Thursday, November 6, 2014

The 2014 New York Marathon

1 of over 50,000 runners in the 2014 NYC Marathon

As if riding my bike 21,000 miles around the world during the last 14 months wasn't enough, I ran the New York Marathon three weeks after finishing my trip.  What on earth would possess me to do such a thing? There actually is some rhyme and reason to the whole experience, although I admit I am slightly crazy, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

The 2012 Paris Marathon, also a bit frigid!

Would you believe me if I said I never ran a race longer than 10km in The United States? To be precise I've ran a turkey trot and a 4th of July run, both in Eugene, both about 10 to 15 years ago! I started participating in races when I moved to Spain. It was a good excuse to see some of the different areas around Barcelona, a fun weekend activity. In fact, up until a few years, ago, I didn't even know the English word for a “dorsal”, a bib! Back in April of 2012, when I was training for an Ironman, I ran the Paris Marathon, qualifying for both the Boston and New York Marathons with a personal record of 3:18. Living abroad, I knew that it would be hard to convince a school principal to give me a few days off of school to fly to New York or Boston to run either of those marathons. They'd have to wait until a year when I wasn't living abroad, which just so happens to be this year! I was in Australia for the Boston marathon this past spring, but New York was doable in November planning for a mid-October arrival. Unfortunately my qualifying time had expired, which meant I had to enter the lottery, giving me an 8% chance of getting lucky. I had heard and read stories of people waiting a lifetime to get selected to be in the NY Marathon, so automatically I thought my chances were pretty slim.

As goes went my entire 14 months on my bike, I got lucky! I was in Melbourne packing my bike to fly to Tasmania, when I was checking over my Visa statement and saw that The New York Road Runners club had charged my credit card, meaning I was in, I was running the 2014 NY Marathon. I was ecstatic, but in disbelief. Was I really going to train for a marathon while riding my bike around the world?!? As if pedaling 70 miles a day wasn't hard enough, how was I was I going to run as well? Two months ago, when I had applied for the lottery, the idea seemed appealing. Running the marathon also meant I had the prefect excuse for visiting family and friends out east, which is where I went to college and worked before departing for Spain.

I decided that I would start training when I arrived to the states, because I could ship running shoes to San Francisco, giving me a good 6 months to train. For those of my friends who know me, I'm not a “hard core” runner, especially when it comes to following a training schedule. I hate anything that takes away from the feeling of total freedom while exercising outdoors. I love sports because it's active meditation. As soon as I have to look at a watch to track my pace or calculate speed, I stop having fun. In fact, to this day, I have still never looked at my heart rate when I'm running or cycling, nor do I know my standard pace in either sports. I just run and bike as fast as my mind turns to exhaust my energy! I've participated in about 4 marathons, 2 ultra-marathons, 2 half Ironmans, a full Ironman, dozens of half marathons and gran fondo bike races and this motto has yet to fail when preparing for a big sports competition. I signed up for a full length Ironman without ever looking at a training schedule. Wouldn't you know, I ended up winning the race? Its no wonder my friends think I'm some sort of “genetic freak” and encourage me to donate my body to science when I die.

The first full Ironman I tried, I ended up winning, without really following any specific training schedule....that's just me!

My training started when I arrived in San Francisco and I boy was I in for a surprise. Contrary to every one's encouragement, running wasn't going to be a breeze, I was using a whole other group of muscles on the bike. Although my endurance and stamina from cycling probably carried over into my running, I was going to have to seriously prepare if I wanted to finish the marathon without pain. I eased into running, and started with 40 to 50 min. runs on my “days off.” That was a joke, really, because I hardly ever took a day off from the bike, so I was running at most once every ten days. Therefore, I tried running on days when I cycled shorter distances, but soon learned that my body had a hard time combining biking and running if I pedaled more than 50 to 60 miles in a day. Eventually I got into a groove and realized that running gave me a much needed rest from cycling, while still allowing me to get my “fix” of being active. I won't lie, I had days where my legs felt like 50 pound bricks, too tight to run effortlessly, but I had other days where I felt like I was flying, trail running through Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and outside of Yellowstone. Running was a way to sight see the small towns I visited, and explore a different type of terrain, and ultimately I found in enjoyable!

My first run in San Francisco was painful!
Alaska presented a challenge for my running. I was so remote and surrounded by wilderness, I ran and sang to ward off bears. My days of pedaling were incredibly long making it less desirable to run as well. Looking back on my personal diary where I recorded all my statistics from the trip, I went four months without taking a true day off from any sort of activity. If I wasn't on the bike, I was running, and if I pedaled any less than 50 miles, I tacked on a short run. Crazy, I know, but it goes to show you just how well my body and mind adapts to being active. I thrive in motion, both mentally and physically. Some say they were born to run, I say I was born to be in motion!

