line is long, so I rush to pick up bibs and shirts. By the time we’re ready to head toward the start line, it’s 8:15, and corrals are about to collapse for the 8:30 start.
I head up toward my corral and see the obscene pace marker displayed there: 1 hour 55 minutes. HA! Not a snowball’s chance. MAYBE if I kept up my training, breaking two hours would be a goal with a real possibility, but at this point I’ve reduced myself to setting the goal of just finishing. So I drop back about 3,000 numbers and tell myself to take my damn time and just get this thing done.
This was a nice view to start the race. I wouldn’t see it again for over two hours.
I’m shaking in the cold before the start. Ten minutes after an FDNY fireboat launches the race, it’s finally time for my group to begin the walk and jog to the start line. There’s no turning back now, and not finishing is not an option.
Part Two: From “This Actually Isn’t So Bad” to “What the @#*& Was I Thinking?”
And I’m off. I haven’t planned any music so I’m listening to a playlist that I hope will make me feel warm. I’m just going to take it as it comes, count the miles down, and tell myself that once I get to 10 (my previous longest distance), it’s only a 5K away.
The course isn’t that thrilling, but I always enjoy running in new places. When I was a child, Staten Island was the stinky place with the landfills in which I held my nose as we drove to summer vacations on the Jersey shore. Still, it’s part of NYC, and the thought of running my first half in my city was a major factor that led to choosing this one. How times have changed.
At three miles, I’m feeling good, going faster than I thought. There’s no plan time-wise or split-wise. I really don’t know what to expect from myself. I tell myself a 5K is done. Nice! I still have 10 miles to go. Damn!
Five miles in, I’m going strong. I can keep this up for another eight, can’t I?
Apparently not. I cross the 10K mat, and my next milestone is the 6.5-mile halfway point. Soon, I’ll be turning around and heading onto the back part of the out and back course. I do, and the Verrazano Bridge – symbol of the borough and the NYC Marathon – is on the horizon. It’s not a bad look.
Unfortunately, I’m slowing down. The lack of training has reared it’s head (and rightfully so). Along the course, a number of runners on the sidelines stretching or punching their unwilling legs back to usefulness. Thankfully, I’m still mobile, but I’m adding significant time as I go on.
A little after seven miles, I notice what appears to be a group of runners trying to reconnoiter so they can run together. There’s a lot of waving from behind and in front. My music is on, but the closer I get to those ahead of me, the better I can hear. It’s not a group of friends trying to get together. It’s a group of frenzied strangers screaming, “HELP! HELP!”
Someone must be hurt, I think. But as I get even closer, I see that a man is collapsed on the course. I bolt onto the median to run for a cop, screaming for someone to come, and I’m relieved to see that one is running in my direction and to the troubled man.
What do I do now? I can’t help in any way, but is it disrespectful to run ahead? I’m fearing the worst and hoping for the best. I leave an earbud out and continue. I don’t know what else to do.
After what seems like a long time, emergency vehicles start heading in the direction opposite me to help this man. I’ll think about him the rest of the day. Only as I write this post do I finally find out some information about him. The poor man was without a pulse and wasn’t breathing. Thankfully, he was revived by an officer. He’s in critical condition at the hospital tonight.
It reminds me now, thinking back, about what I was thinking prior to even seeing this tragedy. Half marathons are not tests of speed, at least at my level. They are tests of endurance. The human body has an incredible capacity, but it can’t be forgotten how potentially dangerous the sport of running can be, no matter how healthy one is. This is not something one should roll out of bed and attempt. You have to respect the training process. I didn’t, and I was fortunate to be okay.
Feeling funny, I continue on my own personal journey to the finish line. I’m confused, though, about my role. I wonder if I’ll be able to smile when I cross the finish line. I wonder how NYRR will acknowledge this tragedy. I hope for the best and keep going.
I’ve been munching on dried bananas and dates since about mile four, washing them down with coconut water (just for flavor’s sake). But it’s not enough, and I start stopping at fluid stations. I don’t want to stop running, but I’m not going to risk it after what I witnessed. I suck down Gatorade and allow myself to walk while I drink it. Then it’s back to running. I’ll do this for 5 of the last 6 miles. Despite it all, when I finish, I notice salt streaks are caked on my face.
It’s such a gorgeous day, and I can’t ask for better weather to (I hope) get back to running.
The second half of this race is considerably more taxing on me than the first. The slight incline at one stretch brings me to my slowest speed of the day. As the mileage on my legs increase, my lower body’s protests grow louder and more pointed. My left ankle issue has resurfaced after months away from me. My lower back is barking. My knees are creaking. My groin aches. My heels sting. I’m not the only one gritting my teeth at points, and plenty of people pass me by.
I don’t care, though. Failing to finish is not an option. At 12 miles, I stop for fluids one more time. It will be the last stop I make, and I slam the cup into the garbage and tell myself to get this done.
My mind at this point is blank. I just want to finish. I had been under the misguided impression that this race was mostly waterfront. Not so, in fact. But as I near the end, the water and Manhattan are back in view.
Ahead of me, I can see people running down a ramp, and I momentarily think that’s where I’m heading. Turns out I’m half right: the 13-mile mark is down the second ramp. As I turn down, I can’t believe I’m on the verge of finishing a half marathon.
It’s time to better soak in the atmosphere, so I remove my earbuds. There are a lot of spectators cheering, and the public address announcers are enthusiastic despite having been bringing home finishers for close to 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The finish line is in sight. I momentarily think I might cry, but I don’t: too cliche. I put my arms up so I can finally get a picture taken of me actually looking at the camera.
I’m surprised by my reaction as I cross the finish line. Thirteen-point-one miles are in the books, and I’ve never run more than 10.08 at a time. I pump my fist, leap up, and scream, “YEAH!” Next time I can do better, but it’s no insignificant accomplishment.
Part Three: Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Respect the Process
Now that my race is over, I’m gauging my ability to walk. I slowly move to the refreshments and down three cups of Gatorade, a cinnamon raisin bagel, and an apple. For the next 30 minutes I try to figure out how to bend my knees. I see others stretching and I’m envious. I can barely even think of it without the soreness overwhelming me. After trying some of my old high school P.E. class stretches, and failing, I decide to stand up and watch others come down the finishing chute. There is considerable pain in the backs of my knees. Eventually, I figure out that squatting down as low as I can go gives me some relief. The more I do this, the more nimble I feel. I climb onto the guard rail to do some calf raises. I’m returning to normal.
As the announcers spout on, they take an informal poll of who just completed their first half marathon. I’m proud to raise my hand to indicate I did.
Though the process leading up to today wasn’t respected and followed as properly as it should be, the fact remains that I’ve finished my first half marathon. Whether that makes me half crazy or fully crazy is hard to say at this point.
As I write and reflect this evening, I’m sorer than I’ve ever been from running, having trouble walking, and suffering from some GI distress. At the same time, plans are being discussed about when the next half marathon will be.
I told you the whole experience ranged in emotions. My number one concern remains with that man who collapsed on the course and I hope he recovers as fully as possible. Because of him, I feel blessed to have been able to finish.
I’m proud to have accomplished a goal I’ve had since last year. I enjoyed the race, despite the pain, because I didn’t put any pressure on myself other than to finish. Now that I know I can do it, I want to do it again – only better.
Distance: 13.26 miles
Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, 46 seconds (unofficial) Officially: 2 hours, 15 minutes, 22 seconds
Looking ahead: We’ll see when I can walk right again, let alone run!