November 2, 2009

Time is the fire in which we burn

New York City Marathon 2009!

It was an amazing day, a total blast. It's quite something to be cheered for, and really moving to be cheered for 3 hours straight. It's all true what they say about the New York crowds - people come out, even on a damp, gray day, to raise really a beautiful racket.

I remember ever step, but somehow the race just flew by. My milestones weren't the mile markers, they were my friends and family along the course.

Bridge to Josh and Bryony (Mile 7): Couldn't believe how slow I went up the Verrazano Bridge, or how fast I came off it. Feeling very professional in my new arm warmers. Suddenly it's my home borough of Brooklyn. Over there is where you turn off to go to Lowe's and Ikea. Hey, there're Josh and Bryony! My first supporters of the race. Big energy boost, feeling great. Abruptly realize I'm hard to recognize in my sunglasses, hat, and brand-new arm warmers.

To Melissa, Karen, Dave, Katherine, Mike, Leah, Brian, Sara, and the Giant Duct Tape Flower (Mile 7.75): Next thing I'm running through my own neighborhood. I've been looking forward to this since I got up at such an ungodly hour this morning, because my wife will be showing up with a 4-foot flower made entirely out of duct tape, created by friends' awesome kids. Before I come to the Flower of Power I see neighbors Sara and Brian - enough energy to get me running way too fast. Up ahead I see a strange thing, yes, it must be the flower. Melissa's waving it like the national flag of Yippeestan, my friends are whooping, I'm hooting and hollering and running like a spazz. Now I'm really pumped, and my pace increases. Later, Melissa would tell me what was running through her mind: "What's up with those arm warmers?"

To the Bishop Loughlin HS band playing "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)" (Mile 8.86): I'd read about these guys, but I wasn't prepared for just how awesome they were in person. They play this tune over and over for hours. All I'm doing is running for a while. They're the heroes. By now I'm locked in a slightly too-fast pace.

To Judith and Gabriel (Mile 11.98): Next thing I know I've passed the annoyed Satmar Jews, and come to the hip part of Williamsburg. The hipsters don't hoot like the earlier Brooklyn crowds, but they wave enthusiastically. Despite holding a sign with a giant picture of me on it, Gabe and Judith don't recognize me until I run straight at them pointing and yelling. And yet I feel it's too late to jettison the arm warmers.

To the half-way point (Mile 13.1): Totally jazzed by Gabe and Judith, I make it to the half-way point exactly on schedule. Even so I know I've run most of the first half too fast. I don't care, I'm having a great time.

To Sue at Engineer's Gate (Mile 24.41): The second half of the race is a lot more interior to the runner. I slowed a little, well, a lot, but loved every band, cheered every disabled runner I could, and cursed the Queensboro bridge for being so steep. First Avenue rocked though the headwind was discouraging. The Bronx was fun. Harlem and Fifth Ave flew by in noisy blur. I realized at around Mile 23 that there wasn't much left in the tank. Sue cheered for me behind her camera just inside Central Park. Hope she got a picture, because I got jazzed again and accelerated just a little.

To Columbus Circle: Mile 24 had slowed me a lot - that hill is brutal, and despite deep concentration I couldn't pull much more out of my legs. I was running 40 seconds per mile slower than my target pace. Still, I started steeling myself for a flashy kick at the end.

To the finish: I turned it on as soon as I saw the turnoff up ahead. I did a quarter mile in 1:27, my fastest pace of the day. Abruptly however, it turned back off. My legs stiffened into uncooked pasta, my hands started tingling, I felt impossibly light and brittle. I could hardly move. One hundred yards to go and time had frozen, like in a dream. So I waddled. I waddled at my slowest pace of the day on broken macaroni legs so I could get this thing done.

And then it was. Done!

I felt amazing. Still too tired to take off the arm warmers though.

Although I missed my main target by a couple of minutes, there were several reasons to be satisfied:
  1. I put down everything I had on the course, and had nothing left at the finish.
  2. I ran the first half faster than my first half-marathon a year ago.
  3. I ran the second half faster than I ran the same distance in August in the NYC Half-Marathon - which I was trying to race.
  4. It was my first marathon, so I had no idea what to expect.
  5. I had an amazing day from before the start to well after the finish.
There's more to say about everything, but that's the course. I had no idea how amazing Meb Keflezighi had been, or that shoo-in Paula Radcliffe had come in fourth. The vibe was intense and hushed after the finish. But more on that later.


  1. Daniel, Your writing is as entertaining and insightful as your running is inspiring and personal. Thank you for sharing you joy with us. I have driven in 24 hour endurance races and think I can appreciate what you were going through. Although physical exhaustion was not as extreme as yours, the mental acuity and concentration levels are similar.

    Sue and I love you and your beautiful wife and daughter. Only the best for you in the future.

  2. Congrats! Sounds like your first marathon went smoother than most.

  3. I love how you broke up your race by the people you saw along the course. That is a very meaningful way to remember your first marathon. COngrats on getting it done, with no regrets.