Running in Alaska was tough, but definitely had it's rewards......unbeatable scenery!
Normally before a big race I start to feel nervous even tough I'm filled with excitement. This marathon approached in a different manner and no matter how crazy the pre-race environment got, I couldn't get stressed out. If I could cycle around the world and rose to the challenges presented to me on the road during the last year, the marathon was no big deal! I felt fortunate I was able to participate, but I kept my cool. Normally I would obsess over having the right gear, wearing my hair so that it didn't get in my face, double knotting my laces in a ritual manner, and making sure to eat all the right foods leading up to the race, but my outlook had changed and four hours of running, seemed like a breeze in comparison to some of the days I had on my bike in the past year. Four hours was my goal because that was my marathon time in the full ironman I completed in 2011. If I managed to run that fast after swimming 3.8 km and cycling 180 km, then surely I could hit 4 hours starting fresh!

I was astonished to see the number of runners the day before the race at The Javits Convention Center where I met my parents and went to pick up my marathon packet. It was a complete zoo with booths set-up to accommodate over 50,000 runners. I could have made an entire day out of the Marathon convention, but I picked up my bib quickly, confirmed my transportation option, and left. The weather pre-race day was ideal, a constant steady rain that made me wan to take refuge inside and relax. That afternoon my dad and I went over the logistics of the route trying to determine meeting points along the route. Google maps helped, but I thought it was going to be pretty challenging to actually spot them in the crowd. I probably should have carbo loaded for dinner, and the three days prior, but I did nothing of the sort. I'm actually not a big pasta fan and instead made Cuban Rice, a simple “go-to” Catalan dish with rice, tomato sauce and eggs accompanied by salad and some chocolate and fruit for dessert! Usually the night before a race I can hardly sleep, but that night, going off daylights saving, I slept eight hours consecutively!

And I thought Paris was a big marathon back in 2011........

A massive pre-marathon convention

The next morning, I headed down to the Staten Island Ferry, which in theory, isn't the best transportation option for the marathon, but it turned out to be perfect! I had been assigned to an 8am ferry departure, and my start time was 10:30. I thought I was going to have a good 3 hours of waiting to do before I started running which wasn't a problem if it had been warm, but temperatures were frigid, hovering in the low 40's with 40 mph winds. Thankfully traffic was bad and so were the crowds of runners, between the subway, ferry, and bus to the starting area, it was about 9:15 when I arrived to the corrals. A friend of my relatives had given me a VIP access bracelet, so I luckily got to hang out in a nicer area before starting the race where there was no lines for the bathrooms and some food and warm beverages.

7am and all set and ready to run.......Never seen this outfit before?!?!?!

I don't know what made more of an impression on me, the crowded streets of runners during the race or all the runners waiting around before the marathon. Never have I seen such a sight! It was reminiscent of Pamplona during the Running on the Bulls, when the streets are bursting at the seams with tourists and locals, sleeping and camping out during the never ending festivities. The only difference is that in Pamplona, the people are totally drunk or hung over wearing shorts and t-shirts in the heat and around the streets of Staten Island, everyone was bundled up in everything from trash bags and medical scrubs to nice clothes they planned on ditching. I even saw people resting and waiting lying inside sleeping bags they were going to abandon. Granted the marathon donates all the discarded clothing to charity, which has to be the biggest donation they get all year, I amazed by the amount of discarded possessions at the start of a marathon. I would sign up to volunteer at the starting area in the future just to collect the discarded items. You could own an entirely new wardrobe if you didn't mind scouring through the unwanted items. I had of course forgotten to bring extra clothes that I could ditch, so I sucked it up and made do with my lovely purple shirt from my trip and a plastic bag I got from a employee at CVS who had finished stocking bags of chips. It felt utterly foolish to buy clothes to just throw away. If there is one thing I've learned from my trip, it's that you can pretty much make it through any situation with the right attitude. Yes, I was a bit cold before my race, but I just felt lucky that I wasn't trying to battle the cold and the wind on my bike!

Trying to corral 50,000 runners and organize the start of a marathon is not easy, but The New York Road Runners Club's logistics were practically flawless. After the wheelchair and elite start, there were 4 additional waves, each with about 8 different groups staggered in corrals. I was in the 3rd wave, letter D, and the corrals were to open at 9:40 and closed at 10:10 for a 10:30 start. They were pretty close to being on time, and once in the corral, I went to the bathroom one last time before plopping down on the curb waiting for 10:30 to approach. The actual start is a bit anti-climatic and I spent the first 5 miles trying to “get out” of the crowd, only to realize that was pretty much impossible. However, the hoards of people motivated me pick up a fast pace for the first 5km, which felt good, and I realized early on, I was going to be a lot better off than I anticipated.

In most races I've participated, I'm able to see where I'm going and have a general sense of direction, but in the NY Marathon, from the start, you just follow the herd of people and can't see more than a mass crowd of runners ahead of you who hardly seem to be moving. I didn't study the route and don't know New York well enough to know what lied ahead during the race, which I think is an advantage. The whole route was a complete surprise, taking me through New York's five borrows. I felt like I was on a self-propelled tour bus, sight-seeing in the big apple. The crowds kept me going reminiscent of my bike tour, receiving support and encouragement from random strangers, although rather than a few people cheering me on, there were about a million who took to the streets of New York. The spectators were awesome, some holding creative and humorous signs, while others just a name of a family member or friend they were watching. Some gave out bananas, water, candy, I even saw baklava, but resisted. They say to not change any of your habits before a big race, so here I was in the same outfit I had trained in all during my bike tour, and I ate some of the same treats as well, half a cliff bar, half a banana, and a small stash of chocolate covered espresso beans in my back pocket, my “go-to” food item when I need a little boost of power!

I just spotted my parents here, can't believe it with all the people on the streets

Thankfully, the race flew by and like I wanted, I wasn't in a lot of pain. I always try to convince myself that the faster I go, the less pain I will endure. Although there is little truth in this theory, it works for me! I spotted my parents at mile 8 where I handed over my long sleeve shirt. I saw some of my girlfriends at mile 18 screaming at the tops of their lungs, and just shortly after seeing them, I located my parents in the crowd and stopped to give my mom a hug.

Marathons and sports competitions have sure changed since the introduction of smartphones or maybe it is just an American custom to use your smartphone during a marathon. I can see listening to music on your iphone during a race, but so many of the participants were stopping to take a selfie at different iconic places en route and others were texting and even calling their friends and family. Kid you not. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there were runners who posted on Facebook at every mile marker. I was shocked to witness the true epitome of technology in the 21st century. On the other hand, technology did make a huge difference with race logistics and the app for the New York Marathon. Friends and family around the world were able to track me throughout the race and knew my times at the different mile markers. I ended up running faster than my predicted pace, but with the help of the app, my parents and friends knew when I was getting close to their area.

In my groove in Central Park, a lot of pain!
I felt great until about mile 22, which is when I noticed that my legs felt like steel pipes about to burst. I should have welcomed the downhill terrain at the end of the course through the park, but that made each step more painful as my legs and feet pounded the asphalt uncontrollably. My parents wanted to see me as I crossed the finish line, but it was such a zoo I couldn't focus on any one face and at the end and they didn't attempted to push through the crowds. I finished earlier than expected, 3:39:45, and despite my throbbing legs, I felt good! It always amazes me how stiff you get the second you stop running after a long race and you take for granted the enormous effort your body puts forth to compete. The organization put a medal around my neck, a plastic poncho on my shoulders, and gives you a bag of goodies as you wobble and waddle with the other runners out of the “frozen” runner zone. I had to walk a good 2 miles to meet my parents at the family meeting area, but the time passed quickly as I met a friendly Spaniard, Arturo, from Barcelona. We walked and chatted the whole way, keeping our minds off the pain we were feeling in my legs.

And people think I looked silly in my spandex.......

My #1 fans make it to yet another race to cheer me on.  I'm sooooo lucky to have Mom and Dad support me around the world!

How my parents found me there on the street among all the other competitors, I don't know, but thankfully they did because they had taken down the family reunion area due to the high wind. My dad was eager to get me in a taxi, but I needed a warm drink first and headed to a Starbucks, there happen to be one on every corner in NY, like banks in Barcelona. Starbucks gave me one on the house and everyone in the place was so friendly congratulating me on the race. Eventually we made it home and I soaked in a delightful warm bath after a frigid ice cold bath. Although I was a little nauseous and sore, I felt remarkably well pleasantly surprised by my performance and attitude. The crowds and supporters had definitely played a key role in making it an enjoyable race and despite the strong winds and temperatures in the 40's, the sunny weather was ideal for running.

You'd never known I just ran a marathon!

I had experienced the New York Marathon, fulfilling my last desire of things I wanted to do in my year off from teaching. It was the my first long distance running race in The United States and might even be the last US marathon or any marathon in which I compete.  Notice I don't use the world “never”.......I've learned. All I know is that for now, that's a wrap!

CLICK HERE to see the pictures taken by the race organization

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